For Lyle and Liza, the morning was like any other, but for Kayah, the new day signaled the chance of a lifetime. Sliding out of bed, the lynx stretched for a moment before slipping on a stained undershirt. She had a long week ahead of her, filled with plenty of hiking and fighting, but the first thing she wanted to do was make breakfast before the kids woke up. Kayah stepped over to the stove and lit the kindling, before reaching over to the icebox and pulling out a hunk of meat and a small, nearly empty jug of milk. Goar had never been Kayah’s favorite, but it was easy to catch and got the job done in the protein department. After slicing the Goar meat and pouring some water into a tin, she set both on the stove to heat and waited. While the food heated up, Kayah pondered her next moves. She’d have to make it all the way to the Granval Range in order to have any chance at snatching a dragon, but even that was nothing compared to how she’d manage to make it back. Ideas rumbled around in her skull for a moment, before she perked up and took the tin off of the stove. Now that the water was hot, Kayah poured some plain oats and a bit of the milk in to make a nice porridge. No sugar, sadly, as that was a commodity the three couldn’t afford, but the oatmeal was tasty nonetheless. After filling two bowls (hand-carved) with the porridge and setting them and the sliced Goar on the table, Kayah gave her two siblings a gentle shake as to wake them up. “W-where are you going, big sis?” Lyle asked, noticing Kayah starting to put her tunic and leather armor on. “I’ve got some business to take care of in Andea,” she responded, only telling half the truth as to not worry her siblings. While the lynx cubs wolfed down their meal, Kayah adjusted her leggings, pulled the ties on her greaves and bracers, and tightened her belt. Only thing left to do now was sheath her axe, and she was ready to go. “Lyle, Liza, stay safe. Don't light any fires unless you absolutely have to. The icebox is stocked, but if you have to get more food, I’m leaving some money on the desk in a small bag. If you need to leave the house, find someone you know to go with you,” said Kayah, placing the coins she had gotten from Zamel the day prior after pocketing a few for the journey. The two cubs ran up to their big sister and gave her one last goodbye hug before she stepped out the door and into the slum corridors.
As she carefully navigated through the tricky slum passages, Kayah couldn’t help but shift her gaze towards upper city buildings that overshadowed her home. Every second her eyes relinquished to that wretched place made her stomach turn more and more. Of course, she realized that staring up at the things she couldn’t have wasn’t very good for her health (nor was not watching where she was going), but what she saw in front of her didn’t make her feel much better. Without any warning, a smiling male otter popped out of a nearby alleyway, causing Kayah to scream in panic. The otter chuckled as the red-faced lynx struggled to get her bearings. “Hehe… Did I scare you?” he asked with a grin on his face. The otter was wearing torn jeans and carrying his personal weapon, a fishing spear. Around his neck was a characteristic seashell necklace: something he was almost never seen without. “Yes! N-no!” she backpedaled, growling at the otter’s attempt to get muzzle to muzzle with her. “What are you even doing here, Zeke?” shouted Kayah, crossing her arms and pouting in refusal to get affectionate with the otter. “Well, I was going to give you a little visit last night, but when I got to your house, you were talking to that knight,” he explained. Hearing this, Kayah turned around and quietly groaned. Zeke wasn’t exactly the subtle type, but now really wasn’t the best time to be dealing with his showmanship. “You weren’t trying to cheat on your boyfriend, were you?” he asked, giving Kayah a faux stern look. The lynx merely rolled her eyes at the facetious comment and turned away to finish what she was doing. “I’m kidding, I’m kidding!” exclaimed Zeke, grabbing Kayah’s shoulder to keep her from leaving. “I figured I’d go with you. The last thing I’d want is for you to get hurt, you know? And besides… What good would a dragon-hunting quest be if your boyfriend didn’t tag along?” he told her, calmly stroking her back before she batted his paw away. “No. Go away,” Kayah responded, continuing in the direction she was going before the unfortunate interruption. “Aww, come on! We’d be great partners!” whined Zeke, trailing the lynx in hopes of convincing her. Despite Kayah’s intentional ignorance, many minutes had gone by and the otter was still hanging onto her tail. "Ugh, you know what, fine! You can come along. Just make sure you stay outta my way,” she told him, as stern as she could muster. Hearing this, Zeke made a cute otter squeak and practically jumped for joy. “I hope you’re not expecting any of the spoils,” she said. “40%,” he responded, wiggling his long, slick tail. “No,” responded Kayah. Zeke gave her back a disappointed look but kept pursuing. “Alright, how about 30?” he asked. The lynx turned back at the otter fuming. “You’re not getting shit!” she yelled at him, losing her temper in the face of his presumption. Stepping back and putting his paws up, Zeke ‘gave in.’ “Fine, fine. A few nights with the girl of my dreams is enough of a prize for me,” he backpedaled, keeping his composure in the process. By now, Kayah was sufficiently pissed. Here she was, standing barepaw in a damp, trash-laden alleyway, getting hit on by this dorky otter boy. Even as she began making her way to her destination, Zeke followed her eagerly. This was gonna be a looong week, she thought.
The trash littering the corridors Kayah and Zeke had been following wasn’t the most glaring feature of the alleyways, but it was definitely a signal of what was to come. Empty bottles, broken boards, peels from fruit, and torn cloth cluttered the dirty path to Landalsta’s city dump. “The dump? What are we doing here?” asked Zeke, comedically pinching his rough, black nose. “You should know by now if you’re anything close to as smart as you act,” responded Kayah, throwing some shade at the otter. Her eyes were scanning the piles of waste for useful resources, just like she always did before a serious mission. “Goddess… this place is horrible…” muttered Zeke, stepping over some broken glass to get closer to his beloved. His paws weren’t frail by any sense of the word, but they certainly weren’t as tough as Kayah’s, so he didn’t want to take any chances at getting cut. “You get used to it after a while,” she noted as she dug through a heap of junk, only to come up empty-pawed. Zeke got the clue and did the same, reaching his paws into a pile of scrapped boards. "Rope?" he asked, smiling with an obnoxious confidence as he tugged a strand of rope from its hiding place. "Tch," responded Kayah, half hoping it was a long enough strand so she could take it along, and half hoping it wasn't so she could show that dumb otter up. On closer inspection, the rope was just what she needed. Before she could retrieve the item she had come all this way to get, however, Kayah stopped dead in her tracks. Through the whistles of the wind and the twitches of her ear, she knew something was off. "What's up?" asked Zeke, blissfully unaware of the looming danger. "Someone's following us. That, or my senses are completely out of whack," she responded, unsheathing her axe and preparing for the worst. A lonely breeze passed through the otherwise silent landfill, only adding to the tension. Before she knew it, a blade had almost cut Kayah in two. Had it not been for her quick wits and unsheathed axe, the slim, finely sharpened sword might have been the end of her. “Hmm… Rather impressive, lynx. I have to commend you. It has been many years since a Fur has escaped my blade,” said the swordsman, retracting his weapon and revealing himself from atop one of the many junk piles that littered the area.
“And who do I owe this one to?” asked Kayah, pissed off at the interruption of her quest. Her apparent assassin was certainly dressed the part, clothed in a distinctive grey and red cloak with the sigil of an upper-city guild and flowing silver hair that ran down to his back. “You may address me as Syn before you die,” he said, brandishing his weapon and preparing to strike. “Awfully cocky for someone who's about to have their head caved in!” exclaimed Kayah, dodging to the side and propelling herself off a nearby trash heap. The increased speed made her slashes unpredictable, but Syn was able to parry them all the same. She swung her axe downwards, and Syn blocked upwards. She swiped to the left, and Syn blocked right. Once he had the upper paw, the assassin took to the offensive and forced Kayah to do the same. Sparks from the colliding metal of their weapons flew, as each hit Kayah blocked knocked her back further and further. “Ngh… try this on for size!” Kayah shouted, embedding a broken board and swinging her axe forward hard enough to launch it at the fox. Before it hit its target, the lynx gripped her axe with both paws and pounced on her enemy, only to have the board be sliced in twain and her weapon barely miss its mark. “You have potential, lynx. If not for your sloppy form, you’d make a fine rival!” exclaimed Syn, the cloaked fox’s grey hair swishing to the left as he sidestepped her attack. “Grr… I’ll show you sloppy!” she screamed, firing a series of wind blasts from her paws to knock the arctic fox off balance, before proceeding to bash her axe into his sword. Kayah growled at Syn, each swing bringing the two closer and closer, until the fox and lynx were practically eye to eye. “Why… won’t you go… down!” she exclaimed, beginning to tire from the relentless onslaught. The fox grunted apathetically and gracefully slid to the left, blowing Kayah’s weapon away with a gust of wind and cutting the careless cat across the face.
“Ack!” exclaimed Kayah, blood streaming down her cheek as she struggled to get her bearings. “That’s enough!” shouted Zeke, running up and thrusting his lance at the melancholy assassin. Sensing the otter’s presence beforehand, Syn ducked and kicked Zeke into a pile of trash he was standing behind. “I can feel it, lynx. You and I share the same Sign, the same fate. Perhaps you were one path I could have taken, once upon a time,” he said, pointing his razor-sharp sword directly at her. “What.. what the hell is that supposed to mean?” asked Kayah, grabbing her axe with one paw and holding her bleeding cheek in the other. “It isn’t important. Our time together has expired,” Syn continued, preparing to strike the lynx down where she stood. “Maybe you didn’t hear me the first time!” said a voice coming from behind, this time with the sound of rushing water accompanying it. “What?” exclaimed the fox assassin, surprised for the first time in the whole skirmish. Unbeknownst to him, Zeke had summoned an enormous mass of water, courtesy of his Sign of the Tides. The tidal wave of sparkling blue water overwhelmed the assassin, stopping him for long enough for Zeke to jump down, smack Syn with the butt end of his spear, and knock him to the ground. “Grrr…” he growled, angered at his own miscalculation. “We shall meet again, lynx…” finished Syn, giving the two a livid glare as he dusted himself off and fled, leaving Kayah and Zeke alone together once again.
The wind had picked up once more, and while the scuffle with Syn hadn’t been much of a battle, there was still blood on the dump dirt. While she wasn’t hurt too badly, Kayah sat down with her back to a heap of junk to rest. “You saved my life out there, Zeke. Thanks,” she told Zeke, reluctantly grateful at his actions during the scuffle prior. Zeke certainly took her words to heart, smiling proudly at her gratitude. “See, I am useful for something! Aren’t you glad you brought me along?” he said, taking a seat next to her. “Well, it was nice for a moment, at least,” she mumbled, rolling her eyes at his eagerness. Zeke’s head fell in dejection but quickly rebounded. “You’re hurt,” noted the otter, placing his paw over her shoulder with concern. “I’m fine,” she said, coldly pushing away his caring paw. Zeke didn’t take the bait. After ruffling around in his bag for a moment, the otter pulled out a moist leaf from a pouch and handed it to Kayah. “Here. It’s not much, but it should stop the bleeding,” he said, genuinely wanting to help. After a few dabs, Kayah was left with a decently sized scar across her upper muzzle, but was otherwise ready to go. “All better?” asked the otter, half-condescendingly, half genuine. Saying nothing, Kayah stood up and crossed her arms, pouting and refusing to acknowledge the otter. “Aww, come on, Kayah… Look, I got the rope we needed!” exclaimed Zeke, tugging the strand of rope from its resting place and waving at the lynx. That was all she needed. With the rope and both of them in one piece, the two were finally ready to set off on their journey.
Chapter 2 of Chosen of Fir Gaiden: Blood, Bonds, and a Bittersweet Promise.