Emerging onto a rocky plateau, Mason shivered as a cold wind seemed to go right through his jacket. The ruins of Antlorn were larger and exhibited far more destruction than any other city he’d seen on Myscreth. Twisted metal girders and chunks of concrete were the only evidence that buildings had once existed there.
Surveying the ruins Counselor Anklin sighed. “So much for using the ruins for shelter and concealment. There’s no way we can get through there. We’ll just have to stay near the edge and try our best not to be seen.”
The group made their way to the edge of the ruins and started heading towards the valley in which Proust’s settlement was located. To get around large sections of debris they’d have to move outside the ruins increasing the risk of discovery. Other times they’d have to backtrack because their way forward was blocked. Looking back behind them, Mason was discouraged by how little progress they’d made.
Although he’d gotten used to exerting himself during his time on Myscreth, this current expedition was pushing him to his limit, and his limbs were beginning to ache under the strain. Even though she tried to hide it, Mason noticed the winces of pain on Claridee’s face as they walked.
“Are you okay?”
She tried to give him a smile, but failed.
“Just my ankle. I’m sure it will feel better when we stop.”
Mason didn’t know how long they’d been moving before Counselor Anklin led the group to an area out of the wind to rest. Everyone was grateful for the chance to get out of the cold. The portable generator and heater were unpacked to warm their frigid bodies.
Counselor Halrous handed out something that reminded Mason of carrots. “Eat up everyone,” he said smiling. “Got to keep up our strength.”
Counselor Janice looked up from re-wrapping Claridee’s ankle and muttered. “Only you could be so cheerful in this god-forsaken place.”
Counselor Halrous chuckled. “I find being cheerful takes far less effort than being miserable.”
When Counselor Janice finished with Claridee’s ankle, Counselor Halrous looked over her work. “Nice job Janice, but I think I might be able to make it better.” He concentrated on the bandage. “Try it now Claridee.”
Claridee stood up and tested her ankle. “Wow, it feels so much better. What did you do?”
“You tell me.”
She concentrated on the bandage. “You increased the stiffness of the bandage, didn’t you?”
“Absolutely correct,” he agreed with a nod.
“How much further?” asked Counselor Janice.
“At least a couple of miles,” replied Counselor Anklin. “The city’s in far worse shape than I expected. I’d hoped we’d be able to pass through the city to cut some distance off our trek. We’d better get moving if we’re going to reach the valley before it gets dark.”
The five of them continued on, but soon a new obstacle blocked their way. The remains of a collapsed skyscraper stretched out at least a half mile into the plateau. A collective moan arose from the group. They found a place in the ruins to rest and discussed their options.
“It will take the rest of the day to get around this,” declared Counselor Halrous shaking his head.
Mason looked at Counselor Anklin hopefully. “Can’t you generate a doorway to get us to the other side?”
Counselor Anklin gave a sheepish smile. “Yes, but due to the limitation of my abilities, the door would have to take us well away from the ruins of the main city. We can’t run the risk of being seen.”
Counselor Janice left to take a closer look and soon returned. “It seems to get less dense as you move away from the city. We might not to have to go all the way around to find a way through.”
“That seems to be our best option,” agreed Counselor Anklin. “Let’s see if we can find a way through.”
The group started to make their way onto the plateau, keeping close to the collapsed skyscraper. About halfway along it, and found a path that looked promising. It was not too steep to climb and seemed to go all the way to the top of the collapsed ruins a hundred feet above them.
They slowly worked their way up onto the collapsed building, moving in a single file. Counselor Anklin led the way, followed by Counselor Janice, Counselor Halrous, Claridee, and Mason. Counselor Anklin carefully picked his way along, seeking to find the safest path forward.
The rubble was mostly a mixture of concrete slabs and twisted metal. Here and there, Mason saw evidence that it had once been a building; there was wiring, pieces of furniture, and even some clothing remnants. However, as the footing became more treacherous, all Mason’s attention was concentrated on where he was stepping.
Suddenly, an abrupt scream echoed around them. Mason stared in horror at a gaping hole where Counselor Halrous had been standing.
Counselor Anklin rushed back and called down.
“Halrous! Answer me!”
But there was no response.
Mason took out his light and aimed it into the hole. “I can’t see anything,” he called out. He looked up from the hole. “I’ll have to go down if I’m going to find him.”
Claridee started to say something, but Mason gave her a hard look and she simply nodded. After she helped him take off his backpack, he picked up his light and turned to Counselor Anklin.
“Can you modify my gravity so I can go down?”
Counselor Anklin nodded and suddenly Mason felt a sense of weightlessness. If it weren’t for the seriousness of the situation, he might have enjoyed it.
He moved toward the edge of the hole.
“When I find Counselor Halrous, I’ll bring him back up,” he said, doing his best to sound hopeful.
Claridee give him a worried look. “Please be careful.”
He gave a slight nod. “I will.”
Counselor Janice just stared at the hole in silence, despair etched upon her face.
Mason stepped into the hole and started slowly floating downward. Shining the light around the hole he saw it was about ten feet wide with jagged rocks and metal sticking out of the walls. Looking below, he couldn’t see the bottom. The longer he floated down, the less confident he felt. Multiple times, Counselor Anklin called down to him, the desperation in his voice becoming more pronounced each time.
Each time Mason gave the same report.
“Still can’t see the bottom.”
He wasn’t sure how long it took, but finally he saw part of a concrete floor jutting out into the opening. Laying on it he saw the body of Counselor Halrous.
“I see him!” he called out.
Pushing against the edge of the opening, Mason came to rest on the section of floor. Mason’s hopes faded as he got a close up look of the crumpled body lying there. He checked for breathing and a pulse hoping to be wrong, but wasn’t; Counselor Halrous was dead.
Counselor Anklin called down.
“How is he?”
Mason didn’t answer. He desperately needed to get out of the there. He tried to concentrate on himself to modify his gravity so he’d levitate out of the hole, but it took several tries before he was successful. As he started moving upward he called out in a voice cracking with emotion.
“I’m coming up.”
Reaching the top, he found Counselor Janice and Claridee sobbing, while Counselor Anklin just sat there staring blankly into space. Seeing Mason, Claridee threw her arms around him, her voice shaky with grief as she uttered the question on each of their minds.
He had no idea how to respond. All he could do was hold her close as he fought back his own tears.
After a while Counselor Anklin seemed to rouse himself from his shock. He spoke in a voice filled with emotion.
“Halrous and I have been on the Council together most of our lives,” his words were cut short by a sob. “It wasn’t supposed to end like this.”
Unable to continue, he turned and walked away.
The four of them plodded on in silence. By the time they finally cleared the remains of the collapsed building, it was starting to get dark.
“We should find a place to camp for the night.” Counselor Anklin suggested, exhaustion and dispair evident in his voice.
The others nodded silently and they trudged back towards the remnants of the city. Finding the shell of a building that would provide suitable shelter, they started setting up camp. Mason and Claridee set up the portable generator and heater while the two Counselors scouted the area around them.
Upon their return, Counselor Janice announced in a haggard voice. “No sign of anyone. We should be safe.”
No one had any desire to eat. Everyone silently set out their blankets and did their best to try and fall asleep.
Mason was exhausted, but he kept thinking about Counselor Halrous. He remembered his stories about the history of Myscreth and how Counselor Halrous had always been so kind to him. Without realizing it, he spoke into the darkness. “How could he suffer such a senseless death?”
He was startled when Counselor Anklin’s voice answered.
“I don’t think his death was senseless. He died serving the people he loved and that’s all any of us can ask for when our life comes to an end.”
After a short pause he added.
“Now try and get some sleep. We all need to be at our best to stop Proust; that’s the best way we can honor Halrous’ sacrifice.”
Lying there Mason heard the sound of muffled crying coming from Claridee’s direction. He wanted to comfort her, but had no idea what he could say that would make things better. Not knowing what else to do, he wrapped his blanket around himself and sat down by her.
The next morning, Mason felt himself shaken awake by Counselor Anklin. He was surprised to see Claridee asleep by him, her head on his shoulder.
“We’d better get moving, it’s almost dawn.”
As Mason shifted, Claridee looked up at him, her eyes still red from crying. “Thanks,” she whispered.
It didn’t take them long to pack up the camp and soon they were slowly working their way along the ruins of Antlorn. A number of times, Mason noticed Counselor Anklin anxiously looking back at the rest of the group. After a while, he started leading them back towards the ruins.
“I think this would be a good time for everyone to have something to eat,” he suggested as they stopped in a small alcove sheltered from the wind.
Although Mason didn’t feel much like eating, he dug out a small bag of food. Claridee did the same, but Counselor Janice just sat there, staring at the ground.
Counselor Anklin watched the group, a worried expression on his face.
He put down his food and addressed them in a subdued tone. “Yesterday we lost someone who was very close to all of us. Under normal circumstances, we’d have a chance to grieve and deal with our emotions. However, this isn’t a normal situation, and until we finish what we came here to do, we have to try and put our grief aside. Is that easy? No. Without Counselor Halrous …”
Pausing, he took a deep breath and looked up at the sky.
“…it will be even harder to defeat Proust.” His voice took on a steely edge. “However, there’s too much at stake for us to fail.”
In the ensuing silence, Claridee spoke out in a sad, quiet voice.
“Whenever I had trouble learning something in my training, Counselor Halrous would always say, ‘don’t give up Claridee. If you give up, it’s not only a loss for you, but for all those you might have helped.’” She looked at everyone else, a look of determination in her eyes and loudly proclaimed. “Well, I’m not about to give up.”
Mason looked over at her with pride and sat up straighter. “Nor am I.”
Counselor Janice eyed the three of them and smiled. “Halrous wouldn’t have it any other way. Let’s make him proud.”
- Parker T. Allan
An engineer who enjoys writing something other than technical reports. Writing let's me share all the ideas floating around my mind. I hope my writing jump starts your imagination as so many books have done for me.
If you enjoy physics, check out https://physicswithcats.com/ for some fun stories which explain various physics topics.