I am a feather lost at sea,
I am but a drop of dew,
I am the lock, I am the key,
                Find me, I’m a déjà vu.

‘Cause you’re a castle made of ash
And I’m the flame who burned your throne.
You and I were meant to crash,
                Find me, ember, smoke and bone.

We are bullets made of silk,
And you’re proud as a sunset.
But I’m a sunrise marked in ink,
                Find me, gray as a regret.


It was the creak of dawn in a warm April morning, but the shy rays of sunshine weren’t the only ones dancing over the skyline. On the contrary, the sun peaking from across the horizon was feeling rather deprived of the glory reserved for him only during the early hours of the morning.

But today was one of these days. Today was one of the days when even someone so conceited and pretentious such as himself had to admit he was being outshined. Even the sun couldn’t compete with her. Because today was one of the days when she showed up.

She opened her wings wide and defied the wind, teasing the height and despite himself, just like he always did before being able to help himself, the sun allowed his rays to blink in her direction a couple of times, bathing her in light and warmth.

And she smiled. Or something vaguely similar to a smile. As the morning light stroked her onyx black scales, thick skin lifted to bare sharp fangs in a strange, ominous, audacious attempt at an animalistic smile. She was a ferocious creature, terrifying and graceful in her viciousness, the flap of her massive wings resonating in a glorious echo, her vertical pupils dilated with the joy of soaring across the land like the cliffs and the mountains and the valleys belonged to her and she belonged to the sky and to the wind.

She was an Onyx Dragon, Daughter of Scorching Flames and Charcoal Dust.

The sun followed her with his gaze as her claws bit forcefully into a mountain’s peak and she landed gracefully. It was rather common. She belonged in the painting, a reptilian imposing muse, as the sky was the artist she haunted.

Except today, she wasn’t alone.

Her eyes didn’t search the horizon and she didn’t flee after mere instants, the light of day incompatible with her predatory impulses. She just sat on that mountain peak, staring straight ahead, and the sun realized it had been two sets of onyx black scales he’d send his rays shining upon today.

On an opposite mountain peak, no more than a few yards between them, sat another dragon, his position mirroring hers, two pair of beastly eyes staring like a mirror and a reflection. And deep under scales and claws and feral instincts, even though their consciences weren’t yet aware of it, two souls resonated loud as a crack and ripple sounds of a burning fire, and smoke rose and drew patterns on the morning sky.

The two of them looked at each other and welcomed one another’s presence, feeling as if they were finally home.



That morning, a couple hours past the crack of dawn, outside a village called Thebbington Abbey, awoke Ember. The spring air flooded her lungs and she gasped loudly, noticing with little amount of surprise, like she did every time this happened, that her clothes were gone. Just like her memories from last night. Several hours, just wiped from her head.

But she was used to it, used to those blank spaces. Pulling herself together, she got up and checked  whether there was anyone in sight, then headed towards a few bushes, where she knew for a fact her red cloak awaited for her. This was, after all, the spot where she always ended up consequently to her clandestine escapades.

She tightened the cloak around herself and snuck back into the village, taking precautions not to be seen. Ember Blackthorn was enough of an outlaw already to give villagers more reasons to outcast her.


Hey, guys!

For those of you who know me, I’m the author of Light Up My Sky and My Better Half. For those of you who know, welcome to the darkness that is Diane’s mind! We have dragons and hot pirates.

Fun fact. I wrote that poem from the start way before I even thought about writing Smoke and Mirrors. And yet, it’s a perfect fit for what I have planned for this story.

Well, thanks for giving this story a chance. I can so promise you it’s gon’ be worth it.

Lots of love,


2: Chapter 1: Living on a prayer
Chapter 1: Living on a prayer


Ember Blackthorn was a thief. And a good one, at that. And she was not ashamed of it. Her mother had told her and her siblings that one must do whatever must be done in order to protect those one holds dear. In order to pull through. And then her mother and father had been killed –or so Ember had been told— and she found herself alone, with two brothers and two sisters to feed and care for. So she was doing what was required in order to protect those she held dear.

And she regretted nothing. She was an outlaw, but she found there was nobility in that. While her methods were frowned upon, she had learned her purpose obliterated the means she used to get there. And yes, the villagers knew what she did for a living and strongly disapproved of it, but she scared them. They were scared of her, and she was delighted by it. She knew no one would dare to second guess her ways, so she might have been an outcast, but she could not care less. No one bothered her, and the fragile concept she called home still stood tall before her, providing the safety of a place to return to, of a place where you’re thought about and where your return is much awaited.

Ember fastened her red cloak around her body and pulled the hood up, after having kissed her siblings goodbye, and she headed towards Clarissa’s shop.

Clarissa’s presence in Thebbington Abbey was just as controversial as Ember’s, but Clarissa was the person no one liked or approved of, yet everyone needed. Perhaps, should they know Clarissa worked with Ember, her popularity would’ve dropped alarmingly. But the two of them helped each other. There was some sort of weird friendship blossoming between them, some sort of wordless understanding that bonded them in ways neither of them could particularly name. Yet they welcomed it. Ember would provide Clarissa’s shop with all kinds of things she stole from rich people that the poor villagers in Thebbington Abbey were happy to buy at a reasonable price. And in return, Clarissa paid good money and made some very convenient offers for what Ember bought.

Ember walked inside the shop, her hood pulled over her face, although this was highly unnecessary, since her red cloak was pretty much her signature. Every time that red cloak came in sight, whispers started and people turned their backs.

Clarissa was not one those people.

“Morning, Clare,” Ember greeted as she walked through the door.

They didn’t usually manifest their friendship in public, since Ember didn’t want the way villagers felt about her to affect Clarissa’s business. But the shop was empty now, so there was no need for pretenses.

“Hello, Ember,” Clarissa smiled widely at the sight of her friend. “Got anything interesting for me today?”

Ember wrinkled her nose and pulled down her hoodie, revealing her charcoal black curls. It struck Clarissa like a thunder bolt every time she realized that her friend was a real beauty. And she wasn’t even aware of it. You’d expect a thief to be all rusty and muddy and rough around the edges, yet Ember was anything but that. Her hair held a smoothness and silkiness that Clare envied, her green eyes gleamed with a conceited joy she didn’t know she could allow herself, her skilled hands that could easily maneuver knives and bows and arrows and swords as well as they could pet a wounded bird were delicate and gentle. Maybe in another life, Clarissa thought, Ember could’ve been noble. Could’ve been a lady. But in this one, she was stuck being a thief.

“I’m afraid not much,” Ember answered the question from earlier. “Word has gotten out that there’s a thief in these lands and there haven’t been that many carriages passing through. And you know I can’t target locals. One wrong step is all they wait for to slay me.”

She placed the few objects she’s managed to steal over the past week on the table. It really wasn’t much. Some cheap jewelry, one half empty bottle of perfume and some more useless little nothings, the only valuable belongings in there being a couple of silk scarfs she’d managed to take from some snob ladies.

Ember saw Clarissa’s shoulders drop and she knew her friend well enough to know what it meant.

“Ember—“ Clare started. “You know I can’t get you very much for it.”

Ember tried to hide her disappointment, because she knew Clarissa really meant it. She actually felt guilty when Ember came to her with a deal and she wasn’t able to keep her end of it.

“I know,” Ember offered an encouraging smile. “Anything’s better than nothing. Food, preferably. Anything with sugar for the little ones. It’s been a long winter.”

Clarissa’s face brightened with a hopeful smile.

“That, I can manage,” she said, and disappeared around the corner, just to come back with a bag full of food. It really wasn’t much, considering there were four more mouths she needed to feed. Some sweets and bread and grain, but they’d have to do for the week. Ember smiled again at her friend.

“Thank you so much, Clare.”

Clarissa pursed her lips and tilted one shoulder. “No problem. Give the little ones a kiss for me, will you?”

Ember nodded and pulled her hood back up when a few people walked inside the shop. She could see they tensed when they caught sight of the red cloak, so she let herself out without as much as a goodbye to her friend.

She stopped for a second in an alley, thinking about what to do next. She couldn’t go out of a village to target new thefts because she was exhausted. And she couldn’t go straight home with a full day ahead of hers. She hated feeling as if she’d wasted opportunities to do anything at all to improve her situation. But then she remembered she still had some money on her, so it was as good a chance as any to go to the market and replenish their food resources for the week.

She usually loathed going to the market. It was the place where people had no reservations in what concerned pointing fingers and throwing stones. And Ember didn’t particularly feel like leaving a trail of whispers and judgmental glares behind her as she moved through the crowd. But she was willing to resort to even that if it would make her siblings happy. Hell, maybe she’d find some toys. Yes, toys seemed like a good way to improve their mood and get them a little shred of happiness.

Ember made her way to the village market, feeling in unusual good spirits. This was a rare mood for her. And she promised herself she was not going to let her reputation ruin it.

She raised her chin and looked straight ahead, allowing the cloak to act like a shield. Keeping herself in, blocking everything else out. And it actually worked.

She stopped abruptly when she caught sight with the corner of her eye of a flower girl surrounded by a dozen baskets full of colorful spring flowers, colorful and radiant and in such tune with the vibrations pulsating within her at the moment. She couldn’t quite name the feeling. It really wasn’t much, but the air around her felt suddenly thinner, more charged, and her skin prickled in irrational anticipation. But she forced herself to lose focus of such thoughts and her gaze lingered over the flowers just a moment more. She felt so overwhelmed by the need to just lay in an open field face turned upwards, towards the sky. Often were the times in which she dreamt of flying. Of soaring high until she became no more than a dot on the skyline and the ground became a far landscape.

“Excuse me, m’lady?”

Ember flinched as a voice behind her brought her out of her reverie. She turned abruptly on her heels and was met by the greenest pair of eyes she’d ever laid her own green eyes upon. She instinctively stumbled a step back at the sudden and unexpected proximity.

“Oh,” was all she could mutter, and the boy just kept staring at her, his emerald eyes wide, lips slightly parted.

He was a man of a rare beauty, Ember remarked. He stood his ground with a certain type of class that suggested humble nobility to his upbringing, and his clothes, while not in the least bit pretentious, they were neat and clean, not a wrinkle out of place. It was clear to the eye that there had been attempts to tame his dark hair, but strands of it still fell into his eyes. And Lord, those eyes. The way the morning sun glimmered made it possible for Ember to count dozens shades of green in those eyes.

Then his words registered. M’lady? Was he that oblivious? Did he not know who she was? Could he not see how little she resembled a lady?

“If I may,” he broke the silence eventually, saving Ember the mortification of standing before him, gaping like an idiot.

And then he made her jaw drop even lower when he leaned forward into a deep bow. Ember’s eyebrows shot up and only then did she notice he was holding a flower in his hand. An orchid. Which happened to be her favorite flower.

“You seemed very much enraptured by the beauty of these,” he squared his shoulders, his eyes shyly shielded by long, thick lashes. “Please, allow me to offer you this orchid.”

Ember eyed the flower dumbly, her gaze traveling from the stranger’s face to his hand and back, trying to wrap her head around it.

“I would be delighted if you accepted it,” he insisted when he saw that Ember had no intention of moving. “I saw you and could not help but feel as if this purple orchid would somehow be a perfect match for you.”

His words triggered something in Ember and she felt her lips curve into a teasing smile, arm extending and taking the flower from his hand, petals brushing softly against her skin.

“A perfect match for me,” she repeated his words. “Because that is not at all bizarre, in the most unsettling way. It is a daring assumption you’ve just made.”

The corners of the boy’s lips turned upwards into a smile of his own, sheepish and tentative, as if he was just trying it on his expression for the first time. He dropped his gaze and started fidgeting, but then he looked at Ember through his lashes and she was surprised to see he was keeping his composure well enough. He clearly had no idea who he was talking to. You’d think he’d catch the hint from the way people who passed by them stopped and whispered and glared.

“Pardon me for me boldness, m’lady,” he spoke, and Ember resisted the urge to roll her eyes again. There he went again with that lady thing. “But I have been raised in such manner as to always remark a woman’s beauty when stumbled upon. And I must say, yours could not be overlooked.”

Ember simply blinked, and she was fairly certain she’d stopped breathing. She wasn’t sure how to respond to that. Thanking him felt like too little, and, under the heaviness of his gaze on her, allowing her to filter through the event, she became somewhat self-conscious. Each and every last one of her possessions was stolen, belonged to someone else, had ended up in her hands through methods outside the ethics of this society. And she had stolen many flowers. She liked to think of them as a small luxury she’d grant herself from time to time in order to be reminded that there was beauty and pureness, too, out there, colors that still held the power to shed light over the deep gray.

But this wasn’t just about the flower and her soft spot for pretty things. As her wide eyes rested on the boy’s serene figure, she realized where her utter shock originated. She had never been offered anything. Given for free. As a gift. Everything she had, everything she’d wanted, she had had to get it herself. This purple orchid, however, felt like the first real thing she truly owned.

She cleared her voice before speaking, having occurred to her that she could neither stand there all day looking like a clay figure, nor could she take off without as much as an acknowledgement for this stranger’s kindness.

“This is,” she chuckled nervously. “This is most sweet of you.”

The boy must have sensed her distress, because he started fidgeting again before dropping into yet another bow and daring to take her hand tentatively. Ember gasped a little when he moved her hand gently to his lips and placed a soft kiss on her knuckles, tender as a whisper, light as a feather.

“My name is Kaleb Lahey, m’lady,” his spoke, his warm breath tickling Ember’s hand, before he stood straight, eyes never leaving hers. “Village’s jeweler. It is my utmost pleasure to meet you.”

Introductions. Well, this was safe territory. She could already foresee the surprise on his face, followed by inevitable judgment, when he’d learn who she was.

So she grinned mischievously and grabbed the sides of her cloak, dropping into a dramatic reverence.

“Ember,” she introduced herself simply. “Village’s thief.”

But she surprise and the shock never came. Nor did the judgment. Instead, a couple of creaks formed in the corners of his eyes, amusement dancing across his features.

“I know,” he replied, and every ounce of sass in Ember died away, and she found herself unable to do anything but blink at him.

“Oh, “ she whispered.

The boy, Kaleb, chuckled lightly and seemed to be on the verge of saying more, but eventually, he just sighed.

“I must be on my way, m’lady,” he said. “But I must say, I do hope we cross paths again.”

That having been said, he nodded once and offered a warm smile, before walking past her. And Ember could only stare at the purple orchid she was holding, feeling as if a new, unknown, bizarre room in her heart had just been found and unlocked.

“Yes,” she whispered to herself. “Indeed so.”



You, guys. I got so much positive feedback , it’s amazing. So I have decided to grant you the first chapter. So Ember, meet the guys. Guys, meet Ember.  She kicks ass and stuff. Not now, particularly, but she’s gonna. Also, guys, meet Kaleb. He’s a cute cinnamon roll. 

Kay, hope you’re enjoying this, guys! (I mean, dragons, right?)

Lots of love,


3: Chapter 2: Too close to the flame
Chapter 2: Too close to the flame


Thebbington Abbey was a small and poor village, commercially insignificant, but it just so happened to be placed at a crossroads, in such manner that many of the main roads passed right through it. There was never shortage of passenger travelers or of carriages.

Much to Ember’s benefit.

She knew that the inhabitants of Thebbington Abbey were off limits due to several reasons. Firstly, they wouldn’t blink twice before having her hanged. This village was more or less her home and this odd compromise with her and the villagers mutually ignoring each other suited her just fine. Also, they were too damn poor. Stealing from them couldn’t have been really profitable. But luckily, she rarely lacked targets, given the commercial routes passing through and by Thebbington Abbey. It was enough to provide the well-being of her business.

Ember was crouching behind a massive tree, her signature red cloak contrasting deeply against the green of the forest. Not that it matter. Her targets never saw her coming anyway. She worked fast and efficiently and disappeared just the same. She clutched the knife tight in her hand. She’d never used it, as she was quite certain she wouldn’t have been able to bring herself to hurt people, but she’d learnt that people were more susceptible to cooperation when facing direct threat.

She heard the cackling of wheels down the path and her instincts kicked in. Her muscles tensed and her senses sharpened, heart beating fast at the anticipation of the rush. She climbed the tree nearest to the road fast as if she’d done that hundreds of times – which she probably had –, careful to keep herself out of sight.

She heard the carriage move even closer and towards the spot where she was placed. And as soon as it was strategically positioned just under the tree, Ember leapt.

Straight on the horse chained to the carriage.

The scared horse sat on its two back legs, making it hard for it to be kept under the control. But Ember had done this way too many times to afford wasting any time, so she unclasped the horse’s harnesses and whispered ‘easy, boy’ for a few times to it. As it always happened, the horse listened to her and bent to her will. Curious thing, Ember thought. She tended to do that to animals. It was as if they recognized her as some sort of alpha and bowed to her command. Not that she complained, considering how useful this has proved when robbing this sort of carriages.

She grabbed the harness, knife still tightly clutched in her hand, and she guided the horse to turn to the carriage. She quickly took in the scenery. Apart from the driver of the carriage, who looked utterly terrified, there were two noticeably high born ladies inside, who, on the contrary, seemed to be having trouble understanding what was happening.

It occurred to her that there might be no need for that knife of hers, since it was unlikely for any of the victims to fight back. But just then, the door to the carriage opened and from inside emerged a young man with a sword. Ember didn’t lose her head. She noted that his hand was trembling slightly around the hilt of his weapon, so while he might have had training of some sorts, he clearly didn’t have the proper training to face a situation like this.

Ember smiled wickedly. This was going to be an easy one.

“No one needs to get hurt, my lord,” she spoke, keeping her voice low enough to not attract unwanted attention from potential by-passers and to ensure an aura of threat.

The boy, however, seemed to misinterpret her words, assuming she was asking to be spared the edge of his sword, because his grip on the hilt tightened and he grounded his heels deeper in the soil. Ember felt the compelling need to roll her eyes and before she could rephrase, the boy lunged. The horse once again flinched and almost threw Ember off its back, but she held tight.

She had to give him as much, the youngster had some swing. But she couldn’t keep this going for much longer. She got off the horse, the same mischievous, playful smile plastered on her lips. The boy took another swing, but she blocked his blade with her dagger, then kicked him with the leg in his stomach, sending him stumbling a few inches backwards.

“Allow me to rephrase it for you,” she spoke. “No one needs to get hurt. Therefore, I strongly advise you to put all of your belongings in my bag and I give you my word that I’ll be on my way and no harm should come to you.”

The boy actually seemed to consider her offer, looking scared out of his mind. He shot a look in the driver’s direction, pleading for help, but the man was too old to put up a fight and he looked even more frozen in fear than his master.

Ember saw the flicker of the decision having been made in the young man’s eyes and she would’ve sighed, hadn’t he lounged at her at that exact same moment. He couldn’t have been more than 17, Ember thought as she dodged his sword. He clearly wasn’t fully acquainted with the weapon, didn’t trust her enough to rely on her to get him through the fight. And in hand to hand combat, such mistake was fatal. The sword needed to be an extension to his arm.

She danced swiftly around his attempts at offensive, and eventually got tired of toying him like a cat does a mouse. So she turned on her heels and prompted her elbow just below his ribs, cutting off his airways. He crashed at her feet gasping for air, and Ember prompted one knee on his chest, pinning him to the ground, and pressed the blade of her dagger against his throat.

“Do not. Move,” she whispered, and this time, the boy showed no sign of even dreaming to fight her off.

Without removing the dagger from his throat, Ember threw her bag with her free time inside the carriage.

“Fill it with jewelry and money,” Ember told the mortified women, her eyes never leaving the victim she was still holding trapped in her grip. “I gave you my word that I mean no harm.”

The ladies didn’t hesitate before doing as told and Ember remarked with no little amount of satisfaction that her bag was half full and she was quite certain there were some valuable items in there. When the women finished filling her back, she removed the knife from the boy’s throat and because she was in oddly high spirits today, she winked at him. The she proceeded to grab her bag, got on the horse and rode away from the scene.

It had been a good day.

She had enough money to make it through the week, maybe even through the next one, and she was certain Clarissa would offer a good deal for all the jewelry.

After several solid minutes of riding, she shoved her heels gently into the horse’s side to make him stop, and the animal obeyed. She got off and patted its side, offering a smile that she felt silly for, considering it was an animal, but there was some sort of raw wildness within her that allowed her to connect with those who people called beasts. But these days, the lines between people and beasts tended to be rather blurry.

“Good boy,” she whispered to the horse, and grabbed the harness. She intended to set the poor creature free and walk the rest of the way home. After all, she knew these woods by heart.

She walked in silence for a few minutes, the horse by her side, and she just enjoyed the quietness this forest provided, the fresh air flooding her lungs and sharpening her senses, observant even to the way her red cloak was soothed by the grass as she walked and to the rattle of rocks under her feet.

She remembered how guilty she’d used to feel. She had been but a child when she first stole. Despite the mouths she had to feed, it still troubled her to claim what was not hers to take. And she wasn’t very good at it either. She had been caught, beaten up, cursed at more times than she could count. She had come an awfully long way.

Ember stiffened, the train of her thoughts interrupted by the soft ruffle of some nearby bushes. It wasn’t much, and it could as well have been her imagination. But her intuition never failed her, and she thought it never hurt to double check. Better safe than sorry.

She let go of the harness and kicked the horse softly on his side, sending him running away. Then she pulled out her dagger from the inside of her tunic and stepped lightly towards said bushes. She heard it clear as day now. Footsteps. Whoever was on her tail wasn’t doing a very good job. Or maybe had simply chosen the wrong person to try to shadow.

She was close to the bushes now and through the thick foliage she managed to see a solid silhouette. A man. It was making no difference, since on countless occasions she had had the chance to prove herself a worthy opponent against several heavy men that she’d brought down and slayed their ego.

Moving fast as a whisper, she leapt towards the bushes and swiftly grabbed the man’s collar, bringing him up and pinning him against the closer tree. She remarked he was neither as solid as she’d expected, nor did he fight back as much as she would’ve liked him to. She enjoyed a little challenge from time to time.

She pressed the sharp blade of her dagger against his throat just like she’d done earlier to that rich boy and noticed that he was shaking as he raised his hands in front of him.

The realization hit Ember like a thunder.

“Wait, wait, wait,” the boy prompted her. “I mean no harm.”

Ember lowered the dagger and stared incredulously.

“Kaleb?” she exclaimed, and a small smile blossomed on the boy’s lips when she remembered his name. “What the hell are you doing? Were you following me?”

Kaleb’s eyes widened slightly and his eyes flew at the dagger Ember still clutched tight in her hand for a few seconds, before settling back on her green eyes that resonated so beautifully to the woods behind her.

“No, of course not,” he defended one heartbeat too weak and Ember didn’t look too convinced. “I spotted you and decided to keep my distance in case you’d think I was following you. Deepest apologies, m’lady. I did not mean to intrude.”

He bowed his head a little, perhaps slightly too shy to make any sudden movements until that knife was put out of sight. But Ember decided to have some more fun and twisted it a little between her fingers, enjoying the way his Adam’s apple bobbed up and down in poorly hidden fear.

“I advise you to go easy on the ‘m’lady’ thing,” she said, keeping the knife in front of his eyes. “Unless you’d prefer my little friend back against your throat.”

She smiled at his distress and hid the dagger under her cloak, seeing him visibly relax.

“I’m sorry if I offended you, L—“

“If you call me Lady Ember, so help me Lord,” she raised a finger at him, pursing her lips, and she could see the faint ghost of a smile playing across his full lips.

Now that she saw him again, Ember took in more details of his features other than his emerald green eyes and strand of that dark hair falling into his eyes. She noticed his square jaw, his full lips, his long lashes and his dimples. It troubled her how such a literal gentleman could afford wasting enough time to give a second glance to a common thief.

“Consider it noted,” he replied, then his eyebrows raised slightly. “Ember.”

She offered him a sly smile. “Much better, thank you.”

Odd silence settled between the two of them, in which Kaleb finally moved, resuming his stance, with shoulders squared and heels glued together, hands clasped behind his back.

“Pardon my inquiry, but what might you be doing in this part of the woods?” he questioned eventually. “It is rather deserted and I’ve heard many wild animals roam these places. I highly doubt it’s safe for a walk through the woods.”

Ember tilted her head and narrowed her eyes at him. Was he that short sighted? He knew she was the village’s thief, after all. He must’ve been quite blind. She decided to play coy.

“Take my word for it, jeweler boy,” she clicked her tongue. “You’re better off not knowing.”

Realization finally seemed to wash over Kaleb, whose lips formed a small ‘O’. Ember found herself slightly distraught by that dance those full lips made in the process, but quickly shook it off.

“I apologize if my question felt too intruding,” Kaleb said, and Ember rolled her eyes in the least lady-like way possible.

“You apologize too much,” she scolded him playfully. “I’m no fancy lady to fidget around.”

“A lady is a lady regardless the level of fanciness she’d been brought up within.”

Ember waved him off, not in the mood for a nobility pep talk. She was far from it and whatever it implied. It was like Clarissa always said. You don’t need a stick up your arse when you can afford the luxury of walking barefoot in the mood and bathing in the rain without worrying you’ll get your expensive dress soaked.

“Might I escort you home, m’la… Ember?”

Ember smiled at the way he’d corrected his instinct.

“While I highly appreciate the intention,” she replied, then she leaned in as if to tell a secret, and was delighted to notice a faint blush coloring his cheeks. “I’m the one carrying a knife. But I can escort you home, if you’d fancy.”

Kaleb smiled sheepishly and nodded as they both started walking in silence. Ember frowned a little as she realized something.

“What were you doing in this part of the woods?” she inquired suspiciously, and the blush was back in Kaleb’s cheeks. She wondered if he was trying to cover up some sort of rendezvous.

But then he smiled sadly, setting Ember off track.

“I will have to agree with you on this one,” he spoke softly. “Some things are better off not known.”

Otherwise, how could he have explained waking up naked in the middle of a clearing with no memory whatsoever?



Hey, you guys! I’m so excited to see that people are actually enjoying this story!

So, how’d you feel about seeing Ember in action? How much do you swoon over Kaleb? I swoon a lot. Like. A lot. Oh well.

Lemme know what you think!

Lots of love,


4: Chapter 3: Just my soul responding
Chapter 3: Just my soul responding


After sealing the deal with Clarissa concerning the things she’d stolen from the carriage a few days earlier, Ember spent a whole night gawking at a single rock. It was bright red, with areas of washed up blue, and it shone brighter than any jewel she’d ever laid her hands on and eyes upon, and she somehow couldn’t bring herself to trade it to Clare. She got the feeling it was a rather rare piece of jewelry, worth more than Clarissa could offer, and she wasn’t willing to let it go for a few coins. She was mesmerized by the way it took the moonlight and refracted it in dozens of ways, each and every one individual in shape and intensity. It was like a game of dominance between different shades, fighting over which one could capture more moonlight and slow dance with it best. They held the combination between the velvet fiery landscapes that the sky line drew at sunset and the night sky on which the stars aligned. It was breathtaking.

She knew it was valuable. Heavens knew how expensive it must have been. This wasn’t a gemstone she just came across in her day to day life and while it captivated her in ways she couldn’t explain, Ember was well aware of the fact that this rock could put an end to an age of deep poverty she was in. Or, in the very least, an end to the hunger. She wished so badly she could live one day when she didn’t have to look her siblings in the eye and have to tell them she hadn’t been able to get them one single piece of chocolate. That they’d have to rationalize food for one more week.

Morning came without as much as the promise of catching breath for Ember, and as she put on her tunic and fastened her red cloak around herself, her eye was caught once again by that gemstone. She was drawn to it like to nothing ever before. Every time she looked at it, it was like she found new details, new spots, new patterns to admire.

Without losing a breath, she tossed it in her pocket and walked out the door, her mind set on the one place where she could be told the exact same value of this rock. Because luckily for her, she knew just the person who’d be able to make the right estimations.

Smiling a little to herself, Ember pulled up the hoodie of her cloak and headed to the jeweler’s shop.

She made her way through the village, keeping her head down and constantly averting her eyes. The smell of smoke and freshly baked bread tickled her senses and she took shelter in the way the gravel felt under her boots. It was early, and the villagers were caught in a dancing haze, moving hastily in a dizzying crowd, each to their jobs, to their duties, each with their struggle. Because life in Thebbington Abbey wasn’t exactly easy. No tomorrow brought certainty and no day was better than the yesterday it was preceded by.

Ember stopped in front of the jeweler’s shop. She was a little disappointed, in all honesty. She wasn’t sure what she’d expended. A little more luxury, perhaps, considering the Laheys crafted jewelry for a living. But instead, she was standing in front of a rather modest small hut, bedraggled and worn out. She took a deep breath and walked in, thinking about how much she’d enjoy the look of utter shock on little Lahey’s face at her sight.

And he most definitely did not let her down, his eyes widening and lips parting slightly, his hands instantly flying to his hair in an unsuccessful attempt to tame it down. It was partially flattering, but it occurred to Ember how easily it could’ve been Lahey senior behind that counter. She had not thought it through.

“L-L...” he started stammering, but Ember raised a hand, cutting him off.

“Before you throw the word ‘lady’ at me again, I politely remind you that I still carry a knife.”

Kaleb chuckled under his breath and it took Ember a little aback to see what it did to his face and how articulate it sounded. His lips parted to reveal white teeth and his dimples showed, the corners of his eyes wrinkled and there was spark deep within the green of his gaze that lit up each and every one of his features.

“I’m…” he started, but Ember cut off again.

“And gods above, please stop apologizing,” she smiled to let him know she was teasing him, and he returned the smile.

“Then what can I do for you, Ember?” he offered, and she bit her lip against her smile to keep it from spreading even wider.

“I am, in fact, seeking professional advice in a matter,” she said, then she figured she had to correct a little. “A private matter.”

Kaleb’s eyebrows shot up.

“Very well,” he replied. “You have my word it will not leave this room. What is it?”

She searched her pocket and pulled out the stone, clutching it tight in her hand as she considered. Did she really trust this man enough to let him in on a matter she’d never spoken of with anyone else? Well, it was a little too late to worry about that, and she didn’t bother giving a second thought to the fact that she’d hurried to seek his help without as much of a blink.

She unclasped her fist and extended her palm to Kaleb, exposing the explosion of colors withheld by the gemstone. She heard him gasp audibly and reached for it, but he stopped mid-movement, his eyes asking for silent permission to touch it. Ember nodded slightly and he took it gently from her palm, turning it over and analyzing it with wide eyes, looking just as mesmerized as Ember had felt ever since yesterday’s theft, when it had come to her possession.

“This is a fire opal,” he spoke eventually. “It’s called dragon’s breath. Ember, this is one of the rarest precious stones that have ever existed.”

He turned it over a few more times, his eyes sparkling and fingers twitching around it.

“Where did you get that?” he asked a few minutes later, a little short of breath.

Ember glared.

“Do you really need to ask that?” she questioned, her lips forming a tight line.

Kaleb finally raised his gaze and met hers confused, but realization dawned on him soon enough.

“Oh. I see.”

Ember’s face contorted into a grimace and she started fidgeting.

“I am so sorry to be burdening you with this,” she said eventually. “I dread putting you in this position, making you an accomplice to my crimes. I’d very much appreciate if you could estimate the rock for its value and you have my word I’ll be on my way and you never have to talk to me again.”

Kaleb held her gaze for a second too long before breaking into a wide incredulous smile.

“With all due respect, but don’t be absurd. I am mostly pleased to be of assistance. And to be talking to you, as you’ve pointed out.”

Ember felt her cheeks slightly flushed and dropped her gaze, letting him do his job and examine the rock further. But he didn’t need more than two seconds.

“As I’ve said, this stone is very precious,” he told her. “And very expensive, by extension. It is in a rather raw form, not in the slightest bit altered in any way, and the smoothness of its shape indicates that it would serve its purpose of becoming a piece of jewelry successfully. You could make good money out of it.”

He smiled warmly at her and offered the rock back, and Ember took it reluctantly from his extended hand.

“Thank you,” she cleared her voice eventually. “Such gesture of friendliness means more to me than you could ever fathom.”

She pursed her lips, unsure as to why she’d chosen to deliver this information, but his smile simply widened.

“I am fairly positive I can imagine so,” he replied. “Being the black sheep of the village can’t be easy on you. People can be cruel, ruthless in their judgement.”

Ember couldn’t help but roll her eyes.

“Is this the moment when you take guesses as to what ulterior motive I might have for choosing the dark path? Enlighten me.” She leaned on the counter on her elbows, feigning fascination and interest, and was delighted to see his Adam’s apple bobble a little at their closure. She grinned wickedly and continued. “Tell me, is it because I feel frustrated at being poor and I feel the need to be given attention? Oh, or maybe I’m a long lost princess who has been exiled and is now living her days as an outlaw. Although I think I’d much rather be one of those robbers who steal from the rich to give to the poor? Yes, I like that idea the most.”

That earned another chuckle from Kaleb, and Ember couldn’t help but smile in return. There was a serenity and authenticity in his genuine boyish smile, like the world could go to hell and he’d still sit there smiling, waiting for it to slowly fall apart around him, and he still wouldn’t be fazed. Ember found herself oddly calmed down by this tranquility of his presence.

“I’m not bold enough to make blind assumptions,” he stated, but watched her with eyes that said otherwise, and Ember narrowed her eyes, so he continued. “But I do believe there’s an ulterior motive.”

“Why?” Ember questioned. “Why would you believe so? Because the world is such a fair place and there are no people who purposefully choose to be bad and do bad?”

She’d meant it as a joke, but Kaleb looked at her with an intensity that made her smile falter and she found herself easily captivated by his gaze. It was a vicious circle in which they always ended up eye to eye.

“No,” Kaleb replied eventually. “I simply cannot accept the notion of you being bad and choosing to do bad.”

Ember flustered. He was, in the most literal way, the only person apart from her little siblings who didn’t think the worst of her. Who saw through the thief and glanced at her. At her. So under the weight of his emerald green eyes, Ember blushed like never before.

“You’re not a bad person, Ember,” he stated, and Ember thought it was absurd, because he barely knew her; and yet, she believed him. “So, I am somewhat positive there is an ulterior motive. It is entirely up to you whether you decide to share it with me, and if not, I respect your decision. I don’t mean to pry.”

Ember found herself unable to keep a smile from spreading across her lips. He was so polite and so troubled and worried he might have somehow offended her, and there was a crease between his brows that gave him a thoughtful stance that looked handsome on him.

“It’s fine,” she replied. “And you’re right. I’m not happy with having to steal from others in order to ensure my own well-being. And I would not do it, should I have another choice.”

Kaleb looked at her sympathetically and leaned with his elbows on the counter, listening closely. Ember liked that. It reminded her of her siblings listening to her telling them fairytales before they went to sleep. The only people in her life who actually listened to what she had to say. And now Kaleb. What was about this stranger that made him give her the benefit of the doubt?

“My parents passed away six years ago,” she explained. “I was 12. I was a child myself, and I woke up one morning with the responsibility of having to raise and provide for four more children. Three sisters and one brother. This was the only way I knew of handling things, and I am not proud of that choice. I do, however, have to live with it.”

Kaleb looked at her, pondering, for a few seconds. Ember waited for it. The judgement, the prejudices, the ‘there were better ways’ speech. Or worse, the pity. It never came, though. Kaleb’s lips twitched and his eyes danced playfully as they hovered across her features.

“What are they like?” he asked eventually. “Your siblings?”

Ember’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. This was a possibility she’d failed to consider. That he’d see past the facts.

“Oh,” she cleared her throat, and she started grinning despite herself like she always did at the mention of her siblings. “They are wonderful kids. Charles is just the sweetest. He’s 7, and his manners never cease to faze me. He’s the one who picks flowers for me and the girls and has a calmness in his person that has me believing that come what may, as long as I have him by my side no harm can come our way. The twins, Mary and Elizabeth, are 8, and they are a headache. They’re wild and restless and playful, but their energy is contagious, I must say.”

She stopped talking, her eyes sparkling, but then her smile faltered and Kaleb noticed that, while her lips were still curved, it didn’t quite reach her eyes.

“What about the fourth one?” he prompted, and Ember cleared her voice awkwardly.

“Cathy,” she whispered, and Kaleb wondered if he’d made a mistake pushing her. “Cathy is 11. She was the brightest of them all. Kind and joyful. She was my parents’ little sunshine.” Kaleb couldn’t help but remark the use of a past tense, but chose not to push her. “She was smart and witty, but kind and compassionate. Mother always said she should have been born royalty. And she and my father were accomplices in crimes. I presume they always had a more special relationship that I grew somewhat envious of. Ever since our parents’ passing, Cathy hasn’t uttered a word. She simply stopped talking at all. I haven’t heard her voice in six years.”

She forced a tight smile, not wanting to think too much about it. Cathy was like a thorn grown deep within her heart that hurt with every beat. She wanted to fix it, but her little sister wasn’t just something one could fix. So instead, Ember gave her time and hoped out Cathy would grow out of the pain of that loss herself. There’s no fixing a broken heart.

“This entire situation must take quite its toll on you,” Kaleb commented eventually, and Ember was taken aback by all the sympathy she could read in his eyes. “You were a kid yourself.”

Ember shrugged like it wasn’t a big deal. “I had to work through. They needed me. They need me. It’s not easy being gone the entire day. I go mad knowing them alone at home.”

She tapped her fingers on the counter and she noticed Kaleb grow pensive. He didn’t talk for a few seconds, and then he opened and closed his mouth for a few times as if he was trying to make up his mind before finally speaking me.

“Pardon me if I happen to be stepping over some boundaries. But might I suggest some sort of a solution for that specific issue?”

Ember looked at him dumb folded for a few seconds, before gesturing for him to go on.

“I was raised by a nanny,” he started, and Ember frowned. “I have known Nana for as long as I can remember. She is an old woman with a great heart. And lately, she’s complained of suffering of tremendous boredom. She claims that, ever since I’ve had the nerves to grow up, I put her out of business. Her words precisely, not mine.”

Ember chuckled, and he smiled in return.

“But in all honesty, she feels absurdly lonely and useless. She misses having little ones to look after. Should you want me to or trust me to, for that matter, I could speak with her. I am sure she’d be more than delighted to watch your siblings when you’re gone.”

Ember blinked, considering his offer. She turned in over and over and inside out a dozen times before replying.

“Wouldn’t your Nana be a little reluctant about watching the little siblings of the village’s thief?” she inquired suspiciously, but Kaleb only chuckled.

“You needn’t worry,” he said. “She’s the least judgmental human being in Thebbington Abbey. As long as it implies children, let alone four of them, and as long as they take on to her, she will be more than happy to comply.”

Ember bit her lip, the idea gradually growing on her.

“But what about—“ she trailed off, wondering whether she should really raise that question. “What about your family? Won’t they be concerned?”

A spark of doubt shadowed Kaleb’s green eyes for the first time since she’d walked into the shop, but it was gone so fast, Ember couldn’t tell if it was really there, and he replaced it with yet another one of his polite smiles.

“No one needs to know,” he replied. “Nana is a rather discreet person. And I trust my father has more urgent matters to attend to than the whereabouts of an old nanny.”

Ember felt the ghost of a smile threatening to take shelter across her lips once again and she welcomed it. She grew more excited about the prospect with every minute. Kaleb patiently waited for an answer.

“Oh, Kaleb, that would be wonderful,” she exclaimed eventually, and he couldn’t contain a smile of his own. “It would put my heart at ease on so many occasions.” She trailed off, wary shadowing her features. “But are you sure you’re on board with this? I don’t mean to cause you trouble.”

He waved a hand, the least uptight thing he’d done all day, and Ember bit her lip against a teasing smirk.

“Nonsense,” he replied. “I’m glad to be of assistance.”

Ember tilted her head to one side, looking a little sheepish about what she was going to ask.

“That having been said,” she stated coyly eventually. “Would it be okay if your Nana came tomorrow evening to watch the children? Around nightfall? There’s an event I’ve been meaning to attend, but thought I’d never get to, considering I couldn’t leave them alone for the night.”

“Absolutely,” Kaleb vouched. “I shall bring her myself.”

Ember tried hard not to tease him about the fact that his promise held a glint of hidden meaning. Like perhaps bringing the nanny himself as an excuse to see her again. Not that Ember particularly minded. She found that she was looking forward to seeing him again, too, and the idea excited her more that it should have.

“This event you’ve been meaning to attend,” Kaleb spoke carefully, his voice low as if he’d suspected the implications. “Does it happen to be Sir Covington’s ball?”

So he had suspected the implications. Ember blushed.

“It’s a masquerade, actually,” she mumbled, dropping her gaze.

Kaleb’s eyebrows shot up in surprise as he studied her.

“And you were invited?” he inquired, making Ember’s cheeks grow even redder.

“Not exactly,” she said, and sighed heavily when he saw Kaleb frown at her riddles. “I was planning on sneaking in. There’s a gem I’ve had my eyes on for a while and my… umm, sales person assured me there’s an interested buyer.”

The gem Ember was talking about was an amethyst crystal that Lady Covington wore as a sophisticated brooch. Stealing it would be tricky, but not impossible, and the stakes were high for Ember. Clarissa had assured her some lord from a neighboring village was interested in acquiring such stone for his fiancée-to-be. And he was willing to pay solid money for it.

“Oh,” Kaleb exclaimed, growing pensive.

And there it was. The judgement. The frown that said she’d told too much, that he needn’t know so much of her whereabouts. Ember was mortified. Why did she have to open her mouth? Sure, he seemed nice and polite and called her a ‘lady’ and Ember wanted to punch him for that but it also felt exhilarating, knowing there was someone who still thought well of her, as unwise as that choice was. But no, she just had to ruin everything. What could have possibly made her believe that Kaleb, son of a cruel man such as William Lahey, would have been interested in learning of her outside-of-law adventures?

She was about to excuse herself and turn on her heels and leave, when she saw the judgmental look on Kaleb’s face shift into something else. He looked rather thoughtful, wheels spinning in his head, before he looked up and caught her gaze, a spark lighting up in his emerald eyes.

“Why sneak in when you can walk through the front door?”

Ember stared at him, unable to wrap her head around what he was suggesting.

“Pardon me?” she inquired, and Kaleb grinned, a teasing boyish grin so different from the polite one he’d shot at her all day.

“My father received invitations to the ball, umm, masquerade, a while ago, but he’s not interested in attending such ‘vicious, vain events’, as he liked to put it. There are two of them, and people know me as the son of the jeweler. I could get you in.”

Ember blinked at him.

“You could…” she trailed off, speaking slowly, as if she’d somehow misunderstood some vital information that had just shifted this plan into a whole other thing. “Sneak me in?”

“Precisely,” Kaleb leaned forward across the counter, holding her gaze like they were in on a secret. Which they were, Ember realized. “With the specification that ‘sneaking in’ isn’t appropriately used, considering we’d be fully fledged guests.”

Ember let out a breathless laugh.

“You’d seriously do that?” she asked incredulously.

Kaleb simply shrugged. He had no real answer as to why exactly he would, so the gesture was the next best thing he could offer.

Biting his lip against a smile, he circled the counter and moved to stand in front of Ember, who looked at him dumb struck. And then he dropped into a low bow and took her hand, softly kissing her knuckles. Only then did Ember realize she’d been holding her breath.

“Lady Ember Blackthorn,” he started, and Ember wasn’t even able to glared at him or threaten his life about the ‘lady’ thing. “It would me my utmost honor to take you to the Covington ball.”


5: Chapter 4: I see fire
Chapter 4: I see fire


Kaleb made his way through the village with his heart in his throat, his old Nana silent by his side.

It was dusk, the sky was on fire and Kaleb’s thoughts were quick to follow. He was nervous about actually going to this ball with Ember than he’d been stealing the invitations from his father. In all honesty, that part had proved to be unexpectedly easy, considering his father cared little for their whereabouts.

Kaleb wasn’t sure why he was so clumsy around Ember. His father had made him court several noble girls in the eventuality of a fruitful marriage, so he couldn’t say he lacked a set of good skills for courtship of beautiful girls, and yet some wealthy ones at that. But something was different. For instance, he wasn’t courting Ember Blackthorn. Gods, his father would be losing his mind simply over the remote possibility of such an audacity taking place. What’s more, Ember was more beautiful with those black curls shadowing her face from under the hood of her red cloak and with the teasing glint in her eyes and the authenticity of her presence and stance than any lady Kaleb had ever courted.

So perhaps his anxiety was in some way related to that.

He’d explained the whole situation to Nana, and with little amount of surprise, she’d agreed whole-heartedly. She claimed she’d heard about the Blackthorn little ones and that the fact that they were alone there, with no one to nurture them with the affection a child deserves, had always been heavy on her heart. So asking her to keep it all a secret became irrelevant. She was well aware of William Lahey’s wrath herself and would’ve never submitted a helpless child to that.

They arrived to the small hut that Kaleb knew belonged to Ember. Everyone knew where village’s thief lived, and while he hadn’t expected much, the place failed to meet the lowest of those expectations. He was surprised the roof hadn’t collapsed over them and that the wooden walls still held. Kaleb’s heart shrunk a little as he realized the thin, fragile wood ultrastructure couldn’t have possibly kept them warm during winter. Ember’s choices, as poor as they might have been, became more and more justified in his eyes with every little new thing he learned about her.

“We’re here,” he announced Nana, and took in a sharp intake of breath.

The old woman spoke nothing and simply watched Kaleb with amusement on her expression as he tried to pull himself together before raising his hand and knocking twice.

This was silly, he told himself. Ember was a girl he took pity on and wanted to help her because she was leading a rough life. Granted, his help implied an assisted theft and it went against the values of the society he’d been raised in, but didn’t putting a girl who raised four children on her own in social exile go against the values of that same society? Yes. This was a convincing argument. His helping Ember was making a statement. To himself and his beliefs.

And then the door opened and what emerged on its step took every statement from the tip of his tongue and twisted it into knots that settled in his throat, his stomach, his chest.

So much red. That dress was on fire and Kaleb’s thoughts were quick to follow.

Ember stood in the doorway looking like a goddess risen from the royal temples, her hair pulled back from her face that was no longer covered by that hood, only to reveal high cheek bones and cat-like green eyes, a pointed chin and full, elongated lips. Her shoulders were dangerously bare and the floor-length dress was red as sin, flowing like the river of Styx.

His Adam’s apple bobbed and when he finally mustered the courage to meet her gaze, he found her looking at him amused.

“I will take that as a compliment,” she smiled smugly at his expression, and Kaleb swallowed. “You look rather handsome yourself, little Lahey.”

Kaleb forced himself to snap out of it and cleared his throat, forcing a polite smile.

“Thank you,” he spoke slowly, not trusting words enough to work through the fascination flooding his thought, and then he turned to Nana, who watched amused the exchange. “Nana, this is the girl I have been telling you about. Ember, this is my Nana.”

The old woman pursed her lips and fixated her scrutinizing gaze on Ember, who stood her ground. She even bowed a little, putting on a sheepish expression that contrasted deeply against the extravagant aura of her gown.

“Where are the little Blackthorns?” Nana inquired, not bothering with pleasantries, and Kaleb noticed Ember pursing her lips against a smile.

“This way, please,” she spoke softly, and while Nana played tough, Kaleb knew she was somewhat impressed in Ember. Not everyone managed to keep Nana’s gaze, and this was a criterion on which the old woman based her choices in people.

Both Nana and Kaleb followed Ember inside the hut, and if he thought the exterior looked bad, Kaleb was overwhelmed by how modest it looked on the inside. Apart from three excruciatingly small beds, a table with a few chairs around it and some dishes on it and a fireplace that looked in a dangerously poor condition, the only room was dusty and empty.

His eyes traveled across the room and quickly found four small figures staring up at him with wide eyes glinting with excitement. Gods, these poor souls were still capable of excitement. The bliss of not acknowledging the unfairness with which they were being treated by this merciless world, Kaleb thought.

“Children, these are some friends of mine,” Ember spoke softly, moving in front of them. “This young man is Kaleb, and this is Nana. You will be staying with her tonight while Kaleb helps me run some errands.”

The kids looked briefly at Nana, who now wore the softest of expressions glued to her figure, but they were quick to dismiss her presence and instead settled on Kaleb. He remembered their names. The twins, they must have been Mary and Elizabeth, and the fine young man was Charles. The little girl who stood a few steps away from the other silently, yet gazing curiously nonetheless, was surely Cathy.

Kaleb opened his mouth to offer a few words of kindness, but one of the twins beat him to it.

“Are you courting Ember?”

At the same time, the other one went, “Wil you marry Ember?”

Kaleb choked on air and he was fully certain that his face was at least a shade of red darker than Ember’s dress. He looked at her for help, and while she seemed somewhat troubled, the same teasing smirk rested on her full lips. Nana, however, was enjoying the show.

“No, Lizzie,” Ember crouched in front of the twins, carefully picking up the folds of her dress in the process. “Kaleb is a friend who will assist me in some business I need to attend to tonight. We’ve talked about this, okay?”

The children nodded carefully, their eyes still curiously glued to Kaleb. He offered them a tentative smile, then crouched near Ember and reached inside his formal tunic only to pull out four entire chocolate bars. It had cost him some of his long-term savings, but as he saw those little faces light up, he didn’t regret a single penny spent.

“These are for you,” he spoke softly, and held them out for them to take. The little ones were somehow reluctant at first, but eventually reached forward like scared kittens that fear they’re merely being tempted with a treat only to have it taken away afterwards. “Don’t be shy,” Kaleb prompted. “It’s chocolate. It’s a token of friendship.”

That was all the incentive they needed before taking the bars from his hand and retrieving a few steps behind to dig into it. Poor souls, Kaleb kept thinking. Poor souls.

He stood up just in time to feel Nana putting a hand on his shoulder and he was surprised to see her eyes glinting a little with the beginning of proud tears.

“I’ve raised you well, child,” she whispered and proceeded to take in her task of caring for the little Blackthorns.

That left Kaleb with no other alternative than to turn to Ember and face her reaction.

To say Ember was speechless would’ve been an understatement. She clenched her fists so tight, her knuckles were white, but she was furious at herself for not being able to stop shaking. Kindness was estranged to her, but what Kaleb had done somehow exceeded every expectation she’d ever built around the concept of kindness. One who had a smile to spare for her siblings instantly became friend of hers, by principle. But then, where did whatever he’d just done place Kaleb?

Ember let out a shaky breath.

“I am at lack of words for your generosity,” she mumbled short of breath. “In all honesty, I doubt words may ever express the immense gratitude I am feeling towards you at the moment. Thank you, Kaleb.”

He simply smiled, not knowing in what way to return her immense gratitude. He was unable to comprehend the fact that his actions had been in any way more than human.

“If I may,” he shifted the subject and dared to take a few steps closer towards her, arms folded behind his back. “I haven’t yet had the chance to properly compliment you. You look as ravishing as a thunderstorm, striking as a lightning bolt, breathtaking as the first light of dawn spread across the velvet horizon.”

Ember blinked at him, her cheeks suddenly matching the color of her dress. She stood there in front of him, unable to let go of his gaze, so self-conscious, so aware of herself, a thief playing a lady. And she must have played her part well.

She cleared her voice and shyly smoothed down a curl.

“Thank you,” she muttered awkwardly. “You’re too kind.”

“Not at all. I only speak the truth. Never have I seen such a genuine beauty. Ladies I have come across try much too hard for my taste.”

Ember pursed her lips, her eyes glinting at a memory.

“And if I recall correctly, you have been raised in such manner as to always compliment a woman’s beauty should you come across it,” she teased him. “That’s twice you’ve complimented mine, little Lahey. It might get to my head.”

Kaleb chuckled and he started fidgeting again, which surprised Ember, as she thought they were over that small tense moment.

“If I may,” Kaleb repeated the request, and Ember resisted the temptation to tease him, as he looked troubled enough. “While you look overwhelming enough, might I suggest a way to compliment your gown?”

He blushed intensely as he spoke the words, and Ember could only stare.

“Excuse me?”

Kaleb cleared his throat and opened and closed his mouth a few times, before changing his mind and pursing his lips. Then he reached again for his inside pocket and pulled out something and Ember gasped at the sight of a diamond so gorgeous it took her breath away. It was dark blue, almost black and intense and had been crafted into a necklace, and as the moonlight refracted over its surface, a green reflection crossed its length. While the dragon’s breath was mesmerizing and so breathtakingly beautiful, this necklace was hypnotizing.

“Kaleb,” Ember breathed. “Where did you get that?”

He chuckled nervously. “Clarissa happens to be quite resourceful. And I happen to be a jeweler.”

Ember shook her head, reluctant to touch the stone, scared she might taint its beauty. Clare was full of surprises. Such a stone must have been a headache to procure and a pain in the back to commercialize, because it looked excruciatingly expensive. Bearing that in mind, she shifted her attention to the hand holding it, and then the arm shaking slightly, and then the toned chest rising in rapid breaths, and then the neck, gulping heavily, and then parted lips and crooked nose, and then two emerald green back eyes fixating her expectantly.

“It’s beautiful,” she cleared her throat, trying to break the haze. “But, Kaleb, I can’t—“

“Argument rejected,” Kaleb spoke fiercely with a newly found courage that took them both aback. “Now shall I help you put it on?”

He moved tentatively closer, the necklace still in his hand, and Ember took a step back, unsure as to how to react.

“Kaleb. I appreciate it, I truly do. But, you see, I am a thief. I do not get such luxury. I know my place.”

She wasn’t sure what reaction she’d expected from him. Any reaction, really. But instead, Kaleb acted like he didn’t hear her and circled her, moving to stand behind her, and when Ember felt his hands on her bare shoulders, she couldn’t help but shudder. She felt him move her hair away from the base of her neck and the coldness of the locket on her chest hit her like a thunder.

“Tonight, your place is at that ball, with the nobles,” he spoke softly, his warm breath hitting her skin. “If only to play a part that will get you that brooch, you do get such luxury. If only for tonight.”

Ember’s fingers absent-mindedly touched the necklace as she turned around to face Kaleb, and she was met with a smile.

“Thank you,” she whispered, emotions overwhelming her like tidal waves.

“I assure you, the pleasure is all mine,” Kaleb grinned and was even bold enough to wink at her. They stood there wrapped in an intense game of the eyes dancing around each other, until Kaleb broke it and extended his arm. “Shall we?”

Ember looked over his shoulder to see that the kids had instantly taken to Nana and didn’t even bother acknowledging her presence anymore, so her heart was at peace with that. She smiled at Kaleb and took his arm.

“Lead the way, little Lahey.”



The Covington residency was opulent at the very least. Thebbington Abbey was a small village of poor people who worked their hands off for a few coins that provided so little of their necessities. And yet, there stood tall the Covington mansion, blindingly illuminated, with soft violins and pianos heard from inside, with people in expensive gowns walking through the front doors, purposefully oblivious to the misery surrounding this ball. Masks hid faces, but morals screamed from the mud they were buried in, Ember thought, and her own black mask felt heavy and burned her cheeks now.

Kaleb must have sensed her growing tense, because his grip on her hand tightened reassuringly and his lips drew closer to her ear.

“Blend in, Ember. Try to look more like a noble rather than a thief trying to look like a noble.”

Ember huffed and immediately scolded herself for it. Not quite lady-like.

“Right,” she whispered back sarcastically. “I would, should I manage to shove a stick so deep up my arse.”

Kaleb stifled a laugh and Ember took pride in being the cause of it. He cleared his throat.

“You may want to begin by watching your language, lady Blackthorn,” he mused, but Ember’s smile faltered.

“Don’t call me that.”

Kaleb looked at her bewildered. Ember sighed and tried to regain her composure.

“I may have to pretend to for tonight,” she explained. “But I am not one of them. I won’t let them take that away from me.”

Kaleb nodded and squeezed her hand once more. He couldn’t say he understood her stance, but he respected it. He didn’t know how much these people, even if not these ones in particulars, but those that they represented, had taken from her and what she believed she was owed. He wouldn’t even pretend to fathom so.

“Okay,” he simply whispered back, and Ember seemed happy enough with that outcome.

Arm to arm, they walked to the front door into an inferno made of pretty dresses and fancy masks, of whispered sweet nothings and nauseating pleasantries. Ember had never felt more out of place.

“I announce Sir Kaleb Lahey, son of Sir William Lahey of Thebbington Abbey, and his date, Lady Emily Whiterose.”

Ember raised an eyebrow at Kaleb as the valet announced their names.

“Emily Whiterose?” she inquired silently when she was sure they were out of earshot.

Kaleb simply shrugged sheepishly, his cheeks faintly colored in that pink shade Ember now recognized as a token of a shyness he couldn’t disguise.

“Ember, Emily. Blackthorn, Whiterose. I figured it was a nice symmetry.”

Ember chuckled. “It is. Quite ingenious.”

Kaleb’s blush deepened and he dropped his gaze, clearing his throat a second later.

“What now?” he inquired. “Do you have a plan?”

“Now,” Ember sighed. “We blend in.”

“I thought that’s what we were doing,” Kaleb frowned, and Ember rolled her eyes.

“Not quite yet, little Lahey. What I meant,” she smiled wickedly, taking his hand, “is that you ought to ask your date for a dance.”

Her inelegant side prompted her to just grab his arm and drag him into the crowd and waltz around until their feet fell off, but when she caught sight of his movement with the corner of his eyes, her muscles froze.

He bowed down, one hand extended to her, smirking at her as if he knew exactly every way in which this gesture affected her. Because it did strike her dead every time. And the bastard must have figured that much out.

“May I have this dance, lady Whiterose?” he spoke in a deep voice that made Ember’s insides tingle.

But two could play this game. She prayed to the gods that she could summon whatever grace she had in her and grabbed the sides of her dress gently before dropping into a low bow, bare shoulders pulled back and head tilted to one side so that her curls hung loosely over her left collarbone, leaving the right side of her neck exposed, the ruby on her necklace shining bright. She rose swiftly and by the look of utter incomprehension and fascination on Kaleb’s face, she must have pulled quite an elegant scheme. She felt pride shimmering beneath the surface of her skin.

“Wouldn’t have it any other way, my lord,” she replied before placing her hand above his knuckles and allowing him to lead her among the ocean of couples waltzing.

And where their skin made contact, fire was ignited. It was rather odd. They’d walked arm to arm, hand in hand for the whole evening, and yet now, skin merely brushing against skin, gazes locked, there was an intimacy rustling between them so tangible it crossed physical barriers and settled in the depths of their chests.

But neither of them mentioned it as Kaleb turned her around and placed one arm safely around her waist, the other hand clutching tightly Ember’s. Never breaking eye contact, they began waltzing, chest to chest, hand in hand, eye to eye, nose to nose, flame to flame. And Kaleb spun her around flawlessly, keeping her steady on her feet, and Ember felt something being triggered in her. She couldn’t name it, but it felt like letting go of the string of a bow and watching the arrow shoot forward. It was—

“The plan?”

Ember blinked, Kaleb’s words taking a while to register in her head.

“The plan, Ember,” he spoke softly in her ear, making sure no one heard. “About the brooch. We cannot afford wasting time. We cannot risk you being recognized.”

“Right,” Ember shook her head, forcing herself to refocus on the task at hand. “The brooch.”

She took a deep breath and Kaleb let go of her. She felt the spell being broken and only as she saw Kaleb bow down again, a little tense this time, did she realize the song had ended. He pulled her aside as discreetly as possible so that they could speak freely, but still remain free of suspicion.

“Very well,” Ember exhaled, turning to him and forcing herself to snap out of whatever trance she’d been sucked into earlier. She bit her lip anxiously, not knowing what to expect on Kaleb’s behalf. “Just tell me something, Kaleb. How involved do you want to get with this? I am aware it’s out of your comfort zone. Or the law, for that matter.”

Kaleb offered a tentative smile, as if he couldn’t be bothered.

“Where do you need me?”

Ember’s heart warmed up a little at his words, the sudden show of trust igniting her senses. She tried hard to ignore her conscience screaming at her that she was corrupting an honest young man and went into full business mode.

“Then I’m afraid it all lies in your hands.”



Lady Helen Covington was a big fan of games and her parties were famous for the inventive dances she came up with. And she was rather fond of those dances that required switching partners, and Ember had heard many people of many lands attended her parties only to be granted the chance to take part in one of those dances.

And this was what provided Ember with a simple, yet hopefully efficient plan to get her hands on that gem. Kaleb and blending in were the key elements in her strategy.

Ember was tense as different sets of hands spun her around and raised her in the air, her eyes never ceasing to scan the room. She prayed no one would recognize her and she prayed Kaleb would manage to go through with it.

With the corner of her eye as she danced across the floor to meet a new partner, Ember saw Kaleb dancing with none other than Lady Covington herself, and she seemed quite fond of him. Ember stopped breathing. Lady Covington smiled up at Kaleb and he said something that made her giggle, and a few seconds later, he let go of her and danced towards another partner.

What had happened? Had he gotten it? He looked so awfully calm it was maddening, and Ember counted every step of this absurd dance, holding her breath, until she was back in his arms.

She gasped as their bodies collided when she was passed to him as a partner. They only had a few seconds before they’d have to switch again, and Ember wasn’t even sure how to make the best of those.

“What happened?” she breathed, her skin itching in anxiety and anticipation. What if he couldn’t get it? This had been their only shot? What if he’d gotten it and Lady Covington figured it out and in no time, there’d be an army of guards surrounding them? What if—

Before she could voice these questions out loud, she felt something hard against her palm as Kaleb let her down from a lift and she refrained from gasping. It was a brooch. He’d done it. Ember clutched it tightly until her knuckles hurt and she didn’t dare move her hand too much.

“What did you tell her?” she asked Kaleb to distract herself as he slipped his arm around her waist once more and danced on.

Kaleb shot her a small smile. “I complimented her smile,” he stated simply, and proceeded to explain when Ember simply blinked at him confused. “I had to get her to look away long enough to snatch the brooch. A compliment was the best I could think of.”

Ember still looked confused, and prompted him to go on.

“But why a compliment?”

Kaleb shrugged sheepishly. “High-born ladies have a habit of hiding their faces in order to play coy when you compliment them. It’s more beautiful when you do it, in all honesty. It doesn’t feel as acted or faked.”

Ember shook her head bewildered, trying to fully process what he was implying. The brooch. The compliment. Only she didn’t hide her face now. She stared deeply into his eyes, trying to let him know to the core just how much his words struck her to her very core.


She wasn’t sure what she was going to say to him. Wasn’t sure how to thank him for his words, for his unjustly placed trust in her, for his help tonight. The man had stolen for her. But before she could gather her thoughts, he slipped away, looking just as unwilling to let go as she felt.

“Not now,” he mouthed. “Later.”

He stood straight and nodded at her as the chorus ended, and Ember took it as her cue. She dropped into a reverence, grasping the fabric of her skirts, and she reached for the hidden pocket between the creases of her dress that she’d sewed there for this exact purpose.

With the gem safely tucked into safety, close to her body, Ember kept dancing. She was passed from partner to partner, but before she could end up partnering Kaleb again, the song was over. The crowd scattered and her eyes searched the room for the familiar silhouette of Kaleb.

And then she felt it.

She knew it all too well. The tingling in her bones, the fiery flames scorching her insides. Her collar bones ached with the familiar pressure and her fingers and toes itched.


It couldn’t happen. Not now.

Except it was.

Her brain kept whispering Kaleb, Kaleb, Kaleb, find Kaleb, don’t leave Kaleb, but it eventually became so faint, the body took over, and all Ember knew was that she had to get out of there.

So without as much as a glance back, she left the property and headed for the woods.

6: Chapter 5: One doorstep away from the storm
Chapter 5: One doorstep away from the storm


A.N. So, I’ve decided to sync the story with some soundtrack. Lemme know how you feel about it! I’ll start suggesting different songs for different scenes from here forth, hope you’ll enjoy it.

~S O U N D T R A C K: Ed Sheeran – I see fire~

The sun peaked from beneath the line of the horizon, already half expecting to find them there.

And there they were, glorious in their deadliness, caught in a well-choreographed dance of raw power, their shapes embraced by a fire storm.

The sun, in its eternal existence as a silent witness to history’s greatest love stories, had never seen anything quite like this. They were beastly creatures, meant to spit fire and bring mayhem and terror upon those who roamed the earth. But there was a hinge of humanity in the way their enormous pupils dilated, in the way one pair of wings caressed the other one’s scales, and beyond that humanity, yet some more of an odd, unfathomable connection, familiarity and synchronicity.

Two dragons meant to fly side by side, meant to bathe in the same flames, meant to crash, meant to burn, meant to let themselves be swallowed by the same smoke.

And because the sun could no longer stay hidden, it rose high upon the morning sky, and two flaps of wings later, it was once again left alone. His dragon friends were gone.



~S O U N D T R A C K: Mikky Ekko – We must be killers~

He waited. He heard the waves hit hard against the ship and the refreshing smell of the sea sharpened his senses as it always did. He always thought that, if he was having trouble following the rules and laws of the land, a life on the sea suited him best, for the sea answered to no law.

It was dawn and he still waited. He’d seen the flames and he’d heard the piercing cry of the beast. It was near. And it was just a matter of time until the man behind the beast emerged. He knew the human had no control over it yet and was most likely unaware of what he kept turning into. Which just made his plans so much easier to accomplish.

“Captain,” he heard one of his men call from behind him. “It’s well past dawn. The guys are losing patience.”

The captain clicked his tongue.

“Tell those who are losing patience they’ll start losing fingers if they keep whining,” he told his subordinate calmly, then he lowered his voice into a dangerous and exciting tone. “It’s almost time. Any minute now.”

And his patience was soon rewarded.

A few feet away from the shore, the captain caught sight of a slim silhouette bathed in the first morning light, lying asleep on the ground.


“Well, I’ll be damned,” he murmured under his breath.

A few seconds later, the girl awoke and slowly rose from the ground, before heading towards a bush and pulling out a red cloak and wrapping it around herself, and then she started walking barefoot towards the village the captain knew too well. Thebbington Abbey. And the girl went through every motion with a serenity that made it clear that this wasn’t the first time she ended up naked in the woods.

“Captain?” the man called for him. “Sir? Did you find it?”

The captain let out a breathless laugh. He’d been so wrong about so many things. And this was something he couldn’t have foreseen.

“Aye,” he answered. “And it’s a her.”



~S O U N D T R A C K: Mikky Ekko – Time~

Kaleb was in so much trouble.

Firstly, even if he could’ve gotten away with sneaking around his father for the ball, the fact that he hadn’t spent the night at home had most definitely given him away. Needless to say, his father nearly had a heart attack when he found his son’s bed untouched and had suffered a severe rage access when Kaleb walked through the front door in the morning. The outcome of that interaction was something Kaleb preferred not to think about. William Lahey was a man widely known for his short temper and Kaleb found himself on the receiving side of it an alarming amount of times.

And yet, at the moment, it dawned on him that he hadn’t been nearly as scared of his father as he now was of having to face Ember.

He’d never been so ashamed of himself. As he made his way towards her house, he kept picturing her gentle features darkened by disappointment after having realized that Kaleb had left. He kept visualizing the anger when he’d show up at her door as if he could actually explain himself, he imagined her blaming him and the door shutting in his face. And she was entitled to do so. He literally had no excuse, considering he had no memory whatsoever between passing the brooch to her and dancing together, and waking up naked in the woods.

Kaleb stopped in front of Ember’s door and took a deep breath, ready to take it like a man, before knocking twice. He heard the sound of steps on the other side of the door that stopped right behind it, and there was a small hesitation before the door opened and Ember stood in front of Kaleb. Gods, she had been breath-taking last night, an elegance and sharpness to the way she held herself as she walked by his side, as she spun in his arms on the soft rhythm of that sensual violin. But in the daylight, the elegance and sharpness were replaced with fierceness and strength and it was just as breath-taking. She could’ve held a knife to his throat and Kaleb would’ve still been a mere prisoner to her hypnotizing gaze. Which, in fact, she had. She seemed quite fond of the knife against people’s throats move.

“Kaleb,” she breathed at the sight of him. “Oh. Hello.”

Something wasn’t right, Kaleb realized. There was no blame yet, no rage, no disappointment in her eyes. No door shutting in his face. Yet. If he hadn’t known better, he would’ve said there was a touch of guilt in her emerald gaze that he’d seen in his reflection in the mirror this morning. But that made no sense.

He cleared his voice.

“Hello, Ember. How are you?”

She shrugged one shoulder and moved aside for Kaleb to come inside. Definitely no shutting the door in his face, then.

Ember closed the door behind them and Kaleb caught sight of the little ones grinning up at him with serene faces. He returned their smiles with one of his own, but when they kept smirking expectantly, Kaleb realized. He kneeled in front of them and reached inside his tunic.

“I’m afraid I came somewhat unprepared today,” he excused himself, a few coins dangling in his palm. “But here. Go buy whatever your hearts please from the market. There are things I must discuss with your sister and we wouldn’t want to bore you now, would we?”

The little ones giggled and one of the twins – Kaleb could see now why Ember had described them as so outgoing – spoke.

“Will you propose? I heard this is what gentlemen who court—“

“Come on now, the lot of you,” Ember cut her off, embarrassed. “Off you go. Charles, look after your sisters, will you? And be back soon.”

The kids left in a storm of giggles, leaving the two of them standing face to face.

“Look, Kaleb,” Ember started as soon as they were alone. “I know you’ve come here seeking an explanation. And I do owe you an apology.”

Kaleb frowned. Granted, this was clearly not how he’d imagined this conversation going.

“On the contrary,” he replied baffled. “I have come here offering an explanation rather than seeking one. An apology as well.”

It was Ember’s turn to frown. She shook her head slightly.

“What are you talking about?”

“Last night, after the dance,” he explained. “I saw Lady Covington realize the brooch was no longer on her and she turned to the guards. I figured it wouldn’t be long until they’d have learned of my part in its disappearance and I fled. I now see how low of me it was to do such thing. I left you alone because I panicked and for that, I am terribly sorry. I shall let myself out and understand if you’d prefer our paths to never cross again.”

He was about to turn on his heels and leave, when Ember surprised him even more and burst out into laughter, wiping a tear from the corner of her eye.

“Ain’t that ironic, little Lahey,” she said between giggles. “Don’t be silly. I don’t mind our paths crossing at all. And it would be absurd of me to get upset and blame you for something I did, too.”

“Pardon me?”

Ember blushed violently and gnawed on her bottom lip as she spoke.

“I saw the guards with Lady Covington, too. I couldn’t afford having the brooch found in my possession, so I jumped to the assumption that you were safe and I fled before they could order the doors shut and tie the theft to me. I’m so sorry, Kaleb. I guess we’re both a little despicable.”

Kaleb chuckled, though it came off as rather faked. He’d made up the guards story, but it being true was something he hadn’t counted on. While he was grateful his lie checked miraculously, he couldn’t help but worry he might end up being the one the theft was tied back to.

On the other hand, Ember hadn’t had the time to come up with a good excuse, considering she couldn’t have imagined Kaleb would show up on her doorstep. She figured he’d be angry enough to never want to see her again. But she took the cover story he’d used and turned it to her likings.

Truth was, Lady Covington was so disgustingly rich, she probably hadn’t even noticed the brooch had gone missing. And if she ever did, she’d probably blame some poor servant girl. But the guards story proved to be a valid prompt for each of them that they took readily.

“I also wanted to thank you,” Ember continued. “The reason why you found yourself into this mess is because you were willing to help me. Me, of all people. And to commit felony, of all things. So while I’m immensely grateful for your help, I need to understand, Kaleb. Why? Why risk helping a common thief?”

Kaleb smiled warmly at her, back to his regular self now that the awkwardness had been overcome.

“Firstly, you’re not a common thief,” he stated simply, making Ember fidget under the weight of his words. “You’re kind and warm-hearted, selfless enough to care for four more souls that depend on you, and that, regardless of circumstances, I cannot judge. What you do, you don’t do out of despicableness, as you’ve put it, you do out of love. Perhaps that’s the reason why. I’m not sure. As to that, I shall let you know as soon as I find an answer.”

Ember let out a shaky breath.

“You think too highly of me.”

“Or perhaps you’re just used to being thought unfairly low of,” Kaleb spoke serenely.

Ember chuckled lightly and pulled herself together. She thought low of herself too, so in that matter, he might have had a point.

“Thank you, Kaleb,” she repeated, and she had the feeling that, regardless of how many times she said it, it still wouldn’t cover all that he’d done for her. She doubted he could even comprehend how much it meant to her that he’d shown her kindness and humanity, how much it mattered that she was being given credit.

He nodded and once and, without a word, Ember turned and opened a small wooden box lying on the table and pulled out the azure-black diamond necklace he’d given her the previous night. Its surface shone like it had been ground and polished with a hypnotizing spell.

“I also believe this belongs to you,” Ember said as she handed it to Kaleb, but he just took a step back.

“Nonsense. It was a gift. Gifts are not to be returned and I find it offensive you’d think so.”

Ember simply glared.

“I wouldn’t, had it been a gift. But it wasn’t. It was a loan. Bought with the money of your father and crafted in his jewelry. I can’t accept it.”

Kaleb couldn’t find words to counter hers, so he took the diamond from her hand reluctantly. His attention, however, was caught by another blinding glint in the wooden box, lighter than the diamond, shining in a way that somehow seemed more pure and emptied of superficial opulence.

“I see you’ve kept the diamond breath,” he commented, and Ember eyed the fire opal, a curious nostalgia finding shelter in the depth of her eyes.

“I couldn’t bring myself to sell it. And this has never happened to me before. Objects are objects and money is money. But I don’t know what it is about that rock. It captivates me.”

“I felt it, too,” Kaleb’s voice brought Ember out of her daze. “It’s like it sings to you.”

Ember smiled mockingly at him, but her eyes betrayed the fact that she shared the feeling.

“But that would be absurd, wouldn’t it?” she mused. “It’s just a pretty rock.”

Kaleb nodded pensively. “Indeed.”

They stood in silence for a little while longer, both trapped under the spell of the fire opal and maybe a little bit under the spell of each other’s comforting presence, but then it was broken when the door burst open and the younger Blackthorns waltzed in, Charles and Cathy carrying several pounds of sweets, while the twins carried a kitten.

“Ember, Ember, look what we found,” one of them chanted.

“Please, please, please, Ember, can we keep her?” went the other one. “Look, we can call her Tiger. She even has stripes.”

Ember crossed her arms over her chest and Kaleb was taken aback by the width of her persona as she stepped into the shoes of the responsible older sister. She looked as if she’d been on the verge of scolding them, but then she just kneeled in front of the kids and sighed, taking the cat in her arms and running her fingers through its striped fur.

“She will have to find another home,” she spoke fiercely, yet soothing, kindness in her voice. “A home who can give her what we can’t. You know we can barely provide for ourselves and a pet is a very big responsibility. Your little tiger deserves more. Do you want to take that away from her?”

The four kids shook their heads, clearly understanding the point Ember made, but disappointment obvious on their faces.

Without thinking twice, Kaleb stepped in.

“There might be a solution. What if the little ones promised to take good care of the kitten and I promised to provide whatever’s necessary so that she could live like a royal feline? Would you allow them to keep her then?”

Ember turned around wide-eyed at Kaleb, blinking rapidly.

“Kaleb, I appreciate what you’re trying—“ she began, but Charles cut her off.

“Could we, Ember?”

She turned around to look at her little brother, and Kaleb saw her break. While it was clear that the twins weren’t that hard to resist, she had a soft spot for the little boy.

“Charles—“ she tried, but then she turned back to Kaleb. “Kaleb, I really can’t—“

“Nonsense,” Kaleb interrupted her, smiling from ear to ear. “The little striped one grew on me, but I’m not very good with caring for animals. This seems like the ideal solution. It’ll be my pleasure. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a business to attend to unless I want my father’s wrath unleashed upon me in the near future.”

He was about to turn around and leave, just before the four Blackthorns circled him and put their tiny arms around him, wrapping Kaleb in a tight hug, chirped thank-you’s surrounding him from all sides. He chuckled lightly and patted their heads, catching glimpse of a few proud tears dancing in Ember’s eyes, but she blinked them away so quickly, he wasn’t even sure they’d been there.


He waved a hand at her, cutting her off.

“Stop thanking me. I only do these things because I want to. Besides,” he looked at her through his lashes, a playful smile dancing on his lips, “I do have one condition.”

Ember crossed her arms over her chest. “And what would that be?”

“That you change her name,” he stated simply. “You might learn that you, Ember, and the little tiger, have more in common than you’d have thought. So I suggest you call her Bandit,” he winked at her, and Ember nearly gasped in both amusement and surprise. “For obvious reasons.”

Without waiting for her reaction, he said his goodbyes to the little ones and went out the door, the smuggest expression on his face.

7: Chapter 6: Yours truly
Chapter 6: Yours truly


~S O U N D T R A C K: Wolf Larsen – If I be wrong~

“Would you look at that,” Ember put her hands on her hips. “Turns out the name Bandit does suit you best.”

She glared at the little kitten and the bastard looked up at her with the smuggest expression on his whiskered face, as if he knew exactly what he was doing. He was sitting on a wooden box that had Ember’s name carved on the front edge of the lid, so she could safely assume it had been meant for her to find. And yet, this wicked little thing had managed to drag it inside and had made a bed out of it. And what most annoyed Ember was that she couldn’t even be mad at him, because he was one adorable bastard that she’d grown quite fond of for the past few days.

However, she ruffled Bandit’s fur and shooed him away, then she picked up the small wooden box. She could tell it was made of cedar and the timber work alone was beyond exquisite. For someone to be able to craft such thing by hand, it must have taken some incredible skill. And her name was carved in careful letters on the front, teasing her and piquing her interest.

She ignored Bandit playing with the edge of her cloak and slowly opened the box.

She gasped out loud.

Inside the box was an orchid. A purple orchid. Kaleb’s name came to her mind even before her eyes fell on the black diamond necklace that was under the orchid, and then once more as she caught sight of the note under the necklace, with her name written in italic letters as beautifully as it was on the box.

She granted herself a moment before she read the note. She hadn’t seen Kaleb since a few days ago, when he’d left wrapped in an aura of such mystery, his words, his stance, the light in his eyes hanging in the silence that had followed his presence, lingering on the surface of her skin and pricking her senses. He’d sent Nana with the money necessary to ensure the well-being of Bandit, making good on his promise, and Ember hadn’t heard from him ever since. But to go to such lengths, for her, she was having trouble comprehending that much. What was he in pursuit of? What meaning did his gesture hold?

She knew the orchid was a reference to their first encounter, and the memory made her lose a breath. And purple, as well, just like it had been then. The detail struck her dumb. Did he recall it as vividly as her? Did it still come back to him with the same intensity as it did to her? As she held the purple orchid in her palm, it occurred to her that it might have. 

She placed the orchid gingerly on the table and weighted the necklace in her palm, enraptured by its beauty now, in the daylight, more than she had been under the night sky. The moon did not served it right as the sunlight did, its onyx shining in dozens shades. Then with a final breath, Ember opened the note and read it word for word like a hungered beggar.

Dear Ember,

Pardon me for my boldness, if I somehow happen to come off as rather presumptuous, for that is not my intention. My intention is solely to return what is rightfully yours, as I cannot conceive this beautiful necklace as belonging anywhere else rather than around your neck, complimenting your beauty. Please do not offend me any further by refusing it.

You have asked me why I chose to help you, and I have yet to offer an answer to that. And I must admit that is a question I have been asking myself more often than not. I genuinely believe you are a good person, against all odds that every god has set against you. And yet, I found I was not satisfied with this answer. And as soon as I’ve learnt that sought answer, I had to make good on my promise and let you know.

If I must confess, know that I am drawn to you as one would be to the edge of the abyss, to looking over that edge despite the knowledge that you could fall off. I am drawn to you as a sailor would be to the song of a mermaid. For some reason, I have learned that we resonate in ways I cannot fully comprehend, as if we are but variations of the same tune. For that reason and many that I am still seeking within myself, my heart spoke over my conscience and I was helpless, with one sole purpose. I had to stand by your side.

There is little that makes sense at the moment. I would not dare dream to be able to explain what ties me to you, yet I yield the hope that I have made myself clear and that my intentions are not to be misinterpreted. I mean well, Ember.

Yours truly,

Kaleb Lahey

P.S. Forgive my sentimentality. This flower continues to remind me of you and I continue to feel like it is a perfect match for you. Our past encounters have merely confirmed what I already suspected.

Ember’s hands trembled slightly as her fingers gripped the paper tightly. Her heart was a humming bird, her eyes wide as a horizon, her lips curved into a smile. She closed her eyes and breathed in.

Then she read the note again, and again until she learned the shape of every letter he wrote. It was amazing, how even his handwriting was the equivalent of his voice.

With yet another intake of breath, Ember folded the note, placed it back inside the box, placed the necklace right above it and glanced once more at the purple orchid.

Then after instructing Charles to look after his sisters and scratching Bandit behind his ear, Ember walked out the door and made her way towards the jeweler’s shop.



~S O U N D T R A C K: Lauren Aquilina – Wonder~

Ember took a deep breath and walked inside the shop. For the briefest seconds, it occurred to her she had no excuse to be here, should she run into Kaleb’s father. And from what she’d heard, William Lahey was not an easy man to come across. And causing trouble for Kaleb was the least she wanted.

However, as she saw who was standing behind the counter, she released that breath loudly, startling Kaleb. He was so concentrated over a piece of jewelry he was working on, a small diamond ring he was polishing, that at the sudden noise, he dropped the ring and the tools and let out a small curse. As soon as he realized what he’d said, his hand flew to his mouth, eyes wide.

“Ember,” he breathed. “Gods above. I am so sorry. That was outrageous on my behalf. Please accept my deepest—“

Ember rolled her eyes. “Don’t make me tell you where you can shove your deepest apologies, little Lahey. In all honesty, I curse like a sailor myself.”

Kaleb looked on the verge of smiling, but his flushed cheeks betrayed the fact that he was still feeling embarrassed about his earlier lack of manners, however little Ember cared for those silly manners of his. It was still adorable that he treated her with the respect one would treat a lady, though she still felt unworthy of the treatment he offered towards her.

“Lovely seeing you again, Ember,” he offered after clearing his throat. Ember noticed that, once again, his hands flew to his hair in the same useless attempt to tame it down. “What can I do for you?”

Ember smirked and took out the black necklace, holding it up for Kaleb to see it, without offering any comments. Kaleb pursed his lips and sighed.

“If you're here to return the pendant, I can go on playing this game to no end.”

Ember chuckled despite herself.

“Then I must obey,” she mused. “In all seriousness, however, it would be indeed very rude of me to keep refusing it. Therefore, I came by to offer you my absolute gratitude. Thank you, Kaleb. Your trust in me, though I find it highly misplaced, hasn’t yet ceased to warm my heart.”

Kaleb grinned sheepishly and ran a hand through his hair. Ember could see how flustered he was, and she was having a hard time comprehending, reading his reactions. What was he getting so worked up about?

“Nonsense,” he replied. “I simply refuse letting certain prejudice and misconceptions stop me from treating you like a human being, and one who’s in need of help and kindness at that. I don’t see why you’d be so astounded that I choose to show you just that. Kindness should not come as a surprise.”

Ember pursed her lips. Yes, he did make a solid point. She knew he was right. But that did not change the fact that, while he’d chosen to treat her as a human being, as he liked to put it, the rest of the village was purposefully oblivious to the poor upbringing of four little innocent souls who had wronged no one. So in that matter, kindness did come as a surprise. Not towards herself. She asked nothing of no one. But she could not look past the lack of kindness whatsoever towards those who were entitled to at least get a taste of it. Her little siblings knew no such thing.

“You are indeed right,” she admitted eventually, smiling sadly. “But that does not change the fact that no one has showed me, or us, for that matter, compassion in that way you have. You’re the only person to have ever done such thing for me. And that happens to place you quite high in my eyes. The little ones, as well. They took up to you. They look forward to seeing you again.”

But Kaleb saw past her attempt to redirect the conversation. He watched her from under his long, thick lashes, curiosity evident in his eyes as he bit his lip. He wonder if he was stepping over boundaries, but couldn’t keep himself from trying to peak over the walls. He’d been caught in the hurricane that Ember Blackthorn was and did not know the way out.

“Excuse my boldness—“ he started, but Ember cut him off.

“Gods, you need to stop saying that.”

Kaleb fought a smile.

“If I may comment on that, I must say, that’s just utterly sad,” he spoke softly. “And deeply unfair. And I have made a purpose to remedy that. Everyone should know compassion, everyone should be granted the privilege of being looked at with kindheartedness and consideration and sympathy instead of hostility and revulsion.”

Ember took in his words and let them sink in, before smirking like a cat toying with a mouse. She took a step forward, the counter still between them, and her eyes dared him to move away, to look away. But he saw past her dare and stood his ground, cheeks flushed and breathing a little more rapidly throughout it all.

“Is that how you’re looking at me, little Lahey?” she inquired, eyes narrowed and a playful smile on her lips that Kaleb returned, surprisingly enough, with a sheepish one of his own.

“On the contrary. I presume I would, should I manage holding your gaze for more than a few seconds at a time. I’m afraid I tend to be quite susceptible to distractions.”

Gods, he was digging his own grave. Ember could barely resist the temptation of mocking him further. She considered letting him off the hook, but watching the dance of his Adam’s apple as he gulped every time they locked gaze and she flashed her wide green eyes at him, it was just too entertaining.

“I see,” she murmured. “Am I distracting you?”

Kaleb let out a shaky breath and Ember was sure she heard him mutter, ‘Gods, you have no idea’, under his breath, but she couldn’t tell for sure. Eventually, he cleared his voice.

“May I ask you a favor?”

Ember raised her eyebrows at him. Quite the way to change a subject, but she had to admit her curiosity was piqued, so she motioned for him to go on.

“There is something I would like to show you. Tomorrow, if you may. It isn’t too far from here, but we should leave at dawn so that we don’t raise suspicion from either my father or the neighbors. I don’t assume you could use any more people bad mouthing you.”

Ember smiled sadly.

“I have had my fair share, indeed,” she replied. “I’ll admit I’m curious. What is it you want to show me?”

Kaleb grinned, and looked at her through his lashes. Ember found herself on the receiving side of the distraction game, and she had to say she knew how Kaleb felt. It wasn’t easy being around him, either. He was quite the handsome young man, and he was rapidly growing on her. Rapidly and disconcertingly. And she was not accustomed to her feelings shifting around like that, was not familiar with the way her body reacted to emotions so new to her. But she welcomed it all in, because she as was helpless in front of it as you would be under storm clouds roaring down at you.

So when Kaleb responded, her heart hummed in tune with his words.

“You shall see.”


Hey, you guys! Hope you like this chapter!! Lemme know what you think of the soundtrack so far, and feel free to make suggestions if you feel like it!!

Love y’all!


8: Chapter 7: Edge of desire
Chapter 7: Edge of desire


~S O U N D T R A C K: Taylor Swift – This love~

Ember woke up that morning with a smile plastered on her face. And this was beyond odd itself. But humming silently to a song as she was making breakfast for the little ones was outrageous. For a second, she thought she might have been running a fever or that she’d fallen sick over night, but when no symptoms appeared, she realized she was only suffering from anxiety.

Yes, she was nervous. Kaleb had been anything but cryptic in his explanations, and the idea of heading out of the village with him somewhat unsettled her. Of course, she had been alone with him outside of the village before, but she had held a knife to his throat right before that and said knife had been on her all along. Ever since, there had been time for a certain tension to build up between them, for certain glances to be exchanged, for wondering what excuses to make just to touch each other and then changing their mind at the last second, for smiles and teases, for a mutual understanding that neither of them could quite name or spell out loud. Ever since, Ember had found herself questioning certain types of thoughts and feelings that had never taught her that the wind blew differently when you let it sweep off your feet, that the sun rose differently when you let it kiss your skin, that words are never words when they roll off the lips you often find yourself thinking about. And eyes are never just eyes, and hands are never just hands, and orchids are more than just orchids, and seconds, minutes, become unbearable under the promise that you’d see him again.

Oh, yes. Gods, this was bad.

It was all slightly exaggerated, or at least, Ember tried to tell herself so. Kaleb was a man who gave her attention and she was flattered as could be. Surely she was getting ahead of herself.

She sighed. She still had about half an hour before meeting up with Kaleb on the outskirts of the village, and paying a visit to Clarissa was long overdue. She kissed her siblings goodbye and, considering they were quite used by now, she figured they’d be fine on their own for a while until Nana came. So she grabbed her cloak and headed for Clarissa’s shop.

It was way too early for anyone to be up and going just yet, so with her hood down, Ember walked inside the shop just to find a smiling Clare behind the counter.

“Hello, stranger,” her friend greeted. “Finally showed up, didn’t you? I was starting to worry.”

Ember chuckled. “Hello, Clare. I’m fine, but the business hasn’t been so lately, not really.”

Clarissa clicked her tongue. “’S what friends are for. Tell me what you need, sugar.”

“Actually,” Ember reached inside her bag. “I dropped by precisely because I did catch a few things I can give to you.”

Ember only had a few nothings she’d managed to steal from some passing-through travelers that weren’t carrying anything valuable along, but Clare still managed to give her enough food for her family to make it through the week.

“Ember, are you okay?” Clarissa asked her right before Ember was about to take off, a concerned look on her face. “You seem rather odd these days.”

Ember frowned. “I’m fine. Why wouldn’t I be?”

Clare shrugged and narrowed her eyes at her friend.

“I don’t know, sugar. You tell me. You look rather distracted. Perhaps quite anxious, too. But it’s not that, because that would not strike me as odd. It’s the fact that you look more joyful these days.”

Ember prayed to the Gods that she wasn’t blushing as she cleared her voice and replied.

“Am I not allowed to be joyful?”

Clare snorted. “Sugar, I’ve known you for years. And not once have I seen you joyful. If I didn’t know better…” She trailed off, and Ember watched mortified as realization became readable on her friend’s expression. “But I do know better, don’t I? Ember, Ember, Ember. Do you have anything to tell me? Perhaps something about a certain jeweler boy? You know. Green eyes, wild hair. Stammers five times per sentence.”

Too late for the Gods to do anything about that blushing. Her face was so flushed, Clarissa needed no spoken answer to her questions, since every sought answer was written in every shade of red on Ember’s face.

“Don’t be absurd,” Ember tried and failed to defend herself, so as Clarissa looked at her incredulously, she did the next best thing. Fled. “Now if you’ll excuse me, Clare, I’ve got places to be. I’ll see you in a few days.”

“But, Ember—“ Clarissa tried to call after her, but Ember was out the door before her friend could have a further chance to debrief her.

Ember let out a shaky breath as soon as she was out of the shop. Gods. What was wrong with her? Why couldn’t she stand up for the perfectly platonic relationship she had with Kaleb? He was a good-hearted boy who felt compassion towards her and she had nothing but gratitude to offer him. She should have explained that to Clarissa. After all, Clarissa was the closest thing she had to a friend, Ember should have been able to confide in her. But then again, if it was all nothing but platonic, why did her heart flutter so much as she walked across the village to meet Kaleb? Why did she pull the cloak tighter around herself, as if trying to keep herself in, trying to keep him out? Out of where? Why did she feel the need to raise barriers? What was she afraid of?

She let out that breath and squared her shoulders. She would not give in to silly emotions. She was above that. She had more to think about and she needed her mind clear.

But as she arrived on the outskirts of town and saw him a few feet ahead of her, the fog once again clouded her head and she could no longer think clearly as she’d meant to. Gods, he was gorgeous. He held himself with such grace that was beyond unnatural for a man of his upbringing. He was no noble, after all. And in completion to such grace came a stunning gentleness that left Ember breathless. It was that sort of motion to his gestures that one would treat a precious porcelain doll with, the gentleness to speech that one would speak with to a high-born old lady, the tenderness with which one would caress a bird’s feathers or would kiss their mother’s cheek. Kaleb was the human equivalent of a whisper, or of a cloud, or of a pen scribbling on paper.

She stopped before coming into his sight and took him in. His stance, his ruffled hair, his eyes wandering across the horizon as the wind fought hard to get a closer look to him, and Ember could not blame it. He looked as fallen out of a painting.

~S O U N D T R A C K: Halsey – Is there somewhere~

Ember breathed in, smiled wide and accepted the storm that Kaleb incited in her heart.

Then she stepped forward and Kaleb turned around when he heard the leaves cracking under her feet. And at her sight, he broke into the most dashing smile and it made Ember’s heart expand in size and capacity and fill her body with all sorts of emotions that she could not name, yet welcomed in.

And Kaleb was equally, if not more enthralled by her presence. She looked like she had been carved out of those very woods that had granted him the sight of her slim silhouette standing before his eyes, grinning like a wicked fox and looking at him sideways with those eyes glinting with a promise that the first sunshine of the sunrise had planted there. She took his breath away every time, unmistakably.

“Ember,” he tried to find his words when she was close enough to hear. “Good morning. I’m glad you could make it.”

She shrugged one shoulder and shot him that half smile that made Kaleb’s head spin.

“Curiosity got the best of me,” she replied. “And I could not have lived with myself knowing you would have been waiting for me all morning.”

Kaleb lost a breath and did his best to calm down his heart’s rapid dance before speaking again.

“Shall we?” he extended his arm towards the path on which they were headed and Ember quickly fell into step by his side.

“Do I get to know where it is that we’re going?” she inquired, and he shot her a half smile.

“Not until we get there, you don’t,” he replied, and Ember chuckled at how sweet this tentative aura of mystery looked on him.

They walked silently side by side for a while and soon, Ember found herself taken aback by how easy to talk to he was. They talked about her siblings, about his life as a jeweler, he asked to know how Bandit was adapting to life as being a spoiled pet, she asked about his early life under the jurisdiction of his warm-hearted, yet hard-willed Nana. She learned that he hadn’t had that much of a choice in becoming a jeweler and that he would’ve much rather become a physician. Ember decided she didn’t like his father. She also learned that the sunrise liked to take shelter in his green eyes and dissipate into million emerald drops of their own caged in just two eyes. She also learned that he used to build small shelters for broken animals back when he was a child, and Ember was bewildered by how much kindness his heart could contain.

Yet Kaleb remarked she spoke so little about her childhood, close to nothing. But he did learn she was making up stories every night for her siblings, a new one every time. He did learn she hated cats and that Bandit seemed to hate her, too, but at the same time, the little monster was growing on her more than she would’ve cared to admit. He did learn that each and every one of her curls had an individual dance that he often found himself enraptured in. He did learn she had quite a collection of scars on her hands, wrists, and around her ankles, that she’d gotten from troublesome robberies, and he loved that she was slowly losing restraints when she talked about being a thief. And by the time they were close to the spot he wanted to show her, he could precisely name the moment when she had decided she trusted him enough. Because halfway there, she let the hoodie of her cloak fall down and reveal her pretty face, which Kaleb recognized as an analogy to walls dropping. With every word exchanged, with every piece of information shared, she let him in a little more. And he took her defenses down one by one.

And Ember loved it.

She was not afraid. She let him tear the walls down brick by brick, because Kaleb’s knuckles knocking at the doors of her fortresses were a beautiful harmony.

“We’re here,” Kaleb announced out of nowhere, and Ember stopped abruptly.

She turned around a few times, frowning.

“I don’t see anything different. Dirty road, thick woods. Am I missing something?”

Kaleb chuckled lightly.

“You must close your eyes first. It is just past these bushes.”

Ember bit her lip. She was reluctant about putting her trust so blindly in someone, letting herself be guided by different hands, by different eyes, by different feet than her own. But this was Kaleb. The one knocking. With him, her hand was already clutched around the doorknob.

“Beforehand, you should know I still have my knife,” she mused and smiled to let him know she was joking. “Consider yourself warned, little Lahey.”

He chuckled as she turned around, closing her eyes as instructed. Without her sight, her other senses were enhanced. She nearly gasped when she felt Kaleb’s hands on her shoulder, pushing her slightly forward, then she heard his breathing in her ear and felt his warm breath on the back of her neck as he moved branches away from their path. His hands moved from her shoulder to her hips, making her breath hitch in her throat.

“Almost there,” Kaleb whispered, and Ember noted smugly that he sounded just as out of breath as she was.

They took a few more steps and once she heard the ruffle of leaves and branches die behind her, Ember’s face was hit by a refreshing gush of wind. She let out a breathless laugh and felt Kaleb’s hands leave her body.

“You may open your eyes now,” Kaleb instructed and Ember thought he sounded a little nervous, but when she opened her eyes, all was forgotten.

She gasped out loud. She was standing in the middle of a field of bright red poppies, and far in the distance, the poppies met the skyline. The field was surrounded by woods, and in the middle of it was a wooden pavilion. It was breathtaking.

“There are no orchids, I’m afraid,” she heard Kaleb whispering in her ear, and she became suddenly aware of their closeness. “But I believe these poppies make up for it in beauty.”

“Indeed so,” Ember breathed. “It is lovely, Kaleb. How did you even find this place?”

He looked embarrassed for a brief second.

“I used to roam a lot when I was little,” he admitted. “I did feel like getting away most of the time. My father was not easy being around. The woods became my solace and, one day, I came across this place.”

Of course, that wasn’t exactly true. After his nocturnal clandestine escapades that he remembered nothing of, he often woke up in the morning not far from here. One of those mornings had been when he’d come across this place, but he could not let Ember know that.

However, Ember didn’t seem to pay any kind of attention to his words, looking completely mesmerized by the view. And Kaleb was as well. But by a different view. For instance, he could not help but notice, as she let her red cloak drop from her shoulders and into the grass, that she was wearing a bright blue tunic just a shade darker than the sky than contrasted so deeply against her skin and against the line of the horizon. Yes, lovely indeed, he had to agree with her on that.

They were buried in a comfortable silence, enjoying each other’s presence. Ember crouched and closed her eyes, and Kaleb felt as if even the poppies had to bow to her beauty.

“Oh, this is perfect,” she breathed out, meaning every word. She could not remember last time when she’d been so carefree, so surrendered to the will of the wind to carry her wherever it wanted, surrendered to the sunshine, surrendered to the smell of woods and poppies.

“Come on,” Kaleb smiled down at her and extended his hand, and Ember took it without hesitation.

Where their skin made contact, fire was ignited, and they both smiled at the feeling. They were growing used to these curious phenomena that happened when they touched, or when they were close to each other, or even when their eyes made. It was a connection that ran deep and had emerged fast and steady, and they were quickly falling victims to it, willingly falling in its claws.

Her hand in his, Kaleb led Ember to the pavilion in the middle of the field, and she was having a hard time erasing that wide grin from her face. Not that she was trying hard.

“This,” Kaleb smiled back at her once they were in the pavilion. “This feels like you’re in center of the world. Right in the middle, surrounded by poppies, it makes the world seem suddenly so little and every worry suddenly shrinks along with it. This is where you let go and blend in the painting.”

“Blending in the painting,” Ember whispered back. “Indeed so. You blend in well, little Lahey. Those eyes of yours match the trees. I could paint you.”

They were standing shoulder to shoulder, painfully close to each other, but neither of them aware enough of the small distance that separated their lips, slowly giving in to the gravity.

“I was not aware you painted,” Kaleb whispered, too, falling captive to her eyes.

Ember chuckled and dropped her gaze.

“I would, should I have the means. I would paint all day long. But so far, apart from some worn out textiles and some charcoal, it hasn’t been much I could work with. But you, I could paint despite this little handicap.”

She raised her gaze and met his eyes once again, biting her lip before voicing the question nudging the back of her mind.

“This place feels like quite an intimate shelter of yours, Kaleb. Why would you choose to share it with me?”

Kaleb chuckled and dared to raise his hand and draw his knuckles gently across her cheek. Ember stopped breathing.

“Believe me, Ember. My reasons are pure selfishness.”

She could not pretend she understood what he meant, and even if she did, she was having trouble wrapping her head around what it might have implied. But she didn’t, because that distance, that damned distance, and those lips, those damned lips, and the swift motion, the way neither moved, but it still felt as if they were growing closer with every passing second, it all seemed part of a complex dance that was about to reach its climax soon and be wrapped up into a glorious finale. And their finale was close, so close. All it would’ve taken were a few more inches, and the gap would be closed, and their hearts hummed so loud, so in sync, and Kaleb’s hand still rested on her cheek, and Ember couldn’t move, but she felt her eyelids flutter closed. And then she waited.

But instead of Kaleb’s lips over hers, she was rewarded with a loud thunder.

They both gasped and jumped away from each other like two kids having been caught eating the last cookie. They chuckled awkwardly and cleared their throats, fingers itching to take their place back on each other’s bodies. Gods above, Kaleb thought. His self-control was in shreds.

“We should probably head back,” he murmured, and they both knew he did not mean the words. “It would seem a storm is to come.”

Before he could finish the sentence, another loud thunder rang in the distance and the first drops of the rain fell on the rooftop of the pavilion. Ember chuckled and glared playfully at Kaleb.

“You must be a wizard of some sorts.”

He laughed and extended his hand again. This time, Ember hesitated for a moment. Not because she didn’t want to take it, but rather from anticipation. She prepared herself for the shock that would go through her whole body the second they touched again. Gods, it was fascinating. It was like their bodies somehow knew each other by heart from before the time their souls had a chance to meet.

Then she took his hand and they made their way through the rain back to the village. There was no rush to their steps. They walked slowly, hand in hand, soaked to the bone and with raindrops in their lashes and on their lips.

“We should hurry,” Kaleb yelled over the thunder at one point, smiling wide, and they both knew he did not mean the words.

Ember laughed whole heartedly.

“What’s the rush, little Lahey? This is the most free we get to be.”

And as they walked into the village, right before they parted ways with sideways glances, he realized he could not agree more. In 18 years, this is the first glimpse at freedom he’d gotten. In a thunderstorm, soaked to the bone, hand in hand with a girl who smelled like rain.

9: Chapter 8: Hopeless hearts passing through
Chapter 8: Hopeless hearts passing through


~S O U N D T R A C K:  Ruelle – War of hearts~

Ember didn’t get too much sleep that night. She kept going over every minute of that morning, reliving every word, every glance, the smell of rain still fresh on her skin and the feeling of Kaleb’s fingers intertwined with hers still itching on her fingertips.

After the initial bliss followed a vile doubt that split her heart into that part of her that wanted so badly to give in to these newly found feelings, to fully enjoy the freefall, and the part that remembered that she was, in more ways than one, a black sheep.

Kaleb looked at her as if she were made of bright flames that shone in the dark, but she knew better. She was no pure fire, she was the smoke and she was the ash. Perhaps Kaleb was able to see past the thief and stare into her soul, but she knew that, past the thief, there wasn’t much left. Her soul was a castle left in ruins.

For the latter part of the night, it seemed as if the more cautious part of her heart would win this civil war. If anything, she could not be selfish with Kaleb. Regardless of her heart’s desire, she had to think of him. He was a kid who would step into his father’s footsteps and inherit the one profitable business in this wretched village. He would become a respectable man. She could not strip him of that.

The crack of dawn found Ember still awake and stirring in bed, with questions still unanswered. Yet at least she knew with which part of her heart she agreed. But then, as she rolled out of bed, her eyes fell on the wooden box that Bandit had somehow stolen the previous day and had improvised a bed out of.

Ember sighed and moved across the room, shooing Bandit away and picking up the box. The kitten hissed at her and she glared, willing herself not to kick him away, if only for Charles’ sake. The boy loved the bastard.

Ember turned the box in her hand a few times. It was absurd to think otherwise, but when she opened the box, she saw that the letter was still there. She ran her fingers over the smooth surface of the paper and she took it out, reading it again and again until the words stayed tattooed in the back of her mind.

Yours truly,


I mean well.

And just like that, the fate of the civil war of her heart turned around. As much as she would’ve wished to stop being selfish with Kaleb, his words from yesterday rang in her ears.

My reasons are pure selfishness.



~S O U N D T R A C K: Tori Kelly ft. Ed Sheeran – I was made for loving you~

Kaleb couldn’t sleep, either. But it wasn’t for some sort of heaviness of his undecided heart. It was for excitement. It was as if, out of a sudden, the world around him held more colors and the air he breathed in smelled like orchids all the time. He’d never felt so alive, so aware of every little flutter his heart made every single time a certain girl with black curls and red cloak and daggers hidden in her boot crossed his mind. Gods above, it was like his head was on fire.

He got out of bed at the crack of dawn, expecting to feel exhausted after the sleepless night, but instead, he felt fresher than ever, his skin buzzing with the anticipation of what the new day would bring. He got dressed quickly, hoping he wouldn’t run into his father and have him ruin his mood, and left the house in heartbeat, heading towards the market.

He walked with steady steps, letting the sunshine soothe his ruffled hair and letting the world whisper sweet nothings to him. It was a rather warm morning and the sun peaked from across the horizon as if he was in on a secret. Kaleb had no idea a single person can awaken such feelings in you so that the entire world around you starts to look different. What is it about falling for someone that can shift your perspective in such matter that it can make everything sharper around the edges?

Perhaps he was getting ahead of himself a little, but Kaleb thought about how he’d always thought that he was living in a time when people weren’t quite granted the privilege of falling in love. Marriage was a game of interests and his parents were living proof of that. They were a man and a woman who had felt nothing even remotely close to love for each other; they merely tolerated each other’s presence. And the more he looked around, the more Kaleb was proved right about his beliefs. Now when decisions of the heart weighted nothing at all and practical choices had to be made, how lucky could one get to actually fall in love?

Kaleb sighed. He had no idea whether he was falling in love. To him, the entire concept of love was rather abstract, and he was having a hard time finding a definition or a category in which he could place the feelings knocking at the door of his heart. But as he walked around the market, his eyes traveling over random faces, as his gaze stopped on a red cloak and his breathing stopped along with it, Kaleb learned that even theory and reason remained speechless when the heart spoke.

Ember was a few feet away from him, her back turned on him as she was picking up some apples to buy. Kaleb waited for exactly three heartbeats to take her presence in before moving forward silently until he stopped behind her.

Ember sensed him before he spoke. She didn’t know what tipped her off, she had no idea how she could tell that it was Kaleb’s shadow looming over her. Perhaps it was his smell. Perhaps his height and posture gave him away. Perhaps there was a part of herself that resonated so loudly with him, she could not have missed his presence nearby. Whatever it was, she paused mid-movement and bit her lip against a smile.

“One would say it’s destiny that keeps bringing us together,” his velvet voice came from behind her.

Ember refrained herself from chuckling and turned around to face him, wearing a teasing smile.

“One would be a fool to believe so,” she replied.

Kaleb laughed. “Then call me a fool.”

“You are smarter than this, little Lahey,” she retorted. “Destiny is nothing but a fool’s hope to justify irrational desires. An excuse mostly.”

He tilted his head in the way Bandit did when he was confused as to why he wasn’t allowed to break every breakable item he could find. There was a confused frown between his brows that Ember found herself wanting to smoothen away with her thumbs. But she willed herself to show some self-control.

“Fool’s hopes are fine by me,” he replied jokingly. “You should give it a try some time. There is freedom and bliss in not knowing for a fact.”

Ember rolled her eyes and shook her head. There was no winning this. She opened her mouth to reply and continue the argument, but just then she noticed the strange looks they were receiving. The lady that was selling apples, the by-passers, practically everyone in the market. Ember was used by now to being glared at, to being on the receiving side of judgmental looks and being cursed at. But knowing Kaleb was thrown in it alongside with her was what reminded her of the same doubts that had kept her up all night. Her face fell and she cleared her throat.

“You should probably go,” Ember told Kaleb, averting her gaze. “It is not good for you to be seen with me.”

Yet Kaleb seemed unfazed. “Perhaps I wish to be seen with you.”

The world seemed to stand still for a second while Ember processed his words. Then she drew in a sharp breath and narrowed her eyes at him, lowering her voice.

“Careful, Kaleb. You’re making dangerous statements. And that kind of danger associated with being seen in my company can become your undoing.”

He calmly waited for her to finish speaking, then just as calmly moved forward until just a few inches separated. Ember stopped breathing and she could feel the glares burning holes in her skull. But because of Kaleb’s proximity, she was having a hard time caring about them at the moment.

“Perhaps it is not my undoing you’re concerned about,” he spoke, and Ember felt his warm breath on her cheek. “Perhaps it is your own. And I do not believe for a second that it is the danger which may come from my reputation being tainted that has you on the edge, because I cannot fathom one single reason from which you would run away from danger. Danger does not scare you.”

Ember swallowed hard. “Enlighten me, then. What is it I’m concerned about?”

Kaleb smiled and, had there not been a whole village staring them down, perhaps he would’ve leaned even closer.

“You’re scared of me. Of what my presence can provide. Certainty. Stability. Roots. Danger is something you know and can handle. I believe your undoing will be that which can take you away from the path of danger and teach you what it is like to open the gates to a heart as fragile as a crystal palace to someone and trust them not to break anything.”

Ember gritted her teeth, unable to break his gaze.

“Do not take the liberty to assume you know anything about me, Kaleb.”

If her words touched him in any way, he showed no sign of it.

“Do not dismiss me for trying.”


He surprised her by taking her hand in his, in plain sight. Lord, the village would slaughter her, eat her alive for corrupting his innocent soul. And still, still she was still having a hard time caring, standing there with her hand in his, a slave to his green eyes.

“Listen, Ember. I shall be in the clearing where we met that time when you held a knife to my throat.” They both smiled a little at the memory. “If it is my reputation and whatnots that you are so worried about, then meet me there tonight. If you decide it will not mean anything, then so be it. Just be there.”

Without waiting for her answer, he gave her fingers one last squeeze and turned on his heels and left, leaving Ember breathless and dizzy and confused.

Meet me there tonight.

Just be there.

Gods, he was out of his mind, to make such a show in front of the whole village. But as much as her brain screamed at her that she had to keep her distance and to stop being selfish with Kaleb, the silly smile plastered on her face begged to differ.



~S O U N D T R A C K: Lord Huron – The night we met~

Ember had to admit, it was not the brightest idea.

Meet me there tonight.

Just be there.

But she could not stop hearing his words in the back of his mind, loud and clear as day, she could not picture the movement of his lips as he spoke them, could not help but replay them over and over again. And she had tried to talk herself out of this, she really had.

But if so, then why was she walking now, under the moonlight, down the road that took her to the clearing where Kaleb awaited?

The night was warm and, in the distance, the sea danced an intimate waltz with the moonlight. He breathed in the fresh air and sat down on the grass, his back against the trunk of a massive tree. The nature around him begged to be admired in all the shades of blue and black of the night, but his eyes rested on none of that. Instead, his eyes were glued to the road, looking for that spot of red that was supposed to show up from just around the corner in the form of a girl in a cloak.

He was confident she would come. She was resisting these feelings, unlike him, but he knew she felt it, too. She would come.

The moon had risen high upon the night sky and the stars laughed down at the poor boy with a fool’s hope. And Kaleb laughed right back at them. She would come.

The night was getting a bit chilly and Kaleb’s eyes were growing desperate as they were gazing across the road, expecting that red silhouette. The wind soothed his skin as if to comfort him and his disappointment, but he brushed it off. He was not disappointed.

She would come.

It was getting late and Kaleb started to think about the rage of his father when he’d realize he wasn’t in his room. He would deal with those repercussions in the morning. For now, he had to believe she would come. The stars mocked at him. What if she wouldn’t come?

He glanced at the dark road once more. Three heartbeats later, a red spot came into sight.

She had come.

Kaleb stood up abruptly, his breathing catching in his throat. The daylight treated her right, but nighttime suited her best. Even the stars paused their mocking to glance down at her as if she was their long lost sister down on earth. Gods above, she was such a sight. The moonlight reflected on her pale cheekbones, her lips were slightly parted and her eyes were wide in surprise, as if she hadn’t expected her footsteps to carry her here. Strands of hair were stuck on her face and Kaleb took a few steps forward, daring to raise his hands and move them away, letting the back of his fingers linger a little on the smooth surface of her skin.

“Here I am,” she broke the silence eventually, and Kaleb chuckled at how nervous she was, her voice shaking.

“Yes. Yes, here you are. I thought you weren’t going to come.”

Ember laughed nervously. “I thought so, too.”

He took her hand again, like he had in the market earlier, and let her to the grass where he’d been sitting. She followed him silently, sitting by his side in the grass, both of their backs pressed against the same massive tree trunk. He had not let go of her hand and was not drawing small circles inside her palm.

“Do you truly believe that?” Kaleb asked after a few minutes of comforting silence filled only by the song of the crickets.

“Believe what?” Ember inquired.

“That I should not be seen with you. Do you truly believe I care that much about some shallow thing such as reputation?”

Ember sighed. They were sitting dangerously close and their shoulders were brushing. Needless to say, they were both painfully aware of those little touches. Kaleb’s fingers on her palm sent shock waves through her whole body.

“It is easy to brush it off as being shallow if you never had to face its aftermath,” she spoke sadly. “Reputation weighs more that you can now and it defines you, whether you want it to or not. The label people put you under dictates the way you live your life. Does that not scare you?”

Kaleb grew pensive for a minute. His hand trailed off for a while as he thought, but then he resumed his circular movement in her palm.

“Ember, I’ve been scared half of my life. Of my father. Or life. Of women.”

He chuckled a little at the thought, making Ember crack a smile as well. She remembered Clarissa’s description of him. Green eyes, wild hair. Stammers five times per sentence. She could not have chosen better words.

“The list goes on,” Kaleb continued. “Of death. Of pain. But somehow, ever since you and I met, I’m not scared anymore. It’s irrational, but true nonetheless. It’s like I’ve always been missing this vital ingredient and something that’s happened between the moment I laid my eyes on you in the market and this moment has awoken something in me. I do not know for a fact what it is. But if you asked me, I believe I would follow you to no end.”

Ember simply blinked at him. She breathed it once. Twice. She turned to him. He had such an intense look in his eyes, she found herself unable to hold his gaze.

She chuckled nervously. “That’s a little creepy, little Lahey.”

She meant it as a joke, but Kaleb didn’t laugh. In fact, he gave no sign he had even heard her. Instead, he kept his eyes locked on hers and, although blushing violently, Ember felt herself slowly falling captive to its intensity.

Neither of them spoke, and once again, they gave in to the power with which their lips kept being pulled towards each other. They were both holding their breaths and holding each other’s gaze. They were inches apart and Ember finally looked away from his eyes just to look at his lips. Kaleb instinctively licked his lips, but did not move at all. They waited for minutes, not daring to move, hovering cheek to cheek and mouth to mouth and bathing in the moonlight, the stars waiting anxiously to discover the epilogue to a perfect night.

And Kaleb wanted to badly to close that distance. He did not enjoy the uncertainty, did not enjoy the lingering sensation of her lips so close, did not appreciate the itch of his fingertips to be run through her black curls. He wanted to kiss her and put an end to the longing. But he could not. He knew she felt the same way. He knew she wanted this. He read it in her eyes and in every shaky breath she drew. But he was not ready to take that leap unless she spelled it out loud for him. He knew she felt the same way. He knew she wanted this. And if she truly did, she’d have to jump first if she wanted him to follow.

So he waited. Waited and held his breath until he was dizzy, and he saw her eyes drift to his lips and he saw the longing in her gaze and in her flushed cheeks. And then she exhaled sharply. And Kaleb was sure she was about to lean in and he’d be damned, but he could not resist it any longer and he’d meet her halfway for that damn kiss. There was only so much will power a man can have.

But as she let out that breath, Kaleb saw the doubt. And she had walked away from the edge just as he was about to take the leap. He saw her eyes darken and she moved away inch by inch, the shape of her body next to his quickly replaced by the cold night air.

“Umm, we should go,” she whispered and Kaleb tried hard to hide his disappointment. “It was all very beautiful, but the children and your Nana must be wondering where we’ve disappeared. We cannot have them worrying.”

Kaleb took a deep breath. Closed his eyes. Then exhaled. Forced a smile. Stood up and extended a hand to her that she eyed skeptically for a second before taking it. He pulled her to her feet.

“No, we cannot,” he agreed. “Thank you for a marvelous evening. I shall escort you back.”

As they took the road back to the village hidden in the dark of the night, the stars sighed disappointed. The glorious epilogue to a perfect night had turned out to be yet another dreadful chapter that would eventually lead to the same conclusion. The two tiny specks of flesh down on earth were just too wrapped in themselves just now to see that they were merely prolonging the inevitable. They were magnets. The stars only regretted they did not get to witness that final moment in which they’d collide.

10: Chapter 9: Blissful chaos
Chapter 9: Blissful chaos


~S O U N D T R A C K: Adam Road – If God don’t follow me~

You’re expected to always do the right thing. Even under the knowledge that you are despicable and selfish, you are expected to always do the right thing. Because it is common sense, because people like to preach even that which they do not believe in if only for the illusion of some bent morals; because though the road may be rugged, as long as you put on the right boots, you should be able to keep going. And you’re always expected to keep going. You’re expected to always do the right thing.

And yet, who’s to say where the line is drawn? What is the right thing? Where does selfishness begin and where does morality end? When you feel like an acrobat walking on a thin rope, there is no way to tell when you’ll lose balance or which way you’ll fall. When your head and your heart are in civil war, who’s to say which one will win? Who’s to say who’s right? Well, you’re supposed to know. Because you’re supposed to always do the right thing.

Ember was standing in the middle of the market, wearing her hood up and her head down. People passed. Her heart was heavy with regret. Regret for not having kissed Kaleb last night, even though he’d been a perfect gentleman about it; regret for having let him in her life in the first place. None of those regrets crawling on the inside of her walls could find a common ground. Half of her heart wanted Kaleb. The other half knew she shouldn’t have.

She walked without looking up, not feeling quite in the mood for facing the hostility of the village today. She wanted to get some food and go home to sulk in peace. The weather had been quite capricious for the past few days and she knew from past experience that not many people travelled during such days. So instead of roaming the trade routes in the hopes of finding some potential victims, Ember’s hands were tied and she was stuck at home, praying to the Gods that they’d make it to the end of the week with the little food they had.

Needless to say, the sitting around did not help her constant thinking about Kaleb. These poisoned thoughts that choked her, that knocked the air out of her lungs, that stole her sleep and that had her heart torn in two places. But she had to put these thoughts away for now. She’d figure it out. She always did.

Ember walked around the market. Walked around a sea of backs turned on her. It had been long since this had last bothered her. It didn’t bother her now, either. But it triggered something in her that had been dormant up until this very moment. Turned backs were her curse that she would never be able to outrun. Yet another reason to add to the list why she had to push Kaleb away before this attraction between them would amplify and get out of control. But the longer this list grew, the greater the urge Ember felt to run to the jewelry and finish what they’d started last night and she had lacked the courage to finish. But a life of turned backs was not what she wished for him.

She approached one of the stands that sold apples. Apples were Charles’ personal favorites and she never forgot to pick a few up for him. The little she could do for them, Ember would struggle to do. She reached for one apple and noticed the lady that was selling them glaring at her. Of course, she was used to this. It seemed a little more ostentatious, a little more intense than usual, but Ember tried not to mind.

But then something happened that had never happened before.

“The nerve you must have, to show your face among us.”

Ember’s hand stopped mid-way before touching the apple. Her eyes widened. The voice belonged to the old lady standing before her. She must have been in her mid-60s, a woman Ember had bought apples from for years now, a woman who seemed calm and good-willed, with kind eyes and a resting smiling face. To hear the words come out of her mouth, Ember froze.

“E-Excuse me?” she couldn’t help but blabber.

“Don’t play dumb, thief,” the old woman spat at her. “We all know the likes of you. It is outrageous that you would walk among us as if you belong here. You’re nothing but a mugger.”

Ember started breathing heavily, tears stinging in the corners of her eyes.

Don’t cry, she scolded herself. Don’t be weak. Do not mind them. You know better than to listen to this. Turn around and leave them be.

“I’m, I’m,” she mumbled, taking a few steps back, chastising herself for bothering to offer explanations. “I’ll go. I’m—“

She took a few steps back, hating the way her body betrayed her as she was shaking and panting. The old woman mercilessly kept her eyes on her, burning holes through her skull. Ember wanted the earth to crack open and swallow her whole, but since that was not possible, she would have been content with just being out of there as fast as possible.

We must always do the right thing.

And if we don’t….

…when we don’t…

…hell breaks loose on the grounds of a poorly-played morality.

As she was about to turn on her heels and flee, Ember noticed that a few by-passers had stopped to watch the show with the same expression on their faces as the old lady who was selling apples.

Oh, yes. Ember recognized an uprising when she saw one. They were about to eat her alive.

“I’m…. I—“ she tried, but deep down, she knew there was nothing she could’ve said that would grant her free-passing now. This was an open trial.

“Have you no shame?” another woman from the crowd shouted. “You’re a disgrace. You have dishonored this village. How dare you show your face among us?”

Ember looked around in desperation. But there was no hope. There was no one here to save her.





“To go after Kaleb Lahey, of all people!”

“To corrupt such a young heart!”

“No, I’m not—“ Ember tried to defend herself, but it seemed as if just the sight of her managed to enrage the crowd even more with every breath she took.


“Shamelessly killing people for money!”

“N-no,” Ember shouted, though her voice was covered by the villagers’ hoots. She raised her voice. “No, you’re wrong! I’m not a killer!”

“Why should we believe anything you say?”

The whole crowd went silent and made room for a man to pass. He had broad shoulders, a deep frown on his face that looked like it never went away, grey hair and his lips were pursed in a scowl. But what caught Ember’s attention were his eyes, his emerald green eyes that she’d seen before. Ember swallowed hard. This was William Lahey. Kaleb’s father.

“You’re nothing but a liar,” William Lahey continued, pointing his finger at her. “You’re nothing but a deceiver. Calling you a thief and a disgrace cannot begin to describe the shame you have brought upon this village. These lands are feared because of the threat of the Crimson Dagger. A terrifying burglar. If only, if only they knew that the burglar they are so afraid of is nothing but a scared girl trembling in front of us. A child!”

Ember was silent. She wanted so badly to force the trembling to stop, to force the tears to stay put and not to roll down her cheeks, to stop her voice from shaking. She wanted to fight back. But to what end? What was the purpose? She could not win them over. But she could not go against them, either. There was no winning.

“Are we truly doomed to live like this?” William Lahey raised his voice, and the whole crowd listened to him enraptured as he stared Ember down with disgust. “Are we doomed to live in hunger and misery because some self-assured little girl has dragged the name of Thebbington Abbey through mud? Who do you think you are? This ends today, thief.”

In his heated speech, he crouched and picked up a rock. Ember saw it all happening in slow motion. She could not react, she did not have the time. She saw William Lahey’s arm extend and throw the rock, and before she could comprehend what was going on and duck, the rock hit her straight in the head. The pain blinded her for a second and she yelped in pain, feeling her knees weaken and the ground disappear from beneath her feet. In her dizziness, she waited for the impact with the ground, she waited for her cheek to land in dirt, she waited for blackness to come. She closed her eyes. But the impact never happened. She waited for a couple of seconds more, and then she dared to open her eyes.    

~S O U N D T R A C K: The Strange Familiar – Shelter~

She gasped. She had not landed on the ground because instead, she had fallen into two solid arms that pulled her to a toned chest. She instantly recognized the smell.

“What is the meaning of this?”

And then she recognized the velvet voice.

“Kaleb,” Ember heard William Lahey exclaim, and concern for Kaleb flooded through her when she heard the danger in his voice. She felt Kaleb’s body tense against hers before his father spoke again. “Step away from the thief.”

Kaleb moved the hair away from her face and inspected the wound on her forehead, from which blood was already starting to come out of. He slowly pulled her to her feet and supported her weight with his arm. His grip on her shoulder was tight and she could tell by his fast breathing that he was enraged.

“The thief,” he spat out at his father. “This is the only word that’s resting on all of your lips. Thief. Killer. Mugger. But in all truthness, no one knows who she is. Her name is Ember Blackthorn. And she has suffered enough. I will not let you condemn a hungry girl and four helpless children for the sake of your tormented consciences.”

Ember cracked her eyelids opened and tried to fight the nausea. She saw William Lahey step forward and she noticed that Kaleb’s first instinct was to take a step back, out of his father’s rage aura, but he stood his ground nonetheless.

“I’d watch my words if I were you, boy,” he spat at his son. “There are no sides to take here. There is her and us. She does not belong here.”

“She is a human being,” Kaleb took a step forward, with Ember on his arm, and she tensed in anticipation when she saw the rage flaring in his father’s eyes. Kaleb then turned toward the crowd. “Regardless of what she’s done. And those of you who refuse to see her that way are less human beings than you make her to be.”

He put one arm around Ember’s shoulders and his other arm behind her knees and pulled her up. She let out a small gasp, and she turned on his heels ready to leave.

“Kaleb,” his father roared behind him. “Put the girl down and go home, or else—“

“Or else what, father?” Kaleb spoke calmly over his shoulder. “You will show the whole village just how ruthless William Lahey can get? I believe you value your reputation too much. Don’t wait for me tonight, father.”

Without waiting for the aftermath of his words, Kaleb carried Ember away from the market, away from whispers that were anything but whispered, away from glared and away from pointed fingers. He carried her down the dirty road, making his way to her house.

“Kaleb—“ she whispered at some point, clutching the fabric of his tunic.

“Don’t speak,” he told her softly. “You hit your head quite hard. I will take care of that.”

Ember detected guilt and sadness in his voice and she wondered if he was feeling guilty for his father’s actions and for the fact that it had been him who had thrown that first rock. But she was feeling sleepy, so very sleepy, that the thoughts drifted away from her quick and her eyelids became heavy.

“Ember,” Kaleb shook her slightly. “Wake up. Don’t fall asleep. I need you to stay awake. Can you do that for me?”

She nodded and fought hard to anchor herself to his voice, to his eyes. She raised a hand and cupped his cheek slightly, and would’ve perhaps felt smug for the blushing that flooded his cheeks, hadn’t she been so dizzy.

A few minutes later, Ember saw Kaleb push open a door and she figured they’d arrived to her house.

“Hello, Charles,” she heard Kaleb say, and panic surged through her when she thought about her siblings seeing her this way. “Ember is feeling a little tired and I’m here to put her to sleep. Would you mind taking your sisters out to play while she takes a nap?”

Ember didn’t hear her brother’s reply, but she heard small footsteps being carried towards the door and out the house, and then Kaleb put her down on a chair. He moved the hair away from her face and inspected the gash on her forehead. Ember opened her eyes and when she was met with such clear green that his eyes held, she noticed that the world wasn’t spinning around her anymore.

~S O U N D T R A C K: Amber Run – I found~

“It’s not that bad,” she managed to mumble. She still felt nauseous, but now that she wasn’t carried around anymore and was sitting still, she was slowly coming to her senses. Enough to notice that Kaleb looked more intense and concerned than she’d ever seen him.

Kaleb didn’t reply and he stood up from the way he was crouching in front of her. He moved to get a cloth and a wash bowl that he filled with water. He crouched again and traced his fingertips on her forehead so gently it hurt and her skin pricked. He inspected her wound carefully, then soaked the cloth in water and brought it up to her forehead, cleaning the dry blood.

Ember hissed in pain when the fabric touched the wound and shut her eyes tight. When she finally opened them, she saw Kaleb studying her with a pained expression of his own.

“Kaleb,” she whispered tiredly, making an effort to keep her eyes open. She was so sleepy. Kaleb didn’t reply and kept on with his careful work cleaning up her wound. “Kaleb,” Ember whispered again, a little louder.

When he stayed silent, Ember raised her hand and stopped him mid-movement.

“Kaleb,” she spoke as fierce as she could. “Whatever it is you’re blaming yourself for, don’t.”

He pursed his lips and took her hand in his own, without seeming to even realize he’d done so.

“My father did this to you,” he spoke through gritted teeth, and Ember knew she’d been right to assume there was blame that was eating him up.

“Yes. Your father did. You are not to be held responsible for your father’s actions. I do not blame you for this, or anyone for that matter. I have brought this upon myself.”

Her words triggered something in him because the blame and the smoke clouds were gone and were replaced with such passion and intensity that Ember had to move back when he cupped her cheek and leaned closer. As if she weren’t dizzy enough. She stopped breathing whatsoever.

“Don’t ever think there was anything you did that could have justified what just happened. Don’t believe for a second that your actions have been worth being beaten up for. My father is a monster, I can tell you so. I know so. I’ve been on the receiving side of his rage. I am just sorry I was not there sooner to protect you from it.”

Ember let out a breath, sighed and closed her eyes, leaning into his touch.

“There is nothing you could have done, Kaleb,” she spoke in his palm, and he rested his forehead on hers. “I admire your trust in me and I cherish the benefit of the doubt. But your father may be seeing things clearer than you do. I am all of those things that they called me.”

She drew in a sharp breath.

“There is one thing they were wrong about, though. I never meant to corrupt your soul, Kaleb. What they called me back there…” She trailed off, the word dying on her lips. They both knew that they’d called her. Whore. “I am not that. The way I feel about you is entirely genuine. I never meant to… I—“

And then Kaleb did what he should’ve done last night. He waited for no more signs, for no more signals, he seized the opportunity and took it. Because things were fragile like this, and he could not afford losing any more breaths, losing any more sleep, losing his mind altogether, he could not afford waiting until the end of that sentence. So he closed the gap between them and pressed their lips together in a swift movement. Ember gasped in surprise against his lips and for the briefest of seconds, Kaleb was afraid she would reject him or push him away not for the lack of some feelings he knew she shared, but for the fear of proving those villagers right. But after the initial shock, Ember let out a small sigh and kissed him back just as fervently and Kaleb’s body exploded into a million sensations concentrated on the lips she was kissing, on the back of his neck where her hands were resting, in his chest where her body was pressed against him. And they kissed until they were out of breath, until they forgot their names and they forgot about whatever it was that wanted to break them apart. For in that instant, lips to lips, forehead to forehead, body to body and heart to heart, two souls and every star from two tiny universes that those souls held managed to align and in that moment, they resonated in an unbreakable harmony. When you’re forged from the same fire, the flames learn to dance together.

When they broke the kiss, they remained forehead to forehead, breathing heavily and with lips swollen. Kaleb was smiling and Ember was shaking, but they were both caught in a vortex of blissful chaos. And neither of them regretted it, allowing themselves to be carried away by whatever tides there were.

“For today, you do not stand alone, Ember,” Kaleb broke the silence eventually. “I may not know much, but I know what I see when I glance at your soul. I can see you clearly. And I will rise against whoever dares to rise against you. I will stand by you.”

Ember blinked rapidly, trying to hold back tears. All she could manage to do was nod before Kaleb pressed another kiss to her forehead and resumed cleaning up her wound.

And perhaps Ember should have rejected him, perhaps she should have made the wise choice and push him away. But she had never been particularly wise.

You’re expected to always do the right thing. But when the right thing that’s commonly accepted is not the thing you want, you learn that the rules are bendable. And you’re expected to sometimes do the thing that’s right for you.



Hands down, my favorite chapter so far. Just sayin’. Kay. That’s out. I’m out now.

See ya, fellas.

11: Chapter 10: The fire and the flood
Chapter 10: The fire and the flood


~S O U N D T R A C K: Ed Sheeran – I see fire~

The sun glimpsed once again above the horizon. Should he have had the privilege of a human body, he would’ve probably rolled his eyes.

The two dragons were there, and their dance was one magnificent choreography that would’ve put ball rooms to shame. There was grace in their movement, there was terror, there was amplitude and grandeur. They were beasts, but there was humanity, a small spark of humanity in the way they circled around each other in the morning sky.

The flames they spit rose high and they flew high along with them just to let themselves fall back with it, the flaps of their wings in tune with the song of nature awakening at dawn. When light creaked and the sky turned from dark blue and violet to crimson, the two dragons took their places on the two peaks of mountains they sat on every other morning. As two pairs of golden eyes stared into each other, the sun witnessed their union. Two beasts, two mates, two humans behind the beastly eyes. Two pairs of wings flapping in the distance.

Two people, a boy and a girl, awakening naked in different spots of the woods around Thebbington Abbey.

Two eyes watching them from afar, waiting to make a move.



~S O U N D T R A C K: Taylor Swift – Treacherous~

Kaleb had sat with Ember until she had fallen asleep last night, his hand never leaving hers. She’d been dizzy from both the hit she’d taken in the head and the kiss that followed, but still she remembered it to the most insignificant detail. She could still feel his taste on her lips, could still feel the shape of his fingers on her waist, could still see the way the black of his pupil could almost reach the margin of his green irises. It was the little things that stuck with her.

But at some point, she’d fallen asleep and he’d slipped out, probably heading back home. Ember preferred not to think about how he’d face his father’s rage. All because of her. She put those thoughts behind her.

This morning, however, she’d emerged once again naked in the woods, with no memory of last night. She’d gotten so used to it, she never really thought about it anymore. It was something beyond her control and she had learned to accept it just so. However, something felt different. It didn’t feel like a burden anymore. It happened more often than before and every time, instead of waking up exhausted and confused, she found herself rather freshened, a new energy flowing through her veins and a new rush making her head spin. She welcomed it. It was one less thing to worry about.

She sneaked through the dirty roads of Thebbington Abbey, more careful than ever not to run into any more villagers. Kaleb had promised to pay a visit early in the morning to check up on her, but right now, Ember prayed that he didn’t. How would she have explained to him how it could be that, just last night she’d been bed ridden with the world’s worst headache, unable to sit straight, and now there was not even a bruise to be seen and she was awake and walking?

When she arrived in front of her small hut, she took a deep breath and walked inside, her mind going over one hundred potential explanations. And none good enough.

“Ember,” the twins chanted together, rushing to her side to hug her. She laughed and kissed the tops of their heads.

She looked around, but there was no sign of Kaleb. Ember released a breath. She had been lucky today.

Bandit was sneaking around her legs, seeking some attention, but Ember pushed him away.

“Go away, you spoiled bastard,” she muttered, but Charles heard her and widened his eyes at her. “I’m sorry, Charles, but you know the situation. Bandit and I are sworn enemies. Now off you go, all of you. Take the little beast outside and play. It’s a lovely day and it would be a shame to stay inside, wouldn’t it?”

With one last glare from her little brother and another one from the ungrateful animal, the little Blackthorns went out the door. Ember sighed and lowered herself in a chair, her mind flying instantly to Kaleb. It seemed as if he was all she could think about lately. Gods, it was beyond embarrassing. And she was certain that, had she been able to remember a single thing from last night, it would’ve been nothing but a sleepless, restless night thanks to that kiss they’d shared.

A knock on the door made her jump from her chair. Lord, had she always been this skittish?

A fain blush colored his cheeks when she realized that there was only one person in the whole village who could’ve knocked on her door. Her feet unsteady, she moved to open the door with breathlessness that left her dizzy.

And there, in the doorway, stood Kaleb, gorgeous as ever. None of them spoke for a minute, simply taking in each other’s presence and panting. Ember doubted she’d ever get used to the sight of him, slim and elegant, to his skinny arms, but toned from the work in the jewelry in which she’d found safe haven last night; those arms that had held her with such reassurance, with such certainty and fierceness. His posture betrayed anxiety and tension right now, but it never lacked the grace and the way his shoulders aligned so perfectly with his elbows and hips in one perfect painting. His hair was the usual mess, strands of it flying in every direction, and Ember’s fingers itched to be run through those strands. And at last, Ember’s eyes stopped on his face.

Lord, his features were beyond human. He looked like a sculpture. With a pointed nose and a square jaw, with a deep gaze, with those emerald eyes whose spell she fell under each and every time. And Lord, those lips. Those damn lips. She willed herself to stop staring at his lips, because if she wanted to be able to carry a conversation with him, she needed to not jump on him and kiss him senseless, as every fiber in her body dictated at the moment.

Kaleb was the first to break the silence.

“Good morning, Ember,” he spoke shakily, then cleared his voice. “I would’ve come sooner, but I got delayed.”

Ember thanked Heaven for that. She didn’t think she would’ve been able to explain not being home not long past the crack of dawn.

“I can see you’re feeling better already. I’m glad,” he commented.

“Yes, I do. Thank you. I hope you didn’t get into too much trouble with your father because of me,” Ember averted her gaze, remembering yesterday’s events. “I would hate to cause you harm.”

At her words, Kaleb rushed in and closed the door behind him. And before Ember could acknowledge what was happening, his hands were on her shoulders, his forehead against hers.

“How could you believe that?” he whispered, and she felt his warm breath on her lips. “Ember, my father’s rage holds no meaning to me right now. I would rather face worse things than that before seeing you cornered like that ever again. I cannot begin to explain the lengths I would go to if only to protect to.”

Ember felt her eyes stinging with tears, so she blinked them away and chuckled.

“I’m still the one with the knife, little Lahey,” she teased, but then she grew serious. “But I cannot let you take such risks. Protecting me comes as no easy job. You stand against a whole village.”

“I’d stand against a whole world.”

As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he closed the small gap between them and brushed his lips softly as a whisper against hers. If the kiss from last night had been like water thrown against burning flames, like a bite of bread when the hunger’s greatest, meant to only put an end to the starvation they’d felt towards each other, this kiss was a promise. It was the seal on a first chapter in a story that was just beginning and that Kaleb was vowing to write thoroughly, scrupulously until the very end. And when he pulled back, Ember found that she was okay with being the lead character in his book. No more holding back. Instead of complaining and feeling like she wasn’t good enough for him, she, too, vowed to struggle to be good enough.

They moved away from each other shyly, hands constantly finding new ways to touch each other like they were magnetically drawn to each other.

“I might have strayed from the reason why I’d come here,” he confessed sheepishly. “In all truthness, I hadn’t expected to find you at home.”

Ember preferred not to think about how close he’d been to that.

“Why so?” she questioned.

“It’s the Harvest Festival a few villages away, in Portham.  The roads will be crowded with carriages, with pretentious nobles heading towards the Festival. In fact, I came here to tell you about a few routes that can be… umm, suitable for your business.”

Ember felt her eyes widening, not quite grasping what he was implying. Because he couldn’t have risked coming to her, precisely in the morning following this village’s greatest scandal, just to offer to help her plan robberies. Could he?

“I know that you know what you’re doing,” Kaleb hurried to add. “I don’t mean to interfere with that. And I beg your pardon if this seemed too daring or—“

“Kaleb,” she put a finger on his lips, and she was smug when she realized he was starting to blush. “You’re doing that thing again, with the apologizing. Don’t.”

She removed her hand from his lips and took his instead. A small smile blossomed on his lips.

“As to that other thing,” she began, feeling beyond embarrassed to be talking about this with him. “While I highly appreciate the intent, it won’t be necessary. I’ve decided to lay low for a while. A long while, hopefully.”

Kaleb simply blinked at her, confused. When she didn’t clarify what she meant, he tilted his head to one side.

“Why?” he inquired. “I thought you were making a living out of this.”

“I am,” she replied simply.

“Then why? I don’t understand. How will you take care of the children without a means to procure what you need?”

Ember sighed. “I’ll figure something out. I’ll find a solution, a decent and dignifying one for a change; one that won’t turn the whole village on me, even if it is to be temporary, until they’ll no longer be so enraged.”

Kaleb bit his lip, studying her through his lashes. The more the weeks passed by, the less he understood about this woman.

“I still don’t understand what brought this change,” he muttered. “Surely it can’t have been because of a few angry peasants. You are far more clever than that.”

Ember shrugged with one shoulder, ignoring the implications of his remark.

“Perhaps I want to be worthy of the faith you have in me.”

And just like that, for Kaleb, time stood still for half a second, for half a heartbeat, for half a shaky breath. Ember waited for him to react. Eventually, he let out that breath and laughed nervously.

“Nonsense,” he brushed her off. “Ember, what I feel for you is unshakeable, regardless of what you do or who you are.”

She cupped his cheek and saw him leaning into her touch. She traced the lines of his jaw and let her fingertips memorize his features.

“I know,” she whispered. “But that doesn’t change the fact that I want to be someone who deserves you.”

Kaleb turned his head slightly and kissed her palm. Then he leaned forward and pressed his lips to hers one more time, afterwards resting her forehead against hers.

“Very well,” he responded.

Ember beamed at him. The waters before them were treacherous. But they’d sail them together, hand in hand, they’d face whatever was thrown at them. Because when you find the other half of your heart and you feel complete for the first time in your life, you learn that the world itself is cut into half and that people are simply meant to find the one who can make it whole again.



Ember and Kaleb spent the whole day together, wrapped in each other. Towards the evening, however, Ember decided it was dark and late enough and safe to assume that no one would rise in her path to give her a hard time. Bearing that in mind, she asked Kaleb to watch her siblings for a while, until she paid a visit to Clarissa to let her know the business was going to go south for a while, if not permanently. She and Clare were friends and they relied on each other, so Ember at least owed her a heads up.

As she made her way to Clarissa, she noticed that it was later than she’d anticipated. Darkness was already creeping in, embracing the houses of Thebbington Abbey, and shadows danced in the moonlight.

She’d never been particularly afraid of the darkness. On the contrary, she’d found solace when she could be least seen and she felt safer wrapped in shadows than in the daylight, in plain sight. But something was different tonight. She felt the air around her thicker, a little more charged, and she could not shake off the feeling that she was being watched.

With a sigh, she brushed it all off. Yesterday’s events had made her paranoid; that must have been it.

In the distance, a wolf howled, birds fled and the bushes rustled with impending threat.



~S O U N D T R A C K: Royal Deluxe – Dangerous~

He’d been planning this for months, and tonight was the night.

It was just him and Billy; he hadn’t wanted to draw too much attention to himself. Two pirates walking freely around the village were slightly frowned upon.

He couldn’t tell for sure for how long he’d waited there, crouched in the bushes. He’d scanned crowds with his eyes, waiting on guard for the girl to come in sight. But it was late enough when he heard her footsteps.

He smiled a feral smile. This was his moment.

“Is that her, captain?” Billy whispered by his side.

“Aye,” he responded.

“But she’s just a girl,” Billy retorted. “And a pretty one at that. Are you sure that’s the beast? She doesn’t look like one, sir.”

The captain clicked his tongue. Aye, she was pretty. And she looked nothing like a beast. But he knew better, for he’d seen it with his own eyes. He was on the verge of becoming a very rich man.

“Aye, sailor,” he told Billy. “Don’t let her fool you. Be prepared.”

He waited, his heels well dug into the ground, his muscles tense in anticipation. He saw the girl pause for a moment, looking around as if sensing the danger around her. Perhaps she had. After all, beneath the creamy skin and the black curls was a creature with claws and scales, a creature that breathed fire.

She must have decided there was nothing to worry about, because she turned around reluctantly and was about to leave.

A wolf howled in the distance. Birds fled. The pirate jumped from the bushes.

The girl didn’t see it coming. Swiftly, in a second, he had the knife against her throat and a hand clamped over her mouth. The girl yelped in surprise.

“Shhh, easy there, fire breather,” he whispered in here.

But it was clear that the little dragon was not about to go down easy, because she was struggling to break free. The pirate did nothing but tighten his grip on her.

“Listen closely, love,” he spoke fiercely. “You’re coming with me, whether you like it or not. So I’d sit still if I were you, unless you want to get hurt. Aye?”

The girl was breathing heavily, but she was no longer struggling. The captain figured he could at least remove the hand from her mouth. Big mistake.

“Like hell I will,” the girl hissed and used his hesitation to her benefit, elbowing him in the gut. She took him completely by surprise and, as soon as she gained advantage, she snatched the knife from his hand and moved a few feet away.

“Bloody hell,” he cursed.

In front of him, the girl stood threateningly, the knife clutched tight in her small hand, her lips pursed. He had to give her this much, she had quite the skill for a girl her age. Not enough to fight off a pirate, of course, but quite some.

“Who the hell are you?” she raged.

The pirate chuckled. Seeing her there, in front of him, looking like a kitten, but fierce as a tiger, his shoulders shook with laughter so violently, the girl might have actually had a chance with that knife against him.

“Oh, little fire breather,” he shook his head at her. “For tonight, I’ll be your personal nightmare.”

Ember frowned at him and was about to shoot forward and give this big mouthed bastard something to joke about. He had no idea who he was messing with. She wasn’t called the Crimson Dagger for nothing.

But before she could lounge for the pirate, another solid man came behind her and threw a sack over her head. Ember struggled, but the pirate was faster. He threw her over his shoulder in one swift movement and acted as if her fists in her back were barely mosquito bites.

“Good job, Billy,” he praised his sailor. “Now let’s get to the ship. Our crew can’t wait to the little fire breather.”


Hey, you guys! How are you liking the story so far? I just wanted to let you know that I have a few videos, including a Smoke and Mirrors fan-made trailer (does it still count as fan-made if I, the author, made it? No? Okay.) on YouTube under the username `kiki cosmina`. Be my guests and check it out!

See ya, fellas! Lots of love,


12: Chapter 11: A pirate thing
Chapter 11: A pirate thing


~S O U N D T R A C K: Mikky Ekko – Who are you really~

Ember didn’t know for how long she struggled on that man’s back, and he didn’t seem too bothered by that. Eventually, she got tired of fighting him off and she tried to make a plan.

Who was this man, anyway? Why show up in the middle of the night to kidnap a random girl? And so many things didn’t add up. He’d called her a fire breather. Repeatedly. It seemed as if she wasn’t just a random, and that he’d actually meant to kidnap her, specifically.

For tonight, I’ll be your personal nightmare.

Personal nightmare. The phrasing threw her off. He’d mentioned a ship. A crew. Was he a sailor? A pirate, even? What would a pirate want to do with a village girl, with a common thief?

She needed to craft an escape plan, and she needed to do that fast. If he’d truly take her on a ship, things would be a little more complicated, but she had faith in her swimming skills. The real problem would’ve been dodging an entire pirate crew, if this were truly the case. Maybe she could act innocent and scared and make a run for it or jump in the water the first chance she got. But she somehow doubted the pirate would’ve bought the act after she’d tried to attack him back in the woods. Not to mention that jumping blindly in the water would’ve been dangerous. Maybe she could’ve—

Before she got the chance to finish that thought, she felt herself lowered to her feet. She yelped but the sack on her head stayed in place. She felt motion, like they were on the move. One of the supposedly pirates reached to grab her hands and tied them in front of her, despite her struggles.

“Save your energy, love,” the one she’d fought off last night spoke near her ear. He had a hoarse voice, but in the way that gave away the fact that he was young and used to using that tone to woo women. “It’s pointless anyway. You might fall off the boat and I hear sharks aren’t as friendly as me.”

So they were on a boat, Ember thought. They were truly taking her to a ship. Oh, Lord. What had she gotten herself into now?

“Where are we going?” Ember hissed at him, and the pirate just chuckled.

“Why, on my ship, of course,” he replied lightly. “You’ve got a whole gang of fans and they’re eager to make your acquaintance.”

Such a pretentious language for a potential pirate. This man was more than he let show. Ember got the feeling this mess was a lot thicker than she’d anticipated.

“I don’t understand,” she meant to snap and hated that her voice was shaking. “What do you want from me? What would your crew want to meet me for? I’m no one. I’ve got nothing you could possibly want for me.”

The man surprised her again by clicking his tongue.

“That ain’t exactly true, little fire breather. You’ll see.”

There he went again with the fire breather. What did that have to do with anything?

After that, they fell into silence filled only by the sound of waves hitting the wood of the boat. The salty smell of the sea filled Ember’s lungs and she swallowed hard around the lump in her throat. Through the fibers of the sack she could see the first crack of dawn. Had they been on the move for so long? Lord, Kaleb must have been worried out of his mind when he realized she wouldn’t show up. What would become of her siblings? She needed to get away from these men.

After what seemed an eternity, she felt the boat stop and she was grabbed and moved and thrown around until she felt a solid floor beneath her feet. She heard voices, so many voices, groggy and slurred, and she figured she must’ve arrived on that ship she’d overheard the two men talking about.

A hand reached for the sack on her face and her whole body tensed. She narrowed her eyes at the light and when she finally opened them, she was met with one gorgeous sight, as painful as it was for her to admit.

It was the man from last night, except that now, in plain light, she could see him better. She’d been right to assume he was young, because he couldn’t have been older than 20, maybe 21. He had blue eyes that matched the shade of the sky and that of the wild sea, his black hair was ruffled and his beard was scruffy enough to make him annoyingly attractive, considering Ember wanted to beat the living hell out of him, just to wipe that smug grin off his face. He was wearing all black, from a shirt that looked dirty and ruffled to a black leather vest, black pants and black worn-off boots. He had all sorts of talismans and weird amulets around his neck and as he moved a few steps backwards, extending his arms, Ember noticed a tattoo on his wrist, but couldn’t see what it represented. She’d been right in every one of her assumptions.

“Welcome aboard, fire breather,” his voice boomed, husky and clear. He bowed mockingly in front of her. “Captain Maxwell Lockhart, at your services, m’lady.”

His eyes sparkled with amusement and the whole crew burst into obnoxious laughter. Ember pursed her lips and glared at him

“You’re a pirate,” she spat.

The captain scowled.

“I prefer mercenary.”

When Ember glared incredulously at his choice of words, he rolled his eyes.

“Mercenary who happens to own a ship and a crew,” he complied.

“Call it as you may,” Ember growled at him. “I want nothing to do with your crew or our ship. I demand to be taken back to the shore.”

The captain laughed at her as if her demands were the funniest joke he’d heard all day. He leaned on a barrel and crossed his arms over his chest, looking at her through his lashes. Perhaps under different circumstances, the gesture would’ve made her swoon, but it only enraged her more, making her see red at the edges of her vision.

“Sorry, love,” he shrugged. “No can do. I’ve got plans with you.”

Ember felt like strangling him right now. She groaned, exasperated, and raised her voice, feeling her whole body shake with anger.

“What plans?” she practically screamed. “I’m a poor girl with four little siblings and a cat that are waiting for me, that depend on me. I can’t just come play pirate.”

“Mercenary,” the captain corrected calmly.

“I don’t care,” Ember yelled back. “I want to go back. There’s nothing you could possibly want from me! Is it because I’m a thief? Are you collecting outlaws?”

Captain Lockhart laughed at her and moved to stand in front of her.

“Not at all,” he shrugged. “I don’t give a worthless penny of your thieving legacy, fire breather. My plans are a little grander than that. And you’re not fooling a soul, love. You say you’re no one, but I know exactly what you’re worth.”

He moved away, looking at her amused.

“But just so you don’t say I’m the bad guy,” he announced loud enough for the entire crew to hear. “You get to fight for your freedom.”

Ember’s eyebrows rose suspiciously.

“Excuse me?”

“I saw the fire and the passion in you last night,” he lowered his voice, coming closer once again. “You’ve got some combat skills in you. If you can beat me, you’ll have earned your freedom and I shall take you back to the shore myself.”

Ember frowned incredulously.

“You want to spar over my freedom?”

“Aye,” captain Lockhart nodded, smiling excited like a child who got to play with his new friend in the dirt.

“And you’ll let me go if I beat you?”

“Cross my heart and hope to die.”

Ember narrowed her eyes at him and considered his offer. He was a pirate, after all, and she could tell he had more experience in hand to hand combat than her. After all, her experience consisted of low-key noble boys who liked to wiggle some swords in their free time. But she was confident in her self-training. And she knew how to use her physical traits and her environment to her advantage. Yes, she could actually win this. So with a click of her tongue, she shot the pirate a wicked smile and extended her hands that were still tied up to him.

“Do you mind?” she prompted. “There’s a pirate whom I need to make swallow up his own words.”

The captain chuckled and took his knife out from his boot, cutting off the ropes. Then he went and picked up two swords, handing one to her.

“Swords?” Ember raised an eyebrow. “It’s like you want to get rid of me.”

She took the position and waited for him to do the same, but he just stood there, the sword on his shoulder, a hand in his pocket. It all just infuriated Ember even more.

“Well?” the captain prompted when she didn’t move. “We ain’t got all day, love. You gonna swing or not? I’m even giving you a head start, since you’re so willing to humiliate me in front of my crew.”

Ember frowned and pursed her lips. Oh, she was gonna have so much fun shoving those smart comments down his throat. She hesitated no longer and took the first swing that the captain was quick to dodge. They waited for a second, their swords crossed, the captain smirking smugly at her and Ember estimating his skills before making her next move. He was fast, really fast. She hadn’t even seen the length of his movement as he blocked her kick. He shouldn’t have been able to. And she noticed that he was left-handed, so that would’ve been something she could use to her advantage. With a frown, Ember realized it could also be something she could stumble over, too.

She rolled on her left foot and tried to hit his right side, but he was quick once again and dodged it, only this time he did more than block and elbowed her in the ribs. Ember gasped, but tried to hold her own. The captain simply shrugged and circled around her. Ember was already flushed with anger and was having trouble calculating her movements. It was all so much easier when she was fighting imaginary opponents, or when the other guys were too scared or intimidated or not enough prepared to represent a real threat.

The steadiness in her feet faltered when she made her next move. She went again for his right side, hoping to find it less guarded. Her first mistake. The captain already saw it coming and blocked it easily. She was so shocked at the swiftness of his movement that she didn’t pull back right away, staying in position. Second mistake. Because this time, the captain didn’t waste any second and riposted, catching her wrist and twisted it enough to make her drop the sword. Then he turned her around so that her back was against his strong chest, one hand was around her shoulder and the other held a sword against her throat.

Ember gulped and the captain chuckled.

“Not bad, little fire breather. But not good enough.”

He released her and she stumbled on her feet a little before regaining balance. She looked around to find the pirates hollering and laughing at her and her breathing became even more frantic. The captain followed her gaze and noticed that his people were making her uncomfortable. And Ember was surprised to see something shift in his gaze at the acknowledgement.

He was quick to cover it with half a smirk.

“Looks like you’re stuck with me then, love,” he shrugged, handing the two swords to a member of the crew. “Let’s get down to business, shall we?”

He turned around and started walking away, not waiting for her to reply. Ember considered making another scene and trying to reason with him or something, but considering he’d left her there, on deck with a bunch of dirty obnoxious pirates, she figured she had no alternative but to follow him. She put her arms around herself, feeling naked in front of those men despite the layers of clothes she was wearing and the cloak. She felt exposed.

The captain led her away from the crew into a room that must have been his cabin and closed the door behind him. Ember took it in. It looked just like one would picture a pirate cabin. There was a simple bed, lots of empty bottles of rum on the floor and so many more full bottles of rum on a table, and under them were a few maps. No pictures or personal belongings other than a few clothes scattered around. The similarity with the hut where she lived hit Ember like a brick, but she tried to shrug it off. She didn’t want to draw parallels between her and the pirate.

“Do I get an explanation now?” Ember snapped at him.

The captain threw himself in a chair and opened a bottle of rum. He took a sip and offered it to her, but she shook her head in disgust.

“Suit yourself,” he said with a shrug at his refusal and took another sip. “Look, love, the deal is simple, aye? There’s only one thing I want from you, and the sooner I get it, the sooner you’re free to go.”

Ember’s eyes widened. Was he implying what she thought he was implying? She’d heard stories of pirates who took women from their families and turned them into whores just to use them until they got bored of them. But somehow, as despicable and frustrating as Maxwell Lockhart seemed, she couldn’t see him as such a repulsive human. But still, instinctively, she shuddered and pulled the cloak tighter around herself.

The captain didn’t miss the gesture and threw his head back laughing like the idea amused him to no end.

“Don’t look so scared, love. I didn’t mean what you think I meant. I may be a despicable outlaw, but I’ve still got my morals. I would never take a woman to bed unwillingly. Well, unless you’re willing, in which case…”

He trailed off and winked, leaving the rest to her imagination, and Ember was sure she’d turned about a dozen shades of red. The captain’s grin grew wider at her reaction.

“I think I’ll pass,” she spoke loud and clear, surprising even herself. “I just want to go home. What is it that you need from me?”

The captain stood from his chair, taking the bottle of rum with him. He stopped in front of her, his head tilted to one side. His clear blue eyes traveled across her slim silhouette and stopped on the same level with her green eyes.

“I know your kin,” he spoke with a new intensity filled with shades of greed that she hadn’t heard him use until now. She shuddered and he continued. “Your kin hoards gold, a lot of gold. I’m sure you have a whole treasure hidden somewhere around these lands. Take me to it and I’ll deliver you to your family myself, safe and sound.”

Ember frowned and took a step back. There he went again with all of those words she didn’t understand. Nothing he said made sense. Kin? Gold? Treasure? Was he mad? If she had a treasure, would she be living in misery?

“My kin?” she shrieked. “What are you talking about?”

The captain studied her for a few more seconds and Ember became oddly self-conscious under his gaze, but she held it nonetheless. After the humiliating defeat on deck, in front of an entire crew, she needed the small victories. But she didn’t get this one, either. Because captain Lockhart didn’t break her gaze. Instead, he kept gazing into her eyes as if searching for something only he knew, and whether he found it or not, Ember did not know.

“You have no idea what you are, do you?” he whispered, and Ember felt the rum on his breath. She willed herself to not move away.

“I am a thief. I am a sister. I am an outlaw, but I am a poor villager. What do you think I am?”

The captain chuckled and shook his head incredulously as if he hadn’t heard her.

“I heard you say that before, but I thought you were just trying to throw me off track,” he commented, suddenly unaware of Ember’s presence. “I thought it wouldn’t be possible for someone to not know at this age. But I see it now. You are clueless.” He turned to her. “What’s your name, little fire breather?”

Ember clenched her fists. “Stop calling me that,” she snarled at him. “My name is Ember. Ember Blackthorn.”

“Ember,” the captain whispered, and Ember hated to admit that the way he’d said it, so long, so tentative and suave sent a chill down her spine. “Tell me, Ember. What do you remember of those nights preceding the mornings in which you wake up in the woods?”

Ember froze. Her body betrayed her and she started to shake again. Her eyes widened and her lower lip trembled.

“H-How do you… What are you—“

The captain chuckled as if her trouble amused him.

“Little fire breather,” he commented again, moving a strand of hair beneath Ember’s ear and ignoring the fact that she was shying away from his touch. “You are, in the most literal way, a fire-breathing dragon. And you will take me to your treasure.”



Anbody else swooning? Is it just me? I’m swooning? Is it okay to fall in love with your own characters? No? Oops.

13: Chapter 12: Children of the wild ones
Chapter 12: Children of the wild ones


~S O U N D T R A C K: Royal Deluxe – I’m a wanted man~

Out of all the reactions she could have had, he had not foreseen this one. The minute the words were out of his mouth, the girl burst into a waterfall of giggles, shaking her head at him. The captain waited silently for her to calm down.

Eventually, Ember stared him down with an amused expression on her face.

“Seriously?” she crossed her arms over her chest and tilted her head to one side. “A dragon? That’s your story? A flying lizard that spits fire? Is this what you’re wasting my time for? A children’s tale? I don’t know what’s in that rum of yours, captain Lockhart, but it’s getting to your head.”

The captain clicked his tongue. So she was playing the denial card. Well, then it was rather fortunate he was such a good cards player.

“By all means,” he moved past here and leaned against the wooden table. “Call me Maxwell. Max, even, if you’d like. I would love nothing more than to part on friendly terms.”

Ember narrowed her eyes.

“I would love nothing more than to part, captain.”

Max chuckled. The girl had fire, he had to give her that. Regardless of the creature that spat flames at night, there was a flame in her green eyes here, in broad daylight, that could not be put out, and he believed that spark was the tether between the human and the dragon. Some fires just burn too bright. Like that story his mother had used to tell him, about the sun burning too bright during the daylight that could have scorched the earth, so his sister, the moon, had to take over some of the light and illuminate the night, too. Ember had no idea of the power that was dormant within her.

“We’ll get to that, fire breather,” he mused. “Now, about the dragon—“

Ember groaned. “If I call you by your name, will you stop calling me that?”

Max smirked. If a member of his crew had ever dared to take the liberty to address him so casually, he would’ve probably lost his tongue. But the girl had the guts to stand up to an actual pirate – mercenary –, and for that, Max respected her.

“Perhaps,” he complied. “So a children’s tale, you were saying? I’d say you were clinging to a fool’s hope.”

“Look, Max,” Ember gritted her teeth, refusing to think about that time when she’d told Kaleb the exact same thing. “I do not know what you believe you know about me. But what you’re implying is beyond absurd. I am a girl. A thief. And there may be things I have yet to comprehend, but to go to such lengths as to assume I’m a—“

She trailed off, the mere idea of that flying lizard the pirate was suggesting seeming hard to grasp. Her mind refused to even begin to understand the concept.

“A what?” Max looked at her through his lashes, shrugging. “A dragon? Well, it is true nonetheless. But look, we don’t have to speak of it now, little fire breather. It’s been a long night and an even longer morning. Let’s get some rest and we’ll talk about all there is to talk about after a long nap.”

Ember narrowed her eyes at him. While she was indeed exhausted, there were explanations to demand and to offer, gaps to fill in. And of those all, one thing and one thing only absurdly stuck with her.

“You said you’d stop calling me that if I called you Max,” she hissed.

Max simply shrugged and smirked, winking at her.

“I happen to like it. Get used to it.”

Ember rolled her eyes and clenched her fists. The urge to punch him was compelling and she actually considered throwing one punch, just one punch to get it out of her system. But then she reconsidered. However crazy his idea sounded, the man knew something. Maybe it wasn’t about dragon stories or fairy tales, but whatever it was, it might help her figure out what she was. Not a dragon, for sure. Almost sure. Hopefully.

“And where am I even supposed to sleep?” she snapped at him.

Max looked at her as if it were obvious.

“Why, my bed, of course.”

Ember’s eyebrows rose. There he went again with those innuendoes. Was this his idea of impressing a woman? Lousy attempts at seduction? Because all it did was make her uncomfortable instead of making her swoon. Her facial expression must have shown precisely that, because Max chuckled once more.

“You needn’t worry, love,” he waved a hand. “I am a man of honor. I’m an obnoxious bastard with exquisite manners towards ladies.”

“I find that hard to swallow,” Ember muttered before she could stop herself, but if the remark upset Max, he didn’t show it. “I am not sharing a bed with you.”

“Didn’t say you had to,” Max grinned, clearly enjoying this litter bicker of theirs. “I’ll take the floor.”

Ember wouldn’t have been able to hide her surprise if he’d told her that, aside from her being a dragon, he was a king frog who hunted down dragons. She froze and looked at him with an incredulous expression on her face, and for the first time today, Max looked rather offended.

“Don’t look so surprised, love.”

“You’ll sleep on the floor in your own cabin?”  Ember inquired reluctantly.

“Would you rather we share the bed, after all?”

“No,” she hurried to clarify.

She was certain that her cheeks were embarrassingly red and it came as no surprise that Max was laughing to himself at the sight. He took great delight in tormenting her with these small exchanges that toyed with her head. But she refused to fall victim to his games.

So without a word, she took off her cloak, placed it on a chair nearby and climbed into bed. She instantly missed the safety that the fabric of that old, worn-off cloak provided, but her back was already turned on the captain and she didn’t want to crack and turn around again for the cloak. She heard Max’s footsteps around the cabin for a few more minutes and her muscles were tense. She doubted she’d be able to get any rest with him only a few feet away from her. She didn’t trust him, and with good reason. As charming and playful he wanted to come across as, he wanted to use her and whatever powers he believed she had to find some random treasure.

Before she could finish that thought, she heard him move towards her bed. She tensed and her breathing stopped. If he’d attempt anything, anything at all, if he even dared to lay a hand on her, she’d cut off his fingers one by one and feed them to the—

She stopped mid-thought. With the corner of her eyes she caught sight of some red fabric and realized with shock that it was her cloak. Max laid it gently over her shoulders and moved away without as much as a tentative touch. Obnoxious pirate with good manners, indeed, after all.

“’S chilly down here,” he muttered. “I need you intact. Now try to get some rest, fire breather. We’ve got great plans ahead of us.”

Right. Great plans. He needed her intact. But for some reason, Ember still couldn’t get a single minute of sleep after that.



~S O U N D T R A C K: Mikky Ekko – We must be killers~

When Max woke up, the sun was up in the sky, so it must’ve been well past noon. He rubbed his eyes and groaned. His back was sore from the hard floor, but he wasn’t one to complain. After all, his moral code – or whatever was left if it, anyway – forbad him from denying a young lady the comfort of a good sleep.

He got up in a sitting position and, when he glanced at said young lady sleeping in the bed, he could tell she wasn’t exactly sleeping. Her eyes were closed and her features were calm enough. He took a second to appreciate the sight. She was one gorgeous gal. Delicate and all that, but fierce and unstoppable. He loved that in a woman. In fact, she was the kind of girl he would’ve taken to bed after his drunken nights in roadside inns, had the stakes not been so high regarding her. But right now, with her eyes closed, he realized she was really something. A pretty something. Her oval face, pointed chin and little nose, elongated lips and eyelids that hid green cat-like eyes.

More like, dragon-like eyes. He knew what this beauty held. Beneath that creamy skin, she hid scales. Her long, delicate fingers turned into claws. And those lips that curved into a devious smile bared fangs.

It was the breathing that gave her away. Max stood up and went to stand near her bed. She was breathing frantically and he saw her pulse point vibrating with the accelerated beat of her heart. She was faking it. He almost snorted. He wondered if she’d even managed to get any sleep this couple of hours. Probably not, considering she was used to keeping her guard up and not trusting people. Before he could call her out on her pretense, she opened her eyes and it all happened in the blink of an eye. She got up from the bed swiftly and came at him with a knife she must have had on her beforehand. It seemed rather silly that she hadn’t used it so far, but Max didn’t have the time to think about that. Still, he was faster than her once again. He caught her wrist, then her shoulders, and spun her around just like he’d done yesterday, until he ended up sitting on the bed, her back against his chest. He still held her wrist so that the knife in her hand faced her throat, but before the blade could meet skin, her other hand flew up and caught the knife mid-air. The steel dug into flesh and blood dripped on their laps. Ember didn’t even blink at it.

“Not bad, dragon girl,” Max whispered in her ear, his grip on her tight. “But still not good enough.”

But Ember thought it through this time. She sent her free elbow backwards as hard as she could into his side and, when she heard the captain grunt in pain, she also felt his grip weaken. She took advantage of it and pushed him backwards. They both fell off the bed and on the floor, Ember landing on top of him.

“Bloody hell, fire breather,” he grunted, that ever-present grin never leaving his lips. “Color me impressed.”

“Stop calling me that,” Ember hissed at him, wishing she’d had the common sense of holding to that knife in the fall. “Even if it were true, how could you know what I am?”

Max smirked up at her and, before she could snap at him again, he rolled them both over so that her body ended up trapped beneath his.

“I would tell you, if you just stopped lashing out on me for a second. I’m trying to help you, Ember.”

Perhaps it had been the way he’d looked at her, so intense and serious for the first time, any trace of amusement gone from his eyes. Perhaps it had been the way he’d called her by her name. But Ember stopped struggling. She let out a breath and relaxed her muscles and, slowly, Max’s grip on her wrists above her head weakened, too.

“That is a little disconcerting coming from a man who wants me to get him a treasure.”

And just like that, he was back to the smug pirate she wanted to beat the living hell out of. He let go of her wrists and stood, extending a hand to help her up on her feet, as well. But Ember could play the arrogant prick card, too. She clenched her jaw and held up her chin, standing up on her own. Max took his hand back, looking as if he was fighting hard not to smile.

“Then think of it like a mutual agreement. Us pals helping each other out,” he commented at Ember’s remark.

Ember rolled her eyes. “We’re not pals, captain Lockhart.

Max chuckled, shaking his head. This woman was the most stubborn and infuriating creature he’d ever encountered.

“Aye,” he clicked his tongue. “Not yet. But you’re underestimating my irresistible charm.”

“Doubtful,” Ember retorted.

“Give it time, fire breather. I’m a pleasure to be around. Now let’s take care of that nasty cut and I’ll answer whatever questions you may have.”

Ember inspected her right palm. In the rush, she forgot she had caught the knife with her hand and the blade had dug rather deep into her flesh. It didn’t hurt as much as she expected, although her whole hand was covered in dry blood, but she blamed it on the heat of the moment.

She sighed and sat on a chair. She saw Max take a bottle of rum from the table and he removed the cork with his teeth. He took her hand gently in his and held the bottle hovering over the wound. Ember’s eyes widened and she yanked back her hand when she realized what he meant to do.

“What do you think you’re doing?”

Max rolled his eyes. “Cleansing.”

“Gods above, no,” Ember shrieked. “I will not die of infection on a pirate ship.”

Max groaned and ran a hand over his face, as if it physically pained him to keep dealing with her.

“Mercenary ship. And it’s alcohol, Ember. Alcohol will clean the wound. Now give me that.”

He grabbed her hand again before she could object and poured the rum over the cut. Ember hissed in pain. Then he took a cloth, soaked it in rum and began wiping away the blood, cleaning the wound from inside out. It stung, but it was nothing too unbearable.

“Do you truly believe it?” she blurted out eventually, and Max gazed at her questioningly. “Do you truly believe I’m… that I am a dragon?”

She spoke the word tentatively, trying its weight on her tongue, still making sense of what it implied. It still seemed surreal.

“I saw it happen with my own eyes,” Max replied. “As I live and breathe.”

Ember let out a shaky breath. Could she truly be that thing? It would somewhat explain the disappearing, the waking up in the woods, the memory losses. But a dragon? All the tales painted dragons as merciless, ruthless, cruel creatures that torched villages and killed people. Ember shuddered at the thought. She wanted to deny it. She wanted to claw Max’s eyes out and call him a liar. But something in his expression, so bored and careless on the surface, was genuine. And she couldn’t help but believe him.

I saw it happen with my own eyes. As I live and breathe.

“Did you truly not know?” it was Max’s turn to ask.

Ember shook her head. “I’m still not sure that I do. I wake up in the woods with no recollection of what happened or how I end up there. I figured there could be another explanation, a simpler one. Sleepwalking, maybe. But this? I’m having a hard time believing this.”

She noticed Max had stopped working on her hand and, instead, he held it out for her to inspect it. Ember frowned at first, but when she realized what he meant to show her, she gasped.

She had seen the knife dug into flesh. She had felt the blade cut through. The wound should have been deep and ugly and would have most likely left a nasty scar. Gods, there had been so much blood. But instead, running the length of her palm was a superficial cut that looked like a mere scratch, at the very most.

“It’s already healing,” Max explained. “That’s the dragon inside you enhancing the speed of the healing process.”


“It might only leave a tiny scar,” Max continued. “But it’s completely healed within minutes. You believe me now?”

“I-It’s not possible,” Ember muttered, still staring wide-eyed at her shaking hand.

Max sighed, exasperated.

“Listen up, fire breather. The sooner you get it, the sooner I’ll have my gold, the sooner you get to leave. Simple as that. I’d say you move through the shock a little faster and skip to the part where you lead the way to my treasure.”

Ember gulped and he took her hand again, fastening the cloth dipped in rum around her hand, tying a knot with steady fingers that he tightened with his teeth.

“Wouldn’t want you to die of infection now, would we?” he winked, letting go of her hand.

Ember ignored his silly fooling around and let out a shaky breath, running her healthy hand through her hair.

“I don’t know what treasure you’re talking about,” she snapped, exasperated. “I don’t even how to swallow all that you keep throwing at me.”

“Well, I’d hurry to figure it out if I were you. That is, unless you enjoy my humble company so much that you intend to buy some more time with me.”

“Is this a joke to you?” she threw her hands up. “I cannot lead you to a treasure if I don’t even know how to be this dragon you want me to be or whether I can be that at all. Max, I don’t remember anything.

Max shrugged indifferently, like he couldn’t be bothered less by the fact. Ember was just more and more infuriated by this carelessness of his. Wasn’t it his interest that he pursued here? Shouldn’t he have shown a little more distress?

“I’ve got all the time in the world, love. I’ve been hunting down a dragon’s lair for a while now. I can wait a little longer. I presume we’ll have to wait until the next time you turn.”

The words made something snap inside Ember. She froze, feeling a veil as it was being lifted off her eyes. Max had all the time in the world. She didn’t. She remembered again. Kaleb. The kids. Gods above, what had become of them? Kaleb must have gone out of his mind when she didn’t show up at home last night or this morning. What would he think of her? And he couldn’t care for the kids all the time. He had a home to go to and a ruthless father to fear. Who would look after the children? Lord, she could not waste time here. She did not have the time to stay here and play with pirates. There were people depending on her back at home.

“No,” she whispered breathlessly. “No, there could be weeks until that.”

“So be it,” Max replied. “Weeks shall it be.”

“No, you don’t understand,” Ember raised her voice. “I cannot wait that long. I’ve got siblings. Four little siblings. Max, they can’t manage without me. You have to take me back.”

Max frowned slightly as if the whole thing was a mere inconvenience.

“I’m sure they’ll be fine,” he shrugged. “Villagers love a good charity case. They’ll look after four helpless children.”

Ember tried to tame down her rage before replying. Now was not the time to snap at him, if she wanted to make it home to the kids. Gods, she felt despair creeping in and she prayed she wouldn’t break with panic in front of the pirate.

“No, you don’t get it. They won’t care for the sibling of the village’s thief. Max, please. They’re all I have.”

Max pursed his lips. Bollocks, he hated when this happened. Young girl, lips pouted, teary eyes and shaking hands, pleading and appealing to his soft side. He knew his best interests in this. But could he be the monster who’d deny the girl the right to make sure her siblings were safe?

He sighed and ran a hand through his hair.

“I can take you back to them,” he muttered barely audible, and continued when the girl’s eyes lit up and she was about to break into a wide smile. “On one condition.”

Ember nodded fervently. “Anything.”

“Careful with that word, love,” he raised an eyebrow. “Commitments you can’t fulfill come back to bite you in the arse.”

Ember gulped. “For them, I’ll make whatever commitments.”

“Very well,” he sighed. “I can take you to them. But only for you to see them, make sure they’re okay and leave them in the care of someone you trust. I can even give you some money that you can offer to said person. After that, we’re on our way to find the treasure. And you will do whatever it takes to get me to that treasure. Do we have a deal?”

Ember considered his offer. She should’ve known he wasn’t going to let her go so easily. But she couldn’t afford being picky at the moment. She had to get to the kids, at whatever cost. And if Max would give her money, she could ask Clarissa to look after them while she was gone. If wasn’t ideal, but it was the best she could pull off. If she couldn’t get out of this, she had to at least make sure they were safe.

So she swallowed hard and nodded.

“We’ve got a deal.



This had to be my favorite chapter in this entire story. So far. I guess? Anyway.

Hope you liked it,


14: Chapter 13: Bad habits
Chapter 13: Bad habits


~SOUNDTRACK: The Kooks – Bad habit~

Ember absent mindedly inspected her poorly bandaged hand and she was vaguely aware of the fact that she was being talked to. She heard Max’s voice in the background, but her whole attention was focused on the fact that, beneath that dirty cloth soaked in rum, there was a gash that was supposed to be deep and ugly, supposed to have hurt like hell. No, not a gash. A scratch. One she might as well have gotten from Bandit. All of a sudden, so many things made sense. The rock that Kaleb’s father had hit her in the head with the other day should have had her bed-ridden for days, and yet, she’d been up and about in less than hours. Throughout these years, she’d always thought that her healing fast was perfectly normal, but in hindsight, she realized it was just a twitch above natural.

A dragon.

Could it really be? It still felt hard to grasp, but she couldn’t ignore the facts. There was something beyond ordinary going on here, and whether it had something to do with her growing wings and fangs and claws and scales at night, it was equally scary.

“Oy,” Max waved a hand before her eyes, catching her attention. “Fire breather, are you even listening to me?”

Ember rubbed the back of her sore neck and sighed heavily.

“I’m sorry. I must have lost focus for a minute. You were saying?”

Max glared a little at her for having let him rambled on when she wasn’t even paying attention. Eventually, he scowled and went on with what he’d been talking about.

“I was saying that we’ll make it to Thebbington Abbey in three days. You’ll have two hours to take care of the situation with your family. Naturally, I’ll never leave you out of my sight. Can’t let a gem like yourself get away now, can I?”

Ember shook her head and stopped him.

“Wait. Three days? It only took half a night to get me here. Why would the trip back take us three days? It makes no sense. My siblings can’t make it without me for three entire days.”

Max shrugged like he couldn’t be bothered.

“They’ll have to. I’m not risking my crew’s safety and being seen by some royal navy. I’ve granted you enough as it is.”

Ember groaned and took a deep breath to stop herself from jumping at his throat. And ripping it out. With her teeth. When she spoke, however, she was having a hard time hiding the venom from her voice.

“Captain,” she spat. “I cannot risk my siblings’ safety, either. I know routes safe enough to keep you and your ship hidden from sight. Can’t you trust me on this?”

The pirate seemed to think for a second, before pursing his lips in mockery, and Ember knew this was a fight she could not win.

“I’m afraid I don’t, love. Call it a bad habit. I happen to have severe trust issues. Even I’d shoot myself in the leg, should the opportunity arise and should the price be worth it. So you can see why I can’t put my trust in anyone, really.”

He threw himself on the bed, looking up at her and smirking with his arms folded beneath his head and his legs crossed. The black shirt clung to his body, showing off ripped muscles that he had undoubtedly gained throughout his time sailing. Perhaps she couldn’t stand his guts, but Ember had to admit the way those blue eyes stared deep into her core, looking her up, may or may not have awoken some senses in her. Luckily, he was a complete moron, so there was no danger of falling prey to such cheap pirate charms.

“I suggest you make yourself comfortable, love,” his hoarse voice broke her train of thoughts. “You and I are going to keep each other company for the next three days.”

Knowing there was no point in arguing with him any longer, Ember simply sighed.

“So it would seem,” she mumbled. “Any more bad habits I should know about, while we’re at it?”

Max burst into obnoxious laughter, as if he knew some sort of secret she wasn’t a part of.

“Patience, love,” he shook his head at her amused. “Tonight, we’ll show you exactly what bad habits this ship has.”

Ember frowned and tensed in anticipation. “Why? What’s tonight?”

Max stood up from the bed and circled her, moving close enough for Ember to smell the rum on his breath, then he moved a lock of her hair and whispered in her ear.

“Tonight, we party like only sailors know.”



Ember spent the whole day alone in the captain’s cabin while he went on deck to keep his sailors in check and prepare whatever pirate gathering he had going for tonight. Ember dreaded such event. She longed for that night at the Covington’s ball, when she had danced at Kaleb’s arm. She wanted to go home. She had maddened herself with worry for the little ones and with missing Kaleb. But if being a part of the captain’s games would entertain him enough to make him take her home, then she’d be his personal buffoon. She just wanted this charade over. God, how would she tell her siblings and Kaleb she’d have to be on her way again? That she had no idea for how long she’d be missing?

She sat around in the cabin sulking all day, not daring to go out. In all truthness, Max’s sailors scared her a little. And she hadn’t failed to notice she was the only woman on board, and those men looked at her as one would hungrily look at a piece of meat. She shuddered at the thought. So she stayed put, counting the minutes until she’d be on shore again. She loathed the smell of fish, of sweat, of disgusting food and the salty smell of the sea filling the air.

Around dusk, the door to the cabin opened and Max walked inside, grinning from ear to ear.

“Greetings, fire breather,” he shot her a wink. “How does life on the sea suit you?”

Ember glared. “I’m seasick, bored to death and worried for my family. Thank you for your concern.”

She expected a snarky comment back, but he actually laughed.

“Well, I strongly suggest you leave this attitude down here, love. Sailors could break into mutiny if their captain happens to bring a sulking self-pitying girl up on deck. We’re quite protective over our parties.”

Ember rolled her eyes. “That’s so hypocrite coming from someone who vandalizes other ships. I never knew protectiveness came with the pirate package.”

This time, Max didn’t correct her when she mentioned him being a pirate. Instead, he laughed at her and threw her a head scarf.

“And that’s even more hypocrite coming from a thief,” he mocked right back. “The scarf’s for blending in.”

Ember sighed, but seeing as there was no getting out of this, she tied the scarf around her head and looked up to find the captain grinning from ear to ear.

“Well, bloody hell, fire breather. You look like a true pirate.”

“I thought you were mercenaries.”

Max wrinkled his nose, that smirk of his never leaving his face.

“You got me there. Let’s get this party started, shall we?”

~SOUNDTRACK: The Script – Paint the town green~

Max extended his hand to her and Ember took it reluctantly, allowing him to take her on deck.

She didn’t know what she could’ve expected of a pirate’s party. But whatever her expectations might have been, what she found on deck was beyond them.

It involved accordions, dancing and rum. A lot of rum. The crew was gathered around a few sailors with accordions and guitars who were singing some song, others were dancing along, others were playing some games with cards and dices, and the rum never stopped flowing.

Before she could fully take in the settings, Max left her side and went to join his crew for a song.

I am not a pirate, but I long to be,

Sailing by the stars across the seven seas,

Living with no earthly cares, my mates and me—

The envy of all worldly men, who are not free.


A song to sing for beggars, a song to sing for saints,

A song to sing for wealthy men all wrapped and bound in chains!

Our treasure's not in gold, or in our piety.

Our wealth is in an answered call, the longing of the sea!


Ember found that it was easy to fall prey to his contagious joy and in no time, she was smiling along with him. She still didn’t like the man, but seeing him so carefree, she had to give him that much – she respected his love for life and for the sea. Soon enough, she was tapping her foot to the rhythm of the song. The small gesture didn’t go unseen by Max and as soon as he caught sight of her, he wiggled his eyebrows and moved to her side, never ceasing to sing along.

When he reached her, he took her hand and pulled her into the crowd, never breaking the song.

“Max,” she shrieked, mortified. “What are you doing? Max, let go.”

“Dance with me, dragon girl,” he shouted over the music, but Ember kept staring at him with wide eyes.

“I don’t dance! Max, let me go or I will kick your bloody arse.”

“Look at her, already cursing like a sailor,” the captain chuckled, spinning her around.

Ember shrieked as he spun her a few times, then she landed straight into his arms and he started to dance with her.

“Besides,” she whispered into her ear. “I’d love to see you try, little fire breather. It would seem I’ve already kicked yours. Twice.”

Despite herself and how pissed she wanted to be at him, Ember found herself smiling mischievously.

“They say third time’s a charm, captain Lockhart,” she mocked right back, and Max chuckled.

He wouldn’t admit it, but he quite enjoyed this playful banter. Though she seemed on edge all the time and for good reason, considering she’d been kidnapped and she was worried about her family, the girl was rather entertaining when she allowed herself to. Sure, she liked to throw tantrums and she was spoiled like a little girl, cocky and whatnot, but Max was having the time of his life testing her limits.

But then, just to toy with those limits of his, as well, Ember broke from his arms, raised her skirts and danced around him, her feet moving fast, dizzying him, that damn arrogant grin never leaving her face. She was clearly teasing him, so Max couldn’t give in to a little village girl. He crossed his hands behind his back and danced around her as well, until they were caught in a game of dominance while his crew cheered.

And Ember would’ve lied if she said she wasn’t having fun. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d danced, and here she was, challenging a pirate and beating him at his own game in front of his men.

When the song ended, the whole crew burst into cheers as Max and Ember panted. He offered her a bottle of rum and, this time, Ember took it from his hand and actually took a sip. She scoffed as the alcohol burned her airways but a few seconds later, when it started kicking in and her head started to feel lighter, she burst into giggles as she handed the bottle back to Max. He took a sip, too, grinning down at her and still breathing heavily.

“You held your own out there, little fire breather,” he screamed over the noise of the crew. “Consider me impressed. I believe you’ve just won over my crew.”

Ember laughed back, surprised at how much fun she was actually having.

“I will get us a refill,” Max told her, pointing to the bottle. “Wait here. I believe we’re due for a rematch.”

He winked before he left and Ember rolled her eyes. It was good to know that, even with alcohol running through her system, she was still immune to his pathetic charms to woo her. She felt pity for those girls who did fell victims to these charades.

~SOUNDTRACK: Tribe Society – Kings~

Once Max was gone, Ember felt suddenly self-conscious under the gazes of his whole crew. Most of them bowed their heads in front of the only lady on deck, but most of them stared her down, biting their lips with lust in their eyes and Ember shivered. She just wished the captain would hurry with that rum.

She gasped and jumped when she felt two large hands at her hips and sliding down her legs.

“Such a sweet thing,” a rugged voice whispered in her ear, the smell of rum and dirty breath making her gag. “How can a beast hide under such soft skin? Come on, lizard, entertain us just like you entertain our captain. He seemed happy with your services. Why don’t you come by my cabin, too, tonight, eh, lizard?”

Ember gritted her teeth. If the captain believed for one second she’d just stand here and be passed between his men like she was some dispensable piece of meat, he was so wrong. She wasn’t anyone’s whore. So when the man’s hands wouldn’t stop touching her body, she reached for the knife just to remember that it wasn’t there. Well, wasn’t this convenient.

She clenched her fists. Not that she needed a knife to knock down a drunk pirate.

She was about to swing at him when she saw the tip of a blade approaching her.

She gasped. Was Max really coming at her? Did he plan on killing her? For what? For tempting his men? Ember was calculating moves to get away from the sword, but she knew she wouldn’t be fast enough. She closed her eyes and waited for the blow. But when it didn’t come and she felt the sailor from behind her moving away, she opened her eyes.

In front of her, Max was standing with a stern look on his face. And his sword wasn’t pointed at her. It was pointed at the man behind her and Ember had just been inconveniently standing in its trajectory.

“Hands off, sailor,” Max spoke fiercely, and Ember shuddered at the sudden shift of his tone. The music had stopped and no one moved a muscle, so that his voice and the waves were the only things breaking the silence of the night.

The drunk pirate moved away in an instant, but Max didn’t put away his sword, keeping it pointed at him. The sailor gulped.

“Captain, I’m—“

“Unless the explanation can justify why you were feeling up our guest, then I suggest you shut your mouth and jump off the ship yourself, mate.”

The pirate forced a chuckle. “G-Guest, captain? She’s-She’s just leverage. A lizard, is all.”

Max was silent for a minute. Ember actually thought he was going to shrug it off and agree with his man, allowing him to have his way with her. But she should’ve known better. From the little she’d learned about him, she knew that Maxwell Lockhart was many things, but while most of them were too unorthodox to be mentioned, he was also a man of honor. Well, as much honor as a pirate can have.

The captain moved closer with steady steps until the blade of his sword was against the pirate’s throat. She noticed that the whole crew was holding their breaths.

“Leverage,” Max spat. “A lizard. I treat lizards with more respect than that. It is rats like you I like to step on.”

“B-But, captain,” the poor man tried to excuse himself. “What choice did I have? She’s flaunting herself at us like that. She was throwing herself at me. I couldn’t—“

Ember wanted to interject and speak for herself, to tell Max she had never done anything to incite his man, but he beat her to it and interrupted the pirate.

“I don’t care if she was parading naked in front of you,” he sneered. “This is my ship. These are my rules. And I ordered that not a single hair on her head be touched. You disobeyed me, sailor. You know what happens when I am disobeyed.”

“Captain, please,” the pirate tried to beg, but Max was pressing the blade so hard against his throat that a drip of blood had already started to drip down his neck.

“Do you, mate?” Max hissed again.


“I get very mad. And we all know what happens when I get mad.”

Without waiting for the pirate to beg for his life again, Max started moving his sword to his right.

At first, Ember was confused as to why he was drawing back his blade after all the show he’d put on by threatening the man. But then she saw that the more the sword moved, the more obvious became the red it was stained with.

Her breath hitched. Blood. He was drawing it back covered it blood.

And then she heard the pirate’s choking sounds and she saw the blood spurting from the wide gash on his throat. His body began to fall forward when Max grabbed him by the shoulders and threw him off board. The body hit the water with a loud thud.

“That’s what happens when I get mad,” he turned to his crew and announced, resting his sword on his shoulder. “Bloody hell. I liked this vest. Now I’ve got blood on it.”

While the crew gulped and awkwardly returned to their party as if their captain randomly murdering one their own was not out the ordinary, Ember was having trouble breathing. Her eyes were wide when Max planted himself in front of her, and she was breathing heavily.

“W-Why would you do that?” she meant to snap at him, but it came out as a lame whimper.

“My ship, my rules,” he replied casually. “I thought I made that clear. You should be thanking me, really.”

“T-Thank you?” she tried to raise her voice, but she couldn’t seem to stop it from shaking. She’d just seen a man murdered in front of her eyes. Because of her.

Max took a step closer towards her and she instinctively took one backwards, away from him. The expression on his face seemed to turn even harsher.

“Are you scared of me, Ember?” he spoke slowly and fiercely.

Ember held up her chin, looking him straight in the eyes, but she couldn’t hide her shaky hands. So she cursed her voice for breaking when she replied.

“N-No,” she mumbled, but it didn’t sound at all believable.

Max clicked his tongue and shoved his sword at a member of his crew to clean it up.

“Too bad,” he replied, starting to walk away from her. “You should be.”



Hot. So hot. Swoon swoon swoon. So much swoon, guys.

How’d you feel about Max? Is anyone else swooning? Hyperventilanting? Fantasizing?

See ya, fellas!

15: Chapter 14: Where I'm coming from
Chapter 14: Where I'm coming from


~SOUNDTRACK: Bret Levick – Sky is falling~

Ember was counting minutes until she’d be on shore again. Until she’d see her family. Until she’d see Kaleb. She spent the rest of those three days Max had granted her in solitude, locked in his cabin, not daring to go out again after the episode with the dead pirate from the party.

And to her surprise, the captain kept his distance, as well. His words kept ringing in her ears.

Are you scared of me, Ember?

You should be.

If she were to be entirely honest with herself, she was starting to be a little scared. She’d threatened lots of lives during her years as a thief, but never had she seen someone get so brutally murdered in front of her eyes. And she held herself directly responsible for that man’s death, as despicable as he might have been. And she was painfully aware of the fact that she was the prisoner of a man who could kill in cold blood.

He’s a pirate, you imbecile, she scolded herself mentally. What did you expect? You shared one dance and a bottle of rum with him and you thought you knew anything about him? Silly girl.

The door of the cabin creaked and Ember flinched. In the doorstep stood the captain himself, holding a tray of food. Marvelous. More fish. Ember thought she was going to throw up if she ever saw sea food again in her life.

Max walked in and threw the tray on the wooden table with a loud thud, wordlessly. This past couple of days had been rather quiet in the cabin and she could tell the air had shifted between her and the captain. He wasn’t around as much and the little time he did spend with her down in the cabin was no longer filled with snarky comments or bickering or sassy remarks. It was better this way, Ember told herself. They had an agreement she wasn’t particularly fond of, but she’d keep her end of the bargain and pray to the Gods it all ended quick. Surely, it could all turn up to be easier said than done, but she was trying to be optimistic.

In all truthness, Max had noticed the change, too, and while he had no control over it, he knew was to be held responsible for it. He couldn’t help but remember the look in her eyes the night he’d killed Red-Beard Will, but that ginger bastard had had it coming. Max wasn’t going to tolerate that kind of behavior towards a lady on his ship, even if said lady happened to be a self-centered thief with an attitude. But then she’d looked at him so terrified and her whole body was shaking and she’d seemed on the verge of a breakdown. And Max didn’t know how to react to chicks breakdowns. He’d scared her. And while he was perfectly okay with that, he didn’t really know how to deal with her now. She wanted to make him the bad pirate? He could be the bad pirate. He was a bad pirate, truth be told.

He cleared his throat and she looked up from fidgeting with an imaginary stain on her cloak.

“By my estimations, we should be in Thebbington Abbey by dusk. I’ll come with you to your siblings. Like I said, you’ve got two hours to take care of everything, then we’re to return on board immediately and start seeking the cave of the treasure. Are we clear?”

Ember nodded reluctantly. Max sighed. He wanted to crack a joke. He wanted so badly to tease and bicker. He didn’t like playing harsh. Sure, he was dangerous and had no hesitation whatsoever when it came to killing and she had better keep that in mind. But it was exhausting to keep pretending he needed her to fear him. It was rather pathetic to keep up this charade.

So he took a chair and placed it next to her bed, turning it around so that he could rest his elbows on its back. He sat down and stared at her until she met his gaze.

“What?” she snapped eventually, and Max smirked at seeing this side of hers again. The one that wasn’t so easily intimidated by some slight murderous tendencies. Since she was sticking around, she’d learn that those were quite regular around this ship.

“I’ve got just one curiosity I have yet to satisfy,” he cocked his head to one side.

Ember bit her lip. “May I explicitly suggest places where you could stick that curiosity, captain Lockhart?”

Max laughed warm-heartedly.

“Oh, so you’ve still got snarky remarks boiling under,” he teased back. “I was afraid Red-Beard Will had gotten your tongue on his way off the ship.”

He noticed her expression darkening a little at the mention, but it was gone soon, and Max added this to the list of things he knew about Ember Blackthorn. She preferred to be stubborn rather than afraid. At least she had her priorities right.

“Tell me, little fire breather,” he spoke. “Where did you learn to fight like that? Girls your age are more concerned about ball gowns and shoes rather than hand to hand combat and knife skills.”

Ember blinked at him, having expected about anything except that. She considered actually keeping her promise and unorthodoxly telling him to stick it up his arse, but he looked so genuinely curious and so back to the pirate who hadn’t yet killed anyone from when she’d first met him, that she found herself reconsidering.

A pirate who hadn’t killed anyone, her conscience chided. Just kidnapped. And held a girl captive against her will. And threw her among a crowd of filthy pirates, flaunting her. But killing, no, not yet. Oh, well. Good to know you’ve got your priorities straight, Ember.

She cleared her voice and tuned down her mind.

“You could say it was self-education,” she shrugged like it was no big deal, and Max raised an eyebrow.

“You mean to tell me a, what, 16-year old girl managed to teach herself how to manage swords and knives?” he asked incredulously, and Ember glared.

“I’m 18, thank you very much,” she snarled at him. “And I’m pretty decent with a bow and arrow, too. Or throwing solid punches. One does not need weapons in order to protect one’s self.”

“Huh,” Max clicked his tongue, doing his best not to sound impressed and failing miserably. “How, though?”

Ember shrugged again, trying not to make a big deal out of it, but it was clear from the way her cheeks were slightly pinker that she knew exactly how much of a deal it was. And she was damn smug about it.

“Hard work,” she stated simply and Max scowled.

“Come on, dragon girl, work with me. I need details. My curiosity’s one greedy bastard.”

Ember bit her lip against a smile. Killer, she reminded herself. Murderer. Kidnapper. Pirate, her conscience was quick to judge. But the laughter building in the middle of her chest couldn’t help but admit he was a charismatic prick.

“Oh, well,” she played coy. “They don’t call me the Crimson Dagger for nothing.”

Max’s eyes widened so much, she though they were gonna come out of their orbits. He tripped over his tongue a few times before being able to speak.

“You,” he muttered a little breathlessly. “You’re the Crimson Dagger? But you’re—“

“Yes?” Ember narrowed her eyes at him, prompting him.

“But you’re a girl!”

“And you’re a sexist pirate.”

Max shook his head incredulously. “No, but wait. I’ve been hearing stories about the Crimson Dagger for months. Years, even. I was so sure it must have been a mature man. How can a girl who self-trained in combat skills be the threat of this land?”

“You’d be surprised by what a 14-year old girl can do when she’s facing the starvation of her family. It puts things into perspective.”

Max was silent for a few moments, taking in the information. He knew she was a thief and he knew she had her siblings to care for. He hadn’t even fathomed things looked so bad for them.

“So that’s why you’re so keen on getting to your siblings,” he remarked and Ember nodded.

“We’ve been orphans since I was 12,” she explained with resignation and endless sadness to her green eyes. “They’re all I have.”

“I see,” Max decided not to push her further, since she was clearly not comfortable talking about this. “But still, your combat skills are quite remarkable. Did you really have no help whatsoever?”

She shook her head. “I relied a lot on instinct. I understand why now, what with the, umm, dragon thing. And it wasn’t always easy. I’ve had my arse handed back to me quite a few times before I got the hang of it.”

She smiled half a smile and Max found himself laughing whole-heartedly at the picture she’d painted in his head.

“And what exactly were you stealing back then?”

“I began by stealing art tools,” she chuckled, her eyes having a dreamy tinge in them as she recalled. “Textiles, paint, whatever I could get my hands on. It worked well for keeping me motivated. Then I got better at it and came up with a strategy to get money and food. I fought trees and invisible soldiers for years until I got good at it.”

“Huh,” Max rubbed his beard thoughtfully. “Are you still stealing art tools?”

Ember’s face grew a little sadder. “No, I don’t, not anymore. I haven’t in years, maybe. I’ve got other priorities to take care of.”

“Well, that’s a shame, fire breather,” he surprised her with a warm smile, a genuine one and quite the change from the smirks and smug grins. “I like to live by one single rule. And that is, you’ve got to hold on to the things that make you feel alive. For me, it’s the sea. Once you lose the liberty of being happy, there’s not much else that can matter.”

Ember tried and failed to suppress a grin.

“Was that pirate wisdom?” she picked the words on purpose to toy with him.

“I’m not playing this game again with you,” Max rolled his eyes and she chuckled.

“Well, not all of us can afford that liberty, captain,” she shrugged sadly. “My family makes me happy. And while taking care of them may be my burden, it doesn’t mean that carrying it doesn’t bring me joy.”

Max watched her thoughtfully. He had to give her that, it was a well-dressed lie and he almost bought it. But the pirate wisdom saw past the fancy words. There was nothing in all that she’d said that could’ve brought happiness. But he wasn’t here to bond with Ember Blackthorn and to lick her wounds. He was here to talk her into leading the way to a hidden treasure.

He stood up from the chair and glanced down at her.

“Then let’s go make sure someone takes care of your burden for you while you’re gone, shall we?”




~SOUNDTRACK: Ella Eyre – Home (Live) – Stripped (Vevo LIFT UK)~

When Ember’s feet touched solid ground, she let out a loud breath and broke into a wide smile. She was so close to home again. So close to her family. She couldn’t wait to see the little ones again. She wondered if there’d be enough time for her to at least see Kaleb and let him know she would come back to him eventually. To tell him to wait for her. To let him know she was fine.

“We’re on a clock, dragon girl,” Max caught her elbow and prompted her to walk. “Leave the homesickness to when you’re actually home.”

She gulped and nodded and they started making their way through the woods around Thebbington Abbey, careful to avoid curious eyes. In less than an hour, Ember was walking down the path that led to her dirty hut. And she was happy because of it. Because that dirty hut, as modest and lacking as it might have been, it was still home, and it was still her safe haven.

When she was right at the corner of her hut, Max pulled her in a bush and they waited for some by-passers to move on.

“Remember,” his warm breath tickled her ear. “Two hours and we’re on our way, whether you’re done or not.”

“I will be,” she replied fiercely. There was no chance she would leave things unfinished when it came to her siblings’ safety.

They quickly made their way out of the bushes and to the front of Ember’s house, making sure no one saw them. Ember closed her fingers around the doorknob and pushed the door open, anticipation making her skin prick from being finally at home. She’d underestimated how much a safe shelter can change your perspective. Whatever comes your way, as long as you know there’s one place where you can go, one place where you’re needed and missed, one place where there’s someone waiting for you, that’s enough to make you cherish the journey back.

She and Max hurried inside and she saw her siblings in a corner, playing with Bandit. The cat was the first who saw her. He started hissing, his fur standing up and he arched his back at her sight. Well, so much for being missed.

“Huh,” she heard Max mutter by her side. “Glad to know there’s someone else who shares my feelings.”

Ember glared at him and, right then, the little ones heard the voices and turned around. Their little eyes widened and started to shine at the sight of their older sister and they all hurried to her side, hugging her.


“Ember, you’re back!”

She chuckled and kissed the tops of their heads, feelings a few tears pricking her eyes.

“Hey, little monkeys. You missed me?”

A chorus of ‘yes’es surrounded her and she laughed breathlessly. She crouched in front of them, putting on the big sister mask and she was surprised by how fast the kids grew serious, too.

“Listen, monkeys, I don’t have much time,” she stated speaking fast. “I’m not here to stay. I’ve got a very, very important mission. You have to find Clarissa and give her a note I’m going to write for you right now, along with some money and have her take care of you while I’m gone. Do you understand me?”

Four heads nodded reluctantly and Ember tried not to cringe at how sad their little expressions were.

“Will you be back?” Charles whispered timidly, and Ember sighed and ruffled his hair.

“Of course I’ll be back, Charles. This is temporary. You’ve just got to promise me you’ll look after your sisters while I’m gone, will you?”

Charles nodded with a little more energy and Ember leaned in to kiss his forehead.

“I knew I could count on you,” she encouraged him, offering a smile. “Now tell me, have you seen Kaleb?”

The twins started giggling and Ember had her answer. It was amazing how attached the little girls had grown to the jeweler’s boy.

“Several times a day,” Lizzie answered. “Nana brought us food and he slept here with us every night. He should be back here any minute now.”

Ember bit her lip. Sweet caring Kaleb. He must have been worried out of his mind and yet, he had put all of his energy into caring for the little ones. She couldn’t even fathom the trouble he must have gone through with his father, and to involve Nana too… God, she would never be able to repay him for everything he did for her. Part of her wished he’d hurry showing up so that she could see him one more time to remind herself what she was coming back to. But on the other hand, it was enough that she was leaving the little ones; she wasn’t sure she could’ve brought herself to leave Kaleb, too, let alone to explain to him that she was running away on some treasure hunt with pirates.

“Who are you?” Mary glared at Max, who was sitting idly a few feet away from them, watching the scene detached and tapping his foot impatiently. Ember had completely forgotten he was even there.

“That’s, umm,” she began, and trailed off, not knowing exactly how to explain Maxwell Lockhart to four innocent friends. “That’s Max. He will play with you while I write the note to Clarissa.”

“Oh, no, fire breather, like blood—“

“Language,” she hissed at him, and was surprised when Max actually trailed off. “Now shut up and play with them.”

Max rolled his eyes and still crouched in front of the kids, who looked at him with wide eyes. Ember even saw Bandit purring and jumping on the pirate’s shoulder and Max reached up and started petting his stripped fur.

“Traitor,” Ember mumbled under her breath, not knowing which one in particular she was addressing.

She searched for a piece of paper for her note, the conversation between Max and the kids amusing her to no end.

“Are you courting Ember?”

“God, no.”

“Will you marry her?”

“I’d rather marry a shark.”

“She already has a suitor, you know.”

“I shall give the poor bastard my condolences.”

“Max!” she scolded him, but he was just grinning mischievously and the little ones actually burst into giggles so that Ember couldn’t keep a straight face, either, for too long.

Eventually, as she got to writing the note, Max pulled some coin from his vest and started rolling it around his fingers, keeping the kids entertained. Ember was surprised at how fast her siblings had taken up to him. He was a pirate, after all, and his whole look screamed danger. But as she glanced over her shoulder, taking in his ruffled hair and his beard and his rough features and the lines between his brows or around his mouth that he’d undoubtedly gotten due to many harsh years on the sea, she tried to look at him through eight innocent eyes. He was a new, exciting presence, and she had to give him this much, he knew how to get under your skin.

“Are you a pirate?”

Ember froze and turned around with wide eyes. She could not believe her ears.

Max scowled.

“Well, while your beloved sister would claim so, I would much rather call myself—“

“Cathy,” Ember breathed out and she saw that Charles’ and the twins’ expressions mirrored hers. Cathy hadn’t uttered a word in six years. Had her first words in so much time been truly spoken to Maxwell Lockhart? Had he truly managed to lure her out of the cage within herself?

“What?” Max looked around, from face to face, confused. Ember crouched in front of her sister.

“Cathy,” she repeated, clearing her throat and trying not to give in to the emotions. “What did you just say?”

It took a minute. Ember actually thought she hadn’t heard right or that Cathy wasn’t going to repeat it. But after heavy silence, the little girl opened her mouth again.

“He looks like a pirate,” she spoke clearly, blinking and tilting her head to one side. Ember laughed whole-heartedly, clutching her sister’s hand tightly in hers, a river of emotions flooding her.

“He does, doesn’t he?” she agreed, and she heard Max scoff.

“A little,” Cathy nodded, and Ember could hardly believe she was having a conversation with her. She thought she’d never get to do that again. She though Cathy’s voice had been gone for good. “He is funny, though.”

Ember rolled her eyes and Max huffed.

“I’m hilarious,” he offered, and the little ones chuckled again. Even Bandit purred from his shoulder.

Ember raised her finger at him and was about to throw some snarky remark of threat his way, when his face fell and he caught her hand in his forcefully. Ember frowned.

“What are you doing?” she pulled her hand back, but he just took it again, raising it to her eye level.

“Ember,” he spoke fiercely. “What’s this?”

~SOUNDTRACK: The Wright Brothers – Blood on my name~

Ember blinked up at him, confused by the sudden change in his mood. Even Charles and the girls looked a little scared. But then she looked down at her hand and gasped out loud. The back of it was covered in open gashes and the flesh looked like it was rotten. It was as if someone had put burning coals on her hand and had let them there for hours. And she noticed that the tips of her fingers were actually turning a little blue.

“I-I don’t know,” she muttered. “I must have caught something. Perhaps the bushes were poisoned? Sea food sickness?”

“Ember,” Max hissed again, and to her utter shock, he looked genuinely concerned. “This isn’t coming from some poisoned bushes or bad fish.”

She gulped. She wanted to brush it off and to shrug and say it was the only reasonable explanation, but seeing Max so disheveled, it occurred to her that perhaps she was supposed to be a little more worried.

She opened her mouth to say something, but her words died in her throat. Instead, she started choking and she felt her airways being blocked. She tried coughing, but all that came out was blood. She vaguely heard her sibling yelp, but she couldn’t think of anything else but the blood pooling out of her mouth and onto her clothes, on the floor, and about the gashes on her hands that were starting to burn like they were on fire.

“M-Max,” she managed to mutter, and he reacted in no time. He grabbed a cloth and wiped away the blood off her face and her clothes, the proceeded to grab her elbow.

“We’ve got to leave,” he prompted, panic clear in his voice. “Now.

Ember started shaking her head, trying to tell him that she couldn’t leave until she knew things with her siblings were clear.

Ember. We can’t stay here. We’re endangering your siblings. This isn’t random, Ember. You’ve been hexed. And the longer we stay, the greater the danger of you passing the curse to the kids.”

“H-Hexed?” Ember frowned, feeling already dizzy. “B-But—“

“Yes, Ember, hexed. Focus,” he raised his voice. “Witchy bloody stuff. We can’t waste time. I would take the children with us on the ship, but there’s no time.”

Without waiting for her to reply, he crouched in front of the kids, who looked at him wide-eyed; the poor souls had no idea of the danger lingering in the corners of this very room. There was some dark business going on and Ember was clueless, too.

“Listen,” he tried to soften his voice. “Ember is very sick. I will take her to see a physician and it might take a while until she gets better. Charles, take that note and go to the Clarissa your sister spoke of. Give her these.” He pulled out a little sack filled with golden coins and put in into Charles’ shaky hands. “Man up, mate. Your sisters need you. Be a brave lad and take care of them, alright?”

Charles nodded vehemently at the encouragement and Max ruffled his hair, turning on his heels and putting a hand around Ember’s waist and placing her arm over his shoulders to support her weight.

“N-No,” she tried to argue. “K-Kaleb.”

“Sorry, love,” Max ignored her. “There’s no time for a romantic rendezvous. I’m trying to save your life.”

“But the kids—“

“We’ll come back for them, Ember,” he cut her off. “When this is all over, I’ll deliver you to them. But for now, just please, shut up and let me save you.”

He carried Ember away from her little hut despite her protests and into the woods. He had no idea what their next move was, but the fate of the game had been just turned upside down. 

16: Chapter 15: I ain't no angel
Chapter 15: I ain't no angel


~SOUNDTRACK: Blues Saraceno – The river~

Ember was a little more scared than she would’ve cared to admit. She wasn’t coughing up blood anymore, but the odd rash on her hands was quickly spreading and it hurt like a hundred knives tearing up the flesh.

Max led her up deep into the woods and she didn’t have it in her to ask questions. He hadn’t uttered a word to her ever since they’d left her hut. They’d made endless turns and had taken routes Ember was having trouble recognizing herself and, at some point, Max had stopped in a random place and had instructed her to wait for him. Ten minutes later, he’d returned with several objects that didn’t seem related in any way, from what she could tell. A bowl, some candles, weird herbs and oils.

Max came to a halt in the middle of the woods so suddenly that Ember nearly bumped into his back.

“This should do,” he mumbled and started moving frantically around.

“Are you going to explain yourself now?” Ember snapped at him. “What are we running from? Why are you so hysterical and agitated? What was all that talk about hexes?”

He’d pulled out a piece of coal from the bowl and started drawing symbols on the ground that Ember had never seen. But whatever they meant, they made her restless and itchy. She instinctively pulled the cloak tighter around herself as Max was placing candles at the corners of some sort of pentagram.

“Max!” she screamed at him, unable to take the tension anymore. He finally seemed to notice her and turned around and it made Ember shudder to see the expression on his face. He was utterly terrified. What was going on?

He cleared his throat and swallowed hard.

“How are you feeling?” he asked her and Ember threw her hands in the air exasperated.

“I’m fine,” she spat. “Now can you—“

“Good,” Max cut her off. “That means the cursed object that triggered the curse was somewhere in the house. Being near it must have accelerated the hex. Now that you’re far from it—“

“In the house?” she shrieked. “Max, my siblings are there! If there’s even a remote chance that there’s a cursed object in the same house—“

“Slow down, Ember,” he stood up from whatever he was doing on the ground and moved to stand in front of her. “The hex should only work on supernatural creatures.”

She rubbed her face. “Should? It should work on supernatural creatures. But you don’t know for sure. Max, you have got to explain things to me right now, because nothing makes sense.”

“There’s no time for—“

“Then make some!”

They both stared each other down for several seconds, neither of them backing down. And Ember sure as hell wasn’t going to back down. She needed answers. Eventually, Max let out a loud, exasperated sigh and ran a hand over his beard.

“Look,” he hissed. “There’s some really dark, powerful magic involved. As far as I know, witches were supposed to be gone from these lands. If they’re back, then we should damn well be scared.”

“But why does it have anything to do with me?” Ember demanded. “I don’t understand. And why are you so frantic about it? Why would you be so eager to help me?”

He caught her shoulders and tried to slow down his breathing enough to fill her in on as many details as he could in as little time possible. His jaw was clenched and there was an urgency in his eyes that would’ve made Ember take a few steps backwards, hadn’t his grip on her been so tight.

“The way I see it, there’s no mistake about this. There’s a coven of witches who go after dragons. By my guess, you are supposed to be the last one of your kin. That makes you a direct target. And now I’m involved with you. Call if self-preservation, if you will. Or call it greed, if we’re to talk about that treasure I’m not giving up on. Whatever you wanna call it, I am not going to let some bloody witches have their way with you. Alright?”

She noticed she was shaking. Dragons. Last dragon of her kin. Witches. Pirates. Hexes. What had her life become? Only days earlier, she’d been a thief whose greatest worry was providing for her family. In so little time, those worries had turned into a situation in which she had to run for her life. With a pirate she knew nothing about and wasn’t sure whether she could trust.

“Alright,” she found her voice and replied with a steadiness that surprised even herself; now was no time for hesitations. “But what is it that you’re doing here, though? It looks like a spell, too.”

Max dropped his hands from her shoulders and sighed.

“I may be doing a terrible mistake,” he admitted. “It’s drastic, but it was all that I could think of. We must assume things are either at their worst, or about to become just that. Just pray to the Gods I’m making the right choice.”

Ember gulped. “Why? What is that thing you’ve painted?”

He crouched and started lighting up the candles, then made a deep cut in his hand and let the blood drip onto the herbs and the rest of the ingredients in the bowl. Then he bandaged his hand with a dirty handkerchief and set the ingredients on fire as well.

“It’s a devil’s trap. I’m summoning a demon,” he replied grimly, and before Ember had a chance to answer or to react to the information, he started reciting some sort of incantation in a language she couldn’t understand. The words rolled fluidly off his tongue and it made Ember wonder who exactly this man was.

The bowl lit up and the entire circle Max had drawn caught fire. Ember covered her eyes to protect them from the light and the sparks flying and when she opened them again, she gasped.

~SOUNDTRACK: Friends in Tokyo – Call me devil~

In the middle of the circle stood a man with his hands behind his back and she had to admit, he was the most gorgeous bastard she had ever laid her eyes upon. And she had met men like Kaleb Lahey and Maxwell Lockhart. Ember gulped. Except this one was a demon. His hair was the color of bronze and a few curls hung loosely over his forehead. He was well-dressed, and Ember thought she might have mistaken him for some noble, hadn’t she known better. Gods, he looked so… human. Except for the eyes. She’d expected them to be red or black or to be visibly evil, but instead, they were gray as a storm cloud. It was breathtaking. Or would have been, but beneath the beauty of his irises, she saw the cruelty and ruthlessness. The blood thirst. This was actually a demon.

The demon looked Max up and smirked with endless boredom. Ember could see Max’s shoulders tense and she could tell he wasn’t able to move a single muscle. After a few seconds of silence, the demon spoke, his whole attention on the captain.

“You must be either a fool or truly desperate, pirate,” the words flowed off his lips, and his voice sounded so velvet compared to what Ember had expected.

What had she expected really? Growling? Hissing?

“Beelzebub,” Max muttered under his breath and Ember looked from the demon to the pirate. Beelzebub?

The demon smiled surprised.

“Oh, so you’re not as dumb as you look,” he mocked, the same bored look on his face. “Tell me, pirate, what could possibly make you summon a prince of hell? Feeling like making a deal with the devil?”

Max gritted his teeth and just as Ember opened her mouth to inquire what they were even talking about, the demon – Beelzebub – took a step forward, right past the edge of the devil’s trapped that was supposed to, well, trap him.

“Were you even trying at all?” the demon mocked. “That must be the worst devil’s trap I’ve ever seen.”

She heard Max draw in a sharp breath. Oh, he wasn’t kidding about the dangerous part.

“I have no intention of hurting you,” the demon prompted himself in front of Max. “I’m genuinely curious. And by all means, call me by my earthly name. Christopher. Christopher DeMarco. Beelzebub sounds too pretentious for my liking. Pleased to make your acquaintance. I shall be even more pleased to rip your limbs off if you waste my time.”

Max gulped loudly and Ember realized she was quite stuck in place, too. Her tongue felt heavy and all of a sudden, she was hyper aware of the sensation of general sickness taking over her body. Whatever this hex was, she assumed it required a little more distance between her and the cursed object if she wanted to slow down its effects. The demon kept waiting and Max couldn’t help but take a step back before speaking.

“We need your help,” he stated with fierceness and boldness that Ember admired, considering he looked just as scared as her. “Witches have returned to these lands.”

The demon – Christopher – looked thoughtful for a moment. “And why would that be my problem, pirate?”

Max stood his ground.

“They’re the Hades Brides. And they’re throwing hexes around.”

The name didn’t ring a bell for Ember and she made a note to demand some serious explanations from Max if they made it out of here alive. However, she did see a slight, almost indistinguishable shadow cross the demon’s face that he was quick to dismiss almost immediately.

“I see,” he replied as contained as before. “Interesting. Yet not at all my concern. What would lead you to believe I would offer you my protection?”

“Her,” Max turned his head to Ember, and her eyes widened as realization hit. He was throwing her at him like bait. Throwing her to the wolf. She gulped out loud. Well, if this demon wanted a good fight, sick or not, she was going down swinging.

Christopher’s eyes turned to her and his eyebrows raised a little.

“What an interesting turn of events,” he took a few steps towards her. “A dragon.”

He reached forward and touched her hand and Ember flinched. His hands were cold, yet his tentative touch was sensual enough to make the little hairs on the nape of her neck stand up. He took her hand and inspected it briefly, looking over the gashes that just kept looking worse and worse.

“How inconvenient,” Christopher commented as if he was talking about the weather. “What’s your name, dragon?”

Ember gulped before answering and held her chin up, keen on not letting her fear stumble her once again.


“Ember,” the demon repeated. “I’ll admit my curiosity is piqued. I believed your kin was extinct.”

He dropped her hand and took a few steps backwards, his hands still behind his back. His eyes sparkled with mischief and Ember could practically see the way he was plotting all the ways in which he could benefit from this situation. Christopher stayed silent, waiting for the two of them to speak, as a cat would wait for the mice to fall for its trap.

“You want a deal,” Max eventually stated simply, no inquiry in his tone. It fazed Ember how acquainted he was with this whole situation.

Christopher shrugged bored.

“It is known to be my style,” he commented.

“What do you want?” Max asked him sharply and Christopher moved a few steps forward, standing again in front of Ember and ignoring the captain completely. She stood her ground and he smirked at her bravery. Though perhaps stupidity would have described it best.

“My proposition is very simple,” he spoke near her face, and she resisted the urge to step backwards. “I offer you my complete protection for whatever needs should arise in your path. I shall help you take down these witches. And in exchange for my help and for my protection, I want your tears.”

In the intensity of the moment, Ember couldn’t help but snort a little. She froze for a second, expecting the demon to snap at her for some supposed lack of respect, but there was a hungry expression on his face, an insatiable desire that lingered. And it dawned on Ember. He was serious.

“My tears?” she asked breathlessly. “Why would you want my tears?”

He didn’t answer right away, and it ended up being Max who clarified it.

“Tears of a dragon,” Ember heard the captain’s voice from behind Christopher. “One of the most powerful ingredients used for some dark enchants. Black magic.”

“Oh, well,” Christopher finally turned to Max. “A well-read pirate. I was so certain those were even rarer than dragon these days.”

Ember thought it through. If what Max said was true, then giving the demon her tears might have brought mayhem upon realms and peoples who would face their perdition at her hands. Christopher was supposedly a prince of hell, so she doubted she wanted those tears to cure poverty and illnesses. She was well aware that every lost soul that was bound to suffer at the hands of Christopher and whatever spell he meant to cast, they were all on her. And she found that she was oddly fine with that. With her life on the line and a coven of witches roaming free on these lands that were her home, she realized she didn’t care about the aftermath. She needed to win this battle.

“I agree.”

The demon turned to her, no noticeable changes in his expression except for a smirk just a little wider. Max was biting his lip furiously.

“Ember—“ he tried to reason, but she shut him up with a glare. This whole charade had been his idea.

“I will give you my tears,” she told Christopher. “Just help us get rid of those witches.”

Christopher studied her intently for a minute and Ember was growing weary under the heaviness of his eyes. It was as if he was trying to read deeply into the patterns of her soul, to decipher her deepest desires. She noticed his gaze travelling around her body, but not stopping on her per se, and she actually looked around to see if there was something near her that he was so focused on, but she saw nothing. Eventually, he broke the silence.

“Very well. It would appear we have a deal. Firstly,” he said, approaching Ember and taking her hand again, then touching one side of her face tentatively; Ember shuddered under his touch, and then she realized another gash had just appeared on her left cheek. “We need to rid you of these.”


“There is a stone,” Christopher began. “An ancient opal that is said to having been crafted in dragon blood and forged in the fire breathed by all the dragon clans of the time. We must begin searches for the fire opal immediately. It won’t be a cure, but it will alleviate your symptoms and slow down the process until we find a more permanent solution.”

“Fire opal?” Ember muttered under her breath, her blood humming in anticipation. “Is it, by chance, called dragon’s breath?”

Christopher raised his eyebrows, the first genuine emotion she’d seen on his face.

“You heard of it?” Max inquired.

Ember looked from one to the other, not quite believing that they were finally granted such luck.

“I know exactly where it is.”



Well, well, well. New character, huh? Watcha guys think of Christopher? He’s a murderous cinammon roll and I call him Bubu.

Funny story. Christopher is really not an original character of mine. He’s actually a love interest for the main character in my sister’s original story, Wonderland. Except he’s like thousands of years old and, if Smoke and Mirrors happens in the past, Wonderland happens in the future. And it’s got nymphs, hot hunters, Bubu, vampires, werewolves, everything you want. Knock yourselves out. You can find it on fictionpress under the username Melody.Hathaway.

Remember to review! Reviews make authors happy and happy authors update!

Lots of love,


17: Chapter 16: Behind the broken glass
Chapter 16: Behind the broken glass


~SOUNDTRACK: Seinabo Sey – Pistols at dawn~

Ember was slowly making her way to the realization that there was no such thing as coincidence and nothing was as fortuitous or hazardous as one might think. Otherwise, she had no way of explaining how she had come in the possession of the one gem that could save her life.

The demon, Christopher, had explained it hadn’t been by chance that the dragon’s breath had ended up in her hands. He said that certain energies seek to those alike them, that the magic the stone had been instilled with had resonated enough to draw Ember in. Chances were, the poor merchants who carried it probably had no idea how powerful it even was.

But regardless of the endless explanations that made Ember’s head spin due to the amount of information having been thrown her way in such little time, their task was simple. Retrieve the dragon’s breath. Christopher had claimed he would cast a spell that would counter the effects of the hex, at least temporary. And while Ember was having issues trusting the demon or taking his word for it, she was out of options. She didn’t particularly trust Max, either, but the out-of-option-ness ran deep and given her situation, she couldn’t afford being picky.

She and Max were now headed back to her hut for the second time that day. Christopher had suggested that they should meet up later and he was going to work his devilish charm on the villagers to see if he could dig up any sort of information as to the location and identity of the witches. Ember tried to ignore the lump in her throat as she thought about the possibility of one of those Hades Brides being a person she knew and crossed paths with on a daily basis. Although, if she were to take into consideration the whole village’s stance towards her, it could have been anyone.

The two of them walked in silence, the threat hanging above their heads already thickening the air between them. Well, the threat hanging above Ember’s head. She was still a little slow on grasping his role in this whole story.

She cleared her throat, trying to get his attention. One more minute of awkward silence and she would explode.

“I take it this is a little more than what you’ve signed up for,” she tried to tease and he glared. Oh. So she’d hit a nerve.

“Perhaps I’ll choose a more cooperative dragon next time,” he mocked back. “Less talkative. Less annoying. One who doesn’t snore. One who’s in no danger of ending up as dragon meatloaf for some witch’s breakfast.”

“Funny,” she narrowed her eyes. “Let me know when you find one. I’d be more than happy to share the life threat with a more cooperative individual. And I don’t snore.”

Max huffed. “Please. I’d say you snore like a dragon, but that’s a bit too literal for my taste. I’ll let you know when I come up with a better joke.”

“By all means, don’t,” Ember teased back and she heard him snicker under his breath.

She was a little surprised at how easy it was to slip back into this bickering game with Maxwell Lockhart. She found it was rather entertaining. To such extents, that now she didn’t even feel like punching him. That much.

“It’s rather remarkable how fast you’re back to your buffoon self,” she took advantage of the situation. “You know, given the circumstances. For someone who was shaking in his fancy vest in front of a demon not long ago. A demon you summoned, might I add.”

Max pursed his lips and stayed silent. He wasn’t dumb. He must’ve clearly seen through her attempts at debriefing him. But it wasn’t like Ember had any intention of backing down, so she proceeded with her inquiries.

“Which reminds me,” she pitched her voice, not bothering to hide her suspiciousness. “How did you know how to summon a demon? Or about the Hades Brides? You seem awfully familiar with the situation.”

Max came to a halt and turned on his heels, taking Ember by surprise. She bumped into his chest and her breath caught in her throat when she realized how close they were standing. She gulped. Was it even natural for eyes to be so blue? And while she had to say he was in bad need of a shaving, she also had to admit that this rough look suited him like a glove.

“I know things,” he stated simply, and Ember glared.

“Yes, so I’ve noticed. That was precisely my questions. How do you know things?”

He ran a hand over his face. “Ember, only days ago, you had no idea what you were. It hadn’t even occurred to you to investigate why you kept waking up in the woods with no memories. And yet, you’re still having trouble swallowing that piece of information. Believe me when I say that there are things don’t know about. And pray that it stays this way. There are worse things than a coven of bored witches.”

Ember laughed humorlessly. “Indeed so. Such as demons.”

Max pursed his lips and nodded once. “For instance, yes, demons. If only that was the end of it.”

He turned on his heels again and started walking again, leaving Ember starting at his back. She huffed and hurried after him. Did he make a priority out of being insufferable?

“You dismiss me so easily?” she raised her voice. “Won’t you explain anything to me?”

He looked at her over at shoulder, smirking like the frustrating bastard he was.

“Oh, I could,” he mused. “But where would the fun be in that?”

Ember could hardly believe her ears. The fun? Bored witches? Was he even the same man whose voice had shaken in front of Christopher like he was scared the demon might have turned him into dust? Which, she dreaded to admit to herself, he might have.

Before she could argue with him further, they took a turn and arrived right in front of Ember’s hut. She’d figured they’d have to move fast but, apparently, they did have some time to kill while Christopher did his thing and tried to track down the witch. Ember just hoped she’d get to see Kaleb this time. She ached for him. She also hoped that Max wouldn’t traumatize her siblings permanently. She was grateful that his charisma had gotten Cathy to open up for the first time in years, but the fact that the first words she’d uttered had been ‘Are you a pirate?’ somewhat unsettled her.

~SOUNDTRACK: Oscar Isaac – Fare thee well (Original soundtrack – Inside Llewyn Davis)~

Ember opened the door and Max was quick to follow her inside. Before she could even acknowledge other presences in the room or the fact that she was home, she inhaled deeply. The rusty and dusty smell of her modest little house filled her lungs and slowed down her heartbeats. And just like that, when she opened her eyes, the panic and the rush were gone.

It only lasted but a fraction of a second and, just like earlier today, when her siblings saw her, they rushed to her side with extended arms. The hugs lasted less this time and they unclasped themselves from her arms to turn to Max. Ember gasped in disbelief. Even Bandit had sought shelter on his shoulder again. This newly found comradery between the pirate and that beast of a kitten knocked her dumb. Well, like calls to like, she told herself. Evil bastard to evil bastard.

“Hello, Max,” the twins started cornering him.

“It’s ‘captain’ to you, young lady.”

“If you’re not courting Ember, can I marry you?”

“Tempting. I’ll still take the shark.”

“Can you sing songs?”

“Only inappropriate ones.”

“Do you have a special lady that you love?”

“Why, my ship, of course.”

“That’s a not a real lady.”

“What would you know about ladies?”

And on and on they went. Max kept up with the twins honorably. Occasionally, Charles would chime in with a shy question that the captain would respond to calmly, and under Ember’s eyes, the little boy embraced a newly confidence that she’d never seen on him. She had to admit she quite enjoyed the show.

“You,” Max’s voice boomed and broke Ember’s trained of thoughts; she followed his gaze and noticed he was watching Cathy. “Why so quiet, little Blackthorn?”

Cathy shrugged timidly and a surge of panic crossed Ember. What if this morning had been a singular event? What if Cathy went back to not speaking at all? She didn’t have the energy or the emotional capacity to work through that again. She wanted so badly to know that Cathy had put all the hardship behind her and that she’d be able again to enjoy a childhood Ember hadn’t gotten to enjoy.

“Tell you what, squirrel,” Max crouched in front of Cathy. “Have you ever heard of mermaids?”

Cathy nodded.

“You believe in ‘em?”

The little girl shook her head and Max pursed his lips.

“Too bad,” he retorted, and Ember could tell he now held the interest of all four of them; Cathy, in particular, watched him with hungry curiosity. “Because they’re very real. How about I tell you a story about a mermaid I’ve crossed paths with? And a sea serpent. I barely made it out alive. Would you like me to tell you the story?”

He lowered his voice to a dangerous tone, like one would to while telling a scary story around the fire. But it worked like a charm, because the little ones were enraptured. And then it happened again.

“I would love that very much,” Cathy whispered, and Max smiled and ruffled her hair.

“Alright then,” he made himself comfortable on the floor and the kids circled him. “So I was sailing one day not long ago with my crew, minding out own business, when we heard a luring song before seeing something in the water—“

He nodded at Ember almost imperceptibly and she knew this was her cue. He was keeping the kids entertained and she had to get the dragon’s breath. Not that this was very hard. She knew exactly where it was. So she kneeled beside the bed and shoved her hand under the mattress. In no time, her fingers touched something solid and she pulled out a small sack. Her heart raced in anticipation. She took a moment to embrace the moment. Now that she knew this rock was somehow a part of her legacy, she was beginning to understand the pull she felt towards it. She visualized the exact moment when her fingertips would touch the surface of the opal.

With a sharp intake of breath, she pulled out the gem from the sack and held in her palm. For one exact heartbeat. Then it hit her like thunder. The energy, the pull, the tether. It was like the stone was imbued with magic and now that the veil had been lifted, she could feel all that energy flowing from the stone and into her veins. How could she have missed this? It was overwhelming. All that power, gathered in something that fit in her palm.

She shook her head and tried to brush off the haze it put her under. Now more than ever, she had to stay focused. She turned around and saw that Max had stripped of his vest and now used it to exemplify the way he had trapped that sea serpent in his net and she smiled upon seeing the children laughing so whole-heartedly. And the more they laughed, the more Max fooled around to keep them entertained. It was a vicious cycle.

She had to tell Max that she had the stone and that they had to go and meet up with Christopher, but she couldn’t bring herself to just yet. So instead, she tucked the gem safe into her pocket and sat next to them, enjoying the scene just a little longer.




~SOUNDTRACK: 3 Doors Down – Here without you (Tyler Ward & Madilyn Bailey Acoustic Cover)~

Kaleb missed her with every heartbeat that reminded him of how her skin had hummed against his fingertips right before she’d walked out that door a few night before. And she hadn’t come back ever since. His heart clenched and he hit his fists against the table.

The worry had been soon replaced with anger. At himself, at his helplessness. He’d done his best caring for Ember’s siblings while she was gone, but it didn’t erase the fact that he couldn’t do anything to get her back.

He was certain something had happened to her. At first, he’d thought Clarissa had offered some sort of business and that she was going back on her word of laying low for a while. He wouldn’t have judged her if that were the case. He couldn’t have ever. But then morning came and she hadn’t showed up. So he went to Clarissa, who claimed he hadn’t seen her in days.

And the realization settled deep in his chest like an ice storm. Somehow, he knew there was something wrong. And when she didn’t come home that night either and the kids were looking up at him with concern in their eyes, Kaleb knew what true despair is. He couldn’t help but think the worst. He kept telling himself Ember knew how to talk care of herself and that she was perfectly capable of self-defense. But deep to the core, he kept hearing a voice telling him that she wasn’t invincible.

“Kaleb,” he heard his father bark beside him. “Put an end to this sulking around and get to working. Clients are waiting and money don’t grow on trees, boy.”

Kaleb gritted his teeth. Ever since that episode in the market, he was having trouble going back to the same obedient boy who was afraid of his father. Somewhere between that moment and now, it had occurred to him that he was no longer frail and small and that he had the means to stand up to the bully. He turned around and faced his father, all that anger boiling inside him scratching the surface.

“If clients are waiting, I suggest you get to working yourself, father,” he spoke with fierceness he had no idea he was capable of; his father’s eyes widened. “I have other business to attend to.”

William Lahey stepped forward, his eye twitching. Kaleb swallowed hard in anticipation; he knew that gesture all too well. It always preceded a beating he wouldn’t recover from for days. But those times were gone. He wouldn’t let his father intimidate him ever again. With Ember out there and not knowing whether she was still breathing, Kaleb was in no mood to endure these behaviors.

“Watch your mouth, boy,” his father spat in his face, the muscles in his arm twitching and Kaleb saw the blow before he could land it.

In one swift motion, he caught his father’s arm. Oh, how he enjoyed the terrified look on the almighty William Lahey’s face as he was being stood up to.

“Isn’t it irritating to feel powerless, father?” he let go of his arm. “All your anger can’t match mine. And I’ve held it in for years. Not once again will I stand victim to your rage. Pray that you don’t get to know mine.”

The old man’s eye twitched again.

“Is that a threat, boy?”

Kaleb grinned viciously. “Damn right, it is.”

He turned on his heels and walked out of the shop, not waiting around to face the aftermath of his words. This small victory was not fruitful without Ember to share it with. She would have been proud of him. He had come a long way from weeks ago when he’d been a scared boy whose throat she held a knife against. Who was shaking in his pants when he offered her that orchid.

It was as if her presence had shed color on everything that surrounded him. Like he’d been blind and she’d been the lightning piercing the night sky. Like he’s been deaf and the first thing he heard had been the echo of her thunder. And then everything started different shades until the world was an explosion of colors with a red cloak and green eyes in the middle. And now she was gone and he was sick with worry and the world had gone back to being painted in shades of black and white.

He didn’t even realize he was headed towards her house until he found himself standing a few houses away from it. He sighed. Where was she? Why wasn’t she coming back? He had to believe she was somewhere out there, fighting to make her way back to him. Because he missed her like crazy and his hands were already starting to feel like empty shells without hers to hold.

The door to the hut opened. He exhaled sharply. He was thinking about how he should have explained to Charles and the girls that they were not to go out alone, without Ember to watch over them. But he stopped mid-thought and stopped breathing at all. The kids hadn’t come out of the house. Instead, red cloak pulled around her, Ember emerged on the doorstep, eyes scanning the distance cautiously.

Kaleb felt something inside him snap and scorching flames were ignited in the depth of his chest. She was back. He broke into a wide grin and was about to run towards her. He’d sweep her off her feet and spin her around, because these days without her had felt like a long dull winter. But he never got around to it.

He saw another presence following Ember shortly. A young man, perhaps merely years older than Ember and himself, with a beard and dressed in black and leather from head to toe. His stance screamed dangerous, and yet he kept close to her. Their moves were frantic and rushed and it looked like they were running from something.

Kaleb frowned. He tried to look past the jealousy bubbling in the pit of the stomach, thinking that during these days when he’d been going out of his mind, she’d been running around with a smoldering stranger. But that was not like the Ember he knew. Ember would have never abandoned her siblings in the middle of the night. And he liked to think that Ember wouldn’t have abandoned him without as much as a warning.

He counted five heartbeats before he made up his mind. He had to get to the bottom of this and he had to get Ember back home. Back to him. So he kept a safe distance and followed Ember and the tall dark stranger.



These two are my favorite thing to write in the entire world. Their dynamics is insane and it comes so natural. And Max is beyond this world. Once I sit down, it is literally impossible to stop.

Anyway, lemme know whatcha think! Review away! Feedback equals one happy author, and one happy author updates fast!

See ya, fellas,


18: Chapter 17: Walking with spiders
Chapter 17: Walking with spiders


~SOUNDTRACK: James Arthur – Certain things~

The first time she’d made this trip, Ember had had a sack over her head and was aching to put a knife through Max’s skull. The last time had been too dark. Now that she could observe the surroundings, she had to admit it was quite breathtaking.

They were in a boat, heading back towards Max’s ship. Christopher was to meet them there. She hadn’t bothered to ask how he would get there, because she doubted she wanted to know. All this magic nonsense was still hard enough to grasp as it was. So for now, she was alone in a boat with Max. She smiled as she took in the view. Far ahead, the sea met the skyline and they merged into a wide blue horizon. Each wave had a choreography of its own and together they created a beautiful piece that would’ve put great symphonies to shame. She breathed in the salty smell of the sea. It caught her by surprise since she’d despised it not long ago, but as it filled her lungs now, she found that she actually enjoyed the sensation of liberation it provided.

“Look at you,” Max’s voice brought her back from her daydream. “Befriending the sea like a true pirate.”

“For a mercenary, you’ve called me a pirate more times than you’ve admitted to being one yourself.”

Max laughed, but rolled his eyes anyway. “I can’t win with you.”

Ember laughed, too and her gaze stayed glued to him. He had taken off his vest and she could see the muscles rippling through his thin black shirt as he oared. If she were to be completely honest with herself, perhaps she wasn’t entirely clueless to his attractiveness. At a closer look, the color of his eyes matched that of the horizon and blended in beautifully. That wicked smirk of his that infuriated her to no end actually curved his features into a playful expression that lighted up his whole face. And today, she’d learned things about him. Things that had shocked her more than actually seeing him murder a man before her eyes. She’d learned that he was capable of kindness. That there was more to him than stupid jokes and teasing and mockery and pirate parties painted in rum. She’d learned that he was human, a human who could feel fear and compassion and who could relate to certain situations. And she couldn’t help but feel as if, today, she’d also earned some respect from him.

He cleared his throat, startling her. She hadn’t realized she was so deeply lost in her thoughts.

“While I’m aware I am a handsome bastard, your staring is making me uncomfortable.”

Ember shook her head and smirked, looking him straight in the eyes. She refused to drop his gaze or to blush anymore. Two could play this game.

“Is that so?” she narrowed her eyes and tilted her head playfully at him; she leaned forward with her elbows on her knees and she could swear she saw him gulp a little. “Are you losing your touch, captain Lockhart? First your bones shake while drawing a devil’s trap. Then you fool around with little kids. So unlike you. And now you fidget around a girl?” She clicked her tongue. “Pull yourself together, captain.”

He huffed. “Fidgeting around a girl? What am I, 13? You give yourself too much credit, fire breather. Many women have warmed my bed, dragon girl. Your innocent mind would be unable to comprehend such things. I don’t fidget.”

“Is that so?” she repeated, not letting herself be intimidated as she rested her cheek on her palm. “I can’t help but notice you’re not denying the part about being scared or kind to the children.”

He simply shrugged. “I was. Scared as mouse. And your siblings were the only ones willing to hear my mermaid story without laughing at it.”

Ember fought a smile. “Is it true that they’re real? Did you actually fight mermaids?”

“Hell, no. But I’ve always wanted to tell that story.”

Ember laughed whole-heartedly. She felt it happening. Slowly and steadily like a river stream. Maxwell Lockhart was growing on her and getting under her skin. He felt herself get pulled in by the curve of his lips as they widened into that grin of his, revealing white teeth. Weren’t pirates supposed to be dirty and smelly and repulsive? Was it fair for him to be so distracting? Ember bit her lip and gave a shove to all those feelings, pushing them deep down. She didn’t need more complications in her life right now. And enough of those already involved Max to wrap her head around another one.

But then again, she also couldn’t ignore the fact that she’d had those moments with her siblings today thanks to him. And that he’d faced a demon and had risked his life to help her when she’d been in danger. While she didn’t quite enjoy feeling in debt towards him, of all people, she couldn’t help but feel like she was starting to owe him her life.

“Thank you,” she blurted out as she smiled up at him; when he cocked an eyebrow at eyebrow questioningly, she hurried to clarify. “For taking me to see my siblings. Helping me with the witch.”

“Swallowing our pride, are we?” he mocked, and she rolled her eyes; count on Max to ruin a moment. “And you shouldn’t thank me. I’m the one who took you away from your siblings in the first place.”

“True,” she pursed her lips. “Let’s say I’m trying not to hold that against you, now that you’ve more or less saved my life. I will help you find your treasure, Max. I promise.”

He was silent for a few minutes, watching her with an intensity that made Ember finally shift in her seat and avert her gaze. His grin was gone and he was looking at her like she was a puzzle he couldn’t solve.

“And I’ll keep you alive in the meantime,” he spoke eventually, all trace of mockery gone from his voice.  “I promise. And when all this was over, you’ll have your fair share of that treasure. You and your siblings will never again have to live another day knowing hunger.”

Ember looked at him with wide eyes. She blinked and cleared her throat, unsure as to how to shake off the awkwardness that was slowly setting in her bones under the heaviness of his sapphire eyes. He drew his lip between his teeth and started biting it as he kept oaring and Ember silently cursed at him. Yes. He was definitely distracting, to say at the very least.

“That’s a lot of trouble for some pennies, if you ask me,” Ember tried to joke, but the air had shifted between them perceptibly. “Why would you put everything at risk to protect me? Is money worth all that?”

Max simply shrugged. The ship was already coming into sight.

“Perhaps I have no wish to see you dead,” he replied, and this time, Ember couldn’t stop her blush from spreading across her cheeks. “And there’s more money in that cave than a few pennies, fire breather. You’ll see.”

Ember let escape a small smile in his direction. Maxwell Lockhart was an enigma, and yet, she found herself resonating to such extents with him that it took her aback like nothing before. Sure, she missed Kaleb like one would miss half of their heart, and she and Kaleb had had a connection that ran deeper than words. But she couldn’t deny that, for the last few days, there had been certain things that drew a link between her and the pirate. And as hard as she pulled on it, it wouldn’t bulge. And she was slowly starting to learn the ways of his being, learning the ways past the things that got on her nerves and into the things that got to her.

After a few more moments of silence, Ember couldn’t stop herself from asking the question poking at the back of her mind.

“This thing with the witch?” she spoke quietly. “Is it truly that bad? Does it pose such a great threat to my life?”

Max sighed and looked on the verge of rolling his eyes, but he kept his composure and watched her with a serious expression mixed with a tinge of his usual glee when he responded.

“Someday soon, Ember, perhaps I shall sit you down and tell you all of those stories over a bottle of rum.” Ember actually smiled a little at the thought; and not that she’d ever admit it, but at the way her name rolled off so suavely off his lips, too. “But not just yet. When you’re ready.”

Her eyebrows rose. “And I presume you’re one to tell when such occasion should arise? When I should be ready?”

He seemed unfazed as he shrugged nonchalantly.

“Occasion might arise sooner than later, dragon girl,” he smirked wickedly at her, and Ember could practically see the dirty remark coming before he could voice it. “I told you that you underestimate my charms.”



~SOUNDTRACK: Heavy Young Heathens – Lucifer~

“Took you two long enough.”

Max let go of Ember’s hand after helping her up on deck and glared at the demon who leaned casually against a barrel.

“Oaring boats ain’t no rainbow when you don’t have supernatural powers,” the captain spoke through gritted teeth, and Ember had to admit his standing up to Christopher was, if not reckless and stupid, at least a little brave.

Christopher stepped forward, the same stance to his posture, as Ember observed, with his hands tucked behind his back. He cocked his head to one side and watched both of them for a minute before speaking.

“Well,” his velvet voice boomed. “Let’s get down to business, shall we?”

He extended his arms and Max looked around for the first time. His eyebrows rose when he realized his crew looked rather terrified. What had been going on here while he had been gone? Christopher took a few steps forward and stopped right in front of him.

“While you were gone,” the demon began, “I took the liberty to dispose of some of your crew members that I deemed unworthy of serving you. I figured rats would be better needed at the bottom of the ocean than on a ship we must keep well-guarded.”

Ember’s eyes widened. Was he implying what she thought he was implying?

“What?” she shrieked. “Disposed of them? You killed members of his crew? Max—“

She turned to him, expecting to see him enraged. He didn’t seem like the kind of man who would tolerate interference with the way he handled business on his ship. But to her utter surprise, Max looked rather impressed than angered.

“Huh,” was all he could mutter and Ember looked incredulously from the captain to the demon and back.

“Have you gone mad?” she demanded, turning to Max. “He murdered your people.”

Max shrugged. “He makes a fair point. And I’ve murdered my own people, too. We don’t need a mutiny during such sensitive times.”

“Oh, well,” Christopher grinned. “The pirate has a common sense. Humanity is full of surprises. Also, there would be one more issue.”

Ember glared at Max and crossed her arms over her chest, incredulous. She took back whatever half-assed compliments she’d mentally attributed him. He was back to cruel pirate in the blink of an eye. As Christopher gestured for a few of the pirates to fetch something for him, Ember found herself quickly drawn into the curiosity she shared with Max as to what issue the demon had encountered. She loathed this rush and how easy it was to give in to these instincts of letting go of morals, but in all truthness, the situation truly was sensitive, and there were decisions to be made that could have made the difference between surviving and falling prey to those ‘bored witches’.

The pirates came back dragging a man along with them, with the same sack on his head that Ember had had the first time she’d been brought aboard. She frowned. What was this about? And what was so familiar about his body built?

“I found this,” Cristopher announced in a bored tone. “A rat. It seems to have traced down the ship with a boat and your men found it hiding on deck. No one seems to know what to make of it.”

It. For Christopher, the poor boy was truly no more than a rat that he could dispose of as easily as he had those sailors that had been plotting against Max. But there was still something about his silhouette, something oddly familiar that she could not entirely place. That muscular chest, those toned arms and she could have sworn she’d seen that tunic he was wearing before.

“Interesting,” Max clicked his tongue. “Take off the sack. Let’s see if our rat has a tongue, too.”

The men revealed the boy’s face and Ember could see in slow motion as the features of his face came into view. Full lips. Pointed nose. Sharp cheeks. Emerald eyes. And that ever ruffled hair. She gasped.

~SOUNDTRACK: Aquilo – Silhouette~

“Kaleb,” she breathed out.

And their eyes met. She couldn’t tell what she saw in his eyes. There was a bit of shock and disappointment, but she didn’t want to think of that just yet. There was that ever-lasting spark in the depth of the green of his eyes that lit up every time at the sight of her. What was he doing here? Did he have a death wish? Did he long for her as much as he longed for him? Did his fingertips itch to touch her as much as hers did to touch him? What would become of him if she couldn’t get to him before Christopher and Max?

She didn’t even have time to process everything that was going out as she broke into a grin and her heels dug into the wooden deck, ready to reach for him and jump into his arms, rip out those ropes around his wrists with her bare teeth. Kaleb. Kaleb. Kaleb was here.

“Kaleb,” she gasped breathlessly again, lunging forward.

She willed her skin to anticipate the contact before they touched. She visualized his cheek next to hers, his lips to her ear and hers to his neck, smelling his rusty smell and running her fingers through his hair. But the contact never came. Instead, other arms circled her waist and held her in place. Her muscles moved, but her body wasn’t getting closer to Kaleb.

She looked down and saw arms covered in black sleeves that she traced back to Max’s body pressed against hers. She pursed her lips and shot him a death glare, struggling to break free.

“Let go of me, Max,” she sneered. “I know him.”

“I’m moved to tears,” the captain hissed in her ear. “But he sneaked on my ship, dragon girl. He’s under my jurisdiction.”

“And I don’t care,” she raised her voice. “Let me go.”

“Ember, listen to me.”

“Let me go to him, Max.”

“We have to—“

“Max, I will hit you some place where the sun doesn’t shine.”

“And I will tie you to the table in my cabin.”


“Ember, listen to—“


As the word left her lips and her voice lowered, she felt him stop struggling and the pirate held his breath. She turned her head to look at him and she saw the hard expression on his face. But as his sapphire eyes dug into hers, he must have seen her plea there, because with a loud sigh, he let go of her and even handed her his dagger, motioning towards Kaleb.

Ember let out a breathless laugh and wasted no time in getting on her knees in front of Kaleb.

“Ember—“ he started, his voice shaking. Gods, she’d missed that voice for so long.

“Hush,” she prompted him .”Give me your hands.”

He extended his tied wrists and she started working on his ropes shakily.

“Ember—“ he tried again. “What’s going on? Who are these people?”

“I’ll explain everything,” she nodded, wishing she could just work through those ropes faster and feel those strong arms of his around her, sheltering her from everything evil that was to come her way. As long as he had him by her side, she could face it all.


Christopher’s loud sigh interrupted Kaleb’s retort, and Ember turned to glare at him, though it did nothing to faze the demon.

“Well, as lovely and dramatic as this was,” Christopher spoke, “I’m afraid our honorable rat guest may need to explain himself first.”

“He’s tied down, Christopher,” Ember hissed. “He can offer whatever explanations you need later.  There’s no rush. Let me have this one moment.”

She turned to Kaleb, whose expression was unreadable. It pained her to some extent. Perhaps she would’ve expected him to be a little more joyful and relieved about seeing her again, even if it wasn’t under the most appropriate circumstances. But he must have been in shock. Gods, he must have seen her in the village and followed her here. Did he know no boundaries when it came to chasing her? She didn’t feel as if she was worthy of it, still not yet.

She dared cast a glance in Max’s direction before the last snap of the rope. She found him watching the scene with a hard, unreadable expression on his face. Her shoulders tensed. She had no idea why it affected her to see him so within himself, so unlike the way she knew him. But she couldn’t think about that now. All she knew was Kaleb, Kaleb, Kaleb, Kaleb’s shaking fingers, hers grasping them, only a few more inches between them, between their lips, regardless of the dozens pairs of eyes watching them.

Christopher cleared his throat behind her. She sighed frustrated. Prince of Hell or not, she was going to punch his teeth out.

“I’m afraid this cannot wait,” he spoke, almost an amused tinge to his tone. “While I am fairly certain that your friend isn’t acquainted with your true beastly self, I’ve got reasons to believe he isn’t quite estranged, either. At least, not with the hex threat above your head.”

“What?” Kaleb shrieked breathlessly, barely having any energy to fight back. “Are you all insane? I’m not… What are you—”

Ember squeezed his fingers reassuringly and turned to Christopher.

“What nonsense are you talking about?”

Christopher wasted no time and asked for no permission before grabbing Kaleb by the collar of his shirt and pulling him to his feet. Ember tried to fight back and have the demon free Kaleb, but she was no equal to a Prince of Hell. He held Kaleb’s frightened face close to his as he spoke.

“Hello, Kaleb,” he started mockingly. “Are you the witch we’re looking for?”

“What?” Ember shrieked incredulously, freezing in place, and she felt Max moving to her side in an instant. Kaleb looked utterly terrified.

“W-Witch?” he mumbled. “What are… I don’t…”

“Christopher, what are you talking about?” Max managed to ask calmly, keeping his composure.

Christopher let Kaleb’s body drop to the floor and he fell on his side with a loud thud. Christopher turned to Ember and Max, straightening the folds in his vest like nearly choking a kid had bothered his inner harmony.

“I believe a proper debriefing of the boy is due,” he spoke, the same boredom of his back to his features. “I sense traces of the hex on him.”


Mm, watcha say. How’s this for a plot twist?

I know, I’m a horrible person for not updating sooner, but I’ve only yesterday finished my finals and all that. Thus shall summer begin. And the writing. Oh, so much writing. Cuz Max. And Christopher. And maybe Kaleb.

Anyway, lemme know how you feel about the development of the story!

Love y’all,


19: Chapter 18: The ashes that forged me
Chapter 18: The ashes that forged me


~SOUNDTRACK: Linkin Park – Castle of glass~

Dozens of eyes were pointed at Kaleb. Breaths were being held. Blames were being silently thrown. Two hands shaking. No one dared move, Christopher’s words still ringing in their ears.

“What do you mean, there are traces of the hex on him?” Ember dared to ask in a small voice, her grip on Kaleb’s hands weakening.

“I don’t have the time to explain to you how basic magic works,” the demon rolled his eyes. “But when a hex is cast, it leaves a trace both on the victim and on the caster. I’d say that puts our little friend in a rather incriminating position.”

Ember saw Max’s hand touch the hilt of his sword and his jaw clenched. What were they talking about? This was Kaleb. Green eyes, ruffled hair, stammered five times per sentence. He was no witch, and he would have never done anything to harm her. They had all lost their minds.

“Take him,” Max motioned with his hand towards Kaleb, and his pirates moved forward.

Without wasting a breath, Ember jumped on her feet and sent her fist flying, hitting the first pirate that had reached them. She saw the rest of them hesitate, and she panted.

“No one is touching Kaleb,” she turned to Max and hissed. “He plays no part in this mess.”

The pirates kept their distance, despite Max’s death glare, and Christopher was the only one who moved forward. But demon or not, Ember stood her ground. They’d already put Kaleb through enough. She was not letting them drag him through mud.

“Don’t be a fool, little dragon,” Christopher whispered in her face. “You’re smarter than this. I can practically hear his blood humming with dark magic, as I hear yours. That’s all the proof you need.”

She wanted to laugh in his face. She wanted to grab Kaleb’s arm, pull him to his feet and take him away from their hungry sights. They were all thirsty for blood. They only wanted to humiliate a poor kid who had had the audacity of worrying about the girl he cared about. Were they truly about to convict him for this much? And yet, as Christopher spoke the words, she found doubt growing into her soul like a thorn. And then more and more, until all there was left was the wilted rose of nearly broken trust and the thorns threatening to break the surface of her skin. Could it be? Christopher was right. There was proof, and it made sense. And while she could entirely trust the demon and take his word for it, could she truly risk it all, risk her life, over blind trust? She cared about Kaleb. But she’d been wrong about people before.

With her heart breaking in two, she turned to Kaleb with shaking hands.

“Kaleb—“ she began in a small voice, and Kaleb could read the distrust in her green eyes.

“Ember, you have to believe me,” she pleaded, his first full sentence since he’d arrived on board. “I’ve got no idea what is going on. Whatever it is that you’re accusing me of, I’m not guilty. Ember—“

“Ember,” she heard Max’s voice near her ear and flinched, not having heard him approach. “I get that it’s hard. But Christopher is sensing something. We cannot take chances.”

“Shut up,” Ember hissed at Max, not taking her eyes off Kaleb. “Kaleb, say something. Defend yourself.”

“I-I can’t,” his voice trembled. “I don’t know how. I don’t even know what it is that you accuse me of. Ember, please—“

“Think about it, Ember,” Christopher whispered in her other ear. “I gave you facts.”

“Ember—“ Kaleb kept pleading.

“Think, little dragon, think. The hex could’ve been under any form.”

“Dragon? Hex?” Kaleb shrieked. “Ember, I don’t understand—“

“You would have never guessed it, as it would’ve eaten you from inside out.”

“Ember, please, I would never—“

“Any form. It could have even been a jewel, like the dragon’s breath.”


“Shut up!” Ember screamed eventually, snapping and grabbing fistfuls of her hair. She was breathing rapidly and paced back and forth. “Everybody just shut up, you’re driving me mad. Let me just think.”

Christopher had given her facts. The hex could’ve been under any form. Any form. She never would’ve guessed it. Kaleb would’ve never done anything to hurt her. Kaleb cared about her. Any form. The hex could’ve been under any form. It could have even been a jewel, like the dragon’s breath. A jewel. A gem. She stopped breathing, and her hands went inside her cloak. She turned to Christopher.

“You said—“ she trailed off, clearing her throat against the lump that made it hard to swallow. “You said the hex could be in a jewel? In a stone?”

Christopher nodded and her fingers grazed a smooth surface on the inside of her cloak. She gulped, and her fingers squeezed the stone. When she got the dragon’s breath from her house, she’d taken the pendant from Kaleb, too. Call it sentimentality. In what felt like slow motion, she pulled it out and held it out for the demon to inspect it. And for the first time, she saw Christopher’s face twist in surprise. Gods above. She’d prayed so hard that she wouldn’t be right about this.

“It’s in it, isn’t it?” she asked, her voice broken, not daring to look in Kaleb’s direction. She was vaguely aware of the fact that Kaleb was shouting at her, still trying to explain himself, still claiming that he didn’t understand. But all she could focus on was the demon’s head nodding, confirming her greatest fear.

“This is no regular cursed object,” Christopher explained. “It’s the Hope Diamond. It’s imbued with so much dark magic that it is said to have corrupted and have brought to perdition kings and queens. It’s centuries old. The raw power in it combined with a hex cast by a powerful witch… It’s a miracle you’re still alive.”

Ember let out a shaky breath. So it was true.

“Ember, no,” Kaleb was shaking his head fervently. “I would never hurt you. It’s a lie, it’s all a lie.”

She turned to him abruptly, her eyes holding hardness in them that silenced Kaleb immediately. He’d never seen her so fierce, and it fazed him now that this fierceness was directed at him.

“You gave this to me, Kaleb,” she spoke slowly and articulately, making his blood run cold in his veins. “You insisted that I keep it. It all points at you. And I want to believe you. But give me one good reason why I shouldn’t feel like you betrayed me.”

His mouth opened and closed a few times, as if making up his mind as to what to say and how to defend himself. But the more she looked, all that Ember saw was that he just kept bringing the blame upon himself. With every passing minute, her trust in him grew weaker and weaker.

“You don’t believe me,” Kaleb stated eventually, and Ember didn’t bother to look into his eyes, to read the pain seeking shelter there, she didn’t bother listen to more empty explanations.

No. She didn’t believe him.

So she turned around on her heels and kept her back turned to him. She came face to face with Max, who watched her with eyebrows raised. If he dared to tease her about this, she would rip out his tongue and feed it to his sailors. For his sake, she hoped he knew his boundaries.

But Max said nothing. He kept watching her for a few seconds, as if seeking approval in her eyes, but she didn’t have it in her to make eye contact. There was rage in her, pulsating in her veins, and she felt herself breaking piece by piece. The knowledge of Kaleb’s betrayal was sinking its teeth deep into her flesh. He was the only person she’d come to trust in a very long time. And he’d dragged that trust through mud and had tried to kill her. There was no coming back from that.

Eventually, she felt Max’s eyes leaving her and he turned to his men.

“Take him,” he ordered.

She didn’t ask where they were taking him. She assumed he was to be kept under lock up until further notice. Her heart shrunk a little. Perhaps Max and Christopher wanted to kill him. She felt betrayed, but she could never bring herself to watch the only man she had come to care for be murdered in cold blood.

Max’s pirates seized Kaleb and started to drag him away, and though her back was turned, Ember heard him fight back.

“No,” he screamed. “No! No, Ember. Please, you have to believe me. Ember! I’m innocent. Ember!”

She did her best to ignore his calls until he was out of ear sight. And only then did she release a breath she didn’t even know she was holding. She ran a hand through her hair, feeling the sharp sting of tears in the corners of her eyes; she blinked against them. She would not cry.

“Gods above,” she murmured in her palms, still unable to fully grasp what had just happened.

“What’s there to be done next?” Max asked from behind her, and she finally turned around to face the demon and the captain.

Max looked like his usual smoldering self, but the crease between his brows betrayed his slight concern, if any. Ember didn’t pause to analyze that. Christopher, however, looked rather entertained by the whole story, like he’d just had front row seats to a Greek tragedy. There was an amused expression on his face that Ember just wanted to punch off. And she would’ve, hadn’t she been worried he’d skin her alive.

“Well, knowing that the curse is in the Hope Diamond, we must first destroy it in order to have the hex removed.”

Ember shrugged. “Marvelous. I’m sure Max has some hammers or pickaxes lying around.”

Christopher kept watching her amused and she frowned at his content. Max groaned by her side.

“There’s a catch, isn’t it?” the pirate asked and the demon pursed his lips.

“The Hope Diamond is an ancient cursed object. Protected by a powerful hex. You don’t expect it to be so easy to get rid of it, do you?”

Ember ran her hands through her face. No. Of course not. Why would it be so easy? Why make it easy when you can crawl from hell and back trying to stay alive? Why should the universe be fair for once?

“Then what are we to do?” she asked, tired.

“The hex can be broken with a counter spell,” Christopher explained. “But the ingredients are, let’s say, difficult to provide, given your condition.”

Ember’s eyebrows flew up. “My condition?”

“Your inability to transform, love. I need a dragon scale to cast the spell, and I need a dragon in dragon form to get that, not a skinny girl, scared, useless and with an attitude.”

She frowned at his words and she saw Max grit his teeth.

“Watch it, demon,” Max spat, and Ember was surprised by the sudden act of defending her honor he was putting on. Christopher stepped forward and smiled teasingly in Max’s face.

“Watch it, pirate.”

Ember rolled her eyes at the pointless display of masculinity and went to stand between them, forcing them to move away, keeping a hand on Max’s chest to pull him away. Christopher didn’t even blink.

“Knock off the pissing contest,” she hissed at them. “If I wanted ill-behaved dogs, I would’ve let you know. Christopher, go on. What else do you need for the spell?”

Christopher cast an amused glance her way before replying.

“The rest of the ingredients of the spell are not difficult to come across. The remaining issue would be the fact that the fire in which the Hope Diamond must be destroyed is to be ignited in a golden cup hoarded by said dragon.”

Ember frowned, confused, and she saw that Max’s expression mirrored hers. A golden cup that she’d hoarded. For a magical fire that was to destroy the rock. Would the madness never stop? She sighed.

“Then I assume finding the cave has become a rather urgent matter,” she turned to Max. “It looks like your treasure hunt has just become a priority.”

Max nodded. “Aye. Except that is also the main issue. We can’t find the cave if you’re in human form.”

“Right,” Ember scowled, having forgotten this slight detail. “Because I don’t remember a single thing. Then what do we do?”

Max shrugged. “We stick to the initial plan. You’ll turn eventually and lead us straight to the cave. Perhaps now that you know what you are, the dragon will have the human conscience, too.”

“Here’s to hoping,” she muttered under her breath, turning on her heels.

She felt tired. So very tired. She wanted to go to sleep and wake up after all this was past. She yearned for safety and for a quiet afternoon, painting and watching her siblings play. Simplicity is often underappreciated.

~SOUNDTRACK: Nathan Bell – Howling~

She made it to a secluded side of the ship and leaned with her elbows on the edge of the ship, looking in the distance. The sun was setting, oblivious to the tragedies it had shed its light upon. The sea looked so tranquil and her soul felt so treacherous.

She closed her eyes and breathed in the salty scent of the sea. She kept it in until it burned her lungs. How had she fallen so low? She let it out. Rock bottom wasn’t as obliterating as she’d figured. So if it wasn’t yet as worse as it could get, that meant there is more past rock bottom. Perhaps nothingness. Perhaps abyss. She was afraid to look down and find out. Her balance was too fragile for now.

“Ember,” she heard a raspy voice behind her.

She didn’t turn around, but she knew it was Max. She realized his presence fit into the salty fragrance of the sea, like he’d been born on the tip of its waves. She wanted to yell at him and demand she be left alone, she wanted to tell him to go away and blame him for every point of no return she kept sailing by. But she didn’t. Because weirdly enough, now that she felt so unsteady on her feet, this nasty pirate had somehow become a constant. He’d made his intentions clear, and they were far from being honorable. And they were selfish. But she respected that. Not once had he claimed he was a man of great honor. And she also respected that.

“Are we going to have a moment?” she tried a joke, but it came out rather harsh. “Because if so, I am most certainly throwing you off this ship.”

With the corner of her eyes, she saw Max fight a smile.

“I thought you had a strict policy against people being thrown off deck,” he commented, and Ember was surprised to find a small smile, though sad, blossom on her lips.

“I can make an exception for you,” she said, and he chuckled. “You called me Ember,” she remarked.

“I believe it is your name.”

She rolled her eyes. “So no fire breather? No dragon girl?”

When he stayed silent, she turned her head to find him watching her curiously. When their gazes met, he averted his and settled for watching the line where the sun dove into the crystal sea.

“No,” he replied simply. “I figured you’ve had enough dragon business for one day.”

“And witch business. And pirate business. And demon business.”

He let out a breathy laugh again, and silence settled again between them. Surprisingly enough, though she would’ve preferred being alone, Max’s presence brought a certain calmness to her storm that dissipated the gray clouds, like he was sailing his ship straight to the fog she found herself in. And it was rather odd. Max was an explosive individuality. Never would she have taken him as the kind who could tone himself down enough to reduce the hurricane to a spring drizzle.

“Are you—“ he started eventually, breaking the silence, and Ember groaned and hid her face in her palm.

“If you’re going to ask me if I’m okay, I will really throw you off the ship. Please go back to being a nasty brute.”

“I thought you hated the nasty brute.”

“I do,” she smiled at him to let him know she was teasing. “But sensitive Max scares me.”

He laughed whole-heartedly. “Nasty brute it is.”

He pulled out a bottle of rum from inside his jacket and handed it to her. Well. Resourceful nasty brute.

“Do you always carry rum with you?” she cocked an eyebrow at him, taking the bottle from his hand and taking a sip.

“It’s a pirate thing.”

Ember chuckled and gave him the bottle back. They passed it between them a few more times, until Ember felt a welcome numbness in the tip of her fingers and in her toes and warmth spreading through her body.

“You and that boy,” Max dared to say eventually, and Ember gritted her teeth and let him continue. “You had a… thing, didn’t you?”

“I refuse to answer to the implications of that question,” she replied with a straight face. “But yes. I was beginning to think we were in love. And I was finally happy, for a change.”

Max stayed silent, rummaging her words. She appreciated the fact that he knew when to shut up and not fill the silence up with unnecessary words.

“What will you do with him?” she mustered the courage to voice the question nudging at the back of her mind.

Max sighed. “I considered torturing him. Throwing him to the sharks limb by limb. Romantically offering you his heart after I carve it out his chest. Throwing him off the ship.” Ember stiffened. “But Christopher believes we might still need him. Magic is unpredictable, and if he’s the one who cast the hex, he might turn out to be some key to undo it.”

Ember let out a shaky breath, feeling her knees go weak. Max glanced sideways at her, a frown between his brows.

“You’re relieved,” he stated, not bothering to ask a question he already knew the answer to.

Ember bit her lip until she drew blood. “I don’t want him dead,” she said simply.

Max watched her curiously for a minute, most likely pondering her call. She could tell he wanted to kill him, perhaps on principle, perhaps for fun, perhaps to protect her and make good on his promise. She wondered whether he would ignore her request and kill him anyway. She stiffened again. But then he started nodding.

“So shall be it,” he said. “But why would you keep him alive? It doesn’t seem to me as if he was ever eager to grant you that much.”

Ember felt his eyes filling up with tears she refused to let go.

“There’s no denying that,” she admitted. “Perhaps he’s guilty of everything we’re accusing him of. But one day soon, after I’ll have put these inconvenient feelings behind me, I’d like to speak with him. I’d like answers. I’d like to know what made him walk into my life and try to break my spirit, too, along with my body.”

She paused, knowing this wasn’t the only reason. And Max must have known, too, because he waited until she was able to speak again.

“Also, I don’t want to be like that,” Ember continued. “I am better than that. I may be an outlaw who’s bending morals, but I will be the better woman here and show him mercy. If only for my sanity.”

Max looked straight ahead, not saying a thing. Ember’s words still rang between them, filling the quiet of the dusk.

I will be the better woman and show him mercy. If only for my sanity.

The captain couldn’t say he agreed to that. But he saw her stance. And he admired it a little. There was no righteousness or morality to her choice, and he didn’t mistake it for it. In all truthness, she was a little selfish. She wanted to keep him alive because she couldn’t have born the guilt of knowing the man she cared about dead and she wanted to keep him alive because she wanted to prove herself she had something more on him.

And he respected that, too.

So he raised his rum bottle and handed it to her one more time, smirking her way.

“I drink to that.”

20: Chapter 19: We become echoes
Chapter 19: We become echoes


~SOUNDTRACK: Michael Malarkey – Dancing in the grey~

Weeks had passed. Life on Max’s ship wasn’t becoming easier, but it was getting bearable. To her utter surprise, Ember had actually grown to like it here. She was waking up every day to the smell of salty waves and rum and went on deck to greet the sunrise. She was hearing stories that she was sure were half-made up, but she still enjoyed them like a little kid. And she’d learned that on pirate ships, the parties never really stopped. Now that she had the certainty her siblings were safe with Clarissa and that the hex was now a mere mute threat that they had yet to fix, she was breathing a little easier. And she was letting herself be carried away by the adventure.

There were but two things that still unsettled her. The first one was Christopher. He might have been helping them and he’d made it clear that he had his own agenda, but that didn’t mean she could trust him. He always kept a fair distance from the rest of them and always watched them with cautious eyes that made Ember feel as if he was constantly up to something. And of course, there was that part she tried hard not to think about, that place right below deck. The ship’s cells where they’d left Kaleb to rot.

Weeks had passed. She hadn’t seen Kaleb again after Max’s pirates had locked him up. And she was far from being ready to face him and demand the answers that would break her. So her heart ached for him, it did. It was inhumane to keep him locked up like a rat; but when again, how far from human is casting a hex over the girl you claim to have feelings for? And yet, after weeks and weeks of pondering, she was still having a hard time bringing herself to actually believe he was to blame for everything she was going through. It just didn’t fit the image she still had in her head of him. Kaleb Lahey. Green eyes. Ruffled hair. Stammers five times per sentence. The one who had kept her from being skinned alive by an entire village. The one in whose arms she’d danced, back when their blushes had been hidden by masks matching the colors of her red gown. The one who had shown her that field of poppies and had walked her home between the raindrops. Kaleb Lahey. The one who’d kissed her awake and back to life back when she was numb. So until she figured out how she felt about these circumstances, she preferred to keep her distance and to avoid thinking about him lying in his cell.

And of course, the highlight of these past weeks had been Maxwell Lockhart. The man was anything but a bore and Ember could tell something had shifted between them. Naturally, he was his usual idiotic self and the urge to punch his teeth out grew stronger by the day, but there were some other moments when she caught herself smiling up at him and being actually grateful for his steady presence in her life at the moment. Never would she have fathomed alliance with a pirate could fit within her plans, that she’d ever grow to almost trust a man with morals so bendable. But then again, who was she to judge? Her morals were just as flexible.

And yet, it was so much more than that. To a certain extent, there had been forged a connection between the two of them, founded on a certain relating to each other. Ember had a feeling she had somehow earned his respect in a manner of speaking. But at some point, he’d stopped looking down on her and the change was palpable in the way he talked to her. And if she had to be honest with herself, Ember had to admit that it felt nice, not having to constantly worry about making the wrong impression, because if she thought she was bad news, then Max was worse. And she found out she was fine with that. There were no pretenses between them, and for the first time in too long, Ember didn’t feel the need to make excuses for how she lived and what choices she’d made. Max didn’t care and he didn’t judge her for anything. Max got it.

But it was still so much more than that. She could not point out the precise moment when it had happened, this change. Perhaps it had been that moment on deck as the sun bid them farewell for another night, when they’d shared rum and stories until late and he’d made her laugh for hours when she wanted nothing else but to sulk over Kaleb’s betrayal. Or perhaps it had been the rest of the nights when they’d done the same; these little solitary moments they spent together over a bottle of rum had become a habit that she was growing to enjoy. Or perhaps it had been the night when she finally decided she felt bad about letting the captain sleep on the floor in his own cabin. Heavens, that had gone spectacularly.

“You don’t have to sleep on the floor, you know.”

Max’s eyebrows shot up as if she was suggesting that he invited Christopher to dance during the next sailor party. As realization settled in, that painfully smug grin of his bloomed on his face.

“Why, fire breather,” he feigned surprise. “Are you implying what I believe you’re implying?”

Ember rolled her eyes. “I believe I’m implying merely half of what you imply I’m implying. The other half you’re just making up in your sick imagination.”

Max simply shrugged, not bothering to deny. But Ember saw the doubt in his posture. Was he that concerned about her virtue? Or was he more concerned about his safety if he happened to get anywhere near her virtue? Seeing him rub the back of his neck, Ember dared to assume it was the latter.

“You sure about that?” he grew a little serious, and Ember couldn’t help but cock an eyebrow at his hesitation. “Hey, maybe you’re the kind who’s stealing the blanket. And I get cold at night.”

Ember sighed exasperated.

“Maxwell, get in bed before I change my mind. Stay on your side and you should be fine.”

He grinned widely, kicked off his boots and jumped on the bed, tucking an arm under his head. Ember tried hard to look away. Damn the bastard, for being so distracting. There were moments like this when she would’ve preferred sharing a cabin with Billy Long-Legs. At least there was no danger of her ever finding Billy attractive.

“I get all tingly when you threaten me,” he smirked up at her.

Ember groaned and rolled her eyes, but when she turned around with her back on him, she was smiling. She was starting to drift off when she heard his voice a few minutes later, amusement clear in his tone.

“I’m a cuddler.”

Ember bit her lip against a smile and forced her voice to be threatening.

“Don’t even think about it.”

“Too late,” he replied, and she heard the smirk in his voice. Within minutes, they were both asleep.

They’d shared a bed ever since, and despite her expecting the worst of him, Max had been a perfect gentlemen. He hadn’t laid a single finger on her. But Gods above, she often turned around and found him looking at her with such curiosity and intensity that it felt like stripping her soul before his eyes. These small exchanges of theirs somehow managed to make her blood boil and all the anger and frustration she felt towards him, it soon and rapidly turned into undeniable attraction.

And she hated every minute of it. She was supposed to fight with him and want to gouge his eyes out, not steal glances at his lips and feel heat surging through her when she felt his body merely inches away from her in the bed. So while she had welcomed this weird relationship they had going on for now, she preferred to deny whatever else she was also feeling. She stuck to the plan. She did not need more complications for the moment, even complications as handsome as Maxwell Lockhart. Especially complications as handsome as Maxwell Lockhart.

“What’s a man got to do to get some time alone on his own ship?”

Ember started when she heard Max’s raspy voice behind her. She turned around to face him and found the captain standing a few feet away, smirking at her, a bottle of rum in his hand. As always. She was quick to return his grin.

“Not invite and befriend dazzling lady dragons on said ship. But I can go, if you’d like me to,” she smiled to let him know she was teasing. “Let you get drunk by yourself. I bet the fish are looking forward to listen to your made up stories about mermaids.”

“You can stay,” Max took his usual place at her right, leaning against the edge. “I’d hate for you to get bored by yourself in the cabin. We both know I’m a far more enjoyable company.”

“So you claim.”

“So you know,” he winked at her, handing her the bottle of rum.

She chuckled and took the bottle. It was a dance they both knew all too well. The teasing, the jokes, the confessions. Ember was a little scared by how great her trust in him had become. After Kaleb’s betrayal, she’d figured she could never come to trust another individual. But it had been weeks and Max had found safe, yet certain ways to crawl under her skin. And she had welcomed him in with skepticism, and she found that there was still room for him in that narrow range of her trust.

“You seem rather fidgety today,” he remarked, and Ember glared at him.

“I’m not fidgeting.”

“You’re fidgeting, fire breather. You’re restless. Spill the beans. What’s bothering you?”

She rubbed her neck awkwardly. Yes, perhaps he did have a point. She was growing somewhat restless by the day, but she’d made valiant efforts to hide that. She’d attributed it to a poor adjusting to being away for so long from her usual lifestyle. And yet Max had managed to see through it. She didn’t linger too much on the thought.

“I’m a little itchy,” she admitted. “The turn, the shift or however you wanna call it, it used to happen every week, mostly. I used to wake up in that clearing even every other two or three days. But now it’s been weeks and I haven’t turned. I was beginning to doubt whether I am truly the dragon you are looking for. But I feel it. I feel it like a fever crawling inside me that I don’t know how to let out.”

Max was silent for a few minutes until Ember finally turned to face his reaction. She’d expected him to look pensive and stare into the distance with his lips pursed, like he did when he was thinking hard about something. But instead, she saw it again. That look. He was looking at her once again with that expression in his crystal blue eyes that made Ember go weak around the knees. Eventually, after a few charged and intense moments, he cleared his throat and turned his head, watching the dance of the waves.

“It’ll happen, Ember. I know it feels like we’re running out of time, but it’ll happen. It’s who you are. And who you are always comes back to bite your damn arse.”

“Speaking from experience, captain?” she bumped him with her shoulder, but he didn’t return her smile.

“Perhaps. Perhaps not.”

“That’s a childish answer.”

“I’m a child at the core,” he smirked, back to sass in an instant. Ember rolled her eyes.

“You behave like a child, too.”

Max laughed whole-heartedly and Ember was quick to follow. It was unsettling how natural their bantering came these days. And how much they both enjoyed it. When had the lines become so blurred between them?

They passed the bottle of rum between them a few more times, drinking and pondering in silence. And with the stars looking down at her, Ember dared to look within herself, too. And she found that the decision she was so afraid of making had already been long since made. She just had to reach in and grab it and pull it out.

“I think I’m ready,” she spoke eventually, with a steadiness to her voice that surprised even herself, and Max turned around to look at her curiously.

“Ready for what?”

Ember shot him a sad smile before replying.

“Ready to get my answers.”

And they both knew what she implied. Tomorrow morning, she’d walk to Kaleb’s cell and finally demand everything she wanted to know. She was no longer afraid of what she’d learn. After another few more minutes of silence, Max was the one to break it.

“You don’t have to do it, you know.” He paused and looked at her again; Gods above, would she never be able to stand her ground again under the weight of his gaze?  “We shall find that coven and break the hex, and you will be free. It will be over and you can take your siblings and leave. Far away. I can take you anywhere. The world would be ours to unravel.”

Ember blinked up at him. Heavens, his offer was so tempting. A lifetime of sailing to wherever her heart pleased, to see the world and have no cares for the rest of her days. A lifetime of pirate parties alongside Maxwell Lockhart. I can take you anywhere. Yes, the offer truly tempted her. The world would be ours to unravel. The prospect of it sent waves down the length of her spine and the word was on the tip of her tongue.




“No,” she found herself saying against herself and she had to take a deep breath before continuing. “No, I do have to do this. I can’t live like this. When it’s all over, I don’t want to look back and frown upon dirty laundry. When I start over, I want a clean start.”

Max nodded, his face unreadable.

“I see,” he said.

Ember watched him for a second, deciding there was a soft glint of disappointment below the hardened mask. She allowed herself to smile at him and bump him with her shoulder once more.

“But I’ll take you up on that offer, captain,” she grinned. “I’m looking forward to unravel whatever it is you want to unravel together.”

And just as she thought they were having a moment, the captain broke into yet another one of his maddening smirks.

“Is that so?” he mocked. “I can think of a few things—“

Ember punched him flat in the stomach, making him lose a breath, then she started walking away, biting her lip against a smile of her own. She hated when his stupid jokes got to her.

“Ugh,” she groaned as she was turning around. “You are impossible. Let’s go to bed.”

She heard his footsteps following and she heard the grin in his voice as he replied.

“Oh? Does that have anything to do with the unraveling?”



~SOUNDTRACK: Fleurie – Hurts like hell~

The following morning, Ember counted the steps to Kaleb’s cell. There had been exactly one hundred and thirteen steps. After eighty two steps, Max stopped.

“Will you be fine?”

She rolled her eyes and tried to hide how hard her hands were shaking. She nodded, not trusting her voice. Max gritted his teeth and nodded, too.

“Very well,” he said. “You’ve got ten minutes. After that, I’m coming down there to get you.”

So she’d taken the last thirty one steps by herself, each taking her closer to the truth. She didn’t feel ready. She didn’t think she could look Kaleb in the eye and not feel as if her heart was being ripped out of his chest when she remembered all the ways in which he’d looked at her before all of this. Like she’d mattered. Like he believed in her. Like she was the sun and he’d been blind his whole life. How can one fake such thing? How could he have made her fall for it? Fall for him?

Ember stepped closer, and then closer. Ten more steps. Then nine, then eight, and two more, and then she was standing right before Kaleb’s cell. She took advantage of him not having noticed her walking in to study him. Gods above, he’d lost so much weight. And he was still so gorgeous, still as a Greek sculpture. His cheekbones were sharper, his eyes seemed unfocused, his hair looked oily and, in all fairness, he smelled. What had they done to him? Despite herself and the efforts she made to despise him, she truly felt sorry for him. She still wanted to break him out of his cell and wrap him in her arms until he was whole again. But she couldn’t do that. Because she wasn’t whole herself. He still had a great part of herself that she needed back, but didn’t know how to take it from him.

She let out a shaky loud breath and Kaleb’s eyes flew towards her.


He started fidgeting, his eyes growing wide and lips parting slightly. She had thought she could do this. But she’d overestimated her power of will. So much. She turned her back on him and willed herself to stop shaking. When she realized she had no control over her body, she leaned against the iron bars and let herself fall down until the back of her knees felt the reassuring coldness of the floor.

“You came,” she heard Kaleb on the other side of the bars, and she figured his position mirrored hers. She felt his fingers slowly, tentatively grazing hers and her first instinct was to lean into his touch. But then she remembered what she was here for and took her hand out of his reach, rubbing it where his fingers had touched it. She still felt the warmth of his skin against hers. She hated the way her body reacted to him, as if it remembered his imprint he’d left in her very core.

“I shouldn’t have,” she brought herself to mutter, and she heard him exhale sharply.

“I’ve waited,” he spoke. “I have waited for you every day. And it’s been 43 days. I’ve been waiting for you to come see me 43 times. Perhaps the 44th time is a charm.”

“I shouldn’t have,” she repeated, trying to convince herself to get up and leave rather than him.

“Then why did you?” Kaleb inquired. “I cannot seem to convince you that I would never hurt you. You won’t take my word for it. So why bother listening to what I’ve got to say?”

“I don’t know,” she admitted, and it struck her dumb, how true it was.

“They say you’re a—“ he trailed off, swallowing hard, and Ember clenched her fists.

“A what?” she spat. “A dragon? A flying lizard? So it would seem. But you knew that, didn’t you?”

“Ember, I do not know how to spell it out for you. I’m no witch. And I would never do anything that would cause you harm. Ember, I love—“

“Don’t say it,” she grabbed a fistful of her hair, resting her forehead on her knees. “Gods above, Kaleb, don’t say it. I cannot take more lies. Coming here was a mistake.”

She got up to leave when she felt Kaleb’s warm fingers circle her wrist.


Before she could reply, Ember heard the all too known raspy voice behind her.

“Hey!” Max roared. “Hands off, mate.”

~SOUNDTRACK: Mikky Ekko – Who are you really~

Max had waited for precisely ten minutes. Then he waited two more minutes as courtesy. But when Ember still didn’t show up, he took Billy and headed to the jeweler’s cell. He arrived just in time to see Ember get up to leave and the boy grab her wrist trying to turn her around.

But what he hadn’t expected was that, right after he’d screamed at him to take his hands off, both him and Ember turned their heads towards him. And two pairs of eyes flashed golden in the dim light. It had been unmistakable. It had been fast, but both Ember’s and Kaleb’s eyes had glowed in the dark for just a second, enough to make Max lose a breath and question everything he thought he knew. Bloody hell. It couldn’t be. Ember was the last remaining dragon. The last of her kin. It couldn’t be.

Ember yanked her hand free from Kaleb’s grasp, her teeth gritted.

“I’m fine, Max. Let’s go.”

But when Max didn’t move, she frowned.


Max didn’t waste another minute. If his suspicions were correct, and he was fairly certain they were, then this changed the fate of the entire game. War. The fate of the war. Things were getting far from playful battles.

He rushed to Ember’s side and grabbed her wrist the same way Kaleb had just done earlier.

“Ow,” she exclaimed. “Max, have you gone mad? You’re hurting me. Max, let go.”

And he saw it, like he’d expected to. A small pentagram drawn on the inside of her wrist. The pattern was a little faded, but he would have recognized a cloaking symbol everywhere. It was perfectly justified. Since Ember was supposed to be the last dragon, it made sense to have her cloaked and with her memory wiped in order to protect her from those who meant to harm her.

But then Max let go of Ember’s wrists and grabbed Kaleb’s. The boy took it stoically, clenching his jaw and glaring, but not fighting him off. Max turned his wrist and saw the exact same symbol he’d seen on Ember’s. Bloody hell. His was a little sharper, the edges better contoured and the shade more intense than Ember’s. Of course. That was why Christopher had sensed what Ember was right away, but hadn’t been able to tell with Kaleb. His cloaking still held.

Max let go of Kaleb’s wrist and stepped forward. Then he turned to Billy.

“Take him on deck and keep an eye out for land. We need to dock as soon as possible.”

“Max,” Ember hissed at him. “What the hell is going on? You’re being strange.”

“Things have changed, love,” he whispered back, his hand unconsciously going to the hilt of his sword. “He’s one, too.”

“One what?” Ember shrieked, already exasperated. “You’re not making any sense.”

Max paced back and forth. How could he explain this to her? It made no sense whatsoever to him, either.

“A dragon.”

Max looked behind him, just to discover that the voice belonged to Christopher. He stood there, his hands behind his back, watching them amused. Max clenched his fists.

“You knew?” he lowered his voice to a dangerous tone.

Christopher surprised him by bursting into laughter. “Of course not. I learned just now, as well. Quite the plot twist, is it not?”

“Quite the plot twist?” Ember shrieked, and Max saw her reach for the demon; he grabbed her arm before she would do something that would get her killed and he felt her muscles relax a little under his touch. “Quite the plot twist?! Is this all you’ve got to say? How about a gods damned explanation? You can’t simply drop it on us like that without saying a thing.”

Max looked at the boy, who looked utterly terrified. Perhaps he was wondering what else they were going to pin on him next.

“Sorry, love,” he turned to Ember. “This will have to do for now. You’re both dragons. And this changes everything. Doesn’t it?”

He addressed the question to Christopher, who kept smiling entertained and looked like he could not be bothered by the recent discoveries. Did nothing faze him?

“Indeed,” the demon replied. “We’ve got no witch and with two dragons, we’ve got a double threat. I’d say you’re looking at quite the war, little dragon.”

Max saw Ember gulp and cast a glance at Kaleb. He saw the heart-wrenching look on her face when she realized she’d distrusted Kaleb for the wrong reasons, when he was a part of the same mess she was. But he couldn’t afford thinking about that. They were running out of time. Now more than ever, they needed to find that cave and they had no more time to waste waiting around for Ember and Kaleb to turn. They needed extreme measures.

He turned to Billy.

“We’re docking as soon as we find land. We’re getting to that cave by tomorrow.”



~SOUNDTRACK: Of Verona – Breathe~

Ember didn’t know how many more shocks her heart could take. Kaleb was a dragon, too. Gods above.  She was trapped between the surprise of knowing she’d fallen for the last one of her kin and the mortification of having doubted him. She hadn’t had a chance to talk to him since Max had made the great reveal, because Billy had taken him up on deck and she’d been left behind to scream at Max, to fight with him and to demand explanations and to be yelled at in return. Two hours later, Billy had announced they had found land and before Ember could even have time to process everything, they were sitting in a boat heading to God knew where.

It was all happening too fast. She didn’t have time to catch her breath. She didn’t have time to blink or to exhale all the charged air burning her lungs, because at every corner, something had to happen that would knock her dead every time.

Max had been quiet the whole way, hardly answering Ember’s questions with vague answers and never bothering to tell them where they were going. In no time, they were standing in an open field, on the edge of a cliff. Looking down, Ember could see it was a long way down, she could see the waves hitting the massive rocks. She and Kaleb were standing side by side, surrounded by Kaleb, Christopher, who looked utterly bored and at loss of interest, and several of Max’s pirates.

“What is the meaning of this, captain?” Ember hissed, holding her chin up defiantly. “This is no time for games and shenanigans.”

“I agree,” Max replied, and before Ember could realize what was going on, the captain and his pirates had their swords out; Ember and Kaleb gasped when they all pointed the swords at them. “But I’m not playing, fire breather. This is an extreme measure. You’re gonna turn now.”

Ember glared at him and clenched her fists. She considered putting up a fight, and even with her skills and supernatural strength, she may have been able to take a few of the pirates, but never Max. What had gotten into him?

“You know it doesn’t work this way, Max,” she raised her voice. “I can’t control it.”

“You will,” he offered simply. “Because you and your lover boy are going to jump off this cliff.”

Ember counted three heartbeats. She let out a sharp breath.

“Are you out of your mind?” she lowered her voice, feeling the urge to rip his limbs off. “Max, this is—“

“This is the only way,” he cut in. “Your instincts will take over. So off you go. Or we will make you.”

“Ember—“ she heard Kaleb by her side, clearly terrified. For his sake, she had to keep it together.

“Max,” she tried to reason with the captain. “Drop the sword. There are other ways. I will not kill myself and Kaleb for a mad theory of yours. I cannot take that chance.”

“I can,” the captain raised his voice. “I’ll take the chance. Now jump before I lose my patience and I make you jump.”

Gods above, he’d lost it. Ember saw it in his eyes, the intent, the decision had been made. He would not hesitate before pushing them off the cliff.


She knew she was supposed to reassure Kaleb and feel a little more empowered by the fact that he was in this with her, but as he listened to his plea, Ember couldn’t help but feel as if he stumbled her.

“Kaleb,” she snapped at him. “Just shut up.”

Her eyes were glued to Max’s, and she saw him grin.

“There we go,” he lowered his voice, as if these words were meant for her only. “Let the beast out, love. It aches to burst out.”

“Don’t pretend to know anything about me, Maxwell Lockhart,” she hissed. “You might learn there is more than one beast beneath my skin. And you may learn I have means to feed you to the one that’s worse than the dragon.”

“Words, words, words,” Max rested his sword on his shoulder. “We have swords. So I suggest you jump, dragon girl. I’d hate to throw a girl off a cliff. I’m known to be a gentleman.”

She glared at him, but he didn’t drop her gaze. It unsettled her. This was not the man she’d spent the last weeks with. This was not the man she’d shared a bed and so many bottles of rum with. He was unstoppable, focused on the purpose rather than the means, and Ember knew there was no getting through to him.

“Ember—“ Kaleb tried again, and Ember tried hard not to direct all of her rage at him.

“Kaleb. Shut up. Shut up and take a deep breath, alright? Deep breath. Because we are going to jump.”

She saw Kaleb’s eyes widen and she took his hand. She tried hard to focus on him, to hold on to breathing in sync with him. She tuned out Max and his pirates, she lost sight of the tips of the swords pointed at them, and she placed her hands around Kaleb’s neck. She rested her forehead on his until they breathed in the same air.

“I can’t,” he spoke, his warm breath tickling her lips.

“Yes, you can. And we will.”

“Ember, no, I…I don’t… I don’t think I am who they say I am. I’m not a… A—“

“A dragon?” she was surprised how easy the word rolled off her tongue and how she’d grown to accept it as a part of her. “You are, Kaleb. You’ve seen the marks. And this is going to work.”

He took in a shaky breath.

“What if it doesn’t?”

“It will,” she reassured him. “It has to. Because this is who we are, Kaleb. So just breathe. And let’s jump.”

He took her advice and took in a deep breath. Ember watched his chest rise and fall steadily, and she tried to copy his movements until there was a perfect symmetry between them. Then she looked into his eyes and the decision had been made. Perhaps it wouldn’t work. Perhaps Max was pushing them to their deaths. But there was no other person she would’ve rather died with. They’d been forged from the same flames. If today was their end, then at least they got to perish hand in hand, as they had been made to from the beginning.

Ember dropped her hands from his neck and her right one went to clasp his left one. They turned their backs on the pirates and took a few steps towards the edge. She sensed Kaleb shaking with his whole body, so she gave his hand a reassuring squeeze. The rocks met the waves stealthily and they teased them, willing to taste their flesh. Ember pushed the thought away.

She looked at Kaleb again and they locked gazes. She saw him mouth an ‘I love you’ to her and her heart stopped for a second. She could not offer that back, but she did smile at him. And then they took another deep breath and they jumped hand in hand.

The air hit their cheeks. The rocks were getting bigger and bigger. The waves felt closer and closer. Ember closed her eyes and waited for the impact. In the freefall, her fingers grazed Kaleb’s once more.

And then she felt something inside her snap. Like the string of a bow letting go and the arrow flying forward. Like the first cackling of a fire. Like the sound of snow beneath your feet. Like the metal of two swords meeting. And she gave in to the calling within her without hesitation, feeling like she was following the most natural course. The one she’d always been supposed to be on. She felt her body shifting and everything suddenly became sharper around her.

And just like that, with the flap of wings, as Max watched over the edge, two glorious dragons took over the sky.


Okay, this was such a long-ass chapter, but I’ve been looking forward to writing it ever since before I started working on this story. From here forth, fellas, it gets ugly. But it gets better.

Lemme know what you think!

Lots of love,


21: Chapter 20: Quicksand
Chapter 20: Quicksand


~SOUNDTRACK: Ruelle – Invincible~

It was exhilarating.

Ember felt like a child taking that first breath. Scary, terrifying, but she felt alive. This new enormous body fit like a glove and she couldn’t wait to push her limits and see how far, how high, how deep she could go. She let the wind caress her wings – her wings – and she soared until everything below became a tiny dot. Then she let go and she let herself fall in pirouettes, enjoying the thrill, the rush. Gods, how had she lived without this? Every part of her body was in sync with the rest, every sense was insanely sharp, she could see things and hear things she hadn’t thought possible, she could smell emotions and taste the joy on the tip of her tongue.

Her eye caught sight of another shape mirroring her in flight and she remembered. Kaleb.

She turned around and she wondered if dragons could gasp audibly. Did she look just as glorious as Kaleb did? Because the sight of him was breathtaking. His onyx black scales shone in the sun and his green eyes were the only thing that let her know he was still himself beneath the thick dragon skin. But he looked dangerous and beastly, and Ember wished she could see herself through his eyes, too, if only for one second, to learn whether she had the same ferocious grace to his movement as he did.

Swiftly, Kaleb spread his wings and took off, and Ember sensed the challenge. She soared side by side with him, teasing him, playing with him, like a well-rehearsed dance. Her memory was still in a blur, but she did get these flashes, just small glimpses that let her know this wasn’t the first time they did this. She wondered if it had been their dragon selves that had brought them together after all. She felt the pull towards Kaleb, she felt the bond between them tethering her to all the things she had lost in the fire. She did not know them yet. But she felt the roughness of their scars in her flesh.

She would get to that, too.

For now, all she wanted was to defy gravity over the soundtrack of two pairs of wings echoing in the distance.



The sun stood witness once more. He’d been so used to seeing them from beneath the line of the horizon, merely peaking and stealing glances that it was hard to believe they were here, in plain daylight, for everyone to see. And they were just as breath-taking as ever.

Even more. Something had shifted. This time, there was a certainty to their movements that felt more grounded, more assumed. The beasts were no longer just beasts, the sun thought as he watched them land on a pirate ship and shift out of their dragon forms. The beasts were children with a power so great they did not yet understand.



~SOUNDTRACK: Andrew Belle – In my veins~

As soon as Ember was back on the ship, she wasted no more time. Arms and legs felt weird where there had been claws and her skin felt smooth without scales. But as soon as her feet touched the wooden deck, the rage settled in as her eyes fell on Maxwell Lockhart. She clenched her fists and gritted her teeth and she tried to will herself to stay in control. She felt Kaleb vaguely by her side, trying to regain his composure after everything they had just lived, but to her utter shock, she couldn’t be bothered. All that she saw before her eyes was red and Max’s smug grin.

“Well, that wasn’t so bad now, was it?” he tried to joke, and Ember felt the anger boiling inside her.

Oh, she was about to do something very stupid. So before the thought could catch shape in her head, she turned on her heels and elbowed a few pirates to make room for her to get the hell away from there. She made back to his cabin, but this small room had him imprinted all over it and eventually, it did nothing more but to fuel her rage.

How could he? How could he? She’d trusted him. She’d trusted him so much; she’d taken his word for it when he’d said he’d take care of her. She’d let him get under her skin, and now her veins were filled with dirt and lies and broken promises. She should’ve known better. She should’ve known better that to put her trust in a wicked pirate who’d known the right ways to smile sideways at her and to sweep her off her feet. Stupid girl.


And yet, at the sound of his voice behind her, something trembled in her very core. And she loathed herself for it. And she was on the verge of driving the closest sharp object through his chest for it.

“If you’re here to say you’re sorry, Max, I will rip off your tongue,” she hissed through clenched teeth, without turning around. Oh, she was fairly certain she’d find places where she could shove his apologies.

“I won’t,” he said simply. “Because I’m not sorry. I did what I had to do.”

Ember turned around abruptly, not quite believing her ears. After everything he had put her through, he’d followed her just to drag her through more mud. Had he no shame?

“What you had to do?” she shrieked. “Max, we could’ve died.”

“You didn’t.”

She threw her hands in the air exasperated.

“But you did not know that!”

“I did.”

His calmness only managed to frustrate her to no end. With each and every passing second, she came closer to tackling him and showing him exactly just how much of a beast she could be.

“I don’t care, Max! I don’t care if you had the power to foresee the future and you could tell for sure what would happen. What you put me through is inexcusable.”

“It worked,” he shrugged, and Ember ran a hand over her face.

“Is that what you will be telling yourself from now on? It had to be done. It worked. I hope that will serve as enough of an excuse for you as you wonder why you lost my trust. Because I trusted you, Max.”

He finally broke his stoic expression and Ember saw the exasperation light up his features.

“Well, that was a mistake on your behalf, wasn’t it?” he raised his voice. “What did you expect of me, Ember? To stay put and hold your hand until you were ready?”

He moved to stand in front of her, clenching and unclenching his jaw. Ember stood her ground, ignoring the heat surging from his body and the way hers met it with equal flares. The air was charged between them and they could both tell by the way their breathing became frantic.

“Don’t fool yourself, love,” he spat, standing so close his breath was hitting Ember’s cheek. “I’m not the good guy. I will break you and feel no remorse for it if circumstances call for it, because this is what I do. And you’re not supposed to like me or to be my friend. And I’m sure as hell not here to provide you comfort.”

She stayed silent, not knowing how to respond to that. She’d come to that conclusion, too. But hearing it from his mouth, it struck her hard and fast as lightning. And every word died on her lips when she saw how badly he was struggling himself with the realization, as if he was finally letting it out after he’d let it eat him up.

“Then what are you?” she managed to snarl at him. “What am I to make of you, Max? Do I hate you? Do I trust you? Do I proceed to regret every single moment I’ve chosen to share with you since I got on this ship?”

“I don’t know, either,” he shouted back at her. “In fact, by all means, go ahead and expect the worst of me, because I will deliver, Ember. I am a villain and you’re a fool for believing otherwise. We are enemies. We are supposed to hate each other and all I know is I bloody can’t anymore.”

He took another step closer, until Ember’s brain starting screaming at her. Too close. Too close. Too close. But despite the rage that sent her brain spinning, her body begged to differ. Closer. Closer. Closer. The magnetism was undeniable, yet again, now when they wanted to claw at each other. They were just two edges of the same blade. And when he spoke, he was mere inches away from her and Ember could no longer tell if she was panting because of the anger or because of the closeness.

“You want to throw stones, love?” he whispered dangerously. “By all means, throw the first one. Lead the way and I will follow. Go ahead and hate me so that I can have a bloody reason to hate you back.”

Ember couldn’t precisely name the moment in which she’d made up her mind. Oh, it was a bad decision. The kind you always live to regret, and she was so certain she would never escape the waves of regret around this one. But in hindsight, as she’d reached in and searched the corners of her mind and heart, the decision had been made long before her muscles could act. Perhaps it had been the rush of today’s events, perhaps she was beginning to misinterpret her feelings from lately. Perhaps the rage had created an escape shortcut for every emotion she’d suppressed.

But when he asked for a bloody reason to hate her back, when he asked her to throw the first stone, she realized she was empty handed. She had no stones. And without stones to throw, her hands grabbed the first thing she could think of. His collar. And before she could even process what was happening, the gravity became too much and she pulled him to her hungrily.

And when their lips met halfway, Max let a small gasp against her lips. And if she’d thought there had been flames between them before, then this was an explosion of sparks ignited just behind her eyes. After the shock of the initial contact, it snapped, and she felt Max’s hands at her waist and in her hair and on her shoulders and everywhere where he could touch and it got raw and messy and wild and she gave in with her whole being. And if she’d thought he’d gotten under her skin before, that he’d filled her veins with dirt, she now understood the hurricane that was Maxwell Lockhart and how her veins had actually become nothing more but oceans for him to sail.

Max walked her backwards until her back was pressed against the wall and his body was pressed against hers, like he couldn’t get close enough. His mouth trailed kissed down her jaw and on her neck and his hand found her thigh and she gripped his shoulders and pulled his hair and whispered his name breathlessly. His lips drew maps on her heated skin and X marked the spot right above her lips, and he attacked them greedily like they were a treasure chest. And they devoured each other, buried under an ocean of chaos that poured and poured until they used up to the last ounce of hatred and confusion and rage and blame. And when Max’s hand slid around her waist, lifting the edge her shirt just a little to rest on her skin, Ember knew for a fact she was lost. Drowning in the bottomless pit that the captain was, her lungs enjoying the way he knocked out the air.

“Captain Lockhart.”

At Billy’s voice, Max jumped a few feet backwards like he’d just been slapped, his eyes unfocused. Holy Gods above. What had just happened?

Max cleared his voice and ran a hand over his face, trying to regain his composure, and then he turned to Billy. Was she as disheveled as he was? Were her pupils just as dilated, her lips just as swollen, her hair just as messy from his fingers as his was from hers? Heavens, she could still feel the heat radiating out of him and she was quite certain she was no better. They were like two children caught stealing cookies. Except the cookies had been kisses. And a little more than that, considering how they’d been all over each other. Perhaps she’d have been mortified, had she been able to cool herself down enough.

“What’s so important that you must interrupt me, Billy?” Max snapped at his sailor, and Ember saw the poor man gulp.

Max’s voice was charged and Ember couldn’t help but remember how he’d sounded whispering her name like a plea against her skin only seconds ago. And couldn’t help but notice how truly ruffled he sounded right now.

“Apologies, captain,” Billy mumbled. “But the dragon boy asked to speak with you.”

~SOUNDTRACK: Jimi Charles Moody – The other man~

The dragon boy.

Ember stopped breathing.

Only now did she finally see the subtle silhouette standing next to Billy. Frozen. Hard green eyes staring her down, judgmental.

“Kaleb,” she whispered, at loss of breath.

Max finally seemed to notice him just now, and for a second, they both tried to take in the scene through his eyes. He and Billy had walked in on them, finding them tangled in each other and the stench of the guilt hovered over them still. Ember could practically see Kaleb’s eyes traveling down the route where Max’s lips had been, and realization finally started to settle in. Oh, Gods. She’d kissed Maxwell Lockhart. The pirate who’d kidnapped her and had made her jump off a cliff just hours ago. Had she lost her mind? Over whom? Maxwell Lockhart, of all people? She dropped her gaze, unable to look at Kaleb wearing the shape of Max’s lips all over her skin.

“It’s fine,” Kaleb spoke harshly. “Your captain seems rather busy. I can wait until tomorrow.”

That having been said, he turned on his heels and left, leaving Ember red-faced with shame and troubled as never before. Billy simply shrugged and left, too, and Ember was once again alone with Max. But she didn’t have the time to face the aftermath of her actions, not now. She’d deal with Max later, when they would no longer feel these insane urges to rip each other’s clothes off. When they would agree that this was foolish of them, utterly unwise and bound to never happen again. For now, she had to make things right with Kaleb. She moved to run after him when she felt warm fingers clasping her wrist.

A wave of shock surged through her whole body. She still felt the shadow of the touch of those fingers all over her body. The memory of it made her frustratingly sensitive to it.

“Hey,” he whispered softly, and it unnerved her more than he would have if he had raised her voice and yelled at her again. She could not go down this path with him.

She took a last look at him, gazing into crystal deep eyes and she saw the hunger, the passion, the fire in them. He wanted her. He didn’t want to want her and God knew she didn’t want to want him, either. But, unlike her, he seemed to have already made up his mind as to whether to keep the flames burning or to put them out. No. No, not yet. She was still not yet ready to do this right now. Kaleb. Kaleb first.

So she removed her wrist from his arm and followed Kaleb, praying she’d find the right words to make him understand.

She found him in the same place where she’d spent exactly 43 evenings with Max, sipping on rum and made-up stories. How beyond ironic this was. She could tell he’d heard her approach, but before she got the chance to choose her words and speak up, he turned around abruptly, nostrils flaring.

“Do you love the pirate, Ember?” he snapped with no preparations whatsoever.

Ember’s eyebrows shot up and she shook her head, not fully able to comprehend what he was implying.

“What sort of mad question is this?” she raised her hands defensively in front of her.

“The one that kept me awake for 43 nights,” Kaleb raised his voice, and Ember flinched; she was not used to seeing this side of him. “Answer me, Ember. I need to know.”

“Kaleb, of course not,” she tried to soften her voice, taking a tentative step towards him. She tried not to let the sharp sting of pain take over her when he took a step backwards instead.

“Your actions speak for yourself,” he accused her. “I cannot pretend to understand what is going on between you and the captain. But I held on to you as a glimmer of hope for as long as I rotted inside that cell. I got out and learned that I am a dragon. And I had to keep it together for you, because we were in this together. And as we conquered horizons together, I held on the knowledge knowing there is a deeper bond running between us, one that cannot be undone.”

He ran a hand over his face, suddenly looking exhausted, and Ember gulped around the lump in her throat, threatening to bring out tears.

“But then I walk in on you and that pirate,” his voice broke over the words. “And I cannot say I never saw it coming. But I had hoped so badly to be wrong. I needed to be wrong. And yet you let him hold you in the same arms that pushed us to our death, Ember.”

Near death,” Ember couldn’t help herself from saying, and she regretted the words as soon as they left her lips when she saw Kaleb’s face contort in disgust.

“Near?” he shrieked. “Have you the nerve to defend him?”

Ember ran a hand through her hair, knowing she could not take back the words now that they were out.

“No,” she spoke. “I’m not defending him. What he did was wrong and extreme and I tried so hard to be mad at him. I wanted to throttle him like never before, Kaleb. But there’s no denying this. It worked. He brought out that part of us that was stolen from us, from our memories. I feel like I can be whole again. I don’t have to be afraid anymore. And as wrong as it may have been of him to push us to that extreme, we owe him that.”

Kaleb went to stand in front of her, such rage in his eyes that it made Ember’s heart shrink a little.

“I owe him nothing,” he spat in her face. “And least of all, I do not feel obliged to share the woman I love with him.”

“I’m not a piece of meat, Kaleb. You can’t share me with anyone else. Least of all with Maxwell Lockhart. Whatever you saw down there, I can assure you—“

“I could not care less about your assurances,” he lowered his voice. “What am I to you, Ember? Do I mean anything to you at all? You didn’t hesitate when it came to doubting my feelings for you and throwing me in a cell. What about your feelings for me? Was any of it real?”

“Of course it was,” she gulped, and was surprised at how broken her voice sounded. “I’d do anything for you.”

He fell at loss of words at her response and she wanted to take advantage of that tiny moment to say something that would at least get him to listen to her, when they heard someone slowly clap their palms behind them. They turned around to see Christopher standing a few feet away, an expression of mockery glued to his face.

~SOUNDTRACK: Theory of a Deadman – Bloody Jack Villain~

“How very tragic,” he ridiculed. “I am deeply moved.”

“Do you mind, Christopher?” Ember sneered at him.

Christopher stepped forward. “I do, as a matter of fact. As our bright pirate so carefully pointed out, we’ve got no witch and two hexed dragons. I suggest you get your dragon brains onto finding that cave. I am running out of patience in this little game of yours.”

Ember sighed, as it was now clear there was no escaping the devil on her shoulder. And truth be told, she wanted everything to be over with as soon as possible, too.

“I would love nothing more,” she replied snarky. “But the dragon form didn’t bring back the memories. We can rely on these newly discovered instincts, but without proper orientation, I don’t think we can do more.”

“Then we need those memories. And I know just the person to lend a hand with that.” Christopher shot her a cruel smirk that made Ember’s blood run cold. Oh, she could see past that grin of his. Whatever he was up to, it was no good.

“I won’t like this, will I?” she glared at him, just to be rewarded with yet another questionable smile on his face.

“Not any less than you liked jumping off a cliff, love.”


Hands down, my favorite chapter so far. OH HELL YEAH. THIS SHIP HAS SAILED. Pun intended. But yeah. Max and Ember are a thing. A real thing. A hot damn cutie pie thing, and I love them.

Let me know what you think!

Lots of love,


22: Chapter 21: Of men and beasts
Chapter 21: Of men and beasts


~SOUNDTRACK: Jamie N Commons & X Ambassadors – Jungle~

“What’s his name again?” Ember asked Christopher as they walked through the woods. The demon sighed.

“Meldon,” he replied shortly.

“And he’s a magician of some sorts?”

“A black magus.”

“And he will help us do what, exactly?”

Christopher stopped walking and came to a halt in front of Ember, his nostrils flaring.

“For now, I am considering whether I should still ask him to retrieve your memories or whether to request that he sewed your mouth shut,” he hissed at her, and then resumed his walking.

Ember followed frowning. Heavens, he was jumpy today.

“How do you know a black magus anyway?” she heard Max ask from behind her and she flinched. She hadn’t had the time to talk to him about that kiss yet. And she dreaded the moment in which she’d have to address that issue. But in the meantime, they had to keep moving through the palpable tension and awkwardness lingering between them.

“That is for me to know and for you to wonder, pirate,” Christopher retorted. “How do you know a prince of hell?”

Ember heard Max scoff and she bit down a smile. 

“Point made,” Max growled, and she was about to make another comment when Christopher stopped abruptly once more and looked around.

“We’re here,” he announced.

Ember looked around and saw that Max, Kaleb and the couple of pirates Max had brought along did the same. There was nothing in sight. Just a clearing surrounded by thick woods. No evident black magus. Christopher rolled his eyes.

“He likes to make an entrance.”

As soon as the words were out of Christopher’s mouth, a loud explosion made Ember flinch and cover her head. Bright light blinded her and she was surprised when Max’s arms flew around her protectively. When the light faded, Ember raised her head reluctantly to take in the scene. Her eyebrows flew up. For how utterly insane Christopher had painted him as, the black magus looked rather normal, save for the dramatic entrance, indeed. But it was his smile that threw her off. Such a wide, unnatural smile had to be painful, what with the way it contorted his face and pulled his lips back to reveal white teeth. And the eyes. The eyes gave him away. The clear blue of Meldon’s eyes matched Max’s, except there was nothing human in them. There was just cruelty and ruthlessness and blood thirst and they were wide and unfocused. It gave Ember the chills. Yes, there was no doubt. He was entirely bonkers.

“My, my,” Meldon’s voice filled the silence, loud and sharp and screeching. “Zeya, is it my birthday? Two dragons, a demon and a handful of pirates, all for me to devour.”

Ember shuddered at his words and tried hard to convince herself that he wasn’t speaking literally. Though the way he’d said ‘devour’ seemed all too realistic for her taste. Her eyes finally travelled to the black magus’ left, to see to whom his words were addressed, and she gasped audibly. Right next to him stood the most gorgeous woman she’d ever seen. Her hair was red, skin was creamy and her eyes were wild and restless. Her silhouette seemed fallen off the paintbrush of a skilled artist. She was too beautiful a creature to be human.

“Bloody hell,” she heard Max mutter by her side and she turned to look at him.

And if she’d been shocked, Max was mesmerized. He stood with his mouth half open, looking on the verge of throwing himself on his knees before this woman, vowing to follow her to his death and beyond. There was a dreamy look on his face that sent a pang of jealousy through Ember that she tried hard to ignore. Now was neither the time, nor the place for this. She pursed her lips and tried hard to shut down these feelings when she finally felt warm fingers clasping her wrists. She turned around to see Max looking at her in desperation, as if he were trying to ground himself to her. She felt her cheeks flush under his gaze and tried to ignore the implications of the gesture, when an ostentatious chuckle brought her back from her reverie.

“Look at this, Zeya,” he chanted happily. “You made a victim. Would you like me to take him as a pet? He would make a fine pet.”

Max’s grip around Ember’s wrist tightened and it occurred to her that this whole daze of his over this Zeya wasn’t exactly natural. Max looked as if he was trying hard not to kneel at her feet in awe and Ember felt oddly relieved that he was resisting it and deeply moved that he used her as a tether. So for once, she let herself have this one moment and intertwined their fingers and gave his hand a reassuring squeeze.

The black magus let out a high pitched chuckle that sent chills down Ember’s spine.

“The rat’s standing up to the cat,” he shrieked, his sharp voice making Ember flinch and squeeze Max’s hand harder. “Because he’s enjoying the cheese. Tsk tsk tsk. Don’t take it personal, my Zeya. Nymph or not, the little dragon has him under a different spell of her own.”

Max let out a breath he had no idea he’d been holding. A nymph. That made sense. Nymphs were supernatural creatures that lured men to their deaths with their unworldly beauty. He should’ve known the second he started losing focus, with her perfect features being anything he could see before his eyes. It took all he had to snap out of it. No. It took Ember. He was vaguely aware of a small flicker at the edge of his vision warning him there was something wrong about the way he was ready to go to the end of the world for her. So it triggered his instinct, and his first instinct had been to ground himself to the only thing that could get him out of the trance. An infuriating black-haired thief whose heat he’d felt so pregnant against his body and had been yearning for ever since. A maddening self-assured prick who’d gotten under his skin like a lizard and that he’d allowed to shelter in his veins. He’d reached for Ember and the warmth of her fingers intertwined with his had been reassurance enough. Whatever it was that he was beginning to feel towards the little dragon, it had been enough to tether him to whatever conscience he had left. And it had been as if every twisted path in his head led to her.

“I have no time for games, Meldon,” Christopher’s voice broke the thick tension building up. “I believe my request has been made rather clear to you when you were summoned.”

The magus broke into a feral smile.

“Oh, yes, old friend. Clear as day. Perhaps a bit too clear and graphic for my taste, as your messenger is currently lying decapitated on the side of a dirty road.”

Christopher surprised everyone by returning the cruel smile. “I expected nothing less of you, old friend.”

Ember let out a small choked gasp. These men – not men at all, come to think about it, but merciless killers, despicable monsters – spoke of murder as one would speak of the weather. The gasp didn’t go unnoticed, however, and she soon felt Meldon’s eyes on her, watching her with entertainment. He started walking, steady as a mountain lion and feral as one, until he stood before her. Ember tried hard not to step backwards, away from him, not wanting to show how intimidated she was. But she was, oh, how she was. His frozen eyes dug holes into her skull and he smelled like ashes and tombs.

“Are you frightened, child?” he asked, his breath hitting her cheek and she tried so hard to tell him that she wasn’t, to stare right back into his eyes and hold her ground, but those crazed eyes staring so intently at her made her nauseous.

The black magus started circling her and she felt his cold breath on the nape of her neck, sending chills down her spine. He let out that blood-chilling chuckle again.

“Oh, she is,” he chanted happily. “I can smell it on you. You’re a beast hiding beneath a child. This world has yet to see your fangs, lizard girl.”

Ember clenched her fists and stared blankly ahead as Meldon’s voice rang behind her.

“I’m no lizard,” she hissed through gritted teeth, expecting to be punished for her insolence, but the black magus merely let out a feral laugh.

“So they all say, so they all say,” he chanted. “But we’re all beasts, we’re all mad, we’re all monsters. And you’re no more than lizards. You and your pretty boy, aren’t you, pretty boy?”

Ember glanced sideways just to see Kaleb gulping, too frozen to be reacting. And before Ember could snap again at the magus for his remark, both of them felt him place his hands on their heads and all that followed was blinding pain. Sharpest pain Ember had ever felt, numbing her whole body and making both her and Kaleb fall to their knees, screaming in agony. She vaguely heard Max moving and yelling something, but she could focus on nothing else but the pressure building behind her eyes, in her skull, that threatened to crush her head. Yet within seconds, the pain was gone and images started flashing before their eyes so fast they could hardly keep up with them.



~SOUNDTRACK: Rhodes – The lakes~

A little girl sat in a clearing, not far from a remote village in the mountains. She looked up and her gaze skimmed across the blue horizon. Birds flew high, spread their wings and teased the winds in utter defiance with their grandeur. And as they got closer, they grew bigger. And as they fell into a well-played danced, the little girl realized they were not birds. But whatever creatures they were, they owned the horizon as if it were rightfully theirs.



A little boy played with a little wooden horse, hidden behind a barrel. The village was loud and the people could not be bothered by a scared child who did not fully grasp yet what he was to become.

“Why are you hiding here?”

The little boy flinched and looked up. A little girl looked at him with curious green eyes. He knew her. She was the Blackthorn girl. The way he heard it, she was quite important around here. As was he. He did not know what this great future would bring upon them, but if he could keep dodging it for a little while longer, he’d have been grateful.

“I’m playing,” he replied shortly, hoping she’d just leave him alone. But she did not go. Instead, she sat next to him on the ground and hugged her knees.

“Can I play with you?” she asked, and her wide eyes seemed so genuine, so sincere, that the boy blinked dumbstruck.

“Why?” he blurted out, and his newest friend smiled shyly.

“The Onyx Valley is boring. I could use a friend.”



“Kaleb, who was the girl you spoke to today?”

The boy gulped, looking up to his mother sheepishly.

“A friend,” he replied shortly, and his mother shook her head at him amused.

“Nothing would please me more than for it to be so, darling,” she kissed the top of his head. “Because that was the daughter of Mary Elizabeth and Alexander Blackthorn. She and you shall rule the Onyx Valley one day.”



“Mother, I met Kaleb Middleton today,” the little girl announced proudly, and Mary Elizabeth Blackthorn chuckled lightly.

“So I’ve heard, monkey,” the woman replied. “But be patient with him. I hear he’s quite the lonely child. Don’t scare the poor soul away, will you?”

The girl giggled happily. She would have normally brushed such comment off and would have hit the boy with everything she had. She preferred her friends a bit more enthusiastic. But seeing as the Middleton boy didn’t strike her as the type, she would learn to lower her voice if he couldn’t raise his. They needed to be in tune. After all, like her parents never forgot to remind her, the two of them would rule the Onyx Valley one day.



A boy and a girl stood hand in hand, facing the ocean. They were scared. They were terrified. But they were excited. This was the day where they stepped in line to inherit their legacy. Dozens dragon clans had gathered here today to watch their future leaders take their first flight.

So hand in hand, they gave in to the calling rising in the depths of their chests.

And they jumped.

And in their place, two young dragons took over the sky.



Flames took over the Onyx Valley. The boy and the girl didn’t know for sure what was going on. All they knew is that people were screaming in agony, that the smell of burned flesh filled their lungs and smoke clouded their vision. They were ripped from their beds and pulled away from each other while they were desperately trying not to let go of one another’s hands.

A 12-year old boy in tears was dropped off on the doorstep of a cruel jeweler.

A 12-year old girl was left alone with four siblings whose dragon legacies had been placed under a dormant spell.

An entire dragon race was left buried under an ocean of ashes that night.



She smiled. Or something vaguely similar to a smile. As the morning light stroked her onyx black scales, thick skin lifted to bear sharp fangs in a strange, ominous, audacious attempt at an animalistic smile. She was a ferocious creature, terrifying and graceful in her viciousness, the flap of her massive wings resonating in a glorious echo, her vertical pupils dilated with the joy of soaring across the land like the cliffs and the mountains and the valleys belonged to her and she belonged to the sky and to the wind.

She was an Onyx Dragon, Daughter of Scorching Flames and Charcoal Dust.



On an opposite mountain peak, no more than a few yards between them, sat another dragon, his position mirroring hers, two pairs of beastly eyes staring like a mirror and a reflection. And deep under scales and claws and feral instincts, even though their consciences weren’t yet aware of it, two souls resonated loud as a crack and ripple sounds of a burning fire, and smoke rose and drew patterns on the morning sky.

The two of them looked at each other and welcomed one another’s presence, feeling as if they were finally home.



~SOUNDTRACK: Nico Vega – Beast~

Ember and Kaleb gasped and Meldon dropped his hands from their heads, smirking, pleased with himself while Zeya watched the two dragons struggling to catch their breaths. Christopher was still inexpressive as usual and Max rushed to Ember’s side, helping her to her feet.

“Hey,” he breathed quickly, moving her hair away from her face. “Hey, are you alright? What did you do to her, you bloody monster?” he turned to the black magus, and Ember wished he would just shut up and not get himself killed by this psychopath.

She turned to Kaleb and found him watching her with same perplexed expression on his face.

“We were friends,” he whispered. “When we were children. We grew up together. And William Lahey is not my father. Gods above, thank Heavens.”

She forced an exhausted smile that faltered quickly. “And my siblings… They were supposed to be dragons, too. Everybody was murdered. God, the slaughter…”

She didn’t have the time to finish that thought when Meldon walked between them, moving to stand in front of them with that uncanny smile plastered on his face, excited as a child.

“Marvelous, is it not?” he cheered. “My black magic had its fun breaking the barriers of your pretty heads. What do you think, my two lizards? Was it not spectacular?”

He let out another breathy chuckle, and Ember felt it snapping within her. She was no longer the scared girl afraid of the dormant beast. She was a beast as much as she was a human, and she now knew that she had been raised in such manner to be proud of that beast. So she gave in to it, not scared in the least bit anymore. She knew exactly who she was now, and she would bow to no one.

Slowly, fixating the black magus with her eyes, she stood up and Max saw her eyes flash golden. She growled – actually growled – and lifted her chin in defiance.

“I’m no lizard,” she repeated her words from earlier, to which the black magus and his little nymph smirked. “I am an Onyx Dragon, Daughter of Scorching Flames and Charcoal Dust. I have been forged by flames and I will not be afraid. I will not be stepped on. I will not be toyed around. Call me a lizard again and I will burn these woods to the ground before you can finish uttering the word.”

She felt Max freeze by her side, probably expecting the black magus to snap his fingers and turn her into a frog, but she’d meant every word. Her kin had perished believing she and Kaleb were worth saving and having the faith of everyone put in them. She would be worthy of that faith. She would live up to the glory of those she’d been meant to rule. She would not be afraid.

But what she least expected was for the black magus to tilt his head and turn on his heels, heading towards Zeya.

“It would appear my job here is done, Beelzebub,” he shot at the demon over his shoulder. “You’ve got two functional dragons. But we’ve got mischief to cause somewhere else now. Ease down on the fire, Daughter of whatever you just said. I’ve got some death traps around these woods I would hate for you to set off.”

That having been said, another explosion blinded them all and Meldon and Zeya vanished into thin air.

“He enjoys making an exit, as well,” Christopher commented bored, as if the fate of the game hadn’t once again shifted.

 “Well?” Max prompted, his hand never leaving Ember’s elbow; and she was grateful for his supporting touch, but after everything she’d just learned, she could hardly look away from Kaleb. “Have you learned anything about the cave? Do we have a lead to follow?”

Kaleb met Ember’s eyes and it was clear that their thoughts met halfway.

“I believe we need to go back, don’t we?” he gazed at her. “Wide awake, for once.”

Ember pursed his lips and Max looked from one to the other.

“Back where?” he inquired, and Ember took a deep breath before replying.

“The Onyx Valley.”


23: Chapter 22: Burning me like an ember
Chapter 22: Burning me like an ember


~SOUNDTRACK: Fleurie – Fire in my bones~

It wasn’t easy. Nothing about this was easy. There were still so many things to talk about, with Max, with Kaleb, with Christopher, with her siblings once she’d get back. Gods above, the little ones were dragons, too. And yet again, it was up to her to guide them, to offer them the choice of having the spell that kept their powers dormant lifted and she’d be there for them as no one had been for her, if the time were to come.

But for now, talking was no priority. For now, the clock kept ticking on them and Ember heard it loud in her head, resonating with every heartbeat. Tick. Tock.

And yet, nothing was the same. Everything had taken a dramatic turn and Ember found she was no longer afraid. For the first time in her life, she knew exactly who she was. And perhaps Daughter of Scorching Flames and Charcoal Dust was not precisely what she’d had in mind, but having the power to set on fire everything that stood against her and anyone who dared to threaten her family again was rather convenient. She would see her kin risen from the ashes. She promised herself she would use the heights she soared through as a reminder of what she had to reestablish.

So Ember spread her wings and let go, shutting down her brain and giving in to her instincts. She felt Kaleb by her side and she knew their minds were in sync right now. They were buried within their memories, letting the wind point them in the right direction.


She was already recognizing the view. The air smelled different, it held an ashen scent, a scent filled with thick smoke rising to greet them. The sky was turning a little grayer and grand mountains stood tall before them. Ember recognized the woods. Gods above, she and Kaleb had played here for days when they were little. She knew every path, every clearing, every river stream. She looked sideways at Kaleb and by the way his thick, scaled skin parted to reveal his fangs in a beastly sort of smile, she could tell he was making his way through the same recollection. She couldn’t help but feel as if things had shifted once again, as if a new link had been tied between them, and she was more terrified of it than ever. Her feelings had changed, too, ever since she’d left Thebbington Abbey, and she wasn’t sure where she and Kaleb stood right now. But the newly discovered knowledge hung above her head like a blade ready to drop. Knowing their story had been crafted by the dragon clans and that they were so much more than just kids who had fallen for each other in a market, in a field of poppies, in the rain, it all felt like it pressured her to feel a certain way. And while it was more than clear that Kaleb did, she was not quite there.

They circled the area for a few more times, trying to find a place to land. The Onyx Valley was actually an island covered in green, in waterfalls and cliffs. It looked so pure, so untouched, so isolated by everything that was on the other shore of this sea. But it was all too quiet now. The way Ember remembered it, it used to buzz with life, with energy, there used to be little children running, people crossing paths and dragons conquering the skies above it. Now, it was as dead as the rest of her family. And yet, nature found a way to go on.

Ember and Kaleb landed in a clearing, and flashbacks flooded them both.



~SOUNDTRACK: Taylor Swift – Out of the Woods (at Grammy Museum)~

“That cloud looks like a heart,” 10-year old Ember stated happily. Lying on his back, by her side, sat Kaleb Middleton, frowning up to the sky.

“It looks like a sheep to me,” he spoke shyly and Ember scoffed.

“They all look like sheep to you.”

“But it’s confusing,” he turned to look at her. “They’re white and fluffy. What else are they supposed to look like?”

Ember giggled at his cluelessness. Kaleb had gotten to be her best friend and she could not be more grateful for him. There was a calmness to their friendship that settled her, and she’d made good on the promise she’d made to her mother of going easy on him. Though she sometimes wished he’d get a bit more excited about… well, about pretty much anything.

“Ember?” she heard him call her name sheepishly. She turned to him curious just to find him watching her as well, a concerned look to his gaze.

“Aren’t you afraid?” he inquired, and she frowned.

“Afraid of what? Our parents are powerful clan leaders. We don’t have to be afraid. We’re well protected. You need not be afraid.”

“I didn’t mean that,” he hurried to clarify. “I know our clan can protect us. But our parents talk of some great destinies to be fulfilled. Of how we’ll rule the clans together. Doesn’t that scare you?”

“Not at all,” she replied serenely. “And you shouldn’t be either. You know why?”


She smiled brightly at him and Kaleb shied away from the intensity of his best friend’s gaze.

“Because we get to do it together, silly,” Ember shrugged like it was the most obvious thing in the world. “We’ll rule side by side. And you will not have to be afraid because you will have me to watch your back. As you’ll watch mine, I trust.”



Fangs turned back into teeth, flesh replaced scales and claws went back to thin fingers. Ember looked at Kaleb just to find him already back to his human form, looking around with a small smile on his face.

“You remember it, too?” she asked him, and he nodded once.

“Those clouds still look like sheep to me,” he stated, and Ember burst out into giggles.

“You never did have a bright imagination.”

Kaleb simply shrugged. “You had it for both of us. Gods above, you scared me half the time. Always so full of life and so happy.” He paused and looked her dead in the eye, a sad look on his face that made Ember flinch. “You still do. Scare me most of the time, that is. But it’s different now.”

Ember ran a hand through her hair and averted her gaze, deciding to move past the awkward moment. Heavens. It’s like she didn’t know how to talk to him anymore. Every feeling from the past couple of months came rushing back at her, hitting her with raw force and she more than often found herself having trouble breathing. What had happened to her? It was like, throughout all the clarity, Kaleb, the only one left of her kin, the only one she was supposed to relate to, didn’t shine as bright as she’d seen him at first. She’d expected him to be the moon, back when they’d gotten together. Back when she found out who they truly were. But in fact, he’d turned out to be just a lonely star.

“It would appear that future you were so afraid of finally happened,” she told him. “And I must say, it is a bit darker than I would have imagined.”

Kaleb sighed. “Scarier than never,” he admitted. “We’re to rule over a race that’s perished.”

“No,” Ember shook her head at him. “We’re to watch it rise and restore it to its former glory. We’re simply a bit lonelier than I’d have expected.”

“So it’s still the two of us,” he dared mutter under his breath. “You and me, side by side. I never would have thought this would be the scariest part.”

Ember felt it snap inside her, like glass shattering. She bit her lip and tried to ignore the sense of dread mustering in the depth of her chest. She deserved his harsh words. She’d disappointed him and she’d turned her back on him when he’d needed her the most. He would’ve never done that to her. And as if that hadn’t been enough, she betrayed him in the worst way possible.

We’ll rule side by side. And you will not have to be afraid because you will have me to watch your back. As you’ll watch mine, I trust.

It all felt like a lie now. She cared about Kaleb, she did, and the only way they could see their kin be reborn would be together. But she was still working through that one. It still felt like too much pressure that kicked the air out of her lungs.

“We’ll make it work,” she turned to him, trying to believe it. “We’re the only hope, Kaleb.”

“You make it sound like you don’t have a choice,” he smiled sadly. “And I’m having trouble believing that’s how it is supposed to be. You see, I want to make it work not because we’re the only hope. I want to make it work because you’re my hope and I love you.”

Ember sighed and felt her eyes fill with tears. She bit her lip.

“There is a choice,” she muttered. “There is always a choice, Kaleb. And I chose you. I chose not to walk away from it. I chose to stand and fight by your side, fight for our survival and for our race’s revival. I will do all that and I will do it as I vowed to. With you. But don’t say you love me and expect me to give you that in return.”

Kaleb laughed humorlessly. “Because of the pirate.”

“No, Kaleb,” she said through gritted teeth. “Because I take my time sorting out my feelings. And they have been giving me hell lately. Because I will not be pushed to confess feelings I’m not certain of. And I’m sorry if I hurt you, Kaleb. It has never been my intention. I do care for you, more than you can know. But I am having a hard time placing that properly within the chambers of my heart. And I promise you, this has nothing to do with Max. There is nothing going on between me and him.”

Kaleb watched her with pursed lips until she finished talking. Then he simply smiled sadly at her and turned his back on her, clenching and unclenching his fists. Eventually, he looked over his shoulder and spoke one single word before turning back into a dragon and fleeing.




~SOUNDTRACK: Matt Cardle & Melanie C – Loving you~

Ember and Kaleb landed on Max’s ship less than an hour later and Kaleb hurried to tell Christopher that they had found the Onyx Valley. Ember suspected he was eager to get away from her after their earlier talk, but she didn’t have to energy to keep having the same conversation over and over again. So she figured she had to go tell Max in what direction to set sail, too.

She headed towards his cabin and gulped. She found his door half open and she paused for a heartbeat, pulling herself together. This would be the first time they’d be alone together ever since that kiss, and she wasn’t sure she wanted to talk about that. Or to face its aftermath. Gods above, she’d told Kaleb there was nothing going on between her and Max, and out of everything, this felt like the biggest lie. Max was the main reason why her feelings were so tangled up right now. Even if they didn’t end up talking about that heated kiss, there was tangible tension between them that she could no longer ignore. It was like her skin itched every time their skin brushed accidentally, and she’d gotten to learn most of those accidents weren’t than ‘accidental’ either. It was like they kept being drawn to each other, like magnets. It was like nothing she’d ever felt before. His mere presence intoxicated her, made her whole body heat up and long for his touch. Now more than ever, considering she’d felt his touch exploring her skin in ways that had made her week around the knees. Gods above, she’d have to make him sleep on the floor again, because there was no way she’d be able to share a bed with him in this condition.

She took a deep breath and walked inside, finding Max crouched over a map on his table. He raised his head the second she walked in and Ember saw his eyes darken with hunger the same way she assumed hers did. Oh, they were buried in some deep trouble. For a long minute, they just stood there, drowning in each other’s presence.

“Any luck?” he broke the silence first after clearing his voice. Ember sighed shakily before answering.

“Yes, actually. We found the place. In fact, I came here to give you the directions.”

Reluctantly, she moved in front of the map and he moved a few inches away to make room for her. But Lord, oh Lord, she felt his warm breath against the nape of her neck and all she could think about was the way her head had been spinning at how his uneven breath had sounded against her skin as he’d kissed his way down her jaw. She cleared her throat and hated how her voice was still shaking when she started speaking.

“We should be right about here now, is that correct?” she asked, pointing at a spot on the map and she felt him nodding behind her.


“Right. So if we go north from here and we go with the currents, we should make it there by morning. Tell your men to keep their eyes open for land. It’s an island, covered in thick vegetation. Impossible to miss. Kaleb and I believe we can locate the cave easily once we’re there.”

“Understood,” he replied, his voice low, making Ember shuddered. “We should probably talk, you know.”

There he went. The exact words she did not want to hear. The ones she’d been dreading to hear. She knew they were coming, but at the moment, she decided talking about it was the worst idea possible. She hadn’t anticipated the intensity of the tension lingering between them and she wasn’t ready to pull at that fine thread separating them. Because once that broke, there would be nothing keeping her from falling into his arms and surrendering to this insane passion setting her veins on fire.

She turned on her heels, facing him. Big mistake. He was standing so close that their lips were dangerously close to each other and, for a second, she forgot what point she was trying to make. She shook her head and averted her gaze.

“No,” she tried to snap, but it didn’t come out so sure. “No, we don’t. There is nothing to talk about.”

The captain raised an eyebrow, licking his lips. Oh, the bastard was thinking about it the same way she did. And he didn’t look as if he were trying too hard to keep it under control, his eyes roaming all across her body and his fingertips twitching, willing to reach for her.

“Is it not?” he questioned, fixating his gaze on her. Ember almost broke under the crystal blue of his eyes.

“No,” she repeated, just as weak. “And stop looking at me like that.”

He leaned a bit closer, until Ember was practically sitting on the table. He braced each arm on one side of her until he had her caged. Just as he’d hoped to, she presumed. He was a hunter, and she was his prey. As helpless as a mouse.

“Like what?” he asked, as if he didn’t know all too well.

“Like this. I cannot breathe with you looking at me like this.”

He leaned even closer, his lips moving to her cheek without actually touching it, though she wanted them to. Oh, how she wanted to. It was like she was dying and his lips held the antidote and she needed to taste it on them.  He took his time caressing her cheek with his charged breath and then he moved to her ear, sending waves to her spine.

“Like what?” he repeated the question. “Like I keep thinking about last time when we were in this cabin? Like I lie awake at night, remembering the feeling of your soft lips against mine? Like all I’ve been wanting to do ever since was to push you against that wall again and finish what we started? Like I’ve never wanted another woman the way I want you, fire breather? Like you’ve set my head on fire? Is that what you mean?”

His hand went to grip her waist and she arched into his touch, one hand gripping his shoulder, wishing his words would just end up on her lips already to stop this awful agony.

“Like that, Ember?” he prompted, moving his head to look at her, his blue eyes darkened, their lips barely grazing.

“Y-yes,” she managed to get out. “Like that.”

“Well, that’s too bad, love,” he tightened his grip on her, his other hand cupping her cheek. “I can’t do that. I can’t pretend that never happened. And I can’t pretend I don’t want you. Because I bloody do.”

And she couldn’t pretend either. Gods above, she couldn’t. She could deny it all she wanted, but the truth threatened to break the surface of her skin and set this whole ship on fire. Max was an obnoxious bastard. But she wanted him with the power of devastating hurricanes and she hated every second of it. She hated that she loved it.

“Max—“ she whispered breathlessly and the pirate pulled back a little.

“I won’t push you,” he blurted out. “You want to deny it? Go on and deny it. But I know you feel it, too. It thickens the air whenever we’re near each other. I can feel your skin respond to my touch. And you’ll eventually give in to it. I won’t have to force it out of you and I won’t have to push you against a wall to get a response out of you. When you finally give in to these flames, Ember, it’ll be because you’ll have finally seen it for yourself. It’ll be because you want me.”

And without another word, he let go of her and rushed out of the door, leaving her cold and frustrated, wondering what the hell she was supposed to do with all of this fire burning up her lungs from inside out. And as it kept roasting everything in its path, the ashes that remained in her veins spelled Maxwell Lockhart’s name.



~SOUNDTRACK: Imagine Dragons – Who we are~

They made it to the Onyx Valley in the morning, just like Ember had predicted. As they made their way through the thick vegetation, following the path she and Kaleb claimed it took to the cave, Ember and Max kept a safe distance from each other, though they were constantly aware of each other’s presence. If Kaleb noticed the charged tension, he didn’t say so, and Christopher kept shooting the three of them curious glances.

“Are you certain you know where we’re going?” the demon asked eventually. “I’d hate to get bored or annoyed. I tend to start killing.”

Ember nearly rolled her eyes. She’d gotten rather used to his threats by now. Kaleb sighed and answered.

“This is the way. The cave is uphill, I recall.”

She did, too. They were vague memories in which they’d relied more on instinct, but the reflexes kicked in and the sights started feeling familiar.

In no time, they made it to the entrance of a cave exactly like that from their memories. It was dark inside and no one seemed too eager to go in. None of them knew what could be in there. After all, who’s to say what a dragon truly hoards? And even as beasts, they were intelligent creatures. There could be traps inside, or there could be other creatures, waiting to crawl from the darkness and attack.

Eventually, Ember was the one who threw her hands in the air and stepped forward.

“Oh, for the love of God,” she exclaimed. “Let’s get this over with.”

Reluctantly, everyone else followed. As they advanced further, the darkness only got thicker and thicker and they felt less and less secure about continuing.

“Having an actual fire breather suddenly seems like a good idea, doesn’t it?” Max remarked, and Ember stopped mid-walking, causing Kaleb and a few of Max’s pirates to bump into her.

“Oh,” she muttered. “It actually does. Perhaps I can help with that.”

She heard Max and his pirates gasp a little and Kaleb caught her wrist as they realized what she meant. But what were they so scared of? It was a good idea.

“Ember,” Kaleb whispered. “It’s ill-advised. We’re not in full control of our powers yet.”

She gently unclasped her wrist from his palm and scoffed.

“Please,” she brushed him off. “Everybody go outside and grab a wooden stick. Largest one you can find.”

Max’s pirates, himself included, came back minutes later with the wooden sticks she’d requested. She took a deep breath, finally getting to second doubting her idea.

“Ember, are you sure?” Kaleb muttered once again.

“Calm down, little Lahey,” she tried to joke. “I know what I’m doing.”

Not wasting another breath, she shifted into her dragon form, enjoying the way her whole body buzzed with heat and power until the beast took over. And she loved letting the beast take over. It gave her a sense of freedom she’d never before felt.

In dragon form, her senses were enhanced and her eyes could see through the darkness. So this would be even easier than expected, granted she managed to call out to that power she wished to use. She took a deep breath and became aware of every part of her body, from the tip of her claws to the tip of her tail. And then she searched within her, deep down, until she found the source of the heat. She breathed in. It was like a camp fire, sending sparks to the surface, and it burned bright. She called to it and the fire was quick to answer. She breathed out and the flames came.

“Well, wasn’t that spectacular,” Christopher mocked in a bored voice just minutes later, when Ember was already back to her human form. “You certainly have a taste from dramatics, love.”

Ember stared at the wooden sticks turned into torches by the flames she’d breathed out and at the mesmerized faces of the sailors, Max included. She had to admit, it was pride, that emotion surging through her right now. It was good to know at least she and her powers were in sync.

“It got the job done,” she replied to the demon. “Now let’s find that cup, shall we?”

She finally turned around, too, and she realized that the pirates weren’t mesmerized by her spitting fire. She let out a loud gasp. There were mountains of gold. Jewelry and tools of all sorts, just piled over each other. She’d heard the stories about dragons hoarding gold and he had vague memories of it, too, but to think there was so much of it… No wonder Max wanted to get on this treasure.

“Anytime now, love,” Christopher moved past her. “There’s plenty of cups for you to choose. And we’re on a clock, I believe.” 

24: Chapter 23: Radioactive paradise
Chapter 23: Radioactive paradise


~SOUNDTRACK: Rachel Rabin – Raise the dead~

Ember looked around, too mesmerized to even think about looking for a cup they could use for the spell. Gods above, there was so much gold. So much gold that she had hoarded, hers for the taking, hers to put an end to half a lifetime of misery for her and her family.

She turned around to see Max rolling a few golden coins between his fingers, his expressions most likely mirroring hers.

“I understand now,” she told him, and he turned around to look at her curiously. “Your great treasure hunt, this crusade of yours. I presume everything was worth it. You’ve reached your purpose.”

He sighed and tossed the coins back into the pile and his features twisted into an almost disgusted expression. Ember frowned. This was not exactly the reaction she would have expected of a man who had spent so much time in the pursuit of this exact moment.

“Aye, I have,” he whispered, averting his gaze. “I’m only now learning that some of my purposes have changed along the way.”

Three heartbeats later when Ember remembered how to breathe, she opened her mouth to respond to that. Though she didn’t know how. It appeared that Max had no trouble whatsoever speaking up his mind and his feelings, but she was not quite ready to even face those. She never got the chance to speak, when Kaleb’s voice rang from behind them.

“Will this one do the job?” he asked, holding up a golden cup for Christopher to inspect.

“It should,” the demon spoke. “Let us begin then, shall we?”



Four people stood around a goblet made of gold, filled with all sorts of herbs and mystical ingredients. The demon spoke a few words in Latin that neither the dragons, nor the pirate recognized. Ember expected an explosion, a fire, colorful smoke, something in the least bit spectacular, yet nothing happened.

Christopher sighed.

“I can lead the spell, but I cannot perform it,” he explained. “My connection to you is null. It takes great implication and a soul that can serve as a tether to you.”

Ember ran a hand through her hair as she thought the demon’s words through and with the corner of her eyes, she saw Kaleb stepping forward to volunteer to cast the spell.

“I’ll do it.”

Ember flinched. The words hadn’t come from Kaleb. Instead, she saw Max shrugging like it was no big deal, but she knew better and she saw it in his eyes. Connection, a great implication, a soul that could serve as a tether to her, Christopher had said. By stepping forward, Max was waving a red flag over everything that they had and that they had yet to admit, to figure out. She heard Kaleb growl by her side.

“Like hell you will,” he spat.

Ember’s eyebrows flew up. She’d never heard him cuss before. The words sounded strange on his lips, and it occurred to her that maybe she had underestimated his hatred for the pirate. Not that she blamed him. Max’s presence in her life, her being on his ship and sharing a bed with him, this inexplicable attraction that kept drawing her to him was what had her question her feelings for the little Lahey in the first place.

“Perhaps now would be the time to mention,” Christopher’s wicked smirk interrupted the staring contest going on between Kaleb and Max, “that the spell is rather risky. If the connection isn’t strong enough, it won’t work and it’ll likely kill you in the process, as well as accelerating the hex and having our dragons dead within minutes.”

Max didn’t move a muscle and Ember started biting her lip. Kaleb was shaking violently, gesturing and pacing back and forth.

“You are not doing this,” he pointed a finger at the pirate. “I am not willing to bet my life on a tantrum of yours. Are you willing to bet hers?”

He waved a hand towards Ember. She clenched her fists. Was he really flaunting her like she was a piece of meat to be debated over? She saw Max’s eyes dart towards her, clouded and unreadable.

“Aye,” he whispered. “I believe in what’s unfolding before my own eyes, dragon boy. Unlike you.”

Ember gulped. Dangerous statement, her head screamed, but her heart was beating so fast is threatened to jump out of her chest. He was admitting the fact that he felt things, and that things were happening, and she saw it in his eyes that Kaleb acknowledged that, too. He turned to her.

“Ember,” he nearly begged. “Are you letting him go through with this? Our life is on the line? Are you truly placing it in the hands of a pirate with questionable intentions?”

She ran a hand through her hair and let out a shaky breath.

I’m only now learning that some of my purposes have changed along the way.

Max’s words rang in her head, like a broken echo she heard while being submerged underwater. But Kaleb’s statement had hit closer to what Max had said than he would ever know. But this pirate’s intentions had always been questionable. Even now, even earlier, even days ago when she’d been in his arms, she could never truly be sure what it was that he wanted from her. But he’d made her a promise. And he was still here. Even with all this gold around him, with all the treasure he’d dreamed of for so long, his eyes were still glued to hers, pupils bloated, the blue of his irises dancing a dizzying dance that knocked the air out of her lungs. Questionable intentions or not, one thing was certain. She trusted him and she trusted whatever connection was between them.

Before she knew it, Ember was nodding.

“That is precisely what I shall do,” she spoke fiercely, taking out the Hope Diamond and placing it in Max’s extended hand.

His fingers fastened around it and there was a small smile, almost imperceptible, lifting up the corners of his lips. Not much of a smile, but one meant for her only. He was accepting her trust and vowed to make good use of it.

He moved to stand over the goblet and Christopher spoke the incantation again. Only this time, when Max repeated it, blue flames arose. Ember let out a breath. It was working.

“Drop the necklace into the fire and repeat after me,” Christopher instructed, then proceeded to speak in Latin once more. Max did as said, and when the necklace touched the flames, the whole cup was swallowed by a blue fire and its content disappeared into a blinding light.

Kaleb and Ember let out a soft growl and their eyes glowed, then the cave went back to pitch black, only the sound of their ragged breaths filling the silence.

“Did it work?” Max was the one to break it.

Christopher let out a low, frightening chuckle. “I believe so. They’re alive, aren’t they? Now let’s go find that bloody witch so that I can free myself from this headache of a deal.”

“I second that,” Kaleb said breathlessly. “Now what?”

“Now we go home,” Ember replied, her voice fierce. “We go back for my siblings. And once I know they’re safe, we find the bloody witch who did this to us and we kill her.”



~SOUNDTRACK: Birdy – Terrible love~

They made it back to Max’s ship safe and sound, discussing strategy on how to track down the Hades Brides all the way there. But Ember was having trouble thinking clearly knowing her siblings were out of reach for now, so she put it off until she’d hold them in her arms again. Kaleb stayed silent the whole way back, and Ember was partly grateful for that. She assumed he’d bite her head off again when they were alone, for trusting Max and for the solace she sought in him. But he was so oblivious to it. The more Kaleb pushed her to see Max’s true nature and to sort out her feelings, the more he pushed her away. Perhaps it had been a bit desperate and ill-advised to rely on Max in the first place, but back when Kaleb’s shoulders had been too weak and unsteady to support her weight, Max had swept her in his arms and carried her through quite a few storms. She owed him this much. And in the process, that debt had snuck into her heart and had bloomed out of her control, while Kaleb had allowed himself to stay covered in thorns.

As soon as they were back on the ship, Kaleb excused himself and Christopher disappeared as he always did, not wanting to be bothered. That left Max and Ember shifting their weight from one foot to another awkwardly, not sure what to say. Eventually, Max’s eyes grazed the horizon, taking in the sight.

“Sun’s setting,” he commented, then turned to look at her with a nervous half smile. “Shall we go to our spot to watch it together? I’m bringing rum. For old times’ sake.”

Ember couldn’t help but chuckle a little.

“Old times’ sake was less than a week ago, captain,” she narrowed her eyes at him playfully. He rolled his.

“Well, they’re gone, ain’t them?” he crossed his arms over his chest. “They’re old. Just go, you infuriating woman. I’ll meet you there.”

Ember turned on her heels and left, still giggling. A part of her hummed in delight. With everything that had happened between them for the past few days, what with the jumping off a cliff, the intense kissing, admissions, teasing that set her head on fire, placing her life in his hands, it was good to know she could still count on their odd friendship. Even if their relationship was slowly stretching outside the lines of friendship. But as long as she knew they could come back to dusk spent together over a bottle of rum, bantering and bad jokes, then perhaps they would be fine. Because while she never would have seen it coming, she wished for Maxwell Lockhart to stay in her life.

The sun waved goodbye to her by painting the horizon into a dozen bright colors and the sea served him as a mirror as he descended beneath the line where the sky met the waves. She ached to spread her wings and to offer the sun a spectacle to remember until tomorrow morning, but her muscles were still a bit sore from overusing her newly found powers.

“I brought the rum,” Max announced from behind her before taking his regular place by her side and he extended the bottle.

“You have turned me into an obnoxious rum drinker who dances at silly parties like a savage,” she teased before bringing the bottle to her lips. “I’m disgusted.”

“I’m impressed,” Max commented, grinning. “It took little work, really.  You were already a savage, fire breather. I just brought it out of you.”

Ember rolled her eyes. “That’s what I’m afraid of,” she muttered under her breath, but she was sure the bastard had heard her.

“Can I ask you something?” he spoke a few minutes later.

“It’s not like my answer has ever stopped you before,” Ember sighed.

“You trusted me with your life just now,” he said in a low voice, his tone serious. “Earlier, at the cave. You trusted me not bring death upon you. Why? Did you truly believe our connection was strong enough?”

Ember bit her lip. She couldn’t even begin to explain to him every single feeling that had surged through her heart back in that cave. She couldn’t tell him what realization she’d come to, because every word she’d voice would paint itself on their skin like a tattoo, visible to the eye, and she could not bring herself to have it catching her eye every minute of every day. It was not the time.

“I don’t know,” she lied. “Things are, well, changing. We’re changing.”

Max looked at her for a long moment and she refused to meet his gaze. Eventually, he drank from the bottle and turned to look at the sunset, as well.

“Ain’t that the truth,” he muttered under his breath.

More moments passed and Ember finally noticed he’d come back carrying a big bag with him that he’d let at their feet. She frowned.

“What’s that?” she inquired, pointing at the sack and to her utter shock, she got to see Maxwell Lockhart’s ears turn pink.

“Oh, this,” he fidgeted. “I had one of my men run some errands for me.”

He scratched the back of his head awkwardly, still not making any move to pick up the sack. Oh, this had to be good. What had gotten the almighty captain so flustered?

“Well?” she prompted. “Are you going to show me?”

He sighed and crouched, opening the bag. Ember followed his lead and gasped out loud when she saw what was inside. Textiles. Quality textiles, actual canvas that real painters painted on. Gods above, and oils and paints and brushes. They were art tools.

“M-Max—“ she stumbled over her words. “What is the meaning of this?”

“Well, I remember you telling me you haven’t stolen art tools in years,” he explained, shrugging one shoulder. “And I believe I told you you’ve got to hold on to the things that make you feel alive and happy. Considering I’ve now got the location of a gigantic treasure, it was the least I could do for you. You deserve being granted the solace of the small things.”

Ember took a brush in her shaky fingers and felt her eyes watering up. She looked at Max and saw that he was looking at her with the same intensity that made her stomach clench. In no longer than a second, though, his expression shifted back to his buffoon self.

“And I was thinking you could paint me. I would love nothing more than to hang a portrait of his handsome face in my cabin. Something to admire before I lay down to sleep.”

Ember chuckled. She thought about capturing those sapphire eyes on canvas and her heart skipped a beat. Oh, she would love nothing more, either.

“I will,” she promised. “Once this is over. I’ll paint you your portrait.”

Max frowned. “Once it’s over?” he inquired. Oh, of course. So many factors to take into consideration. Her siblings. Kaleb. And yet, there wasn’t much of a decision to be made.

“Oh, yes,” she grinned up at him. “I believe we were supposed to unravel the world together, captain Lockhart.”



~SOUNDTRACK: Linkin Park – Castle of glass~

When Ember’s feet touched the shore, she was engulfed by the same feeling she’d had back when Max had brought her to see her siblings the first time. She was home. She’d get them to safety and then she could unleash hell upon those damned witches. But for now, she just had to feel them in her arms and to know they’d survive this.

Four silhouettes strode down the shore with steady steps, thoroughly calculating their next move. From now on, they were at war.

“I’m heading to Clarissa’s shop,” Ember announced over her shoulder. “If she got the letter, the little ones should be with her. I’ll fetch them and meet you at my house.”

“Do you want me to come with you?” Max caught her elbow just as she was about to leave them behind, and Ember tried hard to ignore the humming surging through her body at his touch and Kaleb’s glares that threw daggers at the captain.

“No, it’s fine,” she reassured him. “Take a safe route to my house and keep out of sight. I will be there as soon as I can.”

Max let go of her elbow and nodded once. “Take care, fire breather.”

Ember rolled her eyes. “Careful, captain. One might be led to believe you are actually concerned.”

“Hell, no,” the pirate teased back. “I’ve just gotten used to you cleaning up my cabin. It smells rather nice these days.”

Ember chuckled and turned on her heels. She didn’t look at Kaleb to see the judgmental look on his face. She didn’t look at Christopher to see he was bored and exasperated. She held on to the image of Max’s boyish grin until she reached Clarissa’s shop.

Gods above, it felt so odd now. It was like going back to the days before learning the truth, when she stood in this exact same place, worrying her head off about what her tomorrows might have brought. She was here now, still drowning in uncertainties, but with her life on the line for a change and many odds against her. So much had changed for the past two months and yet she closed her eyes before walking inside, allowing herself for a second to pretend that everything was the same. That she’d make her usual deals with Clare, that she’d go back home with some food, never enough food, but enough to make her siblings’ eyes light up a little. That she’d play with them for the rest of the day and go to sleep wrapped in their tiny arms.

Then she opened her eyes. Things were not like that anymore. She had to save their lives now, as well as hers. She would not let some bored witches – she found herself repeating Max’s words – get their dirty claws on her family. A fierce look on her face, Ember walked inside the shop, finding her old friend behind the counter. Clare’s eyes sparkled at her sight.

“Ember!” she exclaimed and moved to hug her; Ember returned the hug tightly, letting out a sharp breath. “Oh, Ember. I was so worried about you. I haven’t heard from you in weeks. What happened, sugar? Are you alright? Oh, I’m so happy to see you.”

Ember smiled widely. “You, too, Clare. You’ve no idea how happy I am to see you. I’ll tell you all about it when it’s over. I can’t stay for now.”

Clarissa frowned and gave Ember’s hands a firm squeeze.

“Tell me all about what? When what’s over? Gods above, Ember, what have you gotten yourself into? You’re not making any sense.”

“I know, I know,” Ember rubbed her temples. “I promise, I’ll come back to you with explanations and one hell of a story. For now, I just need to see Charles and the girls. I only came by to take them home.”

Clarissa’s eyes widened and she took a step backwards, confusion written all over her face. Ember felt her knees go weak, a dark premonition crawling in the depth of her chest.

“Take them home?” Clare asked quietly. “What do you mean? Ember, I haven’t seen your siblings in as long as I haven’t seen you.”

Ember gripped the edge of the counter for balance, feeling the world spinning around her. No. No. This couldn’t happen. This was just a huge misunderstanding.

“N-No, C-Clare,” she stammered, her whole body shaking. “I sent them to you. With, with money, and, and a letter. Asking you to take care of them while I’m gone.”

Clarissa moved to grip her shoulders tight, panic in her eyes, but a stoic expression on her face.

“Ember,” she raised her voice. “Ember. I’m sorry, but they never made it to me. I don’t know where your siblings are.”

Ember didn’t stick around for another explanation. Suddenly, the air became hard to breathe. She vaguely heard Clarissa calling her name, but she didn’t stop running.

They never made it to me.

I don’t know where your siblings are.

Brick by brick, the walls of the castle Ember had built in her heart started crumbling. One by one, the army she’d built within herself to help her move through this nightmare turned against her.

They had them. Those bloody witches had her siblings. She’d been wrong. It hadn’t been war before. But it was war now. If she had to rip their limbs off one by one, she’d destroy the Hades Brides for daring to lay a single finger on the four little Blackthorns. For this, they would learn the name Ember Blackthorn for it would be the last name on their lips as they’d draw their dying breath.

25: Chapter 24: Holes in my soul
Chapter 24: Holes in my soul


SOUNDTRACK: Cloves – Don’t forget about me~

Ember’s head was spinning at nauseating speed. She couldn’t precisely recall how she’d gotten back home. She was stuck between scorching rage, a compelling murderous instinct, and dark despair. But she had to choose which one she would give in to.

So she chose. She would not weep just yet. Her siblings weren’t gone just yet. She felt it in her bones. The witches wanted her and her only, so she dared to hope they would not harm innocent children. No, she would not weep for now. For now, she would curse the stars and every God she knew, she would scream and hit whatever stood in her way, for she would not rest until she scorched everything in her path, until she found her siblings.

She rushed inside her house, cheeks flushed and panting, eyes red and puffy and unfocused. Max and Kaleb jumped to their feet while Christopher simply watched her with eyebrows raised.

“What’s the matter?” Kaleb asked. “Where are Charles and the girls?”

Ember closed the door behind her and let herself drop to the floor, trying to regain her composure, but the world was spinning fast and she hugged her knees to keep herself from falling apart.

“They took them,” she gripped a handful of her hair. “Bloody witches took them.”

She saw Kaleb fall into a chair, eyes wide and lips trembling and she could tell he was as shaken up about it as she was. Understandable. She knew Kaleb loved her siblings with all of his heart. But for now, she didn’t need this. She couldn’t bear any more falling apart. Not her own, not anyone’s. She buried her head between her knees again and focused on taking shallow breaths and stopping her body from shaking. She saw Max’s boots as he walked towards her, but she didn’t raise her head. Shallow breaths. No more shaking. No more bloody shaking. Just rage, so much rage that she let boil within her, wishing it would just break the surface and erupt so that she could just go after those damned witches and watch them be swallowed by flames.

She felt two steady hands on her shoulders, but she still refused to raise her head. She was in no mood for a pep talk. Max’s grip tightened and she wanted to shrug his hands off, but instead of asking her to look up and comforting her, Max gripped her forcefully and pulled her up on her feet. She let out a small gasp.

“Let go of me,” she hissed at him, shying away from his touch. “My siblings—“

“Are gone, I know,” he cut her off. “I’m aware of that. We heard you the first time. So what are you going to do about it, Ember?”

“Let it go, Max,” she tried to move away from him. “I don’t need a motivational speech. They have my siblings and they could kill them any minute. I think I’m entitled to a moment of pulling myself together.”

He gripped her shoulder again and shoved her against the door, half expecting Kaleb to jump up and bite his head off about it. But looking briefly over his shoulder, he saw Kaleb in his chair, shaking and trying to process. Little boy. He was way in over his head.

“Listen to yourself, Ember,” he raised his voice. “They have your siblings. They could kill them any minute. That moment of pulling yourself together? You don’t get that, little dragon. That moment of yours could be the last one for your siblings. You want to save them? Then bloody pull yourself together along the way and let’s go kick some witchy arses. Like the bloody beast you are.”

She glared at him and was on the verge of retorting, but she paused before the words could leave her tongue. She wasn’t shaking anymore. Her vision was no longer blurred and she saw clearly. And what she saw was that Max was right. What was she doing? She’d just promised herself she wouldn’t weep. She was an Onyx Dragon, Dragon of Scorching Flames and Charcoal Dust. She wasn’t breaking down.

SOUNDTRACK: Fleurie – Soldier

“Right,” she nodded. “You’re right. We need to regroup in order to find them. So what do we do?”

Christopher cleared his throat behind them, making Ember flinch. Gods above, sometimes she forgot he was even here. He just lingered in the back, hiding in the shadows with his all-too observing gray gaze, enjoying the drama like a bored spectator and intervening at his convenience. But she couldn’t complain. He’d turned out quite useful and while she was still waiting for the catch, he hadn’t broken their trust. Yet.

“Might I suggest a solution?” he asked. “It’s rather simplistic, but then I presume you’ll have no issue against it. For now, all we can do is scout. We split up and go search the village, asking questions. Perhaps someone’s noticed something unusual that can lead us to our witches.”

“So we find them,” Max crossed his arms over his chest. “And then what? We march on them? You’re a demon and Ember and rosy cheeks back there are dragons. But they’re ancient witches and it’s four of us. I believe we’re a tad bit outnumbered.”

“We shall discuss this later,” Christopher sneered at him; but Ember had to give it to Max, at least he’d grown the guts to stand up to a demon he’d feared no long ago. “For now, your priority is tracking them down and getting those children out.”

“I agree,” Ember found herself saying. “We’ll find a way. Let’s worry about finding them.”

Max sighed. “Alright. So be it. Where do we start?”

Ember bit her nail. She would have lied if she said she didn’t have her theories and that she hadn’t given it a lot of thought before. It had been what had kept her up at night for a while now. For the witches to know her life so well, it couldn’t have been a coincidence. They knew about Kaleb, about the children, about the ball and the necklace. They’d have had to be rather close.

“I’ve been thinking,” she found herself saying out loud. “What if it’s someone we know? What if it’s one of the villagers who got close enough to us to learn information about our lives? Their way of acting and the way the hex was cast suggest so.”

“You have your answer, pirate,” Christopher retorted. “We start by presuming everyone’s a suspect.”

“That should narrow it down,” Max whispered under his breath, then raised his voice. “Shall we?”

“I should stay behind,” Ember mumbled, not too thrilled with the idea of staying behind, useless. “Last time I was among them, the villagers didn’t receive me too well. And they clearly won’t tell me a thing. I pray you’ll be more successful. Go ahead and I’ll find you later.”

Max looked at her for a moment, seeming in deep thought. He wasn’t too thrilled about leaving her behind, either. It had gotten into his system, this instinct of having her within reach, in his sight, where he could protect her. It was rather silly, really. She was strong enough and he was quite certain she didn’t need him protecting her anymore. But it struck him dumb how invested he’d become in her story. He couldn’t walk away from it now even if he wanted to. But bloody hell, he didn’t want to. He didn’t want to walk away. He wanted to keep walking towards her. And he wanted her to walk towards him, too, until their bodies crashed together and melted into one. And it scared the living shit out of him. He wasn’t used to women having more than a temporary effect on him, and certainly not of this intensity. But she was like a bottomless well, and the deeper he dug, the more he discovered she was nothing like the arrogant, self-centered prick who acted like she knew it all and like she had all the answers he’d thought her to be. Ember Blackthorn was far too wise for her age. She’d been through hell, so he understood why the flames no longer frightened her, but it was the fire that feared her. She was no damsel in distress. She was no scared princess. She didn’t need saving. She was a bloody fiery queen. A dragon queen. And he was the fool pirate who watched her just a little too dearly.

He cleared his throat.

“Aye. As you wish.” He turned to Kaleb. “Rosy cheeks. Stay with her. Should any harm come to her, even a scrape or a bruise, I’m holding you responsible and feeding you to the sharks.”

“Max!” Ember scolded, but Kaleb simply shot him an annoyed smile.

“I would love to see you try.”

Max blinked for a few seconds, before breaking into a smile of his own. Huh. So the little cat had claws. He had to give him credit for mustering some guts. Still smiling to himself, Max followed Christopher out of the hut and closed the door behind him, leaving Ember with Kaleb.

~SOUNDTRACK: Rhodes – Your soul

Ember stood there, petrified, unsure as what to say. Silence lingered between the two of them, pressing over their shoulders heavily. How had they gotten to the point of not knowing what to say to each other? Gods above, it had been so easy before. When they were just a boy and a girl, so in love and full of hope. Back when they weren’t yet dragons, when they were no more than kids who could feel the joy of walking in the rain. Back when their universe was just as wide as a field of poppies.

Ember sighed and sat in a chair in front of Kaleb.

Back when Maxwell Lockhart hadn’t made an appearance in her life and heart.

Back when she hadn’t had Kaleb thrown in a dungeon for six weeks.

Back when she hadn’t defended the man who had made them jump off a cliff.

Back when her siblings hadn’t been kidnapped by evil witches.

She ran a hand through her hair and looked at him. He was still a confused boy. As much as she’d changed, he’d stayed just the same. He was still little Lahey. And he was so scared. In all the haze, she hadn’t had the time to sit him down and reassure him and he’d had to catch up along the way. And while Ember had had Max to lean on, as crazy and unexpected as that had been, the same pirate had been the reason why Kaleb couldn’t lean on her. With all the fighting and misunderstandings and constantly being on different pages, she hadn’t for a second stopped to consider that he was in over his head.

“How are you holding up?” she mustered the courage to ask him.

Kaleb raised an eyebrow. “I believe it should be me asking you that question. It would appear that you’re handling the disappearance of your siblings rather well.”

“What other choice do I have?” she shrugged helplessly. “Max is right. I cannot afford to break down. I’ve had my fair share of that. I’ll find the children and I will rip those witches to shreds. The problem has just become a lot simpler in what concerns me.”

Kaleb sighed and met her gaze. “But?”

Ember shot him a sad smile. Of course he did. Of course he saw through her. Maybe she’d changed. Maybe while he was still little Lahey, she wasn’t the same girl who had fallen in love with him. But that didn’t change the fact that deep to the core, they shared a connection that could not be undone. And it also didn’t change the fact that he’d been her best friend for half her life and would probably be so for the rest of it.

“But,” she conceded, “you haven’t had the privilege of breaking down. We’re going to war, Kaleb. And it will not be pretty and blood will be spilt and we will not get out of it as sane as we started it. And I think you’ve kept it all boiling up inside you, burning you from inside out. I don’t think you’ve come to terms with everything that’s been happening to us. And I cannot force you to fight a battle that you’re not prepared to fight.”

“Your worry is touching, but misplaced nonetheless,” he replied and shot her a smile that Ember could tell was forced; she’d read through him with the precision of an arrow hitting bull’s eye. “This is not just your war, Ember. Once we’ll have gotten your siblings back, we’ll be fighting for our people. Need I remind you it’s up to us to carry on the legacy of an entire race?”

Ember smiled sadly and dared to lay a hand over his.

“That’s too heavy a burden for you to carry, little Lahey. You may be right. It’s our war and our duty towards our kin to fulfill. But for starters, figure out a way to win the war against yourself.”

Silence fell and, with every passing moment, she saw his defenses fall and his true emotions gathered in the depth of his eyes. And Ember finale saw the true despair that lied with him. She’d been right about everything.

Kaleb let out a deep, shaky sigh. “Everything has changed, hasn’t it?”

Ember nodded. “It has. And I’m sorry, Kaleb. I wish to help you, I do. But I can’t stay behind anymore. I need to keep moving and you need to give yourself the chance to answer those questions nudging at the back of your mind.”

He gulped and opened and closed his mouth a few times before speaking again.

“I know we’re supposed to be in this together,” he said. “But I feel as if out of everything, you’ve changed the most.”

Ember stayed quiet for a few moments. She wasn’t sure how to respond to that, and mostly because these were the truest words that had been spoken in this entire conversation. But for Kaleb to point it out so bluntly, it allowed the realization to settle in slowly and brutally, like a snowstorm. And it broke her heart a little.

“I did,” she muttered eventually. “But for that, I can’t apologize. I won’t. You’re my best friend, Kaleb. Regardless of everything that’s happened, you’re still my best friend. But I’ve been making apologies my whole life. I’m done saying sorry for being who I am.”

Kaleb looked at her hand over his for a few seconds. Ember was afraid that her words had hurt him again, and that was the last thing she wanted. But even if they did, she would not take them back. She’d meant them. Not once again would she ever feel bad for letting herself be who she needed to be. She bit her lip and, only moments later, Kaleb placed his other hand over hers and one corner of his mouth lifted in that boyish grin she’d come to love so much.

“I love you, you know,” he whispered, and Ember’s heart clenched; that, she couldn’t say back now.

“I know,” she replied, her voice breaking a little. “I pray it’s enough for us to survive through this.”

“It will be. Maybe we’ll win this war against those darned witches. Maybe we’ll die trying. Maybe our kin will truly go extinct, or maybe you and I will restore it to its former glory. Maybe you’ll sail into the sunset with your handsome pirate. Whatever your choice, I needed to lay it out here. I love you. And this will never cease to be true. It’s on the table. You get to decide what you want to do with it.


Hey, you guys! Ya still with me here? Cause we’re closing in, with only a few more chapters to go. As far as planning goes, I think Smoke and Mirrors will have around 31/32 chapter plus an epilogue sooooo, final countdown?

Anyway, lemme know what ya think!




26: Chapter 25: Fire across the horizon
Chapter 25: Fire across the horizon


~SOUNDTRACK: The Script – Howl at the moon~

It was getting really late and Max and Christopher weren’t back yet. Ember paced back and forth, worried out of her mind. She and Kaleb hadn’t uttered another word to each other after his great confession and, truth be told, she preferred it this way. Her mind was busy crafting a plan to get a hold of the pirate and the demon. Clearly something must have happened to prevent them from being back.

Unable to take it anymore, she announced Kaleb she was going to find them and, despite his insistences that she was putting herself in danger, she was out the door in no time. The moon was up in the sky already and the night was quiet, stars gazing down on her. She remembered those nights she spent as a dragon, before waking up in the woods. She could see them clearly now. There was something exhilarating about spreading your wings and soaring high under the millions of stars. She’d used to fantasize about flying high enough to greet the moon from up close. The moon and a Daughter of the Sun itself. How could she be born into flames and yet to prefer being a creature of the night sky and of the pitch black darkness that the nights provided?

She found Max not much time later, on a cliff just outside the village, staring upon the velvet black of the night sea. If he heard her approach, he showed no sign of it. So Ember stepped lightly, like a predator cornering its prey. If she was lucky enough, she could give him the scare of his life.

“If your intention is to scare me, fire breather, you’re doing an awfully poor job.”

She let out a loud sigh and went to stand by his side.

“Bastard,” she mumbled under her breath. “How did you hear me?”

He simply shrugged. “I just did. How did you find me?”

Ember smiled wickedly and bumped him with her shoulder. “I just did.”

They slipped into comfortable silence and sat on the grass, looking into the distance. They didn’t need to fill the emptiness of the night with words, for the song of the waves and the wind ruffling the tree branches served them as the perfect soundtrack.

“What are you doing up here?” Ember asked eventually, and Max looked sideways at her.

“Just craving for a little peace and quiet. Things are about to go south real quick from here forth.”

“It would appear you nurse a soft spot for cliffs,” she narrowed her eyes playfully at him, and he chuckled.

“I was waiting for you to mention that,” he replied. “Figured you were still mad.”

Ember huffed. “Mad? Oh, Maxwell. If we make it out alive, I shall bring hell’s wrath upon your arse. I figured if we’re to die, it would be poor luck to die on bad terms with the man who saved my life once or twice just because he happened to endanger it on one occasion.”

Max laughed whole heartedly. “A wise conclusion,” he stated, then grew serious. “We won’t die, Ember. I know things seem so grim right now, but we’ll make it through, because I’m holding you to that promise about traveling to the four corners of the world together. You’re not getting out of that one. We won’t die. And you can’t die because you still have hell to give me for making you jump off that cliff.”

Ember found herself chuckling. “I’ll be looking forward for it.”

Silence fell over them once again. Max was having trouble keeping his eyes glued to the night sky, not when she sat beside him, a silhouette likely fallen from the edge of these very stars that gazed upon them right now. She was a bloody constellation. He looked sideways at her in awe. How far they’d come. Now, he had nothing less than respect and admiration towards her. Perhaps something else besides those, as well. But the little scared girl who’d trembled on his deck when he’d killed that obnoxious sailor had grown into her beast side and he learned that there was grace to her ferocity. And this was something that attracted him to her like nothing ever before. Looking at her now, he saw such beauty and delicacy in those features of hers. It was like she was made of porcelain. But he knew better. She was made of scales and claws and onyx. And for some reason, this drew him to her even more.

“You know,” her voice brought him out of his reverie, “I feel guilty right now. Sitting here with you, stargazing, while my siblings may be facing threats beyond what we can even fathom. I should be out there, cutting and burning my way through to finding them.”

“No,” he dared to reach and take her hand in his; to his surprise, she didn’t fight him and they intertwined their fingers. “No, there is nothing you can do. My part was a dead end, but I’m sure Christopher and his devilish charms have had more luck. Besides, the witches would have no use of them dead, not if they can still be used as a weapon against you. We’ll find them. And you can cut and burn your way through then. For now, don’t beat yourself up. Myself, I’m rather looking forward to the cutting and burning part. Badass Ember makes me all tingly.”

“Lots of things make you tingly,” she rolled her eyes, fighting a smile, and he shot her a wicked smile that made her body hum in response to him.

“Oh, little fire breather, little do you know. Perhaps when we’re done with this whole war business, we can start discovering exactly what fires we can ignite.”

His eyes stared deeply into hers, wide and sparkling in the dark, and Ember was grateful he couldn’t see the way she was blushing right now. She shifted and Max must have sensed her distress, because he chuckled and brushed it off. He gave her hand a reassuring squeeze and turned his attention back to the moon again.

“You know, when I was a little boy—“

“You were a little prick and bullied other kids into giving you their candies,” she cut him off mockingly. “Oh no, I know. You were small and defenseless and you were the bullied one, so you grew up to be a pirate and fed those bullies to the sharks.”

“Brat,” he muttered under his breath. “None of that. When I was a little boy, my mother used to tell me this story. Long, long ago, there were two moons watching over the night sky. But they were, in fact, nothing less than dragon eggs. And one day, one of them roamed too close to the sun. And because of the heat, the shell cracked and thousands of little dragons fell down to earth. As far as legend goes, dragons still haunt the night sky and you can hear them roar as a calling to their brothers and sisters still caught under the shell of the moon.”

Ember smiled sadly. “Little do they know,” she mumbled. “We’re no longer in numbers of thousands. We haunt the night sky. And we call, perhaps. But no one’s there to answer.”

He squeezed her hand again and Ember faced him. It occurred to her that they kept leaning forward towards each other, as if they couldn’t take the distance for too long before giving in to the gravity.

“No, love,” he whispered, and his warm breath sent tingles down her spine. “You may be outnumbered. But your call didn’t go unanswered. I don’t believe in many things, fire breather. I gave up any sort of faith long ago. But if anything, I do believe our meeting wasn’t by chance. Like an answer to callings neither of us was aware of. Something’s brought you to me.”

Ember chuckled nervously and leaned his forehead against his, both of them breathing the same charged air.

“That’s because you kidnapped me, captain,” she teased, and he laughed whole-heartedly.

They sat like that, forehead to forehead, eye to eye, nose to nose, moving closer and closer by the second. Max’s hand cupped her cheek and her hand settled on his shoulder. She remembered his words from not long ago.

When you finally give in to these flames, Ember, it’ll be because you’ll have finally seen it for yourself. It’ll be because you want me.

Oh, she wanted him. She wasn’t sure where she stood with Kaleb and her feelings towards Max were most certainly different. Good different. Bad different. She couldn’t tell. They struck her dumb every time they hit her. But Gods above, she wanted him. Maxwell Lockhart was a man made of flames himself and she was no longer afraid of those. She ached for fire and he was precisely that. Yes. She saw it. She wanted to give in to the flames. She wanted him.

They leaned closer and closer and she could tell that he was hesitating, remembering that promise, as well. He’d promised not to push her. He’d handed her the reins and she wasn’t sure what she was supposed to do with them. So she shut down her brain and leaned closer and closer until she felt the ghost of his kiss hovering above her lips.

And then, suddenly, he pulled away, his eyes grazing the woods behind them. Her heart clenched. Yes, perhaps this wasn’t the best time. But he’d been so valiant in his efforts of seducing her. She couldn’t help but feel a little hurt that, now that she was responding to him, he rejected her.

But his eyes flew back to her and Ember saw panic in them, so she knew she had misread the situation. She looked behind her at the woods as well, but she saw nothing.

~SOUNDTRACK: Thirteen Senses – Into the fire~

“Did you hear that?” he lowered his voice, speaking in a hushed tone, and she frowned.

“Heard what?”

“Keep your voice down,” he urged her. “And get behind those bushes. I think I heard someone coming.”

Ember did as told, more confused than ever. If there was someone coming, had she been so captivated by their little moment that she hadn’t heard it? Her hearing was sharper than Max’s. It concerned her a little that he had this kind of power over her, to numb her senses enough until she knew nothing else but him.

She crouched behind those bushes Max had pointed at and listened closely. She heard footsteps indeed and she saw Max moving towards the road and signaling for her to stay quiet. She waited, not daring to move a muscle until she heard a voice.

“L-Lord Covington,” the voice exclaimed. “Heavens! Is that really you? I did not expect to encounter you here. I haven’t seen you since you were a little boy.”

Covington? How many people were even out there? And where had Ember heard that name before?

“Old man,” she stifled a gasp when she heard Max’s voice reply; what was he thinking, letting himself be seen like that? “Sir Gregory, is it? Yes, I remember you well. You were my father’s most trusted advisor, weren’t you?”

Ember’s eyes widened. Max’s words played in her head a few times, but they were having trouble registering. Surely she must have heard wrong. She held her breath and listened on, clear now that it was just the old man and Max talking.

“I was, may the Gods rest his soul,” the man replied. “I never thought I’d live to see you again, my Lord. It’s been so long.”

“Too long, Sir Gregory,” Max’s response came. “But I’m afraid I’m not here to stay. It’s quite clear to me I’m not welcome amidst my remaining living relatives.”

“Perhaps if you’d meet them again, my Lord—“ the old man tried, but Max was quick to cut him off.

“I’ll hear no more of it. But you should be on your way, Sir Gregory. It’s late and the night hides great threats. You’re not safe here.”

“As you wish, my Lord,” Ember heard Sir Gregory lower his voice in what she assumed was disappointment. “I shall thank the Gods for the chance to lay my eyes on you once more. And when I shall meet with your father again in the afterlife, I shall tell him what a handsome and remarkable young man you’ve grown to be.”

Ember heard Max shift a little before replying.

“Thank you, Sir Gregory. You’re most kind. Now be on your way.”

“Farewell, Lord Covington.”

Ember stayed put for a few more minutes, not daring to come out of her hiding spot until she was sure it was safe. Eventually, she heard Max’s voice call her.

“You may come out now, fire breather. It’s clear.”

Ember stood up and went to face him, wide-eyed and a million questions lingering on the top of her tongue. Max sighed and rubbed his eyes when he saw her, already anticipating the intense debriefing that was to follow.

“Lord Covington?” she shrieked. “What is the meaning of this? Were you royalty of some sorts?”

Max put his hands on his hips, looking tired. “Not exactly.”

“Not exactly?” Ember glared at him. “It sounded quite royal to me.”

“Royal, no. Noble, more likely.”

“Noble,” Ember repeated, and her eyes widened in utter surprise as she connected the dots. “Covington. I know this name. They’re a noble family in the village. Max, I sneaked into their ball and I stole from them.”

Max fought a chuckle and failed miserably. “Impressive,” he commented.

“You’re related to those people?” Ember inquired, still trying to wrap her head around everything.

“You could say that,” he shrugged. “Distant relatives. Never even met the lads.”

Ember shook her head and he turned around, moving to gaze at the sea once more. Oh, she could tell. There was more to this story than he let on, and the troubled expression on his face told her so.

“Tell me, then,” she prompted, moving to stand by his side. “How exactly did a nobleman become a pirate?”

Max sighed. “A mercenary. I followed the calling of the sea right after my entire family, save for those baboons with sticks up their asses you claim to have stolen from, was brutally murdered.”

Ember’s eyes widened and she instinctively searched for his hand and squeezed it. This time, he didn’t squeeze back. Gods above. They were more alike than she would’ve thought. They both carried the burden of loneliness. They were both damaged orphans who had found damaging ways to cope.

“Oh,” she whispered. “Max. I’m, I’m so sorry. What happened?”

He looked straight ahead as he replied, “The Covington clan were dragon hunters.”

Dragon hunters. Ember let his hand fall from hers. Dragon hunters. She could swear the cliff was crumbling beneath her feet and that she would let the sea swallow her. Dragon hunters. The words echoed in her head and while some pieces of herself fell apart, other pieces of the puzzles fell together. Gods, this explained so much, starting with everything that Max knew about the supernatural world. Of course he knew. Dragons, demons, witches, everything. He’d been raised to know of these things. To hunt them.

“Oh,” her voice broke a little. “Hunters. Did they—“

He turned to her so quick she stumbled backwards a little and he caught her by the shoulders.

“No, Ember, no,” he spoke through gritted teeth. “I swear to you. My family had nothing to do with the death of yours. All of that was the fault of the Hades Brides. They’re to blame. Believe me. I wouldn’t stand before you today knowing I carry part of the blame of having condemned you to the same lonely fate I’ve lived.”

Ember blinked back tears and released a breath she didn’t know she was holding.

“I-I see,” she managed to let out. “So how did it happen, then?”

He dropped his hands from her shoulders and averted his gaze, running a hand over his face. “They perished by being slaughtered by a herd of dragons. I was young and alone. I swore to achieve vengeance and to extinguish every last individual of that dragon bloodline.”

Ember gulped. So his kin had played no part in the murder of hers. But her kin was to blame for murdering his. She felt her knees weaken.

“And what happened?” she repeated again, the words shaking on her lips.

He turned to her and the intensity in his eyes made her take a step backwards. It wasn’t blame that she read in those sapphire eyes. It was something more than that, something she could not name. But she saw the struggle, the battle he fought against himself and against his own feelings. He sighed before replying.

“I started sharing a bed with one of them.”

“Gods above,” she muttered and she started pacing back and forth, running her hands through her hair. So much made sense right now. “That’s—that’s why you said we’re enemies. Why you said we’re supposed to be hating each other.”

“There’s a long list of ‘supposed to’ points, Ember,” he spoke in a lowered voice, without looking at her. “Since I met you, I dragged all of them through mud. I was supposed to drive a blade through you the moment I laid my eyes upon you, making good on my promise. I was supposed to honor my vow before heading off to treasure hunts. I was supposed to gloat over the Hades Brides’ victory over your kin, not helping you beat them. And I sure as hell wasn’t supposed to start sharing rum and heated kisses with you.”

Perhaps she was supposed to be hurt by his words, but reaching in, all that Ember felt was anger. She was angry with him for feeling this way. For Heaven’s sake, they’d only been children when their families fought wars and had one another killed. Were they to blame for the actions of peoples long since gone? Wasn’t this their new start? Didn’t they hold the promise of a brand new world they’d live in peace, making sure not to make the same mistakes that had gotten their clans murdered?

“To hell with those,” she moved to stand in front of him. “I don’t believe in your ‘supposed to’ points. I know you need a villain to blame. And if you couldn’t make me one, then you decided you’d be that villain in my story. I don’t believe that. All of those little schemes of yours, murdering your pirates in front of me, summoning demons, making me jump off cliffs? I call bullshit on every single thing you did that was supposed to make me hate you. I don’t hate you for what your family did. And I sure as hell know you don’t hate me, either.”

“I don’t,” he was quick to reply, moving so close she could feel the heat radiating out of him. “You know I don’t hate you. But I begged you to. That’s how it was supposed to go. And where did that get us, fire breather? Perhaps neither of us is a villain, but we’re still enemies by nature. So what do we do with all these feelings now?”

She shrugged and let a small smile bloom on her lips.

“Fighting them got us nowhere, as well, didn’t it?” she joked. “Enemies by nature. Then the nature must have a wicked sense of humor, drawing us together like that.”

The torment in his eyes faded away by the second, revealing a little more of the bastard of a pirate that had gotten under her skin. Eventually, he allowed himself to smile back.

“It’s nice to finally hear you admit it,” he mumbled just a breath away from her lips and Ember stepped away from his touch, enjoying the look of utter shock crossing his features.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she teased.

Oh, there was a lot of bloody history upon their shoulders. And a lot of fiery history they kept building between the two of them. But what was slowly blossoming here was way past the point of denying.

“I’ve got one more question, though,” Ember tilted her head. “Clearly, your name isn’t Maxwell Lockhart. What’s your real name?”

He sighed and rolled his eyes. “Maximilian Covington.”

Ember chuckled. “That’s a mouthful.”

“Yeah, well—“

But she didn’t hear a word coming out of his mouth. Whatever Max was telling her, she didn’t hear it, because her eyes widened as she caught sight of whatever was that she saw over his shoulder. Gods above. Max finally noticed she wasn’t listening and frowned.

“What? What is it, Ember? Are you alright?”

“Max—“ she shook her head and stepped backwards, her whole body shaking.

Max’s frown deepened and he finally turned around. Ember saw him flinch, too.

“Bloody hell,” he cursed.

It must have been a dozen of them. Ember didn’t even know how to call them. They were far too huge to be birds and far too horrifying. They weren’t regular animals. They were giant as bears, with scaled wings and they screeched so loud and high pitched, Ember swore her ears would bleed.

“What in the name of hell are those?” she mumbled.

“We have to run,” Max caught her shoulder and pushed her backwards. “Now, Ember.”

“But why?” she asked again, obeying him nonetheless and running like hell. “Max, what are they?”

He turned to her and the look of utter terror on his face terrified her more than those creatures themselves.



27: Chapter 26: Out of the darkness, into the fire
Chapter 26: Out of the darkness, into the fire


~SOUNDTRACK: Les Friction – World on fire~

Christopher was on his way to the dragon girl’s hut when he saw them. Ugly as he would’ve expected. And yet, while he’d seen quite a few skinwalkers in this long existence of his, there had been none like these. These were monstrosities, even more than usual.

The demon’s gray eyes stayed glued to the horizon as the foul creatures’ shrieks pierced through the night.  Yes, perhaps Christopher himself was the kind of creature fear was afraid of, but had his blood still been warm, those shrieks would’ve made it run cold.

He sighed and turned on his heels. There was nothing he could do to help now. This whole situation was already more than what he’d signed up for. That dragon tear had already cost him quite a lot. But still he stayed, because if he had to be entirely honest, he did have his own agenda, and getting rid of the Hades Brides came in rather handy. And the trio that the two dragons and the pirate formed was indeed entertaining. Like a puppet show to keep him from withering of boredom.

His back turned from the skinwalkers, he walked back to the hut, expecting to find the three of them there, still sulking over the disappearance of some children that were apparently important to the dragon girl. He didn’t expect them to have found anything in their search. Providing information had proved rather difficult for himself, despite the power of his compulsion. But luckily for his little toys, he had some experience when it came to dealing with this sort of things. In the end, humans were willing to talk if you applied the right amount of pressure over their tormented souls. And reading their auras made the game so unsatisfyingly simple.

It took him by surprise when he walked inside the hut and only found the anxious lad at a table, biting on his nails anxiously.

“Dragon boy,” Christopher’s eyebrows knitted together. “Where might the rest of your posse be?”

He saw the boy try to glare, but he was clearly too intimidated to do just so. Quite understandable, considering all the times when Christopher had threatened his life.

“I don’t know,” the boy replied in a small voice, anxiety floating and embracing his words. “The pirate hasn’t come back, and Ember went to find him.”

Christopher sighed and threw his arms in the air in exasperation. Trying to keep his end of the bargain proved tiringly difficult these days if they kept running in the arms of danger repeatedly. How does one keep safe a worthless human who constantly sought death?

“Well, that’s rather unfortunate,” he commented in his usual neutral tone. “I suggest you make yourself comfortable, dragon boy. A long night awaits.”

The boy frowned up at him. “W-Why? Has something happened to them?”

“Not yet, I presume,” Christopher pursed his lips pensively. “But I also presume you’ll keep your eyes glued to the door to see if your friends make it back alive. I’m looking forward myself to seeing how they manage to evade the bloodthirsty monsters on their tails.”



Skinwalkers, Max had said. What in the name of seven hells was that supposed to mean? What new threat hung above their heads now? Ember didn’t have the time to filter through these thoughts, because once again, they were running for their lives.

She felt Max’s sweaty hand in hers and her lungs burned in need for air. Her legs hurt, but she couldn’t stop. All she heard were those unhuman noises that those bird-like creatures made.


Someone else to want them dead. As if there weren’t enough already.

She heard the screeches closer and closer with every step and, in the back of her mind, realization settled in. There was no possible, logical way they could outrun them. She looked sideways at Max and saw the same thought mirrored in his eyes.

“We must do something,” he yelled at her breathlessly, still running.

“We can’t,” Ember whimpered with desperate helplessness and she felt her knees grow weaker under the heaviness of the words. “There’s nothing we can’t do. Max, we can’t outrun them. We’ll never make it.”

He came to a halt abruptly and Ember’s eyes widened. Well, she hadn’t meant that if she thought they’d never make it, they couldn’t even try.

“What are you doing?” she shrieked. “Do you have a death wish?”

“We can’t outrun them,” he repeated her words. “But you can outfly them. You can torch them.”

Her brows furrowed. “Outfly them? You want me to turn and leave you alone? Max, there’s no time.”

There was no time. No time. No time. The skinwalkers were closer by the second, she felt the shockwaves that the flap of their wings sent along with the breeze. She felt their foul smell. And those noises. Gods above, she was sure she’d never be able to get those shrieks out of her nightmares.

“You’re right, there isn’t,” he caught her shoulders urgently. “This is the only way, Ember. They stand no chance against an Onyx Dragon. Set those bastards on fire and meet me at the hut.”

She shook her head violently. “No, you’re mad. I’m not leaving you.”

“Ember,” he hissed, urgency sparkling in his sapphire eyes. “It’s not me they’re after. I’ll be safe.”

He could see she still wasn’t convinced. It was moving that she didn’t want to leave him behind, but stupid nonetheless. He let go of her shoulders and caught her hand, giving it a squeeze.

“Go, fire breather,” he urged her, moving closer and stopping one breath away from her lips. “Torch those bastards. And make it safe back to me.”

She grabbed him by the collar and closed the distance between them for a short kiss, breathless, half a heartbeat long that knocked the sense from his brain for a while. When he pulled himself back together, she already had her back turned on him and walking away.

Within the minute, a dragon black as the night took over the sky. The skinwalkers screeched back at her, louder, fiercer, but while they screeched, she roared. And then they attacked. Long wings flapped and the lunged for her, their ugly beaks pricking at her thick skin. Ember let out a heart-wrenching scream in pain as claws dug into her flesh, but she wouldn’t let herself be taken down by some cheap hybrids. She spread her wings and soared high with a few skinwalkers still clawed to her, so fast until she lost them, and then she let herself free fall through the air until she was back among them, surrounded by these creatures bred by the darkest corners of the night, where the moon didn’t reach and under rocks where the stars were too afraid to look.

So she unleashed hell upon them. She let the fire build up within her, let it fill every inch of her body and scorch everything in its path. It was a part of her. Each flame knew its place and each flame sent tingles down her spine as it made its way out. When her insides felt hot enough as a bonfire, she let the flames out. She sent them flying towards the skinwalkers and she kept it coming until she felt the scent of ashes in the air. The burned flesh smelled rotten and it gagged her, but she never faltered.

The skinwalkers were many and they were vicious, predators of the darkness, but Ember knew darkness herself. And she knew how to light it up.



It’s not me they’re after. I’ll be safe.

Of course, Max hadn’t been entirely frank with her. Skinwalkers were after her. That bit was true. But he was a fool to believe they’d leave him alone. He witnessed the glorious battle happening above his head in awe, he followed every flame that Ember threw those bastards’ way and he watched in satisfaction as they perished in a ball of fire and screaming in pain.

But they were so many. Ember killed an impressive lot, but so many got away. Max’s breath hitched in his throat when he saw a handful of them coming his way, closer and closer. At first, he was too shocked to react, his muscles refusing to listen to him. And all he could do was stand still, frozen, as their monstrous shapes became bigger before his eyes. They were big as bears, with dirty fur, but with claws and wings like bats and rotten eyes.

He held his breath as they attacked. In the periphery of his vision, he still caught glimpse of flames and he still heard Ember roar. Good. At least she’d be safe. This had been the sole purpose of this. But somehow, he’d always expected his end to find him more prepared. More grand. It felt like a cheap death, a poorly written epilogue to the legendary tale of Captain Maxwell Lockhart.

He clenched his teeth and found enough energy in his bones to draw his sword. He’d be damned if he’d just stand around and wait for these bastards to take a bite of his fine arse. His vision was blurred by dark fur and scaly wings, but he waved his sword around, feeling it as it dug into rotten flesh and as he drew it back covered in black ooze. How was he even supposed to kill something that didn’t bleed?

He held his own until he couldn’t anymore and he collapsed to one knee as the arm holding the sword started to go numb. He felt his shirt soaked with blood, though he couldn’t tell exactly where it came from exactly. Everything hurt. Blood ran over his face and blurred his vision. He could tell he didn’t have long now.

Bloody hell. Such a pathetic way to die. Alone. As a meal for ugly dumb witch toys. With so many things left untold. He tried to catch glimpse of Ember again, but the night was once again dark and blood clouded his eyes and she was nowhere in sight. That was a pity. He would’ve liked to see her one last time. But, groaning in pain as a skinwalker ripped a chunk of flesh from his shoulder, he shut his eyes tight and pictured her with black curls dancing in the wind under the dim light of dusk, he pictured her with flushed cheeks and green eyes filled with desire and swollen lips in his cabin after the kissed they’d shared, he pictured how alive he felt when she kissed him, touched him, looked at him, annoyed him, frustrated him, exasperated him, smiled at him. And that was it. He was good to go.



~SOUNDTRACK: The Cloves – Frail love~

Ember’s blood ran cold.

She landed swiftly on hard ground and shifted back to human form, covered in ashes and smoke. She’d made sure to torch each and every last skinwalker in her path.

Or so she’d thought.

That is, until she took in the scene before her and she swore she’d forgotten how to draw in a single breath.

Gods above, there was so much blood. Her mind refused to graze the possibility of it, but no one could have still been alive after losing that amount of blood. And at least three skinwalkers, as far as she could count, still plucking at his flesh. Ember couldn’t see Max, but she prayed to every God who listened that he was still alive and breathing. She couldn’t fathom going on with this fight, with this miserable crusade and existence of hers without him.

She drew out her dagger without a second thought and she lunged. She didn’t know if it was enough, but she couldn’t risk turning back into a dragon and burning Max along with the monsters. She ran and flung her knife left and right, dropping heads. Common sense told her even mystical creatures bred by the darkest of magic couldn’t hurt you without a head. She was covered in sticky black ooze and her breath came fast and ragged, desperation flowing through her veins.

With one last scream of agony, she dropped the last head. She stood there, surrounded by atrocious bodies without heads, the foul rotten smell flooding her lungs. But she couldn’t think about anything else but Max’s body lying on the ground, still gripping his sword tight, in a pool of his own blood.

Ember fell to her knees. Oh, but of course. How could her pain in the arse of a pirate go down without a fight? She felt tears streaming down her cheeks and mixing with the black substance that served those creatures as blood. She ran her hands all over Max’s body in desperation. She didn’t even know where he was bleeding from. Because he was bleeding from everywhere.

“No,” she whispered to herself. “No, no. Max. Max, wake up. Wake up, wake up. Bloody hell, Maxwell, don’t make me slap you. Come on, you’ll be fine.”

She started applying pressure on different points, but she knew it was pointless. He needed a healer. That was if—

Gods above, she couldn’t even think it. She lowered her head and pressed her ear to his chest, holding her breath. For a few seconds, she didn’t sense a thing. A black hole was starting to creep in her own chest.

“Come on, Max,” she found his hand and squeezed hand. “Don’t be a bloody bastard. Wake up.”

She kept listening, hope leaving her bit by bit. No. He could not be dead. He was Captain Maxwell Lockhart. He was damn near invincible. He was a cocky pirate with a giant ego and a filthy mouth, with flexible morals and a heart that Ember now knew rested in her pocket. He could not be dead.

But then she felt it.

It wasn’t much. It was weak. But it was a heartbeat. She jumped back and watched his chest attentively. It was rising and falling. Unperceptively, but it was.

She let out a loud breath. He was alive.

She was making plans as to how to carry him back to the hut and find a way to fix him, when she heard him groan and she felt his hand move in hers.

“Max!” she shrieked in relief. She nearly threw her arms around him, but he was still badly hurt. “You scared the living hell out of me.”

He started coughing blood. “Am I—Am I dead? Am I in heaven?” he managed to get out, and Ember let out a breathless laugh.

“Such wishful thinking,” she spoke between whimpers. “You wish heaven looked as pretty as me.”

He groaned in pain and grabbed his side, wincing. Maybe he was alive now, but there was no telling how much time he had. He’d lost so much blood.

“It would seem,” he paused to cough one more time, “I’m a hard one to get rid of.”

“Let’s keep it that way,” Ember helped him sit up. “Can you walk? I’ll take you home and we’ll tend to your wounds.”

He struggled to get to his feet and stumbled for a few steps. He was clearly in no condition to walk by himself. Ember hurried to his side and placed one of his arms around her shoulders. He let most of his weight fall on her, but Ember didn’t complain. He was too weak from all the blood loss, and she had supernatural strength.

“I got you,” she told him, moving slowly and not hurrying him. She just prayed he wouldn’t pass out on her until they got home. “It’s alright. I got you.”

He coughed again, more blood spurting out of his mouth. “You were quite worried about me, weren’t you? On the verge of tears, I would say.”

Ember bit her lip. No need to tell him she’d cried rivers by the time he woke up. Better to let those sheltered in the night. But worried, yes, she had been. She was still worried. There was no denying that.

“Worried like never before, Maxwell,” she admitted. “So humor me and stay alive a little longer. I cannot lose you.”



~SOUNDTRACK: Smokey Fingers – Ride of love~

The door burst open. Kaleb stopped breathing and Christopher raised his eyebrows expectantly. Ember stumbled in, carrying with her a bleeding Max who looked like he was having trouble staying in one piece.

Kaleb hurried to Ember’s side and helped her carry Max and to sit him on her bed. Gods above, he barely looked alive. His side was in shreds and his face was full of scratches, each wound pulsating with blood. How had he been able to walk all the way here?

“What happened to him?” Kaleb asked incredulously. How had the pirate managed to get himself in such a bad state? And why did Ember look like she had just climbed out of fire, her hair full of ashes, her skin smudged with black ooze and smoke?

“We were attacked,” she said simply. “There’s no time. We need a healer, fast, or I don’t think he’ll make it through the night.”

Kaleb looked the pirate over and shook his head. He’d passed out the minute his back hit the hard mattress and his breathing was turning more and more shallow by the second.

“Ember, I don’t think he’ll make it through the hour,” he said in a small voice. “Let alone until we manage to convince a healer to come to the home of the village’s thief to tend to a pirate.”

“This is no time for judgments, Kaleb,” she snapped. “I can’t let him just die. We must save him.”

“I wasn’t judging, Ember,” he tried to reason with her. “But these are the facts. He doesn’t have much time left. No healer can help him now.”

He saw Ember shake her head. He could tell she was panicked out of her mind, that the pirate’s life weighed a lot in her eyes. She couldn’t be reasoned with at the moment.

“I’m not letting him die,” she repeated helplessly.

“I’m not saying we should. There is something I might able to do.”

Ember met his eyes with hope and curiosity. Kaleb bit his lip anxiously.

“Do you remember how I told you I’ve always wanted to be a healer?” She nodded reluctantly. “I know the basics of how his wounds should be tended to. I can clean them and bandage them, and from there forth, you can pray that he’s strong enough to fight for his life.”

Ember nodded fiercely. “He will. You do what you need to do.”

That was all that Kaleb needed. Without a second thought, he cut through Max’s shirt and grabbed the sheets closest to him. Ember watched him as he moved with precision and capable hands she had no idea he had. She had to turn her head when Kaleb was cleaning the wounds, not because she felt sensitive at the sight of blood, but because it was Max’s blood. The idea of him so helpless, so vulnerable, in so much pain, it tormented her to no end to see him like that. So as Kaleb ripped pieces of her sheets and wrapped them around Max’s torso and limbs tight enough to stop the bleeding, she turned to Christopher.

“What do you know about skinwalkers?” she inquired without wasting a breath.

Christopher pursed his lips and tucked his hands behind his back.

“What I know of them applies very little to the ones you saw tonight.”

Ember raised her eyebrows. “You’ve seen them, too?”

“I have, yes,” the demon answered. “But there was nothing I could do to help. Skinwalkers are typically hard to kill, but quite harmless. They are the kind of supernatural creatures better left alone. There was nothing I could do against an army of them on my own.”

“I see,” Ember sighed. “But what are they? Where did they even come from?”

“Normally, skinwalkers are humans with the ability to shapeshift into an animal of their choosing. People who can walk in several other skins. But these… These were something else.”

“What do you mean?” Ember frowned.

“Tell me, dragon girl, what did they look like?”

“It’s hard to explain,” she ran a hand through her hair. “Their bodies were covered in fur, like bears of some sort. But they had claws and wings like bats. And beaks like birds. They were like more animals merged into a monstrous one.”

“Precisely,” Christopher nodded once. “By my guess, the Hades Brides have altered this ability with black magic by taking humans and transforming them in that. By being their makers, I presume they are also the ones who can control them. This is why they came after you.”

“Gods above,” Ember muttered.

They were humans. Regular humans, with regular lives, with regular families, who had just happened to end up in the hands of evil witches. Had they no regard for the human lives? Was their purpose worth mutilating so many innocent beings?

“They must be stopped,” she muttered, more to herself than to Christopher, looking at Max.

She’d come so close to losing Max tonight that it struck here with deadly force how much she could not let that happen. Whatever those Hades Brides wanted from her, it kept getting more and more personal. First her siblings. And now Max.

If it was the last thing she did, she vowed on Max’s dried blood on her hands. She would stop them.

28: Chapter 27: Make up of a foolish mind
Chapter 27: Make up of a foolish mind


~SOUNDTRACK: Snarky Puppy feat. Lucy Woodward – Too hot to last~

Max cracked his eyelids open. Sunlight made his head hurt like hell and he groaned in pain. He was having trouble placing the past days’ events and to remember where he was. Everything hurt and he felt his body too weak to even get up. He glanced around and it started coming back to him.

Ember’s hut. He was at Ember’s. They’d been attacked by skinwalkers. She’d carried him here. He started touching his sides and he felt improvised bandages circling his torso. They were dirty and bloody, but he supposed they’d done the deed. He was alive, wasn’t he?

He glanced to his left and his breath hitched in his throat. Ember slept with her head resting on her forearms, sitting on a chair by his bed. Max’s felt his heart warm up.

He reached despite the pain and touched her onyx black locks lightly. They felt like silk under his fingertips. He took his time, careful not to wake her, just taking her in.

“She hasn’t moved, you know,” Max heard Kaleb’s voice a few feet away; he turned his head to see the dragon boy standing, a troubled, pained expression on his face. “She’s sat by your side the whole time. Growling at me if I dared so much as to at you wrong.”

Max barked a laugh, but regretted it instantly, as every inch of his body hurt terribly.

“She would,” he conceded, then he turned to gaze again at the dragon boy. “You did this? You fixed me?”

Kaleb sighed and let himself drop in a chair. “I don’t know much about your ethics, captain,” he spoke sharply; and Max had to respect him a little bit for finally growing a bit of a spine. “But mine are quite clear. Regardless of whatever bad blood there may be, you did help us. Saved Ember’s life on more than one occasion, from what I hear. And she wanted you to live. The problem seemed rather simple from where I stood.”

Max nodded. “Thank you,” he made himself say. “It would seem I owe you one, mate.”

Kaleb seemed rather perplexed and troubled as he stood from the chair and started pacing.

“You owe me nothing,” he replied shortly. “Nor do I you. But you owe her every day of your life that goes beyond today. As to me, I think it would be best if we started acting as allies for the time being. We’re at war. We must win this at all costs.”

Max swallowed hard. He didn’t like that Kaleb was being the mature one, and the fact that he’d saved his life didn’t help. Without a grudge to hold and without a reason to hate his guts, he only felt guilty for the other war that was going on between just the two of them. A war fought to win over the damsel in distress. Not that he’d ever call Ember that to her face.

~SOUNDTRACK: One Two – Without you (Grey’s Anatomy version)~

Before he got the chance to reply to the dragon boy, he felt Ember shift under his touch. She moved slightly and raised her head, rubbing her face and her still closed eyelids lazily. When she opened her eyes to grant him the sight of her summer-kissed green eyes, Max’s breath stopped. Gosh, he had no self-control these days. She’d taken it all from him and replaced it with a bloody weak ass all too addicted to her presence.

She froze for an instant when she realized he was awake.

“Oh,” she gasped lightly, then louder. “Oh, Max. You’re alright.”

He saw the corners of her eyes glint with the beginning with tears and he began to reward her with one of his sly smiles. But before he got to it, she went right ahead and punched him in the shoulder. Max remained short of breath in pain, grunting and moaning, while Ember’s face showed no sign of remorse whatsoever.

“You scared the living hell out of me,” she spoke fiercely. Vaguely, Max noticed Kaleb slipping out of the hut to give them privacy. There had been forged some sort of mutual understanding between them that shocked Max to no end. All of a sudden, gazing up at Ember, he felt as if he had someone to answer to for every time he touched her. Like he had something to feel guilty for.

He cleared his throat and tried to calm himself down through the sharp pain. “Why, deepest apologies, fire breather. Next time, I’ll try to not almost die.”

She pursed her lips in a tight line. “Well, you’d better. You cannot die on me, you bastard. You said you’d be safe. You said you’d meet me back here.”

Max reached to take her hand reluctantly and she let him. “I said many things. Would you have left me behind, had you known there was even a remote chance for them to come after me?”

“Of course not,” Ember was quick to reply.

“Precisely. I had to let you do your thing, at the cost of my own life.”

Ember withdraw her hand from his and stood up, pacing and running her hands through her hair.

“You insufferable moron,” she hissed under her breath, then turned to him. “What happened to us being enemies? Not long ago, I recall, you were quite keen on keeping things clear. When did that turn into you trying to save my life at the cost of yours?”

Max knew the answer to that, but he refused to voice it. He refused to think it. He wasn’t very good at feeling things. And he was even worse at admitting them. He didn’t fully comprehend what it was that Ember awoke in him. All he could tell was that they were past the point of magnetic attraction and it had all evolved into something deeper. He no longer wondered what it would’ve been like to run his hands over her body and to feel her tremble in his arms. He wondered what it would’ve felt like to run his fingers through her silky hair and to feel her sleep in his arms at night. He no longer chased petty revenge or treasure hunting or evading this annoying threat. He now felt a void opening up in his chest at the mere prospect that something could happen to her. But nonetheless, he wasn’t very good at feeling things. And he was even worse at admitting them. So when Ember voiced the question, he simply shrugged.

“I didn’t die, did I?”

Ember threw her hands in the air in exasperation. “Far from the point, Maxwell. You could have. Of all the times when you decide to play brave and selfless, you chose the worst one. It was pointless, reckless and moronic. You would have left me to face everything alone.”

She sat again in the chair next to his bed and folded her hands in her lap. Max would’ve chuckled, hadn’t it been for the tense situation, for she looked like a child throwing a tantrum and pouting if she didn’t get her way. But he saw past that and knew the cut ran deeper.

“I didn’t,” he repeated. “And you wouldn’t have been alone. You have rosy cheeks. And Christopher will keep his end of the bargain.”

“I would have,” she argued in a small voice. “Kaleb is my dearest friend. And I know Christopher will not leave my side until I’m safe. But I can’t do this without you, Max.”

She averted her gaze as she said the words, so she couldn’t see the look on Max’s face. His lips were parted and he’d stopped breathing. His eyes were wide and, even if he wasn’t well aware of that, full of adoration and a bit of smugness, too. With each step, they moved from one point of no return to the next one, feeling crossed bridges crumbling beneath their feet. If they made it out alive, they’d have lots of figuring out to do.

“You won’t have to,” he replied. “I’m a tough one to get rid of. You ought to have known that by now.” That got a small smile out of her. “But careful, fire breather. I’m starting to feel as if my presence is somehow indispensable, that you might, in fact, need me or want me here. It could get to my head.”

She crossed her arms over her chest and narrowed her eyes. “Don’t flatter yourself, captain. I’m merely seeing my best interest. You own a ship and a crew that often comes in handy.”

“Of course, of course, silly me,” Max chuckled, the movement making him groan in pain. “How long was I out?”

Ember bit her lip, falling back to the serious conversation mood. “Three days, give or take.”

 “Three days?” he shrieked. “For three days you’ve sat here nursing me? Ember, you can’t afford losing time at the moment. For the Hades Brides, three days can make the difference in terms of losing this war.”

“And hadn’t they had my siblings, I would not have given a bloody damn,” she leaned forward and caught his hand. “We would’ve gotten on your ship and sailed to the world’s end, far from this mess. I’ve never asked for this, Max. And I’m only fighting this battle for the people that I love. I’ve lost so much. I can’t lose anyone else.”

Max sighed. “You’re a bloody fool,” he told her in a soft voice. “But I can’t say I don’t see where you stand. You have the purpose and you have the means. But you should know this, Ember. I’m driven by the same thought. I want to protect you. And for that, I will keep lying to you and doing things my own despicable way, and I will not apologize for it. This is who I am. I’m not rosy cheeks and I’m not you. Doing the right thing tends to get you killed. I will not stop breaking laws and ethics and morals so long as it keeps you safe.”

Ember pursed her lips, but didn’t argue. Eventually, she said, “Then we’ve some great storms coming.”

Max bit down a smile. “So it would seem.”

“But it’s quite alright, Max. I’ve never chosen which sides of you to like and which to despise. You came as a whole from the very beginning. And you taught me a thing or two about being whole, too.”

“Admit it,” he smiled smugly and a bit ruefully at her. “I’m entertaining to have around. I’m addictive.”

“I wouldn’t go that far,” she chuckled. “But you do make me braver. More alive. I don’t feel like I’m supposed to transform into my better self around you. I feel like our flaws and our mistakes even each other out.”

He was silent for a minute, taking in her words. She’d pointed everything out flawlessly. And it only now occurred to him that, at some point, he’d started caring what she thought of him. It had been so long since that happened. He wasn’t one to make excuses for who he was, and his mistakes had all piled up to such an extent that he could’ve easily sailed between them instead of the sea. Back when he was a kid, his mother had always held on to this belief that one is supposed to meet their better half and that it would make him want to be a better man for her. He’d believed in it for so long until he’d stopped believing there would ever be someone so light and pure that she could ignite his heart like a bonfire and chase away the darkness. How wrong had his mother been. Ember had been the opposite of that. She knew real darkness, and she didn’t judge his. She’d come along and joined him on this pitch black road that was his life and now they were to search for light together. Max could’ve never asked for anything better. His heart clenched at the mere idea of knowing her life was in danger. It was a new feeling for him. He hadn’t worried for another life apart from his in a very long time.

“What next?” he asked out loud, looking at their joined hands.

Ember sighed and ran a hand through her hair. “We wait another day for you to regain strength. Then we go back to your ship and try to regroup, to strategize. Now that you’re alright, I still need to find Charles and the girls. My heart tells me they’re fine, that they’re still alive, but who knows for how long?”

“We’ll find them,” Max gaze her hand a squeeze. “As long as the witches have them to lure you out, they won’t touch them. Has Christopher had more luck than me in his search?”

“Not much. But he did learn that the villagers are under some sort of oblivion spell. He used a different term, but I can’t remember it. The witches are trying to lay low and wipe away everything that the people may have seen or heard. They know how to cover their tracks. Christopher is convinced that the hex was the work of one single witch, so that means one of them has managed to blend in with the villagers. She could be anyone and I would have never known. My siblings could be next door and I would never know.”

“Well, fire breather,” Max exhaled loudly and struggled to sit up. “It would seem we’re fast approaching the climax of this war. Count your blessings.”

She smiled sadly and fixated her gaze on the ceiling, a few tears dancing in the corners of her eyes.

“I have run out of blessings. Now I’m running on sheer luck and on the flames I can breathe.”

Max clicked his tongue and winked at her. “You may learn that’s more than enough.”



They waited that extra day Ember had suggested and Max recovered at impressive speed. Ember suspected it had something to do with his absolute revulsion towards being nursed like a cripple, not that he would’ve admitted it. But the following day at the crack of dawn, the two dragons, the pirate and the demon were back in a boat and heading to Max’s ship.

The air was somehow tense around them. While Christopher still couldn’t care less, Ember and the boys were still caught in an intricate spider web. Ember knew she would eventually have to address the issue. She couldn’t go on forever loving both of them and she had to draw the line between what she felt for either of them. And it was harder now. Things weren’t as clean and she could tell that, even where there had been nothing but mutual hatred between Kaleb and Max, it was now quieter and duller. They’d become a team, the three of them, what with lives saved all over again, but that only made it so much more complicated. They were also bound by feelings that demanded being acted upon, and Ember could not do that just yet. There were four innocent children awaiting for rescue.

They made it to Max’s ship quietly, each wrapped in their own thoughts.

“We ought to call a meeting,” Max was the first to speak what was on everyone’s mind. “We need to gather our forces and counter attack, or at least build a decent defense. We need to turn the odds in our favor.”

“And how do you suggest we do that, pirate?” Christopher mocked him, but Max didn’t humor him with a reaction.

“I don’t know yet,” he admitted. “Meet me in my cabin in half an hour. After I’ll have had enough rum in my stomach.”

He didn’t wait for a reply before turning on his heels and leaving. Christopher didn’t linger much longer either and Ember considered following Max to make sure he felt alright and that his wounds didn’t bother him. But then she looked to her right and saw Kaleb looking around aimlessly and it occurred to her that she’d chased and pampered Max enough as it was.

~SOUNDTRACK: Ellie Goulding – How long will I love you~

Ember turned to the jeweler’s boy and smiled at him, which Kaleb eyed suspiciously. She didn’t blame him. Things had been tense between the two of them lately and she figured he must have felt betrayed. By the woman he loved, in the most painful way. And perhaps in more than just one.

“Would you like to have a drink while we wait?” she suggested and he scowled.

“A drink? You mean that gut-wrenching rum of your captain?”

Ember flinched at his tone. He may have been in better terms with Max’s presence in this war, but that didn’t make him be too open to the possibility of there being something more than a business relationship between her and the pirate. Your captain. It was clear who he thought had won the war of hearts already.

Kaleb bit his lip when he saw her face and he sighed, rubbing his face.

“I apologize,” he spoke slowly and tired. “That was mean and uncalled for. Not to mention utterly rude. I’ll have to pass the drink, but I would not mind the company.”

Ember smiled lightly. It was good to know they were still on the same page, even though the letters were smudged. He was still her best friend, regardless of what that may or may not evolve into.

“I know just the place,” she told him and nodded with her head for him to follow.

She led him to that remote part of the ship where she’d spent so many sunsets with Max. It felt a little like sacrilege, like letting Kaleb in on a secret she wasn’t supposed to tell. But that was silly, she convinced herself. It was a spot like any other on this ship. There was nothing wrong with it. But the more she told herself that, the less she believed it. It was as if Max’s invisible presence tied her hands and sealed her lips. She braced herself as a chill ran down her spine. A chill that felt a troubling lot like Max’s fingertips.

“This is a nice view,” Kaleb commented and Ember exhaled as she took in the sight. It was a little past sunrise, as they had left Thebbington Abbey not long before the first light. The sun peaked from across the horizon and caressed her cheeks softly. She thought it was rather fitting that she got to witness sunrise with Kaleb the way she’d watched sunsets with Max. It was like a metaphor properly chosen, yet with a grim humor, of what they both meant to her and of the times in her life when she’d come across them. Kaleb had been as refreshing as the first rays of sunshine of the day, while Max was mysterious and filled with exciting promises as the dusk that anticipated the starry nights.

“It is,” was all she said. “New day. New ways to mess up. Or new ways to win this war.”

Kaleb sighed. “I hope you didn’t bring me here so that we could wallow in pity together.”

“I don’t wallow in self-pity,” she defended as she narrowed her eyes at him.

“Good. Because I don’t, either.”


They sat in silence for a minute, before a small smile forced itself across Ember’s lips.

“We did for a while, though,” she mused, and Kaleb actually chuckled. The sound of it sent a surge of joy through her heart.

“I bathed in self-pity for more than a while,” he said, and Ember laughed, too.

This way, things looked good again. Like nothing had changed. Like they were still kids in the Onyx Valley with no care in the world. Like they were still in that field of poppies. Like they were still running hand in hand in the rain or star gazing. Or like they were still a boy and a girl in a market, a purple orchid between them. But they were none of that anymore. And everything had changed. The fact that they stood on a pirate ship helped the heavy realization kick in aggressively.

“What will happen to us, Ember?” he asked eventually, fear and skepticism filling his voice. “What’s to become of us if we make it out alive?”

“I don’t know,” she replied honestly. “I know nothing anymore.”

“I know some things,” he said after a few moments of silence. “Enough to get me through. Enough to make me want to make it out alive.”

“That’s reassuring. I couldn’t bear losing you.”

Kaleb sighed and set his eyes on her. They were heavy and dark bags rested under them, but they were still as green and clear as she remembered. After all, these were the first two gems she’d fallen in love with. Before the dragon’s breath. Before the Hope Diamond.

Before blue sapphires.

“That’s one of those things,” he confessed. “The other’s one a challenge of mine.”

Ember suspected where this was going, but she let him continue anyway, allowing him to get it off his chest.

“I keep wondering how far my love for you can stretch. How much longer can I keep loving you? How much harder? Until stars begin shining in the morning, perhaps. Until I can command the sun when to rise. Until I can stop snow from melting. Or until I can start spitting ice instead of fire to match how I feel inside.”

Ember stayed quiet, her heart nearly still in her chest. Her eyes were wet, but she refused to shed a tear. When faced with Kaleb’s pain, she had no right.

“I never meant for this to happen,” she spoke softly.

“Do waves mean to flood the shore? Does wind mean to suffocate the leaves?”

“It’s not like that,” she gripped her fists tight. “I hurt you. I didn’t trust you when my trust was all you had left. I moved on, but I never looked over my shoulder to see that I’d walked all over you. Perhaps those witches hexed us both. But I only was your curse.”

Kaleb looked away and smiled a sad smile that didn’t belong to his face. Like he was suddenly so old and so exhausted. Like he could have slept for days or like he could walk miles without looking back. Like nothing could hurt him anymore. And when a man has nothing more to lose, that is when he’s truly lost.

“You were my blessing,” he argued. “In more ways that you can know. Caterpillars think they die when they start building the cocoons. Perhaps a bad dark cocoon made of pain and ashes was what I needed in order to transcend.”

Ember put his hand tentatively over his. He didn’t fight it.

“Do know that I love you, Kaleb.”

“I know,” he was quick to reply, but the smile didn’t quite reach his eyes. “I just pray it’s enough by the time this is all over.”


29: Chapter 28: Raven black
Chapter 28: Raven black


~SOUNDTRACK: Matthew and The Atlas – I followed fires~

They spent the whole day in Max’s cabin, discussing. Christopher let them in on every little detail he’d been able to manipulate out of the clueless villagers of Thebbington Abbey, but none of it was enough. They were outnumbered and outsmarted. All of Ember’s flames couldn’t bring her little siblings back and panic crept in with every passing minute.

“We’ve been at it for hours,” Kaleb sighed exasperated as Max dug into a new bottle of rum. “It’s already dark outside and it feels like we’re back where we started. With nothing.”

“Hate to agree with you, rosy cheeks,” Max clicked his tongue. “But all the time we spend strategizing, without actually strategizing, naturally, cannot help us whilst skinwalkers are still out there.”

“But I’ve burned them,” Ember argued. “They’re gone.”

“Aye, you burned them. But do you truly believe the Hades Brides don’t have the means or the guts to send more after us? It’s them we have to go through first, if we want to get to those bloody witches.”

“They’re not invincible, pirate,” Christopher spoke from afar, no obvious infliction to his tone. “I have yet to encounter something that doesn’t burn when set aflame.”

“So you’re suggesting we just torch our way to my siblings?” Ember threw her hands in the air, but she was rewarded with one of Christopher’s wicked smirks that made her blood run cold and her heart beat faster with excitement she could not comprehend.

“Little dragon, that is precisely what I suggest we do.”

Max shrugged and Ember could see that same glint of excitement dancing in his blue eyes. He was clearly content with whatever bloodshed as long as the purpose was reached. And Ember found herself being alright with it, too. She was done playing nice, considering it brought her nowhere. And she had to admit it. The dirty way was so much more fun. She smiled at Max and the acknowledgement was passed between them through the glance they shared.

“Fine by me,” Max concluded. “And what about the witch in Thebbington Abbey? How do we find her and cut her connection to the coven?”

“You know, I’ve been thinking,” Kaleb cut in. “The only way we can get to her is through the Hope Diamond, which we know is the object she used to cast the hex on me and Ember.”

“The Hope Diamond is destroyed, dragon boy,” Christopher interjected sharply. “Vital moment in the story, had you paid more attention.”

“And besides, Kaleb,” Ember intervened, “I don’t know how useful that would’ve been. Whoever this witch is, she covered her tracks well. She was good. You and I were the only people who came in contact with the stone. Dead end.”

Kaleb froze in place and all eyes went to him. His eyes widened and he let out a small gasp. How could he have missed this? It had all happened right under their noses, they’d fallen into every single one of her traps time and again and she must have taken such delight into fooling them. Gods above, this changed everything. He was horrified at the realization.

“We weren’t the only people who came in contact with the stone, Ember,” he announced grimly. “I bought it to make it into a necklace.”

“You bought it?” Ember’s eyebrows shot up. “Who could you have bought it from? There’s no one in this area who would have such a gem for sale, except for—“

She trailed off, and Kaleb could see the realization in her eyes as terror crept in. She’d figured it out.

“Clarissa,” she breathed out and the thought hit her with such force, it knocked the air out of her lungs and she fell into the closest chair. “Clarissa’s the witch.”

Max caught her elbow, concern obvious in his features. “Your friend? The one you entrusted your siblings to?”

Ember nodded tired, her whole body shaking, and she ran her hands through her hair in utter despair. The one she’d entrusted her siblings to. No. The one who had taken advantage of the situation and kidnapped the children. Her best friend. Her only friend. Yet no friend at all. The one who’d tried to kill her and Kaleb.

Clarissa was a Hades Bride.

“Awkward,” Christopher whispered under his breath, and Ember glared at him. Awkward didn’t begin to cover it. Could she truly trust no one? Would everyone she loved end up betraying her?

She looked around at the faces in the cabin. Her closest companions. Kaleb, who was her dearest friend and whom she loved beyond compare. Max, her confidante and a man she still felt burning in her veins, who’d had her back time and again, around every corner. And Christopher, a demon bound to her by oath. She supposed she trusted them. Blindly, mostly. But then again, she’d trusted Clarissa blindly, too. She’d thought her to be the hand that constantly picked her up when she was down and beaten like a rabid dog. And Clarissa, the very one whose trust she’d never second guessed had ended up being the one to betray it.

She looked up. The three men looked at her cautiously.

“What do we do now?” Max asked slowly and Ember gritted her teeth.

“We find her,” she spoke in a low, fierce voice. “And we kill her.”

“Ember—“ Kaleb tried to reason, but she wouldn’t have it.

“No, Kaleb. This isn’t Clarissa that we know. She’s some evil creature and she has taken enough from me. I’m getting the children back. And I won’t grant her the luxury of mercy.”

Before any of the men could reply and as Ember tried to cool her blood enough to think clearly, the door to Max’s cabin burst open and Billy ran in, gasping, his cheeks flushed. But his eyes were wide and pupils dilated as if he’d seen a ghost.

“Billy,” Max scolded him for having interrupted, but then he saw how disheveled the pirate looked. “What’s happened?”

“Captain,” Billy hissed breathlessly. “I ain’t even sure whata’ tell ya. You gon’ wanna see this for yourself.”

All four of them exchanged glances and ran off after Billy, frowning.

On deck, the situation was out of control. Sailors ran back and forth aimlessly, shouting and cussing for no obvious reason that Ember could reckon. She felt the air a bit cooler around her skin that it usually was and a sense of wrongness pricked her skin, but she was having trouble pinpointing it. Finally, her eye caught what Billy was trying to show them, and her breath hitched in her throat.

“Skinwalkers,” Max muttered under his breath before she got the chance.

“Those are it?” Kaleb stumbled over his words. “But there’s so many of them.”

It wasn’t like last time. They weren’t the same bear shaped creatures with beaks and wings. These looked like crows, like regular crows. Ember would’ve easily mistaken them for ravens, hadn’t it been for their red eyes glowing in the night and the wide opening of their putrid wings. Skinwalkers ridiculously and dangerously resembled corpses. And Kaleb had spoken truth. They must have been in the number of thousands, clouding the night sky and blocking moonlight and stars to the point of drowning the ship in a numb pitch black that sent chills creeping down on Ember’s spine.

“What do we do, captain?” Billy shouted at his captain. “They gon’ eat us alive. They gon’ claw our eyes out.”

Ember saw Max grit his teeth, his grip on the edge of the ship so tight, she feared he would break the bones in his fingers. Eventually, he turned to Billy, fury in his eyes and venom in his voice.

“Now we do what we do best, mate. We sail.”

Ember hurried to catch his arm before he got the chance to keep his word on that. “Have you lost your mind? You think you can outrun them?”

He shrugged indifferently, but Ember knew better. She could tell by the tension in his shoulders and the stiffness in his posture. Maxwell Lockhart was scared.

“I’m a hell of captain,” he replied, but Ember glared.

“You can’t outrun them, Max. You told me so yourself.”

“Ember, it’s our only option. Even you can’t torch them all.”

She paused for a second, considering. Either way, they were doomed. You cannot outrun a bird that flies alongside wind. And she feared all of her flames wouldn’t be enough. But what choice did they have? They couldn’t just stand around and wait for those crows to devour them. They had to at least try.

“Perhaps there’s more than one option,” Kaleb chimed in reluctantly. “Perhaps we can merge your ideas into a bigger plan.”

All eyes turned to him, and Max spoke. “Care to explain before we end up crow dinner?”

“Look, captain, you said Ember can’t torch them all. So she needs assistance. Get your gunpowder and your best men. Christopher can conduct a firestorm on them. You can light up those that manage to get past Ember. I’ll help. In the meantime, you can focus on getting us as far as you can from them. You’re a hell of a captain, I hear.”

They considered.  Kaleb’s plan was solid. Working together as a surviving device meant to get them out alive. But as far as Ember could see, there was only one improvement she could make.

“I have a better idea,” she cut in. “Torch them yourself, little Lahey. You can do the job as well as me.”

“Or you can both go up there and spit fire around,” Max rolled his eyes. “Two dragons are better than one.”

Ember shook her head. “We’d get in each other’s way. But if you can handle the part with setting the skinwalkers on fire and if Max can get me a bow and arrows, I can be of more help down here than you would.”

Kaleb pondered the choice. Ember could see him hesitate, still feeling somewhat unsure of his powers. And Ember could understand that. She’d had weeks to get used to the idea. He’d been thrown headfirst in the water and they all expected him to figure out how to swim before drowning. Eventually, she saw the decision being made in his eyes. He knew the strategy made sense.

“Are you certain?” he couldn’t help himself but ask, and Ember forced a small smile.

“Light ‘em up, little Lahey,” she gave his hand a small squeeze, and that was the only reassurance he needed before she saw his eyes turn gold, scales replace his skin and two black wings expand. Kaleb took off and, within seconds, the night sky was lit up by his flames. Ember watched with pride as Kaleb torched skinwalker after skinwalker, never hesitating, never faltering. He was quickly growing into who he was supposed to be. Her little Lahey – or should she have said little Middleton? – appeared to be a late bloomer.

Before she could finish her thought, Max reemerged at her side, carrying a bow and a quiver full of arrows.

“These will do?” he asked, handing them to her, and Ember hesitated. It wasn’t the best wood and the tips looked shaky and rusty, but they were all they got.

“They’ll have to.”

“I’ll have my men bring more arrows to you as you run out of them. It’s a limited stock, but I trust you’ll make the most of it.”

“I will,” she nodded. “Now go sail this beauty as far away from here, captain.”

She shot a smile in his direction that she expected him to return it, but his features remained sharp and focused and he still didn’t move. There was chaos and panic around them, but his blue eyes looked so still and yet so tormented.

“Max, go! What are you waiting for?”

The pirate gulped. “Will you be alright?”

Ember’s eyes widened and she threw her arms up in exasperation. “Max, there’s no time for this nonsense!”

“I know, I know. But—“ he trailed off, struggling to find his words. “Just… don’t die just yet.”

She meant to snap at him again, but seeing the look in his eyes, she couldn’t bring herself to. Instead, she felt a few tears prick at the corner of her eyes. She dropped her cloak from her shoulders, fastening the quiver around them instead before looking at Max sideways. She refused to linger. She would not say goodbye, because they’d survive this. She was fueled by friendship almost as long as her own life. By the few people who had her back. By the desire to save her family. By the desire to protect the little family she’d found on this ship. And now, by revenge against her who she’d called friend and who had betrayed every ounce of her trust. They would survive tonight. And then she was ready to raise hell.

“I have no intention of dying, captain,” she replied sharply. “See you later.”

Max gulped, and she could say he wasn’t convinced. But for her benefit, perhaps, he answered, “I’m holding you to that.”



~SOUNDTRACK: Pink – Just like fire (Warriors Light ‘Em Up) ft. Fall Out Boy, Imagine Dragons~

Kaleb wasted no breath. He’d spent quite a while utterly afraid of who he was supposed to become, but no more. This was no longer only Ember’s war, it was his as well, and it was about damn time to act the part. So he spread his wings wide and soared high, letting the flames heat his insides up and burst out of him. And he found it was exhilarating. He’d never before felt so alive, and he now understood Ember and how she’d truly embraced the beast within. The beast wasn’t one to tame or keep on a leash. It was one to set loose and to drown in the mayhem it brought upon those who meant them harm.

He did his best to burn as many skinwalkers as possible, to make sure not too many managed to get past him and trouble the captain and his crew in the attempt to get as far away as fast. But there were so many damn crows and they were so small and his aim could still use improvement. But he never stopped. He never paused. He never faltered.

Should it be the first and the last time he let the beast loose, he’d set the sky ablaze. Whether he took down a dozen, a hundred or a thousand skinwalkers.



The sea was wild tonight and Max cursed his luck. He didn’t know whether it was a natural cause for its restlessness, or if the Hades Brides toyed with the phenomenon in order to make them all easy bait for their crows. Regardless of the reason, he couldn’t lose a single breath. So many lives depended on how he sailed tonight.

And only one he gave a damn about.

He was low on sailors, considering so many of them were down there with Ember, helping her take down the crows that managed to go past Kaleb. He heard barrels of gunpowder fly and explode in the distance. He heard arrows leap through the air and he spared a moment to look at Ember and to gasp in amazement. Bloody hell, she was deadly and so precise it hurt to even look. But he couldn’t afford losing too much time admiring her technique. He went back to barking orders to his sailors and focusing on how to sail as far away from here.

He gritted his teeth and gave his undivided attention to taming this hurricane, this wild tide, sailing away from the chaos burning just behind his shoulders.



For Christopher, it was rather irritating that these bloody sailors were so terrified of him. Perhaps, had he known the survival of those humans would depend on his leadership skills, he would’ve treated these rats a little… Well, not better, but perhaps not as bad.

Too late, he told himself. You can’t ask a lion not to roar. So now he was stuck with these skittish mice with shaking bones and eyes blurry from rum. But the deal he’d made demanded that he made use of any means necessary to keep the little dragons and their captain friend alive. Even if it meant ordering around a bunch of drunken pirates.

He let the dragon girl do her arrow-shooting thing and he watched over as the sailors brought barrels full of gunpowder on deck and loaded them on catapults. He had to give these pirates some credit. They were terrified, but they were exceptionally good at following orders.

“Ready!” he yelled, raising his arm and waited for the sailors to load the catapults. “Aim! Loose!”

He dropped his arm and the barrels flew through the air, making contact with the crow skinwalkers and exploding in a blinding spectacle of lights. Christopher smirked as the flames reflected in his gray eyes.

This deal had surely been inconvenient from the very beginning and he couldn’t remember the last time when he’d made a deal that would request so much of his time and effort. But also, he couldn’t remember the last time when he’d had so much fun.

With a lazy wicked grin, he let his arm drop once again and another set of barrels flew and set the night sky ablaze in the distance.



Ember set another arrow loose and, by the time it left the string, she pulled out another one and nocked it. She was unstoppable, breathing fast and arrow by arrow flew as her lungs expanded and deflated.

Crows fell down by one and her eyes travelled swiftly over her next targets. Where Kaleb’s flames faltered or where the barrels of gunpowder missed, her arrows hit with perfect precision.

One of Max’s sailors kept her replenished on arrows, but she could tell she was starting to run low on them, so she changed her strategy. Her body moved back and forth, trying to align and to find the perfect angle and soon, she started to take two, even three crows at a time. And their numbers were thinning out, it was clear to the naked eye. But it was still not enough. And at this point, not enough would end up being what got them killed.

“Them coming less and less every time, m’lady,” the pirate who kept bringing her arrows commented as Ember set loose another breath and another arrow. “We’re winnin’.”

“Not just yet, sailor,” she hissed and drew her hand backwards only to find the quiver empty. She cursed under her breath. “It would appear we have to do this the old fashioned way.”

She reached inside her boot and drew out her dagger, then turned to Max’s pirates, feeling the flap of wings closer and closer and the remaining crows surrounded them.

“Sailors,” she yelled from the top of her lungs, and those who weren’t helping Christopher with the gun powder turned to her. “Draw your swords! We end it now.”

She would’ve expected them to look reluctant, to hesitate before taking orders from a woman, from the woman they believed had seduced their captain. She would’ve expected them to back away and she was already preparing a speech in her head to motivate them. But she underestimated how much these pirates had taken to her. She was no longer the woman who had seduced their captain. She was the woman who had shed some light upon a ship inhabited by shadows and who had softened their captain’s heart.

Before she even realized what was happening, the sailors let out a battle cry and they drew their swords just around the time when the crows attacked the ship. And one by one, they fell. Black feathers flew around, carried by the restless sea currents and black ooze dirtied their boots and their deck. Kaleb’s flames, rarer and less focused by the second, lit up the battlefield that Max’s ship had become and Ember kept swinging her dagger back and forth, dropping skinwalker by skinwalker.

Within the minute, she felt Max’s presence as he fell in step with her. It was unmistakable. Her body recognized his before she could even turn around. And there he was, his sword drawn, his cheeks darkened by that dark liquid that served those monsters as blood.

“What are you doing?” she yelled at him to cover that chaos around them. “You were supposed to sail this thing away!”

“Figured you could use a hand,” he smirked through his deadly dance against the crows. “We’re winning this, fire breather. Keep swinging.”

And so they kept dancing. On and on, until their muscles knew the motions by heart, until they were out of air, until the first rays of dawn crept over the horizon. Ember, Max and the sailors let out cry by cry, urging their bodies to keep fighting. They were so close. They couldn’t give up now. They were close.

And just before their bodies could have the chance to shut down, the sun peaked from beneath the sea. And before their eyes, every mutant crow let out a piercing scream and their malformed bodies turned to ash. They fell one by one, untouched, until they left nothing behind but piles of ashes and a rotten smell.

Ember let out a breathless laugh, looking around to see that all the expressions mirrored hers. Kaleb landed on deck, taking his human form again, and he looked just as perplexed as the rest of them.

“What just happened?” Ember asked, raising her arms, but no one had the answer.

“That was us, winning,” Christopher emerged from the crowd. Ember noticed he had a small dagger, quite creepy-looking, in his hand, and black ooze darkened his sand-colored locks. “Skinwalkers are creatures of the night. Daylight is lethal to them.”

A few relieved gasps were heard from the crowd, and Ember felt her shoulders dropping. It was a small victory, but she would take any victory at this point.

“So we’ve really won?” Kaleb dared to inquire.

“For now,” Max replied. “The Hades Brides will send skinwalkers again tonight, after nightfall. We can’t beat them and we can’t keep standing up to them considering we don’t have the means. We must strike now. We win this war today or we won’t live to see tomorrow’s dawn.”


You guys, this has got to be the most bad thing I’ve ever written. I’m basically still there and the soundtrack killed it. (Humble much? No. Not at all.) Thanks a lot for the positive feedback I’ve been receiving lately, it boosts my moods and my inspiration like you would not believe. I love y’all so much.

Welp, I gotta say, there’s only like four more chapters and an epilogue to go AND YOU GUYS I’M GONNA MISS MY BABIES SO MUCH. *breathing in* I’m good. I’m good. Warning, though. There’s shitloads of drama.

Hang in there, folks!

Love, y’all


30: Chapter 29: Built to fall apart
Chapter 29: Built to fall apart


~SOUNDTRACK: Mikky Ekko – Pull me down

~8 years ago~

Kaleb Middleton knew Ember Blackthorn was trouble. She was restless and full of an energy he was having a hard time keeping up with. Oh yes, she was trouble. But he was so caught up in her hurricane, he had nothing whatsoever against being drawn into her troubles.

He sat in their clearing, where they met and played every day, and she was running late today. It was never good when she was running late, he thought. Every time she was running late, it only meant she was up to no good and that he would yet again fall victim to her schemes. And as much as he loathed to admit it, he quite enjoyed the way she kept making him peak out of his comfort zone. And he had no doubt that someday soon, she would catch his wrists and pull him down her path, right across the line and outside that safe area.

She showed up minutes later, a small pout curving her lips and a frown darkening her features. It fazed Kaleb that she wasn’t dancing or pouncing her way to him as she always did. Perhaps her troubles ran a bit deeper today. He hated to see her sad. It didn’t happen often, but these rare moods of hers had a way of making Kaleb fuss around her until he felt better, which mostly ended in her being annoyed by his attempts.

“What’s the matter?” he asked as she dropped next to him in the grass.

“Nothing,” she snapped, and Kaleb frowned.

“You’re upset,” he stated, which only made Ember glare at him.

“I’m not upset. I’m angry. I got into a brawl with Jonah Fairley.”

“You got into a brawl?” Kaleb exclaimed, his eyebrows rising in utter shock. “But there’s not a scratch upon you.” That got a smug grin out of his friend.

“That’s because he’s a coward and I knocked him out effortlessly.”

“You knocked him out?” he shrieked again and Ember shrugged indifferently, like it was no big deal. “But why? Oh, Ember, this will get you in so much trouble. Mother may not let me see you anymore. You know how she feels about unnecessary violence.”

He waited for her to argue, as she always did. He waited for her to claim her violence had been perfectly necessary and called for. He waited for her to tell him that the Onyx Valley needed them together, so there was no way they would separate them. And he waited for her to vow, as she always did, that she would not let a single breathing soul take him from her side. To promise she’d have his back and that no harm should come to their friendship.

But Ember stayed silent.

“What did Jorah do to you, Ember?” he asked cautiously, and the little girl wouldn’t meet his gaze.

“He didn’t do anything to me, Kaleb. He’d never dare. I would’ve punched a few of his teeth out, as well, had he thought to even lay a finger on me.”

“Then was it something he said?” Kaleb tried, and he could see he hit a nerve. “What did he say?”

Ember groaned and she lied on her back, closing her eyes and letting the sunshine dance on her closed eyelids and try to smooth the lines of her frown.

“Jorah Fairley is an imbecile with a big mouth,” she mumbled. “He’s just jealous that you and I will be rulers one day and he’s jealous that I only play with you these days. He doesn’t understand that we’re good friends. He thinks you’re my stupid boyfriend.

Kaleb nearly choked and he was fairly certain he’d blushed several shades of red. Boyfriend. Well, he was a boy, and he was her friend. But something in Ember’s tone had made it sound almost dirty, like the way his father referred to those friends of his who went to see other women after their wives went to bed. He didn’t quite grasp the concepts, but he knew there were some implications that went around his head and straight past it.

“B-Boyfriend?” he mumbled lamely, and Ember sat up, leaning back on her elbows, glaring at him.

“Yes. You know. Like we love each other or something.”

Once again, Kaleb didn’t understand why she said love as if it were a bad thing.

“But we do love each other, don’t we?” he tried to understand. “We’re friends. Of course I love you.”

She sat up straight this time, looking him dead in the eye as she did when a new challenge arose. There it was. Trouble. Clear as daylight reflected in those emerald green eyes of hers. And when she opened her mouth, even before the words could roll off her tongue, he knew he’d fallen prey to her vortex of mischiefs.

“Do you?” she challenged, and he gulped. “You love me? Prove it.”

“P-Prove it?” he stammered.

“Yes. Prove it. Give me a kiss. Maybe I’ll let you be my boyfriend and rub it in Jonah’s face.”

He couldn’t tell whether she was joking or she was being serious. The dance of her eyes was playful and teasing, but her features were stoic as she was staring him down, daring. And he’d never been one to run from her dares. It was how he’d survived her friendship for so long. He ought to keep up with her. The day he’d turn down one of her dares, he knew she would just shrug and walk away, slowly slipping into boredom. And he didn’t want to be a bore. He cherished being her friend.

So the choice was rather simple. He gulped and hid his shaking hands as he leaned closer and closer, breathing heavily as her face grew closer and closer to his until he could smell her hair. He saw her eyes widen right before he could muster the courage to drop a kiss on her lips and she pulled away abruptly.

“What are you doing?” she demanded, looking at him through narrow eyes.

“K-Kissing you, I think.”

She burst into a waterfall of giggles. “I was only joking, you silly. You don’t need to kiss me to prove a point.”

“But Jonah—“

“Jonah is a moron,” Ember brushed him off and leaned back on the grass. “Of course we love each other. Don’t mind him.”

He knew her ways well enough to not question them. She made little sense right now, but he let her be, shrugged it off and leaned back on the grass next to her, letting his gaze drift to the shape of the clouds. They still looked like sheep to him.

“Kaleb?” he heard Ember’s voice by his side.


“I’m still claiming that kiss,” she spoke serenely, without looking in his direction. “For when we’re older, perhaps. I’m your best friend, so I presume I’m to have it. So keep it safe for me in the meantime.”



~SOUNDTRACK: Calum Scott – Yours (Ella Henderson cover)

Kaleb’s eyelids cracked open and broad daylight blinded his sight for a second. He groaned and rolled to one side, the memory of the dream still making his skin tingle. His body was covered in cold sweat and he was breathing slowly, but deeply. For a moment, he allowed himself to think the girl from his dream wasn’t Ember. That she was just someone who was supposed to rise in his path and to take his hand and pull him through to the end of this journey, where she would await him, just as loving and loyal and adoringly troublesome as she was in his memories. But the eyes gave her away. The bright green eyes full of mischief from back then. The same bright green eyes he’d unknowingly fallen in love with so many years later.

He sighed and got up from his bed in the modest cabin the captain had granted him, putting on some clothes. He stepped on deck and, by how the sun looked, he figured it must have been around noon. He expected the ship to be in the frenzy of preparations for a new attack once the dusk set, but to his surprise, the pirates looked rather festive. The rum flowed and music played and jokes were told and people were laughing. And in their midst, Ember stood like a beacon of hope, smiling at them and allowing herself to be caught in their joy, her pirate a few feet away, watching her with a spark to his gaze that made Kaleb’s heart shrink a little. Kaleb watched her look back at him and she broke into a wide grin of her own as their eyes connected. He sighed. How could he even begin to compete with that? Under his own two eyes, Ember and her pirate spoke in metaphors through glances as the rest of the world ceased to exist around them. There was no denying, and the realization settled in Kaleb’s bones painfully. He was losing her. Slowly, steadily, to Maxwell Lockhart.

He stood idly by, watching the crew party as if the death threat above their heads didn’t exist. Eventually, Ember caught sight of him and smiled. Kaleb managed a small wave before she started making her way to him.

“I thought we were to make war plans for today,” he remarked instead of a greeting and she simply rolled her eyes. The gesture reminded her so much of the little girl in his dream that it struck him dumb.

“Leave them be, Kaleb. We had one small victory last night. They need to dive in it for a while before we march them to potential death.”

He sighed. She did have a point. “I know. It just feels wrong to enjoy one victory when we could lose the war tonight.”

“We won’t,” she turned to face him, holding his gaze captive. “We’ll win. I’ll get my family back and we’ll emerge victorious. I’m not losing anyone else to those bloody witches.”

He shot her a sad smile. “Somehow, it felt easier to believe you back when we were children. When I didn’t know better and I relied on you to.”

She waved him off. “Oh, please. You did know better. You were just scared to talk back to me and we ended up doing all the stupid things I came up with.”

Kaleb let out a breathless laugh. “Not much has changed.”

Ember glared at him playfully and slapped his shoulder, feigning a pout. They both laughed and he realized she was right. They needed the win. As little and insignificant as it may have been, he welcomed it. If only for the knowledge that it may have been the last one.

~SOUNDTRACK: Mikky Ekko – Who are you really~

“Reminiscing, I see.”

Kaleb and Ember turned around to see Christopher standing a few feet away from them, hands tucked behind his back, as always. The whole party stopped and turned to him, silence suddenly feeling haunting across the ship. All the sailors now listened to him and Kaleb noticed the way Max kept finding his way around Ember’s orbit protectively, even now, when they more or less trusted the demon. Although perhaps trusting him was a stretch.

“Is there a point to your interruption?” Ember crossed her arms over chest and Christopher regarded her amused. Had there been anyone else, they would’ve lost their tongue in the blink of an eye. But he had to give the girl credit. He respected her a little for the guts to stand up to him fearlessly. It was bold and reckless, but admirable nonetheless.

“Just sheer fascination, I’m afraid,” he retorted. “I was merely curious if you two, dragon spawns, have figured out why it is that you keep having dreams and flash backs about the early times of your childhood friendship.”

Kaleb frowned, not quite appreciating the coincidence of him mentioning these dreams only minutes after he’d awaken from one.

“What is there to figure out?” he inquired. “We’ve spent years without our memories. I thought this was their way of flooding back to us.”

Christopher chuckled – actually chuckled. “Afraid not, little dragon. It’s a rather vital piece of information that I have only recently gotten from your auras. You see, an aura is like a bundle of energy encircling your body that comes from your very core. One can easily read emotions and personalities from the color it takes. And the more I look at yours, the more I see the way they mingle, the way they’re so in tune with each other all the time.”

Ember sighed and ran her hand through her hair anxiously. “You have yet to get to that point we’re so eager to find out.”

The demon smiled, amused. “Patience, little dragon. What I’m about to tell you will change the way you regard some things. Are you certain you want to find out?”

At the question, Ember narrowed her eyes at the demon suspiciously. How come he’d only now thought of sharing information? How many more tricks did he have up his sleeve?

“Just say it, Christopher,” she prompted.

“Very well,” the demon shrugged, and Kaleb saw Max move even closer to Ember’s side, his jaw tight. “As far as I know, you two, little dragons, are already aware of the legacies you’ve inherited from the dragon clans.”

Kaleb’s muscles tensed. As if he needed another reminded. “That we were to rule the clans? Yes, we remember.”

“Except it ran somewhat deeper than that,” the demon continued. “Tell me, dragon girl. When’s your birthday?”

“March 20th,” Ember answered in a heartbeat.

Kaleb frowned. His birthday was March 20th, as well. His expression didn’t go unnoticed by Christopher, who smiled devilishly at him.

“You see,” he began, “18 years ago, on March 20th, two babies were born. But perhaps the story starts even earlier. Twenty years ago, a prophecy was delivered. The race of the dragons would meet its end, inevitably, and it was to rise from its ashes under the rule of two yet unborn at the time little beasts. Two souls tethered together by forces of the universe, by magic so powerful no human could understand or toy with.  They were to inherit the strength of a whole kin and they were to reestablish it to its glory. The dragons awaited. And two years later, their wait was rewarded. In the night of the spring equinox, when the magic was at its zenith, you two were born. A boy and a girl. Tied together by magic. To your race. And to each other.”

Silence fell over the entire ship. The crew stayed quiet, none of them daring to move while Christopher spoke. But the dragons didn’t even breathe. They let Christopher’s story sink in and the words eased one into another until they made too little sense of them.

Tied together by magic.

To your race.

And to each other.

Ember knew the meaning beneath his words, but she didn’t want to acknowledge it just yet. Because once she let the realization bloom on her lips, it would be real. There was no taking it back. The responsibility of it would fall on her shoulders and it would bring her to her knees.

But Gods above, so many things made sense right now. Starting with how her steps had been drawn to the market during that first day when she met Kaleb, why her heart had hummed with energy and excitement, despite knowing with how much hatred she’d be met in the midst of the villagers. But it had been like an invisible thread that kept tugging her forward. More, more, more. Almost there. She’d been in a haze the whole way there, not knowing it was actually ancient magic carrying her footsteps to the right place, to meet the right person, to start setting everything in motion. And from there, every single moment she’d spent with Kaleb, getting to know him, falling for him, had been like an endless dance played by an enchanted flute. And the steps felt so carefully choreographed.

Pardon me for my boldness, m’lady. But I have been raised in such manner as to always remark a woman’s beauty when stumbled upon.

I do hope we cross paths again.

I’m the one carrying a knife. But I can escort you, if you’d fancy.

I mean well, Ember. Yours truly, Kaleb Lahey.

Am I distracting you?

My reasons are pure selfishness.

One would say it’s destiny that keeps bringing us together.

Perhaps I wish to be seen with you.

If you asked me, I believe I would follow you to no end.

I will stand by you.

I’d stand against a whole world.

I want to be worthy of the faith you have in me.

I want to make it work because you’re my hope and I love you.

Little had she known, Ember thought. It had always been destiny bringing them together. Not one glance had been accidental and her falling in love with Kaleb, so quick, so blindly, like drowning in blissful chaos, it had all been orchestrated.

“We were always meant to end up here,” she stated eventually and, with the corner of her eyes, she saw Kaleb watching her breathlessly.

“No, love,” Christopher whispered. “You were more than that. You were meant to be the closest thing there is to soulmates. Forged in the same magic of the equinox, born in the same flames, granted by fate itself.”

She heard Kaleb loose a breath, but she didn’t stick around for the conclusion. It felt too much and she was sure her heart would soon combust. So under two pairs of eyes, one emerald green and the other sapphire blue, Ember turned on her heels and walked away and refused to let the weight of choices she had to make and of those that had been made for her suffocate her.




Bloody hell.

Ember and rosy cheeks were meant to be soulmates, tied together by ancient magic. After years and years of sailing restless seas, Max had never felt the surface beneath his feet more unsteady.

When Ember turned around and fled, Max saw Kaleb move to follow her, but he knew better. And perhaps he was being a bit biased, but he liked to think Ember preferred to be alone for now, to sort through her thoughts. And yes, he admitted it to himself. He couldn’t let Kaleb simply march in and claim what was rightfully his. It made it feel like Ember was a trophy of some sorts.

So Max caught his elbow before Kaleb could move from his place.

“Leave her be, mate. You’ll only confuse her more than she already is.”

“But—“ Kaleb tried to argue, but Max caught him off.

“I know. Give her a while. Come have a drink in the meantime, pull yourself together. You seem like you could use one.”

~SOUNDTRACK: Damien Rice – Cheers darlin’~

He saw Kaleb gulp and he was sure he’d refuse and stroll after Ember anyway. But eventually, all of his emotions came through to the surface and flooded his features and Max could tell that the poor boy really needed a drink. So he led him to the nearest table, both of them dropping in chairs and Max poured some rum in two dirty cups, handing one to him. Kaleb took it wordlessly and emptied it in one gulp.

Oh, yes, Max thought as he poured him another one. They both needed rum flowing through their veins if they wanted to make it past this. They gulped down cup after cup, but instead of fading away, the weight of this bloody triangle pressed even more on their shoulders. A dragon girl, her soulmate and the pirate who longed for her hopelessly.

“I love her,” Kaleb blurted out eventually, breaking the heavy silence.

Max gritted her teeth. He knew that. It was obvious in every glance. And he also knew that Ember had loved him, too, and yet deeply. But for her feelings at the moment, he couldn’t speak. Perhaps he was afraid to, terrified they hadn’t changed as much as he hoped they had, terrified she’d end up staying with the one fate had granted her.

“This ain’t a love story, mate,” he told rosy cheeks eventually, bitterness in his voice. “This is war. Ember doesn’t need a love sick boy who worships the ground she walks on, because she sets this ground on fire. She needs a man who can handle her and her flames. She needs a soldier who can fight her battles.”

Or so he told himself.  Maybe he clung to a fool’s hope, but it was all he had.

“And that would be you?” Kaleb retorted.

“Aye, it would. Because I vowed to. And because I care about her. Wholesome. Dragon and all. The fire and the flood. I know you fell in love with the sweet girl who blushed under your stare, who fought valiantly to provide for her family and who needed a safe haven where she could escape from the hatred of a village. But she’s more than that.”

Kaleb stared at him for a few seconds before gulping down another drink.

“You love her, too, don’t you?”

Max froze. Did he? He’d never loved a single person in his whole life. His mother, perhaps, but that emotion was so old and so dormant, he’d forgotten what it felt like. Did he love Ember? He did not know. He knew what he felt, but he could not name it.

“I’d go to the end of the world for her,” was the best thing he could offer, and Kaleb nodded absently.

“You see, so would I. Soulmate or not. I’ve loved her first and I love her now, ancient blood magic or not. And I know she has feelings for you, captain. I can no longer deny that. I don’t know how to fight for her, but I will. And I will have her heart.”

Max sighed and stood up, feeling suddenly sadder than he’d felt in ages.

“That’s the difference between us, rosy cheeks,” he offered over his shoulder. “You want her heart. I want her alive. You may fight for her, but I will fight her battles, regardless of whom she chooses after the war is won. Keep your soulmate, Kaleb. I’ll be fine knowing she’s alive and well somewhere, even it’s you by her side.”

He walked away without waiting for his answer. And in that moment, with every step he took, he knew he’d lost her. Although she’d never been truly his to begin with.


Dun dun duuuuun. This chapter broke my heart a lil bit. But I gotta say,  writing this Cheers darlin’ moment was something I’ve been looking forward to ever since I started writing this story. Hope y’all liked it.

Almost there, folks. Three or four more chapters. The game is on. Loading drama and badassery.

Lots of love,


31: Chapter 30: Comfort came against my will
Chapter 30: Comfort came against my will


~SOUNDTRACK: Mikky Ekko – Time~

Ember found herself yet again in that spot where she’d so often before come with Max. She told herself she wanted to be alone and to think, but by choosing to come here, it was rather clear that she did want to be found. And it struck her dumb how much she wanted it to be Max who found her and who helped her clean up the mess in her head.

But he didn’t come, and Ember’s common sense was grateful that he gave her the space to sort herself out. Gods above. She did not need this now. She had a war to fight and a family to save and witches to kill. She did not have the time or the energy to spare being selfish and thinking about her heart’s wills.

And yet, Christopher’s words kept playing in an endless loop in her head, loud and deafening like shattering glass. Soulmate. The word rested on her tongue, but every time she got close to whispering it, she felt the tingle of hysterical laughter bubbling in her chest. Kaleb was her bloody soulmate and that knowledge pressed over her shoulders with suffocating heaviness. She felt as if it stripped her of the liberty of a choice that was to dictate the way she’d live her life and that she didn’t get to make.


She froze in place, Kaleb’s voice ringing through her bones. How very foolish of her to allow herself to hope Max would be the one to find her. It was Kaleb, always Kaleb, who kept clinging to every grain, to every speck of dust she threw his way, like no more than a loyal puppy. She loved him, truly, she did, even now, when it put her off that the feeling didn’t quite feel hers anymore. But the intensity with which he loved her suffocated her.

She turned around and saw him lurking a few feet away, shy and tentative. Ember sighed and punched the bridge of her nose, suddenly feeling every ounce of exhaustion gathering behind her eyes like the smoke clouds of a headache.

“I needed to be alone, Kaleb,” she managed to tell him. “I thought my storming off would make that very clear.”

“It did,” he replied, taking a step towards her. “But if we don’t speak of it now, we may never get the chance to. We’re at war.”

“Yes, Kaleb, we’re at war,” she snapped at him. “And I cannot grant my heart the privilege of chasing its selfish choices that I may not even get to live with. There is too much at stake. You ought to see that.”

Kaleb paused, his teeth gritted, and once again, Ember watched him miss the point entirely, with deadly precision. It would have been funny, had it not been so sad. But unlike her, Kaleb was having trouble looking past his heart’s selfish wishes.

“Choices?” he inquired, his voice broken. “But I thought—“

“Yes, Kaleb, you thought the choice has already been made for us and that we can live with it, happily ever after. But it does not work that way, not for me. You truly don’t get it, do you?”

He shrugged helplessly and a few tears glinted in the corners of his eyes. It hit Ember like a thunderstorm with how much hope and joy he’d chosen to believe in this prophecy.

“No,” he admitted, and it broke Ember’s heart a little. “I truly don’t. I don’t understand anything anymore.”

Ember sighed and ran a hand through her onyx black locks.

“Gods above, Kaleb,” she murmured, then cursed silently. “This changes nothing for me.”

“But it changes everything for me,” he cut her off. “It built a foundation to a castle of feelings so intense, they have been cutting me open and twisting my insides, Ember. And I understand why now. I understand why I need you more than my lungs need air.”

Ember shook her head and stepped backwards when Kaleb reached for her.

“I’m sorry, Kaleb,” she murmured helplessly. “Perhaps we’re soulmates. Perhaps we should’ve stuck to being a boy and a girl, in love and against the world. Perhaps, had he grown up in the Onyx Valley as we were supposed to, things could’ve been different. But I stand by my words. This changes nothing, Kaleb. You and those prophecies cannot will me into feeling what I do not feel. You’re my best friend and I love you, truly, I do, little Lahey.”

She moved to stand before him, tears dancing in her eyes, but her chin held high. She would make no apologies for the way she felt, not anymore. She watched Kaleb grit his teeth and clench his fists, playing brave, but by the way the fractured light of the upcoming dusk fell on his forest-green eyes, she could tell he was breaking.

“But it appears that, in the end, it truly wasn’t enough,” she concluded, then moved past him and walked away at the same time as a single tear slid down Kaleb’s cheek.



~SOUNDTRACK: Twinbed – Trouble I’m in~

Ember made her way to Max’s cabin, feeling somewhat reluctant. She wanted nothing more than to escape this soulmates drama, but something told her Max hadn’t taken it well, either. Well, that, she could deal with. Her situation with Max was entirely different from her situation with Kaleb. As were her feelings.

She opened the door slowly, walked in and closed the door behind her, all without looking up. She could feel Max’s eyes on her, intense enough to make her weak around the knees without even meeting them. She took a few breaths and finally dared to raise her gaze. There he stood, a few feet away from her, still as a wax figure. She wondered if he was even breathing. His features looked drowned in a storm, his usually clear blue eyes now seemed almost gray, bearing the heaviness of smoke clouds. Like that, Ember painted him on the canvas behind her eyes. Her captain was the most beautiful creature she’d ever laid her eyes upon. Intense as the breath before the kiss. Refreshing as the first drops of drizzle, but ravishing as the hurricane that followed, blinding bright as every bolt of lightning that it brought. Max had shaken her all up, to the very core, as would the most restless sea and the wildest currents. But she was no longer sea sick. If he was an ocean, then she was alright with both sailing on it or drowning in it.

He was the first to release the breath he’d been holding and Ember’s eyes hurried to leave his silhouette, uncertain as to how much longer she could go without falling helplessly into his arms. Her gaze fell on the sheets spread on the floor and she frowned. Max cleared his throat awkwardly before being the first to break the silence.

“You can take the bed again,” he explained. “I don’t mind the floor. I figured we should catch some sleep before night falls, gather our strengths for the upcoming battle.”

Ember inhaled through her nose, brought to the edge of exasperation, and she leaned with her back against the door.

“You don’t have to do that, Max.”

“Aye, I do,” he was quick to interrupt. “Things have gotten complicated. The last thing I want right now is to push you even harder, make it even more difficult for you. So I’ll take the floor.”


“It’s fine, Ember. You don’t owe me an explanation. You don’t owe me anything. A good sailor knows when they’re not his waters to sail.”

He turned his back on her and crouched to make his bed on the floor. Ember shook her head, unable to even begin to explain to him how wrong he was, grateful for the steadiness of that door pressed against her back, because she didn’t trust her feet much at the moment.

“Max, listen to—“ she tried again, but he stood abruptly and moved to stand before her so fast, it made her dizzy.

“No, Ember. Leave it be. Do not open that door because there’s a flood behind it you’re not prepared to face.”

Ember gritted her teeth and held his gaze.

“Do not underestimate me.”

Max ran a hand over his face and Ember got a surge of satisfaction when she noticed that his hands were shaking almost as bad as hers.

“Fine,” he spat. “You want me to tell you? Know that I have never been a particularly decent person, Ember. I am a man of opportunity. I see something I want and I seize it. I take what I desire and I feel no remorse for it. I have been that way my entire life. And I cannot be that man with you. Believe me, I want to. I’ve tried.”

Ember clenched her fists so tight, her knuckles hurt.

“What’s stopping you?” she asked. “The prophecy?”

“Bloody yes, the damn prophecy,” he raised his voice. “Because you’re his by blood right, Ember. Because ancient magic dictates that you’re to love him and he, you, and because your precious Kaleb is actually a good, decent man who actually deserves you. Believe me, it would be so much easier hate him, beat him, drown him, kill him, betray him and fight him for you if I didn’t like him. If he hadn’t saved my life. Because he’s the one fate says you should be with. And because I gave you the freedom of choice. I let you learn whether you want to give in and want me, too. It would appear that choice has already been made long ago.”

Ember groaned loudly and moved past him, putting some distance between them to gather her thoughts without his intoxicating presence standing so close to her. Was he truly so eager to give up, to let it all go just because some ancient buffoons had decided it was too out of his hands? Since when did Maxwell Lockhart let such inconveniences stand in his way?

“You’re a bloody fool, Maxwell Lockhart,” she hissed at him, and he remained straight-faced. “You think I will let some prophecy dictate how I feel? My choices are mine and mine only.”

“You love Kaleb,” he argued miserably.

“I loved Kaleb,” Ember corrected.

“And now?”

“And now I am telling you that I would still choose you, Max, prophecy or not, because all of those stars and all of that magic could not have seen you coming. I didn’t either, captain. And I haven’t been so scared about anything before in my life, but I also know I’ve never felt like this about anyone. Prophecy or no prophecy. Soulmates or no soulmates.”

Max stood there, frozen in place, his eyes wide, taking in her words. And Ember could see him. Not the smug pirate. The lonely man who’d never known love. She stepped forward again, suddenly not shaking anymore. When you feel that thing you didn’t want to feel and you finally allow it to consume you, it sets you free in a way nothing else can. She stopped short in front of him and wondered, yet again, if he was even breathing.

“You gave me freedom of choice,” she spoke close to his lips. “And I’m making mine now, consequences be damned. You told me that, when I finally give in to the flames, it would be because I wanted you. And Gods above, I do, Max. I want you. But the question is, what do you want?”

Her fingers trailed up his arm and she felt him shudder under her fingertips. She let her hand rest on his shoulder and her other one settled on his chest, right above his heart. She felt her own body hum in response to every beat of his heart and she saw that his pupils were so dilated, the blue of his irises barely showed anymore. He took in a shallow breath and answered through gritted teeth.

“You know. You know bloody well what I want.”

She leaned closer, until her lips became a shadow, the ghost of a kiss hovering above his mouth. She traced his jaw with the back of her fingers, watching him smugly as he caught his breath and his hands flew to catch her waist, fingers digging into the flesh of her hips so hard it hurt. She let out a yelp, feeling the sound vibrate both of their bodies.

“Tell me,” she prompted, her breath caressing his parted lips. “What is it that you want, captain?”

“It’s you,” he whispered. “I want you.”

Without wasting a heartbeat, Ember closed the distance between them and put her open lips to his, slowly letting them shut, swallowing the words resting there before he could even finish the sentence.

And so, Ember and Max learned right there what it is to come together and to come undone. Their bodies became a mess of limbs and hair and kisses and touches and Max’s lips were at her jaw and neck and Ember’s legs were hooked around his waist and he dropped her to the bed and the kisses just flowed and flowed and flowed and words pricked at her skin where his lips had been and her fingers were in his hair and they needed more of each other and more and more and more.

Finding what you love and letting it destroy you is an art. As an artist tangled in her pirate’s arms, Ember found she’d always had this certain skill. It had just taken her a bit longer to acknowledge and to accept that there was a certain fire in her veins and it wasn’t one to be tamed or tempered.  So she let it torch her and learned how to paint with the ashes.

Skinwalkers didn’t attack that night, after the darkness fell and the sun hid beneath the horizon. But Ember and Max didn’t catch a single minute of sleep.



~SOUNDTRACK: X Ambassadors – Unsteady (Erich Lee Gravity Remix)~

Ember and Max emerged straight-faced from the captain’s cabin in the morning, stoic as if they hadn’t just left paradise behind. It had been a long, sleepless, blissful night. But today they were going to war.

Ember kept her face blank as she moved through pirates, as she moved past Kaleb, as she moved past Christopher, as they gathered together to make war plans. She ignored the curious glances that Kaleb threw her way and the amused looks crossing Christopher’s features. She didn’t care. It was too bad they faced potential death today. Because she honestly could not remember having been so happy, ever in her entire life.



“Tell me about Maximilian Covington.”

Max sighed and kissed the top of her head.

“What do you want to know?”

Ember shifted her head on his chest so that she was resting her chin on the back of her hands, looking up at him and smiling coyly.

“Everything,” she answered, and Max chuckled.

They sat on his bed, sheltered and safe and isolated from what awaited them outside this cabin. If one night was all they had, they would damn right make the best of it. Ember could think about the war and saving her family tomorrow. For now, knowing these may have been the last moments she got to spend with him, she preferred to grant them to him entirely.

“Oh, you irritating woman,” he joked and trailed his fingers up and down her arm, sending shivers down her spine. “What’s there to say about Maximilian Covington?”

“I don’t know,” she shrugged. “Would he have fancied me?”

 Max laughed whole-heartedly. “Oh, poor thing. Maximilian Covington would have been scared out of his mind by you. You would’ve broken him.”

“Give him some credit,” Ember slapped his arm playfully. “I’m sure he would’ve held his own.”

“Doubtful,” Max stated with a sad, nostalgic smile. “Maximilian was a shadow, Ember. He had no idea who he was supposed to be, despite how everyone kept throwing it his way.”

He trailed off and pursed his lips, and Ember regretted that she’d brought it up. She hated to bring this sort of memories back to him and to push him. But then she thought better, and this had always been the way the two of them worked. They pushed each other open for one another, for all the cuts and bruises and wounds to be seen, because they were not afraid to be a little broken together.

“Remember how I told you that I’d never been a decent man?” he inquired, and Ember nodded. “Maximilian Covington was. He was a good kid. He adored his mother and dreamed of following into his father’s footsteps. I had a little brother, you know. Arthur. I taught him how to read, how to hold a sword, how to ride his first horse. Father was a bit harsh on us and invested in our upbringing, but mother adored us. It was all so well-planned. I was to grow up and become the greatest dragon hunter this world had ever seen.”

“And then you started sharing a bed with a dragon?” Ember tried to joke, and he looked down at her with so much intensity in his blue eyes, the swirl of his irises started looking like waves on the sea.

“And then I fell for one,” he flicked her nose. “Like a bloody fool. I must be out of my mind.”

Ember laughed and pushed his shoulder and he joined her. This felt good. It felt good sharing the weight of the world with another set of shoulders. She’d found a steadiness in Max and a calmness to his presence that awoke some new kind of bravery in her heart, unlocking something she hadn’t known was even there to begin with. She sighed and intertwined their fingers, turning their joined hands to study the tattoo around his wrist. It was a simple pattern of a chain linked with thorns and on the inside of his wrist was a black heart surrounded by the chain that ended in a complex lock. She trailed its pattern with her fingertips.

“A locked heart,” she murmured, almost to herself, then it dawned on her. “Lockhart. You never did tell me why you chose this name.”

“The locked heart was the sigil of our clan,” he explained. “It was our way to say that we were to remain relentless and impartial in our journey, locking our hearts to all distractions that held the potential to intervene with our paths. I think that, by choosing to ink this on me, even after my whole family was gone and I had taken the calling of the sea, it was my way to preserve my legacy.”

Ember stayed silent for a while, thinking about his words. Max didn’t worry. She knew she didn’t judge his legacy as a hunter any more than he judged her for being a dragon. But he wondered if she ever got the same surge of guiltiness that he did sometimes. Like they were letting down those who had died for them by holding each other now. But as he looked down at her and was met with those deep green of her eyes, he knew he couldn’t care less. He finally had something in his life that he was willing to fight for. His heart was no longer locked. Never again.

“When all this is over,” she began speaking slowly, “will you ink something on me, too?”

“Aye. I take it you have something in mind?”

She smiled sly as a fox and he found himself unable to resist wanting to kiss that smile until he was out of breath.

“A key,” she replied.



Ember refused to meet Max’s gaze, because she knew that he, too, was reliving last night over and over again. And she’d promised to leave it all back in the cabin. For now, they needed to focus.

“Do you know why the skinwalkers didn’t attack again last night?” she asked Christopher, who offered a nonchalant shrug.

“I can make a few educated guesses,” he replied. “Perhaps it was meant to confuse us into striking and thus leading us into a trap of their choosing. Perhaps they’re saving their powers for a greater blow. Or perhaps they simply lack the resources to pull off such a scheme again.”

Ember sighed. “Whatever the reason, we do strike tonight. We can’t risk being the prey for one more night.”

“How?” Kaleb inquired. “How do we even find them?”

“I might be able to help in that matter,” the demon chimed in. “Assuming they’re holding the little dragon spawns captive, I can perform a tracking spell on your siblings using your blood, dragon girl.”

“Good,” Ember nodded forcefully. “Then you’re to get them out fast and soon, Christopher. Get them to safety and I will free you from the deal. I’ll give you my tears right away if I have your word that you will not leave their side until I come back or if anything happens to me.”

The demon nodded once, not daring to mock her. Perhaps even his wicked self could show the slightest amount of respect to a soldier making amends.

“You have my word,” he replied, and Ember nodded.

Max frowned and looked from one face to another expectantly, when he realized Ember wasn’t going to address the issue of interest to him.

“What about me?” he inquired a bit sharper than he’d intended. “You seem to have everyone’s role figured out. What’s mine?”

But when Ember averted her eyes, he knew.



“What is it with you and mermaid stories?” she slapped his arm after yet another one of his dirty hints that somehow came back to that mermaid story he was so fond of. Max laughed whole-heartedly.

“I bet you’d love to know, wouldn’t you?” he wiggled his eyebrows at Ember, and she gasped and widened her eyes in shock.

“Maxwell Lockhart,” she nearly shrieked, sitting up. “You said mermaids aren’t real.”

“They’re not,” he shrugged, smiling wide.

“So that story you told my siblings—“

“Made up,” he sneaked an arm around her waist and pulled her back to his chest. “With a hint of truth in it, though.”

“Maxwell, I will kick your ass,” she threatened playfully and he kissed her temple, his whole body shaking with laughter.

“I think you and I both know how that’s bound to end, little fire breather.”

“Then I will shift into a dragon, grab you in my claws and drop you from the sky.”

“As if,” Max mocked. “I’d just bat my eyelashes and you’d swoon all over. I told you, love, my charm is irresistible. It’s a surprise you managed so long without falling into my arms.”

“Oh, please,” she pinched his side, and he yelped. “You were practically groveling not long ago. Had I let you boil just a little longer, you would’ve practically fallen at my feet and begged and drooled as you nearly did for that nymph.”

Max snorted. “Fair enough.”

“Now tell me about this mermaid of yours.”

He sighed, glaring at her playfully. “I see you won’t let this go. Very well. There was indeed a girl and she was indeed alluring as a mermaid. I did hear her song. One day, long ago, when I was young and restless and I was making my way through a village or merchants. She was a slave, but she sang so beautifully it hurt. The sea serpent was her master and I did try to fight him for her freedom. He beat her dead one night after he learned of our escapades, and in return, I slit his throat and fed him to the sharks. My signature move, as you’re well aware.”

“Oh,” Ember frowned at his nonchalance. “Did you love her? The mermaid girl?”

Max snorted. “Bloody hell, fire breather, of course not. But she had this huge pair of—“

Before he could finish the sentence, Ember groaned and pushed him off the bed.



“Hell no, Ember,” Max hissed through gritted teeth. “There is no way you’re leaving me behind.”

Ember crossed her arms over her chest, feeling the intruding eyes of his entire crew, of Kaleb, of Christopher on her, but unable to meet Max’s only.

“I’m not leaving you behind,” she made herself say. “You’re going to stay behind because it’s the logical thing to do. If Christopher gets my family out and I’m left to continue the battle, you’re to set sail and take them far away from here. I’m trusting you with their lives.”

“Bullshit,” he yelled, earning a flinch from everyone on the ship except the demon. “Is that what you tell yourself to make it easier? I am not staying behind, Ember! You’re not fighting this war without me.”

“Max,” she lowered her voice, begging him to see reason. “I cannot fight it with you. I cannot afford distractions and worrying for your safety and struggling not to torch your crew in the process would be very distracting. I am begging you, stay out of it.”

He turned around and paced back and forth like a lion in a cage before kicking a barrel and running his hands through his hair and over his face in exasperation. Eventually, he trailed off in front of her and spoke soft enough for her ears only to hear.

“Ember,” he almost begged. “Let me fight for you. Let me protect you. Don’t take this from me.”

Her fingers twitched, yearning to reach for him, but she clenched her fists around them. “And I am asking you to let me fight this on my own terms. I’m trusting you with a task that’s bigger than this entire war. There are only six lives in this world I care about. Kaleb is going to help me. I want the other five on this ship, sailing away from Clarissa’s reach. Max, please, understand that I cannot lose anyone else.”

He paused, breathing heavily, wishing he could have it in him to keep fighting her about it. But Ember saw it in his eyes. He wasn’t going to deny her this.



“So tell me, captain—“

“Ah, I see,” he cut her off, smirking. “That tone. I was expecting it.”

“You don’t even know what I was going to ask,” she frowned at him, but she blushed a little nonetheless, embarrassed for not being able to keep those curiosities under control.

“Aye, but I strongly suspect it,” he clicked his tongue. “Ask away, fire breather.”

She rolled her eyes, the embarrassment burning bright within her, but she couldn’t quite take it back now, could she?

“So, tell me,” she repeated, squinting her eyes. “Were there many ladies in your life, apart from that mermaid of yours?”

Max chuckled. “I most definitely saw it coming. And the mermaid girl was no lady in my life. I told you, she had—“

“Yes, yes, I remember vividly how you put it,” she smacked his head. “But that doesn’t answer my question now, does it?”

“Oh, sweet, little, innocent fire breather,” he chanted and she glared. “I told you that many women have warmed my bed. But there’s only one lady in my life.”

Ember widened her eyes and blushed even more violently than before at the implications. She hid her face in the crook of his neck and chuckled.

“Oh, Max,” she actually giggled. “That was—“

“Not you,” he snorted, and she looked up with a frown. “Please. I wasn’t going to declare you immortal love already, dragon girl. I’m not rosy cheeks. I was talking about my ship.”

Ember narrowed her eyes at him and unwrapped herself from his embrace angrily, earning no more than a satisfied chuckle from him. Oh, how he enjoyed stepping on her toes.

“Your ship,” she huffed. “How impersonal. What kind of pirate doesn’t give his ship a badass name?”

“How do you know I haven’t?” he rolled his eyes.

“Have you?”

“I have now.”

“Enlighten me, then.”

He paused for effect.

“The Crimson Dagger. Quite fitting for the lady aboard, wouldn’t you say?”

Ember’s eyes filled with tears and she let out a breathless laugh before throwing herself in his arms and setting the sheets on fire for the rest of the night, wrapped in each other, before the first sunlight tickled their bare skin and war knocked on their door.



They stood face to face, still and barely breathing, captured in a battle of dominance of who got to paint whom in the back of their heads. No one won. They were still to part ways.

“Just don’t die,” he was the first to speak, his voice broken. “Come back to me.”



For tonight, I’ll be your personal nightmare.

You’re a pirate.

You have no idea what you are, do you?

Dance with me, dragon girl.

Are you scared of me, Ember?

Too bad. You should be.

Perhaps I have no wish to see you dead.

I’m a cuddler.

I can take you anywhere. The world would be ours to unravel.

Don’t fool yourself, love. I’m not the good guy.

Go ahead and expect the worst of me, because I will deliver, Ember.

Go ahead and hate me so that I can have a bloody reason to hate you back.

The little dragon has him under a different spell of her own.

I cannot breathe with you looking at me like this.

When you finally give in to these flames, Ember, it’ll be because you’ll have finally seen it for yourself. It’ll be because you want me.

I’m only now learning that some of my purposes have changed along the way.

You trusted me with your life just now.

Perhaps when we’re done with this whole war business, we can start discovering exactly what fires we can ignite.

You know I don’t hate you. But I begged you to. So what do we do with all these feelings now?

Humor me and stay alive a little longer. I cannot lose you.

I will not stop breaking laws and ethics and morals so long as it keeps you safe.

I’d go to the end of the world for her.



Ember smiled sadly, though her eyes were swimming in tears.

“I wasn’t planning on dying anyway, captain,” she gave his fingers a firm squeeze. “I’ll see you after. I believe we have a world to unravel.”

With those last words, she let go of his hand and turned her back on him, with Christopher and Kaleb on her heels.

She was fairly certain she was going to die. But at least she’d do it knowing she’d shared one last perfect night tangled in his arms and knowing he’d be here, safe.

Ember took a deep breath and, seconds later, a dragon spread her wings and left the one she loved behind.


Super long chapter. I know. But I could not stop writing. It broke my heart and my keyboard is tear-stained, but it was worth it. Sorry, y’all. Just two more chapters till the end. Hang in tight.

Lots of love,


32: Chapter 31: No rest for the wicked
Chapter 31: No rest for the wicked


~SOUNDTRACK: Jennifer Lawrence – The hanging tree~

Ember refused vehemently to look over her shoulder, back to where Max’s ship still watched over her departure. It was as if she could still feel those blue eyes digging into the back of her head, trying to muster the force to turn that boat around. In fact, Ember refused to look anywhere but straight ahead. Kaleb was watching her closely, as if he knew exactly and in accurate details what had happened between her and Max last night. Perhaps he did know. She didn’t care. She believed she’d been clear both in her choices and in her prioritizing the war before the drama. She was aware of Christopher working his magic, literally or not, to find her family with that blood spell and thus, the Hades Brides. A three-people army. But truly, a one-woman army only. She relied on no one else but herself to end this. She was fire, pain and chaos. An Onyx Dragon, Daughter of Scorching Flames and Charcoal Dust. She was going to give them hell.

“I have a location,” Christopher spoke eventually as Kaleb kept oaring. “It’s not far from Thebbington Abbey. The heart of a forest a couples of miles away, and from what I hear of their preferences, it’s bound to be a cave of some sorts and it must be around a place where they can absorb the energy of the dead. Cemeteries or old war zones. What do you know of it?”

Ember sighed. “The Salvation Graveyard. I know exactly where it is. Close to Portham, right outside some thick woods.”

Those woods had been perfect for her business not long ago. The trees were deep and dense enough for no one to be able to see her coming and the spot had quickly become one of her favorite ones. How far away those times seemed at the moment.

“Very well,” Christopher conceded. “We’re headed there, then.”

“Do we have a plan?” Kaleb chimed in, and both men looked at Ember expectantly. She shrugged simply.

“Attack. Get the children out then torch every breathing soul.”

“You truly think it’ll be so easy?” Kaleb dared to question. “They have ancient magic on their side.”

“As a demon I have made my acquaintance once said, I have yet to meet a creature that doesn’t burn when set ablaze.”

Christopher smirked and Kaleb seemed to be content with her answer, so they left it at that. The winds of war were upon them and they could feel them sharp as blades across their cheeks. They didn’t dare bearing hopes or cracking jokes or offering words of consolation, because these little nothings seemed so weightless in the face of potential death.

As they pulled the boat ashore and as their feet hit solid ground, Ember caught sight of a silhouette standing a few feet away. It was too far for even her supernatural eyes to tell who it was, so she squinted. She would’ve hoped that there weren’t any witnesses around so that she and Kaleb could fly to the witches’ nest, but perhaps she should’ve thought better before letting such things in the hands of wishful thinking. She sighed and shielded her eyes from the sun with the back of her hand, but Kaleb was the one who recognized the silhouette first.

“Nana?” he whispered breathlessly, and Ember simply blinked. Indeed, as the woman started making her way towards them, she saw the familiar shape of Kaleb’s old nan, wrinkled, short and a bit rough around the edges.

“What’s she doing here?” she hissed at Kaleb, who looked just as fazed as her.

“I have no clue. I haven’t been at my father’s… at the Lahey residence in very long. Perhaps she grew worried.”

“At the exact time when we’re to fight the war against a coven of witches?” Ember retorted. “What are the odds?”

Before they could argue further, Nana reached them and prompted herself in front of them and watched them expectantly, with eyes than suddenly grew thousands of years older. With eyes than suddenly silenced Kaleb and Ember, who fell at loss for words under the heaviness of her gaze upon them.

“It was about time, my dear children,” she spoke eventually. “I have been waited for this day to come for many years.”

The two dragons frowned and Christopher regarded her curiously.

“Have you?” Ember question wearily.

“I’ve seen it happening,” Nana replied. “Long ago. In a dream. I’ve watched a race fall. And I’ve been doomed to await its rebirth.”

Kaleb and Ember thought her words through, trying to make sense of them and failing successfully. It was rather remarkable that, after all they’d been through, there were still new things to learn and to be shocked by at every turn. Because what Nana suggested—

“You know what we are,” Ember was the first to state, her words empty and dull, hiding the storm that was obvious behind her eyes.

“I do,” Nana replied.

“You were there when they died.”

“I was.”

“And you saw us coming,” was Kaleb’s turn to comment. “Long ago. In a dream. You made all those prophecies.”

“I did,” the old woman answered. “And I was spared, perhaps by the same fate that binds you together and that decided you were to survive and see your kin reestablished. I was spared, if only to protect you and to guide you. How miserably I’ve failed. But I’m here now. I will see your family saved, Lady Blackthorn, and you will be sat on that throne of ashes that was meant for you and my Lord Middleton all along.”

Silence fell, during which Kaleb tried to pull himself together. He’d lived with this woman for 18 years. His whole life, really. He could not remember a time when Nana hadn’t been around. She’d been his shelter, his safe haven back when William Lahey unleashed his wrath upon him. Better days will come, little Lord, she said, but he never understood what kind of useless hope she was bearing. He understood now. She’d seen in happening. She knew for a fact that better days were coming, under his rule and Ember’s, because she’d been the one who had predicted them. That was why she’d been so easy to convince to care for the little Blackthorns. Why she hadn’t questioned it. She was merely watching over the pieces as they fell into place. Gods above. He was growing dizzy by the second.

“Don’t call me that,” was all that Ember said. “You are a little late for the game, though. We could’ve used your help long ago. Back when I had to rely on a pirate to tell me the truth about what I am. When he had to walk me through the motions. When I threw Kaleb in a dungeon because I had no idea he was like me.” Kaleb flinched a little at the memory. “And when those bloody witches took my family.”

“I know,” Nana lowered her gaze. “I wasn’t allowed to speak of the prophecy, by laws of magic. But I should have been there for you. And for that, I am sorry.”

“Save your apologies, old woman,” Ember offered a feral smile that, in her own way, meant she bore no hard feelings. “There’ll be time for that later. We could use you now. It’ll be good for the children to be entrusted to a familiar figure while I stay behind and end this war.”

Nana bowed her head in gratitude and respect, and Ember didn’t quite know what to do with those. She was no ruler. She was no queen. She was no lady. She was still a thief, and she was unworthy of such pleasantries. She could be a dragon. She could save her family and her race. She could rule over a newly reborn kin. But she would never outgrow the thief she’d grown into. There’s no running and there’s no escaping who you are and who you built yourself into. There’s just adding it to the list of things that define you. And she was fine with it.

Ember nodded to Kaleb and Christopher to let them know they were fine and that the plan was still standing and, reluctantly, with one last gaze in Nana’s direction, they got going. When Ember noticed Nana wasn’t following, however, she turned around and raised her eyebrows at the old woman, who just sat behind, a sad expression painted across her features.

“You’re fighting a dangerous war, child,” Nana said, and Ember stifled a groan.

“Yes. I am aware. I got the concept while I was battling armies of skinwalkers.”

“Victorious wars claim sacrifices,” the woman continued as if Ember hadn’t talked. “Are you prepared to make them? Are you prepared to pay the costs?”

Ember refused to answer her question. She didn’t want to think about sacrifices that needed to be made because she could not bear the thought of losing anyone else. She preferred to think of this war as a victory the universe or the fate or destiny, however it was called, owed her. After all that she’d lost, a win was long overdue. So she turned on her heels and was about to leave, letting Nana decide whether to follow or to stay behind and preach some more nonsense, when the old woman caught her wrist and spun her around.

“You will return in fewer numbers, child. Not all of your soldiers will make it out alive. In all my visions, you return victor, but you return alone.”

This time, it was Nana who walked past her, following Kaleb and the demon and leaving Ember to be endlessly haunted by her words. And she wondered, if tragedies are bound to happen, shouldn’t we be granted the privilege of at least going on a little longer without knowing?



~SOUNDTRACK: Tyler Ward, Kina Grannis, Lindsey Stirling – The scientist~

The four of them walked down the deserted road, going over the plan times and again until they had it flawlessly figured out. But it still wasn’t enough. Nana’s words still rang through Ember’s ears. You return victor, but you return alone. But she didn’t dwell on it for too long. If Nana was truly the one who’d made those prophecies so many years ago, then she’d been the one who’d predicted Kaleb being Ember’s soulmate, and that had gone particularly splendid so far. Or so she liked to tell herself. Because accepting that there was even the slightest amount of danger that the woman’s words held some truth meant going out of her mind, and Ember didn’t afford breaking down.

Without a single warning, Ember came to a halt in the middle of the road, her whole body freezing and her muscles tensing in anticipation.

“What is it, Ember?” Kaleb inquired, and she shushed him.

“We’re being followed,” she whispered, and listened carefully, and there it was. That ruffling of leaves not far behind, the subtle sound the ground made beneath leather boots.

“Are you certain?” the demon asked, and Ember saw him take a fighting stance as well. In all honesty, she felt bad for the poor bastard who ended up in Christopher’s hands. She could hold her own in a battle and cause some serious harm, perhaps even bring herself to kill, should the circumstances ask for it, but the demon was forged to torture.

“You hear that?” she turned to him, and Christopher and Kaleb tried to follow her lead. It was unmistakable. Footsteps approaching. Ember pulled out her dagger. “You three stay put. I’m going after them.”

“Ember,” Kaleb tried to catch her arm, but changed his mind halfway through the motion. “What if they’re the witches and they’ve caught our trail? It could be an ambush.”

You return victor, but you return alone.

Not all of your soldiers will make it out alive.

Ember pursed her lips and forced a nonchalant shrug.

“Then I presume our war’s just off to a more sudden start than anticipated,” she tried to joke, but Kaleb glared with worry clouding his eyes. “Worry not, little Lahey. I’m not dying just yet. I don’t need to worry about these witches. But they should bloody well worry about me.”

Or so Nana claimed. She’d walk away from this war if she was right. So she’d do her best to ensure that the others stayed put and let her get her hands dirty. Without another word, she turned on her heels and headed for the woods.

Her feet were steady, fingers clutched tight around her dagger as she made her way between the trees, her instincts switched on. She moved quiet, but sure as a cat, her eyes never ceasing to scan her surroundings, ears searching for noises to guide her. If there was truly one of those witches on her tail, she’d make good on her promise and send her back to her coven in bits and pieces. But as she listened closely, it occurred to her that there was some sort of familiarity in the presence nearby. Her whole body tensed. Was it Clarissa? No, it couldn’t be. It didn’t feel like her. She sniffed the air, allowing the way her supernatural powers enhanced every sense to guide her. It definitely wasn’t Clarissa. And she knew the smell, but it was still too far and too weak to be able to pin point it.

She turned around on her heels, studying the woods unraveling before her eyes. There was no one in sight just yet. She allowed her instincts to guide her forward and forward until the smell became pregnant enough for Ember to know the intruder was nearby. She froze, recognizing his smell before she heard his voice behind her.

“This whole hunter/prey game gets me tingly. You look ravishing all tense and focused like that. Like a tigress. Or a dragon.”

“Max,” she breathed, in shock for a second before trying to make up her mind whether to punch him or kiss him. “Gods above, what are you doing here? I thought we agreed—“

“We never did agree, though,” he cut her off. “You made the call. Didn’t it occur to you that I caved in too easily? Come on, fire breather, you know me better than that.”

She huffed and tucked her dagger away. Though she was still having second thoughts whether she’d need to use it on him.

“So you decided to follow me instead?”

Max shrugged. “It’s better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission. You would have never agreed to it. And I couldn’t leave you alone, Ember. I would’ve gone out of my bloody mind knowing you here, in danger, and that I wouldn’t be here to protect you.”

You return victor, but you return alone.

“You shouldn’t have come,” she whispered, her voice broken, and Max caught her hand. She tried to pull away, unable to hold his gaze what with the heaviness of Nana’s words pushing on her shoulders, but Max wouldn’t have it. He held on to her wrist until he managed to intertwine their fingers. Finally, Ember looked up.

“Well, I’m here now, aren’t I?”

“You shouldn’t have come,” she said again, stepping closer and pressing a chaste kiss to his lips. Then she unclasped her hand from his and walked away.

One, two, three, for, five heartbeats later, he followed.



~SOUNDTRACK: Sofia Karlberg – Smells like teen spirit~

“Exquisite,” Christopher fake cheered when he caught sight of Max. “The pirate is back. The posse is thus complete.”

Ember rolled her eyes and looked sideways at Nana, whose face was grim and judgmental.

You return victor, but you return alone.

Yes, she remembered the warning all too well. Max was just another potential victim, another person she could lose in this war. And the most unbearable one to think about at that.

“The more, the merrier,” she forced herself to whisper and she ignored Kaleb’s and Max’s inquiring looks. “Let’s get going.”

They set a steady, wordless pace, and the tension was palpable, but none of them addressed it. It was rather understandable that each of them had some heavy baggage to carry, considering they were marching to potential death. So they allowed each other to wallow in their own puddle of misery.

The woods grew thicker and thicker with every step, and all of them found it hard to ignore the forest’s grimness. The air grew heavier, their surroundings grew quieter and Ember could feel dark magic pulsating all around. They were closing in.

“We’re near,” she whispered to the others and instantly realized the uselessness of the statement. Of course the others sensed it, too. Even without supernatural instincts, the black powers in the air they breathed were palpable.

They kept going until birds no longer chirped and wind no longer blew and insects no longer buzzed. Until it looked like the middle of the night, even though they were well aware it was not even noon yet. Until they arrived in the middle of a clearing that seemed fallen off the pages of a haunted tale.

“It shouldn’t be far now,” Christopher announced, and before Ember could reply, she sensed another presence nearby. Just like when she’d heard Max following them. But it was different now.

She came to a halt and all four of them stopped to watch her carefully as she tensed and looked around. The presence she felt was so grand and suffocating it nearly choked her. And frustratingly familiar. She reached for her dagger, though her instincts told her it would be of no use up against what she felt nearby. She reached inside her for the dragon, but she remembered it was not according to plan. Not until they got her siblings out.

“Fancy seeing you here, sugar.”

Ember froze and turned around, gasping in shock. She’d known all along, but she’d underestimated how deep the cut truly ran. A few feet away stood Clarissa, and through the haze of the realization, Ember had the time to wonder how it could have been that she’d missed it for so long. The Clarissa she knew, her best friend and her only ally in Thebbington Abbey was a nice girl, in the most literal way. She was sweet, with cheeks always flushed and eyes always bright and lips always smiling, with hair red as dawn and warmth to her persona. This was not Clarissa. Not with auburn hair dark as night and lips curled in feral, cruel, ruthless smile, with red eyes tainted by darkness and black magic. This Clarissa was a monster.

“I told the coven it was just a matter of time,” she spoke. “A matter of drawing you out. How marvelous that worked for me. Come out, girls. Tonight, we feast on dragons.”

As soon as she spoke the words, new silhouettes showed themselves from all parts of the meadow. They were surrounded. Dozens of them stepped forward, a few livid rays of sunshine illuminating their pale faces. They were surrounded. And dragging them in chains, a few of the witches brought forward Charles and the girls.

Ember gasped and lunged forward towards her siblings, dead set on killing everyone who stood in her path just to free them, when Max’s arms wrapped around her and stopped her in place. Surely she knew she stood no chance against all of the Hades Brides, but she had to try. She couldn’t just leave her family in their claws, not after seeing how the twins trembled, utterly terrified, or how Charles, with dark circles under his eyes and his cheeks sucked in and thinner than she’d ever seen him sat with his sisters, playing brave and keeping his arms around them protectively, or how Cathy just sat there, staring into the void with empty eyes.

“Let them go,” Ember roared, and Clarissa giggled with satisfaction at seeing her beg. “Clarissa, please. We were friends. You watched them grow up before your eyes. You helped me feed them. They’re innocent, it’s me you want. Let. Them. Go.”

Clarissa chuckled and waved her off. “Oh, please. Like I ever cared. Let me tell you a thing, sugar. Let me tell you how the Hades Brides work.” She stepped forward. “We don’t simply take what we want. We break you first. Until there’s not much left of you, or not much left to lose, and that is when we step in, feeding on despair and pain and chaos. You’ve got no idea how much power there is in suffering, Ember Blackthorn. It’s raw magic.”

She paused for effect, and Ember felt Christopher stepping closer to her, whispering in her ear low enough to stay out of ear shot.

“Say the word, love. I’ll behead them one by one. I will rip them apart. Just say when.”

“Not yet,” she whispered back. “Not while they still have my family. Not just yet.”

~SOUNDTRACK: These New Puritans – We want war

Clarissa sighed loudly and excitedly and Ember watched a few more of her coven sisters step closer to her and Ember tensed as fire ignited around them in the shape of a pentagram.

“I will strip all of you of everything you hold dear,” Clarissa spoke in a low voice as magic surged through her in the shape of scarlet clouds. “We will feed on your ancient magic, old woman. I will send you crawling back to hell, demon. Dear Kaleb will have to watch you die, sugar, before we harvest all that dragon magic scale by scale, flame by flame, claw by claw and tear by tear. But I believe I will start with you, pirate. Tell me, what is it that makes you a captain?”

Max froze and none of them spoke, supposing Clarissa’s question was rhetorical. They heard the sound of leaves and branches rustling and, when they looked to their right, they saw that the trees had moved to offer the sight of the sea and Max’s ship anchored not far from the shore. They gulped and Clarissa answered her own question.

“Why, his ship and his crew of course.”

As soon as her words were out, the horizon was conquered by a loud, deafening boom and the five of them watched as Max’s ship exploded in a blast of raw power and flames and smoke rose to the sky. Max loosened a breath and Ember watched as his knees buckled.

“M-My ship,” he whispered helplessly. “My people. My crew.”

The Crimson Dagger. Her home. The only place she could go back to. Max’s home. Their safe haven. Now nothing more than ashes in the wind and a wreck at the bottom of the sea. And all of Max’s crew. Dozens of burnt bodies. Gods above.

“Now that we’ve settled this,” Clarissa spoke as Max fell to his knees, his eyes following the patterns that the smoke drew on the sky before the trees closed in again and trapped them with the witches, with nowhere to go. “Your little pirate band, gone. The Lahey family, gone.” Ember watched Kaleb’s face going livid at the mention of his old abusive adoptive father and weak-willed mother. Two more deaths on her conscience. “I believe that would be all. The little Blackthorns will serve us as decent magic snacks until they come of age and unlock their powers, then they can meet the same fate as you will now. Because you see, sugar, it is time.”

The flames of her fire pentagram rose higher and Ember could tell it was now or never. Her eyes glowed gold in the dark and from here forth, everyone knew their part. She just prayed it all played out flawlessly that, should she die, Christopher would at least get her family to safety. She and Kaleb were just about to turn, the witches were wrapped in smokes of dark magic and flames, and Ember had the ‘now-or-never’ feeling deep in her gut. They were just about to collide, a dance of witches and witches and dragons, a waltz of dark smoke and bright flames, when from the trees emerged a little kitten, ruffled and trembling.

“Bandit,” Ember whispered, distracted for a second by the sight of her cat in the middle of a battle, and she could hear Clarissa’s laughter roar through her bones.

“Is that your weapon, Ember? A scared kitten?”

For a minute, it was the most anticlimactic moment in this whole war. Titans were about to clash, and then a scared kitten appears. But half a heartbeat later, Ember saw Bandit’s eyes glow gold in the darkness and everything happened in the blink of an eye, before she even had the time to process or to react. Bandit’s fur grew thicker and thicker and he grew fangs and he started getting bigger and bigger, until his eyes became two balls of shiny gold in the dark. She loosed a breath.

“Bandit,” she whispered breathlessly.

“He’s a skinwalker,” she heard Nana state from behind her, and Ember turned around with raised eyebrows. “I sent him to you for protection.”

“A skinwalker,” she repeated dumb-folded, and before she could say anything else, Bandit, who was now a deadly terrifying ten-feet creature, lunged towards the witches who held the little Blackthorns captive in chains.

And then all hell broke loose.

Bandit jumped for the throats and Ember could barely wrap her head around what was going on before blood splattered everywhere and her siblings yelled in terror. Limbs fell and the witches screamed in terror while Clarissa directed her attack at Bandit, but the not-so-little-anymore kitten was unstoppable. He snarled and Ember could swear that the whole forest bowed to his rage as he deflected attacks and flames.

“Max, the kids!” she screamed over Bandit’s roars, and the pirate’s eyes glinted in acknowledgement. They both looked over at the little Blackthorns, who kept crawling farther and farther away from the chaos, as if willing the ground to split open and swallow them whole.

Ember and Max were by their side a heartbeat later, panting and praying to every God that listened that the witches didn’t pay attention to them right now.

“Hey, monkeys,” she tried to keep her shaky voice under control as she kneeled before her siblings. “Look, I know this is all very scary for you. But Max and Nana will get you out now. They’ll take you somewhere safe and I’ll come get you later, alright?”

The poor souls nodded reluctantly and Ember wished she could kiss each of their foreheads, since it might have been the last time, but there was no time. She turned to Max and he and Nana, who had somehow gotten by their side in the meantime, grabbed hold of their shaking hands. Nana took the twins and as she bid her goodbye to Charles and Cathy, Ember noticed Max hesitating. She glared and looked behind her, seeing that the witches were still trying to bring down Bandit. She mentally sent the kitten some encouragements, willing him to hold on just a little longer.

“Max, go!” she hissed at him. “There’s no time.”

“I know,” he said helplessly. “But I—“

“For the love of God, Max, what is it? Do you want a love confession or something? There is no time.

He remained silent, but pursed his lips, which was something he usually did when she struck close to a nerve.

“Oh,” she mumbled. “I love you. Now go.”

He loosed a breath and placed a quick kiss on her lips.

“I love you, too, you maddening fire breather. Stay alive. And find me.”

She nodded fast, trying to hold back tears, because there was no time. He rushed Charles and Cathy forward until they were by Nana’s side and dared to take one last look back.

His fatal mistake.

“Not so fast, Captain Eye-Patch,” Ember heard Clarissa’s voice right behind her and she looked from her extended arm to Max’s frozen mid-movement figure. She was holding him captive.

You return victor, but you return alone.

No. She would not lose Max. Her eyes glowed gold yet again when she turned to Clarissa.

“Clarissa, let him go,” she roared. “This is our war, not his.

Clarissa laughed mischievously. “Oh, don’t worry, sugar. I’m letting him go. I make no promises for the state he’s in upon departure.”

“You’re letting him go?” another witch reached Clarissa’s side, grabbing her elbow, but she didn’t seem fazed. “Are you insane? No one leaves here alive.”

“Oh, please. Killing him would be delicious, yes. But setting him free to go wherever he pleases, with a broken spirit? Always seeking without knowing for what, always longing, always miserable? And our little dragon, knowing he’s out there but he does not remember her? Oh, imagine the pain, imagine the despair. I can taste it already.”

Ember wanted to scream. She wanted to plead. She wanted to gauge Clarissa’s eyes out, she wanted to burn her alive, she wanted to break her, to kill her slowly and to enjoy doing so. She would’ve rather destroyed herself in the process before allowing these witches to break Max. But one is faced with certain moments when you turn into a tragic spectator with no help to offer, but only with tears to roll down helplessly. And she realized Clarissa held control of her body when her muscles were tense with the power of the leap she didn’t get to take. All of that anger, concealed. And when Max collapsed to his knees, screaming in pain and clawing at his own temples, Ember could only return his screams with those of her own.

“No!” she yelled, but no one listened. “Max! Clarissa, stop it! Let him go!”

Clarissa simply shrugged and released the tension in her arm. “As you wish,” she replied casually, and Max fell face-first into the dirt.

When Ember realized she’d regained control over her body, she rushed to his side. He was unconscious, but breathing.

“What did you do to him?” she hissed up at her, and Clarissa circled her with steps steady as a cat’s before crouching and speaking slowly in her face, a feral smile on her lips.

“I. Broke. Him.”

You return victor, but you return alone.

Ember felt something snapping right beneath her eyes. There was no knowing for sure what she’d done to Max, but there were fair guesses to be made. Altered memories, for once. The man she loved no longer knew he loved her back, but at least he was alive. She was vaguely aware of Christopher appearing at her side and grabbing Max, throwing him over his shoulders and disappearing in an instant, but not before leaning shortly to whisper in her ear.

“Your family is safe. I’ll make sure your pirate is, too. My deal has been completed. Give them hell, little dragon.”

And so Ember let the beast inside snap through her skin and it had never felt more liberating. Now, she fought for surviving, she fought for protecting those she loved, she fought for ensuring safety and she fought for vengeance.

As the Onyx Dragon, Daughter of Scorching Flames and Charcoal Dust roared, an entire forest bowed to her and a few of the witched shuddered in terror. And with fair reason. She’d return alone, but she’d return victor.


Longest chapter I’ve ever written. I am a monster. Don’t hate. I love you?

33: Chapter 32: Up in flames
Chapter 32: Up in flames


~SOUNDTRACK: Hozier – Arsonist’s lullaby~

Deep down in the heart of some remote woods, a dragon roared as flames circled her. Ember wept for what she had lost and for all that she could yet still lose. She spread her wings and let the flames surround her, bathing in them like they were her home. Because they were, truly, after the only homes she’d known had disappeared with the Onyx Valley, the Crimson Dagger and Max.

She saw that Kaleb had already turned and he was already struggling with half a dozen witches coming at him. Ember let her flames bubble up inside her until their temperature matched her sorrow and her rage, and then she let them out in true firestorms. But she learned that the Hades Brides knew how to fight fire with fire.

The flames of Clarissa’s pentagram changed shapes and color and ranged from burning red to green and to blue and rose high to chase the thrill of spilling dragon blood. But Ember and Kaleb also rose to meet their destinies. They’d been born for this battle. The stars would watch over them as they tore those witches apart one by one.

Flames met flames as the two dragons set witch after witch on fire, but the remaining ones never faltered in their efforts. Still, what was born in fire cannot be destroyed by it. And Ember was having a hard time deciding which side benefited from that. The woods soon became a hellhole, the dancefloor of a thousand fires.

Ember was cornered from all sides and she tried hard to hold her own, let alone try to have Kaleb’s back. The witches kept coming at her relentlessly and she could tell there was a burn out to her powers when her flames started making her insides feel dried up. She willed herself to go that extra mile and muster every drop of energy there was still left in her, when she heard a cry of pain and she turned to her left.

Had she been in human form, she would’ve gasped in terror. An army of skinwalkers marched upon the clearing, and the agonizing cry had come from Bandit. Ember let out a growl of despair as she flew back and forth, trying to fight the right angle to set those bastards on fire as they teared into Bandit, ripping flesh away and spilling his blood like he was a worthless beast such as themselves. Through the chaos and the agony, Ember focused her hearing, making it sharper than ever. And when Bandit drew his last breath under the claws of those horrifying skinwalkers, another bit of herself died. She was surprised there was still some of herself left. Max was gone. His crew, dead. Her family, in hiding. Bandit, dead. What ushers you on when you’re not so sure what you’re fighting for? Not dying? Having something to die for sure felt glorious, but she was fresh low on reasons to live for.

Ember! she heard Kaleb’s voice in her head clear as bells and she turned to look at him. She found his golden eyes surrounded by scales dark as the night looking straight at her, fiercer than she’d ever seen him, steady and brave, if not a little dangerous.

Here’s one, she told herself, and she couldn’t tell if it was really Kaleb in her head or her conscience spoke in his soothing voice. Here’s a reason to live for. Kaleb Middleton. We’ll get out of this. We’ll survive, and then we’ll set off to a fresh start. Clean up the past and start building the future.

Ember bared her teeth in a feral smile and let out a dangerous growl. Max. Her siblings. Nana. The Crimson Dagger. Billy Long-Legs and an entire crew of innocent pirates. For every person they’d made suffer, Ember would make every single witch pay the debt in the black ooze they called blood.

Her trail of thought was broken by Clarissa stepping forward, laughing so clearly, it was as if the whole battlefield had grown silent just to grant her the privilege of that laugh. She walked on red flames, fearing nothing and capable of everything.

“It would be funny, if it weren’t so sad,” she spoke amused. “You two actually believe you stand a chance. That gross thing when you made eyes at each other just now? Disgustingly cute. And that fierceness on you, Ember. It’s remarkable how driven by revenge you strike me as. Am I in trouble for frying your pirate’s brain? Or ship? Or for killing your kitty? Oh, you’ve got another great thing coming, sugar. I’m not done with you yet.”

Ember let out another snarl and lunged at her, but she soon learned that those red flames of Clarissa’s weren’t as harmless to her as hers were to the witch. Her scales burned as if they were being ripped off her skin one by one, and Clarissa just laughed as Ember grew angrier and angrier in her attempts to get to her and failing miserably to break her shields each and every time.

“I’m not finished breaking you, sugar,” Clarissa continued, as if Ember was simply a buffoon playing an entertaining part. “But I’m almost there. I said I would strip you of everything you love. Your magic will be most delicious when harvested from your moments of deepest despair, at the point of having nothing else to lose. And after all, one dragon should be more than enough.”

Ember was having a hard time following her speech as she kept hitting those magic shields with everything she had, not caring how much harm came to herself in the process. But Clarissa’s last words, they rang loud and clear in her head until they overpowered those of Nana’s.

~SOUNDTRACK: Rachel Taylor – Light a fire~

You return victor, but you return alone.

I said I would strip you of everything you love.

One dragon should be more than enough.

No! Ember cried in her head as she realized, but the dragon had no voice. It began with Clarissa’s laughter and Ember watched in slow motion as the witches, though in fewer numbers, but still all too powerful, stepped forward.

She struggled, but it was as if being stuck in a cage, like in one of those dreams when you’re chased or in danger, but your muscles don’t work. You have to run, but your feet don’t listen. You want to scream, but your throat is tight. And you stay helpless, waiting for it to go away. Except it wouldn’t go away now. The big finale of this chapter ended in yet another loss for her, and she would not be able to prevent it.

She watched in terror as Kaleb tried to spit fire at the witches, but whatever magic they had, Ember could tell it hurt him to get too close, too. The rest happened so fast. Ember saw the red magic in the tips of their fingers. Then in their hands. Then extending from their arms like thunderbolts and hitting Kaleb fully. He let out a cry of agony – Ember was quite sure she did, too – and as soon as the blast made contact with him, he glowed bright red and it was over in the blink of an eye. One moment, he was there. The next one, he was nothing but ash carried away by the breeze.

The clearing fell silent for a heartbeat or two. Then Ember raised her head to the little spot of clear sky she could see and let out a deafening howl. She felt the dragon caving under the pressure. In spite of the ways in which she loved Kaleb and though they’d been different from how he’d hoped them to be, the absence of her soulmate, of her equal, of her best friend hit Ember forcefully. Like a hand reaching inside to her core and ripping out a part of her very essence. Kaleb was gone. And her magic was numb. She howled until claws began to turn back into hands and feet, until scales became smooth skin and until golden eyes went back to smoldering green. She howled until the howl turned into nothing more than a heart-wrenching, weak, tired cry of a little broken human.

She ended up a tiny figure on the grass, in the middle of the clearing, weeping for all that she’d lost. Kaleb was gone, too, and half of her heart, gone along with him. Now she was truly alone. She screamed until her voice became hoarse and she dug her fingers into the dirt until she couldn’t tell whether she still had fingernails, she tried to call for the dragon to rise back to the surface and come to her aid, but her call remained unanswered. There was no one else. No one else to die for. No one else to live for. No one else to fight alongside her. Now she was completely and utterly alone.

As Clarissa approached her with satisfaction bathing her features, Ember knew for a fact she was going to die. And she was so numb inside, she found it hard to muster a single feeling in that matter. It made no difference to her now, none whatsoever. They could have her body, they could have her magic, they could have her spirit. There wasn’t much left of it anyway.

“Good girl,” Clarissa praised her, crouching in front of Ember’s shivering body. “Let it all out, sugar. Your pain is exhilarating. Your jeweler lover may have been a total loss, but you absolutely make up for him in despair and misery.”

“Go to hell,” Ember managed to get out between sobs, but Clarissa only laughed.

“Oh, sugar. But judging by how you look and how your emotions scream at me, I would say you’ve already brought it to us.”

Clarissa stepped backwards and the rest of the witches – about ten or twelve of them only – formed a circle around her and started chanting, that same red magic they’d used to kill Kaleb flowing out of them. Ember let out a tired gasp and collapsed to the ground. She could feel as the power was being slowly drawn out of her, how every breath became laborious. She felt every drop of pain being drunk out of her body until she became a lump of dry tears and numbness. She welcomed death as one would an old friend. She had feared this moment for so long, only to now learn it came as a liberation. It was reassuring to know she would finally be set free, even if she hadn’t asked for it, not this way.

So she let go. Slowly, surely. She let her heart beat weaker and her chest take shallower breaths. She let herself close her eyes and go to her safe place once more. She let herself say their names once more.

Nana, with her Charles, Cathy, Mary, Elizabeth, somewhere safe and far away hopefully.

The Crimson Dagger, Billy Long-Legs and the whole crew on board.




She kept all of their faces tattooed on the back of her head, looking down on her as she drew her last breaths. But something was wrong, she realized. They didn’t look peaceful, or as if they were saying goodbye. They looked judgmental and cruel. They looked disappointed. And for that matter only, a greater void opened in the middle of Ember’s chest wider than the one their loss had just caused. For that only, she could not die just yet.  She would not give those bloody witches the satisfaction of winning, she would not let them break every single person she loved and then just walk away from it.

She opened her eyes. She tensed her muscles. She stood up and started breathing faster. She had to do this. If it destroyed her in the process, she would break those who had broken her. She stood on shaky feet and stared Clarissa deep in her eyes filled with rage. The red tainted magic kept coming her way and took the blows courageously, if not a little heroically, as she focused intensely. She closed her eyes yet again and ignored the pain. She searched deep down, because she knew the beast was still there.

Come on, you pretentious bitch, she willed the dragon. Come out. Come up here one last time and let’s raise hell. For the kids. For Nana. For Max’s crew. For Kaleb. For Max.

And the beast was tired. So tired. The beast wished to rest, to lay down on the grass for a moment, for a night, forever, maybe. But still, the dragon answered. It was weak, and she had to pull it out by scaly wings, but she pulled and pulled and pulled until she was out of breath.

And when she opened her eyes into Clarissa’s, they were golden.

~SOUNDTRACK: Fall Out Boy – Centuries~

Ember saw her freeze. She would’ve lied to say that now, in the eleventh hour, she didn’t feel a pang of satisfaction from knowing she made them afraid. As they should be. She was the fire, the pain and the chaos. And she would show them no mercy.

The transformation happened almost in slow motion and Ember felt it bit by bit in her broken body, fueling it with a limping spirit, but she pulled through. It started from her toes growing claws and she felt the onyx black scales climbing up her legs and up her thighs. She felt her backbone twist and elongate into a strong tail. Her body grew in size until the Hades Brides had to tilt their heads to look up at her. Arms became claws, too and her teeth sharpened into deadly fangs. Her eyes drew back on her head and into their orbits and her ears grew pointed tips. And as the last drop of magic traveled through her veins and completed the shift, she drew her head backwards and let out the loudest, most painful and sorrow-filled, angriest roar. She was a glorious dragon. Scarred and broken inside, but still deadly.

Silence fell over the clearing for a few second, tomb silence, like no one was even breathing. And then it all exploded. Everything hurt, but nothing stopped Ember. She flew high and dropped low and spit fire endlessly until she could swear the flames were tainted with her own blood. The witches kept coming at her, fiercely and deadlier than before, but when you’ve got nothing left to lose, when you’ve got no other purpose than pure blood spill and murder, you find it’s easy to disregard every clean rule about playing dirty.

Their magic hit her over and over again, but she barely felt it anymore. She sensed the blood flowing down her sides and wide, deep gashes covered in ashes, but no pain of her body could match the pain inside. And she made it a point to prove that. With every single body she dropped.

Twelve witches. Fire ball.

Eleven witches. Trees on fire falling down.

Nine witches. Fire, fire, fire.

Six witches. She bared her fangs deep into a witch’s torso until she tasted her rotten blood on the back of her tongue. She gagged, but kept going.

Five witches. Her insides burned hotter than the woods, but she spit a fire ball again.

Four witches. She grabbed one witch in her claws and flew high, then dropped her to the ground, enjoying the sound her broken bones made as they made impact with the soil.

Three witches. She was growing tired, but so were they. There were more pentagrams on the ground now than she could count, and she could tell they were still trying to draw power from her, to fasten her journey to a complete burn out. The bad thing was that she could feel them managing to do that and her powers were growing weaker by the second. The good thing was that it drained them, too. It wouldn’t be longer now.

A red blast from the magic of all three of them hit Ember. A roar. Flying around until her wings were sore, trying to dodge them. Red blast after red blast. An opening. Ember grabbed one witch by the hair and threw her in a tree. A witch body twisted in two like a broken doll.

Two witches. They separated and hit Ember from different directions so that she couldn’t evade both of them. But she was smarter than that. She let the fire burn her throat one more time and flew in a circle until the flames surrounded her. She let them rose high and the smoke filled the clearing. She took advantage of the opening and lunged upwards from the ring of fire she’d created, then she grabbed a solid burning branch and, before the witch could realize what was happening, Ember dropped it on her.

One witch.


Ember panted. She was so tired. She wasn’t certain whether she could talk her body into spreading those wings one more time. But she had to. This was it. She could taste the sweet revenge on the tip of her tongue. She could feel it tickling her fingertips. She only needed to reach out and grab it.

She settled herself in the middle of the burning clearing and studied Clarissa. Her auburn hair was tangled and burned at the tips, her face was bloody, covered in scrapes her bruises, as were her arms and her shoulders, clothes torn. Ember tried to encourage herself by thinking that maybe the witch was just as worn out as she was. That maybe, if she could push her limits and go that extra mile one more time, she could win this easily.

Clarissa hissed at her through gritted teeth. “You destroyed my coven.”

You destroyed my family. You destroyed my home. You destroyed my life, Ember thought, wishing she could say it out loud. But then Clarissa surprised her even more by bursting into hysterical laughter.

“No worries,” she yelled. “More power for me once I kill you. That grief and thirst for revenge are like music to my ears. I shall bathe in it for centuries. And I’ll build myself another coven. You’ll be a legend, Ember Blackthorn. A tough bitch to kill, but whose fire I managed to put out and feast on for the next hundreds of years.”

Ember called on the fire, wishing she could just torch her here and now, mid-sentence and trembling. But she realized Clarissa wasn’t shaking in fear. She was shaking in excitement and anticipation and rush. She knew it wouldn’t be so easy. She had to think this one through hardly.

“I cannot believe it’s time, finally,” Clarissa burst into another round of hysterical giggles. “I have been waiting for years. For years, just to harvest your powers.” Her voice rose higher and higher until she was yelling. “Years, Ember! I’ve had to stand there and try not to gag you and kick your self-pity ass. And now, now I’m gonna take all that glory and keep it all to myself. I’ll see you in hell, bitch!”

She let out a maddening cry and fell on her knees and magic exploded out of her. Red magic tainted with black rising high, clouding the sky, filling the clear, coming Ember’s way fast and deadly. And Ember knew she stood no chance against it. She felt its raw power before the waves even left Clarissa’s body. She spread her wings and flew away, but there was no escaping. Clarissa kept screaming and power kept surging out of her and Ember was no longer capable to outrun it anymore.

She froze into place and let it come at her. She was too tired to run anymore. This ended now, no matter who emerged victor. She stopped and turned to face the magic waves face first. She took a deep breath and let the flames rise up in her chest, then she let them out in an explosion like she’d never managed before. The fire hit the magic waves in a blinding blast that made Ember close her eyes, focusing on keeping the flames coming before she’d burn out for good.

And so she did. She kept spitting fire until her throat went dry and her insides burned. Until the scales turned back into skin and fangs into teeth and claws into fingers and she had no more flames. She fell to her knees and waited for the wave of magic, but it never hit. The woods burned around her, but everything was still and calm. She raised her head and opened her eyes. The red magic was gone and Clarissa sat on her knees as well, mirroring her position, a few feet away.

Ember stood up, taking the witch in. They were both at their edges. There was no fight in them left. The dragon and the witch were gone, but the difference between them was that Ember Blackthorn the human was just as dangerous. She walked until she stood in front of Clarissa, looking down at her bloodied face and eyes unfocused in the absence of her filthy magic.

Ember growled.

“My turn.”

Without waiting for a single heartbeat longer for the one thing she still had to do, she grabbed Clarissa’s head and snapped her neck in one swift motion.



~SOUNDTRACK: Jill Andrews – Lost it all~

Christopher stood on a hill, looking down at the forest burning beneath his feet. The trees were knocked down and on fire and it all looked like hell had rained fire upon it. And in the middle of it all stood Ember.

He had taken care of getting those kids to safety. The old woman and the little dragon spawns were in the Onyx Valley, cloaked against any foreign presence that might have taken any interest in them. Not that there were any worries anymore. Ember seemed to have taken care of foreign threats all too well herself.

The demon had arrived just in time to see human Ember snap that witch leader’s neck and he had to admit, he’d felt an odd surge of pride running him through at the sight. She was alone, so she could only assume everybody else was dead, or worse. He knew for a fact there were worse fates than death. Perhaps he’d meet that pirate of hers again down in hell.

With one last look down at Ember, Christopher knew there was nothing left for him to do for her. She was broken and she’d lost close to everything. But she was alive and the witches were defeated. She would live a long life and maybe join her potentially dead pirate back in hell.

His deal had ended.



The woods burned around her. Dozens of burned bodies and bloody corpses lay around her. Clarissa’s dead body lay at her feet, her eyes wide and empty. Ember would’ve expected to feel a little more satisfied, victorious. But there was no victory here.

She turned her back on Clarissa’s corpse and stepped through the flames. She’d been the fire, the pain and the chaos. She’d fulfilled her task and had gotten revenge for her loved ones and safety for her family. She let her eyes wander across the burning trees, the remainings of the Crimson Dagger in the distance and the flames surrounding her. She had emerged victor. And she had lost everything to do so. But in hindsight, she knew that she had sought to destroy her enemies and she had ended up destroying herself.

The smoke cleared. She stood tall. But she stood alone.



This was the hardest thing I’ve ever written. Stay tuned for the epilogue. It’s been a terrific journey, y’all.

34: Epilogue: Things we've lost in the fire
Epilogue: Things we've lost in the fire


~SOUNDTRACK: Rhodes – The lakes~

Ember Blackthorn was a dragon. And a thief. Big sister, best friend, lover. In fact, she was no longer those latter ones. The flames had taken that much from her.

It had been quite a while since she’d battled and killed the Hades Brides. She felt it in her bones that the threat was far from being gone, but she didn’t have the energy to worry about that just yet. Today was her nineteenth birthday. But she didn’t have the energy to celebrate, either. Months and months of grieving, only to learn that when you love someone as much as she’d loved those she had lost, you don’t move on at all. She had accepted that. It was why she was leaving.

She’d been in the Onyx Valley for the past few months. Pulling herself back together, trying to fix what had been broken, trying to heal. She’d only learned that she couldn’t. The dragon refused to answer her calls anymore. Perhaps the dragon knew she didn’t mean them. Perhaps the dragon knew she was afraid of it. Afraid of the same fire she’d been breathed by. So this morning, as she turned 19, she made Nana promise to take care of her family for her. After all, her little siblings were quite scarred by the whole experience, as well. Nana had frowned. She’d asked where she was going. Ember lied. She said she didn’t know. Then she grabbed her red cloak and left the Onyx Valley behind.

She was back in the one place she’d never thought she’d want to see again. Thebbington Abbey. She’d just stolen some money, enough to set her plan in motion. So now she walked down the beach, her feet soaked in water. She loved the way her footprints marked the wet sand, but the waves came one by one and wiped them away. As if she hadn’t been here at all. As if she were a phantom. She surely felt like it, too.

There was no fixing what those witches had broken. She couldn’t build back the Crimson Dagger and gather an entire stranger crew, especially since she’d grown to care for Max’s old crew. She couldn’t stop Bandit from giving his life for her and her family. She couldn’t bring Kaleb back. Bloody hell, she couldn’t even give Kaleb a proper burial. He was now no more than specks of dust scattered in the wind. But Max was alive and his spirit was shattered just as hers was. He didn’t remember her. But she remembered him. And she loved him. She didn’t know where to start and she didn’t know what she would do if she got to face him again. But she would not give up on the last shred of hope she had.

Ember Blackthorn was a girl. A broken human. A red cloak off to find and fix the man she loved. And if the Gods were kind enough, he would remember to love her back. And thus, perhaps, what is broken can be healed.


It’s over, you guys. I already miss it. I already miss my babies. The end was brutal, but it was what had to be done (‘s what they all say, ain’t it?). It was an amazing journey and I want to thank you all for sticking with me until the finish line. If you’re interested, you can find fan made videos (are they fan made if I made them?) on YouTube under the username kiki cosmina, highlighting the main relationships, characters and plot lines. Give them a try whenever your heart is ripped out of your chest missing Max. Mine is. Constantly.

Thank you all! I hope you loved reading this story as much as I loved writing it!

Lots of love, xoxo