Now, We Burn

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11 | Ember

November 8, 2104

Thane’s second-in-command was dying. Ember knew that as soon as Hugo led her over to the young man. His body lay still and flattened to the cot, like all the life had been sucked out of him, leaving a shell of a body. If Ember didn’t know better, she would say he was already dead.

“Up, Player,” Hugo ordered as they reached the wounded boy’s bedside, nodding his head at a huge wardrobe of a man with skin darker than Ember’s.

“Your shift is done for the night, you can go help Harla clean up the sleeping hall if you dare.”

The brawny man got up, casting a suspicious glance at Ember before stalking away, cracking his knuckles.

“Sit,” Hugo commanded, pushing Ember into Player’s empty seat beside the makeshift sickbed, making her leg flare up in pain. Blood began to spill down her pant leg. Hugo grabbed her good leg, securing a shackle around her ankle, and clasping the other end to the seat that she sat in.

Ember sneered at him, all possibilities of escape vanishing. Oh, how she hated these crussers.

“Thane wants you to take a look at him,” Hugo said, arms crossed. “Eeros doesn’t have long. Act immediately.”

Ember grit her teeth, another wave of pain washing over her. “How am I supposed to save him,” she began through bared teeth, “if I’m bleeding out everywhere?”

The boy glowered at her.

“I said,” he repeated. “Act immediately. Or Thane will have both our necks”

Ember turned, hiding her scowl as she bent over Eeros, trying to forget the pain coursing through her thigh.

She had barely slept the night before, the fire in her thigh so strong she could barely think. She had pressed her hands down on the wound as best she could. She had lost so much blood, though. She felt dizzy, drained, she didn’t know how much longer she could stay conscious. But she had to. If she passed out, who knew what they would do to Eliza.

Ember turned her attention back to the wounded man. Eeros lay under layers of ratty blankets, sweat clinging to his noble features. He was a fighter, she could see it in the muscular line of his bare shoulder poking out from under the blankets. Thick white scars marred the edge of his jaw, half hidden by his coppery hair. Scars from a dragon.

Ember placed a hand on Eeros’s forehead; his skin was burning. Ember drew her hand back. The harking idiots, were they really so stupid that they had let him get this ill? Eeros was more then wounded -- he had a high fever, which could mean only one thing: the wound was infected.

Ember’s attention on Eeros suddenly wavered as her eyes fell on her slim, dark-skinned hand. It was shaking.

“Hurry up,” Hugo snarled, startling Ember. She had forgotten he was there, the harking son of a dragon.

With gentle fingers, Ember pushed aside the blankets covering Eeros. A web of old bandages covered his chest, the white fabric spotted with blood.

Almost against her will, Ember’s mind went into healer mode, and all feelings were cut off. She forgot her pain, forgot the threatening presence of Hugo behind her. She peeled off the bandages, the horrid scent of putrid flesh washing over her as she examined the wound. Covering Eeros’s side was a crater of gouged and burned flesh stretching from his abdomen all the way to his chest. The edges of the wound were blackened and covered in an oozing white layer, the skin around it a bright, inflamed pink.

Breath held, Ember bit the inside of her cheek. Eeros was as good as dead.

“Well?” Hugo demanded.

Holding back the profanities rising up on her tongue, Ember said, “He’s in rough shape, a goner. If the infection has spread to his heart then--”

Hugo gripped her collarbone in a vice-like grip, but when Ember turned to face him, it wasn’t rage in his eyes, but fear. He masked it well.

“You will heal him,” he hissed, and she could feel his breath on her cheek. “If you don’t, Thane will kill you.”

He let go and turned away, walking down the long aisle.

“I’ll get you any supplies that you need,” he shouted back. Ember refused to look at him. “You get no food, water, or care for your wounds until he is looked after; Thane’s orders.” And with those words he was gone.

Ember felt angry tears rise up on her eyes, but they disappeared almost as soon as they came. Harking idiot, they were all harking idiots.

A few minutes later, Hugo returned. His angry expression was gone, replaced with one of nonchalance. “So, what do ya need?” Hugo went to her side, arms crossed, his malicious grin in place. Ember wanted to glare at him, to spit out a swear and make some of the sadness and anger inside her disappear. But she was so tired, the life was gone from her.

“Clean bandages,” she said, remembering the same words coming from her father’s mouth. “Hot water, and any herbs or healing ointments you have.”

Hugo walked away again and Ember got to work.

She stripped the last of Eeros’s bandages away, securing blankets around his legs and leaving his chest exposed. His entire body shook, his skin glistening with sweat.

Hugo returned once more, bringing with him a teenage boy carrying hot water in a dented can.

“Bandages and herbs,” Hugo grinned tossing a worn leather sack into her lap.

“Thanks,” Ember mumbled, delving into the bag.

“Oh, so you do have manners.” Hugo chuckled, “Who would have thought?”

“Shut up, dragonharker,” Ember managed, not finding the energy to show the anger that was boiling under her skin.

Ember turned back to Eeros, quickly soaking the bandages in the ointments she found in the bag and trying to sterilize the wound as best she could.

An hour later Ember finally finished, her stomach empty with hunger and her leg throbbing. She was picking through the medical bag. They didn’t have much. Her father had shown her how to use what she had, but she was surprised Eeros had survived this long.

Ember glanced at Eeros. He was still feverish, she had to take care of that.

She grabbed some dried herbs and a mortar and pestle from the leather bag, suddenly feeling lightheaded. As Ember got ready to make something to bring down Eeros’s fever she began to think about how she felt a connection with this dying boy, a person she didn’t even know. If she had met him while he was healthy she would see him like all the other harking idiots in the gang. But because he was so vulnerable, it was different. Maybe she felt a connection because they both had nothing to lose.

Ember grabbed for the small bottle of bayberries, but as her hand wrapped around the bottle her vision went black, nearly slipping into unconsciousness. The bottle fell from her hands, shattering on the ground as she fell forward. The noise ripped her out of unconsciousness just in time to catch herself with one hand on the edge of Eeros’s bed, blood pounding in her ears.

“Whoa,” Hugo’s voice blared in her ears, sounding like he was shouting across the room. “What’s wrong, loner?” Ember didn’t respond, it was taking all her strength to keep herself from toppling to the floor. How did she get so weak? She was Ember Roan, nothing could faze her, she was strong. But she wasn’t. All the fire inside her was gone. It was her harking leg. Her blood loss, it was finally getting to her.

Strong hands gripped her shoulders, heaving her up. Hugo’s pale face filled her vision.

“Are you okay?” he asked, only he didn’t sound like the crusser who had attacked her in the alley. He sounded worried, worried for her.

“Get . . . get your hands o-off me,” Ember gasped, trying to push Hugo’s hands away. But it was like trying to push through a rock.

“I’m trying to help you!” Hugo said, unlocking her shackles and wrapping her limp arm around his shoulder. “You need some food, water.”

Unable to argue, Ember let Hugo help her over to the entrance of the makeshift infirmary. There, a small fire was burning, a large pot of stew cooking over the flames. Moments later Ember sat, a bowl of soup in her hand, a bandage around her leg and her belly feeling fuller than it had in years. As she ate Ember felt some of her strength return. She was licking a spot of stew off her finger when she saw Eliza walk into the room. Her pale cheeks were flushed and her hair was windblown. Instantly, Ember was on her feet, limping toward her sister. Eliza’s green eyes met hers.

“Where the hark have you been?” she asked. Eliza’s eyes were wide with fear.

“I’ll tell you later, we can’t get into trouble,” Eliza said, and Ember nodded. What could Eliza have been doing? She looked worried. Ember saw her sister cast a worried look at the lanky form of Hugo leaning against the wall. Then Eliza turned on her heel and strode behind one of the makeshift curtains, out of Ember’s view. Then Hugo was at her shoulder.

“Well, well,” he said, the rusted blade she had sunk into her thigh between his fingers. “Looks like you’re alive now, You had me worried for a moment.”

“Hark off,” Ember said, limping back toward Eeros’s bedside.

As Ember sat by Eeros’s bed, the sound of raised voices reached her ears.

“We have to,” came Thane’s voice. “If we don’t get into the stronghold, we’ll have nothing to fight for.”

Ember glanced around, searching for the blonde leader in the crowded infirmary, blindly pouring herbs into the clay bowl before beginning to crush them. But Thane was nowhere to be seen.

“I know, Thane, but after the last attack,” said an unfamiliar voice, “No one wants to risk their lives.”

Standing up, Ember peered out the small window above Eeros’s bed, outside she could just make out the heads of Thane and a man with a shaved head.

“The last attack,” Thane continued, “Was a setback.”

“A setback?” The other man exclaimed, “Half our men died! They shot us down with their laser guns like we were harking rabbits. And look what came from that, Eeros is dying now because of your idiotic plans.”

“Don’t ever speak to me like that again, Skrewn,” Thane snarled, the agitation in his voice making the hairs on the back of Ember’s neck bristle. “I know I was wrong to go through with the attack. But this one won’t be like the others.”

“And how are you going to convince the gang that, Thane?” Skrewn asked, his voice getting lower, “Because we’re not convinced, I‘m not convinced.”

Ember heard someone approaching her and hurriedly sat down, looking up from her herb grinding to find Hugo sauntering over, tattooed arms crossed.

“You really scared me there for a moment, pretty.” He grinned.

Ember snorted, turning away, pouring water in with the herbs.

“As if,” she countered.

“What?’ Hugo asked, biting the piercing in his lip, “You don’t think you’re pretty?”

“No, I don’t think you were harking scared,” Ember shot back, opening Eeros’s mouth and feeding him the herb mixture. “And don’t call me ‘pretty’.”

“But you are pretty,” Hugo grinned.

“No, I’m not,” Ember shot back, her irritation building.

“Then who are you if you’re not pretty?”

“I’m harking Ember Roan, is who I am,” Ember snapped. How long was this crusser going to bother her?

She grabbed the rusted can that had held the hot water, limping toward the entrance.

“Where ya going?” Hugo asked smoothly. Ember rolled her eyes, his strange accent got more irritating with every word he spoke.

“Water,” she stated before hurrying away.

When she reached the edge of the makeshift infirmary, she looked outside for a water source.

“I have to come with you, ya know,” Hugo yelled from where he still lounged near Eeros’s bed.

Ember ignored him. Using the side of the mall for support she limped toward a broken pipe coming out of the wall, it was leaking a steady stream of water into a rusted iron tub someone had placed under it.

When Ember reached the tub she knelt down, careful not to strain her thigh. She pushed the can under the water, the cold liquid making the burns on her arms sear. She winced, standing up again.

It was then that a flash of red caught her eye.

Ember’s head shot up, her mouth falling open.

“No harking way,” she breathed.

Standing in the shadows of the mall, red scales shining, was the same harking dragon.

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