About a day after Anton left to do… whatever it was that Anton did while he was gone, Three Squeaks had finished building up the courage to go speak to the eagles. And upon remembering Anton was gone, he almost lost that same courage.
But was it courage, if he needed his master around to have it?
Three Squeaks honestly didn’t know, in particular because courage was a concept he hadn’t really considered much before. The natural response of a meerkat to fear was to run and hide. As an individual who had fallen into a position as a guard somehow- by having more natural energy within him, mostly- Three Squeaks supposed the guards all displayed courage. Maybe not as individuals, but as a group. Relying on others of fairly similar power still took courage. Counting on someone else to solve everything did not.
Which was exactly why Anton did a lot less than he could. The human could fly without wings and shoot his bow anywhere that could be seen. And yet, he didn’t wipe out the warthogs or the eagles, despite protecting Shadysands Burrow. At first Three Squeaks had assumed he couldn’t. Now, he knew there were other reasons. Maybe the same reason Three Squeaks wanted to speak to them now.
Because while the eagles had tried to kill them, they were following along with another one of them. That didn’t really excuse things, but the point was that they weren’t thinking about things. And if Three Squeaks had learned anything since Anton came along, it was that thinking more was awful. No, wait. It was good. But it also let him realize how bad things were sometimes. Before, fellow meerkats dying would have made him sad for a while… and then he would have been able to blissfully forget about them. Now he couldn’t forget, so he had to make sure nobody died.
Though some of those changes in thinking weren’t due to cultivation, but to no longer being young. Or at least, as young. A couple more seasons made a big difference.
Three Squeaks scrambled through the scrub bushes that almost made it look as if there had never been a locust in the area. Then again, much of the area was healing. Shadysands Burrow didn’t have any stories of a previous swarm of locusts… but it must have happened before. It was just that they were generally more focused on teaching important survival skills than history. The meerkat kept his eyes on the sky as he made his way towards the hills that housed the eagles, while also making certain to watch the ground for scorpions.
The scorpions were a danger, in some sense, but mostly they were food. Three Squeaks found one and moved swiftly, chomping off its tail first. And then squishing its head. He wasn’t quite sure how much they thought or felt pain, but now that he could ponder about others experiencing pain he wanted to make sure that it was minimal. But it was also necessary for him to eat, and there simply weren’t enough edible plants.
Finding a small stream, Three Squeaks followed it into the hills. It didn’t provide as much cover, but it did make for an easier trek. And ultimately, the point was to meet the eagles. He didn’t intend to surprise them or anything. Three Squeaks didn’t exactly know where they made their nests, given that meerkats were generally better off staying away from them… but for the same reason he was aware of the general area.
It was a long trek, but the eagles that flew over the land so swiftly roamed further in a single day. He wondered if he would ever be able to fly himself. Anton did, and he didn’t have wings so… maybe it would be possible.
Finally, Three Squeaks sensed one. It was quite obvious, as there weren’t many things with so much concentrated natural energy. Especially not up in the sky, with nothing to block it.
Going against all of his instincts, Three Squeaks jumped up on a rock and called out. “Hey! I want to talk to you! Eagle up there!” He did the thing that Anton did to make his voice louder, too.
Three Squeaks was filled with nearly instant regret as he saw eagle eyes focus on him… and then sharp talons and the beak became his focus as the eagle dove towards him, crying out. But… he stood his ground. And the sounds resolved into something he could comprehend as the eagle got close. Sounds of curiosity… and wonder. The eagle pulled away as it was a few meters above, swooping around to land on a nearby bush.
“A strange request,” the eagle cawed. “But I will entertain it. What is it you wish to say?”
“I am Three Squeaks from the Shadysands Burrow and…!” Oh. He should have probably thought about this before now, huh? “I wanted to be friends.”
“Friends?” the eagle tilted its head. “I find that hard to believe. We fought but a season ago.”
Three Squeaks raised a paw to his face in a humanlike gesture. “Well, perhaps not friends. But mutually beneficial acquaintances. You can go where we can’t.”
“And how could you benefit us, Three Caws?”
“The same way. You can fly, but you can’t go underground.”
“And what of interest is underground?”
“Bugs. Snakes, sometimes. Uh… meerkats that don’t think. What’s your name, eagle?”
The eagle raised its head up and let out an Echoing Cry. “That is how I am addressed.”
“Impressive,” Three Squeaks said. “Anyway, I know we fought in the past. But we also fought the warthogs, and we’ve been working together. I’m sure some of you have seen. We spotted you flying above.”
“Yes. The warthogs and the Tall One of Energy.”
“Anton,” Three Squeaks couldn’t make that sound with his throat, but he did a decent job by directly manipulating energy and sound. It was… recognizable, at least. “Either way, we can both think. And it would be better to coordinate to do what the others cannot.”
A short cry akin to a snort came from the eagle. “Laughable. And soon you will say we should join up with river beasts to rule the waters as well.”
“Oh! That’s a great idea!” Three Squeaks commented.
“That was not serious.”
“Why not? Can you swim?”
“I am perfectly capable of catching fish.”
“I don’t know what a fish is,” Three Squeaks said, “But that doesn’t sound like swimming. What if there are tasty worms at the bottom of the river?”
“Then we will eat them when they come out of the river.”
“But what if they don’t?” Three Squeaks asked.
“Then we won’t eat them.”
“That sounds sad. What if they’re tastier than scorpions?”
“What is your purpose here, meerkat?”
“I said I want to work together! What’s the point of knowing things if we just survive and don’t grow?”
The eagle fanned wide wings. “I grow when I eat.”
“But you could eat more. Did you know, we made food that’s really tasty and wouldn’t have been there if we didn’t put seeds in the ground instead of eating them. And sometimes bugs try to eat our growing food which is even better because we don’t have to go find them!”
“You are a strange one. And what is with that… thing you carry?”
“This?” Three Squeaks had exactly one thing he carried. “This is a bow!”
“What does it do?”
“It attacks really far!”
“Like long talons?”
“Like really long claws!” Three Squeaks said. “Let me show you. You see that rock?”
“Of course I do. It is merely a dozen meters away.”
Three Squeaks gathered energy, forming a Spirit Arrow. He and the arrow flew through the air, piercing a claw deep hole in the rock. “Look!”
“… An interesting device. How does it make that talon?”
“I do that!” Three Squeaks said. “If you learn to control natural energy good you can too. Though I think you would need a different bow.” Three Squeaks just barely stopped himself from talking. Eagles with bows would be… kind of scary. He wanted to make sure they would be friends first. “If we aren’t going to be friends, we should be peaceful neighbors. We can tell each other things. Like if you saw a big swarm of locusts coming you could warn us ahead of time.”
“And why would we?”
“Because we’d tell you about things too! Like, um… if you see an ant like this big,” Three Squeaks spread his arms about as wide as his chest. “Don’t try to eat it. Because she’s way scarier than she looks or feels.”
“… You talk a lot,” Echoing Cry said. “Why?”
“Because I think better now!” Three Squeaks said. “And talking is how I let other people know what I am thinking. Also writing. Do you know what writing is?”
“That is a new word,” Echoing Cry said.
“Okay so,” Three Squeaks took his claw and gently scratched a mark on the rock. “It is intentionally leaving permanent marks so you can talk to people later when you’re not around. And lots of people can read it to know what you said! You should come visit our burrow. If you yell for me I’ll come say hi! I don’t know if the others will feel comfortable being around you until you agree to be allies though.”
Echoing Cry thought for a while. “You are stronger. Even after a time of difficulty.”
“That’s right,” Three Squeaks said. “And if we work together, the eagles can be stronger too.”
The eagle took off into the sky. “I’ll think about it,” it cawed back down towards Three Squeaks. “Don’t blame me if I show up and scare your burrow to death.”
Was this a success? Three Squeaks was going to call this a success. Especially since he was nervous about going closer to the eagles and having to face a few at once. “Tell the others!” he called out. Echoing Cry didn’t reply.
Three Squeaks bathed in the sunset. All the thoughts in his head were sometimes good, sometimes bad. It was difficult to sort them out, so sometimes just letting himself not think too much was good. Meditation, Anton called it. It went along with the flow of energy through the body. Three Squeaks circulated his energy, with a special focus on the pathways themselves. The meridians. Another word that he hadn’t had before Anton. He’d barely even had the concept, even if he’d felt ingested natural energy settle into his body.
Some of the older meerkats had a better idea about them, but ultimately everyone had the same advice. Ingest more natural energy. That wasn’t incorrect, but making intentional use of it to improve hadn’t been on the list. Training was a weird thing in general. It ultimately involved being tired and weak on purpose… in order to become less tired and weak.
It hadn’t been long since Three Squeaks had completed his fourth star, so his fifth one- and second Prime Tempering- could potentially take another season. But the fact that he could almost guarantee he would be there through that season, and think about it before it happened… that was something he was coming to appreciate.
Three Squeaks didn’t just cultivate alone. The colony would cultivate together, now, and as one of its defenders he was part of the focus. But he also had to make sure that he and the others weren’t just taking energy. The whole point was to refine it and return it. To make sure there was a smooth flow in both directions. Otherwise, they would only have short term growth in a few people. Perhaps good for emergencies, but thinking about the future more and more was simply starting to make too much sense.
After the eagles, what would he do? Something in the rivers, even if it had been mentioned offhand? That seemed reasonable. And after that… the rest of the world, one bit at a time. Because every different thing should have something to contribute. And he really didn’t want to see any of them killing each other for power when they didn’t have to.
He knew it would be dangerous, because of that. But Three Squeaks also wanted to see the world. He was told it was big, and that filled him with excitement. Maybe soon, he would go more than three days from his home burrow. How many days would it be for the whole world? Ten? Twenty? Anton hadn’t said, except that it was a lot.