Disclaimer:  The wonderful J. O'Barr owns everything relating to The Crow, I'm merely a writer who should probably have given up a while back.

Notes:  Eep!  This is something… something by me… and it's not based in Velgarth— in fact it's not anything to do with Mercedes Lackey at all!  Strangely un-nerving, but this idea accosted me whilst I was sitting on the bus the other day and it's grown and made itself into this with only a tiny bit of help on my part.

Fireflies.

  Sunset.

  Splashes of pollution twisted colour stain the sky with vivid and violent reds and oranges that are only broken by distressed patches of smoke and wispy clouds.  Beneath the bleeding atmosphere the city grinds along its way; a thousand and one noises growling and snarling and making up its transient heartbeat as figures wrapped tight against the winter chill scurry from building to building in mono-focused reveries.

  There's something in the air tonight.

  Streetlights ping on in waves of artificial sodium brightness— a domino effect that speeds it's way along the grid-like layout of the city— and the twisted mire begins to glow with its own light, challenging and obscuring the glories of nature at the cold times of year and making shadows menace steadily down alleys and between man-made structures.

  It's coming.

  The evening wind dances and winds its way between man-made canyons of concrete and steel; caressing the smooth expanses of mirrored glass and tugging intermittently at the clothing of those still on the streets.  Not abating their pace, the fast-moving figures grip at their clothes and grimace slightly, not realising how much like ants in a technological maze they resemble.  Chill-fingered eddies probe and search.

  The black-clad figure moves silently; look at the swift sureness of the movements, the confident steps of one who knows secrets.  Not precisely flitting from shadow to shadow along the dusty, grimy tarmac stinking street, but more pulling fragments of inky blackness along from place to place— as if even the night is unwilling to surrender to the inevitable.

  Black and white, but mainly black, the shadowy figure pauses— seeming to melt into the dark background of the street, blending with the shadows that the orange bright linear lights cannot touch and that the fizzing, glowing tubes of neon scribbles up vertical concrete walls only define.

  The prickles of cold that hunt the humans in packs of ice do not seem to bother the unseen focus of narrative in the slightest.  The suggestion of a head; topped with wild and matted hair, twists from side to side as dull eyes search for something unknown.

  Nothing.

  Not a grunt and less than a sigh and the shadows retreat enough for a faint pink hue of neon grandeur to catch highlights of edges— showing the rusting metal spider work of the fire escape, and the lithe grace of the dead soul climbing.

  The tops of the soft-brick and old style buildings are far below the titanic modern super-structures of the brave new world but the breeze still picks at them like old and festering scabs.  Scatters of cold dust and unexpected pebbles and stone roofing chips shiver and scatter randomly under the instruction of the wind and the black clad figure slips over the side to stand on the edge of the building.  Chilly and still shins press against the rough clad edge of the low brick balustrade.

  Waiting.

  For what?  It comes; a shadow against the reflected orange-dark glow of the sky, a patch of feathered inky blackness that spirals downwards, mindful of the teasing pull of the air as it hones in on its target.

  A soft caw and a rustle of rigid but soft spiny feathers and the crow alights on the left shoulder of the figure, who doesn't even flinch.  Onyx claws grip securely, but not painfully and the corvid flips and settles its wings before turning a penetrating gaze to the surrounding area.

  No words are exchanged, but it cannot help but be felt that they are communing; the man and the bird.

  Look.

  Look at them and listen with the ears of the soul and try to deny it.

  They've both been waiting for this for a long time now— three short months and a year ago something happened, it happened.  A mere handful of months ago he came back; back from the infinite dark spaces of limbo and despair.

  A year; the anniversary of an atrocity.

  It should have ended then, but rats are good at running and hiding and it's taken all their skill to catch up with the last two— the worst two— in this man-made monstrosity of a city that traps all inhabitants in cold, cold claws of steel and glass and pumps them so full of isolation and monochrome shades of unspecific anger.

  It ends now.

  With wings of night, cut from reality and showing the distant realms not meant for mortal eyes the crow leads the man— his face painted wide with the black grin of insanity— on a merry nostalgic dance over buildings and across streets.

  They're getting nearer… getting closer to them… closer to the end.

  There!

  A dank dark alley, crouched between the scabrous concrete side of a mirror fronted office block, behind a tube-lit box selling chemical confections that imitate food.  The man freezes— some small part of him remembers food, remembers eating— but he has caught sight of them, huddled between overflowing metal bins of waste and corroded metal pipe work clinging to rotting bricks.

  There are three figures in the shadows, two are the ones that he has been tracking and the third is a guilty party, furtive whispers and hand gestures full of nerves pass between them, interspersed by the electric crackle of a silver foil package being broached.

  A rustle of cloth and paper and the tallest of the semi-concealed rats produces a small box of matches.  One thin wooden stick is removed and scraped down the side of the box— the harsh stuttering sound sounding like the growl of an angry ghost before a tiny flame springs to life and is hastily crowded around.

  And, as the little toxic fireflies make their dream-saturated light, he remembers—

  Don't—

  Too late.

  Remember the house, so bright with love and summery despite the winter weather outside.  Remember her; the way the light caught her hair and her skin glowed with vivacious brilliance.  Remember him; the gurgles of delight when he saw his father; the way he wobbled when he took his first steps.  Remember the perfection—

  You don't—

  The old building next door; remember that.  Remember the owner— sneaky and slimy and rat-like in movements.  Remember the offer of too little to leave the perfect house.  Remember the liquidation signs hammered to old gates, building gates of wood and peeling paint.  Remember the whispers of scandal and the blue strobe lights of the law when they came and prodded and poked.

  Stop—

  … and remember the group, the little rats creeping around, faces sneering and appearance threatening.  Remember the inconclusive evidence, and the big rat— king rat— returning.  Broken and poor and destitute except for a worthless building with expensive insurance, remember that…

  Please—

  Going out for a walk after a stressful day, briefly leaving the haven, the heaven, of the perfect home and her and him and the love— remember.

  Remember the smell first.  Harsh and acrid eddies carrying particles of burning dust and matter blasting into the sky, underscored by the stink of petrol and oil.

  Remember the lights; the blue flashing lights of the red chariots captained by yellow clad angels.

  Too late—

  The sounds; remember them.  Screams and shouts and crackles and bangs as the old rat's last place disappeared in a violent spasm of heat and anger.  And the wind, remember that— the twist and the change and the sudden boiling leap—

  Too late too late—

  The home, the house, lit from within, not by electricity tamed, but by dancing flames—

  The shouts— hear the fury in the sounds—

  Remember them.

  Remember!  The wailing shrieks from the avid and horrified crowd and the desperation born howls from inside— the shouts of the fire-fighting, failing, yellow clad angels—

  Too late!  Too late!  Too late!

  The windows; remember the glass wavering and buckling, before detonating out with shards of fury— but not before the faces are seen— still inside.

  No! Nonononono!

  Running.  Remember the slap of desperate feet on flame-warmed paving slabs, the faltering staccato sounds of dodging the wingless yellow not-saviours, clad in visages of dust and soot.

  Too late— feel the sound in the fury—

  Remember seeing, in the unholy light, the badly hidden faces of little acid fireflies, basking in the light they've made.  Blurring past them, over the hedge and onto the porch, ignoring the heat, and through the portal to burning hell.

  Too late!

  Remember the smell.  That smell; sizzling and smoking and burning and cooking.  Not that smell—

  No— don't—

  Remember the pain and the helplessness, the fire and the anger—

  TOO LATE!

  —the way the dancing caress of living light surrounds and consumes.  Incorporeal glow that takes everything and leaves nothing.

  The darkness and the limbo and the anger that the fire promises; remember that.

  But above all, above all, remember them; the insignificant shadow play puppets dancing on jerked strings.

  Remember what they did—

  Remember the fireflies—

  REMEMBER!

  He drops, on silent vengeful feet and the first is dead before they even realise he has found them.  The other two stare, burning rock in crumpled metallic grave forgotten and tossed aside in an instant.

  For the briefest moment, their expressions are identical— the pale blonde one with sallow skin and the short, fat one with a pungent smell and a plethora of dark scratchy hair— blank shock that fast accelerates towards emotion.

  The blonde heads straight for anger; he's the third and no mere clown with a smeared paint mask scares him, but the dark one, the short one— he knows, he remembers…  Terror gets its barbed claws in him and makes him yank out the shiny metal pistol with its little lumps of steel clad lead death ready and waiting.

  Not good enough.

  Hot and burning the bullets fly, but it makes little difference to the shadow of a dark soul that dances through them with infinite mad grace, face split wide with a mocking black grin and cheeks stained with inky limbo tears.

  He has a sword— a long thin razor of shining silver finality and it flickers and dances with him; biting at the gun and taking the blonde before the poised and readied switchblade knife has even left his hand.

  Time for endings; time for memory and the darkling dancer cuts through the lies and deceit of the fleshy manikin that houses the final small, corrupted soul.

  A half smoked cigarette drops from dead lips and rolls across the scummy ground, trailing little firefly sparks in the cold, wintery dirt and grime.

  Endings—

  The wind gusts and moans, picking fitfully over the crumpled and stained figures sleeping in the narrow alleyway— all alone behind the acid-bright scribbles of incandescent gas in narrow glass prisons— and nudges at the glowing embers of the rolled up paper end, tattering its acrid smoke and pushing it towards an iridescent, oil-stained puddle.

  The rainbow-tinted water accepts the tiny fire with depth and gentle grace and smothers it with loving finality.

  The broken little firefly-light flickers and goes out.