The scientist shot forward involuntarily as he regained consciousness; scanning the room, he tried to make out anything in the darkness.
“Can’t be my place.” He said, stepping off the bed, and outstretching one of his arms. “Nothing, definitely not my tower. There are no rooms that are this empty. But where would the rats take me? Where could they take me?” He asked himself under hushed tones as his feet inched their way forward. The stump of the end of his arm gently tapped into a wall, and the scientist stopped moving; he rubbed his arm along the wall until the pain started to become too much. He brought it back to his face to be able to look at his arm.
“Wrapped?” He said as the fabric itched at his face. “Too many questions. I need to get out of here.” He said, moving forward, this time with more certainty behind each of his movements.
His stump collided with the door handle, and he stopped again; pushing both of his arms against the handle, he tried every angle to pull the door open.
“By the… These doors are as stiff as the ones in my tower.” He muttered as he pulled back his now throbbing arms.
Bracing his foot on the ground with his toes stretching up the wall, he lifted his other foot. Hooking the neck of the handle between the largest toes on his left foot, he stretched backward. The initial tug yielded no results, but with his wait applied against the handle, it came open with a loud cracking noise, slamming himself down onto his back. Breath escaping through his lips, he groaned as the shock of the fall seemed to radiate through his entire body. The ringing in his ears screeched as he started to breath heavy, his arms and legs curling into his chest. He rolled onto his side and continued shallow, fast breaths. The pain from his wounds started to burn as he watched blood pouring from under the wraps. Behind him, he failed to notice the quick steps of one of the Ratmen who rushed over to his side, squeaking out over his shoulder. More footsteps followed as others came in. He was lifted to the bed once again, still hyperventilating.
“The wound bleeds.” Said the first one that entered.
“Release the wounds; I have application.” Another stated as they started to grind a root into a paste.
Taking a piece of bark out of his back pocket, he thrust it into the scientist’s mouth.
“For pain is good. Taste is not.” They continued.
The scientist recoiled at the bark, their jaw clenched through panicked breaths. The Ratman holding the bark frowned. Using their free hand, they grasped the scientist’s jaw and squeezed until his mouth opened; he then thrust the piece of bark into his mouth.
“Bite, release, repeat, or I do for you.” The medical Ratman announced as they stared down the scientist.
The scientist felt the claw on his jaw loosen enough for him to move it. Still panicked by the pain in his arms, he eventually began to bite down into the bark. He felt his teeth compact the tough exterior of the bark.
“Harder.” The medical Ratman snarled.
The scientist’s breath started to slow as they focused on the act of biting. Struggling, they eventually managed to pierce the bark by positioning it under his canine tooth and biting with all his strength. The medical Ratman waited until the scientist was focused on the task; he then very gently cleaned his wounds. With one eye on the scientist, he slowly pulled the old stitches from his arm stumps. Applying a generous amount of the paste he was making onto the open wound, he moved on to the other arm, preparing it the same. Going back to the first, he prepared a sharp needle and a fine thread. Testing the skin, he tapped it with the needle; looking back to the scientist, he could see the effects had already started working. But still, he steadied himself and performed the act with the utmost care. Washing both the wounds clean, he re-applied new bandages to the ends of his arms.
The scientist started to dribble as he tried to chew into the bark, his mouth loose and hard to control.
“You go, I’ll watch.” The medical Ratman said to the others in the room, shooing them with one paw and grabbing a small stool with another.
The other Ratmen looked on with concern, but slowly filtered from the room as the medical Ratman retrieved the piece of bark from the scientist’s mouth before he could fall asleep and choke on it. The scientist grinned as his eyes closed. Taking in a long slow breath, he pressed his face into his mattress and very quickly fell asleep. The medical Ratman made sure he was covered with blankets and then moved his stool near the wall where he could lean against the wall to brace himself. Over the course of the night, the Ratman struggled to stay awake, constantly drifting off to sleep for short moments, just to be woken up by a share force of will. Their eyes drooped as the sun rose, slowly but surely. When the sun had barely crept over the horizon, another Ratman came into the room; with sluggish form, they gestured for the medical Ratman to leave and for them to take their place. A brief hug was exchanged by the two of them before the new Ratman came and took the place of the old one, leaning against the wall with patience. Shifts changed hands over the days until finally the scientist awoke, ate, and recovered enough to be able to talk rationally with his caretakers.
“You are the rats I had in my pen?” He asked, still hiding himself under his covers.
The room was packed with Ratmen, who all looked around at one another, waiting for someone to take charge. The crowd parted as the largest of the Ratmen moved forward, standing in front of the scientist’s bed. Despite him being the largest of the Ratmen, he was barely taller than a teenager. He sat down on his legs, resting his hands on his knees. His voice was surprisingly smooth, and he spoke with a calm purpose.
“We were cold, and hungry; we were not long for this world. We did not want to be taken, but we never wanted to leave. You fed, you cared, you made us equal. We owe us to you.”
The others all dropped to their knees are repeated the last words spoken.
“We owe us to you.”
The scientist was taken back by the display that the Ratmen had given him; he sat up from his hidden position and rested his feet over the edge of the bed.
“I… I never treated you as equals. I kept you in a pen and subjected you to magics that altered you. I then turned you into what you are now. You were never equal to me; you were test subjects.”
The lead Ratman looked up to the scientist.
“You are the only one to respect. You fed, you gave toys, warmth. Say what you want, but we feel loved.”
The scientist looked around the room at all the kneeling Ratmen before him, then his attention was stolen by a painting on the far wall. He pointed with his arm and tilted his head in confusion.
“I have that painting; did you bring it here with you?” He asked.
The lead Ratman turned to look over their shoulder, then back to the scientist.
“We are home. We did not leave.” He replied.
“But there is no way this is my tower; I have stuff piled everywhere. I don’t have enough room to store everything I have collected over the years.”
The Ratmen snickered under their breath as the leader replied.
“We remember watching you run all through your home. So disorganized. We fixed.”
“But where did you put it all? I have so much stuff.”
“You have… We… Come.” The leader said as he stood and gestured for the scientist to follow.
The scientist followed behind the leader, and the others followed behind him. He ran his hand over every surface and pinched his fingers together.
“Even the dust is gone. How long have I been out?”
“Couple days. Not long.”
Room after room, the scientist marveled at the organisationally skills that the Ratmen had demonstrated. Checking unlabelled containers, he familiarised himself with where everything was placed.
“How do you know how to organize everything? A lot of these are hard to classify.”
The Ratman leader silently leads him out of the room and down into the basement.
“Not good, we are sorting the water.”
The scientist stepped down into the ankle-deep water that was flooding the basement; walls of shelves from knee-high were filled with books.
“Once we clear water, more books can be stored.”
“You have all my books down here. This is impressive; how many have you read?”
“Me, three. The others are the same. Still, more to go.”
“I am so impressed; you have done so much in a short time. What are your goals?”
“To serve you.”
The scientist was left mouth ajar.
“I, I, don’t know… Why would you want to serve me?”
“You made us; we are yours to command.”
“I did not turn you into a humanoid with high intelligence to make you servants; I did it so you could live a life beyond that which you already had. Knowledge, food, life, they should all be shared among all equally. I did this so you can be free.”
“We can’t be free.”
“What do you mean?”
“We left the tower.”
The scientist smiled for a moment then it faded.
“Oh no, what did the townsfolk do?”
“Few wounds, all fine. But not left, they have knocked… Loud.”
“We may be in trouble; we need to get you all out of this town. The folk here are not kind, and they do not appreciate my work. I struggle to get through my days; it is only a matter of time before this tower is assaulted. This is the last straw; I don’t think we can stay here. We need to leave now.”
The scientist’s face became focused.
“Follow me.” He said as he began to climb the stairs.
The scientist led the Ratmen to the top of his tower, where he could get a clear view of the town and the townsfolk who were rallying on the far side of town.
“Not here, that is good.”
“No, that is bad. They are having a meeting, and I have a strange feeling that our staying is the topic.” The scientist turned back to the Ratmen leader. “And I don’t think we will have a home by the end of the night.”
From their tower, they watched as the townsfolk yelled over one another in a distant cacophony.
“He has brought nothing but plague and blight upon this town. He has turned away from the gods that govern and has decided to take their role. No man, no matter how great, has the power to replace the gods, and if we let him continue to create abominations, we will be punished. One bad apple spoils the barrel. We can’t let his taint ruin the name of this town or our lord who governs us.” A preacher screamed out over the crowd.
The crowd cheered out under the falling sun, their center being bathed in a soft yellow light.
“If we let him remain to create these freaks, how long until he starts testing on us? How long until his creations are more numerous than those of us who were created under the hands of our gods?” The preacher continued.
“He is right; you saw those monsters that walked from the tower; by the hell I bet they have killed and eaten the scientist that lives there. They have probably done what we had not, and now we need to remove them before they breed and run rampant over the city with all their filth.” A member from the crowd added.
The preacher pointed to him with confirmation.
“This man knows the truth, their vile form is still burnt into my mind. I fear that even a single touch from one of these creatures will result in disease and death.”
“Then how do we fight them?”
“We drive them out with fire; that tower has been a beacon of terror in this town, and all of us fine god-respecting citizens. We burn the tower, we salt the ground so none of his poison can grow from the ashes, then wall it off so no one ever has to deal with his memory.”
The crowd cheered out in an uproar of fear, ignorance, and hate. They all started to plan and disperse as the scientist prepared inside his tower.
“No, we only take what is necessary.” The scientist shouted as some of the Ratmen started to pack wooden plates. “We need to move as soon as possible, but we can’t leave through the front gates, or we will be cut down. You lot.” He said, pointing to a small group of flustered Ratmen. “You need to come with me, grab the pickaxes, and meet me in the basement.”
The scientist ran down into his basement, splashing down into the dirty water that filled it.
“We need to find where the water is getting in; there is an underground river that runs through here we can use to get out of here. It is dangerous, but it is our best bet, so spread out and start searching for where the water comes in.”
The Ratmen and the scientist started to run around the room, tipping over their shelving. The books were plunged into the water until one squeaked out.
“Dig, break that wall in.” The scientist screamed. As from the top of the stairs, the leader of the Ratmen leaned in.
“They come, not long.”
The scientist turned back to the Ratmen attacking the wall with the pickaxes, a glimmer of hope shining in his eyes as he watched the wall start to fall away. He ran over to see a swift-moving water source coming from darkness, disappearing into darkness.
“This is all we have; bring everyone down. We have to make a leap of faith.” The scientist shouted over the commission that had started to well up outside. The leader of the Ratmen brought his kind down with him, and they all gathered in the basement as they waited for the scientist’s orders. He turned back to look around the room, his eyes darting to the top of the stairs as he heard the crack of the wood of his front door.
“This was once my home and in a way, yours too. But we must leave now for a new home, a new adventure. As a scientist’s unknowns are as exciting as they are scary, and I am sorry you must take this journey with me, but I am glad it is you I get to do it with. Follow my light, and we may just survive.” The scientist said as he waved his hands, and an orb of light floated above him.
He gave one last look back to his tower, then he turned and leaped into the river. The Ratmen followed suit, taking with them what they could.
The townsfolk found their way down into the basement in time to watch the last of them leap into the river and for the distant light to fade away.
“What do we do, preacher?” A dirt-covered individual asked as the two of them looked down the tunnel.