Taelia's Pride: The Beginning - Part Two
The sound of arguing was the first thing that Alzyia was aware of, and for a moment she lay very still, not noticing anything beyond the voices and a warm, sleepy feeling.
“And you just forgot to check, in case there was somebody who might get caught?”
“Of course I checked, there’s people all over the place, what did you want me to do? Nobody’s ever been hurt before!”
“Why are you even bothering to stir things up?”
“In case you forgot, O Snowy One, you’re not the only one assigned to ‘stir things up’—and I do a better job of it than you do, anyway!”
“Well, I never!—At least when I work, I’m careful!”
“Careful? This isn’t about me not being careful—the only reason we’re here is to be careful!”
“That doesn’t matter! You should have taken the proper pre—Oh! My cookies!”
A number of unfamiliar sounds followed this, and Alzyia slowly opened her eyes, noticing that wherever she was, it was very dark and warm and—
The snow! Where had the snow gone? Where had Ryan gone? She gasped and sat up quickly, gathering that she was in a bed in a dark room.
Hastily she climbed out of bed and found the door by the sliver of light that was leaking onto the floor. She cautiously opened the door, only to find herself in a short hallway with a large room at the end. A faintly burnt smell assailed her nostrils as she crept toward the large room—the light was shining from that direction, and appeared to be coming from a lamp just around the corner.
“I can’t believe you let me burn my cookies!” the first voice exclaimed, much louder.
Alzyia turned the corner and froze.
The room was cozily decorated, but she didn’t pay attention to the furniture. Her eyes were took in the adjoining kitchen, where a Fire Faerie and the Snow Faerie were standing over a counter, staring back at her.
“Oh, you’re awake,” the Snow Faerie said with a small smile. She bent to turn off the oven and hurried over. “We found you in the snow—did you get lost in the snowstorm?”
Alzyia stared past the Snow Faerie, where the Fire Faerie was glaring at her. She shrank slightly.
“Why don’t you have a cookie? They’re not too burnt. You can call me Taelia. This is Azar.” Taelia brought a plate of browned cookies toward the Aisha. Azar continued to glare, tight-lipped.
“W-where is my family?” Alzyia stuttered, doing her best to not think about the fact that she was talking to a faerie.
Taelia frowned. “Family? Were they staying in the ski lodge? Come sit and tell me.”
Reluctantly Alzyia followed her to the couch in front of the hearth and sat, staring at her hands and ignoring the plate of cookies. “We were staying down in Happy Valley,” she said with a quick glance at Taelia’s face. “We were going up the ski lift when the storm...” She trailed off and bit her lip. “I don’t know what happened but I think I fell out of the seat...”
Azar made a noise of derision and announced that she needed to leave, departing hastily after that. Taelia frowned after her but didn’t say anything, instead turning back to Alzyia. “We haven’t had anybody asking about you. Do you know where they went after they got to the top of the mountain?”
Alzyia bit her lip again and shook her head. How was she supposed to know, when she didn’t even know how long it had been since the ride? “What time did you find me? What time is it now?” Even as she spoke, she saw a tall grandfather clock in the corner of the room. The firelight and lamplight played merrily on its face and Alzyia’s head swam.
“We found you just after lunch,” Taelia answered, “and it’s about midafternoon now.”
“But they should’ve been here long ago,” Alzyia said sadly, looking up at Taelia.
The Snow Faerie’s brow creased as she frowned. “Well, if your family is missing, then we certainly have to go find them! I’m sure they’re worried about you. Have a cookie and then you can tell me all about them so that we can get a search party.”
Alzyia nodded and reached for a cookie. They were not burnt, despite Taelia’s former claims to the contrary. She chewed it slowly and thoughtfully, wondering if Ryan was as worried about her as she was about him.
She answered Taelia’s questions to her best ability and Taelia served her a mug of hot chocolate before leaving to look for a purple Aisha, a blue Gelert, and a shadow Gelert only slightly older than her.
Just before Taelia walked out the door, Alzyia stared at her mug and then realized that she was not wearing the outfit she had dressed in that morning. “Um... Taelia?” she asked hesitantly.
The Snow Faerie turned to look at her. “What is it?”
“Um... Where are my clothes?”
“They’re drying in the heating room. You were soaked through when we found you so I thought you might be comfortable in some drier clothes for the time being.” Taelia smiled and then left, leaving Alzyia to sit alone in front of the fire, drink her cocoa, and develop a case of the sniffles.
* * *
The sound of a door opening woke Alzyia. Groggily she put a hand to her head. She hadn’t realized she’d fallen asleep. Her empty hot cocoa mug sat on the low table nearby. She turned to see Taelia entering, looking grim. Alzyia began chewing on her lip.
“Well, they certainly never returned home,” Taelia said as she came to sit in the squishy chair nearby. “We’ve got some people out looking for them now. I wanted to come see how you were doing.”
“I’m...” Alzyia did not know how to explain the full range of emotions she was experiencing. On the one hand, she was aware that she was intruding upon the Faerie’s hospitality, but on the other hand, she didn’t know where else she could go. She was worried about her family, and she had the vague feeling of being lost even though she knew that she must be on the top of the mountain. To make matters worse, she was pretty sure her nose was starting to run. “Can I have a tissue?” she finally asked, sniffling slightly.
Taelia fetched a box of Neopkins and sat next to the Aisha. “I thought you might have a bit of a cold,” she said apologetically. “Since you were lying in the snow for a while.”
Alzyia was silent for a moment before she started wondering how far she had fallen. She only felt the slightest bit achy, and she’d been certain that any large fall would probably hurt a bit more than that. Unless she’d been fed some kind of healing potion before she woke up, which was always possible, she amended.
As she started wiping at her nose, Taelia spoke. “We’ll hear back from the search party this evening. Most likely they got to the top of the mountain and headed somewhere inside to wait out the worst of the storm.” She hesitated, and Alzyia looked up to see her deep in thought before she continued speaking. “So you’re on your summer break right now, isn’t that right?”
“Yeah.” Alzyia didn’t want to think about summer break, because it made her think of Neoschool, and that made her think of Ryan. “I thought it might be cooler up here, but I didn’t think it would be snowing.”
“It usually snows year-round. The really big storms stop during the Months of Swimming and Hiding, but it will still continue to snow.” She smiled.
Allie realized a little belatedly that the Snow Faerie was one of the people she had wanted to visit, and felt her face growing warm. “Um... Taelia... Aren’t there supposed to be people bringing you things?”
“I’m taking a little break from collecting items,” Taelia replied lightly.
Allie blushed even more and looked away. The Quests that some people traveled miles to do would be unavailable because Taelia had to babysit her.
As if the Snow Faerie was reading her mind, she added, “I do not have a strong need for any help right now. It is no trouble to take some time off.”
Alzyia nodded and hesitated again. She knew what she wanted to say, but summoning up the courage to say it was difficult. Finally she gripped her knees and said quickly, “You’re very kind but I really shouldn’t impose any longer and if I can go back to the lodge I am sure they will be able to bill my family’s account and let me stay until they find my family—” She stopped abruptly when Taelia held up a hand.
“I do not mind keeping you here, Alzyia. Truly, I have the room and I would be doing you a disservice to send you away right now. You are not the first pet I have ever sheltered in my home, and I am sure you won’t be the last. Besides, it had been so long since I’ve had some company that it will be nice to have another mouth to feed.” Taelia’s expression was kind, as was her voice, but there was something about her tone that did not allow room for argument.
“What about Azar?” Alzyia asked halfheartedly, already sensing that she had lost.
“If you could call Azar company,” Taelia replied tartly, although her smile did not leave her face, “I suppose you are right. However, she never stays for dinner.” Alzyia remained silent, unsure of what to do now that she was clearly going to be here for a while longer. Taelia stood suddenly. “Well, we’d better get started on dinner. How does soup sound?”
* * *
Alzyia had not realized how hungry she was until she lifted the first spoonful of soup to her mouth. Her runny nose had left while they were cooking, and she had gladly abandoned the box of Neopkins in the sitting room. Chopping vegetables had kept her mind off of her worries. Although she had occasionally helped in the kitchen back home, she was not very skilled with the knife, and had been forced to concentrate on the task at hand. She thought that her own hard work helped the soup taste even better to her than it would otherwise.
She had just finished her bowl when the igloo’s door banged open. A frigid burst of wind entered, accompanied by a bad-tempered Azar. She slammed the door shut behind her and pulled a scarf off irritably before marching over to their table.
Alzyia instantly shrank down in her chair, but Taelia did not appear even slightly concerned at Azar’s sudden appearance. She glanced at the Aisha before turning to address the Fire Faerie. “Good evening, Azar. How is the search? Is there news?”
Azar’s face darkened. “Taelia, how can you be sitting here eating soup while we are out there working hard?” Her eyes snapped to Alzyia, and the young Aisha thought for a moment that actual flames were dancing within them. But she blinked and they vanished, and she told herself she had just been imagining it.
Taelia indicated the stove in the corner. “It is a very good pot. Alzyia helped me make it. Would you like a serving? I have extra bowls.”
Azar scowled. “Of course I don’t, Taelia. I want to know why you’re up here warm and cozy while we’re freezing our wings off for the sake of—“ She gestured toward Alzyia but before she could continue, Taelia stood.
“You know that the cold does not affect me,” Taelia said quietly but firmly. “If I thought I could be of any assistance with the search party, I would have joined you the instant I knew that Alzyia was safe. You know almost as well as I do that there are many ways to help, and I have been doing what I can here. If you are worried about searching in a storm, perhaps you could have been more careful when causing it.” She pursed her lips, but otherwise her expression appeared serene.
This only seemed to aggravate Azar even more. “You’ll be lucky if you don’t wind up with fifteen cases of frostbite to heal,” she snapped, and turned her scowl on Alzyia. “You’re a load of trouble, and you have no right to ask so much of us without even helping!”
Alzyia had been shaking but something inside her made her speak up. “But I don’t know what I could do,” she replied meekly. Taelia gave her a sharp glance but she avoided the Snow Faerie’s eyes.
Azar snorted and strode forward. “You have these, for one thing,” she snapped. Her tone dripped acid as she reached a hand out to buffet Alzyia’s ears.
Taelia’s hand closed around the Fire Faerie’s wrist before she could continue, and drew her away from the table. “It is getting dark,” she said in a low voice that contained a note of steel. “Why don’t you disband the search until tomorrow.” Her expression was neutral but Alzyia thought that there was the slightest hint of wariness in it as she said those words.
Azar scowled, mouth half-open as though she had been about to continue arguing when Taelia interrupted her. She closed it with a snap, directed a venomous glare at Alzyia, and wrapped her scarf and marched out the door in one movement.
As the door slammed shut behind her, Alzyia sat back with a long exhale, relaxing muscles she had not realized were tense. The room was silent with only the faint crackling of the hearth in the next room, and finally Alzyia said in a small voice, “Taelia, why does she hate me?”
Taelia sighed and began to clear the table. “She doesn’t hate you, Allie. She just doesn’t know how to control her temper.” She set the bowls in the sink and turned to face the Aisha. “Why don’t you go draw yourself a hot bath and I’ll clean up out here.”
Alzyia nodded mutely and left the kitchen, returning down the hallway she had passed only earlier that day. Quietly she padded down the hall until she came to a door near the bedroom. She opened it to find a rustic bathroom with a large tub.
I suppose a little soak couldn’t hurt, she admitted as she closed the door behind her. She could not remember a more stressful day, and thought she was sure to wake up with aches and pains the following morning.
The water was warm when she turned on the tap but soon she was thinking about what Azar had said. As she floated in the warm water, the Fire Faerie’s voice echoed in her ears. A load of trouble. No right to ask so much. A load of trouble... Alzyia hadn’t ever meant to cause anybody trouble. She’d only wanted to enjoy vacation with her brother.
As she thought of Ryan, her eyes welled up. She stubbornly blinked the tears away although there was nobody here to see. There was no need to get upset just because she hadn’t seen her parents all day. She’d been away from them before, when she slept at a friend’s house for a night or when they had to travel for their jobs. Even so, she felt the sting of homesickness and longing as strong as if she had been weeks without seeing her family. Throughout it all, Azar’s taunting voice rose at the back of her mind. A load of trouble. You’re not even helping.
She was so lost in thought that she did not notice the water cooling; only at the sound of a large crash out in the living room did she emerge from her reverie, startled. The water was tepid and she shivered slightly before stepping out and wrapping herself in a fluffy towel. As the tub drained, Taelia yelled, “I’m alright!”
Alzyia thought Taelia was much less than she had expected her to be, but much more, too. She would not have expected the Snow Faerie to have moments of clumsiness or to be capable of burning cookies. The serenity and grace she usually held herself with, though, was exactly what Alzyia had imagined.
Allie softly padded into the bedroom across the hall, mind whirling with her thoughts. A dresser stood in the corner, and she opened the first drawer to find a stack of clothing. Taelia was kind and hospitable and she felt a little bit of comfort from being safe with the Faerie, but if they hadn’t found her parents and Ryan yet, it might grow too cold overnight for them to really be safe. She hadn’t done anything to help the search, and yet... Alzyia thought hard as she pulled on flannel pajamas. There was the slight memory of the ski lift cart lurching under her and falling through the air, and the vague impression of the mountain looming in front of her before she squeezed her eyes shut... Perhaps the searchers hadn’t known where to look. Maybe her family had would up somewhere they hadn’t looked yet. And what was that about her ears? Alzyia shook her head as she pulled on a sweater, and reached for a parka. If she was going to go look in the dark and the cold, she would be a lot more prepared for the snow this time.
Alzyia turned off the light in her room and slid down the hallway, intent on sneaking out the front door. A cap was pulled low over her head and thick, overly-large mittens wrapped around her hands. However, the boots she had slid on were a size too big, and they squeaked slightly with each step. When she had reached the sitting room, Taelia cleared her throat. Alzyia glanced guiltily at the Faerie; she was standing in the kitchen, wearing an apron, with her arms crossed over her chest. “Where do you think you’re going?”
Alzyia hesitated. She didn’t want to lie to Taelia, but she knew instinctively that the Faerie wouldn’t let her go search, especially not if the others had stopped searching already. She also knew without a doubt that she was the only one who could find her family now, and that if they were left overnight they were as good as lost forever. So she squared her shoulders and said, “I’ve never been to the top of the mountain before, and I wanted to see the stars at night. I haven’t been able to see some of the constellations from my Neohome, and I thought I might be able to see them from here.” She looked back at Taelia, heart racing as though she was about to get caught.
However, Taelia’s expression softened, and she nodded. “Go ahead then, but don’t stay out too long. The temperature drops rapidly after dark, up here. Come in soon and I’ll make you some hot cocoa again.”
Alzyia nodded and stepped outside, closing the door behind her. Guilt caused her stomach to clench, but stubbornly she pushed it away. Azar was right; she should have been helping search for her parents.
She had not walked very far by the time she started growing cold, despite the extra layers. Longingly she thought of the hot chocolate that would be waiting back at the igloo; the warm soup had been especially tasty, and she wished she could sit in front of the fireplace with a mug of hot chocolate despite the face that she had spent the afternoon in exactly that fashion. Stubbornly she continued on, trudging through the gusts and snowfall until the igloo was away in the distance.
The wind had been very strong, she thought sadly. If she had fallen out of the lift, it was possible that her family had too. Although she didn’t know this for certain, she could think of no other explanation; the search party had not found them in any more likely spots. Stumbling and crunching through the snow, she walked until she found the ski lift station.
A warm circle of light spilled onto the snow ahead. Alzyia did not stop, but headed past the station and began picking her way down the steep slope. Minutes later she wished she’d found a gentler dropoff, as the way was not easy. She lost both mittens trying to find her way down the slope in the dark, and soon her ears and nose were cold despite the cap she wore.
She tripped multiple times because she could not see where she was going. The fifth time she picked herself up out of the snow and did her best to brush herself off with fingers she could no longer feel, she realized that she could have walked right past her parents for all the care she was giving. Shivers began to set in as she bent slightly, continuing down the mountain but searching carefully in the deep snowdrifts as she went.
The process was arduous and more than once she gave a wistful thought to the warm igloo she had left on the mountaintop. Every time she realized that she was getting sidetracked, she pulled herself back. Azar was right; she should have been helping. She expected it would take a little bit of time, but she never truly believed that there was no hope left. If she had been found, then her parents would be found too. And since they hadn’t found her parents, she would find them, soon.
She lost track of time and couldn’t tell how long it had been since she had wandered out in the cold. She continued to shiver and stumble along the snowy path, hardly able to see her way. The night was darkness lit only by the moon’s reflection off the snow, but the new snow swirling down was enough to disorient what little sense she had and lower visibility almost completely. She couldn’t feel a part of her that wasn’t cold, although she had thought that she was bundled up well. A sudden and unexpectedly powerful gust of wind knocked her cap off her head, and when she bent down she couldn’t find it in the knee-high snow.
Shivering so strong that her teeth chattered, Alzyia stopped walking and looked around hopelessly. Even if she wanted to go back, she didn’t know which way to go. The steepness of the mountain had gradually flattened and she could no longer tell which way was up and which way was down. Although she strained her eyes, she couldn’t see through the darkness and the falling snow. So she continued pressing in the direction she imagined must be right, since she had nothing else to go by except her intuition.
Suddenly her foot collided painfully with something half-buried in the snow and she tumbled for a minute before coming to a stop. Snow stuck to her face and everywhere her exposed skin felt cold. She tried to stand back up but her limbs wouldn’t obey her mind; after a feeble attempt she lay there, shivering. As the last of her strength left her, the wind howled mournfully in the night.
To be continued...