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Glacia


by rainbow_daydreamer

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Glacia.

     That was what their species called the planet, since time immemorial. It was a fitting name. The whole of its surface was covered in the one thing they needed to live: beautiful, life-giving, cooling ice. Ice hung from the mouths of caverns, ice floated and bobbed on the surface of the gale-haunted sea. It was a glistening white paradise of a homeworld, shining like a jewel as the faint light of the sun shone upon it. Glacia.

     On the surface of this planet, somewhere on the continent that they called Night Mountains, two creatures were playing together, happily enjoying the long hours of daylight.

     Silksilver and Frozenstars were best friends, teenagers both, and a perfect example of the saying that opposites attract. Silky, as her friends called her, was a talkative, friendly youngling, whose shining blue skin gave her the prettiest appearance of any of her friends; Frozen was shy and quiet, fond of his own company and of sitting composing poetry on brighter days. Yet the two of them were rarely seen with anyone but each other at their side.

     When Silky had hurt her tail, Frozen had been there to carry her home. When Frozen had had an argument with his sister, Silky had offered him a sleeping-space in her cave until their fury cooled. No-one could even remember when they had met, for they had no memory of a life without each other.

     “Frozen! Get the ball!” yelled Silky, flinging a compacted ball of snow in her friend’s direction. Frozenstars tried his best to catch it, but it ended up shooting straight past his outstretched tail and splattering the rock cliff behind him. Silky just laughed, rolling her eyes. “Sheesh, Frozen, will you ever learn?”

     As Frozen moved to a different spot to try and get a better chance at catching the snowball, he heard a strange sound from below him. It sounded almost like a squeal. Digging in the snow with his tail, he pulled out a tiny, yellow-coloured creature wriggling in panic. “It’s okay, little pest.” He smiled. “I’m not going to hurt you.” He set the little thing down on the snow again. “Poor things,” he mused. “I’ve been seeing a lot of them lately. Weird colours, silly little feet, and barely big enough to bite my tail. Seems like they’re always getting into trouble like that, whatever they are. If I didn’t know better, Silky,” he said with a worried smile, “I’d say it was almost like they weren’t meant to be in the snow.”

     “Well, that one certainly doesn’t look like it can swim,” countered his friend. She had a point. Almost the only spots on Glacia not entirely covered by snow and ice were far out at sea, where the waves crashed on the ice and broke it into floating shards. The tiny creature, covered with fluff and hardly large enough to be visible, didn’t look as though it could be adapted for a life in the bleak, unforgiving oceans.

     “I know,” Frozen said, shuffling his tail in awkwardness. “I still mean it, though. They seem a bit lost.”

     “Don’t get yourself in a fret about them,” shrugged Silky. “They’re hardly big enough to pick up without crushing them. How on Glacia are we supposed to help ‘em? They'd be too much trouble to keep around the place.”

     Frozen had no answer. Sighing, he went back to his ball game.

     Struggling through the snowdrift, the tiny creature cried inaudibly at the cold.

     It could tell no-one that it was meant to live.

     *

     The cave was an artwork of construction, shimmering blue beneath the moonlight. It was the home of a family: Silky’s family. This was where the youngling slept, lost in happy dreams of ball games and celebrations, friendships and adventures. She lay curled amongst her siblings, silently breathing in the darkness of the night.

     Drip...

     Silky woke.

     It was still night-time: the moonlight bathed the snow outside. Her little brother was still snoring in the corner. She wondered what had woken her, unable to remember any nightmares or worries that would bring her out of such a peaceful sleep.

     Drip...

     Suddenly, there was a sharp tingling on her skin. Silky reached up, and felt her whole body shudder in shock as she touched a drop of water on her face.

     It made no sense to her. After all, her cavern home was many, many miles from the sea. Where could the liquid be coming from?

     Wondering, she uncurled from her sleeping-position and felt about in the dark. At length she found it. There was water dripping... from the ceiling? That couldn’t be right. She wondered if this was some sort of twisted dream.

     “Mother?” she whispered, but heard nothing but a gentle snore in reply. And the water continued to fall.

     The only one awake, the first one to know, Silky stared into the gloom, unable to understand, unable to know what to do.

     In the morning, when light was just beginning to dawn, she did the thing that came to her most naturally: she sought out her best friend. Frozen was sitting on his favourite rock cliff, gazing up into the brightening sky.

     “Frozen?”

     He looked toward her.

     “Something strange is happening.”

     But she saw in his eyes that he already knew.

     *

     It was a strange time. The inhabitants of Glacia had never felt before the bizarre weather that made them all so ill, the uncomfortable sliminess of the water that lay in slippery puddles on the ice. Silky winced every time she touched it. But every day there was more, and it was becoming harder to avoid as more and more of the ice was... melting.

     Melting. That was a new word for all of them. But it was happening, day by day. The ice, the life-giving ice, was turning to sickly, inedible, skin-burning liquid. On high peaks, they could see that beneath the water lay a strange dark substance, as hard as the ice had once been, and without the desperately needed cold. They had no name for it; how could they have a name for something that had never existed?

     Water was falling from the sky, too. That was new. They were used to the gentle fall of the snow, natural and healing, clustering in crystals outside. But now the forbidding clouds above them held water, showering down as though the heavens themselves were angry.

     Frozen sighed as he looked down at the ground beneath him. Water sloshed across the surface, making it a treacherous journey from his home to Silky’s. Still, he had to go.

     Silky's mother welcomed him, her eyes tired with perpetual worry. "Oh, good afternoon, my dear. Silky's just gone out, you should catch her if you hurry."

     Slipping through pools and puddles, he followed his friend's track through the snow, eventually coming to the clifftop where they had often sat, in better days. Silky was looking down at the landscape below, the usual sparkle gone from her eyes.

     "What will we do?" she said, not turning to look at him. "What will we do when the ice disappears? Where will we live?"

     "I don't know, Silky." Bringing his tail round from behind him, he handed her a small object. "I made this for you."

     "Oh, Frozen..." Her troubles temporarily forgotten, Silky stared at the intricately made snowflake shape. "It's beautiful."

     "It'll melt like the rest of the ice, I'm afraid," he told her, hanging his head. "But it should last a while if you keep wearing it." Pressing the charm to his friend's throat, he waited until the cold froze it in place.

     "You really made that for me..." she whispered, entranced by its simple beauty. "Now that's something."

     "It was meant for your birthday, but... but I thought I'd give it to you now instead," he finished weakly. They both knew what he meant, the terrible uncertainty that either of them would survive to see Silky's birthday.

     As the clouds began to gather overhead, Frozen took his friend's tail and led her gently home. They barely reached the cave before the first sizzling droplets began to fall.

     *

     A few days had passed since Frozen's last visit to Silksilver. His parents were scared to let him out, now: they were talking of moving up to the Night Mountains, one of the last places where the ice and snow still remained intact.

     Lying on the floor of the cave, he whimpered slightly as a drip fell from the roof onto his nose. It was no good, he decided; he would have to go out. The endless waiting was hurting him.

     Water had flooded the canyon where he used to play. Flowing down towards the ocean, it was still rising, bubbling up here and there into a new outburst.

     As Frozen contemplated the flood in gloomy silence, an odd flash of colour caught his eye. A few of the creatures he'd seen before were at the edge of the rising water, desperately scrabbling for a hold on the melting snow. As he watched, one of them fell in, floundering on the surface with a terrified squeal.

     "Hey, Silky was right," he mused. "You really aren't water creatures, are you?" Scooping up the remaining ones with his tail, he set them on a higher part of the slope. Their squeaking continued, but he thought he could detect a tone of relief... He shook his head. That was silly. Little creatures like this didn't have any emotions, let alone knowing to be grateful for a rescuer's work.

     And yet, they seemed preoccupied by something. Following their worried eyes, he was drawn to the unfortunate one still floating in the water, unable to save itself.

     "Poor little thing."

     For a moment, he watched it. Then, coming to a decision, he took a deep breath. With his teeth jammed together and both eyes half-closed, he swept his tailtip through the water, trying to ignore the pain as he lifted the small creature onto the snow.

     "There now. You're safe, for the time being, anyhow. Get somewhere higher next time." It hardly bothered him now that he was talking to a set of tiny lifeforms as if they could understand. Pressing his aching tail into the blessed coldness of the snow, he let the pain fade to a dull throbbing before beginning to make his way home.

     *

     For the next few days, Frozen's life had a purpose.

     The little creatures were beginning to fascinate him more and more. The closer he looked, the more intricacies and odd delights he found in their daily life.

     "You really aren't so different from me," he mused. "This weather's hurting you, too. But you have your families, your friends..."

     Carefully, he made a plan. Looking at what the creatures liked to eat—mainly odd substances found far beneath the snow—he carried a little of it at a time to a small, sheltered cave in the Night Mountains. The long journey took up a lot of his time, but there was little else to do, now that the water had risen. Then, as gently as he could, he would carry the creatures up to the Night Mountains and the safety of the cave.

     They settled in within next to no time, learning how safe they were in their new home. Occasionally, one of them would leave, only to return carrying a shiny rock or a clump of the strange, greenish stuff that was poking out from among the snowdrifts below the mountains. They hoarded what they had found, and Frozen copied them, bringing things he knew his little ones—his pets-- would like.

     Although he couldn't understand their noises, he was sure they were happy.

     *

     "Frozen! Wake up!"

     Silky was throwing snow over him, trying to wake him from his peaceful dreams. "You've got to wake up now!"

     "Huh?" He shook himself awake. His eyes were gummed up with fallen water, painful as he forced them open, but he tried to focus on Silky. "Are my parents moving at last? They said they would..."

     "They all are. I mean... we all are." Silky's face was excited and terrified at the same time. "Get up! Now!"

     The circle was enormous. Some of the elders were moving within it, sculpting elegant curves and lines with their tails; Frozen recognised his friend's grandfather among them, drawing with a look of determination in his eyes.

     "What's going on?" he asked, coming to his mother's side. She was watching the scene in silence, wearing a smile on her face, but a smile with an icicle of a tear behind it.

     "It's an enchantment," she told him in a whisper. "Once they're nearly done, we will all enter the circle. Then it'll take us away, somewhere we'll be safe?"

     "Take us away? For how long?" Frozen asked anxiously.

     His mother hung her head.

     "For ever."

     The silence seemed to carry over the icy mountains, out across the rippling water. It enveloped everything.

     "Wait." A single thought pushed itself to the front of Frozen's mind. "What about the Creatures?"

     "Creatures?" One of the elders gave him a puzzled glance.

     "You know. Those little creatures, the colourful ones..." Frozen scrabbled through the snow near where he was standing, until at last one came to light, cowering in its burrow. "Like this little one. We can't leave them."

     "Frozen, there's barely enough power in the circle to take all of us," Silky's grandfather answered gently. "We can't take them with us. I'm sorry, but you'll just have to leave your pet-creatures behind."

     "No. No." He was shouting now, in his panic. "We can't leave them. When the food in the Night Mountains runs out they'll come looking for more, and then they'll die if the water gets any higher. Someone needs to save them!"

     "Frozen, don't yell." His mother looked at him sternly. "If Vanneth says it's so, then that's how it has to be. He's trying to save all our lives here."

     Pushing away from the others, Frozen broke out of the crowd, splintered tears forming on his face.

     *

     "Frozen..."

     Silky's voice carried through the cave, gentle and persistent.

     "Frozen, you have to come now. We're leaving."

     There was not a hint of movement in the shadowy cave. Raising her head, Silky looked around.

     "Where are you? We have to... to go." Her voice caught on the words as their full meaning echoed in her mind. To go. To leave. Forever.

     "I'm not going."

     Frozen uncurled his body from the corner where he was lying.

     "Not... going? Frozen, don't talk crazy. Everyone has to go."

     "Look, will you?" He held out his tailtip for her to examine. "Look, Silky."

     Resting on his tail, a small red creature cowered in fear, twitching its long antenna-like ears. Even though it was so tiny, Silky could see that its body was soaked with water.

     "There's hundreds of these little guys, Silky, and they're depending on me now. If we leave now, they'll die. Every. Single. One. Die. We can't do that."

     "But we can't stay," she said, puzzled and worried. "Everyone's leaving. I have to look after my little brother, he's so sick now..."

     "I'm staying," he told her.

     Silky stood as still as a mountain in the little cavern, unable to believe what she had just heard. Her slender body began to tremble as the words sunk in.

     "Frozen. Don’t. You have to come."

     "I'll never forgive myself if I do," he snapped. "Look at them, Silky. Don't they need a chance?"

     "Frozen..." She was tearful now, the crystals forming on her cheeks. "Are you really going to leave me? Didn't we say we'd be friends forever?"

     "We will be." He touched the snowflake charm at her throat. "Tell me the incantation for the spell. I figure I can remember that circle pattern well enough. If I ever decide these little guys can manage on their own... well, then I'll try and figure out how to get back to you."

     "Oh..." For a moment, Silky was too overcome to speak. Then she whispered the words to him, wrapping him tightly in the coils of her long tail.

     "Silksilver! Come now!" Her grandfather's sharp voice echoed around them. With one last look back, she followed helplessly into the circle.

     Frozen watched from the sidelines, looking on as his best friend entered the magical circle. Silky gazed out at him silently for a moment, then a brilliant light rose out of the circle to cover her, and all Frozen's friends.

     "Goodbye, Silky..." he murmured as she vanished from sight.

     Then, turning away, he returned to his Creatures, to the sanctuary of the Night Mountains, where he would have no time to realise how alone he had truly become.

     *

     Time passes.

     Search through space until you see a world, no more the white pearl of Glacia, but a blue jewel that pets call Neopia. Look down on the world you find, on its highest mountain, still covered with glittering snow.

     There, even now, certain pets still bring their prized possessions—fine foods, beautiful toys, weapons that might serve them well in a crisis, and anything of value that another pet might need someday—to a certain cavern, where they bury them in the snow. They do it because their parents did it, because it's always been done, because whenever they arrive they have the chance to borrow something they need from the trove of good things.

     Frozenstars is no longer a teenager, naturally. Still, in the long lives of his species, he remains reasonably young. Someday, he thinks, someday soon, he will attempt the last enchantment, with the help of Taelia, the guardian of what were once the Night Mountains. It was she who gave him the little Petpets called Snowickles, and they bring him comfort every time he sees their familiar shape.

     Someday soon, he'll see Silksilver again.

     For now, he keeps his vigil, making sure with the occasional admonishing roar that the pets who come in search of aid don't take too much, watching them grow and change as they wander in and out of his sheltered cave. He knows some of them fear him, and he supposes that that is natural. He doesn't care.

     On the jewel that pets call Neopia, life in all its wonder is flourishing. Thousands upon thousands of little Neopets, bright-coloured marvels that have tamed the world they once feared.

     Some—the cynics, the burgled, the harassed—might think it's not worth the effort. But quite honestly, he considers, it's a pretty good reward.

     A reward that will last forever. Now that's something.

The End

 
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