TITLE: Cinders
AUTHOR: Ananova Crowe and J.I.A.

what do we do when we wake?

...keep both eyes on the sky...

what do we do when we sleep?

...keep one eye on the sky...

what do we do when we see him?

...dig hard. dig deep. run for shelter. and never look back...

Northumberland, England 2021

"Shit..." she hissed, wiping away the trickle of blood from her busted lip with her wrist, gun in hand. She checked other wounds, a huge gash running the length of her forearm from where the claws had penetrated her and a nice show of green bruises beginning to show themselves on her knees, elbows and face.

But it didn't matter that she was cut up and bruised, she was beautiful in the strangest way. Her mocha skin was moist with sweat, taught flesh pulled over smooth curved bones. Lush, chocolate-red lips with a broad candy nose and thunderclap gray eyes bore holes through your soul. Black dreadlocks cornrowed the top of her head, sowed with beads and old trinkets pulled back to a flow of floor-length black hair that matted a blanket across her shoulders and naked torso, covering not enough.

But what really caught the entranced eye, were the strange designs tattooed into her smooth, coffee flesh. The curling, rigid tattoos were as white as milk and as bright as the lining of an eclipse, glowing themselves beyond explanation. White silver. They shown through the mud and soil, glowing, enthralling. A rising spiral curled beneath her ribs, cuffs of lines and circles wound around her fore and aftarms, more cuffs rounding her shins and sleek thighs that were barely visible through the makeshift sheet clipped around her as a skirt. A garish handmade belt held little up, a laced gun sling held slack in front of her crotch, empty. Her shoes were the most modern things she possessed save the gun, they were work boots, brown and worn by mud and work, looking two sizes too big and laced too tight to notice.

She tilted the grimy glass a little, examining her dirty reflection. She didn't look like she remembered last, she looked...worn. Time was beginning to catch up with her, even though she was only 20, she was beginning to look older. Damn all the smoke. It was reeking havoc on her flesh.

She dropped the glass and rolled onto her back, resting there, looking at the top of the metal sheet she was under. She'd been lying under that thing for the past two and a half hours, making sure the very scent of the beast was gone from the air. When she was sure it was, she gently began to crawl out from beneath the metal, poking out her head to look. It was nowhere in sight.

Relieved she raised herself and crawled slowly out on her hands and knees, in case it was just waiting behind a corner. Slowly, carefully she rose herself to her feet, hand itchy at the haft of her gun, eyes vagrant.

Sensing no danger, she bent and grabbed her sheepskin-lined vest, pulling it over her lithe torso and fastening it tight to keep warm. With two clicks of her tongue and a rising whistle, there was a clutter of movement from behind her, turning to see a mud-caked black Shire rise up from the ground like a god. Golden hair was thrown wildly as it clopped over to her, not a whinny or a whine as it had been taught and lived by.

The girl raised her arm to it, patting its broad head gently and grabbing it by the reigns. It nuzzled her shoulder, dipping in to bump it with its nose.

"Is the beast really gone, Cricket?" She asked gently, her eyes watching the darkened skies that had become nothing more than a vat of gray smoke. Birds no longer flew overhead, pretty much all of them extinct anyway. But the sky didn't belong to the beasts. The humans wouldn't let them have that.

The horse stamped as the girl jumped and pulled herself up into the sloped back of the horse, the reigns loose in her hands. She'd has this horse since she was a little girl, she'd raised it herself. And they would do anything with each other.

With a gentle kick, the horse began forward, both cautious to watch everything around them as they made their way across the barren, dusty, gray world. Everything seemed to be at peace here, maybe this would have been a good place for her.

With that thought, a huge, spine-jolting noise erupted from across the hilltop of the ravine, a deadly cry that heeded no warnings.

Cricket and the girl ran hard, Cricket's legs pounding into the earth like sledgehammers, leaving depressions as he ran. The girl snapped her head back, only to see a great shadow rise over the bright spot of the sun in the surrounding smoke. The beast had been hiding behind the hilltop.

"Bastard!" She said, turning to duck low against the back of the horse's neck, hands tight on its wheat blonde main, thighs tucked tight into Cricket's barreled belly. A thousand pound of muscles had never seen movement so fast, the mix of the best race horse in Scotland and the strongest farm horse of Ireland's green hills were bred to make this horse, this one perfect horse that was the ultimate key, the only key, to this girl's survival.

The dragon gave another screaming belch, the girl pulling sharply on the reigns and dogging the horse to the side as a huge blue flame ignited a line right where they had been, roasting the ground of ash.

The girl could see strange, but familiar shadows above on the ridge, headstones marked with floating cloths and the bent carcass of some great metallic satellite. It was bent and twisted, as if a great creature had smashed against it. Graveyards meant that there were other humans close by, or at least the place they had stayed.

The great wind of the beast's wings and the bumpy run was enough to knock her off the horse, but she had been doing this for years, and had grown accustomed to the rigorous riding it took to get places. Everyone had.

The horse whinnied protest as she drove it head-first up the steep embankment of the ash depression, hooves digging deep into soft ground, trying to find footing. Legs lurched as the ground gave way beneath the horse, making it find new leverage. Without looking back, the girl knew the beast was gaining, so she kicked the horse harder with muddied boots, slapping the reigns against its great neck, pushing on a desperate horse.

Finally, the horse made it up from the wall of ash, eyes wild, breath loud as she paused it slightly at the top of the hill, eyes seeking until she found it. With a sharp kick, the sent the horse down the steep slope in a full gallop, everything around them becoming a great river of black and gray.

The beast was once again gaining though; the sound of the wind breaking over its huge, scaled flesh was like nothing she had ever heard before.

The ruined castle was close now, she could see the man addled front gate and the empty observation deck almost clearly. She kicked her horse one more hard time, wanting the horse to give it everything it had and more.

Speed became a sound as they dogged it to the castle's front gate. The horse breathing hard as the girl turned, only to be meters away from the gaping jaws of the beast, actually able to see the two chemicals being released from the tubes on each side of its mouth. Creating its own, natural napalm. Just as the beast exhaled, the girl snapped the horses reigns hard to the right, and to an unlucky dead stop.

Her body flew a good thirty feet before slamming hard into the wall, sliding down to lay sprawled somewhat upright, watching as her horse made a run for her, turned, saw the beast's fire coming, and reared.

The smell of burning hide and meat suddenly choked the air and she had to cover her face and look away. Then came a sound that would haunt her mind forever, the great snap of a god's spine and the tearing of a god's flesh and the screaming cry of a god raped her ears, followed by a loud, wet thump as something splashed the ash from the ground onto her.

Then there was no noise. Except the retreating of wings.

Her hands shook like madness as she uncovered her face, shocked to see the horror in front of her. The injustice.

There laid Cricket, head facing her, neck bleeding from the dragon's claw, flesh burned and sloughing away from cooked muscle, mane burnt completely off, the lower half of his body gone. Gone.

Nothing remained of his hindquarters, except the wet, pale lumps of his intestines and a huge pool of blackened blood.

Her eyes began to water as she jumped up, running towards the skyline that no longer feigned the great, poaching dragon in its bowels.

There was a wet cry and she wiped away her tears as she turned, facing her half horse, that was still alive.

Cricket's big, brown eyes were wild with fear, blood spewing from his mouth each time he tried to call out. A gray green puss began to grow in his eyes, the same lurching around the corners of his mouth, blackened tongue lashing out into the biting air.

The girl trudged slowly towards her raging, unnerved steed, front legs still kicking wildly to rise, burnt lungs still willing to breathe.

The girl knelt down to the horse slowly, reaching out to stroke its face reassuringly. She would put him at ease. She rose and pulled the gun from the crotch pocket of her belt, loading a bullet into the chamber.

"Thank you boy." She said.

And pulled the trigger.