When the Ice starts to hunt Eoin and Freya in the middle of the night their whole world is shattered. But why is the Ice after them, and how is the book Earth, Wind and Fire supposed to help?

This book was written in nine chapters over nine months during the year 2014-15. After each chapter, comments were invited from readers, and their ideas helped shape the next chapter. Huge thanks to all those who contributed their ideas! 
I would love to hear your opinion: please leave any more comments at the end of chapter nine.


Chapter One

"Wake up, wake up!"
In the brief instant between fast asleep and wide awake, Eoin knew that something was horribly wrong. His mum was shaking him in desperation, even though it was almost twilight-dark outside. "What..." was all he managed to say, but even that was drowned out by the rushing, rumbling sound from outside. His mum had already moved on, was already shaking his twin sister Freya awake and his dad was pulling pots and pans off the chest and heaving the lid open with a panic Eoin had never seen in him before.
Eoin stumbled to the window, the only window in their modest wooden shack. The valley was wrong, all wrong. The river, normally so placid and sleepy, was a roaring, raging torrent and there was a dark, tumbling mass growing in the valley ahead of him. It was a solid mass of water, a crashing tidal wave of water, and even as he saw it Eoin knew it was too late. He shouted out a warning – later on, he couldn't even remember what he'd said – and turned to grab his baby sister who was still, incredibly, asleep in her bed under the window.
The wave hit the hut with a force that would have shaken a mountain, and Eoin remembered little of what came next. The hut came apart in front of him. He was tumbling, spinning, his little sister Willow clinging tightly to his chest, the shock of the cold squeezing all the breath out of his body.
Then, abruptly, it was over. The water didn't flow away. It just stopped. The wall of water had stopped solid, and Eoin was still part of it, twisted at an angle and staring at some lopsided trees.
"Eoin!" His sister's voice, Freya's voice. She was suddenly right in front of him. "Eoin, are you okay?"
Her hands, scorching hands – her hands had always been so hot, but now they seemed hotter than ever – were tugging at him, and he found he could pull free of the ice. Waving his left arm he broke out, stumbled, and almost pitched over. Freya caught his shoulder, keeping him upright. "Eoin, what happened?"
He looked down at the bundle up against his chest. Willow looked back, big eyes, trusting eyes, not crying but scared. "I've got you safe, Willow,” he murmured. He turned back to Freya, but she was staring over his shoulder.
There was a wall behind him, a barrier of solid ice stretching away into the distance in both directions. Not a flat smooth wall, but a massive solid spear of a wall, a giant ice serpent that had slithered down the valley and eaten their house. The water had smashed through their lives and turned instantly to ice, the spume and froth of the raging river now frozen into its surface.
A loud thunk made them both jump. The valley was unnaturally quiet, the usual sound of running water now silenced, and the noise seemed to come from inside the ice itself.
There was another thunk, very close at hand, and a chunk of ice fell off the wall.
"Eoin? Freya? Can you hear me?" It was their dad's voice, and they both cried out to hear it. An eye appeared dimly, somewhere behind the chink in the ice wall, then they heard their dad's voice again, saying, "It's alright, Hope, they're all just fine. They've got Willow. They're safe."
Eoin was about to speak to him when the eye faded away and the wall shook under his blows again. Another small sliver fell off but no more.
Then they heard their mum's voice. "They're not safe, not safe at all. They've got to go, Frank. They've got to get out of here."
"I know," he said. "But this hole's not big enough."
"It'll fit," she said.
"Needs to be a bit wider," he grunted, still banging at the wall.
"It'll fit," she insisted. "Frank, they've got to go now."
"Eoin," called his dad. "Grab this."
Something came through the crack in the ice, fitting awkwardly through the gap, and Eoin grabbed it. It was a book, a slim dark volume covered in old, cracked leather. As he took it, he saw that his father's fingers were stretched out as far as they would go, and his heart sank. His dad was much farther away than he’d thought, and the ice was thick, much too thick to break through.
"How can we get through?" he said.
"You can't," said his dad gruffly. "You've got to get away from here. Take that book, it'll help. Hold on, your mum wants a word."
He disappeared from the hole in the wall.
"Eoin. Freya," came their mum's voice. "You've got to get away from here, sweeties. You're in great danger. The Ice has found you. I don't know how, but it's found you."
"The what?" said Freya, but their mum's voice continued.
"There's someone who can help. You're going to have to cross the lava fields. Find Father Tim. You know who I mean by Father Tim, don’t you?"
"But," said Eoin. "But, Mum, that's a fairy tale. Father Tim, the old man who lives in a volcano. You always said he wasn’t real."
"Eoin, you've got to find him," repeated his mother. "You can do it, sweetie. Look after your sisters."
A shrill cry from Freya almost made him drop the book. "The ice is moving! Eoin, get away from the wall!"
Like a miniature cave-in, chunks of ice started to break off around the hole.
"Mum! The hole! It's... It's closing up!"
Their mum's voice became fainter as the hole closed. "The Ice. It's coming. It knows about your powers. You've got to go now!"
"Powers? What powers? Mum?"
"Go, Eoin! We'll wait for you by the Steam Caves, where it’s safe. Stay away from..."
The hole had closed up, and he could no longer hear her voice. For a moment, he just stood there, dazed and confused. Willow, light as a feather, still snuggled up against his chest, held firmly by his right arm. He glanced down at the book in his other hand. The cover was embossed with the words 'Earth, Wind and Fire' in faded gold letters. That was all it said.
"Eoin!" cried Freya. "Come away!"
          Larger chunks were starting to fall now as Eoin scrabbled away. "We've got to get out of the valley," Freya said. Eoin grabbed her hand, so hot after the ice that he almost couldn't hold it, and they ran together up the bank, away from their parents, away from the smashed remains of their house, away from the ice serpent that was screeching and squealing as the ice started to grind against itself as it moved.
Small drumlins dotted the valley, and as they climbed up the nearest one they could see clear over the ice to a hillock on the other side. Their parents were there, hand in hand just like them, waving their children on urgently before they too hurried off out of sight.
Eoin and Freya didn't stop to think, just ran over the top of the hill and down the other side towards the trees.


Chapter Two

    Freya had always felt uneasy in the woods. Her twin Eoin loved playing games there, but Freya always felt strangely unwanted, as though the trees shied away from her, whispering secrets, and mostly she avoided that whole part of the valley.
    There was no avoiding it now, though. The jarring screeches of the moving ice faded a little once they ran in between the trees, but they didn't stop. The centre of the valley was full of the sound, a cacophony of tortured ice that sheared and grated against itself as it moved.
    They ran deep into the woods, brushing through the chest-high ferns that flickered out from the trees like green flames, jogging along familiar tracks and copses, until they reached the Hedgehogs' Ballroom. Eoin had often sneaked into the woods at night, and once he'd crept up to this clearing and seen a group of hedgehogs here, and he had sworn to Freya that they'd been dancing round the big rock in the middle. She never believed him, but from then on it had been known as the Hedgehogs' Ballroom, and the rock, which Eoin thought so comfortable to sit on that it might have been carved for him, had been called the throne rock. 
    Eoin stopped to take a breath, his right arm still wrapped around his baby sister Willow, who seemed to regard the whole experience with amused interest. In his left hand he held the cracked leather book his father had given him.
    Freya brushed Willow's hair out of her face. "Are you alright, sweetie?" she asked.
    Willow nodded mutely, and smiled.
    "Eoin, do you want me to take her?" she said, but Eoin shook his head.
    "You know she doesn't weigh anything, I'm fine," he said. "Freya, what's... I don't understand any of this. Why was Mum talking about powers?" He sat down on the throne rock.
    Freya frowned. "I don't know. I hoped you would. The only power I have is the power of speech. Let's have a look at that book." She bent down and took it from his hand.
    "Is it a map?" asked Eoin hopefully, but Freya didn't reply. She was leafing through the pages in disbelief. "Freya, what is it?" he asked.
    Freya held up the open book in front of his face. The pages were completely blank. "There's nothing in it," she frowned.
    Eoin shook his head. "Maybe at the beginning..." he started, but Freya interrupted.
    "It's empty," she said, flicking back to the beginning to show him that every single page was blank.
    "But Dad said the book would help," said Eoin faintly.
    Freya glanced around her at the unforgiving trees and shivered as she tossed the book back to him. "I don't like this place, Eoin. We can't stay here."
    Eoin open his mouth to reply but a loud shriek of ice stopped him. The sound from the valley had been slowly growing louder, almost imperceptibly, as they spoke. That doesn't make sense, thought Freya; if it's getting louder, that means...
    Then there was another sound, an irregular, crunching sound that at first they couldn't place.
    "Footsteps!" cried Freya suddenly. "Lots of them!"
    With a shock Eoin realised she was right - it was the sound of dozens of heavy feet crunching down the ferns as they marched through the forest. Coming towards them. Freya leant down and grabbed Eoin's wrist to pull him to his feet but he cried out in pain and snatched his arm away.
    "What? What is it?" she said.
    Eoin stared at his arm in confusion. A red hand-shaped mark was left on his wrist. "It burns," he said through gritted teeth. "Freya, your hands are hotter than ever."
    Over the screeching and the crunching there was a sudden crackling sound all around them. As they watched, the tips of the ferns turned white and froze.
    "The Ice!" cried Freya, reaching to grab Eoin again then abruptly stopping herself and beckoning instead. "Eoin, come on!"
    Eoin leapt up from the throne rock as the white ice raced in delicate patterns down the stems of the ferns, branching elegantly out along each frond until the plants hung heavy and defeated all round one side the Hedgehogs' Ballroom. He didn't have to think twice about which path to take, just pushed his way past where the ferns were still green and headed away from the sound, with Freya almost tripping over his heels.
    He'd taken less than twenty paces when he stopped. "The book!" he exclaimed. "Have you still got it?"
    Freya shook her head. "I gave it back to you in the Ballroom."
    Eoin scowled in frustration. "I haven't got it. We've got to go back for it," he said, but Freya shook her head.
    "There's nothing in the book," she said. "It's blank. Just leave it. Come on, Eoin."
    "Dad said it would help us," he said stubbornly. "Stay here with Willow." He dropped Willow gently to the ground and she stood there passively as Eoin darted back to the Hedgehogs' Ballroom.
    The walls of the Ballroom were now completely white. The sound of pounding feet was very loud, and if he'd stopped to think he never would have gone back in there, but Eoin just darted into the clearing, dashed over to the throne rock, and spotted the book which had fallen into the frozen wild grass at its side. He reached to grab it as something burst into the clearing. He lifted his head and barely had time to register it as it pounded across the clearing towards him. 
    It was huge, twice as big as Eoin. Two thick legs supported a barrel-shaped torso with a massive head shaped like a bull's; the whole beast was made out of dense white ice, refracting the pale daylight into a myriad blotches of light. It reminded Eoin of the minotaurs he had read about in books, but this one looked like it had half-melted and then refrozen, and its features were angular and badly formed. Its arms seemed to bend in slightly the wrong places and all the beast's joints screeched as it moved.
    Eoin grabbed the book and turned to run, but the iceotaur was surprisingly fast. It crossed the distance in three steps and clapped a massive claw around his upper arm. The claw instantly froze into a solid ring which Eoin strained against in vain. Behind his captor, he could see another iceotaur lumbering into the clearing, and then another appeared from the other side. 
    They all screeched as they moved, but the sound wasn't loud enough to drown out the scream from Freya as she dashed into the clearing. "Get off my brother!" she was yelling, and ran at the iceotaur holding Eoin's arm. She did the only thing she could think of, and went to grab hold of the massive arm, but as she tried to grasp it, it turned to water in her hands and the whole forearm broke away leaving little more than the ice ring around Eoin's arm.
    The iceotaur turned on her in anger, its left arm swinging round in a blow that would knock Freya into the trees. She held up her hands to defend herself and the iceotaur's arm liquified as it made contact with her, drenching her with water like a sudden spring shower. The armless iceotaur stared impotently at her out of two holes in its icy bull's head, and the other two beasts behind it stopped warily. 
    Eoin and Freya wasted no time but scrabbled out of the clearing. Willow was still standing calmly where they had left her and Eoin snatched her up without stopping, the book now clutched tightly in his other hand.
    "The Gasping Gorge," gasped Freya as she ran behind Eoin. "We've got to get out of the valley."
    "How did you do that?" called back Eoin, the ice ring still frozen tight around his arm. "How did you just... melt them like that?"
    "I have no idea," said Freya. "What's the quickest way to the Gorge?"
    "I was going to go round through the Hanging Pass," said Eoin. "It's much safer."
    "There's no time," said Freya. "We've got to get away from that... that Ice. It's coming after us."
    Eoin stopped running and looked at her for a heartbeat, as though he was going to argue. But he knew from long experience that there was no point arguing with Freya. Instead he nodded, thought for a moment, then turned and ran again, heading slightly off to the left, towards the Gasping Gorge.


Chapter Three

    Long ago a series of violent earthquakes wrenched at the hills that separated Eoin's and Freya's valley from the lava fields and left them cracked and broken, like marzipan that's been pulled and bent too far. Most of the cracks could be jumped over, or even stepped over, and in peaceful times Eoin and Freya had dropped many stones down the openings to hear them rattle away into the darkness below. 
    One of the fissures was much wider, though, wide enough that you would need to call out to speak to someone on the other side. Its sides dropped down sheer to the ground below, as deep as it was wide, as though a whole ribbon of land had slumped down into the earth. This was not the bottom, however; between one wall and this ledge was a deeper chasm, a split that fell away to darkness but stretched away on either side as far as the eye could see. Occasionally, on windy days, gasps of air would emanate from the darkness below, and although Eoin and Freya knew in their hearts that this was only a trick of the wind, they'd heard enough stories to shrink back from dropping stones down this particular crevasse.
    The Gasping Gorge cut through the hills diagonally from the south of the valley northwards into the lava fields and Eoin knew they would have to get across it or be caught by the Ice. There was, he knew, only one place to cross, and that was the nomad's bridge.
    The path up to the bridge was steep, and Eoin had tucked the book into his waistband to use his hand for balance. His left arm was still wrapped around Willow, who looked up into his face or round at the landscape with indifference. He could no longer hear the iceotaurs - in fact, he could no longer hear anything out of the ordinary. Dawn had broken and it suddenly occurred to Eoin that maybe with the daylight his nightmares had disappeared, blown away like the early morning mist. As the path he and Freya were following rose above the tree line he stopped and searched the valley below.
    There was nothing there. Nothing out of the ordinary. The spear of ice that had skewered their little hut was gone, and might never have been there if it weren't for the flooded fields on their side of the stream, the water dark and rippling over the land they'd walked across themselves not long before. There were no heavy footsteps, no frost-fingers creeping along the stems of the ferns that grew sparsely around the path. The danger seemed to have passed.
      Freya breathed a sigh of relief. "It's gone," she panted. "They're gone. We're safe."
    But Eoin was shaking his head. "The valley has flooded before," he said. "Do you remember the year it swamped our turnip crop? And we had to rummage about on our knees in the water trying to find the stalks to pull them up?"
     Freya shrugged. "Vaguely. So?"
    "So our turnip crop was over there." Eoin pointed to the far side of the valley. "It flooded there because that side's lower."
    Freya frowned. "But then why is the water...?" 
    Her eyes suddenly went wide as Eoin nodded. "That's not a flood. That's the Ice. Melted."
    They looked in horror at the floodwater which they could now see was moving, coursing across the land. Pouring uphill. Towards them.
     "But..." Freya stamped her foot, a mixture of frustration and despair. "But why?"
   "You melted the iceotaur," said Eoin. "You can't melt water. It's adapted. We've got to get to the Gorge more than ever."
    They tore their gaze away from the surging water and hurried back uphill, leaping the smaller fissures, almost tripping in their haste, until they could see the gorge ahead and the tall wooden posts that marked the nomad's bridge.
    They called it a bridge, but really it was little better than a rope ladder. Two strong ropes, each as thick as Eoin's wrist, spanned the gorge. The end of each rope was secured around a thick wooden post driven into the ground a short way back from the edge. Thin wooden planks were tied across the length of this double line, but there was no handrail, and although they'd both been across the bridge a few times before with their parents, they had always held their breath and stared fixedly at their feet, their hearts pounding, until they were safe on the other side.
    There was no time for nervousness now, though, and no room in their thoughts for fear of falling when Fear was surging upwards through the woods behind them, outpacing them, even now clearing the tree line and roiling upwards towards them, an incoming tide at a ghastly speed. The bridge would only take one at a time and Freya sprinted across at a speed she would never have even contemplated before this day. 
    The first three planks she trod on began smouldering, wisps of smoke leaking out of them as soon as her foot had cleared them. The fourth plank burst into flames, gentle blue flames in the shape of her foot. Smoke began to rise from the next planks as she sprang off them and by the time she was halfway across several of the planks were well on fire. Oblivious, she carried on to the other side while Eoin looked in horror at the burning bridge, his and Willow's only lifeline away from the meltwater.
    The water was almost up to him now, not a calm, forceful surge but a white furious rush, jets of foam leaping ahead as though the whole mass of water were fighting itself to get to him.
    There was no time for doubting. He turned and stepped onto the bridge, thinking only of getting across as quickly as possible before it gave way.
    The ropes parted on his very first step, and the plank he had stepped on plummeted down towards the darkness below. Wildly, he lurched forwards with his free right hand and caught one rope as it swung downwards, feeling it pulling him inwards for a fraction of a second before the rope took his weight and snapped clean away and he was falling uncontrollably towards the rocky ground below.
    The fall lasted only a few seconds, but to Eoin it seemed to take forever. He spun as he fell, and the sideways motion wrenched Willow loose from his grasp. Before he realised it she was gone beyond his reach and as he turned full circle and saw the rock rushing up towards his face, he thought only of Willow and how he had not managed to save her.
    The impact with the ground was not as he had imagined it. Instead of a hard, brutal shock, it felt like he'd been tossed onto a feather bed. The rock gave way gently, smoothly, bringing him delicately to a halt, and for a fraction of a second he didn't move because he was convinced that he was dead and therefore wouldn't be able to. As soon as the thought passed he scrambled heavily to his feet and looked around for Willow.
    He couldn't see her on the ground anywhere around him. He was at the very edge of the chasm, the sharp drop that led to nowhere at all and he refused to believe that she'd fallen down there. She couldn't have fallen down there.
    It was her voice, somewhere above him, and as he looked up she was there, still falling, slower than a snowflake, drifting downwards with all the rush of a turnip growing. She giggled, excited, and he reached out and collected her as she came past like catching a balloon.
    The relief washed through him and he felt his legs tremble, then remembered he was on the edge of a very long drop and tensed up again. He looked down at where he'd fallen, and there, carved in solid rock, was the perfect imprint of his fallen body, down to the minute detail of his face. If the rock were made of butter it wouldn't have left a more faithful image.
    Eoin was still staring at the impression he'd left in the rock when he became aware of Freya screaming his name. It took him a few seconds to find her, just a head and that mane of wild red hair sticking out over the edge of the gorge, high up above him.
     He waved to her. "We're fine!" he said. "Just fine!"
     But Freya was shouting something else and pointing back across the gorge.
     He turned to see the meltwater pouring over the edge of the gorge, a wild cascade jetting forwards and arcing gracefully downwards towards the abyss. He jumped backwards as the leading edge of the waterfall missed the ledge by inches and fell on down into the depths. Then the waterfall abruptly froze solid, and more water gushed down over the top of the newly frozen arch, now nearer to Eoin's feet. This water froze too and the next torrent poured down from above and dropped directly onto the edge of the ledge of ground and started to form a pool. Eoin leapt backwards as more and more water accumulated in the impression of his body, and suddenly the meltwater was there again, a moving body of water, advancing towards him.
     He turned and ran.
    The wall of the gorge ahead was sheer. There was no climbing that. He swerved left and pounded along the sunken ribbon of land, heading away from his valley. Freya was fine, he told himself, she would be watching, she would see why, but even so it was a wrench to feel he was running away from his twin sister.
    The ground here was full of sudden rises and hidden hollows, and he had to watch his step for fear of tripping or twisting his ankle. One fall and the meltwater would be upon them. Smaller fissures had opened up within this ribbon of land, and he jumped them, one after the other, faster and higher than ever before. He glanced behind, hoping these cracks would swallow up the meltwater, but it merely froze in layers until it had formed an ice bridge and surged onwards. He sprinted on, faster than ever, no care now for falling. The meltwater was flowing faster than he could run, and this was a race he suddenly knew he wouldn't win.
     A new chasm, larger than the others, as wide as his hut, opened up ahead of him so unexpectedly he barely had time to take one more leaping stride and launch himself across, knowing as he did that he had never jumped this far before and was very unlikely to make it, but for a brief moment he seemed to be floating, a fleeting moment of weightlessness before gravity took him back and brought him down to land on the far side of the chasm.
    The meltwater flowed out over the chasm behind him, forming ice as it went, but less than halfway across the ice ledge broke off and fell out of sight. More water poured out, instantly freezing, but again the ice broke and fell away.
     Abruptly the water surged to a halt. It was dense, dark water, an intense blue colour as though on the point of turning to ice. Eoin stared at it for a moment longer then wondered if it were looking back at him. The thought made him shudder, and he turned his back and jogged on down the ribbon of land.
   Ahead, the gorge widened. The chasm on the left continued straight, as though the land had been cleaved in two. The ribbon of land he was on stopped in a mass of boulders and a solid rock face, but there was a hole above the boulders that he could easily fit through. He could climb up there, he thought, but no higher.
    "Eoin!" came a voice, closer than before, and there was Freya, panting wildly, leaning over the edge above him again. She'd followed him stride for stride all the way along the gorge, leaning dangerously over the edge at times to keep her twin in sight. "Eoin, can you climb up here? It's not so smooth here, there are handholds."
    Eoin shook his head. "If I had two hands, maybe," he said. "But not with Willow." He pointed out the hole in the rock ahead. "We can make it into there. If that's what I think it is, it's our best bet out of here."
     Freya nodded. "Lava tubes. I thought so too. Eoin, we're already in the lava fields. I'm standing in the lava fields. Are you sure you can't make it up here?"
    When Eoin shook his head, she nodded, then swung her legs over the edge and started to grope her way down. It took her several minutes and a few nervous moments, but they were so happy to be reunited that they almost hugged. Eoin could feel the heat coming off of his twin as she came close and stepped back in alarm. "Freya..." he began, but she shook her head.
    "Not here. The Ice has been held up, but maybe not for long. We've got to keep moving."
    They climbed together up the boulders, through the hole and into the lava tubes.

    Back down the gorge, where the remains of the nomad's bridge still smouldered over a sheet of ice, there was a sudden cracking around the spot where Eoin had fallen. More cracks, a screeching of ice, and a figure raised itself up from the ground. Its back was flat, a smooth sheet of ice, but its front was the perfect recreation of Eoin.


Chapter Four

    Molten lava, coursing out of the nearby volcano, had forced its way through channels in the ground, then drained out to leave the lava tubes, long, narrow tunnels just below the surface. The molten lava was long gone, now, but Eoin had heard that the tubes riddled these lava fields like hollow roots of the volcano itself.
    There was no need to discuss which way to go. In one direction the lava tube ended abruptly with a drop into the chasm that Eoin had so nearly fallen into; the other way pointed straight towards the volcano itself, like a highway towards their destination. With luck, thought Eoin, with enough luck this tube will take us straight to the volcano.
    For quite a while it seemed as though their luck would hold. The lava tube ran almost straight. In many places the roof had collapsed, and the dawn light streaming in lit up the passage and let them pick their way through the fallen rocks with ease. Other parts were dark and uneven, and Eoin and Freya had to take great care not to crack their heads on rocks sticking out of the ceiling. Once Freya smacked her head into a stubby stalactite and a brief shower of sparks left them momentarily blinded and confused. But they kept pressing on, aware that the Ice was not far behind. They had thought once that the Ice had given up and abandoned the chase; they would not make that mistake again. There had been no sight or sound from the Ice since they had entered the lava tube, but Eoin was painfully aware that water could flow down this passage at a speed that would make a mockery of their own efforts, and kept one ear permanently cocked for the sound of rushing water. This was not made any easier by Willow, who had started to babble continually to herself and to Eoin. The words were only half-formed, as though she were speaking in code, but Eoin had no time to make sense of it today and kept trying to shush her, which only made her giggle.
    Once in a while they came to an opening where the roof had collapsed leaving a pile of boulders which Freya could hop up on and poke her head out into the fresh air above. The air outside was starting to heat up but the dawn chill had not yet left it and it made Freya shiver after the relative warmth below. Each time she checked to make sure they were still heading towards the volcano, but the lava tube seemed as determined to head towards the volcano as they were.
    Their luck finally ran out as they got close to the volcano. Small tributaries had been leading off more and more frequently, but they had been able to ignore these in favour of the main tube. Now, however, the passage started to slope upwards and it forked abruptly. Freya explored a little way down each path but there seemed to be no reason to choose one over the other. There was faint daylight ahead down each path but when they walked a little way down one of the paths it forked again into two smaller tubes, both angling upwards. They stood a while in indecision, aware that they couldn't afford to give the Ice any time to whittle away their precious head start.
    "Perhaps it doesn't matter which path we take," said Eoin. "We're at the foot of the mountain here. I expect all the paths head into it. They were all made by lava from the volcano, after all."
    Freya thought for a moment. "If the tubes get smaller and smaller, we're going to get stuck quite soon. And if the Ice catches up with us we wouldn't be able to run away. There must be a way through. Try the book again. You have still got it, haven't you?"
    Eoin pulled the book out of his waistband where he had wedged it earlier to keep his hand free. He placed Willow on the ground, and she immediately grabbed Freya's hand and snuggled into her leg.
    "No, Willow!" cried Eoin, "you'll burn your hand!" Willow looked up at him with big eyes but kept hold of Freya's hand, even though Eoin couldn't touch Freya's hand himself without getting burnt.
    "She doesn't seem to mind," said Freya, shrugging.
    Eoin turned his attention back to the book. He flipped through the pages, but they were still blank. Not a smudge or a mark to be seen anywhere, except for the words Earth, Wind and Fire stamped in gold on the front cover. He rubbed at the gold letters, tapped the book all over, then eventually bashed the book on a rock in disgust and frustration, but he only managed to break the spine of the book open. He threw it down on the ground.
    "It's no use, Freya," he said. "Maybe Dad meant it would help us as a doorstop or something. It's no use as a book."
    Freya bent down to look at it, Willow still wrapped around her leg. She didn't want to touch the book for fear of burning it like she had the bridge, but she could see something dull and metallic in the broken spine. "Eoin, look!" she cried. "Those are hinges, tiny hinges. You haven't broken the spine. You've opened it!"
    Eoin snatched up the book again, the hinged spine swinging loose, and as he did so the pages fell open in his hands. Not the way he expected them to open, though. The book fell open at the spine, the pages unfolding themselves from the back, the whole book spreading like an accordion between the two separate covers. On this side the pages were covered, not with words but with diagrams. Eoin flicked through them excitedly, but his excitement soon turned to frustration as he realised that he was no better off than before.
    "There!" exclaimed Freya. "Go back to that page with the tree on it."
Eoin flicked back to a page showing a spindly black tree with a massive thick trunk. It was an unusual tree, for the main part of the trunk kept bending round to the right, and all the branches seemed to grow off the left-hand side.
    "It's a tree," he said. "A bent tree. A flag tree. We've seen trees grow like this on the ridge below the Gasping Gorge, where the winds always come in from the north."
    "No, we haven't," Freya corrected him. "On the flag trees, the trunk and the branches both grow away from the wind. What if this isn't a tree at all, Eoin? What if it's a map? A map of the lava tubes?"
    "Then that would mean..." Eoin traced the trunk of the tree up to where it touched the top of the page. "Look, it seems to turn into an arrow here at the top. That might mean we just need to keep heading right to get to... well, to wherever this goes."
    "Great!" said Freya. She scooped Willow up into her arms. "Let's go right."
    "Let's hope you're right," said Eoin, and with a quick look behind him, they jogged on up the right-hand lava tube.
    The going got progressively harder. The tube became narrower and lower, and they had to walk with their heads bent awkwardly. It was getting darker too, and Eoin found it trickier to make out anything other than dark shadows.
    "Freya!" he said suddenly. "Freya, I can't see you."
    "I'm just here, ahead of you," said Freya, puzzled. "I can see you fine. Well, not fine, very faintly, but I can see you. And the walls. Can't you see the walls?"
    Eoin shook his head. "I can't see anything."
    "Well," thought Freya out loud. "I can't give you my hand, you'll get burnt again. Just follow my footsteps, then."
    "Footsteps? Freya, the rock is soft and spongy. You're not going to make any..." He broke off suddenly as he realised that he had been hearing Freya's footsteps all the way through the lava tubes. Not his own, not once, but he'd heard Freya's.
    "Soft and spongy? Eoin, the rock is, well, it's rocky. It's solid rock. At least it is where I'm walking. What are you walking on?" When Eoin didn't answer, she walked on a few paces. The sound of her footsteps was short and flat in the enclosed space. "Can you hear that, Eoin? Can you follow it?"
    "Yes," said Eoin quietly. "Keep going. I'll call out if I can't hear you."
    They walked on in almost total silence, Eoin padding silently behind Freya. It was very unnerving for him, walking in complete darkness through the narrow passage. He had been worried about cracking his head on the ceiling which kept rising and dipping unexpectedly, but the first time he hit it he realised it was just as soft and spongy as the floor and he might as well have smacked his head on a pillow for all the damage it did. After that he hurried less cautiously after the girls, sometimes bouncing off the walls, sometimes tripping up, but feeling strangely numb.
    Freya came to an abrupt halt ahead of him and he almost knocked her flying. He heard her gasp of frustration.
    "What is it? What's happened?"
    Freya gestured at the path ahead, although Eoin couldn't see her arm. "It's a dead end. There's been a rock fall or something. The whole passage is blocked." She pushed on the massive boulder that ended the passage but it was like pushing on the mountain itself.
      "No way round?" asked Eoin.
    "No." Freya was bitterly disappointed. If this was the only way into the volcano, they wouldn't make it now. Just as she'd foreseen, they were trapped.
    "Let me try," said Eoin. Freya pressed herself and Willow in to the side as he felt his way up to the boulder. As he touched it he gasped involuntarily. "Hot," he said. "Very hot. We can't be far from the volcano now." He went to put his hand back on but instead groped about in empty air. "Freya?" he said. "What's happened? Where's it gone?"
    Freya slowly closed her mouth. "It... rolled away," she said in disbelief. "You touched it and it rolled away."
    Eoin stepped through the gap where the boulder had been but could walk no further. He felt like he'd been punched in the stomach. The air was hot, steaming hot, hot enough to make all the hairs on his arms and legs tingle like they were on fire, and thick with smoke which brought tears to his eyes and made him retch. He could see a little, faint red glowing through the smoke, but then his eyes were streaming and he stepped back out of the inferno, blinking furiously and straining to breathe. He tried to warn Freya but he couldn't get the words out.
    Freya stepped through the gap instead, into the cavern beyond. It was much wider and higher than the passage they'd been walking in, more the size of a large house, and as close to Freya's idea of hell as she could have experienced. Willow coughed in her arms as they breathed in the smoke but a sudden blast of cool air rushed down the passage behind them into the chamber. At first Eoin thought the Ice had caught up with them, but after a few seconds the gale abruptly died away to a steady breeze. The fresh air filled his lungs and he found himself breathing easily and feeling thankful for the well-timed gust. He ventured back into the chamber behind Freya.
    The smoke had blown away almost entirely, and the red glow off the walls had dimmed a little. Standing behind Freya, he could no longer feel the intense heat.
   Freya checked behind to make sure he was okay, then walked on through the chamber. The path was hard to walk along, and Eoin realised that they must be walking uphill, though with no flat lines anywhere to guide him it was hard to tell exactly where uphill turned into downhill. Smoke poured out of fissures in the ground all around with a snake-like hissing sound, and the breeze still passing through the chamber swept the smoke away ahead of them, up through a hole at the top of the path.
    The last part of the path became so steep they almost had to climb to get up it and through the hole. The sight that greeted them on the other side was well worth the wait.
    "We've done it!" cried Freya. "We're inside the volcano! This must..." She broke off suddenly as she heard the rasping coughing coming almost from behind her. She spun around, and there, waving the smoke away from his face and coughing heartily, was a man.
    "Welcome," he said in between the coughs. "Welcome, Earth, Wind and Fire."