April 9, 2028
Les Crayères, France
“So, who is she and why is she known as Blackbird?” Alec asked his captain. The ballpoint pen in his left hand hovered over the lined notepad. It was void of any writing, except for small, impatient ink dots.
Both he and Ira stood behind the pellicle mirror as they watched their asset, the strange woman, inscribe unseen words in a tattered leather bound journal, pace the length of the room, and vigorously talk to her own shadow.
Her long mane of raven black hair whipped around every time she turned her head. Pale from the rare sunlight, the woman resembled a specter. Her frail, willowy figure made her look as if she could be snapped in two. Ira could barely make out the ghost of her former self.
“Her name is Meryl Renée Grigori. Her nickname is Blackbird,” Ira stated flatly feeling the weight of the bands against his chest.
Alec started to write, when he stopped and looked up, “That’s Meryl? The one you talked about?”
Smirking, Ira nodded, “Hard to believe, right? She is twenty-nine years old, and grew up in Colorado. Daughter to Horos and Usoa Grigori. Both are deceased. She is intelligent, strong-willed, and not afraid of anything. She can also be a complete bitch sometimes.” He added with a grim, tight smirk.
“Well, feigning death for many years, I can see why.” Alec chuckled as he started doodling on the sheet of paper which he was supposed to be writing notes.
“Oh no, trust me, she was a bitch during our school years, too. Never did the homework, but somehow she still received straight A’s.”
“Oh, she sounds like my kind of girl then,” Pie dropped the pen and leaned back with a broad grin, until he caught the wolfish shadow that had crossed over his captain’s already stoic features. “Oh come on, Raven. I’m joking, she’s too much to handle. Look, if you like the woman then you can make her talk.”
“I do not like her.” Ira regretted this statement as soon as he said it.
He studied the woman he thought he knew, the woman he thought dead for so many years. Finally, to avoid looking at Alec’s fixed gaze, Ira paced back and forth.
Before the first lieutenant could continue his inquiry, Ira interrupted him.
“It is not easy talking to her. I truly believed she was gone. Then, all of a sudden, she is alive, not only that but she is the vital benefit to ending this war?”
“Fate is a fickle fiend. Just see if you can talk to her, Raven. The major will be here soon. We will wait until you tell us to join you; maybe you can just soften her up.” He nudged Ira with a teasing notion.
Ira sighed, fighting a losing battle, “It’s not that easy.”
Pie smiled broadly and pursued his captain and friend, “I know you like her. Your anger reveals that notion. But use it as passion towards her. Provoke her. Maybe it’ll get her to chat, and if all else fails…” he studied his superior, unsure of his next suggestion.
“What?” Ira asked although he had an inkling of what Alec was going to say.
“Maybe a kiss would soften her snappish tongue.”
Ira threw back his head and gave a hearty, sarcastic laugh, “That is the last thing I would do, especially to that woman,” He pointed to the prisoner, who looked over at the mirror. “To kiss her would be like kissing a snake. She is shrewd, bitter, sagacious, and a foxy-”
Ira stopped dead in his tracks when he realized what he had said, and what he was going to say; it gave him no pleasure to hear Alec give a cry of triumph.
“Vixen as she is, my dear friend, a bit of a smooch would possibly help us. And as you have known her the longest, and have possibly romanticized about her,” Alec added quietly. “You can make her talk; you just need to push the odds into your favor.”
Ira shook his head again, trying desperately to win a losing argument, “It’s not a matter of making her talk or romanticizing. Each time we cross paths, we nearly kill or maim each other, and it is not always intentional. If we kiss or submit to feelings, which we do not have by the way, it would be an apocalypse.”
Alec bowed his head. His neck-length hair hid his features as he murmured sadly, “We’ve already had the apocalypse.”
Both men had nothing to say for a while, and the pain of losing their comrades in New York bit into their minds again. Silently, they continued to watch Meryl as she paced once more around the room then sat down and wrote furiously in her tome.
Knowing that their silence was getting them nowhere, Ira sighed heavily. “I will talk to her, but I’m not kissing her!” He emphasized on the negative.
“Ten dollars says you will.” Alec grinned and held out his hand.
The captain studied his friend for a moment, then, “Deal.”
They shook hands briefly, Ira picked up a sheet of paper that was on the table before them and walked into the room.
He sat down on the seat across from Meryl and stared at her, lovingly or loathingly, he could not tell. In the back of his mind, he buried any emotion he had ever felt for the strange woman who sat before him.
His voice was hollow as he spoke, “Hi, Meryl.”
Her figure stiffened. She had not been called by her given name for years. The title sounded strange or peculiar, as if she had taken over someone else’s life, someone who was undamaged by the tides of war.
“Raven.” Her voice was icy and singular as her blue gaze bore into his own green eyes. “You look good.”
With a cocked brow, Ira retorted, “And you look like shit.”
The corner of her lip curved slightly, “I suppose you are here to ask me about our mad enemy?”
“Yes. General Matthew Allen-”
“Matthew James Allen?” she studied him.
“He’s a general now?”
“Yes. As-” Ira was cut off again by her curiosity.
“He was the football captain at our high school.” She looked away from him, as if recovering that small bit of memory she had retained. “How in the world…”
“He gave up football after high school and joined the army,” Ira answered promptly.
“So, you’re a captain, and he’s a general.” She crossed her arms and leaned back into the hard metal chair.
“And you are still breathing. May I continue?”
She nodded slightly; a frown creased her sallow cheeks as her slender jaw clenched.
She refused to look at him.
It was better this way; otherwise, the interrogation would be much harder.
“Okay, as I was saying, General Allen received word that you know Arsenii Gavriil. We need any information on him because ending him can end the war.”
The woman shrugged her shoulders, “I don’t know anything.”
Ira said quietly as he studied her every move, “Your diary says otherwise.”
“You read?” Her eyes flashed angrily at him.
“You passed out from exhaustion, or blood loss, on the trip back. Your diary fell. I picked it up and I saw Gavriil’s name, well his surname.”
Their eyes met. This time, his gaze pierced hers and she quickly looked away again.
“You are asking the wrong person, Raven. It’s not that simple.” Her fingers flexed slowly.
As they stretched and strained the muscles, Ira found this mesmerizing as if she was trying all she could to relieve an old wound that went deeper than just physical pain.
Ira smiled thoughtfully. The two were very much alike, but his tone grew serious. “Nothing is simple anymore, Blackbird.”
He looked at the sheet of paper closely. Even though he had read the handwritten names many times before, it meant nothing without her help.
“I have here a list of names, nicknames of the men who could have helped stop this man. However, Erebus or Arsenii, killed them before we could find out who they were... We have: Hawk, Dove, Dragon, Duck, Bluebird and of course you; Blackbird.” He watched her flinch slightly as he called out each name. “You know them?”
“You know, or knew two of them,” she said after a moment of silence, still refusing to look at her interrogator. “There is one person not on that list.”
“Swan. She is of German and Russian decent.”
“What is her name?”
Meryl eyed him and turned away before barely whispering, “Svana.”
“Your grandmother?” while his curiosity elevated, her stomach cringed at the thought of someone uttering a deceased relative’s name.
With a slight nod, she continued, “Nana knew Gavriil’s mother, who died in childbirth with her third child.”
“He has siblings?”
She looked away, leaned back in the chair and spoke no more; she had already said more than she dared.
Anger and sadness replaced his now deflated anticipation. “Please tell me, Meryl,” he pleaded, although it did nothing to help.
“Can I use the restroom?”
She repeated the question as if she were speaking to an ogre.
“I don’t know, can you?” he countered bitterly.
She abruptly stood up with her good arm, punched him as hard as she could, and walked out into the hallway.
As soon as the door clicked shut, Ira massaged the newly formed bruise.
“Ouch,” He looked over at the mirror, “See what I mean? She’s as stubborn as a mule.”
Without listening for some sign from Alec, for Ira had the shrewdest idea that his friend was laughing, he stood up, pointed at the mirror and stated, “I’m still not kissing her.”
He walked outside and followed Meryl’s footsteps down the hallway where he found the occupied restroom.
He waited against the wall until she stepped out, a towel in her light hands, her pastel features looking fresh, as if she washed away six years of grime and isolation.
“Listen to me, Meryl.” Agitation pulsed though Ira’s every vein as he paced forward, grabbed her arms none too gently and pressed her against the concrete. She winced as her back collided with the grey walls. He unknowingly squeezed her wounded arm, but her large vibrant eyes stared directly into his irises.
Seething with affection or animosity, an uncertain Ira whispered bitterly as he avowed again, “Listen to me. Do you know what it is like to watch someone close to you, someone you love die before your eyes? I thought I had lost you for good. I thought I’d never see you again!”
For a moment, she thought she saw crystal tears form around his bottle green eyes, but she passed this notion as he reprimanded her further with his grip tightening.
“But to suddenly find that you are still alive? Not only that, but you are the only advantage we have to end this damn war? I was in shock when I saw you! I didn’t know what to think in that tower. I spent so long trying to protect you. Then, when you were killed, it took me years to bury anything I ever felt for you!”
As his grip constricted her movement, the pain in her arm increased. She took her chance to retaliate again, trying and failing to unshackle his hold on her.
“Now wait a moment, Raven! I have seen a loved one die before my eyes. I have felt, I have seen Death’s cold claws steal my family away from me. For six years, I was left to suffer a lingering fatality while my relations were killed off easily and painlessly. And another thing, you obstinate mule, you are not as angry nor as confused as you should be. If you did know what to think, then you would be either delighted, or furious with me; nevertheless, you would not acknowledge my existence. You would, instead, treat me like any other fool who betrayed you. You cannot protect me!”
His grip on her slackened as her words stung him like a frenzied hornet; he was unsure what to do next.
Taking in her features, Ira just now realized how much she had suffered; old wounds were forever stained on her neck and ashen cheeks. Small scars ran over her hair-hidden forehead, and her flushed peach lips.
The fondness he felt for her defeated his annoyance and it was doused like a candle’s last flicker.
Slowly, without a second thought, he drew nearer. Ira felt her temperate body heat rise as her fingers managed to grab his wrists. She tried to push him away, but to no avail; he was still stronger than she was.
Not wanting to let go, almost hypnotized, Ira responded by pressing closer until the narrow space between them was no more.
He felt her warm slender figure pressed against his. It was hard to tell whether the hammering in her chest was from anger or exhilaration, like his own.
The memories of their past together swam back into his mind, when he held her in his arms as her last breath escaped her lips. Her brilliant and gorgeous smile, and those eyes, the two orbs that could pierce through a man’s soul and weaken his heart. He remembered how they had kissed only once before. However, it was in that soft, innocent expression when Ira knew he could love, and only love, the woman before him.
They consumed his thoughts as if he swallowed the deadliest poison.
She was his toxin.
Meryl was about to lash out again with her stinging words when Ira cut her off swiftly. Bending low, he again pinned her to the wall, their hearts pounding against each other. He threw caution to the wind and pressed his lips against hers with fierce passion and reckless abandon.
Moments melted away like hot wax. Meryl, who ceased struggling, finally managed to push him away with such force that he, in turn, hit the wall behind him and grimaced in pain. The quizzical, indecisive look in her eyes penetrated his own apologetic gape.
Instead of storming away however, Meryl moved towards him in two long strides; he thought she was going to punish him for taking advantage of her momentary weakness.
He was wrong.
Her slim fingers wrapped themselves around his strong jaw and neckline; breathless with zeal and spirit she thought dead long ago, Meryl returned the endearment, embracing him with a hunger that she had not felt for so many years.
Her slender wings wrapped around the back of his neck as his strong arms snaked around her torso and gripped her torn chemise. Ira’s hand glided across her back, up her quivering side, and stroked her neck before running his fingers through her long hair. He pulled her closer, not wanting to end a sensation he yearned to taste. He felt his thoughts slipping into uncontrollable madness. He could have kissed her for an eternity to make up for lost times and it still would not be enough.
However, before either he or Meryl could continue down this adrenaline-charged path, he broke apart from her unwavering seduction and backed away, towards the interrogation room. There was still a war going on, and thinking about what could have been was washed away like the rainstorm outside.
He was at the door; hand on the knob when he halted. She could see his cheeks were blushed red from their tender contact.
Without looking at her, he stated in a low dry voice, “This does not mean I forgive you.”
He walked into the room and left her in the hallway, alone.
“I certainly hope not.” Her voice echoed hauntingly through the corridor.
In spite of the impending calamity that had passed between the two, Meryl’s cheeks burned with excitement and she smiled broadly for the first time in a very long time. This emotion felt strange, unfamiliar; her muscles felt stiff. Without warning she leaned against the wall, weak legged as anticipation grew. Butterflies trembled in her gut.
With all her force and will, she straightened herself and walked back to the interrogation room still smiling until she noticed a dark foreboding shadow looming in the corner.
“So you are the infamous prisoner Aether, otherwise known as Blackbird,” he said in a rudely gruff voice.
She gazed at a man who looked like he was in his late thirties. His coal black eyes glared mistrustfully at her. His graying hair was trimmed at the sides.
“Yes, I am Blackbird. Who are you supposed to be?”
“Meryl,” Ira spoke from the table without looking at her, “This is Major William Wilson.”
The major abruptly turned on Ira, “When did I give you permission to speak?”
The captain bowed his head and turned away as the superior barked, “I am Major Wilson, and you will address me as sir. Got that?”
She mockingly saluted, “Yes, sir.”
“Humph. Sit down.” He limped towards the desk.
Meryl crossed her arms and stood her ground. She noticed him favor his right leg and he grimaced with each step. His gait seemed oddly familiar. “If you wish to interrogate me, then you better have manners, sir.”
“Sit down, or you don’t get this.” He held out a green apple, hoping she would goggle and submit.
He was wrong.
Thinking only of deep hatred bubbling for the man, Meryl turned from the temptation, refusing to yield to the uncouth bigger.
Through gritted teeth, the major gave in and said, “Please.”
Meryl accepted, however reluctantly.
“Captain, you are dismissed,” he snapped. “Wait with First Lieutenant Parry until you are called for.”
Ira stood up and looked at Meryl with sorry eyes before disappearing behind the mirrored wall.
Although she wished he could stay, Meryl had stopped believing in desires and magic long ago.
The thought of being in this room alone with the ruthless major made her like him less and less. She noticed him flinch as he moved toward her; again it reminded her of another man, one who worked with her enemy.
Ira stepped into the darkened room and was surprised to see his team standing around; they watched intently as the battle bubbled and brewed between the major and the asset.
Chris, whose blond hair was growing past his ears said with a gleeful look, said “Pay up.”
“What?” Ira looked around.
Alec answered and leaned on the two back legs of his chair, “You lost the bet.”
“Well, how do you know I even kissed her?” Ira shot back.
Garth threw back his bearded head and laughed, “Captain, it’s written all over your face.”
“And you owe all of us ten dollars.”
“Oh, c’mon. I don’t have forty on me.” Ira patted his empty pockets.
“Then,” Alec started, “you owe us all a drink the moment this war ends.”
“Fine.” Even though he crossed his arms in defeat and pouted, he couldn’t help but smile along with his team.
However, the jovial expressions were wiped from their faces when all hell broke loose within the interrogation room.
The way William and Meryl were positioned across the table it was almost like watching a mouse stand up to a lion.
The lion, whose temper had boiled within the past few minutes, attempted to stem his furious nature. With a thick finger, Wilson stabbed the paper that the bird names were inscribed on. “You will provide me every given name and detail of these people. Then you will tell me who codename Erebus is and why he did not kill you like the rest of these men.”
Silence followed. Meryl kept her eyes on the mirror, willing herself to see past the barrier that separated her from the friendlier souls; she could have sworn she heard a laugh.
However, she was no Superman.
“Grigori, are you listening to me?” Wilson demanded, his fist banging the table. It quaked under his strength.
Meryl slowly turned to look into the eyes of the callous major and said, “Yes, sir. But I refuse to tell you anything.”
“And why not,” he unrelentingly questioned her further. His hard gaze squinted towards her as if to spot the difference between truth and lie.
She gave a hollow cackle. Her cold eyes lit up in a mocking fashion. “You are hardly the first person I would talk to as to why that man left me alive. Secondly, I don’t know why he did what he did. And even if I did know, I wouldn’t tell you.”
“Tell me now!” he yelled, as he pulled his pistol out of its holster and fixed the barrel at her heart.
“Kill me then,” she tested with a sneer. “My death will get you no closer to ending this damn war.”
Every inch of him wanted to shoot the determined woman. He wanted to break her will, her strength.
Without warning, he aimed the barbaric weapon right past her ear and repeatedly fired at the wall behind her until the clip was empty. Instinctively, she ducked and covered her ears as the horrid sound nearly shattered her eardrums. Her cry of shock was soon replaced with maniacal laughter as she drew herself up, defiant and tall.
“You are pathetic. You do not even have the heart to shoot a woman?” she mocked as a small red line slid from her earlobe, down her jaw and past her neck.
Unperturbed by her ridicules, Wilson replaced the magazine and bullied, “I will not miss this time.” He struggled. He wanted to shoot her between her intense eyes, and he wanted to destroy her heart. While he had orders for her to remain alive, he fought the urge to end Blackbird.
Her long hair fell in front of her light features as the sound still screamed in her ears.
Yet, she did not give in.
Her fiery blue eyes glared at him as if he were looking at the base of a flame. A wicked grin contorted her features as she dared, “Shoot me if you are man enough, but you will not break me.”
He shot her previously injured arm, right through the bandage; although it wouldn’t kill her, he still felt the grim satisfaction of staking his revenge. She cried out as this bullet struck true and poisoned her arm. He ignored her grunts and heavy breathing that were followed by cursing.
Through the sound of agony, her grunts turned to chuckles, then to laughter that followed him as he stormed from the room.
“Permission to speak freely,” Ira demanded as the major walked in and slammed the door shut.
“Why the hell did you just shoot her? What can possibly be achieved by killing our only link to Erebus?” Ira clutched his chair so tightly that his knuckles turned white. Even his comrades were shocked by the Major’s action.
“She needs to be taught a lesson. We need her to break, and then we can get the information. Just leave her, captain,” Wilson ordered harshly.
“You know nothing of Meryl.” Ira faintly smiled as he said this. “She is not someone to break so easily. Shooting her will not do any good, for her sake or ours!”
“Excuse me,” Alec interrupted. He pointed at Meryl who heaved a shuddered sigh, then slowly backed against the wall. There was no mocking smile now, no fire in her eyes, no proud stature.
The woman repeatedly slammed her fist and arm into the concrete as blood sprayed on the tile and plaster. A large crack formed in the wall from her surprising strength.
With shaking hands, she pulled a knife, with Celtic designs on the hilt, from her pocket and unsheathed it; the short silver blade gleamed under the floodlights in the room.
As Meryl’s life and blood escaped slowly and torturously, her skin turned white, her parted lips turned dry as if she had not quenched her thirst.
“My knife!” Ira exclaimed as he rummaged through his many pockets.
“What is that woman doing?” Wilson questioned while ignoring Ira’s panicked state. His rigid, cold stance was the opposite of the captain’s, who had a half a mind to help that woman extract the venomous bullet.
Meryl grimaced and grunted in pain as she slammed her wounded fist against the wall as hard as she could one last time.
Breathing deeply, Meryl struggled to stem the unwilling tears. The throbbing pain was unbearable. Yet, something within her grew; she felt her blood boiling as it thwarted the poison from consuming her veins and ceasing her ever-beating heart.
Thick, red plasma stained the wall and floor of her confinement, as well as her clothes, flesh, and waist length hair.
When she finally lost all sensation in her arm, she took the stolen knife and single handedly tried to dig out the bullet. Shivering, not from cold, but fear, Meryl felt the cool tip of the blade make contact with her tender flesh. Her right hand clenched into a tight fist, urging herself to remain calm.
With one last excruciating attempt, Meryl extracted the shell. It fell into the slowly forming pool of blood with a slight ring.
As soon as the venom was eliminated, the weakened woman felt the healing process begin.
A hollow laugh escaped her lips as she slid to the floor. With her limbs twisted at odd angles, she landed in the puddle of her own blood. Her world darkened as she gazed, unblinkingly, into the mirror.
She envisioned the ill-disposed Wilson and the worried Ira watch her with opposing glances.
“Fool,” she breathed, the ghost of her sneer revealed itself once again.
Her vision became hazy. The last thing she heard was her pounding heart.