Chapter 16 – A Rat in the Night (1)

When night finally came, Hamelin decided to let his ruminations rest. Whatever the old mage had planned for Mosel would be years in the future, if he read the expression on his right. What Hamelin had seen in the the old man’s face was the kind of patience that could last a decade; for now, he need not move.

Instead, he focused on the task ahead. With Wither up his sleeve, Hamelin escaped the Whitter mansion like a ghost. Seeing how it had gone the last time he went without his little subject, Hamelin had decided it best to bring it along. Besides, he had already thought of several uses for its skills.

He faded into the forest beside the road, and ran to Tremon on bare feet. With the skills he had trained every night for the past three years, he was as fast as a running horse, even in the rough undergrowth.

Running on the road would have made him an easy target to spot, even in the dead of night, and Hamelin did not want to be challenged by any other nightly stragglers.

Once he reached the city limit, he stopped to catch his breath. Below him, Tremon unfurled itself in its nightly splendor, which was mostly coated in darkness. Only a few streets had visible light, while a few torches could be seen carried around the place, presumably by a night watch.

When he had recomposed himself, Hamelin used the transformation arts once more. This time, he did not use the same, ugly face as before, but instead changed it into a non-descript, almost inhumanly ordinary face with no recognizable features. Grinning to himself, he set out into the streets, relocating the old man’s store from memory, as well as his nose.

Knocking on the door of the store, he was met with the confused face of Asten, the young apothecary’s apprentice, who opened the door, expecting to see an ugly face.

“Who’re you?” He asked, dumbly, looking upon a strange man, who was as small as the one they were expecting, but who looked nothing like that ugly gnome.

“What’s this, Asten, forgotten me already?” Hamelin said, adopting the raspy voice he had used before, “I’m sure I didn’t hit you in the head, so why are you so daft?”

“Wha—?”

“What’s going on, Asten? Open the door already, the master is surely…” The old man trailed off, as he appeared in the opened door and looked on the figure outside, whose face looked like a blank piece of parchment.

“Who the hells are you?” The old man asked, parroting his apprentice. Still grinning, Hamelin raised his hands and transformed them into sharp claws, as a proof of his identity.

“Heavens above,” the old man cried and widened his eyes. He took a look outside and peered down both sides of the street, before he opened the door and let Hamelin in.

Finally inside, Hamelin shook of some of the dirt from his travelling, and turned to face the two stupefied apothecaries. “What?” He said, raising an eyebrow.

“You look… different,” the old man said.

“Of course I do,” Hamelin said, shaking his head, “You think I’d go around showing my true face?”

“No… no… of course not. I see, an Inverse master indeed,” the old man crossed his arms and nodded sagely.

Again with this ‘Inverse’, Hamelin thought, baring his teeth, I’m starting to get curious about that place…

“Well, you’re here, so I suppose we should get on with it.”

“Indeed, we should. Who will show me the way?”

“I-I will,” the young Asten said, showing no hint of excitement at the pleasure.

Hamelin gave the young man a stare-down, until he lowered his eyes, then returned his gaze to the old man. “Just to re-iterate, you want me to take down the poison master of the Marns family, and in return you’ll serve me?”

“That was our agreement,” the old apothecary said, nodding.

“Excellent. Let’s not waste time. Lead on, Asten.”

The boy looked from the strange creature standing before him, and his master, who shooed him on with a hand-gesture. Finally, Asten sighed and turned around, disappearing out the doorway.

Having turned to follow, Hamelin called over his shoulder to the old man, “I won’t be long.”

Once out on the street, Hamelin faded into the darkness and circumvented Asten, who stood waiting for him. Creeping up on him, unnoticed, Hamelin extended a claw and tapped the young man on the arm.

“Well? What are you waiting for?”

Asten jumped, eyes wide with fear. “How did you—?”

“No time for your antics, Asten. Lead on. I’ll follow from behind, but you won’t see me. Once you’ve arrived, tap your foot on the ground twice, alright?”

Asten nodded, watching as the small figure just vanished right in front of his eyes once more. Feeling cold sweat running down his back, he turned and began the trip towards the Marns’ distillery, on the outskirts of town.

From within the shadows, Hamelin followed Asten, making sure to remain unseen. He was not merely trying to impress his skill upon the apothecary and his apprentice, but also being cautious. Asten had proved himself handy with a blade in their fight, but the young man was an amateur at best.

Hamelin could not risk being spotted before the time was right, and thus kept his distance to his target, following along as they wound through the sleeping city. At the outskirts, in the opposite direction from whence Hamelin had entered Tremon, Asten stopped outside a gated facility, guarded by two massive men with tree-trunks for arms. Standing a little ways off, Asten tapped the ground with his feet twice, before slipping away.

Watching until the young man was out of sight, Hamelin finally turned his attention on his newfound challenge. The men in front looked big, but not very attentive. Slipping past them would be child’s play. The trouble was what came afterward.

He needed to know where the target was, the poison master who hid somewhere within. He also needed to know the layout, as well as the number of enemies. One solution was to simply enter and wing it, which Hamelin thought was well within his abilities.

However, the old apothecary’s continued acceptance of Hamelin’s powers as ‘natural’ for someone of this Inverse place, whatever it was, forced him to assume that his target was at least as powerful as himself, if not more so. Dealing with someone like that, Hamelin had no room for mistakes. He needed intel.

Luckily, he had brought all he needed to gather such information with. With a thought, Wither crawled out his sleeve and made its way onto his shoulder. “Well, little one,” Hamelin said, petting the little creature, “Let’s see what you’re made of, shall we?”

With a squeak, Wither proclaimed its intention to complete its mission without fail, after which it jumped down and scampered closer to its destination. Grinning as he sat within the shadow, Hamelin focused on his bond with the rat, until he could see what it saw, as if he was the one moving.

Fast as lightning, Wither was across to the house, crawling through a small gap in the fence surrounding the place. The two guards were as oblivious to the intrusion as Hamelin had thought they would be.

The little rat entered the house through the cellar, where a small opening allowed for air into the underground. Here, Wither found barrels upon barrels of beer, awaiting purchase, as well as an entire rack of wines stored away.

Ignoring the wares, for now, Wither scampered up the stairs and into the house proper. Inside, a few men sat playing dice, laughing as they lost and won. Seeing the amount of coin they each had at their disposal, it appeared the Marns family paid rather handsomely for their service.

None of them had the tell-tale scent of herbs on them, however, and so, Wither’s search continued. It ran up another set of stairs to the first floor, where it found a few more men, some sleeping in preparation for a later watch, others engaging in a more subdued game of cards.

Still, none of them were the target. Up another set of stairs, Wither caught the scent it had been looking for. The only room up here, was also the largest in the building. Through the crack below the door, Wither slithered through, rushing into a corner as soon as it was in.

In this position, it could see very little, so it kept to the shadows and began scaling the wood in the corner, arriving at the rafters in the ceiling. Finally in position, from here, Wither could see the shape of a cloaked figure, hunched over a table full of precious ingredients, right next to a stove. The smell was unmistakable.

Outside, seated in the shadows, Hamelin opened his yellow eyes, staring up at the top floor of the building, teeth flashing in a wicked smile.

“Found you.”