Authors: Mary Fan
I look around wildly,
wondering if something attacked me, but all I see are the iron bars
and the ice between them. Then a thought strikes me:
I see are the bars
and the ice, no matter which way I turn. Except for the one small
window, there’s no break in the four frozen walls surrounding
There’s no way out.
No, that can’t be; I must
be missing something. I got in here somehow, didn’t I? Certain
I scramble up to the wall and run my fingers over the hard,
freezing mass. Maybe I’m neglecting something with my eyes – maybe
there’s a hidden door. I sweep my hands across the cold surface,
and the chill bites my skin.
But there’s nothing.
No matter how I feel along
the edges of the iron bars or search the ridges in the ice, I can’t
find even a single crack.
Maybe I can make
, I tell myself in a vain attempt to
keep my head steady.
Maybe this ice isn’t
as thick as it looks, and I can break down this wall.
Hoping with all my heart that I’m right, I ball
up my fists and pound against it.
The impact sends a bolt of pain
shooting up my hand, but the ice doesn’t budge. I hit harder and
harder, until I’m sure I’ll shatter my bones and then, realizing
these actions are useless, I flatten my palms and push against it,
throwing all my weight forward. My fingers go numb, but I ignore
Maybe this wall is stronger than the
other three. I turn to the next one and pound and push until my
hands are so sore and cold, I feel like they might fall off. But
nothing I do sends so much as a ripple of vibration through the
thick ice. My hands look pathetically small against the great
surface they’re fighting, and while part of me yearns to keep
trying, I know I’ll break them for real if I do, and still be
Catching a glimpse of the window, I
rush toward it. The wall around the opening is also made of ice –
maybe I can widen it. I dig my fingers into its lower edge and
tear, desperately using every ounce of strength I have. Though I
rip at the ice until my fingers are raw, I can’t scrape off a
single shard. My breath quickens, until it becomes ragged gasps,
and my heart pounds with increasing panic, filling my ears with its
desperate drumming. No matter what I do, though, no matter what I
try, I can’t escape.
Exhausted, I collapse against the wall
and sink to the ground. My whole body shakes with the cold I can no
longer ignore, and I hug my knees to my chest in an effort to warm
up. Hot, powerful tears sting my eyes, and dread weighs down with
such heaviness that I feel it crushing me. Did someone leave me
here to die? Why would they do that? Who could they be?
And who am I?
Just then, a loud clanging noise
ripples through the air, and I jump. Realizing that someone else
might be outside, and that they might be able to help me, I
scramble to my feet and open my mouth to shout.
But then black shadows appear on the
other side of the ice, their dark forms vaguely visible through its
bluish surface, and my voice dies in my throat. There are at least
six or seven figures – tall and shapeless, yet menacing. They draw
closer, speaking in low, muffled voices like thunder rumbling in
. I remember thunder, roaring in my ears. And lightning,
splitting the sky. And rain, both pounding in relentless fury and
flurrying in a fine mist. I remember all these elements of the
weather – and others, like wind, and fog, and snow … so why can’t I
remember my name? How is it that I possess so much knowledge about
the world, and yet nothing about myself?
Meanwhile, the shadows continue
approaching, until they’re so near that I could touch them if the
wall didn’t stand between us. Their looming presence makes me
shudder. What are they? What will they do to me?
Then, a deep, commanding voice booms
through the barrier: “Wall of ice, open yourself for
Though the man’s words are simple,
there’s an eerie and supernatural quality to the sound, and the air
quakes with its vibrations. The wall responds, somehow, and before
me, a rectangular section, stretching from the floor to the
ceiling, glows bright green. The rays spread through the entire
cell, giving everything an unearthly hue. Where the light appeared,
sharp crackling comes from the bars, and lines of white zap through
the iron. Only magic could explain these bizarre changes, so this
must be some kind of spell.
Then, as abruptly as it all began,
everything grows still, and the light fades. Where it glowed, the
ice has disappeared, leaving a tall gap almost two feet wide. Yet
the bars remain. What I see through them makes me scramble away
with fright. A hard surface slams into my back, and, glancing over
my shoulder, I realize I’ve retreated into the wall.
Seven hooded figures stand just
outside the cell, robed in black and blue. If it weren’t for their
chins, barely visible in the shadows, and their hands, which they
either hang by their sides or hold clasped before them, I wouldn’t
even know they were human. All but one has intricate designs
embroidered into his or her clothing. The figure closest to me, who
must be the man that spoke, wears a magnificent gold chain across
his chest, with a thick, circular pendant in the center. Engraved
in the pendant are strange symbols for which I can’t begin to guess
Reminding myself that these
I straighten and take a step forward, wishing I hadn’t been so
easily frightened by their appearance. I inhale, telling myself not
to let them intimidate me, but before I can say anything, the man
with the gold chain throws back his hood, revealing a face so
frightening that it stops my breath. If it weren’t for the coldness
of his narrowed green eyes and the deep frown lines etched between
his brows, he might be considered handsome. But his dark
expression, his thin nose and sharp cheekbones, remind me of a
snake. His lack of hair adds to his reptilian appearance, and his
skin, weathered with age, seems wraithlike in its pallor. He stares
at me as if he’s trying to burn a hole through me with the
intensity of his gaze.
I try to hold my head high and stare
back, but my voice betrays my fright as I stammer, “Who– Who are
Instead of answering, he raises his
hands, and the wide sleeves of his cloak fall back, revealing the
elaborate patterns of black tattoos twisting around his forearms
like dead vines. A hot gust surges toward me through the bars,
carrying bright red sparks with it, and one lands on my arm. I gasp
as its searing heat pierces my skin.
Terrified, I scramble away,
trying to escape the other sparks flying toward me. But there’s
nowhere to go in this tiny cell, and they strike me one by one,
each seeming to light a fire as it hits my skin. More of them come
at me, and I cry out and cover my face with my arms. Then the
sparks seem to connect
my skin, and lines of heat blaze through my body,
igniting flames in every spot they touch, until every fiber of my
being screams with pain.
The question tears through my mind
like a shriek as fear engulfs me.
I double over and my legs collapse
beneath me as a force yanks at my chest, a pair of infernal hands
trying to wrench my soul from my body. I scream and scream, unable
to form any words or thoughts. All I know is the scorching agony,
ripping through my insides with such intensity that I want to cut
them out myself rather than let them keep burning. My ears buzz
with my own cries, which tear at my throat, and a wave of
unbearable hotness flares through my core, oil on an already raging
fire. It’s consuming every part of me, and dread floods my heart as
I realize that soon, there will be nothing left of me.
Stop! You’re killing
I want to shout those words, but can’t
form them through my screams.
The idea of death scares me so
much that my heart seizes. I feel myself curling into a ball, tears
streaming down my face, and press my elbows into my stomach, though
for what reason, I don’t know. None exists in my mind; there’s only
anguish and despair as the horror stretches into an unforgiving
eternity of endless searing, until I wish I could dissolve into
air, or melt into water …
to make it stop.
Then the burning ceases, and though
the fire that consumed me just moments ago is gone, I still feel
the specter of the torture that wrapped around every muscle, every
bone, every vein. How long did I endure it? It might as well have
been a lifetime. My pulse hammers so rapidly that it’s almost a
hum, and sweat clings to my face. All my strength has drained away,
as if the pain burned my very life for fuel, and I can barely lift
my arm to examine it. Though I expect to see welts or scars, it’s
as smooth and pale as before, and I let it drop to the ground. My
legs and back sting from the cold floor, but I don’t have the
energy to move. I’m dying – I’m sure of it. Whatever happened to me
just now dragged me to the edge of oblivion, and the darkness
But some spark inside,
perhaps the only one the ruthless magic didn’t take from me, tells
death win, and I manage to look up. My gaze meets that of the
green-eyed man, whose hands remain raised, red mist swirling around
them. A scowl twists his face, and he clenches his
discover your secret,” he
growls, his eyes fixed on mine.
What could he mean by that?
The question fades as a
realization hits me:
He was the one that
. This man must be a magician, and
it was his spell that caused my pain, that nearly drove me mad,
that almost killed me.
Is he also the one
that trapped me?
I can’t fathom why he’d do either, but
if he uses such magic on me again, I have no way to fight him. And
I might not have the strength to survive. I feel myself trembling,
although I don’t know if it’s from the overwhelming cold or the
fresh wave of fear washing over my heart.
Then a surge of anger rises. What
right does this man have to do this to me?
Who are you?” I demand,
managing to speak clearly this time, though the words emerge
shakier than I intended. I realize I’m still lying on the ground
and quickly stand, hoping I appear stronger than my quaking heart
feels. My head rushes from the movement, making the world tilt, and
my legs, still weak from the effects of the spell, protest the
effort of standing. But I resist the urge to grab the wall for
support and, doing my best to harden my expression, say, “What do
you want with me?” Though my heart continues to race, my voice
doesn’t quiver this time.
The man stares at me, but doesn’t
answer. After a few seconds he turns to the hooded figure beside
him and mutters, “I don’t understand why it didn’t
With all due respect, sir,
I’m not surprised,” says the other, who has a low, female voice.
“We barely gathered any information last time, and we were working
on assumptions. We need to know more.”
Their words make no sense to me, and I
ask, “What are you talking about?”
But I might as well be invisible. The
man turns to another hooded companion and mutters, his voice too
soft for me to make out any words.
I take a step closer, intending to
demand answers, but he shoots me a glare so full of rage that my
courage withers. The memory of the pain he caused me – the
unrelenting fire I was powerless to fight – causes my heart to
pound even faster, and I shrink back. My feeble knees buckle,
threatening to collapse beneath me, and I wonder suddenly if I’d
survive that torment again.
To my great relief, he doesn’t shoot
another spell. Instead, he turns his back to me, revealing the
brilliant pattern of swirls and shapes embroidered in metallic
thread down the back of his cloak. Light flashes off the gleaming
embellishments – silver spirals, golden stars, bronze ciphers –
that adorn his coat and those of his five of his companions. That
man used a spell to torture me, and I know that he must be a
magician. Could those symbols represent his power? What exactly do
And are the five figures with him, the
ones with similarly embellished cloaks, magicians as
What about the sixth? He wears no such
finery, and I find my attention drawn to this figure in the plain
black cloak, wondering if its simplicity places him below the rest
in the hierarchy. He stands apart from the others, and all I can
see of him are his sharp chin, straight mouth, and the tip of his
nose. His smooth, youthful complexion is the color of golden
saffron or deep amber, and he holds himself so still, I almost
wonder if he’s a statue. While the ones in the decorated clothing
mutter to each other, step closer, or tilt their heads, he remains
motionless and silent.
Hoping that he’s not like his
companions and won’t ignore me, I say, “Please, who are you? What
do you want with me?”