A Sky Beyond the Storm by Sabaa Tahir

Part I


            Waking





I: The Nightbringer




            I awoke in the glow of a young world, when man knew of hunting but not tilling, of stone but not steel. It smelled of rain and earth and life. It smelled of hope.

            Arise, beloved.

            The voice that spoke was laden with millennia beyond my ken. The voice of a father, a mother. A creator and a destroyer. The voice of Mauth, who is Death himself.

            Arise, child of flame. Arise, for thy home awaits thee.

            Would that I had not learned to cherish it, my home. Would that I had unearthed no magic, loved no wife, sparked no children, gentled no ghosts. Would that Mauth had never named me.



            “Meherya.”

            My name drags me out of the past to a rain-swept hilltop in the Mariner countryside. My old home is the Waiting Place—known to humans as the Forest of Dusk. I will make my new home upon the bones of my foes.

            “Meherya.” Umber’s sun-bright eyes are the vermillion of ancient anger. “We await your orders.” She grips a glaive in her left hand, its blade white with heat.

            “Have the ghuls reported in yet?”

            Umber’s lip curls. “They scoured Delphinium. Antium. Even the Waiting Place,” she says. “They could not find the girl. Neither she nor the Blood Shrike has been seen for weeks.”

            “Have the ghuls seek out Darin of Serra in Marinn,” I say. “He forges weapons in the port city of Adisa. Eventually, they will reunite.”

            Umber inclines her head and we regard the village below us, a hodgepodge of stone homes that can withstand fire, adorned with wooden shingles that cannot. Though it is mostly identical to other hamlets we’ve destroyed, it has one distinction. It is the last settlement in our campaign. Our parting volley in Marinn before I send the Martials south to join the rest of Keris Veturia’s army.

            “The humans are ready to attack, Meherya.” Umber’s glow reddens, her disgust of our Martial allies palpable.

            “Give the order,” I tell her. Behind me, one by one, my kin transform from shadow to flame, lighting the cold sky.

            A warning bell tolls in the village. The watchman has seen us, and bellows in panic. The front gates—hastily erected after attacks on neighboring communities—swing closed as lamps flare and shouts tinge the night air with terror.

            “Seal the exits,” I tell Umber. “Leave the children to carry the tale. Maro.” I turn to a wisp of a jinn, his narrow shoulders belying the power within. “Are you strong enough for what you must do?”

            Maro nods. He and the others pour past me, five rivers of fire, like those that spew from young mountains in the south. The jinn blast through the gates, leaving them smoking.

            A half legion of Martials follow, and when the village is well aflame and my kin withdraw, the soldiers begin their butchery. The screams of the living fade quickly. Those of the dead echo for longer.

            After the village is naught but ashes, Umber finds me. Like the other jinn, she now glows with only the barest flicker.

            “The winds are fair,” I tell her. “You will reach home swiftly.”

            “We wish to remain with you, Meherya,” she says. “We are strong.”

            For a millennium, I believed that vengeance and wrath were my lot. Never would I witness the beauty of my kind moving through the world. Never would I feel the warmth of their flame.

            But time and tenacity allowed me to reconstitute the Star—the weapon the Augurs used to imprison my people. The same weapon I used to set them free. Now the strongest of my kin gather near. And though it has been months since I destroyed the trees imprisoning them, my skin still trills at their presence.

            “Go,” I order them gently. “For I will need you in the coming days.”

            After they leave, I walk the cobbled streets of the village, sniffing for signs of life. Umber lost her children, her parents, and her lover in our long-ago war with the humans. Her rage has made her thorough.

            A gust of wind carries me to the south wall of the village. The air tells of the violence wrought here. But there is another scent too.