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Give and Take

by jaydeed


      High in the mountains, safe in his cave, the Snowager stirred restlessly on his bed of treasure, waking from a deep sleep. What had disturbed him? Naughty Neopians sneaking in to steal his precious items? He'd blast them! They woke him constantly, tiptoeing or flying in, snatching neggs, books, even weapons from the vast hoard he'd worked so hard to collect. Why just yesterday he'd blasted the same Bruce twice! No respect for him at all. He needed to get tougher with them. Maybe set up better defences. Icicles that fall on command, or possibly a device to hurl snowballs at any intruders. Maybe Donny could take a break from mending toys and build him something. Grumpy old so-and-so though…

     But his cave was empty. Puzzled, the giant beast took a slow breath, seeking a scent, a clue as to what had woken him. Normally he slumbered happily for hours on end, dreaming of treasure and blizzards.

     Warm. The air was warm. How could it be? He was on Terror Mountain, where eternal winter reigned, surrounded by rock and ice, a deliciously frigid home for a creature such as himself.

     Panting, he struggled to the mouth of his cave, his strength sapped by the rising temperature, drawn by an unfamiliar sound; water splashing from the tips of icicles, thawing in this, well, this inferno! There were large puddles everywhere and blades of grass sticking up through the snow. Grass? Here? How terrible!

     The Snowager lifted his massive head and howled, miserable, itching, his scales coated in sweat. What was going on? Some faerie mischief? A spell gone awry, a curse aimed at him?

     A face peeked out from behind a rock, a small green Bori eying him anxiously.

     "Hello! Don't blast me, or eat me, or –" The Bori swallowed, venturing out a little farther. "I'm Keldin. They sent me up from the village to see if you were okay. Well, at least, I drew the short straw, and they told me if I didn't come, I was banned from buying ice cream from the cart for life, so...never mind."

     "I'm not okay. Not at all." Pettish, the Snowager tried to breathe ice at the uninvited guest and failed. Instead of a mighty blast sharp with shards, all that emerged was a cloud of snowflakes that dissolved to mist. Embarrassed, he demanded, "Why is it so hot?"

     "Hot? It's not exactly—" A warning grunt had Keldin backtracking. "Torrid, sir, positively tropical. Why, we might as well be living on Mystery Island!"

     Seeing how nervous Keldin was made the Snowager feel a little better. When a monster had a reputation for being fearsome, it didn't do to show a softer side. That was how hoards got raided and caves emptied of loot. "I asked why."

     Keldin wrinkled his nose. "Something about a shift in the winds? They're going counter-clockwise when they should be going clockwise. Or is it the other way around? Queen Fyora has asked the air faeries to look into it as a matter of urgency, but it shouldn't last too much longer. A week, maybe…hey, you're looking awfully – sir? Mr Snowager?"

     Dizzy, weak with shock at the news he'd have to endure a week of this, the Snowager retreated into his cave, seeking the depths where some cooler air remained, and let the darkness take him. Hot. So hot.

     He dreamed again, but this time of volcanoes, lava slurping greedily at his tail, burning his scales, ash stinging his eyes. Or was he in the cooking pot on Mystery Island, with Jhuidah using him as a starting point for a recipe, boiling water bubbling around him as she tossed ingredient after ingredient on top of him, followed by a sprinkle of salt and a dusting of pepper?

     Somewhere lay ice fields and glaciers, a haven of cold, but he'd lost his way in the clouds of steam. Despairing, desolate, he opened his eyes, forcing his nightmares away. If his time on Neopia was drawing to an end he wanted one last glimpse of his beloved cave, his precious treasure. There was a particularly nice spot to his left where a stack of plushies made for a soft pillow…

     He woke to a blissful sensation of chilliness, a shudder passing through his long body, dispelling the last traces of warmth. Ah! Much better. Had he dreamed that heatwave and his inability to defend his hoard? Opening his eyes, he blinked, startled by why he saw.

     A line of villagers, all types of Neopians, carrying snowballs in their hands, packing them around him, then running back for more. Dozens of them, hundreds of them, smiling as they deposited their gifts, eyes shining.

     "There's still snow in the higher peaks and the shadows," Keldin told him, perched on a heap of neggs. "We're bringing as much as we can. Even ice cream from the cart, though that seems like a terrible waste of – umm. Do you feel better?"

     He'd thought them thieves, and so they were, always sneaking in, snatching and grabbing at his loot, but for now they were friends. The Snowager exhaled, gratified to see ice shards, smiling as Keldin yelped and retreated.

     "Much better," he said and nestled deeper into the snow. "Keep the snow coming!"

     They did. Every day until the cold winds brought a welcome flurry of clean white flakes, feathery soft, they came with snow scraped off the mountain, and saved him from melting.

     But what the Snowager never forgot was the day after the blizzard.

     He'd expected a quiet day, or, most likely, a return to robbing, but the villagers surprised him again. He woke to whispers and giggles, excited scurryings and rustles.

     Hmm. They were usually quieter than this. For the sake of the last week, he'd decided to be gentle with the first few thieves, a warning blast, aimed slightly to the left, perhaps, instead of a precisely aimed one, designed to freeze an intruder in their tracks. Curious, he opened one eye, peeking at them.

     Oh. Oh! A Woodland Eyrie, wings majestic, sharp beak glittering with frost, held a negg, giving it a wistful glance before placing it on a stone. It had been a few inches to the left before it was taken, but the Snowager didn't mind. Tidying his hoard was one of his favourite ways to occupy his time. After blasting, that was.

     And there! And there! Scores of villagers holding items he'd never thought to see again. Books he'd never been able to finish, candy he'd looked forward to eating, puzzles, weapons, toys…

     He rose up, tall, majestic, his head brushing the roof of the cave and growled, halting them in their tracks. A White Aisha turned even paler, dropping her Ice Blasted Hissi Plushie.

     "Ahem! I see what you're doing and I'm more than grateful. But fair is fair. I acquitted my hoard through sneakiness and theft and if you're brave enough to steal it from me, you deserve to keep it."

     A few nods of agreement. The Snowager smiled at the villagers, prompting a rush for the exit. Odd. He'd made it a really wide smile too.

     A few brave Neopians remained and one spoke up. "You mean we can keep it all? And keep coming to st – uh, visit you?"

     The Snowager pictured it. Day after day of splendid, peaceful isolation. His hoard growing, safe from grabby paws.

     It sounded terribly boring. Decision made, he settled into his favourite position for blasting, his coils loose, his tail flickering, and said ominously, "Take what you can, because in three seconds, I blast! One, two—"

     When the cloud of ice particles melted away, he was alone.

     It didn't matter. They'd be back.

     Thank goodness.

      The End.

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