Heist by Night
Heavy clouds hung over the city blocking out the moon and stars and promising more rain to come. Crouched in the culvert of a storm drain at the edge of Founder’s Square in the Garantha District Tatty watched the street with interest. It was gloomy, wet and though the square was deserted the space outside Harven’s forge was very busy. Despite the rain earlier that evening the lanterns were brightly lit and guards marched around the forge building in groups of six.
Even though they were over five hundred yards away his supernaturally enhanced eyesight allowed Tatty to see the uniforms of the guard patrols clearly. They all had the crest of Blacksmith’s Guild on their shoulders and they were being alert, watchful and making sure that no one group was ever out of sight as they patrolled the forge and the alleyways to either side. The average city watchman didn't want to risk being stabbed by a thief or cut-throat. It was just one of those little courtesies civilized folks extended on the cold, damp streets. These guards however clearly meant business, climbing over the walls of the compound would be impossible with that many people moving about.
Resting his arms on the ledge inside the storm drain Tatty sighed, his long naked tail coiling back and forth lazily as thought about how easy his trip to Roichart’s and Partners had been. It had been relatively early in the grand scheme of the night and the were-rat had encountered no real trouble breaking in. The lawyer’s alarm spells had been expensive but he’d had training in how to make them sleep so one could open a window without tripping them. Then once inside he was able to use the silver framed monocle he always carried. It was a very expensive piece of kit, attuned to detect the minor magical fluctuations left by ward and alarm spells. There had been no guards and when Tatty did find the vault he was able to study the spells cast on it in detail. He had never had any aptitude for casting spells but he could read them and Roichart had made a fundamental mistake.
The spells had been expensive but had been attuned to the key-hole and combination tumblers, designed to go to sleep if the vault was unlocked. There was no anti-tampering ward, no spell attuned to the key, so all Tatty had to do was unlock the safe and none of the alarms would go off. So the were-rat took an hour to pick the locks, crack the safe combination and swap the replacement will for the original. Then he’d locked it back up, slipped out the window he’d entered by and immersed the original will in a stream in the sewer until the parchment dissolved.
What he wouldn’t give for an easy job like that from the King, but his liege had commanded he break in and steal the iron work and that is exactly what he intended to do. Licking his nose he moved back from the storm drain and sat down to wait the return of his accomplice. It was maybe fifteen minutes before a dire rat came scuttling down the sewer tunnel to join him. She was large, maybe two foot long including the tail with scruffy cinnamon fur and pale pink eyes.
"Hello Soir, did you find a good way in?"
Standing on her hind legs she answered, it wasn't with words or squeaking that she communicated. Her intent was expressed through the position of ears and whiskers, the tilt of her head and subtle movements of claws and tail, ~There is a tunnel, a path but it is very small.~
Clambering to his feet the were-rat peered back out of the storm drain, allowing Soir to climb his tail and clamber up his back to also get a look. She stood with her hind legs on his tail-base and perched her front paws atop his shoulder, "I’m not going to get past those guys and over the wall, once I’m inside I can deal with guards, are there many people inside?"
~Yes, King's eyes have seen it, two non-rats patrol the open space before the building of heat and metal. We did not go inside, there is a… thickness to the air that made my skin crawl.~
"The actual forge will be warded I bet, they really don’t want anyone getting their paws on this artefact."
~There is not much to eat in these tunnels,” Soir commented, nosing at Tatty’s ears, “I am hungry, what is the purpose of the nests if not to live in them~
"Those who can afford to maintain property for business in this district can afford to live in Royal Oaks or Isodore or Tof'Marole. Excepting a few of high class bordello's and a couple of modest mansions on the hill no one lives in the district."
~Wasteful, nest space should be small, compact, protected…~
Outside the vigilant guild guards trooped on in their eternal circuit and as the pair of rats watched it began to rain. It was light at first but soon it had thickened until it was like a curtain of water lashing the street. It reduced visibility but the guild guards where highly trained, they closed the distance between each group and after some shouted commands two more patrols joined the perimeter guard. Moving away from the storm drain as water began to pour through it Tatty stroked Soir’s muzzle and started to feed her large chunks of dried fish and bread from his supplies.
“It is the nature of those who walk on two feet and think.”
~Rain is good for hunting,~ she observed as she hopped down and stood on her hind legs munching through her food, ~I shall show you the tunnel?~
“Yes please cousin,” she squeaked and finished her meal by licking her claws clean and washing her whiskers, “It is also good as it means they’ve put more guards on the perimeter.”
~Safer hunting then, come,~ she turned, scampering off down the drain tunnel and Tatty followed. His paws splashing through the water that was now starting to pour in through every drain and inlet pipe.
With rain water gurgling about his ankles Tatty's examined the outlet pipe through his enchanted lens. There was no sign of anything magical on the narrow stone pipe and Tatty's relaxed slightly, his way in was clear.
"Thanks Soir I can get in this way, you should head back to the King now."
Soir bared her teeth at Tatty and flicked her tail, ~I shall wait and keep watch awhile.~
Shrugging the were-rat unhooked a small leather pouch from his belt and rested it next to her on the ledge she was using to stay out if the water, "As you wish my friend."
Tatty's unbuckled his belt and started to feed it into the pouch. The leather showed no sign of bulging or stretching however, his entire belt, tools and other equipment still attached slipped into the bag. Smiling contently he stripped off his leather vest and sturdy trousers and added them to the pouch. It had cost him nearly 700 gold but the Bag of Holding was vital to his trade these days. Closing his eyes Tatty focussed his thoughts on his nature as a rodent and let it spread.
The changes started almost instantly, his face pulled back, his shoulders and hips shrank even as muscle and fur tightened about his body. He shed mass and height, his bones twisted and joints reversed themselves as he lost the anatomical tweaks that let him operate on two legs. Hands twisted and fingers curled to match his feet and his grey fur darkened as his tail shrank in size to match his new stature. The shape of his head, the makeup of his torso remained the same but everything tingled as he passed the three foot mark and kept shrinking. It was a peculiar sensation, the loss of height, of mind and weight and strength yet it also felt good! There was something about shedding the complex cognitive abilities and dextrous, two legged anthropomorphic anatomy that just felt good! Arching his back he squeaked loudly and shivered puffing up his fur as his feral body was completed. His body stopped shrinking at one foot and his tail slithered through the rain water splashing all about his body, soaking him entirely before he could pull himself out of the channel and crouch on all fours next to Soir.
~This is much more acceptable,~ the doe said as she leant in and aggressively groomed Tatty's wet fur, ~You should be thus more often.~
Shaking off some of the water Tatty's squeaked and nipped into her fur, ~I am as the King requires me, go home. I'll not be coming back this way.~
Soir nipped back and squeaked before waddling off on all fours, ~Happy Hunting~ was her departing remark as she paddled and waded her way through the running stream..
Pausing to groom his whiskers, Tatty looked at the water pouring out of the drain and squeaked, it had to he done, for the King. The dire rat pushed his head through the ties of the leather pouch and pulled sharply. The bag contracted as the drawstrings pulled tight and left the bag of holding dangling about his neck. He still remembered the days when he was first starting out when he'd have to abandon all his stuff anytime he performed an infiltration like this. Now he could take it all with him even whilst in the form of a dire rat. Squeaking Tatty jumped into the flow of water and started to pull and paddle his way up the drainage pipe and under the Harven forge compound.
The water was mostly clean thankfully, run off from the torrential rainfall lashing the city. It was still hard work to swim against the current, Tatty had to alternate between paddling and clawing his way over the bricks, pulling himself up the rough stone. He was convinced he’d been down that pipe for hours by the time he reached the relatively open space under a drain cover. It was hard to monitor time when he was fully rat, the world was split into light and dark, colours were nearly non-existence and senses like smell, touch, sound were all primary. It was hard to focus on a concept with such arbitrary parameters like minutes and hours. Regardless of how long it took he was quite glad to clamber his way up the side of the drain, squeeze through the gaps in the iron cover and scamper along the inner wall of the courtyard and dart into the relative shelter of a large storage shed.
Whiskers bowed down by rain water, soaked to the skin and with the heavy weight of his leather pouch about his neck Tatty took a few seconds to gather himself. The rain striking the courtyard was loud, the scent of charcoal from the shed was actually quite distractingly tasty and the thudding rumble of thunder overhead was deafening. Shivering the rat crouched on his hind legs and brushed his front-paws through his whiskers, once, twice, thrice, scattering water droplets and focussing on the simple things nearby. The urge to squeeze into this charcoal shed and gnaw on something tasty was fading, the blind panic from torrential rain and thunder was under control and with some difficulty he could focus on the task at hand.
~Always a risk,~ he squeaked quietly to himself as he peered about the courtyard, ~Focus… for the King, for Zurka,~ squeaking a silent prayer to his patron deity Tatty pushed the last of his wild, feral instincts down and scampered out into the rain. Staying in the shadows was easy, his paws splashed over wet cobblestones and the dire rat slinked confidently through the forge’s yard. He stopped twice, both times to let a guard pass, the second guard even surprised him thanks to the thunder. He went for his sword and called out softly making Tatty’s instincts kick in. He scrambled under a water-butt, tail slithering and by the time he’d calmed himself down the guard had already returned to his patrol. One more rat scrounging for food in the cold and rain in a city full of rats was nothing to get excited about or raise the alarm for.
Tatty’s destination was a large shed built against the outer wall of the actual forge building. It was dry and warm and a bank of furnace doors still emanated heat from where they had been in use all day. There was a guard sheltering from the rain under the shed’s roof but the were-rat slipped inside without being seen. Scampering into the shadows behind a large pile of fuel for the furnaces Tatty wriggled his bag of holding off the string about his neck and started the process of changing back.
Growing always hurt way more than shrinking, bones popped, cartilage cracked, limbs lengthened and muscles stretched. It was the worst collection of sensations ever and Tatty squirmed and writhed on the floor, trying his hardest not to scream at the pain sparking through his limbs. His eyesight improved whilst hearing and scent dropped but the most painful adjustments where to his teeth! They swelled and clicked, cracked and twisted in line with his expanding jawline and ached dully afterwards for ages. He had to also be extra careful not to flail with his expanding limbs or squeak out loud, the guard using the furnace shed as a shelter would definitely investigate anything loud and noisy.
It took most of his willpower to not cry out as his ears re-asserted themselves or scream as with a shuddering spasm his hands clenched against the stone floor as his fingers twisted back into shape. His knees popped out of place and ground around with a grating of cartilage until they were once again suitably adjusted to serve as anthropomorphic knees. His eyes bulged, his fur finished growing to match his new bulk and with a vibrant twitch of muscles that passed up and down the length of his body he collapsed on the floor, his transformation complete.
Lying on the floor, his limbs twitching minutely as subtle changes finished happening the were-rat lay still and listened. Controlling the magical blessing that empowered his transformation was second nature to him these days. But it always left him a bit disorientated after switching from feral dire rat to the anthropomorphic shape he personally found so comfortable. Slowly rolling his body to one side he stuck his head out from behind the pile of logs and charcoal and looked at the guard sheltering from the rain. He didn’t look very old and the way he was slouched against a wooden pole that supported the open side of the furnace made him looked bored. Staring disconsolately out into the rain he wasn’t really paying attention to anything. His whole stance screamed bored, young guardsman who didn’t see the point of guarding the inner courtyard.
Grinning widely at the lackadaisical disregard for security the young raccoon was displaying Tatty slipped up onto all fours and slowly padded across the furnace room. He went slowly, carefully, quite aware that he was still naked but the coon had to be removed before he put his armour back on. As soon as he was within four feet he struck, not with fists or claws but with his tail. The long grey appendage slapped into the guard’s throat and wrapped itself about his neck and shoulders several times, cutting off his air. The boy got out a strangled squeak as Tatty jerked him backwards deeper into the shed. Wrapping his arms about the raccoon’s forearms he held him down, tail squeezing tightly as he thrashed and tried to go for a weapon. He couldn’t move his arms properly, between the rat’s tail and the grip on his forearms he didn’t have enough movement to grab anything.
“Oh stop it,” Tatty hissed quietly as the kid started to kick and flail about with his legs in the vain hope of knocking something over, “Now sleep.” he squeezed harder, waiting for the boy to fall unconscious, he can’t have been more than twenty summers old so once he was sleeping like a babe Tatty decided to give him a gift! He cut the boys palm open with his own claws then rubbed a nasty, resinous substance into the bleeding cut. The chemicals in the resin should keep the boy asleep for hours. There was also a fair chance that on the night of the next full moon he’d change. There was no guarantee that injuring someone with his claws or teeth would infect them but it was worth a try.
With the shed secure Tatty pulled his gear out of his bag of holding and put his armour back on. It was dry as was he, the water that had so soaked his dire-rat form hadn’t grown with his body which was a blessing. His trusty monocle came out and Tatty examined the narrow door that opened into the forge itself. It was locked but there was no evidence of magic, he was about to insert his lock picks but paused with a frown on his face. It made no sense to leave any door into the forge unprotected by magic, no one with the money Harven had would rely on their guards alone. Taking a small vial from his belt Tatty broke the wax seal and worked the stopper out. There was a small amount of silver powder inside and with some reluctance he poured half of it onto the palm hand and blew it over the lock.
The metal immediately started to glow with a very faint pearlescent light, it shimmered like oil pooling atop water and Tatty sagged in relief. Not only at his hunch being right but also that he hadn’t wasted the powder. It was the most expensive piece of his kit, made from ground diamond, unicorn hair and jack-rabbit horn; the reagents themselves were astronomically rare. It also took about seven months to brew and the price tag for the smallest amount was beyond the reach of most common thieves. Especially since the only alchemists who brewed the stuff were also the types to operate outside the law. Crouching down Tatty took out his lockpicks and got to work, the powder didn’t last for long but as long as the glow persisted it was cancelling any magic affecting the lock. Tatty couldn’t help but grin at how simple the lock actually was. It was a four tumbler affair and he had the door open and closed in less than a minute. Shaking his head in amusement at the idiotic reliance on advanced spells for security the were-rat slunk through the shadows and advanced deeper into the forge.
Glancing around the rat wondered idly what the big vats and pipes were all for. He knew nothing about metalworking but from the look of the row upon row of heavy clay moulds racked up against the wall this room was used to make big things. "Not the sort of place to craft fine magical iron work," he murmured and moved on slipping through a door into a narrow hallway. There were doors every other foot but Tatty's couldn't spend all night opening doors so he crouched low and padded along listening. He found what he was seeking at the end of the hall, a door with voices on the other side.
"The old man's gone a bit overboard tonight if you ask me," the voice was rich and smooth brimming with confidence, "Our regular team could have kept the place secure."
"Maybe," another voice replied, this one was older, with some steel in it, "But this special order for Lord Tof'Marole is the most important thing he's made."
"Ugh I know," smooth and confidence complained,"He's been harping on about it all day, ever since the adventurers he hired failed to arrive."
"Now that's insulting" old and steel grumbled, "Not trusting us to move it. Of course if he hadn't been shooting his mouth off about it all month no one would know about it."
"Best not let him hear you say that," smooth grumbled, "is he still here!"
"Yeah, he was preparing to stay all night, I guess we should go relieve the guys on his door," Tatty pulled back as the sound of chain mail clinking heralded someone standing. Melding into the shadows the were-rat waited and soon enough two men at arms emerged and started down the corridor.
Tatty waited a few moments then flittered after them, moving from shadow to shadow on silent paws, pouring all his supernaturally enhanced stealth into not being detected. The taller chap was a fox with iron-grey hair and he walked with the confidence of an old soldier, his lined face and scarred hands a quiet testament to old skill. His companion was a deer, he swaggered and strutted with youthful confidence and he seemed to be all muscles and gleaming buttons, Tatty's grin grew wider as he followed. The buck probably still believed that the fancy uniform would protect him from common footpads and the like, he was going to enjoy teaching him a lesson.
They crossed a grand entrance hall, passing the doors to various small, specialist forges. The floor was coated in fancy carpets and examples of the forge's masterworks stood on display for the discerning clients to admire. Crouching in the shadows of the entrance hall where it joined a well lit corridor the rat waited. The pair he'd been following walked up to the guards standing rigidly outside a big pair of double doors at the end of the short hallway. They chatted for a bit and then swapped places, the relieved guards marching away back toward the break room; smooth and steel had just come from. They passed within inches of Tatty, but in the shadowed entrance hall they stood little chance of spotting the were-rat. Holding back a grin to avoid letting his teeth show the rat waited patiently, ten, fifteen minutes passed and no other guards appeared. Another fifteen minutes and the clock in the hall struck the half hour, still Tatty waited, resting easily, waiting... waiting... making sure that there was no routine activity that would catch him off guard.
Shortly before the hour a guard walked in from outside, reported that all was well and the perimeter was quiet and that none of the wards had tripped. Steel voice thanked him and the guard trudged back out into the rain. He walked right past Tatty's hiding place but the rat just held still and continued to wait. As the clock chimed the hour the double doors opened and a elderly badger stuck his head out into the hall. He had more grey then white fur and his frame had once been strong as one would expect from a blacksmith but was now mostly beer belly and flab
"Sergeant report, is all well?"
"All is quiet sir, the perimeter reports all is quiet and none of the alarm spells have sounded."
The badger looked around the hall and nodded, "Very well, stay alert though, my enemies may move at any time," he jerked the door shut.
Smiling tatty gently slid a blade out of its sheath and balanced it in his hand. The badger had a right to be paranoid but he had prepared for an assault by armed men, not a were-rat and this was his mistake, he was much worse. The knife left his hand and span out of the shadows to take the older fox squarely in the throat. He dropped to his knees gargling faintly as his younger companion reacted with admirable if stupidly predictable military training. He pulled out his sword and dropped into a defensive crouch when he should have just started screaming for backup and diving for cover. Tatty's second dagger took him in the forehead and the young buck dropped like a sack of potatoes to sprawl atop the corpse of the fox.
Tatty had started moving as soon as the second knife left his hand, pale naked tail arched up off the ground as he dashed down the length of the hall. He leapt as the door opened and barrelled into the badger as he looked out to investigate the disturbance. The old man let out an explosive wheeze as Tatty's elbow smashed into his stomach and he went over backwards as the rat swarmed atop him. Tatty's tail closed about the badger's throat and his claws dug into soft paunch menacingly.
"Please don't struggle," he squeaked, his voice pitched an octave higher, "I might cut you by accident and infect you with rat-canthropy."
The badger stiffened and froze as Tatty leant forward and grinned, letting the smith get a good look at his ratty features, "Imagine how embarrassing it'd be to be in public, enslaved to my will and be forced to start transforming. Wouldn't that just ruin your reputation," tilting his head just so Tatty let the lanterns in the office catch his eyes and gleam. It was a lie of course, only King could guarantee infection but few knew the details of how rat-canthropy was spread, "Now why don't we discuss the arabesque... where is it?"
Harven's eyes widened and he shook his head and tried to speak, Tatty released the pressure on his captive's throat, "What was that old boy?"
"Never... I'll die before I give you anything beast, I will never tell you."
"Oh you will die that's not in doubt, but what about your son, his lovely wife, his beautiful little children. Your daughter and her little girls, your youngest son just starting out in life," the badger shook and struggled against the rat holding him down but Tatty just shifted and squeezed his tail tightly again, "If I'm not carrying what I want when I leave here I'll go visit them all. Imagine how easy it will be to get into their houses. If I could get all the way into your inner sanctum without raising the alarm it'll be as easy as pissing to get to them."
Harven was shaking now, struggling to break free of the rat but he tightened his grip, claws digging into the badger's flesh which made him go still again. "Glad we understand each other, now Lord Tof'Marole's arabesque?"
"You monster..." he sobbed when Tatty let him speak again, "depraved beast."
"Yes, yes I know what I am," Tatty grinned showing off his teeth, "It's actually a very fun life, I'm sure I can teach your youngest to embrace it. His names Richard isn't it? His tutor is on Cos-Grove Avenue... he'll make a fine addition to my harem."
"Beast..." Harven was crying now, weakly wiggling his paws in a futile attempt to do something, "Monster..."
"Yes... now the Arabesque, the truth mind or I will go bite then before the sun rises. It'll be all confusion and panic here and with most of your guards protecting the forge their unprotected."
"Fa...fake panel, behind my desk, have to use my key," he wheezed painfully as Tatty climbed off his captive's body and hauled him to his feet. Keeping his tail in place and his claws pressed into the badger's arm fur he forced him across the swanky study.
"Well open it then..." the badger stared, he was much taller than the rat and Tatty could see the faint glimmer in his eyes, the subtle shift in muscles that suggested he was going to try and be brave. Tatty squeaked and dug his claws in, "Imagine what it'll be like when Cynthia is a rat, she'll be happy to have my kittens, you know what maybe I will forget this and just help myself to her."
Sobbing the badger pulled a key out of his robe with his free hand and pointed it toward the wall. Wood panelling flowed away from the key, grain and varnish shifting, realigning to reveal a key-hole. Turning the intricately crafted piece of iron had an instant effect, the whole panel just vanished revealing a large cavity. Tatty's grin widened as he saw the iron Arabesque, even without his lens on he could feel the magic.
"Clever hiding place, thank you Master Harven... sleep well," Tatty brought his palm up and struck the badger squarely between the forehead. His eyes glazed and he slumped unconscious on to the floor almost landing atop the were-rat. Tatty crouched next to the badger and took a small wax sphere out of his belt pouch. Squeezing one end he smeared the gunk that squished out the other end over Harven's forehead. The smith started to twitch and groan in pain as the liquid fizzed and bubbled, "I hope you appreciate how much your security system cost me Harven, that stuff is expensive."
Turning his back on the badger Tatty left him to have the last hour of his memories scrambled and pulled the enchanted iron-work out of the hidden vault. It was heavy but only about four feet wide and Tatty had to admit it was beautifully crafted. He admired it for a moment then made his exit, pausing to recover his daggers before crossing the entrance hall with the iron-work under one arm. Throwing open the front door he got the drop on the guards outside, kicking one of them in the stomach and driving a dagger into the other.
Then Tatty took off, he covered the courtyard between the front door and main gate in seconds, unhooked the chains on the small sallyport and ran through. His free palm scattered a series of concussion smoke bombs at the feet of the nearest patrol as he raced across Founder's Square. He didn't look back but he could hear the shouts of alarm and surprise from the guards but assaulted from inside the compound it took them time to give pursuit. Tatty was across the square and lost to sight in the rain before anyone started to follow. In the rain, at night and taken by surprise they'd never catch him, he was a were-rat and they were a disorganized bunch of sellswords. Picking the third sewer entrance and escape route Tatty made himself scarce with King's new treasure, it had been a very satisfying evening and the Rat King was bound to be pleases with him.