|The air still shimmered with the memory of heat. The charred remnants of countless homes littered blackened streets like so much refuse, where mere hours before stood dwellings of majestic beauty. Celestia, City of a Thousand Stars, City of Sorcery, crowning achievement of a millennium of cultural refinement, now lay broken and desolate.
A single living soul could be found, wandering from the corpse of one fallen building to the next, sometimes digging, sometimes stopping only to stare with slackened jaw at the horrific damage surrounding him. His red rimmed eyes, once fierce green, were now clouded with growing madness. The man stopped, staring at an empty, scorched wall, his shock and exhaustion at last overcoming the need to search. "My fault. All my fault," he whispered to himself as he sank to his knees amid the rubble. Tears rolled unheeded down an ageless face, leaving dirty streaks through grime and ash.
Memories assailed him. Once Celestia had been a city of singular beauty. Graceful towers stood proudly, their slender tops coming to ethereal points, while far below the elegant homes lay shining white in the sunlight. As enchanting as the city was in daylight, however, its true glamor showed itself only as the sun receded, and the City of a Thousand Stars earned its name. Suspended hundreds of feet in the air above each building floated a Colora, one of the artificial stars created by the wizards of antiquity to enhance the light of the true stars above. Moonlight revealed the city walls to be not the vibrant white they appeared in sunlight, but instead a pale, luminous silver, complementing the azure strands of starlight the Colora reflected towards them. The effect had been nothing short of dazzling. And now, the city's towers lay toppled, its pulsating rhythm of vibrant life replaced with a tomb's echoing silence.
His thoughts would not clear, could not wrap themselves around the extent of his folly. It was not supposed to be like this. Today was to be his crowning triumph, his great gift to this charmed place. His eyes peered from the blackened wall to the nearest pile of rubble, and remorse once more stabbed like a blade through his thoughts. Once charmed, now cursed. Through his arrogance. Against his will, he fell once more into the memory of the last two days.
The city glowed silver in the starlight. He stood upon the hill known as Star Watch, a steep outcropping of rock just outside the walls of Celestia, well known for its spectacular view of the city below. His thoughts were consumed by the Song of Eternity, tomorrow's grand experiment. He was so engrossed in his musings he failed to notice the figure approaching behind him.
"The great Arch Magus Cronius stands gazing down upon his city, his formidable intellect bent towards the plight of its lowliest citizen," mocked a soft feminine voice.
He turned, unable to stop a smile from creeping over his face. "The sorceress Shayle reprimands the foolish Arch Magus for missing yet another meal," he said in a wry tone. Shayle, his betrothed, had an impressive knack for bringing him back to reality. As he watched her return his smile, he could not help but gaze in wonder at the sight of her shrouded by moonlight. Though he knew her to be well over fifty years of age, she looked not a day older than twenty-five. Our city may be beautiful, but this woman is more beautiful still, he thought. Eternity is not long enough.
"You did miss another meal," she said, her voice concerned. She turned away from him to face the city below. Her smile faded, her eyes grew shaded. "Do you still mean to go through with this ridiculous idea of yours tomorrow?"
"You know I do, beloved. I have an obligation as caretaker of this city to see to the well being of all its inhabitants. Not just the powerful." He smiled at her then, his eyes softening. "Or the beautiful."
She ignored the pleasantry, her anger flaring. "Well being! There is not a citizen of Celestia who knows the meaning of the word hardship. You coddle them like some doting father, Cronius. And now this." Her soft lips formed a perfect, well practiced pout. "What fun is there in being immortal if every seamstress and milkmaid in the city has the same luxury?"
"It would not matter if every woman in the world had youth eternal, Shayle. Still you would outshine them all...especially when you're angry." He turned once more, following her gaze to the city below. "If it is within my power to grant the gifts we've been given to the populace at large, I would be a selfish ruler indeed to do otherwise. Perhaps if you were the one forced to make such decisions, you might better understand this, love. But that is a burden I would wish upon no one, you least of all." With a sigh, he stepped back from the edge of the hill. "Now then, I believe some mention was made of dinner. Would you do me the pleasure of dining with me this evening?"
"No, you fool, I drudged all the way up this hill to tell you to go eat dinner by yourself," she replied, her slender arms crossed over her chest.
"Well in that case, the least I can do is escort you safely back to the city," he said, grinning, and offered a strong uncallused hand. Shayle at first feigned reluctance, but soon relented and took the offered hand. "Come then, my dear," he said, “I know a shortcut." Cronius muttered a few low, unintelligible words, latent with power. Holding her hand in a firm grip, he stepped off the edge of the steep outcropping, pulling her after. She swallowed a cry of shock as the expected free fall turned instead to a sedate, gradual descent. The soft luminance of their forms framed a silhouette against the moonlight as they fell in gentle decline, hand in hand, towards the silver city below.
The beauty of the moment was marred only slightly as a soft, feminine voice muttered, "Show off."