Vera tossed in her sleep, her dreams disturbed by flickering flashes of light and an acrid smell that wrinkled her nose. Sweat prickled her arms and legs till she panted and threw off her covers. Suddenly, she sat bolt upright, her eyes wide and staring. Swirling smoke stung them instantly.
Flames danced and darted like flickering fingers from under the door. Skittering to the chair by her desk, she pulled on her skirt and blouse and began screaming. “Pav! Pav, where are you? Help me!”
In the echoing house, she heard only the fire crackling on the other side of the door. Gripping the handle, she pulled and then screamed as the hot metal seared her hand. Grabbing another shirt from her dresser, she wrapped her throbbing hand and darted forward. Gripping the handle again, her whole body trembled. With a snapping, click, the knob turned, the door flew open, and a rush of heat and flame knocked her backward.
In horrified amazement, Vera stared at the flames. The LuKan had a natural fear of fire. Their tender flesh burned so easily that even sunburn could cause serious health issues. Crawling backward, she scurried to the back of the room and rose to her feet, the flames flickering toward her.
“Pav?” her hand clutched at her throat. She inched over to the window and stared down. It was a six-meter drop at least. In the dark, it looked like an endless chasm.
A sound of clattering boots running up the steps made her glance at the doorway. The door had swung shut again, but now the wood was engulfed in flames. A man called through the smoke and fire.
“Vera? Are you here?”
Vera’s shoulders slumped in relief. The blacksmith. “I’m here, Mr. Pollex. I can’t get out, and Pav’s not answering.” Vera clapped her hands together and winced as the blisters made contact.
A grunt and pounding shattered the air. Mr. Pollex shouted. “Pav? Pav, can you hear me?” A splintering thwack thudded against Pav’s door.
Vera closed her eyes and wiped sweat from her dripping face.
More splintering crashes and the sound of boots running across the floor. Shouts, grunts, and then silence.
Wrapping her long three fingered hands around her middle, Vera hugged herself. She swallowed against the bile that rose in her throat and ran to the window, sucking in fresh air.
Clattering boots and heaving grunts stopped outside her door. “Vera? Vera, stand back!”
Vera pressed her back against the window frame, her shoulders shaking.
A thwack smashed through the wood door, and a sharp, red-tipped blade shone through the flames. Uncounted thrusts tore at the wood until it fell aside like a torn curtain.
Lucius Pollex stepped through the flames. His red-rimmed eyes had scoured the room before they landed on Vera huddled against the back wall. He ran to her, gripped her arm, and lifted her to her feet. “Hurry, this timber frame won’t hold much longer.”
She froze at the flaming doorway. Without a word, Lucius stepped behind Vera and scooped her in his arms, enfolding her little body within his, and sprang through the red and orange darts of fire. Once outside the door, he dropped her in a clear space on the landing and bent over a prone figure.
Vera gasped. “Pav!”
Before she could run over, Lucius lifted Pav’s limp body over his shoulder and reached out for Vera. She shook herself, fighting nausea that bubbled up from her middle. As they descended the steps, she tripped and fell forward. Instantly, Lucius grabbed her around the waist, and, squeezing her body against his, he jogged down the last steps and through the front doorway into the smoky, night air.
Falling on her knees, Vera choked and sobbed, her hands over her face. She rocked back and forth, oblivious to everything except overwhelming pain and fear.
Shouting to her left forced her to look up. A small crowd huddled over a prone form laid out on the grass. Screaming, Vera scrambled like an injured animal toward the body. “Pav! Pav, get up. Talk to me. Pav!”
The crowd backed away.
Blinded by tears, Vera felt along Pav’s body, and finally, coming to his face, she lifted herself to peer into his face. If only she could look into his eyes and make a connection.
Pav’s arms were stretched out to the side, his legs lay limp and bent, his face turned up and his eyes wide open, but they saw nothing—not the stars that twinkled overhead, nor his sister’s tears as they landed on his cheek.
A firm but gentle hand gripped Vera’s shoulder.
She slid to the ground, her head landing on her brother’s chest, sobbing, clinging with her bleeding fingers.
The hand stayed with her, gentle, undemanding, warm and real in a nightmare of searing pain.
The murmuring crowd shuffled away. Someone bent low, and a woman’s voice whispered. “You want me to take her home with me? I’ve got room—”
Lucius tightened his grip. “Give her time. I’ll watch over her tonight.”
A man’s voice spoke in the air above her head. “It’s about out, nothing to do now but make plans to rebuild.”
Lucius murmured a soft, “Tomorrow.”
Footsteps padded away, voices chattering in an undertone. “Poor thing. Wonder how it started…”
Pav’s body, already cold, was growing stiff.
Vera shivered, opened her eyes, and blinked at the black night, tears slipping down her blistered cheek.
An arm reached around her shoulders and carefully pulled her off her brother’s body. Gently pulling her close, Lucius braced himself against a shed wall and wrapped his muscled, fire-seared and scoot-coated arms around her, pressing her head to his chest.
Vera could feel his chest rising and falling and hear his heart beating in a steady rhythm. His warmth settled over her shivering frame and calmed her. Relaxing, she closed her eyes and let the nightmare end.
An early bird chirped in the treetops. Vera opened her eyes and stared over Lucius’ charcoal-blackened shirt into a hazy world of drifting smoke, green grass, treetops, and a red sunrise.
Rising on her elbow, Vera studied the stubble-bearded face of Lucius Pollex. His warm chest still rose and fell rhythmically as she shifted her arm and looked around. Her hands stung. She stared at the red blisters on one hand and the angry red blotches over the other and her arms. Wiggling her toes, she was amazed that they didn’t hurt—nothing like her hands. Her gaze drifted over Lucius. She sucked in a horrified gasp. Lucius’ legs ended in smoldering stumps. “Oh, no….” Fresh tears welled in her eyes.
Lucius stirred and groaned. His eyes snapped open, and his arm squeezed protectively around Vera. When their gazes connected, he sucked in a deep breath and darted a glance around the field and burned timber. “You’re alive then?”
Vera nodded. She wiped her face with the back of her hand and sat up, her eyes searching.
Pav still lay stretched out in the field. She started forward, but Lucius held her back. “Wait. I’ll help.” He stood and assisted her to her feet. Peering down at her thin, burned face, he shook his head. “You need care, too, or I’ll be digging more than one grave this day.” Rubbing a tear from her cheek, he stared down, somber, and sighed. “And that, I won’t have.”
Vera stared at his burned stumps, her eyes wide in horror.
Lucius pulled up a charred pant leg and revealed a metal band connecting an artificial limb to the stump of his leg. “They were burned in an accident some time ago.” He raised his gaze to the blue sky and exhaled. “I was never happy about it, but now, I’m glad. If I didn’t have such feet, I could never have walked across a burning floor to save you.”
Lucius gaze fell over Pav’s body. “Only—I wish I had wings.”
Vera stepped over to her brother’s body and knelt down. She lifted Pav’s hand and kissed it. Looking over her shoulder, a shaky smile trembled on her lips. “Don’t feel too bad. The LuKan believe in the Immortal Life—today, Pav has wings for us both.”
Novels by A. K. Frailey
Ishtar’s Redemption http://amzn.to/2kHKLtN
Neb the Great http://amzn.to/2kS1Ylm
Georgios I—Hidden Heritage http://amzn.to/2lscPWg
Georgios II—A Chosen People http://amzn.to/2lTK0mu
Melchior—Vengeance Is Mine http://amzn.to/2taeW2r
The Adventures of Tally-Ho http://amzn.to/2sLfcI5
The Road Goes Ever On—A Christian Journey Through The Lord of the Rings http://amzn.to/2lWBd00