Ark and Pyren slowly climbed their way down the mountains, through the montane woodlands, and into the calm Neven Forest. The two trekked for kilometers, day and night, slept on rock and grass, and talked and joked the whole way. Just getting down the mountains was a trial of its own, and, as the two weren’t anything close to experienced adventurers, they expended their food and water quite fast. With no sign of anything to eat or drink, Pyren and Ark were exhausted. The sun might not have been too bright with all the trees, but all the walking got to the two. Pyren was dragging his sword along through the forest, leaving a trail as it cut through the dirt-laden path. “Where even are we?” he asked, panting. “I have no idea. The map isn’t helping at this point,” said Ark. Pyren fell to the ground, his sword falling too. “Ughhh…. We’re never gonna make it, are we?” he said. “D-don't give up just yet!” said his brother. “But the ground is soooo nice…. I just wanna lie here forever……” cried Pyren. Ark lifted his younger brother and put him over his shoulder. “W-what are you doing?” exclaimed the folf, surprised at his brother’s physical gesture. “I’m not gonna just leave you here! We’re in this together, remember?” said Ark. “T-thanks….” said Pyren, yawning and letting himself fall over his brother’s scaly shoulder.
The sky peeked through the trees, visible, but not omnipresent. The trees were dense, but not so much so to cause discomfort. No wild beasts, no threats, just quiet. Ark carried Pyren along on his back, flipping through the pages of his tome to practice some simple spells. “Igneto faloren!” he exclaimed under his breath, creating a small spark of flame. “Alright, how about… huh?” said the dragon, noticing his brother perking up. “What do you think our dad’s like?” he asked, weakly. Ark tilted his head back toward Pyren. His claws dug into the dirt as he trudged along the sparsely laden forest trail. “I dunno. Mom always said he was a bit self-righteous,” he told the folf, recalling spare moments from his childhood. “She did mention that a lot… but didn’t she also say he was kind and noble?” he muttered. Ark looked into the trees. He picked up his book and opened it to the page with the hexagram. “I want to meet him for myself,” he said, taking note of the glowing points. He turned his head again, only to see his brother had passed out. The dragon smiled softly and picked up the pace.
After trekking for a few more hours, Ark finally found a glimpse of hope. A hyena pulling a cart was walking across the dirt path just ahead. “Looks like a peddler... Wanna take a chance?” asked Ark, hoping for a yes. Woozy as he was, Pyren gave his brother a calm nod. “Hey, there,” said the dragon, catching up to the hyena salesman. “W-waagh! A d-dragon!” exclaimed the hyena, nearly falling back into his cart. “N-no, no, I don’t mean any harm! My brother and I just want to browse your wares. The hyena’s eyes darted from side to side, and he began to calm down. “Whew… that’s a relief. You two are the first customers I’ve seen in days! I was beginning to think I was wastin my time out here,” he told the dragon. “Speaking of, what are you doing out here?” asked Ark holding his brother carefully. “I’m a traveling merchant. Name’s Nathaniel. What might ya be looking for? Food? Water? Anything at all?” said the hyena, peddling as hard as he could to make up for the lost sales. “Y-yeah, definitely. We’ve been walking for days, and we ran out a while ago,” said Ark, placing Pyren on the ground. Nathaniel started piling jugs, berries, and dried meats galore in front of them. “T-that’s a little… excessive,” said Ark, unsure of how he was going to pay for all of that. “So how much do ya got?” asked Nathaniel. “Well, that’s the thing….” responded Ark. Unbeknownst to the two of them, Pyren started to wake up. “You’re telling me ya don’t got any money? I’ve got a family to feed, ya know!” said the hyena. “A-Ark… you could… give him the gem..” said Pyren, weakly. “P-Pyren? You’re awake?” said Ark, surprised. “Our mother’s jewel... I wouldn’t... I wouldn’t feel right just giving it away like this…” he said. “Hold up! What are you two blabbering about? If you don’t got money, whadda you gonna pay me with?” said Nathaniel. Ark pulled out the jewel. As it glittered in the sunlight, the hyena gasped. Ark looked down at his brother, who nodded. “I don’t want to give it away for something so… small, but.. ugh.. I hate to do it, but could you give us some food and water for this gem?” said Ark. “Hmm… ya seem really attached to this thing..” said Nathaniel, examining the glistening blue stone. “I’ll tell ya what… I’ll throw in somethin special,” he said. Nathaniel started rummaging through his cart and pulled out a small brown sack. The hyena placed two bottles of water, three bags of dried meat, and eight large berries inside the bag, baffling the two brothers at how they fit. “Here ya are, pleasure doin business with ya!” he said, handing it to Ark. Ark took the bag, and handed over the gem. “How did you fit all that in the tiny bag?” asked Pyren. “It’s a special, dragon-made bag. I dunno how ya’ll do it, but it’s a ton bigger inside. I said I’d give ya somethin special, didn’t I?” responded Nathaniel. “One more thing,” said Ark. “If I may ask, are there any… interesting locations around here? Landmarks, or something of the sort?” asked Ark. “Hmm… There is Rumbling Cave, a little northwest from here, but I don’t think ya’d wanna go there,” said Nathaniel. “I heard that plenty of explorers have gone in and never come back.” Ark looked down at the map, and recalled Pyren mentioning death traps. “Perfect,” he said, sporting a dragony grin. “Thank you!” exclaimed Pyren, as Nathaniel pulled his cart down the path. “S-sorry for misjudging ya! Be careful out there!” he said, turning his head back towards the brothers.
“How come you get to keep all the cool stuff? First the book, and now the bag? All I got was this stupid sword that’s too heavy for me to even use!” said Pyren, jealous. The folf was back up on his footpaws, but sat down and crossed his arms just as fast. Ark looked down at the bag for a moment, then tossed it to his brother. “W-wait up, you’re just gonna give it to me?” “Sure. I’ll bet it’ll make carrying that sword a little easier,” responded Ark. “Couldn’t you have said that earlier, so I didn’t have to carry it a mile and a half?” said the folf, propping himself up with said blade. Ark laughed at Pyren’s remark, realizing the irony of the situation. “Sorry. I just thought of it. Honestly, you gotta think for yourself once in a while,” he stated, holding a claw out for emphasis. “I-I think for myself!” said Pyren, flustered. “Since when have you been the one to contribute the good ideas? Last I checked, it was you who wanted to eat so much on the way here,” Ark pointed out. “Good point,” said Pyren, sighing.
As Pyren lapped up his water like a dog and Ark munched on a strip of the dried meat, they finally reached the cave. Upon their first steps into the cave, they immediately realized why it was called “rumbling.” The ground shook, rocks fell from the ceiling, and Ark nearly fell over. “Could the place shake any harder?” said Pyren, miffed. “If it was easy, wouldn’t everyone be adventurers?” noted Ark, having a bit of insight. “Huh?” asked the folf, confused at the sudden philosophical question. “You know, the challenge? Don’t you think the challenge is what makes the journey worth it?” said Ark. “Dunno. If you ask me, I’d prefer to not get my head knocked in by a falling-” Suddenly, a rock landed right next to Pyren, narrowly missing his head. “Rock,” he finished, blushing a bit.
At the end of the passage, a ruined structure resembling an altar room lay. Carvings similar to those in Ark’s book indented the crumbled walls and floor. In the center was a pedestal with an intricate silver bangle. The air that filled the room felt like it was whispering. “Wow. That was easy,” said Pyren, walking up to the pedestal nonchalantly. Ark grabbed him by the shoulder. “Waaah! What was that for?” said Pyren. “Aren’t you the one who said there might be traps?” Ark told him. Pyren rolled his eyes, taking his reaction to that line as a sign he wasn’t being taken seriously. Ark pointed at the feral stone dragon lying just behind the pedestal. “Oh. Hehe, would you look at that,” chuckled Pyren, getting a bit of confirmation. Just as he said that, the runes around the room began glowing with magical energy. The dragon-like golem awoke and edged closer, wiping away rubble with its huge claws. Ark scoffed. “The statue must have an enchantment!” he said, grabbing his brother and pulling him back. The automaton brought its claw down, cracking the ground like paper-mache. Ark leaped into the air and flipped through his tome. “Try this on for size!” he yelled. “Kalare igneto vulmnatis!” chanted the dragon, blasting a small fireball at the hulking stone monster. Pyren struggled to lift his sword, wobbling around, haphazardly dodging falling debris. “This.. stupid...thing… won’t... budge! Why give me a weapon I can’t use?” he exclaimed. The dragon statue brushed off the fire spell and reached for Ark’s tail with its free claw. “Nice try!” he said, flying out of the way. Pyren to brought his heavy blade up to strike the enchanted statue, but ended up tripping under the weight of his weapon. The folf looked up in terror when the golem raised its foot. As he was about to be stepped on, Ark flew down to push him out of the way. It grabbed him by the tail and swung him around like a ragdoll. Pyren watched helplessly as his brother was dashed against the walls of the altar room. “Pyren! Grab the-” Ark was interrupted by the sound of his body being smashed on the wall. “Bangle! There’s gotta be-” Ark hit the wall again. “A mechanism! There’s a-” Pyren understood his brother’s cut off message. He ran, dove under the large stone creature, and nabbed the silver bangle, putting it on. A boulder fell from the ceiling, landing right on the automaton’s head. The glow of magic dissipating as it crumbled under the rock’s weight. A separate piece of debris fell just toward Pyren, who instinctively raised his weapon to block the incoming danger. Then it hit him. Somehow, he had lifted the sword unimpeded! As the cave crumbled, the folf escaped just in time to run to his fallen brother’s aid. “There’s…. always…. a….. boulder…” said Ark, before blacking out.
Pyren managed to pull his brother out of the cave. The sword he had mysteriously and suddenly been able to wield was wedged in the dirt. While he himself was unscathed, Ark wasn’t. Ark’s battered and bloodied body terrified Pyren. “Big… brother?” Pyren shook Ark. No response. “You’re gonna be okay…. You’re gonna be okay…. You’re gonna be okay…” repeated Pyren, in shock. Not even Ark himself could predict what happened next. Ark’s wounds miraculously started to heal. Soon afterward, the dragon began to blink, wounds closed and bones mended. “W-what... happened? Where am I?” he muttered. “A-Ark?” said Pyren, clasping his paws over his muzzle. “Pyren? And my body… it’s healed…? How?” asked Ark. “I don’t know… you just kinda healed on your own,” responded Pyren, still shaken from the situation. “Healed on my own? What?” asked the dragon, curious as to how so many wounds just disappeared. “I don’t know!” barked Pyren, flustered at his inability to control the situation. He looked down into his paws, almost depressingly. He was still holding wearing the silver bracelet they had gotten from the cave. “Hey! You got the bangle!” exclaimed Ark, holding up his claw for a high five. Pyren practically ignored it. “What’s wrong? You never leave me hanging!” said Ark, head hanging in disappointment. “Maybe...maybe we’re not cut out for this kind of thing…” said Pyren, downcast. “W-what? What do you mean?” asked Ark. “You almost got killed in there! I thought you were gonna die!” yelled Pyren. “What’s gotten into you? We got out alright, didn’t we?” said Ark. “We might not next time! I couldn’t even lift my stupid sword! How can you expect me to fight on the same level as you?! I’m useless. You’re smarter, stronger, more intuitive… and what am I?” yelled Pyren. “What are you talking about? I was the one on the ground! You got us out of there!” exclaimed the dragon, trying to reason with his brother. Pyren stayed silent, not knowing how to respond. “I... I thought we were in this together…. You know…. find our dad?” said Ark, trying to comfort Pyren. “Your dad,” said the folf. Ark gasped. “He’s never met me. He probably doesn’t even know I exist…. The only reason I’m here….” said Pyren, through tears. “Is because I wanted to spend time with my brother…” Pyren stormed out of the camp, with Ark reaching out in vain.
Pyren was sitting alone behind a tree, his fur drenched in tears. He slid the piece of jewelry off his arm. He looked at the bangle in his paws and asked himself if it was all worth it. He couldn’t tell if seeing his brother all beat up like that was an appropriate price to pay for a shiny trinket, yet something still nagged him in the back of his mind. Right before he dragged Ark out of the cave, he actually managed to lift his sword. In fact, he lifted the sword like it was nothing! How? The folf shook his head and slipped the bangle back on. Nothing happened He didn’t expect anything to. Ark walked up, obviously looking for him. “Hey,” he said, sitting down next to his brother. Pyren looked empty. “I just wanted to say…. that I’m sorry,” muttered Ark. Surprised, Pyren looked up. “I shouldn’t have dragged you into all this. It was irresponsible to put you in that kind of danger. I’m gonna go the rest of the journey alone,” explained Ark. Pyren sighed, smiling softly. “Do you really think I’m letting you go out there by yourself?” he said. The folf then leaped into his brother’s arms, tears once again flowing. “W-whoa!” exclaimed Ark. “I feel like I’m a burden to you… like I hold you back... but you’re still my big bro. I’m not letting go,” he said. “But… what about-” “Forget about it…” interrupted Pyren. “We gotta look out for each other. That’s what it means to be brothers, right?”
Ark woke Pyren up the next morning. The light shined through the trees all around the surrounding area, and the mountains above cooled it to make a calming aura all across the forest. “Neven sure is peaceful,” said Pyren, to his brother. Ark smiled. “It’s a change of pace from the mountains, that’s for sure,” he responded. Pyren leaned on a tree and fiddled with his bangle. He looked up at the sky, and down to Ark. “Do you think this thing could be magical like that statue was?” he asked his dragon brother. Ark gave him a quizzical look. “Hmm… On a smaller scale, maybe. I’m still not exactly sure what these things are,” said Ark. Pyren looked at his reflection on the shiny surface of the bangle. “Maybe Dad wanted to help us out? Give us something to make our lives a little easier?” he guessed. Ark shook his head. “Why would he put death traps to kill us then? Those ruins seemed pretty old. From the looks of it, they were dragon-made, but I have no idea when that bracelet was put there. Maybe he left it there for us to find. Maybe it’s been rotting there for a thousand years. I don’t have a clue,” he rebutted. “Well, these things have gotta do something! He wouldn’t just give us a map and send us on a wild goose chase!” exclaimed the folf. Ark rolled his eyes. “He DID leave mom and me, you know,” he pointed out. Pyren sighed. He pulled his sword out of the bag and held in his hand. It felt… lighter than usual. In fact, it wasn’t heavy at all anymore. Ark gasped. “How… are you… doing that?” he questioned. Pyren connected it to the bangle. “This thing must be helping me!” he said, intuitively. Pyren laughed with glee. “I...I can finally fight with you! I can amount to something!” he yipped. Ark squinted. He walked over and pulled the silver bracelet off of his brother’s arm. Suddenly, Pyren staggered, almost dropping the sword under its newfound weight. The folf chuckled. “How’s that for a good idea?” he said, proudly. Ark smirked, and the two continued on the path out of the forest.
Chapter 2 of Chosen of Fir: Mementos From a Distant Father.