Each section is based on the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the day from September, 2022.
I. ghost hunt, n.
There’s just something missing on the battlefield. The thrill of the kill is there, the electricity of bloodlust, but iron helmets, visors hide their eyes. I want to watch the waves calm within their irises.
II. beeline, v.
In the old days, I’d strike from a shadow, dagger to throat. I could feel the tremble of their larynx on the blade’s edge with my fingertips.
III. tots, n.
There’s a big celebration at camp after our victory in battle. My steps through blood-soaked dirt become steps through drunken soil, potatoes float in puddles of wine and ale. They toast me as I pass, slurred cheers of “Captain!” I feel so empty.
IV. fabulism, n.
There was a future in my head when I started down this road. It did not include power, status; it included revenge.
V. leading light, n.
A singular ember in my chest — A dense anger. A vision of their bodies, rivulets of blood over the edge of our bed.
VI. endarkenment, n.
Their corpses felt me empty. The rush of the kill from a just vengeance, did not fill the void. I left town, got a job doing the only thing that made me feel alive.
VII. amazake, n.
A soldier hands me a chalice of some drink or other as I enter the captain’s tent. A strategist from the capitol holds up a communication scroll bearing the king’s face. He congratulates me on the victory, rambles about honor and other shit he knows I don’t care about.
VIII. Monogyne, n.
When you hold someone’s light in the palms of your hands, get to choose when and how you clench your fist, see it rise like steam between your knuckles— that is power. That is the feeling of control, of being alive.
IX. altaltissimo, n.
Does this dude ever take his crown off? When I bound my fate to his, I didn’t anticipate having to listen to his incessant blathering after every victory. It’s not even for me— it’s for the nobles who believe his brother suffered a fatal heart attack.
X. anjeer, n.
I look at the palm of my glove while King NeverShutsUp tangents to lofty goals for the next year. It’s stained with dried blood— mine and others, probably— I don’t remember when they were washed last. It looks like a noble’s robe would after a festival, covered with remnants of spilled wine, fallen fruit— trophies.
XI. rachmanism, n.
The strategist drops the scroll when he applauds for the king as he talks about defending the freedoms of his subjects. This behavior is beyond me. ‘Freedom’ and ‘subjects’ don’t seem like complimentary terms, but I don’t collect tax revenue, so what do I know.
XII. sibsomeness, n.
Sometimes, I fear what will happen to me if the king has his way— peace comes to the kingdom and he no longer needs me or my protection.
XIII. nash-gab, n.
The king asks questions about the battle after the comm scroll with his head has been properly restored. My answers are short, my nods curt. I wonder what it would be like if he didn’t fear me or he actually cared about the details.
XIV. deliverology, n.
I met the King when he was a prince in a tavern on the outskirts of his territory. Peasant clothes to hide his nobility or feign camaraderie, a pint in his hand. He slurred through ways the kingdom could be better under his name. Cheers and ale bounced off the walls with his exclamations. I asked what he was willing to pay.
XV. xennial, n. and adj.
In the predawn dark, he was torn between the traditions of his older brother and the ideals of the youth in his bones. But he saw it, for a moment, in the flickering candlelight: the crown on his head, the power in his voice. He offered piles of gold, a legal pardon; the future boredom was palpable. He stammered, sweat on his temples. I asked for a seat on his council, command of his army. He thought me a mindless killer. We shook hands.
XVI. psionic, adj.
He never asked me how I got rid of the king. People don’t like hearing the details of shadow magic, especially, I assume when your power would be questioned if anyone ever found out. I use it on the battlefield still: pits that swallow squadrons; shadows that consume brains, flood the whites of their eyes. After our first victory, he asked me how it was done. I told him, “Like before.”
XVII. segotia, n.
The king closes his address by inviting us for a feast at his castle. The strategist accepts the invitation for both of us: a knee jerk reaction. The king’s face fades into the off-white of the scroll. He looked excited to see the people he considers his friends.
XVIII. bird dog, n.
The road back to the city is long. Soldiers practically skip in anticipation for a warm welcome home, feasts with their families. I keep seeing faces in tree bark— faces I’ve seen before, ones I haphazardly sent into shadows before the king found me.
XIX. requiescat, n.
Part of me remembers my wife— the way she’d knead sourdough with the heel of her hand, singing a melody in the morning light. I miss her then, want her soul to feel peace. But then, I see her fingers entangled in the hair of someone else: the alchemist with smooth hands; a thick, braided beard. I see their slit throats, their blood pooling on a bed I could never return to, and I wish her soul pain.
XX. parapublic, adj.
The king’s army is made of young men who break rank as we travel through a village outside the city walls. Rundown buildings, families in tattered clothes, who anticipate their return, who worry about and love them.
XXI. adyt, n.
I don’t stop them from running to the open arms of their families. I don’t force them to walk through the city to the castle. I don’t subject them to the king’s lengthy speeches, empty accolades. I don’t pressure them to eat mediocre roast in the king’s dining hall. That’s a job for me.
XXII. binge-watching, n.
Does this guy ever shut up? It’s astounding he’s capable of eating any food while moving from story to story. Is anyone even listening?
XXIII. sharenting, n.
I look between family portraits which line the walls of the dining hall. So many stoic children forced to stand at attention in perpetuity. Would it be so bad if someone pruned this tree?
XXIV. garbler, n.
A tendril of shadow coils around my boot, slithers over dried blood. I left a sham marriage just to enter into the cage of power. Misery and emptiness follow me like anchors slogging through loose sand. The shadow is hungry. I am hungry. My fingers twitch, nails ready to dig into flesh.
XXV. nosey, v.
Pay attention to the small actions: the way he flicks his wrist, talks with both arms, saunters across the hall. There’s information hidden there that’ll help identify his weak spots, expose patterns he never talks about. That’s what I need to kill him.
XXVI. stepford, adj.
The castle guard wear similar armor— shiny, the king’s sigil on the breast strong, but inflexible, slow. They go through rigorous training, all of them, mastering the same techniques, exposing the same weak spots.
XXVII. pretenture, n.
Humans build to keep out enemies, but shadows flow over them with ease. Yet another example of overconfidence, misunderstanding of our world’s nature. I slip along the lines of mortar between the castle’s stone, let threads of void ensnare the guards, flood their eyes with visions of tortured, mangled bodies.
XXVIII. melpomenish, adj.
The king’s chamber is filled with garish trinkets— objects to look at, no utility. Under thick quilts with intricate designs, his snores mix with the fireplace’s crackling. No challenge. I envelope the flame in a shadowy blanket, knock a goblet off the mantlepiece for the drama. His shoulders shift, a bleary investigation. His face when his eyes fell on me— exquisite.
XXIX. anonymuncule, n.
He begs, pleads for his life, offers riches, titles, land. He says they’ll find me out, whisper my name in every corner of the kingdom. Even in death, he just never shuts up. I grip his heart in a shadowy fist, feel its rhythmic tremors. I squeeze until it finally stops, until he’s finally silent, until the waves in his irises become stagnant pools.
XXX. leso, n.
I rearrange his body and his blankets to look like his heart failed in his sleep. Intricate patterns, expensive dyes, his quilt reminds me of the dresses my wife wore back when she was alive. And, like that, a void settles in my chest again. Always empty. All is fleeting. I exit under the cover of the dark moon.