A Life on Ice
"It's another one, growing over there," I blurted out as small tufts of snow rolled down my back. The extremely fragile snowflake was caught between crowds of stalactites. It was up to skills and chisels to try to pry it out of the walls of the Ice Caves. As I tried to reach up for the intricately sculptured snowflake, my head accidentally pushed a loose stalactite that dislodged and fell on my tail.
"OUCH!" I exclaimed, with more shame than pain. Looking up, I found that the elusive snowflake I once sought after had collapsed and became part of the thick snow blanket. "It was an Icy Snowflake, too. Do you know how much profit we can make with that?"
"It'll take a whole 'nother lifetime for us to find another one," complained my colleague, a Tyrannian Ogrin, busily digging through the ice to find frozen Snow Wurms. "I can't believe you dragged us here, Gavellus."
"Well, Ciwan, if you ever find a better way to make more money for my starving and impoverished family back home, I'd be glad to hear it!" I retorted.
Travelling out of Krawk Island was an emotional scene in my life. The last time I had done so, it was when I sneaked a free ride to Altador to watch the cup. Back then, it was with my siblings, Stalaxi and Yarron. Now, the family has grown to four and I had to find ways to earn even more neopoints to support them. A job attachment at the Ice Caves' Ice Crystal Shop was not necessarily the best experience, but it was the one that promised the most money if we were willing to work hard for it.
"Just keep a look out for nicely-shaped and colourful stuff on the walls, you Silver Kyrii. They're called snowflakes," Ciwan emitted, with an obvious sarcasm in his voice.
"Shut up and keep digging, Ci," I muttered as I adjusted my chisel.
A few hours and an infinite amount of ruined snowflakes later, the working day came to an end with all the workers reporting to the main Ice Crystal Shop building to present their findings. The Shoyru running the shop inspected all the items one by one, to ensure that they are of high quality. He slowly made his way down the line, eventually meeting Ciwan and I.
"Nice job, Ciwan!" he exclaimed as he saw eight Trapped Snow Wurms and two Frost Bite Eggs in his arms. "This'll help increase our daily profit by a long shot!"
"Will I be eligible for a bonus, sir?" Ciwan asked with anticipation.
"I see that you do deserve one," the Shoyru replied. "There's gonna be a few extra neopoints in your salary this week!"
"Yeah! Thank you so much, sir!" he exclaimed with delight as he deposited his items on a nearby table. "I don't think he'll be as happy seeing you, though," he whispered discreetly into my ear.
I never thought he would be, anyway. Today, I had only a few miserably formed snowballs in my arms. This was extremely below my usual standards of presenting expensive items such as Snowball Clubs and Icy Magic Hats. I could already hear him screaming at me to go back and keep scouting for more items, like he always does for the staff that fails to present quality. That, along with the freezing temperatures, made me shiver twice as hard as I usually would.
"So how's Gavellus, my top employee, gonna impress me today?" The Shoyru proudly said as he walked over and inspected my findings. I could already sense his disappointment by the constant trembling of his wings.
"I'm terribly sorry, sir. I just had another terrible day han-"
"It's okay," he suddenly interrupted. "Would you mind meeting me in my office after this?"
Well, that was a sentence I never wanted to hear.
My mind immediately drafted a dozen scenarios which all ended in the same way – being fired. I could be being endlessly shouted at, or being given the silent treatment. There were a whole handful of rumours from the workers that have survived that small room, most of which are not necessarily desirable.
"You'd think I'd end up like Alekai?" I asked Ciwan.
"I'm sure being sent on an extended 'job attachment' with Lady Frostbite would be much better than being fired," he quickly summarized.
The problem was, I was not Alekai. He was sent to Southern Neopia as punishment for not meeting daily quota, but he was still making money as he was technically on a job attachment. The only thing I did wrong was to not live up to the standard I used to create. Either way, I had to follow the boss's orders, so I slowly walked towards the Shoyru's office.
"Bye, Ci. Wish me luck," I uttered, with a tear slowly rolling down my cheek.
"Sir, you have got to understand me!" I pleaded. "This is the one job that can truly help support my family!"
"This has been the third day in a row that you have failed to cough up decent items! How can I trust you to help keep this company afloat when all you've given me is a sad excuse for subpar?!" the Shoyru bellowed, eyes fixed on the same clumsily formed snowballs I had brought in today.
"Sir! C-cant you see that I-I've tried, at least, to do s-something?" I exclaimed, almost incoherently. With that, my heart started to sink and I collapsed on the fine snow floor, crying and silently begging that he would not take my job away. I hid my head under my arms, sniffling and not daring to look him in the eye. It's all over from here, I concluded. It's back to struggling and poverty for all of us.
Not long after, however, I felt a light, caressing touch around my left shoulder. I tilted my head to see the Shoyru, crouched down and helping me to sit back up. I propped myself against the cold walls, but still refused to look at him directly.
"I'm sorry, Gav. I may have been too harsh on you," he explained. "It's just that I felt that you have so much potential in you, but I'm afraid that you may not have been working on that to produce stellar results. I don't believe you've only had Wet and Poison Snowballs today, have you?"
"I've almost harvested two Icy Snowflakes, but they both collapsed when I tried to chisel them out..." I muttered.
"Tell me what's wrong, Gav. I have feelings too, and I think I might get a better idea of what's really going through your mind if you just talk about it," he conveyed.
I never wanted to tell him anything. After all, he was just the manager of a shop I worked at. He was probably living a life good enough to sustain himself; while I was doing everything I can to barely support it. I buried my head under my arms, still avoiding the conversation.
"If there's one thing I'd say to you," he reasoned in a calming tone. "It's that I can't lose a wonderful employee like you, Gav. "
"Stop trying to comfort me!" I came back. "You're always mad at people when they don't live up to your expected standards and now you're doing this sweet talk to make me feel that I'm not worthless! This is just bogus and I'm not falling for it any longer!"
I found myself standing up, seething with rage while feeling the cold winter air on my teeth. I grasped one of the Wet Snowballs from the table and flung it to the Shoyru, much to his surprise. He fell back on the floor with a thud.
"I know I'm good enough! You and I both know that!" I yelled, scrambling to take more of the Wet Snowballs. "One thing you won't ever understand is how much I detest your leadership to the core!"
Without warning, I caught sight of a Poison Snowball being thrown against my head. I swerved to the right to dodge it, albeit unsuccessfully. I fell on the floor, helpless and uncertain. The rest of the Wet Snowballs I had now collapsed and became part of the snow once again. The freezing floor made me shiver uncontrollably as I saw the Shoyru standing superior in front of me.
"How dare you! Nine years that his company has been standing strong and that's the first I've seen of insubordination in my employees!" He slowly stomped towards me, ready to aim yet another Poison Snowball at my head. "What have you got to say for yourself, young lady?"
"Simple – I quit!" I finally concluded, not wanting to be defeated.
I stood up and walked slowly towards the door, never once looking back at my decision. I did not have any idea what the Shoyru's reaction was like, but I simply assumed that his face was as cold as the freezing weather of Terror Mountain.
As I slammed the door of the manager's office shut, I saw Ciwan waiting outside, with a look of extreme disbelief.
"Overheard everything, didn't you?" I queried.
"Ice walls can amplify a lot of things," Ciwan replied.
With no further words exchanged, we gathered all our tools and headed straight home. We temporarily stayed in an igloo found on a shielded side of Terror Mountain, which provided a safe haven from unexpected snowstorms and hail. The interior was large and sufficiently furnished, which was more than what can be said for my home back in Krawk Island. Still, it was a place to stay in, even if it did not feel like home at all.
We sat around an ice table, with warm cups of Borovan at our paws. Ciwan was busy trying to write a letter of some sort, while I silently gazed out of the window, watching the sun about to set. I took a sip from my cup, and not long after, Ciwan tried to grab my attention.
"What now, Ci?" I asked, disinterested.
"I've finished writing a letter to the Faerieland Employment Agency that will probably land you a better job than you're currently having," he explained.
"Ci, I have no job," I sighed, stating the obvious.
"Well, wouldn't you like another one?"
"I think I have had enough of job-hunting nowadays. There's too much switching for too little incentives. I think I'll just live as a normal neopet for now... soon enough we w-won't have enough to f-fend for ourselves... if we're lucky someone will adopt us from the pound," I sobbed.
"Don't say that!" Ciwan was having none of it. "I'm sure there's still something that you're good for, you just have to believe in yourself. Every neopet is special and talented – and it's up to them to realize that."
"You don't have to say all this, Ci. I know it's all bogus that's out to make me feel better," I uttered as my heart sank from realizing a bleak future for myself.
"Maybe you just need to de-stress," he suggested. "Mind if we go outside and make snow sculptures?"
I sighed. "I guess anything would be better than staying here and crying."
"That's the spirit!" He grabbed my arm and dragged me outside. "The cold winter's waiting, Gav!"
As I exited the igloo, I immediately felt the crisp winter breeze rushing across my face. Little trickles of snow fell from the sky and melted onto my fur. The majestic scenery of the evening sunset, along with the serene sincerity of the winter weather, was enough to have me dazzled and forget all the worries I had momentarily. I trudged through the blanket of fallen snow to follow Ciwan, who was already halfway sculpting a snowman.
"Ci!" I called out.
"Yes, Gav?" he replied, busy rolling large snowballs on the ground.
"Do we have to make snowmen all the time? I mean, we could make other stuff," I suggested.
"Like what?" he asked, seemingly confused.
"Like an overturned ice-cream cone, to start!"
It seemed like a crazy suggestion at first, but it was one that actually worked. We gathered our chisels from the igloo and started to mould the fine snow into the shape of a splattered ice cream cone. As I moulded a fallen mound half the size of my body, Ciwan worked on the cone that was lying on its side. The roof of the cone often collapsed, so I had to switch between both sculpting the ice cream and the cone itself. Oddly enough, making sculptures in the snow was a great stress reliever. I truly enjoyed playing with the white tufts while experiencing the cool winter climate. I did not mind all the scenes that had happened that day; I was only out to relax and have the time of my life.
As it started to get dark, the lights of the nearby igloos switched on one by one, forming a dotted avenue in the neighbourhood's enclave. Our sculpture was almost finished, with only a few finishing touches to be carved into it.
"Well, I definitely don't regret leaving my chair just now!" I chuckled as I rubbed off snow from my paws.
"We'd better head back inside, though. You know how dark the evening can get," Ciwan warned.
After shortly admiring our work of art, we took our chisels and headed back to our igloo. As we took a few steps forth, I heard a familiar voice calling out from the distance.
"Gavellus! Gavellus!" the faint voice cried.
"Ci," I stopped and turned behind. "You don't think that's the Shoyru manager again, do you?"
"I think it is," he stated in shock.
The Shoyru was trudging in the deep snow, seemingly desperate to grab our attention. He soon reached us, and I can clearly see his wings shivering from the freezing temperature outdoors.
"Gavellus," he panted. "I'm here to make a formal word of apology. It must have been utterly disrespectful of me to stand up against my own employee."
"It's okay, sir," I replied. "I may not be your employee anymore, but I do owe you an apology as well. You see, it's hard for me to work when the rest of my family is stuck halfway across Neopia – I'm more concerned about them than I am for my own well-being. I hope you understand."
"Let bygones be bygones?" the Shoyru requested.
I took his paw and shook it.
"I'm glad to have gotten that stress off my chest!" I heaved a sigh.
"Good for both of you! Want to come inside for a moment for some Borovan?" Ciwan suggested. We both nodded in agreement.
As the three of us proceeded to the igloo, the Shoyru interrupted the silence.
"Did both of you create that sculpture I saw just now?" he queried.
"Yeah, we did," Ciwan and I said in unison.
"Let me tell you guys something. I know many shop owners in Terror Mountain who would die to have a snow sculpture of their products to be shown outside their store. Honestly, you may make a strong living out of simply sculpting snow!" he stated.
With that statement, I was immediately given hope. I can now earn a living from doing what I think is fun and relaxing, I thought to myself. A snow sculpture has redirected my life from helplessly hoping to be adopted by a subpar owner to envisioning a brighter future in which I was able to support my family.
It was all thanks to a snow sculpture.
With that, I convinced myself that I was now ready to live a life on ice.