Secret of Silver Crest: Part Four
Tiran froze. He had never had the occasion to see the Snowager before, and his reaction was sheer panic. Through the dim light filtering into the cave, the Snowager seemed like a giant column of darkness, as thick as several trees tied together, its jaws like a large fanged door, moving restlessly as if in anticipation of a meal.
With desperate speed, he placed himself squarely in front of Lyara, knowing it was futile, since the exits were much too far away for her to reach, even if the creature went for him first.
But Lyara had hopped out from behind him and was crouching in front of the Snowager the way someone else might crouch in front of a lost puppyblew. “Hi Snowy,” she crooned. “Did you miss me?”
The sudden release from terror was like a physical thing, and Tiran collapsed to the ground again, laughing hysterically, his knees weak with relief.
“Don’t tell me,” he finally managed to say dryly, noting that both Lyara and the Snowager were looking at him oddly. “Another one of your pets?”
Lyara blinked at him. “Oh, Snowy’s not a pet. I just come and see him when we come to market. He’s actually very nice. He only acts mean ‘cause people keep trying to steal his things. Once you get to know him, he’s a really great friend.”
Tiran covered his eyes with paws that still shook. “A small Cybunny befriends a large, serpent-like creature that could crush her without noticing. How... prosaic.” He sighed and uncovered his eyes. “Pleased to meet you, Mr. – uh – Snowager.”
To his surprise, the Snowager inclined his head politely, then turned his attention back to Lyara, who patted his snout gently.
“Sorry,” she said. “I didn’t bring any cakes for you this time, ‘cause I didn’t expect to come. We only came here ‘cause we were trying to escape from Tiran’s crazy family, but I’ll bring double next time, okay?”
As she spoke, the cave seemed to shake with an odd heaving motion, and something like a primordial roar rumbled through the floor from deep within the ground.
Lyara looked at him nervously. “Should we, um, get going?”
With a sudden resolve, Tiran shook his head. “No. We can’t. Whatever these weird shakes are, I’m pretty sure it has to do with me and my family. I have to go find the source.” He looked at Lyara. “Your aunt Dana said that there was a plateau kind of thing on top of these caves, that had a smooth rock with runes on it. Do you know how to get there?”
She nodded. “Sure, I’ve been there a couple times. Snowy can take us there, if we ask nicely, I bet.”
Deciding that it would take too much time to talk Lyara out of going, Tiran turned to the Snowager. “Could you, uh, take us up there, please?”
The Snowager shifted as if uncertain, then nodded. With a flick of his tail, he knocked a massive fallen stalactite in front of the entrance, effectively sealing the cave. Then he slowly lowered his head to their level, shaking it impatiently when Tiran hesitated. Lyara hopped on confidently, watching Tiran as he clambered on slowly, trying not to dig his claws anywhere, or do anything that might upset the massive creature.
“Hang on to his scales,” the Cybunny advised. “He’s really slippery.”
Tiran acquiesced, and the Snowager took off like a shot, ricocheting off of the stone walls like a massive, icy arrow.
The journey to the plateau on top of the caves took all of ten minutes, and when the Snowager finally slid to a halt in the muted light of day, Tiran slipped off his back in a half-fall, more relieved than he had ever been to have his feet on solid ground once more.
“If it’s all the same to you, I think I’ll walk down,” he muttered. The Snowager looked at him in amusement, giving him what might have been a wink, before tilting his head to allow Lyara to slide off.
She hit the ground with a thump, then got up and looked around curiously. “So, what are we doing here, then?”
Tiran shook his head. “I’m honestly not sure.”
He looked around, his eyes drawn to a flat gray stone, only ten feet away. He walked over to it reluctantly, compelled by curiosity, but repelled by good sense. It was not particularly large, perhaps the size of a small dinner table. The surface was gray and unnaturally smooth, but not particularly polished, looking as if it had been sliced in half with a giant knife. Runes and glassy stones dotted the sides, all in a dull black color, reflecting no light at all. There was no snow on it, Tiran realized with a chill, despite the fact that the rest of the area was thickly coated with it.
Slowly, hesitantly, he reached out a paw to touch one of the stones.
Another roar split the air, much louder and closer this time, the ground bucking and writhing as a force beneath the earth struggled to get free. In the center of the plateau, a large crack split the earth with a loud tearing noise. The ground bulged near the center, tenting upward as two giant chunks rose into the air. Then, the rocks were torn away, shattering into a thousand pieces as a monster emerged.
The creature bore some resemblance to the snow beast, at least in terms of shape, with a horned head and jutting brow ridges, resting on all fours with a broad, stocky body. But it seemed to be made of pure shadow, with threads of darkness writhing at the edges, and its eyes glowed red, crazed and bulging. Lyara shrieked and clutched his leg, and for the second time that day, Tiran froze with abject terror, staring up blankly at the face of death as the monster turned toward him, slowly and speculatively, its eyes filled with stark hunger.
Suddenly, another roar echoed through the sky as the Snowager hurled itself through the air, knocking the monster back with a flip of its powerful head.
The two pets forgotten, the monster and the Snowager circled each other warily, each searching for the other’s weakness. The Snowager darted forward, slashing at the other with its razor-sharp fangs, but was knocked back by a crushing sweep of the monster’s long arms. The Snowager tumbled backward, head over tail, sliding on the ground before struggling upright, moving forward to engage its enemy again, this time with more caution.
Mesmerized by the two titans fighting, Tiran almost missed seeing the figures streaming out of another cave entrance, quickly but uncertainly, staring at the shadowy creature with horror. His family again, Tiran groaned inwardly, noting with whatever smugness he could muster up that his cousin Aldren had a large bump in the middle of his forehead.
They were prevented from coming near either Tiran or the stone by the fight between the two creatures, but it didn’t take very long for his family to notice him as well. His uncle stepped forward, cupping his mouth with his paws.
“You have to let it get you,” he called, barely audible through the din. The storm was picking up as well, the wind screaming through the stones, and the snow swirling through the air, making it difficult for Tiran to see his uncle’s expression. “Do you understand me? There’s no other way you can stop it. I’m sorry, Tiran, but that’s the way it has to be.”
I’ll bet you’re sorry, Tiran thought with sarcastic bitterness, and started to turn away, stopped by a weight near his feet. Lyara still clutched at his leg, whimpering, her face streaked with tears. Tiran stopped, his chest suddenly leaden. The monster would be bound again if it spilled the blood of a Silver Crest Bori, but that stipulation wasn’t laid on anyone else. If the monster wanted to wreak as much havoc as possible, it would go for someone outside of the family. And there was only one pet on the plateau that fit that description.
Miserably, Tiran considered his options. Had they been anywhere near a cave entrance, he might have considered just taking Lyara and simply running away. But all the caves were too far away, and even if they weren’t, Tiran knew that if he ran, his family would as well, and then the monster would be truly free. His second option was to wait it out, hope that the Snowager would win the fight, or the monster would go for someone else. But he knew both of these outcomes were unlikely, and he owed the little Cybunny far too much to risk her life like that now. There was only one choice left.
Gently, Tiran detached Lyara’s paws from his ankles and set her carefully on the ground. “Stay here, all right?” he said, hoping that she would obey for once.
She looked at him as if sensing his decision, her eyes wide. “Don’t listen to them,” she whispered. “You can’t.”
“It’s okay,” Tiran said, wishing desperately to believe it. He turned to face the monster again, standing in a crouched position as the Snowager panted raggedly, nearly beaten.
“No!” Lyara screamed, throwing herself forward and clutching his ankles again, clinging on with desperate strength. Something heavy hit his foot, hard enough to bruise. He glanced down. Lyara still wore the medallion, the pendant hanging near her feet like some kind of ridiculous ornament, ugly despite all its value.
And suddenly, he knew what to do.
To be continued...