Taelia's Pride: The Beginning - Part One
“Hurry up, Ryan! We’re going to be late!” Charlotte, a tall purple Aisha, looked back over her shoulder at a scrawny, dark-furred Gelert who was struggling across the neatly trimmed lawn of their neohome, dragging two suitcases behind him.
“Come on, Lottie.” A well-dressed Gelert stood next to their shuttle, holding open the door and glancing from his wife to his child. “I’ll get the rest of the bags.”
The purple Aisha hesitated before murmuring, “Alright, Jake.” She turned back to the shuttle and climbed in. Through the open door, Ryan could hear her murmuring quietly, talking to his sister. He gave another tug to his heavy bags before looking up at his father.
“There’s room in the back for these,” he said as he strode forward and took the bags from Ryan’s hands. “Sit next to Allie, please.”
Ryan watched him fit their luggage into the back of the shuttle before climbing in through the open door and closing it behind him. His mother gave him an appraising look. “Did you remember to water the plants in the kitchen?”
“Just like you asked, Mom.” Ryan strapped himself in as his father climbed into the front of the shuttle.
“We’re ready,” he announced. Their Lenny pilot gave Ryan’s father a sour look before turning back to his steering wheel. Ryan looked out the window as his neohome shrank into the distance.
“I can’t wait,” he said excitedly, and turned back to his mother and sister. “This is gonna be so fun! I want to visit the Ice Crystals shop, and maybe go visit the Snowager—”
“I don’t think it would be very fun,” said a small voice. Ryan looked down at his sister. Strapped into her seat just like him, her pale blue face was even lighter than normal. “I don’t think that he is very friendly.”
“C’mon, where’s the fun without a little adventure?” Ryan asked playfully, nudging her. She gulped and looked past him, out the window.
Alzyia had never left Neopia Central, and was feeling both excited and nervous about getting to visit a new land. Ryan had begged their parents to take them to Darigan Citadel, but they hadn’t wanted to go there. Alzyia privately felt like this had been a wise decision; although she’d never admit it to her brother, the thought of going to such a dark place was quite frightening. Her mom had asked her where she’d wanted to go, and she had said Faerieland, but then the next day she changed her mind. Faerieland would be amazing to visit, but she thought that visiting some place where she really wanted to go might not be a good idea when she’d never been on a vacation before. If she made a fool of herself in front of all of Faerieland, she’d never be able to go back.
She looked at Ryan, who was busy staring out the window, too, at the scenery that was rushing by. He was really smart, and she felt fairly certain that she couldn’t have a better big brother. She’d heard her parents talking about his grades a few weeks earlier, and she knew that this vacation was partly a reward for his hard work in Neoschool. She’d just finished her first year, and was glad that it was the summer.
It wasn’t that she didn’t like her classes, exactly, but not going to school every day for a few months would mean that she would get a break from seeing her classmates. She’d never been bullied—Ryan had dropped her off at class the first week, and she thought that nobody would want to pick on her if she had her older brother watching out for her—but she had been too shy to make any real friends. And learning was fine, except that she was rather lonely while doing it. She got good marks, too, and her parents said that she was just as smart as Ryan, but Alzyia knew that Ryan had more friends than she ever would.
“If you don’t want to go visit the Snowager, then what do you want to see?” Ryan’s question startled Alzyia after a moment of silence.
“Um...” Alzyia thought for a long moment. She’d heard that there was a shop on top of the mountain that had really good snow treats, but she wasn’t sure she wanted to hike all the way up. “I want to visit the Neggery,” she finally decided. The Neggery was supposed to have all sorts of exotic Neggs, and some of them were supposed to be really good.
“Yeah, that’ll be cool,” Ryan agreed. He leaned forward. “Will we have time to see everything, Dad?”
“I think so,” his father responded over his shoulder with a slight smile for both of his children. “Are you guys excited? It’s going to be a great vacation!” He caught his wife’s eye and smiled at her.
She beamed back, just as pleased as he was with the prospect of a two-week-long vacation away from work, cooking, and the constant Neomails from friends. “It’ll be nice to unplug and unwind for a while,” she murmured to him.
“Yeah.” He reached for her hand and squeezed it.
Ryan and Allie were talking about the Neggery and ignoring their parents fully. “...And there’s one that will actually increase your strength when you eat it!” Ryan said. “Can you imagine? Just eating a Negg and you can actually change!”
“Wow,” Alzyia said in a small voice. “Those must be really expensive Neggs.”
“I don’t think they’re too expensive,” Ryan said with a shrug. “Besides, I don’t know if I’d actually want to eat one. But they’re supposed to be really cool-looking! Jenny from my Altadorian History class told me that when she visited—”
Just what Jenny from Altadorian History had told Ryan, however, was not something that Alzyia would ever find out. The grumpy Lenny pilot squawked at his passengers, “Everybody out! We’re here!” And Alzyia looked out the window excitedly while Ryan unstrapped himself and opened the door.
The relay station was bustling, and Ryan grabbed Alzyia’s hand as they stepped onto the busy curbside. Their father retrieved their luggage out of the back of the shuttle while their mother stood next to them.
“Now don’t get separated,” she warned them as their father approached. “We’re just going to head over to the Uni Carriage bay and then we’ll be off to Happy Valley.”
Burdened with their suitcases, the family stepped away from the curb and began the short walk to their destination. Allie hoped that it would be a quick trip to their destination; she was eager to get out of the heat of Neopia Central, and into the cooler climate of the northern lands.
“Alright, kids! Here we are!” As Charlotte stepped forward, snow crunched under the soles of her boots.
Jake hurried up to her, carrying two suitcases. “Lottie, I’m just going to check in. Wait out here with the kids.” He gave her a quick smile and hurried into the hotel, leaving her to watch Ryan and Alzyia.
“I can’t believe that there’s snow,” Ryan muttered, glancing around the square. The hotel was a cheerful-looking building modeled after a gingerbread house, and it cast a warm glow onto the icy slush. Beyond the walkway was the main road; Ryan had seen a number of Neopets hurrying up and down the icy thoroughfare, so the shopping square had to be just up the road. “It must be boiling back home! Allie, want to make snow faeries later?” He looked hopefully at his younger sister.
Alzyia was standing quite still in the middle of the square, watching her brother take everything in. She shivered slightly, rather unimpressed by the cold and the slush underfoot. “Snow faeries?” she repeated softly, looking up at her brother as though he was insane.
“Yeah,” he said, walking over to her. “You lie down and flap your arms in the snow, and it looks like a faerie.”
“People lie down in this stuff?” she asked, frowning and scuffing a foot.
“Oh, I forgot! You’ve never seen snow before, have you?” When Allie shook her head, Ryan clapped a hand to his forehead dramatically. “Well, this isn’t exactly the good stuff. You have to wait until new snow falls. This stuff has probably been down all morning. It’s the fresh stuff you want.”
“If you say so,” she replied dubiously.
Their father returned then, immediately taking hold of the remaining suitcases. “We’re all checked in,” he announced. “Want to go see the room, kids?” He smiled at Charlotte as they exclaimed excitedly and rushed past him, into the hotel.
Charlotte watched them go fondly before turning back to her husband. “Was check-in fine?”
As they proceeded forward into the lobby, Jake nodded. “I asked the desk manager about other activities to do around here besides the Snowager. I know that Ryan wants to go, but—” Jake shrugged. “I think we can find some other things to do. He told me about the ski lift to the top of the mountain, and there is a lot more to do up there.”
Charlotte followed Jake up the stairs: she could hear Allie and Ryan running down the corridor ahead. “That ski lift—is it really safe?” She managed to express superior doubt with only the slight frown of her mouth.
“Of course. I asked and he said that it receives weekly inspections. It is also used frequently and there haven’t been any injuries to date. Supposedly an engineering marvel. This way, kids!” Jake called, turning down a corridor. Allie and Ryan ran past him, yelling their excitement.
Jake finally stopped in front of room 224 and pushed it open with his shoulder. Charlotte held the door open for the children, who stopped in the doorway, impressed with the size of the suite.
A plush carpet of dark green lay underfoot, and the room’s upholstery was gold- and green-striped. A fireplace crackled at the far end of the room, and two armchairs and a couch stood nearby. Through a half-open door, Ryan glimpsed gleaming marble, which he assumed to be a bathroom. The room smelled fresh and faintly floral. Ryan was sure that it had been prepared just for them.
He hurried over to a large window and looked out. “Hey, there’s the courtyard! This room must face the front!”
“Your room is over here, Ryan,” Charlotte called.
Ryan turned to see a second, smaller bedroom through one of the adjoining doors. “Let’s go see, Alzyia!” He pushed the door open and looked inside, pleased with the large bed and the same green carpet on the floor. Alzyia trailed after him as he hurried to inspect the bathroom as well, and although he wasn’t sure if it was as nice as his parents’, he was pleased with the grand bathtub and the fluffy towels.
“I think it's nice,” Allie said softly, turning to look at her mother.
Charlotte smiled back and opened the door a little wider. “Ryan, come get your suitcases.”
The Gelert trooped back into his parents’ room, grumbling good-naturedly as he did so. Allie wandered after him and climbed onto the bed, looking up at her father. “What are we going to do today?”
Jake pretended to consider it for a moment. “Well, I know that you and Ryan both wanted to explore the Ice Caves, and I was also thinking that we could take the Ski Lift to the top of the mountain—maybe tomorrow.”
Alzyia’s eyes lit up. “Really?”
Jake chucked and turned back to his own unpacking. It might sound exciting now, he thought, but in an hour or two you’ll be begging to come back inside and get a mug of hot cocoa.
* * *
“That was fun!” Ryan announced as they walked away from the Neggery. “That Fireball Negg was so cool!”
“I liked the Sweet Heart Negg,” Alzyia replied, shivering in the cold air.
“Dad! Can I play Let It Slide?” Ryan looked back at his father with an expression that was part hopefulness, part pleading.
Charlotte looked at the steep slope that stood not far away and frowned. “I don’t know if that’s such a good idea, Ryan...”
“Oh, sure, go ahead. Do you want to go too, Allie?” Jake looked down at his daughter, but she shook her head violently and watched, petrified, as her brother ran across the snowy ground and around the bend, heading for the top of the line.
“Let’s go wait for him at the bottom,” Jake suggested. The trio proceeded down the steps, Allie glancing over her shoulder fearfully every few moments to ensure that Ryan wasn’t already on his way past them.
They stood together near the bottom, watching other Neopets landing in the soft snow at the base of the slide one by one before dusting themselves off and departing cheerfully. Allie continued to bite her lip in nervousness. It wasn’t long before Ryan came shooting out of the chute and tumbled into the snow that had been piled for landing.
He stood, laughing, and stumbled over to his family. “That was fun! You should’ve gone, Allie.” His younger sister shook her head, eyes wide. “Oh, come on, the Wocky at the top told me that nobody ever falls off,” Ryan continued.
“Was there anywhere else you wanted to go today?” Charlotte asked, frowning at her son. “And we’re not going to see the Snowager,” she added as Ryan opened his mouth.
The shadow Gelert shrugged. “Not really.”
“Let’s head back then,” Jake said. “We’ll go up the ski lift to the top of the mountain tomorrow, first thing after breakfast. How does that sound?”
Ryan perked up at the suggestion and grabbed his sister’s hand. The two raced ahead of their parents, but Allie stopped at the exit to the Caves, awestruck.
Jake looked back to see his sister gazing skyward. Curiously, he too glanced around, and recognized the pale flecks of white as signifying the early portion of snowfall. “Fresh snow,” he told Allie gleefully and dragged her into the Valley Proper.
The snowfall grew heavier as they walked back toward their hotel, and Allie stopped along the sidewalk to pick up some of the snow that had piled up on the side of the road. She packed it into her hands and then watched, mystified, as it crumbled away.
“You have to pack it harder,” Ryan said as he bent down next to her. “Like this. Watch.” He packed a snowball and then stood, searching for an easy target. A well-dressed Bruce was just coming around the corner; he threw the snowball hard and then grabbed his sister’s hand.
As they ran down the lane, followed by the Bruce’s angry shouts, a handful of younger pets peeked out of the courtyard gates of their hotel. Jake hesitated, looking around, before being hit directly with a well-aimed snowball.
“Hey!” Jake yelled, plunging into the courtyard and immediately seizing an empty snowbank to hide behind. In no time, a full-scale snow war was raging between the children; Charlotte and Jake dodged the fray and stepped inside the hotel, glad to have a moment to themselves.
Allie was busy packing snowballs for her brother and doing her best to remain hidden behind the snowbank. She was too scared to attempt peeking over it and tossing a snowball, but Ryan was doing well enough without her help. The courtyard was full of war cries and challenges as the children continued to fire back and forth.
The snow had started to fall more heavily now, and Allie continued to make fortifications, not noticing the passage of time until a green Usul appeared in the doorway and shouted for her son to come in. Reluctantly, the remaining children threw the last of their snowballs and returned to the warmth of the hotel lounge room.
Allie hadn’t realized how cold she was but gratefully accepted the mug of hot chocolate her mother handed her. As she settled into a beanbag next to the blazing fire, Ryan wandered over from the other group of children and sat next to her. “So, how was it? Your first snowball fight?”
“It was alright,” Allie said casually. Privately, she thought to herself, This snow stuff really isn’t so bad after all. Even so, she thought that she’d never willingly play Let It Slide.
* * *
Allie woke late in the morning to a bright day. Her parents were awake and moving about their room, so she proceeded to their large window and looked out on the courtyard before. The previous day’s snowstorm had continued all through the night, and the snow was deep in some places. A fine shower of flakes continued to fall from the grey sky.
“Go wake your brother up so that we can get some breakfast,” her father suggested. Alzyia realized how hungry she was and returned to the bedroom she was sharing with Ryan.
After bundling up in her warmest clothes and getting an extra scarf from her mother, Alzyia felt ready to finally visit the top of the mountain. Ryan led her to the front lounge, where a steaming meal of hotcakes awaited them. The meal was delicious and Alzyia listened more than talked as her parents began discussing the mountaintop.
“And I want to look at the Igloo Garage Sale,” Charlotte explained thoughtfully. “Alice from the Neoschool Board found this beautiful necklace there—”
“Can I play Cliffhanger?” Ryan interrupted, looking hopefully at his father.
Jake smiled and shrugged. “We’ll see.” He suspected that although Charlotte wouldn’t like it, Ryan would end up playing the game anyway. “And how about the Happy Fun Snow Shop?” he asked, looking over at Allie.
“It’s called the Super Happy Icy Fun Snow Shop,” Ryan interrupted with a roll of his eyes.
Allie frowned. “Who would want to eat ice cream when it is so cold outside? Why not have hot chocolate to warm you up?”
Ryan didn’t have an answer for that one.
* * *
After breakfast, they traipsed down the lane and joined the flow of traffic heading to Happy Valley Proper once more. Ryan watched a snowball fight wistfully, but remained by his parents’ side. Alzyia realized with some trepidation that she was already slightly chilly despite her mother’s extra scarf, and hoped that the ride up the top of the mountain wouldn’t be horribly cold.
The wind was blowing more strongly, and Charlotte observed the heavy snowfall with some worry before grasping Jake’s hand. “Do you mind waiting a few minutes? I want to look in the Outfitters before we go up...” She indicated the merry shop that stood not far away from the ice skating rink just ahead.
Jake smiled at his wife. “Of course. Kids, want to come with us?”
Alsyia nodded happily in response and Ryan followed, looking dubious.
The inside of the shop was warm and Charlotte moved between the displays of clothing, commenting occasionally to Jake. Ryan sat in a chair near the front of the store and watched the windowpane pile up with white flakes. Allie wandered away from her parents after a short time, peering through racks of sumptuous, furry cloaks and thick wool leggings to find her brother.
“Do you think the ride up the ski lift will be cold?” she asked him, sitting in the chair next to him.
“Oh, I don’t think it will be too bad.” He smiled at her and then a thought occurred to him. “Hey Allie, do you think Mom and Dad will let us ski down the hill later?”
Allie’s already-pale face blanched. “Well, I’m not sure that it would be the best idea,” she began.
“Oh, it will be fun,” Ryan reassured her, waving off her protest. “I know you’ve never been skiing before, but neither have I! I know they have easier paths for beginners. It’s not like you’ll be rolling down a cliff,” he said with a shrug. “Although, I did want to try Snow Roller at some point,” he added as an afterthought.
Allie was silent for a moment. “I’m not sure. Do you really think so?”
“Allie,” Ryan said calmly, “would I ever try and get you to do something dangerous?”
Allie considered that. It was true that Ryan tended to have her best interests at heart, although sometimes he did engage in riskier activities than she did. Then again, he’d always been much less timid than she was, so she supposed she couldn’t blame him to finding interests in places where she found fear. Still, Ryan had never hurt her, not even with roughhousing, and she knew that he would never so much as bully her. Finally, she shrugged. She knew that skiing was relatively safe, and some of the girls in her class had even mentioned once that their families had gone, so she supposed it couldn’t hurt to try...
“Well, I guess, if they let us,” Alzyia finally said.
Ryan’s face brightened considerably. “It’ll be fun with all this fresh snow, too,” he observed as he looked back out the window.
Alzyia followed his gaze to see that the snowstorm hadn’t abated in the slightest. She frowned and looked down at her hands. Charlotte had come inside the store with the hope that the worst of the storm would pass or that the snowfall would lighten, but it looked like it was getting worse, if anything.
Reluctantly, Alzyia watched her parents draw closer to the front of the store. She knew that snowstorms were not uncommon and that she was probably just being scared about nothing again, but she didn’t want to go outside. Jake opened the door for her, however, and she had no choice but to follow her brother.
The weather felt better than it looked. Although the houses and shops nearby were all covered in snow, creating the resemblance with a picturesque gingerbread neighborhood, the snow falling from the sky was gentle and calm. Jake smiled at her encouragingly as Ryan took her hand and led her purposely toward the ski lift.
Despite her misgivings, Alzyia wanted to be as brave as her older brother. She looked up at her parents and was pleased to se her mother giving the machine dubious looks as well. Her father seemed oblivious, however, and Ryan was nothing but excited for the ride up the mountain.
“And we might even be able to see down into the ice caves!” he exclaimed, jerking Alzyia out of her thoughts. She’d clearly just missed his explanation, but gave him a weak smile as he looked at her expectantly. He returned her smile and stepped up to the gate.
The lift operator was a brown Zafara who was bundled up against the cold as much as her new passengers were. She gave them all a dubious look as they filed into the waiting area. “Alright, the trip is free but it says here that I’m supposed to warn you about any inclement weather.” Her finger jerked at a white sign posted in the window of her box.
Jake smiled at her. “What’s a little snow? We were told that this lift hasn’t broken once,” he said cheerfully.
The Zafara arched a brow at him but continued. “As the current snowstorm is likely to intensify over the next few hours, caution is advised when taking the lift up the mountain.” The wind suddenly howled fiercely and she frowned, waiting until it died down. “Storms are uncommon this time of year, so it’s probably one of the last ones you’ll see. Alright, two to a cart, and you’re off.”
Alzyia looked around hastily, noticing that the area was otherwise deserted. Why isn’t anybody else taking the lift? she wondered, and was about to ask Ryan when the wind picked up again, howling mournfully. She gave up, knowing that he’d never hear her, and instead watched as her father and mother climbed onto a bench seat and the lift shuddered forward.
“Are you ready?” Ryan asked her, flashing her a reassuring smile. Alzyia gulped and moved next to him. The next bench rotated into view and then stopped. Ryan sat down on the seat and held out his hand, which Alzyia gratefully took as she sat next to him.
She suddenly realized that this was not a ride designed for pleasure or comfort, but rather for efficiency. The wind howled louder than ever and the snow, which had been falling gently only a few minutes ago, swirled through the air angrily. Alzyia bit her lip, wishing more than anything that there was a bar in front of her. The vision of falling began to cross her mind and she bit her lip harder, trying to concentrate on the pattern of Ryan’s glove.
She heard Ryan talking as if from the end of a tunnel, drowned out by the wind. She looked up to see what he was saying, and jumped when their seat rocked in the gale. “What?” she yelled back, not surprised to see Ryan smiling at her.
He yelled something that she couldn’t hear again, and she crinkled her brow in confusion and shrugged at him. She could no longer see her parents’ bench, and suspected that the snow was swirling around them too violently for her to see much of anything beyond Ryan. Suddenly the bench jerked, and she shrieked and grabbed the seat.
“It’s OK,” Ryan yelled, and she was gratified to notice that she could hear him over the wind and that he wasn’t grinning any longer. His expression was more one of concern and she suddenly felt like a fool as their bench rocked slightly and the wind continued to howl.
Ryan’s mouth moved but she only caught a few words. “...Just the wind... perfectly normal... still safe.” She suspected he was trying to soothe her and tried to relax into the bench seat, but it jerked wildly again and Alzyia grabbed the side of the frame reflexively, looking over at Ryan with wide eyes.
Ryan’s expression appeared to be one of confusion as the cart rocked wildly in the breeze. He shouted something at her but she could not tell what it was, the wind was so loud in her ears. The cart swung back and forth and she suddenly realized that she could no longer feel her fingers or toes, so cold was the weather. She held onto the railing and knew that her mouth was hanging open in terror. If the ride is always this bad, no wonder nobody wanted to take it! Why couldn’t we have taken the path through the Ice Caves? she asked herself. A flapping at her neck told her that the wind was pulling at her mother’s scarf and before she could loosen a hand from the side of the cart, the woolen garment was torn away and lost in the swirling white ocean that had replaced the world.
Alzyia shivered with renewed energy as she felt the cold rush in to occupy the space her mother’s scarf had once been. The air stung at her neck and face but she couldn’t concentrate on it at all as the cart swung wildly back and forth, bucking like an angry Uni. Alzyia felt terror fill her heart as the cart pitched sharply forward and her numb fingers slid along the rail. She only had time to witness her brother’s wide-eyed expression before the bench gave one final heave and she felt herself pitch over the edge with the wind still whistling in her ears.
To be continued...