So we sit there. The room silent apart from the sound of dripping water and the noise her hand makes as it runs across my slick, damp fur. I can feel the tension in the air and I wonder how exactly I’m going to get out of this situation. Assuming she evens lets me go, the others will be after me. Jealous. Vicious. I am large but they are many. Many-many.
Oh well. Maybe this life is just going to be one of those quiet ones until I get eaten. I think I liked being a drake, didn’t I? I remember the food. Ah, I think I made the wizard-girl sad though, I didn’t like that. I don’t like making people sad. Dungeon life is sad enough as it is without my help, friend. Accepting my fate, I lower my head down and rest, feeling her fingers run through my fur; softly scraping against my skin. Decadence. We sit like that for a time. Never once do I feel the eyes of the swarm leave me for even an instant, nor lessen their biting glares. Whatever. You just hate me ‘cause you ain’t me, I think to them quietly, not daring to squeak it out loud. Queen has not yet given us permission to make noise again.
Something shifts. I hear movement. A single rat running and already I feel sorry for the poor guy. I open an eye and look at the new-comer who has entered the room from above, from the pipe I came from. All eyes turn to him. The queen turns to him and nods once. Brothers squeaks a single squeak and then stays silent. The queen spares him for he has brought news. The single word “outsiders.” She nods and says a word of praise to brother. All the envy in the room is now focused on him. All of the eyes including my own. Sister-queen spoke to him. Unforgivable! Mine! Mine! My queen! The hand runs along my back again and I calm down.
Brother leaves as he knows the others aren’t allowed to move. Smart brother. Clever brother. I wonder. Outsiders? That must be the hero-party. My instinct is to jump up. To run. To dash and scramble away before I die. The hand strokes me again. But there is no escape. To run from queen is to insult queen. I would never. I would die first. A part of me wants to warn her, to tell her to run and hide and be safe. But I do not. That would be impudent. Disloyal. To question her strength is unforgivable. Bad-bad.
Already now I here them, the steps echoing down the many pipes. The ring of many boots walking together bouncing down the many metal walkways, only barely audible over the sounds of rushing sewage and filth. I dare not move my head to pinpoint the exact origin of the sound, but I move my eyes and scan the bit of darkness that I can see. There are only two paths a human could fit through. Either through the poisoned water or the piping which is filled with rats. Both bad choices. Both deadly ch-
I look around at the room. At the thousands of rats now collected here who have returned their ire to my person. Why aren’t they out there? Why aren’t brothers going after the outsiders? Stopping them? Protecting nest? Protecting queen? I feel uneasy. Something is wrong. The boots come closer now. I hear them. I hear the ring of metal against metal. I hear the slap of wet leather against the odd loose stones scattered around as they dredge through the pipe. Unhindered. Unassaulted.
What is this? Brothers? Protect queen! Protect nest!
Nobody stirs, nobody dares move and disobey the queen’s orders even if there is a threat. If there is danger! Danger! Danger!
The sounds of the people coming are clear now, they are here. I see now the first silhouettes forming against the darkness in the pipe. The hero at the front as always, a rather serious expression on his face that I’m not used to seeing outside of battle. The others are behind him. None of them are having a good time apparently walking through the sewers. Rude! Rude! Insulting queen! Home good! Nest good! DEATH!
The hand runs along my back again and I calm down. “It’s okay little one, they’re outsiders to our ways.”
The hero steps out of the pipe and looks around the room from above, looking around at the many rats now staring up at him. One by one they come out of the pipe. The wizard who looks a little grubby, the monk who looks pale and sickly, the priestess who she is leaning against and- sure enough. There she is. The thief-girl who hasn’t spotted me yet among the many rats. But already I can see her looking around the room, looking at every brother carefully.
The air is quiet. The hero turns and walks down the crude pile of rubble that was once a staircase that winds around the spiral room. The rest of the party follows him, worn out, filthy, exhausted. I’ve never seen them looking so down and glum. I feel kind of bad honestly. What’s wrong hero? Don’t you like it here anymore? I can understand that. As they descend the rats around them don’t move, they would risk being stepped on and crushed rather than disobey. Loyal brothers. Loyal. Loyal.
However the adventurers aren’t keen on squishing rats beneath their boots which I can also understand so they do their best to slowly step around my brothers as they make their way closer to queen. To me. Unworthy. Unworthy!
They stand before us now. Before queen. The room is silent, and the queen lifts a hand. “You may speak”
Of the many brothers almost a tenth of them cry out in protest. Their squeaks ring out in confusion. In questioning. Why are there outsiders here? Why? Why? Bad! Bad! Outsider bad! Rat serve dark-dark. Kill! Kill! Some hiss at the hero as they make this particular note of emphasis, others at the rest of the party. A moment after, once they have finished, the group of a hundred rats who voiced their opinions are silent having said their peace. Only too late do they realize the mistake one of them had made though; the rest of us already know. She snaps her fingers.
The rat swarm springs into action, swirling around the room in a frenzy as the mischief descends upon itself. Those who dared voice dissent are torn. Ripped. Death-death. Very red. Red-red. Many screams. Rats scream, priestess screams. Rat’s serve queen, not dark-dark. Brother made a mistake. All made a mistake to stand with foolish brother. Meat and guts fly around the room as they are torn apart by biting claws and fangs that nibble off their toes and bite out their eyes. Nibble-nibble. Dig into their guts and eat their hearts while they wiggle. Wiggle-wiggle.
A moment later it is done. The dissenters are silent and the hero and queen meet eyes. He speaks in human tongue, says many things. His gestures are tired and stiff. I have never seen the hero like this. Unenergetic. Queen speaks back, not in fairy but in human, I am upset that I do not understand. Why is queen speaking human? Humans can understand fairy. No. Not my place to question. Wise queen. Wise. She seems to be explaining something. I see the wizard looking on in some mild confusion. The priestess is tending to the monk who is unwell. The thief. I look up from my lap-throne to her.
She looks at me.
We stare at each other for a moment. It’s a little awkward honestly. I fight the urge to jump up and scamper away and I see she fights the same urge to pull out her dagger. Her hand twitches, her eye twitches. I am safe. Queen and hero speak. No bite. No bite. Friends? No. No.
They are speaking for a time. Often the others will intervene. The wizard, the monk. But the hero silences them with a raised hand much like sister-queen does to us. But he is too kind, he doesn’t eat them. How will they learn if he doesn’t eat them? Queen is good queen. Hero is bad queen. Even now though the thief-girl is still staring at me. She knows. I know she knows.
I stick my tiny rat tongue out at her and see her body convulse in a fit of whatever emotion it is she is feeling and pressing down, suppressing for the time being. I don’t know what’s going on, but there will be no fighting here today. Not between rats and hero-queen. Not between thief-girl and me.
Dungeon-master will be unhappy. Hope he doesn’t see.