Hungry, oh so very hungry, ever searching for food to satisfy her insidious craving. Ever since she was created, she sought food. An epic quest to fill her stomach and keep her alive. She was not like any other being, oh no. Irydim was more fire than Xweetok.
Now she lived in the depths of the Tyrannian jungle, alone, forlorn, sleeping on stone lest she burn her nest to cinders. It was only recently that she finally managed to control the flames upon her tail and neck, and make them hot enough to glow, but not so much as to send the forests afire.
Her quest was simple: to become something different for once. Then again, it sounded simple in her mind but was very difficult in the cold, gnawing truth called life. Considering her, that was an oxymoron.
It was nighttime and her search was changed to that of food. She could eat sticks and leaves, but they did nothing but whet her appetite. Instead, unlike most Xweetoks, she hunted for her food. Today’s menu was a gargaraptor, spitted on a stick and roasting on a fire until its juices sizzled with heat.
The fire was made by her hand.
Just the fact that she could literally cook her own food while eating it made Irydim even more depressed.
The stars twinkled in the remorseless, silent sky that was spread out like a dark cloth. They seemed to actually mock her. Everything seemed to mock her. At last, full and satisfied with her meal, Irydim fell into a fitful slumber as a rumble echoed through the earth, something that happened often in the jungle, and a chilling wind blew down from the east like a cloud of cold. Who needed a blanket when one was embraced by fire?
The following morning was equally as chilling for the fiery Xweetok, but she was unruffled. Today she would seek her dream once more. She had traveled to Tyrammet Village, where she had been raised and abandoned, and found all sorts of species, each of a different color, walking around and being the tourists that they were.
Two particular colors that intrigued her were Pirate and Shadow. Both were amazing, and both equally impossible to get. The other problem to her was how she could become those colors. Irydim tried to ask once before, but she set a hut aflame and was promptly shooed away by spears and angry voices.
Now she no longer walked there; instead she hoped to find her answers in the jungle.
Twisting vines entangled her feet and she managed to burn them with a single burst of energy. Being a fire Xweetok had its benefits, even that she admitted, but Irydim hated being looked upon like an outcast. She wanted to be accepted.
She wanted to be normal.
As she was walking beside a pool of clear water, she heard voices coming from a nearby thicket. She was intrigued, but years of being screamed at and despised taught her to hide first and ask questions later.
In an instant Irydim leaped into a low scrub behind a huge tree and spotted the two sources of the voices. One was a rather strong looking Gnorbu wearing the garb of an adventurer, and the other was a slightly smaller Scorchio. Both were intent with their conversation, and did not notice the lick of flame coming up from the scrub.
It took Irydim seconds to put herself out and become nothing – just a simple, glowing coal. And it was in such stealth that she began to eavesdrop on their conversation, only catching it midway.
“...You know that this thing might not exist,” the Scorchio said cautiously.
“I believe that it does. Many legends seem simply inconceivable, but you have no idea until you try them for yourself.” The blue Gnorbu smiled. “Anyway, do you have the two sticks?”
Upon saying this, the red Scorchio pulled two strange looking sticks from her backpack. With a cursory glance, those things would have been nothing more interesting than the leafy detritus beneath her feet, but then Irydim noticed that they had fine hairs on the end. Of course, she had seen these things before. Sneaking around Tyrammet, she spotted a tourist waving it around, except that it had color on one end and a tooth necklace around its stem. She also remembered the name: paint brush.
But these had no color upon them!
“Let us go then! The Mystical River should be around here somewhere.”
Eagerly did Irydim listen in on their conversation, and eagerly did she begin to trail the duo as they entered the depths of the jungle. Of course, they were bound to hear her, so the Xweetok took to the trees, leaping from branch to branch, seeming like nothing more than an airax. All the while did she keep listening, hoping for some more information on the Mystical River.
The two pets’ words made it seem like it was from a legend, but Irydim knew of none, and henceforth, her curiosity was even more piqued.
“Are you sure that the legend refers to the Fiery Stone as the location of the River and not the Black Mountains to the east?” the Scorchio asked.
“Of course!” the Gnorbu said pompously and pulled a branch away from his face, releasing it and letting it smack his assistant in the face.
Apparently the Scorchio had no time to retaliate, for the Gnorbu shrieked and jumped behind her. “Akhe! Help me!” With a shaky finger he pointed towards a rather large reptillior sitting in a nearby thicket, baring its teeth threateningly and looking as if it was prepared to strike the unfortunate twosome.
Akhe screeched herself – everyone knew that reptilliors had such a potent poison that it would make one fall ill instantly. Here in the jungle, having such a noxious bite would without a doubt get you into a lot of trouble.
And yet, these petpets could easily be silenced. One just needed to know how. Of course, Irydim was uncertain, hanging upon a vine and watching the scene unfold with a disturbing silence. Should she reveal herself? Would she lose her chance at uncovering the mystery of the River that the two pets spoke of so fondly? Either way, she could lose her chance. Perhaps they would welcome her assistance?
Finally, the flaming Xweetok broke the dilemma and swung down from the vine to land between the petpet and the two frightened adventurers. She could hear them gasp with fright, but paid them no heed, concentrating on the reptillior that seemed ready to strike.
She began to hum. Apparently this did not deter the serpent-like petpet, and it simply continued its approach. “What are you doing?” squeaked the Gnorbu, but Irydim ignored him.
Her hum became louder in pitch, until at last she uttered such a high-pitched scream that if it were a couple tones higher, it would have broken glass. Both pets behind her clutched their pained ears, while the reptillior jerked as if struck physically and slithered away, jerking every now and then.
What most did not know was that these petpets were especially particular to sound. A high-pitched scream, or even a very loud scream in general would stun them for a moment before sending them ‘running.’
Indeed the two adventurers did not know of this fact, and were stunned by Irydim’s success. She turned back to look at two pets and found them staring at her with amazement. “H-how did you did you do that?” Akhe asked.
Irydim was stunned back. She expected them to shy away from her flaming fur. Instead, the two fellows were looking at her face. “I dunno,” she said, realizing that she had not spoken in a long time.
“That was splendid! No cactopus creams for us!” chortled the Gnorbu. “I would hug you, but your marvelous fur poses a problem, yes?”
Again Irydim found herself stunned. He liked her fur? Akhe took her pause differently and gave her a bemused look. “Don’t mine Rockworth; he simply hates reptillioritus.”
The fire Xweetok just nodded dumbly.
“Well, we should be going now, farewell and thank you for saving us from a most gruesome illness!” announced Rockworth and began to walk northwards. Akhe glanced at her one more time, nodded with a smile, and followed the Gnorbu’s trail.
Her mouth opened to speak, but the Xweetok did not know how to ask. She wanted to join them oh so badly, but she didn’t know how to express her wanting. Unable to say anything, she just sat there, a ridiculous figure, and felt the fires upon her pelt begin to grow in intensity to match her sorrow.
In the meanwhile, she noticed the ever-smaller figures of Rockworth and Akhe talking to each other, and moments later, the large Gnorbu turned to look around. The duo got into what seemed like a heated argument, and then, finally, Rockworth waved impatiently in Irydim’s direction.
The Xweetok felt her heart skip a beat – that gesture was a beckoning one! What did the adventurer want? She finally heard a voice. “Well, come along! We need someone to stop us from getting bitten by one of those dastardly little petpets!” If Irydim’s limbs were not frozen, another oxymoron on her part, she would have jumped with joy.
It was not long before the threesome was jogging at a comfortable pace through the thickened jungle. “Not far now,” Rockworth assured them, but Irydim had a nagging suspicion that he had no idea what he was doing, and that Akhe shared her thoughts.
Quickly did both become friends – Akhe was a Scorchio, a creature infamous for its fire-resistance. It was only with her that Irydim could unleash herself, for every day she grew tired of holding her fiery mane back so that it would not burn the jungle. Every day she silently begged to emerge into open rock, and nearly sobbed with relief when the forest opened into a rocky field with a bare minimum of trees, but was covered with shrubs. Trees surrounded the clearing, except to the northeast, where the rock continued towards the distant plateau that eventually ended in open water.
“Well?” pressed Akhe angrily. “Where are we now, Golden Compass?” Irydim learned that this was the Scorchio’s nickname for Rockworth.
“Well... err... the stone...”
Another ominous groan came from beneath their feet as Rockworth sought an answer to his problems. At first it was quiet, but then grew with intensity until at last fading like an illusion in the desert. All three pets exchanged surprised glances, but only Irydim’s held no worry – she was used to these growls. She liked to think that the ground was actually a gigantic petpet that was always hungry, like herself.
When the initial surprise from the quake was shaken off, everything continued once more. While the Gnorbu desperately searched for whatever he was supposed to find, Akhe told Irydim of the object of their search.
“Tyrannian legends tell of a magical river that leads out from a stone of fire that sits with the cold. The river is capable of giving you any color, all you have to do is drop a pebble with the color you want and dip an empty paintbrush into the water, and then the paintbrush will be tipped with your color! It could most likely end the need of paintbrushes forever! No more outstandingly high prices!”
Akhe looked wistful. Irydim was also excited and wistful, and it seemed the Scorchio guessed the reason. “You don’t want to be fire any more?”
The Xweetok sighed, unable to shed tears. Instead, a wisp of steam exited her eyes. “Yes. Everyone scared of fur. It burns jungle. Difficult to live with.” Irydim relearned to speak during the course of their travels.
“But I like your fur.”
“You Scorchio,” Irydim accused.
“So? Even Golden Compass over there likes it, though he is a Gnorbu and they don’t like fire too much.”
“Why change? You seem to be holding your flames in pretty well.”
“Out of control.” Irydim tried, but could not explain how she always had to struggle to maintain the coal-like state of the fire that raged upon her body. Sure, she was getting more comfortable with it, but it was still a painful and arduous task.
“There!” squealed Rockworth with glee. “I see what the legend means! Look!” He was jumping up and down.
Irydim followed his finger to a rock formation that seemed to glow with the setting sun to the west, a color that matched her own.
“Fire stone!” Akhe cried. “And look, a river encircles it!”
Indeed, outlined by the red of the sun, there was a large river with some trees beside it snaking around the stone and disappearing into the woods. She nearly fainted with joy, and this joy was revealed through a sudden burst of flame that sent the nearby shrubs aflame.
However, the two adventurers did not notice her and were already running towards the river. Pumped with happiness at the thought of finally changing color, Irydim rushed after them like a diving Pteri, attaining the swiftness of a firestorm. She easily bypassed the Gnorbu and Scorchio, and it took them a minute or two to finally join her on the bank.
“It looks like a normal river, but let’s see if it works!” snickered Rockworth. “Akhe! Get my pebble, quick!” Akhe dug into her backpack and pulled out an empty paintbrush, followed by a brown stone that looked like a ball of dirt with a smooth finish.
In an instant, Rockworth stole it from her claw and tipped it into the water, eagerly proceeding to dip the paintbrush into the water and pulling out something else.
The paintbrush was covered with a dark substance! “Success!” shrieked Rockworth, and Irydim laughed and joined in on the festivities as the Gnorbu painted himself brown. In an instant, he seemed to match his own name, and a fireball emerged to express the Xweetok’s appreciation for the choice.
Akhe refused to paint herself, saying she was fine with the way she was, and was satisfied enough with the discovery. But there was still an empty paintbrush left, and all heads turned to look at Irydim, who looked at her feet self-consciously. She felt conflicting emotions – happiness at being offered the choice, and disappointment because she had no idea what color she wanted to be. Eventually, she decided upon pirate, as she liked it the best.
Akhe began to dig through the pebbles she painted and finally emerged with a grayish one tipped with gold. Irydim watched eagerly, finally getting her wish. She never expected it, nor did she ever hope to achieve it, and was glad that through a series of strange and unique events she managed to accomplish such a unique and fantastical dream.
Again did a low rumble fill the air, and Rockworth stomped his newly painted foot on the ground. “What is going on? I swear, these quakes have been happening for such a long time now!”
Yet just as the earth began to shake and pebbles began to vibrate, the pack slipped from the Scorchio’s claws and fell with a soft plop into the water. “No!” she cried, but the deed was done and the pebbles began to sink just as the quake finished.
“Ah well.” Rockworth sighed. “Things happen. Nonetheless,” he turned to look at Irydim, “why don’t you try dipping the paintbrush in and painting yourself. Maybe you will become a mix?”
There were so many colors, the Xweetok was worried that it would not end well, but anything was better than her fiery fur! Even though Akhe cast her a disapproving glance, she quickly dipped the paintbrush into the waters, careful not to burn the wood with her paw. In seconds she took out the result, but it was too dark to see the color – the sun had almost fully set.
“Go on!” urged Rockworth.
With a deep breath, Irydim paved a line down her body, and continued until every part was painted and covered. The feeling of dissolving flames nearly made her jump... it felt so strange and cold without them. With a suddenness, however, she felt the warmth return. Unlike the previous heat, this one felt pleasant, and she began to feel a touch of worry as the groaning of the earth returned.
“Oh no!” cried Akhe, flying into the air. “It’s the big quake!”
Indeed, the smaller quakes were but simple precursors to the mighty rumble that shook Tyrannia to the core. Irydim felt herself fall down and looked up with fright, seeing the whole world twist and churn. Rockworth was also on the ground, screaming, and watching the formation of rock nearby.
Shakily did Irydim follow his gaze and saw the whole stone vibrate, and finally the top collapsed, thundering down to the Mysterious River with a mighty splash, all the while spewing magma and volcanic bombs – it was a small volcano!
Barely regaining her footing, Irydim, along with the unaffected Akhe helped Rockworth and together they ran towards the forest, stumbling and falling over one another as the whole landscape rippled with the intensity of the earthquake. The whole world had gone mad.
“Irydim, you okay?”
The former fire Xweetok opened her eyes, feeling colder and more refreshed than she had ever been in ages. Standing above her was Akhe, sporting some bruises where a volcanic stone hit her, but she was otherwise fine.
But what surprised her was that Akhe also had a sympathetic look upon her face. Why was that? Irydim felt no pain from bruises, she even unclenched her stomach, expecting a furious backlash of fire in response, but nothing came forth. She even attempted to feel happy, but there was no response from her body either.
Finally, she decided to ask.
“Um...” the Scorchio seemed lost for words. “You... look...”
Irydim stood up and noticed that their small group was in the jungle, sleeping on some soft leaf mats. Again she was surprised – usually she burned the mats before any comfort was offered. Rockworth was asleep still, and sunlight was filtering through the jungle canopy while mosquots buzzed incessantly around them.
Nearby was a small creek that was gurgling gently. Irydim carved out a small basin and allowed the creek water to fill it. Since her pelt was always aflame, she could never drink and never needed to. She only used water to look at her reflection, and right now, she was genuinely interested in how she looked – she never saw what color she was using that terrible and wonderful night.
The murky water finally cleared and Irydim got a good look at her new color. Her face was dark – maybe she was shadow? What was that light on top of her head? And surrounding her mane? It gleamed orange and she felt as if she was kicked in the stomach. She was still fire! The fire Xweetok painted herself fire!
“You know, you look pretty good right now. Better than before, I guess.” Akhe offered.
In a way, thought the dazed Xweetok, Akhe was right. She did look and feel better, nay, marvelous. It was as if her strange abilities were neutralized when she was re-painted fire. Now she could eat, drink and sleep normally again, and Irydim realized that she could have never chosen a better color; she was too used to being on fire to live with another.
Akhe seemed calmer than before and waved her wings slightly with a smile. “Well, Rockworth and I should go now. Ever since the earthquake... I don’t think we should be here anymore.”
“How so?” asked the new Xweetok with a flick of her tail.
“The Mystical River was destroyed during the quake. Trust me; I flew back and saw it for myself. It was so murky and full of magma that it was no longer usable. Who knew that the fiery stone was actually a dormant volcano?”
Irydim nodded her head and sighed. It seemed the Mystical River was not destined for Neopian usage after all.
“Would you like to come with us?” asked Akhe, surprising Irydim for a second. “It will be fun, you know? Going on even more strange adventures.”
“No, thank you.” The Xweetok smiled and looked into the jungle’s heart. “I would rather not journey in a very long time.”
This seemed to surprise the Scorchio, but then she nodded, apparently acquiescing with her decision. “We will be coming back to visit then.” She grinned. “Oh, and by the way, can you teach us how to scare reptilliors?”
Irydim felt herself laugh – something she had not done in a very long time and did not expect to do so now. “Why not?”