Author: Sparkle Itamashii
Warnings: Respect the rating.
Claimer: This story, its characters, plot, and settings are mine. Please do not take or distribute without my permission.
The night was cool, open and soft like the air after a storm when everything has begun to clear and blue sky begins to roll through the clouds. The Ravine was the only place in all the city where the trees break and I could see above them to the horizon. Everywhere else was dense foliage, thick and green the color of emeralds and peridots. That bridge was the only part of the city not protected by gnarled boughs and sheltering trunks.
Sometimes I wonder what it would be like. To jump, that is. What would it be like to scale this fragile railing and cast myself away from the bridge, out over the Ravine into Beyond? It was a dangerous thought, I knew, but I couldn't help it. I've always craved danger, felt its pull coiling in my gut, calling and begging me to follow a different path. Especially there on the cusp of the border, the howling loneliest point that reached farthest into the harsh clutches of Beyond. Always, standing there, did I think about leaping.
I could never forget who was watching, though.
A thousand, two thousand… A million years ago maybe that would have been possible. Maybe I would have had somewhere to go. But now…? Now there was no chance for escape. There was no place I could live where they did not thrive, no place they did not control. Sometimes I thought I was the only one left, in all the city, with a free will. I am the only one who dreams of escape, of freedom of… something else, something bigger than what we have.
It's silly, I knew, to even consider such a notion.
Kearka was my home. I had never known anywhere else, I had never left the city bounds. All of my friends, all of my family, all of my world was here in this one, sprawling city… and yet I craved more. I wanted more than this world alone could offer me.
I know there was a time when humans did not live in the trees. I know there was a time, so very long ago, when they roamed freely over this planet whenever they chose. They walked on soil, on solid rock and ground and they thrived… until they took it too far. Until they abused the privileges they had been given when their race was born. I do not know if it is right for me to hate them for that, but I do. Bitterly because it is their fault I was caged there in the tops of the Mahika.
The Mahika. The sentient trees of this planet.
It has been so long that few even know that there was a time they didn't rule, a time when they were not our guardians. Fewer still remember the war, the horrible devastation of the land and the death that spread through the peoples afterwards. None at all remember the Mahika, born from the spirits of the trees as the fighting tore the world to pieces, rising up and taking matters unto themselves. There is no one who remembers them snatching humans in snakelike vines, taking those they wished to keep and killing anyone they saw to be unfit.
It was then that they took control, spreading like a disease over the continents and birthing the Seven Cities- Kearka, Raeighn, Leilith, Jaroon, Neflik, Gerina, and Medrid. There was one city for every continent save for very southernmost and two for the largest of the eastern. The Mahika formed prisons under the guise of havens, imprisoning all of the humans who survived the upheaval. Communication was severed and civilization, while it did not end, was reformed into something completely unrecognizable.
The barriers around the cities were impassible. All were forbidden from leaving from any direction, pulled back into the city or walled in where the Mahika thought it was necessary. That is why we were kept so high in the trees. There was no escape except for death. We knew no disease amongst our people, only those brought to us by the creatures of Beyond so there was only sacrifice to the Mahika if they would take us.
They always did, should we lay foot outside their bounds.
Kept in this isolated world, written word was lost. Families were torn apart. Cultures were mixed beyond being able to sort them out. A spoken language was developed out of necessity, though it was limited at first. People pushed the upheaval from their minds, lost everything that had been important to them because it no longer existed.
The world transformed, starting over.
The past ceased to matter and thus it was forgotten.
I know that if no one knows it makes it awfully strange for me to have such information. Where does one find stories that were lost millennia ago, when written word shattered and disappeared? Where does one find knowledge in a society that has none?
I know because She told me.
She taught me… so much.
On silky-soft wings of white she appeared, drifting lazily over the Ravine as though searching for something. I stood, as I had every night for years and years, upon this very same bridge- the only part of Kearka that openly edged Beyond. Every night I watched her for a moon or more, wondering where she bed down that the Mahika did not destroy her. It was only when my curiosity grew so strong I thought I might fall apart that I called to her. I did not know if she would hear me but certainly the Mahika would, which meant I was being completely foolish. But I didn't care. I had to see her up close. I cast my voice as far as it would travel, unsure if she would understand me, even if she heard.
But she did.
She heard my cry and her pattern halted so abruptly that I thought she might fall right out of the sky. In midair she hung, fluttering to stay aloft as she scanned for the source of the disturbance. Though the boughs of the Mahika shivered around me I shouted again, bravely waving an arm to catch her attention.
Only when she at last settled upon the banister, folding long, glossy wings to her pale back did I begin to realize what I had just done. I had invited a stranger to our city, our haven. Even if it was only the very edge I had no doubts that the Mahika would not be forgiving. I had only seen them kill once, when a man caught sick after encountering a creature from Below. He attacked his fellows as though they were as mad as he, and the Mahika retaliated.
The blood never faded- to this day the leaves still grow dark crimson.
I didn't want to see that happen to such a beautiful creature.
"Fly!" I'd begged desperately when her hands wrapped around the rail to steady her as she moved to slip down to the bridge.
I was too late- already the whip-like branches of the Mahika were reaching for her, ready to tear the intruder to pieces. Horrified, all I could do was watch as her wings dropped open belatedly and she raised one hand to guard against them. A useless gesture for sure, but there was precious little she could else do. The first of the vicious limbs coiled around her open palm as easily as if it were rope. She may not have flinched at the contact but I could not help recoiling and covering my face in both my hands.
The screams never came.
There was no violent rustling. There was no cracking of branch or bone, no ill-sounding splatter of liquid, no sign that anyone had been killed like that man in the past.
Startled, I pried open my eyes and forced my fingers to curl, affording me a clear view of the most astonishing sight.
She stood before me, whole and well, with wings drooping open enough that her flight feathers bowed where they met the bridge but did not bend. Her delicate hands were tangled in the thick vines, her fingers moving swiftly, deftly caressing. They were conversing, this girl and the Mahika, I could tell that much. What secret they shared that night, however, I will never learn. Whatever words she spoke, they accepted her, withdrawing reluctantly and returning to an unsettling semblance of scenery. She turned violet-green eyes to me, smiling softly. Her long, silver hair had been braided three times over, the final braid flowing over one milky shoulder. It was only then that I realized she was clad only in pale moonlight and shadows, shivering from the cool night air.
"You are the first I have seen in many moons, boy." Her voice was smooth and clear and though the lilting accent was unfamiliar is was not unpleasant.
"Do you live in the Beyond?" I asked breathlessly, forgetting to be indignant that she thought me to be so young.
She laughed, a sweet, intriguing sound I instantly came to like. "Oh, no. Certainly not. I hail from Leilith. Do you know it?"
Of course, I didn't.
After that she stayed, teaching me of all the things she had learned in her travels. For a year I found her waiting on the bridge in the dark hours, speaking to the Mahika so as to gather more knowledge. She craved it like a starving man craves food, and the need was catching. Every eve she taught me our history and spoke to me of the six other cities the Mahika had created amongst their boughs. She explained to me of deserts and oceans and icy-cold tundra, all places barren of Mahika. There was only one subject she refused, one question she would not answer. As always, my curiosity only grew stronger in being denied the satisfaction it desired.
"Please," I begged a hundred times over, "Tell me about your wings."
For I had never seen a human wearing wings before. I had never seen such a beautiful white, never laid hand to so soft a feather. There was no bird of her like- she looked human in all save for those wings. They were so obvious a trait and yet she kept them such a tightly bound secret. I had discovered that she did not always have them so how does one come by having such magnificent limbs?
Always she would remain silent for a moment and then continue with what she had been speaking about before I had interrupted. Always a small, sad look passed through her eyes and she gave me a look that begged me not to ask again.
There was only one time she ever answered me.
"Do you have faith?" She'd asked in response to my question.
"Faith?" I had not heard the word before.
"Yes. Can you believe in something without ever having seen it, without knowing if it is real or if it does exist?" She gave me the same level, even look she always gave me when she was asking a question whose answer mattered a great deal. "Can you trust someone without knowing everything about them?"
"What do you mean?"
She sighed, looking up to the sky. "I have told you of all the cities, of all the world. I have told you of the people, of the lands, of the waters, of this entire world… but do you believe? Do you trust me enough to believe what I say, no matter what I say?"
My brow furrowed in thought for a moment as I watched her study the stars above us. I knew she was asking something deeper, something more than anything I could hope to understand at the time. I knew also that my answer would be the key to unlocking much, much more.
"I believe in you." I said carefully. "I have no reason to disbelieve what you say."
Bringing her gaze down, she gave me a searching look. "If I asked you to jump, from that railing… would you?"
The railing was old, low enough that I could easily scale it and make that leap. However… I could see no end. There was no ground in sight, only endless lengths of Mahika, down, down, down as far as I could see and likely more below that. To hit an end after such a fall... Though surely the Mahika would catch me long before I ever reached such a depth.
"Yes." I replied hesitantly. "I would jump if you asked it of me."
"What if I told you that the Mahika would catch you and tear you to shreds before you had fallen even three man-lengths?"
I felt ill at her words, realizing that she spoke only truth. I had forgotten that the Mahika prevented all from leaving their borders. Being around her always made me forget I was trapped, made me think that anything was possible- even taking to the skies and escaping. Inside Kearka's limits the Mahika would return any who fell but here, on this bridge… being lost to Beyond would seem a better fate than the cruel, vicious death they would so swiftly bring to you.
"Why would you ask of me such a thing, knowing what would happen?" I said weakly, concerned.
"If you knew… If you knew what they would do and I asked you to jump, would you do it?" She asked insistently, ignoring my own question. "Do you have enough trust in me to believe that I would not ask something of you that would put you in harm's way?"
I considered this, not breaking eye contact as the breeze quivered around us. I had known her for a short while, maybe only ten moons at that time… but I could not imagine that she would hurt me. Surely she would not ask me to take a leap like that if she was not sure I would remain unharmed. I trusted her.
"Yes. I would jump for you if you asked it of me. I would trust you to keep me safe from harm."
"That is faith." She said, smiling softly. "Faith is trusting in something even when you do not know the outcome, even though you cannot know if something will happen or if something exists. You must always, always have faith." She spread her wings, the white of them shimmering in the moonlight. "These are my faith."
I never questioned what she said that night. I never asked what she meant when she told me that her wings were her faith. Light above how I wondered, but I could never find the courage to ask. Somehow I felt that what she had shared with me that night was something that I had to determine for myself. Some kind of mystery that she had given me and until I discovered an answer I knew she would tell no more.
Of course, I didn't realize how little time I had to find a meaning to those words.
"I'm leaving." She said tentatively one night as we sat sprawled on the flat of the bridge to watch the stars.
Confused, I gave her a sidelong glance. "So soon? The moon has barely risen."
"No," she corrected gently, "I'm leaving. I have learned all I can here and the Mahika grow restless that I have stayed so long."
"You've been here but one year of a hundred!" I exclaimed. When she showed no sign of changing her mind I clamped down on the ache that tightened in my chest. "Will you… Will you return?"
She studied me quietly for a long moment, eyes roaming over my form in careful consideration. Finally she sighed and gracefully shifted, using the movement to rise and look out over the Ravine. I stood and folded my arms on the rail, following her line of vision. Light from the moon behind us poured in milky white over the fog that layered the tops of the trees, creating an expanse filled with ominous mystery.
"A year and a day." She'd whispered to the night air. "If I have not returned by then, forget me. Never forget what I have spoken to you, but dissolve the messenger. I have no place in memory."
"I could never forget you." I responded, trembling. "I am yet too fond of you for that."
"Then I truly have stayed too long." She said sadly, never looking at me. "Do you have faith?" She knew my reply before asking and yet she made it sound as though it truly mattered this time.
"Faith?" I echoed, "What has faith got to do-"
"I asked- Do you have faith?" I disliked the tone of urgency in her voice. It made me feel as though I were missing some larger picture.
"Yes, I have faith." I answered honestly.
"In what?" She said instantly, seeming to already know my answer before I spoke it.
"In everything." I responded, distraught. "I have faith in you and in me and in everything all around us just like you taught me! Why does this matter?!"
She backed away from me then, watching my eyes for a reaction. I stumbled forward a step when she opened her wings. The night was not over- dawn was such a long way off still… but I knew that stance. She was preparing to leave now. I was helpless to stop her as she hopped lightly into the air, wings spreading as she grabbed hold of the rail and perched there. Even in the moonlight I could see tears glittering in her eyes.
"In a year and a day." She repeated. "Have faith."
And then she vanished. I waited there on that bridge, every night since then, hoping that she would return and knowing that she was gone. It had been a year and a day and still there was no sign that she would ever return to me. So I was there one more time, one last time. I had faith before, I still did, but she had promised she would either be back by now or never after and… well, she wasn't there.
The moon was setting, giving way slowly to the red morning. It was the time of night when she would give me a gentle smile, brushing the tips of her fingers across my cheeks and climb to her feet. I would rise with her, regretting that the moonlight was ever forced to recede. I never understood why she had to leave and I couldn't bear to ask. Perhaps it was the Mahika, growing restless in the early hours or perhaps it was merely her own restless nature, always needing to move.
Whatever the reason she would turn from me and lay her hands upon the railing, anticipating the sunlight as the first few beams of golden light breached the horizon. I joined her, following her gaze with sad eyes. She never said goodbye, never issued words of parting. She didn't have to- I knew. I couldn't stand to let her leave without saying something, but she never returned my words. That was all right, though. Somehow I didn't feel like she was ever really leaving. I had "faith" that she would return.
But she hadn't that time and she wasn't going to again.
I placed my hands on the cool railing, watching the sunbeams as we always had. The Mahika were stirring below me, dark leaves rustling in a slow, rolling manner like a gentle breeze. I think somehow they knew what was going on, had guessed what I was about to do. I didn't care- let them know, let them discover my intentions. I had no will to keep myself separate from them any more. Let them have my blood if they wanted it so badly.
Sighing, I steeled myself and climbed, perching precariously upon the rail. The hollow material is cold, rough with age and weathering. Vertigo seizes my gut, the ground seeming to drop swiftly away below me. The Ravine spread out for miles around, truly a sight to be seen with all of its lush green and smoky grey- like fogged jewels. I could barely balance and so it was not hard to make a decision. Just a moment longer.
"I trust you." I whispered to the dawn. "If I leap, will you still catch me? I still have faith." I breathed the last four words, almost afraid to speak them.
As I released the rail and let gravity wrap around me, several things happened in a whirlwind of speed. Below, in their haste to reach me, the Mahika were curling up so swiftly they snapped their own branches off against one another. They were ready to snatch me up in their vicious grasp and tear me to shreds. I had fallen less than a meter when a searing pain cut across my shoulder blades and I thought for sure they had already caught me in their razor vines. It hurt so bad I thought I was going to die and the pain did not stay centered on my shoulder blades. It spread, across my back and down my sides, into areas of my body I wasn't even sure existed. I clamped my eyes and mouth tightly shut, closing off the view of the solid wall of foliage rising to greet me and keeping myself from giving into the urge to scream as I fell.
Then I wasn't. Falling, that is.
My eyes snapped open as arms circled under mine and locked tightly around my chest. There was a painful yank as gravity was denied and She plucked me from the sky as though I had been standing still. I do not know where she had come from but she had returned for me. Perhaps she had merely been waiting below, to see if I really did have the faith I'd vowed to have. It didn't matter. The sea Mahika below groaned in protest and the wall swirled, forming a spike that ate the distance between us far more quickly. They knew we were escaping and the double weight of us was too much- we were moving too slowly.
Her wings snapped shut with a flurry of white and we spun away as the spike overshot us. I could feel us dropping, feel the panic well up within me once more. I was pressed to her, the pain coating my back amplified by the contact like salt on a raw wound. I could hear her speaking to me but understood nothing save the wind howling past my ears and the wicked groaning of wooden limbs below. Clinging to her, I hid my face, feeling her shift as we shot along a current of air, its invisible support tangible enough to her outstretched wings.
It was terrifying but blissfully swift. The Mahika could only climb so high into the night sky and they retreated as soon as they realized we were too far. We had escaped their reach, into Beyond.
I had never seen the ground, never laid eyes upon a beach or an ocean but she had described them to me in perfection. The long expanse of grey extended to either side of me, almost endless. Hundred and hundreds of acres of salty, bitter water for as far as I could see stretched out before me, pasty white fog hanging over the surface like lost clouds. It was overwhelming.
She dropped me gently to the gritty grey sand when we at last landed. I fell to my hands and knees, head hanging as I coughed violently. Blood dripped into the sand around me- from my back, my arms, my mouth… everywhere. Every breath I drew was a struggle, fighting off the pain lancing my back. She said nothing, made no move to aid me and I could not help but feel despair. Was it so bad that she thought there was nothing to be done?
"How did you…?" I gasped finally. The pain was subsiding- now it felt like someone was stabbing me only when I inhaled.
"You had to jump." She said, as if that explained everything. I flinched when she knelt beside me and spoke soothingly. "You had to take a leap of faith or these…" A peculiar sensation washed over my back, "would never have broken free."
I choked on my breath, pulling away from her touch and painfully looking over my shoulder to see what damage had been done. I felt sick at the bloody mess my back had become, wondering what I had broken. Amongst the blood I could see bone white and what looked like hair or fur or-
I gasped, reaching behind me to feel along the tattered edges of my skin. She leaned forward, pulling at that sensation I had felt earlier and my fingers came into contact with soaked, downy feathers. Tentatively I flexed muscles I had never known before and something moved beneath my hand.
Oh god it hurt so bad…
I released my new limb, confused. They were small, so much smaller than hers, but they were the same wings. I felt strange, like a newly hatched chick discovering the world for the first time. Already I could feel the rents where the wings had torn through my skin closing, healing. The pain was receding, leaving only a dull haze on my mind. I knew it would be a while before my back would no longer be tender and sore but oh what a reward…
"H-how?" I breathed hoarsely.
"When the world changed and the Mahika took control, half of the world's population was taken." She gave me a controlled look as she stood, moving away to stare out over the ocean. "Only one kind of angel was left."
"Angels?" I questioned dubiously as I leaned back took a seat, burying my hands and staining new sand with red. "What about… humans?"
"Humans?" She laughed at me, the same sweet sound she had made when we very first met. With twinkling eyes she turned to watch me as she spoke, the seriousness of her tone betraying her light demeanor. "There's no such thing as humans, lovely. Only angels- the Faithful and the Fallen."
I gave her a curious and confused look, back still aching desperately. "Which are we?" I asked hesitantly, not sure I truthfully wanted an answer.
Silently she smiled, sadly turning her gaze away from me again. "I wish with all my heart that I could tell you, but I do not yet know. Perhaps together we can find an answer."
I turned my own gaze to the sparkling blue ocean. The sun was just peeking over the horizon, dying the sky with gold and green and painting wavering colors on the waters. I could hear the Mahika far in the distance, glad that there were none this close to the coast. I had finally made it out, escaped the prison I'd been held in and now…
"Are there others?" I whisper. "That know?"
"Three. One who set me free and two we have since taught." She smiled like a mother to a child. "And now you."
"Where are they?"
"Raeighn and Jaroon. There are others like you, who desire to be Someplace Else but cannot guess where that might be. When your wings have grown and you can travel the sky, we will find them."
She took a graceful seat and curled upon herself, her wings practically forming a nest around her. Soon she was sound asleep, ignoring everything as far as I could tell. I sat for a long while, restless and weary, trying to bring everything that had happened into perspective. In lieu of discovering anything more useful, however, I eventually gave up my efforts. I washed my wings in the salty water, cringing at the awful sensation but glad to be rid of the metallic blood that coated all my skin.
I fell asleep listening to the waves lapping gently at the shore, wondering what tomorrow could possibly bring.
This is… supposed to be a one shot. They don't even freaking have names. But… badgering by certain individuals may lengthen this into something more. If you want more of this, please don't be shy and please let me know. I'm stuck for a decision so your opinion will matter.