The powerful one who watched the sun had a strange name from the perspective of his newest disciple, but he nearly pronounced Three Squeaks like a native. In turn, Three Squeaks found it difficult to say Anton. There were a lot of weird things going on to make that sound that didn’t make any sense. Fortunately, the powerful one didn’t mind. He was understanding and patient.
But Three Squeaks didn’t know if he was nearly as patient. It had been two paws worth of sunrises and sunsets that he had not seen Anton, and he was beginning to wonder if he would ever return. The ‘human’ showed up out of nowhere, and perhaps he had returned to wherever he was from.
That would be unfortunate, as Three Squeaks hadn’t been able to learn much from him. Not compared to what it seemed he knew. Looking at Anton was a lot like looking at the sun, and it was difficult to compare himself to the power within Anton. But it was much more than the eagles and warthogs and perhaps everything Three Squeaks had ever seen or would ever see.
Knowing that the teacher would be displeased if he slacked off on his training, Three Squeaks spend every dawn and dusk training, though during the middle of the day he had to watch over the colony. He would patrol around the area, watching for eagles and snakes and anything else that would want to eat them.
The bow in his paws was a pleasant weight, drawing it back and creating an arrow from almost nothing. He had spotted a snake, a deadly striker… yet one that strangely didn’t cause him fear any longer. Not if he could spot them from afar. His arrow flew forward, into the surprised creature. Though it sprang its coiled body to try to dodge, it was too slow to avoid having its body pierced. A deep puncture rapidly caused it to bleed to death, and it was too afraid to approach Three Squeaks regardless. If it had been the kind that had natural energy it would have been a bit tougher, but Three Squeaks was confident in facing them alone without risking the others.
He continued on his way, enjoying the midday sun. The heat bore down on him and the world around, radiating from the dirt and stones and even the plants. But some things felt different, providing their own heat. Including a figure tucked behind some grass. Three Squeaks pulled back the grass to spot an older female, lying on her side unconscious. She bore no wounds, but he could see the signs of sun fatigue. A terrible consequence of too much exposure to the most glorious sun.
Three Squeaks slung his bow over his shoulder like Anton did- though he had to make sure it pinched the fur just right, as unlike whatever Anton was his shoulders didn’t stretch far to the side. He lifted the other meerkat with his paws, standing unsteadily on just his rear feet. Ever since he awoke his natural energy he had gained the strength to lift one of his own, but moving around with them and keeping balance was harder. Meerkats were meant to move on all fours. But he did have to admit that having his front paws free to do things was quite useful.
It was an arduous trek down to the river, carrying someone and having to watch for danger at the same time. Three Squeaks had much smaller stride than the master as well. But he made it, and dunked the female into the water to cool her off. He splashed water on her head, though he kept that on shore so she could breathe.
It didn’t seem like quite enough, so he used his energy to form a few droplets of water into a single mass, floating them carefully into the female’s mouth. She swallowed reflexively.
A few minutes later, she came to consciousness. “Where am I?” she turned, startled.
“Shadysands Burrow,” Three Squeaks replied. “Or close to it. You fell to sun exposure.”
“Shadysands Burrow? Good. I am from Lowcliff Burrow. We need your help.”
“We have been friends,” Three Squeaks said. “I can bring you to the burrow to get the others. But first take another drink.” As she did so, he introduced himself. “I am Three Squeaks. Who are you?”
“I am called Sustained Chittering.”
“That’s a long thing to be called,” Three Squeaks said. He had little else to offer, and soon enough Sustained Chittering felt well enough to move. She was slow, but faster than Three Squeaks carrying her.
As they approached the guards, Three Squeaks passed on the message. “Lowcliff Burrow is in danger. We must meet with the chief and captain of the guard.”
The message was passed along ahead of them, so by the time they were in the tunnels and making their way to the larger meeting chamber, people were there waiting.
The chief was older, but had a history of wisdom. He spoke as they entered. “Tell us of the danger with Lowcliff Burrow.”
“One of the jackal clans has learned of our location, and they come to attack us at night. They have burrowers, and can dig their way into our tunnels and snatch some of us for food. We need help fighting them, as we don’t have many with natural energy.”
“How many are there? How strong?” the captain of the guard asked.
“One of advanced energy like yourself. Four others with energy, and several more that guard our exits. We can’t deal with them all at once. If you come with us and three- no, even two of your warriors…” Sustained Chittering pleaded.
“We cannot help you,” the captain of the guard said. “It is too many to spare, and we have our own dangers as well.”
“Your burrow can join us,” the chief added. “We have room for more and would be stronger together.”
“But we can’t make the journey. It is too far with our young, and would require spending a night outside and vulnerable.”
“I am sorry. But we can’t spare the people,” the captain of the guard said.
“We have to help!” Three Squeaks said. “What is the point of being stronger if we just stay in our burrows?”
“If we survive, that is all that matters,” the chief said.
Three Squeaks shook his head. He’d always had feelings that it wasn’t enough, but it was only recently that those feelings grew stronger- and there was actually a possibility of doing more. “I will go alone,” Three Squeaks declared. He kept his gaze on the captain of the guard, who stared back.
Eventually, the captain responded. “Do as you will. I hope you return in safety.”
Three Squeaks and Sustained Chittering wasted no time, as it was already afternoon. There would likely be another attack on Lowcliff Burrow within a night or two, so they had no time to lose- and the journey wouldn’t be quick.
The two of them picked out tasty bugs and roots along the way to sustain themselves. They moved quickly, but still had a few moments to converse along the way. Chittering was rather curious about one thing.
“Why do you carry a stick thing wrapped around you?” she asked.
“It is a weapon,” Three Squeaks explained.
“It doesn’t look sharp like claws or teeth. Is it really any good?”
“You will see. When we find the jackals.”
With more time to recover, Sustained Chittering moved faster than before. She had a small amount of internal natural energy, though it didn’t seem she knew how to use it much. Then again, Three Squeaks had barely known a few weeks ago.
Something brought Three Squeaks’ attention to the sky. Then he saw it. “An eagle! Take cover!”
As he said that, he stood up on his hind legs, unslinging his bow. This was not one of the more dangerous eagles, but rather one without natural energy. Perhaps lacking intelligence altogether, though Three Squeaks wasn’t inclined to ask as it dove towards them. Instead, he drew back his bow, nocking a Spirit Arrow. Then he released, the Spirit Arrow zipping forward like a buzzing fly.
It went deep into the unprotected chest of the bird, sending it tumbling to the ground far from the two of them.
Sustained Chittering poked her head out of a nearby scrub bush. “That is a strange weapon. It didn’t touch the eagle, but instead threw… something?”
“It was my natural energy,” Three Squeaks said.
“But that goes in or around the body. It can’t… do that.”
“It can,” he said. “If you learn.”
“Well, I…” Three Squeaks had spoken confidently, but did he really know enough to teach Sustained Chittering? “I learned from someone else. He would be better.”
“Is he here?” she looked around.
“Then you are the best one.”
“I can try to teach you,” Three Squeaks said. “But you have to learn other things first.”
They found a nice rocky overhang around sundown, during which time Three Squeaks did his best to instruct her on proper sun viewing, and how to get power from it. Then they dug a temporary burrow to provide some semblance of shelter in addition to the overhang. Three Squeaks hoped they were moving fast enough.
Sustained Chittering was eager to return home, but Three Squeaks had to remind her that she also had to take breaks. Resting in the shade and consuming food and water were critical for dealing with the harshness of the sun.
“We don’t want you to have the same thing happen as when you came to us,” Three Squeaks pointed out. “I can’t carry you far and don’t know where there are rivers.”
Chittering only begrudgingly accepted slowing down, even though it was clear she was fatiguing quickly. But Three Squeaks did have a logic to his words.
It was shortly before sundown that they arrived at the Lowcliff Burrow.
“You returned!” one of the lookouts said. “Did you bring warriors from the Shadysands Burrow?” He looked at Three Squeaks as he said that.
“Just me, unfortunately,” Three Squeaks said. “We have had many dangers ourselves.”
The lookout hung his head dejectedly. “We are glad to have you, at least. You feel… strong?”
Three Squeaks was indeed a little bit stronger than he had been before, but his ability to use that strength was what had most changed about him. He looked at the burrow- or rather the area around it. As the origin of its name, it was below a cliff. This protected from many flying predators, and most others except snakes that could slither into the den. Most larger burrowers wouldn’t put in the effort to dig into the dens. There must be some motivation for these particular jackals.
“Were there more attacks?” Chittering asked.
“Not yet, but… we have seen some of them lingering around.”
“I’m going up there,” Three Squeaks pointed to the top of the cliff.
“To look for enemies?” the lookout asked.
“And to fight them.”
“But they won’t be climbing the cliffs…” the lookout said vaguely as Three Squeaks searched for a good route up.
There were decent slopes on the far side, so he used that as his method to top the cliff. It was a small cliff, only several times the height of Anton, but that was many times the height of a meerkat. Three Squeaks found himself filled with vertigo as he looked down. But he could see for a far distance in many directions. And he spotted some of the jackals.
He needed a plan. Obviously, he wasn’t enough to fight them all. But he didn’t have to defeat all of them. Just make things bad enough that it wasn’t worth the effort for them to stay. To that end, he couldn’t attack the strongest one. No, he had to take out the weaker ones.
The only problem with his plan… he would be isolated from the others. If they took him as a target after he started attacking them, he might be in danger. But he would be safer here than directly outside the den. And he couldn’t shoot his bow from inside.
Night fell, and the jackals began to approach. They were large targets, at least. Accuracy was difficult for things that weren’t charging directly towards Three Squeaks, but he thought he could hit these things. All that practice with Anton had to be worth it, right?