Lair of the Snow Beasts
We were soon out in the snowfield again. Rako
had been harnessed to the sled again and by an ingenious idea of Angel's, some
spare rope had been tied to the back of the sled and the other ends made into
handles that we could hold on to. That way we could hang on with our paws and
be pulled along on our skis. Naturally a snowboard is an odd thing to carry
out this activity with, so I rode on the sled with it. The other Usuls, Tragg
said, could ride on the sled as well. "Are you sure that thing knows where we're
going?" asked Angel after a while, looking at the Rako the Bearog doubtfully.
The Grundos were sitting astride the Bearog's broad back. They had found the
tracks of the retreating snow beast in the moonlit snow, and the Bearog was
following its scent, all three blunt heads to the ground.
"Of course he does, Angel," Nyma called back.
"He's got three times as much nose as the average Petpet, so it stands to reason
he smells thrice as well." Suddenly Rako stopped short. All his three heads
snapped upright and sniffed the air, and then they all pointed their noses in
the same direction and one of his cream coloured paws lifted off the snow.
"What's he doing?" asked Ridgerunner.
"Indicating he's found the den," said Borg proudly.
"Good boy, Rako." Each Grundo scratched a head
of the Bearog behind his round ears. Rako panted happily. Nyma, Borg and Tragg
dismounted, I climbed out of the sled and the others let go of their handles
and came over to see what the Bearog had found some distance away.
We were standing at the edge of what looked like
a fairly wide, deep pit in the snow. Inside, we could see dozens of snow beasts
lumbering around. Here and there, in smaller pits in the ground, were several
Usuls. I caught sight of a faerie Usul wearing a turquoise jacket. Of course.
"What beats me," whispered Angel, "is why they
have all the Usuls. I mean, they're not eating them or making slaves out of
them...what for?" Mistletoe had seen her sister too; I saw her eyes widen as she
watched Frostys desperately flutter her gauzy wings and try to fly up out of
the hole, but was caught by a snow beast that was waiting at the edge. Holding
Frostys in one black paw, it showed her to another snow beast, which snarled
back. In fact, many of the snow beasts were grabbing Usuls out of pits and doing
the same thing.
And then it hit me.
"They're collecting them," I whispered, my sudden
revelation surprising me. The others turned to me questioningly. "They're collecting
them," I repeated.
"They each keep a collection of Usuls and show
them off to each other. Look!"
I saw their eyes return to the scene below and
understanding dawn. At last we had discovered the secret of the Ridge of the
"But what are we going to do?" asked Nyma. "We
can't use snowballs, there are too many of them..."
"We could use snowballs," said Borg thoughtfully.
"If there was a way to travel really fast and take them by surprise..."
Angel and I looked at each other, then at Tokum.
He grinned. "Of course!" Angel called to the Grundos. "We have a plan..."
"Are we all ready?" asked Tragg from his position
behind Tokum on his skis. Our plan worked that Angel, Tokum and I were to ski
-and snowboard- down into the den of the snow beasts. The three Grundos would
be riding with us, and their job was to pelt the snow beasts with as many snowballs
as was possible. While we held the snow beasts off, the twins, Ridgerunner and
Mistletoe would make their way to the pits, free the Usuls inside and help them
to the sled, which was big enough to hold all of them.
From behind Angel, Borg gave a thumbs-up sign.
Nyma nodded resolutely from the back of my snowboard. The younger Usuls shifted
on their skis, impatient to be off.
All of us pushed off, gathering momentum on the
sides of the pit and then sped into the ranks of snow beasts. I headed for one
that looked stunned by our surprise attack. A snowball hurtled through the air
behind my head and hit the snow beast between the eyes. It fell back groaning.
"Good one, Holly!" yelled Nyma happily. "Go
for another one!"
One of the snow beasts advanced threateningly
towards us and threw a snowball. I dodged it, and at the same time heard the
thud of another snowball finding its mark.
How the Grundos managed to scoop snow from the
ground and walls, quickly pack it and make an accurate hit on a snow beast whilst
keeping their balance I have no idea, but somehow they did. I went at the fastest
speed I could attain with as much agility as I could muster. Nyma kept a firm
hand on my tail, which I had offered to her as a means to stay on.
I dodged and weaved between snow beasts while
trying to get as close as I could, pretending they were bumps on the slopes,
avoiding the pits and the Usuls clambering out of them, and whenever I felt
I had too little speed left I went up the walls of the pit and down, as I had
done so often with J.J. on the halfpipe. Now and then I could see Angel or Tokum
zip past, or one of the younger Usuls lending a paw to those climbing out of
the pits, or an Usul grabbing his or her skis from the floor and scampering
up the wall of the den to long-awaited freedom.
Suddenly I heard Nyma call "Holly, stop," and
slid to a halt. Snow beasts littered the floor of the den, looking even more
like snow lumps now that they were all lying belly-up.
"Oh dear," said Angel.
"Don't worry," said Borg reassuringly. "They
always do this when they're too tired to fight back. They'll be up and about
sooner or later."
We all looked up to where the voice had come
from. Mistletoe was standing at the edge of the den.
"Are you all finished yet?" she called. "Rako's
raring to go."
We climbed the sides of the pit and out into
the snowfield again under the dying light of the moon.
Dawn was just beginning to hint of its arrival
in the deep blue eastern sky when we arrived back at the Grundos' home, a little
snow hut tucked under several snowy rocks. Frostys looked at me coldly.
"Don't think that I'm going to be at your beck
and call just because of this, Snowpaw," she snapped.
"I don't," I replied, a little harshly. I was
still annoyed at her.
We waved goodbye to the Grundos and their happily
panting Bearog ("Come and visit someday!") and in a long line, holding paws,
moved up the still-misty but no longer frightening ridge.
When we were about halfway to Glissade Haven,
the sun not quite up, we heard voices carrying through the pine forests.
"I just know they've gone down the Ridge, Rockjump..."
"Calm yourself, Wintermoon. They can't be far..."
"Snowpaw, this is all your daughter's fault."
"Can we all stop pointing paws?"
"Father! Mother!" yelled Snowbelle and Icechip,
and they dashed forward to meet the little group of Usuls that were just coming
around the trunk of a large tree.
"My Usulings!" Mother cried, clasping them both
in her paws. She looked up and saw me. "Holly! Oh, thank Fyora!"
"Frostys! Mistletoe!" Leader and Leaderwife
Sleet ran to their daughters. Father looked at me, then at Frostys, then at
Angel and Tokum and the other Usuls standing behind us.
"We fought snow beasts, Mother!" yelled Icechip.
Mother looked at him incredulously. "What?"
"I think I can answer this, Leader Snowpaw."
A large male green Usul detached himself from the throng. Much of his fur was
silver-grey with age. Father looked at him in disbelief.
"Yes, Leader Snowpaw, it is I."
I gasped. Leader Frigis of Snowblade Usullyrn?
He had disappeared several years ago and his Usullyrn was the only one known
that was run by a Leaderwife alone. An elderly looking Usuless from the Glissade
Haven party ran, sobbing with joy, to Leader Frigis. It was Leaderwife Frigis.
They embraced, joyously, and then Leader Frigis turned again to Father.
"Yes, Leader Snowpaw. I was young and foolish,
and wanted to discover the secret of the Ridge of Vanishing Usuls. There are
creatures at the bottom of that ridge that imprison any Usuls they find, and
I was caught, and kept by them for all those years. But thankfully, your Usulings
and their friends with the help of three brave Grundos, managed to save us all."
He spread his paws wide, indicating all of us. "That is, I assume these three
are your Usulings?" Leader Sleet was fuming. I watched with satisfaction. Father
nodded. Mother clasped his paw.
"I believe I speak for all the Usuls here when
I say thank you to these brave youngsters," said Leader Frigis.
The rescued Usuls cheered. The seven of us stood
rather awkwardly shifting our paws.
"Come," said one of the other Usullyrn leaders,
"let us get back to Glissade Haven. Then you can tell us exactly what happened.
Needless to say, we all received balanced scoldings and welcomings. Diamond
and the other Usuls in her clique kept far away from us for the rest of the
holiday, not that I gave a Juppie about them. Leader Sleet didn't seem to want
to talk to Father either. Leader Frigis gave up his title as Usullyrn Leader
to his eldest son Icefloe. He was quite happy to retire, and spent most of his
time on the slopes, his wife close by him. No one blamed him. He hadn't skied
for years after all, and that, to an Usullyrn Usul, is torture. Well, to the
average Usullyrn Usul, anyway. But I doubt I could do without snowboarding for
long. Strangely enough, the Ridge of the Vanishing Usuls kept its name. No one
bothered to think of a new one, and anyway, Usuls still did vanish down it-down
into the mist. We all frequently went down to visit the Grundos and their Bearog,
and strangely, never once saw hide or hair of a snow beast.