Risen From Ashes

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Chapter Eleven

April 13, 2028

Les Crayères

Fully recovered, the healing process took much less time for Meryl. It unnerved her that the scars she had received quickly turned to dark, faded lines.

This thought struck her as odd while she sat in the interrogation room, again. This time, General Allen accompanied Major Wilson; he would not want a repeat of Wilson’s erratic actions.

The asset avoided looking at them as they watched her like buzzards waiting for their prey to perish. They sat on the opposite side of the table. While Matthew had softer, kinder brown eyes than William’s beetle black glower, the questions they had to ask were the same.

“You do realize that only you can help us end this war?” Allen spoke humanely. He tried everything to get her attention and her answers.

Even though they were unsuccessful.

The proud figure remained silent as the grave and studied the damaged wall. The blood was gone but traces of the residue were forever stained into the tile and concrete floor. The fissure, caused by her unnatural strength, was permanently embedded in the concrete. It forcibly reminded Meryl of the damage she endured, both physically and mentally.

As peculiar as this was, it amused her that she, among the rest of her enemy’s cronies, was left alive. Why had he revived her in the first place? What benefit could he gain from her survival?

That question had burned in her mind ever since she was thrown into her cold and lonely tower that was Vallø Castle. In truth, she had trouble figuring out why Erebus, as the general and his men had called him, caused this war in the first place. It was about something more than just revenge, and he would not put the blame on her.

“Grigori, are you paying attention?” Wilson snapped Meryl back to her current place. His patience thinned every moment that she did not speak.

She sighed deeply, and finally stated defiantly, “Yes, sir. I understand that I am the only one who can help you defeat Erebus. I understand completely that the names of those faceless people are scratched from history, that I am the last breathing link of a dying breed. Now, I want you to understand that weeding out any information from me will not help.”

As she expressed every syllable with contempt. Her tone became colder and more firm.

“But there is a chance it could help,” Allen pursued kindly. “You want to end this war as much as we do, I hope.”

“Of course I want it to end,” she expressed crossly, “but I do not know what he is after. I refuse to repeat the names of those who were murdered. They are eradicated; they are nothing but dust in the wind. They are safe from his madness. The only reason I was listed as a damn asset was because I knew the homicidal bastard!”

“So, you care more about the poor, deceased souls who lost their lives then the living who continue to fight against him?” Wilson stood and hunched over the table.

Unlike most men who cowered under his glare, Meryl did not expose one hint of fear, much to his surprise. However, he continued to taunt the woman, urging the effect he desired. “Because of your cocky attitude, we are still in this damnable war! You are withholding precious information that can help us stop that man from reaching his goal, whatever that may be!”

“Wilson.” Matthew spoke calmly, but the major pretended not to hear.

He stated further, as he held up the sheet of paper with the lifeless names, “We have no clue what he is planning for this world and you are helping him. Every single person on this list is dead because of you!”

He slammed the page down in front of her.

Struck by his confrontation, Meryl’s gaze became glossy as she read the inscribed titles. Silent grief deceived her expressionless thoughts, but she shifted it to righteous fury.

She stood erect and snapped like a twig as the crystal tears slid down her red cheeks. “You think I wanted to help my deranged cousin start this war? You think for an instant that I wanted my family to die by their nephew’s own hand? To watch as he slowly slaughtered every one of them while I was unable to do anything?”

Eyes widened in horror, she clasped her hands over her mouth, but the damage was done. The dark secret, concealed for so long, hung in the air like a noose, ready to take another life.

Shaking uncontrollably, her hands fell away to her sides and balled into tight fists. She looked away, “I was helpless against my cousin, Erebus, Phoenix, Kai Gavriil, call him what you want.”

The men in the room and behind the mirror stared at her, white and speechless, as if a specter had entered the chamber and deprived them of their souls.

She kicked her chair bitterly. The men jumped slightly from the sudden sound, but she ignored them, scolding herself for letting her temper and her passions get the better of her. The metal seat collided with the bloodstained wall and fell to its side with a clatter.

“Did you know about this?” Garth whispered to Ira. He and his men were dumbfounded as they watched her pace behind the murky glass.

Ira shook his head; he dared not speak. His throat was dry as his mouth hung open. How could he not have known?

Acutely aware of the pain in her right arm, Meryl slowly moved to the damaged wall and refused to face the hard gazes that judged and observed her every movement.

Tracing the web of cracks with her cold fingers, ignoring the small chips that clung to her, she felt the irregular grooves under her touch. Recalling the memories she had suppressed when she thought her life was over, Blackbird spoke in a clear, concise, and toneless voice.

“Every single name on that list is related to me by blood. Dove and Hawk were my parents. Dragon and Duck, my cousins, Arsenii’s brothers. My aunt, Bluebird, was my father’s sister. As I said before, she died giving birth to the third Gavriil child.

“Our family name, Grigori, means ‘the watchful’. Thus, all of us born to that name were named after birds. My brother, Ayah, died from pneumonia. He was far too young to understand our family lineage. He met our cousins but didn’t know them well. That’s why Falcon is not on that list.

“After Aunt Bluebird passed away. Gavriil’s brothers shunned him; they blamed him for her death and continued to do so until he turned nineteen. I was twenty-two. The three arrived at our house in two-thousand twenty-three. Raven was already in boot camp, so he never met my cousins. They were happy for a while, peaceful. Then one night Kai snapped from the taunts, the sneers, the accusations. It finally got to him and he killed my family.”

Her voice cracked as the horrid memory infected her mind, much like the nightmares that resulted in her sleepless nights.

“Why did he only-” Allen started.

“Wound me?” she turned to face him, “He didn’t wound me; he mutilated me. He left me weak and cut up.” she dropped her head and stared into her own scarred palms, as if to see her families’ blood upon them once more, “I was unable to help my kin or myself. He started with me, he left me bleeding out from the scars he had created, and made me watch as he killed the rest of our family.”

With her back against the damaged wall, Meryl closed her eyes and slid down to the floor as she continued, as if unable to stop herself. “After that Christmas massacre, he fled to Russia and stole the codes to deploy the first missile; don’t ask me how. I don’t know. But his intention was for me to die in the explosion. He, himself, could not end my life because I was always kind to him, even though the others resented his very existence.”

“He watched the news; he wanted to see the burnt farm, the destruction of my home and family, to glorify in the war that he soon created. When my body was recovered from the rubble, he knew I was alive. Even though everyone thought I was dead, somehow he knew. Furious at my survival, jealous at me for those who mourned my death, he tracked me down and kidnapped me from the morgue where they placed me. He took me to the stronghold in Denmark and ordered his medics to revive me.”

Meryl exhaled a long shuddering sigh. For so long, she had never revealed this. Now, in the presence of seven men who had the ability to execute her, she knew she had to finish the story. “After they succeeded, he told me that because I had survived, I would watch him destroy all the places I knew, kill all the people I loved. He destroyed New York City because his intel told him that Ira and his men were stationed there. He wanted me to beg him to ceasefire, but I would not give in. I knew him too well; I knew that he would have still destroyed millions of lives, even if I had surrendered. He then moved through Russia and Europe, wreaking havoc on the innocent, and creating confusion as to who was to blame. Then, you know what happened. War broke out on every continent...”

Finally blinking back tears, she stifled her weakness, “Arsenii Gavriil is not his real name. That was his father’s name; he was a Russian nuclear engineer. Arsenii’s son chose that name so everyone could blame the family and his father. Distraught over the loss of his beloved wife, Arsenii refused to name the son. So, his brothers, who equally detested him, named him Kai. Do you know what that means?” She opened her blue eyes and glared darkly at Allen and Wilson.

The superiors shook their heads slowly, fearing the worst; their minds reeled from this tale, her history.

“Kai is Scottish; it means Fire, Phoenix, resurrected from the fire. His mother, suffering from heat stroke, died during childbirth. He burnt my home to watch me perish. Both he and I were reborn from ashes of our homes, of our past. He threw the world into the flames so he could revive it to his will. And he is winning.”

As an afterthought, Meryl felt her throat clench, her speech became harder to understand as she buried her cheeks in her hands, “I… I thought he was vulnerable and alone, so I taught him mind tricks, like detecting when someone was lying, or seducing someone’s thoughts for his favor.”

A long, uneasy silence followed her narrative; no one knew what to say. Even if they could, their minds raced and their throats were dry, as they finally fit every piece of the puzzle together.

Minutes had passed, but to Meryl, it felt like an eternity. Then, Major Wilson stood and motioned two of Ira’s men to enter the room.

In his steadiest voice, he pronounced, “Meryl ‘Blackbird’ Renée Grigori, you will be placed under arrest until such time when we can discuss your sentence.”

“What?” Ira and Meryl said in unison, even though a thick wall and grimy mirror separated them.

Meryl immediately sprang to her feet and glared at him, striding closer to the table.

“As such,” he continued over her exasperations, “your crimes against humanity will not go unnoticed. You will be kept under twenty-four hour surveillance in solitary confinement.”

“You can’t do this!” she snarled through gritted teeth and with her good hand slammed a fist onto the surface; the wood cracked and splintered under her strength. “I told you everything! I am not your enemy! Kai is!”

“Take her away!” Wilson ordered Garth and Alec. Unable to oppose, they gently took her arms and led her from the room.

As the door clicked shut behind them, Ira stormed in to the room, “Permission to speak.”

“Denied,” Wilson said flatly.

“Granted,” Allen overturned, still in his seat; he glared up at the major.

Not knowing where to begin, Ira blurt out the first words that came to mind, “Meryl is not the enemy; she told us all she knew!”

“She told us nothing,” Wilson shot back.

“But she warned you about that! She said nothing you heard from her would help! Why hold her prisoner? She is innocent!”

“She is related to that monster, therefore she is just as dangerous, just another threat we cannot handle.” Wilson stood and left the room without another word.

Ira stared at the general. He remained silent and merely glanced at the bloodstained wall, as if it recorded Meryl’s grave statements in the stone.

In an imploring voice, Ira spoke out of turn, “Matthew, you knew her. You know her. You cannot seriously believe that she would take part in this act of horror.”

“No,” Allen said quietly. “No, Ira, I do not believe she is dangerous. Nevertheless, you cannot deny that she is in fact related to Arsenii or Kai. I guarantee and promise that she will not be held for long, just until we figure out his next move.”

Major Wilson returned to the room, pocketing a satellite phone and stating tersely. “Captain, you and your men will stay in your bunker until further needed. For the time being, you are forbidden from talking to, or having any form of contact with that creature.”

The captain wanted to remain, but he had been given an order. Dejectedly, he and his team retreated to their small, solitary bunker.

For the remainder of the day, they paced, sat, and paced again. They knew neither what to say nor what to do. The impact of the truth left them in unknown territory.

“It’s okay, Blackbird,” Alec coaxed gently as he and Garth released her arms and guided her as friends, not adversaries, to the holding cells. In the grey hallways, the woman studied her surroundings, taking in every detail, already planning her escape.

As the tendrils of war had reached France two years earlier, the twenty barred cell doors were built to imprison any supporters who fought for Kai. Now, they stood as reminders of horrors past.

From what Meryl had heard when she was locked away, she knew that many men had perished within these walls. Most had taken their own lives rather than betray their malevolent leader.

As Meryl crossed the threshold into the chamber, she felt a chill run down her spine, as if the previous inhabitant remained.

She turned to face the men. As Alec closed and locked the door, he reassured her, “We, the general, and Ira believe you. You will not be held accountable. Matthew will see to that.”

She nodded, not really listening. However, Garth intruded on her thoughts.

“We’ll get you out soon.” He gave a reassuring smile and passed something through the bars. “We promise. Also, you may also need this, just in case.”

With a wink, he handed her Ira’s Celtic blade and her journal. She took it in her hands gingerly and murmured, “Thanks.”

“Don’t worry, Blackbird.” Alec patted her head through the bars, and then turned to leave.

“Damnit…” Meryl whispered to the ghosts of the past as she kicked the small cot in defeat, achieving nothing except an aching foot.

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