Tarik's Red Ribbon of Hope
Sometimes it happens that not all the scenes I write end up in the book. Such was the case with the prologue for The Fire Thief. Although Erin and I loved the story and the emotion in it, we didn't want the book to start with a prologue. Worse would have been opening with a chapter one that began a year before the story started. So the chapter of Stasha finding Tarik ended up on the deleted scenes file. I hope you enjoy it.
Grab your tissues…
Stasha’s feet bled. Rocks and roots tossed up by the earthquake tore holes in her skin and threadbare clothing as she ran through the frosty forest.
I left him there. I did this. If he’s dead—
Smoke assaulted her, carrying with it the stench of burnt flesh.
She gagged and stumbled over a fallen tree. Her tear-shaped amber pendant flew free from its hiding place under her tunic and smacked her in the teeth. She swore loudly, grabbed it, and shoved it away, but kept running.
Embers floated like fireflies through the thick pine canopy. Earthquakes didn’t burn.
Flames caught on the dry needles and licked at the trees. Heat hit her as she broke through the smoldering forest into Teagarta.
Into what was left of Teagarta.
Her legs turned to jelly, stopping her in her tracks. Her mouth hung open. The beautiful onion-domed buildings had toppled into piles of burning wood and bricks and torn fabric.
People—her fellow orphans—dug through burning rubble, crying and calling out for their missing friends. “Tarik!” she screeched, her voice thick. “Tarik!” He has to be alive. He has to be. Please, gods, save him. I will do anything, just save him!
A strangled sob. A young girl—Hatherine—knelt on the blackened stone, all that remained of the pastry shop, and cradled her dead friend’s body. Blood seeped into Hatherine’s gray tunic and caked in her hair, but she only hugged the dead girl tighter. All around her, people held their dead loved ones, trying to breathe life back into them. Trying to pry them free from the stone and wood that crushed them. Begging the gods to help them. Stasha forced herself to move—to run to where she’d left Tarik at the fighting pit. Her hands flew to her mouth.
Half of the town hall had been torn down. It had collapsed into the fighting pit. Marble boulders littered the mud, stark and red like the blood and flames. She scrambled over the mountain of rock, ripping her fingers and hands. “Tarik! Where are you? Tarik, answer me!” Her heartbeat crashed in her ears, drowning out every other cry—even her own until she couldn’t hear a thing. Please, gods, I beg you. Save him. Let him live. She grabbed stone after stone and wrenched them away.
“Stasha!” Her head whipped up, jerking her dark-golden hair into her face. Goul, one of Tarik’s friends, clambered over the rocks. His face was covered in red dust, broken by tear streaks.
“I can’t find Tarik.” She couldn’t raise her voice above a hoarse whisper.
“I’ve found him.” His voice broke. “He’s down here.” He pointed to the other side of the sea of stones.
No! She bolted over the rocks and slid down to the other side, ripping her cloak off. A few of the largest boulders from the onion dome on the town hall were scattered near the burning trees as if a giant had tossed them. One of them had a roughly carved crest of two fighting firebirds emblazoned on it—the Pyreack crest, one of the four great fae kingdoms. And beneath the boulder—
The world went silent. Still.
Cold washed through her, and her body numbed. Her vision tunneled down to the body crushed beneath the stone. She stumbled to the boulder on trembling legs. Her throat ached as she tugged at it.
Screaming. I’m screaming.
The boulder shifted, tearing her palm open as it jogged.
And there he lay. His knuckles still bruised and bloody from the fight he’d won in the pits, his perfect lip still split. But his eyes… his laughing, gold-flecked eyes, didn’t see her. They didn’t see anything. She’d left him last evening at the fighting pits to check on Klaus after the quake had hit. He’d been fine. But he hadn’t come home. Darkness blacked out everything but his face, his neck twisted at such a horrible angle. At the blood and bone—
A guttural roar ripped from her throat.
Someone shouted her name, begging her to stop screaming. Trembling arms wrapped around her chest. “Stasha, look at me. Please.” Klaus clutched at her. Her eyes met his tawny ones, filled with tears. Her throat locked, but the screaming in her head didn’t cease. Klaus—the last person she had left—wracked with quiet sobs. “I’m sorry, Stasha. I’m so sorry.” She couldn’t move her arms to hug him back. She couldn’t feel her limbs.
Tarik was dead. Slaughtered—by the Pyreack fae.
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