Xavier's Quest: Part Two
Xavier started to panic. He spun around in circles, looking for anything that wasn’t white or fluffy, but there was only snow. The faster he spun, the dizzier he got, and the Bruce toppled over, sending a thin white cloud puffing up. The Bruce shivered as the snow settled like dust on him, and he looked around for anywhere to hide. Maybe, he thought, I can wait out the storm. The snow will melt, eventually, and I’ll be able to find my way back down the mountain.
Xavier shot up from the ground and stumbled to his feet as best he could. He fished around in the snow for his piece of parchment. If it got too wet, as it was bound to do with the threat of melting snow, the signature would smear and drop in value by at least--the Bruce didn’t want to think of the difference between a smeared faerie autograph and a pristine one. He found it and wrenched it free. Putting it up close to his face, Xavier inspected the parchment for damage: it was damp, but Taelia’s ink was still perfectly crisp and the parchment itself wasn’t damaged. With all the care in the world, Xavier folded up the sheaf and tucked it away in his waist pouch between the soft velvet cloth and a roll of neopoints where it wouldn’t get damaged.
Looking around as though he expected the snow to magically disappear--faeries granted wishes of that scale sometimes, right?--Xavier tried to make himself a plan.
I could, he thought naturally, go back the way I came and take the Ice Caves from Terror Mountain to Happy Valley. Or, I could wait out the snow up here, hoping it melts, and continue down this way.
But, Xavier observed, it was still snowing, so the chances of waiting out the snow and still making good time to the Auction House were slim. One never knew how long one would have the only thing of its kind: for all Xavier knew, every faerie in Neopia would sign bits of parchment once they learned someone as notable as Taelia had done it, and then his faerie signature would be worthless, or nearly so.
Xavier turned around and started walking back toward Terror Mountain. Let’s just hope she doesn’t see me, he thought. It would be hard to explain why he was back so soon, and without her lights, even if his excuse was a good one. The Bruce walked and walked across the field of snow, frustrated that there was no scenery to mark his progress by.
Suddenly, he stopped. A terrible thought had stricken the Bruce. He’d spun around in a circle when he realized he was stuck in the pass, spun around and had no way to tell which direction was which. Looking at the sky, he tried to figure out how long he’d been walking for. “Drat!” he shouted, and covered his mouth with both his paws. It echoed once, twice, thrice, and then it died. Xavier’s ears were as open as wide as he could get them for any rumble of an avalanche. He stood, frozen in place by fear, admonishing himself between racing heartbeats for being so foolish.
The rumbling started, soft at first, not really more than a shiver, or a tremble. Xavier checked to make sure his purse was secure at his waist and covered his eyes with his paws.
The rumbling got louder and the block of snow under his feet hummed, vibrated. Xavier sat in the snow so he wouldn’t fall over, and pressed his paws even tighter against his eyes.
The snow in front of him exploded upward in a cloud of white and the rumbling stopped. Xavier peeked out from behind one of his paws and saw a wide swath of purple on the snow in front of him. He jumped back and both his paws dropped from his eyes, heavy with surprise.
“You know,” the creature said, “you shouldn’t yell like that up here. The snow will hear you and try to come running to your rescue, and then bad things happen. Really bad things. Like Happy Valley finding itself buried or the Ice Caves getting flooded.”
Xavier let out his breath. He reached for his purse again, just to make sure it was still there, and introduced himself to the Tuskaninny. “I’m Xavier. I was up on Terror Mountain, and I’m trying to get back home to Neopia Central.”
“Did you give up on one of Taelia’s quests?”
“Uh....” Xavier didn’t know what to say.
“It’s all right. Everyone does it at some point or another. No worries.”
“I haven’t quite given up yet,” Xavier tried to defend himself.
“You just don’t think you can afford it? Happens to everyone, coming on bad times. Though, you’re headed the wrong way to get off the mountain. I’d assumed you were going back to apologize to the faerie for failing. Not many that do that. She likes it.”
“I wasn’t paying attention,” the Bruce admitted. “I guess I got turned around.”
“You guess? Boy, did you! Straight back in the wrong direction, too. Pretty hard to do up here, seeing as there are only two directions to go. Fifty-fifty shot of picking the right one, and you start off with a decent idea to boot. Must’ve got caught in the snow, eh?”
“Something like that. I spun around in circles trying to see where I was and then started walking,” Xavier explained.
The Tuskaninny whistled a long, piercing whistle. “Fancy that. Explains a lot. I suppose you want some help then, getting down the mountain.”
“That’d be great.” Xavier smiled and his eyes lit up.
“Sure. I’ll help you. Swimming under the snow all the time, I know my way around up here pretty well. But,” he added, “I’d like a favor in return.”
“What sort of favor?” Xavier peaked his eyebrows and hoped it wasn’t something outlandish.
“I got in a bit of a scrape with the Negg Faerie way back when and she won’t trade Neggs with me. I really need this one, and I have enough to trade her for it, but she won’t let me in the Neggery. If you could just slip in there for me, sweet talk her and get the negg I want, I can show you a shortcut down to Happy Valley and set you up with a boat to Tyrannia. At a discount.”
“The Negg Faerie?” Xavier thought for a while about how he could trick the Lady of the Ice Caves into giving him her signature. Should I sell them as a lot, or one at a time? The lot price will be a bit lower than separates, but it guarantees the sale of both if one of them sells.
“You know, the one that wears shorts in the Ice Caves. Man, are those caves cold. Even to me--and I’m built for cold--they’re freezing. It won’t take long, though. We can get in and out, no time at all.”
“Where are your neggs, though? Don’t you need them to turn in?”
“Sure do, but don’t you worry about that. I have a stash that we’ll get to when we get to it, closer to the caves. So. What do you say? Will you help a Tuskaninny out?”
Xavier thought for a moment, considering his prospects. The Tuskaninny had already told him that he was going the wrong way, so he could turn around and start walking the right way, assuming that he trusted the Tuskaninny, whose name he didn’t even know. The Bruce also didn’t know the nature of his companion’s run-in with the Negg Faerie. Get lost, it all boiled down to, or follow a stranger and help him hoodwink a faerie.
“Well?” the Tuskaninny prompted. “Have you made up your mind?”
“Sure. Let’s go.”
“The name’s Sarasan, by the way. It’s a pleasure, Mr. Bruce.”
“Xavier,” Xavier reminded him.
The Tuskaninny dived into the snow and Xavier stood still, staring after him. The rumbling started up again, and the Bruce knew his companion was swimming--swimming!--through the snow. It took him a minute to realize that Sarasan was leaving a tunnel behind him and that he expected the Bruce to follow.
A margled voice called out from the tunnel, and though Xavier couldn’t make out the words, he got the general idea--”Hurry up! Let’s move, Mr. Bruce!”
Xavier took a deep breath and dove belly-first into the tunnel. The path Sarasan left in his wake was smooth, like ice, the snow no doubt melted by the warmth of the Tuskaninny’s body as he passed, and Xavier slid through, bracing himself periodically against the side of the tunnel with his arms and legs to make sure he didn’t run into Sarasan’s back.
And all the while, Xavier grinned and fought back the urge to yell and shout--the tunnel was the best slide he’d ever been on.. It made him feel like a Baby Bruce all over again--young and without a care in the world.
To be continued...