The swallow was a happy bird, but also somewhat superior. Nothing brought her joy the way flying did. Slicing through the clouds and flicking the air with the perfect points of her tail. She believed that birds were the supreme creatures of the world. Because they could fly. Some insects could fly as well, of course. But birds could fly higher, faster, and farther than any insect.
Lord Orgulous came to our province some time ago, and when he did, he inherited the rule of the province. As might be expected, he arrived with quite a flurry of rumor swirling about him, for he hailed from a distant land, and he was young and handsome and mysterious. Some said he left behind a fortune so grand that even the stars looked down upon its glittering magnificence with envy. Some said he was exiled for some preposterous boast that insulted a very powerful personage. And there are some among us—the romantics—who believe that he came to our land because he was fleeing from heartbreak.
They say he did it because he asked to sit by an innkeeper’s fire one night and was denied with a lie. The innkeeper said that there was “not enough fire” to warm the man who was dressed in rags and filth. He appeared to be a beggar, but he was not a beggar. He was a warlock. And he was none too pleased by the innkeeper’s response. It was no surprise that he should cast a curse. What was surprising was that he did not just cast the curse on the innkeeper himself, but on the innkeeper’s entire country.
“Wait until you are within the borders of the forest before you open the box, else you have failed before you have begun.”
With those words, the schoolmaster turned away and left Naji alone before the borders of the forest.
Naji entered the forest with no other possessions but that box, as the test required. He carried no water, no food, no clothing but what he already wore, no bedroll, nothing to trade or barter with.
But that is what he had chosen. A box.
I noticed the magician when he slipped in behind the last person to enter the golden-walled elevator, and I sucked in a breath. I held it, half-subconsciously, as if it would make me invisible to him. It did not. I started feeling thudding of my heart as soon as he started turning to people, one at a time, handing them scraps of paper, touching their hands. I exhaled when he turned to me and handed me a scrap of paper too. He grinned and told me what I was supposed to do the next time he called upon me.
When he turned away, my gaze began to dart around the tiny box in which we were all trapped, looking for a way, any way, out. I glanced up. I glanced at the large tall man whom I could easily hide behind, if he weren’t so far away. I saw no way out, and so I took a deep breath and braced myself for when the magician’s attention would once again return to me.
The whole thing started about eight months earlier, when Marcus handed Vinnie an ordinary-looking pair of headphones.
The king is the hound and the hound is the king.
The feasters come and eat, but they don’t suspect a thing.
It’s a feast like none they’ve seen, a spectacular repast.
They never e’er suspect that the meal will be their last.
There are flames in the distance. There is a dragon in the distance. We must ride out to meet him.
It is said that the first dragon was born of hatred. And all of the things that follow hatred. Envy and greed. Bloodlust.
It is said that the first dragon was born from a person, right here in this very village. It is said that the first dragon was born of a curse. A curse that was meant to save, for some curses can save.
Three beautiful sisters were they, in those days. They had eyes the color of jade with shades of honey flecked within. They had hair like golden silk. Their lovely smiles were made lovelier still by their dazzling white teeth. As might be expected with beauty so bold, they were envied by many. They were coveted by many. Their mother fretted and feared over that envy and longing. She did not want to lock up her daughters for fear of the world. But one day, her fears came true.
A powerful lord came to desire the sisters. When they refused his advances, he had a warlock curse them. He demanded they be cursed with an eternal hunger for all men. Though his intention was to inflict upon them the same longing that they inspired in him, the warlock’s curse had a different effect. The sisters were afflicted with a hunger not of their hearts or their loins, but of their bellies. For they became consumed with a ravenous hunger for the flesh of man.
Her mother wrung her hands and her father released a deep and miserable breath, and Tazara knew that the news they had for her was not good.
“A curse with fall upon you, daughter,” her father said, “on the first day of your thirteenth year.”
Tazara looked between her mother and father. “But that’s tomorrow!”