Chapter 3:

A Rat's Fate

The Wolf Among Rats

Why are they here? Templars never bother to come down here. She-templar is on the ground interrogating random elves while He-templar relaxes on the horse. Are they looking for the elf from yesterday? I've never had people from the temple come and look for me before. How flattering. Maybe the other templars got tired of dealing with them and to make them feel important, sent them out on a fool's errant.
Oh, I just got a good idea. What if I lead them astray? They would never expect the elf from yesterday to come and talk with them while they're looking for me. Especially when my voice is the only thing that'll give me away! Oh, this is going to be fun. I could use a good bit of fun. After all, this might be the last fun I get before we leave for Langolithia.
I'll have to play it natural. I'm just curious to see what templars are doing here and overhear that they're looking for someone. Then I offer to help if they'll grant me redemption for something. They'll eat that up!
I can barely hold back my laughter.

I timidly approach and listen to them explain to a random elf that an elf hurt a vendor in the common market centre while someone else stole his entire stock.
Oh no! What a dastardly, and probably very handsome, villain! I must assist these courageous templars on their quest! "Excuse me. You said that you're looking for an elf who attacked a vendor at the market centre?"
Be as vague as possible. Offer only details that they provided. After all, I'm just some innocent passerby trying to do what's right.

She-templar turns to me and smiles. Without a hint of emotion in her voice, she says, "Why yes. Might you know something?"
She's much more refined than her partner. Each of her movements and words are methodical and calculated giving her a sense of grace I wouldn't expect from idiot over there on the horse.

I nervously scratch the back of my head. With my disguised voice, I reply, "I might... But can I ask for something in return?"

Her smile deepens and she takes a step closer. She's remarkably tall for a human woman, the top of her brown braided hair reaching my neck."Why of course. What's your name?"

Like a puppet to her strings! "My name is Ska'Lauler. You can call me Ska."

Before I continue, she introduces herself. "A pleasure. My name is Summer. And that is my brother, Stoler"
Yeah yeah, whatever. No need to get so friendly.

I return my own humble courtesy. "Oh, no no. The pleasure's all mine. If I may offer guidance, you may want to search the southern slums by the city wall. Most of the criminals rash enough to attack someone in the market district live there."
Which is true. It's also muddy, smells terrible, and the people there hate the Temple of Sol. I offer a warning about the violent nature of the residents and continue to ask for forgiveness.

If I could see her eyes, I'm sure they would be overflowing with joy right now. Though her voice doesn't reflect that. "My, what a humble request. So much, have you provided, yet this is all you ask? The Temple of Sol will forgive any who readily seek redemption. After all, nourishment for Sol need be serviceable. Speak then. What is your sin?"

"I was unable to pay the tithe to the temple last month. Between the tax and food, I simply couldn't afford it. I beg your forgiveness." Now I can watch them ride South and laugh my ass off-

"Oh but the sin in your soul runs much deeper, does it not?"

What? No, don't continue our talk. Just ride off like good little templars. Now shoo. "I'm afraid I don't know what you mean."

Without wiping her wide smile from her face, she says, "Corrupted by years of impoverish living, you've truly become a heinous one indeed."

Shit! Shit shit shit! She's testing you! Play it off! "I'm afraid I don't know what the temple considers a sin other than breaking the law."

She grabs my arm in her metallic grip and jolts in place before slowly rubbing her free hand on my palm. "A hand free of callouses and strong muscles in the forearm. The tell-tale sign of a thief."

The crowd around us suddenly became much more interested in the templars. Fuck! She didn't do this with anyone else! Why me!? What do I do!? I can't just run. A job where my hands would be callous free. "Madam, I work as a barkeep."

She lets my hand go and I stumble back a bit. Her smile lessens to its normal state and she readjusts her sightless gaze on me. "Never have I seen a soul as strange as yours. So clouded in darkness and sin, that I can feel it's corruption taint my soul. I fear no surmountable task in Sol's name may cleanse you."
What is she talking about? Can she actually see souls? What do I do? If I run, Stoler will surely run me down with the horse. I should wait her out. She continues. "The ray of hope shone down when you approached me. Truly, I thought you had come seeking absolution. Yet, you attempted to deceive me. Nevertheless our position has not changed. Your journey of absolution may begin if you offer yourself to us."

As I slowly back away I utter, "No way."

She opens her arms as if waiting for a hug. "No more chances will be offered. Surrender yourself, body and soul, to two of Sol's chosen and a chance at true absolution will be yours. A short life of pain and darkness await you, should you refuse."

While she was talking, Stoler dismounted and assumed the same pose. Now's my chance. If I can escape to the surrounding buildings, I can make it out of the city before they have a chance to tell Solaris' knights or the other templars. I'll have to abandon my family and Ren's but they'll understand.
There's no way they'll hold to their word. Sol's mercy doesn't extend to elves. The temple made that very clear when they slaughtered anyone who practiced the old religion or spoke out against the temple.

I swivel in place and dart in the other direction. I rammed my way through the crowd and bolted for the nearest building! Just as I escape the shadow of the old oak, a large cone of light scorches the ground in front of me. They can use magic!?
I skid to a halt and change directions. The crowd of elves scatters and flees, leaving me dead in the sights of the templars. There's no way they're actually blind!

I only make it as far as a vendor's stall before I'm surrounded on all sides by scorching rays of light. One opens up behind me and the clinking of their armour slowly approaches. Stoler approaches me while praying to his sword. It then becomes encased in a blinding light and he charges! I grab the closest thing to me. A half box meant to display the stall's items. The contents spill on the ground as it barely catches his sword! I push forward, kick out his knee, and scramble away!

I'm back under the shade of the oak and no spells. Their spells only work in the Sun! I need shade! The shade of the oak leads right to an unfinished building! The metallic clanking of Stoler chasing me tells me he's slow. Ha! I can escape!
A ball of light floats in front of me before exploding! I'm blasted back and burned! What else can they do!? I crawl back towards the building before fully making it to my feet. Another ball of light. My legs spring forward and I curl into myself. The blast slams me into the ground! But I'm still closer!

I'm almost there! I will escape!
Another ball of light flings itself behind me and explodes as I jump through an open window. I rush through the storefront into a series of hallways. Stoler's clanks follow me into some family's home, I clamber up their shoddy ladder into their attic, toss a random chair on Stoler before jumping out another window.
I roll onto the rooftop, dripping in sweat and dart for the city walls. I jump from roof to roof, sending shingles flailing to the ground. Their horse comes galloping alongside the buildings and Summer brings the sky down in front of me.
Shit shit shit! I scramble to a stop and- guh!

I roof collapses and I fall into some unused room. The fuck is this? I rush out the door and find Stoler standing in the hall praying to his sword. Shit!
Agh, my eyes! He just turned into a human sized Sun!

Okay, okay. He's right-handed. If I time this right, I can dodge his attack and think of a new plan. I have to go by sound. Three. Two. Now!
I jump to the side, and my legs are kicked out from beneath me! My face slams against the ground! A boot crashes into my gut! I roll across the ground into the wall and groan. "Wha- Gek!"

His knee is crushing my throat! Shit shit shit! My hands scratch and claw for his face, but I can't reach! As I desperately claw for anything resembling skin, he speaks. "I pray you receive mercy."
Fuck you! Fuck you all! I will escape damn it and-

Where am I? The room is made of stone and the only door is made of iron bars. The room is lit by a single brazier and the only decoration is a long table filled with nasty looking tools. I try to stand but I'm yanked back down by the shackles around my neck. No. No no no. I was captured!? "Damn it!"
I thrash in my short chain, shouting 'damn it' over and over while kicking the wall with my bare foot! After an excessive number of deep breaths, I manage to calm myself.

I can't tell how much time is passing because there's no window. I'm in constant pain from my escape. It smells like dead rats and the only sound is the flame. How am I going to get out of here? Why am I still alive? What do I do while I wait? I can't stand and I can't lay down because my chain is too short. I also can't do anything with my hands because they're bound in rope. Great.

After, who knows how many hours, I hear something new. Footsteps. A lot of footsteps A lot of someones are coming. Surely not all for me? Are there other prisoners? Guess I'll find out soon enough.
I hear the squeaking of iron doors, footsteps, another door, more steps, now my door. Three humans entered my cell. A burly hooded man, a kid about my age carrying plenty of tools and Stoler. Stoler stands by the door and crosses his arms. "I have some questions for you. If you cooperate, these two will grant you mercy."
I glare at him, sparing no effort to hide my anger. While the kid and hooded man set up, Stoler stares at me with a sightless gaze. He's no longer wearing his rosy armour, instead he dons the pristine garb of a high-priest which is really just fancy pants and sandals, showing off his heavily muscled body and tanned skin. Apparently it lets them 'bask in Sol's light.'

In his, what he thinks is threatening, but is actually just laughable, voice, he asks his first question. "Why did you attack that vendor?"

Hmm... What sort of clever answer can I give him?
Save the quips for later. Right now we need to lead him away from my family. "I said so when I took the kid. You humans took everything from me. I was contemplating killing the kid but decided against it."

He taps his foot and the duo unshackle me from the wall and yank me towards the centre of the room. They hang my hands on a hook jutting out from the ceiling. I could probably unhook myself from this, but I have no idea where I am. Besides Dick face is standing right there. If I try and leave, I'll end up right back here. Or dead.
At this point I hear whips cracking in the other cells, followed by either pained grunts or growls that don't sound particularly elvish.

Stoler repeats his question. Time for a quip. I say, "Are you pretending to be deaf too? I said- Argh!"

By the Lords that hurt! The crack of the whip ended my terrible joke. I can barely even call that a joke. I can do better next time. Stoler tries to rush the interrogation. "We know you used the attack so your friend could steal the vendor's stock. Just admit-"

I laugh. Never show your cards during an interrogation! No way am I going to sell out Ren. "No way! Someone actually stole his stuff!? Serves the bastard righ- Gggnhh!"

The whip cracked over and over. Idiot tried to ask more questions, failed, the hooded man pummeled my gut with a metal club. More questions, more punishments. Over and over until Stoler loses his stomach over my toe nail getting torn off.
I shout in pain until the damn thing finally comes loose! Blood spurts out onto the ground and the nail clicks across the stone floor. "Lords damn you all! I've told you everything I know! Just because you don't like the truth!"
I stop and stifle an almost real sob. Stoler's been squirming for the entire interrogation. He's uncomfortable. Bound to crack if I do. He'll doubt himself and start to think I'm telling the truth.

Stoler steels himself and marches towards me while the other cells rage with inelvish roars of pain. Stoler stops just before he reaches my face and stares straight ahead at my neck. "I don't want this elf. 'One must never fear the use of violence, but must never seek it out.' This can all end if you just tell me the truth."
Was that a quote from Sol's book? So his thoughts aren't entirely his own. Good to know.

This must be his last push before he begins to doubt himself. How can I sway him? It's gotten much harder to focus because of the grueling conditions. Despite the freezing dungeon I'm sweating like I'm being roasted over a fire. The sweat seeps into the lacerations on my back and into my eyes. My gut is already purple from the club and my foot hasn't stopped bleeding.
I look to either side at the duo surrounding me. Try to slow my breathing to calm myself. Then look back to Stoler. "Does Sol have a different meaning for truth? Or are you just blindly following the temple?"
Hey that was pretty good. I chuckle to myself which ends up spiking pain through my whole torso. Once my groaning ceases, I continue. "Let me tell you the truth the way I see it. You don't care what I say. You just want me to toss the blame to another elf. Well what if I tell you a human asked me to do that?"
Which is true. But I can't sell out Nick because he'll sell out Ren. "What if I told you someone from your temple asked me to do that? Would you believe me then? No. Because it doesn't line up with the temple's version of the truth."

Even with his blindfold, I can see the pure fury on his face. He summons a blazing sphere of light. Shit. It's rays concentrate on my skin gradually getting hotter and hotter. It burns! Damn it, it burns! I thrash in place screaming through my teeth!
It stops and I take every heavy breath I can get. Holy shit, I thought he was going to cook me! "Don't you dare! Disrespect the temple in such a manner."
Stoler marches out of the room with, "Leave him his reward for being so helpful."

The duo follows him out and the kid comes back a few moments later with a plate of what I could only call goop. With a smirk, he says, "Here's your food."
He overturns the plate and drops it to the floor, the wooden plate clattering over top the goop. Only then did I realize how hungry I am.

The following days continue like the first. Stoler comes by with his buddies, asks questions, doesn't get the answers he wants, and I'm punished. Only each time, they roll in a new contraption. Almost always littered with spikes, rope, or both. They've practically torn me in half, beat me with every object imaginable, forced me into every situation with spikes, and tried to feed me to rats. They were really disappointed when the rats just left me alone. And each time they drop the 'food' on the floor in front of me. Good thing I can free myself from the hook. They just assume rats eat it each time. Idiots.
Today there's only one set of footsteps. The hooded man opens my door. "Good news. You get to see the light of day again."