Advertisement
Remove
Settings

A note from Wormlord13

The stranger sets out across the swamps in search of his target. Instead, he finds a well-worn path, and begins tracking an unknown animal. What could be better to improve his reputation than a trophy hunted down in the Mire?

The landscape sat still all around him. On his left were endless dead trees, like gravestones marking the remembrance of some great tragedy eons before. To his right, the mountains stared down on him. Watching. Waiting. Judging. The quiet that hung in the air was a kind of uncomfortable, but the Mire was not a comfortable kind of place.

In any other swamp, the forest would teem with the sounds of insects singing their baleful songs out through the reeds, filling the sky with melodies that swept over lilies and through ferns. Birds would call out in longing, adding their voices to the choir, if this were any other swamp. Somewhere, in another swamp, tiny creatures scurry underfoot and go about their day-to-day business. Grunts and barks and chitters would embellish the overflowing soundscape of another swamp, somewhere. But not here. This was not any other swamp. This was the Mire. Any echo of song that once lingered here are gone to the tides of time, replaced by a frozen silence that reaches out over the waters and through the branches of dead wood and hanging moss, choking the air to a dead stillness. The inhabitants of the Mire had little to sing about, and knew better than to draw the attention of an audience. And on that day, as any day, the Mire sat in silence, save the trodding footsteps of a stranger looking to make a name for himself.

His feet were cold. More and more since he crossed the Summit Gateway he realized how the cold bothered him. He always liked the cold before, but it seemed to tighten its grip on him now. The stranger buried his hands in his armpits, furrowing his brow and looking out ahead for anything that might lead him to where he was going. A hill up ahead looked like a promising place to search for a trail or a pathway that his target might have used. The ground was less mushy here, but the incine proved a challenge as he slipped and slid underfoot, falling to his hands and knees twice before reaching the top of the small mound. It wasn’t much of a lookout, but he saw a clearing in the woods that looked well used. Starting here would be better than nothing. Trampling downward again, he landed on level ground with a splat that echoed off the side of the mountain and back to him. He double checked his surroundings and closed in on the clearing.

Stepping into the clearing, he confirmed what he saw from his small lookout before. The area was well-worn, with the dark mud trampled by enough foot traffic that no one particular track was identifiable. At first glance, it didn’t seem to lead anywhere significant. It smelled though. It reeked, actually, like an imperial outhouse. The farm hand tried to cover his nose but the stink was ubiquitous. The stranger groaned in disgust and turned to follow the path. There were marks on the trees. Dead as they were, the marks were fresh. Lazy yellow stuck out from beneath the surface of the trees’ gray-white surface. Claw marks? Maybe gnawing… This was certainly some kind of animal.

The stranger turned a bend in the trail. A fallen tree attempted to block the way. It must have come down in the storm. A second one sat ahead having met the same fate. This didn’t feel right. The winds weren’t strong enough to blow down trees, were they? They are dead, though. Long dead. Maybe they were weaker than they looked. His target certainly didn’t leave these marks, but his curiosity got the better of him. The fallen trees looked like they had been pulverised, crushed. Whatever this was, he bet it would make for a serious trophy. He would have all the rep credits he needed if he could take down a Mire wolf or a preying mantis. He could shove this paltry contract back at Dervis and Turq while he regaled the whole Summit tavern with the story of his hunt! He found a new energy and set off quicker down the trail. His boots sloshed in the mud and smacked the ground as he jogged onward, chasing the freshly scarred trees down the way.

To his side he saw scit crabs bury themselves in the mud as he went. A pinch fox crouched down in defense and stared cautiously as he slogged onward. He slowed to a leisurely walk as he caught his breath, almost immediately deciding to stop instead. His chest burned inside and he leaned over and grabbed his knees, letting his head droop. His breath came out in wispy puffs of steam against the cold. He hung his pack on a low branch to keep it from the mud and pulled his water out again. He still had plenty, but he would pace himself regardless- else he would risk having to suck the goop out of a mire aloe on his way back and that just wasn’t worth it. His breathing slowed, but the stench of the trail had returned. He didn’t realize until now but he had been breathing through his mouth as he ran. Now that he had caught his breath, the stink had welcomed itself back into his nose. He gagged a little, caught by surprise, but quickly learned his lesson.

The sun hung high above his head but provided little warmth. He would have to keep going until he found some sign of what had been marking these trees. The trail was too fresh for it to be far and he wouldn’t go back empty handed. His pack hung open on the tree branch, looking just as tired as the stranger himself. He placed his water back in the sack and began buckling and securing the folds when he heard the faintest grunt just off the trail. He froze, listening for it again. And again it came. Something was close. He left the pack hanging and drew his crippled sword from its scabbard, crouching down and sneaking into the curtains of moss that hung in the trees. He placed his steps slowly and carefully, making as little sound as he was able. He sheltered behind a boulder erupting a few feet out of the mud, peering over it for his prize. Maybe forty paces ahead was a red boar, shifting through the muck, eating gods know what. It was handsome! Rough, black skin with strands of bristley red hair that made it look like it had a short, full-body mohawk. It must have been as long as the farm hand was tall! Its tusks were… Intimidating. But killing a red boar single-handedly would win him more than enough reputation credits! Plus, the boar hadn’t realized he was there, he had the element of surprise! He could charge it and take control while the boar had its guard down.

He crouched again behind the rock, taking a few deep breaths and focusing on the task at hand. He closed his eyes and thought of his mother, of her resplendent blade slashing through the air. Did he smell rotten fruit? The boar grunted and crunched away at something it had found.

Now!

He spun, lunging forward. His blade was raised above his head. It hadn’t noticed him yet! Thirty paces now. He leaned into his sprint.

Rancid fruit again… Sour.

Twenty paces, almost there. Stab ahead of the back leg to stun. Hug it’s side. One stab behind the ear to kill. Fifteen paces. His heart beats in his chest.

‘Pu-pum’...

A loud crack as splinters pelt his face. Wood explodes outward. A tree falls.

The boar…

The boar turns, squealing in fear. It tries to run but it’s too late to escape. The stranger’s legs lock tight and he skids into the mud. He flinches, his arms instinctively cower. His sword drops to the ground. Get away! Get up, go the other way! He feels his heart

‘Pu-pum’...

His knees don’t work right, they’re slippery and stiff at the same time and his chest feels empty and tight and he can’t breath. He slides to the mud, eyes locked on the scene in front of him- what was happening in front of him?

An arm, swollen as thick as a log, crashes down on the boars back. The crack of bone, more squeals, louder now. Not fear though, pain this time. The farm boy flinches again, wincing like the pain is his own.

‘Pu-pum’...

He sits in the mud petrified, but kicks his leg, pushing himself backward. Again, push, kick, scramble- anything to get away.

More squeals, like screams, begging for mercy, begging for help that won’t come. The monstrous fist comes down again, crushing the boar's spine and cracking his ribs open. Red bursts out as the boars ribs open and rip through his sides. It doesn’t look real. Its mangled body- ribs flattened out against the mud and earth as the ground quivered beneath the force of the strike

‘Pu-pum’....

He felt a wet slap against his face as stray viscera splattered against him. His eyes were still transfixed on the nightmare… He was shaking, his limbs wouldn’t cooperate, his body wasn’t listening to him. Get up! Get up and run!

The massive arm raised up and came down on the boar again. The ground quaked and blood drenched earth and clumps of flesh and bone flew into the air like terrible fireworks. The screaming was forever. Unimaginable pain, unrelenting terror. And something else. The monster was…

‘Pu-pum’...

It was crying. It was mangling and sundering and breaking. And crying like a man in agony, deep, heavy sobs. The arm again reached upward, summoning unholy strength and coming down like an earthquake on the boar’s skull. Its screams stop abruptly, cut short in the middle of an agonizing shriek.

‘Pu-pum’...

Get up and run’, he screams internally, begging for his body to listen. ‘Get up before it sees you’! The smell of putrid citrus and fresh blood is oppressive. It hangs in the air like a dark gravity, crushing his body and trapping him in the muck.

‘Pu-pum’...

He turns and claws at the ground, scrambling to get up and escape, to hide, to do anything but be there. His entire body is quaking.

‘Pu-pum’...

The beast whimpers again. It’s crying transforms into a soul-shattering shriek, erupting like a volcano of rage and power and hate.

‘Pu-pum’...

That terrible shriek rocks the farm-boy's chest. His bones quake from the loudness of it, radiating through his sternum and jolting out of his fingertips like a lightning bolt.

‘Pu-pum’...

‘Pu-pum’...

He’s running. Finally. Which way? Everything is swamp and mud and forest. He pushes past the dead hair of moss hanging from the trees, shoving himself away from the nightmare behind him.

‘Pu-pum, pu-pum, pu-pum’...

He couldn’t look back. He didn’t want to see. He didn’t want to face the truth he already knew. Because the truth was…

He could hear it following him.

The crack of wood popped in his ear like a whip as the beast pummeled and shattered trees on its way to him. The weeping and moaning drew nearer. And then a voice from behind him.

“Run,” it garbled, “Run! Run! Run!” The words repeated between sobs and whimpers, choking out from the beast as if drowning on them. It was talking to him. He listened. He kept running. His lungs catching fire and his heart screaming, he ran. His legs swung wildly, rushing and bounding over roots and under branches and through moss and muck.

Closer. It was closing on him. He could feel the beast on the back of his neck. His skin shivered, anticipating death, expecting at any moment the sensation of horrible fingers slashing across his back or a furious, primal blow that would shatter his body. It was so close now. It was right behind him- he could feel it reaching out for him! Run! RUN! The beast urged and he listened, run!

He could feel its footfalls behind him. This was it. He peered over his shoulder just as the creature burst through a curtain of moss.

‘Pu-pum’...

Their eyes locked. His- terrified and wide and streaming. The beast’s- mournful and hungry and silver. A Woe-beast. Horror of the Mire, nightmare of the valley, the Crying-Death, terror incarnate. The stranger saw the dismal face of a man torn from his life, tortured into monstrosity. Who might this person have been? Did his family know what became of him? How long had he been trapped in this place, a prisoner in his own terrible corpse?

Rancid, putrid, fetid rotting fruit, foul and wicked and spoiled.

Dull, jaundice skin hung swollen from the beast's face with misshapen lumps and swells. The few amber teeth left in its skull dangled from lifeless gums. Atop its head swayed dusty, ancient strands of hair whispering like haunting spirits and three small, orange spikes burst out of the back of its skull, reaching upward with white tips. The beast was nearing the end of its lifespan; those white-tipped fungal antlers would soon multiply and bloom, bursting forth from its corpse and straining out towards the sky like the pipes of a majestic organ, leaving behind a mushy mound of pillowy flesh and the porous skeleton of its long doomed victim. A rusted iron pauldron jutted out of it’s shoulder in shattered pieces like shrapnel in a wound. The bloated, swollen flesh around it had over time shoved the mangled shards of metal forward and nearly consumed them entirely. If it was ever more than a solid, ugly plate of metal then time had eroded all evidence. It more resembled thick chunks of tree bark than any armor ever worn by men. Rotting leather straps dug deeply into it’s flesh to hold the iron guard in place. Lopsided shoulders stooped forward from their own weight, hunching the beasts back and skewing its posture. Lumbering through the mud, it used its club-like dominant arm as an anchor to thrust forward with terrifying and deadly speed. That horrible arm, so round and bubbled out- that terrible arm that must have weighed more than the stranger entirely, pulsing and throbbing with profane pestilence and pus like a beating heart removed and desperate, longing, begging, demanding, commanding. When the beast raised up that abominable arm, it was a dire, foreboding storm cloud chasing across the firmament, it’s dark veins stretching under flesh like shadowy thunderstrokes. Clusters of orange pustules dotted it’s skin, some bursted and scarred and old and wrinkled and brown. The creature looked both starved and obese at once, with ribs jutting out like thirsty dunes and a distended stomach, bulging and sagging like a bloated king. On it’s torso hung shelves of brown fungus and grey-green lichen like a long-rotten log decaying in the rain. It still wore trousers, but they were nought but tattered and stained rags, wisping in the air like the moss from the trees. They might have fallen off completely if not for having grown right into the skin itself like thick strands of hair. They swayed between its legs, which were surprisingly fit despite having an unnatural curve that would make a man’s knees ache to behold. It’s feet were uneven; one elephantile, swollen with Woe and ballooned while the other starved and dry and feral, both coated with heavy clods of mud and sludge up to the knee.

‘Pu-pum’...

The stranger blinked. This wasn’t what he had planned. He was going to explore the world and find adventure and become a great and respected mercenary like his mother Arngeal. He wasn't supposed to die the moment he stepped foot off of his fathers accursed sweet root farm. But here he was. And his father was right, he just ended up getting himself killed. What would his mother think? All those stories of triumph and daring and danger and he gets chased down by a Woe-beast on his first contract. She would be ashamed. He was ashamed. His last action on this plane would be to stomp through the mud in desperate terror before being pummeled into a mix of earth and bloody viscera. There was nothing for it now. He had let down the memory of his mother. He had let down himself. He had proved his father right. He braced himself, waiting for the grave blow of the titan fist. His final footstep, falling into the wet of the Mire. Slowly falling. And falling. And falling.

Where had the ground gone?

‘Pu-pum’...

His whole body fell now. He was weightless. The stranger’s gaze dropped below the horizon as he became perpendicular to the ground. Twenty paces below him was a still river of gunk, ushering through a cavernous ravine like a sludge-berg. A chest-shaking cry of protest exploded from behind him as he fell onto a mangled root jutting from the cliffside. His shoulder collided with the root and he heard a sickening ‘crack’ and his vision blurred. His limp form flipped backwards in the air and was pitched into the river of mud below, slamming his head against the grime like a whip as the world went black.

‘Pu-pum’...

‘Pu-pum’...

‘Pu-pum’...

Advertisement

About the author

Wormlord13

Bio: I'm excellent at writing informative and compelling essays, but I want to write fantasy fiction! I've just started writing and I'm currently working on my first short story in a world I'm creating as the story evolves.

I would absolutely love some feedback on the plot, characters, development, world-building, structure, and pacing! I NEED AS MUCH BIG PICTURE ADVICE AS I CAN GET!! Take a couple minutes and tell me what you think.

Achievements
Comments(0)
Log in to comment
Log In

No one has commented yet. Be the first!