Still thwarting Sloth's mind control... Circulation: 145,521,815 Issue: 253 | 18th day of Hiding, Y8
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by biscuitmunster


You know when wind whistles at the very top of Terror Mountain? When the walls of the Neggery shake and everyone runs for cover, just so they don't have to bear the horror this wind heralds? When those foolhardy enough to venture outside write wills before doing so, and bid farewell to their loved ones?

     This was one of those times.

     A Neopet with no mother, no family but her partner. Well, she supposed he was her brother, now. They'd been together far too long just for friendship.

     Hannah and Armin, the duo forced together by chance or fate - it was too cold right now to figure out which.

     The Bori wasn't suffering quite as much as she, though with knees drawn to his chest he looked almost as pathetic as she felt. Hannah shivered and brought the coat closer to her fur covered body, wrapping her tail around her calves and looking blearily at the crystals that had formed slowly in her fur.

     It was far, far too cold.

     Usuls were, traditionally, summer creatures. In weather this cold they hid (though who wouldn't?). But oh, no, she thought, sighing inwardly. She had to be the individual. She had to be the one who helped people instead of saving her own, freezing cold hide.

     Sometimes she wished she were selfish.

     Armin stood up slowly and looked around the cave, squinting. "It's getting dark," he proclaimed, and Hannah merely nodded.

     "I know. Soon we won't be able to see." Her voice was numb as her lips, and Armin seconded her nod.

     "What do we do?"

     "There's nothing we can do, except wait."

     He went strangely quiet, and walked slowly over as if approaching the insane. Once safely snuggled next to her, Armin sighed. "Wait for what?"

     The Usul was still staring firmly ahead, her warm breath misting instantly. "I don't know."

     Armin quieted in an instant, and looked for a moment as if he were about to cry. "Are we going to die, Hannah? After everything?"

     She wished she wasn't so cold to him. In this weather, it was the last thing he needed - but considering the topic, she couldn't help it. "Maybe," was all she could muster.

     "Oh." He sounded so helpless that Hannah felt her heart twinge just looking at him - for now he truly was crying, great fat tears rolling down his cheeks and landing with a plop! on the freezing, hard floor. She was glad of her coat.

     "Don't worry about it, Armin. It can't be that bad. Maybe it's just our time to... y'know. Go." She laughed, and immediately pinned herself as delusional. Why laugh, when you were going to die?

     She couldn't blame him for this, more was the pity. She, the experienced one, had gotten them into a landslide and then into this horrible mess. The 'ceiling' above them was just compacted ice and snow with water, pressurised and angry, swirling above them. The walls surrounding them were simply ice, but at least six meters thick. They'd die before they dug their way out, even with Armin's swift claws.

     Maybe this time she would cry, too. Was it fitting for a heroine to cry when the end was near, her partner already sobbing? She couldn't remember a single book where the heroine had cried... but then again, in books no one died and everything turned out okay. She suspected in real life, that never happened (though Sloth seemed to be getting away with it).

     Armin sniffed dramatically and looked at her, still trying not to tear up. "Can't you be more upset, Hannah? This is the end!"

     "Well, we enjoyed the ride, didn't we?" she said cheerily, and Armin sniffed again.

     "Not really..."

     Hannah punched him in the shoulder, just lightly. "C'mon. The action, the adventure. You don't enjoy that?!"

     "In case you haven't noticed, I'm not much help in these caves. You're faster than me, you're more agile..." He trailed off. "Yeah."

     "Armin. I may never have told you this before, but you are amazing. Simply amazing. I'm proud that you're my partner."

     Armin smiled gently. "Thanks. You're pretty awesome, too."

     "D'ya remember it?"

     He cocked a brow at her and looked puzzled. "We were just caving here, Hannah. Of course I remember."

     "No, I mean do you remember - every slide, every laugh, every single Dubloon we won." She smiled, leaning back on the cave wall. "I do."

     Armin smiled back. " I don't think I do. You've more to remember."

     "Ah, but caving's no real fun on your own." Hannah laughed a little, and reached for his hand. When she found it she stopped for a moment, palm in his, them squeezed his fingers. "I don't remember all of that. I remember all of this." She cast an arm around the little hollow, fingers spread.

     "All of it?"

     "Mm-hm." Hannah squeezed his fingers again. "Maybe we'll be okay this time, eh, Armin? Maybe this isn't really the end of our little line." Armin nodded, more to himself than to her.

     "I think we can do it. We've gotten out of worse." He grinned at her playfully as the Usul put her head straight. "It's all in the spirit of fun, right?"

     Hannah hugged him. "You got that right. But sit with me, Armin. We haven't talked like this in ages."

     "I don't think we have time...." He looked uncertainly at the ceiling, where water had begun to splash onto the floor. "Are you okay, Hannah? I mean... you're not too cold, are you?"

     "I'm freezing my butt off."

     "No, I mean... do you feel okay in-" He pointed to her head- "There?" Armin had risen to his feet, and now Hannah did likewise.

     "Excuse me?!" She cocked a brow and peered at him. "Did you just call me crazy?"

     "Yes. Yes I did." Armin turned his back on her and walked to what they had decided was the weakest, thinnest wall. "How d'ya think we could get out?"

     Hannah joined him. "Well, I've been working on a sort of... idea... since we ended up in here."

     "And you didn't tell me three hours ago, why?"

     "You won't like it," she told him, eyes deadly serious. "Cause if this goes wrong you'll end up wet and dead."

     "And the other option?"

     "Just dead. And a bit cold." Hannah was pressing her ear to the floor now, and occasionally tapping the low ceiling. Every time she did so a new drop of water leaked out.

     "Tell me your plan."

     She sighed. "If we were to make a hole right about..." She pointed to a spot on the ceiling. "-There, we could maybe blow a hole about..." She tapped the floor, now. "Here."

     "Are you sure you're okay in there?"

     "Perfectly." Hannah bent down and began once more to tap the floor.

     "Then I think you're crazy." He started to stammer, and not from the cold. "S-surely there's another way. We could drown!"

     "But this way we have a chance."

     "A slim one."

     "But still a chance." Hannah grabbed his shoulders fiercely, and felt a little lightheaded from the movement. "This is how we are going to save ourselves, Armin. Kanrik's not here this time, and no one's going to carry us home. We'll have to do it ourselves."

     Armin looked as if he would cry again. "I'm so scared, Hannah. I felt all right a minute ago, but... this is real, isn't it? We could die."

     "We could always die, Armin." She laughed at his naivety, but the Bori shook his head.

     "No, we couldn't. We were heroes then. We weren't trapped and scared and alone."

     "We could have been, Armin. We haven't - nor will we ever be - invincible. I need you to understand that, and then I need you to put your life in my hands. Just for a second."

     Armin wavered slightly but looked at her face, saw the hope in her eyes. For a moment he imagined them dead and almost screamed - if Hannah died, then no one could ever save him. He took her hand.

     "Do it."

The End

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