Her father had strictly forbidden her from leaving the house on Midsummer’s Eve. Strange things, he said. Dangerous portents. But that was her father. Seeing danger in every shadow. Strict. Cautious to a fault. She visited the neighboring farms on occasion, and her father had finally allowed her to accompany him to the market at Lonely Fort last year. Other than that, she never left the farm. By Daena, was she her father’s daughter? Or his captive?

But oh, the music! It wasn’t only that she could hear it. It coursed through her, prickling her skin down to her fingertips and toes. She kicked off her sandals so that her feet pressed into the cool, soft earth as she ran through the ubu beds. The music pirouetted on the salty air, beckoning her, and she followed. As she ran, she held her arms out to the side and flash bugs of all colors – pinks, purples, greens – swerved and swirled out of harm’s way.

The music trickled from right over the next hill. A score of tiny, triumphant, harmonic blasts washed over her with all that life had in store for her. She would reach her sixteenth year tomorrow, and her father had always promised her that things would be different then. She was determined to make him prove it. She would tell him. Tomorrow. It was time she pursued her own dream. All she had ever wanted to do was to make music. And she knew she was good at it. Gram Heega could barely keep up with her now. And when she played happy jigs for the Stenns, or their other neighbors, they could never stay seated. They almost always jumped up and danced fervently until breathless. She had even introduced a sad song last month; one she had written herself about the death of a songbird. The sobbing was audible. She could not have been happier.

Whole days were spent writing music in her head while she worked endlessly in the fields, waiting for the next time she could perform.

She bounded over the hill and stood looking down on the ubu beds that dominated the farthest edge of their field. She had worked her entire life cultivating these damned ubu beans and she had the calloused hands to prove it.

But these weren’t ubus.

In all her years working in the beds, she had never seen anything like this. In the center of the field there grew a bed of tall purple flowers that definitely weren’t there earlier in the day. The flowerbed was crescent moon shaped. And not vaguely. Precisely. Not a flower out of place. The flowers lolled in the night breeze, and it must have been something about the shape of the flowers’ petals, because when the wind blew through them, they emitted this wondrous cacophony of music that tickled Kora’s bones and surged through her veins.

Beautiful. Did she dare hope it was a gift from Daena, god of the arts? Some kind of divine inspiration artists receive on their sixteenth eve? Of all the ancient gods, Kora directed most of her prayers and reverence to Daena, the White Swan. Perhaps these flowers were recompense for all the hours she had devoted to her craft?

Gram Heega occasionally spun her stories of Magesty in the world, usually late at night, after lessons. Although Kora had never witnessed Magesty (had she heard it?), she knew the stories were true. Her father always hushed Gram, but he never denied the existence of Magesty either. That would come, he always promised, when you’re sixteen.

Kora’s nightgown rippled in the wind as she hurried down towards this alluring emergence. Her bare toes were inches from the edge of the crescent moon when she stopped.

Her father’s words of caution were there, somewhere, bubbling under her gaiety, screaming, go back to the house! She loved her father deeply, but the poor man never enjoyed anything. He knew nothing but work. That would not be her. Kora closed her eyes, cast her father’s words to the winds, held out her arms and let the music surge through her.

It felt so good! It must be wrong. That’s what her father would say. Damn.

She turned, eyes closed and arms outstretched, and fell backwards, giving herself into the middle of the crescent moon. Suddenly the music of the flowers grew ten-fold, as if squealing in delight. The world around her disappeared and Kora’s body melted away. She existed as nothing but the symphonic blast of the undulating flowers themselves.

And then…


Utter silence.

The abrupt change was unnerving. Even the wind itself seemed to die. Kora opened her eyes and the moons above seemed brighter somehow. She sat up and saw, to her horror, that the entire crescent moon flowerbed had died. The purple flowers that seemed to glow in the moonlight seconds ago were now closer to black than purple, and they lay like so much seaweed on the moist ubu bed underneath her.

She pulled herself to her feet and backed out of the bed of dead flowers, hoping that it might somehow spring back to life if she stepped away. The rush of the music, the energy and ecstasy that had flooded her body moments ago, were now replaced with an unfathomable sense of dread. Her blood pounded in her head, and she felt flush. For a moment she even thought she might pass out. But then, another salty breeze from the Silver Sea picked up and helped her shake off the spinning in her head. She knelt and touched one of the dead flowers.

Gram Heega will know what to do, she assured herself. Definitely. Maybe. Damn.

The flower acquiesced as its roots let go their grip and slid free of the earth. There was something foreboding about the blossom even as it lay limp in her hand. The petals could almost be the mouth of some exotic, fanged monster, and although, when alive, the mouth may have appeared to be singing to the heavens, now it lay tragically collapsed in a pathetic overbite.

Kora raced back to the family farm. Years ago, it was said to have been one of the most productive ubu farms in the area, but now it tilted in the salt air, a decaying corpse of grey cedar. Her father had no talent as an ubu farmer. If not for Gram Heega and Kora, they probably would have starved to death years ago. The weather had been bad for ubus the past two seasons, but this spring finally promised a banner crop. This painstakingly cultivated harvest could get her father back on his feet.

Maybe they could even travel to Chrais. Maybe she could study with a master.

Unless she had just ruined everything.

Her head told her it was just some flowers that died. Her heart knew better.

For sixteen years she had been the personification of obedience. She did nothing but work and study. Sunup to sundown she tended the fields. Nights were reserved for study and practice. This one night she had decided to throw caution to the wind and follow this music. To act impulsively. The gods taunted her. She knew it.

She hopped over the remnants of the fence where it had fallen over some years past and raced up to the farm. The doors would be locked, of course, but she could see, by the gentle sway of the burlap curtain, that the window of the room she shared with Gram was still open. The height of the window taunted her, and she had to jump to grab the sill, but she was strong for her size, and by wedging her toes in between the wooden boards of the house was able to get enough traction to pull herself up and through the window.

Gram’s bed, like hers, was little more than bundled straw covered with a cotton sheet. Despite that, Gram fell into deep slumbers every night and didn’t wake without some prodding.

“Gram!” she whispered, careful not to wake her father in the next room.

“Wha… what is it, Booba?” Gram worked hard all day and hated to give up any of her coveted sleep. Gram Heega wasn’t blood. Her father had hired her onto the farm when Kora was a baby, but she was the only mother figure Kora had ever known and she loved her deeply.

“I… I found something. In the fields.”

“What…? When?”


Gram Heega’s gaze fell on the open window. Whatever traces of sleep she might have been clinging to, scattered away. “You were outside? Your father forbade it.”

“I know. But the music…” Kora evoked the word hoping Gram, as an artistic kindred spirit, might somehow understand. At an early age they had all discovered that Kora could occasionally hear music that others could not.

Instead, Gram went ashen. “Well? Speak, girl!”

“I found this. In the ubus.” Kora presented the limp, purple flower with the overbite, the roots dangling over the edge of her palm. “There were others. A whole bed of them.”

Gram stumbled back, putting space between her and the thing that lay lifeless in Kora’s hand. The older woman’s eyes betrayed recognition. “Dead. They were dead? All of them?” she demanded.

“What is it?”

“Were they all dead, child? Were any alive?”

“They’re all dead.”

Then she heard it. Clackety-clackety-clack-clack…

Distant, but so piercing that she could feel it vibrating in her bones.


“What’s that?” she whispered to Gram.



“Do you hear that?”

“You hear something?”

“It’s coming closer.”

“Who ordered this?” Gram asked in anger as she looked up. She often questioned the gods when fate went sideways. “Wake your father!” she urged as she lunged for her wool overshirt. She moved with a vigor that belied her age.

Kora darted out of their bedroom and into the main room of the house. Even with the windows shuttered, The Father and The Son were bright enough that the slivers of moonlight that slipped through permitted vision. Her father never allowed himself to sleep in the other bedroom at the far end of the house, despite her suggestions. He always took his night post in a cot outside Kora’s bedroom door and on the threshold of the kitchen where he placed anything of value – the stored foods and ales, the barreled ubus, their hidden coppers.

Kora entering the room was enough to wake him. You could never slip through a room he slept in without waking him up. Instinctively, he reached and grabbed the worn scabbard of his long sword, the paint having long faded away.

“What?” he demanded.


“Do you hear that?” she pleaded, though she knew he did not hear.

“What is it?”

“Rapping. Like castanets. Angry. Very distant. But it’s approaching,” she said as quickly and precisely as she could. Her father demanded efficiency. “From there.” She pointed to the path that led to the front of the house.

He wasted no time grabbing his tall leather boots. “Get dressed. Grab the coin jar. Take Gram out the back and go to the Stenn’s farm as quickly as she will allow. Stay there until I come for you.”

“I don’t want to leave you!”

He grabbed her, not gently. “That wasn’t a question, Kora. Go.” The years of worry and constant vigilance had left her father’s face full of deep lines. What caused that worry? It wasn’t until this instant that she wished she had demanded he tell her. Why hadn’t she? Maybe she didn’t want to know. Maybe she wasn’t ready.


Louder. She began to realize that it wasn’t a simple rhythmic beat, but rather, a complex series of lower rhythms and riffs between each clap; a manic concerto that filled Kora with an eerie wave of nausea. She quickly dressed while she watched her father strap his sword around his waist. The sword’s cross-guard was molded in the shape of twin eagle heads facing in opposite directions. Symbols of Asar. The eagles’ eyes were wide open, as if keeping vigilance over all they surveyed. He opened a nearby trunk and from the bottom removed a battered, chain byrnie that Kora had seen before but had never seen him wear.

She snatched the coin jar off the kitchen shelf and darted out the back door, where Gram waited, clutching her shirt in anxiety. CLACK CLACK CLACK. That music! Music was supposed to make you feel alive. Help you forget the worries of the world. Urge you to dance and let go. This sound was profane. All it bred was panic.

They were halfway to the back fence when she heard the bark. Gram’s head jerked around. She heard it too. It came from right on the other side of the house. A dog’s bark – but something more. It was part squeal. A warning laced with anticipatory delight. It stopped her in her tracks.

Gram tugged at her arm. “Don’t stop, Booba.”

Kora didn’t budge. “I can’t. I can’t leave Father alone.” She stared Gram down.

There must have been something deep down in Gram that felt the same way because after a long beat she spat, “To the hells with running. Get to the barn.”

The old woman was hewn of iron, and Kora prayed she herself had learned at least a pinch of it.

“The barn” was really more of a storage shed, with doors on both sides and salt-stained windows that stood a few feet from the house. They both knew that on the wall hung an old crossbow that still shot straight.

That howl. What soulless beast would make such a sound?

Her father called out from the house, “Who approaches a man’s home like some thief in the night? State your business!”

The voice that responded was like liquid being poured out of an ewer. “Good friend. We are merchants who have been led to believe you may have something here that you wish to sell.” Was it a man’s voice? Woman’s? Kora couldn’t tell. The back door to the barn would not open quietly, she knew, and it would take some time to crack it undetected.

Her father demanded, “Who does business at midnight?”

“Those who want first bid,” the voice answered nonplussed. “This won’t take long. I assure you.”

She had edged the back door to the barn open enough for Gram to slip in. Just as Kora squeezed in behind her, a shadow leapt past on the ground behind the house.

The roof! Someone had leapt from the barn to the house. She motioned up to Gram, before she picked her way to the hanging crossbow.

“I have nothing of value here,” her father called back.

“No. Not to you. However, I happen to cherish dormu-lilies and will pay you handsomely for them,” the velvet voice offered.

“Whoever told you I had these lilies misled you. I grow only ubus here, friend.” The last word came out like a challenge, harsh and biting.

Kora put the crossbow facing down so that the stirrup rested on the floor, and she jammed her foot in it, leveraging her full weight to keep the crossbow still. Using both hands, she pulled the string back and cocked it into place. Gram handed her a bolt, but Kora moved so quickly she fumbled and had to pick it up again. She placed it into the tiller’s notch, ready.

She crept up to a broken window in the barn that looked out on the front yard. Two figures and a dog waited there. Both figures were enveloped in long brown capes. Green hair draped limply over their shoulders and their skin was so white you could see black veins right below the surface, climbing their necks like ivy. The hound’s emaciated body, black as pitch hide, gave the impression of sickness. Its torso stretched longer than usual with six legs supported by thin paws with talon-like claws. Its flared nostrils were hard at work, picking something out of the air, something that led it towards the barn.

The stockier of the two figures sat on a nearby tree stump, looked up at the stars and sighed. The taller of the two figures paced and twitched, though. He watched the hound approach the barn and his eyes rolled up to Kora’s window. She jerked back. Had he seen her?

Before she had a chance to find out, a clash of steel rang out from the house, followed closely by her father grunting, and the thud of what could have been a body hitting the floor. Kora held her breath, terrified, in the silence that followed. Even the rhythmic beats that only she could hear had now stopped.

She cursed herself a coward for not calling out and warning her father.

The front door of the house crashed open. Her father stood in the doorway with a wild look in his eyes she had never seen before. He held his long sword down by his side and a black viscous liquid dripped from the point, staining the cobblestone threshold. “You come to murder me in my house?!” he roared. What sounded like decades of pent-up fury poured forth in a single guttural scream as he barreled forward. The shorter man sprang up from the tree trunk. Both figures staggered back in surprise at this fearless charge. They barely had enough time to draw their rapiers before he descended upon them. He punished the taller stranger with a flurry of blows, driving him back on his heels.

Now that the figures were moving quickly, Kora realized that their brown capes weren’t made of cloth. They seemed to be woven out of thorny vines. They writhed around their wearers’ bodies; sentient plants that took the form of long, tattered cloaks, suddenly agitated by this offense. Her father had given her many lessons on local flora and fauna, but nothing like this.

The six-legged beast shrieked – slaver blasting out of its maw. The shorter stranger stepped behind her father, positioning for a rear attack, but her father immediately shifted to the side and took a step back so that both his opponents were in front of him again. All three combatants paused, taking stock, and preparing for the next strike. The dog scuttled behind her father, squealing with anticipation.

If she was going to do something, she had to do it now.

Kora fired her crossbow through a hole in the broken window. She had never fired at anything except stationary targets and her crossbow bolt shot past the shorter enemy, missing his body, but close enough to get caught in his cape of thorns. She was always a rotten shot. But, for a split second, the white-skinned assailant was distracted by the shot and turned to see where this new attack came from.

That’s all it took. Her father thrust forward and caught him between the shoulder blade and the sternum. There was so much force behind the thrust that she could see the tip of his sword come out the stranger’s back. The cape thrashed and quivered, and then, with a snap, sprung up and enveloped the dying man like a massive, upright foxglove. Then it evaporated with a BOOM in wisps of scattered dead leaves.

Kora’s father’s eyes went wide with surprise and the taller man used the opportunity to slash at her father’s left shoulder. The rapier barely drew blood as her father pulled back in time to keep his arm.

A high-pitched ting, emanating from his wound, rang in Kora’s ears.

“Kora!” Gram’s shout snapped her back to the task at hand.

Kora pulled the crossbow down and reloaded as quickly as she could.

BOOM! That sound again.

By the time she looked out, her father stood alone, surrounded by a swirl of dead leaves. The six-legged hound snarled and backed away, and then quickly turned and bolted off. Kora fired at it, but the bolt only split a coastal shrub at its feet. The hound stopped and turned to gaze at her one more time. I’m not done with you, she could swear it was thinking, and then it bolted again into the night.

She finally allowed herself to take a deep breath, and that simple act released a gush of emotion. She wept with relief. It felt like a veil had lifted as she watched her father standing there, triumphant, revealing someone completely foreign to her. No longer was this the morose ubu farmer who had consigned himself and his family to rot away on a bleak shoreline. Now she was reborn the daughter of an expert swordsman – a mysterious, exiled warrior ready to take up the mantle of vengeance and lead his family into exotic lands of beauty and strife. Her mind was inundated with the endless questions she had for him. It must be midnight now, she thought. She was sixteen. Everything about their relationship, their life, had suddenly and inexorably changed.

Gram rushed through the barn doors and approached her father. Kora heard him grumble.

“Why didn’t you listen?”

Gram paid him no mind. She ripped back his shirtsleeve and inspected the cut on his shoulder.

Kora dropped the crossbow and hurried through the barn door. The big stone chimney of their house cast a long shadow across the moonlit yard and by the time she passed through it she was close enough to get a good look at her father’s face.

She stopped in her tracks and her throat clenched in terror. Her father’s skin had a deathly pallor. The long sword fell from his hand and hit the ground with a thud.

He took a knee and whispered, “Hold… let me rest. A moment…”

“No! You mustn’t!” Gram pleaded. She tried to pull him up by his right arm, but his size, along with his chain shirt, made her efforts futile.

“I’m so tired… it’s… it’s so fast…”

“What is it?” Kora asked.

“Poison. Get some water!” Gram demanded, as she wiped at the wound.

But her father barked one last time, “Never mind the water!” She stopped. His words were labored, “It won’t… Kora, come close.” He lowered down on both knees now, shivering, whether with cold or with weakness she could not tell. Only now did she see that it wasn’t just his skin that had been drained of color, it was his hair too. What was once dark brown was now the color of ash.

She squatted close enough so she could hear him rasp, “These flowers… they were looking for flowers. Find them. Find them and destroy them.”

Those flowers. The purple flowers. But they’re already dead, she thought.

“Promise me,” he urged, as he lifted his head with his last ounce of strength so he could look into her eyes. He was aging before her at a horrific pace, wrinkles splaying on his forehead, cheeks caving. Years passing in seconds. “Destroy them.”

“I promise.”

His grey, color-less eyes narrowed, and his gaze bore through her. “Kora, what have you done?”


“Your eyes…”