Petpet Adventures: Mistress Maxie's Marvellous Circus - Part Four
The next morning they were once again going through the routine. Except this time Eva had decided Harro should practise with the rest of the Noils. He had grumbled a bit, complaining how his paws still hurt from all that running about yesterday, but she had given him an uncompromising stare.
"You were the one who wanted to join the circus," she said. "And besides, if you don't want the Noils to laugh at you and I, you need to show them what you can do."
The Noils hadn't laughed at him yet, but they had giggled a bit when he had missed one of the hoops. He had sat on the floor in a huff, until Eva pushed him to his paws again. He watched Karnu sail gracefully through a hoop as Tamir shouted something that sounded like, "Aley!"
"What is he saying?" Harro asked Eva. "I mean, I'm familiar with some Pet, but I haven't been able to understand any of the words he's said for the last hour."
Eva smirked. "He's not saying anything at all. We do the routine, and he flourishes that whip and shouts out some incomprehensible words. It looks more impressive when other pets don't know what he's saying. They think he's a masterful tamer." She looked at the other Noils, who were doing the confusing weaving and leaping over each other that was the middle of the routine. "Keep going!" she said. "We're almost to the good bit."
They ran to catch up, and Harro felt one of his mane hairs yanked out before he remembered to keep his paws high. Scowling, he raced ahead. They reached the other Noils, and Eva effortlessly joined in the weaving, while Harro jogged along beside them. It had been decided that he would sit out some parts of the routine, as they were much too complicated for him to perfect in the next few days. And Mistress Maxie wanted everything to be perfect for their performance in front of all the important people from the Haunted Woods, as well as the Faerie Queen herself.
Then suddenly the Noils stopped and began growling and snarling. They turned to Tamir and advanced in an orange-and-yellow mass. Harro fluffed out his mane and joined in, trying to look threatening. He didn't understand why the others enjoyed this bit so much.
The spotted Yurble had stopped yelling random words and was now backing up, his whip held high above him. He picked up his chewed-up stool and held it in front of him. Then the Noils pounced.
Harro watched Eva skilfully dodge the whip, which cracked just behind her tail as she rolled to the side. She picked herself up and leapt at Tamir again, growling happily. Karnu had latched onto one of the stool legs with his claws and teeth dug in. Tamir skilfully twisted the stool in his grip and the Noil flew off, sliding across the dirt floor of the now cleared arena. He stood and shook himself, then advanced again.
Harro launched himself at the Yurble, and felt the whip crack just above his head. It made his eardrums hurt. And then Tamir shouted, "Vazar!" and the Noils stopped attacking him, backing away with tails low. But Harro could see them all grinning. They continued the rest of the routine, pretending to be meek and obedient for the Yurble, who had now drawn himself up. Apparently the crowds loved the attack and then the "defeat" of the Noils.
At last the Noils came to a stop, Harro panting louder than any of the others. They clustered around Tamir, who handed them each a treat, patting them on the heads and praising them in Pet. He felt heat on his left flank and turned to see Labez chatting with Eva. Across the Magmut's back were several strands of string, and hanging off the strings on little hooks were dozens of red balls a centimetre in diameter. They swung merrily, almost like the baubles Harro had seen pets hang off the pine trees during the Month of Celebrating.
"She's still not awake," Labez was saying. "I went up as close as I could to her face without burning it, and she didn't even twitch."
Eva was frowning. "That's strange," she said.
"I'll say," Labez replied. "There was a line of pets at her door when I left, all looking extremely irritated, and one of them began to knock loudly, but she didn't answer."
"Maybe she accidentally made a sleeping mist instead of red mist, or something, and inhaled it," Eva suggested.
"Well, then I would have been asleep too," Labez said. "Besides, I know how to make any sort of mist, and they were all in their bottles when I checked up. I'm telling you, this has something to do with me seeing Max in there last night, even though he was at the cooking fires."
As he spoke the Grarrl himself walked into the Grand Tent, which was now fully erected. The roof stretched up so high it made Harro feel uncomfortable. A number of pets had set up poles and scaffolding and were now hanging ropes and nets several dozen metres off the ground.
Flying around the Ringleader's head was Mistress Maxie. A Beekadoodle whizzed past and shouted a hello, but the Floobix ignored her.
"That's weird," Eva said. She squinted at the faerie Grarrl. "There's something different about Max."
Both her and Labez stared at the Grarrl, trying to figure it out, but just then Armac appeared behind them, juggling three balls in either claw.
"It's the beard," he said.
"Beard?" Eva looked closer and saw that the Cyodrake was correct. There was a noticeable brown triangle on the Ringleader's chin that wasn't usually there.
"It's a goatee," Labez said, stroking his own chin. "Since when has Max had a goatee?"
"Well he certainly didn't have one last night," Eva said. "Let's talk to Mistress Maxie."
They left Armac behind, with Harro hurrying after them, not wanting to be left alone with the other Noils. Mistress Maxie was now perched on Max's head, staring curiously out at the action in the arena.
"Mistress Maxie!" Eva called.
The Floobix ignored her. She didn't even look in the petpets' direction. Instead she continued to gaze serenely out at the action going around her.
"I guess she doesn't want to be disturbed," Eva said. "Let's go out for a rest," she said, after glancing back at Tamir and seeing him perched on his stool reading a book, with the other Noils nowhere in sight.
They traipsed outside, and Eva saw the bright orange sign being set up on two huge poles in front of the Grand Tent. It read Max Maxwilliam's Marvellous Circus, and meant that preparations were almost complete for the show. They bumped into Tarla, who was sitting on one of the few bushes in the camp. It was unusual for the messengers to be free during the morning, which was usually their busiest time.
"What's wrong?" Labez asked the Beekadoodle, and Eva saw that Tarla was looking a little bit distressed.
Tarla looked up. "I don't know what I did wrong," she said, sounding upset. "But I tried to talk to Mistress Maxie, and it's like she never even saw me. She looked straight through me and didn't say a word."
Harro was looking confused. "So?" he asked. "She must be very busy, being in charge of all the petpets. Maybe she really didn't see you."
Eva shook her head at him. "She wouldn't do that. She always has something to say to us. I mean, everybody respects Max, but everybody loves Mistress Maxie. Even the pets. She's always chirpy and kind to everyone." She turned back to Tarla. "But now that you've mentioned it, we tried to talk to Mistress Maxie before, and she ignored us, too. And have you noticed Max's goatee?"
"Oh, so that's what it is," Tarla said, her distress disappearing for a brief moment. "It looks horrible."
"I knew there was something up," Labez mused, finally contributing to the conversation. "I have an idea. Quick, come with me."
There was a whistle, and Tarla snapped her head up. She sighed. "I have to go now. Some pet has a message for me to take," she said, taking off swiftly.
Labez was already several metres away, and he looked behind him in irritation. With a sigh Eva followed him. They weaved their way through the tents and wagons, avoiding the pets rushing about, until they reached Kaulisa's wagon. The door was open, and Kaulisa sat on the steps, head held between her hooves, looking rather dazed. A Uni sat next to her, patting her on the back.
"So she finally woke up," Eva commented as Labez rushed up and cuddled up to the electric Kau's side.
"I think she's okay," Labez said. He stared into the Kau's liquid blue eyes and nodded. "She should be fine. Maybe she made herself a sleeping potion because she was tired and drank too much. But I haven't found the bottle."
He led the way past the pets, who didn't even notice – or care – as the two Noils trailed after him. It was much better in the wagon now, as most of the smoke had drifted out through the open door. Eva could finally see the interior, which was a very rare occurrence. A workbench lay across the opposite end to the door, littered with racks of powders and bottles, both empty and full. On the left of the workbench was a small fireplace set in a stone basin for safety. Both sides of the wagon were lined with cupboards, and the only furniture was a stool, set amongst scrolls and jars littered on the floor. There was no bed at all.
Along the cupboards random pieces of wood had been nailed on, and they stuck out enough that Labez could use them to climb. He was already rummaging in one of the top cupboards, and Eva could hear him cursing. Wisps of smoke leaked out through the crack in the door.
Finally he emerged, a vial clamped in his jaws as he carefully made his way down. He shook his head as Eva tried to speak, and hurried down the steps. It was only when they were several metres away from the caravan that he finally, gingerly, set it down.
Eva peered into the vial, and realised the glass was twice as thick as normal. Inside a tiny bead of white rolled around, almost too bright for her to look at. It was similar size to the red beads that dangled off him
"What is it?" Harro asked curiously. Eva felt the same way.
"It's an anti-magic pearl," Labez said. "We use it after shows to clean away the residues of magic that are left over from our other potions, just in case it does something to the equipment. We have to be very careful with them, because if one exploded in our wagon we'd lose a lot of our work."
"Explode?" Harro repeated, beginning to inch away.
"Yes. It can't actually hurt you," Labez said. "Just close your eyes before I throw it, and you should be fine."
Harro still looked worried.
"Well, what are you going to do with it?" Eva asked her friend.
"I just have a feeling," Labez said. "That that's not actually Max in the grand tent. I think it's some sort of imposter pretending to be him. And I intend to destroy his disguise."
He picked up the vial and marched off with it, the two Noils jogging to keep up despite the Magmut's stumpy legs. They reached the tent and crawled under the fabric to get inside. Luckily the fabric was fire-proof, just in case any of the magic tricks inside failed, or Labez probably would have set it alight dozens of times.
Inside they found a group of huddled petpets muttering amongst themselves. Even the Hasees had climbed down from the scaffold they used to jump from and joined in. They were all casting glances at Max, who was across the room, talking to some pets. His booming laugh rang out, and Eva could not understand how an imposter could have imitated that so perfectly. Mistress Maxie was still perched on his head, occasionally grooming herself and letting out a tweet.
"What's going on?" Eva asked Armac, who was staring at Mistress Maxie with narrowed eye.
"There's something odd about Mistress Maxie," the Cyodrake replied. "Sometimes she talks, but it's gibberish. Almost like she doesn't know how to speak petpet, which is impossible."
"Wait here," Labez said. He had taken off the strings of red beads still hanging off his back and handed them to Eva. "Lie on these, so that the anti-magic pearl doesn't touch them."
He hurried over to the Ringleader, while Eva did as he instructed. The beads were hot to the touch, and it was extremely uncomfortable, but she ignored the pain and quickly explained what was happening to the gathered petpets. One of the Hasee trainers came up and tried to get them back to work, but all the petpets were too fixated on Labez to care.
When the Magmut was only a few feet away he grabbed the cork of the vial in his teeth and popped it out. Then he rolled the pearl in his palm for a few seconds. The faerie Grarrl and the pets he was talking to glanced at him, then turned away. As soon as they weren't looking, Labez threw the bead of light onto the ground as hard as he could.
Eva remembered to shut her eyes at the last second, and her eyelids went white as a brilliant flash of light lit up the entire tent. When she was brave enough to open them she blinked a few times, trying to see again. Many of the petpets were doing the same, but most of the pets hadn't closed their eyes and were stumbling around, blind. The faerie Grarrl in front of them let out a loud bellow of pain, clutching his eyes, but otherwise looked the same.
And Mistress Maxie had disappeared.
To be continued...