Petpet Adventures: Mistress Maxie's Marvellous Circus - Part One
The wagons trundled across the Endless Plains, even though Neopia Central was clearly behind them in the far distance, and the fringes of the Haunted Woods were away on their right. But no one really minded the ill-named stretch of grass, as the warm sun and clear blue sky heralded their success of the last week.
Eva lay sprawled in one such wagon, resting her tired muscles and purring contentedly. The throaty rumble was repeated elsewhere in their caravan, as her companions enjoyed the rest and laziness that travelling provided. No stressful rehearsals to the sound of their Yurble taskmaster's whip (not that he ever used it, it was simply for showing off to the audiences, and it did make a wonderfully crisp cracking noise). And besides, Tamir's Noils adored the Spotted Yurble. After all, he did have an amazingly bushy mane, though not nearly as nice as theirs.
The cart jolted as it hit a bump, and Eva sat up sharply. She raised her paws to the windowsill and peered out the window at the hard dirt of the road, considered walking herself, then decided against it when she realised that she was too small to keep up the pace. Oscar must have been in a very good mood today. She craned her neck out of the window, but she couldn't see him up the front because there were too many caravans in between.
There was a shout up ahead, and one by one the long line of carts and caravans ground to a halt. They still had the rest of the day left to travel to their destination, but judging by the position of the sun, it was lunchtime.
Eva smacked her lips happily and leaped over the other Noils dozing on the numerous cushions spread all over the wooden floor. Tamir himself lay wedged between two cushions, mouth hanging open as he slept peacefully. She gave him a quick lick to the face and then bounded towards the door, pushing open the flap that let the Noils in and out.
They had stopped on a grassy knoll, the Endless Plains spread around them in a sea of lazily waving green grass. Something thudded against her chest, and Eva looked down at her newly acquired necklace. It was an enormous red gem set in gold, and she had loved it the moment she had first been shown it. She really hadn't stood a chance when the owner had named their price.
She quickly forgot about the necklace as an extremely garish caravan painted with different shades of blue trundled to a stop beside hers. She sometimes got the urge to shield her eyes when she approached it. Not that all the other carts weren't just as brightly coloured. It was her suspicion that the owner had put something in the paint in order to dazzle people.
She bounded up the stairs and pushed open another petpet flap. The musky, heady smell hit her instantly. As well as a cloud of who-knows-what that assaulted her delicate nose and obscured the contents of the caravan. She sneezed, then squinted through the miasma, trying to locate anything moving. She soon gave up.
"Labez, get your flaming tail outside right now!" she shouted, before diving back out onto the steps.
"You are just so hilarious." The dry voice heralded the arrival of her friend through the petpet flap. The Magmut was holding a glass jar of some strange yellow substance, which seemed determined to cling to the walls of its container. It was half the size of his body.
"What have you got this time?" Eva asked, closing one eye and pressing the open one up as close as she could get to the jar without singeing her mane.
"Hm, good question." Labez held the jar up to the sun and peered at the contents. "I think it's some sort of salve for the Uni. You know how sore their muscles get when we have to travel. They have to drag along lazy lumps like you."
Eva scoffed, not in the least offended, but still pretending. "I'll have you know that I exercise more than you. I have a routine that has to be perfected before every show, yet all you do is sit in your caravan and help that crazy Kau of yours mix her potions."
Labez grinned. "Don't get your tail in a knot," he said. "And Kaulisa isn't crazy. She's one of Kauvara's relatives, and without her this circus wouldn't be half as great as it is. Those potions make it a true show!" He waved his jar for emphasis. Then he noticed that the convoy had stopped, and looked around in surprise. Eva always had to fetch him for meals, as he never really noticed by himself.
"Let's get a bite to eat," he said, starting down the stairs.
"Aren't you going to put that salve down?" she asked, bouncing after him.
He hugged it to his chest defensively. "I have to keep it warm for a while, otherwise it won't be as potent."
Eva shrugged, and left him to it. The reason he was so effective an assistant to Kaulisa was because unlike an open fire, he was unlikely to spontaneously set a caravan on fire. Most of the time. But he was also able to keep his body at a constant temperature, which was useful for the longer brewing potions. In fact, the Magmut usually could be seen lugging a bottle behind him, or marching around with a vial strapped to his back, in order to help the potionmistress get some needed sleep.
In the centre of the knoll a large campfire had been set up, and a pot was merrily bubbling away. The food cart had been set up nearby, and travel bread was being efficiently being handed down by a group of assistant cooks. The head cook stood sweating by the fire, ladle in paw. Every now and then the fire Wocky would reach into a pouch and add a pinch of something to the stew.
Eva bounded towards the other Noils, who were clustered around Tamir. There were six Noils in all in the Circus, and all of them had been specially picked out and trained. Usually they got along quite well, but Noils were proud creatures by nature, and arguments often broke out about how to do that particular leap, or how to roar in the proper way. However, Noils were also loyal, and they all loved Tamir fiercely.
"Ah, there you are," the spotted Yurble said as Eva delicately walked the last few steps to curl around his polished black boots. She understood most of what he saying. In fact, every petpet in the Circus knew Pet to some degree, otherwise it would have been impossible to work with them effectively. But none of them could speak it, except maybe their leader, who also happened to be the Ringleader's petpet.
Labez jogged up, looking rather cranky. She could tell by the way his fiery spine was twice as large as usual. Waves of his heat washed over her.
"You know, I have to carry this around," he grouched, holding out the jar. Then he flopped to the grounding, instantly igniting the grass around him as sparks flew off his back.
He sighed and quickly stomped the flames out with well-practiced efficiency, then rather more gingerly lowered his body onto the patch of dirt he had created. The flame on the tip of his tail extended to wrap around the jar lying next to him.
The line for food eventually shortened, and Tamir stepped up to pick up his food, and then Blumaroo steaks for all of his charges. He also brought back some charcoal from the fire for Labez, whom he was used to feeding, as Kaulisa spent most of her time ensconced in her caravan. Lastly, he handed the Magmut a bundle sealed in fireproof cloth for Kaulisa.
"Are you going to eat that?" a voice asked behind her. The rather handsome Karnu stood behind her, grinning. He was one of two male Noils in their group, and he was eyeing the half of Blumaroo steak she still had between her paws.
"Yep," Eva replied, taking another bite. Then she stood up, the rest of the steak dangling from her jaws. "Go'a go!" she mumbled, quickly starting off.
"Wait!" Labez shouted after her. "You need to help me carry..." he sighed as her orange-tipped tail slipped out of sight behind one of the wagons. He looked at Karnu helplessly. "How am I supposed to carry both of these back?" he asked, indicating the jar and Kaulisa's food package.
Karnu looked a little surprised as he watched Eva disappear. "Do you know what that was about?" he asked.
When Labez shrugged, he bent to pick up the package in his mouth. "I'll 'elp you carry dis," he said through a mouthful of cloth.
Labez looked relieved. "Thanks," he said, picking up the jar. The two set off towards the Magmut's wagon.
Eva glanced furtively behind her. Then, sure that she was unobserved, she slipped into the supply wagon, steak still clenched between her teeth. She fought her way through an overhanging piece of fabric that one of the pets must not have folded properly – how very unprofessional – and ducked under a few poles, before reaching her destination.
Amidst a number of multicoloured balls and clubs, another Noil lay, body tense as he squinted through the dim light in her direction. He relaxed as he caught her scent. Eva padded up to him and dropped the steak by his paws.
"There. I hope you enjoy it, because I'm hungry," she complained. Her stomach obligingly rumbled.
The other Noil began to eat, while Eva wistfully licked her lips. He stopped and chewed lazily.
"We had a deal, remember," he pointed out, quite reasonably. "You try and get the troupe to accept me, and train me, and I give you that necklace."
Eva quickly put a paw up to her neck and lovingly stroked the red gem. "I know," she said. "But wait until we get to the Haunted Woods. Then you'll be far enough away that they couldn't possibly send you home. And you better be right about your amazing running and jumping skills, or you're more likely to be kicked out."
"I can leap just as far as the next Noil," he said, sounding affronted. "Besides, you have to let me stay." He sounded desperate. "I've always loved the circus, and I haven't even seen your full show yet."
"Shh!" Eva said suddenly, lifting her head and pricking her ears up.
"Evaaaa?" The voice came from nearby. She froze, and the Noil next to her did the same.
Then Labez poked his head into the little den.
To be continued...