Now, We Burn

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13 | Ember

| Ember |

Ember’s chest heaved as she looked from Pierce to Thane, not believing the words that had just come from the dark-haired boy’s mouth.

“What?” Thane growled as he turned on Pierce, his face twisted in anger.

“It wasn’t their fault,” Pierce repeated, a bead of sweat sliding down his forehead. “It was mine.”

Thane turned on Pierce like a wild cat, his eyes narrowing with rage.

“What was that?” Thane hissed.

“I was the one who interrupted Ember,” Pierce explained, more sweat shining on his forehead. “I dragged them both away. It’s not the girls’ fault.

Thane bared his teeth and the anger was enough to halt Ember’s breathing. Thane was hurting, she knew. She knew because she saw the same lost expression in her own eyes. Harking crusser. He deserved Eeros’s death, he deserved the pain and grief for kidnapping her father. It was his fault he was dead.

But even as Ember told herself that Thane deserved it, all she could feel was sorry. She knew how he felt. She knew how much it hurt.

The world seemed to freeze around the Thane and Pierce as their gazes locked. Ember was too afraid to move, afraid that Thane would turn on her again.

“You harking son of a dragon,” Thane seethed. Pierce’s lip trembled. Then Thane attacked.

He lunged at Pierce like a lion, knocking the boy to the ground. Eliza gasped as Thane punched Pierce right in the jaw, sending his head into the ground with a thud. Thane stood, kicking Pierce right in the stomach. Pierce cried out, but then he was on his feet, dodging Thane’s next blow, and aiming a kick at the leader. For minutes they grappled, but even Eliza could tell that Thane was winning. Ruthlessly, he attacked, until scarlet blood from Pierce’s nose covered both of their hands. Thane tripped Pierce, sending him flat on his back with the glazed eyes of someone punched in the head too many times. Ember’s heart seized when she saw Thane remove the dagger. She hadn’t thought Thane would kill one of his own men, but he was so crazed, so blind with grief and hatred he was probably ready to kill anyone he could find blame in.

He had to be stopped.

Ember wasn’t sure what made her legs move. She wasn’t sure why she charged at the rabid Thane, or why she barreled straight into him, knocking him to to the hard ground. But as soon as she did, she regretted it.

They rolled, Thane knocking the air out of her as they came to a stop, his hard, lithe body pinning her down.

Ember’s breath came out ragged as she found her eyes locked with his angry grey gaze, every wound on her body throbbing. a spatter of her blood staining Thane’s cheek.

“You,” Thane began. His steely eyes flashed with anger and his fingers dug into her wrists like claws.

“Stop,” Ember hissed, struggling to get out of Thane’s grasp, her chest heaving. “You can’t lash out and kill everybody just because it’s your fault Eeros is dead!” Thane’s entire body stiffened at her words.

“How dare you--” he started but Ember cut him off, her anger rising.

“I heard you and one of your men talking.” She spat out her words with as much spite as she could. “You’re the one who got Eeros wounded. From the moment you sent him into that harking battle he was a dead man, and now you’re so weak you’re blaming your own wrongdoings on the people who did the best they could. What a crusser of a leader, you are.”

In that moment, Ember was sure Thane was about to kill her, the fiery rage and pain in his eyes promising that he was about to grab her head in his strong hands and twist her neck until it snapped. In that moment, Ember was sure she was about to die, but then Thane moved off her, standing up and stalking off toward the mall, leaving the air thick with agitation.

Heart in her throat, Ember pushed herself up. Her leg flared up in pain, but she stood anyway. As soon as she was up Eliza charged at her, wrapping her arms around her like she was never going to let go.

“What were you thinking?” Eliza cried, taking Ember’s face between her hands. Her green eyes were wide. “He could have killed you, Ember. For a moment I thought...” She trailed off, unable to finish her words.

Ember felt a smile begin to cross her face at her sister’s worry, but then her eyes caught the skulking figure of Pierce in the background and anger flared up inside her.

“How could you,” she snarled, her voice coming out harsh and cold as she pushed her sister away, disgust and betrayal tasting like bile in her mouth.

Eliza’s mouth fell agape, her eyes growing wider.

“Ember, I--”

“How could you,” Ember repeated as her chest started to heave again, her emotions running wild inside her.

“How could you even talk to him!” She pointed a finger at Pierce, the anger inside her beginning to make her hyperventilate. “He killed our father, Eliza!” Ember raged, stepping away from her sister. “How could you even be near him, how could you even look at him! They’re monsters, Eliza! They’re all monsters.”

“Ember--” Eliza started, reaching out toward Ember, her expression grim.

“No!” Ember cried, her voice cracking as an unnamed emotion stole over her. “Don’t--I can’t.” She turned on her heel, forgetting her pain as she sped away from the infirmary, hot, angry tears sliding down her face.

Dragon crussers, she was such a mess. Why did her emotions always get the best of her? Why did she have to get so angry? But she couldn’t forgive Eliza. She was supposed to be on Ember’s side, she was supposed to hate the gang. Ember thought she loved their dad more then that, even if he was just Eliza’s stepdad.

Ember didn’t stop walking until she reached a secluded part of the mall, leaning against the wall and sliding down. Her throat burned as she wiped away her tears.

It was so good to be alone, to just be with herself and her feelings. If only her feelings weren’t so painful.

More tears. They fell in an endless stream down her cheeks, burning like fire. Ember hugged her knees to her chest, letting the cold from the earth sink into her.

Harking gang filth and their cruel ways. They had destroyed her family. Ember still couldn’t face the fact that her dad was dead. She had thought she could survive on her own, thought that she didn’t need anyone else, but maybe she was wrong. She needed her dad, she needed someone she could rely on, and now it felt like Eliza had betrayed her, and Ember wasn’t sure why it hurt so much.

“So, you do have feelings.”

With a throaty gasp Ember looked up, wiping away her tears.

Not far away from her, leaning against the blackened wall was the thin figure of Hugo. His features were blanketed in deep shadow.

“Leave me alone,” Ember choked, trying to wipe her tears, but as soon as she wiped them away new ones fell.

“I can’t,” Hugo said his voice lower than before. It almost sounded like he was purring. “It’s my duty to stay with you. And besides, I know how you feel.”

“That’s a harking lie,” Ember sniffed, her tears finally stopping.

She watched, tense, as Hugo sauntered over. Usually she felt threatened by the tall boy, but now he seemed different.

Hugo slid down to sit next to her, the tattoos on his pale skin showing clearly in the dimming light of the sky.

“I do, actually,” he said, cleaning the dirt out from under his fingernail. “Life’s a harking dragon crusser. It eats you up and spits you out again. I’ve been betrayed more times than I can count. My own mum sold me to a child enslaver. How’s that for betrayal?”

Against her will, Ember looked over at Hugo. His face was devoid of his usual devilish smile.

Ember wanted to be angry, but Hugo looked so lost.

She turned away, the cold air making her shiver. She felt too bruised to speak.

“You’re bleeding,” Hugo pointed out, his voice a low whisper. Ember felt a warm touch on her neck, and she flinched, staring at Hugo as he touched the thin slice on her neck given to her by Thane.

Ember’s first instinct was to smack Hugo’s hand aside. But she didn’t, her eyes were unable to draw away from Hugo’s deep blue ones.

“And you’re shaking,” Hugo said, trailing his hand down her shoulder.

“It’s harking cold,” Ember muttered, her mind spinning as Hugo’s hand held hers, his large, warm hands enveloping her smaller ones.

“You are rather pretty, you know.” Hugo grinned, his face dangerously close to Ember’s now. “I’m surprised you lasted this long with a face like yours.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Ember asked, her voice coming out low and breathless.

“Nothing.” Hugo grinned. “Tell me, loner, have you ever been kissed?”

Ember drew away a bit, her ears buzzing with Hugo’s words.

“No,” she answered, voice tense.

“Well, let me tell you,” Hugo began, his face even closer now. “It’s a great way to forget the pain.”

Ember stared at him. His face was so close that Ember could see the grains in the black paint circling his eyes.

“Really.” She was unable to stop her heart from flickering. What was she doing?

Hugo closed the space between them, his lips meeting hers in an almost shy kiss.

Ember’s mind went completely blank, her breath carried away as the kiss deepened. Hugo’s arms wrapped around her waist, drawing her closer to him. Her instincts told her to stop, to push Hugo away and pound him for touching her. But she couldn’t, she couldn’t draw away. She couldn’t make herself stop. But she didn’t care. Her grief was forgotten, replaced with an unfamiliar feeling that warmed her gut. She and Hugo continued to kiss, until all she could think of was the feeling of his lips on hers and the warmth of his skin under her fingertips.

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