The trail led, of course, to a tavern.
Watching from a hidden perch across the street, Ulthor studied the place. It was a stinking, squalid wreck in Absalom’s Puddles district. Dead fish lay half-surfaced in the sucking mud around the entrance, their rotted heads poking up as if straining for one last breath. Inside, the air was thick with flayleaf and pesh smoke, spilled ale and unwashed bodies, and the pervasive, inescapable stench of the Puddles’ foul tides. Dingy gray cloth covered the grimy windows and hung from the rafters, turning the already-dim tavern into a warren of shadows.
The Rat of Gonevar had sunk low in the world since Ulthor had last had the trail. Still a weak man, prone to weak vices, but without the money or friends to indulge them extravagantly anymore.
That was good. It would make apprehension easier.
There. Ulthor spotted the Rat’s battered hat bobbing through an alley as the man picked his way across the muddy duckboards. The hat was different, and its jaunty feather too, but Ulthor recognized his quarry’s limp immediately. The Rat had lost half his left foot at their last meeting.
Beneath his grim iron helm, Ulthor permitted himself the barest semblance of a smile. No more than the slightest softening at the corners of his eyes and mouth, the most change he ever allowed in his habitually stony expression. It had been a long hunt.
“Prepare to move,” Ulthor told his fellow knights. He’d requisitioned three Hellknights of the Rack as support from the local chapter house. The Order of the Rack generally lacked the finesse he would have preferred, but its Hellknights were as terrifyingly fierce and incorruptible as the Chain’s. They’d do.
“Terms of apprehension?” one of the Rack knights asked.
Ulthor was briefly surprised. He hadn’t expected the Hellknights of the Rack to care. “The Rat of Gonevar must be taken. Preferably alive, but dead is acceptable. Minimize other casualties. Those who do not interfere should not be harmed.”
“And those who do?”
“Will be guilty of obstructing a lawful enforcement action.” Ulthor tacked the arrest warrant onto the face of his shield so that he could display it while keeping his hands free. Small chance that the patrons of the Puddles would respect the warrant’s authority, but a small chance was better than none. He preferred not to break skulls unnecessarily. “Further questions?”
There were none. Ulthor dispatched two Hellknights to watch the tavern’s rear and side exits. Once they were in place, he led the third to its front door. Mud-spattered urchins and drunk idlers, suddenly and nervously sober, melted away from the tavern as the Hellknights approached.
Ulthor ignored them. The tavern’s door was already open, but he kicked it anyway, shattering the weather-beaten wood against the wall to announce the Hellknights’ arrival.
“Dunryl of Gonevar!” Ulthor shouted into the shocked quiet. “You stand charged with desertion, murder, and trafficking in profane corruptions. Submit to the lawful authority of the Order of the Chain.”
“Don’t believe I will,” the Rat drawled. His tone was full of bravado, but even in the tavern’s poor light, Ulthor could see the Rat’s knotted jaw and shaking hands. Withdrawal, and fear. Mostly fear. “I’m a hero of Andoran, I am.”
“We’re free people here,” one of the other card players blustered. He squinted at Ulthor with hostile, ale-fogged eyes. “Free people. Unafraid.”
“You tell ‘im, Gammel,” the Rat encouraged, scooting his own chair back discreetly.
Gammel launched a clumsy fist at Ulthor. The Hellknight knocked his swipe away with a short punch of his own, driving a mailed fist into the drunkard’s face. Gammel’s nose crunched bloodily under the blow, but Ulthor held back his strength. The drunkard didn’t deserve to die over this.
The Rat was reaching under the table for a hidden weapon. Kicking Gammel and his chair aside, Ulthor brought his sword down on the table, smashing the wooden top, the cudgel that the Rat had been reaching for beneath it, and the Rat’s arm.
“You are a liar and a coward,” the Hellknight announced, his voice thundering over the Rat’s cry of outraged agony. “You murdered your superior officer and two comrades, stole a shipment of slaves, and sold all but the youngest and most impressionable. Those you released to spread false tales of your heroism. Then you began ‘rescuing’ slaves so that you could pin unholy texts and secret corruptions into their clothes and minds, using them as unwitting mules to carry foul contraband through Andoran. These are your crimes, Dunryl of Gonevar.”
Most of Ulthor’s recitation went unheard. At the sight of bare steel, the tavern erupted into chaos. Patrons threw mugs and half-full slop bowls at Ulthor, and then at the Rack Hellknights who charged in to support him. Others shouted and jeered, less interested in defending the Rat of Gonevar than in spitting on the nearest symbol of authority. The law wasn’t popular in the Puddles.
The Rack Hellknights moved to stop the brawling. They were efficient, methodical, and brutal. Bones cracked. Iron thudded into unprotected flesh. The taunts and jeers turned to panicked cries and bloody-mouthed moans.
Ulthor didn’t give them a glance. He reached over the splintered table, ignoring Gammel’s squeak of terror, and grabbed the Rat by his broken arm.
“You bastard!” the Rat shouted, hysterical with pain. “Five years it’s been, and you won’t leave me alone! You broke my arm!”
“Submit,” Ulthor said. His gauntleted fist flexed. Bones ground together in his grip.
The Rat swayed on the brink of blacking out. “Let me go. Let me go! I can tell you — things. All kinds of things. Schemes. Secrets. The — the moaners’ cults. The smugglers. The people who hired me. I can give them to you. Please!”
Ulthor relaxed his grip minutely. Behind them, the brawl had died down. Only the groans and whimpers of the injured could be heard now. The Rack Hellknights moved among the fallen, dealing out extra blows to those who refused to stay down.
“Please,” the Rat sobbed.
“I am a Hellknight of the Chain,” Ulthor told him. He stood, dragging the Rat to his feet by his broken arm. “It was my duty to apprehend you. But if what you say is true, it is not my duty to keep you. Unholy cults are not within my order’s remit.”
Somehow the Rat managed to swallow the shriek of pain that started up his throat. Despite it all, hope ignited in his eyes. “Then we’ve got a deal? You’ll let me go?”
“No,” Ulthor said. “I will send you to the Order of the Pyre.”
And then he smiled, really smiled, as the Rat of Gonevar screamed.
About the Author
Liane Merciel is the author of the Pathfinder Tales novels Nightglass, Nightblade, and Hellknight, and a contributor to other books including Nidal: Land of Shadows, Faiths of Golarion, and the Lost Omens World Guide. She has also written for Dungeons & Dragons, Warhammer: Age of Sigmar, and Bioware’s Dragon Age franchise. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband, two dogs, and an adventure toddler who is extremely into Spider-Man.
About Tales of Lost Omens
The Tales of Lost Omens series of web-based flash fiction provides an exciting glimpse into Pathfinder’s Age of Lost Omens setting. Written by some of the most celebrated authors in tie-in gaming fiction, including Paizo’s Pathfinder Tales line of novels and short fiction, the Tales of Lost Omens series promises to explore the characters, deities, history, locations, and organizations of the Pathfinder setting with engaging stories to inspire Game Masters and players alike.
Tales of Lost Omens: Rat Trap
Thursday, September 5, 2019