Winslow North suspected a diplomatic incident afoot from the moment Arthur Armitage invited him to take tea at the finest club in Ruritania’s capital. Five minutes into his first cucumber sandwich, Winslow, who subscribed to – not pessimism, surely, but a certain bracing realism – found his prediction rewarded.
“Oh, Your Grace,” sighed Arthur, looking distressed indeed, with his face pulled long beneath his strawberry-blond curls. “I cannot begin to express how grateful I am for your friendship, and how wretched I feel for calling on its services in so gauche a manner. Nevertheless” – here, he heaved another gusty sigh – “the trouble cannot be otherwise helped. I feel a damnable fool, in truth. Do you think me a very great fool?”
Winslow, over the rim of his teacup, said rather dryly, “I find I cannot make a proper assessment of a man’s foolishness, great or small, without first knowing its cause.”
“The trouble began with my school,” said Arthur, stirring his tea with a melancholic air. “Poor school! How it suffers on my account.”
Winslow frowned. “School?”
“You know the one, Your Grace –”
“Winslow, please,” said Winslow, for perhaps the fifth or sixth time. He’d lost count, in truth, of how many times he’d corrected Arthur on matters of address. Winslow massaged his temples. “I am only properly a duke in the Kingdom of Kunlun. Dukes in my grandparents’ country hardly deign to run companies, or take tea with Western businessmen, as I do here in Ruritania. They consider the handling of money and the willful fraternization with foreigners uncouth, and never quite forgave my father for adopting an English surname for our business purposes. My family in Kunlun would hardly approve of our friendship, Arthur. Which,” Winslow added, to forestall any perception of insult, “I of course hold in the highest esteem, regardless of any elderly great-aunt’s antiquated misgivings.”
Arthur beamed. “I do so admire your humility, Your Gra – ah, Winslow. Indeed, it is a quality I most admire in Kunlunese people like yourself. That is why I started the school, you see,” he added earnestly. “Surely, you’ve heard about the Armitage School of Exotic Eastern Enchantments. I teach the martial arts course for gentlemen myself. My father was terribly proud.”
“Indeed,” said Winslow, taking care to curb the wryness of his tone. He had no doubt regarding Armitage Senior’s satisfaction in such an enterprise. The Armitages were businessmen, and trade deals recently struck between the young Western government of Ruritania and the forward-thinking, great-aunt-scandalizing Crown Prince of Kunlun had made all things Eastern abruptly fashionable in the West. Kunlunese magic – and its accompanying martial traditions – had won particular favor with Western gentlemen of a certain class and sensibility.
“The school has been quite the success, as I’m sure you know,” Arthur went on. “I have the grand tour I took across the Asian continent in my boyhood, not to mention my month-long education in Chinese sorcery fundamentals, to thank for that.” He winked. “I do, unlike most Western Ruritaneans, know my Kunlunese enchantments and martial practices.”
“Surely any obstacle at your School of Exotic Eastern Enchantments could be overcome by a full month’s worth of Chinese magic instruction,” replied Winslow.
“But that is just the problem!” exclaimed Arthur. “Some – perhaps misunderstanding my history, and indeed, the nobility of my intentions – do not approve of my school.”
Winslow sat up a little over his cooling tea. “Really.” Now, this was interesting. Not many in Ruritania dared quarrel with the Armitages, even over something silly enough to be called the School of Exotic Eastern Enchantments. Winslow frowned. “Perhaps they disapprove of an institution of Asian sorcery.” Ruritania, for all its young government’s earnest talk of peace and progressivism, also gave home to those who misliked the growing repute of Asian and African Ruritanians. A certain cosmopolitan aesthetic which sampled the occasional Persian chemise pattern or Vietnamese soup course was all very well, but Western nations, with their notoriously delicate constitutions, could only stomach so much of the strange and exotic.
“Oh, it is not a matter of intolerance,” said Arthur, drooping further still, “which is a shame, really. To snub the intolerant is quite fashionable in respectable Ruritanian circles now. Unfortunately, the critic I speak of is herself a Kunlunese. One Miss Mabel Lee, though she went by a properly native name in Kunlun, Ming-ling or Mu-lan, or some such thing.”
Winslow’s eyebrows climbed. “She?”
“Indeed.” Arthur leaned across the table with enthusiasm. Subtly, Winslow rescued the tray of miniature fruit tarts from Arthur’s flailing elbow. “A female magician – and a martial practitioner, at that!”
Winslow felt his eyebrows climb higher still. Women martial-magicians, sworn to the code of Jianghu, were rarer than their male counterparts, and according to the old sages of Kunlun, rarely as strong. Still, such women were not unheard of. “What seems to be the young lady’s complaint?”
“It is the most unconscionable thing!” replied Arthur. “She came to the school – for lessons, I thought – but no, the heartless creature wanted merely to pillory me. Going on about how my teachings lack authenticity. Mine! I, who spent a full year traversing the Asian continent.”
“It contains a good many countries,” said Winslow, comfortingly. “Pray, do not spill your tea over such a trifle. One disgruntled young lady, Jianghu disciple or not, should not provoke such emotional excesses.”
Arthur sniffed, curls flopping over his forehead, where they clashed unfortunately with his reddening face. “Perhaps my honor and reputation are a trifle to you, but I expect you should care rather more about the honor of your royal family.”
“Ruritania has no royal family,” said Winslow, puzzled. “I’m given to understand the young government is quite proud of its democratic achievements –”
“Don’t be daft, man! I speak of the Kingdom of Kunlun, of course.” Arthur’s gaze darted about the club, a bit nervously, as he adjusted his cravat. “In truth, I had not wanted to spread such gauche gossip about your homeland –”
“I was born in Ruritania, Arthur. And all gossip is, by definition, quite gauche, otherwise it would not be worth gossiping about.”
“– but I am privy to certain rumors. My father’s business associates, you know, they do go on. It seems the young upstart who impugned my teachings has also impugned the reputation of the Crown Prince himself. It is a scandal, of quite literally royal proportions!” Arthur looked triumphant. “Is the Prince not your own flesh and blood?”
“Prince Tai?” Winslow frowned. “I am a cousin of his, yes. However, save our blood, there is precious little in common between a rising head of state in a remote mountain kingdom, and a displaced duke who runs a Ruritanian company and takes tea with Western gentlemen.”
“But the thickness of that shared blood must stir even your wretched heart!” exclaimed Arthur. “I must say, I do so admire the Kunlunese devotion to family. I am sure your noble cousin would agree that the Lee girl is a cross-continental menace, and must be stopped.”
“Now, Arthur, you cannot simply class every woman who wields a sharp tongue as a menace, or the men of Ruritania would have none left to wed. Besides,” added Winslow, a bit impish-grinned, “I daresay I would not fare any better with such women than you do at your father’s Winter Ball.”
Arthur’s color deepened further. “I am being serious, Winslow. And it is not for nothing. Speak to your cousin. A conversation between family is not such a difficult thing.”
Winslow thought, wryly, that Arthur clearly had little experience of Kunlunese house-matrons during his year-long tour of the Asian continent, but refrained from saying so.
“I shall make it worth your while,” Arthur continued. “If you do this small thing for our friendship, I will entreat my father to stop nipping at the heels of the North Enterprise, as it were.”
Winslow froze, staring at Arthur. “How do you know about that?”
“I know some may think me an empty-handed dandy,” said Arthur, heaving his grandest sigh yet, “but I have ears. As I said, I am privy to certain rumors. My father has been attempting to snap up your family’s company since spring.”
“And I have expressed, time and again, my refusal. What does the Armitage trading empire need with a quaint little research company? We fund minor magical inventions and spell-work experimentation, not trading routes.”
Arthur shrugged. “Kunlunese magic is in fashion. My father is a businessman.”
Winslow’s fingers tightened, almost imperceptibly, on his teacup. “If I speak to my cousin of this Miss Lee of yours, you will ensure that your father puts a stop to this nonsense about an acquisition?”
“I shall speak most firmly to him,” promised Arthur. His curls bounced up and down when he nodded. “You have my word.”
Winslow leaned back in his plushly-cushioned seat, and cast a long-suffering glance toward the tea room’s finely-painted ceiling, a delicate imitation of Moroccan tile. “It will be good for my constitution to exercise my scrying mirrors, I suppose.”
“Mingzhu is a menace!” howled Tai, Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Kunlun, and cousin to one unfortunate Winslow North.
Winslow, wincing at the Prince’s vehemence, tried not to drop his mother’s gilt-framed scrying mirror. It was a family heirloom, after all. “I presume you refer to our Miss Mabel Lee.”
“Mabel!” scoffed Prince Tai. “Is that the Western name that infernal creature has chosen for herself, now that she is cavorting about Ruritania like a common European hedge witch? I would expect no less!”
“Certainly, it is not an uncommon name among English-speaking Westerners,” offered Winslow. He held the mirror as far from his ears as his arms would allow. “It is, I’d wager, about as common as ‘North.’”
“Oh, heavens above, Weizhe.” From the depths of the reflecting glass, Prince Tai rolled his long dark eyes, extravagantly exasperated. “Of all the ridiculous airs your father put on when he set up in Ruritania, the names he chose were by far the silliest. Pray, what was wrong with ‘Ng’?”
“Westerners find names with no romanized vowels difficult for their tongues.”
“You could at least go by your heaven-born and given name, Cousin. Weizhe contains vowels aplenty.”
“I suspect Westerners should complain about the Z-H spelling.”
“I say!” exclaimed the Prince, plainly at his wit’s end. “For all the boons their trade deals grant us, I must confess I have never met such a ridiculous lot of hothouse flowers as a pack of English-speaking Ruritanians.”
“This from a man who is frightened of his paramour,” Winslow observed mildly.
“I am not frightened of Mingzhu!” thundered the Prince. “And she is not my paramour!”
Winslow’s eyebrows lifted at the mirror.
“Well,” the Prince amended, gaze shifting sideways. His high cheekbones colored. “She is not my paramour any longer.”
“Ah,” said Winslow. “Then there is Arthur’s scandal. I thought as much.” If that was all, the security of the North Enterprise’s company shares had been quite cheaply purchased.
“And,” Tai continued, then paused, as if inviting dramatic effect. The Crown Prince of Kunlun might have gotten on quite well with Arthur Armitage in another life, reflected Winslow. “She is a thief.”
“Oh, heavens,” said Winslow, “I did hope you would stop taking up with light-fingered maidens after the last one tried to make off with Great-Aunt Kunlee’s jade-handled chopsticks.”
“Mingzhu is far worse than Daiyu ever was,” insisted Prince Tai, who glanced over his shoulder once, then lowered his voice. “She has made off with a much greater treasure than a pair of novelty chopsticks.”
“Your dignity, yes, I am becoming glumly aware.”
“The Blue Mountain Sword!”
Winslow nearly dropped the mirror in earnest. “You should not jest over such matters, Cousin.”
“I would hardly jest about the Blue Mountain Sword,” hissed the Prince.
“How could the young lady even touch it?” demanded Winslow. “Any aspiring thief should have been cut down instantly by its true wielder. That sword belongs to the Royal Champion of the Kunlunese Crown!”
“Who has not yet been selected,” Prince Tai said frostily, “as my first choice for the position insists on burrowing himself in paperwork an ocean away, playing businessman and writing arcane research proposals.”
Winslow groaned. He had thought this particular argument concluded. A naive assumption. “I would ill-suit the role of a Kunlunese Crown Prince’s Champion. I am Ruritanian.”
“But Kunlunese blood runs in your veins!” cried Tai. “Proper, royal Kunlunese blood, in a proper, classically-trained follower of Jianghu’s tenets! There could be no greater warrior, no better martial-magician than yourself, and if you had been a good cousin and returned to Kunlun to wield the Blue Mountain Sword at my side, that interfering harpy would never have laid her greedy little hands upon it.”
“How did she obtain such a closely-guarded object?” asked Winslow. He found himself genuinely curious, despite the histrionic circumstances. The Blue Mountain Sword, according to legend, had been a gift from the immortal spirits of Kunlun to the royal family generations ago, and granted its wielder near-invincibility. A mere farmhand might be rendered a great warrior through its magic, but the sword – with the unsettling sentience common to immortal-touched objects – would answer first and foremost to its true bearer’s call. And that true bearer, by right, had always been the Crown’s Champion.
“If I knew how the wicked creature carried off the burglary, I would not be in such a predicament!” snapped his cousin. “Mingzhu and I had a tremendous row, and she insisted she’d had enough of me, the heartless woman. She had stormed off by morning, for passage to Ruritania, and the Blue Mountain Sword had conveniently vanished along with her. The girl was always unduly fascinated by that blasted sword. I drew the only logical conclusion.”
Privately, Winslow thought his cousin’s conclusion had leaped across a noteworthy number of logical holes, but said only, “That is distressing indeed.” And it was. Nevertheless, Winslow remained skeptical regarding the thief’s identity. Correlation, after all, did not imply causation. The young lady might well have broken the Crown Prince’s heart on the same night a common burglar snatched up the Blue Mountain Sword. Men of lesser stature than Prince Tai had seen worse luck in forty-eight hours.
Still, it seemed the smoke of Arthur’s rumors pointed indeed to a most unsettling fire. “What is being done about the missing sword?” asked Winslow.
A curiously sheepish expression crossed his cousin’s handsome visage. “Well, nothing, for the moment.”
“Nothing!” said Winslow, aghast.
“Do not raise those eyebrows at me so, Weizhe! I am he who would be your sovereign.”
“You are he who has misplaced one of the Kingdom’s greatest treasures,” Winslow corrected acidly. “Tai, that sword gifts its wielder with untold magical skill. It cannot be permitted to fall into improper hands. You must inform the Palace Guard! The Kunlunese Embassy in Ruritania! The Council on World Magics!”
“I must do nothing,” retorted Tai. “Have you any idea the responsibilities Mother has heaped upon my shoulders in preparation for my formal coronation as King? In the earliest hours of the morning, I must speak to Ruritanian businessmen about European trade agreements. The next, I must graciously yet firmly deny the Chinese Ambassador’s fiftieth attempt to annex the Kingdom of Kunlun on behalf of the Emperor of China, who is nothing but a greedy interfering prat, if you’ll excuse my say-so. The next day, I must make the same pretty denial to the Japanese Ambassador, who is even worse, and will – I am certain! – take offense that I met with his Chinese counterpart at all. Can you imagine how Mother would react were she to discover that, amidst all of this, I had managed to lose the rightful sword of our future Champion? The Kingdom’s foremost protector? Why, she would be of a mind to cancel the coronation entirely, and oust me from the succession!”
“Ah,” said Winslow, comprehension dawning at last. “You fear the Queen Dowager’s temper.”
The Crown Prince squawked. “I fear nothing!”
“The women in your life, I suspect, would disagree.”
“The women in my life are cruel and wicked harpies, the lot of them. It is why I have such need of a good Champion,” the Prince added, a bit sulkily, glaring out the glass at Winslow.
Winslow considered this point. “I might be persuaded to investigate this matter concerning Miss Lee and the Blue Mountain Sword, if both have truly found their way to the shores of Ruritania.”
At this suggestion, his cousin’s gloomy countenance brightened considerably. “Why, but that is an excellent notion! As you are my chosen Champion, the sword will heed your call over any thief’s, and thus be quite easily retrieved –”
“But,” interrupted Winslow, “you must consent to stop harranguing me, once and for all, about returning to the Kingdom, or serving as your Champion.”
Prince Tai’s brows furrowed. “You would recover the Champion’s sword, but refuse to wield it?”
Winslow swallowed a sigh. “I would seek out this young lady who has caused so much consternation on both your behalf and Arthur’s, and ask that in return, you only leave me to run my business in peace. It is not a refusal of anything, so much as a sensible maintenance of the status quo that has served us all in perfectly good stead until now.”
His cousin’s mouth worked. “You will seek out Mingzhu?”
“And you will recover the sword?”
Winslow bowed his head. “I shall certainly endeavor to do so.”
“Well then, Weizhe,” said the Prince, with an air of magnanimous archness, “I suppose that is the most your family can ask of you.”
Winslow, contrary to the whispers of polite Ruritanian society, was fond of Arthur Armitage, in his own way. Arthur, for all his vanity and silliness, had a sweeter heart than dour old Armitage Senior’s, and had been far quicker than most of Ruritania’s Western-born society to strike up friendship and business agreements alike with the quiet, displaced Kunlunese duke. Even so, Winslow’s indulgent streak of affection for the younger Armitage did not prepare him for what greeted his arrival at the School of Exotic Eastern Enchantments.
Arthur’s school sat in a curious, red-lacquered building, no doubt designed to convey a Westerner’s fanciful notion of Eastern architecture. Winslow suspected the golden Buddha statues bearing plates of incense in the main foyer were meant to convey a sense of serenity, but Winslow, sneezing three times in alarming succession, wished Arthur had not chosen such pungent aromas.
He had scarcely procured a handkerchief from his waistcoat pocket when one of the classroom doors exploded off its hinges. With a shout, Winslow dove aside. Two Westerner youths followed the unfortunate door, trading insults in the most vociferous and ungentlemanly language Winslow had heard since his boarding school days. Battle sorcery sparked in a flurry of angry red-and-gold sparks off their Japanese-style shinai, as the pair did their level best to kill one another with the bamboo blades.
The magical-martial ways of Jianghu – from the distant Shaolin Temples of China, to the warrior-mage academies of his native Kunlunese mountains – had been as thoroughly ingrained in Winslow as the rest of his expensive, classical education. Now, he found his knees sunk into a defensive horse stance, hands shaping spells for protection and diffusion.
He never cast them. A young lady of Kunlunese extraction, startlingly lovely and visibly furious, burst from the classroom, fists full of magic. “McPherson! Denbigh! Stop this insufferable quarreling at once.”
The youths paid her no heed. The woman, color going high in her pretty brown cheeks, made an exasperated sound, then launched herself into the air – a perfectly-executed use of qinggong, the lifelong scholar in Winslow noted excitedly. The power of flight was one of the great signatures of Jianghu’s martial-magicians, and the sight of this technique, mastered with such casual precision, stirred something strange in his chest.
The woman landed in the thick of the fight and slid immediately through a series of animal stances faster than Winslow’s eyes could follow, her hands a flurry. Invisible forces seized hold of the ill-tempered combatants – McPherson and Denbigh, presumably – who looked so astonished at this third-party display of sorcery that both dropped their shinai immediately.
The irate source of this magic, scowling and panting, night-black hair escaping from her chignon in wisps, pulled both fists together with an expert snap. McPherson and Denbigh rose briefly into the air, and were plopped with perfunctory efficiency before her, wriggling against sorcery-forged bonds. “That,” announced the young Kunlunese lady, in precise and disdainful English, “was the most ungentlemanly display of conduct I have yet seen in Ruritania. I was given to understand that Europeans prided themselves on civility, but have witnessed little evidence of such!”
“Come now, Miss Lee,” protested one of the youths, “Denbigh insulted –”
“I do not care if Mr. Denbigh insulted your own grandmother!” snapped Miss Lee. “I came to see about improving Mr. Armitage’s curriculum for civilized sorcerers, not for a pair of dueling roosters at a cockfight!”
In the somewhat shameful silence that followed, a frazzled Arthur Armitage tumbled belatedly out the classroom entrance, his clothing in uncharacteristic disarray, fair hair tousled and cravat singed. He carried a similarly singed shinai. “Miss Lee!” he cried, brandishing the wooden sword’s burnt end. A few sparking shreds of bamboo, dislodged from the weapon, floated drearily to the floor. “Miss Lee, have no fear of these gentlemen, for I am here to – Good God!”
The younger Armitage cast an expression of dismay about his school’s foyer, no doubt noting the scorch marks along the fashionable red wallpaper, at least one upended Buddha statue, and two Western gentlemen – one now sporting a spectacular black eye – strung up by invisible bonds before a furious Kunlunese sorceress.
Naturally, when Arthur’s gaze landed at last on Winslow, he knew precisely where to lay the blame for this disastrous scene. “My word, Your Grace!” he said, his severity at odds with his emphasis on Winslow’s formal title of address. “If you intended to surprise me with this visit, could you not have gotten those wicked youngsters in hand before they destroyed my foyer and so traumatized poor Miss Lee?”
Miss Lee, who did not look remotely traumatized, rounded on Arthur. “A fine thing to say, for a self-styled master of the Jianghu way who could not rein in even this pair of buffoons!” She gestured toward the shame-faced pair wriggling guiltily against her magic-forged bindings.
Arthur winced. “The lesson did get away from me, rather. However, it is nothing the Duke and myself are ill-equipped to manage.” He gave the shinai a flick, single-handed, as if wielding a Chinese straight-sword. His wobbly-handed technique made Winslow, wincing, think unpleasantly of his own ill-executed sword forms from boyhood. No Chinese-trained war-mages were present, however, to give Arthur Armitage the corrective dressing-down common to unfortunate, clumsy sons of Kunlunese nobility.
To Winslow’s surprise, the shabbily-constructed spell whisked obediently through the air, and unlaced the bonds on Denbigh and McPherson, as if cast by a veritable Shaolin master. “You see, Miss Lee?” said Arthur triumphantly. “A delicate lotus blossom as yourself need not concern yourself with so drably masculine a practice as Eastern martial-magic. Winslow and I have the situation well in hand!”
Winslow, quite suddenly, found himself the focus of Miss Lee’s razor-like attention. She really was lovely, her willowy figure pleasing, even garbed in Kunlunese men’s trousers and a plain grey training tunic. Her hair, thick and dark, had half-tumbled from her sensible chignon, framing a heart-shaped face. Those long ebony eyes of hers, however, pinned Winslow in place with a most alarming expression. “You are His Grace, the Duke Winslow North, of the Family Ng, I presume?”
“Quite, yes,” Winslow managed, over the odd tightness in his chest. His face felt hot. “A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Miss –”
“Mabel Lee,” snapped Miss Lee, whose gaze did not soften even slightly. “How can it be that the Kunlunese Crown Prince’s own noble cousin has not yet enacted the necessary reforms upon your friend’s preposterous institution?”
“Preposterous!” squawked Arthur, who looked as if he might need smelling salts.
Winslow blinked. He had not expected this line of questioning, particularly not one so vociferously delivered by such a delicate-looking woman, and found himself at a loss for how to respond. “It is not for me to dictate how Mr. Armitage is to conduct his business,” he said at length. “That would not be at all the thing.”
Miss Lee harrumphed. “What a terribly European answer.”
“I can assure you, Miss Lee,” said Winslow, “my blood runs as Kunlunese as yours.” He felt irritated. How strange, to find himself defending his Kunlunese heritage over his Ruritanian nationality, when he was accustomed to doing just the opposite.
Miss Lee said, bitterly, “And I suppose I can count on your allegiance to your blood to assist me in recovering the Blue Mountain –”
“Good God!” exclaimed Winslow hastily. “Miss Lee, an eye to your miscreants!”
For Denbigh and McPherson, to all appearances, had fainted from the after-effects of Miss Lee’s magic-forged bonds. The pair of them were keeled over one another, not unlike young spaniel pups dozing in a litter. Winslow could not help but find the pair more agreeable unconscious than not; besides, this had the additional benefit of distracting Miss Lee before she could speak further. With another grumble, she went to revive the miscreants, Arthur tut-tut-ing and exclaiming in her wake.
Winslow, meanwhile, considered the facts of the situation. Miss Lee had intended to speak of recovering the Blue Mountain Sword, Winslow was sure of it. Given that Prince Tai was so irrevocably set on keeping its misplaced status a secret, Winslow could not have allowed its alleged thief to speak so openly of the wretched object. Though why any thief would volunteer indignant airs, feigned or otherwise, over the very treasure she had stolen, Winslow had little notion.
He frowned. Winslow did not like to find pieces of his puzzles missing, but his education and chosen occupation had instilled in him a great fondness for solving the puzzles themselves. A gifted martial-magician, a missing Kunlunese treasure, and an irate Arthur Armitage added up to a puzzle more devilish by far than securing funding for the North Enterprise’s sorcery research, but Winslow knew this much: the solution to any particular problem, no matter how damnably difficult, lay in first organizing the pieces in a coherent fashion, so that further deductions might be made.
So Winslow did the only sensible thing he could. He invited Miss Lee to the Armitage family’s Winter Ball.
Invitations to the infamous Ebenezer Armitage III’s Winter Ball were among the most sought-after markers of distinction during the Ruritanian social season. Even Winslow, with his noble title, relations to foreign royalty, and good income, might have escaped the honor, were he not a particular friend of Arthur’s. Arthur had pouted and exclaimed at length over Winslow’s choice of companion for the evening, but agreed to Miss Lee’s presence when Winslow implied that a woman bearing ill will toward an Armitage-run school might find herself softened by a social event so spectacular as an Armitage-hosted ball. For Miss Lee’s part, she suffered Winslow’s escort and Arthur’s invitation for much the same reasons Winslow had invited her in the first place. That was, as Winslow quickly discovered: she had the most wickedly insatiable sense of curiosity imaginable.
“I must say, you are a peculiar gentleman,” said Miss Lee now. She was garbed magnificently in a white muslin gown, Western-cut. The style worked to her advantage, offsetting the golden-brown of her complexion, and drawing more than one admiring eye as they glided through the crowded mahogany foyer of Armitage Manor. “I had thought you as craven as that insipid dandy who so mis-manages his school, but a craven man would not have invited a female martial-magician to…” She sucked in a breath, as they entered the ballroom, and paused to observe their new surroundings – the elegantly-attired footmen bearing platters of delicacies, the string quartet playing a bright-noted waltz, the magnificent crystal chandelier that overlooked it all – and concluded, simply, “This.”
“Why, Miss Lee,” drawled Winslow, “I do believe you may have paid me a compliment. Quite by accident, I am sure.”
“It is no accident, sir,” said Miss Lee. Then she bent close, and whispered in perfectly Kunlunese-accented Chinese, “Now, tell me why you kept me from speaking of the Blue Mountain Sword in front of your friend.”
“I will answer you that,” agreed Winslow in the same tongue, “if you will tell me why you so suddenly fled the Kunlunese Palace for Ruritania.” The music changed. Winslow bowed, and asked in English, “May I?”
Miss Lee took his arm, almost absently, as he led her to the dance floor. She flowed as easily into the waltz as she had into her Jianghu martial forms. “I had taken you for a spoiled Western dandy in your own right, but I had not taken you for a fool,” she said. Her feet whirled through the steps, as if dancing through air on the power of qinggong. “Is the answer not obvious to you? I am here to seek out and reprehend the thief who stole the rightful sword of the Kunlunese Crown’s Champion. I know he was Ruritanian, for the only foreigners at the palace that night were a Ruritanian business delegation. Any other perpetrator would have to be a Kunlunese courtier or servant, and would have been summarily caught by the Queen Dowager inside a week.”
Winslow, thinking of his aunt and quaking a little, could not disagree. Twirling Miss Lee, he said very carefully, “I had thought your sudden flight might have to do with the Crown Prince. There was talk of a row, which is why I thought it best to silence any talk of a missing royal treasure, for there is no sense adding fuel to flame. Was my cousin’s thwarted ardor mere gossip?”
“Hah!” said Miss Lee, spinning in his arms. “Your cousin thought me a fine enough maiden to woo as a concubine, but not fine enough to acknowledge as a martial-magician. Never mind that I have trained according to Jianghu’s tenets since I could toddle, that I studied with China’s rather over-esteemed Shaolin monks and Wudang warriors. Never mind that I practiced my sorcery as diligently as any Kunlunese war mage, that martial-magic has been my life’s work! I told the Prince, in no uncertain terms, that he could not have my love without accepting my soul’s true passion, and he pitched the most astonishing tantrum! I am well rid of the silly man, however handsome he may be, but that does not excuse me from a duty to retrieve the weapon that is his Champion’s right.”
Winslow looked down into her dark, gleaming-eyed gaze, and in quick succession, considered and dismissed the possibility that Miss Lee was lying. Years spent bargaining with Ruritanian and Kunlunese businessmen alike had taught Winslow to tell a good liar from a poor one. Miss Lee, for all her sorcerous prowess, was entirely too blunt to be much use at lying – or, for that matter, in business. “If all you say is so,” Winslow told her, “then my cousin has no right to make such demands of a lady whose sorcerous talent he will not even acknowledge.”
Miss Lee met Winslow’s gaze with unwavering heat. “My lord Duke,” she said. “With respect, I do not need your cousin to tell me what my duty to my country is.”
Winslow fell silent. He found that his mouth had gone curiously dry. With some effort, he swallowed, and replied, “I admire you, Miss Lee. But Ruritania, though not a large place, is not a small one either, and cannot be up-ended and searched like a lady’s reticule in hopes that a magical sword might emerge.”
Miss Lee rolled her eyes. “I am not so stupid as all that. We need only find a Ruritanian businessman of unlikely martial prowess –”
Her words – a businessman of unlikely martial prowess – struck Winslow strangely. Blood gone unpleasantly cold, he said, “Miss Lee. Was Arthur Armitage among the delegation of Ruritanian businessmen?”
She frowned. “I could not say. I saw them only in passing, and from a distance.”
“Have you seen Arthur cast martial-magic before?”
Her frown deepened. “If it could be termed such. He looks preposterous when he tries to bring it off, you know – wearing his top-boots on to the training mat like a savage, mistaking Japanese shinai for Chinese straight-swords, and always standing wrong-footed. And yet.” She hesitated.
Winslow, with a sinking sensation, recalled what he had witnessed at Arthur’s school: Arthur, weak-stanced and ridiculous, yet producing a perfect counter-spell to Miss Lee’s binding ties on Denbigh and McPherson.
“His magic strikes true,” she said reluctantly, then sharpened. “You do not mean to say you suspect your own friend is the thief?”
The music had stopped. Dizzy and miserable and trying, with Ruritanian gallantry, to conceal both sensations, Winslow escorted Miss Lee from the dance floor. “I cannot discount the possibility. I will not fling baseless accusations at any man, much less a friend, but conversation of a delicate sort may be necessary. Where has he gone, I wonder? I must seek him out at once.”
They looked. But it soon emerged, from conversation with the other ball-goers, that Arthur Armitage had been missing from his own ballroom for several hours now.
Nevertheless, Winslow now harbored a grim suspicion of where, precisely, the sword itself might be.
When Winslow looked back at Miss Lee, her eyes were gleaming. “Have no fear, my lord Duke,” she promised, “I know just what to do.”
“This! Is! Not! At all! The thing!” Winslow managed. He punctuated each word with a hop to a different rooftop.
“Pray, do not bawl so!” Miss Lee called back merrily. She had already flown several rooftops ahead. Her ball gown – which should surely have proven cumbersome! – seemed to trouble her not at all. Winslow, tugging irritably at his coattails as he flew, wondered if she had altered the qinggong technique to account for Western formal dress. He must ask after the spell, he decided, assuming they both survived this misadventure.
The Armitage School of Exotic Eastern Enchantments was not so far from Armitage Manor proper, but the arched rooftops of Ruritania’s capital city were damnably slippery, even for a qinggong practitioner. Nightfall, while it cloaked their activity nicely, did little for Winslow’s visibility. “I do not see why we could not have taken a carriage like sensible folk!” he called after Miss Lee.
“Because a carriage would lack for any sense of adventure at all!” she cried. “If one is to go questing for a stolen object, one might as well enjoy the journey.”
“You cannot be serious!”
“Qinggong is also more efficient by far than any horse-drawn contraption, bound as the poor creatures are to the earth. Or at least,” she added, with a wicked sort of glee, “my own qinggong is. I cannot presume to speak for other parties.”
“Your frightfully roundabout critique of my agility, in this dire moment, is noted,” retorted Winslow, scrambling over a rooftop, though he felt his mouth curve as he said it. They were very near the school, now.
It was in that moment that he noted a familiar shock of strawberry-blond hair from the corner of his eye. Whirling, Winslow rounded in time to see Arthur Armitage, still in coat and tails, white-faced and wide-eyed. The dandy ran across the air toward Winslow with flailing limbs and – indeed! – improbably flawless qinggong.
Winslow turned, and covered the distance between them with one great, furious leap. “Arthur!” he bellowed. “Tell me –”
But he did not have a chance to demand that Arthur tell him anything, for Arthur bellowed back, right in his face, “Winslow, you must run! I have made a terrible mistake, and put your life in grave danger.”
Winslow grabbed Arthur by the arm, the fine fabric of Armitage heir’s evening coat wrinkling beneath his grip. “What on earth do you mean?”
“I thought my martial skill had been gained due to innate sorcerous talent,” babbled Arthur, “for I was proud, and paid no heed to any other explanation. But I was, as ever, a great fool, and if you should suffer for my mistakes, I shall never forgive myself. Run, Winslow, for there isn’t time to explain. I shall send for you when –”
“When what, son?” drawled a cold, familiar voice.
Winslow and Arthur looked up as one. A deep grey cloud had emerged from the night, and floated down to join them on the rooftop. Standing astride the cloud was Ebenezer Armitage III, carelessly twirling the Blue Mountain Sword from hand to hand.
“I didn’t know he’d taken it,” whispered Arthur. “Winslow, I swear to you, I didn’t know.”
Armitage Senior looked how Arthur might, if the passage of decades, in addition to painting his hair grey, were to put flint behind his eyes. The resemblance between father and son could not be denied, but the perpetual sneer slashed across the father’s mouth and the cold calculation in that beady gaze were all his own. “My son is correct in one matter,” said Ebenezer now. “He is a very great fool.”
Winslow felt his knuckles tighten, and discovered that his hands had formed fists. Ebenezer, evidently, noticed as well, and chuckled. “Do you think to fight me? How like a Kunlunese.”
“Father, I beg of you, let him be!” cried Arthur. “Winslow had never meant us any harm. You have no true need of the North Enterprise. I do not understand why you bully him so –”
Without looking at his son, Ebenezer gave the stolen sword in his hand a flick. With a faint cry, Arthur went tumbling away through the sky.
“Arthur!” bellowed Winslow.
“Oh, do not stoop to such histrionics, Your Grace.” Ebenezer’s voice, curled around Winslow’s honorific title, was mocking. “I would hardly do my own son true harm. I may have used this quaint little sword to bestow martial-magic upon him, as is our family’s due, but he should not speak so insolently to his poor dear father. As such, I have merely put him out of convenience’s way. Marvelous object, this sword!”
“It is not yours,” said Winslow.
“I daresay I disagree,” retorted Ebenezer. “Have you failed to understand anything at all, even after living so long in Ruritania? Ours is a country built on the backs of businessmen like myself. What we desire, we take. What we take, we own. Such is our right.”
“So you say, of a sword plucked from Kunlunese soil. How do you imagine your trade agreements with the Crown Prince will fare, when he learns of this?”
“Oh, I don’t imagine your cousin shall find out,” said Ebenezer cheerfully. “Not if you are too dead to tell him.”
Slowly, Winslow raised his eyes to the cloud. The Blue Mountain Sword, glimmering with soft, silver-blue light, winked at him in the dark. “Are you really announcing your intent to murder me? I cannot say I think much of your attack strategy.”
“Do not insult me. I am not so infernally stupid as my son,” snapped Ebenezer. “I am merely challenging you to a gentlemen’s duel. Perfectly above board in any country, a gentlemen’s duel, particularly between magicians. You cannot have any objection, Your Grace. After all, should I fall to your superior martial prowess, the sword is yours.”
“I do not see why you have not already run me through with the sword instead of prattling on like a feeble-minded great-aunt,” observed Winslow. “It would have brought about my death far more efficiently.”
“And I have already told you that an Armitage would not stoop to something as unseemly as common murder. Such cowardly slaughter is gauche, and besides, will not bring me what I truly want.”
“I suppose you expect me to ask what you do want, so you may announce your scheme with maximum dramatic effect.”
“The North Enterprise.”
Winslow’s head snapped up. “I do not understand you,” he said at length.
“Then you are even stupider than Arthur,” retorted Ebenezer. “Really, I have been quite proper about it all. Should you slay me, the sword is your reward. But if I should slay you, it is only right that I should have my own reward. And I want your company.”
“Why?” demanded Winslow, abandoning all pretense. “I have never understood it. The North Enterprise is nothing to the Armitage trading empire.”
“Why?” echoed Ebenezer. “Why not? The North Enterprise has value. All things Kunlunese do, these days, in their quaint, fashionable way.”
“It is mine,” said Winslow.
Ebenezer looked predictably put out with this response, but he also looked confused. Winslow, grimly, felt no surprise. Ebenezer was the sort of man who expected no more defiance from Winslow than he would from one of his expensive, Oriental carpets. That was, perhaps, the fundamental reason Ebenezer desired the North Enterprise so very badly.
“The North Enterprise belongs to my family,” continued Winslow. “It bears the name my father chose when he first arrived on Ruritanian shores. It bears the name that I choose, still. Names have value too, Mr. Armitage. You, of all people, ought to understand that much. Does my family’s legacy truly matter so very little, in the face of yours?”
The answer was obvious. Fellow Ruritanians had always made such answers obvious to Winslow, in a thousand cruel and tiny ways. The sting persisted. But it made Winslow no less Ruritanian himself.
Winslow sank into a horse stance, slammed his hands together, and threw an attack-spell at Ebenezer’s cloud.
Ebenezer had not expected that. Western dueling conventions demanded announcements, a counting of paces, a proper salute. But Winslow had studied strategy at the knee of Kulunese war-mages, who had been quite put out with their Kingdom’s tendency to find itself invaded by foreign powers. “When faced with a powerful enemy,” they said, “effective warfare demands the element of surprise.”
Winslow’s attack-spell dissolved the cloud beneath Ebenezer, and sent the old man hurtling toward the rooftops. With a frantic snarl, Ebenezer slashed the Blue Mountain Sword through the air. The weapon glowed. Ebenezer’s descent slowed, and gave him safe landing on an opposite rooftop.
Lip curled, he rushed toward Winslow, feet climbing through the air, swinging the Blue Mountain Sword with a clumsy two-handed grip. It should have been easy to deflect. But the Blue Mountain Sword rendered anyone a master martial-magician. Winslow’s counter-spell barely parried Ebenezer’s swing, before the sword sliced back. Winslow was on the defensive now, and saw little chance of escaping.
He would soon lose, his battle, and quite shortly after, his life. Nevertheless, Winslow fought on.
Ebenezer swung the Blue Mountain Sword again. As it cleaved toward Winslow’s head, the air between them shimmered, and solidified. The Blue Mountain Sword clanged against the shield, but instead of piercing through, as it should have, the blade stuck. Ebenezer, uttering expletives, tried to free the weapon, to no avail.
Winslow hadn’t cast a sorcerer’s shield. He looked skyward.
Flying high above him was a windswept Arthur Armitage, frantically clinging to the arm of a stormy-faced Miss Lee. She landed between Winslow and Ebenezer, watching them both with much the same expression she leveled at quarreling schoolboys.
“A fine mess you have escorted me into,” she snapped at Arthur, who landed beside her with a thud.
“Ah, well,” said Arthur. He straightened his spine, then his coat lapels. “It could not be helped. Father slaying my dearest friend in a greedy rage would not be at all the thing.”
Winslow looked at Miss Mabel Lee, the Kunlunese martial-magician of the snapping black eyes and deadly, qinggong-light feet. He looked at the shield she had cast – a mortal-made shield that had somehow, impossibly trapped an immortal-forged sword of the Kingdom of Kunlun.
He understood at once.
“Mabel,” he said. Her given name slipped unbidden off his tongue. “You must summon the Blue Mountain Sword to your own hand. It will answer your call.”
Her eyes widened. “I haven’t the faintest idea how!”
Winslow smiled. “You once told me that you did not need my cousin, or anyone else, explaining your duty to your own country. For the same reason, you need no one to explain this spell to you. The sword seeks its rightful Champion, and you have crossed an ocean to claim it. Think on what brought you to these shores, and you will understand how to call the sword, I promise you.”
A multitude of expressions flitted across Miss Lee’s face before her features settled. Her eyes drifted shut.
The shield released the sword with a shudder. The blade winged through the air, glowing, before its hilt landed in Mabel Lee’s outstretched hand. Her eyes fluttered open, and widened, as if disbelieving the sight. Then her face went utterly calm. She lifted the sword and took a defensive crouch.
Ebenezer Armitage, uttering a furious growl, lobbed a sloppy attack-spell her way. It faded from existence before the sparks even reached Miss Lee’s toes. He cast more, to no avail. His opponent seemed undisturbed by these increasingly desperate attempts on her life. Walking slowly down the rooftop’s spine, she lifted the Blue Mountain Sword. Even now, prepared to strike a killing blow, she stood sure-footed.
The sword’s tip landed gently between Ebenezer’s eyes. Wheezing, he glared cross-eyed and terrified at the blade. “Well, girl, what are you waiting for? My life is yours.”
The sword gleamed in its Champion’s hand. “I have no particular desire for your life,” said Mabel Lee. “I do not collect pieces of human existence like baubles in a treasure chest. We are not objects to be stolen away by the first brute who finds greediness in his heart.” She tapped the sword smartly against Ebenezer’s forehead, but did not draw blood. Her eyes met Winslow’s. In the space between their gazes was a certain understanding. Newly-forged, perhaps, but soul-deep all the same.
“No,” said Mabel, turning back to Ebenezer, “I will not take your life, old man. Your memories of the Kingdom of Kunlun, however, do not sit well in your head. Those – and indeed, all things Kunlunese, which you find so quaint and fashionable – I believe I shall retake from your mind. After all, they were never truly yours.”
Ebenezer opened his mouth. Before words could emerge, the Blue Mountain Sword flared bright, like a sunbeam’s flash, slicing across the eyes.
When darkness returned, the night’s battle was well and truly done.
The events that marked the night of Ebenezer Armitage III’s Twelfth Annual Winter Ball quickly proved themselves the most persistent mainstays of Ruritanian gossip. More than two months past the fateful evening, businessmen in gentlemen’s clubs and visiting noblewomen at salons continued to chatter about poor Ebenezer’s sudden memory loss, and Arthur Armitage’s commendable succession to his venerable father’s place in the family business.
Above all else, however, they spoke of the school.
“I must say it has all shaken out admirably,” said Arthur, as he and Winslow strode across a well-groomed lawn, just blooming into spring. The handsome building that sat atop the lawn, they thought, might house an extra suite of lecture halls. One never knew when ill-behaved schoolboys might blast the doors off one classroom, and require another. “I do not believe a Winter Ball has ever been so widely talked-about! By any definition, Winslow, we must count it a success.”
“Your optimism is incorrigible, but heartening, in this case,” agreed Winslow. He shielded his eyes against the afternoon sun, as he looked across the lawn toward the building where the new lecture halls might sit. “Will this do, you think? For a school of Eastern martial-magic?”
“I do not know why you would require my opinion in such matters,” said Arthur, and added, archly, “After all, it shall be the North Enterprise’s school, to do with as you wish.”
“Oh, I don’t know. I thought you might set up as a rival to me. For the press, you know. Gossips do love a histrionic rivalry.”
Arthur shook his head with a sigh. “I am afraid you must do without my services in that particular arena, old friend. The days of the Armitage School of Exotic Eastern Enchantments are quite behind us. Between the responsibilities of keeping up the Armitage trading business and caring for my poor, feeble-minded father, I had to let the project go. A pity, alas.”
“To be sure.” Winslow paused, then asked, with some awkwardness, “How is Armitage Senior?”
Arthur’s dandy-perfect smile approached but stopped short of his eyes. “As well as can be expected. He knows his name, and mine, and absolutely nothing of finance or trade, or for that matter, the Kingdom of Kunlun. Still, ignorance seems to agree with him, as he finds himself cheerful, and quite content to pass most days counting foreign coin collections and reading romances, of all things. Still, it is a better pastime than his previous choice.” Arthur cleared his throat. “To that end, Winslow, I ah, wondered if I might call upon our friendship once more, to beg another favor. I hope it shall prove less troublesome than the last,” he added hurriedly.
Winslow’s eyebrows climbed. “Oh?”
Arthur said, looking sheepish, “I wondered if you might allow my enrollment as one of your students. At the elementary level, of course. I would be pleased to provide all the necessary tuition fees up front. I have discovered that there is, in the world, a great deal that I do not know. But I should like to learn.”
Winslow found himself smiling rather foolishly. The North Enterprise’s newly established education branch had proved fruitful, thus far, to both Winslow’s scholarly mind and his company’s finances. Ruritanians from a great many walks of life benefited from a good education in Kunlunese sorcery fundamentals, now that trade and diplomacy alike flourished between the two countries. Winslow did not hurt for well-paying students. Still, the elementary classes could always use another friendly face and eager heart. Those, at least, had always been Arthur Armitage’s to give.
Winslow shook his friend’s hand, firm-gripped. “I should be pleased,” he said quietly, and meant it.
They had reached the edge of the yard. Sitting cross-legged, mid-air, beneath a handsome willow tree, was Mabel Lee, in Kunlunese-wrapped silk, the petal-pink of her frock vibrant against the green of newborn spring. She was meditating, but opened one eye at the men’s approach. “Well met, my lord Duke. Young Mr. Armitage.”
Arthur coughed delicately. “How do you do, Miss Lee? Ah, Winslow, I’m afraid I must be going. I have another engagement to attend, you see. Life has been busy indeed. A lovely frock, Miss Lee.” He bowed, winked at them both, and departed.
Miss Lee unfolded her legs, dropped her feet to the grass, and stood. A slightly awkward silence descended. “I am returning to Kunlun next week,” she offered at last. She sounded strangely sad. “I suppose there’s little help for that.”
Winslow bowed his head, chest clenching, though he knew his feelings to be foolish. Mabel had already remained on foreign shores far longer than was proper for most Kunlunese Champions. Yet Winslow knew that Mabel Lee was not like most Champions the Blue Mountain Sword chose, and for that, he must speak his piece. “You do not have to go. Well,” he amended, “not immediately.”
“Prince Tai would probably rejoice at the delay,” reflected Miss Lee.
“He would rejoice less at the proposal I am about to make,” said Winslow. “But I believe he may see its merits, given time, and good thought.”
Miss Lee’s eyes found Winslow’s, and lingered. “A proposal?” she said quietly.
“A Champion who spends half the year in Ruritania, and half in Kunlun,” said Winslow. “It makes a certain amount of sense, given the current shape of the world. As the two countries draw closer to one another, so to do our people. More and more Kunlunese shall become Ruritanian, just as some Ruritanians, I’d wager, may build businesses and families alike in the Kingdom of Kunlun. The Crown’s true protector shall have to know both shores.”
Miss Lee’s mouth pursed, considering. “That is not at all what I thought you were about to say.”
“I know,” said Winslow. “It is unconventional. But then, the Blue Mountain Sword seems of an unconventional mind, these days.”
“Oh, not that,” said Miss Lee impatiently. “Your talk of relations between Kunlun and Ruritania make perfect sense, and I shall make Tai see it, one way or another.” She went oddly pink. “It was just the way you phrased the idea, that’s all.”
Winslow’s brow furrowed. “I do not follow.”
“I merely thought,” said Miss Lee, growing more irritable with each moment, “that you meant another kind of proposal.”
A shameful number of seconds passed before her meaning made itself clear to Winslow. His heart began to thud. “Oh. Oh. But what of Tai? I had imagined you in love.”
“Tai!” exclaimed Miss Lee. “In love! You cannot be serious. I admit, your cousin the Prince is more charming by half than you are –”
“And I am charmed by the observation, you can be sure.”
“– but he is not half so handsome to my eye, and he lacks a certain intelligent quietude I admire in men. No, I will make him a far better Champion than I will a wife. The dalliance was not all bad, despite its rather dramatic end, but then, without that end, I might never have met you.”
Winslow stared openly at her. “If you are saying what I believe you mean, you may as well have out with it.”
Her brows pinched together. “That is not at all conventional.”
“You are not at all conventional,” retorted Winslow. “But then, nor it seems am I. That should make us well-suited, do you not agree?”
“Oh, very well!” exclaimed Miss Lee, plainly at her wit’s end. “Weizhe of the Family Ng, my lord Duke Winslow North, will you do me the honor of becoming my husband?”
He took her hands in his. “I shall.”
“Done,” she said, as if sealing a business agreement, then planted a kiss on his mouth. It went on for some time. When he broke off, and looked down, he saw that she had floated a few inches off the ground, qinggong light, to accommodate for their height difference.
His future wife really would make a most spectacular Champion for the Kingdom.
“You shall have to spend time in Kunlun as well, you know,” his wife-to-be added. “I am unconventional enough to believe that husbands ought to accommodate wives as often as we accommodate you.”
Winslow wrinkled his nose. “And here, I had thought myself so clever in avoiding all the Queen Dowager’s invitations to the palace.”
“Mastering your fear of rightfully fearsome aunts will improve your constitution.”
He kissed her forehead. “Well, Mabel, then I shall have to make do.” He hesitated. “I do have one question. How did you know to call me Weizhe? Hardly anyone here uses my Kunlunese name.”
Mabel laughed. “Why, it is written on the deeds for that new school of yours! I saw that you signed your English name above the Chinese characters, but I recognized the characters first. It is a good thing,” she added. “I quite like Ng Weizhe, just as I have quite grown to like Winslow North. Magicians who bear two names are said to hold the strongest magic. Whyever do you suppose I chose both Mabel and Mingzhu?”
“You are incorrigible.”
“I endeavor to corrupt you,” she agreed merrily. “My greatest ambition as the Crown’s Champion is to raise all Kunlunese and Ruritanians alike to the same shocking level of unconventionality. I believe it shall improve relations, foreign and domestic, for both parties.”
Winslow laughed. He could imagine nothing that would please him more.
Andrea Tang’s story “Technicolor in the Time of Nostalgia” has previously appeared in The Colored Lens; her other SFF writing has appeared or is forthcoming at publications such as Apex Magazine, Uncanny Magazine, and PodCastle.