I answered with the first thing that came to mind. “Why was Julius running in the first place? They said he was coming up the column when he fell.”
Marcus closed his eyes, and swore. He called others of the Never-born to him, and those with the role of messengers reported. They had run up the column behind me, and been waiting until the argument concluded. He asked them short, sharp questions I could not quite discern, then sent them away.
He reported to Jerem Cozak, loudly enough that I could hear. “The morning count was short. Scouts went back. Two squads separated when we chose this ridge. They are being hunted.” He turned to me. “We will find them. You come with us.”
Jerem Cozak did not correct him. “I will lead the column to some better place,” he said. “This ridge does not go much further, but I will not slow for you.” He remounted, and all around who were riding followed suit. Marcus went trotting back the column.
I found my mastodon to calm her, supposing that the fastest way to search would be to ride. I thanked her for letting a stranger ride her in the same fashion I did, and obeying his wishes. I noticed that even her great lungs labored to breathe in this thin air. There were very few smells, only rocks and snow. I knew then that none of us could survive this place without the Swarm.
Mounted, I rode back the line, and passed other of the Never-born turning their beasts around. I caught up to Marcus at the head of the unmounted men, where the Never-born had brought Julius. Marcus was giving orders to sort out the squads of men and mastodons that would go with us. Julius sat on a bundle of grass someone had taken from one of the herd. His shoulders sloped in a way that I had not seen before.
“They said something hunts the squads,” I began, as I dismounted. I went over to him.