Friday, March 27, 2020
I really don't like snow.
The wind gusts were not as bad as they had been, but the snow still fell hard between each rush of cold and ice. I walked straight into the wind, of course. Oh, I might have taken another way, but the sleigh had been heading into the wind, which meant that was the direction to Lord Ice's realm. I didn't know if there was anything in any other direction.
Then I saw something hopeful. A snow drift had grown almost as tall as me -- but right through the middle of it was a cut.
"That's where the sleigh went through," I said, my voice too loud. Edmond looked where I pointed and then ducked his head back into the jacket. "We can't be too far behind. I can still see the marks."
"Yay," Edmond mumbled. He did not sound impressed or happy. He was also shivering again, so I tried to up a bit of warmth, even though I knew that using so much magic was going to deplete me.
If we didn't stay warm, no amount of hoarded magic was going to help. My father had told me something like that just a couple days ago. I didn't know very much about magic, really, but I thought if I could just keep us warm long enough to reach somewhere --
The ground began to tremble. Not, not the ground -- the snow on which I had been walking, hoping it would not give way. I could not imagine what might be beneath us. If we were lucky, it would be more ice caves. If not, we might sink a long, long way into the white --
Thump. Thump. Thump.
The snow around us began to billow upward, and for a moment, I was sure we were dropping into the ground. I held tighter to Edmond and then thought I ought to throw him out --
My feet, I could see, had not dropped into the snow.
Thump, thump, thump.
The wind came harder, and while the ground still trembled, the thumping noise came from the air --
And then something appeared.
I'd only met Lord Ice once. The vast, silver-white dragon flew over us, blocking out everything for a moment. I started to call out, thinking he'd missed us, but he swept back around --
"I think I'm happy to see him," Edmond said and then buried his head farther into my jacket.
I knew what he meant. Dragons are huge and scary, even if you are on the same side. The dragon moved overhead, a wide enough circle that I could only see bits of his wings and the tip of his long tail, but not both at once.
Then with a single swish of his wings, he swept over us and went down, sending a massive billow of snow up and shaking the snow so much I feared we were still going to get buried and lost.
I shook off the snow -- and found myself staring into the bright blue eye of a dragon so large that I had to turn my head to see the other eye. His head rested on the snow, and he stared at me as though he was trying to figure out just exactly what he'd found.
"Hey," Maggie said. "Up here."
I forced myself to look upward. Maggie sat on the dragon's neck and leaned down, offering her hand. I stared at it.
"Come on, Mark. The others are going to be worried if we don't get back soon. Good that you already found Edmond. Mark?"
I had been staring at her because my brain had shut down for a moment. Just too many things going on, I realized. I needed a break. I also needed out of the snow. It was awkward climbing up the side of the dragon, but soon enough, I sat behind Maggie and wrapped one arm around her, just to make sure she was real. The metal wings on her back fluttered a little. I wrapped the other around Edmond to make sure we didn't lose him.
"You made it to safety," I finally managed to say.
"Yeah. We weren't far from the border," Maggie said and sounded calm. "You two okay?"
"Didn't think anyone would come back looking for us," I admitted. "I wasn't sure how far --"
And then the dragon took off, and I lost all sense of what I was about to say. Lord Ice had no trouble taking off and circling back the way we had been heading.
We went up, the wings moving in long slow strokes that, along with a rush of magic, lifted us into the sky. Something as massive as a dragon didn't just fly, but between the two forces, we were leaving the snow-covered land behind.
We flew upward into the snow-laden cloud and reached a world where even the idea of a solid surface disappeared. Edmond's head popped out of his jacket. He looked around, his ears back.
"I am starting to think cats weren't meant to fly," he admitted. Then he disappeared back into my jacket again.
"Glad you're both alright," Maggie said with a laugh. This was not bothering her, but then she did have wings of her own.
We popped out of the snowy and clouds and into bitterly cold and thin air. My eyes watered until Maggie spread a nice blanket of warmth around us.
It as pretty up here once I could see and breathe again. The clouds spread out below us, a long line of white fluff that looked like rolling hills. It also looked as though it went on forever, but Lord Ice must have known the way home. He gave a little grunt of warning, and then we slid down into the clouds and out again --
Magic surged up from below us, something bright and powerful. It hit Lord Ice somewhere underneath his body.
And then we were falling like a rock.
Saturday, March 21, 2020
The sleigh was long and low to the ground, a sleek vehicle that glowed with magic. I walked around it, impressed. There were even blankets to keep warm.
"I've set it to head for Lord Ice's land," Yeti said with a wave of his hand off in a general direction. "All you have to do is sit down, and I'll get it going. Whatever you do, don't everyone get off it before you get there, though. If it senses the loss of that weight, it will turn around and head straight back here."
We all nodded.
"How long till we get there?" Maggie asked.
"It will be dawn by the time you arrive," George said. "Just sit back and enjoy the ride."
We all nodded again, even Lord Snow and Edmond. I had the impression that maybe everything had been too insane of late. Maggie gave him a quick hug, and I shook hands, all proper. I was the last to climb on the sleigh, settling at the front beside Lord Snow.
The sleigh began to move.
"Whee!" Five shouted from behind. I turned to see Maggie grabbing the kitten, who had climbed up on her shoulder and was windsurfing.
"Oh, to be a kitten again," Lord Snow said with a bit of a laugh that rumbled through him.
I thought about it, and I supposed he was right. Not everything had to be over the top bad. We got to ride on the sleigh, which meant we weren't walking. I had worried at first, but the sled swerved around bad spots and avoided what might have been some ice snakes.
The night was brilliantly clear with diamond bright stars. They would soon be back to the more common lands of Elsewhere. They had friends there, and finding the way back to my father's castle shouldn't be hard.
I wanted to believe it, but I'd seen too many things go sideways ever since I headed for Elsewhere. I also knew enough to get some rest while I could. I snuggled into the blanket and closed my eyes--
And woke up to howling wind, blinding snow, and the sleigh foundering in drifts.
"I thought the same," Lord Snow said. He shook the snow from his fur as he sat up. A lot of it hit me, but that hardly mattered since I had a few inches on the blanket. I shook it off as best I could and looked back. Edmond, Five, and Maggie were cocooned in blankets and snow, but I could see Maggie was watching and knew there was trouble.
"If the sleigh stops, do we stay aboard?" I asked, trying to get my half-frozen brain to consider the possibilities.
"I would think it wise," Lord Snow said. "If we get off, we lose the sleigh entirely. For now, at least, we should hold on and hope for the best."
I agreed. I had almost forgotten that we could lose the sleigh. I did not want to end up walking again, and especially not in this weather.
"The snow is heavy!" Five complained. "And cold!"
"Stay close to me and under my hands. We'll keep each other warm," Maggie said, her voice barely louder than the wind. "Snuggle in closer, Edmond. Careful -- Edmond!"
I looked back just in time to see Edmond lose his hold and go tumbling off into the snow.
"Keep going!" I yelled as I threw myself off the sleigh and headed in the general direction Edmond had gone.
I did it because Edmond would have done the same for me. Had done so in the past, in fact. I also had magic and could use it to find him and save us.
Oddly, that was the most positive I had ever been about my abilities. That lasted about four steps out into the white world where I could not see anything at all. Even the sleigh had already disappeared, and the tracks were quickly blowing over. I thought I heard Maggie yell something. It might not have been polite.
"I'm okay!" I shouted back, but I really couldn't tell if she heard me.
"Mark?" another voice called. A panicked voice, and not far away.
"Snow -- too deep --"
I tried to follow the voice.
"Ice on my wings --"
The white world swirled around me. I moved on. Then I heard Edmond's voice behind me and cursed as I turned back.
I didn't think I would find him. He sounded weaker. I tried the magic I had trusted moments before, but my fingers were too cold to feel the power, and my eyes were blurred. I wasn't going to find him.
I wasn't nearly as worried about being in danger myself. I just hated that I had failed --
Something black lying on the snow --
I rushed forward as best I could, the snow pulling at my legs. I stumbled and went down, but I got right back up and took the last three steps. Edmond lifted his head, his eyes wide and his ears back. Snow and ice had started to weigh him down, but I grabbed him up and pushed him inside my jacket. I could feel the snow and ice melting immediately, and I didn't care.
"You found me," Edmond mumbled.
"Of course," I replied. I was walking though I couldn't be certain I was going in the right direction. Just keep moving. "You and I have been through too much together to just leave you behind."
"Of all the places we've been -- you know, I really don't like snow most of all. Jungles were bad, but snow is the worst."
I grunted agreement and kept going. I didn't tell Edmond that I couldn't see the path the sleigh had taken. I couldn't hear anything except the wind.
I had, finally, found some of my magic, and I was able to keep us warm. I knew it was not going to last long.
Saturday, March 14, 2020
Sometime later, I blinked.
The world had settled, the colors were back to normal, and everything was quiet. I was grateful for the return to normality.
Well, not complete return. We were still lost in Elsewhere, I remembered. I turned my head enough to realize that I was in a room made of ice -- walls of ice, shelves of ice, and even the slab of the bed made of ice, but I was not cold. I felt magical warmth in the blankets wrapped around me.
A familiar weight held the blanket down at my side. I turned my head and saw Edmond's ears above a crease of the quilt. Five was there with him, so light a weight that I hadn't noticed her until her ears flicked.
With a shift of my head, I saw Maggie asleep in a huge rocking chair, and Lord Snow stretched out on the floor beside her.
George, I recalled. Yeti.
I could hear -- and smell -- him making breakfast. Pancakes and warm maple syrup? My stomach growled so loudly that Edmond sat up with a start, obviously thinking he was under attack. Five flopped over on her side and didn't even wake.
"Sorry," I said as my stomach growled again.
"No prob," Edmond mumbled as his head dropped back into the blankets.
Then the head came back up again, the eyes wide. "Breakfast," Edmond said.
Maggie and Lord Snow woke. Five took a bit longer, and I was slowly sitting up when George arrived at the doorway. He wore an apron and a chef's hat.
"Well, now, glad to see you all up and going, what?" George said and sounded entirely too happy. "Ready for a spot of breakfast?"
We ambled into the dining room with its ice table and ice shelves with plates and platters that were not made of ice. I could see the edge of the kitchen where a modern looking electric range was covered with various pots and pans.
I settled into the first chair I reached, still feeling too unsteady to walk any farther. Edmond and Five took the chair to my right and Maggie to the left. Lord Snow just put his paws on the table and looked at the array of food with very bright eyes.
It was impressive. Hotcakes, donuts, hash browns, eggs -- and George came back out of the kitchen with a platter of ham, sausage, and bacon.
"I didn't realize heaven would be so cold," Edmond said.
We all laughed. Despite all the troubles that were surely lurking not far outside this icy but beautiful little cottage, we relaxed and enjoyed the meal. I felt as though I was home again, especially the way Maggie kept insisting I eat a little bit more.
"I don't know how we can ever repay you for this kindness," Maggie said and dared a hand on George's arm as he started to stand to clear the table.
"It's not often I have guests who appreciate a fine breakfast," George said. "It was good to have you here. No, sit. I'll be back in a moment, and we can discuss where matters will go from here."
'Go' was a word I had started to dislike. Although this wasn't the warmest place that I had ever been, it was still comfortable. I'd even had a chance to sleep.
Or maybe I'd been unconscious more than sleeping, but I didn't care. I'd been lying down and still. And everyone had been safe. We'd had good food.
I wanted to say that we should stay for a while longer, but when George came back, I could tell by his face that it was not going to happen.
George took his chair across from me and sat with his hairy fingers laced together on the table.
"I wish you could stay," he said and sounded sincere. "But it is not safe. Far worse than the ice spiders will be coming this way now that the first big storm of winter has hit. The White Wolves will be waking, and as soon as they scent any of you, they'll wake the huntsman and begin the hunt."
"I thought that was just a myth to scare people out of the Winter Lands," Maggie said and sounded hopeful."
"I wish they were," George said.
"What about you?" Edmond asked.
"Kind of you to ask," George replied. "I'm quite safe enough from the hunt since this is my place. You and your friends, however, are outsiders. The storm is already starting to wind down. You'll want to leave before it ends and put some distance between here and the danger. If they are a bit slow to react -- it has happened in the past -- then you might even reach safety."
"Is there safety to be found?" Maggie asked with a shake of her head.
"Oh my, yes. You're no more than half a day from Lord Ice's lands, and since Lord Snow walks with you, then I must assume the dragon is your ally, too?"
"As close as a dragon can be," Lord Snow answered. "What direction?"
"I'll set the sleigh to head that way," George said.
"Sleigh?" I asked.
"Oh my, yes. I wouldn't send you off walking, my good man! The sleigh will go where I tell it and return home when you leave it. It should make the journey far more comfortable."
Maggie got up and gave the yeti a hug around the neck. "Thank you!"
"Oh. Well. Yes." He cleared his throat, obviously a bit uncertain. "Well, do get ready. I have a basket of food for you, too. We won't want to forget that. "I'll go out get the sleigh ready to go."
He got up and left abruptly.
And I found myself anxious to leave after all. Lord Ice's realm sat right on the edge of a part of Elsewhere that I knew. We'd be safely home soon.
You know, I even really believed that would happen.
Sunday, March 08, 2020
A legend walked through the door of the Lost Way Inn...
Prince Zaron, the grandson of two infamous conquerors, came to Innkeeper Mai with a desperate tale of demons and treachery. Mai, a former member of the Palace Guard, realizes she's in no position to help the prince against all his dangerous enemies.
She quickly spirits Zaron through the city and to the woman who commands the most famous mercenary band in the land.
None of them expect the struggle that will soon pit all three against demons, gods, pirates, dragons, and more. Mai, Kintansa, and Zaron are about to begin a journey that will take them from one end of the empire to the other -- and into the realms of hell itself.
Thursday, March 05, 2020
Edmond tried to make a turn in mid-flight. He bounced off the wall to the right, and for a brief second I saw claws reach --
I was already on the move as well. So, I realized, were Maggie and Lord Snow. It was a small area, and I feared we were going to trample over each other in our attempts to save Edmond and Five.
I caught Five, startling her into a hiss and bite -- but I got her. I handed her off to Maggie, who shoved the squealing kitten into her bag and closed the top. Edmond had fallen to the floor. At first, I thought he was injured, but he spun and swatted at something moving that I couldn't easily see.
However, I could hear them. Now that everyone had stopped yelling, I could hear the little clinking sound as the ice spiders swarmed across the walls of ice. I couldn't begin to guess how many there might be, but I got some idea of their size when one leapt at me, and I had to knock it aside. Ice spiders appeared to be about hand-sized -- white, cold creatures with little eyes of bright blue that were almost impossible to see.
Or maybe I didn't want to see them and let my mind start guessing at how many.
"Mark, Edmond, back up," Maggie said softly. Her voice trembled, and that made me shiver. "Lord Snow, don't go farther."
"I have thicker fur, and I've dealt with these demons before," Snow said. "Yeti --"
"George, actually," the Yeti replied.
"George, friend," Lord Snow said. "Are we close to somewhere safe?"
"Only two more yards."
"Take the kitten," Maggie said and handed the still startled Five back to him. He took her gingerly in his hands. "Edmond, go with her -- don't argue. We're all going to pull back."
"Just remember that I already got one," Edmond reminded us. He walked back to stand at my feet and looked up. Then I heard him sigh. "Tell me that you can see them."
"I can hear them," I offered.
"We can all hear them. Get me on your shoulder. If you're going to try and hold the line, then you had better know where the line is."
It made sense. I carefully knelt and let the cat leap up. Rather than sit on my shoulder, Edmond draped himself across my neck. He was less likely to fall off.
"There are six of the beasts about three feet from you on the right-hand side, about even with your elbow," Edmond warned. I backed up five steps in haste and looked where he had indicated and saw a shifting movement there. Now I had to decide how I could use my meager bit of magic to stop them.
Lord Snow came to stand at my side. He could see the creatures too.
"Any on the other side?" I asked.
"Nothing," the two cats chorused.
I moved a little more to the left side of the hall -- and heard something above --
I leapt aside just as something dropped from the ceiling, brushed along my hand with tiny needle claws, and hit the floor. Lord Snow leapt on it, and it disintegrated into ice dust.
"Oops," Edmond said. "Sorry."
He was looking up as well as to the side now. That was better.
What was not good was that my arm had started to burn with pain. "I suppose they have venom in their claws?"
"Ah, yeah," Lord Snow said. He looked up at my hand. "Oh. Maggie!"
"I don't need --" I started to say.
But maybe that wasn't true. Things were starting to look odd. The ice was more green than blue.
The ice spiders were red. And there were a lot more of them than I had thought. Hand-sized venomous icy spiders are not a pleasant sight, and it drove me insane. I yelled and leapt straight at them. Edmond shouted, too -- but I wasn't listening to him. I was faintly aware that he burrowed his way down the back of my jacket.
I reached out and began to pound spiders with my fists. Some were still alive when they hit the ground -- but not for long. I leapt up and down on them.
Edmond had dug all his claws into his back, and that Lord Snow had backed away in haste. Maggie was yelling for me to come back.
"He's killing them. I don't know how he can see them, but he's getting them all," Lord Snow said while I gleefully crunched three more under my feet.
"I can see them!" I shouted. I was aware that Edmond had deserted the safety of my back at some point and was beside Maggie now. I felt lighter. "There's one! And another!"
I pounded a few more, crunched another beneath my feet, but the rest made a fleeing line of red.
"They're escaping. You can't run from me!"
I started after them.
"Mark!" Edmond shouted. I could hear the frantic beat of his wings. "Don't be crazy!"
I spun -- and saw something huge and red, lunging at me. I brought up my hands to attack, magic playing at my fingers.
"ACK!" Edmond yelled, and the enormous red monster dropped to the ground.
He still didn't know how to land. Edmond, not a monster. I looked around at the others and saw red, orange, a bit of blue.
"Oh," I said. I glanced over my shoulder. "They're gone now. Everything looks really strange, guys. And why are the floor and walls moving? This can't be safe."
I sat down. Edmond started to back away.
"Sorry, Edmond --" I started to reach out for him, but then I fell sideways.
"Mark?" Edmond said softly. I could see the shape of him now, all black along the edges. Good.
Then I closed my eyes.