June 22, 2028
Cathédrale Notre Dame, Paris, France
Even though Meryl was spiritual but not religious, she found herself sitting in a worn pew of the grand labyrinth in Notre Dame.
Its beauty and splendor filled her with a light heart and a free soul for the time being. In her mind, she envisioned voices of the choir singing like the heavenly angels above, a light, shining through the South Rose Window appeared like golden gates. She felt that if she tried, she could just float away, disappear from this world, and move on to the new.
Until the doors opened, and the afternoon sunlight flooded the empty aisle.
“Here again?” Alice asked as she closed the doors approaching the seemingly pious Meryl.
“I have nowhere else to go.” The woman shrugged and looked behind the young woman. “Where are your cronies?”
“Having coffee. They are here for another day then heading back to the states.” The young assistant sat in the pew and studied the woman, almost with awe.
“Alice, you are not like them, so how in the world did you join the interrogation squad?” Meryl could not contain the question any longer.
Alice smiled and studied her shoes. “I am an intern for the show; they said this trip would be a good experience, so I signed on.”
“And they put you with the ‘Mistress of all Questions’?”
Alice chuckled sweetly. She knew it was true. “Megan is alright, once you get to know her. Yes, she can be a pain, but she does her job well and she knows how to get a good story.”
Looking around, she finally took notice of Meryl’s fingers; they were wrapped protectively around a small book. “What’s that?”
Hastily, Meryl hid the object from view and answered quickly, “Can’t say.”
“Because, somehow, your boss-lady will find out and she will press me like a squeezed lemon for more juicy information.”
This time, Alice genuinely laughed. Even Meryl smiled. “Everyone has secrets Blackbird, and I promise to keep yours.”
The brilliant blue eyes studied Alice’s hazel pair and found trust, more trust than Megan or the others put together.
“When I turned fourteen, my grandmother gave me a journal. I used it sparingly until the day I was kidnapped by Kai. After that, I wrote in it every day to maintain my sanity. Then, just before Ira and I separated at the palace, I slipped it in his jacket. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever see him again and I couldn’t leave him in the dark, so I left him my journal as a keepsake. I owed him that much.”
“I think you owe him more, say finding him? Spending the rest of your lives together?” Alice suggested. “It honestly sounds like you two would care for each other and love each other, no matter what obstacles are in the way. It does sound romantic.”
Meryl shook her head. “I meant what I said to Megan. Every time Raven and I are near each other, one of us gets hurt. We are too alike and have no balance. We are both headstrong, challenging, and incapable of making peace.”
“Then create balance, find peace. You have suffered far more than most people twice your age. You deserve happiness. And I bet Raven is such a person who can provide you that gleeful emotion.”
Meryl again shook her head mutedly. “Even if I do want to go to him, I don’t know where he is. We had very little time to talk about the future before we parted. The whole situation wasn’t exactly a bed of roses.”
A broad grin spread on Alice’s rosy cheeks. “Good thing I have my phone.”
She pulled out her touch phone, opened the virtual browser and quickly drew up a short article that was nearly two months old.
“Read this.” She handed the phone to Meryl:
The Five Heroes Who Saved the World Turn Towards a Normal Life
By: Frank Moore
After nearly six long years of bitterness, loss, and bloodshed, the brave soldiers who fought for their country, and their people, returned home.
There are a few notable names that must be recognized.
Captain Ira Byrne and his team, First Lieutenant Alec Parry, Sergeant Garth Morgan, First Sergeant Chris Ayers, and Staff Sergeant Charlie Howell were honorably discharged with the highest tribute; the Congressional Medal of Honor. They, and many other soldiers, were also awarded the Purple Heart for wounds received - wounds that will haunt them forever.
Although Captain Byrne was promoted to succeed General Matthew Allen, he graciously turned it down to live a quiet life with his teammates, outside the city of Aurora, Colorado.
Following their return to the United States, Captain Byrne and his men safely escorted United States president, Avery Bullard, and Russian president, Igor Ozerov, to the capital.
Soon after, the five were admitted to Georgetown University Hospital.
“The team is in a closed ward now. They need to rest from many difficult years, and they are unavailable for comment, so do not ask,” stated a stern head nurse when we requested an interview.
Although he was unable to comment, rumor has it that Captain Byrne had a very good reason for leaving the military. He lost five good men when they were stationed in New York City, and he lost the love of his life in France. Although she was known to the world as, “Aether” or “Blackbird,” there have been rumors that the woman who vanished was not merely a bystander; she was instrumental in rescuing the presidents, working alongside the brave soldiers.
While we, the American people, commend Aether for her bravery, rumors are flying that she was the cousin of “The Man Who Started This War.”
Yet, there are questions about how she and Erebus can be related, when they are clearly very different people.
Although initial reports stated that the two family members are in fact dead, some conspirators believe differently.
“See?” Alice smiled when Meryl reached the bottom of the page. “I’m sure you can find him easily now.”
“Aurora… Colorado?” Meryl caught her breath, handing the phone back to its owner, her mind raced at an incredible speed. Could it be true?
“Do you know that place?”
Turning away to hide her features, Meryl stated as if every word cut through her, “That’s where my family lived. Where Raven lived. Where we grew up before…”
She never got to finish the sentence.
The shockwave from the first attack filled her memory with fear and doubts.
But, a recollection did not make the ground quake. It did not cause the cathedral to shudder or the stained glass to shatter and crumble to dust.
Staggering from the strange tremor, Meryl unsteadily helped Alice, who had fallen to the cold stone ground.
This was no memory.
“Oh no…” Meryl’s throat went dry. “Please no…”
“What?” gripping Blackbird’s arm for support, Alice gazed at the woman with fright; she was half a head shorter.
“Alice, stay here. Hide if you must but do not leave this sanctuary.” Meryl held her shoulders and forced her to sit in the pew.
And, Meryl did something she had never done before. She trusted the woman.
Giving Alice the journal, the younger woman took it in her hands and watched Blackbird flee down the echoing nave, and into the streets.