The serrated edge glinted in the moonlight, casting brilliant sparks over the man's shadowed face. He smiled faintly, turning the blade over in his hands, watching the points of light explode from its jagged teeth.
Finally, after interminable waiting --
Tonight was the night.
- - -
Dawn awakened the inhabitants of the two cities some scant hours later; pale rays touching first the lofty towers of the palace of Science, with its austere marble walls and cold, chiseled sculptures. The beams crept along the paths between the greenhouses, illuminating the lush greenery in its glass lodgings, and crawled up the Laboratory's walls, casting a toneless glow on the gleaming surface.
Inside the Laboratory was a plethora of objects that would be -- or had already been -- put to scientific use. Hamsters and mice in wire cages, sextants and telescopes set up on their stands, scales and balances in orderly rows on the shelves, jars and test tubes filled with strange concoctions resting on their racks against the walls… all these and more filled the Lab. Experiments and observations were carried out and recorded in adjoining rooms, with crisp lights and stark white walls.
Over these walls Dawn passed, and across the kitchen-gardens that supplied the city's inhabitants with food, and down into the shallow valley where those same inhabitants dwelt, in the small, functional houses they called their own. She drifted through and past each window in each house, and continued to the very bottom of the valley. There grew the Tree of Science; there she paused.
The Tree flourished, nurtured by the care and chemicals of the eldest, most knowledgeable Scientists. Ringed by shrubs and flowers, the Tree's immediate surroundings held the only plants in the realm of Science that were naked, exposed to the elements. As such, the Tree commandeered a horde of physicians, specialists and scholars to provide for it and ensure its well-being. Two guards stood by it at all times; no matter what weather - rain, snow, parching sun - the Tree must be protected. Indeed, it was an honour that many of the guards of the city of Science greatly desired.
For the Tree of Science was the pinnacle of all the city stood for; the toil and the drudgery, all suffered willingly for the sake of progress.
Dawn continued on her way, drifting over the hilly landscape that lay beyond Science and alighting upon the wrought gates of its rival city, Art. She paused, then passed through the ornate metalwork, playing shadows upon its cratered surface and illuminating what lay beyond.
The first building she touched was the Art's bell tower - the lofty, rough-hewn turret that stood proudly beside the city's castle, and housed the massive bell that proclaimed the passing of each hour. Flags waved from the apex of the structure, as they did from the spires that adorned each peak of stone in the castle walls; translucent pastels floated, suspended in the air.
The high windows filtered light through a pearlized sheen. The shimmering rainbows danced over the walls and floors; up on tapestries and curtains, across elegant tables and chairs with scrollwork graven into their legs, and came to rest on the thick, luxuriant rugs scattered amongst the furniture.
Inside the castle was the Gallery - an immense exhibition of all forms of artwork. Paintings and etchings adorned the walls, while in front of them stood wax figures so lifelike that children ran up to them to say hello. Fish leapt in ponds, darting between the lilies that floated on the water's surface. An adjacent room was set up with shelves holding a cornucopia of music selections, and with listening posts lining its creamy walls.
Dawn did not linger there, though. She passed through the courtyard and played with the fountain at its edge, sending crystalline sparks through the water droplets, then flitted down the daisy-sprinkled meadow to the gardens.
The garden paths were cobbled and fringed by tulips and wisteria that bloomed throughout the year; beyond the walkways were topiaries shaped into graceful swans and musical instruments, seated in beds of multihued blossoms and slender, waving fronds. The paths seemed to stretch forever without cease, though Dawn floated over them fairly quickly. She hurried to complete her final task of the day - illuminating the Tree of Art.
Beneath a waterfall, over hills and across vast, lush expanses -- she sped through all these in her zeal, paying them no mind. The Tree was near!
The Tree of Art was to its city what the Tree of Science was to the researchers and technicians in their district. The Tree was the ultimate metaphor - the symbol of peace and a celebration of life as Art's residents knew it and believed it should be.
Suddenly, she was upon the place. The grove had been thinned in the past years to allow easier access to the Tree, for both worship and maintenance. Six smaller trees now ringed the spot where the one Tree stood…
Or, where it had stood.
Dawn pulled up and stared, shocked. She paled, drawing her robes around her, and in a stupor shakily withdrew from the city of Art.
In the middle of the ring formed by the six trees, there was a smouldering, jagged stump.