500 gold up front, 1500 more when four rats have been captured for resale to unknown buyer. Job not entirely legal, according to Foxglove: reasons unknown, but unimportant. Money’s money, and Mannis Mallochi’s sword is for sale.
Foxglove Manor: nice, private spread, some woodlands nearby. No noise, though. Bad sign if Foxglove’s rat problem has the local animals that spooked.
First stop: the study. There’s a stuffed manticore in the center of the room, a relic from Foxglove’s grandfather’s adventuring days. Apple fell far from that tree. I thought there might be some rats in the manticore: after all, the eye moved. No luck – just a trick of the light, I guess.
Study’s carpet is coming up in one place. Underneath it, weird spiral marking on the floor, doesn’t match the décor. Don’t mention it to Foxglove – don’t really care, honestly. Cover it up though – leave things like I found them.
Wildlife not the only one’s spooked, apparently – I hear the sound of weeping from upstairs, but Foxglove and Rogers don’t hear anything. I’m not prone to imagining things, but I’m here for rats. Unless Foxglove’s rats cry, I’m wasting time.
Bathroom on the ground floor. Indoor plumbing – very impressive. Rat in the tub. Also impressive. Big rat, size of a small dog. Covered in black sores and blind. Starvation thin. Looks sick. Don’t want to touch the thing, especially with bare hands, so wrap it in the shower curtain and stuff it into one of Rogers’ cages. Three to go.
Take the cage outside and hang it on a tree for safekeeping – one less thing to carry around. Tree’s next to the well – well stinks, but no sounds – can’t hear any rats scurrying around, so not really worth a look. Do notice some dried blood on the edge of the well, though – might be human. Could be anything, though.
Back inside, check the dining room – nothing here but dust and plates. Checking everywhere, though – don’t want to miss any rats, and the sooner I can find three more, the sooner I get paid. Trying to be thorough, check every room, close it off, and move on. A bit frustrating that Rogers and Foxglove don’t know how to follow the plan, though – the study’s door is open when I walk back by, and I know I closed it. The carpet’s been pulled up again, too – there’s that weird spiral design, still there.
Decide I’d rather go up than down – check out the second floor. Big bedroom, no rats. Guest bedroom, no rats. Another bathroom, no rats. Big picture of Grandfather Foxglove hanging on the wall
- no rats (not that I expected any there). Plan to hit the attic, but the employer objects – and I’m not paid to argue.
Downstairs we go. Old food storage – rotten, not eaten. Why haven’t the rats eaten the old food? Signs of the rats – a hole in the wall – but no droppings.
Where’s the hole in the wall go?
The stone storage room floor makes a slightly hollow echo—not on solid earth. Smash out the stones – spiral stone stairs going down. Grandfather Foxglove hid the basement from prying eyes – could be a hidden fortune. I’m looking for rats.
Before going down, we break for lunch. Joined by a guest – unexpected. Don’t like surprises, and neither does Foxglove, apparently. Man calls himself Brother Zell – so it means he’s a holy man of some cloth, I guess, though what cloth, I do not know. He’s Foxglove’s buyer – and he wants his merchandise. Can’t fault him for that. Not going to hurry up on his account either, though – not going into the unknown on an empty stomach.
Back in the pit. Send a burning cloth ahead to try and clear some of the cobwebs before heading down – cobwebs mean there’s something other than rats still around here, which is a good thing. But spiders need something to eat – if there’s no bugs for them to eat, what are they eating? The rats haven’t been eating the food upstairs either – what are they eating? Each other?
Don’t think anyone’s been down here since Grandfather Foxglove – that is, until I find the corpse. Only a few months old, rotting in the water intended for the well. Fell from the well, looks like. Didn’t die from the fall, though – took a nasty blow to the head first. Blood on the well was his? Not robbed – still has a coin purse on him, which I relieve him of. Ask Foxglove if he knew him – has workman’s clothes on, and a tool belt, so coulda worked for Foxglove. Foxglove says he doesn’t know him – but I can tell he’s lying. Try not to let on that I know – intend to finish this job and get paid, by Foxglove or by Brother Zell at this point.
I make sure not to turn my back to Foxglove or Rogers from here out – real easy to cut costs when you kill a man when the job’s done.
Cavern keeps going – more cobwebs, and some yellow mold I’m careful to avoid. No sign of rats, but it’s not quiet – there’s a rhythmic noise down here, and a breeze. Like something breathing.
We’re not alone – the spiders pay us a visit. Big, nasty, poisonous spiders. They fall on us. Rogers dies fast – and with him, the light. Darkness means dead, so I scramble to get the torch going again before the spiders make a meal of me. Foxglove panics and runs blind— I try to stop him – Foxglove dead reduces my chances of being paid – but he’s fast, and I’m busy. Me and my sword.
The spiders are done, and I start looking for Foxglove. Hear something: that breathing, louder still, and closer now that I’ve gone further. Hear something else, too – rats. Dragging along the rat cages Roger dropped, I follow the second noise, and start planning my salespitch to Brother Zell.
There they are. Rats. Lots of them. A mound of black sores, puss, and sharp teeth. Hungry, too, by the looks of it – they want to make a meal of me. Fine – only fair, I’m a meal, they’re a meal ticket. So that means, for now, I’m bait.
A quick dash back up from the caverns, the rats on my heels. There was a reason I’d insisted on closing the doors as we went through earlier – stop gaps. Control. Each door an obstacle, keeping them spread out – keeping the odds on my side. I make the terrain my own – lead them up to the main floor, and I only have five to deal with instead of a swarm.
Have to be careful not to kill them – dead rats won’t be worth a thing, and I’m not doing this for my health. It takes killing the first two to get the hang of it – just the right amount of force behind the strike, and carefully not to cut.
Three more rats in cages – and a host more scratching at the door. No bonus in extra rats, so I make my exit to find Brother Zell.
Zell finds me. I exit the manor, and a blade enters the soft spot on my back, right in the crease of my chainmail.
Brother Zell whispers thanks and turns the blade to finish the job.
Bleeding, I lay there in front of Foxglove Manor as he takes the four caged rats and takes his leave. I would have sold the rats to him cheap – same deal as what I had with Foxglove. Might have given him a discount – don’t know what he needs the rats for, but I certainly didn’t want them. Zell did the math faster than I did, though – free is cheaper.
Zell leaves me for dead. I’m not. He will be when I find him.
I get up, sore and angry. Angrier still when I check Foxglove and Rogers’ horses – no 1500 gold, and no sign that it had ever been there. Similar arrangement probably befell the poor sap in the well.
Good thing that the rats or whatever was down there in the bowels beneath the manor got Foxglove – what I’d have done to him wouldn’t have been pretty.
Then again, not knowing what it was down there, breathing, in the dark – maybe my sword would have been sweet release by comparison.
I’ll find out when I come back – but not alone. I don’t scare easy, but that breathing, that manor, that spiral – it’s something bad, badder than me for sure, and something that bad doesn’t just wait idly in the dark …