Flames bursting forth through rock then ice, turning ice and snow to steam and shooting miles into the sky. Stone turning to foam and fountaining high into the air. A subterranean ocean of lava exploding forth, obliterating arctic plains and mountains alike. Fiery boulders the size of small mountains soaring through the air. The sky turning black with ash and smoke.
Vast tracts across several continents bursting into flame from magma rain. Devastating tsunami surging southward from the pole. More gradual, yet ultimately more annihilating, the ice cap melting. Clouds of soot obliterating the sun and choking the air. The darkness of a volcanic night covering the world, combining with fire and flood to kill all but the hardiest, most tenacious creatures in the world.
Catastrophe. Extirpation. Extinction.
Horrified at the sudden image in her mind, Schokol couldn’t move, couldn’t speak, couldn’t breath. She felt trapped by terror, as if in a ferocious nightmare she couldn’t escape. Except that she knew full well that she was awake.
Schokol was awake and astride a horse galloping across a field. Her whole body jerked as she gasped for air. The motion startled her mare into leaping sideways. Unable to control her own body let alone the horse, Schokol sailed off her mount’s back and into the path of the oncoming racers who scrambled to avoid trampling her and colliding with each other.
Schokol was too shocked to care. She lay in the tall grass, trembling uncontrollably and choking on each gulp of air.
Never, ever in her fifty years of life had she experienced anything like that. And she’d had plenty of experience with telepathy and telekinesis in all their manifestations. That came with being royalty, the highest social class on Mimion because they were the strongest with the sixth sense.
By now all the other riders had dismounted and crowded around her, showering her with questions both concerned and angry.
“Didn’t anyone else sense that? Did anyone else see that?” Schokol looked from one anxious face to the next as strong hands helped her to her feet.
“Are you hurt?” Her husband’s insistent inquiry cut across all the other voices. Scarl kept a protective arm around her.
“I’m fine. I’m fine.” Her tremulous tone, shaken yet impatient, belied her words. She fought for calm as she examined the memory of the cataclysm. “Didn’t anyone else sense that visual telepathy?”
The communication had been psychic, of that she was sure. But it wasn’t what she was used to, not the superficial linguistic telepathy her people most often employed. It was more like someone had shoved the images into her head.
“What visual?” Scarl asked.
Schokol never had a chance to reply. Another woman spoke up instead. “We need to get back to the castle right now,” Princess Indigo, their host and their liege, said. “Something tells me others just had the same experience.”
# # #
As she and the others ran behind Indigo across the courtyard to the castle, Schokol felt an insistent buzz in the back of her mind. Something had happened. Something horrible. And the only reason that she was not deluged by the telepathic maelstrom was that her mental defenses were strong. She knew if she lowered her guard, she’d be privy to–assailed by–the storm caused by so many using the sixth sense at once.
They raced through the cavernous grand entry hall to the more intimate throne room overflowing with people and pandemonium.
“Silence!” the psychic command lanced through even Schokol’s mental block. The queen, demonstrating her psychic power as she rarely did.
The stunned occupants obeyed, temporarily stilling the chaos. Schokol sensed panic in the room–and these people never panicked.
“Let my daughter through!” the queen demanded, as the courtiers hadn’t noticed Indigo’s arrival. The masses made a path and Indigo strode to the queen by the throne on a raised dias at the front of the room.
To everyone’s surprise, Queen Nelle embraced her daughter for a long time. They looked remarkably alike, not a surprise, of course. Neither was particularly tall, yet their posture often gave the impression they towered over everyone else in the room. Both had trim figures and elegant features in round faces and shared the same coloring: deep blue eyes and ash blond hair.
Then the monarch stepped back, closed her eyes for just and instant and took a deep breath before looking out at her subjects.
“No one knows exactly what that was,” Queen Nelle said, maintaining focus so mayhem wouldn’t resume. “We don’t know if it is a threat, or if it has already happened. Consensus is, however, it came from the Iceans.”
That made sense, Schokol thought. The solitary creatures, similar to her own kind but bigger and covered with fur to protect them in their arctic home, would be much closer to such a cataclysm. She’d never met any, but she knew of their existence. Until several hundred years ago, they’d been considered myths, tales of them dismissed as fanciful.
“Schokol, up here now,” Indigo said.
Even as she automatically moved, Schokol wondered why she was being singled out. She assumed it had to do with the severity of her response earlier. Nothing else made any sense.
Her guess was confirmed as she heard Indigo saying to her mother, “I believe Lady Schokol received the message clearly. Or at least the most clearly of any of us.”
“What did you see, Lady Schokol?” Queen Nelle asked.
Schokol could feel her gaze and those of everyone else in the room firmly on her. She described the experience as exactly as she could. “It was definitely a warning, Ma’am. What I saw hasn’t happened yet.”
“You’re certain?” Indigo asked.
“I’m certain that is what was conveyed,” Schokol said cautiously, “And I didn’t sense any deception.” There was no way to know if the person sending the information was mistaken. There was no need to explain that to another telepath. A person could be telling the truth, but could nonetheless be wrong.
A vast expanse of white stretching as far as Schokol could see. Blinding sun in a painfully blue sky. Groups of people moving north, approaching from opposite sides of the world. Ever-present deadly cold attacking as if it had a will to foil their efforts. Travelers sharing an overwhelming sense of purpose.
Schokol blinked and shook her head, rubbing her eyes with her hands, then massaging her temples. She said “It happened again,” even as the two royals asked, “It happened again?”
“What did you see this time?” Queen Nelle asked.
Schokol told them. “This was different, though. Although I think it was from the same person. But it wasn’t a warning this time. It was more like a plea, a call for help. The first message seemed to be a warning on what is going to happen. And, if I’m right, now they’re asking us to help stop it.”
“Stop it? How can we stop something like that?” Princess Indigo voiced the disbelief they all felt.
“Let’s see if I can find out.” If it truly was the same person each time, perhaps whoever it was would be as attuned to Schokol as she apparently was to her, to whomever. Trying to formulate as simple a message as possible. “What can we do?” She thought the question over an over.
When the communication resumed, Schokol was ready for it.
Women trudging across the icy wilderness, reaching very particular locations. Iceans guiding the groups, their white fur making them nearly invisible against the backdrop. Magma bubbling up through the ocean and the ice shelf, a continent of ice, floating above it. The lava emerging through the sheaf of ice covering the small landmass near the pole. Volcanos being born with little violence.
Schokol understood the request, although she had no idea just how they were supposed to do what was being asked. So she concentrated on, “How?” This time the images that came to her were much less clear and much faster. Instead of a massive supervolcano awakening and destroying all life on the planet Mimion, she saw several (relatively) smaller volcanoes blossoming in a roughly circular ring around it and understood that redirecting the molten rock to numerous other releases would relieve the pressure, preventing once single eruption. And she understood something else as well.
They had to act NOW.
They might already be too late, but they had to try.
“The Iceans are strong telepaths, not the same as us, but you can tell they can obviously contact across wide distances when they need to. But unlike us, they have no telekinetic ability whatsoever.” Schokol wasn’t quite sure when or how that had come through with the communication, but she was certain of the information. “They are more sensitive to geology. Iceans can feel electromagnetic fields. Somehow they can feel this eruption coming. But they need us to help stop it. They will take us to where these other volcanoes need to be, and they want us to make them happen. Either by pulling the lava, or weakening the rock, or something. And they think others of us should strengthen the solid rock where they don’t want the supervolcano to erupt.”
“Is such a thing even possible?” Queen Nelle said under her breath.
Schokol stated the obvious. “It has to be possible, Your Majesty. Otherwise, no one will survive.”
“It would help greatly if we could see what you saw.”
“Of course, Ma’am,” Schokol said. She’d been expecting the request. She called the images to mind, then projected them outward as best she could.
Schokol felt surrounded, stifled, drowning in a crowd of people. Queen Nelle and Princess Indigo had taken a few minutes to disseminate the information worldwide, but now many of the other monarchs wanted confirmation for themselves. The most accurate way to do that was to allow them to share her memories. And although they tried to be respectful and delicate about it, and she was actually broadcasting the memories, Schokol still had the sensation of being mentally besieged. Despite the discomfort, Schokol did not begrudge other leaders wanting to be positive of the information, at least as much as possible.
“Thank you, Duchess,” the queen said to Schokol, then held up her hand as a sign for everyone to wait in case they failed to notice the telepathy she was receiving.
“Other monarchs are conversing.” Again, the queen spoke to Schokol. “Luckily, you were not the only person in the world who had received the message clearly. There were several others. All the accounts match what you’ve told us.”
The queen did not need to raise her voice for those in the grand hall to hear her. She merely matched psychic communication to the audible words.
“The Iceans warned not just us, but everyone they could reach. They sense an impending eruption at the north pole and need us to avert it. They can tell us what to do, and where. They can help us get to the right locations. But that’s all they can do. They don’t have the means to do anything themselves. We’ll have to do that. They believe there is enough time, but only barely. There’s no time to waste.
“We are the closest. We and those in the other northern queendoms such as Chanzir, Bergcrest, Riversland. Those further south don’t have any chance of making it in time to do any good. Even we might not be fast enough, but we have to try.”
“That trip will take weeks, if not months,” Indigo said. “Assuming we can even survive crossing the ice. We have to find some way to cut that time.”
# # #
The same solution came from several sources at once. Schokol cringed inwardly at the valuable time wasted due to all the inefficient communications. The Iceans could help. They could make travel through the arctic itself expeditious. The difficulty lie in actually getting there. By no means the fastest creatures on the planets, Schokol and her kind would need help with that.
The queens of several far-flung lands had the answer, but it took the information precious hours–in some cases, days–to spread. The Mern and the Avians could greatly accelerate transportation.
The Mern effectively ruled the seas, despite having nothing any human would recognize as government. The two-hundred-foot-long fish roamed the seventy percent of the planet covered by ocean. Contact with humans was most often with sailors. Otherwise there was little opportunity for any intermingling.
Avians, majestic birds with a twelve-foot wingspan, ruled the skies and ignored all queendoms’ borders in favor of whatever boundaries they themselves established between the various clans of winged people.
Either could travel far more quickly than anyone could on foot. And both had enough interaction with humans or Iceans to be aware of the crises. They said they could help. And they continued to say that while the humans frantically gathered supplies and tried to equip vehicles for icy travel.
Finally their message got to enough of the right people–powerful nobles–to get everyone to listen, especially after the deep blue birds as big as humans with powerful beaks curved for cracking the tyra nuts they favored began landing at various landbound palaces in the north. Mern congregated offshore at those castles on the coasts.
Finally, communications became efficient.
Schokol seemed to be the only local noble who understood the Iceans. Luckily, Queen Nelle had no such telepathic difficulty with the Winged People when they landed on an outside balcony then boldly hopped-walked into court.
Their chirps and trills filled the hall as they made their way to the queen, who listened intently–not so much with her ears, but with her mind. “Thank you. Yes, I understand. Thank you for getting here and making us understand. Yes, we must all work together if we’re to accomplish this.”
Queen Nelle turned from the Avians and addressed her courtiers. “Starsong says he and his two companions can take three of us north well past the ice line.” She paused just a moment then her chin came up just a tad and she squared her shoulders. “We must not fail; we can not take half measures. I will go. So will Princess Indigo, as we are the strongest in the sixth sense. And Lady Schokol, we need you as well. You are the only one among us who can talk to the Iceans.”
Schokol nodded, but she felt Scarl’s hands on her shoulders tighten in mute protest.
Queen Nelle continued. “Princess Inaar will act as regent in our absence. We will keep everyone apprised of our progress. All those heading north will. And we’ll leave within the hour. The Avians are already setting up stop points along the way. We can take on what new supplies we need, and other Avians will transport us so we can travel virtually without stopping.”
As the Avians left the way they’d come, the queen withdrew to a private office, saying Princess Indigo and Schokol should come with her.
Queen Nelle sat down heavily, causing the high-backed richly upholstered chair to bump the wood-paneled wall. “They’ll push as far into the arctic as they can, but they can’t survive there that much better than we can. The Iceans will meet us there and guide us the rest of the way. One of us should be enough to do what the Iceans describe, but we certainly can’t afford to take any chances. Better to send more.”
“Thank goodness it’s summer,” Indigo said. “We’d never make it in winter. We don’t even go outside at this latitude because of the cold. And it would be constant night.”
“The Iceans can’t survive the winter climate at the pole either. They move south for warmth and light.” Schokol had gleaned that from subsequent communications with them.
“So how will we survive the trip?” Indigo asked. “The Iceans may find it perfectly comfortable, but we won’t last an hour in those temperatures.”
“They can help us. They have ways of protecting themselves from the elements. They need to in winter, and their young require slightly warmer temperatures when they’re small.”
Indigo still looked unconvinced. “How do they expect us to cover the distance? We can’t bear the cold like they can. We’re only two-thirds their height. Do they think we’ll be able to keep up?”
“They have a system of roads, and often travel by sailsled. That’s how we’ll be able to get around,” Schokol said. “They’re making sure everything will be ready for us.”
# # #
Wrapped in a half dozen layers of clothing, Schokol still felt the biting cold. But gazing out over the pristine expanse of white, she found she didn’t care. The breathtakingly beautiful site was worth the days’ long journey. Even if the frigid temperatures were likely more responsible for taking her breath than the view was.
The flight with the Avians had taught Schokol that she was deathly afraid of heights, so she had spent most of the time in the air with her eyes pressed tightly shut. Despite the sub-freezing environment, she’d far preferred streaking across the tundra in the enclosed sailsled which the Iceans heated for them with rocks taken from blazing fires. The red-hot stones didn’t quite raise the temperature above freezing, but compared to the open air, it felt downright balmy.
And now Schokol, along with Queen Nelle and Princess Indigo, stood on the snow swept plain that seemed to go on forever. Thin material covering their eyes protected them from both the temperature, and snow glare from the sun blazing in the cloudless cerulean sky. Two of their Icean escorts stood with them, so tall it made Schokol feel like a child.
“This is the place?” Schokol asked, just to confirm there was no misunderstanding.
“Yes, here.” The Icean pointed to a spot a little ways in front of the group. The words sounded odd coming from her mouth, understandable yet pronounced not quite correctly. “You make volcano, at the time, then we leave before we burn.”
All they had to do was wait until the other two dozen groups were ready. Otherwise, unless the geological pressure was released simultaneously at all the sites, all they would do would be awaken the supervolcano that much sooner with a slightly different epicenter. Two of the teams had been feared lost, then had resumed contact.
A third team had been lost, drowned by a sudden severe squall at sea. The closest two groups to that assigned destination had compensated by sending a person from each of their parties so every pressure point was still covered.
For the moment, all Schokol and the others could do was wait until everyone else was ready as well. Hours dragged on long after they had to retreat to the warmth of the sailsled, where they could shed the outermost garments.
Princess Indigo began muttering, “I hate waiting,” at regular intervals. Queen Nelle at first made sympathetic noises, and now ignored her and attempted to nap. Schokol conversed telepathically with Scarl, who remained at the palace until her return which she hoped was imminent. The Iceans, perfectly comfortable in the arctic, didn’t bother to take cover with us.
Schokol lost all track of time so had no idea how long it was before they psychically “heard” the contact. Everyone had reached her destination. They were now in place. The others in Schokol’s group sensed the message as well. Princess Indigo was out of the small cabin in a flash. Queen Nelle came awake instantly. She gestured for Schokol to go next, then followed the two younger women out onto the snow.
The sun hung low in the sky, grazing the horizon and casting a blue glow over the world. There it would remain until morning when it began its next day’s ascent. The Iceans drew near as the women piled back out.
“Now?” the one asked.
“Now,” Schokol replied, squelching fear and elation. This simply had to work. Yes they’d be awakening a volcano practically under their own feet, but they had no choice. They had to succeed. All of them did. Schokol welcomed the Icean’s telepathy.
Diving beneath a mile of snow, then through strata of rock. Sinking further and further into the planet’s crust. Reaching a vast body of magma, molten rock roiling and burning for hundreds of miles. Intense pressure. The crust here is solid. There is no fissure or fault line. That is the problem. One needs to be created.
Schokol concentrated as she seldom had before, envisioning the lava surging upward at this location, seeing–urging–cracks to form in the rock layers below. She sensed Queen Nelle’s and Princess Indigo’s efforts join with my own.
Fingers of liquid stone began reaching upward as the solid barrier gave way under the joined assault. Fingers became streams became rivers still miles and miles and miles below them. Then it hit some softer layers and made a mighty surge upward, but still far below the surface. The trio continued pulling it from the depths.
“We must hurry,” Queen Nelle said. “Some of the other teams are ahead of us.”
The queen had obviously sensed a message Schokol hadn’t. She redoubled her efforts. Solid rock continued to part, or melt. Upward pressure, now sensing an outlet, helped their cause.
The magma broke through the final layers of rock and hit ice. Its progress accelerated.
The sailsled speeding away, skimming recklessly over snow and ice.
“We need to go NOW,” Schokol told the others, the Icean’s warning clear to her. They maintained their efforts even as they clambered into the vehicle and felt it leap to life around them as they raced away from the impending eruption. Schokol thought she felt tremors even through the motion of the sled.
Fissures forming, steam jetting skyward, then mighty geysers fountaining forth. Liquid rock, red and orange, arcs high into the air. Another volcano bubbles to life. Another explodes forth. Some under the ocean, some against a backdrop of glacier-covered mountains. A ring of fire is born in the land of ice. Gradually, ever so gradually, in the center of the circle, pressure decreases. Land settles almost imperceptibly. Great stress abates.
“We did it!” Schokol said, and heard her own voice tremble with emotion. Overcome, she shouted, “We did it! It worked!” She found herself suddenly embraced by the queen and princess.
Then, even through the euphoria, she made sure to shield her mind as strongly as she could. Even through the psychic barriers, she could sense the news racing around the planet, a cascade of pure joy gushing southward. Schokol tried to include the Iceans in the celebration as well.
A great domed hall, full of hundreds of humans. Jewels and precious metals decorate its roof like the night sky. Several Iceans appear among the humans. A section of the room dissolves into water, and mern appear as well. In another section, the chairs morph into perches. Avians appear on the perches.
Thoroughly confused, Schokol blinks and shakes her head. This isn’t one of their two guides, but rather the “voice” that had first contacted her. She recognized the Great Hall of the World Council, although she herself had never made the trip to Cloudsrest, the city in the Queendom of Himmel in the heart of the Empire of Bergcrest. But there were no Avians there. And certainly no ocean in the middle of the mountain range that spanned two thirds of the Northern Continent, so the mern had no way of being there.
Of course! Realization dawned, and Schokol felt like a total idiot for not having instantly understood the message.
“Your Majesty, I don’t think the Iceans are quite done,” Schokol said. “I just got another message from them. A request, or a suggestion. Well, a rather strong suggestion. They know as well as we do how close we came to failing. And part of it was a lack of communication, among us, them, and the mern and the avians. They think we should change our world council. Well, our so-called world council, as they think of it.”
Queen Nelle instantly followed Schokol’s train of thought. “We make it a true World Council. Include all four races.”
“That’s right, Ma’am.”
“We’ll need to move it. There’s no way to accommodate the mern in Himmel. But yes, we need to do that. And we need to act now, while everyone clearly remembers what just happened.”
“I think everyone will agree.” Schokol settled back for the long trip back home.
They’d done it. They’d truly done it. Part of her still couldn’t believe the magnitude of what they’d accomplished. Working together, they’d saved the entire world. It had happened once before in Mimion’s history, after which the races had gone their separate ways again. Now was the time to ensure the separation was never again as great. And Schokol looked forward to seeing what happened next.