Set in a lonesome and barbarous failed state, North Dark is the story of a lone man traveling by dogsled across a frozen wasteland in pursuit of the fugitive who destroyed his family.
Haunted by predators both physical and spectral, the musher’s journey takes him across a deadened tundra, tortured cities and the remains of civilizations long-lapsed into madness. All the while, his enemy slides in and out of striking distance, always one step ahead, always one act of violence away.
Treesplitter sees that his sons neither hear nor understand him, so he waves his whipping torch and they all spread out to search the ice caves. His sons are capable, not useless. His gloved hand clenches the stalk of the torch as he enters the ribbed blue socket of a nameless tunnel he played in many times as a child and teenager. The windhowl shuts off as he passes into the low slung shaft. The light of his torch flaps on the icerimed ceiling and walls. Once he is far enough within to no longer feel the sharp scrape of wind on his face, he throws back his foxfur hood, searches the ground for footprints in the frost, and sees none. That does not mean he is in no danger. That does not mean the fugitive is not just ahead of him, hiding in the dark, blade drawn. Treesplitter grips his sharpest knife and advances quietly.
He has been through this before. Men, desperate men, come through his village several times a year. Some criminals, others victims, but the hard and fast local law is to turn all away. There is no room. No space for unknowns. Once, years ago, on a similar adventure, he had been forced to kill two men in a cave like this. He never did learn from what they were running, but they had carried short, nicked knives and wild looks in their eyes and that was enough.
The grim weight of resolve settles over him. There is a good chance he will murder soon.
Murder. Best not to call it that. Protection. Protection of his family, those he loves, those he fathers, the woman he husbands. He touches the ice wall with his fingers. This is the spot where he first made love to Prairie thirty years ago. Neither of them has been with another since.
He looks down at the icy ground and gives a small laugh for the young and hotheaded boy he once was. It is unthinkable how much time has changed him. Tamed him even.
He moves down the tunnel until he reaches the first hard bend. He bites his knife and transfers the torch to his left hand. He reaches for the leather sack looped through his belt, sets it on the ground, opens the mouth and lets loose the three gray ridge mice within. The rasping animals, each as long as river trout, circle him. He waves them forward with his torch and they run into the darkness of the tunnel ahead. He stands there listening for long seconds. He scrapes the flat of his knife against his beard. Fugitives. Ruffians. He has better things to do, village work to complete, tasks to administer, supper to eat. The temperature drops a few degrees and he reminds himself that he had better keep his mind on the job at hand. Tougher men than he have been lost to simple scoundrels before.
The high whine of the ridge mice ahead. A long, panicked squeal. One of the cries cuts off and, a moment later, two of the mice race past his feet, darting away. He holds the torch forward, illuminating another few yards of blue cave and the twisted, enraged face of the snowbear lumbering toward him on enormous paws. The creature’s small eyes flash and its fur glows blue in the strange halflight of the tunnel.
Treesplitter’s eyes widen in alarm and he throws the torch at the beast. The bear ignores the fire bouncing from his chest and charges the man before him. Treesplitter lowers himself, crouches …