Now, We Burn

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5 | Ember

| Ember |

Ember didn’t know what she had noticed first, the throbbing pain from her head and body, or the voice of Eliza whispering her name.


Ember shot up, her head pounding like it was still being bashed upon the stone.

She winced in pain. “Harking mother of dragons,” she hissed, holding her head against the throbbing.

“Ember,” the whisper came again. Ember opened her eyes, instantly regretting it as fiery light from a torch nearly blinded her. Through watery eyes Ember glanced around as her heart rate increased. She was in a tent. A rough, torch lit tent made of a patchwork of tarp, animal skins, and who knew what else. The smell of smoke was thick in her mouth, and a rumble of voices could be heard close by.

Feeling like she was drunk Ember pushed herself up into a kneeling position, afraid to stand. She was in a gang camp, that much she knew. That crussing tattooed boy must have dragged her here, that disgusting dragon scarf. She should have known he would have taken advantage of her weakness, should have known he would have tried to kidnap her after turning down his offer to join his gang.

“Ember!” The whisper came as a hiss this time, agitation and panic clear in the sound. Suddenly a hand appeared from under the edge of the tent, the tips painted black. There was only one person Ember knew who painted her fingers like that.

“Eliza,” she whispered sharply, glancing around to make sure she was alone before crouching down and peering under the tent. Eliza’s emerald eyes greeted her.

“What in harking dragon fire are you doing here?” Ember hissed, a new panic filling her chest.

“Saving you, idiot,” Eliza said. “Slide out from the bottom, there’s no one over here right now. We can make a break into the woods.”

Adrenaline pumped through Ember’s veins as her heart raced, making her forget the pain in her body as she began to slide out from under the tent. She wished Eliza hadn’t come, she had gotten herself in this mess, and now she had to get out. If something happened to Eliza tonight, Ember would never forgive herself.

As Ember slid her lower half out of the tent, though, the sound of footsteps reached her ears.

“Someone’s coming!” Eliza hissed. Ember pulled herself back into the small space, her body pushed aside as Eliza slid into the tent. Her face was eerily lit by the torch outside the tent.

Still as statues, Ember and Eliza listened. Ember’s heart thudded like a drumroll. She didn’t dare to breathe.

The sound of crunching footsteps drew closer, a dark shadow passing over the surface of the tent before the footsteps began to retreat.

Ember heard Eliza let out a relieved breath.

But they weren’t relaxed for long, though. The sound of two more pairs of footsteps reached Ember’s ears, along with the sound of gruff male voices. “Harking dragons,” she heard one of them say. “If it was me I’d torch them like one of ’em crussing birds you see in dem old pictures.”

Ember reached for her knife. The men were getting close now, too close, but as her hand reached out to touch the spot where her weapon was usually hidden, she found that it was missing.

“Mud crussing scoundrels,” she muttered under her breath.

The footsteps stopped in front of the tent.

“Have you seen our new gang member?” one of the men asked.

“No,” came the first man’s voice. “But I’m about to.”

A large hand reached into the door of the tent.

“Run!” Ember hissed, then together, their bodies moving as one, the two sisters sprang into action.

Ember barreled out of the tent, slamming into one of the men with a war cry. The man fell over with a sharp grunt, Eliza slamming into the other one.

Then they were running. Ember’s legs pumped, her feet flying over the ground, her gaze fixated on the forest.

She was almost to the woods. She had almost made it when a scream sliced through the air.

Ember whipped around to see Eliza trapped in the grasp of one of the men, a jagged knife at her throat.

All at once the fight went out of her before it was replaced with a fiery rage.

“Let go of my sister, you mongrel!” she shouted, charging at the man while reaching for her knife before realizing mid-run that she no longer had it.

A hard body slammed into her from nowhere, grabbing her arms and wrenching them behind her back. Ember let out a yelp of pain, twisting in her captor’s grasp, her vision blurring red.

But then another man appeared, grabbing onto her shoulder with an iron grip.

Ember growled, trying to break free, but knowing already that she couldn’t. She had been caught, her escape had failed, and now they had Eliza, too.

“Looks like newbie tried to make a run for it,” snorted the narrow-eyed young man who held Eliza, his knife still pressing into the skin of her neck. Eliza’s eyes were wide with fear, darting around.

“Take them to Thane,” a rough female voice said from somewhere out of sight. “He’ll handle them.”

Ember’s breath was trapped in her chest as she was roughly lead into a rough structure made of strips of metal, artfully woven between tree limbs, and iron bars. A black clad woman with red dreads stood guard at the entrance, sharpening what looked like an axe made of some sort of metal.

Ember was shoved through the tent entrance, her teeth bared as the two men holding her dragged her into the dark, torch lit interior of the structure. Her nose filled with the scent of smoke.

Inside, gang members were everywhere; talking, cooking things over the fire, polishing weapons, eating, and doing whatever else people in gangs did. Heads turned as the sisters were forced in, eyebrows raising and a few bursts of laughter. Ember bared her teeth at anyone who made eye contact.

The two men led her and Eliza to the back of the shelter before leading them into a different part of the structure, where a group of five black-clad men stood.

“Thane,” said one of the men holding Ember. “We caught this one trying to escape, looks like her friend was trying to save her.”

All five men looked up from where they were hunched over something on a cement block marked with bullet holes. Fury coursed through Ember as she recognized the boy who had knocked her unconscious. His devilish smile stretched from ear to ear.

A tall, lean boy stepped forward, his long blonde hair falling past his shoulders, features fixed in a steely expression. He didn’t look like much to Ember, he could only be a few years older than her, but she could tell that he was the leader here, his very presence emanating power and irritation.

He studied her with grey eyes as steely as his expression, his stare shifting to Eliza.

“Hugo,” he said, his mouth a hard line. “I thought you said you had this one” --he pointed at Ember-- “under restraint.”

The dark haired devil boy sauntered up. “I did.” He grinned, looking straight at Ember. She growled under her breath.

“She was knocked out cold.” The boy, Hugo, said, “I’m surprised she’s up. Told you she was a fighter, Thane.”

Thane’s expression remained stony as he turned to Hugo.

“I don’t have time for this, Hugo,” he grumbled. “Pierce, go with him. I’ll deal with them later.”

Hatred rose in Ember’s throat as Hugo ambled up to her, followed by a dark haired young man who went to Eliza.

Hugo grabbed her arms, still twisted up behind her back, his grasp rough.

“So glad we get to hang out together,” Hugo said. His face was hidden, but Ember could hear the smirk in his voice.

She grit her teeth. Oh, how good it would feel to punch his face in.

Hugo and the dark haired Pierce lead the two sisters out of that corner of the structure before Hugo shoved Ember through a jagged hole in the side that lead to another part of the structure, where three pairs of shackles were chained to metal poles at the far ends of the room. It was obvious they kept prisoners here regularly.

Grinning, Hugo let Ember’s arms go, and for a moment the idea of running flashed into Ember’s mind, before the all too real truth dawned on her. She couldn’t run away. If she did, she would just be caught again.

“Yeah, that’s right,” Hugo smirked as if he had read Ember’s thoughts. “It’s no use running.”

“You harking animal,” Ember growled at him as he grabbed her hand, forced her to her knees and shackled her to one of the posts.

Ember let him do it. He was right: she couldn’t run, she couldn’t do anything. And that made her angrier than anything else in the world.

Ember watched in silent rage, mixed in with a tinge of curiosity, as Hugo and the so far silent Pierce went to the entrance of the prison area, standing guard. Hugo flashed her a wide sharklike smile before ducking through the entrance.

Beside Ember, Eliza was shaking. Ember twisted her neck to look at her. In the dark shadows of the prison space, she could see a her sister’s face, her skin pale and her eyes wide. The pulse in Eliza’s neck fluttered like a nervous bird.

All the guilt Ember had felt before came crashing down on her again and she instantly wanted to tear Hugo and whoever else she could blame apart. But most of all she wanted to tear herself apart, for her stupidity, her harking stubbornness. Her father had always warned her that her temper would get her into trouble, and he had been right.

Ember slumped against the wall, the chain already chafing her wrist, and against her will she began to slip into sleep, her mind filled with thoughts of her father, and the fear that they would never get free.

What seemed like minutes later Ember was jolted awake by the sound of yelling.

From where she sat on the dirty floor she saw Hugo and Pierce exchanging worried looks and whispers, as in the distance the yelling continued.

Listening hard, Ember tried to make out what the voice was saying, but all she could hear was the rage that was strung in every note.

Ember turned to Eliza. “Whats going on?” she hissed. Eliza shook her head.

“I don’t know,” she whispered back. “It just started up. I think it’s their leader.”

Thane, Ember thought, remembering the blond boy who had seemed so stuck up.

“Well I hope he shuts it.” She said, “He’s louder than a harking dragon.”

“Language,” Eliza scolded, a frown creasing her forehead.

Ember ignored Eliza, her mind working. The leader must be angry about something big, Ember didn’t think he would be yelling otherwise. He had certainly looked like a crussing sourpus, but she wasn’t sure that he was the type of leader who yelled just to strain his throat.

Ember saw Pierce stand up from where he had been standing guard beside Hugo. He hurried away, a worried look on his face.

As soon he was gone Hugo turned on the sisters.

“Looks like the sleeping beauty’s awake,” he grinned, his eyes fixed on Ember.

“Hark off, you dragon scarfing son of a glasser,” Ember shot back, using as much hostility as she could.

“Ember, stop,” Eliza whispered, glancing at Hugo, her expression giving away all her worry and fear.

“I’d listen to your friend,” Hugo said as he slid his way closer to Ember. “A tongue like yours might get cut off someday.” He drew a knife from his belt, examining his pale, sharp-eyed self in the silver reflection.

Ember swallowed.

Hugo kept advancing, “If I didn’t think you were so crussing good looking.” The boy said, the accent in his voice clearer than ever, “I’d probably cut it out myself.”

The yelling became louder, the words so harsh and rigging that Ember could now make out the words.

“You’re telling me… Harking useless… what are you?... if you don’t… Eeros… no one else… Because of you!”

The words faded in and out of earshot, making Ember’s curiosity grow.

“Well, well,” Hugo snickered, “Thane’s in a temper, now isn’t he? Poor Pierce, the fool.”

“What’s going on?” Eliza asked, her voice so timid and small Ember could barely hear it.

“What?” Hugo asked, his narrowed eyes traveling to Eliza’s face. “What was that, Soot Face?

“I said,” Eliza raised her voice, sounding stronger than she had since she had been reprimanding Ember, “What is going on?”

Hugo’s grin widened.

“Well,” he began, “It seems as though someone has killed the doctor Thane kidnapped to heal his friend Eeros. He was wounded a day ago. Poor fella, looks like he’s as good as dead now.”

Ember’s stomach tightened, suddenly feeling like she was going to be sick. More words disentangled themselves from the yelling.

“You’re so dead… Should do it... Are you a crussing... Don’t deserve... You’d better--“

“Why is it the other boy’s fault?” Ember asked, the tight feeling in her stomach strengthening.

“Because he’s the one who did it,” Hugo stated, shaking his head. “He killed him, ran a blade straight over his throat. Too bad, Eeros was a good guy. And there’s not another doctor around. It’s a harking shame.”

A horrid idea dawned on Ember, her mouth going dry.

“What was the doctor’s name?” Ember asked, her voice coming out in a whisper.

Beside her Eliza stirred, her face written with panic. She had come to the same thought as Ember.

“I don’t know. Why should I crussing care?” Hugo replied, shrugging.

“What was his name?” Ember repeated, her voice coming out in a shout.

Hugo looked at her with narrowed eyes.

“Why do you care?” he snorted.

Fury boiled Ember’s blood.

“Just tell me, you harking creep!” Ember cried, straining against her chains.

“I told you, I don’t know.” Hugo sneered, “He was a loner, loners are scum. I don’t give a flying dragon scarf about you loner trash.”

“Was it Roan?” Eliza whispered, her face stricken. “Was his last name Roan?”

Ember’s heart hammered.

“Roan?” Hugo asked, thinking. “Hmm, yeah, that sounds right. He was this dark skinned fellow. Had a scar above his eyebrow if I remember right.”

Hugo’s words fell on Ember like a stone, crushing her heart, soul, and body, until all she felt was pain, the pain of her breaking heart.

“You’re lying!” she screamed, pulling against her chains until her wrists began to bleed. “You’re lying!”

Eliza let out a cry of pain, not a physical pain, but something from inside, something that hurt far worse.

Ember’s ears rang with Hugo’s words. There was only one doctor who fit this description, only one doctor who was a loner, who was the only doctor Ember knew. It was her father. They had killed her father.

Hugo was looking at the girls like they had gone mad.

“You killed him!” Ember screamed. “You killed our father! You monsters! You harking monsters!”

Ember stood, pulling at the chains with all her might, until one of them finally snapped.

Ember flew at Hugo, fury and pain filling her as she smashed her fist into Hugo’s face with one, bone shattering blow. Then she was on him, squeezing his neck. She wanted him to die, she wanted the whole gang to die for what they had done.

Harsh hands ripped Ember off of Hugo and she found herself face to face with the furious features of the gang leader, Thane. “What is going on?” he growled, hand tight around her shoulder. Ember tried to break free, but hands held her in place.

“You monsters,” Ember said, spitting the words at Thane. “You crussing monsters.”

“They’re the doctor’s daughters, Thane,” Hugo said, leaping to Thane’s side, wiping a trail of blood that ran from his nose. “He must have taught them something. They might be able to help Eeros.”

Thane’s eyes bored into Ember, some of the fury in his face replaced with a panicked hope.

“Really?” he asked. “Well then, Eeros’ life might just be saved.”

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