To a mage, water carries memories. Wine conveys the fears of those who made it. Rain whispers the darkest secrets of a city. Gatja may only use her gifts in service to the Order; or her magic will rip her mind apart.To a mage, stone carries power. Bones in the earth teach legacy. Lines in the sand dictate who lives and who dies; but Riad can no longer tell friend from enemy. Riad’s family begs the Order for aid, and they send Gatja to assess and solve the problem.If only his family hadn’t murdered hers.
The flying castle will be dropping me off in your realm this fall to attend Archon 41! Women and nonbinary authors, please be sure to submit your original (no reprint) stories for Artemis Rising before you head out, as our submission window will close on Sept 30.
Sept 29 – Oct 1, 2017
Gateway Convention Center and DoubleTree Hotel
This convention promises the usual from me — religion, fighting, and the inescapable lure of human darkness — capped off on Sunday with a reading chock-full of all three. Come say hello!
The Cinematic Wonder Woman’s Badass Predecessors
20:00 – 20:50, Illini A (Gateway Center)
A discussion celebrating Ripley, Xena, Buffy, and more. Why do we love women who kick butt?
What a question.
With Claire Ashgrove, Tom Stockman, and Ethan Nahté
11:00 – 11:50, Salon 4 (Gateway Center)
An open and respectful look at real-life alternate or non-mainstream religions.
I’ll be moderating, with Christine Amsden, Ms Joy Ward, and Walt Boyes
Writing Modern-Day Monsters
12:00 – 12:50, Marquette A (Gateway Center)
Discuss what a “modern-day monster” is (or can be), and how to write an effective one.
With Mr Michales Joy, and Guy Anthony De Marco
Recurring Themes in Speculative Science Fiction
16:00 – 16:50, Marquette B (Gateway Center)
Speculative fiction has become more and more popular in recent years. Come participate in a discussion on themes in spec lit and what’s on the horizon.
I’m moderating (the fantasist snuck in! Shh!), with Celine Chatillon, Dr Pamela Gay, and Tom Carpenter
19:00 – 19:50, Illini A (Gateway Center)
How do myths from different cultures compare? What are some recurring themes? What myths seem to be culturally unique?
I’m moderating, with Michael Benjamin, Lloyd Kropp, Walt Boyes, and Kasey Mackenzie
Short-Story Podcasting for Writers, Readers, and Voice Actors
10:00 – 10:50, Salon 6 (Gateway Center)
Escape Artists represent — woop woop! Podcasts are a huge opportunity to publish and listen to short fiction, and engage with the fan community. They can also provide an avenue into audio book narration and voice acting. Join us to discuss the podcasts we love, how to build a recording setup, and the path to publication.
With the ever-brilliant Benjamin C. Kinney of Escape Pod
Making Friends in Fandom
13:00 – 13:50, Illini A (Gateway Center)
It’s hard to make new friends, but it’s easier when you have common interests. Get tips on how to make friends as adults.
With Mrs. Susan Baugh, Cindi Gille-Rowley, Tom Meserole, Steve Lopata
Author Readings with David Benem and Setsu Uzume
14:00 – 14:50, Cahokian (Gateway Center)
Tag-teaming with David Benem
PseudoPod 537: A World of Bones by Brian Trent went live on April 7.
When you audition to be a narrator for Escape Artists, we ask for a bit of information. Experience, languages, and dialects are all important; but so is knowing which material you’d consider off-limits. Forcing a performance sucks, both for the narrator and for the audience — and we’d never want our narrators to read anything they feel uncomfortable with. Some narrators prefer not to read sex, some graphic violence, some prefer to stay away from particular themes, and some are down for anything.
I generally decline graphic content, but this story gave me a chance to push those boundaries out a bit. Brian wrote a great, evocative tale, and I’m grateful to him and PseudoPod for giving me this chance to grow as a performer. Turns out I’m far more convincing as an ancient creeper than a heroine.
Shocking, I know.
While I am proud of this one, I will not be telling my parents about it. Lame, I know, but it’s a big step for me.
Here is some of my other voice work. I’ll keep updating the Narration page.
Beneath Ceaseless Skies
- “The Night Bazaar for Women Becoming Reptiles”
by Rachael K. Jones
- “Sweet Cetaceans” by Effie Seiberg and Anatoly Belilovsky
- “There Will Come Soft Rains” by Sara Teasdale
- “The Android’s Prehistoric Menagerie” by A. Merc Rustad
- “Spirit Forms of the Sea” by Bogi Takács
- “The Color of Regret” by Carrie Patel
- “The Cruelest Team Will Win” by Mike Allen
- “In Mixcoatl’s Net” by Charlie Allison
- “Fated Ink” by Siobhan Gallegher
- “The Sphinx at Giza” by Lord Dunsany, for PodCastle’s 9th anniversary
- “Hibakusha” by L.P. Lee
- “Needle Mouth” by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam
I started doing short-fiction narrations in 2015. Here are some things I’ve noticed since I started.
Hardware, software, recording setup
- Audacity is still my favorite for recording and editing voice. Other programs worth investigating include Amadeus Pro, Logic Express, Garageband, Parametric EQ, Adobe Audition, and RX 5 Audio Editor.
- I made a sound recording box by lining a cardboard box with about two inches of foam (it’s a big box), and putting my Blue Yeti mic inside it.
- The gain on the Blue Yeti mic (there’s a dial) is only at about 75%, and I make any other adjustments to the recording levels in audacity. This was meant to cut down on hiss, while still getting a loud and clear recording of my voice.
- I got an even cleaner sound when I moved the recording box into a large coat closet, with the coats still in there for sound insulation. Glamorous, huh?
- The sound box or sound insulation you create probably matters more than the microphone if you’re on a budget.
- For narration, recording in Mono halves the size of the file. Stereo isn’t necessary.
- It’s way easier to listen to all the versions and pick one take during editing, than to try to go back and insert something after the fact (see Feels for more).
- Make sure you test your recording before you dive in. If there’s a technical issue midway through, you have to do the whole thing over again.
- If you have a tablet or a smartphone, try reading off that. Paper rustles, mouses click. That stuff is a pain in the neck to edit out.
- Meet your deadlines. You don’t have to be the best, but if you can deliver satisfactory product on time, that means a lot.
Your voice, your body, your digestive system
- Slow down.
- I’ve gotten the best response from listeners when my voice was messed up, such as after being sick.
- Warming up your voice gives you a richer and more consistent sound. If you decide to blow your voice out to make it gravelly, screaming is one option. My favorite band for warming up my voice is System of a Down (because they go really high and really low, depending on the harmony line you sing) and In This Moment.
- If you have to stop recording — because you flubbed, or a car crashed outside, or the neighbor’s dog is barking — repeat the line at least twice. Sometimes the frustration of having had to pause is still in your voice. Your director ear will notice, even if your actor ear doesn’t.
- Different accents happen in different places in your mouth. This can sometimes help you keep track of different characters during one recording session.
- Similarly, different voices happen in different places in your throat. Pay attention to the physical sensation of a low voice, or the amount of air you’re using for a breathy voice. This is all muscle control, just like a pianist practicing finger position.
- There’s a tendency for emotional stories or accented stories to speak in a monotone, or to rush over certain words to make it sound like fluency. I am guilty of this. Don’t do this, it sounds terrible.
- Slow down.
- There are resources for accent study, such as the International Dialects of English Archive (IDEA).
- When I’ve had trouble pronouncing certain names of people (or rivers, or pastry), YouTube is a great resource. There are lots of interviews that begin with, “I’m here with Superstar Sportysport,” which will help you pronounce “Superstar.” This is also helpful when you’re dealing with unfamiliar spellings of familiar names.
- Keep an ear out for foods that make your stomach growl. It’ll rumble when you’re hungry, and it’ll rumble when you’re digesting. The mic can pick that up.
- For wet mouth, I’ve had some success with green apple slices. Several things can contribute to that ungodly clicking noise. Wet mouth is one, allergies can be another (the clicking can be up in your sinuses as well), and I’ve also heard that some of the clicks are caused by not opening your mouth wide enough when you speak. Avoid water, sugar, milk products, and coffee before and during a recording session.
- Seriously. Slow down. For narration, clear enunciation will be more important than acting every time.
Acting, vocal theater, seven roles in 30 minutes
- If you’re cutting your own recording, you’re both the director and all of the actors. Give your future self something to work with, and remember your mistakes so you can figure out how to fix them. It’s a learning process, and we get better with practice.
- Read through the story before you record it. You’re helping build toward the twist and the resolution. You’re in a position to plant seeds as much as the text is.
- Old voices, young voices, gendered voices, and anything else that isn’t your natural voice risks becoming caricature. If you can hit the full emotional range in that voice without laughing or rolling your eyes (unless it’s in the script), you’ve got it.
- People can’t see your face or your body language when you’re recording. However, you can still make faces and gesticulate if that helps you infuse emotion into your voice. When you’re listening to someone’s voicemail message, you can tell whether or not they were smiling, right? Same thing.
- During certain key moments (other than when I forget how words work) I’ll record a sentence or a piece of dialogue multiple times. This lets me work up to the right emotional pitch, and it gives me a chance to emphasize different words in the sentence to see what fits with the narrative, the characters, and the final ending. For example…
- “We must forgive” could be read as, “WE must forgive,” or “we MUST forgive,” or “we must FORGIVE.” Each sentence is making a slightly different point.
- I think the most recordings I’ve made of a single sentence was 26 times, because I couldn’t get my voice to crack quite the way I wanted until take 19 or so. Let the recording run until you’re back in the moment. Stay in the story; you can fix the recording later.
- Speaking of staying in the story… I do want to kill my neighbor’s dog. Or at least tranquilize it. Unfortunately, both of these options are illegal (and will probably stress my neighbor out), so it’s been more handy to learn how to hold the emotional tension in my mind while waiting for the dog to stop barking, say the line again twice, and then continue with the story.
- For emotional depth, acting chops, and bringing dozens of characters to life with vocal variety and consistency, my hands-down favorite narrators are Jim Dale (Harry Potter), and Tony Robinson (Discworld).
Whether you want to record short fiction, audiobooks, or be an anime or video game actor, short fiction narration is a great way to get your feet wet and make a little cash in the process.
For more in-depth details and lessons on voice acting from an experienced professional, check out Voice Acting Mastery, hosted by Crispin Freeman.
Interested in narrating for audio books? Check out the Audiobook Creation Exchange, where authors, narrators, studio professionals, publishers, and agents look for and showcase voice talent.
Interested in narrating for Escape Artists? Pseudopod, PodCastle, Cast of Wonders, and EscapePod are all looking for narrators to fit their stories. If you are a native speaker of a language or dialect other than Standard American English, we would love to hear from you.
**THIS POST DOES NOT REPRESENT THE OPINION OR METHODOLOGY OF ANY ANTHOLOGY OR MAGAZINE I HAVE WORKED FOR. ALL VIEWS ARE MY OWN.
Hello new writers! Welcome to the game.
Here is some stuff I’ve learned about short fiction submission (and hopefully sales) in the Science Fiction and Fantasy genres. I expect that some of this will be wrong, or not true in all cases. If you’ve had stuff published before, you probably know all this.
My credentials: I write mostly fantasy, and have slushed for the Upside Down anthology released by Apex Magazine. I currently slush (am a first-reader) for Escape Artists, specifically Podcastle and Cast of Wonders. I also have written a small number of spotlights (tiny interviews based on short stories) for Lightspeed.
Why am I writing this: I tweeted something re: short fiction submissions, and discovered some people saying the process is opaque. Hopefully these 9 items will shed some light on what happens to your story.
1. What is a slusher? Why should I listen to you?
When a short story gets sent to a publication (sometimes called a market), it enters a queue. The first round of readers, called slushers, read through the stories and decide which ones to pass up to the editor. This is sometimes called a “bump.” If the story doesn’t quite match the publication, or the prose isn’t quite there yet, it will be rejected at this stage. More on that below.
The word slush comes from back in the day when people would submit their stories by printing them out and tossing them through the mail slot. You can visualize how a thick pile of white manuscript paper resembles a chunky, half-melted snow drift.
Why listen to me? You don’t have to listen to me, there are lots of posts by much more successful writers, editors, and agents — but after about a year of being a slush reader, I’ve observed a few missteps that are pretty easy to fix. You know. If people know about them.
2. My story is done, and revised, and ready to go! What next?
Are you sure it’s done?
Have you gotten feedback on plot, sentence structure, pacing, plausibility?
Have you checked for common tropes that might be overused?
If no, go back and fix it.
If yes, read on.
Do not skip the revision step. Once you send a story to a market, you cannot re-submit it. Consider that bridge, for that story, burned.
But you can always submit different stories.
There are lots of places to submit your story, and new markets and anthologies pop up all the time. My go-to search engine is the Submission Grinder. There I can search not only by subgenre and length, but I can also search by the pay-level. Around 3cents a word is semi-pro, and around 6cents per word is considered a pro-rate.
Why join a guild? Friendship, news, and some resources. You’ll need to make at least one sale at 6cents/word in order to qualify for either of those.
3. How do I know if my story is what that market is looking for?
Well… you don’t. We don’t either. That’s why “don’t self reject” is common and good advice. However, here are the elements at play in a decision.
- You have to learn that market. Read the magazine. Listen to the podcasts. There are many styles within a genre. Some fantasy markets want old-school Conan adventures. Some fantasy markets are deeply committed to beautiful, understated language that cut to the emotional core.
- Subbing to a market without a broad sense of their taste is like going on a date with the editor and only talking about yourself. Hard to make a meaningful match that way.
- Is your story the best story in the pile, at the time? Sometimes we’ll get five stories in a pile that we absolutely adore, but we only have two slots available.
- I’ve had one friend get rejected because their story was similar to one that was recently purchased. They waited a year, the editors changed, they resubmitted, and sold the story.
- Taste is subjective. The stuff I like, the stuff my fellow slushers like, and the stuff my editors like might not match exactly. My editors have been kind enough to let me know if I’m going in a different direction from them, and I’ll adjust. If I don’t click with a story, but I recognize that the writing is really good, I leave it for someone else to judge.
4. I found a market I want to submit to. What next?
Check their web site for submission guidelines. That includes file type, formatting instructions, and cover letter content. I can’t speak for all magazines/markets, but most cover letters for short fiction should be brief.
Cover letters for short stories:
Here’s “my story,” at # words.
I’ve been published —, –, and —.
— (@KatanaPen) October 21, 2016
I see a lot of cover letters that are fluffed up into more details than this. To be honest, as a slusher (and kind of a jerk) I’m not interested. If your story is good, then people will like it, and they will like our magazine by extension. This is a business. There are no pity-sales.
If you don’t have previous publication creds, that’s totally fine. You can also list esteemed workshops and awards if you like, such as Clarion, Viable Paradise, or Taos Workshop. I don’t really care about that stuff, though. Mostly I will be envious you got to enjoy those experiences, and I haven’t yet.
I care about your story.
5. What about inclusion? Don’t you want to know if I’m non-binary?
This is the one exception to the above tweet. I do look for things that indicate the author has come from an underrepresented demographic, and I also look for notes on their occupation or other lived experience (i.e., refugee, Indigenous Cultural Advocacy, etc).
This does not include your feelings or intentions.
The reason I glance at this information depends largely on the topic and themes of the story. These qualities lend veracity to stories about those particular topics, but quality comes first, always.
I have also used this information to make sure I’m not misinterpreting unfamiliar language as “improper” language. Everyone slushes differently, and I’m still learning how to do this properly.
6. What if I get rejected?
There are a few kinds of rejections.
Form rejection – general, no details about your story. Either a poor fit, or the writing wasn’t quite ready.
Personal rejection – these are actually really great! The top 10% of rejections. They’ll tell you something specific about why your story wasn’t working for the editor. The trick is to go from being in the top 10% (personal rejections) to the top 1% (publication).
Rewrite request – “if you’re willing to make these changes, then we can send you a contract. LMK if that’s ok.” When I’ve been asked for rewrites in the past, I have done them — with the intention to revisit the cut material in other stories (if what was cut out was really important to me). It’s totally ok if you don’t want to make changes. No one will blacklist you for sticking to your guns.
Silence. Check the magazine’s website. Sometimes they’ll indicate how long you should wait to query. Querying is totally fine IF you do it during the time-span suggested (i.e., after waiting 3 months).
Regardless of what kind of rejection you get, it’s totally fine. It happens to most of us, all the time. Keep writing new stories, keep revising, and keep sending them out. It’s totally ok to “trunk” (put a way) a story if you’re not sure if it will sell. You should start the next one as soon as you can, though. If you have writer-buddies, this is how we keep our spirits up. If you don’t have writer buddies, check out some forums or Twitter or G+ and see if other people are looking. That’s a whole other post by itself.
7. What if I get accepted?
There will be a contract and a celebration, most likely. Possibly also dollars. Once the party’s over, start writing the next story.
8. You’re so mean! Why do you say you don’t care?
It’s not personal, it’s business.
That said, in light of privilege and intersectionality, there’s still a lot of work to be done. There are millions of stories not getting told, that really need to be. There are voices that aren’t getting their share of the spotlight, that really should be. All of our experiences are unique, as are our voices. You might have some insight I’ve been waiting my whole life to hear. I want you to keep writing, reading, learning, growing, improving… so that when it’s your turn, you’re bulletproof.
I don’t want you to miss out because your sentences are clunky. I don’t want you to miss out because you’ve been sending your military SF to urban fantasy markets. I want you to have every opportunity available, and I want you to not waste it by making small, fixable mistakes.
9. What if I have more questions?
Slushers are largely invisible because of the odd person who will respond to a rejection with an argument, or in some cases, a baseball bat. Never EVER argue. Ever. Don’t even send thank-you notes. By allowing slushers and editors a bit of professional distance, we have the spoons to do our jobs correctly, voting on each story on its own merits.
This is a business. We are more likely to do business with other people who treat it like a business.
If you really want to get back at us, or thank us, keep writing. Write something that knocks our socks off. Keep trying. You’ll get there.
In the end, all that matters is the story.
The writers that are loudest about process advice tend to also be the newest (and not successful, yet). Don’t worry too much about finding the right path into the industry. Write and read, write and read.
When trying to figure out who to listen to, check their publication credits. How many books do they have out? Are they selling well? What awards to they have? Are they regularly invited to speak at conventions? Have they been interviewed or published in trade magazines like Locus?
Spoiler alert: I have done none of these things. So if you have the opportunity, become a slusher yourself. You’ll see what it’s like out there.
Author Kristene Perron is one of the most genuine individuals I’ve ever met. As part of the launch of the fourth book in the Warpworld series, Perron and a number of other authors will dive deep into the concept of loss. How we cope, how we process, and what part loss plays in a story. She writes:
In a world that at times feels obsessed with having more, more, more, it is intriguing to see how much we gain when something is taken away, pulled from us against our will. The characters in the Warpworld series lose their freedom, their beliefs, their privilege, their homes, their families, and yet somehow, as Lois McMaster Bujold so beautifully expresses in her novel Memory, they “go on”. In the weeks to come, we’ll introduce you to some amazing real life people who have found their own way through loss, their own way to “go on”.
I had the honor of writing the first guest post on the subject. Here’s an excerpt:
For all my unpublished short fiction, I can pinpoint where I was when I wrote the story and who I wrote it for. The names and places change. They’re overlaid with magic and technology, separated by eons of time and light-years of space; but the feelings never change. Lost love still hurts. Lost family cannot be replaced. Choices cannot be unmade and death cannot be undone. When someone or something I love disappears, and there are thousands of words left unsaid, I have to put them somewhere.
Read the full article here.
When the call went out for the Women in Practical Armor anthology, nearly everyone I know sent me the link and told me to submit a story. I realized that I didn’t have any stories that fit the theme, so I thought about women who were defined by their armor. By their equipment. The world has a dire lack of stories about the power of older women, much less older WOC women — so I knew I wanted to write a story about sexy, badass, post-menopausal veterans.
I read about a festival celebrating a goddess’s menstrual cycle, which had me thinking about purity, and how religions pick different standards of virtue. Then I came across a documentary about early engineering in Moorish Cordoba, and the setting started to take shape.
What if these three women — these seasoned veterans — were asked to sacrifice themselves to a goddess. They’ve been through a lot. They’ve been failed by the bureaucracy, but were good enough at their jobs to both stay alive and rise to power.
In my head, these three looked at each other, looked at the sacrifice orders, and said, “…this is bullshit. Why don’t we kill her instead?”
And the story began.
In the beginning, the animosity between Kejra, Nouli, and Rohnaq was much more reserved. Rohnaq collected Kejra from a bar, and Nouli didn’t show until much later. You could tell that they loved each other, and their banter was closer to ribbing than cutting. You can see, through their body language, and the way they finish each other’s sentences, how close they are.
Once Rohnaq revealed the things she’d done in the name of her principles and career, the rift between the three went deeper. The tension ramped up.
In my experience, friendship forged between martial artists, (and possibly between veterans) is defined by the fact that we play rough. We push each other hard. We’ve suffered together, and taken pride in it. My little brother and I met as pre-teens and absolutely hated each other. He’s made me bleed, and I’ve broken his nose — but I wouldn’t want anyone else at my back in a crisis, because I know what he’s capable of. I was there. I put him through it. We are better because we were rough on each other. We trust each other’s strength because we’ve witnessed it. Whatever happens, we’ll handle it. We won’t crumble. We won’t disappear.
To outsiders this looks like abuse, but it’s not. Because of our context, it is respect, love, and trust. Rohnaq hits hard; but Kejra and Nouli know her, and know why she did what she did. Their history begs the question of whether or not such a bond can be repaired — and that’s when the story went beyond its action-adventure inception. This story didn’t make it into Women in Practical Armor, but after a few more revisions it found a home.
This is the first scene I wrote of the first draft, which I call the story’s “baby photo.” I was very sad to cut the bit with the mirrored dish, but ultimately it didn’t fit.
For Honor, For Waste
(1st scene, 1st draft)
Kejra tossed her walking stick at an attendant and collapsed onto a cushioned chair. She pushed the stopper from the bottle with her thumb and it dropped to the table, bounced, and rolled off while she took a swig. “A fine honor, to be sent to our death as a gift for Manaph!” She leaned forward on the table, stabbing it with her index finger. “When we took the Lejine Span, we made an effort to learn their language so that the tax laws could be enforced with compassion. Those barbarians would sacrificed the most beautiful, most talented girl and boy to the river to prevent it from flooding. The custom of shared ways enriches and stains in equal measure.”
Nouli made a beckoning gesture and Kejra passed her the bottle. She sat gracefully and without a sound, taking the time to pour a measure into a glass. “And if we are not to fight each other for this honor, what shall it be instead? Poetry?”
“Oh we’ll fight,” said Rohnaq. “But… not each other.”
Kejra arched a brow at the city commander. “The oligarchs won’t put up with that sort of thing. If we don’t fight, our provinces will be punished. Our families will lose their holdings.”
“That’s their aim in the first place. Don’t you see? Between the three of us we run the military. General Vesher had her day when he united the peninsula fifteen years ago and since then she’s been sitting on her wealth. The oligarchs still pay her prettily but she’s left the day to day running of the city in my hands. It’s the same with you and the archers, isn’t it, Nouli? And you Kejra? When was the last time you received more than perfunctory orders regarding the infantry? Problem in Lejine, take care of Tarjine, rebels in Affojine. That’s not leadership. We haven’t been chosen by Manaph, we’ve been offered up by a threatened general.”
“Perhaps you seek insults where none exist,” said Nouli. “We perform our duties as ordered. Lack of specificity indicates Vesher’s faith in our ability. I never liked being loomed over while I work.”
“Then you plan to take the honor according to the proper performance of Manaph’s rite?” Kejra asked.
Nouli faced Rohnaq with her shoulders back and her chin held at an imperious level. Despite her challenging stance, her voice remained soft. “I have sons and daughters to carry on my clan and they have been well-educated to maintain our holdings for their children. If I am to be offered to Manaph, then I accept the honor.”
Kejra shook her head with a chuckle, taking her wine bottle back. Rohnaq pressed her palm on the mouth of the bottle, preventing Kejra from taking a drink.
“She’ll come to us at the offering ground,” said Rohnaq. “Between us three, we could drive her back.”
Kejra’s barking laugh caused the other two to wince. “You cannot drive back a goddess of love; never mind a blood-frenzied creature like Manaph. Managing a city takes intelligence, Rohnaq. It is a pity that your imagination has not been tempered by it.”
Rohnaq’s eyes slid to Nouli’s. “Surely you are not eager to die. Not when you could best fulfill your duty by remaining a marklord.”
“Wasteful,” Rohnaq said, correcting her.
“Ah yes, wasteful,” said Kejra. “We can’t abide waste in the service, can we?”
“All war is waste,” said Nouli. “Wasted lives, wasted lands, wasted silver in poorly managed supply chains.”
“We can stop it. The three of us.” Rohnaq kept her eyes locked on Nouli. “You, Kejra and I. If we agree to take the honor as sisters-in-arms, out of respect for each other’s accomplishments, the oligarchs will be forced to send us all to Manaph. Then we can strike together. That is excellence.”
“They will think we have something planned. I will not have my husband and children threatened because you are afraid to die,” said Nouli. “Or have you forgotten what’s at stake for the rest of us? You foreswore family, property, and lineage when you became City Commander. You have nothing else.”
“Then you see why I cannot allow you to die.”
Kejra sniffed. Nouli averted her eyes. Rohnaq looked at the floor for a moment, and swallowed. Perhaps they were afraid. Rohnaq had thought she had become inured to the anxiety that frayed her resolve on the eve of battle; but this was something more. The admission of need, of family, of something to lose felt like a blood-letting; and yet it was the truth. It was accurate, and accuracy had saved them more than once. “The three of us have been together since we began. Even you, Kejra. You stuck with us even though you outranked us in the beginning. I am not afraid to die, but I prefer to live.”
“The warrior’s road leads to oblivion,” Kejra quoted, “to face each dawn in full knowledge that it will be the last; and feel no fear in certainty.”
“And you will be better able to protect your lands, your holdings, and your grandchildren if you return to them. You have fought so hard for so long to reach this point, my friend. You are too good to throw yourself away like this.”
Nouli fingered one of her iron-grey braids, still thick despite her years.
“Perhaps we have all grown sentimental in old age,” said Kejra, “But I think I would rather fight alongside you and Rohnaq than try to edge either of you out in competition; even if the prize is to be eaten by a goddess.”
“Then we’re agreed?” said Rohnaq.
“I was nearly twenty years old at the end of the Seeding Cycle and I remember her well. She’s as big as a house,” said Kejra. “And covered in armor.”
“Yes, I was seven when she last appeared. Her armor was segmented, and she had a face. Those sound like weaknesses to me.”
Nouli considered Rohnaq for a moment. “I will hear your strategy,” she said, folding her arms as her cloak draped back over her and nearly closed, like a priest’s. “Then I will decide.”
Rohnaq turned to Kejra, suddenly animated. “Remember the siege when Forlinnet came through the tunnel under the southwestern wall? Nouli, you weren’t there for this.”
Kejra straightened and knitted her brow to remember. “In Subaipo or…?”
“No, this was earlier. Remember? They filed in just between the two archers’ towers at the second wall?”
Kejra glanced at Nouli. “We don’t have enough archers to put Manaph in a pincer like that.”
Rohnaq shook her head. “We don’t need to. There’s only one Manaph. The point is, we’ll direct her toward one path, Nouli shoots her from above, and then you run in sideways and open her up to stab her heart. Surprise flank.”
“It won’t work,” said Nouli. “Manaph’s cave drops into the sea and she’s armored like a crushclaw. Crushclaws are solid on top so that the sea birds can’t attack them directly, my arrows would bounce right off. If her form even remains that way.”
Kejra upended a mirrored dish and fruit rolled from the table onto the floor. She breathed on it, and then started drawing their positions on the fogged surface. “Then you’ll need to be in front of her. Especially if she rears. She’s got armor underneath also.”
“There’s no cover!” Nouli objected.
“How far can you shoot, a hundred strides?” asked Rohnaq. “Age must have taken your sight or your strength from you.”
Nouli scoffed. “I have lost neither. It doesn’t matter if she thrashes, I could hit her with thumbnail accuracy at two-hundred; but that’s not the question.” Nouli pointed to Kejra’s mirror. “The span of her offering ground is less than one hundred strides. The question is whether or not my arrows will be heavy enough to penetrate. It doesn’t make sense to bring a longbow to fight at middle-range. The oligarchs will expect me to have a smaller weapon if we giving the appearance of fighting one another. I don’t know if a smaller poundage would even harm her.”
“If she hungers, she can be killed,” said Rohnaq, grimly.
“So that leaves you and I to open her armor,” said Kejra.
Rohnaq picked up a grape, an almond, and a broken square of hardcake, placing each one on the mirror. “Nouli, this is you.” She placed one finger on the purple grape, rolling it back and forth at the far perimeter of the span. “I will be here,” she placed the almond in front of the smudge indicating Manaph’s cave, with the sharp tip pointing toward it. “Then Kejra, here, at her flank. Your spear will be able to prize her open.”
“Mighty Rohnaq, controlling the funnel.” Kejra laughed. “I hope age has taught you more grace. I still remember your face when tried to free your sword from Forlinnet’s spine. Messiest beheading I’ve ever seen.”
Nouli stared down in silence, offering no argument.
“It’s settled, then.” Rohnaq picked up the almond in one gloved fist and swept the mirror clean, spilling the grape and cake-crumb to the floor. She popped the almond into her mouth and chewed. “Try not to get in each other’s way.”