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Edition 23: Serial Fiction: Stolen Moments (Part 2 of 2) by Lindsey Duncan

flag USIn part two of Stolen Moments, Mantisia learns all she can of magic from the doomed Sarbeth. Mantisia has a plan to free him from the bargain with the eternal Valinah, maybe at the cost of her own short life. The conclusion of Lindsey Duncan’s mythic fantasy. SY

Mantisia, Age Twenty-Three

We came to the city of Sherig two days later. Sarbeth had ten tomes of magic with him; I had memorized every word. I had never concentrated on something so intently, and the gestures of power flowed through my veins. I could lift small objects with a thought and create illusions that danced in the darkness.

He was a patient teacher, always gentle with corrections, and he understood the furious pace of my mind. I devoured every scrap of history and lore. The pride in his gaze was a light, and I felt I could speak to him in a look, as I had once imagined Silt did—words of hope, words of discovery and words of the future. It was a future neither of us had, and it bound us.

I had two hours before dark, two luminous hours of freedom. I toured the city, gone mad with sensations. I heard the sussurus of fabric as people drifted past; saw fraying ribbons of paint on signs and wall-murals; tasted brick-dust and baker’s yeast on the air. Every scene—things that flashed past others as nothing more than dim impressions—was an endless story.

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Edition 23: The Guardian of the Mountain by Erin Gitchell

Hanza makes a little girl’s mistake on the mountain and pays for it with her life. Being a monster is a lonely life, and eventually even the adventurers forget her. A poignant exploration of the intertwining of nature and myth. SY

“One berry for you, two berries for me, three berries for the one nobody can see,” the little girl sang.

Plop, plop, plop, answered the plump, red berries as they landed in her pail.

“Four berries for Mama, five berries for Da, and six berries for Nana so she won’t be sad.”

Plop, plop, plop.

The little girl, called Hanza, brushed a long golden braid over her shoulder and wiped her brow with the back of her hand. It was a good day, with a warm, bright sun and a gentle breeze, and Hanza was happy to be in the forest picking juicy berries, since no one was there to stop her from putting a berry in her mouth for every three that went in her pail. By the time her pail was heavy, Hanza’s sweet mouth begged for a cool drink, so she searched for a stream.

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Edition 22: Serial Fiction: Stolen Moments (Part 1 of 2) by Lindsey Duncan

flag USMantisia experiences time differently to everyone else, and it slips away faster than grains of sand. Sacrificing her years, she journeys into a world she barely knows to face a force she cannot possibly understand. First part of Lindsey Duncan’s two-part mythic fantasy. SY

Mantisia, Age Seven

Time is more important to me than it is to anyone else. My mother says that’s impossible because I haven’t had as much of it, but I have. It’s all bunched up into a tiny space, like when you curl in your limbs and tuck your head to hide from the world. You still know you’re there, though. People talk to me about seasons and tell me it’s summer, but that doesn’t really mean anything to me.

I don’t want to talk about me. I want to talk about Sarbeth and his sideways-turned leg and his dog, the pretty hound with silver fur. The hound is important because they’re best friends. They can talk to each other by looking. Anyone can, if you know how to listen to eyes. I’ve been teaching myself, because there’s so much space in my head when I’m the only thing moving.

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Edition 21: Inner Dragon by James Aquilone

Peter dreams of becoming famous, world-renowned for his writing. But is he happy to pay the price for his success? This tale from James Aquilone crosses between science fiction and Asian self-help fantasy to warn of the dangers of ego.  SY

“Peter, are you ready to take the arduous journey toward your ultimate destiny? To face the abyss and let the abyss face you?”

Dr. De Graat stopped suddenly, looked at me with laser-focused eyes. They were quite beautiful blue eyes, I noticed. Sort of a cerulean-blue with flecks of green.

“Peter?” he said, eyebrows raised.

“Sorry. That wasn’t a rhetorical question?”

“Peter.” The sound of disappointment in his voice made me want to evacuate my bowels. “Tell me, what it is you want?”

“I want to be a successful writer. A bestselling author.”

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Edition 19: Night Blooming by Jason Nahrung

A teenager in love with the darker side of life has disappeared. Detective Shane Hall, struggling with her personal demon, follows the trail to parts of Brisbane’s seedier side, The Valley. She must keep control to find the missing young woman, and for her own self-preservation. SY

Deborah Brown—Jazmine Nocturna to her friends—had it bad for the unliving. Shane stood in the teenager’s bedroom, taking in the nu-vamp celeb posters, the black lace, the incense.

The girl’s mother stood at the bedroom door. Ms Brown wore a pencil skirt and heels, a crisp white blouse, but stray hairs were pulling free from her tight bun, and the shadows under her eyes showed through her makeup. Early to mid-forties. Gym toned, suntanned, a gold cross above her modest cleavage. No wedding ring, but a pale line where one had been. She radiated anxiety.

Join the club, sister.

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Edition 19: Trial By Fire by Richard Zwicker

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When a god shows up at your door, you can’t exactly turn him away. Phokus is recruited by none other than the big guy himself, and sent on a merry little chase. All in the name of a little warmth. SY

A knock at the door roused me from frigid dreams. This being Athens, it was likely a thief ready to slit my throat, so I was disinclined to answer. On the other hand, it could be a disguised god who’d reward my inhospitality by turning me into a chew bone for Cerberus. So, I roused myself out of bed and threw on a lion skin over the leopard and bear skins I already wore. I looked like a walking food chain, but cold beats style in my home.

I opened the door, and a blast of wind cold-cocked me. When my vision cleared, I saw a slouching, bearded old man. The rags he wore were so tattered I wouldn’t have used them to wipe my chariot, if I had a chariot.

“Can you spare some food for a stranger?” he asked, his voice a mix of sand and icicles. If this guy wasn’t Zeus, I was the Cock, the Dog, and the Fox.

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Edition 19: Final Journey by Stephen C. Ormsby

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A last trip, the last time as nGeneer, the last of a bond with the metal behemoth. When one is relegated, removed from a position of usefulness, how do they survive? A finalist in the 2014 Story Quest competition.  SY

I am a part of this train, and the train is a part of me: I am nGeneer. This steel behemoth is not just connected to me; it is part of my DNA.

My forefathers were engineers and ran the trains, but then scientists decoded the human genome and built the technology to create unfathomable cross bred machinery. At an early age, I showed the same aptitude as my father and grandfather, and my body became this joined beast of metal and skin, an nClass 21 diesel locomotive transporter unit.

It nourishes me and I guide it, and together we travel across the Australian landscape, supplying fuels and foodstuffs to the major cities. Merged, we separate only out of courtesy for the workers who have not grown accustomed to this interbreeding.

My smooth metallic panelling warms in the early morning sun, as the passengers board and shuffle for seats. Energy builds as my diesel engine heats, until I have the strength of a dozen machines. The hills will challenge my wheels and my axle yet again, but this will be the last time.

My final journey will begin in a matter of mere minutes.

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Edition 19: Riding a Runaway by Andrew Knighton

flag UKA runaway train hurtling toward the imperial palace. Dirk Dynamo and Timothy Blaze-Simms have to run the gauntlet of automated foot soldiers of a madman bent on vengeance. This pulp-fiction style steampunk was another finalist in 2014’s Story Quest competition. SY

Dirk Dynamo braced himself as the train roared towards him out of the darkness, the cacophony of its wheels and the harsh light from its lamps filling the tunnel. The air was thick with coal smoke and the smell of deep earth. He was tense, coiled, ready for action.

“What a splendid sound!” Timothy Blaze-Simms shouted to be heard.

“Get ready.” Dirk’s hand dropped instinctively to his belt. The reassuring cold steel of the Gravemaker was secure in its holster beneath his fur coat. Down here he was sweating like a Prussian in the sunshine, but he’d be glad of the warmth when they got back up into the Moscow snow.

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Edition 18: Like Clockwork by Tim Major

flag UKWorking for an eccentric and fastidious employer can have its drawbacks, especially when the job entails maintaining an immaculate replica of earth for the governor who never leaves his train route on Mars. The detail of Tim Major’s world and the strange characters who inhabit it recommended this story to the judges and brought it in for second place. SY

At a sound at the door, Mick Votel turned from examining the beautifully constructed, but not ticking, clock on the mantelpiece.

Danielle Abresch placed her bulky white helmet on the floor. “Damned claustrophobic thing.”

She shuffled her feet to kick away clods of dust and squinted to look around the room. The wood-panelled walls and the leafy branches that overhung the single window made the interior of the cottage perpetually dim. Gaslight from the desk lamp reflected from the clocks, barometers, brass-effect trinkets and framed pictures that hung from the panelled walls.

“Hi,” Mick said. “How are the kids getting on?”

Danielle scratched at the base of her shaven scalp. “I love how you pick up a conversation as if no time’s passed in between. It’s been another year, Mick. They’re not really kids any more. Anyway. What’s new? Like I say, it’s been a while.”

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Edition 18: Robert Fairweather and the Wrong Ticket by Mark Rookyard

flag UKHis battles are long over but still Robert Fairweather feels like a relic and out of step with this new world. One chance encounter and Robert ends up on a train in trouble. In this world of steam, Mark Rookyard conjured up some empathetic characters and a dilemma the judges’ could empathise with to take home third place in this year’s Story Quest Competition. SY

The train whistled and steam billowed, great puffing clouds of it spewing all around Robert and the hundreds of others waiting on the platform. A hiss, more steam gasping out, and the steps wound back inside the doors.

Windows glowed golden through the steam, three stories high, and people waved excitedly from the giant brass contraption, looking out for loved ones on the platform.

Friends and family called out, their voices drowned by the hissing and steaming, and then the train was on its way, its brass length sleek and shining in all its glory.

Testament to the glory of man, testament to the glory of one man. A dead man. A beaten man.

The steam and smoke drifted all around Robert now, as idle and lost as those who had been waving farewell to their loved ones. They too drifted about the platform before slipping away into the crowds.

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