z
  • Home

Young Writers Society


16+ Language

The Many Gifts of Malia--Part 127: "The Rat"

by dragonfphoenix


Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language.

We gave ourselves a moment to rest beneath the fountain spray. Malia hummed in content, an arm over my chest and a wing sheltering us from the sourceless light of my maas.

I kissed the top of her head. “So you think Hasda should press on.”

“I don’t see why not.” She let out a happy sigh.

“What if the rat is no help?”

“Promise him whatever he wants. If it can’t be done, I’ll take care of it.” Her slitted eyes regarded me above a sly grin.

I tried not to frown. “You know Hasda won’t like that.”

“Which is precisely why he won’t know when it’s been handled.” Malia sighed. “He was raised as a soldier, not a politician, and even then he struggles enough with subterfuge and underhanded tactics. It’s not his fault he can only stomach certain decisions, sacrifice men who’ve sworn themselves to him and who willingly pay the cost. So I won’t burden him with things he can’t bear.”

“While you might be right, for his sake, I’d like to give a good faith effort.”

“If we must.” Sighing with much less enthusiasm, she drummed her fingers on my chest. “This rat, he might be convinced to take a lesser gift.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Such as?”

“You’ll need to meet with him and discover his motivations.” Her fingernails traced circles on my skin. “If it’s power he wants, perhaps granting him an empowered body would be enough. Longer limbs, articulate thumbs, useful things that other rats lack. Or perhaps something like the gift of human speech, if he desires influence and respect. I can’t imagine he wants riches, although if it’s a strong line of heirs…Tarrha could craft him a suitable harem.”

I chuckled.

Malia smiled as well. “She’d certainly take no convincing. ‘Bestow upon these rodents the strongest aphrodisiacs you can muster, and the greatest fertility they can bear.’ I’ve heard mice are her favorite.”

“I’ll let you do the talking, then, when the time comes. You have such a way with words.”

“Among other things.” Her eyes flashed.

I poked her nose. “None of that, now. I need to get back to Hasda before he makes promises he can’t keep, or finishes the Trial without us.”

Pulling her wing back, she sighed and stretched. “As dowsing water to a flame, so are your words to my heart. Very well, my love, let us depart.”

I watched her back as she rose, half admiring the way her muscles rippled and half wary. “I have a feeling I’ll be paying my own tribute later.”

“You have the right of it.” She grinned over her shoulder. “And I’ll have plenty of time to think of proper recompense.”

Grunting, I pulled myself up by the fountain ledge.

Her portal, still trimmed in crimson, hissed open. “I’ll try to keep Thrax from outpacing Hasda. But I might have to confront Vythar, if we’re forced to delay long enough. So make sure Hasda has a fallback in case he has to go it alone.”

“That reminds me.” Tugging my own portal open, I shook my head. “Kydon said that, were Hasda to rejoin Thrax, you would need to withdraw, else the Trial is void.”

“Did he now?” Lips pursed, Malia halted halfway through. “And if I take on Vythar by myself?”

I frowned. “I can’t see why not, given that he’s neither Carthian nor directly involved with the Trial.”

Malia nodded. “Then warn me if Hasda is coming, and I’ll break off to deal with the Elthiians.”

And with that, she slipped through her portal, pulling it shut behind her.

My own portal spit me back into the woods, an early morning chill coating the empty space where Hasda and his men had camped. Tracks, and Kydon’s presence, pointed north, not too far distant. A few lengthened stride caught me up to them easily.

“Perfect timing, actually.” Hasda rose from a crouch as I slowed. “The rat king wants to meet with us. His emissary will show us the way to his cave.”

“You all go ahead,” one of his men said. “I’ll scout the river.”

Hasda’s brow furrowed. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah, yeah.” The man forced a smile. “Yeah, I’m sure.”

Frowning, Hasda shook his head. “Well, if you think it’s best, Miyidh.”

The man nodded, saluted, and set off southward.

“Do you want me to accompany him?” I asked. Not that I wanted to, but Hasda had asked before, and I would go if he needed.

He shook his head. “We talked about it last night. If the pull becomes too strong, they’ll carry themselves back. Massan was too weak to do it himself.” He huffed a laugh. “We’ll give them that much dignity, at least.”

A chitter at his feet caused him to sidestep.

“The one I spoke of has returned,” he said, kneeling. “Give us a moment to gather our things, and we’ll follow you to the cave.”

Once they were ready, Hasda and his men trailed behind the black-furred rat that appeared to lead them. I slipped under the Veil with Kydon, but kept a close distance to Hasda. Scampering like a beast alight, the rat led them on a twisting path through tangled underbrush.

The rat led them at a western slant, angling away from the center of the woods. It was odd, hearing the rustle of the underbrush and the scratching of the rat’s feet in a forest once suffocated by silence. Strangely, they also went unscathed by undead ambush, both animal and Sleepless.

When they’d been traveling for perhaps an hour, they came upon a mound of rotting flesh, swarmed by flies. The lumpy brown pile was composed of decaying mice, their eyes yellowed not by death, but undeath. When the rat neared the pile, it sat on its haunches and chittered at Hasda for a bit before continuing on. His men, of which six remained, asked him what the rat had said, and Hasda relayed that the rodents had cleared a potential ambush as a “sign of good faith.”

I frowned. If the rat king was willing to exert himself this much already, he must be extremely confident in both our ability to bequeath him divinity, and his own to handle it. Kydon mentioned the same, and laughed when I told him that Malia thought the coilna might prove a sufficient substitute with their sorcery. But he didn’t deny it as a possibility, so if we could convince them—and the rat accepted—then we had a route to success.

Time crept by at a wearied pace. As afternoon ushered Ulti past the zenith of the sky, the rat finally led Hasda to their destination: a recess that passed for a cave in the side of a short hill. A stout oak cloaked the entrance, its leaves serving as curtain and its roots as supports. With a quick twitter, the rat disappeared inside.

After a short moment, the rat returned and chattered at Hasda.

“Dad, are you able to join us?” Hasda called. “The rat king has granted us an audience. His herald says the recess is deeper than it looks.

And so it was. I dropped the Veil and joined Hasda, who pushed the low-hanging branches out of the way. Behind the natural screen, the hollow dipped, creating a series of ledges that led under the hillside. Hasda dropped down, following as the rat scurried into the darkness. He had to hunch, more scooting along on his knees than walking, but he made it in nevertheless.

I had it worse. Although I stooped, my back scraped the ceiling and knocked showers of dirt down my robes. Occasionally, the uneven surface predicted my advance and dropped clumps into my eyes.

Thankfully, the bowl that served as the rat king’s throne room wasn’t far. The stretch to reach it was perhaps a spear length, a distance that was barely anything walked normally but felt far longer, cramped as we were. Shafts of light which shouldn’t have been there illuminated the space, the sunshine coming from camouflaged openings.

Even with the beams to trace their source, I couldn’t spot the holes, though Hasda blocking most of my view didn’t help. The concealment had the feel of magic, though not the smell. Rich, earthy scents filled the air, masking Hasda’s sweat. He’d stopped, leaving me just enough space to his left to get a view of the room—

When I saw the rat king, I paused.

Not only was it the fattest rat I’d ever seen, but it was also the wildest. Nestled into a bleached bear skull, which served as its throne, it wielded a sharpened ivory claw like a scepter. Or perhaps a sword. The proportions were right for that.

While its feet rested on the canines, its tail wended through the nostril cavity. Tied to this tallow-hued tail was a knot of smaller ones, which were still attached to their living owners. Five rats, one brown, two black, a gray, and a white, comprised the knotted rodents, who gnawed at a flesh-flecked bone of unknown origin.

All put together, the bound rats were only slightly larger than the rat seated in the skull. They seemed unperturbed by their fate, and the rat upon its throne put on airs, as if it were not confined to the bone by the animals ensnared in its tail. The rat king even seemed to smile as it saw Hasda. When it noticed me, however, its eyes gleamed in a way that reminded me of Malia.

Oh, I did not like that.


Is this a review?


  

Comments



User avatar
451 Reviews

Points: 45164
Reviews: 451

Donate
Fri Jun 28, 2024 3:28 pm
EllieMae wrote a review...



Image

Hello friend! Ellie here with a review for this lovely chapter! Let's jump right into the review (:

My own portal spit me back into the woods, an early morning chill coating the empty space where Hasda and his men had camped. Tracks, and Kydon’s presence, pointed north, not too far distant. A few lengthened stride caught me up to them easily.


Well, I am happy to be back once again to review another chapter of this awesome novel. You do a nice job writing this is a narrative way, in first person. That can be really difficult to do and keep pacing and a steadiness with the plot, but overall you did very well keeping it balanced.

When I saw the rat king, I paused.

Not only was it the fattest rat I’d ever seen, but it was also the wildest. Nestled into a bleached bear skull, which served as its throne, it wielded a sharpened ivory claw like a scepter. Or perhaps a sword. The proportions were right for that.


I love how you can add a bit of comedy into this, calling him the 'fattest rat you had ever seen'. But you still do a nice job at blending that in to the forwardness of the rest of the chapter, as we'll follow along with the plot.

Oh, I did not like that.


And I liked this simple ending, to finish it off ^^ :D Overall, nice chapter, nice plot, wonderful characters! Great work here.

Your friend,
Ellie

Image




User avatar
702 Reviews

Points: 87926
Reviews: 702

Donate
Thu Jun 20, 2024 9:07 pm
View Likes
Plume wrote a review...



Hey there! Plume here, with a review!

Ooh, finally meeting the rat king! I have to say, I'm so glad you went with that particular route; I find real life rat kings so interesting and macabre and just by making that choice here, you've already added so much eeriness and trepidation. The characterization of it, too, makes me worry alongside Charax; something tells me that if they can't get the rat king what it wants, it might mean trouble further along. Your descriptions of the journey, the lair, and the rat king itself added so much as well to the atmosphere. I thought it was interesting too how you compared the rat king to Malia at the end; that juxtaposition was really great!

Specifics

“Dad, are you able to join us?” Hasda called. “The rat king has granted us an audience. His herald says the recess is deeper than it looks.


Tiny thing: you're missing the end quotation marks.

Overall: nice job! Strong chapter as always, and I can't wait to continue reading! Until next time!




User avatar
508 Reviews

Points: 10170
Reviews: 508

Donate
Mon Apr 22, 2024 2:46 pm
View Likes
dragonfphoenix says...



YWS hiccuped while I was trying to publish this, and I can't delete this comment so here's a fun comment for posterity




Plume says...


yay for posterity! (I can delete it for you if you would like though!)



dragonfphoenix says...


Well, I got two notifications from this single reply so we should probably keep it lol




Powerful men have a way of avoiding consequences.
— Dr. Harrison Wells, The Flash