Dripping. Creaking. Rustling. These were the only sounds heard by the lynx twins sitting alone in their apartment. It had been over a week since Kayah left, and Lyle and Liza’s hope was starting to wane. “I’m scared… what if big sis never comes back…?” muttered Liza, plopping herself on Lyle’s dusty, straw bed and cuddling up to him. Just as she said that, a knock came from the door. Despite Liza’s immediate elation, Lyle had something to say. “Wait a sec! That… that doesn’t sound like Kayah…” he muttered, holding his sister back with his paw. “Huh? If it’s not big sis… then who is it?” asked Liza, scratching her head. “Dunno,” responded Lyle, who snuck up to the door in his sister’s stead. Again, a knock on the door. It seemed frantic, yet soft. Whoever it was had a sense of urgency, but wasn’t confident enough to knock with all of their might. Carefully, Lyle cracked open the door, finding that it was a female tiger with a familiar cherry red color… “H-hi there! Y-you two must be…?” she said, seeming awfully nervous. “What’s it to you?” said Lyle, glaring in a very un-childlike way. “Liza! And this is my brother, Lyle!” shouted Liza, blowing her brother’s cover without warning. Hearing this, the tiger girl lost a bit of her nervousness. “Oh! You must be Kayah’s little brother and sister, then! Your sister sent me to come see you!” exclaimed the tiger, showing her cheerful side. “H-how do you know big sis?” asked Lyle, losing his cool when his big sister entered the picture. As she noticed some shimmers appearing around her form, the tiger began to move with a little more urgency. “S-she’s a friend of mine! L-lemme inside and I’ll tell you more… Hurry!” she said, looking around the corner for anybody approaching. “H-how do we know we can trust you?” stuttered Lyle, still hesitant despite his burgeoning hope. “Uh… I really don’t know… You just have to take my word for it! Please…?” muttered the tiger, taking notice of the ever-worsening shimmering. Gulping, Lyle pulled open the creaky wooden door and let the girl in. "Whew…" she muttered, not expecting the illusion to fade and her form reverting to that of the ruby-red dragon she really was. “Umm…. Hi?” mumbled Ayli, smiling awkwardly.
“AAAAAAAAHHHH!” screamed the two twins, understandably terrified at the dragon now standing in their house. Before Ayli could explain herself, Liza fell to her knees and began cowering, while Lyle brandished a splintery broom. “W-wait, I was telling the truth! I had to look different so you would let me in!” exclaimed Ayli, holding her claws out and sweating nervously. “G-get back, you nasty dragon! B-back, I said!” shouted Lyle, clearly too scared to fend anyone off, let alone Ayli. “N-no! I’m not gonna hurt you! I told you, Kayah sent me to come get you!” responded the young dragon, desperate to earn the two’s trust again. “W-why should we believe a monster like you? Y-you probably ate her, d-didn’t you? And… n-now you’re here to eat us!” shouted Lyle, waving his broom wildly at the poor dragon. “No… No... I don’t wanna eat anyone… I just wanted to help…” muttered Ayli, placing her claws on her face and breaking down. It really must have been too much for her, being accused all of a sudden just for being a dragon. Even more so, it must have been a shock for Lyle and Liza to see such a scary creature start crying. “Are you… crying…?” asked Liza, who had taken refuge in the crevice between the stove and Kayah’s bed. “H-huh?” mumbled Ayli, wiping some of the tears from her scaly muzzle and looking up at the young lynx. “D-don’t cry, miss!” she exclaimed, running to the ruby dragon’s side to comfort her, much to Lyle’s terror. “L-Liza! W-what are you doing?” he shouted, still holding the broom in his quivering paws. “You.. you made her sad!” she responded, sitting down next to the anxiety-ridden Ayli and rubbing up to her. “Y-you…” muttered Ayli, astonished that the little lynx would warm up to her so quickly. “Don’t worry, Miss Dragon… Lyle’s not going to hurt you…” she said, cuddling up with Ayli like she had any idea what was actually going on. “She… she’s not trying to eat us?” said Lyle, dropping the broom in amazement. Shaking her head profusely, Ayli tried her best to regain her composure. "N-no! I… I promised Kayah... I promised your sister that I'd take care of you when she was gone…” she said, letting out another nugget of information to the twins. “G-gone? What happened to big sis? She said she would be back!” exclaimed Lyle, edging closer to the foreign creature as his trust increased. Hearing this, Ayli gulped. She had a little bit of an idea what Kayah was up to, but she didn’t know whether she’d come out okay, let alone come back anytime soon. “She… she’s in the middle of a big fight right now… I dunno when she’ll be back, but she wanted me to take care of you two,” she told the two, taking it one step at a time. Being truly honest, Ayli was just as scared as the young lynxes, but she knew she had to do everything she could to make it better for everyone. “You’re gonna take care of us? B-but… you’re a dragon!” mumbled Lyle. “It’s okay, Lyle. She seems like a nice dragon! You’re… you’re a nice dragon, r-right?” said Liza, looking up to her new caretaker with her honest young eyes. “Nice dragon…? I… I think so...” said Ayli. Her whole body was filled with doubt, in herself, in her future, and in her abilities, yet… it was also filled to the brim with hope. “Yeah! I’m a nice dragon, alright! Don’t you two worry… It’s gonna be okay. I’ll keep you safe until your big sis gets back…” she said, taking Lyle into her arms along with Liza. “R-really? We’ll be okay?” asked Lyle, finally letting himself be comforted by Ayli. “Yeah. We’ve got a bit of a journey ahead of us… but after that… You’ll both be safe. I promise,” she told the two, carefully caressing the two lynxes like they were her own. The ruby-red dragon had gone in terrified, scared of rejection, scared of failure, but when she felt the lynxes’ fur for the first time, felt how it was just as soft and just as warm as Kayah’s, she knew she could keep her promise. She would keep her promise. It was a bittersweet promise, to be sure. Ayli had no idea whether she’d see Kayah or her otter friend again, or whether they were even alive, but she did know one thing: she was going to keep these two lynxes safe, fed, and happy, no matter what. That was her promise to Kayah. A promise destined to change the world.
"Cmon, Zeke, it can't be that bad!" exclaimed Kayah, standing behind her otter friend with her paws on his back, trying to push him through the dirt path and towards the oceanside town of Ocera. "No! If my parents see me there, they'll have my head! Can't we go somewhere else? I heard Vele's nice!" he exclaimed, struggling to resist his lynx friend's pushing. "Aww, I thought you wanted to take a trip to the ocean! Why don't you think of this like that, huh? You and I finally get the chance to sit by the waters together! Like that ‘date’ you were talking about!" continued Kayah, recalling Zeke's idea from days prior. The otter wasn't too keen on seeing his parents, in fact, he was rather scared... but Kayah's love was too much to pass up. "Alright, my darling... You've won me over. I shall take your paw in marriage, as promised..." he said, turning towards her and making a suave gesture. "Marriage? I-I never said anything like that!" said Kayah, astonished, yet curious in her tone. "In due time, my love. 'Tis the only true path for those in such deep love as us," he told her, wrapping both of his arms around her in a hug. Blushing and looking down, Kayah reluctantly accepted the hug. Zeke was warm, and after everything she had just went through, she really needed it. “Okay, okay. Just as long as you work on that pretzel problem of yours. I don’t want your stupid toothpicks stinking up the house!” she exclaimed, noticing that his long, slick tail had been wrapped around her leg in affection. “W-what?” he responded, suddenly letting go in surprise that she had said such a thing. “Don’t think I haven’t noticed! I’ll bite, but I ain't marryin’ an addict!” she exclaimed, smirking at her otter partner. She seemed direct and abrasive, but Zeke knew it was out of genuine concern. “Aww, come on, Kayah! It’s not all that bad! B-besides... I-I need it to get myself up...” he muttered, growing slightly disappointed with his girlfriend. By now, the two could see the glimmering port town in the distance. The grass had softened, as had the dirt, signaling them growing closer to the fabled ocean. “I’m not taking no for an answer! Let’s go! We’ve got work to do!” exclaimed an unusually cheerful Kayah, grabbing her beloved’s paw and rushing off towards Ocera.
Despite the battle in the Magistral Councilroom, there wasn’t much dust to settle. Shade had been killed. Solan and the skunks were freed. Kayah and Zeke fled Landalsta to Ocera. Other than that, seemingly nothing had changed. Yet… many hearts were bonded by this journey. Solan was reunited with his daughter, Sunny. Toxiclaw could finally return to his family. A young Emerald found her way to Andea safely. Pyren and Ark continued to grow into the heroes they were destined to be. And Ayli took the twin lynxes, Lyle and Liza, into her care at her home in Korvale. As Kayah and Zeke made the trek to Ocera, many of these bonds passed through the lynx’s mind. She might not know it, but she had set events into motion that she would once again play a part in… nine years later. For now… life continued as usual. Solan took care of his daughter the best he could, even if he couldn’t always be around. Toxiclaw distanced himself from his wife and took shared custody of his son, trying his best to do the same. Emerald was housed under the Cub and Kit Housing Act, finding herself in school for the very first time. Lyle, Liza, and Ayli began the journey back to Korvale, using Ayli’s illusion magic to skirt any suspicion (with a few close calls, of course). As for Kayah and Zeke… the lynx and otter finally gave into their love for each other, admitting to being boyfriend and girlfriend, with and starting an underground resistance operation in Ocera. There, they gathered supporters, all waiting for the day they could come out of the shadows and topple the Magistrates, once and for all.
But of course, there wouldn’t be anything to come out from if there weren’t shadows, and deep within these shadows, a storm was brewing. “Goddess damn it! How can we continue without a specimen?” shouted a voice, followed by a loud banging and shattering noise. “Chief Sozim, you must calm down!” exclaimed another voice, who frantically rushed to pick up the shattered pieces of beaker. Sozim wasn’t having it, and stepped away from his dimly lit desk to scold his colleague, revealing himself as a rather short brown and hazel pine marten in a labcoat. “Grrr… Now that Solan has left, we’re down our head researcher, and now we get told there’s no dragon?” he shouted, picking his colleague, a lemur in a similar coat, by his shirt. “And what have you been doing, Hoan? Sitting around? Picking up glass?” said Sozim, flashing his incredibly sharp teeth at his unfortunate coworker. “S-sir, now that you’re the Chief of Research, I’ve been running everywhere, trying to organize our research! We’ll have something, specimen or no specimen, I promise!” exclaimed Hoan, frantically trying to earn his boss’ approval. Sadly for him, Sozim had had enough of the lemur, and threw him onto his back in a rather violent manner. “Perhaps… this could work in our favor…” he mused, turning back to his desk and retrieving a vial containing an ominous purple liquid. “This tonic has long been used for treating insomnia… yet, it is too weak for our purposes,” he said, turning towards his fallen colleague. “Sir… I don’t suppose you mean to synthesize something more dangerous, do you?” asked Hoan, who had since picked himself up off of the ground. The lemur’s statement was precisely what the Chief had wanted to hear. “Solan’s intellect was useful, to be sure, but he was too soft… without that fox around, my experiments can continue…” said the marten, now grinning sadistically. “One of these days, fighting will break out once more. Without Solan, all we will need is a corpse… And then… our weapon will finally be complete!” he shouted, breaking out into a maniacal laugh. Almost as if he was on stage, Sozim took his place and spread his arms. “Now… It is time for the Altyris Project to truly begin…” he said.
Epilogue of Chosen of Fir Gaiden: Blood, Bonds, and a Bittersweet Promise.