3LBE #8
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Angel of the Sand

by
Brian J. Conrad

 

It is hot. The burning disc in the sky sends its rays to crash upon me and scorch the desert land through which I ride. The sand shifts and flows like a powder that grates on everything it touches. It is so bright that it hurts to look at the ground beneath me and the air above it dances with the swirling heat of mid-day. My skin is dry and cracked and the motion of this damned mule on which I ride does nothing to comfort my ailing flesh. Soon it will be night, though, and if the animal survives it may find us water before the morning comes again.

I head down now, down to the sea and I shall pass though the land of my birth. Perhaps I shall pass the mountains of limestone or the ancient granite statue of the lion god which mad Khufu carved his face upon. Perhaps not, though. I must take the most direct route to my destination, and there is no real way of telling where I am. I have walked this Earth for over three thousand years, following those people whom I must follow, speaking the words that I must speak, and slaying those whom I must slay.

I cannot remember the name that I was called in my youth, or what it meant to the people who I loved in my lifetime. I have only been called by one other name, and that one is, to me, a mere resounding echo. It haunts my daydreams as I plod along, squinting against the shifting sands.

The mule died about an hour before sunset and now I walk on my own legs. I drag my sandals, and ache. I am so tired. I cannot stop. I grip the leather-wrapped handle of my ancient curved blade. It is one made of burnt wood and the gray metal that sometimes falls from the sky. It was given to me by Pharaoh himself. It comforts me. I do not know why.

As the stars begin to shine in the east, I watch now for hounds that may dispute my passage here or seek my flesh for a meal. I remember too. That is part of the curse, I think. For I remember often whether I want to or not…

Pharaoh himself summoned me one morning and I kissed my wife and son goodbye. I was the one who survived the battle at the waters. He gave to me my blade and a task. I must hunt down the sorcerer who had stolen so much from us and slay him before all his people. I was to be the Pharaoh’s avenger and the gods went with me at my back. I thanked him for the honor and rode away from the setting sun. Before I left, though, the priests warned me of this man I hunted. They told me of how his god was said to have created all things by calling their Names into the Void, and how he would know Words that would give him power over me. But I laughed. My name is written on hundreds of temple walls and none dared command me, save Pharaoh.

I traveled nearly a fortnight before I caught them, camped as they were by a mountain south of Canaan, west of the Twin River lands. When I reached them, I spoke not a word to their number, but crept to the mountain under the cover of night. I sought the shepherd himself, not his flock.

I climbed the rocky slope, my blade in hand, ever alert for sentries or beasts. I had slain over one hundred men in the Pharaoh’s wars, and would have welcomed the challenge had it come. But it did not. At sunrise I found him, alone, and at some arcane working in stone and light.

He wore a veil and a dark robe. Plates of gold covered his vitals like some ceremonial armor. I feared it not, however, as my blade could slice through that soft metal. I smiled when I saw him. He turned to me but I could not see his face behind the cloth. Perhaps he smiled too.

I called out a challenge to him. I called out his crimes and sentence as dictated to me by Pharaoh. I called him a fool, told him that none were close by to save him, and walked slowly toward him, blade in hand.

He raised his veil and smiled at me. His face glowed with an eerie radiance and his hands reached for a staff on the earth beside him. It was then that he called me a fool, and said that it was I who needed saving. His ally was not of flesh, and was nearer that I thought. I told him that I had withstood his ally on the day of the waves, I feared not his power, nor him. He laughed then and raised his rod. There was a whispering in the air of a thousand voices.

I rushed him.

He spoke a word.

I could not move. That word echoed within me like the eternal ringing of some great bell. It filled me at once with both chaos and peace. My vision became narrow as if in a tunnel and I felt a lump of ice in my belly. My heart raced and the blood thudded in my ears. I could not bear that it go on. My flesh felt as if it was on fire and my hair stood on end. This instant was taking an eternity. Or was time simply stopped, freezing me in this moment of agony? The resonance of the word rang on and on. But it was so familiar too… It was… my… Name.

He cursed me then. I have been cursed ever since.

He has gone, but I live on. For over three thousand years I have slain in his name; the priests of Babylon, the Persian Emperor, the Roman Legions, the Inquisitors of the lazy land by the sea, the Temple knights who enslaved the dark-skinned descendants of his brother to the south. History records that the decimating Syrian armies were stopped at the border of Judah, but it does not tell of the Night of Terror, when no Hebrew slept, listening to the Syrians scream beyond the wall about the Thing That Would Not Die. It also wrongly records the Macabees as the midnight slayers of the Greek Phalanx. Others as well, too many to mention. It would take as long to tell as it did to walk and to do it.

The sun is rising again. I breathe though cracked lips in a constant rasp and hope to cross water soon. I go north now to a land far away. I must find the great Black Forest parted by a river, surrounded by mountains, distant and cold. I must do what the sorcerer did not live to do, what I must do forever more. His people are now my people, though they know me only in legend or not at all.

I shall find the small man with the pale skin and dark eyes who’s shrieking voice has beguiled millions like some black priest of old. I shall seek him out in his palace beneath the ground, surrounded there by his madmen and zealots. With blade in hand, I shall tell him to Let My People Go.

 

 

Brian J. Conrad has long been a fan of horror and science fiction, growing up on the tales of H.P. Lovecraft, Clive Barker, Roger Zelazny, and Fred Saberhagen. This story is his first story sale and he hopes at some distant day to become a writer full time. He lives in Detroit, Michigan and is a mechanical engineer.


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ISSUE #8

March 2001

FICTION

ART