Chapter 10 Excerpt from The Storm of Northreach
Possible title change? You bet! As always, unedited and probably bad.
To the east of Northreach Town and Tower, one of the Baron’s subjects, a man Rig Anders had never met and now would never get the chance to stumbled along in the slogging mud and rain. Mogedin Vane, Mog to most of the residents of Pellslook while they yet lived, Boggy Moggy to his closest friends due to an unfortunate incident as a youth, leaned far forward as he half-ran and half-stumbled along, perpetually on the verge of pitching forward and using that momentum to carry him forward. From time to time he overdid it, pitching onto his face and putting another coat of mud on his already-caked body. At least the wet ground was soft, since he was unwilling to use his arms to keep his face out of the muck during the inevitable times he stumbled and fell.
Mog risked a glance behind him, seeing only the gray sheet of rain behind him. In a way, seeing nothing at all was the worst for him. If he could keep his pursuers in sight, he could find the strength to keep running, and panic and fear would make the searing pain of every intaken breath burn a little less and render his muscles just a little less wooden. The times when he could see nothing, however, gave rise to the one thing poor Mog knew might kill him: hope.
Maybe ye lost ’em this time, Moggy, his treacherous brain whispered to him, as it had a half-dozen times during his day-long flight. Ye could have a seat, right here in the mud, catch yer breath. This time ye lost ’em fer good.
Mog didn’t want to listen, but the words whispered seductively in his head in a constant lulling stream. His pursuers were slow, at best capable of a feeble trot when they drew close, but they didn’t seem to ever stop. Every time he’d taken a rest, gotten a chance to catch his breath and ease some of his aches, he’d caught the sound of their pursuit moments before the half-shapes of his family were outlined in the curtains of rain. Every time he’d scrambled to his feet, hands pressed hard against his middle, as their squelching steps drew closer, his screams sending waves of searing pain through his gut as they blended with the moans of his wife and children.
Despite his intentions, he could feel his feet slowing. The whispers told him that he was safe, and despite himself he wanted so desperately to believe them. He glanced down at his hands clutched to his stomach. He didn’t want to look, but he’d hadn’t pulled the bundle of cloth away in hours. The cloth was soaked through and dark, but the rain would of course have a hand in that. It couldn’t all be blood, certainly, else he’d have never had the strength to run as long and as far as he had already. Still, he was worried. Ever since his first look at the wound, when he saw the pale loop of his intestine emerging from the ragged hole and laying cupped in his trembling hand, he knew that he was in dire need of help. He’d heard stories of the hedge witch in Greatknoll his whole life, and her purported knowledge of healing and herbs and rituals long since forbidden in the lands Anticus controlled. The driving need for aid, and the near-talismanic power the thought of this woman that had slowly taken hold over him, had kept his feet moving, despite the pain and lightheadedness and the elements.
Mog suddenly realized that he was down on his knees, eyes shut, oblivious to the rain that flowed over him. He looked down at his legs, now half-covered in standing water. His head swam. He had no idea how long it had been since he’d stopped, had no idea that he’d even stopped moving at all. The tingling in his limbs felt distant, his breath a little less ragged. He licked his lips and looked down, slowly pulling the cloth from the ruin of his stomach and the wound that his own son’s teeth had left. The faraway feeling extended to his stomach, for although he could see the clotted blood and skin pulling and tearing away as he moved the crude binding, he felt nothing. He stared open-mouthed, still panting from his run, at the sluggish flow of dark-red blood trickling from inside him, disgustedly fascinated with the black globs that ran with the turgid flow. The pale worms of his guts looked greyish, now, although he could no longer remember if they had always looked that way.
He knelt in the mud, staring at his insides. The pelting rain splashing around him and off of the leaves lining the dirt track that passed for a road was almost soothing. Mog tilted his head back, letting the rain fill his mouth. He felt oddly peaceful, for the first time since his cousin from Altosmine had so suddenly and savagely turned up. The blurred actions that had followed went so quickly that even now he couldn’t piece them together. One moment, his cousin had been standing their doorway, Mog’s wife holding the door in one hand as the family sat to table. Then it was screaming and thrashing on the floor and Mog battering his cousin with his fists before getting pushed off of him and crashing his head against a wall. Blackness had followed, then the sight of his family lying around in bloody pools. He’d crawled forward, disbelieving everything, ignoring the sounds of screaming and crashing from the houses around him, crawling towards his eldest, cradling his son against him. He’d been unable to weep through sheer shock, and then his wife had begun to stir from her place on the floor, and his son shortly after in his arms, and the surge of joy in him had been abruptly shattered by the sight of his wife’s chewed face and broken neck followed by the tearing pain in his gut and his son’s bloody mouth gnawing at his guts.
Mog had been running ever since. Now, though, the cool rain felt soothing. Maybe the whispers in his head were right, and he’d really lost them for good. He knew he needed to reach that witch in Greatknoll, but the urgency had dimmed slightly. He closed his eyes for a moment to rest.
When his family caught up to him, his eyes didn’t even open until the teeth sank into his neck. The feeling of peace and contentedness was broken as the pain of being eaten alive shot through his body. His new-found strength wasn’t enough to break the tight hold of family, and he collapsed back in the mud for a time until the waves of agony receded as his open eyes stared unblinking into the rain.
A short time later, Mog slowly got to his feet. His hands now longer clutched the bundle of rags to his stomach, but the congealed fluids held the cloth partially in place while the rest hung down long and red like a butcher’s apron. He took a tentative step, west along the mud track that was a road, followed by another. His gait was ungainly as he plodded forward, his feet slipping and sliding in the mud. His family fell into step behind him as they moved along the road, together once more, a man and his wife and their five children. Mog moved forward determinedly, as if there was someone he wanted to find as his feet took him towards Greatknoll.