There was a screech of wind before the air sucked itself up from the room. Without warning, the windows of the ballroom shattered violently. Top Hats flew back as fire erupted out of the sky and landed hard on the marble before Lucy.
“W-what the-” Lucy whispered in disbelief.
Before the dragons, pulsed three gorgeous phoenixes covered in molting flames. Their wings each spread out to protect the shocked girl. Each had a different pattern of feathered plumbs spiraling deep into their bodies, but their colours were all of the same fire. Orange, red, and gold flickered together to form the pure birds of flames. Their smooth black beaks opened to give warning to the dragons. Yet, instead of hearing pitches and clicks, like the others heard, Lucy felt their voices melt into words.
“You dare challenge us?” the leading phoenix demanded.
The dragon’s leader growled back, “That woman is an enemy of our Blood. You dare protect her!”
“She is our Blood,” the phoenix at the right snapped, her voice a step lower.
“You are the fools who attacked her,” the final phoenix bellowed, smoking puffing.
“We have no choice,” the dragon king motioned them to advance, pounding his wings.
“Nor we,” the head of the phoenixes replied coolly.
And then the fight erupted. The dragons tangled with the brilliant birds. Metal scattered in frightful slicing motions as the birds threw spirals of blue-flaming wind at the silver creatures.
Top Hats shouted to their apprentices to fall back as they surrounded the scene while Winston gave orders to the men. Lucy didn’t hear a word of it. Lucy O’Rourke was frozen. Even from within all the heat, her body was stuck, her mind in a frosted shock.
“Move, Lucy!” her twin screamed as a dragon fell feet from her. She turned to look at him.
Was this really happening? Dragons, she had heard of, yes. But phoenixes? The true phoenixes . . .they hadn’t been seen for hundreds of years. They had become a myth. Why could she hear them talk? What did they mean by Blood? Thousands of spiraling thoughts tearing through her head.
Sparks flew as the creatures launched wings against wings – claws against claws. Shrieks and war cries rang from both as Top Hats sealed the doors to protect their assistants from the hazardous situation. No one had expected this.
“Move that stupid girl!” Winston roared.
Yet as soon as Top Hat neared, one of the phoenixes would turn from their battled and send a wave of sparks cascading towards them.
“This is too dangerous!” Vaan shouted, coming up the stairs.
“Bloody hell, Vaan! We can’t do anything, until we know for sure if it was her who called them.”
“Sod your order,” he growled before taking off back down the stairs. Vaan rushed straight into the heat and flame.
“Vaan! Have you gone mad?!” Winston yelled.
He didn’t respond but continue to run towards the fiery beasts, knowing what he must do. Hot metal flew and spirals of flames were thrown, yet Vaan artfully dodged them all. Not a scratch on him, not even a singed string. Gracefully, the disguised man circled about, withdrew what looked to be a baton from his coat pocket, and began to defend himself from swinging tails. His face snapped over to Lucy. Even with the scarf covering his face, the petite girl swore she could make out the faintest smirk inching along his face. He crouched low before springing up high and fast.
The middle phoenix turned to try and defend, only to be met with a sharp hit to the beak as Vaan vaulted himself over the great bird. He landed effortlessly on the other side and pulled the girl in a tight hold, baton crossing over her neck.
“Stop!” he boomed.
The phoenixes snapped around the face the Top Hats, their eyes narrowing. The dragons ceased their attack, waiting patiently for their next order.
“You dare challenge us, Blood of Dragons?” the leader of the birds hissed.
“Come now, it’s not like the half-wit men even know what we are saying,” the other phoenixes added. “They’ve forgotten all about us long ago.”
“I do, and I can,” he responded calmly. “And you have forgotten your manners it would seem.”
“You can hear them too?!” Lucy gaped.
“What do you mean ‘hear them’-” He started.
“What is your order, Sir?” the dragon leader bowed.
“Return – leave the girl to me,” Vaan replied.
There was an unusual tension in the room. Finally the younger dragon spoke, “But sir-”
“That is my order!” He shouted.
The dragons nodded solemnly before wrapping their long tails about themselves. As their eyes closed, flames of green and black scales enveloped them into large shells. A bell from within the Clock Tower tolled three times. On the final ring, the scales shattered to the ground, turning to ash and the dragons were gone.
“And you,” Vaan turned to the birds. “Return to your home.”
“You are not Blood of my Blood,” the leader bird replied.
“No, perhaps not,” Vaan turned a knob on his baton. Suddenly the body of the stick shot off, revealing a sharp clean blade underneath it. “But from what I can gather, I have her life in my hands.”
The phoenixes shifted nervously, looking to each other.
“Return. Home.” The Top Hat commanded once more.
The leader stepped forward, and Vaan drew the blade closer to Lucy’s throat. The younger phoenixes screeched in dismay but the previous quickly raised its wings to silence them. Then, she once more turned to Lucy.
“Send us home,” she whispered to the trembling girl.
Lucy nodded, trying desperately to unravel the predicament. How could she send them home?! She didn’t even know how she got them here.
“Remember,” the same airy voice from before murmured in the distance of her mind. “Remember…”
Ever so carefully, the girl put her hand out to touch the bird’s beak. She inhaled deeply before softly blowing against the birds flames. Even as part of Vaan’s blade pinched her skin, she closed her eyes as the anxiety in her chest unwound.
The other two phoenixes drew near, as the soft touch from the girl’s breath fluttered over them, growing into a gentle breeze. They closed their eyes, and a soft hum from distant horns called them home. Their bodies became brilliant flames of starlight before they too turned to ash upon the ground.
Lucy opened her eyes, gasping for air. She quickly realized the twang of pain on her neck wasn’t letting up and quickly leaned into Vaan.
Top Hats gaped at the scene. Glass and cinders scattered on the floor, like an ancient mosaic pattern. The room was once more silent as the Top Hats took in everything that had happened.
“Are you a Lady?” Winston finally spoke.
“What?” Lucy managed stutter.
“A Lady of the Order,” he calmly added.
“I-I don’t think so,” she shook her head.
“Someone must have called those phoenixes then,” Winston crossed his arms. “Andrew, what is your mother’s maiden name?”
“Hardcastle,” her brother replied quietly, though his wide eyes never left his little sister.
Winston’s eyes flashed as the familiar name echoed within him. “James, go look it up,” he commanded.
A fair-haired youth bowed before sliding his lanky body through one of the doors on the balcony. A loud chatter came from the waiting apprentices before the door closed once again.
“Lewis, get your apprentice. I think it’s time Miss. O ‘Rourke said her goodbyes.”
Vaan moved his blade away and tucked it in his coat. “Sir, may I have a word.”
Winston motioned him to ascend the staircase, and Lucy turned to watch Lewis beckon to her twin.
“You may say goodbye to your brother, Miss. O’Rourke. It will be the last time you shall ever see him,” the leader of the Top Hats announced.
Lucy rushed to Sebastian, throwing her arms around him. She tried to hold herself together as her world shattered around her.
“I’m sorry, Lulu,” Sebastian whispered, holding her tight.
She had failed everyone. If only she had fought harder. If only she had been stronger.
A door opened from the balcony and men turned, expecting James. Instead a Top Hat with an arrogant waltz to his step walked in, his arm draped over a cloaked boy.
“I brought the new boy,” the sly blue-eyed man smirked.
“Sir,” Vaan started. “I think the girl is of much more importance to us than you realize.”
“Hold your thought, Vaan. Let me welcome our newest Top Hat.”
“Let me go!” yelled the boy, ripping his arm away.
Lucy’s eyes widened and she quickly released her twin.
“No,” she mouthed.
“Lucy?” Sebastian asked.
“Spirited boy,” Winston noticed. “What is your name?”
“My name is Adrian,” the curly haired boy puffed. ” I’m not afraid of you!”
“Your eyes would say otherwise, boy,” chuckled the Top Hat.
“No!” shrieked Lucy. “You can’t! Don’t take him away from me! I won’t let you!”
She turned to run at them, but Andrew promptly grabbed her wrist to hold her back.
“Lucy?” Adrian tried to dash to her, but Winston quickly latched onto him. His struggle was in vain.
“Another brother?” Winston exclaimed. “Good Lord, the O’Rourkes are a hardy bunch.”
“Stay there, I will come get you,” the sister told her younger brother, twisting her arms desperately. “Let go!” she growled.
“Lucy, he has to go. He has no choice,” the eldest tried to explain. “It’s in his blood.”
“Bollocks. What on Earth are you talking about?” she snapped, glaring at her prison keeper.
“Would you just listen. Stop fighting and just listen!” He shook her hard until she was still.
Winston watched on as the other Top Hats turned away from the scene. This was a personal matter and they had no business to mettle.
“Our father was a Top Hat, Lulu.”
Lucy didn’t speak as the wheels in her head finally began to process the information.
“That’s why he left all those years ago. Mum knew that. She had always known that,” Andrew continued. “Just as she knew what would happen to us. Every son fathered by a Top Hat is to become one.”
“No,” Lucy whispered, trying frantically to hold onto her tears. “Please, don’t take him too,” she cried.
“We have to. It is our duty.”
Her stomach wound tightly around the pain – the loneliness.
“Say goodbye to your brothers, Lucy O’Rourke. A deal is still a deal.”
Lucy bowed her head, her curls covering her face. No. No, this wasn’t it. This wasn’t the end! Her tears began to fall, collecting onto the marble floor.
“Sir,” Vaan commanded. “This isn’t a good idea,” he pressed.
“What the bloody hell are you going on about?” Winston growled back.
A spark. A spark lit deep within her heart. Lucy’s body once more filled with fire. This time, however, the fire was her own.
“No,” she hissed before Vaan could finish. “I won’t let you take him away from me.”
A strength unlike anything she had felt before coursed through her blood. And though she couldn’t see it, she was changing right before the men’s eyes. No one could look away from it. Flames hissed off her skin as her red locks began to flutter and turn a brilliant shifting orange. Her amber eyes flickered into a stunning gold. Lucy’s clothes burnt away as smoke settled into an airy silk dress twisting with the cool winter wind.
Soon her heat became unbearable even for Andrew to hold, and Lucy was able to twist out of his grasp. With a sudden lightness of foot, she was next to Winston in a matter of seconds, shocking the room of gentlemen. Lucy tore his hand from her brother and drew the frightened thirteen year old to her. Blue flames engulfed them, bringing no pain to the pair but sent all others back from the stinging light.
“You’ve taken away all I’ve had,” she cried, tears still falling. “You don’t think of that when you snatch them away into the night. You don’t think of the families ruined, the loved ones lost, the pain of it all!”
The flames flared as her speech continued.
“You’ve taken away all I’ve ever loved, and now – now death is taking away the one person I love the most. I’m all alone, and I’m scared. I’m scared of what the world is going to bring to me. I don’t want to lose my little brother. He’s all I have left. You’ve taken away two of them already. Must you take away the other?”
“Lucy,” Sebastian called from below. “You aren’t alone. You’ll never be alone.”
Lucy shook her head and held tight to Adrian. “You left me, just like Andrew left. I can’t- I can’t believe you.”
“Lucy,” Andrew shouted. “It’s okay. You can trust him.”
“But why should I trust you? You broke my heart!” She admitted for the first time since he left. More tears bubbled up as the emotions from long ago finally released.
“Lucy,” Adrian whispered, tugging at her arms. “It’s okay.”
Lucy looked at her young brother. His eyes were sincere and genuine. They were wordless as the siblings spoke through the silence. And then she knew, he wasn’t lying to her. He couldn’t even if he tried. She could still trust Adrian, she had to trust him. Her mind calmed as a her shoulder fell and breath slowed.
“We’ll be okay. You aren’t alone,” he nodded as her arms gradually released him. “We will always have one another.”
“We will,” she softly repeated, and the flames slipped away, vanishing into the air. The world around her began to fade in and out as her head grew lighter and the voices around her grew distant.
Lucy’s body returned to normal and her silk smoke became singed rags against her pale skin.
“We’ll be ok,” she muttered once more before her eyes rolled back and she collapsed. Vaan pushed past Winston to awkwardly catch the unconscious girl before she hit the ground.
“As I was trying to say,” he explained. “I believe the girl is of quite some value to us. After all, she is none other than the Lady of Dawn.”
©2016 E. M. Vick