It was utter chaos.
The Cooking Pot had been overturned and lay on its side, spilling a gloopy deep red liquid over the rim and onto the ground. The ground and trees in the clearing had been splattered too and were covered in numerous red globules. The spilt liquid did not appear to seep into the ground, and in fact appeared to simply remain on the surface. It was also still bubbling; bubbles continually rose to the surface slowly before popping with an odd squeaking noise.
Celeste gaped. She had expected to see the usual scene of Jhuidah calmly stirring the large green pot of frothy, bubbling, colour-changing liquid, not disorder and confusion. Still cradling the invisible petpet, Celeste glanced about the scene and carefully took a few steps forward into the clearing. She spotted Jhuidah kneeling on the ground near a clump of bushes, looking extremely frazzled. The flower that was usually placed impeccably above her ear was frayed and wilting. Her bushy brown hair was even bushier than usual, and was peppered with red flecks. It appeared that the red liquid from the Cooking Pot had got onto her hair as well. Yet, despite her untidy appearance, she spoke in a slow, soothing voice that exuded calm and control.
“Shhh, calm down, Pippin, I’m trying to help you.” Jhuidah murmured as she stroked what appeared to be a squirming petpet-sized mass of red liquid blobs in her arms.
“MEEP! Meepmeep! MEEP!” The mass of red blobs squirmed and squealed loudly. It appeared to be an invisible petpet like the one Celeste was holding, except that it was covered in blobs of the red liquid from the Cooking Pot.
“There, there,” Jhuidah continued. “I can’t see you now, so you need to stay still, otherwise I won’t be able to… Aaaaahh!”
A shower of red blobs splattered Jhuidah’s face. She sputtered in surprise. The mass of red blobs in her arms continued to squirm and squeal loudly, then wriggled out of her grasp and bounded away. “No, come back! You’ve got to stay here until…”
But the red blob-covered petpet had disappeared into the bushes. Jhuidah stared after it for a long moment, then sighed and looked down at her hands. Celeste had never seen Jhuidah look so forlorn. It felt as though she were intruding on a private moment. Celeste wondered if she should leave. She took a tentative step back and was about to turn around when the petpet she was still holding wriggled and squeaked.
Jhuidah looked round.
“Uh, hello Jhuidah,” Celeste said, feeling slightly awkward and self-conscious.
“Hello, Celeste,” Jhuidah replied with a faint smile. She glanced around the clearing. “I’m so sorry you had to see this mess.”
“Is that…?” Jhuidah peered curiously at the wriggling shape hidden under the Celeste’s wing feathers.
“I think so. I mean, I wasn’t… I just… I was on my way to…” Celeste paused and swallowed. She was still rather taken aback by the scene in the clearing she had stumbled upon, but she needed to calm down and tell Jhuidah what she found if she wanted to help the petpet. She took a deep breath.
“It’s an invisible petpet, I think. It jumped out of my suitcase this morning when I was packing to go back to Brightvale Academy. I’m not sure how it got in there. It seems good-natured and friendly enough, but I’m not sure what type it is, because it doesn’t seem like any petpet I’ve ever encountered. I thought I’d bring it to you to see if you knew anything about it. I think it might be the same kind of petpet you were just talking to earlier.”
“Oh,” Jhuidah chuckled. “You saw that, huh?”
“I didn’t mean to,” Celeste mumbled, feeling embarrassed. She looked down at the shape beneath her cradled wings. She could feel the petpet nuzzling her feathers affectionately. Plucking up her courage, she looked up at Jhuidah again and asked, “What happened here? Were you trying a new recipe when something went wrong?”
To Celeste’s surprise, Jhuidah laughed. “No, that isn’t what happened at all! I suppose I can see why you thought that was the case, but nothing went wrong with any recipe. In fact, it all started when the Techo Master came to me a month ago…”