14 | Eliza
| Eliza |
Angry tears burned in Eliza’s eyes. They caught, refusing to fall in spite of her intense feelings. She turned to Pierce and wiped her eyes hastily as she stared into his hard features, cold but not completely devoid of expression. He looked somewhat sad, or maybe sorry, but this meant nothing to Eliza in that moment. The only thing that mattered was her sister, and what Eliza knew Pierce was: a murderer.
The tears started to flow like a river, then, as Eliza began to sob. When Pierce stepped forward and touched her arm, she reeled back, suddenly infuriated.
“You killed my father!” she screamed at him. She didn’t care who heard her. Pierce winced as though the words brought him pain, but she didn’t care about that, either. The only thing Eliza felt was anger, pure, incandescent rage, so she took it out on the boy who caused it. She pounded her fists into his chest, unconcerned over the wounds Thane had inflicted. Eliza was just angry, and she sure as hell wanted to be.
“Why did you kill my father!” Eliza cried, staring up at Pierce’s calm features. She continued to pound his chest as she shut her eyes tightly. “Why, why, why, why?”
“Hey,” Pierce tried but his voice barely rose above Eliza’s cries. He grabbed her wrists and pulled them away before demanding, “Hey!”
Eliza stopped screaming immediately, looking up at the boy. Her pale face was stained with tears and her eyebrows were knit together.
“You need to calm down,” he said quietly.
Eliza wrenched her hands from his. She wanted to yell You can’t tell me what to do, but that would be childish, so she remained quiet as she shot Pierce a withering look, turned, and ran away. She ran like she did when Pierce found her with Echo: blind and what felt to her like miles and miles into the woods.
She stopped when her throat began to burn and leaned against a nearby boulder. The mall was still in view, but Pierce was nowhere to be seen.
Good, Eliza thought as she slid down to the ground. She could finally be alone, with just her and her thoughts. Now calm, though, Eliza felt the lie in her words. Nothing about Pierce said “murderer.” He didn’t look like the killers she’d seen, angry and psychopathic. He just looked sad, or curious. Probably both. Eliza almost couldn’t believe he had killed her father.
Eliza was worried about Ember, wondering where she had gone off to and if she was okay. Though Eliza knew well enough that Ember could take care of herself, she always worried when they were apart. She was also worried about Ember’s behavior. She was being very hostile toward Eliza lately, given their current situation she could see why, but Eliza couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something wrong. Perhaps Eliza would go find her and talk to her.
Just as she was about to get up, Eliza heard footsteps. She turned to her right and saw Pierce standing there, his shoulders sagged with the effort of walking. He seemed so broken.
“I need to talk to you,” he muttered, barely audible. Eliza hesitated, but she wasn’t angry or afraid anymore. She moved over to make room for Pierce on the ground next to her. He placed his palms on the mossy stone behind him and lowered himself down carefully, grunting with the effort. Eliza’s heart lurched as she fought the instinct to check if he was okay when he turned to look at her and gave her a weak smile.
Pierce looked like he’d been hit by a train. His nose was crooked and obviously broken, and he had newly darkening bruises all over his face, as well as a split lip. Dry blood smeared under his nose and on his left cheek.
“Do I look that bad?” Pierce asked with a hoarse chuckle. Eliza shook her head quickly.
“No, just a little short of miserable,” Eliza answered, trying at a joke that wasn’t very funny. Pierce nodded and shifted his gaze toward the ground, and his slight smirk dropped, replaced with a frown.
“I…” He swallowed. “I didn’t kill your father, Eliza.”
Eliza couldn’t find her words. She was astounded, but at the same time not surprised at all. The metaphorical cat had hold of her tongue, and it took her several minutes to respond.
“Are you lying?” she asked without looking at Pierce. It was the only thing she could think to say.
Pierce looked at Eliza and Eliza looked back, waiting. “No,” he answered. She searched his eyes for spite, or doubt, or something that would indicate a lie. But all Eliza saw was sadness. “No, I’m not,” he said, sincerity marking his tone.
Another few minutes passed as Eliza considered this. “Then, who did?” Her voice was growing progressively quieter.
Pierce didn’t answer right away. “I don’t know,” he said.
“Are you lying?” Eliza asked, mimicking her earlier question.
“Yes,” Pierce admitted, which surprised her. “But I can’t tell you.”
“Why not?” Eliza’s brow furrowed in confusion. Why wouldn’t he tell her who killed her father? “Why won’t you tell me?” she pressed.
“Because I can’t!” Pierce exclaimed, shutting his eyes as he did.
Eliza stood up and began to walk away. She’d had enough.
“Eliza, wait!” Eliza heard behind her. She turned to find Pierce struggling to stand.
She looked at him expectantly.
“Come with me,” he said. “I need to show you something.”
This wasn’t the “something” Eliza had been expecting. When the pair made their way back to the mall, Pierce lead her around to a shed behind the building. Eliza was still worried about Ember, but she was more than worried when Pierce opened the door to a room filled with hand-made weaponry. It felt silly to wonder if he was going to kill her, even though it was a thought she had often.
Axes, spears, and rods of various sizes were hung on the walls. Longswords, broadswords, and greatswords littered the wooden tables. They looked to be crafted out of different metals, probably scavenged from city remains. There were a few simple shields on the floor, propped up. Eliza hoped the weapons wouldn’t have to be used anytime soon, but they still interested her somewhat.
Eliza stood, waiting, in the doorway as Pierce walked in and took a large iron rod off the wall where it hung. There was a loop of thick wire forged into the end. Eliza followed him out of the shed, sneaking a wary look at the anvil and pit full of ashes outside.
“Are you the blacksmith?” The words were out of her mouth before she could stop them, but she’d been wondering what Pierce’s job was at the camp for a while now.
“Sort of,” he answered, still keeping his gaze forward as they walked. “I help make the weapons, but I mostly just hold them until they’re needed. Neo’s the real blacksmith.”
Eliza nodded. It made sense, what with his strong body, that Pierce would be a weapon maker. He was suited for the job; like hot iron, tough but still mouldable. Eliza knew this already.
As they entered the cover of the forest, Eliza grew more and more confused. Why would Pierce be leading her into the woods with nothing but a catch pole? Was he actually going to hurt her? With a catch pole?
Pierce chuckled suddenly. “I know what you’re thinking, and no, I’m not leading you to your death,” he said as though he’d read Eliza’s thoughts. “Even if I was, I wouldn’t do it with this.” Pierce held the pole up.
“Where are we going, then?” Eliza asked.
“That’s a secret. It’ll be a long walk, though, so hurry up.” Pierce seemed to be in much merrier moods since they’d gone to the shed and left the camp. Eliza decided she liked him better this way.
It was a long walk, anyway. The two actually passed the wreckage of Thane’s old camp, charred and destroyed, along the way. The sun was starting to fall, along with Eliza’s hope.
“Do you even know where you’re going?” she asked.
“Of course. I come here every day,” Pierce stated as he stopped walking. Eliza stopped, too, and looked around. There didn’t seem to be anything special around them, just trees and dead leaves and cold air.
“Where? There’s nothing here.”
“On the contrary,” was all Pierce said as he started to kick leaves around on the ground.
“What are you doing? You’re not accomplishing--” Eliza stopped short.
There was something, actually. Under all the leaves were two broken slabs of concrete that seemed to cover something. Pierce started to move one of the slabs, grunting, and Eliza bent to move the other one. There was a seven-foot drop into what looked like a cave underneath.
Pierce sat on the edge and dropped down into the cave. He landed without grace before standing up and holding his arms out. Eliza dropped down, too, and Pierce caught her by the waist with some effort. He held her there for only a moment, staring at her soft features before she moved out of his grasp. Pierce walked into the cave and Eliza followed, stepping over large rocks and dropping down ledges before the two reached a makeshift door made from sheet metal.
Eliza stared, wide-eyed, at the scene in front of her. “What-what is this, Pierce?” She stuttered.
On the other side of the entrance was a huge clearing that looked like a big, stone dome probably about fifty feet high. They must have been under a large hill. Moonlight leaked through a few small holes in the ceiling, and there were dragons. Hundreds of them.
Dragons of all sizes and colors milled about the dome. Most of them flew, some perched on the small rock ledges in the walls, and others stayed on the ground.
“This is my haven,” Pierce stated awkwardly. Eliza realized that her mouth was hanging open and closed it quickly but did not stray her gaze from the sight before her. She felt Pierce’s eyes on her and knew he was weighing her reaction. “They’re all safe here.”
Eliza waited for the wave of terror to roll over her, but it didn’t come. What she saw, she thought was beautiful. The dragons seemed to mind themselves, not acting hostile toward the pair at all. Only a few small creatures, ones about the size of Echo, trotted over to meet them and they only weaved around Pierce’s legs like affectionate cats. He bent down and stroked one of the dragon’s heads. Eliza couldn’t help but notice that one of them was dragging its wing behind it, and another’s was torn and broken.
Only now did Eliza look to Pierce. He turned to her and then back to the dragons. “I saved most of them when they were hurt,” he said sullenly, his smile dropping.
Eliza, feeling brave, stooped to hold her hand out to the three reptiles. They all sniffed at her hand before one, a bright green dragon that looked almost identical to Echo, shoved its forehead into her hand. Eliza rubbed its smooth scales.
There were bigger dragons as well. From what she could see, however, there weren’t many as big as the red dragon that she saw earlier that day.
“This is…” Eliza started. “This is insane.”
Pierce moved to sit down against the wall. Eliza followed and sat next to him.
“I know it is. I’ve kept it a secret, until now.”
“Why are you showing me?” Eliza asked.
Pierce sighed and thought for a moment. “I don’t know. You seem to like the dragons, not fear them or hate them.”
“Why don’t you have any of the big dragons? Like the one from earlier today?”
“I wanted to talk to you about that,” Pierce said and turned to her. He stared into her emerald eyes intently before continuing. “You need to keep Ember away from that dragon.”
“Why?” Eliza asked, her brow furrowing.
“You know how there are different types of dragons, right?” Eliza nodded. “There are the small, virtually harmless ones, the wyvern-like ones, and the really big ones, which are basically nightmares. Your sister’s dragon, there, is a nightmare. They’re unforgiving, ruthless, extremely harmful dragons that can’t be tamed or kept. I’ve tried and nearly killed myself doing so. I was surprised earlier when that dragon didn’t rip your hand clean off.”
“All of them are like that?” Eliza asked, disbelieving.
“Not all of them, and most aren’t as bad as that one. I’ve stopped trying to capture it and mostly just drive it away from the camp as much as I can. I’m serious when I say that you need to keep Ember away from it.”
Eliza nodded slowly. “I have one more question,” she said before asking, “why do you call it a haven? Isn’t it more like a hideout or a shelter?”
“Not in my eyes,” Pierce answered, his expression growing soft. “Here, I want all dragons to feel safe from harm, safe from the world.” He turned his body to her and grabbed both her hands suddenly. “Listen to me. Thane, or anyone, can’t know about this place. I trust you, Eliza. Got it?”
Eliza nodded, her heart racing. “Got it.”