“So wait,” said Zane. “Every ant in this hill is a Platonic ideal?”

“That’s right,” Queenie said. “Over there? That worker is the platonic ideal of a slice of pepperoni pizza. The one crawling up your leg? She is classical music.”

“What happens when one of them is…you know…squished?” Zane said, looking very carefully at the pepperoni ant.

“I beg your pardon,” Queenie said. “Are you thinking of squishing pepperoni pizza out of the universal experience?”

“N-no! Well, maybe. I am a vegan after all.”

“My anthill is eternal,” said Queenie. “When one of my daughters dies, the concept dies with them. It is as if it never existed.”

“That’s impossible,” Zane said. He took a moment for the absurdity of saying that to a talking ant queen and expecting an answer to sink in before he continued: “I’d remember the pizza I ate before I went vegan.”

“Oh really? Do you remember zorgbl? My daughter representing zorgbl was taken by an anteater two weeks ago.”

“You’re just making that up.”

“See? You don’t remember. Pity, too. Zorgbl was the favorite food of many a human. And I’m sure you don’t remember cypipre either, or yttuggmix.”

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“The Creator, who lies dead and dreaming…has dreams for us all. And…and when It wakes, It will…”

“There, there, that’s enough,” said Inspector Bryar. “You’re shaking like a leaf, Sister Ethne! An inspector from the Sepulcher is no reason to tremble so.”

“M-my…m-my apologies, Inspector,” said Ethne with a deep curtsey. Her mask, fine-featured and impassive, did not match the quailing tone issuing from it.

“We are not used to our ceremonies being attended by outsiders, I’m afraid,” said Father Yser. He spread his hands in an apologetic way, his fingers doing what his scarred visage could not.

“Of course, I understand completely,” said Bryar with a gentle laugh. “Half the time, I forget the liturgy myself whenever I’m called to recite it.”

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“Fascinating,” said Leanorel. A few more brush strokes revealed the final portions of the mural. “This hallways was used by the dwarves to record their entire history as it happened, from the founding of the settlement to its ultimate failure.”

Aviss, her fellow archaeologist from the Elven Exploration and Excavation Society leaned forward. “We’ve seen the years of plenty, but everyone knows about those from the other settlements. Let’s see the good stuff.”

“This panel…the dwarves seem to be triumphant over the goblins, but the runes tell a different story. They say that the overseer demanded a triumphant mural but it is only a monument to death.”

“Interesting, and not unlike a dwarf to say,” drawled Aviss. “What about that last bit there?”

Leanorel recoiled. “That’s not engraved in the same way, it was chiseled in roughly over another half-finished triumph.”

“What’s it say?”


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“Is it too much to ask where we’re going?” Squan lisped, his fattened lip making him dribble as he talked.

“Harrowshire,” I said.

“Harrowshire? I ain’t been there in years. Ain’t exactly popular there neither. Makes Anairo look like a royal harem.”

“Well,” I spat, “you’re going back. And you’re gonna die there.”

“Oh,” said Squan. “I see. Well, all right then.”

I turned around, craning my neck up to look in his big dumb face. “What’s that supposed to mean?” I said.

“What’s what supposed to mean?” the orc said. “Ain’t mumbling. I said okay.”

“You don’t want to know why I’m bringing you there?” I shouted, somewhat unwisely, as Anairo is all ears for weakness.

“Can’t say as I do. You’ve got your reasons, but I ain’t got a say in ’em.”

“Even if you die?” I said.

“Well, if you really wanted me dead, I’d be dead.” Squan said with a shrug. “If I die when we get where we’re going, that means I get to live for now. Ain’t that a gift? I’ll take it.”

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The faeries have been ruled since time immemorial by a high king and a high queen. As faeries are a contentious lot, they have never been able to agree on a succession. Rather, they elect from among themselves nobles, who in turn elect from among themselves a high king and high queen (not necessarily husband and wife!). The nobles and the high king and high queen rule for a year and a day before a new moot is held. As is their nature, the lowliest peasant faerie may, in the space of two years and two days, become high king or high queen.

Naturally, this has posed problems in the past.

Perhaps the greatest trials come with the death of the high king or high queen before their term is up, which requires an emergency moot. Every faerie proposes their favorite, and etiquette requires that every candidate receive at least one vote. Every faerie then votes for their own nominee, meaning that the high lordship can be decided with as little as two votes.

And that is how, one late April morning, Ms. Ada Mae Spinnaker awoke and put on her tea only to learn that she had been elected high queen of the faeries despite never even voting for herself.

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There wasn’t any evidence that Sqan killed the bartender, but everyone in town assumed he did just because he was an orc. As sheriff, Dad refused to give him over to a lynch mob and let him out a back door.

So the mob lynched Dad instead. I guess they weren’t picky about which innocent person they strung up.

This meant that me and the twins all got branded as outcasts and shunned too, since we were orc lovers and “an orc killed my grandpappy” and what have you. Now we half-folk are pretty close-knit with big families. Everybody’s related to everybody. It didn’t mean much with Dad when his fifth and sixth cousins were doing their thing, but when it came to taking us in or even just taking our money, it was a big fat no.

The twins took it rough. Last I heard they were working as muckrakers in Harrowshire, for somebody who wasn’t half-folk or who paid them a low enough wage to compensate for their “treason.” Me, I took it rougher. Now I work the ruins of Anairo.

It’s close enough to Harrowshire that most of the folk there look at me askance, and most of the shopkeepers won’t buy what I’m selling. But they’ll take my money, at least, and that means that whatever ingots with dead kings I can find deep below are good for them.

No one knows how deep Anairo goes, or how the tunnels are mostly still intact after a thousand years under the water table. Not even the people who supposedly built it, squatting on the ruins. But there’s money to be made, literally made, with a mold and a hammer and gold smelted centuries ago. I’m not the biggest or the toughest or the smartest, but I’m quick on my feet and canny as hell. I’ll make it work. I’ll buy back Dad’s good name. I might even find and kill Squan, who went into the ruins two years ago and never came out.

Or I’ll die trying.

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It looks human enough, with feminine curves and limbs, but all made of feathery tendrils bound tight. We think that the seadragons have pressed themselves into a form similar to ours, but why? We don’t fish for them, and they’re clever enough to avoid being bycatch.

The thing–the “seadragon queen” as the boys have taken to calling it–appeared again as we were putting out our nets. It mimed some of our actions under the water but didn’t touch the food we threw. It didn’t interfere with the nets, either, but just swum around them. Even though it doesn’t–can’t have–eyes like ours, it turns its head to “look” at us.

Our gaffer knows signs–his brother can’t hear–and he’s been teaching them to the seadragon queen as it swims around us. It’s begun signing back, though he says that it’s touch to understand as its mushy “fingers” are the equivalent of an atrocious accent for signs. Since it seems determined to be near us whenever we’re netting, I’ve taken him off his duties to keep an eye on it.

The “seadragon queen” asked us for something. The gaffer says “she” just wanted some food, but she’s never shown any interest in what we’ve thrown her before. I’ve told the men that they can give her anything that we don’t need.

She asked for a knife, and the damn fools gave it to her. We needed it–they don’t come cheap–but now for the first time she has the ability to do more than fascinate the men. She can kill them.

My gaffer is gone. He disappeared sometime after lunch. He’d taught some of the linemen signs, so we’re not completely blind, but I don’t have a good feeling. Why did he have to give her that knife?

Our fishing lines have been cut, clean through. I suspected the seadragon queen until I saw the parting myself–done at an angle, like a fisherman. There’s no way she could have known that.

Three more men missing, even though I’ve set a watch. We got a report of a second seadragon-thing around the new nets, and a third. They say that they aren’t as curvy as the first one. I’m not sure what to think, but I don’t care. The boat goes up for sale tomorrow. Let the new captain figure this out.

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