Aira finished packing his bag, tucking the last of his belongings away into the canvas back pack, securing everything for a long journey. He didn’t have that much, a few changes of clothes, his scrolls on scripture and spells and a few interesting knick knacks he’d picked up here and there. Swinging the large pack onto his back he settled it into place and picked up his mace before glancing at himself in the mirror.
He looked like a cleric, true, proud, muscular body strong from hours of working out and smiting evil but the image of what he saw didn’t match what he felt. Inside he was so tired of King’s tasks, the jobs that took them scuttling through the underground, fighting for a cause he didn’t understand. Usually that wouldn’t be a problem, the gods moved in mysterious ways but King was no god nor was he doing a god’s will. At least not a god Aira recognized as being good, enough was enough. Aira was leaving, he’d take the first boat he could find leaving the city and sail away and leave all of this far behind him.
He settled his tab for the inn, handing over a generous tip in silver to Louisa the innkeeper, “It’ll be a shame to see you go Aira, you’re handy to have around.”
“I must go,” the fox murmured, “I’ve arranged a boat, if I can make use of your ship tunnel to reach the docks unseen though I’d appreciate it.”
“No trouble at all love, you head on down, free of charge too,” she showed Aira down to the basement and opened the hidden tunnel for him, “You’ve done enough good for the city to have earnt a free trip, drop in if you’re ever back in town.”
Aira thanked her and promised that he would then started down the dank stone passage that ran straight to the river. From there Aira could reach the boat he’d arranged passage on earlier, it’d take him straight to the trading port of Loinra. From there the fox figured he could take a ship across the Rainfall Straits and return to the Ziggurat in Palimorn city. He was going to leave all of this behind him, return to the centre of his faith and renew his vows.
The tunnel ended at an old rickety walkway that wound its way along the underside of the main quay and promenade. According to Louisa he had to cross the walkway and on the other side was a ladder that would take him up top on the side of the wharf nicely out of sight of anyone watching. He was nearly there when the planks beneath his feet suddenly pitched sideways, he yelped and scrambled to reach safety as the hidden hatch in the planks rolled over. He was too slow however and the trapdoor pitched him down into the darkness beneath the quay. He fell maybe seven feet and landed with a squelch in the mud of the river bank. He sank quite a way into the foul smelling muck and struggled to pull his legs free and stand up. All he managed was to sink his legs down to the waist as he struggled to reach one of the wooden pilings holding up the quay and pull himself over to it.
Looking around warily Aira growled deeply and struggled to move, the mud bank was completely shaded by the quay above and the river lapped softly against the shore over two hundred metres away. He had no idea the actual river was so far removed from the actual shore, all of this was hidden from sight above. The wall of the quayside rose to his left, an impenetrable barrier whilst above his head the rickety walkway then the actual wharf would make it very hard for anyone above to hear him if he called for aid. Struggling through the mud toward the wall and what he hoped would be easier footing he froze as three pairs of red eyes moved out of the gloom toward him. He watched them warily, fingering his mace as he struggled to pull himself out of the mud and escape. The voice when it spoke made him jump, it came from a fourth source, one he couldn’t see in the shadows.
“I’m disappointed Aira, after all we’ve been through you’d just get up and leave,” Orel stepped out of the shadows, his feet sinking slightly into the muck, long tail slithering a trail like a snake over the mud behind him. He stopped half a metre away and offered the fox a cold grin, his buck teeth glinting in the faint light filtering down from above, “I’m afraid his Majesty says you know too much, you may not leave.”
“I… am going home to my temple, get out of my way Orel, you can’t stop me.”
“Actually I can, we already have stopped you, this is the end for you Aira, or do you really expect us to believe you’d not warn your superiors that King exists?”
“He’s a monster, you know this Orel you’re one as well! Morty and Jay will know if you harm me, you won’t be able to hide it from them. Not forever, they’ll never forgive you, now stop this nonsense and let me go.”
“Actually,” another voice added, “He doesn’t have to hide it from us.”
Aira turned and watched in dismay as one of the figures with glowing red eyes moved into the light, they had the hunched shoulders and long pointed muzzle of a rat. Thick whiskers and a naked tail slithering through the mud and long pink fingers bare of fur and tipped with sharp claws. The rat however had the bright red fur, the dapper clothing with lace at wrists and neck and a rapier at their waist that screamed their identity. Aira was speechless, unable to find the words to describe what he was seeing, it was Morty and there another figure, with a blonde head and brown body wielding Jay’s staff… his companions.
“No… no what have you done to them you monster!” Aira pulled out his mace and levelled it at Orel, “You beast, you won’t take me, you won’t twist and transform me into one of your sick deformed servants.”
Jay laughed and waded through the mud, his staff levelled at Aira, “Orel didn’t do anything, King made me an offer you fuckwit, I said yes… I’m stronger, more powerful, immortal and I have a lab, a real library… everything I could ever want to expand my knowledge as a mage. I’m not about to let you run off and ruin everything by blabbing your big mouth to everyone.”
“No.. I… don’t you see! They twisted your mind, your memories, you never agreed to this Jay, you wouldn’t… I…” he brought his mace around, raising it above his head, reaching out for the divine providence of his patron. Jay was faster, his spell zipped through the air and Aira screamed as his wrist bent backwards as his mace went flying.
Before he could recover and try another spell Orel was on him, his bulk knocked him backwards into the mud, his hands pressed his shoulders under and he growled deeply. The rat-men moved closer, red eyes watching, Jay and Morty and the third one with grey fur that Aira didn’t know. It didn’t matter however, Orel was who he had to focus on, had to beat.
“You’ve been King’s servant since the moment we met him, I never should have let you convince us to take that second job. I am going to rkrrrffff…” he was cut off as the Gray rat stamped on his head and shoved him under the mud. It was slimy and gritty and Aira spluttered as it got in his mouth, stoppered up his ears and nose as Orel shifted his weight atop him. A strange burning sensation spread out from where Orel had hold of his shoulders, a sharp tingling sensation ran down his arms, sparked across his shoulders. It felt like magic, a spell of some kind but it was flowing out of Orel… which couldn’t be right the brown rogue had no powers.
For a moment he feared they were going to drown him, that the weird tingling sensation was just him starting to suffocate. But after a few moments it faded and someone grabbed his head and pulled him above the surface. He blinked his eyes, trying to clear them but in the end someone had to clear them for him. He tried to bite the hand helping him, tried to wriggle free and get away from the rat holding him down but he was no fighter and the mud clung to everything. He found himself looking up into Orel’s face, the brown rat grinning wickedly as he stared into the fox’s eyes.
“It’s done… thank you Jay, Tatty….” the other two moved back and Orel pulled himself out of the muck and grinned down at Aira, “Goodbye Aira, you will serve me well.”
Aira squirmed out of the muck, forced himself into a sitting position and opened his mouth to tell the rat exactly what he thought of him. He raised one hand and froze, mouth hanging open at what was happening to his hand. The black mud covering it was pooling together, condensing, his fingers… he couldn’t feel them, just watch as the conical shape became a whiskered muzzle with black eyes. A short feral body with four legs that broke free of his hand and landed in the mud and scampered across to Orel.
“No…” Aira squealed, looking at his other arm, squirming as he felt his legs breaking apart, he lifted his head, stared up at his former party in horror. His muzzle opened to scream but the world ended for Aira. His clothing crumpled into the mud, his pack thumped to the ground and started to sink as he collapsed into a swarming pile of rats that scampered out to clamber around Orel’s partly submerged feet and cling to his tail. Opening his eyes Aira found himself struggling with fabric and cloth and heaving, scampering rat bodies and then the world rushed past as a big pink paw wrapped about him.
Aira found himself being held before Orel’s face, the large sailor and rogue grinned, buck teeth on display as the rats that had formerly been his body clambered up his back to peer over at Aira with bright black eyes. The fox squirmed and tried to shout a protest but the words came out as little more than a pathetic squeak. Freezing in place Aira lowered his head, peered past a twitching, pointing muzzle and whiskers to stare at his tiny, pink, furless paws. Lower down was a tear-drop body, blue fur and white with a long, naked tail coiled about the big rat’s wrist.
For a second he stared in incomprehending terror and then the world ended again, his thoughts collapsed into a instinct fuelled mess. For a second he held onto himself, his mind desperately trying to form a prayer to his god for salvation. He never finished it however; the unfelt pressure at the back of his mind dissolved his intellect and with a squeak Aira shifted his hind legs and lifted his head, whiskers twitching. The blue rat then scuttled up Orel’s arm to join his brothers and sisters atop the Master’s shoulders, allowing himself to be subsumed amongst their bodies. There was something, at the back of his thoughts… but no it wasn’t important, what was important were the scents of food and the pressure of the Master’s mind at the back of his. Instinct and life were all that mattered, he was a rat after all, nothing more, nothing less, just a sewer rat, eager to serve the larger rat whose thoughts held his and his colony together as one.
Orel grinned in amusement as Morty stomped on Aira’s clothes, making sure they sunk under the ground and turned to find Tatty and Jay regarding him with interest, “Well that’s our little leak fixed,” he murmured, one finger gently stroking the blue rat’s head as he perched atop his shoulder, “Aira is well and truly gone, there is no coming back from that.”
“How did you do that?” Jay asked, his whiskers twitching as he held out a hand to one of the new rats, letting his small, feral brethren sniff his fingers, “It wasn’t magic, not the way I do it anyway.”
Orel shrugged and turned toward the sewer grating they had used to get beneath the quay, “A gift from the King, he has done things to me… he’s not seen fit to explain them all.”
“That doesn’t bother you?” Morty queried as he pulled the grate open and helped Orel inside.
“Why should it?” Tatty asked as he followed them, “We all serve the King as he sees fit,” he squeaked and grinned, “I think I am going to enjoy working with you three.”
Orel smiled softly, flexing his claws and glancing at the rats now following him, he could feel them, in a loose way, just a subtle awareness of their presence at the back of his mind. “It’ll be fun, let’s go clean up and celebrate our newest party member joining us,” he looped an arm around Tatty’s shoulder and started down the tunnel, “I want to hear all about what life as a monk is like.”
“Sure,” Tatty grinned, “in exchange maybe you can tell us how a bilge rat of a sailor winds up landlocked and working for the Rat King.”
Orel chuckled and shook his head, throwing a wide grin in Morty and Jay’s direction, “Maybe, but not until I’ve eaten, executions make me hungry it seems.”
“Is that what this was?” Morty mused as he pulled the grill back into place, “An execution?”
“Yeah, Aira betrayed us… King ordered his execution,” Orel said with a grin, picking up one of his new rats, “Quite fair if you ask me, King doesn’t kill you just re-uses you to make more rats. Much nicer than having your head chopped off.”
“Nicer for us, anyway,” Jay quipped following the others, “I want to show you my new tower! I wonder if King did what you did to Aira to the previous owner, Tatty do you know?”
Wandering deeper into the sewer the four rats left the quay behind, voices fading as the remnants of Airas clothes continued to sink into the muck. King watched the haft of the fox cleric’s mace sink out of sight through the eyes of the rat he’d sent along with Orel. It had been a bit of a harrowing day but in the end it had worked out. Overall it had been a rather satisfying day, he’d disposed of a great enemy, gained two new loyal were-rats and removed a minor inconvenience from being a threat and Orel was slowly starting to learn that he had access to some of King’s abilities. All in all it had been success, withdrawing his consciousness he left the rat to feed and turned his attention back to his plans, there was so much left to do if his Court was to rise.
We rejoin Orel and his adventuring party a few months after their first successful mission for the self styled Rat King!
This is the last chapter of Arc 2! I'll be back in the New Year most likely with more!
Do leave comments, your comments, opinions, thoughts and ideas will greatly help me improve what gets written next!