“Sun’s up, time tae get moving.”
The L-T roused us from the few short hours of slumber we’d managed in the freezing cold of the moors. I heard Connoly grunt and sputter when Skye kicked him in the ribs.
“Coom on, Con, get yer freezin’ lumps up. Another glacie’l have you if’n you don’t get the blood goin’.”
Skye, Lt. Whitworth to you, fastened her begoggled eyes on me and frowned.
“Same goes for you, Rae. Up y’get. And get them damn snot-cicles out o’ yor beard. Wouldn’t want tha’ to freeze off woul’ we now?”
I sheepishly grabbed at my beard and yanked out the little bits of ice that had formed during the night. What was I to do? I could barely keep my bloody hands from shivering in this cold. Despite the great heavy packs we carried, and weighed down with all the extra winter gear, the wind still found its way under every garment.
Word was that an Ice Queen had taken over the Shetland Islands to the north. As a result the whole of the North Sea was frozen, Iceland and Greenland were cut off from help by dramatic sheets of ice, and northern Scotland now wilted under a permanent blizzard. It was through that blizzard that we now journeyed, trying to head south towards Ullapool.
Of course, the five us were on the lam. I don’t know if word from Aldershot had gotten this far north yet, but sooner or later the King’s regimental police would be out looking for us. Going AWOL from His Majesty’s Royal Army was a serious infraction, but against the need of our countrymen, it was a small price to pay.
There were originally five of us, all from the Scots Guard in Aldershot. Conrad Connoly, Alan Moorhead, and I were only lance-corporals, and probably would not have left Aldershot were it not for the two others with us. Colour Sergeant Donald Sinclair, and Lt. Skye Whitworth had immediately schemed up the plan to shirk our previous duty as soon as word had come that Scotland was under attack.
Yes, we were under attack. The same war that had come to every other continent, now threatened our island as well. Werewolves, harpies, others whose names I can’t recall, they all roamed the moors, laying siege to the villages, attacking travelers in the open, and abducting the men to what fate we did not know.
King William however, had no intention of sending help north. He had already invested his army in helping our NATO allies fight the war in other nations, useless. So we, the expedient and true to Scotland, had taken our leave. Of course now, we might have been regretting that a bit.
Our journey had been fraught with danger from the beginning. We had trekked up the eastern coast, all the way to John-o on the northern tip of Caithness. All that travel, only to find the north utterly barren, all the towns deserted. Some of the people had taken refuge in the castles around the area, but those had granted them little refuge when the snows began. Those who had not frozen to death were long gone, either taken prisoner by the things that now patrolled the countryside, or had found someway across the North Sea to Europe.
Now we headed south again, hoping to reach Ullapool, and perhaps after that, Inverness. But the traveling as I said, had not been without danger. It had started a week before, as we passed the Forss ruins near Thurso. As night fell, something started a constant howling out on the moors. We moved our camp into the ruins and set up a perimeter defense in preparation. But that barely helped.
We used no lights, as that would have given our position away. We had to rely on our night vision glasses, but using them in a blizzard helped little. The howling continued for hours until dawn just began to show over the horizon. As we came together to take stock, a horrifying new problem came upon us.
Color Sergeant Sinclair was missing. We hurriedly searched the grounds of the ruins for any sign of him, but found nothing, not even tracks in the snow, though the blizzard had probably taken care of that. Even his pack was gone, as if he’d just disappeared into the icy air.
Thankfully, Lt. Whitworth kept our wits about us. There was no time to speculate and we would simply have to redouble our efforts when setting watch in the night. So we would lose more sleep, not that anyone could sleep in this cold. We set the watch at one hour each, to keep each one from falling asleep at all.
As we traveled south we encountered our fair share of monsters. The most common were the glacies, Icicle women. With their queen holding sway in the North, they now began to invade the moors in large numbers. Thankfully they were not particularly durable, a few shots from a rifle and they just shattered, like glass. Still, they were cunning, and could pop up almost anywhere.
That’s why Whitworth had made the quip about glacies at Connoly. One night he had woken up to find himself frozen to the ground. He looked down to find his legs encased in ice, and tendrils of ice beginning to form over his shoulders. Thankfully a couple wacks from an ice pick freed him, but we noticed when we pulled him up that the ice under him had born the unmistakable shape of a woman.
The glacie had literally tried to trap him in his sleep. How Connoly could manage to get any sleep after that was beyond me. As we stirred from our positions we both checked for any formation of ice under us. Nothing had formed, thankfully. Quickly I rolled up my sleeping bag and attached it to my pack. The cold attacked my chest and with a curse I zipped up my parka; the sleeping bag could be deceptively comforting at night.
The howling had started up again last night, and we had spent most of it awake. But the new watch seemed to work. When it had stopped we were all still present, so Lt. Whitworth had taken up the watch and we all tried to grab a couple hours sleep before dawn. Yeah, right. With our vinegar racing like it was? No wonder Connoly had been groggy when Skye kicked him.
With all my kit stowed I stood up and hefted my rifle, an ancient, Enfield-pattern bolt-action. All of our weapons were like this, only the Lieutenant still carried one of the L-86’s from Aldershot’s armory. We had been forced to trade out for whatever stock we could find when the ammunition for our L-86’s began to run out. As such both Connoly and I carried older rifles, and Alan had to make do with an gamekeeper’s shotgun that he had taken from an abandoned estate. Speaking of Alan, I turned around to make sure he was up and getting ready as well.
He was gone. Him, his pack, his sleeping bag, his gun, everything, all gone. A light patch in the snow where he had been was quickly being filled in by the blizzard.
“Lieutenant!” I shouted. “Moorhead’s missing!”
Connoly muttered a curse as Whitworth leaped over toward me, her silver-ponytail flashing. She was an odd one, to be sure. I’d never seen a lady with silver hair as young as her. Apparently the story was she had a sister die when she younger. Awful thing that, poor lass had been hit by a train, and apparently Skye had seen the whole thing. Something like that, yeah I can imagine it would make your hair go silver.
“What in bloody hell?” She groaned as she looked down on the spot where Alan had been.
“Its tha damn howlin’ I tell ye!” Connoly growled in his thick Glaswegian accent. “Strangest thing ah ever ‘eard! Tha aren’t wolves y’know? Is too shrill i’is! Like somethin screamin’ in a foir! T’aint natural I tell ye!”
“Connoly!” Whitworth shouted. “Stow it! We don’ know what ’tis! No use, speculatin’! Get yor gear in order, we got a long ways t’go.”
She looked back to me. “Rae, Keep an eye on ‘im. I can’t ‘ave ye going bonkers because a som’ howlin’ harpie.”
“A harpie di’ this?” I asked.
“I don’ know, Corp’ral. I don’ ‘ave a fething clue. Somethin’ is stalking us. I intend to find out what.” She turned to face Connoly, who had finally gotten his arse up and walking.
“Connoly! you’ll be rear guard. MacKensie, you’ll take point. We’ll rotate the positions every mile. I want yor eyes out, scan anythin’ and everythin’. If it looks uncanny-like, call a halt immediately. I don’t want whatever it is sneaking up on us again. Savvy, you two?”
“Right, marm.” We both said.
For all her posturing though, Lt. Whitworth might have well been shouting at the sky. No sooner had we set off then it started again, the howling.
And this time, it was joined by others.