The male one, Shadow Stalker, had feathers that were black as onyx but had emerald green tips, while the female owl, Wind Rawth, had the same onyx coloring, but with electric blue tips. Both owls had eyes that matched the color of the tips of their feathers, and much to Samantha's chagrin, they seemed to be able to see everything.
"I told you, you must not wander off," Wind Rawth said with a click of her beak.
"I was not wandering. I had to go to the restroom."
"Well, you should tell us before you go. All kinds of dangerous things out and about in these woods."
"You keep saying that, but so far we have not seen anything more exciting than other birds.
"Which would worry anyone with a sensible head," Wind Rawth said. "Particularly all the sparrows. Their beaks flap like a flag in a wind. Everyone knows that."
Samantha was about to point out that birds could not talk, when she remembered that she was talking to an owl that was only slightly smaller than a two-story house. So instead she said, "How am I supposed to know that? I'm not from here, remember?"
"Which is exactly our point," Shadow Stalker said in his voice that sounded like boulders sliding down a mountain side, "you know nothing of the ways of this place, so please, stay where we can see you."
"But you don't need to see me while I am... doing my business," Samantha said crossly.
"Fine," said Wind Rawth, "but you must agree to tell us when you are going."
Samantha didn't want to argue the point further, so she said, "Fine!" and stormed off to find a place as far away from the two owls as she could get without them puffing out their feathers. Something they did, she felt, far too often.
As Samantha brooded under her tree, she saw her younger sister, Gale, who had blond hair, and green eyes, the color of new grass. Her nose was a little flat and covered in freckles, but it fit her oval face well. Gale was only of average height, but what she lacked in height, she made up for in pure movement, as she hardly ever was still. When they had been sucked through the TV, she had been wearing a knee-length dress, that was now dirty from when Gale had gone tramping through the undergrowth. The dirt did not seem to bother the younger of the Rowe girls, but Samantha was equally as dirty, and all she longed for was a bath and something hot to eat.
The forest that Shadow Stalker and Wind Rawth had landed in was full of pine trees, and even though winter was just starting, the weather was only really cold when the sun went down. The first night they had slept in a cave, and even though laying on the floor had been uncomfortable, the girls had been too exhausted to care. Additionally, the two owls had squeezed themselves into the cave as well, and had let the girls sleep under their wings, which had provided lots of warmth and partially made up for the hard ground. That following day, they had mainly stayed in the cave, while it rained, as the owls refused to take the girls flying when it was pouring. Samantha had only been too happy to stay put, but the rain had stopped with an hour or two left, and the sun had come out and dried things a little.
While they had been trapped in the cave though, the girls pelted the owls with questions:
"Have you ever met Mr. Morgan, what's he like?" Gale asked.
"What's an Ogin? And why do we have to kill it?" Samantha had wanted to know.
"What is Scheherazade being punished for?" both the girls had asked.
But the two owls would say nothing other than, "We don't know," or "You'll see." But then Samantha thought of something else that had been bugging her, "How did you know where we would be and to catch us?" At this, Samantha thought she saw a look pass between the great black birds, but it was hard to know for sure. Still it was Shadow Stalker that answered and his answer came slowly. "Well, it was a little bit of luck, and it is also the fact that we were looking for a sign."
"What does that mean?" Gale asked.
"It means," Shadow Stalker said, "that both myself and Wind Rawth have lived in this forest for a long time. Longer than you would believe, if truth be told, and the reason that we have lived here for so long is that there is a...well it is not exactly a prediction...more like a persistent rumor that something or someone will emerge from these woods and righten the world.
"What does that mean?" Gale asked, clearly at a loss as to what the owl was trying to communicate.
"Nobody or thing knows," Wind Rawth said, "which is why this bit of woods is such a tricky place. It looks empty, sure enough, but there are lots of different spies that come roving through, all of them under orders to find out what is going to happen."
"But you said it is not a prediction," Samantha said, "so how did this rumor get started, and what is the difference anyway?"
"Well," Shadow Stalker said, while beginning to preen one of his wings, "the difference is that there are Farseers in this world who have the ability to see the future. They are rare, and mostly they try and stay hidden, as they don't want to be pestered by every fool trying to find out what's going to happen to them next week. But then that's not the way looking at the future works. It's more like they can see all the possible outcomes of the choices that people make. As you move closer to an event, fewer and fewer outcomes become really possible, because say you go right instead of left on a road, well that means that whatever was going to happen when you went left, now can't happen. So that is a prediction. An educated guess, aided by the Farsight. But this. It is different. It is as if everyone woke up one morning, and the idea was there. Nobody told anyone about it. Nobody made a proclamation. It was as if all the creatures in Thurftlas, both big and small and dumb and intelligent, just woke up one day, and they had all shared a dream, in which we were all told the same thing.
"Weird!" Gale said, the excitement in her voice clearly evident.
"That and more than a little scary," Wind Rawth said. "Of course it took a while for everyone to realize we all had the same dream or memory, or whatever it is. But once we figured it out, these woods was overrun. Creatures no bigger then than your fingernail were rubbing shoulder to shoulder with giants, trying to figure out what it all meant. Caused a lot of confusion and mess, but that was years and years ago, and most eventually just went home. Most folks don't even believe they got the memory at the same time as everyone else.
"But you two stayed. Why?" Samantha asked.
"Because we are the last of the Boohalie," Shadow Stalker said, but this time his voice didn't rumble and crash. It was quiet and the girls almost did not hear him.
"Why? What happened?" Gale asked, but neither of the huge birds said anything, and try as they might, the girls could not get them to explain further.
"It does not matter what happened," Wind Rawth said, as she began to tap a talon on the stone floor of the cave. What matters is that we had no other place to go so we stayed. A good thing we did too! We were out hunting for food when you two decided to drop in."
"And you think we are what this weird memory thing is all about?" Samantha asked.
"We don't know." Shadow Stalker rumbled, "but we felt it better to err on the side of caution, and here you stand.
The girls were going to press the conversation onwards, but then their stomachs rumbled louder than Shadow Stalker's voice.
"Dear me." Wind Rawth said. "How careless of us. Shadow Stalker, watch the girls while I get them something to eat," and with that, the huge owl squeezed back out of the cave and took off.
The rain had stopped by the time the girls emerged with Shadow Stalker, and that was when Gale had gone tramping through the woods. She was soon soaked, and Samantha was as well from chasing after her sister. They ran back to Shadow Stalker and begged to be let under his wing, but he refused. No. That won't warm you fast enough. Come, it was too dangerous to light a fire last night, but I think tonight we will risk one. Now let's get some wood."
"How are we going to start a fire?" Gale asked. "We don't have any matches or a lighter."
"I'm not sure what those things are," Shadow Stalker said, "but starting a fire will not be a problem, now come on and help me get wood,"
Before long there was a sizable pile of wood in the cave, and Shadow Stalker had the girls stack most of it in the back. Then, he had the girls move away and said, "Now watch." Then he opened his beak and a beam of energy the same emerald green as the tops of his feathers lanced out, causing the wood pile to burst into flames. Instantly warmth began to flood the cave and the two girls inched forward so they could dry off.
Not long after that, Wind Rawth returned. In her talons she had what looked to be a branch that she had ripped off a tree. Hanging from the branch were a fruit that looked to Samantha like an apple, except that it was purple. "This was all I could find, but it should be enough to last for a day or two, and why?" and suddenly little arcs of blue electricity started dancing from the tips of her feather, and the huge owl puffed up, "Why is there a fire?"
"Because the girls were cold and wet, so I had them build a fire," Shadow Stalker said mater of factually, but at least to Gale, he was wearing the same expression her father sometimes had when her mother was yelling at him for letting the girls play games before their homework was done.
"You could have warmed them up in an instant under your wing, you old rascal. You just didn't want your feathers to get wet."
Samantha, who was far more interested in the food, which looked to be in danger of being crushed in Wind Rawth's talons said, "Yes, but we also wanted the light."
Shadow Stalker beamed at her, but quickly adopted a more contrite look under the withering glare of Wind Rawth. Then suddenly, a bolt of energy blasted off Wind Rawth's feathers and out the mouth of the cave, followed by a resounding clap of thunder, as cold air rushed to overtake the hot air left in the bolt's wake. "Well fine," Wind Rawth said, tossing the branch down, "if we are going to let the whole world know where we are then lets do it properly!" Then, grumbling about "a stupid old bird," she turned around to watch the entrance to the cave.
For his part, Shadow Stalker also puffed up, but both the girls saw him hide his face behind one of his wings and they could tell he was laughing. After a few moments though he said, "Come on. These kroshie look good, and I'm sure they were not easy to find," and as he said this, the girls saw him glace in the direction of Wind Rawth, who did not so much as stir a feather. But they didn't spend long thinking about it, because they both picked on the purple fruits, which smelled sweet and tart all at the same time and bit.
There was a crunch like a fresh apple, but the flavor was that of a pear mixed with cranberries. In addition, the kroshie were practically bursting with juice, which helped to slacken the thirst that the two girls suddenly realized they had. But the best came at the end, when Gale tossed her core into the fire. What little flesh was left burned away, but the seeds exploded like popcorn. They didn't get to try the first batch, which burned up in the flames, but once the fire had died down a bit, they tried again, and were soon eating the results, which actually tasted like toffee. At the same time, a rich and delectable scent filled the cave, and after a while, even Wind Rawth turned back around; although she was careful to remain stoney-faced.
The following morning, Samantha got up, and put more wood on the coals. Near her, both the owls were asleep, and she smiled to see Wind Rawth had cozied up to Shadow Stalker during the night, and he now had one wing around her. It took a while and a lot of blowing, but she eventually got a small flame going again. "Good thing I paid attention in Girl Scouts," she said and then went to relieve herself. That, of course, had been when all the commotion started.
Sitting under her tree now, Samantha began to cry. She tried to make it quiet, but soon she was sobbing loudly. She heard the flapping of wings and knew one of the owls had come to see what was the matter, but strangely, whichever owl it was didn't speak. This was fine by Samantha. Nevertheless, she curled up a bit more, putting her face into the crook of her elbow and kept crying until there were no more tears. Eventually she looked up and saw Wind Rawth there. The huge owl almost looked asleep, even though both her eyes were still partially opened. Still, Samantha didn't get the feeling that she had been watching her, so much as watching everything around her, and that made her feel a little bit better.
"You must think I'm stupid," Samantha said.
"No. I think you are very brave. Much has happened to you in a short amount of time, and even though I do not know your race, I think you are young, even by its standards. I would be more worried about you if you did not cry at least once."
"Why is this happening to us? I just want my parents. I just want to go home. I don't want to cross seas or fight things, or even travel to a city in the sky. I just want to go home."
"I don't know why this is happening, but I know this child. Few creatures, even the strong and scary ones, ever find the world just the way they want it. Some say it is the act of making the world around us into what we want that makes us strong, and gives us purpose. But I think you can no more make the world do anything than you can teach the rocks to see. You must learn to move like I do on the wind. You adjust and work with it to get where you want to go. It is not always a straight path, and it takes strength, but better to take the world as you find it than to fight against it."
"Is that what you were doing when you found the fire in the cave?" Samantha asked, although not meanly.
"Just because I know what to do, does not mean that I always succeed in doing it. Anymore than you I should think," Wind Rawth said with just a touch of her normal sternness. "But come, you have had a good cry, and that is as it should be, but now you must be brave for your sister."
"Why?" Samantha said, pointing to where Gale was amusing herself by trying to run up and touch Shadow Stalker's talons but never quite reaching them as he flapped away. "It looks like she is doing fine."
"Looks can be deceptive. Especially here in Thurftlas. Now come on. It is warm enough to fly today, and we have already wasted enough time," and then Wind Rawth leaned over so that her face was almost touching the ground and let Samantha climb onto her back. Once she was there and settled, the great bird walked over to where Shadow Stalker had landed, still leaning a bit so Samantha would not fall off her back. "Come on you two. We do not have far to go, but that does not mean it will be an easy flight."
It took a few attempts, but eventually Gale got positioned onto Shadow Stalker's back and then he said, "Listen close. Where we are going it is very cold. Wind Rawth and I will fly as close to the ground as we can as that will be much warmth for you both, but you must hold onto us tightly. With any luck, it will only take half the day to get there, which means, we will still have a lot of sunlight left when we land. But when we get to Zamrazenigrad, it will be very important that you get inside of Mr. Morgan's shop as fast as you can. You will understand why that is when we get there. Now, any questions?" Both the girls remained silent so Shadow Stalker said, "Good. Then we are off," and with a leap he jumped into the air with Wind Rawth right on his tail-feathers.
True to their word, the great black owls flew so close to the top of the trees, that Samantha could see all manner of squirrels and smaller birds flee down towards the forest floor. Faster and faster they went, until the ground looked liked it was being pulled backwards, and then suddenly the trees ended and they were flying over a huge lake. The air was getting colder and colder, and both the girls burrowed as deeply into the feathers of their rides as they could, but still the chill kept deepening. For both Samantha and Gale time seemed to slow to a crawl. Neither of them could ever remember being so cold, and just when they though it could not get any worse, the water underneath them froze over. Still they went north, and just about the time both the girls thought they were going to die from the cold, a huge tower pierced the thick ice. It was swiftly followed by another, and another. Finally, in the distance, there came a clustering of towers that was lit up with light, and it was towards this that the two owls flew with as much haste as they could muster. How long it took to traverse that distance, neither Gale nor Samantha could say, but suddenly both owls let out huge screeches that cleared out the whole of the main street. The two owls landed with a clatter of talons on ice, and then they were running, heads down, so the girls would not fall off. It did not take long before they stopped before a shop front about two-thirds of the way down the street. Neither of the girls noticed at the time, but even though it was not the largest of the stores on the street, it was the cleanest.
"Quick as you can, now. Quick as you can!" Wind Rawth said, in a worried voice. Both the girls struggled to get off the owls' backs, but eventually they did and they shuffled through the door and into the bright shop just beyond.
The first thing that hit them was the smell of dried meat and fruit mixed with leather. This was followed by tobacco; although nobody in the shop was actually smoking. The shop that they were in had all kinds of clothing, food, toys, guns, lanterns, oil, tents, and gear of every shape, size, and color. At the moment there were only one or two customers in the store, but very strange they were. They were shaped like men, but one had the skin of what looked to be an alligator. The thing was wearing leather boots, several layers of woolen shirts and trousers, which were cinched by a gun-belt that sported a huge revolver. It towered over, what both Gale and Samantha took to be its friend, who looked like a hedgehog wearing a parka. The quills of the animal were sticking through the coat, and it looked like underneath he was also wearing a sweater, a poncho, and another coat. Gale heard the the smaller of the pair say, "I hate the cold. Cost me a fortune to stay warm, and you can never return anything. They always say I'm the one that put the holes in it, even if it ain't true."
Whatever the first customer was going to say got blocked just then, by a loud voice saying, "You two. The half frozen...well whatever you are. If you are not buying, then get out. This is no place to get warm!" Lumbering up behind the voice was the largest creature either of the girls had ever seen. Humanoid in appearance, it had the grey-black skin, bushy mustache, and long tusks of a walrus. However, unlike any walrus found on Earth, this behemoth was wearing an old-fashioned suit and a bowler hat. He also had on spats, and a huge watch hung out of his vest on a large silver chain. "Didn't you hear me? If you don't plan on buying, then out with you."
Then suddenly the rumble of Shadow Stalker's voice came from outside. "Mr. Morgan. Kindly try to refrain from being yourself. Wind Rawth and I have brought these girls to you, and they came from Scheherazade. They need your help procuring warm clothing, food, and a guide to get them to the top of the Great Ice Mountain."
Mr. Morgan stopped and looked at the girls again. It was neither an angry nor friendly look, only calculating. "Is that true?" But when neither Samantha or Gale answered fast enough, he said, "Well speak up. Speak up. Time is money after all."
"Of course it's true, you pestilent tub of blubber," Wind Rawth said, and behind the words, Samantha could almost feel the electricity beginning to crackle. "Do you think I would have flown all this way to hear you grumble if it was not important?"
"I was not asking you. I was asking these ice-blocks you've dropped into my shop. Now, what is the answer. Did you come from Scheherazade?"
Suddenly Gale said, "Yes. And she said you were supposed to be nice to us or you won't ever sleep well again."
"Well that sounds like her," the hulking figure said, peering closely at Gale, "but this is not a charity. If you have something to trade, then I'm at your service, but otherwise, I'm afraid there is very little I can do."
"Will this do?" Samantha asked pulling out the gem that Scheherazade had given her off her crown.
Mr. Morgan glanced over, and the sharp intake of breath that followed was enough to tell Samantha that it was more than enough for whatever they needed. The huge walrus was already reaching for the stone, when Samantha snatched her hand back. "I'll take that as a yes," she said, pocketing the gem.
"Indeed it is young miss. Indeed it is. Welcome, the both of you, to Morgan and Wells, the finest store in all of Zamrazenigrad. Now, it looks like you are frozen to the bone, so let me get you near a fire and fed, and then we can talk business."
"First, you need to feed Shadow Stalker and Wind Rawth," Gale said, looking at Mr. Morgan with the same face Samantha associated with the only time her younger sister had tried brussel sprouts, "and make sure they have someplace to warm up. It's cold out there for them too!"
"Yes of course. Of course," said Mr. Morgan, and then he turned and looked at the hedgehog. "You there. Help me out with those two outside, and not only will I give you a full value trade on that damaged parka of yours, but I'll toss in three extra shirts and a pair of new socks."
"Done!" the tiny figure squeaked, and then zoomed out of the shop to see what he could do.
"Now. About that tea," the walrus said to the girls as he bowed. "I'm sure we can find a flavor you like, and while you warm up perhaps you will tell me why it is that you wish to get to the top of the Great Ice Mountain."
Gale began heading back into the shop, but Samantha turned to look out the door, where she saw both the owls in a deep conversation with the hedgehog. She was not sure what the stone she had in her possession was worth, but just knowing it made Mr. Morgan offer any kind of deal to the small figure made her resolve to hold onto it for as long as she could. Still, not wishing to arouse suspicion, she turned and followed Gale into the shop. Tea was not her favorite, but nothing sounded better than a hot drink at the moment.