Monarch felt the wind rattle against his beat-up F-15XE, seeping its way into his cockpit as he slightly nudged the aircraft into a turn inland. His body felt tired, aching, strained from the constant Gs he pulled in the dogfight against Crimson 1.
Red lightning splashed beside his cockpit, narrowly missing his right wing as he levelled the aircraft back to the highway base. Taking the moment, he inspected the beat-up plane; his left wing was intact besides the many bullet holes that littered it, his right rudder on the tail was non-existent, and his right-wing was barely holding together. All in all, he summed it up as getting off lucky. Looking backwards, he checked on Prez only to realise he was flying a single-seater plane, shaking his head at the habit.
Glancing outside his cockpit as he left the airspace of Presidia, only then did he fully witness the destructive power that Crimson wrought against the city. Buildings lay collapsed in the streets, the magma eating away against its foundations as former Federation and Cascadians were left to rot in the aftermath.
Is this what you truly fought for? Millions dead in seconds, and a calamity to claim a million more.
Monarch shook his head, the adrenaline finally wearing off. Glancing at the plane's instruments, he ran a brief skim over the details before landing on the fuel gauge, the small arrow resting on empty.
Bingo fuel, I wonder how far I have before I land her.
He refocused his attention to flying before noticing the three small bullet holes that were punched into the side of the cockpit; he traced their trajectory until his eyes landed on himself. Small pools of red were already formed on his flight suit, which made him realise that the aching he felt was the three bullets that struck his body.
His eyes widened, his breathing spiked, his body shook in disbelief, dread, shock? He didn't know; the grip on the flight stick slowly began to slack as the situation hit him full front.
I'm not going to make it, not at this pace nor with these injuries.
Monarch started to get his breathing under control; he shifted his body slightly to the right, pain flaring through him as it protested against the movement. He can barely see Presidia over the horizon, but that wasn't what he focused on. Basking in the orange glow of the calamity, the ace pilot still saw the giant sphere in the sky, clouds pushed away from Crimson's final end.
"Monarch...when you hear the thunder...when the storm...comes for you...remember me."
Those last words of Crimson echoed through his mind as he focused his attention back to the front of his plane; already, he felt weak in his arms as his vision slowly darkened. He needed to land the aircraft, and fast before he really did plummet towards the earth.
Leaning to the side, he watched the ground below for a good landing spot. Rows of trees littered his vision as the plane slowly began to descend.
Come on, come on, you old bird, stay with m- There!
A small spot of highway was visibly empty besides some grass fields, with no hanging signs and barely any kind of vehicles in the way. He nudged his plane towards that direction, his vision still slowly becoming darker and darker as the effort of holding onto the flight stick grew.
Thinking ahead, he popped the canopy. Immediately he felt the full-frontal force of the wind, knocking his head back into the seat. Grunting in a mixture of effort and pain, he popped down the landing gear, the hydraulics audible over the rushing wind.
Maybe this was his saving grace, or the Dust Mother smiled upon him, but all 3 wheels of the aircraft lowered, and he roughly landed on the makeshift runway, the wheels screeching as he applied the brakes and what surely, he thought he could hear Prez yelling him about putting strain on it. But alas, he was alone, amid thunder and storm as he tiredly clambered over the side of the plane, having found what he looked for in the cockpit.
He landed in a heap, groaning in pain as he slowly propped himself against the front gear of the F-15, ripping off his flight helmet. Already he could feel the tongue lashing that Prez would give him about lazing around.
"Hey, what did I say about lazing around the foot of my plane!" Prez waved a wrench in front of his face, her oil-streaked face suggesting that she finished work on Dip's Mig.
He lifted the hat off the top of his head that shadowed his eyes, scoffing a little, "Just having a little nap, Mecchy." before promptly lowering the hat and going back to sleep.
Prez blinked once, twice, before slowly raising the wrench in her hand high above her head.
"I wouldn't try that unless you wanna repair a dent out of my head or the front gear for that matter. Unless, you really do like seeing my mop of brown hair?" Monarch grinned as Prez started to stammer incoherent sentences, which quickly morphed into a sly grin as she raised the wrench once more.
Contrary to his status in the air, Monarch quickly raised his hands to cover his face and cower in fear as he thought she'd actually follow through with what he said. This was soon replaced as Prez's laughter entered his ears; he slowly lowered his hands, revealing the smile on her face and what he couldn't get out of his mind for the following days.
He briefly smiled, reliving the memory as his vision slowly faded.
Monarch glared at the nose of his plane, a small doodle of himself in his helmet with the oxygen tube stuck inside of a coffee pot and both hands holding the edge of the table with a "Monarch, no!" just above the doodle, rested to the right of the front landing gear. His face grimaced, it was one time that he did that, but his squadron members jested about it all the same. With a resigned sigh, he began to reach for a pen in his left breast pocket before being knocked forwards, a weight around his shoulders as he nearly banged his head against the airframe.
"Woah, Jesus!" he exclaimed, whirling around only to meet Prez's grinning face, who unwrapped her arms around his shoulders. She sauntered her way to the doodle, tapping her index finger beside it.
"This right here, O'champion in the sky and wrath drinker of the coffee pot. Is a... Let us say a small gift, just from your mechanic and the rest of Hitmen team who decided on the idea."
"Really? What's next, inside of my plane. I'll find a small compartment of a drawn cat and some Kilroy?"
Prez sheepishly rubbed the back of her neck.
"Oh, Dust Mother"
"It's not that bad, Monarch. If anything, it'll help you keep a memory, or something. You never really did say anything about your past as a Cascadian did you? Well, besides your time in the academy."
"And not like I do know yours, Robin."
Monarch took a glance at the small box in his hand, weakly raising it to barely eye level before cradling it towards his chest, closing his eyes. His breathing grew more laboured before eventually, the king who usurped an imposter off his shattered throne and rightfully took it amid a ruined city. Breathed his last.
Dip gazed upwards; already a few days after the fall of Presidia, the weather had started to clear. Not much, but manageable enough that it didn't impede travel. He wrinkled his nose before glancing backwards to Eve leaning against a tree while quietly sipping a water bottle they looted an hour ago.
"Do you think Monarch made it back to base?" Dip asked Eve, who screwed the cap back to the bottle, stashing it away into her pack.
"I'm sure he did, it's not like our top ace of the team could be brought down... right?" Dip let out a chuckle
"Yeah, you're probably right." shaking his head, he continued the trek back to the highway base, clearing the forest and trudging up a small hill beside the highway. Once reaching the top, he raised a hand above his eyes, shielding it away from the glare of the sun as he inspected the highway.
Abandoned vehicles littered the road as he swept his gaze over it. Seeing nobody, he turned around to Eve before doing a double-take. Just off in the distance, he could barely make out the base of a plane's tail.
"Hey Eve, I think I found something of interest" he squinted his eyes, trying to get a better view of who it belonged to but was blocked by some brush.
"What did you find, Peter?" Eve stood beside him, following his gaze into the brush before spotting what he was looking at. She shifted herself to his right, moving a few paces before widening her eyes.
"Pete, That's Monarch's plane. I can see his emblem!" Then, with one glance at each other, they both took off in a sprint, Eve nearly stumbling once she reached the base of the hill with Dip. They both swatted away the brush and low-hanging branches before clearing the highway's railing.
They both paused, taking in the extent of damage Monarch's plane took in his fight against Crimson. Dip whistled, running a finger against the airframe as he individually counted each and every bullet hole it sustained before his foot bumped into something.
He looked down at what his foot bumped into, eyes widening into saucers as his mouth turned slack.
"Hey Pete, did you see any sign of Mon-" Eve rounded the nose of the plane, taking in the form of Dip on his knees as he trembled. Her eyes slowly turned to the body, her mind refusing the possible outcome, but alas, the truth sat in front of her.
She slowly walked forwards, tears already pricking her eyes as she kneeled in front of Monarch's corpse, his eyes closed and nearly looking peaceful. She spotted the small patches of blood on his uniform, which already made a small puddle around him. She noticed how his hands were cradling something close to his chest.
"I'm... sorry, Monarch. For this," she reached forwards, slowly opening his hands in respect as the small box that was in the palm of his hands revealed itself.
Comic quietly grabbed the box, knowing already what the contents were without opening it. She remembered Monarch's habit of writing small letters and stuffing them into his breast pocket before sorties. Reaching inside, she pulled out two bloodied letters, with the other being an unbroken seal, unfurling the letter that didn't have a seal, she read the contents of it.
If you are reading this and have found it off my corpse. I don't need to say what happened. I'll try to keep this brief. Thank you, Peter and Eve, for being the best wingman I could ever ask for. And I'm sorry if I can't be there. I would have loved to see you both leave Sicario and wear a suit and dress. Though however, this. This is a personal request of mine. If you find a letter with an unbroken seal, look in the inside of my plane; I'll have a small compartment just above my left knee. Inside you'll find a small box. Would you please give both to Prez? And. And say that I'm sorry, for not being unable to be there.
in dear regards
This was the final straw, Comic openly wept. Diplomat pulled her close, cradling her head against his chest as he too sobbed.
The pair didn't know how long they were in that position, but the sun above them had started to slowly set. Dip slowly ran his fingers through Comic's hair, comforting her. He took a glance at Monarch's corpse before off to a small hill.
"Come on, let's bury him. He doesn't deserve to be left out for vultures."
Together, they both carried his body to the small hill they came from. Using makeshift tools they crafted, they dug a hole and lowered him in before covering him up. Comic had gone back to the plane to recover his helmet; having retrieved it, she slowly lowered it onto the erected cross that was dug into the ground.
Backing away, Comic and Dip gave a crisp salute to Monarch's final resting place before reluctantly turning their backs and leaving, unwilling to deliver the news to Robin.