1 | Ember
November 3, 2104
Ember was sick of it, no more bandages, sick people, crying kids, or crushing herbs. She was done with it all. Angry, she loped down the rubble-filled street, casting dirty glances at the filthy stall owners and gaunt eyed passers-by, just wanting to get away and beat up anyone who got in her way.
The only reason she had even considered becoming a doctor was because of her father. He had been one of the few doctors to survive the dragon attack that had happened so many years ago and now he wanted to pass his knowledge onto her, now that there were no schools. But Ember hadn’t realized what becoming his apprentice would mean.
Ember let out a huff, the air turning white from the warmth of her breath, and hunching her shoulders against the cold.
“Harking weather,” Ember swore, wiping her running nose on her sleeve. In her head she could almost hear her sister’s voice, scolding her for her bad language.
“So what,” Ember muttered to herself. “I’m my own crussing woman, or whatever. Eliza can eat dragon dung.”
A strong smell pervaded her nose. Ember looked up to find an old man approaching her.
The first thought that popped into Ember’s mind when she saw him was ‘crusty.’ The man had mud caked in his beard, his eyes red rimmed and hollow.
“Dragon scale, pretty girl?” he wheezed, holding out a box that had obviously seen better days.
“Hark off,” Ember sneered, giving the old man the best ‘I want to kill you and rip out your spleen’ face she could.
Ember stalked away, kicking a piece of rubble at her feet. The sound of laughter suddenly filled the air, and Ember looked up, eyes narrowed in suspicion, looking for the source of the laugh.
Up ahead in the street, between the skeletons of the ruined buildings and scrap made stalls was a small fire with some poor, freezing souls huddled around it. One of them was a woman, her eyes tired, blood crusted on her knuckles, and a worn scarf wrapped around her head. On her lap sat a young girl of about two. She was laughing, pinching her mother’s cheeks, pure joy written across both their faces.
A pain filled Ember’s chest.
It was November third, the day the government-bred war machines had escaped and ruined the world.
November third, the day Ember’s mother had died.
Hurriedly Ember turned away from the mother and daughter, pushing the pain in her chest deep down, trying not to remember the sorrow that had haunted her for fifteen years.
Ember didn’t really remember her mother. How could she when she was less than a year old when her mother had been crushed by a burning building after hiding them from a dragon’s wrath? All she knew was the pain of not having a mother, not remembering her mother’s face, not having someone to comfort her when she needed it, to take care of her. Eliza was the closest thing to that, but she wasn’t the same.
More than anything in the world Ember wished she could have been old enough to save her mother, to push her out of the way, to shout something to save her. But that could never be.
“Hark, Ember,” she muttered to herself. “Pull your crussing feelings together, you’re not a harking sop.”
She turned down a silent alley, the remains of the buildings burned black by dragonfire. A head poked out of one of the shattered windows before disappearing without a sound.
Ember licked her lips. tasting the bitter tang of soot. Pushing down all feelings of her mother, just like she always did. She couldn’t afford to be emotional in a world like this.
Ember stalked down the deserted street, leaping over the crumbled foundation of a building onto another street. the bodies of unused, rusted cars littering the street like skeletons. As Ember walked by on of the cars she caught a reflection of herself in a half shattered window, catching a glimpse of her dark caramel skin, short wild black hair, and dark brown eyes before she hurried past the car. She hurried down the street till she reached a building.
In one stride Ember grabbed onto a half-crumbling wall of a still standing building, her rough fingers digging into the side as she pulled herself up the wall like a lizard, letting the movement take away the last of her unhappy thoughts. As she neared the top of the building the sound of voices and the scent of roasting meat reached her senses, the scent of food making her mouth water.
Not looking down Ember slid into a shattered window. Moving through the empty, musty room like a shadow, before walking into a hallway, then up a flight of stairs to her favorite place in the world.
She was on the roof of the building, the grey sky stretching around her and the sound of bustling people filling her ears.
This was the No-Man’s Market, where all people, no matter what gang, gender, age, and wealth status came to trade, eat, talk, and above all else, tell secrets.
Ember strode into the hubbub, head held high, looking about. The market was a mismatch of small fires, dented crates made into selling stalls, piles of miscellaneous objects, people in lack rags, handmade weapons stacked on crates, and cages full of wild meat, birds, and other animals. Ember put a hand to her side where, underneath her thick black clothing, her knife lay. Even here where peace was a must, she had to be careful.
Ember walked past a man gulping some dark liquid from a bottle, moving toward the end of the roof. Ember had been coming to the market for years, but she had told no one. And she knew that if Eliza ever found out she would kill her, not only for going into the gang Clash Zone alone, but because of the dark reputation of the market, and its history of mysterious deaths, drug dealing, gang assassinations, and black market poison dealing. But that was all kept quiet here. Ember’s eyes fell on the stall she wanted, and eagerly she sped up, slipping past an old woman with sagging skin. But just as she got around the women her hip slammed into something hard. “Harking dragon balls!” Ember exclaimed, hand going to her knife. Angry, she looked over to find her eyes locked with those of a young man, black grease paint marking his tan skin and a large, nicked saber in his scarred hands.
“Watch where you’re going,” he sneered.
“Yeah, harking blindman,” Ember growled, her body instantly tensing up. “Wanna blame your clumsiness on someone else?” The boy just turned away, not looking back as he walked away, curly black hair bouncing in the wind. Ember growled. “Arrogant gang filth,” she muttered, turning away and heading toward the stall in her path.
She wanted only to punch anything and everything, especially that harking son of a strig who had bumped into her.
When she reached the seller’s stall, the smell of cooked meat instantly enveloped her, smelling of happiness.
A man sat at the stall, rags wrapped around his head, black paint lining his chin and the bare stumps of his legs peeking out from the edge of the table where he sat. “Grent,” Ember hollered as she picked her way towards him, sniffing violently as her nose began to run again. The man looked up, a skewer of raw meat in hand.
“Ember!” Grent exclaimed in his rough, cracked voice. “‘Bout time you got aroun’ here, girl! Th’ place has been krikin’ lame without you.”
“You would know about lame, now wouldn’t you, Grent?” Ember mused, stepping over Grent’s stall and roasting fire to the edge of the building, the long fall below not phasing her in the least as she sat down on the edge of the roof.
Grent laughed. “That’d be true enough!”
He set the skewer over the fire, rubbing his hands eagerly.
“So what d’ya have for me, Ember? What d’ya have fer a famous Grent Delicacy?”
Ember tried not to stare at the blood on Grent’s hands from the meat.
“I’ve got more crussing crap than I know what to do with,” Ember said, reaching into her belt triumphantly. “But I saved something special for you, Grent.”
And with that she pulled out an old watch.
“Ah yes!” Grent whooped, “It’s a right lovely one, that is! Let’s hand it over missy!” he held out his bloody hands.
Ember pulled the watch away, eyebrow raised. Knowing exactly what Grent was trying to do. “For shame, Grent,” she said, shaking her head in mock disapproval. “Not until I get my harkin’ food, ya sneak.”
Grent laughed. “Fair enough little lady, take yer pick.”
Hungrily, Ember grabbed a skewer from the fire, tossing the watch to Grent as she tore into the meat, warm juice spilling down her chin. Oh, how she needed this. She hadn’t eaten since yesterday, and the meat was a delicacy.
“So what’s the problem, little lady?” Grent asked. polishing the watch with the rag wrapped around his head. “What’s put yer in a rat skewer mood? The sister been eatin’ at you again?”
Ember rolled her eyes, chewing with aggression. “She is,” she mumbled through the food. “My dad, this healing business.” She cast a sideways look at a group of burly tattooed men as they passed Grent’s stall. “I mean, why the harking hell does he think I’d be a good healer, doctor, or whatever? Me! Of all people! All I talk about is killing things.”
Grent shrugged, tucking the watch into his shirt pocket. “Beats me.”
Ember looked away as the tattooed guys began to bargain some meat skewers off Grent. Blocking their voices out of her mind and looking over the destroyed landscape that had once been a thriving city, Ember wondered if, before the dragons had destroyed things, girls like her had had problems like this: annoying sisters always yelling at them, fathers wanting their daughters to do things they didn’t want to do, moms who had died before you could know them, and the overwhelming urge to punch something. She doubted it. Ember stared at the grey clouds, wondering if the sun would ever come out again. It had been days since she had last seen it, and it was beginning to affect her mood. The sun made everything better.
Ember blinked. There was something, something in the sky. A speck, growing closer and closer. At first she thought it was a bird, then a stream of fire shot from the nearing speck. Ember leapt to her feet, her heart pounding in her ears as she let out an earsplitting yell. “Dragon!”