The Monster on the Mountain
Like usual, a blizzard was sweeping across the peak of Terror Mountain. Pellets of snow and ice battered the frozen ground as powerful winds swirled heaps of snow through the air. Anyone with a lick of common sense would be huddled indoors during a storm like this.
However, a lone Mynci was struggling his way through the terrible storm. He had been trying to reach the entrance to the Ice Caves, but lost his way when the storm arose. Unable to see two feet in front of him, ice was encrusted on his fur, and fluid that dripped from his nose and eyes froze instantly. His lips were chapped from the cold wind, and his breathing was shallow.
“Where's that Snow Faerie when you need her most?” the Mynci's rattled brain thought, citing the helpful guardian of those lost on Terror Mountain.
Aching, lethargic, and miserable, the Mynci pushed onward with no idea of where he was going. Winds threatened to shove him into the ground, and he practically waded through increasingly deep snow. He knew for sure that he would desperately have to find some shelter for the night.
Either exhaustion, cold, or something else finally came to him, for the Mynci began to teeter on his feet. His vision was flickering with strange colors and his head was muddled with thick fog. The Mynci let out a soft groan as he collapsed in the snow.
The last thing he heard before his consciousness went was the shuffling of huge feet.
As the Mynci had struggled through the storm, unbeknownst to him, he was being watched.
A creature, covered in thick white fur, nearly invisible in the blizzard, had been following the Mynci throughout his treacherous journey. The creature stood nearly eight feet in height, was built powerfully, and bore curved horns on its head. It traveled through the snow on two sturdy legs that ended in blue-colored paws like dinner plates. Yellow eyes with red irises, covered with thick lashes, observed the Mynci from a distance.
When the Mynci collapsed, the creature approached him carefully, bending to nudge the Mynci with a large hand. Judging that the Mynci was in a very poor state, the creature stooped and lifted the Mynci in its arms. Nestling the chilled Mynci to its broad chest, the creature proceeded through the storm.
Finally, the creature came to a comfortable-looking wooden cabin in which a light was flickering. Smoke rose from the cabin's chimney, and the smell of cooking meat wafted through the blizzard. The creature opened the door, still carrying the Mynci, and entered a warm, well-lit room with a fireplace, a sofa, a bookcase, and an armchair. A Raindorf's pelt was laid across the floor as a rug, and the antlers of a Dofrey were mounted above the fireplace. A pot of something good-smelling was boiling over the fire.
The creature laid the Mynci on the sofa. It let out a low whistle, and a Snuffly hurried into the room. The Snuffly noticed the Mynci on the sofa, bowed low, and vanished into the other room. He returned soon with huge blankets in his arms, and placed them on the floor before getting the Mynci out of his wet things, leaving him in his underclothes.
The creature took the blankets and snugly bundled up the Mynci. The Snuffly came over with a bowl of beef stew from the pot over the fire. The creature set the steaming bowl on the table in front of the sofa and left the room without another word.
The Mynci came to feeling incredibly warm and smelling something appetizing. His eyes fluttered as he saw that he was heavily bundled in big, soft blankets, and that a little bowl of something brown with vegetables in it was sitting in front of him.
“You awake?” came a deep, gruff voice. The Mynci rolled over to see something massive, white, and furry standing before him. Raising his eyes, he saw that the thing before him had a flat face with a wide, fanged mouth, slit-pupiled eyes, and horns protruding from its forehead.
The Mynci's heart began to pound. He knew that type of face all too well from scary bedtime stories and warnings whispered among the Mountain's denizens.
“Snow Beast!” the Mynci howled, leaping out of the sofa still wrapped in the blankets. Dropping to the floor like a stone, the Mynci thrashed around violently in an attempt to free himself from the blankets. By the faeries, this thing had wrapped him up like a burrito, and was going to eat him like one!
“I'm not a Snow Beast!” the creature barked. Its face softened as it started unwrapping the Mynci's blankets. “I won't hurt you.”
“You – you swear you won't eat me?” the Mynci stuttered.
“By Taelia's feathered white wings,” the creature promised.
The Mynci clambered back onto the sofa, his heart and mind still buzzing with anxiety. The bowl of brown soup was taunting him with its savory smells, and his stomach growled in anticipation. The Mynci hesitantly reached for the bowl, picked it up, and took a cautious sip of the soup. Hot, spicy, filling flavors washed over his tongue and made their way into his belly. Soon, feeling returned to his extremities.
“Thanks,” the Mynci said. He turned to look at his host. “Was it you who...”
“I found you in the storm,” the beast replied. “You'd've frozen to death in a storm half as mild as that. What were you doing out there?”
“I was going to the Ice Caves,” the Mynci replied. “The blizzard arose, and I got lost. Couldn't even find a landmark. Was hopin' that maybe the Snow Faerie would take notice.”
“Taelia, Fyora bless her soul, would be up to her wingtips in work in a storm like that,” the beast replied. “'Sides, she takes care of little lost kiddies before she goes on to the adults.”
The Mynci nodded. “Might I at least know the name of my savior and host?” he remarked.
“Lutianney,” the beast replied. “You can call me Luti, though, most do.”
“I'm Tenpo,” the Mynci said cordially. “It's an honor to meet you, Mr. Luti.”
“Oh, it's just Luti,” Luti assured him. “At this point, there's no need for formalities.”
A quizzical look came over Tenpo's face. Luti strode over to the cabin's window and pushed aside one of its heavy curtains. He clicked his tongue when he saw what was outside.
“The storm don't look like it'll let up until tomorrow,” Luti grumbled. “You can stay the night. In the morning I'll take you to the Ice Caves.”
“That's very nice of you, M – Luti,” Tenpo replied.
“Cornelius will show you to a hot bath and your room for tonight,” Luti told Tenpo. “Unless you want to sleep on the couch.”
“Oh, a bath and bed would be lovely,” Tenpo replied. “Who's Cornelius? Your butler?”
“A cabin don't need a butler,” Luti smirked. He whistled, and into the room came a pudgy Snuffly that stood about half as high as Tenpo. “Cornelius, draw a bath for Mr. Tenpo here.”
“Cornelius is your petpet and he can draw me a bath?” Tenpo wondered. “Sheesh, and I thought my Biyako was smart for being able to play dead.”
“When one lives like I do, a smart petpet is as good as any butler,” Luti stated.
Cornelius bowed low and beckoned Tenpo to follow him. Tenpo hurried after Cornelius down a hallway, at the end of which was a wooden door. Opening the door, Tenpo saw a simple but tidy bathroom with a wooden tub with a faucet, a tin sink, and a porcelain lavatory. A stack of towels and a small wooden bucket sat next to the tub, next to which were a couple of bottles and a yellow soap cake.
The Snuffly cranked the faucet as milky, steamy water poured into the tub. Once the tub was about half-full, Cornelius turned his back to Tenpo and covered his eyes. Taking off his underthings, he climbed into the bathtub. The warmth of the water flowed into his fur and skin, making even his bones feel nice and comfortable.
Cornelius trotted over, took one of the bottles from the tubside, and dropped something green into his hands. Using this lotion, he rubbed Tenpo all over, filling the air with a fresh scent and covering Tenpo in thick suds. Once that was done, Cornelius dumped a bucket of hot water over Tenpo's head, washing the suds off and making Tenpo spit and sputter from water in his face. A towel was shoved in Tenpo's face, which the Mynci used to wipe his eyes.
After a rub-down with the yellow soap cake, Cornelius, covering his eyes with one paw, helped Tenpo out of the tub. He tossed a towel up to Tenpo, who used it to dry off and then tied it around his waist.
Cornelius led Tenpo down the hall to another door, which was opened to reveal another simply furnished but tidy room. The bed was too small for a beast like Luti, so Tenpo assumed it was some sort of guest room. Though the furniture was neatly arranged, there was a light coating of dust on the wood. Perhaps Luti did not have guests often, Tenpo thought.
A robe was thrust into his hands by Cornelius, and the Snuffly immediately set to work with a feather duster on the furniture. When Tenpo was dressed, Cornelius put the finishing touches on his dusting job and bowed out of the room.
Tenpo lay down on the bed and pulled the quilt up his body, not quite tired enough to fall asleep but not quite awake enough to remain alert. The bed was soft, but smelled a little musty. Nevertheless, it would suffice for the night.
Soon, real sleep began to loom over Tenpo, and he found his eyelids too heavy to keep open. Darkness came over his mind, and then he entered his dream cycle.
Meanwhile, in the living room, the lamps dimmed and the curtains drawn, Luti paced. Cornelius was standing in the doorway to the kitchen with a bowl of cold water and a towel.
“I won't need that right away, Cornelius,” Luti told his petpet, his voice slightly strained. “Only when I'm back.”
Cornelius nodded, but kept a firm grip on the bowl. Luti opened the curtain, seeing nothing but snow whirling across a bluish-purple sky. His muscles tensed, seeming to writhe under his thick white fur.
“You know what to do, Cornelius,” Luti said, turning to his Snuffly. With those words, Luti opened the door to his cabin and stepped outside into the storm.
Though the storm was not as intense as it had been before, there was still a wind chill, and sleet pelted Luti's face. Though his thick fur protected him, it was not pleasant.
Luti's gaze fell on a bright white object in the sky. Kreludor, in its waning gibbous phase, was nearing the horizon. Snow fluttered across Luti's vision, making the image of the moon flutter.
“It's time,” Luti replied. As he gazed at Kreludor, a sharp pain shot up through his body like a hot knife, and Luti fell to his knees. Groaning and biting his lip, Luti curled into a ball in the snow, his body feeling sweaty despite the cold.
A sensation like oil pouring over his skin made his thick white fur feel like it was melting away. His clawed nails seemed to trim themselves as they shrank into his hands. The huge teeth in his mouth ached brutally as they vanished beneath his lips. Even his eyes filled with tears as something in them shifted.
The entire process took less than a minute, but it did not feel that way. Slowly getting to his feet, Luti limped back towards his cabin, the door of which was immediately opened for him by Cornelius. Luti nearly collapsed to the floor before Cornelius caught him and half-dragged him towards the sofa. A cold towel was draped over Luti's sweat-beaded forehead, and Cornelius massaged cold water into Luti's bare chest, which was now devoid of white fur.
“I swear, was more painful this time,” Luti moaned.
“I'm sorry about that, master,” Cornelius replied.
Tenpo awoke to a gentle knocking on his door.
“The master says it's time for him to take you to the Ice Caves now,” called an unfamiliar voice.
Tenpo's brow furrowed in confusion. Did Luti have a servant that he didn't know about? One that actually talked?
The door opened, and Cornelius came in with Tenpo's now-dry clothes stacked in his arms.
“I brought you your things, Mr. Tenpo,” came a voice from the Snuffly.
“You can talk?” Tenpo gasped. “But – when?”
“When the master's his usual self,” was Cornelius' response.
Now Tenpo was bewildered. “You'll have to explain this to me once I get changed,” he told the Snuffly. “Please tell me nothing weird's happened to Luti.”
“Your definition of weird might be different from mine,” Cornelius replied.
“Says the talking petpet,” muttered Tenpo.
Another surprise met Tenpo when he entered the parlor – a bowl of oatmeal on the table, and a white Poogle sitting on the sofa, reading a book. The Poogle was dressed in a parka and snow boots. When Tenpo came in, he looked up from his v and smiled.
“Did you have a nice night, Tenpo?” he inquired.
“Luti?” cried Tenpo. “First the talking Snuffly, now you're – not – a – uh – beast?”
“I should have told you when we met,” Luti sighed, folding up the paper and putting it down. “Please, have a seat.”
Tenpo obeyed, taking a seat next to Luti. The Poogle folded his hands and sighed.
“I came here from the Haunted Woods,” Luti explained. “To make things brief, let's just say in the Woods I made some bad choices and ended up with a few enemies. One of those enemies decided to put something on me that would follow me to my new life in a new land. What it was became quite apparent on the first full moon that month.”
Suddenly, this was sounding all too sinister to Tenpo. “By Fyora, then you must be a -”
“Lycanthrope is the proper term,” Luti replied, “and if you'd heard it, you'd have heard it being used to discuss Werelupes. Of course, I'm technically a Werepoogle, but lycanthrope sounds a little more sophisticated.”
“I'm so – I don't know – how long -”
“I'm in the form of a beast on the three nights when the moon is at its fullest,” Luti replied. “And while I am a beast, my dear Cornelius cannot speak. The local hedgewitch in the village where I grew up said that Cornelius had a little magic in him that gave him the gift of speech. My enemy decided that it would only be fit that my best friend since childhood bear a burden on the three worst nights of each month.”
Tenpo's face was pale, and he looked like he was struggling to speak. Finally, he uttered, “It is difficult, then, being...a beast?”
Luti sighed. “It's difficult to have a problem you can't fix. Not even the Snow Faerie herself could lift this curse. But there was something that she told me that I have never forgotten – 'You might not be able to fix what's wrong, but you can control it.'
“I could either be the beast who parents told their children would come get them if they weren't good, or I could be the beast that was a welcome sight to the lost, abandoned, and frightened. What do you think I chose?”
“I think you chose the latter,” Tenpo replied with a small smile.
Luti chuckled, then put his book down on the table. “You're right about that, my friend. Now come along, we've got to get you down to the Ice Caves.”