The circuitry sparked, wires snapped like snakes beneath his gloves, as he pulled the Power Cell out, the lights on Phage dimmed to nothing. If it had arms or a head left, it would have drooped, slumped over like an exhausted toddler.
But those parts of it had exploded into innumerable pieces, splaying out behind and around the Phage. Barden smiled and tossed the core deftly in his hand.
“I think this one’s mostly full,” He held it to his exposed cheek, “It’s still warm.”
Charles motioned for it, caught it when Barden threw it over and committed the same ritual against his cheek.
“Fuckin’ hell, mate, it seems our luck is starting to turn.” His voice was thick the sort of limey, British accent suitable only for tea parties and national stereotypes. Charles removed a glove and cupped it, warming his fingers and looked to the horizon. “Let’s head back, weather looks like it’s going to turn.”
Great, hulking clouds peeled over the mountain peaks at the limit of their vision. Heavy, dark and ominous, promising more snow. Though the snow fell around them lazily now, the next few hours would change that. Soon they wouldn’t be able to see five feet in front of them. Somewhere in the vast distance, a glacier snapped, sending its echo through the valley.
“I’d be more worried about the Coyotes, if I were you,” Barden said sarcastically. The joke never ceased to get a smile out of Charles. Storms offered a certain form of danger different than the Phages. Even though they came and went almost daily, they had an air of unpredictability. They were impersonally savage and unbearably efficient. One could take down a ‘Coyote’ ill prepared; it was difficult, but possible.
Being taken unawares by a storm would not offer as good of odds.
Barden packed the core with the rest of the day’s find and wrapped his head back up with his massive scarf. Charles trudged in front of him, planting his feet firmly in the snow; Barden walked in his footsteps.
The echoing crack of another falling glacier filled the air, or perhaps a shifting iceberg in the great sea beyond, reverberating and traveling along the snowy peaks. But this time the shattering crack seemed closer.
“I don’t think that was an echo, Charles.”
“Aye, don’t say it. Don’t think it.”
“Hurry the fuck up? Yes.”
The snow was still falling lazily, but it was no longer a buzzing static. It was thick, and blanketing. Creating a veil that diluted Charles’ figure with perfect whiteness, just 10 feet from Barden.
“I think we should leave a breadcrumb.” Barden said.
Charles nodded silently and flipped open a compass and slammed a stake into the ground. He leaned down and flipped a switch, a red light atop of the pylon started to blink regularly.
“Just another quarter mile or so.”
They walked past their transmitter.
Another tremor. This one large enough to force Barden and Charles to widen their stance for balance. Snow shifted and fell into their footprints, atop the peaks snow began to avalanche.
“Charlie…” Barden said uneasily, but Charlie said nothing, instead responded by quickening his pace, taking large leaping steps up the hill. To sweat in this weather was never good, but Charles didn’t seem to care for hypothermia that might kill him in two hours.
Barden took another step and the world seemed to explode. He cupped his ears and crouched instinctively. The earth shook around him, a cacophony of noises, of shattering ice, of falling rock and echoing thunder assaulted him. It sounded like a mountain turning in on itself, like a creaking tree, and the deafening crack what it finally explodes. He screamed but couldn’t hear himself. The shattered earth groaned and screamed.
A mechanical roar added itself to the orchestra of chaos. Inhuman and ear piercing, the sound of a forlorn foghorn emanating from the salted mists of the ocean; of an overzealous trumpeter hitting a quintuple forte on his sheet music; of the groaning steel in a ship being swallowed up by the ocean. The noise itself seemed to create another tremor.
Barden and Charles looked behind them and saw it. A great hulking mass rising slowly from a snowy hill, the same snowy hill they had been standing on not two hours prior. Waterfalls of snow fell from its figure, trees and their massive root systems careened towards the earth. Though they fell hundreds of feet, their crash was swallowed up by the distance, the snow and the penetrating sound of the massive matter than rose from the depths of the earth. Even with the distance and the obscuring snow, they could make out its mass. Trees hundreds of feet tall would be poor toothpicks for something that size.
A massive arm pulled itself from the earth and planted hard in the snow, sending another shockwave through the valley. As it pushed free, its head tiled upward, and a light flared to life. The damning color of red, as large and precise as a spot light. It swept through the valley, a lifeless red amid a colorless landscape.
“Run.” Charles said, then again, “Run and don’t look back.”