The Ice Ghost

The Ice Ghost

by Kathleen O'Neal Gear
The Ice Ghost

The Ice Ghost

by Kathleen O'Neal Gear

Hardcover

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Overview

This second book in a cli-fi series from a nationally-recognized anthropologist explores a frozen future where archaic species struggle to survive an apocalyptic Ice Age

In the brutal Ice Age caused by the ancient Jemen war, many archaic human species, including Denisovans and Homo erectus, hover on the verge of extinction. There seems no way out, until the greatest Neandertal holy man, Trogon, has a vision. Legends say the truce that ended the old war left one hostage in the hands of the victorious rebels: the godlike Jemen leader known as the Old Woman of the Mountain. According to Trogon’s vision, only one person knows the location of that burial cave. Trogon must capture young Quiller and force her to lead him there…for the Old Woman may not be dead. She may only have been in stasis for a thousand summers, and when reawakened she will save them from oblivion.

But according to the Denisovans—Quiller’s people—Trogon is the most powerful witch alive. He’s up to something evil that will surely spell their destruction. He must be stopped before it’s too late.

Quiller’s best friend Lynx must brave towering glaciers, dire wolves, and prides of giant lions to save her and stop Trogon.


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780756415860
Publisher: Astra Publishing House
Publication date: 05/17/2022
Series: The Rewilding Reports , #2
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 257,980
Product dimensions: 5.80(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Kathleen O'Neal Gear is a nationally award-winning archaeologist who has been honored by the United States Congress. She is also a New York Times bestselling author with 48 books and over 200 non-fiction articles in print.

Read an Excerpt

1

 

LYNX

 

923 Summers After the Zyme

 

Mother Ocean is high again tonight, with an icy flush of wind.

 

I crouch in the doorway of our dome-shaped lodge and tie back the flap. Constructed of upright mammoth rib bones covered with bison hides, the lodge is around thirty hand-lengths across. A fire burns in the middle of the floor. On the other side of the fire, Elder Arakie lies beneath a mound of muskoxen hides with Xeno, the wolf, beside him. The wolf watches me with half-lidded eyes. Arakie hasn't moved since midday. He may still be alive. I don't know. Every morning I wake expecting to find that he has died and left to travel the Road of Light that paints a swath across the night sky. Arakie calls it the Milky Way galaxy. My people believe it is the road that all souls must travel to reach the afterlife in the sky.

 

Quietly, I sit down in the doorway to watch evening settle over the beach. It's one of those unearthly beautiful nights-mastodons trumpeting high up in the mountains, monstrous icebergs gliding ghostlike through the pale green zyme light-so beautiful it seems not to be of this world.

 

I have escaped to this barren seashore with a few books, a strange wolf, and a dying old man. Though Elder Arakie says I'm a fool to think this is an escape. He says I'm lost and running from myself.

 

Very well, then, if you wish to put it that way, I have run here in the hopes of finding myself.

 

For a few blessed moments, I appreciate the endless, luminous hills of zyme that ride the waves as they roll toward shore. In places the hills of bioluminescent algae have grown so enormous they've toppled over one another and resemble hunched monsters five times the height of a man. Their green glow intensifies with the darkness, and the air fills with a pungent scent.

 

My people, the Sealion People, have many stories about the world before the zyme covered the oceans; it was a time of warmth when the world was filled with flowering trees and long-gone animals like coyotes and Cymric cats. Our elders repeat the stories over and over around winter campfires to teach the children about the Beginning Time before our creators, the Blessed Jemen, sailed to the campfires of the dead in ships made of meteorites. After the zyme, the Ice Giants were born. My people believe, as I once did, that they are alive and have voices that speak to our greatest shamans. Because of Arakie's lessons, I know they are monstrous glaciers that are still creeping across the world, gobbling up the land that living creatures need to survive. Today, the rumbling Giants rise so high they seem to touch fingertips with Sister Moon. Their jagged blue peaks are cracked and broken, veined with black crevasses that drop down to the center of the earth where rivers of fire flow. When I gaze to the north and east, all I see is mountains of ice. A few small pine groves dot the slopes, and here and there lines of black boulders slither up the mountainsides. Otherwise, it's just a vista of broken blue ice. To the west, the green blanket of zyme rises and falls upon the waves. It's only closest to the shore, where cliffs of ice meet the ocean, that a thin strip of freezing water remains free of zyme.

 

Xeno rises and flops down again in the firelit lodge behind me. He seems to be anxiously awaiting Arakie's departure from this life. The wolf is so human, I sometimes think he is one of our legends made flesh-one of the Jemen who learned to change into an animal and could never change back. In his sleep, Arakie often reaches out for the wolf and softly calls, "Jorg?" Then his voice trails away with the words, "I know it's been hard . . ."

 

I ponder whether that it is the wolf's ancient human name, or if Arakie calls out for a long-dead loved one?

 

An agonizing moan escapes his lips, and I turn to look at my dying teacher.

 

I shouldn't have brought Arakie here. He didn't want to leave his cave high in the Ice Giant Mountains. But the truth is, I was starting to feel as if I would be crushed by the sheer weight of words and numbers. Over the past nineteen moons, I have learned so much from this strange old man and from the last quantum computer in the world: Quancee. But I don't understand a lot of it. I'm an archaic human, one of the last surviving species created by the Jemen for the sole purpose of testing a hypothesis: could archaic forms of humanity survive the crushing cold encompassing the earth? Our ancestors had survived many Ice Ages before. The last hope of the Jemen was that archaic humans, and other re-created Ice Age species, would manage to find a way.

 

My friend, Dr. John Arakie, was the world's foremost geneticist. He believed in us.

 

Arakie has been rushing to teach me everything he can, but reading and mathematics are hard for me, and what little I have comprehended stuns me. Because of Arakie, the deep heavens now stand before me full of shapes I do not recognize. Wide circles of eternal motions. Brilliance impossible to see with my eyes. Darkness expanding forever in all directions. Things that are simply incomprehensible. Truly, I seem to understand nothing, not even who . . . or what . . . I am. Denisovan.

 

Arakie exhales, and his breath frosts in the cold air.

 

As I study him, the mournful howling of dire wolves carries upon the wind. Xeno's ears prick and a low growl rumbles in his throat. The big packs worry him. Arakie tells me Xeno is the last of his kind, an ancient wolf born long before dire wolves began to trot the glaciers like lords of the ice. I try to imagine how it must feel to be the last of his kind. There are times when Xeno points his nose at the sky and howls long and hard, then he listens for a response that never comes, hangs his head, and moves on. He never seems to lose hope that one day another of his kind will answer his call.

 

I reach for the ptarmigan I hunted this afternoon. When Arakie wakes, he'll be hungry.

 

Xeno lifts his head and gives me a feral accusatory stare, as though demanding to know what took me so long to start supper.

 

Quietly, I tiptoe across the lodge, skewer the bird on a spear of driftwood, and prop it over the flames to cook.

 

Arakie's voice is soft. "Everything all right?"

 

"Yes. We're safe. Go back to sleep."

 

He weakly pulls down the muskoxen hides to peer at me. His skeletal face is tight and pained, the paleness softened by the firelight. Thin white hair hangs over his sunken cheeks. "Worried . . . about your family?"

 

"We haven't heard any news in over two moons. Why have the runners stopped coming? My best friend, Quiller, used to come-"

 

"It's . . . cold, Lynx. No one . . . wants to travel."

 

"Or maybe the last Sealion People are running for their lives. The Rust People have hunted us down for generations. After the peace agreement fell apart, they must have started hunting my people down again."

 

His breath rattles when he says, "You're all warlike. . . . Thought it would help you."

 

"Sealion People are not warlike," I object.

 

Arakie just smiles, and it occurs to me that the last fight between Sealion People and Rust People was, in fact, started by Sealion People. In retaliation the Rust People slaughtered most of my village. I don't want to believe we are to blame for violence that has lasted centuries, but maybe he's right.

 

Arakie sighs. "You believe . . . in peace. So glad. If no one believes . . . peace . . . impossible."

 

Kneeling before the fire, I add more wood, building it up until flames leap and crackle beneath the ptarmigan.

 

"The last runner said there were only forty-five Sealion People left in the world. If the latest negotiations failed, over one thousand Rust warriors could have surrounded them in a heartbeat. There may be no Sealion People left. Except me." I pause to think about the Rust People, Neandertals, before adding, "You once told me that in the end one species would prevail. What if-"

 

"Just life, Lynx." He desperately sucks in a breath, struggling for enough air to say, "Species . . . go extinct. Others rise. At least . . . I . . . I hope they will."

 

His eyes fall closed.

 

Arakie tells me that he is probably the last modern human. Over the long centuries, I suspect that like Xeno he, too, has cried out again and again, praying another human voice from his long-lost people would answer, and, hearing none, hung his head and moved on.

 

"Sorry, didn't mean to sound sharp," I whisper. "I'm just worried."

 

"I know."

 

Reaching over, I quietly pull the hide up over his shoulder to keep him warm.

 

When he drifts back to sleep, I return to sit in the doorway and watch the beach trail while the ptarmigan cooks. As the darkness intensifies, the zyme fills the world with green light. Most of the campfires of the dead vanish in the onslaught, but I see two Jemen sailing through the sky in their ships of light. Arakie tells me they are empty, just satellites. He says a treasure trove exists in the sky if we could ever get to it.

 

Marvels of technology, they were placed in orbit during the great war to facilitate attacks . . .

 

My Sealion elders speak of that ancient war around the winter campfires. It occurred in the Beginning Time when the Jemen split in two. The leader of the Jemen-the Old Woman of the Mountain-ordered most of the Jemen to sail to the campfires of the dead. They became the Sky Jemen. But a handful of heroes willingly sacrificed themselves to remain in our world. We know them as the Earthbound Jemen. These heroes carved out a great hollow in the heart of the glaciers, a place where they hid cages of animals and plants, and vowed to continue their search to find a way to kill the Ice Giants. One day, when they've won the war with the Giants, they will release the animals and plants into a warm and beautiful world.

 

The precious books Arakie keeps in Quancee's cave, called the Rewilding Reports, are legendary among Sealion and Rust Peoples. The strange half-people, the Dog Soldiers, who travel with the Rust People, even claim to own one volume. I have read the few reports in Arakie's collection over and over. They document that there were many such caverns of animals around the world. I pray one survived.

 

The Rewilding Reports have taught me that Sealion legends are filled with fragments of the truth. Arakie has been trying to help me pull out the threads of fact and reassemble them, but his memory has been fading by the day. I fear that some of what he tells me these days is just as fanciful as our legends. Do I really believe that he created a genetic adaptation that allowed the Earthbound Jemen to change into animals so they could survive alongside the giant predators that fill the world? Arakie says that when he was stronger, he could change into a lion, or send his thoughts into the minds of animals. I have not seen him do it, though I have seen strange things that suggest he can: lion tracks that turn into human footprints and lead directly to a place where he sits. He also says I am one of the last people who carries a gene that allows me to bond with Quancee, and claims there are even a handful of people left who carry the Jemen's genetic ability to send their thoughts into the minds of people far away.

 

Despite my doubts, the Rewilding Reports do document the scientific efforts to achieve these miracles. For the most part, all I see in the books are diagrams of pentagons and hexagons. The building blocks of life, Arakie says. Incomprehensible to me.

 

I hang my head and wonder what I will do when he dies. When my teacher lies frozen and alone beneath the ancient stones of the mountains, how will I ever grasp anything without him?

 

A big wave rolls tufts of zyme across the shore. As the wave retreats, the tufts shine with an emerald fire.

 

I need time to sort through my melancholy.

 

2

 

QUILLER

 

Utter blackness, so black it shimmers as though filled with silver dust. One more step, feel for the ice wall, brace my shaking legs, listen to the dark underworld groan.

 

I don't know how long I've been wandering in this honeycomb of caves, but I feel as if I'm floating, not really connected to anything solid. Just black air. That's what I'm becoming.

 

"Keep going. You're a warrior. The way out isn't far ahead."

 

Is it?

 

Hard to . . . to think. Has it been four days? Ten? The bundle of torches I carried ran out long ago, along with my food, and darkness has smoothed the edges of time, leaving me suspended in an emptiness broken only by the rumbling and quaking of the Ice Giants who smother the mountains above me.

 

With the toes of my mammoth leather boots, I feel for the undulations in the floor and carefully move forward.

 

The tunnel curves here. Warm air flows over me, coming from my left. Do I remember this adjacent tunnel? Must have a hot spring in it. The air smells of sulfur. Is this the hot spring close to the cave where my friends hide? Should I turn down this tunnel? No, no. It's just another passageway in the labyrinth. Don't get distracted. Walk straight. Don't explore any side tunnel, or you'll be lost forever in this womb of whispering Ice Giant voices.

 

With my hand against the freezing ice wall, I walk three more steps. Another three.

 

Just ahead of me, sparks pour into the gloom and crawl across the floor. What is that? A serpent of sparks, twining and coiling. Hissing. Everywhere that frightening hissing. Then I realize the sound is the rattling of the spears I carry in the quiver over my left shoulder.

 

When I blink, the sparks vanish, but I begin to see a rounded shape, a lighter darkness. My nostrils quiver at the mingled scents of blood and sweat, and I hear a low growl that I know as well as my own voice. Crow. My big black dog.

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