It had been two days since they'd halted. Edwin felt exposed and at risk. He hadn't realised how much travelling had done to calm his paranoia of being caught by the high men. A lot of the Alliance shared his unease, and tensions were running high. But Todd still hadn't revealed anything. In fact, he was scarcely seen at all.
They were in a rocky, mountainous area that Edwin estimated must be located almost, if not exactly, on the north pole. There was little shelter - it was a poor excuse for a camp. Large damp canvasses were attached to a few jagged rocky balconies, but these were few. Other people tried to make crude tents with wood from the few winter trees that scattered the landscape, but these were mostly unsuccessful, especially when the wind picked up.
One benefit to come out of the last few days was a closer relationship with Aadam. Edwin did not understand the man, but he thought he was probably one of the good guys and was at least someone you could rely on. The problem was that Aadam spent a lot of time flirting outrageously with Nayah, which was not so much disturbing to Edwin as simply annoying. Intelligent conversation did not last for long before being interrupted.
Sitting under one of the bits of canvas by a steep crop of mountain, Edwin huddled close with Aadam, Nayah and Jeremy, another man of the Alliance who was friendly with Aadam. He was attempting to start a fire but was having no luck due to the wind. The thick canvas flapped vigorously in the wind and threatened to collapse on them at any second. The feeling of misery in the camp was strong enough to taste, and, although the Alliance made no secret that the life would be tough, people at least expected a good reason for it.
The days were shortening rapidly, and the party was treated to little sunlight. The nights were cold to the point of pain. Yesterday morning Edwin had feared he would lose his limbs. It took him almost an hour to work some feeling back into them, but even then they had still shook fiercely and were littered with goosebumps.
"This is useless," muttered Nayah grunting, "Let me shift and-"
"-No," said Aadam firmly, "We have talked about this many times."
"If I don't, I am to freeze to death,"
"You will not die," said Aadam, holding her hands in his own and blowing on them gently.
Nayah lowered her head, her spirits low. She was usually such an insufferably positive person, so her depressive state hit Edwin hard.
He tried to grasp some words of comfort, "Todd will protect us. He took us in after all."
"That does not mean he's obliged to save us," said Nayah, "Maybe this life was all a dream, and we are beginning to wake up."
"Nothing ever lasts," said Aadam, poking the kindling with one of the sticks, "This is futile. I'm going to see if I can get some sleep."
They all agreed and huddled together under a second piece of canvas, kicking out the bits of wood of the failed fire. Nayah lay sandwiched between Edwin and Aadam as she felt the cold more severely than the two of them. Around them others also gave up on creating fire and turned in on empty stomachs and cold hearts.
There was silence in the camp. But not one of the Alliance managed sleep.
* * * * *
Edwin was first up the next morning, well before the Sun briefly showed its face, so he was the only one to catch Todd as he returned.
He was not a significant member of the Alliance, so talking to Todd straight up was considered rude. But Edwin didn't care. The night just passed had been the worst yet, and his bones and flesh felt like they were rotting from the damp chill that had infected him. He needed answers. Respect and honour no longer mattered.
"Todd," said Edwin, calling to him in emotionless tones.
Todd was surprised to see someone awake, but did not shy away from him, "Good morning Edwin."
"No, I wouldn't say so. Not at all. Quite the opposite," he was brief, abrupt and to the point. His eyes stared directly at Todd's - seeking, challenging, dangerous. Edwin felt his sanity slipping over the edge. He was at breaking point. He had always been that way; the calmest, most patient one - until the end came. Then he snapped, and his wrath would come tumultuous and hot.
"You are discontented. I am aware you are not alone in your feelings," he said in a manner that gave nothing away.
"I know I am not of high rank in the Alliance. I know I owe my salvation to you and for that I am eternally grateful. But I want answers. I appreciate that suffering is often necessary on the path we follow, but this feels like suffering without good reason. I-"
"-There is good reason, Edwin, as I'm sure you understand deep down,"
"Yes. You are a wise man, I doubt you do things without good cause. But what is that cause, may I ask? Or rather, why have you not told us of your plans? Are we not a group built on trust and loyalty?"
"We are. I trust all of you men and women, as I hope you all trust me,"
"So confide in me," Edwin said simply.
Todd sat on a fallen tree trunk and called Edwin to him. A light snow began to fall but the wind grew stiller.
"The smell of change is in the air, Edwin, and it comes from the absolute north. That is what we are here for. I hope... that maybe things are turning in our favour,"
"What do you mean?"
"I think there is something up here that can help us and make us a much stronger force. Perhaps to the extent that we may not have to fear the high ones forever."
"Why are you hiding that?" Edwin was confused.
"Because although hope strengthens a man, disappointment will break him. This possibility is definitely not a certainty. If this turns to nothing, it will be worse if the others know and are let down than if they knew nothing of it."
"Is it not better to love and lose than never love at all?"
"Have you ever loved, Edwin?"
"Then you do not understand how ridiculous that statement sounds. It is better not to know. Ignorance can be foolish, but it can also be protection. It can keep a man sane."
There was a pause. Edwin stared out across the plain white landscape with the dark sky overhead. Faint green wisps danced among the stars and the thin clouds continued to sprinkle the scene with dust. There was no doubt this was a beautiful place. But he had no time to appreciate beauty when his stomach was bare and his limbs were numb and turning blue.
"Tell me of this hope," said Edwin, "I would rather know the truth of the matter. You know that to be so."
"Of course, that is why I am speaking to you now. I think it's essential that I know each of my men inside out."
Edwin shifted uncomfortably on the frozen log. He had often wondered whether Todd was able to read his mind.
Todd continued, "The problem with secret organisations, like the Alliance, is that nobody knows about them. So, there could easily be another organisation co-existing, without either knowing of the other."
Edwin raised an eyebrow, "You're saying you think there could be another group like us?"
Todd nodded, "And I'm not talking about a small gathering of men, Edwin. I'm talking about a city's worth. Vast accumulations of people... an army."
He nodded more furiously, "An army of fortitude enough to take on the high ones, and win."