In The Heat Of The Moment: Part Two
Flying the cloud racer proved to be much more difficult than the simulations I had tinkered with would have had me believe. For starters, nothing I had experienced on those prepared me for just loud the wind is once you get right up there in the clouds. And of course it was entirely necessary for me to be that high, it is a cloud racer, after all. The clue is in the name.
It was much nippier than the virtual ones I had driven as well, so I reached the Lost Desert in no time at all. From above I could clearly make out the lines and pathways formed by the great pyramids and there, in the midst of one particular clump, coiled the shimmering mass of ice that was the Snowager.
Touching down just shy of his head, the poor creature looked so forlorn and diminished that my initial fear of him melted into a concern for his wellbeing. But as I reached out a hand to touch him I was accosted by a jangling mass that would be revealed as a Desert Kiko.
"Don't touch that!" he yelled whilst bounding towards me, his many gold necklaces clacking and clinking against his golden beard sheathe. "By order of King Menuos, the right and honourable ruler of Kharuit, I command you to step away from that beast!"
I made to respond in kind, but as I turned the Kiko's momentum caused him to barrel into me at full force, sending us both sprawling in the sand. Shifting into a sitting position, a dark paw suddenly appeared before me. Realising that it intended to assist me rather than strike me back down, I took hold of the paw and felt myself being lifted to my feet.
"A thousssand apologiesss, oh fair one." The speaker had a pronounced lisp, making his speech sound more serpentine than was intended. "Allow me to introduce to you, the benevolent and mighty King Menuosss."
At this the Kiko, hitherto face-down in the sand, reared up and dusted himself off, with a great deal of assistance from the owner of the dark paw, who was only now revealed to be a Shadow Yurble.
"What bringsss you to our little corner of the desssert?" entreated the Yurble, folding his arms up into his sleeves so that the material covered his fur completely.
It was only now that I was being asked that I actually stopped to question what it was I was intending to achieve. "I'm... here to rescue the Snowager," I eventually offered. As soon as the words were out of my mouth I regretted them; only once I heard them outside my own head did I realise how presumptuous I sounded, and potentially offensive. "Which isn't to say that you kidnapped him or anything, that isn't what I meant..." My attempts to dig myself out of the mess I had made only served to sink me deeper. "What I mean is..."
"What you mean, isss that you have come to meddle in affairs which do not concern you!" The Yurble suddenly turned rather acidic. Meanwhile the King seemed quite content to stand in the background, literally and metaphorically, as he now took up position behind his shadowy accomplice.
The sudden change in his demeanour put me on my guard and made me go on the defensive as well. "Well, to be fair, I think that it does concern me. I may not be an expert in these things but I can plainly see that this climate is no place for the Snowager to be." Without thinking I reached out to pat him where his shoulder would have been had he any legs. It was only once my flesh made contact with his frozen veneer that I could feel the full contrast of just how oppressive the heat and humidity was.
The atmosphere was so close that the air was almost tangible. I hadn't been paying too much attention to the ambient temperature, what with my abrupt encounter with the local monarchy and all, but now that it consumed my entire attention I realised that there were beads of sweat forming on my brow and at the nape of my neck. Indeed where I had touched the Snowager my hand left a trail of melted ice, like a cleaner version of a Slorg on a gourd patch.
"You see, though, our need is greater than yours!" He punctuated his words with a jab of his finger in the air. Then, content with his little interjection into the discussion, King Menous the right and honourable settled back down into silence again, allowing his companion to take over.
"You will sssurely have noticed the weather we are experiencing throughout our kingdom at present," said the Yurble, who I suddenly realised hadn't ever actually introduced himself. As if reading my mind, he added, "my name is Glaadorf, I am the king's vizier. Asss sssuch it was with the power of my magic that the Sssnowager came to asssisst usss here in our time of need."
"But that's just it; he isn't assisting you." It took great pains not to pronounce all the extra 's's he had garnished the sentence with. "He's been brought here against his will and... well, look at him! Does he look very happy to you?"
Indeed the poor Snowager looked dejected and thoroughly miserable. I had hoped that my appeals might go some way to opening discussions about a better solution for all involved, but Glaadorf had apparently had his fill of my 'meddling' and considered the subject closed. It was then that, fortuitously or not (depending on your point of view), a dazzling crackle of lightning pierced the air and in the blink of an eye, there stood Taelia and Kari. My initial elation at having reinforcements suddenly dwindled as I saw the severity with which Taelia was scowling at me.
"What is the meaning of this outrage?!" The Snow Faerie pronounced the word as though it itself had caused her great offence. Had she not had her eye closely trained on me I might have braved a little giggle, but after great consideration I decided it better not to aggrieve her further.
Before I could respond, Glaadorf came to my rescue; it was a somewhat dubious arrangement, rather like a troupe of Warfs working to rescue a Kadoatie, but I wasn't going to look a gift Uni in the mouth. "We are dealing with thisss hoodlum, thank you..."
Taelia suddenly whirled around to face the two natives, whom up until now she had been ignoring, and fixed them with a stare colder than the early morning frost up in Happy Valley. "I shall speak to you in time. I hope you have ready an answer that will please me when the time comes for you to speak your turn."
As it happened, their turn to speak came around sooner than expected. Glaadorf explained how they had been experiencing a much-hotter-than-usual-for-this-time-of-the-year heat wave of sorts, the blame for which was being placed solely at the feet of Evil King Heksas (or rather, the blame was being aimed somewhere at his underbelly, what with being a Hissi and not having feet and all). We were also brought up to speed on the fact that 'Evil King Heksas' was indeed his official title, owing to his many years of abusing all who chose to make their home in the Lost Desert.
To try and combat the rising temperature, Glaadorf had employed all the wizardly magic he knew of, but despite his best efforts the thermometers in Kharuit had continued to melt and spontaneously burst into flames. It was as a final, desperate effort that he had opted to transport the Snowager to their city, having run out of all other options. Although initially defensive, they did eventually concede that it had been a terrible idea and that we should set about devising a much more effective one, and quickly. But even though haste was of the essence, the aforementioned grouping of 'we who should be pulling on our thinking caps' seemed not to include myself.
"Before we can consider our options to fully rectify this matter, I believe that there is one injured party who should be returned home forthwith." Our collective attention was momentarily turned to the Snowager who, after a few sharp flicks of her wand, was magicked into thin air and, presumably, back to the chilly comfort of his own cave.
Then the four of them – Taelia, Kari, Glaadorf and King Menuos – set off in the direction of the palace, already deep in animated discussion of how would be best to try and tackle the problem. And they just left me, standing there, on the outskirts of the city, alone and unnecessary. Feeling suddenly very impotent, I looked for something to take my anger out on. Being a sandy landscape, the only thing to hand (or to foot, rather) was a knobbly rock, which I promptly kicked as hard as I possibly could in the direction of nothing in particular. It barely made a sound as it landed somewhere softly in the distance.
Too hot to think of anything else but the sting of their rejection, I decided I should probably take on board some fluids since I was sweating so profusely. It would have been the most practical decision to have followed the quartet to the palace, where surely a cool beverage could be summoned by the collective powers of three mages. But as hot and thirsty as I was, I was also too proud to accept their help. And so I headed off deeper into the city in search of something to wet my whistle.
To be continued...