Asherons Call: March Event - Rollout Fiction

| 25 Mar 2008 20:05

Adso crawled across the rubble-strewn field on his belly. He moved slowly, almost torturously. Each limb moved at a glacial pace: undetectable on first or even second glance, but he managed to cover significant distances that he would otherwise have been unable to move across without alerting the creatures in the area. It took a prodigious amount of muscle control and discipline to move this way, but he had been well trained by his master in all manner of infiltration techniques. A human observer would have found him near impossible to detect, even if it had not been a moonless night under the dark pall of the graveyard. The supernatural creatures were harder to fool, but even so he had managed to evade detection by using every bit of his tradecraft and he was within a few paces of his goal.

Finally he managed to creep in under the cover of a pile of rubble near a low stretch of broken wall. It was enough cover for him to move at a normal pace as long as he stayed hunched over. Around the corner of the wall was a crypt he needed to search, and he was close... so close...

He was so close he momentarily lost focus, and forgot to keep track of where he was stepping. As he edged around the corner his foot brushed against something heavy, hairy, and warm. It was the merest touch, but it was enough. Adso looked down, cursing silently, as he heard the first warning chitter from the grave rat whose nap he'd just interrupted. A half-gnawed human arm nearby was evidence of what had happened to the last person to run afoul of the beast.

Small, glowing eyes snapped open and the creature began to hiss. With his quick hands, Adso managed to draw his blade and jab it into the rat's skull before it could attack or spit acid or scream. The rat died with a strangled gurgling noise. An alert glance showed that there were no other rats near enough to notice. He whispered a prayer of thanks to whatever deity would listen, then got back to work. In a smooth motion, he set the heavy, stinking corpse down on the ground behind the wall, withdrew his weapon, and cleaned the blade on the beast's mangy fur.

A few steps later, he slipped into the doorway of a dark and seemingly empty crypt. He stuck close to the wall and made his way around to the back of the crypt, where he could barely make out the outlines of some kind of chest or container. As he got closer, he was able to confirm that the object was, in fact, a chest. His pulse quickened. It was here, just as he'd been told...

Adso glanced back at the entrance to the crypt again and swept his eyes over the entire interior. Still no sign of other creatures in here. Breathing deeply to calm himself, he knelt before the chest and probed around it with fingers and picks to search for traps.

In a few moments he'd satisfied himself that there were no traps and that the chest was unlocked. Praying for more luck, he grasped the edges of the lid and began to lift ever so slowly. With just a crack of opening, his keenly trained eyes were already able to make out the glint of gold. Surely this was the seal he'd been sent to find...

A scratching noise behind him froze him in place, with his fingers still under the lid of the chest. He looked around to the entrance. Another grave rat had crawled into this crypt and was making its way down the stairs. It didn't seem to have noticed him yet, but if he stayed where he was, or tried to open the chest to fetch the seal, he'd almost certainly be spotted. Very carefully, he began to lower the lid again, keeping one eye trained on the rat and its maddeningly casual progress into the crypt. He'd have to sneak up on the rat and kill it before it could alert any of its kin, just like the last one.

As he lowered the lid smoothly into place again, a shadow darkened the entrance of the crypt. It was a man-sized shadow, but with an odd silhouette... As if it were wearing some kind of strangely shaped helmet. Quite heedless of the danger, the intruder seemed to dance down the steps. The rat spun to look at it and hissed, and was met with more giggling and dancing. The stranger leaped from the middle of the steps and landed gracefully on his tip-toes, then spun a complete circle and finished with a flourishing bow, right in front of the angry rat.

As Adso watched in horrified fascination, the rat leaped up at the stranger, shrieking with rage. The stranger caught it with strong hands and cradled it against his chest. Its screams and squeals echoed deafeningly in Adso's ears, and he knew that in a few moments this crypt would be filled with other rats drawn by the screams. The rat continued to thrash and even let loose a stream of acid, at which point the stranger performed a strangely beautiful pirouette, redirecting the stream of acid to splash on the wall near Adso.

Adso ducked and covered as the acid splashed near him. He rolled away from the chest, determined to escape this crypt before he was trapped in it, and try to re-approach later. When he looked up, the stranger was standing right in front of him. The rat continued to thrash in his arms, but it wasn't making any noise now that the stranger had clamped a hand on the underside of its head and throat. With one slow, sickening turn of his hand, the stranger crushed the rat's throat. Drops of blood and bile dripped onto the floor as the rat's life slowly drained out of it.

The stranger giggled again and tossed the dead rat aside. Adso could only stare up at this thing in fascination. He was dressed in checked black and white, his face was painted like some garish marionette... And his eyes glowed with the light of pure madness. Still laughing, the stranger slapped his hand, still slimy with rat drool and gore, over Adso's forehead.

"Here for my secret stolen treasure, are you? Someone's been telling tales out of the academy again!" The stranger's voice was high and cracking, and spoken with a strange inflection.

Unable to think of a response, Adso tried to pull away, but he couldn't. He felt a burning pain on his forehead, a pain that seemed to be growing by the second. His eyes rolled back into his head as the pain became unbearable. He thought he would go mad from the agony when, abruptly, the pain stopped. Adso opened his eyes and found himself alone with the chest and the dead rat. The stranger in motley had vanished...

A voice echoed above him. "Broken vows and treacherous hearts! The withered lord flees his broken arts! They come seeking for the lordly seal, but they know not what the seal reveals! Now run, little man, run to master. The fool has come to cry disaster!"

As more insane laughter rang out through the crypt, Adso saw the roiling silhouette of a horde of rats that had appeared at the entrance, drawn by the death squeals of the stranger's victim.

"By the way, pal, watch out for the rats," the disembodied voice echoed once more, as the swarm of rats surged forward.

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categories: fantasy