War Page 1

Chapter 1


Year 13 of the Horsemen


Jerusalem, New Palestine


The day starts off like most others. With a nightmare.

The explosion roars through my ears, the force of it knocking me into the water.

Darkness. Nothing. Then—

I gasp in a breath. There’s water and fire and … and … and God the pain—the pain, the pain, the pain. The sharp bite of it nearly steals my breath.

“Mom, Mom, Mom!”

Can’t see her. Can’t see anyone.

“Mom!”

The sky bobs above me. I cough in the smoke. My bag is wrapped around my ankle and it’s dragging me down, down, down.

No. I try to kick my way back up to the surface, but despite my efforts it moves farther and farther from reach.

My lungs pound. The sunlight above me grows dim even as I struggle.

I open my mouth to cry for help.

The water rushes in—

I sit up in bed with a gasp.

I can hear my wall clock clicking away, the pendulum swinging back and forth, back and forth.

I touch the scar at the base of my throat as I steady my breathing. My sheets are twisted around my ankles. I disentangle myself and roll out of bed.

Grabbing a nearby box of matches, I light an oil lamp. Briefly, it illuminates a picture of my family before I raise it high enough to see the time on the clock.

3:18 AM.

Ugh. I rub my face.

I set the lamp down on my workbench, shoving aside the feathers, glass arrowheads, and scraps of plastic that litter its surface.

I glance longingly at my bed. There’s no way I’m falling back asleep, which means I can work on my latest commission or I can go scavenging. I glance at the walls, where some of my finished products hang—the oiled bows and painted arrows barely visible in the darkness.

Salvage-chic weaponry sells for a pretty penny these days.

It’s too dark to make out the photos hanging alongside them, but my throat tightens at the thought of the images anyway.

Right now, on the wings of my dream, I don’t want to keep company with the memories that haunt my flat.

So scavenging it is.

My boots crunch along loose gravel as I wind my way through the streets of Jerusalem, outfitted with my bow, quiver, and the canvas bag I’ll use to store my finds. I have a dagger at my hip and a small axe in my bag.

I pass by a darkened mosque, which will be filled with people by the time I return. The synagogue down the street is dark and ominous, several of its windows boarded up. It looks meek and repentant, like it didn’t once proudly own that space.

No one else is out, save for the occasional Palestinian guard. They eye me grimly but leave me alone.

Life wasn’t always this way.

I can vaguely remember my childhood. I had a happy one—or rather, I used to lack worries, and that’s almost the same thing. Now, worries stack like stones on my shoulders.

But that life is less real to me than even the dream I woke to.

I touch the hamsa charm on my wrist as I glance around me. The moment I get a little too comfortable with my surroundings is the moment I get attacked.

No, life wasn’t always this way, but this has been my reality ever since the Horsemen arrived.

I can see Day One in my mind’s eye like it’s happening all over again.

How the lights in my fourth grade classroom popped as they burned out, one after the other. My ears still ring from the sounds of my classmates’ screaming.

I had the misfortune of sitting near a window, so I saw firsthand how the cars lost power, their metal bodies crashing into whatever—or whoever—was nearest them.

I saw a woman mowed down by a car, her eyes wide for that single second before impact. Sometimes, when I remember it, it’s my father I see and not the woman.

I wonder sometimes, if that’s how it played out. I never saw his mangled body—I just heard that he’d been hit by a bus—so all that’s left is wonder.

People around here are fond of saying that life can change in an instant, and it’s true. Birth, death, four strange men showing up one day with plans to destroy the world—all instant life changes.

But sometimes, the most insidious change happens over time. Because Day One ended and Day Two began. We were all expected to just continue to exist even when cars couldn’t drive and phones couldn’t call, and computers couldn’t compute, and so many beloved lives were lost. Eventually this terrible new existence had to become normal. And that’s how life’s been for most of my twenty-two years.

I move west through the city, past an aviary, the birds inside quiet at this hour. Once, you could get news almost instantaneously. Now carrier pigeon is the fastest way of sending messages … and there’s no guarantee that an outgoing message will get where it needs to go on one try. Birds, after all, are only so obedient and intelligent.

The night is quiet. It’s been like this for the last month. Not that it’s ever particularly rowdy here at night, but this feels different. You can sense people’s worry in the still air.

It must be the rumors.

There were … strange stories from the east, stories meant to scare you when you’re huddled over a fire and the night seems especially terrifying.

Stories about entire cities going to the grave. About streets scattered with bones and cemeteries tilled like fields. And through it all, War, riding on his blood red steed, his sword brandished.

I don’t know how true they are—these days, so many things are hearsay—but Jerusalem has been more subdued than usual. A few people have even packed up and left.

I might’ve been one of those people, if I had enough money to get where I wanted to go. But I don’t, so Jerusalem it remains.

As I get close to the Judaean Mountains that lie on the outskirts of the city, I hear the echoing footfalls of someone walking behind me. Could be the Muslim Brotherhood, could be the Palestinian police force, it could be a raider like me or a prostitute looking to fill the last of her quota for the night.

It’s probably nothing. Still it doesn’t stop me from going over my survival code, otherwise known as Miriam Elmahdy’s Guide to Staying the Fuck Alive:

(1) Bend the rules—but don’t break them.

(2) Stick to the truth.

(3) Avoid notice.

(4) Listen to your instincts.

(5) Be brave.

Five simple rules that, while not always being easy to follow, have kept me alive for the last seven years.

I pick up my pace, hoping to put distance between me and the stranger. Less than a minute later, I hear the footsteps behind me quicken.

I sigh out a breath.

Sliding my bow off my shoulder, I remove an arrow from my quiver and nock it into place. Spinning around, I take aim at the dark shape.

“Move along,” I say.

The shadowy figure is maybe ten meters away. They raise their hands, stepping forward a little.

“I just wanted to know what a girl like you was doing out this late,” the man calls out.

So, the individual’s not a prostitute and probably not the police either. That leaves the Muslim Brotherhood, a local gang member, or an ordinary civilian willing to pay for a woman’s company. Of course, he could also be a fellow raider looking to poach my finds off of me.

“I’m not a prostitute,” I call out.

“I didn’t think you were.”

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