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Living With Meerkats: A Little Big Adventure

on August 23rd 2018, 6:47 pm
Chapter One: The Ultimate Wish

My eyelids part to see that it's exactly eight 'o clock in the morning on the digital clock sitting on a night stand that's located approximately a foot from the left side of my bed. Remembering that the date is December 22nd, the day the Mario gang and I are scheduled to make our departure, via airplane, for Isle Delfino for a two week long vacation, a sense of excitement flows through my system as I sit up, shifting myself into an Indian style sitting position.

"OMG, so can't wait!" I cheered excitedly, my pulse elevated from the sense of excitement circulating through my bloodstream. "In just two hours from now, we'll be departing from Princess Peach's Castle and embarking on a plane to Isle Defino, yes!" I exclaimed ecstatically, motioning both my fists into a clench and bounced up simultaneously.

Upon turning my head to the right, snowflakes delicately descending to the ground enters my right peripheral vision and I turn towards the window to see that it's snowing moderately outside, reminding me that a week ago the Mushroom Kingdom meteorologists had predicted that a significant snowstorm would effect the area, possibly burying some portions of the land in a foot of snow, guaranteeing the Mushroom Kingdom a white Christmas. A spectacular event I've been yearning to experience for years, but this year that privilege is being sacrificed for a wonderful vacation to a toasty tropical climate. To be perfectly honest, I'd rather spend my Christmas touring the pleasantly warm tropics than enduring frigid temperatures up here anyway.

"Absolutely beautiful out there" I said, now standing at the window, admiring the pulchritude of the snow covered landscape. "Would really love to go out there and build a snowman, but I only have time to brush my teeth, shower, get dressed and pack the last of what I'll need to bring." I added, counting the amount of stuff I need to do on the fingers of my left hand. "

"Man, without a doubt this vacation is going to be doused in so much awesomesauce! We'll go shopping at Delfino Plaza, ride the roller coaster at Pinna Park until we barf, watch the sunset on the balcony of a luxurious hotel and engage in some really fun games with the Yoshi inhabitants. It's sure to be the best Christmas ever, yesh!" I cheered, grinning ecstatically as images of the Mario gang and I engaging in all of those activities play in my mind.

"Oh, Liz, you're already up. Phew thank Heavens. Then that means I'm spared from getting a pillow chucked at my head" I heard a high pitched voice chuckle with relief behind me.

Upon turning around, my hazel orbs make visual contact with the cobalt blue irises of a four foot tall individual adorned with a white mushroom cap that has five large, circular red spots, is donning a blue vest, white pants and brown shoes and has short legs. He is Toad, Princess Peach's most loyal attendant/bodyguard and the provider of assistance to the Mario brothers and I. Although he can be a coward at times and be prone to having incapacitating panic attacks, once a sense of valor develops and commandeers his emotions he won't hesitate to put his life in jeopardy in order to save the Princess and his friends from a life-threatening situation, and it's inspired me to become one of Princess Peach's gallant bodyguards. Seeing a piece of paper clutched in Toad's right hand and a look of profound concern formed on his visage, my sense of excitement is immediately replaced with a sense of forebode.

"A-anyway. I...I have some terrible news..." Toad announced, a grim frown formed on his visage.

"Wh-what's...the terrible news, Toad?" I asked curiously, my heart palpitating and an expression of concern forming upon my visage.

"Our vacation to Isle Delfino....has been cancelled." Toad lowered his head in disappointment.

Hearing that our vacation to the tropics has been cancelled sends a sense of disbelief through my system.

"Seriously?! Wh-why?!" I inquired, feeling like I want to collapse on my bed and throw a tantrum like a spoiled child that didn't get that awesome toy they wanted.

Toad motions the paper towards me and responds, "Well come and read for yourself. This letter pretty much explains why."

Tentatively, I approach Toad and grasp the paper, a bit reluctant to read it, but my sense of curiosity is just too overwhelming to suppress, so I began to read it, grudgingly of course:

Dear Toad and Elizabeth

We're sorry to inform you guys, but...Link had paid us an unexpected visit this morning. Something catastrophic is transpiring in the land of Hyrule. Being the altruistic heroes that we are, Luigi and I didn't hesitate to offer Link our assistance. Considering Princess Zelda is Princess Peach's best friend, she grew understandably worried about her welfare and insisted on joining us on what will certainly be a perilous adventure. We're not certain on when we'll return, but no doubt it'll be far beyond the date of our scheduled departure for vacation, so I'm afraid we have no choice but to cancel, we're terribly sorry, guys. We hope you'll understand. In the mean time though, don't you guys forget that the Star Spirits had entrusted us with the responsibility of protecting the Star Rod after Bowser barged into Star Spirit Sanctuary last month and tried to steal it again, so we'd greatly appreciate it if you guys not spend a protracted amount of time away from castle Premises, that means no embarking on adventures of your own. Bowser and his minions may not know where the Star Rod is now, but if it were to somehow end up in the hands of another flagitious villain, the consequences could be catastrophic. Only under life-threatening circumstances you are permitted to utilize the Star Rod's immense powers. However, violate that rule and you guys will be harshly punished. And don't think we won't find out... Anyways, It would be fantastic if we could all physically spend Christmas together, however keep in mind that doesn't mean we still can't in spirit. Lets all keep each other in our thoughts and prayers over the Holidays. Merry Christmas, Elizabeth and Toad. We'll miss both of you and hope to return home safely as soon as we can

Sincerely,

Mario, Luigi, Peach.

"So...yeah..." Toad spoke in a gloomy tone.

"Wow, jeez. I hope Princess Zelda will be alright." I responded with a worried tone in my voice. "But, man, we've been prohibited from embarking on any of our own adventures until they return?! Ugh, I fear my mental health may rapidly deteriorate as a result of being severely bored. There's nothing exhilarating to do in this drab castle." I complained as I returned the letter to Toad and sat down in an Indian Style position, placing my elbows on my legs and my chin in both of my palms, pouting.

"Liz, please, there's plenty of enjoyable activities we can engage in while guarding the Star Rod. Remember, every once in a while boos from Big Boo's Haunt Land like to materialize in the courtyard and generate innocuous mischief throughout the castle. Perhaps if we encounter our impish apparitions, we could engage in some fun games with them. Also, don't forget that we're supposed to get a foot of snow. We could engage in a multitude of winter games that would suffice to keep us occupied until whenever the Mario crew return. Don't be so pessimistic. Use your imagination, derp!" Toad suggests, protruding his tongue from his mouth at me teasingly and placing his left index finger against the left side of his head.

"Can't help it that I'm a thrill-seeker and desire to embark on perilous adventures so that I can enjoy the feeling of adrenaline permeating my system when we are confronted by a flagitious villain." I responded, returning the raspberries to Toad. "But yeah, you're right. We can certainly engage in the activities that you mentioned to keep ourselves from going insane. Given the circumstances, we're restricted to making the best of our Holiday vacation right here at the castle. I'm sure we could level it up to being just as epic." I said, crossing my arms and leaning my back against the wall, endeavoring to suppress the urge to grab my pillow and shred it to pieces with my teeth.

Man, I was immensely excited about making our departure for Isle Defino today, but oh well. Can't do anything about it now, I shrug mentally. All we can do, however, is keep the Star Rod protected from an act of thievery. Not looking forward to spending an uncertain amount of time lounging around the castle, but for the Mario gang, I'd gladly comply with whatever they instruct me to do, even if it's something with a low excitement level. They've treated me with several acts of kindness, it'd be totally insolent of me not to return the favor, right?

"Certainly we can. Adventures don't always have to include engaging in fights with flagitious villains or trekking across the treacherous terrains of another land. Depending on the circumstances, we can always use our imagination to embark on an adventure. And if you desire to travel, you could always do so in a more conventional way, like through reading a book, yet another activity you could engage in to kill time, ya know." Toad suggests with a positive wink and tilt of his head.

Hearing the word "book" emit from Toad's maw causes an image depicting a book with a single meerkat standing in a straight posture gazing upon a sublime portion of the Kalahari Desert's landscape from the crest of a dune titled "The Extraordinary Adventures Of Sage: A Meerkat's Life Saga" on the cover to appear in my mind, a book that I had purchased while residing in the real world and had brought it along with me when I had returned to the Mushroom Kingdom a month ago. I've been meaning to read the story of this phenomenal meerkat since the day I returned when things became tranquil, but abruptly had to assist the Mario gang in impeding Bowser and his minions from stealing the Star Rod again. As I shift my hazel orbs towards the window, I notice that the rate of the snow descending to the earth has accelerated to the point where you can barely see one mile into the distance. Considering the weather conditions are rapidly deteriorating, today would be the perfect opportunity to start reading about Sage's life saga. Upon thinking about reading such a compelling sounding story, a sense of ecstasy flows through my system, causing me to clench my fists and a broad grin to form on my visage. Yerp, I've already been struck with an idea of what I'm gonna do today.

"Actually, Toad, there is a particular book I've been meaning to read for a while now. Since adverse weather conditions are currently upon us, I plan to start reading it once I'm finished making myself decent for the day." I replied.

"Oh? What's the book called?" He inquired, blinking his eyes twice with interest.

"It's called, The Extraordinary Adventures Of Sage: A Meerkat's Life Saga." I responded, a sense of ecstasy spreading through my system as hearing how epic the title sounds makes me want to pull the book off the shelf and commence reading it right now, but I'd prefer getting my morning routine done first so I feel more refreshed and invigorated.

"M-meerkat? What's a meerkat?" Toad inquires, tipping his head to the right curiously.

"I'll explain later. Let me take my shower first and then I'll show you the book." I replied, smiling in amusement at how I'm leaving Toad in wonder.

"Aw, alright. You sure have my interest piqued, but I'm patient, I can tolerate waiting several minutes to hear about that compelling sounding story." Toad responds, grinning eagerly. "I shall head downstairs and make us a scrumptious breakfast." He adds cheerfully.

"Okie dokiez, sounds splendid." I said, clasping my hands together and grinning in delight.

After Toad departs the room, I snatch my pillow off the bed and plunge my teeth into the soft material, thrashing it around like a dog ripping up a toy, then I chuck it on the floor, puffing out my cheeks angrily. Okay, now that that's out of my system, I head into the bathroom to commence my daily morning hygiene routines. Approximately a half an hour later, I exit the bathroom donning a pair of cobalt blue sweatpants, a black long sleeved shirt adorned with a cobalt blue lightning bolt pattern and a pair of white sneakers. Remembering my book, I walk over to my book shelf, which is situated approximately a foot adjacent to the window and took it off the shelf, a sense of ecstasy spreading through my system as I gazed upon the sublime cover.

"The Extraordinary Adventures Of Sage: A Meerkat's Life Saga. I can sense that this is going to be quite a captivating story to read." I predict, grinning with excitement.

"Breakfast is ready!" I heard a familiar voice chime behind me.

Upon turning around, I make visual contact with Toad, whom is standing in the door frame of my room, his clothes covered in pancake mix.

"Heh ha, what happened to you? Fall for a prank formulated by one of those mischievous boos?" I chuckled in amusement.

"Hee hee, well, what actually happened was when I was trying to grasp the box of pancake mix from the cabinet, I lost my balance and bumped the box with my right hand, causing it to topple over and spill all over me." Toad explains, grinning in embarrassment. "Man, if only I was at least a few inches taller, I could've reached that box without encountering any problems. Princess Peach should really invest in purchasing taller stools. Good thing we had another box of pancake mix though." He adds, smiling in relief.

"Aww jeez." I replied, sympathetically face palming. "I know how you feel, dude. Heh, I experience short people problems all the time. But hey, the awesome part about having a petite physique is that we're able to be more agile in battle." I replied, smirking wryly.

"Yes, that's true. Heh, heh, I never grow bored of running circles around Bowser, watching him become dizzy. It's hilarious watching him endeavor to capture me and fail epically by toppling over on his moronic face." Toad replies, the both of us chuckling simultaneously in amusement. "Anyways, I'm gonna go change my clothes. Breakfast has been served, so feel free to go down and enjoy. I'll accompany you in a few minutes." He adds.

"Yaaay!" I exclaimed cheerfully.

A few seconds after Toad makes his departure, I exit my room, jovially prancing through a corridor adorned with a variety of pictures ranging from sublime Mushroom Kingdom landscapes to the Mario gang having fun on their adventures, descend the stairs, then began to casually walk in the direction of the dinning room, my meerkat book grasped in my left hand. Upon entering the dinning room, the delectable aroma of golden brown pancakes enters my nasal passages, causing a sensation of hunger to rumble through my stomach.

"Mmmm, smells absolutely delicious." I said in delight.

The pink walls of the dinning room are adorned with a floral and fruit design, which extends from approximately an inch from the ceiling to an inch from the floor. A few pictures of the Mario Crew are sporadically hung up on the wall throughout the room. A single, exquisite chandelier dangles above the dinning table, which is covered in a solid hot pink table cloth. There is a single window across the room from me, through which I could see the snow is still majestically descending to the earth. Absolutely a beautiful scene before me. Eager to savor the scrumptious looking breakfast, I flopped down on one of the chairs and commenced consuming the pancakes from the floral patterned plate. OMG, they're absolutely delicious! I seriously think Toad should consider becoming a professional chef. He seems to genuinely enjoy concocting and providing meals for the Mario gang, so he certainly has the potential, in my opinion. Hearing the sound of something making contact with a soft chair cushion across from me, I look up from my plate and make visual contact with Toad, whom is wearing a white T-shirt adorned with large, circular spots, a grin of delight spread across his visage.

"I'm quite flattered to see you consuming my pancakes in immense delight, Liz. Are they seriously that delicious?" Toad questions, his head slightly tipped to the left, not entirely convinced.

"Dude, you possess professional chef qualities, they are that delicious, not joking. Every meal you concoct only seems to get more and more delicious, nom nom nom." I respond in between voraciously consuming my pancakes.

"R-really? You seriously think I have the potential to become a professional chef? Heh, well, th-thanks. Never thought of my food being that good." Toad replies, fidgeting with his fork in a flattered fashion. "Heh, would be awesome to be at the helm of my own restaurant chain though. Bringing people cheer through food would be a delightful experience, especially to the homeless residents of Toad Town. Under my management, they'd eat for free." He adds, grinning in delight.

"Awww, you're such a kindhearted person, Toad. I bet you'd be a prosperous restaurant owner with an attitude like that." I smiled with genuine honesty.

"Really? Heh, I suppose I'll give it a try, starting my own restaurant business. It'll sure make me more useful. I could learn to concoct elixirs and meals meant to heal status effects and injuries when we're embarking on adventures." Toad states before using the fork to put a piece of pancake into his mouth.

"You need to give yourself more credit, man. You're quite useful already. You provide excellent advice, demonstrate countless acts of altruism when your friends' lives are in jeopardy and are fiercely loyal to the Mario gang no matter the circumstances. You inherit admirable qualities, I'm... I'm genuinely glad to be friends with someone like you." I stated, smiling fondly.

"R-really? Even though my total freak out put your life in jeopardy on our previous adventure with the Mario Brothers? You still perceive me as a loyal friend?" Toad questions, a flattered expression forming upon his visage.

"Absolutely, bud. You're my best friend. I could never resent you. It's just not in my heart to hold grudges, especially against those I cherish tremendously in my life. I'd never abandon you, no matter what." I replied, placing my right hand on Toad's left hand reassuringly.

Upon hearing my touching statement and my right hand making contact with his left hand, the expression on Toad's face alters from flattered to an expression of appreciation.

"Awww, Liz, I'm so grateful to have a friend as fiercely loyal as you. Whenever we're on adventures together, I tend to take the loyalty of you and the Mario gang for granted quite often, thinking that I'm just being an annoying burden to you guys because of my panic attacks... that I may just screw things up somehow as a result and shouldn't be permitted to accompany you guys on adventures, but from now on I shall start to work on improving my confidence and putting more endeavor into assisting you guys in vanquishing enemies, no matter how petrified I become. I will break through my panic barrier and pulverize the enemy!" Toad exclaims with a look of determination upon his visage and clenching his fists.

"Honestly, buddy, an adventure without you wouldn't be as enjoyable. I'd miss my partner in crime when it comes to pestering foes and getting into adrenaline pumping predicaments." I said, sticking out my tongue playfully as Toad smirks mischievously.

"Man, conversing about adventures suddenly has me wanting to go to Hyrule to help the Mario Brothers resolve the land's dire situation, but we can't 'cause we've been assigned security here at the castle, ugh!" Toad groans, pressing his face against the table in disappointment.

"Sucks, but we can't do anything about it now I guess. We have no choice but to deal with the responsibility we've been given. All we can do is pray that they'll resolve the situation in Hyrule and that no lives will be lost in the process." I said, briefly lowering my head in prayer.

"Yeah..." Responded Toad, frowning worriedly. "Anyway..." He starts as his cobalt blue orbs make contact with my book on the table. "You were going to explain to me what a meerkat was. Is it related to a cat in any way?" He inquires, tipping his head to the right curiously.

"Ah right." I replied, remembering what I said before I went to take a shower. "Nope. A meerkat isn't a species of feline at all. It's actually a totally different species all together, called a mongoose. this type of mongoose, though, only grows to approximately a foot high and resides in a place called the Kalahari Desert located in the southern portion of real world Africa. They're social mammals that depend on each other for survival and live in groups called mobs, which can range in size from three to fifty individuals. There are several different types of mongoose, but these ones in particular fascinate me the most." I added, picking up my book and thumbing through the pages.

"Aww, they look so cute." Toad cooed, grinning with adoration as he caught glimpses of some of the pictures.

"And they're remarkable creatures too. Determined, persistent, gallant, altruistic and resilient. I mean, heck, despite their small size, they can survive a bite from a virulent serpent because they inherit some immunity to snake venom. How phenomenal is that?" I explained excitedly.

"Ha, awesome!" Exclaimed Toad in amazement.

"Awww." Is what I heard emit from Toad's maw next when I stop at a page depicting four meerkat pups engaged in a play fight. "They're absolutely adorable as babies. I'd totally hug one and give it a name and cuddle it and affectionately stroke it if I saw one in person." He added dotingly.

"Hee hee, I know right? They're called pups as babies. They remain inside a burrow until they're three weeks old, emerge, then embark on foraging trips with the adults at approximately a month old. Throughout the week they're exploring on burrow premises. A few of the adults will remain to supervise them, and if a predator or rival meerkat appears, the adults won't hesitate to defend the precious little ones with their lives." I explained.

"Urghf, meerkat babysitting sounds like an awfully hazardous responsibility." Toad responds dreadfully.

"Fortunately, babysitting duty is more often drab than action packed. Your biggest concern is having to worry about ensuring that none of the pups vanish into the vegetation to explore than having to fend off an enemy, and dealing with flies annoyingly buzzing around your head. However when the pups make their departure from the burrow to learn to forage, things become considerably precarious for them then. One in four pups will perish before adulthood unfortunately." I explained frowning grimly.

"Awww, poor babies. They have such fragile lives." Toad responds frowning sympathetically.

"They certainly do. At the helm of a mob of meerkats is one dominant male and female whom reserve the right to produce pups. If a subordinate female conceives pups, the dominant female will kill them to ensure her own pups' survival since food rations can become scarce in the Kalahari. It can be vice versa if a dominant and subordinate female happen to be pregnant simultaneously and the dominant female gives birth first." I explained.

"Awww, how barbaric, but that's nature I guess." Replied Toad, shaking his head in disgust.

"Yeah, it is unfortunately." I responded.

"What's that meerkat doing?" Toad inquired when I turned to a page depicting a meerkat standing on its hind legs on the top of a small, decayed stump.

"He's on sentry duty, vigilantly scanning the terrain and sky for carnivorous predators and rival meerkat gangs. When a mob of meerkats commence foraging, one of the individuals will altruistically volunteer to keep watch for danger and will do so for about an hour, then switch with another individual. When a meerkat is on sentry duty, they'll be more concerned about ensuring the safety of their mob than sating their hunger. If a threat is visually detected, the sentry will emit an alarm vocalization, warning the mob to seek refuge immediately. Pretty much, meerkats are altruistic creatures. An individual won't hesitate to sacrifice themselves to protect their mob and the young." I explained as I imagine the scene unfolding in my mind.

"Awww, I can see why you're so fascinated with these creatures. They possess several admirable qualities. OMG, now you've got me fascinated with them, ha ha!" Toads chuckles delightfully.

"My dream is to someday travel to Southern Africa... to observe these remarkable creatures in action. If there was a means of teleportation transportation within my reach at this very moment, I'd take it in a heartbe--- Hey wait a minute..." I paused, a sly smirk forming upon my visage as I'm struck with what would certainly be a forbidden idea, which causes Toad give me a worried facial expression. "Maybe there is..." I added, placing my right index finger against the area of my face between my lips and chin and smirking conspiringly.

"Uh, Liz, please tell me you're not referring to what I think you are." Toad replies nervously.

"So far the Star Rod has only been used to grant wishes of immense physical power, right? But can it also grant a variety of other wishes?" I put my right hand to my chin in wonder.

"Aw, shitake Mushrooms, I knew it!" Toad whined, snapping his fingers in a cringe.

"OMG, Toad!" I exclaimed upon placing my hands down quite harshly on Toad's shoulders, causing him to emit a startled yelp at being jostled by the impact. "We've SO gotta try this!" I added with a tone of immense excitement in my voice.

"B-but Liz, you read what the Mario Brothers wrote in the letter: Only under life-threatening circumstances we're permitted to use the Star Rod. If we violate that rule...." Toad emits a groan of misery and trembles simultaneously, probably imagining the punishment the Mario Brothers have in mind must be quite brutal should we dare to violate their rule. "I really don't wanna risk enduring a barbaric punishment. Besides, we don't even know if the Star Rod is equipped with a dangerous defensive mechanism or something should one attempt to utilize it to fulfill other wishes of pleasure. Who knows, it could vaporize us to ashes or something. It would be more rational of you to wait until a much less hazardous means of transportation is made available to you." Recommended Toad.

"No way! That would mean I'd have to wait several years before I can afford an aerial trip to Southern Africa. No way in Lethal Lava Land I'm waiting that long." I stood up in protest, tossing my book down on the table so harshly that the loud clap sound impact causes Toad to emit a startled yelp and jolt simultaneously. "Anyhow, look at it this way, by experimenting with the Star Rod, we'd be providing ourselves with some sort of excitement. I know we're forbidden from embarking on adventures and risk being harshly punished if we go through with this escapade, but now the suspense is killing me! c'mon, buddy, can you imagine how epic it'd be to reside in a mob of meerkats?" I added, trying the best I can to persuade Toad into accompanying me on an illicit, but awesome adventure.

"Wh-what exactly are you suggesting, Liz?" Toad inquired with uncertainty.

"I'm suggesting that we use the Star Rod to wish ourselves to be twelve inches tall and to be transported to Southern Africa. OMG, that would be so awesome if it works!" I exclaimed, clasping my hands together and grinning ecstatically.

Toad coughs as if he swallowed his saliva wrong.

"Seriously? That'd be totally insane! You know there's no guarantee that it'd work, and even if it does, how would we return to the Mushroom Kingdom? Also, if the Mario Crew return to discover we used the Star Rod for our own pleasure, they'll go totally nuclear! I really don't want to disobey them and end up getting my butt scorched by one of Mario's fireballs." Toad replied frantically.

I couldn't help but emit a chuckle of amusement at Toad's scenario of how Mario could punish him, which causes him to glare at me in disapproval, obviously not amused.

"Eh, I have no idea how we'd get back..." I replied, shrugging cluelessly. "But, damn it, we deserve some action after being left to endure what could be several months of torturous boredom. C'mon, Toad, we're going to Africa!" I declared, grasping Toad's right wrist with my left hand and forcibly yanking him forward, causing him to emit a scream of discomfort.

"Ow! You're hurting my wrist! Relinquish me right now!" Toad demanded fiercely as I was yanking him down a corridor leading to a securely locked room where the Star Rod is being kept. "I'm warning you that if we go through with this escapade, it'll result in utter chaos!" He adds with a tone of dread.

I relinquish Toad's right wrist and turned to face him.

"C'mon, buddy, the African landscape is one of the most beautiful in the world. Don't you want the opportunity to admire it in person instead of from a book? Don't you want to be at eye level with a meerkat and accompany them on their adrenaline pumping daily adventures? Don't you want to dote over a meerkat pup for real? Because, damn it, I wanna be friends with a meerkat!" I squeal, flailing my arms like a ridiculously ecstatic anime character and jumping up and down in immense excitement. "I'm honestly skeptical the Star Rod will grant this wish as well, but trust me, if it works, committing this illicit act will be totally worth it." I add ecstatically.

"Well, I would love to smother a meerkat pup with affection and act as their guide and protector...urf, my heart is racing at the prospect that a forbidden adventure could be imminent. Thinking about violating the Mario Crew's rule is making me feel nauseous." Toad said, rocking himself back and forth on his feet nervously.

"I know, me too, and has sent a sense of shame through me for acting selfish, but, I also sense that this would be our most epic adventure yet." I predict.

"I...I can't believe I'm starting to feel excited about this." Toad said shaking his head in denial. "No, I can't, I mustn't, but, there will be meerkat pups...Okay! Let's do it! It may actually be quite fun." He added, grinning and clenching his fists excitedly.

"Squeee! You're so awesome when you unleash your rebellious side." I complimented, smirking mischievously.

"Yeah, well, don't get used to it. I'm only doing this so I can see some meerkat pup cuteness in action. I just hope we don't end up regretting this later on." Toad replied worriedly.

"Don't worry, bud, if the wish works, I'm sure there's a way to reverse the spell and return to the Mushroom Kingdom. Who knows, more or likely nothing will happen. At least we would have experienced some sort of excitement for the day." I said, shrugging skeptically.

"Indeed, and if the latter ends up transpiring, then we could engage in all those fun winter activities I suggested earlier." Toad suggested.

"True. I suppose the situation for us then wouldn't be totally boring. Anyway..." I said turning towards the door to the room that's harboring the Star Rod. "What's the code to gain access into this room again?" I inquired Toad.

"Ah, yes. The number is 611027" Toad revealed.

"611027..." I repeated to myself as I typed in the numbers on the security box. I sway from side to side, humming a cheery Mario Brothers themed tune as I waited for the door to unlock.

Approximately a moment later a click was heard, indicating that we had been granted access into the Star Rod room, which sends a sense of ecstasy through my system.

"YES!" I exclaimed, vertically leaping into the air ecstatically.

"Aw shitake mushrooms, here we go." Toad said a bit nervously.

Without hesitation, I push the door open, my heart palpitating when the perpetually illuminated Star Rod, which is contained in a dome shaped glass display on a pedestal located at the back of the room, enters the center of my vision. A gasp of amazement emits from our mouths simultaneously, mesmerized by the Star Rod's sublime illumination.

"OMG, there it is Toad, the almighty Star Rod!" I exclaimed excitedly as we approach the pedestal, my heart now racing.

"Urf, I...I can't believe we're actually going to do this. I'm starting to feel really nauseous." Toad said as he tentatively removed the glass dome and grasped the Star Rod in both his hands. "But at the same time...this is so exhilarating!" He added, his eyes wide and mouth agape in exhilaration.

"Oooh, I know." I responded as an adrenaline induced chill ascends my spine at the prospect that this wish could dramatically alter our lives forever. "We're in the process of making a wish to shrink ourselves to twelve inches tall so that we could experience life through a meerkat's perspective. However, the Kalahari Desert is a very hostile environment. The misfortunate part about meerkat society is that several of them are denied a chance to survive to adulthood. This could be the most perilous adventure we're about to embark on. There's a possibility we may never see the Mushroom Kingdom or the Mario gang ever again. And.... and I'd never get a chance to read about Sage's life story." As an image of myself and Toad being grasped by the talons of an aerial predator enters my mind, a sense of trepidation flows through my system, suddenly making me feel unsure whether we should go through with making the wish or not. I clench my fists and bite my lower lip, trembling a little bit.

Hearing a trepid whimper emit from Toad's maw, we exchange looks of uncertainty, but imagining myself acclimating to life in a mob of meerkats has me too ecstatic to decline experimenting with the Star Rod. Ya know what, to heck with it, I'm gonna do it! However, if the results are catastrophic, so be it. That may seem callous, but at least we'd learn more about the Star Rod's capabilities in the process, even if it transpires in an apocalyptic fashion.

"Per-perhaps we should back out on making this wish. It could likely prove to be extremely perilous." Recommended Toad, placing the pulsating Star Rod back on the pedestal.

"Meh, I'm sure we'll be fine, buddy. We've proven to be strong spirited warriors here in the Mushroom Kingdom. Surely we can do the same in the Kalahari Desert as well. This'll be a fun kind of danger. We've just gotta believe that no matter how perilous a situation may become for us, no matter how treacherous the environment is, we'll survive." I said, placing my left hand on Toad's right shoulder as a way of reassuring him.

"Are... are you absolutely sure you want to go through with this?" Toad questioned, exuding an air of uncertainty.

"Totally, absolutely, positively sure. My sense of curiosity won't fade until I learn what happens when one uses the Star Rod to request this unique wish, so let's do this!" I exclaimed, fueled by a sense of determination.

Exhaling a sigh of relaxation, I grasped the Star Rod with my right hand and raised it in the air, causing Toad to emit a nervous whimper. At this point, my heart is racing and my entire body is trembling from the adrenaline spreading through my bloodstream. We've advanced too far to retreat now. You only live once, YOLO, as they say nowadays, so if I don't go through with this, the variety of possible outcomes that could have transpired would circulate through my mind and make me regret not going through with this for the rest of my life. However, within the next moment or so, we may end up in Africa or dealing with an impending catastrophe. Obviously I pray that we are warped to Africa physically intact.

"Oh please work for wishes other than those of power." I prayed, still holding the Star Rod in the air. "Here we go, Toad." I added, averting my hazel orbs from the Star Rod and making eye contact with Toad, whom presses himself against me nervously.

Upon returning visual contact with the pulsating Star Rod, I commence making the wish, "I wish we were twelve inches tall and in the Kalahari Desert of South Africa!"

Several heart pounding moments pass, my eyes wide, mouth agape and entire body trembling in anticipation, waiting for some sort of activation to transpire, but the Star Rod yields nothing. Its perpetual illumination remains unaltered, which sends a sense of disappointment through my system and causes me to emit a disappointed groan.

"Aw, man, it didn't work. Guess it can't grant that kind of wish after all. Man, I really wanna go to Africa, so badly! I was praying this would've been the quickest way for me to get there, but guess it's not meant to be. Damn it, I don't wanna wait until I can afford an aerial trip out there, but I have no choice now. Ugh, this sucks. I got ecstatic over nothing!" I complained, putting the Star Rod back on the pedestal.

"Well, nothing transpiring was one of the things we expected, which is an enormous disappointment, but actually a bit of relief since an apocalypse wasn't unleashed. At least this escapade has taught us that the Star Rod is only meant to grant wishes of power. Anyway, at least now you get a chance to start reading your book." Toad reminded, trying to cheer me up.

"Imaging I'm walking beside Sage is as close as I'll have to get to being in Africa for now, I guess. Anyway, Toad, lets keep this little escapade between me and you, shall we?" I recommended, smirking mischievously and draping my right arm over his right shoulder.

"Heh, sure, they shall know nothing." Toad replied with a sly smirk. "Anyway, wanna go build a snow fort?" He asks.

"Ooh, sure, that would be fun." I responded, grinning at the suggestion.

Upon turning to exit the room, a harmonious, undulating hum fills the room, causing Toad and I to turn simultaneously and make visual contact with the Star Rod, my heart palpitating and mouth agape in amazement as I notice the Star Rod's illumination has grown significantly brighter, causing me to block the light with my right hand as it had begun to cause discomfort to my eyes upon gazing at it. As the illumination altered from white to a variation of exquisite colors, I couldn't help but become mesmerized and watch between my fingers as these colors radiated from the Star Rod incessantly.

"Wh-what's happening?!" I heard Toad inquire with a tone of panic in his voice.

"Could... could it be that the wish has been granted, or are we about to witness a cataclysm unfold?" I wondered to myself, my entire body trembling as adrenaline spreads through my system.

"L-Liz, I don't like this." Toad said worriedly, causing me to avert my hazel orbs from the Star Rod and make visual contact with him when I felt him nervously embrace me.

Suddenly, the volume of the harmonious hum increases several decibels, causing Toad and I to return visual contact with the Star Rod simultaneously, an amazed gasp involuntarily erupting from our maws as we witness the Star Rod's iridescent illumination rapidly expanding in our direction, obscuring details of the room in the process. The brightness of the illumination is so intense that it sends a burning sensation through my eyes when I gaze in the Star Rod's direction for a mere few seconds.

"Ow! It's so...so bright! Why is it getting brighter? Is... is it supposed to do this?" I questioned with a mix intrigue and worry, blocking my eyes with my left hand.

"Holy shitake mushrooms, I've been blinded, aaaaaarrgh!!!" Upon hearing Toad yell frantically, I avert my eyes from the Star Rod and turn to witness him collide into the wall in a state of panic, knocking himself unconscious.

"Ooooh." I emitted, putting my hands to my mouth and stifling a chuckle of amusement.

Seeing the iridescent illumination rapidly advancing in our direction in my right peripheral vision, upon turning, my entire field of vision becomes filled with a variety of colors while simultaneously it feels as though my body is starting to lift off the ground, the locks of my hair swaying as a breeze picks up. Whoa! The hell?! Now what's going on?! Soon my entire body becomes paralyzed and I lose consciousness.

End Chapter One
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Re: Living With Meerkats: A Little Big Adventure

on August 23rd 2018, 8:04 pm
Chapter 2: Destination Africa, Our Expedition Across The Kalahari Begins

As I regained consciousness, a cloudless, blue sky enters my field of vision while the sounds of a variety of wildlife, ranging from birds to insects, fill my auditory senses. A warm sensation spreads through my system, the source being the rays of the sun enveloping my entire petite frame. The texture of the terrain beneath my hands feels soft and grainy indicating it must be sand. Remembering the weather conditions back in the Mushroom Kingdom were frigid and snowy, a sense of ecstasy spreads through my system, my pulse accelerating at the prospect that the Star Rod had granted my wish. Could it be that Toad and I have been warped to the Kalahari Desert? Or did the Star Rod merely recognize the word "desert" and warp us to a desert on Nintendo planet instead? It can't be the latter. I've never heard wildlife like this in any of Nintendo planet's arid environments before. Only in one place I've seen on nature documentaries, the Kalahari Desert. Having regained sensation in my extremities and eager to locate Toad, whom I pray is physically intact like myself, I push myself up into an Indian style sitting position, a gasp of amazement emitting from my mouth once the pulchritude of the landscape enters my field of vision, immediately mesmerizing me, my eyes wide and a grin of admiration spreading across my visage. Approximately ten feet before me is a meadow of high and low level wheat colored grass that extends across the terrain for miles. A variety of vegetation, ranging from thickets of drie doring and acacia bushes to shepherd and camel thorn trees are spread sporadically across the beautiful landscape. But the most sublime scenery of all are the mountains in the distance. How the sun's toasty rays illuminated them made them look absolutely exquisite. There seems to be an abundance of wildlife in the vicinity, ranging from gemsbok idly grazing in the meadow in the foreground, to a giraffe nonchalantly consuming the foliage of a nearby acacia tree to a yellow mongoose that has paused and is gazing at me with its ears pricked up curiously, my heart palpitating as I realize I'm at eye level with the cousin of the meerkat upon standing up, fully convincing me that the Star Rod possesses the power to grant any wish. I had made travelling to Southern Africa a lifelong dream of mine, one I honestly doubted would ever come true. Experimenting with a potent device that I learned still possessed extraordinary powers may have been illicit and potentially catastrophic, but the outcome has me wanting to erupt into a celebratory dance. Suddenly a sense of suspicion ripples through my system, my left eye twitching with a hint of doubt. Wait a minute...wh-what if a cataclysm is currently transpiring and Toad and I have actually been knocked unconscious? What if this is actually an incredibly vivid dream? O-or what if we're dead and we've been sent to the African part of Heaven? I shake my head in denial. Nuh-uh. It can't be the latter. This feels too real for us to be dead. There's one more test I'm gonna put myself through to prove that this isn't actually an illusion. Raising my left hand to the level of my left cheek, I squeeze my left eye shut and grit my teeth. Yes, I'm going to smack myself. I'm actually praying it hurts so that my arrival to Africa isn't just a stupid illusion. I hesitate for a minute, then struck myself across my left cheek, wincing as a stinging sensation spreads across the area of impact. Ow! It hurt more than I intended it to, but it just completely proved to me that this is for real. My hazel eyes widen and my mouth goes agape in immense euphoria. And I swear I could feel my pupils dilating! For real, before my hazel orbs, is an absolutely gorgeous African landscape abundant with a variety of majestic wildlife engaging in nonchalant activities as they gradually migrate across the terrain. Finally, the dream that I have been immensely wanting to accomplish the most has actually come true! My extremities begin to tremble as adrenaline enters my bloodstream, knowing that from this point on things are certain to become exhilarating.

"My wish...It...it worked. It really worked! I'm actually in the Kalahari Desert of Southern Africa. This is... going to be so AWESOME!!!" I squealed ecstatically, leaping vertically into the air jubilantly.

Upon making visual contact with the giraffe that was consuming the foliage of an acacia tree nearby and is now majestically migrating through a patch of high level grass, a sense of vulnerability spreads through my system. Having been shrunk to a mere twelve inches tall, a majority of the Kalahari's inhabitants are gargantuan compared to me! I mean, if I inadvertently put myself in the trajectory of an antelope, giraffe or any other enormous terrestrial creature, without a doubt I'd be squelched like an insect, a misfortune I hope to avoid while exploring the Kalahari. As the giraffe vanishes from my field of vision behind a grove of camel thorn trees in the distance, I turn my head to the left, making visual contact with an adult Kalahari cape fox simultaneously as it made visual contact with me, its large ears pricked up in curiosity. Approximately a moment later it turns in the opposite direction of me and scampered into the vegetation, as if alarmed by my presence. Gazing upon the pulchritude of the Kalahari landscape sends a sense of euphoria through my system. I could just shift myself into a reclined sitting position and admire the beauty of the landscape for hours, but the fate of my friend Toad still has yet to be discovered.

"The Kalahari...is absolutely spectacular." I said gazing across the beautiful landscape in a state of enchantment, chills of exhilaration ascending my spine. "Nnnngh, Oh man, I'm so hyped up I could just embark on a hike across this gorgeous landscape right now, but... Toad...I don't see him anywhere."

A sense of anxiety spreads through my system as my hazel orbs gaze across the terrain, hoping to see Toad through an opening in the vegetation nearby. My pulse accelerates at the prospect that we've been separated in the process of being teleported here. Ugh, man, I really hope that's not the situation we've just been put in. The Kalahari Desert is not an environment you'd want to explore alone as a small creature. Even when you're constantly surveying the environment for danger, a predator could still easily infiltrate one of your blind spots undetected, sealing your fate. Just your pair of eyes isn't sufficient to guard you against a death sentence. The more eyes you have accompanying you on an adventure here, the more likely you are to avoid being attacked by predators. Heck, even as an average sized human exploring the Kalahari Desert alone can be extremely dangerous if you don't know what you're doing. As I continue to vigilantly scan the terrain for any sign of Toad, a light, warm breeze blows through the vegetation, causing me to jolt in alarm at the sound of it rustling, thinking a terrestrial predator could be in the vicinity, stalking me. After a few minutes lapse of the environment yielding nothing but the rustle of the vegetation surrounding me, a sense of relief spreads through my system, confident I'm in the clear regarding predators, for now. Surmising that a considerable amount of distance had been put between Toad and I upon arrival, my sense of relief alters to a sense of worry. Not knowing whether Toad is safe or in grave peril has elevated my sense of worry to a sense of panic.

"Oh, Toad," I whimpered, approaching a tuft of tall grass and parting it with my hands to see if Toad was there, a sense of disappointment flowing through my system as I found it to be vacant. "Oh, man. There's so much vegetation to rummage through that it could take hours to find Toad, enough time for a predator to easily dispatch him. This kind of predicament could not only jeopardize my ultimate dream but our lives as well. Please, Fate, spare my dream from being shattered and let Toad be somewhere nearby." I clasped my hands in prayer.

On cue, as if Fate was answering my prayer, a groan of disorientation permeates the air, causing me to turn in the direction it emitted from, a sense of joyful relief spreading through my system as a familiar head protruding from a tuft of low level grass located approximately eight feet across from me enters the center of my vision.

"TOAD!!!" I squealed with joy as I sprinted towards him.

Toad was groggily rubbing his right eye with his right hand when I make physical contact with him, causing him to emit an alarmed yell, then a series of grunts of discomfort erupt from his throat when I apply a tremendous amount of pressure to the upper part of his body as I embrace him tightly, pressing his face against my stomach.

"Thank Heavens you're alright. I was afraid we got separated and was worried that your welfare may have been in jeopardy." I said, turning my head from left to right in a state of paranoia, my hazel orbs vigilantly scanning the terrain for terrestrial predators.

"It is now that you have my face pressed against your stomach. Now relinquish me before I suffocate to death!" Toad muffled, applying pressure to my stomach with both his hands as he pulls against my embrace.

"Oooh, sorry buddy." I apologized as I relinquished Toad. "But, damn it, I'm just super duper looper ecstatic to be in Africa right now that I could go as crazy as Tom Cruise did on the Oprah Winfrey Show, yesh, yesh, yesh, yesh, yesh!" I cheered flailing my arms and leaping up and down in immense excitement.

"Oh, Star Heavens, please don't even...Liz, chill and retreat from the chaos zone now!" Toad ordered, grasping my left wrist with his right hand in an authoritative fashion, causing me to cease leaping up and down like an ecstatic child in a toy store. "I'm not going to endure being thrown around like a rag doll again like the last time you got this excited. I nearly lost an important body function when I struck a street light pole." He added, his left eye twitching with agony.

"Oh, wow, I...totally forgot about that. Man, then that was close." My eyes widened, a bit perturbed by how insane my level of excitement can get. "Phew, thanks for helping me regain my composure, buddy." I added, placing my left hand on Toad's right shoulder in appreciation. "Heh, man, my sense of excitement is like consuming too much alcohol, it clouds my judgment and I end up committing acts that I don't even remember doing." I added, making Toad emit a chuckle of amusement.

"So this is the Kalahari, huh?" Toad said, placing his hands on his hips as he gazed upon the pulchritude of the landscape, a look of admiration forming on his visage. "It's... absolutely beautiful."

"I know right?!" I squealed ecstatically. "I can't wait to 'splore over there and over there and over there and over there..." I repeat as I point in every direction with my left index finger.

"Nnnnngh! I can't stand still any longer! Our African adventure commences naaoo!!" I declared ecstatically as I started running across a portion of the terrain that is devoid of vegetation.

"Hey, wait, don't move so fast! We could easily lose track of each other in all this vegetation!" Toad cried out anxiously.

Remembering our separation scare from the start, I reduce my brisk pace to a leisurely walk so that Toad can catch up.

"Sorry, buddy. The last thing I want to happen is for us to become separated, especially in a dangerous environment like this." I apologized, averting my hazel orbs from the vast landscape before me to follow Toad's movement to my right side, his pace now matching mine.

"Upon arriving here, not only did we become adventurers, we became survivalists as well. So, yes, it's extremely crucial that we remain vigilant and in close proximity to each other at all times." I nodded in understanding.

"Survivalists?" Toad questioned, an inquisitive expression formed on his visage.

"Yup, there are no McDonalds or truck stops here, so from here on, we live like the very mammals we are searching for, our diet for breakfast, lunch and dinner consisting of insects, from which we'll be getting our liquid intake, checking into abandoned burrows as our hotels, eluding detection from aerial and terrestrial predators and using a bush as the bathroom." I smirked, suppressing a snicker of amusement as I know exactly what Toad's reaction will be to hearing the consuming bugs part. He's quite queasy about that kind of stuff.

Emitting a gag of disgust, Toad's head jerks forward in a way that looks like he's about to vomit. Yup, exactly the reaction I imagined he'd give.

"Oh hell no! Just imagining myself munching on a rancid flavored bug made me throw up a little bit in my mouth. Nope, nope, nope!" Toad objected strongly, shaking his head in disgust and crossing his arms.

"Then we die, because insects are a more common source of fluids out here. The Kalahari isn't called The Great Thirst Land for nothing. Water is extremely difficult to find here. The other alternative would be to suck out the fluids from leaves and stems of plants, but I lack the knowledge of what plants are life savors and what plants will kill you if consumed so I'd rather not take that risk." I cautioned.

"Well, since you put it that way, guess I have no choice but to endure when it comes time for us to eat here. And try not to throw up." Toad cringed in disgust.

"Oh, and not to mention we'll be part Bear Grylls-ing it, what with resorting to sleeping in other means of shelter if no burrows are available, getting creative with ways to cool off when the temperatures reach scorching levels, making a fire in order to keep warm and deter predators, making survival tools when needed, embarking on hunting escursions when insects become difficult to find and confronting treacherous and perilous terrain, just in a miniature scale of course. Yup, primitive life will be primitive." I said, a sense of exhilaration flowing through my system as I know that being confronted with danger will be inevitable.

"Ugh, how can you watch that show, watching him gut animals and stuff, disgusting! Just, I can't even...If I were to ever cave in and watch a single episode of Man Vs. Wild, I'm afraid I'd projectile vomit everywhere." Toad grimaced in disgust. "I sure hope you remembered his survival tactics, because this is the first time we're doing something like this."

"Uhhhh...." I endeavored to remember something, but all I was getting was blankness from my mind. "Damn! I've been struck with the can't remember crap bug, so nope."

"Terrific. We're totally gonna die." Toad whimpers nervously, facepalming.

"Nah, we'll be fine, buddy. As long as we use common sense we should avoid getting ourselves killed. And, hey, if we do happen to perish here, at least it'd be in one of the world's most beautiful places." I said, grinning with optimism.

Shifting his cobalt orbs from me to scan the landscape, Toad fidgets with his fingers nervously, "Err, well I still say the chances of us dying here will be pretty high. W-we're so small! I feel so vulnerable! This is absolutely terrifying! At least every part of me was warped here intact." He added, examining every part of himself, his body trembling with excitement.

"Hee hee, but seriously, the landscape of this place is just captivatingly exquisite. I'd at least be glad to die here because I have completed my dream. On another note, I really didn't want much for Christmas this year anyway, just to spend quality time with the Mario gang and to somehow be transported here without having to pay for an expensive plane ticket and having to wait weeks or even months to fly to Africa, which I thought would never happen until the Star Rod happened." I grinned euphorically.

"Urf, I'm feeling ashamed for disobeying the Mario Brothers." Toad frowned, lowering his head. He then averts his eyes from the ground to gaze at the landscape with an expression of admiration formed on his visage. "But how could I stay ashamed in a place that makes me feel so euphoric and enchanted? While there must be a way to return to the Mushroom Kingdom, this is sure to be a once in a life time adventure considering the most likely punishment will be a permanent ban from using the Star Rod, so I shall relish this African adventure for as long as it lasts."

"Yes! Our vacation, a Christmas present to ourselves. Nnnngh, yeah, this is bound to be the best Christmas ever, buddy!" I cheered ecstatically.

"Totally!" Toad exclaimed his assent as we high fived each other.

As Toad and I hike merrily across a portion of the terrain that has low level vegetation, enjoying the feel of the warm, light breeze against my face and the beautiful ambiance of the Kalahari nature around us, I start to wonder how long it could take us to locate a mob of meerkats. We've been here for several minutes and I'm already getting impatient! The moment I make visual contact with a meerkat I'm gonna run over to it, embrace it tightly and squeal with immense delight while jumping up and down ecstatically. No, I must keep in mind that meerkats are fiercely territorial and protective of their group, especially their offspring. The chances of Toad and I being accepted into a mob upon first approach is extremely slim. I'd put myself in grave danger of being ripped to shreds by the entire mob if I did something reckless like that! As an image of four meerkats plunging their serrated teeth into my flesh appears in my mind, I cringed. Urf, not a scenario I'd like to transpire. It could be days or maybe even weeks before we see a mob of meerkats, but whenever we do, it's essential that I resist the urge to go tackle hug a meerkat. Tackle hugging a meerkat equals death and my dream shattering into itty bitty pieces. Remember that Liz! But, if we are to find them, we must be observant for any signs that they're in this portion of the Kalahari, paw prints, poop, anything. I believe the further we travel, the more likely we are to encounter them, just gotta remain patient and optimistic throughout our perilous and arduous hike.

"Oh, wow, what majestic creatures." Toad said in amazement. "Hey, Liz, since you seem to have some knowledge of the Kalahari would you happen to know what those are?" He inquired inquisitively.

Upon turning my head, I make visual contact with a herd of majestic gemsbok located approximately one hundred yards from us, my attention instantly captivated by their pulchritude.

"Oooh, those are gemsbok!" I exclaimed ecstatically. "They're a type of antelope that are herbivores, meaning they just eat plants and stuff like that. They're harmless unless you're unfortunate to get underneath their hooves as they're migrating across the terrain, then you'd be crushed to death. They sure are beautiful creatures though." I added, mesmerized by the graceful motions of their bulky forms across the field of grass.

"Heh, well then, we'd better make sure to steer clear of the direction they're moving in, huh. I'd rather not end up like a cartoon character on a classic cartoon show where an anvil falls on them, flattening them like a pancake." Toad said with a look of nervousness formed on his visage.

"I feel ya, bud, but not to worry, it appears this herd is slowly heading in the opposite direction." I smiled reassuringly.

Toad and I watch the herd of gemsbok as they graze at steady intervals for a few moments before I realize we're standing on open terrain, leaving us exposed to aerial predators. Worried we could be visually detected at any given moment, I avert my hazel orbs from the gemsbok, my gaze drifting to the sky to scan for carnivorous raptors.

"Ugh, man, wish we could stand here and admire them for a little bit longer, but we're exposed out here. We must keep moving and maintain close proximity to shrubs." I urged warily.

"Definitely since our hike has been tranquil so far. It would be unfortunate if we were to meet our demise as a result of exposing ourselves so soon into our adventure." Toad agreed worriedly.

Toad and I start walking across a portion of the terrain that is inhabited by acacia bushes and waist high, wheat colored grass. As a hot sensation spreads through my system from the scorching rays of the sun being absorbed through the black color of my shirt, I rolled up my sleeves while Toad fans his face with his right hand.

"Holy shitake mushrooms, it's as hot as Lethal Lava Land here! ...But... it's December. Isn't it supposed to be cold? And where's the snow? Does it ever snow in the Kalahari?" Toad inquired, gazing across the landscape inquisitively.

"December is a summer month in the Kalahari, bud." I replied.

"Really?" Toad makes eye contact with me and slightly tilts his head to the left, his beady eyes glimmering with curiosity.

"You see, the southern portion of Africa is located below the equator of the earth, making December, January and February summer months here. During the day, the temperatures can exceed over one hundred degrees while at night they can decrease to a degree where we'll have to cuddle up in order to stay warm. Thunderstorms and showers can occur between November and April, which can often be accompanied by strong winds that can generate sandstorms, although they're erratic so this can be uncertain. Snow is very rare, but has occurred in the Kalahari before. Heh, who knows, if we're here through the winter and we're fortunate enough to experience a rare nuisance level snow storm, maybe we'll get a chance to build a snowman." I grinned, clapping my hands ecstatically as an image of a snowman shaped like a meerkat appears in my mind.

"And we could name him Olaf." Toad suggested jokingly, referring to the movie Frozen.

"Some creatures are worth melting for, like meerkats." I squealed fondly as an imagine of me embracing and smothering a meerkat with affection appears in my mind.

"D'aaaaaw, that line is made even more precious with the word "meerkat" in it." Toad grinned with adoration.

"OMG, yaaaaas!" I squealed with delight. "Nnnngh, man I wish we were walking with meerkats right now! Meh, nothing we can do about it but to remain alert for signs of meerkats being in this portion of the Kalahari for now. And like meerkats, we must remain vigilant at all times while we're on this scenic hike. Don't let the pulchritude of the Kalahari mesmerize you too much, bud. We have plenty of hazardous wildlife to be on the look out for."

"Oh man. L-like what, exactly?" Toad whimpered as he nervously shifted his eyes from me to scan the landscape before us.

"Well, common terrestrial foes of the meerkat are black backed jackals, which looks like a fox with a slender body, long legs, large ears and has reddish brown fur along with a black saddle intermixed with silvery hair that extends from the shoulders to the base of the tail. Caracals, which are a species of wild cat with long, black tuft ears, tawny brown to brick red colored fur and black lines that run from the eyes to the nose. African wildcats, which resemble your average house cat. Rock monitors, which are enormous lizards with serrated teeth, razor sharp claws and a long, powerful tail that can break bones upon impact. Snakes, particularly the cape cobra and puff adder, which are highly venomous." I explained.

"Ugh, snakes." Toad groaned, shivering. "Because I was so fascinated with learning about meerkats from your book earlier I was able to block out that word. Hearing it again just sent a sense of horror through me. My psychological wounds still haven't completely healed from what happened on Yoshi's Island a while ago. That enormous red snake, those horrifying green eyes and sharp teeth! I can still smell its putrid breath as it wrapped its tongue around me and consumed me whole. I thought I was going to perish for sure once I felt its stomach acids starting to burn my skin. I swear if we encounter a snake out here, regardless of its level of danger, I may just relapse into a catatonic, thumb sucking state. Oh please let there be no snakes in this grass. If I see any part of one, I'll run in the opposite direction like Usain Bolt." He adds, frantically lifting his feet, paranoid he may step on a serpent every time each foot makes contact with the ground.

"Heh heh, relax, buddy. Meerkats are rarely consumed by snakes here. A pup is more likely to be consumed, but adults are often incapacitated by bites, so you don't have to worry about finding yourself in a snake's belly here. And whenever we do encounter a snake, because it's inevitable out here, I won't hesitate to put myself between you and the snake. My fascination with snakes has rendered me fearless towards them, so I'd gladly deal with it to ensure our safety." I winked at him reassuringly.

"B-but, what if you get bitten?" Toad questions worriedly. "And...and then it comes after me!" He shivers, his eyes wide with horror.

"That won't happen, 'cause I've got reflex skills like a ninja, 'member? I'll just pivot myself, swiftly leap into the air, turning so that the front part of my body is facing the back of the serpent, my eyes not averting from it for even a second, and land a few inches behind it. Then I'll swiftly grasp its tail with both my hands, drawing its attention away from you, and, mustering as much strength as my body will allow me to, chuck it as far from us as possible, similar to what we do to Bowser, then voila, snake go bye bye." I smirked, acting out the scenario I just described.

"Of course. I totally trust in your abilities to safely deal with a snake, but don't expect me to assist you as I'll most likely be in a fetal position... sucking my thumb... under a bush... trembling with immobilizing fear." He warned, hugging himself and scanning the terrain in a paranoid fashion as if a snake could slither out from the vegetation and lunge at him any minute.

"I don't expect you to and I honestly wouldn't mind if your ophidiophobia (fear of snakes) renders you incapacitated, 'cause I'll totally own the situation, even if it means sacrificing my health to protect my best buddy." I reassured Toad, embracing him with my right arm fondly.

"Aww, Liz, you're too altruistic for your own good. I... no! I will not just sit there in a fetal position sucking my thumb like a coward and watch you risk your life to protect me. While we're here, I'm gonna make it my goal to conquer my fear of snakes, and that's a promise!" Toad fiercely vowed.

"Awesome. I know you can do it buddy." I replied, embracing him supportively.

"Whoa, those are some peculiar looking birds." Toad commented as his gaze was to my right upon disengaging from our hug, then made eye contact with me with an expression of concern formed on his visage.

"And, uh, sh-should we be worried about them?" He inquired nervously, returning his gaze to these mysterious birds.

My hazel orbs follow the direction in which Toad is gazing and make visual contact with a camel thorn tree located approximately thirty feet from us. Perched on flimsy branches of foliage swaying gently up and down in the light breeze are a trio of medium sized birds with large, down curved beaks that resemble a banana, yellow eyes, pinkish skin around the eyes, long tails, long eyelashes, stubby legs and toes. They appear to have gray necks, which have gray spots, and chests that are lightly striated with black. As one of them adjusts its position, turning its back in our direction, I notice it's black with an abundance of white spots and stripes. Yep, without a doubt those are yellow-billed hornbill birds.

"Eh, no need to worry about those birds, buddy. Those are yellow-billed hornbills." I told him, placing my left hand on his right shoulder reassuringly.

"Yellow-billed hornbills?" He raised a brow curiously.

"They're diet consists of small insects, spiders, scorpions, seeds, fruits and sometimes slightly larger creatures such as mice, frogs, chameleons and bird chicks. They can be a bit of a nuisance as they'll sometimes loiter around meerkats, waiting to steal whatever they reveal from under the sand. But they can also act as a warning system for meerkats by emitting an urgent sounding vocalization that will alert them to the presence of a threat in the area." I explained.

Exhaling a sigh of relief, Toad replies, "Thank Heavens, that makes me glad to know we're safe when coexisting with those birds. Hee, hee, hee, oh man, I'm gonna have trouble keeping a straight face the next time I see them, though. Because banana with wings." He chuckles, wrapping his arms around his torso as he erupts into a fit laughter.

"Hee, hee, I know right?" I giggled in amusement. "But, um, on a more serious matter, there are quite a few birds that pose a serious threat to our lives here. Actually, meerkats are often killed by aerial predators." I warned, briefly gazing up at the sky to ensure none of the birds I'm about to educate Toad on are in the vicinity before retuning eye contact with him.

"Wh-what kinds of birds must we be on the look out for?" Toad inquired, briefly glancing up at the sky nervously.

"There's the pale chanting goshawk, which has tail feathers that are black tipped with white, grey and white outer feathers, a pale grey head and upper breast, finely barred dark grey and white underparts, yellow eyes, orange beak and long orange legs. The tawny eagle, which has tawny colored upperparts, blackish flight feathers and tail, a very pale lower back and a yellow and black beak. The eagle owl, which is large and can be easily distinguished by a white oval disk shaped face with a black border and pink eyelids. They also have two fluffy ear-tufts, are fairly uniform brownish grey with white spots on the shoulder and have a pale underside." I elaborated, shifting my eyes from Toad to the sky, then back to Toad every now and then. "But the aerial predator with the highest level of danger to the meerkat is the martial eagle." I added, my pulse elevating at just hearing those two words emit from my mouth.

"Martial... eagle?" Toad questioned nervously.

"It's the largest eagle in Africa and is incredibly powerful, capable of knocking an adult man off his feet, even breaking his arm. They can weigh up to fourteen pounds, measure up to thirty two inches long and have a wingspan of about six feet four inches. The upper part of its body is dark brown with a white belly with black streaks and its legs are white, which are equipped with large talons, long enough to inflict fatal wounds. They also have yellow eyes and a black beak." I explained, scanning the landscape warily.

"Yeeeaaah, um, that predator is definitely get on the nope train worthy. No way in hell am I gonna challenge the physical strength of that thing!" Toad exclaimed, his eyes wide with fear.

"And that's not even the largest predator to worry about. There are also lions, cheetahs, leopards and hyenas, although they rarely consume meerkats. But still..." I trembled as the vocalizations of those predators I just mentioned reverberate in my mind.

Whimpering, Toad replies, "Oh man, with that many predators to worry about, we're screwed!"

"We'll be fine, buddy. so long as we remain in close proximity to some sort of refuge, we should avoid being detected. For now, though, good fortune appears to be in our favor, as from as far as I can see, the only animals currently moving across the landscape are vegetarians." I reassured Toad. "Now lets keep moving before we attract the attention of a predator."

"Oh, yeah, right." Toad replied.

Toad and I resume our hike across the Kalahari grassland, a sense of pleasure flowing through my system as I made visual contact with a trio of giraffes galloping majestically across the terrain several dozen yards from us. Upon averting my hazel orbs from the giraffes and making visual contact with a herd of prancing springbok in the distance, I start to reflect on a vacation to Disney World I took for the first time with family back in the real world in the summer of 2007. One of the theme parks we explored was the Animal Kingdom, which has a section that's dedicated to the safaris of Africa. I grin euphorically as memories of my family and I taking the safari adventure ride and embarking on the walk through safari percolate through my mind. It was so amazing getting to see the rare okapi in person, to witness a variety of majestic antelope and giraffes traverse across the attraction as if they were travelling across a real African landscape, to observe a pride of lions lounging under the shade of a tree. But what I enjoyed the most was the little mob of meerkats that inhabited the walk through safari. A thunderstorm struck at the time we came to their open enclosure, which sent a sense of disappointment through me as I thought I'd never get to see them, but after a while the rain ceased. Soon enough a single meerkat emerged and clambered to the top of a mound to scan the area for threats. Unfortunately none of the other meerkats emerged while we were there, but it still had me immensely excited to see a meerkat in person for the first time. You could say I experienced travelling through a touch of Africa there, but actually being in Africa and traversing across a real safari is much more exhilarating for sure. I'm enjoying the pulchritude of the African landscape so much that it's actually crossed my mind to move here. Who knows, maybe our time in Africa could become permanent. I wouldn't mind waking up to spectacular sun rises, coexisting with majestic creatures as I explore a beautiful environment while searching for a meal, watching the gorgeous sunsets before going to bed, and if fortune is on my side, becoming a permanent, contributive member of a meerkat mob. ....Although I'd miss the Mario Crew and the Mushroom Kingdom immensely. I'd no longer be able to accompany the Mario Crew on adventures or annoy the heck out of Bowser or seek other kinds of adventures with Toad while the Mario Crew is away on adventures of their own....that's right, Toad. I have to consider his desires as well. No doubt he's not going to want to reside in the Kalahari Desert forever. He'll want to return to the Mushroom Kingdom at some point. No. I can't reside here forever. The desires of my best friend will always come first. Someway, somehow Toad and I will make it back to the Mushroom Kingdom! Suddenly I'm snapped out of my thoughts when I bump into Toad.

"Whoa, hey buddy, why'd you stop so abruptly?" I questioned in a state of confusion.

"I...I thought I heard something in the grass." Toad explained just above a whisper, nervously scanning the vegetation.

"Eh, it's probably just the wind blowing through the grass." I shrugged nonchalantly. "...At least I hope it is." I added, starting to feel a bit nervous.

Suddenly I heard a rustling in the vegetation to my left, causing Toad to emit an alarmed gasp and my pulse to become a bit elevated.

"Th-there it is again. S-something's moving through the grass." Toad whisper yelled nervously.

My pulse now elevated to a rapid pace, I turn in the direction the rustling sounds are coming from, a sense of forebode spreading through my system as I make visual contact with movement through a patch of grass that appears to be headed in our direction. Could we have been detected and are currently being stalked by an African wildcat, caracal, jackal, or even something more frightening a l-lion?! The shorter the distance between us and the movement becomes, the faster my heart beats. The muscles in my extremities constrict and adrenaline enters my bloodstream, causing my body to tremble, poised to defend Toad and myself to the death if a terrestrial predator manifests from the patch of grass.

"Nnnnnnnnngh, no!" Toad suddenly shouts, causing me to avert my eyes from the grass and make visual contact with him in surprise. "I will not permit myself to become incapacitated by another panic attack! I shall strike down the enemy before it has a chance to plunge a single fang or claw into our flesh. Stay back, Liz, I'm gonna own this situation!"

Emitting a valorous caterwaul, Toad charges towards the encroaching movement in the grass, like an African tribal warrior charging into battle, and ferociously hollered, "RAAARRGH! Death to the enemy!!!"

A sense of horror flows through my system, afraid that I'm about to witness my best friend get gruesomely mutilated or killed by a potential terrestrial threat.

"No wait, Toad! You could be making a potentially fatal mistake!" I panicked, putting my hands over my eyes, not wanting to witness Toad get ripped to shreds as a result of his act of recklessness.

"Eh?! A squirrel?!" I heard Toad snort in amusement. "Jeez, you scared the crap out of us Mr. Bushy Tail. At least you're not something that could eat my face off." He added, exhaling a sigh of relief.

Upon uncovering my eyes, I make visual contact with an African cape ground squirrel that is sniffing Toad curiously and collapse to my knees, relieved that it wasn't a terrestrial predator.

"Oh thank Heavens. Never in my life have I been so happy to see a squirrel." I said, exhaling a sigh of relief.

"Ack, hey that tickles." Toad giggled as the African cape ground squirrel began gently nibbling on the back of his neck as a way of removing any parasites he may have collected while hiking through the vegetation, the upper part of his body bent forward from the ground squirrel's front paws putting pressure on his head and midsection of his back.

"Awww, what a kind-hearted squirrel Mr. Bushy Tail is, offering you tick removal service. Looks like you made your first Kalahari friend, buddy." I grinned with adoration as I stood up and approached the pair.

"Meep, t-ticks?! Eeew! Seriously, I hope one didn't hitch a ride on me, I'll scream like Chris Tucker in the Fifth Element!" Toad squeaked in disgust, disengaging from the African ground squirrel and rapidly brushing his torso with his hands in a state of paranoia. "I absolutely despise any insect that sucks blood. As a matter of fact anything that involves blood makes me queasy."

"I know, bud, but I'm sure our new pal Mr. Bushy Tail took care of the problem already." I giggled adoringly as the African ground squirrel sniffed me curiously, then permitted me to pet him fondly on the head.

"Hee hee, I trust he did. Thank you, Mr. Bushy Tail, I really appreciate it." Toad smiled with gratitude as he joined me in petting the African ground squirrel, which emits a purr of delight.

Remembering that African ground squirrels are said to share burrow complexes with meerkat mobs, a sense of hope flows through my system. Where there are African ground squirrels there are often meerkats. Yaaas! I grin ecstatically at the prospect that a complex of meerkat burrows could be in the vicinity. Maybe we're about to locate a mob of meerkats sooner than I initially thought. I emit an ecstatic squeal.

"OMG, yaaas! This is definitely a good sign!" I exclaimed ecstatically.

"Huh? What are you talking about?" Toad questioned, tilting his head to the right in a state of confusion.

"Whoa!" Toad suddenly exclaimed as Mr. Bushy Tail nudged him with his head with enough force to knock him to the ground.

"Oh, you wanna play a game of tag, huh?" Toad giggled with adoration as Mr. Bushy Tail turned his back in his direction, flicking his tail a couple times as a way of encouraging Toad to chase him.

"What I mean, buddy, is that African ground squirrels sometimes share burrows with meerkats." I explained. "We must be on a mob's territory. I wouldn't doubt they're beyond this large patch of grass. Nnnnngh the urge to find out now is strong. C'mon, buddy, lets go introduce ourselves to some meerkats!"

I grasp Toad's right wrist with my left hand impatiently and began sprinting as fast as my legs will permit me to go through the patch of eye level grass. I could feel the weight of the lower part of Toad's body being dragged through the sand, which considerably reduces my running pace.

"Nooooooooooooo! I don't wanna leave my squirrel friend!" Protested Toad emotionally.

"Awwwww, don't cry, buddy. The Kalahari has plenty of squirrels you can become friends with." I told him jovially, trying to comfort him.

"B-but I sensed something special in this one. And... and what if the next squirrel happens to be rabid and tries to eat my face off?" Toad whines, unconfident.

"Nah, I doubt that would happen. It's rare to encounter a rabid animal here. The squirrels are happy, beady eyed, adorably fluffy creatures that would be glad to embrace your desire to become their friend." I replied optimistically.

"Well, okay. If you say so." Toad responded. "Then the next squirrel I form a bond with will be smothered with affectionate hugs, strokes and I think I'm gonna name him..... Winston. Yeah, Winston sounds like a terrific squirrel name."

"Awww, you're going to be a fantastic friend to the squirrels, buddy." I giggled with adoration.

"Hee hee, thanks." Toad replied in delight. "Now could you please relinquish me? I'm starting to wonder if I should be more concerned about you being the death of me rather than a predator."

"Oooh, sorry, buddy." I apologized as I relinquished his wrist.

Upon stepping out from the patch of eye level grass, what enters my field of vision is a dry river bed devoid of vegetation. It appears to be the length of a football field across and extends beyond that in both horizontal directions. A sense of disappointment flows through my system as in every direction I look yields no meerkats scampering across the terrain, just a small cloud of dust generated by the light breeze. The pace of my pulse elevates slightly, knowing the chances of us being detected by an aerial predator will increase significantly once we commence crossing this perilously exposed terrain. Fortunately I can see that there's plenty of vegetation on the other side. I just pray that danger continues to steer clear of our location and we make it across the dry river bed without attracting the attention of something that would be more than delighted to go nom nom on our delectable corpses. And, hey, if we're lucky, maybe a mob of meerkats is foraging in the vegetation on the other side?

"Aw fungus, no meerkats?!" I complained, folding my arms and puffed up my cheeks in a pout. "But mamamia, look at this dry river bed, it's huge! Welp, crossing this is sure going to be interesting." I said, putting my hands on my hips, a sense of nervousness blossoming in my chest.

"Oh man, there's no way we can cross this without being spotted." Toad whined. "Not with that terrifying looking bird surveying the landscape like a prison guard looking to strike down escapees." His eyes widened with terror as he pointed behind me in an upward direction.

My hazel orbs follow the direction Toad's left index finger is pointing in and, upon turning around, I make visual contact with a large bird perched at the top of a camel thorn tree located approximately fifty feet from us. The bird appears to have a dark brown upper body, a white stomach with black streaks, a pair of white legs, a black beak and a pair of yellow eyes. A sense of terror flows through my system as I immediately identify the bird to be an adult martial eagle, the meerkat's most feared aerial enemy. My hazel eyes widen. Well that escalated quickly! I mean I expected us to encounter this deadly aerial foe at some point but I wasn't expecting the encounter to occur this soon! I imagined us to be in a meerkat mob when the encounter would happen, but this made me realize just how unpredictable the Kalahari really is. It's frightening to think this environment possesses a thousand ways to kill, any of which can strike you down at any given moment. Fortunately the martial eagle hasn't detected us, but its presence has put us in a grave predicament and is enough to cause my heart to palpitate, knowing that upon impact this flagitious aerial predator can inflict fatal injuries.

"Wait a minute...isn't that one of the birds of prey you told me about earlier?" Toad questioned suspiciously. "Oh my gawd it is! It's the get on the nope train one! Oh my gawd, what should we do, what should we do, what should we do?! If that thing spots us we're dead for sure! I don't wanna shake hands with the Lord yet. I wanna get a girlfriend, get married, have kids and---"

"Dude, chill!" I growled in annoyance as I grasped a part of Toad's T-shirt with my right hand, stopping him from running around like a frightened chicken in a pen. "You running around and panicking like a fool is only going to make things worse. Actually, it's an example of how to get ourselves killed."

"Gaaagh! I'm such an epic failure! Always caving into panic when danger strikes, even after I promised I wouldn't! So much for developing what I thought was a sense of permanent newfound courage earlier. Just...why, why, why!" Toad growled in frustration, slamming his fists down three times on the ground angrily.

Upon returning visual contact with the martial eagle, a sense of horror flows through my system as it turns in our direction, making me think Toad's outburst of panic had attracted its attention, but upon closer inspection, the avian threat's gaze is directed beyond our location. Perhaps something in the distance had captivated its attention? I can only hope, and pray the martial eagle doesn't gaze down or the result for Toad and I could be tragic.

"Errrr, buddy, this is no time for a psychology session. We need to concentrate on announcing our presence as minimal as possible, or we will become bird food, so calm the hell down!" I exclaimed in frustration.

"Derp, r-right. Putting an end to my freak out now." Toad said, regaining his composure and raising his arms up in surrender.

Suddenly the martial eagle makes its departure from the top of the camel thorn tree and flies in the direction it was facing, sending a sense of horror through my system and making me emit an alarmed whimper as I instinctively lowered myself to the ground on my belly to reduce the chances of being visually detected, my pulse now elevated to a rapid pace and my entire body trembling from the adrenaline entering my bloodstream.

"OR NOT!!!" Toad shrieked, horrified. "Oh my gawd, we're gonna die, we're gonna die, we're gonna die!" he cried, running back and forth in a panic.

I could hear the sound of the martial eagle's wings flapping as it flew over our location, emitting an eerie screech as it vanished from my field of vision behind a grove of camel thorn trees in the foreground, which sent a sense of horror through my system once more. Holy. Shitake. Mushrooms. That was too close too soon, but at the same time, was totally awesome! Man, what an exhilarating experience that was seeing the formidable martial eagle in action in person for the first time. Definitely deserves to go on the list of predators to respect, that's for sure. A sense of relief flows through my system as I exhale a shaky sigh, glad that Fate had spared our lives from becoming bird food. Despite that the atmosphere has returned to being tranquil, my pulse remains at a rapid pace and my body is still trembling uncontrollably from the adrenaline coursing through my bloodstream. As for Toad. Well, he's still running around and blubbering as if the apocalypse is upon us.

"Yo, Toad! The martial eagle went bye bye, so you can stop freaking out now!!!" I hollered loud enough so that he could hear me.

"It's gone?" He said as he ceased his panic attack. "Oh, thank the Star Spirits in Heaven, we've been spared from meeting our untimely demise!" Toad praised, raising his hands up in rejoice.

"Yeah, well, for now at least." I exhaled a sigh of relaxation as my pulse returns to its normal pace and the trembling in my extremities subsides.

"Eh? Ugh, well that's terrific. I stepped in poop when I was running around having a panic attack." His face contorted with disgust upon gazing down at his right foot to discover animal feces on his shoe.

"Heh, see? That's another reason why it's essential to be constantly aware of what's around you in an environment like this. Even poop can give you a hard time." I joked, sticking my tongue out at Toad teasingly.

"Heh, very funny, sister. This is seriously so not cool! Now I have to deal with inhaling a nauseating odor for the rest of our hike." Toad complained, rubbing his right foot vigorously in a back and forth motion through the sand to get rid of the animal feces.

I couldn't help but chuckle at Toad's comical situation.

"Hey, could've been worse, buddy. You should be grateful that stepping in poop was the only outcome of that perilous situation." I told him teasingly. "On a more serious note, this sure won't be the last time we'll encounter a predator, so as we resume our hike it's become as crucial as ever to remain constantly alert for predators and maintain our composure as best as we possibly can when dealing with one."

"R-right. That'll be my next obstacle to conquer, to endeavor not to become incapacitated by a panic attack when confronted by a predator." Toad vowed, a look of courage formed on his visage.

"I believe you'll conquer your fears when the time is right, buddy." I smiled hopefully, embracing him with my right arm fondly.

"Thanks, Liz." Toad smiled with gratitude "The next time we encounter a predator, it'll have to go through me first, and this time I really mean it! I'll pummel it to a bloody pulp like Bruce Lee without mercy, yaaah, yaah, yaah!" Toad said ferociously, throwing a barrage of punches at the air, fueled by his determination to defend me and himself to the death from future threats.

Emitting a chuckle of amusement, Toad and I commence crossing the dry river bed, my pulse elevating to a rapid pace as my sense of humor is replaced with a sense of paranoia. The encounter with the martial eagle had made me realize that danger could manifest abruptly without any warning, making me feel uncertain about the outcome of our journey. Fortunately, there appears to be no sign of any other carnivorous creatures loitering in the vicinity, only a herd of eland off in the distance parallel to our left. But that doesn't mean we should permit ourselves to become too relaxed. We must maintain a high level of alert at all times and do whatever we can to minimize the chances of being detected by another predator if we are to complete our perilous journey intact. As I gaze at the vegetation gently swaying in the light breeze several feet before us, I can only imagine what may be waiting for us on the other side. A valley or another meadow occupied by a variety of herbivores? More open terrain currently being surveyed by several birds of prey? African big cat territory? Regardless of what it may be, we're prepared, so bring it on Kalahari!



End Chapter 2
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