The Cutesy-Pie Snow-People were the craze of the century that Christmas. Their sweet little faces and animated features melted the hardest of hearts, and by mid-December every garden, balcony and complex had their own little Cutesy-Pie.
Everyone feared what would happen to the cute little creatures come the thaw. People cleared spaces in their freezers and banded together to rented chill-rooms to accommodate them for the warmer months.
But as the snow melted the Snow-People hardened. They began to grow taller and slimmer. They lost their sweet expressions and threw off their quirky hats. People stared out at them with a new fear. Were their cute little Snow-People going to turn on them?
Then one morning as the sun rose and cast its strengthening rays over the land, the Snow-People took to the air, rising up, glinting in the sunlight like so many ice angels.
They banded together and flew north.
Satellites tracked the angels’ progress; the feed was live-streamed into every home. People watched and waited. Then, as the first light dawned over the northern pole, the angels descended. Their bodies merged with the melting glaciers and re-froze the recent permafrost.
Together the Snow-People undid the damage of decades.
The sun cast its first golden rays across the heathland. Sinead and Moonsprite had been walking all night. They’d pursued the path in the starlight, pushing aside all thoughts of what lurked in the darkness beyond. Sinead had drawn the Sword of Elshain several times, but no creature had dared approach.
Both were tired now.
The path led to a stand of pine trees beckoning safety. They settled down on the soft-scented forest floor, guarding Moonsprite’s saddle bag and its precious contents between them. Sinead gathered her cloak around her, the Sword of Elshain under her hand.
Awaking to find the sun high in the sky, Sinead shared out the last of the stale oatcakes. She opened the Prophesy Book and continued reading. Raising her eyes she now saw a towering castle wall beyond the trees.
Foretold in the Prophesy Book, the first of the four last challenges lay within.
Sinead held the Blue Orb aloft. Moonsprite, her snow-white unicorn, pawed the ground while her Mistress uttered the sacred words from the final chapter of the Prophesy book.
The orb glowed more brightly, its indigo light shining across the wild heathland. A path appeared before them: the way to the Far Side, where the Edge of the World began. Sinead must commit the way to memory. The Blue Orb would not shine here again.
Night creatures skittered and slithered around their feet. Sinead gripped the Orb more tightly, willing her mind to absorb the knowledge.
The Orb ceased to glow, but the stars shone overhead. Sinead returned the Orb to Moonsprite’s saddle bag and took out the Sword of Elshain, strapping it around her waist. There were four last challenges to complete.
Moonsprite tossed her silver mane. The journey would be long, but together they would finish the final chapter.
The Queen gazed out of the window as a team of paramedics, flanked by dark-suited security men, slid the stretcher into the ambulance. Its occupant, whose face was covered, had been pronounced dead at the scene, slumped over his dinner at the top table in the Long Library. It had only been by great good fortune that the contents of the glass he’d been holding had missed her spangled evening gown. White silk was a devil to clean, apparently.
Standing by the back of her chair, her butler coughed discretely. The Queen turned to him and gave a conspiratorial wink. ‘Don’t worry, Watkins. You were only acting under orders.’ The Queen smiled serenely. ‘And I am monarch and above the law.’
‘Very good, ma-am.’
‘Worked a treat, didn’t it?’ she giggled. ‘Something Philip was given on a State visit. I knew it would come in handy one day.’
‘Indeed, ma-am. If I might be permitted to say, the poisoning was entirely justified. Not that one’s Royal Highness would need to.’
‘He might have been the Leader of the Free World, but in all my years as Queen, I have never, ever come across such an odious man.’
‘He actually asked for a Coca-Cola when Blenheim has such a wonderful wine cellar!’
They both glanced at the portrait hanging over the fireplace. ‘I’m not sure what Mr Churchill would have made of him, or his own current successor.’
The Queen raised her glass to the portrait. ‘He’s a problem for another day.’
Mickey, the young mantis, poked his head out of the bougainvillea bush. There she was, the lovely Marula, sunning herself on the trellis by the stoep. He watched her in admiration as she stretched out her plump olive-skinned limbs. His ardour was rising. She was a gorgeous creature. If only he could get her to notice him.
He crawled down to the windowsill where Gerald the Gecko was snapping at flies. Gerald followed Mickey’s gaze. ‘That mantis-lady’s a tough cookie, Mickey. You should steer clear of her.’
‘She’s too old for you, Mickey.’
Charlie the Chameleon slowly made his way up the lavender bush, his colour changing from a dusty grey to jade green. ‘I couldn’t help overhearing you two,’ Charlie said, rolling his eyes so that one fell on Marula and the other fixed on Mickey. ‘Don’t grow up too fast, Mickey, she’ll eat you for breakfast.’