Legacy of Ice: Part Three
Her feet slipping underneath her, Mist gave a small cry, filling her mouth with sand as she fell forward. She sat up, spitting it out and frowning at her rapidly diminishing paws. It was the 10th time in that hour she had slipped, and it was becoming more frequent. Flame and Rathua helped her up; they were used to it by now. The threesome started walking again, trudging on the route Rathua remained certain would lead them to the desert's edge and away from its merciless sun.
Despite his occasional encouraging statement that they were making good progress, or that he could hardly tell that Mist was melting, spirits were low. A drop or sweat rolled down the Wocky's head - No, she didn't sweat, it was her left ear, finally succumbing to the sun's heat. She walked with an uneven gait, her paws melting at different speeds. Mist couldn't keep black thoughts from her head. What happens when my legs melt entirely? What happens if we don't reach the edge of the desert at all? I can grow back limbs if I sit in a cold, damp place long enough; can I grow a body if I'm just a little puddle on the floor? She told herself to stop it, to snap out of it, but she continued to dwell on grim possibilities regardless.
One of her paws was almost completely gone now. Mist stopped walking, staring at her stubby limb. What could she do now? She would have to ask Flame or Rathua to carry her, and even though they weren't suffering like she was, she could tell they were still feeling the heat. Flame and Rathua had stopped when she had, Flame looking at the depleted Wocky with concern, Rathua scanning the horizon. He exclaimed, "There! Look, can you see it? I can see the edge of the desert at last!" He grinned at Mist, who smiled back weakly. He checked how fast she was melting and stared; there was that little left of her. He seized one of her hands, and started running, practically dragging her to the edge of the desert, and the cooler grounds of the grasslands beyond.
With a yawn, Mist opened her eyes and looked around, her, enjoying the sweet air around her. She sat beneath a large tree, the only one for some distance. Flame lay beside her, snoring loudly. That would be why she had woken up. Earlier that day, Rathua had helped her to reach the desert's edge. Mist was very grateful for that. She would have walked too slowly with only three paws, so they would have melted too, and then she would have been in deep trouble indeed. All three of them had been tired, so they had sought shelter under this tree, and all of them had fallen asleep as soon as they sat down.
Standing up, slightly wobbly on her uneven but-definitely-there paws, the Wocky tried a few tentative steps. It would be another couple of hours before she could walk quickly or run again. Inspecting the most depleted paw more closely, Mist could watch ice crystals form and attach themselves to her. She smiled; all she needed was a bit of moisture, and she could recover from any injury.
"Mist?" The Wocky turned around. Flame was getting to his feet, brushing himself off and looking around. "Your paws have already grown back?"
"Ice crystals can start forming as long as there's a lot of moisture nearby. But for some reason, they stop as soon as you reach your actual size, so you can't sit in a cold wet place to try and get bigger."
"I'm betting you've tested that theory anyway." Flame grinned at her; she grinned back. She trusted both of these Sakhmet Guards now - and even better, she liked them. "Anyway," continued Flame, more seriously, "I don't suppose you know where Rathua went?"
"No, I'm sorry. I only woke up a few minutes before you, and he wasn't here."
The pair sat in silence for a while, each lost in their own thoughts. The silence between them had been growing long enough to be uncomfortable when it was broken, by Flame. "Mist... Do you see that? That light?"
The Wocky looked up, to see where he was pointing. On the horizon, just being lit by the dawn sun, a red-gold light shone, obscured by a rise in the ground. She looked at Flame, frowning. "It's the dawn light. The sun coming over the rise. That's all."
He looked down at her, shaking his head. "I've seen dawn on this plain before, Mist. That isn't the dawn light. Light from the sun - it doesn't flicker."
"But that means..." He was right, the light was flickering. It seemed to be dancing, on the rise, and it was coming towards them too. There was only one thing Mist knew that shed light and flickered. "Fire! Flame, we need to find Rathua!"
"No, he's coming, see?" The Scorchio spoke calmly, though he had the urge to panic just as much as Mist. He pointed calmly at a growing figure, running over the rise, waving wildly at them. Flame waved back, and the figure pointed to the other edge of the grassland, then started running for it himself.
"Come on; oh, darn it, you can't run yet, can you?" Flame looked at his companion, who shook her head, and before she could ask what he was doing, he picked her up, despite him not being much bigger than her.
"Flame! What-" As the Scorchio started running towards the edge of the plain, Mist fell silent. She knew there wasn't an alternative. The fire was moving fast, she wouldn't have been able to outrun it. So instead of protesting, she asked him, "Flame? Where are we running to exactly?"
"The fire will eat up all of that grass in no time. So we need to go to somewhere it can't follow, and seeing as we can't go back to the desert, there's only really one other option."
Between the dim dawn light, and the glow from the now too-visible fire, Mist could pick out the shapes of boulders and ruins, and behind them, her home, the mountain. But to get to her home... She shivered. "The stone maze," she whispered. She had been there before, just last year. She hadn't been in amongst the rocks long before she got scared and fled the place. The rocks there were tall, obscuring any view of the outside world, and the wind howled through them so eerily... The real fright she had gotten in there, though, was when she decided she had had enough, and tried to leave, but couldn't find the way out. There were just too many stones there, and so many paths between them, all kept very separate from one another by the crowded boulders, except when they met, offering multiple pathways that made the way out harder to find, as they all looked exactly the same...
She shook her head sharply. Rathua and Flame will be in the maze with me this time, she told herself. There are many paths to the exit, and even if we do get lost, it won't matter too much, because we will be able to see the mountain and use it to guide us. And it's not as if there's anything in the maze...
When he had woken up, both his brother and Mist had been asleep. Rathua had sat waiting for them to wake up too for a while, but when he had grown bored, he got up to stretch his legs and see if there was anything interesting nearby. Not long after he had walked over the rise, he saw the start of the fire, just a small flame then, and beside it, its creator. It cackled, then turned to see him watching. It started, then spun around, extended wings, and flew off in the direction of the mountain above the stone range. Seeing its shape as it flew into the clear, brightening, sky, Rathua realised it was a faerie; from its batlike wings, he could guess it was not a good one. But he hadn't been able to dwell on that long; the fire was spreading fast, changing quickly from a small flame, to a large blaze, and then, a raging inferno.
It spread and extinguished itself as it fed on new grass and died out where there was nothing left to burn, but that didn't help, as it just spread out in more directions, becoming larger as a whole. The Ruki had stood frozen with shock for a moment, before a blast of heat hit him. He had grown up in the desert, but this fire was hotter than anything he'd ever felt. Must be something to do with the fact a dark faerie started it... The heat woke him up, though, and Rathua had raced back over the rise, which was fairly large, and gestured for his brother and Mist to get to safe ground as fast as they could - if the eerie maze they were retreating to could be called safe, that is.
To be continued...