2.6K 185 44

Distance was meaningless to a lone traveller in the Barrier Mountains. Tranton set about moving towards the next silhouette, which was peeking through the snowstorm at intervals, sometimes disappearing for minutes at a time. Time and space were deceptive here, to the extent that Tranton felt his mind actively wandering, his eyes drifting across the snow and ice, occasionally being forced to correct his course when the silhouetted object reappeared, now at an unexpected trajectory. Sometimes he couldn't remember how long he'd been walking, as minutes shifted into hours and days and back again.

As he'd always done with huge tasks, he broke it down into smaller pieces. That's how he'd run his father's business when he'd inherited it. That's how he'd navigated the storms of the ocean for all those years without losing a single crew mate. Always compartmentalising the impossible, chipping away until it became eminently doable, one strike at a time. It hadn't worked for his marriage but for everything else it had seen him true over the years.

One step, then another. Left foot, right foot, always forwards, pushing onwards. Never looking back. Leave it all behind, forget about the bigger picture, and focus on the job at hand. The Barrier Mountains might be impassable, but this next footstep was something he could accomplish.

As he staggered through the blizzard the structures ahead shifted and vanished, then reappeared, continuing the impression of being in new positions. That happened a lot here and he'd put it down to his eyes being unable to fix upon anything definite in the whiteness, and his general exhaustion. He kept going, as best he could, and another object sidled reluctantly into view. It was a chariot, designed for carrying perhaps two soldiers, struts protruding from the front indicating where horses would once have been tethered. The chariot was shielded from the front and the sides with metal panels. He closed the distance and touched its surface, again discovering an unnatural warmth which kept the snow from settling upon it. The metal panels on the side shifted backwards and forwards, exposing openings which presented vantage points from which one could attack while still being partially shielded. He had a vague notion of seeing drawings of something similar in a history book he'd flicked through at a library when he was a child. The panels still slid along their runners without difficulty, as if they'd been oiled only yesterday.

The chariot held nothing of interest, everything other than its main structure again having disintegrated an age before. He moved on, advancing to the next indistinct shape which turned out to be two more caravans, similar to the first. Already he could see many more structures dotting the ice plain around him; clearly the caravan he'd found initially had been on the fringes of a convoy. As he went from one to another they became more closely clustered, until he was walking between them as if through an odd, makeshift village of upturned vehicles.

Nothing of value or use remained. Whoever had been here were centuries gone, and finding the descendants of survivors or even a settlement was a fool's hope. His initial excitement had returned to the resigned acceptance that nothing could truly survive up here. Tranton tried never to deal in the business of hope. It was hope that got people killed, made them complacent. He preferred to examine a situation pragmatically and then attack it with sheer bloody-minded arrogance. It had kept him alive so far.

Still, a little respite would go a long way.

He leaned back against the outside of one of the battered caravans, enjoying the steam as the ice melted from his clothes and warmth spread across his back. This one had a hole blasted in its side, wooden panels broken and splayed inwards, as if something large had impacted against it from the outside. Flicking open the compass, he gazed at its wavering hand, still enthusiastically pointing the way. It gave him his orders but made no contribution to the effort of travel.

A glimpse of movement caught his eye.

Other than the shifting wall of airborne snow and ice, there was rarely motion in this place. The ground was static; boulders and rocks were static. The sky was a fixed sheet of white. Even these caravans and chariots and transports were immovable, locked in place and never changing. The one exception was the rare glimpse of an animal, which was an opportunity to not be overlooked given the scarcity of food. He squinted against the glare and saw a four-legged shape in the far distance, before it disappeared behind one of the ruined carts.

The Mechanical CrownWhere stories live. Discover now