//Credit: This short story was inspired by this beautiful picture created by TrueLoveStory, “Night And Day”. //
Your path is illuminated by the light
Yet darkness lets the stars shine bright.
The one rule that the Light Bringers had always abided by since the dawn of time was this: Never associate with Night Watchers.
There were occasions, of course, when interaction with them was necessary; when a lamp or torch was lit to cast darkness aside, or when a sunny day cast a shadow on the sidewalk, or in the moments of dawn and dusk that weren’t solely night nor day. However, only the most experienced Light Bringers were entrusted with these important tasks. Only the oldest and wisest were able to maintain that aura of professionalism around Night Watchers and, as the Rulebook stated, “work in tandem but never get involved”. Each Light and Night sprite knew their place and stayed there— well, most of them, anyway…
There was one young sprite— the youngest daughter of a family of renowned Light Bringers— who liked to dance among the fireflies at dusk when nobody was watching. She technically wasn’t supposed to be out so late in the day, for she was neither wise nor experienced, but she had perfected the craft of sneaking out into the fading light when other Light Bringers were either heading to bed or kept busy with their own duties. Ember was her name and adventure was her mission; her curiosity was insatiable, and this wasn’t necessarily a good combination with her impulsive nature. The dark, silent figures that were the Night Watchers fascinated her; they were just so— so— different from her people.
Light Bringers were vibrant; born of the sun, they glowed with warmth when happy, and burned with anger when provoked. They were quick-tempered but loyal, loud but tenderhearted. They were an emotional, chatty, friendly people who brought light to the world each day with pleasure.
Night Watchers, from what Ember had observed in her sneaking-out, weren’t nearly as vibrant. They weren’t of the sun like the Light Bringers; the moon was their leader, quiet and steady. Their epidermis was various shades of black and grey, to better blend in with the night that they called home, and their personalities reflected their appearance. They were reserved, levelheaded, and mysterious— but not exactly unfriendly. No, Ember could clearly see their comradeship as they worked and whispered quietly amongst themselves; she even caught a smile or two every once in awhile. They weren’t rude in the slightest—so why couldn’t the two peoples interact with each other?
“The Rulebook never says exactly why we can’t,” she murmured to herself—she had a habit of voicing her thoughts aloud— as she sat perched atop the petals of a daffodil one morning at dawn. She was rather grumpy, for her faction of sunbeam-directors had been transferred to the sunrise shift, and while she enjoyed a lovely sunrise she did not enjoy having to wake up to see it. Yet here she was, at work a few minutes early— so she took the opportunity to gaze out at the horizon and think.
She was distracted from her irritated thoughts when she caught sight of a shadowy figure darting among the daffodils. Her natural curiosity took over and she jumped up, soaring deftly down into the grass to track the renegade down.
The shadow was fast, but it was moving on foot; Ember had the advantage of flight. She soon caught up to the perpetrator and, without thinking, tapped it on the shoulder with a suspicious, “Hey! What’cha doin’?”
“Ouch!” The figure halted, drew back sharply and clutched at its shoulder, and it was only then that Ember got a good look at it and realized that the figure was not an it but rather a he.
As soon as the second realization hit her— the fact that he was a Night Watcher— she began to grow very excited. Although she had spent countless hours watching them, she’d never been this close to one until now. The glow of her skin became even brighter when she got excited; in that moment, she was positively radiant. “Oh, I’m sorry! Did I tap you too hard or something? I didn’t know Night Watchers’ skin was so sensitive. Not that that’s a bad thing! I just meant— oh, don’t mind me.” She flashed a grin, golden eyes alight with merriment. “Sorry. I’ve never spoken to one of you before, and I get kind of rambly when I’m nervous. I s’pose we should start over with a proper introduction.”
The young Night Watcher seemed to relax ever so slightly, and he shoved his hands into the pockets of his jacket with a quick nod at her to signify that she could begin the introduction.
She beamed and went to stick out her hand for him to shake before thinking better of it and shoving it behind her back. “My name’s Ember, and I’m a sunbeam-director. That’s the only reason I’m up here at dawn, y’know. I’m definitely not a morning person. Anyway, your turn!”
He nodded again, and when he opened his mouth to speak his voice was gravelly, as if it were unused to being used. “I’m Coal,” was his quiet response.
“Nice to meet you! So, what brings you up to the land of the daffies this early? Or I s’pose I should say late. Don’t Night Watchers have to be home by dawn?”
Coal cracked a small smile at this, and Ember felt as if she’d just made a small crack in a marble statue. “I technically shouldn’t be out here; it’s past my curfew. But I stay here for a few minutes in the morning after work to watch the sunrise.” He looked highly uncomfortable at having said so much— This is probably the most he’s spoken to anyone in a week, poor guy! she thought sympathetically— and shuffled his feet awkwardly.
But Ember refused to let him feel awkward; she would keep this conversation going if it killed her. “Oh, so you’re a rebel too?” She clasped her hands in front of her. “Interesting! I’ll let you in on a little secret…” She leaned closer, and he involuntarily took a step back but she ignored it. “I stay out too late too. I dance with fireflies at dusk.”
He raised a dark eyebrow, as if to say, ‘That’s not so rebellious’, and she folded her arms. “Of course it is! For a Light Bringer, anyway. My curfew’s in the late afternoon because, according to my grandmother Aurora, I am apparently not ‘trustworthy enough’ to be given the night jobs.”
At the words ‘Light Bringer’, Coal suddenly stiffened and glanced around furtively. “We shouldn’t be talking like this. I’m sorry; I forgot.”
“No— we’re not supposed to, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t,” she argued.
“I don’t follow you.”
“The Rulebook says that we can’t associate with you. But here I am associating with you, and nothing bad has happened to me!” She grinned in triumph. “What if the Rulebook’s wrong?”
He sent another worried glance around the meadow; thankfully, they were still alone for now. “Be careful saying things like that,” he cautioned her.
She rolled her eyes and flopped down rather ungracefully onto a leaf that had fallen to the ground. “This your first time talking to a Light Bringer?” At his nod, she continued. “There’s one thing you should know: We say whatever pops into our minds— the good, the bad, and the absolutely insane.” Impulsively, she patted the leaf beside hers. “You’re welcome to sit down, y’know. I don’t bite.”
“No, but you do burn,” he remarked, rubbing his shoulder as he took the proffered leaf-chair.
“Was that a joke I just heard?” she teased, but suddenly realized what he was saying and sprang out of her seat. “Oh, wait— did I actually burn you when I tapped you earlier?”
He shrugged. “It’s not that bad. I’m black anyway…”
“Coal! I’m sorry! Aw, man…” She stared down at her thin, glowing hands in dismay. “I’m a monster!”
“What? No, you’re definitely not a monster.” If he had been any color but black, she would have no doubt seen the faint blush on his cheeks.
“This is so disappointing, though!” she cried, floating back and forth in distress. “I’ve never hurt someone just by touching them before. This means I’ll never be able to hug you?”
Now Coal was beginning to look a little afraid. “Hug me?” he repeated.
“Oh yes. Light Bringers are big on hugging. You’re not, I presume?”
“Public displays of affection aren’t exactly our strong point.”
“Or emotion in general, it seems,” she quipped. “I couldn’t hide my feelings even if I tried. How do you manage it?”
He gave a noncommittal shrug. “Blending in with the night and casting shadows don’t require emotional displays. The people I’ve grown up around have all been stoic, so I’m stoic as well.”
She cocked her head. “But you do feel things, right? Even if you don’t show them?”
He was saved from having to answer by the sounds of singing; the other sunbeam-directors were coming. Ember gave him a frantic glance. “You’ve got to go now; if they see you here we’ll both be in trouble!”
Coal jumped up and immediately turned to obey, but was stopped by a cry of, “Wait!”
When he turned back around, he caught the hope shining in Ember’s eyes and her almost bashful smile. “We’ll see each other again, right? I did so enjoy talking to you!”
He made a split-second decision and offered her a slight smile in return. “Same time tomorrow,” was all he said before vanishing into the trees.
If Ember’s grin was brighter, or her cheeks pinker, or her air more absentminded than usual as she scattered sunbeams across the meadow that morning, none of her friends commented on it.
The next morning, as Coal waved goodbye to the fading stars from his vantage point in the branches of an old oak tree, he was admittedly rather distracted from his work— a sensation he had never experienced until now. Sure, he looked forward to his daily sunrise escapades, but they had never affected him like this before.
He knew exactly why things were different today, too. It was that confounded Light Bringer, with her vibrant, loquacious personality and earnest plea for further conversation. Why he was so excited about seeing her again, he would never know.
Interacting with Ember was breaking every single rule that had been engraved into his mind since he was a small Watcher-in-training. It went against his very nature; it was imprudent enough to be out past curfew, but to be talking to a Light Bringer was downright dangerous. Yet his curious side had to admit that he had felt oddly… warm for the past day. He didn’t know quite what to make of that, but ultimately that warmth was what drove him to the same spot under the daffodils at dawn.
He took a seat in the leaf-chair and waited, trying— and failing— to look as if he wasn’t waiting at all. In an attempt to calm himself and curb his nervous anticipation, he leaned back and folded his arms, closing his eyes for a brief moment; it had been a busier night than usual, with the stars arguing amongst themselves and all the crickets and owls cross. Coal was tired, so very tired, and wondered why he insisted on staying out past his bedtime…
“Coal, what’cha doin’?”
His eyes flew open, and he was nearly blinded by the flicker of a flame mere centimeters away from his face. With an involuntary scream of surprise (that he would deny for as long as he lived), he scrambled to his feet and backed away. “Ember! Control your hair, please!”
The Light Bringer let out a blithe laugh and obligingly ran a hand over her wild flaming curls, only succeeding in holding them down for a total of three seconds. “Sorry ‘bout that. Did I wake you up?”
“It was a long night,” he muttered crossly, trying to regain his composure.
“Seems like it,” she quipped, alighting on the ground and stepping over to her own leaf. “I’m kinda surprised you came,” she admitted frankly. “I spent half the day yesterday wondering if you really would and the other half trying to convince myself that you would. It made me dizzy!”
Coal was definitely not about to tell her about the warmth, so he said only, “I keep my word.”
Ember nodded approvingly and clasped her hands over her knees. “Good. I like that about you. Light Bringer boys are so wishy-washy, it’s frustrating. I may be impulsive but at least I stick with decisions once I’ve made them!”
He cracked a smile at that, and she fairly beamed. “I always feel extraordinarily accomplished whenever I manage to make you smile. You should really try it more often; it makes your face handsome.” As soon as the words flew out of her mouth her cheeks turned a rosy red. “I mean, not that you’re not handsome anyway— wait, I’m not implying— oh, merciful goodness!” She buried her head in her hands in mortification.
“I know what you mean; thank you,” he said, handing her a lifeline and mentally filing away the fact that she thought him handsome.
As the sun rose up over a baby blue sky, they talked of “ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings”, until Coal was forced to slip away with another promise of meeting at the same time the next morning.
The rest of the golden days of summer slipped by in a similar vein; the two had a routine now, and became good friends over the course of their sunrise tete-a-tetes.
One morning in mid-July, Coal was beginning to grow slightly concerned as he waited in his leaf-seat; the sun was rising, and Ember was several minutes late— and Ember was a surprisingly punctual sprite. He was just about to go looking for her when presently she came drifting down beside him, rather subdued. Her ever-present glow had faded, and her mouth curved downward in a frown— since when was Ember sad? In the month and a half that he’d known her, Coal had gotten a glimpse of a wide variety of emotions, but had never seen her in such a state— and he immediately decided that he didn’t like it.
“Sorry, I was at a Light Bringer meeting. They changed my shift,” she announced by way of greeting, drawing her knees up to her chest and resting her chin on them in a girlish manner. “My faction’s been moved to mid-afternoon. I never thought I’d be sad to lose the sunrise shift.”
“What?” Coal threw her a disbelieving glance.
“It’s true.” She sighed deeply. “This means we won’t be able to watch sunrises together anymore. It’d be too suspicious for me to be up at sunrise when I don’t have to be for work.”
Coal struggled to keep his disappointment from showing on his face. “Is there another time we could meet?”
She lifted her head and cocked it slightly, looking very much like a curious puppy. “Well, I still go out at dusk. Do you ever venture out then?”
He frowned in thought. “Dusk for me is like dawn for you; it would be risky, but I’m willing to give it a try if that’s the only way we can still communicate.”
For the first time that morning, Ember smiled and a bit of her radiance returned. “And this is why you’re my best friend.”
“The Rules have been ignored, Solara,” Lune, Prince of the Night, stated in concern, pacing back and forth across the throne room. His starlit royal robes trailed behind him as he walked.
Solara, Princess of the Dawn, merely sighed from her position seated in her sun throne. “Again? Who is committing the infraction this time?”
“A Light Bringer girl, and a Night Watcher boy. They have been meeting at sunrise each day for the past month, and have struck up a friendship.”
The Princess frowned and rose from her throne in all her regal splendor, her gown of sunbeams glimmering as she moved. “Yes, I believe I have seen them from time to time in my daily rounds. He has been most imprudent, breaking his curfew to see her. I confess I’m surprised to see it in one of your Watchers; they are usually eager to abide by the Rules.”
“Yes, but every once in awhile there is a streak of rebellion in one.”
“My Light Bringer doing this is not a surprise at all— she is known for her curiosity and impulsive nature. I have always kept an eye on her, for I have always had a feeling this day was coming.”
“Well, now that it has come, the question remains: What are we to do about this?”
Solara sighed. “We must handle it in the same way we have in the past. First, warnings from family and friends…”
“Ember, we need to talk,” her oldest brother Inferno said firmly one late-July morning when she breezed down for breakfast in their large oak-tree-hole home. He stood stiffly against the doorframe, arms folded and brow furrowed. Their six other siblings watched this transpire with expressions ranging from ambivalent to intrigued.
Ember tried to shrug it off and flashed him a winning smile. “What about?”
Inferno was solemn. “Come outside to the top branch. This needs to be a private conversation.”
“Aw man,” one sibling scowled in disappointment, privately lamenting that he ‘never got to see the good stuff’.
Ember struggled to keep her expression from betraying the flurry of anxiety she felt as she followed her brother out of the hole and up to the very top of the tree. Inferno took a seat on the highest branch and gestured for her to sit beside him; she did so with an air of perfect unconcern. “What’s going on, Inferno?” she asked with a note of false cheerfulness in her voice.
He folded his arms and sent her an assessing gaze. “I was hoping you could tell me that.”
She let out a breezy, nervous laugh. “Okay, what’s up? You’ve never been this serious.”
He arched a fiery eyebrow at her. “I’ve never needed to be.”
Ember mimicked his brow-raising and used a half-sarcastic phrase that Coal had said dozens of times before: “Sounds ominous.”
“Ember, I’ve seen you sneaking out to the meadow at midnight. Midnight, Em! Are you an idiot?” Inferno was nothing if not blunt.
She jumped up and blurted out, “How did you?—” before catching her mistake and clamping her hands over her mouth with wide eyes.
“I knew it!” Inferno exclaimed, rising up and scowling at her with fire in his eyes. “You’ve met some Night Watcher guy, haven’t you?”
Ember lifted her chin, her own eyes alit with her fury. “It’s not like that, Inferno! Mercy, at least give me a little trust! And please, by all means, could you refrain from shouting this to the whole meadow?”
“What have you been doing at midnight, then?” he challenged, quieter but no less angered. “You’ve got no business being up and about at that hour!”
“I’ve been watching the stars! What’s so bad about that?”
“You— star watching?” He calmed down a bit. “Oh. So, there’s no Night Watcher?”
“Nope,” she lied, and was extremely proud of herself for being able to successfully conceal the truth for once.
“Oh,” he repeated, and gave her a funny look. “Well, it’s still past your curfew.”
“It’s still breaking the Rules.”
With a sigh, she said, “I know.”
All of the anger seemed to drain out of him, but he still looked wary. “Be careful, Em. I don’t want you getting in trouble.”
“I won’t.” She darted forward and gave him a tiny peck on the cheek. “But thanks anyway!” And with that, she soared away, with a mix of intense relief and foreboding stirring within her. She had been close— too close— to being caught. The happiness she had gained from Coal’s friendship had caused her to let her guard down, and she had very nearly paid the price. She would have to be more careful in concealment in the future…
“Coal, what’s the matter with you, man?” his friend Shade asked him that very night, minutes after they had begun working with the nocturnal animals of the meadow. “You’re smiling way too much.”
“Am I?” The subconscious smile immediately dropped off the Night Watcher’s face as he worked to regain his standard unaffected expression. “Sorry.” He had spent the evening with Ember as per usual; she had forced him into dancing with fireflies, and although he would never admit it he had actually found it quite enjoyable. Even more fun than dancing was watching her dance; she pirouetted with grace and laughter and positively glowed (both literally and figuratively) as she did so, and the warmth filled Coal’s shadowy heart again. He was beginning to miss the light that was present whenever he was with Ember; suddenly, the darkness didn’t seem quite as friendly as usual.
Shade leaned against a tree trunk and regarded Coal quizzically. He was a tall and lanky character, with stringy ebony hair pulled back in a ponytail and a bowtie permanently affixed to his black dress shirt. Shade liked to dress in style— “for the ladies”— and was as smooth and collected as his name suggested.
The two Night Watchers were vastly different, in personality as well as appearance. Where Shade was mysterious and charismatic and moody, Coal was stoic and awkward and (another thing he would never admit) something of a romantic. Shade dressed nicely, while Coal was comfortable in a Mohawk, windbreaker, athletic pants, and black sneakers. And yet, somehow, the two had been brothers since the very beginning.
Since they enjoyed the privileges of the brotherly status, Shade now took advantage of it by remarking sardonically, “You’re in love, aren’t you? Man, I knew this day would come eventually. It’s about time! You finally noticed Leila, then?”
Coal grew very still. “I’m not in love,” he said quietly. “Not with Leila or— or with anyone else.”
Shade let out a laugh at that— he was one of the more outgoing Watchers and enjoyed a good laugh from time to time. “But you are, man! It’s so obvious! You were smiling just now— oh, and by the way, I did catch you singing the other day when you thought you were alone. Nice baritone.”
Coal clenched his jaw and silently vowed that that was the last time he would let Ember sing that stupid ditty around him again. Aloud he said only, “I didn’t realize smiling and singing were forbidden here.”
Shade’s mirth vanished. “They’re not, but… you’ve gotta be careful, man. You’re acting almost like… well, like one of them.”
He didn’t need to elaborate; Coal knew exactly who ‘them’ was. At least Shade hadn’t accused him of fraternizing with Light Bringers; he was close enough to the truth as it was.
Have I really changed that much, just from being friends with Ember? he wondered as he convinced an owl to “cut back on the rodent consumption, please”. I’ve let my guard down, and that’s not good. I’ve got to be more cautious from now on… but why is expressing my happiness such a bad thing?
“The stars are so beautiful,” breathed Ember several hours later, as the two of them sat curled up in a daffodil’s petals and gazed up at the sky. “I wish they would come out in the daytime too.”
“If they did that, they wouldn’t have the same effect,” Coal pointed out matter-of-factly. “Darkness is needed in order to see the stars.”
Ember turned to him with a smile more gentle than any he’d ever seen on her face. “Then I really like the dark.”
“Am I included in that statement?” he grinned, ignoring the way his heartbeat quickened at the implications of what she was saying.
“Of course, you goose.” She rolled her golden eyes. “If I could, I would just stay here forever with you. Daylight’s lovely, but nighttime has a sense of mystery and depth and an ethereal beauty to it, and I’m starting to like it just a little bit more.”
“Do you mean that?”
“Yes.” She nodded empathetically.
“But— but you’re a Light Bringer.”
She let out a sigh. “Yeah, and I hate how conspicuous it makes me when I come out here in the middle of the night. In the day, you can hide in shadows easily, but I don’t have the same luxury. I… I sort of wish I was a Night Watcher…”
“…So we could be friends and not be secretive about it,” he finished.
“Exactly!” She returned her gaze to the stars.
Coal was silent for a moment, and Ember thought the conversation was over until he spoke up again, solemnly. “You don’t want to be a Night Watcher.”
Ember didn’t like being told what she did and didn’t want. She scowled at him. “And why not?”
“Our lives are dark and cold, Ember. We’re not unhappy, exactly, but there is no warmth and light in us. And… and we don’t realize what we’re missing until we meet someone like you…” His voice trailed off.
She stared at him with wide eyes. “You mean you’ve never felt joyful?”
He shook his head. “Not until I met you.”
“Coal, that’s horrible!”
With a shrug, he replied, “Horrible or not, it’s the way life is for us. But now… well, now I’m not satisfied with that life anymore.”
“What’re you saying?” she asked in trepidation.
He stunned her by reaching out and taking her hand in his. At her protest of, “No, I’ll burn you!”, he smiled ever so slightly and shook his head. “It wasn’t burning. It didn’t hurt; I just wasn’t used to the light and warmth.”
“Oh.” Her face flushed, and she looked down at their intertwined fingers, light and dark woven together, with a smile. “I like this.” She gazed up at him with an echo of a frown on her face. “You didn’t answer my question.”
“I need light,” he confessed with a shy smile. “I need you.”
Her eyes widened, and for a moment they simply stared at each other. She leaned in… he leaned in…
They both jerked back, and Ember yanked her hand out of his instinctively (noting how it suddenly felt empty). Hearts pounding wildly, they turned to face the intruder— and both nearly died then and there when they realized who was staring down at them.
Princess Solara herself hovered before them, radiant in all of her sunlit glory. And she was most definitely not pleased. “Ember,” came the frosty greeting.
“Your Highness!” the sprite gasped, remembering matters of convention enough to execute a quick and awkward curtsy.
The Princess lifted her chin and said, “I shall not ask what you are doing, for it is clear that you have not heeded the warning your brother gave you.”
Ember’s eyes widened. “You know about that?”
“I arranged it. And yes, before you ask, I know about everything else as well.” She surveyed the pair with critical eyes. “Did you really believe that we would not notice?”
Coal grimaced; “we” meant that Prince Lune knew as well. Great.
Other Night Watchers had seen the light and were gathering around, staring at Coal in horror and whispering frantically amongst themselves. He had never enjoyed attention, and shrank back under the weight of their gazes, wishing he could bury himself in the folds of the daffodil for forever.
“You two shall come with me immediately. We must discuss your blatant disregard of the Rules and the consequences to breaking them.”
Coal reached out in silent defiance and took Ember’s hand in his, squeezing it gently to offer her strength in solidarity. Solara chose not to comment and turned to fly up into the sky, a wordless signal for them to follow her. For an instant Coal wondered how he was going to manage this without flight, but he soon felt himself being lifted up into the sky by Ember, who still clung tightly to his hand. “You’re surprisingly lightweight,” she murmured, half afraid to speak any louder lest Solara hear them.
“I’m a shadow, remember?” he whispered back, grinning in spite of their grim circumstances because he was flying, actually flying!
“True.” Ember smiled, but it didn’t quite reach her eyes.
They soon arrived in the heavenly realms, where The Palace— home of the prince and princess— was located. Lowly Night Watchers and Light Bringers never ventured up here, so it was all the pair could do to stay focused on the meeting and not the breathtaking expanse of a cotton-candy sky surrounding them.
Prince Lune was waiting for them, grim and regal. Solara took her place at his left side and they both stared down at the two sprites with unforgiving eyes. “Why do you feel the need to disregard the Rules we have set in place?” Lune began with a frown.
“Why do you feel the need to have these stupid Rules to begin with?” Ember shot back, eyes flashing; Coal’s fingers intertwined with hers gave her courage.
The rulers exchanged a glance, having a wordless yet important conversation in a matter of seconds. “I suppose it is only fair that we explain our reasons,” Lune conceded.
“When Light Bringers and Night Watchers interact too much, they begin to fall in love with the opposite side,” Solara tried. “They grow restless in their own work, and want to become someone that they aren’t meant to be. We have witnessed it several times before. Life becomes too chaotic when this happens; we must maintain order. Each Light Bringer and Night Watcher has his or her place, and he or she must abide by it.”
“But it’s a terribly mundane existence,” argued Ember with as much politeness as she could muster. “Night Watchers don’t know warmth or laughter or joy or… or love… and we don’t know peace, or quiet, or mystery. How can we really be living if we’re only experiencing one half of life?”
“This is the way things have always been, since the dawn of time,” Solara snapped, although Lune seemed to be thinking her words over. “If you two want to keep your positions as Light Bringers and Night Watchers, you must agree to never interact with each other again. This is your final warning before punishment will be enforced.”
“But that’s the worst sort of punishment!” Ember cried. “Don’t you see that separating two who love each other is the most heinous thing you could possibly do?”
“Love?!” asked Coal incredulously, his dark cheeks turning even darker.
“Yeah.” She was sheepish and refused to meet his gaze. “Sorry to tell you like this, but I just now realized it myself.”
He glanced down at their hands. Light and dark. Opposites creating a beautiful contrast. “It’s okay. I love you too.”
They shared a brief and joyous smile before remembering their present company. He turned to face the royals and lifted his chin, asking bravely, “Is there any possible way that we won’t have to be separated?”
There was another silent conversation between Lune and Solara, and then the prince spoke up. “Perhaps, but you will have to make a sacrifice…”
Ember awakened with a vicious headache.
It took her several seconds to realize where she was— in her beloved daffodil field— and several more seconds to realize that she was bigger than usual. A lot bigger.
She gasped and jumped to her feet, surveying her surroundings. It mortified her to know that she was inadvertently stepping on daffodils, and baffled her to see the nearby trees at such a wholly different angle. She felt like a giant, and that was not a very comfortable feeling at all. (Although her emerald green silk dress was rather cute, and much softer than grass…)
And speaking of the trees, there was a shadowy figure emerging from them, one that looked very much like—
She gasped again and could do nothing but stand rooted to the spot.
It was him!
But he had changed. His skin was not pitch black, but rather a dusty tan. His clothing remained the same, as did his hair, but his eyes were now an interesting shade of sapphire blue. And he was smiling— and running— and suddenly she was engulfed in a warm hug.
“It’s you,” he breathed into her hair— she figured it mustn’t be aflame anymore, or else he wouldn’t have been able to rest his chin on her head— and she smiled into his shoulder as she embraced him back. They stood there like that for several long moments, just drinking in the other’s presence.
“Um, Coal…” she began after a few moments of thought.
“Yes?” he asked, sounding happier than he’d been in… well, forever.
“I think we’re humans.”
“What?” He drew back and held her at arms’ length, regarding her quizzically before letting out a laugh. “Funny. I didn’t even notice.”
“So I guess I don’t look that bad, then?” she asked half-teasingly.
“No.” His grin was huge. “You look absolutely amazing. A little bit’s changed; your eyes are hazel, you’ve got freckles on your nose now, and you’ve got curly auburn hair. But you’re still you, and you’re still glowing.”
She smiled, but then suddenly remembered. “So… what now?”
“Now we get to start a life of our own,” he replied as he took her hand in his and they began to walk out of the daffodil field.
As they walked from the meadow to the city, from a secret friendship to a life together, Ember could’ve sworn she saw both the sun and the moon smiling down on them.
Y’all. I am rejoicing so much because I FINALLY FINISHED THIS!!! It took me all weekend, but it was so worth it! And now, back to working on Ignite. Hehe. ^-^ Have a lovely Sunday evening, everyone!