Snowfall's Solstice: Part Four
A reason for living? What did that mean? Everyone had a reason for living, but nobody was immortal, besides the faeries, anyway.
“And what would be a reason for living?”
Taelia shrugged, her eyes sparkling. “I don’t know. Another person, perhaps? Friends? A goal they’ve almost reached? Family?”
I jumped, startled, and whirled around. An all-too-familiar Royal Cybunny was standing in the doorway, a thick white scarf wrapped around her neck and a scowl on her face.
“Hey, Taelia, my mom made me come and do a quest. So, c’mon, I haven’t got all day.”
Then she noticed me.
“Castella!” Her eyes widened in surprise for a moment, then narrowed into self-satisfied slits as she shot me a smug grin. “How was detention, Cassy?”
Anger bubbled up in the back of my mind, but Taelia interrupted, her blue eyes round with confusion. “Claire? Is that you? I haven’t seen you in a long time. The last time you came around with your owner was a year ago, wasn’t it?” She caught the furious glare I sent her. “Do you two, ah, know each other?”
“Of course,” sneered Claire. “We’re friends, aren’t we, Castella?”
“Right, Claire,” I said innocently. “By the way, you’re missing an earring.”
Claire’s paw flew to her ear, clutching at the empty space. One of her golden earrings had fallen off, and was presumably buried in the snow. “Oh, that’s just great.” Claire shot me an angry look, as though I had stolen it. “I’ll never find it now. I wonder how much a new set costs...?”
Taelia coughed. “Claire, I believe you were here for a quest?”
“That’s right.” Claire smirked. “Is Cas here to do a quest too? Well, I think I should tell you, don’t trust her with your precious possessions. She’s been known to... cheat.” Her eyes traveled to the broken remains of the mug. “Oh, Castella, did you do that?” Her voice was thick with mock horror. “Why, Castella, I don’t believe you’ve apologized yet.”
Before I knew what had happened, I was out of my chair and standing before her, my paw clenched into a fist. Claire was staring at me with a look of shock on her face. Did I really just punch her in the nose? All the same, among my horror, I felt satisfaction.
“All right, that’s enough!” Taelia stood up. “Claire, if you’re not here for a quest, you may as well leave.”
Claire scowled at me. “She punched me!”
“I’m aware of that.” Taelia’s eyes were cold.
Claire stuck out her tongue, then diverted her attention to Taelia. “The quest, please. I don’t want to stay in this stupid cottage any longer.”
Taelia hesitated, then sighed. “Okay, Claire. I need an Orange Filled Jacket Potato, a Green Cabbage, a Lemon Slushie, and a Strawberry Poogle Cupcake. You only have two hours left. Now hurry up.”
Claire paused for a moment, committing the items to memory, then flounced away with a last dirty look. We stared after her for a few silent moments.
I turned to look at Taelia, who had settled back in her seat. “Yeah?”
“If, say, Snowlight needed to defeat Snowsting, it would have to be done on the solstice. Which is tomorrow.”
My throat was dry.
“And if Snowlight needed any help...” Taelia hesitated.
I looked at her. “Yes?”
Taelia paused, then reached and pulled at something around her neck I couldn’t quite make out. Straightening up, she stretched out her hand and slowly opened her fist. I let out an involuntary gasp. Sitting in the center of her palm was a tiny, delicate jewel – a gleaming blue sapphire that sparkled in the light, set in an almond-shaped chunk of silver, with glittering icy blue wings. A pale blue string was threaded through two tiny silver hoops on the talisman. It was... beautiful.
Claire barged back in, panting slightly, her arms laden with the food. One by one, she set down each item – a potato filled with orange slices, a cabbage, a yellow slushie, and a cupcake in the shape of a Poogle. Turning expectantly to Taelia, she caught sight of the amulet.
“What’s that?” Her eyes glinted greedily. “Is that my reward?”
Taelia shoved it in her sleeve. “No, it isn’t, Claire. Thanks for the food. Here.” Reaching under the table, she pulled out a small sack of Neopoints, a blue snowball, and a Tomato Shoyru Meatball. “Thanks. Now go away.”
Claire made a face. “Those meatballs are worth nothing! That was so not worth it. I’d prefer that gem, thank you very much. It looked expensive.”
Irritation flooded my senses. “Claire, do you argue with a faerie? No. So shut up and go away.”
Claire glared at me. “I wouldn’t be so cocky if I just received a one-way trip to the principal’s office.”
I expected the anger to rise once more, but it didn’t, and I suddenly realized I didn’t care anymore. Let Claire have her fun. “You know what, Claire? You might think cheating is pretty clever, especially pinning the blame on me, but in a few years you won’t. Oh, no.” I put on a fake smile. “In a few years, when you’re sitting in the pound behind metal cage bars, cold and hungry, forced to suck up to possible adopters, I’ll be sure to visit you, Claire. I’ll save you a carrot stick, and I’ll remind you that cheating gets you nowhere.”
An outraged fire blazed in Claire’s eyes. “Shut up!” she yelled. “My owner won’t ever abandon me.”
I said nothing – just smiled. Sometimes words aren’t necessary. Sure enough, Claire stood abruptly and stomped towards the door. “*I’m telling my owner never to come here again!”
I grinned. “Oh, and good luck finding that earring, Claire.”
She slammed the door so hard I thought it was going to fall off its hinges.
Taelia cleared her throat. “Ahem. Anyways...” She reached back inside her sleeve and pulled out the jewel. “This is my Taelia’s Token.”
“It’s not the only one in existence,” Taelia admitted. “I sometimes give them out in my quests – rarely. And only to people who I feel need it. But this is the original, and... its magic is more powerful. This was mine.” She reached out and dropped it into my paw, the icy amulet biting into my fur. “And now it’s yours,” she said softly.
I stared at the token. It was nestled snugly in the fur of my palm, hiding Snowsting’s mark from view. The sapphire – or whatever it was – glinted a thousand different shades of blue in the light.
“Well?” Taelia smiled slightly. “What’s it going to be?”
Hesitantly, I brought the jewel up to my face. It was even more dazzling up close. For a second I thought one of the wings shifted – fluttered – but then it was still once more. An icy breeze howled outside the cottage, carrying tiny delicate snowflakes caught in the wind. Frost and ice battered the windows, and I slowly took the token by its string and hung it around my neck. The amulet rested against my chest, cold yet somehow warm at the same time.
We both jumped in our seats in surprise, and the door swung open. A Christmas JubJub was standing in the doorway, a perplexed expression on her face.
“Taelia? I need a quest, or else Mom’s gonna kill me. Again.”
“Sure, Aphelia.” Taelia smiled. “I need a Pumpkin Pie and a Choco-Strawberry Techo Cookie. Think you can do that?”
I took that as my cue to leave. Standing up, I started for the door with a grateful nod at Taelia, when from behind me Taelia called, “Wait.”
I froze, one paw out the door already.
There was an awkward silence as Aphelia brushed by me to run to the Shop Wizard. Finally, from behind me Taelia murmured softly:
Then I ran out into the bitter Terror Mountain wind.
- - -
So it was true – all of it. My mind was spinning as I stumbled through the snow back home, the issue of the Neopian Times still clutched in my hand like a lifeline. How can this be? It went against every rule in the book of life. There weren’t supposed to be any evil snow faeries cooped up in the mountains, nor a Faerie pet with magic who was supposed to defeat her.
What am I going to do? I considered going to Faerieland and telling the Faerie Queen, but Faerieland was two days away and by then it would be too late. Wasn’t there some sort of random event that summoned you to Faerieland? Yes, but it was random. There was no chance that I’d stumble across it now. My mind whirred restlessly as I crossed off all the possibilities mentally, one by one. What was there to do? There was the obvious, simplest choice – go to the mountains tomorrow and settle it the old-fashioned way: battle. But that was just absurd! There was no way I could –
I slammed headfirst into something hard. Stars twirled before me (like in those stereotypical cartoons), and all I could see was fuzzy black static. It took a second for my vision to come back, and I stared at my front door. What kind of an idiot crashes into their own door? I guess I hadn’t been paying attention to where I was going. Twisting the doorknob, I pushed the door open and entered the house.
“Castella?” came Jessica’s call. “Is that you?”
“Yeah,” I yelled back, slamming the door shut and making for the kitchen. Jessica was washing the dishes, steam pouring from the sink. “Here’s the copy of the NT you wanted.” I set it on the table, knowing full well that my voice was as shaky as a Tonu that’s just run into seven tons of snow.
Jessica turned off the tap and took off her yellow rubber gloves. She didn’t say anything for a long while, just looked at me. I shifted uncomfortably beneath her penetrating gaze. Jessica knew me too well.
That one word was enough to send a shiver shooting down my spine. “Uh, yeah?”
“Castella...” Jessica hesitated, absentmindedly brushing a strand of copper hair away from her emerald green eyes. “You know you can always tell me if something’s wrong, right?”
I nodded. “Yeah.”
Jessica regarded me with a slight air of suspicion. “There isn’t anything going on? Nothing? Maybe at school? Something personal?”
I hated having to lie, but I knew I had to. “No, there’s nothing. Why? What’s wrong?” I feigned innocence and curiosity.
Jessica watched me some more. Uncertainty and worry flickered behind her eyes before giving in to reluctant surrender. “Okay, Castella. I just wanted you to know – I’ll always be here for you, if anything goes wrong. And – even if you don’t think so – your sisters are, too.”
I know, I wanted to say. In that impossibly short moment I yearned to tell Jessica everything, about Snowsting and Snowlight and Taelia, about the prophecy and how my destiny was suddenly worth so much more. But what good would it do? None. So swallowing the lump in my throat, I turned around and started to walk away when Rain burst in.
“Mom, you promised I could watch Inexistence today on Neovision, right? But now Psyria’s hogging the remote and claiming she ‘reserves the right’ to watch Native News!”
That was when the ghost noticed me, standing in the corner of the kitchen.
“Castella? Where were you? Faerie Friends was on half an hour ago but it’s already over now. Don’t you love that show?”
Right. I pondered what to say. “I was... out.”
“Out,” repeated Rain uncertainly. “Okay.” She hesitated and looked at me, just like Jessica had. I knew exactly what she was thinking, but all she said was, “Sure.” Then she turned to Jessica and said, “Well, what are you going to do about it? It’s the last episode, too – it’s when Jade has to go back in time and stop Kiena from–”
“Okay, okay,” Jessica broke in hurriedly. “I’ll have a word with Psyria. Tell her she can watch Native News tomorrow.”
Rain started to flounce out of the kitchen in smug satisfaction when she stopped in her tracks and swiveled to face me again. We stared at each other. Didn’t I use to share so many memories with her? I thought desperately. Where were they now? I knew where – I had personally taken each one and filed them away in the deep dark corners of my mind. Now they were struggling against their locks, trying to escape. Trying to remind me what I needed to say.
“Rain,” I began.
To my surprise, Rain looked away and started out. “Don’t start, I know what you’re going to say, I’m an obsessive freak who takes Neovision too seriously. Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard it all before. And by the way, Vera’s cooped up in her room. I don’t think she’s very happy.”
And with that, she floated away and around the corner.
I stood there in shocked speechlessness, staring after her. What was that? Was that really what my sisters thought of me now? A cruel heartless monster who dished out harsh criticism dripping with sarcasm? Maybe I am, I realized. Or was. Somewhere behind me Jessica turned on the tap again and went back to scrubbing the dishes, as though she hadn’t heard Rain’s remark. Or maybe she just hadn’t thought there was anything strange about it. Maybe I’ve said that a thousand times, but I just never really noticed, I thought. Maybe I deserve any punishment Snowsting gives me tomorrow. Shaking my head in disappointment at myself, I trudged up the stairs before running into my room and locking the door.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my alarm clock. It was already nine. Time flies when you’re having fun, I thought. Fun? Yeah, right. Normally I wouldn’t go to bed until around ten or eleven, especially since it was the winter holidays, but life didn’t seem to like me at the moment and I sure didn’t like it back.
Opening my door, I peeked outside. Nobody was around – probably all watching Neovision together– which was good if I wanted to avoid awkward conversations. Slipping into the only bathroom on the second floor, I locked the door and reached for my toothbrush. The next few minutes of tooth-brushing was silent and thoughtful as I pondered about my sisters and Snowsting. Was I just going to avoid talking to Vera forever, or what? Maybe I’d get lucky and get killed by Snowsting tomorrow.
Instantly I bit my tongue – which isn’t something I recommend doing with a mouthful of toothpaste – shunning myself for thinking something like that. Spitting out the toothpaste and rinsing my mouth, I started for the door – then caught my reflection in the bathroom mirror.
A Faerie Xweetok stood in the middle of the bathroom, her wings drooping limply at her back, no sign of a smile. I studied her eyes, her almond-shaped teal eyes, for anything that might be a clue. A hint. I could see something swirling behind those eyes, something sparkling and frothing, but I couldn’t tell what it was.
Tearing my gaze away from the mirror, I unlocked the door and took the few steps back to my room.
To be continued...