Chapter 3. Mugger’s Folly
“Come back and fight!” Acolyte Spew tore her whip round in snapping circles above her head. CRACK! “Come back!”
Atop the marsh-oak pillory fastened about Malving’s neck and hands, Spew clutched on like some tree-frog goddess. And upon that altar of pillory wood and flesh she was wrath incarnate. And before her wrath they fled, a stumbling mass of arms and legs, bone weapons and rattling armor, stinking bodies scrambling madly for escape— Regrettably for Spew, the ‘they’ were four out of the five mercenary guards she had hired on implied-retainer. And the only reason she had not fled before them was the simple fact that for her mount she had chosen a stooped thirteen-year-old pig boy who was muzzled, pilloried, and dead-tired from the fifty-pound croaker attached to his head.
Spew glanced to her left. Only Izula still stood by her, and only because she was extremely stupid. The giant sword she wielded trembled between her grotesquely knuckled fists. Her huge croaker pupils had constricted to pinpricks of black on yellow. And she was drooling. Copiously.
“A pity.” Lorgex the Eyes smirked as the greater portion of Spew’s entourage fled down the back alleys of Cesstern.
“That’s Acolyte Spew, you shriveled abortion.” Spew feverishly tore about for some sort of escape.
“Give me the Chosen One, and you can go free,” Lorgex crossed his skinny arms.
“The wha—?” Spew raised a non-existent eyebrow.
“Relinquish him not and my chitterling horde shall chew the very flesh from your bones,” Lorgex sneered. “It is said croakers are something of a delicacy in chitterling cuisine.” He smiled so wide that for a moment Spew thought the drum-tight skin over his emaciated face might rip free of the skull so prominent beneath.
“Eat-eat, chew-chew, froggy-froggy,” the chitterlings chattered. They stood waist high all about Lorgex. A ragged pack of them. Stooped, giant man-rats they were, with all of the charm of sewer rats coupled incestuously with the morals and opposable thumbs of men. Like paired gravestones, huge slanted chisel teeth jutted from beneath dripping whiskered muzzles.
“He’s mine.” Spew blustered herself up. She had to get the hell out of here. There were too many foes — one was generally too many. “Be gone, Lorgex, or Izula, here — hey, stop drooling.” She nudged her with her whip handle. “Ahem, Izula will give you and your rats something to chew on!” So long as that something was Izula and not Spew.
“Attaaaaaack!” Spew screeched.
In response, Izula huffed hard and slow then started foaming at the mouth, which was, possibly, an improvement over the drooling? Either way, it would still take the chitterlings a few precious moments to eat her. Then the boy. Of course, by then Spew could be — staring down the long crooked alleyway she calculated her torpid land speed — not very far. She was built for many things: power, torture, seduction. Alas, speed was not on that list. Then her eyes lit upon it — the heaped garbage pile from the Swamp Rat Tavern. The back door lay buried somewhere beneath that glacial midden-heap. Somewhere…
“Very well, Spew, you had your chance.” Lorgex raised both of his twizzled arms. “Take them, chitterlings! Bite them! Gnash them! Sharpen your teeth on their marrow!”
A wave of red eyes and chipped teeth and damp hairy limbs broke over Izula and surged round Malving’s legs. Spew struggled amidst the tide to hold on as Malving screamed in muzzled terror, turned to flee but was knocked from his shackled feet, slamming pillory first to the ground.
“Gimpy! Do not gnaw the man-child!” Lorgex ran forward. “NO! Gimpy. Bad Gimpy!”
Spew’s whip flew from her hand as she smacked down hard, bouncing twice and rolling hard like a wad of snot. Into the Swamp Rat’s midden heap she slammed, an avalanche of filth and animal bones cascading down, engulfing her immediately as dozens of clawed rat feet stomped towards her. Sniffles and snuffles and teeth gnashed through the trash all around her, searching.
“Bring him to me, Gimpy!” Lorgex screamed. “No! No bites—”
As Spew scrambled free of her tomb, a huge chitterling soared through the air, tackling her. Its bulk pressed her deep into the midden heap. Suffocating. Claws digging in. Slavering, its whiskered rat muzzle pressed toward her face, teeth bared to the black gums. Snap! A roar suddenly exploded up the alleyway. Piercing squeals instantly followed flying rat carcass.
Spew’s chitterling sprayed black breath as it hissed down to gnaw into her—“!@#STOP#@!” — spat Spew dead to rights into the chitterling’s face. Her voice fissured the air.
The chitterling froze. It blinked. Twitched.
Spew weaseled and clawed, sputtering from beneath the frozen rat-thing, scrambling towards the Swamp Rat’s back door. She hopped onto the door handle and pulled with all her might, but the door would not budge. “By Grimnir’s black name, open this door!” She pounded away to no avail. She turned and the huge chitterling was moving again, at her feet. But something was different.
It lay twitching…
It lay dying.
It lay dead. It’d been cut in half below its stomach. Black tentacles of gore and innard trailed it like some doomed comet’s tale. A yellow wind oozed down the alley, and in the distance, Spew could hear the flesh-peddlers’ hawkings from the Sickamore Slave Market.
“Izula…” Spew whispered.
In the alley, nothing moved.
Lorgex was gone. So too Malving.
No matter. Spew yet lived.
She adjusted her purple wig and tiara. Brushed herself off.
Clutched her torture bag.
She found Izula amidst the circle: the circle of limbs, of torsos, of rat heads flung about as though some sort of great razorback tornado god had inhaled them iall in one great gout, chewed them up, then vomited them all forth. Impossible to tell how many.
Gashes and flaps of hanging green skin covered Izula’s body. Blood eeked out. Her long, bone saw-sword lay across her chest, clutched red in her monstrous hammer fists. Her eyeballs lolled back beneath barely cracked lids.
Spew reached forward, tentatively, closing Izula’s eyes then touched the hilt of the blade with a delicate wet finger. Fine craftsmanship, really. The work of a master bone-smith. It would fetch a good price at market. Her armor, too. And, perhaps Izula had some other goodies as well. Oooh. She rifled Izula’s corpse.
“Crrrrrrrrrrrrrrroooooooooak…” Izula croaked meekly.
“Hop toward the dark.” Spew dug into a coin purse.
Spew upended the coin purse. It was full of teeth. Spew hadn’t paid her yet. And that meant she still owed her the implied-retainer. And a debt owed and left unpaid was possibly the one thing Spew could not swallow. Bad business. Word would get out. No more meat-shields to work for her. Protect her. Die for, and more importantly instead of, her. And Izula had proved rather useful in that function, despite the overwhelming drooling problem. Spew looked around in awe, counting chitterling heads. Five… Six… Eight… Nine!
All by herself.
“Croooooak…” Izula coughed up a dribble of pink foam.
Yes, Izula was useful, but more importantly, she was very stupid. And very stupid meant she was probably very loyal as well. And very loyal people were generally very willing to do stupid things for other people. And Spew was habitually asking people to do stupid things for her.
“Grimnir’s grimy ball-sacks…” She pushed back her indigo sleeves. Scraping a handful of dirt from the muddy streets, she packed it into a ball and shoved it into her mouth. And she chewed. And she grimaced. And she swallowed. It went down like a wire-haired cat. Hocking deep from within the bowels of her black soul, she tore open Izula’s cavernous maw, and spat the black earth bile in. She closed Izula’s mouth, her shattered skull shifting and scraping like a bag full of pottery shards beneath Spew’s hands.
Leaning in close then, Spew whispered, “!@#LIVE#@!”
And live she did.