Embers & Ash

"When I save her," Aidan echoes, a smirk twisting his features. "You're not going to save her. Trust me, when you get there, there'll be nothing left to save. If you haven't noticed, this world is dying, and we're nothing but the fading embers in the ash."


2. Prologue

They’re choking. Drowning. Dying.

Vision shuddering, limbs shaking, their hearing dissolving into a dull murmur of sound.

They’re lying on their back in the middle of the desert, blinking up at the star-stained sky, the inky black that slides between each faraway sun. They can’t breathe. Every thought is tainted with red.

Blood everywhere; blood in their mouth, blood on their face, their hands, blood soaking through their clothes, blood seeping steadily from the hole in their chest. There’s so much of it- they can see it staining the sand when they try to turn their head to the side, the movement sending spears of agony shooting down their spine.

There’s blood in their mouth; bitter and metallic, scarlet freckling their face from splashes of blood that had been coughed out. It’s surrounding them; a fallen angel’s halo, broken red wings, torn ethereal robes- all of it red, all of it blood, and there’s more of it, more and more.

They can feel the wind on their skin- soft and gentle, nothing more than a breeze, a whisper of a storm- and they close their eyes and bathe themselves in it, let it wash over them like water. It’s so dark.

The only source of light is the faint glow of the city hovering at the edge of the horizon, the watch-towers that hover at the borders. They’ve got snipers in those watch towers- men and women picked out like prime animals at a show for their skills, trained up to become the best guardians (AKA soldiers) that the city would ever need.

The snipers are the reason for the hole in their side, after all. They should never have tried to sneak out through the main wall. They’re usually so much more careful than that.

And now they’re choking. Drowning. Blood leaking out from the hole in their stomach and soaking the sand.

They’re going to die. They know they’re going to die.

They don’t want to die.

It’s ironic, really, after killing so many people, but that’s just how karma is.

They’re a monster- the kind of creature that kills for the highest bidder, and will turn around and kill them when the fees rise. They’re the kind of person that kills children and old men without a second thought, or sneaks into building and topples democracies simply because the price happens to be right.

All in all, they really do deserve to be put down. Better for everyone, that way.

They cough again, blood spraying from their chapped lips, and they blink up at the sky as a figure of a woman steps up to them, smoothly, like she’s floating on air.

Their vision is starting to swim, flashing from colour to monochrome and back again, and they can barely make out the woman- swathed in black, her face drowning in shadow from the hood of her jacket, long hair tumbling down over her chest. Eyes full of cruelty and inhumane power- pale as a knife blade, cold as a blizzard- and they glimmer like a snake’s when she looks down at them, almost curiously, like they’re a dying animal she can’t wait to dissect.

She doesn’t move her lips, but they can hear her voice, clean and sharp as glass, in their head-

You’re going to die.

They choke again, vision flickering like the static on the television they used to watch. Back in their grey apartment, with plain walls and drugged-up citizens, when they had nothing to do but stumble from one day to the next, picking up pay checks and picking off people, until it grew too much of a weight and they ran.

It’s just their luck; that it’s only when they have a crisis of conscience they’re gunned down like the dog they are. That it’s only when they try to escape from the city they’re killed. It’s irony in its finest form.

The blood tastes like iron on their tongue. Like knife blades and prison chains, copper coins and rusty nails. The woman blinks down at them.

You’re going to die, she says again, silently, and they try to move away. They twist sideways, try to get their hands underneath their torso to drag themselves away, but the pain washes over them again, agonising and bloody red, and they let out a gurgling scream as they fall back to the ground.

They can’t die. They can’t die. They don’t want to die oh gosh please they can’t die they don’t want to die not now they were going to change they were going to help people-

But- the woman begins, and their attention flashes back to them. ‘But’. ‘But’. There’s a ‘but’. You’re useful to me. Or you could be, anyway. I know who you are, Kry, I know what you do.

They lift their head, pushing the pain as far from their mind as they can for these desperate, final moments as they raise their hands up towards the woman. Begging. Pleading. Their hands are soaked in red, like they’re back in the city, writing letters and cheques with the ancient fountain pen that insisted on leaking everywhere.

The woman pushes them away and shakes her head, a viper’s grin of an expression curling across her features. I like you, Kry. Soon, you will be useful to me.

They open their mouth, hacking out another globule of saliva and blood, and clear their throat. They need to know what this woman is talking about, what she is doing out here, whether she is going to save them or leave them to rot. She shushes them with a dainty finger to their lips, brushing a strand of blonde hair out of their eyes.

Don’t. Talk. The voice in their head takes an even sharper edge, even colder, crueller, and if the convulsions weren’t beginning to take hold of their body, they’d shudder.

They’ve lived their entire life training themselves to notice the smallest detail, to recognise the shape of a weapon beneath material within an instant, but they don’t see the dagger in the pocket of the woman’s jacket until she pulls it free.

It’s almost dainty, glimmering unnaturally bright in the almost lack of light, as she runs one long finger down the side of the blade.

Their vision’s failing. The only thing they make out is the woman turning the blade’s point down towards them, only centimetres above their left eye, and the cold smile she offers.

The last thing they see is the woman driving the knife down, before everything goes utterly and terrifyingly black.

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