Chapter 5: Blazing Hearts by Shadewrecker

After picking themselves up, the fur and dragon partners set off toward the next town. Emerald was reluctant, but she let Ark carry Pyren. “Hey,” he asked, the plushie thrown over his shoulder. “What did that girl say to you before she left?” finished the dragon. Emerald’s tail perked up. “Oh! I forgot to tell you!” she exclaimed. “Sylvi said she was sorry.” Ark squinted. “Excuse me?” he responded, confused. “Sylvi. That was her name. She wanted me to tell you she was sorry.” Ark’s mouth was open in surprise. “She… was sorry?” he muttered. Emerald looked down at Ark’s large dragon tail, which was dragging in the dirt. She had never really notice how big it was. “I… I don’t think she was a bad person,” said the cat. Ark shrugged. “Whatever happened to her… It must have been bad. I… I just don’t know what could make furs hate my kind so much…” he said. “I think you’re pretty cool. That has to count for something, right?” said Emerald. The dragon smiled. “Thanks, Emerald,” he said. The cat gave a goofy grin. “No problem!” she said. “Pyren might be my boyfriend, but I’m always here if you need someone to talk to,” she continued. Ark turned towards the cat and scanned her. “I think he’s rubbing off of you,” he told her. Emerald blushed. “I think you might be right,” she responded, putting a paw to her mouth and chuckling. Ark pointed towards a collection of buildings, all surrounding a river. “That’s it. The town of the plains, surrounding the Taldas River,” he said. Emerald looked towards him. “Let’s get this done,” she said, determined.

Before Ark and Emerald reached the town in the distance, Ark stopped in the middle of the road. “W-why are you stopping?” asked the cat, now carrying Pyren. Ark opened his spellbook and turned to a relatively unused section. He held his claw out, chanted a few phrases, when suddenly, a sheet of gray cloth materialized. Emerald gasped as the dragon picked up the drab sheet of fabric. “H-how..?” she said, stunned. “I siphoned material from the surrounding area. More of a transmutation than a transformation, I guess,” he told her, as he wrapped the cloth around him, concealing his identity. “If we’re going into a fur populated town, I probably shouldn’t show my face this time. Not unless we want another assassin going after us,” he said, rather seriously. Emerald scratched her chin. “I guess I didn’t really think about it like that. It’s sad, isn’t it?” she asked. Ark squinted. “What is?” he responded, resuming his pace, with the cowl fluttering in the wind. “That you have to hide in public! Like a criminal!” she exclaimed. Ark looked down at his claws. “My mother told Pyren and I about how most of our kind reviles yours. She said that she didn’t believe that, and that we shouldn’t either, but… it’s still a bit chilling. Our culture has the same ideas about your kind as yours does about ours,” he explained. Emerald gave him a nervous look, but before she could speak, her tail perked up. The cat turned, only to see several furs clad in armor bearing a crest neither of them recognized. Soldiers.

The two tensed up as the soldiers approached them. “Halt, citizens! What are you two doing out here?” said a rather burly female pangolin, who must have been the captain. Emerald started panicking. The pangolin glared at Emerald. “The 27th Landalstan Platoon is under strict orders to guard Vele from outsiders. I’m afraid I’m going to have to place you two under arrest,” she said. “W-we’re just travelers… We don’t mean any harm,” she said, honest. “We’re looking for help for our wounded. He’s been cursed, and we’d like attention from a professional,” he said, keeping his cool. A second guard noticed Ark’s horns from under the cowl. “Sir, I’d like to ask you to please remove your hood,” he asked, sternly. Ark gritted his teeth. They readied their spears. “If you don’t comply, we’ll have no choice but to use force,” said the pangolin, suspicious. Emerald had an extremely worried look on her face. Ark slowly brought the cowl down from his head, revealing his horns, his frills, and the rest of his draconian features. As soon as he did so, he was met with four spears pointed straight at him. He grunted. “Damn…” muttered the dragon, completely surrounded.

“W-wait! We’re telling the truth!” exclaimed Emerald. The captain ignored her. “Take them both in for interrogation,” she said. Ark bit his tongue. “If you just want me, then let her go,” he said, confidently. Emerald gasped. “Ark, no! You can’t… not again!” she exclaimed. The soldiers remained unmoved. “She’s merely looking for medical aid for a friend.” The captain looked at him scornfully. “And why should we believe you?” she said, disgust in her eyes. “Because…. the one who cursed him was me,” admitted the dragon. Emerald gasped, astounded he'd blame himself like that. The pangolin looked back at her reluctantly. “Keep an eye on her,” she ordered her men. “Make sure my brother is safe, Emerald,” said Ark, being led off by the rest of the guards. She clasped her paws together. What could the cat do? She felt helpless as her only ally was dragged away for interrogation.

With no other choice, the nervous cat passed through several more guards standing at the gate to get into the town. Ark had told her the name of this place just last night. The town of the plains, Vele. On the inside, it was almost as busy as Andea. It wasn’t a trading city, but traffic from the capital kept the town bustling. Emerald looked around, seeing all sorts of furs strolling in and out of houses and shops. “Geez… Where am I gonna find a wizard in a place this huge..?” she muttered. She wanted to get Pyren back… but… Ark was in trouble. What would she say to him if Ark ended up dead… or worse? She picked up the pace and trailed the guards. The cat darted through the crowd in the main plaza, sidestepping carts and ducking behind walls to avoid detection. “They’re gonna get away at this rate…” she muttered, worriedly. Just then, in the corner of her eye, she noticed a young girl leaning over the edge of the river passing through the center of town. The girl, a short fennec fox in a periwinkle dress, was reaching into the waters when suddenly, she lost her balance and fell in. Emerald gasped and ran after the now drowning fox.

The lilac cat placed her arms under the struggling young girl and pulled, dragging her back up onto dry land. The girl coughed up some water before coming to. Her head darted in both directions, and finally back to Emerald. “You alright?” she asked, still holding the girl in her arms. The fennec’s dress was soaking wet, as was her short hair and sky blue eyes that reminded Emerald of Pyren. “T-thanks for saving me, miss!” she said, extremely formally. She lifted herself out of the cat’s grasp. “P-please, call me Emerald,” responded Emerald, blushing. The girl rubbed her eyes with her paws. “U-umm… I dropped my glasses in the river… C-could you help me get them back?” she asked, giving her biggest kit-fox eyes she could give to convince Emerald to jump back in. Emerald glanced back at the direction the guards went in and sighed. She leaned over the river, and began using her power. Out of the river came a glowing set of copper-colored glasses. Emerald plucked them out of the air and gently presented them to the nearly blind girl. “T-thank you so much, Miss Emerald!” exclaimed the girl. Emerald rolled her eyes. “What’s your name? And more importantly, where are your parents?” she asked, picking up Pyren, whom she had set down next to the dock. “My name is Sunny!” said the fennec fox, cheerfully. “I’m coming home from school!” Emerald’s mind wandered back to her own childhood and suddenly she became envious of this young fox. “Well, Sunny, I have some important business to take care of, so you’d better get home to your parents,” she said in her most professional voice possible. “You should come with me! We would love to have you over for dinner!” exclaimed Sunny, grabbing Emerald’s paw. “O-oh no, I coul-” denied Emerald, before being cut off and dragged down the street by Sunny.

Emerald sighed and let herself go. She was practically at the mercy of this little girl, flying through the streets without any say in the matter. They ran through the Merchants’ Street and into the Residential District, making no signs of stopping until Emerald’s giddy guide reached a rather posh neighborhood. When they arrived at the house, the first thing Emerald noticed was how well-decorated it was. The magnificent sofa, the astonishing chandelier, rooms in multiple directions, even a second floor! “W-wow… your house is really nice...” she muttered, taken aback by the furnishings. Sunny ignored the cat’s amazement. “Papa, we have a visitor!” yelled Sunny, opening the door. An older looking fennec fox in long, scholarly robes came from behind a staircase with wide eyes and the same glasses as his daughter. “Oh.. Uh.. Pleasure to make your acquaintance…” “E-Emerald,” she said, finishing his sentence and grabbing his paw. He hunched over and whispered to his daughter. “Why did you bring her here? You know I’m very busy….” he mumbled. “She saved me when I fell into the river!” Sunny explained the situation, while Emerald was busy admiring the house. She had thought her home in Andea was incredible compared to her childhood home, but this place… this place was something else. Emerald envied the life this girl must have had. Sunny ran up to Emerald with the sweetest grin she had ever seen on her face. “Papa said we can go up to my room and play until dinner’s ready!” exclaimed Sunny. “O-okay,” responded Emerald, unwillingly following the giddy fennec fox up the stairs, Pyren still in tow.

Emerald looked all around Sunny’s room. Posters were hung on all the walls. Toys were strewn everywhere. Schoolwork was cluttered on her desk. She noticed a couple of rudimentary drawings and recalled her own attempts at the same. Perhaps art just wasn't her thing. She hadn't really thought about it since she had met Pyren. In fact, he was all she had thought about since they met. She’d certainly grown more confident and more thoughtful ever since he entered her life. “Hey, Sunny? What do you wanna do when you grow up?” she asked. “I wanna be a nurse!” responded the fox, adjusting her glasses. Emerald rolled her eyes at the typical response but then smiled at her zeal. Sunny began eyeing the plushie in Emerald’s arms. Without notice, the fox snatched Pyren out of her arms. “Wow, Miss Emerald, this plushie is really nice! Nicer than all my plushies, at least!” said a cheerful Sunny, grabbing Pyren out of Emerald’s paws. “H-hey! Be careful with him!” she exclaimed, ignoring all the times she herself had dropped him. “It’s just a toy! What are you worrying about?” chuckled the fennec fox, stroking Pyren’s faux fur hair. “H-he’s not just a plush! That's my boyfriend you're playing with!” exclaimed Emerald, pouting. Sunny giggled. “Aren't you a little too old for that?” she said, playfully, handing Pyren back to Emerald. The cat was blushing. “I-it's true…” she mumbled in embarrassment. The two girls were then called by Sunny’s father down for dinner.

Sunny’s father gave off an aura of awkwardness. “Thanks for saving my daughter's life. I’m..erm.. glad she could make a new friend,” said the fox through bites of sauteed beast meat with pepper. “What are you doing here in Vele, anyways? I didn’t think anyone could get in. There were dragon sightings just yesterday.” he asked. Emerald poked at her dish with a fork. Pyren was lying in one of the many chairs that were left unfilled. Sunny delightfully chomped down her meal while the two spoke. “I’m looking for someone to help with my boyfriend’s condition,” said Emerald. She might have been twisting the truth a little, but she wasn’t lying. “Miss Emerald says the folf plushie is her boyfriend!” piped up Sunny, suddenly. Emerald winced at the comment. “It isn’t nice to make fun of your new friend, Sunny,” said Sunny’s father, about as stern as he could get. “Yes, Papa…” responded Sunny, submissively. The two foxes continued to eat their meal as Emerald’s grew cold. If everyone was this worried about dragon sightings… What were they going to do with Ark? She shook her head and placed a paw on Pyren in the chair next to her. “I, for one, am excited to see a dragon up close. I’ve never gotten to examine one first hand before,” said Sunny’s father. Emerald’s tail perked up. This got her intrigued. “What exactly do you do around here?” she asked. “Must be something incredible to get you this well off...” she finished, a bit bitterly. The fox in the robe looked as if he had never been asked that before. “W-well… I study dragons. Everything about them, their culture, biology, language, magic.... I’m a bit of a fanatic...” he admitted, nervously. Emerald got up from her chair. “You wouldn’t happen to know any healing magic, would you?” she asked, desperate for a yes. “I-I might have come across a spell like that… I’ll go and check,” he said, getting up as well. Emerald followed him around the staircase to the study. “W-where are you going, Miss Emerald?” asked Sunny, worried. “To finish what I came here to do,” responded a determined Emerald.

Ark didn't resist his capture. It was likely he could have overpowered them, but he didn't want to do anything rash and get someone killed. Was the hatred of his kind really this widespread? Was it really all justified? These were the questions running through his head as they took him in. The room they entered was a plain grey-bricked cell, with nothing but a vent in the rightmost corner. The first thing they did was bind his limbs. They took his tome, to which he grunted but did nothing else. With his claws chained, they forced him down onto a splintery looking wooden chair. A rather small looking guard came up to the captain. “K-Kyra… what are we going to do with him?” he asked, nervously. The captain snarled. “Don’t call me that! You address me as ‘Captain’ or ‘Ma’am!’ And didn’t I order you to stay at your post?” she yelled. “Y-yes, ma’am!” cried the small guard, scurrying off to his post. The captain turned to Ark. “What is this book?” she asked. “My spell tome. I'm a mage,” he answered, simply and quickly. Kyra flipped through the pages. “It's indecipherable. We’d need a dragon language specialist,” she said to another guard. “Do you want me to fetch him, ma’am?” responded the guard. “Don't bother. Our little friend here is going to be staying for a while,” she said, leaning up to Ark. “What do you want from me?” he asked, matter-of-factly. “Yesterday, just after dawn, a couple of guards near the west wing sighted a large, black-scaled dragon flying just overhead of Vele. Explain.” “No idea. I've never seen a black-scaled dragon in my life,” responded Ark, honestly. A third guard doused him with cold water. Ark flinched, but otherwise was unharmed. “Don't lie to us! Who was that? A soldier? A scout?” yelled Kyra, filled with vitriol. “I’m telling you, I don't know anything! I'm just a traveler! Really!” he responded, still truthful. “Captain, take a look at this,” said the second guard, who had discovered the hexagonal diagram inside Ark’s tome. “This…. this is impossible… just what the hell are they planning?” she exclaimed. Ark was confused. What did they know about the map that he didn't? “And look here,” said the guard, pointing to a symbol above the circle. “That's the sign of the blacksmith Igneus. What’s this traveler doing with something belonging to the Dragon Army’s finest blacksmith?” questioned the pangolin. Ark struggled to get out of his restraints. “What do you know about my father?” he demanded.. Captain Kyra was stunned. “If we have one of the most important assets to the Dragon Army’s kid…. we might have something that could change the tides of the war!” she exclaimed. Ark sat still. His father was a blacksmith, his much he knew. His mother had lent some passing remarks about where he had gone, but what was this “Dragon Army?” The dragon’s mind scrambled to put the pieces of this puzzle together. Kyra turned to her subordinates. “Send a courier to Landalsta. I think General Sentes would like to know what we have on our paws,” she said.

Like father like daughter, the robed fennec’s study was just as messy as Sunny’s. As Emerald clutched Pyren tightly, Sunny’s father dug through stacks of papers written in the same language as Ark’s tome. His desks and walls were covered in dragon related documents. Sketches, spells, you name it. Sitting in the corner of the room was what looked to be an incomplete anatomical diagram of a male and female dragon. “I could have sworn it was around here!” exclaimed the fox, frantically searching through the pile. He reached his paw into a desk drawer and exclaimed, “Aha!” Turning to Emerald, he revealed an old, ink-stained paper, otherwise indistinguishable from all the others. “Now then, what sort of ailment are we dealing with here?” asked the fennec. Emerald held up Pyren, only to have him gasp in surprise. “Y-you mean to tell me that my daughter was telling the truth? That doll is really your boyfriend?” he exclaimed. Emerald blushed once more. “C-can you fix him or not?” she hastily asked. Sunny’s father turned to his desk, making a few notes with a quill and then hopping back up. “A few adjustments here and this spell should do it,” he said, directing Emerald to set Pyren down on the ground. The fox held his paws in front of him to chant, focusing his energy and cast a spell unlike any Emerald had seen. “Sigmata vuleruh obrieni curatum!” he exclaimed. Changing something simple like fire to ice was much less spectacular than a nonliving thing to a living one. A circle of energy encompassed the plushie, accompanied by the same glowing draconic symbols. A great burst of light filled the room, nearly blinding the two. When the light faded, and Emerald’s first sight was a woozy young folf with blue pants lying on the ground, confused, her worries melted away. Emerald had never been more relieved when she saw Pyren’s big blue eyes blink and breath come from his muzzle.

Pyren’s head darted around in confusion. Emerald started to tear up. “Pyren…” she muttered before whisking him off the ground and squeezing him tight. “Eh-he heh…” he muttered, blushing. “Oh, goddess… I missed you so much…” she said. Pyren took one hand off of her back and rubbed his head. “I missed me too,” he responded, jokingly. Emerald laughed through her tears. “You’re such a dork, Pyren…” she said, smiling gratefully. The cat let her paws drift away from her companion, separating them. “I dunno what I’d do without you, Emerald,” said Pyren, expressing his gratitude. The cat smiled, turning back to the fox in the robe. “I can’t thank you enough for this...” she said. He grinned, rubbing his head. “It’s no problem. It’s the least I could do for someone who helped out my daughter,” he said. The folf walked up and chuckled. “I guess I gotta thank you, too,” he told Sunny’s father. “I’d still be a toy if it weren’t for that spell of yours,” he finished. Pyren turned back to Emerald when she, out of nowhere, wrapped her arms around his neck, leaned in, and kissed him. The folf staggered a bit, blushing once more, but then joined in on the kiss. When they separated, Emerald said, “There. Now we’ve kissed for real.”

The three hadn’t noticed their visitor. Sunny had managed to slip through the door she was watching them through without garnering attention. “N-no… way… Miss Emerald’s plushie…. came to life?” she muttered, holding a paw up to her tan muzzle in awe. Pyren grinned and rubbed his yellow hair. “Your dad helped fix my friend up. He was stuck like that, and I came here to get him back to normal. I guess it really was a stroke of luck that we met, huh?” said Emerald. Sunny walked up to examine the now living, breathing folf. “Hiya. I’m Pyren. You’re Sunny, right?” he said, trying not to freak her out. The girl in the periwinkle dress panicked. “H-he even knows my name!” she exclaimed, quivering at the sight of him. Pyren winced and gritted his teeth, then gave his girlfriend an awkward look and shrugged. Sunny ran over to Emerald, scared of the folf, who rolled his eyes. The cat picked up her young friend and hugged her tight. “We’re gonna have to get going, Sunny,” she said. Sunny whimpered in disappointment, as her father came to take her out of Emerald’s arms. “You’re gonna leave?” asked the fox girl, saddened. “Yeah. Pyren and I have someone else to save,” responded Emerald. Pyren cracked his knuckles. “Those guards think they can just take my brother like it’s nothing… we’ll show them!” he said. Sunny began to tear up. “You’ll come back to see us, right?” she asked, giving those same kit-fox eyes as before. Emerald smiled. “Of course!” she responded, turning towards the door. “Thank you so much for being such a good friend to my daughter,” said Sunny’s father, rubbing said daughter’s hair cheerfully. “She’s a good girl. I’m glad I got the chance to meet her,” she responded. Emerald waved as she and Pyren exited the room, with Sunny running after, and her bushy tan tail being grabbed by her father to stop her.

An otherwise innocuous town paid Pyren and Emerald no mind as they exited Sunny’s house. What would two furs like them possibly do to look out of the ordinary? When they stepped out, Emerald brushed her tail across the folf’s leg while she eyed him, longingly. “So, what’s the plan?” he asked. Emerald gave Pyren a nervous look. “Um… what plan?” she muttered, dropping her advances. “We’re not gonna just march in and get our tails handed to us, are we?” asked Pyren. “Isn’t that more of your style? Fight first, ask questions later?” responded Emerald. She searched her surroundings and tried to remember where the guards had gone, leading her to the guard tower straight ahead. Pyren shrugged. “Well, I mean, yeah, normally I’m all like ‘Yeah, let’s go beat those guys up!’ but there was a whole lot of them and just two of us...” he said. Emerald was astonished. Pyren looked down. “Since Ark isn’t here… I just thought we ought to be more careful. I’ve always relied on him for everything… this is all new to me…” he muttered. The cat placed a paw under his muzzle. “You’ve got me, don’t you? We’ll make it through alright,” she told him, reassuringly. The folf blushed as they reached the tower, which was surprisingly lightly guarded. “Thanks, Emerald,” he said, taking the cat’s paw in his and holding on tightly. “My brother came all this way to get me back… Now it’s my turn to do the same for him!”

A lone squirrel guard stood at his post at the door to the stone guard tower where Ark was being held. The antsy squirrel gave a quick look around and noticed Emerald as she walked up to him. “H-hey! W-what do you think you’re doing here?” he asked her, nervously. “I’m looking for a friend of mine. Do you think you could help me find him?” she asked, trying to keep his intention. “Well… the captain ordered me to stay at my post, but I suppose I could-” Before he could finish his sentence, however, the soldier was hit square across the head with the blunt edge of a sword. Emerald smirked when she saw Pyren come from the corner of her eye, just like they’d planned. “Nice one!!” she exclaimed. The folf grinned. “Fight first, ask questions later?” he said. She closed her eyes and smiled before grabbing the door handle in front of them. The grey bricked hallway they entered was vacant. “You’d think they’d have heavier security..” muttered Pyren. “It was all at the front. These guys don’t want anyone getting in,” responded Emerald. When they came to the stairwell, the folf stopped. “Why do you think they wanted him so badly?” he asked, scratching his bushy tail. Emerald glared. “They’re probably scared… Someone sent Sylvi to kill him, after all...” muttered the cat, miffed at the situation. Pyren sighed. “It must really suck for Ark. Having the whole world against you like that…” he mumbled. The folf brought his chin up and drew his sword. “I’ll go in first. If anything bad happened to you… I dunno what I would do. Let’s make sure we all come out of this together,” he said, starting his way up the stairs. “Right,” nodded Emerald, readying her psychic powers and following.

Ark sat still in his bindings, awaiting his inevitable fate. He still had so many questions about his father, but his repeated attempts to coax the guard captain into explaining had failed. The dragon could tell she wanted nothing to do with his entire species. Ark eyed his spellbook on the other side of the room. If he could just get to it… he could get out and find his friends. Slowly but surely, he edged his chair closer to the table while the oblivious guards were making preparations for when their courier returned. Kyra was yelling at one of her subordinates. “Find that girl. If she’s a co-conspirator, then Sentes is going to want to see her as well,” she demanded. Ark gritted his teeth and tried escaping his bindings, but to no avail. The material was much tougher than normal rope, and even his dragon strength couldn’t break it. “Damn it! If I don’t get out now…” he whispered to himself. The guards were leaving. He had no time to waste. Ark leaned over, bit his book, and opened it with his mouth. As he was about to cast a flame spell and set himself free, two figures busted through the door. Emerald, with her glowing purple paws, and to his amazement… Pyren, sword in hand, looking better than ever.

“P-Pyren?” exclaimed a confused Ark. “Damn it! How did they get in?” said Kyra, caught off guard. The dragon took the opening and burnt his bindings away, readying him for a fight. The guards scrambled to get into formation. “What are you waiting for, fools? Get them!” screeched the pangolin. The folf stood in front of his girlfriend, sword at the ready. He ducked and dodged around several spears, and batted away several more. Unluckily for him, his slashes merely bounced off of the guard’s carefully placed shields. “C-come on, Emerald, back me up here!” he cried out, as they were backed into a corner. “I’m trying!” she responded, attempting and failing to tear away the soldier’s shields with her powers. Ark fared no better. His flames were ineffective. The frozen spikes that he sent their way were simply blocked. The dragon grunted. His friends were cornered. He dodged a spear tip narrowly and quickly grabbed the shaft. His strength was enough to throw the guard to the ground, disarming him. Pyren ducked and slashed the shin guards of another, bringing a second soldier down. Emerald closed her eyes and focused her strength. The purple glow engulfed her target’s shields, and soon enough she tore them from the paws of the guards. All three breathed heavily, worn down from the fight. Even after all the guards they had taken down, more came to take their place. Kyra gave a fierce look as she too armed herself with her own personal sword. “Huff...huff… there’s.. too many of them…” muttered Pyren, tail brushing up against the wall. Emerald huddled close to him, just as tired. Ark backed up as the guards edged closer, his novice spells proving ineffective against them.

Sweat ran down Pyren’s muzzle. He stood in front of Emerald, doing the best he could to fend off the constant attacks from the trained Landalstan platoon, but the three weren’t making much headway. Across the room, he saw his brother doing the same, blasting them with fire-ice fusion spells, fighting just as hard as he was, if not harder. Emerald was struggling to even help in the slightest. The room was tight and claustrophobic, and they were totally pinned down. What could she even do against these trained soldiers? Once again the cat raised her paws to disarm the heavily armed furs, to no avail. Her head darted around, until she noticed the shield lying on the ground that she had pried out of another guard's paws. Emerald picked up the shield with a glow of her paws and lobbed it right into a guard in the front’s head, knocking her down. While the cat relished in her victory, Pyren remained depleted of energy. The folf sighed, ready to give up on the constant sword slashes. He’d finally gotten not just the strength to fight back, but his entire agency back! How could he fail here? The dragon pinned on the other side of the room certainly wasn’t giving up. Neither was the cat behind him. Pyren exhaled and closed his eyes. The black void he saw was comforting. When the last of his strength was drained, a voice emanated from the back of the folf’s head. “Do you really think all the strength you have is gone?” it said. Pyren opened his eyes and shook his head, looking from side to side in a panic. “How can you give up if your battle has not yet begun?” said the voice. Pyren gasped, bewildered at this presence. It was as if time stopped for him. The guards were gone, as were Ark and Emerald. Instead, taking their place was a tall, white-furred female fox. Her flowing white hair and body markings were enigmatic. Pyren froze, mouth held wide open. The almost otherworldly vixen approached the young folf and placed her paw on his forehead. He merely stood still, bewildered. “Your true power has yet to show itself,” she told him, in that same soothing voice that had graced the back of his mind. “W-what power? I’m totally petered out right now…” muttered Pyren. The white vixen took her paw off of his head. “All of my children possess a gift. Some choose to ignore it, while others know not of what it is they have. Yours was always destined to appear in a time of need,” she told him. She turned her back on Pyren as if she was leaving. He held out a paw to reach for her. “W-wait! What are you talking about? What gift? Who even are you?” he exclaimed, confused. The white fox simply turned her head and smiled, before Pyren snapped back to reality. Emerald was panicking. The guards edged closer, weapons held stalwartly. Pyren looked down at his paws. Something he hadn’t ever felt before flowed through his body. He knew what he had to do. The energy surging through the folf’s paws was heating up.

A spear struck Ark in the arm, causing him to wince in pain. With his free arm, he yanked it out and snapped the spear in half with his dragon strength. He held his slowly healing arm and gritted his teeth, his spellbook now splayed out on the floor. Emerald’s back was against the wall, her lilac colored fur stained with blood from her cuts and gashed. “Pyren… I don’t think we can win… At this rate… we’re done for!” she muttered, slumping back slightly. He was still staring at his paws, contemplating. “Is it really… that easy?” he asked himself out loud. A guard stabbed right in his direction, but before the speartip reached him, Pyren’s paws set ablaze. Everyone in the room stopped what they were doing to look at the folf with the flaming paws. Pyren stared at the fire surrounding his paws. “It… doesn’t hurt…?” he said, confused. Emerald’s defeated and desperate look had changed to one of excitement. “Pyren! Your Sign!” she shouted, elated. The guards snapped out of their confusion, and thrust their spears at him once more. The folf gasped, and rolled out of the way, leaving Emerald vulnerable. Thinking fast, he charged at the unsuspecting guards, paws blazing. Pyren yelled and grabbed ahold of the guard’s shield, melding the silvery metal right off, and followed up with a burning fist right to the face. The others stepped back, now terrified of the folf with the blazing paws, letting Emerald and Ark to regroup and get their bearings. “I won’t lose… not now!” yelled Pyren, pointing his paws at the guards, who were scrambling to get through the door. “What are you buffoons doing! I am your commanding officer and you will do as I say!” screeched Captain Kyra. Soon enough it was just Kyra and Ark, Emerald, and Pyren. She gritted her teeth. “I’m not scared of you, boy,” she said, brandishing her sword in her brown scaled claws. Pyren picked his blade up and did the same. With a fierce cry, he set the sword alight, burning as bright orange as his fur. Ark and Emerald gasped at their friend’s newfound power. Kyra slashed viciously at the young folf, who then blocked it with the burning sword. “You have no idea what’s going on here, boy!” she cried, slamming her thick tail on the ground. The pangolin attacked, but the determined folf merely blocked again. He held his sword out and growled. “I don’t need to! All I need to know is that you aren't gonna hurt me or my friends for any longer!” he said, slashing at her and leaving a trail of fire in his sword’s wake. Kyra dodged the white-hot blade, scoffing. “You fool! My platoon is the only one here in Vele! If we’re gone, there will be no one left in the event of a dragon attack!” she told Pyren, who in his anger, ignored her and kept attacking. He pushed her back with attack after attack, his sword leaving chips in hers as she tried to parry and get the upper hand. The pangolin’s back pushed up against the wall. The folf’s eyes were just as fiery as his paws. “Pyren!” yelled Ark. “It’s over!” yelled Emerald. The folf grunted and dropped his tired arms to his side. Right when the flames in his paws began to dissipate, the tower began to shake.

“W-what the hell?” said Kyra, brought to her knees. Her armor scraped against the brick as debris started falling from the ceiling. “We’ve gotta get out of here! The building’s gonna collapse!” said Ark, as bigger and bigger pieces of brick fell from the ceiling. Pyren and Emerald nodded, and made a break for the stairwell. “G-get back here, you filthy lizard!” screamed the captain, running after them. When Ark got to the bottom, he stopped and skidded on the ground right before a piece of rubble came crashing down in front of the doorway. Emerald hit him in the back, and Pyren hit her, not expecting the sudden stop. “H-hey! What’s the big idea? I thought you said we had to get out!” exclaimed Pyren. Kyra was right behind them, her men nowhere to be seen. “You’re not getting away, you beast! I know this is your doing! You and your disgusting kind!” she yelled, standing under the doorway. Ark gritted his teeth, pushing away the boulder that had landed in front of them. The room then shook once more, the stairwell collapsing on top of Kyra, pinning her to the floor. Standing back, Emerald cautiously used her powers to clear up the remaining rubble in front of the door. Pyren hastily left, but Emerald turned and looked back at the pinned pangolin, who was screeching slurs at the three. “Don’t worry about her,” Ark grimly told her, turning to follow his brother. Emerald sighed and gave a sad look before following the brothers out of the guard tower.

Townsfolk were running amok. Houses were aflame. The bodies of innocent furs lay lifeless, bloody, and burnt. Pyren and Emerald were horrified by the sheer death and destruction of the burning town. Emerald clasped her paws over her muzzle and Pyren’s eyes exhumed a fear he had never shown before. “W-what is this?” he desperately asked, as a scorched house collapsed across the street. “That dragon…” responded Ark. “W-what dragon?” asked Emerald confused. Ark looked up into the sky and pointed. Flying just above the three was a dragon with jet black scales, breathing a cone of fire onto the riverside town. Pyren gasped, filled with absolute terror. Ark eyed the dragon, identifying him to be the same one Kyra had mentioned had been sighted yesterday. The next thing he noticed was a silver ring on the claw of the dragon, which reflected the vibrant scarlet of the flaming buildings below. Before Ark could get a better look at it, the dragon swooped down somewhere out of sight. Emerald then came to a terrible realization. “S-Sunny!” she cried, running off through the town.

From that point onwards, her paws moved on their own. “E-Emerald, what are you doing!?” yelled out Pyren, who chased after her, with Ark proceeding to follow his brother. She dashed by scorched and clawed corpses, narrowly missed some fallen flaming rubble and jumped through flames, singing her silky lavender colored fur. Sunny’s house was still intact, and in a stroke of luck, the crying fennec fox was sitting in the road, mostly unharmed. “Oh, thank Azalea, you're okay!” cried Emerald, scooping up her young friend, and hugging her like the three and a half foot fox girl she was. The cat was sobbing just as hard as Sunny was. “Y-you're hurt!” cried the fox, noticing Emerald’s cuts and burns. Emerald frowned. “Never mind me. I'll be okay,” she said. Pyren stared at the burning building that he had been in just hours before, now in ruin. “Sunny… where's your dad?” he asked, a sense of deep worry dropping over him. Sunny sniffled. “H-he’s still in there...” she responded, voice quivering. Ark looked down and scowled. “I’ll go in and find him,” he said, even not knowing who she was. “You two get her out of here,” he said. “N-no! Let me go in! I won't be hurt by the flames!” yelled Pyren, feeling like this was his time to shine. “You’ll be crushed by the debris. Besides, I'm stronger than you. I have to be the one to go in. Make sure the girl is safe,” stated Ark, stern and serious as can be. Pyren sighed and turned towards Emerald, who was still carrying Sunny in her arms, before they set off for the town gate.

Pyren kept his arms wrapped around the two girls protectively. The scarlet flames ravaged the town and its people. All around them, they saw bodies. The few survivors were burnt and tired, hiding in the crevices of the town for the little safety they could get. The gate had collapsed, leaving the passage out of Vele blocked. “What are we gonna do?” cried Sunny. Emerald looked up and saw the black dragon flying above. His claws were bloodstained and his eyes showed supreme viciousness. Emerald then handed the fennec fox over to Pyren. “We can't let him see us. Take Sunny. I-I’m gonna try and lift the rubble,” said the cat, determined. “Alright… here goes…” she muttered, before trying to lift the debris. Her purple energy encompassed the wooden bar, but, try as she might, still couldn't lift it. “Ngh…” she cried, struggling to lift the massive object. Emerald focused her energy, and tried again, to no avail. “It’s… too heavy…” she told Pyren, out of breath. The worried look in his eyes reflected their desperation. “W-where’s my papa…?” asked Sunny. “Don’t worry, your papa’s going to be okay. My brother went in to get him,” responded Pyren. Another piece of the gate crumbled from a massive blast of fire. On the other side, the black dragon was fighting the guards from Kyra’s platoon. Not even their armor could save them from the dragon’s claw. The dark wyrm’s vicious slashes ripped the men and women of the 27th Landalstan Platoon to pieces. After admiring his handiwork, the black dragon took wing and flew off, his job completed. The way was then clear for the three to escape.

Sweltering flames ate at the dragon as he trudged through the hallway. The chandelier had crashed into the floor, leaving glass strewn about. He turned behind the stairwell, ignoring the pain, and entered the study. Within it, the roof had collapsed, and the rest of the house was risking to do the same. Inside, Sunny’s father was pinned under a piece of the roof. “W-who are you? Stay back!” he said, identifying Ark as the same species as the destroyer of his town. “Don’t worry, I’m here to help you!” he yelled out, trying to lift the rubble. “Another dragon… I-is my daughter alright?” he asked, desperately. “She’s….safe,” responded Ark, who was still struggling. Ark couldn’t lift the massive piece of roof pinning the fox. “I can die in peace, then. P-please… take care of her…” he said to Ark. “D-die? I’m gonna get you out of here!” exclaimed Ark. He put all of his strength into it, and still couldn’t lift the rubble. “Damn it!” he yelled. The robed fox coughed from all the smoke. “L-leave this place… It’s about to collapse….” he muttered. Ark looked up and another piece of rubble fell, to which he had to dodge out of the way. “Please… save yourself…” pleaded Sunny’s father. He was right. There was no way Ark could lift the rubble, even with magic. The dragon looked down solemnly at the pinned fox and up to the open space above, then took wing and escaped the burning house through the hole in the ceiling. Sunny’s father coughed once more in his dying breaths. “How… poetic…killed by a dragon. I wouldn’t….have it any other way...” he muttered, before the smoking house collapsed in on itself.

Chapter 5: Blazing Hearts

Shadewrecker

26 May 2019 at 16:17:49 MDT

Chapter 5 of Chosen of Fir: Mementos From a Distant Father.

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