Two figures appeared on the second ship. One figure appeared to be dragging the other.
“Come down, Nattie.” It was Uri’s voice coming through her phone.
By the time she got down the stairs, she could see Moralis coming. They regrouped at the base of the steps.
“What are we doing with him?” Natalia said.
The teenager looked scare.
“You’re going to bite him,” Uri said.
Moralis moved off and Uri followed.
“I don’t know where he’s been,” she said, figuring this was a ruse.
“When a Hollow female bites you,” Uri was saying to the teenager, “your dick gets hard and then it falls off.”
“She’s not a Hollow,” the teenager said, trying to show some bravado, but he wasn’t able to hide the fear in his eyes.
“Then you won’t mind if she bites you,” Uri said.
They went back to the car.
Uri sat in the back with the teen.
“Sit on the other side Nattie, so you can get a good angle,” Uri said.
“No, I don’t know anything,” the teen said with anguish in his voice as Natalia slid in next to him.
“Anna didn’t say you kids were going to be around,” Uri said.
“We… we were just checking,” he said.
“Checking what? What’s the old man having you do?”
Moralis now had the car moving. She knew they were heading back to the pipe. She wondered where the other three teens were.
“We just do what Anna tells us.”
“Through the old man. What’s he been telling you? Anna tells us too. She’s been checking up on the old man.”
“He… he wanted us to move some stuff.”
“What and where?” Uri said.
Natalia touched his neck and the teen jumped.
“From the ship we were on to the other ship. The one beside it,” he said, now keeping an eye on Natalia.
She gave him a closed mouth smile.
“Just that one container?”
“There’s three of them.”
“We’ll check tonight. If you lied, she bites,” Uri said.
“I’m telling the truth. Honest.”
Moralis pulled up to the tent. She now realized it was the type of tent that sewer workers put up. It was blaze orange and obvious.
“We’re going to take you into the sewer,” Uri said. “Do you like rats?”
Moralis led the way. He went down first. Uri sent the teen down next. It was hard to tell if the teen was shivering from cold or fear. Uri had her go down before he followed. At the mention of rats, she was more attentive to the area around them, but she saw nothing.
No one talked as they made their way. Finally, they came to the smaller pipe. Uri led the way this time and soon they were all up in the warming tent, changing back into the white snowsuits.
“Here, put this on,” Uri said to the teen, handing him one of the gray mottled suits. “Your mother never taught you to dress warm?”
The teen said nothing as he put the suit on over his light coat.
Moralis left first.
Uri waited. He was about to leave when two people entered.
“This someone we need to watch?” It was Sophie and a woman that Natalia had never met. Sophie was in a white snowsuit, but the woman was in a colorful one.
“Yeah,” Uri said. “Bring the snowsuit back if they bring him in out of the cold.”
“We’ll take him.”
Sophie took his arm and pulled him out. The other woman followed.
Uri smiled, then he took Natalia hand and they left.
As they walked past some shovels sticking upright in the snow, Uri grabbed one.
“Go look like you’re shoveling,” he said, and then he left her.
There was a clear area by her. She moved the shovel along to clean up the edges, then dug out a path toward a warming tent.
Natalia recognized Tracy’s voice. She looked up to see Sherri and the four girls coming up to her.
“Hi. It’s this exciting?” she said, knowing she had to pretend she’d been around since dawn.
“Hi, Nattie. I didn’t know you were here,” Sherri said.
“We’ve been here since the sun came up,” she said. “Running around like crazy. I am so hot in this suit.”
“We’re going to curl tomorrow,” Zean said, looking happy.
“I heard about the youth games,” Natalia said.
“Do you curl?” Sherri said.
“No. I never even heard of it until last night, and Uri said we were moving snow and making curling sheets. I thought he was out of his mind.”
The girls giggled.
Sherri looked over the area, looking too serious.
“Larsa at home with Grace?”
A group of women came over to talk with Sherri. Natalia knew about half of them. They all acknowledged each other nods. Sherri’s daughters moved over to the clear area to see if they could slide.
“Darn boots,” Tracy said.
Natalia abandoned the shovel in the snow.
“Yeah, they grip too well.”
“Look,” Zean said. “They got the horse sleighs out.”
Two sleds pulled by small husky horses slid past, avoiding the cleared area.
“Those are so cool,” Natalia said.
She spied Sophie with the teen.
Tracy stepped over by her.
“Do you know that kid with Sophie?” she whispered to her.
“Yeah. That’s Ranger. He used to hang out with Anna. Haven’t seen him in a long while.”
“Any of Anna’s friend come over any more?”
Tracy shook her head.
“No, and mother won’t let us have any of our friends over. I’m gonna go rogue if she keeps this up.”
Natalie took a few more steps away from Sherri and her group of friends. She smiled at Tracy and looked at Sherri who was turned away. Tracy picked up on it right away.
“Zean. Marian. Jaina,” Tracy said in a soft voice, picking up the pace.
As soon as they were about fifteen feet away, they all broke into a jog.
“So how is this curling game played anyway?” Natalia said.
“I’ll explain tomorrow. You need to see all the pieces first,” Tracy said. “Do they even have the houses down?”
“Quick. They’re doing it now,” Marian said.
They broke in to a run until they reached a good viewing area.
There were orange cones marking out the cleared area which looked to be a little over sixty feet wide.
“How long are the sheets?” Natalia said.
“Usually a hundred and fifty or so feet long,” Tracy said.
A small utility vehicle with a water tank was parked along side. A man was flooding the cleared area. It was smooth, shiny and slick looking.
“Once that freezes, which won’t be long out here, they’ll put the lines down and the houses. Those are circles. What you aim for,” Tracy said.
“The button,” Zean said.
“That’s the middle of the house,” Tracy said.
“Look, they’re already laying down lines at the far end.”
“What are those made of?”
“Probably vinyl. Strips outline each lane. Those are the hog lines and the T lines. Then the house circles.”
“Okay, definitely terminology I don’t know,” Natalia said.
“It all defines the playing field.”
“Mother is heading this way, but she hasn’t seen us yet,” Jaina said.
They moved off, heading around to the other side of the cleared area.
“Once the playing field is marked, they’ll flood everything and put a couple of layers of ice over the markings. Then they scrape the ice smooth, then they pebble it.”
“They take a sprayer and spray water droplets over it. Then they do a light scrape to take off the tops. That’s what the stones ride on top of. You’ll see tomorrow,” Tracy said.
The horse sleighs sped past going the opposite direction.
Natalia saw a skating rink with a number of people skating. In another direction, she could see a hockey game going on.
“Wow. Everyone is out. I never did this when I was growing up,” she said. “I’m sure my mother would have had a heart attack being on the ice. Over a lake.”
The ice groaned.
“You sure it’s safe?”
Zean giggled and jumped up and down.
“Quite safe,” she said.
They continued to stroll along. The area seemed even more crowded and Natalia knew they were well hidden in the crowd. Snow that had been moved was now being sculpted by people into benches to sit on. Some were two tiers high. A couple of barrels had been brought out and there were fires going.
“I’d be afraid that would melt into the lake,” Natalia said.
“They have sand in the bottom half that they fill with water and freeze. It actually keeps the bottom cool. They don’t build big fires,” Tracy said. “There’s the hot chocolate cart. I have money if you want some.”
They headed that way.
Natalia looked over and was surprised.
“Father. Brianna. Hi, Ryan.”
Her father had never called her Nattie before. It caught her off guard.
Ryan was grinning big, looking excited.
“Snow,” he said.
“Lots of snow.” she said. “This is my father, James. Brianna and their son, Ryan.”
“Hi,” the girls said together.
“This is Tracy, Marian, Zaina, and Zean. Daughters of Sherri.”
“Hi, girls. Do you want a hot chocolate?” her father said.
Natalia was pleased that her father bought them all hot chocolates. This was a treat she should have bought for them, but she wasn’t carrying any money. She made a mental note that she should start carrying some cash, rather than just a cash card. The vendors appeared to only be taking cash.
“Mmmm,” Ryan said as he munched on a marshmallow.
Everyone else was quiet as they sipped their chocolate. Natalia was surprised that her father had even gotten one.
“Do you know about curling?” she asked her father.
“Not really. Heard about it, but never played it.”
“We’ll just be observers tomorrow,” Brianna said.
“Me, too. I know Uri will be playing. I don’t know where he is at the moment. We’ve been here since dawn.”
“We’re going over to skate in a little bit,” her father said.
“Mother wouldn’t let us bring our skates,” Zean said.
“I brought them,” Tracy said, looking smug.
“What?” Zean perked up.
“In the trunk. Grazie and I put them in when she wasn’t looking. Grazie said he’d leave them by a warming tent. I think he threw all of them in there. We might have an extra pair if you want to skate, Nattie.”
“I’d love to. Would they fit?”
“They strap on to your boots. They’ll fit.”
“Definitely, I’ll skate.”
While they finished their hot chocolates, the man was flooding the curling lanes again. Natalia noted it was just a thin layer of water being applied.
“That is really freezing fast.”
Uri jogged past her, then he was gone, lost in the crowd.
“Marian and I will go get the skates. We’ll meet you at the rink,” Tracy said.
Natalia followed her father and Brianna with Zean and Jaina tagging along.
“Ryan behaves rather well,” she said to Brianna.
“He wants to skate and knows he has to behave,” Brianna said. “He knows the association between what good behavior gets and bad.”
The skating rink they headed to was totally surrounded by made shift benches. The groups around it consisted of families. No one was rough housing. Everyone was going around in the same direction. Natalia could tell that most of the people were Viperian.
“Hey, you can’t do that here,” a man said, trotting over toward three teenage boys.
They were teasing a couple of girls who were trying to skate. They also had hockey sticks.
“No hockey on this rink. Skating only,” the man said.
The girls skated on, uninterested in the boys, who got the hint and moved on. They were Undents.
Natalia didn’t think Viperian girls would be too interested in Undent boys, but then she had to think about Anna. She knew the four teens at the ship were all Undents. It was obvious just in the way they moved. She could even tell in the way they skated. Viperians were much more graceful. Viperians even walked different. They had lighter steps.
“Wow,” Natalia said to herself, getting the whole picture of differences now that she could see them mixed together in such numbers.
Tracy and Marian arrived. They both carried totes.
“I told Grazie where we were and that Nattie’s father was here,” Tracy said.
“We always have to have an adult around,” Marian said. “Mother’s stupid rule.”
“That’s how I grew up,” Natalia said. “You actually have more freedom than I had.”
She kept her voice low, so her father didn’t hear.
Tracy showed Natalia how to strap on the skates. The girls strapped on their skates and were off as if they’d always been skating. Natalia didn’t feel comfortable until she’d done two laps. Coming around on her second lap, she saw that Uri was there with her father.
“Having fun?” Uri said when she skated up to him.
“I haven’t been on skates for a while.”
“You’re doing great.”
“She was always a good skater,” her father said.
Natalia almost felt herself blush at her father’s compliment.
“We need to go home for a bit. Do you think you can take a break?”
“I’ll be here for the girls,” her father said. “I understand they have to be supervised.”
“Thanks. Sure. I can go. I am getting tired. You had me up early.”
She sat and unfastened the skates.
“Maybe I’ll give them a try,” Brianna said.
“See you two later,” Natalia said.
She followed Uri across the ice to the parking lot. The limo was parked in the street.
“Get everything done that you needed done?” she said.
“I think I need some lunch. I did have a hot chocolate thought.”
“I definitely need lunch,” he said.
When they got home, Uri headed to the kitchen after they took off the snowsuits.
“Everyone is at the lake,” he said. “Mag mentioned she left us some sandwiches if we came back.”
He opened the fridge.
“Here they are.”
“There were plenty of vendors at the lake,” she said, taking her sandwich.
“We’re going to eat here. Pretend I had something I needed to get done, but we’re going to take a nap.”
“Going amok this evening?”
“Yes. We’ll go back to the lake. The festivities are going to go on most of the night with the curling games starting at first light.”
“And what are we going to be doing?”
“Moving some shipping crates,” he said.
He shrugged and bit into his sandwich.
“What about the boys?”
“Well, one we brought back. Where are the three others I saw go on the ship?”
“Some ladies took the one we brought back to play with. The other three are in a shipping container waiting for us to come back.”
Natalia stared at him.
“Play with? They’re not making him a teddy bear, are they?”
“And if he was friends with Anna, how did he and the others get into Viperia to see her?”
“Anna had to go walk to a gate and open it to let them in.”
“Maybe not by her mother, but it’s allowed. Undents need to be marked or supervised. You were marked and supervised.”
“Did Moralis go home to get some sleep, too?”
“Yeah. Eat your sandwich. I’m tired.”
Uri had already snarfed his down. He waited until she finished before taking her hand and leading her upstairs. They snuggled on the bed fully dressed.
Natalia didn’t even remember falling asleep. It was dark when Uri woke her.
“Six pm,” she said, noting the time.
“We slept a long time,” he said. “That’s good. Ready to stay out all night?”
They bundled back up. Uri, however, led her out a side door. They climbed over a fence.
“I thought Moralis was tracking us,” she said as they jogged along.
“As we visit the port? Jog down the street?”
“Where’s your bracelet?” he said.
Natalia had to take off one of her gloves to feel. It was gone.
“Where have we been all this time?” she said.
“Somewhere at the lake.”
“How’d you get it off me?”
“You didn’t notice when I was helping you put on the snowsuit in the warming tent.”
They jogged for a couple of miles when a car pulled up. She got in the back and Uri in the front.
“Hi, Moralis,” she said.
“Evening. Curling lanes are finished. It’s so cold out there the ice is freezing fast.”
“I’m hot,” Natalia said, undoing the snowsuit.
“It’s getting colder, too,” Uri said. “We ready for tonight?”
“Yes. The lake is so crowded and so much is going on. You’d think it was the Festival of Sex. More warming tents had to be put up.”
“Festival of Sex?” Natalia said.
“That’s usually in the summer, not the middle of winter,” Uri said. “How’s our boy?”
“At the moment, he’s probably wondering when his dick is going to fall off.”
“The ladies are having that much fun with him?”
“Someone said they were taking him to a women’s bachelor house later. We got out snowsuit back.”
“He might not survive the night.”
“He might die happy if you hadn’t told him sex with a Hollow caused his dick to fall off.”
“I said a bite.”
“I think he’s gotten a few.”
“You guys are terrible,” she said.
“A rogue teen is fair game,” Uri said.
“What are you going to do with the other three?”
“Put them to work.”
Moralis pulled into a parking lot that was a few blocks away from the lake.
“Parking is a bitch,” he said. “If it wasn’t for the fact that most of the Viperian police force is here enjoying the lake, there’d be a ton of tickets.”
They weren’t alone as they walked to the lake. There were lots of people coming and going.
“See you in a bit, Moralis,” Uri said.
He led Natalia over to a vendor where he bought them sausage rolls.
“Dinner,” he said.
“Hot chocolate,” she said.
He bought her one, but didn’t get one for himself.
Two more ice skating rinks had been created. There was a crowd around the curling lanes.
“Sheesh,” Uri said. “People are practicing already. No fair.”
They did a loop around the area. Natalia noted he seemed to be finding certain people to stop and say hi. He was making it known that they were there.
As they neared the warming tents, he veered toward the one they’d been in earlier.