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Presumably after getting a bit of sleep that night - fitful, no doubt – the Master Detective started off for home. But despite being only late fall yet, he started his drive into the beginning of an unusually turbulent ice storm. As the weather forecaster on the radio warned people across the whole of Britain to stay indoors and prepare for “a bloody cold one,” the blustering snow made visibility near-zero and driving hazardous at best, forcing Darnell to pull over at the next sign of civilization in this wide stretch of open country. Unfortunately, he’d stopped at a vacation resort town that was already closed for the winter. The town’s unfortunate name, Dire Grove, didn’t bring much comfort either.

Judging by the blinking hazards of a car just ahead of his, he wasn’t the only one here. In the car, he found a damaged, handheld video recorder, the tape looking like something from The Blair Witch Project as a frightened young woman, an archeology student named Allison, hoped that someone would find the recording and help her and her friends, stating, “The legend is real. SHE is real!” The tape cut off with the woman screaming as whatever she felt was after her seemed to find and attack her.

With the temperature continuing to drop and the wind and snow blowing relentlessly, Darnell made his way to the nearest structure, a historic inn whose open front doors swung freely with the blustering wind. Inside, he found a camp in the parlor, proving the presence of four other people – Allison and her friends. As the Master Detective made his way around the small town and nearby structures, he found Allison’s friends . . . each one frozen solid but somehow still alive in some kind of suspended animation, each clutching a carved stone artifact of ancient Celtic origin. Each time Darnell solved the puzzle on the face of an artifact, gaining a mystical gem in the process, the student would briefly animate, repeating a cryptic phrase over and over again – “I am the Fisherman,” “I am the Blacksmith,” and “I am the Hunter.” The latter also clutched a walkie-talkie on her frozen hand, and Darnell listened to the distressed voice of Allison calling for her friend. Unfortunately, the walkie-talkie seemed to be broken, only working one-way – Allison showed no sign of being able to hear as Darnell tried to talk back to her. He knew he needed to locate her, and fast. In very real danger of freezing to death himself, Darnell soldiered on through the biting cold and ever-piling snow.

Via various letters, newspaper clippings, and more videotapes (which Allison had deliberately scattered in the hopes that at least one would be found), Darnell began to piece together the story behind what was going on in Dire Grove. A local legend from the ancient Celts told of the Banshee, or the Ice Lady. Four villagers – a fisherman, a farmer, a hunter, and a blacksmith – had performed a ritual intending to commune with dead loved ones, but they opened a portal the realm of the dead itself, a frozen wasteland that quickly threatened the living world. Desperate to close the portal, they sacrificed an unwilling young woman, shoving her through the portal, forever locked away in the land of the dead. She became the Ice Lady, a wrathful spirit bent on returning to the land of the living and exacting her revenge by making the whole world feel her frigid suffering. All of this was believed no more than myth until an artifact – like the ones Darnell had found in the hands of the university students - was recently discovered during an archeological dig at a Celtic burial site.

Darnell finally located Allison in the attic of a farmhouse collapsing under the weight of the ice piling on every surface. Unfortunately, he was too late – she’d been frozen to the ceiling, a matching artifact in her hands. When he solved the puzzle on its face, she too chanted. “I am the Farmer. I am the Farmer.” Darnell wondered why they’d all been possessed and he hadn’t. Granted, the students seemed to have been forced into mockeries of the four perpetrators of the legend, but still . . . aside from the icy winds that cut at him and the dropping temperature that threatened to steal all feeling from his limbs, he’d not experienced anything particularly supernatural. Had he been spared for a reason?

With nowhere else left to search, Darnell set out to locate the burial site. When he did, he realized that it was in fact the source of the ice storm threatening not only Dire Grove but most of England, and possibly even farther for all he knew. And if the artifacts were ever brought together, they’d open the portal, and the Ice Lady would bury the entire world under deep, unrelenting winter. Bracing next to a cairn against the cutting winds, he discovered and solved a mystical puzzle that required the gems he’d received from the stone artifacts. It opened a tunnel deep into the earth, the sudden icy gale rushing from it nearly knocking him from his feet. He worked his way in but found he’d need a ladder to get the lowest level, where the wind was coming from. He returned to the farmhouse for the one he’d used to get up to Allison only to find it – and her – gone. His heart sinking faster than the dropping temperature, he raced back to the burial site only for his suspicions to be confirmed when he found the ladder already in place and heard chanting from deeper in the cavern. The Ice Lady had spared him knowing that he’d play his part, opening the way for the possessed students to bring her the artifacts!

He got down the ladder too late to stop the ritual, watching in horror as one by one they dropped their artifacts into a glowing hole in the ground and a bright white light flashed into existence, crackling with power. Everything in Darnell told him to run, but he knew that he had to find a way to stop the Ice Lady from destroying the entire world, so he screwed up the last of his courage, closed his eyes, and passed through the portal. On the other side, he found the tattered, skeletal remains of the young woman who’d been trapped in here two thousand years ago, her fury beating at him in the clawing cold of a room made entirely of ice. Around her stood five altars in alcoves, each with mysterious runes carved on the fronts. Thankfully, Darnell had found an alphabet in Allison’s suitcase and was able to decipher the writing. He also knew, from one of the video tapes, that it would take the power of the four elements – Earth, Air, Fire, and Water – to forge a new barrier on the Ice Lady for good, as well as a fifth element the Celts called the Silver Soul. From the riddle on the altar, Darnell figured out that they were referring to mercury. Thankfully, over the course of several years now of working cases, he’d taken to picking up and carrying a variety of random items he came across during an investigation, trusting his detective’s instincts when they told him that he hold onto something, that it might come in handy later. Thus, he already had on hand everything he needed for the altars. He successfully sealed the portal, freeing the students from possession and England from deep freeze.

Darnell, Allison, and her friends returned to London where a short time later, Allison gave her presentation on the legend – and reality – of Dire Grove to a packed house. She’d mentioned the individual who had saved her and her friends but not by name, politely deflecting when she was asked during the Q&A afterwards. Darnell was thankful, as he’d asked to remain anonymous in the incident. 

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Special Agent Darnell Barrett, Master Detective

August 2017

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