Straining and gasping for air, Herth threw an arm over the ledge and hauled himself up with one last effort, rolling onto his back on the roof of the second-tallest building in Basetown. Naturally, the local Authority headquarters building was taller, but guarded as it was, Herth had abandoned that idea early on.
So, there he stood, towering a full eight stories over most of the rest of Basetown. He cast his eyes upward, at once hating and anticipating what he would see.
The mechanical, inverted hill that composed the underside of the City dominated the sky, as usual. Herth squinted reflexively as he scanned the edge of the disk, his heart thudding in his chest, seemingly threatening to beat its way out of his body.
Then he saw one.
It was nothing more than a roughly T-shaped blur to his eyes, at the start. Against the glaring teal of the skies, it was no more than a silhouette, but Herth knew exactly what the shape was, and his stomach flipped as he watched the figure carve a graceful arc through the skies.
Soon, he'd spotted four or five of them. One swooped down from the edge of the City on an approach to the roof of the Authority tower, and Herth looked up as she passed overhead. A scant hundred feet above him, Herth could pick out the individual feathers lining the tips of her wings, their broad curves shaping the air flowing past them, flicking up and down to make minute adjustments to her trajectory.
In half a second she was fading into the distance again, but the memory of those wings and the grace with which they cut through the sky lingered with him as he turned to see her land nimbly on the roof of the tower. The silhouette of her wings collapsed into the rest of her body as she folded them behind her, and then she was gone, swallowed by the imposing bulk of the Authority building.
Herth stood in silence, feeling the itch of the two parallel scars running down his back. The sun climbed through the sky, as the shadow of the City crawled across Basetown. Herth could see the town's buildings winking out one by one until the shadow, heavy in its emptiness, engulfed his rooftop perch, and he began his climb down in darkness.