The Adventures of Trina: The Glass Key: Part Seven
Burly creatures were digging in the snow, their long, yellow claws flinging powder into the air. Their feet were massive enough to crush any enemy. Their teeth were so long, she almost mistook them as tusks. Camouflaged by their overgrown tufts of white fur, from their ankles to their forehead, where twisted horns reached for the sky, their red pupils burned into her mind. Luckily, they weren’t interested in her general direction.
“What are those?” she whispered, mesmerized. It was like the stuff of legend—or a nightmare. Had Joss not nudged her to press forward, she would have kept staring. She’d never seen anything like it before.
“Snowbeasts,” he hissed. “A whole pack of them.”
With light feet they managed to clear the area. Given that her magic went awry against the Snowager, she would avoid a fight with a Snowbeast at all costs.
They kept traveling for the entire day. On times when the wind died down, they snacked on leftover Neggs. Joss said that the Heart resided at the epicenter of Terror Mountain. To get there, they’d have to cross Happy Valley to enter the Ice Caves, a path that would take 18 hours if they dodged the afternoon snowstorms. She forgot where the shortcut was that led her to the Snowager. Traces of his vicious roar still echoed in her mind.
Before she knew it, night fell and the temperature plunged. Fortunately the snowfall was light and slow, but their aching legs couldn’t walk another step, their fingers too numb to bear. In silence, they set up camp for the night. Joss, the prepared one, packed a couple logs ready to burn. Trina tried to stoke the fire with a stream of blue light; instead it had extinguished the flame.
What’s wrong with me? she thought. It wasn’t until that moment when her friends appeared in her mind. She imagined that instead of the warmth of the fire seeping into her coat it was radiating from a group hug, but she felt nothing but the cold. It was best for them to leave them behind, so why was she feeling that she betrayed them?
“Where’d you get that thing, anyway?” He asked, pointing to her wand moments before lighting another match.
“Oh, this? It’s a long story—”
“You’re lucky to own such a fine relic,” he said while smiling, but it came off as indifferent. “There’s nothing here but snow.”
“Nonsense! Look at all the things we’ve just done—all the traveling, all the sightseeing. There’s plenty to do here.”
“And we’ll fly on Draiks into castles and vanquish the Thieves Guild with some magic words!” he said sarcastically.
“Yeah, like a faerie tale!” Trina added with enthusiasm.
“I gave up on those when I was four,” he said, “besides, there ain’t no faerie tales that happen in Terror Mountain.”
“Hey, no one said we can’t make our own! The Heart’s got magical properties, right? Who’s to say it can’t grant wishes?”
“Well, I can dream.”
“I can’t,” he said bitterly. The Bori retreated to the other side of the campfire. “I won’t be a fool. If something good will happen, it’ll be ‘cause I made it so.”
“But just in case something good doesn’t happen, take this…”
In her hands was a round object. Against a glossy, pink surface, a gold star connected 5 tiny buttons lined around the edge. It felt like plastic, and she had no idea how to use it, but it was a magical artifact nonetheless.
“It’s an amulet a Faerie gave me. I can only use it when I get the Heart. It’s supposed to take me to safety. But…I’m sure that she wouldn’t mind if I bent the rules a little bit. She can’t complain if it’s still used to save a life, can she?”
“Just where are you from?” * * * * *
In the middle of the night they awoke under the stars, hoping to outrun the next snowfall. In the blink of an eye the universe opened up and sucked her in. Its sheer vastness left her breathless; so many specs in the sky it was almost vexing. Something glowed in the sky, a green light snaked around a belt of stars like a stream. The science behind it was a complete mystery, and that made it all the more compelling. It was her catwalk, her stage. The stars were her audience as her imagination danced across it.
Morning arrived when they were closing in on the outskirts of the valley. Snowbunnies playfully chased each other while a heard of Bika grazed on leafless branches poking out from the snow. Pleasant chirping was music to her ears.
“I’m confused,” he began, his frantic eyes scanning up and down the map multiple times. “This looks like we might be anywhere near Happy Valley. We don’t want to enter from the east side or it’ll take forever.”
“I’ll try my compass,” Trina said.
“Those don’t work here—hard to explain. Hate to say it, but we need to go further ‘fore we can make more decisions. We should split up.”
“I don’t like the sound of that,” Trina said anxiously.
“Can ya handle yourself? Snowbeasts are rare this close to the valley. Townsfolk tend to drive them away. Doesn’t look like they’ll be any problems, so long as ya don’t go wandering off. Mark your position on the map and then return to this point.”
“Okay…” she agreed uneasily. In any mystery story, splitting up was always a bad idea. Clutching her wand in her fists she hoped the consequences, whatever might befall her, would spare her. But she was Trina Willicks; misfortune always walked two steps ahead of her. Thus, she thought, why not outrun it?
Twenty minutes had passed and already she was lost. And just her luck; she wandered right into a snow shower.
Some sort of heap laid in the distance, a lump against the perfect horizon line. At first she assumed it was a rock until it wheezed. Whatever it was, buried in a brown tarp and covered by a sheet of ice, was breathing slowly. In seconds she grabbed its hand and sat its body upright. Much of its face was concealed under a snuggly hood, but she could see its quivering, icy lips, and tiny icicles mounted to its chin.
A sudden fit of coughs had set it off balance. Fortunately, Trina caught the creature right before it fell forward. She pulled away its hood to see an elderly biscuit Bori. His eyes were closed and his distraught expression seemed frozen in place by a thin sheet of ice. Quickly, she wiggled her way out of her coat and wrapped it around his shoulders. Had she waited any longer, frostbite would have claimed him.
She panicked as she looked down at him. Joss had used the last of the firewood during the night and her magic couldn’t produce any heat. She needed shelter—and fast. She couldn’t dream of anything more…But even in a panic she remembered Joss’s words. Without further ado she spun around, wand in hand, and encased them both in a bubble. Snowflakes bounced off of the thin shell. So far she wasn’t feeling any physical strain, but she knew this igloo wouldn’t last forever. As she tended to him, breathing quickly, fog gathered on the transparent shell.
In her mittens was a grey Negg, the only failsafe to keep the igloo from weakening, but the stranger needed it more.
“This will restore your energy,” she said as she offered him the Negg. “Eat it. Tastes like cough syrup, but it’ll help you, I promise.”
He took the Negg, and between bites he murmured something incomprehensible.
“You collapsed in the snow,” she said softly. She watched her frosty breath form around her face. “I’m sorry I can’t make it warmer. No firewood…”
“Eh, it’s no issue,” he murmured. He hugged her coat tighter against his thin jacket. “This does the trick.”
His hazel eyes rolled in every direction. “Might I ask where we are?”
“I cast this bubble to protect us, using magic,” she said while showing her wand to the stranger. “There are no caves nearby or anything. I think we’re somewhere near Happy Valley. I couldn’t tell you where on a map, though. I wish I knew myself…”
“As I thought. Seems I overestimated myself again…” he said regretfully. Slumped against the concave wall, he turned to her. “I appreciate your kindness, umm….”
“Trina. It’s Trina, short for Trinandra.”
“Ah, such a delightful name. The name’s Brent—not as interesting, I’m afraid. So…what’s a little lady like you doin’ out in the cold all alone?”
“I’m not alone! My accomplice is out there somewhere. We were looking for a landmark to identify our location. But that didn’t go so well. Good thing it didn’t or I never would’ve found you.” An accomplice…she liked the sound of that. It made her feel like some kind of spy, set out on a mission.
She must have lifted his spirits, as he began unfolding a tale of his own. A native to Terror Mountain, he had lived here since he was born. Fervently he spoke of his job as a painter, and he boasted painting thousands of snow-covered mountainsides in his lifetime. His father has been a musician, and together they set out to celebrate this great land.
“Where were you going?”
“Caroling,” he said with a straight face. At first she thought the bubble had distorted his words, and when she shot him a bewildered stare, he clarified. “Yeah I know the holidays are ways away but it’s Happy Valley, for cryin’ out loud.
As much as she loved stories, sooner or later she had to find Joss. If he gets worried about her he may signal Brightstar prematurely. That mustn’t happen, not without the Heart.
“Hey, I was wondering…do you happen to know anything about the Heart of the Mountain? Any idea where I can find it?”
“Yeah, I happen to know a little bit ‘bout it. However it’s closed to tourists.”
“Well I’m not really a tourist…technically,” she laughed nervously. “But please, tell me everything you know.”
“Hmm…let’s see…where to begin? I guess I could start by sayin’ no one knows where it came from. There are all sorts of theories out there, but most of them are rubbish, especially the one about Alien Aishas—I can’t believe that one for a second. Sorcery is my best bet. Anyway, you simply must see a painting of it. For a crystal, it’s momentous. This cluster of crystal juts right out of the middle of the cavern—like it owns the place—and the whole thing glows such a beauteous hue of red. It’s truly a marvel! I’ve seen it myself as a child…of course everything looks bigger when you’re five but believe me, it’s a good few feet wide.”
He extended his arms outward to show her.
“And on the fringe there’s this whole slew of smaller blue crystals—periwinkle to be exact. It makes for some great color contrast, I say. Decades have passed since then, and it still glows brightly, never fading, never giving up. And after all those years I still remember…when you get close to it, it emits this aura…warm, like it’s alive.
“In those days if you had the dough you could take some home with you, but I know I didn’t need no stones because it always felt like it was already a part of me…Many of my kind had sensed the same thing. It’s no wonder that our ancestors believed the Heart to be our life source. Our history on this mountain has been rugged at best but we’re still here…So long as that Heart’s still beating we’ll persevere…
“Believe it or not, but the Bori are said to be the nervous system of this land itself. It cannot survive without us. The livelihood, the culture, and lest we forget: the cuisine—it all depends on us. My father once told me, ‘When our hearts are in sync, we will beat the drums of our destiny and tune the strings of our fate. And only then will we sing in perfect harmony.’ We are the song of the land, the voice and everything that echoes for generations to come.
“Even such a harsh land has a heart,” he finished, scooping up snow and bringing it to his ear. “And if you listen closely, you will realize that everything does.”
For a brief moment, the hazy shell vanished. The snowflakes were now like salt, siphoning away the shell’s magic when they dissolved against the sphere. His words, as poignant as they were, became the salt. They stung her eyes and absorbed every semblance of her dignity. How could she have planned to steal such a beautiful thing?
How could she be worthy of being an archeologist if she had no respect for the makers of history? But how she be worthy of anything if she failed Brightstar’s quest? Or Joss and his family?
“It’s just…to be honest, I really wanted some of the Heart to help people. I know someone who desperately needs it…I don’t want to fail anyone anymore…”
“I won’t deny that the Heart could help people. There was an incident here years ago…The Heart had cured that explorer Hannah from an ancient and powerful curse, but that came after much violence within the Thieves Guild—and against my people. With all of the skirmishes over the Heart throughout history, I say it’s better for everyone if the Heart remains whole…”
“It’s hard to live with a broken heart,” he said with one hand on her shoulder. From his solemn tone, Trina couldn’t tell if he was disappointed in her for asking or if he was speaking entirely metaphorically. “…by being constantly reminded that someone ran off with something they treasured, that something is missing that cannot be repaired…Before choices like these, it’s important to ask yourself: Where does your strength come from?”
“Selfishness,” she admitted. “No, fear. People, and me, expect me to be someone. I don’t want to disappoint them.”
“I’m sure that deep down, you believe that those who’ve supported you will understand. You won’t be failing them. I’m confident you can create new solutions to help those dear to you, and protect other’s prosperity.”
“And if that’s not the case, there are other ways to steal a heart,” he laughed.
She couldn’t help smiling with him. He was right.
With a pop, the bubble vanished and they exchanged their goodbyes. She wished him luck as he returned her coat. She waited for him to disappear into the storm before moving.
All that was left to do was march over to Joss and call everything off. Was she brave enough to go through with it? She refused to give it another thought until she reached the rendezvous point.
On her way back, she couldn’t help but notice her odd propensity to steal things. But technically, she wasn’t really stealing, not if you could justify it, right?
There was the Staff; actually, she had found it.
Then the Ancient Book of Code; doesn’t count—she stole it from pirates.
And now the Heart of the Mountain; well, she was on a quest.
Get it together, Trina, she thought to herself. Or next thing you’ll know, you’ll be running off with Queen Fyora’s crown! * * * * *
“There ya are!” he shouted, tinges of impatience in his voice. “What took ya so long?”
“I got lost, and then there was this Bori passed out in the snow. I couldn’t leave him…I’m sorry I took so long. Did you figure out a plan?”
“Yeah. Happy Valley’s this way…If we hurry we’ll be there by sundown. Then we can retreat at the local inn.”
Trina stopped in her tracks and waited for him to turn and face her. “Actually, I have something to say…”
“Then tell me later! We’ve gotta get out of this storm first.”
They exchanged no words, not even as much as a flicker of eye contact as they fought the barrage of snowflakes ahead of them. The way he stomped onward—Joss was very determined to get this over with. At this point only the destination mattered to him. Once they would set foot in the valley, it would be impossible to redirect his attention. She had enjoyed the journey, but it had run its course; there would be no elaborate souvenirs to take back from this trip.
“We need to turn back.”
“We can’t touch the Heart of the Mountain! We just can’t! We have to turn back!”
“I won’t give up, not after we came all this way. We’re so close! If you wanna hightail out of here, be my guest, but where would you go? C’mon…we’re so close, I can almost taste it!”
“I’m warning you, we can’t disturb the Heart. It’s the Boris’ life source—that old man told me so!”
“So you’re backing out now just because some old guy, who’s probably delusional from exhaustion, said so? If it’s true I want to see it for myself!”
“No, don’t! I’m telling you. Show…show some respect for your kind!”
“I am! I don’t care what you tell me, or what anyone else tells me, my family needs some of that stone! The smallest shard could heal Mother’s hand!”
“You don’t know that for sure! We should try calling a doctor instead—”
“You think I can afford one of those? And even if she’s cured, then what, huh? Return to barricading ourselves in a shack, living in constant fear of a Snowbeast raid? An avalanche? The Heart’s supposed to help Boris, so it can help me. All I ask is just a tiny spec—is that too much to ask?
He continued slogging forward, until Trina intercepted his stride.
“I won’t let you through.”
“Really?” he said, taken aback. “I thought you wanted to help me out.”
“I did—I still do. Believe me, I really do! But to damage the Heart, who knows what the consequences are, especially for you! I don’t want to see anyone get hurt! If that could happen, then it’s not worth it!
“I’m not afraid of taking chances. If I do nothing, it’s a sure gamble that I will be tormented by those disgusting Snowbeasts! You don’t understand!”
“You’re right…I can’t understand what that’s like…but I want to understand.”
“Of course ya can’t understand! You’re coddled by faeries and magic! You could just zap all your problems away! I CAN’T. Get that through your prissy painted fur, you—you spoiled brat!”
At that moment everything exploded. Before she could step, before she could inhale, a blast hurled toward him. He dodged it easily.
“My point exactly.” He smirked. “If ya really want to help me, then show me something amazing! Use that magic of yours! Make all my problems go away! C’mon, I’m waiting—show me you care. Last chance!”
She knew he was egging her on, but she couldn’t keep her composure. Outside of her friends, she had nothing. How dare he look her in the eye with a straight face and call her spoiled? Spoiled because she was a fighter? Because she worked hard enough to deserve a paint brush? Because she strived so desperately to change her own fate?
A deafening roar erupted from behind him, from much too close. She turned and immediately fell to her knees. One, two—no, five Snowbeasts hovered over them, growling and licking their sharp teeth, staring at them with hungry red eyes.
Straightaway, one dived for her, barely missing her by hairs. She kept light on her feet, sending blazes of blue at the advancing beasts as often as possible. They were blinded by the light and shoved back a few feet, but they were pugnacious. They kept raging forward, grunting and wailing violently. One kicked her in the leg and she lost her footing. As she was falling, another sideswiped her coat, wads of cotton flying in her face.
A blur of green was seen several yards away. Joss was swiping at them with his claws, but unsuccessfully, only splitting hairs from their muscular arms every time they took a swing. Their energy was waning, but the beasts were just getting started. The cold, the storm, the monsters, they won’t last much longer out here…
She fired at them once more. A gust of wind swept by and took her attack along with the snowflakes. Blue light swirled around her enemies, encircling them in a ring, and soon a whirlwind of ice and magic was beating against their flanks. Like a puppet, the ring rose with her movements, accelerating and throwing more powder into the air. This new power, whatever it was, was under her control. In seconds a miniscule yet powerful tornado raged against the beasts, keeping them busy.
The beasts were flailing helplessly against her magic; one shrilled as it tried to bodyslam the whirlwind and was instead thrown backwards. Her wand pulsed as she focused, not withdrawing her eyes from theirs. Finally, the beasts snarled in defeat and fled the scene, but the one squaring off with Joss stayed behind. It just so happened that this Snowbeast was much larger than its comrades.
Joss was still holding on, but he had one hand grasping his shoulder. His battle cries were more like yelps of pain as he struggled to keep up with the beast’s unpredictable movements, sounding so agonizing that they distracted Trina from her magic. The whirlwind dispersed immediately and the snow took to the air. There was almost no visibility, but its pair of red eyes could still be seen raging in the mist.
She tried to form the tornadoes again but only smaller ones rose from the snow. Effortlessly, the Snowbeast plowed through them. Suddenly, she was trapped dangling in the air. The Snowbeast had slipped behind her and pierced her hood with its tusks. With both hands free, he swatted her wand from her fist and delivered a blow to her stomach. Rather than kick and scream she focused on the sting of the snowflakes to drown everything out while her fingers squirmed from her mittens and wormed their way into her knapsack.
“EAT THIS!” With all of her strength, she shoved the witch-hatted Negg into its mouth. A puff of smoke followed and she was no longer suspended; somehow its tusks had vanished completely. Red feathers now floated down on her as she crawled to her wand. Looking up, a red Lenny now stood in the Snowbeast’s place—a fraction of its size, but several times more anger.
“Joss!” she called and grabbed the Bori by the arm. “Let’s go!”
While the Lenny looked harmless from afar it was gaining up on them at magnificent speed, fueled with pure rage. It traced their every move, desperate for revenge as it took to the air, wings forcefully batting the blizzard winds. To make matters worse, they were losing their lead to Joss’ limping.
Never looking back, they ran at full speed until they realized they were now skidding on ice. Slipping and sliding with every step, Trina decided it was time to end this once and for all. Outstretching both arms forward, she clasped her wand between her bare hands, aimed for the Lenny, and fired. The ice below exploded and the shockwave forced the Lenny to tumble through the air and disappear into the snow while the ice split in a hundred different places. Water splashed everywhere, creating waves as chunks broke and folded over each other, as chunks thrown into the air disintegrated from the blast.
Amidst the wreckage Trina reached for the Bori, but Joss didn’t take her hand. The hunk of ice beneath her was picked up by a three-foot wave. She was carried across the water so fast the world became a white blur. All the while, snowflakes piled against her face. Finally, after a minute, the world had color again. Except that now, it was dull—lifeless, even. Everything was frozen, completely silent. The snow had ceased, the wind was gone. Her chunk of ice had collided with a frozen shore, undisturbed from the blast, but in that one minute she had been thrown far off course. Joss and the Lenny were nowhere in sight.
She couldn’t stop shivering, and not because of the cold; she had just torn apart the landscape…devastated it…with one flick of her wrist. Did she really do that? That was impossible…she had no idea what she was doing…that couldn’t happen, right?
She opened her mouth to speak and then she remembered that Joss wasn’t there. Last she saw of him, he was pushed into the opposite direction, consumed by the powder from the blast. She felt that he was okay, but she could never catch up with him, not that she wanted to…but what now? He had Brightstar’s amulet...without it, she can’t signal for help. Even if she tracked him down with the last of her strength, it was doubtful that he’d return it. After all, anything a faerie touches is worth good neopoints…And there was no way he’d come looking for her…She could never trust him. That left only one choice: find Happy Valley and try to contact someone, anyone. Maybe, if she made enough noise, sent out enough letters, worked hard enough, her friends would hear. But there was no use in listening to whispers of hope, when reality screamed in every snowflake, every aching step, and every teardrop that streamed down her face and froze there.
She was cold.
Cold and alone.
To be continued…