The morning was still dark, the light far to the east still dim. The flickering light of the moon on the face of the gently rolling ocean reflected in two black eyes, black eyes fixed on nothing in particular. Their owner was waiting, and he was trying to distract himself from becoming impatient. Leaning against the frame of the door he'd been knocking on moments earlier, he let out a long, slow breath, trying to relax enough to let his wings fold back into his body, melding with his skin until they didn't even appear as separate appendages, but as wiry black tattoos down the length of his back.
He knew the woman on the other side of the door, the one he was so impatiently waiting for, wouldn't be surprised by the sight of them, she knew that he wasn't a normal human, because neither was she.
And neither was anyone that lived in the tower where she lived, standing tall and solitary in the middle of the sea.
The first of golden light started to spill over the horizon, his time was growing more and more limited. Raising a clenched fist, he prepared to knock again.
But she was there, the screen door sliding open before he had the chance.
She looked only marginally surprised to see him there. “I didn't recognize you with your hair long,” she said quietly.
“I didn't have time to shave it,” he replied, seemingly nonchalant despite the desperation he was harboring.
Her momentary surprise quickly turned into worry. “What's wrong?” she asked, her concerned eyes were tired, silver hair unkept from a disturbed sleep.
The whites in his eyes nearly disappeared as he narrowed them, becoming nothing but black, though she didn't miss the way he seemed unsure now, his facade faltering. “Why must you always assume something is wrong when I come to you?”
“Because it generally is,” she continued, trying to see past him, to see what he was hiding.
He glanced at her once, and then back down. “I do need your help, Calissa.”
“What is it?” she asked, trying to keep her voice from wavering.
There was a hesitance in his stance when he turned to face her, his shoulders set rigidly. His mouth opened as though he was prepared to say one thing, but changed his mind at the last second. “Come on,” is all he said, nodding over his shoulder.
She couldn't be sure what was wrong, she couldn't find any marks or injuries on his body. Calissa couldn't help but worry about him, like a baby brother, she'd always looked after him, fixed him up when he was hurt. And as the years went on, and he got older, she would fear more and more for his safety as he cared less and less about it. Swallowing back the nervous lump in her throat, she stepped out onto the balcony high above the water, her eye drawn to something on the ground.
It was a girl, a youth, maybe ten years old. She was unconscious, or at least, she wasn't moving. Calissa glanced once to the man standing by as if for approval before kneeling by the child's side, brushing warm fingers over her forehead and wrist. A pang of shock squeezed Calissa's chest as she studied the girl's face, damp and pale, lips blue. Her hair and clothes were wet like she'd been pulled from the ocean only moments earlier. Her wide eyes met his, “What do you want me to do with her?”
For someone who seemed so desperate for help, he was surprisingly casual, appearing as though he was barely interested in the matter. He leaned against the wall, an arm folded across his body while he inspected the thumbnail of the other. “You're a healer,” he suggested.
An exasperated sigh escaped her lips. “This child is dead.”
“Mm,” he hummed in agreement, “drowned.”
Her heart was beginning to race, panic and confusion tightening in her stomach. “Then I don't know what you expect me to—” she began.
“You and I both know you've brought someone back before,” he said, cutting her off with a piercing, cold gaze from beneath his overgrown dark hair.
“And you and I both know what that does to me,” she said, feeling strangled, the words sounding pathetic.
It was then that his eyes softened, the tense set to his shoulders relaxed though only slightly. He knelt on the other side of the dead girl, his hands in his lap and his eyes cast downward. “I know I shouldn't ask this of you. I know that I never would if it wasn't important. And I know I owe you my life, but I need this, Calissa. If this is the last thing I ever ask of you, if it's the last thing you ever do for me, I would never be able to repay you,” he murmured, his plight like that of a humble child.
“It won't be the last thing I ever do for you, you know that,” she said softly with a tired smile.
He grinned as their eyes met, “I know.”
“Why her?” Calissa asked.
He picked up the little girl's wrist, turning it gently over as if he was handling something fine and precious. “Her hands aren't marked. Neither of them.”
Calissa's brow furrowed as she picked up the other limp wrist, turning it over to find that he was right; there were no spirit markings on her palms, not at the bottom of her thumb on the back of her hand. Not like the ones both she and the man across from her had. “Where did you find this girl?”
“Just out in the water, it couldn't have been more than a mile from the tower,” he explained, gazing out over the ocean he'd picked her out from.
“Then how did she get here?” she asked him.
He shrugged his shoulders, eyebrows raised as if to say, “Exactly my point.”
She looked down at the placid face of the dead child, blue lips slightly parted, eyelids grey, all the life long gone from the body that once lived in the “real” world, where the tower in the middle of the sea didn't exist. Where people with wings didn't exist, nor did people like Calissa. The people from the real world were never supposed to know that they did. “You're lucky that I love you,” she said quietly, “or I wouldn't be doing this.”
He didn't acknowledge her decision save for a relieved breath through his nose. And without a word, he took her chin between her thumb and forefinger, and quickly dipped his lips toward her cheek and kissed it briefly. Lifting himself back up, he turned away from Calissa so she could concentrate, hunching over the sturdy wooden railing of the balcony. In the growing light, the black lines of his tattoo-like wings could be seen through the thin white shirt he wore.
Calissa placed her dainty hand in the center of the girl's chest, closing her eyes and breathing out slowly, she lifted her hand upward, the girl's shirt rippling like a breeze was rolling over them. It was then that something emerged from her body, it looked like a clear marble, about the same size too, though there was something inside, black and shapeless like ink slithering within it. This was the empty vessel for the child's soul—the light completely vacant.
The vessel hung in mid-air before Calissa cupped her hand beneath it, covering it with her other palm and waiting in silence. This was how her powers worked, not with words or prayers, but inside her mind. She kept her eyes shut until a blue light glowed from the lines between her fingers, though when she opened her hands once more, the vessel hadn't changed.
There wasn't any hint of confusion on her face though, she simply lowered her lips to her hands, and blew lightly on it, as if coaxing a fire from smoking tinder, it burst into an iridescent flame.
Calissa's body sagged, every ounce of her energy utterly spent. “Could you open her mouth for me?” she asked, her voice quivering, hands trembling as she held the soul.
He turned around from his place against the balcony and nodded, crouching by her side again and gently opening the child's jaw. He'd never seen a soul outside of the body before, and he watched transfixed until her lips closed over it, and the light disappeared. He and Calissa waited and watched for only a moment before the girl's chest heaved, water spilling from her mouth as she choked and coughed in a panic. Calissa waited patiently until she had dispelled all the water from her lungs before pressing her middle finger to the girl's forehead, and softly saying, “Sleep.”
Her skin glowed gold for a moment where Calissa had touched her, and then the girl that had been dead only moments ago, fell into unconsciousness again, the man catching her shoulders before she hit the ground.
“What will you do with her now?” she asked him, wiping the back of her shaking hand across her forehead.
“I'll take her back to my quarters until she wakes up. And then I'll find out where she came from,” he muttered, lifting the small frame of the girl into his arms.
“You better find out soon, before the Mistress finds her,” Calissa warned him halfheartedly.
“I will,” he said, his wings unraveling from his body and spreading out twelve feet long as he prepared for flight.
“And Owl?” she said, making him pause before he could depart.
He turned, finding her smiling gently at him, though he could see beneath it that she was withering.
“Shave your hair, or she'll know you've been out flying.”