Lance shifted on his saddle in the thick whirling snow and gathered his collar over his muffler as he peered from under his hat at the top of the mountain. "Well Abaddon," he called out cheerfully over the wind, "we'll be over the top directly and we'll be getting out of this weather!"
"My momma's goin' 'o kill you for stealing me away from her," said Abaddon with a baleful snarl. "And when I tell her all about it, she'll hurt you a whole lot for a long, long time before she stops your heart."
"Oh, she'll have to catch us first," said Lance buoyantly, as a shudder ran through him.
"She'll catch you, all right! Oh, yes she will! And it'll be a lot of fun!"
"After five long days in the cold, it's a mercy we won't have to sleep out in this," thought Lance with another shudder as the unicorns stepped their way up, crunching loose shards of stone through the new layer of snow. Having grown up here, he was familiar with the sudden fierce winter storms up in the Pitmaster's Kettles. He glanced aside at Abaddon. In spite of how good he'd always been with children, the boy unnerved him. "I'll do it for James," he thought, wishing he did not have to. Abaddon looked up at him with a red-eyed glower, as if he knew exactly what he had just been thinking, giving him a sudden bristle of goose flesh. He quickly turned away. "Surely he doesn't read thoughts. I've never heard that Spitemorta does." He looked back again to suddenly feel guilty for thinking all of this at the sight of Abaddon looking right at him with the innocent smile of a boy on an adventure. He smiled back and began searching for the path over the top. "Here we go!" he called out. "Right yonder! Just keep Sheba close to Stepper and we'll soon be out of the weather in the heart of this ol' mountain!"
"What do you mean? You don't mean we're going clean inside it, do you?"
"Sure do," said Lance with a nod. "This is a vulcan mountain. Its top was once a cauldron of melted red-hot rock. If it weren't for the snow, you'd see frozen rivers of rock running down it's sides from long ago. That's what all the black rock between the trees was, 'way back down below, before we ever started up here. The top of each one of these mountains for miles and miles is a deep pit. that's why they're called the Pitmaster's Kettles. And here we are." He slapped his hand onto his hat in the furious wind at the very top of the slope as his unicorn hesitated between a pair of boulders on the rim, stepping restlessly from side to side before finding his first steps of the steep decent beyond. "See out yonder? the whole top of this mountain is naught but a giant deep hole. And here we go, on the path right down into the mountain, but you watch out and keep Sheba close behind. I don't want you falling off the side. It's a long way down."
"I better not fall. My momma would kill you even worse if I did."
"Yea, and your dad wouldn't be too happy either."
Abaddon gave a contemptuous snort, but quickly donned a look of excited expectancy in spite of himself. Soon they were below the wind, carefully finding their way down the narrow path, knocking loose rocks to go skittering and bounding off into the depths. He anxiously peered down into the crater, but strain as he might, he could not see the bottom. "Hey," he demanded. "It's gettin' darker and darker. How are we going to see? In fact, what's going to keep us from falling off?"
"Stepper and Sheba. The unicorns see a lot better in the dark than we do and they're completely sure-footed if you don't rush them. They'll find their way. Besides, it'll get lighter before long."
"You're crazy. It's been getting darker and darker."
"Well, when you get down far enough, there's quite a lot of glow lichen growing, though we're not far enough to tell it yet. Have you noticed it getting warmer?"
"The wind's died down is all. It's not any warmer."
"Well, what do you suppose happened to all the snow, Abby?"
"You're not allowed to say things like that! You're supposed to call me 'Your Highness!'"
"Well, maybe when you earn it..."
Abaddon drew a breath for a furious shout, but fell silent with a gasp at the sudden sight of a faint glow, far below in the blackness.
Ch 2, The Burgeoning
Carol Marrs Phipps & Tom Phipps