Snowfall's Solstice: Part Three
The snow hadn’t been as cold as it had earlier today, but I felt worse than ever as I trudged to the Gift Tags center. Nothing could go right today.
“I’d like to have the issue of the Neopian Times, please,” I said to the Blumaroo at the counter.
The Blumaroo ignored this. “Would you like some tags, missy? Perfect for the holiday season; just tell me what yeh’d like an’ I’ll go back an’ get–”
“No, I said I’d like this week’s Neopian Times,” I repeated.
The Blue Blumaroo shot me a disapproving look. “Fifty years workin’ here and not a single person wantin’ a gift tag! I swear, if I don’ get a customer soon, I’m quittin’ and you’ll never see the likes of me again–”
“The Neopian Times, please,” I interrupted. I was in no mood for any more arguments.
Grumbling, the Blumaroo disappeared into the back, ranting all the way. When he came back, he was clutching a disheveled-looking copy of the newspaper in his paw, bouncing on his tail back to the counter.
“Yeh’re really missin’ out, yeh know,” he said.
“Whatever.” I grabbed the paper and turned to leave when I saw it – a thick, dusty volume of the Neopedia lying on the counter. There was a Neopedia in every place in the world – Terror Mountain, Krawk Island, Faerieland, you name the place. Terror Mountain’s copy of the Neopedia was kept at the Gift Tags center, and suddenly I got an idea.
“Excuse me, mister.”
“What? Yeh want a gift tag now?”
What was it with this guy? “No, can I have a look at the Neopedia?”
The Blumaroo glowered at me. “Yeah, sure, whatever.” Grabbing the book, he thumped it on the table in front of me before bouncing away, muttering about something I couldn’t make out and didn’t really want to. Opening the book, I flipped to the S section, and nearly ripped three pages while I was at it.
“No Snowsting,” I said aloud, relieved. If the Neopedia didn’t mention it, then Snowsting definitely didn’t exist. Thank goodness.
“What’d yeh say?” The Blumaroo stared at me, his beady eyes thick with curiosity and suspicion.
“What do you mean?”
The Blumaroo squinted at me. “Yeh haven’t heard the story of Snowsting?”
My heart dropped to the floor with a thud. “No, what about her?”
“She was the evilest, cruelest faerie o’ them all.” The Blumaroo settled in his wooden chair. “Sure, there’s Jhudora, an’ the Darkest Faerie, but Snowsting’s the worst of the lot. Back in the olden, golden days, she used to rule all. Well, all o’ the snow, anyway. She made the temperature everywhere drop, an’ she darkened the mood, too. She’d freeze anyone who opposed her. The sun made a permanent disappearance, an’ it was snowin’ in the Lost Desert. Everyone had to listen to her, or die. But Fyora took care of her, doesn’t she always, the good ol’ Faerie Queen. She picked up a faerie called Taelia an’ together they overpowered her an’ trapped her in the mountains. Now Taelia’s the snow faerie and the temperature’s normal. All that happened ages ago; only a handful o’ people remember it. But I do, and I’m the one tellin’ everyone that she’ll come back, that Snowsting. Mark my words, she will, an’ she’ll kill us all when she does it. A faerie trapped in the Terror Mountains for years doesn’t want nothin’ but revenge. She’ll take us all to our icy graves, she will.”
I couldn’t suppress a shiver. Well, I still could have imagined it all, and maybe he’s just stark raving mad, I thought to myself. “Why are you so confident that she’s coming back? From what I hear, Fyora and Taelia banished her for good.”
The Blumaroo let out a contemptuous snort. “It’s all ’cause of the prophecy, youngster.”
That caught my attention. “Prophecy?”
“Yes, prophecy,” he said seriously. “The prophecy’s been here since Fyora herself has been, that queen. Everyone thought it was thought up by a madman and labeled it impossible an’ fake, but I know better than that. It’s obvious what the prophecy means! It means Snowsting’s gonna come back an’ wreak havoc upon us all!”
Right. “What’s the prophecy?”
“It doesn’t have a name,” the Blumaroo said mysteriously.
“I mean, what is the prophecy? Do you have a copy of it?”
The Blumaroo harrumphed. “Yes, actually, but it’s old and fragile and I don’t like random people usin’ it. It’s older than the Neopedia itself!”
“Can I see it?”
The Blumaroo couldn’t conceal his delight of finally having something interesting happening in his gift tags center, though he did complain. “If yeh break it or rip it or lose it or vandalize it, yeh’re gonna have me on your back!” he warned. All the same, he went to the room in the back and came back with a thin sheet of parchment in his paws. I snatched it away. The paper was worn and in very bad condition – there were several burn marks and stains.
A thousand years have come and gone
Count the days, one by one
Her name, a frosty memory
Rewrite the faerie’s history
Snowsting comes at winter’s dawn
Queen of ice and snow
As bitter snowflakes dance and fall
Her hatred stays, and grows...
No hero dared to cross the line
No one dared to care
Not Illusen, nor Psellia
Siyana strayed from winter’s glare
Ice crystals dominated life
Whirlwinds blew out Hope’s strong flame
But two faeries rose and pushed her back
Her downfall only had herself to blame
Fyora of magic higher than all
Taelia of merry Christmas cheer –
Together they drove evil back
Extinguished terror and fear
But winter’s icy flakes still fall
And winter’s icy dreams still thrive
She of winter’s coldest songs
Shall once again come alive.
I stared at the parchment. The next few verses were illegible, as a large purple stain covered them. The Blumaroo noticed my exasperated look.
“Excuse me if I decide to have some grape juice while readin’ the prophecy over again!” he said defensively.
“But how does it end?” I persisted.
The Blumaroo tapped his head. “Good thing I memorized ’em, eh?”
“How does it end?” I snapped in impatience.
The Blumaroo glowered at me. “Whatever, kid.” Clearing his throat, he recited:
“At the solstice her power’s strongest
But her weakness will be made
A single Pet with wings of faith
Shall throw light back until she fades
And the one of winter’s icy death
Shall meet the one who holds the light,
Shall break and shatter, freeze and die
By she of Snowlight, of truth and right–”
The Blumaroo glared at me, annoyed at the interruption. “What d’yeh mean?”
“What was that bit about Snowlight?”
“Oh.” The Blumaroo was all too happy to explain. “Apparently there’s a happy endin’ after all and this Faerie pet called Snowlight’ll save our necks.” He snorted derisively. “It’s all balderdash if yeh ask me.”
Nobody asked you. “And... what was that bit about the solstice? What’s a solstice?”
The Blumaroo let out an exaggerated sigh. “Haven’t they been teachin’ yeh anythin’ in school, lass? Snowsting’s powers are strongest at the solstice. The solstice happens twice a year – one in the summer, an’ one in the winter. The summer solstice is the 22nd of the Month of Relaxing, the longest day o’ the year, while the winter solstice is the 22nd of the Month of Celebrating, the shortest day o’ the year.” He frowned thoughtfully. “Which is tomorrow.”
“The 22nd of the Month of Celebrating?”
“What are yeh, deaf?” The Blumaroo shot me a disapproving look. “Yes, the 22nd. Why?”
That’s my birthday! I thought incredulously. Why had I been created on the winter solstice? I thought back to the prophecy. “At the solstice her power’s strongest, but her weakness will be made: A single pet with wings of faith...” I froze. Was I her weakness? The Snowlight? A single pet with wings of faith... My wings fluttered at my back... You’re the Snowlight, Snowsting had said. Was I? Was I really?
“No,” I said aloud. This was absurd! This Blumaroo was crazy, and he’d written an even crazier poem and flaunted it about as though it were authentic. Yeah, right. I shook my head. This was stupid. Was I actually falling for this?
“Thanks, mister.” I thrust the paper back at him and grabbed the copy of the Neopian Times. “Bye.”
“What d’yeh mean?” thundered the Blumaroo from behind me as I walked out the door. “I show yeh my copy o’ the prophecy an’ you rudely walk away?”
I ignored him. Batty old guy. Shaking my head and forcing a laugh, I started for home when – out of the corner of my eye – I caught sight of a single cottage. A cottage with bright red bricks, and large glass windows glazed with frost. A cottage with a red welcome mat and hollies decorating the roof, which was covered by a thin layer of snow. Icicles dangled from the rooftop, but they were somehow welcoming, rather than threatening, like the ones in Snowsting’s cavern. A light was shining from inside, and I stopped in my tracks.
There is someone who can tell me whether I’m going crazy or not...
“Taelia!” I breathed. A passing-by Chia shot me a puzzled look before hurrying on. I ignored him. Quickening my pace, I ran to the cottage. A thick swirl of smoke was spiraling out the chimney, and a set of silver wind chimes dangled on the porch, sending musical melodies tinkling everywhere. Climbing the wooden steps, I reached up with a paw to knock on the wooden door when it swung open all by itself! Staring suspiciously at it, I cautiously stepped inside. The warmth hit me instantly, and I took a few more steps. Squinting in the bright light, I made out a small, cozy room with three wooden chairs around a large wooden table. There was a comfortable-looking couch to my left, and a window on every wall. A huge Christmas tree stood in the center of the room, dazzling with sparkling lights and glinting tinsel. A single star shone from the top, casting rainbow light everywhere. Inside the fireplace, a flame crackled and blazed, sending sparks that flickered in the light and crumbled into ash on the bright red-and-white carpet.
I jumped, startled, whirled around – and let out a scream. Snowsting herself was standing in the doorway of Taelia’s home!
The faerie’s voice was thick with confusion, and I took a closer look. Oh. This wasn’t Snowsting. Feeling stupid, I now realized that there was no hostility in her eyes – only warmth. But otherwise, she was the mirror image of Snowsting.
“Taelia,” I stammered. “Sorry.”
The snow faerie just looked at me. “What was that all about, Castella?”
“You... you look like Snowsting,” I blurted out.
The raging fire in the fireplace instantly flickered and died. Taelia’s eyes widened, and a new suspicion and surprise glinted in her eyes. “Snowsting?” she said hesitantly.
“Yes.” I winced.
“Snowsting...” Taelia frowned for a moment, then straightened up. “Yes, I’m Snowsting’s sister.”
Snowsting’s sister! I stared at her in shock.
“Surprising, isn’t it?” Taelia added sarcastically. “I think you’d better tell me everything you know, Castella.”
“How do you know my name?” I blurted out instinctively.
“I guess you could say, we faeries know things.”
A shiver crawled up my spine. Snowsting’s exact words.
Taelia gestured for me to sit in one of the chairs. I did so. The snow faerie waved her hands, and a white mug appeared on the table before me, filled with hot chocolate. The sweet aroma filled the air, but I was in no mood to drink it.
“So,” said Taelia gently, her voice soft as snowfall. “How do you know about Snowsting?”
“I...” I paused. If I told her that I thought I was Snowlight, she’d think I was crazy. “The gift tags keeper told me about her.” It wasn’t a lie, was it?
“Hmm.” Taelia looked at me, her eyes suspicious. “Well, why are you here? Something tells me you don’t want a quest.”
“That’s right, I don’t.” I hesitated. What to say? “The Blumaroo told me the prophecy, and... well, I guess I got... interested. I wanted to know if it was true.”
“Well, it is.” Taelia stood from the table, and started pacing around the room. “I’m assuming you’d like a story? Well, I’ll give you one. It all started eternities ago, when Snowsting and I were children. Her name used to be Sepia, you know. We were twin sisters, and best friends. We were virtually inseparable. Everything we did, we did together. Nobody could tell us apart.
“Then one day, everything went wrong.”
Taelia’s eyes were troubled. “I thought I knew my sister. I was wrong. It was a cold winter’s day, the winter solstice to be exact. We were teenagers, and were talking about nothing in our room, when all of a sudden she brought up the subject of Queen Fyora. She started talking about power, and...” Her voice shook. “I was scared of her. I loved her and she was my sister, but all of a sudden I was afraid. She had this look in her eyes, like she would do anything to become just like Fyora. As powerful. And eventually, overpower her. I opposed her. We got in an argument. Nothing was the same after that. We became distant; cold. And all those years later, when I heard what she had done, I knew. But by then she had changed her name, and moved away. She had disowned me as a sister. She thought I would stick with her through the end, even if she made all the wrong decisions. But she was wrong.” Taelia’s eyes glittered with unshed tears. “I helped the Faerie Queen Fyora in forcing her back. I betrayed my sister.” She stared at the floor. “I know it was for the best, but...”
I wondered what I would have done, if one day Vera came up to me and announced that she wanted to become Faerie Queen, at whatever cost, and she wanted me to help her. What would I do? Probably the same thing as Taelia. I started to stand up, then winced as my paw struck my mug, which toppled to the floor and splintered into pieces.
“Sorry,” I muttered, ignoring the similarities between the remains of the mug and the pieces of the icicles Snowsting had broken. I reached out to pick them up, when suddenly Taelia let out a gasp. Jerking back, I stared at her. Her eyes were focused on my paw, her eyes wide in horror.
“What’s wrong? Is it the mug? I’m sorry–” I began, but Taelia shook her head, pointing at my paw.
“That cut,” she whispered. “Where’d you get it?”
“Huh?” I stared at my paw. The x was still clearly visible. “Oh, that. That was from Snowsting.”
Taelia froze. “Sepia’s mark,” she murmured.
I frowned, perplexed. “What do you mean? Snowsting’s mark?”
Taelia shook her head. “Back when we were kids, we had our way of conversing with each other in school without talking. We had our own special code. An x meant Sepia, and an s meant me, Taelia. That...” She pointed at my scars. “That’s Snowsting’s mark, and it isn’t a coincidence.”
I couldn’t suppress an apprehensive quiver. We sat in silence for a while before Taelia shot me a look.
“Castella, you haven’t been entirely honest with me, have you?”
I cringed. “Um...”
“It’s okay.” Taelia waved a hand dismissively. “You don’t have to tell me anything. I’m sure you’re fighting a more personal battle yourself.”
What was that supposed to mean? I decided against pursuing the subject any further, but hesitated as I remembered how I had survived Snowsting’s attack. That memory. What did it have to do with anything?
“Say that Snowlight was almost killed by Snowsting, but at the last second she received a memory, a forgotten memory, that may or may not have saved her life. What do you think really happened?”
It was a strange question, I knew, and a rather revealing one too, but Taelia said nothing for a long moment. She smiled slightly. “Maybe she had a reason for living.”
To be continued...