It was the way the darkness rolled, as if alive and breathing that unnerved her. Nezha Zaman’s eyes were fixed to the morning sky, where smoke whispered through the trees. Billowing with the wind like a satin dress, the smoke took the form of a dark figure among the branches.
What is that? Nezha’s eyes widened. Was it the branches themselves, or was the sun’s glare obscuring her sight? Nezha leaned on the car door and squinted. The car’s engine sang with vibrato and rumbled to life, startling her. She turned her face away sharply and jolted back from the car. Cold pricked along the back of her neck.
“Nezha? Is something wrong?” Her mother popped her head out from inside the car to meet eyes with her.
Her father leaned toward the windshield from the driver’s seat. “Are you ok, Nezha?”
“It’s nothing,” Nezha said hurriedly. What was that thing? It almost looked human. My eyes must be tricking me. Nezha shook her head. She climbed into the backseat.
They drove through the labyrinth of the souk. The market. With the windows down, Nezha leaned into the wind, the fragrances inviting Nezha to sample the tastes it had to offer. It owned its own kind of magic. Vibrant colours of blues, oranges and reds. The sounds of conversation, laughter and clacking of mobile stalls filled in the orchestra of men and woman. They imbued their care and passion to their handcrafted charms and dishware which hung over the wall of shops like gems.
Nezha’s head turned to a building in the large botanical gardens, which held a Moorish charm. “We’re here.” Nezha pressed her palms to the glass and a smile curved her lips.
“Yes.” Her father smiled as he unbuckled his seatbelt.
Nezha opened the car door.
“Nuzha!” Her Aunt Lamis had been waiting for them to arrive. She opened her arms as they walked toward the botanical building. Jardine Rababi. A famous garden in Azzam Morocco. When Nezha's name was pronounced Nuzha, it meant a promenade, and her aunt found it beautiful. Lamis had been calling her Nuzha ever since she was a kid and so it stuck.
Above them, an arch spilled with golden yellow and designs etched in red. Farther down the cream-stoned lane was another one, whose blue and green melted with one another. The arches reminded Nezha of a rainbow. To her right, a clear stream burbled by and the air carried a sugary fragrance. Cushioned with trees and flowing with ponds, this harmonious place was a retreat from the bustling city.
Nezha gladly embraced her. “Aunt Lamis! How are you?” She grinned as a floral concoction of roses and char filled her head. She was trying to mask it again, huh?
“Oh, don’t worry about me, how are you? Every time I visit, you look like you’ve grown taller. Eighteen years old… My Nuzha now a young woman…”
Lamis stood back and looked her up and down with her caramel eyes. Lamis was thirty-seven and always a sweet-natured person. Her constant animation matched that of the birds that roosted over the ancient ruins in the east. Her slim build was attuned to the white-winged wasp eaters.
“Peace be upon you. How was your trip?” Nezha’s mother nodded to Nezha. She wore a long red pashmina over her dark brown hair. Part of the cloth tumbled forward as she embraced Lamis.
Mrs. Najwa Zaman was thirty-eight years old. There was an air of straightness to her medium build. Similar to a handcrafted beam found in a garden. She pressed against Lamis’s body. Her deep brown eyes reflected the hint of concern, as her gaze lingered on Lamis.
“Wa Alaykum as Salaam. It was good dear.” Aunt Lamis smiled at her. Her fingers tightened around a metallic red bag.
“Sister, you look well.” Mr. Wasi Zaman patted the top of his sister’s head, ruffling the turquoise pashmina she wore and inadvertently messing up her short chestnut hair underneath. In forty years, the creases along his mouth revealed just how much he’d smiled. He wasn’t one to laugh too loudly. His walk was gentle like the sweeping sands to the south and so was his voice.
Lamis grinned as she tucked her hair back in. “Yes, and I have gifts for everyone. But, I’ll give them to you later.” Lamis flicked a strand of his black hair. She then proceeded to try and wrap her fingers around his waist. “Wasi, I used to be able to overlap my fingers when we were kids. Although you’re average, I can’t anymore.” Lamis raised an eyebrow.
Mr. Zaman gave a hearty smile as Lamis chuckled.
Nezha’s parents and aunt walked into the building. She followed behind. As soon as Nezha’s hand met the cool panelled door, something flickered from the corner of her eye. Nezha turned. A figure was elongated by the morning light. The pulse in her neck drummed. The figure rolled over the trees and disappeared, but Nezha continued to stare.
An angel’s light shines within her, only she can restore its soul.
Eighteen-year old fire elemental Nezha Zaman is dragged into an alternate dimension where she learns of her fate to restore the Angel of Mercy’s soul shattered by the corrupted Iron Prince. Now she must travel the land in search of the soul’s fragments while battling shape-shifting jinn, before the prince shatters hers next. It’s The City of Brass meets InuYasha