Private Into the Rat King's Realm

Xuan’s tongue flicks delightfully as she watches the ocean of rats scatter from around her. Her pupils dilate a little as her four fangs slip back into their sheaths inside her mouth, and she locks her jaw back into place. The naga chuckles lightly as she begins slithering off behind Meriwa. “Rats. It does not matter what realm they come from, they are one and the same.” The proud feeling she had about herself is just enough to make slithering across the slick tunnel floor a little easier. She would most certainly need a bath later, however.

Her eyes take a moment to adjust for the world outside of the tunnel, but once they do she lets out the smallest of thoughtful hums. “This is different,” she muses. “Not what I expected. A welcome change.”

When the question from Meriwa comes, the snake woman narrows her eyes slightly. “Mm. Yes,” she answers, following her once again. “Caution, Meriwa. I will have your back.” That’s what people in this realm say, right? She’d heard it a handful of times since she was given her freedom. “In a world such as this? This could easily be a trick.”
 

Tiko

Draconic Administrator
Administrator
Nexus GM
Adriaan too found their surroundings unexpected. Their original plan quickly fell to the wayside as he paused mid-crouch ready to launch himself skyward. It would seem that their immediate surroundings where of a more peaceful nature than the tunnel had been. The rats themselves seemed ill inclined towards pursuing them beyond the tunnels which raised the question of whether they where acting on instinct or territorial impulses, rather than a willful intent to kidnap a child. The former would spell grim news for the girl though.

He stood up, his posture relaxing but he remained watchful of their surroundings.

"Careful," he agreed. "We don't know anything of this realm yet."
 

Sharkyshark

Just chillin'
The trio would continue to see rats scurrying to and fro through the woods, squeaking softly as they went about their rat work. They paid the party little heed as they crossed in front of them, vanishing into the tangle of trees and thorn bushes on either side of the narrow dirt trail. Oddly enough, about one or two rats in every ten walked upright on their hind legs, often carrying tiny wicker baskets in their little rat hands. Each basket was barely big enough to hold an acorn, but that didn’t stop the busy little rodents from hauling all manner of cargo. Some carried dirt, others seemed to have tiny bird’s eggs. One rat, looking very busy indeed, hurried down the path carrying what looked to be a piece of candy in a bright red foil wrapper. Although a few rats looked up at the adventurers, they didn’t seem to react to their presence other than to give Xuan a wide berth.

As they approached the strange figure in the pasture, they’d soon realize that the rabbit ears weren’t ears at all. The figure wore a long purple coat with a hood that came down into two points, twitching slightly as the trio drew close. As they drew within hearing distance, the figure turned, revealing a plain white mask with openings for the mouth and eyes. Behind those openings, even the sharpest-eyed among them would see nothing but darkness.

“Hello,” said the strange man, clasping his long, gloved fingers together. “Are you friends? If you are, come and sit. I was just about to have a picnic. Join me.”

Indeed, a red-and-white picnic blanket was laid out on the grass, with a large wicker basket beside it. Turning away from the group, the man began laying out several small dishes on the blanket, the contents hidden beneath silver covers. He seemed unbothered by the rats scurrying past him through the grass, although none seemed willing to set foot on his blanket.
 

Fishman

Broseidon
Mentor
Benefactor
Every little thing happening further bewildered the vulx woman. The rats walking upright with their little baskets and supplies in them, the hooded figure, and- and his face that had no face.

"I've got no inclination to go out of bounds here," she replied to Adriaan. The hackles along her arms and neck spiked up. "I do not doubt it is some trick. I do not trust it at all," she said, this time to Xuan.

Upon coming up to the figure, she paused. Meriwa wasn't much of a diplomat and she knew it. She certainly wasn't the first person who should have spoken in this situation, but the situation at hand was so strange that it forced out a "What?" from her mouth. "No. Where is the girl?"
 
The rats scurrying around seemed to fascinate Xuan. Not the regular, run of the mill rats, of course, they were as boring as the rats back home, but the others that seemed to have jobs? They were the most interesting of all, and somewhat… cute? Perhaps that’s not the right word for it. Regardless, the naga is still rather glad that they gave her a wide berth.

Her attention shifts to the strange creature as they approached, figuring him to be the potential danger in the area. Her tongue flicks from her mouth as she gathers the scents of the area. Tree bark, crisp air, the flowers, a hint of rodent which wasn’t to be unexpected and… hm. Tea and cobwebs, and it came from the creature’s direction. A strange combination, but nothing about the situation is ‘normal’, not to her at least. A paradise beyond a wardrobe? She’d say pull the other one, but she’s only got the one tail.

She stares at the creature and pushes her seething anger down, one that she held for all would-be kidnappers. No place to lose her cool, and who’s to say this is the guy that took her? He could just be a random inhabitant of the strange, bizarre world. Her pupils narrow as she enters a more predatory mindset, but manages to remain calm, her breathing regulated and calm. For now. “She is not for this world to take,” she adds with a long hiss after Meriwa speaks.
 

Tiko

Draconic Administrator
Administrator
Nexus GM
"Ah..." Adriaan began as he rubbed at the back of his neck. He hadn't chosen the most articulate or socially inclined of companions, that was for certain!

"What my companions mean is that we thank you for your hospitality, and where wondering what knowledge you might have of this place," he said with a gesture to their surroundings.

"We're searching for a young girl," he explained. "A human one," he added before musing that the individual before them may not be familiar with humans if they weren't native to this world. He rubbed at his jaw thoughtfully. "I'm not sure if you get many humans in these parts. She would be about this tall," he said with a gesture of his hand. "Similar in stature to myself, but darker hair, round ears, and no wings."
 

Sharkyshark

Just chillin'
The masked man contemplated the two women quietly, tilting his head to the side like a curious pigeon as he stared at them. As he stared, he continued laying out his picnic, placing dish after tiny dish onto the blanket until it was entirely covered in the little plates. One of the silver covers rattled, but fell silent when he gave it a sharp rap with a silver spoon.

Upon Adriaan’s inquiry, the man’s hood points perked straight up. He gestured for them to sit with a sweep of his gloved hands, shooing away a few rats that had come to investigate the food.

“A girl,” he said, his voice barely above a whisper. “A girl, indeed? I haven’t seen very many of those around here lately. Haven’t seen very many people at all, in fact. I’m afraid that I have no idea where she is, although you ladies seem quite convinced that I’ve hidden her in my picnic basket. Come, sit. Perhaps I can help you somehow, or maybe you can help me. Would you like to taste anything?”

He began lifting the covers off the little plates, revealing a veritable smorgasbord of...things. Some of the dishes were recognizable as food, and looked quite good. Quail eggs, tiny sandwiches, all manner of cupcakes and sweets. The rest of the plates, however, contained an assortment of oddities ranging from the ordinary to the horrifying. On one plate, raven feathers. On another, gold coins. Here, a dish of squirming black worms. There, a pile of what had to be severed rat hands, still scratching and grasping at the air. At the center of it all, the man lifted a silver cover to reveal what could only be a human tongue, thrashing and flopping like a lizard’s severed tail. He picked it up between thumb and forefinger, holding it up in front of his mask.

“Don’t you worry,” he said, still in that low, soft voice. “You are searching for a young girl, yes? This is an adult woman’s tongue. An opera singer’s. Quite a pretty one, I must say. Nice color. Her oral hygiene must have been excellent.”

He slipped the tongue into the open mouth of his mask, the thrashing organ vanishing immediately into the black void within. If they looked closely, the sharp-eyed adventurers would possibly catch a glimpse of another, much longer tongue appear for just a second before wrapping around the unfortunate morsel and dragging it into the darkness.

“Feel free to try anything you’d like,” he said, as casually as though he’d just taken a bite of a ginger snap. “I really wouldn’t recommend the sweets, though. They’re not good for you. What are your names, anyways? It’s awfully strange not knowing how to address you, especially if we’re to be friends. I’m Foxgloves. It’s very nice to meet you all. If you’ll tell me about this girl of yours, perhaps I’ll be able to offer some assistance. What kind of friend would I be otherwise?”
 

Fishman

Broseidon
Mentor
Benefactor
When this man spoke, it made her angry. The way he spoke, carefully, slowly, softly testing her patience with every passing word, only made it worse. Her teeth grit, her hands clenched, her fur bristled.

And then, and then she looked at the great number of things on the blanket, which only became worse the more she looked. Her eyes returned to the masked man only to watch him pull out a flopping, writhing tongue. Her face was pure shock. A string of curses formed at the tip of her own tongue, but she bit them back. There was so much wrong here. What if she ended up like that opera singer while making the wrong step?

But what could she say? The vulx just stood there, caught in a whirlwind of emotions, staring at Foxgloves like the monster he was.
 
Xuan looks the scene over and thinks about what she could have done to end up in such a bizarre situation, and if her future exploits in this strange new world would all end up similar but these thoughts are cast aside as the linens were lifted to reveal the dishes beneath.

Some were things she didn't recognise, others things she only wishes she didn't. Such strange horrors couldn't be produced by someone who meant well, surely. Then the tongue came out and she couldn't help but look away with a gag as it disappears into the creatures void-like gullet, a truly disgusting display, one that made her stomach churn. "Euch…" she grunts under her breath before she can bring herself to look back.

"We… do not have time to join you," the Naga says, followed by a small, involuntary hiss. It's not like she wanted to, even if they could stay a while. However, he seemed to be a local and if a name is all it took to get a helping hand, even one she didn't trust… "...I am Xuanezaa." She gives a short bow of the head, the only form of polite greeting she's truly familiar with.

"Where would a human be kept?" She finally asks, hoping for some answers. "You may not have seen her, but you seem familiar with these lands. Are there any homes? Buildings? Caves that you have seen suspicious things near?" Her tongue flicks out again, identifying scents on the breeze while filtering the smells of cobwebs and rats, while searching for the tell tale scent of human. "If you need to know more of her…" her eyes shift to Adriaan, as they had exhausted the descriptors that she knew. She had never met the child, but perhaps the birdboy knew something she didn't.
 

Tiko

Draconic Administrator
Administrator
Nexus GM
Adriaan couldn't help but grimace internally at the display that seemed deliberately laid out to unsettle them. Whatever the nature of the individual that sat before them though, their primary objective was to locate the missing child.

Getting the sense that Foxgloves knew more than was apparent Adriaan decided to forgo the assumption that he - or it - knew nothing of worlds beyond this one.

"My name's Adriaan," he offered. "A rift opened between this world, and another," he added to Xuan's inquiries. "Given it's unstable nature, it seems likely that its formation was natural," he added. "A girl went missing through it, and when we followed it landed us in a tunnel of these rats," he said with a gesture to the creatures going about their business while they conversed. "Her parents say the rats took her?"

That bit about the rift's nature was a bit of a fabrication, but better to come across amiable rather than hostile or accusatory in the search for information. If his statement wound up correct, then no harm done. If he was wrong - and this Foxgloves was by chance involved - it could give a false sense of security that could prove adventitious if things went south in this realm.
 

Sharkyshark

Just chillin'
If Foxgloves was aware of how disconcerting his behavior was to his guests, he didn’t show it. The painted white mask remained as still as ever, without so much as a flicker within the black void behind the placid, open smile. He picked up a teacup delicately between his pointy fingertips and poured its contents into his mouth, resulting in a muffled splash as though he’d poured it down a well.

“I’m afraid I don’t know much about where humans are kept,” he said, placing the teacup aside, “but perhaps I can offer some advice. I know of a woman who lives around here. Lovely lady, Lucretia is her name. She simply adores children. Her husband fell down a well, and now she’s been left to care for all those little kiddies by her lonesome. I don’t know how she does it, really. If there’s a child anywhere around here, she’s sure to know. Perhaps your little girl is at her homestead.”

He reached into the pocket of his coat, arm disappearing up to the elbow as he rummaged around in its impossibly deep confines. After some searching, he produced a small statuette carved out of some manner of milky white marble. The little figurine was about the size of his hand, and seemed to have been carved in the form of a nude woman. It was a sight to behold, looking almost like some strange fertility goddess with its generous curves and impressive bust. Unfortunately, it seemed rather worse for wear. The head was entirely gone, the neck jagged and broken. An arm was cracked, half a breast was missing, and the entire surface seemed scuffed and worn. Foxgloves ran a lascivious finger along the statue’s body before tossing it unceremoniously to Adriaan.

“She looks like that,” he said. “Well, not quite like that. She does have a head. But it was once quite the likeness, if I do say so myself. You can keep it. Call it a gift, a present to my new friends. Go down the road, you’ll spot her cottage soon enough. Perhaps she’ll offer you cookies. Tell her who you’re looking for, and I’m sure she’ll do anything in her power to help.”

Turning away from the trio, he scooped a spoonful of what looked to be ashes from one of the plates and somehow managed to pour it into his mouth without a single speck dirtying his mask.
 
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