After an arduous hike up one of the many mountains surrounding the Land of Hope, the four adventurous Embers caught their first glimpse of the great beyond. Their colorful fur was blowing in the wind, which was more fierce at this altitude. The trip up the mountain had not been easy by any means. It was a steep and perilous climb that gave them all a dose of fear they had never quite felt before. But now, they reaped the rewards of their bravery. This was the highest point any of them had ever reached.
“Does this beat our cliff?” asked KEI2.
“I mean…” said CAM4, careful not to speak poorly of their favorite cliff. “It definitely compares.”
The view from the mountaintop was marvelous. The clouds had painted a lovely pattern on the sky. Intricate streams stemmed from a long, winding river. The sun’s reflection sparkled on the water, appearing like an array of dancing stars in the daytime. The group stood frozen in absolute awe. But while the landscape was undoubtedly picturesque, what was so astounding to them was simply seeing that something existed beyond the mountains. Embers from the Land of Hope knew of a greater world, but none had ever explored it. Until this very moment.
FER5 grinned. He was usually a stoic creature, and only had a few expressions. His hair always covered his eyes, which made him quite difficult to read. But ERL7 looked at him, and could tell he was happy to be embarking on an adventure. FER5 had never once complained about their quiet and peaceful life back home, but he always had a secret thirst for something more. Every so often, he would grow fatigued by the same old hike through the forest for food, and playing with ERL7 in the same open fields every day. But he would just remind himself that all his needs were met in the Land of Hope. For all he knew, there could be no better place on Earth. But he secretly believed the world held more wonders than the Embers knew.
“Pretty, isn’t it buddy?” asked ERL7.
“Hrrg,” said FER5.
“It’s kinda scary, leaving home. Do you think there could be other Embers out there?”
“That’s true. Could be all sorts of creatures. Ya never know!”
“Well,” said CAM4. “Why don’t we find out?” And with that, the Embers began their descent down the mountainside. ERL7 had no trouble at all, for his tiny paws gave him excellent traction on the mountain’s rocky surface. KEI2 and CAM4 took it slowly, occasionally using each other for balance. FER5 struggled the most; his weight made him feel like one wrong step would cause him to go tumbling down. But he persevered, and kept faith that his friends would be able to catch him if he started sliding.
Eventually, they made it to the bottom of the mountain, and began walking across the vast meadow toward a river that extended for miles in either direction. As their awe-inspired silence started to wear off, KEI2 was the first to start some conversation.
“So, what are we all hoping to discover?” he asked.
“I haven’t given it much thought, to be honest,” said ERL7. “I’m just shocked we left the Land of Hope and no one stopped us!”
“Well you did mention meeting other Embers,” KEI2 reminded him. “Do you hope others are out there?”
“Hmm…” ERL7’s nose twitched as he thought. “I guess it would be cool to see some new faces!”
“FER5 wouldn’t be opposed to meeting a new lady friend,” said ERL7.
KEI2 chuckled, stroking his crimson chin. “What about you, CAM4? You’ve got some pretty big questions you want answered. What are you most excited to discover?”
“I’d like to know our history. My history,” she answered. “I’d like to know how Embers came to be. We’re not like other species, ya know.”
“How do you figure?” asked ERL7, tilting his head with curiosity.
“Well, think about the bugs you eat,” said CAM4. “They all look pretty much the same. Some are bigger, some are smaller, some are slightly different shades… but they’re all kinda the same, right?”
“Yeah,” said ERL7. For a moment, he began daydreaming about his favorite breakfast bugs from the Land of Hope, and wondering if he could find anything as tasty in the outside world. But he snapped his mind back into focus.
“That’s because those bugs create more bugs, and they pass on<span”> their appearances.”
“But Embers are different. Nobody in the Land of Hope has a clue how we were created. We’re all so unique, like we each came from a different family. What if we have parents out there? What if they can tell us our full history? Wouldn’t that be amazing to discover?!” The volume of CAM4’s voice rose with excitement as she spoke. It was rare that she showed this much passion about any subject. ERL7 was looking at her, mouth agape. He truly never bothered to wonder if he had a biological family anywhere in the world. FER5 was the only family he had known.
“What if we find out the answers…” KEI2 asked hesitantly. “And we don’t like them?”
“What do you mean?” asked CAM4, her giddy enthusiasm slowly fading.
“I mean, what if our families are bad? And they abandoned us in the Land of Hope? I don’t mean to be a downer, but… I think we should be prepared for the chance we may not like what we find.”
“Sure,” said CAM4, a bit irked that KEI2 was being pessimistic so early in the adventure. “But we have no way of knowing yet. I choose to believe our story is something special.”
“I understand,” said KEI2. “I just don’t want you to feel let down if it’s not as grand as you’re expecting.”
“I’d rather be let down than never have hope to begin with.”
“Rrrrggm,” groaned FER5.
“Will you two stop bickering?” translated ERL7. “We’re almost at the river!” Their conversation was suddenly swept away by the roaring sound of the currents. The four of them stopped and looked at the rushing water. The river was wider than they realized. Light grey rocks lined the banks. It was quite a spectacle, as the group had never seen water moving with such speed and vigor. They were only accustomed to small ponds and the occasional puddles after rainfall.
“I’ll swim across!” said ERL7 jovially. He started walking toward the river. FER5 picked up a rock, roughly the size and weight of ERL7, and tossed it in the water. The stone was immediately carried away by the currents, and was out of their sight in a matter of seconds. ERL7 froze, and slowly backed up, realizing the power of the river.
“On second thought,” he said. “Why don’t we explore some other ways across the river?”
“I know how I’ll get across,” said CAM4, grinning again.
“Oh yeah!” snickered KEI2. “She’s got a pretty cool trick for these sorts of situations.”
CAM4’s furry yellow feet stepped softly through the grass and onto the rocks lining the river. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, allowing her mind to focus only on the calming natural sound of the water. KEI2 watched ERL7 and FER5, anticipating their reactions. Suddenly, CAM4’s feet lifted from the ground. Her body was hovering. She rose a few more inches before opening her eyes and turning to face her friends.
“What?!” squeaked ERL7. “You can fly? Without wings?”
“I wouldn’t call it flying,” said CAM4 modestly. “I think the word is levitating. I can break free from gravity for short amounts of time. I can’t go too high though. Or, at least, I’ve never tried going very high.”
“Rmmf,” said FER5, impressed.
“Hop on!” said CAM4, reaching her arm out to ERL7. He obliged. The two of them steadily hovered over the river. CAM4 was nervous. She had never levitated over anything as treacherous as these currents. In fact, she had never levitated with any stakes at all. In the past, she had only floated to avoid stepping in mud, or to get something from a branch slightly out of her reach. But she reminded herself that this was the first step of her adventure; she was leaving her comfort zone and beginning her journey.
As if sensing her anxiety, ERL7 whispered “You got this.” They reached the other side of the river, and CAM4 landed gently. She turned around, and saw KEI2 clapping.
“Nice job!” he hollered. “Now what about me and FER5? I don’t know if you can carry us across.”
“Maybe I can find something over here that’ll help!” CAM4 yelled back. She took a moment to observe her new surroundings. There were some small trees on this side of the river. They were roughly as tall as the river was wide. She approached one of them, and began pulling at the trunk.
“Pretty sure the tree won’t come outta the ground,” said ERL7, raising an eyebrow.
“Yeah, that was wishful thinking,” she laughed. “But this tree is pretty weak. I might be able to tilt it down until KEI2 can reach it!” She proceeded to push on the tree with all her might. It was indeed a flimsy tree, but perhaps it would be enough. ERL7 tugged on it with his full strength, which admittedly was not much. But eventually, the top of the tree was just a jump’s length away from where KEI2 stood.
“You just want me to jump?” he asked cautiously.
“Yes!” shouted CAM4. “Hurry, we can’t hold it in place forever!”
KEI2 looked at FER5 for some sign of encouragement. All he received was a head nod. A dozen different bad outcomes played through KEI2’s mind, but he knew he needed to act fast. So he took a leap toward the tree, and wrapped his arms around it. Jagged branches scraped his fur, and leaves fell in his face. He felt like the tree had swallowed him. He held on for dear life as CAM4 and ERL7 released their grip on the tree, flinging him toward their side of the river. He let go as the tree returned to its upright position, and he fell to the ground with a painful thud.
“Ow,” he wheezed. CAM4 rushed to give him a hand. She pulled him back up to his feet carefully.
“Are you alright?” she asked.
“No,” he answered candidly. “But I made it across, so that’s a victory.” He looked at CAM4, who had genuine concern in her eyes. He gave her a reassuring smile. Then he, CAM4, and ERL7 simultaneously turned to look at FER5.
They were expecting him to be standing on the opposite side of the river, still waiting patiently for a suggestion on how to get across. But instead, they saw the blue giant casually walking toward them through the water. The ferocious current had basically no impact on his strides. And surprisingly, the water only reached his stomach. FER5 was noticeably taller than KEI2 or CAM4, and significantly heavier. But none of them had expected the ease with which he waded through the currents. He emerged from the water with a confident smirk.
“Well look at you,” said ERL7. He was impressed, but also irritated. “Why didn’t you do that from the beginning? We all could’ve hopped on your back, and made it across with no problem!”
The four Embers took a moment to look at each other. Half of FER5 was drenched. KEI2 was in sore shape, with twigs and leaves all throughout his hair. CAM4 still looked a bit frazzled from risking the lives of herself and her best friend. And ERL7 was shooting not-so-menacing glares at FER5. They could not help but laugh at this hilarious snapshot in time. Their adventure had barely begun, and they were already looking more haggard than ever before. It began with a soft laugh from CAM4, followed by a chortle from KEI2. Soon, ERL7 was rolling around giggling, and even FER5 could not help but let out a couple amused grunts. They had tasted a new kind of joy, fear, and pride for the first time. And they were ready for more.