Chapter XIX: Skinned Knees and Bruised Confidence

“Again!” Vaan shouted as Lucy collapsed on the ground, her mind foggy with hundreds of new rules floating above her head.

She drew herself up, groaning as she put her arms out to defend herself.  Vaan folded his arms together and waited.  Blood pounded in her ears as Lucy’s anxiety reached a peak of despair.  Then he attacked.

Left, right, left, right, right.  Shins!

The Top Hat’s left boot slammed into his apprentice’s shins in a sweeping motion, sending the girl into a face plant.

“Again,” he demanded.

“I have a bloody nose!” complained the girl as she cradled her face. “I’m not going again!”

Vaan simply rolled his eyes, lifting the girl up by the collar. “Let me see.”

She tentatively drew her hands away, and he drew a handkerchief to catch the mess and pinch the nose.

“Now hold that,” he told her.

“Thanks,” she muffled, waiting for the bleeding to stop. After a few minutes, it finally subsided.

“How is it?” asked her teacher.

“Stopped, I think,” she murmured examining the cloth to make certain.

“Good,” Vaan said before grabbing the girl and twisting her over his shoulder and onto the ground.

Lucy cried out in pain as she gripped her bruised shoulder.

“Demons don’t wait for nosebleeds to stop.  If you are bleeding, you are bleeding.  Unless you are trying to hide from them, do not stop to take care of it.  Just keep going.”

“God, save me,” Lucy yelped as she rolled to sit up.

“We are done for today.  Go get cleaned up and ready for dinner.  Tomorrow, we are visiting the dueling arena.”  Vaan said, before turning on his heels.  “Don’t forget, you have your dinner duty as well.”

“Don’t worry,” Lucy muttered as soon as her teacher had left. “You never fail to remind me.”

Groaning, the girl climbed to her feet.  It had only been a week since she had started training, but her body ached with bruises and cuts that renewed daily.  She limped towards the door, feeling her stretched calf she had given herself the day before.  They hadn’t even gotten to any of the fire work and she was already struggling to keep up.

“We must prepare your body before we even think of concentrating your fire,” Vaan had told her on her first day. That’s when she had skinned her right knee.  It only took a few more hours before she had a left to match.

“Looks like you had a bit of a rough day,” Sebastian winced when he saw his sister coming from out of smaller training room.

“Just a bit,” Lucy replied, looking over her brother.  “I take it you had quite a successful day?”

“Oh, it was just brilliant!  I managed to catch Lewis’s tailcoats on fire and even got praised for my form,”  her twin beamed.

“Fantastic,” the girl nodded.  She couldn’t help but feel a stab to her confidence.  She knew Sebastian had been doing this for much longer but it was hard to hear about his success.  Especially, when she spent every lesson on the floor, looking up.

“Listen, I’ll see you back at the hall for dinner.  The boys and I need to go do our Yard duties.” Sebastian explained.

Lucy waved her arm nonchalantly.  “No worries, I’ll see you at dinner.”  She waited until her brother had walked down the hall to join his mates before she slumped forward, leaning on the wall for support.  It took several moments before Lucy centered herself and limped her way towards her dorm.

Each step, her muscles groaned against her bones until she arrived in the dormitory corridor.  There were a few students moving here or there but for the most part, it was abandoned.

Lucy pushed herself down the hall, forcing her body to move.

“Lulu!” a voice chimed brightly.

“Adrian,” Lucy strained a smile as she turned to see her younger brother bound up to her.

“Oi, you are in a bit of a shape,” the curly haired boy winced when he looked over his sister.  “I just wanted to tell you that I made my first flame today,” a grin spread across his face.

“That’s great, Adrian,” she praised.  “When can I see it?”

“Oh tomorrow! Please!  Ask Vaan if he can let you have just a few minutes before practice to see it.  It’s amazing, Lulu.  Brightest gold you’ve ever seen.”

“I’d expect nothing less from an O’Rourke,” she leaned forward and gave him a soft squeeze.  Her arms couldn’t afford much more than that.

“What have you been working on?” Adrian asked, concerning looking over his sister.

“Oh, you know. Combat things. Listen, I need to go clean up,” Lucy quickly darted past the subject.  What she was going through was more of a beating rather than combat.

“Sounds good. I’ll see you before lights out?”

“Of course.  So long as you aren’t too embarrassed to be seen with your sister.”

“Never,” Adrian grinned before running towards his dorm.

Lucy sighed and made her way back to her own room.  She had hardly closed the door before she stumbled and collapsed onto her small bed.  When the rest of her body quieted down, she gently pressed the top of her wrist to her nose.  Crusted blood appeared as she pulled back to look.

A shower.  That is what she needed.  Groaning, she pulled herself to her feet and began to pull out the pins in her hair.  She peeled away the wrinkled black button up blouse, kicking off her small leather boots.  Her dark pants and, now well torn up tights followed suit as she waddled into the small bathroom.  There was one plus to being a Top Hat that she absolutely loved.  An unlimited supply of hot water she could use for however long she needed.  When she finally stepped into the small bath, her muscles relaxed in ecstasy.  The blood and dirt came off as she scrubbed away but the bruises remained just as visible as before.  It was as if they were reminding her of all the work she still had yet to achieve.  All the more mistakes she had made that day.

Lucy found herself sitting at the bottom of the tub as the water rained down around her.  Was she really cut out for this kind of business?  Could she really save someone? Or was she simply going to screw it up as soon as she even tried?  Her curls relaxed as the steam eased away her burden.

Lucy sighed, staring at the water collecting on the cream tile walls.  Her mother’s words tickled her mind.

…never give up and always keep fighting…

She pulled herself up carefully and turned off the water.  It was going to be dinner time soon and she couldn’t be late.

“Always remember that you represent us as the Top Hat Society,” Lucy mocked as she wrapped her towel around her and walked out to go dig through her dresser drawers.  “You must dress as if you were to meet the Queen of bloody England.”

Lucy pulled out a dark navy blouse along with a matching walking skirt.  She carefully buttoned up a tan vest to go on top of the entire look.  Carefully, she began to strap on the back of her hoop skirt.  “Well the Queen would be most disappointed to find I was in pants during all my training sessions.  Don’t see why I have to wear a skirt all the time for dinner.  I’m just going to be cleaning muck off the dishes anyways.”

As she finished pinning her bangs away, the Clock Tower chimed fifteen minutes to the hour.  It was time.

Lucy cracked her back once more before making her way down the hall.  At least her muscles were responding a little better this time.  Other boys popped out from their dorms in crisp button up shirts, fresh vests and well-fitted trousers.  Some were still playing with their cravats and neckties, others were joking with their friends.

“May I join you?” Brandon grinned as he came out of his dormitory room.

“But of course,” Lucy smiled back.  She was establishing a handful of friendships much quicker than she had imagined.  Of course, many of the boys were still wary of her.  Some even scorned her presence.  “How did training go today?”

“Oh, it went,” laughed the lanky boy. “I mean, it really wasn’t that bad.  But Thornton can be quite a stickler on how I start my flames.  He has his particular method and rarely goes around it.”

“I know what you mean,” she replied. “I am constantly memorizing ‘Vaan’s List of Demon Hunting Rules’.  It’s awful.”

“Just keep your head up.  So many apprentices would kill to have your master.  He’s a genius and extraordinarily good at what he does,” Brandon explained as they bounced down the steps. “It’ll be well worth it in the end.”

“Trust me, they would not be envious of me if they knew how many times I ended up slammed into a floor or wall.”

“We all start with our feet swept out from under us.  Seriously, just keep calm and carry on.  You’ll get there,” Brandon smiled handing Lucy a handkerchief.  “Your nose again.”

Lucy groaned in frustration and took the cloth, dabbing carefully at her sore nose. “I’ll try, but I’m not promising anything.”

“Good,” Brandon opened the door for the well-worn girl.

Apprentices were still shuffling around with sleeves rolled up to their elbows.  Sebastian and Adrian were two of those in charge of setting the tables.  The youngest arranged the silverware while the other set up the various glasses.  It was quite impressive to see, actually.  Some of the apprentices were arranging various candle and lights while others carried loads of hot stew to the tables.  It took a few more moments, but soon all were ready to be seated.

Lucy took her place next to Sebastian once more.  She had quickly learned there was an assignment to their seating though she had yet to completely understand it.  The room grew silent and her thoughts vanished.  The Top Hats entered from a side room door and took their places at the long table in the front.

“So there I was,” Sebastian grinned throwing his arms out. “Fighting off Lewis’s blows and I saw the opening-”

“Did you go for it?” Marley jumped in.

“I did,” Sebastian replied, sashaying his shoulders proudly.

“And let me guess,” Brandon smirked. “It was a trap.”

“Correct,” he said, pricking his broccoli with his fork, his smile still not vanishing.

“But?” Lucy asked, carefully sipping on some warm cider.

“But, I knew it was a trap.  That makes all the difference,” Sebastian plucked up the vegetable and started twirling it. “I knew it and countered it with Dragon’s Fire.”

“Ooh!  That’s a tricky one,” Boy added.  Lucy had not a clue what he was talking about but assumed it could only mean some kind of flaming magic.

“I managed to dodge the attack, putting him on the defense and clipped the edge of his coat tails!”

“Nice!” Marley high fived his friend while the rest of them broke out into a loud chatter.

Lucy smiled and nodded along with the conversation though her thoughts were elsewhere.  Her eyes wandered over to the Top Hat table.  Even they all appeared to be in a jolly mood.

Lewis was smacking Thornton on the back as the Weasel teased at James.  Vaan was in a deep conversation with Kivan, and Winston was explaining news about the latest demon hunting to Andrew.  When she turned to look down at the apprentice table end, Adrian was even enjoying himself.  So why was it that Lucy just couldn’t be happy?

Dinner ended and Lucy quickly stood and began to collect the various plates while Boy shuffled together the cups.

“I’ll see you and Adrian after dinner?” Sebastian asked as he stood.

“In the lounge?” Lucy asked, though she very well knew the answer.

“Bingo,” her brother winked before walking off to catch up with his friends.

Lucy felt her smile fall as she sighed and continued building her pile of dishes, carting them towards the large kitchen.

Other apprentices rushed around putting away various leftovers and preparing for the morning.  Lucy yanked down her apron from above the industrial washer and began her job of placing the plates, glasses and silverware into trays to push through the large machine.  Boy wasn’t too far behind and stood beside her to start his job of pulling out the clean loads and drying them off.

“You alright, Lucy?” he asked as she shut the weighty door and the steam hissed around it.

“I don’t know,” she admitted to him, waiting for the five minute cycle to finish as she prepared the new tray of dirty dishes. “I. . .I don’t think I can do this.”

Boy laughed heartily. “You have got to be kidding me!  Seriously?”

The young girl scowled at her bright-eyed friend.

“Oh, come on, Lulu.  I was only teasing.”

“Well, I’m not in the mood for teasing,” she bit back, lifting the door while Boy pulled out the burning hot tray.  She huffed and eyed Boy’s hands.”Doesn’t that hurt?”

“It used to, but I’ve had practice,” he shrugged. “That’s why I think this is all quite funny.  You are putting too much pressure on yourself.  It took me months to even begin to conjure up my first flame.  It took  you only a moment to find that passion.”

Lucy blushed in embarrassment.  He was right, after all, and Vaan had pointed that out the first day they had sparred together.

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

“I mean, that right there is pure talent,” he explained.

“Hah, not quite.  That was just the love of an angry older sister,” Lucy couldn’t help but joke.

“And your brothers are very lucky to have that,” Boy pointed out. “A sister to fight for them?  That’s amazing.”

“Clearly you’ve never had a brother,” she sighed, thinking about the bullheadedness of her brothers.

“Clearly,” Boy laughed stitch colder than he wanted to let on.

Lucy quickly caught herself and apologized. “I’m sorry! I didn’t mean-”

“It’s okay,” Boy said, pulling the next rack of cups through. “Mum and Dad kept trying after I was born but. . .it just wasn’t meant to be.”

“Do you still go to see your Mum?” Lucy asked quietly. “Or did they make you. . .”

“I came from a very prestigious family of Top Hats,” Boy bitterly smiled. “So when Mum was told I would one day be just like Dad, she was thrilled.  They threw me a party and everything when I was getting ready to leave.”

“But surely you must miss her,” she pressed.

“Of course I miss her.  But there are rules, Lucy.” Boy sighed. “And when did this become about me?  Pass me the last few plates. I can take care of it.”

“Are you sure?”

“I did this all by myself before you came,” he reminded her.

Lucy hung her apron up and turned back to Boy.  Her hand traveled to touch the small pocket containing the last words her mother ever wrote.  “I’m sure she misses you too,” she told him.

Boy didn’t say anything, and Lucy left before he could.  But her words still resonated within him like the final ripples in a tuning fork.

©2016 E. M. Vick

Chapter XVIII: Respect

“Ow, ow, ow!” Lucy yelped as Vaan shoved her into a large wooden area.

“You will not disrespect me before your peers as well as mine,” he growled to her.

“Well, if you don’t respect me, why on Earth should I respect you?!” Lucy snapped back, rubbing her sore shoulder.   She glanced about the room, carefully taking in the emptiness of it all with its high windows and echoing floor.  Afternoon sunlight streamed in to give the area a golden hue against the red walls.  “Where are we?”

Vaan did not answer but simply slammed the door shut behind him, locking it.  The young girl grew pressingly nervous.  That didn’t sound like a simple metal mechanism.  More like a heavy impossibility.

Lucy’s heart skipped as her nerves crept up her back.  This was not a man to be taken lightly.  He could fight off phoenixes, he could talk to dragons, and he was far better than she in speed and attack.

But it was much too late for that now.  Lucy had sparked a storm.

“What are you doing?” the nervous redhead asked as the cloaked man crossed the room to a nearby gate, the light glaring off his glasses.

“Teaching,” he simply stated, putting a gloved hand on the wall.  A green flare jumped to life from his fingertips, igniting a web of subtly carved vines about the wall.

“What exactly is the lesson?” she asked, struggling to keep her voice leveled.  Her eyes darted to watch the flames settle – watching but also waiting.

“Respect,” hissed the Top Hat as he slammed his other hand onto the iron gate.  It groaned before creaking open.

Lucy’s stomach dropped as she searched the dark cove behind the metal opening.

“Your smell. . .” a voice crackled, “You smell so delicious…so delicious,” the guttural groan repeated as a drenched claw stepped into the light.

Vaan rested a finger against his cheek.  “I should warn you,” he clicked. “She bites.”

And without hesitation, a hideous demoness lurched forward, her crocodile grin snapping out as her jagged body crack to life.

Lucy shrieked as she leap to the side just in time.  What the hell was a demon doing in the Clock Tower?!

“Your soul,” it crackled. “Give it to me!” The female demon’s skin melted and harden like constantly changing clay, never quite keeping form.

Lucy quickly scanned the room for a weapon of any kind.  Nothing.  Absolutely nothing.

“Give it to me!”the demoness shrieked, jumping at the girl once more.

Lucy stumbled back trying to conjure up her magic, she knew resided in her.  Yet, all she could feel was the icy worry of becoming the demon’s next meal.

So she did the only thing she could think of: she ran.

The demoness threw it’s body into the air and landed directly in front of Lucy.  “Do you think me aft, girl?!”

“Gah!” Lucy screamed, falling back.  She raised her arms to find a weak spiral of blue fire popping to life around her wrists.

“A Lady?” the creature spun it’s head like a curious owl. “Even better.”

“Please, stop.” she cried, trying to find her courage in the mess of her emotions. “I’m not afraid to fight.”

“You are practically quivering, my Lady.  Do not fear, you shall do quite nicely. . .in the pit of my stomach!” the demoness threw a claw out.

Lucy closed her eyes, awaiting the worse.  But then, the voice returned.

Do not fear them, Lucy.

Lucy felt her breath slow as she opened her eyes, split seconds passing like minutes.

Always look them in the eye, for what they truly are.

Her gaze darted up as her lips parted.  The fire inside her burned, but it moved much too slow.  It was too new, too fragile and chaotic.  And she knew it.  She understood now.

Never fear them.  

Before the nails could sink into her, a black fire sliced the entire claw off.  The demoness howled in anger as it turned it’s gaze to the Top Hat, as if it had noticed it only for the first time.

“You,” it growled. “Do not interfere Top Hat.”

Vaan didn’t reply but simply threw his arms wide. Lucy blinked incredulously as a steel disc, larger than a man’s head, materialized into Vaan’s hand.  Just as quickly as it appeared, Vaan spun twice around before launching the large disc with terrifying speed.  It slammed deep into the creature with a sickening crunch, sending the demoness sprawling back.   Before it could launch any sort of retaliation, Vaan was plucking at invisible strings, lighting molting red fires at the demon’s feet.

“Your heart is mine!” the once woman yowled as she ran, opening her mouth to reveal layer after layer of jutting teeth.

With the demoness only inches away, Vaan opened his jacket and slammed his unsheathed dagger straight into the creature’s heart.  Lucy watched as the glare from his glasses faded for a small moment to reveal a solemn yellow eye staring straight into the eyes of the demoness.  Only when the creature convulsed and began to fall apart into pieces of moor, did the bright reflection return to complete his mask behind his glasses, scarf, and hat.

There was a stillness between the two, while Vaan carefully wiped away the marsh on his dagger.  He bent down look at what remained of the female demon, finding a small sac made of what looked to be leather.  He carefully carved it open, releasing a weak pulsing light into the air.  It hovered for a moment, before fluttering into one of the beams of light and then vanishing.

Lucy didn’t have to ask.  She knew it could only be a soul.  A soul set free.  And Vaan had given it its freedom without even breaking a sweat.

“Teach me,” she whispered, breaking the silence.

Vaan turned to look at the renewed girl.

“Please,” she asked, her voice gaining strength. “Teach me.”

 

2016 E. M. Vick

Chapter XVII: Rough Beginnings

“Just keep yourself safe, lovely,” Mel said as she hugged the young girl once more.

Lucy had explained to the baker that the Top Hats were allowing her to work for them.  She never quite specified what the job was exactly.  That morning was chaotic, as helping hands filled their space moving Adrian and Lucy from the house.  Andrew was left, once more, in charge of selling the piece of property while the rest of the kitchenware went to Mel.

The baker hugged her once again. “Call me whenever you need something.  Even just to meet for coffee.”

“I promise I will.  Every second I get,” the redhead winked.

They bid each other adieu, and Lucy sighed as she picked up the last of her suitcases.  As she passed the threshold, Lucy felt her mind immediately begin buzzing with all sorts of thoughts.  Her heart raced.

“Lucy!” Adrian chimed from the hallway.  “I am sharing a room with the boy from down the lane!” He beamed and the sister couldn’t help but smile back.

“Maybe he can help you unpack?” she suggested, teasingly.

“I’ll see you later!” he yelled running back up.

Lucy sighed.  Adrian may have grown into a young man, but he still had so much to learn.

“Need a hand?” a familiar voice asked.

Lucy looked to her right and found Sebastian carefully easing one of the suitcases out of her hand.

“Thanks,” she said as they walked down the arching halls.

“We really haven’t gotten time ourselves since this whole thing got started,” Sebastian pointed out.

“You’re right,” Lucy agreed, awkwardly shifting her bag to the other hand.

Silence.  No matter how much their mother’s death had reunited them, the siblings were beginning to realize the difficult in picking up their pieces that had been collecting dust for four years.

“Why didn’t you try, Sebastian?” Lucy finally asked.

“I wanted to, Lulu.  God.  Not a day went by that the thought didn’t cross my mind.  I mean, you are my twin – deeper than any sibling bond!  But they forbid it, and there were consequences.  Painful consequences.”

Lucy sighed, looking at her brother.  Finally, she spoke the two words that broke all the weight and webs between them. “I understand.”

Sebastian stopped and eyed his sister. “Do you actually mean it, or are you just saying it?”

“I forgive you,” she tried again. “It isn’t something you could control, and it isn’t something worth holding onto.  I’m letting it go.”

They continued to walk and turn until they made it to the a dormitory outside of the usual line.

“Does that mean. . .you forgive Andrew?” Sebastian questioned nervously.

Lucy played with the thought. “Yeah, I suppose I do.  It’ll take time for us to get close again, but he is still my brother. It’s hard to describe.”

Sebastian smiled as they made their way past the various doors.

“And Dad?”

Lucy stopped.  That idea froze her.

“One day we will meet again.  And you’ll see.  I’ll prove to you that I can do it.  I’ll make Mum proud.  And you won’t even recognize your little girl anymore. . .”

“I hope so,” Lucy bit her lip. “But he needs to see I can do this.”

They continued the rest of the way in silence until they made it to the room .  Lucy had found herself in two weeks ago.

“I’ll stop by later to see how you are settling in,” Sebastian said, passing off the bag.

“Good,” Lucy smiled. “You’ll need to show me all the things you’ve learned.”  She winked as Sebastian’s face brightened.

“You’ll be so impressed!” He grinned. “Lewis says I may be even better at fire play than Andrew.”

“Well, you are my twin.  Clearly you must be.”

They laughed together for the first time since they had seen one another.

“Cheers, Lulu,” chuckled Sebastian.

“Cheers,” she giggled, shutting the door behind her, leaning her forehead against the old wood.

All she wanted was to fall onto her bed and sleep.  She was beyond tired.  But unpacking need to be done.  And cleaning, to be sure.

The rest of the morning was spent dusting, organizing and folding the few possessions she had.  Lucy eyed the familiar quilt on her bed and decided the ravens could stay.  Perhaps, she could take time to change the birds into something a bit more colourful.  She wasn’t utterly useless with a needle and thread.

As she finished packing away the last of her things, the girl turned to the final two boxes filled with her mother’s memories.  It was too soon for her to unpack them just yet.  So as she hummed her mother’s Gaelic lullaby, she carefully tucked the boxes under her bed.  The only keepsake she left out was the letter her mother wrote, which he left resting besides the oil lamp on her dresser.  It was her last touch and as soon as it was done, Lucy rolled to her bed and closed her eyes.

She had only been asleep maybe twenty minutes, when there came a pounding on the door.

“No,” groaned the grumpy youth, taking a pillow and pressing it over her head.

The beating didn’t stop.  It only got more agitated.

“What?!” Lucy yelled, throwing the pillow to her lap to properly glare at the door.

The entrance flew open to the chilling cloaked man.  His arms were as crossed as his tone.

“What are you doing?” Vaan asked in annoyance.

Lucy blushed in embarrassment and quick discarded her glare.  “I was tired,” she tried to explain.

“Come with me.  It is almost lunch time.”

“That’s okay, I’m not all that hungry,” Lucy smiled.

“You act as if you have a choice.”

Lucy’s smile vanished.

“Be ready in five minutes.  I’ll be outside,” he said.  And with that, the door slammed shut.

Lucy felt her hands pulse in irritation.  The nerve of that man!

Lucy grumbled as she put her stocking feet into low heeled boots and straightened out her black sweater and skirt.  Looking at herself in the nearby mirror, she realized there wasn’t much she could do with her mop of curls but simply pin back her bangs.

“Your majesty,” Lucy clicked, daring a mocking curtsy.

Vaan shifted to one foot and eyed the girl.  Finally, he spoke. “We’ll need to go over what is appropriate for an apprentice to wear, much less a girl.”  With that, he turned on his heels and they walked down the all-too quiet hallway.

Lucy had decided at that particular moment, she did not like this Top Hat.  Not one bit.

They went straight across going down one of the long staircases Lucy recognized from her earlier escapades.  Looping here and there -finally they reached around the archway and into the hall of Top Hats.  Lucy curled her hands tighter together as her boots padded across the soft carpet.  Lucy caught sight of the pale sheet draped across picture that smelt of fresh paint.  She paused, her heart racing as her hand traveled up.  Vaan paused to look back at Lucy.

“Lucy!”

Lucy turned back, her cheeks burning as she quickly turned to rush up beside him.

“This way,” he motioned taking her through another hall and looping about another corridor until they arrived at two towering double doors.

“Are we going in?” Lucy whispered.

Vaan glared in aggravation before opening the right door.  The colour instantly drained from Lucy’s face.

The whole hall was filled with Top Hats seated on a level slightly above the tables of the apprentices.  All were standing – waiting.

Vaan walked with a quick ease on the smooth wooden floor to take his spot near Winston at the head of the long table.

“How nice of you to join us,” Winston chided, the completely mortified girl.

“I-I’m so sorry!” Lucy’s dry voice stuttered as she looked for her spot.

“Ahem!” coughed Sebastian, pointing to a nearby empty seat.

Lucy rushed over and awkwardly placed herself between Sebastian and his friend Marley.

All was quiet.  But then, a beautiful song hummed to life around her.

Basses and tenors swirled together in rich timbres as the collage of male voices gave thanks for their meal.  The music pricked Lucy as melody swooped up into a peak before settling into a warm cadence.  And the grace ended.

The Top Hats looked to one another and sat down first.  The apprentices followed suite soon thereafter.  Laughter and talking erupted to life as men and boys began to pass bowls of food amongst themselves.

Lucy sat down and eyed her twin carefully as she place her napkin in her lap.  “Were you all really waiting for me?”

Sebastian just bit his lip and winced as he passed her the salad.

“Ugh!” Lucy groaned, her cheeks still pink in shame.

“So she’s really your twin?” Marley gaped, food still in his mouth.

“No, I’m just a figment of your imagination,” Lucy rolled her eyes, picking up a piece of bread before passing it on.

“Gee, she’s quite the sassy one,” Marley snipped back.

“And you talk to me as if I weren’t even here.  The ‘she’ has a name, you know.”

“And, what would that be?” a young boy with thick ash-coloured hair asked.

Lucy felt heat rise to her cheeks again.  Her mother would be disappointed in her manners.  “I’m sorry,” she apologized. “I’m Lucy.  Lucy O’ Rourke.”  She looked back up and the tall boy was laughing.

“‘S alright.  I’m Brandon.  Apprentice to that fellow up there.”  He nodded towards a solemn looking man, much shorter than even Lucy. The man glanced her way but once, his sharp blue eyes digging into her like nails in wood.  He brought a hand up to his trim back beard and turned to face his neighbor, all the while his lips curled in and down in a bitter scowl.  “His name is Thornton.”

“He looks quite. . .serious,” Lucy said, struggling with her words.

“He always looks like that,” Brandon said  nonchalantly, turning back towards his dinner.

“At least yours takes you seriously,” a boy with jet black hair pointed out, his blue eyes flickering over at Brandon.

Brandon couldn’t help but laugh and pat the poor boy on the back. “This is true.  You just need to earn Kivan’s respect.”

“What do you mean?” Lucy asked, watching the boys.

“Every Top Hat is different, but you need to earn their respect before you can really be qualified to be truly part of the Society.  It’s hard to explain.  Sort of an unwritten rule,” Sebastian said.  “For example, Lewis won’t respect me until I’ve purified my first soul.”

“And Thornton won’t respect me until I’ve summoned my first dragon,” Brandon cut in.

“And Zachariah won’t respect me until I’ve gained the patience of Girflet,” Marley scoffed.

“Girflet?” Lucy asked.

“One of the twelve dragons,” Sebastian explained without missing a beat.

“Your Top Hat will explain it to you,” Kivan’s apprentice added.

“Hold it, hold it,” Lucy lifted up her hands in defeat.  “Look.  I’m still new at this.  I don’t even have a Top Hat who’s in charge of me. ”

“Sure you do,” The blue-eyed youth laughed.

“And who would that be?”  Lucy raised an eyebrow as she brought her cup to her lips.

“Vaan, of course.” Brandon pointed out.

Lucy snorted into her cup, breaking out into a fit of laughter.  “No way.  He is definitely not my Top Hat.”

Sebastian shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “Lucy, you can’t choose your teacher.”

The girl was left in shock. “I’m sorry, but I should be able to decide who will be teaching me, and who won’t.  And I will not be apprentice to some arrogant pri”  Lucy turned to look up at the tables only to feel the colour drain from her face once more.  Vaan was watching her every movement and from the way his arms were folded, he had understood every word she had said.

“Well, think what you want, Lucy,” Sebastian sighed. “You’ll realize it soon enough.”

“Rubbish, absolute rubbish,” grumbled the girl, ducking her head behind her brother’s shoulder.  She quickly changed the subject. “So what exactly do you need to do to earn Kivan’s respect?”

“Find myself,” the boy groaned.

“Find yourself?  Couldn’t you just say your name?”

“Not as easy as it sounds.”

The bell from the Clock Tower rang two times, signally that the meal had concluded.  The Top Hats rose from the chairs as the apprentices stood and began to clear away plates and bowls.  Lucy quickly followed suit before looking back at the blue-eyed boy.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t even catch your name?” she asked through the clattering of glasses.

Before he could even speak, a thick Scottish accent flew out along with a thick hand that clasped her on the shoulder. “His name is Boy,” a well-built Top Hat answered.  “And will remain so until he earns my respect.”

Lucy buttoned her lips closed as the man looked over the new recruit. His brown beard was trimmed to a fine shadow as his grey eyes pierced Lucy’s confidence.  He was older than Andrew but not yet Winston’s age from what Lucy could tell.  Probably right around her father’s age. . .

Lucy let the thought quickly pass and turned to look at her fumbling hands.

“You would do best to look me in the eye, Girl,” Kivan added, releasing her.

Biting her lip, Lucy cocked her head to the side to keep from letting her tongue fly.  But her eyes said it all.

“You have quite a fiery one, Vaan,” Kivan chuckled, snapping his fingers to his apprentice.

“I am not his apprentice,” Lucy hissed picking up her dishes to follow Sebastian.

The hall murmured to a halt.

“That’s not for you to decide, lass,” the Top Hat pointed out.

“Well, if none of you respect me, how am I to respect you?” Lucy fought back. “Perhaps, I won’t let him be my teacher until he has earned my respect.”

There was a rush of wind and within seconds Vaan had her arm bent painfully behind her back, pushing her towards the double doors. “I believe our Lady of Dawn shall be taking the dinner clean-up shift, Winston.”

No one argued as the girl yelped and rushed as quickly forward as she could. The man’s temper could handle no more.

2016 E. M. Vick

Chapter XVI: The Man in the Woods

The day of the funeral arrived and Lucy was surprised at the amount of people that poured into the small church on the top of ­­­­­­Brookenshire Hill.  Families of all classes were present to honor the beloved tailor.  Many of Adrian’s schoolmates came, as well as Mel’s entire household.  The Bedford’s dressed the church just as Lucy’s Mum would have liked it. White flowers hugged the walls, and a simple maple coffin rested in the middle of church, closed with soft silk about it. The windows remained open, just as she would have wanted.

“Thank you for everything,” Lucy told Miss. Bedford before the procession of people began.

“Of course, my dear.  Anything for your family,” she touched her handkerchief to her wet eyes.  “Such a loss.  Such a loss,” she sniffled.

Lucy, herself, struggled to keep her own tears at bay.  It helped to have her mother’s letter tucked near her breast.

As the people crowded in, many could not help but comment on the beautifully tailored dress and veil she was wearing.  It was bittersweet, but Lucy was happy that her mother received one last acknowledgement of her work in this world.

The time began to draw near for the funeral when her brother approached her.

“It’s time to sit down,” Sebastian told Lucy as he held out his arm.

She tentatively took it, but took one last look towards the door.

“What is it?” Adrian asked.

“I was hoping he would come,” she muttered.

Sebastian shifted uneasily and looked to Andrew.  The older brother sighed and took his sister’s other arm.

“Come on,” he said, pulling her gently away from the doorway as two altar boys shut the doors.

Lucy strained her eyes, taking in fresh snow against the undecided sky.  The woods along the path waved peacefully with the breeze and all was silent.  Yet, there was something else.  Could it be him?  Could that be a Top Hat wavering in the breeze?

The service was simple, a fitting passage about the importance of family with the priest touching on all the right things.  Lucy’s job was quite effortless as she helped lay a white cotton cloth over the coffin.  Her brothers’ duty, on the other hand, was quite a bit harder as they eased the coffin onto their shoulders.  A few men in the crowd pressed to help but the boys stoically refused all but one, keeping their eyes fixed straight ahead as they walked the casket out to the buggy waiting for them.  Not when the graveyard was only a little ways from the church.  The crowd buttoned their coats about them, and Lucy slid black gloves onto her fingertips.  She didn’t search for the man, as her mind gave into the sorrowful melody shared by the crowd.

When they arrived at her gravestone, Lucy found herself in shock.  There, huddled around the grey marble, stood dozens of Top Hats from the Society.  Her brothers looked just as surprised but also quite grateful.  This time, when her brothers took the coffin back onto their shoulders, they did not argue when a number of Top Hats went to aid them.  Lucy’s eyes began to shake as tears fell onto the snowy ground.  This was what it meant to live as a Top Hat.  This was a Society of brothers.  Lucy’s eyes looked among the solemn new-comers.  Lewis, “The Weasel”, Marley, Winston, and even the duel-master Vaan had shown.   There were many faces she couldn’t place, but as Lucy looked over at Sebastian and Andrew it seemed clear that they recognized many of the strangers.  Still, she couldn’t find his face.  In the sea of Top Hats, her father still hadn’t shown up.

The priest began and Lucy found herself crying not for herself, but for her mother.  It wasn’t fair that the man she had loved couldn’t show his face.

“Would anyone like some parting words?” the priest questioned the crowd.

Not a word was said as the wind whistled between each person.  But then Lucy heard it.

“I will love you to my dying day.  Forgive me, my Stella.”

Lucy’s eyes widened and snapped towards the nearby forest.  In the trees sat a silhouette of a man with a top hat perched upon his knee.  Lucy’s heart stopped and her gloved hands dropped the lace umbrella she had propped up above her.

Charles O’Rourke had come.

“Lucy?” Adrian asked, lightly tugging at her sleeve as they began to lower the coffin into the ground.

She never took her eyes off the shadow in the tree.  Sebastian watched his twin carefully as she walked towards the forest.

Step by step.  Step by step.  And it quickened as she lifted her skirts to run into a full fledge sprint.  Onlookers gasped and tried to call back the suddenly maddened girl.  Lucy only put her low heeled boots further forward.

“Lucy,” called Sebastian but Andrew once more held his brother back.

“She needs him right now,” Andrew explained. “It is something between the both of them. We have no right to interfere .”

The middle brother looked around the gathered Top Hats and realized they too remained planted in their place.  He had his time with his father.  It was time for Lucy’s.

The silhouette in the trees vanished as quickly as it had appeared when she made it to the front of the forest.  Lucy felt panic sink deep.  Had she lost him as quickly as he had appeared?!  No.  No, he must still be here!

The quiet winter woods were filled with old trees huddled close.  Some spiked out in jagged needle point while other fluffed their pine coats.  A fine layer of snow kissed each of them.  Yet Lucy rushed deeper still, her eyes never stopping.  She had to find him if it was the last thing she would do.

“I know you are here,” she told the forest as it swallowed up her voice.  Lucy quickly took note of the silence.  An unnatural silence, not a single chirp nor animal call whispered in the wind.

“Mummy, when’s Papa coming home?”

“Soon, darling,” Stacy told her daughter.

“When’s soon?” Lucy whined.

“Hmm, would you like to know a secret?”

“Andrew told me secrets are a terrible thing to keep.”  Lucy yawned as her five-year old body cuddled into the quilted blanket.

“Your brother is very clever.  But not all secrets are such.  This a secret passed from my mother’s mother to my mother to me, and now it’s your turn.”  Her mother smiled and rested her head against her daughter’s.

“You shall always know a Top Hat is near when the world goes quiet about you.”

Lucy’s little eyes grew heavy as the words sunk in deep.

“When the world gets quiet,” she repeated.  “Why is that, Mummy?”

“I’m not certain, love.  Perhaps, it is just the good of the world’s way of respecting them.”

“Do they know that?” she yawned once more, this time her eyes closing.

“Not a single Top Hat knows this.  Only you and me.”

Lucy hissed through her teeth as her breath caught itself in a small mist around her lips.  “Why can’t you show yourself?!”

Nothing.  Just silence.

“Mum waited for you for ten years! I waited for you.  You . . .you just left us!”

Lucy lifted up her skirts and walked deeper, looking further.

“I needed you, Papa. I needed you and you weren’t there.  You were off fighting demons, but couldn’t find a few minutes just to come home,” she yelled. “It wasn’t fair!  Everyone talked about it.  Everyone still talks about how great you Top Hats are.  I want to know what’s so great about men leaving their families in utter pieces.”

Lucy screamed in frustration and kicked a nearby tree as hot tears pricked her eyes.

“Do you expect me to lay down in silence?  My brothers, my mother, even you – all gone.  Am I really just destined to be a poor baker’s apprentice left all alone?!”

Nothing moved as Lucy glanced around the  cold slumbering woods.

” No.” Her heart lit on fire as she threw an accusing finger to the trees. “I refuse to let that be my fate.”

Never be afraid to fly.

Lucy looked at her wrist as small blue sparks crackled from her palm.

“I’ll be a Top Hat,” her declaration started out as a whisper.  And then, it burst in brilliant fireworks.

“You’ll see!” she told the forest. “I’ll stop the world from turning to the darkness, just like you.  I will be a Top Hat, just like you!”

Lucy looked down at her fists balled together by her dress, the sparks vanishing.  “You think I’m just you daughter, but I have to believe I am more than that.  I will do something.”

Lucy looked back to the trees. “One day we will meet again.  And you’ll see.  I’ll prove to you that I can do it.  I’ll make Mum proud.  And you won’t even recognize your little girl anymore. . .” Her mind buzzed and she quickly picked up her skirts once more.

Lucy did not even turn to realize that the thick oak behind her contained a single Top Hat, watching in the shadows of the trees as his daughter raced into her destiny.  And then the forest returned to its melody of life and noises.

When Lucy returned to the gravesite, all the company had gotten into cars and buggies to go back into the city.  A single horse and carriage remained with a rather grumpy driver.

“Hurry!” she shouted from across the way.

“W’at’s this?” he grumbled.

“I’ll pay you double if you shut it and drive as fast as this horse can carry us back to the Clock Tower.”

“Miss, ta’t is a good ways.”

Double!” she emphasized.  She didn’t have time for this small talk.

Luckily, the man quickly snapped his mouth shut and motioned for her to get in begrudgingly.

During the ride,  Lucy could barely keep her hands still as she watched the country fade into the city as the brisk trot bumped forward.  Other cabbies passed, but the horse remained surprisingly focused.  By the time they had arrived at the foot of the stairs, Lucy’s fire had reached its peak.  She stormed from the coach, skipping the steps two at a time.

“Bloody hell!” the cursing driver yelled, his due unpaid.

Lucy strode past the guards and pushed her way through the crowd of Top Hats returning from the funeral.  Her brothers watched in absolute shock as she reached the front desk.

Winston, himself, was leaning with one hand against the desk to sort out the business that had passed while they were away.  All it took was a simple slam of Lucy’s open palms  on the wood to get his attention.

“I’ll do it.  I’ll stop humans from turning to the darkness –  I’ll stop demons from eating our hearts and souls.  I’ll fight alongside this society, and I will prove to everyone that I am a Top Hat.”

Winston eyed the girl carefully before straightening himself up to his full height.  Lucy never realized how he towered over her.  But it didn’t frighten her.  She didn’t even a single flinch.  “You know that once you agree, you can never go back.”

Lucy threw down her veil and looked the leader directly in the eyes. “Where do I sign?”

And with that, the Lady of Dawn entered into the world once more.

2016 E. M. Vick

 

Chapter XV: The Mourning Dress

Death makes fools of us all.  Lucy was no exception to this rule.  It was only until she was in the silence of her mother’s place of death, that she realized how irrational her hopes had been.  She leaned against the door, staring at the empty room.  Her soul was shattered against the floor, and she could only feel the numb pain of lose and anger.

It wasn’t fair.  Andrew had thrown their family away, Sebastian had been gone for years as well, and Adrian was often off studying for school to notice when Mum needed help.  She had been there to help open the store, to take over for dinner when her mother needed to sleep, to fight for her mother’s cure – even if only for a small amount of time.  And she didn’t get a proper goodbye.  She didn’t get to tell her mother how much she loved her, how important she was, how she just needed to hold on a little longer.

My children have come home.

It wasn’t fair!  Her tears prickled against her cheeks as she grappled with this intense grief and anger.

Lucy didn’t move for quite some time.  It was not until a few hours later, there was a soft beat on the door.

“Lucy, it’s Doctor Bedford,” the old man said softly. “I’ve come with Mr. Highgate.  May we come in?”

Lucy pushed herself up and leaned against the nearby wall to allow the doctor and funeral arranger inside.  Her eye watched the procedure as they examined her mother.  Bedford nodded solemnly to Mr. Highgate and they began to prepare to carry her out.

“Lucy, perhaps this would be better if you didn’t see this,” Mr. Bedford said, trying to keep his voice as delicate as possible.

“Of course,” she muttered and bowed lightly. “Thank you for taking care of this.  I can be down to the funeral house as soon as you need me to be.”

“I’ll call for you, my dear,” Mr. Bedford promised.  “But you must go lie down.  You do not look well.”

“Of course,” she repeated.  “Good day.”

Lucy turned to go, her breath sticking to the back of her throat.  It felt like a dream that she was swimming through.  One of her nightmares.  Only this time she knew who the Top Hats were.  This time her brother was alive.  And her mother dead.

In the hall, the boys were waiting patiently for their sister to emerge.

“Lucy,” Adrian cried, rushing to hug her.

She didn’t hug back immediately, but instead simply noticed that the youth had finally passed her in height, his blonde curls tickling her cheek.  It took a moment for her to remember he was still her younger brother and he was suffering just as much.   Gradually, she lifted her hands to gently hold him before the weight of their mother’s death pushed them back down.

“Lulu,” Sebastian started.

“I’m going to go lie down,” she cut him off. “Then I’ll get to sorting Mum’s things.”  It took her a moment to compose herself before she managed to look up into her twin’s eyes. “If you could go downstairs for a bit and start clearing out the kitchen that would be quite helpful.”

“Is there anything you need me to do?” Andrew dared to ask.

The two other brothers tensed, waiting for the venomous blow their sister would throw at them.  But it never came.

“If you wouldn’t mind, I need you to call Mum’s clients.  And go to the papers and let them know of Mum’s passing.  I can’t bring myself to do it, and if it’s a Top Hat that requests it…”Lucy explained before pausing to collect herself.  Her voice was beginning to waver.

“Alright. You go ahead and lie down,” Andrew said gently.

“November 22nd.  I want it to be on the 22nd.” Lucy choked back the tears, rubbing them away desperately.

“Come,” Andrew commanded his younger brothers, grabbing Adrian by the hand to pull him back.  “Give Lulu her time.”

And they vanished down the squeaking stairs as Mr. Highgate’s apprentices ascended to go into Stacy’s room.

Lucy turned away and rushed up the steps to her attic. Once there she threw herself onto the bed and began to sob all over again. She cried until she hiccupped into a nightmarish sleep filled with memories of her mother.

The next few days ached forward as boxes were slowly were packed away.  Lucy knew that with her mother gone there was no way for her to continue living in Flat 937.  One call to the bakery was all it took for her to get the rest of the week off and had earned the family free bread until the funeral was over.  Mel gave all her condolences and told her that she would close the bakery just to be able to attend Stacy O’Rourke’s funeral.  It meant the world to Lucy to hear that.  In fact, many of her Mum’s clients had expressed the same determination.  Her mother, Lucy realized, was well loved by people of all social standings.

Andrew spent most of the time working with the funeral home and Mr. Bedford.  Although the couple knew of Adrian’s new ‘career path’, they still wanted to give something back to the family.  After all, being a Top Hat was still a very prestigious position, and Stacy was quite close to the Mrs. Bedford.  Their gift to the O’Rourke’s was a comfortable funeral with a quaint gravestone for their beloved mother.

Meanwhile, Adrian and Sebastian mourned together as they packed away their mother’s store.  It helped that the boys both had someone to lean on as they put tailored items into boxes to be sent off to heaven knows where.  They had yet to decide where they should put the extra pieces.  The family was left alone by the Top Hats after Andrew called in his request to Winston.  The boys were grateful for this, but Lucy could care less about the Society.

She walked about her mother’s room in her simple black mourning dress and silently made small meals for them when the time drew near.  Every so often, the boys would manage to extract a word or two from her, but for the most part, Lucy remained silent as stone.  Not even Adrian could get the once ever-chattering sister to open up.  She did her best to comfort him and hold him but refused to speak on her own pain.  The second she did, this would all be real. It was as if it was someone else’s mother, who died. That is until a day before the funeral.

Lucy was going through the last of her mother’s clothing drawers.  She had sent the boys off for the rest of the day while she packed the last boxes of her mother’s things.  She still hadn’t figured out where the boxes would go but at least they would be ready.  Lucy’s mind kept playing the recent phone call from Mel – turning it over and over as if polishing an used coined.

“If you need a place to stay, I can always talk to my husband.  I’m sure we could manage a room for you while you worked for your rent,” the baker had offered.  Even Lucy knew that this was a bit of a stretch, but it was the only option she had.

You can go and see your mother and take care of everything you need to take care of, but only if you were give serious thought to working with us.

Poppycock.  Absolute rubbish.  She could not accept that deal.  For heaven’s sake, she would be living as a Top Hat!

It’s just who they are, Lucy.  It’s their job and an honorable one at that.

“Nice try, Mum,” the memory sunk deep in her throat – sticking to it like a foul taste of harsh metal.  Finally she added, “But you were wrong.”

Before her voice could crack anymore, Lucy went to her mother’s final drawer.  Her breathe hitched.

“Mummy, what’s this dress?”

“Lucy! Put that back!”

“What is it?  And what’s this black one?”

“Put it back, Lucy!” her mother had yelled.  It was one of the few times she had raised her voice at her daughter.

The little girl’s tears pricked her eyes as she started to cry.

“Oh darling, I’m sorry. Just please, please, put that back,” her mother came to cradle the girl and ease the dress from her tiny hands. “It’s Mummy’s fancy dress.  And Mummy’s sad dress.”

“Mummy’s sad dress?” the girl sniffled.

“Yes. . . Mum’s sad dress.”

Sure enough, the two dresses were still there, neatly stacked next to the other.  The first was a white silk grown covered in lace with a touch of pearls trailing down the corset top. Lifting the dress out, Lucy found the matching veil – a head band of stitched pearl flowers with weightless nylon – neatly falling beneath it.  The whole outfit was simple, yet elegant – with an air of grace to it.  No one other than Stacy could have made such a well-stitched creation.  It was moments like these, that Lucy wished she had inherited her mother’s skills and talents.  Carefully, she set it aside and her eyes locked onto her mother’s mourning gown.

The black dress was made with her mother’s finest silk.  Every stitch looked perfectly placed, the lace around the edges – deliberately pressed.  The same care that was given to her mother’s wedding dress had been given to this piece.  Lucy remembered the way it fit her mother beautifully at her brother’s funeral, and the year her father had disappeared.  Even when she wore it, she kept it clean and free from tears and stains.  As she picked it up and shook it out, her eyes caught sight of the dark veil her mother created for it.  Underneath was a curious envelope that had not been there before.

Lucy picked up the veil and letter within it.

 

To My Darling Lucille Hardcastle O’Rourke

Lucy’s heart quickened as her throat tightened in shock.  She turned over the delicate treasure and ripped through the envelope.  She could barely contain herself as a single page of her mother’s handwriting feel into her lap.  Tears fell as she carefully lifted the paper to her eye level, taking care not to damage the last piece of her Mum she had left.

Dear Lucy,

I left this last piece of me buried in the one and only place I knew you would look.  I could not leave this world without giving you something to keep with you until the end of time.  My dear, whatever you decide to do with your life, never give up and always keep fighting.  You have such a beautiful soul and a love that knows no bounds.  You must remember to forgive those who do you wrong.  In time, I hope that you will forgive Andrew, your father and even me.  You may feel like you are alone or lost when darkness closes around you.  But darling, our love will always live with you in a place no one can take away.  You will encounter many hardships and many pains throughout your life.  It is not the end.  You are just fighting against a single storm. It will never win, because at some point the sun must shine through.  Don’t give up.  And always remember one very important thing:  Never be afraid to fly.

I will love you always and forever, my dear Lucy.  Your brothers are so important to me, but you must remember you are my only daughter.  And that is a bond stronger than death – it can never be broken.

Goodbye, sweetheart.  Go where your heart takes you.  And when times seem dark, you only need to turn inside to find the light.

I love you. 

~*

Lucy hugged the letter to her chest as the door within her finally closed.  Her mind no longer raced with “what-if” and “why me?”, but settled comfortably at the last ink stroke.  This was how her mother needed it to be.

A wave of relief flooded through her as her eyes traveled to her mother’s veil.  Lucy knew what she needed to do and where she needed to be.  The girl stood and closed the door to her mother’s room.

Andrew came in from outside, looking around the tailor shop as the other two brothers packed the last items away.

“I suppose dinner will be soon,” he muttered, shaking off the cold.

Sebastian sighed and nodded while Adrian turned to look at the door leading to room.

“Perhaps we should go see if Lucy has started, she might want help,” Adrian suggested not as whole-heartedly as he would have liked.

The eldest O’Rourke agreed and the boys shuffled into the home to find the kitchen empty.

“Lulu?” Adrian called up wearily to the stairs.

“Lucy,” Andrew added boldly. “It’s time for dinner.  We’ll help you out.”

The boys began to move pots and pans, setting the kettle and retrieving food from the pantry.

“Sorry I’m late,” Lucy said as she came down the stairs.

Sebastian’s ears perked at the change in her tone and quickly turned to look at her. “Lucy, you look-”

The rest of the boys quickly followed suit and found their sister dressed in their mother’s black mourning dress.

“I hope you don’t mind.  There are a few creases in it, but I thought I’d wear it to the funeral.” The girl said, as she brushed nervous hands against her mother’s fine black silk.

“You look lovely, darling,” Andrew said, a smile crossing his face.  “Mother would be pleased.”

Lucy smiled back and hugged her older brother for the first time in six years.

 

2016 E. M. Vick

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

Chapter XIII: The Return of Wind and Fire

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