(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?


9. Chapter Nine

Kio felt his fur brush against the cold stone wall of the den, his eyes wide with fear. The scent of dog was overwhelming as it slithered its way into his nostrils as a forbidden smell of bad memories.


The rat noticed Aome beside him, hissing and spitting, her tail swinging from side to side as if she couldn't decide where to place it. She eyed the shadow at the mouth of the cavern they had hid in with a stern gaze, though Kio knew better. The she-cat's own fear scent weaved around the scared duo and it only got stronger as another dry barking joined the growling silhouette.


A second shadow joined the first and the growling grew in intensity, the fearful sound booming around the cave. Claws clicked against stone as paws were dragged against the cold cave floor and the heavy panting of dogs could be heard under the heavy amount of threatening sounds that escaped the throats of the angry animals.


“I thought there was only one!” Kio cried out in fear, automatically trying to take a step further back only to be met with cold dread as he realized they couldn't get any further. They were trapped.


Aome looked on the verge of panicking as well, her whiskers twitching constantly. She didn't answer the rat, not feeling the need to confirm the obvious. They both knew there was only supposed to be one dog, not two. Aome clicked her tongue in frustration, apparently they were wrong.


Suddenly her tail dropped to a complete stop. “Wait a second,” she whispered, more to herself than anyone else, but Kio caught it. “What?” He asked, a small hope beginning to flare in his chest.


Aome shifted her focus to the rat, eyes locking. “Our dog has brown fur, not black or grey!” She hissed trough gritted teeth, her hot breath tickling Kio's ear. With a start, Kio noticed it too.


The dogs had gotten far enough into the cave as not to be outlined by the sun any more. The two dog's pelts shone as the warm rays hit their coats, but none of the dogs had brown fur. A lithe black dog with a brown underbelly snarled with saliva dripping from its teeth. The fur was short and glinting brown eyes blended with its features.


The other dog was built more stocky than the first one. Long grey fur donned the chest of the bulky dog and a black muzzle stood in great contrast to the almost silver coloured face.


Brown and amber eyes shone with fury as the two dogs stepped closer to their trapped prey. “Well, well, well. What do we have here, Balthazar?” The grey dog growled.


Aome winced and she briefly felt Kio do the same thing. The dogs were mocking them for their stupidity. They had checked the cave for bats, but they hadn't been on the lookout for other scents.


“I don't know, Balthazar. But it sure looks like prey to me,” the other sang in an annoying high pitched voice. The dogs turned their heads at the same time and focused on Aome and Kio, spit still dripping from those razor sharp canines.


Kio pressed himself close to Aome and a small whimper escaped from him as he saw the newly identified Balthazar and Alistair close in on the duo. The two dogs started to cackle with sick laughter as they heard Kio whimper in fear. Their tongues lolled from their large mouths and Aome felt herself tense, ready to give it a final chance and dash if the duo needed to.


She felt herself mentally shake her head. There was no way the two of them could take on two grown dogs and Kio was in no condition to make a mad dash for it.


Kio could practically smell the dog’s hot breath as he came face to face with a grinning set of saliva coated jaws. “Hello there little fellow,” Balthazar growled as he came eye level with the small white rat.


Alistair gave a mocking laugh at the other dog’s antics. “We should just eat them now,” he said and licked his muzzle, hungry amber eyes glaring at Aome. “I've never tasted cat before.” The grey dog barked and Aome felt herself shrink closer to the wall.


Suddenly a loud bark was heard, not from within the cave, but from outside.


Kio and Aome shared a quick glance, unnoticed by the two dogs now staring at the cave mouth. A look filled with panic and frustration that simply said: another one?


Heavy paw steps fell on the debris outside the cave, crushing leaves and snapping twigs. The duo felt dread well up in them, hope diminishing quickly as they heard a new voice growl.


“Balthazar! Alistair!” The voice barked out and the two dogs stepped aside as soon as they heard their names. Kio and Aome both dared a peek at the newcomer. White fur with ginger patches spread across the pelt of a stocky dog, very much like the grey one, Alistair. “What were you doing?” The white and ginger dog boomed and its sharp brown eyes looked sternly between the black and grey dogs.


Balthazar seemed to shrink in size as he was scrutinized by the other dog's gaze. “We were just having some fun,” he trailed off, black ears flat against his skull as if he was being scolded for doing something wrong.


The white and ginger dog held his strict gaze at Balthazar, forcing the black dog to look at anywhere else but the other's eyes. With a sigh, the new dog shook his head before turning his attention onto Kio and Aome.


Kio hurriedly closed his eyes, scared that this might be the end of their journey. He could feel his own heartbeat and even Aome's rapidly pounding heart, pulsing through his sensitive ears. He could feel his own breath calm down to a steady rhythm, waiting for those fangs to sink into his skin and tear out his heart.


“I apologize for my friends’ behaviour, it is not often we find strangers in this forest.” Kio cracked an eye open in disbelief. No teeth or open wounds, just gentle brown eyes staring back at him. The rat could feel Aome's disbelief as well, the dog had spared their lives even though it could have killed them.


Kio gave the white and ginger dog a questioning look and scrambled to his paws. Aome shifted beside him, her form still tense, ready to sprint if given the chance.


“My name is Teru,” The white dog said, sitting back on his haunches to show that he was no threat. “I assure you my friends were merely playing around with you. Sometimes they just don't know when to stop.” Teru growled and looked at Balthazar and Alistair.


Alistair lazily glared back, but Balthazar gave a weak smile. “Sorry,” the black dog murmured sheepishly and gave an apologizing look at the duo.


Aome straightened herself up and hissed at the dogs. With a grunt she twisted her head, looking away from the three canines. Balthazar flinched while Teru kept looking at the cat with calm brown eyes.


Kio looked at her with sadness before looking up at Teru. “Sorry, we haven't really had good experience with dogs,” the rat explained. Teru merely nodded in understanding before beckoning Balthazar and Alistair over.


“Get us some food from the storage pile,” Teru ordered. Alistair let out a low warning growl and Teru continued. “It seems like the two of you gave them quite a scare. It's the least we can do to help them.” The white dog rumbled. Alistair nodded, seemingly content with the explanation and trotted out of the cavern with Balthazar behind him.


“Now,” Teru said and looked towards Kio, not bothering to try and speak to the cat. The rat seemed a bit surprised at being addressed by the dog, put paid no heed, seeing that Aome was still glaring at the cave wall rather than the remaining dog.


“State your business,” Teru said in a formal voice.


Kio gave a sigh. This was going to take a while.




“I see now,” Teru murmured and the gears stared turning in his head as he contemplated on the information he had gotten from Kio. “So the two of you are chasing after a dog. That does explain a lot.” The white and ginger dog said with a smile to the rat.


Alistair and Balthazar had returned with food in time to listen to Kio's story. The two dogs had brought back a fairly big piece of deer, but Kio had gently turned down their offer of food when he noticed they didn't have any berries or nuts with them.


The black and grey dogs were looking sympathetically at the duo and Kio gave a weak smile in return. He had told them everything even if it hurt to talk about it, it was nice to meet others he could share his story with.


Aome had ignored all of them as soon as Kio had started explaining, and she continued to grumble in a corner of the cave, not once looking at the three dogs but rather curling up in a more comfortable position. Teru had tried to make her talk as well, wanting to hear the story from her perspective but had been proficiently ignored by the she-cat during Kio's explanation.


“So why did you join up with Kio?” Teru demanded and glared at the dozing she-cat. She cracked open an eyelid and a green eye glared in response to his question. “Kio already told you didn't he?” Grumbled the dark cat in annoyance. Teru merely glared back and Kio threw a nervous glance between the two.


Tension flew like sparks in the air as a pregnant pause followed. “The same thing happened to me, so yeah, we joined forces.” Aome meowed through gritted teeth and she could feel her neck fur bristle.


“What exactly happened?” Teru pressed on, his tone neutral as he tried to keep the curiosity from latching onto his voice. Alistair and Balthazar shared a glance unnoticed by the nervous rat and silent cat. Teru usually didn't pursue such matter, finding it too trivial, but here he was, barely able to keep the excitement from his voice.


Teru noticed the two dogs’ curiosity and signalled with his tail for the two of them to play along. Alistair gave an almost non-existent shrug before Balthazar turned to look at the dark cat and a grin settled on his face. “Yeah! Care to elaborate?” The black dog barked out when Aome didn't answer Teru.


The she-cat did nothing except staring at the three dogs as she got up from the cave floor and arched her back in a long stretch. Her claws flexed out and scraped the rocky ground as she let out a yawn, the sound of nails on stone so broken and metallic that Balthazar winced as the noise pierced his ears.


“Thank you for your hospitality, but we really must be going. I'll find some food to repay your kindness.” Aome meowed and dipped her head. Teru looked like he was about to say something, but was cut short when Aome bolted out of the cave.


Kio looked after the she-cat with sad dark eyes. “Don't worry,” he began in a small voice. “I think she still feels hurt. I can only imagine how many she must have lost. I don't even know if she was there when it happened or if she found them like I did. She never really told me how it happened.” The white rat elaborated and both Alistair and Balthazar gave him a sad smile. Teru just listened with his eyes fixed on where Aome had disappeared from the cave mouth.


“Maybe... Maybe she'll tell us one day. When it all doesn't hurt that much.” Kio's voice failed him near the end and he felt a lump lodge itself in his throat. It hurt to think about his own incident so he understood her pain.


Teru shifted his gaze to Kio. The white rat had a reminiscing look on his face and the dog couldn't help but feel a bit upset by their objective. “What do you plan to do when you find the dog?” He barked out all of a sudden, wanting to change the somewhat solemn atmosphere that seemed to linger in the air.


“What do you mean?” Kio asked and Teru noted the small smile the rat sent him for changing subjects. “What do you plan on doing when you catch up with dog? Staring at it won't help, you know.” The white and ginger dog added with a hint of sarcasm.


Kio grinned back and shook his head. “To be honest, I don't really know.” The rat muttered and Teru felt unease settle in his mind. Surely the duo had a plan? “We never really discussed that far, but I guess we are going to give it the fight of a lifetime!” The rat laughed.


Kio stopped laughing when he realized none of the dogs were laughing with him. He tilted his head to one side, as if asking: what? Teru shook his head as the rat seemed clueless to the danger they would place themselves in. “How can you even think of tracking a dog down without having a plan in mind? You could get yourselves killed trying to just fight it.” The dog reasoned, his tail whipping up a small storm of dusty ground in anger.


Alistair and Balthazar gave each other a knowing look, Teru just didn't know when to stop himself, and he was the one who told them to calm down? The two dogs refrained from snickering and decided not to interrupt the agitated dog.


“We can fight!” Kio reasoned and felt slightly angry at the dog's accusations. “I don't doubt it, but at what cost?” Teru snarled, his anger getting the better of him as he glared at several of the wounds the rat had acquired over time.


Kio noticed the dog's brown gaze analysing his wounds and he mentally berated himself for not being more careful. “That wasn't Aome's fault! I was stupid and tried to take them on my own!” He squeaked out in defence, feeling the verbal insults were meant for Aome.


“If I had listened better when she had tried to teach me I wouldn't have gotten hurt!” The rat murmured as he felt the anger seep from his tired body. Teru gave a sigh and let himself relax. “So she tried to teach you how to fight?” The dog inquired, not wanting to let a little quarrel get between them.


“Actually she wanted to teach me how to hunt, but I didn't like it and told her I wouldn't do it again.” Kio's tail was laying limply in the dust and he felt a wave of guilt wash over him. “I didn't realize she was teaching me how to fight as well before I was in a pretty tight situation where it could have been useful.” The rat murmured and looked Teru in the eye, black locking with brown.


Alistair and Balthazar smirked as they could practically see the gears turning in Teru's head. Not two seconds after, Teru had an idea. “How about a sparring match?” The white and ginger dog barked out. The black and grey dogs both perked up at this announcement.


Kio stared at the three dogs. “What's a sparring match?” He asked in confusion and let himself fall back on his haunches. Balthazar let out a cry. “You don't know?” He exclaimed with disbelief and skipped closer to the confused rat. “It's only, like, the best thing ever!” The dog cried with excitement, resulting in Alistair rolled his eyes while Teru only grinned at the other's puppy like behaviour.


“It's a fight between friends to asses each other’s skills and improvement.” The black dog explained and pranced around the rat who could only watch with disbelief evident in his eyes. Who would have known a dog could behave so childishly.


“So you don't hurt each other?” Kio ventured and felt a bit more relaxed when Balthazar nodded vigorously to answer his question. “Come on, Kio! Just a friendly match between you and Teru. It's going to be so much fun!” Balthazar barked out and wagged his tail. Kio was quiet as he thought about the offer, it could prove to be valuable training, especially with a dog. Before he even knew it, the rat found himself accepting the offer.


“Let's go outside then, it will be more convenient for a sparring match.” Teru said and padded towards the cave opening with Alistair, Balthazar and Kio right behind him. However, the white and ginger dog stopped abruptly at the cave mouth as he came muzzle to muzzle with a furious looking Aome.


A what?” The cat hissed through a mouthful of blackbird.

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