Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Fallen (Part 3)

(disclaimer - reposting this - originally on tumblr.)

“Dark red. The whole underwing should be dark red.” I smiled at Raph. “I know, it’s usually done for contrast but I’m going for subtle dramatic.”

“Right, well, full body is going to cost you.” He pointed at the price list. I didn’t even glance in that direction, I’d been here enough times with Maria to memorise the entire list.

“Here’s the cash,” I handed him a small pile of gold and silver coins. Raph took the money and motioned me to the back of the shop.

“Right, full body. So, take off anything you don’t want dyed black. You can tie any of these,” he motioned to a large range of pieces of cloth, “around any bits of you that shouldn’t be dyed. When you’ve done that, I’ll put some protection over your eyes and we can start.” The pieces of cloth had obviously been used to keep dye off his customers in the past. Some were too stiff to be useful any more.

I removed my garments and tied one cloth around my hips. “Done.”

“You weren’t kidding about full body, were you? Now close your eyes.” I closed my eyes and he placed a couple of small sticky things on my eyelids.

He led me over the a small platform and then moved my arms and wings for best exposure. “Now just stay like that.” I could hear a small click then the platform started to slowly turn. I could feel the mist of the dye hitting me. Raph was spraying up and down very steadily as the platform moved.

It was only a few minutes later when he stopped spraying. “That’s a nice even coat, from top to toe. It’s pretty fast drying, so we should be ready to do the second colour soon.” I just stood still, waiting for instructions.

“Seems like forever since you or Maria came in. What’s been happening in your lives?” Raph asked.

“Well, Maria kind of pulled out of the party and dance circuit because she had a baby. A lovely little clouding.” I was trying to keep all of my feelings under control. “And she is more the party goer than I am. So we both stopped.”

“Well, maybe Maria should come by with the little one.” I could hear some rustling noises. “Should be ready for the secondary colour. Keep your wings well up and out. Let your arms drop to the sides.”

I did as instructed and felt the spray of dye against the undersides of my wings. This coat was finished even more quickly.

“Well, there you go, Luc.” Raph pointed at the mirror in the corner. “What do you think?”

I looked at myself in the mirror. The black coated all of me except for my eyelids and what the cloth protected. I spread my wings to see the red, such a deep colour it was barely distinguishable from the black. It should be impossible to see me flying after dark, even if the moon were full. “That’s perfect, Raph. Exactly what I was hoping for.”

“I don’t get much call for black, you’re lucky I had enough dye. And you probably remember, it will last 4 or 5 days or you can wash it off with the special formula. I’m sure Maria has some from all the dye jobs she’s had done."

“Thanks Raph, see you later.” I flew out the door.

There was still a couple of hours until dusk, and I was pretty sure that things wouldn’t happen until well past dusk. So I grabbed a bite to eat. Then I went back to my place, sat next to Celia’s crib and cried all the tears that I’d been holding back. Our Celia, our darling, was by now a groundling. What I was hoping to do tonight wouldn’t and couldn’t save her from that fate.

Finally, it was nearing dusk. I flew to my chosen spot and settled in for the night. From my vantage point, I could see both the exits quite clearly. I had no idea if my suspicions would prove to be right. Or if I’d have to come back a few times. Or if it was too late already, but I was pretty sure that wasn’t true.

Finally, sometime well after midnight, I saw a couple of staff members leave the building by the roof exit. One carried a small bundle, one that could easily be Celia. I waited until they were truly airborne before I launched myself into the sky. I wanted to stay within sight but far enough back that they wouldn’t hear my wing beats.

The flight lasted for about half an hour. Soon the pair were circling a small groundling village. I felt sure they were checking the village to ensure no one was about. So I looked for a place I could stay that wouldn’t be noticed by the groundlings or the pair I was following.

Soon they landed and placed their tiny bundle down on the ground near the centre of the village. I watched as they looked at the baby and then flew away.

I waited a few minutes, until I was sure they had gone. I kept an eye on that tiny bundle while I waited.

Once I was sure that the village was quiet and the others had gone, I flew down and picked up the baby. It was our little Celia. She was fast asleep, I suspect that they had given her something to keep her from waking during the flight. I gently felt her back. All traces of her wing nubs were gone.

“Celia, my sweet. I wish so much that your wings had grown in. But you can’t live in the city with us now. You will be a groundling for the rest of your life.” A few tears dripped from my face and splashed her. She stirred slightly from the tear drops. “I will watch to see who takes you in. And I’ll help them in any way I can.”

I had to fight every instinct, I wanted to carry her home and hide her away. But truly, the city is no place for the wingless, there are simple too many places where flying is the only way in or out. And I’d never seen anyone in the city who couldn’t fly. Of course, I held part of the answer to how that happens in my arms.

I had to put Celia back down. It was getting too close to dawn, surely someone in the village would be moving soon. I gave her the last hug I’d ever be able to and place her in the exact same spot. It nearly broke my heart to put her down.

I flew to a spot where I could watch over Celia without being seen. As the sun began its long slow climb into the sky, the village stirred into life.

At first, people only left their homes to care for their livestock. No one went near the tiny bundle that I cared so much about. By the time the sun was completely over the horizon, people were starting to walk around the village a bit more. Still, no one so much as glanced at Celia.

Then the baby finally woke and started screaming her lungs out. A few people went over to look at the baby but no one picked her up. It took all my will not to fly back and snatch Celia up again.

Finally, one female stepped forward and picked up the baby. She chatted briefly with a male and then they both returned to one of the small homes carrying Celia inside. I memorised the house so I could return later. For now, I had to fly home and talk to Maria.

The flight back to the city took very little time. I flew into our place and looked for Maria. It didn’t take long for me to reach the conclusion she wasn’t home yet.
So first I removed the dye using some of Maria’s left over removal goop. It took a little while to thoroughly remove the black. I listened but Maria still hadn’t returned.

Next I flew back to the healers. It scared the hell out of me when the healer at the greeting desk took one look at me, turned pale and scurried to the back. A few minutes later, the elder healer appeared.

“Lucifer?” she started.

“I’m just here to find out if Maria is awake yet. She’s not home.” I explained. I didn’t want them to think I was here to ask about Celia.

“She’s gone,” the healer said. I tried to work out in my head where else she must have gone if not our place. “She died last night,” the healer finally said when she noticed my confusion. “We think she woke up at some point, opened one of our potion cabinets, drank some random potions and then returned to bed. By the time we noticed that someone had been drinking some very dangerous potions, it was too late. She had died.”

“Dead? How can she be dead?” I could barely whisper the words, it was so hard to say. “You were supposed to be watching her.”

“We didn’t know she had woken. The night attendant wasn’t responsible. It was no one’s fault.” The healer sounded defensive about the affair.

I let loose an almighty scream and then just collapsed into a sobbing heap on the floor. Celia was gone. Maria was dead. It was too much. Far too much.

“Do you want me to,” the healer started to say.

“Just get out! Leave me be,” I shouted blindly lashing out with my wings to push away anything within range. I heard footsteps retreating and a door quietly closing. I just let myself get lost in my grief, keeping my wings moving back and forth so nothing would get close.

My brain wasn’t coping with this. How could my life get shattered so thoroughly, so quickly? What was I going to do?

Finally, my mind snapped into focus. There was the life celebration ceremony to arrange. I’d have to start contacting Maria’s family and friends.

The next few days were just a blur. I remember flying to visit Maria’s mother Helen. I remember collapsing on the floor again as I told her first about Celia and then about Maria. She didn’t let me fly home that night. I think Helen said something about not thinking I should go there for a day or two.

She was the one that made the arrangements for Maria’s life celebration. Sometime during the morning after, she realised that I was still in a state of shock, probably because I didn’t answer any question with more than a one word reply. Yes, no, maybe was about all I could cope with.

It was a mere two days later that we had the celebration. Maria’s family and friends gathered to remember all the good that she had done in life. School, work and her love of dance. Part of the celebration was a dance, everyone joined in. I was by far the most reluctant in the room. Dancing was so much what I associated with Maria that it was just painful to even try.

After approximately forever, the celebration was finally over. After I was allowed to fly home since Helen was positive that I was able to care for myself again. That bare, empty place that I was sharing with my family such a short time ago.

It was nearing the new moon, the nights were barely lit. I decided to take the opportunity to visit Celia’s new home.

First I went around my place; putting a few of her toys, a few clothes, a little food and some coins into a small bag. I didn’t want to take a lot on the first time. Just a few things that should help Celia and her new family.

I flew out of the city before the sun was too low on the horizon. I wanted to arrive before the sunlight had faded completely. I would have to be more careful that I wasn’t spotted by a groundling. But the hope that I might see Celia, even from a distance, was too strong to ignore.

For the last bit of the journey, I was soaring barely above the canopy. I stopped when I had a reasonably clear view of the little building that Celia had been taken into. My journey was rewarded, the woman I had seen before was sitting outside with a baby on her lap. Little Celia looked to be doing well, though at this distance, it was hard to be sure.

As the sunlight faded, the villagers all went into various buildings. When all was quiet outside, I flew down and left my little bag by the door to Celia’s new home.

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