6-2 More Stuff About Cold
Jostling up the winding, mountain road, The Captain looked back into the bed of the rover and once again studied Cauliflower. Unlike usual, she wasn’t casually leaning against the bar separating the cab and the bed, staring at the sky. Instead, she crouching down in the bed, grabbing her knees and trying to wrap her entire body in the oversized, black coat Knot had lent to her. As the climbed further upwards, the temperature continued to drop and so did she. Eventually, it looked like she would fall through the bed entirely.
“We should be getting closer, is there anyone around us?” The Captain asked, as much hoping to jostle her back to life address anything regarding security.
“Don’t think so,” Cauliflower bitterly spat out, not even bothering to look up from the hood that was completely obscuring her face.
“That really had a reliable feeling to it,” Edge observed critically from the seat beside her. He, like the rest of them, was bundled up in a thick coat, but at least his crimson eyes were still visible.
“I didn’t want to come, so you guys can do all the work,” Cauliflower responded obstinately, her voice growing increasingly muffled as she buried her face deeper in her scarf.
“I’m betting you’ll still feel exactly that way when we get hit with a surprise attack and we all get eaten,” Lotus observed. Sitting with her back ramrod straight, she looked just as prim and proper as ever. Though, the arms that were crossed over her chest were wrapped a fair bit tighter than usual.
Cauliflower harrumphed irritably, sending out a column of into the biting cold. Then she reached her hand into her coat to recover the binoculars that hung from her neck. Then she quickly pushed them to her face and looked into the sky. For a second, even covered in cloth as she was, she took on an ephemeral glow. Then she abruptly pulled the binoculars from her face and stashed them again.
“Nothing,” she declared once again, with slightly more credibility.
The Captain looked over her with narrowed eyes, but he couldn’t voice any complaints. Even if it took a little prodding, she did her job properly. After Edge cajoled and eventually dragged her into the rover, he couldn’t ask for more than that.
As the Captain considered Cauliflower’s potential mutiny, he heard a distorted crackle from the shortwave radio. “….front …clear …circle…”
Hurriedly, he reached down to adjust the channel. As soon as he turned the plastic dial, the voice became a jumble of static. Then he turned it the other direction and found another cloud of static. Eventually he found the sweet spot and the radio produced a rocky, masculine voice declaring, “We’ll circle around when we hit the cliff face. There might be some traces of a trail where it came down.”
Not waiting to listen to more of the conversation, the Captain picked up the radio’s receiver and held it to his mouth as he called out, “Hello? Am I coming through.”
“This is a dedicated mission frequency,” a dusky female voice answered after a few second’s pause. “Shift down a few clicks if you want to start your own.”
“Are you hunting the monster that came down from the wastes?” The Captain asked back, ignoring her response.
“I guess that would make you the third team?” The man asked as he came back on the line. “We should probably meet up, then.”
Nodding happily at that, the Captain handed the receiver over to Knot to take care of the navigation stuff. The first step of their job had been completed, at least. Now they didn’t have to worry about getting there too late and missing out on the reward. Now, all they had left, was the deadly part.
As he called landmarks back and forth over the radio, Knot slowly honed in on the position of their accomplices for this job. Eventually, that lead them to a relatively grassy section of mountain where two trucks waited. One of them was big, built to be heavy and sturdy, not nimble like their rover. On the back of it, stood a powerful looking cannon with a spear head visible at the tip. A harpoon. Just the sight of it made the Captain’s stomach turn. He’d never even considered the prospect of being anchored to a 10-ton monster that wanted to eat him. He didn’t know if he wanted to work with someone who considered that a good time.
The second truck was along the lines of a rover, though it lacked the wireframe nature of the rover. Instead, it was covered in various armored plates for protection. It’d be great against bandits, or anything small and numerous, but they’d be useless when facing off against anything of the century class. Might as well wrap yourself in construction paper and face down an assault rifle. On the back of the armored car was what looked to be a mounted flame thrower, all tanks and hoses. A conventional choice. Fire did good damage to anything with a high mana-density. Though, if it had armor, things could get tough and it lacked the stopping power of a storm of bullets.
As the Captain harshly judged the equipment of his perspective allies, he dismounted from the rover and started walking towards them. At around the same time, a stout man leapt from the harpoon truck and tall woman slipped out of the armored car with the flamethrower. The three of them met in the center between their three cars and sized each other up.
The large man spoke first, “I’m Sharog of the oaken fist.” Holding out a broad hand, connected to a tanned, muscular arm which was conspicuously absent of cloth to cover it. The man was big and well built. He looked like a stereotype of a strongman. When the Captain exchanged the handshake, that expectation was soundly met.
Opening and closing his, now stinging, hand, the Captain gave a bitter smile before looking Sharog up and down again. “You do know it’s winter, right?”
“These mountains are the fields of my youth,” Sharog declared with a booming laugh. “I’m used to this level of cold.” As he laughed again, the clearly visible muscles on his arms flexed powerfully.
“Don’t worry, I find it just as perplexing,” the woman declared. In person, her voice had an accent that put her somewhere in the south-eastern deserts. It had a kind of cadence that made you feel calm and in danger at the same time. Like the purr of a jaguar.
The Captain turned to look her over. In contrast to the crazy harpoon man, she was covered in a long, black coat that extended to her mid-calf and the lower half of her face was entirely obscured by a dark muffler. On top of that, her left eye was covered by a curtain of deep red hair that hung over her face, leaving only a quarter of her face visible. Upon closer inspection, traces of a harsh burn scar were visible between the thick hairs, which force the captain to end his investigation. There were some things people preferred to have unseen. No reason not to respect those wishes.
“I’m Qu’anesh, but you solid ground folk always mispronounce it, so you can call me Nes,” the woman declared, narrowing her dark brown eye as if recalling a thousand dismembered words. “My group is new, we are yet to find our name.”
“Ten months is new?” the large man, Sharog, asked joyfully, spreading his broad face into a broader grin and slapping his hand onto Nes’s back roughly.
“It’s a debate,” Nes responded resolutely, her body shaking with every impact of the wide palm.
“I’m the leader of the Black Stallions,” the Captain declared with a slight inclination of his head. Then he quickly continued, “How’s the search been going? Found any trace of it.”
“No,” Sharog responded, halting his assault on Nes’s upper back and returning his attention to the Captain. “We’ve been out here for a couple hours and found nothing. The mountain is broad, but we’ve been unlucky.” With those last words, the look of amiable joy finally fled Sharog’s face and he pursed his lips bitterly. Then he turned his eyes up to the sky, at the sun that stood directly above them. “We should get back to it soon. The desert rose is already complaining about the cold. I don’t think she will want to see nightfall.”
Nes narrowed her eye at Sharog’s declaration. Then she turned to the Captain and said, “If the guild recommended you, I trust you have experience?”
“We’ve done this before,” the Captain answered with a definite nod.
“Then we probably should get back to it,” Nes responded solemnly. “You can take the middle, we’ll have the rear.”
With that, they turned to head back to their respective vehicles. As they departed, the Captain could barely make out Nes’s voice declaring, “Desert nights are cold.”
“Nights here are colder,” Sharog declared with the resolution that comes from years of experience.
After watching their retreating backs for a while, the Captain returned to the rover and directed Knot to take the position between the truck and the armored car. Then the small caravan set off.
“Is that a harpoon?” Edge asked as soon as they started moving, his voice overwhelmed with shock. “Are we really working with people who use a harpoon?”
“Their leader was wearing a tank-top, too,” Cauliflower observed, her every word dripped with more resounding judgement than he’d ever heard from her before. “The Captain’s niece clearly paired us with a crazy man.”
“You know what they say,” Champ spoke up happily. “You don’t have to outrun the dragon. You just have to outrun the idiot who glued himself to it.”
“I’ve never heard anyone say that,” Lotus responded critically. “Even if it is true.”
The Captain smiled at the voices of his team coming from the bed until his face was beaten back into neutrality by the biting cold. Then he redirected his attention to their surroundings and searched for signs of monsters. Unfortunately, he found nothing. The mountainside was peaceful. Undisturbed.
The scout in this area had relayed back that he saw what felt like a century class coming over the mountain, then all transmissions stopped. That meant that, even if it had moved away already, what they were chasing had to have passed through here. For a century class, passing through wasn’t a subtle thing. Generally, it involved giant footprints, uprooted trees, and a lot of corpses. Unless it could fly, but if it was in the air, more people would’ve spotted it.
He didn’t like this. If they couldn’t even find traces of it, that meant whatever they were hunting was either lucky or cunning. Those were supposed to be the domains of humans.
As the Captain cursed beasts that refused to stick to their nature, the sun continued to move through their sky. Eventually it was threatening to disappear behind the horizon and it was clear the time had come to make camp. No one wanted to confront an unknown, but definitely powerful monster in the dark.
Of course, Cauliflower demanded that they turn back to the city for the night. She even threatened to steal the keys and force them all back. However, she didn’t have the will to stand from where she was huddled and it ended with threats.
When they stopped to make camp, Knot offered to set up her tent for her and that calmed her anger somewhat. Either that, or she had to conserve her energy for warmth and didn’t have the will to keep arguing.
After a rushed meal around an anemic fire, they all fled for the relative warmth of their sleeping bags. In his own tent, the Captain stared at the canvas above him as if he could see the stars through it. Outside, he could hear Cauliflower and Champ holding a whispered argument over who would get to break into Knot’s tent and steal some of his abundant body heat. In the end, they came compromise and both rushed in, causing Knot’s tent to deform slightly from the sheer volume of three people.
As that drama died down, the Captain remained absent minded. Something about this mountain was making him itchy. Maybe it was the fog rolling in. It’d be over them by the morning. Reduced visibility. That was never good.
Whatever his skin or gut said, he had to trust his team. Cauliflower didn’t feel anything coming, so they should be safe enough for the night. They had last watch. He had to get some sleep while he could.