PATH OF THE RIGHTEOUS — S. K. SAYARI
Justice served with a dash of poison was justice served well.
Tanith spooned the reddish powder into her ring’s cavity, making sure the poison wasn’t packed too tightly. She slid the dull purple jewel back in place with a click, then slipped the ring on her finger.
It was time to get to work.
Although, could she really call this work? Or was it more of a hobby? A business, perhaps? Now that Tanith’s bitterness had faded in the years since her sister Narys was murdered, she didn’t consider it vengeance anymore. It was second nature and felt right.
As she mused, she sifted through the piles of clothing, hairpieces she’d used before she’d honed her magic, and heavens knew what else strewn about her tiny, ramshackle apartment in the slums of Karkhaz. After selecting a green tunic and brown trousers, the colours of those who toiled in the fields, she pulled them on. To complete her persona, she sucked in a breath and allowed her magic to wash over her like a waterfall.
Her bound auburn hair deepened to brown, and her skin darkened a shade. She stepped up to the mirror to complete the finer touches—high cheekbones, a button nose, and thin lips. The Allure wouldn’t mask her voice or height, but she wasn’t worried about what would happen if someone saw past it.
After all, who would suspect the Keeper of Order of breaking the law?
No one had thus far. Well, no one except him. Since his marriage to the Empress, Rosario Bregan had been intent on finding the “Nighthawk,” as nobles called the elusive assassin targeting the unrighteous within Karkhaz.
As the new Emperor, Rosario had taken the wellbeing of Zehanna’s capital into his own hands. He had introduced new policies for trade with neighbouring countries, bolstered the Empire’s coffers, and created several lesser laws to deal with crime. He’d even interviewed the Keepers, including Tanith. Despite his efforts, the Nighthawk still eluded him.
The name fit her well.
THE 205TH — ELEANOR OWEN
The first thing she knew was the mortar blast.
Shrapnel tore through her right shoulder and stabbed deep into her chest, and it was like waking from a dream. The explosion slammed her into her body, into that skin that was not skin, flesh that was not flesh, and left her, awake and aware, standing in the middle of a mist-shrouded battlefield.
She had existed before that moment. She remembered that existence, too, but it was hazy. A life—or something half resembling it—belonging to someone else.
Somewhere ahead, cannons flared through the smoke. Sound crashed dizzyingly around her. Men—boys, really, she thought as she looked into the glazed eyes of the fallen—were dying on that mad rush towards the waiting walls of Mardall. She’d dropped her rifle and made to reach for it, but her limp fingers flopped uselessly against the stock as the last motion in her arm died. The knuckles clicked against each other like dice in a cup.
“Faith-7, report,” a voice shouted behind her.
Clumsily, she turned. Smoke and fog hung heavy around the speaker, but she recognized the silhouette of Patience’s greatcoat. It was almost like an officer’s. Fitting, as he was almost like an officer.
“Functional,” she replied, because she knew that was what she was meant to say.
Broken light fell across the porcelain mask that passed for Patience’s face.
“Raise your arm,” he ordered through unmoving lips.
A pause. She couldn’t, of course. He could see that.
“Fall back, Faith-7,” Patience said. “Report to the carpenter.”
Patience nodded sharply and vanished into the fog.
Faith—she decided she didn’t need the number—watched him go. If she’d had a heart, she was sure it would have been racing. Indeed, she felt the echo of it, a distant half-memory of when her body had been blood and sinew. But there was silence in her chest, from the glowing green gem that peeked through the cracked porcelain beneath her uniform.
The shrapnel scratched against it. It almost itched.
The Devil In The Ashes — A. M. Dilsaver
They called her Elle.
Because her father had wanted a quick affair in the kitchen, and what he’d gotten was her—a scrawny, wrinkled child with ruddy skin and hair black as ash. A wild, wispy thing, more witch than human, more spirit than child. Her mother’s in every way, save for the eyes. No matter how he tried to deny the rumors, to separate Elle from his real daughters, people would shake their heads and say those are Bonheur eyes. A deep, unfathomable blue. Not the azure of a clear day, or the twinkling cerulean of a lakeside picnic. Dark and haunted, a deep violet, like the terrifying absence of the sun right after it sets but before the darkness has taken over.
She was not expected to survive.
She did anyway.
And so did her mother, for a time. They lived a quiet life in the servants’ quarter of the manor, sweeping the kitchen and preparing food for the man who refused to acknowledge them, for the family who denied their existence. To keep her busy, her mother would drop lentils into the fireplace, let Elle pick them out one by one, and then laugh and draw symbols in the ash that coated the girl’s skin.
“Aschelle,” her mother would say. “My little ash girl.”
Killing her mother was his first mistake.