Ana coughed violently as a miasma of blowing snow and fog swirled around her.
“You’re just not used to this climate, yet,” Tucker yelled over the whirring sounds of the harsh environment.
It was true; Ana was not used to the climate. She had only left Calescent a few months ago, and her body still ached for its warmth, its moistness, and its luscious vegetation. Here on Zephyr, everything was a struggle. Her muscles panged all the time, her eyes burned, her skin cracked. Still, she had made a point not to complain aloud, for fear that her guides would question her motives for coming.
As it stood, she had told Tucker and Reese that she was searching for a long lost friend. They may not have believed her entirely, but they were willing to take her through the tundra and up to the mountains for a fair price – or, at least what they considered a fair price. 80 coins. Ana had given them 50, and promised the other 30 upon arrival. She wasn’t good for it, but she’d cross that bridge when she came to it. After all, she was pretty sure she could outsmart the two men, neither of whom seemed particularly quick-witted. If she was misjudging them, she had two knives they hadn’t thought to search her for.
“Should we set up camp soon?” Ana asked, trying not to sound too eager.
Reese looked around at the vastness before them. Ana could not even guess what he would be looking for. There was nothing; nothing, and snow.
“We’ll head north for a while longer and find a cave. We’re too exposed out here. The Feeders will be out tonight.”
Ana thought she saw the shadow of an ominous smirk flash across Reese’s face, but as quickly as it had appeared it had vanished. She shook it off, but patted her breast pocket to feel the assurance of a weapon. The other was hidden deep in her travelling pack.
The trio trudged on in silence, each conserving their breath for when the winds would choke them. By dusk they had found a cave. Tucker and Reese scoped it out, while Ana waited patiently on the outside, keeping guard. She was enjoying playing the role of meek damsel, it suited her. Since she was a child, she had liked to use her femininity to her advantage. It made her difficult to read. Ana liked being difficult to read. It helped her keep her secrets wrapped up tight.
Inside the cave, Ana faced the unpleasant discernment that as happy as she was to be sheltered, she would not be able to sleep next to two men she hardly knew. In an effort to mask her vulnerability with the falsehood of heroism, Ana offered to keep watch against Feeders.
“I’m not much up for sleeping. I’m -” she stumbled, “I’m excited to see my friend.”
The men eyed her suspiciously, but agreed. While they slept, Ana could not help but entertain the idea of sneaking away. They had gotten her so far already (40 coins worth, at least), and it would be an easy escape from the dues. She stood in the cold, trying to assess the barren land. She squinted through the storm, and tried not to wince as the frost fought its way through her cheeks and settled into her bones. She was almost certain she could make out the mountain ahead. If she could just get to the top… Yes, that’s what she’d do.
Ana peered into the dark cave and listened closely. The hush of slow breathing was apparent, as she had assumed it would be. Ana took off in a hurry, but not before stealing 10 coins back. Neither men roused. Not even when the Feeders came.
Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©