niro: version 2.

 

Niro opened his eyes.  The sun shown through the windows onto the opposite wall.  He sat up.  He rolled over to face his girlfriend, Aradia.  He stroked her black fur before kissing the top of her head.  Niro rolled back over and pulled off the bed covers. He rubbed his large blue eyes as he stood up and walked to a hook on the wall.  He pulled a black pair of pants from the hook and put them on.  He tightened his pants around his waist with a piece of rope.  He pulled a white shirt from the hook and pulled it over his head.  His ears flipped down as the shirt pushed his head down.  He pushed his arms through the wide sleeves.  As he passed a mirror on the wall, he adjusted the wrinkles out of his clothes and combed his fur.  He turned and smiled at Aradia as he walked through the door.

The city wasn’t too busy today.  Niro walked down the street, passing building that held out signs for fruits, and baskets and other trades.  Niro turned into the building with an anvil painted on its sign.  The building smelled like burning wood.  The was a large, orange cat pounding away at a piece of red hot metal, sparks flew in all directions.  Between clangs, Niro found a chance to make himself noticed.  In mid strike, the blacksmith looked up.

“Niro,” he cheered.  He dropped his hammer and toddled toward Niro, his arms spread wide.  “How’s it going little buddy?”  He wrapped his thick arms around Niro, squeezing him hard.

When he let go, Niro mustered a smile.  “I was doing well,” he rubbed his neck, “until you did that.”

“I’m sorry,” the blacksmith laughed.  “So, what are you up to, today?”  He crossed his arms, smiling.

“Actually,” Niro rolled on his heels.  “That’s what I came to talk to you about.  Do you have the,” Niro hesitated.  The blacksmith thought for a moment, tilting his head to one side.  But then the smile crossed his face again.

“Of course,” he walked toward a vat of steaming water and reached his hand in.  He fished around for a while before pulling his hand out.  His paw was covered in a thin film and he was holding what looked like a rock.  He pulled out a rag from his pocket and proceeded to wipe the rock.  It quickly revealed a small, golden ring.  “It somethin’, innit?”  The ring looked tiny in the blacksmith’s gigantic paws.  Niro reached out and the blacksmith placed it in his hands.

Niro examined the ring closely.  There was absolutely no imperfections that he could see.  It was perfectly round, perfectly smooth, perfectly shining.  Niro smiled.

“Lucky girl, that Aradia.”  The blacksmith admired his work from afar.  “Y’know, if I had a girl like that, I’d”  Niro glanced up at the orange cat.

“Don’t say it,” he stated flatly.

“What?” the giant cat laughed.  “I was just going to say I’d buy her a bigger ring.”  He paused.  “Why?  What did you think I was going to say?”  He laughed again.  Niro laughed with him.

“I already told you,” he shook his head.  “I can’t afford anything bigger than this.  Besides, anything bigger would probably take her claw off.”  They laughed loudly.  Niro looked at the ring once more and then placed it in his pocket.  “Thanks, Garfield!” he called over his shoulder as he turned to leave the store.

Niro walked up the street again, passing more buildings.  He approached a wooden gate at the end of the long road.  There was a sign next to it reading:  CherryBrooke Fields: Closed

Niro looked over the fence for any sign as to why his work place was closed.  Finally, he turned around and headed back into town.  He passed the buildings on his way home.  When he reached his house he opened the door.  Aradia was still asleep.  He crept through the door and closed it gently behind him.  He tip toed into kitchen.  After glancing over his shoulder to check if Aradia was still asleep, he opened a cupboard.  It was full of different foods.  Niro took out a bowl of eggs and placed it on the table.  Then he took a loaf of bread and a small block of cheese and placed them next to the bowl.  In another cupboard, he found a bowl, a pan, and a whisk.  Niro walked to the small fireplace, still holding the metal whisk.  He arranged the logs and then he picked up a piece of flint on the shelf next to the mantle.  He struck it with the whisk a few times at the base of the logs to finally ignite a small fire.  After setting the fire, Niro returned to the table.  He cracked two of the eggs into the bowl and began to whisk them.  He mixed the eggs together in the bowl and then set it down on the table.  Niro found a knife on the table and began to cut the block of cheese.  He cut it into small slivers and then cut each of those into smaller slices.  He whisked the eggs again, this time sprinkling the shredded cheese into the mix.  He added a little bit of milk to the bowl and continued to mix it.

He poured the egg mixture into the pan then placed it on a grate above the fire.  He returned to the table and used the knife to cut two slices of the bread.  He placed the bread on a plate and put the other ingredients back in the cupboard.  He took the eggs off of the fire and slid them onto the plate next to the bread.  He picked up the plate and walked back to their bed.  There was a small table next to Aradia.  He placed the plate on the table.  He bent over Aradia.  She looked so beautiful in her sleep.  Niro kissed her forehead.  After a moment she opened her purple eyes.  Niro smiled down at her.  “Good morning,” he said softly.  Aradia sat up, she yawned, showing her small, pointed teeth.  She looked at Niro and then at the table.  Her eyes widened, as she saw the breakfast he had prepared the break did her smile.  She turned back to Niro.  “Aren’t you supposed to be at work?”  Niro shook his head.

“They’re closed.”  He shrugged his shoulders.  “I don’t know why, they’re never closed.”

Aradia looked away.  “That is kinda weird,” she thought for a moment.  “Well then I hope mine’s not closed.  I have to go.”  She pushed the bed covers off of her and stood up, she reached for her dress, it hung on a hook next the bed.

“You can take off work one day can’t you?”  Niro laughed.  Aradia pulled the dress over her head and down her body.  Niro playfully pushed her back onto the bed.  “Please, for once?”  Aradia laughed again.

“No,” she said as she tried to stand up.  Niro fell forward, pushing Aradia onto her back.  He held himself above her.  “Niro,” she cried.  “I have to get to work.”

“No you don’t, you can just go in late.”

“Did you see the sky?” she pleaded.  “I’m already late for work.  Madame Singer’s gonna be pissed.”  She began to laugh.  Niro feigned a serious expression.

“If you’re laughing about it,” he stated flatly.  “Then it can’t be that important.”  He smiled again, leaning down and kissing Aradia’s head.  She stared into Niro’s blue eyes.

“I guess,” she shrugged, “I could go late.”  Niro bent down to kiss her nose.  Aradia pushed herself farther onto the bed, smiling at Niro.  He leaned over Aradia and kissed her lips. Her back arched lightly as he stroked her belly with his paw. Aradia suck her tongue in between her lips and pushed it into Niro’s mouth.  He kissed her neck, then her shoulder.

There was a loud knocking sound at the door.  Niro stopped, his lips gently pressed against Aradia’s fur.  The knock came again.  They could hear some faint yells from the other side of the door.  “Niro,” the voices called.  “Niro, we know you’re in there.”  Niro turned back to Aradia, she had a sense of longing in her large, purple eyes.  Niro frowned.  He leaned down and kissed Aradia on her waiting lips once more, and stood up.  He reached for his pants on the floor and sat on the bed to put them on.  Aradia crawled up behind him.  She clasped her arm around his furry chest.

“Where are you going?” she whined slightly.  She kissed Niro’s neck while stroking his fur.

“I’m just going to see what’s up,” Niro stood up, tightening his pants around his waist.  He walked to the door and opened it.  On the other side stood three other cats from Niro’s work: Toni, Jamyraqui and Tim.

“Hey, Niro,” Toni chuckled.  “Works closed and we decided to go to the bar for a few drinks.  You up for it?”  Niro looked down.

“Sorry, Toni,” he said after a moment.  “I think I’m just going to stay home and relax.”

“Whatever, man,” Toni’s smile shrank a little bit.  “You’re missing out.  Come on guys.”  He motioned to the other two cats and turned around and left.  Niro closed the door behind them and turned back to Aradia.  She was sitting on the edge of their bed.  Niro smiled at how beautiful her curved body was.  She was facing away from Niro, her tail swayed back and forth slowly.  Niro walked toward the bed.  He crawled across the soft surface to Aradia.  He kissed her neck and she flinched a little bit.

“You should go with your friends,” she turned to Niro.

“No,” Niro leaned close to Aradia.  “I want to stay home with you.”

Aradia pushed away.  “I’m not staying home.  I have to go to work.”  She pulled the dress over her head.  Niro sighed.

“Fine,” he said.  “I’ll tell you what: meet me at the top of the city before the sunset.”  Aradia looked up.  “I’ll have a surprise for you.”  Niro picked up his shirt and pulled it down over his head. Aradia brushed the wrinkles out of her dress.  Niro walked toward the door.  He opened it and turned around.  He smiled at Aradia.  “Eat your breakfast,” he said and he closed the door.

Aradia chuckled to herself.  Her eggs were still warm.  She sat on the bad and finished the breakfast that Niro had prepared for her.

Niro left his house, he turned and continued down the street.  He walked into the tavern.  It wasn’t too crowded.  He looked around for Toni and the others.  He couldn’t find them.  He walked slowly to the bar.  He sat down at one of the barstools.  A bartender stopped in front of Niro.

“Hey, sexy.”  Niro looked up.  She wore a bright blue blouse that was open at the top and her hands were busy cleaning the inside of a mug, and she had a wide smile.  “What can I get you to drink?”  Niro ordered a small drink and she filled it in the mug she had been cleaning.  Niro thanked her and looked into the fire on the other side of the bar.  The bartender sensed his unease.  “Whatcha got up you?”  She leaned onto the bar, crossing her arms under her breasts, exposing her cleavage.

“I’m just thinking.”  Niro sighed.  “I want to propose to my girlfriend tonight.”  The smile weakened from the bartenders face slightly.  “But I’m not sure if I should…”

“You know?” The bartender thought for a second.  “If all goes well,” the bartender’s eyes began to glow, “then tonight will be a night you will never forget.”  Niro smiled.

“Thank you,” he said as he sipped his drink.

“It’s my honour,” The bartender smiled.  “I guess I’ll see you around,” she called as she turned away and picked up another mug to clean.  “Those drunk bastards made a real mess for me to clean.”

Niro finished his drink and left the tavern.  He walked through the town, his new found hope was smiling on his face.  He walked down the street, but he stopped as he saw a bit of gray fur being pulled into an alleyway.  He turned into the alley to see five cats from his work, Jamyraqui and Tim were pulling Toni’s limp body down the alleyway.  The other two, J’ai and Isaq, who had been with Toni at Niro’s door that morning, were clearing stuff out of the way.  They looked up as Niro cleared his throat loudly.  Jamyraqui and Tim immediately dropped Toni’s arms.

“What the hell are you doing?”  Niro questioned as he approached the five cats.  Tim stepped forward, wiping his paws on his shirt.  His white face grinned at Niro.

“Well,” he started, hesitantly.  “Toni passed out at the bar so we’re gonna dump him off in this alley where that old witch dumps her shit every afternoon.”  He laughed again.  “That’ll be a rude awakening.”  The other cats laughed with him, but Niro just frowned.

“That’s so mean,” he pointed.  “Just because she keeps to herself doesn’t mean she’s a witch.”  He turned to walk away.  Jamyraqui called after him.

“Hey, do you want to help us?”  Niro stopped and turned to face the others.  Then he shook his head.

“You guys seem like you got it under control,” he called.  “Besides, I got plans.”  He turned around again.  But J’ai called to him.

“You gonna get it on with that chick of yours?”  He laughed.  Niro turned around again.

“I don’t see how that’s any of your business,” he stated with a smile on his face.

“Hell’s yeah!” they shouted as he turned and walked away.

The sun had become low on the horizon.  Niro went to the outskirts of the town and began to climb the hill.  As he reached the top, he could see Aradia, lying in the grass, waiting for him.  He walked to Aradia and sat down next to her.  He smiled to himself and looked over at Aradia.  She sat up and turned toward him.

“How was work,” he asked softly.  Aradia gave a small laugh.

“I should have listened to you,” she smiled.  “I should have stayed home.”  Niro smiled at her.  He reached touched his paw to Aradia’s leg.  She closed her eyes.  She placed her paw on his chest, gently pushing Niro onto his back.  She leaned over him, smiling.  “I have a feeling that I forgot to do something this morning, do you remember what it was.”  Niro furrowed his brow in confusion.  Aradia kissed Niro’s lips, pushing her tongue into his mouth.  “Oh yeah,” she said softly.  “It had something to do with this.  She pushed her body against Niro, and kissed him again.  Niro wrapped his arms around Aradia’s thin waist and rolled over.  Now, he was above her.  He broke away from the kiss for a moment.  Aradia grasped the hemming of Niro’s shirt and pulled it over his head, discarding it in the grass.  They kissed again.  Niro rubbed his paws down Aradia’s legs.  He reached the edge of her dress and began to pull it upwards.  Aradia hesitiated for a moment.  Niro saw this and stopped.  He looked into Aradia’s beautiful eyes.

“You’re not ready,” Niro whispered.  Aradia nodded her head slightly.  Niro leaned dow and kissed Aradia.  Then he rolled onto his back.  The sky began to turn pink.  They watched the sunset, Aradia was leaning on Niro’s shoulder.  They sat together, on the top of the hill, watching the sun disappear behind the horizon.  The sky turned from a bright pink to a purple, and then black.  The moon rose behind them.

He leaned back, pushing his paw further into the tall grass.  The glowing moon filled the sky, shining onto his face, making his eyes glow.  He smiled: the world was so peaceful.  He turned to Aradia, lying next to him.  He lifted one of his arms, sliding it around Aradia’s thin waist.  She giggled.

“Niro,” She turned to him grinning.  “What are you doing?

Niro smiled.  “You are so beautiful.”  He rubbed her belly with is paw.  Aradia laughed.

“Tell me something I don’t know.”  She placed her paw on his.

Niro leaned over her, looking into her large purple eyes.  Do you know that I love you?  He leaned in toward her and kissed her forehead.  Aradia laughed again.

“Yes,” she cried.  “I know you love me.  Do you know that I love you more?”  She lifted her head and kissed Niro’s nose.

“No, Niro smiled.  “I did not know that.”  He leaned loser to Aradia.  Are you sure?  You should check again…” he kissed her lips.  “Because last time I checked,” he kissed her again.  “No one could love you as much as I do.”  Niro kissed Aradia’s neck.  She smiled.

“Well, I guess I come damn close,” she giggled.

“But not close enough,” Niro rolled onto his back, sitting on the grass once more.  Aradia sat up, leaning her head on Niro shoulder.

“Look at that,” she sighed, staring into the stars above.  The lights of the city at the base of the hill were nothing compared to the vastness of the sky’s light above.  They seemed to stretch forever in every direction.  Aradia pointed to the stars.  “Look,” she said as her outstretched claw followed the path of a light descending from the sky.  “A shooting star!  Make a wish!”  Aradia closed her eye’s tightly, Niro followed.

Aradia turned to Niro after a moment.  “What did you wish for?” she asked.  Niro smiled.

“If I told you, then it wouldn’t come true.”  Niro crossed his arm.  A pout crossed Aradia’s face.

“Oh, come on!” she cried.  “Please, tell me.”

“Fine,” Niro didn’t want to argue.  “I wished that I could spend the rest of my life with the most beautiful cat in the universe.  Happy?”  Aradia’s smile soon turned into a gasp as Niro moved into a kneeling position.  “Aradia, my love, will you marry me?”  Aradia squealed.  She threw her hands around Niro, pulling him tight against herself.

“Yes,” she cried.  “Yes!”  She pressed her lips against Niro’s.  Niro saw a bright flash in his peripheral vision.  He quickly broke off the kiss.  At the bottom of the hill a fire had erupted in the city.  Clouds of smoke rose from the buildings below.  A fireball flew from the heart of the city, through the air, and into the walls of another building.  Niro couldn’t help but watch as his home burned slowly, to the ground.

He ran down the hill stumbling slightly on a small rock.  As he approached the city, he could feel the heat of the blazing destruction.  He slid to a halt as a building fell to his feet, a wall of glowing embers.  The building shattered into an explosion of ash and sparks, raining over Niro as he stood in fright.  The sparkling wall ignited as small clump of grass by Niro’s feet.  The blaze grew as Niro backed away.  Soon, it was almost as tall as he was.  It grabbed at the sky, driving Niro backwards.  Niro turned and ran back up the hill from which he came.  Aradia was standing, now, awaiting Niro’s return.  Niro looked into Aradia’s eyes, his own were wet with tears.  Aradia saw this and she knew that it had been destroyed.  Their entire city had been turned into a sea of ash and soot in a matter of bright, fiery, explosive moments.

Niro and Aradia sat on the hill, Aradia was curled up in Niro’s arms.  Her tears still rolled down her dark face.  Together, they sat watching the blaze diminish and slowly, they were stolen away by sleep.

Niro sat on a barstool, his paws covered a small mug filled with a warm dark beverage.  There was a thin wave of steam rising from the still liquid. On the other side of the bar, a fire stood crackling in a hearth, reaching for the air above but falling back to the logs below.  The flame flickered back and forth.  Its glow held Niro’s sight, intoxicated him.  Niro was thinking.  He had plans for that night.  He was to meet his girlfriend, Aradia before the sunset.  He wanted this night to be special.  He wanted to make this a night that she would never forget.  He wanted to propose.

“Hey, sexy.”  Niro looked up.  A cat stopped in front of Niro, she had dark blue fur and she was wrapped in a white, mesh robe.  “Whatcha thinking about?”  Niro glanced back at his drink.  He had been sitting there for some time, but he hadn’t actually drunk anything.  The bartender had sensed his unease.

“I’m just thinking.”  Niro sighed.  “I want to propose to my girlfriend tonight.”  The smile weakened from the bartenders face slightly.  “But I’m not sure if I should…”

“You know?” The bartender thought for a second.  “If all goes well,” the bartender’s eyes began to glow, “then tonight will be a night you will never forget.”  Niro smiled.

“Thank you,” he said as he stood up from the stool.

“It’s my honour,” The bartender smiled.  “I guess I’ll see you around,” she called to the black cat, who was now walking towards the door.

Niro opened his eyes, Aradia’s head was leaning on his shoulder.  He smiled and slowly drifted back to sleep.

The sun rose on a sea of ash and pieces of what had once been a great city.  He could see his fellow citizens, searching the rubble for lost belongings, mourning over the deaths of their families.  He too sifted through the remains of his home, searching for anything that could have survived the attack.  He picked through small pieces of stone, looking for something, anything, that could still be intact.  He heard some cries from behind him.  He turned to see a kitten, clawing at the ground around him.  A large wall was crushing his legs and tail.  He was pinned to the ground and no one could help.  Niro turned away.

A loud horn blared over the hushed murmur of the cats.  Niro knew its meaning all too well.  He left the splintered pieces and walked toward a growing group of cats.  They all crowded around a small stage, made of rubble from the previous night’s attack, one of the cats advanced onto the stage.  He wore the clothes of nobility, but they knew he was only a messanger.

“We,” he called, “are in great devastation.  The armies of the malicious Ferdinand have attacked our sovereign island.”  A whisper fell over the crowd.  “As we can see,” he continued, “his army of rodents has taken a very grave toll on our entire society.  And we have reason to believe that he has taken something of great importance from our royal treasury.”

“What did he take!” on of the cats called from the midst of the crowd.  He was soon followed by a loud hum of questions amongst the city-folk.

“We do not know exactly what it is that he took,” the cat on the stage replied.  “But I can assure you, it was very important.”

“Bullshit!” called another cat, “what could be more important than our village?” the crowd cheered in agreement.

“Yes, yes,” the speaker tried to calm the crowd.  “I know this is very important to you.  But, this is a very serious situation.  Which is why our beloved king has ordered a draft of all able cats to travel to the far island of the rodents,” the crowd began to boo, “and to defeat Ferdinand’s army, and retrieve what is rightfully ours.”

The crowd was in an uproar.  Niro could hear cats shouting:  “What about our city…let Ferdinand keep it…we don’t want to provoke anything…fuck that shit!”  Some of the cats began to proceed to the stage.  The speaker atop it began to yell.

“As stated by the king, all abled bodies MUST partake in our reactive attack!”  The cat stepped down from the stage and away from the proceeding mob.  He turned and ran as fast as he could down the road, many cats chased after him.

Niro returned to the remains of his home.  Aradia sat on a piece of a broken wall, her face in her paws.  Niro touched her shoulder gently.  She looked up.

“It’s gonna be alright,” he said softly.  Aradia’s eyes were filled with tears.  “I have to go to the rodents’ island.  It shouldn’t take long.  All we have to do is take whatever it is that they took back, and then I can stay with you for the rest of eternity.”  Aradia cried and she flung her arms around Niro.

“It’s not fair!” she cried.  “You could die!  You’ve seen what they did to our city; just imagine what they’ll do when they’re attacked.”  She hugged Niro.

“I’ll be fine,” Niro forced a smile.  “Don’t worry about me.  I’ll be back before you know it.”  But Aradia could not let go.  She continued to cry on his shoulder.  He hugged her gently.  She pulled away to look into his eyes.  She parted her lips slightly and pressed them onto Niro’s.  After a moment, Niro pulled away.  He quickly turned away, still holding Aradia’s paw.  As he walked away, he let Aradia’s paw slip out of his own.  He continued to walk toward the city’s centre, not looking back to see his Aradia.  He slowly wiped a tear from his eye.

Niro stood in a long line leading from a small palace all the way to the city’s centre.  By now, the other cats had pitched a small village of makeshift tents where they could spend the nights.  Niro was slowly inching toward the palace entryway.  Cats were leaving the entry way carrying swords, shields, and pieces of armour, muttering under their breath.  Niro reached the small palace, inside were shelves and racks of weapons and armour.  There were three armoured cats handing out arms to the others trickling in.  One of them thrust a small heap of metal into Niro’s arms, and then he turned and did the same to another cat.  As he left the armoury, he looked at his new weapons.  He lifted the sword by its handle.   It was light, but not too light.  Its blade was stiff; he swung the sword downward and struck the ground, kicking up a large cloud of dirt.  He attached his shield to his forearm.  He weighed it in his arm.  The shield was made of molded planks of wood, surrounded by a ring of metal.  It was a little heavy.  He swung it back and forth, it pulled at his arm.  Before he knew it, Niro found himself on a beach.  Four large galleons sat, waiting in the harbour.  A long wooden dock stretched over the water to meet them.  The dock was filled with families, hugging their loved ones as they were being herded onto the waiting boats.  As he walked down the boardwalk, he passed crying wives and confused kittens watching their fathers and husbands leaving their families, their homes, their lives.

Niro saw a black cat leaning up against the railing wearing the same dress that she wore the night before; she was staring out onto the horizon.  Her tail swayed slowly from side to side.  Niro reached out, placing his paw on her slumped shoulder.  Aradia turned around; her eyes were filled with tears.  Niro dropped his sword and shield.  He wrapped his arms around Aradia in a close embrace.  He could feel her tears against his cheek.  They stood on the dock, in each other’s arms.  Niro pulled his head back, pushing Aradia away slightly.  Aradia looked into Niro’s sad eyes.  They pushed their lips together.  One last time.  There was a horn blaring.  Niro lingered for a moment longer before pushing away.  He leaned down to pick up his things.  Aradia wiped a fresh stream of tears with the back of her paw.  Niro stood up again.  He kissed Aradia once more on the cheek and turned away.

“Niro,” Aradia cried.  Niro stopped and turned around.  “I’m waiting for you.”  Niro turned and walked toward the nearest galleon.  After one last look, he boarded the ship.

Under the deck, Niro found himself surrounded by other cats; some were talking to others, playing dice, or laying in their hammocks, crying over their loved ones.  Niro found a vacant hammock hanging between two pillars.  He hung his sword and shield on the nails protruding from the wooden pillar.  He closed his eyes; Aradia’s crying face flooded his mind.  He opened them again.  He heard a light hum coming from near by.  He turned to see a red cat, swinging his hammock from side to side, humming loudly to himself.  The red cat sensed his being watched and twisted in his hammock toward Niro.

“Hey,” he said.  “How’s it going?”

“Um,” Niro looked confused.  “Do I know you?”

“Probably not,” the cat smiled.  “I’m Cameron.”  He thrust out his paw.  “What’s your name?”

Niro thought for a moment before moving his own hand.  “Niro.”  Cameron shook his paw.  “So, d’you know what the hell we’re doing here?”

“I don’t know,” Cameron replied.  “Something about finding something, or something.”

“Great,” Niro moaned.  “We’re going to some random island to get something that we don’t even know what it is.”

“Yeah,” Cameron replied.  “I heard this Ferdinand thing has the most vicious army in the entire universe.”

“That probably justifies what he did to our island.”

“I heard there are these prairie dogs that dig around under people and then they pop out of the ground and eat them alive.  And they can devour and entire army in a matter of moments.”

“Yeah, that’s…”

“And some of his agents are so sneaky that you can’t even see them until they almost eaten half of you.  That would be so freaky, just to have your leg being devoured and you don’t even notice until you look down and see like a groundhog or a squirrel or a raccoon or something like that just going to town on your flesh.”

“Wow, um.”

“Wouldn’t that be so creepy?  Huh?”

“Listen, uh,” Niro started.

“Cameron…” the red cat continued.  “My names Cameron.”

“Um, Cameron,” Niro continued a little hastily.  “I’ve got a lot going through my head right now.  I’m just going to go to sleep…now.”

“Yeah, no,” Cameron smiled.  “It’s been a long day: first our city gets blown up, and then we get drafted.  Yeah, sleep is good.  It was nice talking to you, Niro.”

Niro turned away from Cameron, closing his eyes once more.  The image of Aradia slowly led him the way to sleep.

Niro stood on the deck of the ship.  It was as light as day, but when he looked into the sky, he saw that it was night.  He could see millions of stars, all of which were reflected onto the sea, as smooth as glass, below him.  He walked to the railing of the galleon.  He could not see where the sky ended and the sea began.  He heard a laugh from behind him, a light chuckle. He turned around to find a dark blue cat floating in the air.  Her eyes glowed white and she was wearing a white, see through robe.  She smiled has she drifted toward Niro.

            “I told you that you wouldn’t forget that night.”  She laughed.  The boat gave a lurch.  Niro was knocked off his feet.  He toppled over the low railing.  He screamed silently as he toppled toward the water, which had now become violent.  He fell, head over heels down the side of the massive ship.

            Niro fell hard on the wooden floor of the ship.  He sighed in pain as he got to his feet.  He looked up to see Cameron staring at him.  “Dude,” he said.  “It took you, like, forever to fall out of your hammock.  You were all” Cameron made wooing noises as he waved his arms around his head.

“Um,” Niro turned away.  “That’s weird.”  Niro brushed off his shirt and turned toward the ladder.

Niro climbed the ladder as quickly as he could, clutching his sword and shield.  Soon, he was on the deck, the sun left him nearly blind for a moment.  He looked around some of the cats were trickling to one end of the ship.  They filed, one by one, down a skinny ramp onto a rocky beach.  Past the beach lay a forest, but at the opening of the forest, a small setup of tents sat.

Niro followed the other cats to the tents.  The tents had large domed roofs.  The cats slowly gathered inside the largest of the tents.  They took seats on the ground in rows, lining away from a wide stage in the front.  Niro joined his fellow soldiers on the ground.  As the last of the cats trickled in, an orange, armoured cat paced to the front of the tent.  He took brisk steps toward the stage, and then stood atop it.

“Soldiers!” he called over the conversing crowd.  They other cats fell silent.  “Soldiers, you all know why you are here.  We need to take back what’s rightfully ours.  And we need to take it back by any means necessary.  Ferdinand’s army is ruthless, they have no reason to kill us, and thus they will stop at nothing until they have done just that.  The rodents can’t think.  They attack mercilessly.”  The cat began to pace across the stage.  “It is your job to, by whatever means possible, not die.  These rodents will not only kill you, but they will tear you apart, limb from limb, eat you, shit you out, and then kill you.  They WILL do anything in their power to make your deaths as painful and humiliating as possible.”

A cat leaned closer to Niro.  “This is probably the worst inspiration speech I have ever heard,” he whispered to Niro.

“Soldier!”  The armoured cat on the stage stopped, staring at the cat next to Niro.  “Do you have something to say?” he yelled.

“N-no, sir,” the cat began to shake in terror.

“That’s what I thought.  Now, I know that this is not the most motivating speech, but you must be alert at all times, because these rodents are monsters.  Tomorrow, we will journey to their capital to take down their army.  We will take down Ferdinand, and retrieve what is ours.  May Korah bless us.  You are dismissed.”

Niro joined the other cats around a campfire.  They had received food from one of the tents that held stock of catnip.  They were told that this would be their last meal.  Cameron had found Niro through the crowd of cats.  He sat next to him around the campfire.  Cameron talked about what he had been doing before the draft.  He owned a small house on the outskirts of the city, but he never stayed there.  He said he had traveled the seas, but whenever Niro would ask about his exotic destinations, Cameron would only say “Oh, you know…”  It was his answer to all the islands.  Niro sat in silence, listening to the fire crackling; he could hear Cameron’s distant voice very faintly.

Along with their meal, they were also each given a single piece of parchment to write letters to their families.  Niro finished his nip and pulled out his parchment, he wrote a letter to Aradia:

My love,

            I know it has only been a few days since I have left, but I miss you as though it has been hundreds of years.  I can’t stand to be apart from you.  I don’t even know why the king ordered us to come to this wretched place.  No one knows what it is that we’re looking for.  They say it was very important and it was stolen from the royal treasury, I just don’t get it.  And then there’s Cameron.  It has only been three days and I already want to kill someone.  If only he was a rodent.

            I am currently doing well.  The ship ride lasted only two days.  I’ve stayed here since about noon (it’s night time now) and we’ve just finished setting up camp.  Tomorrow, we’re striking out to find the rodent’s capital.  The general said that we are going to die a horrible and painful death because the rodents are merciless and unforgiving. I don’t want you to worry about me.  I know this sounds horrible, but I want you to know that I’ll be fine.

            I know this is a grim thought to have, but if I don’t make it, I want you to move on.  If I don’t survive this, it’s only more proof that you don’t deserve me.  I want you do be happy, so if I die, I want you to find someone else, someone who makes you happy.  Please, promise me this.  I don’t know what will happen on this island, but I want you to know that I love you.  I love you more than anything else in the world, and I want you to be happy.

                                                                        Niro

            Niro rolled the scroll and stood up.  He walked toward the tent behind him.  Cameron followed close behind him.

“Hey, what’s that?” he asked.

“It’s a letter,” Niro replied, increasing his pace.

“Why?” Cameron pressed.

“Because I’m sending a letter to my fiancée,” Niro was slightly annoyed.

“Why?” Cameron ran to catch up to Niro’s pace.  Cameron was a fraction of Niro’s size, so his stride was significantly shorter.

“Because,” Niro walked faster.  “She might be worried about me.”

“Why?”

Niro stopped at the desk inside of the postage tent.  He picked up a piece of ribbon, tied the rolled parchment tightly, and placed it in a crate filled with other letters to be sent from other soldiers.  “Look,” he turned to Cameron.  “I don’t know about you, but I want to be well rested for our excursion, tomorrow.  So, I’m going to go to sleep, whether or not you decide to do the same is completely and utterly up to you.  Now, I will not force you to choose one option or another, but please, for the love of Korah, shut up!”

Cameron was taken aback, he waited a moment, looked at the ground.  He looked back up at Niro.  “Why?”

“Gah!”  Niro thrust his arms in the air.  He turned on his heel, and stormed off toward the tree line.  Cameron was close at his heels.  Niro broke into a run.  Cameron attempted to chase after him.  Niro ducked into the edge of the dark forest, hidden from the red cat who stumbled after him.  He climbed the nearest tree.  He went from branch to branch, shrouded by leaves, looking for where he had hung his sword and shield.  Once he found them, he curled up on the branch below, and drifted into sleep.

Niro awoke in the comfort of a soft bed.  Light was pouring in through the far window.  It took a while for him to realize where he was.  He was home.  He recognized the interior of his house. The walls, the curtains, the table, the bed.  He looked up to see Aradia sitting on the edge of the bed.  She wore a thin white robe.

            “Hello, Niro,” she said.  “You are not like the others.”  Aradia looked into her paws, still facing away from him.

            “What?” Niro questioned.  “What others?”

            “You have a greater mission,” Aradia continued.  Niro looked confused.  “You are greater.”  She turned around, but it wasn’t Aradia.  This was a different cat.  Instead of Aradia’s black fur, this cat’s was dark blue.  Instead of Aradia’s purple eyes, this cat’s eyes were glowing a pure white.

            “Who are you?”  Niro tried to inch backward.  “What do you want with me?”  The blue cat floated toward Niro, a smile crept across her face.

            “You know exactly who I am,” the blue cat drifted closer.  “And I have a special mission for you.”   She was now floating just over Niro.  “Only you can stop the greater evil.”  Her paw reached down and touched Niro’s chest.  “The others don’t know what they’re doing.”  She drifted closer.  Her face lay inches away from his.  “They just kill for the sake of killing.”  Her body fell onto Niro.  She began rubbing herself onto Niro.  “They won’t accomplish anything, they are cowards.”  Niro began to back away.

            “What are you doing?”  He cried.  “Stop, I’m about to get married!  Lady, please!”  The blue cat was taken aback.

            “Lady?” she cried.  “I am not mere mortal lady.  I am Korah; I am the goddess of the universe.”  A look of shock spread over Niro’s face.  But Korah’s continued to smile.  “I know you are worthy of this mission.”  She leaned in to Niro, placing her lips on his.  Niro tried to back away, but to no avail.  Korah held him fast.  Finally he submitted to the kiss.

Niro awoke in a branch in a tree.  Sunlight poured through the other trees in the forest.  He could hear the other cats shuffling below him.  He reached for his sword and shield, hanging in the branch above him.  Then he leaped from the branch landing next to the group on his feet.  They took little notice his sudden appearance.   He joined the group as they listened to the general giving a last minute speech.

“Now, listen here.  We don’t know what dangers these woods are holding back to release upon us, so be extra careful.  Stay on your feet.  And remember, stick together.”  He raised his sword and shouted.  The rest of the army joined his battle cry.  Then they turned and walked into the woods.

The army of cats marched through the thickening forest, scrambling over rocks and bushes.  Some of the more adventurous cats climbed trees to see if they could scout ahead.  They came into a clearing.  In the centre of the clearing sat three mountains of fur.  Niro reached for the nearest tree and began climbing.  When he reached the top, he could see three pandas sitting in the middle of the clearing.  They were eating what appeared to be bones.  Niro saw a brown cat running forward from the army, swinging his sword angrily.  The cat screamed across the clearing.  A few more cats followed him, waving their swords, as well.  The cats sliced into the bottom of the nearest panda.  A small fountain of blood sprayed the cats.  They began cheering.  The bleeding panda moaned quietly, it began to fall backward slowly.  One of the cats screamed, motioning to the others to retreat.  The panda began to fall faster.  The three cats that had proceeded turned and began to run.  They three cats pumped their legs as hard as they could, but to no avail.  One of the cats felt the panda’s fur against his head.  He pushed his legs.  His exit was closing fast.  The panda’s fat pushed down on the diving cat.  He managed one last scream before he was crushed under the massive weight.

The general thrust his sword into the air, yelling for an attack.  The army of cats rushed forward.  Even the ones in the trees leapt down, swinging their swords at the wide faces of the pandas.  The pandas swung their arms, throwing the small cats into trees and rocks.  Niro hesitated before leaping down from the tree.  His feet hit the ground and he bolted through the mess of flying fur.  He ducked as one of his screaming comrades was thrown over his head.  The cat smashed into a tree and fell to the ground limp.  Niro watched as his fellow soldiers died around him.  A large paw struck him in the back, lifting him off his feet and hurtling him through the air.  He swung his arms wildly through the air, hoping to grasp something as he toppled head over heel through the air.  He felt his paw strike a vine.  He grabbed it and continued to swing through the clearing.  He let go of the vine and fell toward a branch.  His foot hit his target, but it was surprisingly wet.  Niro slipped and fell off the branch, and as he fell, he stuck his claws into the tree’s bark.  He looked up to see blood covering the branch.  He followed the blood trail to see Cameron, impaled on the branch itself, it seemed to grow out of the red cat’s abdomen.  Cameron’s limb body was still grasping his sword.  Niro dropped from the tree, gliding to the ground.  He hid in the bushes and waited for this raid to end.

The cats soon claimed their victory, cheering loudly and running off into the forest, leaving their opponents to drown in their own blood.  Niro felt unfulfilled, he knew this was not going to end anytime soon.  He followed his troops through the forest. There was a chatter that had befallen the group.  Although they were lesser in numbers, their hope had increased twice over.  They had defeated the first of many adversaries.

Soon, the sun began to set.  The army stopped in a heavily thicketed area to make camp.  They had no food to eat tonight.  They just sat around the campfire and told stories of their epic victory from that day until, one by one, everyone was stolen into their sleep.  All of the cats slept well that night, except Niro.  He was uneasy.  He remembered his dream from the night before.  He thought about what it meant.  What could the goddess of the universe want with him?  Yet, Niro, too, fell victim to the evil clutches of sleep.

Niro found himself in the heart of that day’s battle.  But something was off.  No one was moving.  All the cats were stopped in their tracks, in mid slice, in mid scream.  Niro walked through the eerie scene.  He ducked under swords, and steered clear of splashes of blood, hanging in the air.  He saw a black cat, hanging in the air.  He slowly walked toward it.  The black cat’s back was arched in the air.  Niro turned to see its terrified face.  It was him.  Niro had been knocked into the sky by one of the pandas and was frozen there.

“Wow,” Niro said.  “Do I really look like that?”  Niro laughed at his twisted expression.  He heard a laugh from behind him.  He turned around to see Korah, standing in the air, smiling.  She wore a mesh, white robe.

“I think it’s funny, too,” she laughed.  “You should see the look on your face, it’s priceless.”  She walked toward Niro.

“Hey, hey,” Niro backed away.  “Don’t get all up on me.  Just tell me what the hell you were talking about last night.”

“Oh, yeah,” she glanced away.  “You remember this whole battle thing, right?”

Niro looked around, and then nodded.  “I’m standing right in the middle of it, how could I forget?”

Korah smiled.  “And you remember how you felt about it?”

“Yeah,” Niro replied.  “It was stupid, and useless, and it was not worth the casualties.”

            “And,” Korah continued.  “The others didn’t see that the way you did.”  He walked up to one of the soldiers.  “Take this guy, for instance.  He wanted to kill, kill, and kill some more.  Do you know why?”  Niro shook his head.  “Neither does he.  And that’s why he died.”  She continued to walk around the frozen soldiers.  “All these people don’t know why their fighting, or who their killing.  They’re just doing it.  And some of them would die, and some of them will run away like the cowards that they are.”

“So?”  Niro was utterly confused.  “Why do I need to know all this?  Holy crap, am I gonna die?”  Niro began to panic.  “Shit, if I’m gonna die, would you tell me?”

“Calm down,” Korah said.  “You’re not going to die.”  Niro sighed.  “Yet.”  She laughed.  “I’m kidding.  Geez, spazzoid.  But you know what you have to do.  And if you can’t figure it out, it’ll come to you in the right time.”

“That doesn’t answer my question,” Niro was confused.  “What am I supposed to do?”

“I’ll tell you later, but now, you need to wake up.”

“What?”  Niro sat up, the sun was on the horizon.  The other soldiers had just begun to pull themselves together.  They were tired because they hadn’t had any food and they had been celebrating their victory until the early hours of the morning.  They began to get up and look around for their swords and shields.  Niro turned around, stretching.  The general marched through the chaos of the sleeping cats shouting.

“Get up, you kittens!  Rise and shine!  We need to get a move on!”  The other cats got to there feet and joined each other in a group around the general.  “Today’s the day!  Today, we raid the rodent’s capital city.  And this is how were going to do it.”  He motioned to the surrounding cats to move backward and he cleared a space to draw a layout in the dirt.  He drew out a circle, scratching at the dirt with his sword.  He drew an X in the centre of the dirt circle.  “This is where the capital building is.  This is where Ferdinand is staying.  This is where we think that Ferdinand is hiding our target.”  He drew four Xs around the edge of the circle, each evenly spaced, and each more terrifying than the last.  “This is where the rodents have stationed four watchtowers.  A soon as we are near enough to them, they’ll be tracking our every move.  Our plan is to take out these towers as soon as we can.  That way, we can safely infiltrate the rest of the city undetected.”

“But wont they…” another cat spoke up above the crowd, but he was soon silenced.

“Trust me,” the general replied.  “This going to work out perfectly well.  I’ve spent days preparing this plan.”

“But they only attacked us four days ago.”

“Shut the fuck up!”  The soldier slumped backward sheepishly.  “Now that you know the plan, it’s time to execute it.  We are no more than a kilometer away from the rodents’ capital city.  So,” he hesitated for a moment, “let’s go!”

Cameron turned to Niro as the troops began to leave their camp.  “That’s it?” he cried.  “Just ‘let’s go?’  Why can’t he say something epic?”

“Whoa!”  Niro whirled around.  “I thought you were dead.”  Niro began to back away.

“What,” Cameron scanned the ground with his eyes.  “I’m not dead,” he stated after a moment.  “I’m right here.”

“No, no, no, no,” Niro shook his sword.  “I saw you, you were impaled of a tree.”  Cameron laughed.

“Impaled on a tree?” he cried.  “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”

“Clearly, you haven’t heard yourself speak,” Niro muttered under his breath.  “Are you sure you’re not dead?”

“If I was dead,” Cameron looked at Niro, “then could I do this?”  He jumped into the air and hit his paw against his feet.

Niro stood dumbfounded for a moment.  “Yeah,” he said with a slight tone of sarcasm.  “Yeah, you probably could do that if you were dead.”

“But seriously,” Cameron continued unaffected.  “Could you believe that battle call?”

Niro sighed.  “You know what you should do?  You should tell him to say something more epic.”

“Why don’t you tell him?”

“Because,” Niro replied. “I’m perfectly alright with ‘so let’s go.’  You could tell him.”

“I don’t want to,” Cameron pouted.

“Then stop complaining.”  Niro continued to follow the rest of the troops through the thick forest.  Niro felt the ground move under his feet for just a second.  He caught sight of a squirrel scampering through the trees above.  He moved closer to the rest of the group and continued on their trek.  As they proceeded, they began to see more sunlight ahead.  Further on, they could see a clearing, a large, circular field that held a wide pyramid in the centre.  As the general had said, there were four tall watch towers around the circumference of field.  Each one was built high with flaking pink brinks.  As they approached the nearest of the watch towers, the general laughed.

“This is going to be easier than I thought,” he walked toward the first of the watch towers.  “These things can practically topple themselves.”  He placed one of his paws on the watchtower.  “See?  It’s all squishy.”  The others’ laughs soon changed to horror as the general screamed.  His arm had fallen into the pink wall and he shouted as if something was eating him.  The watchtower pulled the general off of his feet.  He kicked and screamed and he reached for his sword.  The cats began to back away, leaving the general to fight the pink-bricked wall, stabbing and swinging his sword violently.  The general’s head was pulled into the depths of the wall.  The other cats could hear his muffled screams as his body continued to flail in search of escape.  Then, as abruptly as it had come, the screaming ceased and the generals body fell limp, and was easily ingested into the wall.  Some of the cats fled in horror as others stood their ground, paralyzed in fear.  On the distant edge of the field, they could see the other watchtowers, slowly falling apart.  The pink bricks fell to the ground in masses.  It was only then that they saw the newly formed sea of pink begin to move across the ground.  Then the nearest tower, the one that had swallowed the general, began to shake.  It erupted in an explosion of high pitch squeals, then cascaded a shower of naked mole rats into the helpless army of cats.  Niro threw up his shield, defending himself from the raining onslaught.  Some of the soldiers were struck down in their surprise.  The blind mole rats piled onto those who were unfortunate enough to be pinned to the ground.  Niro and a few other soldiers, holding their shield above their head, fled the gruesome scene, they tripped over the mole rats, eating away at the living corpses of their comrades.

Niro’s small battalion inched forward, warding off the attacks of the mole rats with not but their shields.  Niro felt the ground shake again.  But this time the others felt it too.  Something was burrowing under them.  Cameron screamed as a meerkat burst from the ground in a cloud of dirt.  It was soon followed by a stream of prairie dogs and meerkats latched onto the screaming red cat, and they began to pick away at his flesh.  The small group soon left him, narrowing their formation to accommodate the lost space.  The group inched their way toward the pyramid in the centre of the field.  They could still hear the screams of their comrades being eaten by the naked mole rats, and the scream of Cameron, who was being torn apart by prairie dogs.

But they also heard the sound of something larger.  Something coming toward them.  Something coming fast.  Niro looked around his shield.  He could see a herd of capybara galloping toward them, each one was the size of at least four cats.  They trampled everything in their path.  Smaller rodents squealed as they were mercilessly killed under the feet of their larger companions.

“Run!” Niro screamed over the noise of their battle, each of the cats dropped their shields and ran toward the pyramid.  The capybaras chased after them, kicking up clouds of dirt in their wake.  Niro ran as fast as he could but his foot hit a rock.  The momentum carried him forward and his face slammed into the dirt.  He rolled onto his back.  A capybara was advancing on him quickly.  Niro grasped his sword more tightly as he began to scoot himself backward.  The capybara was upon him.  He thrust his sword upward, into the rodent’s chest, showering himself in its blood.  It moaned loudly before toppling sideways.  Niro scrambled to his feet and continued to sprint toward the pyramid.  The others were already at its base, warding of the advancing hordes and searching desperately for an entrance.  Niro caught up with his fellow soldiers.  He began to climb the pyramid, soon followed by the others.   The rodents bit at the heels at the cats as they scaled the massive structure.  One of the soldiers was too late. A nutria had grabbed his tail and pulled him down the side of the pyramid.  He screamed as a beaver began to gnaw on his legs.  The nutria began to smash his head and the screaming ceased.

Slightly flustered, Niro continued up the pyramid.  The cats followed him cautiously.  The walls of the pyramid were too steep for the rodents to climb.  After a few minutes, the cats made it to the top of the pyramid.  The top of the towering structure held a door.  The cats pushed the door open to reveal a stair case which winded down into the depths of the pyramid.  A single torch lit the top of the stairway, it cast its light on the brick wall and floor.  Niro took the torch out of its *wall torch holder adhesive metal swirly holdy thingy device* and held it in front of him.  It lit the way around the cornering stairway.  They walked slowly, carefully down the winding stairs.  The sounds of the outside were muffled by the thick stone walls.  It became quieter as they progressed down the stairs.  Their clothes were tattered and torn, and some of them descended with a slight limp from the rodents’ attack.  The stairs opened into a wide chamber.  Tall pillars held torches, lighting the hieroglyphs on the walls.  In the centre of the room sat a short platform.  On top of the platform, there was a tall, shining scratching post.  The firelight glittered off of its edges.  As they approached, they could see that its surface was made of a tiny grid of silver jewels.  The group of cats let out a synchronized gasp.

“It’s,” stammered one of Niro’s soldiers.  “It’s a diamond scratching post.”  He reached out to scratch at it, extending his index claw.  A slim flake of his claw fell to the floor.

“Wow,” exclaimed Niro.  “That’s almost completely useless.”

“Yeah,” agreed another cat.  “But it’s shiny.”

“Is that what they took?” asked another soldier.  “I mean, was it really worth it for something like this?  It doesn’t even get scratched.”

“Yeah,” a white cat responded, his face was splashed with blood.  “But it must be worth a fortune…”

“We could sell this in the trade district and use the money to rebuild our city,” suggested Niro.  The others muttered their agreement.  Niro heard a grunt from behind him.

“This is anticlimactic.”  Niro turned around to see Cameron.  He was hunched over and his clothes were torn to shreds.  The others turned to him.

“Hold up,” Niro spoke after a moment.  “Dude, you’re dead.”  The other cats looked around in confusion.  Cameron looked uneasy.

“No,” he laughed nervously.  “No, I’m right here.”  The others glanced at each other.

“No,” one of them spoke up.  “We saw you die.”  There was a pause.  “Unless…he’s a demon!  Get him!”  The other cats ran towards Cameron, waving their swords wildly and yelling.  Cameron turned and began to limp toward the bottom of the stairs.  Niro gripped his sword and chased after him.  He pushed Cameron to the ground and swung his sword upward.  He thrust his sword into Cameron’s back, through his heart.  A small fountain of blood squirted upward into Niro’s face.  Cameron fell limp.  His eyes emptied as he crumpled onto the ground.  Niro removed his sword.  He joined the others and walked back towards to scratching post. They surrounded the platform, looking for a place to grip the tall, jewelled scratching post.  There were only six cats.  Four of them formed two rows on one side of the post, the other stood on the opposite side.  The two cats placed their paws on the post.  They pushed it toward the other four cats.  It fell onto their cradled arms.  They held it up and the two cats joined them in carrying the heavy structure.  They waddled slowly toward the base of the stairs.  They carried the post over Cameron’s lifeless corpse.  They stopped when they heard a low, rumbling sound.  The platform began to sink into the ground.  The walls of the pyramid shook, raining dust onto the helpless cats.  They erupted in a sea of yells and commands as they tried to carry the heavy post.  The rumbling ceased and the panic slowly quieted. The cats looked around the room.  Toni paused, staring through a dark tunnel in one of the walls.  He turned to Niro.

“Um,” he started, scratching behind his grey ear.  “Was that there before?”  The others followed his gaze, staring in confusion at the darkened doorway.

“What?” Niro exclaimed.  “Where did that come from?”

“I think it just showed up,” offered Marc.  “I think that’s what all the rumbling was all about.”

“Where do you think it leads?”  Jamyraqui walked toward the open door cautiously.  Niro handed him a torch from the *wall torch holder adhesive metal swirly holdy thingy device* he took it in his paw and continued down the hallway.  He ran the torch near the wall.  He could see the hieroglyphics carved into the stone.  There was a pyramid, on the side of the pyramid a large flower ejected from a small square.  He reached the end of the tunnel.  There was a flat wall, on the wall was a picture of a forest and ocean.  He pushed the wall and it opened slightly.  The light poured into the dark tunnel, revealing a massive horde of ワンdering rodents picking at the dirt.  They had finished their meals of the other soldiers.

Jamyraqui closed the door quickly.  He used the torch to scan the rest of the tunnel, there were barrels lined up against each of the walls.  Jamyraqui opened the lid of the nearest one.  It was filled to the brim with gunpowder.  He turned away and ran back down the tunnel.

He emerged from the darkness smiling.  “Hey guys,” he called.  The turned around to face him.  “I got an idea.  Inside the tunnel, there’s a door.”

“What?”  Toni looked astonished.  “A door? Where does it lead?”

“Outside.”  Jamyraqui beamed.  “There’s also a shit load of gunpowder.  What we can do is get the rodents near the gun powder and blow them into next year.”  The other cats smiled, sharing in their comrade’s excitement.  “So come on, let’s blow this joint.”  The other cats followed Jamyraqui, running down the hallway.  They came to the end, where the door was, and packed the barrels tightly to it.  They took one extra barrel, dumped half of it into the massive bomb pile, and carried it back to the main chamber, pouring out a thin line as they went.  Jamyraqui leaned over the barrels to push open the door.  “Hey, you stupid rodents!” he yelled to the outside world.  “Get your fat asses over here!”  The rodents seem to take no notice.  He returned to his comrades in the main chamber.  “They’re no buying it,” he panted.  “What now.”  Niro looked around the chamber then his eyes spotted the answer.

He walked toward the corpse of Cameron, who was lying in a small pool of his own blood.  He hauled the lifeless body over his shoulder and carried it down the hallway.  He heaved Cameron over the barrels and turned around.  The rodents could smell the blood and rotting flesh.  The turned toward the opening of the pyramid and walked toward it, hungry.  Niro ran back down the hallway.  “Light it!” he cried.  “Light it now!”  As he ran down the dark tunnel, he passed a spark, fleeing toward the outside.  He entered the chamber and slowed down.

They watched as the spark got dimmer and dimmer down the tunnel until finally, it disappeared.  The cats waited.  They heard a scream from the other end as Cameron spawned to find himself being eaten by hungry rodents.  Then suddenly, there was a giant explosion that shook the entire pyramid.  The cats were knocked off their balance.  The fire blew out of the side of the pyramid, immediately engulfing and incinerating all of the rodents in its path.  The fire when the fire receded, the cats walked through the tunnel.

Near the end of the tunnel, the walls were covered in char.  The door lay askew and burnt a few metres out.  As the smoke cleared, they could see the burning corpses of the rodents laying around the entrance.  The cats stood in awe of the beautiful destruction that they had caused.

“Dude,” was all that Niro could say.  The others agreed silently.  They returned to the chamber to retrieve the post and carried it victoriously, as if it were the trophy of their war, into the open air.  They walked through the open field, bowing their heads slightly as they passed their half eaten comrades.  They continued through the forest, carrying their prize over the rocks and bushes.  They passed their last camp.  The trek seemed shorter now.  They entered a clearing, smeared with blood.  Red rivers flowed from its centre where three giant pandas lay in their own demise.  They bowed their heads again to their soldiers but laughed as the giant pandas.  Soon, they reached their first camp.  They could see where the tents had been set up, where the campfires had been.  Near the beach sat a large, wooden crate.  They loaded their prize and the crate onto the ship.  As they boarded, Isaq spoke up.

“Do, we know how to sail this thing?” he asked.  The others looked around.  Toni laughed.

“It can’t be too hard,” he coughed.  “I mean, it’s just a ship.”

“Yeah,” replied Isaq.  “But, can just six guys sail an entire galleon?”

“Shit,” Niro cursed.  “What the hell happened to all of the sailors?”

“They probably died,” J’ai replied.  He had stayed silent for most of their return.  “Between the pandas and the mole rats, a shit load of us were taken out.”

“Well,” Niro calmed down, “that would explain why there are only six of us.”

“So do we just sit here and wait for high tide?”  Isaq said after a moment.

“I guess so.”  Toni sat down.  They others joined him.  After an hour of waiting, Tim looked up.  His white fur had been stained red with blood.

“Do we have any food?”  The others looked up at him.  “Not to sound like a pig or anything, but I haven’t eaten for a while.  In fact, the last time we had a meal was before we massacred the pandas.”  There was a murmur of agreement.

“Let’s see if there’s anything down below,” Niro stood up, brushing off his pants.  He walked toward the ladder, soon followed by Tim, they descended the ladder in a large room filled with hammocks and crates.  They searched through the crates, hoping to find food.  Finally, they opened one of the heavier crates.  Niro reached in and pulled out a bun.  “Yes,” he cried.  Tim cheered with him.  Niro stuffed one of the buns in his mouth and grabbed a handful for the others upstairs.  Tim found another crate which carried bottles and wineglasses.  He grabbed six wineglasses and a bottle and followed Niro upstairs.

The cats enjoyed their feast of bread and wine and before they new it, the sun had begun to set.  They sat on the deck, watching the sunset and laughing amongst themselves.  They told stories of their individual battles with the rodents and what they thought of the war.  As the moon began to rise, so did the tide.  It slowly lifted the ship.  The ship swayed from side to side as the cats clambered to different parts of the ship to prepare for sailing.  J’ai and Jamyraqui manned the ropes of the mast, Niro took the wheel, Tim and J’ai held the pushers at the ready.  After each count of three, they pushed the boat away from the shore.  They pushed again, and again until they were out at sea, then they joined J’ai and Jamyraqui at the mast.  Niro steered the ship away from the island.  A strong wind blew in their favour.

“Praise Korah,” he called over the roaring waters, “For giving us the wind to take us far away from this wretched place, letting us hold our prize, and taking us home!”  The others cheered from throughout the ship.  The moon shone upon the gleaming water, reflecting on the side of the boat.  They sailed through the seas on their way home.

Isaq, who a had climbed to the crow’s nest, gasped in shock.  “Niro,” he yelled down the mast.  “There’s another ship.  Maybe we can ask it for directions.”

“No,” J’ai yelled from the side of the galleon.  “No, we are not asking for directions.  We know exactly where we’re going.”

“Are you sure about that?” Niro called to J’ai.  “I, sure as hell, don’t know where we’re going.”  He called back to Isaq.  “Which way are they?”

Isaq hesitated for a moment.  “They’re starboard,” he called.  Niro turned the wheel to the left, turning the boat to the right.  “No, no, no!” yelled Isaq.  “Your other starboard.  Other starboard!”

Jamyraqui called up to Isaq.  “That’s called port, dumbass.”

“I knew that,” Isaq laughed.  Niro sighed and turned the wheel the other way.  The galleon turned toward the other ship.  After a few moments, they heard a piercing sound.  “What the hell was that?” Isaq yelled.

“I don’t know,” Niro replied, “I think it came from the other ship.”

“I told you we shouldn’t have gone to ask for directions,” J’ai sighed.

“Now’s not the time,” Tim called.  “What are we going to do?”

“Steer away,” Jamyraqui screamed.  “Steer away!”  Niro spun the wheel as fast as he could.  But to no avail.  The other ship was quickly gaining on them.  As they approached, the cats could see the crew of the other ship.  It was filled with scruffy dressed canines.  They smiled eagerly, bearing their cutlasses.  They growled over the sea at the fleeing cats.

“Prepare to be boarded, ワン.”  The cats heard a call from the other ship.

“I give up,” Jamyraqui put his paws on his head.  “I give up,” he repeated.  Niro shook his head.  He turned to Isaq, who was climbing down the mast.

“And you wanted ask for directions,” he called. The cats stood and watched as the dogs threw grappling hooks over the railings and mast.  In a sea of shouts and calls, they swung aboard the cat’s galleon.  Twenty or so dogs landed on their deck.  They watched the cats, slowly surrounding them, growling.  Another dogs swung from the boat.  She was dressed in finer clothing then the others, a silk blouse and a short skirt.  She stepped forward.

“Who is the captain of this ship, ワン?” she barked at the cats.  Five of the cats turned to Niro.  The dog marched up to Niro.  She was just shorter than Niro and she had pure white fur and a fluffy tail.  “You, ワン.  What is your ship doing out here, ワン?”  Niro paused for a moment.

“What?” he said finally.  “What did you say?”  The dog sighed.

“What…are…you…doing…here…ワン?” the dog pushed her snout closer to Niro, standing on her toes.

“We’re trying to get home,” Niro stuttered.  “And what the hell is ワン?”  The dog gasped, soon followed by the murmurs of the other dogs.

“What is ワン?”  The dogs eye’s widened.  She turned to another dog.  “Carli, tell this cat what the ワン is.”  She took two steps back to let the other dog advance.  Carli walked up to Niro, she looked him in the eye.

“The ワン is the call of the sea dogs,” she spoke quietly with a sweet voice.   She leaned toward Niro and motioned for him to do the same.  “And if I were you,” she whispered into Niro’s ear, “I wouldn’t insult the ワン around her.  Ever since Mari got kicked out of her throne, she won’t say a sentence without it.”

“Okay, okay, ワン,” the captain stepped in between the cat and dog.  “It doesn’t take that long to explain the ワン.  If you haven’t noticed, ワン, the sun gonna rise in the morning, ワン.  And I don’t want to be standing here when it does, ワン, talking about the ワン.  Take them away, ワン.”  She swung her sword in the air as a motion for them to leave.  Then she proceeded back to her own ship, mumbling ワン in her wake. Niro turned to Carli, who had grabbed his arm and begun to pull his towards the ship.

“How did you manage to get used to all that ワン,” he whispered has he followed Carli to the plank that had been placed between the two ships.  She shook her head.

“We didn’t.”  She swung her arm throwing Niro onto the deck.  He turned around to see Carli mouth the word “sorry” before she yelled “Get off the floor and into the brig.”  Niro obeyed with a confused look on his face.  Carli grabbed his arm again and pulled him under the deck, soon followed by his feline companions.  She threw Niro and the others into a cell and she locked the door.  She pulled a chair to the barred wall.  She sat in the chair pushing back to lean on the cats’ cage.  She hummed to herself.

“Shit,” mumbled Toni.  “How the hell did this happen?”  He was sitting in the cell with his back against the wall.

“I told you so,” J’ai said.  “You were all: ‘let’s ask for directions,’ and I was all: ‘No, lets not.’  And did you guys listen?  No, you didn’t.  And now we’re stuck here with a bunch of pirates and we can never get home.”  There was an eruption of contradictions and shouts as the others disagreed with each other.

“Guys,” Niro called over the argument.  “Shut the fuck up.  It doesn’t matter how we got here, all that matters is that we’re here, and we got to get the hell out.  So unless the next words out of your mouth are a plan to get out of here, shut up.”  Niro could hear Carli chuckle to herself.  There was a moment of silence.  Then Jamyraqui spoke up.

“Well, who the hell made you captain?”  The others agreed.

“You did,” retaliated Niro, “right before we got stuck in this.”  The others quieted down a little.  Then Niro had an idea.  He walked to the edge of the cell and whispered through the bars.  “Hey Carli.”  Carli turned around.

“What do you want?” she asked.

“You said something about your captain having a throne,” Niro started.  “What kind of throne?”

“Who?  Mari?” Carli questioned.  “She used to be a goddess.  But then that Korah came in and over threw her.”  Carli frowned a little bit.  “Why do you ask?”

Niro leaned back.  “Oh, no reason,” he said smiling.  He could hear a banging sound coming down the stairs.  Mari stomped on every step she took. Carli stood up quickly, standing at attention.

“Sit down, ワン,” she barked at Carli, who sat on the chair obediently.  She pushed her face into the cage, attempting to stare menacingly at Niro.  “You, ワン,” she barked.  “Are you suffering yet, ワン?”  Niro looked confused for a moment.  He glanced over to Carli, who was nodding her head obviously.  Niro looked back at Mari.

“Yes,” he stated.  “Yes, we are suffering.  Very much so, actually,” Niro added.  Mari stood for a moment.

“You’re a filthy liar, ワン,” she called.  “I know you’re not suffering, ワン.”  Niro slumped back sheepishly.  “I haven’t made you suffer, yet, ワン.  So if you hate now, you’ll hate the rest of your voyage, ワン.”  She pulled out her sword and pointed it as Niro through the bars of the cell.  Niro held up his paw.

“Yeah, about that,” he said quickly.  “I have a proposition for you.”  Mari furrowed her brow.

“If you’re coming on to me, ワン,” she pointed, “then it’s not going to work, ワン.  I don’t like guys, ワン.”  Niro was taken slightly aback.

“No, no, no,” he said shaking his head.  “No, I have a better proposition.”  Mari leaned in closed a little.  “It’s so good,” Niro smiled.  “It’s almost ‘Godly.’”  Mari smiled.  She turned to Carli.

“Open this cell, ワン.”  Carli obeyed.  She took a key from her belt and turned it in the lock.  The cell’s door sung open.  The cats cheered.  “Not you, ワン,” Mari frowned at the cats inside the cell.  “I want to talk to this one, ワン.”  She grabbed Niro’s paw and pulled them out of the cell.  The others stopped cheering.  Carli closed the door of the cell and locked it with a click of the key.

Niro followed Mari up the stairs to the deck.  The other dogs glanced at him with confused looks as they performed their duties.  Mari came to a door, opened it, and pushed Niro inside.  She closed the door behind her and clicked the lock.  She motioned to a small, cushioned chair for Niro to sit down.  He followed.  She sat in the chair across from him.  “So, ワン,” she folded her arms.  Her feet could not touch the floor when she was in the chair.  “Tell me about this proposition, ワン.”

“Well,” Niro took a deep breath.  “I have heard that you used to be a goddess.”  Mari nodded.  “And that Korah kicked you out.”

“That bitch, ワン,” Mari muttered under her breath, casting her glance to the floor.  She looked up at Niro again.  “Carry on, ワン.”

“I,” Niro started again, “have an idea of how you can get your throne back.”  Mari smiled, showing her pointed teeth.  “And,” Niro continued, “for a small price, you can retake your throne, and piss off Korah.”  Mari’s smile disappeared.

“What’s the small price, ワン?” she pressed.  Niro thought for a moment before deciding.

“You know,” he smiled.  “Nothing big, just the other cats and our stuff.”

“Or, ワン,” she suggested.  “I could give you your stuff back, and keep the cats as pets, ワン.”  Niro frowned.

“Or, you can drop the stuff and all of the cats back at our island.”

“Or, ワン, I can drop your stuff at the island and keep some of your friends as pets, ワン.”

“Why?” Niro started.  “Why would you want a cat for a pet?  All we do is slink around like we’re better than you.”  Mari nodded.

“Good point, ワン,” she agreed.  “How about this: I send all the cats and all the stuff back to the island when we go by, ワン, and then you can help me become the goddess again, ワン, and I give you back when I’m done, ワン?”  Niro thought for a moment.  Then he smiled.

“Yeah,” he lauhed.  “I think we can make that work.  So it’s agreed.”  Niro stuck out his hand.  Mari shook it.  “Now,” he said.  “We got to get to the cat island, then you can start your quest.”  Mari smiled.  She walked to the door.  She opened it yelled to the crew.

“Hey, set a course for the cat island, ワン,” she screamed.  “We need to drop off some cargo, ワン.”  Niro smiled to himself.

Aradia sat on the edge of the dock, hanging her feet over the edge.  She looked out into the sun setting on the watery horizon.  She saw a small spot in the sea; a shadow in the setting sun.  It came closer, bigger and more distinguished.  A look of shock crossed her face, then a smile.  She swung her legs onto the dock and turned around.  She ran down the dock, beaming, her dress whipping around her ankles.  She reached the street and continued running.  “They’re here!”  She called to the tall buildings.  “They’re back!”

Other cats poked their heads into the street.  The mumbled to each other before hearing the shouts once more.  They walked into the streets and gravitated toward the docks, both in pleasure and confusion.  Aradia circled around the town, shouting, before she reached the congregation.  She smiled among them.  “They’re finally back!” she cried.  The mass of felines walked onto the dock, watching the ship approached.  It seemed to last for ages.  Soon, they could see six figures on the bow of the ship.  They heard a mysterious sound and began to mumble to themselves again, questioning what they had heard.  But that soon ceased as they could see the cats standing on the front of the ship.  A tear of joy fell from Aradia’s eye as she saw Niro among the other cats.  The ship came closer.  There was no one on the deck aside from the six cats, a crate, and a gleaming post.  Although the cats had arrived home, they didn’t smile.

The ship docked.  The six cats carried the crate and the post onto the dock, hanging their heads.  The cats waiting for them saw that there was only them and began to cry.  Toni and Jamyraqui place the crate on the ground, away from the dock and opened.  They reached in and each pulled out a scroll, reading the outside.

“Mrs. Farkon?” Toni’s voice rang above the quiet sobs.  A white cat walked forward from the crowd, casting her glance at the ground.  She pulled at her tail nervously when she approached the crate and the soldiers.  Toni handed her the scroll.  Tears filled her green eyes as she took the scroll and opened it.  She read the letter, her eyes growing wider and wetter with each word.  As she read the last line, her feet gave way and she collapsed in a puddle of her own sorrow crying to the heavens.  Two other cats came forth and bent down by the bawling cat.  They held her under her arms and carried her into the crowd, still sobbing.  Niro picked up another scroll.  It said Aradia on it in handwriting that wasn’t his.  He placed it in his pocket and reached for another.

“Mrs. Talonn?” he called.  A small, orange cat came forth with a hopeful look on her face.  Niro handed her the scroll.  She held it close to her and returned to the crowd.  Jamyraqui held up a scroll.

“Mrs. Tarkin,” he called.  A tall cat with a stern face approached Jamyraqui.  She snatched the scroll out of his paw and cast it into the sea.

“I refuse,” she called over the crowd.  “My husband is not dead.”  Aradia could see a single tear roll down her fur.  “He’s not!” she repeated and stormed off toward the city.  Niro and the others continued to distribute the soldiers’ last words to their families.  Finally, there was one scroll in the bottom of the box.  Niro turned it over, it had no name.  Only Niro and Aradia stood near the dock.  The other five had left to join their partners.  Niro slid the ribbon off the end of the scroll and unrolled it.  It was almost completely blank aside from three words.  The top of the parchment read “dear” and nothing until the end, where it said “love, Cameron.”  Niro read the letter again.  He felt bad for Cameron; he had left this island with nothing to come back to.  Niro frowned.  And now, Niro thought, he’s in a million pieces, scattered amongst the bodies of their friends and their enemies.  Niro dropped the letter into the crate.  He looked up to see Aradia, smiling at him, her eyes were glowing in the purple light.  He reached out his hand.  Aradia took it.  They walked, hand in hand, home.

“How was it?” Aradia asked, sitting on the bed behind Niro, but she stopped herself.  “I don’t want to hear about it, I’m just so happy you’re home.”  She hugged Niro from behind.  He placed his paw on hers.  She smiled at him.  Niro turned around, looking into Aradia’s purple eyes.  She kissed his nose, gently.  Niro forced a smile.  He was a bit unsure.  Aradia kissed Niro on the lips, sliding her paw up his cheek.  Niro pulled his paw around Aradia’s waist.  He leaned forward, pushing Aradia onto her back.  She giggled a little bit.  Niro pressed his lips to Aradia’s neck.  Her back arched a little.  Aradia’s paws wrapped around Niro’s waist, pulling him closer to her.

There was a loud bang that filled the room.  Niro looked up to see the door on the floor, a small bit of smoke rose from it.  Mari stood in the doorway, five barrels of a gun were pointed at Niro from her outstretched paw.

“Say goodbye to your girlfriend, ワン,” she smiled.  “You have a goddess to make, ワン.”  She lowered the gun, which tapered to a handgun’s handle.  Aradia looked from the white dog to Niro.

“What is she talking about?” she looked into Niro’s blue eyes.  Niro looked uneasy, he stood up, off the bed.  Niro faced Aradia, keeping his side to Mari.

“Um,” Niro kept his glance away from his fiancée.  “We were captured by pirates.  And, um, to,” he continued uneasily.  “To get here and not be incarcerated and to keep the post so we have money to rebuild the city,” he injected, “I kinda, sorta, made a deal with their captain.”

Aradia looked at Niro in disbelief, then, after a moment, asked “What kind of a deal?”

“Oh,” Niro still looked uneasy.  “Nothing too major.  See she was a goddess, and now she’s not.  So, in return for our freedom, I have to help her retake her throne.”

“But,” Aradia said,  “Why?”  Mari stepped into their house.

“Because why the ワン not?” Mari looked intently at Aradia.  “Your boy, ワン, made a deal with me and now he has to keep his end up, ワン.”

“But,” Aradia started, but she was cut off.

“But nothing, Sexy, ワン,” Mari held up her giant gun once more.  “You got your boy back for a while, ワン.  And now he’s mine, ワン, until I’m done with him.  ワン.”   Mari turned and left, motioning for Niro to do the same.  Niro reluctantly followed, but not before he kissed his girlfriend one last time.  He stopped in the doorway.

“I’ll be back before you know it,” he whispered.  Mari shouted for him and he disappeared from the doorway.  Aradia sat on the bed in a humph, tears filled her eyes.

Niro jogged to catch up with the pirate.  “What the hell?” he called after her.  Mari slowed and turned to face Niro, walking backwards.  “I haven’t seen my girlfriend in, like, forever.  And then you come in and take me away.  I know we had a deal, but it could have waited.”  Mari’s smile disappeared.

“When I become a goddess, ワン,” Mari turned to walk forward once more.  “You can spend all the time you want with your little whore, ワン.”  Niro’s mouth fell open.  He stormed after Mari.

“She is NOT whore,” he called after her.  Mari turned to face Niro again.

“In, my experience, ワン,” she smiled, “every attractive girl that’s not my friend is a whore, ワン.”

“Well that’s not very nice,” Niro followed her to the docks.

“It’s worked out well so far, ワン,” Mari smiled at Niro and stepped onto her ship’s deck.  Niro followed her.  “Now,” she turned to him, smiling, “The faster you make me goddess, ワン, the faster you can get back to little miss cat ho, ワン.”  She turned and walked toward her cabin.

“Yeah, about that,” Niro hurried after her.  The other crew members began to prepare for sail.  “How exactly does someone become a goddess?  Is there like some magic or a totem or something?”  Mari opened the door to her cabin.

“Yes, ワン,” she closed the door behind Niro.  “There’s a magical totem of sorts, ワン.”  She sat down on a cushioned chair and offered for Niro to do the same.  “There’s this necklace, ワン.  It’s very magical, ワン, very powerful.”  Mari’s eyes lit up.  “It’s also very sparkly, ワン, ワン, ワン.”  She began to rub her paws together.  Niro leaned forward.

“And where is this necklace?” he pressed.  Mari laughed.

“Korah took it, ワン,” Mari smiled at Niro’s question.  “That’s why she’s goddess and I’m not, ワン.”  Niro slumped sheepishly.

“So you’re telling me,” he clasped his hands.  “That the power of the universe lies in whoever gets a necklace?”

“Yeah, ワン,” Mari leaned back.  “That’s pretty much how it works, ワン.  Now if I were you, ワン, I’d get some sleep, ワン.  I’ll let you share my bed because I don’t want the other dogs to tear you apart, ワン.”  Mari led Niro to her bed and he sat down on the edge.  It was soft and it sank under him.  Niro lay on his back.  Mari lay down next to him.  “Nighty night.”  She reached for a candle and blew it out, shrouding the room in darkness.

Niro sat in a warm pool of water.  Steam was curling up from its surface.  He heard quiet giggling.  A white paw traced a path over his shoulder and pressed against his chest.  He looked another paw came over his other shoulder and pulled him toward the stone edge of the pool.  There was a small ripple as Niro felt two more paws rub his legs, pulling them apart slowly.  A white head rose from the water.  A cat smiling at him, licking her white lips, drifted closer. The two paws on his chest slowly moved outward.  Two more white cats joined the first one in the water.  They leaned in closer.  One of them pressed her lips against Niro’s while the other two giggled.  The white cat kissed Niro, sliding her paw around his back.  She pressed her body against his.  The others were rubbing his fur.  Niro slowly fell to his back, landing on a soft bed.  The three white cats pressed themselves against him, moving there fur back and forth against him.  He heard a soft purr and the three cats disappeared.

A dark blue cat stood at the edge of the bed.  Niro looked down at her.  She was wearing a thin, white, robe.  She reached for its wide collars and pulled them over her shoulder.  The robe fell to the floor around her feet, leaving her body almost completely exposed.  She stepped onto the bed silently.  The only clothes she was still wearing was a veil around her waist.  She leaned forward and climbed over Niro.  She pressed her bear breasts against him fur, smiling.  She leaned her head next to his.

“It’s too late,” she whispered into his ear.  “It’s time to try again.”

Niro opened his eyes.  He could see the boarded ceiling of Mari’s cabin.  The sun poured through the window and Mari was sitting on a chair, watching Niro.

“Good, ワン,” she smiled.  “You’re awake, ワン.  It’s time to update me about how you intend to make me goddess, ワン.”

“Okay,” Niro thought for a moment.  “If you’re going to re become goddess of the universe, you are going to have to start acting like it.”  Niro smiled to himself.  “Starting with the ワン.”

“The ワン?” a look of fear crossed Mari’s face.  “But that’s the call of the sea dogs-”

“Which you will no longer be one of,” Niro interrupted.  “So lets give it a try.  Say: ‘I am Mari, goddess of the universe.’”

Mari hesitated for a moment.  “I am Mari,” she held herself back for a moment.  “Goddess of the universe.”  Niro smiled.  “ワン!”  The smile disappeared.

“If you want it, you’re going to have to try harder.  Try again, this time without the ワン.”

“I am Mari, w-” she choked a little bit.  “I am Mari.  Goddess of the Universe.”  She contorted her face and then she smiled.  “I am Mari, goddess of the universe.  I am Mari, goddess of the universe!” she cried.

“There we go,” Niro clapped his paws together.  Mari smiled.  “Now,” Niro looked down.  “We need to do something about those clothes.”  Mari frowned.  “Do you have anything less, um, scruffy.”  Mari looked slightly offended.

“You mean something less awesome?” Mari was taken aback.

“Well,” Niro started, “If you want this, you’re gonna have to work at this, too.”

“Fine,” Mari pouted.  “I think I have something in here.”  She walked toward a small chest.  “It’s what I wore last time I was goddess.”  She pulled a chain around her neck which led to a small key.  She fitted the key into a padlock on the chest.  With a click, the padlock opened.  Mari opened the chest and reached in.  Niro could hear metal rattling as she fished for what she was looking for.  Finally, she pulled out a heap of black cloth.  Niro couldn’t see an outfit out of it.  “What do you think?” she held it up in front of her.  Niro looked confused.

“I,” he stuttered.  “I don’t see it.”  He gestured with his paw.  “Maybe if you tried it on.”  Mari looked from Niro to the black cloth.  She looked back at Niro.

“Okay,” she said.  “Turn around.”  Niro turned around.  “Why is this so important anyway?  I mean, it’s just an outfit, you can rule the universe without it.”

Niro looked at the boarded wall.  “Yeah,” he agreed.  “But that’s not the issue.  Not only do you want supreme rule, but you also want to be taken seriously, right?”  Mari sighed.

“Yeah, that’s kind of important.”  She continued try on her outfit.  Niro still faced the wall.  “So, what exactly is your plan?”

“Well,” Niro said uneasily.  “I don’t actually have a,” he stopped when he heard Mari grunt softly.  “Are you alright?”

“Yeah,” Mari grunted.  “I’m fine.  It’s just…can you help me with this?”  Niro turned around to see Mari, half naked, fiddling with something on her pirate boot.  Niro walked over and knelt down by her foot.  The buckle of her boot was stuck closed.  “It must have rusted over from the salty air.  Niro pulled at the buckle.  He couldn’t get it open.  He pulled harder.  “Have you got it?”  Niro shook his head, still pulling at the buckle.  “Well you have to get it out,” Mari offered.  “Try pushing and then pulling.”  Mari moaned a little bit as the boot dung into her fur.

There was a sound at the door.  Niro looked up to see Carli, her eyes wide, staring into the cabin.  Mari smiled at her.

“Is there something I can help you with?” she smiled.

“No,” Carli’s voice was frightened.  “I’ll come back later.”  She walked backwards slowly, her eyes still wide.  She closed the door behind her.  Mari looked back at Niro.

“That was weird.”  Niro nodded in agreement.  “Well, if you can’t get it off, you can just cut it.”  Niro extended one of his claws and cut the strap of the boot.  Niro stood back up as Mari sat on the chair and began to remove her boots.  She tossed them each into the open chest on near the wall.  They landed with a clang.  Niro took a few steps back and turned to face the wall once again.  “So, do you know where Korah is?”  Mari pulled off her baggy pants and tossed them into the chest.

“She could be anywhere,” Mari stated. “But we’re heading to where she lives.”  She reached for the black cloth.  “The magical mountain of Ora, it’s where all the gods live.”  Niro looked at the wall, confused.

“You mean there’s more than one god?” he questioned.  Mari laughed.

“Not at the same time.  There can only be one god, or goddess, at a time.  You know?”

“I guess that makes sense.”  Niro rolled on his heels.

“Well,” Mari smiled.  “What do you think?”  Niro turned around.  Mari was wearing a black halter top with a silver pentagram in the middle.  Her black pants were held tight around her waist with a silver belt and flared out at the bottoms.  A silver barbed wire fell down the crease of her pants and circled the hem of her left leg.  She had two black arm bands on each arm, between the shoulder and elbow.  A cape came off her right shoulder and draped to the floor.  A large hood covered her eyes from the light, leaving her snout to protrude from the darkness.  In her paw, she held a small, black and silver stick.

“Wow,” Niro looked astonished.  “That’s, um, that’s definitely something.”  Mari smiled.

“I know, innit?”  She gave a small pose.

“What’s the, uh,” Niro gestured to the stick in Mari’s hand.

“Oh,” she laughed.  “When I get the necklace, this thing turns into a magic whip.”  She beamed at Niro, holding up the dormant whip.  “And my eye’s glow, too.”  She pulled the hood back, showing her face.  Niro could see a thick, black line falling across Mari’s right eye.

“Was that always there?”  Niro moved his paw across him own eye to show what he meant.

“What?” Mari looked confused.  “Oh yeah, that’s always been there.  Did you just notice?”

“Yeah,” Niro gave a nervous smile.  There was a knock at the door.

“Come in,” Mari called.

“Is that a ‘what do you want’ come in?” Niro could hear Carli’s voice on the other side of the door.  “Or is it an ‘I’m decent’ come in?”  Niro laughed to himself.

“It’s a ‘get the fuck in here’ come in.” Mari growled.  The door opened and Carli walked inside.

“We’re here,” she stopped in the doorway.  She pulled out he handgun and pointed it at Mari.  Mari was taken aback.  “Carli,” she pleaded.  “It’s me.  It’s Mari.”  Carli’s gun didn’t move.  “You know?  ワン?  Carli, it’s me?”  Carli didn’t lower her gun.

“If you are Mari,” Carli looked at her darkly.  “Prove it.”  She stepped closer.  Mari blinked.  “I’m waiting,” Carli stepped closer.  Mari pushed her gun away.  She pushed herself against Carli.  Carli remained stern.  Mari moved her lips to Carli’s.  Her eyes widened as Mari pushed her tongue into her mouth.  After a moment Mari pulled away.  Carli stood still, her mouth was slightly open.  Her eyes were closed lightly.

“There,” Mari stepped back.  “Now do you believe me?”

“I,” Carli stuttered.  “I don’t know what to say…”

“You could say ‘thank you,’” Mari smiled.  “Or, you can say ‘again please.’”  Carli looked confused.  Mari sighed.  “Passionfruit’s gonna be pissed.”  Mari kissed her again.  Niro turned and walked to the door.  He climbed onto the deck and closed he door behind him.  Over the railing of the ship, he could see a small beach.  The island was tiny, only twice the size of the ship.  In the centre of the island sat a small gazebo.  He could see a small figure walking around inside.  He walked to the edge of the ship and grasped the cargo net.  He looked up at the other dogs, staring at him.

“Are you guys not coming?” Niro looked up at them.  A black dog looked at him.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” he cried.  “We’re not going down there.  Last time anyone went onto that forsaken island, they never came back.”  Niro laughed.

“You actually believe that superstition?” he laughed as he climbed down the cargo net.  “That’s completely ridiculous.”  He leaped from the net and his feet kicked up some sand.  As he approached the gazebo, he saw two stone white tigers sitting by its entrance.  They lifted their heads and growled at the passing cat.  He pushed away the curtain.  The interior of the tent seemed significantly larger than he had thought.  He closed the curtain behind him.  The sky was a dark red inside the gazebo.  A tall castle stood a few metres in front of him.  He approached the open door and looked inside.  There was a small room with two other doors.  The first door read “STAIRS” and the other read “ELEVATOR.”  Niro looked from one to the other before choosing to open the second door.  Niro stepped into a small room.  On the other side of the door was a small plate of buttons.

“Let’s see here,” he read the buttons, starting at the bottom.  “Hell, Ground Floor, Repentance,” he moved his paw up, following the line of buttons.  “Complaints, Miracles.  Ah, here it is.”  He pushed the button second from the top.  It read “Divine Quarters.”  The doors closed and Niro felt a lurch as the elevator moved upwards.  There was a small ding at every floor that the elevator passed.

Finally, on the fourth ding, the elevator stopped and the doors opened.  Niro walked out of the elevator into a circular room.  The thick carpet felt like a cloud under his feet.  He looked down to see that he was not standing on carpet at all, and that he was in fact standing on a cloud.  He glanced around the room for something to tell him where to go.  There were three doors placed across the far wall.

“Korah,” he called as he walked across the room, his feet sinking in the cloud.  “Are you here?”  He opened the first door and looked inside.  There was another room on the other side.  It had tall windows across each wall.  But each window showed a different scene.  One had fish swimming in a vast ocean, and another had birds flying in the open sky.  Another window showed a jungle, teeming with life.  It was one window that held Niro’s attention.  On the other side of the window, there was a wide cave which had all kinds of animals running in panicked fear.  The walls of the cave were engulfed in flame and Niro could see the terrified expressions of the animals on the other side of the window.  Other than the windows, the room was empty.  Niro back out and closed the door.

Niro reached for the handle of the next door.  He turned it slowly and pushed it open.  A wave of steam emanated from the door, enveloping Niro.  He waved his paws through the air do dissipate the warm fog and he stepped forward.  He entered a circular room, the walls lined with pillars.  There was a doorway with a curtain that led to another room on the other side of a wide, circular pool from which the steam was coming.  On the edge of the pool sat a dark blue cat with glowing, white eyes, leaning against the edge.  Other cats lay around her, fanning her slowly with long palm fronds.  She smiled up a Niro.

“I knew you would come to me at last.”  Although she spoke quietly, her voice resonated through the room.  It was then that the other cats noticed his presence.  They looked up at Niro through the mist.  “Have you come to accept your quest?”

Niro stepped forward.  “I have come to find out what my quest is,” he replied.  Korah laughed.

“Even if you knew what it was,” she smiled at Niro, “is it not too late to commence?”  Niro looked confused.

“What do you mean?”  He took another step forward.  “What is my quest?”

“I do not want to discuss anything in such a hostile position,” Korah demanded.  “Please, join me in my bath.”  Niro hesitated.  “For only when you are comfortable, can the proper discussion begin.  Please,” she motioned for Niro to join her.  Niro hesitated again before he pulled off his shirt.  He dropped his pants to the floor and stepped out of them.  The cats around Korah began to giggle.  Niro stepped into the pool.  The warm water soothed his muscles.  He hadn’t properly rested in days and his soreness had caught up with him.  Soon, he was completely in the pool, the water curled around him.  “Please, sit.”  Niro sat on the bench under the water, only his shoulders and head were above the water.  Korah smiled.

“Now,” Niro began uneasily.  “Now we can talk about this problem.”  Korah smiled.  “Why is it too late for my mission.

“But before you question me, let me question you.”  Korah smiled, sinking deeper into the water.  Niro looked a little uneasy.  “Why did you go to fight the rodents?”

“I was drafted,” Niro started.  “The rodents took something and I was one of the ones to take it back.”  Korah held her paw out of the water for him to stop.

“That doesn’t answer my question,” her smile weakened.  “My question was why YOU travelled to the rodents’ island.  Not why the others did.”  Niro looked confused.

“I…I don’t understand.”  Korah smiled.

“Niro,” she said softly.  “Do you know how one becomes a goddess?”

“Yes,” Niro replied.  “There is a necklace.”  Korah stopped him again.

“And do you know how one becomes a god?”  Niro looked confused.  “To become a god, one must defeat a Greater Evil.”  Niro didn’t respond.  “Many moons ago,” Korah began to laugh.  “I’m sorry,” she cried.  “I just can’t keep talking like that.  Talking like everything’s all epic and whatnot.”  Her laugh faded and she continued with her story.  “So, back in the day, everything was divided either into good, or into evil.  Now, over time, the line between the two was blurred.  So some things were really good, and others were really evil, y’know?”  Niro nodded his head.  “But, even now, there are some really evil things and some really not things, but most of it’s in the middle.  Ferdinand is one of those really bad things, which we call the Greater Evil.  I know, it sounds epic.”  Niro smiled a little bit.  “And if someone kills one of these Greater Evil things, then they automatically become a god.”  Niro nodded.

“And you wanted me to kill Ferdinand?” he began to piece the pieces together.  “So I can be god?”

“So you can be my god?”  Korah pushed herself off of the pools wall and floated toward Niro.  She pressed her paw against his chest.  She smiled at Niro bringing her face closer.  Niro shifted uncomfortably.  “So I called the war, not only to make you my god, but also to find away to get rid of your girlfriend.”  Niro looked shocked, and then he looked angry.  He pushed Korah away.

“What the hell did you do to Aradia?” Niro reached out of the pool for his sword.  Korah smiled.

“I didn’t do anything,” she swam closer to Niro.  “She did it all by herself.  Look in your pocket.”  Niro reached from his sword to the pocket of his pants that were on the floor.  He took out the scroll that had said Aradia on it.  He pulled off the ribbon and placed it on the floor. He unrolled the scroll and began to read.

“Aradia,” Niro stuttered.  “Aradia was cheating on me?”

“Correction,” Korah swan closer.  “Aradia was cheating on…what’s his face…” she took the letter out of Niro’s paw to read the name at the bottom.  “She was cheating on Filp, with you.”  Niro looked down in disgust.  “But look on the bright side,” Korah continued, “At least she didn’t cheat on you.”

“But,” Niro cast his glance away.  “Filp was killed by the rodents.  He died like the rest of them.”

“Wrong again,” Korah smiled.  “Wow, you should be happy you’re not getting graded on this.  You see, you went to the rodents’ island on two ships, right?  A galleon and a sloop?”  Niro nodded.  “But when you guys left (which, by the way, I found very entertaining), there was only a galleon.”  Niro widened his eyes.  “So he and a few others took the sloop and high tailed it out of there before you guys actually killed anything.”

“That bastard,” Niro cried.  He sat in the warm pool, Korah pressed herself against him.

“That’s what happens,” Korah said.  “Sometimes shit hits the fan and your girlfriend is stolen.”  Niro took a deep breath.

“So,” he said.  “Now what?”  Korah smiled at him.

“Glad you asked,” she said.  “Ferdinand is useless without his vast armies,” Korah explained.  “And you just so happened to blow up his vast armies.  And so now he’s just a regular evil.  But you still need to find a Greater Evil.”

“What’s in it for me,” Niro looked at Korah.

“Glory, power, control of the universe,” Korah listed, “a hot ass wife.  What’s not in it for you?”  Niro smiled.

“So what do I got to do?”  Korah smiled and snapped her fingers.  Two of the other cats stood up and carried a white robe to Aradia.  She pulled herself out of the water.  Niro could see the droplets glittering off her curved body.  Her tail curved upward as she stood on the stone floor.  She took the robe from the servants and tied it around herself.  The other two cats came around the pool carrying a white pair of pants.  They held it in front of Niro, who climbed out of the pool and accepted the garment.  He pulled the white pants up to his waist.  They fit perfectly and were as soft as clouds.

Korah motioned Niro to follow her out of the door from which he had come.  They both stepped through the door onto the cloud floor.  Korah turned to the first door and opened it.  They walked through and she closed the door behind her.  The windows now showed something else.  Instead of the sea and sky, they showed a dark forest.  Monkeys swung from the trees howling loudly.

“These are the demon monkeys of Kondor,” Korah motioned to the windows.  “They are the nearest Greater Evil.  I want you to defeat them.  But this time, instead of blowing all of them up, I want you to only destroy,” she pointed to one monkey that was still, hanging upside down from a tree branch.  “That one.”

“That one?” Niro repeated.  He looked at the hanging monkey.  “It looks like it’s already dead.”

“No,” Korah countered.  “It is very much alive.  She’s controlling all the others with her mind.”

“She?” Niro coughed.  “I have to destroy a ‘She Greater Evil demon monkey telepath thing?’”  Korah nodded.

“And,” she added, “The sooner you can do that,” she pressed herself against Niro, “the sooner you can do this.”  She pressed her lips against Niro’s.  He felt himself warm up as if it had suddenly fallen back into the pool.  Korah lingered for a moment longer before breaking off.  “You should probably get going.  Good luck.”  Niro turned away and walked across the room.

He walked into the elevator and pressed the “Ground Floor” button.  The elevator dropped, and after four more dings, the doors opened once more and Niro got out.  He left the small room and, with one last look at the red sky, left the gazebo.  The stone tigers growled at him again and he walked across the sand toward the ship.  He climbed the cargo net up the side of the hull.  When he reached the top, Niro was greeted with confused looks by the pirates.  He returned the expression and continued to Mari’s cabin.  He opened the door to find Mari still kissing Carli.

“You two are still making out?” Niro cried.  “I was gone for, like, ten minutes.”

Carli looked confused as Mari broke off the kiss.  “You were gone?”

“You were only gone for thirty seconds,” Mari replied.  “A minute tops.”

“No,” Niro was confused.  “I left the ship, went into the magical tent thingy, went up the castle, talked to Korah…”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Mari’s arms were still wrapped around Carli’s waist.  “You went inside the tent?”

“Um, yeah,” Niro replied.  “That’s where I met Korah.”

“Well there’s your problem,” Mari laughed.  “Time and space don’t exist in that thing.  How do you think the castle got in there?”

“Oh,” Niro looked away.  “Carry on.”

“Well no,” Mari retorted.  “Now that you’re here, it’s all awkward.”  She looked at Carli.

“Unless,” Carli said.  She turned to Niro.  “Do you want to join?”

“No,” Niro gulped.  “I’m just gonna go to the deck.  I might help clean up or something.”  As Niro walked through the door, he could see Mari push Carli onto her bed, giggling.  He closed the door as Mari climbed over her first mate.  Niro looked around the ship.  The other dogs stared at him blankly.

“What did the captain say?” one of them spoke up.

“She said, um,” Niro thought for a moment.  “She said: ‘Set a course for Kondor.’”

A wave of chatter swept over the crew.  He could overhear a name: Margone.  Niro approached one of the crew mates who was tying a rope.

“Who’s Margone,” he asked.  The sailor took a deep breath.

“Margone is a terrible thing,” he stuttered.  “She can kill you from the inside out with her mind.  It’s terrible.”  The sailor began to shake uncontrollably.  The fear in his face grew more expressive and he turned away.  “Never mind, then.”  The sailor attempted to tie the rope with his shaking paws.  Niro turned away.

Soon, the ship was ready to sail, drifting slowly away from the tiny island.  The sails dropped and caught the wind, pushing the ship forward.  They sailed through the chopping waters into the horizon.  After a while, Niro decided to return to the cabin.  As he approached, the cabin door opened and Carli walked out, fiddling to close the buttons on her shirt.  She looked up to see Niro walking toward the door and quickly turned away.  Niro walked into the cabin and closed the door behind him.  Mari was adjusting her black cape.

“We’re moving,” she said to Niro.  “Is this all part of your master plan?”  She looked dissatisfied.

“Yeah,” Niro replied.  “I can’t get close enough to Korah to take the necklace unless I go off and kill something.”

“What kind of something,” Mari looked up.  Niro hesitated for a while.  Mari picked up a glass of wine and began to drink.

“Margone,” he said finally.  Mari’s eyes burst open as she sprayed the wine across the floor.

“Margone?” she cried.  “Are you fucking kidding me?”  Niro was taken aback.

“Trust me,” he reassured Mari.  “It’s all part of the plan.”  Mari calmed down slightly.  She took another sip of wine.

“Fine,” she said finally.  “But you’re not going to be able to do it alone.  I’ll help you.”  Niro smiled slightly.  “You don’t know how to deal with these kinds of things.”  Mari smiled and stood up.  “You know, I doubted your plan at first.”  She walked toward the door and opened it.  “But now, I just don’t care, anymore.”  She walked onto the deck and closed the door, leaving the confused cat standing in her cabin.

The boat sailed through the calm waters.  On the horizon, Niro could see a dark cloud circling over the water.  As they approached it, he saw that it was, in fact, over a densely forested island.  Mari walked up to him.

“That’s Kondor,” she looked uneasy.  “Somewhere in that jungle there’s a monkey.  And we got to kill it before it kills us.”  Mari turned around, leaning her back against the railing.  “Be it a demon monkey that can probably kill you seven times before you actually die with only her mind.  And have powers over all the demon monkeys who would probably kill everyone on this ship before we can even set foot on their island.  You know, I don’t know where I was going with that.”  She smiled at Niro.

“I think you were saying something about how screwed we are.”  Mari thought for a moment.

“Yeah,” she said.  “That sounds about right.  We’re pretty screwed.”  She looked at the fast approaching island.  “I don’t know about your plan,” she said after a while.  “But mine involves going in while its still bright out and killing her then.”

“What ever floats your boat,” Niro replied watching the island.  He looked up to the sky.  “It doesn’t look like we got enough time.”  Mari followed his gaze.

“Shit,” she said.  “Then we got to hurry.”  The ship finally reached the shores of the island.  The dark clouds above the island blocked out most of the sunlight.  Niro followed Mari to the edge of the ship and climbed down the cargo net.  The sand on this island was different from the sand on Korah’s island.  This one felt coarse under Niro’s feet.  They walked across the small strip of beach and entered the forest.

It was as dark as night under the trees.  “Well,” Niro said, “There goes your brilliant plan.”  Mari pressed forward, climbing over rocks and bushes.  She pushed a spiked branch out of her way and clambered deeper into the woods.  Niro followed close behind her.  Soon they reached a different jungle.  The trees were farther apart, but it was much darker.

“I can’t see a damn thing,” Mari complained, waving her paw in fron of her face.  “You’d think that ‘cause it’s day, there would be some sort of light.

Niro smiled.  “Oh,” he laughed.  “You can’t see in the dark?  Hum, it must be a cat thing.”  Niro grasped Mari’s paw.

“What the hell was that?”  She turned around wildly, her cape whipping Niro in the face.

“Calm down, Mari,” Niro reassured her.  “It’s just me.  I’m leading your way because you can’t see.”  He pulled Mari by the paw through the jungle.  He heard a whooping sound and looked up to see a monkey staring down at them.  Niro drew his sword.  The monkey’s red eyes glowed in the darkness.

It leaped from the tree, stretching its long claws toward Niro.  Niro swung his sword, slicing through the dark monkey.  It exploded into a cloud of dust.

“What was that?” Mari looked around.

“I just killed something.”  Niro pulled Mari’s paw farther into the woods.  She stumbled over the rocks and bushes.  They came into a clearing.  All around them, monkeys glided through the air, howling at each other.  The air was filled with these demons.  They all seemed to be circulating around one shadow that hung in the centre of the clearing.  Margone hung in the canopy of the jungle.  All of her minions  flew around her, screeching and flying through the darkness.  Niro pulled Mari to the ground.  “Stay down,” he warned.

“What,” she cried.  “Where are you going?”  She pulled at Niro’s arm.  “Don’t leave me here.”

“You’ll be fine,” Niro reassured her.  “Just stay down, stay still, and stay quiet.”  Niro peeled his paw out of Mari’s grasp.  He replaced his sword in his belt.  He dug his claws into the bark of a nearby tree and began to climb.

He worked his way up the tree, hugging it close whenever a demon monkey would fly past.  As he climbed higher, the sea of howls and red, flashing eyes grew denser.  Niro found it harder to avoid the flying demon monkeys.  Their fur brushed against him as he climbed.  The demons seemed to take no notice.  A large monkey soared toward Niro, howling.  Just before he hit the tree, he swerved downward.  His tail hit Niro’s face, nearly knocking Niro off of the tree.  Niro stayed for a minute, to regain his balance, then continued.

He soon reached the top of the tree. The demon monkeys were so tightly packed that Niro could hardly leave the trunk of the tree.  Standing of the base of a branch, Niro removed his sword.  He sliced through a monkey, which turned to dust and disappeared.  He cut again, clearing a path to the end of the branch.  The monkeys turned to dust upon their death.  Niro inches forward, swing his sword in all directions.  He stopped for a moment to catch his breath.  The demons surrounded him, nearly suffocating him in their howls.  Niro swung his sword.  Other few monkey disappeared in front of him.  He continued to inch closer to the centre of the clearing, holding his free paw over his face to protect it from the cursed onslaught.

He swung his sword one more time, tearing a hole in the cloud of flying demon monkeys.  Niro squeezed through the hole before it closed up.  He had reached the centre of the clearing.  There was a bubble where there were no flying demon monkeys.  Only Margone hung, dormant in the centre.  He could not hear the demon monkeys that circled around them; he could only see the vortex of dark figured with glowing eyes circling around the bubble.  He stepped toward Margone.  She didn’t move.

“Who goes there?” a voice called, it filled the bubble.  Niro stopped.

“I am Niro,” he hesitated.  “Are you Margone?”

“I most certainly am not,” the voice sounded offended.  “I am Qyli, the voice of Margone.”  Niro was confused.  He saw a glint of silver eject itself from Margone.  It flew through the air and stopped in front of Niro, floating in the air.

“You’re a,” Niro looked closely at the small silver utensil.  “What are you?”

“I am a Spork,” she said proudly, “daughter of a spoon and fork.”

“A spork,” Niro repeated.  “Named Qyli, really?”

“You did not travel this far to question a Spork,” she retorted.  “Why are you here?”

Niro thought for a moment.  “I am a messanger,” he said finally.  “I have a message.”

“From who?” Qyli pressed.

“My master asked to remain anonymous,” Niro said.  “Can you deliver his message to Margone?”

The Spork turned from Niro to the unmoving monkey.  “Is your message good or bad?” she turned back to Niro.

Niro looked at sadly at the place where Qyli would have had a face.  “I’m afraid it is a bad message.”  Qyli thought for a moment.

“Well,” she said finally.  “What is your message?”

“I bring the message,” Niro started, smiling.  He grasped his sword tightly.  “…Of death!”  He lunged from the branch holding his sword high.  He flew across the clearing, over the Spork, and to Margone.  He plunged his sword into the monkey, blood squirted onto his face.  Margone turned into a cloud of dust.  Qyli threw herself at the cat, plunging herself into his back.  Niro screamed as the cloud of demon monkeys closed in the bubble.  Niro fell into the monkeys’ howls and screams.  Qyli held fast to his back.

Niro plummeted to the ground, hitting monkeys on his way down.  He felt himself hit the bushes on the ground.  After a moment, Niro climbed to his feet.  He reached to his back and pulled Qyli out of him.  He threw the screaming Spork off into the jungle.  The monkeys above him began to take flight in all directions, casting off into the jungle.  They no longer had a hold on them and were free to roam on their island.

Niro crawled to where he saw Mari’s body, laying face down in the ground.  He reached for her arm and found it cold and clammy.  He rolled Mari onto her back.  She had red, glowing eyes that stared up at Niro.  She smiled at him, showing that her fangs had doubled in size.  Niro stabbed his sword through Mari’s heart.  A single tear rolled down his cheek as Mari’s eyes lost their glow and she fell limp in his arms.

The clearing had become quiet again.  Niro picked up Mari, his sword still in her heart.  He carried Mari through the jungle.  He climbed over rocks and bushes.  Finally, he reached the beach.  He could hear shouts from the ships as the crew watched him bring the corpse of their captain out of the jungle.

Niro cast his eyes down as he boarded the ship.  The other dogs took Mari out of his arms.  They took their captain to her cabin and lay it on her bed.  Carli looked up at the sky.  Niro could see the tears rolling from her eyes.

“Men,” she called, solemnly.  “Let’s get the hell out of here.”  Carli became slightly blurry.  Niro blinked his eyes to clear his sight.  The ship began to move away from the shore.  Niro looked around.  His vision was fading.  His eyes were burning.  He felt his fur stand on end.  It began to heat up.  Niro stumbled backward in pain.  He felt his legs hit the railing of the ship.  He toppled over the edge.  He fell into the sea.  No one on board had noticed his disappearance.  Niro writhed in pain, sinking into the sea.  He watched as Mari’s ship sailed away and he was lost to the unforgiving waves.

Niro floated through the air.  He saw a throne floating in the sky.  Mari sat, wearing her goddess outfit, lounging to one side.  Her right arm was hung over the arm rest of the throne, holding a brightly glowing whip.  Her left arm was raised above her head, spinning a golden chain around her white digit.  Her eyes were glowing white and she didn’t seem to notice Niro.  But she did notice something.  She looked down at the raging sea.  Niro followed her glance.  There was a ship sailing across the sea below.  Mari dropped her necklace on the throne and glided down to meet the ship.  Niro watched her descend upon the ship.  Niro himself couldn’t move he was stuck in the sky.  Niro saw a door open behind the throne, appearing out of thin air.  He saw a black cat walking into the room.  She had blue eyes, just like Niro.  She looked around the throne.  Niro had remembered her from somewhere.  Maybe from his kitten hood.  But he couldn’t remember her name.

“Mari?” she called.  Niro thought the cat looked familiar.  “Mari, are you here?”  Her eyes met the throne.  She saw the necklace crumpled on the throne. She reached for it, and Niro knew who she was.

“Korah?” he called out.  Korah looked around wildly.  She couldn’t see Niro.  She picked up the necklace, examining it closely.  She lifted the necklace over her head and pulled it around her neck.  It fit perfectly.

Suddenly, she screamed out.  She dropped to the invisible floor, writhing in pain.  Her eyes were squeezed shut and lay on the invisible floor, curled into a small ball, crying out in pain.  Her fur began to change.  It turned from a black to a dark blue.  Her eyes shot open, glowing brightly.  She lay in the air.  Niro floated there, watching her.  She stood up after a moment.   She brushed herself off and turned around returned through the door.  Niro heard a muffled shriek as Korah saw what she had become.

The force holding Niro in the air soon gave way.  Niro fell through the air, his screams were silenced by the wind.  He splashed into the water.

He opened his eyes, he couldn’t see anything.  He opened his mouth to breathe, but it filled with water.  He pushed off the stone floor and broke through the water.  He coughed up the water.  He looked around.  He was in Korah’s pool.  He heard coughe from behind him.  He turned around to see Korah, standing on the side of the pool, her robe was tied around her and she smiled at Niro.

“So,” she said.  “You did it.”

“How did I get here?” Niro looked around.  “What the hell happened?”  Korah pointed to the far wall.  It was covered by a large mirror, but Niro could not see his reflection.  Instead, he saw someone else.  He saw a dark blue cat with glowing eyes standing in the pool with a confused look on his face.  “What the..?”  Korah smiled.

“You’re a god now,” she walked toward the pool.  “You killed Margone.  You’re a god.”  Niro smiled, but he was still uneasy.  He thought for a moment.

“Mari,” he said.  “Mari’s dead.”  Korah’s smile disappeared.  She remembered the name from many years ago.

“Mari?” she repeated.  “Mari: goddess Mari?”   Niro looked up at her.

“Mari,” he said.  “Mari: goddess turned pirate turned demon turned dead Mari.”

“What are you talking about?”  Korah raised an eyebrow.  “You know Mari?”

“She helped me find you,” Niro started.  “She was bitten by a flying demon monkey on Kondor.  I had no choice.  I killed her.”  A tear rolled down Niro’s face.  “She said you stole her throne.  She wanted me to help her take it back.”  Niro turned away from Korah.  There was a long moment of silence.

“I,” Korah stuttered after a long while.  “I didn’t want to take Korah’s throne.  It just sorta happened.  It was all so fast.”  Korah crouched down, holding her face in her paws.  “I’m sorry.”  She looked up after a moment.  “I think I have a way to get her back.”  She lifted a small, golden chain from around her neck.  Niro looked up at her.

“What are you doing?” Niro stepped toward Korah, whose face was covered in tears.

“I’m going to give Mari her throne back,” Korah began to walk to the door behind Niro.

“But she’s dead,” Niro waded to the edge of the pool.

Korah forced a smile through her tears.  “Not for long,” she said.  “This necklace can fix that.”  She opened the door.

“Wait,” Niro climbed out of the pool.  Korah stopped in the door.  “I’m coming with you, it’s my fault, it want to come with you.”  Korah went into the main room, soon followed by Niro.  They walked through the first door.  There was a closet on the wall and Korah opened it.  She took off her white robe and hung it in the closet.  She pulled out a black cloak.  She pulled it over her body and flipped the hood over her head.  She pulled out another black cloak and handed it to Niro.  Niro pulled the cloak over his head and followed Korah back to the doors.  They walked over the cloud to the third door.  Korah opened it.

On the other side, there was no room, only a throne, facing away from them.  Korah stepped forward.  Although there was no floor, she seemed to float in the air.  Niro followed her uneasily.  Korah pointed at the sea below.

“Look,” she cried.  “It’s Mari’s ship.”  Niro followed her gaze to see a lone ship, sailing across the open sea.  Korah soared down to the ship, Niro close at her heals.  The crew was crowded around one side of the ship.  As they landed on the deck they saw the crew lifting a bundle to the railing.

“No!” Niro cried.  He ran toward the edge of the boat.  The crew looked up at him.  He pulled Korah by the paw to the rest of the dogs.  The hoods covered their faces so the pirates didn’t know who they were.  “Stop,” he called as he pushing his way through the crowd.  Korah pulled the golden necklace from her cloak.  Niro peeled away the burlap straps around Mari’s head.  She looked peaceful.  Korah placed the necklace around Mari’s neck.  They waited in silence, the crew confused at the sudden turn of events.

Suddenly, Mari’s mouth opened, gasping for breath.  Her eyes opened, glowing brightly.  Niro smiled through the shadow of his hood.  Mari wriggled free of the bandages, letting them fall to the floor.  She laughed loudly.  She looked down at her body.  It had been stripped down before she was wrapped.  She turned toward Carli.

“Get me my clothes,” her voice resonated through the entire ship.  Carli obeyed, rushing to the cabin to retrieve Mari’s clothes.  She came back carrying a small bundle.  The pirates watched as Mari pulled on her pants, and then her top.  She swung the cape around her back, pulling the hood over her head.  Her white eyes glowed from the shadows.  Carli held out a small, silver stick.  Mari grasped it and a bright silver light erupted from it, like a serpent, curling through the air.  The dogs fell back with a gasp.

Niro stepped toward Mari.  He lifted his hood from his head, revealing his face.  It took a moment for Mari to see that the god was, in fact, Niro.  She smiled, throwing her arms around Niro.

“Thank you so much,” she cried, hugging Niro tightly.

“Actually,” Niro started as he pushed away.  “It wasn’t me.”  He motioned for Korah to step forward.  She shook her cloaked head violently.  Niro ushered her forward.  Finally, she stepped toward Mari.  Curiously, Mari reached for Korah’s hood.  She pulled it back slowly, revealing Korah’s face.  The blue fur slowly crept into the sunlight.  Korah opened her eyes.  They glowed a bright white.  A look of shock crossed Mari’s face.  Her glowing eyes met with Korah’s.

“You bitch,” Mari raised her whip.  “How dare you…”  Niro thrust up his arm in front of Mari.

“No, Mari,” he shouted.  “She helped you.  If Korah hadn’t given you the necklace, you’d still be dead.”  Mari turned to Niro.

“What are you talking about,” she barked.  “What necklace?”  She looked down.  The gold chain was wrapped around her neck.  “The chain of…” she gulped.  Mari looked back at Korah.  “But you’re still a goddess.”  She raised her whip slightly.

“No,” Korah argued.  “I gave you the necklace.  You’re the goddess again.”  Mari looked at her in disbelief.

“No,” she barked.  “You’re the one with the glowy eyes.”

“You have glowy eyes, too.”

“Cool it, both of you!” Niro shouted.  “Quit fighting like cats and dogs!  You both have glowy eyes.  You’re both goddesses.  I don’t know how it happened, but it did.  So, deal with it!”  Niro breathed heavily.  Mari and Korah both looked at him.  Mari turned back to Korah.

“Well,” she said.  “I’m the REAL goddess because I have the chain.”  She smirked.  Korah furrowed her brow.

“But I have the god.”  Korah grabbed Niro’s hand.  Mari laughed.

“Who need guys to help them rule the universe?” she laughed.  “I certainly don’t.  Besides, I have someone.”  She turned and smiled to the sea.  After a moment, one of the pirates spoke up.

“Um,” he said uneasily.  “What do we do now?”  Mari turned to him.

“Well,” she said, smiling.  “I guess I’m not your captain anymore.  I have to leave you in the very firm and caressing hands,” she smiled at Carli, “of Captain Carli.”  Carli smiled at Mari sheepishly.  “As for us,” Mari continued, turning back to Niro and Korah.  “We have a universe to run.”  She leaped into the air.  The pirates cheered.  Mari turned over her back in the air and continued up to the heavens.

Niro smiled at Korah, shaking his head.  He wrapped his arm around Korah’s waist and followed Mari upward.  The cheering pirates drifted away as they climbed higher into the sky.  Niro followed Mari up to a floating throne.  They walked through the door and onto the cloud floor.  Mari stood across from Niro and Korah.  She smiled at them.

“Before we get to the whole ‘god’ thing,” she said. “I have to go find someone.”  She turned and disappeared into the elevator.  Korah turned to the windowed room.

She opened the door and walked inside.  She pulled the cloak over her head and hung it in the closet.  Niro walked into the room behind her.  He pulled off his cloak, as well.  As Korah flipped through the hangers in the closet, Niro pulled out a pair of white pants and put them on.  Korah stared into the closet, choosing what to wear.  Niro walked up behind her and slid his paw around her stomach.  He kissed her neck lightly.  Korah giggled.

“Niro,” she turned to him.  “What should I wear?”  Niro looked into the closet and then scanned Korah’s body.  He looked back into the closet.  He reached in and unhooked a hanger.

“How about this?”  He held up a hanger with a white top and pants on it.  Korah took the pants off of the hanger and pulled them up her legs.  The pants fit snugly and flared out at the bottom.  She pulled the top over her head.  It was low cut and covered her stomach at an angle.  “Beautiful,” Niro smiled.  He hugged Korah around the waist and kissed her nose.

They walked back out to the cloud room.  The elevator door opened to reveal Mari kissing the wall.  Niro cleared his throat, Mari spun around, revealing a small hamster in the place where she was kissing.

“Hey guys,” she said, letting the hamster step onto her hand.  “I’d like you to meet Jhord.”  She smiled at the hamster.  “Or as I like to call her, Princess Passionfruit.”  She rubbed her nose against the hamster’s belly.  “She’s my lover.”  She turned back to the cats.  “And she’ll also be working reception on the ‘Miracle’ floor.

Korah curtsied.  “It’s a pleasure to meet you,” she smiled at the hamster.  Jhord returned the favour.  Niro bowed.

“It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance,” he smiled.

Jhord shivered.  “All this talk of pleasure is just getting me…”

“Now, now,” Mari warned.  “Not in front of the others, Princess.”  Niro smiled.

“Princess,” he repeated.  “Of what clan, may I ask?”

Jhord smiled.  “I am the offspring of the great Ferdinand,” she announced.  Niro’s smile instantly disappeared.  There was a long silence.

“Awkward,” Mari sung after a while.  The hamster laughed.

“Well, it was nice meeting you,” Jhord bowed to the cats and Mari carried her back to the elevator.  Niro could hear muffled giggles as the elevator descended.

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