I was surrounded by four, well let’s just call them angels, as we descended from the airborne city to a mountain top. Two angels to hold me still while two carried out the sentence.
Six times over, there was a loud snap followed by my screams of agony. The three main bones in each of my wings were snapped in half. The two who broke the wing bones were careful to realign them so eventually the wings would heal. But they would never be strong enough to lift my weight again.
The angels flew away, up and out of sight. I watched, tears in my eyes as they soared away. Grounded forever more from my own stupidity.
Perhaps, I should start at the beginning?
Ah, the beginning, I’ll skip over the first memories, early lessons and etc. You’ve probably read so many of those that you already have a hundred such stories already rolling around in your head.
I was actually a reasonably good youth. I did work at lessons, I didn’t play around when I wasn’t supposed to. I listened to the elders and all the official storytellers.
My passion was flight. Oh how I loved to fly. Of course, when you’re still small, they limit where you can fly. I would spend some of every day soaring from one edge to the other of what the elders would allow. It was always in the floating city, never beyond.
My friends, my family, they all flew when they had to get somewhere. Me? I never wanted to stop. I was happiest in the air, feeling the wind shift under my wings.
As I grew older, I was allowed to fly further. Then when I finally reached my 100th birthday, I was allowed to fly away from the city and explore the lands below.
The first flight away from the city, it was so exhilarating. I plunged through a couple of cumulus clouds rejoicing in the cold damp air that made up the cloud. And the warm bright sun when I reached the other side. Diving through a flock of pigeons just to watch them scatter. I know, that was juvenile, but it was fun and funny the first couple of times.
All too soon, I felt the need to return to the city. I decided to drop by my best friend’s house.
“What is your fascination with flying outside the city, Luc? Come on to the club, I can introduce you to some new hot chicks I met last week.”
My pal, Mic, was way more into clubs and girls then I was. “You know I hate the club. I like to talk to people, not shout at them.”
He laughed at me. “You’re not into talking to people even when you don’t have to shout at them. Come on, let’s go party.”
The club scene was pretty typical really. The music wasn’t as loud or as banal as I was expecting. They had a small live band instead of normal recorded music. The band wasn’t bad. Not great, mind you but not bad.
There was a few people at the bar. Some of them casually trying out scents to see which they liked best and a few getting wasted on the cheapest scent available. I hadn’t really tried scents yet. Just another one of those ways I wasn’t like most of the people I know.
Like many of the more popular clubs, there was the Cage toward the back, for the thrill seekers. Outside the door to the Cage was an attendant who only opened the door after you signed a disclaimer. All clubs made you sign one before you got in the Cage. Because the lucky ones got out of the cage with a few new bruises. Broken bones were pretty common and a few die in the cage every season.
Today’s Cage activity seemed to be for a pair to fly in circles around each other fast. The first to lose control lost the game. Given the size of the Cage, that also usually involved a big collision with a wall and I saw one wing broken within a few minutes of our arrival.
Most of the patrons were dancing, in pairs and alone. A few of the couples were utterly in sync; arms, legs and wings all in harmony. The average couple, more of a tangle of wings and arms then anything else.
I was leaning back against the wall, wondering how long I should wait until I could leave the club. Mic was pretty much in his element, I wasn’t worried he’d notice. He had a few girls who were watching him and his current partner with envy in their eyes.
“Hey, handsome. Holding up the wall?”
“Yeah, it was looking a bit unstable so I thought I’d prop it up.”
“Can I take you away from that vital job? There’s a slow dance coming up and I *so* want to be up there.” I looked at the girl. She wasn’t the most attractive girl at the scene, but her eyes seemed to carry more of a spark of interest. She was wearing a black dress and had dyed her wings to match. The tips of the flight feathers were silver to add contrast.
“I don’t dance. This is what I’m good at,” nodding toward the wall.
“You don’t dance. You obviously don’t do the Cage, you haven’t the scars. You don’t do scents. Why the hell did you come?”
“Friend thought I needed to get out.”
“Well, in that case, I think you need to dance. Come on, it’s starting.” She grabbed my hand and started dragging me from the wall. After a minute of trying to stay put, I gave in and flew up to the dance.
By the time we had found a space, the music was playing.
I can’t believe I let some chick I didn’t know talk me into this. She pulled me close and we started to dance.
Of course, slow dance is all about wing control. Some of the couples in the air had perfect control and rhythm with their partner. We tried for awhile to find a matching wing beat but her wings were just enough shorter than mine that it just wasn’t working.
I gently tapped her right wing with my hand. “Would you allow me?” She folded her wings and allowed me to take control of the dance.
Once I had control, I could maintain a slow easy spin like most of the couples in flight.
“So, My Lady, if you wanted to dance so much, why are you here alone?”
“I didn’t come alone. I came with a date. The idiot decided he could rule The Cage tonight.” She nodded toward the pile of people nursing their wounds outside of The Cage. “He spun out in moments and cracked a wing. He won’t be flying for months.” She smiled at me. “I’m glad I talked you into this. You are very good.”
“So, does he look jealous?”
“Let me just make sure.” Her warm soft lips suddenly gently touched mine. “From his expression, I’d say yes.”
“Whoa, slow down there. I’d like to know who I’m kissing.” We were still slowing spinning in the air, arms tightly wrapped around each other.
“I’m Maria. I’m 104, I have an office job, and I love to dance. Your turn.”
“Ok, I’m Lucifer though my friends all call me Luc. I’m 102, and I haven’t found a job that suits me. I do love to fly.”
The music slowed to a halt. I looked down to see a rather angry looking fellow glaring up at Maria. “Maria, do you like being the cause of club scenes?”
“Not particularly. I’m just here for the music.” She started extending her wings. I waited until she had enough lift before I released her.
“I don’t know about you but I’m ready to fly out of here. I think there will be a scene if we get close enough to your grounded friend.” I smiled at Maria. “You certainly did manage to make him very jealous.”
“He’s an idiot if he thinks I’ll sit around all evening because he has to prove something by going in The Cage. I could use some food.”
We flew up and out of the club. Maria’s grounded friend had no hope of following.
“Come on, Luc. I know a little place not far from here. The food isn’t the greatest but it’s cheap and it’s filling.”
I shrugged. “Lead on, Maria. But I hope your friend doesn’t think to look for us there.”
She giggled. “My apartment isn’t far from here either. If the idiot doesn’t go to a medic to get his wing fixed, that’s the more likely place for him to be looking.” We were spiralling down to street level, just in front of a small cafe. “And, I’ve never been here with him.”
We entered the cafe. It was fairly quiet, it was between the times that people stopped to grab a bite before going home and when the club crowd would all want to eat. We found a booth in a quiet corner and sat down. A bored looking waitress brought us menus. She perked up when she realised it was Maria.
“Hey, doll, good to see you back. And you brought another one? I like your style.” She winked at me as she handed me the menu. “That one is a wild one. Watch out.”
“I thought you said you’d never been here with the idiot?” I asked.
“I haven’t been with that guy but I have been here with a few others. As you might have guessed.” She closed her menu. “What will you have? It will be my treat tonight.”
We ordered. I ordered a basic sandwich. Takes talent to really get a sandwich wrong. She ordered the house special salad.
“So, Maria, is this night going somewhere? I don’t have expectations, one way or the other but I’d like to have this clear before too much longer.” It was a funny thing about having been slow dancing together. I felt like we’d already been an intimate couple. I wasn’t about to assume that Maria felt the same though.
She smiled across the booth at me. “Well, I was hoping that I might be able to spend the night at your place. Just in case Johnny boy does turn up at my place sometime tonight. He is going to be seriously peeved tonight. But I did have another motive,” she paused for a deep breath.
Naturally, our order arrived before she could continue that thought. Once the food was on the table, I realised that I was a lot hungrier than I expected to be. Fortunately for me, Maria was more interested in her plate for the moment. So for some time, the only sounds were our utensils hitting plates.
“Maria, you were about to tell me your motive for bringing me here?” I finally asked.
“Yes, right. I do have a motive. I told you I really love to dance.” I nodded. I wasn’t about to forget something in that short a space of time. “Well, there’s a dance competition coming up in a couple of months. But to enter you need a partner. And I’ve had no luck finding someone to enter with me. Most amateurs have long term partners, and I don’t.”
“So, you think you can convince me to be your partner?” I shook my head.
“Look, it may not be what you normally do for fun. But you have talent, especially so for one who says he doesn’t dance.”
“I’m not sure I see what’s in it for me. I mean, for a start, how much time would it take?”
Maria reached for my hand. “Well, if we wanted to do it properly, we definitely want to spend 6 hours or more a week practicing. Preferably more.” She gently stroked the back of my hand. “The competition I have in mind requires 3 routines and one freestyle. I know someone who can help create the routines but without a partner why ask?” She interlaced her fingers with mine and gave them a small squeeze.
“This brings me back to the other question. What’s in it for me?”
“Well, I could try saying fame and fortune but that’s not going to fly for long. The only prize worthwhile in this class would be first and it usually takes years to get to that level.” She sat there chewing her lower lip. “Can’t ask as a friend since we’ve just met. It’s good exercise but I can tell you don’t need more exercise in particular.”
A few moments later and she let go of my hand. “Well, really, I can’t see that there’s anything in it for you. Except spending time with me and we don’t even know if we’d like each other.” She gave a deep sigh.
I looked at her closely. I liked her honesty and well, it had been some time since I last had a date. “Didn’t you say you wanted to go back to my apartment?”
She nodded slowly. “Yeah, I really don’t have the energy to deal with Johnny if he does turn up at my place tonight.”
“Let’s finish up here. Then see if you can stand to stay at my place, it’s been a while since I last had visitors. We can work out if we do like each other.”
Things actually went well that night and for some time thereafter. We did end up being partners for dance competitions. As you’d expect, the first few times we were eliminated pretty quickly, but within a couple of months, we were regularly making it to the final cut and sometimes won second or third place. Never quite first though, it takes quite a lot of effort to get the first prize.
At some point, Maria moved in with me. We agreed that her having a separate place made no sense after we starting spending more nights together then apart.
“Lucifer? I have something to tell you.”
“I’m pregnant. I’m going to have your baby.” She watched me closely for reactions.
“But, but, you’re a cloudling, I’m a sunling. You know we aren’t supposed to breed.” The people of the city come in three types; the skylings - a light blue hue, the cloudlings - a silvery grey and the most common type in the city, and finally the sunlings - golden in tone like the sun. While all can live and work together, breeding is restricted by old laws to within your own type.
Maria was determined to have that baby, even if the law was against it. She refused to say who the father was to anyone who asked.
Our friends and family did speculate about it, since we’d been living together for months. But since Maria wasn’t talking, they didn’t push. The only one who knew the entire truth was Maria’s dame. The two of them secluded themselves in a small apartment at the edge of the city during the final two months, our story was that Maria wasn’t well and had to stay in bed for most of the time.
While I waited, I threw myself into the club scene with Mic at my side. I waged my body in The Cage. I’d dance with anyone willing to fly with me. I tried desperately not to think about Maria and the baby to be. I was lucky that none of the idiot things I did during these months caused me any permanent damage.
Finally one day, a brief note arrived. “Maria named her daughter Celia. They are both well and should be with you soon.” The note contained a picture of a tiny baby cloudling - a miniature of her lovely mother.
It was just as well that Celia was a cloudling. If a baby is born that isn’t of the same type as their mother, that baby is taken away to be left somewhere outside the city. There are no punishments for the parents, removal of the child is considered to be quite enough.
Celia, our own little piece of heaven, was such a delight. She was as lovely a baby as anyone could wish for.
Not a change of life I ever expected but she won my heart over very quickly.
We fussed over her, played with her, kept her as happy as anyone could wish. And she’d reward us with the biggest sweetest smile. She was perfect in every way; fingers, toes, her little wing nubs.
By the time Celia turned one, we were starting to be concerned. At 18 months, we had a very serious concern. Finally when Celia turned two, it was time to take her to the healers. Maria tried every delaying tactic in the books but not one of them helped.
“Sweetheart, we must. You know that we have to take her.” I told Maria
“Luc, we both know that her wings aren’t developing. They haven’t grown at all since her birth.” Maria’s voice was intense with her worry.
It was true. Our lovely daughter was growing well in every way except one. Her wings weren’t growing with the rest of her. “I know, Maria. She doesn’t even try to use her wings. I’ve never seen her move them when she needs extra balance.”
“I’ve asked my parents, my friends and Celia should definitely be trying to fly by now. She never does, she’s perfectly happy walking. Our baby is deformed.”
It was true. If Celia basically had no wings, then by all rights, she was deformed. It was a serious and life threatening deformity. “Maybe it’s something that the healers can fix. Or maybe she’s just a bit slow with the wing development but it will happen a little later.” I sighed. “But the healers will have to see her sometime. We can’t put it off forever.”