Hello again everyone! Sorry that its actually been pretty much a week or two since I planned to have this final chapter out, but I have a feeling by the time you're done reading this chapter (I sure hope you make it all the way through!) you as well will feel it was worth the wait. What am I talking about, 'I hope you make it all the way through' ? Well.... let's put it this way. Imagine how long it took you to read one of my longer chapters in this story, and well.... DOUBLE it.
That's right! This chapter has to be the longest chapter I've ever written for a Storm Hawks story here on the site. Sort of fitting since its going to be my last.... But anyways! In total, it's just a touch over ten thousand words long (gasp!) and about 16 or so pages... (bigger gasp) So... I hope you like it! And to give you an idea of how long this will take you to read... I'd give it at least 15 or 20 minutes since it took me about 45 to read it carefully and edit it all.... X.x So, if you have anywhere to go soon and were hoping to read this quick before you go.... you might to wait until you get back! :P And I didn't break this chapter up into two or three since there isn't really a natural breaking point in here to do so, so I hope you all survive the long read! (Oh, and the whole thing is written in Piper's Point of View by the way)
I do not own the Storm Hawks, they are the property of Nerd Corps. (And I'll never have to type that again! :D )
(Oh, by the way, this uploading program is being a little silly and some words that shouldn't be connected are now, so yeah... its not completely my error.... this time... ! Well, what are you still reading this not for? get on with reading this story! xD)
Outside of the throne room doors, the Dark Ace had merely ignored my snide comment, but it had caused him to throw open the doors and stalk in, and if I hadn't known better, I would've thought he was ready to tattle on me to Master Cyclonis for my remark. However, since I knew the Dark Ace considered himself too high and mighty for 'childish games' I had nothing to worry about. Cyclonis was a whole other matter though.
Looking up at us from her throne, Master Cyclonis raised her eyebrow, and the appearance of her face turned into one of question, obviously having seen the glowering expression on the Dark Ace's face which was tinged red with anger. She regarded her top Talon Commander for a moment longer before she turned to me and smirked.
"Well done Piper, you have defeated the Dark Ace and have made him quite angry it seems. I think that in itself would be deserving of a reward if I knew for sure you're loyal to myself, and to Cyclonia."
Trying not to let my worry I was feeling from the statement she had just made show, I informed Cyclonis, "I have not made an attempt to escape yet, now have I?"
She seemed to consider it for a moment until she stood up and replied, "You haven't even been here a full day yet! Plus, how do I know you are simply not biding your time? That you're simply waiting until we trust you, give you an extra bit of leeway, and then - then you'll take your leave."
Trying to counter her logic, I told her, "I could've merely shifted fully into a phoenix during that 'training' session and flown out of here no problem you know."
"Yet you didn't...."
As Master Cyclonis appeared to think about my actions, I asked, "Does that not show allegiance?"
"A small amount, but it could also just show how you're continuing to bide your time. Making us think you aren't going to try and escape and then when we're least expecting it, you will!"
That's pretty much it, but of course, I should try and continue to bluff my way through this. Stay here until I don't need to be followed by Talons everywhere, do a little sabotage, and then find my way back to the Storm Hawks. I just hope they aren't crazy enough to try and rescue me as that could cause some issues....
Master Cyclonis regarded me for another moment before she sat down and turned to the Dark Ace and questioned, "What do you have to say about this? She is your apprentice after all."
Glancing at me, the Dark Ace turned towards Cyclonis and said, "Master Cyclonis, I do not know much about her allegiance, but I think as we both just witnessed she is a capable fighter, she just needs to learn some respect. Other than that she already seems to know the Cyclonian etiquette during a fight – cheat!"
I hid my surprise and hurt as best I could by keeping my face etched in stone, but I couldn't help but wonder if using my shape-shifting abilities had really been cheating. I mean, was it really my fault if I was the only combatant who possessed them?
After the Dark Ace's comment, she turned and looked at me – seeming to consider what he had just said before she turned to the commander again as he began to speak again.
"While I do not know much about her allegiance yet, I believe I do have a way of testing it."
"Which would be…?" Cyclonis asked, rather uninterested.
Turning and sneering at me, I could feel my heart being slowly cut in two as he stated, "She should take down the Storm Hawks. I figure it would be more fitting if she took down her old squadron compared to myself or any other Cyclonian doing it."
Master Cyclonis suddenly didn't look as impassive anymore, and as she stood up, she grinned evilly as she replied, "That was just what I was thinking of when I heard that we had some unexpected guests arrive this morning during your... 'training' as you called it."
Looking over my shoulder, I let out a barely audible gasp as the large throne room doors opened and in walked Finn, Junko, and Radarr, all dressed in Cyclonian uniforms with several real Talons escorting them.
Guys! Radarr is a dead giveaway even if you did dress him up as a Cyclonian. What were you thinking!?!?!? Oh. Wait. They probably weren't thinking.
As I berated the guys' actions in my head, I wondered how I'd ever live with myself if I did end up having to fight them. I could never hurt them, so how would this all work? As the guards shoved them forwards towards me, it had finally just registered in my brain that Aerrow wasn't with them.
They looked at me sheepishly, nervousness being expressed through their actions before they all waved at me and Finn squeaked, "Hi?"
As I looked at the guys sorrowfully, I assessed their predicament. They each had their wrists tied together with crystal energy as I had been a few hours prior to now in fact. I knew that I wouldn't be able to get the restraints off of them unless I somehow was able to grab the crystal Master Cyclonis' Talons had used to create the energy cuffs in the first place.
Yeah, the Talons surrounding them wouldn't be that hard to get rid of if I managed to even free the guys, but then I would have to deal with the problem of facing the Dark Ace and Master Cyclonis by myself since Finn, Junko, and Radarr obviously didn't have their weapons on them.
I continued to ponder how in the Atmos I could get the guys out of here quickly before the two Cyclonians standing behind me gave me any orders, but the Dark Ace soon yelled, "Finish them, my apprentice!"
I glanced at the Dark Ace, sending daggers of hatred at him before I turned to the guys again only to be in time to see Finn crack up and snicker as he asked, "You're." Snort. "His." Gasp. "Apprentice?" Outright barking laughter ensued from both Finn and Junko at the mere thought.
Before I could explain anything to them however, a purple looking crystal suddenly floated out of one of the Talon guard's pockets, and hovered in front of my three squad-mates, it activated, releasing them from their energy cuffs. Everyone in the room, including Master Cyclonis, followed the purple crystal with their eyes as it floated off to an empty part of the room.
As everyone stared transfixed, the crystal suddenly fell to the ground, and once it had come to a stop, it was soon a pile of fine dust as somehow, something had crushed it.
Looking back at the guys, wondering if they had any idea what was going on, I noticed that they were still looking in the direction where the crystal had just been crushed. In fact, looking around the room, I saw that everyone was still looking in the same direction, except the Cyclonians in the room were either looking at the spot with their mouths hanging open, or in the case of the Dark Ace and Master Cyclonis, a fierce sneer adorned their face. Returning my gaze to the area of the room where the crystal had been destroyed, I couldn't help be smile at what I saw.
There, standing with his foot in the dust of the crystal was Aerrow.
Sure, he still had to use his disguise of a green toque, brown hair, and hazel eyes so that the Cyclonians wouldn't recognize him for who he truly was, but I knew who he was and that was all that mattered.
Finally looking up from where his foot had crushed the crystal, I soon fixed my gaze on his face, and when his eyes connected with mine, he gave me his usual lop-sided, almost cocky grin that I had grown to love ever since I had met him. I gave him a small, soft grin in return, but it was soon wiped off my face as the Dark Ace stepped in between us, and staring me down, he yelled, "What are you waiting for, attack him!"
At the Dark Ace's words, I stepped back a little. I tried to keep my face emotionless in response to what he had said, but I couldn't help but feel apprehensive of fighting Aerrow. Really I didn't need to anymore. I mean, the guys had come to rescue me! But yet, I wasn't sure how we were going to get out of this situation with Aerrow and I being the only ones with weapons, and Finn, Radarr, and Junko being close to defenceless.
Before I even attempted to come up with a reply to the Dark Ace's demand, I tried to glance over his shoulder discreetly to see what Aerrow's expression could tell me about his thoughts. When my eyes finally connected with his again, he gave me a wink before he called out, "Don't you want to attack me yourself Ace? I mean, why send your apprentice after me to do your dirty work?"
Glaring at me for a moment, the Dark Ace whipped around and faced who he figured was some insolent teenager before he replied, "Because renegade,I fight against Sky Knights and their squadrons. You obviously aren't a Sky Knight so I won't be wasting my time on you. However-" The Dark Ace paused for a moment while he twisted around, grabbed my arm, and pushed me forwards towards Aerrow. As I glanced up at my disguised friend, I heard the Dark Ace finish his thought. "Battling you will be good practice for my apprentice to show no mercy."
I gave Aerrow a fleeting look, trepidation in my eyes as I waited to see how he would respond to his enemy's words. I saw his eyes narrow as he spat, "Fine. We shall battle then." As Aerrow ignited his blades - which glowed an eerie green colour - and fell into a battling position, I looked between him and his weapons, wide-eyed. Noticing my expression, Aerrow gave me a half wink with the slightest nod of his head to assure me he was still on my side.
I felt a wave of relief wash over me, but I was still a bit unsure as to what Aerrow could be planning. Knowing that Master Cyclonis' and her right hand man's judging eyes must be on me, I reached down to unclip my staff from my belt, but upon hearing the Dark Ace clear his throat and give me a disapproving look, I sighed inwardly and I moved my hand away from my staff. Instead, my hands reached over to the other side of my waist, each unclipping a blade.
Holding the weapons in my hands, I closed my eyes and took a deep breath as I ignited them. I held the two curved, crackling energy blades at my sides, gripping each loosely in my hands until I tightened my grip, opened my eyes, and fell into a fighting stance that mirrored Aerrow's. Looking up at him, I ignored the uncertainty I felt and before I could stop myself, a small grin tugged at the corner of my mouth. Uncurling two fingers from the hilt of the blade with the phoenix crystal powering it, I twitched them slightly a few times – beckoning Aerrow towards me to start this fight.
While Aerrow's set jaw and tight drawn line that was his mouth didn't change, I saw his eyes light up and dance a little bit at my challenge before he charged at me and swung his blades down half-heartedly at me which I easily blocked. As Aerrow and I exchanged blows again, our blades locked against each other and as we each pretended to press against the other's blades with all the force we possessed, Aerrow's face came as close to mine as he could with our sizzling crystal powered weapons still between us and he whispered, "Just follow my lead and make this fight look real, we'll get out of here."
"How are you so sure?" I whispered back urgently.
Aerrow merely smirked before he replied, "I just know." Glancing about the room and its occupants quickly, he continued, "Okay, let's get on with this 'fight', shall we? We'll just run through some of our more rigorous battle simulations we've done in training before."
"But I learned those using my staff!" I exclaimed, trying to keep my voice low.
Before I could panic too much, Aerrow encouraged me saying, "You can do it Piper. You've used my blades before and you did really well battling against the Dark Ace."
He gave me a small grin before he pushed against my weapons slightly to send me off balance a little bit before he flipped backwards and fixed a fake scowl on his face. As I regained my balance, I took a battle stance once more, and when I saw Aerrow drag one of his feet in a slight half circle in front of him, I knew immediately which training scenario he wanted to try out first to see if we could make this fight seem realistic.
On cue after his movement, I sent forth a burst of energy from my blade powered by a firebolt towards Aerrow, and he was able to block and deflect it with his own blades easily. Following my attack, Aerrow made one of his own, running forward before jumping at me. As the sizzling sound of the energy in our weapons colliding was heard, I blocked the slashing strike of one of his weapons with mine, and then we exchanged blow for blow, block for block for a few moments before we both flipped backwards.
Landing on my feet and sliding back a little, I skidded to a stop and caught my breath for a moment as I turned my gaze on Aerrow. Once he had landed his own flip, he too caught his breath as he fell into his next battling position, as our first training routine had just been completed, and it seemed as though people had bought it. Aerrow must have realized this as well, as he drew his right elbow backwards behind his head, the blade in his hand to the side and above his head, while he pointed his other blade towards me. Once I had taken my own starting position, Aerrow mimicked my actions from before and waved me towards him.
Upon this cue to start, I sprinted towards him and improvised a little. This was supposed to be the part of this particular simulation where I usually used my staff to vault myself over Aerrow's head. Not having this option now, I took advantage of Aerrow's wide battling stance, and slid through his legs, twisting my own around once I was through so that I kicked Aerrow's own legs out from underneath him. It was really supposed to use my staff to do that, but hey. As long as he ended up falling down, everything would be okay, right?
Besides, I'm sure the Dark Ace must have enjoyed that last part.
As Aerrow and I got up and prepared to battle again, I glanced in the direction of the CyclonianCommander and saw that he indeed had been smirking in amusement, but upon seeing me looking in his direction, his face hardened as he ordered, "Don't just stand there, deal with the pest!"
Looking back at my opponent whom the Cyclonians thought was some annoying renegade; I was surprised to see Aerrow flip backwards. After he had finished his flip, he was now twice as far away from me as before, and I was even more astonished however at what Aerrow indicated through his movements that he wanted to do next.
"No…!" I whispered to myself as green energy from his blades slowly began to climb up his arms. Sure, we had done this a couple times before, but I had had a blocking crystal with me, it diverted a lot of Aerrow's attack, but it still knocked me off my feet. Besides, if Aerrow decided to continue with this and perform the 'Lightning Strike'- his signature move - Master Cyclonis and the Dark Ace might put two and two together.
I can't let that happen!
As the energy from the blue strikers – disguised as green – in the hilts of Aerrow's weapons continued to surround his body, I dashed forwards and tackled him to the ground. Once we had both toppled to the ground, his blades had slid away from his hands and had thankfully deactivated before they fell so that no one would've been able to see them turn back to their original blue once they left the power of the chroma crystals in their wielder's shoes. My weapons were close by as well, also sitting deactivated on the throne room floor.
While I pretended to pin him to the ground with my arm pulled back and my hand in a fist, I hissed at him, "They'd have known it's you!" Aerrow's stare that had been one of annoyance after I had tackled him suddenly turned to one of surprise, and then shameful recognition.
"Piper, I-" But before my friend could finish his thought, I felt someone shove my shoulder causing me to fall to the floor near Aerrow and where I had dropped my blades. Looking up, I saw that it had been the Dark Ace who had pushed me over, and now he had grasped the front of Aerrow's shirt and had hauled him up off of the floor until he could look him in the eyes. The worst aspect of the scene before me was the ignited, daunting red sword in the crimson-eyed man's hand.
"What are you doing?" I asked with dissension in my voice as I collected my blades from the floor, and stood up, glaring at the Cyclonian Commander that held my friend's life in his merciless, cold-hearted hands.
He didn't even turn to me or break his gaze that was locked onto the young-adult he assumed was a renegade as he answered, "I decided I'm going to deal with him after all since you obviously can't do it by yourself."
"I had everything under control!" I replied with ire, my hands gripping the hilts of my blades firmly.
Almost mockingly, the Dark Ace replied, "I hardly call the situation under control when you had resorted to tackling him and then hesitating to punch him of all things."
"Here I thought you were the one who said it was in the Cyclonian etiquette during battle to cheat!"
"That's why I'm stepping in!"
"To do what – prove you can beat someone that's younger than you?" At my words, Aerrow gave the Dark Ace an accusing look paired with a smirk of sorts.
However, Aerrow's look of contempt turned into one of discomfort as the Dark Ace moved his sword perilously close to my friend's neck as he hissed, "No, I'm proving that friends are a liability, that they toy with your emotions, and that they stab you in the back! It's best to stab them first, and this is going to be your lesson on how to get rid of pests that you wonder how you could've ever called them your friends!"
Aerrow narrowed his eyes at the Dark Ace's words and how they could easily refer to the men and women of his parent's squadron he had known when he was a boy. However, they flew open as the Dark Ace drew back his glowing sword preparing to strike downwards.
"NO!" I cried before a gasp was pulled from my throat as the light blue crystal around my neck shone vibrantly and its power coursed through my veins and upon feeling it wash over me, I let my weapons clatter to the floor before I jumped into the air with light blue clouds surrounding me. By the time I had crashed down upon the Dark Ace's body, I had fully shifted into a Black Amazonian Panther.
As I pushed the Talon to the floor, his sword slipped from his grasp and slid across the room with an echoing clatter against he walls of the throne room. Upon me tackling him however, his grip on Aerrow had been relinquished and my friend had simply stumbled backwards and fell to the floor.
Having used the weight of the great Black Amazonian Panther to unbalance the Dark Ace in the first place, I quickly leapt off of him before he fell to the floor, and while I flew through the air and felt weightless for a moment, I focused once more and I denied gravity to bring me back down the ground, as I shifted into a fiery phoenix. I circled one of the large pillars in the throne room near the group of Talons guarding Finn, Junko, and Radarr for a moment before I turned towards the unsuspecting and awestruck group of Talons.
Knowing that the claws on the feet of the phoenix were basically the only part of the bird untouched by the fire that always engulfed it, I reached into the middle of the swarm of Talons and plucked Finn and Junko from out of their ranks gently and released them outside of the mob. Thankfully, Radarr had grabbed onto Finn's foot as I lifted him up, as I was unsure as how I would've been able to pick Radarr up due to his size without hurting him.
Turning back towards the Talons that were still gawking instead of going after my friends I had just rescued, or even firing at me, I circled around them as fire spewed out from my mouth. In no time at all, I had created a ring of fire around the now surprised group of Cyclonians.
Satisfied with the barrier I had created, I circled around one of the nearby pillars once more before I swooped back towards the Dark Ace and shot a plume of fire from my beak at where he was laying on the floor, causing him to get over his dazed state very quickly and roll to the side to avoid my attack. Luckily for me, he had rolled away from Aerrow, and in no time at all I had created a wall of fire around the Dark Ace like I had with the Talons. Before he could try to escape though, I circled around him a few more times making multiple rings of fire around where he now stood so that it would be near impossible for him to leap over the flames to freedom.
As the Dark Ace growled in rage, I picked my blades up using one foot, and Aerrow grabbed onto my other foot and after I had crossed the throne room with a few flaps of my blazing wings, I soon let Aerrow jump down and land next to the rest of the guys who were currently facing Master Cyclonis who still stood at her throne. Managing to throw my blades up into the air, I neared the ground and let my concentration go while I was still in mid-flight.
Landing squatted on my feet, I extended my legs, and once I was standing I looked towards the ceiling and reached my hands out to catch my falling weapons. They flipped and tumbled through the air downwards until surprisingly to me, and probably to the others, they landed in my hands with the hilts in my palms, the deactivated yet sharp, curved blades pointing towards the Master of Cyclonia as the final wisps of light blue clouds surrounding me disappeared.
Cyclonis was not fazed by this however, she merely clapped her hands mockingly before she commented, "Perhaps I was wrong before Piper. Perhaps you do enjoy the feeling that comes with possessing and exercising sheer power. But do you know what you lack? Or rather, what you have? You're merciful. You could've torched my troops - even the Dark Ace - and yet you didn't."
As I continued to listen to the immoral womanin front of me talk, I felt a sudden wave of unease pass over me as she elaborated her statements. "It is because you are merciful that you will never be able to become a Talon or Cyclonian in general."
Well no duh! I didn't want to be here in the first place!
I held my tongue though instead of voicing my thoughts since Cyclonis once more began to speak. "It seems that your abilities are more powerful than I expected, along with you having mastered them to one extent or another." Master Cyclonis pausedfor a moment while she stared at me before she reminded me, "You know that the alternative to you becoming the Dark Ace's apprentice was that I'd tear you apart piece by piece to find out the secret behind your abilities. You remember that, do you not?"
As I glared at the woman before me, Aerrow looked at me incredulously as though he didn't believe what Cyclonis had just said to me. Glancing in his direction, I saw his visage turn into one of anger, his eyes screaming determination and defiance as he ignited his weapons, pointing on of them at Cyclonis as he exclaimed, "You will do no such thing to her!"
Regarding my disguised Sky Knight with a smirk, the ruler of Cyclonia replied, "A little protective, aren't you?" She enjoyed the slightly embarrassed look that adorned the face of the 'renegade' for a moment before she turned to me and said, "He's right you know. I've changed my mind."
When she didn't elaborate, I asked through clenched teeth, "Meaning?"
Apprehension gnawed at me again when her smirk turned into a sadistic smile as she stated, "When you can't harness power for your own use or figure out how it works in the first place, there is only one other option available." Pointing her staff at me, the crystal on the end of it began to glow red as she hissed, "You destroy it!"
My eyes widened in shock as a ball of red energy flew at me in almost slow motion, yet I couldn't move my legs or my arms, I felt frozen in place. "Piper!" I heard my friends around me cry in warning, but it was only background noise compared to the sizzling and crackling of the ball of death that was heading towards me. Just as I thought I was a goner for sure though, I saw a glowing green form step in front of me before they jumped up and sent a ball of green energy that turned into blue just before it collided with the red crystal energy.
While the attack of green-blue had managed to neutralize must of Master Cyclonis' attack, a little bit still got through, and it connected with the glowing green form while it was still in the air. I gasped as I finally began to think straight and as the figure whipped by me and crashed into a pillar nearby.
"No!" I cried in despair as I saw Aerow's body fall to the floor in a crumpled heap. My gaze was pried away however at the sound of Master Cyclonis' evil cackling. Turning back around, I looked on in dismay as I saw her float up into the air and a shock wave of green exploded from the crystal in her staff causing a great blast of wind to fill the throne room. Like the rest of my squadron standing beside me, I held my hands in front of my face as I tried to shield myself from the wind as I planted my feet to avoid being blown back.
When the wind stopped, I let my arms drop to my sides cautiously and I almost regretted being able to see again, as I noticed the gale had extinguished my temporary imprisonments of fire that had been around the group of Talons near the throne room doors and the rings of flame that had almost created an inferno of sorts around the Dark Ace. Master Cyclonis gave me another cruel smile as she once more pointed her staff at me, but before she could try shooting me again the throne room doors flew open at the same time part of the roof behind Cyclonis caved in.
Looking up in shock, I saw that that several Murk Raiders were jumping down from their ship which had rammed through the ceiling of the throne room. Among them was Captain Scabulous who upon landing on the throne room floor commanded, "Find and bring me the shape-shifter!"
Blinking my eyes in disbelief, I turned towards the doorway only to see Repton with several Raptors standing behind him. All of them had scowls on their faces, but the worst of them was Repton's as he yelled out to the Captain of the Blood Crow, "Whoever the shape-shifter is, they belong to the Raptors!"
"Fools!" Master Cyclonis yelled out to the two groups of intruders. "The descendant of the Amazonian Guardian belongs to Cyclonia!" And with that comment, it seemed like a small war had broken out in the throne room that now had a sudden and unplanned sunroof installed.
I watched in shock as Master Cyclonis, Captain Scabulous, and Repton all ordered their troops and cronies into battle against one another. As their ranks mingled and met in battle, I backed up slowly towards Aerrow, hoping that no one but the Cyclonians would come after me, but it seemed that all of the Talons and even the Dark Ace and Cyclonis were involved in the chaotic battle. In fact, Ravess and Snipe had shown up upon hearing the loud entrance of the Blood Crow.
It seemed the only Talon not caught up in the ruckus was the one that had been holding onto Finn's crossbow and had somehow managed to hold onto Junko's extremely heavy knuckle busters. What surprised me the most was when they handed the weapons back to their respective owners and then proceeded to pull off their face mask and goggles. I was actually astonished that it was Starling that was dressed in the Cyclonian garb, but I suppose if she had done it before she could do it again, right?
As Starling pulled out her glowing purple nun chucks and joined the battle, I turned around, and with Radarr following me we headed towards our fallen Sky Knight.
Once we had reached Aerrow, my hands flew to my face as I choked back my tears as I saw the poor state he was in. My knees suddenly becoming shaky, I kneeled down next to him and Radarr stood beside me looking at his friend worriedly. I felt tears begin to prick at the edges of my eyes, and in my mind, the sounds of the battle around me slowly faded into non-existence as I whispered to myself quietly, "Oh Aerrow..."
My hand reached out instinctively to his to find his pulse, yet my hand froze over his wrist and would move no further. I really didn't want to confirm whether or not he was dead. Did I really want to drain myself of hope that he was alive if I felt his wrist and found no pulse? But in the end, would it be worse if I just didn't check and kept my hopes high only to be crushed? I felt my fingers twitch a little as I tried to decide what course of action to take.
Looking down at the person I knew was one of the most important to me in the entire Atmos, I had to continue to choke back my tears at the sight of his upper body. It seemed that when he had jumped in front of me and had ended up getting hit, he had been hit square in the chest. His uniform had a gaping hole in it, the edges around the hole torn and singed from the power of the blast Cyclonis had intended to hit me. Despite the fact Aerrow's retaliation had neutralized a fair amount of its original power, enough of the blast had still gotten through to be a real danger to his health.
My hand covered my mouth as I shook my head, a tear slipping out of one of my eyes and falling down my cheek freely as I saw the badly burned skin where his uniform should've been, and I couldn't help but wince and worry all the more at the blood that was present. Prying my eyes from his wound, I glanced at a crestfallen Radarr before I looked at Aerrow's face, noticing that his eyes were closed. I had always loved his bright mischievous green eyes. Even if he simply opened them so I could see them disguised underneath a hazel colour, I would be satisfied.
Yet… his eyes didn't open.
I slowly lifted my head and averted my gaze from my downed comrade before I regarded my surroundings. The sounds of battle – the grunts, the metallic clangs, the sizzling of crystal energy – it all came flooding into my ears. No one in particular was winning the battle; it simply wasn't possible when you had four different sides fighting over the same thing. It was like toddlers fighting over the same toy. Sighing, I closed my eyes to block out the sight, but the sound continued.
I heard Radarr whine, and opening my eyes to glance at him, I saw him near Aerrow's head, wrapping his arms around his neck in a half-hearted hug. The scene broke my heart, and I finally snapped. I felt the tears that I had been fighting so hard to control begin to flow down my cheeks unchecked. Sobs erupted from my throat as my hands reached up to the back of my neck and found the knot of the cord that my mother had tied on that fateful night so many years ago. It had been the night my whole life had shattered, but Aerrow had been the one to come along and help me pick up the pieces. Eventually, he even helped me learn to try to control and home my abilities I had rediscovered recently.
Glancing around the room again and seeing all of the fighting going on, I remembered what my mother had told me fifteen years ago when she had first let me in on my family's secret legacy.
"Piper, I don't want you to tell anyone about what happened tonight alright? If anyone ever figures out who I am, it won't just be the Cyclonians that are after me. Murk Raiders, Raptors, any form of evil would want the abilities I have. The abilities that I most likely gave you."
Cyclonians? Murk Raiders? Raptors? Well, they're all accounted for mom.
As I thought back again to the small events I remembered from my childhood, the most prominent one that kept coming back again and again to the front of my mind was the night when the Cyclonians had attacked my home. Just before my parents had helped me escape, my mother had given me the Amplifying Stone that she always wore around her neck. Yes, she took it off to give to me so that I could learn more about my abilities and its mysteries one day, but she also gave it to me knowing she wouldn't be able to use her own powerful abilities for ten long years. I realize now that she didn't just give it to me so that its legacy and that of the Amazonian Guardian could live on, she did it so that she and her unique and wanted abilities wouldn't fall into the wrong hands.
Undoing the carefully formed and strong knot, I held the strings together at the back of my neck while I thought for another moment. Grasping the Amp Stone in one hand, my other hand let go of the ends of the cord. Holding the small crystal in my hand, I stared down at it with disdain.
"Why couldn't I have just been normal? Why was I given these abilities or this stone in the first place?" I murmured quietly to myself more than to the crystal. "It's because of them that things have gotten so out of hand lately." Glancing remorsefully in Aerrow's direction once more, a new wave of tears flowed down over my cheeks as I added, "And it's because of them that those I love keep getting hurt...."
"I, I just can't do it anymore mom. I can't watch the only family I have left get hurt or killed anymore. I already almost lost Aerrow a few years ago - I don't want to go through that again for real. Besides, everyone knows now. I'm not able to hide my true identity anymore. We'll always be on the run, and what kind of life is that? It just wouldn't be fair to the team." I whispered, staring at the diamond shaped crystal in my hand the whole time.
Closing my fingers over the pulsating blue rock, I groaned before I began, "It's – it's...." sighing, I stated, "It's time to say good bye to my life as a shape-shifter. All I've done is hurt my friends." My shoulders slumped as I said softly, "I'm no hero, I'm sorry."
I hope you understand Mom, Dad. Aerrow....
I shut my eyes and a single tear slipped out as I uncurled the fingers of my hand that was holding the Amplifying Stone. Shutting my eyes tighter, I willed my hand to tilt slightly to the side, and I could slowly feel the cool feeling of the stone roll out of my palm and onto my fingers. After a few painstaking seconds, I finally felt the crystal teetering on my fingertips, but before it could fall off and tumble to the ground, I felt a heat begin to absorb my hand before I felt something close my fingers firmly around my Amp Stone.
Opening my eyes, I blinked several times before my blurry vision cleared, and I was able to see that someone had wrapped their pale hand around my darker one. After staring at the hand for a little bit, my eyes travelled up the arm and then I was surprised to see the arm was attached to Aerrow. Blinking a few times in confusion, I finally looked up at his face.
His eyes locked onto mine almost instantly.
While he was staring at me, I unconsciously tightened my grip on the Amp Stone in my hand and I noticed him glance down at my hand before he gripped it tighter than he had before. He gave a small grunt as he sat up before he looked into my eyes again. Just when I thought he wasn't going to say anything to me – just stare until someone decided they wanted to pick a fight with us – he cleared his throat.
My full attention on him again, Aerrow asked me, "How do you not consider yourself a hero Piper?"
I looked down at Aerrow's hand that still held onto mine firmly yet kindly, and then looking over Aerrow's head at the fighting that was going on all around us I finally turned my gaze back on him as I questioned, "What sort of characteristics or traits do you think a hero should have? If you think about it, I really don't have any."
Aerrow regarded me thoughtfully for a moment before he spoke quietly, "No, I suppose you don't." I felt the tears in my eyes that I thought were gone well up again at his words.
Couldn't you have lied to me Aerrow, just this once?
Knowing that Aerrow had just told me all I needed to confirm I needed to rid myself of the Amp Stone and my abilities – if only for ten years – I fought to pry my hand from his, but I was surprised when his other hand wrapped firmly around my hand I was struggling to break free of his grasp.
Annoyed, I began, "Aerrow-" But when I looked up at his face, I was taken aback at the disappointed expression on his face.
As the flames in my eyes died down as my annoyance and anger at my Sky Knight's actions melted away, Aerrow closed his own eyes for a moment. Opening his eyes finally, they had a bit of their usual mischief in them as he said, "You never let me finish what I was going to say." As I raised an eyebrow in confusion, he chuckled softly before he looked at me with kindness before he whispered, "You're not a hero Piper because I don't think of you as any plain old hero. With your kind heart, your love for you friends, and your abilities that are unique to you and you only, I can't think of anyone else I'd be more proud to call a superhero."
Blinking my eyes several times in disbelief, I stuttered, "You, you think I-I'm a superhero?"
Aerrow only grinned in reply before he turned to Radarr and asked, "You know Piper's a superhero, don't you Radarr?" The furry blue creature nodded his head with a smile on his face before he moved closer to Aerrow and clambered onto his shoulders.
I gave my two friends a weak smile before I stated, "I'm no superhero either though you guys." They just looked at me strangely before I explained, "What hero, especially a superhero, lets their friends get hurt?"
Aerrow glanced at Radarr before he looked at his chest and then looking up at me, he told me, "Piper it was my choice to jump in front of you. Even knowing now that I get hurt because of it, I'd still do it again."
"But why? I hate being the one that always causes you to get hurt."
Moving one of his hands from where the other still held mine between us, he put his hand on my shoulder, and looking into his eyes, I saw the seriousness in them as he said, "Piper, I always used to be the one with the privilege of protecting you from whatever came our way in a battle or on missions. But now that you're so capable of protecting yourself – far better than I could ever hope to – I sometimes literally jump at the chance to be your knight in shining armour again."
I felt myself begin to blush a little at Aerrow's words before I murmured, "You know your armour isn't exactly shining in the first place...." Looking up at him, I grinned along with him until my eyes fell on his wound again.
As I let my head hang down in shame and regret once more, Aerrow placed his hand under my chin and made me look him in the eye again. Still grinning, he told me, "It's just a surface wound you know. I'm not dead or anything. Everything is okay, and it isn't your fault I got hurt Piper."
Removing his hand from my face, his other slowly let go of mine before bit by bit he gently used his fingers to uncurl my digits that were still wrapped around my Amplifying Stone. We both regarded it for a moment before to our astonishment, the usually slowly pulsing light in its depths began to throb violently, and my eyes widened in surprise as the crystal seemed to almost vibrate in my hands. Glancing up at Aerrow, I saw that his eyes had gone wide in shock as well, but he seemed to recover quickly as he clasped one of his hands over mine in order to confine the vibrating and glowing stone.
When it didn't stop, both Aerrow and I wrapped our free hands around our other hands in hopes that it would help, but of course it didn't. I heard Radarr whine in worry as bright blue beams of light shone through any cracks in mine and Aerrow's interwoven hands. Just as quickly as it had started, it suddenly stopped. Not sure what was going on, I glanced at Aerrow, wondering if he had an explanation ready, but before he could say anything at all, the vibrating of the crystal came back with a vengeance and without any warning, a vivid, luminescent ball of light blue light exploded outward from where Aerrow and I were holding the Amp Stone in our hands.
I had to open and close my eyes several times before I could finally see clearly again after I had been taken so off guard by the bright flash of light that came from my Amp Stone. Before I looked around me to found out why the throne room was so eerily quiet, I looked across from where I stood and gasped.
Aerrow looked at me like I was crazy, but before he could ask me anything, I stated, "We need to get you out of here!"
"Why?" Aerrow's question was valid, yes, but we really didn't have time for it.
"Your eyes are green again!" Aerrow's now naturally stunning green eyes widened as I continued on to say, "Your hair switched back to normal too, and I can tell you're wearing a Storm Hawks uniform despite the big rip on the front!"
Aerrow stared at me in shock for a moment. His eyes swept the room around us, and if it was even possible, they grew wider. When I saw Radarr look around as well and whimper in confusion, I finally gave in and looked around the room. I was surprised to see that everyone in the room were now as still as statues, a lot of them still in the middle of their fights had frozen with a look of anguish and ferocity in their eyes. Well, most of them anyways.
Turning to look at me, Aerrow said, "I don't think we have to worry about them figuring out who I am yet, but just in case maybe we should get going." Nodding, I began to walk in the direction where I saw Junko's head above all the others, but I didn't get very far as Aerrow was still holding onto my hand that had the Amp Stone in it. "Don't you think you should put that back on before we go anywhere? I mean, you definitely don't want to loose it or let it slip out of your hands."
"I suppose that would be a good thing." I replied as Aerrow finally let go of my hand. I glanced at the cord attached to the Amp Stone before I turned to my friend and asked sheepishly, "Can you.... Can you help me with this Aerrow?"
He seemed a little surprised at first, but he soon readily agreed to help me out. As I kept my hands firmly grasped around the light blue stone, Aerrow reached from behind me and grabbed the two ends of the string it was attached to. As he tied the knot at the back of my neck, I couldn't help but shiver at the strange sensation that shot down my back each time he accidentally brushed one of his fingers against my skin.
After a few moments though, it was once more tied securely around my neck. Letting go of the Amplifying Stone slowly, I gave a mental sigh of relief that the cord didn't break or undo itself or something crazy like that. Turning around to face Aerrow who had Radarr on his shoulders still, I looked at his hair and the green toque on his head. Shaking my own head back and forth, I said, "Thanks for the help Aerrow, but try pulling down your hat a little bit more until we figure out what's going on or until we're out of here."
Nodding at my words, Aerrow pulled down his toque as far as he could so that he could hide as much of his hair as possible but still be able to see. Some clumps of his ruby locks still poked out from underneath the winter hat, but it would have to do for the moment.
I grabbed onto Aerrow's wrist so that he would follow me towards Junko, but also so that he would stop fussing with his hair. Yes, it was important to hide it and I had been the one to tell him so, but I had suddenly seen Finn in Aerrow's place making a big bother about how his hair looked. It really wasn't a nice thought to think that Aerrow was like Finn. It wasn't like that was bad or anything - I just preferred Aerrow how he was, and Finn how he was.
As we continued to make our way carefully through the crowd of frozen warriors, I couldn't see Finn or Starling anywhere. Sighing, I focused on getting to Junko. The sooner we figured out whether he was frozen or not, the better. Besides – he could probably help us locate Finn and Starling
After another minute or so of weaving, Aerrow, Radarr, and I had finally reached the spot where Junko stood. Upon arriving in the clearing free of enemies around the Wallop, I realized that perhaps I hadn't needed to worry about where Starling and Finn were after all, as all three of our friends were standing back to back.
Seems they were able to take care of themselves well enough.
I walked around the three, seeing that they were very much indeed frozen – until I saw Finn blink that is. This would've been the perfect time to simply enjoy watching Finn try to stay perfectly still until he began to wiggle his nose - which he would later surely claim was itchy – until he sneezed. Yet, as amusing as that would be, I wasn't sure how long everyone else would stay frozen, so I walked up to Finn and said, "Come on statue boy, we've got to get out of here."
Finn's shoulders drooped before he turned to me and lowered his crossbow from a firing position before he asked, "You really take the fun out of pretending to be a statue, don't you?"
Shaking my head, I refused to reply to his original question but decided to pose one of my own. "Are Starling and Junko just pretending as well?"
Before Finn could answer however, both turned to me and said, "Yes."
Grinning at the two, I said, "Alright, now that that's settled, we really ought to get out of here. I have no idea why everyone's frozen right now or how long it'll last."
Starling nodded before she moved towards the throne room doors as she instructed us, "Follow me, I know the way down to the dungeons."
"Why do we need to go down to the dungeons?" I asked as we exited through the throne room doors.
"Stork is waiting with the Condor underneath a hatch that leads to the prison area." Starling replied.
I paused and glanced back at the frozen figures for a moment until someone grabbed onto my wrist. Turning around, I noticed it was Aerrow who had a hold of me, but before I could say anything, he simply nodded silently towards where Starling and the others were walking down the hallway. Realizing that everyone was getting ahead of us and remembering that we were in Cyclonia and the others may need our help if we ran into any Talons that weren't statues, I raced ahead with Aerrow - who had since let go of my wrist - until we caught up with the rest of the group.
As we walked further into the depths of Master Cyclonis' palace, I asked, "Did you end up freeing any of the prisoners?"
Aerrow glanced at the others with a slightly amused look before he turned to me and said, "We were thinking of freeing some of the prisoners before we came and found you so we wouldn't have so many to worry about on the way back, but then we all thought that if we left them on the Condor with Stork things might turn ugly real fast. Plus any Talon prison guards would eventually notice, so we decided we'd free them all after we got you."
I thought about what Aerrow had just said before I asked, "What if all of the prisoners are statues now too?"
Apparently having been listening in on our conversation the whole time, Starling interjected, "I was just thinking the same thing Piper." As her expression turned thoughtful, she addressed everyone saying, "We need to hurry just in case we can't find a way of waking up the prisoners if they are frozen like everyone else. It'll take longer if we have to move each one down to the Condor."
Everyone nodded, and soon we were all racing down the corridors of the palace, heading deeper and deeper into the depths of Cyclonia. We didn't run into a single Talon the whole way to the prisons either, well, at least a Talon that wasn't frozen that is. By the time we reached the dungeon area though, we were surprised to see that all of the prisoners were out of their cells already, milling about and chatting up a storm with each other. A lot of them seemed to adorn rather confused faces though.
"Oh, did I forget to mention that we sort of 'unlocked' all of the doors before we went and saw you fight the Dark Ace in the arena?" Finn said as he moved his eyebrows up and down flamboyantly.
Rolling my eyes at my team-mate's actions, I turned to my friends gathered around me and said, "Thanks again for coming to help me out and to come and rescue me guys, but now it's these prisoners' time to be rescued. Where's the hatch that leads to the Condor?"
Walking a few steps to my left where a grate in the floor was, Junko lifted it up and motioning down he said, "Right here." Looking down the hole, I saw that our carrier ship was indeed waiting below.
"Okay guys, we need to get these people out of here before the Cyclonians or any of our other 'lovely' acquaintances suddenly unfreeze, okay? Junko, I want you, Finn, and Radarr to help everyone down the ladder to the Condor and to let Stork know we're coming. Piper, Starling, and I will stay up here and point everyone in your direction and to make sure we haven't missed any prisoners."
Everyone nodded their heads and quickly split into the two groups Aerrow describedto go and do their assigned jobs. After about five minutes, nearly all of the prisoners Starling and the guys had freed earlier this morning were waiting on the Condor. As Junko and Finn helped the last handful of people down the ladder to our waiting ride, Aerrow and I did a quick sweep of the prison area and the surrounding passages and rooms to make sure we hadn't missed anyone. Convinced we had made a clean sweep, we jogged back to the main prison area and quickly climbed down the ladder ourselves after seeing Finn waving at us to hurry up.
Upon jumping down onto the runway of the Condor, I was proud to see that the bridge, the balcony, and even the hangar bay were filled with many different people from across the Atmos that had been rotting in Cyclonia's jail for far to long.
Aerrow jumped down after me, as he had taken a little longer to get down since he had insisted that he needed to put the grate back in its normal place. Now that he was standing next to me, I looked up and saw that his expression was one that expressed happiness and accomplishment. It was a look that I got to see whenever we successfully completed a mission as a team, and I had the feeling he was feeling pretty proud of our success at the moment.
He glanced down at me and grinned before he turned in the direction of the bridge windows and motioned for Stork to power up the Condor as he yelled, "Get us out of here Stork!" While I wasn't sure whether Stork had heard Aerrow clearly or not, he seemed to understand what he wanted, as Stork had given him a quick salute before with a yank of a lever beside him the ship's engines roared to life.
Aerrow and I stood on the flight deck until we were clear of the Cyclonian terra, and then throwing his arm around my shoulders, Aerrow told me, "It's great to have you back by the way."
Giggling as I allowed Aerrow to slowly lead me towards the hangar bay, I pointed out, "I was really only gone for maybe ten hours at the most when you think about it."
"Yeah, well I still missed you. I'm just glad I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn't get back to sleep. I went to go check on you and you weren't there."
"You just felt compelled to go and check on me in the middle of the night?" I asked teasingly.
Aerrow rubbedthe back of his neck with his hand that wasn't gripping my shoulder at the moment, but then he glanced down at and gave me a large grin as he retorted, "Well at least I did. If I hadn't, we wouldn't of figured out you were gone until now probably."
I shrugged my shoulders in response, and I was sort of glad that he didn't take the movement as a signal to take his arm off of my shoulders. It sort of made me feel a little more secure when he had his arm around me, and after having been forced into being the Dark Ace's apprentice after being kidnapped of all things, the extra feelings of security were a welcome thing.
Once Aerrow and I had weaved through the escaped prisoners that were still standing and talking in the hangar bay, we were both surprised when the door that led to the hallway opened without us pressing the button to do so. On the other side of the doorway however was Finn. "Piper, there are a couple people waiting in your room that wanted to talk to you...."
Finn trailed off as he glanced between Aerrow and I with one of his eyebrows raised in question. I just ignored his obvious amusement that Aerrow's arm was wrapped around my shoulder. Moving past the blond that was blocking part of the doorway, I was sort of pleasantly surprised that Aerrow decided to come along with me, his arm still around my shoulders. As we turned down one of the corridors in the main hallway that led to my room, I could just imagine Finn's mischievous grin now, but I tried to ignore it as the curiosity as to who could be waiting in my room to see me became overwhelming.
Walking into my room with Aerrow at my side a few seconds later, I was deeply surprised at the two people that were sitting on my bed. They had obviously noticed I had come in, as the man with bright, almost neon blue hair glanced up at me and hushed the woman next to him that had hair as black as the night sky.
The woman turned around to face me, and her golden eyes probed mine for a moment before she rushed towards me and swallowed me up in her embrace as she cried, "Oh Piper, it is you! I'm so glad you're safe!"
As she continued to hug me, I glanced at Aerrow for a second, but he seemed to be as confused as I was, but even more so. Looking behind the woman that held me in a death grip, I regarded the man with black hair, red eyes, and a slightly tanned skin colour like mine.
I blinked several times in shock as the man began to smile widely before I whispered in disbelief, "Dad?!??!"
Muhahahahahahha! Okay, don't spaz out at me just yet for the ending. As you all know, I've been discussing with another author on the site whether they'd like to write the final story in the series, APAH: Reunions, Disent, and New Beginnings. At the moment, it sounds like they should be able to do so and we're just running through some ideas and such at the moment if you were all wondering about that....
Muhahahahahahha! Okay, don't spaz out at me just yet for the ending. As you all know, I've been discussing with another author on the site whether they'd like to write the final story in the series, APAH: Reunions, Disent, and New Beginnings. At the moment, it sounds like they should be able to do so and we're just running through some ideas and such at the moment if you were all wondering about that....
But anyways, what did you guys think of the final chapter? (Besides the fact it was agonizingly long?) I hope I managed to keep you interested enough to keep reading to the end so that you might actually stumble across this final author's note of mine....
Well, before I take my 'official' leave from the site, I'd just like to let you all know I really appreciate everyone's input about all of my stories this past year or so I've been on the site. A lot of you, whether you realized it or not, helped me become a better writer. Honestly, if you compare the first chapter of the original 'A Phoenix Among Hawks' to this chapter you just read, you might just see a bit of a difference. Which reminds me. Before I stop writing stories here on the site, I'd like to ask for one final piece of input from you guys if you have time, do you like the 'new' writing style of sorts I've used for the past few chapters? You know, longer paragraphs and a tad more detail than usual? Or did my writing not really come across as different?
ANYWAYS! I'd just like to say again, thank you to everyone who's been so faithful in reading and reviewing, and critiquing me to help me improve. I'll still reply to any of the messages sent to me for awhile yet, so let me know if you need further explanations as to why I'm leaving the site. I'm willing to elaborate on any points I didn't make completely clear in my profile.
Well, so long all!