Bones, Belts and Bewitchments

Cover image for Bones, Belts and Bewitchments: A Marchverse Collection by K. A. Cook. Cover shows the opening to an unlit cave in a face of grey rock, covered in parts by trailing branches, vines and leaves. Barren trees grow around the cave entrance and white and broken bones rest around and inside the opening. Title and author credit are written in a white, fantasy-style text.Did you ever hear the fairy tale about the trans, autistic witch who doesn’t fall in love with the pretty villager and instead learns the word “demiromantic”? Or the one about a gay allo-aro man who agrees to travel into hell in return for the gift of his own identity? Or the story about a young sapphic woman who needs a dragon’s reassurance on the nature of her non-romantic attraction?

Bones, Belts and Bewitchments collects ficlets, short stories and novelettes in a world where transgender, queer, aromantic and autistic characters name themselves, cast spells, take on quests, struggle with family and discover that there’s no end of magic, friendship and connection in just being who they are.

Contains: A dragon, two necromancers, several magicians, a black cat with the world’s most unimaginative name, a talking sword belt, and an array of protagonists proving that fantasy includes characters discussing gender, aromanticism, disability and autism … sometimes all at once!

Links: PDF, EPUB and MOBI editions are available for subscribers on Patreon.

Length: 176, 000+ words / 524 PDF pages.

For Patreon subscribers, I’ve created a collection of Marchverse ficlets, short stories and novelettes, including the exclusive short stories Kin of Mind, The Morning After, King’s Pawn and Scholar’s Gambit.

Blurbs and content advisories are listed below, along with links to the original publication of each piece. All pieces in the collection are published in chronological order, making this book the easiest way to read my stories. It’s also worth noting that there are gaps waiting for future stories to fill them, as I don’t write in chronological order!

Friendship

A sapphic aromantic wishes to partner a dragon’s handmaiden without the complications of a romantic relationship, but finds comfort in her friendship with her own dragon.

Content Advisory: Casual references to fantasy violence including dragons and fire. Depiction of amatonormativity and expectation of romance in relationships from both sexual partners and parents.

Length: 993 words / 4 PDF pages.

Attraction

A sapphic aromantic fears that her interest in another girl may be best explained by a word she doesn’t wish applied to her–romance.

Content Advisory: Casual references to fantasy violence including dragons and fire. References to amatonormativity and the vague nature of what is (and isn’t) decided to be romance or romantic.

Length: 989 words / 4 PDF pages.

A Gift of Naming

If one’s parents provide a shirt that tears when tugged over their child’s shoulders, isn’t it cruelty to force the wearing of it, however well-intended the gift?

Even in the best of circumstances, it’s no easy thing to tell the parent who named you that your name no longer fits.

Content Advisory: References to cissexism, particularly as it surrounds a change of name, both historically and from the protagonist’s great-grandfather.

Length: 1, 200 words / 4 PDF pages.

Abrasive

Spending Midsummer night with a pretty man shouldn’t be a problem for Suki … except for everybody else’s romantic expectations.

Content Advisory: Descriptions of the amatonormativity common to allo-aros where casual sexual experiences are presumed to lead to or develop into romantic relationships–an assumption often reinforced by people outside the relationship. Please expect sex references, arousal references, depictions of physical intimacy and depictions of sexual attraction, along with sex-negative (slut-shaming) comments made by the character’s mother.

Length: 999 words / 4 PDF pages.

The Complexity of Human Decency

When Mama Lewis continues to browbeat Suki into becoming the kind of girl who doesn’t tick off unwanted romantic suitors, she knows the best thing to do is leave. The port city of Malvade offers work enough to pay for her own room, but Suki’s freedom comes with long hours, a leaking roof, outhouse mould and a yearning for a world that offers her more than bare subsistence and continued disregard.

A red-robed priest of the Sojourner may hold answer and opportunity … if only she can endure a conversation with someone preaching a truth anathema to everything a proud woman of Freehome should believe.

Content Advisory: References to the amatonormativity common to allo-aros where casual sexual experiences are presumed to lead to or develop into romantic relationships, along with the ways these assumptions fuel and justify the protagonist’s mothers’ emotionally abusive behaviours. This story also has Suki referring to herself with the misogynistic term “bitch”.

Length: 3, 580 words / 11 PDF pages.

If Absurd Works

An unexpected letter sees Suki of Sirenne, a red-robed priest of the Sojourner, doing the unimaginable: returning home to farewell a dying Mama Polly. After ten years of studying the ways of Spoken Service, she’s built a life that serves her nature … even if she’s still inclined to a sharp turn of phrase. Can’t she now explain her feelings and choices in ways easier for Mama Lewis to accept? Shouldn’t her mothers now be easier to manage?

Yet one conversation leaves Suki feeling that she’ll never stop being the brittle, abrasive young woman who left Freehome … and presents her a problem only solvable by remembering priesthood’s first lesson.

Content Advisory: Further references to the amatonormativity common to allo-aros where casual sexual experiences are presumed to lead to or develop into romantic relationships, along with the ways these assumptions fuel and justify the protagonist’s mother’s emotionally abusive behaviour. It also depicts the pressuring and manipulation present in emotional abuse, including use of one’s love as a silencing tactic. Suki refers to herself and her mother, in the process of reflecting on their similarities, with the misogynistic term “bitch”.

Length: 3, 526 words / 11 PDF pages.

The Sorcerous Compendium of Postmortem Query

Necromancer Mara Hill has waited weeks for the Thinning: the one night the dead walk freely amongst the living. Her wandering great-aunt, Rosie, was wise in the way of magic and the world, and Mara knows of none other to ask. Books and magic alike haven’t restored her fading love, and Benjamin Lisabet is too wonderful to risk losing. Why can’t Mara keep herself from falling out of love whenever the girl she yearns for dares love her back?

She’s sure that Aunt Rosie’s spirit will offer up needed advice. She just doesn’t expect a deluge of deceased villagers set on unravelling everything Mara knows about what it means to love and be in love.

Content Advisory: References to sex, having sex and experiences of sexual attraction, along with depictions of amatonormativity and internalised aro antagonism. Please expect vague and non-detailed references to gender dysphoria and depression, as this story sets up further examinations of both in Those With More and Love is the Reckoning. This story also includes experiences of romantic attraction with a lithromantic protagonist who is comfortable with being the subject of another’s romantic interest.

Length: 8, 221 words / 32 PDF pages.

The Mundane Progression of Premortem Colloquy

After a night of revelations to her dead aunt Rosie and her living brother Esher, Mara Hill must dare another with Benjamin Lisbet. If she’s truly the woman Mara hopes, surely Benjamin will be receptive to a conversation of the “I love you and want to be with you, just not romantically” sort? Surely this afternoon won’t stray beyond Mara’s preparations of a picnic basket, chives, rehearsed speeches and less-rumpled clothing?

Yet her months of searching for magic to refresh her fading love means there’s too much she doesn’t know about Benjamin. Too much Mara needs to know to hold this conversation without losing Benjamin’s friendship.

Mara thought speaking of her fading love under cover of dark difficult enough … but speaking of romance in daylight is another challenge entirely.

Content Advisory: Non-explicit references to sex and sex acts by two allosexual aromantic-spectrum women. These references are more integral to the story and their relationship than in my other pieces. Please also expect discussions about romance, romantic relationships and sexual relationships, along with the ways these intersect with autistic-targeted ableism and reflections on ways to navigate sexual non-romantic relationships.

Length: 7, 160 words / 30 PDF pages.

What Makes Us Human

Moll of Sirenne needs prompts in their girdle book to navigate casual conversations, struggles to master facial expressions and feels safest weeding the monastery’s vegetable gardens. Following their call to service, however, means offering wanderers in need a priest’s support and guidance. A life free of social expectation to court, wed and befriend does outweigh their fear of causing harm—until forgetting the date of a holiday provokes a guest’s ire and three cutting words: lifeless and loveless.

A priest must expand a guest’s sense of human worth, but what do they do when their own comes under question? Can an autistic, aromantic priest ever expect to serve outside the garden? And what day is it…?

Content Advisory: Depictions and discussions of ableism, amatonormativity and dehumanisation, particularly with regards to autism and aromanticism. Please expect additional background references to partner abuse and dysfunctional relationships, along with a side mention of magic causing harm to animals. This piece also includes reflections on non-romantic love’s being pushed as a second-best “humanising” quality on non-partnerning, aplatonic and neurodiverse aros.

Length: 8, 062 words / 32 PDF pages.

Those With More

When Mara Hill’s magic results in her brother’s impossible, wondrous transition, of course Suki wants to know how she did it! What if Sirenne’s magic workers can help others find euphoria? What if this magic can heal Suki’s hands—or at least lessen her pain? But Mara, distrustful of priests after their failure in protecting Esher, won’t share her power.

A senior priest must bear responsibility, but Suki suspects her problems lie deeper than lack of oversight, and her reluctance to discuss her aromanticism with a woman who needs support only proves it. Would she have preserved Mara’s faith and Esher’s health if she hadn’t first avoided revealing herself to her aromantic kin? If she’d faced their expectations that she shoulder their pain and grief as well as her own?

Suki has lived her life by the Sojourner’s second precept, but how does she serve when she doesn’t have more to give—and never will?

Content Advisory: Many references to or depictions of aro antagonism, allo-aro antagonism, amatonormativity, familial abuse, mental illness, suicidal ideation, death, gender dysphoria, chronic pain, ableism and ageism. This piece contains non-detailed, non-specific reference to a character’s past suicide attempts as well as Suki’s use of the word “bitch” to describe herself (now in a more reclaiming way).

Length: 9, 100 words / 27 PDF pages.

Love Spells, Rainbows and Rosie

Lovers’ Day is good trading for a witch who deals in enchantments, ribbons and dyed flowers. For Mara Hill, it’s long been a holiday of tedious assumptions and painful conversations–once best handled by casting petty curses on annoying customers. This year, when a girl asks about love spells, it may be time to instead channel a little Aunt Rosie.

Content Advisory: Much of this piece concerns the amatonormativity surrounding a real-world holiday, because unsubtle allegory is a wonderful thing. Please note that this story also includes a non-specific reference to an off-screen character’s suicide attempt and the ableism of the way people talk around mental illness. A character also uses the phrase “kill me” where we’d would use something like “fuck me” in keeping with the Sojourner’s followers’ regard of death.

Length: 3, 429 words / 10 PDF pages.

Ringbound

If Kit can’t find anything unfair about the contract or the man, why is the ring so heavy?

Kit March is a signature away from marrying the man who loves him. He should be delighted, but for reasons he doesn’t understand and can’t explain, his future with Lauri weighs upon him. What is a magician to do when no script extant has words for the confusion he feels?

Content Advisory: Depictions of a non-partnering, allosexual aromantic man who possesses little understanding of his identity and makes questionable decisions in navigating his feelings and society’s amatonormativity. Please expect casual/non-explicit sex and sexual attraction references, along with kissing mentions.

Length: 2, 561 words / 8 PDF pages.

Love is the Reckoning

Esher Hill left his home and kin a crying wreck of a man, too depressed and dysphoric to care what his people make of him. If he’d had his way, that would have been the end of it.

His sister Mara, the village witch, made sure he didn’t.

Two and a half years later, Esher owns two dogs, a blade, a career and a new body—the shape of masculinity he always felt he should be. A miracle Mara refuses to explain. A miracle the Sojourner’s priests reject and fear. A miracle, say the Grey Mages, that cannot exist without something precious sacrificed in exchange: a soul.

Returning home in search of his sister and the truth isn’t just a matter of enduring stares, whispers, explanations and the condescending pity from those he left behind.

Love holds edges sharper than Esher’s sword, for nobody wins but demons in the sale of souls.

Content Advisory: Please expect depictions of or references to terminal illness, depression, body horror, suicidal ideation, dysphoria, cissexism, heterosexism, allosexism and amatonormativity. Trans readers should note that Esher has undergone what seems a near-perfect medical (magical) transition, which may be difficult to read on a high-dysphoria day. I also have two characters who have engaged or will engage in actions I can only term as a voiding of Esher’s right to informed consent with regards his magical transitioning and soul ownership.

Length: 10, 463 words / 39 PDF pages.

Absence of Language

Three months ago, Kit March abandoned his fiancé without even a note of explanation for a deserving man. Leaving Lauri should have brought him a wondrous freedom from the pressures of romantic expectation, so how does a talented magician end up performing flash magic for buttons and hairpins in Raugue’s worst tavern? Kit doesn’t know, and doesn’t care to think about it as long as he can keep drowning guilt in beer and spellworking.

When a stranger offers the word “aromantic” followed by a dangerous quest to the Gast, Kit may be about to discover more distraction than he can survive.

Content Advisory: Depictions of or references to amatonormativity, allosexism, cissexism, heterosexism, depression, autistic-targeted ableism, alcohol and alcohol used as a coping mechanism for depression. There’s also several non-explicit sex references, Kit’s use of sex as another coping mechanism, some casual references to and depictions of violence, and a heaping mountain of guilt. In addition, this contains depictions of non-romantic, non-sexual physical intimacy and depictions of desire for sex and love.

Length: 8, 785 words / 33 PDF pages.

Old Fashioned

Amelia March is tired of suitors breaking into her house after dark to express their undying love. Sure, it might be the fashion, but whatever happened to getting to know someone first? Why won’t they listen to her when she says she isn’t interested? And what does it mean that her cousin Kit thinks there’s a word for her approach to romantic relationships?

Old Fashioned is a story about finding words and the importance of fake cobwebs in the windows.

Content Advisory: Depiction of a woman somewhat enthusiastically wounding a home invader (despite awareness of the fact that said invader isn’t there to kill her). It also depicts this love interest engaged in the creepy but traditional act of invading her house, unasked and uninvited, as a sexual/romantic gesture towards a woman who doesn’t want it and is explicit about this. The protagonist also threatens and imagines violence and murder on several occasions as a form of bluster.

Length: 5, 108 words / 14 PDF pages.

Conception

With Kit gone to the Greensward, Amelia March is content with her faked witchery, the ailments of her villagers and romance confined to a novel. She isn’t pleased, therefore, to find her cousin darkening her doorway—her cousin with two feet, a belly, a sword of some distinction, a story, a young girl named Osprey, a beaming smile and an undying hatred for the elves. Still, Amelia thinks she can survive the chaos, at least until Kit announces a grand plan to start a school for divergent magicians…

Content Advisory: References to and descriptions of elfish racism, ableism and eugenics (especially as it targets autistics) practiced by the Greensward, summarised in Kit’s description of the lack of autistic elves and the dismissing and condescending way in which Kit is treated and used. It also references the abortion services Amelia provides as village witch and makes mention on how her work differs from the same options with which the elves pressured Kit. Additionally, this story shows a few incidences of ableism and use of ableist terms, general discussion of the alienation Amelia feels being a-spec and the alienation Amelia and Kit both feel and experience being autistic in allistic-centred worlds.

Length: 7, 966 words / 29 PDF pages.

Kin of Mind

A dragon in need of a human attendant finds providence in the arrival of a magician in need of a library, but more than phalanges and history binds Azhra and Darius in companionship.

Content Advisory: Casual references to fantasy violence involving fire, carnivores and dragons, ageism, autistic-targeted ableism and the medicalisation of the autism spectrum.

Length: 4, 047 words / 12 PDF pages.

Certain Eldritch Artefacts

Newly-graduated, divergent magician Darius Liviu has scoured half the world in search of the rarest of rare magical artefacts: a tolerable talking sword. After a year of failure, one last rumour sees him risk Rajad’s chaotic, cluttered, terrifying Great Souk. The noise, the smells, the people and his inability to move without provoking disaster make everything difficult, but Darius dares the nightmare of chaos and conversations in hope of an item will draw the eye of the man he thinks he loves.

The sword he finds isn’t elegant. It isn’t tolerable. It has no intention of being gifted as a lover’s token. It is, however, set on destroying Darius’s acceptance that awkwardness and a life of misunderstandings is the best he can hope for.

Certain Eldritch Artefacts is a story about autism, adulthood and the reasons why one should never enchant inanimate objects…

Content Advisory: Several depictions of ageism, ableism and one moment of cissexism. There’s also multiple depictions of anxiety/social anxiety provoked by being a dyspraxic autistic having to navigate a world truly not designed for him, and multiple descriptions of the sensory hell Darius endures in the marketplace. The sword is a pushy, demanding, frustrating entity, one who may be ideal as a mentor for an autistic teenager because it isn’t an easily-offended allistic/neurotypical human. Whether it is being cissexist, deliberately provocative or both is open to question.

Length: 10, 588 words / 29 PDF pages.

Love in the House of the Ravens

After seven years in Rajad, Darius has fallen out of love with the unattainable and failed to fall in love with the companionate. When the right person offers a romantic relationship and he doesn’t understand why yes won’t grace his tongue, the only thing an autistic man can do is ask the Ravens–and hope he can survive the word they give him in return.

Love in the House of the Ravens is a story about what it means to be aromantic when one is also autistic and the world isn’t accepting of either.

Content Advisory: Aside from references to various acts of violence and combat common in fantasy, this story includes references to or depictions of bullying, abuse, assault and ableism, as well as the way these things shape and impact the people who survive them. Please expect references to sexual attraction, non-explicit sex mentions, amatonormativity, physical intimacy, kissing and romance. The protagonist also practices blood magic in a way that intentionally echoes self-harm.

Length: 10, 436 words / 29 PDF pages.

One Strange Man

How can the want for another person make an intelligent man gift something so precious?

When Akash’s former lover refuses to return a family heirloom, Darius knows only one way to help his mate—even if it means ignoring several laws in the process. The magic he mastered in surviving the College and the mercenaries has surprising utility in the art of larceny, at least once he gets past the stomach-knotting anxiety. When Darius makes the mistake of asking Akash why, however, getting caught in a stranger’s third-floor bedroom seems like nothing compared to comprehending the mysteries of romance and friendship.

Content Advisory: This story contains several amatonormativity and romance mentions, given that it’s about a young aromantic man trying to come to terms with it. It also contains discussions of the judgement and arrogance that may arise from enduring said amatonormativity. It also involves breaking and entering, side mentions of the relationship between blood witches and the police, and a heaping sense of the pressure that comes when one is too many shades of marginalised. Please expect references to previous instances of physical abuse and ableism.

Length: 7, 673 words / 22 PDF pages.

The Morning After

Stiff fingers, an aching knee and a headache are the smallest prices Darius pays for last night’s escapades when a furious Halima knocks on Akash’s door. Darius, groggy and slurring, needs to convince her to accept a restitution that doesn’t involve his arrest, but there’s nothing easy about forging compromise when Akash and Halima wield schemes of their own. And how does Darius keep all this secret from the belt…?

Content Advisory: A heaping amount of casual ableism targeted at autistics and the non-verbal, casual reference to smacking an autistic for stimming, use of ableist slurs like the word “idiot”, a touch of whoremisia, and anxiety at the treatment Darius believes he’ll receive at the hands of the police. This includes the use of the word “suicide” to describe covering up murder. This piece is heavy on non-sexual, non-romantic physical intimacy.

Length: 9, 973 words / 28 PDF pages.

King’s Pawn

When Efe and Aysun Kadri meet Master Ayako to discuss the hiring of a magically-talented mercenary guard, Efe doesn’t expect said mercenary to come with a laundry list of warnings.

Content Advisory: This story centres on the conversations allistics who don’t think themselves ableist are prone to having about autistics. Autistic readers should expect to find this triggering, as this is a story about allistic othering and objectification of autistics. Please also expect several references to fantasy war, violence and death, along with non-explicit references to sexual attraction and experience.

Length: 4, 794 words / 14 PDF pages.

Scholar’s Gambit

When Efe Kadri writes to Faiza Hiba Khalil for advice on how to work with an autistic mercenary-magician, it startles him to discover why Faiza is less than appreciative of his efforts.

Content Advisory: Multiple expressions of the “politer” (read: condescending, unrecognised-by-the-abled) sort of autistic-targeted ableism abound in this story. Please also expect casual death and assassination mentions.

Length: 2, 759 words / 20 PDF pages.

The Adventurer King

Seven years ago, Darius Liviu met a talking sword belt in the Great Souk, an eldritch being who changed his life forever. In that time, he has learnt something of the sword, mastered strange magic and survived dangerous jobs, but while he has friends in Rajad, he still feels out of place—too divergent to be welcomed and accepted as mercenary and magician.

When an unexpected meeting with potential employers goes wrong, his first instinct is to flee. But a wandering monarch, Efe Kadri, has an offer that might provide the certainty for which Darius has been searching, if only he has the courage to say yes…

Content Advisory: Casual autistic-targeted ableism, misgendering and cissexism from an allistic cis man. It also contains references to previous instances of ableism and non-detailed acts of violence caused by ableist perpetrators, as well as the depiction of an act from the protagonist that is a damaging moment of revenge to his abuser. Additionally, this story depicts gender dysphoria provoked by said cissexism and depictions of the want to self-harm.

Length: 11, 322 words / 31 PDF pages.

Their Courts of Crows

The best he can find is ugly compromise.

Prince Paide ein Iteme has lost his father, his family, his people and his home to a conquering necromancer queen and her armies of the risen dead. A last horrific battle sees him forced to discuss surrender, but that conversation is no small amount complicated when said conquering necromancer is his mother. Who might not have been entirely wrong in her overthrow of Paide’s father…

Content Advisory: General depictions of a battlefield and fantasy-type combat violence and property destruction, a few casual references to horrific choices made in war by both combatants, some depiction of blood and injury, non-detailed references to murder and assault, and non-detailed references to the cissexism experienced by two trans characters.

Length: 5, 108 words / 14 PDF pages.

Maybe When the Bones Crumble

And how is your hand today?

His hand broken, his father dead, his brother rebelling and his mother dancing the bones, Einas ein Iteme has nobody at the Eyrie but his uncle and one cursed question he can’t escape.

Content Advisory: This story depicts several shades of ableism targeted at autistics and chronic pain patients, along with a good amount of casual cissexism and more direct heterosexism. It also takes place in the context of civil war and familial abuse, with references to both. Please note that there’s references of medical mismanagement and poor handling of meltdowns; there’s also depictions of and references to self-harm, one of which may be interpreted as suicidal ideation.

Length: 4, 945 words / 14 PDF pages.

A Prince of the Dead

Too alive to die and too dead to live.

Bones interred under the palace, gold given to field-ravaged farmers and Parliament dallying over amendments: war is ended for Prince-Regent Paide ein Iteme. Or so it should be, but returning home to Ihrne in a broken body ensorcelled by a necromancer leaves Paide struggling with politicians who ignore him and servants who condescend to him. What good is a title and purpose when his words and desires have become meaningless to those around him?

Surviving the dismissal of the Eagle Court is harder than facing an army of shambling corpses. How does a dead soldier fight it when he no longer wishes to live?

Content Advisory: A few casual references to horrific choices made in war, some depiction of injury, references to the cissexism experienced by a trans character, references to the dysphoria experienced by a trans character, some of the less-pleasant fantastical aspects of reanimating the dead, and multiple depictions of and references to the ableism experienced by a physically-disabled character. Please note that this story is about the depression and suicidal ideation that so often accompanies disability when that disability is ill-supported/subject to ableism, and this story not only discusses suicidal ideation but depicts it in a way that may be confronting.

Length: 9, 890 words / 28 PDF pages.

The King of Gears and Bone

In a nation of liars, an honest man cannot rule.

Einas ein Iteme knew he wasn’t a princess. That first truth provoked violence, murder and war, leaving him the heir to the throne of Ihrne—a throne he doesn’t want and can’t hold. How can he when he struggles to put words together, won’t look courtiers in the eye and avoids people on general principle? Yet the Eyrie, even Zaishne, simply assumes Ein will find a way to become the allistic ruler he can never be.

When his brother Paide invites him to a private discussion, Ein sees a chance to voice the second truth. Paide, though, keeps secrets of his own—and doesn’t seem to recognise the fate bound to him by hundreds of devouring angels.

To begin to save Paide’s soul, Ein will have to learn what the world never stirred itself to teach: trust.

Content Advisory: This novelette takes place with reference to a history of long-running autistic-targeted ableism, cissexism, and abuse. Please expect constant and ongoing references to these things by a character who is living the anxiety, distrust, suspicion, self-hatred, confusion and chronic pain he earnt from enduring them. Ein’s memories also depict, in a sense more of the moment, some of the acts of cruelty—physical violence and emotional abuse—he has experienced.

Length: 12, 495 words / 34 PDF pages.

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