Little Moments

Written by Addie Barnett
Art by Pascal Campion

Hi. I’m Michael Lavazzo. There is nothing all that interesting about me, but sometimes even boring people need to talk. Not with anyone in particular. That’s why I chose you. Because you can’t talk back.

I just need to vent, really. Life has been hectic for me, as I am sure it has been hectic for all of you reading the diary entry I left on this tree, in the middle of this forest, specifically for someone like you to find it, hoping it might help–if not you, then me–get my thoughts out of the cramped space of my mind. So, hi there, whoever you are. I hope my note reaches you in one of your high moments, not one of your low ones. But even if you have been feeling particularly down, please remember you are not alone.

Caught between my depression, social anxiety, and OCD, there have been days when I wonder what I am doing with my life. What is the purpose of my being here? Not even my trusted companion, Rex (whose paw print I used to sign this entry), can do anything to help. Sure, he is cute and constitutes a good cushion to cry on sometimes, but even when he looks at me with his brown eyes, all sad-like, I’ve never felt he could really understand what I am feeling. A mixture of anger, frustration, sadness, and grief–and yet somehow, none of those things at all. I have a roof over my head and a couple of friends. Why would I be angry? I have also never lost someone important to me, so who am I grieving? Am I grieving the life I dreamed of as a child, but never seemed to be able to attain?

It took me a while to realize that my feelings were keeping me up at night. It also took me a while to realize that I wasn’t processing them the way I should. We are so used to running around all the time (caught between working, school, taking care of our families, and trying our best to eat healthily and work out–because, somehow, we are supposed to have the time to do all that and still get more than eight hours of sleep?) that we simply dull them out. They become the background noise to our daily lives.

At first, when the realization struck me, I felt the shock of a child who has just discovered that their grandma is really dead and she is never coming back. For an entire week, my mind became a broken record, yelling at me that I had taken the wrong turn and it was all my fault as if life is a giant motorway with road signs to guide your every step. No one ever teaches you what you are supposed to do if you’re driving in pitch-black darkness and you can’t see any signs. “How do you not see the signs? Aren’t you like thirty? You’d think you knew how to do this “life” thing by now.” If you ask for help, that’s the only answer you are ever going to get. Unless you meet a nice old granny in the park, and since times are tough, grannies are scant to find nowadays.

So, I did what anyone would do. I went to search for a map, or, at the very least, a lantern. That’s how I ended up in this forest. It’s Saturday, so I am not supposed to be working anyway. I came here to detox my mind and ended up writing this because, as it turns out, journaling actually works.

Who knew? I still can’t believe it.

You might be wondering what prompted this revelation. Well, if I were a therapist, I would say a change of scenery, which ultimately caused a change in my old thinking patterns. If I were a biologist, I would say it was returning back to nature, where we supposedly came from. My parents are religious folk – my dad a pastor, and my mother the wife of a pastor (duh!) – so I bet dad would say, “You found Jesus.”

But I am neither of those things (to my dad’s disappointment – sorry dad!), so all I can say for sure is: I stopped running. I think that’s what worked for me. The “rat race”, as so many call it, makes me sick to my stomach, and it took me too much time to come to this conclusion. You run, run, run, and then what? Retire? That’s it?

But what if you’re tired? Do you just lie down and…die?

No. I think there is an alternative. You run, you elbow your way through life. And then you stop, you sit and you take it all in. And you realize how futile elbows are. Seriously, what are elbows???

You look at the sky, close your eyes and listen to all the birds chirping. One poops on you and you curse. Then, of course, you start laughing like an idiot. Life is so simple, so mundane – why do we have to complicate it? Do you think the sparrows are preparing for the next sparrow elections? I’d love to see that.

That’s what happened to me today. I stopped. I looked at the sky, then I closed my eyes and listened to the birds chirping, smiled at Rex’s panting breaths beside me. A bird pooped on me and I cursed. I laughed like a maniac. I lived. I forgot that I had a phone and deadlines and that I hadn’t washed my clothes. The peace that came with forgetting was so encompassing, I broke down sobbing and slapped Rex away when he tried to lick me. Sorry, buddy.

And now, as I am heading back to my “ordinary” life, I can’t help but wonder how this is normal. When did this race become normal? I am going back to work, back into the fray. But for once, I feel like I can breathe unhindered. I feel like I am strong enough to tackle everything coming my way – and I will make sure not to forget it.

Because now, once in a while, I will stop, I will sit, and I will take it all in.

That’s what life is really about.

Little moments. So little you might not notice them at first, like the way a droplet of water shines in the sunlight. Or the way bird poop feels when it lands on your head. Or how rough your dog’s tongue is, how bad their breath stinks.

Or how much you want to live, even when you think you don’t.

Little moments remind you that the sun comes up every day, and that’s nothing short of a miracle.

Michael Lavazzo.
And Rex.

Winter of the Heart

Written by Addie Barnett
Art by Tom Honz

As children, we are compelled by unknown forces to love the winter. Something inside our soul drives us to play in the blankets of immaculate snow and through our limbs, still unyielding under the weight of the passing of time, courses blood as hot as a furnace and as red as a newly bloomed poppy.

But as the years pass, that childish excitement dims away until it is all but gone, hidden underneath age, worry and exhaustion. The soul, once brightened by the prospects of playing in the snow, only sees the seething cold and the havoc it brings. It perceives beauty but chooses to focus on the darkness.

Such are the teachings of the monks at the Gilded Abbey, an order long forgotten both by the gods and the emperor. Nestled inside the darkest corner of the second province of Vneria, the Abbey cradles a grim lot of elderly humans, too tired to follow the rules of an Emperor who has forsaken them, but youthful enough to come up with their own commandments anyone who wishes to join the order must learn to follow. Whoever comes must strike their name from the annals of time and bow before the bones of their ancestors as they choose what name the future monk will wear. Some receive ludicrous names such as Ear, Eye, or Nose; others receive names of emperors, heroes, or generals.

And sometimes, the bones choose to change the identity of the person altogether and offer them a new life. In my former life, I used to be called Gabriela. That’s what the tag slung around my neck said. I did not get to meet my parents. The abbey became my family, my support in both times of strife and bounty, a gilded prison one can never escape even if they want to. In this life, my name is Ewan. The monks didn’t know how to put up with this radical change, but, seeing as how none of us would ever leave the order, they found all they could do was accept this was who I was now and get to know their newest family member.

I don’t remember much of my former life; probably for the better. But I do know I was abandoned, and the monks never dared to step foot out of the abbey and attempt finding my parents.

“Why so glum?”

My thoughts break off in a million iridescent shards; I turn to look at Majid—at his bushy black eyebrows, eyes of Anatase indigo, and pockmarked face—wondering how our friendship had come to blossom. I was a shy person; even as a child, I didn’t engage with all the others running around the abbey compound, shrieking like a gaggle of seagulls. Majid found me cowering in a corner, covering my ears with my hands as I tried to drown out their screams, the blood in my temples throbbing with such ferociousness, I thought for sure my head would implode.

But it didn’t. Majid embraced me at his broad chest, cooing gently until I stopped whimpering. And that was it. That’s how our friendship started. That is also the extent of our interactions.

Majid pulls me in a hug and whispers, “You need to learn to shut out the world. Your mind is like an avalanche–a great, icy river in which you will drown.”

“I can’t,” I mutter, feeling angry tears escaping the little control Majid has helped me muster.

“Yes, you can.” He pushes me away and pressed his big thumbs on my forehead, staring me in the eyes. “The mind has no limits—both a blessing and curse. If you don’t put up some barriers, you will end up like a cloud. Beautiful, but drifting away as the wind blows. A human can’t live like that. We need stability. We need earth.” He pounds the frozen ground next to me. “Look at the river.”

I turn my gaze towards the frozen river.

“What do you see?”

“Frozen water.” I squint. “In some places, grass is sticking out.”

“Anything else?”

I shake my head.

“Look closer.”

We stand up and walk down to the riverside so I can take a better look and see what Majid wants me to see. But no matter how hard I try, I have no idea what he wants me to see.

“What am I looking for?”

“Look inside the water.”

I squint at the murky water frozen beneath the foggy ice. “There are fish in there?” I raise my eyebrows and squat down to better look at the half-dead animals. “They seem pretty dead.”

“They’re not. They are cryogenized. When spring rolls in again, they will return to life.”

“What does this have to do with me?”

Majid crosses his arms against his chest and stares at the vastness before us. Mountains looming in the distance, trees right on the other side of the river, birds circling the grey skies in search of food. I would leave the abbey if I could.

I would leave and never come back.

And go where? A voice inside my head asks. Do you think there is any place that wants you?

“You’re like the fish. Dormant. Waiting to return to the life which has been stolen from you by the bones.” Majid suddenly says, a smile parting his lips. “There is winter in your heart and when spring returns, defrosting the block of ice in your soul, the urge to fly will overcome you so strongly you will not be able to resist.”

As children we are taught we shouldn’t fear the winter. No one tells us of the death it shelters in its icy embrace; all we see is snow and the incredible chance of having fun. Of losing ourselves to an afternoon with no consequences; when we are the masters of our own fate, when no one can tell us what to be or who to be.

Many years have passed since Majid told me my time would come. So many that even Majid did not survive their passage.

But as I stand at the river with my backpack thrown over my aged shoulders, I can feel his hope—the hope that I won’t be trapped like he was—bloom inside of me. It’s time to see how the world looks during spring.

Winter has finally ended.

Cat Cloud

Written by Addie Barnett
Art by Tithi Luadthong

I remember asking my mother where we go after death. I remember everything; her chapped lips, her wheezing breath racked by wet coughs, her wet eyes marred by two, dark bags. I can still see her limp hand hanging outside her sickbed, but I can’t recall what she told me. Heaven or Hell? Nirvana or Nether?

Or maybe all of them, and yet none at all?

I stare around me, certain this must be a joke. Everything I have learned about death couldn’t have prepared me for this; and I thought I was prepared to die, unlike the thousands of poor sods taken too early. Or too late.

Puffy clouds of neon colors float everywhere around me–above, below, to my left, and to my right–and every time I try to touch them, they vanish as if they were made with magic. Somehow, I have landed in a strange boat, oddly reminiscent of Charon and his canoe drifting on the Styx, towards Tartarus and Elysium. But this realm seems to have no end. Behind me, a gilded lantern spews light. It is useless in this realm where day never ends.

How much time have I spent here? Where am I supposed to go?

I take the oar inside my little boat, stand up and decide to see where death takes me. I row in silence through thousands–no, millions–of cotton candy clouds. I have never seen so many colors on Earth and I stare at each and every one, trying to imprint them on my memory. Death is not black or white in this place, nor it is sadness or happiness. Death is silence.

I open my mouth and try to speak. Nothing comes out. The voice inside my head–the one I used to think of as a conscience–is now gone as well. I am truly alone, and yet… I don’t feel lonely. All I feel is peace and quiet in this world of vibrant clouds. I wish they would cross the threshold into the living world so that anyone would be able to see them.

“Look”, I point to one, pretending I am a tour guide. There’s a small cloud that looks like a bloated cat, its tail a neon pink and its head pitch-black. Then another whooshes by; I turn around, wondering what prompted its flight. There is no wind in this place. Time is frozen in a moment of perfection. Finally, after an eternity of rowing, I stop to gaze at another cloud, its shape reminding me of my wife.

I can’t remember her name, but I remember everything else. Her smile, her hug, and a tone which sends electricity through me. When she frowned, my heart skipped a beat, and my body crashed into the flight-or-fight mode. When she laughed, my heart skipped another beat, and I felt that I could fly.

My heart had skipped countless beats beside her and it would have skipped more had I not died. I can’t remember how I died–probably for the best. But I do know that I did. How else would I have landed in this place?

I reach for the cloud; this time it yields under my fingers and lets me caress it. It is as soft as a newborn baby, and it laughs when I tickle it. A soft bell-chime, which sends joy coursing through my veins.

The Laughing Cloud, I smile. What a beautiful concept. So, there are sounds in this place. But only a select few.

Its pink tail darkens as I pet it, turning a deep magenta and then an inky black. As I continue to move my hand on its surface, it goes completely dark. The cat, once a contradiction, has now been turned into something completely ordinary. A storm cloud.

My mother died during a storm. It was night; a hellish night with thunder roaring and lightning cutting the sky in two, making the stars bleed and fall in heaps of ash on our front lawn. But my attention was trained on my mother’s lips as she whispered to me. Her last words; now lost under a fog that does not relent.

Is this what death is? Forgetting the centerpieces of what makes us… us? The cloud looks at me and chimes again as if saying, “Uh-uh. Guess again.” Thunder roils in the cat’s belly and sucks me into my memories.

My father, crying silently as my mother gives him a wan smile, comforting him. It is easier to die than to watch a loved one fade. My grandmother, unable to even set foot in the room. It is hard to open your heart when it has been closed for so many years. My grandfather, unshed tears in his red eyes. It is hell to be so proud that you cannot ask for forgiveness or admit that you’ve been wrong.

So many unspoken words. I try to speak to them all, but there isn’t enough time, not anymore.

My mother beckons me closer from the clutches of my heartbroken father. I jump into her bed and put my head on her chest, letting her stroke my brown hair, listening to her sing her last lullaby. I am too old for lullabies, but I don’t care.

The dead need comfort, too.

After she is done, she presses her lips to my ear and mutters something. Her last words to me. I remember them now. The fog is dissipating, allowing me to see my mother’s face.

Ioachim. She smiles when she says my name. My beautiful boy. Death is not what we think it is. It is dark–and yet holds so much color, the human mind would unfurl if it saw it during life. Death is sadness and happiness and anger and frustration. It is forgetting and forgiving. It is everything and nothing at all. Hell and Heaven; Underworld and Overworld.

Death is just death. When you will die, remember this, and die at peace. Pass my words to your family too; you will have a gorgeous one, I can tell you already. Don’t despair my love. Don’t live afraid of death.

Death is just death–and life is too short to think otherwise.


Written by Addie Barnett

“Eons ago, this land was ravaged by war and famine. What you see today did not exist back then, but some relics of those olden days still exist in our time,” Qillac placed a cigar between his sagging lips and lit it with a trembling hand.

Salali watched the reflections of the fire’s flame dance off her teacher’s ebony skin, and glanced at her own dark hands, blistered from the hammer. They had been traveling north for weeks, in hopes of finding someone in need of an old carpenter and his apprentice. She gazed at the towering statues looming in the dark shadows of the night and pushed her hands closer to the fire; no matter how she tried, she couldn’t drive away the chill settling in her bones. If Qillac felt the same, he made no comment, too engrossed in tales of days gone by to pay heed to the biting wind.

“It is said these statues were built by The Elder himself; they were meant as proof of his existence and as protection against the dark fiends lurking in the blinding lights of the caravans. Have you ever seen the caravans?”

Salali nodded. Everyone knew their tale–strange wooden contraptions able to carry dozens of women and men. But it was not the caravans themselves the people of Herya feared. With the caravans came the white-faced settlers, their mouths covered in pale-blue masks, their words lined with honey, their daggers as sharp as swords. Rumors spread like wildfire about the newcomers–the Chere-kan, as the Heryans called them, were thought to be as ruthless as wild animals. Children who once played fearlessly in the streets were now shoved inside their homes as the night rolled in so the Chere-kans would not kidnap them. Mothers would draw their offspring closer when one of them passed. Salali herself did not dare look one in the eye for fear he might feel provoked and kidnap her when she least expected. She wondered where they had come from. People thought they came from the southern tundras where the air was so cold it froze the blood in your veins, while others mused that they must have landed from the moon-they were just as pale as it was.

“The Elder proclaimed that no pale face will pass between the stones and should they dare to corrupt the land of Herya, the statues themselves will wake up and wreak havoc on the culprits. That is why we call them The Elders.”

“I saw one of them steal an apple the other day; why didn’t The Elders wake up?” The tales she had heard were more frightening than that, but she dared not utter them. As long as they were hidden inside her mind, they could not escape.

“The Elders can’t be bothered with every apple, Lali. But when the day comes, they will wake up,” Qillac spoke with such conviction, Salali couldn’t help but believe him.

Surely, they would wake up.

She watched the pale face hang, remembering the words of her teacher. It seemed like only yesterday, but many years had gone by since Qillac had been there to guide her steps and sow forgiveness wherever he went.

He would be disappointed if he knew the pale faces had corrupted Herya, and The Elders hadn’t moved an inch. It was the third execution that week, but that did not seem to discourage the Chere-kan one bit. Day after day, Salali would lock her door and climb into bed with cold sweat caking her forehead, waiting for them to come. Wondering if they would show her mercy.

She turned away from the corpse, trying in vain to ignore the roars of the crowd. She could never understand how people could take such pleasure in the death of another, no matter how vile they had been. Every soul returned to this land, and if spurred enough, the pale face’s soul would reincarnate in something more gruesome each time it was spit upon. She uttered a prayer so that he may find his peace and continued to drift aimlessly down the empty streets. Everyone had gathered to watch the hanging, and they would soon be back to celebrate. Alone with her thoughts, Salali closed her eyes so that she could feel the city around her and shivered when all she felt was a chilly embrace. There was no more joy in this city, or anywhere else for that matter.

When she opened her eyes, she found herself staring at a young girl, no older than ten, her blue eyes red with tears. Despite the grime on her face, her skin was undoubtedly white. Salali fought the urge to turn away and run – if anyone saw her talking to this small girl, they would not hesitate to mark her as Chere-kan.

The little girl glanced at her and took down her pale blue mask, throwing it on the ground. Her lips were broken in more than one place and her face was so thin, Salali could see the cheekbones jutting out.

“What do you want?” she asked when she saw Salali staring at her, dumb-founded. “Murderer.”

Salali gulped, taken aback by the hostility in the child’s eyes.

“My father was a good man,” the girl continued, tears streaming down her face. “He did nothing wrong.”

“Your father killed someone,” was all Salali managed to croak.

The girl lifted her shirt and pointed at a black bruise covering her entire rib cage. “My father protected me from this. This was made by one of your kind.”

“Where’s your family?” Bile rose in Salali’s throat.

The little girl pointed in the direction the execution had taken place. “He was my family.”

Salali was struck by the realization that this was no normal encounter. Chere-kan rarely walked out in the open, preferring to roam the streets at night when they wouldn’t be scorned. She glanced at the sky, remembering Qillac’s last words.

And if The Elders should arise, they will not punish only the Chere-kan. Whoever thinks themselves above the gods is a fool.

She would never be able to explain what came over her that moment. Maybe it was the rage which had bubbled inside for years, maybe her grief had finally caught up. Salali sauntered to the little girl and grabbed her face.

“What’s your name?”

“Let go of me,” the child struggled.

Salali shook her. “Name.”

“Zulima,” the girl groaned.

“Alright, Zulima, you’re coming home with me.”

Zulima smirked. “Like hell I am.” She tried to bite her way out of Salali’s grasp, but she was only ten and Salali was a grown woman. “Why are you helping me?”

“Because one day The Elders are going to wake up…and my kind killed my only family too.”

“When the Elders will wake up, make sure you are at peace, Lali. Regret is a chain so strong, nothing can break it once it’s fastened at your throat. When the statues come, and justice will prevail, only one thing will save you. Love with all your heart Salali, because under that blue mask, there’s a life no different from our own. The Elders will try to pin you down, but love will set you free.”

Qillac hoped Lali would remember his words and not his lifeless corpse hanging from the taut rope. She had to. It was the only way they would see each other again.

Lies of Gold

Written by Addie Barnett
Art by Tuomas Korpi

Excerpt from Lord Ulric’s letters to his sister, Empress Iara.

Little sunshine,

The Zeppelin has arrived in your golden city and I, for one, can barely contain my excitement. Many winters have passed since we last laid eyes on one another; I come bearing most fortuitous news. We shall discuss them privately at dinner–will His Light be present? Now that the war with the d’aka is done, the realm can finally sleep peacefully.

Alas, I bring some sordid news as well. I cannot say much in this letter, for my ink is running dry. My health is declining rapidly–the physician’s prognosis is dire.

Always yours, in death and life,


Aharon did not remember when he had last left the Master’s room. They had arrived in the golden city nearly a fortnight ago, anxious to meet the Empress. He did not know what had riled up his Master, but he weighed it was no small thing. Lord Ulric was a man of long discussion and little decision; for him to commission a Zeppelin and leave in such a hurry was unthinkable.

Until now. 

Aharon was still in a daze from their rushed journey, which he had mostly spent retching in the air and wondering if his intestines would land on some poor sod’s head. In their haste, however, Lord Ulric had not taken care of himself, nor had let Aharon do his job.

The boy stared at the sleeping lord, noticing his eyes were twitching underneath his eyelids. Even in slumber, Ulric kept moving. Something was perturbing him so much; Aharon couldn’t for the life of him understand what it could be. Why hadn’t the Empress sent for them yet? Something was wrong. And it wasn’t just his Master’s mysterious illness, eating away at him from inside-out. No matter how much the physicians had racked their brains, they could not find a diagnosis for the sharp joint pains, high fevers, and bouts of dizziness the lord had been cursed with. Soon after they had arrived, the Master had started hallucinating—speaking to his long-dead wife and children, and staring at the ceiling for hours on end.

Aharon placed a wet rag on his Master’s forehead, blinking away the tears in his eyes. What was to happen to him if Ulric died? He was no longer a boy–he would be able to take care of himself. Somehow, he would find a way. Yet the thought did not comfort him. It only brought more tears, which he struggled to gulp down when the Master’s eyelids fluttered open.

“My boy.” Ulric extended a trembling hand, which Aharon took hurriedly without responding, certain the Master was hallucinating again. “Aharon.”

“Yes, Master, it’s me.” Aharon forced a smile on his lips and nearly broke down when Ulric mirrored it.

Why did the gods take the good early, leaving only the wretched and those with ice in their veins?

“Any letters?”

The same question – Aharon did not know what to answer. Every time he shook his head, Ulric’s condition worsened. He would fall into a state of apathy for hours and Aharon would be left alone to glance outside the window, trying in vain to revel in the city.

“No.” Aharon drew Ulric’s hand to his lips, kissing it. “But the innkeeper says the Empress sent a flower.”

Aharon had snatched it from a basket, knowing it was Ulric’s favorite. He lifted it from his pocket and placed it in his Master’s trembling hand, smiling when his bony fingers closed around it and took it to his chest.

“Help me.”


“My sister has never ignored my presence like so. Something is wrong – we have to go see.”


Ulric pushed himself up, heaving, and Aharon rushed to help. “No buts, my child. If my time comes, it shall come no matter what you do.” Ulric rested a hand on Aharon’s dark mop of hair and looked him in the eyes. “For the life of me, I cannot understand how no girl sighs after these brown irises.”

Aharon blushed and supported his Master so he could stand. Ulric’s legs buckled underneath him and he would have fallen if not for Aharon. He helped his Master into clean clothes and then down the staircase, wincing every time he noticed Ulric’s livid face. By the time they got out into the street, both their faces were covered in a thin film of sweat and Ulric could barely stand.

Aharon flagged down a rickshaw and offered the driver three silver coins, whispering in his ear that once they reach their destination, he would receive more should he make sure the journey would be slow and silent. Aharon was pleased when he noticed how the man chose the less populated streets and paid attention not to jolt his customers.

Ulric fell asleep almost instantly, his head drifting on Aharon’s shoulder, who did his best to sit still during the journey. Aharon smiled at the petite buildings and children running around in colorful clothes, playing their games with bright smiles on their faces. Women waved at the driver and kissed blessings at Ulric and Aharon; one went as far as to stop the rickshaw and draw the symbol of the gods on the lord’s chest, tears brimming in her eyes. If they would have known Ulric’s position, would they have acted differently, Aharon wondered. He wanted to believe in their charity – after all, his Master had been extremely kind to him, almost treating him like his own child.

They soon reached the towering emerald gates of the palace; Aharon woke Ulric up, rewarded the driver and—with his Master leaning heavily on his right side—approached the guards stationed at the gates. They made no sign of recognition, nor answered when Ulric showed them the emblem of House Revana.

“Do you know who I am?” the lord puffed his chest, and almost immediately broke into a fit of coughing.

Aharon patted him on the back, smirking when the guards averted their gazes. They were taking them for peasants.

“My Master is Lord Ulric, brother to the Empress. He wishes to speak to her immediately.”

Only then one of the iron-clad guards spoke, contempt lining his every word. “Her brother? Ha. He should be aware of his sister’s situation then.”

“Situation? What in the gods’ names are you talking about?” Ulric forced himself to stand straight and leaned into the guard’s face. “Let us in immediately or you shall know my reach.”

“The Empress was found breaking bread with a well-known traitor. She has been sentenced to die next morning,” the guard leered. “If you do not wish me to tell His Light we have discovered another traitor, I suggest you turn around and leave right now. Iara is not allowed to see anyone.”

“Iara?” Ulric’s voice broke. “You show respect to my sister.”

Aharon tugged gently on Ulric’s sleeve, trying to understand what was going on. The Empress, a traitor? It was impossible. No one in the whole realm loved her people more than she did. She would never betray them. And if something had been going on, his Master would have known about it.

A conspiracy was more likely, but The Empress was virtually untouchable. In order for something like this to happen, His Light herself would have to have seen her commit betrayal.

“I will not repeat myself twice. Step aside.” Ulric retreated a step, his voice as firm as it had been back when he had first taken Aharon in.

But beneath the façade, Aharon knew his Master would crumple to the ground as soon as they would be out of sight. His whole body was shaking. He glued himself to his lord, supporting him from behind. When Ulric let out a sigh, Aharon knew he had done the right thing.

“Very well, then, don’t tell me I didn’t warn you.”

Aharon stared in horror as the guard whistled and a squadron of masked men encircled them.

“By order of His Light, Emperor Johann the First, ruler of Henra and descendant of gods, I hereby arrest Lord Ulric of House Revana and his…servant, for conspiring against the realm. They shall be executed at first light tomorrow alongside Iara the traitor who broke the laws of our beloved Emperor and betrayed the trust of our nation. So be it.”

How to Deal with The Unnatural, Supernatural, and Paranormal

Written by Addie Barnett

Smoke hung so thick in the library’s rafters, she could read words in it.

She pressed her hand into the floating words and smiled when they burst like soap bubbles. The enchantment wasn’t nearly as strong as it looked, and she should be done in a matter of moments. Then, she could finally return to her couch, open a bottle, and snooze in front of her favorite series. If only it would be that easy—the last job had left her with bruises covering the entirety of her legs, and that asshole who had commissioned her was still nowhere to be found.

She had learned her lesson—half of the money was already in her bank account and the last half would be delivered after she would finish.

Her studded boots clinked awkwardly on the library’s wooden floorboards, scraping the reddish planks as her fingers drifted on the book covers. The void in her stomach only grew more taut, hungry for magic, like a baby wailing for milk. It would be a small meal, but it will have to do. That’s the thing about being a vampire—once you started eating, you could never stop. Some said that preying on her own kind was cannibalism, but she didn’t really eat them. She just… took their magic.

Farah rolled her eyes as if someone was actually watching her. Because, she had learned, someone was usually watching her and the more confused they were, the better.

The magic grew stronger and stronger as she approached the back of the library, only making her hunger grow dimmer. Something was wrong–her senses frayed as she tried the lock of the cherry door leading into the office where the librarian spent most of his days. The library hadn’t had visitors in a year, probably because a ghoul was haunting it and scaring everyone away.

The door was locked, but that never stopped Farah. She pulled a pin out of her hair and jammed it in the lock. Zheran. She had learned a long time ago that magic made everything easier. What was the point of fighting something that improved the quality of life?

The door squealed open, making her wince even though she was the only one inside the library. When it opened fully, her brain shied back like a scared horse, unwilling to show her what had happened. But Farah had seen bodies before, so she walked closer until her eyes sprang back into focus and her brain decided it couldn’t fight its way out.

Ezra had been his name. Farah knew him well. The son of a leprechaun, Ezra had made his life’s goal filling the pot at the end of the rainbow, not with gold, but with books. Illegal books, talking about the secret lives of magical beings. Someone, definitely not the ghoul because ghouls never killed, had finally found out and had killed the little red beard—not even bothering to clean up after themselves.

But even a human could sense something was off. They would see blood, but no corpse–magical beings were invisible to those without magic–and they would call the cops.

The bell at the entrance jingled and Farah exited quickly, plastering on her purple lips the most beautiful smile she could muster. A tiny boy, no older than twelve, was staring at her and at her fangs shooting out of her gums.

She cursed under her breath and made sure the door behind her was closed.

“What’s your name, little boy?” She approached slowly, dropping to her knees so she could stare into his brown eyes.

He was cute; she had to admit at least that. Freckles dotted his umber skin and his hair fell in waves around his round face, all the way to a hellenic nose. But a nasty bruise was beginning to flower under his left eye, and his rosy lips were split in two. A fighter. Just like her.

“Mom said I shouldn’t talk to strangers.”

“Mhm,” Farah stood back up, petting the boy’s raven head, wondering what she was supposed to do. “Where are your parents?”

“A ghoul killed them.”

Impossible. Farah smiled sweetly, her certainty flailing. Ezra was dead. Could the ghoul have… no. Ghouls couldn’t kill. And how did this kid know about ghouls, anyway?

“A ghoul, huh?” She pretended to laugh, which brought tears to his eyes.

“You think I’m crazy? Just like the man in blue?”

“Man in blue?”

The child nodded. “He had a badge and everything.”

Police. Shit. Shit. Triple shit. She grabbed him by the shoulders. “What’s your name?”


“Well, Dhevan, how about we find that ghoul, huh?”

She was sure she was going to regret it, but what else could she do? There was no enchantment that could make him forget. Besides, his parents had been killed. And it was her fault—she should have dispatched the ghoul a week ago, but she had postponed it, thinking it wasn’t that big of a problem.

Dhevan’s eyes glimmered with a hunger she knew too well and, for the first time in her life, she finally understood where magic came from.

Of Feathers and Strings

Written by Addie Barnett

“Hey, check this out.” Afsaneh pushed a letter towards me and I took it gingerly, as if it were worth a million dollars.

“What is it?” I sniffed it attentively, smiling at the scent of  paper.

“Just read.”

A billion years ago, the stars exploded and created life. No, that’s not it. Let me start again. A billion years ago, a being made of light created life. No, still not it. Don’t worry, we’ll get there, eventually. This is how the story really starts. I should know. I was there.

My name is Adam. You might know me as the guy who got banished from Eden. Only it wasn’t Eden, and Eve was not Eve. The serpent is fake and everything the Bible told you is wrong. God isn’t God. He is not all-powerful or all-seeing, but he takes pleasure in punishing bad people. Or at least he used to. He’s dead now.

“What the hell is this, Afsaneh?” I lifted my eyes only to notice my friend had migrated to the coffee counter to order us two new cappuccinos. I sighed and returned to my reading.

Yeah, you heard me right. God is dead. He wasn’t immortal to begin with, but he lived much longer than he was supposed to. He fed on people’s faith. 

You might be wondering where I am going with this. As a last wish, he wanted me to write this letter of sorts, telling humanity how wrong they have been–I told him no one is going to believe me, but what the hell. It was his last wish. I know you’re probably wondering how I’m still alive when God is dead. Well, let’s just say he did have some pretty crazy powers under his belt and he granted me a few more years to make sure I get this letter done properly.

The world is dying–as I am sure you must have realized by now. Unlike what you have heard, God created it from stringing a couple of bird feathers and blowing on them.

I crumpled the letter in my hands and took the coffee Afsaneh offered me.

“What do you think?” She asked.

“Where did you find this horseshit?”

“Just keep reading.” Her eyes are glinting with hope only faith can give. Faith in God, faith in life. I had lost that faith a long time ago, when someone had shown me people can’t be trusted and life will take any opportunity to shit on you.

I picked up the letter once more. If the letter gave Afsaneh hope, maybe it could save me too.

Feathers–what a fragile thing. Imbued with his magic, they grew into the world you know today. But they were fickle and had to be tied down with string. And now the string is breaking.

I need your help. We have to tie the world together. There is only one way to do it, and I’m afraid we’re running out of time. My clock is ticking; what little years God bought me was spent on making this book and running around giving it to people. But no one came to my door. So now I will come to you.

I closed the letter with a sigh, rubbing my eyes. “You actually bought this?”

Afsaneh nodded and took the paper from the table. “You see the address written at the bottom?” She showed me the address, and I gaped at her.

“You didn’t actually go, did you?” I saw mischief and amusement floating in her green eyes. “Afsaneh,” I groaned, wanting to bang my head on the table. “Are you crazy? You could have gotten yourself kidnapped or worse.”

Afsaneh only smiled, turned around and waved to someone in the coffee shop. I stared as a man as tall as an oak tree, with a neatly trimmed white beard and eyes as red as embers dragged over a chair, and sat down at our table. The chair groaned underneath him and he rested his elbows on the tabletop, smiling.

“You brought him here?” I snorted at Afsaneh and stared when Afsaneh put one perfectly manicured hand on his hands, as if they had known each other for a lifetime.

She’s gone crazy, I thought. That was the only possibility. Afsaneh–the Afsaneh who wasn’t able to talk normally at parties and whose hands trembled every time a man leered as he passed by us–was sitting next to a stranger with a content smile on her face.

“Hi, Chava. I’m Adam.”

“Yeah, sure, and Afsaneh is Eve,” I rolled my eyes, and he grabbed both of my hands.

A shudder passed through me and I felt myself calm down. Only once had I felt this calm before–when my mom murmured the Sabbath prayer and my dad kissed her on the forehead.

I shook my head and took back my hands. This was impossible. He couldn’t be. He said it himself. He should have been dead. My father, my grandfather, and my uncle all stared back at me, but it was his face I saw as if time and space didn’t exist for this man. He was my father, and my grandfather, and my uncle, and yet he wasn’t. I had the sudden feeling I was watching myself in a mirror and all my history was getting reflected back at me.

He was there too. I didn’t want to think of him.

“Will you help me, Chava?” Afsaneh was nodding beside him and I mirrored her by instinct.

“Help him rebuild the world,” she said, and I forced a smile, my stomach dropping but my soul soaring.

“Good.” He took out a white string from his jacket pocket. “Because we  need to tie Antarctica back together.”