Part 1 - Chapter 1
After the Fall
Lightning split the sky as the boy awoke beneath the ocean. Sandy hair, soaked through by salt water, and bronzed skin, livid with bruises.
Savage currents tossed him around. Contorting his body, twisting him, like a scrap of parchment crumpled in Chaos’ mighty hand. His lungs gasped for air but were only filled with seawater. In moments of consciousness he swam, though having lost his bearings, sometimes he swam toward the surface, sometimes further into the deep.
Above the ocean the wind whipped at the waves and morphed the thundering clouds. Grey faces howling to the world.
A small, rocky island rose above the ocean’s surface. As the echelons of an army, the waves fell against this rocky outcrop, pounding it time and again.
The storm worsened. Pregnant waves pulsed, swollen and heavy. The boy floated closer to the surface. In a last ditch effort he forced his limbs to move. His tired and beaten arms were weak but he made strokes cutting through the water until at last he emerged. Gasping for air, before being buried by another wave. Again he swam but a weight upon his back dragged him under.
Beneath him a mammoth shadow moved about in the water. His eyes began to close as he floated, helpless, lost. The creature rose, stretching out its long, barnacled flipper. With one swoop the creature swept through the darkness. It caught the boy and flung him skyward. His limbs spiralled around his beaten body, as he spun through the air. He crashed down: another fall. Only this time he landed in a crater on the summit of the jagged crag.
He lay, freezing cold and soaked through, as though a thousand bulls had trampled him. Content that he hadn’t died he found no danger in at last letting sleep take hold. As his eyelids grew heavy he could see the monster breeching out of the water some miles away. After one final leap, the monster disappeared into the sea, and the boy’s eyes slammed shut.
When he woke, the sun was brimming through the cloud. He wiped his blurry eyes and his vision focussed. The sea was calmer, last night’s storm had passed. He clenched his jaw to stop the chattering of his teeth. Patches of blue covered his skin. The remnants of his ravaged tunic barely provided modesty.
Turning to see behind, he caught sight of them. A mess of broken feathers, blackened by ash and fire, and melted wax, solid and cold, rising from his shoulders. His wings. The weight on his back. Leather straps and bronze buckles were wrapped around his chest and forged to his body where fire had melted the skin, now pink and bulbous. Wings that were unnatural, man made, crude and broken, bent and burnt. He turned away but the hideous things were still in his periphery. He closed his eyes but could still feel their weight. They were like scars, forever forged to his body and unavoidably his.
He clenched his mouth even tighter and sat with his arms wrapped around his legs. Thick fog made it hard to distinguish anything from the miles of sea around him. His hands began to quiver with exhaustion and tears trickled down his cheeks.
Finally a patch of fog lifted up ahead revealing the water’s edge, sand and then a cliff face.
He wiped at his tears vigorously until it appeared as though he had never been crying. In the process he managed to clean some of the mud and soot from his cheeks. His eyes were a brilliant blue. Placing one hand onto the edge of his rocky nest he hoisted himself up. His knuckles were bare and his palms raw but he managed to stand. The wind buffeted his frail body. The weight of his wings forced him to slouch.
With one last look around he surveyed the reaching ocean. He tried to gauge the distance to the shoreline, but couldn’t. Diving off the ledge he broke the surface and began to paddle. His arms were still weak and he found it difficult to keep his legs from sinking. The clouds rolled overhead and behind them the sun moved slowly towards the horizon. He swam.
When he could touch the bottom he waded the rest of the way in. Exhaustion took hold and he struggled up the beach. The sand was intermingled with pebbles, smoothed by the lapping waves. Scattered amongst them were seashells and fish bones. Halfway up the beach he stopped and looked up. A line of cliffs loomed high overhead.
The sun was setting and the boy had no energy left for climbing walls. Looking for a cave, a hole in the cliff face where he could sleep, he wandered along the beach. His steps were heavy and he was about to give up when he came across a fishing boat, dry upon the sand. Piled in the hull was a cloth sail that was mangy and tattered, underneath that, the boat’s seats had crumpled and fallen into the hull, and a small line of rope was curled at the bottom. As he unfurled the sail an alabastron, the size of his hand, fell onto the sand. Removing the cork the boy sniffed at the liquid inside the vessel and proceeded to take the tiniest of sips: it was sweet and sticky and burned his throat.
He tore a piece of the sail and wrapped it around his waist, using the line of rope to secure it against his protruding hipbones. He had no need for modesty but the clouds still appeared to be staring.
Curling up in the hull of the boat, the boy clung to himself as his stomach growled. He tried to remember where he had come from, how he had ended up here. He could almost remember hitting the water but before that nothing. He had no other memories. No childhood, no parents. He couldn’t remember why he was drowning, or where he had come from. He couldn’t remember why there were wings attached to his body or how they came to be so damaged. He couldn’t remember his own name.
Again came the low growl of his stomach, leaving a dull ache in his gut. He needed food, something, inside him. He noticed the little bottle he had left aside. He grabbed it and the smell burnt his nostrils. At first he sipped gently, but as his body felt the burning liquid entering its bowels, it needed more. He began to pour the biting syrup down his throat. His heart raced and his head grew light. Gulping madly, he emptied the container, gasping for air and wiping his mouth with the back of his arm, tossing the alabastron aside.
The clouds moved faster, the waves lapped sideways and he could see each grain of sand as it blew across the shore. The cliffs behind him began to sway and the beach was swirling around him. He was lost in the rhythm and movement as the ocean and the sand and the cliffs whirled past. Shaking his head he gained no clarity as he clutched the sand beside him. He curled up tighter but the world was still spinning. With his eyes closed, his head was a whirlpool, with them open, the world was closing in. He got up, stumbling down the shore. The waves were crashing with a sound like thunder; he looked up and could make out the light of the moon through the clouds, bearing down upon him. He fell to his knees and spewed out the contents of his stomach.
The world went quiet again. Hobbling, he returned to the boat. In his attempt to sleep he remembered something of his past.
Fire. He could remember looking into the biggest fire he had ever seen. He could remember wanting it, needing it so bad he began to cry. He wrapped his arms around his knees to try and stop the shaking, but he couldn’t. He wanted the fire. He wanted it more than his own breath. He could see it before him and he reached for it. But it was gone and he was falling.