(Author's note: *another* new story! People probably hate me. ANYway… I really do like this one, and it's in third person, so I'm happy! The first two "chapters" are actually the first chapter, but you know how I like to split long chapters up! That will probably happen often… so I'm making the *chapters* different from the "chapters." Idk how relevant that is to you… anyway, enjoy! ~not Ross)

Chapter One

Berouvolle's trash-burning pits, the Fire Fields, weren't far from the iron gates at the entrance of the city, an unusual occurrence for towns of that magnitude. Sparks traveled like cotton on the wind, and that was dangerous. But Adrian was grateful for the short walk because the winter mornings were so frigid and the nights were so dark. Adrian hated the dark.

When Adrian walked to work every day, he could see the flames form the gates that sat, always open and rusty, in front of the city. He watched other passers-by shield their faces and quicken their pace until the fires were behind them, as if fire was a curse from the gods, but Adrian loved seeing the orange streaks flickering against the white sky. It was almost always cloudy in Berouvolle, and only the fires gave Adrian warmth.

Next to the Fire Fields perched a shack where all the Stokers kept their uniforms. Adrian picked the lock (the manager had lost his last key years before and insisted that anyone clever enough to handle fire could pick a lock, and anyone clever enough to pick a lock could handle fire) and clomped inside. Whether out of necessity or out of spite, some brilliant bloke had given Adrian a bottom shelf, even though his greasy black nearly wore pathways in the ceiling when he walked. He stooped to retrieve his uniform and stripped down right in the middle of the room. No girls worked at the Fields, anyway. What did he have to worry about?

The lock rattled at least half a dozen times before a blonde chunk of a boy tumbled through the doorway, snickering. "Nice suntan lines," Saul giggled. He mounted the shelves and climbed up to his uniform, high at the top. Whoever had assigned the shelves must have been in a really terrible mood.

"At least I have them at all," Adrian muttered blankly. Saul darkened about as well as a corpse, perhaps less so, and that earned him a bit of mocking in the shack. Most of the other Stokers were like Adrian – dark as shadows in a basement and proud of it. Oil spots.

Saul leapt from the top shelf and landed with a thud so enormous that the tin water cans of the table rattled. "How's your grandma?" he asked, peeling off a shirt.

"Oh, you know," Adrian shrugged. "The usual. Last night, she was convinced that I'm actually a lion tamer and work for a circus. I had to do a bit of… pantomime."

"I am still never coming to your house, ever. Your grandma is crazy."

Adrian let out a long sigh. "Yeah. I know she is." He blamed his sister for that. He blamed his sister for nearly everything, though.

More boys appeared in the doorway as the minutes passed, and they babbled about all the girls in town just like they always did. Adrian distanced himself from the conversation. It seemed juvenile in light of Saul's observations. His grandma was crazy, and she was probably back in their soapbox of a house talking to all the friends that weren't there and trying to curl her thin brown with those curlers that hadn't worked in years. She hadn't be so senile when Avila was still around.

Adrian gritted his teeth and slammed his tin water can against the oak table hard and fast, trying to calm himself. The other boys jabbered on. Maybe Avila was a self-centered, conceited, thoughtless traitor, but she was his sister, and he missed her through his seething anger. Usually he could contain it. But then he remembered that he lived in an old woodshed with his lunatic grandma and burned trash for a living, and all that was hard to ignore.

"Three," bellowed a deep voice, short and condescending. Adrian's hand froze, and he slowly stood, head bowed. "Don't wear a hole in my table."

"Yes, sir," Adrian mumbled. Stoker number Three, that was who he was to all these boys and to their manager, nothing more. "Sorry, sir."

The manager grunted. He wasn't such a mean man so much as a strict man, and a rather old one at that. If a Stoker could stay off his hate-list, working at the fields wasn't the worst job in town. As soon as that hate-list came out, though… Adrian stared at his feet, clad in thick leather boots. "I'd like to leave you boys with one short word of advice," the manager declared, obviously quite please at the wisdom he was about to impart.

The Stokers waited.

"Fire only hurts if you walk in it."

Well, he was old. The Stokers glanced at each other in bewilderment and concealed amusement. Ofcourseitdoes, Adrian thought. Whatkindofadviceisthat?Careful,oldman,you'restartingtosoundlikemygrandma.

Seeming pleased enough with these reactions, the manager wasted little time in shooing the Stokers to their various job assignments as he did every day with such inexplicable pleasure in his foggy eyes.

Days passed slowly for Adrian. At least he didn't have to collect all the trash from other people with Saul anymore (that was the rookie job), and he got to spend his hours alone with a heavy metal rod and the flames. They smelled, and the metal grew too warm too quickly, but they were better than people. People acted strangely as soon as Adrian turned around and they caught sight of his braid – it wasn't even very big, but they treated it like a pox. As if it was contagious. Adrian wouldn't have minded that, though, for he happened to like the way his skinny little braid looked.

Sometimes, he felt guilty for being so angry with his sister. What if there was a reason she left? What if she regretted that night which seemed so far in the past, so recent? What if she was looking for him right now?

"Or," he muttered to the fire, "maybe she's not." It spat a spark onto his boot, and it fizzled out instantly.

Adrian liked winter not because of the cold weather (in all honesty, he could have done without that), but because the days were short and the nights were long. He worked from sunrise to sunset, and when sunset came nearly two hours before he had to be home for supper, he could go and do other things. Sometimes he would go to the tavern with some of the other Stokers, or he would find a bench somewhere on Berg Street and watch the people shove past, and he'd try not to think of Avila. This night, though, he and Saul had to patronize the General Store to pick up food for the week.

Well, really, Adrian had to go and Saul wanted to come along to bother— rather, "help" him.

"Getting cold, isn't it?" Saul asked as Adrian shoved his way towards the store. Saul rode in his wake.

"It's winter," Adrian muttered. "I'd be worried if it wasn't."

"That's true."

Saul never knew when to shut up, but Adrian had learned how to tune out his babbling. Some people had no respect. Couldn't Saul tell that he wasn't in the mood for talking and would, in fact, never be in the mood for talking unless it involved his sister? Adrian lengthened his stride, tensed his arms. No one understood! His sister was an idiot! Why did she have to leave? This wasn't her fault. None of this was her fault. Why was he so angry with her?

This always happened. It was as if Avila had set up a couch and supper table right in the front of his mind and was just always there.

The bell above the door to the General Store clattered loudly as Adrian stormed through, sending a little girl scurrying back to the folds of her young mother's skirt. Sorry, Adrian thought to her. Ididn'tmeantoscareyou. Maybe that was why Avila ran off. Maybe he scared her. But maybe she made him scary.

Adrian stalked to the food shelves and had almost reached the jam section when he noticed the unusual silence trailing behind him. Had Saul finally stapled his mouth shut like Adrian had felt obligated to suggest on more than a few long afternoons that summer? He turned to smile at Saul in a gesture of encouragement, but not pale skin or blonde hair greeted his gaze. No stout boy with a mouth bigger than his body grinned at him. "Saul?" he called. Several irritated heads turned to glare at him, none of them blonde. None of them Saul's.

Terrific.

(Author's note: the first chapter continues if you hit the "next" button. Get it? Haha. ~not Ross)