Now, We Burn

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4 | Eliza

4
November 4, 2104

Eliza couldn’t believe that Ember had the gall to run off like that, especially when their father was missing. She had searched for her dad for what must have been hours, but she finally gave up when the first stars peeked out in the sky. No matter where someone was though, there was always a spot of light that could be seen anywhere on the horizon, because there was always a fire somewhere.

She had wanted to scream, wanted to shout out her father’s name, wanted to cry out for her sister, who she could never be sure was dead or alive.

But she couldn’t. Eliza knew this. Somebody would hear, be it a dragon, a hungry loner, a gang member… She was too cowardly. So when she gave up, Eliza instead ran in the opposite direction, toward the city. Toward where she knew her sister had been.

This time, Eliza wasn’t afraid of the height -- she was too preoccupied with the thoughts of Ember. She scaled the crumbling building, and to the roof from the stairs. For once, she wouldn’t be afraid.

There were no people at the market -- it was too late -- but Eliza could hear the faint roar of the onlookers in the Clash Zone. She had never been to the place, and she never wanted to, but Eliza had a feeling that was where her sister was. She followed the sounds, straight to a makeshift bridge leading to another crumbling roof of another crumbling building. Faint light seeped from a small hole in the roof that could probably fit about six people through and Eliza made her way to it.

There were few people on the roof, but none of them bothered Eliza or seemed a threat to her. She was only worried about Ember. As she peered into the hole, careful to keep away from the edge, the golden light illuminated Eliza’s ivory toned features and short, dark hair in the midst of the night’s darkness. When she looked over the edge, though, Eliza pulled back into the darkness at the sight of her sister, latched onto a burly man’s back like a leech. She was fighting, Eliza realized. She looked over the edge once more to see the man in a strong chokehold, pinned under the small teenage girl.

She was winning, Eliza soon admitted with disdain. Where had she learned to fight? Surely not from her father, no. Or… maybe? Had her father taught Ember how to fight off an enemy three times her size without Eliza’s knowledge?

No, she thought as she remembered. Ember had always been a sure, spit-fire of a girl, and she agreed to learn to fight where her older sister didn’t. She was too weak, and yet her father didn’t decide to set her up for medical care instead. Eliza only knew the things she overheard from what her father taught Ember. Eliza had been jealous, and she never cared. She could be something to her father too, she had sworn. But now she couldn’t. Because he was gone.

“We have a winner!” Eliza jumped at the sound of a man’s voice that had cut through the roars and cries of the audience. She turned and squinted past the light to see a masked man holding Ember’s wrist into the air in what Eliza figured was a triumphant victory. Her eyes drifted below her sister, to the limp body of the burly man. He was dead. Eliza gasped.

“If you’re so intrigued by the fight, why don’t you just go down there yourself?” a bored voice asked, behind Eliza.

“What?” She turned and looked at the source of the voice, who looked to be a young man from what Eliza could see through the darkness. She hadn’t seen him when she arrived.

“You heard me.”

“No” -- Eliza stuttered, raising her hands up in defense -- “I’m-I’m not--”

“Go on,” the man nodded toward the hole behind Eliza. She envisioned the possible scenarios. She could run and the man could chase her and she would lose hope of getting Ember out of that ring. The man could move only slightly and push her into the crowded mass of people, sure to get her killed. He sure looked like he would do it judging by the smug expression Eliza could just make out. Or she could fight back.

Eliza was surprised to find herself doing the latter when the man inched closer to her, reaching his dirt-smothered hands -- no, claws -- out to her. She tried to move her arm up to connect with his disgusting face, which she could see now that he stepped into the light, but he caught her hand like it was nothing.

“Oh, honey,” he muttered slyly. “You should not have done that.” The man suddenly moved considerably forward but Eliza’s body moved without her thinking, and she dodged his attack, sending him teetering over the cracked edge of the roof, but he caught himself. He turned and tried again to hit her, but she moved once more. The two danced in a mix of black clothes and sharp expressions in mangled forms. They fought and fought and Eliza moved in a way that was foreign to her, her movements mirroring the ones she had seen Ember doing. Suddenly, the man lost his sure-footedness and lingered over the edge for a moment before falling and crashing into the crowd that Eliza would have been in if not for her instinctual fighting.

The adrenaline that had pumped through her veins diminished almost immediately, leaving Eliza drained and tired, a part of her afraid for herself. Who was that man? Why had he attacked her? Was he apart of a gang? Was that the reason? She knew that gang people tended to pick fights with little or no provocation.

Eliza sat at the edge for what seemed to her like only minutes, but she soon heard what she recognized as the masked man yell out. When she leaned over the edge to see what had happened, her sister looked much more tired and worn out than before. Blood stained Ember’s cheeks and clothes and she stood in the middle of the ring, looking like she was about to collapse. Her eyes were angry, fiery, but Eliza could see a trace of sadness within them.

“Champion!” the masked man cried. “Do you fall or fight?”

Ember opened her mouth, but her words seemed to drift from her lips. “Fall,” she breathed, then walked away from the masked man, seeming to ignore the boos coming from the mob of angry onlookers. She leapt over the side of the ring and walked out through an inconspicuous exit that Eliza hadn’t seen before. She ran to the edge of the building, seeing Ember emerge from the side. Eliza turned then and hurried back to the roof of the nightly abandoned No-Man’s Market and ran down the steps. She raced down the rubble-clad street and veered around the curb, but stopped when she saw her sister talking with a boy. He was dressed darkly, like almost everyone that could be seen around, and his equally dark, longish hair spiked from his head. He wore the grin of the Cheshire Cat.

Suddenly, Eliza noticed that Ember had the fiercest expression glued to her face. Eliza pinned herself to the wall to watch the pair unnoticed. Ember was arguing with the boy, who looked to be about the same age as Eliza, and his snake-like hand was creeping toward her sister’s waist. Ember struck it away, saying something before pushing herself off the wall and stalking into an alley. The boy followed her and so did Eliza, careful to stay out of sight.

Suddenly, he attacked Ember, slamming his fist into her abdomen. Eliza gasped but didn’t move -- couldn’t move. He continued to pound at her, Ember trying to get free, her movements slow and weak, before she couldn’t fight back any longer, writhing and crying out beneath him, but Eliza was frozen. Every ounce, every cell in every square inch of her screamed at her to help her sister, but her mind was blank. Her insides churned and quivered and her heart beat so fast it could have jumped out of her chest and run away but her mind ignored it all. She just couldn’t move. She was afraid once again.

Somewhere, in the back of her mind, Eliza cursed at herself along with her whole being but something just wasn’t reacting. She watched the shuddering form of Ember fall limp in the strange boy’s arms, another boy appearing behind them to help haul Eliza’s sister away. Once she gathered herself, Eliza went after them, making sure to stay a safe distance away as she followed, like an unnoticed glowfly in the backyard.

They soon arrived at a place beyond the city, to Eliza’s surprise, where manmade fires burned and lit the area. People bustled about, all looking as frightening as the two boys who captured Ember even without doing anything frightening. They carried wood, meat, charcoal, and the like as well as doing certain other jobs that were all but familiar to Eliza.

It just barely dawned on her then, and Eliza’s mind jumbled at the realization.

This was a camp. Those two boys were part of a gang, and a powerful looking one, at that.

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