Snowfall's Solstice: Part Five
I froze. What was that? It had sounded like a soft whisper, but when I turned around there was nobody there, just snow, gently falling to the ground. Shadows flickered across the sky, clouds lazily swirled in grey wisps, and still the snow fell. I turned and started on my journey once again.
Wait, what? What journey? A pounding headache made my ears ring – a thousand swords sliced through my cranium as I tried to remember. Where was I going? I willed myself to stop, to think, to remember, but my paws carried me on, as if they had a mind of their own.
No matter how fast I walked, the whisper still followed me; haunted me. I broke into a run, still making for my unknown destination, just wanting to get away from the voice. Why couldn’t it stop? Snowflakes battered my face, clinging to my eyelashes and stinging my eyes.
“Castella.” The voice was more of a sigh, and now I wasn’t sure if it even existed. Maybe I was imaging things.
“You can’t run. You can’t hide. You certainly cannot escape.”
My heart lurched. What? What did that mean? I tried to stop, but my paws plunged on through the waist-deep snow. Wasn’t there anyone around? It seemed as though I was in a deserted part of Terror Mountain, where there was no civilization. And still I walked on.
“Wherever you go...” The voice was fading now, I was sure of it. “Wherever you go, remember this... You will never escape from your destiny...”
And then a bone-chilling laugh that echoed through the depths of my mind. A shiver crept up my spine, and suddenly I could make out something through the snow and ice. Frost laced my vision, yet the thing was getting clearer and clearer. What was it? A bitter wind howled at my back, nipping at my paws. Ice crystals attacked my frozen wings, and then I suddenly knew where I was. A gasp as soft as snowfall escaped my lips, and my heart froze as I stared up the craggy peaks of the merciless Terror Mountains.
I shot bolt upright, eyes wide, breathing heavily. What – where was I? My mind took a moment to adjust, and when it did I realized I was in my bedroom with its familiar blue walls. Just a dream, I thought. Nothing more.
Nightmare, more like.
I held my breath, wondering if anyone had heard my scream. A minute passed, and I heard nothing. Thank goodness. Letting out a sigh, I lay back on my bed and stared out the window. Snow was still falling, attacking my window, as though mocking me. How does it feel to be safe and warm inside your room, Castella? Does hiding make you feel like a hero?
I gritted my teeth. You’re going crazy! I glanced at my alarm clock. It was only six o’clock in the morning. I stretched and let out a humongous yawn – then remembered.
I had to go defeat Snowsting. Today.
My stomach felt hollow. Happy birthday to me.
So I was fifteen. I sure felt the same – actually worse. What was I going to do? This was probably all a practical joke. Your mom wanted to give you a birthday surprise and teach you a lesson so she and Taelia arranged everything. Go back to bed. But deep down I knew that it was no joke.
What in the name of Fyora am I going to do?
I had no idea.
Well, whatever my fate had in store for me, I sure wasn’t going to be able to go back to sleep. Clambering out of bed, I silently opened my door and peered around.
All was quiet.
I crept out into the hallway and down the stairs. To my surprise I saw that the lights in the kitchen were on. Who would be up at this hour? Wondering if it was Jessica, I peered inside.
It wasn’t her at all.
It was Vera.
The Royalgirl Usul had been reaching for a pitcher of water when she noticed me. Her beautiful blue eyes, lined with lavender, widened in surprise. “Cas? What are you doing here?”
I hesitated. “Why are you up at this hour?”
Vera turned her back on me and started pouring water into a glass. The splashing sounds filled in the uncomfortable silence. “I couldn’t sleep,” she finally admitted. “I had a terrible headache. Came downstairs for a glass of water. What about you?”
“I had a nightmare.”
Vera’s raised an eyebrow. “The last time I remember you having a nightmare was when you were eight, and that’s ’cause you just had to watch the late night movie on Neovision.”
I winced at the memory. “Yeah.”
Silence. Vera took a long swig from her glass. I awkwardly shuffled my feet, wondering what to say.
“What was it about?”
I froze. What to say? I hesitated. Should I tell her...?
Vera turned around, an expectant expression on her face. “Or is it private?”
I flinched. Oh, whatever. Who cares if I tell her? Sometimes secrets aren’t meant to be kept. “Well...” I had no idea where to start. “This sounds like nonsense, but... Thousands of years ago Fyora and Taelia imprisoned an evil faerie in Terror Mountain. Today is the faerie’s chance to escape and to wreak havoc once more, so the Snowlight has to defeat her. I’m the Snowlight, apparently. So I have to defeat her. Yeah, I have magic. I think.”
The words tumbled out of my mouth like rocks spilling in a cave-in. I flinched at how clumsy the story sounded. Staring at my feet, I waited for a reply. There was none. Finally I raised my head – and my heart sank to the tips of my toes. Vera was staring at me through narrowed eyes.
“It’s okay if you’ve got some secret or something, Castella, I didn’t need you to tell me. But making up some stupid lie to get me off your back? That’s just low, Castella, really low.”
“Wait,” I protested. “I didn’t! It’s true, honestly Vera.”
Vera rolled her eyes, set down her glass, and made for the kitchen door. All of a sudden I felt desperate to prove myself, to prove that I wasn’t the same Castella I was so long ago. But how? I had nothing to back me up – nothing but a story and...
“Wait,” I said. Vera stopped in her tracks, but didn’t turn around. I slowly reached for the Taelia’s Token around my neck, grabbed the string, and pulled it off my head. The amulet fell into my palm, and I held it out. “Taelia gave me this. To help me.”
Vera turned and scrutinized the tiny jewel. We stood there for ages as she just looked at it for a long, long time. Finally she steadily met my gaze, but her eyes were filled with nothing but scorn. “Really, Castella, do you expect me to believe your story with nothing but a prize you got from Taelia’s quest?”
Give it up, I told myself. She’s not going to believe you. All the same, I had one last chance. “Look.” I held out my paw, the cut still clear against my brown fur. “This was Snowsting’s mark.”
Vera didn’t even bother looking at it. “Wasn’t that a paper cut?” Her eyes never left mine, challenging me. What are you going to say, Castella? Either way, you have lied to me. Now are you going to admit it?
I cringed. “Um... I...”
“I’ve had enough of you, Castella. Your lies and empty words. Good night. And a happy birthday to you.” Sarcasm dripped from her words, and with a swish of her pink fur-lined skirts, she stalked out of the kitchen.
I stood there for a long time, still clutching the token stupidly in my paw. Why won’t you just trust me?Then a thought struck me. Can she trust me? Maybe she’s tried, but maybe I’ve just never noticed...
Outside the snow still fell, lightly twirling through the air. And I had no idea what to do now.
- - -
I rammed my fist against the oak door, knowing that Taelia probably wouldn’t be up at this hour, but who cared? I had to tell her I couldn’t do this. She could do it, couldn’t she? She was a faerie. She knew stuff I didn’t.
The door didn’t open.
“Taelia?” I called. There was no answer from within. I gently pushed on the door, and it swung open noiselessly.
Something was wrong.
I realized it instantly. The normally cheery atmosphere had faded. There was nothing really out of place, but all the lights on the Christmas tree were out. Somehow I didn’t think they would ever light up again. And there was nothing but blackened soot in the fireplace.
Taelia wasn’t there.
“Taelia?” I slowly entered the cottage, glancing around. It didn’t seem as though anyone had come here for a while. I took another step – and that’s when I noticed it.
Lying on the floor were the remains of the mug I’d broken last night.
My mind instantly whirred into action. She didn’t clean it up yesterday? Why didn’t she? I mean, why would she just leave it catching dust on the floor... Unless... Maybe she didn’t get the chance to, before...
I glanced around, looking for the one thing that would confirm my suspicions. I didn’t have to wait long. Slashed on the wall were two harsh black lines, shooting diagonally across. They formed an x.
“Snowsting,” I whispered. Just her name seemed to send a frosty breeze blow through the cottage.
I knew what I had to do. For Taelia. For Fyora. And for me.
I turned and flew out of the cottage.
- - -
Tiny frost crystals battered my fur as they pirouetted in the winter wind. I squinted through the white fog, looking for Snowsting or Taelia. Anyone. I was back on the mountain, in Snowsting’s cavern, with the thousands of icicles, but there was nobody here.
Or was there?
“I’ve been waiting for you.”
I froze. The fur on the back of my neck rose, and I forced myself to stay calm. Spinning around, I saw the faerie standing behind me, leaning casually on the cavern wall. Snowsting, not Taelia. Definitely not. How could I ever have thought they looked alike? There was a murderous glint in Snowsting’s eyes, which were hard and steely, something that Taelia’s lacked. I would have been able to tell which was which a mile away.
“Snowsting,” I managed.
“Look at the legendary hero,” Snowsting scoffed. “The Snowlight everyone has been talking about. She can’t even look me in the eye. As it is, right now it looks like she’s either going to faint or freeze any second now. Do you really believe you can do this?”
No, I don’t, I thought. But I couldn’t let it show. Doubt and indecisiveness was my weakness. I forced myself to stand straight and tall. But to my surprise, she kept talking.
“Still... it is such a shame to let a little Neopet like you die so young, Castella.” Her voice was as hard as stone, yet soft as snow at the same time. “I wouldn’t dream of doing anything unless if I had no choice.” She took a step forward. “I have a preposition to make, Castella. Rather than try to fight me, why don’t you join me? World domination is not as bad as it sounds in the books. The world will be yours, and you will have everything you ever have possibly dreamed of. Together, we will be unstoppable.”
I couldn’t help but let those words sink in. Anything I want... whenever I want... Snowsting must have seen me waver, for she continued, “I know everything about you, Castella. I know all your problems. And I know how you feel about your sisters. I know you want to make it up to them.” Her tone was almost gentle. “Remember, Castella, a little touch of magic can change anyone’s mind. Your sisters’ included.”
I stiffened. What is she hinting at? That I control my sister’s minds to make them like me again? What kind of monster did she take me for? All hesitation instantly drained away, giving way to shame that I'd actually considered it, and I straightened up.
“What’s it going to be, Castella?”
What’s it going to be?
To be continued...