Minutes passed leisurely, but to the wounded, bloodied kinfolk, it felt like a time without end.
Meryl did not give in though. She battled the persistent need to rest. She refused to let her burned and scarred form recover. She did not want to stop for if she did, she knew that she would never move forward again.
“Why are you doing this for me?” Kai huffed near her ear. Even though it was weak and futile, Meryl still heard the ghost of the monster he had once been.
“I am not doing this for you, you heavy bastard,” she responded with years of pent up hatred yearning to burst through her pores. “I want to see you hang for the deaths you’ve caused. And make sure you never rise from the ashes again.”
He chose not to reply. Instead, the weight of his limp form increased with every step Meryl took.
In truth, Meryl was surprised that he still clung to his malicious life despite the fact that he could not bear any more injuries due to blood loss. The serum that escaped from his ducts had turned against its creator.
This frightened the woman. Yes, he was weak. Yes, he was damaged; but after knowing him her whole life, Meryl knew that Kai was full of surprises, cruel as they were.
Little by little, step by step, Meryl staggered toward the renowned French monument. She nearly lost her balance at times but quickly regained it and composed herself.
The surrounding area was not as she remembered all those years ago. Instead of the large trees and high buildings built near the roads, it was only a barren wasteland.
The twilight sun teased Blackbird as the last small rays shimmered through grey clouds, before they were shrouded in darkness.
The rain in Versailles had not yet touched Paris as she finally stepped within the city limits.
As they made their way deeper into the heart of the city, abandoned cars and buses littered the streets. Rust formed from the harsh elements and a thin layer of dust collected on the tops of tables and chairs gathered in front of empty bistros. The gentle breeze echoed with haunted laughter of happier times. Buildings of all shapes and sizes were in disarray from the unnecessary evil that had befallen the city.
The pale light of the moon, barely visible through the clouds, cast its ghostly reflection off the shattered windowpanes that were strewn about the dead streets.
The metropolis was empty.
There was no one around to greet the cousins’ late arrival.
Meryl preferred the city to be vacant. There would be no awkward questions, no slippery attempts or accusations made by Kai, against her. With slightly raised hopes, she carried on down the lone street even though her legs protested and cried out for rest. Her staggering pace caused her pain but she gritted her teeth and carried on.
What should have been a three hour trek took nearly five hours. Long after the clouds had dissipated, the waning moon was unveiled, as if a stage curtain was drawn back.
Since the destruction and evacuation of the city in 2023, there were no street lamps or buildings lit. The vast clusters and constellations spread throughout the skies. They opened themselves and guided the weakened woman.
Ambling down what was soon to be discovered as Av De Versailles; Meryl was surprised and grateful to see one small hotel that must have had a generator. Its bright lights caressed the street and enclosed buildings with its welcoming warmth.
With her last might, Meryl pushed through the small doors, her vision blurry and darkening. Her knees buckled and she collapsed on the dusty marble floor. Kai grunted as he roughly hit the ground and landed next to her.
Huffing, Meryl tried to steady her wasted breathing but there was no point resisting. Finally, out of the chilled weather, she would have gladly slept on that nippy, dusty floor. However, gasps of horror and shock rekindled her weakened senses.
They were not alone.
Twelve pairs of feet encircled the newcomers. They whispered, muttered, and wondered about the strange, beaten, and half-conscious people that looked alike.
“Are they alright?” a gruff male voice asked hurriedly as he knelt near Meryl and pressed two fingers against her neck to check her pulse. His warm touch filled Meryl with a sense of hope. At least they were not trying to kill her.
“Of course not, Jack!” a snappish, female responded, “Cameron, no. No camera until we get their story. Help Jack take the man. He is utterly wounded… So is the woman. We can take them to the hospital near Notre Dame. A few doctors have returned to the city. Alice, quickly, help me with this one.”
“Okay,” a brisk, young feminine voice answered.
Two pairs of hands lifted Meryl under her arms and around her back; one pair was soft and reassuring, and the other was firm.
From the grunting and wheezing, Meryl heard Kai being carried from the main hallway as well.
“Susan, Justin, contact the studio,” the same snappy woman, whose claws grasped Meryl’s side, ordered.
“And tell them what?” a droning male voice asked. Clearly, he was unperturbed by the two broken individuals that had just dropped in on them.
“Say we found refugees and will try to get a story if they want. But they are delirious so it could take a while.”
Two sets of footsteps walked away from the horrendous site, and Meryl and Kai were led to rooms on opposite sides of the hall.
“Kill…” feverish, Meryl whispered as panic bubbled. With every ounce of strength within her, she pointed to the door that housed Kai. “Kill him…”
“Why should we kill him?”
“Megan, she’s delirious, and you can’t question her now,” Alice responded as her warm hand slid under Meryl’s shirt to feel the pounding heart. It raced not with hope, but fear.
“Kai… Criminal. Enemy…” The broken woman’s voice grew hoarse with urgent determination. A single tear blurred her vision and slid down her grimy cheek.
“She’s not well,” Alice commented, cradling Meryl like a lost child. The weary woman was reminded of her last moments with Matthew. “Oh, Megan, she’s been through the mill. We need to get her to the hospital. Now.”
“Same with her companion.” the excitement in Megan’s voice was clear, “I wonder who they are… Oh what a story of a lifetime!”
“Please don’t question her until she’s ready.” There was an urgent plea in the younger woman’s voice.
“I know, I just think this will be a great story.”
“Sorry, just excited… and worried, poor dears,” Megan reasoned falsely. She could not contain the glee she felt.
The strange unknown voices were forcibly shut out of Meryl’s mind. Her world swam in and out of focus as the white, dusty surroundings blurred into a haze. It was soon sucked down into a swirl of an inky black abyss; the darkness overtook her.
The last comforting sensation she felt was a warm, petite hand resting over her heart and forehead, soothing her mind.
So this is what death feels like... Meryl thought weakly to herself as she sensed the encumbrance being lifted.
Any moment now, any moment, and she would be able to see her family again, to say sorry, to beg for their forgiveness for being unable to save them from a fate that was never planned for them.