Voice of the Neopian Pound Circulation: 111,440,479 Issue: 193 | 2nd day of Relaxing, Y7
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To Be A Master: One Step Nearer - Part One


by shelleylow

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It was the end of another day on Mystery Island. The sun, a red paper balloon, sank slowly into the eager purple fingers of the mountains. Fiery clouds reared up to flank its passage, shining with every shade of gold and rose and orange. Soon all colour and light would fade, and the moon would come to claim the sky, but first there would be this breathtaking dance of fire, the last burst of brightness before the night took over.

     The young Aisha sighed, stretching out his hindpaws to dip them in the sparkling stream before him, turned to molten fire by the embers of the sun. He stared unseeingly at the dazzling panorama before him, his stalk ears waving gently in the soft night breeze.

     "Teken?"

     The Aisha turned his head at the sound of his name. "Raz," he responded in his soft low voice, acknowledging the red Kacheek who was heading towards him over the grass.

     The Kacheek folded his stumpy hindpaws under him as he sat down next to Teken. "Su told me I'd find you here. We have to get back. It's almost time for dinner - Wen's special tonight. The others are waiting for you."

     "It's been three days," Teken stated, turning his gaze stonily back to the western sky.

     Raz smiled sympathetically at his young friend. "I'm sure they're fine. Aihami-Master and Kokyu-Master are in charge, aren't they? And they've got Columba with them, too. Surely that's not cause for worry?"

     Seeing the Aisha's expression remain neutral, Raz added, "You're.. worried about Shiho?" He had seen the two Aishas become the best of friends over the short time they had spent together at the training hall.

     "The Neo-Rakarr are dangerous," Teken said slowly. "Very dangerous. Didn't you see Aihami-Master and Kokyu-Masters' faces when they talked of them? I have never seen them look so grave. And remember how Aihami-Master was when she came back? She wouldn't leave her room or speak to us for so long.."

     His face changed as if he had let a mask fall from it. Raz was shocked to see the quiet, stoic Aisha he knew look so frightened.

      "I'm afraid, Raz. For all of them.. despite everything.."

      The Kacheek stretched out a paw and laid it on his friend's shoulder. "We all are, Teken. We all are. But there's nothing we can do about it except stay here and be strong about it. Especially us, Teken. We're the eldest of the Juniors here, you and me. And we have to be brave so the others can find the courage to be brave too. You know that."

      Teken nodded dumbly. "I've been trying... but sometimes it's just hard to hide."

      "That's alright. We'll all have be strong for each other.. and for them. Remember where your true strength comes from..."

      Both young Neopets sat for a while, gazing at the darkening sky, thinking of their beloved Masters. "True strength comes from within," Aihami-Master would say, placing her red paw just below her stomach. Her centre. "And once you find your centre and learn how to control your own power... you'll find strength enough for anything."

      Teken placed his paw over his own centre-point, just as Aihami had shown him. "Strength enough," he murmured. "That's all we need." He got to his feet, and Raz caught the small smile he tossed at him. "Thanks, friend."

      The Kacheek smiled back. "Let's get up to the house, then. They'll be mad at us." As he turned to go he cast one last wistful look at the sky, turning to blue and purple with the night's advance, and whispered a wish for safety into the air, willing his words towards Faerieland.

      "Faeries preserve you all.."

     ***

       Mandrake. Mandrake Proudfoot. Manny! Oh by Great Coltzan, wake up, Manny!

      "Hmm?" The little green JubJub blinked his large eyes several times. The blurred, indigo shape before him sharpened into the little pointed face of his Anubis. Mandrake gazed at his Petpet blearily. "What is it, Didicus?"

     The rest are all waiting for you, is what, Didicus returned, with a shrill yap of impatience. Marko's already gone to gather breakfast, but they're all up except you. Again.

      "Alright, alright." Manny rolled himself up onto his large flat feet. At least it didn't take very much effort for Jubjubs to get up at all. He'd had a most uncomfortable night. Aihami-Master had instructed them all to sleep close together so as to avoid danger, and in the middle of some particularly thick undergrowth. Manny's small size had resulted in him being rolled on several times by his oblivious comrades, and the protruding twigs of the bushes hadn't helped much. At least there hadn't been a freak rainstorm in the night.

     You'd think you'd have had the best night, Didicus commented dryly as he trotted beside his owner. You've had the most experience actually living in the jungle, after all.

      "We had a dry, comfortable tree-hole to sleep in when we lived in the jungle," Manny reminded him somewhat absently. "Anyway, I reckon I got more sleep tonight than for the past two nights, so that has to count for something."

     The Anubis snorted. Go splash in some water somewhere. You're half asleep still.

      "I'll manage," the JubJub shot back, blinking his bleary eyes harder. Sometimes Didicus could be so snippety he was almost sorry that he could understand Petpets at all. But... no. No, he wasn't sorry. Understanding Petpet language was a gift, Aihami-Master had told him, an ability of his own lifeforce and unique to him of all the Neo-Kidoka, as far as he knew. He should count himself fortunate. After all, as he was so small, and had no limbs to speak of, it did help to have some sort of advantage. And anyway, Manny smiled to himself, he knew that being snippety was just the Anubis's way of fussing over him.

     He could see Aihami, Kokyu and the others seated on the ground nearby, and picked his way over to them through the underbrush.

      "Good morning, sleepyhead!" Emlyn the Shoyru sang out brightly. "We were wondering how long it was going to take you to get up."

      Aragon and Jitterbug, a Lupe and Chia and the best of friends, greeted him with amiable shouts. Beside them rose the fawn bulk of Columba, Aragon's enormous Bearog. The Petpet panted happily at him, her three tongues lolling from her three mouths. Small one, he heard her say warmly, her trio of voices resounding in his head.

     Aria the Chomby lay serenely on her belly, with her forelegs tucked under her chest, and inclined her head on its long neck towards him. Shiho the Aisha kit smiled at him with all of her usual cheeriness, waving a red paw. And of course there were his two Masters, Aihami and Kokyu, smiling benevolently at him.

     And here we all are, Mandrake thought, silently, as he regarded his travelling companions. It was a dangerous quest they had embarked upon, to be sure. Dangerous and uncertain, and almost impossible. Searching for students of the original Neo-Kido Masters through the vast, verdant expanse of the Mystery Island jungle was like trying to find a rogue Feepit in the snow. But with intuition, lifeforce energy and a little luck, as Aihami had put it, the two Masters were sure they could succeed in seeking out their potential comrades. Only time would tell, but as long as Aihami and Kokyu believed, Mandrake knew he would follow them to the last.

     The JubJub lowered his face slightly, bowing a good morning to Aihami and Kokyu in his own fashion, and saw them acknowledge him in synchrony. Gazing at them, these two Aishas, the red and the blue, he marveled at how similar they seemed. There seemed to be some kind of unseen connection between them, a heightened sensitivity, a sympathetic current that joined them, although they hadn't known each other for all that long. He wondered at it, as he went over to sit with Aragon, Jitterbug and Columba. It was something he couldn't quite fathom.

      As Mandrake plumped down on the earth and put his feet up, Marko the Kougra emerged from the bushes, carrying several brightly coloured fruits in his paws. "This was pretty much all I could find," he said apologetically as he bowed respectfully to Aihami and Kokyu. "One for everyone."

      "That's alright, Marko." Aihami's voice was warm. "We probably need to eat fairly lightly on this journey anyway."

      As the little band tucked eagerly into their breakfast, Aihami turned to Kokyu. "Well, it's the fourth day already. Have you been able to sense anything at all?"

      The blue Aisha shook his head, his dark eyes contemplative. "Nothing beyond what is expected. But we have to keep trying. Trial and error; it's our only chance for a lead of any kind at this stage."

      Aihami nodded assent. "We have to keep our hopes up, for their sake. Anyway, I'm sure we'll find something, sooner or later."

      "Of course. I'm quite sure you'd agree that giving up was never an option." Kokyu's gentle features hardened slightly. "Not when so much is at stake..."

          ***

      "Gone," the young Wocky snarled, his red fur bristling as he regarded the vacant training hall before him. Growling in frustration, he tore a heavy paw into the planks of the floor, muscles bunching under the deep red of his training uniform, his growl deepening as the wood shattered. Whirling around, splinters flying into the air, he faced his two companions. "How could they have known? Where have they gone?"

      "Calm yourself, Ceturr," replied a blue Kyrii, though the glint in her eyes belied her even tone of voice. "There's no point wasting energy losing our tempers. What we have to do is think. What do you reckon we should do now?"

      The yellow Zafara beside her straightened up from where he had been leaning against the wooden doorframe and strode towards where the Wocky stood. "If they're not here, there's no point in us being here. We've got to find them... and finish what we came here for." His paw dropped, thoughtfully caressing the hilt of the dagger at his side.

      Ceturr began to pace, his paws thudding violently on the floorboards. "Pathetic fools. They knew that their strength could not compare with ours, so they ran away instead. But we'll find them, Taara.."

      The Kyrii's eyes glinted even more dangerously. "They won't get away," she hissed softly. "They're just young, inexperienced students, they can't have gone far. We will track them down and find them... they will pay for everything they have cost the Neo-Rakarr. Now that we have built ourselves up, we can destroy Neo-Kido forever... and then Supreme Champion Taruuk will see the perpetration of Neo-Rak to the world!" She chuckled evilly at the thought.

      The Zafara said nothing, and his face was expressionless. But his paw fell once more to his dagger as the Kyrii continued to laugh.

To be continued...

 
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