In The Heat Of The Moment: Part One
"You want me to go where?!"
The Negg Faerie repeated herself, this time enunciating each word carefully, as if that had been the cause of my confusion. "I want you to go up to the Snowager's cavern, and give him these." The 'these' in question happened to be an assortment of neggs, packed snugly into an over-sized gift basket. As beautifully presented as it was, the only thing I could think of more dangerous than waltzing into the Snowager's Cavern with a gift was to turn up empty-handed; old Snowy was not known for his hospitality towards visitors.
"But he'll eat me!" I wailed.
"He will not." Kari shifted her weight onto the other leg and folded her arms with exasperation. "There has never been one single reported case of the Snowager having eaten anybody."
"Well, that's only because it's difficult to make a report... when you're being digested!"
She sighed heavily and closed her eyes. "Please, Zaira. I have a huge shipment of miniature capes arriving later on today and I'll probably have to stay here late as it is to get them all pinned onto these Super Neggs. You would be doing me a really big favour."
I scrunched my features into my best 'please don't make me do this' face, but there was no use delaying the inevitable. We both knew that I would end up taking the basket; that's just who I am. If ever there was a Kadoatie stuck in a tree, I'd be the one shimmying up to rescue it. Or if you ever found yourself tasked with blowing up a large quantity of balloons for a surprise birthday bash, I'd be the one sat huffing away beside you. Got a huge pile of potatoes? Consider them counted. It's just always been in my nature to go above and beyond to help wherever I'm needed. And so, with no small measure of reluctance, I saddled myself with the basket and set about giving them to the Snowager.
Now, one thing they don't warn you about in the Neopedia is just how bad the Snowager's cave smells. And it isn't just that it's smelly, although it does has a very distinct aroma to it (if that isn't doing the word 'aroma' somewhat of a disservice). What makes it so bad is the way it hangs in the air around you. Imagine what it would smell like if you took all your favourite foods, coated them with dung and then left them in a warm closet to get properly funky. Far be it from me to suggest that the Snowager eats dung, but his breath has a way of lingering in the frosty air so that stepping into it is like walking into a spyderweb of stink.
That wasn't at the forefront of my mind though as I gingerly made my way into the mouth of his cave. Readying myself to make a speedy exit should he show any signs of stirring, I practically walked in there backwards. As such it took a few seconds for it to dawn on me that there was something very wrong.
It was empty.
Not completely empty, of course; the mountains of Neopoints, potions, plushies, neggs, weaponry and such all remained untouched. But in the centre, no enormous, bendy icicle standing guard over his stash. The cavern looked even more, well, cavernous without him.
I returned to the Neggery, and it seems my confusion and concern were quite apparent in my face, for Kari took up questioning me as soon as she saw me. Either that or she had spotted that I was still in possession of the basket she had sent me off with, one of the two.
"I understand you being concerned, but really..."
"No, it isn't that, honestly. I went up to his cavern, like you said, and, well, he wasn't there."
"What do you mean, 'he wasn't there'?" One of her eyebrows took on a steep arch.
"I mean that there was a decidedly large hole where there should have been an over-grown Snowickle lounging about." I struggled to keep the sarcasm from seeping into my voice. Judging by the scowl that overtook her features it would appear I failed in this endeavour.
Without another word, she turned and whisked herself away to the deepest section of the Neggery, the portion that had come to be loosely referred to as her office. For the next several hours, many winged petpets came and went the length of the corridor, each laden with important-looking Neomails and with a hint of hurry in their collective wings. The fevered exchange drew to a sudden end with the timely appearance of Taelia, her coat still laced with frost from the journey over.
"Oh, thank goodness you're here!" Kari barely had time to greet the Snow Faerie before the pair were ensconced within the stronghold of the office. Daring to shuffle my way down the corridor, I sat hugging my knees in close to my chest whilst listening intently to their discussion from just beyond the doorway.
"I've been and scanned the depths of the creature's cavern and truly there was no sight of him."
"Yes, Zaira said as much. I just can't get my head around it; where could he have gone?"
There was a momentary silence and then Taelia began to speak in a much more clandestine tone. "I have employed the powers available to me and have been informed that he is being held against his will in the Upper Mentu Region."
"The Lost Desert?!" Even through the door I could hear the hand flying to Kari's lips in the manner she always affected when shocked. "But that's so far... and he's... the heat! He can't possibly survive down there!"
I suddenly became conscious of the fact that I was holding my breath. In that same instant there was a flurry of movement from inside the room, culminating in the door being flung wide open and with me all but tumbling into the room at the feet of the two faeries as if we were on Neovision and I was some sort of consolation prize.
"It would appear we have an eavesdropper," said Taelia, in her somewhat detached manner of speaking.
Kari flushed slightly at the cheeks and then began flapping her arms as if to shoo me off away from their serious discussion. "Zaira, go and wait at the delivery area please, that shipment of capes is due any time now and me and the Snow Faerie have matters to attend to."
"Let me help!" I gushed, somewhat too enthusiastically. I saw a faint twitch of something in Taelia's eyes; anger perhaps? But in an instant it melted into her usual glacial exterior and I located my voice to plead my case. "You said yourself you have a lot of work with that delivery later, so why don't you let me fly on down there and bring him back? That way you don't have to put yourselves out at all and the Snowager will be back home in time for his evening nap." A nervous giggle escaped my lips and followed the last sentence I'd uttered.
"Back in time for..." Taelia's brow furrowed with what was unmistakably annoyance. "Girl, do you realise the severity of this situation?" She punctuated her statement with a swift chop of her hand, the movement of which stirred the chill that seemed to linger about her person, causing the hairs at the nape of my neck to bristle.
"She doesn't mean anything by it, Taelia," Kari reached out to turn the Snow Faerie's shoulder in towards her, effectively excluding me from the conversation. "Zaira, please just run along and see to it that those capes get here on time, please. We can handle this."
And just like that I was shut out. Beyond the door I heard the Snow Faerie hiss something unbecoming and then the conversation was swallowed as they moved farther away from me. I felt wounded by the encounter; my pride stung and petulant tears threatened at the corners of my eyes. I turned and began to walk away, aiming a loosely swung kick at the basket I had failed to deliver. It would have been satisfying for some of the neggs to have spilled out onto the floor; perhaps I would have launched a much firmer kick at a few of those. But I was denied this childish pleasure. Probably for the best. Burying my hands deep into the pockets of my apron, I let out a heavy sigh and began to trudge over to where we took deliveries.
It was then that I saw it.
Glistening in the late evening sun as it cascaded down through the ice from Terror Mountain's blustery peak, its spiked rear like the icy fanned tail feathers of a Naleap in full display, the Snow Faerie's cloud racer sat silently and unassumingly. Casting a hasty glance back over my shoulder to check there was nobody to witness my departure, I seized my opportunity and leapt gracefully over to the controls. Just as well that I had logged several hours in cloud racer simulators, because the assorted levers and pedals didn't come with any labels or diagrams.
A quick flick of the wrist was all it took and I was well on my way down the path to adventure.
To be continued...