A quiet rustling echoed through the deceptively calm woods. The canopy above had blocked out nearly all light, save for a few spots. Although the Darkshade Woods appeared empty, the lurking of the many creatures of the shadows spoke to the contrary. Trudging through the dark and gloomy forest was a young lynx of about 19, clad in simple leather armor and armed with a blacksteel hand axe. The weapon was rough and heavy, forged from metal usually reserved for armor, but it was just what she needed to get the job done. Despite being alone, the fur had an aura of confidence surrounding her that permeated the darkness surrounding her. Even after tracking her prey deep into the shadowy woods, there wasn’t an ounce of fear in her eyes. Of course, the dark made it rather hard to see where you were going, but it wasn’t the lynx that had to worry about losing their way in the forest. It was the weasel and raccoon that had the bounties on their heads that would.
Minutes passed and the lynx reached a fork in the road. The system of paths leading deeper into the woods was most often used by the Badger Clan who had made them, but travelers looking to visit the lake weren’t too shy about using them, either. Of course, this lynx wasn’t here for a leisure stroll, she was on a bounty hunt. Taking a look both ways, the lynx kneeled and inspected both paths for tracks. It had seemed the two had split up, but the frantic pawprints littering the left road showed the most promise. A few further steps and her hunch was confirmed, as the first of the two she was hunting wasn’t far ahead. “S-shit, she’s right behind me!” screamed the weasel. Said weasel was tired, torn up, and bleeding from the chase prior, but wasn’t out of tricks just yet. Just up ahead was a dead end, and when he reached it, his partner would get the jump on their pursuer. Like clockwork, the weasel was cornered at the dead end, but, unluckily for him, the lynx wasn’t as daft as he was hoping. “Eat this, you stupid cat!” cried the raccoon as he flew out of the shadows with a knife in paw. The ploy might have worked on a less experienced hunter, but the young lynx sensed the sneak attack coming from a kilometer away. In two swift motions, she unsheathed her weapon and cut her foe down before he even hit the ground. With the raccoon dealt with, the lynx turned her attention to the now terrified weasel. “You’ll never take me alive, you filthy lynx!” he shouted, grabbing his fallen friend’s dagger and waving it around like an idiot. Unfazed by the threat, the lynx knocked the dagger from his paw and prepared to claim her prize. “Any last words, asshole?” she said to him, running her claw over the blade of her axe. “Ngh… This isn’t over… I… I-” he said before being cut off by the black battleaxe flying into his head, knocking him out cold.
Leaving the Darkshade Woods brought the lynx and her now tied up hostage into a bright and sunny field: Gadley, the plains surrounding the capital of the Magistral Empire. A warm summer breeze ran over the hazel spotted fur of the young lynx as she dragged her captive along the dirt road, heading to the city just up ahead. Landalsta, the largest city in Fir and the seat of power for all of the surrounding towns, was nothing short of an architectural marvel. Its towering buildings and lavish architecture were its most impressive feature, but the ballistas mounted on its walls were its most important. After nearly half an hour of hiking, something off the side of the road peaked the lynx’s attention: three decently sized bushes, each covered in berries the size of her palm. Her eyes shot wide open as she dropped the squirming weasel to take a look. Sure enough, the berries were ripe and ready for picking, so she took one for the road and placed two in a small beastskin pouch for later. It wasn’t too often she found a treat like this, and the lynx wasn’t one to squander potential. “Mmmph!” exclaimed her captive from behind her, trying to hop away while she was distracted. Groaning in disappointment, the lynx yanked the strand of rope she was using to drag the poor weasel and continued on her way home.
To many of the denizens of Landalsta, their home was a sprawling, metropolitan upper city. Not so for the lynx dragging her captive weasel. The lower city was, to say it lightly, rather run down. Compared to what the city looked like from afar, it was easy to call the decrepit, drab, and just plain dirty lower city a slum. And that’s what the lynx had always called it. Her home was a slum, and it had always been a slum. So, through the narrow alleyways she went, tugging along the tied up weasel the whole way down. When a sleazy looking fur offered to sell her illicit substances, she scowled and continued through the corridors. When a few cubs kicking a scuffed-up ball ran up to tell her how great of a catch she had gotten, she smiled proudly but otherwise paid them little mind. Only when she reached the small square in the center of it all did she let up slightly. The square was modestly populated, each corner containing furs in tattered clothes going about their day, be it conversing, getting into a fight, or playing ball like the kids the lynx had seen earlier. It might have been unkempt and often vandalized, but the homely patch of city was all these furs knew. The same went for the lynx and her hostage weasel, who had finally reached their destination: a rather inconspicuous building in a forlorn corner of the square. Inside was a wooden counter covered in assorted baubles and trash, a side room with a makeshift cell, and a sleepy coyote taking a nap on a tattered couch behind the counter. The lynx took the hint and gave a loud knock on the unpapered brick wall she was standing next to. “H-huh?” exclaimed the coyote, darting up as fast as his woozy body would allow. “I brought the bastard,” the lynx said nonchalantly, hardly acting like she was carrying a tied up criminal. “Shit… that was fast! Maybe a new personal best…” snickered the coyote as he sat up from his seat. The lynx threw her squirming weasel friend up against the wall, before resting her arms on the dusty wooden counter. “Thanks for taking care of him. It really sucks what happened to Wen, but you taking care of the dickhead that did him in will let his family rest easy,” said the coyote, eagerly filling an unseen bag with coins as compensation. “You know that’s not why I did it, Zamel,” she responded, yawning innocently as she waited for her pay. “Hehe… certainly. But that doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate you around here,” said Zamel, handing the lynx her cut of the bounty. “Yeah, yeah. I’ll catch you later. Lemme know if you get anything else in,” she told him, chuckling softly through her cold sarcasm. “You got it, girl! Feel free to drop in anytime you like, the boys and I always love having you around!” exclaimed the coyote, waving as he settled back down in his spot on the couch. The lynx girl waved back in appreciation, before opening the rickety door and stepping out.
Now that her job was complete, the only thing left to do was return home. After leaving Zamel’s business, she made her way through the damp-floored alleys and into the cramped and crooked apartment sector. The lynx brushed her armor off with her free paw and entered a door that looked no different than all the others. “Hey, I’m home,” she said in a calm and comforting voice. Sitting on the floor were two lynx cubs, each sporting the same spotted pattern as their older sister. “Kayah!” cried the two cubs, before rushing over and giving the lynx a warm hug. Kayah laughed and picked up the younger of the two, a male lynx named Lyle. The two siblings nuzzled warmly for a moment, before she put him down and began speaking. “I brought you two a treat,” she told him, pulling out a small bag from a pocket in her leather armor. The elated cubs gasped with joy as their sister set the smaller of the two down. Unraveling the tie and opening the bag, Kayah pulled out two large, green berries. “I found them out in the fields. Thought you might like them,” she said, handing the juicy treats over to the two cubs. Her siblings accepted them and munched them down with glee. “Mmmmm…. It’s delicious!” exclaimed the older of the two, a female lynx named Liza. Kayah, however, yawned and stretched her arms out. After such a long day’s work, she was ready for bed. “I’m totally beat,” she said to the two cubs, as she took off her armor, leaving her in a plain, modest bra. The lynx scratched behind her ears and climbed into her small, cramped bed. Before she could doze off, however, Liza ran up to the bed, her muzzle still sticky and wet with berry juice. “Kayah, you never gave me a hug!” she exclaimed. Kayah smiled and took the cub into her arms, nuzzling her just like her brother. “Good night, Liza,” she said softly. “Good night, big sis,” responded the young lynx, smiling sweetly.
Her brother and sister were safe and sleeping soundly, but, like always, Kayah just couldn’t manage to fall asleep. As she stared at the cold, bleak ceiling of her tiny shanty she shared with her siblings, she could only hope and dream tomorrow would somehow be better than today. Of course, that’s what Kayah thought every night. She’d long since resigned herself to a life of hunting and scavenging. At least, until the poor cubs she had been taking care of were old enough to fend for themselves. There was always a glimmer of hope lingering in her heart, but that’s all it was. A glimmer. “Ugh… I’m so sick of all this work,” she whispered to herself, rolling over in her bed to watch her brother and sister play together happily. Sighing, the lynx turned back to her previous spot. “Maybe… maybe one of these days, this’ll all get better…” she muttered, lifting her paw up in the air as if reaching for something. “Yeah... If it means a better life for them… I’ll figure something out.” Kayah then scratched behind her black tipped ear, shifted her head on the straw pillow, and drifted off to sleep, preparing for the inevitable tomorrow she would have to leave her home and hunt something like she had today.
Unfortunately for Kayah, a good night’s sleep wasn’t in the goddess’ plan for her. She had rolled around for a bit, only for her to awake to her short, spotted tail being tugged on by her younger sister. “K-Kayah! Someone’s outside!” she cried. “W-what? Are you serious? It’s the middle of the night!” exclaimed the lynx as she meandered out of bed. Still in a daze, Kayah managed to stumble to the door and yell like she knew what would happen beforehand. “Zeke, that better not be you! I’ve had it with you and your little ‘midnight visits!” she yelled, as woozy and furious as ever. But, to her surprise, she found nobody at the door. In fact, the only thing she saw was a curious poster nailed to a post under the only lamp their neighborhood had. It wasn’t an ordinary poster, like the bounty letters scribbled on the pulpy, cheap paper she normally saw. The paper was fine, carefully perforated, and even had a slight sheen to it, giving the simple poster a regal appearance. “Go back to bed. I’m gonna check this out,” Kayah told the cubs in a slightly stern voice as she pulled on a dirtied white shirt and headed out the door. When she got to what she assumed was some sort of Magistral decree, her interest was immediately piqued. “The organizers of the Altyris Project will pay out a sufficient bounty to any hunter that brings a proper Specimen, be it Alive, or Dead…” she read, her confusion increasing with each syllable she passed over. “What the heck is an Altyris Project?” Kayah asked with a hint of disgust, unaware that she was about to get an answer. “The Altyris Project is the name our scientists have given to their studies concerning our enemies and ways of combating them. The name comes from a weapon told about in legends, supposedly wielded by the hero Lyrem and used to slay the Bloodlord Tolselvac. Telling you any more would be a breach of contract,” said a voice coming from the shadows behind Kayah. “Wha..?” she muttered, turning around to see that a well-dressed buck had managed to approach her without her senses alerting her to his presence. “That is, unless… you’re willing to cooperate…” he told the lynx with a malicious grin. “Cooperate with what? Who the hell even are you?” exclaimed Kayah, darting back and baring her claws. “I am Octal, humble knight of the Empire and Sage of the Eight Blades. It was I that put up that poster you so ungracefully tore down,” replied the buck, taking time to stroke his own ego a bit. Biting her lip, the lynx stood down and retracted her claws. “You’re pretty weird looking for a knight, if you ask me, but whatever. Not that I’m expecting much from one of the Magistrates’ lackeys,” she said, folding her arms and trying not to think about the fact that she was practically in her underwear. “Touchy,” he said, ignoring her antagonizing statement and carefully reapplying the poster. Kayah, not wanting anything to do with the deer, turned away to return to her abode. “Leaving so soon? Are you sure that’s in your best interest?” he coyly asked her. “What do you care? You’re only here so those bastards in the upper city don’t have to get their paws dirty!” she exclaimed with a growl. “I saw the look in your eyes. You’re interested in the bounty,” responded Octal, having carefully examined her reactions. Kayah wasn’t too happy about being read like an open book, but, alas, the buck was correct. “Alright. What is this Project and what do I have to do?” she reluctantly asked, playing right into Octal’s hand. “Simple. Bring us a dragon,” he said, holding his hooves out confidently with a bow and grinning once more. “W-what? You can’t be serious! Who in their right mind is going to try and bring back a dragon?” exclaimed Kayah, taken aback at the serious task that might be ahead of her. “Someone who desires the grace of the Magistral Council. I can assure you, should you bring our researchers a proper specimen, you shall be rewarded handsomely. Anything you desire, within limits, of course,” Octal told the lynx. Being told she was just a dragon away from escaping the poverty she had been living in for her entire life pulled at Kayah’s heartstrings. The task at hand was mighty, but this really could be her chance. “In that case… I accept,” she said, gripping her paw with newfound confidence. “Excellent. We’ll be expecting you at the address written on the poster within the month,” said Octal, pleased at his new recruit. “And, a fair warning, lynx… If you encounter other hunters on your journey… There’s no guarantee they’ll treat you like a lady…” he callously muttered, turning tail and making his exit with a satisfactory smile on his muzzle. Once again, Kayah was alone, but this time… she had a colossal job ahead of her.
Fir’s soothing nighttime sky seemed like a calm before the storm for Kayah, but its presence signaled a sinister assembly in Landalsta’s darkest tower. Three robed furs sit alone in the palace council room, quietly awaiting the arrival of a fourth. The room is lit only by five cyan candles, each glowing an eerie blue and casting dim shadows upon the edges of the room. Finally, a robed serval enters the room and takes his seat at the table, bringing the count to four Magistrates. “You have arrived at last, Five,” said the First Magistrate, a baleful looking cougar with a scarred face. “I presume the task you were assigned is complete?” he continued, giving the serval an expecting grin. “Correct. Octal has just returned, bringing our count of hunters up to three,” responded the Fifth Magistrate, only to be cut off by another voice from across the table. “Enough about that, what about Andea? Their militia is growing by the minute, and I don’t think we should be standing by and fiddling with dragon stuff while they break away from the empire!” shouted a robed weasel, the Third Magistrate. “Cease your belligerent musings, Three. While the trade town’s current situation does present an issue, it is nothing of importance when compared to the Project we have on our paws at this very moment,” responded the First Magistrate, callously denying the Third Magistrate his turn to speak. “To conquer our dragonian enemies is our divine duty, our purpose for being created. It is for this purpose we have brought together our greatest minds in order to discern the banes of these foul beings, and no other,” he said, raising his paws into the shadowy light as if beckoning grace from the deity he espoused worship for. “Indeed. This Project is of vital importance to not only our survival as a species, but to the success of our culture,” noted the Second Magistrate. The wolf who had taken the name Two was quite familiar with the Altyris Project, being the one who called for its formation in the first place. “Now… all of the pieces are in play. Once Four returns, a single pawn will be all it takes to take the enemy queen…” mused the First Magistrate, seemingly prophetic in his notion. From out of the shadows stepped a fifth robed fur, this time bringing company. In his custody were two skunks, both tied up, gagged, and completely helpless as they were dragged in by their captor. The purple-furred adult skunk and her small navy-furred son could only watch the filled room in absolute terror as the First Magistrate began to speak once more. “Ahahahaha! What a sight!,” he exclaimed, cackling at the sight of the squirming captives. “Have Shade take them to the dungeon. If a hunter returns with the specimen, free them at once. Otherwise, let them rot,” ordered the First Magistrate as he brushed a tan paw across his grinning muzzle. The cougar’s callous orders were carried out, and soon enough, five were left at the table. “Okay, we’ve got prisoners. Peachy. What about Andea?” exclaimed the Third Magistrate, growing tired from waiting his turn. “Now, now, there’s no need to get impatient. We have plenty of time to address your little concern....” said the First Magistrate, steering the conversation in an ominous direction.
Chapter 1 of Chosen of Fir Gaiden: Blood, Bonds, and a Bittersweet Promise.