Chapter Seventeen: Cerise

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The Bluefrost Mountains were much colder than Cerise had anticipated. The chill drove straight to her bones, causing her to shiver. She was accustomed to the mild climate of Lithrium. Cerise longed to shift, to be blanketed by her wolf's thick coat of fur, but now was not the time.

"As you can see, it is quite cold here. Unfortunately, it will only get colder the higher you venture." Pan gestured upwards, Cerise's eyes following, fastening on the massive columns of snow and stone. She gulped, realizing how truly enormous the mountains were. How were they supposed to find the slippers?

A more chilling thought invaded her mind. How were they supposed to find the spells Pan had talked about? There was far too much land to cover and not enough resources or time.

"You each have enough food and water to last a week, but the temperatures will kill you long before then if you're not careful. These mountains have a way of dropping to temperatures so cold that even the goils—wily, scaly creatures with a love for precious jewels and stew; nasty beasts, actually—seek shelter in their caves. Hopefully, you won't have to experience that, for then I would have the grueling task of finding others to do this job." He glared sternly at the four of them as if it was their fault they had been kidnapped and forced to steal a pair of slippers.

"You will be leaving us, correct?" Aura asked, clutching her arms close to her chest in an attempt to stay warm. Cerise pitied her, pitied them all. Even with the thick clothing they wore, the cold somehow still managed to seep through.

"Yes, but I will watch from afar," Pan stated, beaming. "You each have gifts that will help you succeed; Madame Rose has seen them. Now, just be smart. Keep your wits about you and you'll do fine. Well, I must be off." With that, he vanished, leaving only a faint wisp of purple behind.

They all stood in stunned silence for a moment, the realization of what they were required to do finally hitting them.

"Very well, let's find shelter. We have one week, if we're smart, and the day is already nearly half-way done. Once we've found a shelter, we can take stock of what we have," Verre stated.

All three turned to Verre, who had shouldered her pack confidently, her eyes darting about for a shelter. "A cave would work best if we can find one."

No one argued with her, Cerise secretly relieved that she wouldn't have to give any orders herself. Verre was the most capable of the four. Still, it stung a little how everyone gravitated towards Verre, even herself.

"We should make sure to stick together too. We are unfamiliar with the terrain," Cerise suggested, thankful--for once--for the survival skills Raina had taught her through her abuse and neglect.

Verre seemed almost surprised at her knowledge--as if she hadn't expected any of them to be competent. Which wasn't entirely untrue. "Correct. Until we have any sort of idea of what's going on, we must stick together. A week is an extremely short amount of time to both adjust and find the slippers, so I have a plan. We're going to stay longer than a week, but in order to do that, we need to find a source of fresh water and food soon."

It was a solid plan. They hadn't been given a deadline, only one for how long their provisions would last. If they could manage to find fresh water and food, they could survive for many more weeks, giving them a better chance of success.

"Cerise, how much control do you have over shifting?" Verre asked cautiously, her eyes darting over Cerise, examining her. "Your instincts would be especially helpful now, especially with finding water and meat. Your senses-- even in human form, I'm guessing--are far more heightened than our own."

Verre was hesitant in discussing Cerise's abilities, and she didn't blame her. She was a hybrid and that's all that mattered. They were not to blame for the superstition against her kind. It still hurt though, every awkward look, the darting away of eyes. All she wanted was acceptance. But she had learned that acceptance was nearly impossible with the hatred that had built up over centuries.

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