The inside scoop on Jelly W-argh! *choke* Circulation: 97,878,627 Issue: 186 | 15th day of Eating, Y7
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Avalanche: Part One


by extreme_fj0rd

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It was chill the morning they set off; even before the sun rose, they were making their way through the streets of Neopia Central, the packs on their backs jingling with each step they took.

      Jamie glanced around, thinking that it was oddly quiet. Then again, she'd never been up this early before, she reasoned, and smiled. The spotted Aisha stuck her paws in her pockets and glanced around at her travelling companions. One of them, a Cloud Aisha-Reggie, she thought his name was, though she wasn't sure-glanced over at the same time. Their eyes met for a moment; then she gave a short nod and looked at the others. They were all Aishas, their colours ranging from blue to Halloween to Darigan.

      The leader, a Starry Aisha, turned back. He wore the blue vest of a mountain guide, with the logo of the ACC, the Aisha Community Center, embroidered on it in gold.

     "Not too far now," he said quietly. Heads bobbed obediently. Jamie shifted her pack to a different position on her back as she walked, trying to find a more comfortable way to carry it.

      Angela fell into step beside her. The Plushie Aisha wore a happy grin, as always, and had a large pack slung across her back.

      Jamie glanced over and smiled. "Excited for the trip?" she asked. The words left her mouth and hung in the frosty air.

      She nodded. "I can't wait!" the Plushie Aisha exclaimed, skipping a few steps. The leader, Thomas, glanced back at them and made a shushing motion with one paw.

      The spotted Aisha smiled. "It was good of Anna to let you come," she remarked, naming Angela's owner.

     The Plushie pet nodded again. "She said I had to be careful 'cause my stuffing could fall out," she said, "but I think I'll be okay."

      Jamie had to smile. "Of course you will be," she said.

     "And I do want to see the sun set over the mountains," Angela added with a grin larger than the one she normally wore.

     "It's supposed to be magnificent," Jamie said. She smiled, and fell silent.

      Angela said brightly, "Well, see you, then!" She moved away to speak to another of the Aishas.

      The spotted Aisha smiled wistfully. Angela's good humor was infectious; she could light up a room just by walking into it. She seemed eternally optimistic. For her sake, Jamie hoped nothing went wrong, either this time or when the actual trip occurred.

      "We have time for a quick rest when we get out of Neopia Central. Pass it on." The whisper-no one quite liked to disturb the early-morning silence that hung thickly over the city-rippled through the group. Jamie heard it, and turned to deliver the message to whoever was behind her. To her surprise, it was Reggie, the Cloud Aisha she'd seen earlier.

      She told him; he nodded, and she turned back around to face front. How long had he been walking behind her? she wondered.

      Jamie was glad when Thomas finally announced the rest; it meant she could go a small way apart from the others and observe them. She tugged her pack off and dropped it, then sat beside it, hugging her legs from the cold.

      "Mind if I sit here?" It was a quiet voice, polite and calm.

      She glanced up. Reggie stood there, smiling a little. She hesitated, then nodded. "Sure," she said.

      He set down his pack next to hers and sat. "So how did you get into this?" he asked. "My owner told me about it, she'd gotten the information somewhere. I'd never even been to the Aisha Community Center," he added, smiling.

      Jamie smiled. "I've known about it for ages, and known tons of people who've gone on it. My older brother and sister went on it, and gloated over me." She smiled wryly and added, "Now it's my turn, I guess."

      "Even if this is just the practice run."

      "To learn the ropes of mountain climbing," Jamie said. The Aisha smiled. "Half of us know them already, but our owners insisted."

      Reggie laughed. "My name is Reggie, by the way. Well, it's really Reginald, but Reggie is fine."

      "Jamie," she said, and stuck out a paw. Reggie shook it.

      "Nice to meet you," he said with a grin. "Odd name for a girl," he added.

      "You're telling me." Jamie sighed. "My owner thinks it's cute."

      "I'm assuming you don't."

      "The sigh should've told you that," the spotted Aisha informed him.

      "Ah." He smiled. "So are you one of the half that already knows rock-climbing?"

      Jamie nodded. "My siblings taught me. I think one of my earliest memories is being strapped to my sister's back while she was climbing a cliff, looking down a hundred-foot drop at my owner."

      "Who looked?" Reggie prompted.

      "Petrified." She grinned.

      The cloud Aisha smiled back. "So your earliest memories are of scaring your owner half to death?"

      "And my later memories... and my latest memories..." Jamie laughed. "No, she's not that scared. She was just worried that my sister hadn't bound me tightly enough and that I was going to fall off."

      "I see." Reggie smiled. "My owner rock-climbs. She thought it'd be a prime opportunity to get me to learn too."

      "And are you eager to learn?"

      To her surprise, he shook his head. "Not really. I'm sort of..." He stared off into the distance. "Well, I'm afraid of heights," he said, his eyes sliding sideways to glance at her reaction. "My owner despairs of me," Reggie added with an attempt at his usual flippant tone.

      "Does she now." Jamie summoned up some amusement and smiled. "Pity. Owners are handy people to have on one's side."

      "Oh, she's on my side. She's just trying to get me to be on her side, instead of her being on my side."

      The spotted Aisha blinked. "....What?"

      "That was confusing, wasn't it?" The cloud Aisha grinned.

      "All right, troops. Move 'em out!" Thomas called.

      "Ugh." Reggie stood, then bent to pick up his pack. "See you later, I guess," he said, heading off towards the others, who were milling about, cleaning up messes and slinging on packs.

      Jamie remained where she was for a moment; then Thomas caught sight of her. "C'mon!" he yelled. Reluctantly, Jamie stood up and, swinging her pack over her shoulder, went to join the others.

      "Sun's rising," Thomas said as she joined the group. He nodded behind them, in the direction of Neopia Central, and heads turned to look. "All right, now. Here's the plan," he said. "We head towards the mountains. Remember, this is just a trial run, so we'll camp in the foothills for tonight. Hopefully we'll get there in time to still catch some daylight; if we do, I'll give tests to some of you that've gone rock-climbing before. Tomorrow morning I'll demonstrate the technique; then the experienced ones can help those who haven't had instruction before. Sound good?"

      Jamie nodded along with the others.

      "All right, then. Let's go." Thomas turned and set off along the path. Out of Neopia Central, the path had dwindled to a gravel lane; now it changed again, into a strip of dirt worn bare by pawsteps over the years. The Aishas followed in groups, laughing and chatting now that the morning's silence had been broken by the rising of the sun and the rest stop.

      "Yarr!"

      Jamie turned, and grinned. "Hello, Sonja."

      "Ahoy, matey." The Pirate Aisha grinned back. "And 'ow be ye?"

      "I be... I mean, I'm good." The spotted Aisha winced, as she always did when she found herself picking up Sonja's pirate speak.

      If anything, Sonja's grin widened. "Aye and 'tis a fine day to be going a-climbin', eh matey?"

      Jamie nodded, careful not to say anything that could be interpreted as pirate talk.

      "Yarr," Sonja sighed, and stared off into the distance at the mountains they were making for. "How I be wishin' I had a nice ship right 'bout now," she said. "Yarr, we'd be coverin' the distance three times this speed, and even wi' this head-wind we 'ave."

      This time Jamie didn't even try to interpret Sonja's speech. "Really," she said. "Amazing."

      The Pirate Aisha looked at Jamie and frowned at her sudden acquiescence, then nodded. "Aye," she said.

      Jamie grinned quietly to herself.

      "Aye, well, me, I'd best be off," Sonja said after a few moments passed in silence. She dropped back to speak with a couple of the others.

      "She seems nice enough."

      Jamie jumped to find Reggie at her side, then nodded. "Yes," she said. "But the fact that I can't understand a word of her pirate speak rather hampers our friendship."

      "It would do that."

      She glanced over in time to see his wry smile, and nodded. "I'm sure if we had a common language, we'd get along well," she said. "If only she'd just speak plainly!" The spotted Aisha paused. "That sounded incredibly selfish of me," she commented.

      Reggie laughed. "Don't worry, I won't take it that way."

      "Good." She smiled. "Thanks."

      "No problem. Isn't that what friends are for?"

      "Something like that." She smiled.

           The morning went quickly talking to Reggie; as it turned out, he'd read many of the same books she had, and when Thomas called a halt for lunch, they were deep in discussion of one of the finer plot points of Pazo the Lonely Aisha. Unspoken agreement had them talk of other things during the break, but as soon as their paws hit the path, their conversation turned back to books.

      The group arrived at the base camp in midafternoon; the sun was just touching the tips of the mountains far overhead. The camp was simply a bare patch of dirt to begin with, since they'd brought tents in their packs.

      "All right, then," Thomas said, striding to the center of the area and pulling a list from his pocket. "Angela, Sonja, Jamie, your tent'll go here," he said, pointing a paw to his right. He went on to list off other names and placements of tents, and for a while all was chaos as the Aishas set up their tents. Jamie ended up doing most of the work for hers; she couldn't get Sonja to understand her instructions, and Angela was too weak, being Plushie, to hold up tent poles or push them through tubes of cloth.

      Jamie let out a long sigh as she backed away from the tent, holding her paws up cautiously. She willed it not to fall down.

      "Is it up?" asked Angela from right behind her.

      The spotted Aisha jumped and whirled, then nodded. "Just don't breathe on it," she joked. At the puzzled look on Angela's face, she relented. "Yes, it's up."

      Angela smiled. "Yay!" she exclaimed, and crawled inside before Jamie could stop her. The tent teetered, but stayed up.

      Jamie smiled and wandered over to see how Reggie was doing with his. He seemed to be working alone, or so she thought at first. Then the end of the tent pole farthest from the starry Aisha moved. It started to wiggle its way through the loops it was supposed to go through.

      Reggie glanced up. "Invisible," he explained. Jamie, having just reached that conclusion herself, nodded.

      "Is everyone's tent up?" Thomas asked. Many of the Aishas shook their heads. "All right, well, finish up quickly. We'll start in... five minutes, maybe?"

      "Want some help?" Jamie asked in an undertone.

      The cloud Aisha grinned. "Thanks."

      Working together, the three Aishas put the tent up in a matter of minutes and went to join the others, who were congregating around Thomas.

      "Is everyone here?" Thomas asked. "All right." He paused. "Here's the list I've been given of people who've gone rock-climbing before." He read off the names; Jamie's was among them, as was Sonja's.

      "Did I miss anyone?" he asked when he was finished. No one responded; after a moment, he nodded. "All right. Those people, come with me, please." He started for the mountains, which towered over their camp.

      Jamie shrugged and glanced over at Reggie, who grinned and mouthed, "Good luck," at her. The spotted Aisha rolled her eyes, then grinned. She followed Thomas, along with the six others he'd named off.

To be continued...

 
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