Now, We Burn

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8 | Eliza

8
November 6, 2104

Eliza’s eyes flitted open immediately when she felt a cold hand on her shoulder. A voice was speaking, but it was muffled and Eliza couldn’t make it out.

“Eliza!” the voice cried and loving recognition flooded through her being.

Ember.

Eliza sprang up and tugged her sister into her arms, ignoring the burnt holes in her shirt as she hugged Ember tightly. Happy tears began to stream down her face.

“Oh, my god!” she cried. “I’m so glad you’re okay!”

Ember was holding Eliza just as tightly, stroking her dark hair comfortingly. “I know,” she said quietly, then repeated, “I know.”

Eliza pushed herself back and sniffed, her face a contorted mix of happiness, sadness, fear, and confusion. She swept her eyes across her sister’s body.

“What happened to you?” she asked. “Are you okay?” There were burns all over her body, charred flesh under her ripped jeans, and bruises everywhere. Parts of her hair were singed, although not too noticeable against her brown-almost-black hair. She was an utter wreck.

“Nothing much, just that harking dragon…” Ember trailed off, looking back in the direction she came. Eliza’s eyes softened.

“But you’re okay now?”

“Yeah. Don’t worry about me, big sister.”

Eliza smiled for the first time in days. “We need to figure out what we’re going to do.”

“What do you mean?”

“We can’t stay here,” she said thoughtfully. “Who knows if any of those gang scum followed us back, or that dragon of yours.”

“So?” Ember countered, growing angry. “This is where we grew up! We can’t leave here! We can’t just--”

Ember stopped short at the sight of Eliza’s expression. She wasn’t looking at Ember anymore, but at the wood’s edge behind her, her emerald eyes wide, frightened.

“Eliza?” Ember asked before turning around to see what her sister was staring at.

The dragon.

It was there, watching them.

Eliza burst into action, grabbing her sister’s shirt collar and pulling her in close.

“Don’t make any sudden movements while we do this,” she said. “Get your stuff, and then we’ll run, okay?” Ember nodded slowly and backed up, picking up her spare jacket and a backpack. Eliza did so too, stepping over to the small cot in the corner of the space and picking up her bag with their food and first aid supply, as well as other needed things. She zipped it up quickly and nodded to her sister. With one last glance toward the dragon, they ran toward the city.

Immediately Eliza heard the hard thudding of the beast’s footsteps, galloping after them, and then it was gone, replaced with the sound of flapping. It was flying.

They ran through the city, winding around toppled, burnt, and weathered buildings with the dragon at their tails. Eliza shuddered at the feeling of fire blooming out behind them as it caught on buildings. She turned at the sound of rocks and glass hitting the ground to see the scarlet creature clinging to the wall of a broken skyscraper. Black puffs of smoke filtered out between its bared fangs. Eliza gripped her backpack straps tighter and kept running.

The girls turned a corner and raced into a rubble-caked building in hopes of losing the dragon.

Eliza huffed, gathering her breath again and setting her backpack down next to her. A sudden realization crept its way into her mind. Her backpack had felt heavier than usual.

She gave it a weird look suddenly and ripped it open, ignoring Ember collapsing on the ground in exhaustion.

Eliza screamed, then covered her own mouth quickly, horror flowing through her. A small, sky-colored creature lie in the bottom of her bag, munching on a sealed aluminum can. As it opened its mouth, smog drifted out.

It was about the size of her head, and probably weighed as much. The thing didn’t look very intimidating, but Eliza knew its power. It stared up at her with large doe eyes, dumbfounded. It’s nostril slits expanded and detracted with each quick breath.

Ember was staring at her with confusion, shifting her gaze from Eliza’s face to her backpack. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

Eliza pointed to the bag and scooted away slowly in fright. Ember peeked into it and her eyes grew wider with the passing seconds.

Minutes passed and both girls remained silent. The dragon poked its head out slightly and eyed the two. It looked just as scared as they did. It reached its winged arms out and extended its claws before retracting them immediately. Its nostrils expanded again as it sniffed, then shrunk away, back into the backpack.

“Why isn’t it attacking us?” Eliza whispered to Ember.

“I don’t harking know!” she exclaimed just as quietly.

“Well, what do we do with it?”

Ember repeated her statement with more finality.

“It’s your backpack!”

“I didn’t know it was in there!”

There was a loud boom outside and Eliza cowered away from the building’s entrance.

“Whatever we’re doing, we have to do it now and get out of here,” Ember stated sternly.

“I know.” Eliza stood up and tiptoed over to the bag. The dragon was still inside it, lying atop the girls’ belongings. “We can’t leave it.”

There were precious things in that bag -- things that were indispensable; pictures of their parents and their food. She would have to take it with her, dragon or not. Eliza picked up the bag by its strap, careful to avoid the dragon, and zipped it up.

“Come on,” she said as she put the strap on her shoulder. The two walked out of a hole opposite the building’s entrance and examined the outside. No sign of the ruby dragon.

They ran across the street and hugged another wall before jogging away, putting as much distance between the building and them as possible. Eliza turned her head and looked back warily, one eye on the backpack and the other on the lane behind her. Suddenly, Ember put a hand on her forearm and Eliza stumbled forward, losing balance.

“What?” she asked and turned around. There was a big, burly man there, walking around the front of a mall that had half of its roof caved in. Just as she took in the situation, the man started forward, toward them, and yelled something behind him.

The girls tried to run, but soon there were people surrounding them, all dressed in black with one strip of red cloth around their right biceps, and all staring at the girls with sharp malice.

One boy, whom Eliza recognized immediately as Hugo, stepped forward, death written across his features, but he stopped when he saw the gang leader walking toward the group. Thane examined the girls thoroughly before waving them off.

“Take them inside,” he commanded nonchalantly. “I’ll handle them.”

Then, the people closed in, wrapping their dirty hands around the girls’ arms.

Eliza wanted to scream, she wanted to shout for her father, but she knew she couldn’t. There was a dragon near and her father wouldn’t be coming.

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