Kroadrae of Terror Mountain
High on one of the most remote peaks of Terror Mountain, Kroadrae the Darigan Draik, he of longstanding exile, unknown and unknowable, retires to his dimly lit and silent cave to weather the coming winter. And so Kroadrae waits.
Winter is a harsh season on Terror Mountain: the cold creeps in like a wounded and weary animal, crouching over the jagged peaks and refusing to move on for long, dark months; the rest of Neopia is cut off by impassable drifts, causing an isolation, a loneliness, that no fire’s light could possibly dispel; and the snow whips about with a blinding fury, an attack that can feel personal to even the most thick-skinned of its hardy and resilient residents. All winter long, though the wind howls and the ice cracks, though the Snowbeast roars and Donny’s hammer can be heard ringing out in a rhythmic and hypnotic pounding, there is an absence of one sound that chills the residents more than the wind and the snow; there is an absolute absence of birdsong.
Each winter dawn, the sun rises weakly above the horizon, casting wan light that neither promises nor delivers heat. What rays do emanate from the fickle yellow lamp glint off of the crystals in the snowdrifts, creating worthless jewels upon the frail crust, a natural mockery worse than fool’s gold; the slightest touch from a warm hand can dissolve the crystals, extinguishing the light, leaving nothing but a wet chill upon the fingertips. When spring does come, that same sun will warm and melt the snowdrifts, creating patches of green in the valleys that lure and sustain the returning Beekadoodles.
And oh, when the Beekadoodles return! Unmatched in speed, these songbirds flash past in a blur of turquoise and lavender, each flock creating a rainbow of springtime hues across the sky; that same sky that had remained empty, as grey and as cold as dull steel all the long winter. Many residents of Terror Mountain, beckoned by the unabashed riot of colours streaking by, rush to the valleys, to the patches of tender shoots that the sun has finally revealed, and there they wait. There, in the small islands of greenery, the residents gather, greeting neighbours they have not seen since the last great storm, shaking hands and clapping each other’s backs, waiting for the real show to begin. Soon enough, the Beekadoodles, weary from their flight from warmer parts unknown, gather in great numbers overhead, and like a choir united in the sweetest of refrains, they descend from the sky, surround the hushed and eager audience, and land with wings outstretched. Their music fills the void that had been so recently punctuated by naught but the howling winds and the residents bow their heads, awed in the presence of the sublime songbirds, all hearts now beating in unison; the rhythm beneath the melody. This ritual plays out each spring, the promise of which can keep a body moving through the winter’s snow and hail and ice. The springtime songs of the Beekadoodles are the fulfilled promise of life itself on the mountain.
Each winter, the great mountain streams freeze solid, the life-giving water trapped beneath layers of ice, transformed into little more than a hidden danger for the unwary traveller. The streams, that when in motion, gurgle and babble, creating a noisome din that sounds like a boisterous and happy crowd, are laid low, brought to a halt, silenced for months on end by nothing more than the power of the cold itself. When spring arrives on the mountain at last, the streams are released once more; free to travel down to the valleys below, a trickle at first that grows to a great rushing of water that attracts the returning Mallards.
And oh, when the Mallards return! No dainty songbirds are these; the Mallards pull their wings through the air as though hauling the oars of a boat, navigating the cerulean expanse of the sky, the ocean’s twin, dotted with crest-like clouds. High above the mountaintops, these fowl gather in a parade-ready chevron formation, the ends of the V growing impossibly long as the scattered groups coalesce into one. And the racket that they make! The Mallards honk their greeting to each other, alerting the area of their return. Many residents of Terror Mountain, benumbed by months of frigid weather and isolation, hurry to the awakening streams, to those high hidden creek beds brought once more to life by the sun’s return, by the snowmelt that cruel winter long denied; they hurry to these places to bear witness to the Mallards’ annual ritual. There, high on the peaks where the sun first grants its kiss, witnessed by those residents who have gathered together for the purpose, the Mallards dive and splash into the newborn streams, all webbed feet and squawking beaks and outstretched, ungainly green wings, honking and blaring their pleasure and delight in a cacophonous chorus. By no definition would this clamour, this noise, be called music, but it is certainly the birdsong that these residents have longed to hear as they sat, huddled, in their homes all the long winter; the comical birdsong that provokes a smile on even the most wizened of faces. Neighbours share their pleasure with each other, laughing and splashing the newly freed water, the still frigid spray that will warm their spirits nevertheless.
As it does every spring, the mood of the Mallards soon changes; the birds, greetings completed, acknowledge the loss of some of their number, those who did not weather the migration. The joyous honks turn to crying, their haunting dirge like wailing Wockies that touches the residents of Terror Mountain with its lamentation of loss. These residents take this moment to look around, to count and acknowledge those they were expecting to see at the return of the Mallards, and heads are bowed in solemn respect to those who did not survive the harsh, the brutality, of winter. This annual rite, the return of the water that promises the crops will yet grow in this hardscrabble locale, the return of the Mallards and their songs of joy and sorrow, this rite renews the resolve of the residents, wakes them from their winter fog, melts their frozen hearts, and gives them the courage to carry on, anchored by emotional renewal.
Each winter, the mountain passes, those hidden places between the peaks and valleys, become filled with snow and boulders of ice, cutting off the residents of Terror Mountain from the outside world, making perfect their isolation. The threat of avalanche and rockslide prevents even the most intrepid from making a winter crossing and these seasonal routes are abandoned for all the bleakest of the months; no body, no news passes either in or out. Here, the absence of birdsong is felt the deepest. Here, the absence of all sound is absolute; even the winds do not gather, do not howl through the craggy corridors between the summits; the silence is oppressive and complete. And yet, even here, as the days lengthen and brighten, winter will be dispelled, the sun will find the strength to banish the shadows, and spring will return, bringing with it the tender buds of alpine wildflowers, and the steadfast march of one thousand Weewoo feet.
And oh, when the Weewoos return! Named for the haunting sound they make, the Weewoos of Terror Mountain, always five hundred strong, no more or less, return at dusk of the first spring melt, calling out a forlorn weewoo... weewoo... weewoo; a sound that doubles and redoubles as it bounces off of the newly exposed outcroppings and cliffs; those craggy places that were recently blanketed under drifts of silencing snows. No birds of flight these, the Weewoos march through the mountain pass, slowly, steadfastly, their cries echoing ahead to alert the residents of their annual return. And yet, their song is not joyful enough to rouse the spirits of the masses who eagerly await the return of the Beekadoodles. And further, their appearance is not comical enough to attract those who rush to gather for the return of the Mallards. While some rush up to the highest mountain peaks each spring, and others head for the freshly greened valleys, there is only one who waits, alone, for the return of the Weewoo’s song.
Kroadrae, the Darigan Draik, the one of self-imposed exile on a remote peak of Terror Mountain, is inexorably drawn to the call of the Weewoo, to the eerie refrain that drifts ahead of their slow and steady march. Flightless as the Weewoos themselves, Kroadrae climbs a stony bluff and sits; head on fists, elbows on knees, tail wrapped around the rocky perch. And so Kroadrae waits. He tips his face towards the sun, acknowledging its returning strength, but it is the growing chorus of weewoo... weewoo... weewoo that begins to warm his heart; the birdsong that finds its echo within the Draik’s own winter-numbed chest. The flock comes closer, the sound of one thousand feet now audible beneath the Weewoos’ song, and Kroadrae allows himself a small smile. The return of the Weewoos marks another winter he has survived on Terror Mountain, another year of isolation.
The Draik sits and watches as the Weewoos enter and traverse the mountain pass, marching and singing as they file beneath his perch, five hundred strong, their return as dependable as the passing of the seasons. As the last of the birds exits the craggy corridor, it looks up at Kroadrae, and without breaking its stride or interrupting its song, plucks a fresh copy of the Neopian Times from the bag it carries across its shoulder. Without breaking its stride or interrupting its song, the Weewoo flings the crisp newspaper up to land beside where the Draik yet sits in contemplation. Kroadrae closes his eyes and allows the last of the Weewoos’ birdsong to wash over him. Perhaps this is the year that they carry the news that will end his ostracism. Until that news arrives, the promise of the return of the Weewoos and their haunting refrain is all that sustains him.
Winter is a harsh season on Terror Mountain, the weather forcing its inhabitants into the grim isolation required for their survival; an isolation that is broken by the returning birds and their multifarious songs and calls. Even for the one whose isolation is most complete, the return of birdsong is like the strengthening rays of sunlight that dispel the winter’s bleak and murk and herald the possibility of a brighter future.
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