The Gift of Winter: Part One
Terror Mountain had never seen a colder day in all its years. Although its peak was blanketed in sheets of snow all year round, varying from thick in the winter to thin in the summer, those who lived on the mountain agreed that this one day in particular was a new record. Throughout the day, most Neopians chose to stay safely inside their homes around their fireplaces and decorated for the holiday season that was almost upon them. The few who ventured outside hastily returned inside to tell their companions of the tingling in their hands, the feeling of the wind freezing their faces. And so the mountain was unusually quiet for the time of year; the wind swept savagely around the peak, enjoying its wintry freedom.
Everyone understood that this day was most unusual. However, most Neopets continued through the day without curiosity as to what caused the extreme drop in temperature. But there was a rare few who sought the answer to the mystery. Many of these citizens were superstitious; they contemplated the matter and decided that something important was about to happen on this day. With the question resolved, they let the idea sink into the back of their minds.
The only one who had seemed not to notice the unusual weather was Taelia, the Snow Faerie who lived on the highest point of Terror Mountain. She was used to the cold; some even said that she enjoyed it, but this was never proved. As always, she sat in her palace of ice, wrapped in frosty blue and white robes. As no one ventured out on this day, she was left bored with nothing to entertain her. Only she and her few servants were in the palace; there were many Neopians who often came to her seeking quests, but today the grand hall where she received them was empty.
“Madam,” a voice whispered from behind the Faerie.
Taelia looked up, hoping that a visitor had arrived. However, she was soon disappointed, after seeing that it was only Farden, an Eyrie who had assisted her for many years.
She sighed. “You may enter.”
Taelia watched as Farden stepped away from the doorway and went towards her carrying a small pile of colorful papers. “I have for you your Neomails from yesterday, madam,” Farden explained.
“Yes,” she motioned towards a table in one corner, “you may place them there. I will attend to them eventually.”
Farden looked at her curiously. He raised an eyebrow.
“Ah, anything urgent, Farden?” she asked without interest.
“Now that you have mentioned it...” Farden coughed. “The dark green envelope on the top of the pile should be read fairly soon. It was sent by Illusen, you will find.”
Taelia nodded and Farden exited the room. It was rare that she received word from Illusen. The Faerie was much busier than her; the two usually refrained from sending letters to each other, as they never seemed to have anything to talk about, besides the weather and stories about quest seekers.
Significantly happier after learning about this unusual occurrence, Taelia skimmed the pile of Neomails. She had received a considerable amount, yet slightly smaller than the usual number. She pulled the dark green envelope off the top of the pile.
It was obvious that Illusen wrote many Neomails. The envelope was of a fine material and was engraved with her seal. Taelia’s name was printed in gold script on the front. When the Faerie turned the envelope over, she found Illusen’s seal once again, although this time used to close the Neomail’s envelope. Taelia opened the envelope carefully and withdrew the elegant stationary on which was the Neomail.
Taelia cleared her throat and read aloud.
Dear Taelia, Snow Faerie, Terror Mountain:
I have not contacted you for a reasonable amount of time, so I do understand that reading this may feel awkward. Yet I assure you that I have a valid reason for sending this letter so randomly. I also guarantee that everything I state in the following letter is completely true and was written by me myself, Illusen the Earth Faerie of Meridell.
As you may already know, today is the most unique day in Terror Mountain’s history. I am quite certain that you have noticed the sudden decrease in temperature; far fewer Neopians will come seeking quests. You may ask how I knew of this day beforehand, but unfortunately I cannot reveal this secret as of now.
And I would like to warn you, Taelia. Something odd is about to happen, and you play a major role. I cannot say much, as I am afraid that unworthy eyes will happen upon these words. But please, beware the Three Sisters, and if they come to your door be wary. What may seem a blessing may well be a curse, and illusions are not scarce in Neopia these days. Guard your Treasures with caution.
You may be confused by my words, but I assure you that they will make sense in time. Understand that I am already taking risks by warning you. There is a terrible plot in Neopia; do not let Them succeed in carrying it out.
This day is not unusual by chance, Taelia.
Illusen, Earth Faerie, Meridell
Taelia read the letter three times and then finally replaced it in its envelope. Illusen, indeed, did not say much. And although Taelia was a rather intelligent Faerie, she could not understand either the meaning of the words or how Illusen could have known to write her about such a thing. However, the Snow Faerie was well aware of the knowledge of Illusen; she made sure she would not forget what she had just read. Taelia understood that the letter must hold some significance, so she hid the envelope between two books on a wooden bookshelf next to the pile of Neomails. There it would stay safe.
At that very moment, Farden knocked and entered the room. His head was held higher than normal; the Eyrie was normally a humble creature, proud of his accomplishments, but subtly so. It was normal for Taelia to notice these small details.
“Madam, may I ask if you have already attended to Illusen’s letter?” Farden asked. His tone of voice was stronger than normal.
“I have.” Taelia paused. “Farden, will you ask Chef Insa if she could please prepare supper? I am feeling rather hungrier than usual.”
“Of course.” Farden bowed slightly. “Madam, have you put Illusen’s letter in a safe spot? You should take great care to save it. In case anything happens to it, I would like to know where you have put it.”
Taelia raised her eyebrows. Something was amiss; she was sure about it. She paused before replying. “I do not plan to tell anyone, Farden.”
He grimaced—Taelia noticed, although she knew he was trying to conceal it—and bowed again. “Certainly, madam,” he replied, although he looked disappointed. “I will tell Miss Insa of your request.”
As the Eyrie exited the room, Taelia turned towards the window. Farden seemed anxious to have access to Illusen’s letter, although she did not know why a letter as mysterious as that one would be much use or importance to him. But his longing was obvious to her; she found it best that she kept the letter’s location a secret even though the fact as to why she should made no sense to her.
Taelia turned towards the glass doors leading on to her balcony. The glass was frosted by the chill outside. She slowly opened the doors, bracing herself for the low temperature. But when she stepped out on to the balcony, she felt no wind. She felt no cold, yet all day she had heard that it was impossible to venture outside on Terror Mountain without shivering. But Taelia felt perfectly normal.
All of a sudden, Taelia heard a screeching from below. It sounded almost like sobbing, yet it was louder and very high-pitched. She wondered what in the world could make such a noise; it was like someone trying to sing as high as they possibly could and as loud as they possibly could at the same time. She covered her ears when she could tolerate it no longer.
“What,” she asked herself, gritting her teeth, “could produce such a sound?”
Was it, perhaps, a creature in terrible pain? Or was it an undiscovered species in Terror Mountain: a dangerous new type of Neopet; a new villain announcing its arrival in Neopia. Taelia’s curiosity was washed away, however; all she wanted was for the noise to stop. She rushed back inside the room, taking care to close the doors firmly behind her.
As she sat down on the floor, her face covered with pain and shock, she leaned against the doors, as if the source of the noise was outside on her very own balcony, and was trying as hard as possible to enter the room. Her eyes were wide open, filled with fear. This was not a normal being; Taelia was sure of this.
“Miss.” Taelia looked up as her personal chef, Insa, entered the room cautiously. “I was coming here to ask you about your dinner, but oh! What a frightful sound that was. What was it?”
Taelia stood up and brushed off her robes, dusty from the stone floor. “I could not identify its source. And I must say that I am not sure if I wish to.”
Insa laughed. “That’s a reasonable answer, miss. Well now, Mr. Farden told me that you wanted supper soon. But I’m afraid to say that I wasn’t able to go to the marketplace today; it was awfully cold, and I believe that many shops were closed. I don’t think anyone would want to deliver in this weather, either. My, is it cold outside!”
“I did not notice the cold when I stepped out,” Taelia replied haughtily.
“Well, you have some mighty thick robes on, miss. And I suppose a Faerie such as yourself wouldn’t notice it as strongly as everyone else does.” Insa seemed to ignore the Faerie’s tone. She was a gentle creature; she was always kind, even when it wasn’t suitable to be so loving. Although Insa might not have known, Taelia appreciated this. “Anyways, I believe you’ll have to make do with leftovers tonight. There seems to be nothing else we can do.”
Taelia sighed. “Ah, well, I would rather eat leftovers than nothing at all. Thank you, Chef Insa. You may go now.”
The Techo started to exit, then froze. “On second thought, I guess I could see if a shop is still open so I can buy some things to cook.”
“Don’t waste your time,” the Snow Faerie warned. She signaled permission for the chef to leave and watched as Insa bowed and left the room.
Taelia sat down at her desk, staring at the place where she had hidden Illusen’s letter. She leaned her head on her palm and tapped her fingers on the fine wood. The screeching certainly was extremely odd; she wondered if it held any relevance to the words Illusen had written. She assumed that it was just a young Neopet who had fallen in the snow, and let the curiosity fill her no more.
To be continued...