The snow-laden wind angrily blew forward, coating Avgust’s mustache and the fur trim of his coat. The young man stomped heavily through as he pressed on, his hobnail-studded boots digging into the densely packed snow and ice. Padding his empty food pouch in frustration, Avgust wiped the frost from his face and roared out to his companion.
“How much furtha’?” His companion, an older man with a heavy bedroll slung over his shoulder, was tethered to Avgust, walking a few yards ahead. The old lantern that he carried provided little aid in the dense snowfall as they continued their trek. Both had been traveling since their airship had been downed a day and a night prior. They had started their journey with six others.
The older man, named Tomas, had a dense scarf wrapped around his face. It was caked in ice as he turned to Avgust, his own breath freezing the garment solid. “Not much further.” Tomas answered, his voice muffled by the scarf. “The next outpost is just over the next hill. We can make it there and we can get an airship to Ron’Ok.”
Avgust looked up to the horizon, straining his eyes for even a glimpse of the outpost his partner was talking about. All he could see was the sheer mass of snow above and the endless plains of ice and frost below. “There’s nothing out there!” Avgust called out. “No airships, no automatons. Not even a footprint of another human!”
“We’ll be able to see them as soon as this damned storm lets up!”
“This snowstorm isn’t letting up! It’s getting worse by the minute! We need to find shelter for the night!”
“No.” Tomas barked. “We do that and we die!”
“And if we keep going, we’ll die!” Avgust tucked his face deeper into the fur trim of his hood, the tip of his nose beginning to burn with the cold.
“We have to get to the outpost!”
“Why!?” Avgust snapped, stopping in his tracks. “What in The Warrior’s name is so important about this place that we have to risk our lives for it!?! That cost Luke, Martin, and the others their lives!?” Tomas sighed audibly, watching the mist rise from his mouth. The elder knew they’d both been through a lot.
Just as Tomas was about to answer his companion, a deafening blast echoed throughout the frozen planes. Both remained silent, staring at one another briefly. Then, Avgust coughed harshly, blood and bits of lung flying out his mouth and staining his beard and coat. Wiping his mouth, Avgust looked up at Tomas, shock and confusion plastered on his youthful face.
“Wha…” A second shot rang out before Avgust could finish his word, the young man collapsing into the snow like limp rag. Tomas spun around swiftly, his hand on his revolver.
“Where are ye, ya’ bastards!.” Tomas spat out. “Ya’ think ya’ can kill me so easily? Come an’ get some!” A third shot rang out as Tomas felt a burning pain in his knee, blood beginning to stain his pant leg. Shakily, the old man dropped down, the agony in his leg too much to bear.
It was then that they came from the storm. As Tomas knelt, blood staining the snows red, he saw that he was surrounded by Kimeran warriors. The tails of their red greatcoats flapped in the winter winds as they marched, their rifles pointed at Tomas.
“Drop your gun.” One of the soldiers ordered, his muffled by the brass respirator he and the rest of the warriors wore. “Drop your gun or we will be forced to shoot.”
Gritting his teeth, Tomas complied, tossing his revolver into the snow. In a trice, two Kimerans slung their weapons and ran toward Tomas, one grabbing him and binding his wrists while the other searched Avgust’s body. As Tomas was forced back to his feet, the soldier who had spoken to him walked closer to him, stopping mere inches from Tomas’s face. Tomas could see the soldier’s eyes through the red lenses of his respirator, soft and almond-shaped.
“Don’ ya’ Kimerans know anythin’ ‘bout personal space?” Tomas snapped.
The soldier chuckled. “You’re a hard man to track, Mr. Roberts. We’ve been wondering these infernal mountains for days.”
“Sorry for th’ inconvenience. So, are ya’ gonna kill me or jus’ keep yappin’?”
“We aren’t here to kill you, Mr. Roberts. You have something of great import and the consuls want it back.”
“Well, I don’t have it.”
“Captain” The soldier who was searching Avgust called out. “This one doesn’t have it.”
The Kimeran captain looked back to Tomas. “Well if your friend doesn’t have it and the ones who died in the crash don’t have it, that just leaves one left.” Before Tomas could react, the captain swiftly punched Tomas in the nose, sending him falling backward into the snow. As Tomas laid in the cold, blood trailing from his knee and nose, he felt a thick hand enter his coat and snatching the medallion that was fastened to his neck. As the Captain snapped the cord that the device hung from, Tomas could still hear it ticking, the sound of gears and springs methodically moving within. As Tomas drifted in and out of consciousness, he could hear the Kimerans converse.
“Your orders, sir?”
“Take him with us.” The captain called out. “He will be our honored guest.”
“But we have what we need.”
“Yes, but not how it works.” The last thing Tomas felt before had completely blacked out were a pair of rough gloved hands grabbing hold of his shoulders and the intense cold of the night.