“You want gear to climb the Yukishi Mountain.” The young bespeckled woman sighed, taking off her glasses to rub her temples. She put them back on, recomposed herself, and stared at Kakane, Serena, and Rean with the most incredulous expression they had ever seen. “Are you guys crazy!?”
“Oh, come on, Leelee,” chirped a young man in the storage room of the small equipment shop. “Why not let them try?”
“Leo, I am not sending three teenagers to their deaths,” she snapped angrily.
“She has a point, Leo,” said a blond boy carrying boxes.
“We tried it once, Hawk. I don’t see why we shouldn’t let three strapping young teens attempt it too,” Leo pointed out.
“You only made it out alive because I stopped you guys before you got five feet up the mountain!” Leelee groaned, placing her face in her hands. “Why are the two of you utter idiots? Why am I the only local voice of reason here!?”
“Hey, I haven’t done anything yet!” Hawk protested.
“Uh, if you’re done arguing, we want ropes strong enough to handle whatever the Yukishi Mountain is going to throw at us.” Kakane slid a small bag over the counter. “We have sufficient cash to pay for it.”
“Well, if you’re gonna climb the Yukishi Mountain, you’re gonna need, let’s see um…” Leo tapped his chin. “Goldfish.”
“What?” Kakane frowned. Leelee smacked her forehead before clobbering Leo on the head.
“NOW IS NOT THE TIME TO BE THINKING ABOUT YOUR STUPID PET FISH!!!” she roared. Turning to Kakane, she said, “Look, I get that you want to climb the Yukishi Mountain, but I don’t do business regarding anything with that deathtrap. I don’t care for the money; I have my own code of ethics to abide by.”
“Please, Miss, this is important,” Serena pleaded.
“Here’s some seal sinew rope, adamantine harnesses, firefly ore lights, flares, signal fires, and yeti fur jackets.” Hawk placed the gear on the counter, earning himself a smack from Leelee.
“Hawk!” she hissed. “I told them no!” He stared at her seriously.
“We need the money, Leelee. We’re all starving here and Doryoku is the only place with any food. I know you don’t want any deaths on your hands, but it’s good business.” Leelee sighed.
“Fine.” She took the bag, counted the coins in it, and nodded in satisfaction. “This is enough. Right, I’ll give you one last warning, though.”
“What is it?” Serena asked. Rean cocked his head.
“The cold isn’t the only cause of death for those who try to scale the mountain. Even though it’s called ‘snow-capped death,’ getting frozen should be the least of your worries. There’s a monster living on Yukishi who feasts on the flesh of travelers. Sometimes we find their frozen, brittle bones at the foot of the mountain.”
“I think they’ll make it out alive,” Leo said from the floor weakly. Leelee rolled her eyes.
“Oh, shut up, you.”
“I hope you return safely,” Hawk said, smiling at them.
“We will,” Kakane said. His scar prickled.
I will not let my future be stopped here.
The Yukishi Mountain was a stout peak covered by stormy grey clouds and a constantly raging blizzard. Huddling together, Rean, Kakane, and Serena stared up at the menacing, looming mountain in front of them. There wasn’t a definitive pathway for them to climb; they’d have to scale it on their own somehow by carving out their own route. In their way were countless boulders, slippery ice, and ever-falling snow. Breath coming out in puffs, Kakane turned to Serena.
“You don’t have to do this, you know,” he told her. “I can…” He swallowed, Adam’s apple bobbing. “I can probably do this on my own. If you want, you can stay down here with Ream.” Serena shook her head.
“No, I won’t let you do this alone. I’m going with you, no matter what. I will see this through to the end. I refuse to let our efforts be in vain; you have my full support with this, Kakane,” she said seriously, offering him a small smile. Rean nodded and stretched its fist to the sky, a mock salute of encouragement. Its eyes were glossed over with a layer of determination and it refused to tremble.
“Serena… Rean…” Kakane smiled back, eyes softening. “Thank you.”
They turned to the Yukishi Mountain and with one last nod to each other, began scaling the icy peak. Serena conjured up a small ball of light that told her that the temperature was just a little below freezing. It would get worse the higher they went up the mountain but as it wasn’t that tall, they were planning on trying to scale it within a day.
No matter how hot or powerful Kakane’s fire magic was, he probably would not be able to make a fire anywhere on the Yukishi Mountain. And staying on the mountain for more than twenty-four hours would guarantee them a slow, painful death by freezing. There was also the strange monster to contend with… They couldn’t stay long on the Yukishi Mountain; it was in and then out as fast as possible.
Anything they said to each other couldn’t be heard over the raging wind, so every so often, Kakane would raise his hand and set it ablaze. If she saw it, Serena would send a small burst of magic towards it. If it landed anywhere near Kakane, then she and Rean were keeping up. If not, Kakane would set off a cracker to draw their attention to him.
Eventually, Rean stopped walking, and Serena saw that it was frowning. She tugged at its hand but the puppet wouldn’t budge. It was looking up at the peak, causing Serena to wonder if Rean was thinking about the long journey ahead. This was all very new to it, after all. She signaled to Kakane, who stopped walking. Rean was still scrutinizing the sky, so Serena tugged at its hand harder. It ignored her and closed its eyes, cocking its head this way and that.
A few seconds later, its eyes bulged and it began to panic, flapping its arms everywhere. Shocked, Serena tried to calm the puppet down when it tackled her to the ground. Serena was cushioned by the snow, but her face was drenched by the wetness. When she looked up, Rean had also knocked Kakane into the snow, causing him to yell something unintelligible.
Then the ground started rumbling and Serena had a sinking suspicion she had felt a sensation similar to this before. She glanced up only to see boulders of snow, ice, and stone toppling down from the peak of the Yukishi Mountain. Letting out a small shriek, Serena ducked and covered her head as snow tousled down the slope of the mountain. She felt the powdery white substance fall onto her face and hair, completely sliding over her as it rolled down. After a few moments, the avalanche stopped. Serena was covered in a light layer of snow. Her entire body was numbed by sudden shock and the cold, with her breath coming out in small pants. But someone pulled her from her icy cocoon, gently shaking all the snow off her. Serena opened her bleak eyes to see Rean’s worried face. She smiled and shrugged away the rest of the snow, turning her attention to Kakane.
The Draconid had gone completely sluggish, chattering his teeth together. But he was slowly and groggily getting up, albeit muttering words under his breath. It was clear Kakane was not in a good mood as he rubbed his scar and pushed Rean to the front of their procession. He took out a rope.
He handed one end of the rope to Serena and made motions for her to tie it around her waist. She did so and watched as Kakane wrapped the rope around his torso before doing the same for Rean. Serena realized that this way, they wouldn’t get separated and Kakane wouldn’t waste any mana. Thanks to Rean’s sensory abilities, it would be able to warn them of any oncoming dangers.
Rean seemed nervous but when Kakane pointed forward, it nodded and resumed walking up the peak. They had barely started when a mysterious sound boomed across the mountain.
It was less of a howl and more of an angry roar. It vibrated and shook Serena down to her core, causing her teeth to chatter. Another roar reverberated throughout the area, making Rean pause. It seemed too scared to continue. It was no wonder; the roar sounded so fierce and bloodthirsty Serena thought a pack of wild amazons were coming down from the peak to attack them. Kakane, however, was undaunted by this and shoved Rean forward, forcing the meek puppet to continue upward.
But Kakane was not unaffected. He was almost sure he had heard something similar to that roar, way back in his youth. He absentmindedly touched his scar, trying to think back. There had to be some clue hidden in his near-forgotten childhood…
Most dragons despised the cold; feared and avoided it at all costs. But this was only true for fire, wind, earth, and water dragons, as there were many types. There was one species of dragon that delighted in the cold, making its home in the snow. Kakane had only met a dragon like this once; when he and his mother had gone to the great mountains of Draconia. He was very, very young when it happened, but the roar of the dragon from back then had fascinated him so much that he remembered it to this day.
Was that… Could that have been…?
An ice dragon?