Thieves Guild by Licheng Mai
The dusk of an empire is a fawn on the edge of a wood, listening, silently watching, hoping, but not committing. The hunters have left, the meadow is clear. The trampled branches, the desecrated groves and the loved ones that you will never see again, the signs of these struggles are all that remain. You want to emerge, to go back to what it once was. To recreate what those you’ve lost would have wanted. And yet… The air is thick and the fog is unceasing. Perhaps the hunters have not left these woods, or worse, perhaps they have, and yet still you are hunted. Other evils, confined to the deeper brushes and the higher branches, will return to fill the predatory void. The forest can never go back, but you fear that thing which you cannot utter. Perhaps it was better that way, when you were hunted by the men with the guns pointed at you. The evils you understood.
And this here’s one of them! Beautifully mounted in a necromantic staff. Look at the craftsmanship. Once owned by a powerful necromancer before he himself was consumed by the curse of the staff. Legend says one of his apprentices reanimated him after he died, using this very staff, but the bones no longer understood themselves to be bones, in a manner no zombified corpse had ever acted before, not even able to hold themselves together long enough to classify as an animated skeleton. Now personally? I just think the apprentice was a quack. Got along great while the master was alive, maybe, but a worthless sorcerer upon his passing. I mean, even I can cast a decent reanimation spell. Sure, I’m using modern mana techniques, but it’s hardly difficult. I digress. Apologies.
The Mysterious Beast of the Plagued Lands by Michael Kuroda
We had been the ones who stalked. The ones feared by the bandits of the wastes. When our green sails peaked over the horizon, they knew to scatter. Because the fleet of Admiral Vanessa Dredge was not plundered. Was not pillaged. Was not stalked. Admiral Dredge was the one who stalked. No one dared to enter our airspace. Any campfires were long burnt out before our arrival. Those that were not, well…
We have a reputation for violence. This, I do not believe is entirely fair. The Admiral, she has a way of doing things, sure, but violence is never necessary. Violence is a path chosen by those foolish enough to disobey. In these cases, rarer than they were at first, mind you, yes, it becomes bloody, for the short time that it lasts. Admiral Dredge’s justice is swift, and she takes no pleasure in your eradication.