Xadian walked above the clouds, standing on a platform fifteen feet in diameter. He was five hundred feet above the ground and the platform was still rising. There was only one person on the platform with him, a vampire. Well, sort of a vampire. She was actually a Night-Wing, a vampire with wings. A thousand years ago a sect of vampires had given up their powers for the ability to fly. Over the centuries they had become more and more removed from vampire society, until they had found a way to create floating cities, which flew through the skies. They were kept in the air by the magic that the Night-Wings had acquired to replace their normal powers. This magic was also what was lifting Xadian into the sky at this moment, cast from minute to minute by the Night-Wing that was accompanying him. This was another reason vampires, and most races, avoided the Night-Wings. Most couldn't handle the journey into the sky. Seriously, the Night-Wings didn't even put railings on the platforms. More than one traveler had gotten height-sick and taken one too many steps in a wrong direction. It was a long way down. Not to mention a one way trip.
Xadian himself was a little put out by the height, trying to stay calm by pacing around the platform. It didn't help that the Night-Wing accompanying him, who would also serve as his tour guide, hadn't said one word to him since telling him her name. Alida. She was small for a vampire, only five and a half feet tall. She had black hair, like Xadian. Like most vampires of the winged variety she forewent the usual sword that most carried, instead opting to wield a metal staff, with a spike on the end. It was forged in the usual vampire way though, quenched in vampire blood to make it almost indestructible. She wore her wings proudly, stretched out to either side. They were black, seeming to almost absorb the light. With Alida standing in the middle of the platform, her wings stretched out to cover more than half the platform, both easily five feet long. Every now and then the feathers rippled, moving like a wave down the length of her wings. She almost seemed to be flirting with him. Understandable, vampires, even flying vampires, loved power, and he was one of the most powerful vampires in the world. Okeana would kill him though. And besides that, he had more pressing matters to think of than Alida's attempts to seduce him. The reasons for his journey into these damn skies for one.
In the last hour, his destination had arrived in view. It was the Capitol of the Night-Wing state cities. Ciudades del Cielo. It meant City of the Sky in one of the many languages that the Night-Wings spoke. And its name fit. It was a giant circle, at least two miles in diameter. Again, there seemed to be a distinct lack of hand rails, frustrating Xadian. But more than that, the city stretched into the sky another hundred feet above the circle itself. There was also a large bump in the middle of the bottom of the disc. Alida noticed him looking and informed him that that was where the vampires currently casting magic to keep the city in the sky were. As they got closer he saw that there was a series of windows in the bump, and hands were poking out of each. The sky keepers casting the magic.
The city had apparently moved in the hours since Alida had left to meet him, as instead of rising straight up to the city, they instead floated a little to the left of it. They'd have to move horizontally to meet up with a hole in the disc, which was where Alida's disc platform had disembarked from. It was made even more complicated by the fact the the city-disc was rotating. He hoped Alida knew what she was doing, or else they could be crushed between their disc and that of the city. Or, if the edge of the disc caught on the edge of the hole, it could flip the disc, sending them both falling to the earth two thousand feet below. She would survive of course, but he would have quite a bit of time to contemplate his hate of flying before he hit the ground.
Alida caught him looking over the edge and poked him with the tip of her wing.
“Vertigo?” She smiled. He glared at her, wondering if dying would be worth pushing her over the edge. Probably not. She looked upwards and her smile disappeared. They were getting closer to the city-disc. She tensed and the disc tilted a little as it moved to line up with the hole. The tilt, small as it was, almost threw Xadian off his feet. They lined up, and Alida tensed again. The disc flew a little faster, knocking Xadian off balance again. Luckily, before he fell, the disc flew to the right a little more and met up with the hole in the city-disc. A perfect fit. They had arrived in Ciudades del Cielo.
The City of Dreams
Alida sat up. The disc had lurched when it set into the hole, and she'd fallen. Xadian just lay where he had fallen, glad to feel ground around him again. Then he looked to the side and his heart dropped again. They were maybe twenty feet from the edge of the city-disc, after which the ground dropped off into thin air again. The platform discs clearly detached from the edge of the city-disc when disembarking, so that there weren't any holes in the streets of the city itself. The city proper started maybe fifty feet from where they were. It gleamed in the moonlight, light reflecting off of spires and glass panes. He looked up and gasped. The moon looked huge from this height. He could see every crater on its pockmarked surface. Alida looked up too.
She inched closer and tried to slip her hand inside Xadian's. He gave her a withering glare and she backed away with a smile. He saw, out of the corner of his eye, someone approaching. He snapped around to look, Alida following him. There were three Night-Wings coming, their wings held out like Alida's. Two of them had blonde hair, and the third's was pure white, indicating that he had a knack for light magic. The one with white hair reached them first.
“I trust you had a nice journey?” He smiled.
“Nice enough, although apparently we're a bit higher than I'd like.” Xadian replied. He could feel the magic power rolling off of the Night-Wing. He was powerful, maybe even one of the Council, or whatever word they used to describe those in power.
“Yes, we are actually a bit higher than usual. It seems my fellow Lords wish to impress you.” He looked around, then leaned in and added. “Or maybe they're trying to drive you away. We Night-Wings don't like bad news.” Definitely on the Council then.
“I just want to get the hell off this deathtrap as soon as possible. I'd like to deliver the damn news and leave.”
The newcomer led them away, the Night-Wings snickering at his discomfort.
As it happened, Xadian didn't get off Ciudades del Cielo as soon as he wanted. He'd come to see the Council of Flight, and had even given them advanced notice, hence the tour guide and welcoming party. But they still didn't have time to meet him. Or maybe they did and were stalling to get him addicted to the unbelievable magical technologies they had.
The first that he encountered was floating above the streets. There were orbs of light illuminating the city. They were only lit at night, to guide the citizens. Vampires could see in very little light, and as high as they were, the moon gave off more then enough. But it was still a nice touch.
The welcoming party led Xadian through the streets and he gazed up at the orbs as they walked. Every now and then Alida would point out a building, which would apparently be of particular interest. He mostly ignored her, trying to puzzle out how the lights worked with no one close by to cast the magic. It would be easy enough to cast the spell. Xadian knew how, and he normally didn't bother with light magic. The problem was that it was much harder to cast it when you couldn't see it. There were plenty of Night-Wings walking around, but none of them seemed to be the magician.
Finally, Alida cursed and pointed out the metal plates under the orbs.
“There's wires running throughout the disc, and they connect all the plates to a central building where they cast the magic, which runs through the wires and into the plates.”
There was a wavering in the air around the plates, making Xadian curse himself for not noticing. Then he cursed again. He didn't want or need this information. If this went badly, everything he learned from Alida would be used against the Night-Wings. Even now, he knew exactly how to take out the lights. One giant shadow shot in the right place, and the disc would be lit only by the moon and whatever magic the inhabitants put up. The disc-cities were fragile enough. He glanced at Alida and the welcoming party. She, for her part, seemed completely ignorant of his mission. He couldn't blame her for her telling him anything. But the others. They knew. And if they cared about any of it, they didn't show it. Was there more to the discs than he knew?
They finally arrived at their destination. A building that towered along with the rest. For the first time Xadian noticed how sturdy the buildings were. It looked like not even one of Kun's earthquakes could shake them. Of course, they had to be sturdy. The discs were stocked with magical weaponry, and every vampire on them was well versed in battle magic. He didn't like to think how many squads he'd need to take just one. Let alone this, the capitol disc. He might even need a horde to take this one. But that wasn't what made the Night-Wings the most feared force in the skies. The discs had another weapon. One that nothing was safe from. Themselves.
It was simple, really. Who knows how much a single disc weighs, with the city on its back. As much as any city on the ground, he'd guess. And the only thing keeping it in the air was the magic emanating from the vampires inside. So, whenever the Night-Wings came across something they really didn't like, be it a city or village, or anything else, really, they would bring one of their city-discs to a hover a couple hundred feet above it. And then they would cut the magic.
The entire disc, city and all, would come crashing to the ground. It would flatten whatever it landed on. It could destroy a city in seconds. And there was almost nothing anyone could do to stop it. There had been cases where an army of magicians had cast magical barriers over the city in danger, saving it from the disc. And if something did stop the disc on the way down, it would almost certainly tip one way or the other, leaving everything on the city off balance. But it took time to cast a barrier that big and that strong, not to mention a lot of casters. Maybe a hundred years ago, when teaching magic to their apprentices had been mandatory for vampires. But nowadays, with more than half the magic users in the world self taught, and the others almost born for magic, the total number in one area that could cast a barrier were low, at best. And that was for vampire cities. Human cities were even worse off. Night-Wings. The only thing that had ever united all the races against a common foe.
Alida called his name, breaking him from his thoughts. She was standing in the doorway, almost hanging off the door frame. She looked happier than she had a few minutes before. Oh, to be a youngling again. Of course even that was different with her. Night-Wings could turn humans, yes, but they viewed that as below themselves. Instead, they mated and had children, much like humans. It was an easier way to keep the species going, the alternative being to fly down to earth every now and then and get their hands dirty. It was likely that she was a natural child.
Alida called his name again, adding a curse to the end. He went inside.
The building was amazing. It was several degrees warmer than outside, where it had been a little cold even for vampires. There were more orbs of light floating through the air, illuminating the room. Chairs were placed seemingly at random throughout the room, some of them occupied. In the middle of the room was the source of all the magic, two Night-Wings who were sitting in chairs that looked extremely comfortable. As they caught sight of him, they waved their hands and the lights changed colors, settling on a strange combination of red and blue. The different colors mixed to paint the middle of the room purple. A series of images flickered onto the walls at the same time, a gallery of fine art, most from the ground world. Music filled the air, simply appearing from nowhere, a haunting melody played on some instrument that he didn't know. Finally, an entire wall disappeared, and a view of the sky appeared in its place, a view completely devoid of the buildings between them and the edge.
He stood there. Not even moving. He was so stunned that he looked almost indifferent. A dozen different spells, cast in almost the same instant, and kept together despite the obvious effect it would have on someone's energy. He wondered if it was a show of the Night-Wings power. Alida looked smug, almost satisfied. She took his arm and led him up to a desk set against one wall. The vampire sitting behind it looked down at them and handed Alida a key with a number attached to it. Then they were off again. They stepped into a metal box, which had another metal disc like the lights outside had. A vampire stood outside and put his hand up against a similar plate set in the wall. The box started moving up through a shaft in the building's wall.
“Music?” Alida asked. She held her hand out, and music filtered in through the metal disc in the floor. They rode in relative silence to the top of the building. It stopped, just in time. Xadian tumbled out. He muttered something about coffins and motioned for Alida to take the lead again. She led him through a series of hallways lined with doors. They stopped in front of one, which had a number corresponding to the one on their key. She unlocked the door and led him inside.
They stayed there for three days. Xadian almost killed Alida on the first, when she opened the blinds during daylight. He gave a good classic vampire hiss, his fangs bared. He would have jumped on her if she hadn't been standing in the sunlight. Which was the first odd thing he noticed. He cautiously set a toe inside the light, easing his body in when he didn't catch fire. She waited until he had stood in it and glared at her for a few minutes before explaining.
“See that?” She pointed out of the window. He looked out, and the first thing he noticed was the Night-Wings walking in the sunlight as if it were nothing to be afraid of. Then he saw something shining above the city. It looked like a normal magical barrier, extending up in a dome over the city.
“What is that?” He asked.
“It filters out the effects of sunlight, and only lets in the light.” She grabbed him and led him outside. Even though he'd just stood in it, he stayed in the shade of the building, away from the light.
Alida had to give him a shove, tipping him over. He landed on his face, in the light. He rolled over and raised his hand to fire a shadow shot. You don't push a Lord. Not even a Night-Wing would try it, and they were considered by most races to be completely insane. She got a scared look on her face and scrambled to help him up. This and Xadian trying not to laugh were the only things that saved her. He got up and glanced at the sun. He hadn't seen it in centuries, but even so it looked dimmer than he remembered. He walked slowly through the light. He'd heard from humans that it was warm, but the barrier seemed to steal even that. It made him happy to be in the light again, but it just reminded him how much he'd lost as a vampire. The warmth on his skin for one. Not constantly being in danger of death by fire was another.
A minute before he had been trying to keep from laughing but now he felt depressed. He grabbed Alida and dragged her inside. She protested but he made her take the stairs. The Night-Wings did too much with magic. It was amazing they knew how to do anything but magic. To be honest, he was surprised there were even stairs in this building. It took them five minutes to reach the top of the building, but by then Alida had had enough time to get mad. She brushed him off and took the lead. She walked fast, making him run to keep up. She seemed to be using some sort of magic to make her faster, which just cemented his thinking that they used too much magic. Finally they reached the door and Alida turned around to see him running. The sight cheered her up a bit, enough for her to unlock the door and let him go first.
Xadian stayed inside for the next two days, except for when Alida managed to drag him outside to see the city. She showed him all the important buildings, the schools and hospitals. This just served to further enrage him. He felt like yelling at her, telling her about his mission and what his knowing his way around would spell for the Night-Wings. Instead he just retreated within himself, looking down at the ground as they walked. Finally, on the third day the Council was ready to see him.
Alida led him to a building at the exact center of the disc. Again, he cursed the information. But finally he was going to find out if it was going to be put to use. There were armed guards circling the building, and several standing on the roof fifty feet above them. One of the guards detached from his group and headed their way.
“Xadian and Alida?” He asked, receiving two nods in return.
“Please, follow me.” He walked off, not bothering to look back and see if they were following. Once again Xadian was struck by the nerve of these people. He contemplated not following but Alida was already going after him. He sighed.
They were led through winding hallways and through various rooms. It almost seemed like they were following a secret path. Finally, they came to a strange door and stopped. It was made of metal, unlike all the others. It was guarded by two vampires, this time with some kind of weapon that consisted of a sword mounted onto a staff. The guard who had led them there spoke a few words to the new guards, and they stepped aside.
“With that, I take my leave.” He said, and walked off. One of the guards reached across and opened the door. Xadian steppe through. Alida made to follow him but the guards stepped in front of the doorway.
“Just him, miss.” One of them said. She pouted, but they closed the door.
Xadian looked around. The room was brightly lit and circular. Chairs lined the room's walls. And in the chairs sat the Council of Flight.
The man who had met him on the edge of the disc was sitting in one, his hair still blazing white. He smiled at Xadian, which set him at ease. Like the Vampire Lords and Council, these were mere mortals. Nothing to fear.
The air in the room was practically moving with the amount of power rolling off the Council. It was at odds with his own aura, making the occupants of the room, himself included, wary. Everyone waited, tense. Finally, the vampire with the white hair broke the silence.
“So. It seems that all of our carefully planned speeches were written for naught.” The Council snickered, still a little uneasy. Xadian wondered how many he could take in a fight. Three or four certainly.
“I am Linius.” Finally he had a name to go with the hair. The rest of the Council introduced themselves, the silence finally broken. There were nine of them. Aras, Plen, Freal, Linius, Fernan, Straga, and two others who didn't introduce themselves and just stood in the shadows of the chairs. He wondered if they were actually part of the Council. And then, finally, there was the High-Star, the King of all Night-Wings. Emane.
Emane took the floor. “Your mission.”
“You know why I'm here. You know what I'm asking.”
“We do. The impending war between the vampires of the mainland and the werewolves of the north. You want us to join you.”
“And if we refuse? What if we were to say we preferred werewolves?”
“Then you know the rest of my orders. You know I'm to kill you all, make my way through the city while causing as much damage as possible, and commandeer a disc and a pilot. And then we kill the Night-Wings before moving on to the werewolves.”
“And if we say we'll join you, then we're expected to send our brothers and children off to die.”
“Not necessarily.” Xadian smiled. Arcanus, the Vampire King, had been reluctant to allow him to give the Night-Wings this option. He'd wanted them on his side more than he had wanted the humans. “Arcanus says that all we really need is your assurance that you will not enter the war at all. On either side.”
The Council took a second to confer, speaking in some language he didn't know and that sounded like singing. They hadn't expected such an easy way out. They were dealing with vampires and, more importantly, Arcanus Fang-Master. He'd ordered genocide before, mass murder on a grand scale. Of course they would take this chance.
“We accept.” Emane smiled.
The talking done, and thankfully faster than either side had hoped, Emane clapped his hands and a series of servants filed in with drinks. They all raised their glasses and toasted the, somewhat, peace they had negotiated. Xadian sipped his, grimacing with distaste. It was the same stuff he'd been drinking for the last three days. They called it stigma, and as close as he could tell it was artificial blood. It tasted nothing like regular blood, and he was suspicious of its ability to keep him alive. But it was strangely filling, almost like being able to eat again. The Council, apparently having no taste buds, downed theirs in one gulp.
Emane broke the silence. “So, how has my daughter been treating you?”
Xadian thought for a second. “Your daughter?”
Xadian stepped back. He had assumed she was just a random tour guide they had picked to show him around. She certainly acted like it. But the daughter of the head of the Council? The king himself? He managed to find his voice. “Well enough, I suppose. I certainly can't get a moment of peace.”
“Good.” Emane replied, seemingly choosing to ignore the second half of his sentence. “Then you can take her with you when you leave. She's certainly no use here, all she has dreams of being is a tour guide, of all things.”
A high pitched squeak could be heard from behind the door. The door flew open, sending Alida tumbling through from where she'd been eavesdropping. The two guards fell through after her. Everyone watched as they tried to get up and back through the door.
Emane didn't seem fazed. “Really! I would have expected this from Alida, but Faren, Bren? You two?”
The guards looked up with the faces of men who knew they were in trouble. Alida, however, jumped up and strode forward. “Is it true father? I'm going with him?”
Xadian was still trying to figure out the same thing. “Emane, you realize I'm going to war. Right?”
“Yes. Consider her our guarantee that we'll stay out of it.”
“No offense, but, that's a little cold, isn’t it?”
“Of course not. We said we wouldn't get involved, and we won't.”
Xadian almost started crying at the thought of having to spend more than six months with Alida. Just then a servant entered the room. He walked over to Emane and whispered in his ear. Emane straightened.
“You should leave now.”
Xadian looked at him. What had he done?
“News travels slowly when you live a thousand feet above the ground. Two days ago the werewolves invaded Whitefall. Your war has already begun.”