Chapter 1: Saturday Morning
At least seven different people are complaining - talking, Ben corrects politely in his head, though there's no mistaking the whining as anything but - to him at once, and he spares a pleading glance to Doug who matches the look as five people crowd the dwarf's descendant.
"Please, everyone," he calls, taking a step back to look at the large group. "I know that everyone was unprepared for the trip, but I'm sure we can figure it out."
"Unprepared?" Mal snorts from behind, looking over the group from her perch on one of the branches of a large tree - her back against the trunk, one leg hanging off, and the other bent and resting against the branch lazily. In the back of his head, he thinks his girlfriend looks predatory.
Evie sits on a branch nearby, ankles crossed neatly in the air. Jay stands on a thick branch below the girls, leaning his crossed arms on another branch just under his shoulder level while Carlos hangs upside down on the branch just above Evie, his head half a foot beside the girl's.
"You all have clearly never been camping before," Carlos states matter-of-factly, waving his arms at all of the AKs' luggage - a large and bright pile of a variety of colors with wheels jammed by muddy leaves and sticks. "Do you see what we're carrying?"
At the male's words, eyes scan the four VKs and their "luggage," which the group pulls out of pockets (and one drawstring bag) and holds out for perusal. Between the four of them, they have one pocket knife each, one change of clothes each, one sewing kit of two colors (white and black), one fishing line and hook, one tarp, a coil of rope, and a lighter.
"If you know what you're doing, this is more than enough for a weekend," Evie informs with a sweet smile as if she were complimenting an outfit rather than subtly insulting their preparation.
"There's no way that's all you need for three days," Audrey scoffs, stomping her foot and accidentally digging her heel into the soft dirt below though she doesn't even stumble. "What about water or even the bathroom?"
"Do you usually not research where you're going to sleep, princess?" Jay asks, his lips turned up in a flirty half-smirk. "That river right there? There's your water. You're in the middle of a forest. Pick a tree, any tree. There's your bathroom."
The horrified looks of the princes and princesses cause the four to break out in laughter.
"You all are in for a world of surprise," Mal drawls with amusement. "The four of us are going to go camping separately on that side."
She nudges her chin across the river in direction as the other three begin to climb higher on the tree.
"If you need us, call us on the walkie-talkie, channel 4. We left our phones at the dorm, and I'd say come find us, but..." she trails off with an amused grin. "Well, we'll let you know when we make camp."
"You don't have a walkie-talkie," Doug points out carefully, hand going to his belt and double-checking the presence of his.
"Oh, Doug," Evie calls from the top, tone amused and indulgent all at once. "You say that like we couldn't snag one of the extras."
Jay holds the object up, shaking it lightly like a taunt.
"Remember," Carlos teases, smile sharper - more the Isle - than normal, "channel 4."
With that, Mal lithely climbs up to the top with the rest, Jay handing her a vine. The four jump from the tree, inciting shouts of surprise from the watching AKs, but there's no reason to worry. The VKs swing from vines and flip mid-air, landing amidst the branches of the trees on the other bank and disappearing into the shadows.
Ben exchanges knowing looks with Doug; he is not the only one who worries what they signed up for.
"You have to be kidding," Ben groans incredulously as the sky - previously shadowed on one side due to the trees and tall branches but sunny - darkens and begins to pour rain down on the unsuspecting princes and princesses.
The fire that the group had finally gotten going at the center of the makeshift camp sputters and dies pitifully.
"I can't tell if Mal, Evie, Carlos, and Jay are messing with us or not," Doug mutters, eyes flicking across the river to where the Four had disappeared a few hours prior.
"You saw what they had on them. How can they be messing with us?" Lonnie asks, rolling her eyes at the multiple shouts as the precipitation ruins carefully applied cosmetics and styled hair. "Honestly, nature itself seems to be messing with us more."
"Well, the four of them were overly excited for the trip," Doug explains, putting one hand up in an attempt to shield his glasses from the rain. Behind the trio, a majority of the princes and princesses pile into their tents to escape the furious rain though they're all thoroughly soaked. "They kept on talking about fun it would all be. At this moment in time, I'd have to disagree."
"I heard some of them talking," Ben admits, quirking his head at the other AKs. "They're thinking about packing up and going home."
"Incoming!" a familiar voice shouts, a blur swinging across the river and catching itself on the branches of the trees by the bank. The figure, Carlos they recognize eventually, swings down the branches with unadulterated joy and athleticism. He jogs up to them, whistling a quick tune in amazement.
Even from afar, the trio - and any AKs who spot the male - can tell how at peace he is with the rain. Despite the bangs plastered on his forehead and drenched clothes, his grin is ecstatic and he moves without any discomfort, face meeting raindrops without flinching and shoulders pushed back without any fear. In contrast, he, Doug, and Lonnie are soaked and miserable, shoulders hunched to preserve heat and faces bent to avoid the falling rain, however futile the effort.
"Wow. I didn't think you guys would need so much help," the VK states with a raised brow as he takes in the state of their camp.
"Help?" Ben, Doug, and Lonnie in unison dubiously.
"At this point, I don't know what you can help," Lonnie admits, gesturing at the AKs who are piled into their tents miserably against the rain. "Without a fire, we don't even know how we're going to eat."
Carlos's laugh is quick but not mean-spirited, amused perhaps and definitely joyful.
"You all need to learn to dance in the rain," he declares, looking up to the sky. "Judging by the color and wind, I'd say it'll keep on going until late at night or early in the morning. Hey, Doug. Can I borrow your walkie?"
Doug mutely hands over the device. After a few seconds of fidgeting with the channel, Carlos holds the device up to his lips.
"This is Little Bad, over," Carlos begins, listening for a reply.
"Hey, Little Bad. How're the children, over?" Mal's voice returns, amusement painting her question.
"In need of babysitting. I'll let you know when I figure out class ends, over."
"All right. Stay evil. Big Bad, out."
"Little Bad, out."
Carlos messes with the channel again before handing it back.
"I'll be back in a few minutes," he informs the trio. "Can you all grab some people who don't mind going out in the rain? I'll teach Camping 101: Dealing with the Rain Isle Style, but I'm going to need help gathering things for so many people."
The three exchange looks and nod.
"Cool. Be back," Carlos informs before going into the trees. By the time the VK returns, a small group of twenty-some - including Ben, Doug, Lonnie, Jane, and Chad - hunch together, whispering pettily about the weather and their circumstances.
When Carlos's eye looks over the group, counting, Ben catches the small wince that emerges and disappears, too quick to categorize the target.
"Well, guys, time to learn Camping 101: Dealing with the Rain Isle Style," he introduces with a grin too bright to be feigned. "I'd say take notes, but there's no point in this weather. Follow me."
The group crowds around him, cold and miserable but diligently listening closely as he shows them how to make a dry patch with the creative use of a tarp and rope, where to find tinder and kindling under low bushes and at the bases of trees, which stones were best to cook on top of, why the bathroom should always be downstream of their source of drinking water - with a quick quip that the river was a safe source of drinking water - and more.
(Ben is more than impressed and tries to avoid wondering how Carlos and the rest could know so much about camping with minimal supplies.)
"That's about everything for the basics," Carlos declares finally, patting his hands on his shorts with a proud grin. "Any questions?"
After a few moments, the VK nods decisively.
"Ben and Doug going to assign you sections in pairs to make the rainproof campfires and explain to those nearby about what to do," Carlos declares, smiling. "I'll be here until at least half of the campfires are set up, so don't be afraid to ask questions."
With that, Ben and Doug assign prince and princess pairs to different clusters. With determination and nerves, the group disperses.
When Ben looks up, he sees Carlos talking with the first few finished pairs proudly. Carlos puts a hand on Jane's shoulder lightly with a proud smile in reaction to whatever she's just said.
Ben and Lonnie finish their section quickly enough but walk around helping other duos.
When he looks up again, Carlos and a few from the finished pairs are on the riverbank - including Jane and Doug - where they're literally dancing in the rain. Something about the joy is contagious as princes and princesses, still soaked, venture out from tents to see the commotion. Some stay behind in their tents miserably while others watch and tend the fires, but a surprising number join in on the uncoordinated dances with good-natured ribbing and surprise splash wars that don't matter since everyone's already wet.
Before long, all of the fires are going and Carlos magically nowhere in sight.
When dinner is finally cooked and the rain dies down to a leisurely drizzle, the AKs crowd around the fire with laughter and smiles rather than complaints and frowns.
Later, when Ben changes into comfortable and dry clothes to sleep in, he thinks Carlos actually taught them all how to dance in the rain.
Camping in the Rain: 01