There is a school of thought that says that the best story in any collection should be placed as the next to last. I’m not sure I agree with this as it seems to me to be leaving it far too late, but certainly “The First Trial of Jermaish the King” by Michael Ehart is a real treat and one of the best here.
Ninshi and her adoptive daughter, Miri, are requested to travel to the aid of King Jermaish. Ninshi has a fearsome reputation, the truth to it being “much grimmer than even the songs.” She has lived forty lifetimes and has “been taken in bondage by a dreadful monster, which every few moons compelled her to lure men into the desert and kill them for it to feed upon.” Nevertheless, it seems that there is some history between Ninshi and Jermaish, and so she will help him in his time of need.
On arrival at the city of Ikizepe, Ninshi and Miri learn that a terrible killing force is loose in the city. Any woman who has not given birth to a child is at risk of being viciously killed. Ninshi formulates a plan to discover the killer or killers. The trail has twists and turns, a terrific fight with a genuinely scary creature (no stock werewolves or zombies here), and a convincing motivation for the killings. This is excellent work by Ehart, with memorable characters and sure-footed plotting. It is a murder mystery, of course. But also a terrific fantasy adventure.
The entire issue is good reading, and with Flashing Swords it is important to remember that the print version is only available for a limited time, so scoot over and get yours!