Khiratu Nedira City of Zarachar, Naidjat, Year 1048 Post Downfall Nedira picked her way through the gardens in full court robes, stepping carefully over a curving bank of ferns and some low-growing roses. She hitched her train up over her shoulder to keep it from getting stuck on the thorns. Normally her woman navigated her train through awkward spots, but one didn’t bring company on unauthorized escapades. Nedira glanced over her shoulder—no one was following her, or watching out any of the house’s many windows—and pressed on past the topiaries of courting cranes, toward the men’s wing.
She had talked to her brother through his window plenty of times before. Even though she didn’t think herself especially stealthy, no one had yet caught her. Or perhaps they had, and were too polite to mention it.
This is the first of five short stories by Jessica, set in the world of Madrahar before the events of the Orphaned Gods series. Illustration by Ruth and Birdy! The whole story is available for patrons over on our Patreon.
Here’s a snippet from chapter 1 to pique your interest:
Adreth stood. "It's good to see you, friend." He stepped over and pulled Djaeva into a hug. Djaeva made irritated noises and didn't hug him back, which was very rude. Aturi slid down lower on Adreth's back, trying not to touch the Nai Umae man.
"I knew you would come," Adreth said, letting Djaeva go, but leaving one hand on his shoulder. Even though Djaeva wasn't a short man, Adreth was a head taller.
"I failed you," Djaeva said. "And I'm here to make up for it. But I'm not your friend. How many times do I have to say it before you get it through your thick skull?"
There was a smile in Adreth's voice. "You say it every lifetime. I'll never believe you. Are you ready to fight beside me, Lynx?"
Djaeva clapped Adreth's hand, hard. "Always."
“Not to ruin this tender moment,” Saresska said, looking through her lens again, “but the demon’s coming this way.”
A clatter at the door of the coffeeshop announced the entrance of someone in a hurry. Aturi turned just as Ubashi called out, "Ready to go, lads? We don't have a moment to spare."
"You're alive," Aturi said, with relief. And uninjured, seemingly. "Did you find—?"
Ubashi cut him off, sweeping into their little alcove. "I've booked us passage on a fast ship. We leave with the tide, which is—"
"Just past noon," Livalii said. She always knew about tides, and boats, and things like that. "Which leaves everyone sufficient time to explain themselves." She gave Ubashi a dubious glance, then looked across the table at Tiiro. "I take it this is the crazy old Han Khiru mage?"
Ubashi seemed to notice Livalii for the first time. "Well, hello there." For a man who didn't have a moment to spare, he spent several long moments looking Livalii up and down. "Do I smell the warm air of the islands? I wasn't expecting to meet a Fanaloan flower so far from its native shore."
Tiiro rolled his eyes. "I'm Fanaloan, too." He introduced them with a vague wave.
"Literally named after a flower." Ubashi clasped his hands together. "How charming! I haven't visited Fanaloa this lifetime, but I do recall the highlights. Laholo, my dear."
"It's Lahora." Tiiro sighed. "And pretty much everything in Fanaloa is named after a flower or a fish."
"I . . ." Khai swallowed, and pulled a handful of black powder from the pouch at his waist. "I'm here to kill you."
Gailan gave him a long, slow look. "I know."
"You should--" There were words for this sort of thing. Khai felt that he ought to know them, that he'd heard them before in some heroic story. "You should meet your death with courage and honor. For your name and your House. Lynx will reward you and take you up in glory and you'll be reborn as, as . . . as someone great."
Gailan almost smiled. It looked awful, on that ruined face. "Do I have Lynx's blessing, then?"
Khai sucked in his breath, hard. It kept catching in his throat. "Not if you just stand there crying. Come on, fight me!"
Writing by Jessica Van Oort, art by Ruth Lampi.
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- Stay in your POV character’s head.
The great Wei La was audible down on stage, arguing with the orchestra leader about some timing in the score, so Oba dove into her room first. The diva wouldn’t miss a few snacks she probably wouldn’t even eat. Oba helped herself to an application of blush from the makeup table, a rose dumpling, and a quick glass of wine. She sang a few bars of Wei’s aria from the second act, and winced at the high bits. She tried on a scarf from the gifts pile and decided it suited her coloring far better than Wei’s. She’d just stacked her coat, hat, scarf, sweets box, and a few delicious tidbits into a manageable parcel when in walked one of the props lads.Written by Jessica Van Oort, illustrated by Ruth Lampi.
“What are you doing here, with Wei downstairs?” the lad demanded. “Who are you?”
“I’m the one trying to tidy up,” Oba gestured at her pile of things, “and I’m the one who runs off young scamps here trying to nick my lady’s underthings. No more silks are going missing on my watch. Out, you. Out!”
“It weren’t ever me!” the boy yelped.