KASSIE PICKED UP the pace, relieved to leave all the staring—albeit very polite—villagers behind and pulled Lucky out of the bag, draping the compliant cat around her shoulders. After the first hour of cautious looks and careful steps their initial wariness wore off. They passed through the grazing lands of the village and the normal stock in the fields—sheep and pigs—made it feel just like wandering past a farm in New Zealand. Then the fields gave way to young trees, as if this land had once been farmland too. Lucky clacked in Kassie's ear when she spotted birds in the trees and Kassie reached a hand back to rub behind the cat's ears making Lucky purr and knead the shoulder strap of her pack. The cloudy sky gave way to brilliant sunshine and the young trees grew sparsely enough for them to see the track continuing a way ahead.

I ENJOYED THE beautiful scenery, it all looking so familiar in some ways yet totally different in others. Spindly, dark-limbed trees stretched for the sky with branches that seemed almost over full of broad green leaves. Fantastic blue flowers grew in sporadic bunches along the way and seemed to quiver when we passed them.

Ooo-oo they're pretty, I thought and stopped to have a closer look, the others stopping too.

The trumpet shaped flowers had beautiful gold and pink markings on the inside of their mouths. I leaned closer, sniffing but found they had no proper scent.

'How disappointing,' Sian commented when she leaned close too. 'They reminded me of irises.'

I agreed and went to step back on to the path when an insect rather like a bee came bumbling along, flying lazy loops in the air. Its brilliant orange stripes were in sharp contrast to the delicate black wings and antennae. The bee flitted just out of reach of one flower then buzzed toward it.

Suddenly the flower jerked forward and snapped the bee up. We jolted back in shock and watched while the squirming bee made its way down the neck of the flower until it hit a bulge near the base of the plant. Then the squirming stopped. The flower slowly opened its mouth back up. We stared at each other in astonished silence.

I'm so glad I didn't try to pick one—ewww—that made me shudder.

Feed me, Seymour, a voice in my mind teased.

Kassie stared at the flower in fascination and revulsion. 'I guess that's their version of a Venus fly trap?'

'Guess so,' replied Loi, looking a bit wide-eyed.

We turned back to the track. The next couple of hours went surprisingly fast while we chatted away, pointing out anything that caught our attention and we didn't see any scary creatures or uglies, as we took to calling them. The skinny trees developed into the dense forest that Mentan and Lenol had spoken of and we continued until we reached the entrance, the path trailing on.

Deciding to stop for lunch, Sian and I scraped out a circle of dirt for the fire. Then, with Kassie, we went to search for wood while Loi lit the kindling.

KASSIE BENT DOWN clutching a pile of wood tight in one arm while groping on the ground with the other. Feeling the dry stick, she added it to the pile and pushed through the undergrowth to where Loi sat. Dropping the wood on the now rather large pile, Kassie had a seat beside Loi who glowed with pleasure at the fire.

'Only took a couple of minutes to light,' she informed Kassie who laughed.

'Well done! We'll have to see if I can beat your time when I give it a shot.' She nudged Loi with her knee, teasing.

The bush beside them rustled and Sian pushed through with her arms full of wood. Kassie ignored her while she play-fought with Loi then laughed when Sian said a prim voice, 'Now, now, girls, don't make me put you in a time out.'

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