“Where are we going?” Ember scrunched her nose up in a pitiful attempt to move the blindfold Mace had tied firmly around her eyes. “We’ve been walking for hours.”
“Tristin was right,” Mace commented, “your endurance and ability to track time is enviable.”
“You don’t get to let me be an open buffet for every bug out here and be snarky.”
Mace laughed. “Alright, luv. You’ll see where we are going soon.”
Ember fell into silence after that, listening carefully to Mace’s footsteps in the thick layer of dead leaves and foliage as he guided her in between trees and ferns reaching out their spindly fingers to touch her skin. Each blind step Ember took was cautious. She didn’t think Mace clumsy nor did she think he would purposefully let her drop into a pit-fall but he did try to eat her soul once upon a time.
Mace did have a knack for timing though. The atmosphere was unique as she didn’t feel like humidity was doubling the size of her hair and the wind blowing through the thin threads of her sweater was almost pleasant. The moon was hanging in the sky without a single cloud to dampen its luminosity. It hung from a string like an obol, weighing down the curtain of stars woven into a dark navy fabric, and it shined on her string and made her feel alive with power. Wherever he was taking her, she hoped it was someplace with moonlight.
“We’re here,” Mace said softly, letting go of her hand so he could untie the blindfold.
The fabric fell away and she blinked as the mellow moonlight flooded what had once been a black slate. What sat in front of her was something hard to forget: the pet cemetery. Each headstone was exactly how she remembered, some sinking slowly into the damp soil underneath and others succumbing to the fate of being the stepping stool for plants to get closer to the sun.
Mace tied the blindfold around his wrist, an unassuming piece of black cloth, and sat down where he and Ember had originally sat when they came here.
When Ember didn’t move from her spot, hand creeping up to her chest, Mace motioned to her. “Come here, luv.”
She moved like a zombie, nearly tripping over ever rock as she stumbled over to Mace and sat in his lap. Ember remembered good memories here -- like reanimating Romero -- but she also remembered being here with Silas. She remembered naive decisions that had cost her so much. Ember remembered and it was hard to forget, even with Mace’s head on her shoulder and his fingers interlacing with hers.
Ember didn’t snap out of her reverie until Mace began speaking and his jaw shifted above her shoulder.
“Luv, are you okay?”
She nodded stiffly. “Uh...Silas, it was Silas that I met here once.”
Mace tensed at the mention of Silas but quickly relaxed again. “You know, at the bottom of the mutt’s grave and amidst the...various things that occured--”
It was Ember’s turn to tense. Mace sometimes forgot how fragile she was when he talked about torture. It’s not like he was immune to the effects of the topic but he had grown used to it.
“--your visits were the one thing that kept me sane.”
“But you didn’t know I was real,” Ember reminded him. “I never remembered you.”
“You were still Ember. Ember is the one who helped me through the aftermath and saved me from an endless, scavaging eternity of eating souls.” Mace cleared his throat, releasing one of Ember’s hands to reach for his back pocket.
“Ember is also the one who chained you to her,” Ember intoned, “and who sacrificed the same soul she brought back in a ritual.”
Mace sighed. “Luv, all that emotional baggage must be awfully heavy. Would you allow me to assist in carrying it?”
Ember squirmed until she was facing him -- somewhat. Either Ember intended to look at Mace or give him major side-eye.
“Mace, why did you bring me here? You hate Romero’s grave.”
“I’m not sure the schematics of being a sluagh,” Mace said, “but I’m sure Quinn could tell you -- with all of his propaganda sources -- that I had a human soul before and becoming a sluagh again would be an easy manner of finding someone to do the job.”
Ember stayed silent.
“I chose to stay here, chained to you or not.” Mace nudged her chin with his nose. “Let’s not forget everything that’s happened, Luv. I even attended your school to be closer to you and I’m centuries old.”
“Ember, what I said before is still true.”
She wrinkled her eyebrows, confused, so Mace continued.
“Your hair is still unbelievably orange, your sun splattered freckles are as prominent as ever, and the way you look when you dance still plagues my mind long after you leave.” Ember flushed, just as she had the night he first said that. “The time between then and now I’ve only grown to love you more, beautiful. Only now I know that your lips are red because you chew them and that your face is fascinating to me not only because of the inherent beauty you have but also your purple orbs that--”
Ember clenched her eyes shut and pressed a hand to his lips, tilting her head away from him. “Never say orbs again.”
Mace frowned. “Kai said that I shou--”
“Why would you listen to Kai?”
“He’s your cousin?”
“That is not a good reason to listen to Kai.” Ember raised an eyebrow and moved her hand away from Mace’s mouth. “You may continue.”
“How gracious.” Mace chuckled. “Your purple eyes carry more hope and grief than most people see in a lifetime. You, beautiful, are a soul that has taken upon the burden of carrying and hearing thousands of others and yet you never buckle under the pressure. You’re strong and resilient and capable of reanimating crabby cats so who wouldn’t love you.”
Ember shook her head, a smile playing on her lips. “Wow. Playing the Chester card?”
Mace brought out the small object he had been reaching for from his back pocket and wrapped his arm around Ember. She opened her eyes and gasped, covering her mouth with one nail-bitten hand.
“Ember Lonergan, I’d like to hope I’ve received your father’s permission but as a back-up, I’ve asked the she-wolf for your hand in marriage as well. She found the whole thing terribly trivial but I am nothing if not traditional.”
Ember didn’t even laugh at the comment as she gazed at the ring. “Are y-yo--”
“November Samara Isabel Denning-Bishop-Lonergan,” Mace whispered, “will you accept this ring as a promise of marriage?”
Ember nodded quickly, taking the ring pear-shaped moonstone ring from him and sliding it onto her finger. “Only if we don’t take Smith as our last name.”
“What about Chadwick?”