"" by Stephen Case
This story came out of "Beneath Ceaseless Skies #231," July 2017 magazine issue and was written by Stephen Case.
This was an interesting story playing with the theme of a sort of balance. A type of yin and yang of magical powers. Life and death. Which one would reign supreme?
A girl who had no name was being held prisoner by King because of her special gift. The girl had the gift to speak a name and that person would instantly die. The king would give her lists of his enemies and force her to speak their names all day killing anyone standing in the way of the king.
Then one day a scribe in the library took pity on her and helped her escape. After her escape the scribe was tortured and beaten to try and find out the whereabouts of the girl, but he didn't give her up. After the torture; he wished so much for death.
The scribe was very careful with his name and never gave it to anyone except for one person. He gave it to the girl in hopes that she would speak his name and end his life. He hoped and hoped she would speak his name. However, she needed his help and that fact helped him deal with the time he stayed alive.
After her escape, she took control over kingdom by sheer force and fear. Although she didn't have a name, people started to call her Empress. The Empress killed those who stood in her way simply by speaking their name. Soon she had the respect of everyone in the kingdom, some from loyalty and some out of pure fear.
One day a group of ambassadors from the kingdom controlled by the Bone King came calling upon the Empress. They angered her and after coaxing the name of one of the group, killed him in front of everyone. She told them to go back to the Bone King and tell him she didn't do his bidding. This of course started a war between the two.
Soon after this the scribe decided that the Empress no longer needed his services and left without her knowing. He left her a note with where he was heading and said goodbye. He was heading to a monastery that would take him in due to his work accomplished in the king's library.
While in the monastery the scribe makes a huge discovery. He is shown something that very few have seen, or even understand. He can't wait to delve in and discover the secrets held and possibly find the answers he has been searching for. Then the Bone King came calling.
Before the scribe had a chance to do much of anything at the monastery the Bone King found out where he was staying. The Bone King knew that the scribe was close to the Empress and wanted information from him. He forced the surrender of the scribe and took him hostage.
While in conversation, the Bone King told the scribe that he was aware of the Empress's power. What she was capable of doing and that she was wanting to find out the Bone King's name. However, the Bone King was in no way afraid of the Empress, or her army. The scribe couldn't figure out why the Bone King was so confident in his ability to fight of the Empress.
This was when the Bone King told the scribe his own secret. He too had a special power. Just like the Empress. The Bone King had the power of life. He spoke a name and that person would live forever. Now what was the Empress and her kingdom supposed to do?
Who would triumph over the other. Would everlasting life win out or does death truly come for everyone eventually, even those who supposedly live forever?
This was a good story with an interesting perspective on balance of life and the yin and yang of things. One person had the power of life and the other had the power of death. it was interesting to see how the author gave a somewhat ambiguous perspective on each of these powers.
What I mean by ambiguous is that there wasn't really any good or evil in the powers. One might think that life would be good and death would be bad. That wasn't the case in this story. Death had the potential to be a good thing, or a bad thing. As did the power of life. What if someone didn't want to live forever. What if no matter what happened no one ever died. They just lived their life maimed or worse. Then death would be a welcome escape. If someone was afraid of death and wanted to live forever at any cost then life had the potential to be a great thing.
The author did a good job in writing the story so that perspective played a big role. Depending on whose eyes were being seen through, whose thoughts were being contemplated, made the power of each king a good or bad thing.
I enjoyed this story overall. It had a feel that it could have been part of a larger story, maybe a novella, or even a novel. Although this story had that feel to me, I don't think that it would make a good novel. I think the short story form was perfect for showing the duality of powers. I think the feeling of a larger story worked well vs actually being a larger story. After reading this story I would definitely look forward to another story by this author.