Thursday, April 30, 2020
You know that moment when you think things are starting to look better?
Never, ever think that -- especially in Elsewhere.
Five screamed what I suppose was her battle cry. I shouted as I tried to leap and grab her -- but she sailed over my head. She had wings, and I did not.
I heard something growl behind me.
I spun and found a large white wolf. He stared at me, dark eyes intent, and his lips drawn back. I'd had no idea he was coming up behind us.
I don't think the wolf ever knew what hit him.
Five had apparently learned something from her father -- though not how to land. She grabbed the fur on the wolf's head, startling him before she bit his ear.
The wolf yipped and shook his head with enough force that Five lost her hold and tumbled off into the snow.
That saved her. Five was so small that the snow-covered her and the wolf looked around with a howl of anger, finding no enemy.
Maggie shouted, and magic formed into a bright ball in her hands. The wolf growled again, but he did take a step back.
"We are not easy prey," Lord Snow said, coming out of the haze of snow. The wolf put his ears back, one of them bleeding a bit.
I saw Edmond bounding over to where Five had fallen in a snowbank, and I trusted he would get her out and make sure she didn't become a wolf snack. I also realized that Five had acquired the chihuahua syndrome: she had no idea that she was so small.
Edmond, full-grown, had much the same problem. I didn't know how we were going to break either of their habit of attacking things.
Maggie took a step closer to the wolf, and I kept pace with her. This creature was larger than me, and I had the impression of more than canine intelligence in those eyes, even if it hadn't spoken.
I also had the feeling that Lord Snow and the wolf had met before, and not in any useful context. The snow leopard's ears were back as he walked past Maggie and me, moving with that sort of stiff-legged step that a cat gets when it is stalking something.
The wolf held his ground. I heard Maggie take in a quick breath. The magic in her hand swelled a bit, and I prepared to bring up my own magic.
"You do not want part of this one, wolf," Lord Snow said. "The boy is not what you think. He is a friend of Lord Ice and the son of Lord Cayman."
The head came up, and eyes blinked in what could only be surprise. He took a step back and started to turn --
Unfortunately, that was the moment Edmond came up out of the snow with Five by the scruff to the neck.
I think the wolf must have caught the scent of his own blood on Five. He might not even have seen the kitten up against her father's black fur.
The wolf howled and leapt at Edmond.
Edmond dropped Five straight back into the hole and spread his wings, flapping furiously to get into the air. Maggie and I charged toward the wolf, and Lord Snow did the same.
The wolf made a swipe at Edmond and knocked him down. Lord Snow caught the wolf by the leg and dragged him backward away from Edmond, who had stood and shook his head, dazed.
Lord Snow dragged him back --
And Five popped back up out of the hole.
"I fight! I fight!"
She threw herself back at the wolf and swiped his nose this time. The wolf -- I was starting to feel sorry for him -- howled and tried to snap at her --
And that's when he learned that you don't mess with one of Edmond's kittens.
"Don't you dare bite her!" Edmond yelled just before he changed into a howling, ball of black fur.
I had never heard Edmond make that kind of sound before as he hissed and leapt straight at the wolf's face. Lord Snow still had his leg, and Five was going for his ear again.
"We need to stop this!" Maggie shouted. The four of them had formed into a melee that sent plumes of snow up so that we couldn't see anything.
I thought of something I sometimes did to break up kitten fights when they got too serious. I had to get closer, and I feared Maggie might grab at me -- but there was no time. One of our guys were going to get seriously hurt --
I leapt at the fight. Maggie gave a shout of shock, but she didn't have time to stop me.
I lifted both hands and clapped once, calling up far more power than I used with the kittens.
And they tumbled in the snow in four different directions. Not very far, but Edmond and Five landed near us. Lord Snow was to the right, and the wolf rolled away straight ahead.
Maggie grabbed Five. Edmond was still hissing, even at me when I reached for him, though he calmed a moment later.
The wolf sat back up. He looked dazed.
"What do you say we just all walk away from this, wolf?" I said. "Seems to me that none of us really want this much trouble, do we?"
The wolf snarled. Lord Snow sighed and stepped forward again.
"Or we could call Lord Ice in to help settle things," Maggie suggested.
The wolf snarled and stomped away.
"I'll keep watch behind us," Lord Snow said. "You keep that hell kitten out of trouble."
"You are the one who brought her," Maggie pointed out.
"Nowhere to leave her," Lord Snow admitted. "And I didn't think she was that crazy."
"She talks, she has wings, and she's Edmond's daughter. What part of that doesn't say crazy?" I asked.
Friday, April 24, 2020
"Talk to Lord Ice," Maggie repeated with a frown. "And side with the snowmen in this one?"
I looked at those creatures where they waited just outside the warmth of the fire. I suspected that they knew about fae magic and realized we couldn't keep this fire going for long.
"I wonder if they could tell me what they don't like about Lord Ice," I said, turning my attention to them. "I don't think we could really help them if we don't understand."
She looked skeptical, and I had to admit that it was an odd idea. I didn't like the snowmen, and I didn't trust them, but part of me thought this needed to be straightened out before it got worse.
"What do you want?" I said and kept the feeling that I ought to shudder at the sight of them from showing. There were many odd creatures in Elsewhere and some even more dangerous. I'd dealt with many of those.
Maybe that was even part of being fae. I tried to consider that idea and wondered if it made me feel different at all. I always felt different, though. I had never fitted in, and I still didn't. I would never be really fae --
The warmth I had been holding started to fail.
"Mark?" Maggie said and sounded worried.
"Who am I, really? What makes me think I should be talking to dragons about treating snowmen better?"
"Sounds odd, doesn't it?" she agreed.
"Yeah." But I noticed something even stranger. As we talked, the snowmen were starting to get less agitated, and I had the feeling they were listening to me.
Maggie glanced toward them as well and then nodded. "We'll talk to Lord Snow first and get a clear idea of how to approach Lord Ice. Dragons have trouble with communications sometimes. They don't understand all the things we are saying."
"We go," one of the snowmen said. "We leave you."
"I can't say we'll gain anything for you," I replied as I stood. "I will try."
A murmuring of voices as they started away --
"Wait," Maggie called out. Dark-eyed faces turned back at us. "What do you want of Lord Ice?"
"Our villages. Ice knocks them down, destroys some of us, and we must rebuild homes and ourselves. He flies to low."
I nodded. "I suspect he doesn't realize. White on white -- a dragon does not see things the same way that we do."
And I didn't even ask what a snowman might see.
"Banners," Maggie suggested. "You should put banners up on poles at the four corners of your villages. That should help. But we'll still talk to Lord Ice."
The snowmen made sounds of agreement, and they headed away. It was, at least, a little less cold.
But also dark. Snowy.
"We have the path to get back," Maggie said and took hold of my arm. "Let's get going before it disappears beneath the snow."
"I sent Edmond for help. Listen for him," I said and moved along with her. "This isn't much like the walks we used to take in the hills near home, is it?"
"No, it isn't," she agreed and gave a shake of her head. "But this is home to me more than that ever was. You have a different past, though it intersected with mine. You had a good home."
"My mom was saving money to buy you from your parents. That sounds bad, doesn't it? But she kept saying that money was all they really understood, despite their act of being holier than thou."
"I never knew. That's sweet." She dabbed at her eyes and smiled. "She was right about them."
"I liked our walks in the woods," I said and tried to move the conversation back to more pleasant things. At least the path we followed back was plain enough, and I tried not to think too much about plowing through the snow. "I sometimes miss walking through an area where the most dangerous creature might be a skunk."
"Hadn't considered that," she said with a nod. "Yeah, I guess you're right about that part. I like to fly, though, so I don't always think about what's going on at ground level. You should get wings."
"Get wings," I said and looked at her with shock. "I mean, you can just get wings? Like Edmond did?"
"Yeah, kind of," she said. Then she looked up in the sky. "Edmond! Are you there? We're down here!"
I heard a distant sound. We both stopped and turned.
"Edmond?" she said again.
A dark ball of fur came out of the sky, overshot us, and landed in the snow, rolling head over heels several times before he stood up. Edmond shook off the snow and looked around --
"We're back here," I said.
He spun around, tail fluffed and ears back. Then he settled again. "Lord Snow should be along here soon. Did you melt the little monsters?"
"We talked to them," Maggie said.
"And they let us go without a fight," I added. "We just have to let Lord Ice know what the problem is with them."
"Talk to the dragon," Edmond said, walking along with us. "Well, good luck with that one. Do one of you want to carry me before I freeze my paws off?"
I laughed and picked him up. He settled around my neck and over my shoulders -- I always appreciated the warmth in the Winter Lands.
But honestly, I was ready to get out of the snow. I thought fondly of wandering through a swampland with a friendly dinosaur -- and yes, I had done that in the past. Travel in Elsewhere has always been exciting.
Though nothing had prepared me for a snow leopard bounding through the snow with a small black kitten attached to the top of his head.
"We help!" Five shouted and bounced as Lord Snow came to a stop. "We help!"
And then she launched herself straight at -- something.
Thursday, April 16, 2020
Did you know the winter lands have living snowmen?
No, neither did I. And it turns out they don't appreciate Lord Ice as their overlord. Apparently, there is a large 'snow ruled by snow' protest going on. I learned all of this from Maggie after we'd been taken captive, though.
Snowmen moving through a snowstorm are hard to spot. I glanced off to the right a couple times, thinking something had moved in the vast wasteland of white. At least I wasn't as cold as I had been, though. Lord Ice radiated a bit of warmth, and even the snow beside him had started to melt.
I looked again, thinking something had --
And then they were on us.
I don't think I can genuinely relate the terror of seeing live snowmen with snarling mouths full of ice teeth open, glittering black eyes, and spindly arms of animate branches. They grabbed and knocked me to the ground. One even caught Edmond by the neck, but I broke the branch and freed him.
"Go! Get help!"
Edmond leapt to the sky and disappeared. The snowmen dragged us quickly away from Lord Ice. I thought I saw the dragon start to stand and fall over again. Snowmen laughed, an odd chittering sound like a hundred enraged squirrels.
"Maggie!" I shouted, afraid of what might have happened to her. The snowmen were wrapping me in chains of ice, tying down my arms and legs. I tried to kick, but even when I tumbled one, it pulled itself back together and stood again. "Maggie!" I shouted again.
I heard her answer, a snarl of sound that might have been words, though I couldn't make them out. I lifted my head just enough to see Maggie being dragged along behind me with snowmen spread out on all sides.
Strong and fast creatures, I realized. The snow streamed out around us in a billowing cloud, and I could see nothing at all. I tried to yell for Maggie again, but one of the creatures stuffed my mouth full of snow, and I began shivering uncontrollably while it melted.
"Orm-th" I heard Maggie yell and then cough. "Orm --"
Was she trying to say some kind of spell? The snowmen didn't like whatever she was trying --
I swallowed down the last of the snowmelt and thought frantically about what I had learned from my father. It was necessary, he had said, to be able to survive in any weather since things changed so quickly in Elsewhere, especially in troubled times. I could pull water from the air and create a small breeze.
And I could create a ball of fire to warm myself and my companions. The problem, though, was that I'd only learned to do that with my hands. If I created a fireball now, my clothing might catch fire. I didn't think that would help.
Why hadn't Maggie done it? Maybe she was hurt! That brought my focus back. I decided that I could create a small fireball and burn away the ice chains that held my arms and then grow it more substantial.
Worry was my bane. I couldn't focus well when I worried about Maggie, about where we were going, about what had happened to everyone else --
Focus. Small. Focus on the feel of one link of ice chance beneath the fingers of my right hand. My fingers were almost number from the cold, and I thought I might be slipping into dangerous hypothermia -- but I focused.
The chain melted and freed my leaden arms. I didn't have much time since the snowmen would notice. I could see the slight glow -- and just as one of the snowmen gave a shout of worry, I brought that little flame up and made it grow large.
Very large. I think I singed my eyebrows and hair. Snowmen backed away in haste with howls that sounded like the echos of winter winds. My fire lifted slightly as I sat up, anxious to find out where Maggie might be -- but she came at a near run, stumbling a bit, and with her fire bright and deadly to our enemies.
The snowmen had backed away well beyond the warmth. Maggie, who had better control than me, and she was able to get her fire to dance in a circle around us, making the snowmen back up even more, though they still made sounds of anger and protest.
"You alright?" she asked as she sat by me, brushing some snowmelt from my hair.
"Cold," I admitted. "Why did you wait for me to do the spell?"
"You were ahead of me. I didn't want them to keep going and risk losing you."
"I didn't have enough brain cells left for that kind of logic," I admitted. My clothes had started to get wet from the melting snow, but now they were drying with the growing warmth.
We had a problem, of course. Neither of us could keep the warming fires going forever. I thought we must just hope for our friends to find us before we ran out of energy.
From the way the snowmen watched us with their glittering black eyes, I had the feeling they fully understood and were prepared to wait us out. I brought the power of my fire down a few degrees, and Maggie nodded approval.
We still had allies out there -- as long as more snowmen didn't get them first. I worried about Edmond and Five especially.
"What do they want?" I suddenly asked.
"I think they mostly want you since you are the son of a powerful fae lord." She told me then about the trouble in the snow lands, and how they were starting to resent Lord Ice. I found it incredible that anyone would not want a big, mighty dragon to protect them. Then I thought that maybe Lord Ice didn't always understand other beings.
"Maybe we need to talk to Lord Ice," I suggested.
Thursday, April 09, 2020
As the troll growled and leapt at me, I tried to decide if the dragon could -- or would -- help me this time. I wasn't sure if he was aware of the trouble down by his tail. Lord Ice was still a bit groggy --
I ducked, and the troll flew over the top of me, burrowed into the snow beyond. That blinded the troll for a moment, so I scrambled back over Lord Ice's tail and looked for cover.
I could burrow into the snow like the troll had -- though intentionally on my part. That would blind me to what the troll was doing. Better to just keep my head low and --
Trolls are good at leaping. This one did a standing jump worthy of the Olympics as he bounded over the dragon tail -- and would have made it if the dragon hadn't suddenly stood and taken a step backward.
The troll gave a little squeak of protest just as it impacted with the side of Lord Ice.
He landed on his back in the snow, and I had the sudden feeling that he might start making snow angels if he tried to move. He didn't move, but I did hear him moan a couple times.
"Thanks," I said. Lord Ice gave a rumble of sound and settled back down. He didn't seem very steady on his feet.
The snow still fell in white sheets around me, and I could barely see even the hint of others moving. I couldn't tell Maggie from trolls at this point, so I tried to spot Lord Snow instead. I wanted to find Edmond and Five, but they were both smaller and --
And apparently, Edmond couldn't tell me from a troll either.
I heard the unearthly scream and then saw the ball of black fur and sharp teeth and claws coming out of the snow straight at me. I screamed. Edmond screamed.
I had just enough sense to throw myself down. I still felt Edmond's claws catch at my hair as he went over and sailed across the dragon's tail --
Edmond thumped into the troll's head as the creature started to sit up.
"Argh!" The troll fell back down, and Edmond just sort of rolled over the top of him and into the snow again.
The troll didn't look likely to get up again. Edmond walked carefully around him, up over the tail, and launched himself into my arms. I tucked him into my jacket.
"Thanks," Edmond said.
"I can't find the others," I said and stared around us. I didn't know how many more trolls there might be.
"Five is with Lord Snow," he said, his voice muffled under the cloth. "I saw Maggie flyover once. I think she landed, but I don't know where. Is Lord Ice going to be okay?"
"He's recovering," I said and hoped that was true. "Do you know where we are? Is this Lord Ice's land?"
"I think so," Edmond said. His head popped out of the jacket's opening, and he looked around. "I want to know who brought us down."
"And why," I added. "You don't just drop dragons out of the sky for fun. We need to find Lord Snow and ask if there is any --
"Troll!" Edmond warned and ducked into the jacket. "I think."
I couldn't tell either, but the thing was coming straight at us, so I figured I better be ready. I brought up my hands and tried to remember the defensive magic my father had been teaching me. It wasn't easy. I felt as though my brain was starting to freeze.
Good thing. Maggie wouldn't have appreciated being attacked. She had her hands up as well, though, and lowered them as quickly as I did.
"Maggie," I said and reached to hug her even as Edmond's head popped up. He made a muffled sound but didn't appear to be unhappy. "What is going on?"
"Nothing good," she admitted, though she didn't look as worried as she had been a moment before. "Lord Snow and Five are at the shelter --"
"Shelter?" I asked and tried not to sound too hopeful.
"That way," she said with a faint wave of her arm. It was not the direction we were headed. "We had to run the trolls out of it. Most of them headed straight inland. As soon as we're certain Lord Ice is okay, we'll head for slightly better weather as well."
"I like that idea," I said. "You know where we are?"
She pulled out the compass and held it up where I could see it. The arrow pointed almost straight to the right.
"What is it pointing at?" I asked.
"It should be your father's castle," she said. "That's where we want to go, and the compass should pick it up. At this point, though, I'm not so sure. I don't care, though, as long as we get out of the snow before this gets worse."
"Worse?" I said. "Don't even think such a thing."
We were walking back along Lord Ice's long, white body. The dragon blocked some of the wind, so it wasn't so difficult. I was glad to see his eye open when we neared the head, and he even turned slightly.
But I thought he must be very weak and that worried me. I hoped Maggie knew something about dealing with injured dragons. I was anxious about what would happen if we lost Lord Ice. I didn't know enough about what his position in Elsewhere really was, now that I thought about it. I wasn't even certain of my father's place in this strange, magical world.
Never mind my place.
Maggie had begun making some sort of examination of the dragon. I just stepped back out of the way and watched.
I should have been watching for trouble, of course.
I swear, my brain had frozen.
Friday, April 03, 2020
Honestly, I think I did as well.
Luckily for both of us, Maggie kept her head. However, as her wings unfurled, and I ducked down, or I would have been smacked by those metal feathers.
Unfortunately, I lost my hold on her.
We were still high enough that I had time to snatch Edmond from my jacket and throw him away from me.
"AAAIIEE! What the hell -- oh, wings!"
Maggie swooped down and grabbed me by my jacket collar. I jerked upward as Lord Ice continued to fall --
He crashed onto the surface with a thump that shook the snow, the ground, and the surrounding atmosphere. I thought it must have felt like being inside a sonic boom. Maggie held to me, but we tumbled down and landed with me first on my back and sliding about three yards after Maggie let go. then she fell and rolled headfirst a couple times; she must have taken landing lessons from Edmond.
Maggie rushed to her feet, gave me a nod, and launched herself back into the sky.
Cold snow fell on me. I tried to take a breath and sit up because my head kept insisting that I move. I faced danger.
Oh, yeah. Enough magic to knock Lord Ice out of the sky. Yeah. Danger.
I saw a large shape in the swirl of white that must be Lord Ice's fallen body. A whole new fear surged through me, and I made it at least to my knees.
I tried to stand and gave up. Instead, I scrambled over on all fours. I quickly located the edge of an enormous outstretched wing. The slightest touch sent it fluttering, which I took as a good sign.
Unfortunately, angry shouts and the unmistakable roar of Lord Snow filled the silence. I glanced upward but still spotted nothing that looked like a small black cat flying through the air. If Edmond had landed, it was less dramatic and noisy than usual.
I left a spectacular trail as I moved along Lord Ice's wing. I quickly became aware of others moving through the dense snow nearby, but they were huge, so not my friends. None of them followed me.
They must be searching for someone on two feet, and that told me something important. Whatever beings brought down Lord Ice, they didn't know much about humans.
I crawled up along Lord Ice's neck and then scrambled up on top of his head. One pale blue eye flickered as I leaned close to his ear.
"If you move your right wing, they won't realize where I went."
The wing moved violently and knocked things down as it sent a swirl of snow that covered my tracks. I heard startled shouts and growls.
"Thank you. I'll do what I can to help you."
Lord Ice gave a slight sigh, like a sound of surprise.
I didn't dare stay on his head, though, where someone would spot me. I slid down the far side, careful not to cut my hands on his scales. The snow was almost knee deep on this side.
I realized Lord Snow must have been waiting for us at this location, along with Five. I found no sign her, and that worried me.
I hadn't actually seen Lord Snow either, but I spotted big cat prints in the otherwise pristine snow. I followed them carefully, knowing that his angry howl meant trouble.
I glanced up in the air sometimes, letting the snowfall on my face. No Edmond and no Maggie, either. I was on my own in this white hell.
The only previous time I'd spent in the Winter Lands had come during my last adventure in Elsewhere, and we'd survived with the help of magic. I feared to use any spells now because it would attract more trouble. Besides, I still felt odd from the ice spider bites. I realized that I shouldn't attempt anything too serious.
I stayed along the edge of Lord Ice's body and began to wonder which of the dragon's enemies had brought him down and why. An attack like this couldn't be made on a whim. It took enormous magic to bring a dragon down, even for a short time. He survived the fall, at least. His body rippled, and once his front right leg shifted and what might have been a troll gave a startled cry.
Trolls tended to be big and mean but weren't really good at magic as far as I knew.
I thought we might be looking at another dragon taking down Lord Ice. However, I would have expected him to move in once Lord Ice fell from the sky and not wait for him to recover.
Lord Snow growled, and I followed that sound. I reached the base of the dragon's tail and saw some movement not far away.
A troll walked right up to the tail with a huge sword.
He took a wide-legged stance and started to swing downward.
I launched myself to where he stood slightly to my left and on my side of the tail. I threw myself low and shoved him away from the dragon. The troll tumbled with a howl of surprise, and the fool tried to roll -- and cut his own throat with the blade.
I didn't try to grab the weapon, which looked too heavy for me to handle. Lord Ice took notice of the altercation, and with a sudden swish of the tail, he sent the troll body flying.
With Lord Ice's growing consciousness came a snowstorm that almost drove me to my knees. Not a happy dragon. I wanted Maggie and Edmond on the ground, though this wasn't as safe a place as I wanted.
A colossal troll rolled over the top of the tail, fell, and struggled back to his feet. He began to turn when he spotted me and stopped in stunned surprise.
Yeah, I was in trouble.