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Forge of Angels

By Kat Blackwood

 

Prologue

 

Shikari woke gasping, choking on smoke, surrounded by half-burned scrolls and books, broken goddess statues -- and the bloodied bodies of mail-clad soldiers and yellow-robed monks. Flames licked blackened beams and fallen timbers.

Agony shot through Shikari’s body with each breath. He put a hand to his chest, and it came away red – a gaping wound revealed a splintered rib and pulsing blood that spilled down his torso like a dark red waterfall. If only he could die here and now and be done with it. But as he watched, the bone knit back together, the bleeding ceased, and the flesh healed until there was only a bloodied gash in his leather armor.

With smoke burning his eyes and lungs, Shikari went to each body, turning them carefully as he checked for signs of life. There were none. “Oh, no, no…” he said softly. He stumbled through a narrow passage to an open colonnade, and leaned on one of the pillars.

A Voice resounded in his mind. “You did this…”

He knew this Voice. He did not like this Voice. “No, I never…”

“You failed to kill Azan when you could have. Now his descendants rule by fire and sword. And you led them here, you fool.”

 “I only wanted—”

“What you want doesn’t matter.”

“—I wanted to —”

“You have to kill them all. Even if it takes a thousand years…”

“I just wanted to remember who I was before you made me a killer!”

“Do you really?” said the Voice.  “Very well…”

The jumble of memories in Shikari’s mind – the long treks to kill tyrants and warlords, to hunt down their offspring – to stop these beings called Dagons -- suddenly cleared. In their place was the figure of a woman in bright armor, her sword flashing in the sun, her cloak and black hair streaming in the wind, her face lit with the fierce joy of battle. She called out: Ur-Avir!

“NO!”

“Had enough?”

“Stop it. Please.”

“Do you want to forget?”

“Yes. Yes. Please.”

The vision faded like smoke on the wind. Hearing shouts in the distance, Shikari gazed down the hill. On the grassy slopes below, men on horseback were turning their mounts and coming this way: he’d been seen.

Wearily he made his way back to the library chamber and cast about for his sword. He found it lodged in the chest of a dead soldier, and yanked it free. He hefted the blade with practiced ease as he waded through the ruined scrolls and scattered pages littering the stone floor. Better use the hallway, he thought. One man can always take on many in a narrow place. He rested a few moments more, wiping the blood from his blade and hands on his breeches, until he heard the clatter of hooves on the paved path leading up to the monastery. He stood in his accustomed fighting stance.  Well, boys, he thought to the soldiers heading his way, today you are dying. Let’s get it over with.

 

Chapter One

“Edgar!” Sheila Whitaker said to the cactus plant on her desk, “I think I’ve seen this before!”

It was early evening, and the Antiquities Archive of Manhattan University was even more quiet than usual. The hum of fluorescent lights, the lack of windows in this back section, and the way the old building muffled the sounds of traffic and sirens outside always made the archive feel timeless. While others her age were out at clubs and bars, Sheila had spent many a long evening here, translating over Chinese takeout with her boss, Garrett Dockery.

She was studying a photocopied document Garrett had given her to translate. The script looked like cuneiform with its stylized, wedge-like marks, but it wasn’t in any known language from the Bronze Age – the period when such writing was used. This was the second sample her boss had given her. It had taken Sheila a few weeks to crack the first sample, and she’d been so engrossed in the translation process that she hadn’t thought much about the source.

But now she recalled why it had seemed familiar to her. 

Sheila typed “Altai Manuscript” into the search bar on her PC. The search pulled up images of a document discovered a century ago in the ruins of a Central Asian monastery. Sheila had read about it years ago. The Altai Manuscript had puzzled scholars for several years: the book itself was clearly of medieval origin, but the cuneiform script written in its pages was far, far older.  How could a medieval monk possibly be familiar with such an ancient form of writing – a form predating Latin and Greek by a thousand years at least? When the best linguists of the early 20th century had failed to translate it, the Altai Manuscript had been declared a hoax and promptly relegated to the trash bin of linguistic history, a mere curiosity.

Sheila compared the patterns of symbols in the document her boss had given her to an image of the Altai Manuscript. They matched up perfectly.

“Edgar,” Sheila gasped. “This is impossible! Everyone thought this was a hoax. But…”

But Sheila Whitaker, an unimportant archive employee at Manhattan University, in her little cubicle amidst the clutter of dusty antiquities, had translated it.

Edgar, of course, didn’t have anything to say. 

“Garrett,” she called toward the open door across the room. “Did you know about this?”

 

 

 

 

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