Kelin showed an adeptness for Go’tei ball that was unmatched by any of the other students. He also happened to be the only lupus there, aside from Va’il. The school had few lupus, and they didn’t generally go out with other species. Va’il and Kelin were their own pack, and Pete was supposed to be the “pig who was raised by wolves.” Pete did not find the modified cliché funny, but he still secretly practiced howling at the moon. That is, until his parents caught him doing it one night. The ensuing talk was the most embarrassing event Pete had ever experienced.
After three games of Go’tei ball, lunch was served. Once they were done eating, Va’il and Pete slept through the afternoon, and Kelin read. Once night fell, everyone felt like swimming in the lake. The water was chilly and crisp, but it was still very refreshing. Va’il and Kelin competed to see who could swim the farthest, but they were quickly stopped by Sensei. He lectured them on the dangers that swimming too far out can have. Tershi was only a lake, but it was still very large. Swimming across it would take a few hours. Not only that, but only the shallow waters were safe. The deeper waters held unknown mysteries, Sensei warned.
The moon was slowly rising, and dinner was served. Camping at the edge of a lake surrounded by forests required that dinner be barbecue, which the bearans, swine, some avians, and felis loved. Va’il and Kelin were no exception, but the deeri were. A couple of the deeri didn’t mind eating meat, but the rest were satisfied with vegetables and grains. As a species in general, the deeri exhibited many of the conservative traits their deer counterparts had.
A few campfires were started, and the children sat around lazily enjoying themselves. Out there, away from everything and everyone, they were complacent to do absolutely nothing. Va’il especially enjoyed the freedom, so much so that he didn’t mind being away from home anymore. Well, what freedom he actually had. Harnes was an attachment to Va’il anytime she was awake and Va’il wasn’t playing a game. Unfortunately for Va’il, she had slept through most of the day, because Va’il wasn’t available for most of it.
“Hi, how are you?” Yan asked. He had walked over to Va’il’s group alone, and then had walked up to Va’il. Harnes looked up at Yan, thought for a moment, and then went back to staring at Va’il.
“Hi Yan. I saw; you got to play today,” Va’il said.
“Well, defense still isn’t the position I want, but it was much more fun than being a referee.” After Yan said that, Va’il nodded in agreement.
“You say that like you’re bad at it.” Kelin had put his book down and was looking at Yan in a menacing way.
“I see you’re still a little upset at that.” Yan smiled as he talked. Va’il was confused, because he didn’t know that Kelin and Yan had played at the same time earlier. It was a game played while Va’il was asleep.
“Ruined my streak,” Kelin said. “Was supposed to be a perfect game; a score on every attack.”
“You have a pattern,” Yan said, “which I understood by the second attack, but you’re much too fast for me. That last attack was the only one I managed to somehow get the timing for. You’re very good.” Kelin was smiling at the praise. He purposefully used a pattern of attack, and was extremely glad that the sole reason no one could stop him was his speed and skill.
“That’s right,” Kelin said in boast, “the only reason no one could catch me is because of my abilities, not because they didn’t know how I would move. I love it when brute force actually outdoes strategy. Fiction books just never convey that possibility.”
“I wouldn’t go so far as to say that. Besides, isn’t strategy about intelligence and planning? Aren’t those supposed to defeat an unthinking but simply strong force?” Yan and Kelin had just jumped into a conversation that put Harnes to sleep. This was bad for Va’il, as she then held onto him tighter.
“A thousand arrows won’t pierce a castle’s walls,” Kelin said. “A giant boulder flung from a catapult cannot be stopped by any means. A plan with a thousand actions that will eventually lead to a strategic victory has a thousand chances to fail. One man with the strength of a thousand needs only to fight a thousand men to be the victor.” Kelin held out his hand to Yan, signifying that it was Yan’s turn.
“Who aims an arrow at a wall? Who places the catapult? The best plan has the least actions, and the greatest result is achieved through a simple thought. Who will feed the man whose strength fades after a thoughtless task?” Yan countered Kelin, and then held out his hand. However, it wasn’t a gesture signifying a change in turn; it was for a handshake.
Kelin saw the hand, and then held out his hand as well. They both smiled as they shook hands. Both of them seemed to understand the other a little better.
“Little Va’il, you really do have some interesting friends. Although, they seem to enjoy playing in the thoughts of others,” Yan said.
“None of you make any sense,” Va’il said to Yan and Kelin. Yan laughed, and Kelin went back to reading.
“It’s not supposed to make sense.” After saying that, Yan walked back to his friends over by another fire.
After a little while, Sensei and the other parents proclaimed that it was time for bed. All the fires were put out, and everyone went to their respective tents. The day was fun but tiring, so the children were soon sound asleep.
Va’il woke to the sounds of clamor and commotion. Va’il was alone in the tent, and he could hear that almost everyone was up and outside already. He quickly got up and ran out to see what was going on.
“Gone, more of it is gone!” Yelling frantically was a yellow-feathered avian named Twill. She was pointing at the containers where their food was held.
“More? What do you mean more?” the surrounding children asked.
“A little had disappeared last night as well! I didn’t think much of it at the time, because I thought I had misjudged how much was left before that. But to happen again, I’m sure of it now. Someone is stealing food,” Twill said.
“Are you sure you didn’t count wrong?” the crowd of children asked.
“Absolutely!” Twill replied. “I had everything in perfect rations, and now we might have to cut back on how much we eat. A little more was taken last night compared to the night before.” Sensei then stepped in before anyone could object.
“Thank you Miss Twill, please retire for the moment, I will handle this from now on.” Twill obeyed Sensei and left the attention of the group. She walked over to Harnes, who at that moment was leaving her tent. Harnes had just woken up. Twill was Harnes’ cousin, Va’il remembered.
“Now children, let’s not worry. There is plenty for everyone. Surely, you will recall that we had feasts for breakfast, lunch, and dinner yesterday. Now we might have to cut back to large portions. I know that some of you wanted to be gluttonous during this trip, and I admit I thought the same. But there isn’t anything to worry about. Let’s just enjoy the rest of the trip,” Sensei said.
The kids were annoyed, but they dispersed into their groups anyways. For the rest of the day, they would grumble about the size of the portions received at mealtime. Something else happened though. There was less association with others in general. Not a single game of Go’tei ball was started either.
The groups that separated everyone formed again. The deeri all stayed together, as did most of the avians, Harnes being the exception. The others mostly kept to their small circles of friends. Yan and his few friends also stayed together. It appeared that everyone was suspecting that someone among them was the culprit, and so they naturally separated from anyone they didn’t know well or trust. The group that was most separate of them all was the small group of slitherers. They were as cautious as snakes, and were very unwilling to speak with anyone, except for one person who eventually forced them to speak.