A Wishology Storycoin
Action & Adventure
We trudged through the snow, praying for sure footing beneath each step. The wind hurled ice at our faces, trying to push us back. A corpse back home, absent warm blood coursing through its veins, would have found itself still warmer than us — three frostbitten adventurers.
“Of course, an expedition to the arctic would’ve been too simple,” I called to Hollins, who was stomping along behind me. “We had to come in a blizzard!”
“Perhaps…” Hollins stumbled and fell into the snow. I stopped to help him up. He didn’t look well. “Perhaps our… our fearless leader might… feel something, for once.”
Hollins winced and doubled over, curling into himself.
“Hey, you alright?”
Hollins shook his head yes and waved me on. As we continued, I had to squint through the swirling blizzard to find the faint outline of our leader, Sir Timothy Trinkleton.
He turned to give some encouragement, true to his world-famous optimism.
“Come on, lads!” Trinkleton shouted in his gruff voice. “We’ll find her yet!”
“And who will find us?” I mumbled to myself.
Our beards were becoming small glaciers. Icicles dangled from them, and rivers of snot froze into streaks beneath our nostrils. I had lost all feeling in my fingers and toes hours ago, and so had Hollins. But Trinkleton, I suspected, had yet to notice the blizzard or even the cold.
His adventurous spirit made him impervious to the weather. In the humid jungles of South America, he had discovered an ancient temple and survived a pit of deadly snakes with nothing but his teeth and a torch. In the scorching deserts of the Middle East, he had uncovered a lost artifact of biblical significance, some kind of ark. Trinkleton, at the age of 23, had been famously quoted as saying: “If convinced I am that a thing is real, there is nowhere the devil himself could hide that I would not find him out!”
Hollins and I weren’t well known. We weren’t known at all, really. Hollins had joined the Solstice Maiden expedition a week before our departure, intent on following in Trinkleton’s footsteps under the spell of inspiration. But after months of weary travel, he had become disenchanted with the explorer, leaving me to deal with his bad attitude.
I, however, had been Sir Trinkleton’s assistant for three years by this time, and the papers still managed to exclude me. My predecessors all met with tragic endings, and I thought a little recognition wasn’t too much to ask, having outlasted any of them by a full two years and four months. But history chooses its heroes, and I suppose I’m fortunate to not have suffered the same fate as the famous adventurer under whom I apprenticed for a total of 17 years and seven months.
Sir Trinkleton stopped to check his compass readings with the expedition notes in his journal. I stopped beside him and tried to hide my shivers by making light of our misery.
“Fine weather, sir!” I said with a smirk.
“Can’t remember finer!” Trinkleton said, tapping at his compass. “The needle has frozen up. How’s the young lad doing?”
“Honestly, sir, I don’t believe that he’s…” When I glanced back, Hollins was lying facedown in the snow. “Hollins!”
We bounded through the snow to Hollins and flipped him over.
“He won’t last,” said Trinkleton, “not without shelter.”
Before we could devise a plan, a crack like a thousand trees snapping in half stole our attention. It was followed by a low rumble that seemed to be shaking the whole earth. Rushing air pushed the white abyss of the storm aside briefly enough for us to see that we were standing at the foot of a mountain. Snow was peeling off its side and careening toward us.
“Sir, help me with Hollins! Quickly!” I said, hoisting Hollins’ torso out of the snow and instructing Trinkleton to grab his legs.
“Oh, Ralstead, my loyal lad,” Trinkleton removed his fur hat. “Even without the dead weight of a nearly dead man, an avalanche will not be made a fool. There’s no outrunning it. It is but a happy child sledding down a hill.”
The rumbling was so fierce now, I felt my fast beating heart struggling to keep its rhythm. The avalanche was almost upon us.
“What do we do, sir?”
“Join the sledding!”
The wall of snow slammed into me, and I lost sight of my teammates and the world. I was aware enough to know I was tumbling out of control, being carried a long distance at tremendous speeds, but I didn’t know which way was up or which way was down. I wondered when the great sleep would overtake me. And before the darkness came, I issued a challenge to the world — no one could beat my record of three years serving Sir Timothy Trinkleton.
A muffled sound caused me to stir.
“Ralfffmmm!” a voice called my name, followed by a boot that kicked my side.
“Ralstead! Wake up, lad!”
I sat up, clutching at my side before realizing the pain in my head was far worse. Hollins knelt down in front of me and pointed to the bandage wrapped around my skull.
“Easy does it now. I imagine it’s splitting more inside than it was out.”
“Yes, you took quite the clocking, lad!” Trinkleton declared with a chuckle.
“You’ve been out for several hours,” Hollins said. “If we hadn’t all been dumped into this cave, we’d be dead for sure.”
Looking past them, I gazed upon the most wondrous sight of my life, at least to that point of it. We were in a cave that was completely formed of ice. Its smooth blue walls reflected their own majesty. Plenty enough light bounced through the cave for us to see without torches. Along the ceiling, a narrow crevice opened to the blizzard outside, and the shaft we tumbled into was sealed with snow. I didn’t know how we’d get out, but for the moment we were better off in.
Trinkleton could wait no longer. He uttered his most famous saying, which I had come to dread because it always meant disaster was around the corner.
“Excuse me whilst I explore!”
These words were famous because those who didn’t follow him would never see him again, and while they might live longer, they’d never see anything worth half the living.
With Hollins help, I got to my feet, and we set off through the narrow passages of the ice cave. They were only just wide enough to stave my claustrophobia.
Because I feel it holds more repute than my own words, allow me to share with you an excerpt from the journal of Timothy Trinkleton, concerning the events that transpired in the cave:
September 23, 1893 — Solstice Maiden Expedition
…and after I fed the helpless lads some hot soup, we set off through the monstrous passages of the ice cave, big enough to swallow a ballroom!
At first a sight of wonder and beauty, the blue crystalline walls — after days of winding passageways — began to have an effect that can only be described as cabin feverish. But onward we strove, until alas, fate gave us a grin.
We emerged into a round chamber. At its center, an icy column stood tall from top to bottom, and there, suspended in its grasp, was a fair maiden in a white dress. In such a state, she might’ve been centuries old or she might have been recently imprisoned by the cave, but it was of little consequence. There was no time for contemplative dillydally!
I ordered the boys to start their pickaxes at the column. Time was of the essence, even if centuries were of her past!
No sooner had we chipped her free of the column than the whole chamber became enraged over the loss of its treasure. We dragged her out just as the ceiling collapsed, proving that even a cave hath not the fortitude to survive a childish tantrum.
When the boys had caught their breath — a rest of which I, of course, had no need — they rejoined me by the maiden’s side. Holkins, I believe that was the name, had filled his head with fairy tale nonsense, for he tried to kiss the damsel awake! Thank God for Ralstead, who seized him, and not a moment too soon… for her eyes opened!
She greeted us with a smile so warm the sides of the cave began to sweat. Her hair was blacker than the night sky, and her pale face bright enough to wrinkle mine into a squint. But before I asked her name, I saw around her neck the answer…
Holding fast to a silver chain was a skeleton key. And the bow of this extraordinary key had been forged into the symbol of the great Solstice Maiden. Lying in my arms was quite literally the key to unlocking and evermore literally the key to finding the great ship herself, which meant the girl was none other than the deadly pirate daughter of Captain Chester Poltás!
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Featured illustration by Ryan Rehnborg