Deep Magic - Spring 2018
- Book info
- Author updates
If you want to read gripping stories that don’t rely on sex, swearing, and graphic violence—you’ve come to the right place!
DEEP MAGIC is an electronic magazine that publishes clean short fiction in the fantasy and science fiction genres (epic, paranormal, steampunk, etc).
This month, we have five amazing short stories, including The Ten Suns by Ken Liu, a winner of the Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy awards. We also bring you a sneak preview of Board member Charlie N. Holmberg's new book, The Plastic Magician, and Obert Skye's Wizard for Hire.
Other stories you'll enjoy:
– Vanya and the Rusalka by Christopher Baxter (a Deep Magic alum)
– Dragon Bond by T.E. Bradford (another Deep Magic alum)
– Murmurs by Micah Hyatt
– Hanging Trees by Christoph Weber
- The Ten Suns by Ken Liu
Release date: March 6, 2018
Print pages: 180
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Deep Magic - Spring 2018
The Ten Suns
By Ken Liu
The prairie stretched in every direction as far as the eye could see. The sparse grass, yellow-tipped and dotted with purple and white flowers here and there, resembled an enlarged version of the tattered carpet that lay on the ground in Headman Kiv’s tent. To the east, a few hundred bumps poked out of the carpet like mushrooms after rain—except that the mushrooms wriggled slowly.
A herd of taurochs.
With Primus high in the sky, this was the hottest hour of the day. The light summer coat of the taurochs shimmered in the sun as though each wore a rainbow, and their triple horns rose and dipped from time to time as they grazed lethargically. The animals would become livelier once Primus had set, and the temperature had cooled a bit with only Secundus in the sky.
Aluan, sitting atop his stallion at the head of the band of hunters, waved his arm decisively. “Charge!”
Forty whips fell against forty horses, and the thunder of pounding hooves filled the riders’ ears. The men and women of the hunting band rushed towards the herd like an arrow made of flesh and blood, with young Aluan in the lead: the taurochs represented food, shelter, clothing, thread from sinews, tentpoles from bones, kefir bags from stomachs. The hunters took their bows from their shoulders.
The animals looked up, their long triple horns glinting in the sunlight. Sleep faded from their dark eyes like a receding tide, replaced by terror.
As one, the herd began to run, first slowly, then faster and faster. But a few older cows and young calves fell behind.
Quintus, Sextus, Septimus, and Octavus—none as bright as Primus—hung high in the sky from west to east like a strand of pearls. It was only a little cooler than when Primus shone alone.
Around the bright and warm bonfire, people danced, their movements loosened and their laughter made louder by bowls of kefir, were each accompanied by four shadows at their feet. Beyond the ring of dancers, racks of meat smoked.
“Not bad for your first time leading a hunt,” said Ly. She had just stepped out of the ring of dancers to sit down on the ground next to Aluan. “We should have enough food to last a full month.”
Aluan nodded perfunctorily.
Ly detected a lack of real joy in the gesture. “What’s bothering you?”
“The animals are so lean and small. Have you ever seen a bull as fat as the one your grandfather said he killed when he was your age, heavy enough to need twenty men to lift it off the ground?”
“He was probably just exaggerating. Old men like to tell tall tales.”
Aluan said nothing. After a few moments, he pulled out a handful of grass next to him and handed it to her. “Chew on this.”
The taste was bitter, acrid.
“It’s too dry,” said Aluan. “Don’t you remember how thick the grass used to be on the prairie when we were kids, and how sweet it tasted? No wonder the taurochs are not fattening up or reproducing as they used to.”
She spat out the grass. “We always think things used to be better when we were little. But that’s just because the world seemed new to us then.”
Aluan laughed bitterly. “How many more hunts are left before there will be no more taurochs? You know I’m right, but you’re afraid to agree with me. No one wants to talk about the truth. We’d all rather drink kefir and pretend things have always been the same—”
“It has always been the same.” A few of the other hunters, sitting a bit further away, looked over at her raised voice. She looked back and smiled in a way that suggested this was just a lovers’ spat. The others smiled in understanding and returned to their own conversations.
Before Aluan could answer her, the chants began around the bonfire. “Aluan! Aluan! Aluan!”
“It’s time to retell the legends,” said Ly. Her face looked anxious, and she gave Aluan a shove. “Don’t mess it up. This is your first time. My father agreed that we can get married if you show yourself to be as proper in your beliefs as you are skilled as a hunter.”
Aluan stood up, sighed, and walked towards the middle of the ring.
This is a story of how people came to be in our world: We were not born here, but were brought.
Long ago, before the time of the Five Kings and the Three Councils, before the time of the Fire and the Flood, before the Killings and the Separation, the world was a bare rock, cold and devoid of life.
Then the Zyxlar, the Bringers of Judgment, scattered the seeds of life into the world. It is said that the Zyxlar ruled over many worlds and held the power of life and death over many different forms of life: some had bodies made of stone; some had bodies made of insubstantial gas; some had hard carapaces like insects; some had leathery limbs like the creatures who crept in the grass; and still others were like you and me.
No one knows why the Zyxlar seeded this world with our ancestors, and the ancestors of the Saurians, Chitters, Silicates, and Methenes. They brought forth grass and trees, lakes and prairies, deserts and salt flats, the birds that fly in the air and the rockleech that swim in the water, the taurochs and devourers, the tumblebugs and stonerays. To give everything heat and light, they placed ten suns in the sky.
Now, there are many stories of the days when the ancestors of the Five Races lived together with, and served, the Zyxlar. They lived in a place called the City, where the houses were as tall as mountains. They could soar in the sky on giant mechanical birds and roam the earth on beasts made of metal that obeyed their will.
It is also said that they were not always hunters who lived like migrating wolves on the edge of starvation; in fact, there was a time when the world was not so dry, and our ancestors lived by the magic of agriculture, tending to plants that sprung out of the rich, wet soil, heavily laden with grain and fruit. It was then possible for a couple to have as many children as they wished, and all would have plenty to eat—
“That’s enough, Aluan!” Headman Kiv cried out. “I’ve tried to tolerate your insistence on heresy, but you seem to treat my forbearance as weakness. How dare you repeat these lies! There is no such thing as ‘agriculture.’ We have always lived as proud hunters following the taurochs herds.”
“Father!” Ly came up and stood by the side of Aluan. She glanced at Aluan, her eyes filled with annoyance and worry, but then she turned to look at Kiv with a placating smile. “Aluan has had too much to drink after a victorious hunt. You don’t need to be so angry with him.”
“I’m not drunk at all.” Kiv’s public reprimand only made Aluan more defiant. He shook off Ly’s restraining arm. “How can you speak of ‘always’ when living memory can extend no further back than three generations? But what I spoke of are ancient stories, whispered from mother to son, generation after generation. If they are lies, why are you so afraid?”
“You speak heresy! Foolish stories lead men’s hearts astray and threaten our people’s survival. The Zyxlar made this world for us and assigned us the task of praising their name. How dare you suggest that they were not perfect and that the world has declined from some golden age? You’ll never lead another hunt. Ly, step away from that fool. You’re forbidden from speaking to him again.”
Aluan stepped in front of Ly. “She’s sixteen. She may choose who she wishes to speak to. Think about it: your anger confirms what we all suspect is the truth—that the world is not perfect, that something has gone wrong. The Zyxlar made us the lords of this land, but foolish headmen have led us astray and lack the courage for change.”
Kiv’s face was so red that his head seemed on the edge of explosion. “I should never have taken you in as an orphan and raised you like my son. Doren, Sy, Klaiten, seize this fool and whip him until he confesses his error.”
Aluan stood still, his face obstinate.
But Ly pulled on his arm. “Run, run! His anger will dissipate faster than your body can heal. I swear: I won’t come to visit you if you are whipped because you’re too stubborn to listen to me tonight.”
Reluctantly, Aluan turned and ran with Ly towards the horses.
Kiv’s men gave pursuit for a while, but Ly and Aluan had taken two of the fastest horses. Besides, they were also Aluan’s friends and chased rather half-heartedly. Eventually, the men disappeared below the horizon.
Aluan and Ly loosened the reins and slowed down. Only Nonus and Decimus remained in the western sky. Primus was about to rise. After a day of hunting and hard riding, both riders and their horses were tired.
On the shore of a tiny lake, they crested a small hillock that blocked the wind a bit. “Let’s camp here.”
Since they had escaped in a hurry, all they had in their packs for food were just a few strips of smoked meats. Ly went to fish while Aluan started a campfire.
Freshly grilled noodlefish, even unsalted and spiced only with hunger, was tasty. After the meal, Ly and Aluan lay down on the grass and looked up at the blue, cloudless sky.
“You really think that the world has changed?” Ly asked.
Aluan laughed bitterly. “Ly, did you see that cairn we passed half an hour ago? The one with ten red stones at the base?”
The migrating tribes left cairns on the prairie to mark their passage and to indicate the boundaries of their territories to strangers. After years of bloody wars long lost to lore, the Five Servant Races had claimed separate parts of the world in the Great Separation.
Six years ago, on her tenth birthday, Aluan and Ly had spent a full day collecting red rocks from all over the grasslands to build a cairn to celebrate. Red was her favorite color.
-So that’s ten stones, one for each year you’ve lived, and one for each of our ten suns.
-That makes no sense. How can a stone stand for both a year and a sun?
-Ly, do you know why there are ten suns in the sky?
-Dad says it was because Zyxlar had the Five Servant Races and that there was a heaven and a hell for each.
-So each sun would be a different world?
-I guess so.
-Maybe. But I think it’s because the Zyxlar were lazy. Instead of making one big sun, they made ten little ones. It’s like how it’s much harder to bake one large flatbread that’s cooked evenly throughout, but much easier to bake ten little ones.
-Hahaha ... Aluan, you’re being ridiculous. Be careful not to let my father hear it, or you’ll get whipped again.
-Why should I get whipped? My story is just as likely to be true as his.
In the intervening years, others passing by seemed to have added to the cairn, but left the red stones exposed at the base, perhaps because they looked so distinct.
Aluan’s voice pulled her back into the present. “Remember, we built it on the shore of a lake.”
This lake. For half an hour, they had ridden over ground that had once been covered by water.
“But lakes grow and shrink all the time.” Ly said. “That’s no proof that the drought is getting worse or that our people once lived differently.”
“Your father isn’t around. You really believe that?”
Now it was Ly’s turn to say nothing. She picked up another stalk of grass and chewed on it. It was bitter.
“Even if what you say is true, what can we do about it? The Zyxlar left us long ago. They had the power and magic, not us.”
“Why can’t we do something about it? There are also stories of our people being great heroes from before the time of the Zyxlar. There was Hercules, who fought a god. There was Neil the Strong-Armed, who walked in the heavens—”
“—those are myths! More heresy! Would it kill you to just worry about what you can see and touch?”
Aluan looked at her, a smirk turning up the corners of his mouth. “You wouldn’t like me much if I did that.”
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...