3. On Thin Ice

The Forbidden Hills

The Animal Faerie Fawn flies through the clean air of Pixie Hollow, heading to a forbidden place within the low hills to the northeast of the Tree. With her are the Tinker Faerie Tecna and the Unlight Talent Darcy.

Reaching the green-hued trees of Spring Valley, they gain height to fly over them, but continue along the same path.

Several more minutes of flight brings them to within sight of the hills. They march from deep in the Valley towards the northwest, ending just shy of the river separating Spring and Winter. The hills are bare of trees, but low shrubs and grass cover the mounds, and are home to many animals and insects.

“This way,” says Fawn, pointing toward the end of the hills nearest the Winter Woods, and the trio adjust their course.

A sudden patch of brown and black interrupts the green, covering all or most of five hills. It has a foreboding, sinister look that is enhanced by the dead and dying plants at the fringes. Deeper in is nothing but rock and dirt.

“Can’t get much more obvious than that,” Darcy comments.

“Agreed,” answers Tecna, bringing out her palmtop computer. “Can you see anything?”

The dark Witch looks intently for several seconds, then shakes her head. “Not from here. The sun is too bright.”

“There is a small elevation in the background radiation, and it is emanating from that area,” says Tecna, adjusting the sensors.

“Let’s get a closer look, then,” says Darcy, and heads off in that direction.

Tecna turns to Fawn, who had been listening but not understanding what they were talking about. “Fawn, if you would, stay here, and don’t get any closer. What’s there is very dangerous, and I don’t want to expose you to it unnecessarily.”

Fawn smiles. “Thank you, Duchess, I’ve been there before, but didn’t stay very long, and I’d rather not do it again. The place gives me the creeps. If you need me to take a message or get something, let me know.”

“I will. Thank you.”

The Animal Faerie watches as Tecna joins Darcy on the bare ground, and feels a bit of anxiety for them. She hopes they will be okay.

When Tecna lands beside Darcy, she finds the Witch down on one knee, holding a handful of soil near her strange eyes and staring at it intensely. She drops the dirt and stands up, brushing off her hands and knees.

Tecna taps at keys, and frowns at the results. “I am afraid my sensors are not fine enough to pinpoint the strongest source easily. We shall have to rely on your enhanced sight to find it.”

Darcy smirks briefly at the Technical Faerie, but merely replies, “I can do that.” She walks over to the edge of the barren area and stares at the ground both where plants still grow and where they don’t. She gazes off in the distance toward the side of the next hill over.

“The radioactivity seems to be confined fairly sharply to within the dead area, and seems to get brighter over there.” She points out a darker crack on the hill that ran vertically down the side.

“Then let us investigate.”

The odd pair, once bitter enemies, fly side by side to the other hill, landing just above the crack in the hill. There were other furrows in the dark ground where rain had washed away the softer soil, but this particular crack has sharp edges and is about as wide as a Faerie’s body and several times as tall.

“This is definitely it,” says Darcy, “The glow is almost brighter than the sun.”

Tecna takes a reading and looks up a reference. “Spectral analysis says it is matanium ore. This is what we need.” She takes several steps back.

Just then Fawn, almost forgotten, flies down to them. “Is everything okay? Have you found what you are looking for?”

“Fawn, move away from that crack in the hill! Now!” shouts Tecna.

Instead, the brown-clad Faerie moves lower and looks in the crack, trying to see inside. “Is something in there? An animal of some kind? Can we help it?”

Darcy takes off and collides with Fawn, grabbing her around the waist and flying her away from the danger as quickly as she can, causing the Faerie to give a squeak of protest. Tecna follows closely.

When they get beyond the edge of the dead area, Darcy unceremoniously dumps Fawn on the grass.

“Ow! Hey, what did you do that for?” asks the Pixie Hollow Faerie, standing up and rubbing her behind.

Instead of answering, Darcy walks around her a couple of times as Tecna scans her. Fawn stands, watching this strange behavior, and hoping for an answer.

After a few moments, both give a sigh of relief.

“Good. You picked up some contamination, but wasn’t exposed long enough to be harmed,” says Darcy.

“I agree,” nods Tecna, closing the palmtop’s lid with a snap. “You were lucky, Fawn.”

“Dummy!” exclaims Darcy. “Why did you do that? You know the area is bad, and we told you to stay away, yet you disobeyed and could have been harmed badly!”

“Be harmed by what?” asks the confused Animal Faerie. “I saw that you two were okay, but when I saw you examining that crack in the hill I thought an animal might be in there.”

“Fawn, we appreciate the concern, but I can take precautions, and Darcy can’t be harmed by the unlight,” says the magenta-haired Faerie. “And any animals in there are dead, even if they are still moving around.”

Seeing the utter confusion on Fawn’s face, Darcy gives an exaggerated sigh of frustration.

“How can I best explain this?” Tecna mutters, “There is a kind of unlight that Darcy can see coming from that crack in the hill. It is very strong and very poisonous and is what causes the skin rot sickness. If you had stayed there for very long, it would have poisoned you, not just your clothes.”

Fawn’s eyes grew wide, then she bows deeply to them. “Thank you for saving me!”

“You are welcome,” nods Tecna, then her eyes narrow. “But listen to me now, and follow my orders exactly. Go home and take all the clothes you are wearing now and bundle them up. Then take a cool bath. Wash all of yourself and be very thorough. Then bring the clothes back here and bury them.”

“No, Tecna,” warns Darcy. “We can’t allow her to stay in her contaminated clothes. If she goes to her home, the Goddess alone knows whom or what she could contaminate along the way. We need to get her out of them and have her washed down. I’ll take her clothes and bury them.”

“But…, but these are my favorite clothes!” protests Fawn. “And am I going to have to stand here stark naked?”

“Too bad,” says Darcy, showing the Animal Faerie no sympathy. “You disobeyed so now you have to reap the consequences.” She looks at Tecna. “We’ll have to do the same thing, you know.”

“Yes, that’s why I wore this old outfit,” Tecna replies with a nod. “We might as well wait until we find the matanium, then get clean together.”

“Agreed. You stay here; you shouldn’t be exposed any more than you already are. I’ll go finish the investigation,” says Darcy.

“As you wish.”

Back at the crack, Darcy gives a shiver as she checks out the inside, well-lit at a wavelength only she could see. She could feel it, too, pinging off her skin. Reassuring herself of her immunity, she takes a deep breath, then reaches inside.

The back of the crack was nearly at her arm’s length, but she digs her fingers in, scraping the dirt away. As she goes deeper, the spot grows brighter. Suddenly a small piece of metal falls down, making no noise as it lands on the soft dirt that had preceded it. It is very bright.

Darcy picks it up and examines it. It was roughly ball-shaped and an off-white color; just big enough to fill her palm.

She turns toward the red blobs she knows are Tecna and Fawn and holds it up. “I got it! It’s not very deep.”

“Good work, Darcy!” exclaims Tecna, “Then bury it, and let us get decontaminated and make a report.”

“I know where to find Silvermist and Leffi,” says Tecna when Darcy joins them. “I’ll send them ahead to wash you both down and Silvermist can drive the contaminated water into the Forbidden Hills. Meanwhile, I’ll pick up a few sets of the emergency clothes Tinker Bell made after the Dragonfly attack.”

“No!” says Darcy, holding Tecna back. “All of us must remain here to be decontaminated. It’s being taken care of as I speak.”

Within seconds there is a whoosh of powerful wings then the three look up to see Ishandra hovering above them holding several changes of emergency clothes. Soon after come Leffi and Silvermist who are panting from having to chase after Ishandra.

“Someone called for the Decon Unit?” yells Ishandra. “We’re not coming down until you’ve been cleaned up.”

“Okay, Ladies,” grins Darcy, “take it off! Take it all off!”

“This is so embarrassing!” protests Fawn as they strip.

Darcy gathers up all the clothes and puts them aside while Fawn groans.

“We’re ready,” shouts Darcy. “Get in close, Ladies.”

Leffi hovers above the trio and lets loose with a torrential downpour while Ishandra directs Silvermist to flush the waste water into the Forbidden Hills. Ishandra then tosses down three bars of soap.”

“What’s this for?” asks Fawn. “It smells good enough to eat and I’m starving.”

“No, silly,” laughs Tecna, lightly tapping Fawn’s nose. “It’s for helping you to wash up.”

“You’ll have to undo her hair and really wash it well,” says Darcy and then we’ll do each other’s back and hair, Tecna.”

After several more scrubbings and rinses, both Darcy and Tecna agree that they have been properly decontaminated. Darcy has everyone add her used bar of soap to the pile of clothes.

Ishandra hovers lower using her wings to create a breeze that dries them off and brings Fawn’s wet and limp wings back to flight status then she directs them to where she’d dropped the clean clothing. After they leave, she freezes the contaminated items together into one ice ball then has Silvermist push it while remaining at a safe distance far into the Forbidden Hills and into a deep furrow between hills.

“You know, you look really pretty with your hair down,” says Tecna, smiling at Fawn.

“Yes, you do,” agrees Leffi. “You should leave it like that all the time.”

“Would like to,” blushes Fawn, “but leaving it down only gets it caught up in my wings. Silvermist is the only one among us who has learned how to fly with long hair.”

“It helps that mine is thick and straight,” says the Water Faerie.

Then out-of-the-blue something occurs to Tecna. “How did Ishandra know to come here with the decontamination supplies?” she asks Darcy.

“Well,” grins Darcy along with Ishandra and Leffi, “transformed or not, we are still the Trix and we are bound to each other in more ways than you can imagine.”

Somewhat later, all the Winx, Trix and Tinx meet for an exchange of information session. After hearing Fawn’s story, everyone scolds her roundly for not heeding Tecna and Darcy’s warnings and putting her life in unnecessary danger. The Tinx then have an emotional group hug around Fawn during which they decide they want nothing to do with the Forbidden Hills unless there is no choice.

“Since there are fifty shafts, we will need fifty-one nuggets of about the same size. The extra is for the countdown clock Tink and I are constructing,” says Tecna.

“Why fifty nuggets?” asks Stella.

“It is only logical we replace all of them at once, rather than waiting for each one to fail. It will save much time, effort, and anxiety,” answers Tecna.

“Okay, then, next problem: how do we mine them?” asks Bloom.

“I can answer that,” says Flora, “Darcy, you said the ground is fairly soft? Well, Leffi can create a very localized storm that will erode the hill and expose the ore.”

The Storm Witch grins. “No problem at all.”

“But you must take care not to expose more than we need,” cautions Tecna.

“Right… I know! Rosetta, Silvermist, will stay with me and watch? You can stop me when it’s done.” Says Leffi.

“And Sil can wash away the effluvia, leaving the ore. Good idea!” says Musa.

“Waaall, if’n y’all really need us,” says the Garden Faerie, reluctantly.

“Darcy will have to collect and sort the nuggets; nobody else can get close enough,” says Bloom.

“There go my nails,” mutters Darcy, only half-joking.

“Ahem!” says Tinker Bell, loudly, making everyone turn to her, “If you will show me what size you want, I’ll build a sifter for it tonight.”

“Thank you!” says the Witch of Darkness. She holds up two fingers curled together, almost touching. “The nugget was about this big.”

Suddenly Tink is holding a ruler, but nobody saw where she got it from. She measures the size then heads for Tinker’s Nook, muttering to herself.

“Okay, then,” says Bloom, “We have fifty nuggets of matanium for the shafts. How do we get them there without poisoning everyone and everything?”

“That’s where I come in,” says Aisha, “I can coat each one in Morphix, allowing it to be handled safely. Yes, the Morphix will eventually break down, but I can make it thick enough to last for the trip.”

Ishandra stood forth. “I am the fastest fast-flyer. I will carry each nugget to its shaft, and Darcy can install it.”

“Agreed,” says Darcy with a nod.

“Ishandra, yours is the most dangerous part of the plan,” warns Bloom, “No offense, Aisha, but if the Morphix fails for whatever reason during the trip…,”

“I’m well aware of that, Bloom,” nods the Ice Witch, “But it’s a risk I’m willing to take. The Winter Woods are worth it.”

The Winx, without exception, think to themselves, “She really has changed.”

“Okay, one last thing; what are we going to do with the spent matanium? We could bring it back to the mine and bury it, but that’s just as dangerous as taking it to the shafts,” says Bloom.

Ishandra smiles. “That’s a non-issue; drop it down the shaft.”

Everyone stares at her.

“Logical,” Tecna finally says.

“But wouldn’t that be bad for whoever and whatever is at the other end?” asks Stella.

The Ice Witch shrugs. “I doubt it. The shafts lead to the Omega Dimension. What’s there it could hurt?”

“Omega? Are you sure?” asks Bloom.

Ishandra glances sharply at the Faerie doubting her word, and has to remind herself the changes in their relationship are still new. She still doesn’t like Bloom very much, but the question is reasonable, considering what she is suggesting.

“Yes, Bloom, I’m very sure. I recognized the ambience of the cold flowing from the shafts, but it took me some time to put a name to the source.”

“You’ve been to Omega?” asks Musa, “When was that?”

“We were captured and sentenced after we got back from the Realix Dimension, thank you very much for stranding us there,” says Darcy.

Leffi almost mentions they had freed Valtor then, not knowing who he was, but decides it wouldn’t be a good idea to remind the Winx of that and keeps her mouth shut.

“In that case, such an action would be the safest, simplest, and quickest solution,” says Tecna, steering the debate back to safer ground, “The odds are excellent that the pellets will never be found.”

“There is still the problem that I don’t know where all the shafts are,” adds Ishandra, “I will need some kind of guide.”

“Since nobody can match your speed, maybe we can scrape up enough warm and cold Faeries to act as guideposts along the shortest route to each one,” suggests Leffi.

“Perfect!” exclaims everyone.

“Anybody want to bring up anything we missed?” asks Bloom. “Okay, then, we have a plan. Let’s go explain it to the Queen and her ministers.”

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