“It’s really cold here!” Reyn wouldn’t stop complaining as the group travelled through Valak Mountain toward the Sealed Tower and after that, Sword Valley.
“You should have gotten some warmer clothes from those nopon merchants, like the rest of us,” Sharla told him, somewhat impatiently. This wasn’t the first time he was complaining about the cold.
“Even Riki know that!” Riki hopped by, covered in the snow-gear they had bought from the merchants.
“But it wasn’t this cold back then!” Reyn protested, suppressing a shiver. “Can’t we take a break soon?”
“We are almost at the tower,” Alvis informed them calmly from the front of the group. The strange guy didn’t seem even a little cold, even though he wore the same clothes he had in Makna Forest and Alcamoth. “We will rest there, and continue to Sword Valley tomorrow.”
“Well, what are we waiting for then! Let’s go!” Reyn had found his enthusiasm at the promise of rest, apparently.
“There he goes again,” Sharla muttered, but increased her pace to keep up with him, as did the others. Soon they much closer to the tower than they had been before. They jumped down a ledge, then another, and they were even closer.
“What are those?” Dunban was the first to notice the large tirkin-like creatures up on the ledges surrounding them, most carrying spears or other weapons. They weren’t paying any attention to the group, and were just wandering around, occasionally making some curious-sounding sounds at each other and stopping to poke at the snow.
“They are chilkin,” Melia informed them, remembering she had read about them when she had done some studying on Valak Mountain before they headed there, just to know what to expect. “They are related to the tirkin that live on the lower regions of the Bionis.”
“Melly so smart!” Riki praised her admiringly.
“Thank you, Riki,” Melia answered. “But I only studied Valak Mountain recently, when I found out it was to be our next destination.”
“Are they dangerous?” Dunban asked, keeping an eye on them with his left hand on the handle of his sword, ready to fight in case the creatures turned out to be hostile.
“No, like most creatures on Valak Mountain, they focus their energy on finding food and staying warm. They don’t waste energy on fighting unless they have to,” Melia recalled from the books she had studied.
“It’s quite interesting how they have adapted to the cold climate and the snow,” Shulk thought out loud, looking at a nearby chilkin curiously. “They seem to not only have white feathers to blend in with the snow, but also a thicker layer of fat and down to keep out the cold. It would be interesting to study them and see how else they differ from the tirkin on Bionis Leg.”
“We don’t have time to stay here now,” Reyn pointed out, still shivering from the cold. “We’re gonna freeze if we don’t get going and get warm.”
“Reyn is right, we’d better get going,” Sharla pointed out. “It’s starting to get late, and I can only imagine how cold it gets at night.” She pulled out her father’s old pocket watch to see what time it actually was. “Five thirty,” she announced. “The sun starts to set around six, I think, so we’d better get moving.”
It was at that moment, when she was putting away the watch, that things started happening. The sunlight glinted of the silvery watch, making it shine. Suddenly a chilkin that been sneaking around behind the group without them noticing tackled Sharla, and grabbed the watch from her hand as her grip on it slipped. Before anyone had time to do anything, all the chilkin nearby had scattered and ran away somewhere.
“No!” Sharla yelled in half-panic and half-frustration. “That was my father’s watch!”
“What was that all about?” Reyn asked. “Anyone know what they want with a watch?” He did help Sharla to her feet and brushed the snow of her.
“Some people have theorized that chilkin, like tirkin, like to prank people and take their things, but I’m not so sure about that since people don’t really come to Valak Mountain.” Mellia informed them thoughtfully. “Others have found they like shiny objects, and hoard them in their nests.”
“Where snow-birds’ nests?” Riki asked, looking around, as if expecting the nests to pop up from the snow.
“I do not know,” Melia admitted. “The books only tell so much.”
“But we must hurry, if we don’t want to get stuck out here at night,” Dunban told them.
“They split up, so we couldn’t know which one took the watch,” Shulk thought out loud, trying to figure out how they could find the nest. “But they probably re-grouped somewhere near the nests, so if we just follow the footprints, we should be able to find them.”
“We’d better hurry, then, since they’re being covered in snow as we speak,” Dunban pointed out, looking at the snow gently falling from the sky.
“Let’s go, let’s go!” Riki took the lead, following a set of chilkin footprints in the snow. “All nopon good trackers, and Riki is bestest!” he proclaimed proudly, and seemed to be telling the truth based on how easily he followed the disappearing footprints.
“You’re the best at everything in Frontier Village, aren’t you Riki?” Sharla asked, smiling slightly.
“No, Riki not best at everything,” the Nopon admitted. “Oka make best pollen cakes!” he added after a moment. “Riki want to eat Oka’s pollen cakes when Riki go back to village!”
“Don’t talk about food!” Reyn complained. “You’re making me hungry! Let’s just find those stupid birds, and get Sharla’s watch back.”
“Right, then.” Dunban ordered the rest of the group, “Everyone follow Riki. Let’s go.”
They followed the tracks for almost half an hour, and almost lost them a few times where the chilkin had done all kinds of sneaking around to lose them, but it seemed Riki was just as good at tracking as he claimed because he found them again every time.
“When I get my hands on those thieving things…” Sharla was fuming with anger for the chilkin who stole the watch, and maybe a little bit for herself for having lost it to the birds in the first place.
“Don’t worry, we’ll get back your watch,” Reyn tried to calm her, laying a hand on her arm. “And those birds will regret messing with us!”
“Riki bash mean snow-birds for Sharla!” Riki pulled himself away from the tracks to agree with Reyn.
“Thanks, guys,” Sharla said, calming down and smiling slightly.
“There’s a cave over there,” Shulk suddenly noticed, pointing toward a cliff some way away. “You can just barely see it over there, in the cliff.”
There was, indeed, a cave entrance in the cliffside. There were some white feathers right outside it, marking it as a place where chilkin lived.
“Birds went into cave,” Riki confirmed after examining the tracks for a bit longer.
“Let’s go get them!” Reyn was ready to charge right in and take on the chilkin, and for once Sharla wasn’t trying to talk him out of it, but looked ready to charge in herself.
“Hold on a minute!” Dunban stopped them, acting as the voice of reason. “We can’t just rush in without knowing what we’re getting ourselves into.”
“We should first find out how many chilkin there are in the cave, and then think out a plan to retrieve the watch,” Melia strategized.
“I’ll go,” Shulk volunteered.
No one protested, all of them knowing Shulk could move surprisingly quietly when he wanted to. After a few minutes, he came back with information.
“There are only four of them there, so we should be able to take them on,” he told them quickly, knowing how anxious Sharla was to get her precious possession back.
“We might even manage to startle them enough to make them escape, so we can avoid battle entirely,” Melia added thoughtfully, “Unlike tirkins, chilkins are not very eager to battle, especially if they’re outnumbered.”
“There’s four of them, and seven of us,” Sharla realized. “Which means they’re outnumbered.”
“But Alvis doesn’t fight,” Reyn reminded her, pointing at the silent silver-haired man who was following them and observing calmly.
“But they don’t know that,” Dunban commented, which was true. There was no way for the chilkin to know one of the strange group wouldn’t fight if it came down to it.
“Well, let’s go get them, then!” There was no one brave enough to stop Sharla once she pulled out her rifle and stomped toward the cave, so they all followed her, ready to offer some backup.
There was really no resistance from the chilkin as Sharla entered the cave and fired a shot that just missed two of them and hit the wall behind them. When the chilkin noticed she was accompanied by six others, they couldn’t get out of the cave quickly enough. There was a small back entrance they all squeezed through, and they were gone.
“Well, that was easy,” Reyn commented, looking at where the chilkin had exited the cave. Sharla wasn’t listening to him, busy looking for the watch among the nests scattered in the small cave. The others were looking around, curious to see what else the chilkin had hoarded.
“I found my watch!” Sharla suddenly exclaimed, overjoyed. She was sitting next to a nest, holding the watch with both hands, checking it over to make sure it wasn’t broken.
“Does it still work properly?” Shulk asked, not knowing if it was undamaged or if it would need to be fixed.
“Yes, it’s working just fine,” Sharla was relieved to see the precious item in good condition. She tucked it into her pocket to make sure she didn’t lose it again.
“Wow, look at all this stuff,” Reyn was digging in an especially large nest, pulling out what looked like a blanket, made from chilkin feathers, as well as some ether crystals of various elements.
“I can understand the crystals, since they like shiny things,” Shulk said, examining the nest closer. “But I don’t understand the blanket.”
“Perhaps they were attempting to imitate the homs-way of keeping warm and tried to create something to warm their nests?” Melia speculated.
“Who cares, at least we can stay warm with this!” Reyn had already wrapped himself in it, but it was so big there was plenty left over.
“It seems to be getting quite late, so it might be quite useful indeed,” Alvin commented calmly. “It would be safer to stay the night here, and continue to the tower tomorrow.”
“Yeah, it’s getting dark already,” Shulk noticed, looking out the cave entrance. The sun was indeed setting, and it was gradually getting darker.
They gathered the chilkin nests and rearranged them, so they could sleep comfortably. They also piled up some stuff in the middle, where Riki and Melia used their fire ether arts to light a fire. Everyone gathered around it, moving the blanket around so it more or less covered all of them. It took some huddling together, but they manged eventually.
“Look, look!” Riki suddenly exclaimed, pointing out the cave entrance. “Pretty lights!”
The large crystals on Valak Mountain lit up in the dark, emitting a warm, golden glow. Beams of light shot up into the sky all over the mountain, making a very beautiful sight.
“The ether in the crystals make them light up at night,” Alvis told them quietly, also looking out at it with the others. “It is quite a beautiful sight.”
“Like Satorl March,” Shulk whispered, not wanting to break the moment. “I wish Fiora could see this,” he thought to himself. Maybe, if they managed to save her, he could bring her here sometime, to witness the beautiful sight of Valak Mountain at night.