“Kat! Help!” Dunstana shouts instinctively.
“What did you do?” Kat shouts back, equally instinctively.
“I don’t know, all I did was sit down! It was an accident!”
The Sisters Darkstone watch in amazement as one of the cave walls slowly and loudly begins to rise up from the ground and disappear into the ceiling, revealing a hidden passage that extends down into darkness.
“Well,” Kat says when the rumbling stops. “How about that?” She looks over her shoulder back to her sister. “Nice work.”
“Come on, Kat!” Dunstana says, leaping up from the stone, nearly forgetting to put her boot back on in her excitement. “Let’s go! Let’s go!”
The new passageway is narrow enough that Kat can touch both walls at once.
The ceiling is low, but thankfully not low enough to pose a risk to her head. There is only one obvious way forward, which disappears around a corner.
There is nothing else to do but go forward.
So Kat and Dunstana make their way forward, around the corner and into a large, square room.
There are long-abandoned stools and tables scattered around the room and piles of broken barrels and shattered crates in the corners. On one wall is a hallway blocked by a cave-in, on the opposite wall is a door that is still closed and locked.
Opposite the entrance where Dunstana and Kat stand is a stairway that disappears down into the darkness.
Kat approaches the locked door. Before she goes through the effort of picking the lock, she looks to see if she could just smash it off. Despite the lock’s obvious age, it’s still solid and still made of metal. It won’t go without a fight.
Kat consigns herself to that fight, cracks her knuckles and kneels down to get to work.
Remembering something she read in one of the many adventuring manuals she has read, Kat takes out one of her daggers and starts poking at the lock’s keyhole, probing, twisting, tapping and generally finagling, hoping to hear the sweet, sweet click of the lock coming unlocked.
Once Kat has been at work on the lock for a while, Dunstana begins tugging on her vest. She tries to ignore it. That only makes the little pirate more insistent.
Vexed by her sister and unable to concentrate, Kat turns towards Dunstana. “What?” she asks, irritable at having her concentration broken
“There’s rats,” Dunstana answers fearfully, pointing.
Sure enough, the room has suddenly filled with the skittering and scurrying of many, many little feet and the light of many, many angry little eyes reflecting the lantern’s light.
“Oh dear,” Kat curses.
As the swarm of rats approaches, Dunstana begins going to town with her wooden sword and cork gun.
There isn’t enough space in the room for Kat to draw her bow and even if there were, it’s too dark for her to aim. She doesn’t want to risk hitting Dunstana, so she decides to make do with her second dagger. As she slides the blade free, a particularly mangy rat sets its sights on her.
“Oh dear,” Kat repeats as the rat leaps at her.
She rolls to the side and out of the path of the rat’s gaping mouth.
Instead of biting off her nose, the rat bites down onto the dagger she left stuck into the lock on the door. The rat’s weight shifts the dagger in the lock and the lock opens with an audible click.
The rat falls the floor with an audible thud.
Kat’s boot gives it an audible punt.
Kat glances over at Dunstana, who is doing pretty well for herself. She has trounced most of the rats into retreating, though one still stubbornly clings to her sword by the teeth.
Kat approaches her sister, grabs the rat by the tail, wrests it from the wood of Dunstana’s sword and flings it into the shadows.
That seems to be the last one.
Dunstana looks up at her. “Did we win?”
Kat is about to answer when the sound of skittering resumes once more. It sounds like there are less feet moving through the gloom, but those feet are significantly larger. A pair of huge, angry, red eyes appears in the shadows.
These eyes are attached to the biggest, meanest, ugliest rat Kat has ever seen. It’s almost as big as Dunstana.
It is a distinct possibility, Kat decides, that this nasty fellow is the Powers’ chosen Right Honourable King of All Rats.
He certainly looks the part. The tuft of white fur on his head even looks like a crown.
“Eww,” Kat says as the rat approaches.
She doesn’t really like rats. And this nasty thing is the worst one she’s ever seen.
The giant rat squeals at her as he charges. Kat wouldn’t have thought it possible, but he’s even uglier angry.
The Rat King leaps at Kat.
She sidesteps and takes a swing at him, not doing any real damage, but at least giving him a haircut. The Rat King lands, wheels around and leaps again. Kat ducks and the Rat King goes sailing over her head.
She shivers in disgust as she feels his claws graze through her hair.
She turns around in preparation for the Rat King’s next attack. As it turns out, that attack is to bounce off the wall and back at Kat.
He comes flying at Kat like some kind of horrible, mangy, squealing cannonball with horrible, mangy claws.
Horrible, mangy claws that are soon digging into Kat’s arm. She squeals in mixed fear and disgust.
The Rat King squeals in rage and hunger and begins climbing up Kat’s arm.
“No,” Kat says, frantically flailing her arm in a vain attempt to dislodge the Rat King. “Nonononononononono!”
She can’t stop its inexorable advance up her arm and terrifyingly closer to her face.
“Don’t worry, Kat!” she hears her sister say as she panics around the room. “I’ll save you!”
She is not reassured by this.
As eager as Dunstana is, her aim could use some practice.
As Kat continues to pry herself free of the Rat King’s clutches, something collides with the side of her head. “Gah!” she exclaims at the sudden impact.
“Sorry!” Dunstana calls. From the corner of her eye, Kat sees her reloading her cork gun.
“Aim harder!” Kat urges her sister.
“Stop moving!” Dunstana counters, aiming a second shot.
Kat does her best to stand still to let her sister save her from the Rat King.
This requires her to suppress every instinct to panic, freak out and generally make a scene as the horrible, monstrous, horrible rodent inches its way closer and closer to face-biting distance.
By now, he’s almost at her shoulder. She turns her head to look at Dunstana.
“Shoot quickly, please,” she pleads.
Dunstana takes a deep breath and steadies her hand. She has one eye shut tight and the other eye stares intently down the barrel of her cork gun. For what feels like the next five years, she takes aim.
“Not fast enough!” Kat informs her as the Rat King continues forwards and upwards.
Finally, Dunstana pulls the trigger.
There’s a pop as a cork comes sailing through the air. Kat holds her breath, partly out of anxiety and partly to make the Rat King easier to hit. She can barely bring herself to look, but when she does, she sees the cork catch the Rat King in the snout.
His grip on Kat loosens, but he doesn’t fall. Kat decides to give him a hand.
A fist, technically.
She clenches her free hand and swings at the Rat King, knocking him from his perch on her arm and sending him hurtling through the air and onto the ground.
Though she is now free from the Rat King’s vile clutches, Kat is left with an arm covered in scratch marks and stinking of Rat King. There’s not going to be enough soap in all Realmgard to get rid of the rat-stench that’s settled on her.
“Kat,” Dunstana calls, bringing her back to the task at hand. “Help.”
Kat turns towards her sister.
Dunstana is being backed towards the wall of the room as the Rat King advances on her, periodically snapping at her with his maw, making the little pirate jump and squeal in fear.
And just like that, Kat decides, it is on.
The Rat King made her mad when he decided to try to eat her face, but now that he’s trying to eat her sister, the Rat King has crossed a line.
There is nothing in Realmgard that Kat is going to let eat her sister.
As soon as she’s close enough — which, given the length of Kat’s legs, doesn’t take very long – she boots the Rat King into the nearest wall.
As she stands over the dazed creature, Kat reaches into her Adventuring Belt for a length of rope. Hastily, she ties one end around the Rat King and the other end around one of her arrows.
The Rat King squeals frantically and struggles vainly to free himself.
Keeping the filthy, flailing Rat King as far away from her face as possible, Kat nocks the arrow on her bow. She pulls back the string, aims her rat-arrow towards the dark recesses of the hallway they had entered from and lets fly.
The arrow goes sailing off into the darkness; half a heartbeat later, the rope goes taut, carrying the Rat King off into the gloom.
There’s a faint, distant thud signifying his defeat.
Kat and Dunstana both breathe a sigh of relief.
Sign-up for my email newsletter here.