As Perilea lay down to sleep, she thought about taking her medication, but decided against it. If she was going to go through with her plan, she had to fully commit.
Lights off, pajamas on, good nights said to mom and dad, Perilea, or Lea as she was sometimes known, looked up at the glow-in-the-dark stars on her ceiling and closed her eyes.
What must have been a dream set upon her immediately.
Lea remembered laying down in her warm, cozy bed at home, and as she intended to fall asleep she actually felt the sensation of falling. Alarmed at first, she calmed when it felt more like floating; for how long she couldn’t tell – time seemed to stand still. She never opened her eyes, but she imagined stars and glowing lights all around her, floating peacefully, lighting up the darkness.
All of a sudden everything was cold – the lights around her turned harsh then dim and all warmth left her. Freezing air bit through her pajamas and suddenly they turned from light, soft flannel to some tight, almost stifling fabric which covered her whole body except for her face, though she felt something like a hood on her head and goggles pushed up on her forehead. She felt pressure all around her, like something was squeezing her whole body, and she tried to scream but the wind was knocked from her as she landed on the rocky ground, which, if possible, was even colder than the air she was trying to breathe.
Opening her eyes, Perilea was completely disoriented. Her whole body was sore. Instead of seeing the stick-on, glow-in-the-dark stars on her ceiling, she saw a blue, dim glow on a dark, yet high and shiny ceiling far above her. All around her she saw icy walls – she was at the bottom of a pit.
A menacing laugh nearby almost made her heart stop – a colder chill crept to her very soul and were the wind not knocked from her lungs she would have screamed.
She looked for the source of the laugh and about twenty feet away she saw what appeared to be a table made of stone, wood, and ice.
“Rise,” growled the voice.
Perilea remained still, frozen in terror.
“Rise!” the voice repeated, impatiently.
The already dim light grew dimmer; shadows, actual darkness, sank down from the ceiling, climbing down the walls, somehow gripping her shoulders, pulling her up to a standing position and to the ancient table’s edge.
Across from her stood a man dressed in a black, tattered robe, most of his face obscured by a hood; his skin a chalky blue, his lower lip black as tar.
“Do you recognize me now?” he asked in an inhumanly deep voice. He leaned forward on the table, his chalky blue hands placed before him.
Perilea couldn’t find the words; she gasped at the sight of his hands, cracked bloody and black fingertips with fragments of fingernail.
“ANSWER,” the man said, his voice and the shadows of the room growing deeper.
“No!” she shrieked.
An insidious laugh erupted throughout the small, icy cave, reverberating off the walls and dancing among the dark places; the man’s mouth had not moved from its contorted grimace.
Perilea was knocked back and fell. Rolling over on her side she found herself face-to-face with a young man who looked to be frozen; he must have been so cold even his hair had turned blue; his face was frozen in the expression of a horrified scream. Perilea tried to scream when all of a sudden a brilliant flash of light filled the area, blinding her, and the laughter turned to a terrible noise of pained disgust.
“Who are you?” the robed man demanded of an unseen intruder. Perilea heard the blasts of gunfire and a repetition of the terrible noise of disgust – and then all was silent and the light returned to its original dim, blue glow.
Perilea heard the scuffing of footsteps, hushed voices, and then felt the strong grip of someone picking her up and carrying her. The cold was getting worse and she was beginning to lose sensation in her extremities.
“Hold on,” a muffled voice said; vertigo overtook her, then unconsciousness. It must have only been for a moment; she was still being carried. Looking up to her rescuer she saw a hooded head and face obscured by the same gear she herself must have been wearing.
Darkness returned and Perilea passed out.
* * * * * *
A thousand needles pricked her feet and Perilea yelped. She opened her eyes and saw a figure jump, startled at her sound, then turn toward her. At first he was a blur, but he quickly came into focus – it was the young man she saw lying on the ground earlier….
“Lea, please try to relax. You passed out from the stress of the enchantment. Here,” he grabbed a nearby thermos and handed it to her. “Drink,” he said.
“Where are my mom and dad?” she said, trying not to sob, for the first time realizing she was not dreaming.
“They’re safe, and so are you for the time being. Do as I say and you will survive this,” the young man instructed.
“Why is your hair still blue?” she asked. He stopped for a moment, his expression inscrutable.
“It’s always been blue,” he said.
“But you were back in that room, frozen on the ground,” she said, utterly confused.
“Hey, hey,” he said, trying to sound reassuring, “don’t worry about me. I’m just fine – obviously, here I am.” And he danced a quick, awkward jig. “Ta-da,” he said, just barely out of a monotone. “We don’t have much time,” he said.
He then turned and grabbed something else off a table Perilea hadn’t noticed before. She took the moment to observe her surroundings.
Instead of an icy cave, she now found herself in what looked like a small doctor’s office, but with canvas walls, a tent of some kind that opened into a larger space behind it, shrouded in darkness. Somewhere a fire was burning. An infrared heater sat in the opposite corner and there were different types of scientific equipment strewn about. The only light came from an electronic lantern on a counter where a number of screwdriver-looking instruments lay.
“Here, roll up your sleeve,” the young man said. Perilea sniffled and struggled with the sleeve. The young man showed here a zipper just above the wrist cuff; she pulled it back and the sleeve loosened.
Sparks spat out of a control panel somewhere in the larger space.
As she rolled up her left sleeve she saw what the young man was holding – a mean-looking syringe. She let out a tiny shriek at the sight of it.
“Please, don’t worry. You don’t know it yet, but I am your friend and I am going to help you get home. If my calculations are correct you’ll be back here in a few months, but under very different circumstances,” he said.
“Back in a few months? Wh-what are you talking about?” she said.
As the young man spoke, his eyes moved left to right ever so slightly, as if he were reading from something.
“Professor Kierna is going to offer you the opportunity of a lifetime in a few days; you must take it,” he said.
“Professor-?” she started to say. “Who’s-?”
“When you go to visit your grandmother for her birthday, be sure you don’t leave without the flower petals,” he continued.
Suddenly the surroundings shook and a guttural growl resounded all around. She began to whimper.
“You must be brave,” he continued. “Brave is being scared but doing it anyway,” he said, still looking as though he was reading something. “Do not let this opportunity pass you by.”
“Who are you?” she asked.
He paused and looked directly into her eyes and for the first time the vaguest hint of a smile appeared at the edges of his mouth.
“Hi,” he said.
She was about to ask again, but the room shook and the same terrible voice from before called out to her.
“This is going to hurt; don’t forget what I told you,” the young man said.
The room was then plunged into darkness and frigid air. It pierced Perilea to her core; she tried to scream; she heard the terrible voice; she heard the young man with blue hair grunt; a wan face appeared, suspended in the darkness before her; she barely felt the scary looking syringe pierce her arm. Suddenly she was falling again. A woman screamed. Lea tumbled through the ether and out of consciousness.
* * * * * *
“Lea! Perilea!” It sounded like her father, but he was so far away.
“Call a doctor!” Someone like her mother said, also very far away.
Cobwebs fell away from her mind; she willed her eyes open and saw a flickering blur; she felt the familiar warmth of home and heard the crackle of firewood. She felt the softness of the family room’s thick carpet beneath her; she also became gradually aware of a throbbing ache in her head.
“Mom?” she whimpered.
“Thaelion ixtiri!” her mother cried.
“Perilea, are you alright?” her father called out, now clear, close and loud. She winced as she nodded.
“I’m…in the family room?” she mumbled.
“You were in here screaming about something,” her mother said, breaking down into sobs.
“It was a nightmare,” her dad said, now more sternly than concerned. “The important thing is you’re okay.”
“What happened?” Perilea asked.
“You,” her father began and paused before answering. “You were obviously sleepwalking and had a nightmare. At some point you must have tripped over something and knocked your head against the table.”
“We found you lying on the floor,” her mother said, still sobbing. “We thought you were…”
“Did you take your medicine before going to bed?” her father asked.
Lea didn’t know what to say; she couldn’t tell him the truth.
“Did you?” he repeated.
“That’s not important now,” her mother interrupted, pulling Lea in for a tight hug. “The important thing is you’re safe and nothing happened.”
“Nothing-?” Perilea asked.
“Sara, make an appointment for Lea with Doctor Husan first thing in the morning.”
After a few minutes of hugs and ensuring everything and everyone was alright, Lea’s parents walked her back to her bedroom, stayed up with her for another half hour and then left once she pretended to fall asleep. She wondered if she had made the right decision about her medication.
Lea wracked her brain, trying to remember the dream, but the memories faded quickly and all she could really hold onto were vague impressions of a cold, dark cave, a young man with blue hair, some stuff he told her and being really, really scared.
Returning to their own bedroom, Perilea’s father stood at the dresser, head bowed, deep in thought and hidden anguish.
“Honey, come to bed,” Sara said.
“We must get her to Doctor Husan as soon as we can,” he said.
“Harold, don’t worry,” Sara said gently. “She was just sleepwalking.”
“I don’t know,” he replied, “I think she either lied about taking her medicine or she needs a stronger prescription."
Sara tried thinking of a way to make it seem less urgent, but all she could manage was silence. She then quietly asked, “You don’t think this is the Terma-“ he cut her off.
“I don’t know. I hope not; I hope to Thael not; but you heard what she was screaming before we found her."
“We must take every precaution,” Harold continued. “If there’s even a chance this is what I fear it is, we’ll need every tool modern science and medicine can offer.”
“But maybe she just read it in a book or saw it online,” Sara offered. “You know she’s been intense about researching her condition the last few years. That name probably just came up in some old Book of Lore or something.”
“Maybe,” Harold said, clearly not convinced or even hopeful that might be the case. “But that’s why she needs to see Dr. Husan as soon as possible.”
“But she hasn’t had any episodes in years,” Sara said. "Why would it start happening now? It’s not as though she burned down the house or anything."
“Thael ixtiri,” Harold grumbled.
“Yes,” she said. After a pause she continued, “I never imagined either of us would be saying those words again.”
Harold grunted. Sara wryly smiled.
“Funny how the fear for your child can drive you back to such silly things,” she said.
“Well,” Harold said, pretending to relax as he got into bed, “if this is what we think it is, medicine could provide a remedy, but I wonder if there’s more to those silly things than we think.”
Sara sighed, kissed her husband good night and said, “You always were the fairytale romantic.”
Harold kissed her back, turned out the light and laid his head back in his hands, staring up into the darkness.
He remained awake like that until morning.
ELSEWHERE IN THE WORLD…
The bitter wind howled across the icy plain, but inside the observation tower, John Baker enjoyed his mug of steaming hot cocoa. Heat pulsed from the small Thermite box in the corner and warmth filled him from the inside-out. In spite of the harsh conditions outside, John was more content than he had ever been.
“I’m trying it again; look sharp,” crackled a voice over John’s radio.
With an intense voice that did not match his demeanor, John leaned over to his transmitter, pressed the button and said, “Copy that, Gortho; go ahead.”
A grinding sound below told John that Gortho - or Frank to his friends - had attempted once again to repair and restart the main generator for the camp. The grinding indicated the attempt had failed. John glanced at the power gauge which hadn’t so much as twitched or flickered for the last two days; shockingly, it remained dark and still.
“Zero response, Gortho,” John said into the radio, releasing the button and leaning back into his chair. He took another sip of his cocoa.
“Cheap, Alohoran piece of-” Gortho muttered before another voice broke in on the channel.
“That generator not starting means we start packing.” This was the voice of Daro Kyen, the resident survival expert. John liked Daro; he was one of the only people out there who had sensibilities similar to his own. Upon arriving in the region on the first day the two spontaneously voiced the same evaluation of the situation in unison with one word: “Nope.” Upon their arrival in the Frozen Wastes, they agreed that the team should have just kept the car running, as it were, and gone back home.
“Sam,” a female voice said, “could you please remind Daro that he can’t just make a unilateral decision like that?”
“Look sweetie, you don’t like-” Daro said, then interrupted by the voice.
“Don’t call me sweetie.”
John rolled his eyes as more voices crackled into the open channel, starting what must have been the 42nd argument over the last 72 hours. As he reached over to switch off the radio one clear voice broke through them all:
“Team meeting in the mess tent; five minutes, no exceptions.”
“Aye-aye, sir,” John said after a moment of silence. While he didn’t want to leave his small haven of warmth, he was hopeful that this would be the beginning of their finally leaving that gods-forsaken place.
Within ten minutes everyone had gathered in the mess tent, each coming from their different places around the small compound. In spite of two larger thermite boxes trying their best to keep everyone in the space warm, there were still shivers and the occasional chattering of teeth.
“Look,” Sam their leader began, “we’ve hit a rough patch.” Discontent and frustration erupted from the group.
“Rough patch?” said the stocky Daro, “our main power has been down for 52 hours! We don’t have much longer out here to survive before the thermite boxes kick, our fire gems go out, and we freeze to death!”
“We just got here, we can’t abandon the research,” Dr. Brynna Jones said.
“If we had the right gear we’d be better off,” Leslie Cannon said. Daro turned sharply, staring daggers at her and spoke slowly.
“I chose the gear appropriate for all known factors regarding this largely-unknown environment,” Daro said. “And then taking into account extrapolations devised with Drs. Jones and Smith, made the recommendation for higher-caliber gear.” He looked Cannon square in the eye, eyebrow arched in indignation. She looked away. “Or don’t you remember ignoring that recommendation for the sake of saving a few pennies?”
“We had to stay under budget for the Conglomerate to support us!” she said, matching Daro’s stare from her seat.
“All they’ve ended up supporting is failure!” Daro shot back. “Our gear is losing, the elements are winning.”
“Right,” Sam said, taking in the exchange. He paused and continued, “So we have, what? A day? Half a day before we need to evac?”
Daro sighed as if he was a genius in a world of morons.
“Half a day is pushing it; a full day is really asking for trouble.”
“But could we do it?” Sam said.
“We start packing now, conserving energy - but what’s the point? Two weeks now and we haven’t found anything,” Daro said.
Sam looked over at the two doctors - Karena Smith and Brynna Jones.
“Actually,” Sam said, “we have.”
All eyes were on Sam.
Unimpressed, Daro said, “Well, what?”
“Suit up, everyone,” Sam said.
“Damn it,” Daro muttered.
The team pulled their hoods over their heads and zipped down any parts of their cold weather suits that might have been open. Some shook the small fire gems around their necks to try and generate more heat, then headed out into the cold.
Sam and the doctors led them out toward the main research site. Gusts of wind threatened to blow them over, but they trudged on. After a few minutes’ trudging, they saw the site markers blinking, still a way off south, though Sam and the doctors suddenly turned west.
“Hey, geniuses, the site’s this way,” Daro said.
“Hey, jackass, what we found is this way,” Dr. Jones said. Daro processed the remark, found he lacked a comeback, and followed in silence, now intrigued.
They walked on for about ten more minutes. Gortho, the maintenance man, asked how much further.
“Almost there,” Dr. Smith said.
“There!” Dr. Jones said, pointing at a blinking beacon, about 100 feet ahead. The two doctors began running. Sam followed suit and then Gortho, Leslie and even John.
“Idiots,” Daro muttered, then ran after them.
The beacon was placed in the ice at the base of a hill. The hill was made of what looked like black ice which extended out about ten feet from its base.
“Why does it look like that?” Gortho said.
“We don’t know,” Dr. Smith said. “But look closer.” She gestured toward the beacon.
Everyone leaned in for a look. All but John saw it and he was the only one who wasn’t startled.
“What the hell?!” Daro said.
“What?” John said.
“What is that?” Leslie said.
“We’re not sure, but look again,” Dr. Jones said.
“Can it get us?”
“First, it’s frozen under ice; second, it’s probably just some bit of water caught in a current,” Daro said.
John bent over and then he saw it - a black, translucent mass the size of a dinner plate formed right where he was looking and dissipated just as suddenly.
“Whoah!” John said, stumbling back, the whole group yelping (except for Daro, who grunted) again.
“That was huge!” Gortho said. “It was just a little speck a second ago!”
“But look closer,” Sam said.
“Seriously, can it get us?” Leslie asked.
No one answered. John scrambled off his butt and onto his hands and knees and peered closely at where the mass appeared. “What is that?” he asked.
“Do you see it?” Dr. Smith asked.
“See what?” Daro asked checking his weather tracker.
“That bowl thing?” John said.
“What bowl thing?”
“Interesting,” Dr. Jones said. “You see a bowl; earlier we saw - oh, you’re right.”
“It’s changed since we were out here last,” Dr. Smith said. “That is definitely something resembling a bowl.”
The mass suddenly rematerialized, but this time, in the shape of a skull.
“By Xaxxar’s horns,” Gortho whispered, the color draining from his face.
The skull’s mandible was moving as if it was talking, but the only sound was from the occasional gust of wind. After a moment, the mass vanished.
Nonplussed, John looked up at the doctors and said, “Well, that’s a bit ominous.”
Dr. Smith was beside herself. “Everyone saw that! We have to stay long enough to get a sample or something! Daro, is there any way you can get that generator working again?”
Daro was still as stone, staring at where the shadowy ice skull had been. “I’m not the mechanic, Gortho is,” he said calmly.
“Frank! You have to fix that generator!” Dr. Smith said.
Gortho was as white as a sheet and muttering prayers in his native tongue.
“What’s he saying? Does anyone know what he’s saying?” Smith asked.
John leaned in, trying to understand Gortho.
“Uh, my Lyrian’s a bit rusty, but - praying, he’s definitely praying,” he said, pausing to listen some more. “Something about ‘Grovis, save us,’ I think...uh, this place is bad, it’s poison, it’s-”
“This place is evil!” Gortho said, looking around at the group with wide eyes. “This is the work of san Dobali!”