Xavier's Quest: Part Four
Xavier counted the negg tokens into his purse: there were fifty-four of them, three short of the Faerie Queen Negg Sarasan wanted.
“So, all you have to do is get the Fyora Negg, right? Is there a time limit or something? Couldn’t you have brought it back with you?”
“I--” Xavier searched for some excuse that wouldn’t entirely be a lie. “Extra tokens. What do you want to do with them?”
“The four?” Sarasan asked. Xavier didn’t say anything. “Is it enough for anything? You said a Happy Negg cost four tokens, right?”
“Four for a Happy Negg,” the Bruce confirmed.
Sarasan thought for a moment. “Keep them. Start your own negg collection.”
“If I got a Happy Negg, I’d--”
“Sell it? I know. It’s always you and your little gold points. But maybe you won’t, Mr. Bruce. Maybe you won’t.”
Xavier started walking back toward the Neggery. As soon as he was certain Sarasan couldn’t see him anymore, he veered off the path. There was only one thing Xavier could think to do, and it wasn’t a very appetizing something.
He glanced up toward the cavern’s ceiling, trying to gauge what time it was. Not that knowing will do me any good, he thought. I don’t know when the Snowager sleeps. He took the long way around the caves to make sure Sarasan wouldn’t spot him. The first Carmariller fluttered in his stomach: would he be lucky enough to stumble upon a sleeping Snowager?
The walk was more than twice as long as the walk between the cave entrance and the Neggery, and Xavier spent the time conjuring images of the inside of the ice worm’s mouth, certain that he was going to see it.
The second Carmariller fluttered in Xavier’s stomach: would he be unlucky enough to stumble upon a sleeping Snowager? The third and fourth quickly followed: would he wake the sleeping Snowager, and would the woken sleeping Snowager want to taste Bruce?
I can’t afford a Lime Swirly Negg with the money I brought, Xavier tried to convince himself that visiting the legendary worm was his only out, but he still stopped and stared at the entrance to his cave. “Is it really worth it?” he asked himself.
“Sure is!” a Blumaroo bounced past him and turned around. “The Snowager hasn’t eaten anyone in years. He’s gotten pretty lax. He likes to spray ice instead.” She pointed to a few cuts on her arm. “They hurt a bit, but not for long. I’ve gotten key chains and medicine mostly, but you can see the neggs. He sleeps right on top of them, though. I’m not brave enough to try for one of those.”
Xavier studied the Blumaroo. She was most definitely red, but she was wearing an Island skirt and lei and had the earrings and bracelets of an Island Blumaroo. He’d never seen anything like her before.
“Sorry. The name’s Cellantha. I used to be island, but I like this better. It’s noticeable, ya know? You’re just blue. I’m sure it happens to you all the time, getting lost in the crowd.”
“Xavier.” The Bruce stared at her. “Can I...” he trailed off, unwilling to ask for help.
“Let’s go," Cellantha answered with a wry smile.
Xavier followed her into the Snowager’s cave. “Wait a second,” he stopped. “He is asleep, right?”
“You could set your clock by when he sleeps. If he’s awake, well.... He’s sleeping.” She started bouncing along, and Xavier followed gravely behind her.
Cellantha’s description was perfectly accurate. The Snowager’s hoard was littered around the cave, hundreds upon thousands of pieces strong, with no apparent order. There were mounds of key rings and Neggitus Injections nearest the cave entrance, with stacks of plushies farther inside. The Snowager was asleep in the middle of the cavern, sunlight filtering down through the ceiling onto his icy body, light that splintered in all directions. As he breathed--the great ice beast did, in fact, breath--small circles danced over the walls.
Xavier drew in his breath. The Snowager’s mattress was made of neggs. Neggs, Green Neggs, Purple Neggs, Orange Neggs, Plaid Neggs, Frozen Neggs, and even more neggs. The Bruce could even see the bright green stripes of a few Lime Swirly Neggs buried deep in the pile, right under the Snowager’s nose.
Cellantha bounced around the chamber once, taking stock of all there was to steal. She clung to the walls to stay as far from the great beast as she could, and she at last returned to Xavier’s side. “I think,” she whispered, “that I’m going to try to steal a plushie today. How ‘bout you?”
The Blumaroo’s eyes went wide. “Really? That brave, eh?”
“No,” Xavier confessed, “just that desperate.”
“Oh?” Cellantha asked. When Xavier didn’t answer, she made another lap of the room. “Maybe I will try for a Negg today. You go first, though. The second of us is more likely to wake him up, and if you need it....”
The Snowager, as everyone knows, is prone to waking up whenever he feels like waking up, regardless of how many people have tried to steal something. No, the Blumaroo was just hoping he would eat her new friend first and leave the hoard of neggs for her to pick over.
“Yell at me,” Xavier whispered, “if he looks like he’s about to wake up. If he opens his eyes, or moves around, or anything and I don’t notice.”
The Blumaroo nodded. Xavier took his first steps toward the Snowager’s negg collection. The fifth Carmariller fluttered in his stomach: he was really here, and the Snowager was really about fifty meters in front of him, and the Lime Swirly Negg was really right there, tucked away next to the ice worm’s fearsome jaw. The Carmarillers’ fluttering multiplied rapidly with every step he took until Xavier had one hand pressed against his tummy to quell the desire to turn around and run as fast as he could in the opposite direction.
Cellantha called out from behind him, not quite yelling, not urgent enough for Xavier to think the Snowager was waking up, and the Bruce couldn’t make out her words. He continued on, his resolve barely overpowering his nerves.
Ten meters to go. Xavier let his hand fall away from his tummy. He looked square into the Snowager’s (closed) eyes, and quickened his pace. The faster I get there, the faster I can get out of here, the Bruce reasoned.
Step by step he closed the distance. Cellantha looked on from behind him, her wide eyes staring intently at the Snowager’s tail. She’d tried to warn Xavier, but he hadn’t heard, and she didn’t dare scream for fear of waking the beast up.
Xavier reached out a hand. There were two neggs in the way, a purple one and a plain one, and he knew he’d have to move them to get the Lime Swirly Negg: he wasn’t confident in walking away unscathed if he tried to take two neggs from the Snowager’s stash. He prepared to move both of them without nudging the Snowager.
Two. Xavier could almost reach the Purple Negg.
One. Xavier took a last step and, with a quick swish of his hand, knocked the Purple Negg away. It fell from the mound, landed on the floor with a gentle thud, and rolled peacefully away. He had to grab the plain Negg and wrench it free from its place. For a fraction of a second he held it in his hand, debating whether to hold it until he grabbed the Lime Swirly Negg or throw it aside then and there and risk the sound waking the ice worm. While he was thinking, the Snowager flicked his tail.
Xavier jumped back, but the very tip of the Snowager’s tail brushed against his arm. It was colder than anything the Bruce had ever felt, colder even than the Ultra Icy Negg, but at the same time it was burning with the fire of life. Shocked, Xavier faltered.
The Snowager stopped moving, and the Bruce let out a breath. He stood still for a long minute, watching the Snowager’s eyes. Once he was sure they weren’t going to open, he stepped up again.
The Lime Swirly Negg had fallen of the pile and was resting just under the beast’s closed eye. Xavier snatched it up, but something stopped him from moving. He stood, inches away from the Snowager’s face, frozen in place.
The Snowager opened one bleary eye, and Xavier ran, screaming, toward the Blumaroo. “Go! Go! GO! GGGOOOOOOOOOO!”
She paused long enough to snatch a plushie from the nearest pile and still managed to beat Xavier to the cave entrance.
Somehow the Bruce managed to overcome his stubby legs and run, still clinging to the Lime Swirly Negg, faster than he had ever run in his entire, short life. He was no match for the pure power of a Blumaroo tail and Cellantha out maneuvered him around the mounds and stray items on the floor. She waited, though, just beyond the entrance of the cave for him.
Wind blew. Or rather, Xavier felt the air around him rushing toward the Snowager. He ran faster, afraid of what was coming next. He could hear the suction of the great beast’s breath, the long pause as he froze the air in his stomach, turning harmless water vapor into frozen splinters, and the whistle of those splinters, akin to spears, flying through the air at him.
Xavier judged the distance between him and the safety of the cave entrance, where the passage narrowed and the splinters were less likely to hit him. There was no way he would outrun them. He dove for the ground and covered his head with one hand. The Negg rolled free of his grasp, but stayed close by.
The shards of ice landed all around him, each strike marked with the high, echoing sound of shattering glass. Xavier could feel the cold radiating from them, but he stayed still. At last the noises stopped and the Snowager closed his mouth. It creaked, as though he weren’t used to opening it, and he wound himself back up on his stash. Xavier waited. He looked up toward the cave entrance. Cellantha was there, waving at him. “His eyes are closed,” she mouthed. “He’s not asleep, but you can get out!” She knew the legends better than anyone: if the Snowager opened his eyes and still saw the Bruce in his domain, he would have a long-awaited snack.
Xavier struggled to his feet, trying not to step on the bits of shattered ice with sharp points. He scooped up the negg--somehow, through the raining ice and bitter cold the Lime Swirly Negg had come out undamaged--and ran for the entrance.
“Let’s get out of here,” Xavier suggested. They took their time going down the passage, letting the Carmarillers drain out of their stomachs and the air fill their lungs back up. Neither spoke until they were back in the safety and hustle of the Ice Caves proper.
“That was fun,” Cellantha finally said. “I’ve never been that close to being eaten before. It was exciting, don’t ya think?”
“I. Will. NEVER. Visit. The. Snowager. EVER. AGAIN.”
“But you got a Lime Swirly Negg!” the Blumaroo protested. “And a great time. How could you not want to go back?”
Xavier shook his head. Cellantha followed him all the way to the Neggery where he traded in his fifty-four non-transferable negg tokens and Lime Swirly Negg for Sarasan’s Faerie Queen Negg. He looked up at the shelf where the Happy Negg was sitting merrily, and wished he’d been right about how much the Faerie Queen Negg cost.
To be continued...