Rat King

Bound and Determined

he had found.

Contentment. Belonging. He felt both; even though separate, he felt like part of the group. Every day was going to be his last, but it was hard to leave. Until finally, the courtyard was empty except for the instructor.

”Most of my students are only here for half a year. ” The man glanced up at the corner roof where Dem hid. ”Your persistence is admirable. Come down and face me. ”

The man spoke to him, the words were sharp, but they bore no malice. The Sabasi instructor began to teach him the way. Only a few minutes each day and not until the courtyard was empty. This continued for a few months until the man didn appear one day. Dem came back several days in a row, waiting and wondering. Alone again, the life of a street rat.

Sadness, longing, and fear. The four spectators cried freely, sniffing their noses while wiping their tears. Life was hard.

The vision faded, and the cloud grew dark. Almost immediately, another started. This one wasn like the others. The pleasantness of it brought smiles to the tear-streaked faces of those watching.

Warmth. Contentment. A steady rhythmic pounding that Dem found comfortable. He was pleased; the darkness held no danger.

”You are certain? ” A mans voice spoke. It was deep and carried violently cruel undertones.

”Yes, my lord. ” A womans voice, someone wise and educated. ”The rat woman will bear a son. ”

”A son… And you are sure it is mine? ”

”Yes, my lord. I have conducted a birthright test. ”

”I do not remember her, set up a tent for her and see to her care. I will hold you responsible if something happens to my bloodlines heir. ”

”Yes, my lord. ”

The voices faded, but the warmth and darkness continued for a time.

”What is your name, child? I can keep calling you rat woman. ” The woman from earlier in the vision spoke.

”Why do you call me rat woman? ” Another woman spoke; her words surrounded Dem and made him happy. He felt an overwhelming love for her.

Belonging. Kinship. Mother.

”Although diluted, the rat is your beastkin bloodline. ”

”Im not beastkin. ” The sound of her voice brought him warmth and happiness. No matter what she said, it felt pleasant to his ears. ”Im not like him. Ive seen the lord change forms. It was frightening. ”

”You didn answer me. What is your name? ”

”Ember. ”

”We have lost this continent, Ember. If you bear the Dukes son, he will take you both to Duscanti. You will become part of the Beast Kings Empire. ”

”I don know where that is. ”

”Far across the sea, child. Your life will be easier from now on. ”

Darkness, the steady beat of hearts. The passing of many days.

”I can bring you the child after it is born, my lord. ” The wise woman spoke again; the voice now held a certain amount of familiarity.

”No. I will witness this. Even now, my enemy closes in. First, the rat woman will give birth to my son, and then the captain will escort the three of you to my ship. ”

”As you wish, my lord. ”

Disruption. Discontentment. More darkness.

”Rest easy, Ember. One more push. ”

Disruption. Discontentment. The wailing of an infant.

WHAT IS THIS? ” The mans voice shouted, filled with rage and hate. ”THIS IS NOT A MALE! ”

”My lord! I do not understand. The test said that you will… ”

The words were cut short by the sound of fist striking flesh—the thump of a body landing on the floor accompanied by the heavy breathing of an angry man.

”Captain! Ready my ship. We have no more time. ”

Loud steps that sounded like someone stomping their feet.

”My lord! What about the woman and baby? ”

A long pause…

”Leave the rat woman, bring the baby with us. ”

Confusion. Darkness. Loss.

A few minutes pass.

”Im sorry, Ember. Somehow I made a mistake. ” The woman whispered as if worried someone might hear her.

A groan of pain, escalating until it became a wail of agony.

Pressure. Discontentment. Light.

”Heaven preserve us… Another baby. You have twins, Ember. ”

Brightness. Anger.

The vision cloud brightening accompanied the wailing of a child until it shone like the sun.

As suddenly as it started, the vision stopped. The four women looked toward the Shaman. He hadn moved at all during the rite.

”We are all bound by the blood rite oath. These are his memories and his alone. Use them to deepen your relationship with him. ” The Shaman stroked his forehead gently.

”Hmmm… ” Dems dark eyes blinked open. The memory of the rite was fresh in his mind.

The Shamans painted face bent closer, her blue eyes staring into his before she kissed his head gently. ”This is your fourteenth year. Welcome to our clan, Demitri Swiftwind. ”

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