An El Goonish Shive Fanfiction, all characters are © Dan Shive, 2008
written by Ineluki
Chapter 1 – A Hell, Frozen Over
"Bye, Ellen! See you Monday!" Grace shut the car door and hurried towards her house. They were late this Friday and Tedd would be home soon. She wanted to be ready to greet him for the weekend.
She had only made two steps towards the front door, however, as it swung open, and Tedd fell through backwards. He slammed hard onto the door steps, but immediately tried standing back up and crawling away from the door.
"Tedd," Grace yelled in fear due to the sudden knowledge that something was terribly wrong here.
She subconsciously noticed the car brakes as Ellen apparently caught on to the scene and stopped.
With two long strides, Grace was next to her beloved and moved to pick him up.
Tedd seemed only half conscious now. He made some week protective movements and whispered something she couldn't understand. He had several bad bruises on his head, the one on his forehead bleeding badly.
"Grace? Tedd! What's going on here?" Ellen hurried towards them.
"I don't know! He just fell through the door and..:"
Ellen pushed past her towards the front door, looking for possible dangers.
"No," Tedd gasped weakly.
"Tedd! Don't speak, you're hurt," Grace tried to comfort him, while heaving him half into her arms.
"Don't... no... run," he coughed.
"But we... Ellen!" Grace yelled, suddenly realizing, that Ellen might do something very stupid entering the house now. "Ellen, come back here!" she cried, close to panic.
"Grace," Tedd feebly tried to gain her attention. "We have to..."
A dull bang came from inside the house, just as Ellen appeared back on the doorstep. Grace saw her twirling around again, dropping into a defensive crouch.
It didn't help her in the least.
Grace didn't have the words to describe what she saw the next moment. The whole house seemed to bend inwards for a split second, then reverse its momentum outward. The blast wave came simultaneously.
She could only watch helplessly, as the shock wave of distorted air ripped right through Ellen – her outline suddenly seemed to bulge and bend – and onwards toward her and Tedd, who were still cowering at the bottom of the front door step.
Then her world dissolved into the stinging light of a thousand suns.
Severe cold awakened him rudely. His lungs seemed to burn with frostiness, his skin crawl with ice crystals. Abruptly, Tedd jerked his head upwards – and instantly wished he hadn't done so, for the dull throbbing in his forehead instantly exploded into burning agony. But he couldn't stop. His body told him with all effort that he was freezing. Adrenalin was pumping through his veins. If he didn't get up now, he'd never do so again.
But even opening his eyes was hard. No, just for the first time, he realized.
Something had incrusted his lids. He wiped over it with the back of his hand and saw that it was dried blood.
Now just what the hell was going on here?
Slow and steadily he heaved his head up enough so he could take a look at his surroundings.
The floor he was lying on consisted of big, carved blocks of rock, which were covered by a thin layer of ice, with only a few gaps in its fair surface.
A few meters further lay another figure on the floor.
"Grace," Tedd whispered, fear striking into in his heart like a cold needle.
He yanked himself up on hands and knees and scurried over to her motionless body.
"Oh please, please, please, let her be okay," he prayed absentmindedly to whatever gods might be listening.
It took him some effort with his frozen limbs to turn her around and pull her close.
Her breath was faint, but it was there. A surge of relief rolled through Tedd. She was alive.
But there was no telling how long they would both stay alive in this harsh environment.
"C'mon, sweetie, wake up," he whispered, patted her cheeks and blew his warm breath upon her blue-turning lips. "Time to get up."
Grace stirred. Slowly at first but Tedd was persistent and finally she opened her eyes.
"Shhh, keep your mouth closed for now, it's too cold," he advised her. Then, as an
afterthought: "Maybe you should take on a form that has fur."
"Mmmm," she nodded and gladly heeded his advice. "Much better," she assessed seconds later, with the thick winter fur of a squirrel protecting her.
"Good, now let's get up and look for a shelter."
"Where are we?"
"If only I..." Tedd began, but the rest of his thought got blown away like a leaf in the wind, as he stood up and could – for the first time – take a real good look around.
They had been close to a ledge and now that he could see beyond it, the view was simply breathtaking.
If this was hell, then hell had in fact frozen over. For ice and snow covered everything Tedd could see. The only hues were shades of blue and crystalline white. There seemed to be no life whatsoever, only frost and stone.
In front of them loomed what could only be called an abyss – a valley so deep that he had trouble making out the bottom. Other stone platforms – roofs he suspected – were built on a steep slope. And beyond that precipice: mountains, as high and majestic as he couldn't have imagined them.
"What is this place?" he heard Grace whisper fearfully. Tedd knew he wasn't the only one who felt like a small bug in a world made for giants.
Slowly he looked around. The hillside continued above them, but something at the back of the roof they stood on caught his attention. Something had moved over there.
He guided Grace's attention towards it.
Seconds later, they could make it out: "Ellen!"
Apparently wobbly on her legs, but still walking straight, their friend made her way towards them. Tedd and Grace let go of each other to help her.
"Ugh, what the hell, guys?" was her greeting to them. She shook her head in an attempt to clear it but her gaze still seemed somewhat blurry.
"You okay, Ellen?" Grace asked.
"I'm... fine. Whoa!" she exclaimed as she reached the front of the roof and took a look at their surroundings. "What is this place? And how the hell did we get here from the front door of your house, Tedd?"
"No idea," Tedd said. "But let's try and find a shelter. We're freezing out here." He looked around, desperately searching for a place to start looking. "There's..."
"The sky!" Grace suddenly cried.
All of their gazes shot upward.
"Feri usyug," Tedd murmured in uryuomoco, hardly able to process the view above them.
There was no sky – at least none in the sense that he had ever seen or heard about it. Above them loomed a thick blanket of clouds, looking as solid as the stone they stood on, but in perpetual motion, swelling and vanishing in an endless cycle. There seemed to be some kind of lightning inside of them, for the borders were constantly flashing, which amplified the effect of fluctuation even more.
But what instantly caught their gazes was the vortex.
It seemed like a giant tunnel in the clouds, a copy of the gaping abyss in front of them, ripping through the pall and the heavens itself. It wasn't motionless either, but slowly and steadily turning like an enormous maelstrom.
Tedd forgot for how long they stood there and watched the spectacle of the skies above them, but he finally snapped out of it, when the pain in his limbs overcame him again, pushing its way back into his mind and demanding undivided attention. To keep them from freezing to death where they stood Tedd roused his companions.
"C'mon, we gotta go," he jittered through his teeth.
It took some shaking to break the mesmerizing hold the view had over his friends, but finally they all marched off, huddled together closely to conserve warmth.
Since they only wore clothes fit for a much warmer climate and no coats, he and Ellen were running out of time here.
"Where should we start looking?" Ellen asked, looking around while hugging herself.
"I think I can make out a way off this roof over there," Tedd said and pointed to the right.
There were indeed some stairs carved into the rock, leading higher up the mountain, where other structures seemed to stand, barely visible in the mist.
"Wait, there's something on the floor!" Grace exclaimed.
She hurried off to grab it and returned with an inconspicuous black box, barely the size of her head.
The sight of this case suddenly brought back Tedd's memories in full force. How they came here, and what a terrible fool he had been.
"I'll take that. Now let's go," was all he said, for now was not the time to discuss these things. He could see Ellen biting back a question – though the cold troubled her nearly as much as him so she followed him up the stairs and into the mist.
"It works!" Tedd's exclamation was more a sigh of relief than anything.
He put down the small apparatus between them and held his hands over it.
Ellen was especially quick to join him in soaking in the warmth the generator emanated, while Grace was better protected by the fur coat her squirrel form provided her with.
"Mmmm, sorry I questioned you for taking apart that little box that brought us here," Ellen apologized.
"Never mind," Tedd wiped away their former argument with a hand gesture. "We couldn't use it to get home anyway. This way, at least we can survive the next hours."
"Only hours?" Grace, who was sitting next to Tedd, shielding him from the cold that came from outside, piped in.
"I won't lie to you," he explained grimly. "Our future looks bad. First of all, while I could potentially build this box back into its former state, we couldn't power it up. This small generator I built from it will last years, but would take equally long to charge the energy necessary to fire up this strange alien device that brought us here."
"Alien? You didn't mention that before?" Ellen declared.
"Oh, what does it matter? It was in this huge crate, addressed to my dad. But now that I took it apart it, most of it doesn't look like any piece of human or uryuom technology I've ever seen."
"Huge crate? I didn't even see that, when I took a quick look through the door."
"No? Well, must've blown up then when it threw me across the room," Tedd explained and winced slightly as Grace carefully brushed over the bruises on his head.
Ellen sighed. "You're right, it doesn't matter. Let's just focus on getting back."
"Well, here's the thing. We need energy. A lot of it. And we don't have much time, since we don't have any food. Water should be accessible, but this little generator won't keep us warm forever."
"Then we should explore these ruins. This building may be empty, but others may not be," Ellen said.
"Grace, are you warm enough to explore outside?" Tedd asked her.
"Sure, I'm more or less comfortable, here. I mixed the squirrel form with the winter coat of an arctic lynx," she explained.
"Where did you..." Ellen started to say.
"Don't ask," Tedd cut her short with a tiny smile. "Anyway Ellen, you might want to take a look at the inside of these buildings. We haven't been far in yet, there may be things on the lower levels."
"Right," Ellen nodded. "You'll be okay here, Tedd?"
"Not like I have much choice," he shrugged. "But I'm of best use staying here and analyzing more parts of this box. It will be tricky, since I don't want to shut it down again, or I'll freeze off my fingers, but I'll manage. You two don't go too far, though. I don't think anything lives here, but that impression could be deceiving."
Grace gave him a warm kiss before standing up, then the two girls set out to explore, while Tedd started to work his brain over the alien tech in front of him.
The interior of the building they found didn't really earn that name. Wherever Ellen went, somewhere daylight pierced through to the corridors and halls. While it was handy to not wander in the dark, that also meant that it was exactly as cold in here as outside. She brought her hands up in front of her face and breathed onto them, feeling the slight reflection of warmth on her face and congratulated herself over and over for picking the long-sleeve vest this morning.
If the circumstances were any different she would have enjoyed exploring these ruins immensely. The corridors she walked and the huge halls were a beautiful sight. The craftsmanship on every single stone were of intricate detail and the ice that covered everything added its own charm to the picture. However, the mental image of the three of them, lying dead in one of these corridors, covered with frost, was not one that Ellen could enjoy.
She entered another hall, the biggest she had found so far. Two great, cantilevered flights of stairs ran down from the balcony where she had come in to the ground below.
At least it's not slippery here, Ellen thought, though she had no idea why this ice wasn't as slick as it should be. But it made her progress far easier, especially since she picked up the pace on her tour to generate more warmth.
In the middle of the floor stood an altar of stone, akin to all the other furniture she had seen so far. Ellen went to examine it closer, but before she reached the tabular monolith, a change of light caught her eye.
The bars of light, that entered through the dome-like ceiling grew brighter, the contours of the shadows became clearer, their core seemingly deeper.
She twirled around and gazed through the rifts to the sky. Something was going on there. Suddenly the light brightened a hundredfold, and another thousand fold in the next second. With a cry of surprise Ellen could only shield her eyes and look away from the pillar of light that had suddenly pierced the sky. She tried to get back into a part of the room where no light reached, but before she did her second step, the ground shook violently. Just once, but it was once too often for her to keep her balance. She toppled down backwards, her head hitting the stony stair in front of the altar with great precision.
Grace was on her way back from one of the higher located structures, when she noticed the change of light. A quick glance to the maelstrom in the sky confirmed this. Some new light glowed in there. Slightly pulsating, but steadily gaining strength, it seemed to her. Something happened, and as she couldn't determine if it was good or bad for them, she felt she had better hurry up to tell Tedd about this new phenomenon.
The steep stairs were no problem for her squirrel sense of balance, but the spectacle in the sky was distractingly beautiful – yet it also felt dangerous however, like powers far, far beyond her comprehension. Powers that could crush a little squirrel-girl like her in the blink of an eye without even noticing.
She quickened her steps. The faster she got back to Tedd, the better.
But then the light steadily brightened. Slow at first but soon it had accumulated the intensity of a small sun. Mesmerized, Grace watched as a bright pillar of light shot out of the vortex. It was like of a comet of light, so bright that it stung her eyes, yet she just could not look away. As it made it's way down into the abyss, the bright pillar lost none of it's intensity. The blue trail behind it seemed to eradiate a cold that she could feel from hundreds of meters away and through her thick fur.
Then the meteor struck and the world around her seemed to shake in its foundation.
The ground below Grace seemed to jerk a full meter back and before she knew what happened she was falling free over the edge. It happened so abrupt that she needed a moment to realize her sudden predicament. But moments are rare if you are in free fall towards a deadly impact.
She had to levitate! Fly! But she needed her omega form to do that and morphing would take too much time. The ground below her just wasn't far enough away for that to be possible. But what could she do?! She was a squirrel! She had a bushy tail and claws to climb. All she needed was something to grab! Twisting and turning in mid air she desperately tried to get close enough to that damned rock wall to grab something, but she was still half an arm's length away. Too far! The ground came closer and closer. No! I don't want to die, it shot through her head, her heart hammering wildly. She didn't want to! Instinctively she tried pushing the ground away, like a child pushing something that offended it away with its arms.
Only that Grace had done that while subconsciously using her telekinesis.
For several seconds she hovered over the stone, before the thought that she still lived finally filtered through her panicked mind and registered.
She let go of her telekinetic push and dropped down, as gracefully as a squirrel hopping down from a branch.
Absentmindedly, she noticed how weak her legs were. This stunt had taken a lot out of her, but she lived! She lived! She wanted to laugh, to celebrate, to hug somebody, but all she could do was sit down and pant, waiting for her heart to stop racing.
For several minutes she didn't move or think except for listening to her own breathing, glad about the simple fact that she was still able to draw breath!
Then she started to survey her new situation. From the look of it, she was further down then when they had first arrived in this strange, arctic place. She had quite a bit of track in front of her to get back to her friends.
After taking a few more minutes to calm down, she took off. As on every roof, there was a stairway carved into the rock next to it. But it would prove kind of a problem to keep her directions here. This whole complex was of immense size and all those stairs that connected the outer parts where everything but lineal.
They twisted and bent, split up and merged with other paths all the way through the hillside. And those paths were never fully visible, but often hidden behind other structures or simply the stone they were carved into. Oh well, she would worry about that when she got there.
A few minutes climbing – on all fours, since it was so steep – later, her senses caught on to something new. A presence, she had not felt before. And looking back, she saw them. From the depths of the abyss where the meteor had struck, they rose into the air: Countless small lights burning in foul, seemingly toxic blue colors.
In a slow seesaw dance they ascended from the valley and spread out without an apparent pattern over the whole hillside.
Grace could not say why, but this spectacle of lights sent cold shivers down her spine. These vile colors, this mesmerizing dance, like a coiled snake rising, ready to strike...
Without another look back she resumed her climb.