I was humming a little tune to myself as I threw myself into a belly-flop from a full sprint. Normally, this would yield a fairly messed-up stomach (not that such concerns ever bothered me at the tender age of 12), but this time--
--okay, yes, fine, I was totally humming the "Pirates of the Caribbean" soundtrack. Moving on--
Anyway, this time, I landed on a slight incline of snow and hurtled at full speed into my Fortress of Awesome. I did managed to get my hands up before I put my face into the back wall; I'd already taken more snow to the face than I'd really cared for in one day.
Not that I was blaming anything but my own inability to duck.
After giving it about thirty seconds to settle down outside, I cautiously crept back out. Sure enough, with the inciting factor gone (*cough*me*cough*), the snowball fight had subsided. It may have helped that the resident golden retriever, Max, had gotten involved and made it incredibly difficult to land any shots. He loved catching snowballs; decidedly a mixed blessing, at best.
"Anyway, as I was saying," Quill was saying to Nemesis, "you should see how far I've gotten!"
"How many rooms?" I asked quizzically.
"Just the one," Quill replied, eyeing my suspiciously. "We haven't been out here that long."
Nemesis grinned. "I already have two," he bragged.
"Three!" I one-upped him, before my sense of honor intervened. "Okay, two and a half. But the third one is almost done!"
"You guys have all the tools, though!" Quill protested. "I'm doing this by hand!"
Nemesis offered her a trowel. Quill gave him a look. "And I don't want tools, thank you," she added.
"Your loss," I shrugged. "Nemesis, can I get the saw from you?"
Nemesis handed over the wood saw, flexible blade wobbling in an amusing fashion. "Only for a few minutes. I need it once I shovel all the debris out."
"You got it." I took the saw with alacrity and vanished inside.
My cave was almost big enough for me to sit up in, thanks to the extra-large section of the drift that I'd promptly claimed and defended against all comers. Since I was also on the end of our line (we liked to build close so we could easily brag to each other about our progress), I got the entire west side to tunnel into. I had no doubt one of my other siblings would eventually cave in one of their sections and move over this direction, which is why my first order of business was extend my territory as far as possible. My cave and tunnel system currently consisted of two fairly large "turn-around" rooms and a fifteen-foot extension west. I figured that, if my luck held, I could get a good twenty to thirty feet before someone tried to jump that direction for a do-over.
Tunnel-carving was an art. I strategically scored the end of my tunnel with the saw before turning around in room two and kicking out the loosened chunks with my feet. After reversing direction again, I scooped all the snow into the entry to room two, sealing myself in temporarily while I flexed the saw blade and slid it through the roof to create an arched ceiling, accidentally dumping a bunch of snow down the back of my neck.
In space, no one can hear you scream. That's equally true in a snow cave.
I shoved all the loose snow ahead of me into room one before wriggling past it and out my cave entrance to the right. Nemesis was waiting for me. "Saw?"
I handed it to him. "Shovel?"
Trade completed, I used the shovel to scoop all the dislodged snow out of room one, packing it into a wall around my cave entrance to make a miniature fort. The shovel blade didn't pull up any grass or anything, since there was a layer of ice from previous snowfalls that had partially melted. I figured that one operation gave me another three feet of tunnel. I was definitely in the lead for the title of "Longest Cave System." Since this particular drift was formed by a combination of fence and hillside, it was a good hundred feet long, easily. I'd have my work cut out for me for the foreseeable future.
"Radar! Come see this!" Nemesis popped out of his cave and beckoned.
I jumped over my wall and hurried over. "How is it going?"
"Take a look!" Nemesis urged and...vanished inside.
How odd. Normally, our caves couldn't take more than one at a time. This, I had to see. I slithered inside, to find that Nemesis had one-upped me in ingenuity. He'd used the saw to cut through the ice layer and into the softer snow beneath, dropping the floor a good ten inches and creating a space we could sit up in. He'd also somehow managed to hollow it out wide enough to fit not just two, but three. I high-fived him, while privately making plans to duplicate his feat.
After some small talk, we got down to business. "How far this way did you dig?" Nemesis inquired.
"I didn't, except for my first room," I answered. "You saw that one, right?"
He nodded. "So I can go that way?"
"Sure. Just don't break into my wall," I replied graciously.
"If I do, I can always patch it," he pointed out.
I felt like arguing. "Unless it's too big."
Unfortunately for my private warlike desires, he conceded the point. "I'll be careful."
Ugh. I wanted an excuse to throw snow at him. I privately decided to hit him with a snowball from behind the safety of my wall later with the pretense of "testing my fort."
"Hey, guys!" Quill popped in. "Oh, wow. Great cave, Nemesis!"
"Mine's longer," I felt constrained to point out.
They both ignored me. "Which way are you digging?" Nemesis asked, just to confirm things. The unwritten rule was that the outside parties let the inside party have all the drift room between their caves, since he had nowhere to go.
Quill pointed east. "That way. I made a little room back by the fenceline, but it doesn't go very far towards you. Want to dig over to it and make a peephole?"
"Sure!" Nemesis agreed eagerly.
I edged towards the entrance. "I'm going to get back to work. Nemesis--"
"You can have the saw now," he said generously, anticipating my request.
"Thanks." I reflected, a little disappointed, on how his generosity meant that I should probably forebear from smacking him upside the head with a snowball, at least for now--
"I still think that's cheating," Quill muttered, following me out.
Ah-HA! Target justified! I dropped the saw into my fort, scooping up a chuck of snow, and splattering it across the back of my sister's coat.
"AAH! RADAR!" Quill screeched, throwing a snowball back before taking cover behind Nemesis's displaced snow pile.
Nemesis popped out. "What's going--oh."
"Help me get him!" Quill proposed.
He took her up on it. A few moments later, they were spread too far apart for me to defend against with any kind of effectiveness (long years had taught them how to handle me). Maxie was nowhere to be seen, so I opted for the path of tactical retreat and hurled myself into my tunnel again.
Back to digging!