March 16, 2019

The heat pounded hotter in Emery’s veins. Norian soldiers didn’t have beards.

Despite breathing heavily, she couldn’t get enough air in her lungs. The gutter was too slippery, the ice too thick to melt with her hands, and for a moment she nearly lost grip, the metal cutting into the joints of her fingers.

She clenched her teeth while sucking in a breath and pushed herself harder to pull herself up on the roof. Down at the market place, men closed around her.

She drew a trifling breath as a red piece of flesh flew through the air and blood sprayed across her vision. A thud, and then a swine’s head rolled in the snow, marking it red. Emery’s brows furrowed. She squinted at the boar’s rolling head, and a vaporized breath rose from her parted lips.

A wild boar’s head—a severed wild boar’s head, slightly burnt along the edges. A man kicked it, and it rolled to the side. The boar’s dry, black eyes bored through her.

The man dressed in all black, face hidden beneath a hood and scarf, crouched down to draw on it with charcoal. No, he wrote something with the charcoal.

Emery wished she could read.

The square broke out in noise, scared and confused. Another man shot an arrow into the pig’s head. Through the roaring wind and the shouting, she could make out a chanting among the black-dressed men and the guards in their blue coats. “Kill King Corran. Freedom to the people! Kill King Corran! Freedom to the people!”

A raven settled in the snow, beside the bleeding wild boar’s head, watching her with blue eyes. Blue eyes. There was something uncanny about all ravens, but this one sent Emery’s pulse roaring. She stared back, fear rising within and body trembling as her senses crippled until she couldn’t move.

The guards closed in. Emery forcefully pulled her eyes from the raven and looked at her hands. The tips of her fingers were burning red.

Flames blasted from her palms and danced across her vision. She shut her eyes, wincing. The metal in her hands clanked and shook. Emery fell quick and hard, but landed with a thud on  crouched feet.

She realized she was sitting on top of a barrel. But before she had time to register the lid breaking, her entire lower body was soaked in some sort of fat, or oil. Fingers burning, then oil burning, she groaned in pain. Her arms strained as she climbed out, but the fat covered her all the way up to her ribcage, and she was still burning like a torch made of flesh.

The crowd screamed and backed away. Emery tumbled down on the ground, instinctively crawling onto her knees, but her muscles gave in and she fell down onto her face. Cheek pressed against snow, Emery’s eyes slowly came back into focus, but the harder she tried to force the flames back inside, the more they burned her.

The noise around her faded. She opened her fists and hazy flames shot up. The square was crowded, despite the sun now hiding behind a cloud. Everybody were there to see the Aruel. Everybody could see what she was. 

Madness consumed the marketplace, spreading onto the streets.

Suddenly, a man loomed above her, standing upright and his back turned toward her. His arms were raised. He was screaming. “Set the world on fire, watch it burn!”

Some others repeated the words with raised fists beating air. 

“Set the world on fire, watch it burn!”

Emery couldn’t move. Her throat ached as if she'd screamed herself hoarse. Maybe she had.

The ghosts floated across her vision, above her limp body. They were chanting the same words as the men wearing black. Set the world on fire. She narrowed her eyes. A blink, and tears fell from the corners of her eyes. 

If Ayess saw this… Emery crawled up onto her elbows. And then the clouds above covered the sky in a growing blanket of darkness.

A second wave of flames erupted from the barrels. Emery was on fire, yet she wasn’t burning. She slowly rose onto her knees, her palms pressed against snow, ashen body hidden behind a wall of flames.

Watch it burn.

Everything around her was a blur. A dark figure suddenly grabbed her by the elbow and pulled her up from the ground. She looked down at her hands, flowing with tendrils of smoke, then lifted her gaze to meet the man’s jabbing eyes.

Emery instinctively raised her chin in silent defiance, but her pride was gone in a strike of Yssir’s hand. A sharp twinge of pain pricked her skin and a red blotch emerged. Emery stumbled to the side, groaning and rubbing her cheek.

“Rat on fire,” Hruod sounded behind him, walking through Emery’s flames. The meaty muscles on his arms flexed, clearly visible despite layers of woolen winter clothing. He eyed her up and down, astonished. “Yet not even close to death.”

Emery glanced at the position of the barrels. Her eyes followed an invisible line in the snow, her footsteps and the direction of the barrels leading precisely to the spot where the gutter had broken in her hands. Now, the metal was blackened and crumpled. 

She returned to face the two men, only now there were more than two of them.

Emery swallowed. Yssir held her by the neck. “There’s someone who wants to see you.”

One of them men behind him was wearing a dark blue Norian uniform, but it looked wrong.  And it was, because in the next moment they were running from the real soldiers—Emery running with the rogues.

Yssir’s band of thieves had tricked her. Pretend soldiers ran on each side of her, confusion settling deep into her face. She was sure of only one thing: they were leading her into a trap, and she couldn’t do else but run straight into it.

It was either Yssir’s claws or the King’s dungeons.

Yssir yelled over the clamor on the square. “Someone warned the King’s guard!”

Hruod looked at him. He narrowed his eyes, glancing over his shoulder and yelled back, “It’s the new fellow! I never much liked him.”

Emery was caught between them, trying to ignore their back and forth shouting. But they suddenly stopped running, and she saw her chance. Pulse jumping and heat rising to her head, she leaped on top of a snow boulder. She reached for the roof, but a hand pulled her down by her hood. The cloak choked her and her hands couldn’t reach the roof’s edge. Her feet slipped on the icy snow. She fell back, flailing her arms. 

Emery threw one leg out to keep from hitting the ground, but a man pushed her down. Her head slammed into the snow, a moan escaping her lips. All she could see was a darkening sky, sun overclouded by a black, inky mist. Screams erupted again. Then footsteps pounded beneath her, but they weren’t hers.

A screeching roar speared her head, coming from her veins.

Her blood called out to his, and his called out to hers. A sizzling, buzzing sound filled her head, painfully loud.

She looked over the arms carrying her. A strange, scarred, dark face above her breathed heavily into the hood covering most of his face. 

“Let me down!” Her words were slurred and nothing happened, but then she kicked and writhed herself free. The man groaned and Emery landed in a squat of all fours, the world slowly coming back into focus.

Yssir took long strides toward her, commanding Hruod over his shoulder, “Deal with him.”

Hruod charged toward the man that had carried Emery, and as Yssir came to a halt in front of her, she dashed out of his reach, running up the snowy street as fast as her scorched legs carried.

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