"Seasons Set in Skin" by Caroline M. Yoachim (4204 words)
A story about war and faeries, this one focuses on a family: Horimachi, the mother, Aya, the dead daughter, and Suki, the living one. At least, that's how it starts. The story is set in a Japan torn by war with the Faeries, creatures that can use humans like puppets, who use magic the color of their wings, magic that can be countered if their wings are turned into ink for tattoos. Horimachi is a tattoo artist, but she lost her first daughter to the fae, by their ability to evolve, growing gold magic where before it had been only red. Some of the fae want more than war, though. One ends up taking Aya's body and reanimating her in order to try and make peace. But showing up wearing that body where Horimachi is giving Suki her tattoos does not exactly go as planned. The family, the nation, the two sides remain suspended in their violence, in their hate. And Aya knows that things will not stop just because one person from one side wants it too, knows that as long as the fae still view humans as vessels there can be no real peace, that the only peace will come when both sides have expanded their palettes, have created murals of inks and blood. It's a melancholy story, a tragic story, but one with a strength to it, a power to it. The family torn apart by war. The chilling image at the end of a tattoo with every color in the world, with full knowledge of what that would mean. It's dark and it's intense and there's that hope that gets twisted by the end. A nice story!
"Stone Prayers" by Kate Marshall (4217 words)
Another story about the tide of war, about the cost of war and a woman struggling to stop it. It's also about language, and the power of words, not to change the world on their own but to act through those who hear them, who experience them. I love stories that deal with language in this way, that recognize the power to move people. In this language and magic merge as an older woman seeks to end a war by crafting the perfect prayer, the prayer that will move her gods to act. She seeks it in the nation of her enemies, or at least the enemies of her son, who rules an expanding empire. I love the way it moves, the effortless world-building that goes on the, way that everything lives and breathes and that it all seems to magical but grounded in war and loss and death. That a simple mistake as a young woman, a simple misunderstanding of language, basically set up the tragedy of it all, and that here this woman is, trying to undo what she feels is her war, and she is willing to give up so much for it. On the one had, there must be in her the hope that she can save everything without more death, without more suffering. But I think she knows that just as her prayer concerning her son was answered in a way she did not really intend, that now a similar situation presents itself. Only now she is going in with eyes open, aware of the power of her words, and in doing so fulfills all the prophecies. Because (SPOILERS!!!!!) I love that the story follows through on the thread where the daughter of the empire's enemies is fated to kill the Emperor, is fated to kill the main character's son, and that she does. By giving that word, the word to bring peace, she does exactly what she was meant to do, but in a way that no one expected, and that it will leave everyone numb, grieving, that even given exactly what they wanted that the pain and the scars do not disappear. That it will be up to them to find the words to go forward, to not slip back into war. This is an amazing story and I just want to read more of it. More, I tell you! Ahem. Anyway, definitely go out and read this one!