PART THREE: THAW
The music classroom filled with mist as the ice wall came crashing out from the closet door. Yumi and I scrambled backward. The oncoming ice kept yelling in that grindy rocky voice.
ICE WILL ENTOMB YOU.
“This ice is going to crush us flat, Hoshi. I’m going to summoun up that giant sixteen-armed sword demon that destroyed Lord Gerotik’s army,* and see if it can’t scare some of these local entities into talking to us.”
I imagined the entire city in flaming ruins, our clan decimated, my collection of miniature horseshoes melted into slag.
“Well, we could try summouning up a vicious hungry demon to terrorize every living thing for miles around…”
Yumi was nodding in a happy, agreeing sort of way.
“…OR we could try a little reading.”
I pulled the ‘Ancient Rituals’ book out of my belt. Yumi laughed.
“Hoshi, you’re so clever! It was the Icefall Monastery, right?”
We clustered together, flipping through the book, trying to ignore the miniature glacier starting to fill up the room.
“Three Mountains Clan, Avalanche Clan, Deathfang Panda Clan, aha!”
I pointed. I had to shout to be heard over the crackling ice drawing ever-nearer. It was getting cold in that room, and we were running out of space.
“The Icefall Monastery. Listen to this: ‘Situated within the bowels of a deep glacial crevasse, the Icefall Monastery was founded when Master Wan discovered an ancient spirit living deep within the living ice, and from it drew the secrets of elemental frost that gave the Monastery its infamous Frozen Palm Technique. It is said that the spirit was imprisoned in a splinter of never-melting ice within the the monastery, to be brought forth through secret incantations, but those formulae were lost when the monks were wiped out in the great Black Mountain Uprising four hundred years ago.’ Huh. So…”
YOU CANNOT STOP ME. NOTHING CAN STOP ME.
We had to jump to our feet and push back. Ice was filling up the room, and we were now stuffed in the corner with the door that nobody could open.
“I get it, Yumi-san. Master Kinotsuka must have heard about it and had it sent to him. You know how he’s always bringing in weird rocks and things, right? And then maybe he accidentally released the spirit somehow.”
Yumi nodded. Her eyelashes frosted up.
“Yup. It had been a prisoner for hundreds of years, so it must have been pretty angry. Angry enough to scare all the little spirits around here.”
ANGRY ENOUGH TO KILL YOU ALL.
“We’ve got to find it. It must be around somewhere.”
The ice crackled nearer and I realised where it had come from.
“The closet, Yumi! It was cool in there earlier! That must be it. But we’re never going to get in there now.”
The ice pushed even closer. Our breath misted in the air. Yumi and I had to push together closely as she shook her head.
“No, Hoshi, if it had been in there that room would have been full of ice.”
And then I remembered the half-open service door to the basement. And ice cream on Yumi’s face.
“It’s downstairs. The cold room downstairs. Right underneath that closet, isn’t it?”
“You’re so clever, Hoshi! Now all we have to do is get out of here.”
“Out this door that has been deliberately sealed to prevent us from ever opening it from the inside, yes. Before this ice — oof — crushes us.”
And at that moment, the door opened and Takufumi stood there, happy and astonished as Yumi fell into his arms. She giggled and planted a kiss on his lips before grabbing my hand and we rushed off down the halls, terrible enormous crashing and grinding sounds following us.
And Takufumi, with a ridiculous grin on his face. I would have warned him, but we were being chased by an angry glacier. So we ran.
DEATH. I SHALL CRUSH YOU ALL!
We charged down the hall as the music room exploded and kids started yelling and screaming. A couple pointed at us, I guess saying something like, “Hey weren’t they just locked up a second ago what’s going on,” but I didn’t stop to clarify.
We got to the service door and plunged down the stairs. Everything got cold. Yumi reached the bottom ahead of us and wiped out on slippery ice, falling hard on her butt.
She giggled as Takufumi and I helped her to her feet, all of us looking around the basement.
Ice, crackling and glittering all around us. Not the light fluffy snow that swirls down in the coldest of winter days, not the tinkle and bobbling of ice cubes in a glass, no, this was heavy old dark ice, thick and greasy and riven through with blackness, ice that hadn’t seen the sun in centuries, ice that flowed and pressed with the weight of mountains. Ice that sucked the air out of us with a shock of searing cold.
Takufumi took his coat off and draped over Yumi’s shoulders. She immediately gave it to me, and the look on Takufumi’s face kept me from noticing the first hints of movement in the ice all around us.
“Come forth, frozen spirit! Come forth and account for what you have done!”
I looked up as Yumi planted her feet and held up the icicle. On all sides I could see flickering motion, as though the walls of ice were windows into dark rooms. I pulled Takufumi’s coat tighter around me, shivering.
The darkness behind the ice gave way to a rising glow, and in a moment the motion roiled and erupted on all sides, and then the ice seemed to blow apart and we stood on that same massive glacier I’d seen before.
Only this time we were surrounded by endless ranks of ice-carved figures, taller than even Takufumi, massively sculpted warriors of gleaming white.
Wind howled, shrieking on all sides, nearly yanking Takufumi’s coat from my shoulders. We all had to stumble and brace ourselves, our fingers immediately blue and frost-bitten. My ears felt like ice cubes strapped to my head.
The warriors moved, closing in on us from all sides, glittering spears held high.
NO MORE. WE ARE FREE. ICE CLAIMS YOUR SOULS.
I’ve got to figure out a way of warning angry, ultra-powerful spirits that they just shouldn’t try pushing my friend around.
Yumi still held the icicle over her head. She threw her head back and screamed loud enough to shake the distant black-rock mountains.
“You will NEVER be free! Your world is feeble and brittle and I claim YOU!”
And she dropped to her knees, slamming the icicle into the jagged surface of the glacier.
I grabbed Takufumi and he grabbed Yumi as the ground beneath us titled and split, bursting up from where Yumi had stabbed the icicle. The carved warriors spun apart like snowflakes, and we tumbled into a crevasse and fell, sliding and bumping and yelling down and down into darkness.
“Oof. Yumi, you’re sitting on me.”
“Sorry, Hoshi. Well, that went a lot better than I thought it would.”
The three of us were sprawled on the basement floor, a couple inches of cold water soaking us right through. I could see, past Yumi’s butt, the cold room with its door torn off, still half-embedded in steaming ice.
We got to our feet and, still shivering, I handed Takufumi his dripping, ripped-up coat. He didn’t say anything, not even, “You’re welcome.”
Yumi grinned and took his hand. In her free hand she twirled the icicle around.
“Maybe we can go visit my Auntie Hanako on the weekend, Taku-kun. She says she likes young boys even more since she died.”
Takufumi didn’t say anything. He just stood there, holding his coat and watched Yumi and I make our way upstairs.
I stopped at the top of the stairs as the heat rolled up thick and humid against my skin. The cicadas outside were shrieking REEEE REEEE REEEE. I smiled.
“Wow, I love summer.”
* See “Yumi Sasori and the Case of the Seventeen Swords: A Yumi Sasori Mystery”