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part nine.


“You’re swimming wrong,” the dog grumbles. “If you move your legs like this – ”

“Will the pair of you,” Aura growls through gritted teeth, “stop criticising my swimming and just focus on where we’re going?”

Navigating the ice floes had been rather tricky – on more than one occasion, one or more of the group had threatened to have been crushed between two of them, but they had managed a series of narrow escapes – but they’d made it through eventually. Now all that remains is the long haul all the way to the Core – the centre of the mainland. As they’re a little closer, even Aura can now make it out the misshapen lump on the horizon which can only be the imposing royal castle, but the sight doesn’t fill her with hope; it’s still a long distance from here, and already the cold had sapped half her strength. One Ear’s never-ending chattering and Penguin’s continual optimism are beginning to grind her nerves, but for the moment she keeps her annoyance and doubts to herself. Voicing them aloud would make them seem too real – as long as she buries them away at the back of her mind, she can try to forget them.

Instead of burrowing deeper into despair, Aura returns once again to the release of mathematical problem-solving. After solving several formulae, finding the value of pi to 2,000 decimal places and establishing a safe method of travelling at the speed of light, she moves from maths to literature and begins to mentally recite the complete works of Shakespeare. She’s completely gone through The Comedy of Errors and is just at the dagger scene of Macbeth (‘is this a dagger which I see before me?’) when she notices that the water resistance has become stronger and that she’s distinctly further behind Penguin and One Ear. Too late, she realises that she’s been caught by the same underwater current which almost carried away the rat on their way to the Vista Mountain, and that this time she’s not quite strong enough to fight it off.

Later she’ll be ashamed to admit that she completely lost her head. Panicking, Aura completely forgets everything common sense, the dog and the rat taught her about how to swim and flails in the water. Her head goes under and rather than simply staying still and allowing herself to float back up to the surface, she thrashes even more and accidentally knocks her back into a submerged rock, causing her head to snap back and hit the rock too. The suddenness of the action takes her by surprise and she releases all the air in her lungs and begins to sink towards the bottom of the seabed.

Her head feels fuzzy. She’s barely aware of something grasping her by the collar and pulling her up towards the air. When they break the surface of the water, Penguin releases her momentarily in order to get a better grip, before towing her out of the current and back to safety in the still water. Shaken, Aura leans against him, breathing as deeply as her ribs will allow. Penguin allows her several minutes to get her breathing rate back to normal before pressing on at a gentler pace.

The further they swim, the more debris they have to swim through. The Great Dane (with the rat still perched on his head) takes the brunt of it by cutting a direct path through – all Aura has to do is stay close behind him. Since the incident with the underwater river in Cascading Waterfalls One Ear has kept a close eye on her, nudging Penguin with her paws whenever the fairy slows up and starts to drop behind. When this happens, Aura is too tired to feel embarrassed. As the sun gets higher and higher in the sky, she gets slower and slower in the water, until eventually Penguin takes a firm hold of one of her arms and drags it over his upper back so that he can help support her. She doesn’t argue. She’s got nothing left to argue with.

They’re almost at the castle. Several lights are on inside, indicating that there are people about – hopefully, someone might see the exhausted trio and come to their rescue. The water is getting shallower and shallower; within a hundred feet or so of the castle walls, Aura’s feet touch solid ground for the first time since they left Vista Mountain, and she stumbles uncontrollably against Penguin. The dog pauses for a moment to support her (once again, Aura is struck by his seemingly endless reserves of strength and endurance) until she’s steadied herself, and the pair of them (with One Ear now sitting on Aura’s shoulder) wade wearily towards the royal palace. As they near, it seems that someone has indeed seen them, because a light goes on in the hallway and the door creaks open. A woman with a mop of wild hair stands silhouetted in the doorway.


It’s as if someone has woken a fire in the dog. He barks twice and shoots forward towards his fairy, charging through the water as if no force on the planet will stop him. At first Poppy moves forward with her arms spread, ready to greet him, but when she notices the speed he’s travelling at she puts her hands out in front of her and starts to wave them frantically.

“No – Pingu, stop – ”

Too late. The immense Great Dane hurls himself at his mistress, sweeping her cleanly off her feet and sending her crashing into the huge wooden door. By the time Aura and One Ear reach them, Poppy is completely out for the count and Penguin is crushing her chest by sitting on it, whining in confusion.

“It’s okay, Penguin,” Aura mumbles breathlessly, “she’s not dead, just unconscious. Probably just knocked her head when you jumped at her.”

And with that, Aura follows suit and collapses into a similar state herself on the floor.


    • part eight. -
    • part seven. -
    • part six. -
    • part five. -
    • part four. -
    • part three. -
    • part two. -
    • part one. -

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