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 Dustpaw : The Smallest Plaything (1 of 5)

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DanielCoffey
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PostSubject: Dustpaw : The Smallest Plaything (1 of 5)   Thu Aug 30, 2012 10:49 am

While I was playing Everquest 2 in 2006/2007, I got into writing much longer stories... in fact some of them were pretty huge, approaching twenty pages of A4. You may need a good while to sit down and fully enjoy these. I have split them into chunks so you won’t be faced with a massive “wall-o-text”.

The first one, The Smallest Plaything, is broken into sections but there is a scene change at the beginning of each section. Make sure you read it carefully. Each chunk begins with the present-day (at the time of writing) character writing about their past.

My first Everquest 2 character was a Dwarf Templar called Helixson (named after my Everquest Live Cleric). While he had no stories of his own, I did use him as a supporting character when I started writing about Dustpaw, my Ratonga Wizard.

When roleplaying a Ratonga, you had to get used to their speech characteristics. There were many versions of the Ratonga “accent” so it was quite hard to be consistent. Ratonga were also split between the city-born and the deep tunnel clans. The ones who grew up in Freeport were more... cosmopolitan. The deep tunnel Ratonga were considered more traditional.

In my stories I had to ask the other players how they wanted their accents written down. The Xzott had an unusual (even for Ratonga) accent and would say "Tells The Xzott abouts yourself." whereas my character would have said "Tell The Xzott about yusself. The player of Meerka did not have any accent at all and just wrote her chat in plain English. Talk about confusing!

A note about Belaska... the deep tunnel Ratonga revere Belaska the Ancestress. She is a legend among the deep clans, embodying all that is good and cunning about the Ratonga race. She keeps her fur clean and shiny, she is swift and stealthy and she can feel the Dance of the Earth through her feet - something that deep tunnel Ratonga say the city-born have lost the ability to do.

Where necessary I have given a cast list at the top of the first page. Many of my friends appeared in the stories (mostly Missus Meerka and The Xzott). It is highly suggested that you read the stories in order as presented below and please remember - some of them are LONG...

PART 1 : The Smallest Plaything
PART 2 : The Gate of Fear
PART 3 : Meeting the Family
PART 4 : Making a Man...
PART 5 : Face in the Crowd

“The Smallest Plaything” is the story of how a tiny Ratling was rescued from the Deep Tunnels by a mysterious “no-fur” and brought to the surface world. The no-fur had planned for the ratling to be taken to the great City of Qeynos, but as they say... “The best laid plans of mice and men...”

===



“Food would be scarce, clean water scarcer still.
Fights were common, injuries often debilitating,
sometimes fatal. When one of the newest ratlings
refused to give up a scrap of food to the bully,
there were only two. Then one.”


===

RP Note : Young Dustpaw is now a member of Vermin on Antonia Bayle having had his ear tweaked in a friendly way by Mister Nuzzle. I created Dustpaw in August 2006 as my first Ratonga character and also my first pure caster.

The Dustpaw you see in front of you today wears good clothes of excellent and obviously magical nature. He is fit, healthy and his fur is a rich glossy black. Though very short for his age (you might mistake him for an adolescent), he is actually a young adult. He walks with a quiet confidence. He is agile and alert, eyes bright and constantly watching. He has a Deep Tunnel accent when speaking Ratonga but has trained himself to speak 'no-fur' when speaking other languages and rarely lisps unless stressed. He is much changed from the first day he arrived in Freeport, oh yes!

The characters in this story that you will need to know a little about are as follows :

Mister Xzott - a powerful Ratonga Inquisitor of the Silver Circle Guild, and semi-retired due to the player of Xzott becoming a father recently.

Helixson - a mysterious no-fur who young Dustpaw encounters. He is actually a retired alt of mine, a Dwarf Templar and Carpenter in Qeynos.

Missus Meerka - a Ratonga Necromancer, in-game married to Mister Xzott, formerly of the Silver Circle guild, now retired due to the player of Meerka leaving EQ2.

The Lore of this story is entirely my own - I was not aware at the time of the relationship between the Ratonga and the Roekillik, or of the way no-furs in the deep tunnels would be treated. Use the old grain of salt when reading this.

I hope you like it...

==============

"Tells the Xzott abouts yourself..." the Xzott had commanded.

Dustpaw rubbed idly at the sensitive fur just in front of an ear. "Tells the Xzott abouts yourself..." was all very well, but where to begin? Where? He glanced around his little room, looking for inspiration.

He was perched on a stool with a hard-wearing blue fabric covering, just in front of his writing table - the one which had been in the room when he moved in just over week ago. He shuffled the stack of parchment again, selecting a sheet with a clear and even colouring. The vellum felt cool and soft under his pads. Nice. The candle was new. The inkwell was brimming and the jar of quills was full. Why could he not find any words... He stared again at the smooth sheet. Words... any words...

===

In the tunnels below Norrath there were many Ratonga colonies. Many. But despite the press of furry bodies living and working together, the tunnels and Deeps between the colonies were long, twisting and dangerous. Very long, in fact. While it was, technically, possible to travel from one side of the world to the other through the tunnels, no Ratonga had ever done so. Most stayed in the township of their birth, occasionally venturing to a nearby colony in search of a mate or for a particularly important business deal. The colonies looked after their own... within reason.

When a low status female gave birth to a "bad-luck" litter, she could not look forward to much help. Among the Ratonga, a "bad-luck" litter was defined as one in which more than half of the ratlings were born dead or deformed. Small imperfections could be ignored or hushed up, but even healthy siblings from a "bad-luck" litter would find many doors closed to them. When only four of Chrrta's first litter survived the first week, and when Chrrta herself died shortly after from injuries sustained during the difficult birth, her mate severed his ties with the litter. Severed his ties and almost all hope of survival for the four ratlings. He left the colony completely, presumably for one further away where news of his shame would not spread.

The four ratlings were passed from one wet-nurse to another, always last to feed, always left hungry. Soon there were only three for the foster-parents to worry about. When the ratlings were weaned, they were abandoned to forage with the other orphaned ratlings on the fringes of the society. There on the outskirts, the strongest and fastest preyed on the weak and slow. Only by proving their worth could they regain access to the facilities of the township.

Food would be scarce, clean water scarcer still. Fights were common, injuries often debilitating, sometimes fatal. When one of the newest ratlings refused to give up a scrap of food to the bully, there were only two. Then one.

He had no name yet. Only the oldest had names. The bully had a name. He was called Kreevil. His two "henchmen" were Stripetail and Twoclaw. Kreevil decided he wanted a plaything and he chose the smallest ratling. This ratling had dark fur which made him hard to spot. That was fun. He was the smallest, and this was fun too. He was also a little slower and less agile than the others - less able to dodge Kreevil's missiles. This particularly was fun.

Kreevil had a lot of fun with this ratling. The beatings were commonplace. The tail-pulling was routine. The name calling, the stealing of its scraps, the pushing, shoving and biting. All fun. Unlike the other ratlings, this one had realised that retaliating or complaining only brought more pain. Yes, this ratling still looked at Kreevil with fear in its eyes, yes it still cowered when Kreevil walked past but there was something else that Kreevil did not understand. This ratling was taking all this fear, all this pain, all this hate and screwing it up into a little tight ball in a dark place deep inside itself. In a vague way, Kreevil sensed this and he took pleasure in picking on his plaything but he did not understand that he was creating a tool for his own destruction...

===

New ratlings came and went but always Kreevil's plaything was the smallest... the slowest... the hungriest. Eventually, though, a day came when Kreevil tired of his plaything. Hurting it was not fun any more. Stealing its scraps was not fun, throwing dirt at it was not fun. Even pulling its tail, his favourite game, was not fun any more. The plaything would not cry out. It would not beg. It would just lie there and take the fear, the pain and the hate and screw it up in that deep, dark place. Kreevil could not understand what was happening - he only sensed that the control of his plaything had passed from his paws.

At his command, Stripetail and Twoclaw found his plaything and brought it to the very edge of the cavern in which the colony huddled. Few torches burned there. The other ratlings gathered at the edge of the darkness and watched, quivering in fear and Kreevil noticed this. With a wicked glint in his eyes and a twitch of his whiskers, he gave the command...

Kill it...

Stripetail and Twoclaw did their best, but there in the near blackness the plaything's dark fur saved it. Stripetail swung his right paw, dirty claws outstretched but lost his balance and struck Twoclaw instead. Twoclaw, who was holding the plaything by the shoulders yowled in pain and let go. The plaything fell and tumbled down the heap of refuse into the darkness.

Kreevil snarled his disappointment and peered over the edge. His keen eyes could just make out the unmoving shape of his plaything far below in the dust. Far below, near the tunnel to the Underfoot.

Kreevil called out to it. "I's sees yus, plaything. I's finished with yus..." Frustrated with having his fun spoiled, he tossed a piece of debris down the slope and laughed as it landed fully on his plaything, kicking up a cloud of dust which hung in the still air. He grinned, as an idea came to him...

Beyond, just through the tunnel were the Dustpaws... those who crawled in the dust. Below him in the dirt, his plaything, sprawled unmoving. He called out...

"Crawl away, plaything. Crawl away to yus new family. Yus is a Dustpaw now! Banished! Shamed! Crawl in the dust and never come back, Dustpaw! If yus come back, I's will kill yus... understand?"

There was no reply...

"I's will kill yus, Dustpaw!"

===

That was when the no-fur came...


Last edited by DanielCoffey on Thu Sep 13, 2012 11:55 am; edited 4 times in total
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DanielCoffey
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PostSubject: Re: Dustpaw : The Smallest Plaything (1 of 5)   Thu Aug 30, 2012 10:50 am


*snap*

Dustpaw blinked and looked down at the spreading blot of blue ink on the sheet of vellum... ruined! With a trembling paw, he dropped the broken quill into the bin. "No wonder it had broken," he thought, as he read the part-completed page, "I's too tense!" He put the spoiled sheet on one side to be scraped later and tried to relax...

"Hard times, yis, hard times, but Kreevil did not kill I's... because that was when the no-fur came..."

===

The no-fur wore metal instead of fur. The no-fur was quite short like the Ratonga. Not *as* short, but still a lot shorter than most no-furs they had heard about. The no-fur had shineys. The no-fur wanted permission to learn. Just learn. In return, he would pay shineys to the Ratonga leaders in the township. He did not want food or water. He did not want a place to stay. He just wanted to learn...

Some whispered that he was a Khazad, a Dwarf. Some whispered that he worshipped a devil-god named Brell and should be sent away. Some whispered that he was going to steal their ratlings and should be killed... but most whispered that his shineys were pure silver and should be accepted. The no-fur stayed...

... but the plaything did not know this yet.

With a ragged groan, he rolled onto his side and peered upwards to the top of the refuse heap. Through tear-streaked eyes he could just make out the hated shapes of Kreevil and his cronies heading back to the lights nearer the township. His ears still rang with the last words Kreevil had shouted down to him...

"I's will kill yus, Dustpaw!"

I's will kill yus... Dustpaw! - Dustpaw! He had a name at last!

For a few minutes, there was no movement at the bottom of the refuse heap. No sound, except perhaps for the very faintest of sobs. Dustpaw so very much wanted to die, but he did not. Could not. Not while Kreevil lived... Eventually the sobs died down to be replaced with faint groans and winces as he probed his injuries. The most serious was a dull ache in the left side of his chest. Some ribs were terribly sore and the flesh over them tender. The wound bled slowly, matting his already filthy rags to his fur. Dustpaw sat up and looked around him...

Barely yards ahead was the entrance to the Underfoot. Behind was the refuse heap. A simple choice. Here in the gloom, the deep blackness of the tunnel seemed to suck at his senses. He had never been as far as the Underfoot... terrible things lurked there, waiting... waiting for a snack like a young ratling to crawl past. Unbidden, his mind filled in the details...

All mothers told their young of the things waiting for them in the Underfoot if they were bad. Don't chew yus claws or the Biter-of-Tails will get yus! Don't pull her fur or the Biter-of-Tails will get yus! Do as yus elders tell yus or the Biter-of-Tails will get yus! Always the Biter-of-Tails. There were other horrors, but none so fearful as the Biter-of-Tails. What few details the mothers gave the ratlings were given awful flesh and form by the bullies - that was the main way Kreevil held his influence over the pack of orphaned ratlings. Do as *I's* say or the Biter-of-Tails will get yus!

Dustpaw stared again at the darkness ahead of him and reached a decision. What could the Biter-of-Tails do to him that Kreevil had not done... or tried to do? Nothing, that's what. Nothing.

Somewhere in the darkness were the other Dustpaws - those who crawled in the dust. He had never seen them. He only knew that they were Ratonga like him, those who were cast out. Those who were too poor, too weak or too fearful to interest even the lowliest bully. Everybody had to look down on someone. Everybody. So at the very bottom were the Dustpaws. Now he was one too.

With a last hateful glance over his shoulder, Dustpaw pressed his bloody rags to his chest and half crawled, half staggered into the tunnel.

Unseen eyes watched him go.

===

His mouth was dry and full of dust. His wounds ached and his thin muscles were stiffening with the effort of crawling, but ahead he could hear running water...

Suddenly he heard a nearby sound - something scraped on rock barely yards behind him but the blackness was so absolute that he could not see. Panic filled his throat with bile and his heart pounded in his chest. He turned towards the noise but fell as his head swam. He imagined some terrible creature, tracking him, following the scent of blood... he *had* to reach the water! Finding his bearings by sound alone, Dustpaw redoubled his efforts and scuttled onwards.

Finally, when he reckoned the water must be very close, he could crawl no more and fell... onto sand. Sand? There was no sand down here, was there? He opened an eye and saw a faint shimmering light. There was water here... a stream of clear water... and a sandy shelf covered in the tracks of tiny creatures. A few feet above his head there was some lichen - the source of the light - where you got water in the tunnels, you got lichens and some of them gave off light. Not much... but just enough to see in this blackness.

Heedless of his own safety or of his pursuer, Dustpaw dragged himself across the damp sand to the water. It was burningly cold, as all water was this deep, but it was clean... was plentiful... and was his! He drank until his belly bulged. That took care of his thirst and for a short while, his hunger too.

"I's must get clean - wash off the blood, yis"

Getting into the water would be fatal - it was too cold and would draw what little warmth he had away from him. He looked around at his surroundings with more clarity.

At the far end of the sandy shelf where the water rushed into a dark hole and disappeared, he saw something... a blanket and some other small things. He began to move towards them but froze - the faint light showed something else too... footprints. Not the soft padded prints of a Ratonga - these were booted heavy prints... of a no-fur!

Fear clutched at his mind... but then survival took over. "Steal the blanket and things. They belongs to yus now". He rushed forwards, ignoring the pain and fresh warmth in the fur near his chest wound.

A blanket, good. Take that. The small things... paper wrapped things. He snatched one and felt it. Hard. Square. Flat. Gives a little. Smells of... food!!! He ripped open the paper and four flat slabs fell out onto the blanket. Food! He crammed part of one into his mouth and stuffed the rest into his tunic "for laters". He pulled at the heavy blanket and lost his balance. Something round and white and shiny fell out of the folds of fabric and began to roll towards the water. With a squeak of alarm, he dived for it, grabbing it just before it disappeared into the dark water. Groaning in pain, he brought it to his eyes and whiskers. Round, bigger than a fist, hard, cold. In the light, he could just make out that it was see-through and had something inside. Something that moved...

... a scene of a beautiful city with spires. It is snowing. Shake the globe and it snows again. And again...

... a treasure! A shiney! A real shiney!

===

Ignoring the blanket, Dustpaw stuffed the shiney deep into his tunic against his stomach and turned. He finished chewing the slab of food and swallowed. It was good - already he could feel some of his strength and alertness coming back. What do do? He could stay here with the blanket and food - there was water and the place had clearly been used as a camp by a no-fur... but what if the no-fur came back and discovered the food and shiney gone? The no-fur would be cross and hurt Dustpaw. The shiney! Of course! With the shiney he would be allowed back into the town... not the outskirts, but the town *proper* where Kreevil could not get him! He could go back! He would have status!

Hope lent his feet wings and Dustpaw scurried back down the tunnel towards where he thought the town was... and almost tripped. He paused for a moment to get his bearings... now in the total darkness of the main tunnel, he could easily get lost or fall and hurt himself.

"Use yus nose, Dustpaw!" he muttered and scented the air. Yes, there was his scent, laced with fear and blood... and there was something else... something... yes, the scent that was round the no-fur camp - it was here too. Strong. Different. Never mind - follow the fear and blood, it will lead back to the refuse heap. Dustpaw lurched upright again and scampered past an area of deep shadow off towards the township...

===

"Dratted ratling", muttered the no-fur from his hiding place in the darkness. "I push him to the hidey-hole and he bolts straight back to the colony! That fall must have rattled his brains!"

The no-fur got to his feet and stretched. Flipping down the darkened visor of his metal helm, he concentrated... and was rewarded with the view inside the visor flooding with greenish grainy light. The tunnel went... that way...

As quietly as he was able, the no-fur followed the flapping feet of the ratling. It did not take him long to catch up... and when he did, he groaned inwardly. It looked like the little fellow had ran back to the rubbish heap and straight into the arms of that... Kreevil? Yes, that Kreevil and his two croneys. Even now, they were kicking and punching the small ratling who was curled into a defensive ball.

The ones named Twoclaw and Stripetail hauled the ratling upright so that Kreevil could shout at it face to face. The no-fur could not hear all of the high-pitched sounds, but the message was clear.

"Yus came back, Dustpaw... yis yus did. So I's going to kill yus."

Kreevil drew back a fist and punched the ratling hard in the stomach. What happened next suprised the no-fur very much indeed - but not as much as it suprised Kreevil!

... there was a crunch of breaking glass...
... Kreevil took a step back and looked down at the ratling's stomach...
... liquid soaked the tunic of the ratling and dribbled to the floor...
... a howling noise issued from the ratling's throat and it began to struggle...
... Twoclaw and Stripetail redoubled their grips...
... Kreevil stepped back as the ratling reached out for his face...
... the howling increased in volume...
... the ground began to shake...

... the cavern went white...

... the noise came...

===

When the no-fur's vision returned, the cavern was a very different place.

The booming echoes still rolled and rumbled from wall to wall, but the scene was now brightly lit by burning rubbish. The air had a tinny taste of raw magic. Blinking hard to clear the purple dancing spots from his eyes, the no-fur looked at the centre of a bare circle of rock where the ratling crouched. A *nearly* bare circle of rock. Charred body parts and gore were strewn about. Here, a paw, there a scrap of torn fur... there the larger part of a carcass, burning smokily. A tail... another. Everywhere, blood and smoke. At the centre of it all, a *very* scared ratling.

Already, alarm bells and angry voices could be heard from the colony and flickering torches were moving towards the scene of destruction. Quickly, the no-fur reached a decision. He dashed forwards from the cover of the tunnel and scooped the tiny ratling into his arms. It was light - very light. That was good. It was also shaking and twitching. Not good. Fortunately, as he turned and sprinted away into the tunnel, the ratling fainted and lost consciousness. The twitching stopped.

Darkness...

Total darkness...
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DanielCoffey
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PostSubject: Re: Dustpaw : The Smallest Plaything (1 of 5)   Thu Aug 30, 2012 10:50 am


In his room in Temple Street, Dustpaw paused in his writing. Something had changed... oh yes, the weak daylight outside was fading and his candle had gone out. So little of the light got through the high grimy windows that he had needed some extra illumination. Pausing to get a beaker of water, he stretched and paced his tiny room.

Rummaging in his box of oddments for another candle, he muttered to himself... "I's not remember much of what happened next. What will I's tell the Xzott?"

He clambered back onto his stool and relit the half-candle he had found. "Shall I's tell him of the dreams? Will the Xzott want to know about... the dreams...?"

===

... the dream... of being jolted about in darkness, being held tightly, remembering something banging his head and crying out in pain, being soothed and having the fur on his head patted, more jolting, a sudden stop and having a strange-smelling paw across his muzzle, more jolting... and darkness...

... the dream... of being cold and shivering, probing fingers pressing his side and a sharp pain, he must have opened his eyes for a moment because he remembered a strange face - through the pain he saw eyes and a strange face that was not of a Ratonga... and darkness...

... the dream... about being wet, water on his arms and legs, the water on his belly was cold, his face and muzzle being wiped with something soft, stinging water on his side... and darkness...

... the dream... about being held close, having his head supported, something wet on his face, swallowing - a savoury, salty food-taste? - again, opening his eyes and seeing the strange face - why was only part of the face furry? - surprise and choking, must have swallowed wrongly, coughing and a pain in his side... and darkness...

... for a long time, only darkness...

===

The no-fur looked over at the sleeping form of the ratling for the thousandth time. Was it ever going to wake up? He needed it to be awake and alert before he could deal with its injuries properly. It was all very well having the power to whisk away wounds with a wave of your hand... but the mind needed to understand the body was healed also.

It had been a long flight through the tunnels - he wasn't worried about pursuit from that particular colony - from the moment the adults arrived at the scene of the ratling's first magical "outburst", they would be totally nose-blind. There was so much acrid smoke, not to mention the stench from the burst bodies that there was no way even an experienced tracker could follow him now. No, it was the other denizens they were hiding from. At one point, some enormous thing, pale and glistening had slithered from a side-tunnel and crossed his path. One squeak from the ratling and they would have been in a whole world of hurt.

Not until he had finally reached his main hidey-hole where he had stashed his supplies did the no-fur realise quite how serious the ratling's injuries were. This camp was another sandy shelf with a small rivulet of water and the ubiquitous glowing lichen, but rather than being near a convenient colony, this was far, far in the Deeps of the Underfoot. He had squeezed through the entrance hole and placed the kid on the sand before pegging the hide back across the hole - this kept any light and odours from leaking into the main tunnels, thus affording a measure of security... though far more security was offered by the sigils on the hide itself. Air arrived through the tiny channel which the rivulet of water used and exited the same way with the water. They were safe here. Safe.

It was then that he had discovered the blood on his armour - the wound on the kid's side had seeped through its rags where it had been pressed against his armour. The rags were so filthy and threadbare that he had just ripped them off. They had to go anyway - getting the wounds clean had been important. The ratling was a male, was.. hmm, older than it looked - the teeth were adult and showing a little sign of wear. The dark fur was dull, thin and brittle - the skin underneath was dry and in poor condition too. The muscles were very wasted and weak, there were some signs of joint problems in the tail - the vertebrae were prominent - he didn't know if this was normal or not at this stage. The injuries... well there were many abrasions and bruises, one or two cuts that would need stitching but the chest wound... if the ribs were broken that could mean a punctured lung... he probed as gently as he could with his fingers and was relieved to discover that the ribs, though heavily bruised seemed intact. The kid's eyelids had flickered open a little but mercifully there had been no sign of consciousness - the examination of his wound must have been excruciating. So - only one serious injury - now to get it... no, him clean.

The no-fur remembered the ratling had thrashed a little when being bathed in the cold stream - there was no time to heat any water, so he had been quick. A more thorough wash could wait till later. Towelling the ratling dry seemed to quiet him down somewhat, but the no-fur remembered the whimpers of pain when he had washed the chest wound in an antiseptic solution.

Glancing again at the sleeping ratling, listening to his even breathing, the no-fur wondered if he could get him to take more food with the pain-relieving medication. The first attempt had been successful, somewhat, until the ratling had opened his eyes and panicked. He had almost choked on the broth. The resultant coughing had obviously been most painful since he had passed out again. He had decided to let the ratling sleep. One or two healing charms were acceptable, but he had to wait... wait until he could use his full arsenal of healing prayers when the ratling was awake.

===

Slowly, Dustpaw awoke. He felt as though his mind was trying to rise from a great depth. He ran his tongue round the inside of his mouth, which tasted terrible. Taking a deeper breath, he stretched... and froze. Something was wrong! There was a tightness round his chest, which ached... and there was something over him, pressing him down... something warm and soft and... hairy?

He opened an eyelid the tiniest amount and thought he could see a faint light. Squeezing it shut again, he inhaled... carefully, slowly... letting his nose sift the air. His own smell. Leather or a pelt, preserved. Antiseptic? A whiff of food containing... meat and something else he did not recognise... a strong smell of polish... soap... and... oh, no - the no-fur! The smell from the blanket where he had found the shiney... the shiney that he took and.. and... lost? Yes, lost. Kreevil had broken his shiney and he had...

His mind roiled as he sorted his memories. Breaking noise and pain and hatred and anger and a sudden snapping of some restraint deep inside himself and reachingoutandscreamingandpowerandhatredandkreevilandlightandrelease... and... falling... and noise and the sight of three burning bodies amidst the garbage. He squeezed his eyes tight as he remembered the destruction he had caused. Where was he? Why were there no Ratonga here? Why was there a no-fur nearby? Why was he still alive?

Dustpaw opened his eyes...
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DanielCoffey
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PostSubject: Re: Dustpaw : The Smallest Plaything (1 of 5)   Thu Aug 30, 2012 10:51 am


Thinking about the few brief weeks he had been in Freeport, Dustpaw realised he was getting used to seeing so many no-furs. He had no idea the world was so full of them... and that there were so many types! Their speech was strange - their habits and customs stranger still - but when you lived in someone else's Nest, you did not speak of this.

Of course, back then in the darkness, he had never seen a no-fur before...

===

He was lying in a pile of soft furs at one side of another sandy shelf with a small stream rushing through. The roof was low, about three feet above his head. The light he had noticed was coming from a small pot carefully wedged in a niche - a lichen-pot - you scraped the glowing lichens into a pot and as long as you kept it damp, you had light. Simple, free, effective.

Sitting only a few feet away with it's back against the wall was the no-fur. Dustpaw knew from its scent that it was a male, but beyond that he could not work out much. It was sitting quite still, watching. It did not make any sudden movements nor reach for a weapon as Dustpaw pushed himself into a raised position...

... looking for the exit, but there didn't seem to be one... The stream was too small to swim in and there were no holes except... for a pegged hide... oh... *behind* the no-fur.

Looking back at the no-fur, Dustpaw noticed that it seemed to be leaning against a stack of bags and belongings. He recognised the blanket he had tried to take earlier... how much earlier? His stomach was griping again and the quantity of water he had drunk was beginning to make another problem more urgent. He squirmed a little and looked down at himself. His rags were gone! All he wore was a tight wrap of bandages holding a pad against his left ribs. He looked up at the no-fur, who hadn't moved at all.

The no-fur was about half as big again as Dustpaw. It had some coarse reddish-brown hair visible on it's head and on the lower half of its face. It was broad and strong-looking and was wearing pieces of metal on its body. Dustpaw recognised armour, but this was not of a type or material he had ever seen before. There would be a weapon... yes, over behind the no-fur, out of easy reach. Good. Dustpaw did not think he could lift the heavy hammer, but it was useful to know where the weapon was.

As though it could see his growing discomfort, the no-fur raised its head and gestured with an... eyebrow... further along the sandy shoreline. In the gloom at the edge of the light was a small pit which Dustpaw's nose told him had been used as a latrine at least once. He nodded and carefully stood. The no-fur merely turned its gaze to the pile of packages and lifted out a few small wooden bowls...

When he had finished using the sand pit, Dustpaw took the opportunity to test his injuries... they seemed well healed, except for the wound on his chest - that would stop him fleeing far. Shivering in the cold a little, Dustpaw returned to the pile of furs. It was noticeably warmer there and he was just wondering where the heat was coming from when he became aware of his own smell. He needed to wash - he smelled of dried blood - there would be no way he could hide from the no-fur smelling like this.

Noticing the ratling’s wrinkling nose and examination of his injuries, the no-fur slowly turned back towards him. He was holding a dry towel and a bar of... soap, yes, soap. Dustpaw looked at the freezing water and then at his bandages. The no-fur clearly must be offended by the smell and wanted him to wash... but the bandages were in the way. He picked at the knot holding them once and glanced up - the no-fur nodded and held out the soap again, so he snatched the bar and pulled at the bandage.

When the strips of cloth lay on the floor, Dustpaw looked aghast at his wound - it had been neatly shaved down to the skin. There were some stitches visible. It was discoloured, bruised and swollen. The colour did not look good but there seemed to be no infection. The pad that had been held on by the strips smelled strongly of the antiseptic.

Dustpaw thoroughly cleaned himself in the chilly water, even making sure the wound received its share of washing. He distinctly remembered having more scrapes and bruises than he could find... how long had he been asleep? Reaching for the towel, he patted everything dry. The towel was good! So soft and fine. Still the no-fur had not moved.

When Dustpaw stepped back towards the pile of furs, shivering strongly now, the no-fur moved aside a small pot that had been on the sand - there was a ring of stones underneath and in the middle of the small ring was a flat oval rock. The no-fur made a mystical pass over the rock with his paws... no, hands, and heat flooded the tiny cavern. A magical heating rock! From one of the bags next to him, the no-fur held out a bone comb to Dustpaw. It was longer than his paw and made of a clean white bone. Several stylised hammers had been engraved onto each side. Dustpaw crouched as near the flat rock as he dared and brushed the tangles in his thin fur. It dried fast. When he had rinsed the comb and offered it back to the no-fur, the no-fur just shook its head and made "you keep it" gestures at the comb. Dustpaw bobbed and took the comb back to the nest of furs and crawled inside.

Another pass of the hands over the flat rock and the incredible heat faded to a more meagre level. The no-fur peered into the pot, grunted and produced two bowls. He spooned out some of the contents into each bowl and reached for a pair of spoons. Making sure Dustpaw was watching, he tasted a little out of each bowl and pushed one across the sand towards Dustpaw before picking up the other.

The smell that came from the bowl made his mouth water and increased the pains in his stomach - rich meaty smells! He picked up the bowl and spoon and peered in - chunks of a starchy vegetable and something cooked and green were in a rich, well flavoured sauce. Several pieces of dark meat could be seen. They were unfamiliar to Darkpaw but his nose was telling him the food was good. So he ate.

Carefully and deliberately, the no-fur got to his feet and filled a beaker from the stream. He came over and sat on the sand next to Dustpaw. He opened a small pouch and showed Dustpaw the fine grey powder inside. He tipped a small amount out into a hand and mimed sniffing at it. Dustpaw smelled it very carefully - probably Willowfine, his nose told him. The no-fur tipped the small amount of powder into the beaker and swirled it. He took a reasonable sip himself and handed it to Dustpaw. "Drrrink..." the no-fur said.

Dustpaw widened his eyes in suprise! He didn't know no-furs could talk! The word was slow and clumsily spoken, without any of the nuances that even a young ratling could put upon a simple statement. "Drrrink..." the no-fur repeated. Dustpaw took the beaker and complied, grimacing at the slightly bitter and gritty taste. Satisfied, the no-fur took the beaker, returned to his place and sat. Pointing to himself, he spoke again...

"My-name-sound Helixson..."

Dustpaw tried the unfamiliar name in his mind before repeating it. "Helixson?" The no-fur nodded encouragingly then looked at Dustpaw expectantly... He wondered if the no-fur could even *hear* his name, let alone repeat it. Thinking of how the no-fur spoke, Dustpaw played back the sounds of his name in the same way.

"I's called Dustpaw..."

He repeated just the name part slowly and the no-fur... Helixson grinned, showing flat teeth. For a moment, Dustpaw flattened his whiskers in alarm, but the rest of the... of Helixson's body language was not hostile.

"Duhpw... Duzzpw" Helixson shook his head and tried again. "Duztpaw" Close enough.

Looking at Dustpaw clutching the furs to himself, Helixson seemed to come to a decision. He opened one of the packs and removed a few articles. One was a heavy undershirt in a dark cream colour. It was about the right size for himself but was way too big for Dustpaw. He held it up and gestured for Dustpaw to stand.

When he had slipped the garment over his head, Dustpaw saw that it came to below his knees and the sleeves were far too long. Helixson produced a belt and mimed holding his arms above his head. Dustpaw did so and when the belt was fastened, he lowered them. The excess material now hung over the belt and would not trip him up. A few quick twists and the sleeves fitted too.

Dustpaw and Helixson looked at each other...

===

Over the next few days, Dustpaw found out more about Helixson.

He was a type of no-fur called a Dwarf. He was a shaman or priest of some sort. He served a Ruler called Brell. He was in the Underfoot to learn more about the Ratonga - apparently very few in the Above Ground had ever seen one or even know of them. Very few no-furs knew anything about the Ratonga at all, and as a result did not treat them fairly. They were suspicious. Even Helixson spoke very little of the Ratongan language.

There was a place in the Above Ground called Freeport where there was a large colony of Ratonga but they were treated very badly and cheated in all their business deals. The Ruler of that stone Nest did not understand the Ratonga, so he ordered that they be cheated, beaten and robbed.

There was another stone Nest called Qeynos where there were fewer Ratonga but they were treated well. Even though the Queen of that Nest did not understand the ways of the Ratonga, she ordered that they be looked after and be given food.

In the Qeynos Nest, there was plenty of food - in the Freeport Nest there was very little and the people there had to fight each other for it.

Helixson had come to the Underfoot to learn more about the Ratonga so that the kind people in the Qeynos Nest could help them better. There was even a Ratonga Chief in the Qeynos Nest. He was a famous trader and had a fine nestmate and many shineys. His name was "Spindel of the Nest". This Chief Spindel would be happy to look after Dustpaw. He would be happy to share his food and shineys and give him a place in his Nest.

Helixson shared his food with Dustpaw too - he gave him a small bag and together they filled it with a blanket, many packets of the food-slabs that Helixson had brought and even some of the dried meat. Apparently there was so much food in Qeynos that Helixson had to keep giving it away. When he thought Helixson was asleep, Dustpaw added the bone comb, the piece of soap, a small knife and even a shiney buckle that Helixson had dropped in the sand.

===

Slowly, Dustpaw's wound healed. Helixson asked his Ruler, Brell, to help the wound heal faster - and this happened - the bruises quickly faded. All the time, Dustpaw ate - never had he seen so much food!

===

All this time Helixson did not ask Dustpaw about the day he found him, but Dustpaw thought about it. Deep inside himself he could feel something - something like a little flame - whenever he concentrated on it, it flickered and changed and evaded his thoughts.

Eventually he told Helixson, expecting to be laughed at, but Helixson just nodded and turned to one of his packs. This one was waterproof and held some books and scrolls. He took one out and showed it to Dustpaw. Though he could not find the words to explain about it, he gave it to Dustpaw.

It was written in a language that Dustpaw could not understand, but something in the pictures spoke to him. One was of a tall thin no-fur standing with a wooden staff next to it - the no-fur had its arms outstretched and fire was falling from the ceiling just in front of the no-fur. Then he saw the picture of the no-fur making a small piece of fire dance over it's paws... no, hands. When he thought of *this* picture, the flame thing inside him danced in time with his heartbeat.

Dustpaw kept the book "for laters"...

===

One day, Helixson started packing the things away. First he cleaned the pots and bowls and put them away. The furs and blankets were brushed and put away. All the little things went away. Even the flat heating rock went away. Helixson picked up all the bits and pieces that were left on the sand and buried them near the water. He filled in the latrine pit. He swept the sand clean and smooth. Soon it was hardly possible to tell that someone had been there. Then he picked up the lichen pot and its lid and gave it Dustpaw. Finally, motioning Dustpaw to be alert, he removed the pegs that held the hide that had concealed them. Clutching his metal hammer, he pulled back the hide and peered out...

There was nothing... just the darkness...

Together, they made their careful way through the tunnels. This time, however, Dustpaw walked just behind Helixson. It seemed to Dustpaw that the Dwarf saw very well in the dark for a no-fur. At times, even Dustpaw had difficulty seeing it was so black. Whenever they stopped to rest, Helixson stood guard.

Soon, the tunnels began to slope upwards and the air grew fresher... even the water began to taste different.

Still, whenever they stopped to rest, Helixson stood guard.

===

His first view of the Above Ground surprised Dustpaw greatly. Helixson told him the words in the no-fur language of the things he could see... the Sky... the Moon... the Stars... the Brokenmoon. Helixson told him that soon the Sky would become very bright and a hot thing would come out and make all the darkness go away. That soon after that, the very bright thing would go away and it would be dark again.

Helixson led Dustpaw along a trail between the rocks until they saw a thing that Helixson called the Sea. There was a floating thing called a Boat that was owned by a no-fur that could be trusted. While this no-fur did not speak Ratongan, Helixson explained that this Captain-Varlos no-fur would take Dustpaw to a safe place.

He explained that there was an Outpost that the Queen of the Qeynos Nest had created for all the people who wanted to share the Qeynos Nest's food. Helixson had to go back to the Underfoot, but if Dustpaw stayed with the Captain-Varlos no-fur and kept his fur clean, the Boat would take him to this Outpost.

Helixson talked to the Captain-Varlos no-fur for some time and Dustpaw noticed some shineys changing hands. He heard Helixson saying the word for the Qeynos Nest over and over again and the Captain-Varlos no-fur smiled and nodded his head and took the shineys. Dustpaw was not sure, but his nose told him that perhaps he should keep a close eye and nose on this Captain-Varlos.

When the Dwarf came back, he hugged Dustpaw and have him a small pouch with one large shiney in it. He said that it was a special shiney and would buy many things in the Qeynos Nest. When Dustpaw arrived in the Qeynos Nest, he was to "Follow the scent of Captain Spindel". Helixson made him repeat this in the no-fur language. Then Helixson pushed Dustpaw towards Captain-Varlos and said many more words. Dustpaw did not like the way he was being looked at, but he said nothing. He did not want to be rude to Captain-Varlos.

Captain-Varlos beckoned to Dustpaw and pointed to a space behind some coils of rope. He made "sit down" gestures and turned away and began shouting to all the other no-furs on this Boat. Dustpaw looked for Helixson and saw him standing on a tall rock waving happily as the Boat moved out into the rougher water. Dustpaw watched Helixson until he was out of sight then went to sit in the place that Captain-Varlos had pointed to.

After a while, the Boat began moving around a lot and Dustpaw did not like how this made his stomach feel. He also did not like the way the other no-furs looked at him. He especially did not like the way that the Captain-Varlos no-fur looked at him. Some of the other no-furs showed bad teeth when they looked at him. Then they made loud noises at Captain-Varlos and they would all look at him again.

Dustpaw began to feel afraid...
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DanielCoffey
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PostSubject: Re: Dustpaw : The Smallest Plaything (1 of 5)   Thu Aug 30, 2012 10:52 am


Meerka scampered up the plank from the barge and alighted on the small dock at Temple Street. The smells and noises of the district assaulted her senses. She made great pretense of smoothing her robes and sampling the air, but if truth be told, she was feeling a little out of puff. She needed to rest more and more these days - perhaps she was working too hard? No, of course not! It was the great responsibility she carried.

She pushed herself off from the bollard and made her way through the throng. One sharp glance and a warning chirrup were all it took to dissaude the group of ratlings who always hung round the dockside with their questing fingers. A visiting Barbarian did not fare so well, however, mobbed by the ratlings crying for sweetmeats all the while their associates emptied his pockets, took his buckles and cut off his buttons. Moments after the tumultuous mob descended upon their victim, they fled, leaving the man shouting curses and waving a huge fist to the empty air.

Meerka smiled - though it was no longer Home, it was sometimes good to be back in The Street. She nodded to Fedul who was performing his solitary duty... collecting the waifs and strays newly arrived from Gods knew where and educating them in the social niceties of Freeport and Temple Street in particular. Seeing her newly rounded figure, he took off his scrappy cap and gave her a flamboyant bow.

"Missis Meerka - yus is looking fine today! It seems like only yesterday when I's was welcoming yus to our lovely City. Yus looks good!"

She blushed slightly. Despite his dealings with the gangs, Fedul was about the most honest Ratonga all the new arrivals would meet. She did indeed remember him, all that time ago...

Pleasantries passed, she made her way to the Mailbox outside the old Inn. The Inn was looking more dilapidated than ever - someone had braced one of the walls with another timber - one day the whole thing would just...

Hello, what was this? There in the Mailbox was a package she recognised. It was a garment she had just made for young Dustpaw and there it was, carelessly stuffed in the wrong box! That would never do! She would deliver it to him herself! With an indignant squeak, she rounded on Innkeeper Zixi Wuggle.

"What kind of system are you running here?" she demanded, pointing to her mis-posted package... "I paid good coin for this to be delivered and here it is, stuffed in the wrong box! You are supposed to be in charge of this Mailbox! I have half a mind to get your licence revoked!"

The young Gnome bowed and scraped until Meerka relented.

"I'll deliver it to him myself, thank you! Out of my way!"

She pushed past the Innkeeper angrily, clutching the package and headed for the rickety stairs. Oh no, all the stairs! She remembered now - lots of twisting, uneven stairs. Lots of them. Oh well, she'd made a scene and folk would be watching now... up she'd have to go...

... to Dustpaw's room. Right... at... the... top, of course!

Thankfully, two of the other tenants, a young ratmaid and her brother, were in the process of moving in. There were boxes and chairs all over the top landing. One glance from the ratmaid was enough - within moments, Meerka found herself sitting down on a low padded stool while a jug of water was fetched from the pump. Maybe this whole ratling business wasn't too bad after all if this was the treatment you got!

She got her breath back and tried to offer them a silver but they refused. Instead, the brother looked at the ratmaid who just nodded. The brother dashed into the room and came back with a single orange flower. "For the beeeutiful lady, yis?" he said as he offered it to her. The ratmaid patted Meerka's paw and said "Good luck to yus!" before turning back to her unpacking.

Knocking on Dustpaw's door got no reply. Huffing in frustration, Meerka tried the handle... which turned. She called out and opened the door. Again, no reply, so she entered...

... to see young Dustpaw fast asleep with his head on his desk by the remains of a guttering candle-stub.

"Oh, Mister Dustpaw - with your door unlocked too - you are lucky not to wake up burgled! Or worse!"

A quick glance told her what had happened - drifts of vellum covered the desk and nearby floor. Worn out quills lay scattered about and the inkwell was almost dry. Exhaustion had finally caught up with little Dustpaw and he had fallen asleep at his desk.

Closing the door quietly behind her, Meerka peered round the room quickly in the dancing remains of the candlelight. Over there, a raised platform covered with mats and brightly coloured pillows. Here a mirror and stool to stand on...

"Too proud to put the mirror near the floor, I suspect...", she thought.

Against the far wall were many boxes and barrels. In an alcove was a fine teak table in a foreign style. Directly above her was a feyiron sconce, unlit. Taking the dying candle, she deftly lit the wick in the sconce.

"You *are* doing well, aren't you, Mister Dustpaw. A comfy nest, fine furnishings... what else have you got hidden in here?"

She padded over to his table and picked up some of the scattered sheets. Odd words caught her eye. A sentence attracted her attention, but flowed onto a second page. Interested, she rummaged in the drift until she found the correct one. Moments later she found herself sorting through the collected pages, placing them in order.

"Oh dear, Mister Dustpaw - you *have* had a hard time... no wonder you were so thin when I found... what is this? My name? You have written about me? Why, I remember it was just the other day when I met you for the first time..."

===

<two weeks earlier>

If anything, Temple Street looked even more crowded than usual. The weather was good, so that would explain a lot. Many of the washer-women were taking advantage of the good breeze to catch up on the laundry and, of course, the gossip. The gang of street urchins were chasing one of the cats... and Fedul was speaking to a young ratling. Fedul was holding out his hand but the ratling shook its head. Disgusted, Fedul cuffed it to the floor and gestured towards one of the garbage heaps. Picking itself up, the ratling bobbed a quick bow and scurried off.

As it passed between two of the tall buildings, something about it caught Meerka's eye. A garment it was wearing was definitely *not* Ratongan. It seemed to be some kind of dark cream under-shirt but in the foreign Khazad style, belted around the ratling's waist. Travel-stained, yes, but looking new. Her keen eyes caught more than the details of the clothing, however. The ratling was thin... painfully thin. It limped a little, as though from a recent injury and from what she could see of it's fur, it was in poor condition. Both concerned and intrigued, she strode towards Fedul.

"Fedul... who was that ratling I saw you with just now?"

Looking guilty for a brief moment, Fedul rallied and looked her up and down.

"Why, Missis Meerka, how fine yus is looking today..."

"Cut the flattery, Fedul - who was that kid?"

"The kid? Just a new waif for the like of yus and I's to feed, that is all. He is just a dustpaw."

"A what? Oh, a dustpaw. Here? In Freeport? Hmm... this I have to see. Where did you send... him? Please?"

"Ah, is yus feeling in a generous mood this afternoon? Perhaps, for a coin I's could tell yus..." he faltered as she glared at him... "Um, how about I's just tell yus anyway, because we is friends? I's sent him to the filth piles to catch Gobblers for Neezer over there. But yus should hurry because Spezi is by the filth piles too and yus know what she is like for new meat..."

At this, Meerka scampered off down the alleyways, her nose leading her to the filth piles. Sure enough, the little ratling was in battle with one of the denizens. Disgusting beasts, the Gobblers were, living on the garbage that not even a Ratonga could eat. Still, the ratling seemed to be be doing well.

She watched from the shadows as the ratling stabbed at the Gobbler with what was clearly a kitchen knife.. still, it seemed to do the job. The Gobbler staggered back on its haunches and collapsed, smoking slightly. Smoking? Had she missed something? Well, never mind - here was her chance to find out more about the ratling.

As she observed the ratling rummaging through the remains of the Gobbler for the acid-sac, she got her first good look at him. He was very thin and small - very young, she guessed. Scrappy dark fur with almost bald patches spoke of long times with little to eat. The tail... the tail was emaciated and the individual vertebrae could be distinguished under the skin. Not good. To her eyes, he was clearly only half a meal away from starvation. She decided she had to do something, right now!

She smoothed her fur and put on her best smile.

"Hello there," she said... and was startled at the response...

The ratling's whole body stiffened in terror and it flung itself to the floor, groveling...

"It's alright - I'm not going to hurt you..." she said as she reached out slowly to pat the ratling's forearm...

It shrieked in terror and began to babble...

"No kill I's! No kill I's!"

"Hey, hey," she said softly, "stop that - I'm not going to kill you!"

She was upset by the ratling's response. All she had done was give it a friendly greeting as she would like to have received. How badly had this poor scrap been mistreated?

She continued, puzzled and concerned..

"I'm Meerka and married to Mister Xzott and a member of the Silver Circle. That's like a big family, a Nest, but I know you won't know that yet. I just wondered if there was anything I could do to help you, Mister ...?"

The quivering ratling raised it's muzzle from the ground and in a terrified voice replied...

"Dustpaw. I's... Dustpaw."

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DanielCoffey
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PostSubject: Re: Dustpaw : The Smallest Plaything (1 of 5)   Fri Aug 31, 2012 9:24 pm

Apparently the player of Meerka was quite upset and taken aback by the first words from Dustpaw. She was used to it being a RP server but never guessed that was how I would respond. She was rather upset.

Dustpaw was fresh off the boat from the Isle of the Overlord and was still doing the Temple Street newbie quests when she came over and offered to help. Being a master Tailor she knew how much difference a decent backpack and simple armour could make to a new player.

She dragged Dustpaw off to one of the crafting rooms, sat him down in an alcove with an armful of food and told him not to move. He did stare a lot while she was working... until The Xzott arrived, when Dustpaw spent more time staring at the floor and trying to look small. Confident and powerful, The Xzott was in every way the dominant male and Dustpaw was terrified.
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Nakia the Rogue
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PostSubject: Re: Dustpaw : The Smallest Plaything (1 of 5)   Fri Aug 31, 2012 10:31 pm

Fascinating, Daniel, please continue.

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