Miller watched as the falling star set the dark blue ink of the skies ablaze, arching above like a fiery, one-colored rainbow. Helplessly, he stared as the meteorite shot ever downward, closer and closer.
He didn’t react when it crashed into his home, exploding and setting aflame the wood and thatch and surrounding forest. He could only watch in petrified horror as memories long gone were superimposed over the ongoing scene. Saw a phantom child running from a house in tears, a hand over his burnt cheek, his wails distant as he called for help.
“Someone help me! Mama and Papa, they’re dying!”
A noise jerked him from his daze, brought him back to the present. Was that coughing he heard? There had been no one in his home. How could—?
There it was again, faint among the roar of the increasingly raging fire, but there nonetheless.
Miller steeled his resolve, squared his shoulders and glared at the flames as though daring them. Lifting the collar of his shirt to his nose, he ran towards his burning abode. The glass windows burst under the heat, flames roaring out and up towards the sky in victory. He tried the door, bumped into it with his shoulder, but a beam must have fallen behind it, for it was stuck fast.
The cough came again, or was it a sob?
“Damn it,” whispered Miller, jumping back out from under the threshold as a section of the thatched roof collapsed just where he had been standing.
The only way in was through the windows, and flames had already claimed them.
“Not this time,” he challenged the house. “Not this time!” he called louder.
Throwing caution to the wind, Miller tucked his head in and ran towards the window on the left, leaping inside at the last moment. He rolled on the ground, thrust himself back on his feet, and stopped momentarily.
Where his sitting room had once been there was now a crater, and in its center, lying amidst the remains of Miller’s burning furniture, was a man.
A fallen star? Miller mused. He’d heard the tales, of course, of stars getting tired of watching the earth from so far and coming down to experience it for themselves, but he’d never considered them true.
The remaining beams on the ceiling groaned, calling him back to the immediate danger. He hurried to the barely conscious man and knelt at his side.
“It’s all right,” said Miller gently. “I’ll get you out of here. Easy now.”
As Miller bent to pick him up, the man’s head turned. Miller gasped, almost letting him fall again. His eyes were ablaze with fire, both from the reflection of the flames around the house and from the ones within the man himself. Then the lids fluttered shut and he became a limp weight in Miller’s arms.
Sasha’s sleep was fitful. Oh, how he wished he could just fall into a sleepless haze. But no, again and again he must relive that hated morning. Finding the nest empty; his whole family—gone.
Because you’re a cripple, they were ashamed of you, the nasty voice reminded him.
But it wasn’t his fault! He had never asked to be different. He tried his hardest to control the magic, to turn into a bird. No matter what, his siblings just kept mocking him, tormenting him, hating him.
Sasha stirred his thoughts away from that pain, back to how he had flown high and law, far and wide, looking everywhere for his kin. When he’d regained consciousness after falling from exhaustion he’d seen the most beautiful face and it had kept haunting him ever since. It had been bathed in reds and golds from the flames around them, but Sasha could never forget it. And the eyes—blue eyes, deeper than the sky. The sky where he’d searched so long for his family …
He couldn’t take the memories again. They were making him sick. Sasha forced his eyes open. They were so heavy; the lids just kept sliding shut again. One last time, he opened them as wide as he could, fighting against the need to close them again. After a while, the blur that was his sight faded and the edges of his surroundings sharpened.
He was in a bed, no surprise there. The walls around him, though, did not belong to his bedroom. They were charred in places, yes, like his own, but where Sasha preferred gold-and-red tones, these were all blue and green.
The apparent roof above was thatch—didn’t the owner realize how dangerous that was, putting him in there? The furniture seemed new, or rarely used. His own bed, with a straw mattress, was good quality, even if he would have preferred leaves or a tree branch.
“Thank the gods, you’re awake!”
Sasha started and his head jerked towards the sound. It took all his willpower to keep the fear from setting anything on fire, for the likely target would have been the man who was now standing in the doorway. He hadn’t even heard it open.
That face! It was the one from his dreams, no doubt—the eyes could not be mistaken. But there was something wrong with it. The left side, from eye to jaw line, was crossed with ridges and bumps and scars. The whole cheek had been burned and would never heal.
Guilt and shame exploded in Sasha’s gut as those bluer-than-blue eyes stared into his. They rose like an angry fire, threatening to burst from his grasp at any second. He had done that, he had scarred his savior, Sasha was sure of it. And if he didn’t get a grip on the magic now, he would probably end up killing him.
To prevent that, Sasha did the only thing he knew to do: he shut his heart down, took himself deep into his own being, and removed his consciousness from the world of the living.