ORCHID 1 HALCYON DAYS ARE OVER PT. I
A haze of light sweeps across the tops of the cityscape of towering skyscrapers as the sun begins to set. At the very top of Skyscraper One stands a teenaged boy with untidy black hair and dark eyes. Leaning against the railing at the peak of the tower, he raises a mobile phone to his ear, listening intently to the other end.
His hair fluttering in the wind, the youth takes in the vast, global metropolis of London laid out before him. The River Thames winds through the landscape in the distance, while Big Ben looms over the black band of water, its iconic clock tower reading half past seven. Miniscule vehicles crawl like ants along the narrow veins of the city far below.
"Ah, did you need something?" The boy answers his mobile, his free hand gripping the metal railing in front of him.
"Calcutta called today. Their final report was negative. We've decided to rule it out."
Taking a moment for these words to sink in, the boy finally lets out a sigh. "So Calcutta is no longer on the list. Along with Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Bombay, and Karachi. The rumor it may have been smuggled into the cities is looking bleaker by the day."
"Yes. It appears we shall have to delve into the wilderness to the north where George was rumored to be last when it was lost. I had hoped this would not be the case. To open that Pandora's box…"
"In the end, we may have no choice."
A long pause follows before the voice replies, "You may be right. This is a matter of national pride, after all. We must do all we can to recover Valhalla, the Sword that was Lost. In any case, I shall discuss this with the Executive Board before deciding on our next course of action. Do not do anything rash before then, Azure."
Holding his mobile phone away from himself, Azure stares at it. He returns it to his ear. "Of course… Father."
"Very well. Ah, I nearly forgot. There's one more th—"
"Heeeyyyyyy! Azure, where've you goneee?"
Looking over his shoulder, Azure spots a girl with wavy blonde hair gesticulating at him from across the rooftop. "I have to go. I'll talk to you later, Father," Azure mutters, cramming his mobile back inside the pocket of his slacks and straightening up just as the girl reaches him.
Azure's companion is wearing a long, strapless purple gown. A silk bow in a shade of lavender is fastened around the waist of her dress, while bright blue earrings sparkle from her ears. The girl, about the same age as Azure, flashes her friend a cheeky wink.
"Oh, it's just you, Mimi," breathes Azure.
Mimi drags Azure into a powerful one-armed embrace, nearly choking him to death as she steers him away from the side of the building. "Jeez, Azure. Sneaking off to take a phone call and leaving me with all those geezers! Who was the call from, anyway?"
Choking, Azure replies hoarsely, "It was my father. He just wanted to check up on some business matters."
"Must be rough running a corporation as large as your father's," Mimi comments airily as the two stroll towards the center of the rooftop. The roof of Skyscraper One has been transformed into a garden, with rows of hedges and trellises adorned with vines of ivy winding through the rooftop. In one corner, a marble fountain churns merrily.
Dozens of people mill about underneath a makeshift pavilion erected at the center of the garden, where a large reception is taking place. The sound of chatter and eating fills the air while lamps shaped like white tulips dangle on wires strung overhead, breathing a warm glow into the quickly darkening rooftop.
"It's a shame your father couldn't attend the reception," Mimi says as they traipse past several tables laden with silver platters of gourmet food. Stoic butlers weave in and out among the tables, while a chef or two loiters nervously by his masterpiece watching the guests. "When did he say he'd be back from his trip to India?"
"Not sure," Azure replies. "It seems he intends to stay for the long haul."
"He must really be dedicated to developing the India market."
A fat, lumbering official sidles past Azure, chattering away to a mustached nobleman. Azure follows the official with his eyes as the latter snarls unpleasantly at him. "There certainly seem to be quite a few V.I.P.s tonight."
"Oh, of course!" pipes up Mimi. "The reopening of the National Museum is a big deal, after all. Even though it's been sixteen years since the throne's been empty, the people of the Grand British Empire are eager for anything that will remind them of the glory days of the past."
"Hmm," sounds Azure, "leave it to a Kennedy to explain it so eloquently."
"Please," Mimi laughs, brushing off the comment playfully, "it's just common sense! I mean, I even heard a member of the royal family might be showing up tonight."
"You impudent brute!" sounds a voice from their left. Azure and Mimi pause as a loud commotion catches their attention. One of the noblemen, a fleshy man in his mid-fifties, towers over a trembling butler, an Indian. A platter of shrimp lies forgotten at the feet of the two men.
The nobleman's monocle dangles precariously over the edge of his nose as he spits with rage. "Can you brown-skins do nothing right? How dare you spill that all over me! I ought to have you whipped and shipped back to India, boy!"
Although a crowd has formed around the two men, nobody does anything. Azure scowls as a middle-aged lady whispers into her neighbor's ear, and the two women burst into silent giggles. As the nobleman raises his hand to strike, Azure steps forward. "Stop it!"
Mimi utters a gasp of recognition as the fat man turns to Azure. "Lord Wellington!"
Lord Wellington's beady eyes shift in Mimi's direction before returning to Azure. The frown on his face grows more and more the longer he stares at the youth. His mouth curls into a snarl. "What did you say?"
Ignoring Wellington, Azure slips past the nobleman and extends a hand to the butler. "Are you okay?"
However, the servant only cringes at Azure's gesture. Backing away on the ground, he clumsily scrambles back to his feet and scurries away before Azure can say another word. Azure turns back to Wellington.
"That behavior was uncalled for," he growls, his voice rising over the stunned crowd. "He made an honest mistake, but you weren't willing to acknowledge it! He may be Indian, but India was once part of the Grand British Empire too, and nobody deserves to be treated like that!"
"Hmph, you're Edmond Dunbarton's adopted boy, aren't you?" Wellington glowers at Azure from behind his monocle. "No need to elaborate. From what I've heard, you may be British, but your real parents dumped you in that filthy orphanage for curry-eaters as well! No wonder you like the smell! But for the rest of us, those uncivilized bastards betrayed the Empire and killed our emperor!
"It's a shame indeed they let one of such low blood as you into this reception, but I suppose it is an unfortunate reality that the Dunbarton family is as influential as it is. Take care not to offend the other guests with any more indecency, boy."
Fixing his tie, Lord Wellington stomps past Azure. He pauses briefly in front of Mimi. "I hope your evening is well, Miss Kennedy. As a friend of your grandfather, I would advise you against associating with riffraff like this boy. Regrettably, his father is an important figure in our economy, but this boy is naught but filth tracked in from the wasteland that is India. Well then."
Mimi trembles with suppressed emotion, but she bites her lip and curtsies to Wellington. Slowly, the crowd around them disperses as Azure and Mimi are left alone again. Turning to her friend, Mimi gasps, "I'm sorry you had to endure that, Azure. Lord Wellington is really a pleasant man, but his prejudices—"
Azure shakes his head. "No, don't think too much of it. It's true I grew up in an orphanage in India, so I'm used to hearing things like that. If I learned anything in Hayes' place, it's that I must be able to stand up for what I believe in."
Though Mimi does not say anything, she continues to watch Azure worriedly. However, she is soon drawn out of her reverie as yet another aristocrat approaches her.
"Ah, Miss Kennedy!" he says. He is dressed in a black suit; a handkerchief with his family crest protrudes from his coat pocket. Over the man's upper lip is a neatly-trimmed mustache, while a pair of round spectacles hangs over the bridge of his nose.
"Lord Benton!" Mimi says. She quickly curtsies as the two exchange formalities. "How do you do, my lord?"
"Excellent indeed," Benton replies. "I've heard many wonderful things about you from your grandfather, Miss Kennedy. How is Lord Kennedy, anyway?"
"His work on the Council of Regents keeps him busy, but he is doing very well. I thank you for inquiring, my lord."
Azure, lagging behind in no mood to meet any more aristocrats, defaults to observing the other party guests. He soon feels a pair of eyes on him, however. Spinning around, Azure searches the garden with his eyes. A head with long black hair bobs away from him through the crowd in the direction of the tower.
With a look back at Mimi and Lord Benton who are both engrossed in conversation, Azure decides to follow after this mysterious person. He squeezes past a group of older gentlemen discussing international politics and apologizes as he runs into a waiter walking in the opposite direction.
In a matter of seconds, Azure finds himself on an unimpeded path back towards the tower. An atrium with glass walls at least two stories high occupies the far side of the rooftop, where the tower narrows into a gleaming glass spire. Azure passes through the glass doors and finds himself inside the much quieter atrium.
At the center of the room stands a circular information lobby where access to the lifts is also situated. In the empty space around the lobby, a temporary art gallery has been erected. A varied collection of paintings, busts, and sculptures decorate the room. Compared to the merriment outside, the gallery is nearly deserted.
Azure's footsteps echo through the room as he strides down a corridor of paintings. He soon finds himself gazing at the back of a girl his age. Her dark hair falls gracefully past her shoulders as she stands in an immaculate black dress that suits her slim figure well, the skirt running just past her knees and ending with a bit of white frill. A pair of black heels completes the look.
Seconds pass as Azure watches the girl with a sense of awe gripping him. But even as he watches the girl, Azure notices in turn that she is gazing fixedly at an oil painting of Abraham Lincoln. Cradled in the wise hands of the man is a magnificent sheathed sword, while Lincoln himself is seated on a throne of gold.
Azure's mouth opens. "E-excuse m—!"
Before the girl can turn around to face him, however, the side of the building collapses in a ball of fire.
A/N: Thank you for reading ORCHID. This series is regularly updated every Friday. You may NOT reproduce this work without my permission. Credit for the cover goes to Jax Creation.
DISCLAIMER: This is a work of fiction. The views expressed in this work of fiction are not necessarily representative of my own beliefs. The words and actions of characters in this story are not an endorsement of any political or personal ideals, nor are they meant to be interpreted as indicative of the beliefs of any other persons or organizations.