Tufted fur of an emaciated snow hare tousled in cold wind, its slow half-hop betrayed its own hunger and exhaustion. It had been a lean winter. Made leaner still by the utter lack of break between driving and falling snows. Even if the hare didn’t know, it was currently three-feet taller than it should’ve been.
It hopped a short distance to the edge of a tree trunk. Tension stiffened it. Its ears twitched and tuned like parabolics. The muscular kneading of all small creatures pulled and dropped at its face to sniff the air with foreboded curiosity.
For a long moment, all was still.
Instinct passed and the forager returned its face to the snow to will something from nothing. Background wind ensured it never heard the whistling shaft. One minute, it was living: the next, dead. Its hunger forever sated by the nothingness left over.
Izrik didn’t breath. He let the last of the bow’s vibration dissipate through him, admiring his shot with a professional pride. He had true skill as an archer. Shame it alone could not guarantee him a meal.
He eased from his knee, slinging his bow around across his chest and starting for the carcass. It lay, leaking steam and blood into frigid snow. If nothing else, he’d have a new wrap for his sword-hand. The last was frayed from hiking and walking sticks, rather than battle. He’d almost longed for battle. It was practical: he’d been crossing the tundra-wastes over a week now, each day signs of habitation growing sparser.
The birds had disappeared first. Even the Winter Raptors hunting wider-ranges were gone.
Izrik recognized the encroaching of a no-man’s land. The Tundra held no life beyond a certain point, but he was determined to cross it. To reach the lands beyond in search of food, Humanity… anything. He’d rationed just enough meat to get him through a few days of would-be hunger, was already used to sleeping in the permafrost after perfecting the art of iglooing.
Yet, the waning game and growing hunger in his belly nagged him. He knew he could not eat more than enough to sustain himself. Beyond wastefulness, it was dangerous to become fatigued from a full belly, but it made him tired not to eat too. Worse still, it made him weaker. Barren land or not, that was unacceptable. He’d need all of his strength to make it through.
He set camp for the night to eat what he could and preserve the rest. In the morning, he rose, leaving the igloo as he’d built it for someone or thing to find it useful. He picked a petrified limb from an ages-dead Hickory, more than adequate for its purpose and solid enough to give even an acolyte’s staff a run for its money. Then, used it to test the deepest drifts and set out.
Especially in clearings, there was no telling whether snow had formed coverings for pitfall traps of old-era buildings or machinery. He couldn’t say for sure of any around, especially given the snowbound terrain, but the petrified trees led him to doubt it. His usually-acute instincts were proven wrong moments later.
Izrik poked his hickory into a drift, felt it sink a few feet and thunk. Satisfied, he stepped into it, felt his legs sink the two feet to the hardened under-layer.
He’d not walked a half-step when he heard the crack! He leapt on instinct, sensing his mistake. His reflexes were good, but not enough. He fell downward, twenty or more feet, banging along smooth, thin metal with the violent ruckus of a bag of hammers poured over an anvil.
He tumbled downward through enclosed nothingness, fighting to right himself and keep his legs beneath him. The echoes were deafening, leaving him even more spun than lost gravity. He was soon sliding downward at impossible speeds, darkness swallowing him.
His senses sharpened. Leathers worked on order of muscle to slow him down. In a moment, the slope leveled out. Izrik was moving too fast. He burst from slatted sheet-metal that covered the shaft’s terminus. He burst out, catching himself on its edge with one hand. The other dangled, jammed with inertia over distant, clanging metal in pitch-blackness below.
His plight took only a breath to confront him. Straining groans of metal forced his arm up. He felt the shaft flex, scrambled to climb too-smooth metal. He’d only just clasped the edge again when a metallic snap cut the air. Gravity jerked downwardwith folding metal. The shaft’s underside slammed a concrete wall, looking distantly likea wilted metal flower touching its own stem. Izrik’s body followed through, slamming the wall front-on.
Wind knocked from his lungs, he lost his grip and fell into darkness.
He landed on his side on something heavy, coughing and scrambling for breath. On his hands and knees, gasping, he finally looked around: The darkness was thick, but the thing beneath him was heavy, wooden, smooth but unnaturally so.
Izrik managed enough of a grip on himself to stand. In a flash, he was blinded by a sudden, intense, light as which he’d never seen. Thousands of lamps and overhead lights flickered on. With them was the obvious whirring of something neither man nor animal. Machine, he guessed.
And in a moment, he understood the machines were all around him, connected to glowing panels.
His attention however, was drawn to one side of the room. A massive stockpile of metal cylinders spackled with pristine, colored paper lined the wall. He knew what it was without having to guess; food. Canned food. Old world, but good forever. His feet carried him with ethereal disjointedness but a large, colored emblem on the floor caught his eye mid-way.
He’d yet to grasp the whole of the room, but there on the floor, words he could read but didn’t understand; “Seal of the President Of the United States.”
“President” was the only word that made sense, but it suddenly struck him. All of the Empires’ lies: from the Rebellion’s so-called pseudo-evidence. It was real. He alone had proof. Now, food enough to last in relaying it to another.
He circled a small gait, viewing the damage of the serendipitous– rather than unfortunate, tumble he’d taken. It was only then that his mind stopped swirling, and the immensity of what lay before him locked him still in the symbol’s center.
He could only breathe, “Woah.”