The Greatest Show In Neopia!: Part Two
One more potential customer rushed away into the distance shaking a hairy head emphatically, as Kadar tried to use his natural showmanship to earn his small group a sale on their hand-drawn maps.
The whole morning had passed in much the same way, and the sun was already high above the Tyrannian plateau when Jarvis the Lenny finally slumped down onto a nearby rock with a cry of exasperation. He threw his armful of scrolls onto the dusty ground before him and buried his blue feathered head into his Eventide wings in a show of dejection.
His companions, Kadar the camouflage Ogrin and Constantina the gold Ruki, were fairing in much the same way, and both were happy for a brief opportunity to sit down and rest in the scorching heat.
“I just don’t understand,” the Lenny wailed miserably, his already soft voice muffled from inside his own wings, “Back at home people would buy these maps as soon as they were available, but here -” he looked up in frustration, “Nobody seems to care about maps at all. How are we supposed to get more funding to travel if we can’t even sell one silly scroll?”
“Relax, Jarvis,” the camouflage Ogrin yawned as he stretched out lazily on the dry floor using a nearby rock as a headrest, “Something will come up, it always does. Besides, thanks to Miss Constantina over there, we at least have plenty to eat in that backpack of hers.”
The pretty gold Ruki cast a sour look at Kadar lying in the hot sunshine before perching herself daintily on a flat boulder a short distance away, “The food I brought with me is for me, not you. I don’t mind sharing with Jarvis, but you can starve for all I care.”
Kadar sat up and shielded his eyes with a paw as he looked at her with a feigned hurt expression, “Seriously, you’re going to let me starve? Did you hear that Jarvis? I told you she was a monster.”
Connie smirked at him and bared her sharp teeth, to which he retaliated by sticking his tongue out in her direction. This caused her to begin scrabbling around in the dirt at her feet looking for a pebble to throw his way while he grinned at her in triumph.
Jarvis watched them both quietly for a moment. It were as though he were travelling with two foul-tempered children and in the hot afternoon sun he was suddenly intensely tired of them both.
“Instead of acting like babies,” he snapped aggressively, “Why don’t the pair of you go and see if you can find some water somewhere? I need to think about how we’re going to make some neopoints and I could use the peace, so be off with you.”
His tone of voice startled Kadar who wasn’t used to his gentle, scholarly friend being so short tempered with him, and he could see by her expression that Connie was beginning to feel a little sheepish too. He pulled himself to his feet and offered a dusty paw in her direction, “Come on then, Miss, let’s see what we can find.”
Allowing herself to be helped up by the annoying Ogrin, she couldn’t resist one last comment, reminding him firmly, “It’s Connie, not Miss. I hate it when you call me that, and you know it.”
Together they walked away from the clearing, allowing a strained silence to build between them as they crossed the barren landscape. They both cast a single look backwards towards the frustrated Lenny, who was patiently gathering his papers together again, before they disappeared around a rock face and continued on in their search for water.* * * * * * *
Ten minutes or so had passed before Jarvis finally began to feel himself grow a little calmer. He was enjoying the sun beating down on his feathered head, and although he knew he should move to a covered area soon, he was revelling in the absolute silence so much that he started to drift into a peaceful sleep right there on the dusty ground, surrounded by his beloved papers, books and maps.
Just as he was slumbering in that happy place between sleep and wakefulness, where nothing seems to matter and the dreams are light and pleasant, an unfamiliar voice cut through his gentle snores with a chirpy vibrancy.
“Hello there, Mister. You shouldn’t sleep out here you know, there might be a Grarrl stomping around. You wouldn’t want to get stepped on by one of those guys, would you?”
With some effort Jarvis pulled his eyes open and attempted to look at the Neopet who was speaking to him. He was so tired he could barely manage it, and his eyes refused to focus at all, they kept on telling him that the Krawk standing in front of him had four arms and at least one more eye than he should have done. He was clearly much more tired than he had thought.
Sudden realisation snapped him to consciousness, and with a slight cry he scuffled backwards in the dry Tyrannian dust trying to get away from the distorted figure standing before him. There was no doubt about it, this Krawk was a mutant.
His grotesque third eye was watching the Lenny curiously from the centre of his forehead, and as Jarvis watched in mute horror, he raised all four of his arms in succession and gave a casual little wave with each one.
In Terror Mountain, where Jarvis had grown up, there were many nights when the villagers would be snowed in together, unable to get back to their homes, and without anything else to do many of them resorted to telling tales to each other to pass the time.
One of the campfire favourites had been the scary story about the evil mutants. Creatures that wanted nothing more from life than to attack other Neopets and bring about misery to all who saw them. Jarvis had listened to these tales with rapt attention when he was a boy, hardly daring to believe that such creatures could exist in Neopia, but as he grew up he’d slowly forgotten all about them, dismissing them from his rational thoughts as a harmless faerie tale.
Now here he was, confronted by one of the mutants he had heard such terrible things about, and despite the heat of the Tyrannian sun he was suddenly frozen in place like a Cybunny that sees a bright light coming toward it. He could hardly breathe he was so frightened, and he was convinced the evil mutant Krawk was going to pounce upon him... when he abruptly noticed it seemed to be waving - and smiling at him?
Getting to his feet extremely slowly and watching the Krawk all the time, he reached for his knapsack so he could make a swift exit if anything started to go drastically wrong. “Hello,” said the monstrous Krawk again cheerily, “My name’s Sherukh, what’s yours?”
Poor Jarvis found he could barely respond, he was so surprised to hear the mutant Krawk sounding so normal that he didn’t know what to do. He had expected some sort of rumbling diabolical noise instead of words, “I’m… I’m Jarvis. I was just… just,” he stammered.
“Just sleeping in the sunshine by the looks of it. It’s not exactly the safest way to sleep, if you don’t mind my saying, Jarvis. If you’re tired why not come along with me to my hut, I have some tasty soup cooking on the fire you could share with me?” He smiled winningly at the flustered Lenny and offered one of his many hands to shake.
Being a well raised Lenny, good manners shadowed Jarvis's fear immediately and he grasped the proffered hand in an only slightly shaky wing. Still incredulous to be talking to such a Neopet, he accepted Sherukh's generous offer - after all, if he had soup to eat at home then he was hardly going to try gnawing on a thin little Lenny like himself, was he?
Scribbling the basic directions he was told onto a spare piece of parchment from his knapsack, he left a quick note to tell Kadar and Constantina where he’d gone, and then he followed the merrily whistling mutant Krawk back to his cliff-side hut.* * * * * * *
When the two Neopets were finally out of sight and the sound of melodic whistling no longer carried on the slight breeze, a small pair of mechanical eyes zoomed in on the scrap of parchment fluttering a little in the hot wind. Jarvis had the presence of mind to weigh it down with a heavy stone in case it tried to blow away, and now - with a jerky motion - a small metallic hand that glinted menacingly in the sunlight removed the stone, allowing the note and the directions written on it to float away on the gentle Tyrannian gusts.
With a high pitched beep of accomplishment the diminutive invader retreated back into the shadows of the tall rocks to see if its plan had been successful. It rested there and waited for the others to return.* * * * * * *
Connie was the first to discover that Jarvis was missing. She had been walking a little way ahead of Kadar on the return trek, and when she recognised the little clearing where they’d been sitting earlier she looked around eagerly for the Lenny. She wanted to show him the ingenious way she’d thought of to use leaves to create a carrying basket for the water they’d found, and she was also longing for a conversation with someone who wasn’t as completely irritating as Kadar.
She rushed over to the rock he’d been sitting on and called his name loudly, expecting that he’d just wandered off to look at something vaguely interesting. There was no answer to her calls and she turned to the panting Ogrin that was just now catching up with her, cradling in his arms the ‘bowl’ of water she’d insisted he carry.
“I can’t see him anywhere,” she said, biting her lip, “You don’t think he’d just leave us here, do you?”
Kadar laughed even though his stomach began doing back flips almost instantly. He’d only know Jarvis for a short while, but even so he considered the clever Lenny one of his true friends and he honestly couldn’t see him deserting them out here on the unforgiving plains of Tyrannia. Jarvis had never wandered off on his own before though, and if the truth was told Kadar was beginning to get worried very fast indeed.
“I’m sure he’s around here somewhere,” he said with feigned confidence, “He’s a scholar at heart, so if he’s gone off someplace there’s probably an arrow or something drawn onto one of these rocks that’ll tell us which way he went. Have a look around and see if you can spot something.”
He tried to sound much more upbeat than he felt, but even so he noticed Constantina's eyes flicker towards him nervously as she picked up on the worry in his voice.
He turned and began climbing a nearby rock face with all the sure-footedness of a mountain Ixi, but by the time he reached the top he was already out of breath, the hot sun draining his normally inexhaustible energy. Standing up carefully and shielding his eyes, he turned around in a full circle.
“See anything?” Connie asked from beneath him, tapping her foot in a characteristic gesture of impatience.
“Nothing, I guess he must have… hold on a second, what’s that?” he pointed off to the south a little way, but Connie couldn’t make out what it was he was gesturing to. She started walking in that direction anyway, surprising herself by how confident she was in Kadar's shouted directions.
She’d hardly gone a few steps when she spotted what he was trying to point out. Wrapped around a tuft of withered grass was a piece of parchment paper blowing gently in the rising wind. It was so out of place in this barren environment that it was instantly recognisable as belonging to their missing companion. She reached it just as a gust of air tore it free from its perch, and she only just managed to snatch it from the sky before it would have fluttered away forever.
Returning to Kadar, who had just managed to get back down to the bottom of the rock face, she smiled as she handed the paper over, “Looks like he left a note after all. It says he met a nice Krawk and went with him… that way.”
She pointed triumphantly to the east as Kadar took the instructions from her and checked them himself. She scowled at him as he picked up his water ‘bowl’ and began walking in the direction she’d originally pointed out.
Kadar ignored her as he let his thoughts drift, he hoped Jarvis and this Krawk he’d mentioned weren’t too far away, it had been an utterly exhausting day and he was desperately ready for a well-deserved rest.
To be continued…