3. On Thin Ice

Winx, We Need Help!

Lord Milori is in the Great Winter Hall demanding order from the panicked Guild Masters, Winter Woods Aristocracy and officials.

“Half my staff passed out on their feet before my eyes,” cries Vloken of the Snowflake Guild.

“Mine too!” shout a dozen other voices in at once.

“We of the Icicle Guild were spared, it would seem, because all my team and I were in the workshop deep within the glacier,” says Steglo their guild master.

“We were in much the same situation, man,” says Slush, the Glacier Faerie.

“There were rabbits hopping around the village today that were still in their summer coats,” voices one of the Winter Animal Faeries which causes a gasp of astonishment all around.

“Calm!” cries Minister Snowflake who is standing beside Lord Milori.

“We can’t afford to lose more people,” says Lord Milori. “It’s obvious what needs to be done. Holly, Ivy,” he calls.

Two Winter Fast Fliers are soon standing before their Lord looking completely washed out with their silver-blonde hair plastered against their foreheads and cheeks.

“Gather together all the Fast Fliers who are still able-bodied and have them assemble here,” Lord Milori tells them.

“My Lord, there’ll not be many of us,” says Holly regretfully.

“I know,” replies Lord Milori with sympathy. “You have all been exemplary today in helping find the trapped and the incapacitated but I need you all to dig deep within yourselves for the strength you’ll need to do an urgent task. I need you to put up posters wherever you can warning all to stay out of the daylight sun and then I want you to go door-to-door to all the surface houses and get all there to gather what they absolutely need then start heading to the glacier caves. I don’t want you or anyone else outside at sunrise.”

“We are in serious trouble,” says Lord Milori to Minister Snowflake once the Fast Fliers have departed.

“You’re telling me?” questions Minister Snowflake. “We are going to need either help or a miracle.”

Lord Milori wipes his forehead wearily and for a moment closes his eyes and for that moment he sees the face of a beautiful young Faerie with curly nut-brown hair, dark-tanned skin, deep blue eyes and a beautiful full-lipped smile. “Aisha,” his mind whispers.

Queen Clarion’s herald, Viola, lands in front of the Winx house, hoping they are home. She blows her horn to let them know she is there, and a moment later Princess Stella opens the door, still half asleep.

“We don’t want any,” she says grouchily and starts to close the door.

The strange response, which made no sense to her, throws Viola for a moment, but she recovers just before the door closes. “Princess Stella!” she exclaims, “I am here on behalf of Queen Clarion.”

“Oh!” Stella opens the door again. “Sorry, I thought you were selling something.”

The rest of the Winx fill the door behind Stella, then Bloom moves to the front. “What’s going on, Viola?”

“Her Majesty Queen Clarion requests an audience with all of you at your earliest convenience,” she responds.

Everybody looks at Stella, who shakes her head. “Not me this time.”

“Give us ten minutes,” is the answer, “While you’re waiting, come in and have some tea.”

Soon the six are standing before the Queen in the elegant Audience Chamber of the Tree.

“My friends, I did not wish to trouble you while you take your off time, but Pixie Hollow has a problem that just recently became alarming, and we ask for your help.”

Bloom glances at the others then answers, “That’s okay, Majesty, as Guardian Faeries we are always ready to help, and as citizens of Pixie Hollow we are yours to command.”

“… barely get our vacation started, and here we go,” mutters Stella, but only Musa heard her.

“Thank you! Vidia will explain,” says Clarion, gesturing at the Fast Flyer who had just come in carrying copies of the old book and the frozen map. Vidia had gone to the Keeper’s library and made a very accurate copy of the map and the locations of the shafts.

The Winx gather around her as she puts the materials on a table and unfurls the map.

“Okay, guys, in a nutshell the Winter Woods are melting,” she says.

Startled, the Winx exchange glances.

“Do you know why?” asks Tecna, looking at the map.

“We just found out,” is the reply. She points at the map. “These marks show where shafts have been drilled into a place of cold that keeps the Winter Woods frozen. But for some reason many of them have stopped working, and the temperature is rising.”

“I had wondered about that,” comments Tecna, “Never Land seems to be too far south for snow and ice to occur naturally.”

“Many of the Winter Faeries have gone underground because during the day it’s too hot for them,” adds Clarion. “Unfortunately we have even lost some Faeries to the heat.”

“Lost? You mean…?” Aisha asks.

Clarion’s nod is eloquent. “I’m afraid so.”

“Well, we certainly can’t let this go on,” says Bloom. “What else do we need to know?”

“The Keeper found this old book that tells how to find the shafts,” answers the Fast Flyer, “According to it each one is surrounded by a dark blue stone made to look like a natural formation. They found one of the shafts and brought back a piece.” Vidia reaches into a pocket and brings out a fist-sized lump of rock that is indeed a dark blue.

Tecna takes it and looks it over. “Azurite.” She slips it into a pocket.

“We’ll need the book and map,” says Bloom.

“Sure,” gestures Vidia, “These are just copies, so don’t worry about them. Well, the book anyway. I took my time with the map so be careful with it.”

“No need to risk either,” says Tecna, bringing out her palmtop to scan both the book and the map. Within minutes, there is a holo-projection of each hanging in the air.

“How are you doing that?” asks Vidia, astonished.

“It’s with a little technical magic you have yet to learn and understand,” replies Tecna then pauses to have a better look at Vidia’s work and notices how cleanly and accurately everything had been drawn for a map done with ink on paper and with only a quill pen in the skilled hands of a professional cartographer.

“As I noted before, you have a good eye and talent for cartography,” says Tecna, which makes Vidia smile. “I shall leave the book and your original in your safekeeping.”

Taking their leave of the Queen, the Winx head for the Winter Woods.

“There’s the border ahead,” points Musa, as the snowy mountains came into view.

The Winx fly over the border without hesitation; only Stella pausing to conjure a coat.

Traveling a straight line to the closest shaft they pass near the Frost Forest, which was nearly deserted.

“Hey, wait up!” calls a voice, and the Winx draw up to a hover. Behind them they find Spike and Gliss chasing them.

“Did you forget something?” the black-haired Frost Faerie asks when she got close enough.

“We have the rock, the book, and the map…, I don’t think so…,” says Bloom.

“Your coats! Aren’t you freezing?” elaborates Gliss, puzzled that none were wearing either winter coats or boots. Then she sees Stella, sporting an annoyed look, and a coat, behind Flora and Musa.

“You must have forgotten that, except for Princess Stella, we can tolerate this cold without them,” says Aisha, coming over to them. “But what about you? Are you okay?”

“Oh, Pri- Princess Aisha! I didn’t see you either!” says Gliss turning pink.

“We’re fine, Highness,” says Spike. “If you were going to the library you missed the turn.”

“We wanted to check out the vents as quickly as possible,” says Bloom, pointing toward the mountain, “See what we can discover.”

“We know where a few are; we’ll guide you,” says Spike and takes the lead.

“Shouldn’t you be underground?” asks Tecna as they follow the lay of the land, gaining altitude.

The black haired Faerie shakes her head. “No, the Keeper asked that Peri, Gliss and I stay with him in the library to help do research. But most everybody else is. We just had to get out of there for a little while.”

“Good, we’ll use you two as thermometers,” says Aisha, very seriously. “If you conk out, we’ll know we’ve found a blocked vent.”

Gliss and Spike look at her in alarm, then put on game faces. “If- if that’s what you want us to do, Highness.”

Aisha couldn’t hold it any longer, and started laughing, along with the rest of the Winx. “I’m teasing, guys! Teasing! I’d never do something like that to you!”

Both Frost Faeries are relieved and turn red in embarrassment.

“Look, I’m not your queen, I’m not your princess, I’m your friend. It’s just ‘Aisha’, okay?”

“You got us good!” says Spike, and grins. “All right, then, ‘Justaisha’.”

Again, everyone laughs. “And now they got you!” says Musa.

They soon find one of the vents and land beside it. This one is still pumping out cold.

Tecna pulls out her palmtop and takes readings. “The bottom is beyond the range of my sensors.”

“Let me try something,” says Stella, “Cover your eyes, this is going to be bright.” She creates a blinding ball of sunlight and drops it down the shaft. They watch as it disappears into the distance without result.

“What else can we find out?” asks Bloom, studying the azurite carefully stacked around the vent. Without knowing the blue stone was a marker, she would have passed the spot without a second glance.

“Hmm…,” says Tecna. “I can also tell you this shaft was not drilled. The sides are very smooth. It must have been made with magic.”

“We’re still looking for anything on how they were created,” comments Gliss.

“Anyone want to volunteer to fly down and take a look?” asks Stella.

“We could…,” says Bloom, “But I’d rather wait until every other option has been tried first.”

“I agree,” says Tecna, “Such a trip could take hours, or even days.”

There was a moment of silence as every Faerie there thought about that.

“In that case, let’s go find a blocked one,” says Flora.

The Frost Faeries lead the way higher up the mountain and around to the western side. The Winx gasp as the problem is revealed. The shaft is in plain sight in a field completely devoid of any ice or snow. This area was above the tree line, but they all see the shoots of new grass pushing up.

Spike and Gliss hover on the side of the snow. “We’ll wait here,” says Spike. Gliss is looking uneasily at the bare ground, an unfamiliar sight to her.

At the vent Tecna’s palmtop confirms the cold is no longer flowing, and the temperature is a good twenty degrees warmer. She could find no reason for a blockage within sensor range, nor did Stella’s sun ball reveal anything.

“Well, I’m at a loss,” says Stella. “Anyone have an idea?”

“My turn,” says Musa. She steps over and looks down the shaft into the darkness just a short distance away. She sends the strongest sonar pulse she can generate and waits for the return.

After several minutes the Faerie of Music turns away. “If there was an echo, I couldn’t hear it. I’d guesstimate it’s several dozen miles down, at least.”

“Okay, then, anyone else?” asks Stella.

There is a chorus of ‘no’, and everyone looked around at the scene. Much of the Winter Woods was still frozen, but from here they could see other bare patches as a dull brown.

“There is more information to gather,” says Tecna, “Like which vents are blocked. That might show a pattern; give a clue to the reason.”

“And Gliss said they were looking for the spell or whatever,” adds Musa.

“I suggest we go to the library and talk it over with the Keeper,” says Aisha.

As they prepared to take off, they noticed Flora seemed troubled. “Guys, we know someone who might be able to help, but getting her to do so will be hard, and I’m not sure it’s a good idea anyway.”

“Who did you have in mind?” asks Musa, trying to think of whom she meant.

“Icy,” whispers Flora as if dreading to say that name aloud.

There are some shocked looks. That the Witch of Ice could, or would, help had not occurred to any of them.

Musa glances around. “Well, this is down her alley.”

“Uh huh, she would probably love the Winter Woods,” says Stella.

“But it scares me to think of what she might do with all these resources,” says Flora, “We would have a lot of trouble stopping her.”

“Eh, six of us to one of her, we could handle it,” counters Aisha.

“Yes,” agrees Bloom, “But that’s another idea to put off unless there is no other choice. Let’s go.”
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