Chapter XIV: The New Deal

Lucy awoke to a gentle sunrise and a steady pounding against her skull.  She groaned, feeling every muscle tense in agreement.  She had no idea of where she was.  In fact, it took her a moment to remember all that had taken place.

Dragons…  Dragons and phoenixes.  Flames of amber, rubies, and ocean blue.  Then it all came rushing back.

Ever so slowly, the girl eased herself up from the day bed she had been laying on.

“Where on earth am I?” she muttered, allowing herself time for her headache to settle.

The room was all wooden with a simple rug of navy blue and matching drapes  for a tall window positioned in the corner.  There was a simple oil lamp on a small nightstand and a bare chestnut bookshelf.  The only comfort Lucy could find was the well-stitched down blanket she held that depicted ravens upon wires.  But even that was disheartening if she looked at it long enough.

“Hullo?” Lucy called out.

Nothing.  Not even an echo.

Carefully, she set her feet down onto the dark piece of carpet, testing her sore legs.  After a moment, she daringly stood and found her body decently in one piece.   She strode over to the window only to find herself higher up than she expected.  The Lynd’n embankment chimed awake as boats shifted along the shore.

“Bloody hell,” she murmured.  How in the world would she get out of here now?  She turned towards her bed once more and her eyes followed the small hall that lead to two doors.  One appeared to be the washroom, which left the final option.

Lucy tested the door only to find it locked.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” she hissed.  Lucy looked about the room until her mind ticked back to the bobby pins she had placed in her hair last night.

Quickly her hands flew to her mess of curls and found one still tucked in her tangle of thick locks.

“All those nights I used to sneak back in the house weren’t for nothing,” she grinned, pulling the pin apart.

The stubborn door finally opened after a few more bends of the pin and grunts from the girl.  She was met by a long and darkened hallway extending in both directions.

“Where on earth am I?” She sighed, gently closing the door behind her.  She was not in the mood to try and navigate through more mazes.

But it seemed that Lucy’s luck had finally returned.  There was not a soul in sight.  Taking a stab in the dark, she decided to go to the right.  Her eyes followed the dim flames as her ears picked up the distance of snoring men and boys from nearby doors.  She must have been in in the most secluded room of the sleeping quarters.  Yet not a person stirred.   Lucy looked about, seeing a coat of arms upon each door as great tapestries swayed above them.  They couldn’t have been anything but gifts from the Queen herself.  Who else could afford to give away beautiful images of mythology woven with golden threads.

There was a creak from the nearby corridor, and Lucy’s eyes snapped to it in fear.  Sure enough, a bleary eyed Top Hat was making his way up the steps on the way to bed.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” she growled before quickly ducking into a nearby dorm with the coat of arms of a green dragon wrapped in a red cape.

The room itself was a messy thing with four apprentices snoring away on bunk beds.  An odd odor came from a pile of clothes thrown near a window covered in black drapes.  They must have had the night shift seeing how they were splayed across their red linen sheets.  The bookshelf they had was stacked to the breaking point with hundreds of books and papers.  It was a well lived-in room.

Lucy sucked in her breathe and pressed her back to the door, listening intently for the sound of the Top Hat to pass.

“Bloody Weasel, causing mischief.  I could just pass out here,” grumbled the man on the other side of the door.

Lucy’s heart stopped as the pair of feet paused in front of the red caped dragon.  Lucy held her breath.

“Perhaps I should let the boy know I’m home,” the man debated.

Lucy scrambled to find a place to hide.  The door knob twisted as she sandwiched herself between the door and the wall.

Just as it was about to touch her shoulder, the Top Hat thought otherwise.

“Nah, let the boy sleep,” her resolved, pulling the door closed.

Lucy let out a sigh, feeling her whole body sink a tad further down the wall.  She just missed trouble by just a hair. Lucy listened desperately for the footsteps to fade.  It took just a few minutes, but it seemed like eternity.  Finally, she moved.

The hallway was once more abandoned.  Now was the time, to escape.  Or at least, so Lucy thought.

Even with her muscles whining at her to slow down, Lucy kept her pace brisk and frantic, taking care enough not to trip over her own sore feet.

Her steps echoed off the marble designed floors as her eyes glanced at the repeating symbol of the Society: an S curling around the T with a top hat in the in back of it all.  The long arches of the hall were domed.  At the top were gargoyles of all kinds of creatures glanced at the world below.  The reception desk was eerily empty, but Lucy wasn’t going to question it.  Her eyes snapped to her goal: two wooden doors, teasing her to enter.   Without hesitation, she ran to them.

Locked.

Lucy’s heart fell as she tried again.  Maybe she was weak?  Maybe she wasn’t given enough of a push.

“It’s locked,” an authoritative voice pointed out from the entrance to the ballroom.

Lucy spun to glare at Vaan as he placed his hands behind his back. “Let me go,” she demanded.

Vaan didn’t say a word, he simply turned and walked into the empty ballroom.  Lucy quickly followed, shouting, “Let me out!”

It wasn’t until they were in the middle of the room when he turned around, eyeing the girl, his glasses reflecting only light. “You don’t look like much, but appearances are always deceiving.”

“Seriously, you need to let me go,” Lucy growled back.

Vaan sighed and threw a hand across.  An unknown wind snapped from his wrist and slammed the door shut behind them.  “Do you honestly think we would simply let you walk out of here without a care in the world?”

Lucy clenched her hands into fists. She was sick of playing games.  “What do I need to do to leave, then? I don’t know if you remember, but my mother is sick.  Or are you also as heartless as your leader?”

Vaan causally adjusted his white gloved hands. “Oh it quite simple.  We duel and we make a deal.”

“Wha-?” Before Lucy could finish, Vaan was rushing for her, his fist aimed at her face.   Lucy quickly blocked only to be met with a blow to her waist.  “Bloody hell!” she screamed, collapsing.

Vaan spun his leg around to kick her.  She rolled just out of his reach.

“What is your problem?!” She yelled, quick to get up.

“Fight me,” he stated, as if it were as weightless as the air they breathed.

“No!”

“Then prepare to sleep another three days,” his voice warned.

“Excuse me?!” Lucy sputtered, defending against another attack her face. This time she also caught the second blow before it hit her waist.  However, she misjudged the character of Vaan.  He surprised her with a third assault this time tripping her and throwing her to the ground.  “Three days?” she coughed, desperately trying to regain her lost breath.

“Did I stutter?”

“You are,” she groaned as she stood back up, “ungodly rude.”

Vaan cracked his wrists. “And you are quite a poor fighter.”

Lucy’s temper flared and she went on the offense.  Unfortunately, her blows only met the air.

“Not to mention your fists are quite weak.  Try aiming across your chest,” he advised.

“Shut up!” she hissed, but found his idea to be true.

“Don’t drop them now,” he tisked.  “Or else your opponent can do this.”

Lucy didn’t have time to pick up her lowered arm before an open palm sailed in to slap her face.  She stopped and cursed at the stinging pain.  “What was that?!”

“And you’ve dropped your guard,” Vaan pointed out before grabbing her arm and easing her over his shoulder and crashing back onto the ground.

Tears jumped from Lucy eyelashes as she yelped at her sore muscles.  “I give.  I yield.  Just. . .stop.”

Vaan helped her back to her feet and she gave a sigh of relief.  It was over.

“Demons don’t play by the rules,” he said.  Lucy tried to pull away from him but he tossed her across the room, letting her skid on the surface of the marble.

“Stop it!” she flared.  She was exhausted, she was sore, and she was done with this!

“Or what?” He challenged.

Lucy screamed and ran at the Top Hat.  She drew her fist back and launched it forward.  As the wind hissed against it, flames of bright orange dance around her wrist.  Vaan stopped the blow, and locked her opposite shoulder.

“Look.”

Lucy did, and her jaw dropped.  What was this?  Her hand was on fire, and she didn’t even feel a thing.  If anything, it felt stronger.   She drew back arm, and the flames fizzled out.

“That, Lucy, is just a hint of your potential,” Vaan pointed out.

Lucy’s eyes dropped to the ground.  “I-I can’t.  I’m just a daughter of a seamstress.”

“You are the descendant of a Lady.  And your father is a Top Hat.  There is no escaping blood.”

“My mother is a seamstress,” Lucy repeated, when it hit her. “Mum, oh God, Mum!”

“It is too late, Lucy.”

“Excuse me?  According to you and your little Top Hats?” she snapped, angrily.  “How dare you!  You don’t even know what I’m going through.” She turned to leave.

“Lucy,” Vaan called.  “We haven’t come to our deal just yet.”

Lucy wrinkled her nose in disgust. “What deal?  I have no deal to make with you or your people.”

“It is the only way I will let you leave,” Vaan walked to her.

Lucy crossed her arms, “What do you want?”

“We will indeed allow you to leave.  We aren’t the monsters you seem to think of us.  In fact, you can go and see your mother and take care of everything you need to take care of, but only if you will give serious thought to working with us.”

The room was silence for a moment.

“And if I refuse to join?” She finally asked.

“Then we will leave you alone.  You can go on and live your life.  But you will never see your brothers again.  And we ask that must never go to the Ladies of the Order.  It would make matters. . .complicated.  But yes, you will be free to do what you’d like with the rest of your life.”

Lucy blew back the tops of her bangs. Her mind was fluttering over all the details.  She could be permanently stuck to her nightmare or lose her brothers. . .forever.

“Alright.  How long before I have to make my decision?”

“We will give you a month.  It should give you the necessary time you need,” Vaan said shortly.

“Necessary time before what?” Lucy’s eyes narrowed.

“Go to your mother, Lucy.”  Vaan sighed.  “Go before it is too late.”

His tone was so sincere, Lucy could feel her fear jumping up into her throat.

“You’re lying,” she whispered desperately. “She is going to get better.  She will get better!”  And yet as the poor girl tried to hide her true feelings, her body gave it away.  She was racing out of the ballroom in a matter of seconds.

The double doors opened easily the second time she tugged.  She didn’t even notice the receptionist peeking out from under his desk.  All that mattered to Lucy was that she made it home to that little flat on Pinacerney Circle.

“Let him be wrong, let him be wrong,” she whispered under her breath as her sore feet pounded against the concrete.

Gasps of shock erupted around her as people drew themselves away from the dirty girl.  Even working men and women gave a look of disbelief.  This youth was the definition of impropriety.  Everything from her clothes to her stumbling run was an embarrassment.  But Lucy didn’t care.  She didn’t care that she wore burnt pants or that her hair wasn’t combed.  She didn’t care that her run was faltering or that her arms flutter back and forth in hopes of greater speed.  Nothing matter except for her to make it home.  For her to prove the Top Hat wrong.

Grey clouds clustered together to watch the girl tearing down the Embankment.  The morning breeze clung to Lucy’s skin bring chills that crept up her neck. A sharp turn and Flat 937 teased her vision. There was a flood of relief when she saw that Doctor Bedford’s carriage had yet to arrive. There was still time then. There was still hope!

Lucy staggered up the steps of her mother’s shop and threw open the door.  Unlocked!  Another sign that all was well.  It was opening time and her mother surely was getting ready for the day’s work.

But then Lucy entered the eerily quiet kitchen.  Not a kettle heated, not a dish in the sink.  All was too settled.

She had forgotten the most important thing about death.  It is a mischievous creature that plays tricks on our minds.  But no matter what, it always gets what it comes for.

“No,” Lucy cried, bounding up the stairs of the house.  Her heart dropped to the pit of her stomach as pain shattered its bullet deep within her.

Her mother’s room was dimly lit with the curtains drawn.  The white sheets were drawn up to Stacy O’Rourke’s waist, but she was not alone.  On her lap lay Adrian crying silently, his mother pressing a grey hand against his soft curls.  On her left Sebastian held her other hand tightly between his, trying desperately to hold himself together.  On her right was Andrew, his arm draped over her small shoulders.  His eyes were unmasked grief but his pressed lips showed his acceptance of what was to pass.

Lucy was speechless as her mouth quivered.  She wasn’t late.  She couldn’t have been late!  Lucy quickly threw her arms out to the threshold, desperate to keep her body from collapsing.  Sobs shook against her chest, but her eyes fought their release.

Stacy smiled weakly, as her eyes opened.  Even her curls, that Lucy had loved so much as a child, had now turned dull and colourless.  But her eyes – her eyes remained the same. She found her daughter standing before her and grinned wider.  Her emeralds glinted with love and life against her diseased skin.

“My children have come home,” she sighed in relief. “My children have come home.”

And with that, Stacy O’Rourke closed her eyes and died.

There was a silence as the three boys collected themselves and released their hold on their mother.  But Lucy simply stood, breaking at her seams.

Andrew went over to Lucy as Sebastian pulled Adrian up to wipe away their tears.

“Lucy,” the eldest said, reaching out to ease her from the doorway.

“Don’t touch me,” she hissed, the tears finally stumbling out.  “Get out.”

“Lulu,” Sebastian started.

“Get out!” she roared, her mind shaking in anger and pain.

“Lucy, please,” Andrew tried again.

“Get out!” she screamed, pointing to the door.

The boys quickly rushed out, Sebastian dragging Adrian from their distraught sister.

Lucy had lost the one person she could always turn to help, to hold, to feel loved and protected.  And she didn’t even get to say goodbye.

©2016 E. M. Vick

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