On the thirty-fifth day,
Julius collapsed. We followed the lee of a long razor-ridge of rock that shielded us from the wind, but let the snow drop deep behind it. The mastodons had no trouble, of course—the drifts barely came above their knees. But the Never-born and I struggled to keep the pace behind them, and followed a path whose white sides often rose to our shoulders. The snow here is finer than that of the valleys and plateaus we have come up from. In fact, Marcus says that it must be blown here by the winds, for we have climbed above the clouds.
I do not know if that is true, but the snow is very fine indeed. And by the time the last of the Never-born had passed a section of the trail, it had already begun to fill in again, well behind the mastodons. That was where Julius marched, as the rearguard reported to him that day. I was placed as my new honor dictated I must be: at the head of those who marched, following the last of the line of beasts.
To think I should have thought we mastered these creatures solely that we should ride them! That we do for only half a day, so that we can resume the pace when our time comes up again. For the rest of the time, we run along behind them. Jerem Cozak has said that we lingered too long gathering the five-hundred beasts we have. Now he means to make up for it. The mastodons carry all our gear so that we can maintain his hellish pace.
Above the drifting snow the sky was clear, though the sun stood small in the sky and could not take away the cold. The other Never-born say Julius fell like a man struck by fever: he suddenly went limp, though he may have wavered for a bit before he fell. When he did collapse, he nearly disappeared. The shifting white would have swallowed him whole had not two of the scouts seen it happen. When I heard word of it, I turned to go back to him. But Marcus, red-faced, tromped past me toward the matriarch, where rode Jerem Cozak, though of course the whole column now was halting.