Spells, Secrets, and Snowberry Tea: Part Two
The Kougra wiped snowflakes from his eyes. “Cypher?”
“What are you doing here?” the Cybunny asked, bewildered. She hadn’t seen him for months, and certainly hadn’t expected to see him anytime soon.
“I’m on holiday,” he said, frowning. “You?”
“I... I live here.” Cypher couldn’t believe he forgot this.
“Oh, right!” he exclaimed. “Now I remember!”
Cypher smiled vaguely at him. “If you don’t mind me asking, how did you afford a vacation up here? Not to be rude.”
Luther didn’t look offended at all. “Oh, I’m not even paying. It was Griptor’s gift to me, for services to the hotel. Two weeks in Terror Mountain! A warm suite in the Mountain Lodge! Of course, Griptor’s not even paying since he has connections with the Lodge. His brother is the manager. Plus, they’re both part of the Neolodge Corporation.”
Cypher’s smile weakened, but she nodded. “That’s... lovely.” She was thankful that Paisley coughed at that moment. “Oh, this is my friend, Paisley. Paisley, this is Luther, from the AstroVilla.”
“Hi,” Luther said, extending his arm to shake. But Paisley just looked at it.
“So, you’re the Kougra! How nice it is to meet you!” she said excitedly. “I read about you in the paper!”
Cypher looked at Luther, expecting this to anger him. “You’re not mad about the article, are you, Luther?” she asked, tentatively.
Luther laughed. “Of course not. It’s a silly article. No one read it anyway.”
“Look, it’s the Cybunny from the paper! It’s Cypher!” A group of young Aishas scampered up to her, grinning. “Oh my gosh, Cypher, we think you are so cool!”
Cypher smiled falsely. “Th-thank you. I have to go.” She grabbed Paisley by the arm and ushered her away. “I’ll see you around, Luther!” she called over her shoulder.
The Kougra smiled and waved, just as the Eyries from the Lodge flew overhead, ready to pick up the eager vacationers.
“Okay, Lucille, just slide your foot forward. Easy, now... come on...”
With her back facing the mountain slope, Cypher held the hands of a pink Wocky on skis. She slowly walked backwards, guiding the trembling Wocky forward. Paisley, strapped to her own skis, slid by as if she were flying. “Oh, please! Lucille, you’ve lived in the valley for eight months now, and you still can’t ski?”
The Wocky, Lucille, said in a wobbly tone, “Well, back in Meridell, skiing wasn’t exactly a common method of transportation! And we moved to the valley--- not the mountain--- for a reason! It’s you two who dragged me up here!”
Cypher laughed. “You can’t live in Happy Valley without climbing Terror Mountain several times a day! At least not when you’re friends with us.”
“Sure, you can climb it, and then meet a rather unpleasant fate as you slide down into the icy ocean depths!” Lucille squealed fearfully. Paisley and Cypher glanced at each other, and then burst into giggles.
“What’s so funny?”
Cypher turned to her right to see Luther tramping through the snow towards her. His bright eyes had a very strange look in them. A green knit scarf was wrapped around his neck, and a matching hat adorned his head. Cypher raised her eyebrows at him. “Nothing. What’re you doing up here? Want to learn to ski?”
Luther gave her a haughty grin. “Thanks, but I prefer walking if you don’t mind.”
Lucille gasped and hurried to remove her own skis. “Oh, I’m with you there. I mean, there are transportation Eyries who are kind enough to give you rides, even if you’re not staying at the lodge.”
Paisley groaned in frustration. “When the top of Terror Mountain is attacked by demonic villains, Cypher and I will be the only ones getting to the bottom quick enough, while you two stay up here and try to catch an Eyrie!”
Cypher’s smile vanished in an instant. As Lucille and Paisley laughed, she noticed that Luther wasn’t smiling either. What was on his mind that was so troubling? Whatever it was, it couldn’t be what Cypher was thinking.
“So, Luther,” Paisley said conversationally, “what really brings you here?”
“I was wondering if I could talk to Cypher for a second,” he said, looking rather serious. When Lucille and Paisley just looked at him expectantly, he sighed and rolled his eyes. “Alone.”
Lucille and Paisley shrugged but didn’t argue. “I’ll meet you at Taelia’s!” Paisley called back as she walked away.
Cypher nodded to her friend’s receding back and turned to Luther. “What’s up?”
Luther sighed. “I told you Griptor arranged this vacation for me, and I wasn’t lying, but there’s something else you should know.” He lifted his hat and pulled out a scrap of paper that had been hidden beneath it. “The original plan was for me to go to Mystery Island... until I found this.”
Cypher frowned and reached for the paper. “Let me see.”
The Kougra handed it to her. “I asked Griptor if I could come here instead, because of what it says.”
Cypher stared at the words, awe etched in every crevice of her frown. “’When the frosty hill is empty,’” she read aloud. She turned the scrap over but saw there was nothing on the back. Nothing else. That was it.
“Strange, isn’t it?” Luther commented. “I picked it up near the Rainbow Pool back home. It fluttered down from the sky as I walked past. Obviously ‘frosty hill’ represents Terror Mountain, wouldn’t you think?”
“I guess,” Cypher murmured. “It’s just so... just so...”
“Just so... what?”
“Coincidental.” Cypher sighed and looked up at Luther. “I found a scrap of paper yesterday morning as well. It was on that cliff, right over there, sort of stuck in the snow, like it had been there for a few days.”
“Well,” Luther said, expectantly, “what did it say? Tell me!”
Cypher scrunched up her nose, thinking. “It said... ‘Laughter and Moaning will be in the space around us’ ... or something to that effect.”
“Okay, I don’t know what that means,” Luther stated, “about the laughter and the moaning, but I don’t like it as much as I don’t like the sound of Terror Mountain being empty. What do you think it means?”
“Empty... empty... as in, deserted?” Cypher scratched her head. She was confused, and she hated that feeling. It was like having the gears in her head stop turning. She prided herself for knowing what to do next in situations... her stay at the AstroVilla over the summer had been the first time she ever felt unsure in a serious case. She had hoped never to relive it. “I don’t know, Luther, I really don’t.”
The Kougra sighed and shook his head. “Me neither. But we can investigate, you and me, and we’ll figure it out!”
“Maybe it’s nothing!” Cypher exclaimed. She didn’t want to investigate anything, even if it meant spending time with Luther. She just wanted to relax and enjoy the holidays at home...
Luther looked at her, shocked. “You--- you don’t want to double check or anything?” He looked disappointed.
Cypher bit her lip and shook her head. “No. I don’t. I just want to relax and enjoy the holidays. Don’t you?”
An awkward silence sprung up, separating the friends. Apart from Cypher’s ‘spoiled brat act’ at the beginning of her stay at the AstroVilla, which Luther had disliked and let her know, the only time they had ever disagreed was when Luther temporarily accused Cypher of being the kidnapper at the hotel. Then, it had involved screaming. Now, it was quiet.
And Cypher didn’t like it. “Sorry,” she said, breaking the stillness.
Luther shook his head. “It’s okay,” he said quickly, “it’s cool.” Luther looked at the snow a moment and then back up at Cypher. “I think you need to go meet Paisley at Taelia’s. See you around.”
Taelia’s igloo always had an aura of magic around it... after all, it did belong to a faerie. As Cypher reached the pristine igloo, she breathed in a deep scent of evergreen. Smiling to herself, she squat on her knees and crawled through.
The inside of the little snow house was even more mystical. Odd and unusual items (which had been collected by Neopians and given to Taelia for a reward) were stacked up along the snowy walls, and were soon going to be used in one of the snow faerie’s potions or spells. Cypher and Paisley had been visiting Taelia forever; both of them thought she was the most impressive of the residents of Terror Mountain.
Paisley crawled in directly behind Cypher. They turned to Taelia, who had crept out of the shadows, and smiled. The snow faerie, however, had a dazed look in her eyes. “Would you like a quest, my dears?”
Paisley frowned. “No, Taelia, we just came to visit... like we always do.” She glanced at Cypher, who shrugged. Perhaps she was just tired from all the quests she had given out that day...
Taelia didn’t look pleased. “If you are not accepting the quest, please leave my igloo. I do not have time to waste with cowards. I have spells and potions to work on, and I can’t spend my day jabbering with you two.”
Paisley looked greatly offended. “Okay,” she said, slowly. “I guess we’ll take the quest.”
Taelia smiled. “Good. I knew you could help me! I need four orange neggs. You have one hour and fifteen minutes.”
Cypher raised an eyebrow. “What? Four orange neggs? What kind of quest is it to get four of the same thing?”
“A bad one,” Paisley muttered, but seeing Taelia’s face, she shut her mouth quickly and dropped to her knees, preparing to crawl out of the igloo. Cypher did the same, but took one last glance at the snow faerie.
For a moment, she could have sworn her eyes were glowing.
Cypher sat at the dinner table, staring blankly into her carrot stew. Through the frosted windowpanes, she could see red lights and hear the jingling of holiday bells, and even in her own home the spirit was alive, with ornate decorations and a spectacular tree. Amidst the joyousness, Cypher found herself troubled.
Two mysterious scraps of paper had been found, each with an odd phrase on it. Taelia had acted as if she barely knew Cypher and Paisley, and then requested four orange neggs, which the two pets brought to her. Luther had decided to come to Cypher’s homeland because he thought there was another mystery, and he wanted to investigate. But all Cypher wanted to do was relax and enjoy the happiness of the season.
However... things were about to get very, very unhappy.
“Help! The top of the mountain! Everyone’s gone! Help, someone, please!”
Cypher sat upright in her canopy bed, shaking. Her window was cracked open, allowing icy breezes to engulf her. She listened as the echo of the pleading voice vanished into the night.
Cypher made no hesitation as she thrust the velvety covers away and jumped to the floor. Racing to the frosty window, she peered outside and saw lights flickering on in every home. Her home was located near the base of the mountain, so she was lucky enough to spot an Eyrie preparing for flight.
“Stop!” she screeched through the window. The Eyrie paused and turned to see who had yelled. “Me! It’s me!” Cypher grabbed her coat and pushed the window open up all the way. With a big leap, she found herself in the freezing snow right outside her house.
“Please!” she said to the Eyrie as she threw on her coat. “Will you give me a ride to the top of the mountain?”
The Eyrie shrugged. Cypher grinned as she bounced onto his back and felt his wings begin to beat. In seconds, they were in the icy air, soaring over the panicked town and on their way to the mountaintop.
After a minute or two, the helpful Eyrie’s feet touched the thick snow of the mountain. Cypher jumped off his back and surveyed the scary scene in front of her. Doors were ripped off their hinges, windows were shattered, and thousands of confusing footprints were left in the snow. A strange jumble of overturned chairs and tables was a few feet away.
“There was a celebration going on,” a nearby voice said. Cypher turned to see a small crowd of nervous pets talking to a few Chias who wore official-looking uniforms and stern expressions. It was a red Ogrin who was speaking. “In honor of Borovan Day today. I had just been heading back to my house in the valley when I heard banging up here, so I came back to check it out. Everyone was gone, so I ran into the caves and began shouting, hoping someone would hear.”
The Chia she was talking to looked very unhappy. “Absolutely everyone was gone?”
The Ogrin nodded fiercely. “Yes, every last one of them. I even popped my head in the Mountain Lodge, but it seems all the guests have just disappeared too!”
“Except me,” another voice said. It was a skunk Kougra. “The noise of the Borovan Day celebration was keeping me awake, so I took a walk down in the Ice Caves. That’s when I heard the call for help.”
The Chia frowned. “You didn’t see anything unusual before you left?”
Luther paused, obviously thinking. Cypher could tell he was debating whether or not to tell about the inexplicable papers they had found. Finally, Luther shook his head. “I haven’t seen anything.”
Cypher groaned to herself. If he wasn’t telling anyone about the scraps of paper, Luther clearly wanted to figure it out on his own, and he definitely wouldn’t be able to do all by himself. But then another thought struck the confused Cybunny. She had teamed up with Luther before, and they had solved the AstroVilla mystery. She had outwitted the clever culprit (who in fact wasn’t evil) and saved the jobs of many pets at the hotel. Not only that, Cypher had done it all with no benefit to herself. She smiled at nothing in particular, wiping a snowflake from her nose. She was Cypher the Solver, and she was ready for her second adventure.
Cypher ran up to Luther and grinned. “I changed my mind. Let’s do it.”
To be continued...