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By Andrew Dunn
Araceli’s stars sparkled like diamonds in a patchwork piece of sky, ringed by the edge of the caldera that towered over the city. Jennifer had a story about why she wanted that sky, and Araceli’s stars, inked into her skin, droplet after droplet of ink. Araceli absorbed Jennifer’s story as she freshened a palette of colors and maneuvered her machine-needle over Jennifer’s arm, while keeping a watchful eye on the window. At that hour patrolling orcs often bored of the bars and clubs where humans drank and danced. When orcs did, they ventured down alleys to enforce the Shadow Prophet’s edicts against magic.
The magic in the stars Araceli crafted was strong in ways she never felt as a child of human and elven bloodlines. Her life straddled two worlds, two divergent cultures – she was inexorably wedded to both, but she felt the way human eyes studied her cerulean skin with suspicion, and the way the elven spoke in ancient tongues Araceli had never learned when the elven worried her humanoid ears were spying on them.
Somehow, Araceli managed to apprentice under an elder who helped channel her duality – human instincts and elven magic – into a potent force she later learned to hide. Overhead, goblins in zeppelins were touring skies clothed in thick, industrial smoke, tending to ember-colored crystals and glass lenses to find evidence of forbidden magic. Araceli kept her trade quiet, and vetted each customer meticulously.
Jennifer checked out. She said she’d found an oracle’s voice on a radio for sale in a dwarven pawn shop. The oracle’s voice was sandwiched between the daily recitation of the Shadow Prophet’s dissertations delivered by some schlub of an acolyte, and dance tracks that hadn’t changed in generations. The dwarf sitting behind the counter snarled as Jennifer turned the radio’s dial back and forth to find the oracle’s voice. Listening to that voice carried a death sentence, but Jennifer didn’t back down. Instead, she took in every word the oracle said no matter how loudly the dwarf protested. Araceli had seen it all – hacking into the pawn shop’s security system was easy, and it was no problem to find archived audio-video footage that matched Jennifer’s story.
“I need your stars,” Jennifer begged Araceli, “but I don’t have a dime to my name.”
Araceli didn’t need money to ink her work into Jennifer’s flesh. Jennifer had listened to the oracle. That meant there was a chance she could take what the oracle told her, and wield the magic Araceli lent her in stars to drop goblins in their zeppelins out of the sky. If that happened, there could be more in the city that had never felt strong before, but would when they saw those zeppelins fall from the sky. If so, maybe they would rise up and run orcs out of the ghetto and then pull the Shadow Prophet down off his throne.
This story first appeared in 365 Tomorrows 2021.
Edited by Marie Ginga
Andrew Dunn is a Maryland-based writer. His work has previously appeared here in MetaStellar, 365 Tomorrows, Antipodean SF, Daily Science Fiction, and Penumbric Speculative Fiction. He's won a few writing awards as well. When he isn't writing, he's running, cooking, playing with his dog or guitar, or watching old movies - all of which fuel his future stories.