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(Summer Hiatus) Follow Kio on his perilious quest for answers as he meet new friends and new enemies. He must lay his fears aside if he wishes to change his fate, and save the others. But why did it even happen to him in the first place?

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12. Chapter Twelve

Kio couldn't contain the energy he felt buzzing in his body and a grin broke out on his face, showing off his small set of rodent teeth. Balthazar and Alistair were leading the way to the clearing where they would be able to train and the white rat couldn't help but feel excited.

 

Aome was a few paw steps behind him with Teru on one side, a sour look on her dark features. The she-cat didn't look the least bit excited, if anything she seemed more nervous than before. Maybe it had something to do with the white and ginger dog breathing down her neck.

 

Kio mentally gave a shrug. He couldn't help her any more than he already had, the rest was up to herself. She needed to accept the fact that not all animals were enemies, but yet she still seemed jumpy despite their earlier talk about training.

 

Aome had brightened up when Kio had given her a reminder of better times, but as soon as Teru started asking her questions she had reverted back to her more careful nature. The rat mentally cried out in frustration, how the she-cat could manage to be so gloomy and reserved all the time, he couldn't fathom.

 

A snicker brought him back to the present. Balthazar and Alistair were glancing back and them occasionally before Balthazar would snicker loudly and they would whisper amongst themselves.

 

“What?” The rat finally asked, tired of being closed off from whatever was so funny for the Doberman. The black dog gave an encouraging smile while Alistair decided to roll his eyes at his friend's antics.

 

“Oh, nothing, Kio. I'm just so happy to have someone other than these boring fur balls to play with!” Balthazar prodded a paw in Alistair's flank and the grey dog huffed before grumbling something about puppy like behaviour.

 

Kio mentally agreed with the grey German Shepherd, but didn't dare to voice his opinion out loud, lest the black dog suddenly felt the need to give him a friendly jab as well.

 

“It's been ages since we had a good game with more than three animals!” Balthazar barked and Kio winced at the volume. Who knew such a dangerous looking dog could have such a high pitched voice? The rat squashed the urge to snort at the obvious question.

 

It took him some time to process what the dog had said before he reeled back. “Did you say game? I thought we were supposed to be training?” Kio directed the last question towards Teru who was still trotting behind him at a lazy pace.

 

We are going to train, but who says you can't have some fun at the same time?” The white and ginger dog answered back with his authoritative voice. Kio nodded as the dog caught up with him that made sense. Aome was still brooding and lingering back in their small mismatched group. Her eyes downcast, finding a sudden interest in a fallen maple leaf rather than listening to the dogs.

 

“While we are walking, would you mind if I explained the rules of our little game?” Teru inquired the white rat and silent she-cat who both gave affirmative nods, one more eager than the other.

 

“When I asked Alistair and Balthazar to go out and find some stuff, there were out collecting pine cones,” Teru smiled as he saw the confusion displayed in the duo's faces. Even Aome had shifted her attention to him, though her glare suggested that he sounded like he was out of his mind.

 

“The game might seem a bit weird at first, but it actually depends on how good you work without one of your senses. We usually prepare the pine cones by using gooseberries, because they have a strong smell of lemon, so it's easier to pin point the pine cones location using your nose.” Teru smiled to himself as he saw how intently the duo was listening to him.

 

“Why would we need to find them using only scent?” Kio asked with confusion clear on his small white face. “Because when we get to the clearing, we are going to patch up our eyes with maple leaves so we can't see where the pine cones are. It makes us rely on our other instincts such as smell and hearing, so if you should ever be forced to fight in the dark, you have the training to do so.” Balthazar nodded as Teru explained while Alistair took the lead. Even Aome looked interested now, her tail tip flicking as she silently listened to the white and ginger dog.

 

“We're here,” it was the grey German Shepherd that announced their arrival at the relatively large clearing. Deep claw marks separated the land into small squares where there was little debris scattered around. What caught Kio's eye was the bush of gooseberries that nestled near the edge of the small piece of bare land. In the middle of it all, a large pile of pine cones lay side by side with a smaller pile of plucked gooseberries and maple leaves.

 

“Since this is your first time playing, I think it will be more fair if we just use one pine cone.” Teru muttered as he trotted over to the pine cones and picked up a large portion of them. Balthazar and Alistair followed suit until there was only one pine cone left.

 

Both Kio and Aome watched in puzzlement as the dogs removed the excess materials, leaving the single pine cone, two gooseberries and eight maple leaves. Aome tilted her head as she eyed the leaves. “And how exactly, are we going to make the leaves stick?” The she-cat snorted.

 

Teru gave a small laugh at her attitude. “You lick them of course,” the white and ginger dog saw her tense at the thought of having dog saliva over her eyes. “Don't worry, I'm pretty sure you can do it yourselves.” He snickered and watched her let out a breath of relief.

 

“You see the squares, right?” Teru asked, gesturing with his paw to the squares that was clawed out in the dirt. The duo nodded while Balthazar and Alistair, having heard the rules before, began chewing the two gooseberries into a juice that could drip into the cracks of the pine cone to add a stronger smell.

 

“We will be separated into two teams, the two of you against Balthazar and I. Alistair will be the judge,” Teru saw Aome frown but shrugged before continuing. “Each team will have half of the clearing as their field. As you can see, there are smaller squares on each side of the field, you use them as guidelines to figure out where you are standing.” The white and ginger dog saw Kio close his eyes and place a paw over one of the lines, getting the feeling of what it might be like.

 

“You aren't allowed to cross the line that separates the field, you can feel the difference as it is deeper and wider than the guidelines. You swat at the pine cone to send it to your opponent’s side of the field. When you smell, hear or feel the pine cone coming, you guard your side of the field and stop the pine cone from getting past your last guideline. If you can't stop it from getting past, then the other team gets a point, that is why Alistair won't be patched up,” said dog nodded as he was mentioned, as if to accept his position as a judge.

 

“You are, of course, allowed to bat the pine cone back so that when you are good enough, we can keep it going back and forth for a while. We'll play until a team gets three points. Also, you can't talk with your team mate or it would disrupt your sense of hearing. You can use other signals like stomping your paw or slap your tail on the ground to tell the other something about your position or whether or not you have the pine cone. Is everything clear?” Teru inquired, shifting his gaze from Kio to Aome and back. The duo gave him a terse nod and he beckoned them to go over to the pile of maple leaves.

 

Balthazar and Alistair had finished with the pine cone sat beside the leaves in front of each other. Alistair, having one paw with a sticky leaf attached to one of Balthazar's eyes while the black dog just sat calmly and waited for the grey dog to finish.

 

Kio looked at the leaves and frowned. “Aren't they a little too big for my eyes?” The rat inquired as he thought about how he was supposed to attach them to his black pools. Teru looked from the rat to the leaves and back again and with a snort of determination, the white and ginger dog ripped one of the leaves in half with his teeth.

 

“There, that should do it.” Teru grinned, the leaves may have been too big on their own, but nothing a little bite can't change. Kio instantly brightened before licking the, now half sized, leaves and tried to attach them to his eyes.

 

Aome looked disgruntled before she too, licked the leaves and attached them to her mismatched eyes. Teru couldn't help the grin that broke out on his face because of the way the she-cat looked with maple leaves instead of eyes. Glad at the fact that Aome couldn't see him, or he was sure she would have clawed his eyes out before he even had a chance to grin at her.

 

However, before the dog had a chance to break out laughing at the ridiculous she-cat, he was interrupted of his musings. “Teru? It's patching time,” Alistair reminded the white and ginger dog who nodded in response, used to the routine. He had to admit that he was kind of envious of the duo, both being able to patch themselves. The dogs always needed someone else to patch them, because of the way they were built.

 

His world went black as he closed his eyes. Teru could feel Alistair's paw dab the leaves into place until the grey dog deemed his work okay. A nudge to Teru's right told him to stick close to the other German Shepherd as he let himself be led to where Balthazar waited.

 

The white and ginger dog could hear shuffling from the other side of the field which told him that Kio and Aome had already been led to their assigned squares. His fur brushed against Balthazar's black pelt as they stood side by side, ready to begin the game.

 

Alistair had moved so he stood just outside the field with a clear vision of each side. “Shall we let the game begin?” The grey dog barked out, sure to catch the attention of the competitors. When he had received a nod from everyone, he continued. “I'll now set the pine cone down in the middle guideline that separates your different sides of the field. When I say go, you are allowed to try and make a dash for it. First animal to snatch the pine cone starts the game!” Alistair made sure they knew what he was doing, as he grabbed the pine cone with his teeth and trotted to the middle guideline.

 

Setting it down on the ground with barely a sound, the grey dog made a dash back to his spot. “Ready, set,” Alistair shouted, letting the new ones know that they were supposed to get ready to run for it. He saw Aome lower herself into a crouch and noted her tense posture. “Go!” The grey German Shepherd cried out as he strained his eyes to see who would make the first move.

 

Aome shot off as soon as she heard the dog cry out. She flicked her tail across Kio's shoulder to let him know that she would make the first move. The rat stayed behind to make sure the pine cone wouldn't cross their last guideline if the she-cat should miss.

 

The she-cat was silently grateful that there was no debris she could fall in, but she felt the strain on her muscles as she struggled to reach the pine cone first. The darkness the maple leaves provided made her focus more on her other senses, including the discomfort from her propelling off. Aome could smell the sour tang from the pine cone as she got closer to the middle line, she vaguely heard the heavy fall of paw steps as one of the dogs got closer.

 

The she-cat felt her claws graze the pine cone but it was snatched away by a large dog paw. Aome came to an abrupt halt as she felt her paws dip into the middle guideline. She quickly turned around and slapped her tail hard into the ground, hoping Kio would recognize the signal of frustration, before sprinting back to where she could smell her team mate near their last guideline.

 

The rat slapped his own tail into the ground in response and angled his ears until he could hear the dog’s paws scuff around heavily. He tensed his muscles, ready for to stop the pine cone from ever crossing their line, vaguely noting the dry cracking sound of a paw hitting the pine cone. It barely took a second before a sour whiff and a brush of air told him that the pine cone had crossed their line. Kio didn't need the grey German Shepherd to announce their failure.

 

“Balthazar and Teru, one point!” Alistair barked out before he trudged over and took the pine cone in his mouth. Plopping it down in front of Kio, he continued. “Kio and Aome start with the pine cone. Go!” The duo felt the tug of wind as Alistair pelted away from them. The rat brushed his side against the she-cat's flank, silently letting Aome know that he wanted her to throw it. With a slap of her tail, the dark cat felt for the smaller guidelines that would let her know where she was on the field.

 

A grin broke out on her face as she heard the dogs shift positions. Knowing their size she knew they would leave an opening in the middle. With a grunt she struck the pine cone with all the force she could muster, sending it flying and skidding across the clearing. Aome could hear the dogs lower themselves to the ground, blocking off the opening she had gone for. The dull thunk of the pine cone hitting fur echoed around the clearing and the she-cat gritted her teeth, knowing they had left an opening on purpose to see if she would go for it.

 

Aome darted back to stand beside Kio, knowing the dogs would retaliate any moment. This time, she smelt the pine cone instead of hearing it. The sour smell of lemon sailed over the duo's heads as she reared back on her hind paws in a desperate attempt to stop the other team from getting another point, despite her brain kept telling her that they had already lost their chance.

 

“Balthazar and Teru, two points! Kio and Aome start with the pine cone.” The voice sounded monotone, as if he had spoken those same words so many times before. Aome wanted to cry out in frustration, they had had no chance what so ever, so far. She briefly felt Kio press his side against her own and she willed herself to calm down. The rat started to signal her with almost frantic tail slaps, going from slow and hard to fast and light. The she-cat let her own tail slap the ground in silent confusion. She knew many of the rat's ways of communicating through his tail, but this time there was no pattern.

 

Aome felt like hitting herself with the pine cone. Of course! The dogs had fooled them by using their heavy weight to tread loudly on their paws and alert the duo of their positions, yet the two of them couldn't use the same tactic because they were smaller. The dark cat wore a smug grin as she began slapping her tail on the ground in random patterns, willing herself away from the white rat that swivelled back and forth between the pine cone and the guideline while slapping his tail.

 

Heavy paws scurried in confusion on the other side of the field. Too many noises made the dogs uneasy as they had a harder time distinguishing the animals from the other, the noises too fast or too light to pin point.

 

It sounded like the pine cone nearly cracked at the amount of pressure that Aome applied to it as she batted it away towards the dogs. With the dogs shifting more nervously, there was a smaller chance at actually getting a point, seeing that the openings constantly changed.

 

That was why the duo felt relief wash over them as they heard the angry stomping of the lithe Balthazar. Kio nearly laughed as he imagined the pout on the other dog's face. “Kio and Aome, one point!” The rat and the cat flicked their ears in response to Alistair’s exclamation. “Balthazar and Teru stars with the pine cone!”

 

Kio tensed as he heard the dogs switch places again, their paws falling on the soft ground like heavy raindrops on dry foliage. He willed himself to calm down and wait until he would either hear or smell the pine cone, slapping his tail to let Aome know where he was on the field.

 

When Kio got a slap back in response from somewhere to his right, he knew it wouldn't be long before the dogs saw their chance to end the game. But this time he was ready for it.

 

There, a whiff of the lemon scents that he now associated with the pine cone. Hurling himself to his left he felt the pine cone crash into his stomach before he had a chance to intercept it by other means, frantically wrapping his paws around the pine cone as he tumbled back from the power of the hit. With a grunt he landed on his back, gripping the pine cone with as much force as he could. He would definitely feel that later.

 

Kio heard Aome beat her tail into the ground, as if to ask him if he managed to stop it. He groaned in response when he felt himself teetering slightly on the border of the last guideline, he knew by where he was laying that he hadn't managed to stop it.

 

“Balthazar and Teru win with three points! Game over!” Alistair howled before Kio heard him trot over to the other dogs to help them get their leaves off. The rat felt his body relax as he sighed before letting go of the pine cone, making it tumble to the ground beside him.

 

Lazily he drew a paw over his eyes and the half leaves came off without a hitch, fluttering down to land beside the discarded pine cone. Kio couldn't bring himself to get up just yet, so he opted to watch how Aome got her leaves off.

 

She had seated herself fairly near to him, letting her tail curl over her paws and her back straight as if she hadn't just lost the game. Gingerly, she drew a paw over her eyes and flexed her claws until they had a hold of the sticky maple leaves, then she gave a small tug and squinted her eyes as the evening sun reached her mismatched green and blue pools.

 

The rat couldn't but marvel at how different the dark cat looked from when they had been fighting the brown dog. Back then, Aome had seemed so fierce and small, but now the she-cat looked like she had grown like a sprout, now being just a bit taller than him and she radiated confidence.

 

“You two can go back and take a rest now, we wouldn't want those bats to get to you again, do we?” Teru pulled Kio out of his musings as the white and ginger dog added a friendly verbal jab. The white rat nodded in return, too tired to give a proper response before heaving himself up from the ground.

 

“You remember the way?” Alistair asked Aome as she too got up to return to the cavern. “Sure,” she murmured in response before gesturing Kio to follow her lead. The rat fell into step with the she-cat as they both trotted back to get a well-deserved rest.

 

Unknown to the duo, the dogs hung back a bit. Teru eyed the two animals until they disappeared from his view, engulfed by the dense forest that edged the clearing. Turning his attention back to his two friends, he saw his own seriousness reflected in their brown and amber eyes.

 

“You're going with them, aren't you?” It was Alistair who broached the subject. Teru gave a small nod and saw Balthazar's eyes cloud with something akin to grief. “Don't worry, it's not like I'm never coming back now,” the white and ginger dog tried to cheer up the sad looking Doberman, but he knew his words would have no effect.

 

“There is something off about the whole situation, something Aome is holding back. I need to know what it is, so I'm going.” Teru knew they understood, they always did.

 

Go back and get some rest, after all, you are leaving in the morning.” It was Alistair's way of saying goodbye for now. Short and concrete, just like Teru wanted it.

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