“I don't like this,” said Sammick in a deceptively calm voice. His hands and feet were spread eagled, gripping on to the freezing rock face for dear life.
“I don't like this, I don't like this, I don't like this, I don't like this,” he continued in that strangely calm voice. His eyes were closed – he couldn't bring himself to face the predicament he was in.
Audria flew around behind him, speaking calmingly and assuring him he could keep going. What Sammick didn't realise was that he was barely two body's lengths above the soft snow. Had he fallen, he would have been in no danger whatsoever.
After a long moment, Audria said kindly, “Would you like to climb down again, do you think?”
Sammick contemplated the proposition, his eyes still closed. Yes, he would very much like to climb down and forget about the whole thing. He envisioned himself curled up in his warm bed with a steaming cup of Borovan. No more Snowager, no more threatening criminals, no more adventures. And he'd be once again alone. No-one would know his name and no-one would care about him. Maybe Aisheena would capture Masila, and get all the glory and no-one would ever know that an invisible Kyrii called Sammick had played a part.
Sammick was acutely conscious of the uncomfortable, precarious position he was in. Weighing up everything in the balance, it was an easy choice. He'd take a lifetime of anonymity over a minute more on this cliff face any day.
Then an image of Audria, the pink Shoyru, swam unbidden in front of his closed eyes. The new recruit looked so disappointed. Disgraced. Not even included in her first real mission she'd been assigned to. And all of a sudden the decision wasn't that easy after all.
Suddenly, Audria let out a squeal of shock and fright. Sammick's eyes flew open and he looked back down at the ground. A green Acara stood at the foor of the cliff.
“Well, well, well – what have we here then?” said Masila's silky voice.
He saw Audria glance fearfully from Masila on the ground, to the place where he was on the cliff face, and thence to the open skies where she could possibly escape.
“Don't you fly away now, my pretty pink Shoyru,” said Masila, and Sammick saw that she had a crossbow trained on Audria.
He watched Audria fly apprehensively towards the ground and light on the snow some distance from Masila. To her evident relief, Masila seemed content not to approach, but instead surveyed Audria from a distance, taking in her attire.
“You're one of them!” the Acara gasped in shock, hatred evident in her expression. She took a few slow, measured steps towards the Shoyru. “Now tell me,” Masila's voice was suddenly brisk and businesslike, cutting through the air like a whip, “how did your filthy little band of fur-clad defenders get to hear of my presence here?”
Audria stammered in fright, “Wha-, wha-, I... I d-, I ha-, what do you mean?”
Masila's face contorted with fury. She crossed the distance to Audria in two great strides. “TELL ME!” she roared, pressing the blade of a dagger to the Shoyru's throat.
Sammick flinched violently at Masila's sudden movement. His left foot slipped, and he was thrown entirely off balance. For a moment, he scrabbled frantically to try and regain a foothold, indifferent to the fact that Masila might hear him, but it was to no avail. He fell and landed with a soft flump in the snow at the foot of the cliff.
It was over. Masila had heard him. She was walking across to where Sammick was now. This was the end.
Irrationally, Sammick curled himself up into a ball as Masila towered menacingly over him. Before he knew it, he was being roughly lifted from the indent in the snow and tied back to back with Audria.
Masila stood and surveyed the pair with satisfaction. “Ahh, but it all makes sense now,” she smiled at Audria. “This invisible friend of yours must have taken advantage of Valin's indiscretion,” she mused, eyes narrowed with hatred. For a brief moment Sammick felt almost sorry for Valin, he would not want to be in that Mynci's shoes! But then, he wasn't a big fan of being in his own shoes right at this moment either.
Abruptly, Masila turned away from them and walked back to the cliff face to inspect the rope.
As soon as Masila's back was turned, Sammick started to wiggle his hands experimentally. “I think I could get myself free...” he muttered to Audria. “Don't move,” he told her.
The pink Shoyru kept as still as she could while Sammick started to silently writhe behind her. Sure enough, he had soon wormed his way free. She was duly impressed.
“Well it is rather hard to tie someone up when you can't see what you're doing properly,” Sammick explained, “and in my case, Masila just didn't do a very good job.”
“Stay here, though,” Audria said warningly, “Masila will see your footprints if you move.”
Just at that moment, the Acara turned away from the cliff face and strode back to them.
“Shoyru,” she said curtly, “I need you to fly to the top of that cliff and release that rope for me.” She stepped forwards, towering over her captives, and reached towards the ropes to untie the Shoyru. Audria gazed up into her face in paralysed fear. What would Masila do when she found that Sammick was free?
Sammick's mind was racing. If Masila found him untied, everything they'd gained would be lost. It was the time for drastic action.
Immediately, he lunged forwards and punched Masila hard in the stomach before dashing out of the way. Masila doubled up, groaning with pain, but quickly recovered and began making wild grabs in Sammick's direction, but without success.
Suddenly, she changed tactic. The Acara lunged towards Audria instead and grabbed the Shoyru, forcing her around to face Sammick. Once again, the dagger sprang from inside her cloak, to point threateningly at Audria's throat.
“Surrender, or she gets it,” said Masila warningly.
For a moment he tried to weigh up pros and cons of what course of action he should take. But time was of the essence. Without warning he threw himself towards Masila's knife hand, and forced it away from Audria's throat while kicking out at Masila. His foot connected with her chest, and her grip on the dagger slackened as she was temporarily winded.
Quick as lightning, Sammick slipped the dagger out of her grasp and cut through Audria's bonds before heading off down the slope of the mountain at a run. Audria followed hot on his heels.
Masila let out a scream of fury and began careering down the hill after them. They had a small lead, but Sammick, checking back over his shoulder at regular intervals, was worried to see the tall Acara gaining on them.
“Look!” Audria yelled, pointing ahead. Sure enough, the village of Happy Valley was momentarily visible just over the next rise. Sammick felt sure they'd be safe if they got to the village. Masila would not want to be seen there.
On an impulse, he turned and threw Masila's dagger back at her. His aim was good, but Masila saw it coming. She thrust herself aside and the dagger buried itself in the snow a few yards behind her.
A few hours later, Sammick and Audria sat in a Happy Valley café, chatting over mugs of steaming borovan.
“What do you reckon Masila's up to now?” Sammick posed the question somewhat fearfully. They hadn't seen or heard anything of Aisheena's troop since getting back, but then, their assignment had been a secret one so perhaps it wasn't overly surprising.
“Oh, I doubt she's up to anything much,” answered Audria breezily. Sammick looked at her incredulously. “Well she has to disappear again, doesn't she? Her plans didn't work out too well this time, and until she can catapult herself in a position of power, it's best if no-one knows she's at large.”
“But we know she's at large!” protested Sammick.
“Yes, but who's going to listen to the word of a little pink Shoyru and an invisible Kyrii?” laughed Audria.
Sammick grinned wryly. There was far too much truth in that.
He sighed dejectedly. In spite of all he'd set out to achieve, in spite of all the fears he'd overcome, he was still a nobody.
Audria seemed to read his thoughts. She reached out a hand and touched his arm comfortingly.
“Sammick, you were amazing on the mountain back there,” she told him encouragingly. “I've never seen anyone act so bravely.”
Sammick looked gratefully back at her. “And you were so strong, too,” he smiled.
A contented silence stretched between them. Even if no-one else ever heard their story, at least they could glory in their own achievement.
Maybe there would be more adventures to come, but right now Sammick felt perfectly happy where he was. A comfy chair, a warm mug of Borovan, and a great new friend.