I shiver. My bare feet burn on the bitterly cold ice-covered bridge, but just like with the fiery rock, the pain disappears as each foot leaves the surface and explodes again as it touches back down. It is exactly as fun as it sounds.
We continue walking and I find myself longing for the heat, having quickly forgotten how relieved I had been to leave it behind.
Carson shivers next to me. The ground suddenly feels different beneath my feet and I realize we have left the bridge. Ice and snow cover every surface, and the metallic tang in the air is making my nose itch. I want to tuck my arms inside what's left of my sleeves but I know it won't really make me feel warmer, and it would disable me much like I had done to Carson when we were playing around in the clearing.
I hear a yelp, and see Carson go down out of the corner of my eye. I whirl around, ready to defend against whatever monster has finally found us, only to see that he has slipped on the slick surface. He refuses my hand, grumbling to himself as he gets to his feet.
I see something over his shoulder that I don't quite understand. A massive pile of snow seems to be moving towards us. It's very far away, but getting closer. I grab Carson's arm and nod in the direction of the movement. He squints toward it, and I pull him into a crouch. No sense in being an obvious target if we can help it.
As I continue watching the approaching snow pile, I realize it's not snow.
“Is that...I mean, are those...” Carson trails off.
I don't want to confirm what I know he is thinking.
More than two dozen white creatures of immense size are bearing down on us. With each step that brings them closer to us, they look more and more like pictures I'd seen of Yeti. The Abominable Snowman. Bigfoot's cold weather cousin.
I scan the terrain around us, hoping there is some place to use to our advantage. I don't think hiding is going to do much good, because it's obvious they've already seen us, but if we can get somewhere higher or narrower, it gives us a better vantage point to fight from.
I spot an incline behind us, about a quarter mile away. It seems to be our best hope in this flat, frozen wasteland. I discreetly point towards it, and Carson nods his understanding. Running as fast as we can through the slippery snow, we get there safely. Up close, it's better than I hoped for.
The hill, while small, still gets us about fifteen feet off the ground, and the backside of the hill is a sheet of glare ice that slopes down at a treacherous angle. While it means we have to be careful not to slip down it, it also means the creatures will have a rough time scaling it, so we only have to defend three sides.
I scan the horizon and sure enough, the Yeti-things are still coming straight at us. I know better than to consider the possibility of it being a welcoming committee. We have no weapons, a fact I am not happy to realize. The metallic air isn't responsible for the sour taste in my mouth, and I realize I am tasting fear. We hadn't made much of a dent in the horde we had fought in the fiery pit and we'd had plenty of weapons at our disposal.
I remember the feel of the blade or claw slicing through my shoulder, and I shudder. The only bright spot is that it doesn't appear the snow monsters are carrying any weapons, either.
“So what's our game plan?” Asks Carson.
I want to appear tough and in control, but I can't bear to lie to him. “I don't know.” I say.
He snorts. “OK, that wasn't the response I was hoping for!”
Me neither. “What's your idea then, smarty pants?” I shoot back.
He thinks for a moment. “When you were on the thing's shoulders back there, you were twisting its neck. To break it, right? Like the guy in the alley? How come it didn't work?”
“Because it was made out of rock! Well, it felt like trying to wring out a rock, anyways.”
“Show me how it's done.” He commands.
I look up quickly, and gauge we have several minutes before the herd reaches us. Carson allows me to put him in a choke hold so he can feel where pressure is needed. “Here, and here, then twist, while pulling from the base. Like so.” Obviously I don't break his neck, but I put enough force into it so he gets what needs to happen. “OK, you try.”
He puts his arms around my neck, and I adjust them a fraction. I am reminded of a silly movie I watched one time where the woman is trying to teach her hopelessly clumsy beau to dance. I wish that I was teaching Carson to dance instead of how to rip heads off demonic creatures.
He shows me that he knows what he is doing. Just in time, because the beasts are upon us.
They are close enough that I can see they are covered in long white fur, not pure white, but a combination of white and silver and a creamy, pale blue, a perfect camouflage for the snowy terrain. It's beautiful, and mesmerizing as the fur moves with their undulating gate.
I tear my gaze away from the fur, and notice the rest of the details. They are about ten feet tall, and move with a swift grace. The faces have a feline quality about them, and the eyes-the eyes are large, startlingly blue and framed by long lashes. I am reminded of a white Bengal tiger, if it were standing on two legs.
I hear Carson shout, and I am angry he has disrupted my musings. I want to keep staring at these astonishingly lovely creatures. Their size and alien appearance only adds to their mysterious appeal. I want to touch the fur, sure it will be soft and luxurious. The leader stands in front of me, its blue eyes beckoning to me, giving me permission. I stretch my arm out, wanting to bury my hands in its coat, run my fingers through the silky length.
I am slapped across the side of my face, and sudden awareness hits me.
“Alexa, move!” Carson screams.
I realize it was he who has slapped me out of my reverie, and I look at my outstretched hand, not sure why it hovers in front of me. I look up, and see the creature reaching out for my hand. With its paw. Which ends in five blades, each the length of my arm.
I dodge out of the way just in time to avoid having my arm sliced off by the deadly blades.
I'd left the vantage point of our hill and had approached the beasts, influenced by some sort of hypnosis. Carson had come after me, and managed to disrupt what would have been a disastrous ending.
“Don't look them in the eye!” He yells at me. I'm not sure how he knows this or why he wasn't caught up in the effect like I was, but I can ask him later. Right now we are going to have to survive another battle.
I race back up the hill and Carson follows up on my heels. The Yeti-tigers gather around the base of our hill, and a mournful keening fills the air. The sound makes me feel sorry for them, these poor creatures. Are they trapped here too?
“Shut up!” Calls Carson, calmly. “You aren't fooling anyone.”
The keening stops, and the one I had tried to touch calls out in a deep yet melodious voice, while pointing at me.
I suddenly know it is mocking me, and my sympathy vanishes. “Not anymore, hairball!” I call back.
I don't know if it understands my words, but my shift in mood is apparent, and I hear the audible sound of sliding metal, like swords being unsheathed, and two dozen sets of blade-claws emerge. Oh good. They all have weapons, and we still have none.
I crouch, and see Carson do the same, ready as we'll ever be. We are angled back to back. The Yeti-tigers begin their approach. Gone are the benign kitty faces, and their sharp teeth glint as they snarl at us.
They converge in unison. I don't have time to watch Carson, as I fight to stay out of the way of at least 120 blades- half have come at me, the other half to Carson. They are fighting uphill, which should give us the advantage, but their height and weapons give them an edge. Also, they are fast. Faster than the fire demons.
But not quite as fast as us. Underneath their fur, their bodies aren't as substantial as I was prepared for. I refuse to be de-focused by the feel of the fur, which is as luxuriously silky as I imagined it would be.
I have already broken a couple arms and two necks before one of them gets a piece of me.