“Witch.” “Paladin.” The two women stared at one another for a while, before the knight finally cracked, ...
On Wings of Night
The night sky has always been where I felt most free.
As a child I would stare at the stars and dream of wings that would carry me to them, to the smallest of lights deep in that great black expanse of silence. There was freedom in the dark heavens, freedom I never found below the ground, surrounded by family and expectation. I wanted to fly, wanted to leave the close, stifling darkness of the Necropolis, and the legions of the dead.
But you know that already, because even then, you were watching.
At the time, I thought my yearning dreams foolish. A daughter of the Lords of Death does not fly. She does not seek out the night beyond Necropolis. And she does not leave. My fathers made that clear to me, the first time they caught me staring out of the Necropolis at the dark sky. I had responsibilities. Duties. Death would be my dominion one day, and nothing could change that.
And then my wings came in.
Father Hades scowled, muttered about Uncle Zeus and Cousin Apollo, blaming them somehow. Arawn swore loudly, and left with his hounds for an early Hunt. We had a far higher harvest that Samhain. Father Yama smiled kindly, and murmured that even in death, we must all choose our paths. But it was Father Osiris who pulled me aside, who sent me with Uncle Anubis, who in turn brought me to Uncle Horus.
In the lands of Day, Horus taught me to fly, to spread my skeletal, leathery, dark wings and embrace the vastness of the sky, to revel in the solitude. To ride the thermals higher and higher, until the heavens were all I could see.
Did you see me then, trying out my newfound wings? Did you watch as I made the daylight sky my home, as my dark feathers grew in? I wonder often, though I have never asked.
It could not last, though, my sojourn through Day. Despite (or perhaps because) of the love it bore for my uncle, my ‘Am Horus, the Sun was not kind to a daughter of the Lords of Death. It grew jealous of the time he spent with me, and its blinding light burned brighter and hotter, and more unbearable to my Necropolis-raised eyes and Death-born skin. So once again, I longed for the night. Wise as he was, my uncle soon saw that the daylit sky, with his jealous Sun, was not for me.
On that day, he gathered me close, and we flew to the edge of day and night, as far as he could go whilst bound to the lands of the Sun. There, he sent a falcon on in his stead. And there, at the edge of Day, we waited, until the dark night shifted nearer, and shapes emerged.
“Nephthys. Ratri. Nyx.”
The names, spoken in Horus’ deep voice, seemed to call forth figures in the darkness, forms that coalesced into beings.
“Horus.” The word echoed strangely across the barrier of night and day, making my ink-black wings shiver.
My uncle’s falcon head cocked to the side slightly. “How are your sisters? Yohaulticetl, Artume, Hine-nui-te-pō, Nótt and Zorya? I trust all is well in the lands of Night?”
The shadow of a woman who had spoken before smiled. “The Sisterhood of Night thrives as always, brother Horus. As can be said for the Brotherhood of the Sun, I hope.”
“The Sun shines bright as ever, sister Nephthys.”
I watched from behind my uncle as they exchanged pleasantries, not wishing to interrupt, or draw attention to myself. But every word spoken by Nephthys tugged at my wings, making them vibrate with a strange yearning.
“And who is this you’ve brought to the edge of night? Is she why you’ve called us?”
Horus, his bright gold wings fluttering, pushed me forward. “This is Rajani, daughter of the Lords of Death.”
Nepthys’ lifted an eyebrow, but it wasn’t she who stepped closer to the daylight boundary, crossing out of night. This one was shorter than the other two, and her eyes shone like the stars that adorned her swirling black cloak. I stood frozen as she approached, unsure and a little afraid of the longing these women invoked in me. A longing for the beauty of darkness and the soft brightness of the stars, for the freedom of the deep night sky.
“Do not be afraid, little one. I am Ratri, and I am the hope in the darkness, the light in the bleakness of night. And you—you may be a daughter of Death, but you belong to the Sisterhood of Night. I can feel it.” She touched my wings, caressing the length of them, and my whole body shook. In her touch was everything I had ever longed for in the depths of the Necropolis, or the burning brightness of day, and everything I had never allowed myself to hope for.
“Rajani, ibnat akh.” My uncle’s hand was heavy on my shoulder, burning where before it had only been warm. “I have given you all I can. Go with them, and soar through the endless skies of night. It is where you belong.”
I hugged him tightly, ignoring the heat of this golden falcon who had given me the heavens. “Thank you, ‘Am. For everything.”
Ratri held out a dusky hand with gleaming fingertips. “Chalo, Rajani chutki. The lands of Day are no place for you now, and the Night awaits its newest sister.”
I took her hand, and crossed the line of dusk—away from the harsh light of my uncle’s jealous sun, away from Day, away from Death, away from everything I knew. Into a dark future, full of promise.
One step closer to you.
The Sisterhood of Night brought me to a new life. Nephthys, who had also once lived in the Necropolis, took me under her wings. She showed me the vastness of the night sky, introduced me to the others, to Artume the silent, beloved of the Moon, and Nótt, whose stallion Hrimfaxi rode the line of dawn, pulling night back to make way for Day. To Yohaulticetl, who guards the young during the long Night, and Zorya, whose twin souls guard Dawn and Dusk. To Hine-nui-te-pō, who ruled the deepest darkness, and the door to Necropolis. To Nyx, the quiet sister who I had met when Horus brought me to Night, whose cloak of darkness was made of the endless black sky and reflected all the stars within. As my wings continued to grow, I spent more and more time with Nyx, and with star-cloaked Ratri. We soared higher and higher into the dark heavens, testing the limits of my wings.
Limits that seemed non-existent. Wings that continued to grow and change.
What did you think of me then, lost and ever-evolving as I was? Did you know what I would become? What you would see when we finally met?
In Necropolis my wings had been boney and leather-like, their first feeble incarnation reaching only to just below my waist when folded. In the skies of Day they had grown longer and fuller, reaching my knees when folded, and sprouting long black feathers in thick layers. Raven wings, fitting for a daughter of Death, but also an appropriate parallel for Horus’ golden falcon wings.
In the dominion of Night, they took their final form. The feathers stayed, but as they grew they turned to shadow, inky black and incorporeal. In the rare times I left the sky and ventured to the ground, they dragged behind me like a great dark mist, swallowing whatever light fell around me. Angel of Darkness, the humans called me. Winged Goddess of Night, of Death. Demon, Huntress, Reaper. They feared me, I think, this new and unknown Sister of Night, with her shadow wings and dark skin, dark eyes, dark everything.
Certainly, they didn’t know what to make of me, our worshippers, and in truth, I didn’t know what to make of myself. Night was where I belonged, but I would always be a daughter of Death. I had yet to find my purpose, my responsibility. We all had our obligations to the world below. As Gods we were caretakers, but any hint of my charge had yet to come to me. I tried to care for them, despite this, but it seemed only to add to their confusion. Was I an omen for good? An omen to be feared? They did not know, and neither did I.
You did, even then. Of that, I am sure.
So I wandered the dark firmament, flying ever higher, sometimes with Nyx or Ratri (both of whom told me I should not worry, I was still a child, and my purpose would come to me). But more and more often I flew alone. Solitude suited me, as my lack of calling wore on me more and more.
Until you found me.
Amongst the stars, I felt free. They calmed me as they had ever done, even though I still had not found my calling. Then one fell, streaking through the sky in a fiery blaze. It startled me as little had done in some time. I had never seen a star fall, and the yearning I hadn’t felt since Horus brought me to the Sisterhood burned in my veins. I had to give chase, did so without thinking, my mind still reeling from the shock of seeing a star’s descent.
Down it came, and down I followed, a black shadow careening through the dark night after a trail of incendiary light. Down across the sky, from heights few others roamed, from dusk to dawn, down and down and down, until finally there was no place farther to fall. At the line of dawn the star crashed, impacting in an explosion so bright that it burned my eyes. My wings closed around me before my feet reached the ground, protection against the conflagration, but as I landed, a pool of shadow that no light could properly illuminate now, my curiosity and yearning flared again.
Cautiously, I opened my wings, and cautiously I approached the fallen remains. No matter how high I flew, how hard I tried, I never could reach the stars in their heavens. To see one on land, straddling the edge of night and day, mere steps from me… I could never have stayed away. So I didn’t try to. And as I grew closer, something within the fire…moved.
I froze my approach, close enough almost to touch, hypnotized by the way the flames shifted and twisted, forming shapes I could almost, but not quite, recognize. They flowed, coalesced, then transformed again.
And then something changed.
Before I could register the transition, the star’s remains exploded. I had no time to draw my wings about me before I was engulfed, but the same moment the fire reached me, it vanished, snuffed out like a small candle, and not the inferno it had been, leaving only ash in its wake. Disappointed beyond words, I stared at the ash, horrified and saddened by the cremated remains of something so beautiful and perpetually out of my reach, something that had given me hope and safety even as a small child in Necropolis. My heart screamed that nothing so inspired and important should end so ignominiously as a pile of grey ash. A wordless cry tore from my throat, and though I had never cried before, a tear sought its way down my cheek, laying a trail that others soon followed.
So lost in shock and sorrow was I, that I almost missed the first stirrings. Ash that swirled in a non-existent breeze, the faint glow that had nothing to do with the rising sun on the far side of night. But see it I did, and my breath caught in my chest as hope clawed its way back up my throat. And as I watched, embers burst into the smallest flame, and out of the ash and soot something began to rise. I stood, unable to move, my every being focused on seeing what would come next.
And become you did, a creature equal parts blinding light and darkest night, born from the ash of a star, straddling dawn, a being of two worlds.
“Hello,” you said, and your voice cut through me, making my great shadow wings shiver. I tried to reply, but my voice, too used to solitude, refused to acknowledge my need for it. You laughed at my floundering, a sound that made my heart quiver in my chest, and I watched in awe as you took your first steps.
Your hand reached out as you grew close, and a bright finger wiped the tears from my cheek. You held them for me to see, and I gasped, for in your hands my tears sparkled like the stars in the heavens, and their beauty made more tears grow fresh in my eyes.
You scattered my tears to the night and placed your palm against my cheek in a gesture that felt more comforting than any embrace I had ever experienced. Some small noise escaped me at your touch, unintended, but your touch felt like coming home, and it seemed to light your face with pleasure to hear me.
“Rajani, daughter of Death, sister of Night.”
I shivered as you spoke my name, my eyes involuntarily falling closed for a moment.
You smiled, and continued. “We have watched you for so long. Watched you grow and learn. Watched as you yearned for purpose.”
Your words startled me enough that my voice finally returned. “Watched me? Who?”
You laughed again, a soft bright sound, and I vowed to make it a sound I heard more of. “The stars, of course. You who have flown so high, higher than any other, always trying to reach us. Not realizing you already had. You have flown among us, and we have claimed you, Rajani of the shadows, of Death and Night and beauty.”
My face heated at the last, and you laughed as you felt it beneath your touch. “I don’t understand.”
You leaned closer, so close that your bright fire should have burned me, but all I felt was a rightness I couldn’t explain. “You were never alone, little Rajani. We have watched you always, waiting. You belong to the stars, and we to you.”
Your words seemed to lift a great weight from my chest, a burden I hadn’t realized until then I was carrying. “Yours…” The whispered words slid through my lips before I knew it was there, and your eyes flashed more brightly than I thought possible. “The stars are my purpose?”
You nodded then, smiling wider. “We are. You have lived in Death, in Day, and in Night, and you love more deeply than even you know. We have waited for you, our shepherd, our guardian. Not all souls who die journey to Necropolis. A special few find the heavens, the stars. They need your guidance.”
I stared at you in confused awe, unsure I had heard your words aright. “Shepherding souls to the stars? But I don’t know how…”
“You do. It is what you were born for. And I will guide you…as it is what I was born for.”
You looked away shyly as you murmured those last words, your hand sliding down my cheek. The shadow within your light rose against your face, and I breathed in sharply when I realized you were blushing.
Your hesitance made me bold, and I grasped at your hand as it fell from my face, pulling it to my chest. From the moment you had stepped from the ash, I had felt my heart drawn to you; every word you had spoken since had only increased the bonds which seemed to tie us together. And as your hand came to a rest against my heart, I felt your name stir in my mind, as surely as if you had spoken it.
My fire, my heart, my missing half. The words echoed in my mind as you stared at me. You smiled then, and everything I knew fell away as you closed the small distance between us and pressed your lips to mine.
We needed no words, after that. We spread our wings, yours bright and shimmering as starlight, mine darker than shadow, and returned to the eternal heavens that were ours. The humans grew to trust us, their dark angelic guardian and her starlight phoenix wife. I had found my purpose in you, and the Sisterhood of Night smiled when they saw us flying.
I had come from Death, and in some ways, my fathers were right. It had become my dominion, this small piece of it. But the night sky was my home, and with you, I was free.