Man’s Best Friend

A free flash fiction piece by Siri Paulson

There’s a new fad in town. It took me ages to win over the ‘rents. Too much upkeep, they said, even though I promised to take care of it. Too big, too expensive, too dangerous, the aquarium wouldn’t match the rec room decor. But I knew they’d give in. Can’t be those parents.

My dad still doesn’t like the new pet. Too creepy, as if it’s watching him as it swims. But I like that. I watch it and it watches me back as it circles the tank, lifting to breathe, the water closing again over its domed head and webbed feet. It’s as long as I am, and the aquarium takes up half of the rec room, where the VR used to be, but this is better than VR. Not human but not just fish anymore, smart but not really intelligent – the ads promised you could teach them tricks, showed them moving in tandem in different labs. But I don’t want mine to be tamed.

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Introducing Even the Score

 

One, two, three,
How many will my victims be?
One, two, three, four,
How many more to even the score?

When Taro Hibiki leads a survival class into the backwoods, he has two goals: to prove himself as an instructor, and to propose to his beloved Rafe before he loses his nerve completely. In the wilds might seem a strange place for that, but it’s where Taro feels most at home—and the only place the couple can escape all their other responsibilities.

BFR’s colonists claim the name stands for “Big Effing Rock,” and boast of their planet’s dangers. Yet more treacherous than sight-scamps or bomb bugs is a human seeking vengeance. Soon Taro’s students are dropping one by one, and no matter what Taro does, the killer stays a step ahead. Worst of all, Taro suspects the students are targets of opportunity—that the ultimate goal is Rafe. Taro would die for Rafe in a heartbeat, but who’s going to take care of Rafe if he does?

As it happens, the killer has a plan for that, too.

Even the Score will be available December 1st from Turtleduck Press. It takes place two years after the events of His Faithful Squire. Find a chronology of the Dream’verse here.

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Trust Rafe to set the scene perfectly. We huddled in the deepest, narrowest part of a canyon called Fools Rush In. Sharp grey cliffs rose all around. Rafe the Victim …

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Changeling: The Faerie Lights

Changeling
Part 1: The Faerie Lights
A free serial short by Erin Zarro

 

 

It happened the summer I turned seventeen. My family and I loved camping, and took several trips throughout the season. There was something about getting away from everything, being close to nature. Sometimes the hustle-bustle of life got to me.

My younger sister, Jane, especially enjoyed bonfires. She was autistic, and did not speak. But her face would light up like another sun whenever we made a bonfire. Her hands would reach toward the amber flames as if she wanted to capture them. It made me happy to see her engaging with her environment.

On the day it happened, I was alone. I sat in my camp chair and watched the campground. Kids running and playing. Dogs barking. The smell of someone grilling. The smell of other campers’ bonfires, so unique, that it took me back to simpler days. Simpler years.

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Flame Isfree and the Feather of Fate II

 

Once wild magic shattered human civilization. Mage-built cities collapsed, spell-sped galleons sank, airships fell from the skies. Magic-born chimerae turned on their creators, and then their neighbors. The peoples of Awrhee fell into barbarism.

But that was generations ago. Humanity has scraped together kingdoms again, and learned to live without magic. Those who practice spellcraft are eyed with suspicion, as are the old ways, and the old places.

Some, however, seek treasure in the ruins of what was. Knowledge, gold, power—it’s out there. Treasure untold for anyone clever enough to find it, bold enough to take it, fast enough to get away with it.

It’s out there, in the Spell-Wracked Lands.

Part I.

 

Flame Isfree and the Feather of Fate II

A Serial Story by KD Sarge

 

Flame heard the footsteps approaching in her sleep, but she knew them and also she was warm and cozy, so she only wandered towards consciousness. Then she heard the sword ring as it was drawn.

With her leather-clad arm Flame knocked the sword-point away from Ryahled’s throat as he lay blinking at the silhouette over them. Idiot Bran! Thank Luck she’d drugged Ryahled last night when he wouldn’t stop talking. Had she not, Bran would be dead and Tolor furious.

Idiot ranger had needed to sleep, not talk.

“What the hell is this?” Bran demanded, the sword blade coming back.

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Flame Isfree and the Feather of Fate I

 

Once wild magic shattered human civilization. Mage-built cities collapsed, spell-sped galleons sank, airships fell from the skies. Magic-born chimerae turned on their creators, and then their neighbors. The peoples of Awrhee fell into barbarism.

But that was generations ago. Humanity has scraped together kingdoms again, and learned to live without magic. Those who practice spellcraft are eyed with suspicion, as are the old ways, and the old places.

Some, however, seek treasure in the ruins of what was. Knowledge, gold, power—it’s out there. Treasure untold for anyone clever enough to find it, bold enough to take it, fast enough to get away with it.

It’s out there, in the Spell-Wracked Lands.

 

Flame Isfree and the Feather of Fate

A Serial Story by KD Sarge

 

Flame lay along a slender limb, high enough that the still-thick autumn foliage hid her from below. Not, she reflected, that any of the fools ever looked up. She stretched, and smirked as her movements made not a sound. Leather as soft as spring moss cost more than the cow who wore it first, but a treasure hunter in the forest got her money’s worth.

Another group was coming. Flame could hear them blundering maybe thirty yards away. A fighter in chain mail led them—that, or someone jingling coins.

She should be so lucky.

Chain mail, she thought, tilting her head to focus an ear. Chain mail on a horse. Leading four others walking, humans by the …

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A Bargain Beyond

A Bargain Beyond

a free short story by Kit Campbell

 

They told us to never go into the forest. They said that was where the wild ones lived, creatures who had once been like us, but who had abandoned civilization to seek power no mortal was ever supposed to have. It had driven them mad.

But sometimes the danger you have been warned against your entire life is preferable to the danger staring you in the face. Probable death is always more attractive than certain death.

As I left the burning remains of my village behind me, I could hear the hammering of hooves in my wake. We’d tried to defend ourselves, to make a stand, but we’d been quickly overrun.

The pounding grew louder as I fled. I plunged into the trees, not heeding the foliage tugging at my clothes. I still carried my sword in one hand, but it hung uselessly by my side. I ran on, not caring where I was going, only following the instinct to get away.

After a long time, the sounds of pursuit faded. I stopped, panting, doubling over from lack of breath. I straightened, taking in my surroundings. And that was when I saw her.

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Warped

Warped

A free short story by Erin Zarro

 

The office was huge. Open space, desks crammed together, no cubicles, or privacy, for that matter. The sounds of computer keyboards being typed on, phones ringing, and people talking made me want to go somewhere and hide.

This was my new job. It wasn’t the perfect job, but I needed one and an opportunity had presented itself. Although, when I thought too hard about it, the details were fuzzy.

“Andi, so glad to see that you’re here. Let me give you the tour.” A woman with her hair in an elegant updo smiled and gestured for me to follow her. She wore a navy pantsuit. Her makeup — blue eyeshadow and hot-pink lips — clashed horribly with her choice of clothes. I tried not to stare. “My name is Leslie. I will be your supervisor.”

I tried to smile, but that lipstick gave me a nervous twitch. “Nice to meet you.”

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Still Waters Run Deep: Part 5

A free serial story

by Siri Paulson

 

This is Part 5 (the conclusion) of a serial fantasy story. Previous installments are available here: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

 

Payut fell to his hands and knees on the flagstones of the temple courtyard. The clang of the gate closing still echoed in his ears. He cried out as memories overtook him, rushing over him like a river in a monsoon, sweeping him along…

He is curled on his mat, listening to the slow breathing of the younger boys around him. Something has woken him early; even the most devout of the monks must still be asleep. He tries to ignore it, to close his eyes and return to his dreams. But it comes again – an insistent pull inside his mind, gentle, yet with a hint of immense power behind it. A power that keeps pulling until he follows.

He stands, all gangly limbs, and pads out of the bare room into the central courtyard of the Grand Temple. The tropical night is warm and damp. It is strange being alone, without the chanting of …

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The Contract

The Contract

a free horror short story by Erin Zarro

 

“Do you agree to the terms?” the doctor asked with an accent I couldn’t place.

The question startled me. I’d been thinking about all the things I could do if I wasn’t dying – I could live in Europe like I’ve always wanted, I could go sky-diving, I could learn how to pole dance, I could have a love affair. And other things like take the Russian class I’ve always wanted to. And crocheting….fly fishing…there were so many things I wanted to do. And I needed to be alive to do them.

“Let me make sure we understand each other,” I said. “You said you could give me new life.”

“Yes.”

“Will it hurt?” I asked as a flash of fear went through me.

“Not any worse than dying,” he replied.

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Still Waters Run Deep: Part 4

 

A free serial story

by Siri Paulson

 

This is Part 4 of a serial. Previous installments are available here: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

 

The city that Payut walked through was empty and not-empty at the same time. Its wide canals and narrow streets lay vacant, free of the chaotic bustle that flickered at the edges of his memory. The people had fled, driven away by the imbalance in the five elements that sickened the land. But he was not alone.

He would turn down a street where nothing moved, but the echo of large wings faded away ahead of him. Or he would catch motion out of the corner of his eye, but when he turned, only blank windows and closed doors met his gaze. Crossing a bridge over a canal, he saw something moving under the water, long and dark, bigger than the boat he had left at the city gate while getting past the guards. It paced him until he reached the far end of the bridge, then disappeared.

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