Allied (Ruined #3)

Allied (Ruined #3)

Amy Tintera


EMELINA FLORES WAS no one’s hero.

Smoke filled the air. Distantly, she heard someone laugh. The sound was manically gleeful, and Em knew it was her sister, Olivia. She didn’t turn around to confirm.

The flames licked up the white pillars at the front of the governor’s home. It was a large, cheery two-story home, the first thing that greeted visitors to the town of Westhaven. There was no reason to destroy it.

Except that it pleased Olivia.

Em glanced over her shoulder. Olivia Flores stood a few paces away, the flames illuminating her delighted face. Her dark hair blew in the wind. Beside her, Jacobo grinned at the flames he’d created. He could also use his Ruined magic to make rain and extinguish the flames, but that wasn’t how this game was played.

Behind her, about a hundred Ruined huddled together. They were all the Ruined left in the entire world. They’d had more just a few weeks ago, in Ruina, when they thought they could return to their home and live in peace. But Olivia would never find peace.

Aren stood next to Em, both of them a safe distance from the fire. He nudged her arm and nodded at something ahead. She followed his gaze.

The people of Westhaven were fleeing. Some carried bags and rode horses, but most were on foot, running away without a single belonging. Hundreds of them streamed down the street, all headed east. East was Royal City, and the castle. East was Cas—King Casimir.

It was not the first time Em and Olivia had taken over a town and driven the human inhabitants away. But it was the first time they’d done it in Lera.

Em looked at Olivia again. Her sister saw the humans, but she made no move to stop them. She caught Em’s eye and made a face like, Are you happy now?

Em nodded like she was. She’d always been good at lying.

“There are people in that house,” Aren said, pointing to where a woman’s face was pressed to a window, mouth open like she was screaming. Em couldn’t hear her at this distance.

“Olivia blocked the doors.” And Em was no one’s hero.

Em had suggested the Ruined invade Westhaven, the town west of Royal City. It was far enough from the castle to keep Cas safe, but not so far that Em couldn’t reach him if she needed. She’d studied Lera when making her plan to steal Princess Mary’s identity and marry Cas, and she knew the surrounding cities well. It took only a day to reach Westhaven on foot from Royal City.

“Come on,” Olivia said to Jacobo. “Let’s go make sure the rest of the buildings are empty.” She strode past Em and Aren.

“No more fires,” Em said quietly.

Olivia paused, glancing over her shoulder. “Sorry?”

“No more fires. We need somewhere to sleep.”

“Whatever you say, sister.”

Jacobo turned so he was walking backward. He grinned at the fire again. “I’ll put that one out in a while, before it spreads. But let’s not rush.”

Because if he rushed, the people inside might survive. He stared at Em like he was challenging her to bring up that point.

“Fine,” Em said.

He turned around and walked with Olivia down the dirt road that curved into town. Ahead of them, the windows of homes and buildings were bright against the night sky, candles and lanterns left lit as the inhabitants fled.

The Ruined trickled after Olivia and Jacobo. Mariana bit her lip as she passed Em, obviously looking for a plan or direction. Mariana had once thought Em was inept as well as useless; now she always looked to her for guidance.

Em had nothing.

A scream drifted out of the house. The woman had disappeared from the window, perhaps giving up after realizing Olivia had tied the bigger windows shut, winding pieces of rope through the handles. Em hoped she’d gone to get a chair or something to try to break it.

“Em,” Aren said softly.

“Go with the Ruined,” she said, and took a step toward the house.

“Do you want help?” he asked.

“No.” She wouldn’t ask Aren to help with a fire. They’d both been caught in the flames that destroyed the Ruina castle—their home—but only Aren bore the scars, his dark skin covered in them from the waist up to his neck. The scars she’d acquired in the Olso castle fire were far less serious. They only covered her left arm and some of her torso.

Em glanced back at Aren as she walked toward the house. He was ignoring her order to go with the other Ruined. He stood rooted in place, watching her. Perhaps he was curious if she was actually going to save those people.

She was curious herself.

There was a door on the west side of the house, a heavy box in front of it. She pushed the box out of the way and stuck her hand in her coat. She turned her face away as she grasped the door handle with her coat-covered hand and flung it open. She quickly stepped back. Smoke poured out of the open door.

“Hey,” she said, her voice barely a whisper. She cleared her throat. A quick scan of the area confirmed only Aren was nearby. “Hey! Is there anyone in there?” she called again, louder.

A figure appeared in the smoke. It was a woman, a white cloth pressed to her mouth. She coughed as she darted out of the house. A small child trailed behind her, his mouth also covered by a rag.

The woman collapsed into Em, a mess of tears and hysteria. Em stumbled backward and the woman’s hands found nothing but air. She hit her knees. She immediately turned and grabbed her son. Tears streaked down his cheeks.

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