Voice of the Neopian Pound Circulation: 124,395,024 Issue: 250 | 28th day of Swimming, Y8
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The Highlands: Part Two


by katiesheffield

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When Jordan woke up the next morning, he felt like going back to sleep. It's far too early, his mind reasoned. Give the sun a chance to get settled first. But Danger was already up and preparing for their hike into the snowy regions of the Highlands, and so Jordan groaned and pulled himself to his feet. Flinching, he looked down. His paws were bruised and tender from the rough hike yesterday. It had been mainly over rocky paths, and normally Jordan would have complained, but he reasoned that Danger must have gotten tough paws like he had by roughing it, and so he said nothing.

     After eating a quick breakfast of leftover fish and fruit, they set off again. It seemed surprising to realize they were a third of the way there. "We should make it to the Reingar camp by late afternoon tomorrow," Danger said.

     As the morning wore on Jordan's feet grew sorer, and got cuts from the sharp rocks. Not far off he could see the snow. The snow would be softer on his paws, he thought, and so he kept silent.

     An hour before noon they stopped for lunch. "This is the last place we'll get fresh fruit," Danger explained. "It's too cold in the snow for fruit to grow. We'll take some with us for tonight, but we won't be able to keep it until tomorrow."

     They only paused briefly, and then moved on. The ground around the path was muddy and cold. Soon they began passing patches of snow, and before he knew it they were walking on the cold, white substance.

     Instead of being soft on Jordan's paws, however, the snow burned them, stinging the cuts. He began to limp, but was afraid Danger would think he was being weak if he said anything. Fyora knows how long he would have gone on like that, but Danger turned around after a while to point out rocks you could turn into flint, and noticed Jordan was limping. He frowned.

     "Come here, kid."

     Jordan obediently limped up.

     "Let me see your paws."

     Sheepishly, he sat up on his shanks and held up his front paws. Danger looked at them for a second and shook his head. "You should have said something." He reached into his rucksack and rummaged around.

     "I didn't think they were worth worrying about. I didn't want to complain."

     "I need to teach you a lesson, Kid." This was how Danger usually announced he was going to give Jordan some advice. "There's a difference between being tough and being stupid. Sometimes it's not very big, but it does exist." He pulled out some bandages and began to wind them around Jordan's paws.

     Jordan flinched slightly. "How can you tell the difference?"

     "It's hard, and sometimes you have to guess. A good guide is, though, if it can't be helped, changed or acknowledged to some benefit, don't grumble. But if you're in pain, and someone can do something to help, don't be afraid to speak up. What do you think would have happened if I hadn't told those two Kacheeks on Terror Mountain I was cold and wanted shelter?" He finished tying the bandages. "See how that is."

     Jordan put his paws back on the ground, and was relieved to find they didn't hurt anymore. "That's much better. Thanks."

     "Let's move on, then."

     As they walked higher the air grew colder. Jordan didn't notice, though, because the hike kept him warm. They passed through innumerable valleys and over countless hills, waded through ice-cold streams and nearly became lost when it began to snow heavily. All the while Danger was teaching Jordan everything he knew, from how to start a fire with damp wood to how to stalk and enemy to climbing up sheer rock faces to making a toboggan and to how to camouflage yourself in forests.

     Jordan couldn't remember when he had last enjoyed himself so much. That night they camped out in an old cave, and Danger told Jordan more stories about places he had been, but Jordan fell asleep after only two. The day had exhausted him.

     When he woke up the next morning he was sore and stiff. He got up and shook himself.

     "Are you cold, kid?" Danger asked.

     "Yeah, I am."

     "Best cure for feeling cold is to start the day off with a jog. C'mon." The big Lupe sling the rucksack over his shoulder and set off at a lope down the hillside. Jordan groaned and followed.

     He had never thought snow could be so bright. The day before had been overcast, but today was sunny and the light reflected off the snow. Before long Jordan was hot, and his coat became matted with sweat. Danger slowed down into a walk again and began teaching Jordan about telling if a track was made by a wild Neopet or a domestic one.

     A little before noon Danger halted and barked; "Look sharp, kid!" This usually meant Danger had seen something, and wanted Jordan to identify it.

     Gazing around, Jordan tried to make out what Danger had seen. Away in the distance a mountain seemed to be moving.

     "What in Neopia is that?"

     "Avalanche," Danger replied, watching it. "Snow slide. You get caught in one of those and it's nearly impossible to get out."

     "What caused it?"

     "Snow built up on that mountain until it couldn't hold it any more. Maybe a loud sound set it off. Maybe something large walked on it, and its weight was too much. Possibly the Snow Beast."

     Jordan looked at Danger wide-eyed. "The Snow Beast? It actually exists?"

     Danger snorted. "Of course it does. Where do you think all the stories come from?"

     "Will we see it?"

     "Not unless it fell down in the avalanche. It usually only lives on the other side of the Highlands, and sometimes on the top."

     "Wow," Jordan breathed.

     The avalanche had stopped, and they went on. A little after noon they came to where the avalanche had fallen. The snow was fresh and light from being churned, and their paws sank into it deeply. After a little way they came to a hill, and Danger climbed up it. The view from the top was incredible.

     "Look at this, kid!" Danger yelled over the wind. "We are now standing at the highest point of the Highlands!" He pointed north, where a massive mountain loomed only a few miles away. "Terror Mountain! We'll get to the camp midafternoon!"

     Jordan felt exhilarated. The wind rushed past him, rippling his coat and stinging his eyes. Slowly he gazed around himself, marveling at the view. Standing between them and the camp at the base of Terror Mountain was an expanse of frozen water. According to Danger, in the summer the frozen canal would melt, and ships would sail between the two chunks of land; but now it was winter and the water was frozen and they would have to walk over it.

     "C'mon!" Danger called. "We're at the highest point of the highlands, and that means one thing: it's all down hill from here! I'll race you!"

     Down they sped over the fresh snow, running and laughing and panting. Danger was kind enough to let Jordan win.

     Rounding the corner of a valley, Jordan ran to a clump of snow covered boulder and scrambled on top of then. A second later Danger leapt into sight and stopped short. The smile disappeared from his face and he yelled out, "Kid! Get away from there!"

     Unsure of what was wrong, Jordan jumped off the rocks and ran back to Danger. His ears were pinned back on his head, and his fur stood on end. "Get behind me, kid!" he snapped. Jordan obeyed, just as the rocks he had been climbing moved; declaring themselves not to be rocks at all.

     Jordan whimpered and cowered behind Danger as a huge and terrifying Snow Beast stood up groggily and looked around. Blinking stupidly, it moaned and began to lumber towards them.

     "Kid!" Danger hissed. "We need to get past him!"

     "The valley's too narrow! Can't we go back?" Jordan begged.

     "No! We need to go forward! I'll distract it. When I go out, count to three and run past it to the right. Do you understand me?"

     Terrified, Jordan nodded. Danger ran out towards the snow beast. One... Jordan counted. Danger leapt at the huge beast and got a death hold on its neck. The Snow Beast roared and batted him off.

     Two...

     Danger leapt again, snapping fiercely. Again the Snow Beast batted at him, but this time Danger ducked. Unexpectedly the Snow Beast kicked out with one of its feet, and sent Danger flying into a snowdrift.

     Three.

     Danger darted out and ran between the Snow Beast's feet. Momentarily it became disoriented as it looked for its pesky attacker.

     "RUN!" Danger yelled.

     Jordan ran. He ran as fast as he could, past the Snow Beast and through the valley. The monster saw and with a roar began to chase him. Danger jumped again and got another hold on its neck. Fiercely the Snow Beast pulled him off and threw him away. He landed with a yelp and struggled to his feet. Running after Jordan, he caught up just as they reached the expanse of ice that separated the Highlands from Terror Mountain.

     "Keep going!" Danger gasped as Jordan showed signs of hesitating.

     As they sped across the ice field Jordan heard a roar echoing from the gully they had come out of. Glancing behind, he saw the Snow Beast was chasing them. Ahead he could see Terror Mountain. It would take them what? Three minutes to get there at the rate they were going. The Snow Beast was fast, though, and not far behind. He would catch up before they got there.

     Suddenly, he heard a huge creaking, groaning, cracking sound coming from the ice. Glancing down, Jordan saw a crooked line appear between his running feet. Another line zigzagged off to his right. The Snow Beast was too heavy for the thin ice crust to hold its weight.

     The Snow Beast roared again and lunged for them. Danger darted to the left, knocking Jordan to safety. The Snow Beast landed heavily on the ice, and with a cracking sound like thunder, it collapsed.

     Jordan screamed as the piece of ice he was on turned upright and dumped him into the ocean. The water was freezing. He clamped his mouth shut so he wouldn't lose any precious air, and kicked upwards. Thank goodness Danger had taught him how to swim.

     Breaking the surface of the water between two pieces of ice he swam towards the still whole ice sheet that stretched towards Terror Mountain.

     Danger suddenly surfaced next to him, and gave him a shove onto the ice. Scrambling up next to him, the two Lupes stood gasping and shivering on the edge, looking back at the chaotic mess behind them. The Snow Beast was nowhere to be seen.

     "Wow," Jordan managed to gasp. "We beat the Snow Beast."

     "I'm not so sure about th-"

     The rippled surface of water in front of them literally exploded as The Snow Beast lunged out of the water and at them. Jordan leapt back as the ice under his feet crumbled. The Snow Beast grabbed at Danger and dragged him back towards the churning water. Writhing, he managed to free himself, and clung to the edge of a piece of ice as the Snow Beast sunk back into the depths. Jordan scrambled around and looked back at Danger. The big Lupe was clinging to a piece of ice, but when he tried to climb on top of it it tipped precariously. Jordan tried to go forward to help his exhausted teacher, but the cracked ice threatened to throw him into the water.

     Danger closed his eyes and tried to concentrate. His breathing was harsh and shuddering, and he could sense the Snow Beast was swimming back for him again. Forcing the pain to the back of his mind he tried to work out what his priorities were. Finally his thoughts cleared, and he saw the only thing he could do.

     "Kid!" he called. "You need to get to the camp!"

     "But-"

     "Head straight for Terror Mountain. When you get there, look for an outcrop of rocks to the left of the tunnel leading to the Ice Caves. The base is in there. I'll do what I can here. Go! Now!"

     The Snow Beast broke through the ice again, and taking a deep breath, Danger let it pull him back into the water.

     "NO!" Jordan screamed. "NO!" He darted along the edge of the ice, but couldn't get to the water. In a panic, he did the only sensible thing he could have done. He did what Danger had told him to do. He turned and ran for Terror Mountain.

     Tears of shock and fright ran down his face and mingled with the salt water that matted his fur. The bandages around his paws had come undone and running on the hard ice stung the cuts, but he didn't care. The only thing he cared about was getting back to the camp, where he could be with people again. His mother. He would be able to hide there. Hide from the pain and the loss and the fright.

     His breath was coming hard and his legs were telling him to slow down, but he didn't. Because Danger had told him to run to the camp, he would.

     At last he came to the base of Terror Mountain. He found the outcrop of rocks, and looking around them found a hidden door that led into the Reingar base.

     Inside was a lot like the base outside the Haunted Woods. It was wooden and a fire burned in the corner. Shadowed characters leaned against one of the walls, talking. Jordan didn't look at them. Danger had been one of those people once. Instead he walked, gasping, to the desk where a sweet looking Xweetok was standing.

     Concern clouded her eyes as she looked at his soaking, shivering, frightened form.

     "What in Neopia happened to you, son?"

     In a breath he told her, and shaking her head sympathetically she rummaged in a cupboard and found a towel.

     "These things happen. I know Danger. It's too late for us to do anything to help now. He's a good swimmer. He still has a chance."

     Jordan shook his head but allowed the Xweetok to lead him to a chair in front of the fire.

     "Your mother should be here in an hour or so. I'll bring you a cup of tea while you wait." The Xweetok smiled and left him alone.

     Thoughts swirled in his head as he curled himself up miserably in the chair, but he must have fallen asleep because he was suddenly woken up by a familiar, rough voice.

     "Hey, Kid, I have a couple days free next month. You wanna come on a trip up Terror Mountain with me?"

     Jordan jumped out of his chair and stared wide-eyed at the wet Lupe standing near him.

     "DANGER!" he yelled in delight. "You're all right!"

     Danger snorted. "Course I am. And you seem to be, too, by the way you're yelling."

     Jordan threw his arms around Danger's neck ecstatically. The big Lupe awkwardly patted his back.

     "All right. You can let go now. No need to strangle me."

     Jordan let go and looked at his teacher. A glint in his blue eyes betrayed he was pleased.

     "So how 'bout this trip? You wanna come?"

     "Do I ever!"

     Danger grinned. "Mark my words, kid. We'll make a Reingar member out of you yet!"

The End

 
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