Spheres of Influence: Part Four
Three days later, all six Kougras made landfall on Mystery Island. With the number of travelers there were, they had to take a ship rather than have Drake, Hoshi and Robin fly the others. It just couldn't be done over such a distance. As they left the docks, Naia led everyone inland to the edge of the jungle.
“I've forgotten how beautiful this place was,” Robin said.
“Yes, but even beautiful things can have their dangers,” Drake said. “The natives still run rampant, I assume?”
“Yes, Drake, they do,” Naia said darkly. Her expression softened as she addressed the others. “Now, is there anything anyone needs to do before we go to our parent's house? Gifts? Snacks? A bath, perhaps?” she added with a meaningful glance to Cole.
“What?” Cole asked. “Brimstone is what I live in.”
Before Naia could respond, a voice called out from farther down the beach. “Kittylinx! Lin, where are you?”
A black-striped white Kougra was padding along the beach, her tail and ears low as she looked toward the jungle. She was followed by a rainbow colored Lupess who was looking as intently into the jungle as the Kougra was.
“Uh oh,” Cole said. “I think someone else might have been nabbed.”
Naia sighed. “It's my island. I should take care of it.”
She padded away from her siblings and approached the Kougra who was searching the beach. She nodded in a friendly manner as she approached.
“Hello there,” she said. “I'm Naia. I couldn't help but notice, but are you missing someone?”
The Lupess and the Kougra exchanged looks before either of them spoke up.
“I'm Raynebeau. Call me Rai,” the Lupess said. “This is my friend Araguoka , or Air. And, yes, we're missing someone.”
“My adopted sister, Kittylinx,” the Kougra, Air, said. “She's a blue Xweetok, very young, and shy.”
“She answers to the name of Lin,” Rai put in. “She's been missing for nearly a week. You haven't seen her, have you?”
“No, I haven’t,” Naia said. “But my brothers and sisters and I have a hunch about what’s been going on.”
Naia explained in simple terms how Neopians everywhere were disappearing, and that where they vanished there was a strange scent. She said nothing about the grey Kougra. She didn’t think it would do any good, really.
“We would have checked for scents,” Rai said, “if we knew where she had disappeared.”
Air pawed at the sand dismally. “She was out playing on the beach, as she often does. But I only turned my back for a moment, and when I looked again, she was gone. I thought she might have gone to play in the jungle.”
Naia couldn’t help but feel sympathetic toward Air. She tried to smile in a comforting way and said, “Don’t worry, we’ll find her.”
“Why don’t they come with us to our parent’s house?” Robin asked, padding up behind Naia. “They could stay for dinner, if they don’t mind our company.”
Naia looked tentatively back at her other siblings. When she did, she saw that Drake glaring impassively at Hoshi, who was trying not to notice, Slate was scratching at a flea behind his ear, and Cole smoking impatiently.
“I don’t mind,” Rai said. “What about you, Air? You should rest. We’ve been searching all week.”
“Alright,” Air said with a sigh.
“Okay, then,” Robin said. “Let’s tell the others.”
With that, Robin led the way back to the group. “Everyone,” she said. “This is Rai the Lupe and Air the Kougra. They’re going to be having dinner with us tonight.”
Amidst the greetings, and a few questions from Hoshi, Drake grunted and fluttered his wings. “As if we didn’t have enough company,” he muttered.
* * *
The grey Kougra sat huddled in the bushes, watching the large group of Kougras and a Lupe wander into the jungle. He had been watching them for some time.
What are they doing here, he asked himself. I had enough trouble dealing with them in those caves. And why does that cloud Kougra seem so familiar to me?
He shook these thoughts from his head. He still had a job to do, and he wanted to get it done as soon as possible. With one final look at the departing Kougras, he turned away and disappeared into the jungle himself.
* * *
Night was falling by the time the travelers entered a small clearing where a small house stood. It was made entirely of bamboo and palm branches, but it was also one of the larger houses on the island built with such material. Drake was bristling slightly as he entered the clearing, with the Lupess chattering at his side. He had been turning a deaf ear toward her as much as he could, but sometimes she didn’t let him.
“So you see,” Rai said to Drake, “there is good in all of us. Even if it is buried deep, deep, deep down inside.”
“Is this your professional opinion?” Drake grunted, glaring at the rainbow Lupess with narrowed eyes. “You’ve been going over this for nearly an hour.”
“So?” Rai asked. “I could go on forever.”
Drake rolled his eyes, but didn’t comment, pressing on to meet with Robin, who was at the head of the group.
Robin’s face light up slightly when she saw the house she grew up in. “It’s been so long since I was here last,” she said. “Nothing seems to have changed.”
“Humph,” Drake said, brushing past his sister. “You’re far too sentimental for your own good.”
“Let it go, Robin,” Naia said from behind her as Robin began to snarl. “He’s trying to make you fight.”
Robin glared at Naia for a moment before sighing deeply and moving on toward the house. Hoshi came up beside her sister in that moment.
“Do you think that Drake is getting to her?” she asked. Naia shrugged.
“I think it’s more than that,” Naia observed. “Everything that’s been going on recently... I think she’s trying to take it upon herself.”
“Why would she want to do that?”
“I don’t know. Maybe she feels that since Drake has abandoned us as the oldest brother, it falls upon her to take care of the rest of us. I’m starting to wonder how long she’s going to hold out.”
“Well, I don’t need to be taken care of,” Cole stated flatly as he moved past his sisters. Slate followed, but he grunted and rolling his eyes at Cole as he passed.
As they all moved toward the house, a shadow Kougra and an Island Kougra emerged from the building. The Island Kougra moved to meet the travelers with an ecstatic expression on her face.
“Oh, it’s good to see you all,” she said. “It’s been so long, and... Hoshi! My goodness, have you grown!”
Hoshi only smiled bashfully. Robin rubbed cheeks with the Kougra. “Hi, Mom,” she said. “I suppose you’re wondering why we’re here?”
“Not at all,” the Kougra said. “Illa arrived yesterday with Kyran. We’ve been expecting you.” She looked past Robin to Rai and Air. “Have you brought friends with you as well?”
Robin smiled. “Rai, Air, this is our mother, Chelsea. Mom, this is Rai, the Lupess, and Air the Kougra,” Robin said. “They live on the island, and I’ve invited them to dinner.”
As Robin started to explain what was going on, Hoshi moved toward her father, the Shadow Kougra, Aaron, who had turned his attention to Drake. He had a serious air about him, but his eyes narrowed as his son approached.
“Hello, son,” he said flatly. “I see you’re still alive.”
“Alive and well, father,” Drake replied in a similar tone. “Did you expect otherwise?”
They glared at each other for a moment, then Aaron sighed. “You’ve had a long journey. Come inside, and rest. There is food prepared in the kitchen.”
Drake seemed a little surprised by Aaron’s show of hospitality, and said nothing as he moved past his father and into the house. Once he left, Hoshi padded over to the shadow Kougra.
“I was afraid that you two were going to fight again,” Hoshi said. “The last time was when he decided to leave.”
Aaron sighed and looked down at his daughter. “He’s still angry at us, but that doesn’t mean my home isn’t open to him. I just wish that he were a bit more reasonable, like Slate.”
Slate was walking by to the house as he said this. He heard his name mentioned and looked to his father. For a moment, they only stared at each other. Then Slate smirked and moved on. Aaron watched him as he went with a confused look on his face.
“He used to always at least greet me when he’s been away,” he said.
“A lot has changed,” Cole said as he walked by. “Now he says nothing at all. Excuse me.”
As his third son walked by, Aaron asked, mostly to himself, “What has gotten into my children?” Then he looked down at Hoshi. “You don’t seem to have changed, at least. Come on; let’s get some food. Your mother hasn’t let me touch any of it until you arrived.”
* * *
A small celebration was held in the living room. It had been several years since the entire family had been under one roof. Illa and Kyran, a battle Faerie, had been in the room a few minutes ago, but had gone to another room while the family socialized. While they were gone, Chelsea busied herself trying to catch up with all her daughters at once. Aaron was content on the other side of the room, sharing various stories with Cole, Rai and Air. Slate spent his time looking over the buffet his mother had prepared, and off in a dark corner of the room, Drake sat brooding, observing the social ballyhoo with disdain.
While her mother went on about life in general with Robin and Naia, Hoshi was distracted by her oldest brother’s disposition. Why is he so unruly? she wondered. She wasn’t much more than a cub when he left, and no one really spoke of him since. Not until he showed up the day Hoshi was leaving to train with Illa. His arrival shocked everyone, especially since he came back as a Darigan Kougra. Before, he was shadow-colored, like his father. As soon as he arrived, he started demeaning Illa and her Faerie sisters, saying they enslaved the Neopians who “helped” them, and that anyone who helped a Faerie was a tool. His words upset Hoshi dearly, and she was crying even after her father demanded that Drake leave. He did so without a fight, but Hoshi never forgot that day.
Hoshi grew to know the Faeries as Drake had never allowed himself to. She knew that most Faeries lived to move Neopia toward the greater good. She grew more confident in her power as well, and learned to fly better than some Faeries. Some nights, though, she wondered about Drake. That last day she saw him, he seemed to detest Faeries so much that he didn’t want his family to have anything to do with them. But what was it that had driven him to this hatred?
As she wondered this, Drake looked in her direction. With a gasp, Hoshi tried to look somewhere else. It was too late, though; Drake had seen her. Looking back, Hoshi saw Drake’s eyes gleaming in the dim light that entered his little corner of the room. After a moment, he motioned with his paw for her to come over. Reluctantly, Hoshi complied. She was stiff-legged as she approached him, but she didn’t back down.
“Are you as bored with this as I am?” he asked, picking at a break in the floorboards with his claw.
“Everyone else is having a good time,” Hoshi said. “I’m just happy to be here among them.” Drake only snorted in reply, but said nothing. Hoshi changed the subject, giving Drake a concerned look. “Have you eaten anything?”
“I prefer live prey,” Drake said offhandedly. He paused, turning away from Hoshi’s gaze. “But I sampled some of the food. The ham wasn’t that bad, really.”
Hoshi sighed and sat down, looking to her father. He was busily talking with Cole, but he shot an occasional glance to Hoshi. Was he worried that she was talking with Drake?
“Have you learned a lot from that Faerie of yours?” he asked.
“I’ve learned a lot from Illa, yes,” Hoshi said. “She’s a good mentor.”
“How would you know?” Drake asked. “You’ve only had her for a mentor.”
“Actually, that’s not true. I trained with Kyran before Illa took me as her apprentice.”
Drake narrowed his eyes. “Really?” he asked flatly. “I never trained with a battle Faerie.”
“Everyone else had,” Hoshi said. “Why not you?”
Before Drake could respond, Illa and Kyran reentered the room. Everyone fell silent as the light Faerie moved to the center of the room to address everyone.
“I’m glad for the decision I made in bringing you all here to your family home. You have all been apart for so long, it’s good that you can talk to each other once again.” She shot a glance at Drake, then continued. “Unfortunately, this is not the real purpose for this meeting. You all know what is happening in Neopia. Neopians are disappearing without a trace, save the strange scent you discovered. I doubt, however, that the grey Kougra that kidnapped your Xweetok friend is working alone. For one thing, all the vanishings are happening to far apart for him to have done them all. We’ve also detected a strange energy that seems to surface and disappear as each pet is kidnapped.”
“Do you think Sloth is involved?” Robin asked. Kyran shook her head.
“He’s been so busy with Kreludor, I doubt he’s spending his resources to catch everyday Neopians in such a discreet method,” the battle Faerie said. “In fact, the only vessel seen outside the normal shipping lanes was a freighter carrying energy converters, which crashed in the Neopian plains a few months ago. Most of the cargo was lost. Aside from a recovery operation for that vessel, no one has seen Virtupets doing anything recently but trade with Neopia.”
“Then who’s doing this?” Air asked desperately. “I want Lin back!”
Illa looked sympathetically at the distressed Kougra. “That’s what we’re trying to figure out.” She turned back to the others. “We’ve tried tracing this energy to its source, but we’ve only managed to trace it to somewhere in the southern Neopian Plains.”
“Heh, figures,” Drake muttered. “I was already tracking one of their goons in that area. I probably would have found it too, if my sisters hadn’t found me.”
“And then what?” Robin asked. “You would have been captured too, if they had any kind of guard waiting.”
“Wanna make a bet?” Drake challenged.
“You know, I’m starting to get tired of your attitude,” Robin hissed, rising to her paws.
“She’s right, you know,” Naia said, siding with her sister. “Why do you keep trying to put us down? Do you think you’re so superior?”
Slate growled softly, and started to turn away when Drake said, “What are you upset about? I haven’t said anything bad about you. Not that you would respond.”
“That’s because he hasn’t said a word since Laura left!” Cole piped in with a growl. “She disappeared without a word, and now he won’t talk to anyone!”
“Wait! Who’s Laura?” Aaron demanded.
Everyone was in an uproar. Illa stood back from them, trying to make herself heard over the commotion. Hoshi, though, stood apart from them all. It was madness! What were they doing? What had happened to them all. Only moments ago, they were having a good time, and now...
She closed her eyes. An anger built inside her that she didn’t know was there. A growl entered her throat, growing to the point where she let out a yowl, casting a shockwave that shook the house and caused everyone to fall into a stunned silence.
“Look at you all!” she yelled. “How is it that you all find something to argue about?” She looked at Cole and Slate. “You two are fighting over a girl no one knows about!” Then she turned to Robin and Naia. “You two are mad at Drake because he left us! You especially, Robin, because you think Drake’s responsibility as the oldest has fallen upon you! And as for you,” she growled, looking at Drake. “You’re just mad at everyone because you think everyone’s betrayed you! Well, I’m sick of it all!” she screamed. Tears were welling in her eyes. “I don’t have to stand around anymore and watch you fight! It won’t get us anywhere! I...”
Her words were caught in her throat. Everyone was staring at her in such a way that she couldn’t hold herself together anymore. Ducking her head, Hoshi ran out of the house with her tail dragging behind her.
To be continued...