As I’m sliding on the snow, swerving between trees and hoping the mountains towering above me doesn’t decide to shed more pebbles on my helmet, I can’t help but panic.
Not because I’m skiing. No, I’m experienced enough in it that I’m all the way in Colorado for a skiing tournament—which starts in two hours.
Hence the freak out.
To clear my head before the final race, I’d decided to check out the area by grabbing my equipment and going out alone. The trail is completely empty, the sky a crystal blue, and I try to concentrate on the scenery racing by.
But then a sound echoes around me—shhhhhkkboom.
My eyes go wide and fix on a mountain far too close for comfort. Snow is raining down, like an avalanche, but it doesn’t look like a normal avalanche—
The next thing I know I’m slamming into the snow, toppling head over skis as the noise sizzles to a stop. Rule number one of skiing (and most sports, honestly): don’t take your eyes off the ground. I must have tripped over a rock and now I’m…falling on a girl?
“Ahh!” she helps, pushing herself away for me in the snow.
“S-sorry,” I sputter, my head spinning. I glance around me. The snow had cushioned my fall, and the mountains are quiet again. “I, uh, didn’t see you there.”
“It’s…okay,” she says, standing up.
The first red flag is her arms—which aren’t covered. She’s wearing a tank top in below freezing weather? How is she not an ice cube?
I look at the rest of the girl’s outfit. She’s really pretty, with her wide ice blue eyes and full lips. She looks to be a bit older than me, maybe seventeen. She has skin so pale it’s almost the color of the snow, and her hair is literally white. It seems to glow from where it’s shoved into a messy bun, almost incandescent as the spare hair strands catch all the colors of the rainbow. She has a shimmery white crop top on, and what look like the most jazzed-up ice blue sweatpants on that looks like it’s sewn with crystals. She has silver earrings to match her silver belt and boots.
The second red flag is that now that I’m regaining my senses again, I’m pretty sure I didn’t see her in the middle of the trail because she wasn’t there.
She offers me a hand and I take it, managing to stand up then look her dead in the eyes. “How did you just appear here?”
“What do you mean?”
Great. Now she’s gaslighting me. Or maybe I hit my head too hard.
“You weren’t there. Just snow was there. Unless you randomly kept in front of me, or you were buried under the snow, or, like, you were the snow…”
I’m rattling off fictional possibilities when the same sound from earlier draws my attention back to the mountains—shhhhkBOOM!
I watch snow topple down the mountainside. I’ve seen enough small avalanches while skiing, and this one is far away enough that we’re safe. But…it doesn’t look like a normal avalanche. All the snow commotion seems to be hiding some sort of moving snow.
Like a giant white figure is tramping through the mountains.
I turn back to the girl, and now her face is even paler than before—is this her reaction to my speculations, or to the not-an-avalanche, or both? Either way…
“Who are you and what’s going on?”
“I’m Ciara,” she says, eyes still on the mountain. “You can call me Cee.”
I laugh. “No way! I’m Conan, and you can call me Cee.”
“How’d you get Cee from Conan?”
I don’t answer that because now I’m realizing she still hasn't answered my second question. “Okay, that’s not what we’re talking about. Sorry for crashing into you and all, but you look fine and—gah, how are you not cold?”
She turns back to me, her lips playing into a smile as she reaches up to rub her bare arms. “Uh, high cold tolerance?”
“You’re not playing this off very well,” I say, gaining confidence. “Something is up and I want to know.”
“Yeesh, slow down, Mr Cee,” she says. She throws a look back to the mountains behind me, curling her fingers like she’s anxious to get going. Something is definitely up.
“No no no. I’d like to know how you’re the first person I’ve crashed into, thanks.”
Now she seems to be actually considering it, her hands fidgeting more. She carefully looks both ways, like she’s hesitant—or nervous. “So your theories?” she finally says.
“You jumped in front of me from absolutely nowhere, you were buried under the snow, or you were the snow,” I repeat.
“The last one is correct.”
Her body disintegrates into snowflakes until where Ciara was just standing is just more snow.
And then suddenly she’s back as a human (if she even is a human—I’m so confused at this point), clamping a cold hand over my mouth, which I hope doesn’t make me break out in blush. Why is she so otherworldly pretty?
“Shhhh!” she whisper-yells. “He’s going to hear you!”
“Who is?” I say, but as I watch her eyes go back to the mountains behind me, I get it. “So those definitely aren’t normal avalanches.”
“That’s a frost giant, and he’s on the move,” Ciara says, then sighs at herself. “Ugh, I guess I’m telling you everything. Oh, and I’m an ice spirit.”
“You’re a what?”
“Did you or did you not just see me transform into snow?”
I self-consciously reach up and ruffle my wild black curls. “I mean, I dunno, do something all ice-spirit-y!”
“I can’t,” she says, a shiver creeping into her voice, “since that frost giant just stole my magic!”
“But you just turned into snow.”
She sighs again. “Okay, dude. We’re running out of time, but— I can always turn into snow. My usual magic includes more snow and water manipulation, and I’m normally really strong, and—well, like all ice spirits, I get all of those powers from a magic crystal that’s usually right here.”
She fingers a golden thread necklace around her neck. Now that I look closer, it definitely looks like a pendant was yanked off.
“So…the frost giant took your magic? Can he even use the magic?”
“If he piles up enough stolen crystals, he can transfer the magic to himself, yes,” Ciara says. “And I was tracking him down to get it back, until you smashed into me as I was hiding as snow.”
I feel red creep up my tan skin. “Uh, sorry about that.”
“It’s not your fault, but I’ve really got to go,” she says.
Suddenly I can’t bear the thought of her leaving. I mean, ice spirits? Frost giants? Magic crystals and pretty people? Sign me up!
“Can I help?” I offer.
She looks at me dead in the eyes. I resist the urge to look away. “Really? Because god, yes. The frost giant will probably sense me before I get too close, and I can’t steal my jewel back while transformed into snow.”
“Yeah,” I say, grinning. “Yeah, I can help. I have, like, ninety minutes until my ski tournament, so…”
“Lovely,” she mutters. “Only ninety minutes?”
She manages a smile at me. “Of course. But we should probably get moving.”
We follow the frost giant for almost half an hour, weaving our way through the mountains wherever we see more falling snow. Once I get closer, I can clearly see a hulking figure causing the mini avalanches. It looks like the monster Elsa created in the movie Frozen. I don’t know.
Ciara turns into snow to slip down the hills faster and I ski to catch up. Finally we end up at a cave hollowed out in the rock—a cave Ciara confirms to be the frost giant’s dwelling.
“So what’s the plan?” I say.
“You sneak in and grab the crystal. You’re a human. He can’t smell you.”
I blink. “Yeah, but he can see me, and doesn’t he have magic of his own? I don’t want to die before I win my ski tournament, thanks.”
She rolls her eyes and punches my shoulder. Even through my coat, she’s still strong enough without her magic that ouch. “I’m not going to let anything happen to you, Cee.”
I can’t help but smile more. “Okay, so what’s your actual plan?”
“I’ll distract Frosty over here with my reminding magic. That is, if he doesn’t come out in the next five minutes, because we’ve been standing out way too long.”
“Yeah, he can sense you, I know,” I say. “Should I…just…go in now?”
“Mmhmm. Maybe just to peek at first. Report back.”
I try to steady my nerves, but give up, and go ahead and walk into the cave. It’s kind of dark, but there’s weird skylights carved into the rock above me which provide enough light until I get deeper in the cave.
I crouch behind a rock and glance at the dead end. Five sapphires are arranged in a circle on the floor, their glow almost reaching me. I can’t find the frost giant, but—
Someone else is here.
It’s…a boy. Around my and Ciara’s age, and also unnaturally pretty. He has glinting white hair that looks straight from an anime, falling over his silvery eyes. He’s wearing a white tank top and more sweatpants, almost like Ciara.
Are all supernatural creatures this freaking attractive?
I want to go say hi to the guy, but if he’s in a frost giant’s cave, I don’t see how that could be good. So I creep back to Ciara and tell her everything.
“Is that Frosty’s lunch or something?” I wonder.
She laughs and brushes back a spare lock of iridescent white hair. “No. That’s…that is the frost giant.” Her smile melts off. “If he’s back in human form, he’s really close to stealing the magic from the gem permanently. You said there were five crystals, yeah?”
I nod, and she curses. “Oh, just wonderful. We need to hurry. Listen—when you go in the cave, grab the crystal as soon as Frosty’s distracted, then get out FAST.”
“Will do,” I say, and take another step back to the cave.
“And wait, Conan?”
“Yeah?” I turn back to Ciara.
“Be careful,” she emphasizes, and I flash a smile and nod as I enter the cave again.
I’m about halfway back down the long length of the cave when Ciara’s distraction starts.
Except it sounds more like the Greek myths of sirens, their voices taunting you to drop your guard and be drawn near them like a magnet.
The cave amplifies her song, and I can’t understand the words, just the tone. I know I shouldn’t stop and listen, but now I wanted to, with every fiber in my being, I wanted to go back to Ciara, I’d do anything for her—
I fight against the urge as much as I can, but all that means is instead of going back to the entrance to the cave, I’m sort of stuck in place. But when I hear heavy footsteps coming my way—now the frost giant is back in his magic form and is being lured outside—I duck behind a rock near the wall.
I watch the hulking shape of snowy limbs go past me and, remembering Ciara’s directions to snag her crystal as soon as the frost giant is distracted, take off running to the end of the cave.
I make it to the place where I'd seen the frost giant boy arranging the crystals. Sure enough, five glinting blue gems, glowing like Ciara’s hair or the frost giant’s eyes, are on the floor in a circle. Frosty must have JUST been about to start some sort of ritual to transfer the magic.
The echoes of Ciara’s siren singing start fading. Not the volume, just the magic. I can still hear her singing, but it’s not a hypnotizing pull anymore. If her magic truly is about to be defeated, I just left her alone with a still-powerful frost giant.
I grab the nearest crystal and slip it in my coat pocket, then hesitate. If a frost giant can absorb the magic from an ice spirit's crystal, why can’t I?
So I snatch another stolen crystal which probably belonged to some spirit back in the day. If they can’t have it, Frosty the not-a-snowman sure can’t.
Then I take off running, and twenty seconds later I’m almost to the entrance of the cave. Except I’m blocked from getting to Ciara by one thing—er, person:
Luckily, he hasn’t even seen me, but unluckily, that’s because his eyes are fixed on Ciara. The ten-food figure is standing in the doorway facing the ice spirit, who’s ice-blue eyes are wide in fright now that she’s pretty much powerless.
But she has two things left: cold resistance and the ability to turn into snow.
And snow can't be killed, so suddenly she transforms to a pile of snowflakes on the mountainside.
But almost a second later she pops back up as a human (er, ice spirit), having caught a glimpse of me right before transforming. Her eyebrows shoot up and she’s probably thinking, THERE’S my backup!
But her very obvious looking at me causes the frost giant to slowly turn. I know I can’t get by him, and I definitely don’t want to be cornered in the cave with stolen items in my pockets. So I do a very, very reckless thing:
“Heads up, Cee!” I shout, and whip the crystal under the frost giant’s legs just as he turns to me.
She catches it and her skin seems to glow brighter. Then her face twists in horror because she seems to re-realize I’m trapped in the cave.
“Conan, get out of there!”
Her words distract Frosty just long enough for me to slip by the bulky figure and tumble onto the snow behind her. Paralyzed on the ground, I watch as Ciara promptly reaches up and yanks the top of the cave down.
Her returned crystal returned her magic too and the whole cave promptly collapses on top of Frosty, sending pebbles and snow raining over me.
I stare at the pile of rock and snow, like the frost giant might burst out of the rubble. Built no, the eerie quiet of the Colorado mountains fills the air.
“Well,” Ciara finally says, her words breaking the silence, “that was…something.”
I look up at her. Both of us are relatively unharmed, and Ciara’s shimmering crystal is hanging between her collarbones again. “Yeah. Yay?”
“Yay,” she confirms, and helps me up. “Thanks.”
She notices the blue shine from my pocket. “What’s that?”
I shyly take out the second stolen crystal. “Uh, I was sort of hoping I could become and ice spirit too and then—”
I’m cut off by a snort. “Sorry, and it’s a sweet idea, but, uh, you can only use the magic of other creatures if you’re magic yourself. This crystal won’t affect you. It will, however, enhance me.” She plucks the gem from my hand. “Thanks.”
I stare at my empty palms, my heart still pounding hard in my ears from the cave escape. Still, I’d rather be terrified by a frost giant than back to…well, like how I was an hour ago.
Ciara notices my downcast expression. “Sorry, Cee, but you’re stuck human. I can still visit, though.”
My face brightens a little. “Really? Yeah, that sounds good. I might actually be able to leave now.”
“I’ve still got a ski tournament in…” I check my phone, still tucked in the inside pocket of my jacket. “Fifty-three minutes. Yikes.”
“Oof. you should probably get going,”
“Goodbye?” She laughs. “Nah. You did me a big favor. The least I can do is walk you back. And cheer you on.”
“Hmm. Sounds good. I’m currently totally lost, though.”
Ciara seems to remember again I’m just a smol human in the middle of Colorado, having been dragged away from civilization by her. And while she was perfectly warm in her glittering crop top, and probably with some superhuman direction senses as well as strength, I’m…well, cold and confused.
“Ooookay. Now let’s go. You’re not arriving late to your ski thingy because I was busy getting you beat up.”
“I’m here by choice,” I argue.
She just laughs a little again and grabs my arm. “Alright. C’mon. We’ve got an hour's walk ahead of us.”
“Sounds good,” I say as we start walking in what must be the right direction, and this time I’m not even being sarcastic.