Now, We Burn

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9 | Ember

November 7, 2104

Ember cried out in pain as Hugo slammed her against a dirty, cracked wall inside the mall, forcing her to her knees. The rope at her wrists burned her skin like fire.

“Harking monster,” she growled at Hugo, spitting onto his pant leg.

“Hey!” he barked, grabbing Ember’s chin, his fingernails digging into her flesh. “I would be nice to me, pretty,” he grinned. “After all, I’m going to be the one torturing you.”

He let go, stepping back as Eliza was dragged over to the wall by Pierce. Tears streaked her sister’s cheeks.

Anger shook Ember. There was nothing they could do. They couldn’t get away, couldn’t run, couldn’t save themselves, and that made her angrier than anything.

Nothing was worse to Ember than being powerless.

As Pierce threw Eliza down beside her, Ember scanned the room, chest heaving. They were in a small part of the mall. One wall had been blown out, going into another part of the mall. Shattered glass was strewn across the floor like shards of the sky.

“So we have you again.”

Ember looked up, gritting her teeth as the gang leader, Thane, slid into the room, black clothes dusted with ash and his long hair pulled into a bun at the nape of his neck, exposing the sharp angles of his face. His grey eyes were bright with fury.

“Maybe this time you’ll cooperate,” he said, his jaw twitching.

“Never,” Ember growled just as Eliza inhaled sharply.

Ember glanced over to her sister; she was staring at Ember with wide eyes. Ember looked away, confused at her sister’s behavior. She couldn’t think that they should give this harking mud stain of a leader what he wanted, could she? Not after he had kidnapped their father. Ember would rather die than give in to him.

“I don’t think you understand,” Thane said, his cold, hard gaze boring into her. His presence seemed to suck all the warmth from the air.

“If you heal my second, I will let you live. Refusing to do this will only cause you pain.” His gaze turned to Eliza.

“Fighting us is pointless.”

“As if we would bend to the will of the people who killed our father,” Ember snarled. “You took someone we loved, now let’s see how you like it. I hope your friend dies the most painful death a person can harking have.”

Thane’s eyes blazed, and Ember was sure he was about to lash out at her, to slap her across the face so hard she saw stars, but he didn’t.

Thane stepped back, his rage barely controlled.

“Hugo,” he said, tone cold as he beckoned to the tattooed boy. “Start your work.”

Ember’s heart sunk as Hugo stepped forward, fear causing her heart to race. Hugo slid a rusted knife from his belt, his grin as sharp as his blade.

Ember swallowed and bared her teeth, trying not to show the fear that was making her limbs weak.

“Hugo’s very good with a knife, you know,” Thane said, his leather clad arms crossed over his chest. “He can cut a person’s flesh in such a way that allows him to peel their skin off like a glove, but I doubt we’ll have to go that far.”

Ember stared at Thane with all the loathing she could muster, before her eyes flickered back to Hugo. He knelt beside her, grabbing her short hair and thrusting her head up.

Sweat was beading across Ember’s forehead by the time Hugo lowered the knife toward her. She looked away, trying to think of anything but the pain she knew was going to come. Her eyes met the face of Pierce, his skin pale and his expression sickened.

Her eyes met Eliza’s, then. Her sister’s face was contorted in a mixture of fear and revulsion. Ember felt the cold blade on her neck, and she saw Eliza’s mouth open, but Ember shook her head a fraction of a inch. Eliza couldn’t say anything; this would happen anyway, and if she spoke they might hurt her instead. The knife blade sunk into Ember’s neck and she felt a warm drip.

Hugo moved, drawing the knife back and sinking it straight into her thigh. Ember gasped in pain, her vision clouding as pain overwhelmed her.

“Harking scum,” she swore, gritting her teeth as tears welled in her eyes. The knife was still in her thigh, hot, thick blood welling up around the hilt of the knife, seeping into her pants.

She heard Eliza gasp something under her breath, but it was too quiet to make out.

“We can do this all day,” Thane said grimly, his eyes not moving from Ember’s face.

“Then it looks like it’s going to be a long day,” Ember sneered, trying not to cry out from the pain shooting through her leg. The knife was in deep -- it might have even caused some internal bleeding, or worse, the wound was being infected by the rusted blade. Ember’s father had brought her many patients who died because of an infected wound no bigger than her little finger. With a wound this deep she was sure to die if it wasn’t taken care of.

“Wish I didn’t have to do this, love, ” Hugo said, eyes meeting Ember’s before he took the hilt of the knife and twisted. Ember bit her lip as the blade sliced deeper into her flesh, cutting sinew and muscle. Ember screamed, unable to hold back the cry of agony any longer. She thrashed in her bonds, the taste of blood in her mouth.

“Stop!” Eliza cried. “You’re killing her!”

“Eliza--” Ember started, trying to speak through her pain, but Thane cut in.

“Are we? Well what does it matter? You both can heal Eeros. We only need one healer.”

Ember let out a laugh, the sound coming out harsh and laced with pain.

“You can’t kill me, you harking fools. I’m the healer. Only me. If I die, you’ll have no one. Too bad.” She winced, her blood dripping onto the tile floor, pooling around her leg. “’Cause it looks like I’m going to bleed out and die with your commander.”

Thanes expression froze, as did Hugo’s. Ember grinned; she had thrown them off, and now they realized that they had made a mistake. It was only then that she realized that she had made the mistake. Hugo turned to Thane, and the gang leader gave a firm nod. Without warning Hugo lunged at Eliza, grabbing her arm and holding his blade to her neck.

Ember’s heart turned to stone, unable to take her gaze off Eliza’s terrified features.

“Well then,” Thane said cooly, the very sound of his voice filling Ember with fury.

“Heal my second-in-command, or I will kill your sister.”

“Don’t, Ember,” Eliza said, her eyes growing wider as Hugo’s blade sank deeper into the pale skin of her neck.

Ember’s anger had taken over. All sense disappeared, her vision clouded with fury. How could she have been so crussing stupid? Now she had no way to get out of this, no way to just let her blood drain away with the life of Thane’s commander. She couldn’t see them win, and she couldn’t let Eliza die.

“I--” Ember started, a lump rising in her throat as she tried to speak. But she couldn’t do it, her lips refusing to say the words she knew she must. There had to be a third way out. Then Ember thought of it.

“I’ll heal your second,” she muttered, trying her best to keep her voice from wavering. “But only on one condition.”

Thanes eyebrows shot up.

“You fight me,” Ember started, her entire leg throbbing as her blood seeped out.

“No,” she heard Eliza gasp. “Ember, are you crazy? Don’t--”

“If I win,” Ember continued, her jaw set as she held Thane’s gaze. “You let me and Eliza go. You will not chase us, you will not kill us. If you win, I’ll heal whoever you want, as long as Eliza isn’t hurt.”

“Ember!” Eiza cried, but she was cut off as Hugo clamped a hand over her mouth.

Ember ignored her sister. She couldn’t have any distractions right now. She needed this to work, or all chances of escape were lost.

A smile, thin and cold, crossed Thane’s features, his eyes bright with mocking amusement.

“Fair enough.” He said, “But you need to promise that you will heal Eeros, no tricks. If he dies, so does your sister.”

Ember nodded, feeling like she was selling her soul to the devil.

Thane glanced at Pierce, exchanging unreadable words with the other boy before saying, “Hugo, bring her outside. This won’t take long.”

Hugo came over, hoisting Ember to her feet. Sharp, fiery pain flared up in Ember’s leg, making cold sweat break out all over her body. A cry of pain escaped her throat as she let Hugo push her roughly out of the mall. Ember glanced back, her eyes meeting Eliza’s. Her sister looked like her heart was about to shatter. Then she was out of sight.

“Cut her bonds,” Thane ordered, shedding his black leather jacket, his tight, lithe build outlined under his black tank top.

Hugo removed the ropes from her wrists. Ember pulled away, rubbing her wrists before peeling off her own jacket. Only then did she think about how foolish this idea of hers had really been. Yes, she was a good fighter, and yes, she believed she could take Thane down, but not in this condition. Every step felt like Hugo was still twisting the knife further into her leg; she could barely walk on it, nevermind fight. If she had been anyone else, she would have been done for. But she wasn’t anyone else, she was Ember Roan, daughter of Alix and Reina Roan, and she was going to avenge her father’s death with all the strength and rage she could muster. This pathetic harking excuse of a gang leader was going down for the wrongs he had done her.

A crowd was beginning to form around the two, murmuring voices wondering what was going on.

For a moment, Ember thought of escaping, before she realized she couldn’t.

“Hugo,” Thane called. “Count in the fight. Let’s get this over with.” Ember’s face twisted into a grimace at Thane’s words, her anger barely contained. He thought he had this fight in the bag. Ember would prove him wrong.

“On three,” Hugo began. “One... Two... Three!” Before the last word had even left Hugo’s mouth, Thane was already moving. he rushed toward Ember, fists ready, but Ember was ready too. She met Thanes blow with blocked hands, ducking and sidestepping, trying to ignore the pain that was already eating away at her. Thane struck again, his fists a blur as he aimed for her face, her stomach, her side, and Ember deflected them all. Thane spun, features hard, grey eyes piercing as he lashed out with a kick. Ember leapt, Thanes leg sailing right under her. Instantly she regretted the move as her feet hit the ground, her leg burning with agony. She cried out, nearly falling over. Thane saw his moment to strike and he reached out, grabbing Ember arm in a vice-like grip and pulling her toward him. Ember spun, trying to get away, her elbow slamming into Thanes chest. Thane faltered, the amusement on his face sliding off.

For a moment Ember felt triumph swell in her chest, but Thane attacked, more vicious than before. It was all Ember could do to block his blows. He was winning; Ember could feel it as the pain in her leg finally got to her. She was too weak to even make her own blows at Thane. All she could do was defend herself.

“All it takes is one well-aimed blow,” her father had told her in her first fighting lesson. “It doesn’t matter how small you are, or how weak you are. If you’re smart, you can take down anyone.”

That’s what Ember had to do. She had to find the flaw in Thane’s attack.

Distracted by her thoughts, Ember’s fists came up too late as Thane’s hand connected with her jaw. She stumbled back, sweat drenching her. Thane charged at her with his steely eyes flashing, but this time Ember was ready. She moved, raising her good foot, about to strike. She saw Thane’s eyes widen just before her foot kicked him square in the face. Thane’s head snapped back and Ember swung her leg around for another blow. Thane’s hand shot out, grabbing her leg and twisting. Ember spun and tumbled into Thane as he grabbed her, his fingers sinking into the wound on her thigh.

Ember screamed, her vision going dark from the pain, unable to move and unable to fight back as Thane slammed her into the dirt. Tears streamed down her face as she turned to get up, but Thane’s boot pressed into her back. She was too weak to fight back. She had lost, she had failed.

“Looks like I win,” Thane stated as cheers erupted from the small crowd gathered around them. Ember’s blood burned like acid. She would never forgive herself.

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