Spoils

For 2022, I’ve been wanting to write more ‘creature features’ and generally improve my short story writing. My partner got me a Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual for my birthday so I came up with the idea of writing a story every week based on a different creature from that – All There in the (Monster) Manual. Hope you enjoy!

This Week’s Inspiration: Wererat

War brews on the borders of the Eight Kingdoms, as the Dark Lord gathers his forces. A strange traveller arrives in an abandoned town recently devastated by plague, only to find he is not as alone as he thought.

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Hooves sank into the muddy path as rain slicked the horse’s flanks, running in rivulets down its legs. Black and gleaming, the animal was a magnificent destrier that slogged through all terrain and all conditions without complaint. Between forks of lightning, the only light on the road came from the lurid green glow of a conjured ghastlight hovering behind the shoulder of the horse’s rider. Otherwise, the stormy night, the mud road and the surrounding woods were all as black as the bottom of a well.

Ahead, nestled in the low hills, the rider spotted his destination in the white strobe of a lightning strike. A large wall separated the town from the road. The rider spurred his horse to the looming gates. Not a single light showed anywhere in the town. Other than rain hammering wooden structures and thunder rolling off the nearby hills no sound came from behind the wall either.

Water streamed off both sides of an awning near the gate, where guards might have previously stood or travellers might have taken shelter for the night. In the green glow of the ghastlight, the rider could see several boards nailing the gates shut and a single word painted sloppily across the wood, running in the rain. The word ‘PLAGUE’.

It didn’t take the rider long to take apart the boards and the gates swung open. He trotted into the town unimpeded. Hooves rang off wet cobblestones. All the buildings surrounding them, one or two story structures of wood and stone with rain running off their eaves, looked dark and cold. Windows were shuttered or unlit. Many of the doors were boarded shut and painted with numbers and symbols like signs meant to ward off evil. If so, they hadn’t worked.

The rider reached the town’s central courtyard without meeting a single living soul. More cobblestones paved the open space around the town well and empty gallows. Lightning forked through the sky. The rider rounded on the largest building to edge the courtyard, a two story inn with a row of stables.

The rider stabled and wiped down his uncomplaining destrier. Hay had been left behind but all the stalls were, of course, empty. The rider then went to the inn and pulled apart the boards barring the entrance with his gloved hands. Inside, the inn’s front room was cold and damp and empty. A fireplace sat in the centre of the space. The stranger found some firewood, piled it into the hearth and lit it, more for light than warmth. They dispelled the ghastlight that had followed them loyally along their journey through the dark woods. The fireplace illuminated dozens of empty chairs scattered across the room, parked at rough hewn tables, and a bartop lined with empty stools. There was little doubt as to why the tables and chairs sat unoccupied. A stench of death permeated the whole room, the whole building. Probably the whole town would have smelled the same if the rain hadn’t been tamping it down. That was alright, death was exactly what the Doctor was there for.

The Doctor wore a black cloak that fell to the ankles of his riding boots. Black clothing, black gloves, and a black hood helped hide every inch of skin. A mask styled after the masks of plague doctors, black leather with smokey lenses and a hooked beak, covered his face. He and the others like him didn’t have names but that’s what their enemies called them, Doctors. Even alone, the Doctor did nothing to remove the mask or his wet clothing. Underneath, his flesh and sinews creaked. Grey and stitched and cold. Sitting by the fire, he raised his gloved hands to the blaze. Steam rose lazily off his cloak. Fire reflected in the lenses of his mask. The Doctor knew he’d never be truly warm again, short of immolation, but the heat did help limber up the stiffness that had developed in his fingers and joints over the cold, wet ride.

Winds raged outside, lashing the empty streets. Shutters clattered against the windows. Eventually, the Doctor found a lantern with some oil behind the bar, lit it, and decided to take stock of his place of rest for the night.

Most of the inn’s rooms were upstairs and the Doctor climbed the steps quietly, holding the lantern ahead of him. His drying cloak draped his spidery frame. All the doors lining the second story were nailed shut as well. The stench of death seeped from the rooms behind them. They must have been using the inn to isolate the sick and dying before the plague got out of control.

Picking a room at random, the Doctor ripped away the board barring its entryway. It came apart as if rotten in his hands. With a single kick, the Doctor splintered the door and launched it open. The lantern’s light spilled into the room and the Doctor heard something scurry out of sight. The smell of decay became much stronger, sickeningly so, but the Doctor didn’t show any reaction.

The room was tiny, not much of a place to spend your final days. Only space enough for a single bed and a basin in the corner. A dead man occupied the bed and the Doctor lifted the lantern closer to inspect them. Contorted in agony, the man’s face and exposed arms showed the dark scabies of plague. He’d been dead for a couple of weeks. Rats had been at him, their bites ravaging his face, his fingers, taking his lips and his eyes. That would have been what the Doctor heard scurrying away in the dark when he kicked the door open. The corpse would still serve the Doctor’s purposes. That was a good sign for the rest of town, given how abandoned it was.

The room’s single window was unshuttered and looked out over the town courtyard. The
Doctor crossed to it, lowering his lantern. While the town and its surrounding hills remained lightless, the Doctor sensed movement across the courtyard. He waited, completely unmoving, until another fork of lightning split the sky. Its white flash illuminated the rainy courtyard, the well, the gallows. Across the courtyard, where he’d sensed movement in the darkness, the Doctor saw two figures dart across the mouth of one of the surrounding streets. They were small, like children, but didn’t move like children. The Doctor’s eyes weren’t what they once were, they needed replacing, so he failed to make out many details in the split second of the lightning flash. He’d seen though that the children, or whatever they were, seemed to be wearing masks similar to his own, with long, beaky noses taking up much of their faces. Thunder rolled over the rooftops. The Doctor waited until the next flash but didn’t see anything more. Waiting a short while longer, lantern lowered beneath the windowsill, watching, he failed to spot the small figures again.

Doctors, at least the Doctor’s kind of Doctor, didn’t sleep. It would be too difficult to start his work in the storm, however, so instead the Doctor set himself down in a wooden chair in the main body of the inn, directly across from the front door. A slender sword rested across his lap in a black scabbard. Still in his damp robe and mask, the Doctor lulled into a corpselike stillness. He stayed that way as the fire burned down into smokey ashes. The room lapsed into blackness as the storm continued to rage outside, and then softened, and stopped. Dawn light began to burn around the edge of the doorway and the shutters across the windows, causing a fresh and dusty glow to fill the room again. It found the Doctor in the exact same position he’d been sitting in before the fire died the night before. Nothing disturbed him, and there was no sign of small, child-sized creatures in masks.

With sunshine drying the trees and cobblestones, the Doctor decided to get to work. The town courtyard would suit his purposes. He threw open the doors to the inn, letting in some fresh air and sunshine. Before getting started, the Doctor checked on his horse in the adjoining stables. It would be important if he needed to make a hasty escape. The horse, too, had gone unmolested during the night. The creature watched the Doctor dispassionately. Although it maintained the same magnificent flanks, the glossy sheen of its fur like wet ink, its eyes were milky white and its breath smelled like putrefaction. It maintained the same stillness as the Doctor when not being ridden.

The Doctor started with the inn. Returning upstairs, he broke down the doors leading to the other rooms and dragged the corpses outside to the courtyard. Tortured, plagueridden and rat-bitten. He found it easiest to keep them wrapped in their soiled sheets and to hold them by the shoulders as he pulled, their feet bouncing against the steps and dragging on the cobblestones. Neither the physical nature of the work nor the grotesque condition of the corpses affected the Doctor in the slightest. Working upstairs and down, he dragged thirteen bodies into the courtyard, all a couple of weeks dead but in usable shape. He started at one end of the open space and arranged the bodies in a neat row.

From there, the Doctor decided to fan out. Gradually moving in concentric circles, he dragged more bodies to the courtyard to array in neat rows. Water dripped off the eaves of buildings and from branches in some places. Rats scurried among houses and alleyways. Apart from those sounds, however, the village remained utterly silent. Even the birds were dead or gone. The Doctor hadn’t forgotten the masked children or creatures he’d seen the night before. Under his black coat, he wore his slender longsword on one hip and a dagger on the other. The Doctor was perfectly capable of defending himself if needs arose.

Most of the buildings surrounding the centre of town were stores or craftsmen of some description. Many had been cleaned out as townsfolk abandoned their village but they also had homes built above the stores themselves where often the owners and their families had passed away. The Doctor dragged them through the streets and back to the courtyard, sometimes managing two at once if they were children.

The Doctor worked without need for rest or food or water but the task still took time. After another hour, he had close to forty bodies arranged in rows across one side of the courtyard. The town had been abandoned about a week ago so none were fresher than that. Many bore bites and marks made by vermin in addition to the scars of the plague. Soon it would be worthwhile enacting the channelling ritual and then he could do his work much more efficiently.

The Doctor moved into surrounding streets. Everything remained still. Massive puddles marred the muddy paths in some places. Some windows or doorways were broken. Household objects dropped or lost during the flight from town lay forgotten in the mud and a couple of bodies were collapsed here and there in the street. Plague victims who, in their death throes, had wandered out of their houses and died under the open sky instead of in their beds. The Doctor dragged their muddy corpses back the way he’d come, leaving runnels in the streets.

Small feet pattered down a side street and the Doctor’s mask swivelled around. Whoever it was moved softly but splashed through a couple of puddles, alerting him. The Doctor set his current burden down and hurried to investigate. While unafraid, the Doctor was cautious. Anyone lurking about the empty buildings could bring trouble for his plans.

Moving to the side street, the Doctor caught a glimpse of movement ahead. Two small shadows, distorted by the morning light but roughly the size and proportions of nine or ten-year-olds, vanished around a corner. The Doctor followed, boots splashing in the mud. Reaching the next street, the Doctor found small houses surrounded by upturned gardens and stables. Everything again seemed to go silent. The Doctor hesitated until nearby the door of a larger, barnlike structure swung open and then slammed closed with a wooden clap. Taking hold of the pommel of his sword, the Doctor moved carefully toward the barn.

The barn was an open building with slices of sunlight cutting in from vents high on the walls. Despite the vents, a thick, musty smell of animals smothered the space. Stacks of damp hay filled the back of the barn, the stalls, and the loft overlooking the main body of the barn, and loose hay had been spilled underfoot. Behind the lenses of his mask, the Doctor’s eyes tracked around the building. Nothing looked necessarily disturbed but he sensed something off. Something or some things in the room along with him.

Behind the Doctor, the barn’s unlocked doors suddenly clattered shut. The Doctor’s sword flashed as he unleashed it from its scabbard, spinning on the doors. Someone outside, probably more than one person, had clearly slammed them shut to keep him inside. The Doctor heard them dropping a heavy plank into the crossbar cradles on the outside of the doors. Hitting them with his shoulders, the Doctor couldn’t get the doors to budge.

Rustling from the hayloft gave away his attackers. The Doctor turned again, sword ready. Two creatures emerged from the damp hay where they’d been deeply buried in order to ambush him. Their faces contorted in vicious snarls. These creatures, or two like them, were the same as the pair he’d glimpsed in the storm last night. Had they been on equal footing, the creatures would have come up to the Doctor’s ribs. Covered in dark, bristly fur, their scrawny builds consisted of skin and bones and stringy muscle. Long muzzles extended from their faces, below beady eyes and twitching ears, which last night the Doctor had mistaken for masks like his own. More importantly, the two half-men, half-animal creatures in the rafters were carrying a couple of battered crossbows too big for their scabrous claws, which they aimed at the Doctor and fired.

The Doctor heard the crossbow strings twang, almost one on top of the other. With superhuman speed, he brought his sword around unerringly. The blade deflected one of the bolts, sending it spinning into the wall of the barn. The second bolt struck home, in the left side of the Doctor’s chest. Punching through the layers of his cloak and clothing, the barb drove itself deep into his flesh and wedged there.

Several more creatures exploded from the piles of damp hay on the ground floor of the barn. Obviously they’d been hiding there for a while, completely still, barely breathing, in order to ambush the Doctor. Small and stringy but fast and surprisingly strong, they wore scuffed leather armour and other bits and pieces too big for them cobbled from human armour and clothing. Of the three on the ground level, two carried swords and the other wielded a double-headed battle axe. Virmen, the ratlike humanoids were considered nothing more than a rumour in some parts of the Eight Kingdoms. Living on the outskirts of civilisation or sometimes beneath cities themselves, virmen scavenged food and tools and clothing from human beings and other races to live. They could be a threat to unwary travellers or adventurers but kept to themselves if they could. The Doctor had no idea what they were doing here or why they were attacking him. They were unlikely to be allied with his Lord’s enemies.

The Doctor grabbed for the crossbow bolt sticking out of his chest and ripped it free. The bolt’s head was barbed in such a way that it inflicted more injury when removed in such a fashion and it came away trailing tatters of greyed skin and black cloth, but the Doctor appeared not to notice. His sword swept around. The closest virmen attacked without skill, without a plan, just raw aggression. Sword raised in both paws, they hacked at the Doctor. The Doctor’s sword crashed off their pockmarked blade with a clang of steel. The virmen reeled back and the Doctor resisted following through with lethal force.

Above, the two virmen armed with crossbows hurried to reload. Bolts held between their teeth, they pulled back on stiff strings. Below, the other two virmen threw themselves at the Doctor. The creature with the battle axe appeared to be their leader. Pale patches crossed his dark fur in an almost cowlike pattern. He attacked, wildly swinging his axe from side to side. The Doctor was stronger but his thinner blade wasn’t ideal for turning aside the heavy axe. He retreated, blocking the blows as best he could.

From overhead, the two crossbow virmen aimed and fired. The Doctor heard the strings and kept moving to avoid them. One bolt narrowly missed his back. He spun and the second bolt flew right by the beak of his mask. Sweeping his sword around one-handed, the Doctor created a lethal arc that backed the other three virmen up for a moment. With his other hand, the Doctor formed a conjuring gesture. A green ghastlight, like the one he had used to light his trip into the supposedly abandoned town the night before, flamed to life in his palm. This ghastlight, however, was duller yet hotter, more forceful. Still moving, the Doctor pitched the ghastlight into the chest of one of the virmen. A green, sparking explosion picked the creature up and hurled him to the far side of the barn, where he landed hard and dropped his sword.

The two ratlike humanoids in the hayloft reloaded their crossbows again. The Doctor conjured up a second ghastlight, even larger and with more force behind it. Old as the building was, the loft sagged under the weight of the damp hay it held. Its rafters looked weak and warped. The Doctor threw his ghastlight at the central pillar holding the loft aloft, right below the two virmen’s feet. Wood shattered from the green blast, spraying splinters across the room. The floor of the loft buckled and broke, collapsing under the two virmen and the small mountain of hay. The whole arrangement crashed down, the virmen losing their weapons and winding up buried under the debris.

The last two virmen attacked, sword and axe slashing at the Doctor’s midsection. He knocked the leader backward. His sword rang off the other virmen’s shortsword. They clattered, wrapping around one another, and the Doctor disarmed the creature. He put a shallow slash across the virmen’s shoulder and sent it reeling backward, bleeding through its fur.

Shrieking, their leader redoubled his efforts and brought their axe around in wide sweeps. The Doctor couldn’t spare a hand to conjure another ghastlight, he needed both on his sword’s grip. Pushing back, he deflected the axe blade again and again. Waiting for his moment, the Doctor kicked the virmen leader in the chest. The virmen sprawled backward. The Doctor swung around hard, knocking the axe out of their hands and then looming over them. The Doctor lay the edge of his sword across the virmen’s throat. With a swift jerk, he could have sliced the rat-man’s throat. The virmen leader glared defiantly at him, chisel teeth bared, and refused to beg or surrender.

Behind his mask, the Doctor cleared his throat with a grating sound. His voice sounded rusty and strained through too tight of a space, like it hadn’t been used in a long time.

“I do not want to harm you,” the Doctor said.

The virmen hesitated for a few moments more, as if regarding what the Doctor had to say. The Doctor couldn’t even be sure if the virmen spoke Common. The two crossbow-wielding virmen dug their way out of the ruins of the loft. The other two, who had fought with swords, recovered but waited with uncertainty about what they should do. Eventually, once he realised the Doctor wasn’t going to slit his throat at the first sign of movement, the virmen leader turned and barked something at the barn doors.

Something rattled and clanked outside the barn. With the crossbar removed, the doors creaked open. The Doctor kept his sword pressed to the virmen’s throat. As the entrance opened wider, small, hairy figures clustered at the gap. More virmen, both male and female, dressed in scavenged armour or clothing and holding an array of old weaponry. Some held the leashes of savage-looking rats the size of dogs. Beady eyes fixed on the Doctor, assessing. The Doctor kept his sword against their leader’s neck with one hand and raised his other hand as if beseeching the horde. He couldn’t win against them all. The Doctor and his kind were difficult to kill but far from invulnerable. He didn’t bleed, or need to breathe any more than he ate or drank or slept, but beheading him would finish him off, or removing the tightly wound sack of esoteria that sat in his chest in place of a heart. As a swordsman, the Doctor was no better than the average knight. The vast majority of his magical ability was concentrated in one area, and beyond that his combat magic was negligible.

“I mean you no harm,” the Doctor repeated, his voice a little clearer on the second attempt. “I am not your enemy.”

Virmen hesitated, not knowing what to do. Their dog-sized hunting rats strained at their leashes, mouths frothing. The humanoid rats looked to their leader with the pale patches.

“Humans, stop us taking. Killing us when see us. We kill first,” the virmen leader said in strangled Common.

“I am not human, not any longer,” the Doctor said.

The virmen didn’t seem to know what to make of that. “You come to stop us taking.”

“No, I have my own purpose. You are here to gather food, tools and clothing left behind by those escaping the plague, I assume? We are both here for the spoils, but our purposes need not counter one another.”

“What you here for?”

“Bodies, for the bodies of those who died.”

“Why for?”

“To serve my Lord. Come, I will show you.”

Sheathing his sword, the Doctor led a procession of virmen back through the town’s mud and stone streets. His cloak furled behind him. The virmen following him looked curious but wary, weapons ready in their clawed hands and hunting rats kept close. The Doctor showed no sign of the crossbow wound in his chest slowing him down or in any way paining him.

Returning to the courtyard, they found the bodies the Doctor had already lined up, wrapped in sheets or soiled clothes. Not as many as the Doctor would have preferred before beginning but he had an impatient audience and it wouldn’t make much difference in the long run. The Doctor stopped at the head of the courtyard, dozens of pairs of dead feet pointed toward him. Virmen milled around to the sides.

“Now, watch,” the Doctor said.

The Doctor stood back, raising his arms, and he tilted his head toward the sky. Deep and guttural, another voice started from behind the mask. It went on and on, the Doctor not breathing, until it seemed he was only a conduit for the sound rather than its creator. Something reached across from the other side. Virmen backed away. A glow began to form around the Doctor, or an absence. Blackness poured over his frame, purple sparks marking the horizons of said blackness.  He continued chanting in some alien and ancient tongue.

The Doctor absorbed all the power he could and lowered his arms and masked face. With the virmen keeping their distance, the Doctor walked stiffly to the first corpse among the rows. The first body the Doctor had found in the inn, with its plague scabs and missing eyes. The Doctor pulled the glove off his right hand. His flesh was as withered and grey as any corpse, fingernails yellowed. He lay his hand across the dead body’s face. Energy travelled from his palm, the bare skin, into the corpse’s mouth.

Stiff with rot, the eyeless corpse started to spasm. Dried muscles and sinews crackled under the skin. A fresh wave of rotting stench belched out of the corpse’s mouth and, spine cracking, it sat upright. Virmen scrambled to stay clear. Mouth working as if trying to speak, the grey and plague-ridden body stiffly stood and waited as if for orders.

The Doctor moved swiftly to the next body, covering its mouth and doing the same, and then the next, and the next. Behind him, the bodies thrashed and struggled to their feet. They were slow and sluggish, bones and muscles creaking, pieces sloughing off of them in places. Their sallow skin took on a faint glow immediately after resurrection that quickly faded. The Doctor repeated the process again and again for all of the corpses present. By the time he reached the end of the last line, the Doctor looked haggard but still had some of the black and purple energy hanging around him. Knowing its effects could be unpredictable around living things, like the virmen, the Doctor dispelled the last of the energy carefully. He wrestled his glove back onto his right hand.

Watching, the virmen stayed back. If they intended on attacking the Doctor, now seemed to be the right time. He looked like he could barely raise his sword. It dawned on them, however, that he now had an army at his back, almost forty walking corpses, zombies, dumbly waiting for orders. The Doctor forced himself to stand straight.

“Spread out, but stay within the confines of this town. Find your brothers and sisters who are still sleeping, find all the other human corpses in their buildings and beds, in the street or shallow graves, and return them here. Arrange them as I had arranged you, so that I may wake them.”

The Doctor directed some of his new assistants more forcefully, to make sure they actually spread out. Thralls were not the best at lateral thinking. They ignored the virmen as they shuffled by. The virmen looked on in fear and awe. Like ants, but in slow motion, the undead swarmed in and out of buildings, breaking down doors or shattering windows as they looked for corpses to bring back to the courtyard. The Doctor and virmen watched them work with tireless industry.

“The lord you work for,” the virmen leader stumbled over words. “This is Dark Lord?”

“Yes, that’s right, although He has many names,” the Doctor said.

“You make war for him?”

“Mostly I make soldiers.” The Doctor gestured toward the industrious zombies. “But I command them in battle as well, yes. You might consider me one of His generals, in human terms, but we aren’t so much for titles as all those lords from the Eight Kingdoms.”

“We feel Dark Lord’s call to lesser races. Like hook in head. But we not go.”

“That’s perfectly alright, soon all races will have to join or submit I suppose! But it’s not really my area.”

“War is good for my people. Much taking left after armies go. Much taking on battlefield.” The lead virmen gestured with his axe. “More places like here. We find it empty and thank rat gods. How you find this place?”

“Agents of the Dark One are everywhere. One of them passed through here, weeks ago, and passed the plague infection onto some of the townspeople. We allow the plague to take hold and burn through the population. When the survivors move on, that’s when one of my kind appears to raise those left behind as soldiers in the Dark Lord’s army. His agents sow, and I reap the harvest.”

Thralls blundered in and out of buildings, some of which the Doctor had already visited. A couple, however, came lumbering back with fresh corpses slung over their shoulders. The virmen, most of whom didn’t understand the conversation their leader was having with the Doctor, continued to look uneasy.

“My people, many times, blamed for plague and disease even in places we are not.”

“The Dark Lord accepts all without judgements, you might want to reconsider your reaction to His call.”

“This.” The virmen leader looked at the undead men, women and children shuffling around the square. “Not how war done.”

“Not typically, no.”

“Dark One kills people with plague, makes bodies to fight.”

The Doctor waved one hand. “Little people die all the time for no reason, especially in war. They die of dirty water, or in a fall, or in a raid, or in their beds. This way, their deaths serve a purpose. Their deaths serve the Dark Lord, as mine did.”

“Your death served Dark Lord?”

“Apparently, I don’t remember it either way. I don’t remember anything from before, about who this body belonged to. But I’ve seen enough death to know normally it serves no purpose at all, so at least these people, they have that.”

More zombies returned and clumsily lined up the bodies they carried with those already dropped to one end of the courtyard. The Doctor seemed to have fully recovered his strength. Once there were enough corpses, the Doctor would repeat the ritual and reanimate the next lot. So it would continue until the town was cleared of plague victims, and the Doctor would leave with them to return to the Dark One’s battlelines.

“Take whatever your people need, I only require the bodies,” the Doctor said. “We’ve no need to fight one another. The things these people left behind should serve a purpose as well.”

Nodding, the virmen leader backed away. Although expressions were difficult to read on his rodentine face, the tip of his wormy tail twitched nervously after their conversation. He barked something at the other virmen and they slunk away. The Doctor supervised his thralls. Although the mask on his face made his expression impossible to see, the Dark Lord’s necromancer fairly beamed with satisfaction.

By the time the Doctor’s task was complete, and all the dead had been collected and resurrected, the sun was sinking rapidly in the west. The Doctor rode atop his black destrier again. A vast, shambling horde of undead, nearly three hundred strong, massed after him. They drained through the streets and out the town gates like a receding flood.

Outside town, the virmen organised their takings into wagons made from mismatched and scavenged parts. Male, female and child virmen all worked together. Hulking ratbeasts were tethered to the wagons, mutants the size of bears. The Doctor spotted their leader with the pale patches in his fur and raised one hand in farewell.

“Perhaps we will meet again, on the battleground after the fighting has finished,” the Doctor said. “You to take yours, and me to take mine!”

The virmen leader raised one clawed hand in acknowledgement, his pointed face unreadable. The Doctor took his reins again in both hands, moving only slowly so the horde could keep up. Looking down the empty road, he focused on the distance. War brewed on the horizon, between the living and the dead.

======

Sean: Tempted to lie and say this one was inspired by the Lich rather than Wererats, but that would be dishonest. First moment to come to mind for this story, and often there is a key moment which is my first thought when putting a story together, was that moment of being in an abandoned town on a stormy night and seeing two child-sized figures, seemingly masked, running around in the dark. So it was the Wererats, or rather virmen, I had in mind from the very beginning, and not the Doctor.

I say tempted to lie because I love wererats and rodentine humanoids, and I’m pretty sure I could come up with more for them to do later. I think the very first piece of completely original fiction I tried to write was a book about a group of werewolves and wererats taking over a mall during a late night event, attacking and then stalking the humans inside, a long, long time ago. What do you know, I just tracked down the original txt file with that story. It is not good.

Obviously a lot of fantasy stories, at least those that are following the Lord of the Rings vein, boil down to grand battles between goodest good and unquestionable, unrelenting evil. But evil is so rarely just evil, so I wanted to get a bit of that perspective, and I’m really not a fan of ‘Evil Races’, I tend to have a lot of sympathy for them, but in another story the virmen would just be a low level encounter for the heroes to mow their way through so that’s kind of what I’m going for here.

I’ll also admit calling a character ‘The Doctor’ is probably inadvisable to make them stand out in any way, some associations are hard to get away from. But I’ve been down that path before, in Kill Switch 3 one of the two main characters gets named ‘Homer’ and although that’s a big, yellow shadow to get out from under it ended up working for me by the end of the story. Your mileage may vary, of course.

Next Week’s Inspiration: Vine Blight

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