Dark is the Rat

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35 • The character's first battle, first hunt, or first killing of another person. Try to make it as vivid as possible, including the character's age, training and inexperience, plus details on the surroundings (weather, terrain, uniforms or clothing of self and others).

Dim black haunts in the far depths of chaos seem like the places dark things crawl to kill other dark things. They crawl and squirm and wrestle and which dies is unknown to unseen eyes.

The difference between sorcery and science is semantics and location. Call them scientists, call them sorcerers. They were jail-wardens to lab rats abandoned or misplaced by family and clan, too low on the birth order or to shallow in power to be worth serious attention. Yet every scientist knows that even the slow rats might provide valuable insight if prodded with the right stick.

This is the story of three dark lab rats starved to the fear of death.

Young, little more then four summers if they had ever been allowed to see the sun. The lab rats were usually fed a moist mixture of processed foods. Vegetables, meats, grain, mixed to an oatmeal consistency. This was the food they knew.

Each of the dark rats worked to make food for the other rats. Given fresh produce, clean grains, raw meats, they would mix them in the grinders and see edible fare turned to formless mess. Each had to learn that they could not take the smallest of morsels for themselves while on such duty. They were watched, and even a bite earned harsh punishment, and a loss of their own portions.

Live animals were often brought into the kitchens for the lab rats to use. One of the cooks would make sure they watched how each creature was dispatched, boned, and drained of fluids. They were taught how the carcasses were butchered, learning which parts were tender and which were tough. They learned how to remove hide for skinning and how to prepare the fats for tallow. They were taught how to make cheese from milk solids and how to boil blood for wine.

The animals they learned these skills on came in many forms. Creatures of the water. Creatures of the air. Creatures of the land. Four feet, six feet, eight feet, two feet. Some creatures died passively to the knife. Some bayed angrily at the falling axe. Some cried out to the gods of their homelands that had failed them.

They were taught to cook. The best bits in the best ways were cooked for the scientists and their helpers. The next best pieces were dried and saved for future unknown needs. The worst bits were piled on the tables for the lab rats to make their gruel. Bones were sent to jewelers as Chaos prizes such treasures.

There came a night when three starving lab rats had the duty to make the gruel. There was commotion above and that never bode well for the rats.

Into the kitchen came the chief cook, a scientist himself, if a junior one. He ranted in a language the rats did not know and knocked over pans and pots and cast spells in to the fires. He searched in the kegs and the shelves. Looked in cold cells and in hanging rooms empty of provisions.

Gathering what he could, the rats saw that meal in preparation would be very light and certainly unsatisfactory to the sorcerers.

Looking at the rats the chef growled at them to follow him. He strode off down the dark corridors toward the places where other work was done. He walked to a small cell and led the rats in.

Looking at them he yelled, “One of you goes on the fire. The other two will eat from the masters' portions. Gut and prepare the meat.” Tossing three carving knives to the ground, he added, “Who does which, you work out among yourselves.” Locking the door behind him, he left.

Silence held in the dark place, where only dimly glowing lichen lit to create grey shadows.

One of the rats dove for a knife. The other two followed quickly.

They knew only cooking and carving for the feast. They fell upon each other in starvation and need. Though they had known each other all their lives they had never been given names nor were they friends. They were objects of scorn, and despair and torment. They knew only that one would be meat and two would eat well.

They wrestled in desperation. Slicing and jabbing artlessly. They screamed in fear, venting anger unknown in their deep hearts. They cursed the masters of pain, and wept for the death they must inflict to one like themselves.

In that dark place, in the blood of violent certain death, one cried out in anguished pain and failure, and cursed the masters of his torment. The other two rats cried out with him, their curses echoing in the dark cell, reaching up the rafters, sliding up the tunnels.

In their cry their blood erupted in a flash of their heritage, unknown to them. In the tall towers, the Masters of Torment felt the creation of three Death Curses of the Blood of Amber.

When the chef returned, the meat was ready for the fire. That night two dark lab rats ate like Lords.