Hailstorm – Stage Two

23: In the Wake of Ruin

"I can't believe we're here again!" Zhanna exclaimed. "With you - he who has crashed one jet already - flying us out of danger! Actually, I can't even believe you saved me. I would have expected you to let me burn in that fire."

Hail growled at her, trying to concentrate on flying the jet as far away from Athena as possible. "Now is not the time Zhanna!"

He noticed her look down at the floor, sighing. "I'm sorry..." She got up and stumbled to the back of the carrier where the others were gathered. Micah was led down, Taras and Meredith employing the shreds of medical knowledge they had between them. A clean dressing had been wrapped round the wound, pressure still being given. They all knew that they needed to get him to a medical establishment. They all feared the worst but could not express it in words.

That was when a great sonic boom filled the sky, and knocked the carrier off kilter for just a moment. All the blue and cobalt in the sky was drained away, bleached in the purest white light Hail had ever seen. He had to shield his eyes from its intensity.

"It's coming from the Dome!" Connor shouted from the back window. "It's like an explosion."

Hail desperately tried to regain control of the flight. It seemed the whole world, for a moment at least, had been bathed in that white glow. If the Dome had exploded it must have involved Ruin, he thought. The glass on the front window was steamed up, and for a moment it seemed to fold and warp. He was scared of it cracking there and then, but it held steadfast, and soon they were far enough away from the heat to prevent any further danger.

Ruin… Were you still in there? Are you still alive?

He understood the extent of her powers, of her very mortality, but could she have survived such an earth wrenching moment? Surely every part of her being would have disintegrated? He shook his head, turning the carrier and following the dashboard compass south. If she had died, then Nemesis had died with her.

As they flew, disturbed flocks of birds swept past, crying out in fear. The light was only just beginning to dim, and Hail could see flecks dancing in his vision, an after image of the explosion.

"How is he holding up?" he called back.

"The bleedings letting up," Taras sighed, "a little. He needs help; trained help."

Vetra let out a whimper, pushing her teary face against Micah's cold neck. She was helpless, and Hail felt responsible. After all, it was partly his fault that Micah had become entangled in their crusade. But Vetra freed me in the first place… he grimaced. It was a vicious circle not worth thinking about.

An intangible thought suddenly occurred to him. And suddenly it was – like an epiphany plucked from the heavens. You saved us, didn't you…? You sacrificed yourself. Well Ruin, thank you. I guess that's what you meant when you said it was coming to an end. You foresaw this day… Unless… He chewed his bottom lip, shadows crawling into his mind. Unless you meant Micah too…

The sky had not fully recovered when they landed in the coal mining town of Namé. The explosion had touched the very clouds and pushed them away, and now they formed a circle like crater in the sky, pushed back into a ring. It was an unusual sight to behold, especially as evening began to fall and the Halo crossed over the wispy wraith like phenomenon.

Hail had managed to land the jet, and no sooner had they touched the ground, Taras alongside Vetra rushed Micah out and followed Zhanna's directions to the nearest medical centre. Vetra was still clinging to the tattered shreds of hope that seemed to dance about in the air. She would catch them, and she would repair them. This was not over, not by a long shot.

When they entered, Taras went ahead and explained the situation. Vetra dully heard a medic congratulate them on their actions, in applying pressure and binding the wound. He told them that it was serious, but that Micah would be taken straight into surgery. They were welcome to sit and wait.

And that was what they did. They sat and waited for a painful eternity. Vetra didn't move, staring at the walls vacantly. She felt utterly lost. Taras was anxious, shifting about on his seat every few moments.

"That light… could you feel her?"

Vetra turned to him and stared for a moment. "I think so… it was like watching a flame go out. A flickering candle flame dying of the light…"

Taras was crying through his glasses, she could tell as they were steaming up. "She's dead… She's dead and she tried to save us all."

Vetra shook. "All of us. He'll live, he won't die. She saved all of us."

He nodded absently.

"That book you're writing. It's going to be a tragedy, no?"

Taras tilted his head in thought. "I don't think so. I don't think Ruin's actions were tragic."

"Perhaps you're right."

A medic suddenly burst from the double doors. The way he looked at Vetra told her that he had news. She couldn't judge his expression – was it good or bad? It seemed Micah's life rested in this nondescript man's words. Vetra's heart tumbled.

Hail knew that he could not sit and wait on news of Micah's health. He would find out when the time came. He meant nothing heartless by it, but he had waited too much in his life, and there were other things he felt compelled to do.

After exiting the carrier, Zhanna hadn't left immediately. She had lingered, clearly unsure of what to do. Finally, she took off, but when he attempted to follow she didn't try and stop him. They wended their way through the darkening streets, the talk of the town rife with gossip on the great light that had swallowed the sky.

Ruin's light…

Finally they mounted a short hill and came to a cemetery. Hail's heart sank, knowing where she was heading. He couldn't keep his eyes off the bump. That was his baby. The thought sent shockwaves of both joy and fear through his body.

Zhanna stopped at a gravestone, and sat down in front of it. She brushed her hand against the cold stone.

Here lies Leo Byron. A friend, a lover, a hero. R.I.P.

"So this is Leo," Hail said quietly.

She didn't turn to him. There was anger in her silence; the very air seemed to crackle like static. It was still a far cry from the doorstep of her house, beaten away under the moonlight. Not that he couldn't forgive – he had deserved it. He had deserved more than he had got.

"I won't stop you from seeing your child," she suddenly said.

He gave a start, surprised by her admission. "And I wouldn't fight it if you stopped me. It's your choice."

"Don't be stupid," she snapped, standing up and facing him. It was the first time he'd gotten a good look at her since she had left on the ice fields. Memories seeped back, slowly. Some calm. Some more rude and interceptive, like the thought of their encounter in Belmere. She was beautiful. He had always known that. "You always were stupid, Hail. As if I'd prevent you from seeing your own baby. Things will never be right between us – but I'm not evil."

"I know you're not," he replied softly.

Micah smiled up at Vetra. She kissed him over and over, crying with tears of joy.

"Thank the Myth itself," she whispered, "Thank the Myth that you're alive."

"I'm alive," he said. "And I'm just glad we can finally return home."

She nodded. "We have so much to discuss, so much to plan. It's all over Micah, it's finally over!"

"I can feel the warm sands calling to us… And Vetra. I kept to our vow didn't I?"

She nodded fervently. "It was an unbreakable vow." He grinned. "Of course you did."

He stroked her hair. There was a little pain, dull and throbbing, but it didn't matter. Flesh healed. "I had a dream Vetra."

His words had sounded so serious, that they took her by surprise. She grabbed his hand and listened.

"The girl in the flames… Ruin. She came to me and told me that she was safe. She told me to pass it onto the others, to tell them not to worry."

Vetra's eyes glistened with wonder.

"She said that she'll return."

"If father sees you, he'll kill you. You know that?"

Hail nodded. "Don't worry. I won't be around for long. I need to see Athena – I need to work out what happened."

Something in his words irked her, and she turned away, staring intently at a plume of smoke rising from a nearby workshop. "You want to find Ruin I suppose?"

He raised an eyebrow. "What do you mean by that?"

"Well… it's not like I care about your relationships."

He let out a gasp of shock. Was that what this was all about? I… I can't even… "Relationship? You've got my feelings completely wrong. I can't believe how badly you've misjudged this."

"Can't you? Well go then. Go back to Athena and find her, I don't care. Your child will be here. If you ever come back that is." She was crying now. He couldn't believe what was happening. Where had this jealousy come from? How long had she been harbouring such resentment?

"Ruin was like a commander to me… a military leader. Maybe I even saw her as a big sister. That was it. That was what I felt. You've got it all wrong."

She swallowed, putting a hand to her face miserably.

"Truly, I'm sorry Zhanna…" An uncomfortable silence passed between them. A glint of orange on the horizon heralded the final descent of the sun, and the coming of night. The clouds had begun to disperse again, moving back into a more natural arrangement. It seemed life had restarted, all triggered by Ruin's sacrifice. He acted on impulse. His mind was clearer than ever after his fight against the past, and he knew what he had to do. He knew what his heart was telling him.

"I know I can never be Leo," he said, "and I know that a part of you will never forgive me. But I want you to know Zhanna. I…" he stopped talking and looked into her eyes. Her features softened. He moved forward and gently pulled her into his arms. When she didn't resist, he put a hand to her face, stroking her cheek. "I love you Miss Ordina."

The tears kept falling, but their intention changed. "I kept asking… should I allow myself to feel this way? Ruin was a barrier in my head – a justification for refusing to accept how I felt. But I know Leo would have wanted me to finally be at peace, and to finally be happy."

He smiled. "It's going to be tough… but we'll get there."

"I know we will Hail." She looked up at him, and then they shared a kiss under the evening sky, the purest light in the world just a memory…

To Be Continued...

A/N: I'll say everything I've got to say next time... only the epilogue to go guys! I look forward to your reviews, and I'll hopefully have the epilogue up within the next few days (which will include every main character – don't worry, I won't forget anyone)! Goodbye Hailstorm, I'm going to miss you :(

© Luke Frayling, 2010

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