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"Not all anthologies are solid, but this one was excellent." —MYSF Reviews
If you are a fan of sassy shapeshifters, delinquent genies, bioengineered merpeople, immortal storytellers, or anything within the realm of fantasy, this anthology has something for you! Twelve authors pool their talents to produce a wild ride through many worlds of awe and wonder.
Christie Golden is an award-winning and seven-time New York Times bestselling author who has written books in the worlds of Star Trek, World of Warcraft, StarCraft, and Star Wars. Michaelbrent Collings is an internationally bestselling novelist, multiple Bram Stoker Award nominee, produced screenwriter, and top indie horror author. Ten other authors lend their tales to this packed collection, including Paul Genesse (The Golden Cord), Jacob Gowans (Psion Beta), Michael Moreci (Roche Limit), Cameron Dayton (Etherwalker), Kevin L. Nielsen (Sands), Michael Darling (Got Luck), Michelle Merrill (Granted), Michael D. Young (The Hunger), Jacque Stevens (The Stone Bearers), and Zachary James (Ama's Watch).
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|Publisher:||Future House Publishing|
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About the Author
Paul Genesse spends endless hours in his basement writing fantasy novels, adding to his list of published short stories available from DAW Books and various other publishers, and editing the demon themed Crimson Pact anthology series. His first novel, The Golden Cord, book one of his Iron Dragon Series became the bestselling fantasy his publisher has ever had. Book two, The Dragon Hunters, and book three, The Secret Empire, all set in the treacherous plateau world of Ae'leron, are out now and available as trade paperbacks and eBooks.
With over fifteen years writing for blockbuster franchises from Blizzard Entertainment, Electronic Arts, and Epic Games, Cameron has gained a reputation for bringing riveting, powerful storytelling to games. Cameron wrote the script to Advent Rising with best-selling novelist Orson Scott Card, and co-founded the story-centered game development studio Chair Entertainment. At Blizzard, he built narratives for some of the most popular games in the world, including The World of Warcraft, StarCraft, Hearthstone, Overwatch, and Diablo. He also wrote Blizzard’s first web-comic, Kerrigan: Hope and Vengeance, which ranked #1 on Amazon. Cameron’s short stories are featured in several anthologies: Wendigo Tales, Paragons, War Stories, and Heroes Rise, Darkness Falls. Completing the circuit from games to published work to film, Cameron wrote the screenplay for the independent film Unicorn City, which garnered several awards in the indie circuit and was featured on Netflix.
Jacob Gowans is a resident of Utah, working as a dentist for kids. He is husband to a beautiful wife, and father to four children. When not working or writing, he enjoys watching sports, reading YA novels or long tomes, running, and chasing his kids around the house.
Psion Beta was his first novel, and he is currently working on two new series: Super Six and the Clone Saga.
Michael Darling has worked as a butcher, a librarian, and a magician. Not all at the same time. He nests in the exquisitely beautiful Rocky Mountains with his equally breathtaking wife and six guinea pigs, one of whom thinks she’s a dog and three of whom claim to be children. Michael’s award-winning short fiction is frequently featured in anthologies. Got Luck is his first novel, which is scheduled for publication in March 2016.
Kevin Nielsen’s journey into writing began in the 6th grade when an oft-frustrated librarian told him there simply wasn’t enough money in the budget to buy any more books. She politely suggested he write his own. He’s been writing ever since (and invading libraries and bookstores everywhere).
Kevin currently resides in Utah with his amazing wife and two wonderful children. He’s still writing and continuing a lifelong quest to become a dragon rider.
Michael Moreci is the creator of numerous original comics series and has written and collaborated on multiple established properties. His most recent original works, Roche Limit (Image Comics) and Burning Fields (BOOM! Studios), were both recognized by many publications as being among the best comics of 2015. Roche Limit was called the "sci-fi comic you need to read" by Nerdist and io9, and Paste Magazine called it one of the "50 best sci-fi comics of all time." A regular contributor at DC Comics, Moreci has written Superman, The Flash, Wonder Woman, and more.
In prose, Moreci just completed the first novel of his sci-fi series, Black Star Renegades, which will be published in January 2018 with St. Martin's Press. In June 2018, Forge Books will release his spy thriller, The Throwaway. He's currently writing the sequel to Black Star Renegades.
He lives in Chicago with his wife, two children, and their dog.
Michelle Merrill lives in the high-desert of Idaho with her husband and five kids. Besides her love for writing she enjoys reading books, eating candy, listening to music, and snuggling down for a good movie. She names her computers after favorite fictional characters and fictional characters after favorite names.
Michael is a graduate of Brigham Young University and Western Governors University with degrees in German teaching, music, and instructional design. Though he grew up traveling the world with his military father, he now lives in Utah with his wife, Jen, and his two sons. Michael enjoys acting in community theater, playing and writing music, and spending time with his family. He played with the handbell choir Bells on Temple Square for several years and is now a member of the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square. He publishes anthologies for charity in his Advent Anthologies series. He has also had work featured in various online and print magazines such as Bards and Sages Quarterly, Mindflights, Meridian, The New Era, Allegory, and Ensign.
Read an Excerpt
Come, my sweet darling one. Bundle by the fire, and listen. Midwinter’s long night is the time to tell of magicks, of great magicks, and little ones, and all the magicks in between. And this is tale that is the best of all, because it is true. *** “Excuse me, please, but could you tell me where to find the dragon?”
Startled, the healer glanced up from her task of gathering herbs. She had not heard the stranger approach—unusual, for one as attuned to the sounds of the forest as she. Her green eyes widened as she got her first good look at her visitor . . . or rather, the steed upon which he rode.
The unicorn wore no bit or bridle. He whinnied and swiveled his pink-lined ears forward in the healer’s direction. Slowly, eyes wide, she extended her hand, palm up, and was rewarded by the impossible velvet softness of his muzzle against her skin.
The knight who rode him was equally surprising. Most who sought the dragon were mercenaries, out for their own interests. They would take advantage of both the girl and her family, and leave her with empty promises. Then the mercenary would ride on to the next town, the next monster, the next fair damsel to despoil and cheat.
This man was no grizzled veteran, but a youth barely past his boyhood. The incarnation of twilight, from his dark, wavy hair to his eyes like shadows on the sea, he gazed down at the healer with a sweet smile. His skin was pale, his hands gentle on the unicorn’s mane, his voice a summer breeze. His colors were not blinding white and blood red, but purple and deep blue and the green of the forest before the night makes it her own. The youthful knight was not handsome in a way those in the noisy town would understand, but the healer of the forest—not much older in years than the knight—never judged by those standards. She found him beautiful, caught by those seascape eyes as if by a trapper’s noose.
“Why do you seek the dragon?” she replied at last.
“He has imprisoned a noble’s daughter,” the knight explained. “I am to set her free. If you know the way, tell me. She may even now be dead.”
A smile tugged at the corner of the healer’s mouth. She shook her red-brown head. “The dragon has been mostly harmless these several years past. Often his prey finds her own way out of his lair.”
The knight frowned. “I shall not risk her safety. Am I near?”
She was about to reply when she found something on this young man that did not bespeak gentleness and twilight shadows. His right arm was bound in a bloodstained cloth. When he moved the limb, a flicker of pain crossed his slightly freckled face. He had fought such battles before, it would seem, and had not emerged unscathed.
“Come inside,” she bade him, her attention diverted from his face to the injured arm. “You’re hurt.”
The knight shook his dark head. “I’m all right.”
The healer frowned, planted her hands on her hips, and glared up at him. “Unicorn rider or no, you’re in my part of the woods. There’s nothing that passes through this place injured that leaves unhealed. If you want to fight your dragon, then dismount and come inside.”
The milky, single-horned creature neighed as if in amusement and bobbed his head up and down. His young master, however, frowned at the delay. At last he nodded and slid down.
“I will fight better with an uninjured arm,” he murmured, as if he had to justify his action. He patted his mount and kissed its white neck. The great beast nuzzled him, then pranced off to enjoy its temporary freedom.
Even on the ground the young knight was tall, a foot taller than the healer. They walked toward her small cottage. It was then that the knight beheld his fellow patients.
They were the folk of the forest—hawks and hares, doves and deer, wolves and weasels, foxes and ferrets. They did not huddle in cages, but roamed free. Some wore bandages. Others rested in mossy beds. Still others wandered about with limps, though they eyed the forest longingly.
“Are they your pets?” the knight inquired.
“Nay, only my visitors. They come to me when they are wounded or ill, for they know I will heal them.”
“And when they are healed?”
She turned her head, but not before he caught a glimpse of pain in the green eyes. “They leave,” she said shortly. “Come and sit.”
He sat obediently while she cleaned the festering wound with warm water, then prepared and applied an ointment. “Tell me of this lady you plan to rescue.”
The knight seemed puzzled by the question. “She is young, and beautiful. I have seen her portrait. She is in trouble, and she needs my help. What more is there to tell?” What indeed, the healer thought. She began to bind the now-clean wound with cloth. “And what of you, my lady? Why do you dwell here, away from the town, with only beasts for company?”
The healer looked up from her task to regard the fox dozing near the hearth. It had tucked its fluffy, white-tipped brush around its sleek, lean body. One inky ear swiveled toward her. One bright eye, the color of honey in sunlight, opened and closed, as if in a wink.
“As I said, the beasts come to me,” she said. “I am permitted to see the fruits of my handiwork.”
Dark brows drew together in a frown. “But—they do not thank you. They cannot pay you. They do not understand what you have done for them, and they leave you. Surely that is painful for you.”
Again, the amber perhaps-wink. “I know what I have done. And they leave whole.”
“Is that enough?”
She looked at him, her square face with its high cheekbones filled with pain. “It has to be, doesn’t it?”
He did not answer, merely searched her eyes.
“And you, good sir knight.” The healer turned the topic back to him. “The dragon is fearsome, but he is also hypnotic and charming when he wishes to be. Perhaps the ladies you have rescued have returned when he called in his honeyed voice.” She gestured at his arm. “Perhaps you will reopen this wound that I have so carefully bound, or perhaps you will receive another, or perhaps this time your life will be the price to pay. And perhaps all your effort and sacrifice will be for naught. Is that enough?”
He lowered his eyes, ringed thickly with black lashes that a woman would envy. Then he raised them, and a sad smile touched his lips. “It has to be, doesn’t it?”
Slowly, slowly, she reached a hand across the table and held it open, palm up, as she had done with the unicorn. Slowly, slowly, he reached out his own calloused hand and took hers. They stayed thus for a time, green-brown eyes searching blue-gray for some kind of answer to questions they could not articulate, not even to themselves.
“You will go?” She phrased it as a question, but it was not.
He nodded his shadow-dark head. “It is what I am. You will stay?”
It was her turn to nod. “It is what I am,” she replied, smiling, but not really.
She kissed him before he left to slay the dragon and free the maiden.
It was a little kiss, as such things go, but she offered him the scent of the forest in the rain, the taste of a clear river in summer. And she took from him a glimpse of Faerie at twilight, caressed by shadow softness and filled with the scent of honeysuckle and hidden roses.
As the unicorn cantered away on cloven feet that made no sound, she wondered if, after slaying the dragon, the young knight of unnoticed beauty might come back to her cottage.
But she knew he would not.
There would always be another monster to battle, another frightened young damsel to rescue. There was no place for a healer in his busy life.
She turned back to the beasts she loved, who tore out her heart each time they left.
And in the earth where the unicorn had trod with cloven feet, blue roses bloomed. *** The seasons turned.
The blue roses, as impossible as the beast who made them, wept their petals and died, as all mortal things must. Autumn came, splendid in red the color of the fox’s coat, golden as his laughing eyes. Then winter, its white blanket silencing the songs of the forest even as its cold made the stars ever more brilliant against the black, black sky. Spring, the rare and precious yellow-green shade of the new shoot, lasted seemingly only for a breath, before summer, queen of the seasons, returned.
The knight did not. The healer sighed, and chided herself for the hope that he had kindled, and tended to the wounded woodland denizens.
And so also turned the years. Ten of them, ten breath-fragile springs, royal summers, glorious autumns, and soft-blanket winters, were visited upon the land. The village grew, creeping ever closer to the healer’s little cottage and the strange patients she tended. The deer grew skittish, their white flag tails raised in surrender as they bolted on long, spindly legs away from the encroachment of humans. The wolf packs moved on when their prey did, and their sweet, sad, fierce songs no longer filled the night air.
Even those creatures that had learned to live side by side with the village no longer came to have their wounds tended. Only the fox lingered, curling up each night by the warmth of the fire.
The healer healed still, no longer tending the wild things, but her fellow men and women and children. She learned to be content with the lack of magick, and it was only in dreams that she ever thought about the shadow-swathed knight, his glorious steed, and blue roses.
A cauldron bubbled in the healer’s hearth—soup made from good root vegetables: carrots and potatoes and parsnips, dried herbs from the bundles that hung from the rafters, and a rabbit that the very clever fox had brought her as gift. She had plenty of wood, and she settled in for a bowl of the piping hot soup.
Thump. Thump. Thump.
The healer braced herself for bad news; only that would rouse the villagers to come to her hut on this night meant for families.
She opened the door and gasped.
He was still clad in twilight hues of purple and deep blue and the green of the forest before the night makes it her own. But he was no longer so young—nor, of course, was she.
He stood alone in the doorway. There was no unicorn; the only tracks were his. Wordlessly, the healer stepped aside and let him in; wordlessly, he accepted. In silence she ladled some soup for him.
“What of the dragon?” she asked.
“The dragon,” he said, and his voice was the voice of one who was no longer so young, “is dead.”
“You slew it, and freed the maiden?”
He lifted his blue-gray eyes to her. “No. The dragon was old. The maiden was no prisoner. She was his friend, and wept bitter tears. The dragon wept too. Together, for a time, we tended him. I hunted deer in the forest and he fed. Then one day, he died.”
“Is home safely. The dragon’s body rests in his lair. I took none of his treasure. And when I left him, I, too, wept.”
She listened as he said he next went to war. He was told the wars were fought to protect the innocent, to defeat those who were cruel and evil. But the unicorn would not come, so the knight was alone. After he had fought, he saw while sometimes it was true that the innocent were protected and the evil were defeated, sometimes it was not. But what was always true was that those who could afford to lose the least were the ones who lost the most.
“And you?” he asked.
She spoke of the beasts that had left her one by one, as they always did, and that none came to take their places. Of the villagers, who were mostly kind and good, and of the paling of the world around her as the colors of mysteries and magick faded more with each sunrise.
“Why did you come back?” she asked.
“Because I had been a fool,” he said softly, and her winter-quiet heart surged. “I had seen little magicks, and thought my own better. I chased dragons and glory with such fervor I drove the unicorn away.”
“When the beasts of the forests no longer came, I thought I had no more purpose. But I still wished to give. There was no more chance to give to anything else, so I gave to myself. And I learned that I was worthy of being given to. I gave to the villagers, who have clothed me and fed me these many years. I give to this clever little fox, who has stayed for love, and he gives me laughter and companionship.”
She looked up at him. “You had to go,” she whispered. “It was who you were.”
“You had to stay,” he replied. “It was who you were.”
Slowly, slowly, he reached a calloused hand across the table and held it open, palm up. Slowly, slowly, she reached out her own strong hand and took his.
They were not who they were. They, who had hungered for great magicks, now saw in one another’s eyes the little magicks—the joys of companionship, of laughter, of love. Of a home, of a child, of growing old, and of lying eternally side by side while others learned the joy of the little magicks.
And down the line, their story is told on a midwinter’s night, so that their children’s children’s children will never forget. *** “That,” said the old healer’s granddaughter, “is the worst story ever.”
“But it is about magick,” the healer said, finishing her soup. “The best kind of magick there is.”
“No!” shouted the girl, angry and feeling as if something promised her had been snatched away. She started to cry. “No! I want dragons and hurt hawks, and unicorns and blue roses, and rides on the rainbow and songs on the moon, and a fox who stays for love.”
Her grandmother shook her head sadly. “Away with you, then, sweet child. Perhaps you will find those magicks in your dreams. Soon enough you will understand that even if we have the great magicks, the little ones are the best.”
She tucked the girl into her small bed by the hearth fire, kissing away the tears, and the girl, her bright child’s heart as broken as if it had been stabbed by a unicorn or eaten by a dragon, drifted into sleep.
The girl dreamed of moonlight puddled like spilled cream on the floor, and in its cool glow stood the unicorn. She ran to him with delight, and he lowered his beautiful horned head, nuzzling her cheek with his impossibly soft muzzle. “You have learned of magicks tonight. And I tell you, your grandmother is wise. It is the little magicks that are the most important.”
“But . . . he had a dragon and a unicorn! And she had hawks and hares, doves and deer, wolves and weasels, foxes and ferrets!”
“Yes, yes . . . and he would have killed the dragon. And he lost me through foolish choices. The healer did have woodland visitors, but she gave them what she, herself, needed—love without judgment—and kept none for herself.”
“Love without judgment? That’s not magick!”
He laughed, his voice the shimmery sound moonlight might make. “Know you so much of magick, then? Some magick does not look like it. Kindness in the midst of a cold world is magick. Love is always magick, especially when the beloved is no longer young and fair, but gray and wrinkled and tired. Only the heart that is at peace, where little magicks live, can truly be a home for the great magicks. A heart yearning for what it cannot have cannot see the joy all around that would gladly fill it.”
The girl wanted to understand, and she looked at the unicorn bathed in moonlight, then at the moon, hung in the window, cool and bright and beautiful. Stars gleamed in the sky, and the white blanket of snow seemed to glow.
It was just the moon, and the stars, and the sky, and the snow. It was no different from what she had seen before she went to sleep. But although it had not changed . . . what she saw had changed.
When she turned, the unicorn was gone.
The girl woke with a start. The fire had burned to embers, and it was cold. The world was as it had been before, but she was not.
Only the heart that is at peace, where little magicks live, can truly be a home for the great magicks.
She smiled, as if she knew a great and wonderful secret, and, throwing the blanket about her shoulders, went to the door to look at what kind of magick the first fingers of dawn would bring.
In the white snow, blue roses bloomed, radiant and impossible.
And there was a fox at the door.