Aphelion Issue 262, Volume 25
June 2021
 
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Morning, Lord

by Mehran Baluch




Kynan One-Eye, able seaman first class (but ‘third rate’ according to his captain), leaned against the smooth railing of the pirate vessel Red Raven, using a borrowed spyglass to search the flat horizon. They were making slow progress in this becalmed weather, even at full sail, but Captain Hadley was adamant that they might come across another prize in these busy shipping straits, like the fat Torzian merchant vessel they’d raided yesterday.

He saw nothing but the fractal diamond glare of the sea and hot blue sky. His face was mercifully shaded by the wide-brimmed black hat he’d claimed as part of his share. But even so his skin was baking in the scorching overhead sun. Right, time for a piss.

He always pissed off the bow, at an angle, enjoying the company of the bare-breasted (and improbably proportioned) figurehead they called Mary Red. He sighed contentedly as he let loose an arc of urine, spyglass tucked into his left armpit.

So that was how the angel found him.

A resonant and mellifluous voice boomed behind him. In fact, it was so loud, he could feel the vibrations reverberating through his spine.

“Mortal being! Rejoice! For you have been called to serve this day.”

Kynan squawked in alarm, dropping the spyglass (which disappeared with a plop into the waves below) and turned.

The angel had blue skin, glowing white eyes, and a thick black beard in a broad smiling face. Ten-feet tall, heavily muscled and sheathed in gleaming gold armour, winged helmet and greaves. His form was wreathed in a thin nimbus of white light, and his left fist gripped a silver barbed spear. He also had large white wings, currently outspread. Right now, he was frowning a little as yellow piss splashed across his sandaled feet. He looked back up at Kynan, quirking an eyebrow. The arc petered out.

“What – what. What?!” Kynan sputtered, wide-eyed with terror, half-clambering up the bowsprit in shock.

The angel carefully shook the piss off each foot before replying. “You are the pirate crewman known as Kynan One-Eye? Although your family name is actually, hmm, Brown? Originally from Newport?”

“Y-yes,” Kynan managed, still scrabbling backwards horizontally onto the bowsprit, wildly looking around for help. None of the other pirates were in sight.

The angel beamed. “Wonderful. This shouldn’t take long then. I am Melmot, third Solar of the Sunlord’s Seventh Host. You have been called to the service of His Celestial Light.”

“I’m sorry. Could you repeat that?”

“No.”

There was an awkward pause during which Kynan wrapped both ankles around the wooden bowsprit behind him, both hands gripping the spar in front of him. The angel Melmot watched him do this, bemused. Lifting its right hand, it began to count off points in its booming voice.

“One. There are gods of this realm. You have known this since you were a scrap, but you have never worshipped one, nor paid any the slightest consideration. Between that and your chosen profession...” the angel coughed delicately, “... your soul is, well, let’s use the word ‘tarnished’, shall we?”

“I’ve been... busy?”

“Two,” Melmot went on, “I have the eternal honour to serve the glorious Sunlord, His Celestial Eminence, God of the Dawn, Day and Resurrection, Alazar the Undying Light.”

Beneath Kynan, there was a tortured creak of wood. Mary Red the ample-bosomed figurehead was twisting her head to look up at him, shedding wood-chips and paint-flakes. She winked at Kynan as he gawped down at her disbelievingly. This was... new.

“He means Alazar the Sun God,” she stage-whispered helpfully. Her red hair moved, the chestnut whorls bobbing as she spoke.

“Three,” Melmot continued, “you, lucky mortal, have been singularly chosen by my Divine Lord for a special purpose. You will renounce piracy, and take up the cloth of the clergy. Once sanctified by His Divine Grace, your destiny shall be revealed to you, and you will do all that you can to fulfil it, for the glory of Him, forever and ever, amen, that you may take your eventual rest in His Heavenly Kingdom.”

With a loud creak, the bowsprit cracked and bowed, and Kynan lurched as his weight made him see-saw in the air. Eyes wide, he lost his grip and plummeted, flailing. Splash.

“Four,” added Mary Red drily, “you’ve got your work cut out for you. Sure that’s the right one?”

The angel sighed, looking down into the water. “It would take a miracle,” he muttered.

“Hold up. Before you save him, would you mind using that divine mojo to do a lady a favour?” she gestured her meaning, and he understood. Instantly her breasts shrunk to half their size, and the figurehead was now fully clothed in a white blouse, trousers, and a head kerchief.

“Ah! My back feels better already. Thanks fella.”

“Milady,” the angel nodded politely, and then took a large step off the bow. Splash.


#####



“I believe! I believe!”

“No, you really don’t. But you are starting to, and will in time.”

“Then, I-I accept, I accept the call! Don’t leave me here to drown! Where do I sign?”

The angel jabbed a meaty finger into his chest. “Here,” it said.


#####



Five years later, in a dank labyrinth of caverns beneath the old Meliaenas Woods, a motley group of adventurers-for-hire were making their way through a narrow tunnel, battle worn and begrimed. Mission accomplished, with three recently-liberated village children in tow, they were heading back to the light of the surface. Which is exactly where the ratmen wanted them, funnelled in a bottleneck in the one tunnel that led out, as swarms of the nasty bucktoothed humanoids closed in on them, both ahead and behind.

“We’re trapped! They’re all around us, damn them,” yelled Oregonn, the dim-witted mountain barbarian stating the obvious and drawing his great axe.

“Oh, I can clear the way ahead, don’t you fret,” whispered Aldruin, the elven arachnomancer from Kesh. She traced fiery blue glyphs of summoning in the air, and black spiders spilled out from the folds of her clothing, boiling out in their hundreds.

“Uh, I guess I’ll help,” muttered Cassandra, visibly disgusted as the carpet of spiders started crawling forwards across the walls, floor and ceiling. She drew her longbow and started feathering the tunnel ahead with arrows, crouching behind a rocky outcropping for cover. Ratmen shrieked and died, but there were lots of them, and they were rising up to throw spears before hiding behind round wooden shields.

That left Kynan, Dove-Feather and the children in the rear. Dove-Feather was an Avian bard, humanoid but covered with feathers and with rough talons instead of hands. “What do we do?” she asked, nervously glancing back at the advancing ratmen and their bristling spears. All three terrified children were clinging to her legs.

Kynan One-Eye - ex-pirate and currently reluctant priest and servant of the Sunlord – lifted his eyepatch to reveal the fully functioning eye beneath. He grinned at Dove-Feather, adjusting his peaked hat. “You go,” he said, with exaggerated bravado, cocking his head. “Get the children to safety. I’ll hold them off as best I can, then break off and catch up.”

“I’d help but...” she said, tilting her head to indicate the children.

“What are you going to do, play your lute for them? This is no time for a lullaby!” Kynan joked, pushing the bard forward with one hand.

“You’re still an idiot,” said Dove-Feather as she rolled her eyes at him, but she took the children slowly forwards.

“Hey Kynan, don’t take this the wrong way, but I thought you were a chickenshit?” Cassandra yelled back at him.

Kynan pulled out his blunderbuss and loaded it with one hand as he lied back cheerfully: “It’s ok! I can’t die! I have a destiny. And I have it on very good authority that I have to live to see my destiny done. Somehow, I don’t think dying in a muddy tunnel filled with ratmen is what my god had in mind!”

He fired, the blunderbuss booming loudly in the enclosed space. The front three ratmen went down squealing, peppered with canister shot. With no time to reload, he dropped the gun and readied his shield and cutlass. This was going to be bad.

As he fought, he was aware that his companions were successfully clearing the way out. He heard them move further away, until they were out of earshot. In the tunnel, there was no way the ratmen could get around him. It was too narrow. But he couldn’t break off the fight and run away either. Their spears would bring him down before he could get out of range.

“Bless me Alazar for I am... ah fuckfuckfuckityfuck.” A spear tip grazed his ribs.

Grimly he fought on, but they kept coming. There were too many of them. And so he finally went down, pierced through by many spears, and died with a mouthful of mud.


#####



“Get up.”

“Is that you, Lord?” Kynan groaned, one hand up to stave off the bright sunlight.

“Hardly. Rise, cleric of the Sunlord.”

Melmot the solar loomed over him. Reaching out one of its giant hands, it grabbed an arm and lifted Kynan to his feet.

“But... I died,” he protested, weakly.

“That was just the first time, you’ll get used to it.”

“I thought I was done. That I’d finally earned some rest.”

Melmot roared with laughter, the sound rattling Kynan’s bones and making his teeth chatter.

“Who said anything about rest? You still have work to do.”


#####



“... and so the right person in the right place at the right time can make all the difference,” Kynan finished, draining the rest of his ale and smacking the tankard on the table, requesting more.

“Yes, we’re all well aware of your heroics,” Dove-Feather commented blandly, “as you tell that story... and all your others... all the blinking time.” She preened her head feathers absently with one talon.

“Well, it would make a great song, don’t you think? ‘The Brave Dashing Pirate Priest’?” Kynan grinned, waggling his eyebrows. Oregonn groaned and hid his face in his meaty hands.

“Gods help us. Please. Just take him now. We’re done with him.” Cassandra stuck her fork into her meat pie in disgust.

Months had passed. They were in a grimy pub on the outskirts of Naverria, near Bly, having been commissioned by a minor lord to retrieve his wayward son, run off with the kitchen maid. They were both currently locked up in a bedroom upstairs, awaiting return. But since the group were being paid by the day, they were in no particular rush and so they had been enjoying the pub’s cheap beer and rancid food for three days now.

Kynan cleared his throat, and bashfully looked down at his roast chicken, untouched while he’d been recounting his tale. Aware of the eyes of the others on him, he folded his hands and quietly muttered a prayer of grace to himself in an awkward rush, before picking up a drumstick and gnawing at it. Aldruin, who had been nursing her goblet of red wine, leaned over to him and whispered.

“I see you, priest. You speak of derring-do and dashing deeds, fights on the rigging, and plunder taken... and yet you still say grace before you touch your meal. It amuses me no end. I see you, I do.” She gave him a smile, and it made his neck prickle. Creepy mage.

“What other... vows... have you taken, Kynan?” Aldruin asked archly, and he nearly choked.

Coughing, he sputtered out “Piety, devotion, moderation and the defending of the innocent. Bringing light to dark places. Tithes to the church. Not, umm, chastity or, ah, abstinence. Although I’m not allowed to marry or bear children.”

“Moderation?” scoffed Dove-Feather teasingly, pulling his tankard away from him.

“Well, in moderation.” Kynan pulled it back, and took another gulp. Aldruin was still gazing intently at him on his left but he tried to ignore it, and her smirk.

“Evangelical much?” Cassandra quipped.

“Come on. It’s not that kind of religion, I don’t wander around trying to convert...”

“Kidding! Lighten up, Lightbearer.”

“Right, right.”

Later, Dove-Feather cornered him by the bar and insisted he tell her the whole story for, as she added with a wry smile, “I can tell when you’re lying. Your lips move.”

It was a relief to finally confess. He told her about the angel, the god, and dying in the tunnel with the rats. Then he told her about waking up again to see the angel towering over him.

“So you died? Really died?”

“I guess, yeah. I don’t remember much about it, I just remember the pain, and then being brought back.”

“Does that mean you can’t die?”

“I don’t know what it means! I just hate the idea that my life is not mine to control. At least on board a ship, I had options. Now I feel like a puppet. And I don’t even know what Alazar wants from me. Or what my so-called destiny is.”

Dove-Feather mused thoughtfully, looking around the nearly empty tavern room. A tableful of dwarven fishermen were launching into a rowdy sea ballad in the far corner, and it was loud and raucous as it assaulted the relative quiet in the rest of the room.

“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to complain and whine so. It’s just frustrating. I didn’t use to believe, but now I do. I’m a convert. All praise Alazar, for his light guides us in the darkness. Only, I wish he would just be clearer on what I’m actually supposed to do!”

“Well, Kynan, none of us really know what we’re doing either. We just kind of make it up as we go along. Try and look out for our friends,” she gestured over at their table, “and not let them down. Try not to kill the wrong people, or take the wrong coin. Try not to hurt people unnecessarily, or cruelly, or without reason. That’s all the guidance any of us get, gods or no gods.”

“That’s it? Just carry on and hope for the best?”

“Well, I’m not really sure what else you were expecting...”

Kynan clenched a fist and held it up to her to show his frustration, the effect only slightly marred by the pools of foamy ale under it, on the counter of the bar where they were perched. His sleeve dipped into one pool, and beer soaked into it instantly. He sighed a loud sigh, and let his hands drop sadly back into his lap.

“Kynan, elerrium,” she said, placing a hand on his. “You said it yourself. The right person in the right place at the right time can make all the difference. To bring a light to the darkness. Isn’t that enough?”

For now, he thought, and kissed her. To his surprise and delight, she kissed him back. He’d been half-expecting a slap.

That night... that is, much later that night, after the, ah, events that preceded sleep... Kynan had a dream. In his dream, he was adrift on a wooden raft under the baking sun, tanned and blistered, salt rimming his face and lips. The flat hot sea stretched out in all directions. The sky was one white hot and glaring fist pounding down on him, painful to look at. He felt half-cooked and half-delirious. He was sprawled crosswise on the raft – which, he could see, was a makeshift affair of planks barely held together with fraying ship’s ropes – with his feet barely in the water, kicking and splashing while the rest of him held on to the raft. He made very slow forward progress.

He was alone.

And then, a moment later, he was not.

He heard a voice from behind him, and Melmot said “I wouldn’t do that if I were you. You’re just attracting the sharks.”

Kynan turned his head, startled, but could see nothing. Then he looked down into the water. Below the surface, the angel was there, appearing not swimming but rather standing on the reflection of the raft over Kynan’s shoulder. And only in the reflection. The angel was smiling broadly, and mischief twinkled in his blank white eyes.

“This is your fate, if you were wondering.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Your fate. This is it.”

Kynan looked around. Nothing had changed. The emptiness spread out all around him, there was nothing on the horizon in sight. Only the bright cruel sky, and possibly, if it wasn’t his imagination, he was beginning to make out dim underwater shadows that could well be distant sharks. Unless that was just the power of suggestion.

“I’m not sure I approve,” Kynan muttered, and kicked his feet at the reflection of the angel’s face.

“Oh ho! I see you are labouring under a misapprehension. I do most humbly apologise; for in this particular instance I failed to take into account your puny and quite literal brain. This is your fate had you not chosen to enter the service of Alazar. Shipwrecked. Abandoned. And eaten by sharks. Terribly sad, a most unpleasant way to go. Except for the sharks, of course, for whom it was a delightful and savoury repast.”

In the water, the angel’s face grew larger as he peered over Kynan’s reflection’s shoulder.

“But you see, cleric Kynan, your destiny has changed. Your service to the great Alazar, mamelukes praise his grace, has set you on a different path. A holy path. And no, you don’t get to know what your final fate is. Sorry. That’s why they call it faith.”

“There is, however, some good news! Until you fulfil your eventual destiny and are raised up into the holy magnificence of His Divine Presence...”

“I cannot die?” asked Kynan, hopefully.

“...you will die a hundred times! and each time, no matter how mangled or chopped up or destroyed or burnt or dismembered your body, you will be raised back from the dead within twenty-four hours (give or take) to resume your plodding and endless march towards your eventual destiny, and the fate that has been singled out for you. Isn’t that wonderful?”

Kynan blinked twice, slowly. “Err, yay?”

“Indeed! Now wake, faithful Kynan, and resume your pitiful existence among the paltry mortal forms on your home plane. Go on now. Shoo.”

Kynan woke up with a killer hangover, a throbbing head, and Dove-Feather’s sleeping form trapping his left arm. He groaned, and pulled the pillow over his head. Morning, Lord, he thought. It’s me, Kynan. Please don’t kill me again today?

In his thoughts, he heard the angel chuckle.



THE END


2021 Mehran Baluch

Bio: Hello, my name is Mehran Baluch, and I am a neurodiverse POC/diaspora writer of Arabic origin and I currently live in London. I am an unpublished writer and I have an MA in Creative and Critical Writing from the University of Sussex. I write genre of all types, primarily short stories. I am an alumni of Clarion West’s Writing Programme 2020, and a member of the Laurie Penny Writing Sprint Quarantine club, and Cat Rambo’s Chez Rambo writing Discord channel.

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