The Gift of Winter: Part Two
Insa stood among the thick blanket of snow that caressed the peak of Terror Mountain. It had been snowing since early that morning, and so far had continued up to now without stopping. The snow reached halfway up the Techo’s shivering legs. Her eyes narrowed and she rubbed her hands furiously together to try and maintain heat in her fingers. The messenger she had sent to the one food shop on the top of Terror Mountain had not yet returned, and Insa was becoming worried. The young Shoyru had been gone for nearly twenty-five minutes. It usually only took her ten minutes to reach the shop; even in weather like this, it couldn’t possibly take such a long time, unless the messenger had encountered trouble.
“Why am I even waiting outside?” she muttered to herself.
For the first fifteen minutes, the chef had remained in the entry hall of Taelia’s snowy dwelling, standing near the large, foggy glass windows at the front of the home. She assumed that the messenger was most likely outside, but that he didn’t know to come inside to deliver his reply. Insa had simply wanted to know if the store was open; if she had gone all the way there and it had turned out to be closed, Taelia would be angry and tell her that she had wasted time. She tried as best as she could not to displease Taelia; the angry Snow Faerie was not a pretty sight to lay your eyes on. But she was a kind person all the same, and Insa could not picture herself cooking for anyone else.
Soon, however, Insa spotted an approaching speck in the distance. She sighed in relief, knowing that the messenger she had sent was approaching.
“Sorry,” the small Shoyru panted, leaning over to catch his breath, “It’s open, though. He said that he’ll stay open until you come.”
Insa nodded and handed the young Neopet some Neopoints for delivering his message. “Thank you,” she replied graciously, her tone kinder than he expected.
The Shoyru nodded, took the money, and left, disappearing into a small blur yet again. Insa watched the horizon for a minute and then headed towards the store. The winds were fierce; she had to bow her head down to make her way through the shower of snowflakes being blown towards her. As the chef walked, it seemed like forever was passing by. It was as if time was slowed; like there was no one else in the world except for her. The silence was inevitable yet intimidating.
Finally Insa arrived at the carved, wooden door of her destination. She firmly knocked on the door and crossed her arms. A Yellow Lenny donned in a warm winter hat and scarf opened the door cautiously.
“Ah,” he said, after catching sight of Insa, “You were the one who sent the messenger? He was very cold, it seemed, but he managed to do his job nonetheless. We were supposed to have closed already, but he insisted that you would come. And here you are, right in front of me, as he said you would be!”
The Lenny opened the door wider so Insa could slip into the warm shop. She huddled by the fireplace on one wall of the room until she had gained a considerable amount of warmth. She then removed her hat, revealing flushed cheeks.
“Well, welcome to the Super Happy Icy Fun Snow Shop!” the shopkeeper exclaimed. He chuckled to himself, as if he had just told a joke only he understood. “What can I do for you on this cold winter evening?”
Insa surveyed the room and its wares. “I’m looking for something to cook for my mistress: Taelia, the Snow Faerie.” She found a chair behind her and sat down, placing her hat neatly on her lap, her eyes gazing at it as if it were a precious artifact.
“Yes, of course. Miss Taelia... She has a cold heart, but I guess we don’t know if that’s from the weather or if it’s just her, eh?” He chuckled again. Insa wasn’t too sure that she liked the jolly shopkeeper.” He turned his back to her and looked through a large box. “I’ll find something good for you, never fear!”
After almost fifteen minutes of her sitting anxiously and tapping her feet, the Lenny arrived with a pile of goods in his hands. He placed them all on a table. Insa looked over each item; after rejecting a few, she was content with her purchases. The Lenny cheerfully packaged them together for her, humming a strange melody she had never heard. Finally, he handed Insa the bundle in exchange for his Neopoints, and she left the store as he yelled a thank you to her.
When Insa arrived back at the Snow Faerie’s dwelling, she entered the kitchen and set down the bundle of food. The kitchen in Taelia’s large house was below ground: not an ideal place when winter came around. So, as she usually did when it was cold outside, Insa remained covered in soft clothes to keep warmth circulating throughout her body. As she was about to begin preparing Taelia’s supper, she felt a presence behind her. The cook turned around to find the Snow Faerie herself.
“Oh,” Insa gasped, surprised at Taelia’s sudden appearance, “Yes, miss?”
Taelia’s eyes narrowed. “You have everything?”
“Yes... yes, miss, I have everything,” she stuttered. “May I ask why you are so anxious to eat supper early? Usually you prefer to attend to other matters before.”
Taelia paused before answering. “Something strange will happen today. This winter day is not normal, Miss Insa.” To emphasize her statement she surveyed the shivering figure of her chef. “I would like to retire rather early tonight.” Taelia looked down at the floor, apparently uncomfortable. “I am afraid.”
Insa was most surprised at her mistress’s words. The Faerie was the strongest person the chef knew; her emotions never made their way on to her face: she was a secret that would never be revealed. Her surprise was not easily hidden on her face; Insa knew Taelia could tell that her words had scared the chef. But she pretended to take no notice and looked away.
There was a long, awkward pause between the two. “I’m sure everything is fine, miss,” Insa said comfortingly to break the silence. Taelia glanced at her. “Trust me.”
Taelia shrugged. “Will supper be ready soon, Miss Insa?” she asked, the pride returning to strengthen her confident but feminine voice.
Insa nodded. “Of course, I’ll start right away.” The chef bowed to Taelia, who began to exit the room. But as the Faerie reached the door, she turned around to face Insa.
“Thank you for understanding, Miss Insa,” Taelia said in a cold tone, but Insa knew that Taelia was actually grateful.
All of a sudden, there was a loud wailing noise. Instantly, Insa knew what Taelia was reminded of, as she thought of the same thing. The constant screeching was almost the same as the one earlier in the day. Whatever the source of the noise was, it was still there or it had returned. But the sound was louder now; it filled the underground kitchen and echoed through the room. Taelia and Insa kneeled down and covered their ears with their hands, the pain painted on both of their faces.
Finally, the noise died down and the Faerie and her chef cautiously removed their hands from their heads. They looked around slowly; Taelia grimaced.
“What was that?” Insa asked, scared that the noise would return at any moment. She looked towards Taelia, who did not respond. “I remember hearing it earlier,” she said, “It must be the same creature.”
Taelia nodded, but remained quiet. Her lips moved as if she was saying something, but Insa could not hear her. If she was responding to Insa, she was whispering under her breath. She looked at the chef with an indecipherable gaze for a long period of time, and Insa started to feel uncomfortable.
“Yes, miss?” the Techo asked, fidgeting anxiously.
“Oh,” Taelia’s eyes opened wider, as if she had been in a trance. “I’m sorry, Miss Insa. I must not have been paying attention.” She shook her head like she was responding to one of her thoughts.
“Are you alright?” Insa approached the Faerie cautiously but steadily. “If you aren’t feeling well, you should tell somebody so we can give you the proper care.”
Taelia pushed Insa’s approaching hand away from her forehead and sighed. “No, I’m perfectly fine, thank you, Insa. I’m just...” Taelia paused.
“Troubled, perhaps?” the chef suggested.
“Yes, I suppose that would be it.” Taelia bit her lip. “I received a strange letter today, and ever since then, things have seemed so much stranger. I’m so worried that something horrible is going to happen.”
Insa was unsure of what to say. Taelia seemed very worried, and she was not sure of how to console her mistress. She herself had found nothing odd about the day; except for the loud screeching and the temperature, of course. But now, the Snow Faerie was not acting like her normal herself.
“Miss, would it make you feel better if you went outside and saw that there is nothing to be afraid of? I can accompany you, if you wish,” Insa proposed.
Taelia shrugged. “It may help, thank you. Let us venture outside!”
The Snow Faerie and her chef headed up to the main entryway and exited the large home. The wind was blowing even more fiercely than it had been earlier. Taelia clutched the hood of her robe and held it over her head. Insa bent her head down to keep the snow from flying into her eyes.
All of a sudden, Insa tripped on something that felt like a large rock. She fell to the snow-covered ground. Taelia went towards her and helped her up on her feet again.
“Are you alright, Insa?” Taelia asked her.
“Yes, I think I’m fine, thank you.” Insa brushed some of the snow off her body. “I’m not sure that was a rock, though.” She looked back to where the two of them had come from and scanned the ground.
“Oh,” Taelia gasped and put her hand to her mouth. She walked a couple of steps towards her home and kneeled to the ground carefully. She slowly reached her hands out and stood back up with a bundle in her hands.
Suddenly, the bundle in the Snow Faerie’s hands began to screech. It started out quieter and then grew in volume and pitch. Taelia, startled, dropped the creature immediately. She and her chef watched as the creature did not move, but began to shake. Taelia leaned in closer to scrutinize the creature. She stiffened.
Taelia stood up straight and looked at her chef with wide eyes. “It’s a Baby Draik.”
To be continued...