Entry Nickname: Talking Swords FTW
Word count: 115K
Genre: Adult High Fantasy
Being a tax collector is a miserable job, but being a tax collector in a world of sorcerers, undead, and dragons is downright deadly.
The country of Albion is struggling with debt from two wars. Alas, the wealthiest citizens, refusing to pay their taxes, have transformed most of the tax collectors into toads.
Thus, the dryad Head of the Royal Tax Collectors has sent out a call for mercenaries of any species, sexual orientation, and criminal record to collect taxes. Their new recruits include a once and future king, the next prophesied dark lord, and a weapon of mass destruction with the personality of a toddler—but they are effective at getting the job done. Just as long as the gods who want them dead don’t catch up.
Welcome to the kingdom of Albion, where death is sometimes optional, but even the undead pay their taxes on time.
Two soldiers hurled Dain into the cell with considerably more force than necessary. He bounced off the stone wall in a way which might have broken a bone if he had been human, but dwarves were made of tougher material.
Step one: analyze his surroundings. His face was embedded in packed dirt smelling of excrement. The stone corner walled in by iron bars lacked so much as a bench. A holding cell, then. Empty, so perhaps there was truth in the street rumors of a recent jailbreak.
Exactly how bad things were remained to be seen. Dain risked lifting his head. Beyond the bars was a dim, windowless room, a staircase, a trap door, and two very ugly men rummaging through his belongings.
One, a giant hulk of a man with a scar running down his nose and disfiguring his lip, upended Dain’s pack to shake out what remained onto the floor. The other guard picked through the assortment of camping gear, food, and clothes. He was shorter than his companion, but better-looking, although he had an unusually small nose. Dain dubbed him “Pug-nose” and still felt justified thinking of them as the ugly duo.
Pug-nose unwound Dain’s fur coat to reveal a leather bundle the length of a longsword. He whistled.
“What’s that?” Scar-face asked.
“Finally something of value.” Pug-nose tore away at the cover.
This roused Dain to his feet. Here we go again, the tired part of his brain whispered. “You don’t want to touch that sword.”
Entry Nickname: Life as a Dumpster Fire
Genre: Speculative Noir, #ownvoices
Word Count: 103,000
Jeb knows there are only two kinds of family: the ones who leave you, or the ones who own you. Now a reluctant member of the crime family who raised him, he’s balanced on his last chance after getting a lifetime of strikes trying to escape Felicity Harbour—a city as anxious and brutal as everyone living in it. When he gets his last strike, his death is imminent; so, a federal agent offering Jeb a way out of town looks too good to be true. All Jeb has to do is hand over the access codes to his boss’s technology empire. Except Jeb’s best friend, Booker, has the codes.
It isn’t a matter of stealing information. Jeb and Booker have been best friends since they were kids, but their relationship is complicated. Especially when they’re both more than a little in love with one another, the first of two secrets Jeb can never confess—the second secret being he’s never told Booker about wanting to leave Felicity Harbour, or why. Jeb can't throw away everything he and Booker have been through. Despite this unsurmountable breach between them, betraying him is unthinkable—until Booker betrays Jeb first. Now Jeb must decide which is preferable: the future ending shortly in a shallow grave, or the future where the only way out means becoming as brutal as the place he’s trying to leave behind.
ERROR. There is a problem with the application. Please restart your device. Jeb stabbed at the screen and the notification disappeared from view. Annoyed, he yanked open the taxi door and got out. His first step sank him ankle-deep in a pothole disguised as a puddle. Cold, dirty water flooded into his shoe and soaked the hem of his jeans. “Damn it,” he sighed, his frustration rising. He shook his foot. The distant waves breaking against the waterfront laughed at him.
Jeb didn’t even have to be at the docks. Except Booker had asked for his company, and Jeb felt better about life when Booker was around.
The message appeared again, this time scrolled across Jeb’s contact lens. There is a problem with the application. Please restart your device. Cold wind grabbed at Jeb’s nose as it passed—it smelled like misery and fear, and that all-encompassing loneliness embedded into Jeb’s childhood. He squeezed his eyes shut and scrubbed a hand over his face. Then he restarted his device—the edges of the implanted screen burned hot against the skin of his wrist—and retried the phone call he’d just tried to make.
THIRD STRIKE PROTOCOL flashed across the screen, even as the connection went through. He’d gotten another third strike alert that morning. Two in one day was annoying enough for Jeb to get Hyun to look at it. Everything combined made him want to lay down on the wet tarmac and take a nap.
Booker picked up. “Where the hell are you?”