From the Ash
By Adan Ramie
Copyright 2016 Adan Ramie
All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, places, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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FROM THE ASH
The huddle of children, their sweaty bodies painted in red, purple and gold, watched in wide-eyed stupor as their hideout burned. Their tortured, fallen leader was inside, and not one among them knew what to do, or what would become of them. They all knew their tasks – what they had been trained to do -- but none knew how to survive alone. They clung to each other; some of them were wracked with loud sobs, while others had silent tears coursing down their faces, smearing rivers of gloom through their glittery face paint.
Angela-Maria watched them with pity. In the dark night, against the backdrop of violent flames, their costumes looked to her like war paint, and they like the terrified orphans and outcasts they were. They crowded together, hoping for some sign that their leader wasn’t dead after all, that she would rise up from the ashes and toss her head, laughing, and poke fun that they were fooled.
A board creaked, and the roof caved in. Angela-Maria’s eyes squeezed shut, and in her mind, Gaia stood before her. She was beautiful, her brown skin glistening, a white dress billowing around her as if in a soft breeze. She reached out a hand and caressed Angela-Maria’s cheek.
“What do I do?” the girl asked.
Gaia bent her head and looked into the girl’s eyes. Angela-Maria was at once filled with terror, resignation, and the kind of bold-faced bravery Gaia had chosen her for. She knew what she had to do.
She opened her eyes and stepped forward, her mouth open, and started to chant over the bubble and hiss of the inferno. As if snapping out of the daze, the sad, painted girls turned around all together to stare at her in amazed confusion.
When she had all their attention, she held out her arms and beckoned them to her. They scurried over, gathering around her in hushed excitement, and waited for her to speak, to reassure them that their world was not gone with their beaten leader.
“I said we would be tried, and we have been. We have been abused and wounded.”
The strong, adult voice that escaped her lips startled her, but she stood firm, her easy smile and bright eyes shining down on all of them. She looked to each of them, their tears drying, their eyes hungry for this; needing someone, needing her.
“We have been stripped of several of our own. We have been pushed out onto the streets again.”
The girls nodded, murmuring agreement. A few made quiet, angry noises. Most still seemed lost and afraid. Angela-Maria patted one of the smaller girls on the head and their gazes locked.
“We were made to feel powerless,” she said as her hand dropped and caressed the girl’s cheek. Her head snapped up. “We all knew this would happen!” Her voice boomed, her arms raised to the sky, and she felt a spark of electricity move through her, a feeling of wholeness for the first time in her life.
The girls around her began to agitate. Some bounced on their heels, and others started the chant they knew so well, the chant their leader had taught them -- a battle cry.
“I told you,” she said, her voice low, and her arms coming down to her sides. “I told you I would never leave you. And I will keep my vow to you, my children and sisters.”
A broad, muscular girl in the back dropped her tomahawk and bent to her knees. Girls around her followed suit, and soon, the only girl who stood was Angela-Maria. She smiled and let the tips of her fingers graze the tops of several bent heads, and began the chant again. Quietly, the others joined. Their volume rose as Angela-Maria stepped backward, her arms still out, her spoken song ringing clear in the smoky wind; one by one, they rose, still singing, and walked with her. She turned on her heel and began the march back into the city that was their birthright.
“What are we going to do?”
The girl who walked beside her trembled. Angela-Maria held a fist into the air to stop them, then dropped her hand onto the girl’s shoulder. “Be still, little one. We have work to do, and not very much time.”
Angela-Maria raised her head to address the group. “For now, we assimilate. We cannot draw undue attention until all our preparations are ready.”
“What if we are caught?”
Angela-Maria waved to the girl. The girl was taller than her, but weak; her thin bones would break with little provocation, and she was always at the back of the group for fear she would be hurt. She stood looking down at her leader with her bottom lip in her mouth.
“Tell me, Lola. How long have you been with us?”
Angela-Maria nodded. “In that time, has harm befallen you?”
The girl looked at her feet, uncertain. “No.”
“Then trust me.” She put a hand on the girl’s arm, and Lola looked up into her eyes with something like a smile. Angela-Maria looked up and met the eyes of each girl as she raised her voice to be heard. “There will be trials. Some among us will be lost. But this is a war we must fight! Would you be bested again by these barbarians?”
Cries erupted around her. Aggression brewed in small, dirty faces.
“Angela-Maria, I offer myself.” A small, stocky girl stepped forward. Angela-Maria guessed she was about eight. “I’ll do whatever you think we need to do to win this fight. I offer my life.”
Angela-Maria smiled down at her. “Kate, I have no doubt that you would lay down your life for your sisters, but I hope it won’t come to that. You are a brave soldier.” She put a hand on the girl’s shoulder. “You are going to be a strong, wise woman someday.”
She turned the girl to face the rest of the group. “Would you all sacrifice how Kate does? Would you give up your life to save the girl next to you?”
The girls glanced around warily, each taking in the faces of the girls around her. Some cried. Others were emboldened, and cried out.
“We go into the city. We assimilate without capture. And when their defenses are weakest, we will attack.”
“But they will hurt us,” another girl spoke up. “They don’t like our kind. All they want is to destroy us.”
A few of the others murmured in agreement. Angela-Maria nodded, and held out her arms in a welcoming gesture.
“You say that they would kill us, but if so, why haven’t they?” She let the message sink in, staring from one face to another, and watching as each face changed. Some changed to her side, and others grew more impatient. “They could have picked us off, one by one, with their guns. But did they?”
“Just because they haven’t doesn’t mean they won’t,” the same girl said. But her voice was uncertain now. “What if they want to separate us? What if they fear us only in our number? Solitary, we will be easy targets.”
“Is that what you all believe?”
Kate stepped forward again. “I don’t.”
Her sisters, identical and bearing a striking resemblance to her, stepped forward with her. They held their heads high, and the tear streaks in their face paint were old and dried.
“Would anyone else join us in the city?” Kate asked, turning to look at the assembled mass of young girls. “Our mission did not end with the death of Gaia.” She glanced back at Angela-Maria for a moment. “We have a leader, but we have nowhere to live. We slaved for months over this place before we could live here, and now it’s gone. We cannot go back from where we started. That place has been taken over.”
Angela-Maria stepped forward and placed a hand on Kate’s shoulder. “Where would you have us go if not to the city?” she asked the group.
Lola stepped forward again. Instead of fear, there was anger in her face, and it was directed at her leader.
“We can again start in a new place. We don’t have to stay here. There are other townships.”
Kate turned toward Lola and sucked in a breath, but Angela-Maria caught her. The girl turned her head to stare up at her, and her leader barely turned her head, but it was enough to subdue the feisty girl.
“There are other townships, but they will be no different. They don’t allow our kind to assemble, and we don’t know if we could even assimilate if we needed to do so. In this township, we know that they don’t want us dead.”
Lola wrapped her arms across her chest. “You give them too much power. You say that we are alive, so they don’t want us dead? I say we lived. I say they wanted us dead, but they tried to kill us a coward’s way, and it didn’t work. I say that, given the chance, they will try to kill us again. But if we are broken and cast to all the corners, they will succeed this time. We will all die.”
Angela-Maria watched the faces of some of the girls change. Instead of confusion, determination set their features. For some, she could tell it was determination to stay out their mission. But for others…
“We can put it to a vote.”
Lola snapped her head back to look at Angela-Maria. “Really?”
“We are nothing if not a community of strong-minded people,” Angela-Maria told her.
She motioned Lola forward to stand behind her, then nudged Kate and her sisters back into the ranks. “All those in favor of leaving for another township, step to Lola’s side. All those in favor of assimilating here, step to my side.”
The mass of bodies shifted, and by the time it was finished, more girls stood beside Angela-Maria than Lola. Angela-Maria looked down the row of girls who stood crying and uncertain beside Lola.
“I wish your tribe success, Lola,” Angela-Maria said. “Are you prepared to lead them to a safe place?”
Lola looked at the small number of girls around her. They stared up at her, their big, round eyes wet with worry, and Lola’s jaw tightened. She turned back to face Angela-Maria with a newfound purpose flaring in her eyes.
“I am. I will lead them to safety. I wish your tribe success, Angela-Maria.”
The two leaders stared at each other a few moments more, then set off in opposite directions with their tribes in tow. Lola moved west in the direction of the last city from which they had been cast out. Angela-Maria led her faction toward the city that housed the killers of their former leader, Gaia.
“What if we are caught?” whispered a girl near the back of the group. Another girl shushed her, and they kept moving.
Angela-Maria raised an arm to the left, and a few girls fanned that way. She let her arm drop, then raised the other, and more girls scattered. By the time she reached the entrance to the city proper, only she and Kate walked through together.
Torches dotted the doorways of small cottages on both sides. They flickered over their faces and in their eyes. Everything was silent. Their bare feet padded over cobblestones, and the stiff skins of their tunics scratched in the quiet of twilight.
A shrill whistle broke through the air, and Kate darted into a shadow behind one of the cottages. Angela-Maria stood alone in the center of the street as a torch moved in her direction.
“Your kind isn’t welcome here.”
The boy’s voice was cold. He held his torch up to illuminate his face, as covered in paint as her own, but in different colors. It wore a contemptuous expression. He nodded toward the entrance.
“Leave now, and you won’t suffer the consequences of coming upon our land again.”
Angela-Maria stood tall and still. “I am where I am meant to be.”
He scoffed and glanced behind him as three more boys stepped up from the darkness and into a formation behind him. The leader had drawn a figurative line in the sand. His brothers-in-arms would back him at any cost.
“Stay this course and all of you will perish,” the leader said. There was a touch of something like pity in his voice. “Are you so stupid that you can’t see you’re all headed in the wrong direction?”
As before, Angela-Maria stood firm, her feet planted and the rest of her body calm. “I know where I am going.”
Whispers started around them, and the boys behind their leader looked around them, searching for the source of the sounds. One, a boy just taller than his leader, stepped forward and spoke into the leader’s ear.
“How many of your men,” he sneered at the word, “have you brought with you into our town?”
Angela-Maria’s mouth spread slowly into a smile. “I have no men, I lead no men, and I am slave to no man.”
A few of the boys laughed, and Angela-Maria realized that more had formed up behind the barren-chested leader. His ranks were more in number in hers, she knew, but they were no stronger. Her army was led with righteous fury; his with fear. She would win.
“If you are in my home, you will follow my rules,” the leader spat.
He stepped forward and raised a hand to her. The whispers started up again. This time, they sounded like the hisses of large, angry, scaled creatures, and they came from all around. It sounded to Angela-Maria as if her army was much larger than it was. All the better. She smiled, and the leader put down his hand. He glanced around them into the darkness, then back at his second-in-command. The taller boy shrugged.
“We wish to meld our communities,” Angela-Maria said. “We could live in harmony if only you treated us as equals. We do not have the same strengths as you, but do not doubt that we are useful. We could survive out in the wastelands without a township, as you could, but would you want to?”
The boy smirked. “We easily could.”
Kate stepped forward out of the darkness, a stone weapon in her hand. Her face was drawn in a snarl.
“Ness,” the taller boy said, his eyes on Kate. “They mean to kill us.”
“Death is not necessary,” Angela-Maria told him. “All we want is shelter from a place that leaves us weary. Our home was destroyed.” She looked straight into the eyes of the leader called Ness. “So now, you understand, we seek a suitable replacement.”
His eyes moved from Angela-Maria to Kate, whose teeth were bared, and out to the horizon. The sun was on a steady rise over the horizon, and it made his eyes crinkle up as if beset by an itch. He swiped at them with one dirty hand.
“I know nothing of the destruction of your home.”
“The hell you don’t!” Kate cried, and stepped forward, brandishing her weapon.
Angela-Maria held up a hand to stay her. “While I doubt your hand murdered our former leader or burned our shelter to the ground, you and I both know who is responsible.”
“You are responsible,” the taller boy said, and stepped forward. He glanced back at Ness. “How can you let her speak to you in this way?”
“Tieg, step back,” the leader ordered. “Take your place.”
The taller boy’s voice was cold and lower in pitch than before. “I will take my place when I know that you have taken yours. Have you no pride?”
“I find it difficult to understand why our very existence was the cause for our leader’s murder.” Angela-Maria swiped at a fly that had begun to buzz around her. “And, if it was, I must say that the standards you live by are unsustainable.”
“Perhaps they are unsustainable to you,” Ness said. He glanced from Angela-Maria to Tieg. “Stand down.”
Tieg pulled a weapon from his belt, and the rest of the small army did the same. Boy turned against boy as the force was divided instantly into two parties they both seemed to know well.
“There is no need for bloodshed,” Angela-Maria said. She kept her voice low and calm. “If you only gave us a chance, you would see that we are more than sufficiently capable of carrying our own weight. When treated as equals, you will be able to count on us to act the same.”
“Over my dead body will I live with the lesser species as equals,” Tieg snarled. He turned to Angela-Maria and pointed his weapon at her throat. “You are no equals. Swine, all buttery flesh and weak constitution. You would bring our township to its knees and watch us die as your leader did.”
Kate was in front of her before Angela-Maria could reply with the point of her weapon at Tieg’s throat. “A single knick in her flesh will cost you your life,” she warned.
The group faltered. In her peripheral vision, Angela-Maria watched her army accumulate on the edges of the little dirt street. They were all carrying weapons, some their own, and some borrowed from the township.
“There is no need for bloodshed,” Angela-Maria said. Her eyes bore into the eyes of the leader, Ness. “Stay your army.”
“I fear I have lost control of a large faction,” he replied.
“Then we have no choice,” Angela-Maria said. She pulled out her weapon and turned to Tieg. “Your blood will pave the way for our ascension!”
A crudely-pointed weapon was at her throat before she knew it, and her eyes darted to see who held it. She didn’t recognize the boy. He must have been deep in the formation. Ness had his weapon to this boy’s throat. Not one among the boys wasn’t being held at the point of a crude weapon. Angela-Maria tried to keep the smile from her face.
“Is this how you wish to end?” Angela-Maria asked Tieg. “Your number has split in half.”
“None among us wishes to live with the likes of you,” Tieg said, and spat in her direction.
She wiped her face with her free hand, then raised it to her mouth. She blew a long, high-pitched whistle, and an army of furious girls were upon the still group. They surrounded them, each with their weapon on a boy in Tieg’s faction.
“We will end you all if we must,” she told him. “But if you lay down your weapons now, we can work something out.”
“You would try to take over!” Tieg snarled. He stomped his foot, but didn’t move far for fear that Kate’s weapon would cut him. “I will serve no girl!”
“They aren’t asking us to serve them,” Ness said quietly. “They only ask to join ranks.”
“And to keep our leader,” Kate said. She edged in closer to Angela-Maria, the point of her weapon digging into Tieg’s throat. “We will serve no boy.”
“A girl can lead no better than a fish can fly,” Tieg said. A few boys let out nervous laughter that bubbled up around them like bile from a queasy stomach.
“And a boy can do better?” Angela-Maria asked. “We are the last of our species. Would you have us all die out?”
“Better than to live under the rule of another treacherous, weak female.” Tieg stepped forward, allowing Kate’s blade to slice into his neck. A thin trickle of blood ran down onto his bare, painted chest. “I would rather die today.”
“My pleasure!” Kate said.
“Stay your hand,” Angela-Maria told her. She looked to Ness. “Have you no control over your own people?”
“Not in this matter,” he said.
Angela-Maria sighed. “You leave us very little choice.”
Tieg smiled. “Exactly. Your choices are leave or die.”
Angela-Maria looked deep into the eyes of the former leader, Ness. He stared back into hers questioningly. Then she glanced at Tieg, whose eyes were filled with a burning, righteous fury that would never be quenched.
She let out a cry that each girl knew as well as her own face. The girls attacked, savaging every boy who raised a weapon to her or her sisters. The boys who kept their weapons down were ignored, pushed out of the fray, and allowed to live another day. Minutes passed, and the bodies piled up around them until Angela-Maria let out another cry. The girls took battle stances against the remaining boys, Tieg and Ness among them.
“What say you?” Angela-Maria asked.
Ness turned to Tieg. “The valor with which they fight is undeniable.”
Tieg sneered and stepped forward. Ness let out a gasp, and his eyes went wide. Tieg’s weapon was buried to the hilt in his stomach. “And you are a coward,” Tieg said, pulling the weapon back out of his former comrade’s belly. He turned to Angela-Maria. “I will not stop until you are all dead.”
Angela-Maria nodded, and from behind him, a boy reached around him and drew a line with his weapon from jaw to jaw. Tieg let out a strangled, furious cry and struck out with his weapon. He was at Angela-Maria’s feet, a hand over his neck in a futile attempt to keep in his blood, his weapon reaching her bare feet. She looked down at him with pity and took a step back.
“Your pride has cost you your life, Tieg.” She crouched down to look into his eyes behind his drooping eyelids. “We could have worked together to fight the enemy who comes for us.” A tear slipped down her cheek as his face hit the sand, then she stood. “Are there any more among you who wish to join Tieg?”
The remaining boys shook their heads. They all looked down at the fallen bodies at their feet, some with tears on their faces, and others with pity. Angela-Maria whistled, and her army assembled around her.
“We need to move these bodies. The remaining boys may reclaim their own homes and possessions. We will take those homes without occupants. It is time to eat and to rest, for by tomorrow, our real enemy will be upon us.”
Thank you for reading From the Ash! Please take a moment to leave an honest review at your favorite retailer. Reviews are appreciated and help other customers find fiction that they will enjoy. If you’d like to contact me for any reason, feel free to find me on social media or my website. Thanks again! – Adan
About the Author
Adan Ramie is a Texas native who lives with her wife and children in a town not unlike Andy Griffith’s Mayberry. She loves coffee, music, and binge-watching true crime TV. To learn more, get free short fiction, or stay updated, check out .
Other Available Titles
[+ Maladaptation (Deviant Behaviors, #1)+]
[+ Take-Out (Deviant Behaviors, #1.5)+]
[+ Darkness Comes (No End to the Dark, #3)+]
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