Before the drop

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Bodies of wolves lay about him, not altogether whole. Tranton was down on one knee, panting, the sword held limply in his good hand, the blade resting on the ground. Although the rocky surface was warm, the stormy air was still bitingly cold despite the steam all around. He reached for his improvised face shield and re-attached it, strapping it behind his head and lowering it into position. He felt his face immediately start to appreciate the shelter. The materials he had cut from his wounded hand had been blown far downwind and he was unlikely to see them again. Casting his gaze upon the dead wolves which surrounded him, he noted the sudden abundance of fresh pelts. It wasn't a pleasant task, but the temperatures tended to freeze-dry the hide to the point where it could be used even without the usual processing. He could prepare the hides here, in relative warmth of the steam, and they would harden and frost over as soon as he ventured back into the storm.

The sword was unlike anything he'd seen in all his travels. As he examined it, under slightly lessened duress, he was still unable to detect seams or mechanisms along the length of the blade. To the naked eye it was a single, forged piece of strengthened steel with a functional hilt which lacked any decorative additions. It nestled in his hands comfortably, as if crafted specifically for him.

There was a clasp near the cross-guard, which hid a single switch. He changed its position, holding the sword away from his body. Nothing happened. Curious, he placed the sword down on the ground. Still nothing. He picked it up and flicked the switch back to its previous position, with no evident response. He placed the hilt onto the ground once more and the blade shimmered and fractured, each piece retracting into another, until it had contracted inside the hilt, which then lay innocuously on the rocks. Leaning down, he grasped it, keeping the telescopic end pointed away. As soon as he had a firm grip on it, the blade shot out once more, reforming into the distinctive scimitar shape. As a final experiment, he released the grip, prompting the blade to vanish, then adjusted the switch. Upon picking the hilt up, the blade remained collapsed. "Clever little thing," he said. It was pure luck that he'd operated it correctly in the first place.

After picking it up and putting it down a few more times, he placed the hilt carefully within a fold of his clothing. It wasn't something to get wrong. The trusty hunting knife he'd lost during the fight, but an impossibly engineered sword would be an acceptable replacement. Examining the rest of the items that had fallen from the knocked chest, he grabbed a few and stuffed them into his pack. He didn't know what they were or if they did anything nearly as exciting as the sword, but even if not they'd still probably turn a tidy profit if he ever did reach civilisation.

He found nothing else of interest among the broken caravans. It had once been an army, he was sure of it, making its way south-west, as best he could tell from the pattern of debris. The Headland had long forsworn having a standing army, after a series of disastrous - and mostly legendary - campaigns in centuries past. The peninsula was now too valuable a source of trade for any rival powers to risk upsetting its economic contribution, and other states had slowly fallen into its debt over the last few decades following a sly policy of generous credit. The Headland's strength was in its wealth.

Not that any of that mattered. He didn't expect to ever see again the country of his birth. Leaving that all behind had been half the point.

After the fight with the wolves the storm had eased off, settling down into heavy snowfall with far less of the unpleasant, sideways-slicing blizzard to knock the feet out from under him. Consequently, he could see farther, assessing the lay of the land up ahead and adjusting his route accordingly. Experiencing actual progression, of seeing the undulations of the terrain in his vicinity as he passed it, brought him renewed vigour and he trudged onwards, step after determined step. These mountains couldn't harm him, he'd decided; after all, he had a magical, telescopic sword at his side. For the first time since he'd ascended the slopes to the south, he tasted some respite. The world, for a time at least, had paused its mission of trying to murder him.

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