3. On Thin Ice

Saving The Winter Woods

Time was getting short. Fourteen shafts had failed now, and the effects of the losses could now be easily seen anywhere one looked in the Winter Woods. There was more green on the trees as the snow melted off. The Winter Faeries were staying the caves, which were still safe, but nobody knew for how much longer.

The meeting with the Pixie Hollow nobility had taken most of the morning. They had all seen or heard of the effects of the poisonous unlight from the Forbidden Hills, but had trouble understanding its source was lumps of unrefined metal ore, and how it could be used to restore and sustain the shafts.

They finally agreed this was knowledge Pixie Hollow once had but lost, and that the Winx and the Trix could be trusted to know what they were doing.

Milori was very unhappy that Ishandra was risking her life, and it took some time and explanations and arguing between them before he finally saw she would not relent.

“This is what I contracted with Aisha to do, and my honor as a Witch is at stake,” she told him, then softened her voice and stance. “But I would do it anyway, love. I’ve found something here I will not lose.” She wrapped her arms around him, and they shared a long kiss.

He did draw the line at having Winter Faeries used as signposts. Not only did he refuse to risk having them exposed to the unlight, there was a good chance of losing them to the elevated temperatures. Stella suggested as an alternative she would go with Darcy to each shaft and send up a flare to guide Ishandra. She would also take charge of the map, since the dark Witch couldn’t read it.

None were happy that the poisonous rock would be carried to fifty shafts over the lands and woods, but saw no alternative.

That afternoon the Animal Faeries shooed all of the wild life away from the paths the ore would take, and Musa contributed by flying over the area and emitting an irritating sound that made any stragglers move on.

It was announced throughout Pixie Hollow that every Faerie and Sparrow Man not directly involved with the effort was to stay near the Tree and out of harm’s way.

The morning came, and when everyone arrived at the agreed-upon spot, they saw that Tinker Bell had come through, as usual.

She had, with the help of Bobble and Clank, built a wooden sluice that would carry the water and ore out to a sieve and settling box where anything smaller than the nuggets they wanted would pass through and Silvermist could direct it back into the contaminated hills.

The Tinker Trio was waiting for the others, not wanting to break the taboo of entering the Hills. To put the sluice in place, Aisha completely coated the three tinkers with Morphix, even their wings, saying it would protect them for long enough. Since they couldn’t fly, they had to put pixie dust on the machinery and carry it in.

After set-up, the trio came back to safety. The Morphix was removed and Tecna did a scan, showing them to be clean. Their part over, the three tinkers said ‘good luck’ and beat a hasty retreat to the Tree.

Tecna’s calculations had shown that Ishandra could carry only one pellet at a time. More than that caused Aisha’s Morphix to break down too quickly, so Tink had come up with a safer way to carry them.

Each pellet would be put in a small leaf-sack with a loop over it. Ishandra would have a device like a fishing pole that she would use to snare each bag and take it without her having to get very close. Aisha would coat it with Morphix once it had been picked up. Once the new one was in place, the bag would go down the shaft with the spent pellet.

Rosetta and Leffi flew up to their positions over the crack, but not before Aisha coated them with a thin layer of Morphix. Instead of wings, Leffi used the Witch Flight Spell to get them in position.

The Garden Faerie grumbles about the pink substance ‘ruining her hair’, but admitted it felt nice; cool and refreshing. She had no trouble breathing through it. She was there to estimate the amount of erosion of the hill, and direct the storm waters where they were needed.

Silvermist and Flora, also coated with Morphix wait outside the dead area. They would keep the poisoned water and dirt from getting away and killing things.

Darcy stands by the sieve wearing her own coat of pink gel, the stack of leaf-bags waiting. She takes the pellet she uncovered earlier and puts it in the first bag. Stella had already left for the Winter Woods to orient herself and the map.

Ishandra, along with Tecna, Musa, Aisha, and Bloom, watch from a safe distance. Everyone involved is wearing throw-away clothes.

“Is everything ready?” asks Bloom. Musa is amplifying her voice so everyone heard her clearly.

Everyone made a hand signal meaning ‘yes’, so attention is turned to the Faeries hovering over the crack. “You’re up, Leffi!” calls Bloom.

With a grin, the Storm Witch raises her hands and immediately a cloud began to form. It takes a few minutes to gather moisture and strength, but finally it is full to bursting.

A sudden loud crack! then bright lightning flashes down and hits one of the other hills.

“Eeep!” squeaks Rosetta, putting Leffi between herself and the wild electricity.

“Sorry, Ro!” says Leffi, “I’ll try to watch that! But don’t worry; as long as you’re with me, you are not in any danger.”

“Scared the petals offa me,” the redhead grumbles, patting her wildly beating heart.

It takes a bit of adjusting to make the rain land on the correct place, and the rainfall rate reduced a bit so it wouldn’t overwhelm the sluice.

After several minutes, Darcy sees that several nuggets the correct size, and even a few that were too big, had been captured. She removes them and puts them in a wooden box, keeping count as she does.

Silvermist is directing the contaminated water containing the small rocks, dirt and silt back into the place where their clothes had been put, where the solid material begins filling it up.

After an hour, Bloom calls a halt for a break and for Aisha to renew their Morphix coating. Tecna takes the time to scan everyone, and announce they are still clean.

“How are you doing, Darcy?” asks Flora as they refresh themselves.

“I’m fine,” is the reply, “So far I’ve collected twenty-seven nuggets.”

“I’ve got an idea,” says Musa, “Darcy, couldn’t you make some copies of yourself? Use them to help install the pellets? Things will go a lot quicker.”

“I did think of that,” answers the dark Witch, “But the distances between shafts are greater than my clones can travel from me. Although…”

She concentrates and creates a single clone. “Go put the nuggets in the bags.” She tells it, pointing. The clone nods and goes over to the box of nuggets and waiting bags. But when she picks up a nugget, her image wavers and blows to particles.

“Another reason not to,” murmurs Rosetta.

“I’m a little tired,” says Leffi, “I’ve never had to control a storm to this degree or for this long before.”

“Are you using magic or your Talent?” asks Sil.

“My magic,” says Leffi, “I’m not yet familiar enough with my Talent to use it for something this dangerous. Don’t worry, I’ll be fine.”

“As soon as th’ Storm Talents get back from th’ Mainland, we’ll get you some real trainin’,” says Ro.

Refreshed and renewed, the Witches and Faeries go back to the task at hand. It takes another two hours to collect another twenty-four pellets.

After lunch Rosetta and Silvermist leave for the Pixie Dust Tree, as their parts were over.

Darcy readies the pellet bags for Ishandra, then picks one up. “I’m going to the first shaft,” she says to her sister, “And will install this one. When I get to the second shaft, I’ll get Stella to send a flare so you will know we’re ready.”

She tosses the bag up several feet, where Aisha coats it, then with a one-handed grab the dark Witch is off to the Winter Woods.

At the Pixie Dust Tree, Sil and Ro make a report to everyone, including Queen Clarion. They are all relieved to know everything is going as planned.

“What’s wrong, Dess?” asks Fawn, putting an arm around her friend’s shoulders.

“Aw, I just feel bad that I couldn’t help,” she says, hanging her head.

“If it makes you feel better, there was nothing for me to do either,” Vidia injects.

“Not every Talent is useful in every situation, child,” says Minister Red Leaf. “But you played your role by teaching Miss Darcy. And Vidia by teaching Lady Ishandra.”

“That’s right,” nods Tinker Bell, “And I’m just as happy that some of us didn’t have to go to that creepy place and risk being poisoned.”

In the Winter Woods library, Dewey the Keeper sat at his desk, working on the next book. Now that everything had been catalogued and put away, it was amazing to see the amount of open space there was.

Spike, Peri, and Gliss stood at the tall doors holding them open as they watched for any signs of the operation. Instead of going to the caves with everyone else, they had elected to stay in the library just in case they were needed. All three had been forbidden to help, but still wanted to be as close to the action as they could be.

“Hey! Did you see that?” says Spike, pointing over the trees. “It looked like a yellow firework, so I guess it was one of Princess Stella’s flares.”

“So we’ll see my Mistress pass by soon,” says Gliss, turning her attention toward the open passage between trees.

“So what’s it like, attending her?” asks Peri.

“A bit boring, so far,” is the answer, “She’s not used to having an attendant, and forgets that’s what I’m there for. But we’ve talked a lot, and even exchanged a few frost tricks.”

“I thought she is a fast-flyer,” objects Spike.

“She is, but her Witch-magic is all about ice and snow,” says Gliss. “I really like her.”

“There she is!” exclaims Peri, pointing. Indeed, a white, fast-flying object is heading toward the flare’s location.

“Go! Go! Go, Lady Ishandra!” shouts Gliss, startling her friends and waking Fiona inside behind them.

“What’s going on, girls?” asks Dewey, coming up behind them.

“Lady Ishandra is making a run,” Peri explains, pointing.

“Uh-oh, trouble!” says Spike. She is looking above the trees where a hawk was chasing a smaller bird.

The smaller bird, panicked, is flying an erratic course and paying more attention to where the hawk is than to where it is going.

“I think they’re going to collide!” shouts Spike.

Gliss steps out the door, wings rising to take flight.

Spike and Peri grab her by the arms. “What are you doing?” they ask.

“I have to protect my Lady!” says Gliss, struggling to get free.

“Uh oh,” says Dewey, “I’m a thinking it’s too late!” The three friends stop to look.

Indeed, the small bird and Ishandra spot each other at the last second, but could not avoid colliding. The bird went up and the Witch went down, being brushed by tail feathers and dropping the pole and its poisonous cargo.

As Ishandra struggled to get her flight under control, the bird dove down into a copse of trees too thick for the hawk to continue pursuit. It gave a disappointed cry and swooped away.

Gliss yanks her arms free and takes off, Peri, Spike, and Dewey right behind her.

“Lady! Are you all right?” calls Gliss as Ishandra slows to a hover.

“Oh, uh, yes, Gliss, I’m fine,” answers the Witch.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t protect you,” says Gliss, contrite.

“Talk about it later, right now help me find the pole and nugget!” exclaims Ishandra, looking down, “And if you find it, do not go near it; just tell me where it is.”

It takes several minutes of frantic searching before the Keeper finds it. Fortunately it landed in an open area away from the trees and bushes.

Ishandra uses a spell and levitates the pole up to herself. Picking up the line, she sees that the cargo is still there. She breathes a sigh of relief. “If the nugget had fallen out of the leaf, we would have a lot of trouble finding it.”

“I’ve got to go; thank you for your help.” And with a burst of wind the Fast-Flyer is gone.

In the end, it took five days to replace all of the pellets, and by the time the last one was finished, a slight cold breeze could be felt from the first of the failed shafts.

Tecna allowed that was a hopeful sign, but it would take a couple of weeks before they knew if it had worked for all of them.

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