Authors: Joseph Robert Lewis
Angels and Djinn:
Joseph Robert Lewis
Angels and Djinn series:
Copper Crow Books
Copyright © 2014 Joseph Robert Lewis
Cover by Laura Sava
Edition: July 2014
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without permission in writing from Joseph Robert Lewis.
Iyasu dashed into the middle of the dusty road and held out his empty hands in a flourish that made his white robes flare around his legs as he smiled at all the people who wanted to kill him and each other.
To his left stood eight Nahai hunters, tall men in bright red shukas, their braided hair weighted down with black and white beads, and their long slender spears ready in their hands. To his right stood thirteen men and women from the Mrin freelands, dressed in shades of brown and yellow, their hair tall and unbound, each gripping a three-bladed throwing axe. They were all arrayed around a barren crossroads, the intersection of two faint scars in the plains where, if anything had ever been built, there was no trace of it anymore.
“Now just a minute, just one minute, please,” Iyasu called out earnestly. “I’m sure, in fact I’m positive, that killing each other isn’t going to make anyone happy. It won’t bring back the dead, or cure the sick. And it definitely won’t put any more water in that very sad little well over there.”
He nodded at the well in question, a muddy ring of stones fencing in a black hole in the ground where he knew there was less than half a bucket of water. He hadn’t actually looked into it, but he could see the flash of sunlight reflected off the surface of the water on the side of the well, and that was enough for him. That was all the young seer needed to see to know the truth.
“We came first,” one of the Nahai said. “The water is ours.”
One of the Mrin women called out something in Mrindi, which made no sense at all to Iyasu because he couldn’t speak a word of that language, but it didn’t sound charitable.
Iyasu looked at the speaker and held up one finger. “Yes, we could do that, or,
, we could all take a little stroll just there, over that little rise, and we could all have a nice long drink at a proper river. Seriously, there is a lovely little river just over there, it would only take a few minutes to get there, half an hour at most, lots of lovely water, what do you say?”
He mimed drinking and made several signs for water, and tried the word for water in the half dozen languages he did know, but both the Nahai hunters and the Mrin freelancers ignored him.
One of the Nahai raised his spear.
“Oh no, please, don’t do that.” Iyasu shook his head at the man. “Really, you do not want to do that. Bad things will happen if you do that. So let’s do this my way, just try it. We walk over there together and everyone drinks and nobody dies. You don’t even have to be anywhere near each other, if you really don’t like each other. But no one has to die. Please?”
He gestured toward the unseen river, still smiling, as he tried to herd them all together, but he could feel the moment slipping away from him. He’d arrived too late, after too many threats and insults had been traded, and running out into the road between the two groups had been one of the more desperate gambles he’d made lately. Just a glance across their faces told him of their exhaustion and anger, and their frustration and fear. He could see it etched into the lines around their eyes and cracked lips, and he knew how very fragile this moment of peace was.
A Mrin woman whipped her arm back to hurl her axe, and Iyasu cringed.
A dark storm of dust and black feathers shrieked into the road, blinding everyone with clawing sand and inky shadows. Iyasu sighed and closed his eyes, massaging his temples as he stood very still in the center of the road, listening to the sounds of flesh pummeling flesh, of weapons flying, of steel clattering on steel, and of bodies thumping down to the ground.
When it all fell silent, Iyasu opened his eyes just as the dust was settling and surveyed the damage. All eight of the Nahai hunters lay sprawled on their backs, their spears reduced to splinters. All thirteen of the Mrin freelancers lay in a heap and their axes were nowhere to be seen.
“I’m sorry. I really am.” The seer shook his head at them. “I told you bad things would happen.”
“And I told you that they wouldn’t listen.” Azrael stood beside him, her arms folded across her chest as she frowned at the scene around them. Already her huge black wings were fading away, vanishing into the warm summer air, but the divine fire in her eyes blazed a moment longer, lingering even as her rage lingered in her mind. But then she blinked and the angel was gone and only the woman remained.
Iyasu shrugged. “I had to try.”
“I know.” She squeezed his shoulder and kissed his cheek, and started walking away.
Iyasu followed her, carefully skirting the fallen Nahai. He could see them all still breathing, and one of them moaned softly and squinted up at the passing seer.
“Don’t worry, you’ll live. You’ll all live.” Iyasu offered a sympathetic smile. “If it makes you feel any better, she doesn’t kill, not ever. Odd as it may sound, the Angel of Death can’t actually kill anyone. You see, she doesn’t make death. She
death. Make sense?”
The hunter clearly didn’t understand a word the seer had said, and Iyasu hurried on up the road after the woman in the dark flowing dress. It was a mild day and the sun shone brightly but not harshly upon the wide open grasslands. As they climbed the eastward road, the thin silver line of the little river slithered into view on his right, and farther off to the east his keen eyes could just barely see the bright blur of a calm lake dotted with thousands of pale flecks.
“Sometimes I don’t think we’re doing any good,” she said.
“No, Rael, you can’t think that, never think that.” He shook his head. “Did we teach those people back there to love each other and come together in peace and harmony? No. Not really as such. But their weapons are gone, and they’re probably not going to kill anyone today. I call that a win.”
“We’ve done better.”
“Absolutely, we have.” Iyasu grinned. “Saved whole towns, just you and me. Thousands of lives. But they can’t all be great days. Some days are just… days. But that’s still better than a bad day, right?”
“I suppose.” She reached back and intertwined her fingers with his. “It’s just frustrating. Sometimes. I don’t like standing back and waiting for something to go wrong. Sometimes I just want to go in first and do things my way. It’s faster.”
“Faster, yes. But… if we’re going to change the world, then we need to change their minds, not just break their bones.” He sighed. “So, do you want to keep heading toward the coast, or…”
They both looked upward as a dull roar began to shake the air around them. The sudden thunderclap made Iyasu wince and shake his head, and then he turned to look west to watch the lightning dancing across the plains. “Storm’s coming.”
They walked on a short ways until they found a high rocky spot above the level of the road. The seer sat on the rock with his legs folded in front of him, and Azrael sat down facing him. He looked into her dark eyes and saw the flicker of golden fire emerge as the two great black wings erupted from her back, spreading high above them like dark flames reaching for the sun. And then she bent her wings down and folded them over their two bodies to form a feathered shelter around them, overlapping tightly to blot out the sky and shield them from the rain.
Iyasu reached out and took her hands and ran his fingers lightly over hers as the sounds of the rain came closer and closer. Soon the drops were pattering on her feathers, and the thunder crashed as glaring flashes of white light played across the ground beneath the tips of her wings.
“Tell you what,” he said softly between the rumbles of the clouds. “When we get back on the road, I promise to find you a place where we can save ten thousand people.”
She smiled. “Is that all?”
thousand, I meant to say.” He smiled back. “And… we’ll cure aging so everyone can stay young and healthy forever.”
“And we’ll teach everyone how to do that thing we did in bed last night, because frankly, I can’t imagine anyone ever getting up to any mischief ever again once they know that.”
She laughed softly and kissed his lips. “I like that plan.”
“Good. It’s a very good plan. One of my best.”
She squeezed his hand as her smile faded. “I love you, Yasu.”
“I love you too.”
They leaned together, resting their heads on each others’ shoulders, closing their eyes and feeling the heat of their skin mingling as the rain washed the world clean and the thunderclouds raged across the sky.
Iyasu awoke from a dreamless sleep and leaned back as Azrael straightened up and let her wings simply fade into the sultry air. All around them the world had been transformed from a dry and dusty place of naked earth and tall grasses into a vast, shimmering marsh of clear waters standing no deeper than his thumbnail, but deep enough to make the tufts of grass into bright green islands strewn across the shallow sun-splashed sea.
Only their rocky seat remained above the water, and they surveyed the new landscape from their dry perch for a long moment in silence.
“It’s beautiful,” she said.
He could hear the intensity in her voice, the pure joy she took from the sight of the world, but he could also see the pain in her eyes. The same pain, the old pain, the endless pain. Behind those dark eyes, the angel was seeing the faces of every human being at their moment of death, in their last moment of fear and anger and regret, in places covered in ice and drowned in water and baked by the sun, writhing in agony, or hunger, or terror. Face after face, every moment of every day, forever.
They used to speak of it more often, but there was only so much either of them could say. He knew what she suffered, and she seemed to take solace in that, and it was enough for her. Or at least it seemed to be, for now.
“Are you ready to go?” he asked.
She nodded and they stepped down into the vast puddle that had drowned the grasslands and was already slowly being pulled down into the thirsty earth.
They started to walk, sloshing quietly along the muddy road, but they stopped short as a high-pitched cry rang out overhead. Iyasu looked up and saw a white-bellied raptor with dark wings and a black head circling above them. “Well, that’s encouraging.”
The bird of prey circled again, spiraling closer and closer to them, and then finally swept down to perch on the dry rock they had just stepped away from. Iyasu recognized it quickly as a martial eagle, a bird he had seen several times in the southern forests.
“They eat monkeys,” he said absently. It was the only thing he knew about them.
Azrael raised an eyebrow and turned to leave.
“Wait!” Iyasu pointed at the bird. Tied to its left leg was a small white shape, a tiny scroll of paper bound in a thin green vine. “It’s a message.”
Iyasu glanced around at the empty grasslands. “Possibly. It could be from Zerai.” He shuffled slowly toward the huge eagle with his empty hand outstretched in what he hoped was a friendly gesture. “Here eagle, nice eagle.”
The bird raised its wings and shrieked at him, and then leapt into the air with a few powerful flaps, and perched on the raised arm of the Angel of Death. Azrael regarded the bird for a moment, glanced down at the huge talons gripping her arm, and then deftly removed the note from its leg and tossed it to Iyasu.
“Right. That’s what I was going to do.” He unrolled the note and read it quickly. Then he blinked and read it again. “They want us to come back to Naj Kuvari.”
“Is Raziel in trouble again?”
“No, it’s not about him. It’s about Shivala.” He looked up at her. “The city is under attack.”
They stood in the road for a long quiet moment, looking at each other.
She nodded and nudged the eagle to take flight, and she watched it soar off toward the north. “Then, I suppose we should hurry back.”
“Or… not, maybe?”
She looked at him. “What?”
“I don’t want to,” he said quietly. He stood very still, staring into her eyes. “I don’t want to go back there. Not yet. Not now. Please.”
He swallowed and looked away. “Because whatever is happening there… it’s going to be bad. Awful. Horrifying. Deadly. It always is. People will die.”