Beating the Snowager
Draykwurm shivered, blew out a puff of misted breath and continued trudging through Happy Valley. His target, the Ice Caves, shimmered above in a Neopian sunrise. The colour took the chill right out of them, illuminated in flames of orange and gold. It almost looked as though they would melt before he entered.
He reached the mouth of the caves and lumbered in, hunched over and shaking in the cold. Crystal structures glittered, and the icy path tunnelling through the cavern slowly melted under his paws. Stalls at the Neggery and Ice Crystal Shop were beginning to open for the morning rush, the shopkeepers leaning over their benches and watching him pass. Everyone was familiar with this Starry Eyrie; he had been coming here at this hour for the past month. His determination was taller than the mountain above them, and lunacy was even higher than that.
Draykwurm finally reached his target, and narrowed his eyes. Gentle snores wafted and delicately echoed through the shimmering space. The Snowager was strategically wrapped around his bounty as he slept. Draykwurm took a deep breath, and crept forward.
The Snowager snuffled slightly, flicking his tail edgily. Draykwurm continued tiptoeing towards him, his eyes on the prize. A Negg was all he wanted, any kind. Just something to say he had succeeded, something to say he had won. A little piece of triumph.
He leaned forward, paw outstretched, and clutched a Negg in the pile, his eyes fixed to the Snowager. The beast’s eyes were literally frozen shut as Draykwurm tugged the prize free from the pile.
Suddenly an avalanche of Neggs rolled down from the little Negg hill; the Snowager snapped awake and raised his giant head to glare at him. Draykwurm dropped the Negg, it bounced and slid away on the ice. Then the MASSIVE icy blast came.
He didn’t remember anything after that. When he next woke up, he was among pink clouds and tinkling water. He groaned. The Healing Springs again. This place was too familiar; it was getting tiresome.
“Hold still, nearly there...”
A pair of tweezers grasped an ice shard sticking from his arm and yanked it out. Draykwurm yelped, but in an attempt to look grown up he held back the tears. His owner Kate stared at him, then sighed grumpily.
“You do this to yourself, Drayk. Look, I will buy you a Negg if you’re so cut up about it...”
“It’s not about the Negg!” he growled. “It’s about beating the Snowager.”
Kate sighed again, and leaned back in her cloudy seat. Draykwurm, having had enough of the healing waters that proved his failure, arose and shook himself off.
“So what do you do there? You go to the Snowager, sneak up, grab a Negg, wake him up and get blasted again?”
The Eyrie paused, then slowly nodded. Yes, that generally was how things went with the Snowager.
“Well, why don’t you change tactics?”
Change tactics? Didn’t his owner have any sense? There was no change of tactics with this icy beast! He falls asleep, you approach, grab something and run for your life. Try not to end up at the Healing Springs. Wait for him to sleep again, try again.
“Drayk, surely if there’s anything Neopia tries to teach you is that being original and clever is best. Don’t follow the norm; change it yourself.”
Changing the norm. Draykwurm shook his head. That would never happen, not with the Snowager. One way fitted all, and luck was the only deciding factor.
The next day, Draykwurm climbed the typical path up to the Ice Caves, trembling in determination of beating the Snowager today. Every day as he entered Happy Valley he said this to himself, that today will be the day. Today he would be successful, and get that treasure!
But his eyes weren’t on the track and he wandered into a snowy patch instead. He gasped at the snow crystals, painted orange in the sunrise. Like cold fire. Cold fire... An idea popped into his head as he picked up a pile of snow and held it up to the sun’s light. Slowly, surrounded by the heat of the sun and from under his blue paw, the snow melted away into nothing.
Warmth. Fire. It caused snow to melt. Did his owner’s words have a meaning to them?
For the first time in a long while he turned his back on the Ice Caves and returned to his family, without trying to tackle the Snowager beforehand. The flight back took an age, but when he flung open the front door and practically jumped onto Kate, he was shaking with excitement.
“You know what would make me the happiest Eyrie on earth?” he asked.
Kate looked stunned beneath him, eyes wide and scared. But then her quiet voice sounded with the obvious: “Beating the Snowager?”
Draykwurm grinned. “Almost.”
It took a lot of begging. Of wishing away several birthday presents and even the impossible – visits to the Advent Calendar. But Draykwurm got his wish, and the next morning he was trudging back up to the Ice Caves to see if his amazing knack of originality worked. Kate was with him too, to show her support of him trying something different. Draykwurm ignored her polite distance from him as they approached the Snowager, her stooped frame the nearer they got. She was obviously apprehensive.
“Drayk, maybe this isn’t such a good idea...”
“It’ll work!” Draykwurm said, thinking to the melting snow. Cold fire, like how he was now.
Shopkeepers looked stunned as he walked past in his new look, they hardly recognised him. The Starry Eyrie who once stuck out like a sore paw in the sunrise filled Ice Caves now comfortably blended in with flaming camouflage. He wasn’t Starry anymore, he was painted Fire!
“All right, Snowager,” Draykwurm muttered, feeling his heart pound and breathing sharpen. “Time to let me win.”
His fiery paint was working, turning the paths to slush around him. It was more armour than anything else; if the Snowager did wake up and blast him, the icicles would simply melt. They wouldn’t hurt like before; he could simply dance away with his treasure in hand and beat the Snowager at long last.
The soft snores of the beast seeped into the air, lulling him into the old times of trial and error. But this was foolproof. Draykwurm approached the pile of treasure, the Snowager’s body wrapped precariously around it. His eyes latched onto the ultimate trophy of success, a Christmas Negg lying right at the very tip of the Snowager’s tail. Draykwurm held his breath and reached forward to grab it, not scared of the ice worm anymore. He was safe from its icy breath, he could win!
But just as his paw reached around the Christmas Negg, he heard a gentle hissing sound. Steam wafted into the air. The Snowager was... melting...
Draykwurm gasped, dropping the Christmas Negg and stumbling backwards. In a groan, the Snowager groggily awoke, stared at him with a beady blue eye, and then where the tip of his tail had once been. In a disgusted scream, he opened his mouth and let out a MASSIVE icy blast.
Pink clouds, trickling water... No, he couldn’t be in the Healing Springs AGAIN!
“What happened?” Draykwurm screamed, leaping out of the water. Although oddly refreshing, this was the last place he wanted to be in.
Kate was beside him. “Well, on the bright side we don’t need to pluck out any splinters this time.”
Draykwurm groaned, plunging his head in the water to wake himself up. When he burst to the surface, he felt great. And the bitter feeling of failure.
“I knew we should have thrown you in the Magma Pool,” Kate said, shaking her head in the frustrating way owners did when trying to prove a point. “Fire wasn’t enough; it couldn’t melt the ice fast enough.”
“But... but... but...” Draykwurm groaned. Fire ended up hindering him, not helping. It woke the Snowager up faster; never would he thought his inner fire could melt the beast itself!
But Kate looked pleased. He only just realised that she hadn’t stopped smiling since he’d woken up.
“Why are you so happy? I got blasted again!”
“Yes... but you’re all right now and...”
“And what?” Draykwurm folded his arms and snorted.
Kate held up a small, glittering square hanging from a chain around her neck. Draykwurm immediately recognised it.
“You got the avatar!”
“Yep.” She tucked it back where no jealous eyes could pry on it. “Been wanting this one for a while. You got it for me, Drayk. Thank you so much. You may not have gotten your treasure, but you certainly got mine.”
He snorted again, looking away. “You could have gotten it any time I was blasted.”
“Maybe...” Kate shrugged. “Or maybe Neopia appreciates originality and a good try a lot more than you think.”
He sighed as she got up and shook faerie dust from her clothes. She petted him on the head, ruffling his gold and black feathers.
“See you at home, Drayk.”
Draykwurm sat on that miserable pink cloud for some time, thinking he was welcome there, because he was the Healing Springs’ best customer. Kate did seem truly pleased about the avatar, and he had gotten an awesome new look out of this. And maybe, since she had gotten what she wanted from all of this, she could grant him a few visits to the Advent Calendar this year after all...
He got up, suddenly eager and rearing. With a brand new fiery coat came a brand new set of challenges to beat the Snowager. And when he finally did, the triumph would be even sweeter.
A silent chiming from behind him told him the hour, and he realised what time it was. The Snowager was asleep again.
Determination pounded in his chest. He knew, just knew, that this time, he would beat the Snowager!