This is the second piece of a three-part short story. You can read part one here. Feel free to leave thoughts or corrections in the comments.
The countryside was better. There were people here, too, but they were doing the same thing we were: fleeing the city. I only hoped that we didn't all share the same destination.
We staggered along for only a few minutes before we left the road. I don't know who suggested it, or if we all just realized it at once, but the road was hopeless: the hard surface lost beneath a stream of mud that sucked at our feet and slowed our steps. The grass was better, the trees better still -- though there was no escape from the merciless rain. The water was just as deep here, but roots and grasses held the soil in place.
I took a guess at our direction, and we staggered on: away from the town, towards the crazy old man in the hills. We splashed across a field that was now a shallow lake, scrambled up hillsides that were trying to dissolve into mudslides.
The rain pushed against us at every step. It was a horrible, monstrous thing -- I hated it as if it were alive. The deluge left us half blind and nearly deaf. It weighed down our clothes and sucked the heat from our bodies. We carried the children, now: they were exhausted and shivering. Our weapons were our only supplies, and we carried them only from fear of more bandits. If we didn't make it to shelter, we would starve -- or drown, whichever came first.
By midday we were well into the hills, alternating between walking on thankfully-solid ground and carefully crossing the impromptu streams and cascades that had grown between the high places. We stopped to rest, huddling together like a herd of sheep for warmth; there was no way to start a fire in this, and no shelter to be found.
It wasn't courage or determination that kept us going. It was simply the knowledge that there was nothing else to do. We could either keep going, or die where we sat.
The children surprised me. They were colder and more tired than the rest of us, but they staggered to their feet when we started to move again. Those who could, walked; those who couldn't, we carried.
Somewhere in the afternoon, our path took us close enough to see the river. Or, rather, to see what the river had become. Once slow and tranquil, it was now raging and wild. Once narrow enough to swim across, it was now as wide as the greatest of lakes. Once safely contained within its banks, it was now reaching out to tear away anything it could reach. We could feel its presence as a steady, rumbling vibration in the ground. The docks could not have survived this. The town could not have survived this.
Fortunately, it curved away as we continued on. We hurried, and I felt that we were not so much avoiding the river as trying to escape it. I couldn't see it through the steady rain, but I knew it was back there: growing, spreading, climbing. Reaching. We hiked on, eager to stay ahead of it.
And, finally, we saw it: the high hill where the crazy old man had done his work. With the rain, we were nearly on top of it before it came into view; but the massive wooden construction was unmistakable. Better still, there were only a few other figures crowded around it: only a few that had made it here from the town, or from the surrounding countryside.
With our goal is sight, our steps grew lighter. We hurried forward to safety.
Continued in Part Three.