Kuliraga knelt before the short pillar in the village square and offered up her prayer.
“Please God,” she said. “Sickness has come again. Many are ill. Funsani and Mesi have both died. Please send your angel to heal us.”
She pressed her thumb against the eye, that single dot atop the gleaming black pillar. In response, she heard the soft click that told her god had been listening.
True to His word, an hour later the angel arrived, soaring above the poisoned plains to the north. She did not know if it was the same angel that had come when fever struck the year before, or in the plague of her younger years. It had the same square white body a foot across with an eye blinking red on each side, the same four limbs protruding from the corners of the body, and the same wings on the ends of those limbs, each one fluttering so fast it became a blur.
The angel landed on top of the pillar. Its wings fell still, revealing themselves as thin black strips unlike the wings of any bird. A needle-like tooth emerged from beneath each of its eyes.
One by one the sick villagers were brought forward and allowed the angel to taste their blood using its sharp teeth. Sated from the sacrifice, it stirred its wings and rose into the air, heading back toward the distant hills. Kuliraga smiled, knowing that it would soon return with the medicine they needed.
An eagle hurtled from the sky above. As Kuliraga watched in horror, it struck the angel and the two tumbled to the ground. There were gasps and wails from the watching villagers.
“Doom,” someone cried out. “The devil strikes down the angel!”
“No,” Kuliraga said. “I do not accept this.”
Everybody knew that the plains to the north were poisonous, that those travelling there fell terribly ill. When winds blew off those plains, all the villagers hid indoors. But without their angel, all the villagers might succumb to sickness.
Forcing herself to ignore her fears, Kuliraga picked up her walking stick and set out north.
It was over an hour before she reached the angel, and she feared by then that she might have gone the wrong way. Already the poisoned plain was making her head spin and bile rise in her throat, and it was hard to keep a straight path.
Then she heard the cries of the injured eagle, and followed them over a rise. The fight between the bird and the angel had clearly been fearsome. The eagle lay in a trail of blood and feathers, one wing torn and both legs broken. A hundred yards away, the angel lay unmoving in a patch of dirt, one limb twisted beneath it.
Kuliraga rushed over and knelt beside the angel. One of its eyes had gone a dead black, while the light in the others flickered intermittently. Its wings were twisted, and part of its white shell hung loose, exposing its innards.
Dread filled her. Such a wound, one exposing vital organs, would surely have killed a human. Could the angel survive?
She looked at the wound. There was no blood. The angel’s guts were like nothing she had ever seen. The seemed to be made of strange square stones, coloured string and lines of silver. She could not even being to understand them, never mind heal them. Her heart broke at the loss.
Wanting to provide the dying angel with comfort, she reached out and touched its side. One of the eyes flashed from red to green, and then a miracle happened.
A picture of the angel appeared in the dirt, and a pair of hands above it. They moved, showing the broken shell being pushed back into place, the twisted limb adjusted, broken wings bent to their right angle.
“You want me to do this?” Kuliraga said, fighting down nausea that came not just from the poisoned land but from dread at such a terrible responsibility.
All three eyes flashed green.
Taking a deep breath, Kuliraga forced herself to do as the angel asked. Step by step she did her best to heal it, despite the spinning of her head and the fear of hurting the angel more.
At last the picture faded and the angel lay in the dirt, its wings making slow, experimental turns. Kuliraga slumped beside it, all her energy spent. She could feel the poison eating away at her.
The angel reached out with one of its teeth and bit the back of her hand. There was a pause and then it bit her again. Moments later, she felt her strength begin to return.
“I…” She turned to the angel in wonder. “You can heal the poison?”
The angel’s wings became a blur and it rose, wobbling, into the air. Slower than usual, but still a miracle to behold, it flew north.
Kuliraga stood and turned to walk home. The eagle, still lying in the dirt, feebly raised it head to watch her.
Careful not to let it bite, Kuliraga picked up the injured bird.
“Come,” she said. “I think you have learnt your lesson. If I can heal an angel, and it can heal the poison of the plains, then maybe I can heal you too.”
* * *
This story is a return to the world of ‘Pale Wings‘, my setting in which half-forgotten technology takes the place of magic. If you enjoyed this then ‘Shades of Loss‘ uses the same setting, and if you enjoy any of these stories then please share them with your friends.
This particular story was inspired by a news article about the use of drones to provide medical services in Malawi, which is awesome. It was brought to my attention by Dr Nick, who among other things hosts the Learning Cliff podcast. If you’ve ever been curious about the massive online sci-fi world that is Eve then check it out.
And lastly, if you’d like to receive more stories like this direct to your inbox every Friday, along with a free copy of one of my books, then please sign up for my mailing list – it’s like an all you can eat fiction buffet, full of delightful sci-fi and fantasy treats.