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.
We challenged ourselves to each draw a phoenix/firebird, and they all came out excitingly different from each other. From left to right, these were created by Amanda Williams (digital), Ruth Lampi (linocut block print), and S.A. Hannon (watercolor pencil). Click on the images to make them bigger! For a video of how Ruth pulled the print of her phoenix, check out our Facebook or Instagram! [gallery link="file" ids="600,601,599"]
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.