The snow flew toward the windshield. I couldn’t help but think of a spaceship traveling through light speed, stars stretched into bright lines. I briefly considered what it would be like to live on a spaceship, or off Earth. If someone offered me a one way ticket to Mars, I would take it.
I blinked, rerouting my concentration back to the road. I hated snow. Or I hated it if I had to drive in it. If I could stay in bed and read all day, I didn’t mind what it was doing outside. I preferred the rain, though.
Did it snow on Mars? I was unclear. I would have to look into that.
Something darted across the road and I instinctively pressed the brakes. My headlights had illuminated a creature I couldn’t immediately identify. It definitely wasn’t a squirrel, and although it was about the size of a cat, it didn’t move the way I had seen cats move. Maybe a raccoon? They sorted of trundled, right?
But it seemed to scuttle, like an insect. That was deeply unsettling.
I glanced in my mirrors. There weren’t any other cars except those parked along the road. I eased my car into an open spot and turned off the engine, taking a moment to sit quietly and enjoy the silence. The snow made a soft susurrous against the car.
There was work waiting for me at home. A hungry bird waiting to be fed. My own dinner. As if to prove a point, my stomach growled. But the pull of the mystery was too great. Against my better judgement, and the better judgement of those who might have seen me, I got out of the car. Luckily I had my snow boots on hand, and I always kept a pair of gloves in my car. I pulled them over my already freezing fingers, raised the hood of my coat, and trudged off in the direction of the animal.
It could be an alien, right? I mean, I had just been thinking about space, and then I saw a strange, unidentifiable creature. It was too coincidental to be a coincidence.
The snow was falling heavily, but the streetlight shone onto a path in the drifts. I knelt down, examining the tracks. Well, perhaps tracks wasn’t the best way to describe it. It reminded me of something I had seen at the zoo; trail marks from komodo dragons, their bellies and tails dragging through the sand. Or in this case, snow.
But the thing I had seen moved too fast to match the slow, reptilian lumbering of a komodo dragon. And besides, what would a komodo dragon be doing out here in the snow? Certainly not escaping from the zoo, and certainly not running around in the kind of weather that was sure to kill it.
I shivered. What was I doing? Whatever I had seen wasn’t worth it. I stood up, my knee popping uncomfortably, and turned back to my car. But a rustling behind me made me pause. I turned back. The trail led back into the darkness, into an old lot that lay quiet beyond the radiance of the streetlights.
Stuffing my hands into my pockets, I cautiously followed the trail into the lot. The wind pressed against my back, nudging me along. As I reached the center of the lot, I peered down at the ground. Here the snow was disturbed everywhere, the trail disappearing in turmoil. I slowly circled around, trying to follow the path the creature might have taken, but it was impossible. It had covered its tracks.
I sighed. This was a waste of time, and my stomach reminded me it was getting late. I had followed another hint to another dead end, and all I had to show for it was a numb nose.
But then, movement. Something skittered by to my right. I turned, and it flitted by to my left. No. There was another. It wasn’t alone. I froze, my breath catching as I realized there were several creatures scampering around me, kicking up snow and moving so quickly I couldn’t quite see what they looked like. About the size of a cat. Legs like a praying mantis, maybe. Scales? Something glittered against the freshly fallen snow.
And then, silence. The murmuring of wind and the hush of snow that dampens the sound of the world. The creatures were still there, but they too were quiet. Mute. Waiting.
I looked up. The snow fell quickly toward me, streams of sparkling light in the chill air.
No, not snow.
Derya fished in her bag, finally finding and pulling out a packet of dried meat. She untied it and glanced inside. Only a few pieces left.
Derya sighed. This certainly was the strangest mission she’d ever been on. She wasn’t used to this level of magic. She had encountered it, of course; she had played bodyguard to a fair number of wizards and sorcerers on her travels. But she didn’t trust magic. It could be finicky, and, in her experience, in the wrong hands, deadly. No. She didn’t trust anything that wasn’t her sword or her scarred fists.
Derya silently extracted a piece of meat and handed it to Tali. Tali took it but didn’t eat. She didn’t look up at all. Derya glanced around the room. Tarautis was studying the pedestal, its patterns glinting in the torchlight. He would pace back and forth, every once in a while leaning forward and then gesturing excitedly to Kiro, who stood looking on, their arms folded across their chest. Derya wasn’t sure Tarautis knew what he was doing, but she knew he was eager to find his friend. It was just hard to take him seriously when his skin was still blue.
A quick scan of the room revealed Rhýlavin, barely visible in a corner. Derya didn’t quite know what to make of him, but then again, she barely knew what to make of this entire situation. As long as the Drow wasn’t trying to stab them all in the back, she could live with it.
What was most frustrating was that she thought she had been hired to lead this rescue mission. But everyone was determined to do their own thing. Tarautis, Tali and Kiro presumably knew each other, and Malena, but at times they would act as though they had never met before. Well, Tarautis probably got on with everyone, or thought he did. Derya smiled to herself. The great oaf was beginning to grow on her. She certainly couldn’t fault him for lack of enthusiasm.
Tali and Kiro were another matter. Some experience or secret knowledge linked them somehow, but whatever it was confounded Derya. She was used to the openness of battle, the certainty of a straightforward fight. And Rhýlavin...who knew what was going on there, or why he was even here at all. All these shadows and secrets; she didn’t like it. It gave her an uncomfortable feeling in her stomach. A sourness that tasted like failure.
Derya sighed more deeply, and pushed herself to her feet, grunting a little. This chamber had taken its toll, even if her armor was unmarked. The strangeness of this place compounded with each room, whether it was fighting magical beasts or contending with peculiar spells. The fact they were given a break in the most recent room made Derya all the more uneasy. Whatever they were up against, it was biding its time.
“Tarautis,” Derya’s voice boomed through the chamber, and Tali winced. Tarautis and Kiro turned to face her and Tarautis made his way over. Cheerfully, by the look of it.
“Have you made any sense of those symbols?,” Derya asked, indicating the pedestal with a jerk of her head.
Tarautis shook his head.
“Still copper!,” he exclaimed, a smile on his blue face.
“It looks like we’re making progress, at any rate,” Derya conceded, and Kiro gave a terse nod.
“It seems that once we have completed activating the symbols, we should have access to some final chamber that will lead us to Malena,” Kiro said, proving once again their level headedness. Derya glanced over at Tali to see if she agreed. Tali didn’t look up. She was rubbing some kind of cream into her hands.
“Does anyone have any idea how long we’ve been down here?”
Derya was hoping one of the magic users had a better system of tracking time than she did. She had never spent this much time underground before and it was messing with her internal clock. Tarautis shrugged. Kiro looked up at the ceiling, clearly accustomed to keeping time with the heavens.
There was no answer from Tali or Rhýlavin, although Derya wasn’t expecting one. They were useful in a fight but weren’t much of team players. Derya glanced sideways at Kiro. They had proven to be one of the most inventive and skilled fighters Derya had met. She reminded herself to ask them what their plans were after this was over.
“Well, we’d better get a move on,” she said, pulling her greatsword from its scabbard. Tarautis’ eyes glowed and his smile broadened. Kiro gave a slight smirk, and even Tali straightened and looked attentive.
“Malena won’t wait forever. Which room is next?”
I write for fun and to make sure my sister doesn't beat me in our blog challenge.