Chapter 32

A Great Surprise! Creators Hidden Within

You ever felt like a Popsicle? Like every nook and cranny of your body had frozen up? Chifiu knew exactly how it felt the next morning. How, though? Didn't her partner give her the gift of warmth the previous day? Why yes, he did indeed. Unfortunately, she'd woken up only thirty minutes before their meeting with the queen. Imagine, rushing to take a shower, grab a bite, brush your teeth, and jump into some clean clothes. It wasn't fun. And in the rush, she'd forgotten to take them along. Thirty minutes into their hike, and only then had she realized her mistake.

"Brrr…So freaking cold…." She uttered under her breath, while attempting to warm up by wrapping her arms around her shoulders. "Feels like a freezer out here."

"It's almost like it's called the 'Glacier Kingdom'." He reminded her.

Regardless of temperature, his body could simply adapt to it. Her own on the other hand, not so much. What made it worse, a thick, 3-inch layer of snow which covered the forest floor. Every step sunk in, as she tried keeping her balance. Never had she trekked through snow so thick. Yet, every step he took caused the snow below his feet to melt. Lucky bastard.

"Shut it. I don't need any of your sass."

"Just pointing out the obvious."

"Ugh…"

Sensing the frustration in her tone, an idea came to mind. It seemed like a waste at the moment, but so long as it kept her quiet, why not? Conjuring up yet two more body warmers, he quickly slipped them into her pants pockets before being noticed. Although, it bothered her little, with their warmth encapsulating her once again.

"Ah. Much better." She happily sighed.

"What do you say?" He asked.

"Huh? Didn't hear you." She questioned sarcastically.

"Come on, don't play dumb."

"Sorry, a little busy." She blatantly lied.

"With what?"

"None of your business." She said in a taunting manner.

"Hm…You wanna wake up with your robe missing?"

"…I'm going to ignore that."

"Hah-hah-hah. I'm just messing around. But seriously, keep those on ya. The last thing any of us need is for you to get sick." He replied in a more serious tone. "God knows I'd probably be stuck feeding you soup or something."

"You say that as if it's a bad thing." She replied, raising a brow.

"I mean, your germs wouldn't affect me, but I'd like to explore the city. Gather info and lore on this place. The good stuff."

"Figures as much." She sighed.

Thinking about it, there was something else she'd near forgotten about. Reaching into her right pocket, she pulled a small, thin red ribbon to tie her hair back with. Yeah, she'd also forgotten her hat as well. Funny how someone could be so forgetful when in a rush. Pulling it back, she returned her hair style to its original style; to his disappointment.

"No, don't do that." He whined.

"It's my hair, I can if I want."

"Yeah, but…you look so cute with it down."

"And…?"

"And I like it?"

"Awww, that's sweet. Too bad."

"Oh…"

Moving through the spacious forest, small birds were flying around. Much as he wished he could have. But, because of the surrounding trees, it would come at the risk of getting caught up in their branches. To their good fortune though, light from the sun glimmered just ahead; a sign that their task would soon come to an end.

"Finally." She sighed with relief.

"You sure? The map says we've still got a bit more." He iterated, showing her the circled spot.

"…Great."

"If your getting tired, I can always…"

"No thanks." She sternly told him.

"Alright, but don't blame me if you collapse."

What lied on the other side of the branches? A snow-covered clearing, where all that exited were the surrounding trees, the snow on the ground, and a cave to their left, its entrance blocked off by rubble. A possible result from a recent structural collapse. Knowing her situation though, they stopped for a little break. If they'd been back in the village, the walk from point A to B wouldn't have been bad at all. The solid ground made travel much easier. But in a snow covered forest, where slipping up and busting your buttcould come at any moment, running was the last thing they needed.

"Much better." She happily said, after taking a rest on a nearby stump.

"I guess. Kind of boring though, unless you want to dig out that cave over there." He mentioned, pointing to his right.

"Uh, no. It's blocked for a reason."

"Hmmm…No fun." He disappointingly uttered, while looking down at the snow.

"Fun is a luxury we don't have right now. We've got something to do, so let's do it and get-." She reminded him, only to receive a freshly made snowball to her right arm. "Mature."

"Gonna do something about it?" He said in a mocking tone.

"Nope."

"So that's how it's gonna be, eh?" He thought to himself, while bending down to grab another.

While doing so though, a certain noise caught their attention. A low growl that came from behind the collapsed rubble of the cave. A polar bear, perhaps? Possibly, but whatever it was, they couldn't get it too wound up. Or else they'd be face with another conflict. Nope, not something they wanted to mess with.

"Maybe we should move on out." He suggested.

"Good idea." She replied nervously, before hopping off her seat.

For one reason or another, it had given them the chills. It sounded like a bear's growl, but how had it gotten stuck inside? A sudden cave in? Maybe. Bears were known for being pretty heavy sleeper, so it may have caved in then. Whichever the case, neither felt like risking a rescue, or their arms. Especially if it wasn't friendly. God knew what the queen would think if it wandered into town. Speaking of which, why's Victoria let such a large forest spring up behind her own home? It must have stretched for miles, possibly across the entire island. The plants didn't seem to care about the falling snow, though.

"How big is this forest?" she wondered, while following beside him. "It's a lot bigger than back home."

"Kind of reminds me of the Hanging Forest back home. Just as big, far less bodies."

"Let me guess, hanging bodies?" She guessed.

"Oh yeah, hundreds of thousands. Veins, organs, skin, it doesn't matter. When thrown in, the trees will rip them out and let you hang until your sins have been absolved."

"Ugh…"

"Pretty sick, right? There's this one guy named Austin, he's been there for almost two hundred years, and he's still hanging in there. Sure, he rots and reforms, but it doesn't seem to bother him much nowadays."

"No more…" She begged, finding it the image of a rotting corpse disgusting.

"Sometimes there's these little gremlin creatures that come out to feed on their bodies. It's really nasty."

"I said shut it!" she exclaimed, giving him a knock upside the head.

"Ouch! I was just letting you know!"

"Don't say anything next time then."

Abomination? No problem, a few slices here and there, and problem solved. But hearing the details of the Netherworld? No thanks, not something she cared to know about. The mere thought of being strung up by her various internal organs made her stomach churn like crazy. Thankfully, he knew when to shut his trap. And in good time too. Fifty minutes and three miles later, and they'd arrived. As described, a two-story log cabin sat in to the far right, facing north, while a large, 10-foot wall wrapped around the backyard.

"Cozy." He mentioned, impressed with its layout.

"I guess. Come on, let's do this."

"Roger dodger."

The surrounding area had been cleared of nearly all trees, leading to a frozen lake the house faced. Aside from a single large garage, there wasn't much to talk about. A single 10-foot brick wall surrounded that backyard, keeping out most animals that could do harm to their work. At least, that's what they theorized.

"You know, it makes me wonder, why would someone live this far out?" He wondered, puzzled by their decision.

"Privacy, probably."

"I guess. Seems a little out-of-the-way though." He pointed out, before giving the door three good knocks. "You'd think they'd set up a bit closer for supplies and whatnot."

From the other side, heavy footsteps approached. Neither were told who these people were or if they were even alone. At times, sculptors sought help when overworked. For all they knew a second party may have stopped by to help. Slowly, the door opened up, revealing a familiar face they hadn't planned on seeing. Not after what happened yesterday. Cyrus, the muscle of the trio, stood tired before them.

"Yeah? Whatcha need?" He asked, tiredly wiping the crud away from his eyes.

"Uh…Yeah…Are we in the right place?" She pondered.

"That's what the map says." Replied Bram.

"What's with all the talkin'?" He asked, while trying to focus his vision. "We've got no time for custom orders. If you want one, come back tomorrow."

"Not exactly why we're here. Queeny's getting a little impatient and sent us to check up on your lazy asses." Bram harshly stated.

"Idiot. Don't say it like that." She hissed.

"Lazy?! I'll have you know that we-" Cyrus began replying, only for his vision to clear up a second later. Terror overtook his muscles, causing stiffness in his leg muscles. "Y-You're…you're…"

"Yeah, I'm the guy your faggot leader decapitated. Seriously, you realize how much that hurt?" He spat in an annoyed tone. "A lot! I'd rather have taken your bats."

Hoping to ward off the "evil" standing before him, the frightened thug grabbed a bible laying on a small desk next to him and held it out in front of himself; hoping its holy symbols would scare him off. Oh, but how wrong he was. Holy symbols weren't but fictitious images made up by humans who saw not that which lied beyond death. Though lacking specifics, they weren't too far off.

"Oh sweet, a book." He said in sarcastic excitement, while snatching it from his hands. "You mortals have some pretty creative stories, I'll tell you what. A world-wide flood? The seven plagues? Kind of reaching there if you ask me. I'm sure the real holy father isn't that big of a dick."

"Z-Z-Zack! Clien!" He called out in fear, before retreating out the backdoor.

Okay, so to recap: they'd spent the last 50 minutes trudging through a forest, only to meet up with the morons who'd caused trouble the previous day. And their host knew about them and hadn't told them, for some reason. So, what was going on?

"Ugh. Okay, so she knew about these assholes and didn't tell us. What's up with that?" he pondered.

"Well, obviously she…Um…Maybe she wanted to…"

"Yeah, no, there's something weird going on here. Are we even sure they're the real deal?"

"He did talk about custom orders." She reminded him.

"Yeah…for drugs."

"Of course." She sighed, rolling her eyes at the rash comment.

From outside the entryway, neither could see all that much on the inside. A staircase that lead to the second floor, a small living room, with a single couch, red carpeting, and a flat screen TV. The door leading to, what was presumably the kitchen, had been closed off. The second floor though, that where things got a bit simpler. Bedrooms weren't present, leaving only three queen sized beds to fill in the space; all placed in a horizontal row. A fairly cozy home, though a bit small for three hooligans. It wouldn't be but a minute later when the door across from them, leading to the back yard, swung open. With their leader's eyes alit with anger, he stomped towards them, as an attempt at intimidation.

"What in the hell are you and your punk girlfriend doing here?" He spat.

Before he could open his big mouth, she promptly pushed him off to the side. Like hell they needed another fight on their hands, especially after what happened yesterday. Calm and gentle, that's what would calm the situation.

"Sorry for my partner's cruel display yesterday, he's not usually like that, but we're here on business." She told them in a kind, friendly tone. "Your queen's been awaiting the arrival of a couple of statues she ordered, and she's grown concerned that there may have been some trouble."

"Receipt?" he asked for with an open hand.

"Huh?"

"All customers are given one after payment. No receipt, no go."

"Um, well, we kinda don't have one." she admitted, with a nervous smile to follow.

"Then leave. You and your demon monkey." he demanded in a stern tone.

"Wait, what are we supposed to tell her?" she wondered.

"Come visit us herself and stop sending her lackeys." he answered, obviously annoyed with their presence.

Akin their icy friend, annoyance had begun setting in for them as well. Trekking through a snow-covered forest for damn near an hour was frustrating enough, but being turned away? No way, that wasn't going to fly. They'd been given a clear task and were determined to see it through to the end. Even if these chump heads refused.

"Sorry, but that's not happening." She firmly stated, while gripping his left shoulder. All the while a look of determination filled those eyes. "You're going to show us, now."

"You serious? I could freeze you in a mere second, so you'd best know what you're getting up to." he warned in a threatening manner.

"Uh, no. You'll have to content with me if that happens." Bram warned in return, while also taking his right shoulder. To add a bit more to his counter threat, he started heating up the palm of his hand, sending an intense stinging sensation through it. "And I promise you, your pathetic ice won't do a damn thing to me."

"Ah! Asshole! Fine, I'll show ya!" he explained in pain.

"Good boy." He tauntingly said in return for his compliance.

Releasing him from their grasp, the stinging sensation took a second to subside.

"They're in the back." he grumbled, leading them to the door behind him.

"Wait, Zack, you sure about this?" Clien asked.

"You want to feel this too?"

"No…"

"Then come with, both of you."

"Alright." The two of them sighed, nervous of what would come about due to their partner's action.

As much as it pained to cave into their demands, much like their visitors, the last thing they needed was another fight. God only knew how far they'd take it. Surrounded by brick walls, the area's floor remained covered by fresh, powdery snow, while upwards of ten ice sculptures sat off to both sides. All of which were masterfully crafted, with impeccable detail given to their clothing, scales, and armor. Angels, humans, dragonoids, each were given the same treatment and each stood at around 10-14 feet tall. Regardless of their appearance and past actions, they couldn't deny, the three numskulls had some real talent.

"Holy crap." Bram uttered in complete awe.

"They made these?" questioned Chifiu.

"That's right. Took several years to get where we are now, but we've made it. Masters of the sculpt!" Zack proclaimed with great passion.

"Think you're getting a bit ahead of yourself." Syrus told him in a teasing manner.

"We'll see. You still won't find anything this good anywhere else on the island."

How long must it have taken them to craft such things? The dragon, each of its scales had been meticulously carved out and refined to an almost realistic degree; even its eyes were greatly detailed. And these were the same idiots from the previous day? What were they doing with their lives?

"So, you use your powers for all of this, right? No tools?" asked Bram.

"None of your biz. No, what you're looking for is over here." he stated, using his hand to draw their attention to the two statues sitting in the center of the yard. Both resembled a large candy cane, and the other, a king. "See? You good?"

"Hmmm…I little inspection may be necessary." Bram suggested, while reaching out to touch the king.

"Nuh uh. Hands off." His partner told him, grabbing him by the ear for a good tug backwards. "The last thing we need if for you to screw it up."

"I wasn't though." he whined.

"Tsk. How far along is it?" she asked them.

"It's nearly done. We'll probably have it finished the morning of the festival."

"Got it." She said, before turning to their troublemaker. "Let's go."

"Wait! We can't stay and look?" he requested.

"Nope." was all she gave him, before giving him a good pull by the wrist.

An interesting turn of events, for sure. The three morons had quite a bit of talent behind those hands. But that begged the question, why'd Veronica keep it a secret? A question for later, but now they must return.