Of angels and mercy
My new weird western featuring the fallen angel gunslinger Azrael has gone live over at Beneath Ceaseless Skies. This one’s called “The Angel Azrael Delivers Small Mercies” and it’s a bit nasty. It’s a sequel to the first Azrael story, “The Angel Azrael Rode Into the Town of Burnt Church on a Dead Horse,” which BCS also published. Bonus feature: There’s an audio version, complete with sound effects. And yes, there are more Azrael stories on the way.
While you’re checking out BCS, do read the other story in the current issue, “Beyond the Shrinking World,” by Nathaniel Katz. I don’t even know how to describe it, which is a compliment for me, but imagine if Borges were a fantasy writer, and you’ll have an idea. (OK, OK, I know Borges was a fantasy writer in a lot of ways….)
Here’s the intro for “Small Mercies”:
The angel Azrael surveyed the remains of the town. The place was as dead as the horse he sat on. Broken Whiskey hadn’t been much before the end came, and it was even less now. The buildings were charred ruins and the air so much smoke and ash. Whatever hell had been visited upon the townsfolk, it had been devastating and complete.
And recent. So recent, in fact, the bodies of the men and women that decorated the buildings and streets, as if thrown there by a wayward child, were still largely untouched by animals and insects alike. Although the pair of buzzards that followed Azrael everywhere were circling lower in the sky, doing their own surveying.
The mayhem didn’t spook Azrael’s horse any more than it spooked him. Nothing had spooked it since he’d raised it from the dead. The horses of the men with him, on the other hand, were as skittish as if they smelled hellspawn on the wind. Maybe they did. But Azrael reckoned it was more likely the opposite of hellspawn that had done this.
One of the men spat on the ground and the moisture sizzled away. The earth was still smoking hot in patches from the damnation that had happened here. None of the men said anything. They all watched Azrael without really looking at him. They drummed their fingers on their saddles and the butts of their guns, but they waited for him to speak. They had enough sense to be wary around an angel.
Azrael nodded. “This is indeed the work of one of the seraphim,” he said.
“What in all the hells is a seraphim?” the man who’d spat asked.
“He means an angel, you fucking coal-eater,” one of the others said. The man who’d first stopped Azrael on the road with a cross in one hand and a pistol in the other. As though either would have meant anything to Azrael if he’d declined to ride with the man and his friends to investigate their tale of a winged woman raining destruction down from the skies. Azrael had gone along with them more out of curiosity than anything else. He’d smelled the towns burning long before the man with the cross had ridden out of the horizon toward him. And it had been a long time since he’d encountered another angel. There were few of his kind left now. This world ground everything down to dust eventually, even the Fallen.
The other man just spat again, showing his opinion on the difference between the words, or maybe just his opinion of angels in general.
Azrael knew the truth was there was a legion of abominations that could have turned this place into the hell it had become for its inhabitants. But he could see things the mortal men around him couldn’t. Or maybe he just saw the same things in different ways. He could tell from his first glance that it was an angel responsible for this massacre. He even knew which one.
“Can you kill it?” another of the men asked. The one with all the scars. The only one besides Azrael who looked at the bodies and didn’t wince or turn his head away. Not that there was anywhere to look where there weren’t bodies.
“Everything dies in the end,” Azrael said. Something he’d read once in a book.
“What’s your price to stop this abomination?” the last man asked. The one who wore the fine suit and held the cloth to his nose. The one whose purse clinked with the weight of coins.
“You can’t afford me,” Azrael said, which was true in its own way. He looked away from the ruin of the town and out into the wasteland beyond. How many more towns out there like this one?
“All the money you want,” the man with the coins said. “Women. Whiskey. Name your price. And don’t tell me you don’t have one, because everything does.”
“A thousand years from now, this town would have been dust anyway,” Azrael said. He’d seen it before. All the works of men and gods were dust in the end. It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered.
“We’ll give you your own damned town to destroy if that’s what you want,” the man who’d first stopped him said. “As long as the others get left alone by you and your kind.”
Azrael saw the logic in that. What was the price of one town if it meant saving dozens more? Even if a dozen had already been lost. What was the price to stave off destruction for a few more decades or centuries? But it wasn’t a town of his own he wanted. If that had been the case, he would have taken what he wanted. And no one would have been able to stop him any more than the dead all around them had stopped the other angel.
Azrael didn’t say anything, and the day lengthened into stillness. They watched the buzzards feed on a man impaled on the church spire.
“Hell, you can have my soul if you’re so inclined,” the one with the scars finally said. “For all the good it’ll do you.”
Azrael nodded. “I’ll do what I can,” he said. “But I make no oaths.”
They all looked at him. The man with the scars chewed the inside of his lip for a moment, then nodded himself.
“Fair enough,” he said.
“I don’t need any payment,” Azrael said. “I just wanted to know there was still someone worth doing this for.”
With that, he turned his dead horse away from the town and rode out into the wasteland. Somewhere out there was the angel Erafel.