Dawn creeps her fingers into the sky, allowing for the sun to rain its light down upon Munda Luna. Vaiqon, Hawk, Desert, Santhemum, Fox, and Pork rise slowly, the children rubbing their eyes to try to coax themselves awake. Vaiqon breathes deeply, his ire filling his lungs to invigorate his body.
“Hop to now,” Vaiqon says, “long, long day ahead of us. Perhaps we will only have a day or so after today if we travel hard.”
The children groan collectively, causing Vaiqon to chuckle.
Vaiqon mounts his horse and waits for the children to mount theirs after dismantling the campsite. Vaiqon sees Hawk intends to ride next to Fox, Desert next to Pork, and Santhemum to ride in the rear.
Vaiqon scoffs, then commands, “Hawk, ride next to Desert. Santhemum, ride next to Pork. Fox, ride next to me.”
The children’s eyes grow wide with shock but obey nonetheless. After a few minutes, the children appear in obvious discomfort, but Vaiqon merely chuckles and says, “All right, shall we continue on our journey?”
The children groan their agreement and follow Vaiqon and Fox at the head of the group as they exit the forest soon after.
A few hours pass and the forest is long-gone from the children’s memory. The sun is now casting its full light down upon the ground, finally dissipating the frosty bite of night on the verge of winter.
The group soon encounters a massive lake that stretches as far as the horizon in the distance. The children gasp at the size, Vaiqon merely chuckles yet again.
“This lake, children,” Vaiqon begins, “is the lake that all rivers and streams flow to. The beautiful blue color resembling that of a sapphire gives the lake its namesake, Sapphire Lake. A most exquisite destination for those wishing to relax beyond their wildest dreams. The lake is said to calm even a berserk evko.”
The children only gape in marvel at the massive size and rich color of the lake, their ears barely comprehending anything Vaiqon has said in the previous few minutes.
A few more hours pass, the sun beginning its daily descent to the western horizon before Vaiqon finally instructs the children to stop and make camp for the night. The children quickly assemble the tents and create mounds to sit upon from the moist dirt that surrounds the lake, the lake they have yet to traverse the length of.
Vaiqon observes the boar is finally unfit for consumption, and tosses the carcass into the lake where it disappears quickly underneath the water from some hidden underwater creature.
Vaiqon asks, “Well, who shall volunteer with me to hunt the plains for dinner?”
Each child holds up a hand forcing Vaiqon to chuckle, “Now, now,” Vaiqon says, “you cannot be that eager to be away from one another. I believe Fox and I had quite the interesting conversation today.”
Fox’s eyes widen in astonishment believing he had infuriated Vaiqon on a number of occasions.
“However,” Vaiqon continues, “I did notice that Santhemum and Pork appeared deeply troubled, was everything well during the day? Are either of you ill?”
Santhemum shakes her head, but Pork answers, “No, everything was great! She even talked to me... well... almost, anyway.”
Hawk, Desert, and Fox laugh, Santhemum raises an eyebrow, and Vaiqon remains expressionless.
“Yeah, you have a better chance of becoming Munda Luna’s next great bard with an imagination like that,” Fox jibes.
Pork shrugs, “I said almost,” he says nearly under his breath, but loud enough for Desert, who is standing next to him, to hear.
“Very well,” Vaiqon starts again, “as along as everything is well,” though he reads Santhemum’s aura briefly to feel great discomfort radiating from her and the memory of the dreadful day still coursing through her mind with great displeasure.
Vaiqon shrugs then turns to face Hawk, “And, Hawk,” Vaiqon says, “I noticed that you and Desert actually appeared to have enjoyed each other’s company?”
“I enjoyed Hawky’s company as much as a dog enjoys fleas,” Desert responds.
Vaiqon blanches nearly imperceptibly, but does not glance at Desert, waiting for Hawk’s response.
Hawk rolls his eyes, “We barely spoke to one another. It was actually kind of peaceful.”
Vaiqon noticeably blanches, “Unacceptable. Hawk, Desert, you two will stay here while the rest of us hunt for dinner. You two cannot be so bitter towards one another when you will soon be Rniti brothers of one another.”
Vaiqon motions for Santhemum, Fox, and Pork to accompany him as he takes off into the giant planes behind Sapphire Lake. Hawk and Desert sit on opposites mounds from one another, Hawk closest to the calm lake, Desert closest to the wild plains.
The two boys glare at one another in sparing glances, hoping the other will not catch them. Hawk eventually grows tired of the game the longer Vaiqon, Santhemum, Fox, and Pork are gone and continuously glares at Desert, forcing Desert to do the same.
“He’s right, ya know,” Hawk states.
Desert scoffs, “Who’s right, Hawky?” Desert asks condescendingly as he punctuates the last word with as much vehemence as he can muster.
Hawk shrugs, Desert’s nickname for him never having affected him in the slightest, “Vaiqon is right. We’re about to be Rniti brothers. We can’t be bitter towards one another.”
“That’s your problem, Hawky,” Desert says. “You want me to just forgive you for humiliating me all those years ago. But I won’t do it. I won’t forget how you bested me in a fight without so much as lifting a finger. Thankfully, I had a gang then too to back me up in Karacrross.”
Hawk sighs, “Will you ever put that away?”
Desert glares all the more fiercer, his scarf making it nearly impossible to see his eyes, but Hawk can feel the anger within Desert.
“No,” is all Desert says.
“Why not?” Hawk asks, his exhaustion filtering through his words.
Desert spits, “Because you are not stronger than me. I don’t care what anyone says.”
“Who’s saying that?” Hawk asks exasperated. “I’m not. Pork’s not. Vaiqon’s not. No one is saying that!”
“My gang said it,” Desert answers, “in Karacrross. They said it. Then left me. Then I lost my gang in Dzrt because they were too weak to try the obstacle course. I will become stronger than anyone.”
“And I am sure the Rniti will welcome such strength,” Hawk agrees, provoking Desert’s anger even more.
“Don’t tell me what the Rniti will accept like you’re already a part of them, Hawky,” Desert spits. “You’re probably already planning on being the best Rniti ever and nearly worshiped for his feats.”
Hawk shakes his head, “You really don’t know me, Desert. I want none of that. From what I know of the Rniti, I actually just want to learn meditation, something my grandfather was teaching me before he died. That’s how I was able to defeat you so easily before your gang showed up.”
Desert explodes to his feat, “I knew you cheated!”
“Meditation is not cheating,” Hawk states levelly.
Desert guffaws, “Yes it is! You didn’t even throw a punch! No matter, when we become Rniti, I will learn how to always defeat you. Always learn to defeat you as I am sure you will just figure out a way around the last defeat.”
“Why do you see me as your enemy, Desert?” Hawk asks, Desert’s anger spiking to a peak.
“Because I am a proud person, got it from my father,” Desert responds. “and no proud person allows humiliation to go unpunished.
In that moment, Desert lunges at Hawk.
Desert’s fist nearly collides with Hawk’s right cheek, but Hawk ducks just as the strike is an inch away. Hawk then dances away to ready himself in a defensive position. Desert growls and lunges at Hawk again. Desert’s wild strikes nearly collide with Hawk’s limber form, but only hit air every time, allowing Hawk to dance away unscathed and Desert to tire from the energy consumed. Desert pauses a moment from his relentless rush to compose himself. He closes his eyes for just a moment, his scarf now obscuring his entire face. Hawk believes Desert has forfeited when suddenly, Desert springs forward at him. Desert rises in the air a few feet, his leg cocked behind him ready to unleash hell in a matter of seconds. Hawk’s eyes widen as he tries to retreat to neutralize the attack, but Desert seems to continue his glide through the air no matter how far Hawk retreats. Hawk then stands his ground and readies a kick of his own. Desert unleashes his kick and, moments later, Hawk matches the kick. The two boys wince in discomfort, but neither forfeit the match as of yet. Hawk then decides he has had enough, the bruise on his leg already forming. He then lunges at Desert unexpectedly, catches Desert’s left arm, twists it behind Desert’s back, then forces Desert to the ground. Desert gasps at the attack, then rolls powerfully to his back, planting Hawk into the ground. Dust and dirt explodes around them. The two then roll around in the dirt trying to land more strikes on the other and find more leverage on the other. Hawk finds himself on his back with Desert over him. He sees the smallest opening in Desert’s stance and seizes the opportunity to slip out from Desert’s grip and launches Desert high into the air. Desert gasps and smashes on the ground with a flop. He grunts as he rises, the fight forced away from him. He glares at Hawk and raises both hands in the air in defeat.
Hawk cocks his head to the side in confusion, “You yield?”
Desert breathes out forcefully, “Yes. Happy?”
Hawk shrugs, “I’m not happy about the bruise on my leg. Or my back. Or my chest. Or my stomach.”
Desert’s mouth twitches into a smile though Hawk cannot see the expression, but looking into Hawk’s eyes, Desert believes Hawk can sense his amusement. Desert states, “Yeah, you got me pretty good too, Hawk.”
Hawk blanches at Desert’s use of his real name, but says nothing. Desert then sits on his mound next to the fire. Hawk then sits on the mound next to Desert, forcing Desert to blanch. Hawk merely smirks.
Vaiqon, Santhemum, Fox, and Pork return a short while later, the remnants of Hawk and Desert’s scuffle lost to the dim light of night. The four stop with multiple pairs of rabbit in their hands when they witness Hawk and Desert sitting next to each other without one of their hands around the other’s throats.
Vaiqon reads Hawk and Desert’s auras briefly and smiles as he reads understanding for the other radiating from both boys. He sits on his mound and spits his pair of rabbits as the other children still marvel at the sight.
Vaiqon and the children eat to the content, then filter slowly into their respective tents. Vaiqon and Hawk are the last to remain at the dying fire when Vaiqon suddenly asks, “Hawk, are you well?”
Hawk stares at Vaiqon with confusion, “Yes?” he asks.
Vaiqon smirks, “I am just wondering as to anything that could be troubling you, dear boy.”
Hawk raises both eyebrows, “I’m fine, Vaiqon,” he says while hiding a wince under the amount of bruises that are stiffening his body.
Vaiqon can feel the pain through Hawk’s aura. Vaiqon smirks, “Very well. Are you not excited to see the Injhihato and begin your training soon?”
Hawk shrugs, “I’m more in disbelief.”
“Oh? How so?”
Hawk shrugs again, looking out to the water behind him, “Its just that Karacrross hadn’t had a single person defeat the obstacle course in years, my father always talked about it. Then here Pork and I defeat it no problem. I’m just wondering as to why I could beat it, but not others.”
Vaiqon smiles, “Hawk, you wanted to defeat the course because you wanted to defeat the course. You know there is much potential inside of you and I can feel your unrest with the life of an agriculturist, even the likes of you privileged parents. You desired much, much more.”
Hawk’s eyes widen as Vaiqon described exactly how he has felt numerous times in the fields of Karacrross. “You’re right,” he says almost involuntarily.
Vaiqon nods, “There is much potential in you, Hawk, indeed. In fact, within you lies an extraordinary amount of potential. I hope someday you will be able to harness this potential.”
Hawk beams at the compliment, yawns, rises from his mount, and enters his tent where sleep overcomes him quickly.
Vaiqon remains a moment more, his thoughts swirling, ‘So much potential... I wonder... Could he be the next? Only time will tell.’
Vaiqon then extinguishes the embers of the fire, enters his tent, and falls asleep.