"Finish up, everyone, finish up!" a voice squeaked from
the front of a large group. Mrs. Myers, a small Pteri, flapped her pink wings
to get the attention of her students. "We mustn't dawdle; there is a lot more
mountain to cover before we begin our journey home!" Her enthusiasm ricocheted
off the tunnel walls around them, creating a faint echo.
Marshall quickly cleaned up his remains of the
short lunch and disposed of them in a flap of his backpack. 'Take only pictures,
leave only footprints' was what the sign entering the Shenkuu mountain path
had said. The Ogrin finished up just in time to hear the teacher call,
"Does everyone have their buddy?"
There was a bit of shuffling around, followed
by, "Yes, Mrs. Myers."
Because of the large group, the buddy system
was what her class was using to ensure safety at all times. On the ferry ride
from Neopia to Shenkuu, over each rope bridge, and all the way around spiral
paths, Marshall was sure to obey orders by keeping a close eye on his buddy
at all times. Unfortunately, it was a difficult task.
Thomas never stayed in one place.
"Hey, Marshie!" Thomas called. The spotted Nimmo
bounced over to him in two long leaps. "Wassup?"
"Nothing." Marshall's answer was automatic. He
noticed that the Nimmo had a fly on his chin that must have been there from
"Line up, class, and we'll continue the tour."
As Thomas pulled Marshall into the line of other
classmates, the talk died down almost instantly. Once they started walking again,
there was too much to see and hear to keep a conversation going. The path wound
further around the long mountain, hugging the side and climbing to the peak.
Pine branches hung over head, shading the students from the late afternoon heat.
There was a breeze overhead though, probably just a draft coming in from Terror
The group stopped shortly after a walk to find
symbolic inscriptions in certain spots of the stone. A loud "oooh" erupted from
the class. Marshall felt his jaw drop. Thomas stopped bouncing in place.
"These carvings you see," the Ruki tour guide
pointed out, "were created hundreds of years ago by the natives of Shenkuu.
These symbols represent peace, love, friendship, and prosperity."
Thomas' brow wrinkled. "Pros-what?"
"Prosperity," said Marshall. He lowered his tone
when he got a warning look from Mrs. Myers. "Good fortune."
For once on this entire trip, Thomas was silent
while the Ruki continued with his speech. He spoke of how the city was formed,
and how the natives had survived for so many years without outside resources.
"They were a very independent city, and have
learned to still be very structured and true to their beliefs." The Ruki smiled,
his leathery face softening. "Some say that there was a great Neopian who watched
over the Shenkuu village and kept its residents out of danger. He lived here
in the mountains."
This roused a question from a new student. The
red Kacheek raised her hand, "Does he still live in the mountains today?"
"Oh yes," said the Ruki. "The villagers say that
his voice is the echoing air; his skin is as rough as the stone itself, and
his eyes are always watching us."
Marshall felt half paranoid and half in awe listening
to a story abut Shenkuu coming from such a wise Neopian. This entire trip had
amazed him, from the ferry ride here to this very moment. There was no way his
owner could have ever afforded to take him and his sister on a trip like this,
so the Ogrin felt very fortunate to be standing here on a Shenkuu mountain.
The tour guide was not quite finished with the
story. "The brave Neopian who silently cares for the villagers was known as
Thomas laughed like it was a joke. Marshall shot
him a look that clearly told him to can it. After all, the blue Ogrin found
Neopian history and culture to be very interesting subjects. Plus, Marshall
found great amusement out of the tour guide himself, how his face was worn with
age, and his tone seemed to say that he really knew what he was talking about.
"Come this way and we'll see some of the old
tunnels through the Shenkuu mountains. But first," the Ruki held up a hand,
"you're in for a real treat. We're going to cross the rope bridge over Shenkuu's
A chorus of awe and giggles broke out again amongst
the excited students. Eagerly the two-dozen Neopians trotted along the dirt
path that continued to spiral halfway up the mountain. "Does everyone have their
buddy?" Mrs. Myers called from the front. The class looked around. Marshall
turned, too, to look for Thomas.
Marshall had to back track his steps until he
found the Nimmo with a patch of old pine needles on his head.
"Look! I'm the Provider!" Thomas shouted.
"Shh," said Marshall. "Get those off your head;
Thomas sighed and shook his spotted head, sending
the needles flying everywhere. "Pine needles are really disrespectful." The
sarcasm in his voice was evident. "I want to go on the ferry again."
"Yeah right," said Marshall, "that was just water.
It's not every day you get to see stuff like this."
"Sure, this boring mountain and these
boring trees. Come on, Marshie, Neopia's way better than this old forest."
Marshall couldn't believe this guy's tact. He
sighed. "Come on, there's supposed to be a waterfall up ahead." He saw the last
few students in the group rounding a corner where the rope bridge was. Marshall
started towards them but only walked a few steps when he realized Thomas wasn't
The Nimmo poked his head around the corner of
the stone. "Just a second, I'm writing my name on the mountain."
It was a wonder to Marshall that Thomas even
knew how to spell. "Good grief, Thomas, let's go." Marshall took him by the
arm to lead them both away from the mountain.
It was like babysitting, Marshall decided,
and then a horribly embarrassing thought popped into his head. I'm babysitting
my buddy, like he's a little kid. The Ogrin sighed and dropped Thomas' hand
as they got to the beginning of the rope bridge.
The sound of the waterfall roared like a thousand
Kougras, but Marshall found himself deaf to it, because of how beautiful the
scene was. It looked almost too good to be true. Marshall had seen waterfalls
before, in books, but there was nothing like this in Neopia Central. He felt
fortunate to be here. He hastily pulled his little camera out of his green backpack
and snapped a few pictures to show his family that evening.
Strapping the camera around his neck, Marshall
felt ready to move on and catch up with the group. He started to move forward
across the wooden planks when the bridge started to sway.
Gripping the ropes beside him to keep balance,
an infuriated Marshall turned around to see Thomas swinging wildly on one side
of the bridge. The spotted Nimmo was almost just a blur of yellow and black.
"Thomas, stop!" Marshall yelled over the roar
of the waterfall. "I mean it!"
"It's fun!" said Thomas, his voice making a crescendo
on the last word so that it was more audible.
"Come on, the group's just up ahead."
The bridge was swinging a bit harder now. Faster.
The momentum was building like a growing tidal wave. Marshall turned to see
Thomas swinging away, in his own little world. He took a step towards the Nimmo
to drag him off the bridge when he saw it happen.
The rope Thomas had been swinging on was frayed
in one spot. The threads were slowly unraveling as the one line grew taut to
support Thomas' weight. Marshall knew it was coming.
"Thomas!" he screamed over the rushing water.
Just after he called, Marshall watched in horror
as single threads snapped. With the sudden stop of force, Thomas fell to the
right and tumbled over the rail of the rope bridge. He grasped at his surroundings
and latched onto a piece of rope that was dangling over the edge. It was part
of the frayed railing.
With the sound of the waterfall rushing in his
ears and pounding in his skull, Marshall raced to the other side of the bridge
where Thomas had fallen over. The entire railing on that one spot was being
stretched towards the river below, almost one hundred yards. Marshall got down
on his knees and looked at Thomas, who was clutching the frayed rope with all
his might, hind legs kicking frantically and eyes frozen open in shock.
Thinking fast, Marshall knew the rope wasn't
going to last for long. He lowered himself onto his stomach and stretched out
"Thomas, give me your hand!"
The Nimmo hesitated. Then closing his eyes, he
reached upwards. Marshall stretched as far as he could until he felt Thomas'
rubbery fingers close around his arm: one, and then the other. Using every ounce
of his strength, the Ogrin pulled with all his might until he saw Thomas' feet
touch the wooden planks again.
Marshall turned to him. "What on Neopia were
you thinking?" Instead of a concerned inquiry, the words came out as a bitter
shout. He felt shaky from adrenaline and couldn't seem to find his voice again.
Thomas stood petrified, unable to speak either.
Marshall sighed and hung his head. They stayed still for a while until Marshall
realized that the group was still up ahead and because of the rushing waterfall,
were oblivious to the incident that occurred.
It's better that way, he thought, feeling
embarrassed at his heroism. With the noise of the pounding waterfall making
him feel lightheaded, he beckoned Thomas to follow him across the bridge to
catch up with the rest of the class.
Marshall rested his head back on the seat as
the ferry pulled away from Shenkuu. He listened to the dull hum of the motor
and the gentle waves lapping the side of the ferry. It was relaxing to be going
back to Neopia Central at last, and now the buddy system would be no longer
Neither he nor Thomas had said a word to each
other since they got off the bridge. The tour guide was casually talking about
the different wild plants that grew along the side of the mountains when the
two of them discreetly slipped back in with the crowd. Marshall closed his eyes
and dozed off to sleep for a moment.
He woke up to someone poking him in the shoulder.
It was Thomas.
"Hey, I just wanted to say I'm s--"
"Don't," said Marshall, holding up a blue paw.
He really didn't want to hear an apology. The whole thing felt weird. Thomas
sat next to him and stayed there.
It was going to be a two-hour trip back to Neopia
and the sun had already gone down. There was a slight chill to the air. Marshall
shivered in the plastic seat.
"You know," said Thomas, handing Marshall his
red jacket, "I think The Provider was watching over me today."
It was so lame that Marshall had to laugh. "Oh
"Yeah," said Thomas, with a smile. "And I want
to know... if he'd like to have lunch with me tomorrow?"
Marshall didn't know what to say when he understood.
A pink tinge of embarrassment crept across his blue cheeks. He turned his head
and saw Thomas grinning ear to ear. "Umm..." he fumbled. "Sure, I guess."
"Great!" said the Nimmo, bouncing in excitement.
"I'm bringing a fantastic fly pie!"
"Great," Marshall echoed, trying and failing
to match the enthusiasm of a fly pie.
Lunch tomorrow didn't sound so bad, Marshall
told himself. How dangerous could that be?
With Thomas, you just never knew.