Gifts For a Princess: Part Two
Bitter wind and snow rained in, and the two staggered back. The chill was far worse than they had imagined, but they gritted their teeth and struggled through it. The snow was all they could see, and desperately Toupahz clutched Equinare's cloak once more so they wouldn't get lost in the storm.
"Which way's home?" Toupahz shouted, receiving a mouthful of snow.
"Too far!" replied Equinare, wishing her cloak was thicker. The dark blue fabric seemed so thin now, and the icy snow all around them didn't let such flimsy cloth get in the way from from chilling her all over. "Faerieland is a long, long walk."
"I was afraid so," Toupahz said sadly, and she hastened a bit, flying over the snowy ground while Equinare, whose wings felt as though they were stuck to her body from the cold, trudged through the deepening snow.
"We can't make it today," Equinare groaned. "It's not going to happen."
"You're right," said Toupahz, tugging on her hat to try to protect her eyes. She couldn't see anything because of all the snow anyway, so it would only help to cover her eyes with the beanie cap. "But where should we go?"
Both were shivering as though they were encased in ice, unable to control it. Equinare didn't know how they were going to go on.
"There!" Equinare suddenly shouted as a tall brown shape loomed in the distance. Both of the pets hurried forward, not wanting to be covered in the blizzard a moment longer than necessary. As they got closer, Equinare practically laughed with delight. It was the Neolodge, somewhere they could stay overnight. The great brown building looked warm and toasty, and as they got nearer, Equinare could tell that the slick glass doors were not locked. Finally, they were close enough to touch the cool surface, and Toupahz yanked the door open. The two practically fell in and were immediately overcome with the feeling of thawing. The warmth was sensational.
"We made it," Toupahz breathed heavily.
Equinare could only give a smile in reply. Still inhaling and exhaling deeply, for the cold air had seemed so much more dense and difficult to breathe in, they remained seated by the door for another minute or two. The pet at the check-in desk, an Orange Scorchio with a blue bow tie and an official-looking black suit, was watching them, clearly amused. Finally the two got up and glanced behind them, where they could still see snow pounding on the clear glass doors.
"We can't go home tonight," murmured Equinare.
Toupahz looked horror-struck. "But it's Christmas Eve!" she cried.
"I know, I know," Equinare said sadly, "but do you really think we can go back out there?"
Toupahz looked outside and shuddered. "No," she whispered.
"Then we'll have to leave early in the morning, when the snow stops," Equinare decided. Toupahz could only nod sadly in return. The two sauntered over to the front desk, where the Scorchio cleared his throat.
"Welcome to the--"
"We know, we know," Equinare told him. "Can we have a room, please?"
He looked surprised. "Well, we have many options, depending on how much you're willing to pay," he told her crisply.
"We'll take the cheapest," Equinare said confidently.
"You mean the 5-neopoints-a-night Cockroach Towers?" asked the Scorchio, taken aback.
"Erm..." Equinare glanced at Toupahz, who was frantically shaking her head from side to side. "No thank you, um, second cheapest?"
"Fleapit Motel, only 10 neopoints a night!" the Scorchio announced.
Toupahz answered this time. "How about you tell us the cheapest hotel that's actually respectable enough to give us decent accomodations?" she asked fiercely.
The Scorchio frantically flipped through the papers on his desk. "Mountain Lodge!" he spoke up suddenly. "30 neopoints a night, extras an additional five neopoints each per night!"
Toupahz looked at Equinare. "Should we choose it?" she asked uncertainly.
"I don't see why not. It's cheap enough, anyway," she said.
"Excellent!" cried the Scorchio. "Our extras, available at a very cheap rate, include a restaurant, burger bar, en-suite bathroom--"
"No extras please," Equinare said quickly.
The Scorchio looked disappointed. "Very well then, here's your bill," he said glumly. Handing her the small piece of paper and accepting the thirty neopoints in return, he grumbled, "Merry Christmas to you, too."
The two headed to their lodgings, which weren't too far away. Toupahz put the slick silver key into the keyhole and found that it opened easily. They entered the room, looking around them with interest.
The shiny ice-blue carpet looked like a skating rink, but it felt soft as cotton beneath their feet. A small neovision screen was perched on a tall, oak brown shelf, the remote control nowhere to be seen. There were two large beds that looked like snowbanks set up in a rather unorganized way, one of the beds in the middle of the room and the other near the corner. Toupahz jumped into the one in the corner and immediately sank down to the floor. She frowned.
"Well... it's not stiff," she said carefully.
Equinare glanced out the window, where the snowstorm was still raging with no sign of a halt. She climbed into the bed in the middle of the room and tried to make herself as comfortable as she could on the squishy mattress.
"It's bad out there, isn't it?" she asked Toupahz.
Toupahz glanced outside and whimpered to Equinare, "Do you think we'll get back in time for Christmas?"
"Of course," Equinare assured her, trying to make herself believe it too.
Equinare awoke early the next morning and emerged from her lumpy bed. She glanced out the clear glass window and gasped - the snow had stopped falling! Eagerly she looked down and saw that the snow was still thick on the ground, but the clear skies would make easy transportation. Smiling, she went back to her bed, picked up a large pink pillow, and threw it at Toupahz.
She heard a grunt in response.
"What is it?" Toupahz murmured groggily.
"It's Christmas. Happy holidays, Toupahz!"
Toupahz opened her eyes blearily. "Not the best Christmas wake-up I've ever had, but definitely a unique one," she said grumpily. Equinare laughed.
"Well, let's get going!" Equinare called, pulling her out of bed. Toupahz struggled to get out from the sunken mattress, and finally she succeeded. Toupahz yawned and stretched.
"Don't forget your present," she told her, setting off towards the door.
"Right," said Equinare, turning around and searching for the gift. A minute later she returned, her face so white it could rival the snow. Toupahz shot her a questioning look.
"It's not there," the Uni said in reply, her voice oddly emotionless, as though the shock had not yet evaporated. "The present... it's gone."
"What?!" yelled Toupahz, jumping up and looking around. "But... surely you brought it in!"
"Of course!" Equinare protested. She thought for a moment. "Well..."
"Well what?" Toupahz prompted.
"I don't remember bringing it in, actually. All I brought here was the receipt."
"You mean you lost it outside?" Toupahz wailed. "That cost 99,000 neopoints!"
"I know!" Equinare cried, clearly too upset to discuss it further. She sat down, defeated. "Now what do I do?"
Toupahz peered outside. "You know," she suggested timidly, "we could always look for it."
"Nah," Equinare replied gloomily. "It's really expensive. Something like that lying around would be snatched up faster than a Bucket of Sludge at the Money Tree."
"But it was snowing!" Toupahz persisted. "Remember? Maybe it's buried it!"
Equinare looked uncertain. "I don't think we can find it; we went a far distance from the gift shop to here, and who knows how much it snowed last night?"
"It's our only chance," said Toupahz sadly. Equinare studied her face for a moment to be sure that she was serious, then nodded resolutely.
"All right," she agreed. "Let's go."
The two left their lodging, returning the key to the Scorchio at the front desk. On their way out of the glass doors, Equinare called over her shoulder, "Excuse me, sir?"
"Yes?" the Scorchio asked, his patience clearly very thin.
"Do you have a shovel we could borrow?"
"What? Of course not! This is the Neolodge, not a garden shed!"
"All right, well, merry Christmas to you," Equinare said, looking disappointed but unsurprised.
The Scorchio, meanwhile, had a very surprised look on his face. "...Merry Christmas to you, too," he told them, a smile spreading on his face. He clearly didn't get many holiday greetings at his job.
The two stared at the snow crunching beneath their feet. "Let's just, erm, dig a little bit around here," Equinare suggested.
"Okay," Toupahz said, looking reluctantly at the snow surrounding her. She kicked it a bit with her feet, realized she made no progress that way, and switched to her paws, digging until there was a large pile of snow beside her.
"We have to do a little bit in each area," said Equinare. "Otherwise how will we find it?"
The two spent around half an hour in this manner, digging here and there and advancing closer and closer to the gift shop. At last the building was in sight, but that wasn't all they saw.
"Oeur!" Equinare gasped. Sure enough, the Uni, with her light pink skin and velvety purple cloak, was standing right by the gift shop, a present in her hands.
"There you are!" she exclaimed, relief flooding her voice. "We've been so worried at home, and I volunteered to go look for you. I thought maybe you were doing some last minute Christmas shopping."
"No, the snowstorm was heavy last night and we couldn't get home," Equinare replied. Toupahz nudged her and pointed, wide-eyed, at Oeur. Equinare didn't understand why, so she continued, ignoring Toupahz, "We managed to get rooms in the Neolodge, but it wasn't the most comfortable sleep. We better head home."
"All right, but don't worry about staying out late. I didn't mind coming out to get you. In fact, I've already gotten a little treat! I was strolling by here when I saw the most adorable petpetpet, a Fleaf, disappear under the snow. I dug to rescue him and then finally found him on top of this." She proudly displayed a package that she had been holding under her arms.
Equinare gasped. She knew that gold paper and silver bow anywhere. So that was what Toupahz had meant...
"Wanna see me open it?" Oeur said eagerly, ready to rip the paper off.
"Oeur, wait!" Equinare cried. "That's my gift for you! I dropped it on the way to the Neolodge, and we've been looking for it, and..." Her head drooped. "I wanted it to be a surprise."
Oeur definitely looked surprised. "Well, it's still a mystery what it is, I have no idea what's in here," she told her sister. "We'll head home, and we can open each others' presents there. Though, I really did want to know what was in here..." she added longingly.
Equinare looked at Toupahz, sending her a message by raising her eyebrows that plainly said, "Should I?" Toupahz nodded vigorously.
"All right, Oeur," Equinare obliged. "You can open it here."
"Really?" she asked eagerly. "Thanks, Equinare!" She tore off the beautiful paper and watched as the misty morning light gently touched the Face Plate, giving the diamond a light sparkle and clearly illuminating the soft gold.
"Oh," she whispered in disbelief. "Oh, it's so beautiful." Oeur couldn't stop staring at the beautiful piece of gold in her hooves, the edges so finely crafted, the gold so carefully worked. "Thank you, Equinare!" she blurted out, clearly overwhelmed, and she enveloped her sister into a hug. Then she put the Face Plate on, and Equinare couldn't help but notice that it looked perfect on her, the subdued gold transitioning perfectly to her pastel pink face.
"Oh, but it's only fair that you can open my present, too," she said at last, pulling out a silver package from her cloak. Equinare took it gingerly. It was soft and squishy, definitely not a book. So what else would Oeur get her? Curiously, she ripped open the paper and saw within it a fine sheet of cloth. Lifting the gift out of the now-torn wrapping paper, she noted that it was a very thin fabric that was nearly transparent and looked to be woven of the thinnest strands of gold. Bordering this cloth was a heavier piece of gold with designs that made contrast with light and dark shades of the precious metal. At the top was a small blue orb on one end and a looped string on the other, creating a clasp system.
"It's the Elegant Princess Amira Cape," Oeur told her sister excitedly. "I... I know you never got to be a princess before, but now you can be. This princess cape is extremely rare --"
"Rare?" cried Toupahz. "That's an understatement! This thing is only available at the Hidden Tower!"
Equinare looked at her sister in amazement. "You didn't..." she said in disbelief, her voice hushed. "It must have cost a fortune... oh, Oeur, th - thank you."
It was all she could get out, but it was enough. Oeur, looking pleased, gave her another quick hug and then announced to them all, "We've got to get home so this Christmas can really get a move on! Equinare, get that cape on, I'm wearing the Face Plate."
Grinning, Equinare carefully wrapped the thin cloak around her and smiled. Her light grey skin went well with this gold hue, and it made her feel so royal, as if she had what she had missed her whole life. Oeur had given her sister what she had taken away from her before - a chance at royalty.
The three took to the skies, Equinare unable to keep the smile off her face for the entire trip. Giving gifts on Christmas, she decided, was certainly something she would not complain about next year.
Merry Christmas, everybody! And good luck finding presents for those hard-to-shop-for friends. ;D