Authors: Christine Pope
his is a work of fiction
. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, places, organizations, or persons, whether living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2016 by Christine Pope
Published by Dark Valentine Press
Cover design by Lou Harper
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems — except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews — without permission in writing from its publisher, Dark Valentine Press.
Please contact the author through the form on her website at
if you experience any formatting or readability issues with this book.
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he ground rumbled
under her feet. Out of instinct, Madison Reynolds hugged the side of the building that had once housed a check-cashing place, her eyes scanning the area for any signs of djinn activity. As far as she could tell, she was alone, the city blocks stretching empty around her in every direction. She hadn’t seen another human soul for more than a year. The djinn were a different story, but she’d learned to avoid them, to look for the telltale billows of smoke in the sky or the rustling of strange winds or an unexpected trembling of the ground.
But this — this hadn’t felt like one of those tremors, although the movement of the cracked pavement beneath her feet sent adrenaline spiking all through her body, telling her to take cover immediately. Once she realized she hadn’t seen any djinn in the vicinity, her heartbeat slowed a little, and she tried to make herself analyze what she’d just experienced.
The Albuquerque area wasn’t all that seismically active; they’d had a minor quake here and there in the past, but nothing like the shaking she’d just experienced. It was the kind of shock that could have brought down unreinforced buildings, and it felt as if it had come from farther to the west, past the train station.
Madison hesitated. Her curiosity was urging her to head toward the source of the temblor, just to see what the hell was going on, but she knew that the farther away she got from home base, the more dangerous her return trip would be. Then she wanted to laugh at herself. She’d gone a good deal farther than this in the past, tempting fate as she ranged through the empty spaces of what used to be New Mexico’s largest city, using the near-silent electric bicycle that had been part of her shelter’s stock of survival equipment.
For the first few months after the world was forever changed, she’d kept hoping that maybe she’d find someone. Could the combination of the Heat and the arrival of the djinn who followed that dread disease really have killed off every single man, woman, and child in the greater Albuquerque metro area?
So far, the answer to that question appeared to be yes.
But there had been that one group she’d spotted less than a week after the Heat had struck. Madison had ventured out from her refuge, thinking that if she was immune, then logic suggested there must be others like her. At that point, the djinn were still only a legend from fairytales and stories to her, not a real and all-too-formidable threat, and so she hadn’t thought she was risking herself by going out into the city to look for other survivors. She’d armed herself, though; she knew that any survivors out there could very well be desperate, unsure as to what had really happened, scrounging in the empty spaces of the city for any food that might have survived the collapse of the power grid.
And she’d seen the group of people, a mix of men and women, as she huddled in the shelter of an alley. They’d all looked tired and frightened.
Well, all except one of them. The man in the lead had appeared to be in his late forties, with short-cropped dark hair and cold, dark eyes. He wore Army fatigues, although Madison hadn’t been close enough to make out any insignia. Something about his expression chilled her, and although she’d thought she would be happy to see another person — as long as that person appeared more or less friendly — that man had scared the crap out of her. Instead of going out to greet the little group of survivors, she’d remained in the alleyway’s shadows, watching as they went by. One of the women had been strikingly pretty, with long warm blonde hair, and for the barest second her gaze had flickered toward the alley where Madison hid. But then she’d shrugged and moved on with the rest of her group.
Ever since that time, more than a year ago now, Madison couldn’t keep herself from wondering what had happened to them. She supposed it was possible they had found a refuge somewhere, but she somehow doubted it. The djinn had been merciless in hunting down the pitiful remnants of Albuquerque’s population that had survived the Heat.
Now she paused, glancing up at the sky, then back to the empty streets around her. Nothing moved, except a sun-bleached newspaper rattling up against the curb, blown there by one of New Mexico’s ceaseless winds.
Then it came again — a shock so strong that again she had to steady herself against the wall of the check-cashing place. Across the street, a piece of brick fell off the building’s façade and shattered on the sidewalk.
She frowned. That tremor hadn’t felt so much like an earthquake as some sort of heavy demolition equipment at work. But there was no one left who could be using that kind of equipment. Most days, Madison was pretty sure she had to be the only human being left alive in New Mexico, if not the entire world.
Her curiosity wouldn’t let it alone. Loosening her pistol in its holster — not that a gun was probably of much use against a djinn — she slipped out from the alley where she stood, and headed west toward the source of the disturbance.
* * *
was not happy. True, he hadn’t been punished outright by the djinn elders for his actions back in Santa Fe, where he’d been complicit in the kidnapping of Zahrias al-Harith, the head of that city’s contingent of djinn and their Chosen. Qadim’s involvement was due almost entirely to his sister Lyanna’s machinations and her ridiculous obsession with Zahrias, and though Qadim had changed his mind at the end and had even assisted the Santa Fe djinn in reclaiming their kidnapped leader, apparently that hadn’t been enough to redeem himself. He soon realized that the Council would have their own subtle revenge.
The djinn had taken this world from the humans when it became clear that they could no longer be trusted to be its stewards. Although Qadim had not been one of those who concocted the illness the humans had referred to as the Heat, he also had not done anything to prevent it from being made, or released upon an unsuspecting population. Like most of his people, he had wearied of the otherworld where they had all been banished for countless millennia, and was glad enough of the prospect of getting his own piece of land here on Earth once the humans were gone.
That land had not been denied him…but the Council had had their little joke.
“We have decided upon your grant,” Ashtar had said, green eyes glinting with an amusement she did not bother to hide.
“Yes?” Qadim had come to their palace in the otherworld at the Council’s summons, hoping that if he presented a meek enough aspect, they would believe he was not at all proud of what he had done to help his sister Lyanna in her foolish quest to regain Zahrias al-Harith’s love, and that he regretted any pain he had caused.
None of that was precisely untrue. Qadim had regretted his actions soon enough, fearing that they would prevent him from receiving the land he thought was his due. And he regretted that al-Harith’s woman, Julia Innes, had been so besotted with Zahrias that she wouldn’t allow herself to explore what it might have been like to be with him instead.
But as far as regretting the kidnapping in the first place…that was a very different story.
Ashtar’s emerald-hued eyes had seemed to bore into him as he stood there before the leaders of his people, as if she could see into his soul and read the truth there. However, while the Council were all very powerful djinn, each with his or her own particular gifts, Qadim did not think the woman before him possessed the ability to spy on his very thoughts. “We have decided that you would do best in the place the mortals called Albuquerque.”
Anger had flared in him at her words, although he had somehow managed to keep himself from retorting that he did not think he would do very well there at all. Because of his sister’s obsession with Zahrias al-Harith, who dwelled in Santa Fe, Qadim had acquired some familiarity with the region humans had once called New Mexico, and so he knew that while the state had vast tracts of undeveloped land, some of it quite beautiful, Albuquerque was the very opposite of undeveloped, a sprawling cityscape crowded with ugly architecture and all the artifacts of human technology he so despised. It would require years to be made over into anything resembling a livable place, even when using his talents as an earth elemental to reshape that territory.
But he had also known that he couldn’t argue, that he had to bow his head and pretend to be pleased by the Council’s magnanimity. At any rate, he had his sister’s fate to remind him that this could have been much worse. Because of her plotting, and because she had threatened al-Harith’s Chosen, Lyanna would be exiled forever in the otherworld, with its barren, rocky landscape and roiling skies and acrid air. She would live in the intricate palace she had constructed, true, but she would not be allowed to breathe the sweet air of this world, to revel in its blue skies and green hills.
Yes, there were far worse things than being stuck with Albuquerque.
He’d bowed and smiled, and made his escape as soon as he could. And then he’d come down to Earth, to what had once been the most populous city in New Mexico, to see what possibly could be done.
The task did seem monumental. Almost as far as the eye could see were buildings in all shapes and sizes, the contorted black ribbon of a highway interchange, the sprawling airport with its abandoned planes rusting on the tarmac. Yes, the outline of the mountains to the east was pleasing, and at sunset they turned a glorious reddish-pink shade, but everything that lay between there and here would have to go.
His power was of the earth, and so at least Qadim could use the earth itself against the monstrous structures of steel and glass. He’d decided it would be best to start in the heart of the city and work outward from there.
The first building he inspected, however, surprised him. From the outside, it was nondescript enough, a multi-story tower of sand-colored concrete, but within were furnishings as intricate as those one might find in a djinn palace, with grottos of various designs, and carved screens and hand-painted tile. Its name was emblazoned on one of the abandoned menus in the empty restaurant.
Qadim thought he should make this his base of operations, his temporary home, so to speak, until he could construct a palace of his own. He brought to the hotel such items as he thought would be necessary to his comfort, and took up residence in the suite on the top floor. After that, though, it was time to get to work.
Next to the hotel was a parking structure. By some great good luck, it was mostly empty. Perhaps the people who would have normally parked there had stayed home because of the Heat, praying that the disease would pass them by. But it had spared very few, and those who had survived had been hunted down soon enough.
Qadim had taken no part in those hunts, even though the invitation had been extended to him on more than one occasion. While he had agreed that humanity was — for the most part — a festering boil that needed to be lanced, he knew he would take no pleasure in tracking down the few remaining survivors, pitiful creatures that they were. He saw no honor in hunting those who had no special abilities that might save them. So he had always demurred, even though his refusal to participate in those hunts had raised a few eyebrows here and there.
“What,” Hasan al-Abyad had said once, “are you rethinking your decision not to take on a Chosen? For I can see no other reason, besides believing that a human female is a worthy companion, why you would not want to join us in exterminating these mortals. It is great sport.”
“Oh, no,” Qadim had replied with a chuckle, although once again he failed to see the sport in murdering defenseless humans. “I cannot see the point in tying myself down to a single woman for all eternity, especially a mortal.”
“But she would not be mortal any longer, once you had chosen her.”
“True, but you know me, Hasan. When have I ever spent more than a few decades with any woman? If I could not bear to spend any more time than that with a djinn, why would I wish to do so with a human?”
Hasan had laughed at that remark, and agreed it did not make much sense, and that had seemed to be the end of the matter. Truly, Qadim hadn’t understood why a djinn would want a human at all, when their own women promised so many delights.
That is, until he had met Julia Innes. Her beauty was such that it would have stood out in any company, mortal or djinn. And she was as strong and passionate as she was beautiful. Zahrias al-Harith didn’t deserve her, for Qadim knew she would be bored with him soon enough. He was far too rigid, too concerned with honor. She would have found eternity far more amusing at Qadim’s side.
But she had made her choice, and there was nothing he could do about it, save brood over her folly from time to time, and think that she had made a foolish choice. As for himself, well, he had never wanted for female companions, although he worried now that a woman of his own kind might not be too terribly impressed with his new holdings, would rather be with someone who had been given miles of beach in California, or a mountain eyrie somewhere in the Swiss Alps.
In the meantime, he supposed he must do what he had to.