The sewers beneath Baren's Hill were warm, cozy and pleasant, the air filled with a melange of scents. Most of it smelt like food, something Jeir would quite like to investigate but two of the scents were different and the soft insistence of the master had him scampering toward the non-food scents. One of them was flowery, the scents of several different blooms mixed together with a sharp, acrid undertone, a tang of metal and a whiff of sparkly static overlaying the stink of fox and fear. The other scent was of a rat, the clear musk and rich depth of a buck with a faint touch of oil and grease, it was the stronger of the two scents so Jeir stuck his nose in the air and followed it down the tunnels.
For a moment another presence rested behind his eyes, looking at the world through him and he stopped scampering and allowed his whiskers to twitch and shared what he was smelling with the other mind. It was always the same, King subsumed his will, controlled his body and whispered instructions that meshed with his thoughts, forcing him to obey and move forward quietly, stealthily. Scrambling over a mound of tumbled brick the large dire-rat peered into the cave ahead and shared his sight with the King. By the flickering blue light of streaming torches he was able to see the cavern beyond had been subsumed in swathes of thick, sticky webbing. The heavy white fibres had been spun in every direction, stretched between ceiling, floor and natural rock pillars to form a web that covered the ceiling and walls. There was an altar in the centre of the room and a line of robed humans prostrate on the floor near it chanting quietly in praise. A huge creature that appeared to be half weasel, part spider dominated the room, the massive creature was perched happily in the webbing, their large spindly spider legs nestled up against their bulbous abdomen as they regarded the defiant figure dangling before her. Their body was covered in a thick pelt of brown and cream fur and their anthropomorphic torso had many eyes and several sets of arms and a muzzle that appeared to have the natural pedipalps and jaws of a spider. They were terrifying to behold, twice the size of a regular anthro and at least ten times the size of Jeir.
Peering through the gloom at the spi-dooks prisoner Jeir could just about make out the brown furred form of Orel, the King’s minion and thief. He was swathed in webbing from the chest down, swaying slightly back and forth as the gigantic spi-dook talked to him. He shouted something back defiantly and Jeir heard her laugh from his vantage point. Shaking her head she shifted her weight forwards and began to spin the rat back and forth between her fore legs and arms, weaving thick ropes of silk out of her own body to wrap around the rat rogue. King’s thoughts urged Jeir forward and slowly, carefully, avoiding the webbing and staying in the shadows the dire-rat crawled closer as the brown rat vanished beneath the webs. By the time he had covered a two thirds of the distance and hidden himself in the shadows beneath a large rock Orel was gone, his cocooned body being hoisted up into the darkness by the scuttering spider beast, stuck in place with more webbing.
“Bring me the other one,” she hissed as she crawled back down and two of the robed figured hastened to pull another figure out of the dark. It was Aira, the cleric looked dazed and had been disarmed of his weapons and armour, the only clothing he’d been allowed to retain was a brief loincloth about his middle. The spi-dook splashed a string of webbing around the blue fox’s feet and hauled him into the air before her throne. Aira squirmed and struggled as he was spun, the long thick sticky strands of webbing binding him up to the waist, binding his arms as an afterthought.
“So fox, are you ready to meet your fate and embrace my dark mistress as your one true god?”
Aira sneered as best he could whilst dangling upside down and shook his head, “You shall never break me vile one, Spinneret’s spawn shall never make me turn from my god.”
“Probably not,” the spi-dook conceded, “Your faith is strong, rich and deep but you and your companion misjudged my temple. From the way you reacted to my presence you weren’t expecting Tassatura, High Priestess and Queen or you’d never have come alone.”
She laughed, the spi-dook queen drawing the fox closer, “My goddess has given me many gifts, this beautiful body, the worship of her servants and a little gift I am now going to bestow upon you.”
“Do your worst, none of your vile practices can make me sway from the true path of my lord.”
“How tiresome, we already established that little cleric,” Tassatura pulled Aira close, her many eyes focussed on fox, “I cannot shake your faith but I can cloud your mind… you do not have the protections your companion has…” and with those words her jaws hinged wide, pedipalps dripping with venom as her fangs sank into Aira’s neck.
The blue fox squealed once then whined like a wounded animal as his body started to convulse and twitch. His back bent in unnatural ways, his limbs thrashed and twitched despite the web restraints and his eyes bulged as if trying to pop out of his face. The spider priestess just watched, holding him tenderly, waiting patiently until with a last despairing shriek his eyes clouded over, an icky, milky green film forming over his irises and pupils. He then went limp and she let him go to swing back and forth from the webbing, drool soaking his neck as he hung there, staring at nothing with those creepy eyes.
“Who sent you fox priest,” She whispered, her voice a deep melody that made Aira twitch uncomfortably.
“The rat King,” Aira replied and Jeir felt the presence of the King tighten inside his mind as the priestess shrieked in anger.
“That traitor! He sent you to kill me! Tell me fox, mind-slave, where, where does the filthy beggar make his lair!”
Aira continued to stare straight ahead and Jeir cringed as the blue fox spilled out the directions to King’s lair. The spike of terror that bubbled up in his mind made the dire-rat crouch lower, limbs trembling as he struggling not to piss himself in fear.
“To me my children come!” the priestess spider hybrid leapt down to the floor, spindly spider legs scuttling over the bowed backs of her prostrate worshippers, “Come children, we go to eat a rat!”
Several large, bulbous creatures dropped out of the webbing to join the High Priestess and the robed acolytes. These giant spiders, little more than half the spi-dooks size yet still massive scrambled forward as the priestess headed for the sewer tunnels. A minute later and the temple was empty, the scuttling sound of spider’s fading into the distance as they raced for the King’s lair.
King’s thoughts had fled as soon as those giant spiders had dropped from the ceiling to join the Priestess. The terror he’d felt was still fresh however and it was quite some time before Jeir could bring himself to creep forward out of his hiding place. He scuttled down to the altar and the throne where Aira still hung, expecting to be pounced by a spider that had stayed behind at any moment. Swift eight legged death never came and Jeir was able to scamper up the throne, he considered trying to get Aira down, the blue fox was only partially covered in webbing. Dangling and swaying as he was the fox was beyond Jeir’s reach, he also still seemed totally out of it, his film covered eyes vacant and glowing.
So the rat decided he best go after Orel, clambering carefully up the thick strands of webbing wasn’t an easy task however. He had to crawl along the rock beneath the webbing, clinging to ancient stone and trying his best not to let his fur come into contact with the tacky strands. it took ages but eventually he was able to cling to the ceiling near the base of Orel’s cocoon. Once there he started to chew, strong teeth gnawing through the tough strands. It tasted awful even to his uncaring palate but Jeir needed the brown rat. Of course when he finally managed to gnaw through enough of the web to release him Orel just fell like a brick to the floor. He smashed into Aira’s vacant eyed form on the way down however and the cleric softened his meeting with the temple floor a little bit.
By the time Jeir had crawled his way back down to the temple floor Orel had managed to pick and push his way free of the ruined cocoon and was being assisted by a slow moving Aira. It seemed the fall had broken him free of the drugs that had been injected into his system. He was still somewhat dazed and his speech was slurred but the unnerving film had lifted from his eyes. He was even starting to grumble about being mostly naked which was probably a good sign. Orel still had his trousers though there was no sign of his sash and he was moving slowly, bruised from his punishing encounter with the ground.
Squeaking loudly Jeir stood up on his hind legs before the larger rat and told him about what he’d seen. Orel stroked his ears idly then picked himself up slowly and looked toward the cleric, “We need to get out of here, we need to get back to the King, he’s under attack from Spinneret’s priestess and her minions.”
“Oh great,” Aira groused as he gave up the futile search for his equipment, “By all mean let's run naked through the sewer and get captured again.”
“We can go via the inn,” Orel muttered as he picked up Jeir and set the large rat on his shoulders, “Pick up the others if they are back and grab some gear.”
The blue fox sighed, glared at the brown rat then turned his eyes on Jeir and muttered, his words were unintelligible but sounded angry. He didn’t complain much after that, just followed Orel as the big rat led the way, yawning softly Jeir stretched out and closed his eyes, dozing happily. It was nice to have someone else doing all the hard work for once and without the King in the back of his head he took the opportunity to catch a nice nap. He was woken from his slumber by Orel grabbing him by the scruff and pulling him off his neck, he squeaked in protest and opened his eyes, glaring at the brown rat.
he squeaked back and Jeir muttered and rooted around for anything to eat whilst Orel covered himself in cloth and grabbed a new weapon. After that he let Jeir clamber back up and the big rat resumed his lazy doze, he didn’t get to enjoy it as Aira was standing in the corridor wrapped in a large towel and glaring.
“Why the hell are you going back?” the fox demanded, “He’s probably dead, he was going to leave us there to rot in spider webs. We don’t owe him anything.”
“We owe him our lives, he’s the King and our employer,” Orel snapped, “Besides he didn’t leave us there, Jeir got us out of those webs.”
“Yeah? And why did he do that? You said yourself King isn’t talking to anyone right now, Jeir rescued us not that… monster.”
Orel growled and took a step toward the fox, “He’s our employer, you are the one who told that spider monster how to find him! You owe him that much!”
“Me!” Aira shouted, “I don’t owe him anything, you’ve heard the same news as me. All the little things he did to trash our reputation with the guilds in the city.”
“So he wanted us to work for him?” Orel growled, “What does it matter? Our reputation is higher than it’s ever been, the people of the city love us, respect us, who cares if King manipulated us so the nobles don’t like us.”
“Because they’re the ones who matter,” Aira growled, “Not to mention I am sick and tired of being part of whatever scheme that monster of a rat is planning.”
“You know what, I don’t care,” Orel turned away and Jeir had to grip on tightly with his claws to avoid sliding off, “I am going to look for the King, either come with me or stay here and sulk I don’t care.”
Jeir lifted his head and looked back at Aira as the blue fox stalked off, for a brief moment the other thoughts were back. King was behind his eyes, he had been for awhile now but the dire-rat hadn’t noticed, he’d watched the whole argument and then his thoughts were gone again and Jeir settled down and squeaked softly.
<”I know,> Orel squeaked back quietly as he headed out of the inn and into the sewers,
The familiar paths of the sewers were quiet, the oozing stream running through the middle was low and gloopy and the slimy steps dank and cold. Jeir was glad to not be walking through it for once and just watched and waited. As they drew were closer to the King’s chamber Orel cautiously advanced down the tunnels but stopped as they reached the outer approach to King’s throne chamber. The stones were slick with blood, crushed and pulped bags of black flesh lay where they had been crushed in a trap. The stones hadn’t reset properly and as Orel crouched down to examine Jeir could see the strands of webbing gumming up the machinery.
It was the same story along the length of the corridor, trap after trap had been triggered taking out a spider, a robed figure and then the others had webbed it until it broke. Jeir jumped down and moved ahead slowly, creeping past the last few traps until he could see out into the main chamber. The green lanterns were still lit and the pile of gold and gems glistened in its sickening light but of the monarch of rats there was no sign. The spider queen was there though, cursing and berating her followers and spiders as she extolled them to find the king. She didn’t get many of her followers back and Orel winched as a horrible scream and squelching sound echoed out of a nearby tunnel as an exploring spider was caught in yet another trap.
Drawing back Jeir glanced at Orel and tilted his head,
Orel cut off as a presence pushed its way into his head, the heavy thoughts of the King radiating malice and annoyance seized control of his body and whispered into his mind.
King’s voice grated along his spine,
Leaning against the wall from the force of the words in his head the brown rat tugged off his bandana and pressed his bare pink hands against his skull,
With those final words King’s presence withdrew from his mind and Orel wiped his nose and steadied himself as he regarded the throne chamber. Retying his bandana about his ears he pulled a dagger out of his sash and strolled as casually as he could manage into the room. The few remaining little spiders froze, their un-natural scuttling arrested as they all turned to look at the rat. The spider queen took a moment to notice, her tall, furry weasel torso twisting around atop her bulbous body to glare with multifaceted eyes at the rat.
“You, you’re the little rat from my temple, how did you get free, you are food for my children,” She scuttled forward, loomed above him and bared her mandibles at him in a gross display of arachnid anatomy. Orel’s instincts were screaming at him to run away but he held himself still and just regarded the spider impassively.
“My master saw to it that your webbing could not hold me, now please depart his throne room at once. Your intrusion here is unwanted and unwarranted, depart now and you shall be permitted to live.”
For a moment she was silent then she started to laugh, shaking her ungainly body in mirth as she waved one of her many arms in front of her, “Oh that is amusing, what can you do little brown rat? You are vermin, you are scum, you may be bigger than that insufferable King’s usual slimy rodents but you are still nothing but food for my children.”
“I am Orel, sailor and rogue,” he cut a mock bow and smirked up at her, “You can leave now or I shall see you die here, today and your goddess the balefully ignorant Spinnaret shall devour your soul for your failure.”
She hissed and lashed out with one of her front legs, the long, multi-jointed and disgustingly disturbing spider leg knocked Orel backwards. “I am Tessitura, High Priestess of Spinnaret, you… you are nothing but vermin, a sailor… don’t make me laugh, you’re a bilge rat and nothing more.”
Orel bared his teeth, squeaking angrily as he clambered back to his feet and brought his dagger up, he was about to tell her exactly what he thought of her insults when Jeir jumped off his shoulder and sank into his tail. The huge dire rat vanished into the grimy pink flesh, sinking beneath the surface as if it was water and Orel squeaked in shock as he felt his body swell. Another rat darted out of the tunnel behind him and plunged into his tail, then another, and another. King was directing part of his swarm into Orel, the rats sank into him and the rogue swelled, his shoulders broadening, his spine clicking, legs lengthening, claws stretching as he grew. His clothing stretched, the seams of his trousers split then burst, his sash unknotted and went flying and his bandana fell away, a tiny scrap of fabric that couldn’t hope to cover his large head. It was a terribly strange sensation and the giant spider priestess took a scuttling step backwards in alarm as the formerly small rat swelled in size until his snout was level with hers.
“What trickery is this?” she shrieked, summoning her remaining children to her side in alarm as Orel growled, his brown eyes fixed on hers now.
“No trick, a gift from Zurka,” Orel lunged forward, bringing up his now tiny dagger to stab at the spider queen. She grabbed his arm, deflecting his blow and strained to hold him as his massive bulk pushed back against her. For a moment the two of them struggled against each other before Tessitura was able to shove the large rat backwards and scamper backwards as she shrieked for her children to attack.
Orel raised a hand, covering his face as a the smaller spiders surged forward, unleashing a multitude of webbing to gum up his big pink feet. He staggered back, beating off several spiders and trying to pull himself out of the webbing as it piled up against his feet. He was just beginning to worry when lances of bright green flame leapt out of a side tunnel, the arcane flame burnt through the webs, freed Orel’s feet and he wasted no time in kicking one of the spiders back out of his way.
A figure in a blue robe and wielding a staff charged out of the side tunnel that was the source of the fire and lobbed a ball of crackling lightning into one of the smaller spiders. The monster rolled onto its back screaming, spindly legs curling up and twitching in death as the short, dark brown rat hurled another spell into the fray. His robes were open at the front revealing simple trousers and a vest beneath and he had golden blonde fur covering his head and shoulders in contrast to the dark brown of the rest of his body.
Several of the smaller spiders scuttled toward the mage but a rat with flame orange fur wielding a rapier and a short grey rat in black leather armour leapt out of the tunnel and fell into place defending the mage rat. The red rats rapier lashed out, cutting the legs off one of the spiders whilst the grey rat unleashed a series of complex martial moves using fists and feet that saw several spiders tossed through the air with contemptuous ease. The small group of semi-anthropomorphic rats waded into the smaller spiders with gusto, magic disposed of any webbing in seconds and the two warriors made short work of anyone who got too close.
Licking his incisors Orel grinned across at the giant spi-dook and started to stomp toward her, his huge feet crushing one of the little spiders beneath his feet, “About time you got here Jay, I take it from the new look you liked King's offer?”
The blonde and brown hooded rat laughed and launched a lance of red flame through a charging spider and threw Orel a sideways glance, “My own tower and laboratory, I’d have been mad to say no! Now get the big bitch whilst we take care of the little ones.”
Laughing Orel charged, recklessly shoving the last remaining little spiders out of the way so he could fall upon Tessatura. The giant spider queen shrieked and hurled a string of webbing at Orel but he ignored it, falling upon the giant queen and using his new bulk to shove her backwards. She tried to bite him but he rammed his shoulder into her throat, knocking her head back. Her claws raked his back, he shrieked and sank his buck teeth into one of her arms causing her to flinch and draw back. He only let go when the scampering claws of one of her children clambered up his back. He twisted free, trying to reach back and grab it but Morty was there, his rapier skewing the spider’s abdomen and knocking it to the ground.
The spider queen took advantage to kick Orel between the legs, her spindly yet powerful spider limb slammed into his pride and joy and his eyes bulged as he fell forwards on all fours gasping. She scuttled forward, eager to take advantage of his winded state but the big brown rat rolled out of the way and kicked out with his hind legs. He caught three of her legs, knocking her abdomen over, causing her to drop in a tangle of skittering limbs that almost flattened Tatty.
Orel squeaked and scrambled forward on all fours, he reared up above her and smacked his fists into Tessatura’s face, her snout crunched and she squealed, her torso falling back off balance as Orel bore down on her. She bared her fangs then went wide eyed and vomited a thick spray of bright purple blood as Orel slammed his dagger into her chest beneath her breastbone. She clawed at him and gurgled violently but the big brown rat twisted his knife and raked his back claws along her abdomen as she hurled up another wave of frothy purple goo and went limp. The fight had lasted less than a minute but Orel felt done in, he drew back on all fours and shuddered as Jeir and the other rats started to pour back out of his tail and he shrank.
Landing in a thump next to the cooling corpse of the spider queen the brown rat looked around the room at the carnage they’d made of King’s throne room. The treasure pile was scattered all over, there were dead spiders everywhere and as he looked around the last remaining spider children skittered away up a tunnel to escape Jay’s magic. They screamed a few seconds later, their voices cutting off with a sickening crunch as they ran straight into some un triggered trap in their haste to escape.
Shaking his head Orel tried to shake sticky purple blood from his claws and turned his attention to the were-rats, his party as they hurried over to him. He grinned at them, admiring how well the blonde fur suited Jay and the confidence with which Morty moved besides Tatty as the monk knelt to look at Orel’s wounds.
“You’re not too badly injured,” Tatty squeaked, his paws glowing softly as he used his holy touch to close Orel’s wounds, “Though we could do with the cleric’s healing, where is Aira?”
Orel winced and gave up on trying to clean his claws and looked at Morty and Jay, “He refused to come.”
“He made you come face a spider queen on your own!” Jay squeaked in rage, the mage settling into a half crouch easily and frowning at Orel, “The fucker, that is so not on.”
It was strange hearing Jay’s voice out of such an unfamiliar visage, but the rat was definitely his mage. He shook his head and looked over at Morty who was watching the room warily just in case any of the spiders were faking it.
“Yeah that really isn’t on, I think we should have words with him…” Morty growled and shifted forward, sword raised, hackles raised and then he subsided and bowed, “Majesty.”
King poked his head out of a grill half way up the wall and regarded the small party for awhile then tipped his crown back and showed off all his teeth in a huge, yellow grin, “Well done my loyal rats, that’s one less threat to our kindred in the sewers now…”
He scuttled down the wall and jumped onto a pile of coins, the huge grey dire rat swelling as several of his swarm accompanied him and poured themselves into his tail, “We’ll eat well for days with all this fresh meat to keep us going.”
His eyes lingered on the corpse of the spider queen and he licked his lips, clearly relishing the idea of devouring one of his enemies. An extra insult to her defeat, he quickly turned his attention back to the others and pulled himself up, “Now go back to the inn, all of you, Orel has an appointment with Aira and you should all be there to make sure the cleric doesn’t escape.”
Orel stood up, naked, battered and covered in ichor but with a determined look on his face, “Thank you my King…” he licked his incisors and glanced at the others, “Let’s go, and Tatty… welcome to the team.”
Tatty inclined his head and moved forwards, the monk taking point as Orel followed with Jay and Morty scampering along behind him, keeping pace with him as they headed off to take care of one final piece of business. King watched them go then surveyed his throne room and shook his head, it’d take weeks to get rid of the stench of spider… with a squeak he unleashed his swarm, the rats scampering forwards to cover the dead spiders and start disposing of them. With Tessatura gone new paths were open to him, he had one less threat to deal with, one less obstacle in his way to expanding his control of the city above ground. Things were certainly looking up now only the cleric stood in the way but he had confidence Orel would take care of him. His chief servant didn’t realise what he was, what he could do but he’d serve well and learn and disposing of Aira would be a great way to test and observe just how much Orel suspected of his true nature.
We rejoin Orel and his adventuring party a few months after their first successful mission for the self styled Rat King!