The market was filled with people eating moon cake. Giggling, laughing, drunk people.
It wasn’t like Rhyvahr to shy away from the festivities of the month-long moon festivals. He spent most of his days alone, so he could use a good celebration or two. He doubted that his wild partying years were over, but tonight he felt… empty.
He used to spend every other night at some ball or party.
Now, Rhyvahr spent his nights on the balcony, gazing at the moon. Whether it was waxing crescent or waning gibbous.
He kept thinking about the ‘someone’ that Fenndon had been seeing.
How he must be as gentle and kind-hearted as Fenndon. He must be able to read books with him. He must listen and promise Fenndon all the love in the world, and treat him like he hung the moon in the sky.
Because those were the things Rhyvahr never did.
His Father was still working in the infirmary late at night. He was cleaning the medicine cabinet when the moonlight brushed across his dark hair. Rhyvahr saw the single strand of white in the long ebony and swallowed.
His Father, Casrian, was barely into his forties, and had the typical Tel-hatian features of high cheekbones and a pointed chin, with long and graceful limbs. A calmness followed him, Rhyvahr suspected he had the ability to tame storms.
“Haisoka, is that you?” He went about winding bandages and didn’t turn around. Haisoka was his betrothed. They had met at the market and have been disgustingly in love ever since.
“It is me,” Rhyvahr said. “Sorry to disappoint.”
Now, Casrian did turn around. “Rhyvahr,” he said, frowning slightly. “I was not expecting you back until tomorrow morning. Or perhaps the morning after that.” His Father was no stranger to his partying habits.
Rhyvahr always wondered whether his Father thought it was a shame that he had missed out on all the parties that twenty-year-old’s should have been going to. Because he was stuck raising a child that wasn’t even his.
“What is wrong, Rhyvahr?” Casrian asked. “Are you unwell?”
There had been an odd feeling in him since the festivities started. An awful foreboding, and the dreams each night only strengthened the feeling.
“I just wanted to see you,” Rhyvahr said. “That is all.”
He went up to his Father and embraced him. Casrian’s arms wrapped around him, as per instinct. Rhyvahr could feel the surprise – it wasn’t often that he expressed acts of affection. But for that one moment, in the warmth of his Father’s arms, he could be a child again.
Casrian kissed the top of Rhyvahr’s head. “Now, I am worried, Rhy,” he said after Rhyvahr stepped away.
However, before Rhyvahr could reply, a guard rushed in. “There is a woman at the gates. She says she must speak to you.”
Rhyvahr followed the guard to the gates. Then, he saw her standing there, a figure shrouded by moonshine, but features as clear as the day.
“Aikirra?” Rhyvahr said.
Her eyes were red, hair wind-tousled. “Something happened to Fenndon, Rhyvahr,” Aikirra said, breathless. “I went to his cottage two days ago. His door was unlocked, and I found this note on his table.” She handed it to him.
Rhyvahr’s heart skipped a beat at the words.
What is owed. Must be paid.
He looked up, and saw a face he never desired to see again.
“What did you do to him?” Her eyes were a whirling colour of purples and blues. “If you hurt him—”
She smiled cruelly. “Your little lover and his sister are doing just fine,” she replied. “Fending for themselves that is. So they will be probably be dead soon.”
Rhyvahr swallowed, trying to stop his body from shaking. “You want something from me.”
“Come with me,” she said. “And you will know.”
It happened seven years ago at one particular party.
Fenndon was off at his parents’ house for a family dinner. He offered for Rhyvahr to come with him, but he would rather not awkwardly dine with the parents of the boy he maybe liked. They had kissed a few times, but Rhyvahr would hardly call them exclusive.
Everywhere Rhyvahr went, people’s eyes followed him. It was the dark hair. And the wings. He had spent hours painstakingly grooming them to make sure that no feather was out of place, but there was no doubt whoever the party had been about, the people’s attention had now shifted to him.
Hestina Los was in the thick of the moon festivities, especially since tonight was full moon. It celebrated Looma, goddess of wealth and prosperity. Rhyvahr couldn’t care less about some goddess, it gave him an excuse to wear his best jewellery, and of course the moon cakes were to die for.
He grabbed himself a snow skin one.
Rhyvahr was relishing in the coolness of the sweet paste inside when a woman approached him. She too had dark hair, knotted into a large bun. Her eyes were like those of a fox, blinking in purple and blue, lashes curling down.
“It is rare to see another Tel-hatian around,” she said, her accent came through strong; the way she softened on the consonants and the lilt in her tone – songlike and gentle. His Father spoke in the same way. “Let alone one with wings. It must be a great gift.”
“They certainly make me special,” Rhyvahr said.
“My name is Ophyla.” She twisted at a loose strand of her hair, the way women always did around him. She was beautiful, and if it had been under other circumstances, Rhyvahr would have gladly indulged her fantasies. But the last thing he wanted to do was ruin what he had with Fenndon, so he opted to be good.
“Rhyvahr,” he said. “Pleasure to meet you.”
People were poring over to the tables laden with food and drinks, so Rhyvahr grabbed another moon cake before they could all be stolen, and retreated to a less crowded corner. However, not before one of his wings knocked over someone.
Rhyvahr rolled his eyes, because that had definitely happened far too often. He reached a hand down to help the person up, not paying attention to the strange crackling at his fingertips.
“I apologise,” Rhyvahr said to the fallen man.
“It is all right,” he said, taking Rhyvahr’s hand.
Rhyvahr’s vision went black, ghostly limbs reached for him. He beat his wings, and they dissipated along with the darkness.
A high-pitched ringing echoed in his ears, and then deadly silence. The stunned party-goers all stared at him – in shock, in fear, bodies quivering.
Then a woman screamed.
The man he had knocked over was sprawled on the ground. Unmoving. His eyes and his lips were completely black.
Rhyvahr looked down, and found his palms charred.
It had happened before, but only with animals.
He had never killed a person.
Adrenaline pumped through his bloodstream. And he ran. All the way down the crowded streets, surrounded by the cacophony of people laughing and celebrating.
What had he done?
Rhyvahr ran all the way out to the meadow where his lungs cried for breath and his eyes prickled with tears. The night air tore through him and the moonlight shone down as though Looma knew what he had done. He shook his head, face buried in his palms.
Rhyvahr’s wings wrapped around him, enveloping him in a safe cocoon, keeping him warm against the frigid winds of autumn.
“Rhyvahr.” Someone was shaking him. He parted his wings reluctantly. “It is me.” Ophyla stood before him. “Your powers are dangerous, but I can help you. I can take them away.”
Rhyvahr didn’t even properly think about it, just let those blue and purple eyes find his.
And stood up.
“Yes,” he said, not quite registering his own voice. “You must help me.”
“This way,” she said, holding out her hand and curling her finger as though tugging an invisible thread. Rhyvahr followed her, marvelling at the curve of her hips that swayed when she walked, and those purple-blue eyes that he couldn’t look away from.
They went through a door that creaked, to a bed lined with silken sheets. Rhyvahr lay down on the bed, as she undid his layers of clothing. Her fingers graced his chest, and she began chanting a spell. The candle snuffed out and her hair flew wild, eyes completely white.
It felt like fire was running through his veins.
Rhyvahr tried to scream, but no sound came out.
And Ophyla kept on chanting, the spell rising to a climax, before falling back into lulling words.
Cool lips pressed against his, taking the fire away, replacing it with a thrill of pleasure. Ophyla ran her fingers down his chest once more, feeling the way his heart beat at the sight of her. Desperately wanting more.
Rhyvahr awoke in Fenndon’s bed with a splitting headache. Nevertheless, he managed to get his clothes on and wander into the kitchen where Fenndon leaned against the countertop, tears trailing down his cheeks.
“Fen, what… happened?”
Fenndon sniffed, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand. Rhyvahr had never seen Fenndon so upset.
Are you sober now? His signing seemed heavy, lacking the energy to even talk to Rhyvahr.
The memories came rushing back to him. He had killed someone. Then Ophyla had taken him somewhere. He remembered how her eyes had become white, and how she had kissed him.
I saw you with that woman. Fenndon’s eyes were cold.
“It is not what you think, Fen,” Rhyvahr said.
Fenndon just shook his head. No, I am done with your lies. I thought you were a better person, but clearly I was wrong.
“No, I am,” Rhyvahr said. “You make me a better person, Fen. I wanted to be better, for you.”
Fenndon shook his head. I do not care. Get out of my house.
So, Rhyvahr left without saying goodbye.
Now, in all of his dreams, he was falling.
Hands reaching up, as if hoping to latch onto a wisp of wind. But he kept falling. The air skidded against his skin so fast that it burnt.
He used to love the feeling of diving through the air. He never had to worry about falling because his wings would catch him every time.
They would always be there.
They would never leave.
Except they had been torn from him.
And he too feared falling.
“Rhyvahr, no!” A misty, transparent form appeared. The ghost that had warned him about the hunters. Rhyvahr still didn’t know her name. “You cannot fall.”
“Who are you?” he murmured, the wind erasing his words.
The ghost only blinked sadly. “If you fall, I will fall with you,” she said. “I will not give her what she wants.”
So, Rhyvahr held onto her unsolid form. And together, they fell.
“Usually the first thing people ask me is what I want,” Ophyla said.
They were sitting on either ends of a long table that spanned about half of the room. Perhaps, it would have been a little more classy if Rhyvahr wasn’t chained to the chair.
Rhyvahr assumed this used to be the dining room in a now abandoned and thorn-clad castle. Candles were lit all around, their shadows stretched across the scratched wood of the table.
Ophyla was dressed in a typical Tel-hatian dress. Black velvet, off the shoulder. The end of the sleeves flared out, a column of lace traced down the middle. Dark liner marked her lids, the colour of her eyeshadow matched her violet lips.
She held the cold beauty of the Tel-hatians as she smiled.
“You have great power, Rhyvahr,” Ophyla said. “Has anyone told you the history of your bloodline. It is quite interesting.”
“I do not want to know,” Rhyvahr said. “At least not with me chained to this chair.”
Ophyla flicked her wrist, the chains clattered onto the floor. “Let us go for a walk.” Rhyvahr stood rigidly. They began making their way down the hall. “We both wants things, Rhyvahr. We want back what we have lost. We can help each other.”
“That night, when we met, you knew I was going to kill that man,” Rhyvahr said.
“It was your power that killed that man. Not you,” Ophyla said. “However, your power and you eventually become the same thing.” She cleared her throat. “I will be honest with you, Rhyvahr. I took your powers away that night because I saw you were not ready for them. I thought that maybe I could use it. Not only does it have power over death, it has power over life. Over your bloodline, the powers have varied, but yours, are by far, the strongest and most deadly.”
“Well, did it prove useful?” Rhyvahr asked.
“You would not be here if it was,” Ophyla said. “Only you can wield it. It answers to nobody else. So, I am offering you a trade.” She clicked her fingers, and a spark appeared in her palm. “I will return your powers to you, and along with it, your wings shall return too.”
The breath caught in Rhyvahr’s throat.
Whose loss had torn him into irreparable pieces.
The pain of their emptiness.
Could it be rid of just like that?
They reached the end of the hallway and Rhyvahr almost toppled to his death. The castle stood on the edge of a huge cliff. Mist swirled beneath it, obscuring the bottom. One more step and you might as well be falling into oblivion.
“Tell me where Fenndon is, and I might consider it,” Rhyvahr said.
“That is easy,” Ophyla said. “He is over there.” She pointed to the other side of the cliff, that must have once been connected by a long bridge. But that had long since fallen. “You can fly there, and bring him back.”
“How do I know that what you say is the truth?” Rhyvahr asked.
Ophyla placed her hand on his chest. He could only hear her chanting the spell faintly amidst the intense roaring of his magic. His back arched, intense pain spiralling through his shoulder-blades. Bones crunched as wings pushed their way out.
They wrapped around him, soft feathers caressing his skin. He touched them. Solid and real. Yet, his heart feared this was all a dream.
Rhyvahr was jerked out of his unbelieving daze by a terrible, pain-filled screech that reverberated in the air, and rung in his ears.
“These are the conditions of our agreement,” Ophyla said. “You get to keep your powers and rescue your lover. And in return, you deal with my monster problem.”
The entire other side was covered by fog. All Rhyvahr could see was a massive shape with dark, leathery wings.
“Help!” It was Aikirra. “Somebody help us!” Rhyvahr remembered Aikirra from that ball years ago. They didn’t know each other well, but she had been kind to him.
Rhyvahr didn’t have time to think about what devious plan Ophyla was weaving. Or whether the wings were just a mere illusion that could dissolve the moment he leapt off the cliff.
He hadn’t flown in years. He always dreamt about it after he lost his wings. But it was nothing like how he felt now.
The air rushed past him so hard it stole all the air from his lungs. He was just rushing faster and faster towards the bottom.
Then, his wings gave a great push, feathers ruffling against the winds, and he was soaring through the air.
Rhyvahr would have cried out in joy if it wasn’t for the horrifying scream. He landed, coming face to face with the terrible monstrosity. Long, scaly limbs etched with fiery symbols. Claws that could tear a creature open in less than a heartbeat. Razor-sharp teeth dribbling with saliva as it snarled. Its eyes hollow and empty.
“Rhyvahr?” Aikirra was sprawled on the ground, her leg twisted at an unnatural angle, jagged bone protruding from her calf. Her teeth were gritted in pain as she pointed towards the edge of the cliff. “Fenndon,” she gasped.
There was struggle in her eyes as she tried to push herself back up, but there was no chance she could stand on that broken leg. Tears of frustration and powerlessness poured down her face as Fenndon moved closer and closer to the edge.
“Stay there,” Rhyvahr said. “I will save him, I promise.”
The monster knocked Fenndon to the side. He fell on his back, the monster’s claws running across his chest. He whimpered, looking at the monster.
He reached up and touched its face gently, perhaps trying to find a tortured soul in need of saving beneath.
Because even with gashes running all over his body, he still believed that monsters could be saved.
Rhyvahr’s heart had never pounded so fast, the echoing of the beats pumping through his wings. He lifted off the ground. His powers ran rampant in him.
The monster reeked of death.
Rhyvahr gave a cry, dark magic crackling at his fingertips. And he felt the ghosts of every creature that died on these cliffs. He felt their pain and their grief – it tore through him.
But most of all, he saw Fenndon bleeding on the ground and he felt rage. Nothing could get away with hurting those he loved.
So he summoned all that rage and aimed it right at the monster.
It was still as the magic hit it. Then it stumbled, but only a little before turning its attention back to Fenndon who lay inches away from the edge. One wrong move, and Fenndon would plummet to his death.
So Rhyvahr flew behind it and locked it in a choke hold, pulling it back.
And together, they fell.