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This story is part of our 2014 fund drive bonus issue! Read more about Strange Horizons' funding model, or donate, here.

When I was born, the warlord asked my mother to wash her hands in fire, for surely if she'd been true to him the gods would prove her innocence. When she refused, he pushed her in. Flames clothed her, wrapped her in a shawl of woven sparks. But she wasn't harmed.

And the warlord was satisfied, not understanding what the gods have told him, what Zhar has told him. Zhar, who wanted his daughter to have a mother.

When I was three I dodged my keepers for the first time, dipped my pudgy baby arms into a cooking flame. And when the warlord saw me, skin as red as a battle-bloody moon, the interlocking tails of salamanders traced upon it in ink that comes from the inkwells of darkness—

Oh, they had thought Zhar a woman, as old and inconsequential for them as cinders of an abandoned campsite. But I have walked with my father many times, seen her arms shape the sun each morning on the edge of the newborn steppe.

And let me tell you, I will never be far from my father, never journey beyond the circle of her warmth; for everywhere there is a flame I rise within it, my body burnished scales, a shawl of sparks over a story I have never told.

My mother's secret.

Fell from the firmament
star after star into sizzling sea;
it withered and quieted
leaving behind it nothing but amber.
I have been wandering
armed with the seven-edged dirk of my star,
belted in cinnabar
over my skin that fire won't burn.

Called on my burning by an ancient and watery name,
corralled the yearning of all of my oceans to surface again.
All of that yearning to live on in burning,
tame in your hearths but not in my heart;
all of that burning to anchor the yearning that coils and encircles my heart.




Emily Jiang holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Saint Mary’s College of California and a BA in English from Rice University. Her poetry has been published in Strange Horizons, Stone Telling, and Weird Tales. Her debut picture book Summoning the Phoenix was listed among the Best Children’s Books of the Year by Kirkus Review and The Huffington Post.
R.B. Lemberg (they/them) is a queer, bigender immigrant originally from L’viv, Ukraine. R.B.’s work set in their fantastical Birdverse has been a finalist for the Nebula, Ignyte, World Fantasy, Locus, Crawford, and other awards. R.B.’s Birdverse collection Geometries of Belonging is currently shortlisted for the Ursula K. Le Guin Prize for Fiction. You can find R.B. on Instagram and Bluesky, on Patreon, and at rblemberg.net.
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