It was cold outside, below freezing. The first delicate
snowflake drifted down outside, settling on an already thick layer of snow, blending
seamlessly into it. Another followed it, its beautiful individual intricacy lost
to the white, and more snowflakes following, drifting gently downwards to their
fates. Each unique piece of craftsmanship and design disappeared as it touched
the rolling mass below it, gone forever. He wanted to save one, to catch it on
his paw and place it in a glass jar, its beauty never fading, crystalline perfection
whole for always, like the snowflake decorations on the Christmas trees. But as
he stretched out to catch one, it too died as it touched his paw, its design dissolving
into an icy patch of water on his fur. He stared regretfully at the snowflake's
little death, before drawing his paw back in once more, looking out over the resting
place of so many of its companions.
An endless blanket of white stretched before
him, the features of the mountains lost beneath it. The landscape slept, resting
underneath its undisturbed white blanket, content to slumber a little under
its icy coverlet. He had not that luxury. The plants, the trees, could fold
in their leaves and give up, surrender themselves to the cold frost, to wither
and die, in the knowledge that they were unimportant, that a new seed would
grow, a new tree would come, and the world would move on. How he envied them
in that way. He could not afford to give up, though why was not a question he
could answer. He was driven by a sense of his own importance, his individuality,
his quest for survival of his self. Self preservation, nothing more. It seemed
so futile to keep struggling, hope against hope, but somehow he felt he must.
He stirred the snow just outside the cave where
he'd taken shelter. Strange how, once the body cooled this much, how feeling
was cauterised. He was numb, inside and out, and the snow barely felt cold at
all. It was soft and powdery, a fine handful that blew away as he picked it
up. The biting wind snatched the snow out of his paw as soon as he picked it
up, but it was relaxing somehow, to watch those small particles whisk away on
the air current, free. Even as the wind went straight through his fur, freezing
his flesh, it seemed to get pleasanter. His body had no energy left to even
shiver, and he felt his mind slip away, watching his paw slacken through a haze,
the snow whisk away. How comforting it would be to lie down, his mind whispered
through the fog, to let it all go, to sleep…
No! Never give up!
Slowly, painfully, he crawled back into the cave,
for the meagre warmth it gave. He heard once about what to do in this situations
- to build a shelter of snow, to block out the fierce wind from the cave entrance,
to keep the air inside warm. But worse than his fear of freezing to death is
his fear of being buried alive. To pile up that cold snow, to block out the
world outside - that was intolerable. It was Christmas, and pets were all over
celebrating another happy year in warm houses, with hot meals and roaring fires.
He wanted to remember that, to not lose his one precious link with the real
But a violent shiver wracked his body, disturbing
his thoughts. He moved pitifully in order to try and generate some heat. Snowflakes
outside were dancing more vigorously now, stirring up into a thick white tornado.
He watched them swirl and spin, thousands lost in a single second. Stray gusts
blew in, scattering little flakes on the stone floor, sending chills up and
down his spine. He huddled his knees to his chest, searching for warmth and
his remembered self.
"Stay there, Kiara."
Through numbed lips, he was amazed he'd managed
to even form the words properly. His eyelashes, rimmed with frost, flicked open,
his head tilting back to gaze at the figure of his sister huddled in the back
of the cave. She was swathed in their one blanket, sitting royally upright,
her eyes full of fear.
"Dannan, you're cold. Come here and take a turn
with the blanket for a while."
Self preservation, self survival, selfish snowflakes…all
that had gone for him, because he had his sister. He wouldn't give up, because
of her. He wouldn't lie down, because of her. His own importance had paled,
for her. When he gave himself over to selfish delusions, it was separated from
her. He would keep her alive. He remembered why he did not give up.
She was so beautiful, like a snowflake, in danger
of melting away. A faint reddish tinge was on her white fur, her delicate paws
folded around the blanket. She was watching him with concern on her young face,
her piercingly blue eyes watering with cold, or perhaps with unshed tears.
She was using his childhood name now, the one
she used when they'd played together so long ago. But she was still so young,
he thought. Why did he take this beautiful, fragile thing up the mountain on
so harsh a day? It had been an adventure, it had been business, until the snow
set in, and the first of many blizzards started. Their pass was blocked, and
they'd taken shelter. He'd only wanted to give her a better life, to give her
what she deserved.
He'd thought of a beautiful Christmas present
only a few days ago - a thick coat, made of Baabaa wool, like he'd seen on the
rich pets in Neopia. It would keep her so warm, so perfect. He'd wanted to buy
it, but there was only one way - to brave the treacherous mountain weather,
to collect the mountain's precious bounty, to trade it to buy her the gift.
Outside, the snowflakes spun themselves into
a frenzy. The mountain's treasures were long hidden. A light dusting of snow
coated his fur.
"Please, come further in."
He acquiesced, shifting himself into the furthest
bit of the cave, where she sat. There wasn't quite enough room for two, so Dannan
wedged himself in front of her, protecting her from the snowstorm outside.
"You're so cold! Like an icicle," Kiara said
Now that he was gently pressed against her warmth,
he realised how frozen he was. His fur on his back was thawing out, the icy
coating turning into tiny rivulets of water that trickled down his back. He
shivered again, wondering how long it would be before he would become too cold
to live. It felt like he'd passed that point ages ago, unable to feel his paws
anymore, but still his lungs kept on drawing in the icy air, his body refusing
to shut down, survival imprinted too deep within him.
His sister shivered, and he felt guilty for drawing
warmth out of her body for his own selfish needs. He shifted away, but she murmured.
He looked up into those beautiful blue eyes.
"You're cold," he whispered.
"You're more cold."
"Have the drink. I saved it for you."
"No…you take it. You're worse off."
He was too numb to press the point, but he refused
to take the drink, and they lay there together in silence a while longer. Yet,
Dannan was eventually forced to pile up the snow at the front of the entrance,
in a desperate bid to keep them warm. As he blocked up the entrance, leaving
a small hole for air, he reflected on their chances of rescue. Pretty poor now,
it seemed. He shivered as he heard the snowflakes roar outside, gusting harder
and harder. He crawled to the back of the cave, curled up, and lay his head
on his sister's lap, trying to give her strength and reassurance. He tried to
count the passing minutes, but the numbers jumbled in his head. He found the
watch in his pack, a gift from better times, but the hours seemed to blur together
as he watched the little hands tick round the face. He was fighting to stay
awake, to keep blood pumping through his veins, to keep himself warm. It was
a losing battle….
He woke up and cursed. He'd fallen asleep, he
realised, only to wake up as the wall at the front of the cave crumbled slightly
and a super cold blast of air hit him. He stumbled, limbs numb with cold, laboriously
piling the snow back up, barely able to lift his paws at all. His sister, now
also awake, watched him with worried eyes.
"Dan-dan…I'm cold now. Very cold," she whispered.
She was shivering, her jaw chattering, her paws
"Take the drink."
It was in a hip flask off to one side, the warm
liquid inside it the last of their supplies.
"It's yours, Dan-dan."
"Well, I'm giving it to you."
He pushed forward resolutely, taking the flask
reverently in his paws and presenting it to her. He slumped back onto the floor
then, ignoring her, picking his watch back up from where it had fallen while
he slept. She clasped it in her paws, but did not drink.
"How long, Dan-dan?"
"How long till what?"
But he knew what she was trying to say.
"How long till we're rescued?" she asked again.
Blizzards up here last days. We're the only
pets or people for miles around. It takes three weeks to walk down the mountain
the usual way, as our pass will be totally blocked. We're the only ones who
know we're here. The answer to your question, sweet Kiara, is never.
"Not long," he whispered.
"I don't want to go like this," she whispered,
fear showing through her voice. "I don't want to die of cold."
"You won't!" he said fiercely, but he couldn't
convince himself that.
He turned his back to her, resting against her,
rooting in his pack.
Digging around in his pack, he finally found
what he had come to the mountain for: his treasure. The sweetest, juiciest of
red berries, like drops of blood on their stems, plump with ripeness. Tender,
moist…deadly. The juice that dripped from them would poison someone, painlessly
and with no obvious signs, in seconds. But they only worked in large amounts.
They fetched a high price on the plains below - he'd gathered enough to poison
only one pet, but it would be several months' living for him and his sister.
He would have come up to fetch more and more, to provide for him and his sister
for years to come - perhaps enough to move to Neopia Central, and realise her
dream of becoming a singer, free from poverty's grind. Certainly enough to buy
her a warm coat, so that he might never watch her slender frame shake with cold
"Sing to me," he whispered.
As her dear, sweet voice rose in beautiful song,
he slipped the flask from her paws gently (unopened) and twisted off the cap.
A blast of steam warmed his face, but he worked too quickly to savour it. A
final choice had been decided, consolidated in his mind. It was the only last
thing he could do. He took the berries in one paw - they were enough for one,
no more, to give quick, painless, eternal sleep.
Squeezing the berries' precious, clear juice
into the creamy hot chocolate, he let a tear slip into its milky depths too.
It blended into the smooth brown, like the snowflakes into the snow. He held
it, cupped in his paws, as his sister, eyes closed, escalated her voice into
the realms of the skies. He listened intently, as she sung of snow and stars
and love. It was beautiful, the tune carried by one pure voice. She held the
final note, perfect and unwavering in the still air, then opened her ice blue
eyes once more.
He felt another tear fall from his eye as he
handed her the flask.
"A reward for your pretty singing. A present.
Happy Christmas, Kiara."
His voice disguised his bitterness at this cruel
twist of fate.
"Drink it…all of it."
She tried to protest, but he stomped over to
the entrance, listening to the blizzard whistle outside, the snowflakes hissing,
trying to steel himself for what he knew would come.
"Kiara, just drink it! Please!"
Something in his voice got to her. She took a
sip, her eyes full of pain, until it deepened into a proper gulp. She trusted
him implicitly, and he was betraying her. She would never know, never realise.
She would just slip away…
He watched as his sister drank the flask steadily,
its warm, smooth liquid slipping down her throat like honeyed kisses. The bottom
was reached all too soon - she'd meant to save some for her brother, to share
its heat, but all actions felt too heavy now, and thoughts too much. She tried
to offer him the flask, but her muscles had gone weak.
"I love you," she said, her head falling onto
her chest, the empty flask rolling away from her paws, coming to rest at Dannan's
Dannan was done, his purpose over, his self
gone, flown with his sister's.
He picked up the empty flask, and clasped it
to his chest as he pawed his way through the snowy wall, and out into the howling
blizzard. As the snowflakes eddied around him, gusts wrapping around his body,
he smiled, and the tears froze on his cheek. The cold whipped all last warmth
from him, cauterising all emotion and feeling, till everything was gone so,
Finally, he could lie down, and surrender, and
give up his self into sweet, dreamless sleep.
The snow settled over him like a blanket, folding
around him like a mother would her child, as the cold reclaimed him and found
its path all the way to his heart.
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|Darkness Binding 3: Part Three|
Darkness was in every direction, and to Cray's black eyes, there were others swimming
around in the void. Long serpents without defining features, yet seemed unique
in their own way.