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Die Shize

From the Depths

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It had been some time since the collaboration of Verm and Scion and mercenary had returned from their investigation into the killings along the highways of the Forgotten Woods. In the heart of the forest, that is where they found their enemy. The Fae, enraged and lusting for Skarr blood, had been assailing and harassing from their hideout. By the time Veron and his company, alongside Krakch and his Verm, arrived at the Fae’s hallow, they put them to the sword and their home to the torch. Only some survived to serve as slaves, some to answer questions for Seer Szabit, and they answered them under the flensing blade.

Their skins were hung up across the rock of Nesthome like drapes; trinkets and trophies that either Veron or the Verm had insisted on—it was too trivial for him to remember who. Their enemy was dead, but not just. They were destroyed, this time for good. Following the raid on the hallow, Szabit set up shop developing a spawning pit for Verm skilled in fae sorcery. Veron, meanwhile, led a larger host to split up and weed out the remnant Fae, and vanquish them. He brought many heads more back with him as evidence and gift of his deeds. "They died with clean blades," he boasted. "But our blades are bloody."

Finally, the forest had fallen into the hands of the Verm, and their enemy no longer slumbered except in the pit of death. It had taken some time, but with the help of Veron and the Lost Scions, conquest became a certainty. In the aftermath, Skarr expansion began to pave the way for construction of additional establishments and settlements. The Black Captain himself did not stop there. After returning to Nesthome and being granted an audience with King Blackrot, Blacktear struck a deal. He and his company would pledge loyalty to Skarr Clan and the Verm of Nesthome, and owe them their services in a binding contract. Gnaw would permit Veron a military title and the position that came with it, despite his own suspicion of the very Shkei he had once exiled all those years ago. Nonetheless, in an attempt to reassure his ruler, Veron promised: “I do not want your position, King-King. I want your permission.” He had it. 

Thenceforth, the Lost Scions helped safeguard nest and wood, serving in patrol and escort duty, always on the watch for fae that might yet be hiding beneath the tree stumps. All was quiet, but not for long. The mercenaries lived for carnage. They killed for sport. They found both on the outskirts of the Forgotten Woods. They plundered farmsteads and hamlets, offered them to their employer, and played the brigand by extending themselves back into the Great Pine Barrens. There is where their own home, the Dreadvault, waited for them. They sent their reapings back to Nesthome and returned with them, though in their great wagon, the Scourge, they hid their greatest of treasures as retrieved from the vault of their headquarters.

Now, Veron has returned from his latest excursion, and he is not empty-handed in the slightest. The Verm could never imagine what he held in his hands...but they were about to find out. 


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In the depths of the Under-City that was gradually becoming an Under-Empire, celebration was to be held. It had been held off until Veron’s return, though this day was not his alone. King-King had decreed that the Verm would celebrate the defeat of their Fae foe alongside their greater expansion into the forest, free of molestation. He himself would formally recognize Veron Blacktear as Skarr Clan’s newly created Marshal. Unfortunately, he would never get the chance.

Even while Veron was still away, it took little time for the bells of Nesthome to ring once, twice, thrice and many times more, haunting the caverns up to the mud and dirt above. They announced one message: The king is dead. He was found in his bed, with no explanation of his death, ruling out obvious signs of murder, though more than Seers had their suspicions. The next day, Veron Blacktear returned with his retinue, and helped convince the Verm to continue with the celebrations. Gnaw Blackrot was no more, but the Rats lived on. With their provisional council, they would rule on. If no one else, Veron would make sure of it. For, not only was this day to be a celebration, but now it would become the choosing of the new king. 

 

The Verm of Nesthome had roots in history as deep as those amid their caves. They were a backstabbing race in their ancient days, warring with each other from hall to tunnel, and yet they were almost hive-minded in their way of thinking and communicating. Unlike other races and societies, the Rats did not have as much room for variety or deviance, revolution or renaissance, save for the subtleties among clan and caste and the odd figures like Gnaw Blackrot and Veron Blacktear.

As vast in number as they once were, as vast in number as they were growing into once again, words could pass from one end of a crowd to the other like crumbs from a wheel of cheese. Veron had given them many even before his return today. He was not alone in his efforts, but perhaps in his experience, and he used it to help teach his people of realms and worlds and let them learn themselves of realm-worlds. He taught them of other races and species and they called them golem-things and orc-things. He showed them a mile and a meter and they spoke of mile-far and meter-long. He let their eyes glimpse gold and silver, he slipped them nuts and nuggets, he sent the builders of the trebuchet to share the details with others, he offered red wine where many had only tasted blood.

Some asked for seconds. Others scoffed and snorted. Gold and silver they had seen before, from the traders of Tradetown and the villages they had pillaged. “Not like this,” Veron would insist. “Mine is the treasure of kingdoms!” Some shook their heads in confusion, others nodded them in contemplation, namely those Grey Seers whose concern for self rivaled one another’s. Yes, the Seers would be the key, and Veron would turn that key. Nesthome was the lock. 


 

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The Black Captain

mhhh29B.pngBy the time the Verm were initiating their festivities, many of them were conversing about the Cat’s Eye. His spoils and treasures, his exploits and explorations, his reapings and reavings. The peoples he had seen, the places he had gone, the things he had done, Captain Veron Blacktear and his Lost Scions. 

One could only dare to walk across the cookfires and listen to see if the Black Captain was not being discussed. The officers who served in his company were not immune from the tales. They had scattered amongst the crowds, each one with a story to tell. They spread the word of their leader that day, as they had helped spread days prior, but for every Rat that believed the word there was a Rat who dismissed it 

A simple folk, my Ratkin, thought Veron as he paced throughout the great chasm that served as the Verm’s great hall. “Great” was an understatement: the chamber was a gaping pit in the bowels of the earth, ten times putting the halls of palaces and castles and mansions to shame; in size if not quite in splendor. Erected at the back, resting on the tallest platform, was a chair littered with wood and bone, weapons and jewels, all carved and laced within. It was an empty chair. It was the empty throne of the King of Nesthome. 

Beneath it was another platform, and this one was vibrant with activity. The stage contained some makeshift ‘band’ as far as the Rats could conjure. They played a small variety of instruments, mostly drums, with the kind of uniform percussion one could expect of children with no musical sheets. It was enough. As the harsh drums thrummed across the walls, the Rats danced and sang, feasted and fought, chittered and chatted in their harsh tongues and sought the silence and solace of sharpening their swords and spears. A simple folk. Veron smiled at as many as he could spot, walking the floor with his one eye walking over faces. A simple fight.

“Veron!” hailed a soldier-rat in passing, also missing one eye. Veron shook his forearm, having to first teach the soldier the maneuver. It was awkward.

“Blacktear!” came another voice of a familiar face. 

“Zhot Blightburrow!” Veron greeted. “How goes the glaive?”

“Fine-good. Blade is sharp-ready.” Zhot flicked a fingernail against the curved blade, then looked around as though searching for prey. “Where is hyena-thing? Need practice, yes-yes! Drum-things make good noise for sparring.” 

Veron grazed a lone finger across the glaive’s edge. “Eating, I imagine. Rattleneck brought her hunt with her; a merchant of some proportion. I imagine she’ll carve up half and save the rest. Perhaps you should look for her tomorrow in the fighting pits where I’m sure she’ll be eager to burn off the fat.”

Zhot tilted his head in what agreement he could afford, leaving Veron to navigate throughout the denizens of Rats to shake hands with others and ignore the rest. He stopped short when something short planted itself in his tracks.

“Captain.” Greeted Galrim Ironbreaker. The dwarf was unusually unarmored, though armed with a large horn of ale. And a belly full of mead, I'm sure. “This is rat piss.” He turned the horn upside down, careful that not a single drop would splash upon his captain’s boots. 

“You’ll mind your tongue if you don’t want to lose it.” Veron assured, then grinned. “Perhaps, though, it’s time you opened some of the kegs we brought with us, hm?”

Galrim blinked at that, frowned, and accepted, walking away from his master. Veron watched him for a moment. Ever subservient. Still wishes to be among his own kind. Would kill me if he could. Shrugging at his lieutenant’s back, the Shkei turned to face the breadth of the crowd. The masses were vast. Littered amid and above them were purple orbs that Veron had conjured; Qaarek Ki-ki, to be precise. When activated, the orbs became three dimensional viewing screens. 

Stacked in columns of two throughout the hall, the upper orb displayed the banner of Skarr Clan, while the lower orb displayed the stage and the Rats who were playing upon it. This, in turn, helped amplify their music so that all could hear. Such a pair of orbs floated above Veron’s head. Drums. Drums. Drums. An endless beat of Verm fists. They are punching. They are pounding. They are partying, my Ratkin. He raised his arms, slowly, letting the drums and pulse rise right through his heart, and suddenly he was alone in a crowd of souls. They are celebrating...for me...

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“Shkei-Veron,” came a purring voice. “Careful with your arms, Blacktear. Would not want to lose them, yes-yes?”

Veron recognized the voice immediately and turned to face the speaker. “Seer Szabit. Always a pleasure.” He held out his hand. She rejected it. But the eyes never lie. 

“Pleasure, yes-yes, to see-again the Cat’s Eye. Long-time passed. We missed seeing, yes-yes.” The Seer pinched the rim of her hood just subtly enough to where her listener could catch the gleam in her eyes. 

We,” Veron jested. “As in just you, I presume? Or you and Khrol?”

“Skysplitter!?” Szabit cackled. “Try-make speak-talk with Khrol, we did, but Khrol broods in dark-quiet more than broodmothers! Not come for revel-feast, no-no. No matter. Shkei-Veron come. We are pleased. Come.”

She insisted with a raised hand, one adorned with rings on each finger. Veron might have declared that at least three of them were new. “Later,” came his answer. “My place is with my people at large for the moment. The chamber can wait.”

There was another gleam in the Seer’s eyes. This time it shone with an impossible darkness that made Veron smile. This was most likely not her intention. 

People, the Cat’s Eye speak-tells!” She spat. “Rats not people-things, no-no! Hmmmm... Good-well. We will wait...but not for long-long, Shkei-Veron.”

Szabit winked, leaning in just close enough to where her would-be paramour caught a whiff of perfume. He breathed it all in. Then, just like that, the Grey Seer spun on her heel and gave the back of her grey robes to her conquest. So she endeavors to believe...

For his response, Veron also turned away—back toward the throngs. Szabit had informed him that Khrol Skysplitter would unfortunately not be participating in the festivities. Probably engrossed in his books, the fool. Still, he may yet make an appearance, assuming he was sane enough to make a bid for the crown. As he ambled amid his people, he thought further on it. I wonder...should I have also—

The Shkei’s thought was interrupted as he caught sight of another familiar face. In that perfect moment, Veron’s lips spread from corner to corner. I don’t believe it. There, waddling through the crowd in almost a hunch, back weighed down by pack with scrolls sticking out every which way, was an all too familiar face, and its eyes met his own. Taron Wetfur. 

“Brother!” Veron greeted the scribe-rat as the two met each other in the mess of bodies. Taron said nothing back.

“How long has it been?”

Silence.

“You look so…” Veron blinked at the priest’s robes. In one sellsword captain’s humble opinion, the whole pack of Grey Seers were largely lacking in style, but where at least Seer Szabit knew how to look the part in fashion Seer Wetfur looked like he had just crawled out of sackcloth. His roughspun robes were tattered and frayed. And clearly unwashed. “...Formidable.”

“No.” Taron replied simply, gazing out through his spectacles. 

“No?”

“No.”

Veron rubbed his chin at that. “No...you won’t dance with me, brother?”

Taron shook his head. “You are godless, Veron Blacktear.”

Godless. Veron smiled. He knew where this was going. It was known only by a few, definitely not Blackrot, that Taron Wetfur still worshiped the Pale Rat. To even speak those two words aloud could cause the speaker’s head to be cut off. The late King-King had long since outlawed and banished anything and everything associated with the Pale Rat, as much as he had outlawed and banished Veron Blacktear. Yet, here I am, Gnaw Blackrot… And where are you? 

“...No?”

“NO!” Roared Taron. The staff in his hand jabbed into the stone beneath his feet. His finger stabbed forward as though it were a sword, pointing a million accusations at his very own brood-brother. “My kindred souls, I have faith that if they remembered our god they would bow before him. But you, Cat’s Eye, you would burn each one alive for bowing to him instead of you. I say that you are godless, Veron Blacktear, and I know what you came here for…” His head turned upward. Veron followed the gaze behind the glass. “...And no godless Rat may sit the Nesthome throne!”

"Godless?” Veron echoed. “Who knows more of gods than I? Horse gods and fire gods, gods made of gold with gemstone eyes, gods carved of cedar wood, gods chiseled into mountains, gods of empty air... I know them all. I have seen their peoples garland them with flowers, and shed the blood of goats and bulls and children in their names. And I have heard the prayers, in half a hundred tongues. Cure my withered leg, make the maiden love me, grant me a healthy son. Save me, succor me, make me wealthy...protect me! Protect me from my enemies, protect me from the darkness, protect me from the crabs inside my belly, from the horselords, from the slavers, from the sellswords at my door. Protect me from the Scions.” He laughed. “Godless? Why, Taron, I am the godliest soul ever to raise banner! You serve one god, Wetfur, but I have served ten thousand. From Last Chance to Lost Hearts, when souls see my banners, they pray.” [Credit: Euron Greyjoy, GRRMNo harm intended, just otherwise quoting from A Song of Ice and Fire to capture my character as modeled after the Crow's Eye himself]

Taron fell silent. He looked left, looked right, gnawing on his lip with his yellowed incisors. Searching for support. You silly fool. You will find none here. 

“Your time will come!” Taron warned.

“My time is now.” Veron promised.

The two brothers parted ways—one to linger in the corners of the revelry, one more Seer lost to brooding, and one to join that revelry. One more king made for ruling.

Edited by Die Shize

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On and on the music went, each Rat who was not upon the stage still contributing to the harmony by their very presence. While pacing toward that stage, politely dismissing a passer-by’s offer of rat-on-a-stick, Veron stole one more look at what waited above the stage. There would have been a king upon it this day, one who would allow his people their time of dancing and eating until the moment was right to silence the masses and make his announcements. They will still be made. Blacktear promised himself. I will make them. 

The closer he approached, the clearer the musicians stood out. They were in absolute frenzy; funny after a fashion, and terrifying to their enemies if they had any around them. The sticks in their hands were swung like clubs, the drummers pounding their drums every which way, erratic and energetic, as though those drums were the skulls of those enemies. Like the days of old...when once all this rock was so much wider, when Rat and Rat warred with another for days and nights... When Den Blacktear was once Clan Blacktear, and Lord’s Eye and the Iron Pikes and the Black Sea filled with blood and bone and cried my name over and over and over…

He stepped closer, spotted another troupe approaching the stage from one side, but these ones were not Rat. They were goblinoids; smaller green goblins and the larger hobgoblins with their orange skin. At first, they just stood by the stage and watched, as though waiting for the song to end so that they could step in. Veron, though, he knew that those drums would not give out on their own accord until the drummers’ own hearts gave out. So he approached the other side of the stage and calmly climbed it. 

“A song of my company,” Veron requested as much as required with a gesture toward the nearest drummer. The Rat looked confused. The Rat beside that Rat looked confused. By now, anyone watching the stage before it or before a portal likely looked confused. Veron shrugged. “Two songs, then. Our reward for your reapings.” The Rats recognized such recognition, or they simply knew better than to refuse. Like a conversation coming to an awkward close, the drums gave out one by one, and the Verm band departed the stage. In their place came the band of goblins, carrying with them their stringed instruments of morin khurr and their flutes. They already had the drums. 


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The music was slow, entering with a languid lick across the string, then a voice that some of these Rats may yet remember if they had ever chanced upon the cookfires of a conquered Kinsmeet. The singing of the hobgoblin came from the throat, throat-singing, and was like wind whistling through a valley. It might have sounded different were it not for Veron having since removed their tongues. The hobgoblins sang and played their strings. The goblins played their flutes and the drums. All throughout, the grand hall of Nesthome got a little quieter; in part from the speed and sound of the music, in part for the musicians. This was no normal thing for the Verm, and doubtless some were as curious as others were disgusted.

For his part, Veron made no sound. He stood center stage, listening to his band while watching the audience watching them. In moments, many returned to their merrymaking, so he watched the faces still turned his way. He saw heads tilt, arms fold, fingers tap on chins, Rats speaking to each other while nodding heads or shaking them. He saw black fur and brown fur and grey fur, black shirts and brown shirts. And grey robes. Seer Taron was huddled in a corner, Seer Szabit’s visage was illuminated by a fire, Seer Qhralk rested his hands on a balcony, Seer Velm ceased his spell-sparring to listen, and apart from the Seers was spotted Krakch Blacktear standing beside a Brave Spear. Getting along with mine own, are we? Yet, amid the Seers, Veron finally spotted him. 

He appeared from the shadows, though with a green glow about him that might have as much been a trick of the firelight. Other Rats moved out of his way, and his very gait presumed it. His robes were dark grey, like the moon on a stormy eve, and its hood was raised but raised above it were dozens of wickedly curled horns. Finally, the Seer found his spot in the crowd while yet the Rats around him made it their orbit of purpose to give him a sphere of space. It was amusing to watch, under the circumstances, and watch him Veron did. I see you decided to join the party after all...Khrol Skysplitter...

Edited by Die Shize

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Like two bulls in an arena, their eyes were locked like horns in a moment that stood as still as an empty throne. On one side, there was the Grey Seer, Khrol Skysplitter, a cruel and bitter Rat whose hatred was worn on his sleeves. On the other, the Black Captain, Veron Blacktear, a cruel but happy Shkei whose love would be made manifest this very day. 

Neither moved for the other. One looked up, the other looked down. Fitting. Veron thought. Though even if I were not on this stage I would still be looking down at you, little rat. Khrol, he was small in stature yet large in status. It was no coincidence of the universe that the other Rats had steered clear when he emerged from the shadows to stand before this stage. To get in the way of Skysplitter was to have your head split. Many had learned this firsthand; a lesson that came a little harsher even for the Verm. 

What are you thinking? It was a question that Khrol probably thought at the same time as his counterpart did. The Verm, they continued to caper and celebrate throughout the hall, though those closer to the stage could only watch and wonder what was about to happen. For a moment, Veron let his gaze wander. Seer Qhralk had a good view as he observed the scene from his balcony, but there were also Seers Szabit and Nackha, even Taron and the others who ogled like the best show of the night was about to begin. Not yet. This is but an advertisement. 

“Shkei-Veron!” Khrol called over the low music. “I claim that stage! Give your Seer a turn to play.” 

“With what instrument?” Veron provoked. Then his musicians began to play a different song. It was faster, wilder, louder, and it brought the Rats of Nesthome into a faster and wilder and louder dance. Khrol did nothing of the sort. He simply stood still, creased his countenance, and if one paid close enough attention his nails were surely digging into his hands. 

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Pushing their way forward to check Khrol’s position, but not daring to stray the edge, were those Rats who had since come to give their support to Veron; warriors and raiders, all of them. Some stood a little closer: Erkar of Den Mudfist, curling the fingers of his gauntlets; Left-Leg Lod, leg forward and hand on scabbard; the Red Glaive-Rat, leaning on his glaive. If push came to shove, Khrol would strike first, but at least a few of Veron’s allies would not be so quick to scatter, even for Verm. Their strength was in numbers and Veron had promised them many. 

Khrol looked at each Rat that had all but surrounded him like they were lunch, and leered the way Skysplitter leers. His lips twisted, so very visibly for one humble eye that looked and saw from the stage, like those lips were stained with venom. Veron could relate. His own were pale blue, courtesy of drinking Shadow of Night, so when he smiled he was sure that Khrol could see with his two proud eyes. 

Then the Seer’s hands shot forward in a flash to unleash twisting trails of green fire. The flames flew up toward the stage, above it, above the throne dais, and struck the giant bell suspended from the ceiling. 

CLANG!

 

The tremendous ring gave a greater cry than his voice ever could, drowning the cavernous hall. It was as much a deafening toll that devoured the rock and consumed the ear. Still, while all of Nesthome gave in all at once to a silence louder than thunder, the goblins played their song as though nothing had ever happened. It took their master’s waving of the hand to make their music stop. “Leave us”, Veron commanded, and while the goblins of lesser and greater began to make their exit, another voice made its entrance, though it was not Khrol’s.

Edited by Die Shize

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“The great bell calls!” came a voice from nowhere. "And I answer!" Veron and others had to strain to see the source, but as soon as they spotted him there was no denying the Rat’s appearance. He wore no garment save a gown of unknown material, for it was caked entirely in dirt and mud, with rocks and pebbles woven within. He was tall and thin, and he carried a staff of stick and stone, though he was no Seer. Mud-priest, scorned Veron. Come to tickle us with his queer tales of bowels and feces.

“I am Hakk Hardhead!” The Mud-priest claimed as he took the stage beside Veron. The latter stepped aside to suffer minimal stench. As Hakk spoke, Veron shifted his eye from priest to Seer; Khrol looked vehement at the act of another stealing his performance. “I speak-say for all Rats!” Hakk went on. “Make me King-King and I will take-take all Rats to fate-thing! Dig deep, yes-yes, and cover fur with mud-dirt, and show-tell deep pits that Rats worthy of dig-deep! Rats worthy of find-see the deep-dark, where no Rat ever die, and all Rat live like King-King!”

The Mud-priest raised his staff toward the rock while his small handful of supporters cried his name. “Hakk Hardhead! King-king!” In response, there was murmur among the crowd, as quiet as a whisper. The Mud-priests were small in number and rightly so. No Rat, even the ever curious, cared about the fancies of fanatics who spoke of eternal life in the deepest reaches of the earth, and who made it their purpose in life to lather themselves in mud on the journey to those dark places. A Rat need not be the cleanest to understand that dirt crusted in fur out of conscious act over consequence meant little and less.

Hakk had brought no spoils with him save crates of rocks and globs of mud, and these the worker-rats having toiled for. This treasure would not do. So the Rats of Nesthome cried out their rejection of Hakk Hardhead and his mud-priests, and he was jeered off the stage for the crazed fool that he was.

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“Hidemaker!” Howled another Rat. 

 

“Hidemaker!” Echoed another.

 

From the crowd, one Rat was raised above them all, as fat as Urtag’s merchant and brought forth on a stretcher cradled by underlings. 

 

“Hidemaker!” They announced their chieftain. “Hidemaker! Hidemaker! Hidemaker!” Veron had few dealings with this one. His real name lost to the dirt, the Hidemaker was all but worshiped by those he sired, courtesy of his own brood-mate. The seed is strong for those who care to strengthen it. For this one, not so much.

 

It was an unusual sentiment, for a Rat to care for bloodlines so much, something that Veron yet understood, in his own way. It was enough to alienate the Hidemaker despite his ancient roots to the Under-Empire. A shadow of the soul, grown fat and lazy over years of stagnation. With no wars to fight in the ground, with Blackrot’s age of peace, it might have happened to Veron too. Peace is a lie.

 

“Hidemaker! Hidemaker!” The clan-Rats chanted around their chief-father. “Hidemaker!” They pushed their way through the crowd and attempted to carry the fat Rat up to the stage, but they almost dropped him and decided against it. Veron laughed. Most of the Verm did too.

 

“HIDEMAKER!” The clan-rats insisted, their voices a violent cry. “HIDEMAKER!” Then it became clear to Veron if no one else: they were not simply chanting their chieftain’s name; they were announcing his right to rule, but had no idea of what to say beyond that name, as if no other words were needed. That, more anything, is what ensured Veron’s laughter.

 

HIDEMAKER!

 

The Hidemaker never uttered a single word throughout it all. Eventually, the Seers and others had heard enough of that charade and the Hidemaker and his sons were voted away and back into the masses.

Music OOC

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The Slayer came next. Neither ancient Rat nor deluded priest, Gertold Goodsharp was of the younger breed, though known among Nesthome for his strength and prowess as a warrior-Rat. He had led raid after raid and always returned with the greatest spoils, almost rivaling the Lost Scions themselves in scale and scope. He had slain his fair number in his time, from rival Rats to enemies of the outside. 

“Was Blackrot fighter-Rat, hmm-hmm?” Asked Goodsharp as he paced toward the stage, his voice amplified by the orb that followed him. “Did he raid-take? Did he kill-kill? Did his claws bleed-red like Goodsharp’s!?” His voice carried from the stage that found him, his fists drawing sword and dagger. “Slayer slays, yes-yes! Slayer kill-kills! Slayer find-takes! I win-fight, head-take, and skin-hide! I win-win!

He was off to a fine start, Gertol Goodsharp. Many Rats echoed the name. “Gertol Goodsharp! King-King!” Veron might have found reason to worry, but Gertol spoke on and on to his own folly. 

“Yes-yes! Say again! Gertol Goodsharp! You Rats nothing-more! Nothing! I fight you! You! Win-win! Kill-kill! You nothing! Fight-me! Scared-scared!? HA! Slayer slay you! And you! And you! And you!” 

The boasting became a droning thing, and many of those Rats who once shouted the Slayer’s name stood there scratching their heads in more than confusion. When Gertol threw open his chests, shield-blades and sharp-bits and halberds and glaives were not enough to sway the Verm. They already had those things, and for all his raids it was clear that Goodsharp kept much for himself, and little for the nest, except the weapons of the raiders who helped him. The Seers will remember that. So the cry for Slayer died.

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Those Seers, they had not been forgotten. Ever since Khrol had split the sound of the great hall via the great bell, his contemporaries paid witness. They kept quiet, watching and listening to the claimants and their calls, each one voted down by measure of crowd. Now, calling from a balcony of his own, with Rats beside him wrapped in leather and garbed in hard hats, one Grey Seer of Nesthome would cast a call of his own.

“Gertol spoke of Blackrot,” Seer Togtir reflected. “Blackrot was King-King. Yes-yes, this is true, hmm?” He stroked his goatee as if feigning contemplation. “King-King, powerful, yes-yes, but alone? No. Grey Seers support King-King. Speak for King-King. Walk for King-King. So, Nesthome, this Grey Seer asks you…” He looked left, looked right, and Veron followed his gaze. It appeared that most of his fellow Seers were as curious as the Verm overall. “...Why need King-King? No, Rats, forget King-King! Let Grey Seers rule Nesthome! Let council rule! Not King-King!”

The crowd split like the sky at such a daring proposal. It seemed as though one half of the hall was for, half against. Surely, for many, the notion of being governed by group instead of individual was an appealing one. But they don’t know. Veron grinned. They don’t remember. They were not there. 

Durboz was. The elder Seer shared balcony with the warlord Qhralk. “You forget yourself, Togtir,” Durboz called across the hall. “You were not there. I was. In the days of the Under-Empire, we had a ruling council, yes. We betrayed one another over and over, each lord contesting for power and control. Our gutter-rats were used on each other, not the outsiders. For every argument, our clans went to war. Many Rats died. Many rocks fell. It took one Rat, Gnaw Blackrot, to be crowned king, for the war to end, for the peace to come, for the Rats to unite, for the Rats to survive!”

There was a bout of silence. Togtir had nothing left to say. Durboz was right and everyone knew it. There had to be both council and king, a check and balance. For all his self-serving, Gnaw had never done away with the Grey Seers. He had known their value and they had known his. His position, at least, if not the man himself. Veron knew. Veron was there. He had survived those years—the golden age and the dark age. Only, he survived in his own way. In the only way that exile can gift you...

Edited by Die Shize

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“King-King!” Cried a Rat of black-grey fur as he approached the stage. He carried a quiver of bolts on his back. “Rats call me Jard Quiverfear, for Jard makes foe-things quiver in fear—”

ZSHOOOM!!

All of a sudden, Jard Quiverfear burst into light, his body embalmed in green flames the color of vomit and mucus. The marks-rat howled and writhed, dancing this way and that way with his arms flailing every which way. He clambered up the stage only to flounder upon it before falling off. The stench of charred fur and flesh fired up Veron’s nostrils as he stood so close, watching the helpless creature burn alive and burn to death back upon the rock. His screams ended, but the crackle of fire continued for moments after.

“Idiot-rat,” Khrol exclaimed, rubbing his fingertips as though they had just touched a sun, though the smile on his snout betrayed him. Rats around him stepped further back, including Veron’s own, whilst the masses murmured in their chittering tongue. “Jard Quiverfear was a coward!” Khrol explained. “Not worthy of a mercy-kill! Despite the claims, his hands never drew blood. Mine, on the other hand, draw fire and blood…”

With less than a modest cackle, Khrol Skysplitter climbed the steps and entered the stage, keeping himself at distance from Veron, barely acknowledging him with twisted teeth appearing from behind blackened lips. 

“Durboz spoke of the Under-Empire,” the Seer addressed the hall. “And the days of old. I was not there, my Rats. I was not yet born from brood. But, if I was, I would not have wasted the crown on art and architecture. No.” He shook his head like the walls of Nesthome would shake with him. “What did Gnaw have that I do not? Paranoia, that’s what! Disguised as peace! I have neither for you, Rats. In my hands, I hold the power that Blackrot did not. My sorcery has given you nests and homes, has reaped the spoils of those above, and my hands continue to craft a healthy and growing Nesthome on the plague and pestilence of our enemies! Of outsiders!”

Khrol spread his arms, and in each hand was an emerald in the form of flame. “Look at power, Rats! This power would split the sky! You have seen it! I led our host to the domains of man, and killed and enslaved their men and their women! Yet, with all this boasting of mine, I still served our King-King! I am a Grey Seer, and devotion to nest and home is in my blood! I am a Rat if ever there was one! What are you?”

He looked this way, that way. Veron struggled to follow his gaze. 

“A Mud-priest who would bury us in the mud. An old has-been who would bloat us with broken dreams. A warrior who would kill our enemies and then kill us—if he could. And my own fellow Grey Seer who would plunge the Rats of Nesthome into killing each other. No.” That head shook again as though the mind were made of fire. “Crown me King-King, Rats, and Khrol Skysplitter will carve you a Nesthome that will never crumble.” The flames in his hands crackled.

“I will bring us victory! Fires to cook our food! Meat from man-things! You will eat and you will feast! Crown me, Rats! Crown me! And I will poison the earth above with plague, scorch it with fire, but the earth below will know only promise! THE RATS OF NESTHOME WILL KNOW ONLY VICTORY!”

His arms shot upward as though to cheer, and from his hands those flames fired upon that great bell. 

CLANG! CLANG! CLANG!

All of Nesthome heard it. All of the Rats would remember it. Then, all at once, many in the masses gave their voices in unison. “KHROL! KHROL! SKYSPLITTER! KHROL!” Yet, for all their call, there were many more who held their tongue, and many of these were the sorcerer’s fellow Grey Seers. “KHROL! KHROL!” The others continued to cheer. As Skysplitter stood the stage with his arms raised, Veron watched with his own folded. And now it begins...

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The Pale Priest

kapcbswdgvbh.pngIt was not for naught that Taron had elected to join the revelry of Nesthome that would last day and night. Well, “join” was a far cry from reality; the Pale Priest would not partake in the nonsense, not even for a nibble of cheese. Let them feast. He would tell himself as he walked among the fires, but only to relocate as Rats had stolen his corners for their private huddles. Let them be fools. He would chide them. None of his kind knew what they were doing. They had become a lost society, stricken by the whims of a godless king who had long since forgotten the Pale Rat. Let them suffer. 

Perhaps that Pale One would yet make his appearance. The rock and the mud knew all too intimately how fervently Taron had called his name, day after night. And his prayers were answered, at least in part: Gnaw Blackrot was no more. The heathen-king was dead and gone. Now, there would be the opportunity to restore Nesthome and the Rats to the glory of their deity. Would that time be now? It was a question the Grey Seer asked himself over and over, lingering in his corner furthest from the stage with his robes pulled over him. Torn edges looked new, welcome reminders of his submission to he who was greatest of all, and he thanked the Pale Rat that he himself had not succumbed to the trappings of his fellow Seers. 

Szabit had mocked him as soon as he had arrived those hours ago. “Scribe-thing!” She cackled. “Come to jot notes of better-things, yes-yes?” She japed. If only she knew, if only they all knew that he still followed their one who is pale, that he did not exist merely in shadows, then the Seers who shared Taron's circle would be a bit more forgiving. One among them, however, would seldom be.

Khrol Skysplitter was a name that rang from wall to wall in that moment. For a moment, Taron listened, heeded, heard the call and chant and wondered if the Pale Rat had answered him once again. Khrol! Skysplitter! The words rang out in his own mind, if not quite between his lips. Then he shook his head and sighed a deep sorrow. No… Not him… Khrol, he was a great candidate for kingship, greater than most Rats. But too self-serving, even for us. Even for Seers. He would put himself above others, yes, but also he would put his hatred above himself, thus above everyone else. His hatred for the outside world would consume him, and his spells of wrath would spell ruin for his kind. Were Khrol crowned king, he would send many Rats to their deaths, and perhaps for no great purpose. Many, but all of us? Perhaps not. If one thing was for certain it was that Khrol wanted Nesthome for Rats. He did not want the world. 

Taron’s brood-brother, on the other hand, was a different story. Cat’s Eye always did amuse himself with his fascination for family. It was quite unlike a Rat, even a Shkei. In the days of old, Den Blacktear would echo their name throughout the darkness of the world, their chief making it known more than most that it was his blood, Shkei blood, Blacktear blood, that had built his rivers of blood. From the tall and twisted tower of Lord’s Eye in the city of Sycreet, within the Iron Pikes of their domain, the Blacktears had stretched their dominion through miles of tunnel and cave, and called it the Black Sea. Even in the darkness of the underground, even amid the chaos and the carnage of the Under-Empire, that Black Sea was a land away from a world; a place where no Rat wanted to talk about, let alone visit.

Black sea for black tears. Taron recalled the words as he watched the stage. But Blacktear only cares for Blacktear. Veron only cares for Veron. The priest took in a deep breath of nest-air, letting it settle in his lungs along with his relief that he had long since left the Blacktear name behind. He had become Taron Wetfur since then. Renamed by you...brother... But it was not Cat’s Eye who had stolen the show. As Taron gazed at the Shkei from behind his spectacles, he listened to the song of another name. “Khrol! Khrol! Khrol!” The cry continued. What is the lesser of two Rats unfit to rule? For all his hatred, Khrol was maybe malleable enough to bend to the wills of his home and of his kind. Maybe even to the wills of the Pale One! Veron, on the other hand… Khrol had rung the grand bell for all to hear, but somehow it was not as loud as the lonely bell that rang in Taron's mind, etched into it by Cat's Eye like a scar carved into rock. The sound of a door closing, the toll of a groaning death bell.

Taron did not dare to finish the thought. Instead, he looked at the Rats before him, spotted some over there who stood still and silent, and others over there who cast their fists toward the ceiling and their voices into the calling. By the time Taron exhaled his breath one name stood on the tip of his tongue, and he began to cry it out. “KH—”

Like Khrol had just split the sky, like a thunderbolt had pierced from cloud to rock, the sound of a horn split the air, and its deafening cry filled Taron with dread.

Edited by Die Shize

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brrrROOOOOOOOAReeeeerrrrrrrr

All at once it was both a lion’s roar and a fox’s scream; as high as the naked sky and as low as lava rolling through the deepest tunnel. Somehow, it was louder than the hall’s great bell. 

brrrROOOOOOOOOOAReeeeeeerrrrrrrr

Taron kept his hands over his ears while his gaze followed everyone else’s: toward the stage. It was still so far away but the sound traveled all the way to him in an instant. In the lower viewing orb suspended in midair, the priest watched as an ugly creature blew into the horn, its green cheeks puffed wide.

brrrROOOOOOOOOOOAReeeeeeeerrrrrrrr

The horn he blew was white, polished pearl that glinted, and so large that the goblin had to rest the front of it on the shoulder of another. Green-gold bands were wrapped around what might have been ivory, and as its voice gave way to thunder Taron could see letters glowing along the length. Is that...Elvish..?  

brrrROOOOOOOOOOOOAReeeeeeeeerrrrrrrr

It was a terrible sound, one that made every strand of fur stand up on Taron’s body, and his very blood might have begun to boil whilst the wax in his ears seemed to melt. Make it stop! He screamed, out loud or to himself, there was no telling. Pale One, Pale One! Please, make it stop! It would not. The horn cried on and on, rattling the rock, and the pause between blows was too short, too grim, for what came but a moment after was the same cry, on and on and on. Others could feel it too, stealing glimpses at them as he did, till his eyes settled on the two goblins upon the stage.

The hornblower stood as still as a statue except to rise its chest and pull out its cheeks, while its companion stood much more still, and that’s when Taron noticed the blood beginning to trickle down that goblin’s ears, then its eyes, its nose and out of the corners of its lips. Make it stop… Just when Taron was about to drop to his knees and give himself to his god, relinquish himself to the echoes of death, the dreadful noise came to its end. 

Perhaps there was no more breath left in the hornblower’s lungs. He kept his grip on the horn but staggered backward, while the goblin before him collapsed to the ground. The one still standing began to follow suit, and Khrol stepped out of its way, until a great red orc caught the goblin and wrenched the horn out of his grasp. Trails of black smoke as thin as a whisper drifted from the horn, and Taron watched as the hornblower’s green lips were now red and blistered, and bleeding from corner to corner. 

Then the goblin finally fell, dropped from the orc’s hands after serving his purpose. That orc, Taron recognized him immediately. The priest had been too busy warding off the horror in his ears to understand what he saw, but now he recalled. As the horn was still being blown he had further glimpsed the orc head toward the stage, alongside a gnoll, a lizard-thing, a dwarf, a drow, a wood elf, a human and an arakkoa. Monsters and mongrels. Taron spited them as he now spied them upon the stage, gathering toward the back at a distance from their master. The Bloody Mongrels, they and those goblins were aptly nicknamed, but most of Nesthome knew them only as the Lost Scions—the sellsword company of Captain Veron Blacktear. 

The Shkei had almost been forgotten, as though himself a member of the audience who had taken to the stage while the competition fought to claim it and the throne above it. Now, his presence was louder than silence, louder than the horn, even, and far more painful as Taron could only watch, wait and wonder. The sound of a door closing, the toll of a groaning death bell.

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“RATKIN.” Said Veron Cat’s Eye. “You have heard my horn. Now hear my words. I am Veron Blacktear. Some of you know me—Snol, Zhol, Zhot, Skritch, Qish Sterntail, Olnok Barbpit, Seers Szabit and Velm and Wetfur. Others may not remember me or have never met me from the womb of my broodmother to the whip of my overseer. Many among you see me as an outsider. An outcast. You are not wrong. I have lived in exile. My tongue is strange, my manner odd, my company outlandish—but I am still one of you.”

 

He paused to let his listeners take that in. Taron took pains to reject it all. He spoke my name. The priest bit his lip. Laughed inside behind it...the faithless, faceless beast… He checked his surroundings, afraid of being seen but agonized of not. He needed supporters. He needed someone. He saw Khrol. The Seer still stood the stage, the only one not a member of the Scions, but he could only do as everyone else: watch, wait and wonder. 

 

“I am Blackrot’s brother,” Veron went on. “Son of Skarr, though Blacktear became my den. And what Rat cares for blood more than his own? Veshkei blood is in my veins, and the blood of the old ones who walked above. Yet I have walked farther than any of them. Only one living Blacktear and breathing Shkei has fought so many and never known defeat. Only one has never bent his knee. Only one has walked to the Ward Against Inferno and rode through Hell’s Gate, and seen wonders and terrors beyond imagining…”

 

Yes, Taron agreed. You have seen the terrors of your own image, Cat’s Eye...

 

“I have seen much and more, including our past and future. Many have forgotten the Under-Empire, but I have not. We are the Rats born, and once we were conquerors!” Veron raised his hand and his fist might have squeezed their whole history, one drop of blood after the other. “From the roots above to the tunnels below, our writ ran everywhere the sound of the earth was heard. For ages, we followed the old way. We took from each other and killed to keep what we took. We warred and carved out our names and dens by blade and in blood. We paid the bone price. Then we learned a new way. We learned peace. We traded our waraxes for pickaxes, our stockades for statues, our blood for paint...

 

“What we learned next was that peace is a lie that does not last. It is broken by rock and rocked by war, such as brought upon us by others, even as united Skarr. And here we are. Now our weapons are our tools and our tools are our weapons. You used the waraxe to conquer the Forgotten Wood and the pickaxe to carve out Nesthome. You use both to keep what you take…for a little while…”

 

Cat’s Eye paced the stage in a moment of silence, giving his audience at least that much. Veron’s gifts are poisoned, Taron swallowed. His words are venom. 

 

“...Until the sky falls again and the stone spikes stab more of your homes and your broods in a single day than our own iron blades ever could. Until the next enemy comes along to tear down what you have built. And on that day, the world will look for their Verm, but the little nest and the few Rats will be no more. That is to be your destiny. A legacy of corpses and rubble. A forgotten Nesthome... For as long as you keep to it. The question is...will you? Or will you carve a new path beyond the dirt and rock, where darkness is not kept back by scant torchlight but you become the very fire that consumes it? Will you become a forgotten folk, cold and dark in the grave, or will you become a living memory that burns into eternity?”

Folk, Taron balked. Legacy and destiny. Memory and eternity. Verm. He speaks the tongue of a foreigner. He forgets he is among the natives of Nesthome. Taron understood the vocabulary. He was a Pale Priest in hiding but a Grey Seer in public; the scribe-master whose passion for reading was rivaled only by Skysplitter. Yet, as he looked around the faces of the hall, he found not one Rat who strained to listen. The words… Taron stroked his chin. They hear them… Whether they agreed was another matter. Somehow, they understood the tongue. How do so many understand something so vague...from a creature so vain?

Edited by Die Shize

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Laughter echoed across the quiet stones and bones, between the statues of greater Rats and the pillars of wood that helped hold them up. It was no Shkei’s laugh. It was a Seer’s laugh. Yes! Taron cheered within himself. Pale One, you hear me, and you use one of my own to safeguard your throne… “No godless Rat may sit the Nesthome throne!” The priest comforted himself with a whisper.

 

“He talks overmuch, our Black Captain,” Khrol sneered after his laughter died down, taking his turn to parade the stage and address both crowd and competitor. “He speaks of past and future, with his fancy foreign words, of under-empire, of nest, of home, but Shkei-Veron cannot even see the present! Where was he when the Rats needed the Veshkei in our day of reckoning? He was hundreds of days away, playing with his gates of hell. Where was he when our king croaked? Ah!” Khrol’s black lips spread so far apart the corners might have cracked. “He was one day away. Interesting...for Veron Blacktear to show up so soon, so sudden, only one day after Blackrot’s demise!”

 

Veron shrugged at that. “A gutter once whispered that Gnaw was old and tired. I heard it. Did you all see it? Like Hardhead, Blackrot wanted to dig deep into our hole of Nesthome and keep digging. But sooner or later you dig so deep that you anger the darkest places beneath, and rivers of fire would fill our tunnels with their wrath. Gnaw saw only one hole in his time, though he would have buried us in it as he had once before.”

 

His fellow Rats did not seem particularly perturbed. There was little that Taron could do to deny it. The skies of the Under-Empire once came down on themselves, a punishment of King-King’s endless expansion, for seeking to carve out of every stone if only to scrawl his name across it. 

 

“Now, Ratkin,” Veron spoke. “Khrol Skysplitter wants to dig more holes but he does not have the means to fill them. He wants to split the sky but he has not counted its clouds. I have, and the stars too. I have seen them dance together, sunrises and sunsets from one end of the world to the other! I was with our Seer during the raid on Kinsmeet. He brought a hundred of you, hungry and tired. I brought a hundred of mine, fed and rested. With two hundred, we won the village. The hungry fed and the tired rested. Khrol cast his plague-fire and I cast my catapult. But I was first to break the gate! With a few of mine, I breached it. With two hundred of mine and yours, look what I won. Now, imagine what I can win with two thousand—two hundred thousand! And what would I keep? What have I kept?”

 

Veron pointed into the crowd. In the upper orb above himself, Skarr Clan’s banner faded away, replaced by the image of the great hall. The portal zoomed in on a Rat of grey fur. “Shaaz the Smith, how fairs your dagger?”

 

If there came a voice than neither Taron nor the Rats at large had heard it. 

 

“Speak toward the orb, Ratkin.”

 

“Well!” The voice came clearly that time. Shaaz reached into his jacket and produced a dagger that shimmered between silver and emerald. The quality was like nothing Taron had seen his kind conjure before. A number of Rats chittered in excitement. “Smell-good. Smell-bad. Smell like Fae-things.” He produced another weapon, this one like a Verm’s sharp-bit, though shinier. “Shaaz use Shkei-Veron’s gift to make fine-strong sharp-bit, yes-yes! Poison-blade. Test on fae, Shaaz did, hmmm yes-yes, very good-good!”

 

Veron nodded, then pointed elsewhere. 

“Breen,” he called. Two Rats near each other answered. “No, that Breen. Yes, you. What did you get for the pendant I gave you? The one made of mammoth tusk?”

The Rat looked left, looked right, held the pendant up and his voice toward the orb. “Trader gave me wagon! Strong-fine wagon! Said keep-keep pendant! Said great honor to give gift-wagon!”

“And your stores, Kal the Keeper?” The orb looked to a chubby Rat. “Are your larders empty? Did you find no meat, no cheese, no fruit to fill our hall today? No servants to serve the feast?”

Kal shook his head. “Not true, no! Slaves work overmuch and much food in stock, yes-yes. Great harvest from Shkei-Veron’s raids, yes-yes. From Rat-things too, but extra tasty-good from mercenary-things.”

“You see, Ratkin?” Veron gestured with open arms. “What have I given you except much and more? What have I taken for myself except little and less? You see my breed as well-nourished, well-kept, strong and powerful, and these things I am—but I am also a generous Shkei. I wish to give you what I have been given, to let you take what I have taken, for we are all of one nest, one home, and what is mine is yours. What is ours is ours!”

The hall stirred with murmurring and chittering. Veron's gifts are poisoned. Taron sighed. His words are venom.

Edited by Die Shize

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“A mercenary Shkei!” Khrol spat. “An outsider Shkei!” His finger jabbed. “An outcast Shkei! No Rat, no Shkei, is exiled from city or empire except where one is not wanted. Not needed. Not strong enough to support nest or home…” The horns poking through the Seer’s hood seemed to bristle. “I know that our King-King began exiling his assassins to rot in the dark and remember their failure. Not even death was good enough for them. They were cut off, removed, with no grave prepared for them in the underground. Oh, yes, one day such betrayal and backstabbing might have been rewarded, but it was unity that allowed us to survive to this day, not treachery. And I say that you, Veron Blacktear, are a traitor. Do you deny it, Shkei-Veron?” Khrol looked between him and his listeners, daring Cat’s Eye to be goaded. “What say you?”

 

Once again, Veron brushed the words off like dust from his shoulder. “I deny that one hole in the ground is enough to sustain both Verm and Shkei.” He stood relaxed as if sitting on the throne, but his gaze penetrated his rival. Taron wondered how many daggers were flying from his brood-brother’s one eye. One eye… He dared to remember. One eye as black as our own, naked and gazing. One eye hidden behind an eyepatch, striped like a cat’s, red like a bloody fire, shining with malice... “I say that I was exiled, yes, but I tell you that I have been all over the world because of it! And farther!” Cat’s Eye’s hand waved through the air like a sword-swing, as if to emphasize the miles he had gone, but just as much Taron knew that it was his way of dismissing his rival once and for all.

 

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“Rats of Nesthome, I have seen what is out there. To survive among the creatures above, it was never the old way for me. It was the only way. I was gone from you for years, not around to suffer your pain, but I have seen the sufferings and the pains of the world outside these caves and beyond those trees, there where the star bleeds its light. It is a world torn apart by chaos, but chaos...is a ladder... It is a world screaming in agony, begging to be opened up like a bloody womb, but a womb that gives birth to wealth and wonder!” 

 

With that, Veron snapped his fingers, and popping out of thin air before him was another portal. This one showed a map at full size, though the priest’s brethren would be just as pressed to recognize what he himself had. No. Taron swallowed a strange concoction of fervor and fear. He cannot intend to...

 

"Look upon the world of Lagrimosa, Rats, and behold your bounty!” 

 

Spoiler

wEg8xDq.png

 

Veron stretched that word with promise. Veron’s words are poison. “Here is Nesthome,” he said as he held up what might have been a walnut. “And here is the Forgotten Wood.” He dropped the nut into a lower corner of the map, where it vanished behind the portal, lost and forgotten.

 

“But I say every eye that looks into mine sees an empire that never ends! Cat’s Eye, some call me. Well, even where a rat’s whiskers may stand up when the eyes are down, a cat can see in the dark itself, even the darkness of death, and I say that only darkness surrounds us down here.”

 

Veron watched the faces again, all those faces facing him, and Taron and Khrol watched them too. Sniffing, blinking, stroking whiskers. Some were shaking heads but others were nodding them. Only fools follow a fool. Only death follows dead men.

 

“The realms up there are dying,” Cat’s Eye's hand moved as though those realms rested within it. “But with the death of the old comes the life of the new as each pup climbs from the womb. All so we might climb the ladder of chaos. That it might take us from the charnel pits to the light of the bleeding star that will shine over all, over our empire and not just under. Where we will not take from each other but we will take from others! Where every Rat in a hundred can become a victor, a conqueror, a king, and you will eat and drink and grow until the end of your days! From the ashes of a scorched world, the Rat will rise, harder and stronger, feasting on the fallen... 

 

"So, I ask you, my kin: Will you rise with me? Will you feast with me? Khrol would have you be content with a few holes in the ground, and the other claimants with even less. Some of you would settle for the crumbs of a city, and the leaves and twigs of a forest and a town, but I shall give you towns and cities, woods bidden and forests that you will never forget, winding rivers and sprawling lakes, mountains of black and hills of blue, and more!”

 

Steel scraped against wood and leather as Veron’s sword sang from his scabbard. Above Taron's head, the lower viewing orb still showed the stage and the speaker upon it, including the map. With Veron’s next words, the upper orb began to change, depicting images of peoples and places in unison with his speech. With the tip of his sword, the Black Captain pointed at names on the map, reading each one with just enough pause for the portal to summon a brief view of what his tongue had uttered, and what might just be a taste of things to come. 

 

Spoiler

 

"I say we take it all! I say we take Lagrimosa!" Veron roared the word as he thrust his sword up to stab the sky, as if it might pierce rock and the belly of a god and spill out its spoils for all of Nesthome to see.

 

For half a heartbeat, even Taron was swept away by the boldness of his words. The priest had dreamed the same dream, when first he’d seen the sun in the sky. We shall sweep over the lands with fire and sword, root out the forests of the nations and the trees of their kings... Then he heard the bell, not great but small, and it tolled death in his head.

Edited by Die Shize

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Even as Taron checked his fear, spiting himself for being the most cowardly Rat to ever crawl, those Rats around him became a sea of incisors. They looked to the stage, looked to one another, chittered and chattered to each other, but a voice spoke more clearly than others, and it came from just in front of the stage. The figure pushed their way through, not being challenged by the line of Rats that had come to blockade the floor; Veron’s cronies; Erkar, Lod, the Red Glaive-Rat and others. 

 

Taron saw this new speaker before she spoke. Grey Seer Nackha Spikewalker had since earned the priest’s respect for being outspoken as much as she had earned his ire for speaking with disrespect. She was both Khrol’s rival and his ally at the same time, perhaps more than others, and in Skysplitter’s departure from the stage, in his return to brooding in silence, he would need such allies in this game of thrones. Perhaps...her? Nackha, could you sit the Nesthome throne? Could you!?

 

“You speak of world-things, Cat’s Eye,” Nackha chided. “And taking them for our things. But our Nesthome is smaller than it was in the old days, Veron, and the old days are gone. Our numbers are fewer, while the outsiders have many numbers, and much strength.” 

 

“And so shall we,” Veron Blacktear promised. “That horn you heard I found amongst the smoking ruins that were Bi'le'ah, where no Rat has dared to walk but me. You heard its call, and felt its power. It is a vyran horn, bound with bands of green gold and Elven steel graven with enchantments. The Biazans of old sounded such horns, before the Dominion devoured them.” 

 

Pointless. Empty speech. Thought Taron. Even I have not learned of Bi’le’ah. Our fellow Rats can only blink at this fool’s words.

 

“They are just words,” Veron shrugged, as though having read Taron’s mind from across the hall. Can he..? Is he in here...even now? “What matters is the voice that speaks them. With this horn, Ratkin, I can bind souls to my will.”

 

Nackha laughed aloud. "A horn to bind mice to your will would be of more use, Cat’s Eye. Your horn is loud, yes-yes, but I have no mind to heed your call, so it must not work very well, hmm?”

 

Veron studied her as though his dinner had just spoken to him. “Any fool can blow the horn, but the horn is bound to me. The ears of outsiders will heed my call, yet no creature may bind one of its own. You should thank me for that.” He smiled and looked away from the seer. “Out there in the world, cast out from the void, are crystals as pale as a corpse. Fill them with life, however, and they glow black green, and you gain power with little contest. Power to build armies, power to drive machines, power to gain more. The Rat is quick-strong, yes-yes, but my way makes him quicker and stronger. My horn can lead the thralls and their souls to these crystals, and give them fire and light, and they will give Nesthome the same. Some call them warpstones. There are three nearby, and I know where to find them. Surely that is worth a brass bone crown.”

 

“VERON! BLACKTEAR!” shouted Left-Leg Lod. 

 

“VERON! CAT’S EYE! VERON!” cried the Red Glaive-Rat.

 

“Know this, my Ratkin...” Veron’s eye sought the myriad faces lit up in the dark. “I never asked to be banished. I followed the old way and I paid the bone price. And here I am, with the riches and spoils of the world that I have taken, and whose price is beyond my own."

 

At that, the mutes and mongrels from the Scions brought forth a number of black chests, each bearing their master’s standard of two swords and a black crown with a red eye. As they snarled and snorted, the ugly goblins threw open the chests and spilled out their mysteries for the Verm to see.

 

Gold and silver, rubies and sapphires, ornate armor, curved swords with gilded pommels, daggers of Elven steel, amber phoenix eggs, jade mermaids and centaurs of marble, glassed eyes of the kraken and metal eyes of robots, ivory tusks and the horns of unicorns, capes from spotted cat pelts and jackets of striped snake skin, brooches of Suujali claws and earrings of dragon teeth, bracelets of basilisk beaks and necklaces of griffin talons, belts of canine hide and sashes of Saevion fur, kevlar vests and shirts of mithril, pearls of Ursa and Black Ridge onyx, power cores and energy spheres, twisted flasks of goblin poison, helms of orcish iron, dwarven hammers crowned in diamond, brass bullets and titanium missiles, guns small and large and grenades amid them, scrolls sealed in red wax and dark books bound by chains. 

 

 

Music OOC

 

Spoiler

 

 

Veron had since seduced a number of his supporters with such gifts, while Taron had spat upon them, but there they were now before the eyes of all. Yet that was not all. In the Black Captain’s hand and about its size was a crystal like an emerald—glowing a black green. He released it atop the piles, where its light poured over the treasure, and that treasure came alight and came to life. Guns and grenades glowed black and green, mechanical eyes began to blink as power cores pulsed, and energy spheres levitated above the rest to spin round and round.

 

Then it was Hakk Hardhead the Seer heard. Gertol Goodsharp shouted out as well, and Qish Sterntail. Seers Szabit and Velm and Qhralk gave their voice. Even the Hidemaker began chanting the same name. "VERON! VERON! VERON!" The cry swelled, became a roar. "VERON! VERON! CAT’S EYE! VERON BLACKTEAR!" It rolled up Nesthome, like the Pale Rat rattling the rock. "VERON! VERON! VERON! VERON! VERON! VERON!"

 

Even a priest may doubt. Even a Seer may know terror. Taron Wetfur reached within himself for his god and discovered only silence. As thousands of voices shouted out his brood-brother's name, all he could hear was the toll of a groaning death bell.

Edited by Die Shize

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Summary

In the depths of Nesthome, the Under-City beneath the Forgotten Woods of Lagrimosa, the Verm hold celebration for their victory over their greatest enemy, the forest Fae. The revelry was also supposed to include King Gnaw Blackrot's official recognition of Veron Blacktear as Warlord of Nesthome. However, one day before the celebration, King-King was found dead in his bed. The day after, Veron Blacktear, Captain of the Lost Scions sellsword company, returned, and helped ensure that the celebrations continued.

In light of Gnaw's death, the celebration would also become a coronation. With festivities taking place in the great hall of Nesthome, the location also served as the king's throne room. Upon the stage set for musicians, claimants take to it one by one to declare themselves king, as long as the Rats at large give them their vote. As each claimant is voted out, one Grey Seer, Khrol Skysplitter, reaps the most votes, and they come in the simple sound of how many Rats are cheering his name.

However, amid the hails, a horn is blown, deep and dreadful. After its call, Veron Blacktear assumes the stage, and Seer and Scion compete against one another to win the support of Nesthome. In the end, Veron wins, much to the dismay of his brood-brother, Taron Wetfur, who is powerless for what is to come...and the horrors that even a Rat of Nesthome fears.

Consequences and Opportunities

Nesthome now has a new king: Veron Blacktear. He made it very clear in his speeches that he does not intend to leave Nesthome to its own devices, nor the Verm (Rats) to their single home. Instead, and as a major contributing factor to his crowning, Veron promises to build the greatest army and the finest war machines that the Verm have ever seen. He plans on achieving this via the power of warpstones; black green crystals that grant immense energy when filled with souls, enough to advance Verm technology in a hundredfold, and fuel their numbers faster than a hundred brood-mothers.

With the means of conquest at his back, Veron intends to conquer all of Lagrimosa. He has a fighting chance. Unknown to his own people, but known intimately by himself, the world of Valucre is soon to end. It is presumed that certain other nations and states, individuals and organizations, of the globe overall have learned this themselves, whether it's their secret or not. While the world is already a dangerous place, times may become even more chaotic, and in that chaos Veron has discovered a ladder of which to climb to the top—and out of this world.

He will lead his hordes to pillage and plunder, slay and slaughter, capture and conquer. In soon enough time, with the seizure of warpstones and the drawing of their great power, the industries of war will produce scores and scores of fighting Verm. Machines to rival those of the Terran Military will emerge from the deepest, darkest depths of the underground, and it is said that for every city on the surface, there may yet be a city beneath it, hidden and haunted, terrible and twisted, bloated with the lust for death and decay...

For the first time ever, the world of Lagrimosa will endure the greatest invasion it has ever seen. What becomes of the Verm, Veron cannot say. He keeps his secrets to himself, as he has always done. However, there is one known truth: Veron cares only about Veron. He knows the world is ending and he has no intention of ending with it. Ultimately, his spiel and speeches aside, only Veron knows what Veron wants, and he gets what he wants.

So be warned, Lagrimosa...THE VERM ARE COMING.

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