Kickaha takes Calex fora hike. Just a plain, normal hike.
A Normal Hike
“I don’t get it.” Calex was in his feral form, he looked no different from any other normal orange kitten as he sat in the grass looking up at Kickaha with a quizzical expression.
“I don’t really know how to explain it in any simpler terms.” The rusty orange colored foxyote looked down at the kitten. He was in his normal bipedal form, wearing his usual cloak. “How are you unfamiliar with the idea of a hike?”
“But it doesn’t make any sense.” Calex protested. “I mean…” He stood up on his hind legs shifting to his hybrid form as he gestured around him with his new hands at all the trees and shrubs. “We’re already in the forest!”
“Yes, that had not escaped my notice.” Kickaha was at least getting some mild amusement at the kitten’s reactions.
“So then how are we going for a hike? How is this some kind of special activity?” The kitten demanded.
“It’s not that hard a concept. It just means going for a hike through the woods, following nature trails, taking in the sights.” Kickaha tried to explain.
“But that doesn’t make any sense. That’s literally just traveling to your place.” Calex gestured behind Kickaha to the burrow that the foxyote called home. “I walk around the forest all the time to come see you, you live here and so are always walking around. So how is a hike a thing?”
“It’s a lovely thing! Traveling through an area full of nature to take in the view…” Kickaha started.
“We are already in nature!” The kitten threw up his arms. “From what you’re describing, me coming out to see you was already a hike!”
“Hmmmmm.” Kickaha suppressed his smile. “I’m sure there are dictionary authors who would quibble, but I’ll allow it.”
“So how is going for a hike a recreational activity?” The kitten demanded. “It’s literally just the normal way of getting around.”
“Well, most people don’t live in the woods, so going for a nature hike is a little more special to them.” Kickaha explained. “I don’t know why you’re so hung up on this.”
“Because I was bored, came all the way out here looking for you as I assumed you’d have some kind of something we can do!” Calex sat down on the ground pouting. “Instead you’re basically saying let’s just go for a walk and do nothing.”
“No, you’re supposed to take in the sights.” Kickaha explained.
“I’m always taking in the sights!” Calex protested. “I mean, I’m a small kitten. It’s basic safety, gotta be on the watch for potential predators.”
“Uh huh.” Kickaha wanted to add ‘and for potential prey’ to the end of Calex’s statement. However, he was having a hard-enough time getting the kitten to go on a hike with him. Bringing up the conversation about the tragic lack of nutritious rodents in the feline’s diet was not going to make Calex any more agreeable. Still, he was a little surprised the small feline actually kept watch for bigger predators. Largely because he felt sorry for anything that tried to go after the werekitten. Kickaha had once seen the kitten punch a manticore through three walls, and apparently he had been holding back so as ‘not to hurt it.’ May whatever gods or spirits existed have mercy on whatever hawk or owl tried to go after the kitten. “Well in this case, it’s a more relaxed situation. You know, slow down a little, just enjoy the moment.”
“But I’d enjoy the moment more if we did something other than just go for a normal walk!” Calex protested.
“You’re not going to let this go, huh?” Kickaha had to remind himself. Regardless of how long Calex had chronologically existed, The werekitten was still only six and a half years old both physically and emotionally. Since he tended to possess knowledge well beyond what he should know at his age due to his ‘Peter Pan’ situation, it was easy to forget he never actually matured.
“There’s gotta be more to it than that!” Calex exclaimed. “You of all people wouldn’t suggest something so… So…. So boring!”
“HEY!” Kickaha had been insulted in a number of creative and different ways in his life. He knew how to take them in stride. However, he was not about to lay down and be called boring! “You can see quite a number of interesting sights on a hike! You can’t just declare it boring without even giving it a shot.”
“But if it’s just a walk through the woods, that’s literally just a normal day.” Calex replied, exasperated. And with that they had come full circle back to the start of the argument. This was going nowhere fast. “There has to be some kind of trick. Something unexpected. Some surprise that happens when you do this ‘hike’ thing.”
“Ok, seriously, how can someone who has existed long enough and is smart enough to be able to explain advanced scientific concepts to people not know what a hike is?” The fun of the kitten’s confusion had faded as now Kickaha was mostly in disbelief. “Seriously, in your entire extended lifespan, in all the time you’ve spent in fields building miniature restaurants, this concept has never come up?”
“Not that I can think of.” The kitten shrugged. “So, what’s the secret? What actually happens on a hike?”
“You have a pleasant stroll and enjoy the scenery.” Kickaha gave the kitten a deadpan stare. Then he paused and considered how ‘normal’ things usually went for him, how they usually went for Calex, and how they usually got exponentially out of control when the two were close to each other. More likely than not, the hike wouldn’t be just a hike. But he couldn’t explain that. If you expect the strange, then it ceases to be strange and so your day will be normal. As a result, Kickaha couldn’t risk explaining that something was bound to happen on their walk without risking causing it to not happen. He needed to switch up his tactics. Approach this from a different angle. “What if… We went for a hike along a mountain trail instead of the forest?”
“A mountain?” Calex considered. “Someplace new and mysterious. No doubt ancient secrets buried beneath it. Perhaps some kind of ancient evil, whose 1000-year seal is just now about to break. Or maybe it’s the lair of a powerful and wise dragon! One whom will give you three trials and should you complete them will answer any question with absolute truth! Or maybe it’s a secret pirate base, where they could run up into the mountains to disappear after they steal their booty.”
“I’m pretty sure if they’re on a mountain they’re bandits, not pirates.” Kickaha let most of what Calex said go without comment. Recent experiments about the kitten’s true nature made him believe it would be much healthier for the two if his mind moved on from the first two ideas. “Pirates are usually out in the ocean, doing nautical stuff. Walking planks and so on.”
“They could be mountain pirates.” Calex crossed his arms.
“There’s no such thing as a mountain pirate.” Kickaha was trying to retrace this dialog to figure out how he got from asking the kitten to accompany him on a walk to arguing about the difference between pirates and bandits.
“That’s just what they want you to think.” The kitten glanced around the area as if nervous someone might be listening. “All of their pirate ships that climb the mountains are equipped with stealth field generators.”
“Okay what?” Kickaha was used to the silly and strange. But at a certain point things just became ridiculous. “They’re not ships if they’re climbing mountains. I mean, if you take a proper ship up a mountain, it’s just going to roll back down and get smashed up along the way, and now you’re just some sort of valley pirate and you’ve made a big mess for no good reason. Also, I’m pretty sure you just switched genres if you’re talking about stealth field generators.”
“Hey, pirates have advanced in technology too in the last few hundred years.” The kitten replied with a shrug.
“You know what. It’s fine.” Kickaha clapped his hands together as he buried the urge to raise more objections. “But, does this mean you’re more agreeable to going on a hike up a mountain?”
“Yup!” The kitten replied happily. “Adventures into unexplored lands are always a ton of fun!”
“Great, then. Hop on.” Kickaha shrunk down as his body was suddenly covered in a mass of black feathers. Soon, there was a large crow recognizable as Kickaha by the mark upon his chest and the green cloak. “If we don’t want to hike through the woods to reach the closest mountain this will be faster.” Kickaha kept silent on the fact that the mountain was not even remotely unexplored. Considering there were vacation cabins, a ski lodge that did good business in the winter, and camping grounds he’d say the place was pretty well explored. But, if he brought that up now it was likely to start the argument with the kitten all over again.
“Got it! MROWL!” Calex dropped back down onto all fours and shrunk a little bit as he returned to his feral size. He then leaped onto Kickaha’s back, being careful to keep his paw clear of the crow’s wings so he wouldn’t interfere with flying. Then, Kickaha lifted up off the ground and soon was flying above the forest trees.
The flight to the mountain was uneventful. It appeared in the distance pretty quickly as they got closer to it. Kickaha circled the mountain from a large distance before getting closer, largely to keep the kitten from seeing the ski lodge on the other side of the mountain. Eventually he landed at the base of the mountain where there were two trails and a guide post. Kickaha immediately changed back to his normal foxyote form which resulted in the kitten now sitting atop his shoulders.
“Hey there’s a sign!” Calex pointed out. “Does that mean someone has been here before?”
“Well…” Kickaha walked up to the sign until his nose was almost touching it. This meant the kitten on top of him would be unable to read it. The sign itself just had two simple statements on it. An arrow pointing to the left labeled ‘Mountain Trail’ and an arrow pointed to the right labeled ‘Cafe.’ “If I’m translating these strange writings correctly…” The English language was kind of weird in how its rules worked, so Kickaha didn’t consider anything he was saying right now to technically be a lie. “It would seem that those who are weak of body or mind can take the right-hand path to seek food and shelter.. But the left-hand path will lead us upward to who knows what we might encounter.”
“I see…” Calex crossed his arms and looked thoughtful. “This must have been left here as a warning by some ancient race of precursors. No doubt their entire civilization is gone by now, but I bet there are still ruins of where they once lived scattered throughout the mountain.”
“I mean it’s not impossible.” Kickaha stepped away from the sign and down the left trail. He was pretty sure the sign likely dated back to the ancient year of 1995 when the caffe had first opened. But he didn’t find that information relevant to share. “So are you planning to ride me up the entire mountain? I mean, if you do that, you’re technically still not hiking. You’re just watching.””
“Hmmm?” Calex took a moment to consider. Then he jumped down from Kickaha’s shoulders and resumed his bipedal hybrid form. “Guess I can walk for a bit. I’m used to just kind of perching on top and being the lookout. But, you don’t really have a proper hat to make a good perch like Odin does.”
“And neither does he anytime you two go anywhere.” Kickaha muttered with a snicker.
“What was that?” Calex asked.
“Nothing of importance.” Kickaha shook his head. “Come now, adventure awaits!”
“Right! Onward into the unknown!” Calex marched up the mountain trail. He managed to get about five feet before the entire mountain began to shake. “Huh what the?”
“Already?” Even Kickaha was off guard. He figured they’d at least make it partially up the trail before something weird happened. Foxyote and kitten flailed to balance themselves and keep from falling over. And then a large crack formed on the side of the mountain near them.
The crack grew to an even larger scale, till it ran from the base of the mountain where Kickaha and Calex were to the very top. As the ground continued to rumble the mountain slowly split in two. The two pieces moved apart from each other revealing a deep pit beneath the mountain. Then, from that pit came a bubbling gurgling noise. Black goop began to flow upward out of the pit. The liquid bubbled as if boiling and upon reaching the top of the pit instead of spilling over continued to move straight upward and slowly form into shapes.
The goop eventually solidified into a strange substance, it almost seemed like it was there and not there at the same time, as if the entire thing was a shadow. But it soon had a defined form. It had thirteen heads, twelve of which had gaping maws filled with six rows of shaper large teeth. The thirteenth head resembled a stretched human face, but was upside down and located at the center of the beast that was likely meant to be its chest. Tendrils of shadow branched off of it in every direction, twitching and angling into strange angles that should not exist. It was something that the brain of a creature who lived in a paltry four-dimensional spacetime continuum simply could not comprehend.
“At laaaaaaaaaaaaaaasst.” The center head spoke with a whispered head. “The thousand-year seal which bound me has finally worn away. Now that I am free, this world will once again sink into chaos.”
“Now look what you’ve done.” Kickaha face pawed.
“What do you mean, what I did?” Calex seemed confused. “I didn’t seal this thing away a thousand years ago. Pretty sure I wasn’t around then.” He paused. “And if I was, I would have been in Scotland at the time.”
“Forget I said anything.” That was right. Calex didn’t know about his own magic and how strong it could actually be. If he was aware of it, this likely wouldn’t have happened. Kickaha had discovered the kitten had minor reality warping powers after a brief experiment a bit back. Calex himself seemed completely oblivious to it. Kickaha wasn’t sure what would happen if he ever was aware of it. But the simple of it was that the universe tended to reflect the way Calex perceived it when he was close by. This was why Kickaha had quickly dropped certain subjects earlier, as he was hoping the kitten would have forgotten this idea by the time they got here.
“It feels like you know something.” Calex narrowed his eyes and looked at Kickaha. “Why would you think I caused this?”
“Well…” Kickaha tried to think of a way to dodge the question. “The mountain didn’t start shaking till you started up the trail.”
“Excuuuuuse me.” The hideous creature hissed.
“I suppose that’s true…” Calex looked thoughtful. “Think the mountain reacted to my magical nature?”
“Yeah, I can say it’s a safe bet.” Kickaha managed to reply with a completely straight face.
“Are… Are you ignoring me?” The creature demanded.
“That makes sense…” Calex nodded. Magic reacts to magic… But wait… You’re magic too!” Calex looked up at Kickaha. “And it was your idea to go for a hike! So technically this is kind of your fault.”
“Maybe to a certain extent.” Kickaha admitted.
“I will smite both of you.” The creature’s voice did not rise but the anger could still be heard in it.
“Either way, pretty sure we need to do something about this.” Calex titled his head and looked at the creature. “Think this is the type where you gotta collect seven pieces of something to seal it away? Or the type you just gotta engage in battle to put it back in its seal?”
“Honestly, this kind of thing is outside my area of expertise.” Kickaha shrugged. “Isn’t this usually the type of thing that you and Odin usually deal with?”
“Yeah, but there’s usually build up to it. You can’t just have the main beastie showing up right at the start.” Calex rubbed his chin. “Unless it’s to scatter the heroes across the land, maybe even time and space, as we collect some magical trinkets to defeat it and all work our way back here. But what trinkets?” Calex turned to acknowledge the creature for the first time. “HEY! You! Would you happen to know what kind of magical trinkets seal you back up again? There should be seven of them.”
“What makes you so sure there will be seven?” Kickaha asked.
“There are always seven.” Calex replied matter of factly.
“Child, you dare not address me in such a way.” The creature’s voice never rose above a hiss. “I know not what nonsense you’re babbling about. But rest assured, you will be first in line for the untold horrors I shall release on this planet! For none can even look upon my visage without going mad from-“ The creature paused. “Wait. Why haven’t you two gone mad? You’ve both seen my true form.”
“It’s not that scary.” Calex shrugged.
“Honestly, it seems a little overkill.” Kickaha nodded. “Trying so hard that the scariness wraps around to the point of being funny again.”
“You know what, you’re right!” Calex giggled. “It’s like a parody of an eldritch horror!”
“You dare mock me?” The creature began to twist in on itself. “You have no idea of the cataclysm that is about to be unleashed. Devastation like the world has never seen. None shall be spared. My wrath shall reign supreme across the entire-“
“Yeah , I’m just gonna have to stop you right there.” Kickaha spoke up. “I mean, you’ve been sealed up for a thousand years, so it’s no surprise that you’re not up to speed on current events. But now you’re in the year 2020, and this is really not the time to do the whole cataclysmic-devastation routine. I mean, I’m sure you’re good at it. You’ve had lots of time to train up for it. But trust me. You’re just going to get frustrated. Things are too weird already. You’ll get lost in the shuffle. Heck, you won’t even make the top-ten list of apocalyptic disasters this year.”
“What?” This seemed to leave the creature dumbfounded. It paused for a few moments then sunk into itself. A moment later what appeared to be an old brick phone surfaced from the goo. “Let me just get the news pulled up on here.”
“Wait, you’ve been sealed away for a thousand years. Why do you have that phone?” The kitten tilted his head.
“Well sorry if I don’t have the newest smartphone. Having been busy being sealed away I haven’t exactly had time to go shopping or upgrade my plan.” The creature hissed as the phone moved in front of its upside down face.
“Okay but that’s not what I-“ Calex raised a paw as he began to question the creature more.
“Just let this one go.” Kickaha put a hand on the kitten’s shoulder. “Trust me. It’s better that way.”
“WHAT!?” For the first time the creature’s voice rose to a shout. “And I’m only up to March and… What is this place? The entire world has gone insane.”
“It’s best to try not to think about it too much.” Kickaha explained. “You just focus on what you can control. You do what you can to even things out a little, and you find something to help keep your brain distracted so you don’t go insane. A little classical music and a nice plate of mouse parmigiana really settles my nerves.”
“I… I don’t get it. How have mere humans created such terror?” The creature hissed. “No, this era is not worthy of being destroyed by me. Wake me again in a thousand years when some semblance of sanity has been restored.” With that the creature turned into black goop again, sunk into the underground pit then the earth rumbled as the mountain moved back into place and the crack healed.
“Well that’s taken care of.” Calex clapped his paws. “Honestly, I was getting a bit antsy. I mean, I know if it comes down to a fight, I need to face punch it, but it had so many faces to punch. Was I supposed to go for the upside down one? Or did I need to stun all the ones with teeth before I could attack that one?”
“That’s what you were thinking about?” Kickaha supposed he shouldn’t be a surprise. Apparently, eldritch horrors and ancient gods were standard fare for what detectives have to deal with these days. And Calex’s owner was a detective. “Do you think it’s ok to just leave it though? It’s going to be back in a thousand years.”
“It’ll be fiiiiine.” Calex waved a paw dismissively. “These kinds of monsters always have a hero destined to face them in battle and defeat them. Trust me, there’s like, thousands of guys like him. If one of them was going to destroy the world they would have succeeded at it by now.” The kitten began to run up the mountain trail. “Now come on! Let’s get going! Maybe the next thing we’ll encounter we’ll actually get to interact with.”
“One can only hope, huh?” Kickaha shrugged and followed Calex.
The trail widened as it began to slant more upwards. It followed a curving path, twisting every so often to double back on itself at a higher altitude. The two continued to walk, carrying on idle conversation as they did. And for a few precious minutes everything was peaceful.
And then the cannons fired.
“YAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRR!” What looked like a small replica of a ship mounted on treads appeared out of nowhere. It clattered along the side of the mountain, as a crew of roughly-dressed humans ran back and forth on the crazily-tilting deck in seeming defiance of the laws of physics and gravity. The shout came from a more fanciful dressed man, wearing a feathered hat, a long coat, and an eyepatch over one eye. Naturally, a parrot rested on his shoulder. As he gave his shout, a cannon mounted on the side of his ship aimed at the two hikers and fired.
“GET DOWN!” Calex shouted as he tackled Kickaha to the ground and the cannonball soared through where they had been standing just a few moments before.
“Consider that a warning shot!” The dapperly dressed man replied. “I’m Captain Cobblestone, leader of the mountain pirates. And I suggest you hand over all your valuables if you don’t want to be fed to the Mountain Kraken.”
“Warning shot?” Kickaha stood back up. “That was aimed right at us!” Then he paused. “Wait. Did you say Mountain Kraken?”
“I told you mountain pirates were a thing!” Calex hissed as he got back up. “And stealth field generators just like I said! Their ship was invisible right up until it attacked us.”
“That’s clearly not a ship. It has treads. It’s some sort of novelty tank.” Kickaha rolled his eyes.
“Excuse me?” Captain Cobblestone demanded. “Be you a pirate?”
“Well not at the moment.” Kickaha grinned. “But from time to time I’ve played the-“
“Then ye ain’t be one to know what be and not be a pirate ship!” Captain Cobblestone interrupted him. “Now, I won’t ask a third time. Hand over all your valuables!”
“Um…” Calex looked down at himself.
“Yeah, you picked the wrong marks for this.” Kickaha snickered. “As you can see here, my friend has made the sensible fashion choice of being naked. And as he does not have a backpack or anything else to carry anything, you can easily see he has no valuables on him. As for myself? Well, I’m not exactly wearing much more. Just my cloak. And yes, I’m fond of it and think it’s rather nice, but it’s sized for a three-and-a-half-foot woodland critter. Not exactly treasure worthy of a place in a pirate hoard.”
“Ye could be hiding gold or gems in your cloak pockets! Take it off and throw it over!” Captain Cobblestone demanded.
“First off, rude. Second, it’s as light as a cloak-sized feather.” As if on cue, a gust of wind made the cloak rise and flutter gallantly behind him. And third, if I had treasure, why would I be carrying it up a mountainside? I mean, how does the whole mountain-pirate economic system work? Are there — never mind. Well? Still want to steal clothes from an innocent traveling foxyote?” Kickaha had started to say “Are there stealth merchant caravans up here too?” But he stopped himself in time; Calex was listening, and things were already strange enough.
“Ya know captain they might be right…” One of the other pirates spoke up. “They don’t exactly look like the wealthy type. Although I’m pretty sure that foxyotes ain’t a proper thing.”
“Well if you ain’t got any coin to your name, you ain’t got any value to your life.” Captain Cobblestone spoke coldly. “All yer good for is food for the Mountain Kraken. Men, take ‘em!” Several of the pirates drew swords.
Calex’s eyes glinted as he sized up the tactical situation. “Kickaha, we need to get on that ship. We’re sitting ducks for their cannon on the trail, once on the ship we can take them out in an epic swashbuckling battle.”
“Or I could just turn them all into literal bilge rats.” Kickaha suggested. “Just saying. It’d be much faster.”
“But I wanna swashbuckle…” The kitten pouted and gave Kickaha a look.
“Ahhh, don’t look at me like that! That’s not fair!” Kickaha shrugged. “Well, I guess maybe just for a little bit. What kind of responsible adult would I be if I didn’t let a small child engage bandits in battle?”
“We be mountain pirates!” Captain Cobblestone shouted.
“You’re bandits. Cosplaying bandits.” Kickaha crossed his arms. “Calex, do as you do.”
“ROOOOAWWWWWWWWWR!” Calex dropped to all fours and ran full speed to keep even with the ship. The crew tried to aim the cannon at him, but it just gave him a perch to leap to and land on the ship. He stood back up on two legs as pirates armed with cutlasses surrounded him.
Meanwhile, Kickaha didn’t see the need to steal Calex’s spotlight. He had an easier way onto the ship. And that was just to assume his crow form and fly above it. He circled the ship knowing that he could land on it anytime should Calex need help.
“Ye be thinking you can take on me whole crew on your own?” Captain Cobblestone asked Calex. “Ye be crazy even for a cat.”
“Oh, you are going to learn such a hard lesson about the universe’s pecking order.” Calex gave a fanged grin. “Kickaha, sword!”
“What?” Kickaha shouted back from above the ship. “I don’t have a sword. Why would you think I’d have one?”
“I don’t know!” Calex retorted. “You have all kinds of random things on you for different reasons. I figured at least one of them was bound to be some kind of sword.”
“Fair enough.” Kickaha couldn’t fault the logic. “But afraid I don’t have any swords.”
“Well, something I could use as a sword then please!” Calex shouted as the pirates were among him. He was unarmed, and outnumbered. However, he was also a cat and much smaller than them. He dropped to all fours again, assuming his feral form and ran between the legs of one of the pirates.
“Hey! Get him, don’t let him escape!” One pirate shouted as they took a swing at Calex.
“Ow! You nicked me leg you bloomin’ idiot!” A second shouted.
“He’s on my back!” A third screamed. “Wait! Don’t swing your sword! Don’t swing!”
While Calex was causing chaos on the ship Kickaha circled the top of it and used a small magical spell to open the pockets of his cloak since his wings were currently busy keeping him aloft. He began to levitate various items out of his pockets trying to find something sword-like in nature. Unfortunately, without the use of hands Kickaha didn’t have much of a way to hold the items he took out of his pockets. And so they just fell out of the sky towards the ship. A rubber chicken with a pulley through it, a safe, a box of derby hats and a grand piano.
“HEY!” Captain Cobblestone shouted. “I thought ye said your pockets couldn’t fit anything in them! What’s all this?”
“I just told you how improbable it was that I would be carrying treasure. I never said that you were -wrong-.”Kickaha couldn’t help but smirk. “And… Aha! Here we go! Calex, catch!” The crow swooped down closer to the ship before dropping an umbrella from his cloak.
“Meow!” Calex climbed up onto a pirate’s back, then onto his head before leaping into the air. He resumed his humanoid form as he grabbed the umbrella’s handle before landing on the ship again. “An umbrella?”
“Gotta work with what we’ve got.” Kickaha replied.
“I suppose.” Calex spun around to block a cutlass blow just in time with the umbrella. The impact from it was enough to make the pirate stumble backwards. “Huh. Surprisingly sturdy.”
“Get him you fools!” Captain Cobblestone shouted. “He’s one cat! And just a wee kitten! How hard could it be?!”
“Oh you’re about to find out.” Calex flashed a fiendish grin as he dove into the fray again. He once more used his small size to his advantage. Diving underneath pirates, smacking them in the legs with the umbrella to trip them, then giving them a good whack on the head.
“Captain! We’re trying! But he’s just too small and agile! And he’s beating us with an umbrella!” One of the pirates whined.
“Looks like he’s got things under control.” Kickaha watched the battle. “But this seems like as good a time as ever to clean out my pockets and toss out anything I don’t need.” He continued to empty his pockets, sending a bowling ball, a jumping rope, several sets of car keys and a bowl of petunias crashing downward.
“That’s it had enough of you!” Captain Cobblestone growled as he jumped onto the cannon. He aimed it upward at Kickaha before firing a cannon ball.
“WHOA!” Kickaha swerved to the side just in time to avoid the cannon ball. “Careful! If I didn’t know any better I’d think you were trying to hit me.”
“Of course I’m trying to hit ye you daft fool.” Captain Cobblestone shouted as he fired another cannonball which Kickaha avoided.
“I don’t know which I’m more upset about.” Kickaha scowled. “Your complete failure to understand sarcasm, or the fact that you passed up the perfect opportunity to make a ‘bird-brained’ joke.”
“I’ll show you who’s bird-brained!” The captain loaded a red cannonball into the cannon and fired.
“It doesn’t work now.” Kickaha easily swerved away from the cannonball again. However, the ball exploded into a cloud of red dust blinding him. “GAAAAHHHH!” Kickaha coughed as he crashed downward, landing on the deck with a heavy thud. “Ugggggh.” He stood up resuming his foxyote form. “What was that?”
“A pepper bomb!” Captain Cobblestone shouted. “Now, men! Get him!”
“Sorry captain…” One of the pirates whined. “We’re a little busy.” Most of the pirates were laying around on the ship moaning in the pain. One of them was standing, his knees shaking and sword drawn as a kitten not even as tall as his knees held an umbrella with a manic grin.
“Oh forget it, I’ll do it myself.” The captain drew his own sword and advanced on Kickaha. “You’re going to learn now to mess with a mountain pirate.”
“You’re a bandit. We’ve covered this!” Kickaha shouted then stood up and held up his hand releasing a bright green light. “But if you’re so insistent on being a filthy binge rat, who am I to deny?” The light flooded the entire boat, and suddenly there was a clatter as words and empty piles of clothes fell to the floor. A moment later, several alarmed rats climbed out of the various piles of clothes and looked up at the foxyote.
Kickaha bared his teeth.“Suddenly, I’m feeling kind of hungry.” A single drop of saliva glistened on his lower lip. The pirate rats abandoned ship, scattering in all directions.
“See, Calex? I told you that would be easier. Calex?” Kickaha glanced around not seeing the kitten.
“Squeak?” A small young orange rat with a protruding fang and cat-like green eyes ran up to Kickaha and stared up at him.
“Oh…” Kickaha looked down at the rat shaped Calex. “I guess hitting the entire ship would hit you too.”
“Squeak!” Calex seemed to be in good spirits despite that. He had gotten to have a proper swashbuckling. For now he ran up onto Kickaha and sat on his shoulder. “Squeak.”
“Right…” Kickaha tried very hard to focus on anything but the fact there was a small rat on his shoulder. “Well, dropping that big a blast on that many people, it won’t last long. Hour, two tops. Probably won’t even last till the end of our hike.”
“Squeak!” Calex replied as he dug his claws into Kickaha’s fur and curled up to get comfortable.
“Or I guess my hike now.” Kickaha jumped down from the ship and started back up the mountain trail. “Well, at least I doubt anyone else bothers us after that.”
“Squeeak!” Calex agreed eagerly.
“Though I feel like the quality of conversation just went down a notch.” Kickaha teased Calex, but then gave him a gentle pat on the head.
Kickaha continued up the mountain trail. By this point they were getting pretty high up. They were near the end of the trail. Then, something strange came into sight. It was a massive building, made of ancient stone. There were columns outside, some of them had been toppled over. A pair of doors stood at the entrance sealed shut. As Kickaha approached the temple began to rumble as the doors opened up.
“So you know anything about this?” Kickaha looked to the young rat.
“Squeak?” Calex replied. Then suddenly, he was noticeably bigger as he was kitten sized again. Calex was pretty small. For most people, he could easily ride on one shoulder. However, Kickaha, being only three feet tall, was not one of those people. Suddenly the foxyote and werekitten toppled over falling on top of each other.
“I see the spell wore off…” Kickaha groaned.
“Guess that means the bandits are all human again?” Calex asked.
“Pretty much.” Kickaha grinned. “All back to being human, stark naked somewhere on the mountain.”
“Well at least they got one nice thing out of it.” Calex chirped happily. Calex didn’t understand the concept of human modesty about nudity. Kickaha understood the concept, he just found it silly. And the idea of the so called pirates suddenly having to awkwardly stumble around the mountain naked before either finding their old clothes or someone to help was highly amusing to him.
“Now then… About this place.” Kickaha looked to the temple and the open doors. “Any idea what we’re looking at?”
“Obviously an ancient temple! Something or someone is waiting inside.” Calex got to his feet and stood up. “You know, this is a really busy mountain. Ancient evil sealed underneath it. Mountain pirates.”
“Bandits.” Kickaha’s voice was firm but weary.
“Pirates.” Calex insisted. “Now a giant ancient temple. This mountain must be sacred or something.” He rubbed his chin. “Anything could be waiting for us inside. We better be ready.”
“Yeah, at this point I really do believe anything might be waiting in there.” Despite his comment, Kickaha was having a good time.
“Not going to find out until we head inside!” Calex bounded forward. “This is a ton of fun. I can’t believe I’ve never been on a hike before. This is exciting!”
“Yes, now you see why people enjoy hiking.” Kickaha chuckled as the two advanced through the doorway.
The two entered a dark room. As they passed by the doors they slammed shut leaving both of them in total darkness. Then, two massive flames lit up floating in the air. In front of the two, was a large statue of an eastern dragon clutching a pearl in each set of claws. Cracks formed in the statue, then suddenly pieces of stone fell away as if the statue was shedding a second skin. As the stone fell away, a large silver dragon stood on the pedestal where the statue had been. The pearls it held in its claws each glowed with a brilliant light.
“Welcome.” The dragon replied. “You have scaled the mountain and reached the domain of absolute truth. I am Akasha, I know and see all. Those who pass my three trials may ask one question which I will answer with absolute truth.”
“Of course you are.” Kickaha shot Calex a look. “So, I take it we’ll be starting these trials now.”
“The trials have already begun.” Akasha responded. “And so far you have performed admirably. The ancient evil that lives beneath this mountain whose name must not be said you sealed away, not through force or collecting the Seven Rainbow Keys-“
“I told you there were seven.” Calex beamed smugly.
“Please do not interrupt the all-knowing dragon while they are speaking.” Akasha gave the kitten an annoyed look.
“Sorry.” Calex bowed slightly.
“As I was saying.” Akasha continued. “Without the Seven Rainbow Keys you were able to seal the one whose name must not be said back into their prison, not through force, but through the use of wits. Then even when caught by surprise by the mountain pirates you were able to rout them-“
“You might even say ‘rat them.’” Kickaha grinned. “They were bandits, not pirates by the way.”
“What did I say about interrupting the all-knowing dragon?” Akasha asked.
“Sorry.” Kickaha winced.
“Where was I…” Akasha took a moment to reflect. “Right as I was saying, you successfully ratted the mountain pirat-“Akasha froze. “Oh great now you’ve got me doing it.”
“As an all knowing dragon shouldn’t you have known I was going to make that pun anyway?” Kickaha asked with a silly grin.
“I should have, and I did.” Akasha replied. “And yet I did nothing to prevent it.”
“Maybe because you like puns.” Kickaha’s grin grew wider.
“If we can continue.” There was a note of impatience to Akasha’s voice. “You passed the first two trials with ease. Now there is but one trial before you. You may both attempt it. Whoever passes this final test may ask a question that I will answer with absolute truth. Should you both pass, you may both ask a question. Should only one pass, only they may ask a question. And should you both fail, I shall not answer any questions. Now, are you prepared for the final trial?”
“I’m ready!” Calex jumped up and down eagerly.
“We’ve come all this way. Might as well give it a shot.” Kickaha stretched. “So, how is this going to go down? Some kind of fight? Or a test of wits?”
“The trial is one of fortune.” Akasha spoke. As he did a stone bowl rose out of the floor with an ancient looking coin in the center of it. Akasha released one of their pearls and the coin floated to their free set of claws. “You must call it, heads or tails.”
“Wait, that’s it?” Kickaha had expected more. “And… Wait do we get separate coin flips or will there just be one?”
“I shall flip the coin only once. You must each call your choice before I flip it.” Akasha replied. I will give you time to consider.”
“So… We can make the same call and possibly both get a question… Or call it separate and guarantee at least one of us gets to ask a question.” Calex mused.
“So it’s a matter of do we gamble and hope for two answers, or play it safe and guarantee one…” Kickaha mused.
“Well, I guess we should think about how our luck has gone in the past. Maybe use that as a general sign of how are luck is going to keep going.” Calex mused.
“Our luck in the past?” Kickaha thought about it for a moment. He thought about the time they wound up mouse size to a mouse and then mailed out of the country by mistake. How they had spent the last Easter asleep inside eggs for other people to hunt. He thought about his time interning at the Ashcroft Investigation Agency and how it had ended in everyone reduced to infancy. Then he thought about so many times where they had randomly out of nowhere gotten zapped being turned into a different species, reduced in age, or shrunk, often down to ridiculous sizes, like the time with the baking soda volcano. “I… don’t think we should rely on our luck.”
“Really?” Calex seemed surprised. “I thought we had a pretty good chance.”
“If we were relying on some kind of transformation spell to bounce off the coin in the air and hit us I’d bet on it…” Kickaha replied. “But I think we better call it separately. You want heads or tails?”
“Tails!” Calex smiled. “I always go with tails.”
“Then I guess I’m calling heads.” Kickaha put his hands on his hips and looked at the coin.
“Your decisions have been made. Now, let fate decide your path.” Akasha tossed the coin high up into the air. When it reached its maximum height it rotated in the air hovering for a few seconds before falling back down into the bowl. The answer was revealed. “The coin has come up tails. Calex, you may ask me exactly one question. I will answer said question with absolute truth. Think carefully. I am all knowing and could give you any information you desire.”
“I see…” Calex looked thoughtful.
“Hmmm.” Kickaha watched Calex intently. He realized the werekitten must have a billion questions. The werekitten’s past and the source of his strange heritage was a mystery even to Kickaha. Calex himself clearly didn’t know. He didn’t even seem to know about the nature of his magic. Kickaha couldn’t fathom how the kitten could narrow it down to just one question.
“Alright!” Calex slammed a fist into his other paw. “I’ve figured out what I want to ask.”
“Very well, ask your question.” Akasha coiled around themselves.
“Right.” Calex stepped forward. Then with a serious look he asked his question. “Seriously, just what is a hike? I don’t get it. It’s like it’s just a walk or something.”
“That’s your question!?” Kickaha slapped a paw to his face.
“It has been asked, and so it shall be answered.” Akasha boomed. “A hike is a leisurely activity, performed outside, walking often along a scenic route, and it is an activity that should not be done alongside a werekitten unless one wishes to invite disaster.”
“Huh I don’t get it? How do I invite disaster?” Calex asked.
“You were granted one question and it has been answered.” Akasha boomed to the point the entire chamber shook. “Now, I shall return to my slumber and you must leave.”
“Just like that you’re going to kick us-“ Kickaha began to ask, and then suddenly he was standing at the start of the mountain trail next to the sign that pointed to the trail and the cafe. Calex was standing nearby.
“He just teleported us out?” Calex made a face. “That was rude.”
“Right…” Kickaha paused and looked down at Calex. “Hey… You could have asked anything. Why’d you ask something so pointless? You could have asked about your past, if you had a family, anything like that.”
“What are you talking about?” Calex asked. “I already know I have a family.” He leaned against the foxyote and gave him a hug. “A family of close friends who support and love me, and I want to do the same for them.”
“I… See…” Kickaha knelt down to hug the kitten. “What do you say we head back to my place and I fix you something to eat.”
“It’s not going to be rodent based will it?” Calex squinted suspiciously.
“Just tie my hands behind my back.” Kickaha threw up his hands. “I’ll bake some sweets or something. Come on, let’s get going. I’ll change forms again to carry you.”
“Right.” Calex nodded eagerly as Kickaha became a crow again. “And Kickaha… Thanks for hanging out with me today.”
“Anytime.” Kickaha grinned as he took to the skies.