, though he could still feel the presence of them threatening to flare up again. Restless and alarmed, he slowly eased himself down from the rock.
Then, a spasm temporarily paralysed him. After it ended, he regained his concentration, taking a few moments to rest before attempting to again stand. When his legs were steady enough to hold him, he started walking aimlessly around. Despite his condition, there was still only one thing on his mind. Though so much time had passed that memories of resting on warmer furs had ultimately been forgotten, he had not forgotten her, the mistress who had loved him. His thoughts were again of her. He longed more than ever to find her and he knew that when he did, she could help him by stopping the pain he felt inside.
It was while thinking of her, as he walked about, that he began to gradually realize that there was a difference in the land he was now walking through. It was somehow lighter, and he could discern more around him. This was the reason he noticed something he had missed in his earlier investigation of the area. He approached a long bank, where a meandering line of ice, partly covered with snow, stretched as far as he could see to either side of him. Instead of stopping there, as he had always done before, he tentatively stepped down from the bank and stood with his full weight upon the line of ice. He remained motionless for several moments, cautiously judging the safety of what he was doing. A few more hesitant steps, however, assured him that the water was frozen through. He crossed the river.
Here the land was much rockier, for it immediately turned mountainous. He headed toward an accessible tract of land that lay between two towers of rock and looked at what he had missed during his search. It was a natural mountain pass. Sheltered between the two rock towers, the defile had not accumulated snow, and the bare, frozen ground was visible.
With a snort of curiosity, he made his way along the lengthy curved path, emerging from its pitch black middle to find himself looking out upon a terrain similar to the one he had just left. Much of the land was not visible, however, because of the many snow-covered hills and heavy covering of trees. Anything could have been behind them and he would not have known.
Hardly had the beast taken two steps forward when something caught his eye. It lay on the naked earth a short distance from him, very near the mouth of the pass. He approached it, looked down, and saw another face staring back at him. The face, however, was small, white, and in the eyes of the beast of unusual appearance, but a face nonetheless.
He did not know what to make of the object even after sniffing it and turning it over with a paw. The smells were strange and foreign. Soon losing interest, he moved away, leaving the doll where it lay, now twice forgotten.
The beast had made it only around a nearby boulder when he experienced another attack. This time a constriction in his chest. Struggling for breath, he collapsed, his body again experiencing a seizure that ended several moments later, only to recur before the beast had sufficiently recovered enough to walk. When that one ended, it was all the beast could do to lie there, trying desperately to refill his lungs with air. After a while, the beast, though still breathing heavily and irregularly, managed to resume walking, but this required all his effort. His pace was slow, his steps faltering. Several times he had to stop altogether, once experiencing another attack.
Feelings of alarm shot through the beast. He had to make it back to his rock. Entering the darkened pass, he lumbered through it. Scarcely aware of anything around him, he crossed the river and pushed through the snow until he at last made it back. Though he longed to jump up on the rock, he felt too weak to even try. Intense pain flared up within him. Lightheaded and shaky, he collapsed at the rock's base.
Unknown to the beast, the sky above began, in time, to darken, heralding yet another storm. But this time, the clouds did not bring snow. When he awoke, he was quite damp. Drops of cool water were falling on him. Unsteadily, he rose. He used every bit of strength left within him to jump back up on his rock, but even this action exhausted and nauseated him and he quickly lay back down, resting his head on his forepaws.
As time passed, the clouds dispersed, the rain stopped, and the wind diminished to a light breeze. The beast let his eyes scan the valley before him, and his ears twitched. The land around him was now much brighter. And the sky was so light there were no longer any stars visible. Despite his mass of wet hair, the beast could feel the warmer air. His body, however, perpetually shook from an internal chill. He closed his eyes and fell into a slumberous state.
Sometime later, the beast’s body jolted him abruptly awake, though try as he might he could not open his eyes. While he had slept, and he did not know for how long, a viscous fluid had accumulated and hardened between his lids, and now they could not be opened. He was in pain. His head and body jerked strongly in an uncontrollable spasm.
He knew he was on the verge of death. His breathing, already strained, became increasingly more labored. His dying mind was in a state of total confusion from the panicky thoughts and jumbled images racing through it.
But suddenly, the beast seemed to sense a presence approaching him, as though he were no longer alone. Unable to see, he strained to hear all he could. There was the unmistakable sound of a voice, and it was the voice of a female. Several times he heard her call a name, though at first he could not make it out. Then he realized -- it was his own name being called. Joy flooded his heart. Warmth spread throughout him. At once, he felt a complete cessation of all pain and cold, as if he had somehow separated from his body.
What he wanted next was to see and his mind struggled to do so, until finally ... he did.
The beast raised his head and turned. And there, standing before him, looking down at him and smiling, was the mistress.
The beast sprang off his rock. With his entire body shaking from exhilaration, he stood on his hind legs and let his upper body be taken into her arms, where he excitedly licked her face as she licked him affectionately. He felt her claws stroke his fur as she spoke soothing words to him, and his heart pounded within his chest. When she loosened her hold on him, he dropped to all fours and began running and jumping around her, so happy was he to finally see the creature who loved him.
But then she began to move away.
He, however, kept right at her side. He looked up at her as they departed, and she smiled and put her claw on his head, patting him.
For a moment, everything around him began to darken, but he had no time to ponder this before all vision ended. He knew nothing more.
The little girl withdrew her hand from the head of the beast who lay completely still and on his side upon the rock. "I think he's dead," she said to her brother standing next to her. Upon first noticing the beast, she had called to him, saying his name several times to get his attention. "He's dead," she repeated, somewhat mystified.
Her brother, also a bit perplexed, looked at the beast. "And just a few seconds ago I felt his heart beating in his chest so, like he was all excited or something. Even his legs were moving and kicking, as though he thought he were running and jumping about."
The little girl turned to her brother. A few rays of sunshine made his fair hair shine. All around them the land was bathed in light. She looked past the boy. She could see at the horizon the actual burning rim of the vast sun. It had appeared, by the children's watches, only hours ago and this was morning to them. They listened to the sound of dripping water, felt the warm air on their skin, and experienced the pleasure of a pleasant spring breeze blow by.
Then, a short distance away, they heard their names being shouted. The girl said, "It's Mother. Grab your jacket and let's go."
"Christiana! David!" shouted the woman again.
The boy snatched his coat off the branch of a nearby tree and ran with his sister to their mother, who had come through the mountain pass as they had done and was now following their footsteps in the slushy snow.
Upon seeing her two children running towards her, the woman stopped and put her hands to her hips. Rays of light shot past her. "Children! Going alone was dangerous. Why, that river’s already beginning to break up, to flow once again. You should have waited for me."
“Oh, Mommy. The weather’s so nice. And this was really our first chance to get out and explore since we got here,” explained one of the children, noting their mother’s stance and tone of voice and hoping to talk her out of punishing them.
They jumped into her arms. “We know we promised not to go through the pass without you, but we got so curious while waiting for breakfast that we just had to go through it and see what was on the other side. We just had to."
The mother smiled and forgave them, for she too could feel the excitement of knowing the long winter was over. She too had been glad to get out of the place she had been bound to for so long and at last be able to walk around, view the new land and smell the fresh air. She hugged them lovingly before letting them out of her arms.
Then, together, smiling and laughing in the brilliant sunshine, they ran back to their colony.