Landalsta, the crown jewel of the Magistral Empire. It had been quite a few days since Kayah had last seen this place. One new scar and a dragon in tow, but here she was. Her and Ayli were approaching the entrance to the slums, while the palace loomed above in the Upper City. “Goddess, I hope Zeke’s doing okay...” said the lynx, stepping through the gate. She was careful not to let Ayli be seen. Best not to bring any unwanted attention to their presence. “Is Zeke the otter that was with you? T-the one who tied me up?” Ayli asked. Kayah’s ear twitched. “Y-yeah…” she muttered, waves of regret washing over her conscience. “How come he left?” continued the dragon. Normally, this would be the time that Kayah would get defensive and start telling the other party to shut up, but something inside her had changed. “He told me that ‘the Kayah he fell in love with wasn’t a murderer,’” she said, resting her back against a musky brick wall. The lynx gazed down the narrow slum alleyway, noticing each dusty pallet and empty bucket across the corridor. She was home, and her journey was complete, but the things she had forsaken to get here tugged at her heart. “Oh…” muttered Ayli, feeling remorseful for both Kayah and Gaelen. “You know… that’s the first time I’ve heard your name. We’ve been together all this time and we’re only now getting to know each other,” pointed out the dragon, giving a sad chuckle. “I suppose it wouldn’t be too rude for me to ask your name, would it?” asked Kayah. “It’s Ayli. I’m sorry it took me so long to tell you,” responded Ayli. The lynx shook her head. “You were being kidnapped. Why would you feel the need to tell your kidnapper your name?” she said. Smiling honestly, Ayli stepped ever so slightly closer to her companion. “Ever since we got out of this cave, this hasn’t felt like much of a kidnapping,” she told the lynx, laughing slightly. Kayah gritted her teeth as she grappled with the notions Ayli was giving her. “S-so what if I-!” she began to shout, before stopping herself. She wanted to tell the dragon leaning on the wall right next to her that she wasn’t her friend, but she couldn’t bring herself to say it. “You’re serious about going through with this? I have no idea what the Magistrates want with you, but something tells me it ain’t pretty,” noted the lynx. “Yeah. I-it’s not like anyone would miss me, anyways,” responded Ayli, rather grimly. Kayah knew she was telling the truth, but somehow felt uneasy about the situation. What would Liza and Lyle think about her leaving this girl with her worst enemies to be experimented on? Zeke had already left her. So what if she was a dragon? Ayli had shown her kindness, totally disregarding the species boundaries. Her thoughts of anger and revenge had fully subsided after her journey. This girl was living evidence that dragons weren’t the ones she was fighting against. Kayah knew now who the true enemy really was.
“I…. I want you to get as far away from this place as possible,” Kayah told Ayli. “W-what!?” exclaimed the dragon, utterly shaken from the sudden change in tone. Kayah meant every word of the sentence she just spoke. “You can’t give yourself over to those bastards… I won’t let you,” she continued. Ayli was in shock. “B-but why? What about your brother and sister? I thought… your whole journey was for them?” she asked. The lynx put a paw up to the scar on her face and looked down solemnly. “I-I know. It’s just that… you’re too important. I… I can’t trade your life for ours. Someone like you is bound to change the world. A couple of slum kids like us aren’t worth sacrificing that. No one is,” said Kayah, coming to terms that everything she had gone through might as well have been for naught. Stepping back, Ayli placed a confused claw on her chest. “N-no… I’m not worth anything... I’m just a dumb college dropout…” she said in a bout of self-deprecation. Kayah reluctantly put her paw on the confused dragon’s shoulder, aware that she was throwing her only chance for a better life away. “That’s not true. You’re motivated, you’re resourceful, and you’re the kindest person I’ve ever met. There’s no way in hell I’m letting the Magistrates have their way with you. My siblings and I will get by. You have to live. Pick up the pieces of this shattered world…. and end all this stupid strife and hatred, ” she told Ayli, who began tearing up. “K-Kayah… W-why are you caring about what happens to me? I’m a dragon, and you’re a fur… This isn’t how it’s supposed to be…” she cried. Once again, Kayah shook her head. “No. This… is how it should be. People like you give hope to those like me. I’ve realized… your kind isn’t my enemy. Dragons might have been the ones who killed my parents and left us for dead… but it’s those guys up in the palace who sent them to die in a war fighting people who’ve done us no wrong other than acting in self-defense! They’re the ones responsible for keeping all of us in the slums down where we are! It’s up to me to teach those goddess-damned dogs a lesson. You, on the other paw… you have to make it out of here… Make it out… Change everything,” she finished. This was it. Kayah was preparing for what might be the final battle of her life. The price of entry: leaving everything she had fought for behind, all for a girl of another species that she had known for little less than a week.
“I… I don’t know what to say…” muttered Ayli, sobbing with tears of gratitude. “I just wanted to make you and your siblings happy…” she said. Kayah bit her tongue. She knew she might not make it out of a scuffle with the Magistral Knights, and if she didn’t what might happen to her brother and sister. “This is more than us… it’s about the future of this world. Everyone in every slum in Fir is counting on people like you, Ayli,” said the lynx. “T-thank you. Thank you for believing in me. I’m not sure what I can do to repay you,” Ayli told Kayah, slowly rising out of her despair. “You don’t owe me anything. I killed your friend and stole you away from your home. I don’t deserve your thanks,” stated Kayah, bitterly telling the truth. “You came all this way just to save your siblings, all to give it up at the last moment… I have to do something…” muttered the dragon. Ayli sighed. She had no idea what she could do for Kayah. Then it hit her. “If you don’t make it back…. I’ll take them back to Korvale with me!” she exclaimed. Kayah’s eyes widened. “Wait… what?” she said, mind still processing what Ayli told her. “I’ll take your brother and sister in… If you aren’t there to take care of them, someone has to do it, right?” The lynx was astounded. Once again Ayli was showing her an outrageous amount of kindness that she didn’t deserve. The only thing she could do was give the dragon a warm, heartfelt hug. “Thank you. I don’t deserve any of this for what I did to you, yet you’re doing it anyway…” she said, wrapping her furry arms around the unsuspecting dragon and squeezing her new friend as hard as she could. “Hehe… wow… I’ve never been hugged by a fur…” muttered Ayli, reciprocating the lynx’s embrace with her own. “You’re so soft…” she laughed, cuddling her new furry friend. “I guess… this is where we part ways,” said Kayah, slowly releasing the dragon from her friendly grasp. “If I don’t see you again… tell Lyle and Liza that I love them more than anything else in the world. Our house is the third one down the street to the left, the one with a dirty blue ribbon nailed to the door,” she continued. “Every time I beat myself up… you were always there to remind me of all the things you thought I was good at… You’ve helped me become so much more confident in myself… it’s only natural that I return the favor somehow...” responded Ayli, smiling softly. Kayah grinned. She was getting fired up. It was finally time to put those Magistrates in their place. “Take care, Ayli,” said the lynx, drawing her axe. “Go get em, Kayah,” said the dragon, and Kayah nodded and took off.
Ayli taking her siblings in took a massive load off of Kayah’s shoulders. All she had to do now was take the stairs up to the Upper City and storm the palace. Easier said than done, but she’d make due with what she had. The only way up was a set of rickety old wooden steps, barely anything lavish to say the least. Kayah rarely took these stairs, partially because they were dangerous, but partly because she hated the sight of the pristine Upper City. “Ah, shit!” cried Kayah, taking three steps up the decrepit stairs before having one collapse beneath her paw. A few more close calls like that and the palace was within the lynx’s sight. Main Street was filled with furs going about their daily lives, to and from work in the massive stone and wood towers and complexes, selling more products than in Korvale and Andea combined, discussing local politics or family issues, but none of it was of any concern to Kayah. Her mind was set on one thing: making the Magistrates pay for everything they had done. Several of the upper and middle class furs gave strange looks to the comparatively worn and rugged Kayah, but she couldn’t care less. Right in front of her were two massive doors: the entrance to the Magistrates’ Royal Palace. “Wow, no warm welcome? You guys are making this too easy…” muttered Kayah, cracking her knuckles. “I wouldn’t be so sure of that, lynx,” responded a mischievous voice coming from behind her.
Kayah quickly turned around, only to find nothing. “You’re one of the three that were assigned to the Altyris Project, weren't you…? You have quite a lot of nerve returning empty-pawed….” said the voice, seemingly emanating straight from the walls. Growling, Kayah drew her axe and swung. “If you’re just gonna sit there and taunt me, then get outta my way! Otherwise, show yourself so I can beat your head in!” she yelled, striking a battle stance. “Hehe… as you wish,” whispered her invisible foe, indicating it was once again right behind her. The first thing Kayah saw was the young fur’s long, white claws. He was a dark furred mole, dressed in the same cloak as Syn. The assassin was rather short, about a head smaller than Kayah, but he still managed to convey an air of superiority, despite his mousy appearance. “A mole…? And in that cloak, of all things… It's just like the one that silver bastard was wearing...” she exclaimed, taking a wary step back. Kayah wasn’t about to get tripped up by another one of these Guild goonies. Ah, I see you’ve met one of my former colleagues. Syn, I presume… A skilled killer, for sure, but he could never compare to the likes of myself... ” explained the mole, snickering while brushing a claw under his long nose. Before Kayah could slice the slippery bastard in two, he suddenly vanished in a shimmer of grey light. “What the hell?” exclaimed Kayah, darting around to find her missing opponent. “Hehe…. I’ll give you a hint as to what’s going on… I am Shade, Pernicious Phantom of the Magistral Knights,” whispered the mole, who had appeared behind her. “Gah!” cried Kayah, flustered with the assassin’s constant disappearances. When she turned and slashed at the mole, he dematerialized once again before her very eyes. “You’ve got a lot to answer to, lynx… Just come with me quietly, and I won’t have to hurt you…” said Shade, still invisible. Kayah growled. “Fat chance, I’m not stopping until this whole damn palace is nothing but rubble!” she exclaimed, charging up a wind attack. “So… it’s treason, then…” stated Shade, decloaking as he unsheathed his sword. The mole was now visible, and Kayah took it as her time to strike. Every time she took a stab or slash at Shade, however, he vanished just like before, taunting her each time. “Hehe… so anxious to dig into me… yet you can’t even lay a single paw on me…” laughed the mole. She chased him out of the entrance area and into the nearby streets, which, unfortunately for the owners, was still populated with carts and stalls. She couldn't let him get away and alert the others if she wanted any chance of a stealthy entrance to the palace. Taking advantage of her surroundings, Kayah let out several gusts of wind and knocked over carts in an effort to slow the mole down. Stalls tumbled along with their contents, much to their angry owners' charging, with the lynx leaping over some and throwing down others in her chase through the street. “At this rate, you’ll just tire yourself out…. Thanks for making this so easy for me…” Shade said in his signature whispy voice. “Grr… I’ll show you easy!” yelled Kayah, embedding her axe into the top of a stall and vaulting over it, before sending it and all her fury his way. Shade danced out of the way of her angry slashes, fading in and out of visibility constantly. The two made their way into an alleyway in their fight, Kayah growing more and more frustrated with each taunt, but a swift elbow to the stomach took it all out of her. “Aww, is out little lynx petered out already…?” laughed the mole, rather immaturely. Taking a deep breath, Kayah steadied herself. She wasn’t getting anywhere attacking what she couldn’t see, so it was time for a different approach. When Shade vanished and came in for a sword strike, Kayah followed the direction her ears twitched. “W-what?” exclaimed the mole, as Kayah clashed blades with his invisible sword. “We lynxes have pretty keen senses. I may not be able to see you… but I can feel and hear you!” she said, breaking bladelock and cutting at his chest. “Whoa!” Shade cried, jumping back to dodge Kayah’s well placed strike. He tried to go invisible again, but she was too fast. Kayah threw her axe out and leapt at him with a spin attack. “Ngh… you’re better than I thought…” the mole muttered, being pushed back by blocking her repeated slices. When Shade's paws found themselves being pushed out of the alley and into a circular corridor, his panicked beady eyes foreshadowed his impending failure, but a figure coming in from behind the two said otherwise. “I think it’s about time you stop fooling around, Shade,” said the figure in a dignified male voice.
“Octal? Ugh, why’d you have to come and ruin my fun….” muttered the mole, turning around and being disappointed. The clop-like steps of the figure echoed throughout the corridor as he stepped into the conflict unannounced. The light seemed to follow him as he walked, giving him a graceful and ghostly appearance. “You’re…” muttered Kayah, remaining frozen as her new foe made his entry. “Octal. The Eightfold Egoist of the Magistral Knights,” he said, revealing himself as the same buck that contracted Kayah all those days ago. “Look who’s joined the party. How many more of you are left?” the lynx asked, circling carefully around the regal-appearing deer as to avoid being caught off guard by Shade. “Three, but their aid won’t be necessary. I’ll be apprehending you myself,” said Octal, brushing a bit of dust from his chestplate. The buck wasn’t wearing a suit like before. This time, he was clad in the full Magistral Regalia, complete with eight sheathed swords spread around his back and side. “You and what army?” Kayah asked cockily, twirling her axe in anticipation. Octal held out his hooved hand and began to glow a faint orange color. The eight blades suspended around his armor responded by removing themselves from their scabbards through sheer force of will. Kayah backed up, suddenly being surrounded by the eight glowing swords’ razor sharp tips, being held up only by Octal’s orange psychic powers. “Now then. Zechsia and Quake are dealing with another issue as of right now, so your questioning will have to be postponed,” said the buck, confident that the battle was won. Kayah gritted her teeth. She looked around the corridor, hoping for another out to the situation, but, alas, she was totally trapped. With the eight blades still surrounding her, Kayah followed Octal, albeit reluctantly.
“Ack!” Kayah exclaimed, her back being thrown up against the cold dungeon wall. “We’ll retrieve you when we’re ready for the hearing,” Octal stated coldly, shutting the prison gate with a loud crash. “Hey. You okay?” said a calming voice coming from right next to her. Kayah blinked a few times and found it was Solan, who had been thrown in the same prison cell just minutes before her. “Y-yeah…” she muttered, stretching her arms and adjusting her position to sit comfortably. Landalsta was in a rather temperate climate zone, but down in the dark, gray dungeon, it was frigid. “So, what are you in for?” asked Kayah, huddling up next to the fennec scholar. “I had asked the Magistrates if it were possible for them to procure a living specimen of dragon for my research, but it seems that two and a half weeks wasn’t enough time,” he said, bringing his paws up to his face glumly. Kayah squinted, processing the sentence of her new companion. “Oh, my apologies! I never told you my name. My name is Solan,” he said, offering one of his paws to shake. “You’re the one who started this whole thing? The Atlyis Project, or whatever?” asked the lynx, accepting his paw. “You’re familiar?” responded Solan, ears perking up with curiosity. “I was one of the furs they sent out,” said Kayah, brushing her short hair back and sitting up. Solan nearly jumped off of the stone bench he was sitting on in anticipation. “D-did you find one?” he exclaimed, giddy with dragon fever. Kayah smirked. “Actually… I did. She wasn’t too bad, for a dragon at least,” she said, recalling their journey together. “She? Where is she? Can I see her?” exclaimed Solan, as excited as a kid in a sweet shop. Kayah laughed solemnly, taking humor but also a bit of sorrow from the situation. “She’s gone already. I let her go. Besides, we’re stuck in this jail cell, either way,” she said, putting her two Lans into the ring. “Oh, right. Well, that’s quite a shame. I was truly excited to see a dragon in person for the first time,” Solan said, becoming dejected when he learned there was no dragon. “What for?” asked Kayah, curious as to what she was really out there doing. “I’m a scholar, you see, and I’m quite fascinated with the other species that lives here with us. Dragon culture, dragon technology, dragon biology, it’s all so wondrous! I so wish to discover all there is to know about them!” exclaimed the fennec fox in the robe. “Hmm… Well, it’s good to know you weren’t going to cut Ayli up if I had actually turned her in,” said Kayah, standing up and stretching her legs. “Goddess, no! I could never dissect such a majestic creature! Ayli, you said her name was? You simply must tell me more about her! What was she like?” What was she wearing? What did she… Are you listening to me?” questioned Solan, watching Kayah try to control the wind and form another axe to break out with. The lynx held her paws in front of her and concentrated, but she only got wisps of air at best. “Ngh.. what the hell, why isn’t my Sign working?” she asked, miffed at the lack of response from the wind. “Are you trying to get us out of here? If it’s the wind you’re trying to use, I’m afraid there isn’t much air circulation in a room like this,” said Solan, standing up next to her. The scholarly fox pulled out a small piece of parchment from his robe that the Magistral Knights neglected to take from him when admitting him to the cell. “This might work better,” he said, handing the scrap of paper to Kayah. On it, several draconic characters were written, and below it were scratchings that looked like a translation. “This is a little spell I like to keep handy. I’ve never been able to do it alone, so it’s a good thing you came… what was your name again?” Solan stated, rubbing his paws together in preparation. “Kayah. So, what’s the spell?” asked the lynx, unfamiliar with how this whole thing worked. She had seen Ayli cast several spells, but she seemed like she was doing it from memory. “It’s pronounced sehratum igneto bombari… ooh,” said Solan, noticing a small purple shock when he said it. “We’ll have to say it in unison. Fur bodies aren’t built for channeling Remnant like dragons are, but doing it together should make it work,” he explained. Most of what the fennec fox just said went over Kayah’s head, but she got the gist of what she had to do. “Alright, on three, start chanting the words. Three… two… one… Sehratum igneto bombar- AH!” said Solan, stopping when Kayah received a rather large jolt of Reverb after saying ‘bomberi.’ “No, no, it’s bombari, not bomberi,” he explained to her. “Geez… it was one syllable…” she muttered, ready to give it another try. “Alright…. Sehratum, igneto bombari!” the two shouted, letting loose a potent explosive spell, blasting the jail cell gate right off of its hinges. “Wow. Good stuff, huh?” said Kayah, astounded with the power of the spell she had just performed. “Thank you so much for the help... Kayah, was it? I have to get back to my daughter, Sunny… she must be worried sick by now!” said Solan, shaking Kayah’s paw formally again. “N-no problem,” she responded exiting the cold cell into the wider dungeon hallway.
Resting on a table just outside the room where Solan and Kayah were being held was her axe and a set of keys. “Nice,” she whispered, cautious as to not alert anyone guarding the place. She figured that the explosion would have already done that, but she didn’t want to take any chances. Kayah took back her trusty axe, but before she could leave, she heard a female voice call out to her. “Excuse me, miss? Could you help us out of here?” she heard it asking. The lynx groaned and turned around to see two skunks, an older, female skunk and what looked to be her young son. “That’s not… Toxiclaw’s wife and kid, is it?” Kayah asked herself, recalling the skunk who was sent on the same mission as her against his will. “Well, I guess I made a promise,” she said nonchalantly, taking the keys and making her way over to the cell where the two were being held. “Stop crying! You are going to be strong like your father, and a strong skunk doesn’t cry! It’s pathetic!” the female skunk said, scolding her son. “But.. but… I’m scared…” sniffled the young skunk. “Enough, Soren! Not another word until we get home!” she said, seemingly overreacting. Kayah flipped through the ring of keys until she found one that matched the two skunks’ cell door. “Thank you, miss. I’m not sure what we would have done without you,” said Soren’s mother, grateful for their rescue. Kayah stood there as the two ran off, Soren giving the lynx a careful glance, before having his ear yanked rather violently by his mother. “Weird. Well, at least I was able to keep that promise. Now… time to finish this…” said Kayah, sneaking down the hallway with her back to the wall.
Five. Octal had implied that there were five Magistral Knights in total, and Kayah would have to fight her way through each before she could get to the Magistrates. The lynx sidled down the frigid brick wall, wary not to alert anyone to her presence. She knew Octal would overpower her if she wasn’t careful, so picking each Knight off one by one would make her job much more manageable. Kayah was a hunter by trade, so this sort of work was right up her alleyway. Wandering deeper through the maze that was the palace dungeon, Kayah passed by dozens of cells, filled with chains, shackles, and what looked to be torture instruments. Blood stained many of the walls within the obviously well-used prison chambers. It shook Kayah to see remnants of what the furs who ruled over her people had done, but she had no time to worry about what was in the past. Shade was just up ahead.
The cloaked mole stood casually, back against the wall, whistling a tune as he guarded the dungeon. Kayah’s paws were bare, as most furs, excluding soldiers, so her steps were silent. This was the perfect time to strike. “Goddess, Octal is such a pain. I could have killed that bitch on my own…” he muttered, unsuspecting. One swing of her axe was enough to send the mole into shock and surprise. Kayah’s black blade cleaved through the brick Shade was resting on, mere centimeters from his head. “S-shit! How did you get out?” cried the mole, ducking uncomfortably. The lynx wasted no time, swinging her axe like an executioner. Shade panicked, drawing his sword and blocking before he could cloak. The axe and sword clashed together, giving Kayah the upper paw on the blade struggle. She growled and shoved the mole against the wall, using the curved end of her weapon to drag Shade against the bricks. “H-how? You could barely touch me before!” he exclaimed. Thrown to the ground and cornered in the dungeon hallway, he had no choice but to go invisible and call for backup. Kayah chased the hastily backing up mole, following the sound of his steps and movements of the air around him. “Ngh… I’m not going down today, you traitorous street urchin!” he cried, spinning around to block the lynx’s cutting blow. Even while cloaked, Kayah timed her slashes with the sway of her ears, smashing her axe into the escaping Shade’s cracking sword. Blow after blow, Kayah pushed the mole back further down the hall, getting closer and closer to the stairwell. “Bwagh!” exclaimed Shade, sword finally shattering under the force of Kayah’s swings. The mole collapsed on the stairs, totally powerless against the lynx’s wrath. Octal wasn’t here to save him this time. “Any last words, dog of the Magistrates?” muttered Kayah, spitting off to the side of the stone stairwell. Shade’s head flew from side to side, before grinning and vanishing in one last ditch effort. Kicking Kayah in the leg, the invisible mole frantically darted up the stairs. As the lynx fell backwards, she threw her black steel axe at the Magistral Knight with all the force she could muster. Expectedly, Shade’s lifeless body slid down the stairs, complete with the lynx’s weapon embedded in his back.
Kneeling and breathing heavily at the foot of the stairs, Kayah prepared for the coming fight. With Shade's death, one Magistral Knight was crossed off the list, but that still left four, including Octal, who had effortlessly overpowered her in their previous fight. She expected him to be just as dangerous the second time around. What she didn’t expect expect, however, was the flood that came washing down the stairs, and the otter riding in on said wave. “W-whuh?” he exclaimed, surprised to see an already released Kayah standing next to an already defeated Shade. The second Kayah laid eyes upon Zeke, her mood changed almost immediately. “You! Grrr…You’ve got some nerve showing up after that stunt you pulled!” she growled, marching up to the otter and staring him down like he was some otherworldly aberration. “L-look, Kayah, I’m really sorry about that! Now that I'm here, I can help yo-YOWCH!” he yelped, attempting to clarify himself, only to be punched by his beloved. “H-hey, what was that for? I said I was here to help you!” exclaimed Zeke, stumbling over Shade as he recoiled. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have left you. Not before we got rid of Syn, at least. When I saw you being taken by that knight… I-I knew I had to help, somehow!” he explained, holding his paw out remorsefully. Kayah wasn’t having it. “You called me a murderer!” she yelled, getting rather bitter. Sighing, Zeke stepped back and looked down dejectedly. He wanted to say something to defend himself, but he found himself unable. She was right. And to make it worse, he had meant it. In his shame, it felt as if the cold, grey bricks of the dungeon hallway were closing in on him. “W-where’s the dragon girl…?” he managed to say, still flustered and conflicted. Kayah, hardly wanting to admit her weakness, turned away from the otter. “I let her go,” she responded, biting her tongue in the process. “Wait, really? Why? I thought turning her in would help Lyle and Liza” he asked, eager to hear her response. “On the journey back, I got to know her. I… I didn’t want to trade her life for theirs,” said Kayah, still facing the wall. Part of her was still bitter about Zeke ditching her. His loyalty, however, would be confirmed by the brown-furred arms she found wrapping around her waist. "Oh, Kayah… I knew you had a heart! You really do care about other people!" he exclaimed, jubilantly nuzzling and cuddling his sweetheart. "Z-Zeke! W-what the heck are you doing?" she cried, taken aback by his renewed affection. "I'm cuddling you, silly!” responded Zeke, continuing to hug her with enormous loving zeal. “H-hey, Zeke… the dragon girl… before she left, she offered to take Lyle and Liza. T-to keep them safe, I mean,” Kayah muttered, starting to blush at Zeke’s shower of affection. If the otter hugging her could get any more lovey-dovey, what he did next exceeded that. “Seriously? That’s wonderful! Oh, I’m so happy for you, Kayah!” he said, loosening his grip and going in for the kiss. “W-wait a sec, Zeke, I-MMPH!” she cried, being silenced by the otter’s lips reaching hers. Like she did at the desert, Kayah resisted for a moment, but this time, her feelings led her much quicker. Despite his almost cartoonish affection, despite the fact that he had left her with Syn, despite all of his and her hardships, she was really glad to see him again. Elated, even. Perhaps some of his overbearing love had rubbed off on her, because Kayah found herself giving in and kissing the otter once again.
“Wow, Kayah… You were really into that,” said Zeke, wiping his forehead after his and Kayah’s intimate kiss. While he was correct, the lynx had stopped to contemplate something before confirming his thoughts. Here they were, standing next to a corpse in the Magistral Palace’s dungeon. If she decided to march up those stairs and give those Magistrates the beating of their life like she had planned to… she and Zeke might not make it out. Contrary to everything she had ever known, ever done, and ever thought… Kayah wanted to run. Her siblings were safe, Ayli had escaped, and Zeke had forgiven her. Everything was perfect the way it was... wasn’t it? If she and Zeke just turned tail and left, surely they could live a happy life together, right? Yet something tore at her conscience, something that wouldn’t leave her alone. “Kayah?” asked Zeke, waving his paw in front of her face. “Y-yeah?” she responded, still lost in thought. “You seem upset. That was such a sweet kiss, what happened?” asked the otter. “None of this will be solved if we just run away,” said Kayah, gripping her fist as she stared at the floor. Zeke wasn’t fazed. “Huh? Who said anything about running away?” he said, stepping up to stand beside her. “I’m going to go put those dogs in their place,” said Kayah, determined and fearless. Hearing this, Zeke smirked. “Then what are we waiting for?” he said, putting his paw on Kayah’s shoulder. “You’re coming with me?” Kayah asked, already knowing the answer. “Come on, Kayah, you really have that little faith in me? I’m not gonna leave your side ever again. I promise. You and I are a team and that’s that,” he told her. Smiling, Kayah nodded. “That’s just what I wanted to hear. Now, let’s go show those bastards what we’re made of!” she exclaimed.
As the two began their ascent up the long set of stairs leading to the inner palace, Kayah relayed the plan to Zeke. “Now that Shade is dead, there’s only four Magistral Knights left. I’m not too sure what the other three are capable of, but I know that Octal is seriously dangerous. If we can take him out, I have a feeling this’ll get a lot easier,” she told him. “Octal’s the deer guy, right?” asked Zeke, recalling Kayah’s short encounter with him that had caused his change of heart. “Yeah. Now that I know what he’s capable of, there’s no way in hell I’m letting him get the better of me,” Kayah responded, punching her paw and cracking her knuckles in anticipation. The stairway was tall and tedious, but the good thing about it being so out of the way was that their entrance would be unexpected. Once they reached the top, only a tall wooden door stood between them and the palace. All it took was one look at each other for Kayah and Zeke to know what to do. “Three.. two… one… Now!” shouted the lynx, before she and the otter slammed their footpaws into the locked door, breaking it open in an instant. Past the dungeon door was the main lobby: a lavishly decorated central room colored in gorgeous golds and reds. The lynx and otter took a moment to marvel at the vast wealth the Magistrates had hoarded, with each fine painting, porcelain vase, tasseled carpet, and golden chandelier being a testament to their power and influence. For a moment, the two felt the kind of sickness that drove them forward, and in that moment, they both found hope for the future. This was what they were fighting against. This was the true enemy. The excursion lasted little time, as the way up to the Magistrates’ chamber had made itself apparent. One set of red-carpeted stairs, and one final door. “This is it, Zeke. If you want to turn back, now is the time. We might not make it out of this one,” said Kayah, turning towards her partner and biting her lip. The last time she had said something like this, she had been rather indifferent. This time, she really meant it. She wanted Zeke to turn out okay after all this, even if it cost her her own life. Predictably, Zeke shot her a glare. “Got it, got it. You can live out your savior fantasy,” responded Kayah, putting her paws up in the air condescendingly. Despite her teasing, Zeke felt comfortable enough to give the lynx one last hug. “W-whoa! Hehe…” she laughed, gladly hugging the otter back. If this really was their final battle… she was glad it was going to be with Zeke by her side. “Alright. Showtime,” said Kayah, giving Zeke the go signal.
As the door gave way to the pair’s footpaws, the next room’s interior was laid bare. Seven doors, each leading off in their own direction, with three to the right and three to the left of a regal and important-looking central door. Sitting at a table in the center were two of the remaining four Magistral Knights. “Hmph,” muttered Octal, as his gaze drifted towards the intruders. “That cat managed to get out? But how?” exclaimed the second knight. She was a silver fox, ordained with majestic, crystalline armor, which was emblazoned with the Magistral Crest that Kayah had become oh-so familiar with by this point. “It matters not how she escaped, Halyn. What is important now is that we subdue the intruders,” suggested the deer, drawing his eight swords once more. “Heh, don’t think it will be that easy… I’m not falling for that little trick a second time,” responded Kayah, drawing her axe and preparing for battle. Octal’s partner wasted no time in showing the lynx and otter her true power. Sending a rain of crystals at the two, Halyn forced Kayah and Zeke to split, each dashing in opposite directions to avoid the storm of storm of razor sharp quartz that the Winged Wind of the Magistral Knights had conjured merely by raising her gray-furred paw. As the two split, their opponents did as well, with Halyn taking Zeke and Octal taking Kayah. “Such a shame that you’ve decided that biting the paw that feeds you was the best course of action,” said Octal, callously reprimanding Kayah as he focused his blades on her position. “Feeds me? Yeah, right. My siblings and I have had to fend for ourselves since you sent our parents to die fighting in a war that you guys stood on the sidelines for!” she shouted bitterly. She might have been neck deep blocking and dodging the buck’s relentless and effortless cuts and slashes, but Kayah wasn't anywhere close to tripping up. Zeke, on the other hand, wasn't having as easy of a time. Halyn's fighting style was erratic, her crystals difficult to avoid, and her blade just as threatening. "W-whoa!" exclaimed the otter as he hopped over a stray crystal embedded in the floor. "What farce! Fools like you could never hope to compare to us Magistral Knights!" she exclaimed, pointing her sword to the sky and sending forth another gyre of razor-bladed rocks. "Tough talk for one of the Magistrates' lackies! You don't have to enlist to have talent!" responded Zeke, dashing through the crystal ring with a boost from the water he siphoned from the air and thrust his trident at the silver fox. Despite her graceful dodge, Halyn growled in anger, ready to spit out another quip. "Enlist? Don't make me laugh! I was born and raised to serve the empire! To serve our people! You two are nothing more than ungrateful traitors!" she yelled, melding her many crystals into one and thrusting the gigantic spike in Zeke’s direction. The otter grinned cockily, easily hopping over the sluggish stone, but unfortunately for him, he had fallen into Halyn’s trap. As quickly as he had dodged, the crystal split apart and formed a massive claw, which Halyn used to knock away Zeke’s trident and grab him from where he was standing. “H-hey!” cried the otter, struggling to escape the silver fox’s grasp. Kayah wasn’t doing much better in repelling Octal’s assault, given that she was outnumbered in blades eight to one. The buck effortlessly threw his blades at her, only stopped by the lynx’s quick reflexes and tenacious attitude. One by one, she knocked the Knight’s glowing swords away, and as the final blade was behind her assailant, an idea entered her mind. Thinking quickly, the lynx knocked away one of his reclaimed swords with a backhand slash and began twirling her axe, summoning a cyclone of wind using her Sign. Each of the Eightfold Egoist’s blades was thrown back by the gale, embedding themselves in the palace walls, and with that, Octal was wide open. “Kyaaah!” screamed Kayah, keen for revenge as she lunged at the deer to cut him open. It was a fine plan, for sure, but she was stopped short by Halyn throwing Zeke right into her, leaving both collapsed on the carpeted floor. “Have you fools had enough yet? Should you stand down now, the Magistrates just might be kind enough to let you keep your lives,” said Octal, having retrieved his swords and regrouped with Halyn. “Yeah, fat chance!” exclaimed Kayah, leaning on her paw and knee as she tried to pick herself up. “Heh... Unlike you, we’re not interested in sucking up to those bastards,” said Zeke, brushing a bit of blood off of his arm and doing the same. “You’re finished! What could you possibly hope to gain from this unruly stunt?” asked Halyn, pouting belligerently at her enemies. “Hope to gain…? Nah, it’s more than that. Everyone, everything here… I won’t stop until I’ve torn it apart, piece by piece! Not just for Lyle and Liza… but for everyone still stuck in that slum!” responded Kayah, clenching her axe in her paw and gritting her teeth. The room had darkened as day turned to night, but the chandeliers kept the chamber lit in dim candlelight. Below her was a lush velvet carpet, to her side were paintings of all sizes hanging on the walls, and above her were the luxurious chandeliers she so loathed. This room was a symbol of all she hated in the world. Not her own poverty, not the dragons who merely wished to live their lives, but those who stood idly in the face of their own injustice. “Ignorance. You stand here now as an enemy of all Furs. Those who oppose the Magistral Empire oppose our very species,” stated Octal, just as coldly as ever. As he and his partner prepared their weapons, Kayah elbowed Zeke. “You thinking what I’m thinking?” she hastily asked him. Zeke only stared blankly. “What are you thinking?” he responded. While she gave him a quick glare, the lynx elaborated. “Everything we’ve got. I’ll channel the winds while you send water through. Hurry!” she said, pushing the otter forward and readying her stance. “Fir has no need for traitors. Perish,” said Octal, slashing at the two with three of his swords. Grinning, Kayah blocked them with the handle of her axe and signaled her boyfriend. “Now!” she exclaimed, taking her axe and twirling it like she had before. The storm of wind and torrent of water combined easily, sending an enormous hurricane of Sign power at the unsuspecting Magistral Knights, blowing them back and knocking them into and through the central door behind them. “Now’s our chance!” exclaimed Zeke, patting his girlfriend on the back and running over to grab his fallen trident. Kayah nodded, knowing that the Magistrates were in the next room.
“It appears we have some… unwanted guests,” uttered a malicious-sounding voice coming from the center of the room. The First Magistrate. The boardroom Kayah and Zeke had crashed was packed, admitting Octal, Halyn, and themselves into a room already occupied by the five Magistrates and remaining two Magistral Knights. All eyes were on the otter and lynx as they made their entrance. “Hey! Who the heck are these two?” exclaimed a rather bulky rhino in the Magistral Regalia. Ignoring his ally for a moment, Octal signaled Halyn to rejoin the others and prepare to eliminate the intruders. “It appears… we will need your assistance…” he muttered, clearly pissed off at his and Halyn’s humiliation. “Sure, but what the hell happened to Shade? I thought he was keeping watch at the dungeon!” shouted the rhino, growing impatient with the calm and collected Octal. “Shade is presumed killed in action,” noted the deer, as he sheathed his blades for the moment. “Killed? Grrrrah! Lemme at em, I’ll rip their goddess-damned throats out! Nobody kills my best friend and gets away with it!” screamed the rhino, furious at the revelation. “Calm down, Quake,” said another voice from behind them all. The speaker was the final Knight: a mountain lion who couldn’t have been any older than Kayah or Zeke. In fact, he was probably younger. “I’m not sure if you’ve been given this offer yet, but if so, this will be your final chance. Stand down now and the worst you will face is trial for high treason,” he told the two in a lightly quivering, emotionless voice. “I’ve already given them their chance, Zechsia. Any more time we give to these fools is time wasted,” noted Octal. As the knights bickered, Kayah and Zeke grew angered, and the Magistrates grew more amused. “I am your commanding officer, Octal. They shall be given another chance,” scolded Zechsia, further embarrassing the armored deer. Even when all eyes were upon them, Kayah and Zeke weren’t about to let up. “Another chance? Yeah, like you lot aren’t gonna kill us anyway!” exclaimed Zeke, brandishing his trident. “I didn’t come all the way up here to go down quietly, I came here to kill you bastards!” shouted Kayah, matching her partner’s showing. “Hahahaha! Such zeal!” responded the First Magistrate, laughing wildly at the two’s display of power. “Shall we dispose of them now, my lords?” asked Octal, kneeling as to please his superiors. “No, I don’t believe you shall. Tell me, what has created such… fury in your hearts,” he said, turning to Kayah and Zeke, placing his chin on his paw and grinning condescendingly. “Fury barely scratches the surface of it! You left us to die! Lyle, Liza, Zeke, all of us! Every last Fur down in those slums! Are we nothing more than the dirt on your boots for you scrape off and throw away?” yelled the lynx, taking the chance to let everything she had out. The First Magistrate merely flicked his chin with his paw apathetically, leaving the speaking to his colleagues. “In this world, there are those that prosper, and those that do not. In order for prosperity to be maximised, some must be cast to the bottom. It is a matter of simple logistics,” said the Fifth Magistrate. "Were everyone to be at the top, no one would be. In the real world, nature separates itself into hierarchies. The path to our species’ success is no different,” said the Fourth Magistrate. “Yeah! If it weren’t for scum like you dragging us down with stunts like this, we’d be halfway across Daltei by now!” shouted the Third Magistrate. "There is no shame in suffering, for it is all for a greater purpose. While you wither, the Empire blossoms," said the Second Magistrate. With this, the First Magistrate stood up and spread his arms. “Truly, my heart goes out to you. It is such a shame that you’ll have to die painfully for your crimes,” he told the two in his best showman’s voice, before sitting down and taking his place at the table once more. “Tch, what a bunch of bullshit! Purpose, this, hierarchies, that, gimme a break! I’m not gonna stand for you fuckers sitting at your table dictating who gets to eat or not any longer!” shouted Kayah, her resolve burning in each word she spoke. “Hmph. Kill them if you must, but capture would be preferable. An execution would go a long way in showing the populace the dangers of treason,” the First Magistrate signaled to his knights. This was it. All four of the remaining knights stood here, each symbolizing the pillars of this nefarious empire Kayah and Zeke intended to topple. “You ready, my love?” asked Zeke, turning to his partner and winking. “Only when you are,” she responded, smirking and winking back at him.
Together, Kayah and Zeke were a storm. Despite Quake joining the ring, bringing his rage, massive bulk, and stone-manipulating Sign, the two held off the Magistral Knights quite well. Zechsia stood back to defend the Magistrates, while Halyn, Octal, and Quake assailed Kayah and Zeke. The three Knights were powerful, yes, and their teamwork was on point, but the lynx and otter were a truly formidable force. Taking advantage of her sign to its fullest extent, Kayah harnessed the winds, flinging away Octal's swords, Halyn's crystals, and Quake's boulders with nothing more than a flick of her wrists, while going on the offensive with her own wind-axes. Pairing up with her was Zeke, who pulled as much water from the air as he could manage, using it along with his trident to strike at the three Knights like it was a whip. The Magistrates' councilroom had totally erupted into conflict, with all but the table itself enthralled in the torrent of wind, water, and stone. When Quake sent a shockwave through the ground and toward Zeke, Kayah flung her wind axes at the rhino. When Kayah's axes were sent Quake's way, Halyn dispersed them with a crystal shield and sent the remains towards Kayah. When Halyn's crystal was flying toward Kayah, Zeke captured it with his water and threw it at Octal. Back and forward it went, with neither party growing close enough to clash blades. Eventually, the Magistrates grew tired of the stalemate. "Ugh. This performance bores me. Zechsia. It is time for this farce to end," said the First Magistrate, giving the five fighters an ominous signal. "Are you sure? The other Knights seem to be holding their own quite well," said Zechsia, holding out that Kayah and Zeke could still be captured. "Finish them off," responded the First Magistrate, as cold and blunt as ever. "Y-yes, my lords," mumbled the mountain lion, stepping forward and taking his place on the battlefield. Zechsia's presence was an enigma, his calm, almost timid demeanor contrasting his high rank and expectations from the First Magistrate. As the young mountain lion approached, the room grew silent. Everyone stopped what they were doing to watch the fifth and final knight make his entrance. While Kayah wasn't too impressed, Zeke was wary. "What's up?" she asked her partner. "I don't like this guy. Something about him seems… off," noted the otter, regrouping with Kayah in the downtime. "Yeah, he looks kinda wimpy, but I've been doing this long enough to know that doesn't mean he can't hold his own. Unless you're seeing something I'm not," she responded, placing her paw on her axe, which had remained holstered since the battle in the room before. "No, you're right. He just seems… unusual," said Zeke, his eyes carefully watching the newcomer. With his entrance complete, Zechsia paused for a moment, almost as a warning, before unholstering his spear and holding his paw out, bathing the room in an immensely bright light. Right as it happened, Zeke sensed danger, grabbed Kayah with both arms, and threw the both of them out of the nearest stained glass window. "What in the hell are you doing?" screamed the lynx, holding on to her partner as she and he fell alongside the many multicolored shards of glass. "No time, brace yourself!" he responded, syphoning as much water as he could from as many places as he could, narrowly breaking their fall before they were both killed by defenestration.
“Zeke! What the fuck were you thinking?” screeched Kayah, furious at Zeke for more reasons than one. “There’s no way we could have handled all four of them at once. Not with just the two of us,” responded Zeke, checking his body for stray shards of stained glass. The two were bleeding, soaking wet, but luckily, not attracting much attention in the palace courtyard. “I… I thought we were gonna go out together…” muttered the lynx, seeming almost disappointed not to be a martyr of some sort as Zeke examined her body in the same way he did his own. “W-what? K-Kayah, we can’t just go out and get killed! We just started dating!” joked the otter, carefully plucking a couple of shards from the unarmored parts of Kayah’s chest. “Dating he says! Like I’d ever-YEOW! Watch it!” she said, unfortunately interrupted by Zeke’s painful pulling. “I dunno,” muttered Kayah, putting her back up against the palace wall. “I thought we were going all in. I thought we were going to destroy those stupid Magistrates or die trying,” she continued, seeming almost disappointed. “We’re just not strong enough. Going up there again really could get us killed,” said Zeke, taking a seat right next to her. “What’s wrong with that! It’s not like there’s anything else I could do! Lyle and Liza are with Ayli now… All of this is just out of my paws…” shouted Kayah, turning to a mumble as her emotions stirred. Suddenly, Zeke scooched up to her, grabbed her paws in his, and laid his head on her shoulders. “W-what are you doing?” she exclaimed, expressing distaste with her voice, despite going along with it with her body. “Nuzzling. What else?” he said, continuing to rub his muzzle up against hers. Kayah whimpered quietly, with everything she had ever known screaming at her to stop, yet she decided to go. “Aww, there you go,” said Zeke, delighted that she had joined in and reciprocated. After a bit of warm cuddling, the two picked themselves up and took a look at their surroundings. With the exception of the shattered glass at the base of the top tower, the palace courtyard had a pristine, untouched look that betrayed the ominous fact that the Magistral Knights were likely on their way. Either way, it was hard to admire the hand-cut bushes, brilliant floral patterns, and pretentious marble fountains when you came from a background like Kayah or Zeke’s. “Come on, let’s get out of here,” urged Zeke, grabbing Kayah’s paw again. “Where are we gonna go? It’s not like we can just head back home and the Knights will just leave us alone, you know,” she responded, smirking at the otter. “Hmm… that’s a good question,” he said, seemingly blank for the moment. “Ocera?” recommended Kayah. “Ocera?! Uh, couldn’t we go somewhere else? I don’t think Vele’s too far…” exclaimed a panicking Zeke. “Alright, Ocera it is! Let’s blow this place!” shouted Kayah, grabbing on to Zeke’s now loosened paw and dragging him along towards the exit. “H-hold on, let’s think about what we’re doing here! Kayaaaaah!” he cried, completely at the lynx’s mercy as they made their escape.
Chapter 8 of Chosen of Fir Gaiden: Blood, Bonds, and a Bittersweet Promise.