Birds of a Feather
She closed her eyes and tried to shut out all the noise. The roar of humanity burned her ears in the confines of a city that never slept, never rested in any way. It hungered always for the souls of those who scurried about as if anything they did in that concrete closet would ever mean anything in the long run. She breathed deeply of the air and tasted the acrid tint of asphalt on her tongue. This was her forest, her domain. No matter what unpleasantness might roam there, or lie in wait for the unwitting and unwary, she was a part of it wholly.
After a long moment she picked herself off of the discarded wooden crate upon which she sat. Brown eyes flecked with green surveyed the cityscape below the ninth story rooftop upon which she presently perched, and a wry kind of smile crept across her olive complicated face. They were going to be pissed. They always were. Yet, no matter how many times she made her way up here and freed the enslaved lives so caged, they always got more. As if they really thought that their little security measures were honestly going to stop her. Perhaps they assumed some ally cat or other was responsible. Maybe they chalked it up to the bums looking for anything to roast over a fire. Either way, as often as she came up here, the cages were always repopulated and she always set them all free.
As she walked over to the coops for what must have been the tenth time in the last year, she could hear the coos of excitement from the winged creatures within. Her footfalls made no sound; her movements were those of one raised on the streets and well able to take care of herself. Hair that must have at one time been dark brown was now corn rolled in black, white, dark green, deep red, and royal purple. Its lengths reached to the mid of her back, held out of her face by the decorative red lensed goggles she was always wearing. She was clad in a white, collared, button down shirt with a black and white stripped tie adorned with several offensive buttons. Under that was a long sleeved black shirt which peeked our from under the white one, always untucked, to hang over her black belt. Olive drab cargo pants met her black combat boots, laced with dark green laces. A club kid, street punk some would have called her. Raver kid others. She, however, saw and knew herself to be none of those labels. She was just Roary, defender of pigeons.
“Hey there, fellas,” she said in a soft alto. “Looks like tonight’s the lucky night for you.” She reached into one of her many pockets and pulled out a bobby pin. Her deft fingers made short work of the simple lock which held the coop doors. Roary took a deep breath and held onto that moment in time.
It was always the same. The feeling of kinship, the elation of setting them free. She threw open the door, startling them all to flight. There was a ruptured smile on her face as she watched them take off into the night, heading for the moon or beyond, free of the cage which so cruelly bound them, kept them from being what they really were.
Fly safe, little brethren… go where I cannot, where they can never take your wings again, she thought almost sadly. In a moment it was all over, and she was left alone on the dark and deserted rooftop. She was about to turn and head for home, when something caught her eye.
A shadow had just passed over the moon; wings too huge to be real had encompassed the entirety of the silvery orb hanging in the night’s sky. She blinked, assuming she had just seen wrong. No bird was that big. Impossibly, it came again, this time white. There was something there, and it had just dived into an ally a few blocks away!
Like a bolt she headed for the roof ledge, jumping easily from one rooftop to the next. This was her city, after all, and none knew its rooftops better than she. Roary had to know what she had just seen. Something strange was going on, and she was damn sure going to find out what.
The early autumn wind was sharp and biting against her skin, but she rather liked the sensation, actually. It reminded her of ages long passed and ancient battlegrounds. Her long raven hair streamed behind her, as did the shadows which were her children in the dark of the night. Rain could not help but smile a fell little smile as she darted high into the sky on her beautiful onyx wings, the silver of the moon bathing her in its icy glow.
‘You enjoy this far too much, my friend,’ came a laughing voice into her mind. Echo was not far behind her, ivory to complement her darkness.
‘Don’t pretend you’re not having fun, I know you better than that. No one enjoys a good hunt better than you.’ Rain laughed out loud, the sound of it consumed by the wind and carried far away.
She could almost see the Avatar of Light shrug. ‘Fair enough.’ A pause. ‘Have you found what you’re looking for yet?’ She asked into her opposite’s mind. They had honed their Fae power, little like the girls they had been only half a year before. Nine long months of hunting for their immortal mates had made them sharp and direct, truly grown into the Princes of the Fae and Avatars that they were. Though they were sparing in their exhibition of their might, there were times when they made exceptions. This particular manner of hunting was one of them.
‘Indeed,’ Rain almost purred darkly. Though, that she said it darkly was rather redundant, for she was the Avatar of Darkness, physical manifestation of that eternal universal force from before the dawn of time. Her bright jade eyes narrowed as she concentrated, calling on the shadows which were her domain to let her see as they saw. She grinned with satisfaction as she saw one particular scene, sensed what was about to happen next.
‘Follow me, I’ve found them.’ With that, she wheeled before the moon and made a sharp dive for one of the city’s many dangerous alleyways.
Rain landed without a sound, her great black wings becoming one with the shadows. Echo landed near at hand, she too, despite her white wings, fading into the background. One advantage of being Fae, they had learned, was that Mortals did not see what they believed could not be real. It took very little will to hide, and even if someone stood inches from them, they would not be seen. The pair stood silently and waited, watching for their prey. It would not be long now, they knew.
There she was, a girl dressed in a waitress’ uniform. The keen senses of the Fae could smell the scent of food on her, greasy food from some low class joint. In that neighborhood, they were common. The girl walked with her head down and her inadequate jacket pulled tightly about her as if it might protect her from everything she feared was waiting fro her in the darkness of night in the city. She was focused on the ground before her, looking neither left nor right, and so she did not see the four forms which crept up upon her from behind.
Their ilk had always existed in some form, city scum who fed on the fear of those ill fated by fortune. They were in every city in every time, thugs who raped and robbed, who took what little people of almost no means had. It never changed, no matter where or when. Rain smiled an almost twisted smile. Since coming to the city, this had become her favorite night time activity when not looking for some clue as to the fate of Velorum and Tearlin. There was little she enjoyed more than acting as the dark hand of balance, serving back upon the wicked that which they sewed unto others. She was patient, waiting for the perfect moment.
As if on cue, the waitress seemed to sense that she was no longer alone in the dark and dirty ally. Her muscles tensed, and she picked up her walking pace. Rather than deterring the four thugs who followed her, it merely spurred them on, for they knew their prey was aware of them. It was not only for the money that this kind of trash haunted the streets and made the city night dangerous. They liked best the fear and pain they caused others. They were mean spirits, lives somehow twisted into evil and maliciousness. In trying to evade them, the girl merely assured her own fate, for now they were like dogs with the scent of a rabbit in their noses. They bested her speed and within a few moments were almost upon her.
For a moment, Rain debated letting them get their hands upon the foolish girl. As much as she loathed the street scum, she also had no pity on those who made themselves victims. She had been like that once, a pawn and tool of those who would do evil. She had thought herself weak and simply a victim of events and situations beyond her control. She knew better now. People were only victims because and if they permitted it. There were always other choices that could be made. People liked to pretend they had no control over their fate, but she knew better. It was easy to just let oneself be a victim, so much harder was the path which lead to self realization and control. Crying and blaming others was easy, taking responsibility was hard.
The Fae sighed. She would not let that happen however. The girl might be foolish, but she was not wicked, and so did not deserve Darkness’ hard justice. For those who would prey upon the weak, no mercy. Rain met Echo’s glance and they began to move.
One of the street thugs whistled, meaning to get the girl’s attention. They were only about ten yards behind her now, and knew that there was no way she could not know they were there. Obviously the ring leader, he was of mid height with shoulder length, greasy brown hair. His face could have once been considered comely, but rancor and a life spent on the streets had warped it into a mockery of attractiveness. He was wirey, and seemed at home in his skin. In another time and another life, he might have been an Ivy League tennis player, or a London banker. In this life, he was nowhere near any of those things, just a common street rat praying on those who had even less than him.
“Hey there, pretty. What’s a cute thing like you doin’ all alone on the mean streets of this neighborhood?” Though his voice was conversational, had she turned around she would have seen the betrayal on his face. This was all just part of his game. The nondescript bunch with him, common and lowly in every way, grinned with broken teeth and pitiless smiles.
The girl pulled her coat around her even more tightly, shutting her eyes and almost whispering a little prayer. Just two more blocks. That’s all she had left till she got back to her sister’s apartment. Two more blocks. Hadn’t her mother warned about something like this happening? But for Sarah, there hadn’t been any other options. She was out of a job in the country, out of money, and her mother just didn’t have it. Leaving home had been heartbreaking for her, but when her sister had offered her a place to start over, she had been glad to leave all the memories and hardships behind. She didn’t have much, but she was trying.
“Hey, I’m talkin’ to you,” came the voice of the man behind her again. She had known he was there for some time, and just hoped that she could get to the end of the ally and into a more public place before he caught up to her. Sarah had known that taking the back way was a little dangerous, but she was exhausted and just wanted to get home and take a bath before slipping off to bed. She didn’t ask for much out of life, just to get home so she could do it all again the next day, and the day after that. Apparently, she was still asking for too much.
This time the voice was a growl, just a few feet behind her. “I’d stop if I were you, girly. Bad things happen to little girls who go out an’ forget their manners at home.” Sarah froze, tears slipping past her eyelashes to fall down her face in desperation. The man who had called out came around to look at her from the front, a mockingly kind look on his face. “Now, that’s better, isn’t it? We’re all civilized people here. Rudeness just can’t stand with civilized people.” He reached out and placed a hand under her chin to make her look up at him.
“Please…” she whispered, “I just want to get home.”
His smile turned absolutely carnivorous. “Did ya hear that, boys? She said please.” He whipped away one of her tears with this thumb and leaned in close. “Don’t worry, pretty, you’ll get home. The manner, however, will depend on you.” He took a rough kiss, thrilled to feel her body quiver in fear as he did so.
“Oh please,” came a scathingly amused woman’s voice near at hand. “You wouldn’t even know where to begin with a woman. You’re more dangerous to yourself with that thing than you could ever be to any woman.”
The thug whirled around, a rabid snarl on his face and a gun in his hand. “Come here, bitch, and I’ll show you what I can do!”
Rain stepped out of the shadows, a hunter’s smile on her icy face. This was her favorite part, when they, for a split second, thought they were dealing with just another street rat. She had even put away her wings for the time being to sustain the illusion. Had he been of any kind of intelligence at all, he would have noted her manner of dress, not in the least bit like what a normal person would wear out on a night like this. As he had not, however, he did not notice.
She tilted her head to one side, looking lazily at the gun in his hand, then meeting his eyes. He took a step back, for even one as ignorant as he could feel the power in her icy stare. “And you think that thing is supposed to be some kind of threat to me?” Her voice bordered on insulted, more amused still. “You boys and your silly toys, as if they make up for what you’re lacking.” She began to close the distance between them, her gaze never dropping and he never able to look away or move.
The other three thugs, however, were not so bound. They drew their own weapons and took aim.
“Wrong answer,” laughed Echo from behind them. She had cut the gun of the first one in half before he even heard her and knocked him unconscious, moving on to the second in a flash of white wings. She brought the blunt end of her halberd up to strike him on the back of the head, where he fell in a pile at her feet. The third one was a good five yards away. He got over his initial shock enough to fire on her with his revolver.
Echo held out a hand and stopped the bullet’s movement about a foot from her chest. She reached up and plucked it of the air. “How quaint,” she grinned tossing it aside like a meaningless pebble.
“What the fu…” he began to stammer. Echo pointed a scolding finger at him.
“Ah, ah, ahh… no profanity in the presence of women. That’s not how,” she searched for the word the leader had used earlier, “civilized folk behave.”
His eyes grew wide as he realized what he was looking at; a seventeen-year-old girl… with a medieval weapon in her hand… and huge white wings sticking out of her delicate shoulders. It was impossible.
“That’s what you think,” she grinned, snatching the thought from his mind. “If you think this is impressive, just wait till you see my next trick.” She was at his side in a flash of light, hands on either side of his head before he could even begin to react. The bright blue eyes of the Child of Light verily glowed as she placed her hands on either side of his head. “Let’s see how you’d like to be one of your own victims,” she whispered. She began to weave her spell, creating in his mind a kind of alternate reality, locking him in the prison of his own thoughts. When and if he awakened once more would be entirely up to him, freedom by virtue of his own recognizance.
In the mean time, Rain was having her own brand of fun. She began summoning the shadows of the dark ally about her, making them writhe and twist in the ecstasy of their Mistress’ touch. She could feel the fear and panic welling up inside the pathetic excuse for a man in front of her.
“How does it feel to be completely helpless in the face of a far superior adversary?” She taunted. “I can feel you quaking, just as you made her quake, can hear your heart racing with fear.” Her wicked smile faded as she finally came to stand before. “You are everything that is wrong with humanity. You’re pathetic, a mean spirit who delights in the torment of others.” She reached out and grabbed him by the neck. “There was a time when I would have just delivered you to the hands of Death. But, as I am unaware of where he is at the present, I have a far better idea.” With her free hand she twisted the shadows around her finger, and then shaped them into what looked like a needle.
She brought him so close their noses almost touched. “The darkness of Night is my domain, and I will suffer none to taint it. As you would do unto others, so shall be done unto you.” She drove the shadow needle into his forehead until it disappeared into his skull. He began to scream and flail, clutching his head in agony though there was no mark upon him. She let him drop to the ground, a satisfied smile on her beautiful face.
As the taboo was broken, Sarah finally found the will to move, her eyes wide in horror. She took a step back away from the raven haired impossibility before her, shaking her head as if to deny what she had just seen. This only served to draw Rain’s attention.
“I had not forgotten about you,” the Dark Fae said. When she started toward the girl, Sarah looked fit to break. Rain rolled her eyes. “I just saved your life, you silly girl. Use your head. I’m not going to harm you.” She reached out and took the girl’s hand, a little roughly despite her efforts to be gentle. She traced a pattern on the girl’s palm and then met her teary gaze.
“Dream dreams and forget what cannot have been. Believe this all as no more than the fancy of a troubled sleep, but hold it always in your heart, never to forget. Become stronger than you are now, more aware of the world around you and your place in it. Awaken the shadows inside you and be a victim no more.”
A shudder passed through the girl, her eyes rolling back into her head for a moment. Rain released her hand, and the girl blinked a few times. Without a word, she turned away from the woman who had saved her life, as if she didn’t even see her, and continued on her way home.
Echo came walked over to her friend. “We done here?” Her voice was light, as always, betraying the concern she felt. Without Velorum, Rain was very fell indeed. These hunts were coming more and more often, and though they served for the greater good, Echo began to wonder how long it would be before Darkness hurt someone. For now, she just watched and acted as she always had; the counterbalance of Light to Rain’s Darkness.
The Dark Fae nodded, a deep thoughtfulness on her face. She shook it off. “Let’s get back. I want to see if Byron’s man turned up anything. I know the key is somewhere in this city.” With that, she took Echo by the hand and walked into the shadows, vanishing without a trace.
Roary was panting by the time she got to the place she thought she had seen the winged things dive. Carefully, she descended the fire escapes, making not a sound. Years prowling the streets had taught her the virtue of stealth, especially when entering into the unknown. When she got to the ground, she could not believe her eyes, and that was sating something. Four thugs, all laying prone on the ground, and no sign of who, or what, had done it. Two of them were out cold, as far as she could tell, and two others were twitching, staring into space.
What in the hell? She wondered. She looked around, trying to get any clue as to what had taken place and more than a little irritated that she had been too late to see for herself. This is my city, she fumed, and looking after these streets is my beat. Who the hell has the nerve to… she paused in her thought as something caught her eye. A bullet… lying pristine on the ground. She picked it up and examined it.
It had been fired, that was for sure, but remained perfectly in tact. Such a thing was impossible. It had to have hit something, yet there it was, laying perfect as can be on the ground. That, however, was not the strangest thing she found. A few feet away from the bullet was a huge, white feather.
This doesn’t belong to any bird I know of, she thought. Roary twisted it between her fingers thoughtfully, and then stuffed it in her backpack along with the bullet. Looks like I have myself something of a mystery, she concluded heading for home to think about the strange events of what had begun as such an ordinary evening. She gave the prone figures no regard. After all, they had gotten what they deserved, and no less than she herself would have given them.