The storm continued its onslaught of everything in the area, driving the were-rats crazy as they followed the vague scent of their target deeper and deeper into the flooded woods. It surprised them how quick this bastard was. They continued following until they knew they realized their target had stopped. The squadron of rats looked at each other through the dark and the rain. The head of the group, Jorgrith, signaled them to surround it. Each of them moved in closer, expecting to jump their prey and rip into their flesh. Just the thought made most of them lick their lips in anticipation. They all formed up around the spot, and began to hop out to grab the spot where their mark would be. They swiped at nothing, gnashed their teeth at the rain, a few blows hit allies causing minor scuffles. Jorgrith snapped two of the rat men where they were, chewing on each other due to one accidentally swiping another. The fight broke up quick and they looked around for the wizard.
He was nowhere, but his scent ended at the spot they were standing. That was when they saw it. Going into the mud to see what it was, holding it up to the moonlight to examine its details, Jorgrith remained confused. He held a wooden rabbit figurine, and nothing more. Nothing made sense to him. Then he looked at his brethren lycans, all five of them. Jorgrith realized he was missing a rat. He snapped at some of the others to ask where he was, and no one seemed to know. He ordered them back to the ruins, figuring the brothers must have tricked them. Their leader had stayed behind in case they tried to sneak past. If anything, Jorgrith figured he had dealt with them by now. If not, then just more meat for them. His stomach growled at the thought, those wizards would go in the next stew.
Reaching the ruins, the rats found their dead brethren laying half transformed and missing a piece of his face in the mud. The rain beat down heavy on his corpse. They figured they could burn his body when it dried out, or eat it. Rat meat didn’t taste as good as pure human, but it was a meal. The remaining six headed to the door, and moved the door inward, glad that the doorway could fit their strange hulking shapes. Walking inside Jorgrith saw two of his other rats, those that had succumb to the injuries of the wizards fire magic, lie on the ground. Their bodies were very much rat, and the smell of their cooked flesh just made the rats hungrier. The stew they had made, containing bits of human from a merchant they caught in the storm earlier in the day.
The rats all stopped in the small lower area. A fire once more burned in the hearth, and ahead of him Jorgrith could smell his leader. He sat in the chair above the stairway, though he had it turned away from them. Jorgrith knew he did this as to be dramatic. Jorgrith hated his dramatics. He began the change back to his human form, as to shed his wet fur and dry his skin. The other rats quickly followed point. The hand of his leader lifted from the side of the chair, as if to call them to attention. Jorgrith got down to one knee, and on cue, as did the other rats. Bowing their heads, “We did not find the mages, sir.” Jorgrith spoke to his superior. Jorgrith had served in the military before falling under the curse by this man’s bite. He had then been bound by the curse to follow him without question, as he was told, otherwise he would be torn apart by the legions of rats already following him. Jorgrith knew how to serve.
A sound, like meat clopping being slapped against a wall, came from in front of Jorgrith. He opened his eyes expecting to see the wizard’s bodies. Instead he saw a human arm. It wore leather that was very well known to Jorgrith. It was his curser’s arm. The rats all looked ahead to see the shorter wizard, the one with the square sword that shone with a silver light. He sat in his chair with a smug grin on his face. The sword was across his lap. Jorgrith was not very intelligent, but any lycan could tell that the sword he held was forged of silver. Though it did not have a point, an oddity among swords, it definitely held a magic that was unknown to all here, maybe even the wielder himself.
“So, before you gross out and try to rip me to shreds.” Kayden leaned back, putting his right leg up on his left. The rats started forward, changing their shapes back to munch this morsel away.
“Wait!” Jorgrith shouted, and the rats stopped their assault turning back to him. He stood, still in human form. “What has the one who defeated the man who bore us this curse to offer before death?” Kayden just smiled his familiar smile.
“How about your humanity?”
Hearts stopped in their chests. Beating as quickly as the lycan curse demanded, their attention held by that last word. At least two of them were confused by the statement. Jorgrith knew exactly what he meant, but felt the need to question further to make sure. “What do you mean? There is no cure.”
“Umm… No. There is.” Kayden said, still relaxing in the chair. It wasn’t comfortable but it was to make him appear as if he was in charge. He wasn’t afraid of the six were-rat bandits who stood not a mere five feet from him. “You know who’s arm that is, correct?”
Jorgrith did not have to look to confirm, he already knew, as the scent from it had thrown him off walking in. He merely nodded, at full attention now.
“The first found cure for Lycanthropy, as found by the first Lycan mage Jericho,” Kayden started to recite, recanting a tale he had read in books from his time as an apprentice. Myths were his favorite subject, and he happened to memorize them well. Remembering other things; such as components, spell words, and hand gestures, you know important things, were not so easy. “was discovered in the year… two forty… three? Or five. I can’t seem to remember.”
“Does the year bare significance?!” Jorgrith yelled, frustrated at the ramblings of this young and strange mage. Kayden looked at him with annoyance.
“No, but it makes me feel better if I remember it.” Kayden snapped, though he knew at this point he was just toying with the were-rat. He didn’t have much longer that this deal would work, so it was best he hurry to the end. “But, I’ll skip to the important part of the story.”
“Jericho had been infected with Lycanthropy from a great silver were-wolf. He suffered with the curse and used it in his study to find a cure. He only ever found one.” Kayden hesitated in his quickening of the story, as to make it more dramatic. “Murder.”
Jorgrith laughed. “We’ve done much of that, and we still do not lie cured. What do you mean by this?”
“Oh, it’s who he murdered.” Kayden had leaned forward to say the previous bit, but now he leaned back into the uncomfortable chair to once again flair his speech. “The wolf who had cursed him.”
Jorgrith stared at him. He now began to grow angry. “How dare you!” He screamed, his form shifting at this point. The rest of the rats moved out of the way, cowering from his anger. “You dare tell me the cure, after you have so promptly taken it away from me!?” Jorgrith had reverted to his form at this point. He could feel the creature inside of him, telling him to rend the wizards face, eat his skin, gnaw his bones. He held back to hear the wizards response before killing him.
“Oh, the arm?” Kayden was as far as he could be in the chair. The rat thing that stood face to face with him was a bit unnerving. The stench of his breath made Kayden want to set himself aflame, and he figured if he tried the stench may actually catch fire. “No he is still alive, if for not very much longer. You lose a lot of blood from a missing arm.”
The room went silent again. Jorgrith wanted even more so to kill the wizard, if anything just for toying with him. “Where is he!?”
“I’ll tell you, but we are going to make a deal first.” Kayden once again smiled, even if breathing the smell allowed him to taste it, which he found much worse than smelling.
“Speak it.” Jorgrith demanded. He was impatient and the thought that he could rid himself of the curse had him ready to jump at the chance.
“I show you where your leader is, you kill him.” Kayden stated simply. Jorgrith stared at him for a second; there was no way that was it.
“I planned to do that anyway, what do want from this wizard?” Jorgrith asked, he remained in his rat form, as it made him feel powerful over this being.
“This ruin.” Kayden pulled his sword up slowly, and the rat began to back up hesitantly. Kayden stood in front of them all, at the top of the stair. “I want you all to leave here, and go use your new found humanity to restart your lives.”
The rats all stared at the wizard, Jorgrith most of all. That was the weirdest thing he had ever heard someone tell him. “Why do you care what we do with our lives after this, wizard?” Jorgrith asked, and he reverted himself to human form for he was sick of the rats biting at his mind to eat the man.
“Because,” Kayden started and he began to walk around the chair and to the door at the back of the room. “Otherwise, you remain a rat.” Jorgrith was not good when it came to metaphors, but he felt like he didn’t just mean the lycanthropy. He and the rats followed him through the doorway.
Kayden led the rats, now back to human form, through a tunnel and up a flight of stair to the top of the tower. The rain beat across the stone, and fell through a hole in the ceiling, as well as through the slits that remained as windows on this tower. The rats all moved into the room and stared at their leader, missing an arm and laying what seemed to be at the brink of death. The moon came through the holes in the room, and seemed to illuminate their humanity that this man represented.
“Each of you, take out a weapon.” Kayden ordered the rats, and each of them drew something resembling a weapon. Jorgrith pulled out a dagger he had kept with him from his past life. He had the number of his military unit carved into the handle. He kept it as a reminder of slaughtering them all the first time the rat took over. Now he got his revenge, for them, for himself, and for everyone the rat destroyed.
“Each of you stab him, as long as you each have a part in his killing, you should be free of the curse.” Kayden said, and Clark; who was standing in the corner of the room, responsible for dragging the body up the stairs to the tower, noted his serious tone. He didn’t really understand what was going on, but he was amazed to see that Kayden had rallied the rats to murder their own leader. All Clark could do now was watch.
This was the moment, and each rat, having shared brotherhood for several years now under this man, shared a glance. They all looked at Jorgrith, the man they considered their commander at the moment. He was focused upon the body of his curser. With that he raised his dagger, and a yell left his lips. The rest followed suit, and every dagger fell into the chest of the man. Jorgrith’s found the man’s heart and he felt the rest enter the body soon after. The impact awakened their leader who stared into Jorgrith’s eyes. Jorgrith could feel his heart from the handle of his dagger. The beating slowed as the stare continued, and a look of complete betrayal sent the man to whatever lay beyond as his heart stopped.
The men sat there gripping their daggers for several moments, never pulling them away from the body of this man. Nothing else happened. After what seemed like eternity, Jorgrith got up and pushed Kayden to the wall, gripping his shirt from the front as he pressed him against the old stone. Kayden didn’t complain, he just stared at Jorgrith’s angry face.
“You said we would be cured!” Jorgrith shouted in Kayden’s face. Kayden looked him in the face.
“Do you hear a rat in your brain?” Kayden remarked and with that Jorgrith stopped. He did not. The squeaking voice that told him of his hunger, the scratching he felt in his skull that made him want to eat whatever he found was gone. The rest of the rats must have realized it as well, as they all began to cheer as they realized they were free of the curse. Jorgrith’s anger turned to joy at the realization and Kayden could tell quite plainly. Though he was not ready for Jorgrith’s embrace as he pulled Kayden into a hug only a monster could give.
To Clark, this was the strangest sight he had ever seen. A bunch of men who had previously been enemies just stabbed their dying leader at the command of the man who put him there, and then began rejoicing and hugging him. What a weird world they lived in, and many of the rats even came up to give him a pat or a hug. Definitely a weird world.
The rats left the ruin the next morning, as they stayed one more night to wait out the storm. They shared some brew they had with Kayden, who did not drink it, and Clark, who drank it happily. The night was filled with laughter that was strange among, enemies. Before they left, Kayden and Clark helped them bury the men they had killed in defense. The men had obviously lost other friends to the rat, and they were just happy to be rid of it.
Each thanked Kayden and Clark before leaving, each leaving something with them as a reminder of their help. Some left some coin they had most likely stolen; others gave them rings or treasures they accumulated among their time as a rat. They would be worth something, if the brothers didn’t keep them for sentiment alone.
Jorgrith was the last to leave, and the last to talk to the brothers. It wasn’t very long a conversation, as Jorgrith thanked them for accidently stumbling on them, and giving them their life back.
“Don’t waste it.” Kayden stated with a smile that was meant to be joking. He didn’t realize later that, what he said was actually kind of a pun. Clark didn’t get it at first, but then they agreed it was kind of a stretch. Jorgrith, not noticing it, wished them safe journey and told them he hoped they met again when on these new terms. The brothers both nodded in agreement. Jorgrith set off down the road, but not before handing Kayden the knife he used to kill his leader.
“I can’t accept this.” Kayden hated gifts, and this was full of to much sentiment to get rid of.
“It freed me of this curse, and now I give it to the person who helped with that.” Jorgrith stated, and for the first time, sober at least, they saw Jorgrith smile. “You be careful out there, you two.” That was the last thing he said before leaving without so much as a look backwards. They both knew that he would go on to do what Kayden made them promise. The others, he wasn’t so sure, but that one… definitely.
“So what now?” Clark asked his brother as the rats faded into the woods.
“What do you mean?” Kayden remarked, with the rise of an eyebrow and a smirk. “We have some ruins to explore!” This did not excite Clark.
“There was more you wanted to see?” He asked, rubbing his neck, still sore from the grip of the now dead lycan leader. He had fixed his tie to the best of his ability, but realized that he would have to see a professional to get it back to its classy state. Kayden had just rolled his eyes when he told him such. Kayden wore a worn gold scarf with his order’s symbol, a raven with a sword in its claw, around his neck as his symbol of magical ability. Neckwear was a big signifier of order, school, and station among wizards. Clark’s bowtie was a signifier of his recent approving from apprentice wizard. At this point, mending it and moving on was all he really cared about. That, and maybe getting some sleep at an inn, in an actual bed.
“I’m not going to lie.” Kayden stated, raising his arms as if in defense. “I brought you here on purpose.” Clark wasn’t surprised.
“What’s here that is so important, other than the possible burning upon a pyre we could receive from even glancing in its direction?” Clark said, and he wasn’t lying. The church had killed people for less, and not disturbing the ‘sacred ruins’ was a big deal to them. The brothers had seen children lashed or hung for desecration of such a law.
“That’s what I want to find out.” Kayden snapped, and with that he turned and started towards the door of the building. Clark just stared at him as he walked which caused him to stop half way. “You are just as curious, don’t lie.”
With that Clark couldn’t argue, and he didn’t. Instead he just sighed and followed his confident, yet ignorant, brother into the impending mystery.