Written in the style of an African folk tale, "Near the Flame" is the story of Nygibe (meaning "Near the Water"), later renamed Nygawa ("Near the Flame"), greatest of the Women of Agawa. The Women of Agawa possess the discrete but surprisingly powerful magical talent of telling a story with smoke. Nygawa is conflicted when the new king commands the Women of Agawa to use their magic to help conquer their land's neighbors.
Wasn't this like the stories that she'd learned, the stories that she'd told? Weren't there always battles, and didn't battles always have a losing side? But those stories had just been stories, smoke high in the sky and whispers on the wind. This was life, red and real. As the fighting went on, as they walked south and south and south, whipping the fire before them like a beast, Nygawa realized that just like stories, battles needed ends."Near the Flame" is a memorable tale featuring a powerful narrative voice. Erin Cashier is a subtle author, yet the nuances of her writing never distract from the story (a complaint I occasionally have with Shimmer fiction, some of which employs literary techniques too self-consciously).
I am delighted to say Cashier is a fellow winner of the Writers of the Future contest. Among other places, her stories have appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Abyss & Apex, Writers of the Future, Vol. XXIV, and Footprints, with another forthcoming in InterGalactic Medicine Show. Shimmer is a great place to find up-and-coming writers, and Erin Cashier is definitely one to watch.