Battle Quills... ready! Circulation: 102,975,150 Issue: 203 | 12th day of Hiding, Y7
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Superficial: Part Five


by shelleylow

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"I hope you're sure about this, May," Farowyn said as we picked our way along the forest trail, our feet crunching through the carpet of brilliant leaves, pushing back intruding branches as we went.

      "You've never gone camping before... none of us have, I think. We might not like it out here..."

      "Exactly," I replied gaily, adjusting the brim of my Usuki cap to point perkily forwards. "I can prove to them that I'm not stuck up and prissy and afraid to get dirty or have fun." My mind was filled with glowing pictures of the garden and all its wonder, and thought of it magnified a thousand times to accommodate the wood. I imagined frolicking among the bright autumn trees, sleeping under starry skies in tents.

      "Besides, I know that I love the great outdoors! Don't we, Sati?" I looked over my shoulder at her.

      Satisha flashed me a weak grin. As much as she loved the great outdoors, she plainly wasn't used to dragging a heavy haversack around with her.

      "I think it'll be fun," SugarFlower remarked determinedly, trotting beside us on her little Usul feet. "At least, I think I'm going to enjoy myself."

      "I'm not so sure," Farowyn shot back dryly, gazing with distaste at an inquisitive Spyder dangling from a thread before her nose. She batted it away, then turned her attention to fending off a hovering Teasquito. "I can't believe that anyone would want to keep these things as pets."

     Soon enough, though, we arrived at our campsite. Tired from the long walk up the hills, we flopped onto the wooden tables and benches arranged in military rows in the large, sunlit clearing. I squinted up at the glowing canopy of leaves over my head, listening to the Beekadoodles twittering up among the branches, and smiled. This was going to be fun. It was almost like having an extra-large garden to play in.

      "Alright, troops," called one of the Great Outdoors Society members, a burly green Lupe whose name, I vaguely remembered, was Artie. "We're going to unpack and teach you how to pitch your tents now, and then we'll settle down for lunch. I hope you remember who you chose as your tent buddy!"

      We'd had to pick a member of the team to share a tent with during the trip. Naturally, I had chosen Satisha, and Farowyn and SugarFlower had gravitated towards each other. We slid out of our heavy rucksacks and scampered over to where Artie and his fellow Great Outdoorsers were rolling out several canvas bags tied up with string.

      I watched curiously. Were those what we'd be sleeping in tonight? For the first time misgiving pricked my coat.

      "Okay!" One of the Outdoorsers, a yellow Acara named Isabelle, clapped her paws for attention. "We're going to learn how to pitch our tents now. First of all, we unfold the tent, see..."

     She demonstrated, flapping out the canvas sheet and setting up the poles. I watched with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach as she worked, keeping up a running commentary all the time. That was where we'd be sleeping? It wasn't at all like the tents I had conjured up in my imagination, all billowy and white silken beauty, like a Sakhmetian native's. Those poles didn't look like they'd hold up under the weather, and the canvas looked terribly flimsy.

      I noticed Sekya, gazing straight ahead at Isabelle, nodding her head as she took in the instructions. I shook my head firmly. This was going to be my chance to prove myself to these pets. I mustn't mess it up. Probably I was just worried for nothing, that was all. This camping trip was going to be fun, I told myself firmly.

     ***

      Several hours later, I lay in my tent, nursing my bruised forelegs and wondering what on earth I had gotten myself into.

      I knew now that thinking the forest was anything like the garden was rather like thinking a Kougra was something like an Angelpuss. The garden had long been tamed by the gardener and the other servants, clipped and groomed and purring, for anyone to wander into and enjoy. By contrast the forest roared all around me, glorying in its unfettered strength. Tangled bushes, bright with berries, strewed their brambles hither and thither, magnificent trees towered above, further than the eye could see, the undergrowth and branches teemed with creatures I'd never seen the like of.

      Throughout the course of the day, during which we had taken a nature hike to get us attuned to our surroundings, I had been scratched by brambles that seemed to grow across my path, tripped numerous times in uneven places on the ground, and almost fallen into a muddy puddle. The walk was much longer than what I was accustomed to, and a far cry from those joyous dashes around the well-kept lawns of my home.

      By the time we had returned to the campsite I was sore, sweating hard, itching and exhausted. The bath at the river later on had alleviated the sticky, dirty feeling, but I was still very tired and very relieved when I flopped onto my Fyora-print sleeping bag. We needed all the rest we could get for tomorrow, Artie, Isabelle and the rest had told us. It would be packed full of things to do!

      Great. And I now had a tummyache, courtesy of the canned baked beans we'd had for dinner.

      Satisha's head poked itself through the tent flaps. "Wyn and Sugar are doing fine," she said. "Well, Wyn had a bit of trouble over a stubborn Spyder, but it's all okay now." She grinned, then looked concerned. "You feeling better yet?"

      I groaned in reply, and the Wocky chuckled. "I've got some Grumble-Be-Gone in my first-aid kit you can have if you want. I know you don't have Grumbles really, but it might help."

      I accepted her offer gratefully, but even after the pain in my belly eased, I couldn't help feeling a certain amount of dread about the day to come. "Oh Sati, what have I gotten myself into?"

      My friend sighed and settled down beside me on her own sleeping bag. "It can only get better, May. Remember what you're here for. Somehow you've got to show that Sekya what you're made of, and I thought you held up really well today."

      She gave me an encouraging smile. "Just one more day, and then we can all go home the morning after that. You can do this. Settle down and get some sleep. There'll be nothing to disturb you now."

      I think I must have managed two hours of sleep, tops, before the rain hit.

     ***

      I opened bleary eyes the next morning to the distant sound of a horn being blown.

      "Rise and shine!" came Isabelle's cheery voice from outside, muffled by the tent flaps. "Come and get your breakfast! I hope you all slept well."

      I felt the sleeping bags rustle as Satisha leapt to her feet, shaking herself. She prodded me with a paw.

      "Come on, May, we've got to get up and go!"

      "It's easy for you," I returned bitterly. "You've got such a thick pelt, I don't think you even noticed the roof was leaking. I've had drops falling on me all night. I think I've caught D'achoo." I stuck my head under my pillow. "This whole trip was a bust. I was an idiot to come."

      "Forget D'achoo, NeoPhobia is what you've got." Satisha was firmly adamant. "You dragged us all along on this trip, May, and I'm not going to just let you give up because of one lousy day and night." I found myself dragged to my feet, none to gently, by determined paws. "We. Are. Going. Out. Now. And you are going to put on a brave face so that Sekya and her crew will see that you are surviving the wilds. That was what you came here for, no?"

      Knowing better than to argue with her, I simply gave her a resigned nod, shook my damp coat and wings, and followed her out into the clearing.

      The sun was shining diamond-bright in a blue sky over the tops of the trees, and I felt my spirits lift at the sight. I cheered still more at the sound and smell of sausages sizzling noisily in a frying pan over a fire.

      "We knew there was going to be rain last night, so we didn't want to waste them," explained George, a blue Yurble Outdoorser. "You guys can have some for breakfast today." He took the pan off the fire and began distributing the sausages to a line of hungry pets.

      "Come on, May!" Farowyn and SugarFlower, looking chipper and refreshed, waved at me from the start of the queue. Satisha was padding over to them, and I followed at a jaunty trot. As I received my breakfast and tucked into the warm sausage, I felt much better. Perhaps today would be a good day after all.

      After the last morsel was eaten, Artie took charge once more.

      "Okay, troops. Today we're going to take you down by the river." He grinned. "It's quite a walk, but believe me, it's worth it. You won't want to be stuck on the bank once we're there! Follow me, and look out for each other."

      He turned and padded off through the bushes, everyone else trailing after him. Heartened by the morning and the meal, I set off after them. The vines sprawled lazily around my hooves again, and the ground was as full of potholes as ever, but I kept on, doggedly. I would fit in. I would survive. I would.

      Sooner than I had expected my flickering ears caught the rush of water and at almost the same instant, the trees opened out before us and I saw the wide band of water across us, rushing merrily along. I couldn't hold in a gasp of wonder. I had never seen a real river before.

      Artie turned back, grinning at me. "It's something, isn't it? Come along now, we're going further along to a quieter spot."

      Trudging along the damp mud of the bank, we eventually reached a place where the river split. One part roared away into the distance while the other curved and flowed along gently, almost imperceptibly. Further on, I could see, the two parts reunited, forming a small island between.

      "Here we are," Artie cried, joyously. "See how gentle the water is on that side? That's where we're going."

      "A cutoff, it's called," George was explaining from behind me. "Because it's cut off from the main river. See, it starts when a meander in the river-"

      "Oh, be quiet, George," said Isabelle's voice. "There's no need to teach them that now."

      "Well then." Artie grinned again and produced a beach ball from behind his back. "Who's up for a game or two?"

     ***

      "Why, I do believe someone's having fun at last," Satisha giggled mischievously, elbowing me in the ribs. My three friends and I lay back, sprawled on the sunlit bank, tired from a glorious mix of laughter and exertion. The others were either following suit or still chasing and laughing in the sparkling water, playing their own games. Further up the bank, the Outdoorsers were huddled together on a heap of stones, conferring.

      I smiled tiredly, switching my tail. "Yeah. I guess I just might survive after all."

      "Ha," Farowyn declared languidly. "You'll do more than survive, May. I think the others are finally starting to warm up to not just you, but all of us. Sure, at first they were a little hesitant, but it's amazing what a few hours of Mirgle-in-the-Middle can do."

      "And Mynci's Beach Volleyball!" SugarFlower squealed happily. "I've never played those games before. They're all so much fun!"

      "I've got to thank you, May," Farowyn grinned. "Sugar and I do, anyway. For dragging us onto this crazy idea of yours. We were both talking about it last night and we agree that it's done us both good. Neither of us have gotten out very much or hung out in a crowd before besides the two of you, and it's been... surprisingly satisfying."

      "Yeah," Satisha murmured, closing her eyes slightly. "I never knew any pets besides May, either. I have had fun."

      I smiled. "Well, I don't regret coming on this trip myself, for all those reasons. I thought for a moment yesterday it'd been a mistake to come, but... I guess surprises do happen."

      "All the others were almost friendly just now. I even think one of them smiled at me." SugarFlower rolled onto her back, kicking her stubby legs in the air. "It's nice to be liked. I wonder if that Sekya has changed her mind about you after all that?"

      Farowyn glanced about her. "Speaking of Sekya, where is she? I thought I spotted her once or twice during the games, but she seems to have disappeared."

      Puzzled, I sat up and gazed around at the scattered groups of pets. "You know, Wyn, you're right. I don't see her at all. I don't see Mari or Virgil, either."

      "Maybe they're just off somewhere doing their own thing," SugarFlower suggested. "There's no need to go worrying, now is there?"

      I shook my head. "The Great Outdoorsers told us not to go out of their sight. Not to leave this stretch of bank. Something's happened to them!" I felt panic clutch at me with icy fingers. Could Sekya be stuck somewhere, lost and calling for help, far away from the campers?

      "May," Farowyn said warningly. "We should go and tell the Outdoorsers before-"

      "We can't waste any time!" I burst out. "I can fly with these wings, I think. I'll fly out and search for them!"

      Hearing their protests as if from a great distance, I fluttered my wings and rose over their heads. I wobbled slightly in the air, and flailed my hooves slightly to get my balance. I hadn't really attempted flying before, not even on my old feathery Uni wings, and these light gossamer Faerie wings were a completely different ballgame. Still, I steeled myself and flapped them harder, faster, willing myself upwards, knowing only that I had to find Sekya.

To be continued...

 
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Other Episodes


» Superficial: Part One
» Superficial: Part Two
» Superficial: Part Three
» Superficial: Part Four



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