TaleSpin is property of the Walt Disney Company, 1990-1991. The characters here are used without permission, but without any financial gain on my part. Interpret; I'm just a poor college student, so *please* don't sue me!!
Again, all thanks for this story goes to many individuals who got me back on the path to becoming the obsessed TaleSpin fan that I was always meant to be. Dan Green, for his encouragement and boosts to my ego, and especially for his amazing stories that inspired me to try my hand at writing. Gregory Weagle, for his page on the greatest child character in the history of animation, and for his correspondence with *why* Kit is the best, and Disney just doesn't know it yet. Constance Cochran, who wrote the first TaleSpin fan-fiction I ever read, "Tail Winds", a story I still consider one of the best out there and finally, David Kimble for all of his patience in trying to help me get my stories on here in the first place. Whew, (not to mention all of the other great TaleSpin fans and writers out there, thanks guys!!)
E-Mail: Alyson Terry
This story is dedicated to all the wonderful people who brought the characters of TaleSpin to life. Ed Gilbert, R.J. Williams (and Alan Roberts), Sally Struthers, Jaina Michaels, Micheal Gough, Lorenzo Music, Jack Angel, Pat Fraley, with many others, and of course the incredible, Jim Cummings. The man's talent is a marvel.
Pt 2- Novelization of "Idol Rich"- all credit is given to any and all individuals who created this episode, it's one of my favorites. No financial gain was made through this story, (yeah right, like I get paid to have this much fun) If I need to give any recognition where it is due, please let me know and I will gladly do it.
Finally, "Mind Over Matter" is dedicated to all of my TaleSpin friends out there. Your support has been marvelous and the range of talents that is out there among everyone is astounding. Keep up the good work everyone and this one's just for you.
"Mind Over Matter"
The bell rang at exactly 3:15 and Kit jumped out of his seat with renewed energy. *Friday, the weekend......treasure hunt!* All these thoughts raced through his head as he collected his things and headed out the door.
The last thought was about to happen courtesy of Baloo, the pilot Kit had been staying with for almost half a year. Walking down the hall, Kit grinned in anticipation. Quian, a crowded city located deep in the humid, far-eastern city of FaiXu was the pilot's newest wild goose chase.
Kit had to smile every time he thought about how confident Baloo was whenever they went on one of these hunts, despite the fact that they had always either come back empty-handed or worse off than before. *But next time, Lil' Britches...* Kit could practically hear the bear's voice, like a broken record, never wanting to give up the dream of getting rich quick and easy.
Kit used to feel a little shiver of excitement every time he thought about the piles of wealth just sitting there, right for the taking, but now he had discovered a new kind of wealth. The boy felt rich whenever he thought about all the fun him and Baloo had when they went off on an adventure, even if Baloo sometimes had to come back grovelling to Ms. Cunningham, who enjoyed watching the big bear eat his words at times.
The feeling grew when the cub thought about how nice it had been, day after day, week after week, traveling the same route from school to home, er, Higher for Hire and back again through the city of Cape Suzette.
Kit ducked his head, still grinning. *Home, Higher for Hire, same thing* Needless to say, the cub was on cloud nine when a high-pitched, stuttering voice brought his head back down from the clouds it had been occupying.
"Uh....K-K-Kit?" Kit looked down at the small, well-dressed figure of Oscar Vandersnoot.
"Oh, hey Oscar. How are things going?" The boy smiled at the shy cub who beamed at Kit's question. Kit felt a little sorry for the other cub. He had almost no friends, an incredibly over-protective mother and several social deficiences that made it hard for him to fit in.
So, Kit took it all in stride when Oscar latched onto him like glue, being in awe of the popular, good-natured navigator who always treated him like he was someone worthwhile.
"Oh, f-f-fine, but, could I w-w-walk with you?" Oscar seemed edgy about something, he kept looking over his shoulder and held his books in front of him, tightly, like a suit of armor.
Kit frowned. "Sure Oscar, um...is something wrong?" Kit came right to the point as the two headed outside.
"No!" "I mean, o-o-of course not." Oscar's quick denial was enough for Kit.
"Your mom picking you up today?" the boy asked, already knowing the answer.
"Yes, l-l-like every day." Oscar said glumly, looking down at the pavement and kicking at a stray pebble.
Again, Kit felt sorry for the smaller boy and his quick mind raced. "Well, Baloo won't be back for about two hours," the cub said casually, "is it okay if I talk to you, 'till your mom gets here?"
Oscar looked at his friend, a huge, grateful smile coming over his face. He was glad because he knew that Kit was simply trying to save a small part of his pride, and grateful at the easy manner in which the navigator conveyed that he understood the small cub's problems.
"Hey, Cloudkicker!" a loud voice yelled a short distance away. Kit jumped but relaxed when he saw his closest friends, Ernie and the 'Jungle Aces'- *the things I had to go through to keep that name*- approaching.
Oscar's reaction made Kit looked like he had been asleep. The high-strung cub not only jumped about a foot, but an expression of absolute terror crossed his face.
Kit scowled this time, *Something's really wrong! Something must have happened, I've never seen him this keyed up*
Poor Oscar didn't relax much as the small hyena and the rest of the group walked up to Kit. "Hey guys" Kit said lazily, then smiled when he realized that he sounded like Baloo, which of course was far from a bad thing in his opinion.
"Jungle Aces meeting tomorrow, you coming?" Ernie asked, never one for small talk, then noticing the small figure behind Kit spoke up again. "Get lost Vandersnoot! Official Jungle Aces business"
"Ease off Ernie, we were just talking." Kit said, irritated by the hyena's attitude and tone.
"Yeah, sure, anyway, ya coming?" Ernie stood a little off to the side, arms folded, his words almost a challenge.
Kit sighed. He liked Ernie, true, but he also knew that the other boy felt threatened by him, somehow. These cubs being among some of the first permament friends the navigator had had, he didn't want to step on any toes. So it was with caution that he said, "Sorry guys, going on a.....treasure hunt!" Kit whispered the last two words for affect.
"Wow!" "Neat!" "Where to?" came a chorus of several excited young boy's voices that was like music to Kit's ears.
"Treasure?!" Oscar's eyes were huge as he looked at his friend.
"Quian, Baloo was talking to one of his old friends from school, Stinky something-or-other, and he knew about some artifact that is supposed to be located in the oldest part of the city, y'know, where all those old buildings were built on top of each other?" Kit explained, trying to remember exactly what what Baloo's excited, garbled-together plan had been.
"You're so lucky, Kit!" AJ said, his voice full of admiration and a little envy.
"Yeah well, good luck. Guess we'll see ya when you get back." Ernie still remained stand-offish but at least he gave the bear cub a small smile.
"See you guys." Kit smiled.
"Bye Kit!" "Yeah, tell us what happens" "See ya later!" the Aces voices grew more distant as the group walked off.
Kit remained alone with Oscar. "G-G-Gosh Kit, I w-w-wish I could have an adventure....and j-j-join the Jungle Aces." the cub looked away as he whispered the last sentence.
Kit, looking at Oscar's sad face, spoke out before he thought. "Just wait, Oscar. I'll get you in. Adventures can't be _that_ hard to come by." In fact, for the navigator of the Sea Duck, they seemed to come whether he wanted them to or not.
But, looking at the bright expression of hope on Oscar's face, Kit almost immediately regretted his words. He knew how accident-prone the boy was, despite his best intentions and Kit didn't want to be responsible for making his disappointment that much worse in the likely event that the Aces would flat out refuse to let him in.
Oscar looked ecstatic, until a snide voice from behind him spoke up.
"Well, well, Vandersnoot. Guess you're waitin' for your mommy huh? Typical!" Kit looked over and glared at the intruder.
Teddy, a bully who had a reputation for picking on anything and everything smaller than him walked up to the pair. Kit knew him only be sight, but that was good enough for him.
He didn't like the coward's bluster and with Teddy's sneering remark, he tightened his fists. *This guy needs to be taken down a bit* that fleeting thought passed through Kit's mind as he saw the look of terror and shame on Oscar's face.
"Who's yer friend? Didn't think a loser like you had any!" Teddy giggled unpleasantly.
"Hey, how 'bout I finish what I started in the hall before you high-tailed it." The bully pushed Oscar.
Kit felt his temper start to rise.
"Why doesn't yer _bodyguard_" the cub smirked at Kit, "give you a hand." "I can take you both on."
Teddy's look of smug superiority was making Kit see red. "Go play in the road" the navigator snapped angrily in an attempt to get the other cub to leave Oscar alone, who looked near tears.
"Who's gonna make me?" was Teddy's original response, and then he pushed Oscar again. The small boy lost his balance this time, however, and fell to the ground with a painful "Umph"
The cub's thick glasses came tumbling off of his face and landed in the grass.
Quickly, Teddy picked them up. "Guess you really don't need these. I'll take care of them for ya." the bully's mocking tone didn't waver and he put Oscar's glasses on the pavement while raising his foot as though to crush them.
That did it.
All of Kit's life he had been forced to deal with injustices. He was thoroughly sick and tired of seeing bullies and cowards such as this bear cub picking on and hurting those who never did anything, didn't deserve it and could little to defend themselves.
Something deep within him reached it's final stretching point and snapped. He wasn't going to sit by any longer.
Time seemed to move very slowly as Kit drew his arm back and hit Teddy with a devastatingly effective right-hook. The boy hit the bully so hard that Teddy stumbled a few steps backwards and fell to the ground, holding his nose.
Before Kit realized what had happened, several older kids were physically pulling him off the other cub, who looked bruised and sore from Kit's many blows.
"Kit!!" the boy blinked, slowly coming back to his senses, and looked up to see Mrs. Van Campen, his teacher, looking at him with a shocked expression on her face.
Kit, who was still breathing heavily and shaking from the exertion of releasing his powerful emotions looked over to see Oscar standing on one side of him, a frightened look on his tear-streaked face, and the Aces on the other side, quiet and all staring down at their feet.
There was silence on the scene as some kids helped the wailing Teddy to his feet and led him back inside.
Mrs. Van Campen just looked at Kit as though she couldn't quite believe that this polite, likable young man, who was a model student in her class, had just done what she'd seen him do.
Kit was now incredibly uncomfortable as everyone continued to stare at him. A feeling of revulsion crept up into his stomach. He had surprised himself with just how easily he had taken down the bully.
He was even more surprised at the depth of his anger. *Where did that come from?* the boy thought, almost fearfully, as he forced himself to continue making eye-contact with his teacher.
"Uh...Kit..." Mrs. Van Campen hesitated, absolutely unsure of what to say. She forcibly pushed away her mixed emotions and put on a stern front.
"Young man, you are in _serious_ trouble. I never thought that I would have to do this, but I'm scheduling an appointment for the principal to meet with your parents."
"My what?!" that one word caused a bolt of panic to hit Kit. "P-Parents?"
"Yes," the middle-aged teacher looked at him strangely, "I'm going to call them right now"
"NO!!" Kit yelled, frantic. The Aces looked at their friend in pity, knowing the orphan's situation and probably having a good idea about what would happen if the school administration found out.
"Excuse me?" Mrs. Van Campen was now confused and angry. She looked at the cub closely, the near terrified look on his face registering with her.
"Kit Cloudkicker, you are in enough trouble. I suggest you tell me _exactly_ what's going on...now!" She added, seeing the anxious looks the group of boys kept giving each other.
All were quiet as the boy's each tried desperately to invent some kind of believable story, but each kept coming up short. Surprisingly, it was Oscar who finally piped up.
"Sorry Mrs. Van Campen. Teddy started a fight and Kit was just t-t-trying to help. My m-m-mom hired him to watch out for me and if you call his parents, she'll be mad b-b-because he can't work for her anymore."
After this long statement, (long for Oscar, anyway) everyone turned their attention to him. Their expressions would have made the scene comical if it wasn't for the seriousness of the situation.
Mrs. Van Campen definitely looked like she didn't believe the small boy, but her better judgement decided it was wise not to upset on of her most well-to-do student's mother, who also happened to be one of the school's main benefactors.
"Fine" she said flatly. "I'll let this one go, but _don't_ think you're off the hook young man, or that this is over." The suspicions she felt showed plainly, causing Kit to quake inside.
After the woman went back inside the school, muttering under her breath, Kit and the Aces started to thank Oscar for his quick thinking.
Kit, whose previous good mood had completely disappeared, was especially grateful and touched that his friend had sacrificed some self-respect and dignity by admitting his own weakness and saving Kit's tail.
Before he could really express this though, a large limosine drove up to the curb and a dignified, elderly butler stepped out to open the door for his young ward.
"Bye, Kit," Oscar said slowly and then added, "Um...was t-t-that an adventure?"
"Averted Oscar," Kit sighed and felt sadness begin to creep into his heart, "just averted"
The walk home wasn't what Kit had expected it to be an hour ago. His heart felt as heavy as a stone as he remembered the panic he'd experienced at the idea of someone finding out that not only was he alone, but that Baloo really had no legal right to be his guardian.
Kit scowled darkly. *Like that matters* he thought. *Who cares if I don't officially belong to him? He acts like a real father most of the time anyway and I'd rather be with Baloo than be formally adopted.*
Kit involuntarily let him mind wander to the memory of the expression on Teddy's face when he had finally been pulled off of the boy. A wave of nausea hit him, strong enough for Kit to duck down into an alley and sit, emotionally spent.
With a deep sigh, Kit was suddenly surprised to find himself crying. *What on earth is wrong with me?* he thought. *I've been through worse fights than that. He didn't even get a punch in*
But Kit knew that there was no fooling himself. He never liked to be reminded that maybe his time with Baloo and Mrs. Cunningham could be only short-term.
He wasn't too proud of his earlier actions, either, even if it was in Oscar's defense.
*Was it just for Oscar?* the navigator thought, wiping off his tear-soaked cheeks with difficulty. The boy was more than a little uncomfortable thinking of the amount of aggression he had displayed....almost like he was, dangerous.
Kit shuddered. It was one of his worst fears, thinking that his past as a pirate could come back to haunt him, even though he had never participated in any of the more horrific acts that bunch had committed.
The few things he _had_ done were mild and he had had to tell Baloo about them and let the big pilot reassure him, as he always did, before he could forgive himself.
The comfortable, familiar building of Higher for Hire was like balm to Kit's inner turmoil as he quickly walked through the doors.
He was almost relieved to see Rebecca sorting out some files, her back turned. With almost no sound, the cub walked up to the bedroom.
Kit set his things down, still feeling shaky and sat down on the bed. Images kept flashing through his mind of violence, pain and finally, of what he'd done today.
*You told yourself that you would never be like that* Tears threatened to come up again. Forcibly, the boy pushed them down.
*No! Think of this weekend, that's all. Maybe...* Kit momentarily thought about telling Baloo what had happened. *No way* the cub remembered how hard it had been to simply admit that he had once been an air pirate to the pilot.
The cub didn't want the large bear to have any cause to mistrust him or be wary of his actions. That one thought caused a wave of sadness to nearly smother him.
He felt so low that he almost didn't hear the light knock on the door and the creak of it's hinges.
"Kit, that you?" Ms. Cunningham's voice filtered through the depressed fog surrounding Kit's mind.
"Hi Ms. Cunningham" the boy said dispiritedly.
"Hi, why didn't you say anything down there?" Rebecca sat down next to the cub with a quizzical look on her face.
"Sorry, I...um...thought you were busy." The navigator still didn't look up. The questioning look on Rebecca's face turned to concern.
"Too busy to say hi? When has that ever happened?" Rebecca said in a teasing voice, trying to get the boy to smile.
When Kit didn't oblige, she frowned. "Hard day?" she asked softly. Kit finally looked at her, but his expression was guarded.
He really appreciated what she was trying to do, but the nicer she was, the more shame he felt. *I should tell her* then he thought quickly, *No! What would she think of me? Besides I'd have to explain about Mrs. Van Campen* Kit didn't want her or Baloo to worry about something they probably didn't have the power to change.
"Well, the week's over." Rebecca said brightly, when Kit didn't answer her question. "Maybe you and Baloo can do something. Almost wish I could join you if you do, but you know how it is." Rebecca winked at the boy, who finally gave her a half-smile.
He certainly did know how it was, babysitting Molly. Loved the kid, but she could be hazardous to your health. Then, the full extent of Ms. Cunningham's words came to him.
He didn't say anything, only thought quickly, *Baloo hasn't told her!* With a flash of irritation at the large pilot, Kit considered telling Rebecca where him and Baloo were planning on going.
*Nah, I'll let Baloo do it, just to see what kind of story he's got cooked up*
"Yes," Rebecca was still saying, "you two should go and have some fun, relax, as long as it's not one of Baloo's pointless treasure hunts."
Kit was suddenly fascinated in whatever was outside the window. Between Rebecca's complaining about Baloo's treasure hunts and Baloo's carrying-on about Rebecca's hair-brained, get rich quick schemes, it was a wonder that the two weren't arguing twenty-four seven, although at times, they came close.
Rebecca, ever observant, noticed the boy's sudden distraction and a small twinkle came into her eyes. *I should ask him* she thought staring at the back of Kit's head. *No, I'll let Baloo sweat it out, it'll be good for him*
Still smiling, she wrapped an arm around the cub's shoulders and gently squeezed. Kit turned to look at her again, any trace of his former sadness gone as he smiled.
"Well, whatever. Just enjoy yourself" and slightly raising her eyebrows at the boy, she turned and left. When Kit didn't follow her, she shut the door. As the businesswoman walked down the steps, she turned to look at the closed door.
More than anything else, Rebecca wanted to be in there, comforting the young boy, as she knew that something was wrong. He'd said little more than two words to her, which was completely out of character, and though she respected the boy's privacy, the softer side of her only wanted to make all of his undeserved pain go away.
She sat down and began to sort through orders, losing track of time until she had to turn on the light to combat with the darkness outside.
*Where _is_ that bear?* Rebecca thought, a little snappish from thinking about Kit's melancholy.
As though Baloo was reading her mind, *Yeah, right, when has that ever happened*, the pilot strode through the door.
Kit, who had been upstairs napping, tired from his earlier outburst, heard the door open and close and Baloo's robust voice greet Ms. Cunningham, whose own voice had a bit of an edge in it when she answered.
Kit jumped off the bed and ran out the door, but stopped at the top of the stairs, listening to the nature of Baloo and Ms. Cunningham's conversation.
"Whaddya mean, _always_, since when is...." Baloo stopped to concentrate and count on his fingers, but obviously not liking what he came up with started again.
"I, um, lost track of time?" Rebecca was drumming her fingers on her desk and scowling.
"Spare me, Baloo. You have to actually know something exists in order to lose it." Kit covered his mouth to keep from snickering.
"Look, boss-lady, it's not like we had another run, besides, I had some _business_ to take care of." Kit's ears perked up. *Here it comes*
"Business?! You're only business should be here and the only kind of effort I've seen you apply anywhere is eating and sleeping. Although you've surpassed yourself in the former category." Rebecca less than subtly hinted at Baloo's large belly.
The normally easy-going pilot lost his temper, as he always did when Ms. Cunningham pushed his buttons. "Oh yeah? Well, at least I know how to relax a little, unlike some wound-up, domineering, stubborn...."
"You just watch your insults, mister! Don't forget who's in charge here." Rebecca cut Baloo off, eyes blazing and walked around her desk to stand fearlessly in front of the larger bear, who leaned over.
"Don't forget who's in charge here," Baloo mimicked angrily in a high-pitched voice. "How's a guy supposed to forget anythin' with you castin' it up in my face every chance you get?"
"You forget everything else, why should I expect anything different now?" Rebecca countered, folding her arms.
"You don't expect nothin' but work, work, work from anyone. And _you_ just watch who you're insultin', Miss What-Can-Go-Wrong?, or Nothin's-Gonna-Happen, or You-Just-Worry-Too-Much Baloo," the bear sauntered around the office, throwing up his arms every time he spit out another one of Rebecca's infamous lines.
"Yeah, I'm guessin' I should be worryin' seeing as every time you get a _fabulous_ idea, I'm the one who ends up in the hospital, Miz Manager."
"Why you lazy, insufferable..." Rebecca started in.
Kit, during this time had watched this too familiar battle of words like a ping-pong match, his head moving from side to side with each different comment. He was beginning to be increasingly uncomfortable with the direction the argument was going.
Although at times the lively exchanges between Baloo and Ms. Cunningham could be almost entertaining, he felt uneasy when their fights got a little too heated. They both had amazingly different personalities, but the navigator knew that deep inside, they cared about each other.
Kit sighed as the fighting became louder. As he had once told Molly, there were just times they liked each other more than others. One remark grabbed his attention once again.
"You're constantly being late doesn't just affect me, what about Kit? Are you ever going to be there, _right_ when he needs you?"
"What are you talkin' about? Did something happen to Kit?" anxiety crept into Baloo's voice.
"No, no, he's fine. But if I didn't say anything you'd never have attempted to notice. What he needs is for you to be there for him, _now_, not whenever it's convenient for you."
"You just said he's fine! I'm not like you, stickin' my nose into everyone's business. If Kit's got a problem, he'll tell me, and where do you get off...."Baloo started in on the accusations again.
Kit sighed, again, if he hated it when they fought all of the time, he really hated it when it was about him. He was just about to walk downstairs to act as a temporary peacekeeper, (his influence usually succeeded in calming the two down, the boy had learned) when he heard Baloo throw something down *sounds like some papers* and begin storming up the stairs, firing one last retort.
"Aw...you're impossible! Wake me up when ya decide to grow a personality, or at least borrow someone else's."
Rebecca muttered something under her breath that luckily, neither Kit nor Baloo heard.
Baloo saw Kit standing at the top of the stairs and almost immediately his countenance went from angry to cheerful. Kit gave him a sheepish smile that told the pilot he'd overheard the argument.
"Hey, Lil' Britches, how was school?" Baloo asked, walking into the bedroom with Kit behind him. The cub could hardly believe that this voice was the same one he had just been listening to, the tone was so completely changed.
"Well..." Kit hesitated and immediately regretted doing so when Baloo turned to look at him questioningly.
"Yeah it was fine when do we leave for Quian?" Kit said so quickly, it sounded like three words instead of a sentence.
Baloo raised an eyebrow and a grin tugged at the corner of his mouth.
"Fine, huh? You're not in a hurry to leave or nothin', are you kiddo? Or is there just somethin' you're not telling me?"
Kit felt trapped, he was never going to learn that sometimes there was little Baloo didn't notice, but only where he was concerned.
"Yeah...fine, and I'm not in _that_ big of a hurry, I just want this weekend to get started." Kit's forced attitude was apparently not fooling Baloo one bit.
"Uh huh, whatever you say, Kit." Baloo winked at his navigator, causing Kit to relax and grin at his friend.
"So," Kit sat down on his bed as Baloo stretched out on his own, "what was _that_ all about?" the boy pointed a finger down to the floor.
Baloo grumbled and pulled his cap over his eyes. He held the position for a moment or two before finally looking over at Kit, who had his head cocked to the side, awaiting an answer.
"Just more nagging. That woman never stops."
"Well, you were late" Kit pointed out the obvious once again to the pilot.
"Not by _that_ much and does she have to get on my back every time I make a little mistake?" Kit didn't bother answering but his straitforward stare caused Baloo to glance away self-consciously.
"I just thought maybe you'd be buttering her up for tomorrow, since you haven't told her about where we're going yet." Kit laid back, looking at the ceiling. *3....2.....1*
Baloo jumped up. "Oh no! I forgot to tell her!" Kit looked at him again, this time it was his turn to raise an eyebrow.
"Aw, man!" Baloo ran a hand over his face. "Guess I'll have to think up an excuse pretty fast."
"How about the truth?" Kit asked ironically, taking into account Rebecca's suggestions to him earlier.
"Nah, never work. She's too steamed anyway." Baloo began pacing.
Kit was sitting cross-legged on the bed, elbow on one knee. "How about just trying it?" The cub was a hairbreadth away from letting Baloo off the hook, but only if the large bear took his advice seriously.
Baloo continued pacing, then stopped and snapped his fingers. "Got it! I'll just give her the 'ol sick aunt excuse, she always turns into a softy when I use that."
*Yeah, but after the tenth time, it starts to lose it's punch* Kit thought with a small shake of his head. He _said_, "Um....haven't you already used that a couple of times before?" it was a slight understatement.
Baloo was still not really tuned in to the boy's words. "Let's see now, Milly, Tilly, what was the last name I used?" and the gray bear trailed off, walking down the stairs quickly in an attempt to catch their boss before she left. Kit followed
*This I gotta see* The cub didn't like to see Baloo lie, but he had to admit, some of his excuses took quite a bit of creativity, they were almost too flowery at times. *And he wonders why no one ever believes him when he tell the truth.*
Kit stood to the side of Rebecca's desk to watch the show. Rebecca, not ready to forgive and forget, let him lollygag around for a time, then she closed her briefcase with a brisk snap, stood up and resolutely stepped around the bear to walk out.
Kit shot Baloo an _I told you so_ look as the pilot whirled around and finally spoke up.
"Beck..uh, Ms. Cunningham?"
*He must really want something* Rebecca looked at him condescendingly. "Yes, Baloo?" she said with infinite patience, knowing exactly what was coming, but still angry enough to make Baloo squirm a little.
"Uh...I was wonderin', see...this is the thing I got-this-sick-aunt-and-doctor's-don't-know-if-she'll-make-it-so-I-need-this- weekend-off-to-help-her-or-I'll-never-forgive-myself, okay, great!!" Baloo nearly beat Kit's previous record for saying that mouthful in one breath. The large bear didn't wait for a reply, but instead quickly raced up the stairs, into the bedroom and shut the door.
Kit and Rebecca stared at each other in astonishment, then both started to giggle. Rebecca didn't say a word, she simply gave a small nod of her head before walking out, still laughing.
Kit didn't even try to contain his amusement as his giggling turned into long peals of laughter. Pirates, dangerous missions, suicide stunts, storms, high explosives or what have you, and the ace pilot ran in terror at having to ask his boss for some time off.
Kit started up the stairs and walked back into the bedroom to see Baloo standing, staring out the window, attempting to appear calm and salvage one small piece of his ego.
"Well, I suppose she said no." he said glumly, back still turned to Kit.
With a great effort of willpower the boy kept the laughter out of his voice. "Nope, guess you're powers of persuasion win out again, Papa Bear." Kit said smiling at the gray bear.
"Woohoo!!" Baloo took his hat and tossed it into the air, grabbed Kit and spun him around before giving him a quick hug. "FaiXu, here we come!"
The inmate of Cell block 44 was bored. Not just bored; angry and humiliated as well.
*Just wait. I'll fix 'em all. I know I'm right and as soon as I get outta here, I'm gonna prove I'm perfectly sane.*
Perhaps perfectly sane was not the best description of this particular inmate. He looked worn, scruffy and the dark circles beneath his eyes indicated he had been obsessing over one particular subject for quite some time.
McNee paced back and forth in his cell like a caged animal. Never a man with high intellectual capacity, he preferred violent measures to obtain whatever he wanted. And he _always_ managed to get what he wanted, even to the point of discovering a race of creatures that no one had thought actually existed.
It had taken years, but the poacher had managed to locate the supposedly fabled, "Valley of the Yenkara" along with a creature who remained tiny when dry, but grew upon becoming wet.
Thinking about it even now, after he knew of the creature's existence, it seemed ludicrous, but the strange trait was one of the Yenkara's defense mechanisms. This discoverer could have cared less about any aspect of the Yenkara, except for the astronomical amount of money one hide would bring.
The light of greed glinted in the koala's hardened face. *Just _one_ hide, and there were dozens of 'em. Now look at me, all because of those brats!* Greed was quickly replaced by intense hatred as he thought of those two, even more so than the two adults, who had been responsible for helping that walking sponge escape and had put him in this forsaken place.
No one believed him and the former hunter was constantly being taunted by the warden, guards, even fellow inmates. McNee placed his hands on the bars, his narrow mind replaying every event of that one day and night.
The little girl had shown considerable spunk, even ingenuity, when he thought he had finally won in the end. Equally to blame was that wretched boy, who had provided the necessary distraction when he'd had the two cornered and alone.
*Smart alec little punk* the koala thought viciously. He had been in here for nearly half of a year with no reprieve in sight. *Just a matter of time* an evil smile came across the poacher's face.
He had debated going back to the Valley, but wanted to go after some easier prey first. *But, before that, I'll have to get outta here!*
The koala sat down in his cell and for the first time since coming to this place, stopped obsessing about the Yenkara and began to think of escape plans.
Thembria wasn't exactly what travel agents would call a popular destination. Nearly always covered in a blanket of snow, slush and ice and subject to the freezing temperatures of the Artic, the country looked as desolate and cold as the nature of the government that ran it was in actuality.
Isolated and cut off, the people of this land were more than used to persecution, but the iron-fisted High Marshall had continued his policies even more harshly this past decade, than he had at any other time in the past. Any aspect of life was now unbearable and the masses of people who inhabited this frozen landscape were beginning to feel the slightest tremor of discontent..
It was for this reason that Col. Spigot, head of the Glorious People's Air Corps- (but only by a clerical error) had been summoned to meet with the afore-mentioned High Marshall, undisputed dictator of the gloomy nation.
Meeting with the ruthless oppressor was never a chore that the short, flighty Colonel enjoyed, even when he could take his stress out on his adoring and long-enduring underling, Sergeant Dunder.
"Uh...Colonel?" the Sergeant said meekly, following exactly ten paces behind the pompous officer as instructed. "Did the High Marshall say what he wanted?" the Sergeant attempted to look relaxed and happy, but failed miserably, overcome with the fear and suspicion _anyone_ in this place felt when singled out by the Marshall.
"Dunder!" the Colonel bestowed a look on the Sergeant, "the High Marshall doethn't need to say anything. He obviously wants to honor me for my glorious ethcapades abroad." the Colonel's typical bragging covered up his own doubts, even if it didn't cover his slight speech impediment.
"You," he pointed a finger at the meek Sergeant, "should learn to keep your mouth shut....or you will be shot." Col. Spigot added as a helpful afterthought.
The overwhelmingly dull buildings, each a cookie cutter version of the other showed no special decoration or outstanding feature that clued any hapless visitor on which one held the supposedly _chosen_ High Marshall.
But, eventually, the long, narrow hallway of one particular building came to a door and the Colonel, Sergeant and several guards stepped in.
The huge bulk of the warthog created a large,symbolic shadow as he stood behind his desk.
"Your High Marshallness," one guard spoke up with a thick, guttural accent, "Colonel Nozzle ist here as you did order."
"Uh..." Spigot opened his mouth to correct the name, saw the irritated look on the Marshall's face and thought the better of it, "never mind. How can I therve you, High Marshall, thir?"
"Ah yes...Nozzle. You have been hearing certain rumors about me?" the Colonel certainly had, but he hadn't stayed alive this long by opening his mouth at the wrong time, especially not around the High Marshall.
"Why, of course not, your most Esteemedness. Who would start rumors about you? Unless it wath good, of course." the Colonel added quickly, for good measure.
The High Marshall's brow rose a little and he looked approvingly at the small warthog. *Right thing to say* Dunder thought in relief, and, as always, admiration.
"Yes, I had been forced to be disposing of certain....problems. But the people may be none too happy, so I am being entitled to show them who is the greatest."
"As long as the people get their weekly paycheckth, they should be thatisfied. What more could they want?"
"The underprivileged masses being subjugated to too many ideas have badly influenced our peaceful state from outside. The people have need to be reminded of our glorious cause. You will be reminding them, Nozzle."
"M-M-Me, your High Marshallness?" Spigot stammered feeling an anxiety attack coming on.
"Yes, unless there is being a problem?" the Marshall's thick eyebrows knit together in annoyance.
"Oh no, your Exaltedness, but how am I thupposed to think of a way to do it?" An ominous gasp of horror spread throughout the room. Dunder was cowering by the wall.
"Think?!!" the High Marshall roared, leaning over his desk.
"No, no.....uh.....that's not what I meant....I've never thought about anything before in my life, I thwear. I merely meant, how should I attempt to echo your greatness, O emminent one?"
"How am I supposed to be knowing Nozzle? Give the people something to rub in the faces of our enemies. You are dismissed." the High Marshall turned around.
Spigot was deep in thought as he walked out, the Sergeant close behind him.
"Spigot," in surprise the Colonel turned to look back at the large warthog. "Do _not_ be failing."
The sinister look on the Marshall's face sent chills through the smaller warthog as the door closed, leaving the Colonel and Sergeant Dunder to look at each other and gulp.
"McNee!" the guard's voice broke through the former hunter's sleep. "Get up!" the cell door opened with a squeal of protest. "Visitor to see ya"
"You heard me, someone wants to see ya." The koala hadn't bothered to get off of his cot, "Like who? Tell 'em to go away, leave me alone."
"Tell 'em yourself" with a rough jerk, the guard pulled McNee to his feet and pushed him out, harshly.
McNee, grumbling, made his way to a small, monitored room. The guard locked the door behind him and stood with his arms folded against the wall, saying nothing.
The poacher squinted to adjust his eyes to the dim room. Sitting in a chair, with arms on the table, was a small, young panda who had no expression on his demure face.
McNee looked back at the guard with a disbelieving look on his face, who simply shrugged in response and motioned to the other chair.
McNee sat down to stare harshly at the stranger. When silence carried on for several moments, the koala became irritated.
"Well, you dragged me here, what 'zackly do you want?" The panda calmly stared back and finally spoke up.
"I am here to help you." he said with a soft, far-eastern accent.
"Help me? Yer timin's off, pal. Besides, why would you want to? I don't even know you."
"No, you do not. Not yet. But unless I am greatly mistaken, you will take any opportunity you can get." Here the corners of the panda's mouth turned up slightly and his eyes darted over to the guard. "Hold your breath" he said unexpectantly.
"What the..." McNee started before catching a flash of green- a marble of some kind- within the panda's hand. With one quick movement, the hand crushed it and a green haze began to fill the room.
"Hey!..." the guard started to rush over to the panda, but began coughing and lost consciousness halfway. A loud alarm began to go off, but instead of appearing worried, the panda smiled and pointed to the vent, which had the same green haze coming out.
McNee had long since begun holding his breath and the panda pulled out two gas masks from underneath his coat. Donning one, he walked over to the door, took out a small strange-looking tool and unlocked the door without any effort He motioned silently and McNee, scarcely believing what had just happened, followed him out.
The Sea Duck's bright yellow contrasted vividly with the blue ocean far below it as Baloo and Kit settled in for the flight to the Far East.
"Any stop-offs Papa Bear?" Kit asked, charing their course on one of his maps. Baloo shook his head and leaned back in his chair.
"Nah, Lil' Britches, figgered we'd go straight through, seein' as we got off to a late start."
Kit looked up at that. *Not even a four bell alarm could get him out of bed before he absolutely had to*
Baloo, guessing what his navigator was thinking, grinned at him and put his hands behind his head, controlling the stick with his foot. Abruptly, he cleared his throat and fished out a small pamphlet from his shirt pocket. Kit grinned expectantly.
"Gotta remember to thank 'ol Stinky Sichewousky. Good friend, that guy" Baloo unfolded the pamphlet and began quoting directly from it.
~The jade swan, origins, the ancient country of FaiXu. The Office for Maintaining the Heritage of Artifacts has posted information on this piece. The origins are are almost completely shrouded in mystery, but the story goes that it was last seen over five hundred years ago. Scribe was taking down the story of how the swan supposedly came to be and was supposedly shown the artifact, which even then, was older than anyone cared to admit. It's actual age could be determined only vaguely by a picture in a children's book. In order to preserve the integrity of this piece from the greed of individuals who would sell it on the black market, absolute discretion must be used and a handsome reward will be given to anyone who locates it.~
"Stinky even gave me the address of a guy who knows where that scribe visited. City was destroyed in a few places, trade wars an' stuff, 'bout fifty, hundred years ago, but he said this part still exists, even if it is buried."
Kit looked at him, an unspoken question in his eyes.
"Yup, kiddo. Maybe I shouldn't have made Becky mad by being late the other night, but that's where I was."
Kit gave a thoughtful little, hmm, and continued looking at the map. "That's a pretty big area, Papa Bear" the boy said doubtfully, seeing the large portion of the city covered in red that indicated where the layers were located.
"Well, even if we don't find it, bet we'll have fun trying, huh?" Kit was surprised.
Usually Baloo was so overzealous about the dough they'd recieve, he didn't even think about they were finding, just the reward they were getting.
Kit cocked his head at the pilot, who was refolding the pamphlet, whistling. Sometimes Kit felt that he didn't give the bear enough credit, Baloo was finally starting to understand where the real treasure was in these hunts they went on.
"Say, kiddo, I picked up today's paper," Kit looked at him, "though why you like readin' that stuff is beyond me." He reached under the seat to hand the newspaper to Kit, who took it eagerly.
"Thanks, Baloo!" the boy immediately started looking it over.
"Don't mention it, kid" Baloo smiled at the top of the cub's head, which was bent down reading. *Wish he leaned more towards comic books than current events* the bear thought, then looked over quickly as Kit gasped.
"What is it, Lil' Britches?"
"Baloo, you remember McNee?" was Kit's strange response. The large pilot scowled.
"Do I ever! That slime really rubbed me the wrong way. Guess lil' Molly showed him, though" Baloo chuckled, remembering. He then stopped and looked over at Kit.
"Why Kit? Somethin' happen?" Kit pointed at a smaller headline which read, Notorious Criminal Escapes Using Accomplice. Authorities Baffled, underneath was a mugshot of McNee.
"It says that some kind of knockout gas was used and everyone was asleep when the backup got there."
"The whole jail? What on earth could do somethin' like that?" Baloo asked astounded.
"Yeah, Baloo, you don't think.....?" Kit started, a worried expression on his young face.
"Now, don't go worryin', Lil' Britches," Baloo said, knowing Kit's tendency to do so. "I don't think that jerk will remember nothin' 'bout you."
"I was thinking about Ms. Cunningham and Molly, what if he remembers them?" Kit watched as a flash of concern crossed Baloo's face.
"Do you think we should call them? What if he goes after the Yenkara again?"
Baloo still didn't answer but looked to be deep in thought. "I don't think he will," the bear said slowly, as if measuring out his words carefully, "that's where the police'll be lookin' for him." "But," he added, "just to be on the safe side, I'll radio in to Becky, so that gal will be able to keep her eyes open."
"Okay Papa Bear," Kit took off his hat and started fingering it, his previous excitement soured by worry for Ms. Cunningham and her daughter.
Baloo picked up the mike and called in at Higher for Hire, when he finally got a response, it sounded worlds away. "Baloo?" Rebecca's voice came in, crackling. "What is it, did somthing happen?"
"Rebecca, where's Molly, she at pre-school?" Baloo cut right to the chase.
"Molly? Um....yes, of course, Baloo? What's wrong?" Rebecca's voice was becoming more tense. Baloo assessed what he and Kit had just read, quickly.
"Oh dear. Thank you Baloo, I'll have the police keep an eye out and I'll keep Molly here with me today."
"Just wanted to let ya know," Baloo said, then he added a little more seriously, "be careful, boss-lady"
"I will, you two go on"
Baloo handed the mike to Kit, who smiled at the bear, then added, "That guy's bad news. Um...please watch out, Ms. Cunningham."
"Thank you Kit." Rebecca's warm voice came back to him. "Don't worry, just have some fun. Higher for Hire, out."
The city of Quian was packed with ceiling to floor inhabitants. McNee had never seen such a large variety of creatures in all of his....travels. The young panda walking beside him, one Li Phu by name, had explained only the sketchiest of details in the hurried, secret trip here.
Evading the authorities had taken it's toll on the koala's nerves, but he was past any stage of feeling grateful and now wanted some answers. The old poacher was feeling a tad claustrophobic in this bustling place, filled with thousands going about their business, be it legal or otherwise.
But knowing the futility of asking questions before Li was ready to answer them, he walked on in silence, frustrated at not being able to take action and strike out on his own.
The two pushed and elbowed their way through the hordes until coming to a narrow alley. "This way," Li's voice said, never rising above barely a decibal of sound. The panda guided McNee to a dirty, scuffed door that had Mysterious Dragons and Demon; Fortunes told, tarot cards read in barely readable letters on it. The door was so covered with a layer of filth so thick, it would take a knife to scrape it off.
"So what are we doin' here? Visitin' yer physic? Maybe ya want yer palm read." the grating individual gave a harsh laugh before remembering that Li was an expert at maintaing silence and not speaking unless it absolutely necessary.
The panda gave a short, rapid knock on the door, once, then twice. The heavy door swung open and McNee entered with his companion. There were four other young pandas in the dimly light room, crowded with glowing lanterns and fascinating pieces of this culture. The other four were dressed in the same pants-jacket suit that Li was wearing.
"Welcome, please sit down." McNee complied, still bewildered.
"Now," Li sat at the head of a long table, the other pulled their chairs up to it. The koala only assumed that Phu was the leader of this bunch.
"Mr. McNee, you have been brought here, not out of courtesy, but because we believe you possess the abilities to help us find something we need." The other four nodded and all stared at McNee with a piercing look.
"Uh....sure. What do you guys need me to hunt down? Though can't say I get why you boys would want a pelt of any kind." Here the others stared at Li questioningly, who's gaze never left McNee.
"No, I am afraid that you misunderstand us. It is not an animal that we wish you to find, well, not one that is living." Two others chortled lightly at the small joke.
Li placed his hands on the table. "Do you know who we are?" he asked bemusedly
"Of course I don't, what the devil do ya think I've been asking all this time?" McNee said angrily, rising out of his chair.
Li's eyes turned hard. "You and others like you do not know now, but you will. Mark my words, in a few short years, we will have utmost control over FaiXu and we will finally be a power to be reckoned with once again." The others nodded.
A small shred of an idea came into McNee's head. "Is that what this is all about? Some political hash?" the poacher snorted, "Count me out, you and yer friends can have fun playing hostile takeover, guess I'll see ya around."
Li gave him a small, hooded smile. "I did not say it would be hostile. There are many ways to achieve your goals, fighting is not always one of them. No, at times, other tactics should be used, some that involve a great deal of muscle, but in a different place." Li tapped his temple.
"You want to go sneakin' around and hidin'? What kinda way is that to do anything? Ya gotta take what you can, when ya can, or someone else will, you boys have a lot to learn."
Li's smile disappeared and his mouth became a hard, straight line. "Yes, we recieve that from a great many of you barbarians. All we are concerned with is turning these people towards us. When we achieve this, the power we need will be ours. We will appeal to our citizen's nationalism to drive out these unwelcome outside forces and take control."
McNee was looking at the group now, a little warily. "So, just how many are there of.....you?" he motioned to the others.
"Enough, just enough. Many are gone, but there are always replacements, always more to carry on." Li's fist clenched, then he looked back at McNee.
"You are one who seems to understand ruthlessness. You simply have a tendency to be outsmarted, but we will attempt to cure that." Li took out some newspaper clippings that McNee knew very well by now.
One described the incident at some Cape Suzette apartments some months ago. "A strange creature breaks through a wall with two children on it's back, but later on, neither the police or those involved remember the existence of such a thing?"
Li looked at McNee skeptically. *Here we go again* the old hunter felt his temper begin to grow. "Look, I'm telling ya, like I told everyone else, these things exist and...." Li held up a hand.
Surprisingly, McNee shut his mouth.
"The Yenkara was only believed to be a fairy tale, yet you were convinced they did exist and look what you found." Li's eyebrows went up.
McNee was more than startled. "Y'mean, you believe me?"
Phu pulled out a book, worn and small, obviously it had once belonged to a child from the appearance of it's worn cover. The panda flipped open to a colored page, but hesitated.
"Mr. McNee, we need your aid in this. And if you do not, the jail cell is still there waiting and we will turn you in with no connection to us at all." McNee, after having seen the impressive display used to bail him out, believed the panda.
"What do I get if I do help?" Here Li smiled, again.
"We will give you all that is necessary to return and achieve your goal. Do you not believe that there are more than one Yenkara?" The poacher's eyes glittered with malice.
"Li, ya got yerself a deal"
The panda laid the book out on the table and pointed to a picture with two pandas in it, a man and a woman. There was only one object of interest to those looking at it, however, and it was to be found in the paw of one of the pandas.
"We will see if you are well-endowed enough to find this."
Baloo was thoroughly enjoying himself. He had radioed back to Higher for Hire for a check up on the situation and Rebecca had assured him that both her and Molly were fine, with the police reporting no kind of strange activity.
The large pilot was now sitting in a restaurant, a sort of open pagoda, with his navigator and was happily watching Kit's youthful excitement as he kept glancing around them.
Almost more than anything else, he loved to see the boy act like a kid, instead of a serious adult. He glanced at Kit's plate though, and shook his head.
His own dinner having long since been polished off, Baloo had given stern instructions concerning Kit's. The pilot may not have been very responsible concerning some things, but food was definitely not one of them. Reaching over, he lightly tapped the cub on the head.
"Hey, Lil' Britches, I told ya. We're not goin' anywheres unless you eat somethin'!" *Kid's too thin as it is.*
"Sure Baloo." Kit quickly shoveled some mouthfuls of noodles in with gusto. To the large bear's great amusement, the boy was done in record time.
In a teasing mood, Baloo slowly took out his watch, yawned dramatically and glanced at Kit who was squirming in his chair, waiting for his friend to give the go ahead.
"Kind of tired, kiddo. Whaddya say I take a nap before we go?" Baloo pulled the brim of his cap over his eyes, but not before seeing the wound-up expression on Kit's face almost go ballistic.
He stifled a grin and looked up the boy again. Kit jumped up and started tugging on the pilot's arm.
"Papa Bear, come on, let's go! Pleeease?!" Kit was giggling as Baloo, with obvious exaggeration, let the cub drag him across the room and out the door.
"Whoa there, Lil' Britches! You're gettin to be stronger than the daily special at Bob's Discount House of Fish." Kit was laughing as the gray bear wrapped an arm around his shoulders and squeezed the boy to him as they walked.
Both were in no hurry, simply enjoying each other's company and the exotic place they were in. Baloo never got tired of revisiting a place with Kit, even if he'd already been there many times before. The large bear figured it had something to do with the fact that he'd never had the opportunity to share anything, experiences, laughter, memories with anyone as close to him as the cub.
If felt better than almost anything the pilot could think of. When he and Kit went anywhere, it was like he saw things he'd never noticed before.
The boy was thinking much the same thing, with a warm, grateful feeling in his chest when he looked at Baloo. Being with the bear was better, more worthwhile than anything else to him, even flying. Kit's mind began to wander with that thought with only Baloo as an anchor to keep his feet on the ground.
:"Lemme see here," the bear looked at the map again and turned the corner, Kit in step beside him, but his thoughts far away.
"We should start right about.....what the?!!" Baloo's strange exclamation brought Kit back and he followed the pilot's gaze to some crumbling buildings.
*The _really_ old part of Quian* It wasn't what Kit expected it to be. There were holes and ladders where visitors could explore the layers underneath. What was nerve-racking was the warning sign saying that some of the supports were nearly as old as the bottom layers. [Enter at your own risk]
The network of tunnels was a bewildering maze of above ground, below ground paths that covered many blocks. Since artifacts have been dug out, the former inhabitants of this area had been displaced, leaving a strange contrasted place of little population in the jam-packed city.
Even more strange was the lack of claims and rights to excavate here. The Quian authorities seemed to be more interested in their international profits than maintaining their history, making for an out and out free-for-all to anyone brave enough to face the catacombs and gain money by selling whatever was found to the black market, collectors, or free-lance organizations such as the "Office for Maintaining the Heritage of Artifacts" who had published Baloo's information pamphlet.
Unfortunately, they seemed to have forgotten some minor details. Kit realized that there was a risk in some of, well, a lot of the things he and Baloo did, but the pilot certainly didn't go around looking for trouble, especially not when Kit was with him.
"Nobody said nothin' about this bein' a damn death trap!" Baloo growled, then quickly reached out and pulled Kit back as the boy made his way to one of the entrances.
"Well, Baloo," Kit said, "guess it wouldn't be much of a hunt without _some_ danger." The navigator tried to make light of the situation, but failed.
"Danger, my eye," Baloo glanced at Kit, who had an uncanny ability to read the bear's mind when it came to these things.
"Uh, uh, no way, Papa Bear. We came here to find that statue together and find it or not, you're not ditching me!" Kit folded his arms, a stubborn expression on his face that Baloo knew all too well.
"Fine kiddo, but you remember one thing." "Stick close." Kit and Baloo said the familar two words together and the pilot raised his eyebrows at the boy who smiled ruefully.
The large bear chuckled and turned to read the warning sign again before taking Kit's arm and walking down into the darkened tunnels.
McNee was filthy, tired and frustrated. Li Phu and his cohorts didn't look much better. They had been scouring certain areas of the ancient tunnels for hours.
Finally Li threw his small chisel down with a curse. The koala looked at him impatiently. "I told you, Phu. It took me years to find the Valley of the Yenkara. These sorta things take skill an' patience. I told ya anyway, I prefer to work alone. Maybe you'll follow my advice, seein' how much _help_ you've been."
The young panda clenched his fists. He was begining to regret ever having got McNee out of prison. The koala was so repugnant that it made working in these cramped conditions that much more unbearable.
One of the other pandas said something to Li in his native tongue. Li held up a hand and turned back to McNee.
"We do not have the benefit of time. It is growing late as it is. Let us see if we may have better luck on the south ruin." The pandas began walking down one tunnel.
McNee hesitated, then darted down another tunnel quickly, rushing through it and flattening himself against the wall, invisible in the darkness. He heard startled shouts in the FaiXu language as the group ran past his position.
*Who needs 'em* the poacher thought. *I'll just sell off the statue and use the money to get back to the Valley* Chortling, the treacherous hunter walked silently farther into the darkness.
Baloo made sure Kit walked behind him as he shined the feeble light of his small flashlight. The pilot was rathe unprepared to do any major excavation work, hoping instead that the previous work done could unearth the jade artifact.
*Besides, don't want to go to _that_ much trouble* the pilot kept checking behind his back, reassuring himself that his navigator was right behind him. He didn't know for certain how many hours it had been, not bothering to check, but the small scraps of pottery and other signs of recent life were a disheartening indication that the statue was nowhere close.
Suddenly, a violent shuddering shook through the tunnel. Without any other thought he turned to cover Kit with his own body, only to be too late. A cloud of dust and debris fell on them as the roof finally gave way.
"Kit!!" Baloo yelled desperately, no answer and the terrible pressure of earth came down on him.
McNee had been walking through the tunnels for a while when it finally hit him. The instinct that should have been given to anyone else but him. He _knew_. Turning several corners, he was shocked, however, to hear the click of a pistol in front of him.
"We do not deal well with traitors." Li Phu's voice was like cold steel as he pointed the gun at the old poacher, having made the mistake of trusting him once.
"Come on, Li," the koala's sneer did nothing to improve the situation. "Why dontcha just let me by? Go about yer business. I don't owe you boy's nothin' like what I'm doin' for ya."
Li's voice came back to him. "You have done nothing but cause us trouble and you have used up your last chance."
"I don't think so, my friend" the wily poacher, with remarkable speed, rushed Li, who only managed to back up a few steps. McNee grabbed the gun and managed to get the barrel pointed upward.
Reflexively, Li's finger squeezed the trigger once, then twice then realizing their folly, the group only watched as the ceiling came down on them with painful reality.
Kit's head hurt and his lungs wouldn't quite cooperate as he breathed in dust and particles. He tried calling out Baloo's name but to no avail.
He had heard his name being yelled out before the tunnel had collapsed. Frightened and sore, the disoriented boy looked around him.
Seeing no sign of Baloo in the rubble, he squirmed his way out. He could see patches of the night sky where sections of ceiling had come down. There was a solid wall of stone in front of him.
With a futile effort, Kit pushed at the wall and forcefully pushing his fear aside, he yelled out Baloo's name.
"Baloo!" "Baloo!!" louder the second time. The boy sat down again, trying to control his shaking and praying for an answer to his frantic calling. Nothing.
Kit tried again and again to move even a small piece of the barrier, still to no avail.
Kit put his hand on the stone gently, willing himself to be strong. The cub then got to his feet dizzily and set off to find some help, though where, he did not know.
Kit had walked for some time before finally reaching what he thought was a dead end. His side hurt, but he decided to backtrack to find any tunnels he could have missed.
Not concentrating, feeling panicky, he felt himself trip and go sprawling. Dusting himself off and raking dirt out of his mouth, he felt around on the dark floor before his fingers finally came into contact with an irregular shape, almost like a....
Kit gulped when he realized what he held in his hands. *Fat lot of good it will do me* Kit could care less about the statue, it couldn't help Baloo or him, so it was worthless.
Kit picked himself up and tucked the statue under his sweater. He was so preoccupied with finding another tunnel, he never had a clue about the attack from behind.
McNee cursed and began brushing rubble off of his head. He still held Li's arm in his hand, but it was limp.
*Good!* the koala's evil face had a smile. *They won't be botherin' me anymore.* Not even checking to see if Li or his companions were alive or hurt, the poacher started moving some stones to clear the way to another passage, his nature-given instinct pointing the way.
He felt along the wall, the only light being extinguished with the cave-in. He heard a sound and opened his ears.
"Baloo!!" *Baloo?* he _knew_ that name! Could it really be, he knew that _voice_ as well.
*This is too good to be true!* with something akin to a cackle, he followed the sound, then followed the footsteps.
He saw a small figure in front of him and the shock of recognition sent a tremor through him.
*It _is_ the boy!* without even stopping to think twice, he raised his shovel, which had never left his other hand and prepared to strike the boy down.
When the boy suddenly tripped and went down, McNee barely missed him, but tensed his arms to strike again. When the boy gasped, the koala hesitated. Even in the dim light, the old hunter could see a light green shape.
*The statue!* Not needing an excuse before, McNee grabbed the surprised navigator's shoulders and spoke into his ear. "If ya have any desire to continue breathing, hand over the stature"
Kit froze in fear, he recognized.....If you're lying, boy...
This was a turn of events the cub certainly did not need. He was frightened but prepared as usual, and lightly turning his head, he sunk his teeth into McNee's arm who screamed in pain and dropped his shovel.
Quickly the koala picked it up again and took a swing at him. In the darkness, Kit was barely able to get out of the way before having to dodge another blow.
Kit, knowing he couldn't dodge McNee indefinitely, thought with lightning speed and pulled the statue out, rolling it beneath the koala's feet.
McNee went down face first, yelling in fury. Kit grabbed the shovel and brought it above his head to hit the poacher hard enough to knock him out.
Just as he was ready to strike, however, unbidden images came to him, of Teddy holding his nose and in pain, the expressions of fear on everyone's faces. *You told yourself you would never...*
Kit's hesitation cost him dearly. McNee snarling pushed the boy down. Kit's head came into contact with the floor and he saw stars.
His last thought was a hope that Baloo was alright and that someone might chance to find him as McNee held the shovel up.
With a startled exclamation, the poacher found he couldn't move it forward. He wasn't prepared when a large fist hit him so hard that he flew across the passageway, knocked out.
Baloo, dirty, tired, helped Kit to his feet and began checking the cub's head for bumps. Kit, his insides a verital whirl of emotions, felt a few tears slide down his face.
Baloo gently wiped them away with a large hand and Kit let the pilot hold him fiercely for a time.
"Hey, Phu....uh..what? Where'd he go?" Startled the bear found the McNee and the statue he had only caught a glimpse of were gone as well.
"Creepy" was the gray bear's only word for the entire situation as he picked up his bruised navigator and headed toward the draft of air that indicated escape.
Kit held onto Baloo's neck for a time, comforted by the large pilot's presence. "Sorry, Papa Bear. I had the statue, but I guess it's long gone. That's what I get for tossing around a thing like that."
"No worries, Kit-Boy. That's not what's important" There was no question in Baloo's mind what was more priceless. Some silly statue or the cub he held in his arms right now. The two emerged out of the tunnels and headed toward the Sea Duck.
Under the circumstances, both the pilot and the navigator of the Sea Duck thought it best to leave Quian behind, both feeling a little regret at the unpleasant manner in which this treasure hunt had ended.
Before taking off, Baloo had set Kit down in the cargo hold to check if the boy had any serious injuries.
When five panda's had finally managed hear the bear's yells for help, Baloo had been surprised.
When the leader, Li Phu was all he introduced himself as, had said that they were after that bastard, McNee, Baloo's heart had turned into a block of ice.
The bear was disheartened at losing the statue, but after Phu had shown him the way to Kit, (just in time, too) Baloo wasn't ready to be ungrateful.
Kit was obviously still upset. He wouldn't make eye contact with the large bear. Baloo knelt down and gave him a half-smile.
"What a ride, huh kiddo? 'Ol Baloo is taking a vacation from my time off"
"I couldn't do it, Papa Bear" Kit's face was downcast. Baloo, knowing full well what he was talking about, having seen it, lightly put his hand under Kit's chin so the cub would have to look at him.
"Everythin' turned out alright, Lil' Britches." Baloo said softly. "You're just not like that."
Kit's eyes flashed. "Like that! like what? Baloo, I've done it before!" Kit spilled out the story of his earlier fight, which had been festering inside of him. He ended with a sob.
"I couldn't hurt someone again, not even McNee" Baloo rubbed the boy's shoulders to comfort him.
"Kit, you shouldn't be ashamed of what happened. Fighting's not always the way to go, but Kit-Boy," Kit stared at him, forthrightly, "don't be afraid to defend yourself. Especially against people like McNee."
Kit, who was taking in every word, hugged the large bear who, in turn, felt a crushing wave of love for the boy as he held the young cub, very thankful for being able to do so.
In spite of himself, Baloo felt a nagging doubt creep into his mind. He only wanted what was best for Kit, but he wasn't always an authority on everything.
It was a huge responsibility to know that the boy listened to him and acted accordingly. Baloo smiled at the cub as they walked into cockpit.
"That was some pretty quick thinkin', kiddo. Using that statue to trip McNee up." Kit looked thoughtful, it _had_ been quick thinking, but if Baloo hadn't shown up when he did, Kit probably wouldn't be standing here.
*Next time* Kit thought determinedly, *it's all going to be a matter of self-defense* As the sea-plane took off and touched the sky, the earlier newspaper flittered open to a minor headline, unnoticed by pilot or navigator as they began the journey home.
Unrest in Thembria, High Marshall Threatens Drastic Action
End of Part 1