April 8, 2028 (cont’d)
Vallø Sløt, Denmark
“Black…” Raven felt his throat choke up, “You’re Aether? But… But you’re supposed to be dead!” he blurted out again so suddenly. Still in distress, he shined the artificial light back on to her ashen features.
“Technically, I am dead. At least, that’s what is says on the headstone.” Her gentle voice retorted bitterly from behind her hands. Her brilliant blue eyes barely reflected the synthetic rays.
“You are in the exact same clothes you died in, when I pulled you from the rubble!”
“My captor did not give me much time to change; of course I had nothing to pack.” She lowered her arms but kept her gaze averted from the shaking flashlight.
Now, they could see her features, her unnaturally light skin, the frail waist and long black hair that fell to her lower back. Her deep red bell sleeved shirt was torn and tattered; there were holes in her black jeans, and her brown riding boots were frayed at the sole and rim.
“You lay dead in my arms,” Ira’s anger rose to a boiling point, furious at her and the man who caused her to be in this state, “I pulled you from the rubble… I CRIED OVER YOUR MANGLED CORPSE!”
“Then maybe you and your ‘loving embrace’ brought me back to my forsaken life!” she countered bitter-sweetly as her flashing eyes glared heatedly into his; the flashlight no longer bothered her. With her bright eyes, it gave an impression that she was blind yet furious. Her pale, rosy lips twitched as they pursed together.
Before Ira could lash out with more anger, Garth interrupted. “Sorry to break up this awkward reunion, but we’ve got a helluva company on its way.”
They heard the footsteps of the remaining soldiers thump louder and closer. Their voices shouted orders in their native tongue.
Ira suddenly picked up and holstered his Beretta, and motioned the men to head downstairs.
“Didn’t you have an escape plan?” Blackbird accused as she grabbed a well-worn book off the desk and followed the men down the steps.
“Yes, but it did not include you being alive, or you shooting the guard with his own gun!” Raven turned to face her again, grabbed her wrist tightly, and kept her so close that he felt her body heat. “God, of all people, it had to be you!”
“Do actually think I wanted this?” Blackbird shot back, his grip had tightened and her fingers were going numb.
The recollection of their past, their peculiar relationship, their separation, ran through his mind; but in the wake of danger, Ira forced himself to stay focused.
His men shot down many guards but more kept descending on them. The guards, in turn, shot into the darkness, not exactly knowing where the trespassers were. However, the traitorous lightning tore through the stormy sky, shattering the darkness.
The liberators were spotted.
“Gibson,” Ira called through his earpiece as he flattened himself and Blackbird against the nearby wall. “We are under fire and need help! We are heading to the upper floor between the two towers. Meet us there A.S.A.P.!”
“This is not a rescue mission; this is a suicide mission, Raven!” Blackbird reprimanded, dodging the bullets that flew past her. She felt one fly through her wild hair. It had only just missed her.
Because of his limited sight, Ira fired recklessly into the fray of enemies, killing one, but missing the others.
“Oh, this is pointless! You’re just wasting ammo!” Blackbird cried out in exasperation.
Without warning, the woman grabbed the Beretta out of Raven’s hand; she then reloaded the nearly empty magazine, and pulled an emergency flash bang grenade from his belt.
Expertly, she pulled the pin with her teeth, and threw the fuse toward the oncoming guards. The flash of blinding light and the deafening clamor stunned the guards, forcing them from their hiding spots.
While the light and sound also temporarily dazed the rescue operatives, Blackbird, who seemed oddly unaffected, did not hesitate. She walked forward and quickly shot at each guard who was exposed by this ear shattering distraction; each deadly round met its mark.
There were about fourteen guards, and all fell dead.
“Holy God…” Oak remarked as the reverberation ebbed away.
The others were taken aback by her emotionless action, by her quick aim and steady fire.
She shrugged off their surprise and snapped, “C’mon, there are more guards. Magazine.” She demanded as the empty container fell to the floor with a soft thud.
Ira reluctantly gave her one. He knew she was a trained sharpshooter; after all, he taught her.
Reloading the semi-automatic, she led the men through the castle until they made their way to the upper most level, between the two towers.
Into the open sky, the cold rain splashed onto her pallid face as the wind flew through her hair. Was this real or was she dreaming like before?
Ira quickly pulled Blackbird down to avoid the bullets that flew past them. He could barely see the Osprey. Their only transport was still too far away for them to board.
More shots fired toward Ira’s men from the courtyard below. The squad threw grenades at them, hoping to scatter the enemy. Oak and Noble shot down any guard on either side of their exposed location.
Once it was clear, for the moment, the aircraft slowly approached the crumbling stone walls and warped rooftop and opened the rear hatch.
Hart stood near the mouth of the aircraft, operating the sub-machine gun, “C’mon people let’s get going!”
“OW!” Blackbird let out a yell of pain. The men looked over just in time to see her fall to her knees, her fingers clutched around her arm tightly.
Fresh blood, mixed with rain, trickled down and stained her torn sleeves. Horror struck, Ira sheathed the weapon she had seized and picked up the woman. The transport was finally low enough that they could board safely.
Hart helped Ira and Blackbird jump onto the ramp; they were the last to enter. The pilot then informed Gibson, “We’re in; get us out of here.”
“With pleasure,” replied the sarcastic tone.
The relieved pilot closed the flap as the bird ascended. Hart dismantled the firearm, set it away, then rejoined his partner in the cockpit.
The shooting from far below was no longer heard the higher they flew.
Minutes passed by. Everyone silently watched as Blackbird struggled with the captain, trying to escape from his warm, secure embrace; soon however, her arm stung and became limp by her side.
“Raven I am fine. It’s just a through and through.”
“That’s bad,” he managed to set her down on the seat across from him. The pathway was narrow, an advantage for him. He grabbed the struggling woman’s elbow.
Applying pressure to the wound, he murmured with a slight smile, “You have not changed a bit.”
She let out a hollow laugh that echoed within the metal encasing. “I have been a captive for six years. What do you expect, the farmer’s obedient daughter, always happy to help?”
“Maybe…” he shrugged, remembering the sweet, almost innocent smile she always revealed when customers stopped by their store.
With a final tug, she freed her arm from his grasp, tore her sleeve, and tightly wrapped it around the wound to stem the bleeding.
“Where are you taking me?” she asked abruptly.
“In Reims? I thought it was destroyed?”
“It most of it was, but parts of it still remain. An underground was created as a safe house. It follows the villa’s footprint. That is our base for now.”
“Will there be apples, or any fruit of the sort? I am starving.”
“What?” Pie intervened. Sitting across from Garth, he glanced at her with an odd expression. It was clear that he was seriously worried about her sanity, as were the others.
Blackbird shrugged nonchalantly, “I really want an apple. I haven’t had one for years.”
“We don’t know.” Ira stiffened.
“You don’t know?” she placed her good hand on her hip and stared at them, “You left that striking villa to-”
Ira cut her off sharply, “We left from London.”
“Oh…” Blackbird slumped back in her seat and avoided the quizzical gazes from the men.
Every now and then, the mysterious woman would shift the temporary bandage, which soon was completely stained with her blood. Within an hour, she leaned against the interior of the aircraft and slept.
Leaning against the inner metal hull, Ira glanced at the woman with mixed emotions.
Despite the anger that had bubbled within him, Raven could not take his eyes off the captivating yet stubborn woman whom he thought dead for those long years. If he were honest with himself, he would have been overjoyed that she was still alive. However, meeting her like this, realizing that it was she who was the asset, even hoping that he might have a chance. The captain could not think straight.