Several weeks passed, and life went on at the training
hall. Shell's four pets appeared for their weekly lesson and made friends with
Mandrake, and a newcomer from the Pound, a tiny yellow Zafaress named Faille,
made her appearance and settled down beautifully.
The daily rituals agreed with all the young pets.
There was class in the morning until the sun had near reached its zenith, and
then they could play and explore the surrounding forest as long as they didn't
go too far. Then, as the bright orb began to dip, there was lifeforce training,
breathing steadily and relaxing the body, focusing the mind. The young ones
could feel their awareness slowly sharpen and they shivered with wonder as they
felt and sensed so much more than normal. The true beauty of nature was revealed
and lovingly beheld by each of them. More play after that while Marko went to
collect food in the early evening sun, and when he came back and began to prepare
it they splashed in the little spring in the clearing, washing the dirt out
of fur, feathers and hair. After that there was dinner and Aihami would tell
them stories of Neo-Kidoka of the past until it was time to go to bed.
All in all it was a good life, and Mandrake settled
happily into the course of it just as the others had done. The other white-belts
all accepted him as part of the gang, well, all except Keota. Mandrake could
sense negativity and uneasiness from the blue Eyrie kit when he used his lifeforce
energy. As far as he could tell, she didn't approve of armless pets practicing
Neo-Kido. But at any rate, he had plenty of other friends. Mandrake put the
subject of Keota's discomfort out of his head.
Then one day Aihami announced something new after
class was over. "This afternoon, we won't be conducting lifeforce training..."
There was a unanimous moan of disappointment.
Aihami waited until it had died down before continuing, "...here."
Interest rekindled, the white-belts raised eyes
to her expectantly.
"Instead of the training hall," the Aisha continued,
"we will trek to a waterfall I know and conduct out training there. It's a change
of scenery and I have practiced lifeforce training there before. It was very
relaxing, and I think it would be good for all of you."
An excited murmur broke out among the eight young
pets. Marko waved his paw for silence. "I'd like all of you to form a circle,
Once they had done as they were told, he went
"I want each of you to keep track of one another.
It's a long way and we don't want anyone getting lost in the jungle, or around
the waterfall by wandering too far. Now, each of you, look at the pet on your
left. Him or her is your responsibility, and you must not let them out of your
sight on the way there, and keep checking for them when we are at the waterfall
itself. If you really cannot find them at any time, you must come straight either
to me, or to Aihami-Master, and tell us. Is this all clear to you?"
Eight heads nodded simultaneously.
Marko broke into a warm grin. "Good. So you'd
better change out of your training uniforms and bundle them along because we're
leaving in a few minutes. We don't want them getting dirty and muddy and tripping
you up on the trail. As soon as we get there we shall go through our training
and then you may have the rest of the day to play on the waterfall. Now, go
on, or we'll leave you behind!"
Giggling and cheering, the white-belts rushed
into their sleeping quarters to pack their uniforms in cloth bags after bowing
to their Senior and Master. The day had just taken a turn for the better.
They reached the spot with all the white-belts
intact, and began their training on some dry sandy ground near the foot of the
waterfall, where the white spray cascaded over the mossy stones in a burst of
gleaming droplets. It was a vastly different environment than the one they were
At the training hall, and the clearing where
they sometimes practiced, it was quiet and peaceful, the only sounds being the
rustling of leaves and the various sounds of different creatures as they went
about their daily business. At most there would be the chanting of the coconut
natives performing their mystic rituals deep in the uncharted areas of the jungle.
Here the roaring and crashing of the water from the towering stony cliff above
to the rocks below was the main sound, and it took them a bit more energy than
was normal to catch the distant noises they were used to.
Nevertheless, they left practice feeling invigorated,
and, in the white-belts' case, more than ready for a game. Laughing happily,
they took off and splashed into the pool, sending drops flying into the air.
Didicus and Nage followed happily, barking and squeaking loudly with excitement.
Aihami and Marko lay comfortably on the dryer rocks, taking turns to watch them
in their romp while the other slept in the warmth of the sun, obscured no longer
by the thick leafy canopy.
The white-belts were enjoying their outing thoroughly.
It was such fun being out in the sun for once, and with the awesome natural
monument to play on, who could possibly complain? The water was cold, but none
of them seemed to mind very much as they laughed and shouted, spattering each
other with glistening drops that hung in their fur like liquid, rainbowed jewels.
Keota was sitting on a rock, brooding. She didn't
much feel like playing. The JubJub's image in her head had been plaguing her
for weeks. How could Aihami-Master have allowed him to join the training hall?
He couldn't do any of the techniques they could; he couldn't do Neo-Kido proper.
Sure, he could do the breathing exercises but what would the use of that be?
He should go and join some other Neopian martial arts school. Plus, everyone
else seemed to like him so much. Couldn't they see he'd never be a real Neo-Kidoka?
And as for that ridiculous notion of his... talking to Petpets, indeed. She
had never believed a word of it. The young Eyrie had resented Mandrake and Didicus
since the day they arrived, and now she was hatching a plan in her mind.
She had seen, from that morning, that Mandrake
had been the pet on her right in the circle; he was the one who was supposed
to watch out for her safety. Suppose she slipped off by herself, and returned
to this spot only later. Then Mandrake would be blamed for her disappearance
and losing sight of her. He might be removed. The pet she was responsible for
was Raz; he could be trusted not to run off or get lost. But how could she possibly
do it? Either Aihami-Master or Marko-Senior was always watching all of them
The problem somehow solved itself. Aihami-Master
suddenly leapt off the rock she had been sitting on and raced at full tilt towards
the waterfall, Marko-Senior right behind her. Looking towards their destination,
Keota saw two figures, one red and the other green, nimbly scaling the steep
rocky face of the cliff over which the water was tumbling. Aragon and Jitterbug
were trying to climb to the top. It was the sort of daredevil act they were
Keota grinned. It was just the distraction she
needed. Carefully, quickly and quietly, she slipped through the bushes and crept
away into the tangle of trees.
When the commotion had died down, and Jitterbug
and Aragon were both sent grumbling back down the rocks, Mandrake noticed something
wrong with his Petpet. Didicus was barking and leaping about in the shallows,
obviously trying to get his attention.
The JubJub splashed his way to the bank. "Didicus,
whatever is the matter?"
The Anubis glared at him through his coal-dark
eyes. You've obviously forgotten to watch for something... or should I say
Mandrake looked at him in puzzlement. "Talk plain,
Didicus barked with frustration and impatience.
Honestly, Manny, you annoy me sometimes! While you were watching the green Doglefox-giant
and the wingless Flosset ascending the cliff, the blue Whoot-head Noil you told
me you were supposed to be watching for has gone and wandered into the forest.
Not that I care much for the creature, I could sense she never did like you,
but still, it was your given duty to look out for her.
"Keota!" Mandrake scanned the surrounding water
and land in horror. Sure enough, there was no sign of the Eyrie kit. "Where
did she disappear to?"
The trees over there, the Anubis replied, pointing
with his slate blue paw, but...
Mandrake took off at a run towards the indicated
clump of forest. Wait! Didicus barked. You must tell the four-ears! Or the striped-one!
If Mandrake heard his Petpet at all, he didn't
Oh, by Great Coltzan, grumbled the Anubis,
that Mandrake will be the death of me, and himself too, I shouldn't be surprised
to find out, and he dashed off in pursuit of his owner.
Keota snickered to herself as she crouched in
the brambles, her thick fur rendering her immune to the pricks and scratches
she would otherwise have received from the vicious thorns. Outside, she was
invisible among the prickly branches. It was the perfect hiding place. All she
had to do was wait here until late afternoon before retracing her steps to the
waterfall. By then they should have created a panic.
A snuffling through the bushes disturbed her
musings, obviously some forest creature looking for food. She nestled deeper
into her hidey-hole.
All of a sudden a steel blue muzzle thrust itself
in between the leaves. Keota screeched with shock and the muzzle retracted.
From outside came a triumphant bark.
"Keota? What are you doing here?"
Keota pushed her head out of the tangle of brush.
Mandrake was looking at her curiously. There were no lines of anger or irritation
anywhere in his body, and this only served to incense her.
"You... you... how did you find me?"
"Didicus." Mandrake looked at his pet with an
air of quiet pride. "He saw you leave, and he helped follow your trail. He said
it was lucky you didn't fly, your spoor would have been that much harder to
Keota opened her beak to say something else when
there was a scuffling noise and a furry green creature bounded into the clearing
in a shower of dead leaves.
"Aragon!" Keota shook leaves from her ruff.
"What do you think you're doing?"
The Lupe gave her a look of mock coldness. "Just
looking after my charge, Keota. I was supposed to look out for Manny, and that's
what I'm doing. I noticed he was gone, and so I followed his trail to here."
The friendly look came back into his face and his tail wagged. Then he looked
round at each of them, seeming to notice for the first time that they were all
in a clearing quite far from the rest of the Neo-Kidokas. "So... Manny, what
are you doing here?"
"Same as you," Mandrake replied with a grin.
"Keota split, so I went after her." He turned to the Eyrie kit. "And what are
you doing here, Keota?"
The Eyrie regarded them, nonplussed. "Well...
er... I... was just..."
An ominous stillness stopped her excuse in its
wobbly tracks. The three Neo-Kidoka white-belts and the Anubis could all sense
it in the air. It just felt...wrong. There was an air of doom hanging all around
them, of something bad about to happen, as if there was a large and heavy weight
hanging by a single fraying thread above them; like a dam about to burst.
All three white-belts, intuitively regulating
their breathing and trying to keep the cold sense of panic from rising and making
them too fearful to continue, felt the familiar enrichment of their senses.
Though their increased awareness was by no means as strong as Aihami's or Marko's
yet, they could sense enough to give them information about what was coming.
Jungle beasts were scattering, terrified, into
hiding places in trees or holes in the ground; there was no doubt about it,
this thing was feared by all of them. There didn't even seem to be any wind,
just the menacing silence that was so far from peaceful. It pervaded the whole
place, drenching it with danger they could feel as if it were a physical presence.
And it was coming from somewhere behind them.
Suddenly, there came a loud rustling of bushes.
The three young pets and the Anubis turned sharply around and came face to face
with what had been causing the disruptions.
To be continued...