Legacy of Ice: Part Six
"Is snow always this cold?"
"Of course it is! Ice too! There's plenty of that higher up!"
Mist laughed at Rathua's groan. Her spirits were high, happy at being back in her own land. They had been making good progress, considering that the freezing winds whipped around their heads, and the trail Mist was leading them up was practically vertical in places. Both Flame and Rathua were half-frozen, though as Mist had said several times, 'They were finally in the right climate for her'.
The trio was about halfway up the mountain when Mist called back to her escort, who had fallen behind, not used to walking through snow.
"We can have a break here. There's a little cave... It was here last time..." Mist stopped speaking for a moment as she scanned the snow around them. Rathua was impressed she had some idea where they were - The surrounding snow all looked the same to him. Mist's triumphant call sounded back to the desert pets, and they knew the little ice Wocky had found a spot for them to shelter. Looking at where she had been, they pets looked for Mist, but couldn't find her. Her voice sounded back to them before they could become properly worried, though, echoing as it left the cave she had found. Following her call, Flame reached the place where she had been and saw a narrow snow-covered opening. When he climbed through it, he found a dry cave, fairly insulated and considerably warmer than outside. It was relatively large too, with enough room for Mist to lie down against one wall, while Flame moved away from the entrance into the corner to allow Rathua behind him to enter.
"We're almost there now... I mean, if we keep going up the side of the mountain, then it might take a while and it gets even colder further up so you might find it hard to keep going, but -" Mist paused to breathe in "- The tunnels start around here. The Bori dug them, ages ago. So when we start climbing again, look out for any little dips in the snow; they could be tunnels that got covered over."
Rathua nodded, then looked out the entrance of the cave. The sun was just setting, throwing a beautiful orange-gold light over the snow. You could see the stone maze from there, as well as the charred grassland, and even the start of the sand dunes. The Ruki's gaze rested on the golden sand for a moment, before turning back into the cave. Flame was living up to his name and starting a small fire for the two of them. He had chosen to do it in the corner opposite the one where Mist was already asleep.
"We're out of food!"
"We're what? Oh, darn..."
Mist woke up to the voices of her two friends. Realising their problem, she smiled sleepily at them. "It doesn't matter. We're less than an hour from the food store... The shopkeeper knows me; she'd give us something to eat." The Wocky sat up properly now, rubbing her eyes.
"Less than an hour? Alright then. My belly demands that we start getting there now," Rathua announced
Mist rolled over lazily. "Just five more minutes..."
"I'm hungry too, Mist. Come on. The sooner we leave, the sooner we eat. And the sooner we eat, the faster we'll be able to get to your home." Flame nudged her with his toe.
Mist couldn't argue with that. The bitter cold of the morning outside seemed to wake her up a bit, although she still seemed to delight in the temperature. Rathua and Flame spoke longingly of fur coats as they shivered.
"Mist? Is that one a tunnel?"
The Wocky glanced back to see where Flame was pointing. She padded over to the dip in the snow and tried digging there. Her paws hit rock within seconds. She grinned at the Scorchio and shook her head, before turning back to the route she had been taking. Flame tapped his foot against the ground impatiently. That was his third false call in the hour. Grumbling to himself, he started after Mist, only to fall down a dark tunnel covered with snow, a dip right ahead of him that he hadn't noticed.
He gave a cry as he fell, the vertical tunnel dropping him straight down. The tunnel had originally been just wide enough for him to fit through, but it widened as he fell, and the light from above became fainter. He felt as if he was falling into an abyss. The tunnel soon slimmed again, and the back wall of the tunnel grazed Flame's back. The back wall started curving, sending the Scorchio down a vertical slide, until the tunnel finally leveled out and Flame found himself sitting, unharmed, on the rock floor of his tunnel.
For the second time in less than a week, Flame found himself sitting in a cave, in complete darkness and stillness. It was never a welcome position to find himself in. He seemed to sit there for the longest time, the blackness yearning around him. He was starting to feel afraid - Was there anything else in this tunnel? Did it know he was there? Was it coming for him? - when he heard the scrabbling of paws against rock. It scared him to the core. He took up a fighting stance, and tried to yell bravely, "Who goes there? Show yourself!", though his voice quavered, and he realised that in this complete darkness the beast could be dancing in front of him for all he knew.
It was his brother's voice that responded, though, calming the Scorchio instantly. "Flame? Are you alright? That's some fall there, eh? Mist's just coming now..."
Before he could respond to this, Flame was hit by a flying ball of ice. It chilled him, and also hit him with enough momentum to carry both of them into the tunnel wall. Fairly hard, too. Flame demanded to know what had hit him.
"I'm sorry, Flame," came Mist's sheepish voice, as the ball of ice lifted itself off him. "I think I went down that tunnel a bit too fast... Good work finding it, though. Eventually." She laughed, the sound echoing long after she stopped. Rathua and Flame both winced at the noise, and what it might attract, but Mist continued, undeterred. "You even found one of the gentler slopes! I'd forgotten all about this one..."
"That slope was gentle?" asked Rathua in amazement.
"Oh, yes. You should see some of the ones further up. They're great fun to slide down, but getting back up to the surface isn't too easy. The only thing is... I'm not too sure how far along this tunnel we are... I usually had a torch, you see... Or the Bori used to put them into the brackets up along here, can you feel these? But without a light..."
"You mean we're lost in the dark? Underground?" This thought was so daunting, Flame sat down hard.
"No, we aren't. We've got a torch." Rathua looked hard at his brother, a look that was completely lost in the darkness. "Flame, have you forgotten about your own name...?"
"Ah... Mist, where are you again? I don't want to scorch you..."
"And I'm here. I don't want to get burnt either, Flame."
Taking note of where both voices came from, Flame looked at an empty part of the tunnel and blew, searing heat flying from his mouth, and accompanying it; Light.
Rathua and Mist looked around the newly illuminated tunnel. It was long, fairly low-roofed and reasonably wide. The incline they had slid down lay some way behind them, and the tunnel continued past the light Flame's breath showed. True to what Mist had said, torch brackets lined the walls, and in some of them charmed wood. The wood ice pets used for torches was rare, as it had to be spelled before anyone could light it. Their wood gave off a lot more light and a lot less heat than normal torches, as well as lasting an unnaturally long time. Mist explained this to Rathua, who collected several pieces from the nearby brackets, putting most in his pack and holding one out to his brother. The now-breathless Scorchio accepted it and light it from his flame, breathing in heavily once he wasn't the only source of light.
Mist, who had been consulting her mental map of the tunnels suddenly started walking forwards. "I know the way," she called. "Follow me."
After a quarter hour of moving through the tunnel, Mist stopped them. The silence in the tunnel was a calm kind, not the oppressive sort they had found in the maze. The three pets had been chatting happily to each other as they walked as a result, and spirits were high, considering they hadn't had breakfast yet.
"Rathua, can you give me a lift? See that hole in the ceiling there? It leads to a smaller tunnel, one that goes up to the food shop. Only I can't reach that high. Ah, thanks..."
True to Mist's words, once the three were in the new tunnel, it proved to be considerably smaller, almost cramped, and with the distinct aroma of fresh bread wafting through it.
After only a couple of minutes, Mist stopped to open a trapdoor above them, and they emerged into a building. It was made of stone, with a few wooden shelves throughout it, all with delicious snacks on top of them. They stood patiently in the middle of the room of a moment, before Mist called out, "Mrs. Bori? Mrs. Bori, are you here? We'd like something to eat..." After getting no reply, Mist padded through the door to the kitchen, and after a quick look around she turned back to her friends. "She isn't here! And the ovens are really cold... It looks like no one's been here in days..."
"If the baker left, she left in a hurry," added Flame, with a nod to the wide open front door.
Rathua had already gone to the door, and taken a look out. He turned back in, looking worried. "Mist, I think you'd better see this..."
The Wocky ran outside and stopped short. She was on top of the mountain, in the village. It was exactly as she'd remembered it, except...
The door to every building was wide open, and swinging on its hinges. There was no one to be seen, and not even a petpet was playing in the snow.
Mist gave a wail. "Where is everyone?"
To be continued...