Category: Short

From Within

From Within

Short Story: Science Fiction, Future, Androids, Robots, Artificial Intelligence.

Release date:  21 December 2023

In a future where humans are on the brink of extinction, the dominant androidic species faces its own kind of cataclysmic updates from the mainframe.

Anthology: House of Zolo’s Journal of Speculative Literature Volume 4

Editors: Erika Steeves and Nihls Andersen

Publisher: House of Zolo

Out now! House of Zolo | Goodreads |

The Kitten, the Dragons, and Storytelling by the Sea

The Kitten, the Dragons, and Storytelling by the Sea

The outline of a cat and the words: Did you see me in Alia Terra? This is my story.

A short story set in the universe of Alia Terra: Stories from the Dragon Realm. Download in .pdf here [130 KB] or read below.

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Once upon a time there lived a kitten with a passion for stories. He grew up reading everything he could get his paws onto. Short or long, sad or happy, the kitten would read all. And as dawn neared, finding him asleep with the whiskers tickled by the pages of an open book, he dreamed of… more stories. New ones, with fantastic adventures and daring magic.

The kitten’s head grew so full with these imagined tales that one day he picked up a quill and started scribbling. A sentence today, a few words tomorrow, and soon the kitten had an entire story to call his own.

Leaping with joy, he rushed to where the town storytellers were gathered in the square.

“Look,” he said, fluttering the sheet of paper. “I wrote!”

But in return came only flaws. “Too soft,” the others said, “not enough action,” and “it won’t draw the crowds.” They gave advice, of shoulds and shouldn’ts until the story they described no longer resembled the kitten’s own.

Disheartened, he left the storytellers to their debate. So lost in thought was he, traveling down the street, that to avoid colliding with a human leg, the kitten dropped the story in his dash to safety.

Peeking back from around the corner, the kitten saw a girl pick up the sheet. She read and read and—

“Oh,” the girl said, wobbly and sniffly. “I can’t believe it! I’ve never found myself in a story before.” She looked around, then back to the paper. “Whoever wrote this, thank you.”

She sat against the wall the kitten was hiding behind and pulled out a notebook with a pen. Under the kitten’s wide eyes, the girl copied every word.

“So I’ll remember it forever,” she whispered when she finished.

The kitten wiped his cheeks with a paw, realizing that perhaps stories like his were needed in the world, after all.

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After that, he wrote and wrote. His tales were ones of friendships and kindness and happy endings. But the kitten wasn’t brave enough to show them himself. Instead, he left them wherever he went. A scroll at the tavern, a folio in a fairy’s garden, a page hidden among the maps of a merchant.

The stories soon became known across the land. Whenever a paw-tale was found, copies were made and distributed, while their author watched from the shadows, unknown.

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The kitten weaved worlds with words, spun lives into existence, dripped ink into the veins of his characters, but he felt like his own story slipped through his claws. He wandered the roads, but never stopped to know anyone. Never found the courage to let himself be seen.

The kitten was lonely.

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One afternoon, as the kitten made his way to his nighttime spot, he found the tiny stretch of beach taken over by three dragons. The purple of the bunch sipped tea from a steaming cup, the golden lounged in the grass, while the third kept to the water, only the head bobbing up above the waves.

They were telling stories, the kitten realized, hidden behind the thicket of bushes that kept the place safe from prying eyes.

Behind them, the sea stretched in pinks and blues of the sunset, a jewel under the dimming light, and the kitten settled in to listen about a tower, and seafriends, and a magic sword.

When the kitten woke in the morning, the dragons were gone and so were their tales. The kitten wondered, then, what if he would have stepped forward? Shared his own? But, he shook his head, no. It would only lead to disappointment.

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“Guess what I found in the merchant’s cart the other day,” Purple said, whipping out a book. “A volume of paw-tales.”

The other two hummed appreciatively and the kitten let himself grin a little, whiskers brushing the leaves shielding him.

“Imagine my surprise,” Purple continued, “when one of the stories was about three dragons meeting weekly by the sea.”

“A story about us?” Fishdragon rose from the water to lean against a boulder.

“Our secrets?” Goldie asked, sword hilt clutched in zir claw.

“Oh, no,” the kitten whispered and three heads swiveled toward him.

“Nothing of the sort,” Purple answered, squinting at the bushes. “Imagined adventures.”


The kitten didn’t dare move, lest he gave himself away further. Silence settled around them for a while, but finally Purple pulled a cake box out of their backpack. They dished it out, one slice for Goldie, one for Fishdragon, one for themself, and another…

“We know you’re out there,” they said. “And we won’t force you to come out, but if you wish to join us, we’d be happy to meet you.”

The three dragons turned their attention away, and the kitten breathed a sigh of relief. Now was his chance to flee. Yet, the kitten’s eyes were drawn by the fourth slice, sitting there in open invitation. The dragons began their conversation as they usually did, with accounts of their weeks, new stories they’d heard. Except this time, once in a while, one of them would throw a comment or a question toward the kitten’s hiding spot.

Perhaps… perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad to say hello, so the kitten stepped forward.

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“So the paw signature is an actual paw impression,” said Fishdragon. “Clever!”

The kitten ducked his head with a snicker. Bellies satisfied by the cake, their chat drew long into the night, until with stretches and popping joints, the dragons prepared to leave.

“Where’s your lair?” Purple asked the kitten. “I can drop you off, if you wish.”

“Thank you, but I stay here.”

Goldie turned around. “We’ve been invading your home?”

“No, no.” The kitten waved a paw. “I only sleep here. I don’t—” Don’t what, he thought. It was time to stop talking, especially given the looks he was receiving.

“Kitten,” Fishdragon said. “Would you like to come with me? Meet my seafriends? We have tasty algae down at the bottom of the sea.”

“Or join us,” Goldie piped up, the sword in their clutch vibrating in agreement. “Our princess makes the best of breads and our knight the warmest of fires.”

“Or come to the tower,” Purple added. “The blankets and pillows are so very comfortable for naps.”

The kitten wrapped his tail around himself where he sat. “I—”

“Mm?” The dragons leaned closer.

Answering was impossible. How could the kitten even make that choice? How could he pick one and disappoint the other two?

He ran, instead. As fast as his paws carried him, the kitten dashed over the sand and around the bend of the shore, to disappear from sight.

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Chest heaving, the kitten slowed down. Up high, the moon bathed everything in silvery light. He hadn’t made it all that far, but he had almost wandered into the forest patch nobody should. As if hearing his thoughts, the local zmeu sauntered out from between the trees.

“My, my, what a hurried little creature you are. Who upset you?”

Without thinking, the kitten blurted, “They didn’t mean to! I just can’t be in three places at once… no matter how much I want to.”

The last part was added softly, for his own, but the zmeu heard it, because, as the kitten was trudging away, he asked, “What if you could?”

“What do you mean?”

The zmeu snapped his scaly fingers. “I have magic. I could split you in three, but there’s a price.”

“Which is?”

“You have to give up that which brings you the most joy.”

Never write stories again? The kitten’s eyes filled. What a cruel offer.

Before he could answer, a clawed palm smacked the zmeu upside the head.

“We won’t be taking any of your deals,” Fishdragon said from the waves while Purple stood menacingly, looming over them.

The zmeu batted back at Purple’s claw, scoffing. “You know where to find me when you change your mind,” he said, then walked back into the forest.

The dragons turned to the kitten.

“You know you don’t have to choose—”

“You don’t even have to come—”

“Not if you don’t want to—”

“But we can always take turns—”

“If you want to—”

“We’re sorry—”

“Stop,” the kitten whispered and three jaws snapped shut. “I would like it very much, if I can visit you all.” He sniffled and tried to stealthily wipe at his eyes, but thankfully the others didn’t say anything.

“Come on,” Goldie said. “Let’s go back while you think about who’s first.”

Purple rubbed their forehead. “That’s the opposite of what he needs!”

“What,” Goldie defended.

As they bickered, Fishdragon swam closer to the kitten. “I’m claiming you first, it’s decided. And don’t worry, I’ll tell them.”

“Got room for one more?” Purple asked and Fishdragon smirked.

“I’ll swim down, too, after I let everyone know where I am,” Goldie added. The sword wiggled and ze stared at it for a moment. “Right, I happen to know a mage that can make us magic scrolls to write to each other while away. Would you like that?”

The other two dragons agreed readily, and the kitten grinned wide enough to show fangs.

“Have you heard,” he said as they made their way back to their tiny beach corner, “about the tale of the enchanted scrolls? It begins with a kitten, of course, and ends with friends.”

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More content | Alia Terra and other stories at Atthis Arts | Alia Terra hub on this website |

The Lightkeeper

The Lightkeeper

an abstract intermingling of shapes in blue, brown, and white, reminiscent of mushroomsShort Story: Science Fiction, Future, Disabled Character, Climate Change, Community.

Release date:  November 2021

Yair, the lightkeeper, prepares for retirement and Tani, his apprentice, prepares to take over, when disaster strikes in the distance.

Anthology: House of Zolo’s Journal of Speculative Literature Volume 3

Editors: Erika Steeves and Nihls Andersen

Publisher: House of Zolo

Out Now! House of Zolo

The Witch of Nok

The Witch of Nok

This story is set in the Dragon Souls universe. Part of the Havesskadi 2021 Dragoniversary. Nok is a village at the borders of Danv, Sesgrond, Uvalhort, and Hriss. Many roads intersect here. Go here for the Patreon post.

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Stillness permeates over the garden and the cottage under the mid-morning sun. Spring is a fickle season in Nok. From the west come the warm winds of Uvalhort, tempered by their southern, Danvian, cooler counterparts. The plains stretching into Sesgrond draw them eastward, creating a constant breeze. But on days like today, the freezing air of the Ahrissal mountains descends from the north, threatening with the last vestiges of winter.

Nina kneels in between the rows of seedlings, checking for frostbite. As she waters them one by one, the memory of her mother flows to the forefront of her mind. In this very spot, she’d keep the ground warm, blanketing it with an invisible hand, protecting the plants.

Warily, Nina steals a glance toward the village. The cluster of houses and inns and stations sits behind the slope of the hills it stretches over. Their cottage has always been hidden from view, it’s how her mother liked it. “If people really need me, they’ll find me,” she used to say.

Nina’s not so sure. People have needed a witch around these parts for too long, yet their own prejudice has been the main impediment in Nok. Yes, gemstones are scarce, but it would be worth it to collectively pay a witch for good crops instead of facing starvation. With a sigh, she pulls her neck chain from under her shirt. Its locket holds a tiny amethyst shard, the last stone left from her mother. It would be enough to protect her garden, but Nina’s been saving it for emergencies.

She shakes her head at herself. Not only that, but finally using it would mean… would mean she’s chosen her path in life. There’s no turning back from magic. Touch it once, let it rush through you, and nothing else will compare. That’s what Nina’s mother taught her. Because Nina has the inclination to become a witch. She can see it.

Dragon magic.

The very magic her mother yielded.

Yet, Nok has never been grateful for her presence here. Now, Nina faces this crossroad of choices. Her father is an ordinary man. He’d learned a trade, worked as a carpenter most of his life. Nina could follow in his footsteps. Shaping wood is not that much different than shaping magic, although a much slower process.

Then again, Nina is reminded of their nearest neighbor, a young man saving whatever sliver of gemstone he can find for a transition ritual. He could use a witch that won’t make him pay an arm and a leg.

Working with magic requires dedication. But is it something Nina is ready for?

With another sigh, she hides the locket again, but before she can return to the seedlings, a shadow falls upon her. Curious, since no clouds have been gracing the sky. Nina looks up and almost chokes at the sight of great wings above.

She watches in awe as the black dragon lands on the road, and with less grace than she would’ve liked, she scrambles to her feet in time to see a rider climb down from the dragon’s back. The man—or whatever man-appearing creature this is—wears a hooded coat, with a bow peeking from his shoulder. Nina’s sure a quiver is there, too, out of sight.

So, so weird. Dragons aren’t known for letting others ride them. Perhaps it’s under a spell, in which case Nina should… do something. She’s not sure what, however.

Hurriedly, she approaches them and bows.

“Great dragon,” she greets them as per custom. “Our souls bask in your brilliance and our doors are open. We are grateful for this visitation.”

The rider laughs and Nina shoots him a glare.

Only—she can’t—

She can’t actually see his face. It’s there, she knows it’s there. A nose, eyes, mouth, but when she tries to bring them together, they slip away from awareness.

Magic, then. Nina allows her othersight forward.


A gasp leaves her, unintended, but the veil of magic surrounding the two visitors is unmistakably draconian. Mesmerizing, like a river flowing around them, water upon which the sun shines to glitter into a myriad of rainbows parting and twinning and separating again.

The archer tilts his head, as if aware of being seen, but Nina wouldn’t look beyond the veil without permission.


The shout brings the world back into focus, the voice raw and desperate. She turns.


From the thicket of trees down the road, her father half-runs, stumbling. His clothes are torn, there’s dirt on his face and— Is that blood? Papa holds a hand over a row of gashes on his other arm.

He falls to the ground when he finally sees the dragon, eyes wide, mouth open, and Nina takes off toward him. The rider, however, reaches him first. He’s crouching next to Papa when Nina comes to a stop. Her hands are shaking, but she’s determined to see to her father’s injuries.

“Please, don’t be alarmed,” the rider says. “We won’t hurt you. My name is Ark, and that is Havesskadi. Can you stand?”

Nina can’t help glancing back at the dragon. Her fingers jerk toward the necklace under her shirt, but she forces them away. Havesskadi, the amethyst keeper, who her mother had always wanted to meet, is here.

She takes her father’s weight on the other side, as Ark asks, “What happened?”

“A wolf,” Papa wheezes, “attacked my cart, got the horse. It was alone, but it looked rabid. We have to send word into the village, or it will hurt someone.”

Ark exchanges a long look with Havesskadi—and Nina still can’t believe the frost dragon is standing right there. When the dragon nods once, he unhooks his bow.

“I’ll catch the wolf. Can you take him inside?”

Nina answers yes, though she’s not sure the full word came out of her mouth. Between the magic and the dragon and the wolf and Papa bleeding, it’s a lot to think about.

“We have a friend already in the village. Havesskadi will fly there, let him know what’s happening, and they’ll ask the healer to come.”

“No,” Papa says before Nina finds her voice. “We can’t afford the healer.”

“He’ll bring a poultice, then.”


“It is decided,” Ark says.

He gives Nina a small smile, before disappearing in between the trees. Havesskadi flaps his wings, displacing some of the road dust, and he’s off, too.

Perhaps Nina’s been imagining them, she thinks as she settles Papa on the day bed in the front room. She busies herself with boiling water, and then with cleaning the worst of the dirt and blood off her father. Just as she’s about to search for something to treat the wounds, someone knocks at the door.

The person standing there is another magic-veiled creature that looks like a man. He holds out a jar.

“As promised,” he says.

“We can’t—” Nina begins, but he shakes his head.

“A gift.”

Something comes through the thick magic filling the space around them, something that tells Nina to accept without complaint. She does just that, and tends to Papa while this other stranger paces around the room, studying the various items lining their shelves. Most of them are full of herbs, from when Nina’s mother was still alive. But without gemstones, they’re useless.

“What is your name, jitrush?” he asks when Nina has finished washing her hands and Papa is asleep.

She freezes, for a moment, because that was what her mother used to call her. Very few know the word and even fewer can tell who it would suit.

“Nina,” she says. “Yours?”

The stranger watches her intently for a while. Finally, he answers, “You can call me Orsie.”

It feels like something important eludes her, but before Nina can say anything else, commotion from outside draws their attention.

Ark has returned with the wolf. The animal is large, its snouts smeared with blood and froth, lying on its side and panting.

“I’ve calmed it down, for now, but it’s sick,” Ark says and draws an arrow.

Nina watches with increasing dread as he nocks it, then points it at the wolf’s chest. The animal whines, a soft and catching sound that worms its way beneath Nina’s skin. Unfair.


“It’s suffering.”

“Then why did you have to bring it all the way out here?” Nina hisses.

Ark shrugs a shoulder. “Either way, there’s nothing we can do for it.”

Nina shakes her head vehemently, because he’s wrong. He’s very, very wrong. She fumbles with the locket, her fingers tingling, fiery ice spreading through her veins.

The stone touches her palm and suddenly she knows. Nina can’t let it die, not without trying. Can’t let the magic go, not without trying to make life better for whoever needs it.

She’s decided.

The small gemstone vanishes from her fist as the magic is drawn from it to heal the wolf.

And then—

The world blooms into colors Nina didn’t even know existed.

The wolf licks her face, allowing itself to be hugged close. Nina’s heart pounds with a rhythm that echoes the trees, the ground and the sky, the wind beneath wings and the thrum of one—no, two anasketts. These ethereal gems carry the essence of a dragon’s magic, and two dragonsouls can only mean that there are two dragons here.

Orsie pets the wolf’s head before nudging it toward the trees. Nina remains kneeling, speechless.

“See,” he tells Ark. “A witch.”

They help her stand, and as she rises, the veil thins until gone, revealing otherworldly faces. Eyes too bright to be human—a pair in rubinous amber, the other in dark amethyst—stare back at her.

“You know my name, Nina,” Orsie says.

She nods, swallowing against the lump in her throat.

“You understand our nature must remain secret.”

She nods again. “I—yes, I do. But how—”

“Dragons,” Ark says, as if that explains everything.

Although, on second thought, it rather does. It takes a few deep gulps of air before she can even begin to order her racing mind, when curiosity finally gets her.

“Why are you here?”

Orsie gestures in a wide arc. “We were passing by when we smelled it. This place reeks of indecision, but more like a cry for assistance than a malicious spell. So we stopped to see if we can help.”

With a frown, Nina turns to the trees and back. “So the wolf was your doing?”

“Not at all! It was indeed a very sick animal. We would’ve taken it elsewhere for healing if you hadn’t done it. But it aided you.”

A shuddering breath leaves Nina and she picks up her empty locket. She doesn’t regret healing the wolf, but now the last gemstone is gone. More magic won’t be possible for her soon.

Cold fingers ending in very sharp claws wrap around her hand.

“Jitrush,” Orsie says. “Little witch. Show us to your winter cellar.”


It’s hours later when Nina is allowed to climb the rickety stairs down into the deep cellar. Between their dwindling preserves, the shelves are tucked to the brim with gemstones. Both raw and polished, the stones shine in violet, red, black and amber. Her breath catches and she covers her mouth with both hands.

“Why,” she whispers.

“We might be sending others your way,” Orsie says. “So better start practicing.”

Nina’s eyes fill and spill over her cheeks in hot trails.

“If you need more, I assume you know how to call for us.”

“Yes, yes. Thank you,” she says. Or she thinks she says, because she’s half choking.

Ark’s red-clawed hand grasps her shoulder. “You can refuse, you know. Give it all away.”

Nina wipes her face. The connections between dragons and their witches are delicate, her mother used to say. They are territorial, at times, and the magic of the stones leaves a mark on a witch. Havesskadi’s stones have impressed upon their cottage since before Nina was born. Now, this unimaginable treasure before her is an invitation. She sacrificed the last of her mother’s stones and now she’s getting a connection to Havesskadi himself.

“I want it,” she says.

“Good.” Orsie smiles, pleased.

Nina follows them outside. The setting sun bathes the garden in warm colors. The air itself is a little less frigid than in the morning, the seedlings safe in their rows, but even if the weather changes again, it’s fine. Nina has the resources to care for them properly.

“Goodbye, Nina.”

“Wait!” She clears her throat. “Would you like to join us for dinner? If you—if you have time, that is.”

“We would.”

“There’s someone who would’ve wanted to know you, so perhaps you’d be willing to hear of her. My mother. She was the witch of Nok. Before me.”

“Nothing would please me more,” Orsie says.

Nina breathes, free.

*** *** ***

Lost in Ynys

Lost in Ynys

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Lost in Ynys (by Ava Kelly and Minerva Cerridwen) is a crossover story with the world created by Minerva Cerridwen in The Dragon of Ynys, featuring Ark and Orsie from the world of Havesskadi.

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Lost in Ynys

by Ava Kelly and Minerva Cerridwen

Violet, knight of the village of Ynys, had just settled in his softest chair with the intriguing fantasy novel his librarian friend had recommended. It had dragons, a character described as asexual—a term he thought was quite useful to learn for himself—and a beautiful black cover with a purple gem on it that he thought Snap would have a thing or two to say about. He couldn’t wait to dive in, but as soon as he turned the first page, he was startled by a knock at the door. Grumbling, he got up, resolving to make it a very quick chat with whomever was there so he could return to his comfortable spot.

However, his interest was piqued immediately when he opened the door. He didn’t know this person, and he knew everyone, both in Ynys and the cave in the mountains. So either this was a merchant, or—

“I need your help.”

Tall and wide-shouldered, the stranger cast a shadow over Violet. One hand rested on the doorframe, the other poised to knock, pointy red nails at the end of long fingers. On second look, most of his clothes were red, too, and even his hair glinted a burnt amber.

“You are Sir Violet, aren’t you? The knight?” the visitor asked, urgency in his voice.

“Erm… Yes…” Violet straightened his back so he’d look a little taller, but he doubted the stranger was impressed. “How can I help you?”

“I lost something. Someone.”

Violet winced. Recent experience had taught him that searching for a missing person might lead to proper adventures and could invoke important changes in his life. He wasn’t sure he was ready for a repeat of all that.

He must have hidden his displeasure poorly, because the stranger rummaged through a pocket and shoved a large ruby under Violet’s nose.

“I can pay you, but you have to help me find my dragon!”

Violet stared at the gem. He’d never seen anything like it outside of Snap’s cave. “Your… your dragon? But Snap’s the only dragon around here. And he can’t be yours. He’s not anyone’s, even if we call him the dragon of Ynys. That just means he lives here…”

“Who’s Snap? I’m searching for Havesskadi, the frost dragon.”

“A frost dragon? Here?” Violet blinked incredulously. Sure, it was February, but Ynys hadn’t seen any serious frost in weeks. “Listen, I think we’d best go find Snap. He’ll be able to help you better than I can. And you can tell me everything on the way. Starting with your name, perhaps?”

“Oh. I’m Ark,” he said, straightening, and brushed some sand off his lapels.

Violet frowned, wondering how the sand had gotten there in the first place, considering that most dust around here had to be firmly stuck to the ground by the insistent drizzle of the past days.

He grabbed his coat and, after shuffling around each other awkwardly, they stepped out, with Ark following him down the path.

“We were on a walk through the woods when we found a cave hidden behind a boulder. And inside, there was a… peculiar rock. Shiny, but not like gems. Orsie—that’s him, Havesskadi— He touched it, even though I told him not to. ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ he asked, and then I woke up on the riverbank to the east. One moment we’re standing on the Baurin Shores, the next I’m in Ynys. Wherever Ynys is. And Orsie is gone.” Ark gestured around them. “Some people I met on the road sent me to you. Said you could find anything and anyone.”

“That’s very kind of them,” Violet said. “I must admit I’ve never heard of the Baurin Shores before. Not even from Lady Edelweiss.”

“They’re on the northern side of the Sal. I’ve never heard of Ynys either, but I haven’t traveled as much as Orsie. I must say, you carry fewer weapons than I’m used to seeing on a knight.”

“Oh no!” Violet patted his sides frantically. “I forgot my sword! Do you think we’ll be having a dangerous adventure before we find your dragon? Because then I should probably go back and get it…”

Ark gave him a look. “If you’re worried, I have my bow,” he said, throwing a thumb over his shoulder. “Not that I need it anymore, but I grew up with it. Practicing is peaceful. Nobody dares approach with chatter, the forest is quiet, and usually Orsie reads while I shoot. Or naps, but he won’t admit to dozing off.”

Violet smiled. “That sounds like a dragon, all right. Trying to convince you they’re a terrifying menace and then you look over and they’re drooling all over their gold.”

“Gold smells funny.” Ark wrinkled his nose. “Now, sleeping on a pile of sand, that’s the dream. All those grains, all yours and no one else’s, and so, so many.

“Right,” Violet said, feeling a little wrong-footed. He doubted Snap agreed with that view, and he definitely didn’t. “Anyway, it’s a relief not to have to bring that heavy sword… Hey, Ark, look!”

As they’d walked onto the square, Violet had spotted Snap sitting in front of the bakery. “Looks like we won’t have to walk all the way to the cave!” He pointed at the huge, black dragon.

“Orsie!” Ark yelled next to him, loud enough that Violet staggered to the side.

Snap lifted his head. And then lifted his other head. No, that wasn’t right, Violet thought, just as his friend split in two in front of his eyes. One half was still Snap, yellow-eyed and familiar, but the other’s eyes sparkled like purple gemstones, even under the overcast sky.

“Hello,” Snap’s deep voice greeted them. “Violet, meet Orsie. I’ve never met anyone like him!” He was clearly delighted by that fact.

Orsie, the second dragon, stopped chewing and blinked at them. “Ark?”

And then he was rushing at them, faster and faster until he was plastered against Ark. Violet barely had time to resign himself to the upcoming trample, except— The one hugging Ark next to him wasn’t a dragon anymore, or at least didn’t look like a dragon, with arms and legs and a human face.

“How did you get here?” the new Orsie asked. “I thought I was the only one pulled through.”

“Hold on,” Violet said, staring at Orsie, and then glancing at Snap. “Can you… Can you do that too?”

Snap chuckled. “No. I don’t think any dragons from our world can shift their shapes. We’re always dragons.”

With a huff and a growl, Ark glared at him. “We’re still dragons.”

Suddenly, a few things came into focus: the claws both visitors shared, their otherworldly eyes, the sharp fangs visible behind Orsie’s grin. Violet took a sensible step back.

“I… I didn’t realise you were…” he stammered to Ark. “I’m sorry.”

“Fascinating, aren’t they?” Snap asked as he ambled closer. “And so shiny!”

“Please forgive Ark’s grumpiness,” Orsie said. “Nice to meet you, Violet.”

For the second time in one day, a gem was offered to Violet. This one a raw amethyst, with white and purple intermingled inside the stone.

Snap leaned in. “If you’re not going to take that…”

“It’s beautiful,” Violet said, touching it with a fingertip. “I’ve been reading about these recently and I’m tempted, but… There’s no need to pay me. I barely did anything. It’s an honour to meet you both, really. And wonderful to see Snap actually getting along with other dragons.”

“Hey!” Snap protested.

“We like to give,” Ark said and held his ruby up to Snap, who picked it up between two claws gently.

Violet raised his eyebrows, because it seemed that the gemstone had grown since Ark had knocked on his door. He shook his head. Must be imagining things. “So, what were you doing here?”

“Well—” Orsie sighed and scratched the back of his head. He hadn’t stepped away from Ark, Violet noticed, their hands clasped between them. “Against dear one’s better judgement, I touched an artifact that should’ve been demagicked before handling. In my defense, it smelled like apples.”

Ark made a face and Orsie matched it.

“It’s been a while,” Orsie continued, “since I could stomach apples. Used to like them, but.” A deep breath.

“We’ve got great apples in Ynys,” Violet said. “Have you tried Juniper’s pie yet?”

Orsie’s face brightened. “Oh, yes! Snap was kind enough to share.”

“How did you two find each other?” Ark asked.

“Woke up in his cave,” Orsie said at the same time as Snap’s, “Fell on me while I was napping.”

“Snap has a book hoard, Ark, larger than your library.”

“Quite rude to fall on someone while they sleep.”

“He’s invited us to visit it, up in the mountains.”

“The dream I was having was quite excellent.”

In an attempt to follow their conversation, Violet looked from Orsie to Snap so fast he almost felt dizzy.

“How much pie did you have already?” Ark asked Orsie, peering closely at him.

“Our entire batch.” Juniper walked over to them with a full tray.

“Well, I helped,” Snap said proudly.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen you on a sugar high before,” Violet mused out loud.

“Perhaps I shouldn’t offer you any fresh biscuits, then?” Juniper asked Orsie. “They’re very crispy.”

“You have to try these, Ark,” Orsie said. “They crunch almost like rubies, the smaller ones at least. A wonderful experience.”

Crunch like rubies, Violet mouthed to himself, and turned to Snap in a silent plea for help.

“Don’t look at me,” Snap said, grinning. “I don’t eat gems!”

“What would be a better experience is going home,” Ark countered, but he accepted one of the biscuits Juniper held up. “How are we— Oh. These are— Oh.”

Juniper beamed while Orsie nodded in agreement.

“Are they?” Violet asked innocently. “I’d better try that for myself.”

Laughing, Juniper handed him a biscuit too, which he ate happily.

“If you don’t know how you got here,” Snap asked Ark, “how will you be able to find the way home?”

A loud rumble interrupted them. It came from above, and as they all looked up, a hole opened in mid-air. Not exactly high in the sky, but not close enough to reach, either. From the other side, sunshine spilled through, and a head popped over the edge. Violet shielded his eyes, squinting, but he couldn’t make out who it was. Probably more dragons.

“It’s good to be friends with witches. I knew I’d be found sooner rather than later. That rock also smelled quite strongly of doorways.” Orsie waved at his friend, squinting upwards. “It appears to be calling us back… and it’s rudely impatient about it. Hmm, I wonder if it’s sentient.” With a push, he grew back to his dragon shape, and took flight toward the portal.

“Oh,” Snap said. His scales gleamed purple in the otherworldly sunlight. “Do you think you’ll come back later to see the books?”

Ark looked between Snap and the person above, until the figure threw both arms up.

“You can come back to see the books in a few days. But right now you have to return so I can stabilize this magic!”

“That’s Tamara. She knows so many spells. Maybe you can meet her next time?” Ark smiled at the three on the ground. “Thank you for taking care of Orsie,” he told Snap, “and thank you for helping me find him,” to Violet, “and thank you for the pastries.” With that last bit, he produced another ruby for Juniper.

He took off just like Orsie, and turned into a dark red dragon, with amber streaks spanning his wings.

“Wait,” Orsie called after Ark. “Snap’s… so shiny. Can we steal him?”

To Violet’s dismay, Ark laughed, but he was immediately relieved to see him nudge Orsie upward.

“You can’t steal a whole dragon, dearest.”

“I could try,” drifted down in a mutter as they flew through the portal. Before it closed, though, Orsie twisted around and flapped his wings with a shouted, “Until next time!”

Violet waved and then accepted another biscuit from Juniper. “Well, that wasn’t so bad, as detective quests go.”

Snap sniffed and leaned in. “What’s that in your pocket?”

“What?” Violet frowned and slipped his hand into his coat pocket, his eyes widening as he felt something smooth and hard. “It’s… It’s a gem.” He took out the ruby Ark had shown him back at home. “But how did he—?”

A satisfied grin spread over Snap’s scaly face. “It appears that dragons everywhere share one important trait. We can be very sneaky when we want to.”

*** *** ***

The Hollow Planet

The Hollow Planet

Color photograph of a glass sphere with red tendrils inside.

December 2020 short story (science fiction, fantasy, nonbinary character). For the Patreon post, click here.

*** *** ***

Nohm’s been hearing about it, just like everyone else, for nearly half a galactic cycle. Right on the outskirts of Horvium-occupied territories, a binary system is engaged in an oscillating orbit inside a pocket of perfectly empty space. The hollow planet and its silver sun, while caught in motion by each other’s gravity wells, revolve in an elliptical path that angles up and down, as if the pull is real. As if the absence has mass. The phenomenon has been baffling scientists of many species for lifetimes, but no explanations have been found.

Half a cycle is a long, long while, yet the system continues its movement, unrelenting. No radiation is breaking through to signal anything, not even signs of a star decaying—as there should be. Neither is anything else drawn in, no matter, no debris. An almost perfect void surrounds the two entities, no forces aside from their own pulling and pushing inside that unfaltering nothing.

Spreading zir tendrils around a cluster of asteroids, Nohm nudges zirself closer. A few light-years brings zir receptacles near enough to sense the thinning in minerals.

Nohm pauses, tasting.

As Nohm waits, observing the peculiarity, time stretches in wisps and twines. Unaware ships fly through Nohm to the planet—scientists and visitors alike—and they crackle with unexpected surcharges to their systems. The tickles are pleasant but unfortunately damaging to the vessels, so Nohm drives zir body into a carefully chosen rotation, parallel to the orbiting system. Ze is out of the way now, yet still able to catch onto communications, unwilling to miss the possibility of the mystery being resolved.

As curious as Nohm, the metaldwellers move their instruments about—poking, probing the weirdness—and Nohm learns of their cultures while watching over their lifespans. Throughout zir existence, Nohm had witnessed civilizations come and go, species arise and disappear, planets turn to dust. They had all been mere smudges on the canvas of Nohm’s awareness, and yet so delightful to be known. So saddening to have gone. Nohm commits all to memory, these species in particular, their cycles so short between spawn and decay. They live off one of the few aeriforms corrosive to Nohm, one that deteriorates biological matter, both a fuel and a poison. Nohm continues to be fascinated by the creatures that had evolved to consume it, this oxygen.

Aegidum—the hollow planet itself—is wrapped in a thick layer of it, a gaseous mass held in place by the planet’s rotation alone. More than that, as Nohm picks up from intercepted communications, it seems that the bodies of the Aegides never degrade, although they breathe the same air. The whole thing feels like a riddle wrapped in an enigma and it pulls at Nohm, demands itself solved. It’s baffling, when Nohm thinks of it. No heavy core to help keep the atmosphere in place also means, according to the laws of possibility, that the planet shouldn’t even be there. Unless zir progenitors had made a mistake when teaching Nohm the basic rules of everything. Or maybe here, in this section of the explorable cosmos, the fabric of reality is merely different.

Maybe this is why the inhabitants of Aegidum are ageless. Maybe this is why Aegides is synonym with Protectors in some languages, because the universe is preserving them and not because they seem keen on sheltering Horvium refugees. Nohm would like to join the stuttering stream of travelers, to observe for zirself, but there’s too much oxygen there. So ze waits, tasting from afar.


“Mayday, mayday, this is—”

Nohm turns zir attention to a small vessel spiraling into zir unseen body. Its denomination doesn’t appear to be of Horvis, nor of any of the science fleets.

“Life su… down, mayd—”

One lifeform on board. Nohm performs a quick check and discovers an impossibility to repair the ship, or save its occupant, if it were to continue on its current trajectory. Actually, that’s not entirely true, there is something Nohm could do, but ze is wary of going through that again. The last consciousness ze joined with almost destroyed zir value system.

“If anyone is out there,” the lifeform says, voice coming from within the space Nohm occupies, “please. I don’t want to die. Not yet. People,” —a cough. “My people are in danger.” Inhale. “Need to help them.”

The ardor in the being’s voice resonates through Nohm in a way nothing has in a long while, and that drives zir to consider taking action. Something akin to fondness unfurls deep within zirself at their despair. This creature, with their last reserves of energy, is determined to help their own, and Nohm yearns for that sort of belonging. Ze decides, then, to preserve them for their loyalty.

Quickly, before it can be lost forever, Nohm pushes that last breath back in. The oxygen burns, but ze endures until life is pulsing through their body once more. With practiced ease, Nohm divides a piece of zirself to leave behind, to fuel their survival, before threading a connection between them. Ze is expecting the delicate touch of thoughts to flicker softly, to grow steadily—

The contact forms instantly. Nohm startles just as ze takes a heaving breath, a myriad of sensations invading zir entire being. This requires zir full attention, so Nohm draws away from zir outer body in favor of focusing zir conscious foremind on the creature. Nohm hasn’t entwined with one of this species before; it’s unnerving.

They flop together ungracefully, limbs uncoordinated, before Nohm manages to take hold of the nervous system.

A flash of memory rushes through.

Family. Enemies. Help.

They were traveling to Aegidum to warn of an impending threat. Nohm licks zir lips, rubs at zir chest. With zir here, the City of Protectors doesn’t need to fear anything anymore. Nohm zirself can defend the planet against most weapons of the known species.

However, another chance presents itself. Having an appropriate set of lungs means Nohm can finally descend to the surface. See it in its wonder from up close.

Zir feeding cavity opens to reveal sharp bones and Nohm runs zir fingers over them. A grin, ze tells zirself from the back of zir mind. The other, when ze asks for their name, reverberates Nohm’s own back, as if their merge has been absolute. They seem content though, so Nohm shrugs zir new shoulders and pushes the ship forth with zir outer body, spread transparent through the space outside.


On the surface of the planet, Nohm watches the sky, expectant. Half a galactic cycle has passed too fast. Ze exhales a shaky breath just as a cold hand settles on the back of zir neck, supportive. Below them, the city is silent, its dwellers in a similar pose, faces turned upward.

“Mother,” Hea whispers, “how much longer?” Her gaze of now is just as bright as that first time Nohm saw her among the ruins.

“Not long.”

Not much more before they all end. Nohm bows zir head, eyes falling closed.

“We’re ready,” Hea says, the determination in her voice a familiar resonance across lifetimes. “Tell us the story again.”

Nohm nods.

“It happened ages ago,” ze recalls, zir words reverberating through the minds of the Aegides, zir children. “Our essence was floating up above when we tried to defend you against an attack. The Horvium activated a weapon that caught us just after we landed. We consumed its energy for as long as we could. When the excess spilled over the planet, we had to divide even further, to protect the you of then.”

Murmurs flow through the crowd and Nohm sits on the rocky ground. Ze runs zir fingers over the frozen stone, recalling each mineral, each minute moment of feeding, and then all the effort poured into pushing the raw materials out of zir old body to create the sphere shield around zirself.

Beyond the crust, the rest of zir slumbers. Ze is waiting for that moment when time folds in on itself, to overlap once more. To restart the creation of Aegidum and their peculiar little system, revolving around emptiness. Nohm now knows what lies at the center of their orbit: the focal point of a self-generating temporal pivot. Unseen to instruments, unobserved by the eyes of living creatures, unimaginable in its magnitude. Yet, it generates gravity. It pulls at things, in that void left behind by Nohm’s feeding.

There are many reasons why it formed there, a lot more suppositions Nohm could make as to how it appeared. Perhaps, indeed, something is different here. Or perhaps it’s coincidence. Either way, it exists, looping around half of a galactic cycle, and Nohm isn’t sure ze wants to break out of its grasp. Not even when ze has to relive this moment over and over again.

Zir musings are interrupted by a bright flash accompanying the entry of a ship into the upper atmosphere. It travels downward in a controlled trajectory despite the way the hull overheats with friction. Soon, the smoking vessel slows to a halt on the rocky edge of the hill overlooking the city.

From inside the cabin, zir own face stares back with curiosity. They still have a few seconds left and ze counts them silently as zir past self approaches.

“Aegidum burns today,” ze recites the well-known words.

“No,” the other Nohm rasps, voice already affected by the temporal distortion.

Next to zir Hea sits, leaning their shoulders together. Nohm smiles.


The weapon’s energy discharge is finally contained around a cluster of cascading singularities drawn from the temporal convolution itself. It resembles a gleaming star against the dark vastness of space. Nearby, Nohm rotates zir stone-shielded ethereal mass with carefully chosen velocity, generating enough gravitational push to keep the destruction at bay. Enough pull to maintain the pocket of atmosphere hosting zir wards around zirself.

On the surface of zir rocky body, the pieces of zir fragmented consciousness are taking hold of the charred remains of the Aegides. Mending. Breathing again. Nohm pulls zirself out of the ashes, the remnants of the metal ship in distorted shapes pointing toward the crystalline sky.

A child cries, clutching at zir arm, and Nohm wipes the soot off her distraught face as her bright eyes widen. “Mother?”

Nohm pauses. In the back of zir mind, the other is restless. Protect. Hold. Daughter. And Nohm spares no further hesitation when accepting this proffered role.

“Yes,” ze agrees and picks up the child. “We’re here, Hea. You’re safe now.”

Ze can feel the entirety of their newborn system—the hollow planet and its silver sun—locked in motion. Out there, in a distant corner of the galaxy, the Nohm ze used to be is turning zir attention toward Aegidum, with unabated curiosity, an unaware defender.

“We are all protected.”

It makes sense then, the unexplainable mystery unraveled before zir eyes. Laughter follows, and Nohm clutches at this amazing new feeling. Ze wouldn’t give it up. If it came to it, ze’d find a way to bring it all back, to make sure Aegidum is born again and all its dwellers endure. Barely a moment passes, between that thought and the consequent realization. Nothing is more powerful than eternity, not even the wisdom of the progenitors, and Nohm has entrusted zir own to this life.

To Aegidum, unending.

*** *** ***

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Knock, Knock

Knock, Knock

Black and white photograph of a hand holding onto a chain.

November 2020 short story (fantasy, horror, nonbinary character, folklore). For the Patreon post, click here.

Author’s note. This story is inspired by a superstition from Dobrogea (Romania). It is said that those who are called late at night or when alone, must wait for their name (or the knock on the door, or the banging at the window) to repeat three times. Otherworldly creatures only perform their lure of choice twice. To make sure it’s another human, one must wait for the third attempt.

On November 30th, Romania observes the holiday of Sfântu’ Andrei (Saint Andrew). The night of Sântandrei is the one when magic is at its strongest, when the strigoi walk the earth, when the wolves go hunting. It is the night that heralds the coming of winter.

On this day, join us. Celebrate the beginning of the end, so that the cycle can begin anew with the following spring.

*** *** ***

“Oh, and one more thing,” the caretaker says as they stop in front of a door. He unlocks it, and then pauses just outside the room, the corridor stretching dark around them. “If you hear knocking at night, don’t answer.”

Liam raises an eyebrow, ready to roll his eyes, but the grin the guy gives him, like he knows what Liam might say, stops his reaction. Instead, he asks, “And why is that?”, playing along.

“You don’t want visitors.” The answer is as cryptic as expected.

Liam huffs. “What if it’s you then? Or room service.”

“We call ahead. If it knocks twice, don’t open the door.”

Liam lets the air rush out of his lungs in an unabated sigh. Right. Tourist attraction, haunted house or whatever, it’s why he’s here after all. To investigate this cabin out in the hell-knows where. There are rumors people might be disappearing from the area and the deputy chief has tasked Liam with a surveillance assignment. Chances of fabrication are high, of some guy spreading rumors online to up his ratings, but it doesn’t mean they should ignore the request made by the sheriff of Lethe, a small nearby town stretching over the slope of the mountain.

“Let me guess,” Liam says, barely holding back a snort, “only devils knock twice.” The phrase has been all over some specialty forums, making its rounds among those passionate about urban legends and places with a paranormal flavor.

The caretaker’s grin widens, oily at the edges. “Got it, city-boy.”

Liam’s skin crawls and he hides the incoming shudder by sidestepping into the room.

“I’ll keep it in mind,” he says over the sound of the door closing.

It echoes.


Rain patters on the window. Soft, at first, but with increasing force as the wind howls through the pine trees. It’s as eerie as advertised and Liam has to give the owners credit. This place would create a wonderful experience for the horror aficionados. Lost in thought, he almost doesn’t hear it, that’s how much it drowns under the drumming on the glass.

A knock at the door.

Chill spreads through the soles of his bare feet and Liam stops, pajama pants halfway up his thighs. He listens, intently, for another. When nothing follows, he shakes his head and finishes preparing for bed.


Second one.

This time, Liam freezes with his hand on the bed covers, a leg already raised off the hardboards. He huffs with a headshake, half impressed, half warily curious. For a fleeting moment he considers indulging in the show, but the sooner he can eliminate the theatrics, the better he can do his job.

He wonders, idly, if there are any hidden cameras around the room as he walks to the door, yanks it open—


There are bones inside the fingers and the meat around them shakes with pain. The teeth are blunt. More bones to run the tongue onto. It catches on a sharper edge, but it’s not enough to cut. The vision is dull, just like everything else about the new container.

Wood, there’s wood under the fingers and the bones of the knees. Scratches, without avail. Wants to scream but nothing comes out of anywhere.

The fingers are too thick and soft, meat soft, to rip at the throat but still presses them there, where voice should form. The flesh ripples under numb nerve endings. The skin is clammy, wet and cold and so, so disgusting.

Ao gags. The ripples change shape. Maybe they need to ripple differently. They try, again and once more.


A sound.

Their hearing is just as impaired as the rest of them.

The body feels like a cage, bounding them to the unrelenting void that presses from all sides. They give into the shaking of the bones and collapse. The air scratches at the throat, but Ao pushes through inhaling and exhaling, trying to clear their mind.

Beyond everything, beyond bones and flesh and cold, it dawns on Ao that they’re alone. There’s no thrumming of otherness inside their mind, no companionship. The human better be appreciating the warmth of the homefire.

Regret grips them, sharp and foul. The progenitors have rules in place for this very reason, urging patience and experience before visiting. Ao was too curious, too rushed to taste and understand, and they sneaked into the calling chamber without a tether, to avoid immediate discovery. The growl they want to let rumble through their chest, as they search for comfort, fails to emerge.

It’s not worth it, they conclude. Ao can already imagine the mouth-slit of their hatcher allotting the punishment of having their name removed.

The shivering subsides, after a long while, and they push at the flesh until it stands on its own. Still a bit trembling, more fatigued than anticipated, the sensation peculiar and unwelcome. This sort of body should require much less energy to yield, and yet Ao is drained. One thing is sure, though. They’re not coming back here anytime soon. It’s sickening.

They’re looking around for a blade to pierce the flesh and draw blood, since they don’t have sharp talons anymore, when the boundary of the space gapes opens. A human stands there, baring mouth-bones, and Ao tries to do the same.

“You don’t have to do that. I know your kind doesn’t smile.”

A hand lifts and that’s—

The meat of their belly lurks and Ao takes a step back. Stumbles. It’s hard to walk with only two legs.

“Easy, now.” The human is nearing, arm extended, but there’s nowhere to run, not when Ao’s back hits a wall. Or is it a table? A thing solid enough to hold them there.

Just like it.

Ao can’t look anywhere else, chest hurting with the pounding from within. There’s no escape and the thought pushes something fetid up the throat. The rune nestled in the human’s palm is hot when it touches the shoulder and Ao knows they’ll be trapped if it gets past the thin cloth that covers it. Knows, somehow, that they’ll need to cut off the meat on which the sigil will sit.

“There we go, let’s tame that spirit of yours.”

The tainted symbol presses, as unyielding as basalt, until it burns, only this time Ao does hear their own scream. The human falters at the sound, so they take the chance and push. Hard.


There isn’t much will left in Ao, but they use it all to run and run. The ground, frigid and squelching with water, trips them, as if it wants to keep them here. All around, immovable creatures whisper among their own shedding flesh, unending dead spikes piercing at the soles of the feet.

One of them, of the living wood, trips them with its limbs sticking out of the ground and Ao snarls. It’s not enough to make it go away. The time they lose ends their run because next they know, something has gotten hold of a leg, pulling them back.

Ao twists, uncooperative body flopping through the mud. They can’t give up, won’t, and they grip at things until their fingers bleed, until they can kick, until they free themself. Ao scuttles away again, but not back into the dark sea of tall monsters. Light’s coming from the side, and that’s where they go. As Ao gets near, its color less faded, they smell it.


Hope swells under their ribs, more painful than the fear, as Ao pushes the large door open. The space is wide, covered in putrefaction. Yet, right there, in the very middle, is a homefire spawn. It’s tiny, an infinitesimal piece, but it halts them. They stumble to it, caution forgotten, basking in its warmth.


Something locks around their throat, heavy enough to make Ao crumple, knees on the ground.

The human spits, flinging water and dirt with savage hands. “You’re feisty, but no worries. You’ll learn, just like the others.”


That’s when Ao hears. Sees. Around them, bodies are strapped to tall poles, whining softly, the holes in their chests leaking sluggish amber. They’re human vessels, but he recognizes what they are underneath. Kin. Harvested for their essence.

“Here. Let me make some room.” Ahead, the human rips a hollowed body off its hook, knocks on the stained wood of the pole. Once. “This one’s yours.” A perverted simulacrum of their invitation to visit. Twice.

Ao goes.


Liam closes half of his eyes, soaking in the comforting presence of the progenitors for one moment longer. It does little to muffle Ao’s pain, swirling at the back of his mind. From across the chasm he can feel his old fingertips bleed, beckoning. I’ll bring them home, he promises, as the wall of the calling chamber closes behind him.

*** *** ***

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The Confessionist

The Confessionist

Short Story: Science Fiction, Transgender, Mythology, POC MC.

Release date:  4 May 2020

Vemund’s life is about to change as he visits his latest customer.

Anthology: Community of Magic Pens

Editor: E.D.E. Bell

Publisher: Atthis Arts

Out now! | Atthis Arts | Goodreads |

Download the poster here. This poster, made by Romanian designer Ava Kelly, shows the book’s title in the languages spoken by the book’s authors. We hope that you will enjoy it!  The poster is printable at maximum A3 size, 300 dpi, RGB color profile.”

Luz Beyond the Glass

Luz Beyond the Glass

Short Story: Science Fiction, Artificial Intelligence, Symbiosis.

Release date:  28 February 2020

Around the world, glass spheres sit in gardens. Everybody knows what they do. They are here to absorb the pollution out of the ground and water and air, to cleanse the filth the ancestors left behind. Most don’t know, however, what resides inside them.

Anthology: Vast: Stories of Mind, Soul and Consciousness in a Technological Age

Editor: C.R. Dudley

Publisher: Orchid’s Lantern

Out now! | Orchid’s Lantern | Goodreads | Paperback (Orchid’s Lantern) | Waterstones | AmazonWordery | Book DepositoryFoyles | Barnes & Noble |  Kobo | Apple |