Author's Note: Aren't you proud of me? I have finals next week, as in giant tests that are 20% of my grade, and I'm still taking my precious weekend study time to write you this chapter. That's how much you readers all mean to me—I absolutely hate waiting for the next chapter, so out of the kindness of my heart, I'm making sure you don't have to suffer.
So people who have reviewed: Hawk-Masters, LethoBion, MageofMusic, She who must not be named, and Love Shall Never Die: thank you so much. For the other people reading this (yeah, the ghost readers), if you don't mind, I'd love to hear what you think. I have anonymous reviews enabled. Just think of me suffering through giant two-hour tests and send me a message to cheer me up.
Disclaimer: As always, I own nothing. Credit to where it is due—Nerd Corps for Storm Hawks, Hawk-Masters for the Oktober Guard.
Dawn came, but unlike the legends that everything became okay with the new light, instead, dawn only saw more problems.
For one, there wasn't any actual light. The Storm Hawks all woke up at six to do their various chores around the Condor, and when it was still pitch black at 8:30 in the morning, they knew that something had to be wrong.
Shadows surrounded Terra Yorkia so tightly that they blacked out the natural light from the sun.
Aerrow tried to maintain his appearance of responsibility and leadership, but it was obvious that he was grasping at straws. In reality, he was terrified. He had seen battles, he had seen Shadows, and he had seen what these Shadows could do. Being realistic, the most likely outcome was the death of him, all of his friends, and this entire Terra in one of the most gruesome ways imaginable.
Piper seemed to trust that everything was going to be okay in the end, but Aerrow couldn't tell if she was hopelessly naïve or lying to herself because it was easier than the truth. Stork was convinced, as always, that they were doomed. Junko was hopelessly naïve, and Finn seemed to wrapped up in Starling to notice.
Was he really the only one worried?
Cyclonis brushed past him, a perfect vision of calm and control. He opened his mouth to ask where she was going, but she cut him off before he could speak. "Aerrow, if you could, please, I need and audience with whatever governing council oversees Terra Yorkia. Please, it's pertinent for all of their survival."
Aerrow considered protesting, but realized it was futile. It was not her fault that she loved Dark Ace. It was not her fault that he wasn't good enough. It certainly wasn't her fault that he was feeling all these pangs on anger and jealousy directed at the Cyclonian duo. It was short fallings on his character, he had decided.
Nothing could mar her perfection in his eyes.
"Dark Ace and I are going to go see what we can do about the light situation."
Light. He remembered once distinctly thinking of her as his sun, as his light. Now Dark Ace crept behind her everywhere like her shadow. Shadow. He was a Shadow, but not the bad kind. He was her Shadow, and she was an angel. She had nothing in common with the darkness corrupting Atmos except for the ability to defeat it. And he made her happy, so Aerrow couldn't just hate him, only envy him. Aerrow would have given anything to be in his place, to offer his own life to save hers, to share with her the strange and mystical powers and more importantly, the burdens.
"Aerrow? Are you okay?"
By now, the smitten boy was staring at the empty doorway.
"Yeah, I'm fine, Piper, really," he replied halfheartedly, then shook his head like a wet dog. "Come on, we've got a conference with the Merchants' Council to arrange."
In the small time it took Cyclonis to reach the force-field generators and begin to modify them, Dark Ace did not speak. Instead, he was lost in his own thoughts.
He knew he had no right to dump his own insecurities on her, especially when she was struggling to valiantly against the dark, and the Shadow. She had never given him any reason to doubt, any reason to wonder, any reason to feel this way.
Still, it wasn't easy not to feel angry, to feel that deep twisting in his guts that he had rarely experienced before…
That Sky Knight brat—no, his friend Aerrow—but how could he be a friend if he was so willing to backstab—but he couldn't think of Aerrow like that, not when it had taken so long to break the old habits, the old Cyclonian mindset—
When Aerrow looked at his Lark like that—
And when she spoke to him, smiled at him, soothed him, pretended like nothing was wrong! She was actually polite to him!
"Dark Ace, I didn't know you doubted me so much."
Dark Ace glanced up, shocked. The first thing he realized was he no longer needed an illumination crystal to see her beautiful face: the delicate features, the high cheekbones, the small, cute, sharp nose, the soft violet eyes…
She had brought light back to the world, and in an ingenious way, too; somehow, she had rigged the shielding crystals to make the force field glow brightly, creating artificial sunlight on the entire terra.
The second thing that flashed through his mind was, 'How in the world did she know what I was thinking?'
"Telepathic connection, remember?"
He sighed. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to worry you. I didn't mean to burden you any more, but if you already know…" he trailed off. "Lark, do you love Aerrow?"
Cyclonis cocked her head to the side, then answered in both thoughts and verbally, with words and emotions, so he knew she wasn't lying.
I do love Aerrow. I love his as much as I love the nameless children, the civilians whom we risk our lives for every day to save. I love him more than that. I love him like family, like a brother.
But the friendship, the companionship, the compassion I feel for him, is nothing compared to what I feel for you.
If I was given the choice to save myself or the world, I would choose to save the world. If I were given the choice to save Aerrow or save the world, I would choose to save the world.
But if I were given the choice to save you or the world…
You are my world. You mean more to me than this entire universe. I would not know how to choose.
The Dark Ace smiled, and for the first time in days, she truly smiled in return.
Starling was the one who escorted the Cyclonian couple to the meeting room. As the two stared, wide-eyed, at the mobs of people crowding the lobby which they had to practically swim through, Starling hastily explained, "We had to pull all the string we could to get this. Businesspeople all around are bombarding the place with requests to reopen trade, which is, of course, out of the question with the Shadow siege. Only the fact that we were Sky Knights stopped us from getting thrown out of the building, and I had to radio my father—he runs one of the most influential law firms in the Atmos—to get us a hearing on such short notice." They reached the door, and the purple-haired Sky Knight pushed it open and held it for them.
Cyclonis and Dark Ace walked through, to see a long, informal looking table covered in documents of all sort. Sitting around were various representatives from the terra.
"Governing officers of Terra Yorkia," Cyclonis greeted them, "I am here today because your Terra faces a serious problem. You are completely seiged by Shadows."
The room burst into chatter, each arguing their opinion loudly yet none being heard. Finally, the head banged his mallet and called for order. "We do not need you to tell us your problems. If you have a solution, offer it here and now."
"Cyclonian supply ships are ready with food. Give us permission to land, and we will fight our way through the Shadows to distribute free provisions to your people."
The room burst into clamor again. Some people seemed all for it, but there were shouts of,
"And what's in it for you?"
"We don't want your filthy Cyclonian food!"
"What's next, we take your food, we have to sign your treaty? Is this how you seduced all those other Terras?"
The noise was cut short, not by the mallet, but by the sound of an explosion. The Merchants' Council rushed to the small window of their second-floor room to see the streets below.
It was covered in people, angry people, who were all throwing rocks at the town hall and holding various posters. A gang of teenagers had managed to explode a garbage can, causing all the noise.
Angry shouts wafted up, such as, "Get these Shadows away from us!"
"My children and crying, hungry!"
"We need Cyclonian protection!"
"We're one of the few remaining free Terras, and we're the ones being attacked by Shadows! I say this is all a Cyclonian conspiracy!"
Cyclonis walked to the window, amplifying her own voice as she addressed the mob. "People of Terra Yorkia. I have been discussing the problem with your government officials, and food and supplies are on their way from Cyclonia. I swear, as long as I still breathe, I will do all I can to protect you from this Shadow threat. I expect nothing in return, but I do request that you all return calmly to your homes so that your leaders may decide the best way to resolve this."
Cyclonis turned back to her friends. "We need to get out of here. We need some advice, and we need to get the Shadows off our backs as quickly as possible. We need to talk to Minerva."
The Storm Hawks caught Minerva just as she was boarding up her shop. One window was broken, and covered with some cloth and tape. All the merchandise was gone.
"What's going on?" Piper asked, confused.
"Desperate times call for desperate measures. People have been stealing crystals in an effort to protect themselves. I have to lock up all my merchandise." Then, Minerva caught sight of Cyclonis, and her eyes hardened. "You dare show your face here?" the old woman spat, suddenly furious.
"What do you mean?" Cyclonis replied. As far as she could tell, she had done nothing wrong.
"What are you trying to pull here? Are we just another addition to your empire? Does democracy really mean nothing to you?" Minerva's cheeks were tinted red and her lips pinched together tightly.
"What are you talking about?" Cyclonis demanded, her own fury rising up within her.
"That stunt you pulled with the crowd, pretending that the Council had authorized you to help when they really had not. I know what you're trying to do."
"Oh, really?" Cyclonis shot back. As much as she tried to repress it, she was angry, and hurtful things were spewing from her mouth. "Tell me your newest cracked-up conspiracy theory. It involves me taking over the world, right, and sentencing everyone to a lifetime of slavery. Has it ever occurred to you that I might just want to help people? Has it ever occurred to you that I just want what's best for everyone?"
Cyclonis advanced forward, never breaking gaze with the woman, until she was forced to look away. Cyclonis continued her rant as Minerva stared at her shoes. "No, of course not. You would prefer that I let this entire Terra starve than try to help them."
Minerva sighed, looking up. There was something strange in her eyes, and when she spoke, her voice was a bit broken. "No, you're right. I should not have doubted you. The people cannot starve."
Cyclonis nodded apologetically, then turned to the rest of the Storm Hawks. "We cannot let these Shadows and their threat force us to fight among ourselves. I say, let's go face the real enemy. Let's defeat these Shadows before it can become a bigger problem!"
"Oktober Guard? What are you doing here?"
Colonel Brekov stood, back turned, to the Cyclonian and his Storm Hawk friends. He was briefly disappointed that the girl-child, their Master Cyclonis, was not with them. He stepped forward over a body, giving it no regard. Actually, on the floor were many masked corpses.
"You killed the Shadowmen?" Piper stuttered. "I thought you worked for them. Why?"
He whirled around, and all of them flinched at the ice in his gaze. "Don't you get it, little girl? I don't work for anybody. I just kill those who get in my way." He smirked. "And you're in my way." He pulled out a handgun, and fired eight quick shots. Aerrow, Piper, Stork, Junko, Finn, and Starling all sunk to the ground. Dark Ace was faster, dodging the first, but the second caught him in the calf. He toppled over, rolling and coming up with his blade, ready to fight.
Brekov sneered, then raised his gun and fired at point-blank range.
The one they called Master Cyclonis stood in the doorway, mouth open, shocked. Brekov grinned and nodded perfunctorily as a greeting. Then, he tossed the gun down and stalked towards her, unsheathing his sword.
"Bullets might not work on you, but when steel goes up against magic, steel always wins." Cyclonis stared at the corpse of her lover, in complete shock, not even realizing what was happening.
That was, until she felt a sharp pain in her chest. She glanced down, seeing a blade of steel, then reached to touch it.
Blood, crimson blood, against her pale white skin.
She smiled softly, then started to chuckle, until her hysterics caused her to cough and she hacked up blood, then she fell to the floor. Her body jerked in convulsions, spreading the crimson puddle far, until suddenly, she was still.
Brekov kicked the body over, and yanked his sword out.
What made someone human wasn't their morals, or their compassion. It wasn't their ability to love.
It was their ability to die.
Lark Cyclonis's corpse on the floor proved for once and for all that she, too, was only human.
Brekov didn't know, but when Misha had the crew of Ukrainian scientists update the Novisgrod with all the latest technologies, she also requested security cameras everywhere.
After all, it was for their own safety.
And it was for their own safety that she was up here checking on everyone.
Most of the crew, especially the rookies, were asleep. Red Star, Krimov, and the rest of that gang were lying in the common room, all passed out, in puddles of booze and vomit.
Misha forced herself to check on the patrollers, making sure that all were doing their rounds, and look for any intruders, before she finally did what she had come up here in the first place to do. This was the real reason the security cameras had been installed.
Brekov was sleeping. He thrashed a bit, as if wrestling with his bedcovers, then a look of bliss came upon his face and he relaxed back to sleep. She wondered briefly what he was dreaming about, then decided, knowing him, that she didn't want to know.