The cold stone floor of the once grand dragon temple gave way to cool, flowing sand under the paws of Kayah and Zeke. Night had since fallen, the two leaving the wounded skunk and crumbled mausoleum. “Why’d you do it?” asked Zeke, curious. “Do what?” reciprocated Kayah. The otter edged closer, seemingly happy with something. “You know…. agreeing to help him? I haven’t seen you care about someone else since… since… goddess, I don’t know,” he explained, teasing her. “S-shut up! I care about other people!” shouted Kayah, folding her arms and scowling nervously. She and Zeke moved forward through the sand in silence for a moment, only for the otter to speak up at the worst possible. “Lyle and Liza,” he stated, striking a nerve in the already edgy lynx. Kayah sighed, preparing to scold Zeke once more, but as her anger seeped away, she opened up. “Toxiclaw’s situation… it was… well… I couldn't help but see myself in him,” she said, gripping her paw into a fist. “To do anything for your family… I know what that feels like,” muttered the lynx. Stopping for a moment, Kayah looked up at the sandy moon, solemnly. “Thanks for coming out here with me. I wouldn’t have gotten as far as I have without your help,” she said, out of the blue. Zeke gasped at her words. “Whoa, really? You’re thanking me?” he said, truly astonished. “Ugh, cut that surprised shit out already. You should know by now that I…... you know what, never mind. Forget it,” said Kayah, putting a paw on her forehead to scout ahead. “That you what? Come on, you can tell me,” egged on Zeke. Unbeknownst to him, however, the lynx had started blushing. Kayah tried to say something, anything, but found that she couldn’t. Before the otter could catch on, the rose-cheeked lynx. spotted a stream up ahead, and seized the opportunity to run.
It was like a gift from the gods themselves, this small, inconspicuous stream bisecting the barren desert. A gift Kayah definitely didn’t mind accepting. Dipping her paws into the sandy water, she found that it was cold. Once she gave her face a good washing, the lynx dug in and began lapping the cool, slightly grainy water like it would be the last liquid ever to grace her muzzle. Her scar she had gotten from Syn tinged with pain, but she didn’t care. Zeke, who had been following close behind, quickly kneeled and did the same, in an even less graceful manner than his peer. Both furs eventually had to gasp for air, which both of them expected, but what came as a surprise for Kayah was for the otter kneeling next to her placing his paws around her neck and giving her a genuine, full-faced wet kiss. When his muzzle reached hers, she hesitated, taken aback with his advances, but after a second or two, the lynx gave in to her urges. Kayah and Zeke went deep into each other’s muzzles, even touching tongues in a passionate and mutual kiss. After a few moments, the action broke, and the two furs were left separate under the starry desert sky.
Kayah’s ear twitched in the soft nighttime breeze, Zeke’s tail wiggled in the coarse desert sand, but neither of them could bring themselves to say anything to each other. Nothing but silence and flushed red faces. Eventually, Zeke had it in him to bump the lynx with his elbow. “How about that?” he asked, awkwardly . Kayah continued to avoid looking at him as she gave a quiet sigh. “Was it real? I mean… it really seemed like you enjoyed that. Am I crazy? I’m crazy, aren’t I?” said Zeke, desperately trying to squeeze an answer out of Kayah. “Yes! It was real! You can shut up about it!” she exclaimed, throwing her paws up in the air. Zeke only gave a quiet meep at her sudden outburst. “Sorry. I’m… upset, to put it frankly,” sighed Kayah. “It’s like I said back in Andea… I just… I don’t have time for love. With two other mouths to feed, constantly being out of the house, dealing with everything, there’s just… no room,” explained the lynx, bluntly. Zeke saw an opportunity in her confusion, and pounced on it. “You know… you don’t have to do all that stuff alone,” he recommended. Kayah frowned, kicking the sand in front of her. “Yeah, I do. It’s my problem, and no one else’s,” she said, a hint of resentment in her voice. Sighing, the otter still wasn’t ready to give up. “Come on, Kayah, let me help you!” he exclaimed. “You think I’m pathetic enough to need help from a moron like you?” retorted Kayah, sharply turning away. Zeke put his head down. “It’s not about being weak. It’s about realizing that we’re all struggling, and need to stick together,” he said, solemnly. The lynx gasped softly, and a conflicted look took over her face. The quiet gushing of the desert stream calmed the heated situation, slowly washing away the tension. “I… I can’t… I’m not supposed to need anyone else...” said Kayah, drops of salty brine beginning to sneak out of her eyes. Zeke put a paw on her shoulder. “Put your chin up. We still have work to do,” he said. The lynx wiped her tears and wrapped her arms around him. “I hate you so much,” she muttered, giving a weak smile. “That’s the spirit!” exclaimed the otter. Rejuvenated by the water, the two furs stood up, side by side in front of the towering Granval Range. This was gonna be tough, but now… now they had each other.
After filling their pouches, Kayah and Zeke were on their way. The path into the mountains was a gradient, starting off with mere pebbles to step over, but diverging into a steep and treacherous climb. Kayah wouldn’t admit it, but she was afraid to look at the otter. Zeke was smiling confidently as he reached for the next rock to pull himself up to but she… she wasn’t as sure as him. Aside from her hovel of a home she had inherited from her parents, Lyle and Liza were all she had. She couldn’t let that otter anywhere near them… could she? While she pondered, Kayah had been sidling across a ledge to get to the next stone clearing. Once they got farther into the mountains, they would hopefully reach some sort of dragon settlement. Suddenly, Zeke cried out. “Kayah, watch out!” he yelled, yanking the lynx’s arm away from her oblivious position. “Waaagh!” she yelped, as the formation above the ledge collapsed and crumbled. “You have to be more careful up here,” encouraged Zeke. Kayah sighed and brushed the sweat off of her forehead. “Who’s the leader of this expedition, again?” she reminded him. The otter shrugged with a nervous smile. “You are?” he admitted. “Exactly,” responded Kayah, reaching for a ledge above them. She wasn’t about to let him take control of her. That’s not what this was about. As they continued to make their way up into the Granval Range, the lynx led the way. Every time Zeke slipped, she reached to help him up, and visa versa. The mountainous terrain was challenging, but not impossible. Not when they were working as a team. When a foothold fell away and Zeke nearly fell, Kayah grabbed his paw. When Kayah couldn’t reach a rock above her, Zeke held his paw down to bring her up. She was beginning to realize why they needed each other. Neither of them could be here alone. Whenever they helped one another out, Kayah felt something warm inside of her. It was a strange feeling, alien, yet comforting. She had his back, and he had hers. And… she was okay with that.
The passing of the hours was apparent as the sun rose in the distance. In the early morning, Kayah and Zeke reached their destination, or what they thought was their destination, at least. It wasn’t far into the mountains, just past the edge. The two furs lay prone in their lookout spot, scanning for any signs of movement. “Looks like this is it. You ready?” asked Kayah, holding a paw up to her head to block out the morning sun. “I dunno. We haven’t actually seen any dragons yet,” said the otter, wiggling his long, brown tail into a more comfortable position. They had perched in front of a single furnished cave, built into the edge of a mountain. It was certainly a dragon’s home, what with the tapestries and draconic writing and all, but it seemed strangely remote. Just when the two furs were about to give up, two figures came from inside of the cave: a young, grey and green scaled dragon and, to their surprise, a just as young orange folf. “What the hell? What’s a Fur doing out here?” exclaimed Kayah, sufficiently bewildered. Zeke swiftly clasped his paw over her muzzle to quiet her down. “Shh! They might hear us!” he whispered. The Fur, who couldn’t have been older than seven, began enthusiastically swinging around his wooden sword. His dragon companion, who was a bit older, laughed a bit, and grabbed the sword out of his paw, holding it above his head. The dragon chuckled some more as his friend tried to get his sword back, then stopped teasing him and returned the wooden blade. They both shared a laugh and hugged, indicating that they were obviously very close. “Now’s our chance. You can take the smaller one, and I’ll get the dragon,” whispered Kayah, ready to pounce. “H-hold on a moment, Kayah! You aren’t seriously thinking about kidnapping a dragon kid, are you?” replied Zeke, having second thoughts. The lynx turned her head at him and glared. “I don’t give a damn who I have to kidnap!” she whisper-shouted. The otter gave a small whimper, but reluctantly agreed. Before they could move however, a larger, motherly looking dragon exited the cave. She was a tall and beautiful dragon, but one that seemed a bit more imposing than the school-age child. “Oh shit… I hate to say it, but I don’t think we can deal with that one,” explained Kayah. The white and crystalline blue dragon scooped up the two kids in her arms and happily returned to the cave. The lynx sighed, slamming her paw on the stone plateau they were lying on. “Damn it, we were so close!” she grunted. The lynx sighed, and picked herself up off of the ground. “Come on. Let’s keep moving. I’m not leaving this shithole until I have a live, tied up dragon squirming in at my footpaws,” explained Kayah. Zeke turned his head to look back at the cave with a nervous glance. The otter had always followed her wherever she went, and had even assured her he was up for the task, but now, he wasn’t so sure. Shaking his head, Zeke joined his beloved on his footpaws. It was time to enter the Dragons’ lair.
From where they were standing, Granval no longer towered above Kayah and Zeke. The path forward was no longer a matter of climbing, but of careful sidling and platforming. The quiet, somber mountain winds were all that were heard as the two hopped from rock to rock, making their way into the unknown. “If you’re gonna ditch me when the going gets rough, you might as well get out now,” said Kayah, sliding across a narrow ledge, with her back to the wall. “What? No! I would never abandon you, Kayah!” exclaimed the otter, sidling up close to her so he could grab her paw. The lynx hesitated for a moment, looking down and thinking. Before she could continue, a rain of claws descended onto the two, throwing them onto the next platform. Two snarling, catlike beasts had pounced, ready to make mincemeat out of the two furs. “Zeke, look out!” cried Kayah, as the first of the two leaped onto the fallen otter. Zeke grunted, throwing his half-trident in front of him to block the brunt of the vicious predator. Kayah rushed to aid her friend, axe already drawn, but before she could make it, she found herself on the ground, moments from being devoured by the beast. It scratched, snarled and spit, only missing her vital organs by centimeters. “Damn it, these Croxes are fast!” she shouted, ramming the handle of her handaxe into the bloodthirsty Crox’s mouth. Its maw oozed saliva onto her hazel fur as Kayah struggled to push the monster off of her. Meanwhile, Zeke wasn’t doing much better. His back was to the edge of the cliff, the first Crox having cornered him. The maned feline circled the otter, waiting for the right moment to pounce. When the Crox smelled Zeke’s wariness, it threw its body onto him, causing both to slide off of the stony surface. “Zeke!” screamed Kayah, when she saw that he fell. The otter thought quickly, and thrust his trident into the rock as hard as he possibly could, giving him something to hold on to. He had saved himself, but the peril wasn’t over just yet. The Crox clawed at Zeke’s leg on the way down, leaving deep, red gashes in his slick brown fur. “Aaaagh!” he cried out, the beast sticking its claws into the rock below him. Zeke formed as much water as he could from the dry mountain air and sent it hurtling at the flailing Crox, leaving it to fall to the ground far below. Kayah, on the other hand, was gaining the upper paw. “Eat this, beast!” was her battlecry, as she went in for a combo attack, striking once, then knocking the Crox upside the head with the blunt end of her axe. Behind her, Zeke managed to swing himself up and onto stable ground. Kayah was bleeding, but still able to fight, however, Zeke’s leg was badly cut. Another quick dash, and the ravenous beast was between the two, obviously gunning for the easy prey. Kayah rushed to kill the Crox, but it was just as fast, pouncing towards Zeke with blinding swiftness. Right before it made its mark and a meal out of the otter, it was met with a small, sharp jet of water to the face, giving Kayah enough time to cleave the monster’s head in two.
Kayah sat down next to Zeke, worn out and totally beat. “Ow… OW!” moaned Zeke, setting down his clawed leg to rest it. He was pleasantly surprised when a roll of bandage was dropped into his lap. “Wrap that leg up. We have a long day ahead of us,” said Kayah, arms crossed. The otter’s face lit up at her gesture. “You really do care about me!” he said, starting to bandage his wounded leg. Kayah gave a quiet hmph and turned away, blushing. When Zeke finished, he stood up and limped over to his partner, arms extended. “Come here, gimme a hug,” he said, wrapping his arms around her. “Zeke, s-stop!” she exclaimed, embarrassed. The otter merely smiled and hugged tighter. Kayah had no choice but to accept her friend’s embrace. “Thanks, Zeke,” she sighed, cracking a soft smile. “I’ll stay with you. I promise,” he said. The two let go and looked up, as just up on the horizon was their goal. Past a steep gap was a clearing, and just beyond that was their destination.
The rush of adrenaline faded from the two furs’ bodies as the rush of battle subsided. Night fell as quickly their fight had ended, and with it came rain. Now, on this dark and stormy night, was the time for redemption. Kayah was going to take back her life from these infernal lizards once and for all. All that lay in her way was a steep, slippery, gorge. “How are we going to get over this? I can barely see in the dark, let alone the pouring rain,” she complained. A quiet grin then made its way across Zeke’s muzzle. “This is perfect! My power was weakened from being so high up, but with so much water, I’m at practically full strength!” he exclaimed. His gaze turned toward Kayah, and the look in his eyes said leagues about his confidence. “Just watch this!” shouted the otter. Zeke twisted his paws and the water came along with them. He harnessed the power of the storm with his Sign, creating a stream of water that shot from one end of the ravine to the other. “Hop on!” he shouted through the crashing downpour. To Kayah’s amazement, Zeke grinded his way down the sloped jet of water, his seashell necklace dangling behind him as he rode. The lynx’s muzzle fell open with astonishment. “You… you don’t expect me to do that too… do you?” she asked, wide-eyed. Zeke only winked at her, crossing his arms and waiting. With a sudden grin on her face, Kayah took leap of faith. Like hell some water was gonna get between her and freedom! With a skip of her paws and a skid on the water, she was riding the wave with nothing but her paws. “W-whoa! Okay… Okay!” she cried, trying to steady herself. When the lynx reached the end, she was met by the outstretched paws of her partner, ready for her landing. “H-hey,” she whimpered, blushing as he hugged her. “Now you know what it’s like out on the waters,” explained Zeke, giving his beloved a squeeze before letting her go. With their soaking wet fur, the two hung close to the wall, searching for the best entry point. “On the waters? You mean the ocean?” asked Kayah, with a whisper. “Yeah. Back in Ocera, my brothers and I went fishing with nothing but our paws and our teeth. That was my favorite place to be, out on the open waters. Now all I do is odd jobs here and there and hang out at the bar to play Klutze,” said Zeke, reminiscing. “Wait, you fished with your bare paws? I took Lyle and Liza fishing at Lake Jugal last year, but we used poles, not our teeth!” exclaimed the lynx. Zeke laughed and placed a paw on Kayah’s back. “That’s fine, you’d kinda have to be an otter for that,” he said. As the two snuck across the remaining clearing, the otter paused for a moment. “You know, I could take you to the ocean. I bet you’d really like it,” he suggested. “I.. I think I would too. Maybe we could all take a trip to the beach once this is all over,” said Kayah, softening up a bit. “Alright, it’s a date!” exclaimed Zeke, pumping his fist in excitement. The lynx groaned and smacked him over the head, not having any of it. “That’s not what I meant, you dolt!” she yelled. Before Zeke could complain, however, they had reached their goal: Korvale, the town of Dragons.
Far from such a town, however, was the dwelling of one who would be quite envious of Kayah and Zeke’s opportunity. In fact, he was the commissioner and head researcher for the Altyris Project, kidnapping and all. You might think such a person could be cold and heartless, depressingly apathetic to an entire half of the world, but that could not be farther from the truth. Solan, purveyor of all things draconic, was an eager and curious scientist, a fennec fox of many talents, and a loving father, when time allowed it. “Papa, Papa! Look what I made!” squeed his 5 year old daughter. The two lived in the upper class district in Vele, the town adjacent to Andea. Turning away from his work, Solan picked up his fluffball of a daughter and took a look at hers. On the sheet of parchment was a crudely drawn fox girl in a nurse’s outfit, handing something red to another figure. “Is that you, Sunny?” asked the robed fox. “Uh-huh. I’m giving sweets to all of the sad people!” she exclaimed, innocently not knowing what a nurse actually does. “That’s wonderful, Sunny,” acknowledged Solan, quietly placing his daughter onto the wooden floor. As his attention faded and returned to his duties, the window of his study called to him. Solan whisked his tail and robe to the side and gazed out into the town, hoping for signs of a courier or royal informant. The scholarly fennec was told his specimen would arrive in no less than a week, and that was four days ago. Solan sighed, ignoring his adorable daughter to return to his desk. On the many tables aligning his study were numerous ink-blotted pages, all adorned with Draconic characters. On the walls were circles of magic and alchemy, and even an incomplete anatomical diagram. “Where is it…? They said I’d have it by the end of the month and it’s already the 41st! I need the specimen to complete my anatomical studies…” muttered Solan. “Oh, well. I suppose I can take a little break,” he said, nuzzling his beloved daughter, before getting up from his seat and exiting the study along with her.
Chapter 5 of Chosen of Fir Gaiden: Blood, Bonds, and a Bittersweet Promise.