Snowfall's Solstice: Part Six
I glared at the faerie before me. “In your dreams, Snowsting. You just want to use me, use my power. Once you’re done with me, I’ll never see the light of day again. You know about me, sure, but I know about you, too. I know how your own sister refused to even look at you after she learned of your insane plans.” Okay, that was a slight exaggeration. But she didn’t need to know that.
Snowsting’s eyes flashed dangerously, and she unexpectedly lashed out her hand. A wave of snow crashed into me and knocked me over backwards. I let out a shrill gasp of pain, and was aware of the faerie standing over me, hatred in her eyes.
“You're a fool,” she hissed. “Nothing but a pale-faced fool. You haven’t even controlled your magic yet. You can’t do anything to stop me, Castella. It was an unwise choice you made, to fight me. Now it is too late to change your mind. Much too late.”
I didn’t listen. Instead I closed my eyes and thought hard, thought about Vera and Rain and Psyria. I thought about Jessica. I summoned every last bit of courage within me.
And then my wings sprang to life.
Snowsting let out a surprised yelp as I shot up against the cavern ceiling. A newfound energy coursing though my veins, I held out my paws and let the familiar piercing white glow illuminate the cavern.
“Not so pale-faced anymore, Snowsting,” I whispered. “Come and give me all you’ve got.”
“Gladly,” Snowsting sneered. Quicker than a streak of lightning, she flexed her wings and sprang up beside me, slamming a torrent of pure ice into the ground. For a second I just stood there like an idiot, not knowing what to do, when a faint breeze blew on my back. Suddenly my wings fluttered once, all on their own, and dragged me out of the way, dodging the crystals just in time. Before I even knew what I was doing, I raised my paws, and a magical wave flew out of my paws and launched itself at Snowsting, but it missed and hit the ice wall instead. It crackled for a long moment before exploding into a thousand pieces.
What the heck did I just do? I stared at my paws in numb fascination. I wasn’t controlling my magic; my magic was controlling me.
I cried out in pain – while I had been distracted by my own magic, Snowsting had broken off an icicle and plunged it into my fur. A dizzy lightheadedness overcame me, but I forced myself to stay conscious. I whirled around – and a dozen snow daggers shot out of my paws at Snowsting. She dodged out of the way and countered with a steady stream of snow, but somehow I managed to create a sheet of glassy ice as thin as paper before me, as a shield. The snow bounced harmlessly off the surface and dissolved into the air. I was just feeling elated at my success when suddenly Snowsting let out a growl and waved her hands. An orb of blinding light crashed into the icicles above my head, which shattered and fell straight for me. I barely had enough time to dodge, but Snowsting was there, jabbing for my head. I rolled out of the way and crashed into the cavern wall. Winded, I heard Snowsting’s derisive laugh.
“You’ll have to be faster than that, Castella. In battle, there is no time to celebrate success.”
I’ll remember that, I thought to myself, jumping up and shooting a flood of half-frozen water her way. I was starting to get the hang of using magic. Snowsting flew up and aimed a beam of ice towards me, but I slashed it away and dislodged an icicle above Snowsting’s head. She batted it away easily, but while she was distracted I plunged a wave of ice towards her legs. Knocked off balance, she floundered in the air for a long moment before regaining control of her wings. Letting out an inhuman roar, Snowsting let out a volt of ice-cold electricity, but I evaded it and stabbed her stomach. She let out a gasp – then unexpectedly crashed into my side. I dropped to the floor like a raindrop, clattering loudly against the ice. A dozen cracks spiderwebbed across the surface.
“The mighty Snowlight,” Snowsting sneered. “Reduced to nothing but a crumbled heap. Let this show the Faerie Queen Fyora – nothing can restrain me. Nothing!”
All this time I had been slowly slithering towards her feet. This is it, I thought. The difference between life or death. I closed my eyes, pretending to admit defeat, while actually summoning every last bit of magic. I was almost drained, but had one last chance. I fingered the Taelia’s Token around my neck.
Give me strength.
A tranquil breeze blew. All of a sudden I felt refreshed and relaxed. I could do this. Snowsting continued to gloat but I wasn’t listening to her words. A dozen ice flurries inside me impatiently waited to be released.
It all happened so fast I barely even had time to think. Shooting a single ice crystal at her feet, I rolled away and sprang up, letting loose a wave. Snowsting was taken off guard and sprawled to the ground with a crash. Before she had time to recover I threw an orb of sparkly magic her way. There was a loud crash – a single scream – silence.
The fog slowly cleared. I blinked in the sudden stillness. A single cube of ice lay on the ground, smaller than me. And inside it was – no, it couldn’t be.
I knelt down and stared at the tiny Petpet. It looked innocent enough, but within its eyes I saw nothing but pure hatred. This had to be Snowsting. Somehow.
“In battle, Snowsting, there is never time to celebrate success,” I whispered. She couldn’t hear me, but I watched as her eyes followed the movement of my lips and slowly registered what I said. Her face twisted into a look of fury.
I spun around. Taelia! She was shaking off what appeared to be ropes made from ice (but were now dwindling down to nothing), eyes shining in amazement. “Castella, I saw everything! You – you–”
Sometimes words weren’t necessary. She broke off and smiled at me gratefully, then turned to the Yullie and heaved a sigh.
“Um... Taelia? Why is she a Petpet?”
“All faeries become a single form when forced to their death,” Taelia whispered. “We cannot die. We become a smaller life form instead.”
“Right,” I murmured. I was in shock, and only just realized I was drenched in sweat. Did I really just...? I...
The Yullie glared at me from within its icy prison.
“Sepia,” Taelia whispered. Her voice shook. “Sepia... I...” She shook her head. “I’m so sorry.”
She knew as well as I did that Snowsting couldn’t hear us from within the ice cube. Unshed tears glittered in her eyes, and she looked away. “Castella, I owe you more than anything I can ever repay.”
I placed a reassuring paw on her shoulder. “No, you don’t.”
The meaning was clear.
All of a sudden Taelia’s head whipped up. “What’s that?”
“What?” I stared in the direction she was looking at. There, on the wall! Tiny words and letters were crudely etched into the ice.
“The prophecy,” Taelia whispered. “She must have been burying her burden in hatred.”
I ran a paw over the words. A thousand years... A frosty memory... Snowsting... The words weaved on and on, to the end.
Wait a minute.
My paw stopped. There was more? There was the end to the prophecy as I knew it, but there were two more verses. What?... I recalled the day the old Blumaroo had told me the prophecy. He hadn’t mentioned anything about another two verses...
But he hadn’t finished! I had interrupted him when he was reciting the prophecy and he never got around to saying the rest of it. My blood turned cold as I stared at the words.
But a forgotten promise lies in the snow
For summer’s dreams are not as plain
Another legacy arrives
The story begins of Snowsong’s reign...
A thousand years have come and gone
Count the days, one by one
Endless nights mark the time
It’s our turn to speak, to shine.
“Oh, no,” I whispered.
There was more. The story hadn’t ended here. Snowsting still had a chance. A summer solstice! There’s a summer solstice, too...
Taelia patted me on the back. “It’s okay, Castella. Your part ends here. Thank you for everything...” She hesitated. “You’ll know when the time comes, anyway.”
“For what?” I asked.
I didn’t say anything. Instead I stared at Snowsting, who seemed to be trying to gnaw her way out of the ice. “What about her?”
“I’ll take care of her,” Taelia said softly.
An eternal silence.
My throat was dry. I knew the words I wanted to say, but I wasn’t sure if they would sound rude. But to my surprise, Taelia smiled.
“I know what you’re thinking, Castella. It’s okay. Your work is done for now, and you can go back to your family.”
Taelia nodded. “Thanks, Castella. For... everything.”
I stumbled unsteadily towards the cave entrance, in a daze, still unbelieving of what had just happened. But before I could exit, Taelia called after me, “Wait.”
I turned around.
The faerie slowly made her way towards me, a soft light in her eyes. “Castella... No matter what happens from this day, you’ll still always be the Snowlight. Years may pass, but you will still remember it, your magic inside. And don’t let it ever fade away, Castella. Because what’s inside you... It’s more valuable than a thousand worlds.”
She smiled. “Thank you, Castella. And happy birthday.”
I was already out of the cave.
- - -
“Mom? Vera? Guys, I’m home!”
It was already noon. How had the time passed so quickly? I ran up to the door and reached for the knob, but it flung open by itself. I stared into Vera’s incredulous eyes for what seemed like forever.
She avoided my gaze and brushed past me. I was left holding the doorknob and staring into space like an idiot.
Rain approached me, her expression guarded. “Um... happy birthday.”
I shook my head and smiled. “Thanks a lot, Rain.”
Rain broke into an uncertain smile. “Come on, there’s presents.”
“Duh,” came a new voice. Psyria’s. “It’s your birthday, no? Hurry up! I’m dying for some cake.”
I entered the living room. An enormous white cake stood on the coffee table, lit with fifteen candles, with teal-coloured wings made of icing. Sure enough, four elaborately wrapped presents stood on the sofa. Jessica was beaming at me from on the floor.
“Come on, open mine first!” Psyria urged, thrusting a navy blue package at me. I stared at it. There was a suspicious yellow question mark on the bag. Hey, this was a –
“A bag from the Shop of Mystery.” Psyria smiled. “Open it.”
I ripped open the ribbon and peered inside. Something... it was...
“A book,” I gasped. Dumping it into my hands, I stared at its beautiful cover: It was a thickly-bound book with beautiful white pages and a brown-and-green cover. FAERIE SECRETS proclaimed the title.
“A book... Oh, thank you so much, Psyria!” A new addition to my bookshelf. Genuine happiness welled up inside me. I felt guilty, however, about just how accurate that title was.
“Now mine!” Rain handed me a box wrapped in paper... white paper...
“Is this the comic version of Faerie Friends?” I said incredulously.
“Yep!” Rain nodded.
“Oh my god...” I carefully opened the package, not wanting to rip the comic, and took out its contents.
It was light green with blue wings, and golden letters that spelled out CASTELLA. Its pages were empty and practically waiting to be filled up. Along with the diary was a green pencil, with matching wings.
“Thanks so much, Rain!”
“Don’t mention it. Happy birthday!”
Next was Jessica’s. It was the classic image of a present – green wrapping paper with blue ribbon. I opened the lid – and a storm flew out.
Something pink and fluttery flitted around my face, battering my eyes. I instinctively batted it away, but it ducked. Finally it stopped long enough for me to realize what it was: an adorable Faerie Peo, staring up at me with innocent pink eyes as it spread its tiny purple wings.
“Oh... Jessica...” I was speechless.
She just smiled.
My new Petpet frantically flew around my wings as I realized what was left.
“Um... Where did Vera go?”
Rain shrugged. “I don’t know. She just said she was going for a walk.”
I stared at her present. It was... a Faerie Xweetok! No, not exactly a real Xweetok – a box crafted in the shape of one. Oh gods, how long must it have taken her to make it? I noticed a cardboard tab on the side, and pulled it experimentally.
The layer fell off – to reveal another Xweetok, small enough to fit inside the first! Only this one was a dark blue, with a formidable glint in her eyes. I winced, and pulled the tab again. Fwoom. Another Xweetok, this time a deep fuchsia. The dangerous look had disappeared. Fwoom. A light pink, but now there was a crudely drawn heart on its chest. Fwoom...
“Oh my gosh!”
It was one last Xweetok, a soft yellow with a grin on its face. And it was wearing a Sparkling Faerie Dress, a dress that glittered on her shoulders and swirled at her ankles. A dress that shone blue and green and aqua and turquoise.
And that’s when I knew what I had to do.
I grabbed the dress from the cardboard Xweetok and pulled it on. It was light and silky-smooth and felt comfortable against my fur. Running for the full-length mirror, I stared at my reflection. A Faerie Xweetok stared back. I looked in her eyes, for anything. Anything that could help me, to tell me what to do now. She was a normal fifteen-year-old, Snowlight, and Cassy all rolled into one. She was the same reflection I had seen just last night in the mirror, but suddenly seemed so different.
And then, in the sparkle of her eye, I saw something else.
A reason for living.
A knowing smile curved on my reflection’s lips.
And the last lock broke.
A raging torrent of memories flowed into my mind, easing my soul. Every conversation, every fight, every minute of my life. I stood there staring into the mirror as it all came flooding back.
I spun around and ran for the door, ignoring my family’s concerned shouts. Flinging it open, I flexed my wings experimentally.
And I was whirling through the wind, flying with the snowflakes. Cautiously relaxing my wings, I braced myself for the fall, but I landed smoothly on the snow.
“Snow, 1, Castella, 1,” I said aloud. And then I flew after my sister.
She was nothing more than a tiny pink dot in the distance, among the white whirlwinds of frost, but I knew who she was and I knew what I needed to do.
The wind carried me easily on my wings. Fighting through the soft snowflakes and ice crystals, my eyes never left that pink dot. The tips of my antennae were just about frozen off, but I barely even noticed. Gathering speed, I came closer and closer to Vera, until eventually she came close enough to touch. Relaxing my wings, I landed on the snow with a soft crunch. I saw Vera’s back stiffen, and she turned around.
“Castella?” Her voice sounded incredulous for a moment, especially when she saw what I was wearing, and then her eyes narrowed. I flinched, but she didn’t say anything.
“Vera...” I hesitated. “I...”
I saw the spark of hope ignited behind her eyes. I saw all her spirits rise, then crash back down again as she realized I had no idea what to say. In that long moment I hated myself. Can’t I do anything right?
“Vera...” I swallowed, my throat suddenly dry. “I... thanks.”
“Of course I never expected you to wear it,” Vera said harshly. Her eyes met mine but didn’t connect. “Maybe you’d have thought it a pretty scrap of cloth that you could use for repairing patches in your clothes.” She turned to stalk away.
I called upon a memory, summoned it in my mind. “Vera... I remember...”
“I remember a hot summer’s day when we were on vacation in Mystery Island. We were six years old and were unpainted. I remember that day, all four of us, we were playing tag in the park. You and Psyria were both It, and you were both chasing after us. I remember how happy we were, how fun it was. I remember how you tackled me and Psyria wrestled with Rain and we were all laughing like crazy. I remember the hot sticky air and the brilliant sunbeams and the tall, wild green grass. I remember the smell of Jhuidah’s cooking pot, not too far off, and the chatter of the natives in the village. I remembered...” My voice cracked, but I went on. “I remember how much we loved each other.”
Vera didn’t say anything. Her back was turned, and I couldn’t see her expression. Had she understood my message? Or was her mouth twisted into a sneer, right now? The wind howled at my fur as I waited for her answer.
Her voice was barely a whisper.
“I remember a day. It was late autumn, and the whispers of winter were beginning to rise from the earth. I was ten then, only a year before we got painted. I remember I had lost your favourite book in the schoolyard and I felt so guilty, so I got on my bike and pedaled to school. It was six o’clock then, almost seven, and somewhere along the path I lost control of the brakes and hit a tree. I remember I rolled down the hill, entangled in my own bicycle, being scraped by leaves and twigs and grass. There was dirt in my eyes, my ears, my mouth, and I couldn’t see anything but the sky. I didn’t know where I was. All I did know was that I was in pain. I yelled for hours but nobody came. Nobody heard. After a while I realized the sun was slowly sinking and the first few fireflies were flickering on. I remember I started to cry, thinking that nobody was coming to get me and nobody cared, and that soon it would be night and I’d be stuck here forever. Then I heard a voice, calling out my name, I heard somebody’s pawsteps scurrying across the path. I yelled out and she came, she saw me and she sat down. She told me not to cry, not to worry, that I was all right and she was going to get help. I didn’t want her to leave but she did. Half an hour passed and I was sure she had gone for good, and I had nothing but my tears. But I was wrong. A few minutes later she came back with Jessica, who carried me out and took me to the hospital. But I never forgot the one person who cared, who came looking for me, who came back in the end.”
Her voice was as soft as snowfall. “She was you.”
Ancient barriers crumbled to the ground. As she turned and looked at me, I finally connected with her eyes. Soft blue eyes against light turquoise ones. I opened my mouth to say something, then closed it again. Her eyes said it all.
Sometimes words aren’t necessary.
“Come on,” I said, smiling. “There’s cake waiting for you.”
Hand in hand, we walked home.
- - -
But true stories never end.
The two figures trekking through the snow were oblivious to a single silhouette. A tiny Yullie peeked out from the blizzard, eyes narrowed into slits, mouth twisted into a snarl. Its eyes never left the two pets.
“You haven’t won, Snowlight,” the Yullie hissed, so softly it was lost in the wind. “Not at all. Because I’m waiting for you. I’m waiting for Snowsong. And we’ll see who gets the last laugh then.”
The Yullie burrowed back into the frosty shadows of snow.
The End... for now.