"You're going down, Taelia!"
The Snow Faerie whirled round and squinted into the blizzard, trying to make out the owner of the voice.
"Who goes there?"
She gathered magic energy into her hands, ready to summon a shield.
No reply came. Taelia shot a nervous glance over her shoulder. It was getting dark, and she still had a long walk back to her home in the cold.
The snowstorm parted to reveal the outline of a cloaked figure.
"It's time for our rematch," said the voice.
Taelia relaxed and dispelled her magic. "You never give up, do you."
The figure glided closer, hovering about a foot above the ground. "This time, I'll finally show you who the real master is."
"In this snowstorm?" Taelia had a sympathetic smile. "You'll be using up all your energy to keep your temperature up. I can't imagine how much you've already spent to travel all the way from the Springs."
The cloak fell away to reveal the cascading blond hair and long, sleek tail of a Water Faerie. Her turquoise scales glowed faintly in the enchanted mass of water that kept her airborne.
"You have no idea how long it took me to prepare for this moment," she said, cracking her knuckles. Bluish sparks sizzled briefly around her hands. "I practiced spells during my work hours. I probably made more healing potions than you cook up in a whole year, for all the pets who will need them in my absence! Tonight is the night I finally beat you."
Taelia sighed. "Look, Marina, I know this is important to you, but I really don't want to do this right now. Why don't we settle this over a few games tomorrow? I'm going home. I'll make some Borovan, if you're interested." She turned and began to walk away.
"You dare refuse my challenge? No matter." With a few flicks of Marina's hands, large piles of snow rose from the ground below her tail. The snow rearranged itself into different shapes, following a neat pattern.
"I will be the best snowball crafter in all of Neopia!" She raised her hand like a general commanding an army and sent her snowballs hurtling like bullets towards Taelia.
Whirling round, the Snow Faerie only had time to weave a few gusts of wind into a shield. The snowballs crashed into it, making her hands shake from the impact. She shut her eyes tightly against the tiny bits of snow that had passed through her barrier.
"You're not exactly leaving me any choice, are you. I won't go easy on you." She twisted her hands elegantly in midair. Snow jumped from the ground and fashioned itself into a snowball in the blink of an eye. She took it and threw it in a long, fluid movement.
Marina had trouble dodging Taelia's throw, as it had a spin to it. The snowball brushed against the top of her head, making her shudder. She then heard a flapping sound behind her and ducked again.
"Oh, very clever," she groaned. It was one of Taelia's typical winged snowballs, and it was now zooming fiercely around Marina's head, determined to fly straight into her face. She tried to bat it away like an oversized Mosquot. Meanwhile, Taelia was still casting her outstanding spells, whipping out snowball after snowball faster than the magic cannon she had used earlier. Within moments, Marina was lost in a whole squadron of the flapping things, their wings tangling in her hair.
She shrieked, flailing her arms wildly, but the snowballs would not be deterred. In a rageful blast of magic, she sent out a volley of icicles which skewered the snowballs in midair, making them drop to the ground. Finally free, Marina looked up at Taelia, panting. She did a double take: the Snow Faerie was running, already far away, still lobbing snowballs playfully over her shoulder.
"Where do you think you're going like that?" roared Marina. She zigzagged through the frosty air as fast as her levitation enchantment could go, pelting Taelia with hastily conjured snowballs.
"We might as well have a bit of fun while we're at it," called the Snow Faerie.
Bolts of magic spattered all around her, leaving a wide circle of glowing sparks in the snow. Taelia stopped short when she recognised the pattern. They had to be delayed self-aiming spells. She raised her arms to cast a shield all around her.
With blasts like firecrackers, Marina's spells ignited. Hundreds of snowballs shot out of the ground and launched themselves at Taelia from all sides. They collided with her shield in a great explosion of snow.
Marina caught her breath and waited with a triumphant smile, eager to see her rival in a crumpled heap of sodden coat and wings. She gasped when the snow fell away to reveal the Snow Faerie standing straight and looking as pristine as ever.
"Oh, come ON," whined Marina, "you could have had the decency to let just one of my snowballs hit your face!" Taelia's fluffy, perfectly dry coat seemed to be taunting her. She had to see at least one wet patch on it. She conjured more snowballs and flung them by hand, flailing her arms furiously.
Taelia dodged the clumsy throws with ease. "Hey, those were Pebbly Snowballs! That could have hurt!" She tossed another snowball in return. It hit Marina squarely in the cheek.
The Springs Faerie gasped, too shocked to move. She lifted one trembling hand to wipe her face. Her eyes fell on the remains of the snowball.
"Y-yellow snow? How could you!" She conjured her next snowball with an angry roar, her face contorted by rage, and the snowball shaped itself to match her expression. She hurled the Ugly Snowball at Taelia. It growled and snapped its jaws as it raced towards its target.
With a soothing spell, Taelia broke the raving snowball back into a harmless pile of snow which trickled to the ground. "Enough playing around."
She should have been home ages ago, with a cup of hot Borovan and a good book. What a waste of time. Before Marina could fire again, she had cast a series of spells with smooth, precise hand gestures. A pile of snowballs appeared and hovered in the air near her hands. She stretched her arm and began to pelt Marina with them, more snowballs appearing to replace the ones she had thrown.
It was when the first snowball flew past her that Marina realised she was in trouble. The bright red circles were unmistakable: those were Bullseye Snowballs, and they wouldn't stop until they hit her. Without another thought, she bolted away, weaving her way through the snowballs.
The cold, snow-filled air was beginning to bite into her skin, despite the layers of her magical protection. Whenever she managed to dodge a snowball, it simply swerved and went for her again. She hated to admit that Taelia had been right, but it was obvious that she was losing strength. Her enchanted water felt cold on her skin, about to freeze. If only it could hold just a little longer. She had to find shelter from those snowballs.
At last, her enchantment weakened enough that she couldn't dodge the snowballs. They all slammed into her side and sent her tumbling to the ground. The water was immediately lost. Taelia suddenly landed next to her, folding her wings neatly. The chase had led them near a cliff.
"Are we done?" Taelia asked gently. Even after this, she would never leave Marina stranded in the blizzard.
The Water Faerie straightened up, propping herself on her hands. She shook off the snow that covered her long tail and spat damp hair out of her mouth. "I will be," she gasped, "the Snowball Queen!" She began to chant her ultimate spell. A glow spread from her hands and invaded the whole area around the two faeries. Snow swirled into shape above their heads, a massive globe that cast its shadow over them.
Taelia had recognised the spell. "Marina, no! Not here," she pleaded, but it was too late. Marina was trembling, her brow furrowed in concentration. The gigantic snowball swayed from side to side. She groaned from the effort of keeping it up; then her magical hold gave way and the snowball collapsed with an echoing crash. The whole mountain seemed to rumble. A massive wave of snow swept the two faeries right off the cliff.
Taelia spread her wings and flew straight into the avalanche, dodging rocks and lumps of snow. Marina was exhausted and unable to move. She couldn't let her be buried under all that snow. She caught sight of the Water Faerie's tail, dived straight towards her and threw out a magical barrier, shutting her eyes tightly and hoping it would hold.
They fell and they fell; endless waves of snow surged around them, pressing against their bodies, nearly encasing them. At last, the roar and tremors died down. Taelia dared to open her eyes, blinking in the light that the snow gave off even at night time. Marina lay next to her. She seemed uninjured. Taelia's magical shield had held, but the snow had compressed all around them, effectively walling them in.
Marina came to. "You all right?" she mumbled.
Taelia nodded. "I have bad news, though. All that snow has settled. It's compact enough not to crush us, but I don't have the energy to tunnel us out."
"You'd think the almighty Snow Faerie could make her way out of one lousy avalanche."
"Would you cut that out? It's not like I ever got more praise than you did. You're the number one healer in all of Faerieland, so what's wrong with being the second-best snowball crafter?"
"Don't play that with me! It's always been that way, ever since we were kids! Oh look, don't Marina's snowballs look pristine? But wait, look at Taelia and her amazing snow powers!"
Marina's jeering voice echoed around their tiny chamber.
"Wow, doesn't Marina do an amazing job healing all those Neopets at the Springs? But wait... Taelia rescues Neopets in the blizzard, oh sweet Fyora how heroic is that!"
It affected Marina a lot more than anyone knew.
On any morning at the Healing Springs, between two visits from Neopets, she could be found at the far end of the pool, waving her hands furiously. She always repeated the same pattern.
"No, too crumbly," she would mutter before tossing her snowball away. "Too oval. Too gravelly. Too melty."
At last, the perfect snowball. Spherical, evenly packed, with a smooth yet grainy surface. Cold enough to sting, but wet enough to splatter all over the target. It shone bright in her hand, like a trophy. She had finally found the perfect spell. She must remember it and practice it until her next meeting with Taelia.
"Excuse me, Marina?" came a small voice. "May I please have one of your spells?"
"Of course you may," said the delighted Water Faerie. "My best spell so far. You will love it."
She proudly conjured a second snowball, just as magnificent as the first, and presented it to the small Acara who had spoken.
"There. Isn't it the most marvelous snowball you have ever rested your eyes upon?"
"Yes, it's a brilliant snowball..." The Acara looked taken aback. "Thanks a lot, but I was actually hoping for a healing spell, if you don't mind."
Marina finally looked away from her perfect snowball and realised that the Acara was covered in bumps and scratches.
"Oh goodness! I'm so sorry, I got caught up in something else! Nevermind, I'll fix you in a jiffy!"
She hastily performed her healing spell, but only a few sparks sizzled around her hands.
Her stomach sank. She had used up her energy during snowball practice.
"I am so sorry... this is embarrassing. It doesn't usually happen." It did.
"It's all right, I'll come back later," said the Acara.
Marina nodded, still mumbling apologies. She started to practice again, rehearsing her healing spell without magic while grinding her teeth furiously. It was the fifth time in one day, and it was definitely Taelia's fault.
Marina's teeth were chattering. Taelia opened her fluffy coat and spread it over them. Marina tried to wriggle away, but Taelia pulled her in.
"Why is this thing so perfectly dry, anyway?" Marina prodded the coat.
Taelia chuckled. "It's enchanted, of course. I can show you the incantation later."
"You can't even get us out of here with your superior snow powers."
"You've always been better at healing spells, Marina. And you put up a great fight in the middle of a snowstorm while using liquid water to levitate. Give it a rest."
Taelia looked around them, felt the tightly packed snow that surrounded them. "We're not buried too deep, at least. Would it be too much to ask for your help?"
"What would the great Snow Faerie need my help for?"
"Maybe one of Marina's outstanding healing spells would help the great Snow Faerie to free us with her oh-so-amazing snow powers."
"You want a healing spell from me?"
"I wouldn't ask anyone else."
Almost an hour later, the two exhausted faeries slumped to the ground in front of Taelia's house. She had carried Marina all the way back, as the Water Faerie had no water or energy left to levitate.
"Wait... just a moment," panted Taelia, "I know my key's in here somewhere. Why do I have so many pockets in this thing."
While she was rummaging through her coat, Marina absent-mindedly played with the snow next to her.
"Taelia... hey Taelia, come down here."
"Yes?" The Snow Faerie crouched to talk to her.
Marina took a handful of snow and rubbed it against the side of Taelia's face. "Just one."
Taelia raised an eyebrow and giggled. "You got me. Now let's go in and have that Borovan."