Now, We Burn

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16 | Eliza

November 13, 2104

Eliza kicked a standalone pebble on the hard ground. She hadn’t said a word to Ember since their fight about Hugo, but Ember wasn’t Eliza’s problem right now, Hugo was. He had seemed to just slither his way into Ember’s mind, and Eliza didn’t know how. It wasn’t like her sister was the type to be naïve to men, which was why Eliza was so confused.

Eliza did know, however, that he couldn’t stay. Maybe Pierce would know what to do.

As she made her way to the weapon shed, Eliza felt anxious. What if Pierce wasn’t there? She didn’t know how to get to the haven otherwise.

He was, after all, inside the shed sharpening some swords. Even after three days, Pierce still had bruises all over his body, but he had insisted on working even when Neo said he didn’t have to.

Pierce looked up from his work and wiped the sweat from his forehead. Even with the cold November air, he had decided to remove his top and was still perspiring. He frowned when he saw Eliza standing in the threshold and motioned for her to close the door.

“What’s up?” he asked her, sitting down on the bench at the right side of the small room.

Eliza sat next to him and kept her voice low. “Ember told me that she and Hugo are kind of . . . a ‘thing’ now,” she said. “I know it’s dumb, but something feels… off about him.” She felt weird putting her thoughts into words, like it was such a petty thing.

Pierce was quiet. When Eliza looked over to him, he was chewing his lip, deep in thought.

“What is it?” She had to try to slow her heart rate when he turned to her with glossy brown eyes.

“Hugo lied when he said I killed your father, Eliza,” he said. “You already know that. I didn’t tell you the full truth the other day because I was trying to protect a friend, but it’s time that I told you. I’m going to start from the beginning.”

Eliza swallowed the lump forming in her throat.

“Some of our men had just gotten back from a dangerous trip. They’d been attacked while trying to carry out the mission and most of them died. The rest came back wounded, but one, Thane’s second-in-command, was really badly injured. He wasn’t going to get better without a skilled doctor, which we didn’t have.

“So it became apparent that we’d need to find a real doctor, and fast, but it wouldn’t be easy because we didn’t really get people just wanting to come and join our gang. We waited as long as we could, but Eeros was only getting worse, even with the most medical care that we had. Thane had heard of this man who healed loners occasionally around the city, and thought that he might be able to help. So, we tracked him down and made him come with us. I remember him screaming something -- something like ‘My girls! My girls!’ as we took him away.”

Eliza felt hot tears welling in her eyes but choked back her sob.

“I hated it. Every last part. I kept telling them that this man probably had children to look after, a family, but they didn’t listen. I tried to convince them to wait until later when we could peacefully bring his family along as well, but they refused. Hugo told me that loners didn’t deserve to have family.

“So we took him back and tried to get him to heal Eeros, but he was very obstinate, much like your sister,” Pierce chuckled ruefully. “When he wouldn’t listen, Hugo got angry. He threatened to kill your father if he kept trying Hugo’s patience, and . . . he did. Just like that, the next protesting word out of that man’s mouth and Hugo shot him. Just . . . like that.”

Pierce’s eyes were red when he looked over at Eliza. Silent tears were falling down her cheeks as she stared down at her clasped hands in her lap.

“Thane was pissed. He wanted to murder someone himself after what happened, as Eeros was one of his few good friends, and he knew that he wouldn’t survive without real medical help. But Hugo had run off after . . . you know . . . so he wasn’t there for Thane to punish. So instead, he beat me, because he knew that Hugo and I were together when it happened. After this happened, I went to go find him, yell at him, punch him, whatever, but it seemed that he’d already found what he wanted at that fight ring.”

Pierce stopped. He knew that Eliza had had enough by now, and refrained from speaking any more. Instead, he wrapped his arm around Eliza’s shoulders and pulled her closer to him. He had expected her to push him away, but she simply began to weep. When Eliza pulled her legs up onto the bench and hugged her knees, Pierce brought his other arm around her and pressed his lips to her hair, hushing her softly while she cried.

This went on for many minutes, Eliza hiccupping and sobbing and crying into her knees before calming down a little bit. Pierce began to pull away, but Eliza clung to his arm. His own eyes were beginning to sting.

“Can we go to the haven?” Eliza asked, turning her eyes up to Pierce’s face. Hers were watery, broken, and weary, and his were mostly just sad and sympathetic. “I like it there, it makes me feel safe.”

“Sure,” Pierce said, and lead her out of the camp’s boundaries. The whole walk to the haven, Eliza wouldn’t let go of Pierce’s hand, and he was okay with that.

“Hugo wasn’t always like he is now,” Pierce said when the pair settled themselves on one of the lower rock ledges of the haven. “He used to be just a broken little boy, but he changed. Over his years, and everything he’s gone through, he’s forgotten what real love and happiness is and replaced them with anger and spite. That’s why you have to keep Ember away from him.”

“I don’t think I can,” Eliza said, her voice still labored from crying. Her eyes were still puffy, too, even with the cool air.

“Eliza, you have to,” Pierce protested.

“She’s in love, Pierce,” Eliza countered. “And she’s stubborn, so there’s no way she’d listen to me anyway.”

“I want you to try.”

Eliza looked away from him, at the hundreds of beasts before her. “Okay.”

Ember was in the girls’ sleeping quarters, which was just a simple room inside of the mall. They had been granted the luxury of sleeping somewhere other than a cell, which was great, but they hadn’t really utilized this fact since they’d mostly been feuding. Until now.

As both of the girls settled in their sleeping bags, Eliza turned onto her side, facing her sister. It was almost pitch dark in the room, but Eliza could still make out Ember’s silhouette next to hers. “Ember,” she whispered.

“What do you want?” Ember asked irritably, but Eliza knew she wasn’t as mad as she made herself out to be.

“Can I tell you something secret?”

Ember turned her body to face her sister and waited.

“You can’t tell anybody.”

“Okay,” Ember answered.

“I’m serious. This is top-secret,” Eliza assured.

“All right!” Ember whispered.

Eliza hesitated before speaking. “There’s this place that I’ve been going to,” Eliza said, keeping to a soft whisper. “It’s amazing, Ember. It’s a haven where dragons are kept safe from harm! They’re not bad, Ember, they only seem to be because we’re always angering them.”

“Really?” Ember asked. She seemed legitimately excited, which made Eliza happy.

“Yeah. It’s so beautiful,” Eliza said. “But remember, you can’t tell anybody.”

“I won’t,” Ember said.

“Promise me.” Eliza held out her hand with her little finger extended and Ember twisted her own around it, just like when they were kids.

“I promise.”

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