Issues from 2012
Five-Time Hugo Award Finalist for Best Semiprozine
Issue #102August 23, 2012

The Angel Azrael Delivers Small Mercies

The bodies of the men and women that decorated the buildings and streets didn't spook Azrael's horse any more than they spooked him. Nothing had spooked it since he'd raised it from the dead. The horses of the men with him, on the other hand, were as skittish as if they smelled hellspawn on the wind. Maybe they did. But Azrael reckoned it was more likely the opposite of hellspawn that had done this.

"Strong stuff here in this dark dark fantasy... (Azrael) raises the bar for the iconic image of the lone gunslinger with a past" —Lois Tilton, Locus online

Beyond the Shrinking World

"Cold," our guide said to me, maybe the one word of my language he knew. Behind us, a wave crashed against the Stones' boundary, the water sizzling and shrieking at the contact. None of the Kriegsflotte crewmen reacted. They were, somehow, used to this. In the night, I knew that demons, corporeal manifestations of the Out, swam all around. Only with these treacherous Kriegsflotte or in Jani's care could I navigate such regions.

Audio Fiction Podcast:
The Angel Azrael Delivers Small Mercies
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The angel Azrael surveyed the remains of the town. The place was as dead as the horse he sat on.
From the Archives:
And Other Such Delights
The soul-deep anguish of a soulless creature, a murderous wall of sound that swept across the square and beyond.
Issue #101August 09, 2012

Featuring new cover art: “Bandits Assault a Stagecoach,” by Ignacio Bazán Lazcano


The Heart of the Rail

“Is that all you have?” Henry yelled at the locomotive. He kicked its hot firebox, and its whistle screamed at him, steam shrieking from the full boiler. “That’s right!” he shouted back. “Shake me. Come on, you ugly bastard. Shake me!” The train, spitting a thick spume of greasy smoke, hurled itself down the far side of the mountain.

"quite well-realized, both the physical environment and the characters. Recommended" —Lois Tilton, Locus online

The Tale of the Aggrieved Astrologer

Shortly after midnight, his vigil bore fruit. A star detached itself from the firmament and began to streak down towards the western horizon. Ho snatched up his celestial sphere, rotating its silver rings to record the stolen star's position. It disappeared into the west: beneath the House of the White Tiger. Above a prefecture a half day from the Imperial City. Ho's heart sank, although the blow was not unexpected. It was the prefecture run by August Advisor Chuko Tsin.

"Originally-conceived and entertaining. The details of the astrology and astronomancy are particularly rich." —Lois Tilton, Locus online

Audio Fiction Podcast:
The Three Feats of Agani
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I had hoped to tell you the first story in the summers to come. It is my sorrowful task to tell you all three, instead.
From the Archives:
System, Magic, Spirit
There's nothing better than low-ranking, fad-following royalty for extinguishing any last desire to even bother fighting for one's life against other wizards in the Ring.
Issue #100July 26, 2012

A double-issue, in celebration of our 100th issue!


In the Palace of the Jade Lion

"Has death made you a demon, Lady? No! All who are mortal must die, but not all who die become ghosts. You did, and that is because your hopes and dreams as a living woman were so completely frustrated. Therefore, your defining characteristic is not death but rather an excess of the yin principle, which you would instinctively attempt to counter by taking my living energy. Your present condition is not fate but rather a condition, an illness. An illness can be cured."

"Another fine ghost story from Parks. Xu Jian exhibits an admirably philosophical demeanor along with the passion of a lover. This one comes to a particularly satisfying conclusion. Recommended" —Lois Tilton, Locus online

Ratcatcher

There are clankers and buzzers out during the bright hours of the day but the hidey hole is safe and I much desire to drink myself into blackness with a flask of the grog I trade for but I have my daughter with me and a man cannot live who loses his daughter due to insensibility or slowness of reaction.  I shiver and sweat all day long and the sound of the clankers makes my blood boil with fury and despair and that is a most helpless kind of combination.

"A really grim setting... (offers) the satisfaction of sometimes being able to strike back, even if the cost is high. The narrator’s eccentric, overwrought voice grabs reader attention." —Lois Tilton, Locus online

The Three Feats of Agani

Every one of our people hears three stories of Agani in their lifetime: once when we leave childhood behind and become women; the second before we marry and become one with another; and the third when we must face death and send a loved one off to the other world. I had hoped to tell you the first story in the summers to come. It is my sorrowful task to tell you all three, instead.

"raises the interesting moral question of whether the god Agani is rightly or unjustly despised." —Lois Tilton, Locus online

Virtue’s Ghosts

Before Aunt Victoria, I hadn't realized that a virtue could be a curse. In the schoolyard, my friends and I had always pretended at being grownups, putting on old necklaces of our mothers' and aspiring to the greatness of colors we had heard of or invented—things like deep purple Valor and moss-colored Genius. A virtue like Aunt Victoria's, though...

Audio Fiction Podcast:
How the Wicker Knight Would Not Move
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"And yet Now is upon us," said Tvarn Wind-Tamer. "For the Perfection is moving. Look."
From the Archives:
The Ghost of Shinoda Forest
Whether I was drunk or sober, Princess Teiko haunted my dreams.
Issue #99July 11, 2012

Featuring our 200th story! By Chris Willrich; the same author and world as our very first story: “The Sword of Loving Kindness” in BCS #1-2.


How the Wicker Knight Would Not Move

At the Wicker Knight's feet Kverna faced the foe. "I do not hate you," she said to them. "You are as you are. Maybe Perfection has no choices. It is this thing behind me I hate. Leeching our hope, and returning nothing. At least without it we will meet our fates as human beings."

"nicely-done... I like the conclusion quite a lot." —Lois Tilton, Locus online

Fox Bones. Many Uses.

Out of respect for the fox, she ground its bones there. First the tail-bones, murmuring the words her grandmother had taught her early in the pregnancy: For a strong heart. For strong lungs. For strong arms and legs. For strength. For strength. Then the other bones, separating them as use dictated, and picked up the hide and meat and set off home with steps full of fear: that the tail bones would not strengthen her son; or that they would, and her mother would hate her for it.

"A depressing tale of courage against heavy odds" —Lois Tilton, Locus online

From the Archives:
The Sword of Loving Kindness, Pt. I
Gaunt and Bone must resist a magic sword bending them toward propriety and decorum.
Issue #98June 28, 2012

Lady Marmalade

She opens the jar to find herself on a Himalayan plain, in a time before humanity has discovered this place. The air here is cold, pinks her cheeks. She picks her way toward the pomegranate trees which line the foothills and opens a wide-mouth jar. Two pomegranates will fit inside, little else. She twists the lid into place then sinks into the dark soil at the base of the trees. If she keeps still, the sunlight sinks through her and she hears only the wind.

Death and the Thunderbird, Pt. II

Bienor let the bottle drop from his lips. A few fingers of liquid remained in the depths, but he'd had enough to serve his purpose and to spare. His head buzzed gloriously with alcohol and loss of blood; his lips were swollen with the last flavor he ever wanted to grace them. The end was coming. He thought he could see it already in the cloudy haze above the cliffs. It looked like snow.

From the Archives:
The Silver Khan
When the sun began to set in the west, one could hear the chink-chink of the great chain being wound as the palace settled slowly back toward the ground.
Issue #97June 14, 2012
One Ear Back

The shadows between the trees were dark and I stood between two birches, sniffing out the right way. My tail was high. This was no headless mouse. This would impress Ingy.

"the interest is in the character of the cat... what part of her is cat and what part is woman. The ending is not quite what one would automatically expect, but better." —Lois Tilton, Locus online

Death and the Thunderbird, Pt. I

A shattering scream from the roof of the train; another body tumbling hooves over head. A baleful eye glaring out of the locomotive smoke, and Bienor could no longer deny it: something was there, neither centaur nor human. As he hunkered down against the corner of the coal-car, he struggled to accept it. Whether a ghost, a god, or the malevolent sorcerous eye of Eurytus, it was there. Real. The thunderbird.

Audio Fiction Podcast:
One Ear Back
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I was looking into his ankle, then there was a frightening jerk on my tail and I was peering into his long wide face.
From the Archives:
The Swallow and the Sea
I had a small trunk, but it was large enough to hold Abigail.
Issue #96May 31, 2012

The Magic of Dark and Hollow Places

He reached to his shoulder. His uncut nails dug into the pulpy mass of muscle and tore downward. A ripping noise stopped every quill. Blood the color of a blind man’s dream flowed down his flayed arm. He took the mass and wrapped it tight around the girl’s head. Muffled screams seeped out, even as the Inked Man’s arm began to repair of its own volition. The girl kicked and clawed and scratched and was still.

"Another darkly fantastic piece from the author’s papyrological imagination." —Lois Tilton, Locus online

Serkers and Sleep

It was dark as earth in the rafters. The rough beams on which I sat were painful, but I stayed still. Minutes later, the outer door opened. I would know her silhouette anywhere, even from above, even stretched and distorted by the angle of the moon; I knew Dipper almost as well as I knew myself. But now I knew her not at all.

Audio Fiction Podcast:
The Magic of Dark and Hollow Places
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You ask how I’m writing this? I found a piece of broken crystal and am scratching the letters into my calf.
From the Archives:
Preservation
I thought at first my hands would shake. But when I reach to make the incisions, they are calm.
Issue #95May 17, 2012

The Governess and the Lobster

What that profession might be, I would hesitate to explain had you not explicitly stated that you are unconcerned with my history. Pietro is what the many travelers through Harkuma refer to as a facilis or, commonly, "greaser." He makes his living by arranging contact between the various human merchants and the automata of Akkuma. If a person wishes to visit Akkuma, he must do so in the company of one of these faciles who will vouch for him, undertake the shipment of water, even make business connections, as well as make certain the entrepreneur adheres to all standards of conduct.

"Light amusement in the mannered voice, and although there are many references to other works, this one stands quite well as an independent tale." —Lois Tilton, Locus online

Reprinted in Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy, 2013, ed. Rich Horton

Shades of Amber

Some in the tribe shaded in low spectrum colors that Ferr's mind couldn't remain stable after losing so much from her sickness. Amm asked if they thought her unstable as well, given that even with the loss, Ferr still had a wider range than Amm. They averted their gaze as she shaded, pretending to have never seen the question.

"The premise is strikingly original" —Lois Tilton, Locus online

Audio Fiction Podcast:
A Marble for the Drowning River
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I was afraid to say anything, but my mouth said, “please don’t kill her” without making any sound.
From the Archives:
The Girl Who Tasted the Sea
Salt! It tasted of salt as much as the sardines did, but with some wilder flavor, too.
Issue #94May 03, 2012

To Go Home to Leal

The pronouncements of the captain were drowned by the goading of the crowd, but his actions were clear. It took three men to hold Kaul's father's left arm on the block. One soldier brought out a broad-bladed axe and his father's struggles renewed. The axe-man bent over him, giving instructions, but Kaul's father's eyes rolled and he screamed. The axe-man seemed to shrug; then, raising his weapon, he brought it down, once, with a sickening crunch.

"I found the ending unexpected, though oddly right" —Lois Tilton, Locus online

A Marble for the Drowning River

I held out my hand with the marble in it, and the drowned girl reached out her long fingers and lifted it gently out of my palm, not even touching me with one of her fingernails. She rolled it in her hand for a moment, looking into the misty shadows in the glass, and then swallowed it, grinning almost like she was still human.

"I like the freshness of the voice, the way the elements are revealed, and the clear imagery. Magic well-done." Recommended —Lois Tilton, Locus online

Audio Fiction Podcast:
Pridecraft
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There hadn't been a killing in years, though. We'd forgotten.
From the Archives:
My Father’s Wounds
Father guides my hand to the ruin of his belly. My fingers sink into the wound, touching something moist and pulsing—