Risen From Ashes

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Chapter Twenty-Seven

June 7, 2028

Hôpital de l’Hôtel-Dieu, Paris, France

Once again, Meryl found herself pacing rapidly in her less than private hospital room. Much like her time in Reims, she was again ranting furiously to herself.

The only difference was that she wore fresh, clean, blue jeans and a black blouse. With great relief, she felt far more comfortable than when she was wearing the medical draperies or her torn and shabby clothing from her previous life.

Alice Rowland, an intern for the news station whom she liked very much, had brought her the clothes and had spoken with her in confidence. The young woman explained what had happened after Meryl had lost consciousness in the hotel, where the news crew was staying at the time.

Living in this small hospital room, Meryl was forced to remember her confinement in the interrogation room, her rescue by Ira and his team, and being questioned by Allen and Wilson. At least now, there was a window that revealed the afternoon sun.

Following the earlier interview, Meryl asked—no, pleaded—with Megan to blur her face and Kai’s.

“They can air all the footage they want but there is no reason to reveal our features. Is that too much to ask? I think not!” she raged to no one in particular. Her pace quickened with each passing moment that she continued her petulant mutterings.

Begrudgingly, Megan had consented, even though she protested every moment she was not recording her interviews. She also wanted to push more questions and queries on the two beings, but the doctors denied her request, insisting that the cousins needed rest.

Meryl was thankful for that. She wanted to get away from everyone. And she wanted to kill Kai. However, the doctors made sure she had nothing more deadly than a pen.

Even then, the woman imagined driving the ink filled tip into his lungs, puncturing his arteries as the black toner mixed with his red blood. When that glorious vision filled her senses, Meryl inadvertently smacked herself, muttering that she was better than her cousin, and that she was not like him.

“Of course, it would be easier just to slay him, end his life. He is mortal now. But no…” She rolled her eyes. “The doctors still want to diagnose him and pick his brain to study his psyche…”

“Still talking to your shadow?” an amused feminine voice said from the doorway.

Meryl looked over to see Susan and Justin Connelly leaning against the doorframe. The twins watched her, for how long, she did not know. In any case, she didn’t care anymore. It was remarkable how similar they were. Same short, brown hair, same dark hazel eyes, and both were slender.

“What does Megan want now?” Meryl gritted her teeth; she was thoroughly frustrated with the newscaster and her pressing questions into the woman’s personal life.

“She wants to know who Raven is.” Susan chuckled coolly. “As do we all. He seems like a fascinating creature.”

“Who are you talking about?” Meryl raised her eyebrow and decided to play dumb.

“Don’t pretend Blackbird,” Justin warned with a snicker “Kai told us all about you two.”

“And you trust the word of a psychotic maniac?”

“No, but this peculiar relationship seems too real to be a fib, and besides, finer details from the source are more appetizing.”

The game was lost before it even began.

“Fine…” Meryl shuddered with disgust and followed the twins down the hall, and into the staff lounge.

Megan Bates sat with Jack Reede, Cameron Pent, and Alice Rowland, the youngest of the crew. They conversed over coffee as the television that hung on the wall broadcast the news report. For four days straight, every news station had shown nothing except Megan’s encounter with Meryl and Kai. Even the stations that Megan did not have a contract with wanted a taste of that publicity. Meryl did not want to know how much they paid just to get their greedy fingers on the clip.

That moment’s playback was the doctors’ struggle to hold back the raging woman as she tried to wring Kai’s throat.

Meryl entered the room quietly and was relieved to find that Megan had kept her word; Blackbird and Phoenix’s faces were blurred from the public view.

“Your goons said you wanted to talk to me?”

Startled by her sudden appearance, Megan slopped coffee down her lacey, white blouse and crimson jacket as she was about to take a sip. “Yes,” she recovered, dabbing the stain with a napkin. “Meryl, I wanted to talk to you about Raven.”

“So I’ve heard,” Meryl grumbled as she took her seat across from Megan.

“Yes, well, Jack? Cameron?” The news reporter did not need to ask her boom operator or even her cameraman. Blackbird noticed the uncontained glee within her voice as she knew that Megan would get another news breaking story.

Almost at once, Alice, Susan, and Justin prepped Meryl and Megan for the interview. While Megan just needed to change her shirt, Meryl was a different matter. Alice attempted to comb out the tangles in the stubborn woman’s uneven hair. Susan applied make-up to mask the battle scars but little could be done.

While the assistants did their magic, Meryl inquired suspiciously, accidentally inhaling concealing powder, “You are blurring my face, why do I need this damn prepping?”

“You have nothing to worry about. You will still be blurred.” Megan sighed. “Nevertheless, the station keeps a raw copy of any recording. So you need to look…” The reporter eyed Blackbird. “Nicer than usual.”

Cleaned and made presentable, yet in an ireful mood, Meryl watched as Jack and Cameron set up the camera and clipped the small microphones to the two women’s blouses.

Behind the view of the camera, Jack counted from five and signaled at one. Cameron turned on the recorder and Megan greeted the camera professionally in a misleadingly good mood.

“We have with us, again Meryl ‘Blackbird’ Grigori, one of the many brave citizens who saved the world from further destruction. We now dive into Meryl Grigori and Kai Gavriil’s personal lives. Kai, the blind maniac, had informed us in confidence that Meryl, however independently proud, had, and possibly still has, a soft spot and a love interest; however bizarre that may sound.” She and the camera turned to face Blackbird. “Meryl, we’ve all heard about Captain Ira Byrne and his men. We know that you were with them during the final days of the war that ended barely two months ago. Tell us about this devilishly handsome man.”

Infuriated with what Phoenix and the media, had revealed, Blackbird responded simply. “He was my best friend in high school, then my captain for our final days attempting to stop the criminal. Nothing more.”

“You said your best friend was the late General Matthew Allen.”

“I can have more than one best friend, Megan,” Meryl snapped like a lion biting into the neck of an antelope. “I was not a complete loner growing up. I had my few and closest friends and I had… my family.”

“What about your love spell with Captain Byrne? We have several accounts that say you and Captain Byrne were more than friends before and during the war.”

“I’ve no idea what you are talking about. The two of us never crossed the relationship line.”

“Oh Meryl.” Megan smiled and shook her head. “Kai told us about how you two kissed before you shoved Captain Byrne out of the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles. You saved not only his life, but also the lives of the United States and Russian presidents, and your teammates.”

“We did not kiss. We never embraced nor showed any sign of affection towards each other during our brief month together. Ira was and is my captain.”

“We also heard that he was promoted straight to general, but turned down the job. Do you have any idea why?”

Meryl shifted uncomfortably in her seat. She would know exactly why Ira turned down such an offer. He would not want to strip the title from Matthew, to dishonor his memory like that.

Raven was too proper and would bear having a dark cloud hanging over him, especially since his current cloud was her death. Nevertheless, Blackbird would not answer. “I’m not sure why.”

Leaning closer, as if conferring with an accomplice, Megan revealed, “It’s no secret that you were presumed dead at the start of the war. How did Captain Byrne react when he found that you were still alive?”

Meryl’s lips pursed tightly. What is it with this nosy snake?

While she knew her story would not be kept off the record, she at least hoped that a private history still meant something in this day and age.

Before the annoying newscaster gained more falsified information from another source, Meryl explained stiffly as she crossed her arms on the table.

“Raven was stunned. He was the one who found me dead, and he was the one who rescued me.”

“So you are saying you had no romantic feelings for each other? You two never kissed, never held each other or confessed your emotions towards each other?”

Heart pounding with the memories she retained of Ira, and the two of them doing just that, Meryl retorted angrily and defiantly, “We were too worried about surviving and saving mankind to think about high school bullshit, Megan.”

Taken aback by this abrupt statement, Jack said, “And… cut,” to signal to Cameron to stop recording.

Meryl sighed and banged her head on the table loudly. As it caused the surface to quake, she buried her face in her arms and asked in a muffled voice, “Why did you talk to him Megan?”

“We had to get a story,” the reporter said, unsympathetic to her victim’s response as she gazed at her reflection in a compact mirror.

“But why talk to him?”

“Because this is rocking the world Meryl.” The reporter’s ecstatic voice made Meryl lift her head as Megan snapped the mirror shut. “People all over are watching this. They want to know the broken and estranged cousins, the one who started the war, and the one who stopped it. Viewers are eating this up about how they survived the tons of weight that buried them in the attempt to defeat each other. It’s incredible, good press an-”

“This is not incredible!” Blackbird cut her off sharply, “You are digging into our lives for your popularity!”

The reporter closed her eyes, took a sip of her coffee, and responded proudly, “It’s the job of a reporter.”

Meryl had half a mind to dump the blistering blend atop the correspondent’s air-blown head.

“Will you go back to the states?” Alice interrupted. She seemed to have read Meryl’s tempted mind and wanted to change the subject before another war broke out.

“Eventually,” Meryl whispered. She finally turned away from the enticement.

“What do you mean by ‘eventually’?” Justin pursued.

“I don’t know. I have no family, no home. No one is waiting for me. I have money saved up though, about the most useful thing I could have. But, I have nowhere to go.” Flustered, she added, “I may go back to my family’s land, start over and live a quiet lonely life, away from annoying people.” She ended her statement, leering at Megan.

“So, starting from scratch?” Megan observed plainly. The woman knew full well who Meryl was talking about and decided to live up to that proud trait of hers.

“Yes, start from scratch. I can do it. I was taught how. I will and want to do it, alone.” The woman snarled with disdain.

“What about Raven?”

Meryl did not answer Susan’s question. It only mounted her irritation toward the entire news crew.

Justin, like his sister, pressed on, “How can you get on with your life and not go to him?”

“Every time we are near each other, one of us gets hurt mentally or physically, or the two intertwined. We are better off staying away from each other. Besides, if he has seen any part of your intruding interviews-”

“Everyone has seen this,” Megan stated proudly, cutting Meryl off.

“Then he will detest me and himself: me for not telling him that I’m alive and himself, for leaving me behind while there was still a breath in me.”

“Nevertheless, you do love him… don’t you?” Cameron asked quickly.

“Love is overrated, camera-boy,” Meryl replied with her usual, salty defiance. And she believed it.

When had love ever saved anyone from harm? When had love ever stopped stone, plaster, and glass from crumbling on top of the victim? How had it stopped battles from breaking out, from minor skirmishes to nuclear war?

Love was just a heartache, a few months of pure, implicit, bliss, where both parties expressed that untainted emotion. Or moments during the midst of war, when all hope seemed lost, that two birds from different worlds had found something similar to fight for, to die for.

But in the end, it was never meant to be.

Meryl’s jaw clenched as she had recalled that moment when she and Ira had abandoned reason and sensibility. Crossing the line that they both mutedly agreed never to cross.

Maybe she did want to see him, not for love. There was too much that could go wrong, and this was one wound she did not want to reopen.

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