Small streams of light shone through the grimy windows of the city buildings. They towered over one another like trees in a forest, growing for sunlight but never seeming to find it. The city inhabitants, including one boy in particular, grew to find the sunlight too.
Elis de Carte, a boy of the sky. He sat there, with his legs dangling out above the massive drop, and smiled. The wind hit his face oh so gently, and he let his eyes close and his muscles relax, and felt calmer than he had in a long while.
He opened his eyes slowly and looked out at the city, the familiar sting of the soot and the chemicals returning to him. The loud clocks of the city rang out 5 times, and the city below him became silent; those on the streets picked up their pace, and those like Elis on balconies and out of windows retreated to the safety of their homes.
It took mere minutes for the metropolis to become seemingly abandoned, a few stragglers rushing to get home in time for curfew, but otherwise the streets below were empty.
Elis pulled his legs back inside as the drones and officers came out to scour the roads and buildings. He hummed, shrugging off his oversized jumper and letting his wings curl into his back to feel the fresh air. He sat there most days; when he wasn't with his friends, he'd sit and stare into the abyss of the city for hours, feeling the tug of his DNA trying to call him home.
The boy of twenty-three looked into the mirror, tracing his sickly body with his eyes and picking at the feathers that had started to grow on his chest, a horrible feeling of uneasiness settling in his stomach as he did. These feathers were important, and he knew that. Removing these feathers and the ones on his cheeks hurt him more emotionally than blood could ever sting.
He didn't dare look at his wings these days; they ached and stung and longed to be released, but when he tried to stretch them out by himself he couldn't bare the pain that shuddered through his body. His parents told him that they should be beautiful and wide, but if he looked at his wings all he could see was a life he couldn't have.
His parents, right. He let his mind seep back into his head and felt his senses return, taking a few deep breaths. He shrugged on a light blanket and went downstairs, the smell of food wafting into his nose and leading him into the kitchen.
His eyes widened and focused, and he crouched down, sneaking up behind his sister. He grabbed the little girl by the waist and lifted her into the air with a smirk and a satisfied laugh. She squealed and squirmed, giggling and snorting.
"Eli!" She cried happily as he brought her into his arms and squeezed. Elis looked up to see his parents, both occasionally giving him glances and smiling. This was home. It wasn't where he should be, but it was where he was, and he was going to make the most of this happy peace.
His father slammed a newspaper down on the table at dinner, muttering something under his breath. Elis turned the newspaper around and read the headline.
SEVENTEEN AVIANS KILLED, INCLUDING FIVE CHILDREN.
He skimmed a few lines in, a scowl forming on his lips.
"I don't understand. Why do they do this to us? These avians were harmless," he whispers, looking down and bringing up his hands to cover his face, glancing to make sure that the two lines on his left wrist weren't red. Luckily they were still a dull grey.
Every day the end of this life he'd made for himself in the human capital drew nearer, and something in his bones told him it would be soon.
That night he lay in his nest, a messy circle of clothes from his family and friends, and couldn't bring himself to close his eyes. He got up and rubbed his arms, his broken wings gently spreading out to rest on his shoulders, giving him some extra warmth. Downstairs, he could hear his parents talking. Muffled, quiet voices talking about the evil in the world.
Elis padded down the stairs, careful to not let them creak under his bare feet. He passed his sister's room, his eyes just barely finding her small form in the darkness. He can make out her vague outline under the blankets, and it brings an even fainter smile to his lips. He wondered often if she would dream of being like him; being an avian. He hoped she didn't; he never wanted to think about her living in fear. For now, while she was still young, she was safe around him. But in a few months or so, if they found him and she was there, they'd kill her.
That wasn't a very pleasant thought at all.
Worse to him was how over time, if the two were kept apart, she wouldn't recall him. Wouldn't know the relationship they had. Their parents would talk, sure. Their loud voices echoing against the walls of this little house telling her about Her Eli, her guardian avian, but all she would do is nod. All he'd be was stories and photos to her.
That thought bubbled up inside of him as he clenched his fist and carried on.
When his parents noticed him, they fell quiet. Their saddened look told him all he needed to know. His mother held a letter in her hand. Old parchment, frayed edges. It was avian.
"They're coming to get you. One of their best is currently in the Mi Desert. Going to catch the train," she whispered. "You're going home Eli-Lirian, you should probably get used to your real name now."
Her face was old. She was only in her late 30s- they'd raised Elis since he was 6- but the strain of hiding him and cleansing him of his past had taken a great toll on her. Her face showed years of pain and fear and worry. Worry that he'd hurt himself. Worry that they'd find them and kill them all; the worry had increased since Nessy was born. It was his fault, how old she looked. He'd chained her to him and pulled her and his father down into the depths of fear and hiding. He'd made her break herself in two to hide him, made her bless every day that they were still safe.
He took the parchment from her and read it slowly, picking up every little speck of ink that marked the writing of Base X, firm and consistent. It outlined how much they really did care about him and the person they'd sent on the mission. Half of the parchment was instructions, the other was an introduction of the boy and his accomplice. They wouldn't pick him up from home, that was too suspicious. But he'd see them. They'd stand out in the crowd.
"Ria Bedia," he read, the name echoed in his head and he found himself silently forming it with his mouth, "5'1, eyes like the night, has two marks on his left arm, one black, one light grey. He doesn't need much explanation - you'll know him when you see him. If you don't; he knows you, and he'll see you long before you see him anyways." Usually, the descriptions were long, like the other one's, Lucy. But Elis trusted Base X, trusted their information, no matter how much or how little they gave him. With him, it was a matter of losing or winning the war, and they weren't going to risk that.
"In the morning, tell Nessy. We'll handle your abrupt resignation; spend the last few days with your friends and your sister, it may be a while until you see them again," his father muttered, gently grabbing his shoulder and squeezing. They shared a knowing look, and Elis' parents held him for what felt like hours.