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Across the Green Grass Fields - Seanan McGuire
We should take a moment here, to talk about the wood. It was a small, tamed thing by the standards humans set for forests, long since boxed in on all sides by residential construction, homes and shopping malls and highways. But it remembered what it was to have been wild. It contained the seeds of its own restoration, birds and beasts and stinging insects, fish and frogs and small, burrowing things. If the boundaries were ever removed, the wood would be ready to spring back into its old wildness, for it had never been domesticated, merely winnowed down and contained.
Because it was tame, Regan could walk safely, without fear of meeting anything larger than a raccoon or a deer. Because it had been wild, she still caught her breath when she heard something passing in the brush, when a branch snapped for no apparent reason. Such is the dichotomy of forests. Even the smallest remembers what it was to cover nations, and the shadows they contain will whisper that knowledge to anyone who listens.
All of Our Demise - Amanda Foody & Christine Lynn Herman
Defeated, Alistair lay down on the rug in front of the fire. And when he did stare at the ceiling and fantasize, he didn’t conjure any scenarios of death or torture, not even of Gavin. Instead, the fantasy that felt most tempting, most unreachable, was a pleasant one. Where a happily ever after for one person didn’t spell doom for everyone else.
"He had spent his whole life believing that he needed to fight for himself, because no one else had ever fought for him. And while that had been true for a very long time, it wasn’t true anymore.
Gavin didn’t want to betray the Lowe brothers. And yet it didn’t matter. Because if he wanted to win, he had no choice but to destroy their happy ending."
Gavin understood, then.
The world told terrible stories about the Lowe family. And Alistair had embraced them. He had done awful things. He had twisted himself into the shape his childhood had asked him to take, and it had led him to desperate, dangerous places. Gavin knew how that felt.
The Grieves had raised Gavin to die. The Lowes had raised Alistair to kill.
Both of them deserved a better story.
The emotion that rose in Gavin was terrifying not because it was new, but because it was familiar. He’d felt this way dozens of times—after their battle for the Medallion. While he and Alistair were sorting through fan mail. When they’d gotten drunk at the Castle. But even before that, when Alistair had been nothing to him but a blurry photo and a name. Gavin had spent the past year convinced he wanted to kill Alistair Lowe, or be Alistair Lowe, or earn Alistair’s respect as a rival, a threat.
Now, the truth he’d tried so hard to hide unspooled within him. He’d never wanted any of those things. What he really wanted was to sit here into the night and listen to Alistair’s stories, no matter how terrifying they were. He wanted to know how those dark curls felt twined within his fingers. He wanted—
This desire would only lead to his doom.
“I’ve decided to call my spell the Wishing Flower,” Hendry said. And then, impossibly, he smiled one of his true sunlight smiles. “It feels good to do the right thing. It feels better to know how much they would’ve hated it.”
Alistair wanted to say something. He was normally good with words, good with stories. Yet, even if unintentional, Hendry’s choice of name had tainted some of Alistair’s most precious memories, of broken leaves and dandelion spores, of wishes he now knew would never be fulfilled. But the name was still beautiful, still undeniably Hendry, and Alistair would never forgive himself for spoiling the moment.
And so, wordlessly, he lurched forward—nearly tripping over himself—and threw his arms around his brother. Of all things that were right and good, the two of them had always felt like the one right and good thing he had. It’d always been them and no one else.
Gavin remembered how Alistair had crumpled into his arms in the courtyard; how he’d felt so fragile there, as though all the villainous armor he’d so carefully constructed had fallen away. Gavin had known at that moment it no longer mattered to him what they’d done to each other. He still wanted this. Wanted Al. But after a lifetime of Gavin pushing his desires aside, he had no idea how to approach something so important. And he knew that right now, when Alistair had just suffered a tremendous loss, was probably the worst possible time to broach the subject. Maybe if this tournament really did have an after, he’d be brave enough to confess his feelings.
If Gavin had learned anything over these past few months, it was that it was impossible to fully disentangle yourself from the stories that had built you. He’d tried to ignore the Grieves’ tale, but instead, he’d let it swallow him whole.
'I think maybe people need stories to survive, but they can also use them to hurt each other. Or themselves,' Gavin said. 'If you’ve found a way for your family’s stories to feed you without feeding on you … that seems worth holding on to.'
Alistair flashed his sneer of a smile, and for a moment Gavin saw the boy he’d fought with for so long. Alistair might not be a villain—Gavin wasn’t really sure there was such a thing—but there would always be something a little wicked about him.
All of Us Villains - Amanda Foody & Christine Lynn Herman
The Lowe family had always been the undisputed villains of their town’s ancient, bloodstained story, and no one understood that better than the Lowe brothers.
The family lived on an isolated estate of centuries-worn stone, swathed in moss and shadowed in weeping trees. On mischief nights, children from Ilvernath sometimes crept up to its towering wrought iron fence, daring their friends to touch the famous padlock chained around the gate—the one engraved with a scythe. Grins like goblins, the children murmured, because the children in Ilvernath loved fairy tales—especially real ones. Pale as plague and silent as spirits. They’ll tear your throat and drink your soul.
All these tales were deserved.
Hendry Lowe was too pretty to worry about rules. His nose was freckled from afternoons napping in sunshine. His dark curls kissed his ears and cheekbones, overgrown from months between haircuts. His clothes smelled sweet from morning pastries often stuffed in his pockets.
Hendry Lowe was also too charming to play a villain.
The Lowes did not tell their children monster stories so that they could slay them.
The Lowes told them so their children would become monsters themselves.
It was Hendry who emboldened him, even though it should’ve been his family’s lesson guiding him onward. The same lesson they were always trying to teach him.
Monsters couldn’t harm you if you were a monster, too.
The monsters had shrouded the room in darkness, and Alistair stood hurriedly, his head dizzy. Sick as he was, he still knew which monsters were the worst.
The ones who sat before him.
No horror story compared to this one.
The high magick in his spellrings coursed at his fingers, pulsing to his own anger and fear. For Alistair, anger and fear always went hand in hand. But even with all that fury, his voice still escaped as a whisper.
“Where is my brother?”
His grandmother nodded at the cursering, at the stone the color of ash.
“The Lamb’s Sacrifice is invincible, and an invincible curse demands an unthinkable price. This is how we always win.”
Gavin felt a rush of pride, then a rush of annoyance that he wanted Alistair’s approval. He liked to think of himself as good at being alone, or at least accustomed to it. But one conversation with his supposed mortal enemy and his guard was already down. Was he really this desperate for validation?
Or was it just because that attention was coming from Alistair Lowe?
Gavin tried to picture himself standing over Alistair’s body, watching the life drain from his eyes. Tried to believe that was what he wanted. But as he sat there, beside the mead he refused to drink, he couldn’t avoid the newfound knowledge that Alistair was more boy than monster—despite how much both of them pretended otherwise.
Left alone in the dungeon, Alistair’s monster stories returned to him. Shadows danced in the corners of his vision, and he glimpsed a familiar, ghostly silhouette.
“Can the tournament really be broken?” he whispered to Hendry. He knew it was only his imagination, his grief, but it still felt good to ask his brother for advice. Whenever Alistair got carried away with a story, Hendry had always been the one armed with reason.
But the shadows didn’t answer, and as Alistair climbed back up to the Castle, all he heard was his brother’s laugh.
But even the months of anticipation hadn’t prepared her for how it would feel to lose everyone she cared about in the span of hours. Finley, unsuspecting of their attack. Alistair, who wanted a version of her that had never been real to begin with. Briony, who’d fashioned herself into some sort of hero when she had more blood on her hands than any of them.
It all left Isobel with rage and bitterness so strong that, even without the Blood Veil, her vision would still be colored red.
Alistair Lowe smiled, and the white of the Reaper’s Embrace crept a little farther up his skin. By the end of the morning, his hand was stained white with sins and red with blood.
Every tale of the Lowe family was deserved.
The Anthropocene Reviewed - John Green
It’s no wonder we worry about the end of the world. Worlds end all the time.
But I think it is also hard for us to confront human-caused climate change because the most privileged among us, the people who consume the most energy, can separate ourselves from the weather. I am certainly one such person. I am insulated from the weather by my house and its conditioned air. I eat strawberries in January. When it is raining, I can go inside. When it is dark, I can turn on lights. It is easy for me to feel like climate is mostly an outside phenomenon, whereas I am mostly an inside phenomenon.
I remember as a child hearing phrases like “Only the strong survive” and “survival of the fittest” and feeling terrified, because I knew I was neither strong nor fit. I didn’t yet understand that when humanity protects the frail among us, and works to ensure their survival, the human project as a whole gets stronger.
It can sometimes feel like loving the beauty that surrounds us is somehow disrespectful to the many horrors that also surround us. But mostly, I think I’m just scared that if I show the world my belly, it will devour me. And so I wear the armor of cynicism, and hide behind the great walls of irony, and only glimpse beauty with my back turned to it, through the Claude glass.
But I want to be earnest, even if it’s embarrassing.
I thought about that old Faulkner line that the past isn’t dead; it’s not even past. One of the strange things about adulthood is that you are your current self, but you are also all the selves you used to be, the ones you grew out of but can’t ever quite get rid of.
Looking up toward the looming mountain ranges in the distance, I was reminded of what nature is always telling me: Humans are not the protagonists of this planet’s story. If there is a main character, it is life itself, which makes of earth and starlight something more than earth and starlight. But in the age of the Anthropocene, humans tend to believe, despite all available evidence, that the world is here for our benefit.
I’m thirty-two. I have a baby of my own now. I knew, of course, that the act of becoming a father does not suddenly make you qualified for the work, but still, I can’t believe this child is my responsibility. Henry is only a couple months old, and I’m still terrified by the idea of being someone’s dad, of how utterly he depends upon me, when I know myself to be profoundly undependable.
The Atlas Paradox - Olivie Blake
'Did I say this was about you?' Callum cut in, carefully neutral, but for once, Tristan managed to surprise him.
'Of course it's about me.' Tristan was snarling, and from the hearth was a coincidental series of cracks and sparks. 'I was there, Callum. I was fucking there.'
Tristan's chest rose and fell with anguish and Callum sat still, bearing the unexpected weight of it.
'Whether you put it there or not,' Tristan said, his voice heavy with irony, 'this - between us - it was real for me. You can pretend that it didn't matter. That I was the one who wronged you. That you had no hand in how things happened. That I made a choice based on nothing, based on my own insecurities and flaws. But I am not such an idiot - I'm not so devoid of feeling,' Tristan spat, 'to not be perfectly aware that you and I had something rare and difficult and fucking significant, and in the end it only broke because I broke it.'
Callum's chest suddenly felt as if it had been compressed with a cartoonishly large mallet.
'So, yes,' Tristan concluded with a jerk of the muscle beside his jaw. 'I know this is about me.'
There was a streak of blood on Nico's cheek when Gideon looked at him. A slow trickle from Nico's hairline, a cut along his jaw. There was a roar of something furious and fierce in Gideon, who reached up to brush the blood away and then stopped.
'What?' said Nico, who swallowed a laugh. The muscle in his jaw jumped, then stilled.
'Nothing,' said Gideon.
'Gideon, come on, no te hagas rogar -'
Don't make me beg. Ha, as if he would. As if he could.
Nico laughed again and it hurt Gideon somewhere deep, jellying his legs with delayed paralysis. That, or a timed-release breakdown. Fear, firstly, that they had skirted something narrowly, so narrowly that it was almost a disaster, a disaster from which Gideon would never recover. Relief, that no one had put a stop to that arrogant laugh. That Nico de Varona had never learned how fragile Gideon really was. That because Nico believed himself to be invincible, Gideon sometimes believed it, too, right up until the terrifying moments when he didn't. Like now.
'I always forget how good you are at stuff,' Nico was babbling appreciatively, still talking, still laughing, still blissfully, ridiculously alive, and some madness inside Gideon's chest made up his mind for him. He leaned forward and caught Nico's mouth with his in something of a punitive force, a captive blow. More of a gasp than anything else, really.
Although technically it was a kiss.
Nico's lips were dry and his mouth was hot, taken aback, unprepared and metallic with concentration. Gideon felt Nico's breath catch on his tongue, an audible hitch of surprise, and then Nico pulled away and Gideon thought no, no, no -
'Oh. So it's like that?' Nico said. His eyes were searching and bewilderingly, confusingly bright. In response Gideon felt unopened and raw, like he'd cracked his chest in two and presented the evidence for Nico's evaluation.
'Yeah.' It left Gideon in a rasp, but fuck it. It had lived in his throat long enough. 'Yeah,' he attempted again, 'yeah it's like that.'
Nico's smile broadened.
'Good.' Nico caught him by a fistful of his T-shirt, tugging him in again. 'Good.'
The Atlas Six - Olivie Blake
Many people incorrectly assume time to be a steady incline, a measured arc of growth and progress, but when history is written by the victors the narrative can often misrepresent that shape. In reality, time as we experience is merely an ebb and flow, more circular than it is direct. Social trends and stigmas change, and the direction knowledge moves is not always forward.
Libby was ... powerful, yes, equally as powerful and likely to become more so over time given her superior sense of discipline, but with four years of Nico de Varona as a yardstick for magical achievement, Libby found herself unfairly measured. If not for him she might have breezed through her studies, perhaps even found them dull. She would not have had a rival, nor even a peer. After all, without Nico, who could even hold a candle to what she could do?
In general, Nico liked to think that a few unsaid things between him and Gideon now and then were the price of their mutual affection. A love language, if you will.
Other medeians asked things of nature, and if they beckoned sweetly or worthily or powerfully enough, nature gave. In Reina's case, nature was like an irritating sibling, or possibly an incurable addict who happened to be a relative, always popping up to make unreasonable demands - and Reina, who did not think much of family to begin with, did not care for the sensation, choosing most often to ignore it.
A self-perpetuating cycle, really, that knowledge begets knowledge just as power begets power - generationally, institutionally. Not that Callum could be compelled to criticize the system much. Was he really better, cleverer, more highly skilled than his peers, or was he just born with the right resources? As with most things from which Callum had profited, these were questions he did not bother to ask
He had such a talent for finding women who put themselves first. It was like he was some sort of sniffer dog for emotional fatality, always able to dig it up from the one person in the room who would have no trouble making him feel small. He wished he were less attracted to it, that brazen sense of self, but unfortunately ambition left such a sweet taste in his mouth, and so had Parisa. Maybe she was right; maybe it was daddy problems.
Maybe after a lifetime of being useless, Tristan simply wanted to be used.
He was doubtful that Tristan would be capable of understanding that, but the sensation of being liked was extraordinarily dull. It was the closest thing to vanilla that Callum could think of, though nothing was truly comparable. Being feared was a bit like anise, like absinthe. A strange and arousing flavor. Being admired was golden, maple-sweet. Being despised was a woodsy, sulfuric aroma, smoke in his nostrils; something to choke on, when done properly. Being envied was tart, a citrusy tang, like green apple.
Being desired was Callum's favorite. That was smoky, too, in a sense, but more sultry, cloaked and perfumed in precisely what it was. It smelled like tangled bedsheets. It tasted like the flicker of a candle flame. It felt like a sigh, a quiet one; concessionary and pleading. He could always feel it on his skin, sharp as a blade. Piercing, like the groan of a lover in his ear.
Helplessly, Libby felt the pounding of her heart the way she had once felt Tristan's touch, ricocheting through her chest like tribal drums. She had stopped time with him, once. This was the problem: that within these walls she wasn't Ezra's, wasn't one of his trinkets or possessions or pets, but entirely herself. She had stopped time! She had re-created a mystery of the universe! Here she had done as she pleased and she had done it well.
She was powerful on her own. She did not need Ezra's oversight. She did not want it.
Libby glanced at Tristan and felt it again; that little sway, the pulse of time stopping. It had been so unlike her, so much more about feeling and instinct than anything she'd ever done before. Whether a result of the loss of her sister or Libby's own psyche, Libby thought constantly, relentlessly. She was perpetually wavering between states of worry or apprehension or, in most cases, fear. Fear of ineptitude, fear of failure. Fear she'd do it wrong, do it badly. Fear that she was the disappointing daughter who lived instead of the brilliant one who died. She was afraid, always, except when she was proving herself to Nico, or being touched by Parisa. Or letting Tristan lead her blindly, forcing her to trust in something she couldn't see.
Parisa might have been the reason this all started - cleverly, and with what Tristan assumed to be centuries of atavistic female guile - but he had made no attempts to stop himself, and there was no recovering from what he now understood he craved.
Which was, quite unfortunately, Elizabeth fucking Rhodes.
And truly, it was a craving - nothing so intentional as wanting. Some chemical reaction that was responsible, or demonic possession, or some other tragic malformation that people wrote books about surviving. The absinthe had certainly encouraged him, spreading like warmth through his limbs, but whatever was consuming Tristan, he was faintly aware he'd been suffering it already. The symptoms preempted the condition, or perhaps the condition had existed (blindly, deafly, and dumbly) of Tristan having craved her all along.
Never had he known someone so positively bewildering. How could someone catastrophize the mundane at every possible turn only to readily assert her stance on such serious moral transgressions? She made him feel mad, insane, unstable. True, she was somewhat uninformed about the details (his fault), but there were markers of sensible logic here: she would not eliminate him because his power retained the most potential. Not because of who he was, or even what he was, but what he could be.
Nico tugged at a blade of grass, plucking it free. He wondered if Reina could hear it scream when he did so, and flinched at the reminder that the universe had some voice he couldn't hear. Another detail among many he couldn't un-know. A blissful piece of forgone ignorance, belonging to a person he would never be again.
"You are not accustomed to being desired, are you?" Callum prompted.
Before Tristan could manage his surely uncomfortable reply, Callum clarified, "As a friend, I mean. As a person." A pause. "As anything."
"Please don't psychoanalyze me today," Tristan said.
"Fine, fine." Callum's smile quirked. "Daddy issues."
Tristan glared at him, and Callum laughed.
"Well, the whisky's good, and so is the company," said Callum. "Astoundingly, that is the primary extent of your worth to me, Tristan. Ample conversation, at the very least."
"I don't know about ample."
"That," Callum said, "is the best part. The silences are particularly engaging.
"Are you finally admitting I'm better than you?"
"You're not better than me," Nico replied perfunctorily. "But you're looking for the wrong things. You're looking for, I don't know. The other pieces."
She made a face. "Other pieces of what?"
"How should I know? Yourself, maybe." He scoffed under his breath before oppressing her with "Anyway, there aren't any other pieces, Rhodes. There's nothing else. It's just you."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Either you're complete or you're not. Stop looking. It's right fucking there," he informed her, snatching impatiently at her hand and half throwing it back into her chest. She glared at him and pulled out of his reach, vandalized. "Either it's enough for you or nothing ever will be."
"What is this, a lecture?"
"You're a fire hazard, Rhodes," he said. "So stop apologizing for the damage and just let the fucker burn."