Ice Crystal Guardian
His eyes roamed over the page at random. When he judged that enough time had passed, he turned over the next one.
Ice liked reading, but right now he couldn't concentrate. He flexed his clawed right paw in its glove of thick leather. The small, diamond-like crystal set into the tough material gleamed faintly. It was just a trick of the light, but even so, it looked like...
Another minute had passed.
... a star, fallen to earth and trapped in a shard of ice. Ice looked at it thoughtfully. Last night had brought a lot of surprises. He wanted to reason things through, but if he just stared into the distance, his sisters would notice something was up. Hence the reading.
Ice examined his fur. It was thick, and tough, and warm, and fully capable of protecting him against the cold, which was just what a Bori's fur should do.
It was also blue.
So why had it seemed...?
Maybe it had been a dream. That would be the most sensible explanation.
Still, it would have been interesting if it was true.
Ice stealed a glance over his book. His 'twin' sister Fel was sitting on the woolen rug, contemplating a chess board. As he watched, she smiled and moved a piece.
Fel looked a lot like him, particularly around the eyes, which was strange, because Ice was adopted. Originally, they were even the same colour, but Fel had recently been painted purple. The bright, vibrant colour suited her perfectly.
Ice realized he hadn't turned a page for a good two minutes.
His other sister Sing moved her piece. She was a pretty Bori with fur like liquid sunlight. Right now her eyes were narrowed with calculation. Sing was very good at chess.
Ice sighed, then covered it with a cough.
The room had a warm, comfortable atmosphere. A bright fire crackled merrily in the hearth.
He wondered why his first owner had Pounded him, and then swiftly directed his train of thought elsewhere.
There had been kids. Two kids, dressed up warmly in their furs and coats, thinking they could take on the Mountain.
His fur had seemed white...
The little shard of crystal was the only thing his first owner had left him. Ice didn't remember his first owner. He had been abandoned within an hour of being born, with only the crystal -
- no, and a name.
The Bori whistled, and his horus screeched fiercely and swooped down to land on his fist. Ice smiled as he slipped the hood over the bird's head and turned it round so his eyes were covered. Guardian was a vicious little creature, and Ice wasn't sure why he kept him, except that company was rare on this part of the Mountain, and you learned to take it wherever you found it.
Guardian dug his claws through the leather and cocked his head at Ice.
The horus let out a short 'shree'ing call and tugged at the hood with his claw.
"I can't let you hunt unhooded for long. You know that. If you went too far past our boundaries, you might get lost."
Guardian let out another shree and hopped into flight. Ice, startled, snatched him out of the air.
"You can't fly blind!" Ice admonished, then gave in and turned the hood around so Guardian could see. The horus hopped off his hand once more and soared back into the sky.
Ice watched him with a pang of longing. Maybe this was why he kept the bird; so that one of them, at least, could be among the stars.
Guardian swooped down, narrowly missing Ice's ears, and then off in a completely different direction. Ice watched him idly for a few moments, then his eyes widened as he realized that the bird didn't look like stopping any time soon.
"Guardian?" The Bori started running after. "Guardian! Back!" He whistled again, but the horus paid him no heed.
Guardian's flight led him over several kilometres. Ice wasn't tired, but he wondered where the bird was leading him, what could possibly be so important...
Then he dismissed the thought. Guardian wasn't leading him anywhere, just flying. Ice would follow until the bird became exhausted, then re-catch him and head back. Simple. Certainly the horus wasn't trying to lead him anywhere.
Ice heard a call.
Not exactly a call. More of a faint, cracked, desperate plead.
The voice trailed away. Ice was already headed towards it.
Children. Two of them. Trapped underneath a pile of snow that looked like it might have been dislodged from higher up. One of them was curled up, inert, her pale face blue in the light of the stars. The other was still moving faintly, but as Ice watched his movements stopped.
Ice found that he was trembling. He had to help them. How could he not? But there was no way he could move that whole pile of snow. It looked like there were chunks of ice and rock in there too. Ice may have been a Bori, but he wasn't a superman. It would take him a while to shift that, and it would be slow, and it would certainly be too dangerous. Unless he did it all at once, it would probably pile itself even more upon the children, and they would die. Simple as that. He needed to get help. Several people would be able to do this better than one. They would be able to do it all at once. He couldn't. He wasn't a superman. He was just a Bori.
The nearest settlement that had enough people was nearly four hours away by walking.
All at once. That was the way to do it.
But he couldn't.
Clouds had been drifting across the sky, obscuring the stars. Ice flung back his head and glared at the clouds.
"At least let me have some light!" he roared.
The clouds moved.
In this region, the stars were brighter than anywhere else in the world. They gazed down at Ice now, and he felt despair overtake him.
... Ice Crystal Guardian...
Ice looked around. Had he really just heard that?
For some reason, he glanced down at his gloved hand. The little crystal - the Ice Crystal, said his brain - was glowing with the bright, cold fire of the stars.
His fur turned white.
There might have been wings too. He couldn't really tell. Everything disappeard in the burning oblivion of the cold bright fire.
When he had come to his senses, he had been back at home, in his room, with the warm, soft light of the sun shining through his window. There had been a paper. He had read it. Apparently, two lost children - missing, presumed dead by their tearful parents - had been discovered, relatively unharmed by their ordeal, on their parents' doorsteps.
The Bori yelped. Fel and Sing were both watching him.
"Yeah?" he asked, casually.
Fel sighed. "Ice, you haven't turned a page in half an hour."
He flushed. "Er."
"I'd love it if you told us what's on your mind, but that can wait," Sing said. "Right now, Rikku's here."
"Yes. Rikku. Our owner. Remember her? Insane, likes Poisonous Jellies, thinks she's a Maraquan Draik? Carries a frying pan?" Fel grinned.
"Of course I remember her," Ice snapped. "I was just surprised." He paused. "Rikku? What's she doing here?"
"She wanted to see you. She's at the door. It's cold. Go."
Rikku was shivering. She carried a wrapped bundle under her arm.
"Hey, Ice," she said brightly.
They didn't see much of Rikku. She mostly mucked about on her 'main account', and this was one of her 'sides'.
"I brought ya something," Rikku said brightly. She handed the parcel to him.
It was soft. He pulled at it and it undid, revealing itself as a Woolen Scarf. He frowned at it.
"I do look after my pets occasionally, you know," the 'Draik' said, smiling.
"Um. Yes. Right."
"How've your dreams been?"
"Had any interesting dreams lately? Realistic ones, say?" She looked at him closely.
"Um... no... remarkably dreamless, me," he said uneasily.
"Hmm." She spoke rapidly. "If, say, you had a dream that something happened to do with stars and you, say, needed something so that people wouldn't notice so much if you turned white when people where in trouble, then, hypothetically, and this is all hypothetical, remember, you might need that. Hypothetically." She gestured at the scarf.
"Erm... right," Ice said. Most of his conversations with his owner were like this. "Okay. That's good, then."
"Great! See ya later!" She waved cheerfully, and then started to walk back down the Mountain, whistling a merry tune. Ice blinked away his confusion.
He pulled at the scarf again, and a small, humming object fell onto his palm. It was brown, and it had paint dripping off the edge. In fact, it looked remarkably like a White Paint Brush.
"Interesting," he managed to say, and then headed back inside to put his thoughts back in order.