The Highlands: Part One
The Highlands. It was a stretch of blizzard-infested mountains
that stretched away for miles behind the Haunted Woods, before crossing a thin
stretch of ocean and joining Terror Mountain. Jordan, a tan Lupe, had been studying
their layout on his old, worn map of Neopia every day for thirty-seven days now,
ever since his mother, Zinneh, had agreed to let him go on a 'tchais' up there
with the Reingar, Neopia's most experienced explorers.
Hardly anyone had heard of the Reingar. They
were a very secretive guild that only opened vacancies to a select few. Jordan's
father had been a member. That was the only way the opportunity had been opened
Now that there were no wars, the Reingar had
started trips which they called 'tchais' for the children of members. I say
it is a select guild; but not necessarily small, and Jordan felt honored to
be chosen to go on a tchais with one of the leaders. Not many pets could boast
He had almost been too excited to eat breakfast
that morning, but somehow managed a bowl of porridge. His mother, Zinneh, dropped
him off at the Reingar's base, which was located not far from the start of the
Haunted Woods. The plan was, from there, to travel through the Haunted Woods,
and then up the Highlands, coming out at last on Terror Mountain, where they
would wait for his mother to pick him up again. The whole trip would take, if
they were quick, three days.
As they neared the station that was carefully
hidden in the trees, Zinneh took one last look at her son.
"Be polite." She licked her paw and began to
smooth back his unruly fur, but he wriggled out of her grasp.
"It's fine, mum," he said.
She smiled. "Alright. Do what your leader tells
you. And don't go anywhere you shouldn't."
"Sure, mum." He hurried to the station with Zinneh
Jordan paused to look around the base once he
was inside. It was an old wooden cabin, about twenty paces square, with tables
and chairs scattered around. There were doors in the walls that led to other
parts of the building, mainly bedrooms, and at the back of the room was an old,
scratched wooden desk. It was virtually empty except for some old, scarred Wockies
sitting around a table drinking coffee, a few shadowy figures lounging around
the walls of the building, and a Lenny who looked like he hadn't slept very
well last night behind the desk. When he saw them he looked up and gave them
a very tired welcome smile.
Trembling with excitement, Jordan waved his mum
away. "I'll be fine!" he hissed. "I'll see you when I get back!"
She swooped down and gave him a hug. "I'll see
you then." She smiled, and pride for her young and very independent son gleamed
in her eyes. "You'll do well."
As soon as she had left the building Jordan approached
the desk. The Lenny smiled at him.
"And who do we have here?"
"My name's Jordan," he said in his most grown
up voice. "I'm booked in for a tchais."
"Ah... yes..." The Lenny looked through some
files. "First timer, eh? Normally I'd send you with Hubert, but, erm, he's not
quite feeling up to it today." He glanced at a Tonu who looked like he had been
mummified; he was so wrapped up in bandages. "Went on a tchais last week with
a couple of Usuls. Hasn't been the same since, poor chap. Anyway... let's see...
" He looked through some notes. "I think I'll send you with Danger. He's a good
leader." He looked at one of the shadowy strangers leaning against the wall.
"OI! Danger! There's a cub to go on a tchais with you!"
The shadowy stranger pushed off the wall and
walked over to them, and Jordan got his first look at his leader. He was a large,
scarred Lupe, who had scruffy brown fur, unlike Jordan's sleek tan, and he wore
an old cloak that looked like meepits had been gnawing on it. He looked strong
and tough, and a scar ran down his face, from the base of his right ear down
to his jawbone, but the piercing blue eye it ran over was alert and quick.
He was nearly twice as tall as Jordan and his
eyes flashed as he sized him up. Jordan stood as tall as he could, and tried
to look brave.
"You got a name, kid?" The Lupe's voice was rough,
like his looks.
"Yes, sir. It's Jordan."
Danger snorted and glanced at the Lenny. "I swear
they get smaller every year."
"Be nice, Danger. It's his first trip. Try not
to eat him."
Danger gave a wolfish grin and turned back to
Jordan. "Let's go, kid."
"Now?" Jordan asked, trembling with excitement.
"The sooner we start, the sooner we'll finish."
The Lupe picked up a small rucksack and headed for the door.
"Do- do we need to bring food, or anything?"
Jordan skipped past the Wockies quickly and caught up with Danger.
The big Lupe snorted again. "No. We'll be living
off the land. The only things in here are for killing our food and cooking our
Jordan decided not to say anything. His guide
led him at a quick pace through the Haunted Wood. Jordan could see red eyes
glowing through the trees.
"Don't look at the eyes," Danger said suddenly.
"And stick close to me. We don't want anything to eat you. The paperwork last
time was murder."
Jordan stepped a bit closer to Danger. It would
take a while for him to work out that when the Lupe grinned lopsidedly like
that it meant he had made a joke.
At noon they stopped for lunch. Danger told him
briefly which trees grew edible fruit, and watched as Jordan set forth to look
The first tree he tried had a Korbat in it.
"Go-go-go-go-go!" it hissed at him so quickly
he could scarcely understand it. "Not-welcome-welcome-welcome-not!"
Jordan glanced back at Danger, who was watching
with an amused grin on his face. Determined to impress his guide, Jordan decided
to ignore the Korbat and pick some fruit anyway.
Unfortunately, pretending you know how to handle
something you have no idea about hardly ever works. As Jordan reached for some
fruit, the Korbat flew from its upside-down perch and screeched in his face.
Shocked, Jordan tumbled backwards and landed in a pile of leaves. Blushing furiously,
he scrambled to his feet and looked at Danger, who was laughing. Striding up,
the Lupe knocked the Korbat away with a bat of his paw. Jordan's already pink
ears turned a deep shade of crimson.
By early afternoon they had started the climb
up the first of the Highland mountains. It was steep and rocky, but Danger didn't
slow down, and Jordan didn't complain.
At last, as the sun was starting to set, Danger
"We'll camp here for the night," he said, smelling
the air. "There's the Kukurai River just over that hill, and plenty of trees
for firewood. You can help me get it."
For the next half hour they scavenged for wood.
Jordan was amazed at how much Danger said they needed.
"It's dry," he explained briefly when asked.
"It'll burn quick. And we're still too close to the Haunted Woods to have our
fire burn out in the middle of the night."
When they had collected enough Danger stacked
it and lit some twigs he had placed under it. Lying down, he yawned lazily and
watched the fire. Jordan sat opposite him.
"So, kid," Danger said, suddenly and unexpectedly
deciding to be social. "One of your parents is a Reingar member?"
"Um, my dad."
"Would I know him?"
"His name was Garinth. He died in the Meridell
"Oh." Danger looked into Jordan's eyes intently,
as if to read his mind. "I'm sorry."
Jordan shrugged. "I was only two weeks old. I
don't remember him."
Danger's eyes never left Jordan's face. "And
your ma raised you on her own?"
"So you never really had a father." He stood
up abruptly. "Looks like I'm gonna have to teach you a few things. We'll start
Jordan stood up too. "Fishing? But we don't have
any lines or tackle or-"
"Of course not. How do you think we Lupes caught
fish before those things were invented? C'mon." He set off at a quick trot through
the trees. Jordan ran after him.
They went through a dense patch of forest and
came out at the edge of a small river. It was flowing swiftly downhill, fed
by the snows that fell further up the Highlands. And it looked freezing.
Without breaking stride Danger walked into it.
Jordan hesitated, and then put in paw in to follow. He drew it out again with
a quick gasp. He had never been a big fan of cold water, to the point of never
having learnt to swim, and this stream was freezing.
Danger stopped in the middle of the river. It
couldn't have been deep, because the water only came up to his shoulders. He
looked back at Jordan. "Well?"
Jordan was still on the shore. "It's cold!"
Danger snorted and ignored his protest. "Are
you coming or not?" he snapped.
Jordan desperately wanted to please his leader.
Gritting his teeth, he put his right paw into the water. It was very cold, but
he didn't take it out. Instead he put his left one in too. Taking another step,
he gasped to feel the cold water swirling around his legs, but his mind was
focused on one purpose, and slowly but surely he walked into the stream. With
every step the freezing water bit a little higher into his body, and by the
time he stood at Danger's side in the middle of the stream, it was around his
neck. Gasping and shivering, he looked up.
Danger seemed pleased. "It won't feel so cold
once you've been in it a while," he said far more kindly than he had spoken
to Jordan before. "Now, let's catch some fish."
Jordan sighed contentedly. The smell of cooked
fish still lingered in the air. That had to be one of the best meals he had
eaten; mainly because he had caught it. Danger had shown him how to scale and
clean the fish, too, and then how to cook it so that even Blandfish tasted nice.
The fire was burning well, and his coat had dried quickly. The stars were out,
and the forest surrounding them was dark. The only things he could see were
whatever happened to be in the circle of light the fire cast.
Opposite him Danger was lying on the ground,
and looked like he was asleep. Jordan could tell he wasn't, though, because
whenever there was a sound in the forest his ears would twitch.
Not wanting to go to sleep just yet, Jordan tried
for some stories.
Danger opened his eyes. "Yeah, kid?"
"I bet lots of exciting things have happened
to you in your life." If he had learnt one survival skill from his mother, it
Danger snorted. "You want a story, right?"
Jordan nodded. The big Lupe paused to yawn. "I'm
no great storyteller, so if you're hoping for a fairytale, you're gonna be disappointed.
I can tell you about some of the places I've been and some of the things I've
Jordan settled down comfortably. "I'm all ears."
"Well," Danger started thoughtfully, looking
up at the stars. "A couple years ago I went for a trip up Terror Mountain. Got
caught in a snowstorm, and while looking for some shelter found a hidden cave.
Inside there were two Kacheeks who..."
The night wore on steadily, but Jordan didn't
notice. Before coming on this camp he had amused himself with ideas of growing
up to own a chocolate factory, but now he realized what he wanted more than
anything else was to become a Reingar member, and grow up to be like Danger.
It would be more fun than eating chocolate all day.
"... so now I can use that secret passage to
get to the Snowager any time I want."
"Wow," Jordan breathed. "Will you take me there
one day? We could explore all the places you found, and ride down the rapids,
and maybe find some undiscovered cave or something... please?"
Jordan frowned. "Whenever my mum says that it
"Well, I'm not your ma, am I? If I were, I'd
be saying it's time to go to sleep, because you'll need all your energy for
To be continued...