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A Sweet Taste of Victory


by 77thbigby

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      The three attackers didn’t stand a chance. With a few deft moves of her staff, the chocolate Peophin had knocked out one and sent the other two running for their lives. Since the three in question were a speckled Skeith, green Eyrie and Tyrannian Grarrl, the observer of the fight and the petite chocolate Peo was impressed. It was due to his network that he had gotten word of this Shenkuuvian stranger. Now, he needed to speak with her.

      The chocolate Peophin observed the shadow Peophin as he approached her. She looked at him, caution in her gaze. It was no wonder since he was easily twice her size and more muscular than the average Peo. His stormy blue eyes didn’t help to put anyone at ease, either. He was intimidating and they both knew it.

      They also both knew that intimidating or not, the chocolate Peo was more than capable of defending herself.

      “My name is Dalibor. May I speak with you in private?” the shadow Peophin introduced himself.

      “I-“ the chocolate Peophin began.

      “Is this guy bothering you, Jia?”

      A strawberry Mynci came bounding up, red eyes narrowed in suspicion.

      “No, Jun. This guy isn’t bothering me. Calm down,” Jia said with a soothing tone.

      “If you say so, Jia. I don’t like the looks of him,” Jun said with a sniff.

      “Jun!”

      The Mynci was an instigator. Dalibor had seen him pick a fight with the three from before. Jia had come to his rescue while he had run away and hid like a coward. Dalibor felt nothing but contempt for the Mynci. He waited for Jia to respond to his question.

      Jia studied Dalibor in silence for a moment before dipping her head. “Yes, I will speak with you. Jun, I’ll talk with you later.”

      The strawberry Mynci gaped at the clear dismissal. He looked ready to argue but something in Jia’s gaze stopped him.

      “Fine. I’ll see you later then,” Jun said rather sullenly.

      Dalibor and Jia watched Jun walk away. Then, the shadow Peophin let his companion lead him. As she did, he was ever vigilant, on the lookout for a tail. When they finally stopped, Dalibor was satisfied that they were alone. The shadow Peophin could not relax just yet.

      Jia had led Dalibor to her home. Her decorations were sparse and clean. It was soothing to the male Peophin’s nerves. They went back outside into an inner courtyard that contained a rock garden. In the center was a circular gazebo.

      “We are now free to speak,” Jia said simply, with a small nod.

      For the first time, Dalibor smiled. There was no chance of eavesdropping here. So, the shadow Peophin began.

      “My name is Dalibor. I am from Psellio, a kingdom located an hour from Maraqua. Almost two years ago, our kingdom was assailed by a then unknown enemy. Taken completely unawares, the kingdom was utterly destroyed. Along with a healer mage, we believed we were the only survivors.

      A few months ago, we learned that Princess Valenchesa, the teenaged daughter of our King and Queen, was alive and sequestered away with only her faithful servant to support her. Since then, I have been traveling Neopia, recruiting others willing to fight for the Rise of Psellio. We have learned that our enemy is known as the Mysterious Forces. They are a formidable enemy but we will not lose a second time.”

      Jia had listened in silence but did not wait to speak once Dalibor had finished. “You want me to fight for a ruined kingdom, an inexperienced girl as your leader against an enemy that is not my own?”

      Dalibor no longer flinched at this assessment of the situation. He had heard it too many times before.

      “That is the way many see it. Those who have agreed to help do so for many different reasons. They are naturally caring, they are heroic or they have even more personal reasons. They may enjoy fighting, are attracted to conflict or bent on revenge against the Mysterious Forces. The one thing they all have in common is that they all volunteered to support Psellio.

      It is the Neopian way to support a group that is fighting for good.”

      Dalibor was silent then. Sometimes, he managed to get potential recruits. Many times, he failed. He did not let it discourage him. He was devoted to his leader and his kingdom, no matter what others chose. He knew what Jia would say before she spoke.

      “I see the passion that burns in you but I cannot join your fight. I only fight to defend myself and lead a peaceful life otherwise,” the chocolate Peophin said in her calm, firm way.

      With a short nod, Dalibor took his leave.

~ ~ ~

      “What did that handsome shadow Peophin want to speak with you about? To ask you out on a date?” Jun asked with a cheeky grin.

      “Nothing of the sort, Jun. Don’t be ridiculous,” Jia snorted, her eyes gleaming with exasperated amusement.

      It had taken only seconds for Dalibor to leave before Jun arrived. Jia had served Aqueena Tea and told Jun what the handsome shadow Peophin had really wanted. As she did, it was clear that Jun could barely contain himself. He didn’t fight for control. He leapt to his feet, red eyes bright with excitement.

      “Let’s do it!” Jun exclaimed.

      “Us? Dalibor asked me, not you. I got the distinct impression that he didn’t like you, Jun,” Jia pointed out.

      “No one likes me, Jia, except you.”

      This was true. There was something about the strawberry Mynci that rubbed others the wrong way. Jia had known Jun her entire life. She was a solitary ‘pet by nature, made more so by Jun’s natural ability to put others off. They were complete opposites in all things.

      Yet, they were best friends.

      Jia only asked one question. “Why?”

      “It’s an adventure! Jia, we’ve never even left Shenkuu. We’ll be a part of something bigger than ourselves,” Jun explained, hands waving in the air as he talked.

      The chocolate Peophin looked calmly at the animated strawberry Mynci. It was a sharp contrast that summed up their relationship. He forever pulled her to do more than her sedate nature ever wanted. Unfortunately, it was rare that she had the same influence on him. This was mostly because Jun was stubborn and rarely thought before he acted.

      Jia was Jun’s conscience. She felt responsible for his welfare because no one else cared. The Peophin sighed as she realized that Jun may very well leave to join a fight that he was ill prepared for and worse, where he would be most unwelcome. She stared at her now empty tea cup, gathering her thoughts.

      “I will speak to Dalibor. We will go only if he agrees,” Jia said, catching and holding her friend’s gaze.

      Jun grinned broadly, pleased to have won.

~ ~ ~

      “No.”

      Dalibor had remained in Shenkuu as was his wont when pursuing a lead. Even though Jia had refused, there was still a chance that something would change. The change had come, just not the one he was expecting. His answer was not surprising. This did not dissuade Jia.

      “Earlier today you asked for my help. That is my condition. You still refuse?” Jia asked.

      “Psellio needs every capable fighter we can get. It’s a pity to lose you but I will not risk failure by accepting a useless coward,” Dalibor responded.

      “What if I were able to offer two fighters for your cause? I could train Jun.”

      “I will consider your friend once he has passed an assessment that I give. How much time will you need?”

      “Give us six months.”

      “Then we shall see each other again at that time.”

~ ~ ~

      Jia understood the great task she had set herself. She had never seen Jun take anything seriously and he got bored easily. She hoped that this would prove to be the case now. She would make his training as stringent as possible. She knew exactly how she would begin.

      Discipline.

      The strawberry Mynci had none.

      It was the one thing a warrior needed most. For Jun, it was a rude awakening. Literally.

      “Jun, wake up now,” Jia said firmly.

      With no response from the strawberry Mynci, the chocolate Peophin hauled her friend out of his bed. This got his attention as he transitioned from his warm bed to the cold floor. He startled awake, clutching at his friend’s arm, red eyes wide with shock.

      “Jia! What are you doing?” Jun asked.

      “I spoke with Sensei Lee and he has agreed to teach you in the martial arts. Now, hurry or you’re going to be late,” Jia said.

      “Martial arts from Sensei Lee? Awesome! What time is it?”

      “4:00 am.”

      Jun groaned but slowly gained his usual energy as they walked through that typical foggy Shenkuuvian morning. The martial arts academy was located near the heart of Shenkuu but all was quiet this early in the morning. Once they arrived, they walked down a long hall and into the central courtyard of the academy. A stealthy Draik stood waiting as students trickled in. Most of them were as bright eyed and bushy tailed as any Juma. The students gathered before Sensei Lee. Jia made certain that Jun found a space in the front, as near as he could be placed to Sensei Lee.

      Sensei Lee dipped his head in acknowledgement of Jia’s presence before starting that morning’s lesson. The Peophin recalled her own martial arts lessons that she had received from Sensei Lee when she had been younger with fondness. Now, she merely observed, paying close attention to her friend. At the first, he was slow and clumsy but as the lesson came to a close, he began to pick up. She exchanged a glance with Sensei Lee, communicating more than words could say.

      “Oh, I’m so tired!” Jun complained, standing next to Jia.

      “So you’re already going to stop training? You have six months. The other students have years,” Jia pointed out.

      Jun could only stare at his friend while he absorbed her words. Then he groaned and resumed his lesson, alone in the courtyard.

~ ~ ~

      One month later, Jun had progressed well. He still complained about early mornings but he had ceased to complain about sore muscles. His agility, as a Mynci, was excellent. His strength was improving steadily. He had even made friends with the other students.

      Jia was impressed.

~ ~ ~

      It didn’t last long.

      “You’re at the halfway mark, Jun and you’re slacking off,” Jia said sternly.

      The problem was that Jun had made friends. One was a maractite Cybunny named Daisuke. They were far too alike in personality. They constantly egged one another on and distracted the other students. Instead of applying themselves, they goofed around.

      Jun had lost his reliance on Jia. Their friendship had been replaced by one of trainer and trainee. That much was clear from the look of insolence he now gave her.

      “So? I’m ready to take on that shadow Peophin now. I’ve had enough training. I’m one of the best in the class!” The strawberry Mynci crossed his arms and met Jia’s stern gaze with a challenge in his eyes.

      “Before you take on Dalibor, you must face me,” Jia said.

      The look of challenge at once left Jun’s eyes. It always did. He got himself into situations and could not face the consequences. Always before, Jia had been the one to fight his battles for him, literally. No more.

      There was something else that the strawberry Mynci needed to learn, which Dalibor had pointed out. It was high time Jun learned responsibility. They both knew what the outcome would be. It was up to Jun to make the first move. He did so after only a moment’s hesitation and was put flat on his back in the next.

      “You’re right, Jia. I still have a lot to learn,” Jun admitted as Jia held a hand out to help him to his feet.

~ ~ ~

      “You’re ready now, Jun. It’s time we made our way,” Jia said.

      Jun grinned broadly at this news. “At last!”

      The pair traveled long and hard across Neopia. They just made it to where Dalibor had told them to go. It was a training camp for Psellio recruits. Over that last month of travel, they had faced many situations together. However, once they arrived at the camp, Jun had to face the latest challenge alone.

      Jia was allowed to enter the camp but as Jun tried to follow, a Christmas Hissi barred his way. Thanks to the Hissi’s color, he seemed welcoming and cheerful but the look in his eye said the opposite. The strawberry Mynci understood. Here at last was his assessment. He had not faced a Hissi before.

      Jun’s fighting style had developed into a form as direct as his personality. Instead of taking a moment to pause and analyze his opponent, the Mynci charged straight forward. Quick as a, well, Hissi, Jun’s opponent dodged the charge, twining his long body around Jun’s. Taken by surprise, Jun tripped but quickly went with the momentum to roll back to his feet. As he turned, he noticed the Hissi with his wings flared, fangs bared and body tightly coiled, on the defensive.

      For many this would have been the moment to back off.

      Not so for Jun. He chuckled and began to dart around the Hissi. He jabbed at his foe, taunting him, grinning broadly as he did. With an ever flexible spine, the Hissi spun, following Jun and striking in vain. Encouraged, Jun moved faster and increased his hits with more force.

      Clearly frustrated, the Hissi went after his strawberry tormentor. Seeing his opening, Jun took it. He grabbed the end of the Hissi’s tail and pulled, hard. Lightning quick, the Hissi turned but Jun stayed maddeningly out of reach, not letting go of the tail. The Hissi was only chasing his own tail and Jun laughed with glee. For a moment, he forgot the point of it all.

      Then, Jun caught Jia’s eye.

      The chocolate Peophin’s calm was able to reel in the strawberry Mynci’s excitement. Knowing that he had to end this, Jun turned, letting go of the tail, one hand curled into a fist. Caught completely off guard, the Hissi ran straight into Jun’s fist. The blow was enough to send him flying and he landed in an undignified heap. It was over.

      Jun had done it!

      The strawberry Mynci turned and walked over to Jia and Dalibor, a spring in his step. Neither Peophin gave anything away.

      “I don’t know how you did it, Jia but you did. You turned this incompetent Mynci into a capable fighter. I commend your work,” Dalibor said to the chocolate Peophin beside him.

      Jun grit his teeth, doing his best not to let his frustration show at the way Dalibor willfully insulted and ignored him. He suspected that this was also part of his test where he had to show the shadow Peophin that he was not the same as he had been half a year earlier. Dalibor paused for a moment before turning his full attention on Jun.

      “You may enter the camp. Welcome to our cause,” the shadow Peophin said with a tight nod before turning away.

      Once Dalibor left, Jun let out a whoop of joy and hugged Jia. “We did it! All of that training paid off, Jia! We can finally relax.”

      Jia could only shake her head in dismay as she firmly removed Jun’s arms from her neck. “Oh, Jun. Our training has not finished. It has only just begun.”

      The End.

 
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