Monday, October 29, 2012

{Ember and Coal}

I really should stop doing this, Ember thought with a sigh as she jogged through the Servant Village. It’s irresponsible, unnecessary, not even exciting… She snorted. Everyone probably thinks I’m with Coal. I’m not helping my reputation… She waved absently to a passing sparker. As long as I don’t fall asleep again, I should be alright.

When she reached the place where she’d been the day before, she stopped and sat down. It was midday and the Jeolotian sun was hot and red. It wavered down in beams that seemed almost visible. She collapsed onto her back and shut her eyes. She wanted to dance. Actually, she wished she wanted to dance. She didn’t. She just wanted to lie there until someone came to get her.

“I’m happy,” she told herself, but the words came out defensively, almost accusingly. “I have everything I’ve ever wanted. I am a kachina. I am the best kachina. I have sparktresslings and friends and Coal. I live in the Palace. I eat the best food, and wear the best clothes. The other servants are jealous of my position.”

However, when she said those things out loud, the words did not have the desired effect. Instead of reassuring herself of her own contentment, she only realized how arrogant she sounded.

“I’m not happy.” Those words tasted different. They were sharper, like salt instead of sugar, but somehow they tasted better. “I am not happy. I am proud.”

“I doubt you’ll find a fairy who disagrees with that.”

Ember leapt in her skin, her heart nearly flying off the tip of her tongue as her eyes flew open. The bright sun seared her vision and she squinted before making out Coal standing over her, his eyes smiling. Ember sighed and covered her eyes with a her hand.

“You walk too quietly,” she said.

“You walk too far.” Coal sat beside of her and took her hand, pulling her up to a sitting position. “Is something wrong?” His blue eyes were kind and true, searching. Ember pulled her knees in to her chest and held them with her arms.

“No,” she said plainly. “At least…no.”

“Are you happy?”

“You heard me. Don’t pretend.” Coal shrugged, letting that stand. He thoughtfully traced patterns in the dusty dirt between them, swirls and angles and dots and runes. Ember watched his strong, graceful finger and wondered at how he could be so complete in himself. She had been that way too, not long ago, but it felt like more of her real self was fading every day. The brutal battle she fought to retain herself made her irritable.

“Why are you unhappy?”

She loved his voice. Sometimes it made her blush, if she thought about it very much. It was deep and smooth and boyish all at once. It was competent and sarcastic and light. It was everything Coal was himself, expressed in the tones that issued from his mouth. In the midst of analyzing, Ember almost forgot to respond.

“I don’t know,” she said. “which only makes it worse.”

“Are you unhappy, or discontent, or restless?” Coal eyed his intricate dirt design for a moment before dragging his hand across it, blotting it out. Ember almost reached to stop him.

“All three. I’m unhappy because I’m restless, which comes from being discontent.”

“Perhaps you’re no longer being challenged as a kachina,” he suggested, beginning a new pattern in the dust. “You often speak of how talented you are. Doesn’t that get a bit…dull?”

Ember considered that, making a swooping addition to Coal’s artwork. He nodded thoughtfully at it, pleased. A smile tugged at Ember’s lips. He was such a little sparker sometimes. “No,” she answered after a long silence. “Being a kachina is never dull. I love dancing in a way…in a way that I don’t love anything else. And the Fire Lord is different every day, in his own ways. For instance, he seems more alert lately, more likely to be displeased. Sometimes he’ll be distant for weeks, and sometimes he’s happy.” Coal’s mouth tilted at the corners, which made Ember tilt her head. “What?”

“I know how he is,” Coal said, looking at her with laughing eyes. “I want to talk about how you are.”

“Well, the two are very closely related,” Ember said. “If the Fire Lord isn’t happy, then he isn’t happy with his kachinas and then we’ve got to be careful.” Her eyes lit up suddenly. “Did you know some kachinas in training came to us after training and warned us?”

Coal frowned in confused amusement. “Of what?”

“Of being challenged.” Ember’s lips parted, revealing small, straight teeth. “They want to replace us as kachinas.”

Coal shrugged, looking ever-sarcastic. “It’s what they are there for.” Ember nodded and leaned back onto her elbows. “Just as I’m here for you.”

She looked at Coal then, eyes a bit wider than they had been before. He met her eyes easily, almost laughing. “What a thing to say,” Ember said, looking back at the distant horizon. “Do you really mean that?”

Coal’s mouth twitched. “I’m a spy,” he said. “Do you think I say things I don’t mean?”

She glanced back at him, a tiny wrinkle wedged above her nose, which made Coal laugh out loud. A small laugh bubbled up inside of her, but she closed her mouth on it and settled for raising her eyebrows at him. He grinned and in a quick motion pushed her elbows out from under her, supporting her back as she fell into the sparse grass. He shifted and stretched out beside her, one hand behind his head, the other under Ember’s shoulders.

“Don’t be unhappy,” he said simply. Ember stole a sideways glance at him, feeling his arm underneath her like a row of glowing embers. He was gazing up into the open sky, looking for all the world like he’d orchestrated the day himself. He always looked that way: content and controlled, as if the world could crumble around him and he knew he’d be able to stop it.

Maybe that’s why I like him so much, Ember thought, studying his face. Sometimes my life feels so fragile. It’s nice to know of someone who could hold it together—or at least someone who thinks he could. She relaxed her head and closed her eyes. “What are you afraid of, most afraid of? What’s your biggest fear?”

Coal’s brow contracted thoughtfully. “What am I afraid of…” he murmured.

Ember sighed edgily. “Don’t say you don’t have a fear, Coal Blazings. I won’t believe that.”

“I wouldn’t say that,” he said plainly. “It’s more a matter of choosing between so many.” They lay there in silence for a long moment before Coal said, “Being wrong.”

Ember’s eyes opened and composed themselves immediately into a surprised frown. “That’s your biggest fear?”

“Is that such a strange fear?”

“It’s a strange biggest fear. You don’t have much experience with it besides,” she added grudgingly. “Not on any sort of large scale, that is. It’s your job not to be wrong. If you were very often…”

“Which might potentially add to the magnitude of the fear, don’t you think?”

Ember made a thoughtful sound and shifted, reaching under her back and repositioning Coal’s arm.

“Your turn,” Coal said.

“What’s my biggest fear?”

Coal nodded, still intently watching the sky.

“I don’t know,” Ember mumbled thoughtfully. A million possibilities came to mind. Death…being out of control…losing one of the kachinas…losing Coal…not being able to dance.

“You told me I wasn’t allowed to say that,” Coal said, in a good-naturedly accusing voice. “Come on. Think of something.”

“Either…losing someone I love, or not being able to dance.”

“Am I someone you love?”

“Aren’t you going to ask me about the dancing fear?”

Coal sighed. “No. I understand that, I think.”

“Do you.” It wasn’t a question, just a slightly disappointed statement.

“I think so. Tell me if I do: you love dancing in a deep, breathtakingly beautiful way, like it’s tied into your soul. When you dance, you feel whole and alive and you can forget everything that’s wrong with your life. You might be afraid of pain or loneliness or betrayal—” Here Ember realized with sharp surprise that she was afraid of those things, although they hadn’t occurred to her before. “—but you know that as long as you can dance, you can breathe and live and cope. As long as you can dance, you can survive anything and everything else.” He paused. “Now; do I understand?”

He did. “May I have a turn?” Coal smirked, but not unpleasantly. “I will take that as a yes. Alright. Your turn.”

“You are afraid of being wrong…” Ember closed her eyes and breathed, trying to reach into Coal the way he could reach into other people. “because your entire façade is centered around the fact that you never seem to be so. To be a spy is to be right, to be right when it’s impossibly hard, and you love being a spy. You love the excitement and the challenge and the prestige. Because you love it so much, you’ve let it become a part of your soul, even apart from spying. Being right is no longer simply your job, it’s something that defines you.”

Coal was smiling, which was impossible to interpret. Either he was proud of her for uncovering his feelings, or he was proud of himself for masking them. He opened his mouth, but Ember wasn’t finished.

“But then, there’s the impractical, uncontrollable aspect of being wrong. You like to plan things, Coal. You like to be in control. Suppose you made a plan one day and found out you had misinformation? Suppose you were sure of something that turned out not to be true? The plan would not work, which I believe would genuinely frighten you.”

“Ember,” Coal began, frowning. “As a spy, I’ve been trained to deal with the unthinkable, the unexpected and impossible. Nothing ever goes quite according to plan when spying. It’s part of the reason why great spies such a rare breed, and I am a great spy.”

Ember rolled her head to the side, looking at him with smirking blue eyes. “I wasn’t talking about when spying, Coal.”

His frown deepened. “That doesn’t matter,” he said. “Spy training prepares us for the unexpected in all aspects of life, not only our jobs.”

“Some things are impossible to prepare for.”

“That’s not true.” Coal’s voice was perfectly even, almost gentle. “You have only to be observant. You must listen and think and be constantly on your guard.”

“Are you on your guard now?” Ember rolled towards him, feeling his arm under her spine until she was pressing into him. She supported herself on an elbow, her free hand firmly planted on his chest, eyes gleaming.

“Around you, Ember?” Coal said, his eyes a dark, intense blue. “Always.” He pushed himself up with his hands and their lips met.

{Except from NaNoWriMo novel, 2011}



  1. Yay, I'm so glad you posted another sample from your story :)

  2. Wow.. just wow. Is there any way I could convince you to send me the whole thing? this is like... really...really good. Like REALLY good.