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'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

The Book of Ataniel

The Rat King Archives
Cat and Mouse, Part I

Character(s): Jack Paris
Author: Douglass Barre
Storyline: None Yet, But Willing
Title of Post: Welcome To The Mithril Dagger, Y'all!

The sign outside the tavern read "The Mithril Dagger". Being that it was one of the few buildings on the street that didn't have looters running out of it, Jack Paris thought that it was statistically likely that he'd be able to get a drink at this particular establishment. He pushed open the recently repaired oaken door and stepped into the bar. Jack Paris had traveled a long time to get to Lianth, and it seemed his services were no longer likely to be required. He pulled his long black hair out from in front of his eyes and took in the design of a Lianthi tavern.
"Welcome Storyboarders," a banner hanging lopsided behind the bar attested. Jack Paris sniffed disdainfully. It reeked of metafiction, and Jack hated metafiction.
Other than that, the tavern looked pretty normal. The bartender was a plain looking brown-haired man, and the waitress was as beautiful as the alesman was nondescript. There were five tables in the room, all currently empty. A small sign by a red curtain at the back of the tavern declared their back room to be "Now Guaranteed Wyvern-free." The common room looked as if it had recently been the site of some sort of flaming fracas... maybe this town had trouble with wyverns wandering into places of business. Jack sauntered up and took a seat opposite the bartender. "Do you have any Shikinti wines?" Jack asked.
"Red or white?" the bartender smiled.
"Blue," Jack said.
"Name's Kevin," the bartender said. "Nice to meet a fellow connoisseur."
"Jack Paris," Jack said. "Of the Montasi Parises. My card."
Kevin took the small hard parchment card and read it aloud. "Jack Corfa Paris, professional... mathematician?"
"Topologist, statistician and certified public accountant. At your service."
"We don't need an accountant."
"Neither does Swank Recorporations," Jack sighed. "Their building's gutted, and there's some guy half-lowered into what I suppose had to have been a tank of piranhas. I figured that even if the job was still available, I wouldn't want it."
"Fqrth," Kevin muttered, pulled out a clipboard from underneath the bar, and jotted something down. "Sorry. I'm keeping a bodycount."

"That's morbid," Jack nodded. "But then, things were bad for a lot of people three weeks ago."
"Care to talk about it?"
"Nope," Jack said. "But I bet you hear that a lot."
Kevin nodded knowingly. "Sure do. Let me get you that wine."
Jack waited, hoping that the waitress wasn't noticing his repeated glances through the bar mirror at her legs.
"Not interested," she said, passing by.
"Right. Of course. No problem," Jack muttered to himself. Casting about for some snacks to pretend to have been really interested in, his hands connected with a red dart, sitting in a small stack at one end of the bar. Biting his lower lip and taking the dart between his middle and pointer finger, he scanned the mirror for the dart board. It was on the other side of the tavern, near a signed picture of Signet the Significant. He took two more darts, and gently placed them between his other fingers. Counting subvocally to himself, he watched the board in the mirror and tossed the darts over his shoulder. Two struck the dartboard, bullseye, and the third wedged itself firmly between Signet's eyes.
"Wow," the waitress said.
"You missed one," Kevin said, climbing up from the winecellar.
"I missed two," Jack corrected. "You must have a vent about two feet up on your back wall... probably connected to some sort of basement or cavern area?"
"And you have trouble finding work?" Kevin asked.
"Let's just say I have trouble keeping work," Jack said sheepishly.
"Well, as long as you pay your bar tab on time."
"Okay if I prepay at a six-percent assumed interest factoring in the declining gold rate?"
Kevin squinted.
"It's okay," the waitress said. "As long as he's a good tipper too."
"Eighteen percent minimum," Jack said, one hand in the air, his other on his heart.
"If it's okay with Kayla, it's okay with me," Kevin grinned.
"Now I just need to find some paying work," Jack Paris said, stroking his unfortunate black chin fuzz.
Coincidentally, at that very moment, the tavern door opened...

Character(s): The Rat
Author: Jeff Hersh
Storyline: What the Rodent Saw
Title of Post: Of Mice and Taverns

His whiskers twitched as he saw the door open. Wonderful smells filled the air from the opening beyond. "Food!" he thought. His small legs propelled him forward towards what he could only think of as 'The Land of Wonderful Smelling Stuff.' He passed through the doorway and was struck by the sights and smells. He could smell all manner of stuff. Roasted meats, fresh breads, fruits, and best of all, rotting garbage in the back. This HAD to be heaven. His nose twitched as he sniffed some more. Good, no cats, just humans and the wonderfully rancid smell of rotting dwarf. If he was careful, he had nothing to worry about. Scuttling along the baseboards he made his way towards the kitchen.

Character(s): Jack Paris
Author: Douglass Barre
Storyline:
Title of Post: Rat Kings and Other Things

"You seem to have rats," Jack added, watching the rat run through the opening door.
"Oh, shit," Kevin said, poking his head under the bar, looking for something.
"Actually, rats are kind of interesting," Jack said, keeping one eye on the scurrying creature. "Did you know that sometimes ten rats, always male, will get together and knot their tails together in a spoke pattern? Nobody knows why, as they eventually die of starvation, unable to move. The skeletal remains indicate that the bones in the tails are actually broken and healed so that none of the rats can escape. It's called a Rat King, and the reason for it is unknown. Very strange, though, don't you think?"

"So what are you trying to say?" Kevin asked, hesitating with his crossbow in hand.
"Damned if I know. I just kinda thought it was interesting."
The two men looked back. They didn't see the rat.
"Damn. Looks like he made it to the kitchen." Kevin grumbled.
"Gee. Too bad." Jack tried to hide his smile.

Character(s): The Rat
Author: Jeff Hersh
Storyline: What the Rodent Saw
Title of Post: Adventures with Cleavers

The rat was pleased. He had made it to the kitchen without much problem. Soon, he hoped, he would be gorging himself on wonderful foodstuffs. Even so, just to be safe, he kept close to the wall. After all, an overconfident rat was a dead one.
Sniffing the air he took gauge of the kitchen. Currently, there was a shank of lamb roasting in the oven, a pot of vegetable soup bubbling on the stove, and the faint smell of some sort of sugary confection sitting on the counter. The rat thought that this last delicacy would be his best shot. Sniffing once more to make sure, he ran for the counter. Just as he thought he was going to make it-- WHAM, a large metal wall appeared before him. His flight instincts took hold and he bolted for a small space in the wall. Running for his life, he quickly made his way safely into the hole.
Just as he disappeared into the darkness, he heard a human yelling "Rats zey are not allowed in Ubert's kitchen!"

Character(s): Jack Paris, Nikita Raimonde
Author: Douglass Barre
Storyline: Fun With Rats
Title of Post: The Black Olive

Jack could hear the noise of a loud Tobrinese chef in the kitchen. "I'm sorry about that," Kevin said. "He's a friend of a friend, and working here since his inn was destroyed in the Madness."
"Hey, you don't have to explain to me. I've heard a lot worse."
"I can imagine."
The door was still creaking. Jack assumed it must have been stuck.

***
"Oh, disgusting! It's another one!" Nikita Raimonde called out to her sister.
Queen Cailin Raimonde of Dalencia set her broom down and wandered over to where Nikita was pointing. There was another of the strange rat tangles. Ten rats, bound together by their tails, dead. The third to be found in the rubble around Edimon in the last month.
"I'm getting Tomas to get this," Nikita said, racing off.
"Please do," Cailin said. There was something strange about the thing, but even her magical background in Spectral didn't suggest anything specific to her. She shrugged. The Rat King lay there, unmoving. It was a creepy silence, finally broken by a baritone cry.
"Ay-n-ay, mon! I be hatin' de Rat Kings!"

***
Jack Paris surreptitiously broke off a piece of cheese and slipped it into his open knapsack on the floor next to his stool.
"Another?" Kevin asked.
"Got nothing better to do while I wait for that door," Jack agreed.


Character(s): The Rat, Kevin, Kayla, Ubert and Jack
Author: Jeff Hersh
Storyline: What the Rodent Saw
Title of Post: Squeak and Chitter

Breathing heavily, the rat gauged his hiding place. It was small, hardly big enough for him, and smelled of dust and rotten grease. Cleaning his whiskers, the rat realized that was a close one. He wondered why he didn't notice the large human chef before he pounced on him. No matter, the rat was practical. His problem now was how to get out of this hole without being chopped into stew meat.
Peeking out of the hole, he could see the cook. He was on the other side of the kitchen cooking something. It smelled like eggs. The rat realized that while food was all around him he would be dead before he got one scrap. It was time to try the large room he came through before. He seemed to remember some scraps on the floor. Making sure the cook was as far away as possible, the rat bolted for the door.

***
CRASH!
"Ubert!" Kevin screamed. "What the hell is going on in there?"
"Ubert zeems to be having ze problem with ze rats," cried a muffled voice from the kitchen. "Ze rat is messing with Ubert's eggs. Ubert will fix ze rat!"
Kevin gave Kayla a 'why me' look. Kayla just shrugged in response.
"Maybe I should try to help. I have a way with rodents," said Jack, trying not to laugh.
"Hmmm... whatever," Kevin said, "Just get it, before that crazy cook destroys my kitchen."
Jack rose from his seat, just as a small brown and fuzzy object rushed out of the kitchen door and under one of the tables. Ubert, looking very disheveled and carrying a large cleaver, raced after the rodent. "Ubert will get ze awful rat!"
Jack stepped in front of Ubert. "Did you know that rats are actually signs of good fortune and luck in some cultures? To kill one usually brings bad luck and culinary disaster upon the executioner."
Ubert halted, pondering Jack's words. "Iz zis true?" he asked Kevin.
"Don't ask me, Ubert. But stranger things have been known to be true."
"In zis case Ubert will return to ze kitchen," the cook said as he stomped back to the kitchen. "But if ze rat returns, Ubert turn him into ze stew!"
"He is joking about the stew, right?" Jack asked Kayla.
"Ummm... Kevin, I think you should talk to Ubert about his choice of meats," said Kayla.
Kevin nodded and entered the kitchen to have a world with Ubert.
Jack then turned his attention to the rodent hiding under the table behind him. Kayla crouched down beside him.
"So how are you going to get the guy?" she asked.
Smiling, Jack placed the open satchel on the floor. The rat sniffed the air for a moment and then rushed right into the satchel.
"Bingo!" Jack said as he picked up his satchel. "Now let's take a look at this little guy."
Jack and Kayla peered into the bag, curious about the inhabitant. "Ewww! Look at his tail, Jack." Kayla said with revulsion. Indeed, the rat's tail was unusual. The last third of its tail looked like it had been torn off. By the look of it, it was a fairly old wound. "Do you think Ubert got a piece of him?" Kayla asked.
"No, cleavers don't make that sort of wound. I wonder what happened to this guy?"


Character(s): Jack Paris
Author: Douglass Barre
Storyline: The Rat King
Title of Post: Jack treads water

"Here, the poor thing looks hungry," Jack said. "Get me a cheese tray, put it on my tab."
"You haven't established your tab," Kayla reminded him.
"Damn. Right. I keep waiting for someone with money to come walking through that door." They all looked at the door. It was still quivering, like someone was trying to open it. "Weird," Jack mused. "I thought it was pretty smooth, myself."
Ubert returned with a tray of cheese. "I steel sink ze rat would make ze tres bien hors d'ouvre!"
Kayla winced.
"Does that tail look, maybe, ripped off from the base?" Jack asked. "The topology of the tail suggests a frayed healing."
Neither Kevin nor Kayla had any response.
"It's an irregular scar," Jack added.
"Oh, right."
"Yeah."
"Sure is."
"Too bad the poor thing can't tell us what happened," Jack mused, feeding it a piece of limburger. He glanced to see if his sensitivity was working on the waitress. Kayla looked more interested in the rat. Just Jack's luck.

Character(s): Flicker and Khyrisse, entering
Author: Laura Redish
Storyline: Of Mice And Men
Title of Post: What's Going On With This Door?

Flicker backed through the door, looking at it rather strangely. It swung most of the way shut and wobbled there. "I think it's all right," he said. Khyrisse came in, tentatively. Flicker turned around and walked towards the bar, greeting Kayla warmly. "How's the ankle?"
Khyrisse put a small stack of items on the bar for Kevin. "Thank you so much," she said. "Is it okay if I keep the spellbook and that cube thing?"
Kevin shrugged. "Sure."
"What's going on with the door?" said Flicker. "You don't have poltergeists, do you?"

Character(s): Jack Paris
Author: Douglass Barre
Storyline: Rat Kings
Title of Post: Poltergeists

"No, but they've got rats," Jack smiled, trying to make a joke of it. He opened his bag and displayed the rodent inside.
Kayla glared at Jack, and strolled over to Flicker. "Don't mind him," she said. "Actually, it's just like new. Thank that friend of yours!"
Kevin took the returned items and put them under the bar.
Jack turned to Khyrisse. "Hi. Jack Paris, wandering mathematician. Here's my card!" He held out a fan of business cards towards Flicker and Khyrisse. "I'm looking for work, you know."

***
Umbra Seeford kicked at the fallen and shattered statue of Morvon. Morvon was gone; he didn't know how, but Morvon was gone. And it was all the fault of that damned Zerthimon, whoever he really was. That Umbra knew. He had tried to hire an assassin to take down the big blue fraud, but the last message he had gotten from the killer had been mysterious and vague, refusing the commission and returning the money. No, Umbra would have to do this himself somehow, without the deteriorating church, without his manic family, and without Morvon. Umbra's foot struck something soft and brittle sounding. He looked down. There, on the ground, lying dead next to the broken off head of Morvon, was a tangle of rats, stuck together by the tail. "An omen," he thought. "I'm trying to break away from something that I'm tied to... I need to learn to use this church, this position, to drag them along under my rule, now that Morvon is gone! That's it! I'll fight fervor with fervor!"
Of course, Umbra missed the real import of the Rat King completely.

***
"Flicker, Khyrisse, what can I get for you? On the house for Mithril Dagger Heroes today."

Character(s):: Flicker
Author:: Laura Redish
Storyline:: Of Mice And Men
Title of Post:: Still Fussing With The Editor

"What do you have in a light Tobrinese rose?" said Flicker. He looked at the business card. Mathematician. "Mind if I get back to you in twenty years?"
"What?"
"Nothing. You're no relation to Caimen Paris, are you?"
"That depends why you want to know," he said, a smile quirking at the corner of his mouth.
"Just curious. I knew an--associate of his. Thank you, Kevin." He poured himself a glass. "Next time you have a day off," he said to Kayla, "we should try downhills."

Character(s):: Khyrisse and Skitch
Author:: Kristin L.K. Andersen
Storyline:: wandering unaware into rat weirdness...
Title of Post:: Paying off old debts

"Um, a Montasi coffee. Thanks, Kev." Khyrisse waited at the bar while Kevin poured out a sweet coffee with cream, and added a shot of rum. He shook a dusting of cinnamon over it and handed it to her. The door, having just stopped quivering, burst open. A boy wearing a snazzy black tunic ran in, carrying a package in his hands. He screeched to a halt next to Khyrisse, panting. Wavy brown hair the same color as Khyrisse's fell over his green eyes. "I found it, it was under the seat! Here," he gasped, shoving the package at her, and flopped onto a stool. Khyrisse suppressed a laugh. "Thanks, Skitch. Kayla?"
Kayla looked up from her conversation with Flicker. "Hmm?"
"I'm sorry... That dress you loaned me? It got, um, incinerated, actually... So I brought you this." Khyrisse flipped a length of heavy silk out of Skitch's package. Green and blue highlighted with gold swirled in abstract patterns over the fabric in the lamplight. "It's Diari silk," she said, as Kayla ran an admiring hand over the fabric. Khyri looked up, right into Flicker's reflective eyes, and grinned. "Flicker helped me pick out this color for you, actually. He insisted on teal."

Character(s):: The Rat
Author:: Jeff Hersh
Storyline:: What the Rat Saw
Title of Post:: Rats in Bags

Safe. That was what he felt for the first time he could remember. Safe and comfortable. The rat sniffed his surroundings. The odor of the wonderful piece of cheese he'd just eaten filled the satchel. Exploring, he saw this place contained pieces of string, some shiny objects and lots of paper. In other words, it was rat heaven. It was a nice change from... from... The words seemed to refuse to form themselves in his mind. All he could remember was a bad place. A place that smelled of water and snow. A place where vapors of the dead and rotting filled its halls. Yes, it was a bad place. Then he remembered, or at least part of it. He was a rat with a mission. He didn't come here just for food (even though it was a nice benefit). He was here to warn someone. To tell them about... about... Damn! He couldn't remember. Even so, he had to try. Then, in the middle of his personal revelation, a human hand reached in and grabbed him. The rat responded and nipped at the intruder.

Character(s):: Jack Paris
Author:: Douglass Barre
Storyline:: Rat Kings and Other Things
Title of Post:: A Quick Calculation

"Oh, Flicker, that's so nice!" Kayla beamed.
After a moment, she turned to Khyrisse. "And thank you too."
Jack held back a smile. "Women," he murmured under his breath. "They hear what they want to hear, right, Rat?" Jack reached into the bag.
After a barrage of rather eclectic cursing, Jack yanked his hand out of the satchel, hiding the wound on his finger from the rat bite. "It's not too late to give him to Ubert," Kevin suggested. "No," Jack said, nursing his hand, "I knew the statistical likelihood of getting bit when I reached in." Jack turned to Flicker. "So, how is it you knew Caimen's friends? They're, well... not the most sociable people?"

Character(s):: Flicker
Author:: Laura Redish
Storyline:: Of Mice And Men
Title of Post:: Sociability

"Define sociable." Flicker smiled to himself, a still, self-contained little smile. "Why do you have a rat in your bag?"

Character(s):: Jack Paris
Author:: Douglass Barre
Storyline:: Rat Kings
Title of Post:: The Merits of Embezzlement

"Well, okay, I guess if you consider hanging people by their thumbnails to get them to tell you which island they buried their bag lunch on sociable, they're a lovable crew.... but it never made sense to me why they pirated and looted when it's so much easier just to embezzle the money. Im-hoe." Jack stuck his finger in his mouth and glared into the satchel. "As for the rat, it was either keep him or avoid the omelets. Besides, my last fortune cookie told me to 'understand the rat.' Whatever that's supposed to mean. The last time I ignored a fortune cookie I ended up having a castle dropped on me, so I figured that I'd make a new friend." Jack looked into the satchel. "And lose a cocktail napkin with a solution to the Johhn Calculation on it, apparently." Jack sighed.

Character(s):: Flicker
Author:: Laura Redish
Storyline:: Of Mice And Men
Title of Post:: Gang Aft Agley

Flicker made a half-smile and let it pass.
"Rat omelets?" he said to Kayla. "Is this a Shikinti thing?" He leaned in to take a look at the rodent, who was indeed shredding a napkin in Jack's open satchel, and very nearly fell off the barstool. He had steadied himself on the bar before he had finished wobbling; Kayla took the excuse to put her hand on his arm anyway, and Flicker didn't correct her. "Deja vu," he said, and passed his hand over his eyes.
"Sure," said Jack, smirking.
"I'm afraid I'm serious," he said. He shook his head; it was a shame Shilree had gone home, because it would have amused her to no end. "This is not the first time I've seen this rat. I--I had a dream once." He shook his head again. How ridiculous it sounded. "May I take a closer look?"

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