No Small Matter
Three steps into the belly of the beast, and already Yuzell was getting cold feet.
The hollow was freezing, closer to the summit than the rest of the Ice Caves, and a bitter wind iced over her fur. Her long, antenna-like ears were stiff, and the chill was seeping past the bundle of scarfs and coats she wrapped herself in. Yuzell was no stranger to the cold, having lived at Terror Mountain’s base all her life, but the cold was nearly unbearable. It wasn’t this cold at the top, she didn’t think.
But she supposed she was staring down the sleeping terror of the Ice Caves—the Snowager.
She tried to convince her family several days ago to come with her to take from the infamous worm. Her family was a family of daredevils and adventurers, one had traveled the globe—having been everywhere from the depths of newly discovered Moltara to the high tiptops of the Shenkuu mountains—and another was regularly called upon by the Defenders of Neopia to defeat various brewing evils in the far reaches of Neopia. Compared to all of that, surely the Snowager couldn’t compare?
Her family refused. Full stop, no way, absolutely not, not ever, not even in a million years, not even if a million NeoPoints were on the line. All of them adamant that they go nowhere near the icy worm, it was too dangerous. For any of them, they insisted. The Snowager was a beast beyond compare. It was so long it could wrap itself around the base of Terror Mountain, they said. It was so powerful that not even several of the Brute Squad’s finest warriors could put it down, and it had squashed those warriors how one might squash a Moach. It was so big that Yuzell could fit up its right nostril, they said.
The jab at Yuzell’s height aside, Yuzell had to concede that they might’ve had a point. The Snowager’s body seemed to weave in and out of the network of tunnels that its treasure hoard was located in, and there was not a single mound of treasure that some part of it hadn’t curled up onto, and looking at its slow breathing snout, Yuzell had to also concede that she could likely fit up its right nostril. Her family of six could fit up that one nostril.
She was very glad that it was sleeping then. She didn’t intend to coincide with the time that the Snowager was doomed to sleep at (although she was very glad she had as it would have gobbled her up in a single bite if it’d been awake), but she wasn’t going to look the gift Uni in the mouth.
All she intended to do was get proof that she had braved the horrifying worm, little else. Anything else wasn’t worth the cost, which was likely to be her life.
But what could she find here that couldn’t be found any place else? She wasn’t entirely sure how the Snowager had gone about collecting treasure (she couldn’t see it traveling someplace outside of Terror Mountain for one, and a gigantic ice worm was pretty difficult to miss) but even from a distance she could make out treasure from the far reaches of Mystery Island, the dark depths of Maraqua, and even a couple of choice items from the Lost Desert. How had the beast gotten to such places? How had it survived in a place like the Lost Desert even for a short while?
Yuzell kept an eye on it as she tiptoed around, giving each treasure mound a customary glance as she decided on what she could take—something small and something the Snowager wouldn’t miss, if such a thing was possible to find.
As she wandered farther and farther away from the tunnel entrance, the treasure grew only more and more varied and fantastical. Yuzell suspected she was moving past the area that the foolhardy stole from, and into the area that perhaps only the Snowager had gazed upon, as it seemed untouched, no footprints.
She shivered and kept her ears perked, she didn’t want to be caught unawares this deep into the Snowager’s den. What could she take that it wouldn’t miss? Despite the seemingly disorderly nature of the mounds, Yuzell didn’t think it would be a stretch to say that the Snowager would notice if even a single measly Negg was missing.
And anyone could easily say that she purchased said Negg from the Neggery. If they were inclined to miss the Snowager’s likely rampage.
It would have to be some sort of foreign weapon. Like…
Like that Scepter of the Winged Sun.
…Why would the Snowager even want an item like that? Wouldn’t something so saturated and concentrated with the power of the Sun be dangerous to an icy being like the Snowager?
Yuzell recognized it from pictures that Altanna had shown her of Qasalan Weaponry. The Shoyru’s travels had inevitably taken her to the Lost Desert, and while she claimed that Sakhmet was beautiful, there was something alluring about Qasala, a city that was nearly lost to a power crazed fool, that had caused the Shoyru to spend the majority of her time in the Lost Desert at Qasala rather than Sakhmet.
Regardless, the Scepter of the Winged Sun had been described in ancient texts, but it’d been lost ages ago to the simple decline of society. It was the perfect sort of proof.
Yuzell crept closer to it in awe, it rested innocuously at one treasure pile’s base, shimmering faintly. Yes, it really was perfect, just small enough for her to—
—the Snowager twitched minutely, and yet the worm was so large that the sound of it still sent a rumble beneath her feet.
Whatever chill she was previously feeling didn’t compare to the one wracking her body now. Even with her repeated assurances to herself that it was likely just a simple sleepy twitch of whatever dream the Snowager might’ve been having, she could not dispel the notion that it was in fact not the Snowager sleeping, but rather it was the beast readying itself to strike.
Yuzell folded her long Aisha ears down and crept slowly, wondering if she should risk grabbing the scepter. On one paw, she promised herself that she would not leave the Snowager’s den unless she left with a piece of proof, but on the other paw, that promise had been made before she even gazed upon the Snowager’s intimidating bulk.
But what was she, if not good on her promises? No, the danger of the Snowager didn’t change anything. She came here for proof that she wasn’t the runt of the family, the burden, and she wasn’t leaving until she found it. She would always be good for her word, no matter the danger.
Resolve hardened, Yuzell slunk closer to the ground and scurried towards the scepter, glad that she had on an excess of scarves as the scepter was taller than she. Her family had often joked that she must’ve licked a Baby Paint Brush when she was younger, she was that small. She tied the scepter to her back quickly, the positioning was slightly awkward as the scepter head had to dangle over her head if she didn’t want the butt of it to drag along the ground. There was also the risk of it flying out in front of her, but she was prepared to pick it up between her teeth and run, if it came to that.
Yuzell was no Shadow Neopet, but she hoped she could move quietly enough to not alert the Snowager. She traced her path back through the treasure piles, keeping a wary eye on the slumbering beast before her.
The Snowager kept twitching. Small movements that nearly sent Yuzell through the roof of the cavern with how badly her nerves were shot, but they seemed inconsequential. So far. She did wonder why though. Was it dreaming?
She could hear its soft exhales as she drew near what she hoped was the exit. She was so close now—
—A wall of ice slammed into her, so quick and sudden that she had no time to brace herself, one moment she was crawling along in the snow and the next she was flying through the cold air.
A shriek pierced her ears, hollow and raspy, and oh so loud. Yuzell tried to twist in the air, to land on her feet, but she wasn’t quick enough and slammed hard on her back with a squelch! Destroying likely a king’s fortune’s worth of valuable Neggs.
She didn’t stop to assess the situation, scampering out from the pile while she twisted her long ears around the scepter to steady it, and hit the ground running. A bright beam of ice blasted the spot she’d evacuated from, and the tip of her tail froze over. She cursed her stubby little legs as she stumbled away, and her tail throbbed terribly.
This really hadn’t been a good idea. She never stopped to think what might happen if she was still in the cave when the Snowager came out of its unwilling sleep while she was still present. Or rather, when it was between her and the exit.
When she heard it shriek again she chanced a look back at it, locking eyes with the monstrous beast. Its fury was palpable, and sung in the air with another high pitched whine as the worm fired another beam at her. When that missed it lunged at her, trying to snap its odd beaklike mouth around her, and got so close that Yuzell’s fur was covered lightly in snow from its breath.
It was normally difficult to gather magic in one’s self as they were moving, but it felt as easy as breathing (which admittedly wasn’t that easy while being chased down by the Snowager) as she expelled a bright blast of light in the Snowager’s face as it lunged for her again, wide eyed with fury.
The light hurt Yuzell’s own tightly squeezed shut eyes, so she could only imagine the agony the Snowager was in as it thrashed and screeched in pain. Yuzell twisted and twirled to avoid its bulk, a single hit would take her down for good.
Where was the exit? The time to leave was now. Her spell would only blind the Snowager temporarily. Her head whipped side to side looking for landmarks, but any familiar treasure pile was long trashed and displaced.
On all sides was a massive flailing ice worm looking to freeze her solid. That unfortunately only meant one thing.
She had to go over the enormous ice worm.
There wasn’t any time for hesitation. No time for resolve. Yuzell’s mind was abuzz with static as she picked a direction and vaulted over the Snowager’s squirming body, stubby paws scrambling for purchase on the Snowager’s smooth and icy body.
She heard it growl as she scurried across its lengthy body, using the new height vantage to try and locate the exit. She felt rather than heard the Snowager stiffen, and it was with no sense at all that she turned around and faced it.
It was simply monstrous. Yuzell could not tell if it was made from ice or if its skin simply had the texture and temperature of it, and when she met its gaze she was struck with how intelligent they looked, it was no different from looking into the eyes of a Faerie, or one of her family.
They regarded the other for a moment, unmoving. Yuzell was struck by the very silly notion of perhaps talking to it, did its wealth of treasures compare to the wealth of knowledge it likely possessed? It was impossible to know. It growled gutturally, and a fine mist poured out of its clenched mouth. Behind its enormous bulk, she could see the Neggery in the distance, twinkling faintly in the light.
Yuzell wondered if it would leave her alone if she dropped the weapon, but it didn’t seem like it was one for compromise. She scowled at it, a silent challenge, before lunging forward.
It had to crane its neck to aim as she plunged forward, as close as she dared to go as the scepter strapped to her back started to shine.
The light was blinding even as she squinted to see, and yet even as the Snowager growled in discomfort, she could hear the loud whine of its ice beam charging up.
If the Snowager wasn’t going to compromise, then neither was she. She’d come to prove herself, what better way to do it then to fight the Snowager? The incomprehensible terror of the caves, and likely a beast of unimaginable cunning.
Her battle cry echoed off the icy cave walls as she jumped to meet the Snowager’s blow with the scepter.