The Karate Master's Belt
A class of about fifteen pets were lined up in perfect rows and columns, practicing their basic moves under a Neopia Central Karate Studio. They were kicking, punching, twisting, and chopping in the air, as if doing some kind of dance. With at least a five feet radius apart from each other, they continuously did this routine in perfect harmony, as if they had been rehearsing for years. There were white belts everywhere you looked, but by the look on their faces, you could tell that they had no interest in moving up. You see, most of these pets... were bored to tears.
A voice came from the front row, directly in front of their instructor.
“How about another fifteen minutes, Master!?” it called.
It came from a young blue Lupe, who stood in a mid-chopping pose with a competitive look on his face. He stood on two legs most of the time, but could convert to all-fours if he needed to. The Lupe was taller than most of the pets around him, and had a muscular upper body. He was wearing the traditional white robe and trousers, sized extra large to keep up with his growing size. His clean, white belt was wrapped tightly around his waist.
“Very well, Baltund,” answered the instructor, who was an older red Scorchio. “A short break, and then fifteen more minutes of the focus exercise. After that, we will work on your defensive tactics.”
The rest of the class groaned as Baltund excitedly grinned. He wasn't a teacher's pet, or a perfectionist... but when you got him excited about something, he got some impossible ability to keep working until he got what he wanted.
When the break started, Master Shuri walked over to Baltund.
“My boy... you've got to take a rest,” insisted the Scorchio.
“I don't want to rest,” Baltund said. “Karate is so awesome, and I really want to get that black belt!!”
“The belt doesn't tell you how great a warrior is,” Shuri said profoundly. “His spirit does.”
“Then... why are you wearing one?” The big Lupe pointed at the shiny, black belt around his Master's waist with an oversized paw.
“I, uh... you... never mind that!” The Scorchio began to push Baltund out of the studio as he spoke. “You've done enough for today... the whole week, in fact. Come back in three weeks.”
“But Master Shu--”
The door was slammed in his face. He sighed and walked next door to the Grooming Parlor.
“Get my outfit and belt cleaned, please,” he said to the pink Uni at the desk. “And may I have my bandana back?”
He always asked the Uni shopkeeper at the Grooming Parlor to hold it for him. The rest of the working pets there seemed too mean to talk to.
The Uni reached onto a shelf and pulled off a plain red bandana. Sensing disappointment in Baltund's voice, the Uni didn't say much to him. Instead, she quietly tied it onto his neck and let him be on his way.
“Feel better, sweetheart,” she cooed. “Please come again!”
Baltund walked out of the store. He waited for the door to close before saying anything.
“I will... in three weeks.”
As he sulked down the quiet Neopia Central sidewalk with his head down, he saw the feet of a human up ahead of him. Recognizing the red-and-brown shoes, he could tell it was his owner.
“KNUUUUCKS!!!” he shouted, as he leapt at the unsuspecting human and picked him up in a bear hug.
It was another one of Baltund's many habits. He's a great guy to have as your friend, but be warned: If he EVER starts to call you his “buddy”, he's gained too much of a liking to you, and he'll start to tackle you whenever he sees you. Annoying at first, but it'll start to grow on you.
“Ohhh, hey, Balt,” NK said. He started to gasp for breath as Baltund squeezed him tighter. “I was... coming to get you... why are you... out... already!?”
Baltund stopped squinting and opened his eyes to see that the guy couldn't speak any more.
“Oops... I should stop doing that,” he said, and released his owner. “I was kicked out... for working too hard.”
“Does he think you need a break?” NK asked.
“Yes,” replied his blue Lupe. “Won't be going back for three weeks.”
“Wow... I'm sorry about that. At least you'll spend some quality time with me!!” NK said. Was it serious or sarcastic? It was hard to tell.
Baltund toyed with the red bandana around his neck and gave him a fake smile. They started to walk back the other way.
Baltund stopped as he heard voices coming from a dark alley along the way. He hid behind the brick wall of a surrounding building, with his head only peered out enough to make out their figures. It was a red Kyrii and a yellow Usul.
“From behind the Healthy Food shop?” whispered the Kyrii.
“Yes,” replied the Usul. “At 1 o'clock, on the dot, we'll meet there and steal the fire design... I've got the boomerang.”
The two jumped farther into the darkness. Baltund ran into the alley to follow them, but they were gone. He stood there for a moment, and cautiously walked back out to the sidewalk.
The two continued to walk along the quiet street.
“I really want to go back,” Baltund complained.
“It's kind of weird,” NK said. “Usually they reward you for hard work, but nowadays, they kick you out, ahahaa!!”
Baltund smirked and pushed his owner into the wall. He stopped a few feet later to see a poster on the side of a shop.
“Shuri's Karate Academy welcomes the Techo Master! Students and their owners are welcome to visit!”
Baltund drooled and leaned on the wall with both paws surrounding the magnificent poster. His tail started wagging like it was trying to swat out a fly.
“You're supposed to be on a break,” NK said. “So don't even think about it.”
Baltund looked at him. “I want to go back to Karate. I want my black belt, and I want to see the Techo Master. So let's get over there!!”
The big Lupe grabbed NK by the back of the shirt and dragged him back the other way.
“I used to be the one doing that,” NK bluntly stated to himself.
The two waited until the coast was clear, and then ran into the empty studio. The class must have been in the back room.
“Balt, we shouldn't be in here...” NK said.
Baltund ignored him and found a suitcase on a sideline bench. He opened it to find the glorious suit of the Techo Master. Black robe, black trousers, topped off with a glorious black belt. It had a small fireball pattern on one corner.
Without hesitating, Baltund slipped on the outfit.
NK walked behind Baltund and grabbed his shoulders. The Lupe was quite a bit taller than him on two legs. When did that happen?
“Put that down and let's get out of here before--”
They were alerted to the sound of a door being unlocked. It had to have been Shuri.
They stumbled out the door, trying to get out unnoticed. Not having a chance to get the belt on, the black robe and shorts fell off before they made it out the door.
Shuri and the green Techo Master of Mystery Island opened the door to find the karate clothes lying on the floorboard before the door.
“My belt has been stolen!” came the voice of the Techo Master, followed by dozens of gasps from the students.
“Let's get this belt in quickly,” Baltund said, his red bandana and belt in his paw being the only clothes with him. First, he rubbed the spiffy black belt, wondering if he would ever hold one again. Then, he held it up towards the sun to get a better look at the almost-transparent fireball pattern...
A large, purple Eyrie flew in and grabbed the belt in its talons. It flew off without looking back.
“AHHH!!! Get that belt!!” NK cried.
With that, they began to chase the Eyrie. Baltund dashed past a group of young Kacheeks with ice cream cones, knocking them over, causing the ice cream to sadly plop onto the grass. The Eyrie flew a lot faster than the two could run, and the trio weren't helping to keep the peace in the Neopia Central park. The Eyrie laughed as it watched the two ground-beings try to keep up with it.
A nearby owner was throwing a yellow frisbee toward his Gelert, which met paths with the Eyrie and knocked the black belt out of his talons. It fell down into a small lake, probably around eleven or twelve feet wide.
NK and Baltund immediately dived into the lake. Baltund sank underwater to find the belt was in the grip of a red Flotsam, who was stretching and playing with it.
Baltund swam over to the Flotsam, who was able to easily get away. It giggled as Baltund chased it in circles trying to swipe it. Eventually, they rose to the surface.
There wasn't much added effect when NK tried to help. The Flotsam was having a blast watching them try to catch him. Belt in mouth, the Flotsam dove and came back up, making a large leap straight into the air.
The belt snagged onto a passing black-and-yellow boomerang, carrying it in one direction. Baltund and NK jumped out of the water to go after it. It didn't take long for it to do a complete rotation, smacking NK straight in the jaw and knocking him back a few feet and into the lake.
“There it goes!” Baltund said, following him over to the pool. The boomerang was flying back from the direction it came. At least it works... they usually don't.
NK slowly and tiredly rose to the surface. “You've got to go catch it... we'll get in major trouble if anything happens to that belt... and I'm too tired to chase it.”
“I can carry you,” Baltund offered, grabbing his owner under the arms and pulling him out of the pool.
“We'll never make it in time. I'll catch up. Go!!” NK ordered.
Baltund let go of him and went towards the direction the boomerang was flying. Going in that direction brought him back to the Neopia Central streets, and no famous Techo Master belt was in sight.
“It couldn't have just disappeared...” he said. Then, he heard a familiar student's voice. He was right in front of the Karate Studio.
“Master Shuri, I found a clue! This news article says that a pair of thieves have been threatening to steal something important in Neopia Central... using only a boomerang and a giant piece of broccoli.”
“A clue, maybe... not very helpful, though,” came the voice of Master Shuri.
Baltund thought about the voices he heard from the alley that morning, and he struggled to remember. A few words came to mind, and he whispered them to himself.
“Boomerang... fire design... Health Food shop... 1 o'clock...”
He looked at a public clock tower across the street. It read “12:56.” It all added up.
“I've got to get to the Healthy Food Shop!!” he announced.
He paused for a moment, and rubbed his big, rumbling belly.
“Just... not to buy anything. Ick,” he said, and darted off.
From the Karate Studio door, Shuri peered out to see Baltund going down the street in a hurry.
The big blue Lupe arrived on the scene, at 1 o'clock, on the hour. Sure enough, a yellow Usul was there. He dressed in a full-body black ninja costume. A few seconds later, a red Kyrii wearing similar attire walked behind the Food Shop to meet the Usul, holding a black-and-yellow boomerang and a black belt with a fireball on the corner. It all added up... again.
Baltund jumped out of the shadows to confront the duo.
“Hand over the Techo Master's belt,” he threatened, “or I'll take it from you.”
“How did you know about us?” asked the yellow Usul.
“Even dark alleys aren't secretive in Neopia Central. Pets are everywhere you look.”
Baltund started to run after them. The Usul stood still in a fighting pose as the Kyrii started to run away, carrying the belt.
Baltund jumped, and rotated to a double-footed kick in the air. The Usul ducked, but Baltund wasn't letting his guard down. He jumped on top of the Usul to boost himself into a start to chase the Kyrii. Baltund started running on four paws for more speed; the Kyrii, although quiet and fast, knew that the Lupe was gaining on him. Baltund realized he needed to find a way to get that belt from the Kyrii, who was holding it in a curled-up position like a football. There was no way he could grab it from behind.
Baltund noticed the boomerang hanging from the Kyrii's pocket. He did a front somersault and kicked it, sending it flying forward.
He stopped running.
The Kyrii kept moving, looking over his shoulder. He laughed as the Lupe stood there in the distance, panting from exhaustion.
Suddenly, the boomerang came back on its return course, quickly smacking the Kyrii to the ground. He couldn't move at all after that. The boomerang and belt landed on the soft, innocent grass. Baltund walked forward, and nonchalantly snatched the belt.
“Oh, too bad... thanks for the workout, though.”
He ruffled the Kyrii's hair with his paw, and began to walk back to the public, when...
“Bravo,” came a wise voice. It was the Techo Master. He was there, along with Shuri and NK, who were clapping.
“Did you... were you watching me?” asked Baltund, who was taken by surprise.
“Every bit,” replied the Techo Master. “Right down to the clever exit line.”
Baltund stood on two legs again, and made a small bow to the Techo Master, presenting him with his black belt... which was dirty, wet, chewed up, and smelled of fish by now. The Techo Master took it, and handed it to Shuri, the elderly red Scorchio. They both nodded.
“No,” Shuri said to Baltund. “You're keeping it.”
The young Lupe stood there with a puzzled frown.
Shuri smiled. “This is my special way of awarding you with the highest rank my school can present. You've showed excellent Karate skills, wisdom, bravery, and kindness in these last few hours... which happen to be the key skills to obtaining this ranking. Take it. Please.”
He held it out towards Baltund, who didn't hesitate grabbing it and giving a courteous bow to his Master.
Shuri took a step towards him. “The truth is... I didn't want to give you your black belt because I knew I would lose you as a student. You can move on to a selection of more advanced academies now that you've earned a black belt in my class. You were a gem amongst the stones... inspirational, ambitious, and a joy to see each morning... and I wish you luck.”
For the first time, Shuri gave a bow to one of his students.
“Awww... thanks, Master! I mean... Shuri!” Baltund said.
“Of course,” Master Shuri replied. “After all, you are not just my student. You're my buddy.”
Baltund's eyes widened. “Buddy? ...WOOOO!!!”
The Lupe dropped the belt onto the ground and tackled his former master to the ground in excitement. His red bandana dangled below him.
Taken by surprise at first, Shuri knew he would have to get used to it, so he smiled and let it slide.
“You take care of that belt, will you?” Shuri asked with a chuckle.
Did he even have to ask? Baltund got off of the Scorchio and picked up the black belt that now belonged to him. It was smelly and worn out, which made sense after all it had been through that day. He stared at the fireball pattern on its corner.
“Are you kidding me? I'm gonna cherish this little beauty for the rest of my life,” he promised. He stood there, being thoughtful for a moment.
“Well... after I wash it.”