Still thwarting Sloth's mind control... Circulation: 90,555,864 Issue: 166 | 12th day of Storing, Y6
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A Student of Spirit

by inyuchan


Mystery Island is beautiful, lush and full of life. Neopians from all over come to the busy and wild Trading Post, Techo Mountain, and, perhaps the most famous, the Training School.

The Training School has always been an honored establishment among the natives, and an appreciated resource for the tourists. There, pets of all species and level can train, for the low price of a codestone or four. Forever standing strong in the mists, Techo Mountain looming overhead, the Training School has commanded respect for generations.

There have always been the lucky few who, devoting their lives to the art of combat taught by the Techo Master, are allowed to live at those hallowed halls, gaining insight and skill for free -- or so they think. Rather than paying in codestones, they pay in labor. After all, it isn't cheap to run a popular school.

One such lucky soul was Kael. When he was but a baby, he washed upon the shores of Mystery Island, unconscious and barely alive. The Techo Master, out for his daily perambulation along the beach, found the wet, quivering bundle of tan fur and, acting quickly, brought the child to his school.

For two weeks, the baby Zafara did not wake. A rotation of adepts watched over the sleeping bundle, tending to his needs. And every day, the Master would stop by to inquire to the baby Zafara's health.

"Is he awake?" he would ask, his voice soft and calm, as it usually was.

"I'm sorry, Master," the adepts would answer, bowing in respect. "He sleeps still."

And the Master would sigh, turn, and go about his day.

It was during these visits that the baby finally awoke.

"Aaaaaiiieeee!" The peaceful sanctity of the school was shattered as a shriek cut through the air. The Master gasped as he entered the room -- the baby Zafara had latched its teeth onto the hand of a female adept. Currently, the adept herself was running in panicked circles around the room, swinging her hand, and the baby, back and forth.

"Getitoffgetitoffgetitoffff!!" she cried. The Master, and by now, several Expert students, rushed into the room to pry the child off.

The Master smiled down at the smiling Zafara in his arms. "It seems this one is a born fighter," he chuckled, wincing slightly when a popping noise was heard as the baby tightened its little grasp around his finger.

"Master...?" Ryshu, one of the sensei, approached hesitantly, eyeing the Zafara "What are your plans for...this?"

The Master raised his golden gaze, the smile still on his wizened face. "Why, your latest student."

Ryshu blinked, confused. "But...he's just a baby."

"Children grow, my pupil...just as you did," the Master answered. "Kael will be adopted by this school. We will teach him the ways of wisdom and strength. And he will make us proud."

"Kael...?" Ryshu asked, looking down at the squirming bundle of island Zafara "I've never heard such a name. What does it mean?"

"Mighty warrior."


Twelve years later, young Kael bounced through the halls of the school, destroying almost everything in his path. Giggling, he glanced over his shoulder at the sprawled Moehog. "Sorry!" he called, grinning, and resumed his chase of the blue Hopso just ahead.

"Kaeeeelll!" the Moehog shouted, shaking his hoof.

Elsewhere in the school, the Master set his mouth in a grim line as the angry shout echoed through the school. Not again…he thought, breaking his meditation and walking quietly into the hall…just in time for a Hopso and a certain hyperactive Zafara to slam into him.

"Kael...!" the Master began, gritting his teeth to control his anger as he untangled his youngest student.

"I didn't do it!" Kael replied quickly, sharp green eyes wide as he held the Hopso in his thin arms.

Sighing, the Master put a slender green hand to his temple. "WHAT do you think you're doing?"

"...Playing tag?"

"Where did you even find a Hopso around here?" came the annoyed voice of Ryshu as he appeared behind Kael.

Lower lip stubbornly jutting out, Kael glared up at Ryshu. "I dunno," he replied sullenly as the Nimmo took the petpet from him. "But give 'im back! He's mine!"

"No, Kael, he is NOT," the Master commanded, his voice stern. Kael's ears drooped as he stared at his feet, suddenly contrite and guilty.

"That's not gonna work this time," Ryshu said dryly. He glanced at the Master and sighed, turning around to set the Hopso free outside.

"Your sensei is right, Kael," the Master said, arms folded across his chest as he gazed down at the young Zafara sternly. "Ryshu has told me of the countless times you've disrupted his classes with your foolishness. You skip your meditation to vandalize the sacred statues and you distract the other students with your clownish behavior. I know you're only a child, but we give you plenty of time to play. Yet you continue to make a mockery of my school and my art." He sighed, the angry expression replaced with something far worse -- disappointment. "Perhaps I was wrong about you, Kael. Perhaps the martial arts are not for you." So saying, the elder Techo turned and walked quietly away, leaving Kael standing alone.


"It isn't fair!" Kael sobbed, curled up under the giant stone Gods, far from the training school. The sun was setting, casting an orange glow upon the stone statues and the golden beach.

He had tried so hard to be the warrior the Master thought he was. But he just wasn't strong enough, or fast enough, or good enough.

He angrily kicked the one of the giant statues, quickly wiping away his tears. "I'll show him," he yelled, small paws balled into fists. He raised his tear streaked face to the fiery sky. "I'LL BE THE BEST, STRONGEST FIGHTER EVER!! EVEN BETTER THAN YOU, MASTER!!"

As birds flapped into the sky, startled by the outburst, Kael fell forward onto his knees, energy temporarily expended. He wasn't a little kid...somewhere, in the back of his mind, he knew the Master was right. He did have to get least, about the art. The school was the only home he had ever known...he'd have nowhere to go if they got tired of him.

"I'm sorry..." he whispered, closing his eyes as the sun completely set and indigo darkness spread across the isle.

"That is all I needed to hear," a deep, booming voice rumbled.

Kael squeaked, jumping to his feet. He whirled around, finding himself alone on the beach...except for the cluster of giant statues. He slowly raised his eyes to the carved face...

"It isn't polite to stare, child," the face rumbled, hollow eyes glowing white.

"Eep!" Kael squeaked, mouth gaping open. He shook his head rapidly, as if to clear his mind of the loud voice. "Did...did you just speak?"

"Yes," the statue answered, and the deep voice sounded amused. "Now...would you like to be stronger?"

Kael blinked, then crossed his arms behind his back, staring at the sand. "Sure..." he answered, eyes narrowed slightly. "I think everyone would."

"Then how would you like a gift to help you reach that goal?"

Kael be stronger...just like that? To be able to make the Master proud of him...He sighed, shaking his head. "Nuh uh. I'm sorry, Mister, uh, Statue, but I don't think it'd be very cool to call myself an apprentice when all my strength comes from somethin' else." He raised his head, smiling crookedly. "A true warrior relies on his own strength. I...I want to be a better warrior, but not like this."

The voice chuckled, though the face, as ever, remained expressionless. "Such wisdom for one so young. You misunderstand, child, what I offer. I do not give you some grand, magical totem that will give you unmatched strength. What I offer is a lesson, much like the lessons your master gives you. I will teach you wisdom no one else can. And it will take a long time. But the potential you have gives you the edge over others. Will you accept my gift?"

Kael rubbed the back of his neck, brow knitted in thought. If he wanted respect, he knew, he'd have to work harder. He wanted to live up to the Master's expectation. But was it safe to trust the spooky statue? Did he have any other option?

"Okay," he finally said, standing straighter and squaring his narrow shoulders. "You've got a deal."

The statue's eyes burned brighter as the voice roared, "So it shall be! You must return to me every night, as the sun sets! Tommorow...your training begins." Then, the white glow in the hollow eyes faded, and the statue spoke no longer.

"KAAAAAELLL!" Ryshu's voice rang through the trees. Kael turned just in time to see the red Nimmo burst from the brush onto the sand. "There you are!" Ryshu gasped, rushing forward to embrace the young Zafara "We were all so worried...!"

Blinking, Kael looked up at his sensei. " don't want me to leave?"

"Of course not, you silly Zafara," Ryshu laughed, patting the top of his student's head. "So you did something to make us all mad -- again. We still like you, and you still belong with us." He backed up, putting a hand on Kael's shoulder. "Now come on...Master's been worried sick. And your dinner is cold!"

Kael smiled, relieved. As he allowed himself to be lead away, he glanced over his shoulder, gazing at the frozen, foreboding statue that rose like a monolith from the sand.


"That's it...focus inwardly. Forget about the body and focus instead on the spirit, and you will --"

"I can't FOCUS if ya keep yappin'."


Kael sighed and closed his eyes again, shutting out the tropical sounds of the island, the crash of surf against sand, and even the sound of his own heart thumping solidly. Instead, he concentrated fully on the energy around him, unseen but sensed. Then, taking a deep breath, he gathered it to him, inside him, and channeled it to his fist, balled at his side.

"Hooaaaaaah!" he roared, eyes snapping open as he slammed his fist into stone cinderblock in front of him. It didn't explode into pebbles, like he wanted it to, but it cracked, and that was something he never thought he'd be able to do.

"Ouchie-chie-chie!" Kael whispered after he removed his fist, shaking it in the air and sucking on the knuckles. "Is it supposed to hurt this much?"

The statue's eyes glowed brighter as it laughed heartily. Kael scowled up at it, cradling his bruised paw.

"The Lost Desert wasn't built in a day, young one," the statue said, still chuckling. "I told you, the path you travel is a long one. You must have patience."

"But it's already been two weeks!" Kael complained, wrapping some fresh tape around his scraped paw. Then he sighed, moving his head from side to side quickly, popping his neck. "...but I guess you're right. I mean, look at the Master. He's gotta be centuries old!"

"Indeed," the statue replied dryly.

Kael got into his fighting stance once more, his usually laid back face grim. "Alright. Let's try it again."


"Lu! Vo! Eo! Main! Zei! Orn! Har! Bri! Mau! Tai-Kai!"

Each word was shouted, and the rows of students changed their stances, moving like one as they followed their sensei, who stood at the front. Kael, now seven years older, moved as fluidly as those at the front of the class, his face serious as he concentrated on the exercise.

"He's improved," the Master said to Ryshu, sitting cross-legged as he watched from a distance.

"Yes..." Ryshu replied hesitantly, pouring the tea for his master. "But he continues to bend the rules and anger his teachers."

"It can't be helped," the Master replied casually, closing his eyes as he sipped his tea with quiet pleasure. "It's amazing he's even serious about training. It is not within his nature to remain serious for long." Opening his eyes, he smiled knowingly at his prize pupil. "Or have you forgotten what its like to enjoy something besides training?"

Ryshu flushed, gazing down at his own tea as he remembered his favorite past time of writing haikus on the beach. "No, Master...I haven't."

The Master turned his head to watch Kael once more. "He has been training on his own for quite some time. His spirit is strong...I think it's time."

"You don't mean..."

"Yes. Please, Ryshu, bring him to me."


"Look, Master, if this is about the stolen cocoa juppies, I swear I was, uh, I was surfing at the time!" Kael said quickly as he entered the room, Ryshu behind him.

The master raised an eyebrow. "Sit down, Kael. This isn't about the juppie incident...though, rest assured, you will be punished for that little fiasco." When Kael sat cross-legged in front of him, the Master sighed, closing his eyes.

"'ve grown a lot over the past five years. You've improved so much, and learned so quickly. And I know you've been secretly training with another teacher."

Kael's eyes widened and he opened his mouth to protest, but the Master cut him off.

"No. It's fine, my student. There are things I cannot teach you, and I'd be lying if I said you're the first to discover other ways to train besides what I teach."

The Master smiled slightly, eyes sparkling as Kael gazed at him seriously. "You have grown into a fine adult, Kael. You may be a bit wild, but you have one of the strongest spirits I have ever seen. I am proud to call you my student."

Kael bowed his head, not only in respect and thanks, but to hide his eyes to blink away the tears that had welled up. "Thank you, Master," he said, voice husky with unspoken emotion. He had done it! Years of hard work, exhausting training and sleepless nights, and the Master was proud! Kael wasn't a disappointment any longer.

"And now, Kael," the wizened Techo continued, "it's time for you to leave."

Kael's head shot up. "You...want me to go?"

The Master smiled, reaching out to pat the island Zafara on the shoulder. "Not forever, Kael. But you must go on a journey beyond this school, even this island. There are other things you have to learn. There are people out in this world you should meet. This is a quest of self-discovery, and I know you will complete it triumphantly. You're old enough to see the world."

Kael paused, staring at his paws for a moment before leaping up. "I'll make you even prouder, Master!" he declared, grinning his characteristic cocky grin as he pointed at the startled Techo. Then he turned, darting around Ryshu and into the hall.

"Are you sure this is a good idea, Master?" Ryshu asked, sitting where Kael had been. Suddenly, from outside in the hall was a loud crash, followed by Kael's voice laughing, "Sorry!"

The Master chuckled, shaking his head slowly. "I don't think our school could survive another eight years of Kael."


The various students and teachers stood outside the front doors of the school, between the twin columns of fire, and waved goodbye to Kael. The Master stood in front, not waving, but smiling quietly, nodding when the bright green eyes met his.

Kael grinned, giving the group a jaunty salute, then turned, swinging his small back over his shoulder. He had come full circle at the school. And now?

He couldn't wait to meet the world with both fists swinging.

The End

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