Ruined (Ruined, #1)(2)
Written By: Amy Tintera
“Do you know who I am?” Em asked.
Mary shook her head, her chest heaving up and down.
“I believe you knew my father?” Em said. “You killed him and left his head on a stick for me to find.”
Mary pressed her lips together, her eyes darting from Em to the blade at her neck. Her mouth opened, a squeak coming out before she spoke. “I—”
The princess cut herself off and ducked, grabbing for something on her ankle. She bolted upright, a dagger in one hand. She lunged for Em.
Em dove to one side. Panic seized her chest for a moment. If Mary killed her or escaped, the entire plan would crumble.
Mary swung at her again, and Em grabbed her wrist, yanking the arm with the dagger to the sky.
With her other hand, Em drove the sword into the princess’s chest.
The blue pins hit the ground with a soft clink. Em counted as Damian and Aren ripped them off the coats of the dead Vallos guards. Nine pins total between them. Ninety Ruined killed, just by these five men.
She leaned down and scooped up the pins. The two interlocking circles symbolized the union of two countries—Lera and Vallos—in their fight against the dangerous Ruined. The sword that cut across the circles symbolized their strength.
Em dropped five pins into Aren’s hand. “Put them on your coat.”
“The Lera guard will respect you more. Actually—” She added one more. “Six. You’ll be a star.”
Aren’s mouth twisted like he’d eaten something sour, but he put the pins back on one of the coats without protest. He slipped one arm through the yellow-and-black coat, then the other. He buttoned the five gold buttons and ran his hand down the front, straightening the material.
“Do I look like a Vallos guard?” He grabbed his sword. “Wait. It’s more realistic when I swing my sword around like I have no idea how to use it. Now I look good, right?” He grinned too widely, showing off dimples on both cheeks.
She snorted. “Perfect.” She pointed to where blood dotted his dark skin above his eyebrow. “You’re bleeding.”
Aren swiped at his forehead as Em dropped the remaining three pins in Damian’s hand. “Get rid of those. We don’t want hunters finding them and getting suspicious.”
Damian slipped the pins into his pocket. “I’ll burn them with the bodies.”
Em’s gaze slid to the wagon behind him, where the princess and her guards were piled. A piece of Mary’s long dark hair stuck out from beneath the blanket at the back of the wagon, almost touching the dirt.
She looked away from the wagon. Her mother had always said that the only way to find peace was to kill everyone who threatened it. But the tight feeling in Em’s chest remained.
“I should take care of the bodies as soon as possible,” Damian said quietly.
Em nodded and turned to face Damian, then quickly focused on the ground. He had that expression, the one that made her heart squeeze painfully. It was a mix of sadness and hope and maybe even love.
He stepped forward and she wrapped her arms around him, the familiar smell of him enveloping her. He knew she wasn’t capable of returning his feelings. Not now. Revenge swelled and twisted and burned inside of her and left room for nothing else. Sometimes it would simmer down for a while, and she would think it was gone, but it would always return. She would be back in her home, her lungs filled with smoke and her eyes watering as she peered around a corner. Staring as King Salomir pulled his bloody sword out of Em’s mother’s chest. Hearing her sister’s screams as his soldiers dragged her away. Finding her father a few weeks later, after Princess Mary killed him.
Maybe when she killed the king and his family, she’d be able to feel something else. Maybe then she’d be able to look at Damian the same way he looked at her.
She tried to smile at him. A lump had formed in her throat, and the smile probably came out more like a grimace. She watched as Damian said good-bye to Aren.
“I should make it back to the Ruined camp by tomorrow evening,” Damian said, stopping next to one of the horses pulling the wagon. He glanced at Em. “Are you sure you don’t want me to tell them you’re trying to find Olivia? They should know there’s a chance their queen may return.”
Em shook her head. “Not yet. They voted you as their leader, and they need someone to depend on now. Let’s not get their hopes up yet.”
Regret flashed across Damian’s face at the word “leader.” He was a good one, despite his young age. But he only had the position because the Ruined had turned their backs on Em. She might have been heir to the throne with her mother dead and sister missing, but she was useless. Powerless. Not fit to lead, a Ruined had said when they demanded Damian take over a year ago.
“Keep them safe,” she said. “I’ll wait to hear from you.”
Damian climbed into the wagon, putting his right fist to his chest and tapping it once. The fist tap was the official Ruina salute to the queen, and something no one but Damian and Aren had ever done for her. Em blinked away tears.
She lifted her hand, waving good-bye, and Damian did the same. The Ruined marks on his hand and wrist were visible, a reminder of why he couldn’t even consider coming with them. The marks let the world know he was a Ruined with power. Em lacked power, so she also lacked Ruined marks.