Above The Ashes: Part Seven
Also by imogenweasley. Art by imogenweasley.
“What do you mean, he’s headed to Terror Mountain?” Elisse shouted as an enormous rumble shook the ground beneath the group. “Is the Pteri here?!” The faerie, still restraining Lula from breaking free to help the villagers in peril, glanced around frantically. The volcano raged all around them, a fact of which Kyruggi became increasingly alarmed. Any longer on the island and they’d have far worse things to worry about than where the Pteri might have gone.
“He was here,” the robot droned calmly. “I have reason to believe he is behind this sudden eruption, for he emerged just seconds ago from the Techo head inexplicably carved into the mountainside. Or at least, a figure that bears a striking resemblance to a Pteri emerged just seconds—”
“Do any of you realize we’re still in danger of the volcano eruption?!” Kyruggi cut in hysterically. “Let’s go!” She turned on her heel and led the group through the jungle hurriedly, dodging vines haphazardly as she made her way to the beach. Titem and the robot followed quickly behind.
Elisse released the Lenny tentatively and waited for her reaction. Lula at first did not make any movement, staring longingly at the village further inland, which had become obscured by ash. She didn’t seem to mind that fireballs were crashing down all around her.
“I know what you’re feeling,” the Faerie said loudly, straining to be heard over the rumbles and screams. “Like you’re running from the fight.”
“Worse,” Lula said sullenly, still refusing to make eye contact. “It’s like I’m condemning them to death.”
“You’re not,” Elisse replied. “You’re doing more than anyone else on this island by pursuing that Pteri. You’re ensuring an end to the terror.”
Lula at last turned to her friend. “You’re right,” she said finally. “My heart hates you for it, making me leave. But you’re right.”
With a faint smile and a nod, the Faerie turned and disappeared into the cloud of dust. Lula, with one last glance at the volcano, followed shortly behind.
“Okay,” Kyruggi said with a nod at the Ruki once the group had reformed on the beach. The volcano continued to rage at their backs, but at a safe enough distance that the group could pause for a moment to plan their next move. “Tell us what you found.”
“As the volcanic eruption was just beginning, I noticed a yellow flash at the mouth of the Techo head,” the robot began. “Using my vision enhancement technology I was able to make out the figure of a Pteri through the haze. Naturally I assumed it was the one you had been pursuing.”
“And what makes you think he’s headed for Terror Mountain?” Elisse asked. “If he is a phoenix – and I’m not saying he is – that seems like an awfully strange place for him to go next.”
“The direction he headed in, as calculated by my internal compass, indicates that he is indeed heading north. There is nothing but water to the north of Mystery Island, save for Terror Mountain. I simply extrapolated,” he said simply.
“And you’re sure that it was a Pteri?” Titem asked uncertainly.
The robot bristled at the implication. “My technologies are the most advanced this world has ever seen. Why else do you think I was assigned to this mission?” it asked, eyes glowing.
Titem frowned. “No need to snap,” he muttered. “I just want to be sure we wouldn’t be wasting our time.”
“Trust me,” the Ruki replied. “My calculations are correct.”
Elisse sighed. “Another trek across the globe. I’m never leaving home again after this.”
It was nearly midnight when the group stood at the foot of Terror Mountain, regarding its sheer height and size. No one said anything, but they all could sense the despair hanging over them. It would take them days to search every nook and cranny the mountain had. They had already searched Happy Valley to no avail; no one had seen or even heard of a faerie Pteri lurking about recently.
To make matters worse, the shopkeeper that sold them winter clothing had warned them of an incoming blizzard that was due to hit the mountain in the coming hours. The Chia cautioned them of trying to climb the mountain at night—madness, he called it. Titem regarded him uneasily and immediately began begging the others to wait until the blizzard had passed.
“Nonsense,” Kyruggi had said, brushing off the Kougra’s fear. “I’m not waiting one second longer to retrieve my Scorchio. We’ll find the bird before the storm hits.”
“But he said it’ll be here within a few hours!” Titem replied anxiously. “It’s not worth the risk. We could die.”
“I understand the risks,” Kyruggi said tersely. “But if we dilly-dally any longer, the Pteri could move again, and then we’d really be lost. It was truly lucky the robot found him in Mystery Island; we can’t count on his luck again.”
The Ruki bristled at this, its eyes glowing red. “I do not possess luck, I possess technology far superior to anything you have ever or will ever encounter! I can calculate—”
“Will you shut up already?” Kyruggi spat. “It sure doesn’t take much to get your cables in a bunch, does it?”
It remained silent, though its red eyes still pierced the night air menacingly.
“Now let’s go, already. I have had it up to here with these petty arguments,” she muttered. She pulled her coat tighter and took the first step.
This felt right, the Kyrii thought as the wind began to howl past her ears. Something deep inside her stirred, and with a slight jolt she realized it was hope.
The snow began falling about twenty minutes after they began climbing. At first, impossibly tiny snowflakes flooded the sky, so that the travelers could not see even a foot in front of them. They held their lanterns as high as their arms allowed; even Elisse’s spells could not puncture the curtains of snow that enveloped them.
And yet, it grew worse. The snowflakes tripled in size in conjunction with the development of gale-force winds. The group burrowed as far into their coats as possible but even that could not stop the awful scratching sensation the snow created as it blew past them. Before they knew it, the path before them had been shrouded in snow and ice.
“Where are you heading?” Titem’s voice fought the wind feebly, and Kyruggi could barely hear it as she led the group on.
She remained silent, for she did not know. But to turn back now was equivalent to giving up, in her mind. The inkling of hope she had experienced earlier had spiraled into a full-blown conviction that she would find her Scorchio on this godforsaken mountain. So she pressed on, estimating the path’s twists and turns haphazardly, ignoring the Kougra.
“Kyruggi?” Elisse chimed in, and Kyruggi could not ignore her as the faerie was directly behind her. “Do you know where you’re going?”
“To find the bird,” she replied tersely. “Where are you going?”
“To find my friend,” the faerie said icily in return. “But I’m not going to find her if you’re leading us into a storm that will bury us alive.”
“If you want to turn back, be my guest. I can find my Scorchio with or without you.”
Elisse scoffed. “Somehow I doubt that. My spell is the only thing keeping you alive right now.”
Kyruggi stopped, turning on her heel swiftly to face the faerie. “Look, I’ve put up with your snide remarks and—”
“What’s going on?” Lula said as she nearly ran into Elisse. Her wings were coated with snow, and she looked to be the worst off in the blizzard. Needless to say, spending one’s entire life on Mystery Island leaves you a tad unaccustomed to such weather.
Kyruggi jabbed a finger at the faerie. “I was just telling the witch here that—”
“Excuse me?” Elisse interjected, voice rising. “A witch lives in a swamp, performing black magic on Meowclops. I am—”
“Hey, in my eyes, magic is magic,” Kyruggi said. “And you know what else? Magic is involved with so many evil things in Neopia; I’d be surprised if your friend wasn’t helping him.”
Elisse glowered at her, eyes flashing vividly through the wall of white. “How dare you.”
Kyruggi simply stared. “Everyone else’s possessions were stolen. Your friend, though... she went willingly.”
“Guys?” Titem cut in. “Couldn’t we discuss this down in the village?”
“She had no choice!” Elisse hissed, ignoring the Kougra. “The Pteri threatened her.”
Kyruggi rolled her eyes. “You think she couldn’t have held her own against the bird? I may not know her, but surely she isn’t that weak. Then again, given your performance lately...”
With an aggravated shriek Elisse leapt forward, hands at the Kyrii’s throat. Instantly they were in the snow, arms flying. Kyruggi narrowly dodged a surge of flames emanating from the faerie’s fingers while landing a swift kick to Elisse’s stomach. She recoiled in pain with a grunt. Before she could fling herself at the Kyrii, however, the Ruki swept in, eyes blazing.
“That is enough,” it intoned. “I will have no more of this.”
“I have had it,” Elisse spat. “I cannot take this anymore. All this time she’s been leading us from place to place, searching fruitlessly for a Pteri that no one’s even heard of! And on top of that, she’s absolutely insane! Let’s count the ways, shall we? She has a beast for a pet. She thought it’d be smart to go skydiving off the edge of Faerieland. She led us into a volcano eruption. And as if that wasn’t enough, now she wants us all to freeze to death!”
Elisse, hair askew, eyes wild, glared at each member of the group one by one, determined to convince them she was right. Snow whipped through her hair, diluting the brilliance of her locks. The others, clearly shaken by the sudden explosion, remained silent.
“I don’t believe it,” Elisse said finally. “I can’t believe that you still trust this woman. Look where we are!” she cried, throwing up her hands. “We’re lost, miles from anyone who might be able to help. We’re going to die.”
“Then leave!” Kyruggi yelled. “We’re all tired, we’re all freezing, but no one needs you berating us. So either shut it or leave! We can find the Pteri without you.”
“How? How do you propose to find him in this weather, all-knowing Kyruggi?” the faerie retorted.
But before the Kyrii had a chance to reply, an ear-splitting crack exploded from above them, accompanied by an enormous flash of blinding yellow light. A fireball burst onto the mountain from some unknown point, instantly melting the snow and scorching the earth underneath. Though the explosion was miles away, they could feel the warmth of the burst on their skin, a welcome change to the blistering cold. They squeezed their eyes shut tightly from the intensity of the light, but before they could even comprehend what was going on, the sudden burst was gone, as quickly as it had come.
“What in Fyora–” Elisse began, but she was cut off by an equally spine-tingling roar, a sickening sound that dove into your very soul and clenched it tightly. She shuddered, suddenly colder than ever.
“My Scorchio!” Kyruggi squealed suddenly. “That was him, I’m certain of it!”
Before the others could register what was going on, she dashed off, forging a path through the snow banks, eyes focused on the blackened semicircle beyond her. With only a second of delay, they hurried after her, towards the Scorchio and whatever monster lurked beside it.
To be continued...