Still thwarting Sloth's mind control... Circulation: 130,067,293 Issue: 259 | 29th day of Gathering, Y8
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Beauty of the Snow: Part Three

by extreme_fj0rd


"Will this work for you?"

      The Aisha nodded, reaching down to smooth the blankets spread across the couch with one paw. "Yes," she said quietly, staring down at the white expanse.

      "Good," Inga said, frowning at the other. She had interrogated the Aisha for a good half hour before finally giving up on finding out where she lived, and a faint thought still lurked in the back of her mind that an owner and siblings, somewhere, were worrying over when the Aisha would come home. The Techo banished that thought after a moment, guessing that if the other was this silent at home as well, they would hardly notice her absence. Anyway, she was nearly as old as Inga herself, to judge by appearances, and could doubtless take care of herself.

      With a sigh, the Techo turned away. "Have a good night's sleep, then." She padded out of the room, flicking the lights off as she went, and progressed down the hallway.

      The Aisha gave her a solemn nod that Inga didn't see, and slid beneath the blankets, staring out across the living room at the still uncurtained window. Snow still fell past the glass, but more slowly now; each flake drifted lazily, borne on a current of air to the ground. After a moment, the light went out in Inga's bedroom, and the apartment was still and dark and silent.

      She remained lying there for a while, just watching the snow tumble past, and felt oddly removed from it all. Were she still in her wilderness, free and with no boots, she would be touching the snow, stepping in it, dancing in it. But here--here she was trapped.

      The Aisha slowly slid out from beneath her sheets, stood facing the window in the pale moonlight that streamed in between the snowflakes. She looked pale and vulnerable in this light, weak and small, with no air of mystery or elegance whatsoever. Her eyes were wide, flitting from one point to another quickly, almost nervously.

      The carpet was arctic, a stretch of off-white nubbles covering the floor; it looked almost like home. The Aisha bent her head to study it, and slowly slid one paw out of the boot, which was really too large for her foot.

      She took a delicate step onto the carpet; a shudder ran through her body as paw touched alien substance. It was not snow, however much it might look like it.

      But the metal locks, the concrete of the sidewalks, the metal catches on the windows, kept her from her snow. If she still could not bear to touch these, then how could she return to the first snowfall and dance amidst the falling flakes?

      She kept her foot steady on the carpet and slid the other out of her other boot, balancing for a moment entirely on the floor. Her other paw touched the carpet quickly, as she staggered a little. In contact with this stuff that looked like snow but betrayed her like the paths laid through her usual abode, all her grace had deserted her, and she just barely saved herself from falling.

      Still, it was not so bad after a moment, the Aisha told herself, and though her sense and all her knowledge told her that this was not so, her paws told her it was. She trusted them, took a cautious step forward, and tripped over her own feet.

      The Aisha just missed the glass coffee table, and hit the carpet hard. She rolled over, coughing a little; the fall had knocked all the air out of her lungs. But something good had come of it, too: she felt no pain, no adversion to lying there on the floor, all her skin in contact with the carpet.

      She slowly got up, winced as the soles of her feet touched the carpet. She still felt some small irritation, almost an itch, as she stepped and stepped again, circling the table cautiously with one paw always out to catch herself should she fall; but it was not debilitating enough to stop her.

      The Aisha continued, striding with growing confidence around first just one of the couches, then the set of furniture in the center of the living room, and finally circling the large room itself. After a moment of hesitation, she even entered the kitchen, and stepped carefully onto one of the tiles. She was not certain, even after her experiment with the carpet, whether or not the tiles would be familiar to her.

      They were; she danced across them merrily, some of her old elegance and grace returning to her as she lightly stepped and stepped again, almost skipping in her joy. She could return to her woods this very moment, if she wished--

      But the snow was stopping now, she saw as she circled back around into the living room, and the apartment's warmth had burrowed its way through her coat of fur and into her skin, her being. She stood on the carpet and looked towards the window, and thought it a little strange that she did not feel any tug, any attachment, to the few snowflakes still drifting past the glass. But then, perhaps it was simply the warmth.

      Telling herself that she could return to her woodlands on the next day, the Aisha slid between her blankets and, pulling them tightly around her chin, lay on the couch facing the window. She found no solace in the snow, however, and soon turned to put her nose to the back of the couch.

      She fell asleep quickly then, and did not dream.

      Inga stumbled into the living room the next morning, rubbing her eyes blearily with her paws, and stopped at the sight of the Aisha slumbering peacefully on the couch. A paw or so dangled out from underneath the blankets, and the boots were lined up precisely next to the sofa's edge.

      The Techo shook her head and looked again. The other had been so opposed to the idea of taking her boots off, and had been so obviously uncomfortable inside, that Inga had not really expected the Aisha to take her boots off or even sleep.

      But, apparently, she had.

      With a shrug, Inga trod back into the kitchen. By the time she came back out with a tray of toast dusted with cinnamon and sugar, and two tall glasses of orange juice, the Aisha was sitting up and yawning.

      "Morning," the Techo said merrily, having nearly gotten over her surprise by this point. She set the tray down on the top of the coffee table and sat on the other couch. Plucking a piece of toast from the plate, she inserted it delicately into her mouth and took a bite.

      "Want some?" she asked, her voice muffled by the food, but her paw, pointing to the toast, made her meaning clear. The Aisha studied Inga, then nodded and slowly slid another piece off the pile. She inspected the toast carefully, and then nibbled on the corner. Her eyes opening wide in surprise and delight, she looked back up at the Techo.

      "Good?" Inga asked, grinning.

      The Aisha nodded, swallowed her small bite of toast. "Good," she assented, and hungrily took a larger chunk off the side. She transferred the piece from paw to paw, licking the free one each time to let the remnants of cinnamon and sugar melt on her tongue.

      Inga smiled at the other's evident love for the sweet substance and took another bite of her own toast, chewing it slowly. She swallowed, and set the piece down on the side of the tray. The early morning sunlight shone directly into her eyes. Rising, she moved to the window and pulled the drapes across it.

      To her slight surprise, when she turned back, the Aisha was peaceably brushing cinnamon-sugar off her piece of toast.

      The Techo crossed back to the couch and took up her toast again. "So," she said, and paused. "What's your name, anyway?"

      "Name..." The Aisha hesitated. "You are... Inga?"

      Inga nodded, a faint smile playing about her lips, but it quickly disappeared as she realized--for what was the first time--that the Aisha truly wasn't playing with her. She did not have a name, a home, anything.

      "Yes," the Techo said after a moment. "I am Inga," she said, pressing one paw to her heart. "Who are you?" she asked, spacing the words deliberately.

      "I am..." The Aisha paused, smiled: a beautiful smile. "Snow," she said, and her eyes strayed for the first time to the curtains that covered the window.

      "It's not snowing now," Inga said, taking a glance towards the drapes herself. "I... is that your name?" she asked incredulously, her gaze sliding back to the Aisha.

      "No name. I am snow," the Aisha said, with an earnest look.

      "Okay," the Techo said, drawing the word out. "I... okay. You need a name," she said, more to herself than to the Aisha; nevertheless, the other nodded dutifully. "Let's see."

      Her first thought was simply to call her Snow, or some variant of that--perhaps in the strange tongue the dwellers of Terror Mountain spoke to each other, or the quick, lithe language of the Lost Desert citizens. She discarded that idea quickly, however, and frowned, running through all the names she had ever known.

      "Ah--Ruby?" she asked, frowning at the Aisha. "No," she said quickly, shaking her head a little. She chewed thoughtfully on a piece of toast. "How's Lia for you?"

      The Aisha thought for a moment, and then gave her host a quick, graceful nod. "Lia Snow," she said.

      "That's not--" Inga paused, and nodded. "Lia Snow," she said in agreement. After all, many pets took their owner's name as their last name; this was hardly any more strange.

      "Lia Snow," the Aisha repeated, and smiled. Inga couldn't help smiling back.

      "Exactly." She brushed a bit of cinnamon and sugar off the edge of her most recent piece of toast. "Do you want to come with me to the choir rehearsal today?"

      She asked it conversationally, almost forgetting that Lia was not one of her other friends.

      The Aisha's shocked gasp made Inga look up. "I..."

      The Techo paused. "Sorry," she said. "Don't you sing?"

      "No," Lia said quickly, "no." Her gaze strayed to the curtained window.

      "Ah. Well, that's all right, you can just come and listen. Or you could stay in here," Inga added, "or go out and explore Neopia Central."

      "That is... the city?"

      The Techo nodded. "All around us, here."

      "Ah." Lia appeared to be considering. "I will come," she said after a moment, "and watch you sing."

To be continued...

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Other Episodes

» Beauty of the Snow: Part One
» Beauty of the Snow: Part Two
» Beauty of the Snow: Part Four
» Beauty of the Snow: Part Five

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