Author Topic: Fire and Ice  (Read 914 times)

Vanessa

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Fire and Ice
« on: July 08, 2013, 10:50:55 PM »
      Nessa could feel her heart pounding steadily faster as she stood gazing at the wide hole that had just been shattered through the heavy ice. The dark water below was still sloshing around its edges, swirling with chips of ice, stark reminders that this wasn’t the small woodland lake near Yew where Captain Fern had often taken his daughter in happier days. Trying to shake away the shiver that went up her back at the thought of diving in the jagged mouth of ice, Nessa stole a glance at Istvan who was standing a few feet behind her. A smirk immediately crept into her features: the self-righteous prick actually looked frightened! Huh, fer all that fuss aboot the protection o’ the “All-Mother”, he’s doesnae seem tae have much tae say noo, does he? She shook her head, the smirk growing wider as she drank in the sight of the brawny, tattooed otter trying to inch away from the hole with an almost pleading look in his eyes. Suddenly, the dark apprehension that had been pooling in her chest was gone- this was going to be fun.

“Sae, who’s ready fer a wee dip, eh?”

The little group of creatures gathered around the hole backed off a few feet, conspicuously leaving Istvan facing the younger Yew Guard. She grinned. He glared helplessly around before attempting to pull himself together.

“It appears that I will be joining you, Guardsbeast.”

The reminder of her lower rank did not go unnoticed as the ottermaid leaned forward, and whispered in his ear, taking vindictive pleasure in the words.

“Remember this, laddie; oop here ye may be a Corporal but doon there yer just an otter who cannae swim, ye ken?”

 Out loud, her voice was only a touch less taunting.

"Weel, Ah'll show ye as we go along. But first, we need tae git rid of this."

Istvan took a step back looking rather flustered as Nessa’ uniform slipped off, leaving her in her slim-fitting tunic.

What are you doing?”

Nessa paused, looking at him like he was wrong in the head.

“Stripping, o’ course. Ye’d better start too, Ah’m nae goin’ tae hang aroond waitin’ on ye.”
 
The other otter’s look was rather hard to read.

“Stripping? I...”

Nessa continued cheerily.

“Or ye can go in fully dressed an’ sink like a rock. An’ if that doesnae kill ye, paradin’ aboot in a freezin’ wet uniform will.”

Istvan seemed to see the sense in that, for the male started divesting himself of his uniform. Meanwhile, Zevka was slowly backing off, smiling in a way that was not quite reassuring.

“Come on everybeast...let's give these two some 'alone time...' At least they'll be keeping each other warm...”

Halfway through ridding herself of her tunic, Nessa paused, the marten’s comment registering.

“Wot...? Och ye.. ye didnae dare! Ye bottlebrushed, snake-tongued, spit-nosed... slanderer! Ye’ve not heard the last of this, Zevka!”

   Under her fur, the ottermaid was beetroot red, though it wasn’t clear whether it was from anger or embarrassment- or both. She swept up the thin layer of snow settled on the ice into a tightly packed ball, launched it directly at Zevka and scored a direct hit on her neck, stopping the marten's laughter short. But her satisfaction lasted just until Cookie’s wry baritone reached her.

“I wouldn't feel bad steering her rudder, if y'know what I mean.”

“Istvan an’ Nessa sittin’ in a tree...” An impudent voice piped up from Poko’s general direction as Nessa ground her teeth savagely. 

“Will ye stop et, bunch o’... Who was that cat-callin’?”

“Don’t look at me.” Nyika’s face was the picture of innocence- but the ribbing continued, most of it from a certain ferret who was going to have a very bad day as soon as she could get her paws on him.

“Think it looks good now, wait'll she comes out of the water!"

"Hell's fang, Corporal, ain't you just as handsome as the jill!"

This was just unbearable. It didn’t make it any better that Istvan looked just as embarrassed as she did- more so, in fact. The male Guard seemed to be at loss where to look and she had a sudden, unreasonable itch to punch him on his tattooed nose.  She ignored it and slipped her last item of clothing off, shutting her eyes tight against the whistles and calls.

In an attempt to calm herself, Nessa closed her eyes, recalling her father’s long-ago lessons on swimming in cold water. Calm your mind, focus on your breath and feel the air going in and out. Then fill your lungs slowly and slip in.

“Oy, when the kits come around, can I name them?”

A furious growl slipped from her muzzle as Nessa’s footpaw stamped the ice so hard as to cause a small spiderweb of cracks, any semblance of calmness vanishing instantly. Realizing that the longer she stood out of the water, the more she was exposed to the jibes, the irate ottermaid threw breathing exercises to the four winds and plunged directly into the hole, her not-so-smooth dive sending a wave of freezing water to soak Istvan.

    For a second, she was only aware of the overwhelming cold. The dark substance surrounding her didn’t feel like water. It felt like a snake, winding around her body, crushing her breast, paralyzing her muscles, trying to squeeze a gasp, a yell, any loss of breath from her. Panicky, Nessa kicked out, her natural reflexes taking over as she used all four limbs and rudder to propel herself somewhere, anywhere, as long as it was warmer. After a few seconds, she could think again and opened her eyes. Freezing water was rushing past her muzzle but it couldn’t reach her any more. Her warm blood felt like fire as it rushed through her veins, sending a thrill throughout her entire body. This was what she was meant to do. This was her element.
 
     Suddenly, she remembered Istvan. Executing a neat half-turn, the ottermaid looked back at the small circle of white light above her, just in time to see it obscured by a large shape. Istvan sunk for a good five feet, thrashing violently, before he seemed to galvanize his limbs into a sort of frenzied paddle. From her underwater vantage point, Nessa winced. If she hadn’t completely believed him before, she did now: Istvan was a terrible swimmer. If she didn’t do something to help, the ridiculous specimen of an otter wouldn’t last much longer.

   Adopting a slow, steady swimming motion, Nessa approached the other otter, motioning with one paw that he should watch her movements. Her cheeks flamed briefly at the thought of the implications- if only she was stuck underwater with somebeast other than a despicable officer who was wrong in the head. Not to mention slow on the uptake. He wasn’t doing the rudder and body movements at all right and Nessa’s patience was quickly running out. She waited just until she saw that he was able to muster a vaguely directional swim before giving him a curt nod and a wave towards an other part of the lake as an indicative that they should split up. Then Nessa shot off downwards with a flick of her rudder.

     The deeper the ottermaid went, the murkier her surroundings became. It was a world of shifting shadows, everything shrouded by dark curtains of water, including the fish she sought. There was still air in her lungs to last a while but the cold was beginning to seep in again; it was starting to be dangerous to stay down but Nessa stubbornly kept searching, green eyes straining to catch a glimpse of something alive. All of a sudden, something silver glittered in the corner of her sight. It vanished into the gloom as soon as she spun around but Nessa knew she’d found her quarry and sped off after the elusive glimmer, cutting through the water like a pike on the hunt. The fish was swift but so was she, and soon she could see it darting frantically through the water. Her mouth was just inches from closing around its tail fin when something big and dark distracted her attention from the fish, just enough to let it slip away into the gloom.

     It was Istvan. In the instant that she saw the still shape slowly sinking in front of her and felt the slight shift in the temperature around her, Nessa understood. The lake was fed by a small spring of melting snow- but she hadn’t seen the outflow anywhere. The lake must have had an outlet underground, creating a current flowing down to the depths of the lake, a current which Istvan had obviously encountered in an attempt to return to the ice hole.

    Nessa paused, suspended in the water. She hated Istvan. She hated his arrogant, condescending manner, the way he looked down upon her like she was a piece of dirt he had to tread upon on his heavenly path. She hated him for taking away her only chance at being a second in command and proving herself as a leader. He was unnatural and cold and judging and nobeast would blame her if he drowned down here. But in that instant, she knew: she couldn’t let him die. That wasn’t who she was.

     Powering herself upwards with several thrusts  of her rudder, the ottermaid intercepted Istvan’s downward spiral, thrusting herself directly into the cold current that was dragging the male down into the depths. Istvan was unconscious or almost so and struggled only feebly when she grabbed his paws, leaned her shoulder into his chest, and gave a forceful surge upwards. She was running out of air and the instinctual urge to survive gave her the burst of energy she needed to swim free of the current’s deadly embrace.

    Bubbles burst from her mouth as Nessa strained to carry the dead weight of the much larger otter upwards. Her lungs were burning, only one thought occupying her mind: air. With her last fading consciousness, she focused solely on the small circle of white light growing steadily larger above her... larger... brighter... until with an almighty whoosh, her muzzle broke surface, sending all her senses reeling back as she gulped in air.  She had made it.

      And she was angry. The first few gasps of invigorating air seemed to fuel a burning irritation inside her and she threw Istvan roughly from her shoulder unto the solid ice. Ignoring the confused shouts of the others, Nessa hauled herself out of the hole and without quite knowing what she was doing, threw her entire weight into a violent punch to Istvan’s chest.

“Ye... ye bloody... idiot!”

It was a wonder none of his ribs cracked. A spout of water spewed out of Istvan’s half-open mouth and he coughed hoarsely. Nessa leaned forward, panting, and met Zevka's inquiring gaze.

"Ah didnae get any fish."