Ninja Meerkats (#3): Escape from Ice Mountain

Ninja Meerkats (Volume 3)

Gareth P. Jones, illustrations by Luke FInlayson

Square Fish

CHAPTER ONE
THE GRANDMASTERS’ REUNION 
 
The pilot of the twin-engine plane looked down at the Chilean mountain range. Even in the fading evening light, he could see all the way down to the southernmost tip of South America.
But what he failed to see were five small furry stowaways jumping out of his plane and parachuting down to earth. Chuck Cobracrusher, Donnie Dragonjab, Jet Flashfeet, and Bruce Willowhammer were all using parachutes designed by Donnie, with toggles on either side allowing them to steer. Bruce was having the most difficulty, as he had their ancient mentor, Grandmaster One-Eye, strapped to his back.
“What are we aiming for?” shouted Jet, pulling his right toggle and swooping around in front of the others.
“The ground,” smirked Donnie.
“We are aiming for the Academy of Revered Grandmasters, for Grandmaster One-Eye’s school reunion,” Chuck yelled over the sound of rushing wind.
“Did you really go to school here, Grandmaster?” asked Bruce.
Grandmaster One-Eye nodded.
“It seems like a long way to travel every day from the Red Desert,” said Bruce.
“Bruce, the students who attend the ARG live at the academy,” said Chuck.
“So, where is this place, Grandmaster?” asked Bruce. “I can’t see it yet.”
“I’m afraid I cannot see it either,” replied One-Eye.
“Bruce, remember that Grandmaster One-Eye’s eyesight is not as good as yours,” Chuck pointed out.
“It isn’t that,” said One-Eye. “I’ve had my eyes shut since we jumped out of the plane. If meerkats were meant to see the world from such heights, they would have wings.”
“My granddad had wings,” said Bruce.
“No, he didn’t,” sighed Donnie.
“Yes, he did. I never saw them myself, but I remember Mom saying she wouldn’t have him in the burrow because he had such a bad case of wings.”
“I think that would have been wind,” said Jet.
“Oh. That does make more sense now that you say it,” admitted Bruce.
“Follow me,” said Chuck, pulling his toggles and aiming for a spot near the top of a hill. When he was moments from the ground, he released the parachute and landed into a roll. The others followed suit, except for Bruce, who took the force of the landing in his knees to avoid flattening Grandmaster One-Eye. In front of them were two large wooden gates. A long golden rope hung to one side.
“Ah, now this brings back memories,” said Grandmaster One-Eye as Bruce set him on the ground. “Would you give me a moment before we go any farther?”
“You need time to reflect on all that has happened since you were last here?” said Chuck.
“No, I drank rather a lot of tea while we were waiting for that plane to take off and I need the bathroom,” said Grandmaster One-Eye.
Jet chuckled and the Grandmaster disappeared into a nearby bush.
“Bruce, keep an eye on him,” said Chuck.
“What? Watch him go to the toilet?” exclaimed Bruce.
“Yes. The last time he went, we lost him for an hour,” replied Chuck.
“Don’t worry,” replied Donnie. “I’ve attached a tracking device to his robe so there’s no chance of losing him again.”
“I’m looking forward to getting inside and having some grub,” said Bruce, carefully watching the bush Grandmaster One-Eye was hidden behind. “Oooh, I used to love school dinners. Mealworm mash, mealworm stew, mealworm Bolognaise…”
“We will not be entering the grounds,” said Chuck. “According to ancient ninja code, no one is allowed to walk into the temple without an invitation.”
“So, no mealworms?” said Bruce, disappointed.
“Not unless you find them yourself. We will set up camp nearby,” said Chuck. “After the reunion, we will accompany Grandmaster One-Eye back home.”
“I wish we could get inside and take a sneak peek,” said Jet. “The ARG is the coolest academy in the world.” He scurried onto a rock and jumped up, trying to see over the wall, but it was far too high.
“Please remove yourself from my shell,” said a voice.
“Who said that?” asked Jet, spinning around.
“It was that rock you’re standing on,” said Donnie.
“That is no rock,” said Chuck. “Jet, climb down at once.”
Jet leaped off, and a small wrinkly head appeared from under what was in fact the shell of a giant tortoise.
“Professor Longtooth!” said Grandmaster One-Eye, reappearing from the bushes.
“Ah, young One-Eye.”
“Young?” said Donnie, sniggering.
“Clan of the Scorpion, this is my old tutor, Professor Longtooth.”
“Old is the right word,” exclaimed Jet. “If you taught Grandmaster One-Eye you must be ancient!”
“I am old enough to remember when the young still showed their elders respect,” said the professor. Jet bowed in apology.
“What are you doing out here, professor?” asked Grandmaster One-Eye.
“Do you know, I can’t remember. I came out for something, then decided to have a little nap. When you get to my age there really is no substitute for a nap, you know.”
“You must teach such awesome things in there,” said Jet.
“Our students do not seek awesome things,” scolded Professor Longtooth. “During their stay here they exist in peaceful isolation from the rest of the world, dedicating their minds and bodies to the study of kung fu.”
“Except on Thursdays when they visit the local disco, as I recall,” added Grandmaster One-Eye.
“Well, yes, Thursday night is disco night,” said Professor Longtooth. “And on Wednesdays we do knitting, of course.”
“Knitting?” exclaimed Jet.
“Needlework involves the same principles as kung fu,” said the professor. “Precision, timing, control … and an ability to not drop stitches. Actually, I’m not sure about that last one…”
“But when do they learn special moves?” asked Jet. “They’re the most important thing! I’m working on the Single-Claw Hole Punch at the moment. I can almost get right through a tree trunk.”
“In my class you would learn to punch a hole through an entire mountain,” said the tortoise.
“Wow,” exclaimed Jet, impressed. “Would you teach me how to do that?”
“Perhaps one day I will. Right now, young One-Eye needs to accompany me inside.” He turned to Grandmaster One-Eye. “Many of the other masters are already here. Your old friend the Delhi Llama has been asking for you.”
Professor Longtooth raised his long neck and, with his mouth, pulled on the rope by the side of the door. A gong sounded and the huge door creaked open. The party was already in full swing, and the aroma of delicious-smelling food wafted past.
“Can’t we just pop in for a snack?” begged Bruce.
The tortoise slowly turned his head to face Bruce. “I’m afraid the rules are quite clear.”
“I will bring you something tomorrow,” said Grandmaster One-Eye, patting Bruce’s paw comfortingly. “The academy’s canteen does the best deep-fried lizards’ tails.”
“Deep-fried lizards’ tails are my favorite,” said Bruce wistfully.
Chuck, Donnie, Bruce, and Jet watched as the huge gates slammed shut behind One-Eye and Professor Longtooth.
“We should set up camp,” said Chuck. “Come on.”
They settled in a peaceful spot down the hill from the temple, by a stream. The trees were spaced farther apart here, allowing the meerkats to see the night sky.
“The perfect place for some tranquil meditation,” said Chuck, sitting cross-legged on a rock and closing his eyes.
“I’ll put up the tent,” said Donnie.
He pulled a huge pop-up tent out of his backpack and set about banging pegs into the ground. Bruce noisily foraged for lizards and bugs, while Jet practiced his new move, closing his eyes and letting out a cry of “Eeeyah!” as he punched the trunk of a fallen tree, ripping a hole through the rotten wood.
“Do you all have to make so much noise?” Chuck sighed.
“At least I’m doing something useful—we need somewhere to sleep,” said Donnie.
“And something to eat,” said Bruce.
“And I need to practice the Single-Claw Hole Punch.”
“But surely you do not need to make quite so much noise, Jet,” said Chuck. “The Way of the Scorpion teaches us to—” He stopped mid-sentence.
“To what?” asked Jet.
“Balloon,” said Chuck, pointing up.
“The Way of the Scorpion teaches us to balloon?” Bruce said.
“No, look.” A large, round object was floating silently above them.
“It’s a hot-air balloon, said Donnie. He shone his flashlight into the sky, illuminating the balloon. It was decorated in red and black stripes—identical in color to the Ringmaster’s circus tent …


 
Text copyright © 2012 by Gareth P. Jones
Illustrations copyright © 2012 by Luke Finlayson
Cover illustration copyright © 2012 by Domingos de Aquino