On the tenth day,
A smilodon gored three men. I was one of them. It struck so swiftly I could scarcely believe it happened. And I wouldn’t have cared anyway. To some degree, I still do not.
My days fill with exhaustion and ache and hellish despair. Dead on my feet, the Never-born say, and laugh whenever one of them asks “What other way could there be?” Their energy astounds me. We march before dawn. We march after dark. We march uphill through mountain passes. We tramp down through gorges and ravines, though each day we climb higher than the last. We grope through fields of boulders that lay like labyrinths on the slopes.
We hack through tangles of fallen timber, at first of the kind whose broad leaves were just beginning to form – and now those whose needles remain ever green. We have spent three separate days climbing the beds of streams, with chill waters tumbling around the boots of a thousand Never-born. Each carries his own armor, which itself weighs half a man, as well as cloak and tent and rations and other gear. Most also carry shovels, for reasons Jerem Cozak has not disclosed.
I only carry a quarter-pack, no armor, and bring up the rear regardless. Before my city fell I was a merchant. The most I ever carried were my bags of seed, and half the time I paid an urchin to carry one or two of those. And the worst climb I’d ever had had been the stairs that led up from the harbor, the famous thousand steps of Ariel.
Yet we have reached heights that took the air from my own lungs, and where each stride took twice as long. My legs and arms are always either wood-stiff or screaming sore. Each morning Marcus stoops by the light of the fire and cuts open the blisters on my feet. I count myself lucky to stay awake through a meal, and twice I’ve fallen asleep mid-step. I write now only because a storm has stopped us dead.