A Yurble stole my cinnamon roll! Circulation: 135,120,763 Issue: 268 | 1st day of Celebrating, Y8
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The Provider


by playmobil_is_my_life

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"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 lunch.

     "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 Mountain.

     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."

     "Oh."

     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 'The Provider'."

     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 highest waterfall..."

     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; it's disrespectful."

     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 behind him.

     "Thomas?"

     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. "STOP!"

     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 his paw.

     "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 required.

     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 really?"

     "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.

The End

 
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