There's no official cover yet, so I found this image of a pretty Steampunk cosplay to whet appetites.
The Magdeburger Dom rose to a giddy height above the crowded streets of the Maiden City and its twin steeples were landmarks across the broad fields and fens of Saxony. By day, ravens swarmed about the high towers and vaulted roofs in bleak, croaking clouds. Higher than the birds and hidden among the white clouds of Spring, the angels of God looked down upon the city of saints, or so the citizens of Magdeburg hoped and prayed.
On nights such as this, the townsfolk flocked to the sanctuary of the Dom and crowded between the pews and the pulpits. On their knees, standing or crouching, they out-shouted the ravens with their croaking prayers. The old stones shook and shifted with each battery from the distant cannons and a trickle of dust from the vaults overhead would follow. The throngs of men and women in the aisles fell silent and only the preacher muttered on. Then, when the arched roof held and the echoing roar of the cannon died into the distance, the prayers rose again, beseeching, begging, cajoling, weeping. Eyes lifted to the roof, to the towers and the steeples and the clouded heavens beyond. Prayers were hurled to the deaf skies then drowned again by the cannon's retort but no angels descended.
Asenath and Mordechai heard the prayers. They stood together on the battlements of the tallest tower and looked east across the river to where the flames from the cannons dimmed to pinpoints then faded. Smoke rolled in across the waters and somewhere, far beyond the dust and ash of the vast besieging army, the dawn was approaching.
"A great many of my people wait in the Shadow," Mordechai said at last. His voice was deep as basalt, like the grinding of rocks together far underground. It vibrated from within him rather than being spoken from his throat. "If you could see with my eyes, you would see them waiting in the Valley of the Shadow. Every night they grow in number. Their wings are black and their eyes are bright. They have come for so many here." He looked about him, his white eyes passing through stone and glass and into the vaulted spaces beneath them, through air and flesh and into the confused hearts of men and women. He shuddered. "Their scythes are sharp. There will be a terrible reaping."
He was tall and black. His monkish robe was black and ragged and his hair hung in heavy black locks from his temples. His nails were as black as his lips but the crow feathers of his wings were blackest of all and curled above his shoulders like pillars of soot and darkness. He held his scythe loosely. The shaft was long and twisted and carved from the gallows trees on the slopes of Golgotha. The blade was a sliver of arching night that did not sparkle or shin.
"I can't see them," Asenath replied staring out towards the horizon with her fiery eyes. "I feel them, but I can't see them. The Valley of Shadow is too close to the Glory. It’s been too long for me."
She remembered, or thought she remembered, how clear-eyed she had once been. She had walked beside the Valley of Shadow with only the dry river bed running between them and watched the Samalim coming and going. They passed unseen by human eyes, but not by the eyes of angels fresh from the Glory. Into nurseries they went with their hooked scythes and emerged with babies crooked in their dark arms. Into the chambers of old men they wandered and returned leading blinking youths by the hand. Sometimes they followed a blushing maid home across twilight fields and waited while the deserting soldiers took their sport from her. Then the death angels would dry her tears with their black feathered wings and lead her, pale faced, into the Valley of the Shadow and beyond.
Asenath was sure she remembered this, but now she had doubts. It had been a long time since she had seen the Glory with her own eyes.
"They're too distracting, the Quick, with their fears and hopes," she continued. "Are you starting to hear them?"
Mordechai furrowed his brow and nodded slowly. Asenath watched him. Perhaps, for the Samalim, it would be quicker than it had been for her. Perhaps he would forget much quicker than she had done, if he stayed here.
"You must go back," she told him. "Go back into the Shadow. Rejoin your people. What can you do here?"
Mordechai turned his dark face towards her and she saw herself reflected in his white eyes. She was a creature of light and fire. Her wings were of gleaming brass and her hair fell in straight bands of gold. The burning sword in her hands flickered fitfully now. She seemed small and diminished.
"What can I do?" he said, pausing between the words. "How can I return? Where is your saint's soul?"
Behind them and below them, in a shuttered room overlooking the cathedral precinct, lay the cold body of Hans Vollair with a musket ball in his brain. The Scottish mercenaries who attended him were spreading now throughout the streets, raising a hue and cry. Their voices echoed faintly off the cobbles and timbers below, like the activity of mice in old walls.
"Someone reaped Vollair first," Asenath suggested. "Another Samil?"
Mordechai shook his head and wisps of soot and black feathers drifting from his face.
"I would know," he replied. "I would know if it was another of my kind," he said and looked away, back towards the great army camped across the river and the ranks of death angels beyond them that only he could see.
"One of the Arelim then?" she persevered, although her anxiety was mounting. "A great Lictor of the Host might take a soul."
Mordechai smiled grimly.
"A great Lictor might do many things, might do any thing," and he turned to face her again, "but I think you and I would know it if such an Exalted One walked this cathedral tonight. They are not subtle."
She knew they were not subtle. But then she remembered the Arael that had stood unseen among the ruins of an Egypcian camp among the ravaging Knights of the Teutonic Order and discoursed with their Highmaster. Its gaze had penetrated steel and flesh, but it had not seen her where she cowered behind her wings. There was subtlety at work, when angels revealed themselves to the Quick and guided their affairs.
"Something is not right," she told him.
She thought of Hans Vollair and the bright light of faith that he had lit. It was a light an assassin's weapon had extinguished.
"Something is not right," he agreed, "and I cannot return until I know what it is."
Asenath was pleased to hear this and the flames along her sword surged brightly with hope, but if Mordechai noticed or understood her emotion, he didn't reveal his thoughts.
Across the smoke-sodden river banks, the cannons flared. The thunder followed. To the south, roaring fires answered, reaching from the roofs of houses to the skies. Screams and shouts echoed through the night streets. In a feverish chorus, the prayers in the cathedral below intensified.
"If you stay," she proceeded slowly, "you will become confused. You will forget the Glory."
"Then I shall have to discover faith," he told her and held her gaze for a long time.
Asenath believed they had studied each other like this before, long ago, but for centuries, perhaps millennia. But she couldn't remember.
"Who is the fire maiden?" said Mordechai at last. "How does she kill before a man is fated to die?"
Asenath thought of the Gun-Smith's Daughter. She had stood over the girl in a burning coach house and felt her hot blood burning. She had watched her anger and her compassion grow in the Egypcian camp and wondered which would triumph. She had tried to read the girl's shem and untangle the skein of fate, but that art was quite beyond her now. She had seen the girl again in Hans Vollair's dead eyes, the reflection of his killer. One question at least was answered. Anger had triumphed.
"Quality Durrand," Asenath replied. The girl's name was much on her mind. "I don't know what power is in her," she said, thinking of the sword of boiling blood that had been wielded against her, "but she burns. She burns as brightly as I do"
Her sword became a whip that uncoiled like a flaming serpent and ringed around the steeple, scorching the night air wit the fire of Sinai. The flames dropped glowing cinders upon the streets below.
"Then she shouldn't be difficult to find," the other angel answered.
Mordechai was gone, instantly, in an angelic wingbeat. In the echo of his passing, flakes of ash and black feathers scattered and tumbled through the night.
Asenath was gone too in a clap of shining wings and her fiery embers mixed with his dark shadows and dropped upon the rooftops of Magdeburg below them.