Risen From Ashes

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Chapter Twenty-Three

Versailles, France

The smoldering ashes of the once majestic Palace of Versailles still smoked heavily. Its thick grey clouds contaminated the air and mutilated the surrounding land.

The palace, caved in from the recent destruction and flames, was no more than a mere relic of history - one that would soon be lost forever.

Where the Hall of Mirrors formerly stood, grand and beautiful, only glass shards and rubble remained. Amidst the smoke and ash, a light rain began to descend. As the steady fall became heavier, beating against the Earth and fogging the countryside of France, the cool raindrops beat down the smog and extinguished the remaining embers of the wreckage. Rivers and pools of pure water formed in packs. Some ran through the labyrinthine ruin. Renewing the Earth, a green lush would overtake the burial site and erase this current, dark part of history.

On the opposite side of the courtyard, where the pools of blood withered away, a sinkhole churned and the Earth stirred. The heated plaster, debris, and granulated glass caved inward as if something had reawakened. Just as suddenly, they were thrust apart, flying everywhere. A beaten, bloodied fist broke through the surface and touched the air. The fresh, bitter cold rain washed the grime and gore from the pale, twitching fingers that had relaxed. It was heavily scarred with fresh incisions, but there was still strength.

The seemingly disembodied hand reached forward, and groped for something sturdy; the clothes this person may have once had, were all for naught. Gripping a former wall of the palace, the hand heaved forth. Singed black hair, covered in soot, glass, and blood breached through its prison pulling free from the confining remains.

As Meryl Renée Grigori crawled with only her hands for leverage, she managed to grasp the cool, wet earth. The fingers plowed into the grass and mud and tugged. Dirt picked up and dug underneath her broken fingernails.

Like a corpse reanimating, almost blinded by the fires, she felt the fresh rainfall and collapsed gratefully onto the muddy ground. She welcomed the cleansing rain, feeling lighter than ever.

“Free,” she breathed with a ghostly, guttural laugh.

The haunting sound was replaced with a heave; she turned over and coughed up soot and bile. What was left of her black outfit barely covered her slight figure. Her throat was as dry as parchment.

She heard the plaster shift behind her. As she glanced at her would-be tomb; a pallid and filth covered hand was visible, the scarred and bloody fingers slowly closed and opened in a methodic way, as if testing for strength.

Despite her weakened state, Meryl managed to crawl over and pull her maimed cousin out of the fragments. He fell right next to her and they lay a foot apart on the charred land, neither quarreling, nor giving in to death.

Only the raindrops spoke for a long time as the evening sky turned dark and the temperature lowered to a chill breeze.

Gaining some strength, Meryl turned and noticed that Kai's right arm was severed at the elbow. Dried and fresh gore was visible, even through the mix of ash, mud, and torn material. It stained the ground like a curse. She watched as his eyes teared up, not with the salted tears, but a more cruor and an opaque, luminescent, blue chemical.

He let out a resonating scream of agony that consumed Meryl’s every sense, like bloodcurdling venom. The serum burned his eyes as it escaped his disfigured form. Soon, fresh red tears frothed with the saline and chemical as it slid past his temples; the substance burned his skin creating a darkened stain.

Every ounce of searing pain pierced him like a thousand knives repeatedly stabbing him; and he could do nothing, lame as he was.

Repulsed by this scene, Meryl averted her gaze. She would have felt sorry for him, her last family member. Yet, after years of hatred churning and driving her to survive, her guilt was harnessed and replaced with bitter retribution. “You deserve this, Phoenix,” she cursed him in a harsh tone.

He gritted his teeth and forced himself to ignore the agonizing pain, “I… I am sure I deserve a lot of punishment, but what of you Blackbird?”

“What are you talking about?” Meryl refused to look at him as she felt the serum within her stir, as if his pain were causing her to react.

“You saved your love interest's life... You told him you would die. However, you still breathe, you still cling to your pathetic existence. You lied to him.” He spoke this, not unlike his usual sneering tone but with an added tone of indifference. However, Meryl heard the jealousy in his black heart.

“I did not lie. I meant to perish. The only reason I am alive now is so I can make sure that you are dead.”

“But you did not die.” He coughed and laughed at the same time. “Only half of your wish was granted. I am broken and defeated. However, since you still breathe, what will you do? Will you go back to him? Or will you live the rest of your days with the knowledge that he is alive and probably loving someone else, forgetting you even exist?”

“I am not going back,” she stated defiantly, even though that thought struck her heart. Ira was free to be with someone else, someone undamaged.

“So, you would share a bed with torment and punishment for the rest of your remaining years… I’d prefer sleeping with Death if that were case.”

“That can be arranged.” She glared at him, a twinge of pain told her that she had a cut close to her eye. However, she was ready to strangle him at any moment, “Especially now, since you've reached your limit.”

“What is this?” even though he was not the able-bodied man he used to be, his apathetic voice still made her shudder with fear.

“The reason you are blind now, is because you wept blood and that damn serum. It has burned your skin and eyes. You are no longer immortal; you are simply a weak, fragmented man.”

Kai did not reply.

The broken monster merely became thoughtful and motionless. It unnerved and made Meryl wonder how he may lay so still in the rubble, almost as if Death itself was slowly sucking Kai’s malevolent soul down into the deepest circle of Hell.

Only now did she realize that they both would eventually die if they did not get help soon.

Well, she would die. Blackbird couldn’t care less about what would happen to her cousin. However, the recess of her mind, and her unwanted, compassionate side wanted him tried and punished for all the horrors he had committed and all the families he had destroyed.

With slow and steady breaths, Meryl felt some her strength return, no doubt with the help of the serum that was imbedded in her veins. The medicine pulsed and renewed her spirit.

Unsteadily, seeing stars from the nausea, she picked herself up off the cool ground. Shards of glass and plaster escaped the tangles of her unkempt hair and shredded clothing.

Testing her own strength, careful not to overdo it, she found that she had many more scars and bruises defiling her figure. There were cuts over her upper lip as she tasted the grimy blood and rain water.

Ignoring her own deformity, she hoisted her wounded cousin off the ground and carried him across her back. Even though he was light, Meryl felt the heavy burden of the past, her past, weigh down on her shoulders.

In that moment, she knew exactly what the Greek God, Atlas, felt like when he had to raise the Earth and Heavens alone.

With only one shredded boot on, and her black clothes threadbare and burned, Meryl felt the cool breeze nip at her exposed flesh as she made her way toward the city of light. The cloudy rain shrouded the moon, the stars, and the heavens.

However, the gleaming Eiffel Tower’s luminance glowed blurry yellow. With most of the trees and buildings destroyed or burned to the ground, this monument guided Blackbird toward her destination, toward her freedom from the burden she carried.

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