Art: SpaceSmilodon (http://www.furaffinity.net/user/spacesmilodon/) and Vexxblack (http://vexxblack.deviantart.com/)
Characters (c) of Space and Vexx
Story: BRNQuil (https://brnquil.sofurry.com/) and myself. (https://arcane-reno.sofurry.com/)
Make sure to check out other work done by Space and Vexx, at http://pmdbtad.deviantart.com/
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Author's Chapter Notes:
Nowhere should be allowed to get this cold, Stuart thought, while forcing his way through yet another snow drift that came up to his chest. He couldn’t recall when he’d last been able to feel his paws. An hour ago? Two? At the very start of their climb up this infernal mountain? He was starting to forget what it felt like to have paws, as opposed to blocks of ice attached to his legs! Not to mention his leaf. He glanced over his shoulder woefully. His poor, poor leaf. It drooped, weighed down by the layer of ice crystals marring its dark green skin, clearly sharing in Stuart’s misery.
If we get out of this, our next mission is going to be someplace warm. A beach! Yes, that would be nice.
Setting his sights forward again didn’t bring any sign of their destination up ahead through the swirling snow. Only the padding form of Thomas, his head low to the ground as he followed the faint trail. He didn’t have any trouble sinking into the snow. No, he was somehow able to prance along right across the top, easy as you please! Stuart could imagine the feline’s smug satisfaction -the leader of their team, forced to wallow in freezing powder for hours on end. He gritted his teeth and shook his head, dislodging some of the snow from between his ears.
“How much further?” Stuart called out over the moaning wind.
“How should I know?” Thomas shouted back. “I’ve only been to the lower slopes!” He kept walking, causing Stuart to hurry in order to keep pace.
Great. Not even Thomas knew exactly where they were. Two, maybe three hours they’d been walking, and he didn’t know?! When they’d left the cart behind at the base of the mountain path -it had been far too steep and narrow for the vehicle- Thomas had said he could find the place from Dmitri’s instructions. And now?
We could freeze to death out here, and no one would know. We’d just be another pair of icicles, lost and forgotten.
The wind moaned louder, like a hungry beast. Stuart shuddered.
No, not forgotten. There were people depending on them. Dusty. Angie. The herd. They had an important task to complete, and no matter how cold his bones became, he’d be damned if he would give up! He shook again, flinging snow, and plodded onwards. At least it wasn’t truly snowing yet, thank Arceus for small mercies. The wind kicked up glacial flurries, blowing them about with seemingly malicious intent, but the slate of clouds above hadn’t released their burden.
“Keep your eyes open for a place to take shelter!” Stuart shouted. “We might be better off finding a cave and waiting out this wind!”
“I’ve been looking! Anything we find up here probably has a hungry beartic inside though. I-” Thomas abruptly cut off, halting in his tracks. Stuart looked up, curious about what had caught the persian’s attention. He didn’t have to look hard.
“I suppose now we know why the herd couldn’t send one of their own!” Stuart called, swallowing his own urge to turn around and leave right now. “Not exactly welcoming, are they?”
“It certainly sends a message. It also means we should be close!” Thomas started walking again, aiming straight for the gap between two massive black boulders upon which the grisly spectacle rested. Stuart followed, eying the pair of massive, tusked skulls warily. A message indeed. A barbaric message.
The icy wind rose to a shriek as they passed through the shadow of the boulders and skulls, blasting through the gaps between teeth and weathered bone. It was almost as though the long-dead mamoswine were giving a warning about the path they were now cursed to guard for eternity.
A warning we can’t afford to take.
Stuart tore his eyes away from those staring sockets, quickening his step to catch up with Thomas. His ears perked at the sound of a long, mournful wail rising on the wind, distinct from what he’d heard a moment earlier. “Hey! Did you hear that?”
“Yes! I’m not sure I like this!”
“Remember what Boris said! We’re not with the herd -they should let us pass!”
Another siren-like wail followed the first, and it was joined by more, closer this time.
“That old fur-pile had better be right!” Thomas yelled.
Stuart silently agreed, glancing around nervously at the rocky walls looming on either side of them. The wind was lesser here, this part of the trail somewhat sheltered, but the wailing cries echoed off the rocks like the shrieks of the damned, sending shivers down his spine that had nothing to do with temperature.
Up ahead, a massive log wall appeared out of the swirling flurries. It resolved into a pair of wooden gates, tied to the rocks and supported by large blocks of ice, which had apparently been formed around the base of the logs themselves. In front of those gates, an imposing figure stood watch: seemingly a part of the harsh landscape, were it not for the necklace of black stones looped about its wide neck, and the stern, purple glare directed at the two Moonlighters.
Abomasnow, Stuart thought, swallowing hard as he and Thomas came to a halt several yards from the gigantic ice type. Always wondered why it was called the ‘ice monster’. Makes sense now.
All around them, more shapes became visible, stepping out of the obscuring snow. These were smaller, less intimidating -save for their numbers in comparison to an irritated persian and a half-frozen leafeon. The brown and white coloring of the snover let them blend in perfectly with the icy landscape until they chose to show themselves. Without a word, they surrounded Stuart and Thomas, blocking escape.
The abomasnow stepped forwards, closing the distance between them until it stood directly in front of Stuart, peering down first at him, then at Thomas, a calculating look in those wintry eyes. Stuart opened his mouth, mind racing, then closed it again. No, best to let the other make the first move.
After a seemingly endless moment, the abomasnow spoke, its deep voice rumbling like a distant avalanche. “It is a dangerous path you walk, seedlings. What business do you have in the lands of the Marak-ko-shi?”
Guess that’s his tribe? Stuart thought. With a voice that deep, it could only be a he. Clearing his throat, he said, “Sir, I apologize if we are trespassing, but we have an urgent mission here.” He lifted his scarf with a paw. “As you can see, we are part of a rescue team -the Moonlighters- from Kenogami village. A friend and teammate of ours, as well as many others, have fallen extremely ill. We are here seeking a certain flower which can cure them. I assure you we mean no harm to you or your tribe.”
The abomasnow appeared to weigh the words with utmost care, his eyes skewering Stuart where he stood. “This… illness that you speak of -I would know its symptoms, you who walk by light of the moon.”
Under the intense scrutiny, Stuart did his best to stand tall, and not think about the dozen or so snover cutting them off from freedom. “It starts with a fever. A bad one. Then, after a few days, the afflicted fall asleep. They might have a few more days left once they do, but without the cure…” he trailed off, shaking his head. “Our friend is still in the fever stage, but we need to hurry if we’re to save him. Not to mention those others who are already in the later stages.” He met the tribal leader’s eyes, determination bolstering his nerve. “Please, you have to let us pass! Innocent lives depend on it!”
The abomasnow hrmmmed, deep in his throat. The noise made Stuart think of a blizzard howling in from the highest peaks of snowcapped mountains. “You speak of the Silent Night. Our people know of this affliction, and fear it. It is one of few ailments which is capable of silencing our songs of the mountain. If things are as you say, you are indeed here on important business.” He leaned forward, looming over Stuart with a sound like a tree creaking in the wind. “However, answer me this, seedling: do you come here on behalf of our ancient rivals, the tusked ones?”
Stuart’s mind raced. What should he do? Lying wasn’t something he would ordinarily condone, but in this case, it might be their only option. Yet, how to word it in a way that-
“Yes, we have,” Thomas said, before Stuart could open his mouth. He was staring the larger ‘mon straight in the eye, that familiar look of defiance on his feline face.
“W-what?” Stuart exclaimed, staring in horror at the persian. “Thomas!”
A low commotion rippled through the crowd of snover, quickly rising into an overwhelming cascade of mingled voices that made Stuart want to dig down into the snow to block it out. The abomasnow waved a giant arm, slashing the air. Immediately, the hubbub quieted, leaving only the moaning of the wind. For an endless moment, the pregnant pause reigned supreme.
Maybe this is why Boris didn’t think we were ready for this, Stuart thought, clenching his teeth to keep them from chattering. What is even the right move in this situation?
At long last, the chieftain spoke. “The feud between us -it has lasted far too long. I do not know if even my father’s father knew the reason for its beginning. We call them enemy, but they have given us no quarrel in any season that I have seen. The Silent Night… It is an affliction I would not wish on even my worst foe.” He looked up and raised his voice, the rumbling growl bouncing off the rock walls.
“Do any dissent?!”
Only the wind replied.
After a moment, he nodded, turning back to Stuart and Thomas. “So be it. Come, seedlings. I shall take you to where the flower you seek grows.” He spun about and began stomping towards the wooden gate, plowing a path easily wide enough for Stuart and Thomas to walk comfortably side by side.
Stuart let out a long breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. He looked over at Thomas, and was slightly surprised to see a flicker of relief on the persian’s features too, before it was quickly replaced by the cool, unruffled mask.
So, Stuart noted, He’s not all nerves of steel, eh?
But, that thought was probably best kept to himself. Aloud, he murmured, “Good call. You had me worried there, but it turned out alright.”
Thomas shrugged, his tail twitching. “Easy enough to see he wasn’t looking for a fight. He wouldn’t have liked being lied to though.”
Stuart huffed. He tried to compliment the cat, and it was right back to self-righteous superiority! Why did he even bother? But, as he glared at Thomas’s shoulder blades, he noticed the tension coiled in the persian’s muscles, all traces of his light step vanished into the icy wind. Maybe it wasn’t superiority after all? Perhaps, at the heart of it, Thomas needed to put on a brave -and yes, arrogant- face in order to face his own fears? Stuart shook his head, sending ice chips flying. Sometimes, he wished Thomas would let the mask slip just a little. Who knew? They might actually become friends.
Ahead of them, the abomasnow placed both of its wide hands on the gate, leaning his weight forward and giving a mighty shove. With a creaking groan, the massive doors swung slowly inwards, snow cascading down in clumps. As Stuart and Thomas followed the chieftain through, Stuart eyed the icicles clinging to outside of the gateway with trepidation as they passed beneath. Some of them looked big enough to turn him into a messy smear on the snow! Shuddering, he banished the unpleasant thought and hurried to catch up.
On the other side, they found themselves in a huge courtyard, piled high enough with snow that it clearly hadn’t been used for years. Stuart could just make out the outlines of stone steps leading up to a derelict structure atop a rise on the far side of the courtyard. It too, like the rest of this place, was a colossal thing, made of wooden beams that likely would have taken several mamoswine to lift into place. One of those beams had collapsed, lending the front of the building a lopsided look.
“Monastery? More like a village.” Thomas muttered. Stuart silently agreed. Gazing up at the ancient shrine, it looked like the building could hold their home base a hundred times over!
“This way,” the abomasnow rumbled, gesturing them over to a flat area off to their right. He seemed to notice the deep snow drifts about as much as Stuart might notice one particular sunbeam on a warm afternoon. His wake left them an easy walk, and for that, he was grateful.
They halted when the chieftain held up a hand. Without a word, the abomasnow bent low, scooped up a huge armful of snow, and heaved it aside. Another followed in its wake, and a third, until the patch of ground before them was cleared down to a thin layer of permafrost.
And there, peeking out of the light dusting of snow left behind, sharply defined against the surrounding white, lay a single, pink flower. Stuart could have almost cried for joy at the sight. It seemed so fragile -an impossibility for it to exist in this harsh landscape- yet, there it was.
“My people have tended these flowers, seedling,” the abomasnow intoned, looking back to Stuart with a hint of pride in his expression. “Though they were property of our rivals, we learned of their value, and have not allowed the crop to wither in the summer seasons. Beneath this field are hundreds of healthy flowers, each in their peak of bloom.” He spread his arms, indicating the buried field. “Take what you need, and go in peace, follower of the moon.”
“I… Thank you,” Stuart said, still staring at the flower. No other words could fit. With a bit of help, they now had what they needed to save Dusty.
But first, there was work to do, and the journey back home. Stuart’s paws ached at the thought.
Best get started.