Now, We Burn

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10 | Eliza

| Eliza |

Thane walked back into the room of the mall where Pierce and Eliza still were. He walked with the same powerful stride, but it faltered a bit. Next to come was her sister, unconscious and being carried by Hugo. So Thane had won.

Eliza wished she could’ve seen the fight, to root for Ember and help her in any way she could, but whenever she moved even a fraction of an inch, Pierce’s hand flew to the knife on his belt. She regretted not just taking the knife, or tripping him and running.

As soon as Hugo brought Ember in, Thane began to speak.

“Seeing as I have won,” he began. “You two will stay under our preservation, and your sister will save Eeros. Got it?”

Eliza nodded solemnly, then jumped when Thane started to move forward. “Actually,” he said as he walked, stopping about three feet away from her kneeling body and bending down ever-so-slightly. “I want you to tell me why I shouldn’t kill you right now. What have you to offer my people and I?”

Eliza’s heart raced as she racked her brain for a reason, any reason, but her thoughts were too jumbled. She looked into Thane’s grey eyes frantically before taking a deep breath, composing herself. He was only trying to scare Eliza. He wouldn’t kill her.

“I--” she paused when her voice broke. “I’m smarter than Ember,” Eliza stated, trying to keep her voice from wavering. “I’m more logical.” She went on, her voice growing stronger, more confident. At this point, though, she couldn’t seem to stop. “Without me, she’d probably burn this place to the ground. After all, I’m all she has since you murdered her father.”

Shut up! Her conscience screamed at her, You’re going to get yourself killed!

But before she could continue, Thane spoke. “Very well then. Can you fight?”

Eliza started to panic gain. She knew she couldn’t, but what would happen if they knew that? She nodded her lie.

“All right. However, I need to know you can fight,” he said. A bullet of fear shot through Eliza’s veins. “Grey.” Pierce stood at attention. Grey? Eliza thought. A last name?

“I want you to fight this girl.” As soon as the words left Thane’s mouth, Pierce’s grip tightened on the rope, pulling Eliza’s bound hands up slightly. She didn’t know whether it was in excitement or not. She hoped the latter.

With one last glance at Eliza, Pierce dropped the rope and walked to Thane. She watched as he walked, the muscles in his arms tightening and loosening with tension as he clenched his fists at his sides. The veins in his biceps prominently stuck out against his tanned skin, practically flashing a big neon sign reading, ’I can beat you with my little finger’. Eliza swallowed her fright and stood up, the rope chafing against her wrists and dragging behind her as she stumbled after Pierce. They left Ember and Hugo behind as they walked to another room in the mall. Eliza could feel something pulling at her chest with every step away from her sister.

Thane stopped and had the two face each other, Eliza felt her chest tighten with fear. She couldn’t win this. She’d be killed before she could even blink. Her vision became blurry with tears as she realized just what she had gotten herself into. Pierce removed the rope binding her wrists.

“Go on,” Thane commanded and Pierce moved forward and retracted his fist. In a fit of nervous energy, Eliza fell to her knees and held her hands up in defense.

“I can’t,” she cried and looked up at Pierce’s confused eyes, then to Thane’s blazing ones. “I can’t-I’m sorry-I can’t fight,” Eliza stuttered, already becoming a mess. “I can’t fight. I’m sorry, I was just scared and-and--”

“Shut it,” Thane ordered and Eliza stopped immediately. Tears streaked her face in embarrassing salty droplets. “If you can’t fight, what else can you do? Why shouldn’t I get rid of you?” he asked again.

“Why? You’re not going to kill me,” she said.

“I need to know how you can be useful. We cannot have any useless people here. What else can you do?”

With every sharp word, Eliza winced, but she answered him still. “I know basic nursing,” she murmured, swallowing hard. Her heart still didn’t descend from her throat. Thane raised his eyebrows in question.

“I thought you don’t know anything,” he said. It was more of a statement than a question.

“I don’t, not really, but I do know some non-surgical procedures. I can handle sicknesses, which is more than you could probably do.”

“Fair enough.” Thane’s features were still troubled, but he didn’t act hostile in that moment. “You will be put to work as soon as the other one wakes up.” Eliza nodded and wiped the wetness from her cheeks and eyes. When she looked up again, Pierce’s hand was outstretched in front of her. Eliza pursed her lips before planting her palms on the ground and pushing herself up. She walked back into the other room, leaving Pierce behind.

She ran to Ember immediately, flopping on the ground beside her and closing her eyes. Eliza opened them and checked to make sure her sister was still breathing. She almost didn’t notice that Hugo was still there, standing at attention, and she knew she didn’t trust him, but she couldn’t help her heavy eyelids drifting closed as she fell asleep.

Eliza stood in the doorway of the old, rubble filled room with her sister. It was cleaner than most of the places in the mall, but still broken enough to be dangerous.

People lay in small cots, row after row of gang members, young and old. Some coughed and sneezed and threw up in the small space beside them, others were obviously injured, with makeshift splints that were obviously not helping and bleeding body parts, but there weren’t many of them.

“You’ll be working here while your sister heals Eeros,” Thane said to Eliza. “I want you to heal the ill people here.” Eliza nodded in agreement and slapped on a straight face, even though she was frightened.

Thane turned to Ember. “Eeros is over there,” he said, pointing to the far corner of the room. “You won’t be alone, so don’t even think about running, got it?”

Ember nodded, an angry expression on her face. When Thane walked away, she turned to Eliza and rolled her dark eyes. Eliza let out a huff and tried to smile comfortingly.

“Go,” came Hugo’s sharply accented tone from behind them. The girls immediately moved forward. Ember walked down the long rows of people until she got to the far left corner of the room, Hugo following her. They were now behind some kind of makeshift curtain, made out of rags and other things probably scrounged up from the remains of the mall. Eliza had stopped at the front of the room, and she peered around the corner to make sure nobody could see her before leaving the room without a sound.

Eliza walked casually through the mall, attempting to appear unsuspicious, while keeping her hair in front of her face, eyes cast downward. The last thing she needed right now was for Thane or someone to see her.

The men guarding the entrance to the store paid her no heed as she walked out of the mall dutifully as possible. After she was out of sight of the guards, Eliza ran through the woods behind the building, heading for her destination -- the hollow tree she had stuffed her backpack in the moment she had been left alone. She hoped and prayed that it hadn’t been found.

It hadn’t. It still sat right where she left it inside the fallen tree, left slightly ajar to allow the creature inside to breathe easy. Eliza zipped the bag open and checked inside. The sky-blue dragon opened its groggy eyes and lifted its head in response. Eliza watched the dim light in its chest grow stronger.

“What am I going to do with you?” she asked the beast and slowly placed her palm to its forehead. Eliza’s heart was racing, but she was surprised to feel almost unafraid as the dragon pressed itself into her hand.

“What the hell are you doing?” a voice asked from behind her. Eliza quickly zipped the bag before turning around.

“Pierce,” she said breathlessly. The dragon wasn’t fear, she thought, staring into his stone-cold features. This was real fear. “Did you follow me?”

“Nevermind that,” he said. “Why are you away from the camp?” He began to walk closer, now only a few feet from where she stood, squirming under his gaze.

“I-I’m not--this isn’t--”

Pierce rolled his eyes in annoyance. “Save it, kid. You’ll only get yourself in trouble if you can’t even say three words to somebody.”

At his words, all of Eliza’s fear washed away. “‘Kid’? Aren’t you only a couple years older than me?”

Pierce smirked slightly. “There’s the fire. I’m nineteen, but we’re getting off topic. What’s in that bag?”

The fear returned. “N-nothing,” she stuttered, picking up the bag from behind her and slinging it over her shoulder.

“I want you to tell me what’s in that bag, girl.” Pierce took a step forward.

Eliza’s heart began to race. “My name is Eliza,” she stated with as much strength as she could muster, but he was nearing. Pierce grabbed for the strap of her backpack, and Eliza ran.

She knew it was a bad idea. She knew he was faster than her, he would catch up to her in moments, but it bought her some time. Time to do what, she didn’t know.

Little mewling sounds began to erupt from inside the backpack, causing Eliza to do a double take. What kind of a dragon made cries that sounded like little echoes?

After what felt like an eon of running through the trees, Eliza stopped to catch her breath. She looked behind her to find that Pierce hadn’t followed her and took a deep breath to calm herself. The dragon was still echoing.

“Hmm…” Eliza began to think to herself and opened the bag to see that the dragon was curled into a protective ball.

“Well, little thing, I can’t promise I can keep you, but I think I’ll at least call you something. How about ‘Echo’?” The creature’s face seemed to perk up at Eliza’s words.

“Echo it is, then.”

With a quick glance around, Eliza shut the bag and slung it over her shoulders again. It was time to hide Echo someplace new, and go back to that blasted camp.

After Eliza got back to the camp, she thought she could feel every single eye of every single gang member on her. It only occurred to her then that Pierce had probably told Thane she was acting suspicious. Dang.

When she got back, though, she made a beeline to the gang’s makeshift healing centre, wasting no time dawdling on what Pierce had seen. When she got through the broken doorway, Ember saw her immediately.

“Where the hark were you?” her sister asked, her brow furrowed. Eliza hushed her.

“I’ll tell you later, we can’t get in trouble,” Eliza said and Ember nodded before turning around and heading back to the far end of the room. In the corner of her eye, Eliza spotted Hugo leaning against the wall, but he hadn’t seen her come in.

As Eliza tried her hardest to work, another person entered the room. Eliza’s heart began to flutter, wondering if it was Thane, come to beat her after what Pierce inevitably told him.

It wasn’t Thane, after all, however. It was Pierce, and he was standing in the aisle, looking around the room. When he spotted Eliza, he started walking toward her.

No, no, no, she panicked. Here it comes.

Pierce didn’t say a word, only kept his dark eyes locked on hers, until he had Eliza backed up against a wall. He was standing less than a foot away from her, towering over her small frame. Pierce raised both of his hands and placed them on either side of Eliza’s head. She wouldn’t be able to escape now.

Eliza’s heart raced, faster than when she thought that it had been Thane in the room. Why was she so scared of this boy?

“Hey,” Pierce began, his voice sending chills down Eliza’s spine. “Relax, kid. I didn’t tell Thane anything. I want to know why you have that dragon, though.”

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