This is it, the final chapter. I just prolonged it to keep you all in suspense.
Chapter 12: Healing
Master Cyclonis looked out at Cyclonia from her tower. Two long days had passed since the failure at Bogaton Many beaten battalions had returned, many of their regiments slaughtered. Atmos was now playing Cyclonia at its own game.
The double doors from behind her opened. She turned around and her eyes widened in surprise. She quickly frowned to hide her relief.
"You should be resting." She hissed.
"I don't need rest!" came Dark Ace's stubborn reply, who winced and put a hand to his stomach.
Dark Ace had barely survived his evisceration by Stork's hands. After he had fallen from the Condor, he had been caught by a lone Talon who took him back to Cyclonia. There, he was operated on, his wounds treated, his intestines piled back into his body and his terrible gash sewn up and bandaged, all this happening while he was still conscious. His left eye however, had suffered irreparable damage and had had to be removed. In its place was now a long scar, as twisted and bulbous as a tree root. He would live, but he would never be the same again.
"I'm not having your guts spilling out over the battle field again." Master Cyclonis muttered.
"That will never happen again, I swear it!" Dark Ace replied bitterly through gritted teeth, "Now, forget about me, we need to continue with the invasion."
Master Cyclonis turned her back on him, "You don't know, do you? The invasion has failed. Those Raptors tore apart one of my best battalions, Ravess and Snipe have been apprehended, and you get butchered by a Merb. Do you know how embarrassing that sounds?"
Dark Ace cringed and replied hastily, "I took care of him. He won't be causing us anymore trouble."
"It doesn't matter. Even if you did kill him, it wouldn't make a difference," Master Cyclonis retorted, "Atmos has started killing our forces. I've severely underestimated them all. I've had to pull back all our battalions and allow Atmos to take back all the captured Terras. Our invasion has completely failed."
"We can still take back all the Terras easily," Dark Ace suggested, "we just need to gather our troops and-"
"No! Not now," Master Cyclonis declined, turning back to him, "we need to lay low for now. And you need to rest. Go back to your barracks, and don't bother coming back until you've fully healed!"
Dark Ace was taken aback by his Master's command, but he obeyed nevertheless. His large wound still hurt, and he would need time to get used to having only one eye now. He left quietly and paced down the corridor, feeling miserable and humiliated.
Stork woke up, much to his own amazement, to the soft humming of the Condor's engines. His eyes were too tired and heavy to open just yet, and his body too weak to move. All at once the memories came flooding back; flying to Bogaton, capturing Ravess and Snipe, fighting Dark Ace and…
Although he could not open his eyes just yet, he could still feel; he felt a pillow against his head, the warmth of his bed, the bandages wrapped around his chest and back. The once fiery pain in his chest had now lessened to a dull throb. His other wounds had been cleaned and the blood washed from his hair.
But Stork also felt something else; someone was holding his hand. While he battled to open his eyes, he used what little strength he had and gently squeezed the hand holding his. There came a small feminine gasp.
"Stork?" someone asked quietly.
He recognised her voice, and he managed to open his mouth and reply hoarsely, "Piper?"
"Yes, Stork, it's me! I'm here!" She replied happily, gently rubbing his shoulder.
Stork finally willed his eyes to open, Piper's voice drawing him out of the darkness. He blinked to sharpen his blurred vision, and saw Piper, happy and smiling with ease. She stroked the side of his head, smoothing his hair. He managed a faint smile, glad to be awake. He felt he had been asleep for a long time.
Piper turned her head towards the door of Stork's room, open slightly, "Aerrow! He's awake!" she whispered.
At that moment, Aerrow walked in, Radarr perched on his shoulder. Upon seeing Stork, Aerrow's face lit up and Radarr chirped in delight. Finn and Junko followed them, both smiling like Aerrow. They gathered around Stork's bed, Radarr jumping down onto the cover.
"Hey, Stork," Aerrow asked, "How are you holding up?"
"I'm still quite tired," Stork replied quietly, his throat dry, "but I'll be fine."
"You just need to rest. You'll be back on your feet soon." Aerrow reassured him.
"How long have I been asleep?" Stork asked.
"For the past two days, ever since you passed out from Dark Ace's shot," Aerrow explained, then lowered his voice, "we were worried you wouldn't make it."
"Man, we thought you were a goner, dude." Finn interrupted.
"I told you he would be alright!" Junko nudged him.
Piper smiled at them and continued from where Aerrow left, "Dark Ace's shot narrowly missed your heart, and you didn't lose as much blood as we'd feared. You were probably unconscious from the blood loss, but I kept an eye, just in case it was anything else."
"Piper hasn't left your side since." Aerrow added, smiling at her.
Stork was suddenly confused, "You mean, you were really worried and concerned for me, even after everything I've done?"
"Of course we were, Stork," Aerrow replied, "sure, you did betray us, but you came back and tried to put everything right. And we're still friends, even after all this. You didn't think we'd just leave you to die, did you?"
Stork was overwhelmingly moved. His friends still cared for and loved him despite his deception. Looking back at what he had done, and thinking of how they had looked after and worried about him, he felt incredibly guilty and ashamed. A tear rolled down his cheek.
"I'm sorry," he apologised sincerely, "I'm so very sorry, for everything, what I did to you all. I never meant to hurt anyone, least of all you. I hated being with the Cyclonians. I so wanted to go back on it all, but I was afraid that you wouldn't want me back. I feel terrible for betraying you."
Aerrow was amazed at Stork's great expression of repentance, "Hey, come on, no need to get that upset over it. It's all in the past now. What matters now is that we're a team again, that is, if you still want to come back."
"Whatever it takes to become a Storm Hawk again, I'll do it." Stork told him.
"You don't need to do anything," Aerrow replied, "We just want our old Stork back."
A great surge of relief swept over Stork and, his head sinking down onto the pillow, he succumbed back to the darkness, knowing he would awaken again.
"Stork?" Finn's voice echoed worriedly.
"Leave him be, Finn," Aerrow answered, his voice disappearing into the dark, "He's had a tough time. He just needs to rest…"
Time passed, Stork's wounds healed and his strength returned. As soon as he could walk again, he was allowed back to driving the Condor.
"I did a lot of terrible things," Stork told Aerrow as he walked with him to the controls, "You sure you still want me back?"
"Yes, we do," Aerrow reassured him, "besides, I did something terrible too. I let my anger get the better of me, and I'm sorry, about our fight. I've always wanted to take you back, and I hoped you would come back every time you helped us, giving us our skimmers and the map."
"Well, I hated every moment, being with the Cyclonians. I only joined them because I was worried about my own safety. But I've realised now, that the well-being of my friends means more to me than my own." Stork smiled.
"You know, if you hadn't betrayed us, we wouldn't have asked the Raptors to help defeat the Talons," Finn explained, "turns out, that since the Raptors had two victories against the Cyclonians, the whole of Atmos was inspired to defeat Cyclonia with its own killing tactics."
"And the Cyclonians are actually backing off!" Junko exclaimed, "And there are more free Terras!"
"So, basically, the Raptors saved the day?" Stork groaned.
"They weren't the only ones," Aerrow answered, "You caught Ravess and Snipe, and you put an end to Dark Ace's tyranny, once and for all!"
"You think so?" Stork asked, uncertainly.
"No one could have survived a wound like that, Stork." Aerrow replied.
Piper had been controlling the Condor for Stork until he was fit enough to return. Now, she moved aside to let him take control. He gripped the handle bars, and smiled back at his friends.
"Thank you." He answered gratefully.
As Aerrow, Radarr, Finn and Junko returned to their own stations, Piper put her arm around Stork and laid her head against his shoulder.
"I'm glad you're back." She whispered happily.
"I'm glad to be back." Stork replied, wrapping his arm around her waist.
Aerrow, Radarr on his shoulder, Finn and Junko drove over Terra Saharr's dusty ground on their skimmers, followed by Piper on her heli-scooter and Stork on the seat of the Stork-Mobile. They all ground to a halt by the Terra's edge.
"OK, same deal," Aerrow told them, "last one to the other side of the Terra has to do all the dishes on the Condor for the next month!"
"Bring it on!" Stork jeered humorously.
As they all sped off through the desert, Stork looked up at the sky, the wind blowing through his hair, and a wide grin stretched across his face.
Things were finally getting back to normal.
Thank you for reading. I've enjoyed writing this, and I've enjoyed reading all your great reviews.
There may be a sequel, but I'm still thinking about it. Stork and Dark Ace both think the other is dead, so what would happen when Dark Ace finds out Stork is alive? I smell revenge...