Flash Fiction: Body and Heart

Work has been stressing me out, so I felt like writing about healing.


Body and Heart

by Heidi C. Vlach

In her fifteen years of massage therapy, Carly had met some remarkable patients. This lion, though, was something else.

Animals are animals, people always told her. Can’t change their nature. Can’t control their urges. Let down your guard and you’re as good as dead. Yet, this lion was on his third session of laying still and letting Carly sink her fingers into his musky, sand-coloured fur, down into the stress-bound muscle underneath until it released and went smooth.

Thank you, the lion told her afterward, as was his custom. He shook out his mane and yawned; Carly was mesmerized by those ivory fangs until they vanished back into his mouth, and then she caught herself and smiled.
It was her job to help, she replied. Was he sleeping better?
Much better, yes.
Good. He still had that therapist appointment?
Tomorrow morning.
And how about that terrible foot wound?
Rumbling a laugh, the lion lifted his forepaw to once again show Carly the bandage strip — still there between his massive toes, the smiling cartoon mice still afixed even though the thorn puncture must have been thoroughly healed by now.
He hadn’t thought one little thorn could change his life, the lion said. He had never considered seeking help, from mice or humans or anything else. But he was glad all this happened.

As a medical professional, Carly could say the same.


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Flash fiction: Growing Pain

I asked Twitter to choose a story prompt, and this time the winner was a magical plant. Works for me! I’m starting seeds for my own garden right now, so I’m definitely in a plant mood.

Growing Pain

by Heidi C. Vlach

She was drifting toward the brink of sleep when the mandrake’s voice came again.

“Hey. Hey! Human!

No rest for the well-intentioned. Florence dragged upward from the night’s embrace, yanking her robe about herself as she stalked back to her greenhouse room, back into the smell of newly laid boards and paint.

Inside its rune-painted ceramic pot was the young mandrake sprout: draped with silver moonlight, its stem stiff and its spade-shaped leaves held high. Florence didn’t have to see its face to know what its pout looked like.

“What is it?” she asked.

“I’m too dry.”

Rubbing her aching eyes, Florence muttered, “You can’t be, I just watered you yesterday.”

“I’m the one with roots, and I’m telling you they’re dry.”

“This couldn’t wait until morning?”

“I might wither before morning!”

The plant was being dramatic: Florence had practically memorized the Beginners’ Guide to Magical Botany and she knew mandrakes were as tenacious as any garden weed. But she was going to humour it. She crossed the room on bare, silent feet and she pushed a finger into the mandrake’s soil.

“Feels damp to me. You aren’t confusing dryness for something else, are you? Mildew? Rot? Maybe regret for being so difficult with me?”

Its beady eyes flashed in the dark. “Mandrakes know more about mandrakes than apprentice humans ever will. Now, hurry up and water me. With fresh river water — I don’t want that chlorinated filth you put into your own body.”

“Honestly, this late at—”

“Do it,” the mandrake said, “or I’ll scream.”

And Florence didn’t want that, now did she? She left the greenhouse, sighing through her teeth, grabbing the empty water pail along the way. And she promised herself again that she wouldn’t rest — literally, if need be — until she was a plant mage.



Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed the story, please share it with your friends.

Flash Fiction: Some Like Bones

I was looking at other people’s cute dogs on Twitter before writing this.

Some Like Bones

by Heidi C. Vlach

What the dragon couldn’t figure out was why humans insisted on running from him. He bore the magic of Everytongue; he spoke words that perfectly matched human chattering; why, then, did they flee even when he uttered words of peace?

After some thought, the dragon asked one of the misshapen wolves guarding a human town — dogs, they were called. This dog hackled and growled at first, but melted into tail wagging once the dragon spoke a bark-like greeting and allowed his scales to be sniffed.

“I thought humans were friendly,” the dragon asked. “Why do they run from me?”

The dog tilted his head. “Humans are friends! Dragon is friend. Why …” He harrumphed and scratched at his floppy ear with a back paw. “I don’t know. Ask humans.”

“I’ve tried that,” the dragon repeated.

“Oh.” The dog continued thinking, only briefly distracted by a passing fly. Eventually, he decided, “You need to be a good boy.”

It sounded simple enough, this riddle. The dragon asked, “How does a creature be a good boy?”

The dog opened his mouth in a wide grin. “I can show you!”

It turned out to be an absurd practice, full of grovelling, tail-wagging and biting back his fire. But after some weeks of practice, the dragon got it right.


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Flash Fiction: Grow In The Dark

This scene came to me while I was thinking about human beings figuring out, through historical trial and error, which mushrooms and fungi are edible. I can only imagine the process would be even more, uh, exciting in a magical world.


Grow In The Dark

by Heidi C. Vlach

This was putting him behind schedule, thought the delivery boy. He held his tongue and ducked under yet more stiff bundles of dried herbs, holding his pocket cloth over his mouth to defer all the dust. When an elderly woman of great repute — such as this Madam Korozie des Florelle — invited one inside for tea, there was no polite option but to accept.

And so he followed the Madam through her cluttered storage closet of a home. All of the furniture was old, and some of it antique. Books and other treasures stood in off-kilter piles. The Madam herself was unknowable under her layers of skirts, cloaks and wraps, though he could definitely discern a hunched back and tawny skin spattered dark with age spots.

They talked about the recent rainstorm, of all innocuous things. He agreed, politely. And he sat under the stares of polished skulls and painted sigils, taking larger sips of his odd-flavoured tea until he was sure he liked it.

The Madam’s smile began to worry him, though. Knowing even for an elder, with her night-dark eyes pinched delighted at the corners.

The delivery boy was trying to muster another banal statements about the town aquifer, when the Madam cut in asking if he knew who she was.

Sick of the lump in his throat, he replied yes, he did. She was the first Grand Magus to ever dissent with the King.

Her gaze changed mercurially; he was holding the gaze of a rook, a wildcat, the heart of the whole enormous world. And, she said?

And what? What was he supposed to think of someone risen and fallen while he was still yet to be born? The delivery boy set down his suddenly flavourless cup and said that he was not present when she was Magus, good Madam. He tried not to pass judgement on such things.

Smart boy, she said on a flick of a laugh. Tell her the truth, though: what did he know about Madam Kororzie?

And, as was polite, he answered the lady’s question. Madam Korozie des Florelle was the first female foreigner ever to become a Grand Magus. She developed many of the standard healing spells still used to this day. She disagreed with the kingdom engaging in a war not theirs. And, the delivery boy added on a spur of drunken fear, the good Madam now foraged wild herbs for a living.

A harsher flick of laughter from the Madam, a shaking within her fabric coccoon. Just gathering herbs, she cried? A dotty old woman picking some bits and pieces for her dinner? No, dear boy, she said as she pushed herself up from the table — and she stopped to spear her gaze into him again. What was his name, again?

She had never asked for it. He was Santis Fowlue of Dunmore, he said, that dull name that was plain and sad and his.

Santis, the Madam confirmed.

Her accent leaned hard on the second syllable, which was wrong but at least interesting.

Well, Santis, she went on, she had been keeping busy since her Magus days. She focused on mycosis, the study of mushrooms and the many ways they could enhance a person’s magic. They could also poison a body and kill them quicker than a wink, the Madam gravely added — but anything on this earth worth doing was risky. Had he also heard of the dragonstooth toadstool?

Madam Korozie was shuffling now to a dust-coated cabinet, removing something that Santis couldn’t see past her hunched, cloaked back. It was still unclear whether he ought to be here; he tamped down his nerves and said no, ma’am.

If he had, she added, it would mostly be stories of fools trying to earn riches.

He was sorry, ma’am, but he hadn’t.

She hummed. She was at the hearth now, bending over one of the pots Santis had assumed to be simmering dinner. The dragonstooth toadstool, the Madam told him, was said to have sprouted from a shed tear from one of the gods. That fact had been translated ten times forward and back. Left out to go rusty in the rains of time. But if it was true, and if the toadstool could be picked, it could raise some brave human to their fullest potential.

Madam Korozie was still bent, working with the pot’s contents. Scraping echoed up into her chimney while Santis shifted in his groaning old kitchen chair.

So, Santis ventured, did she find it?

The Madam laughed. Not a flick of a laugh but the whole mirthful thing, the sound of a wise woman who understood the entire joke.

Santis shouldn’t have come here, he tried to suppose. He was already behind pace on his afternoon assignment. But in this strange, cosy home, he asked his elder, so, ah. It was worth the search, then?

Madam Korozie turned and approached him, a shuffling mound with smile-cornered eyes and a teaspoon held before her. A teaspoon full of meat broth — no, it was a magic potion. No meat made a liquid that deeply coloured, like saffron except oilier.

The Madam held the spoon out at Santis between her trembling, expert fingers. Held it out like a mere sip of soup and she said, why don’t you tell me?


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Flash fiction: Come Flying Forth

I’m going to try something. Since long-form fiction has been a struggle for me the last few years, I’ll be focusing for a while on posting short, experimental flash fiction. That method helped me build strength as a younger writer, so hey, maybe it’ll help me now.

Without further chatter, here’s a story for today. I asked Twitter what my prompt should be and the answer was (unsurprisingly) dragons.


Come Flying Forth

by Heidi C. Vlach

Each morning, the dragons emerged from their cave. Flying on wings so nimble they never did collide, flying out in a rush of glinting scales and fiery eyes. They were every colour and size imaginable, those thousands of dragons; they were a kaleidoscope made liquid to pour upward and fill the sky.

The humans, frightened though they were, turned their faces up toward each morning dragon flight. They murmured in their throats, they pointed at the turbulent flock. Generations passed and, in the footnotes of time, some humans crept closer to the cave. They listened to roared words until understanding began. They left food offerings — including the ripe, fragrant fruit that dragons did covet.

“Why do you fly like that?” asked a brave youth one year. “Why do you always emerge together?”

The dragon addressed — a dog-sized example of her kind, lavender-coloured, licking mango juice from her snout — replied, “Because we can.”

“That’s all?”

“We fly. We are one. What else is there?”

When other humans arrived, the youth told them. Those humans told others. The wisdom spread.

Because we can. Because the dragons were all different, all fierce and vividly alive, but under their myriad colours they were tied together by same hearts.

It took more years, but the humans held a walk. An event for all, a pouring of humans down the same street, the colours of their faces and clothing making another kaleidoscope. All together.

Popular as it was, more walks were scheduled. More and more frequently until the dragons came to watch, perching on roofs and by roadsides, watching the human masses with a dancing fire in their eyes.

And when a dragon gifted them with fruit — a small, lavender dragon dragging a tooth-punctured watermelon to lay at the king’s feet — that was when the times of joy began.


Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed the story, please share it with your friends.


A magical new novel

It’s been two years since I published my last book — and a rough two years, where my mental health and employment status have both been patchy. But hey, I’m feeling okay again and think it’s time for me to write another novel.

Choosing which novel to write hasn’t been easy. Another short story collection? Another Story of Aligare? More in the Tinder Stricken universe? I don’t have enough sales numbers to decisively point at one of those. It’s hard to say which readers my stories are reaching. But when I tell friends and acquaintances about the ideas I’m kicking around, I’ve gotten a warm response to one story concept in particular — Wyndren’s story.


Some sketch-and-digital concept art of Wyndren Pendergast. I’m still figuring out what exactly she looks like.

The working title is To Know Arcanely. It’s set on modern-day Earth where Bigfoot, Nessie and all manner of legendary creatures are real: they’re lost souls who accidentally came to Earth from their own magical dimension. Main character Wyndren is a faerie/dragon hybrid who crossed the dimensions while still in her egg, and she was found and raised by human scientists who study cryptids (more properly called Arcanians).

This upbringing leaves Wyndren stuck between worlds. She’s fond of humans but definitely not one of them. She assists with cryptobiological research, and studies the many fascinating types of human language, and runs a popular aesthetic blog, and through it all she longs to know where she comes from and what her Arcanian parent races are like. Visceral “seeking” needs like this are often what brings Arcanians to Earth in the first place — but how can Wyndren know why she’s here, when she came before she even hatched?


Some more concept art. Wyndren lives in the human world and can only imagine what Arcania is like.

Accompanied by her best friend Holly — a dryad bonded to a potted bonsai tree — Wyndren begins travelling through cities and towns. If she meets new people and learns enough about Arcanian kind, maybe she’ll track down her own purpose.

And this is a first for me: To Know Arcanely might be a trilogy of novels. Wyndren has multiple societies to explore and she could easily find more than she bargains for! I’m focusing on one satisfying book for the moment, but I have ideas for Books 2 and 3. We’ll see.

Thoughts? Share in the comments!

Diversifying Your Worldbuilding: a gender identity post by Claudie Arseneault

Once again, I’m giving the floor to Claudie Arseneault! You might remember her from the Wings of Renewal blog tour, where she talked about solarpunk science fiction. Today, she’s here to share some gender-based worldbuilding and some important ideas about rejecting stale norms, from her upcoming fantasy novel City of Strife. Take it away, Claudie!


Diversifying Your Worldbuilding : How I Integrated Nonbinary Identities into Isandor’s Pantheon

A disclaimer: This is not a How To post. As a cis person, it’s not my place to say how one should or shouldn’t build to include nonbinary representation. But I wanted to share a look into how I approached worldbuilding to avoid excluding nonbinary identities from the world’s history.

When I first set myself to deepening the worldbuilding around Isandor, I knew I wanted flexibility to invent and create as I went, without the constraints of a) having established too much, or b) a rigid structure. This was particularly true of pantheons, as I’ve always loved polytheist fantasy worlds where each god had a handful of domains and no more. So I started building with the following structure: six core deities (Water, Air, Earth, Fire, Creation, Destruction), and demigods (mortals who, through remarkable connection to their domain, ascended to a divine status).

As I went to design each more precisely, however, I quickly fell into old patterns.

Should the Water deity be a man or a woman? What of each race? How can I avoid reproducing stereotypes of high fantasy worldbuilding?

Well, for one, I could fling “man or woman” into a fiery dumpster and never think like that again.

I have always felt like how you build your pantheon reflects how your universe exists—what is its “natural” state, and if gender is a social construct, it makes little sense for divine beings who existed at the dawn of times to start with one.

So, Decision #1 : all six core deities are essentially agender. There are gendered representation and titles for them, as varying cultures have focused on different aspects of each of the six core deities and their vision of them evolved through time. This is why Myrians refer to Keroth as ‘Firelord’ and imagine them as a thin white man, despite the much more common depiction of them as large and black. Decision #2: all of these six core deities use singular they/them, no matter the depiction.

This normalized the use of gender-neutral pronouns in my universe, or at least opened the door to it. I worried about dismissing neopronouns but quickly realized I had the rest of the pantheon to build, and demigods would all have been actual people before.

Decision #3: include nonbinary demigods with neopronouns to legitimize those, too. The first of those became Ren, the Luck deity, who comes up a lot in City of Strife (one of my central character is xir priest). Ren is bigender; xir gender switches between man and woman, and xe is known to have described it like the flip of a coin–you never know which you’ll get, or how long a stretch can last.


Beyond Ren, I knew I wanted to keep race-related deities. An elf watching over elves. A halfling for those. But since I didn’t want to build a pantheon for each race, I decided these demigods would be the very first leaders of their race. Thus, when the elves were created (elves of all skin colour), their leader was Alluma, the Elven Sheppard, and since this is the beginning and genders weren’t a thing, Alluma doesn’t have one either. The point here is that when I decided there would be no gender binary at the dawn of time, I naturally created space for nonbinary people. It’s even the most logical step!

I didn’t want my only nonbinary representation to be deities, though, so Decision #4: City of Strife also features a nonbinary character. They have a minor role in the first book, but the two other novels give them more pagetime.

Finally, Decision #5: there are at least two cultures in the world that have a completely different relationship to gender than male/female binary. They’re not really in Isandor except for brief mentions for research (I need to do more) and practicality (Isandor happens all in the same city and it’s FAR from them) but it seems to me that, if everyone started from the same no-gender ground, there was no way they’d all construct the same dichotomy–not unless it was imposed (lo and behold, the regions who have it all fell under one of two Empires through history).

It’s easy to worldbuild based on what we’ve always known and read, but it’s such a wasted opportunity to do better. Inclusivity isn’t just a single character. It goes deeper than that, to the very root of your universe.

This exercise taught me to question my worldbuilding reflexes. We live in a racist, homophobic, cissexist (to name a few) world. We’ve all read racist, homophobic, and cissexist fiction. The universes we create are, by consequence, racist, homophobic, and cissexist. Undoing that takes time and energy, it requires long reflexion, a hard look at yourself, and constant listening to the communities you’re trying to do right by.

And even then… Chances are I missed something. I’m still learning–I will always be learning. But building the structure of Isandor’s pantheon and diverging from the binary was fun. Breaking apart cissexist tropes opened great possibilities while still keeping some aspects of old-school high fantasy I wanted, and I hope the end result is a universe where my nonbinary readers will feel not only acknowledged, but welcomed.

If you want to check out the novel itself, it comes out this February 22nd! (LINK) And if you want more authors who do great things reinvestigating certain worldbuilding tropes, I suggest B.R. Sanders. Their novel, Ariah, contains rich cultures with various forms of family structures and approaches to romance and sex.

Feel free to share any cool ways you broke a problematic trope in your worldbuilding, too!



Claudie Arseneault is an asexual and aromantic-spectrum writer hailing from the very-French Québec City. Her long studies in biochemistry and immunology often sneak back into her science-fiction, and her love for sprawling casts invariably turns her novels into multi-storylined wonders. The most recent, City of Strife, comes out on February 22, 2017! Claudie is a founding member of The Kraken Collective and is well-known for her involvement in solarpunk, her database of aro and ace characters in speculative fiction, and her unending love of squids. Find out more on her website!

Transcription work: my new challenge

I haven’t had a day job for a while. Food service isn’t known for providing a stable life for its workers, and I’ve had an exceptionally bad run of jobs throwing me under the bus after 2 or 3 months. What’s a writer to do?

Well, I stumbled into a freelance gig as an online transcriptionist, so there’s that.


My desk is a real mess. You might even say it’s a sty! Thank you, remember to tip your waitress.

The work is pretty simple: listen to an audio file and type down all of its discernable English speech (using clean formatting, punctuation and speaker tags). I turn in my work and, if it meets the QA checker’s standards, I get about 50 cents per minute of audio.

The listening part is … weirdly entertaining? Even when the audio file is a subject I’m not really interested in, like legal texts. Listening in on these random speakers reminds me of sitting in a coffee shop, eavesdropping on strangers — which isn’t creepy as long as you’re doing it for writerly purposes, right? Right …?


“You’d make a GREAT minor character.”

People’s speech patterns are a tricky thing to capture in fiction. What sounds like “real conversation” in a book isn’t actually realistic at all, because real conversation often proceeds faster than our brains can manage. Listen to any casual conversation and you’ll hear a lot of “um”, “well”, stumbling on words, starting over, and other indicators that we’re trying to wrangle our thoughts into coherent order.

Transcription pays close attention to that. I was told in the style guide to remove false starts and other word-sounds that aren’t contributing any meaning. No problem! That’s editing! I’ve done several novels’ worth of that! Economy of words means that every phrase has its place.

My biggest struggle right now is speed. The QA checkers are giving me high scores on accuracy, so now, I just need to complete more than one file per hour and maybe I’ll be able to earn minimum wage.

But hey, whether or not this transcription work is a practical way to pay the bills, it’s definitely a workout for my writer muscles.

How animals view us

I like thinking about non-human beings — obviously enough, given the subject matter of my writing. There are so many possibilities, ranging from magical/genetically altered “talking animals”, to anthropomorphic beings who look and behave like nothing we’ve ever seen before. Tons of possibilities there.

But you know what else is interesting? The way ordinary Earth animals react to humans, right here in our present-day world.

Because it’s not as simple as “humans are scary apex predators, always flee from them”. We’ve domesticated dogs and horses. Cats are commensal, which is a fancy word for choosing to hang around with humans. Even rats, a long-time nuisance animal, have found a niche as pet fancy rats who can be as beloved as any family dog.


I’ve kept rats as pets before, and honestly, they’re delightful. (Photo by Ellen van Deelen.)

What about animals we don’t consider pets, though? Even when they’re not sharing our homes, animals share this planet with us. They watch our daily lives, and we watch theirs. Sometimes, kind-hearted humans will use our particular skill sets to rescue an animal — and this doesn’t go unnoticed in animals’ collective awareness.

There are many recorded examples of distressed animals approaching humans, seemingly asking for help. A fox cub with a jar stuck on its head; a mama duck whose ducklings are trapped in a storm drain; a raven with porcupine quills embedded in its face; a wild dolphin tangled in fishing line. Even sharks — which are often thought of as soulless monsters — seem able to understand that humans can be benevolent.

This discussion between Tumblr users makes an excellent point: as animals watch us, they notice that city-dwelling humans don’t really behave like apex predators. User Roachpatrol says:

raccoons and possums and foxes and crows all succeed in an urban environment because they’re opportunistic and observant. and almost none of them would have observed us pounce on one of their species and then start eating it, you know? a lot of them would have observed that we scream and chase them out of wherever we don’t want them to be, but other animals are territorial too. but there’s a number of situations where humans feed whoever’s bold enough to take them up on the offer, and we do tend to pull garbage off of other animals as soon as they slow down enough for us to catch. ‘a human got me but nothing bad happened’ is a much more frequent thing than ‘a human got me and tried to eat me’.

Tsfennec and Sapphicaquarius add that there’s a remarkable parallel with the way humans imagine mysterious fantasy creatures — for example, fairies/fae.

Of the stories I’ve read, the food of the Fae, its origins and effects, are often strange and/or obscure.- Just like our food to most animals.

The Fae are strange beings that seem to know weird things that give them power or an edge over us.- Just like us to animals.

The Fae work and live by strange rules also often nonsensical or obscure to us.- Just like us to animals.

The Fae can easily obtain vast amounts of things we consider rare/precious/desireable, and have no problem with dishing it out wantonly for no other reason than amusement.- Just like us to animals.

The Fae sometimes are amused by having us around, but only on their terms and IF it amuses/intrigues them.- Just like us to animals.

This line of thought is so interesting to me! When humans imagine interacting with other intelligent species, we don’t have a lot to go on. Just our relationships with the animals in our environment. So what if a dragon/fae/god/etc. represented a higher tier of power and awareness? What if humans were the animal in the relationship, forced in our moments of desperation to approach those higher creatures and hope that they’ll be merciful?


Meeting The Neumenon by Edvige Faini

It would be an inversion of our normal power dynamics with the animals around us. It would be a frightening, exciting — yet somehow familiar — frontier. And that’s what fantasy/sci-fi is all about.

A sample of Repast (A Story of Aligare)

As I post this, Anthrocon is wrapping up for another year. I wish I could have attended, but I was there in spirit — through my two short stories included in FurPlanet‘s new releases! My work appears in ROAR 7 and Gods With Fur.

So here’s a sample for ya. Repast ( A Story of Aligare) is meant to stand alone, although if you’ve read Remedy you’ll recognise a few faces. And if you’re new to my human-free world of Aligare, you might want to check out the Aligare Lore section of this blog.



(A Story of Aligare)

by Heidi C. Vlach

Mama said there was a legend about the gods giving out names. Long ago, when the land was new and the first trees were stretching toward the dome of the Great Barrier, the mortal peoples were nameless. That was unfitting for gods’ children. The Great Ones discussed and disagreed, and in the end used their vast power to poke dimples into the peoplekind’s inner essence. Not enough to hurt, only enough to make people want to prod that spot inside themselves. Smooth it over. Maybe fill it with something.

That something, Mama said, was a name. It was different for each peoplekind. The aemets — the betweenkind folk, both furkind and insect — got one given name, and held their family name close so they always had company. The korvi — dragons of the skies — got one given name, and kept their clan name, too, for something to be proud of. And then, Mama said, came their own ferrin race. Some ferrin were happy with one given name. One didn’t always fill them up, though. So Mama’s mother gave her two names so she could pick between them once she was grown, and Mama did the same for her own kits.

Choosing one’s name was a summoning of strength and levity, a sure way to feel right in one’s own fur. Mama smiled, her whiskers folding up fond, and said she was eager to see which names her kits would pick. Or maybe they would find a third name. Wasn’t that right, Vivia Ava?

The twinkling in Mama’s eyes was a thunderbolt through Vivia Ava’s chest. A patch of longer fur — adult fur — was spreading wide across her shoulders and she still had no earthly idea whether she was Vivia or Ava. Neither sat right in her mouth. Neither pretty name, selected by her love-strong parents, felt like the one she should ask folk to call her by. But if even great Ambri thought she should pick for herself, then there couldn’t be any shame in it. Gods, supposedly, knew best.

When Vivia Ava started exploring the oak forest by herself — though always within smelling distance of home — she took the solitude as a chance to mumble sounds. She listened to her own tongue smashing her names into new shapes. And soon enough, she began telling folk that she was Vivia Ava, call her Vee.

Vee left home soon after her adult fur filled in. She put on the scarf Papa gave her — the gold- patterned one that brought out the green in her eyes — and she left the oak forest behind, following the trade roads and their trace scents of travellers, until the oak trees gave way to plains grass and eventually, cornfields ushered a town into view.

This place was Greenway, a large village made up of mostly aemet people. Aemets were as green as their plantcasting magic and every two-legged step came smooth. They gathered together just like the corn they grew, slender and angular, and they smiled down at Vee like they could sense promise wafting off of her.

It was a fine enough town to live in. Vee chose a maple tree on the outskirts of town to make her nest in, after promising her aemet neighbours she would do no harm to this child of the plant goddess. No sap drawn, and no wood broken away unless it was diseased or dead. That was a reasonable allowance to make for folk of another kind; Vee would be uneasy, too, she supposed, if her goddess’s storm clouds were able to burn or bleed. And more importantly, great Verdana didn’t mind people or creatures eating her seeds. There would be meals of maple keys in Vee’s future.

As much as Vee’s neighbours guarded the trees, they still needed wood for their hearths, to cook food and ward the night’s chill away. Vee gathered fallen branches, at first, and she traded them for juicy cobs of roasted corn. As months passed, her foraging took her farther and father afield, out past the farmers’ plots and into the forest so she couldn’t smell the town’s latrines or woodsmoke anymore.

The maple forest had a greener tang to its scent than the oak forest back home. Fewer whiffs of basilisk and cavebird’s scents. Fallen leaves becoming pungent earth. More thrushes’ and jays’ cries and a more robust voice to the wind. After an hour’s quick journeying, the ground sloped upward into the rocky foothills of Hotrock Volcano.

And with each trip, Vee found things. Trinkets more interesting than firewood or seeds: she found treefruit, and pebbles glittering with minerals, and wood bent by the wind’s persistent presence. She even found a rock-clinging lichen that looked like musty leather scraps but was actually worth an eightday of hot meals.

“What can you make of that lichen?” Vee asked the town seamstress, around a mouthful of scalding but delicious pigeon stew.

“Oh, wait until you see it,” the seamstress enthused. “It makes a truly striking shade of pink dye. If you find me more of this, there’ll be more stew for you — wager on that.”

And that was when Vee realized that she had a line of work: she found herself a name and she could find other things, too.

She dug more intently under leaf litter, and climbed higher up the Volcano. Each day, her scarf filled with mushrooms and pebbles as she bore wind-carved sticks between her teeth, and there was never a day Vee didn’t look forward to the search. After all, why would gods put so many things into the world if peoplekind weren’t meant to find it?

“My, but you’ve got a talent for this,” one merchant told her. He was Syril, a red-feathered chatterbox of a korvi, part of some far-spread family who had made their mark in the land — and more importantly Syril was always delighted to see what Vee had found. “Wager four apples on it, the gods have given you a gift, friend!”

Vee tilted her head up at him. “You think it?”

“I do!”

“Do you know anyone who’s looking for forest goods right now?”

Syril chattered off a list of names — a long list, seemingly folk who had asked for herbs at any point within the last eightyear. But just as irritation was making Vee’s tail flick, Syril’s eyes bugged wide. “Oh, and I nearly lost this bit of news in my dustbin of a head! There’s a fellow right here in Greenway looking for inkwork supplies.”

“What sort of supplies?” Like any trade, inkworking had more nuances than Vee had strands of fur.

Shrugging, waving his arms so his bangles clattered, Syril said, “Oh, different things, by the sound of it. The fellow is Welsken — old aemet man, married into the Tennel family? Not quite a hermit but certainly a rarer sight than a rainstorm. I came upon his daughter, Clematis—”

Whom Vee already knew: Clematis kept an eclectic vegetable garden and she was happy to buy all the herb and shrub seeds Vee could find.

“—and do you know what my dear friend Clematis told me? That Welsken is looking for some particular bones.” Syril squinted, his voice lowering slight. “Grazing creatures’ bones — and only wild ones, no farmed horses or any such thing! I keep a goodly stock of trinkets and rabble in my pouches, gods see that I speak the truth about that, but I had nothing within a shade of what Welsken wanted. He wouldn’t even take a bargain on pigeon bones!”

People that discerning usually had the barter goods to back up their tastes. With her ears folding thoughtful, Vee nodded. “I cover a lot of forest when I’m foraging, I’m sure I can find what he needs. Where can I find this fellow?”

The next day, with a scarf full of new treasures, Vee began following Syril’s suggestions. She went first to find Clematis, lolloping on four quick feet down the town’s main road. Daybright winked through the tall maples; neighbours walked between houses, made with the aemet technique of boards tied gently around tree trunks. As the leaf canopy thickened, the path led to the Middling circle, that sacred aemet place full of pungent stacks of rotting plant trimmings. Clematis wasn’t there — just three farmhand ferrin dumping a bucket of vegetable peels — and so Vee headed for the next most likely place. Clematis kept Greenway’s Middling circle and oftentimes, she guided folk to the Garden.

Vee had visited the Garden once. It was a gathering of large, etched stones propped up tall, each one kept company by flower-speckled patches of daisies and yellow gelsemiums. The stone etchings were pictures of the gods — flat depictions of the stories Vee knew, cool and motionless rock that was nothing like a storyteller’s voice.

But that was why Clematis spent time here, telling the stones’ tales. Today, she was explaining a stone to two other aemets Vee had never seen nor smelled before.

“And after the rain stopped, great Ambri came down from the thunderclouds to see the result of her work.” Clematis was fiddling with her braids as she usually did, smoothing them around her antennae’s bases in a way that never satisfied her. “Her mighty lightning had filled the quartz stone with electric magic, so she had electricstones to bury for later. But there had been a tree too close to the strike point. One of Verdana’s children, now blackened and smoldering.”

Blunt-barbed aemet fingers gestured to the stone, to its chiselled sketch of a bird-like Ambri with her head bowed before a stick of a tree.

“So,” Clematis went on, “Ambri sought out her mighty sister. She fluttered through every treetop until she was in the calmest heart of the forest, and there she found Verdana, our mother of green.”

Vee stifled a sigh: this part of the legend always dragged on when aemets told it. But after long moments talking about the lush-leafed haven Verdana lived in and the clean air filtering through the leaves, Clematis got to the point.

“Ambri and Verdana talked for four weeks, though more like the wink of an eye to the gods. Verdana said that her flora were fragile; that was the beauty of them. Sometimes the other elements would harm plants, but that only made ash and charcoal and, eventually, new soil to nourish new life. Lightning was no enemy of plant life. Why, not even Fyrian’s ever-hungry fire was truly an enemy.

It was then that Ambri called out to her same-element children, the larks and swallows in the sky and the lizards creeping under rocks. Birds came and alighted in the trees, and lizards lined the clearing — and ferrin people came, too, peering out from leafy branches.

Let the land know that lightning might do harm, Ambri said. Folk needed to mind thunder’s rumbling warning, and seek shelter. But though it could wreak destruction, Ambri’s element tried always to do good, as well.

The birds took off, chattering the message to all who would hear it. The ferrin nodded to their High One, and took the message into their hearts. So it has been, ever since.”

The visitor aemets touched their palms together in quiet applause, like they might break the atmosphere of the Garden. Clematis looked bright-eyed with her own storytelling, but thankfully she turned a glance to Vee; the visitors drifted away toward the next story stone.

“Good day, neighbour,” Clematis told Vee. “You need something?”

“Your father is Welsken Tennel — is that right?”

“He is.”

Her tone carried a heavy but; Vee’s fur prickled with possible unwelcome.

“I don’t want to bother him for no reason,” Vee added, “but I’m told that he’s a calligrapher? I found some plantkind bones he might like to trade for.”

“Oh,” Clematis relented, “that’s a different matter. I’ll take you to him!”

Every town had its hermits. Folk who decided that their best friends were quiet and solitude. Folk who hid themselves like moles. Welsken wasn’t quite one of those — but Vee wouldn’t have known his face or his scent if she had to find him on her own. All she knew was the kind-tongued gossip about him, and the seamstress’s set of ink-painted clay dishes that she said were Welsken’s handiwork.

Clematis led her along a narrow path at the back of the Garden, through rustling boxwood and sumac. They came to a house surrounded tight by hazel bushes, its wooden walls hardly visible through the meshed leaves.

Clematis rapped her blunt-spined knuckles on the door pole. “Father? There’s a forager to see you, with some bones for trade.”

Silence answered. Nervousness sparked electricity under Vee’s skin and she reined it in: her ears fanned forward at the faint scuffling of movement within the home. Welsken’s footfalls approached and stopped before the door curtain. Hesitating, maybe. Or considering. Vee had always wondered what aemet people’s airsense could actually show them, other than a mound of fur and whiskers.

Finally, the door curtain was whisked aside — by the shortest adult aemet Vee had ever seen, his posture so stooped that his tunic hung like an empty sack. Faded brown eyes mirrored his tacked-on smile. He seemed rusty at meeting guests.

“Suppose we can talk for a moment,” Welsken said.

Clematis hummed a satisfied note. “I can’t stay, is that well with you? Travellers are viewing the Garden right now.”

“Go,” Welsken grumbled mild.

Then Clematis was gone and he was lifting the door curtain, waving Vee inside.

The close-walled home smelled like its waxy-skinned resident, and burned cornstalks and dust. Beside the central hearth pit, there was plenty of room and Welsken and Vee to sit — but any other visitors would have had to sit on his bed and he didn’t seem like the sort to offer it.

“Ah, humph. Something to eat?”

“No, thanks.”

For half a heartbeat, Welsken smirked. “Good. I’d rather see to business, if you don’t mind.”


Vee and Welsken’s story continues in the Gods With Fur anthology, available through Furplanet.com