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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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11. Chapter Eleven

 ”What do you mean you want to teach us some battle techniques?” Aome grunted, a hint of a sneer evident in her voice. There was no reason to try and hide the disgust and anger she felt by simply being near the dogs. “Are you saying I don't know how to train Kio?” The she-cat hissed and glared at the white and ginger dog through slitted eyelids.

 

After returning from a successful hunt Alistair, Balthazar and Aome found the rat and the dog fast asleep. The two remaining dogs had merely shrugged before getting comfortable too, but the cat glared at the dogs before she grudgingly settled down to sleep as well.

 

As soon as Teru and Kio had opened their eyes, they had spotted Aome curled up near the cave mouth. Seeing the sun welcome the morning, the two new friends had trotted up to the cat and gently prodded her awake with a well-placed paw, intent on asking for her permission to train.

 

That started a hefty argument, resulting in some sneering and hissing at the dogs while Aome tried to talk some sense into Kio. Though, luck was not on her side, especially not with the way Kio and Teru had instantly bonded.

 

“They just want to help us, Aome! Why can't you see that?” Kio flung out with anger. The she-cat was too stubborn at times and it did not settle well with the white rat. “Didn't you say that I should train?” He tried to reason and spared Teru a small glance of desperation. Their disagreement had evolved into a full scaled verbal fight.

 

“I know that, Kio, but...” She trailed off, unsure how to continue, her eyes darting between the three dogs. Kio noted how her mismatched eyes dulled, the anger draining in an instant only to be replaced with anxiety. It was only there for a short moment, but the fear lit up her eyes like a trickle of water dripping into a pool. The rat felt a sigh escape his lips, he knew what she was afraid of, what she feared more than anything else. Because he knew that fear too.

 

Kio caught her eyes again and the two of them shared a glance. His own black eyes portraying his feelings like a pane of glass. All of the uncertainty, the fear and the emotions of deep horror that was burned into his memory when he saw his dead colony.

 

“I know how you are feeling, Aome, but they deserve a chance. They are not like that thing, they have already proven that much. Let them help us, so we can help ourselves.” Kio let a small smile play on his face as he kept eye contact, knowing that if he dared shift his glare anywhere else, the she-cat would lose her already thin patience.

 

Aome took a shaky breath before she gave the rat a small smile of her own. “Since when did you get so wise?” She meowed with mirth, letting her tail tip flick back and forth to let him know that she appreciated his support.

 

Teru stayed silent during the whole exchange, as did Balthazar and Alistair. The dogs knew that the duo needed to sort things out on their own, knowing that it would only compromise their friendship if one acted without the others consent.

 

But during Aome’s silent thanks, Teru couldn't help but let an ear droop in curiosity. It had been there only for a brief moment and gone as quickly as it came, but he was sure. The way her eyes had shone wasn't just a trick of the morning sun, there had been guilt hidden in those deep green and blue depths. Like a flash of lightning, but it had been there.

 

The white and ginger dog refrained from tilting his head to one side. Why would she need to feel guilty about thanking the rat? Grumbling low to himself the dog pondered over what he knew about the cat. She had joined up with Kio after saving the rat from a dog attack, taught him how to hunt and met up with a friend in the city not far from the woods.

 

Casting a glance back at Alistair, knowing it would be him and not Balthazar that would have caught something that small, the dog saw his own confusion and bewilderment reflected in the grey dog's eyes. He had caught it too.

 

“All right, Kio.” The she-cat meowed quietly, a twinkle in her eyes as she watched Kio grin in triumph. But that means you will be training the both of us, at the same time, mind you.” Aome let out an exaggerated sigh as she gave Teru her terms, her sharp tongue once again resurfacing to jab the dogs.

 

Teru gave an absent minded nod, not trusting his own voice as his brain still tried to process the previous display of guilt. Kio seemed to quiver with excitement at the prospect of training and the white and ginger dog briefly wondered whether or not the rat had caught the she-cat's small guilt trip.

 

All it took was one look at that flashy grin and Teru knew that Kio was oblivious. He had to give the cat some credit, though. It had been well concealed under the various layers of fear.

 

“Alistair and Balthazar, go and set up the training area, we'll need all the stuff you can find. Tell me when you are ready.” Teru barked out with authority. Alistair gave a nod and Balthazar let out a snicker before they disappeared through the cave mouth.

 

“Shouldn't we help them?” Murmured the rat as he looked after the two dogs, his ears perked up in attention. Teru shook his head in response. The question was innocent, but he would rather wait and see how the duo would react when they were presented with the training task.

 

“Actually, I would like to have a word with both of you before we go train.” Teru shifted his attention to the rat and then the dark cat. He refrained from rolling his eyes as he spotted the glare the she-cat was sending him.

 

“I figured that since you have told us your story,” at this Teru glared back at the she-cat. He knew that they had only been told Kio's story and felt the need to tell Aome that she should share her own. It wasn't a very direct approach as it could have been, but it served its purpose when he saw the cat flinch under his gaze. Kio, however, seemed far too intent on listening to notice his friend’s discomfort.

 

“There is a reason that the three of us lives without a larger pack,” Teru began, settling down on his haunches knowing that the story would take some time. Kio followed his example and got comfortable next to Aome who refused to lie down on the cold stone floor again.

 

“About a year ago, all three of us dogs had our own packs, far from here. Alistair and I came from the same pack and Balthazar was with the pack we shared our borders with. It was peaceful and everything seemed fine, but then,” his tone suddenly turned sullen and Kio could see the sadness that stirred in the deep brown eyes. “A strange illness broke out amongst our fellow pack members.”

 

“Alistair went to check on the situation in Balthazar's pack, knowing that they had most likely contracted it as well, and I stayed behind to take care of those who fell ill. I tried every herb and plant I knew but none seemed to work.” Kio looked at the white and ginger dog, he could feel the sadness radiating from the thick fur that adorned Teru's muscular body.

 

“One by one they fell. Some of their bodies convulsed violently, others began coughing and some contracted fevers, but in the end the result was the same,” Teru didn't dare look the duo in the eyes as he took a shaky breath to steady himself. “They all died, fast but painful. Alistair had decided to stay and try to help Balthazar since his pack was smaller and therefore more vulnerable. However, it wasn't long before they came back to our territory. Only Balthazar had managed to escape without being exposed to the disease so Alistair had taken him back to our pack, thinking it might be safer than staying alone.” The white and ginger dog shook his head in shame as he was assaulted by painful memories.

 

Only a few from our pack had survived that long, but in the end, even the three of us couldn't save anyone. They died like flies and I had caught the disease before long. Alistair and Balthazar remained by my side even though I tried to make them leave countless of times. For some reason, or a strand of luck, the two didn't get sick while trying to take care of me.” Aome looked genuinely interested, her gaze full of curiosity and even wonder. Teru could see the question that burned in her mind: How did you survive? But she didn't interrupt, knowing he would get to it eventually.

 

The white and ginger dog shook his head as an answer to the unspoken question. “I was sick for weeks and there were several times where I thought I was going to die. But for some strange reason I kept hanging on by thread and while I was sick, I started growing orange patches on my fur. Normally German Shepherds can't be such an obnoxious colour, which caused both Alistair and Balthazar to wonder about my change of pelt colour. You see, I used to be only white, but the disease changed something. And before I knew it, I was healthy again for no apparent reason.” Teru couldn't stop the curiosity from entering his voice. It still remained a mystery, even to himself, as of how he came to survive the illness.

 

“The three of us decided we couldn't stay in our old territories, too many memories, you know?” The dog let out a small laugh at that, they all knew what it was like to linger behind in a place with too many memories, it was nearly impossible if one wished to stay sane.

 

Both Kio and Aome had a look of sorrow on their faces, the air solemn and thick like a winter pelt that threatened to choke you. It hurt to think of the good memories, because they would always remind you of the bad memories too, of what happened next. Whether or not it was a strange illness, a dog attack or something entirely different that caused the problem.

 

Teru scraped a paw over the cave floor, his claws drawing deep marks in the layer of loose grit that covered the ground near the cave mouth. With a sigh he looked up and saw the familiar looks of haunting in the eyes of the duo. “That is why I wish to help you,” the white and ginger dog looked at the two animals reminiscing in their own memories, knowing that they were both listening even if they didn't show it. “Both of you.” He added as an afterthought. After all, that was the deal he had made with Kio.

 

The three of them sat in contemplating silence, enjoying the calm atmosphere even though the air felt slightly depressing by the onslaught bad memories. Then the expression on Kio's face changed from solemn to curiosity.

 

“Wait, did you say German Shepherds?” He squeaked out, feeling the time to change subjects to something less sullen was now. Teru seemed to be caught off guard by the innocent question, but nodded his head as a yes, curious to where the rat was heading with his line of inquiry.

 

“So there are different types of dogs as well?” The rat asked in a bright voice, happy to learn something new. He didn't notice how Aome flinched as he brought up the subject of different types of animals.

 

Teru nodded eagerly before he began to elaborate. “Alistair and I came from the same pack of German Shepherds while Balthazar is a Doberman that is why he seems much skinnier and has shorter fur than us.” The white and ginger dog gave the rat a small smile as he saw how Kio seemed to suck up the information like a sponge.

 

Kio gave smiled back before his face settled into a frown. “What's wrong?” Teru murmured, confused at the change of behaviour in the otherwise happy rat. Kio didn't answer, but let his tail sweep over the cave floor in what seemed like an ingrained habit.

 

“Where I'm from, we never saw other types of rats so I didn't realize there were such difference to a species before.” The rat explained, wanting to let the others know why he had such little knowledge on that particular subject. Aome gave a snort before she rested her tail on his flank in a gesture of reassurance, letting a wistful smile play on her features.

 

How the rat had grown in such a short amount of time had surprised her. From having no knowledge of other species besides himself to desperately wanting to learn more about the individual. She mentally shook her head, the rat had come along way with a thirst for knowledge. Or maybe it was pure curiosity.

 

Careful not to let the dog know how proud she felt, she squashed the feelings of pride that surged through her. It would do no good to display such emotions in front of the dog. She had a reputation to keep.

 

“That reminds me, Aome,” the white and ginger dog began. The she-cat stiffened ever so slightly and refrained from hissing, knowing it would only upset Kio. “What sort of cat are you?” Teru asked with feigned interest, but the gleam in his eye told the dark cat that he was curious as to what her answer would be. Oh, how she hated being cornered by such a savage creature.

 

Kio gave the dog a smile before he turned his head expectantly towards the cat. She had to bite down on her tongue to stop herself from making some sort of stingy retort. “Bombay.” Aome grunted and slapped her tail down on the ground while shooting a harsh glare towards the dog. She felt a shiver run through her body as the dog's eyes lit up with a smug grin.

 

Squinting her eyes, Aome glared at the white and ginger with blatant contempt. She knew he was up to something and this questioning only served to prove her suspicion further. Teru wanting to keep her away from Kio, making the rat and the dog have a sparring match and wanting to train them. She nearly snorted at the absurdity of the training part. The she-cat knew it had been Kio who had told the dog to train them both.

 

Ready to face Teru with his actions, she parted her jaws to begin her speech.

 

Before she could even utter the first syllable, a high pitched bark came from outside. “We're ready!” A voice sang as Balthazar skipped into the three animal's line of sight. Kio trembled with excitement as Teru grinned and beckoned them to follow.

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