PHOTO TAKEN BY THE AUTHOR
The city had stolen into a captive slumber under a blanket of black clouds. Prince Rian stood like a steeple on the tallest skyscraper, observing the skyline that cut into the night like jagged teeth in a monster’s mouth, silhouetted by the light of the vermillion moon. As it swung like a pendulum into midnight position, Rian relented to the lesser light and went to his knees, curling his fingertips around the ledge of cold concrete and furling his wings against his ribs.
Behind him, starlight threaded its way through the fog like fingers being run through hair, getting caught by a ringlet of mist, reminding Rian that the stars were once suns who had reigned the skies of faraway galaxies. Like the illuminants above, he too was a beacon; but it was for this city, and not to forgotten space. He was the sentinel it relied on to break the line between night and day.
And the line was nearly drawn. The battle of the thunderclouds had broken Rian’s wings, but they had not yet taken his flame, had not rolled against each other loud enough or moved the wind hard enough to snuff it out like a candle. But it was the scarlet moon that commanded them, the same one that leered over the prince tonight, not letting him forget who ruled the darkness. It shivered in bitter anticipation for Rian’s grip to give, for him to fall headfirst in a rainstorm of golden feathers.
Rian would not give up his right to reign so easily, even if his wings couldn’t carry him anymore. They still had a spark of strength and so he lifted them. The movement, only a sudden breath of air, tore away one of the last feathers that had been clinging to his spine by less than a sinew. But his breeze also shifted the haze, allowing the ancient suns to outstrip the moonlight.
They lit upon a path in the distance, the trail that led to the crater lake where the skeleton tree stood guard over the decadent stars. From the shadows of its branches, Fallen stepped out. Her silver wings fluttered like the lining in an unfortunate situation. Rian loosened his hold on the edge of the roof, watching as the other stars haloed their sister. Fallen was a splash of color in the darkness, her hair as red as the dusk in a receding storm and her skin as pale as the dawn, except for in the places where the sun had once kissed her.
Rian lifted his battered wings once, twice, even a third time, but if he could have raised them a hundred times, they still wouldn’t have been able to carry him to the zenith of the sky. But they could still send a trace of light, like the sun’s first ray in morning, to where Fallen stood. Even with the distance between them, their eyes met. And they understood.
Fallen pulled out her bow and shot four arrows into each corner of the city. The fifth was for the orb that loomed above.
Like a luminary clock hanging on the horizon, Rian ticked his skeletal wings. And counted. And waited.
The arrow found its mark in the moon, breaking its center. The crimson crescent bled in and out like the tide. In retribution, it hurtled a blaze of revenge as fast as a comet straight at Rian.
The prince lost his grip; his final feather fell, leaving a skeleton on his back to match the distant tree. Only the bones of angel wings remained, bones that shone like stars in the depth of night.
The moon beamed as if it were the only prince of this sleeping city, as if it were emperor over all the seconds and minutes and hours.
Fallen raised her wings, eclipsing the moon and blocking its rays, catching Rian in her arms. She placed him on the ground and cradled his wings in her sun-kissed arms. She plucked one of her silver feathers and stitched it onto his gold back bones so that he shimmered once again like the dawn.
The moon, half of what it once was, slithered back into the fabric of the universe.
Rian opened his eyes just as Fallen slipped behind the skeleton tree, underneath the currents of the crater lake. His eyes burned bright like the sun at the memory of her.
And the city woke up.