Vivi & The All-Lands Tournament- Event 05
Sometimes mud is the answer to everything
Last time: Vivi discovers the true nature of Sable the Not-Griffon with a little help from an unexpected source. The real question is, what to do about it?
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Event 05- The Log Pull
The smell of pure, wet dirt could be picked up from far off by even those creatures of weak noses, which included the handlers themselves.
Vivi pulled the last buckle tight on Rary's harness. She wiped her hand across her forehead, leaving a streak of mud on her face. "There, your last buckle is tight."
Rary wiggled his shoulders and back legs to test the truth of that statement. "Feels good." He looked over his shoulder at the enormous piece of lumber he was currently strapped to. "That looks like a nice weight, don't you think?"
She patted the wing closest to her, folded up at his side. "I think you'll do great."
"Hey Vivi," Clara called. "Can you help me with this knot? I can't get it to stay."
"Sure thing." She left to attend to Amur's harness, leaving Rary to study the course and his competition. Amur was behind him, trying his best to look composed despite his four dirty paws. The ox-creature he'd seen fighting with Sable was there too, flicking his tail idly. The tall, brown-furred plush rabbit with the red bandana was on his other side. Rary hadn't spent a lot of time around stuffed creatures, so he wasn't sure how powerful of a love was needed to animate fluff and stuffing with the strength to pull a log like he could. He ended up being both encouraged and scared when the rabbit carried his whole log into position right over his head.
"I'll stay over here with Kirika," came a familiarish voice from the stands. "She doesn't want to risk getting wet again." Rary turned to see Geetha striding into the mud pit, followed by her enormous cactus creature.
"Well, hello," she said to Rary. "I apologize if I forgot your name, I've met so many beings of all kinds today. Besides, I don't think we were ever formally introduced." She made a graceful bow, proper despite standing in ankle-deep mud. "I am Geetha of Desertland. And this is my giant cactus, Madhu. Say hello, Madhu." The cactus giant blinked its yellow eyes, then gave its own bow, lowering its round body so the flower on its head was pointed right at Rary.
"Oh, hi! I'm Rary, from Griffonland and also a griffon too. In fact, I'm the only griffon here!"
Geetha tilted her head. "Really? Have you not met the Shadelanders yet?"
"Yup! Like I said, the only griffon here."
"I…see…Well, I should get Madhu harnessed, such as it is. He just grows vines around the log by himself, but he still enjoys the company. Good luck, Rary!"
Vivi squelched up to Rary, now up to her arms in mud, Sapphire sporting a few dabs on her snout, too. "Oh boy," she said.
"What?" Rary followed her muddy hand, pointing to a dry paddock nearby, and a familiar sight.
"Miss Marguerite, I have to voice my concern," Halcyon said, standing straight as ever. "This event is not part of my usual forté. I have been trained in speed and focus, not strength. Besides, I haven't pulled one of your royal carriages in years."
Marguerite paced back and forth across the paddock, her heeled boots clicking with each step. "I cannot explain it. You simply must compete in this event, and you simply must place ahead of them."
"But what will that really prove? The griffon may have finished ahead of me in the air race, but because of technical points, we both received the same amount of medals. And, I single-hoofedly defeated him and his tiger ally in the team battle. Is this really that important to you?"
Marguerite stopped pacing long enough to fix him with the glare, the one that showed it certainly was important.
Halcyon was quiet for a moment before shaking out his pearly mane. "Ah, I see. You are worried about what your father will say if we lose."
"Of course!" She pivoted on her heel. "After he paid for all of your training, all the expenses for potions, and tools, and travel, our private rail car…And then, some country girl who runs about in the woods gathering leaves, and sails here in the cargo hold of a ship…It would be a total disgrace if she was ahead of us in the final standings!"
Halcyon continued to gaze calmly at Marguerite for a few more moments, long enough that she wrinkled her nose in agitation. "What is it?"
He nickered quietly. What it was, he had a hard time putting into words. Dewy mornings playing in the orchard, hunting for apples with a young girl in a pink dress. Her blond hair billowing behind her during the runs in the fields and flights between the hilltops. Then, the training, the rigor, the tears at each loss and the fleeting joy of each win. No more leisurely strolls or tea parties with the other plush creatures.
"Nothing, miss. We really ought to go get harnessed."
"Yes, you should." Marguerite hitched up her dress with a cord to keep the hem out of the mud. Halcyon followed her slowly. He had used the correct word.
"Aww, why does Amur have to start back there?" Rary lamented. "I wanted him up here with me."
Vivi tried to wipe her face, which only left her with a wider streak of mud. "I guess it has to do with strength and size. See, the Desertlander's cactus is all the way in the back."
"You mean Madhu?"
"Huh? How'd you know its name?"
"His handler introduced us."
"Oh, Rary, you're making friends now." Vivi sniffed. "I'm so proud."
"Yup! Just doing my job. Everything set back there?"
Vivi checked over the harness straps one more time. Stout leather connected Rary's shoulders and hips to an enormous log, bigger than any of the fallen saplings Vivi had carried up the hill for firewood, and completely stripped of bark for optimal slipperiness. Metal clasps connected her creature to the metal rings screwed into the wood.
"Your condition's green," she said, rubbing him above his ear holes.
"Yeah, a little under that feather, please." His long tufted tail wagged happily, then stopped. "Hey, you're all muddy."
"And you're going to be even muddier in a minute."
"That's true, but—" A shrill whistle pierced the damp air.
"Gotta go," Vivi said, "scratchies afterward."
A lady's booming voice came from above. "All handlers, please clear the track! The event will begin in two minutes!"
Vivi plopped down on the bench between Clara and LJ, a more accurate description than just sitting down, as the mud oozed around her bottom as she got settled.
"Nice," Clara said, marveling at her friend's state. "Did you pull a few logs, too?"
"No, they wouldn't let me. Most all the wood was already in place when I got down there."
"Bummer." Clara brushed the stray dirt from her pants. Her tall boots needed a scrubbing, but the rest of her was clean as always. "Maybe next year they'll let you help set up."
A plastic rustling preceded LJ stroking his chin, no mud on him because of the thick poncho he hid inside. "Maybe if you—"
The announcer interrupted his thought too. "All right! We are ready to begin!" All eyes turned to a high platform in the middle of the track, a wooden scaffolding with no ladder or rope visible down the sides. Judging from the stature of the woman with the microphone, she wouldn't have needed either to get up there. Her overalls were both slick with mud and crusted with dried dirt, several handles of sharp things peeking from the pockets. The sleeves of her flannel shirt were rolled up despite the chill air. Short black hair peeked out from under a green beanie cap, and with the force of her voice, Vivi wondered if she needed the microphone at all.
"Thanks for coming to the log pull, everyone! I'm Nora, and I'll be your announcer and judge today. Now, the rules of this here thing are simple," she gestured to the sea of mud below her, "the first creature to make it around three whole times wins first place. The second one to do it gets second place. That's how that works!"
Vivi laughed at the joke, a high breathy peal of joy, but no one else seemed amused.
"But of course it won't be easy," Nora continued. "See, over there we put a big incline they've gotta climb over. And that spot there is really deep, so good luck with that. And I won't spoil the rest. It's time to get moving! All creatures ready?"
Rary dug his claws into the soft mud and wiggled his tail.
Amur moved from his sitting posture onto all fours.
The rabbit gripped his shoulder straps tighter, crouching down.
Halcyon tried to flick his mane, then remembered Marguerite had braided it out of his way.
Madhu's eyes tracked a courageous bee who wanted his head flower.
"Then get to it!"
The plush rabbit darted forward at once in a brown spray. Rary churned the mud with his back paws, pushing himself and the log forward a bit. Once he'd made grooves behind himself, he kicked off and got himself really moving. The rugged tankbot ahead of him had already bottomed out, its treads spraying mud without moving it anywhere. Rary pulled hard to swing his log around and out of the way of the wayward automaton. He passed a burly boar creature that didn't seem interested at all in racing, only in wallowing. Rary couldn't blame her for waiting a minute to start. It was really nice mud, after all. A shame to let it all go to waste.
While Rary charged ahead, Nora kept everyone informed about the race. "And Tinker maintains a strong lead, unusual for a bipedal creature to compete here, but I'm not complaining. It's like he's skipping ahead on those padded feet of his. Coming in next is Braveheart, though Amur is hot on his tail—" Vivi's bright laugh temporarily overtook even her amplified voice, "looks like we have a lively crowd today, too. Madhu is slowly overtaking the other back-row starter, Halcyon. Hopefully, the mud washes out of that nice white hide."
Clara spied Marguerite down at the lowest row of seats, her opera glasses pressed against her face. The prim girl was quiet as usual, a tense stiffness to her posture. Clara's initial instinct was to go say hello again, but something stopped her. She could tell that Marguerite just needed to be alone right then.
"…And Roughshod is still struggling to get going! I guess it put on the wrong kind of treads this morning. Hang in there! Braveheart is coming up to the first obstacle, the deep mud. Tinker is already across, how did he do that? Guess I wasn't paying enough attention. So, now, Braveheart is…yes, he's on top of his log… and is using his wings to sail across the deep bit, backwards! Great idea. Let's see if any other creatures can top his strategy…"
Rary was coated in sticky, wet, glorious mud. Every step he took resulted in more of his scaly front legs becoming brown, and his rear paws getting gummed up. But he wouldn't rather be anywhere else. "Row, row, row your log, gently in the mud!" Each flap of his wings sprayed bits of wet dirt into the stands, earning him cheers from those in the lower seats.
The mud turned a lighter shade, signaling he'd passed the obstacle. Hopping off the log, he repositioned and got as much momentum as he could, keening a little to get the sonic spiral going, but not so much that he'd plow forward into the bottom of the ramp.
"…Wow, Amur is giving off enough heat that he's drying up the mud in front of him, that should be enough for him to crawl across now. Halcyon is trying to follow along in the dry patch but he… Oh no, he's fallen through! Fortunately he's one of the tallest creatures here, so no worries about him going under. Now Braveheart is trying to clear the incline, he's scrambling to the top, and…he…he makes it over, now he's sliding down the other end. Whoops, he lost his footing there at the bottom. But it's all good. He's off toward the next obstacle."
Rary slid into the maze section, where a whirring motor to the side of the track pulled sections of wood up and down, creating alternating obstacles and walls. Charging forward would end up with him being knocked into the air, or his log, either of which were no good. He wasn't the only one having trouble, though. As he watched the panels slide up and down, he noticed Tinker's muddy cloth beside him, dodging back and forth as he tried to make his way through the maze.
"…Braveheart is taking his time at the beginning of the motorized obstacles also, maybe waiting for the right opportunity?"
"Hey, hi! It's Tinker, right?"
The rabbit glared at him warily. "Yes, that's me."
"I'm Braveheart, but you can call me Rary, everyone else does. Ptah!" 'Does' wasn't a spit word, he'd gotten a daub of mud in his mouth from the whirling spray. "Look, I think there's a pattern, listen, 'da dum, da dum, da dum dum'. We should have an opening right before it starts over."
Tinker arched a fuzzy eyebrow. Rary was fairly certain that it wasn't actually attached to his body. "Why're you helping me? Don't you want to win?"
"Well yeah, but helping is better than winning."
Tinker nodded, his mouth softening. "I agree."
"…The two leaders are talking to each other, no doubt discussing strategy, or maybe making a pact of some kind. Either way, here comes Amur at the top of the incline, with Madhu right behind him. He didn't have any trouble with the deep mud, just floated along like a log himself…"
"Okay, when I say go…we jump, so… go! No wait!"
Tinker had gone, dashing forward with his log, the tip of it bumped by the now-towering platform. Rary shook his head and waited for the next opening, plowing on and clumsily rolling up onto the platform.
"This'll be a lot faster on the next lap, don't you think?" Rary asked.
"I hope so," Tinker said.
"…It looks like the griffon and the rabbit have figured out the pattern, they're making their way through with little trouble. That's what happens when you work together! Now they're out, and…Tinker is dashing ahead, leaving Braveheart in his wet dust. This is still a competition! Amur is picking his way onward, looks like Madhu is taking the hits and just rolling his way out. Halcyon is taking a more careful approach, but it's costing him time. Will he be able to get through this lap before the others clear theirs? We'll see!"
The next lap was just as wild and messy as the first. Halcyon patiently trotted through the maze section just as Tinker reached the deep mud again, Rary right behind him. Amur got stuck and had to burn his way out, and Geetha stepped down to the edge of the railing to point Madhu in the right direction so he didn't clash with the other pullers. It was shaping up to be a great run by all standards.
"…Braveheart's coming up on the incline for the second time, hopefully he won't end up on his tail again. Oh…it looks like he won't! He's riding the log down the slope like a sled, with all those sharp things on the end of his legs for grip, it makes perfect sense! Wow, he's coming down fast…but he opened his wings, slowing himself down! Now that's thinking."
Halcyon found this competition rather odd, knowing what your opponent was doing even if you couldn't see them. But then, he needed every advantage he could get. He had always hated pulling carts, the way they yanked on the harness when he stopped and started, and especially going down hills, having to bear the whole weight on his hind legs. But the joyous laughter of young Marguerite on her carriage rides made it all worth the while. This was different from the straight roads around the manor grounds, but the strategy was largely the same.
He galloped his way up the incline, the special spiked shoes he'd donned making it much easier. Perhaps they could serve in the same capacity as the eager griffon's claws? It was worth a try. At the crest, he attempted to copy Rary's strategy from hearing alone, twisting the log so he could straddle it somehow, using his hooves for balance, and his wings, but the shoes were slipping, they weren't enough, he was going forward too fast, the harness was tangled, his wing was stuck and he—
The sound of Halcyon hitting the ramp was masked by Marguerite's shriek. The other competitors froze in place, each of their various hearts or heart-like devices reacting to a human in need.
Nora's voice changed from her previous exuberance. "…Oh dear, it looks like we have a problem…"
Rary was closest. "Halcyon! Hang on!" He reached down with his beak and pulled the special ring; all the harness buckles came undone at once. Leaping off the log, he took wing and sailed over to the crash site. Tinker slapped the button in the middle of his harness to free himself likewise, then leaped across the middle of the arena in two bounds to assist.
Marguerite stumbled through her tears to the gate, only to find a muddy girl in her way, arms outstretched. "It's not safe," Vivi said firmly.
"Get out of my way!" Marguerite snapped. "I need to be with him!"
"The creatures can handle it."
"No! I can handle it myself."
Clara came up behind Vivi, out of breath from the dash down the stairs.
Marguerite began breathing rapidly, her voice rising in pitch. "Why are you…you both are always in my way!"
Vivi focused her own breath. "Because you deserve kindness—"
"Responders are on the scene," Nora continued, "What's going on down there…Braveheart is digging away at the mud, and Tinker got the log off to the side…Is that a thumbs up? I can't tell, neither of them have thumbs…Oh, it doesn't look good…"
Marguerite couldn't handle the news, such as it was, and grabbed on to the rail to keep herself from falling. That alone wasn't enough, her knees failed to support her altogether. Before she met a similar fate as her creature, she found herself borne up by two strong, yet grubby arms.
"No, Halcyon…" she murmured.
"It'll be alright," Vivi reassured her, shifting her weight to account for Marguerite's height. "See, they already got him out."
Marguerite managed to lift her eyes across the field to see the stalwart Madhu slogging through the mud, carrying Halcyon's bedraggled form in his thick arms, using the smooth underside, of course. Rary trailed close behind in the air.
"Why?" Marguerite whispered. "You don't even like me."
"I never said that," Vivi whispered back.
"But I've been so rude to you…"
Vivi got them both up to a more comfortable standing position. "All the more reason for me to be nice."
Madhu lowered Halcyon over the railing his handler could reach him, while Rary perched awkwardly on the top bar, nearly falling off because of his size, and the slippery dirt coating his talons and paws. "Whew! I think he'll be alright, he's awake at least. Poor guy got pretty tangled up there."
Tinker stood nearby. "He's remarkably resilient."
"Oh, Halcyon," Marguerite cried into his crusty mane. "I'm so sorry." She stroked his head, heedless of the mud that nearly coated him now, and her too, most of her coat and dress grimy now from being held up by Vivi. "This is all my fault."
"Miss…" Halcyon croaked.
"Here," Clara said, offering him a water bottle which he sucked on messily.
"Thank you," he said, more steadily now. "Now, my spiky friend, please bring me back to my log, I have a race to finish."
"You certainly do not!" Marguerite snapped, but sniffed afterward, so it lost some effect. "I'm retiring you as the representative of Princessland, effective immediately. You're coming home with me at once, on Father's private airship, so you can recover quickly." She sank her head against his, burying herself in his sticky mane, and dropping her voice. "You'll have a strict regimen of walks in the orchard and rides in the meadow, along with as many flights across the spires as you like."
Vivi sniffed back some of her own tears. She turned to Clara and Rary, and to LJ, who had crept up in the meantime. "Let's go, I think we're done here."
"But hey," Rary said. "What about the race?"
"Alright, attention everyone," came Nora's voice from above. Rary looked up to see Tinker hanging on the edge of the platform by one stubby arm, probably filling Nora in on the situation. "It looks like our little emergency is over. Halcyon is stable, and we'll be praying for his speedy recovery. However, without all the contestants, we can't fairly finish the race. Therefore!" She paused a moment to let the words sink in. "The final placement and medals awarded will be based on each contestant's laps completed and their last positions. Congratulations to everyone!"
Sadhu stepped out of the stands with Kirika on his shoulder, the lizard giving off bright lights to guide the Madhu stretcher over to the recovery tents. Geetha took Marguerite by the hand and guided her likewise, the gentle strength of the older girl reassuring Vivi that her short-time rival would be well taken care of. A uniformed medic asked Marguerite if Halcyon needed a veterinarian, a mechanic, a tailor, or a gardener. Vivi thought Sadhu said something congratulatory, but she was pretty overwhelmed at that point.
Rary was saying goodbye to Tinker as his handler caught up to the scene. She was younger than Vivi by several years, a head full of blonde curls and eyes full of timid wonder. The red bandana around her neck matched Tinker's stitch for stitch. "There you are," she said meekly. "It's so hard to catch up with you…"
Tinker smiled. "I go where I'm needed." He held out a muddy appendage, not really a paw since there was nothing at the end of it but a seam of cloth. The girl clung to it. "Tabitha, this is Rary, a griffon who truly lives up to his name."
Rary fluffed his feathers and muttered his thanks.
Tabitha stood mostly behind the stout rabbit, as though she were hiding. "I watched you from the stands, and thank you for—" Her voice rose suddenly. "You're torn!"
The rabbit twisted to see a rip in his lower back, the normally white stuffing now a muddy brown. "Hm…a small price to pay, don't you think?" He looked at Rary, who just nodded.
Tabitha had her sewing kit out in moments, so Rary said goodbye and padded off to join his friends and family.
Vivi and Clara were quiet while they hosed down their creatures, and while Clara hosed down Vivi. LJ held Sapphire during this final cleansing, after which she and Rary stood by Amur while he gently warmed them dry.
"So," Clara began. "How are you doing?"
Vivi settled her dragon back into her pouch and shouldered her bag. "Doing fine, how about you?"
"A little shaken up, honestly. That could happen to any of our creatures. This isn't all just fun and games."
Vivi turned around to dry her other side. "Yeah, I guess so. Marguerite pushed Halcyon really hard, though. I won't do that to you, Rary."
Rary shook himself vigorously, loose droplets falling off his fur and feather. "Oh, thanks!"
"But I don't know much more about them other than that."
The only griffon there stretched and yawned. "We should definitely pray for them both tonight."
"Definitely," both Vivi and Clara echoed.
"Vivi and Braveheart?" The voice startled them with its force, but not its harshness. Nora approached the group, striding up with an air of confidence.
"Hi, that's us!" Rary answered.
"Great, I've got your medals here. And…Clara, right?"
"That's right," she pulled on the brim of her hat.
"I've got some for you too…" She dug into one of the cavernous pockets of her overalls, first pulling out a sharp awl, then a handful of rope. Finally, she succeeded in getting out two felt bags.
Nora handed Clara hers first, a light clink in the girl's hand, making the heavy thunk of Vivi's bag much more pronounced.
"Wow," Clara said, "I didn't think Rary was that far ahead."
"Yeah, Tinker had me by a lot, and Madhu was right behind him."
"That's all true," Nora said. "But there's a lot more to a competition than where you are when you finish. It's about what's in here, too." She tapped her heart, making Rary think she was going to pull something else out of the pocket there, but she didn't. "No one asked you to help, Rary. You just flew over and did it. You could've lost the whole race, but that didn't slow you down one bit."
"Aww, well…" Rary tilted his head shyly even while Vivi was patting the back of it proudly. "It's like we learned in class, do things to others that you want them to do to you."
Amur growled his assent. "Indeed. It shows exceptional honor, coming to the aid of a creature who had just beaten you hours earlier."
Nora smiled. "You definitely earned the true victory. Alright, gotta go. Hope to see y'all next time!"
"Thanks," Rary called after her. "You too!" He turned to Vivi, who hadn't said anything since Nora arrived, or since she left.
Her fist was clenched over her heart, the bag of medals dangling from her other hand. "I…wanna be just like her when I grow up."
Rary nudged her gently. "Looks like you've got a good start so far!"
Clara finished placing the last few medals in her holder. "Good thing she gave us these bags, mine's already full."
Vivi kept hers closed. "Mine probably is too. Well, that's as good a time as any to quit, huh?"
"Did you have any other events?" Clara asked.
"Nope, that was all. It's getting late, anyway. Let's head to the prize tent."
Clara and Amur started off in front, Amur telling his side of the events surrounding the incident at the log pull arena. LJ just shuffled along behind like usual, happy to be a part of the action however he could.
It isn’t all just fun and games. Sometimes life gives you something unexpected, even when you do handle amazing creatures. Only one more installment to go, and like the last one, it’s very short. You only have a little while longer to wait before the