Episode #51: “Graveyard Girls on Paper Phoenix Wings” by Andrea Tang

March 5, 2018

Graveyard Girls on Paper Phoenix Wings 

by Andrea Tang



The flyboy crash-landed into Magdalisa’s life on a Wednesday, just before mid-afternoon prayers. More specifically, he crash-landed into the spindly stone watchtower over Dalaga Cemetery, and really, that amounted to the same thing. Magdalisa, for her part, probably wouldn’t have noticed if the flyboy’s spectacular nose-dive hadn’t so thoroughly disturbed the ghosts.



Hello! Welcome to GlitterShip Episode 51 for March 3, 2018. This is your host, Keffy, and I’m super excited to be sharing this story with you.

Our story today is "Graveyard Girls on Paper Phoenix Wings" by Andrea Tang.

Andrea Tang is a DC-based speculative fiction writer and international affairs wonk who earns her keep scribbling stuff about power politicking that slides on a scale from very real to very fictional, depending on who's asking. When not hunched over a notebook misusing her imagination, she's known to enjoy theater, music, and martial arts. Catch her on Twitter @atangwrites, or drop by for a hello and a virtual cup of tea at http://andreatangwrites.com.


Graveyard Girls on Paper Phoenix Wings 

by Andrea Tang




The flyboy crash-landed into Magdalisa’s life on a Wednesday, just before mid-afternoon prayers. More specifically, he crash-landed into the spindly stone watchtower over Dalaga Cemetery, and really, that amounted to the same thing. Magdalisa, for her part, probably wouldn’t have noticed if the flyboy’s spectacular nose-dive hadn’t so thoroughly disturbed the ghosts.

Tita Shulin, naturally, was the ghost tasked with telling Magdalisa, who’d been dozing off over a half-swept catacomb beneath the graveyard proper. The blast of icy air across Magdalisa’s ears put an abrupt end to the nap. Yelping, the girl scrambled awake. “Tita Shulin! I’m sorry, I’m on my way to prayers, I promise—”

“Sod the prayers,” said Magdalisa’s tita. Those three words, more than anything, alerted Magdalisa to the fact that something serious indeed had happened. Sleep-fog fled her mind. Twisting her hands together, Magdalisa leaned forward, until she was practically nose-to-nose with Tita Shulin.

“Tita,” said Magdalisa, more quietly now, but a good deal more urgently. Her words bounced off the catacomb walls. Tita, tita, tita. “What’s the matter?”

Tita Shulin’s mouth pursed. Ghosts were funny creatures. Tita Shulin didn’t glow, or go dramatically translucent, or otherwise give much indication that she was dead. She looked nearly the same as she had in life: square-shouldered and square-jawed, with golden-brown skin, her hair—dyed stubbornly black well into her seventies—close-cropped in a fashion that had supposedly scandalized the family when Tita Shulin was still a young woman, and not yet a tita at all. Tita Shulin, as a ghost, turned the air around her cold, and when particularly exasperated with Magdalisa, sometimes floated a few inches off the ground and telekinetically bandied objects about. Still, given that Tita Shulin, when living, had been a veteran of the Corrazon Witches’ Corps, death had done little to change her.

Now, invisible forces tugged Magdalisa upright from the catacomb surface, and smoothed down her collar with perfunctory sensibility. “A sky-sailor has crashed his paper phoenix into the tower.”

“What?” shrieked Magdalisa, scurrying after Tita Shulin. The ghost floated up the grimy stone stairway with alarming speed. “Is he all right?”

“No. Come on, kid, pick up those human legs of yours. You may live with ghosts, but that doesn’t mean you have to move like the dead.”

Magdalisa, legs burning protest by the time she panted her way to the top of Dalaga’s watchtower, caught sight of the wings before anything else. Painted sleekly red and black, even their collapsed length spanned the tower’s highest turret, brightly-colored paper still fluttering weakly against the wind. Fierce, hand-painted phoenix eyes stared blankly at Magdalisa from the smoking wreckage, devoid of life. Magdalisa swallowed an odd lump at the sight. Then she heard the faint, low-pitched keening beneath. Magdalisa hurried forward and crouched low. Grimacing as her knees hit a sticky little puddle of blood, she pried up one of the singed, broken wings.

When Magdalisa caught sight of the sky-sailor—or what remained of him—her entire body flinched. “He’s dead.”

Murmurs of dismay greeted this answer. When Magdalisa turned, she found herself facing the entire lineup of Dalaga ghosts, their faces wide-eyed and curious. Tita Shulin, standing at the front like the self-proclaimed matriarch she was, snorted at Magdalisa’s proclamation. “Please. We’re dead, kid. Flyboy’s just on the brink of it, that’s all. You of all people should know the difference, hmm? He’s probably a goner, either way.” One inky, ghostly eyebrow lifted. “Unless, of course...”

Magdalisa recoiled without quite meaning to. “I can’t. High Priest Stefan won’t like it.”

One of the other ghosts, a stout scowling woman called Nia, clicked her tongue irritably at the High Priest’s name. “Sod old Stefan. Petty little man.”

Her sister, Luchia, gasped and shoved at Nia. “Quiet, foolish girl! He’s the High Priest!”

Nia’s mouth set mulishly. “High Priest or not, I don’t see him around right now, do you?”

“Ah,” said Tita Shulin, tapping her chin. “What an interesting point Nia’s raised.”

“I could get in trouble,” said Magdalisa, but staring at the broken red wings, and listening to their sky-sailor’s terrible, broken animal sounds beneath, she could already feel the magic bubbling mutinously in her veins.

Tita Shulin shrugged. “No one here’s gonna tell. Right, girls?”

Fervent, nervous agreement chorused between the other ghosts.

Magdalisa swallowed, and turned back to the phoenix’s smoking wreckage. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. She didn’t know if she was apologizing to herself, or the three-quarters-dead flyboy, or the sun god Dal above, whose High Priest’s commandments she was almost certainly violating with the spark of unnatural, death-kissed power between her hands. Now, kneeling in the drying puddle of the flyboy’s blood, she lay her hands against his limp, broken-angled body. The flyboy had stopped keening, and lay unresponsive, his light brown skin now waxy and grey-tinged. His flank, terribly cold, barely rose and fell under her touch, but what little air he had left was enough. Magdalisa had more to give. A sigh shuddered through her. She let the power go.

At first, nothing happened. Then a second sigh tore through the body beneath hers, violent in its exhalation. The flyboy bucked against her palms, muscles tightening under his skin. His eyes, flying open, rolled back in his skull, as his mouth widened in a soundless cry. Bones snapped back into place. New blood rushed to his previously pallid cheeks. Shudders wracked him over and over, as his body knit itself arduously back together. Still, Magdalisa’s hands held steady, her fingers twining through the fleeting threads of the flyboy’s soul, feeding its life back into his convulsing body.

A final bone snapped into place. He whimpered once, then went slack in Magdalisa’s arms. She pressed her ear to his chest, and blew out a sigh of satisfaction at the drumming heart inside. When she leaned back on to her heels, the flyboy was blinking dark, slightly unfocused eyes at her. “I’m alive,” he croaked.

“Yes,” agreed Magdalisa, a bit crossly, “no thanks to your sky-sailing skills. Welcome to Dalaga.”

His smile at the name ‘Dalaga’ was weak, but strangely giddy. “Sanctuary,” he rasped.


“Sanctuary,” he repeated, more sluggishly now. “Dalaga. I claim...” He trailed off, eyes drifting shut.

Nia patted Magdalisa fondly on the shoulder. “Let him rest. Dying and coming back in the same day is hard work. You know how it is.”

“I do,” said Magdalisa, frowning as she tried to arrange the flyboy’s arms more comfortably, “but I—” She hissed, as her fingers brushed cold metal at his fingers.

“What?” Luchia asked, anxiously poking her head over her sister’s. “What’s the matter?”

Arranged across the flyboy’s fingers were a series of gold and silver rings carved with interlocked triangles. That meant one thing. Magdalisa’s heart thudded with alarm inside her chest. “He’s a Wanderer.”

“Lots of sky-sailors are,” said Tita Shulin, taking a seat beside Magdalisa. The blood-stained ground seemed to bother ghosts a good deal less than living humans. “I expect they have more need of paper phoenixes than most.” Her eyes fixed on Magdalisa’s. “Are you really going to judge him for it?”

Magdalisa had the good grace to feel a stab of guilt. “They’re heretics,” she said defensively.

“Ah,” said her tita, “and so are all residents of Dalaga, technically speaking. Even if he’s not a woman, a Wanderer flyboy ought to fit in just fine.”


“Remember what brought you to Dalaga.”

Every so often, between chores, Magdalisa considers the epithet carved across the entrance to the cemetery. Dalaga’s name in full is Dalaga Cemetery for Misguided Ladies, the sun god Dal’s final refuge for women who strayed from the holy path of righteousness in life. The ghosts of Dalaga have been prostitutes and adulterers, god-deniers and conspirators, each new addition finding more creatively myriad ways to spend lives of merrymaking sin, before succumbing to death. The High Priest declares that the beautiful towers and ancient catacombs of Dalaga Cemetery are a tribute to Dal’s grace, a refuge for sinful females to repent in their afterlife and bask in the god’s glorious forgiveness for all eternity.

Magdalisa’s not sure the High Priest has this bit quite right—in her experience, Dalaga’s ghosts aren’t especially interested in penance or forgiveness. Mostly, they seem interested in bad jokes, the latest Witches’ Corps gossip, complaining about the dust on their graves, and generally busybodying their way through Magdalisa’s life. But then, Magdalisa’s just a graveyard keeper, who earns her living cleaning the catacombs and weeding the gardens. What does she know, anyway?

“I know what brought me to Dalaga. A job, that’s all. Nothing more, nothing less.”


Magdalisa had been tending the latest, strangest newcomer to Dalaga, when a blast of winter-worthy cold announced the ghosts’ presence in the tower’s spare room.

“You have a visitor,” announced Tita Shulin.

“It’s the High Priest,” blurted out Luchia, bobbing over the elder ghost’s shoulder, eyes very wide, as she wrung her hands. “He’s here for one of his dratted surprise inspections. Oh, Magdalisa, Magdalisa, what shall we do?”

“Quiet, girl,” snapped Tita Shulin. “You’re not helping.”

“What a curse it is to be a woman,” moaned Luchia, ignoring her. “What a curse, to spend a woman’s life at the whims of men, only to spend death at Dalaga and discover yourself at the whims of the High Priest, of all possible men. The High Priest!”

Magdalisa sighed. Sometimes, there really was no help for Luchia. In life, she’d been a minor priestess of Dal, the third daughter of an impoverished man using his offspring to vie for respectability, which Luchia had promptly dashed when she’d run off with a young man from one of Corrazon’s neighboring cities. The rebellious lovers had lived a happy enough life together, before illness took Luchia, and sent her home to be buried at Dalaga Cemetery for Misguided Ladies.

Now, Luchia began to wail. “A curse to be a woman, and no respite from it, even here! I don’t know why you would ever choose such a life, Magdalisa!”

“I didn’t,” said Magdalisa, a little dryly. “I’m afraid it rather chose me.”

“Magdalisa,” said Tita Shulin. Her voice was a knife, cleaving straight through Luchia’s histrionics. “How’s the flyboy?”

Magdalisa glanced down at the guest bed’s occupant. For the past several days, the young Wanderer had lain unconscious more often than not, and when he woke, he barely kept his eyes open long enough to string two words together. She didn’t even know his name. Still, his color improved daily, he swallowed the congee she spooned into his mouth, and his once-thready pulse seemed to grow stronger each time Magdalisa checked it.

“Alive,” said Magdalisa. Often, the barest truth was also best.

Tita Shulin clicked her tongue. “It shall have to do.”

“He’s coming!” hissed Nia from around the corner. “Magdalisa, you’d best have a story ready!”

Helplessly, Magdalisa looked to her tita, who looked back with the same, unperturbed calm she’d carried everywhere in life. “Eh,” said Tita Shulin. “Let him come. This is Dalaga Cemetery, and you are still its keeper, for the moment. That position leaves you some sway over the goings-on of this refuge, and don’t you let old Stefan tell you otherwise.”

It was good advice to go out on. The High Priest of Corrazon burst into the spare room in the same instant the ghosts vanished. “Graveyard keeper,” he barked. His beady blue eyes swept toward the bed where the flyboy slept. “Explain yourself.”

Magdalisa folded her hands primly over her apron, and bowed her head to the High Priest. “I have been performing my holy duties as the keeper of Dalaga Cemetery, Your Grace.”

“Holy duties!”

“Indeed, Your Grace.”

“Do you know what the city watch told me this afternoon?” asked the High Priest, in the low, dangerous voice of someone who does not actually expect you to answer the question. “One of those wretched sky-sailors on their ridiculous paper birds was shot down by a sentry on suspicion of espionage. But when runners were sent to find the body, none was recovered. Instead, we hear word of a paper wreckage on the very watchtower of Dalaga Cemetery, and...” He trailed off meaningfully. Magdalisa, even with her head bent, could practically feel those beady eyes boring into her skull. “You, sheltering an unexpected guest.”

“Yes, Your Grace.” Magdalisa kept her voice even. “It’s as I said. Being a cemetery, Dalaga is a sacred space, holy to our sun god Dal. You have reminded me yourself, Your Grace, on many occasions.”

“I don’t see why—”

“As Dalaga’s graveyard keeper, is it not then my holy duty to take in the wounded who arrive seeking care and refuge?”

“Yes, yes,” snapped the High Priest, flapping an irritable hand, “but if you are harboring a spy, an enemy to the city and the god himself—”

“I’m not a spy,” said a new voice.

Magdalisa’s head jerked up, deference forgotten, as she and the High Priest rounded as one on the bed in the corner. The flyboy was awake, and sitting upright, black curls mussed, thick-lashed eyes narrowed at the High Priest. He looked a little wan, beneath the usual dusky complexion common to the Wandering folk, but the expression behind those pitch-dark eyes gave every impression of alertness. And anger. “I’m not a spy,” he repeated. “I was delivering routine messages to the sky-sailors’ charities within the city.”

“Then why, pray tell, did the sentry shoot you down?” demanded the High Priest.

The sky-sailor’s lip curled. “Corrazon’s city sentries have never been overly fond of sky-sailors.”

The High Priest’s face grew mottled. “Keep in mind, boy, your position.” Mouth pursed, his gaze raked the young man up and down. “The sentries are protectors and servants of Dal. And no one believes the words of Wanderers. Be careful where you choose to fling your accusations.”

“I’m not accusing anyone of anything,” said the sky-sailor in even tones. He smiled unpleasantly. “I’m sure it was a mistake.”

“Then you will not mind being tried for espionage at the city courts.”

“On what grounds?”

“You are a Wanderer,” began the High Priest, eyeing the rings at the flyboy’s fingers with a grimace, “and a sky-sailor, besides. It is well within the authority of the High Priest of Corrazon to detain individuals of suspicious background—”

“Not in a sanctuary,” interrupted Magdalisa. A memory clicked into place at the back of her mind.

Both men’s gazes whipped toward her, one cold, one bemused. “What are you talking about?” demanded the High Priest.

“Sanctuary,” repeated Magdalisa. “Cemeteries are sacred to our sun god. In a refuge holy to Dal, no blood can be spilt, and no hands lain on another against their will. As such, so long as we stand on Dalaga’s grounds, Your Grace, I’m afraid you’ll be quite unable to detain...”

“Rigo,” the flyboy supplied, looking rather amused now. “I’m called Rigo.”

“Rigo,” agreed Magdalisa, head bowed to the now crimson-faced High Priest. “There you have it. I’m terribly sorry, Your Grace. I’m but a humble graveyard keeper, who answers only to Dal’s will, which commands us all.”

At the invocation of the sun god’s name, the expression on High Priest Stefan’s face shifted just a little, as he glanced skyward, toward Dal’s domain. But it was enough. His mouth worked. “Stay here then, heretic,” he snarled at last. “And may you rot within these walls, by the eternal mercy of the god whose name you disgrace.”

With that particularly dramatic proclamation, the High Priest slammed out of the room.

Slowly, Magdalisa lifted her eyes to Rigo, the flyboy. “Well,” she said awkwardly. “It seems you may have returned to the land of the living just in time for me to trap you in a cemetery for eternity. I’m dreadfully sorry.”

Rigo blinked at her. “You just saved me.”

“I don’t know about that,” said Magdalisa. “When you first smashed yourself to bits against the watchtower turret, certainly, I’ll take credit for that save. I’m not sure this one counts, though. Caging you in a graveyard might not be much better than letting you stand city trial.”

“Anything is better than standing city trial for a Wanderer,” said Rigo, very wryly. He blinked slowly and shook his head, his grin full of uncertain wonder. “You don’t even know me. Why help me?”

“Ah, well.” Magdalisa rolled her shoulders. “You can blame my tita for that one.”


Remember what brought you to Dalaga.

Tita Shulin—in her life before Dalaga—proudly serves the city government as a member of the Corrazon Witches’ Corps. She’s Magdalisa’s very favorite tita. Magdalisa, at this point, isn’t yet called Magdalisa; that part won’t happen until later, but the name she bears right now isn’t important. The child who will one day become Magdalisa laughs when Tita Shulin makes Mama’s cookware dance around the family kitchen, and exclaims over the silky uniform pinafore that Tita Shulin carefully airs out on the balcony every Sunday. “Hey, tita!” Magdalisa calls, dangling heels thumping together between the balcony bars. “Tita, when I’m big, I’m going to join the Witches’ Corps too, and wear pinafores just like yours!”

Tita Shulin laughs, and nudges her sister, Magdalisa’s mama, crowing, “This kid’s going to be a handful.”

“I know what brought me to Dalaga. My tita’s pinafore, that’s all. Nothing more, nothing less.”


“Wanderers aren’t technically heretics.”

Magdalisa squinted up at the figure silhouetted against the afternoon sun. “Excuse me?”

Rigo, the flyboy, dimpled down at her. He still walked gingerly, and bore a particular pallor that suggested his body hadn’t quite caught up with Magdalisa’s magic, but he left the guest bed from time to time to wander the cemetery grounds, picking up books from the tower library and offering Magdalisa assistance with minor chores around Dalaga. Now, he’d caught her in the garden, tending one of the jade plants. Apparently, he was in a mood to debate theology.

Magdalisa patted at the dirt. “Anyone who refuses to recognize Dal the sun god is a heretic by definition.”

“But there’s the thing,” mused Rigo in that habitually cheery, soft-spoken tone of his. “We do recognize Dal. We think he’s a rather fine fellow, in fact. Who wouldn’t?” Squatting beside Magdalisa, he caressed the little jade plant’s leaves, brow furrowed in thought. “The sun brings us all life. Where your High Priest and his ilk seem to take exception is that we also recognize Meera the earth mother, and Hiseo the god of sea and stars, and Shara the holy queen of the eastern skies.”

Magdalisa said, carefully, “The traditional scriptures of Dal do not recognize other gods.”

“True,” granted Rigo, dimples still out in full force. “Still, the sun god doesn’t strike me as a petty deity. I can’t imagine he begrudges those less fortunate, homeless gods a place in somebody else’s pantheon. We Wanderers can’t help but feel for the poor aimless creatures.”

The corners of Magdalisa’s mouth, traitorous, twitched upward. “The High Priest and his followers would have you burned in the city square for speaking of Dal in such friendly terms.”

“But does Dal not proclaim for the virtues of companionship and charity? He must feel for his fellow deities. Why, consider Shu of the western wind, for instance—such a blustery fellow, blowing this way and that, uncertain of his welcome anywhere. We cannot all be so graciously secure in our spot in the sky as the sun god.”

Magdalisa glanced sidelong and the sky-sailor. “I’m not at all sure we’re still speaking of Dal.” Curiosity warred with polite wariness, and won. “How does a Wanderer come to fly paper phoenixes for the sky-sailors’ brigade, anyhow?”

Rigo winked. “Well, to start, I’m quite good at flying.”

“I wouldn’t have guessed, from the great bloody mess you left on the watchtower turret,” said Magdalisa dryly.

“An injustice!” Rigo pulled a face at her. “It was hardly my fault the city sentries decided to have a go at me!”

“They did think you were a spy.”

Rigo sighed, still grinning, but his dark gaze went oddly somber. “All sky-sailors are spies in the eyes of the sentries. The city government—the sentries, the Witches’ Corps, even the High Priest, bless his soul—they all wish to protect the people of Corrazon. It’s a noble task, but one where they do not always succeed. Precious little protection exists for the poor, or for so-called misguided women”—here, he winked again at Magdalisa—“or indeed, for Wandering folk. We of the sky-sailors’ brigade merely wish to assist by filling the neglected gap. The sentries seem to find this an unwelcome interference. Can’t think why.”

Magdalisa’s brow furrowed. “You think the city government dislikes the sky-sailors because they defend Corrazon’s outcasts?”

“I didn’t say that at all!” cried Rigo, injured. “Perhaps the good servants of the government are merely jealous that we remember what they’ve forgotten. How frightfully embarrassing for them, poor fellows.”

Helpless, startled laughter bubbled out of Magdalisa. “You know,” she admitted, “I wanted more than anything to join the Corrazon Witches’ Corps once. I thought I’d help the government protect people too, just like my tita.”

Rigo’s smile was slow, genuine, and sun-bright. “You would have made an excellent addition, if my still-beating heart is any indication,” he pointed out. “Why didn’t you?”

Magdalisa shrugged, eyes averted. “I grew up, and discovered that being magical is rather more trouble than it’s worth.” She touched the jade plant’s leaves. “Besides, the graveyard needed a new keeper.”


Remember what brought you to Dalaga.”

Magdalisa’s mama spends most of Magdalisa’s childhood hoping Magdalisa will grow out of Witches’ Corps ambitions. When Magdalisa doesn’t, Mama blames Tita Shulin. “This is all your influence!” An angry voice floats up from the balcony late one night, when Magdalisa is supposed to be in bed. “How am I supposed to raise a child properly by myself, when you cavort about, telling lewd stories about women you’ve bedded in the Corps and teaching witchcraft behind my back?”

“You don’t have to like it,” chides Tita Shulin, sounding tired. “But your kid has a real gift for magic—”


“The Witches’ Corps should be so lucky to recruit such a talented magic-worker into Corrazon’s service. Be proud, sister.”

“I would,” says Mama, in a low, tight voice. “I know how much the child wants to be a witch. But it’s not what boys are supposed to want.”

Mama’s words thud inside Magdalisa’s chest like a misplaced heartbeat. The next morning, after prayers, Magdalisa finds Tita Shulin. “Tita,” she asks, “must I be a boy?”

Tita Shulin sighs. “Your Mama, and most of the family, seem to think so.” A pause. “That does not mean you are a boy, or under any particular obligation to pretend you are.” She smiles. “Eh. Boy, girl, both, neither. You’re young. You don’t have to know everything about yourself right now, hmm?”

“Did you always know you were a girl?”

“Sure,” says Tita Shulin. “But I didn’t know I was the sort of girl who fancies other girls until I was past twenty, and in my second year with the Witches’ Corps.” She shrugs. “Your grandpapa—my papa, and your mama’s—didn’t like that so much either.” Tita Shulin offers a wink. “But that did not stop it from being true.”

“I know what brought me to Dalaga. The truth, that’s all. Nothing more, nothing less.”


“That sky-sailor’s sweet on you,” said Nia, without so much as a word of preamble, or a blast of cold to announce her presence.

Magdalisa shrieked into the nightgown she’d half-pulled over her head. “Dal’s sun! Don’t you ghosts understand a human need for privacy? I was indecent!”

Nia rolled her luminous eyes, clearly unimpressed. “Little one, all women who reside at Dalaga, living or dead, have been indecent at some point. We’ve practically made indecency an art form.”


“Nia has a point,” added Luchia, following her sister. “Granted, she didn’t have one true love, as I did, but rather, a great collection of them—”


“– but the two of us do share an understanding when it comes to men who fancy women,” continued Luchia. “And the flyboy fancies you.”

“Codswallop,” said Magdalisa, fire-cheeked. “You’ve all been dead too long to know the first thing about fancying anybody.”

Luchia’s eyes narrowed. “Why, it’s true. You do like him back!”

“Told you,” crowed Nia. “You owe me the next three rice wine offerings on your grave.”

“You said two!”

“I said three, little sister.”

Magdalisa stomped out of her bedroom. Living with ghosts was all very well, but a human girl could only stomach so much gossip and bickering at her expense. Struck by a chord of determination, she went to find Rigo.

The source of all ghostly speculation himself was propped up in the guest bed, reading an old volume of Corrazon history. Upon seeing Magdalisa, he smiled. “You’re still awake! I was the only night owl in my family. It’s nice to know someone else who doesn’t drop like a snoring rock as soon as Dal’s sun sets.”

“Do you fancy me?” demanded Magdalisa.

Rigo blinked over the book cover. “I’m feeling rather attacked by this line of questioning.”

“It’s all right if you don’t,” Magdalisa added quickly. “I don’t expect—”


“– any obligations from you. What?”

“Yes,” Rigo repeated. He marked his place in the book, set it aside, and said, “I fancy you.”

“Is it because I stuck the life back in your body after you essentially died?” demanded Magdalisa, whose heart had begun to rattle unpleasantly beneath her bones.

Rigo’s mouth twitched. “That was a very nice point in your favor, but not the only reason.”

Eyes averted, she flopped down on the foot of the guest bed. “Is it because I’m the only living woman at Dalaga?”

“Shara of the Sky bear me witness, I’d like to think I have higher standards for women than a mere beating heart!” Rigo raked a hand through his curls, looking genuinely nervous for the first time since she’d brought him back from the dead. Then he took a deep breath, and said softly, “I like debating theology with you. I like how clever and funny you are. I like that you treat the graveyard plants so tenderly. I like how your hair curls at the ends when it rains, and how your skin goes dark with Dal’s summer sun. I like—”

Magdalisa leaned over and kissed him.


“Remember what brought you to Dalaga.”

Magdalisa’s sixteen. She’s been going with Tomo, the butcher’s boy, for all of three months, when they get into a tremendous row right after Wednesday’s midday prayer service.

“My papa says the magic inside you is a Wanderers’ curse against Dal,” claims Tomo, who at seventeen, at least has the self-awareness to look shame-faced. Magdalisa, though, is having none of it.

“What complete codswallop,” she snaps, hands on her hips. Embarrassed indignation burns like a furnace inside her belly, heating her cheeks. “I have never spoken to a Wanderer in my entire life!”

Tomo shakes his head, clearly miserable. “I know, but it won’t make a difference to Papa. He says I’m not to see you anymore, and that I’m to find a proper, beautiful woman who will give him proper grandchildren.”

The furnace inside Magdalisa might as well be a full-fledged bonfire. “Well!” she exclaims. “My mama says your papa is a miserable pig, and going with you is beneath our family’s dignity, anyhow. You’re just jealous that I have sufficient magical talent to sit the Witches’ Corps exams, while you must spend all your days in your miserable papa’s butcher shop. I’m well rid of you, Tomo!”

She starts to stalk off, but can’t quite resist shouting over her shoulder, “And another thing! I am a beautiful woman, so good luck finding another foolish enough to have you!”

Magdalisa waits until she’s safely home, ensconced on Tita Shulin’s balcony, before she finally allows the tears to flow, ugly and unchecked. A few minutes later, Tita Shulin herself stomps out to scold Magdalisa for skipping the post-prayer luncheon, but stops short at the blotchy, sorry sight of Magdalisa’s face. “Dal’s sun above, kid. What on earth is the matter?”

Magdalisa opens her mouth to say, “Nothing.” Instead, the whole mortifying story blubbers out: about how much she liked Tomo, who liked her back, but not enough, in the end. How Tomo’s papa wanted Tomo to marry a normal, pretty girl who could produce normal, pretty children, instead of some shrewish witch-girl who’d spent practically her entire childhood being mistaken for a boy.

“Ah, kid,” says Tita Shulin, very quietly, when Magdalisa’s done. “That’s a rough break.”

Magdalisa hiccups. “Are you mad at me?”

“Nah.” The old witch’s arm slings rough and tight around the young witch’s shoulders, as Magdalisa’s tears silently soak Tita Shulin’s pinafore collar. “Everyone misses a prayer luncheon or two. You got nothing to be ashamed of, you hear? Nothing at all.”

“I know what brought me to Dalaga. My own silly, broken heart, that’s all. Nothing more, nothing less.”


Rigo’s mouth, soft and full-lipped, tasted like fruit from the garden. His hands, rings cool on her skin, cradled the back of her skull like it was something precious, thumbs rubbing gentle circles just under her jawline.

Magdalisa broke the kiss with some reluctance, her own fingers still curled in his hair, memories a lump in her throat. She didn’t owe the flyboy anything, not truly, but the lump needed to be spoken, for her own sake. She groaned, forehead thudding against his chest. “Rigo, listen, before we go any further. You might not—I have too much magic in me. People expected me to...” Rigo’s heart thrummed patiently against Magdalisa’s forehead. She didn’t dare look up, unable to stomach the thought of those expectant, liquid dark eyes. How to pull this off gracefully?

Magdalisa leaned back, gaze fixed on the ceiling, and blurted out, “I think you’re assuming that I have all the particular physical bits people usually expect of women, and that I was born into this world knowing I was a woman, but I don’t, and I wasn’t, all right?”

Oh no, she thought, mortified, that wasn’t graceful at all.

Rigo blinked a few times, pupils still blown, inky brows furrowing. Almost absently, he traced a thumb over her cheekbone. “All right.”

“All right?” she echoed, a little incredulous.

He shrugged, looking amused. “If I had anything against unusually magical women, I probably shouldn’t have confessed my affection after your magic literally knit my soul back to my body.”

“And the rest?”

“Magdalisa,” said Rigo, “we’re currently necking in a cemetery dedicated to women who broke with Corrazon expectations. Your particular womanhood, however you came to it, clearly follows in the footsteps of a rich tradition.”

“Oh,” said Magdalisa, flooded by a curious, insistent warmth, and reached for him. “Well,” she managed, as his mouth found her ear, “I suppose we’d best get back to that then.”

No further interruptions occurred.


“Remember what brought you to Dalaga.”

When the Witches’ Corps send Magdalisa a politely-worded rejection letter—she still wants them, but they don’t want her—Magdalisa’s not the one who breaks. It’s Mama. “I knew it,” Mama moans, over and over again, “I knew this encouragement of your magic would come to no good end. The Witches’ Corps was the only hope for a child like you, and now the Witches’ Corps have turned their backs on us too. What place is left for you now, hmm? What are we to do with you?”

Magdalisa watches this all in silence, knowing better than to voice the words resting sharp on her tongue’s edge: The Witches’ Corps turned their backs on me, not you. Stop twisting my pain into your own, Mama.

“We’ll fix this,” Mama decides at last. Her wet eyes are hard and narrow. “I know a man who can help. He’ll sort this all out, and our lives will be our own again.”

Magdalisa, staring at the floor, wonders what Tita Shulin would say to Mama. The thought is a foolish indulgence. A bad heart killed Magdalisa’s tita more than a year ago. What worth can be found in a dead woman’s imaginary words?

“I know what brought me to Dalaga. One unfortunate letter, that’s all. Nothing more, nothing less.


The Festival of Dal’s Sunrise would fall on a Friday. It was, Magdalisa realized, with an odd twist of her gut, the perfect day to plan an escape for Rigo. The High Priest and his most trusted men would be occupied all day at the city square with holy festivities. No one would bother to monitor arrivals and departures from Dalaga.

“I agree,” said Tita Shulin, when Magdalisa told her this, one hot day in the graveyard gardens, “but I don’t see why you can’t go with him.”

“Who, Rigo?” Magdalisa turned her face toward the garden wall. “Don’t be ridiculous, tita, I’m the graveyard keeper.”

“Yes, and so you’ve been for years now. You’re too young to be stuck in a cemetery forever. You wanted to protect Corrazon’s living people, once. That young flyboy of yours, he shares the same dream. Why not make something of it together?”

“In the sky-sailors’ brigade?” Magdalisa asked, incredulous. “What place could they have for a graveyard keeper, a forgotten little witch-girl that no one—”

“Stop that this instant,” said Tita Shulin, suddenly ironlike. “I didn’t indulge that kind of talk from you when you were sixteen, and I certainly won’t indulge it now that you’re grown. You live with the dead, but you are not one of us. You were always going to have to move on, one day.”

“We can argue about my career choices later,” snapped Magdalisa, stomping from the garden. “Right now, I’m going to find Rigo, and share my plan.”

“He’s in love, you know.”

Magdalisa blinked rapidly. “I know, tita. So am I. That’s why I have to set him free.”

She found Rigo in the library, and stared at the ceiling the whole time she recited her plan. She’d considered everything: the little-known catacomb tunnels beneath the cemetery proper, the map to point the way, the back-door entrance hatch just outside the city gate. “Will the other sky-sailors find you?” she asked urgently, when she finished. “They need to be able to find you.”

“Yes,” said Rigo, “and I need to find them. I’d always planned to escape, eventually, but I thought...” In the corner of her eye, hurt skittered across his features for a moment, before smoothing into habitual cheer. “I thought perhaps you’d come too. That’s all.”

Magdalisa closed her eyes. “I can’t,” she whispered. “I’m still the graveyard keeper. I’m sorry.” She swallowed. “Please don’t fight with me about this. I—it may be your only chance, you understand?”

The silence between them felt longer and heavier than any Magdalisa had ever borne. “I do,” said Rigo at last, soft-voiced. “Thank you. For everything.”

Magdalisa heard his footsteps depart the library, but didn’t turn to watch. She didn’t seek him out for a final goodbye, either, when the fateful night fell. To what end? She’d given him his map to freedom. It wouldn’t do, to make salvation harder on either of them than it had to be.


Remember what brought you to Dalaga.”

Mama’s cure-all man works off the books, but he guarantees he can wrest unwanted magic from any human vessel, for the right price. What happens to Magdalisa in his secret shop, in the back alley, isn’t worth remembering. There’s darkness, and pain, and at the end of it all, Magdalisa’s magic, sure enough, bleeding out on to the floor, along with the rest of her. Magic, after all, is tied to the soul.

Mama weeps over her. “I’m sorry, girl. Mama’s so, so sorry.”

Magdalisa’s final, furious thought is that being sorry never fixed anything. Then darkness eats her world.

“I know what brought me to Dalaga, but you have no right to it. You have no right at all.”


Luchia was the one who brought word of the ambush. “It was a trap!” she cried. The ghost burst into Magdalisa’s bedroom in a flurry of cold that sank into Magdalisa’s very bones. “A few of the High Priest’s men, they thought Rigo would take advantage of the festival day to run, so they waited for him at the gate.”

“They’re going to burn him in the city square.” Nia’s voice was quieter than her sister’s. “I’m so sorry, little one.”

Magdalisa sat there in the winter-deep chill of her bedroom, absorbing the ghosts’ words. “Don’t be,” she said at last. Despite the chill, she felt hot beneath the skin.


Tita Shulin appeared then, the only ghost whose face wasn’t a picture of distress. Her fingers found Magdalisa’s, and squeezed tight, just once. Then the touch was gone. “Go on then, kid,” she said. “You know what to do. You’ve always known.”

Magdalisa stood. Her nails bit into her palms, as her heart thrummed with some savage feeling she couldn’t name. It shoved her to her feet, carrying her out the bedroom and up the stairs, to the watchtower’s highest turret, where the remains of Rigo’s paper phoenix still lay spattered with his bloodstains. Standing before the phoenix’s blank-eyed stare, Magdalisa glared up at Dal’s setting red sun.

“I am well and truly sick of my magic being a burden,” she declared. “Witness, for once in my life, my magic is going to work for me.”

Power jumped inside Magdalisa’s veins. Beneath her hands, the paper phoenix rustled and groaned, unfurling its great red wings. Its painted eyes widened, then narrowed at Magdalisa, whose magic curled plumes around them both. With painstaking care, Magdalisa curved her body along the phoenix’s spine, burying her face in the paper feathers. “Help me,” she whispered, fists full of feathers and furious magic. “Help us both.”

The phoenix emitted a great, shrieking war cry. Then, Magdalisa astride its back, launched into the sky.

Clinging to the bird with her knees, Magdalisa scanned the ground until she smelled smoke. “There,” she whispered. She felt the paper phoenix hesitate beneath her. She stroked its bright-painted plumage, power sparking between them. “Don’t worry. You won’t burn. Not under my watch.”

The phoenix dove.

The pyre wasn’t lit yet, but the torches were ready. A crowd had gathered. And someone was tying a familiar, dark-headed figure to the center.

Not under my watch, thought Magdalisa, and dove again.

She barely had time to register the shock on Rigo’s bloodless face, before she’d kicked aside his guard, and pulled the sky-sailor astride his own phoenix. “Miss me?” she shouted, over the crowd’s roar of surprise.

“You have no idea,” he shouted back, and then his arms were wrapped tight around her ribs, as the three of them—the flyboy, the graveyard girl, and the paper phoenix—hurtled away into the star-streaked sky.

“Goodness,” he said, some time later. His arms were still a vise around her bones. It occurred to Magdalisa, as they zigzagged through the air, that his reasons were probably practical, as well as affectionate. “Perhaps you’d best let me steer.”

“Just don’t crash us into the watchtower again. Trouble enough saving your life the first time around.”

Rigo laughed, nose buried against her neck. “Don’t worry. I can land us there nice and easy, now that everyone below is too shocked to shoot in the dark.”

“No,” said Magdalisa. “We’re not going back to Dalaga.”

His hands, subtly reining the phoenix around by its feathers, went briefly still. “Are you sure?”

“Yes.” Magdalisa smiled against the wind, hot-eyed, but certain as the magic pulsing warm and alive beneath her bones. “I am.”

“You’ll have to become a better sky-sailor. For all our sakes, really.”

Without turning around, Magdalisa swatted at his thigh. “I think I’ll manage.”

Rigo went quiet. When he spoke again, his tone was thoughtful. “You know, Wanderers never had permanent physical homes. I think that’s why we share a tradition of telling the stories of what brought us to the places we’ve lived. It’s a way to remember homes that mattered. Homes we carry in our hearts, even when we wander. Will you tell me what brought you to Dalaga?"

Rigo’s arms around her were warm. Resting her head against his chest, listening to the steady rhythm of his heart, Magdalisa told him.


After the end of everything, Magdalisa wakes up. At first, she’s certain she’s dead. For one thing, her entire body aches. For another, Tita Shulin, a year and a half past her funeral date, is staring down into Magdalisa’s eyes.

Magdalisa’s lying in a bed she doesn’t recognize. Barren stone walls surround what look to be a modest, if tidy, room. “If this is the land of Dal’s glorious afterlife,” she croaks, “the High Priest is in for a surprise.”

“I’m afraid not,” her tita says, sounding amused. “We’re merely at Dalaga Cemetery. I don’t blame you for not recognizing the place. The last time you came to the cemetery was for my funeral.”

Magdalisa blinks, wiggling her toes. Something strange sparks between them. “My magic,” she murmurs, heart thudding. “It’s back.”

“Of course it’s back,” says Tita Shulin, nonplussed. “You silly girl. Did you really think the ghosts of Dalaga Cemetery would restore your soul to your body, and neglect something so important?”

Magdalisa glances up at her tita, alarmed. “Then I—”

“You are very much alive, yes, I saw to that.”

“Are you—”

“Still dead, rather.” Tita Shulin shrugs, as if this matters very little. “Eh. It’s not so bad, really. Being a ghost quite suits me.”

Unbidden, Magdalisa’s eyes fill. “I missed you. After you died, Mama was never the same.”

“Ah, kid,” sighs Tita Shulin. An old sorrow colors her features. “Your grandpapa was a hard, small-minded man, and your mama always had more trouble ignoring his harshness than I did. She wanted so much to please him, but she should not have taken that out on you. You’re her child, magical or not.”

“Magic’s what killed me in the first place!”

“No, it is not,” says Tita Shulin. “What tried to kill you—and failed, I might add—is a world that didn’t know how to handle magic properly. The world is often foolish in that way, and cruel. But death isn’t ready for you, yet. Your magic still has work to do. I could tell, all the way here in Dalaga, as soon as I sensed my Magdalisa’s soul struggling to stay tethered to her body.” Tita Shulin taps her heart. “I’m a witch too, remember? Magic always knows. A tita’s heart always knows. So the ghosts of Dalaga did what had to be done.”

Magdalisa swallows the lump in her throat. “But if I’m not dead, what happens now?”

Her tita shrugs. “Eh. The cemetery’s been needing a new graveyard keeper for a while now. The poor gardens are terribly withered. You’ve always been quite good at restoring life, and protecting it. You take after me that way. Why not make some use of those talents, for the moment?”

“All right,” says Magdalisa. “All right, I will. For the moment.” She takes her tita’s hand, and follows her to the gardens, where all the other misguided, defiant women of Corrazon wait, their souls eternal, the life growing green and bright around them beneath Dal’s sun.

“I know what brought me to Dalaga. Somebody loved me. Nothing more, nothing less.”



“Graveyard Girls on Paper Phoenix Wings" is copyright Andrea Tang 2018.

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Thanks for listening, and we’ll be back soon with a selection of three short reprints.


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