Xavier's Quest: Part One
It’s not supposed to be this... cold, is it? Xavier thought. He looked around Terror Mountain as he raised his paw to knock on the door. He wasn’t thinking of the literal cold, but of the dreariness. It was already the 17th of Celebrating and there were no celebrations to be found: no lights, no decorated trees, no singing from the Cliffhanger cliffs. Surely someone had noticed by now. Surely someone on Terror Mountain had realized what time of year it was. But Xavier shrugged it off. He hadn’t journeyed all the way to Terror Mountain to comment on the lack of festivities.
A tiny window opened in the ice and a blue eye, shining and bright, peeked out at him. The Bruce jumped back, astonished that he was actually here, on Terror Mountain, about to talk to a real life faerie.
Two thousand neopoints, all the articles said. If the items were less than two thousand neopoints, complete the quest. The rewards, all the authorities on Neopian questing told him, are usually worth more than that. Three thousand and up? Let someone else get them for her and hop she doesn’t recognize you when you try again. Fyora knew how much he needed--no, how much he wanted--those neopoints for his stash, and how easy it was supposed to be to compete the Snow Faerie’s quests.
“Will you help me?” the Snow Faerie asked.
“Sure,” Xavier volunteered. He rocked back and forth on his Bruce feet and waited patiently, trying to guess how long it would take him to run to the Shop Wizard and back.
Taelia scanned her parchment, a list of items hundreds long that she needed for all sorts of purposes. She sized up the blue Bruce standing on her doorstep, trying to decide whether he would get the job done or vanish, to be heard from as soon as someone else brought her the items, offering excuses and begging for a second chance. Or a hundredth.
“Bring me a Milk Chocolate Hollow Cybunny, an Ice Cream Covered Jacket Potato, and a Chocolate Lenny Sand....” Taelia started, picking three items at random from her list and marking them with a check. There were check marks all up and down her list, and she knew, sooner or later, she would have to ask yet another Neopian for them. The crossed out ones, though. The Neopians responsible for those wavering lines deserved more than what she could give them.
Xavier scribbled the names of the items she was asking for in his Yellow Lined Notebook. Taelia saw his eagerness and mistook its motive.
“No. Scratch those out,” she instructed warmly. The Bruce obeyed. The Snow Faerie thought it was time for Terror Mountain to get in the spirit of Celebrating. Taelia tore a corner off her list and scribbled her own note on it. “Here,” she passed it through the window to Xavier. “Take that to the Advent Calendar and when the volunteers give you the lights, bring them back here.”
“Give?” Xavier asked. “You mean, you don’t want me to buy you anything?”
Taelia just nodded. “Give them the note, though, or they won’t believe you.”
Xavier nodded. He noticed that Taelia shivered against the cold as she closed the window. He turned his back to her igloo and surveyed Terror Mountain. The sun was starting to set, casting an eerie reddish aura over everything on the mountain, from Tarla’s Shop of Mystery to the Garage Sale igloo, to the Super Happy Icy Fun Snow Shop.
Xavier shivered. He wasn’t cold.
On the way up, he’d followed the side of the mountain, but that was around midday. It had snowed non-stop and the pass could easily be blocked off. Xavier stood in the snow for a long minute, thinking of his options. It would take so much longer to go through the Ice Caves, and there was so much there to distract him that he might not get back to Taelia before she grew too impatient to reward him. The Bruce glanced down at the parchment, as if it held the answer he was seeking.
He couldn’t read the Snow Faerie’s hasty scrawl, and the more he studied the parchment the more it seemed to be written in some sort of code. Xavier looked the paper up and down, barely able to discern a t here and an m there. His heart fluttered in his throat when he got to the bottom of the page: there was a word he recognized. It was a single scribble, centered under the order for lights, starting with a capital T. T, for Taelia. Her signature.
The blue in his Bruce eyes turned to gold; their little beads became coins. He saw the Auction Genie in his mind and heard the chanting: “I have one million, one million neopoints. Do I have one point one million? One point one million neopoints. Yes sir, in the rainbow. I have one point one million neopoints. Do I have one point two? One point two million neopoints... SOLD! Four point six million neopoints, to the Faerie Aisha.”
He had, in his cold little paw, something Neopia had never seen before, something that Neopia would most certainly want: the autograph of a faerie. And, it wasn’t just any faerie. The autograph of any faerie would fetch a good price, he was sure, but this! This was Taelia. Everyone knew the name of the snow faerie. Everyone would recognize it when he told them what he had. A dark cloud stained Xavier’s vision for a moment as he thought of how hard it would be to find someone to buy the autograph, but it had a silver lining. There weren’t many Neopians who could afford that sort of price, but those that would want it for their private collections had near unlimited funds.
He didn’t even have to complete the quest and already Xavier had made his fortune. Feeling lucky, he stuck his free paw into his waist pouch--he was carrying about 2,500 neopoints, the maximum recommended to spend on Taelia’s quest--and pulled out a single coin. He tossed it up in the air. “Heads I take the pass,” he muttered as it fell, “and tails I go through the caves.”
The coin landed on heads. Xavier bent to pick it up, brushed against it, and decided to leave it where it was. It was, after all, on heads. He’d had his fair share of luck, and he was sure some other Neopian would need it more than he would.
Carefully, Xavier picked his way down the side of Taelia’s hill, trying to stay close to the path he’d followed on the way up--hundreds of feet--paws and claws--going to and from the igloo had packed the snow until it was nearly like ice, but he’d found a path of mush that was far less slippery. The path to the pass wound around the hill and passed the Igloo Garage Sale game. Xavier stopped, tempted to spend a few minutes playing the game. The loss of his one neopoint, the coin he’d left in the snow for some unfortunate Neopian to find, was weighing on him and he wished the purse hanging at his waist were heavier.
Xavier considered tossing another coin--heads, play the game, tails, continue down the mountain--but he knew that if it landed on heads, he’d feel compelled to leave that coin in the snow for someone to find too. He went as far as pulling out a coin, but he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t bring himself to give up two neopoints with no chance of making them back. One neopoint was pushing it. Two was far too many.
Shaking his head, Xavier passed by the game (Maybe, he thought, I’ll come back here after I’m rich to play.). He picked his way toward the pass. Falling snow had covered all of his tracks--except for the trips and missteps that sent him sprawling against the rock, those were still there, shielded from the snow by the rock faces on either side--so he had to find his way all over again. Thankfully, there were no side caverns or forks to get him lost on the way down.
Step by step, braced against a cold even his Bruce body could barely handle, Xavier made his way toward Happy Valley. From Happy Valley, he thought, I can get to Tyrannia, and from there to Roo Island, and from Roo Island to the Auction House, and from the Auction House to a three-story home in Faerieland, fully furnished, and a new paint job! Maybe even a species change....
The snow he walked over was soft, fluffy. The Bruce, lost in his fantasy, hadn’t noticed that, or what it meant. As he thought about how much it would cost to turn him into a Krawk--and paint him a basic color; those Transmogrification Potions were nasty--he realized that his feet were sinking farther into the snow than they should have, had the snow been the same snow he’d walked over on his way up, and that the rock walls of the pass seemed less high than they had been before.
He finally stopped, however, when he realized that it would cost way more than the 4.6 million neopoints he’d imagined the autograph selling for. Thinking of that--and how he would just have to auction the autograph for more to cover the difference--he still didn‘t notice all the ill omens around him, so he kept walking.
By the time he stopped to pay attention, he was waist deep in a sea of snow, and there was nothing else to see. Xavier panicked. He looked around, looked for the walls of the pass and the gentle slope of the path from the pass to Happy Valley, a path he should have found already.
There was nothing around him but snow.
To be continued...