• Published 19th Aug 2014
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The Fire and Embers - Tamara Bloodhoof



A girl in Equestria simply looking for a way home, forced to live in a place where she knows nobody and nobody knows her. Un-cannon part of the CGoTG's universe.

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Chapter 6: A Heart of Coal

Chapter Six
A Heart of Coal

As the sun slowly poured into the cave I blinked my eyes open, chuckling slightly at the weary dragon sleeping beside me. It had been two weeks since I had arrived here, a scared girl at the mouth of a cave, and I’d learned a few things about Coalheart and, surprisingly, myself during that time.

Two days after I had first come to Gaia I felt the grime starting to build up. I didn’t like the sensation, and retraced our rather massive tracks back to the pond. It was large, big enough for even Coalheart to splash about it, a clean and clear body of water, unpolluted or contaminated. Without thinking about my actions I felt myself leave the earth as I jumped in, whooping at the top of my lungs. The pond didn’t bottom out even as I sank further and further into it, a small trail of bubbles tracking my progress through the water. My scales seemed to keep the water out but I could feel the muck from my body start to ooze into the water. I quickly dragged myself out, laughing at my own rashness as I began to use the water already over me to soak the dirt down and away into the grass at my feet.

For the first time since I came here I saw myself in the rippling water. I was still built like the human I had been, lanky and thin as a whip, almost starved in appearance. I didn’t know exactly how tall I was, but I could guess somewhere above six feet. My arms and legs were both long, but my groin seemed to have fused with some of the upper section of my thighs, slowly bending backwards into a single large tail. I had snout now. It looked like a slight protuberance from my chin to my upper mouth, much smaller than a dog or horses but large enough to give me an inhuman look. I had lost all of my hair and even my lips, both of them replaced by pronounced ridges of scale. Even my eyes had changed, both of them the colour of crimson. It almost looked demonic in the morning light.

As for my body it was entirely covered in scales from the crown of my head to the tip of my toes. I was the same colour as Coalheart, my scales black as a moonless midnight aside from a patch on my stomach and my face as well. My stomach was instead covered in white plates which interlocked seamlessly with my other scales. As for my face, it looked like somebody had coated it in ash and the ashes had fused with my scales. It was an amazing sight, the beast within the water moving at my whim, but when I thought about who it truly was it hurt slightly. Everything I knew had changed, and not even my body was as I remembered it.

It was at this point that Coalheart came into sight, looking somewhat shocked at seeing a teenage girl washing herself in the middle of the woods, and my reaction was to shriek in surprise and alarm. I immediately dove into the water, my head gently arching back to the top of the pond, my eyes glaring at him. “Have you been letting me stay just so you could get a look?” I shouted at him, feeling embarrassed and suspicious.

He seemed too shocked to reply, and he didn’t regain his senses until he looked from the pond to the wet patch of grass that I had been standing on. When he finally realized what I was implying he began to laugh uproariously, his head turning from my submerged form. “Oh heavens no, I was simply wondering why you were making such a racket. No, I don’t think of you like that. Truth be told, you are so young that you are likely less than a hundredth of my age. Your closer to the daughter I’ve never had than anything else. Besides, what would I see that you don’t show all the time anyways?” he asked, and I could tell he was winking at me through his turned head.

Now it was my turn to laugh, though mine was far more self-derogatory than his. Chastisement never sat well with me, and self-chastisement was even worse. I should have remembered that I hadn’t worn proper clothes since I had come here, and I really should have remembered that he was at least over a millennia. That and if he was this big as a person, then I doubt anything would be possible. Okay, that was a bit nasty of a thought…

‘Why is it that despite being so intelligent you always think of things so base?’

‘……’

‘No news isn’t good news you know.’

‘Oh go stuff a sock in it!’ I grumbled, tired of how my conscious had decided to be so snarky lately.

‘That would be painful and in no way helpful.’

‘That is not what I meant!’

‘Be clear about what you mean then idiot!’

“What’s wrong Ember?”

I wanted to throttle myself by now, but Coalhearts voice was enough to remind me that I wasn’t speaking a word, simply arguing with my own mind, something I seemed to have gotten into the habit of lately. I really was going crazy, wasn’t I?

“Nothing’s wrong, I was just finishing up.” I replied, sighing as I drug myself out of the pond. I wasn’t as clean as I wanted to be, but I had washed off most of the dirt and I felt very happy for it. “You can turn around now.”

He didn’t do so though, simply plodding back down the path. “Well then, I would recommend heading back to the cave, it’s about to get dark. Oh, and would you mind hunting for some meat in a couple of days?” he asked even as he walked away.

A quick look to the sky proved him to be right, and I followed him closely as we walked forward, giving him a shouted “Sure thing!” in reply to his question.

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It had been half a week later when I went on my first hunt. I found the beast without a problem, my eyes seeing him through all the trees. I wasn’t sure why I could see it so well, but there seemed to be this sort of aura around the creature, something which differentiated him from the shrubbery he was eating. As I charged at it the thing began to run, yet I was able to follow it without a problem, my new body tirelessly chasing what seemed to be a stag and far outstripping it in speed. When I caught up to it I tackled the stag, pinning him beneath me despite the stag being far larger than me. To my surprise I couldn’t kill it no matter how many times I told myself that it was food. The stag was staring at me, eyes wide in terror, assured that, in a few moments, I was going to end its existence. The sight made me feel sick.

In biology class I had dissected dozens of things, frogs and cats and rats and more, but they had always been dead. They had looked sickly and wet, like they had been drowned in juices, and I knew that I was simply working with something already dead. This was so different, a creature that could still feel, still sense the world around it, and I was supposed to end all of that. I just couldn’t bring myself to do so, and in the end I simple rolled off of the creature.

At first the stag had played dead, both of us simply sitting there for what felt like eternity, neither of us taking our eyes off of the other. Finally, when it realized that I wasn’t playing with it, he stood up and started to run off. After a few bounds he stopped, turning around and giving me a small bow before running off into the woods. I continued to sit there until I could no longer hear it crashing through the trees, then stood up and started walking back to the cave, wondering what I was going to say to Coalheart.

Coalheart had been more than understanding about my situation, and had given me a gem and a smile just like mom had when I was a little girl. When I took a bite out of the gem it had tasted like a chocolate chip cookie, and the familiar taste had been a blessing in the midst of the stress. When I finished the gem and thanked him, he simply smiled at me.

After that day I wasn’t asked to gather any meat for us and he never gave me any meat that wasn’t cut off of the animal. He even went so far as to cook it all so that nothing but what we would be eating came back to the cave. I never knew why he went out of his way to do so much for me, but it was obvious that he was enjoying my presence. In all honesty I couldn’t deny that he had made this cave feel more like home than mine ever had.

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Another two days had passed when Coalheart had asked to have a conversation. His tone didn’t brook for any argument, and his downtrodden attitude didn’t make me feel like this was a happy chat. The sun had already begun to set and so I followed him into the back of the cave. He gestured for me to sit in the nest and I did so.

“Ember, I want you to be truthful, do you truly have amnesia?” he asked, his voice stern as he glared at me.

I immediately opened my mouth, ready to innocently claim yes, but I thought about the last week, what he had done for me and shut it again. I didn’t want to lie to him, if only because I knew he would be disappointed if he found out, and losing his trust was something that would hurt a lot more than honesty.

‘Sometimes it’s better to lie than to face the consequences.’

“No…” I whispered, my eyes focused at the ground, ignoring myself.

“Why did you lie and pretend you had lost your memories?” He asked, and I could hear the hurt in there. Of course he was hurt, why wouldn’t he be? I had pretended to lose my memories and even after he did so much to help me I didn’t come clean until the issue was forced. What kind of person does that?

‘A scared one.’

“I…I didn’t know anything. Everything that you told me was something new, something interesting, and I didn’t know any of it. I’ve had family before, but I always had to do everything on my own, so when I came here it was easier to pretend that I just couldn’t remember anything than to face the fact that I wasn’t strong enough or good enough to learn what I needed to survive…” I whispered, my fangs piercing into the ridges of my mouth. I still couldn’t look at him, too afraid of what I’d see.

He was silent for what felt like an age, but when he spoke again his voice was cracking gently, like he himself wanted to cry. “I said it when I first met you, forgiveness is hard to give and simple allowance is much easier, but this isn’t the time for allowance. Ember, I forgive you for lying to me. You were scared and unsure, and when one is in pain themselves than they can easily harm others. But I want you to promise me something.”

I gulped, a knot swelling in my throat as I struggled not to simply break down right here. “What is it?”

“I want you to promise to never use your pain as an excuse to hurt those you love.” he whispered.

I nodded, finally looking up at Coalheart. He looking at me in a way I couldn’t ever remember my parents doing. It was smile of sorrowful pride, the one where you feel proud of the other persons choices, not proud for them. A single tear was rolling down his cheek, and he caught it on his claw tip, holding it out till it was close enough for me to bite.

“Ember, each dragon can shed only one true tear their entire lives. By giving their tear to another they give them a piece of themselves, some of their strength and knowledge. I have no children of my own and my line shall die with me, but I would like you to be my successor. Please accept my blessing, for there is little more that I can give you. At the very least I can share comfort and love.” He rumbled, his voice strained as he too tried not to break down.

I didn’t know how it would grant me strength, but I took his claw-tip in my mouth and licked his blood off, and for the first time since I came here I felt tears flowing down my cheeks that weren’t borne from sorrow. When I pulled back I looked back up to him and gave him a hug, crying for the simple joys I had experienced since I had come here.

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I yawned gently as I continued digging my newest hole in the rock walls outside of our cave. Coalheart had set me on gem hunting duty since I couldn’t hunt, and after a few quick demonstrations of how to do it I had gotten a rough idea and a fair amount of proficiency at digging for my own food. Neither of us had spoken about the night when he confronted me, but we were talking like old friends now, neither one of us feeling any discomfort with the other.

Learning about gem digging was a lot harder than talking to Coalheart though. There were small signs when gems were present, a discolouration of the stone from its natural tone or a different texture of the rocks as well, and wherever the build-up was the strongest was the direction to dig. A few times I could actually smell the stones, something that I had no words that would really describe it. I just knew they were there. By now I had found nearly forty gems, but when I had a whole week to find them all it wasn’t that much to boast about, especially with how I ate them.

Today was the same, digging for stones beneath the heat of the dropping sun, working hard and enjoying it. I knew that I had to get home, but now wasn’t the time to worry about that really. I’d yet to come up with a halfway decent plan, and I couldn’t talk to Coalheart about since I was trying to stay as incognito as possible. As for why I hadn’t left already, well, I was loathe to admit it, but I didn’t want to leave him. He was like the father I’d always wanted and I didn’t want to crush that happy smile he had whenever he saw me.

Looking out over the forest I saw him flying about, looking for something to eat. I really wasn’t that worried, he had always found something to eat and we had enough gems to subsist for at least a week if we wanted to! As the sun dropped lower I stopped digging through the wall and sat down, taking a well-deserved break after I had just pulled out another three fist sized amethysts. I didn’t know how those gems got so big, but I wasn’t complaining about such a fortunate fact. After a few minutes I began to wonder just where Coalheart was. He still wasn’t back and clouds had begun to cover the sky, their dark colour threatening rain. Maybe he just hadn’t noticed and was still hunting something?

‘As I said, no news isn’t good news.’

‘But there hasn’t been any sign that something’s happened, and who could harm someone like him?’

‘You really didn’t like the story of David and Goliath did you.’

“What does that have to do with anything?” I growled, standing up and patting my legs clean of any pulverized rock that had stuck onto my scales. I didn’t want to think about it, but just because he was large and strong didn’t mean he was impossible to hurt, and a hurt wing could keep him from returning on time. I started to walk into the forest, treading gently as I strained to hear Coalheart. I could hear him roaring in the distance like he usually did when he hunted, but it seemed different this time. He seemed angry for some reason, almost as if he was annoyed at whatever he was hunting. What had worked him up so much?

The next thing I heard made my gut twist in nervous apprehension. It someone, a girl probably, shrieking at the top of her lungs while something or someone made some kind of battle cry. I felt my legs pounding against the ground as I began to run towards the sound without a second thought, trees whipping past me as the girls shriek grew even louder. The boy had gone silent by now, his voice dying as quickly as it came. Was Coalheart hunting them? Who were they, and what was going on? I ran faster and faster until I reached the edge of the trees.

What I saw will never leave me, I’m sure of that.

Coalheart was falling out of the sky, his wings no longer supporting his weight as he barrelled into the ground, eyes wide in shock. As he collided a sound similar to gunshots went off, and by the sudden caving of his chest he had probably just shattered most of his bones. His body had cut a massive gouge into the earth, his mouth open wide as he simply lied on his side, blood pouring out of his open mouth like a river. A dozen or so feet in front of him was a female griffin lying on the ground, her fur on her hind legs slightly charred. She was staring at him in pure terror, just like the stag had been looking at me. Coalheart hacked a few times, a massive bulge stuck in his throat, but the bulge itself was squirming, slowly pushing upwards and outwards. He was thrashing about by now, his tail smashing down huge swaths of trees and his claws cutting deep into the ground, but it all ended as he finally stopped moving, a small hiss escaping from him as his eyes glazed over.

“No…” I heard myself whisper. It was like the very ground beneath my feet had been removed, had vanished and left me falling in space. Was he dead? How could he have died? He was over a millennia old, was strong enough to destroy a forest by himself! I felt myself collapse as I stared at the bulge in his neck as it finally pushed its way out of his mouth. The sound was similar to a plunger unclogging a pipe, and as the thing removed itself a flood of blood poured out of Coalhearts mouth, the liquid staining the ground crimson.

The thing was a griffin, one with an eagle front half, and he was laughing like a maniac. His feathers and coat were coated in blood, and he seemed to be having the time of his life as he turned around to look at Coalheart like he would suddenly sit back up and swallow them both, his laughter momentarily dying. After a few terse moments he began to laugh again, this time like a maniac, his voice shrill in either terror or pure surprise at still being alive, and he pulled himself up onto Coalhearts head and screamed a warcry over his dead form.

“WRRRRRRYYYYYYYY!” he bellowed, balancing on his hind paws as he beat on his chest like a gorilla and neither me or the other griffin could believe what he was doing. It didn’t last for too long though and once he had finished celebrating he jumped off and walked over to her.

“What’s the matter? Never seen someone kill a dragon?” he asked, a broad smirk on his face. When he spoke it was nonchalant, as if he had meant for everything to happen like this, like what had just happened wasn’t insane and terrifying for everyone involved. She herself seemed shocked at his attitude and even more surprised that he was alive. Her clawed hand slowly reached out to him, and when it finally touched she pulled him into a hug, nearly crying into his shoulder.

“You magnificent, stupid, beautiful dumbass!” she sobbed, pushing him back as her expression changed from relief to teary anger. “I thought you were dead! What the hell where you thinking!?” she shrieked, her plumes slightly standing on end as she glared at the offending man.

“I guess when I saw you get hurt I just went a little crazy.” he said, as if it was the simplest answer in the world. “Why does dragon blood taste like lemon juice?” he asked, but it wasn’t directed at the other griffin, simply said for asking’s sake. Both of us stared at him in shock. How could he be acting like this when he had just done a feat few had ever accomplished. As he finally seemed to realize that the girl was hurt he walked to her side and looked down at her wound.

“Can you move?”

“Yeah, I think I caAAAAAAH!” she shrieked, her hind legs unable to support her weight.

“No, you can’t. Let me help you.” he said.

“I SAID I’M FINE!”

He stood there for a moment, then simply shrugged uncaringly. “Well, I suppose I can just leave you here then.” he stated matter of factly, turning to leave.

The girl watched him take a few steps before giving another small shriek and relenting. “Okay fine! But you never ever tell anyone about this!”

He gave a small chuckle as he returned to her, sliding her onto his back as he pushed off of the ground, both of them flapping their wings gently as they rose into the air, neither of them looking back at Coalhearts body. Once they had left it still took me another few minutes to gather the courage to crawl out to Coalhearts body, my steps unsteady and my feet barely able to keep me standing.

“Hey, Coalheart, get up already, it’s nearly time for dinner!” I chuckled, waiting for him to open his eyes, to laugh at what a weird griffin that was, but he didn’t. “What, do I have to lug you all the way back home?” I asked him, trying to smile, but it simply wouldn’t come. I had reached his body by now and I felt the strength leave my legs as I flopped down in front of his face, not caring about the pool of blood coating my scales. “Wake up already!” I shouted at him, my whole body shivering as I strove not to cry, but he didn’t answer me. He was still playing around, cruelly teasing me by being so silent.

‘Silent as the grave.’

“Don’t say that!” I screamed, shaking my head back and forth. I pressed my face against his, staring into his lifeless eyes. “You’re the closes thing I’ve ever had to a father, you can’t just die like this!” I sobbed. But it wasn’t going to change anything. I had been unable to do anything for him, only able to watch him die, and I had even failed at that, too focused on hiding to respect his last moments.

“Please, you’re the only family I have left, don’t go!” My only response was another gout of blood pouring out of his slack mouth, the wave coating me completely.

I felt myself break down. I was unable to even sit up anymore and I curled in upon myself, sobbing gently into my own scales as the clouds above finally opened, rain falling from the sky in massive sheets, the water washing the blood away.

Once again I was alone.

All alone.