I shuddered awake, penetrating cold sending ripples through my body. It was freezing here, and I didn’t know where here was, only that the surface I was laying on had leeched away what little heat I had. The soulless chill of the granite permeated me like the endless cold of death, reminding me of the dream from which I had so recently emerged. I flicked my eyes open and let my vision settle, re-calibrating until the ceiling sharpened into focus. Slowly, I pushed myself up, expecting with every moment to experience a lance of pain, but nothing came.
My hand brushed against the 1911A that I had tried to take my life with. Sticky blood coated the weapon, and dirt and dust had gathered on its once-gleaming finish. I touched the side of my head and felt the matching stickiness. My hair was stiff and matted to the touch, shifting and splitting into smaller strands beneath my fingertips. Trembling, I took the clip out and counted the rounds. One was missing.
My shaking told me that I was exhausted. Around me, the surroundings were unfamiliar. I recognized a door that I seemed to remember having walked through, but where the opening had been was a solid slab of granite. I wondered if it had sealed behind me or if I had imagined the whole encounter, but the sole remaining tunnel leading out of the store-room seemed menacing and unfamiliar.
I glanced around for Sophia. Her face was vivid in my memory, eyes pleading with me to return to reason and become the man I was again. For some reason, the memory brought up feelings of remorse. I couldn’t explain it, but I felt as if I had wronged her somehow. I shook off the sensation. I couldn’t be sure that I had actually seen her. Besides, she was nowhere to be found. That made finding her my top priority.
Thinking of Sophia brought back memories of the girl, but I shook those off too. There would be time to figure that out later. I had more than enough problems already.
Weary, I got up, falling back against the wall. I shoved myself upright and gripped my gun in both hands, firing it to test if it still worked. Instantly, my head exploded with a blinding pain, searing fire screaming through my eyes and deep into my brain. The ringing in my ears was deafening, and amongst it I heard voices, the wraithlike screams and whispers of the long-forgotten dead. Pain exploded in my knees as they hit the once-polished granite. My fingernails might have been claws and still they would have scrabbled uselessly for purchase on the smooth-worn stone. Blood dripped from my mouth and splattered on the ground, and the world swam as the blinding light began to fade from view. I coughed and staggered to my feet, the wall swaying beneath my hands.
Slowly, the spinning stopped, and I reached down to retrieve my gun. I holstered it, aware that if I had to fire it again I had better make sure my aim was dead on. Judging by that reaction, I would only get one shot.
The tunnel was dark and empty, my headlight casting stark shadows on the walls. I shuffled along, one hand on the wall, the trudging of my footsteps loud in the silence, and I could swear it echoed. Strange runes and hieroglyphs ran along at eye level, some sequences changing with every iteration and others remaining constant. After a time, I decided to risk moving faster and stood upright. I found a slow walk manageable, though I could tell the headache was getting worse. I cracked open my canteen and took a sip. The water tasted like old leather.
The passageway came out into a large antechamber. I pulled the lantern from my pack and ignited it, staring in wonder at the strange glyphs carved on all four walls. The ceiling was easily thirty feet high, and the walls sloped inwards at the top as though inside a pyramid. Doors led off to my right, left, and straight ahead, with the largest door to my left bearing some kind of sign above it. As I watched, the hieroglyphics began to glow, then swim, forming English words and letters in a brush of burning fire. Here lies Agryphulcus, master of the four winds. Beware, all ye who enter here, for the winds stand guard.
A sudden urge overcame me, and I stepped toward the door. Beyond, all was black, and I stepped out onto a narrow walkway. Wind gusted at me from the depths beneath the bridge, making me wish for a handrail in case it should catch me off my guard. Grim, I pressed my way onward. The farther I went, the stronger the wind got, growing from a gentle whisper to the dull roar of rushing air in the cavernous enclosure. Abruptly, it died down, though I could still hear it, and I realized I had reached some kind of platform.
Raising my light a little higher, I found that I could see a marble tomb. Inscribed on it were runes in a language I did not understand, but as I read them I found myself speaking aloud.
“Agryphulcus, master of the four winds, a mighty hero.”
Something deep within me stirred, and I found myself falling to one knee. Nothing seemed normal in this place, and here I was paying my respect to some man I had never even known. All I knew about him was that someone had thought him worthy of a magnificent tomb like this one, and for the moment I did not care. Whatever this man had done, he did not deserve to lie forgotten. No one did. I took a deep breath, and then another, allowing myself to slow down. Something eased within me, and I felt the tension in my shoulders disappear.
As I walked the long journey back across the chasm, I realized that the Doctor had not been completely honest with me. He had implied these caverns were natural, and he had never said anything about buried tombs and ancient spirits. I got the sense he must be hiding other things as well. An archeological find of this significance should have been shared with the world, and yet for some reason he had not. That meant he was up to something.
I made a note about the tomb in my journal and carried on. As I was scribbling, I thought I heard a whisper from within the dark enclosure, but I brushed it off as an overactive imagination. I’d seen enough strange things in this place to believe it tampered with the mind. For all I knew the entire experience might have been a hallucination.
The hallway I was following began gradually to brighten, and I realized there was an eerie blue light coming from somewhere ahead. It grew until I could make out the shape of a doorway, and beyond it shifting rays of blue-tinged sun. My breath began to billow, first a stream, then in clouds around my head. Goosebumps prickled on my arms. With every step, I slid a little, gradually getting used to the smooth blue ice which appeared beneath my feet. As I came into the room, my eyes fell upon a motionless figure collapsed upon the floor, white with frost.
I ran towards her, slipping and falling on the slick terrain. The impact jarred my spine. I scrambled to my feet and staggered forwards, sliding out of control.
I stumbled and doubled over, trying to keep my balance. As I came upright, I found myself in a storm of flurries, suddenly colder than I had been. I looked down at my hand and found it white with frost. I scraped at it, trying to dislodge the icy coating, but it formed as quickly as I could get rid of it. I looked up at the sound of a tinkling laugh. Somehow, it reminded me of crystal wineglasses.
“You need not shed the frost, human. It will do you no harm.”
The form of a woman floated in front of me. Her skin was palest white, her lips an icy blue. The hair that fell from her shoulders was the pale blue of frost upon a winter lake, and her breasts were covered by a brassiere of ice. I had never seen such beauty, and yet her air was one of cold, unwelcoming and frigid. Her breath frosted in the air, and my own stung with cold, cracking my flesh and freezing the inside of my nose. I looked to the side and saw the gem, elevated from a central platform by a pedestal over which it floated. Flurries of snow surrounded it in a miniature whirlwind that matched the one exuded by the spirit.
“If the frost will do me no harm, then what happened to my companion?” I asked, shivering violently. I could feel my body temperature plummeting.
“She went where angels fear to tread.” The spirit tossed her head casually. “I made her pay for it.”
“Then perhaps I should ask why you have spared me.” Dry air cracked my tongue and coated my vocal cords, forcing me to cough. She inclined her head to look at me.
“Perhaps you should. My name is Amea von Aegandar, and I am the Wind of Winter.”
“And here I thought you were the summer one.”
“I like you, Naissance,” she said. My head snapped up. “I see you are surprised I know your name.” She smiled. “Do not fear. The doctor has informed me of your purpose. I froze your friend so we could speak alone.”
“She will be, if you answer well.”
“And what is that supposed to mean?”
“Ask me a question.”
“Alright. You’re one of the four winds. Where are the others?”
“My, my, so bold. I like that!” Her face broke into a radiant smile. “To satisfy your question, I am the only wind to remain this far north. My sisters long ago moved on to warmer climes.”
“But not you.”
“No. Not me.” The wind’s smile was sad, wistful even. She was silent for a moment, lost in memories.
“It must be difficult to be alone.”
Her eyes glistened.
“Infinitely more than you could possibly imagine.”
“Try me sometime.”
She looked away.
“I will not bar you, Naissance. I guard this tomb, but there is nothing left to guard. The gem is yours if you would take it. I have no one to preserve it for.”
“Then why do you stay?”
“To do my duty. Agryphulcus was my master. I would not see him lie forgotten.”
“And yet you let me pass.”
“Your need is more than his.”
“I appreciate your help, Amea von Aegandar.”
“Go now. You have much to do.”
I strode to the center of the room and lifted the gem from its pedestal. It swarmed with snow flurries and hummed with a vibrant energy that chilled my hands as they made contact. Something in me came alive at the touch, and I slid it into my bag with a smile on my face. I felt as though I had awakened after sleeping for a week. All of the tension had gone out of me, and within I felt exuberant. I turned back to the guardian. Her posture hadn’t changed, but there was something different, almost strained about the way she held herself. Her shoulders sagged, and her face had fallen slightly. I took a step towards her.
“The gem means something to you, doesn’t it?”
“My master’s prized possession. Take it, it is yours.”
I looked again at the spirit. Her posture was broken, sad. In her eyes, the glint of unshed tears had strengthened.
“I want you to have this.”
She looked confused.
“Your business card?”
“You gave me a gift, now I’m giving you one. The next time you’re in London, look me up.”
“Okay, but, I won’t be in London. I’ll be here.”
“Regardless, the offer stands.”
“Thank you.” She managed a faint smile. “I guess we should wake your friend.”
“We can, if you like.”
“It’s time. You need to go.” She stretched her arms out towards Sophia and drew in breath. A flurry of snow blew from the frozen girl and merged with the blizzard around Amea. Sophia let out a little gasp and shuddered, drawing her arms around her.
I bent down and picked her up, pulling her body to my chest. She huddled up against me, tucking her head in as we both stood. Surprisingly, she took most of her own weight.
“It’s okay, Sophia. You’ll be warm again soon.”
“Did we get the gem?”
“Yeah, yeah, we got it.”
I looked around for the Wind of Winter, but she had disappeared. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but for some reason I felt strangely unsettled, almost worried. I tried to shake it off, to rationalize that there was nothing more to worry about, and yet the feeling persisted. Sophia shifted.
“I asked you what’s wrong.”
“Nothing, Sophie. I’m just thinking. Thinking about someone that I knew a long time ago.” I rubbed my hand gently against her arm.
“We should go.”
“Yes. Yes we should.”