|Art by Stefan Meisl|
“Weft” by Rahul Kanakia (2889 words)
No Spoilers: Thread is a magician able to control, well, threads. Fabric. And he, along with two other magicians, Rina and Aakash, has been tasked with hunting down the daughter of one of the local cooks, who has stolen some magic for herself and is on the run. For all that this isn’t entirely unusual for Thread, though, something about the situation speaks to him of his own past, his own circumstances. And so he resists this call to hunt down and kill the girl. Most of the story is then a sort of debate between the three older magicians, part internal struggle of Thread about what he’s going to do. For me, the piece radiates a sort of desperate hurt—the one that Thread carries because of what he’s done and how he’s changed from the boy who stole his own bit of magic. He wants a chance to explain, perhaps to be forgiven, and yet his journey is one punctuated by violence and disappointment. It’s a strange, eerie piece that unsettles even as it builds a fascinating world.
Keywords: Magic, Bargains, Resistance, Freedom, Hunts, Escape
Review: This is something of a weird story for me, because the world it conjures is dark and filled with magicians, who seem united more by their hungers and their differences than by anything really common. They do magic, but it seems like they do very different magic. And I love how Thread is considered to be weakest of those gathered. Rina can fly, can read minds, can be insubstantial. Aakash is a walking nightmare. And yet it is Thread who ends up being the one to turn on them, to cut them short. He’s the one nwith the most complicated feeling about who he is and what he does. He sees something of himself in the girl who runs away, and so he seeks to protect her, to keep her out of harms way. Because I feel he has this need to be good still. To not be the monster he feels he’s become. Except in trying to do that he keeps on falling into the same traps. Keeps giving in to the gravity to do violence. To hurt. To kill. Even those he sought to protect, because what he really wants doesn’t seem to be to serve people, but rather to create a narrative that he can live with. Where he is still doing good, and anyone who gets too much in the way of that must be destroyed. Especially other magicians, because it seems like clear projection in this case, where he kills them to try and kill that “bad” side of him, not realizing that by killing he’s giving into that “bad” side. It’s complicated and rather dark, the ending coming with a sinking dread and a feeling that without really facing his own past, his own feelings, all Thread is going to do is replay the same hurts, the same violence. It’s an unsettling but solid read!
“Fireskin” by Joanne Rixon (5127 words)
No Spoilers: Aun-ki is a famous warrior who finds herself beset by a mysterious curse, that whenever she touches something, she burns. Fire blossoms, and while the fire never does her permanent damage, Aun-ki feels it all the same, and the intense and pretty much constant pain take their toll. So she goes on a series of quests to break the curse, taking her apprentice, Jin-ho, with her. The story is built around this curse and the life Aun-ki lives because of it, in pain and yet with a budding relationship with the weaver Lou-ga. On fire and yet with a loyalty toward her city. Knowing that that fire also gives her power, even as it costs her dearly. It’s a lovely, but wrenching read, one that focuses on managing pain rather than lifting it.
Keywords: Fire, Queer MC, Curses, Quests, Sword Fights
Review: This story feels in some ways like a mystery that never really finds a solution. The curse that falls on Aun-ki is strange and devastating, making it so that she must move in constant pain and deal with the various difficulties of the flames that she can’t control. This, even as she’s starting to get close to someone and might want to experience more than just the lightest of touches. Aun-ki is a warrior, after all, and doesn’t really treat herself lightly, throwing herself into combat when it can’t be avoided, when it must be done. And she’s good at it, supported by her apprentice and her lover and yet at the same time alone in her hurt, in her affliction. And I like that the story takes a complicated look at her pain and power. It’s not something that ever, as the stories of her exploits make it seem, goes away, or is transformed into something beautiful and transcendent. Instead, it remains very real. It doesn’t define her, but it does change her. It becomes a part of who she is, one that limits her even as there are things about it that she can use for good. And it’s heartbreaking in ways because in a place where magic and curses are very much things, this affliction isn’t something that seems to have a cause or a cure. It’s just a new part of her life, one that takes up room and causes her pain, but doesn’t make her less of a person or less of a warrior. The combat of the story is inventive and epic, and the world built is one that’s alive both with a classic fantasy feel and a more modern set of complications. Aun-ki and Lou-ga are a great couple, too, showing each other how they care even as they can’t really touch too much, even as they have to be so careful. Just a wonderful read!