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Beauty of the Snow: Part One


by extreme_fj0rd

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Snow fell softly onto the trees and bushes of Neopia Central Park. A thick blanket of it already covered most of the ground, and the wind was hard at work pushing the still-falling snowflakes into the nooks and crannies missed by the earlier snowfall. Drifts heaped themselves over small shrubs, and pockets of hidden snow fell on anyone unwary enough to walk beneath a tree's spread boughs. Those travellers who were in the park were in a hurry, muffled in coats and scarves and hats against the cold and the snow. Their paws hit the frozen ground with sharp thuds, and their heads stayed bent, as if somehow that might help lessen the cold or the snow.

      One Aisha walked alone through the woods. Her white-coloured pelt melted into the snow, so that only her large, pale blue eyes were to be seen at all. She moved gracefully through the drifts, hardly disturbing them; though a path of pawprints trailed behind her, they were soft indentations, hardly making a mark on the snow. What depth the pawprints had was quickly filled by the falling snow.

      Ears trailing behind her, the Aisha stepped peacefully between two bushes and brushed a light paw against the trunk of a tree. Her touch, gentle as it was, dislodged a few snowflakes from those encrusted on it, and they tumbled end over end towards the ground.

      Her expression softening to a gentle smile, the Aisha knelt in the snow to watch their elegant progress through the air; they settled to rest on a drift, and she rose and walked once more through the snow.

      The faint, treble voices of a choir singing wound their way through the trees to her ears, and she turned towards the voices with faint surprise and, after a moment, delight. It had been years--ah, years and years--since the first snowfall had called children from their homes to sing for her and the snow.

      Moving quickly now, brushing now one paw, then the other, across tree trunks in her path, she made her way through the snow. Her path intersected those trails that had been paved over for convenience, and she winced and hurried across these with even more haste, her distaste showing in expression and in the way she picked out the spots with the deepest snowdrifts to step upon. The center of the park was not far; it was not a large wilderness, just a corner of Neopia Central that had been left to itself for an age and eventually tamed by a respectful crew of gardeners. Stepping around a large oak tree, the Aisha paused to look across the cobblestoned square at the small group of pets who, rosy-cheeked, let out the music inside of them.

      The Aisha let out a small sigh at the beauty of the piece, still resting her paw upon the oak beside her, and leant forward a bit as the choir, glancing up from their books, rested their eyes familiarly on the passersby. These all hurried past quickly, barely even sparing a moment to nod gruffly in acknowledgement of the choir's festive spirit or perhaps a few Neopoints to drop into the hand of the tallest, rosiest-cheeked soprano whose voice soared above the rest. This Techo would always give them a beautiful smile of thanks as they hurried past, then open her mouth once more, letting out a cloud of white mist as she joined her fellows in the song.

      Watching, the Aisha's eyes widened at this ritual of thanks. Clearly this was some fee that passersby paid in lieu of staying to watch the choir sing, she realized, and frowned as yet another hurried Eyrie strode up to press a few coins into the Techo singer's paw. She glanced around for some means by which to stop this absurdity, but found nothing to hand save the snow that had drifted over the bushes and trees next to her and the cobblestones of the square.

      Placing one paw carefully upon the deepest drift nearby, the Aisha stepped out from underneath the shadow of the trees. Another two swift steps, and she smiled: it was working better than she had thought it might. Turning her face up to the clouded, gray sky, she revelled in the snowy weather and took another step.

      Next thing she knew, she was lying on her back in a snowdrift, and her back and paws ached from contact with the rough stone cobbles of the square. Only the backs of her legs had been spared, she realized, and only because the patch of ice her paw had slipped upon was there. She remained lying down, more from surprise than pain, and stared upwards at the snow.

      "Oh, Fyora!" a concerned voice said, and swift pawsteps disturbed the drift the Aisha was lying in. "Hello? Are you all right?"

      Turning her gaze upon her would-be rescuer, the Aisha's eyes widened. The Techo bending worriedly over her was the same that featured prominently in the choir.

      "Are you okay?" the singer reiterated, her gaze growing more concerned as the Aisha did not answer.

      Giving a careful nod, the Aisha sought out a patch or two of snow and put her paws on them to push herself upright. The Techo started backwards as the Aisha scrambled up to a sitting position, and then to stand.

      "Are... um, are you sure?" the Techo asked, risking a glance back at the choir behind her, which had stopped singing and was watching them.

      The Aisha nodded again, her eyes fixed on the Techo. The singer nodded in reply, tentatively, and then stepped backwards again in surprise.

      "Why, you don't have a coat--aren't you cold?" she asked, frowning in concern. "And no boots, either--oh, you must be freezing!"

      Shaking her head, the Aisha stepped backwards, and her paw hit a patch bare of snow. With a wince she quickly removed her paw to a drift of snow, but the Techo had seen the grimace.

      "Come on," she said, commandingly. "I'll take you to my house, and you can get warmed up. My owner will give you one of my old coats, too," she added, and turned back to her choir. "I have to go," she called to them, and waved a paw.

      Reluctantly, they began to sing again, but their sound was clearly lacking for the Techo's voice. The Techo, whose name was Inga, paid this no mind and turned to the Aisha.

      "Come on," she repeated, and stepped away. The Aisha made no move to follow immediately; when the Techo turned back, perplexed, she saw that the mysterious white Aisha had disappeared. Then, glimpsing some movement, she turned her head and saw the Aisha picking her way around the edge of the square--where the snow drifts were deepest.

      With a faint laugh, Inga hurried to the Aisha. "The stones are warmer, I'm sure--" she started.

      The Aisha shook her head definitively.

      Inga paused. "Ah... or... not," she ended weakly, and followed the Aisha's meandering path around the square and down the short trail from there to the exit of the Park, which opened onto Market Street. This road was more populated than the park's trails, though most shoppers still hurried at their business; owners and pets hastened through the falling snow to the doors of shops and pulled those doors open with relief to step into the warmth.

      Inga cast these shoppers a wistful glance, and then looked back at the Aisha, who stood precisely on the last drift of snow before the street.

      "Come on," Inga prompted, holding her paw out for the Aisha. Shaking her head, the other pet refused to come. With a sigh, the Techo glanced around. "Do you want... is the pavement too cold for you?" she asked, with a faint sense of triumph, and was relieved when the Aisha gave a hesitant nod.

      "Okay," the Techo said, glancing around the busy Market Street, "I'll, um... I'll go buy some shoes for you and I'll be right back." She judged the Aisha's feet to be around a size six, she thought, and made a placating gesture. "Just... stay here, okay?"

      The Aisha nodded obediently and watched as Inga darted off, melting into the crowd. It was where she belonged, the Aisha thought wistfully, and then turned back towards the square where the choir still sang. Though it lacked the full-bodied sound it had had while Inga lent her voice to it, it was still song, and it called to her.

      With just one last glance at the street, the Aisha quickly slipped into the woodland and hurried back towards the central square of the Park.

     When Inga returned, bearing a pair of boots in one paw, she scanned the sidewalk quickly and gave a frustrated sigh. She turned to glance around Market Street, and then turned back to the park, wondering where the Aisha had gone. It wasn't as if the Aisha meant anything to her, she rationalized, but she hated to see anyone so ill equipped for the cold.

      With a sigh, she stepped along the path, glancing between the trees for a hint of movement. None came; she made her way back to the square without getting so much as a glimpse of white fur against snow--not that that meant she hadn't seen the Aisha, Inga realized with a grimace. Even under perfect conditions, it would be hard to spot a white-coated pet against the snow--and these were quite definitely not perfect conditions.

      She stopped at the entrance to the square and looked around, watching the woods carefully. There--a flicker of motion. With a sigh of relief that puffed out of her mouth in white mist, Inga hurried over to the white Aisha. The Aisha's eyes were trained on the choir, and she didn't hear Inga's approach until it was too late: the Techo came up quickly and shoved the boots roughly into the Aisha's arms.

      "Here," Inga said gruffly, turning away to cast a wistful look at the choir. They were picturesque, silhouetted by the falling snow that gathered on coat collars and scarves, but they were missing several of the notes and the sopranos were clearly suffering from the lack of Inga's voice. With a wince, she turned back to the Aisha, who still stared down at the boots in her arms.

      Inga sighed. "They're shoes--boots," she said patiently and took them back from the unresisting Aisha. "Here." She fumbled with the laces and held the boot out. The Aisha stared at it for a moment, and then stooped to take it from the Techo. Inga watched the Aisha hopefully; to her joy, the other pet slid the boot carefully onto her foot. It seemed to fit. Inga gave the other snow boot to the Aisha and watched her put that on as well. Laces trailing, the Aisha stared down at her booted feet and stamped at the snow experimentally. She had lost contact with it, standing in these contraptions instead of simply on the snow, the Aisha realized, and leant down to brush a snowdrift with her paw simply for the contact with her snow.

      Hesitantly, she took a step forward, and her eyes widened as no ache came to the soles of her feet from the contact with the cobblestones. They may have cut her off from the world of the snow, but they let her into the world of pavement.

      Beginning to smile at the boots, a little, the Aisha glanced back at Inga. The Techo gave her a nod.

      "Well," Inga said, clapping gloved paws together, "let's go back to my place so you can get warm."

To be continued...

 
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