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Into the Ratlands

Sharkyshark

Just chillin'

Into the Rat King's Realm

The doorway to the ratlands was situated inside a large, old-fashioned wardrobe in the guest bedroom of an otherwise ordinary home. The owners had bound it tightly shut with rope, sealing it in case of any more rodent incursions. An incessant scratching came from the inside, soft but persistent, as the curious rats emerging from the portal tried to escape. The scratching went on at all hours of the day, occasionally letting up just long enough to give the homeowners hope that it had stopped for good before starting up again as loud as ever. The family had taken to wearing earplugs and playing loud music just to drown out the scratching and squeaking of the rats, which strained their nerves and threatened to drive them mad. They wanted nothing more than to get rid of the wardrobe, but to do so would have meant throwing away all hope of ever seeing their little Clara again. Their own attempt to venture into the portal had been disastrous, resulting in severe rat bites and the loss of the family dog. Without any other option, they'd sent for whatever brave soul was willing to venture forth into the portal, although with every passing moment they feared that their poor daughter was little more than a pile of rat-gnawed bones.
 
The work postings that day were… not satisfactory to say the least, at least not to Xuanezaa as she stands in the local square, pouring over the board. Her gold pouch had gotten a little light, but there wasn’t much posted that she was even remotely interested in. A lost cat? It’ll come back, they always do. A commission piece for a dining table set? She hadn’t used a lathe in years. A treasure hunt? Hm… maybe, but they’re usually hoaxes.

A taken child? Her slitted pupils dilate slightly as she finds the job that was tailor made for her. She takes the notice off of the board and looks over the details, her forked tongue flicking out twice as she reads, curiosity building. Clara… A small girl, taken in her prime. Xuan slips the note into a front pouch of her studded leather armour and slithers away, standing tall upon her long, snake-like bottom half, standing a head and shoulders above the crowd as she made her way to the address noted on the paper.

As she approaches the front door of the building that seemed to have swallowed the child up, her height diminishes and her tail grows longer as she lowers herself to a more appropriate, less scary height. She isn’t here to cause fear, but to offer a hand in assistance, after all! She reaches out and knocks on the door, mulling over her pitch in her head, and forgetting to lower the dark hood that sat over her head. Her face wasn’t covered, however, just framed by her sandy-blonde hair, and her emerald eyes shone through brightly, even with her pupils thin and tight, a reflection on her reptilian nature.

With the notice clutched in hand, she awaits the owners answering the door. Would she bring hope to their faces? Or perhaps disappointment? Her money, what little she had after the bunk-house rent was due, would be put on the former.
 

Tiko

Draconic Administrator/Mentor
Administrator
Mentor
Nexus GM
Xuan wasn't the only one arriving at the residence, and the footsteps of two others could be heard approaching while she awaited an answer at the door. The silver-haired avorian was the first to speak.

"Is this the home of Clara," he asked. "The girl that was taken?"

The intel he had been provided left him expecting a family of humans. The serpentine woman at the door was unexpected but not alarming to him. This realm was known for its diverse variety of species.

"I'm Adriaan, and that's Meriwa," he said with a side-long glance towards the vulpine woman at his side.

Adriaan's light and effeminate body build left him looking almost fragile at first glance. His pale complexion and silvery hair did little to alleviate that perception. Something about his confident and relaxed posture and the spiked metal gauntlets that enclosed his hands and lower arms spoke of his more combative nature though. He wore no armoring and was dressed only in light cloth that would seemingly offer little protection against rats. From his back he sported a pair of large white-feathered wings, suggesting perhaps why his choice in light clothing.
 

Fishman

Broseidon
Benefactor
When the pair came upon the slithering snake woman, Meriwa had to wonder if the bulk of Nexus' people were demihuman for every single one of them accepting the quest to have that in common.

She did not greet Xuan save for a small, tart wave. Her ears were flattened against her head the entire time, even before they had come upon the serpent. A small glance at Adriaan as he introduced them, accompanied by a brief sneer, spoke volumes of the situation.

Looking past them, her gaze came to the house, and her ears flicked forward. She pushed past them, straining to hear, but not before a terrible scent swarmed her nose. She brought her hand up to her nose, attempting not to gag.
 
The naga blinks and looks to the side, having heard a voice addressing her. She was still getting used to people addressing her in a kind fashion, it felt so very foreign, but, well, nice. “The home of Clara?” she asks, her voice husky and slightly raspy. Her tongue flicks out once as she gets the scent of the new comers, then gestures to the paper she clutched in her hand. “If this letter is to be believed, yes,” she finally replies. “But I have not heard from the family yet, and-”

She’s cut off as the long eared girl scoots past her, takes a sniff, then gags. Xuan lets out a small, amused huff, then looks the girl in the eye. “You smell it too, yes?” The pair of them seemed to share a fine sense of smell, and something smelled off about the house. “I was considering breaking in before you arrived.” Forward, ain’t she?

Her attention goes back to the pretty man who’s outfit Xuan couldn’t help but appreciate, as a fellow aficionado of light garb. Though, for the purposes of work, she prefered her studded leather that sat like any other armour on her torso, but turned into a weaving wrap as it went down around the top half of her tail, leaving the bottom half exposed. People walked around barefoot, so why shouldn’t she, so to speak?

“That is, to see what was wrong,” she says, adding some context. “I am no thief. Xuanezaa. It is…” Her tongue flicks out again, seeking changes in the air for a brief second, almost instinctively. “Nice to meet the pair of you.” Is nice the word? It has been nice meeting new people so far. Freedom seemed to agree with her.

She looks between the two, then the door. “I am unfamiliar with your customs here, Walkers.” As opposed to what? Slitherers? “If they do not answer… are we obliged to get in anyway? They are expecting people such as us, no? Or do we wait?”
 

Sharkyshark

Just chillin'
The door to the house opened, and a man of about thirty or forty peered out. To say that the man looked tired would have been a grave understatement; he looked positively ragged. Dark circles under his eyes told of days without sleep, and the stubble on his gaunt face clearly hadn’t been shaved in at least a week. He stood hunched over, with one arm in a sling. Xuan’s appearance seemed to startle him a bit, but he ushered the three of them into the house with a wave of the hand. He led them to a small sitting room, where a woman in a similar state of disrepair sat in a rocking chair. She turned when the three adventurers entered, glassy eyes lighting up as she spotted them.

“You’ve come!” she said, springing to her feet. “You’ve come to rescue our Clara?”

“I do hope you have better luck than we did,” sighed the man. “Whatever’s in there isn’t meant for us, I’ll tell you that. When Clara got dragged off, we went in after her, but we couldn’t get anywhere. The rats ate poor Bigsby and almost chewed us up too. What good is a fowling piece when there’s ten rats to replace every one you shoot? There’s nothing in that hell-hole but rats and decay...and our Clara. I really do hope you can bring her back. It’s down that way.”

He pointed down the hall to an old bedroom, from which the soft sound of incessant scratching could be heard. Sitting up against the wall of the bedroom was an ornate mahogany wardrobe, bound tightly shut with rope and leather straps. The scratching was clearly coming from inside the wardrobe, along with the unmistakable squeaking of rats.
 

Tiko

Draconic Administrator/Mentor
Administrator
Mentor
Nexus GM
Adriaan, ever the humanitarian approached the bereaved mother first and took her hands. "We will do everything in our power to bring your daughter back to you, one way or another," he promised her.

He looked to the man next.

"You said you two went in after her?" he asked. "The other side was stable then? The atmosphere survivable from what you experienced of it? Did you see anything of note, other than the rats?"

Having that knowledge ahead of time would greatly speed up their task at hand. He could set up something to stabilize the rift from this end to buy them time and to help to ensure their safe return, but going in blind without knowing what awaited you... that could be deadly.
 

Sharkyshark

Just chillin'
The woman didn't seem particularly reassured by Adriaan's words, simply giving him a tight-lipped nod as he clutched her cold, thin hands. She sat back down shakily, wringing her hands together as soon as Adriaan released them. Her husband sighed and laid a hand on her shoulder, giving her a reassuring squeeze.

"Of course we went in," he said. "What other choice did we have? I don't know about stable, but it's still there. The atmosphere...I guess it was survivable, but that's about the only survivable thing about that place. We didn't see much of anything at all, the whole place was pitch-black. All you could hear were the rats, scratching and squeaking and scurrying around everywhere. I think it might be in some kind of tunnel or something, because there was a light far away...but we didn't make it that far. We barely made it five paces before the rats were on us."

He shook his head, his face suddenly a pallid grey, and sat down heavily on the couch. His hand brushed against a large, well-chewed bone sitting on the couch cushion, and he glanced down. Sighing, he shoved the bone away.

"Please just try your best," he said. "We know there's little chance, but you're our last hope. There's nothing but rats in there, not as far as we could see."
 

Fishman

Broseidon
Benefactor
Though she listened closely to the parents' tale, Meriwa's eyes were trained on the hallway where the sound was most prominent. The place they described sounded like sewage lines in the city: dark and filled with rats. She was almost surprised they didn't mention a smell, but perhaps they had been living with it so long, mourning the disappearance of their child, that it was the last of their worries.

Without waiting for the other two, the vulx began to walk down the hall and into the bedroom, her paws lightly padding against the wooden ground. When she came to the wardrobe, the paused and scrutinized it heavily. She took several small, cautious steps toward it, then put her hand against it. Almost immediately she jumped but didn't pull her hand away. She could feel the creatures scratching on the other side.

Meriwa sneered, then grabbed hold of one of the straps. "Are you two done?" she asked them, ready to deal with the horrors beyond.
 
Xuan raises herself up a few inches on her tail to peer over Adriaan, and takes in the room around them. She had expected the worse with the overpowering scent of rat in the house, one that she anticipated masking a deceased homeowner, but she’s very much glad she’s wrong. It was just gross, not morbid. Its a good thing they didn’t need to break in after all!

She looks between Adriaan and Meriwa, thinking intently before finally speaking. “Hoards of rats will be hard to eliminate with blade alone,” she says before her tongue flicks out, something she immediately regretted. The air tasted heavily of rats and it was awful. She makes a face as if she’s tasted something sour before continuing. “Are either of you spellcasters? Perhaps fire? I wield no magics.” She could spit her venom, but it might not do overly well if there are literal hoards of the bastards.

Her attention shifts to the parents and her resolve hardens. “Your child will be returned,” she says, confidently. “And whoever has taken her will pay with their life.” Or, at the very least, vengeance would be carried out, but that would imply a lack of hope, which might be the only thing they have left. She had spent too long in that little girl’s shoes, trapped and taken by someone against her will, and she would provide nothing but her best to free her.

With that, she follows after Meriwa. No talk of payment, no considering the risk involved, just a woman with a mission. "I am surprised you are not reeling," she says as she approaches Meriwa. "Your sense of smell is like mine, yes?" She pulls a blade from its sheath on her shoulder and works it in her hand. Go time.
 
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Tiko

Draconic Administrator/Mentor
Administrator
Mentor
Nexus GM
"Whoa there," Adriaan said as he caught note Meriwa grabbed one of the straps to open the wardrobe.

"Time is of the essence, but charging in and dying doesn't help anyone," he told her.

With one hand against the Wardrobe door, just in case Meriwa tried to pull it open unexpected he reached his other hand into one of several pouches he had on his person. He withdrew three crystals and held them up.

"A gift from a friend," he said. "Just give me a moment."

He placed the three crystals in a rough triangle, two at the back corners of the wardrobe, and one at the front. They immediately started resonating as he placed the third one, and a pale light began to emit from them.

"They should help stabilize the rift and make sure it doesn't close behind us," he explained. "Their charge won't last forever though. Few days maybe."

With that seen to, he fished a few vials out of his pouches. Alchemist fire," he told the others as he held one up. "Very volatile, try not to break it within ten feet of yourself, or each other. It'll burn for a while, and cling to anything the liquid splashes on before it ignites. You do not want it splashing you.". He offered them each one vial before digging out a few more things. "Oil," he explained holding up two more. "It's not needed to ignite the alchemist fire, but can it can be used to spread its area of effect," he explained before also offering them each one vial each.

Lastly he pulled out a small pouch held closed with a drawstring. "Spark powder," he said. "Harmless but it will make a lot of light and noise. Only burns for a minute though. Just throw a small pinch it at the ground as hard as you can to ignite it. I wasn't expecting a third to be accompanying us though, so I don't have enough for all of us. Which one of you wants this one?"

He himself still had two vials of alchemist fire, three vials of oil, and a small pouch of spark powder. It wouldn't last them long, but worst case it would buy them time to assess the situation and regroup. And in the event they wound up stuck on the other side for a few days, he had some dried foods on his person as well, and another trio of crystals that could be used to mask their presence for a time.

"If you haven't fought swarms before," he said with a look to Meriwa, given her seeming reckless regard. "You can't protect all sides at once. You can drop a dozen, and there will be hundreds more that made it past. You swing and drop one, and there's another dozen crawling up your arm. So use anything you can to slow the flood," he explained. "Fire, terrain, each other. Don't let yourself get separated and surrounded."

The ordinarily jovial avorian was all business for the time being it seemed.

"We should be able to use some of the spark powder through the rift to clear the immediate other side and buy us time to clean up what's already through, and then we can go through ourselves. If it is a cave, we'll try to make our way to the entrance. If I can get to the sky I can look for safe ground to move to."
 
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Fishman

Broseidon
Benefactor
"Me," said Meriwa, volunteering herself without a moment's hesitation. Just as before, her ears were pinned to her head, a half-lidded glare shooting Adriaan's way. That comment was unnessecary. Swarms were not so difficult, just annoying.

Turning her nose up after she grabbed the vials, she tucked them away in the pouches of her jerkin. She went over the information that the birdman gave them about their contents. Alchemist fire, oil, and spark powder. She was familiar with one of them, but the other two were foreign. Still, they couldn't be difficult to use, even if she had to be cautious. Eying the gems surrounding the wardrobe, she noted Adriaan's resourcefulness but didn't mention a word of it to him.

"I am not useless int he dark. If it is a cave I will lead." She then looked to the snake woman. "Unless yours is better."
 
The Naga hangs back as she watches the winged man set up his little crystals, curious about their use, and more importantly how they work. However, her musings are stolen away as her attention is brought to the other items he carried. “You carry a lot…” she says in a quiet voice as she looks the items over. Alchemist fire, oil, and spark powder. “It will do. If not… perhaps flailing wildly at the hordes will work too.”

She takes the alchemist fire and oil, but she didn’t take the remaining spark powder, leaving that for its owner to use. “Thank you,” she says, then pauses, having completely forgotten his name. Andy, Andrew, Aiden, AH! Adriaan! “Adriaan.” here it is. She slips the oil and firebomb into the front of her leather armour and nods. “I will use these wisely.”

The rest of his words are easy to understand, boiling down to stick together, don’t slow down, and expect literal waves of rats. “It will not be so different than fighting clouds of locust,” she says, remembering how her village once had to fight them to protect their crops. Her village, however, had fire casters. She looks down to her tail and shifts, raising several inches and making the tail behind her smaller. The less surface area she took up against the oncoming rats, the better.

“I can see in the dark, yes,” Xuan says, looking to Meriwa. “And I can navigate with scent. It will be… unpleasant, however.” She handles her blade for a moment, getting a feel for the weight as they ready themselves to go through the wardrobe. “But if you wish to lead, I will follow.”
 

Tiko

Draconic Administrator/Mentor
Administrator
Mentor
Nexus GM
"Alright then," Adriaan said. "Meriwa on point to get us to the entrance, then I'll take the sky and find us defensible ground."

He readied a pinch of the spark powder between his thumb and forefingers and gave Meriwa a nod to go ahead with her initial intentions to open the wardrobe. The moment the door was open he was readied to throw the volatile powder through the rift. The noise and flashing light would hopefully be enough to drive the rats away from the immediate area around the rift on the other side for a few moments, giving them safe passage through the rift themselves.
 

Sharkyshark

Just chillin'
The door of the wardrobe opened with a creak, and half a dozen rats spilled out onto the floor. They scurried off across the room as Adriaan flung a pinch of spark-powder into the swirling rift that lay behind the chewed-up coats still hanging inside. As the three of them rushed inside, they’d each feel the familiar stomach-twisting sensation of being turned upside-down in non-euclidean space as they slid into an entirely different world from whence they’d come. The sensation lasted only a fraction of a second, and then they landed on the cold, damp ground.

The other side of the portal, as the man had mentioned, was almost entirely pitch-black. The only source of illumination in their immediate area was the few dying sparks of Adriaan’s powder fizzling out in the dirt. They’d come out in what looked to be some sort of tunnel, barely six feet high and carved crudely out of the earth. As soon as they managed to re-orient themselves to this new reality, the stench would hit the group like a tidal wave. Rats, excrement, and decay all mixed together and concentrated into an almost-unbreathable miasma to assault their noses (or Jacobson’s organs, as it were). The air in the tunnel was thick and humid, but the atmosphere was closer to that of a slaughterhouse than a jungle.

The rats were everywhere, the earthen walls seeming to pulse and breath like a living being as they surged over all sides of the tunnel. The immediate area of the portal was clear, thanks to Adriaan’s flash-powder. However, their bubble of space began to close quickly as the rats shook off their disorientation and began to close in. The squeaking and scratching of thousands of little claws was magnified by the narrow tunnel until it seemed to echo within the adventurer’s very heads, as though rats had managed to crawl directly into their skulls and were scratching at the inside in an attempt to get out. The floor of the tunnel was covered in a layer of bones, gnawed apart and left to rot. There were so many that it was impossible to tell whether they were the remains of hundreds of generations of rats or the remnants of their prey. Most likely it was a mix of both. Perhaps a hundred yards down the tunnel, a faint light promised an exit from this horrible rat-run.
 
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Fishman

Broseidon
Benefactor
As the doors flew open, Meriwa turned her head away from the entrance so that the sparks would not assault her eyes and ruin her night vision. As soon as the flashes went away in her peripheral vision, she surged forward, fighting against the million-legged flood that scurried against them. She was nearly ripped off of her feet when they were pulled through the rift, teetering dangerously to one side until she found grounding with a dance of her paw pads. After she settled, all of her senses were assaulted at once. The scratching filled her ears, the stench filled her nose, the squirming filled her eyes. The smell had already been so powerful outside, but in here it had her reeling. Her head lurched forward in another gag, but she caught herself, holding up the fur mantle around her shoulders to her face. Her ears never moved from their flattened state on her head, and her tail stuck close to her legs.

The vulx pushed forward, shifting her eyes about the tunnel. Her pupils became very large, very quickly, adjusting her to the bleakness of the area. Her tiny, sharp teeth grit together. Little bones prickled her feet, but there was also something squishy just beneath. Even with her night vision, she couldn't make out the conglomerate of everything around them, but she could make out the curves of the tunnel.

Fighting the urge not to hurl, she walked.

"Let us go." And with that, her spear was unsheathed.
 
Once Meriwa walked through the closet door, it became Xuan’s turn. She ducks as she slithers through and only just manages to look away before the sparkpowder went off. Her eyes soon adjust to the light, her slitted pupils widening greatly. The smell is the first thing to hit her, just as it had Mirwa, and it almost hurt. Unfortunately for her, she could also taste the smell on the dank, humid air of the cave and it almost made her retch. Her resolve comes out on top, however, as she powers on, rising up as tall as she can in the tight cave.

Once she sees the rats, something more primal rises inside her. Standing at her full height, she looms over the others, then her jaw opens far beyond what some might consider natural and four long, sharp fangs slip out of their sheaths inside her mouth. What comes next is a primal, fear inducing hiss that comes from deep within the woman, loud enough to echo along the cave walls.

Unfortunately for her, she isn’t blessed at this moment with legs like her companions, and instead her tail slithers over the grime and residue that slicked the cave floor. She couldn’t think about that, not yet, but that first bath once they had gotten out of there would be oh so wonderful…
 
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Tiko

Draconic Administrator/Mentor
Administrator
Mentor
Nexus GM
Adriaan was the last to step through, which gave him the best location to assist their passage.

"Shield your eyes," he warned as a pinch of spark powder hit the ground behind Xuan. A few strong strokes of his wings scattered the sparking bits of powder across the tunnel floor, around Meriwa and Xuan to drive the rats back further and to part the swarm ahead as they bounced and skittered their way down the tunnel towards the entrance. Outside of the initial blinding flash in the dark, the individual bits of spark powder posed no real threat of harm or blindness as they where scattered. However for the rats that where on eye level with it, the sparking powder would appear far more intimidating.

He was quick to follow after the other two and kept close at their back until they could reach the entrance.
 

Sharkyshark

Just chillin'
Xuan’s hissing sent the rats scurrying backwards like ripples in a pond, the sound triggering an instinctual terror in their little rodent minds. There was a predator in their den, something that wanted to eat them alive. They fled from the party, vanishing into tiny holes in the walls or scurrying down the tunnel and into the darkness. The few rats too stupid or deaf to react to the hiss were easily scattered by the spark-powder, letting out high-pitched squeals of pain as the searing flash of light burned their beady black eyes. The path was clear for the three rescuers, and they would be able to make it to the tunnel mouth without too many rat bites.

As they stepped out of the stinking, bone-filled tunnel, they’d find themselves in a very different environment indeed. It was as though they’d stepped through another portal and into another world altogether. They were outdoors, in a lush green forest. The sun shone through the trees, illuminating a simple dirt trail leading out of the forest and into a flower-filled pasture. The narrow hole they’d just climbed out of was at the base of a massive tree, a dark mouth almost hidden beneath the tangle of roots. A cool breeze blew through the forest, bringing with it the scent of flowers, tea, and candy. Off in the distance, they’d see a figure sitting alone in the field of flowers, and although it was too far away to discern any details, it seemed to have rabbit ears or something similar. A few rats scurried in and out of the rat-hole like ants, carrying scraps of food in their mouths.
 

Fishman

Broseidon
Benefactor
Meriwa popped her head out of the hole and pinched her brows so hard in scrutiny they could have caused a singularity. Her expectations for how this would go had been completely smashed to pieces and confused her dearly as she climbed out. She waited for Xuan and Adriaan to appear until she decided to keep walking, armed, and ready for a surprise.

The rabbit ears caught her attention immediately, and after looking this way and that, as though expecting something to come bounding out of the field to snatch them up in a razor set of jaws, she began to approach it.

"You see it?" she told her party, pointing to it.
 
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