Chapter II

Kagi walked to the center of the palace gardens; these gardens were completely enclosed by a strong, metallic fence. Lining the outer edge was a variety of red and yellow flowers, mingling with each other. At first glance, they seemed to resemble vibrant flames, dancing in the wind. The entirety of the area was covered with fine, white sand; however, a Giant Sequoia stood at menacing heights in the midst of the garden. Its shadow alone stretched beyond the gate, but its own location was obviously taken into consideration in the establishment of the gardens themselves. Other than these few details, the space was completely desolate. Kagi walked forward still but suddenly stopped. A visible stream of red energy particles emerged and slowly flowed from Kagi's chest, gathering in front of him; each of the tiny particles aligned and merged to become one form, the first visible form of Shariifiat. This new apparition was, in body, much taller than Kagi, himself. Shariifiat stood majestically in front of the tree, his long, flowing, fiery, red hair moved with the gentle wind as it glistened vividly in the blinding sun. Kagi approached him timidly, "Master Shariifiat? Is that you?" Kagi held out his hand, but when Shariifiat reached back, somehow the two hands missed and slipped through each other. "Kagi," he began, "I can never be touched; I cannot be heard, seen, or detected by anyone but you. This mirage, which I have conjured, is only perceivable by your mind. For that reason, we cannot have any physical contact, not that we'll need it at all. Just follow my instructions closely, and everything will be fine." Kagi was still surprised by this supernatural event but put his amazement aside to move on with his training. "Where do I start?" Kagi asked eagerly.

Shariifiat's eyes shifted focus, darting rapidly around the arena, "Okay, let me get an idea of how fast you are. Run as fast and hard as you can around this garden twice." Kagi nodded, "It's a fair distance; I should be able to gain an accurate comparison of your stamina now compared to when we started almost six pears ago. This test alone should be enough to determine if you are indeed able to begin the journey. You see, I have never brought you here, for it is the very grounds that the priests once used to train the warriors of this village. You are to run the perimeter of these five gardens until you can run no longer." Kagi looked around the perimeter as far as he could see. "It's so far I can't even tell the distance unlike usual." "Are questioning your instructor's judgment?!" Kagi defended, "Oh no, Master Shariifiat. I have never questioned you, nor will I ever. I know that you always know exactly what is best, as I have experienced countless times in the past." Kagi bent down and anchored his feet in the sand. The master's hair alternated from yellow, to orange, then to deep red as it fluttered on the breeze. Kagi looked back down and placed his hand in the sand. His energy was already pooling, his heart pulsing with excitement. "When am I to go, Master?" Shariifiat cast his gaze down upon him, "That option is yours; no matter what time you begin, the outcome is the same." Kagi launched himself into deep concentration; it was as if time itself had ceased to flow. Suddenly, his back foot shifted, and Kagi thrust himself at unrivaled speeds into the distance. His rate was swift, Shariifiat was unable to lock his vision onto Kagi's body even with his optical advancement. As time passed, Kagi slowed gradually until he could finally be captured in sight. He had pushed himself harder and harder all along; he told himself, "This is the moment, the moment I have waited so long to behold. As Master always says, 'Do not stop. Seize the path. Take it.' I have come too far too fail now." Shariifiat smiled, "I knew I made the right choice when I chose him all those years ago. The boy with the key…he is unstoppable. Together, we will defeat our opposition and complete the destiny allotted to us. I actually…love him as a son, as he loves me as a father. In all my existence, I have never truly loved anyone." Hours passed, and Kagi's figure, staggering on the horizon, slumped and finally collapsed in supreme exhaustion. Shariifiat vanished from his location, only to reappear next to Kagi. He placed his hand on the boy's chest and felt no pulse. With a laugh concealed deep in his throat, he reentered the lifeless body. Upon his absorption, Shariifiat blasted an immense energy stream throughout all regions of Kagi's body. The ground began to rumble, and his body was rocketed high into the sky! His heart beat once more, and he was now overflowing with seemingly infinite energy. His limbs shook fiercely as he spoke with a quaking voice, "Master, I died…" Shariifiat chuckled, "No longer are you dead. I recombined with you to carryout your revival. My strength is enough to keep you alive until you regain your own natural energy. I could not afford to lose you." Kagi fell to his knees on the warm sand, "Master…" Shariifiat teleported him to their hut, located back inside the city.

Kagi's body remained weak on its own for several days, but slowly his strength began to return. Still deep inside Kagi, Shariifiat was planning his next move, "Would it be completely unreasonable to allow people to see my true form? After all, I am strong enough to take care of anyone on my own. Besides, who would recognize me? All that have seen that form are no longer living, so why worry? That settles it then: from now on, I shall remain visible to all with eyes and corruption in the heart." Kagi stirred in his sleep, and Shariifiat poured less energy into his circuit until he slept again.

Many weeks passed, but Shariifiat remained ever patient. Kagi had recovered nicely but was reluctant to resume his training having gotten out of the habit. He was warned that if he waited too long that he would lose many of the skills he had acquired in his early sessions. Kagi slowly became more accustomed to early morning sessions and late night sessions such that they became normal to him. The air was cooler and the moon did not drain his energy nearly as much.

"Kagi, all you must do is blast the tree to chips." Kagi backed away, "I don't know that I can…" Shariifiat laughed, "Ha! Of course, you can't know that until you at least try." Kagi continued to doubt himself. The master placed his hand on his pupil's back, "It will be fine; I'm right here." Kagi pressed his left right foot into the sand and, with a swift lunge, thrust himself at the wooden shaft. His fist hit the tree directly; causing a large chunk of wood to split from the shaft itself and the timber mass to fall with a thud behind the tree. Shariifiat clapped, "Simply outstanding." He moved his left hand in the direction of the tree, telling Kagi to stand back. Focused blue streams of energy sprang from Shariifiat's fingertips, latching onto the large chunk of wood. With a swift tug, the block rose and rested perfectly inside the slot from which it had been knocked previously. The edges of the wood merged back together, and the tree was unharmed.

Kagi stood aghast at the scene, "Amazing…" His voice trailed off. "It will be a while before you are able to command magical energies at my level," Shariifiat grinned, "You are very powerful, my young apprentice. I see great things in your future; however, there is still much to learn." Kagi met Shariifiat with a look of satisfaction, "Well, I'm tired of keeping things a low-level scale. Let's take this 'training' to the next level already!" "Not yet," the master maintained, "There is still much work yet to be done right here in this sector before we venture out into the sands." Kagi lowered his head, "I'm tired of the delay, Master. I feel the time to move on is upon us at this very moment." Shariifiat's eyes shifted back, "Could the key be guiding him as a clock guides the day? Perhaps, I should let him skip the rest of the plan and allow him to figure this out for himself…" His thoughts ended, and he refocused on the moment at hand, "Kagi, I'm having a thought here: how about I let you do what you'd like for a while, and we see how it goes? Sound fair enough?" Kagi smiled, "It's about time we shifted some control around here."