Still thwarting Sloth's mind control... Circulation: 132,988,897 Issue: 246 | 30th day of Relaxing, Y8
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The Price of Faith: Part Three


by mutedsanity

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Well, I couldn't very well sit out there and freeze all day. I took a deep breath and cautiously followed him. I could hear the wind whistling outside, muffled by the icy walls, and was relieved for the lack of gales in here. But instead there was a still coldness, one that made my icy puffs of breath linger in the air and a numbing quietness to fall over the chill. The entire cave was made of ice, and I gazed around in awe, almost not wanting to breathe because it looked so fragile and dangerous all at once. Underfoot was a flat, smooth surface of ice that gleamed in the dim light, making each step difficult and extremely cautious, and each little movement to make my body threaten to tumble right over. I was amazed I could keep my balance at all in here, or that anyone could for that matter. Each step I was half expecting the ground beneath me to crack or my feet to slide right out from under me.

     The walls were made of ice and tightly packed snow, holding up the vast cave quite nicely, and also holding in the extreme cold mercilessly. I rubbed my arms and shuddered as I gazed about, taking in each delicately deadly feature, amazed that people could actually survive up here. Overhead was more ice in jagged formations, and I felt a twinge of fear as the thought of an avalanche struck me. One wrong move and it could be raining icicles, or the whole cave could collapse in upon itself. No wonder it was so hauntingly silent in there.

     A few shops were scattered here and there, but luckily it was a rather uneventful time of the day and very few people were milling about. I had little to worry about as far as causing a stir went here. But that was the least of my worries right now. I stood rooted to the spot, forcing myself to swallow and realizing that my mouth had become quite dry. "Alright," I whispered, as if anything louder would be the end of me, "now I'm scared."

     Radom glanced back at me with a smirk. "What's that? Is that the chime of self-doubt I hear?" he teased, but even his voice was lowered.

     "But what about avalanches?" I hissed, my eyes widening at the mere thought, and then flicking up to the gleaming icicles above as though expecting them to take my cue and come shattering down at any moment.

     "Nasty things."

     I shook my head quickly. "Radom, I'm serious. I'm scared."

     "Well, I'd consider you a fool if you weren't," he replied simply, an odd sort of half-smile on his face. But he didn't start walking again from when he stopped as I did, and I was grateful for that. He was more sympathetic then he let on, I knew. "You worry too much, you know."

     "No, I worry the exact right amount. You can never worry too much," I snapped, but quickly had to hush myself, flinching even though my voice had only lifted slightly. Every nerve was on edge in here.

     "Fair enough." He smirked faintly and glanced at my hand, which had been tightly clamped around the Crystal ever since I entered the cave. "Well, then worry about that."

     I looked down quickly, unclamping my fingers to see the Crystal that sat in my hand. Sure enough, it was glowing a dull yellow. I sighed, knowing that once again this was just my luck. Couldn't the stupid shard have picked a more convenient place to be? I simply shook my head, looking back at Radom with a frown. "I guess it's in here..."

     "That would be a reasonable assumption. Come on, start walking around." He hung back for me as I nodded and complied, beginning step after cautious step in any random direction. This time I led, holding the shard out in front of me and watching it for any change in the dim shine. If it glowed brighter, that would mean I was closer, and I would start in that direction.

     Radom's claws clicked on the ice as he walked, but other than that he made no sound. And he was certainly having an easier time keeping his balance than I was. More than once I found myself stumbling, but always had my thin Lupe companion to cling to if I started to fall.

     As we got further into the cave, the glow began to brighten, and I tried several different directions until one made it shine even more. I followed the glow, taking much longer than I could stand due to the ice and how slow it made me move.

     Radom's voice from behind me broke the long silence that had fallen, and I jolted at the sound. "I hear something."

     Clutching my pounding heart, I didn't even look back at him, just let out an exasperated sigh and muttered, "You just about gave me a heart attack. Must you tell me every little thing that comes to mind?"

     "Yup." Even in this situation, I could catch the humor in his hushed voice. "My heart's beating now. Now. Now."

     I may have laughed, were I not so terrified. His off-color sense of humor was not appreciated now. But I knew there was no avoiding it. "What do you hear, then?" I asked impatiently, mostly concentrating on the shard in my hand, which was glowing ever more the more I walked in one direction.

     "Well, since you insist." I heard the steady click-click of his paws slowing and gradually stopping just as the Crystal was glowing the brightest I had seen it so far. "That."

     I stopped and stared ahead. At first, I wasn't sure what I was looking at. Just a wide, jagged hole in the icy wall, leading into an inky darkness. But then I heard a deep, slow breathing coming from inside. Whatever it was must be huge. And sleeping. My eyes snapped opened wide with realization, and I couldn't bring myself to speak for a moment. The Snowager.

     Of all the terrible places! I squeaked weakly and looked down at Radom, quickly tucking the Crystal safely away before my shaking hand dropped it. Oh no. He couldn't be serious.

     He just looked at me with raised eyebrows. "Well. We going in or what?"

     "Are you serious?" I hissed, jabbing a finger toward the icy entrance to the cavern. "That thing will kill us if it wakes up! How are we supposed to go snooping around in there unnoticed?" Not to mention that huge hoard of items the beast slept on. How in the world would we find one little Crystal chunk in all of that?

     Radom shrugged his shoulders limply. "Oh, it's not that bad. Believe me."

     "Who would believe you? You're a head case!" I couldn't believe him! How could he keep his cool at a time like this? It was like he didn't even care that our lives were at stake here.

     "Well, aren't we a little ray of sunshine," he muttered sarcastically, rolling his eyes.

     "Look, I'm not being cynical here. I'm just experienced."

     "Up to a point. This kind of thing's part of the course for me, mate. Old news."

     I knew he had a point there. He probably knew this mountain like the back of his paw by now. But could you blame me for worrying? I hesitated, lifting my wary gaze to the black opening in the wall once more.

     Radom sighed faintly, and when he saw I wasn't moving, he sat down beside my leg. He looked up at me, frowning slightly, but there was that same unusual gentleness from before. "Pandora... listen to me," he said, and there was such a softness in his voice that I couldn't help but meet his gaze. "It's sometimes a mistake to climb. But it's always a mistake never even to make the attempt. If you don't climb then you won't fall. This is true. But is it that bad to fail, that hard to fall?"

     I was stunned for a moment at the wisdom behind his words. Despite his teasing and sarcasm and careless attitude, he really knew and understood so much more than he let on. I wondered what he could have possibly been through or done to make him this way. Whatever the reason, his words were comforting to me. He was right. This was something I had to do. And he was being so patient with me, no matter how doubtful or snappish I got with him.

     I nodded slowly. "You're right," I whispered, lowering my eyes.

     "'Course I'm right." He smiled faintly and rose back onto his feet. "Well then. Now that we've got that settled." His bright yellow eyes flicked toward the cavern and he lowered his ears. "I'm going in."

     "Alright," I agreed reluctantly, biting my bottom lip. And I would have to be right behind him. "Just... don't do anything stupid."

     He only smirked and raised an eyebrow. "Can't make any promises." And with that, he slipped into the darkness.

     I took a deep breath, mostly to try calming myself, and in a few seconds followed him in. I couldn't believe we were doing this. Luckily for me, being a Darkness Faerie, I had night vision and could see clearly in the darkness. I could see a huge pile of items, garbage, and all kinds of random things hoarded into the center of the cavern, and atop it all the huge snakelike creature was coiled, its ice-like body snaking around and massive right from its head to the tip of it's tail. The Snowager.

     I winced, having no idea where to begin. It could be anywhere. Radom, for once, didn't seem to know where to begin either. He was staring at the shadowy figure of the sleeping creature, and I could see a frown on his face.

     "It can't get any worse," I whispered, holding back a groan. But, of course... it did.

     I heard something moving to the side, and I just about leapt out of my skin. I whipped my head to the side to see what it was, but it was the last thing I been expecting. Those two little Kyrii from before, the older picking through the pile of treasures in search for something good, the younger one bouncing up and down excitedly on their sled.

     Radom and I both cast a wide-eyed look at each other, and before either of us could blink, we were scrambling over to the two. I skidded to a halt beside the oldest and grabbed his wrist, hissing in a desperate whisper, "What do you think you're doing?! It's dangerous! Get out of here!"

     He looked at me in surprise, wrenching his arm away and scowling. "I'm getting a new toy to play with!"

     I hushed him quickly, almost ceasing to breathe when I heard the Snowager stir slightly behind me. My heart was pounding so loud in my chest I wouldn't be surprised if the sound alone would wake him up. "This isn't a game!"

     The kid rolled his eyes and waved me off. "Okay, okay. I'm leaving. Sheesh." He reached for the rope of the sled, but everyone froze on the spot as a low hissing seeped up from behind us.

     Willing myself to move, I slowly craned my head around to look behind me, my heart skipping a beat and breath snagging in my throat. The Snowager was stirring, his head slightly lifted and gleaming eyes half-opened. For a moment, nobody moved. Nobody even blinked. For a moment, it looked as though he would simply lay his head back down and go back to sleep.

     There are these moments before calamity strikes-before a dropped vase shatters on the floor, before a hand strikes, before lightening falls-when time stretches out and each second is wrapped in silence. And then the world crashes.

     It all happened so fast. One moment, it was as silent as the grave. And the next was filled with the most terrible bellow I had ever heard. I think Radom shouted something at me, but it was drowned out by the shrieking roar, and before I could even register what was going on, the Lupe had tackled me and next thing I knew I was flat on the floor beside the two Kyrii, with Radom halfway on top of us all.

     An icy blast of wind rocketed overhead, and I looked up frantically to see that a flare of ice shards that the Snowager had fired just barely missed us thanks to Radom, and instead sent a spidery web of cracks across one ice wall. Again, Radom reacted at breathtaking speed, and the moment the wind had passed he was back on his feet, shoving me up with him and shouting, "GET OUT!"

     I went staggering wildly toward the exit, everything around me a rushing blur. I heard another shattering screech, and another blast of cold air filled the cavern. But then I heard an even worse sound. The scream of a child. I whirled around just in time to see the Snowager lash out, just barely missing the two children as Radom tackled them out of the way. But the beast's sudden movement caused the upper half of the pile he had been resting on to give way and go spilling down on all sides.

     I knew with terror that the three behind me could very well be crushed under it all. Before I even knew what I was doing, I found myself sprinting back as fast as I could, and in the rush of all things happening at once I saw Radom race past me, carrying the older Kyrii from his mouth by his scruff. But having paws rather than hands, he could only carry one. The little girl was still perched on the sled, petrified and shrieking. Without thinking, I threw myself over to her, and in a flash of color and noise the next thing I knew I had her in my arms and was ducking on the wooden sled, which was being swept back by the onrush of treasures that the Snowager had knocked over.

     I closed my eyes tightly, waiting to hit the wall, but luck was with me for once. We went spiraling to a stop just short of one icy barricade, the Kyrii and I clinging together for dear life, the items spilling out helter-skelter all over the cavern. I pried my eyes opened to see the Snowager rearing up for his next strike. But he wasn't facing me. He was facing the other side of the cavern, where Radom and the little boy had scuttled out of harm's way in the onrush.

     I didn't think what I did next was possible. Suddenly I was standing up on the sled, the crying child clinging to my leg, and had my hands outstretched in front of me. Never in my life had I wanted to use my magic so badly. Never in my life had I really needed to, and now it was life or death. Never in my life had I tried so hard. I concentrated all of my power into this one hit. Just one is all I asked for. And please, I prayed to Fyora above, do not let it miss.

     It was as if everything in me was placed into the palms of my hands. Just before the Snowager could lash out again, I brought my hands down swiftly, and the creature suddenly let out a startled shriek. His head was enveloped in a thick cloud of utter black, a choking inkiness that cut off all senses of the creature. I had no idea I had that in me. Other Faeries could do something like that with a wave of their hands, but I had scarcely ever used my magic before, and had nobody of my kind to really teach me. I had no time to marvel at myself, however, as the Snowager was shrieking and thrashing around, unable to locate any of us.

     I cast a quick look at Radom, who was staring in shock, and the little Kyrii that was now in tears. "GO!" I screamed above the Snowager's roaring. He didn't need telling twice. He had scooped the Kyrii up and dashed out of the cavern in seconds, leaping over any spilled items in his path.

     I stooped for a moment to pick up the little girl that was with me. But, for some reason, I paused. The sled. I should bring the sled. I had no idea where this random thought had come from, seeing as dragging that thing around would only slow me down. But then I remembered what Fyora had told me. To trust my instincts. I had no idea what a sled had to do with anything, but if Fyora trusted me, then perhaps I should too.

     Cursing myself for this wild thought, I grabbed the sled under one arm and the child under another. I made a mad dash toward the exit, items in my path and the struggling, crying Kyrii under my arm slowing me down.

     The Snowager was disabled, but still determined. His suddenly lashed out in my direction with his massive tail, and I had to throw myself on the ground to narrowly avoid being hit. He smashed into the wall instead, causing the entire cavern to rumble ominously. A few chunks of snow fell from the ceiling, which only managed to add to my panic. What if he started an avalanche?

     But because of that dive, I had landed on my stomach in a pile of items. And I found myself staring right at what appeared to be a glowing rock in front of my face. But then it clicked. A Crystal shard. I could have shrieked right there, but I managed not to.

     Just as the Snowager was rounding on me again, I had the shard, sled, and Kyrii gathered madly into my arms in a moment and was just about throwing myself full speed out of there. This all happened so fast I hadn't even had a chance to breathe. I sprinted through the Ice Caves, as far from the roaring behind me as possible, even though I was fairly certain the Snowager wouldn't pursue.

     I had almost made it to the exit of the entire Ice Caves before Radom's voice stopped me. "Pandora!"

     I stumbled to a halt, but too quickly, and slipped on the ice. I fell with a yelp and slid a few feet, sled and Kyrii and all, and found myself blinking up at an upside-down Radom a few yards away. "Radom!" I gasped, scrambling up despite my throbbing body that was just screaming with exhaustion.

     He slid over to me, and I noticed that the little boy Kyrii was still curled in the corner where they had previously been, crying into his paws. "Pandora! Are you alright?" He looked me over with wide, worried eyes that were splashed with shock.

     "I-Yeah-I think so," I managed to stammer breathlessly, my breath heavy and everything about me wanting to just lay down and not get up. But that wasn't an option. We had to get out of here. That thing would start an avalanche at this rate.

     I grabbed the girl Kyrii, who clung to me for dear life, crying and shaking with the intensity of all that had happened. But she wasn't hurt, and neither was I, which was a miracle in itself. "Are you both okay?" I looked Radom over briefly. He looked alright. But, then again, he always did.

     "I am. But the kid's more than just shaken." He looked over his shoulder at the Kyrii, and I could see his chest heaving. "He hurt his leg when all that stuff came down on him. I think he might have broken something." He shook his head and looked back at me, his eyes filled with worry. "I don't know how we can get him back down to the valley. He can't walk, and the girl's too little to get down on her own either. And just look at you. You can hardly stand."

     He was right. That attack had really drained me. More than I would have expected. I think Radom was the only one among us still fit to get down in one piece. "We have to get them down there, and fast," I stated, though he knew just as well as I did. But how? But then I remembered. "I-The sled-I brought the sled!" I couldn't say why I did. Just an instinct, I suppose. But whatever the reason, it was more than lucky that we had it.

     My legs kept threatening to give way under me, but I forced myself to stay up and hold my weight and the Kyrii's. But I knew I couldn't keep it up for too long. I managed to gesture toward the sled, which sat in the ice at a slant a few feet off to one side.

     Radom stared at it as if he were just imagining it. He no doubt wondered what in the world compelled me to bring it. But I couldn't answer it, and luckily he didn't ask. This was no time for questions. So instead he stepped in front of it and looked up at me. "Tie it to me."

     I stared at him. Was he serious? That look on his face told me that was a definite yes. "Radom, you've got to be kidding! You can't pull three people! Do you have any idea how heavy that is? And down a mountain, no less! In all that snow! And you're already exhausted as it is!" I tried to talk him out of it. But I already knew he wouldn't listen. "No way. Not even YOU can pull that off."

     He smiled. But it was such a small, almost miserable gesture like nothing I could compare. "Watch me."

     I couldn't believe it. But... what other choice did I have? Heaving a weak sigh, I set the Kyrii down on the ice for a moment and moved over to Radom. Reluctantly, I picked up the rope and bit my bottom lip as I watched him. "I just hope you know what you're doing," I mumbled, beginning to tie the rope to him in the best way I could think of to keep from hurting him while he pulled.

     "I hope that same thing, on occasion." He smiled faintly again, but this time it was oddly reassuring. I couldn't say why. I bound the rope as best I could around his chest area, like a harness, and when I was certain that I had done the best I could, I stood up again.

     He certainly looked the part. Standing tall, the most physically fit creature I could imagine, attached to a sled-he could pass as the leader of a sledding team any day. I picked the crying Kyrii up, failing in my attempts to hush her, and set her on the sled. Then I walked over to the other one and carefully lifted him, afraid I would hurt his leg more, and set him behind his sister. They were both in tears, both no doubt from fear and shock, and the boy because he was hurt.

     Then I hesitated again and regarded Radom uncertainly. "I should just walk," I tried again. "It'd be too heavy to pull out there."

     "I see you swaying. You can hardly stand." He eyed me with a frown, and it was true-I was just about ready to pass out. "Get on, Pandora."

     I couldn't argue. I hesitantly gathered my clothes close, briefly making sure the two Crystals were safely tucked away, and kept my wings tight against my back. I sat down on the sled, pulling the two little Kyrii close and holding tight to keep them from falling off.

     It had taken a miracle to bring Radom to me when I needed him most. It had been a miracle I had survived the mountain. It had been a miracle I had not been seen yet. It had been a miracle we had come out of that cave in one piece. And now it would take yet another miracle to get us down that mountain. And I was beginning to think I was running out of them.

     Radom glanced back to make sure we were all on, one more to make sure we hadn't left anything on the ground, and then heaved forward. For one terrible moment, I was certain he would never be able to pull us. The rope stretched tight and the wood creaked under us, and I could see his claws digging into the ice. But after that first pause, we started to move. Slowly at first, Radom pulling with each step, the runners gliding with a hiss across the ice. But then he started to go faster. And faster. And soon he was running across the ice, his claws click-clicking in a steady rhythm, the two Kyrii clinging to me and crying.

     He ran us right out of the Ice Caves before I knew it, and soon we were racing down the side of the mountain. The runners cut thick lines in the snow and sent sprays of white out on either side, while the crunching of his paws on snow was drowned out by the whistling wind around us that tousled my hair as I hunched over the two children. I was astounded, to be blunt. I couldn't believe Radom. I didn't even think he'd be able to pull us at all, let alone across ice and then snow. And downhill, which made him sprint at an outstanding speed while the sled glided after him. I had to close my eyes against the wind that rushed around us and the snow that puffed up.

     All the while my heart went out to Radom. I could only imagine the utter strength and determination this must take. I wished I could lend him my wings.

     But it seemed like no time at all before I could see the valley below us. And never had I been more relieved to see a simple little place. "Almost there, Radom," I whispered, my heart pounding for him and my eyes fixed on the Lupe as he guided us. I could see the strain in his muscled and his frame heaving with each breath. And yet he never faltered. He never stopped to rest. He just kept pressing on.

     Finally, we swooped all the way down the side of the mountain, leaving the Ice Caves behind. I would be perfectly content never seeing it again. I didn't look back. Radom gradually slowed until we glided smoothly into the valley, so by the time he was able to slow to a smooth stop we were smack in the middle of it and surrounded by staring people.

     I didn't care about what they must think. I didn't care about myself right now. All I knew was that there was a hurt child that needed help, and a Lupe that had just saved my life for the umpteenth time. I scrambled off the sled, holding both of the Kyrii in my arms, and before I could even ask for the owner or parents, a girl shouldered her way through the gaping crowd and scrambled over to me.

     "You're alright!" she gasped breathlessly, her eyes brimming with relief. "Thank Fyora! I've been looking all over for you! What-what happened?" She turned her gaze to me, holding her hands out to take them.

     I handed both of them over to her, and they each latched on to her in a sobbing mess in an instant. She cradled them comfortingly as she listened to me. "We found them in the Snowager's Cave. They were trying to get something from it, and it woke up," I explained, no doubt drooping with exhaustion. "We had just come in. It attacked them. The boy hurt his leg in the scramble, but the girl's alright. We managed to get them out. He--" I looked back at Radom in astonishment. "He pulled all three of us all the way down here."

     A great deal of the crowd turned to stare in amazement at Radom. There were very few shocked looks at me being a Darkness Faerie anymore. The girl held her Neopets tightly, staring at Radom, and then at me. "Thank you," she whispered, her eyes brimming with emotion. "You saved their lives. Both of you. Thank you so much."

     I managed a frail attempt at a smile. We had saved them, hadn't we? Yesterday, I had never even dreamed of seeing the outside world. And today, I had helped save two lives and done things I never in my wildest thoughts would imagine I could or would do.

     "We think his leg is broken," I added, inclining my head to the little boy. "You should get that checked right away."

     The girl nodded. "I-I will." She turned to leave, but paused to gaze back at Radom and I gratefully. "Thank you," she said once more, and then vanished among the crowd with the two Kyrii

     I smiled slightly as she left. It was all alright now. We were alive. I gazed around the crowd of silently staring people, at the now mostly cleared sky and chilly shops here and there. I felt a strange disbelief that the sky was still blue and the sun was still shining. My life had nearly been taken multiple times today, as well as the lives of others. Yet overhead were white, gauzy clouds. It was as though the sun and the clouds did not care that we nearly died.

     I turned toward Radom, who was offering me a tiny smile. His chest was heaving as he panted, and although he stood tall and steady, everything about him was utterly wiped out.

     I quickly lowered onto my knees in front of him and started tugging on the rope, which had become quite tight with all that pressure. "You're out of your mind!" I rebuked, managing to wrench free a piece of rope with the aid of my long nails.

     There was that little smirk again. "What's your point?"

     I managed to undo all the ropes and Radom shrugged them aside with relief, still struggling to catch his breath. I only stared at him in shock for a moment. How had he done all of that? How did he always put others before himself like that? He was... incredible.

     "Radom... a mind is a terrible thing to waste. But I'm glad they didn't waste one on you." I couldn't help but grin, such a relieved gesture, and he did the same at my comment. But then I ruffled the fur on his head, brushing aside snow that had settled along his back. "But, all jokes aside... You saved my life. More than once today alone. I don't think I would have even gotten off that mountain if it weren't for you. So... thank you, Radom. Thank you just sounds so small... but that's really all I can say," I said softly, our eyes meeting.

     For a moment, he just met my gaze. But then a broad grin overtook his face, so bright and wonderful that I couldn't stop myself from hugging him. I wrapped my arms around him and smiled, tears welling in my eyes from the sheer overwhelming aspect of all that had happened today. He rested his head on my shoulder, his ears lowering, and I could feel his hot breath against the side of my face.

     We sat like this in silence for several seconds. And for the first time, I felt safe. I felt cared about. I felt... perhaps... happy...

     Then I drew away, wiping my eyes with my sleeve and smiling softly. Radom looked up at me with an equally gentle smile. "Hey," he said softly, his smile slowly growing into another grin. "Somebody's gotta keep you out of trouble."

     And I could think of nobody better suited for the job. But our moment was put on pause as I realized we were still surrounded by a bunch of staring strangers. I looked up with a sheepish half-smile and rubbed the back of my neck. "Uh-sorry-we should, um-get going-huh, Radom?" I looked at him with a weak laugh.

     "Sure should." He flashed one of his ever-charming grins at the others, and then looked back at me. "Come on. Leave the sled. Let's get out of here."

     I nodded and paused to let him lead me to wherever he wanted to go. He took a few steps, but his legs gave way under him and he slumped into the snow weakly. That took me by surprise. He was so exhausted and you wouldn't even know. I swept up beside him and helped him up, watching him with worry. "Need some help?"

     "Nah-nah, don't worry about it. I'm fine." He shrugged me off and stood up straight again. He took a deep breath, and when he saw me watching he smiled reassuringly. "Let's just hurry up, eh?"

     I nodded and stood up as well, though let my fingertips graze his back and stayed right at his side in case he might fall again. As I cast my gaze across the many different faces surrounding, I half expected someone to go crazy on me for being what I was. That would be just my luck.

     I took a few careful steps forward. But, to my amazement, the people in front of me began to move aside. As Radom and I slowly made our way forward, people were parting on either side of us, making a path right out of the crowd. They all stared on in silence. I was certain many of them didn't know what to think right now.

     Radom beamed as he trotted through the throng of people, while I was no doubt blinking stupidly with surprise. Soon enough, we had left them staring after us as Radom led me through Happy Valley, around shops and houses that fell still as we passed, all heads turning our way.

     I stared at the ground at I walked, letting Radom lead me. I felt rather uncomfortable under so many gazes. And what could they all be thinking of me now?

     Soon enough, I looked up to see a small forest ahead of us. Radom led me into those woods, leaving the valley behind us. There wasn't a single other being in sight. In the woods, I saw nothing but trees, the tops of creeping plants, shapes muffled by snow. It was beautiful in there. So still and quiet. Everything was muffled and heavy with snow, and shining spots of ice dappled the way like glass ornaments hanging off of the trees and bushes. My boots crunched on the snow, and I looked down to see Radom's paw prints in the snow ahead of me.

     Deep into the woods and away from the noises and activities of the valley, away from the bitter wind and under the shelter of snowy trees, Radom finally stopped. He collapsed under a large tree, its roots sticking out of the ground in a few places and not a single green scrap left on it. He was so much more drained than he let on.

     I sat down beside him, resting my back against the tree and pulling my legs up my chest to hug my knees. I buried my face in them and let out a contented sigh. Now this place was much better. And what I really needed right now was a long rest. Weary from lack of food, all of the running I did today, using my powers... everything that happened, really. I was just about ready to sleep all week.

     I lifted my head slightly so that I could peer over my knees at Radom, smiling faintly as I saw him. He had his head rested on his front paws and eyes lifted up at me, and he grinned as our gazes met. "We make a pretty good team," he commented, his tail flicking a few times behind him.

     "No kidding. You were amazing." I smiled honestly. And he was. He had performed all kinds of miracles in a single day. I had never seen anyone quite like him.

     He positively beamed. "Well, what about you? I saw what you did back there! That was crazy!" he retorted, his eyes bright and shimmering with affection to top it.

     "Well, you saved my life. I guess I was just returning the favor," I said softly, smiling faintly. I couldn't let the Snowager hurt him, after all. And after all he had done for me already, what I did seemed so small. "I guess now we're even, huh?"

     The gentlest smile I had ever seen touched his face, and his eyes softened until I could swear they glowed like amber pools, able to thaw any ice or snow at all. "Friends don't keep score."

     My eyes widened and I fell into a stunned silence at that. Friends...? I had never had someone that I called a friend... no, not really... I had a wonderful adopted mother, but she had been taken from me... and I had Fyora to look up to, but what place did someone like me have beside the queen? In all honesty, for all of my life, I had been more alone than I was ever willing to admit.

     And now... once again, everything had happened so quickly. One minute, I was alone on a mountain, hopeless and with little will to go on. And suddenly, the next... I wasn't. There was Radom. There was hope. There was a reason.

     Yes, he had gotten me into a lot of trouble already. Yes, I could have died many times that day. Yes, being around someone so out there would end in more trouble to come. But I couldn't forget: Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.

     A friend. I felt an immeasurable wave of emotion sweep over me. And I realized just how incredible this creature was. Well beyond his obvious strength and amazing determination. But his unbelievable moral sense. How he always did what was right, regardless of what happened to him. And I realized how wonderful that grin was. How he could make me smile. How he could always see the bright side, no matter how dark it really was. Those gleaming spotlights of eyes. That loping walk like a wolf with miles to travel. And how I owed him... everything.

     But, I suppose... friends don't keep score.

To be continued...

 
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Other Episodes


» The Price of Faith: Part One
» The Price of Faith: Part Two
» The Price of Faith: Part Four
» The Price of Faith: Part Five
» The Price of Faith: Part Six
» The Price of Faith: Part Seven
» The Price of Faith: Part Eight
» The Price of Faith: Part Nine
» The Price of Faith: Part Ten
» The Price of Faith: Part Eleven



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