Nita thought that it was entirely too possible that they were losing. She scowled down at her shaking hands and tightened her grip on her manual.
It was cold and dark inside the tiny cave, and they had canceled all but their most minor spells to conserve their energy.
Kit had a tiny light bobbing above his shoulder so they could read, and Nita had the barest hint of warmth from the pages of her manual keeping her hands from getting completely frostbitten.
They were currently huddled together as closely as possible, Kit's head just touching her forehead. She could barely feel a hint of his breath on her numb face. They didn't have much choice but to sit that closely There wasn't even enough room to straighten her legs without braining herself on the rock ceiling. Plus, the slight exchange of body heat kept them both from freezing to death.
This was a lousy assignment, Nita decided. It was supposed to have been fairly straightforward - act as mediators for two sets of people who were in negotiations over who got to dig their homes where, and whether their young should be allowed to mingle - but somehow nothing went quite that easily on this trip.
It started out with their manuals giving them strange information, which had never happened before. Before giving her a cheerful sounding description of the people they would be working with, Nita's manual had insisted on giving her the history of peanuts and something it referred to as s'Prash, which was evidently a close cousin to the macadamia. She had thought it was a little strange, but weirder things happened around Nita's house on a regular basis, so aside from a cursory examination to make sure she was looking at the correct entry, Nita had ignored it. Turns out that was a mistake. Nita's manual currently reported that it was a balmy summer day in the high 70s - which Nita bitterly contested, as she could tell without even glancing outside the door of the cave that the snow was still coming down in droves, and temperatures were closer to "freeze your butt off" than "balmy."
And no, it wasn't giving them the degrees in a different conversion. She had checked all known methods of measuring temperature, and the stubborn, ratty looking book kept saying it was 70 degrees and a beautiful sunny day. Kit and Nita had compared notes before even approaching the world gate, and had agreed it looked like a fairly easy mission. Their most recent assignments, both joint and solo, had been sliding towards things that required more experienced wizards - things that involved more logical thinking and mental puzzles, instead of assignments that required the large amounts of raw power that they had gotten as younger wizards. They figured this would be more of the same. Some smooth talking, some negotiation, and then some extra time for exploring a new world. Kit's manual had said the Plue were a peaceful species, and that they and their neighbors, the Orr, were on friendly terms. They had cheerfully prepared themselves for a nice vacation, even packing swimsuits and shorts and very little in the way of defensive spell workings.
When they popped in from the gate in the middle of a screaming blizzard and something that looked like war surrounded them, Nita and Kit had been more then a little startled. They hit the dirt, well, snow, really, and had been on the move since, trying to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it.
Nita sighed, and shook her manual, vainly hoping that it would jiggle something loose, and the thing would go back to giving her useful information, like what the heck had happened, why the heck they were really here, and why the heck the world gate was not working. They could feel it was there, but they couldn't see it or get through to it. It was at the top of a small hill - one that would be easy enough to stroll up to, if something around it wasn't pushing them away. Approaching it was like trying to walk through pancake syrup, although fortunately not as sticky. Kit had managed to get within about five feet of it before a rock gave under his foot and he ended up sliding back down the hill with a face full of snow.
They had managed to find and get through to the Plue to speak to them, at one point. That was who they were hiding from right now, as a matter of fact. As the "peace loving people" that Kit's manual had promised were a little closer to blood thirsty peacocks. As soon as Kit and Nita began speaking - in the Speech, of course - the leader had hissed and proclaimed them 'devil spawn.' Things went downhill from there quickly. Lots of running, and people yelling. They'd been in this cave for over a day.
"Anything?" Kit's voice was hoarse, his lips chapped and raw.
Nita shook her head, and bent closer to her manual. "Local advisory search, " she said, flipping through the useless pages of her manual. "Local advisory..global advisory..any advisory?" The pages remained unchanged, cheerfully proclaiming Flusaz a peaceful, calm planet that saw very little unrest. She thumped her fist down on the pages. "Stupid thing!" The words burned her throat, and she stared at the book that had never before failed her. It had never acted like this in the entire time since it grabbed her fingers at the library.
Kit sighed, and patted her on the shoulder before pulling out his own manual. "I think I still have some useful spells in here," he said. "Although, last time I looked, it was giving me recipes for roasted squirrel."
Nita snorted. "Too bad Ponch isn't here, then. He would love that."
Kit smiled, the cracked skin on his lips making it a painful looking grimace. "Other then that, I have a few things still in my pockets, and if we could figure out any other coordinates on this planet, we could configure the beam-me-up-Scotty spell to at least get us out of this cave."
"I'd say I could work out the equations, but I'm not entirely certain I trust my manual to give me the right math." Nita groaned and turned to shove her manual in her backpack. She closed her eyes for a second in thought. "Ok, I give. No more."
"No more what?" Kit raised an eyebrow. "No more snow?"
"I wish," Nita grumbled, shivering as a gust of cold air snuck down the neck of her thin jacket. "Nope. No more relying on our manuals. We can do this!"
"We can?" Kit shoved his hair out of his face with stiff fingers. He examined her closely, catching sight of her determined expression.
"I think either this is some weird test from the Powers, or that we've got to find a way out of it on our own." Nita's eyes widened as something occurred to her. "Or, she said slowly, "we've got to find a way to access whatever the local version of the manual is.
He suddenly grinned. "You know, when you were in Ireland, you had to listen to the Knowledge, didn't you?"
"And in the sea, everything was sung." Nita grinned back fiercely. "So let's stop hiding in this cave, and figure out what the heck we're supposed to do. I say we go back to the Plue - there have to be wizards here somewhere, and maybe we can find someone open minded enough to not try to fry us and gnaw on our bones."
"Sounds like a plan," Kit said, "But if I get eaten, you have to be the one to explain it to my mother."