What hadn’t been clear to Mabel—and what Oginn had been hiding from her new friend despite knowing that cats were oblivious to changes in heart—was that the girl was looking for a change in occupation.
No longer did she want to grow to live her mother’s life, always warm and able to take care of weary travelers and heroes. After being unable to escape the rowdy heroes, entitled to destruction of the sacredness surrounding them due to their conviction that they would save Hoelbrak when the opportunity arose, Oginn had come to like them. She wanted to be them. They reminded her of her father.
As the mellow week went by, the new patrons of the Snow Leopard Lodge relaxed more and more. A week ago, the quake they felt would have been expected and welcome. As it was, there was a dumbfounded transition after the wooden floorboards and walls stopped creaking, and everyone found their feet. A few Norn scrambled to find their children while the heroes and explorers murmured amongst themselves.
The rumbling continued, but outside the Lodge. It echoed from a distance, through the double wooden doors at the front of the Lodge.
“Well, what are you waiting for?” a charr screamed from the platform by the doors. He turned and ran to the sound of the heroes’ adrenaline-fueled yells. They stampeded in his steps. Oginn and Mabel hugged the walls for the few seconds of chaos.
When it was over, Mabel heard fast, shallow breathing. Oginn was standing now, staring at the door and bobbing back and forth.
“Oginn!” A Norn with long, dark hair in a braid down her back ran to the little girl and pulled her into an embrace. “Don’t—“ She stroked the girl’s pigtails. “Please don’t leave my sight.”
Over her mother’s shoulders, Oginn’s eyes were plates of green and white. “Mother…” she said quietly, but her voice trailed off.
Someone called for Oginn’s mother, who stood to acknowledge the other workers of the Lodge. They conferred amongst themselves while Oginn looked for her coat.
She found it in a small, hidden closet near one of the bars. It was made of thick fur and just a little too big for her. Her father had dropped it off at their home while she was sleeping, and on this day, it had exactly the effect he had perhaps intended. She wasn’t kicking herself for missing her father’s visit, but the coat made her want to chase him. He would be following the quake, just as any other hero was. She had to as well.
Granted, maybe he intended for her to grow up a little more before doing this, but what were the chances they would find each other anyway?
She was already sweating in that remarkably warm coat.
“Oginn?” her mother called from the other bar. Oginn had left her sight.
The girl was relieved to see that Mabel had followed her. She almost didn’t recognize her in the large coat. Oginn kneeled down and showed her the big front pocket, which quickly became a welcome bed for the cat. Then the girl sprinted without another thought.
What are you waiting for? The charr’s voice rang in her mind. “Heroes wait for nothing when the danger is here,” Oginn said, her voice trembling on each stride. As she ran, she ducked under tables and behind pillars to escape the view of her mother. She ran up the stairs and finally reached the front doors. A few steps into the cold prompted a mew from Mabel, who dug her claws into the girl’s body through the coat to receive warmth.
Oginn didn’t notice. “Oh, no,” she whispered.
A lantern-shaped dome used to stand a little down the path from the Snow Leopard Lodge. The glass that magnified the fire in the middle was shattered, and the surrounding metal warped. The solid iron curved plate that used to hold the fire had broken off from two of its suspension chains and had not yet stabilized on the ground. People and a few dolyaks found themselves needing to back farther and farther away as the bowl rolled unpredictably around Might and Main. The fire inside had extinguished, but glowing coals sputtered out sparks as they came into contact with the falling snow. Glass from the lantern still fell periodically.
Tears welled up in Oginn’s eyes—though she had never seen such destruction, she knew that this was nothing compared to what was next for her to see. The shouting and rumbling was coming from the Trade Commons, home to over a dozen merchants, many skilled craftsmen, and three waypoints, as well as the most crowded lodge in Hoelbrak. It was then that she noticed: despite the close proximity of the Commons, it was impossible to see. The large building was shrouded in gently swirling snow and fine debris. It masked what happened within, but the sounds were unmistakable. There was obviously chaos inside.
Oginn slowly walked down the path toward Might and Main, with little intention to actually enter—whatever the Trade Commons had become.
“Are you going to go in there?” a brown-haired boy, also Norn, asked. He timidly walked with her from the side of the path. A few other children who Oginn often saw around the Lodge hesitantly followed behind them.
“Yeah!” Oginn said. “I’m not scared.”
“My mom works there,” a boy from the group piped up. “She ran out and made me promise not to go in.”
“See?” Oginn said. “You can just leave. I bet I can be in there for a whole minute.”
She glanced back at the kids’ dumbfounded expressions before breaking into a jog. She stuffed Mabel’s head back into the large pocket, not wanting to be judged for how irresponsible she was being.
Even as they neared the Commons and the swirling barrier burned into a near-translucent wall, the shouts and rumbles didn’t get louder. It wasn’t the distance that made the noises relatively quiet; the wall created a muffling effect.
The wide ramp that led up to the Commons was warped, and Oginn stopped when she reached it, because it quaked noticeably. She instinctively believed the quaking to be due to her weight and that the ramp was unstable. This proved to be untrue and she continued with her jog. When she reached the steps, the barrier touched her with a round, cool hand.
None of the other children were with her now. They hadn’t made it onto the ramp, and Oginn envied them for not being as stupid as she was. She knew that if she just ran in and out, they would think she was some sort of hero.
Before logic could kick in, she forced her legs to leap forward and was blessed with unbelievably cruel, biting cold.