This episode is a part of our Tales from the Vaults series, in which a member of PodCastle’s staff chooses a backlist episode to highlight and discuss. This week’s episode was chosen by associate editor Andrew K. Hoe. “Piety, Prayer, Peacekeeper, Apocalypse” originally aired as PodCastle 449.
Piety, Prayer, Peacekeeper, Apocalypse
by Rati Mehrotra
Soru Khara had been hunting her death for many years before she arrived at the crumbling old port of Tyron. She camouflaged her skimmer and stalked up to the rusty gates as the sun set over the citadel, the fishy tang of the sea sharp in her nostrils. The smell of childhood—the smell of things best left buried. It was why she usually avoided ports. This time, though, she had no choice. She was to deliver a letter, like a common messenger. She had not questioned the inanity of her assignment. One did not question the Voice of the Star Emperor; one merely obeyed it.
“Halt!” Crossed spears barred her way into the passage under the city walls. A man with the insignia of the Umnia falcon stepped up to her. “No one enters the city between sunset and sunrise.”
Soru Khara swept her gaze over the company. A captain and ten guards, and they expected to take on a death-hunter. Possibly they did not know who she was. She withdrew the letter with the seal of Yimri and waved it front of the captain’s stony face. “A message for Queen Lariel from her master. It cannot wait till morning.”
The captain held out a gloved hand. “Give it to me and I will deliver it.”
“No,” said Soru Khara, feeling her patience crumble. “I must deliver it myself. Do not delay me, Captain. I have skimmed six days across the continent to reach your little village. Is this how you treat messengers from the Star Emperor?”
“Village?” said the captain, affronted. “Tyron is the capital of Umnia. Watch your tongue, messenger.”
“Umnia is but one of the eight realms on Earth, and Earth is but one planet under the Star Emperor’s authority,” said Soru Khara. She slipped the letter back into her pocket and allowed her voice to gain an edge. “Get out of my way. I have no wish to shed blood tonight.”
“You threaten the Umnian Guard?” The man whipped out a scimitar from the scabbard at his waist. The curved blade glinted in the flickering light of the oil lamps that hung on both sides of the gate. “Leave, before I separate your swollen head from its pitiful body.”
He meant to frighten her, not to kill her. Also, she was a guest in Tyron, however unwelcome. Soru Khara took these things into consideration and summoned Piety, her least lethal weapon. A sudden drain of energy, heat above her palm, and Piety appeared: a blue ball crackling with electricity.
About the Author
Born and raised in India, Rati Mehrotra now lives and writes in Toronto, Canada. She is the author of the science fantasy duology Markswoman and Mahimata published by Harper Voyager. Her YA fantasy novel Night of the Raven, Dawn of the Dove is forthcoming from Wednesday Books in Fall 2022. Her short fiction has been shortlisted for The Sunburst Award and has appeared in multiple venues including The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Lightspeed Magazine, Uncanny Magazine, Apex Magazine, Podcastle, and Cast of Wonders. Find out more about her at ratiwrites.com or follow her on Twitter @Rati_Mehrotra.
About the Narrator
Stephanie Malia Morris is an MFA candidate at the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas. She has received fellowships from Kimbilio, Periplus, and Voodoonauts, and is a graduate of the 2017 Clarion West Writers Workshop. Her short fiction has appeared in FIYAH, Pseudopod, Nightmare, Apex Magazine, and Lightspeed. Her short story, “Bride Before You,” was adapted as a short film as part of the anthology Horror Noire on Shudder.