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To Be A Master: One Step Nearer - Part Two


by shelleylow

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"They're wanting a break, Aihami-Master," Marko rumbled, as he increased his pace so he that was padding by the Aishas' side. "We've been walking like this for days."

      "That's alright, Marko," Aihami responded. "We're nearing the waterfall. I figured they might want a rest."

      The younger Juniors hadn't spoken a single word of complaint; they were too well-disciplined for that. But as Aihami reached a tendril of awareness backwards over her shoulder, she sensed their boredom and slight frustration at the routine of the days. She sighed, retracting her energy. They were young creatures, after all. They needed excitement and variety. She remembered how impetuous and headstrong she herself had been as a kit, and smiled. What a time Naro-Master must have had teaching her. She turned her gaze to the patches of clear blue showing beyond the translucent green roof of the forest canopy, illumined by the sun. Surely Naro-Master and Toreb-Master would guide them, even though the stars were invisible by day...

      A glad, bright cry broke through her mist of thoughts. Aragon had spotted the waterfall through the trees ahead. He and Jitterbug instantly broke from the group and raced towards the gleam of the pool and the stream below. Shiho, Emlyn and Manny with Didicus and Columba in tow bounded after them, laughing and shouting. Aria grinned and broke from the heavy plod of her kind into a lope. Aihami couldn't help but smile at her students. Patience was something they could learn later on in life. For now, their youthful exuberance was inspiring in itself.

     ***

      Soon the Juniors were laughing and splashing in the clear water, Marko presiding over them. Aihami and Kokyu knelt together on some dry rocks close to the falls. The diamond of the sun was high in the sky, and it amazed Aihami how peaceful and... ordinary the whole scene looked.

     "Come on then," Kokyu said softly. "Let's start. Perhaps here at the waterfall we may finally be able to pick up on something."

      She nodded silently, and with that both Aishas turned their backs to each other, closed their eyes and began to steady their breathing. Lifeforce energy shimmered across their vision as they each drew it gently but firmly from the glowing wells of power within, inside their bodies with its vitality. Aihami lifted her paws slightly, cupping liquid fire, as Kokyu held up his own, shining crystalline blue.

      Then they extended, flinging their paws out, casting a net of consciousness between them that blanketed as much of the forest as they could collectively reach, probing the natural energy of the forest. A Neo-Kido Master wouldn't be working against the natural energy flow of the forest and its creatures, they knew, but working with it, becoming part of that flow themselves. But surely they'd be able to sense it, somewhere, if there was one like themselves? They had to try.

      Aihami reached her arms as far as she could within the boundaries of the circle of her energy. She was facing away from the direction of their training hall, and what lay beyond this waterfall, she could only guess. It was all uncharted territory as far as she knew. Shell had said that nobody had ever really tried to make any maps of the Mystery Island jungle, and they were steadily moving deeper and deeper into its untamed heart. But she wouldn't let that stand in her way. For Naro-Master and those who had gone before, for her students, for Neo-Kido itself. A trace of her old impulsive nature flared up, and she concentrated even harder.

      Almost imperceptibly, something brushed her net.

      Aihami was instantly on the alert. That something... could it be? The contact had been brief, but it was enough. The red Aisha inhaled, pulling her energy back, then stretched her arms out again slowly as she breathed, in the direction of that touch. If her energy had been scattered freckles of light before, it was now a concentrated beam. She felt it drift, swiftly but gently, towards the spot. Almost... there...

          There. A push. A waft of bright golden-white...

      Almost at the same moment, she sensed Kokyu hurriedly retracting his net. She brought her energy back, opened her eyes and looked round at him. "What's wrong?"

     There was seriousness in the blue Aisha's eyes as he returned her gaze.

      "Aihami. The Neo-Rakarr.. they're here. I know it's them. And I think they're at the training hall. They've come for us, Aihami."

      Aihami felt the blood freeze in her veins. She gripped her companion's paw tightly. "We... we did remember to cover our trail, didn't we?"

      "Well enough," Kokyu replied, sending his lifeforce energy towards her, trying to calm her. "Remember? We asked Manny to take care of it..."

           Aihami swallowed the knot in her throat and nodded, feeling somewhat better. The little Jubjub had called upon his friends, asking them to pass that way, to mask the trail with their own scent. Creatures of all kinds would have trodden all over their trail by now, probably breaking branches and messing up the brush to boot. And it had been three days. The trail must be almost completely obliterated.

           It had to be...

     "So, did you find anything?"

     Aihami shook her head to blot out what was left of her anxiety. Then she remembered.

     "Yes, Kokyu. Yes, there was something. And I think I know roughly where to find it."

      The blue Aisha's grave expression broke into a smile. "Finally. Now, we have to get out of here as soon as possible. I don't want to stay in any place for too long now. The more distance we put between us and them, the better, just in case."

     ***

     "I think Aihami-Master and Kokyu-Master have finally found something," Aragon hissed excitedly to the other Juniors. He, Jitterbug, Mandrake and Didicus were sprawled across Columba's broad back as the Bearog trotted easily through the undergrowth after the two Masters and Marko. Aria strode beside her, Shiho and Emlyn perched on her back.

     "What makes you say that?" the Chomby inquired, turning her round head backwards on the end of its long neck.

     "She and Kokyu-Master were talking really serious-like for a while just before we left the waterfall. I noticed."

     "Great!" Emlyn burst out excitedly. "We're finally going to find one of the Masters we're looking for!"

     "Now, now," Aria spoke reasonably. "Let's not get too happy yet. I have every faith in Aihami-Master and Kokyu-Master, but we can't afford to get too cocky about this. I knew from the start this wasn't going to be an easy search."

     "All the same," Aragon mumbled. "It's nice to hope."

      "I'm almost sure it was somewhere around here," Aihami murmured, as they pushed through yet another screen of bushes. "Marko, tell the Juniors to wait while I see what we can find here..."

     She cast out her sentient web once more, seeking out that elusive touch. She had to find it again, somehow. Somewhere at the corners of her vision she perceived Kokyu doing the same, saw the blue threads of his power fly out to cover the immediate area, looping over and around the warm red of her own. Blending, she thought. Blending energy. Just like Naro-Master always said. Perhaps we will be stronger this way. Moving as one, they searched together.

     They both felt it at once.

     And again. The touch had been hesitant the first time, but now it probed. It was seeking them, but they could tell that it wasn't hostile, just curious. It wove and curled itself around their web of combined energy, adding itself to the strands instead of attempting to tear them apart.

     "Neo-Kidoka," Kokyu murmured. Aihami nodded.

     "Neo-Kidoka.." The words floated on the breeze, hung in the air before them. It was a barely audible whisper, but both Aishas, with their already-sharp hearing further heightened by lifeforce energy, picked it up.

     "You... are Neo-Kidoka?"

     "Yes, yes we are," Aihami replied, though her voice trembled very slightly from excitement and relief. "And we can tell you are, too.. and a Master at that, the way you manipulate your lifeforce energy. Won't you show yourself? You are among friends."

     There was a rustling and a movement like wind in the tall grass, and a young yellow Wocky, dressed in the garb of a Neo-Kido Master, appeared before them.

      She blinked her large eyes wonderingly at Kokyu and Aihami. "Fyora, you are Neo-Kidoka," she breathed. A wide happy smile spread across her face.

     ***

     "It's impossible!" Taara cried. The collected Kyrii had finally surrendered to her frustration. It was just too much. First the deserted training hall, and now this!

      "The scent is just too thick," Ceturr growled. "They're everywhere. It's almost like they're masking the scent on purpose..." He snarled again, tearing a furrow into the turf.

      Mandrake had spared no reserve in ensuring the trail was well-covered. He had stated to each of the myriad of Petpets he could reach, very emphatically, the importance of this operation, and his friends had obviously taken his words to heart. From squat, spiny Splykes to sinuous Cobralls, crawling Carmas to lolloping, snuffling Doglefoxes and many more.. all had made it a point to cross the length of the trail when they went to forage, and the scent of the Neo-Kidoka party had long been dispersed by the relentless shuffling of paws, feet and scales. The Petpets had done their work. The trail was practically invisible.

      Taara hissed seething annoyance through clenched teeth. "It's almost as if the Petpets are in league with the Neo-Kidoka.. but how could that be true?"

      "You remember what Supreme-Champion Taruuk used to say," said the Zafara absently. "About how they train lifeforce energy.. Perhaps that has something to do with what has happened."

      "You speak nonsense," Taara snapped at him. "Taruuk taught us that lifeforce energy was simply a way to make yourself stronger. What does that have to do with the Petpets?"

           "There's a human scent in here somewhere," the Zafara mused, as though he had not heard her, stooping to sniff the sandy floor just outside the entrance to the training hall. "A human. I wonder what a human was doing this far in the jungle.."

      "What does that have to do with anything," growled the Wocky. "So the Neo-Kidoka are in league with humans too. So what?"

          "Wait," Taara said suddenly, her eyes sparking. "What if the human is hiding the Neo-Kidoka, and this is a false trail after all?"

     Ceturr snapped a paw. "Of course! We should have thought of it before. Anyway, it'll be easier to go to the human settlements and sniff out this human than charging around in the jungle. And I'll bet that even if we don't find the Neo-Kidoka there, we'll be able to extract some... information from their human friend." He flexed his claws and grinned nastily.

     "That's settled then," Taara declared. "We go to find the human." She and Ceturr set off, before they realised that the Zafara hadn't moved to follow them. Instead he walked over to where the scent became mixed up with the Petpets' and knelt there, studying the ground.

     "Uchi! Aren't you coming?"

     "No." The Zafara's answer was brief, cold, emotionless. Both Taara and Ceturr knew that voice only too well. Uchi Knife-child had not gotten his reputation among the Neo-Rakarr simply by sounding dangerous.

     Ceturr looked at Taara. She shook her head.

     "Just leave him be," she grunted. "He's in one of his moods again. We'll have to come back and collect him after we've done all we can."

     "But what if he plans to go into the jungle for the Neo-Kidoka after all?" Ceturr protested, suddenly unsure. "What if the-"

     "Uchi can watch himself," the Kyrii growled, her patience finally breaking. "There's no guarantee they'll be in there, and I've no intention of traipsing around the jungle on a wild Mallard chase. I'd rather follow a trail that I know will yield at least some results. Besides, perhaps if we split up one of us will actually find them." With that she turned her back on the training hall and stalked off in the direction of the villages where the humans of Mystery Island lived with their pets.

     Ceturr hesitated for only a second before he dashed after her.

     The yellow Zafara was left alone, his fur gilded by the late afternoon sun. "You cannot escape, Neo-Kidoka," he whispered to the wind. "Ah, you are wily ones, but my partners and I are not like the incompetent fools who came to take you before. We were trained specially by the new Supreme Champion himself, we were taught of your ways by the Shadow-Blade's paw. We will find you, Neo-Kidoka, wherever you may hide.

     "And you will be fair game for us three when we do..."

To be continued...

 
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