Chapter 4: Trial of Bonds by Shadewrecker

The fields of Galde were bright and sunny once again, with fresh morning dew coating its countless blades of grass. Pyren’s bushy fur blew in the wind like the foliage in the field all around them. Ark was studying the map for clues at their next location, which looked to be around a town to the north. Pyren was showing off his sword to Emerald. “And you’re sure that’s not your Sign doing that?” she said. Ark gave him a smug look before reaching over and pulling the silver bracelet off of his arm. The folf yelped before falling face first with his sword to the ground. Emerald giggled and said, “Guess not…” Pyren brought his face up from the dirt and glared at his brother, who was smirking. He dusted himself on and put the bangle back on and sheathed the sword in its new holster. “I wish this Sign of mine was a little more obvious,” he said, a little discouraged. “What’s this ‘sign’ business all about?” asked Ark, piping up. “Every fur has some sort of special gift. It’s like... our little blessing from Azalea,” explained Emerald. Her paws began to glow that signature purple color. “I have the Sign of the Psychic,” she said, carefully pulling out the now glowing blade that Pyren had just put away, to the boys’ amazement. Once they were done gawking, Ark gave a quizzical look, putting a claw on his chin. “Didn’t you say you don’t get cold? Maybe that’s your gift,” he told Pyren. The folf rolled his eyes. “What a useful ability,” he said, sarcastically. With one paw twirling the sword around effortlessly, Emerald placed the other on his shoulder. “I’m sure there's more to it than that! When my Sign started manifesting, I thought my powers were silly too. Look how I turned out!” she said reassuringly, placing the heavy sword back in its scabbard. Pyren gave his new friend a soft smile, before they continued down on the path.

As the three walked, Fir’s large sun began to wear on them. “T-this is starting to get a little tiring….” muttered Emerald, breathing heavily. Pyren reached into his bag and handed her a canteen of water. “You get used to it. When you’re an adventurer like us, you gotta be resilient!” he bragged to her as she accepted the water. Ark chuckled under his breath, recalling his brother’s unwillingness to get up just a few days ago. When the cat had finished lapping up a significant volume of the water, she turned to him and tilted her head. “I never thought about it until now, but how in the world are you two brothers?” she asked, confused. “I’m adopted,” said Pyren, matter-of-factly, as he put his arms behind his head. Ark sighed annoyedly. “Don’t think that means anything, Pyren,” he said, having taken his head out of the tome. Now he had both their attentions. “We’re brothers. Adopted or not, you’re my closest friend.” Emerald just nodded and turned back to Pyren. “I just can’t believe that a fur and a dragon could grow up together like it was nothing…” she muttered. “Sometimes I can’t believe it either…” muttered Ark, nose buried in his tome once more. “You really should get your face out of that book sometimes. Why don’t you just talk with us? You can’t even see where you’re going!” exclaimed Pyren. Ark seemingly ignored him, and subsequently stumbled on a rock, almost losing his balance. Pyren and Emerald started laughing, enjoying themselves.

Before reaching their next destination, which Ark had pointed out to them on the map, the three set up camp right before sunset. Emerald and Pyren sat with large berries in paw, watching the sunset. “You really seem like a natural with that sword. Almost like you had been using it your whole life,” said Emerald. “It did feel a little weird. Before I put the bracelet on, I couldn’t even pick it up! Sometimes I wonder if our dad was looking out for us when he left us that book,” he said. “Your father gave you that book?” asked Emerald, curious. “Yeah. It’s kinda the whole reason we’re out here, picking up the pieces, trying to find where he went. Ark really wants to know why Dad left,” he said. Emerald sighed. “I know the feeling,” she responded. The two were enjoying the sweet juices of the wild berries when Pyren asked, “Where did you learn to find these berries?” Emerald had a glum look on her face. “When I was little, my mother and I used to leave the slums and go out and pick berries. She taught me all the best ones to find and where to find them. We probably wouldn’t have gotten by without them,” she explained. “Seems like a pretty sweet skill to have,” responded Pyren, a little dryly. “Yeah. When I left home I was totally lost. I didn’t know which berries were which until a stranger helped me. Thanks to her, I made it to Andea,” said the cat, tilting the half-eaten berry in her paw. “I guess you made the best of what you had, huh?” said the folf. “Still, it was hard. I didn’t want to go back. So much so that I was fine with being shut up in my house. You helped me get over that fear,” she said. The folf glanced her way and gave a smile. He looked up at the falling sun and enjoyed the intense colors that painted the landscape in front of them. “It’s so nice. The sun, I mean,” he said. “I used to see a lot of sunsets when I was out here alone. They don’t really mean much without someone to see them with,” said Emerald, looking over at Pyren. He opened his mouth to talk when she leaned over and gave him a kiss on the cheek. At first, he was startled, but when the tension settled, there was silence for a few minutes as they finished watching the sun go down. “Sometimes I feel so whiny, like I’m always jealous of everyone else. Jealous of Ark, at the very least,” said the folf. “You’re still growing up. Give yourself some time,” responded Emerald. “You and Ark are barely older than me and you act just fine!” he said, angry at himself. “Everyone’s different, Pyren. I like you for who you are. You’re cute, enthusiastic, and charming. You don’t need to change just because there’s one little thing you hate about yourself,” she said. Pyren looked down at himself and back up at Emerald, once again at her eyes. “You’ve gone through a lot harder of a life than me and yet you’re still this nice and comforting person. I feel real calm when I’m around you,” he said. “You... “ said Emerald, trailing off. “I.. I just can’t help but really like you...” muttered Pyren, blushing. Emerald took his paw in hers and smiled once more.

Pyren awoke the next morning to realize he and Emerald had been in each other’s arms. The folf blushed a little, before carefully slipping out of her grip, only to notice Ark was already awake. The dragon had his tome wide open, held above a stack of firewood. He cast a fire spell to set it alight before dragging the corpse of some beast he had slain before Pyren woke up. “Ark?” asked Pyren, still woozy. Ark jumped a bit, startled. “H-hey, Pyren. Up already?” he asked. “Y-yeah. What are you doing?” responded Pyren. Ark started cutting into the flesh of the dead beast with a claw. “I figured I’d make you two a nice breakfast before you woke up, but I guess that plan’s in the bin now,” he said. Pyren squinted. “You don’t have to do all that! If we’re gonna go get breakfast, we’re gonna do it together,” he said, slightly miffed. Ark wiped the blood from his claws and sighed. “I dunno… I’m starting to think that maybe the gods just don’t want us together. I know what Emerald said about us, but…. You seem happier with your own kind,” he said, disappointment in his voice. Pyren’s mouth was wide open. “Maybe I’m supposed to be a protector, or an overseer-” Ark was cut off. “Supposed to? Supposed to what?” demanded Pyren. This was the first time Pyren had overpowered his brother. “It’s just what Razak wants me to do…” he muttered. “Who cares what some stupid god thinks! You said it yourself, I’m your brother, and that’s all that matters, right?” yelled the folf. Emerald started to wake from Pyren’s yelling, when out of the grass, came another of the beasts that Ark had killed. It caught them off guard with a bloodcurdling roar.

“Pyren? What in the world was that?” yelled Emerald. “Stay close to me!” he said, unsheathing his sword. Sooner than he had expected, Pyren was clashing blades with the tusks of a huge boar-like beast. “Damn, it must have followed me…” muttered Ark. Pyren grunted, yelling, “Back me up here!” The cat panicked, but began using and engulfing the beast with the same light as her paws. “Pyren! Get out of the way!” yelled Ark, ready to cast a spell. Taking the advice, Pyren leaped out of bladelock as Ark cast a blizzard spell. “Kalagan altiste fuare!” he shouted, sending a burst of crystalline snow at the boar. Emerald’s focus broke, releasing the boar to charge straight through Ark’s spell. The blizzard shattered, and before he knew it, the beast had toppled him. Ark growled as he struggled to knock the boar off of his body. Emerald attempted to grab the beast and lift it off of her new friend’s chest, but failed to focus in her panic. A tusk bore a hole right through Ark’s chest, his blood staining the pristine grass. In his pain, he managed to kick the beast into the air. Emerald regained focus, freezing the creature mid-fall, only for Pyren to jump up and get a good slash in on its belly. “Heh, try that on for size!” he yelled, cockily, charging forward for another attack. Emerald struggled to keep it afloat with its weight, and accidentally released her grasp on their squirming foe. The beast reoriented itself and charged with blind fury at the folf. Pyren gasped, unprepared for the sudden attack. Emerald had no time to react, so Ark resulted in using a spell he hadn’t used in years. “Sehrey sigmatum... plusari!” said the dragon, casting a purplish bolt in the seconds before Pyren was gouged. The folf fell to the ground, unharmed by the beastly creature, but Ark had no time to worry. “If the blizzard won’t work….. how about this!” said Ark as he followed up with a flame spell. The beast was engulfed in flames, and suddenly frozen solid by Ark’s new combination spell. Emerald picked up the beast and launched it, the poor beast shattering when it hit the ground. Ark grinned and fell to a knee, exhausted and wounded, with Emerald rushing to aid him.

“No, no, please…. Go check on Pyren,” Ark said to Emerald. “B-but… Are you gonna be alright?” she said, still flustered on what had just happened. “I’ll-” Ark interrupted himself by coughing up blood. “I’ll be okay. Just make sure…. my brother is safe,” he said, trying to tend his wound. Emerald looked down at the crimson stained grass below her, squinted her eyes and shuddered before turning around. “He must mean a lot to you… There’s a hole in your chest and all you can think about is him...” she muttered, before running over to Pyren’s limp body.

Emerald stared down in shock at what occupied the space where her friend used to be. He had been transformed into an inanimate plush toy. She fell to her knees in terror at what had become of him. “P-Pyren? Please tell me that you’re just hiding behind a bush… Don’t let this doll be you…. Please…” she said through tears. His bead-like eyes remained unmoving. The stitches on his body seemed to resonate with her fear. The cat's vision began to blur. Emerald picked up the folf plushie and hugged it like a lost little girl. She rose to her footpaws and carried him to the wounded dragon.

Emerald, still crying, dropped the plushie in front of Ark’s feet, with a look of loss on her face. “Hey, hey, don’t do that! He can feel that, you know,” said Ark, between winces of pain. “H-he… can feel? “He’s still in there?” asked Emerald, hopeful and desperate. “Yeah. Why else would I turn my brother into a plush? He can still feel and see everything in that body,” explained Ark. Emerald quickly scooped up Pyren and brushed the dirt off of his cloth fur. “W-why would you do this?!” exclaimed Emerald, blind and angry. “I did it to protect him! If I hadn’t, he’d have been killed by that monster!” responded Ark, pointing at the pieces of frozen boar. “It happened so fast. I had no other choice,” he said, looking dispirited. The anger in her eyes subsided. It wasn’t often Emerald was pushed to such an extent. “W-well, can’t you change him back?” she asked, hopeful. Ark’s eyes exhumed disappointment. “When I cast the spell… I didn’t have time to add a word, an addendum to the spell, if you will.” Emerald was confused. “W-what was the addendum?” she asked, worried. “A time limit,” muttered the

The answer hit the cat like a blunt weapon. She started sweating, breathing faster, and time seemed to slow around her. “Y-you mean to tell me… He’s gonna be stuck like this forever?” said Emerald, bordering breakdown. Ark felt like a failure. He did this, did he not? Blame rose from the dragon’s inner depths. One last sliver of hope remained. Ark clung on. “N-not necessarily! If we-” Ark coughed once more. “I-If we can find someone who knows the right spell… they might be able to change him back,” he finished. “And what about you? You’re bleeding out!” exclaimed Emerald. She didn’t notice, however, that his wound had grown smaller. “The regeneration process has already started. My wound should finish healing soon,” he responded. “R-regeneration?” she said, confused. “I don’t know exactly how it works or why I can do it, but my body heals wounds extraordinarily fast,” he said. “That’s.. incredible,” she said, holding tight onto Pyren. “I don’t have any idea how well versed you all are in magic… so this might just be a crapshoot…” said Ark, gritting his teeth. “I-I don’t know... I’ve never seen the kind of stuff you were using… Finding someone who could replicate that…” she muttered, confidence dissipated. “Let’s not lose hope. We’ve still got a chance. Let’s head to the next town. Maybe someone there will be of help,” said Ark, getting up on his feet. Emerald held Pyren’s limp plush body in his arms. “We’re gonna figure this out. I promise,” she told the toy.

Emerald looked longingly into the unmoving eyes of the folf plushie she carried as they walked. Her serious and solemn look turned to a small bit of comfort. “Hey, uh, I didn’t really mean to hurt your feelings yesterday. I didn’t realize I made you feel unwelcome,” she apologized. Ark kept walking, trying not to look at her. “D-don’t be that way… I think you’re really cool, Ark. I’m happy my boyfriend has such a strong brother to protect him!” she exclaimed. “Boyfriend?” he questioned, now turned toward her. She gasped and put her open paw over her muzzle, blushing. She hadn't meant to have said that. “It’s okay. I could tell from a mile away,” he said. Emerald blushed even harder, but even she knew it was obvious. She tucked Pyren under her arm as the embarrassment subsided. “That magic of yours was really neat, you know,” she said, trying to shoot up a conversation. “Yeah, and it might have turned Pyren into THAT forever,” muttered. Ark, stopping. Emerald sighed. “Hey, what happened to that hope of yours?” she asked. Ark looked down into his claws. “I just can’t help but think that this is all my fault. That I failed to protect my younger brother,” he said. “N-no! If it weren’t for you, he might have been gone forever! I might have been bitter earlier… but I’m glad I have the chance to get him back,” she said. Ark frowned. “An incredibly slim chance. You said you’d never seen my magic before, didn’t you?” he said. Emerald rolled her eyes. “Even if it’s a slight chance, I’ll take it if it means getting Pyren back. YOU convinced me, Ark,” she explained. He clenched a fist and resumed walking. “He’d want me to. Let’s go, Emerald. Let’s get Pyren back to normal,” he said, confidence renewed.

The strong winds of Galde wore on the two, but they continued. “So, what’s it like being all big and powerful?” said Emerald, walking with her tail between her legs. Ark gave her a quizzical look. “You know, what it’s like to be a dragon?” Ark must have been at least a foot taller than her, so at least the part about being big made sense. “I-I don’t really know what you mean… Being like this my whole life, I’ve never felt strange. Maybe recently I’ve felt a little out of place, but I’ve always felt comfortable in my body,” he responded. Emerald was twirling Pyren’s enchanted bag around in her paw. “I can’t imagine what it must be like to fly through the air with wings like yours....” she muttered. “I’ve always wanted to take Pyren on a ride with me. He’s wanted to ever since he was little. I just don’t think I’m strong enough…” explained Ark. His tail dragged nervously through the dirt path. He certainly never showed this side of him to Pyren. “I’ll bet you’ll do it someday. Heck, maybe you could take both of us!” she exclaimed. “I-I’m not you two’s personal chauffeur!” he said, miffed. The cat began laughing at the remark. “Alright, one at a time,” she said, revising her previous statement while still chuckling. When her laughter subsided, the plain was pure quiet. The wind picked up, as did Emerald’s tail. In the corner of her eye, a figure seemed to rush by. “S-someone’s there!” she shouted, clutching Pyren harder than before. When Ark turned his head to look, he saw nothing but grass in the wind. “I don’t see anything. You sure it isn’t the wind?” he testified. Emerald shook her head in denial. “I-I could have sworn I saw something…” she muttered. The cat sighed and continued walking.

The two climbed over a fallen tree and made it out of a more wooded area. Emerald squeezed the folf’s soft plush body. “It’s comforting… but it doesn’t replace his voice,” she said. In the pasture ahead of them, there was a single shack, and a person lying face down on the road. “You see that guy down there?” asked Emerald. “I don’t suppose he’s sleeping…” said Ark, before they ran up to assist him. Emerald put a paw on the man’s back. He was a dark gray looking rat, wearing tattered clothes. “Hey! Are you okay?” she asked, with Pyren still over her shoulder. He opened his eyes and gave an unsettling grin. Before they knew it, there were knives to both Ark and Emerald’s throats. A female voice came from behind the crimson-colored blade in front of Ark’s throat. “Don’t move, dragon,” it said.

“Shake ‘em down, get everything off of them,” said the female voice. The girl was wearing a cowl, while her coworkers weren't. The rat picked himself off of the ground and started removing their possessions. “Who the heck are you?” demanded Ark. “Dragonslayers. Got word of you back in Andea. The Third Magistrate put a bounty on your head,” responded the girl. Ark struggled to escape from knifepoint, while Emerald panicked. “I-if it's me you're after, let her go!” exclaimed Ark, nobly. “That little girl with the plushie? I'm sure she'll be worth something. We’ll be keeping her,” said the hooded girl. “Little? I'm fifteen!” exclaimed Emerald. “Boss, should I take the plush?” asked one of the grunts. “Go ahead. It'll sell fine,” she responded. “N-no!” yelled Emerald as Pyren was seized. “Aww, our wittle kitty is crying over her doll!” said the second grunt, mockingly. “Do what you will with her. I'm going to deal with our dragon here,” said the girl.

“What do you even want with me?” asked a now nervous Emerald as she was being carried off to the shack ahead. “Dunno. Boss says we can do whatever we want,” said the rat, licking his lips. His partner with the knife was a coyote. “Hold up, we’ll be in deep trouble if we get caught, you know! She’s underage!” he said worriedly. Emerald struggled to get out of their combined grip. “You think the law’s gonna stop us? We already kidnapped her, dumbass!” squawked the rat, not caring that his partner missed the message. Emerald shuddered at what might be her fate. She closed her eyes like her life depended on it, and concentrated all she had in her. Emerald had never been more focused in her entire life. Her pinkish glow tangled itself around their bodies like vines. “What the hell is this?” yelled the coyote. She escaped their grasp and opened her eyes. With her captors at her mercy, her paws were shaking. “I’ve never used my power… on people...” she muttered, terrified at the potency of her ability. The cat winced as she brought her paws together and her captor’s bodies collided. Emerald inspected them, and surely enough, the collision knocked them unconscious. She picked up Pyren, Ark’s tome, and the enchanted bag before dusting Pyren off once more. “Those jerks got him dirty….” she said with a slightly annoyed tone in her voice.

Ark grunted as the hooded girl quickly maneuvered around him, thrusting him to the ground and once more there was a knife to this throat. “Your kind sickens me. Burning down villages, killing innocent people, and leaving nothing but destruction in your wake,” she said. “W-what, did a dragon kill your dad or something?” joked Ark. “What do you care! I should slay you here and now!” she exclaimed, angrily. “Then why don’t you? You’re shaking,” said Ark, pointing out her quivering knife-wielding paws. She gave a nervous sound of disagreement. “I-I have a duty! Dragons are my enemy!” she yelled. “Why? We don’t have to fight. I don’t want to hurt you,” responded Ark, honestly and calmly. Emerald was slowly approaching, careful not to make a sound. She quietly dropped Pyren and his bag onto the ground and focused her energy. The knife in the hooded girl’s paws was suddenly flung into Emerald’s. It was certainly a master's work, with its spines, serrations, and blood-red color. While the hooded girl backed up and drew two less impressive knives, Emerald tossed Ark his spellbook. The hooded girl scoffed. “Whatever. If you want something done, do it yourself,” she responded. “Guess I’ve got no choice…” muttered the dragon, flipping through his tome. “I’m not leaving here until my blades are coated with your blood. My family has failed too many times… I’m gonna be the one to change that!”

Ark stepped forward, tome at the ready. The hooded girl was looking for an opening. Emerald held the blood-red knife in one paw and focused her power in the other. This time their opponent had a sure grip. She swished side to side and lunged at Ark. He dodged her vicious swipes, digging his claws into the dirt sharply. “Tch,” he grunted, as she charged at him once more. The bloodlust in her eyes was genuine. She had a mission. Emerald stepped back and gritted her teeth. “Can I… do this?” she questioned before her paw began glowing again. Ark hurriedly flipped to find a spell, but in his panic, he slipped. The hooded girl took the chance and thrust her twin daggers right at his throat. The dragon gasped, but the knives never reached him. “W-what… what is this?” groaned the hooded assailant. Emerald’s pinkish energy had encased her entire body, holding her back. “A-Ark... N-now’s your chance!” she yelled. Ark quickly got up and prepared a spell, when she broke free from the energy, causing Emerald to flinch. The hooded girl hissed at Emerald. “Stay out of my way!” she shouted, then turned around. She was met with an ice spell square in the chest, knocking her into the dirt. She got up and coughed up a bit of blood, and shrugged it off. She had a broken rib. What she didn’t notice was that her hood had come off in the commotion.

The badger’s black hair blew in the wind. Her fur was a nice light shade of gray, with black accents and a white underbelly reaching under her muzzle. Her short tail brushed the back of her cloak. “You're injured!” she told the badger. “Yeah. So what?” she said, still on edge. “T-this is crazy! We don’t have to fight like this!” yelled Emerald. The badger bore her teeth. “And yet you side with that monster!” she screamed back, furious. The badger limped, wincing in pain with each step. Ark was astonished. She was crazy for trying to keep this up. “Even with those injuries, you’re gonna keep fighting?” he asked her. She coughed again. “This… is more than money… If you don’t die… I’ll be irredeemable…” she muttered. The stout badger charged forth once more, prepared to attack the stunned Ark. Emerald prepared to stop her, but was met with one of her knives flying right at her face. The cat dropped to the ground to avoid being impaled. Ark, however, was unable to match the badger’s incredible reflexes. Her blade jammed sharply into his chest. Ark’s blood splattered on the dirt, and yet, his wounds kept healing. Before he could move, she stabbed him again. And again. “Why… won’t… you... die?” she screamed, viciously attacking him. Ark was flinching from every hit, and he was losing blood fast. She reached for the blood-red dagger that Emerald had taken and subsequently dropped in the commotion. Ark gasped and tried to dodge her slash, but winced and fell short due to his blood loss. Her attack came down like the blade of a guillotine. The next thing he knew, the front half of his arm had been cleaved off. The dragon’s bloody appendage filled with excruciating pain. Ark gripped his arm and gritted his teeth. “Damn it… not... now…” he stuttered.

The badger breathed heavily. Emerald gasped. “I… I’m not gonna… I have... to protect... Pyren…” muttered Ark, stumbling over to his missing claw. His assailant stared him down as he picked up the bloody hand. “If I’m correct… this should…” he muttered, the eyes of both girls locked on to him. “W-what are you doing?” demanded the badger. As he moved his hand to the dripping stump where it had been, the leaking blood formed a connective tendril, linking the two together. His hand was reattaching itself. “W-what the hell are you?” questioned the badger, fear in her voice. Ark shared her heavy breathing. “I… I can’t… I won’t let him down…” he muttered, picking up his tome. He took two steps toward his attacker, before falling to a knee and coughing up more blood. Through all the pain, all the bleeding, the dragon managed to bring his head up and start preparing another spell. “Nazeh alcoren igna-” “Ark, stop! You’ve fought enough!” cried Emerald, interrupting him as she picked herself up. The badger dropped the dagger. She was shaking again.

Emerald ran up to the wounded and weary Ark and wrapped her arms around him. “Don’t push yourself so much! Pyren needs you alive!” she exclaimed, shedding tears. The badger looked down at her paws, which were covered in Ark’s blood. Emerald looked up, still shaken. “Why aren’t you attacking us?” she asked. The assassin looked down at her work. “The way you looked at him… there was something about it,” she responded. “He… we… made a mistake. We’re trying to save someone dear to us,” said Emerald. Ark grunted, his claws placed firmly on the ground as he breathed heavily. “Sit down… I’ll deal with her,” said the cat. The badger stood up and looked off at the shack in the distance. “Brother… I’m sorry…. I can’t… I can’t do it…” she muttered, panic in her voice. She turned back to Emerald. Tears streamed down her black and white muzzle. “I come from a family of dragonslayers. My father and his father before him were trained to kill his kind just as mercilessly as they killed us.” Emerald nodded along, glancing back at Ark. “My brother was to be the carrier of the family lineage. He began his training, and was seemingly the most skilled slayer our family had ever known. On his first mission… he was caught by surprise. There was another… another dragon we hadn’t expected. That dragon… that black dragon… My brother, he...” The assassin trailed off. She stopped, sniffled, and wiped her tears. “I was six years old when saw his clawed and scorched corpse. The next thing I knew, I was to be the new carrier of our bloodline. I was to be the first female dragonslayer.”

“M-my name is Sylvia, but Sylvi’s fine too. I probably should have said that earlier.” The badger girl sat down next to Emerald, looking dejected. Emerald placed a paw on Ark’s back. “W-who is it you’re trying to save?” she asked with a low but curious voice. The cat held the folf plushie tight in her arms. “My boyfriend, his brother,” she said, rubbing the between the sleepy dragon’s wings. Sylvi put her paws over her mouth. Her eyes began to tear up again. “W-what have I done…” she muttered, shivering. Emerald looked concerned. “Sylvi...” she muttered. The badger had turned away. “You… I…” she stuttered. She sighed. “I’m a hypocrite.” She stood up, picked up her daggers, and put them back in her cloak. “I didn’t catch your name,” she said, softly. “E-Emerald…” said the cat, surprised at her sudden movements. “I… I’m sorry, Emerald. Tell him I’m sorry, too,” said Sylvi, beginning to walk off. “W-wait, where are you going?” asked Emerald, concerned. “I don’t know,” she responded. Emerald noticed the red dagger, still wedged in the dirt. She picked it up, but before she could say anything, Sylvi said, “Keep it.” The cat’s mouth was wide open. “Sylvi…” she muttered once again, as the badger disappeared into the distance.

Ark opened his eyes to see Emerald sitting next to him, a campfire lit, and the assassin nowhere to be seen. “Emerald?” he asked. “Is… is that girl gone?” Emerald looked off into the grassy field. “Y-yeah, she left. I’m just glad you’re okay. She really did a number on you,” responded Emerald. Ark clenched his claw, now fully reattached. “I… I was completely drained…” he muttered. Emerald tilted her head. “The automaton, the boar, and now her… I’m such a failure,” he said. Emerald gasped. “W-what are you talking about?” she exclaimed. “After all these fights… I always seem to end up incapacitated. Useless. What am I supposed to do when push comes to shove and I have a real opponent?” he said, punching the ground in anger. “I… I’m not worthy… Pyren...deserves better than me…” Emerald gave an irritated look and slapped Ark across the face with her paw.

“How can you say that?” cried Emerald. Ark flinched from the blow, bringing a claw up to his cheek. “It doesn’t matter how strong or how smart you are!” she continued. The dragon looked down. “Then what does matter? How can I be worthy of being his brother?” he said, gloomily. Emerald kneeled down and got face to face with Ark. “The fact that you’ll never back down, that you’ll never give up on him shows that you’re worthy,” she told him. Ark opened his mouth but didn’t say anything. His eyes shifted from gloomy to contemplative. “You love him, and that’s all that matters,” said Emerald. Ark began to tear up. Emerald held out the folf plushie that was Pyren to Ark. He took his inanimate brother in his claws and hugged him tightly.

Ark and Emerald sat next to the fire, with Pyren lying in between them. “I'm glad you and I got to know each other, Ark,” said Emerald. “Why’s that?” he asked. “Because you're more than just ‘Pyren’s Brother,’” she responded. The cat took a bite of a bit of meat and wiped the juice off of her muzzle. “Coming along on this quest made me realize that,” she said. Emerald reached into Pyren’s bag, pulling out her necklace. “My mother told me she had gotten this pendant from someone who had found it in some dragon ruins.” Ark’s frills pointed up. “How? The only ruins we’ve been in were filled with traps,” he said. “I didn’t hear the full story. It was a long time ago. All I remember was that it was offered to her by a passing by adventurer.” Ark squinted contemplatively. “Hmm…” he muttered. The dragon pulled out his spellbook and turned to the map. The fifth point was resonating. “Huh?” he muttered. “The page is saying we’re right on top of another one…One from up there... How is that possible?” he said, scrambling to take out the more detailed map. “We’re still so far off… how is it here?” continued Ark. Emerald pulled out the dagger Sylvi had left behind. Ark gasped. “Is that…?” he muttered. “She said to keep it. I dunno why.” She handed the dragon the blood red dagger. He shuddered as it slipped into his claw. It was cold.

“It’s incredible, isn’t it?” asked Emerald. Ark examined the blade, still covered in his dried blood. “It… emanates power...” he muttered. “I’m still confused at how the map was wrong… According to my calculations, we shouldn’t have seen this thing for another mile and a half.” He took his eyes off of the blade, shook his head, and looked at Emerald. “That necklace… what do you think it does?” he asked. The cat tilted her head. “I dunno. Why do you ask?” she responded. “This blade cleaved through flesh and bone like butter. This book has untold magical knowledge within it. That bracelet imbues its user the strength of ten furs. Don’t you think that necklace has some sort of enchantment too?” he said. Emerald clutched her mother’s gift in her paws. “A-Ark? Where did this necklace really come from?” she asked, worried. Ark gritted his teeth. “More likely than not, my father.”

Igneus hammered away diligently. The pile of broken swords had grown. He pulled out the key which began resonating days prior. “A fourth…” he muttered, as a black dragon approached his forge. The blacksmith turned his head. “What are you doing here?” he asked, miffed. The black dragon was grinning. “Is that any way to greet an old friend?” he said. Igneus put down his tools and turned around fully. “You’re no more a friend to me than a fur is, Granz,” said the blacksmith, bitter. The black dragon, Granz, eyed the glowing key. “So, it’s finally working? Your crackpot plan?” he asked. Igneus looked down at the key. “What does it matter to you?” he responded, apathetic. Granz began circling the grey dragon. “It doesn’t. I just didn’t think anyone would be stupid enough to pick those rusty old things up,” he said. The black dragon held up his claw, which had a silver ring on one of the fingers. “It’s not like it’ll make a difference. After all, you were so kind enough as to let me have this...” he said, mockingly. Igneus glared. “Why are you here?” he asked, annoyed. Granz’s grin returned. “I just wanted to wish you good luck before I go,” responded the black dragon, condescendingly. “You got a job?” asked Igneus, surprised. “Yeah... And a big one too. Rather funny, considering where I got this ring,” said Granz, almost giddy. He began walking towards the exit. Igneus merely watched. “Well, good luck with that,” said Granz, before giving a menacing look. “I’m going to enjoy this,” he said, before taking off. The blacksmith scowled and went back to work.

Chapter 4: Trial of Bonds

Shadewrecker

26 May 2019 at 16:15:51 MDT

Chapter 4 of Chosen of Fir: Mementos From a Distant Father.

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