Publication Announcement: “The Scaper’s Muse” in Glitterwolf #9

“The Scaper’s Muse” is included in Glitterwolf #9: The Gender Issue (available for purchase here)

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Through bad luck and circumstance, Gavin Camayo is very politely exiled to an alien planet. But Stahvi is a fascinating place, and his stipend keeps coming from the corporation back home, so Gavin doesn’t mind the exile so much. There’s plenty of strange wonders around to keep him amused. But what happens when a familiar wonder—the person who lands him in exile in the first place—appears on Stahvi, too?

“The Scaper’s Muse” is a science fiction short story about the interplay between identity and vanity set in an alien landscape.

ARIAH Release day!

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click through to order!

It’s here! It’s happened! It’s release day!!!!!!

It’s just really exciting!

Hey, and if you maybe want a free copy of Ariah, well, shoot, why not enter this giveaway? It’s open until midnight this Saturday!

I don’t have much else to say except:

iwroteabook

ARIAH Countdown: Excerpt & Giveaway!

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click through to pre-order!

We’re a mere two days out from release day! If you’d like a sneak peak of Ariah, I’ve posted the first chapter here for free! If you like what you read, enter the giveaway! Two lucky entrants will win a free ebook of Ariah! The giveaway closes midnight, Saturday 6/30, so enter now for your chance to win!

CHAPTER 1
There are times I still have nightmares about that first day in Rabatha. I’d come from Ardijan, which is a small place built around the river and the factories. It’s a town that is mostly inhabited by the elves who work the factories with a smattering of Qin foremen and administrators. We outnumber them there. We’re still poor and overworked, we still get hassled, but there is a comfort in numbers. It was a comfort so deeply bred in me that stepping off the train in Rabatha was a harrowing experience. The train, a loud, violent thing that cloaked half the city in steam, plowed right into the center of the city and dropped me off only three streets away from the palace. Even with all the steam, I could see its spires and domes. Even with all the commotion, I could hear the barked orders and vicious slurs of the Qin enforcement agents.

I was searched. My single bag of clothes and books was searched. Everything I had brought with me except my citizenship papers was confiscated, including what little money I had. I was one of exactly seven elves on that train, and all of us were detained, and all of us were robbed. On the train, the seven of us had shared a single compartment. I knew, intellectually, that the train was full of Qin people, but I was with my own, like I had always been, and the nearness of that truth was lost on me. The train station was a sea of brown skin and fangs. I came to Rabatha for training, and as is traditional I came to my mentor on my thirtieth birthday. Thirty is when we consider a child to be grown. Before I got on that train, I felt grown. I felt adult. I felt ready. But when I looked around and saw no one who looked like me, it scared the thoughts right out of my mind. I was thirty, but I felt like a child.

So it was that I arrived alone in Rabatha, penniless and empty-handed. I arrived and had the securities of my youth brutally ripped away. I also arrived in the mid-afternoon, with only a few hours before curfew to find the man who would be my mentor. My parents had made me commit his address to memory, which had been good foresight, but the shock of the train station drowned the memory of it. All I knew was that he lived in the Semadran borough, and the Semadran boroughs inevitably sprang up on west side of town. That’s where the Qin like us to be. They know that magic in the westlands is stronger than in the east, and so they prefer to live east of anything and everything. I went west. I got to the borough without incident, though the walk took three hours. I was born in the summer, so it was a miserably hot day. I thought I’d die of thirst, but I wasn’t brave enough to ask anyone for water, not even other elves.

I never found his place. No matter how hard I wracked my brain, I couldn’t remember the address. He found me. The borough in Rabatha is cramped—it houses twice as many elves as Ardijan, in half the space—but Semadran boroughs are alike all over. The center had a schoolhouse. Elvish homes were planted around it in ever-widening circles, all facing outward, like sentries. When you are Semadran and you are lost, or hurt, or in need, you find the schoolhouse, and eventually what you need finds you there.

I made it to the schoolhouse a little before dusk fell, just when the streets were beginning to empty. I sat on the steps, cowering in the schoolhouse’s shadow. It was a stately building, two floors tall with real glass windowpanes. I don’t know how long I sat there. My mind was numb, my body was sore; I was tired inside and out. I hated everything about everyone. I was well-entrenched in these thoughts, the arrogant and bitter thoughts very young men think, when my mentor found me. “Are you Ariah?” he asked.

I looked up. I didn’t know whether or not to answer him. I didn’t know before then that Dirva was not fully Semadran. I am certain my parents didn’t know. My father likely would not have cared, but it would have been a deal breaker for my mother. It would have been hypocritical of her, but she had her standards, and she stuck to them.

I have always felt conspicuous. I have always been conspicuous. There is red blood in my family, and red blood rises to the surface. Both my mother and I have her mother’s green eyes. My mother even has freckles. I just have the green eyes; everything else about me is appropriately silver. My green eyes had always been an ambivalent thing for me. My father loves them, loves difference. My mother thinks them a curse. It is true that she and I got strange looks, that there were children growing up who were encouraged to play with boys other than me. And it’s true that some sought me out, curious and fascinated. As I said, I was very young then, and I had not yet lived enough or grown enough to know really how I felt about my diluted blood.

When you’re very young and you’re different, you begin to believe that no one has ever been as different as you and that no one has ever felt that difference as keenly as you. But there was Dirva. He was a tall man and broad-shouldered, a big man. He was a dark man, with skin a deep, deep gray, nearly black. And his hair was the same color—inky black. His eyes were green, like mine, but they were green in a vibrant and forceful way, the pupils a hair too small and the irises a hair too wide. He had whites in the corners of his eyes. He was a man with blood a far sight more muddled than my own, a man who looked like he had at least a dash of mundanity in him. His blood was so muddled that my mother’s suspicions took root. I didn’t answer. It was the strangest thing, but I felt when I saw him that I’d seen him before. I knew I hadn’t, but I felt it anyway. It made me trust him less.

He frowned and glanced out at the street. The shaper in him had cut its teeth on noticing the fear and disgust of those around him. He held out a hand to me anyway. “I am sure you are Ariah. I am Dirva. We have corresponded.”

There was nothing to do but take his hand. I was there in that unknown city, alone, with no money. I could not have gotten back to Ardijan. I knew no one else in Rabatha. All I had was him. “I am glad to meet you,” I said.

He laughed. Like most people, he has many laughs. This one was sharp and cold. He looked me over and sighed. “Oh, you came on the train.”

“Yes.”

“You have had a long day.”

Suddenly the weight of it all bore down on me. I felt tears well up. Oh, it was awful; the shame of it was a force to drown in. I wrapped my arms around myself and stared at the ground. I nodded and somehow managed not to cry. I felt I would die if he saw me cry, if that was the first thing about me he saw.

He took me gently by the elbow and led me down the street. “I have had long days, too,” he said.
“Tomorrow will be kinder.”

* * * * *The next morning, I woke facing The Reader. The actual painting, the original. At first I thought it was a dream. When he is not working the assembly line, my father is an artist who specializes in portraits. He is something of an expert on the Nahsiyya Movement. He has copied The Reader himself for at least a dozen dignitaries. He invented a press to print paintings with a high level of fidelity. He prints books of art, and his books end up in Qin libraries all over. Every one of those books has a print of The Reader in it. In short, I was extremely familiar with this particular painting, this monstrously famous painting, which inexplicably hung on the wall in a cramped set of rooms in an elvish ghetto.

Food sizzled in the kitchen, and it smelled slightly strange. I crept out of bed, barefoot and timid, and studied the painting, which my father himself had seen only once. It had hung in a gallery in Tarquintia for a fortnight many years ago, and my father spent all of his money to get there and see it. He wanted to drink it in, absorb it, let it burn into his mind so he could replicate it again and again. No one was entirely sure what had happened to it after that. No one besides me, Dirva, and the artist.

My father’s copies are excellent copies, but they are still copies. The copies couldn’t quite show the way the bold lines captured movement and obscured it at the same time. The palette was brighter than in the copies—the blues and the greens burned bright and ice-cold at once. I think it might have been a matter of the medium, of his use of ink instead of oil paints. The paint gave it a dimensionality lacking in the prints. The artist slapped it on thick, in ridges that cast subtle, shifting shadows. The shadows made the subject look like he was breathing, like he was just about to turn the page. I studied the figure: a black-skinned boy with black hair and green eyes. He wore a subtle smirk. He had broad shoulders and long, graceful fingers. It was a face I’d seen a thousand times before, and it dawned on me as I stood there that it was a face I had seen the day before.

Curiosity got the better of me. I crept around the corner and peered into the kitchen. Dirva was at the stove. I watched him for some time, star-struck, before he noticed me there. “You survived the night,” he said. “Are you hungry?”

“I…yes?” I said, though it came out closer to a question. He glanced at me quickly. His eyes were overly expressive; you could tell precisely where he looked. He is a reserved man, but his eyes give him an air of penetrating intensity.

“Did you sleep well? Will the cot suffice?”

“Yes?” Again it came out like a question.

He turned towards me. It was then I learned he is not a patient man, that he has a brusqueness rooted to the core of him. “You seem to have some question for me. It would make sense for you to have questions, considering the circumstances. You should ask it.”

“What?”

“You should ask your question.”

I blinked. I likely blushed. “I don’t have any questions.”

Dirva stirred the food, but kept his gaze pinned on me. “If you have no questions then there is little I can do for you as a mentor. Curiosity is a virtue, so say the wise.”

“The wise say curiosity, in moderation and used with tact, is a virtue.”

He frowned slightly. “Just ask it. Whatever it is, just ask it.”

“There’s nothing to…” He looked at me again. I laughed erratically, nervously, and he frowned a little more. “I have…I have just a little question for you. I guess. You don’t have to answer it. I didn’t ask because…I don’t know…it struck me that the answer might be personal? I didn’t want to pry. There’s no reason for me to even know the answer, whatever it is, and…”

“Ariah. Please, just ask it,” he said, turning his attention back to the stove.

So I asked it. “Is that…is that the actual Reader? The original?”

“Yes.”

My mouth fell open. “How?”

“How what?”

“How is it here?”

“Where there are borders and guards, there are also smugglers, Ariah,” said Dirva. “It was smuggled to me.”

“It must have cost a fortune.”

“I am sure it cost quite a lot to smuggle it, yes, but it cost me nothing. It was a gift.” He turned away from me. He opened his mouth to change the topic.

And I couldn’t let him do it. My heart thudded against my ribs. I had to know. “Is that you? Are you The Reader?”

He froze. His eyebrows knit together, then he sighed and looked over. “Your father is an artist. He mentioned that. You know about art. Yes. It’s me.” He pulled the skillet off the stove and emptied the contents into a bowl. He gestured at the table and laid out flatbread for each of us. I sat across from him and scooped up some of the potatoes and peppers in a bit of flatbread. They had been spiced with something uncommon in the Empire, which was not bad, but was unfamiliar. I couldn’t help but stare at him. It was him, undeniably him, but he had none of the magnetism or quiet enthusiasm of the figure in the painting. The sharpness was there, the quickness, but in the painting, as a boy not much older than myself, he looked happy. Across the table, as a man approaching middle age, he seemed mostly irritable. How did one grow into the other?

“Please don’t stare,” he said. His eyes flicked up at me when he said it. I tried to stop, but I couldn’t quite do it. I resorted to staring at him from the corner of my eye while pretending to be very much interested in the floor. He let out a short, impatient noise. “It is me. Yes, I know the painter. I trained in the City of Mages, and I knew Liro when I was young. He sent me this painting some years ago. Please don’t ask me why he did such a fool thing. He was always prone to grand gestures. I do not follow art closely, but I know enough to know that, if word got out it was here, I would be very quickly robbed. Please don’t say anything to anyone about it. Do not write of it in your letters to your father, for example. I do not want to be robbed. Do you have any other questions?”

I stopped chewing. I swallowed. I felt vaguely sheepish. I cut a quick glance at the painting, just visible through the doorway, then back at him. “Just one.”

He flicked one hand at me, dismissively, irritably, and rested his forehead in the palm of his other hand. “Ask.”

“I’ve always wondered. What are you reading? In the painting, what book is it that you’re reading?”
Dirva looked up at me. “That’s your question?”

“Yes?”

“That is an odd question.”

“Well, it’s, uh . . . it’s my question.”

Dirva smiled. He stood up from the table and went into the other room. I followed closely at his heels. He studied the painting and began to laugh. “I’ve never looked. You know in all these years, I never looked. It could have been anything. It’s not really a book.” He covered his mouth with his hand and looked over at me. His eyes were bright; they crinkled happily at the edges. It brought out a warmth in him that I had not thought he had. When he looked at me like that, conspiratorial, surprised, that was when I began to trust him. That’s when he became my mentor, and I became his student. He laughed again. “I am not proud of this. I can’t believe he painted me like this. That’s not a book. That’s my brother’s diary. I’d stolen it. I used everything I read in there to get under his skin. He never knew I read it.”

ARIAH Countdown: Anatomy of a Cover

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click through to pre-order!

Hi friends! Today I have for you a tour of the book’s cover. This Prezi calls out why certain elements were called out in the cover art and the relevance they have to the story. I want to thank C. Bedford once again for her incredible art!

ARIAH Countdown: Early Reviews!

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click through to pre-order!

We are a week out from Ariah’s release! Not that I’m counting the days or anything. Not that I have a series of posts labeled “Countdown” or anything.

We’re just a single week out from the release and I thought I’d try and get you as excited as I am about Ariah by sharing with you some early reviews:

Amanda Smith on Goodreads writes:
The action is driven by relationships, by love, and the ties that bind friends, lovers, and families together.

Ariah’s journey uses a carefully crafted fantasy world to explore the influence of deeply entrenched and often narrow social rules, expectations, and traditions and how those rules end up shaping our lives if we allow them to.

Hunter on Goodreads writes:
Sanders writes compelling personal struggles in a detailed, fantastic setting. The themes of queerness, family, and belonging will speak to a lot of people.

And last but not least, a Publisher’s Weekly review of the ABNA 2013 manuscript of Ariah said:
Set in a beautifully crafted fantasy world where races of elves uneasily coexist, and most are under the dominant hand of the brutal Qin, this poetic coming-of-age saga is focused on relationships and how “all of us exist in a web of other people, tethered to them and pulled by them this way and that.” The elf Ariah is apprenticed in a strange country to teach him control of his two magical gifts: perfect mimicry and the ability to read and shape the emotions of others. He trains with Dirva for several years and is groomed to be a linguist like his teacher.

But what could have been a mundane life of good-enough takes a turn toward the extraordinary when Dirva is called back to his home country and Ariah accompanies him. That’s when Ariah’s real journey begins, as his training ends abruptly and he develops the relationships that will become critically important in his life. Moving from obedient and docile to reckless, self-sabotaging and disastrously unformed, Ariah is a marvelous protagonist whose mixed blood sets him apart even in the elvish ghetto. There are bandits and pirates and elven queens and magic; treks across the desert, brutal slavery and racial discrimination. The author’s skill at blending classic elements makes the story fresh and exciting. Splendid prose and an absorbing story are built on realistically complicated, well-developed characters and relationships, and the explorations of pride, vanity, humility, love, philosophy, and sexuality make this vivid tale of Ariah’s journey towards maturity a must-read.

New Pub: “Real Monsters” in Cactus Heart issue #8!

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It’s my great pleasure to announce that one of my short stories, “Real Monsters,” is included in Catcus Heart issue #8! The issue is available for purchase here. Here’s the story’s synopsis to whet your appetite:

Scylla and Charybdis are sea monsters, but they didn’t start that way. In “Real Monsters,” Scylla tells her story. In Scylla’s version of events, what lies between Scylla and Charybdis is not death and destruction but a radical and vibrant love story. “Real Monsters” is a 3,600 word short story that uses Greek myth to interrogate what some conceive of as monstrous forms of love.

Cactus Heart is “devoted to spiny writing & art—sharp, relentless, coursing with energy and able to thrive in the harshest of places, all while maintaining a vulnerable, succulent interior”, and I believe “Real Monsters” fits that description well. This story was written fast: in a single sitting at an out-of-the-way Starbucks. In the preceding days, I’d had more than my fair share of brushes with homophobia and transphobia. I’d been put through the emotional wringer, and I was angry. This story poured out of me, a self-validation, an expression of unreserved and defiant queerness. I am glad it’s found a home.

RESISTANCE Ficlet #5: Curiosity

Resistance CoverThis is a ficlet based on my novel, Resistance, out now from Inkstained Succubus Press! You can purchase Resistance here directly from Inkstained Succubus (support small presses!) or here from Amazon.

Rivvie was on a job the first time she saw Shandolin. It would have been impossible to miss her: she was the only red elf on the street. Rivvie was perched on the edge of a rooftop, tracking the nervous movements of her mark. He was some silver elf who was making too much money. The Arbiter told her it was a matter of City stability, and maybe it was. To Rivvie, it was payment for her father’s nurse and a willingness for the law to turn its eyes away from the doings of the Vinkenti Brotherhood. Rivvie knew she was a pawn in a broader political game, but she didn’t care so much about that.

Rivvie tracked her mark down the street. He was an unassuming man, dressed neatly but not conspicuously. From the corner of her eye, Rivvie caught a bright splash of red. The street was all grays: the pale gray stone of the buildings, the slate gray of the Semadran elves’ skin, the washed-out brown-gray of their rough spun clothing. The whole world was cast in a million shades of gray shattered only by the scarlet flash on the edge of Rivvie’s vision. The woman the hair belonged to was tall and sharp-faced. She stood on the landing of a third floor apartment across the way making a racket. She pounded the door. She ate an apple in enormous, vicious crunches. Under one arm she held a stack of crisp newspapers.

The red elf woman had a self-assurance, a boldness, that Rivvie thought was sure to get her killed. It was none of Rivvie’s business, but the woman drew her curiosity anyway. Why was she there in the Tinker’s Borough? Why wouldn’t whoever she was there to see open the door for her? She had such arrogance, the way she looked so comfortable there where she clearly did not belong. Rivvie, for whom stealth was a career and a way of life, found it off-putting and distasteful. She shook her head and looked back to where she’d last seen her mark. But he was gone—all it took was one second of squandered attention, and he was gone. She cursed. Her deadline wasn’t for another week, and her thighs ached from sitting too still for too long. She was hungry. The mark was gone, and there was little for her to do but return home and venture out again tomorrow.

Rivvie slipped down into the street. She stood cloaked in shadows and magic, obscured from sight, and watched the red-haired woman who had cost her the mark. The red-haired woman dawdled there on the landing for some minutes longer until her apple was completely eaten. She laid the stack of newspapers on the landing and dropped the apple core on top of it. Rivvie, curious and still caught in the thrall of her work, tracked the red elf. Rivvie tracked her to a clutch of musicians in Opera Street, to a print shop on the edge of the Inalan Quarter, to a table in a gambling den. The red-haired woman led her all over the City of Mages, up and down the streets, into the Main Square where the vagrants lived, and finally to a rundown bar in the Refugee Quarter.

Rivvie watched the woman enter from the roof across the way. All up and down the city streets and still Rivvie had no sense of what the woman did. How loud she was, yes, she knew that. How many people seemed to owe her favors, she had learned that. But everyone in the City earned their place in the City, even down to the drug addicts. The people in the City were like the cells of her body: minute, discrete units that came together to make an incomprehensibly huge whole. But this red-haired woman was a mystery to her. It was a mystery, Rivvie though, worth solving. Should this woman be up to something, should she be something of note, that information needed to be taken back to the Vinkenti Brotherhood. Rivvie followed the red-haired woman into the bar.

It was a red elvish bar in a red elvish neighborhood, and Rivvie was the only one in it who was not a red elf. It was she who stood out, now, and the red-haired woman who blended in. Rivvie found the woman at a table in the back, an ink-stained table littered with empty glasses. She felt the room grow quiet as she walked over, felt the way the eyes of the patrons glued themselves to her black hair, to her tattoos, to the weaponry she wore. The woman was stretched out on the bench, marking up a sheaf of papers with a pencil worn down to the nub. “Who are you?” Rivvie asked.

The woman smirked. The smirk disappeared when she glanced up. Her eyes widened; she sat bolt upright. “Are you an assassin?” the woman asked.

“Yes,” said Rivvie. “Who are you, and what do you do?”

“Fuck! Why are you asking? Why’s a fucking assassin asking about me?” A strange mix of fear and pride crossed the woman’s face. “It is because of the Arrow?”

Rivvie frowned. “There is no glory in getting yourself assassinated.”

“There’s glory in getting noticed,” said the woman.

“You’re a fool.”

The woman leaned forward. “So…are you here to take me out or what?”

Rivvie sighed. “What is your name?”

“Shandolin,” she said. She leaned back, supine and relaxed again. She looked at Rivvie with the thoughtless ease that spoke of safety, of that damned self-assurance. “Hey, you political at all? Could use a blue perspective in my paper. Pan-elvish solidarity means pan-elvish, you know? Haven’t been able to crack you all, though. Can you write?”

Rivvie found it infuriating. She left the bar. She hoped very much that she would not run into Shandolin again.

RESISTANCE Excerpt #5: Heat in the Blood

Resistance CoverThis is an excerpt from my novel, Resistance, out now from Inkstained Succubus Press! You can purchase Resistance here directly from Inkstained Succubus (support small presses!) or here from Amazon.

Doe felt around in the darkness until she found the cold metal rungs of the ladder. She dragged herself up until her head banged against a stone ceiling. Rivvie told her to open it, and Doe soon found herself crawling out of an old well in the blue neighborhood. Rivvie peered off into the darkness, first one way, then another. “We’re safe now,” she said.

Doe dropped the remaining half-dozen files she’d managed to keep hold of on the run out of Sanctuary. She slammed into Rivvie and pulled her close; Doe’s mouth found hers, and Doe kissed her with a hunger, with a passion. One arm wound around Rivvie’s waist. With her free hand, Doe caressed Rivvie’s cheek, her throat. Rivvie returned the kiss in equal measure.

The small of Doe’s back tightened; her skin tingled in anticipation. Rivvie’s hand slipped beneath Doe’s shirt and scratched lightly at her back. With one great movement, Doe lifted Rivvie and placed her on the edge of the false well. Rivvie’s legs locked around Doe’s hips. Doe nipped at Rivvie’s neck and shoulder and reveled in the small pain-pleasure noises Rivvie let out.

She saved me, Doe kept thinking. Like an ass I ran into Sanctuary and she was there and she saved me and I love her—

And all at once, it came to Doe that Rivvie had spirited them out of Sanctuary and not through the front door.

Doe pulled back so fast that Rivvie very nearly toppled backward into the well. It was only Rivvie’s assassin-quick reflexes that prevented a nasty fall.

“Ah! What the hell?” Rivvie said.

“You could’ve got him out,” Doe said very quietly. “All those months, all those months I spent worried sick, running myself ragged. All those months, and the peacemakers doing who knows what to him. And you could’ve got him like that,” Doe said, snapping her fingers.

RESISTANCE Ficlet #4: A Home in Exile

Resistance CoverThis is a ficlet based on my novel, Resistance, out now from Inkstained Succubus Press! You can purchase Resistance here directly from Inkstained Succubus (support small presses!) or here from Amazon.

The day Moshel Atoosa’Avvah arrived in the City of Mages as an exile was the strangest day of his life. The years he’d spent in that Rabathan prison cell were marked by silence, by solitude. The ra’zehm who found him guilty of treason promised him he’d be forgotten in that cell, and for endless days the promise kept. It was a strange day when he was shuffled from his cell into the cabin of a train bound for Tarquintia. It was a strange day when they tied him to the saddle of a camel bound for the City. But his arrival to the City took his breath away.

Somehow, news of his arrival had leaked. Moshel came to the Eastern Gate of the City surrounded by a phalanx of tahrqin guards. He came with his hands bound and his voice rusty with disuse. He came through the gate curled in on himself, wincing and shrinking because in those years in prison he’d fallen out of habit with his gift and now he was overwhelmed with the sheer force of other peoples’ minds.

Someone spotted him. A cry went out. Moshel felt hundreds of eyes fix upon him, felt them see in him a spark, a hope, a promise he had never made. The Eastern Gate was a crush of bodies: a crush of silver skin, of Semadran faces, of his people, and all of them singing. The phalanx of guards ushered him quickly through the clerks at the entrance; one of them shoved amnesty papers in his pocket. Moshel pulled them out again and dropped them on the dusty street. They tightened in formation around him and pushed him into the City. The Semadrans followed. They picked up stragglers on their way; the crowd turned into a spontaneous parade. Moshel wanted to yell to the parade to stop, to disperse, to go anywhere else. He wanted to scream at them that he’d never wanted to be a symbol of anything, much less rebellion, that he was a broken man. He’d assumed he would slip into obscurity. He’d thought it a gift of the exile. But he felt them; he felt the joy and the resolution in the crowd when they looked at him. He held his tongue.

The clerks at the Eastern Gate had asked where he would be residing, and Moshel had answered the Semadran schoolhouse. It would be like schoolhouses in elvish ghettos all over the Qin Empire: a sanctuary, a respite, a place for those with no place anywhere else. And so the guards escorted him to the schoolhouse. And so the makeshift parade followed them there.

They stepped into a cramped square. In the center stood a stately building, made of wood which contrasted with the stone of the surrounding buildings. It could be nothing but a schoolhouse: the spire, the stained glass that told stories of his people’s history, the unmistakable ticking of clockwork mechanisms. “You’re here, traitor,” said the lead guard.

“Please escort me to the door,” said Moshel. “I fear a riot.”

The guards conferred. With obvious bad temper, the phalanx pushed through the crowd and up to the great, wide doors of the schoolhouse. The crowd around them sang in Semadran a song Moshel had never heard. A song about him. Moshel stepped up to the door and pressed the doorbell. The doors swung open; the caretaker, a small and curiously young woman stared up at Moshel. “Who comes to the schoolhouse?” she asked in Semadran.

“My name is Moshel Atoosa’Avvah. I have no papers.”

“We vouch! We vouch!” cried the crowd behind him.

“What do you seek at the schoolhouse?” asked the caretaker.

“Shelter,” said Moshel. “I seek shelter.”

“And you shall have it.” The phalanx of tahrqin guards withdrew. The caretaker ushered Moshel inside and pulled the doors shut behind him. The song of him grew stronger outside, but the wooden walls of the schoolhouse shielded him from it. Children’s faces appeared on the landings above, on the stairwells. The caretaker waved for them to return to their studies, and they obeyed.

Moshel took in the light, the beautiful light filtered through the stained glass. He ran his hand along the polished wooden walls. He smelled black tea and familiar herbs. For the first time since his arrest, Moshel felt alive again. He felt like a person again. For the first time since his arrest, Moshel wept.