Aerials I - Soaring
-It's nothing but time and a face that you lose-
-I chose to feel it and you couldn't choose-
-I'll write you a postcard-
-I'll send you the news-
-From a house down the road from real love...-
—"Your Ex-Lover Is Dead" by Stars
-Oh I am what I am-
-I do what I want-
-But I can't hide-
-And I won't go-
-I won't sleep-
-I can't breathe-
-Until you're resting here with me-
—"Here With Me" by Dido
It had been two months, ten days and seventy-two minutes. Meticulously, he drew up the wall, etching his time in the cold stone. He wasn't sure what exactly he was counting for. Most likely, he was waiting to be executed. But by that assumption, he should have been executed ages ago. He was the Dark Ace. He had single-handedly destroyed more Sky Knights than any man alive. In fact, he was the only man who ever destroyed a Sky Knight, period. They have more resilience than cockroaches and their high and noble ideals make them difficult to bribe with worldly pleasures.
He had hated all of them.
But the waiting bothered him more. There was the uneasiness of a cruel sentence imposed on him, but really, he was mentally prepared for whatever they threw at him. He was the Dark Ace, loyal only to the Master. He was captured, but he never made it easy for them to put up with him. He allowed himself a private smirk in the dark.
The meals were slipped through a metal grate. He was given very little, but he never ate much before. He had a strict diet to keep his body light and limber for battle. It was akin to the diet the Sky Knights follow (though the diet, he noticed, tended to optional. Most of them gave up once they established themselves in the Terra, a sign of bad work ethics and their own undoing in the end). Aerrow of the Storm Hawks seemed to have followed the diet. He paused and shut his mind. He'd rather not think of the Storm Hawks.
There was a knock on his door before it opened. He flinched from the glare of their Sol crystals and stood up straight. They said nothing, but put on his chains and dragged him away from his cell. As they walked down the corridor, he noticed that there was a hushed murmur surrounding him. He decided to play the part of the vicious criminal and bared his teeth evilly at any who dared to look his way. The murmurs ceased almost immediately. Dark Ace smirked. He always did enjoy a good frightening.
He saw the hall open up before him. He was tempted to say something about the gaudy look of the court (Cyclonis would have kept stark and to the bare minimum), but he bit his tongue to keep his snark in check. The council was just as he remembered them, a doddering bunch of fools who kept themselves hidden in Atmosia.
They were talking to themselves when he entered, but they stopped when they noticed his gaze. The main chairman adjusted his glasses and shuffled the papers on his desk. The Dark Ace stood still as if patiently waiting for the inevitable hammer stroke.
"Dark Ace, you have been summoned to this council to answer for your crimes against Atmos," the Dark Ace rolled his eyes, "and the deaths of several Sky Knight Squadrons. Any words you'd like to say in your defence?"
They're not being serious, the Dark Ace thought, because that would be stupid, even for them.
He simply shook his head. There was no point saying anything.
The council began murmuring to each other again. The main chairman sighed and cleaned his glasses, "Then we're assigning you to a Sky Knight. You must perform any duty he or she asks you to fulfil. You will wear a Bonding crystal so that you cannot in any way or form harm your Sky Knight. Are these terms clear?"
They're all mad, he thought to himself, any appropriate response driven out of his head by their insane terms.
The council took his silence as consent. The main chairman refixed his glasses onto his nose, "From now on, you work for the good of Atmos and your Sky Knight."
"You're all mad," the Dark Ace said finally, finding his voice back, "What kind of Sky Knight would take me?! I killed Sky Knights!"
"That would be me," a voice called out from the back of the room. The Dark Ace spun around in rage.
Aerrow stood there, his arms crossed, his back leaning against the doorway. He looked as he always did; cocky, spry and annoying as hell. The Dark Ace had to restrain the urge to go over to his side and strangle him.
"You must be out of your mind too Aerrow, if you agreed to this," the Dark Ace sneered.
Aerrow cocked an eyebrow at him, "Probably. Too bad for you, huh?"
The Dark Ace suddenly wished that they had just picked execution.
"Are you arguing my decision?" her voice is dangerously quiet like a snake, "Are you?"
It takes him a moment to regain his composure, "Of course not, Master."
She eyes him for a moment. There was tinged dismissal in her eyes, so he bowed and walked out.
He pauses at the doorway to glance at the new arrival. She doesn't flinch under his wandering gaze, her eyes fixated to the centre of the room. He leaves, his boots clanking heavily on the metal gauzed floor. He pauses again once he's left the room, his thoughts catching up to him like a whirlpool. He shakes his head and walks onwards.
He regrets such a simple action.
Terra Gale. The factories that the Cyclonians had opened before were all but abandoned and the peace-loving farmers of Terra Gale had once again returned to their crops and repopulated the place. It's still a ragged Terra, dominated by sharp winds and tempestuous clouds, but it was improving.
It was here that Aerrow had chosen a home, close to Dove and Ren's house. From his little corner of the Terra, there was a cliff that led to the Wastelands. Often in the nights, he could hear the bellowing of the monsters that lay below. He'd learn to tune them out after a while (a lot like tuning out Piper and Finn's arguing). He'd grown to love this place, this teetering piece of land he owned just above the abyss.
That didn't necessarily mean that others appreciated it as well.
"What a dump," the Dark Ace said, yawning, "I expected the great Aerrow of the Storm Hawks to have his own penthouse back in Atmosia. What's the matter? Got cold feet from all the fame?"
Aerrow bristled. Even after all this time, the Dark Ace's voice still made him want to draw his daggers and attack. He inhaled sharply and said brightly, "Didn't like the weather out there."
The Dark Ace gave him a disbelieving look and Aerrow's hands itched for his daggers. The man set him on edge and honestly he was sorely tempted to head back to Atmosia and begged the Council to change their decree. He groaned and took out the dishes for supper. He glanced back at the Dark Ace who had nicely settled himself on his couch and put his feet on his coffee table.
Okay, stay cool Aerrow.
…Who am I kidding "Dark Ace! Mind coming here and helping me set the table?"
"I'm the Dark Ace. I don't set tables."
"You do now," Aerrow gritted out, "Or I'll activate that Bonding Crystal."
The Dark Ace scowled and slowly got up. He grudgingly took the plates from Aerrow's hands and began placing them on the table. Aerrow watched in slight amusement at the utter disgust on the Dark Ace's face. Maybe this whole deal wasn't so bad.
"I've finished setting the table," the Dark Ace muttered darkly, "Anything else?"
"Yeah," and Aerrow's grin was positively evil, "Get those candles would you?"
The Dark Ace groaned in embarrassment.
It was some point after that point beyond that point. Piper had always been meticulous with their logs, but now, at this point, a core of what they were, had gone missing. They no longer felt like brave soldiers, trooping into battle with their gloves on.
They had stepped past that point. He remembered her tracing the spine of the book with a finger, her expression a deep melancholy he had no cure for. She did that for hours, re-reading the pages as if she missed some vital clue.
She never did find anything. Aerrow still kept that book in his house. It remains untouched, the spine broken in so many places that he lost count.
Piper would have been angry with him if she knew. She never did find out.
"Harrier," Aerrow said, his eyes narrowing, "How nice of you to drop into Terra Gale so unexpectedly."
The Dark Ace watched the drama from behind the kitchen. So far, his days with Aerrow had been pretty monotonous. He couldn't leave the house, so he flitted in and out of rooms like a shadow. Aerrow hadn't made any comments about what should happen to him. The boy had been oddly sombre, highly unusual for the knight he had fought before.
"I heard you took him in," Harrier spat out, "Tell me why Aerrow."
"Of course," Aerrow said, stepping back, "Come in."
And just as Harrier stepped into the doorway, Aerrow slammed the door. Aerrow paused to listen to the string of colourful swearwords Harrier unleashed and grinned. After a few minutes, Harrier stomped away in rage and Aerrow whistled to himself.
"That wasn't very nice of you," the Dark Ace commented offhandedly.
"I'm not a very nice person anymore," Aerrow replied, "Besides, he kinda deserved that."
"Did he now?" said the Dark Ace, "Do tell."
Aerrow shot him a reproving glance, "I don't think so," but he paused, "But set an extra place for dinner just in case."
She walked like she owned the world. In a way, she did. They were never too far apart from each other, hands trailing over each other shoulders like satin touches. He abhorred her and she knew it. But he said nothing and neither did she. To be fair, a lot of their victories came from her brilliant skills.
But she was once on the other side. And the Dark Ace understood betrayal, if nothing else.
He had been right too. Another thing to his list of regrets
It was late evening when Harrier returned. He looked petulant and his face was red. The Dark Ace noted the small bandage on his nose and snickered to himself. Harrier threw him a poisonous glare and stuck up his nose at him. The Dark Ace covered his mouth to keep himself from laughing harder. Aerrow sighed.
"I apologize for today Harrier," Aerrow said innocently, "That door handle has been acting up lately."
Harrier gives him a nod, but the look on his face said that his explanation didn't appease him. The Dark Ace dutifully set the table as usual and slinked back into the kitchen until his eyes were nothing but small pinpricks in the dark.
"Why is he here and not facing the execution block?" Harrier lowered his voice, but not soft enough. The Dark Ace had more experience in subterfuge than anyone else in the world (barring of course, Starling of the Interceptors), "He should be dead!"
Aerrow pursed his lips tightly, "Is that all you came here to ask?"
"Aerrow, explain to me why this man is alive. Why you of all people are letting him live."
"That's easy," Aerrow said casually, "Remember the Code?"
"Of course I remember the—,"
"Then you would know that there's no honour in killing an enemy when he's down, right?"
"That man has done his own evils. And I have done mine. Would you send me to the execution block as well?" Aerrow's eyes were bright and deadly, similar to the blades he used to wield, "Well, Harrier?"
Harrier frowned and lowered his head, "I concede. His fate in your hands."
Aerrow's body relaxed, "Thank you Harrier."
Harrier got up and headed towards the door. He slipped his riding gloves on and glanced back at Aerrow, "Those evils you did saved us all. Remember that."
Aerrow looked away, idly scratching his arm in shame. Harrier aimed a parting glare at the Dark Ace and left.
He slammed the door.
He always considered himself observant and occasionally clear-minded. He was reckless too and he didn't forget that either. He knew himself well and he prided himself on that fact.
Learning about others was important too and he realized that too late. He wondered if there were signs he didn't spot, words he said that wrought this pain upon them. Sometimes, he thought he found an answer, a chink in the past.
But it always seemed so fake that it escaped him before he even knew what it was.
The Dark Ace stared. Right in front of him laid a chess set with bronze and silver pieces neatly placed in their correct positions. He gave Aerrow a disbelieving look, "Chess?"
"Yeah," and Aerrow twirled the queen piece in his hands, "You do know how to play right?"
He arched a delicate eyebrow in response and Aerrow grinned, "Okay then! Silver plays first and you know how it goes."
"You're really good at this game," Cyclonis commented.
"It's important to me. And it should be to you too. Take it more seriously," he said, his eyes focused on the board.
"Yes, strategy is important," she mused, pressing her lips together, "but so is power."
He nods as she moves her castle forward. She furrows her brow in concentration as the figures move across the board. He takes the moment to observe her. Unkempt hair falls over her face, obscuring her view of the board, but she takes no notice. Already the tell-tale signs of her inheritance began to fill her face in the form of dark circles around her eyes. He turns his eyes away as if looking too hard was sacrilegious. Sometimes, he wished he looked harder for softer lines in her face.
As time passed them by, he realized that there were none.
Aerrow notices that the Dark Ace spent hours hovering around the chess board as if hoping to spot some sort of revelation. He would pick up the pieces one by one and examined them. Aerrow left him alone during these times, but often he would find himself staring in curiosity. There was something enlightening about the Dark Ace's confusion over the chess board.
And, grudgingly, Aerrow remembered doing the same thing to Piper's records.
The Dark Ace sat for hours one day, fiddling with the pieces with a look of intense concentration. Then a sorrowful look flashed through his face when he picked up the rook. Aerrow watched from the corner of his eyes.
He literally jumped, "Yeah?"
"I need a name if I'm going to live….if I'm going to live on like this," the Dark Ace paused. He wasn't one to stumble with his words, but things were leaving his mouth faster than he could think.
"Fair enough," Aerrow mentally hit himself for thinking that a name like the Dark Ace isn't something you're born with, "What would you like to be called?"
"Rook. I want to be called Rook."
Aerrow gave him a cryptic glance and nodded, "All right then. Rook it is."
The Dark Ace tentatively returns the nod and looks back at the rook piece in his hand. When Aerrow walked away, he slipped it into his pocket. He clutched onto it tightly that the marks appeared on his skin.
It felt like a lifeline he had lost a long time ago. And even now, the loss of a name, made him regret even deeper than before.
That's all she ever said. I'm sorry for the plan. I'm sorry for not realizing that. I'm sorry for Radarr.
I'm sorry for Radarr.
That had stung.
She kept saying it until it grated on him so badly that he couldn't look her in the eye anymore.
Because if he did, she would look at him sadly and say, "I'm sorry."
And Aerrow couldn't handle that.
"I see he's being very well-behaved," Starling said, her voice drifting past them, "Does he fetch as well?"
The Dark Ace, er, Rook growled under his breath. Aerrow shook his head, "Nothing that extreme Starling."
"I see," and for a minute, Starling's cat-like eyes did see something, "As long as he doesn't do anything stupid, everything is fine here. I'll send my report to the council immediately."
She paused and softly said, "I heard you have a new name now."
The Dark Ace decides not to answer. Aerrow shot him a concerned sideways look and said, "He picked it out himself."
"Sounds like a step to reformation to me," Starling said, watching the Dark Ace from the corner of her eyes. He had forgotten how formidable she was, no how formidable she still is.
"And how have you been Aerrow?" Starling interrupted, deftly changing the topic. Aerrow blinked in confusion.
"I'm fine, really—,"
"You look pale!" And even the Dark Ace knew she was being overly-dramatic, "Why don't you step outside for a minute."
"Starling, I don't think—,"
"Out now," and the steel of a leader flashed in her eyes. Aerrow immediately scrambled out of his chair and went outside. Starling smirked and wheeled around to pin the Dark Ace with her gaze. He wasn't frightened, but the woman was rather intimidating.
"Talk," and the she was all steel and no woman now, "You've been the dutiful slave so far. Why?"
The Dark Ace shrugged, "Nothing to gain from dying."
"And no thoughts of revenge at all? It was the Storm Hawks that caused the collapse of Cyclonia," and her eyes glinted, "and the death of your leader."
He gripped the handles of the chair tightly. He had been avoiding that thought and she brought it headlong into him. He shut his eyes in contemplation and said quietly, "Not yet."
"Not yet?" Starling said dangerously.
He wouldn't give her any more satisfaction, "Not yet."
Starling gave him a hard look and sighed, "I guess that'll have to do. We all lost a lot in that battle. Just remember something. You're not the only one thinking of vendettas. Aerrow has lost much too."
She paused and looked mournful, "And even I do not know how to measure the weight of one's hatred against another's."
The last time he saw Master Cyclonis was when she died.
It was a moment not clear to him. He at first wondered if it was some trick of light or his eyes were failing him.
She was bleeding. Bleeding badly. He stood there, numb with shock before he immediately moved towards her. But he couldn't move. A crackling barrier of power surrounded her. He couldn't reach her.
She was only a few steps away and he couldn't reach her.
She was holding the other's hand tightly and gave him a tight smile.
"So, this is the end of power," she whispered, "It doesn't seem so bad."
He didn't say anything. Every response was dying in his throat.
He glared at the other girl who was holding onto Master Cyclonis' hand. She met his gaze steadily with no regret in her face. He hated her, hated her, he knew she should have never come here.
And the tower collapsed on her. He didn't know if the barrier she made was shielding her or shielding him. Even after they cleared the debris and dug him out, he didn't know.
He didn't know anything at all.
Aerrow hadn't realized it was missing until he went into the little hovel he called a garage. It was gone and it didn't take him long to figure out where it had gone. Immediately, the feeling of rage enveloped him, the rage he had almost forgotten. Snarling, he strode out of the garage and flipped the little remote he had. A small pulsating blue light beeped from the bulb and Aerrow stood in front of his house.
In a few seconds, the Dark Ace was panting hoarsely and the Skimmer was safely on the ground. Aerrow pulled him onto his feet and growled, "You better have a good explanation as to why you took my Sky Ride."
Despite the intense pain from the Bonding Crystal, the Dark Ace was still able to summon up his traditional smirk, "It's not like you're using it."
"That's not funny!" Aerrow punctuated sharply, throwing him onto the ground, "You shouldn't have done that!"
"Why?" and Aerrow could see his own self-loathing mirrored in his eyes, "Just because you're too scared to do it yourself, doesn't mean I am."
"I'm not scared of anything," Aerrow yelled out, feeling his arms tremble with anger, "I'm a Sky Knight!"
"Werea Sky Knight," the Dark Ace retorted, getting up from the ground. Aerrow had turned off the Bonding Crystal and he could feel his strength returning to him, "In truth, you're still that same kid I fought so long ago."
Aerrow punched him.
"And now you hit the weak and defenceless," the Dark Ace spat out blood, "Anything else you noble Sky Knights do?"
Aerrow stepped back in horror. They stared at each other from a distance, neither backing down. Finally, Aerrow turned away and said, "Get that Skimmer back into the garage. We have to talk."
And she left. Just like that.
Then the reports came flooding in about a dark-skinned girl working hand in hand with Master Cyclonis. Rumours flitted in and out of Atmos like the wind and the Storm Hawks felt the brunt of both betrayal and their worsening reputation. It felt like they had punched several times, but now, with the final punch, they weren't ready to get back on their feet like before.
He only saw her for a glimpse before Cyclonia wasted itself away. She was standing by the precipice with the great Master Cyclonis. They had been kissing. He kept watching. Then the flash of solid power hit the edge of the precipice. And they fell. Together. Holding hands all the way.
Even now, he doesn't understand what he saw. But he saw it clearly. In her eyes, the same words endlessly repeated themselves.
He was sorry too.
The Dark Ace snorted, "I never thought you to be so juvenile."
"I learned from the best," Aerrow smoothly replied, "Do you know why she did it? Why Piper betrayed us?"
"Is that what she did?" the Dark Ace said, "Because the way I remember it, she betrayed us."
"What?" and Aerrow's voice went dry, "T-That's impossible. She left us!"
"I have to admit, it was a brilliant plan through and through," the Dark Ace spat out in rage, "She fooled you into thinking she was the enemy and then she had Master Cyclonis eating out of the palm of her hand!"
"You're lying. This is another Cyclonian lie," Aerrow's grip went white, "She never—,"
"I saw, you know," the Dark Ace said, his voice oddly thoughtful, "She was standing beside Master Cyclonis. The Master…was dying. The price of sharing power is always high. I thought she knew that."
"Rook—," Aerrow stopped himself and remained quiet.
The Dark Ace ploughed on ahead as if the only way to find justification was to spill his innards in front of his enemy, "There was a knife in her hand. It was bloody. I knew then. But I didn't understand it. She fooled us all. Even the Master," he laughed, a hollow mockery of his former self, "I knew! I knew all along! That's right. I knew she would bring about our destruction."
"Then why did you let her stay?"
"I don't know."
"You don't know?"
"I don't know."
There was a thick silence around them as they took their words with a pinch of salt.
"She was holding her hand," Aerrow said finally, "They were falling together. I saw them."
"What does that mean? What does anything of this mean?!" the Dark Ace raged, "I don't—,"
"No, you don't," and Aerrow was a pale figure in the dark, "But for the first time, I understand."
"Mind explaining it to me then?" the Dark Ace asked sarcastically.
"In the morning," and Aerrow felt spry for riding, "When there's light to spare."
And he took out the log book he kept and opened the pages gently. He stroked the spine absent-mindedly and held the book close to his chest when he cried himself to sleep.
"You're not serious."
Aerrow patted the Skimmer lovingly, "Your own Skimmer."
"The last time I rode a Skimmer, you pitched a fit like a girl."
"Well, if you don't want it…"
"Shut up and hand me the bike."
Aerrow laughed, "Just remember to be back for dinner. You need to—,"
"—set the table, yes, I know," the Dark Ace paused as he dug his hands on the handles. The feel of the bike was heavenly, something he had missed dearly. Aerrow watched his euphoria with bemusement.
"Hey," and the Dark Ace had his trademark evil grin back in place. It almost felt like it never left, "I bet you've lost all your skills as a Sky Knight."
"Oh really? Care to test that theory?" Aerrow looked positively feral with adrenaline, "Race you to the highest peak."
"Loser gets to set the table."
TBC -Crit and Reviews are appreciated.