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Piqued - A Toki Ponist Adventure
Chapter 7: End-ropey

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mi sona e ma pi lon ken.
mi pilin e ma lon.
mi wile e ma pi wile mi.
Toki Ponist Pu

A headache trumped a sore throat and masked his lifeless limbs. A torn toe nail was far on the list of worries.

“You’ll be fine, lumpy-dump,” a familiar voice said behind him. Where was he? Muck stuck to his eyelids prevented him from opening them. He was lying on a soft mattress and the air seemed warm. A hand touched his shoulder, rolling Tipi from his side onto his back. Sharp sunlight penetrated his eyelids. Tipi forced his painful hands to block the light.

Soft footsteps preceded the sound of pulleys and curtains opening. This welcomed an even brighter flow of sunlight into the warm room, eliciting a series of louder moans and mutterings.

“Rise and shine, dime-of-mine,” the voice said, while Tipi was wondering whether the beacons to the gates of heaven could be any brighter than this. He rubbed the dry and grainy bits of sleep out of his eyes. He rose from the bed. The room felt familiar by containing all the usual features of a hotel room. It housed a single double bed this time, a small writing desk, a bed-side table with a bible and a nightlight, a single wardrobe, and a small bathroom. Other than the bathroom, everything was wood paneled. Again, there was no television. But these things were not the most striking feature of this hotel room. It was contrary to all previous evidence that there was nobody else present.

“Hello?” Tipi said. “Friendly spirit bathing me in nature’s glorious light, are you there?”

She was not there. Tipi stumbled into the bathroom and drank water from the tap. Such intense lack of taste in the water. Delicious! Out the windows, a flowing green meadow draped over hills and transitioned into pine wood forests that disappeared into the clouds above.

Another change of scenery. Now there were two episodes that he could not recall living through. First, getting here and second, well, the rest of his former life. From the looks of the hotel room and the scenery outside, this may well have been the Austrian Alps. He looked around for signs of written language, grabbed the book with the large cross on its cover from the nightstand and opened it.

“Aha, German!” he said, flipping the pages as if there was an animation hidden inside. “And French, English, and Dutch, and Italian, Spanish, Russian, Chinese?” He closed the book again. He still betted this was Austria. The three stooges wanted him to go there, right? They must have kidnapped him after he took off from his conversation with the Buddhist hedgling.

His moral compass flung around. Those bastards had kidnapped him, drugged him, and transported him across the globe. He checked himself in the mirror to determine everything appeared as expected. Other than being butt-naked, there seemed to be nothing amiss.

His kidnappers—Tipi assumed they were the same three musketeers that had been so eager to so-called help him—had left him a new set of clothes. Tipi smiled after finding suitable attire for a nice summer hike in nature. Cargo pants and gray cotton shirt, woolen socks, and sturdy shoes. “No more Russian bath slippers and lederhosen!” Tipi said into the mirror. He got dressed, finishing his generic look with a black baseball cap and cheap-looking sun-glasses.

What was their plan, though? He suspected Alex was the chief. Lenny seemed to be too annoyed and cranky to come up with grand ideas himself, and Ford acted like a liability in most stressful situations. If there was a mastermind at work here, it was Alex, or maybe someone he answers to. They had mentioned a fan-club of some sort. But that could also be a euphemism for an organization with different intentions altogether. Had there been any actual proof Tipi had been a great guru at all? He had accepted their story about being enlightened while he was still grasping for any information that would shape a kind of self to fill the gap left by the missing original one. Now, it all seemed less likely.

Random strangers had harassed him in the streets, and some people recognized him as a guru. A lousy one, though. Maybe Tipi was a charlatan and was squatting on a large sum of money taken from naïve believers, or perhaps he pissed people off by stealing their wives. He had read stories of Babas, Bhagwans, and other cult leaders. These so-called followers of him might be after this undeserved treasure of his. Why else would they be so eager to want me here? Was it his enlightenment they cared about or this secret place in the mountain that nobody but him seemed to know its whereabouts of?

If there was a factoid of truth in these lines of thought, Tipi had to be on his guard. Yes, they had provided him with clothing, shelter, and transportation, but that was just because they wanted him to lead them somewhere. He checked the room for microphones or cameras.

His search ended at a painting above the dresser. He had checked the frame for devices but had not taken in the composition itself. It showed two ragged children leaning against a rock, looking very sad at a goat that lay at their feet. He leaned in on the painting. “Hello?” he said, squinting his eyes.

He shook his head and checked if there was anything left in the room that he might need. This turned out to be a simple canvas backpack. Then he stepped out into the hallway.

Tipi arrived in the lobby. The clerk at the reception desk confronted him on his way to the breakfast hall. The booking was only for one night and so the man asked whether he had packed already. Tipi replied he was wearing everything he owned. As an extra service, he could ask for a packed lunch in the breakfast hall.

The man serving breakfast called himself a poacher. “An egg poacher, “ he said with glee. When Tipi asked for a packed lunch, the man asked how many. Tipi said five, and now he carried five packed lunches in his backpack.

He could travel nowhere by any means other than by foot because this time they had not left him any money, and at the hotel desk they assured him that in Austria, he would get nowhere on charity alone. Next to all that, it would have been a great idea to have asked for a map of the region before leaving the hotel.

There were five lunches between now and him worrying about how to survive, and so he tried not to worry too much. There was a simplicity in hiking up a mountain. The way up should be quite clear—he just needed to find a path in the obvious direction. But it was more complex, because while the hotel stood on the slope of a foothill, the hill itself did not align with the peak. There was also not one big lonely peak, but several. At least, that is what Tipi suspected because a layer of clouds hid the actual summits.

He decided to just take his chances and pick any old direction. If he was clueless anyway, reasoning about it would not help one bit. If there were people watching him and he was messing things up again and they knew better, Tipi supposed they would set him on the right path again. But if they did not know better, which was a reasonable assumption too, then nobody would know.

He decided to just enjoy the hike as it came to him. Within twenty minutes, the path in the grassy hills turned into winding paths among pine trees, where shallow inclines on broad paths alternated steep climbs with tree roots as makeshift staircase steps. An hour in, he had encountered only a few professional looking hikers and one experienced mountain biker. Colorful geometric symbols marked the many paths, and these would make sense if he had carried a map. It was tempting to follow a specific color-shape combination. The yellow upward facing triangle had nudged him into a certain direction a few times already.

While it amazed him that his body, after the painful journey, had ample problems lifting him up the hills so far, he still found he could use a rest. Right at that moment he saw a tuft of white fluff peeking out from behind a tree. It was a small plush penguin. Tipi wiped the dirt off its tarnished white belly and looked it in the eye.

“I shall name thee Ping-Yu, fierce adventurer, and explorer of both high latitudes and altitudes!” Tipi tucked the plush companion into his backpack. He could have left it there. Some poor child would at some point be begging his parents to search the entire path for the toy, and the parents would not spend their time doing that. Instead, they would bribe away the pain with promises of new toys or a simple ice-cream. In that case, both the toy and the child would be lonely. By taking the toy with him, at least it would not have to face the dark forest nights alone.

After twenty minutes of more climbing, he reached the edge of the forest and the path widened in to a meandering snake on a grassy slope. It was well in the morning and the sun was breaking through. Tipi’s shirt had darkened from sweat. Maybe a cotton shirt wasn’t best suited for hiking steep hills, after all. While enjoying the view of the valley below and a range of peaks above, he noticed a tiny figure scurrying down the path towards him. Within a few minutes, the figure had turned into the clear figure of a small boy.

“Have you seen my parents?” he said with a flustered face and without out all the etiquette of talking to strangers.

“I have seen no one in at least half an hour,” Tipi replied.

“No, no, no!” The boy flailed his arms around in desperation. He then let the tears flow that had floated in a bubble of hope for way too long. “I ran up, they said I could. I went so fast, and then they disappeared. So I waited, but they didn’t come. They took so long, so I went down. But then there were so many paths. There weren’t any paths going up.” Then the boy looked up at Tipi.

“How can these paths appear, like, poof?”

“I, I don’t know. I’m sure your parents will show up. How long was this ago?”

“Days,” the boy wailed. His clothes looked fine, and he did not seem famished or dehydrated or dirty at all. It had not been days.

“Can’t you call them? Could you please call my parents?”

“I, I don’t have a phone, and I wouldn’t know who to call.”

Tipi wanted to show more interest in the boy’s situation, but something the child had said got him obsessed. Because like the boy, Tipi had felt he had followed a single path up the mountain. When he took a few steps to where he thought he had left the forest and entered the wider path, he noticed there were in fact three different paths going down into the forest and he would not bet his life on choosing the path he came from.

“This mountain is going to teach us a lot of things, boy.”

“Where are they? Can’t you help me?”

“I will help you. What were the plans of your mom and dad?”

“We’d go up a mountain and have a drink and wurst in a hut. They promised a playground with swings and ropeways.”

“They will think you went up ahead alone and have gone there to look for you while you took down a different path down. All we have to do is go back up and find your parents at the hut.”

“You think?”

“I’m certain. It’s what any parent would do.” Tipi imagined the panic of the parents while they were searching for their child. Then Tipi opened his backpack and took out Ping-Yu.

“Is this maybe yours?”

The boy shook no. “Are you sure, do you want to have it?” Tipi said.

“No!” the boy slapped the toy out of Tipi’s hands and into the grass. He tucked the toy back into his bag again.

“Let’s go find your parents.”

The boy wiped his tears and knees and waited in silence until Tipi was well underway on the path up the mountain. Then the boy hurried along to catch up.

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