Hyde Park always seemed to bring a bit more blue out of the London sky, like an oasis in a colorless world. Wide swaths of green grass rolled endlessly beside long walking paths. Pots of bright posies and daisies stood like sentries beside fashionably visible benches. Stately forests sprang up at the edges, to shade the promenading ladies from the thin sunlight.
Pale, respectable women in billowing dresses of cotton, satin, and lace strolled aimlessly under their frilly parasols. Gentlemen in black jackets and top hats marched to the sharp rhythm of their own walking sticks. Children forgot all propriety as they ran free in the somewhat warm light and moist grass—much to the frustration of their governesses.
“But aren’t you from here?” Jonas asked with far too much glee in his voice, when Twist admitted that he wasn’t actually sure where the fountain, where Arabel and Myra were to meet them, actually was.
“I don’t know what you’re implying, but I never lived in a park,” Twist shot back quickly. “Besides, I hate public places. You know that.”
“What did you ever do without me?” Jonas asked wistfully as he led the way to the fountain.
“Yes, yes…which way is it then, Magellan?” Twist asked through a sigh as they came to a crossroads through the grass.
Jonas turned to gesture down the correct path, but his words stuck in his throat. At the other end of his gaze stood Myra, with all the pride that was due to a princess. Her copper skin was polished to a brilliant shine, but her slight, curvy form was now wrapped in a long, elegant dress of gray cotton and pink lace, of a style that perfectly matched the English ladies strolling in the park. The bodice was tight to her slender clockwork waist, but the skirts and bustle billowed out like a waterfall. There was a string of pearls at her throat, and a large pearl set at each ear. Her maroon-colored, metallic hair was styled into perfect rolling curls that clustered in a swirl at the base of her neck, under a tiny pink bonnet with a pile of gray silk roses artfully placed to one side over her jewel-blue eyes. The pink lace parasol completed the outfit dashingly.
Arabel walked toward Twist and Jonas in a new emerald bodice, worn under her long brown jacket, with a new short, black, silk skirt over her tight trousers and tall, shining, brown-leather riding boots. Her long blond hair now tumbled over her shoulders in loose, glistening, freshly styled curls. Although she walked proudly in her own right, it was Myra who had stopped both Jonas and Twist dead in their tracks. When Myra turned and saw Twist’s look of utter astonishment, her copper face bloomed into a smile as bright as the sun should have been.
“Well?” Arabel asked as the two pairs met on the walkway. “What do you think, Twist?”
Myra turned herself to show off the huge, pink silk bow that sat on the soft, gray cotton bustle, and she smiled at Twist with a decidedly playful gleam in her eyes. Jonas crossed his arms and leaned back to survey the image before he gave an admiring whistle. Arabel swatted at him with the back of her hand, but Myra only giggled and looked expectantly to Twist.
“Do I look like an English lady?” she asked him brightly, clasping together her metal hands in their white-lace gloves.
It took Twist a few tries to get a sound past his lips. “Yes, you do,” he said as he struggled with the perfection of the illusion. “You look splendid, my dear,” he managed finally, pulling out a smile.
Myra gave an elated squeak and hopped as she moved quickly to stand beside him, wrapping her arm through his.
“Let’s take a stroll,” she said, as if it were the most exotic of pleasures. “Arabel told me about strolls. Apparently, English women take them all the time.”
As Twist acquiesced, Myra spoke quickly in bright notes, telling him of all the wonders that one could see in London shops, while she walked beside him in a cloud of pure pride and delight. Jonas shrugged and offered his sister his arm as well. She accepted with a grin, and the two pairs turned to stroll along the paths, through the seas of lush, damp grass. Twist listened less to Myra’s words and more to the happiness and innocence that ran rampantly through her clockwork form. Her chilly metal fingers warmed slowly against his arm, while his Sight washed his attention in her every delight.
As they continued along the banks of a wide, green pond, the sky began to darken. In a moment, the sound of heavy raindrops crept over the damp ground behind them. The swans that had been paddling about happily on the pond took to the sky with aggravated cries, while promenading ladies shrieked and hurried primly to shelter. The suddenness of the heavy rain surprised even Twist.
“Shall we make a break for it, then?” he asked, already hurrying his pace as the curtain of rain began to close on them, so thick that its border was clearly visible.
“I saw a tea shop over there,” Arabel said, pointing to the nearest park exit.
“Perfect!” Myra said brightly as they all began to run. “Twist loves tea.”
“Grand. Can we hurry up, then?” Jonas said shortly, rushing away from the advancing storm.
They all broke into a run, but the weather quickly caught up with them. A few moments later, Twist and his companions were seated at a table in a little tea shop, with some extra napkins. Glancing about, Twist spotted many other soggy patrons at the tables around them. At second look, the tea shop seemed anything but trendy to Twist. He supposed that the storm must be doubling its daily business.
The flowery wallpaper was pink and gold, and all of the wooden furniture was painted a bland white. The gauzy green curtains blocked the rest of the sunlight, while amber gaslight poured out of cherub-shaped sconces, over murky oil paintings of indistinct fields and farms. There was no grace or elegance to anything in sight, giving the place a crowded, gaudy, and decidedly cheap appearance.
“This place is ghastly,” Jonas said as he placed his dark goggles snugly over his eyes.
“I think it’s cozy,” Arabel said brightly.
“No, it’s ghastly,” Twist said, staring uncertainly at a rather dull-looking brown cow in one of the paintings.
“Oh look!” Myra said suddenly, pointing to an item on the lace-rimmed menu. “They have your favorite, darling,” she said happily to Twist.
“Dear, this is London,” Twist said gently to her, having read the item name. “Everyone sells Darjeeling.”
“What a wonderful city,” Myra said wistfully.
“I miss Cuba,” Jonas said, inspecting a golden teaspoon with his fingers. “There weren’t any ghastly tea shops in Cuba. Does this spoon seriously have a kitten on the end of it?” he asked, holding it up for Twist to see for him.
“I’m afraid so,” he answered gravely.
Arabel rolled her eyes. “Men…” she muttered under her breath. “No taste whatsoever.”
Twist readied a retort in defense of his gender, but his words were stalled as his gaze caught on the figure that had just walked in through the door. Tall, well built, and statuesque, with imposing confidence, the man swept his very light brown—almost golden—eyes slowly across the room. The host who came to seat him approached hesitantly. The man didn’t answer but only continued to scan the room. Although his vaguely Western features suggested his age as only approaching his forties, the man’s loose, chin-length hair was a bright-silver color.
His nearly golden eyes found Twist and held, staring at him with the calm intensity of a panther. Twist felt his heart pound quickly in his chest, and a chill broke over his skin as he stared back, as helpless and startled as a fawn. Jonas turned to him with a blind frown.
“What?” The moment of distraction seemed to break the spell. When Twist turned to Jonas, he was surprised to find his breath short and his heart still pounding.
“What’s going on?” Jonas asked, slipping his goggles off to glance around them quickly. “Are we in trouble?”
“Trouble?” Arabel asked. Myra looked up at Twist curiously. Twist reached up to the back of his neck absently as he felt a tiny spark of foreign anxiety tingle to life.
“No, no, it’s just…” Twist looked back to the door, but the strange man was gone. Twist turned quickly to scan the rest of the tea shop, but he couldn’t find the man anywhere. “It’s nothing.”
Jonas caught his gaze, looking at him seriously with purple eyes. “It felt like you’d seen a ghost,” he said carefully.
“It’s nothing,” Twist said again, forcing certainty into his words.
Jonas narrowed his eyes, which took on a deeper hue.
“Just leave it,” Twist snapped, turning his own eyes away. “I thought I saw something, but it was nothing.” Jonas gave a low sigh and put his goggles back on. Twist gave him a smile, forcing his own heart to lighten. Jonas seemed to sense it instantly and gave Twist an acknowledging nod.
“You two are very odd,” Arabel said, watching them with a worried expression.
“But we’ve got the right number of fingers,” Jonas mentioned quickly. “You can’t fault us on that.”
Twist laughed softly, while Arabel seemed highly confused. Myra gave a long-suffering sigh. When the waitress appeared, Myra instantly ordered the Darjeeling. The waitress stared at Myra’s shining metal face for a long moment before nodding and hurrying off. The conversation picked up again, returning to the joys of London shopping, until the waitress returned with their order. Arabel picked out one of the cups and filled it with the fragrant, deep-orange tea. Then Myra took the pot, serving Twist and Jonas.
“So, where are we planning to go next?” Twist asked as he sipped at his tea.
“Good question,” Jonas said, stirring sugar into his cup.
“Uncle Howell found a lead on a Roman treasure trove that was lost in the Mediterranean back before the fall of the empire,” Arabel mentioned brightly. “He’s thinking to ask Bruno to lend us his submersible.”
“Bruno?” Jonas asked derisively. “The big guy who always smells of salmon and onions?”
“Oh, he doesn’t smell that bad,” Arabel said with a sigh. “Besides, we’d just be using his sub. He’s getting older now. He doesn’t go out to sea much anymore.”
“I’ll bet his sub smells of salmon and onions too,” Jonas muttered, taking a sip of his tea.
“Oh, you!” Arabel snapped, tossing a sugar lump at him.
Thanks to his blinded vision, the dense nugget of sugar struck Jonas square on the shoulder, making him jump. He let out a yelp of surprise and reached for the sugar bowl to retaliate. Arabel laughed brightly as she held her arms up to protect herself. Myra giggled to watch them and cheered when Jonas scored a point, striking Arabel on the elbow. Twist shook his head, smiling softly, and tried to keep himself out of the fray.
“Excuse me,” a deep, clear voice asked from behind Twist and Jonas. Twist nearly leaped out of his chair when he saw the strange, golden-eyed man standing so near behind them. Twist’s heart thundered once again, and every fiber of his being screamed at him to run. The man glanced at Twist with a cold disinterest that pinned him still in his seat before looking back to Jonas.
“Hello,” Arabel uttered stiffly, with obvious surprise. Her mirth had vanished completely as she looked at the man with a slightly fearful fascination. Myra also stared up at him with wide eyes.
“Are you Jonas Davis, the sky pirate?” the man asked.
“Who wants to know?” Jonas asked back, turning to look over his shoulder with covered eyes. Twist knew Jonas could feel his sudden fear, but Jonas showed no signs of fear himself.
The man looked to Twist. “Is he Jonas Davis?” he asked, his voice still sounding light.
The moment he heard the question, Twist felt a powerful and undeniable compulsion to respond with the truth. He managed to keep his mouth closed, but his head slipped into a shallow nod that he was helpless to stop. The man smiled slightly and put a hand on Jonas’s shoulder.
Suddenly, the whole world flashed a blinding, burning white.
Oh dear, that doesn’t look good. I wonder what will happen next… If you’re wondering too, check out Chapter 3!
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