Listening to the gentle thrum of Morty's lute Jay gently swirled the glass in his hands, smiling to himself as the clink of ice striking the side of his glass blended with the tune the bard was playing. It was quite relaxing just sitting and listening for once not having to command the laws of the universe to shut up, roll over and do as he commanded. The gin was expensive the tonic flavoured with lime instead of lemon and there was just something immensely calming about the way the music bounced back from the oak walls of their private room.
Sadly as with all such moments of peace it was spoilt as Morty shifted his seat and stopped playing. For just a moment Jay sat still then opened his eyes and looked toward the dog, "Is it time?"
"I think so," the mutt murmured moving to the window and peering out between the net curtains, "The street lamps have been lit, the sun is down so he should be here soon."
"Fancy place for King's personal thief to meet us," Jay commented as he pulled his spell book across the table and looked inside it, "I don't think the matron would have let us in if it hadn't been pre-booked."
Morty turned to reply and froze as a figure seemed to detach themselves from the shadows of the inglenooks and regarded them both with deep, red eyes. The grey furred rat pulled the hood covering his head free and slipped into a chair opposite Jay. His armour was made from leather and the bracers around his forearms were a mix of black iron rawhide thong. A long tail of grey flesh coiled from side to side as the stranger rested his bare paws on the table, whiskers twitching as he scented the air.
"Uhm..." Jay murmured then snapped his book close and tried the sign Orel had taught them, "He reigns in the silence below."
"All that squeaks obeys, all that doesn't shall."
"For King by name, King by nature," all three of them said together and for just a moment quiet fell again before the grey rat spoke.
"We have much to plan but little time to waste," his voice was deep, rich and smooth with just a little hint of squeak to it. It gave him quite an exotic accent which only added to the unsettling aura his red eyed granted.
"So, you're the specialist king says we need to raid this tower on the other side of town?" Morty asked, his blunt claws idly tapping the table, "What do we call you?"
"You can call me Tatty, I'm here to pick locks, disable traps and keep you two alive whilst you sense, dispel and identify magic."
"OK well I'm ready to leave if you are," Jay said as he stood up and pocketed his spellbook, "It'll be good to try my hand against another magic users work."
"Quite," Tatty whispered as he stood up and pulled his hood over his head once more, shrouding his face in shadows, "Now follow me, I've paid a lot of money to have exclusive access to Rosemerta's tunnel tonight. This way we get onto the street unseen near a series of buildings whose rooftops will get us all the way to the edge of Tower Ward."
"Roofs... great..., I'm not designed for scrambling over rooftops," Morty murmured, tugging at the sleeves of his well tailored jacket, "I'm a bard not a rogue."
"You'll be fine, I've been briefed on your skills by King. I'm in charge of getting you two in and out, your job is to find what we are after. Jay," he said suddenly, dismissing Morty's further attempt to object, "Are your spells prepared?"
"Yeah, mostly identify, dispel and sense magic a few utilities but nothing overly offensive."
"That is fine just what we need, now come along, stay close and do as I say," Tatty opened a hidden door in the back wall of the parlour and led them down to a brick tunnel. This wandered back and forth for several streets then became a staircase that Tatty led them up.
The rat moved with a strange gait, half crouched, sliding forward on silent bare feet flitting from shadow to shadow with ease. Morty tried to imitate him, scampering along though he had the wrong kind of tail for this sort of sneaking. Jay just strolled along after them both, the hem of his robe a couple of inches off the floor, revealing the sensible boots he had on beneath. The stairs wound up forever, a narrow brick spiral hemmed in on either side by damp stonework, rotten wood and the occasional mechanism that looked as if they'd make the walls shift aside. Tatty ignored them all, climbing higher past quiet basements, a rowdy common room at street level then chambers where quiet whispers and groans were the only thing to otherwise break the silence. Eventually Tatty pushed open a trapdoor and motioned his companions to join him on the roof above. They followed onto the dark tiled roof and crouched beside a chimney stack as Tatty watched the weather.
"It'll be misty by the time we reach the tower, Jay you got a spell to dry us off," the otter shook his head in the negative so Tatty picked up a small bag from a hidden nook and shouldered it, "OK follow me, do what I saw."
"How can you tell it will foggy?" Morty whispered as he followed, 'It's hot and humid out here tonight."
Tatty moved onto the next roof and continued along the street, never looking back as he whispered his reply, "Drizzle down by the river, cold rain hitting the hot air above the river will form mist and it'll hit this district soon."
Morty peered toward the river, he couldn't see much, it was dark and up here the only real light was the street lamps reflecting off the clouds. He started to stand up but Tatty yanked him down and hissed angrily in his ear before resuming their journey. It wasn't easy following the rat across the rooftops, the tiles were slippery even when dry, the paths between buildings were very different, treacherous or involved climbing down into dark alleys only to ascend the other side. Jay hated it but he bared with it, scampering along after the rat and dog for nearly an hour as mist poured along the streets, burying the city in a thick white blanket that left the rooftops as strange islands between rivers of mist. The tower when they reached it was an odd affair, at street level and for the first three storeys it was just another rich merchant town house. Soaring out of the centre of the roof however for another eight storeys was an octagonal tower of basalt blocks that was nearly as wide as the house.
Tatty paused at the edge of the roof, stopping everyone from going further and crouched down in the deepest shadows he could find. Which wasn't hard really, with the mist filling the streets the lamps were muffled golden glows below leaving the roof of the city shrouded in overlapping shadows. Leaning forward the rat peered at the line of rounded tiles that separated the roof of the building they were on from the tower.
“This is were you two come in, this whole place is likely riddled with traps, I can deal with the mundane types but it is the magical wards and spells that I lack skill with,” raising his head he smiled at the dog and otter, “So… impress me with your magic.”
Jay frowned at the thief before stepping forwards slowly and kneeled down to examine the tiles. He didn’t believe for a moment that a thief who was as clearly competent as Tatty didn’t have a means to deal with magical traps. “I’ll have a look,” the otter said glancing toward the rat, “I take it your usual tricks and trap detectors don’t work? It’s either that or King wants to test me and well… I’ll decide what I think about that later.”
Tatty gave nothing away, those solid red eyes were hard to read and the rodent’s whiskers were slick with moisture from the mist and rain. Jay grinned, sharp otter teeth on show for just a second then got to work with a small vial and a muttered incantation. To his eyes the tiles around the edge of the house glowed softly, a pale green luminescence that flowed over the slate like oil atop water.
“Warded, quite a simple alarm ward and magic dampner, anyone crossing the line will have their magical energies grounded.” Jay reached into a pocket of his robe and pulled out a stick of oily green chalk. He drew a series of concentric lines around himself on the roof, starting at the rounded border and then circling out and back in. He then motioned the others close, “Squeeze up next to me, I’m going to have to … extend the ward around us then break the inner line.”
“What will that do?” Morty asked as he crept closer and squished up against the otter and Tatty, watching with interest as Jay started to sketch images in the air with his fingers.
“If I break the ward it’ll let the owner know, I’m copying the ward around us, then we can break the inner line between us and the tower without actually breaking the ward, now shush this is complicated.” Green specks and motes of dust dripped from his fingers, sinking into the terracotta tiles and then the otter moved forward, over the line and onto the roof top, motioning for the others to follow.
“Clever,” Tatty murmured, “I’d not have thought of that, though how do we get back out when the time comes?”
“I either do the same again, though if we can break into this mages sanctuary we might be able to locate the wardstone for the tower. If I disable that it should drop all his wards.”
“Very well, now then,” Tatty circled the tower part way then pointed up, “Two storeys up is a small balcony. The walls slide open and are mostly made from paper and wood but the whole thing is enchanted, is it safe to climb?”
Morty wagged his tail and crouched next to Tatty, peering up at the tower, one of his smooth, brown skinned paws weaving through the air as he worked a spell of his own. “Yes, the enchantments on the tower are asleep, their tied to the border ward, alarm spells and such. We should be able to climb up to the balcony without setting them off.”
“Very well,” Tatty took out a thin length of cord and a grappling hook and tossed it into the air. Jay watched impressed as it sailed up and caught the edge of the balcony. The rat tugged on it twice then looped it about his waist and glanced at Jay, “Did you prepare a spell to hide us? It wouldn’t do for someone on the street to see us climbing the side of this thing.”
“I have invisibility yes, but only two uses of it,” the otter gestured at the street and the weavering sea of white fog, “You sure we can’t risk it? I mean no one is going to be looking outside in this weather.”
Shaking his head the rat hissed softly, “Not so, this is the sort of weather that makes guards pay attention to every little thing. What better time to commit a crime then in all this fog. So yes this is the right time to use it.”
Jay nodded and started to cast, fingers weaving, voice humming the whispered tones of the invisibility spell. It was going to be a magic heavy night, he just had a feeling...
Shivering slightly from the cold air playing over his mostly nude frame Jay used the towel Tatty had given him to dry off his slick fur. Being an otter most water just clung to the surface but it still dripped and rolled onto the floor, more so than the dog or rat which mean he’d had to strip out of his heavy, mist and rain soaked robes and dry off properly.
“The towels are a good idea,” Jay conceded as he watched Tatty drying his own fur, “I like how absorbent they are, where did you get them from?”
“A merchant on Threadneedle Way,” the rat whispered, “And we are infiltrating a building, it doesn’t do to leave puddles of water for guards or residence to discover.” he worked the small scrap of fluffy material along the length of his thick tail, “If you don’t have time to dry off when breaking and entering then you are doing it wrong.”
“Clever,” Morty whispered as he pulled his clothes back on, the enchanted material had already dried itself out. Jay’s robe was the same, the blue material fluffy and clean once again and Tatty looked them both over with approval. The rat had to pull a dry set of armour out of his bag of holding and swap clothes.
“I should invest in such clothing, it’s a shame you can’t get such spells cast on your person,” he squeaked, “Why is that?”
“Practicality,” Jay whispered as he started to examine the room they had snuck into, it looked like some sort of reading room and library though a quick glance at the titles of the scrolls showed it was all mundane matters. “Safety too, regulating someone's body or guarding it from rain and other weather requires very finely tuned magic, it is too easy to go wrong.”
“You can guard against the extremes of weather,” Morty murmured, “Too much sun, too much cold but it is hard to keep rain away or snow or other things. Anyway… we are not here to discuss the minutiae of spellcraft,what do we do now?”
“We climb the tower,” Tatty informed them, slipping along to the door that led onto the stairs that wound up one side of the tower and cracked it ajar, “We have another six levels to climb so… shall we?”
After that it was all business, the lower levels of the tower were empty, dark and dusty. Jay and Morty moved along besides Tatty, detecting magic, disabling traps and tricks of an arcane nature whilst Tatty took out the mechanical ones that would make an intruders life unpleasant. The first level was store rooms of exotic spell components, boxes, barrels and chests of some very rare stuff that made Jay’s paws twitch.
After that was a forge, cold and dark but very well equipped, the sort of refined place that a mage could use to create the most complicated of magical items. Then there was a workshop with bins of woods, ceramics and exotic materials, Jay got distracted by this, wandering around and peering into boxes and small draws whilst Tatty and Morty examined the traps leading to the next level. He even went so far as to steal a couple of vials of ground nymph dust, it was expensive and nearly impossible to find as most people considered grinding nymphs into dust a somewhat evil thing to do. Jay wasn’t about to murder a nymph himself but as they were already dead and it was just here he helped himself.
“Jay, stop sight seeing and get over here,” Morty hissed from the stairs and reluctantly the otter left the workshop behind and hurried over to join the others.
“Wait a moment you two,” Jay cautioned, peering up the stairs, “Something isn’t right about this place.”
“What do you mean?” Tatty queried, leaning against the wall and casually regarding the otter, “Seems like every other mage’s tower I’ve ever snuck into.”
“The forge is cold, clean as well, no ash or dust or anything. You don’t let a mage forge go cold, they take forever to heat back up,” he gestured toward the room he had just been pilfering, “Even if you use traditional fuel instead of magic to heat it you keep it banked, ticking over and warm so it’s faster to bring back to a usable temperature.”
“Well maybe this guy doesn’t do much forging?” Tatty suggested, “You know a once a year sort of deal?”
“Even so,” Morty interrupted, “Jay’s right, you don’t let them go cold. Heating it back up might crack the casing or damage it. The traps are current, all those wards and spells are strong not failing which they would be if the tower was abandoned.”
“Well what do you think we should do? You think it’s a trap? Or something else? Should we avoid going any further?”
“No,” Jay asserted, “I just think we need to be extra careful, wary of everything but we need to keep going. King will be pissed if we don’t finish this job and well…” he shrugged, “I don’t want to let Orel down, this is the first time he’s entrusted us to a mission on our own.”
“Ok then,” Tatty said standing up and pointing up, “These stairs should be safe now, let’s get going.”
The next level was a magical library but after dissolving a small panel of paper so they could see inside to determine if the staff they were after was inside Tatty declared they should leave it behind.
“But…” Jay hissed, “It’s filled with countless treasures, spellbooks, scrolls… we should loot the place.”
“No,” Tatty murmured, “The wand isn’t in there, we are here for one item and one item alone, we cannot risk unlocking this room. You said yourself it is the most heavily warded of them all.”
“The wand could be in there,” Morty said loyally, throwing Jay a smile, “It just might not be on display.”
“Maybe,” Tatty whispered, “But we search the other rooms first, if we don’t find it then we come back to here and give it a go.”
Jay sighed and followed Tatty up the stairs and helped him unlock the next room. At least he tried, he was about to tell grey rodent what to do when he spotted something that made him shove the rat aside and push Morty down the stairs. A second later a spark of intense blue light flickered across the door then subsided.
“Damn that was close, I almost didn’t recognize it,” Jay helped Morty up and motioned for Tatty to stay where he is. “It’s one of Drooliz’s Maze Locks, they incorporate a timer spell, a dazzle enchantment and a very powerful offensive spell designed to fry any magician stupid enough to try and disable it and get it wrong. Just studying it like Tatty was doing starts the timer spell, you almost got turned into ash by that disintegration symbol.”
“That… would have been most unpleasant,” Tatty squeaked as he backed away a couple more steps, “Can you disable it? Security this powerful strongly suggests the mage is protecting something important, it could be what we are after.”
“Not on my own,” Jay glanced at Morty who nodded and crouched down, opening his bag and starting to pull out several small jars, “We packed for this sort of thing but it’ll need all three of us.”
“Ok what do I do?” Tatty asked as he watched Morty lathering his paws with a thick green emollient which he then painted onto the door around the maze like patterns carved into the centre. The green cream started to slowly flow into the patterns, moving slowly, thickly, oozing into the channels of the map. As it did it sparked and flickered and Morty whimpered, drawing back and shaking his paws as the green gunk covering them smoked.
“This is powerful, stay back whilst I map the maze,” the dog whispered and leant forward and started to apply more cream, drawing back with a jerk and a yelp each time the disintegration ward sparked and fizzed.
“I need you to hold this,” Jay handed a dark sphere of polished obsidian to Tatty, it was small, no larger than a hen’s egg but it was heavy, “I’m going to channel the dazzling effect into that. Morty will trip the timer, I’ll channel the dazzling spell away and then morty will complete the maze.”
“And that’ll unlock it will it?” Tatty asked skeptically as he watched Morty applying a new layer of cream to his paws and resuming his dangerous task, “It seems a bit… deadly.”
“It is,” Jay said pulling a small yew wand embedded with chips of turquoise out of his sleeve, “We fuck this up the disintegration ward will reduce everything on this floor to dust.”
“Well that’s just lovely,” Tatty grumbled with a squeak, holding onto the obsidian sphere and sitting down, “At least it’ll be quick.”
Shaking his head the otter knelt down beside Morty and levelled the wand at the door, “Ok… we ready?”
“I think so,” Morty whispered, his ears and tail drooping, “On three... “ he took a deep breath, counted down and touched the edge of the maze with one claw. Jay flickered his wand, muttering under his breath, darting the tip back and forth between the maze and the stone in Tatty’s hands even as the dog started to trace the path of the maze with one paw.
The obsidian stone started to glow, Tatty winced as it heated up and then closed his eyes the glow became unbearable, Morty whimpered and moved his claws faster as Jay started to tremble as the spell moving through him started to take its toll. Morty’s claw moved toward the centre of the maze, curving a line through the single gunk filled groove that led to the centre. Light flashed, the air filled with a static tingle and Jay fell backwards with a gasp and Morty and Tatty both squealed in pain as the magic slammed into them.
With a soft click the door slid open and Jay lifted his head and looked at his companions, they were lying on the floor dazed but alive. Slowly the otter picked himself up and peered inside to see what they had found. It looked like a ritual room; the floor was inscribed with several circles made from different materials and there were the traditional runes at the cardinal points and softly glowing magical globes that came to life as the door was slid open. Frowning the otter crouched down and ran his fingers across the floor then strode into the room and glanced about slowly.
“You know, something is very wrong with this place,” he muttered at Tatty as the rat followed him into the room, “Everything is covered in dust, it’s like… this place has been abandoned for months.”
Turning to face the rat the otter held up one paw, “I wasn’t sure downstairs, it could have just been a lazy mage. But the ritual circle is covered in a layer of dust. No mage would let that happen, it’d make the circle completely unusable.”
“You think Kings’ information is wrong then?” Tatty whispered softly, slowly walking the perimetre of the circle, examining the runes and sigils inscribed on the wooden supports holding up the paper walls.
“Yeah, I think this place has been long abandoned, something must have happened to the mage who lived here and the spells and wards have been operating on their own.”
“So we can carry on with the mission and not have to face a powerful mage if we get caught?” Tatty asked as he strolled toward Jay, “That makes our lives easier surely?”
“Well yeah,” Jay frowned, turning slowly to examine the room, “But something is off… the mage who owned this place was clearly a master. You’d think the town would notice if he went missing, what do you think Morty?”
There was no answer and Jay turned toward the door, “Morty…” he began just as the light globes all died plunging the room into darkness. An arm snaked around his throat and pulled the otter backwards, suplexing him to the floor in the middle of the ritual circle as the rings began to glow.
Tatty’s red eyes glowed in the dim light given off by the circle as he held Jay down and squaked, “I happened to the mage who lived here and now… little otter we must talk.”
Jay barked and struggled against the weight against his throat then froze as another pair of glowing red eyes drew closer. He could just make out the shape of another rat, a large rodent carrying Morty’s rapier…
We rejoin Orel and his adventuring party a few months after their first successful mission for the self styled Rat King!