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The Price of Ambition


by golden1188

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Before their final task, Annie still had to collect snow from the top of Terror Mountain. Her partner in that journey would be Izzrin, and Annie could tell from the get-go that she wasn’t enthusiastic about the trip. The two of them stood at the bottom of Happy Valley, decked out in winter gear. Izzrin was covered up head to toe in a pink, fluffy snowsuit. Annie thought she looked like a marshmallow, and it made her laugh.

     “Hey! Quit laughing at me! I’m already cold,” the Gelert complained, pulling the strings around her hood tighter.

     “We’re not even at the Ice Caves yet! You have no right to complain,” Annie said. She was wearing a comfortable jacket that someone from the fashion show sent her as a gift for participating. It was both warm and stylish, which were words she never expected to use for mutant clothing.

     They stood at the edge of Happy Valley, about to go into the Ice Caves, until a camouflage Jetsam came out and stopped them. “The two of you weren’t planning on going up through the Ice Caves without proper shoes, were ya?”

     Izzrin and Annie looked at each other awkwardly. “Uh, no. We were just uh, looking at them. They’re really pretty,” Izzrin said, trying to sound confident, but completely failing.

     “Thought so. Well, lucky for you, I’ve got a few extra pairs. Trueva’s over getting us some hot chocolate, so I can help the two of you out in the meantime. C’mon, follow me.” He gestured for them to follow, and they did, but not before Annie almost tripped at something running around her feet.

     “What is that thing?” She asked, pointing at the one-eyed hexapod creature happily hopping along.

     “Varne. Don’t mind her. She won’t do much other than run around you.”

     Annie and Izzrin followed the Jetsam over to the gift shop, where an alien Aisha was sitting outside and sipping hot chocolate. “Oh, y-you brought more people?”

     “This is Trueva. She’s got my back. I would advise not bugging her too much,” the Jetsam said, pointing her out. “And I’m Vijuskae, sorry for not introducing myself earlier. Nice to meet you.”

     “I’m Annie, this is Izzrin,” Annie said, gesturing to her neighbor, who was already trying to shake snow off of herself. “Uh, don’t mind her. In fact, feel free to ignore her entirely.”

     “Will do,” Trueva said, turning away from the two.

     “Alright, ice shoes. We picked some up before we came to make sure unprepared Neopians didn’t go in without ‘em. Trust me, if they don’t wear them, we just see them sliding down on their bellies five minutes later.” Vijuskae went over to his bag and dug through it. “Gelerts are easy, this pair should be fine. But I don’t know what’s gonna fit your uh, hooves?”

     Annie’s ears dropped. “Yeah. Whatever they are. Whatever you have is fine.”

     Vijuskae pulled the two pairs of shoes out of his bag and handed them over to the pair. “You two stay safe out there, now. It’s wicked cold. You don’t wanna get frostbite. Come back down here if you run into any trouble. And stay away from the Snowager.”

     “Will do,” Annie said. She put on her snowshoes, then looked over at Izzrin. She was hopping around, awkwardly trying to get the shoes on and whining. Annie sighed and walked over. “Can you not do anything yourself?”

     “I would’ve gotten it! It only would’ve taken another minute!” Izzrin protested as Annie helped her get the shoes on.

     “Sure. And Terror Mountain will melt. Come on, I don’t wanna waste any more time,” Annie said, turning and heading into the Ice Caves without a second thought.

     True to the name, the Ice Caves were icy from the ground up. Even the buildings seemed to be made of ice somehow. In school, Annie had learned that the Snow Faerie gave protection to the caves to make sure everything held up, but it baffled her all the same. A Blumaroo and a Skeith ran around, throwing snowballs at each other and giggling with glee. When she looked at their feet, she found that both of them were wearing the same special snowshoes she was.

     “Ugh, it’s so cold in here,” Izzrin said, cutting through Annie’s train of thought. Her breath puffed out in front of her, and she groaned. “This sucks. I wanna go home and sit in front of the fire.”

     “Can you cut it out?” Annie raised her voice a bit, and she could feel the ice under her feet vibrate slightly. “Look, there’s that Chia Pop place up at the top of the mountain, right? I’ll buy you something from there if you don’t complain anymore.”

     Izzrin hummed as if she was thinking about it, but finally nodded. “You got a deal!”

     Hoping that would be the end of it, Annie turned her attention to the ice paths that laid before them. “How do you think we get up?”

     “Very carefully.”

     Annie was about to yell at Izzrin for making a snarky reply, but then she realized that that was probably the best way to go. “I guess you’re right. We just have to take it one step at a time.”

     They started to take slow, but steady, steps up the path. At first, Annie was afraid that she would fall flat on her face at any moment. But after they got up past the Ice Crystal Shop, she became more sure of her footing, and could walk without having to take thirty seconds between each step.

     “How are you feeling, Izzrin?” She asked, looking over to Gelert.

     “It’s not bad once you get used to it, I guess.” Izzrin’s legs were shaking, but she was beginning to catch up to Annie’s pace. They were reaching a point that outside of the caves, Annie would’ve called a nice stroll. But even while feeling safe, she was still a little nervous with every step.

     “It seems a little far to the top, but I guess we’ve got no choice but to push,” Annie said as they trudged on. “At least the path is clear.”

     Izzrin began to excitedly chatter away. “You know, this is just like that one year it was really cold in Neopia Central! Do you remember that? It was snowing like, every day in the month of Sleeping! I tried to go skiing with one of my friends, but there was the biggest flurry and we couldn’t even see! So we ended up staying in the Ski Lounge and drinking hot chocolate. I got marshmallows, but she didn’t and -”

     “Can you please stop? Seriously, you don’t have to comment on every single thing we do or see,” Annie snapped. She could see a Ruki turn their head to glare at her, and her shoulders drooped. “Look, I get it. You wanna talk. But I just wanna get this over with.”

     “It doesn’t mean we can’t talk along the way,” Izzrin said defensively. “In fact, I think it might go by a little faster if we talk and stuff. I just wanna be your friend.”

     She was making a good point, but it frustrated Annie. How could the Gelert be treating this like a fun little vacation when the rest of Annie’s life would depend on this? How she acted and how she would be treated would be impacted by whether she was mutant or not. “But this isn’t fun! It’s important!”

     “Why can’t it be both fun and important?” Izzrin asked.

     That response felt like a wake-up slap. She never expected Izzrin to make such a good point, but she had just said the most profound thing Annie had heard her say the whole time. She hadn’t gotten to fully appreciate Faerieland or the Altador fashion show because she was so dead set on getting everything done as quickly as possible. And now, she was finally realising that she could take some time to stop and smell the roses. “Oh.” That was all Annie could say in response.

     “So why don’t we keep going through here, pick up your snow, and then do something fun before we go? We could play Snow Roller or something,” Izzrin suggested with a wide, genuine smile.

     Annie nodded, beginning to warm up to the idea. “Yeah. Sure. We can do that.”

     The two finished their walk through the Ice Caves, idly chatting in a way that made Annie feel a lot better about the situation. They talked about books, games, fashion, and more. She felt like she was finally getting to know Izzrin on a better level, and it helped her realise that she wasn’t unintelligent - just a little ditzy.

     When they made it to the top, Annie let out a long, relieved sigh that hung in the air in front of her. The Ice Caves felt a little oppressive around her, so being out in the open felt a lot better. There were plenty of Neopians frolicking around, throwing snow at each other or trying to stay warm. She could see the Snow Faerie’s fortress, the Shop of Mystery, and the places where all the different Terror Mountain games were played.

     “Wow, it sure is pretty up here,” Izzrin said, looking around as well. “Where do you need to get the snow from? Can it just be like, on the ground here? Or does it have to be further up?”

     Although their location was considered to be the top of the mountain there were still other peaks that were even higher than that. “I’m guessing Edna meant even further up than here. But it looks pretty dangerous,” Annie replied.

      “Do you see anyone up there or anything? I think I see a Petpet standing up there somewhere and a…” Izzrin trailed off, then spoke again, sounding confused. “Do you see that?”

      “See what?” Annie asked. She craned her neck and tilted her head a few times to try and look, but she couldn’t see whatever Izzrin was referring to.

      “Right there! The Grundo! Look!” Izzrin’s paw pointed up at one of the peaks, and finally Annie could see what she was referring to. A Mallow Grundo was bouncing around, seeming to pay no mind to the dangerous terrain.

      Without thinking, Annie rushed up to just below that particular peak. Although she was worried that yelling at the Grundo would cause them to slip, they seemed to be doing just fine on their own. “Hey! You! Up there!”

      The Grundo stopped bouncing and looked down. No yelling back, no coming down. Just staring at Annie. As she stared back at the Grundo, there was a flicker of recognition in her mind. A Mallow Grundo? She didn’t see many of those. The first one that she could think of was…

      “Ipv?!” Annie called out. When the Grundo nodded back. Annie groaned. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

      “Huh? Who’s Ipv?” Izzrin asked, craning her neck to try and get a better look at the Grundo.

      “This weird kid from my school. I don’t know what his deal is, but he always seems to be doing something strange. I think I’ve seen him eat glue before,” Annie replied. Before she could say anything else, Ipv started to bounce down the mountain. “Oh god, why him? Of all the people that could be up there!”

      After hopping down, Ipv landed right in front of Annie and Izzrin. “Hi Anerada,” he said, his voice nasal and phlegmy.

      “What in the world are you doing up there? Aren’t you worried about falling?” Izzrin asked.

      “No, actually,” the Grundo replied. “I’ve learned a special technique to keep myself from falling. It probably wouldn’t work as well on someone who has arms and legs.”

      Izzrin was silent for a moment, then looked at Annie. “Speaking of which, you said he goes to school, right? How does he like, write and stuff? Can he hold a pencil?”

      But Annie ignored Izzrin’s question. The gears were beginning to turn in her head. “Hey, since you know how to get up there, you could actually help me with something really important.” She pulled a small insulated container from her bag and held it out to him. “I need some snow from the top of Terror Mountain. Would you be able to get some for me?”

      “Hmm…” Ipv wiggled as he considered it. “What’s in it for me?”

      “Uh…” Annie looked around, wondering what she could do for him in return. “I’ll buy you something from the Super Happy Icy Fun shop?”

      Ipv nodded, not even taking a second to think more about it. “You’ve got yourself a deal. Hand over your container.”

      Annie held the container out and Izzrin watched in awe as it seemed to hover in his orbit. It was like it was floating in air, but staying close to him as if it was drawn in by personal gravity. The Grundo bounced away from them, hopping back and forth in a zig-zag pattern as he went up the mountain.

      “I don’t know what I was expecting, but that sure wasn’t it,” Izzrin said, unable to take her eyes off of Ipv.

      “Yeah, it’s weird, but you get used to it,” Annie replied.

      When Ipv got to the highest point he could possibly go, the two pets at the bottom could just barely see him scraping snow into the container before bouncing back down the mountain the same way he came. Finally, he came to a stop in front of them and handed the container out to Annie. “There you go. Is that enough snow?”

      Annie checked inside before nodding. “Yeah, I think that’ll be perfect. Thank you so much, I really appreciate it. Ready to get some food now?” She asked as she slid the container back into her bag. When Ipv nodded, the three pets set off towards the Super Happy Icy Fun Snow Shop.

      When they entered, the yellow Lenny at the register practically squeaked in a greeting. “Welcome to the Super Happy Icy Fun Snow Shop! Are you feeling super, happy, and fun today?”

      “Uh, yeah, sure,” Annie replied, her ears twitching. She turned to Izzrin and Ipv, gesturing to the display case. “Let me know what you guys want. It’s on me.”

      Izzrin pointed at a Snowberry Chia Pop. “Can I get one of those?”

      Ipv seemed to have a completely different idea. “Do you have an Invisible Brucicle?” He asked the shopkeeper, who nodded at a pace so fast, Annie was surprised he didn’t knock his brains around like that.

      “And uh, I’ll get a Lemon Snow Puff, please,” Annie said. After paying for their items, she distributed them amongst the group, and they left the store.

      “Well, this is where we part ways,” Ipv said as soon as they were outside. Annie found it strange to see him holding the Invisible Brucicle, seeing that he didn’t have any hands, and all that could be seen was the stick. “Good luck to you two. I have to keep practising my footwork.” And with that, he hopped away.

      The two girls watched him go, and Annie couldn’t help the giggle that bubbled forth. “Well, that sure was a surprise. Can’t say I would’ve ever seen that coming from him.”

      “I know, right? I thought it was gonna be way harder than that. And he didn’t even ask about you being mutant or anything.” Izzrin paused after speaking, looking at Annie with a small smile. “But I’m glad we came. It wasn’t so bad, right? And we got some good bonding time in!”

      Although Annie still thought Izzrin was weird, she was surprised to find herself warming up to her a bit. A smile spread across her face, matching the Gelert’s. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. Thank you for coming with me. I really owe everyone that’s helped me out, big time.”

      “Well, if I wasn’t here, I’d be sitting at home watching Neopia’s Next Top Model. So it’s probably better that I’m out here doing stuff.”

      Annie nodded slowly, taking it in. She was making a positive difference in someone’s life, even if she was asking a lot of them. It was a strange feeling to sit with, but it left her with a small warmth in her chest. “Well, let’s get out of here. I want to go home and take a hot bath.”

     To be continued…

 
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