||[Sep. 3rd, 2006|02:41 pm]
Home For Dedicated Anthropomorphic Writers
I don't know how to do an LJ cut. Sorry.
The world of rodents was a dangerous one. Not many people knew that better than Opifex did. But, then, she had lived in it for over five thousand years.
The short, fat mouse crouched by the side of a dying rat, her grubby brown hair hanging over her face and her tail twitching.
‘Tell me who did it,’ she said in a low voice. ‘What did they look like?’
The rat stirred slightly. His eyes were wide and bulging, their stare fixed and terrified. ‘I saw…’ his voice was ragged and faint. He coughed, and blood gurgled in his chest. ‘I – hurts…’
It was easy enough to see why. Something had ripped a deep and horrible wound into the rat’s body, from the side of his neck and right down over his stomach, so deep that it had exposed bones and organs. His fur glistened with blood, and the bare skin on his paws and ears had gone deathly pale.
‘Tell me,’ Opifex said urgently. ‘I have to know. The eyes – what were the eyes like?’
‘Red eyes,’ therat whispered. ‘Red eyes, tears… crying. She was crying.’
He was trembling now, beginning to go into shock. Opifex knew he was beyond any help she could give. She felt a deep coldness gnawing at her. Red eyes. Red eyes, with tears flowing from them… like a river. She only knew of one person who had eyes like that.
She stood up and surveyed the area once again. Dead and dying rodents were scattered everywhere through the tunnels and chambers of what had once been a thriving colony. The attack had come without warning, and the sheer brutality of it was enough to shock even her. Young and old, male and female, all dead. No-one had been spared. Not even the babies. Fighting was commonplace among rodents, but this… this was a massacre. And Opifex knew who was responsible.
‘Carnifex,’ she muttered.
She heard the dying rat cough again, and glanced down at him. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said. ‘So sorry for what happened to you.’
The rat half-raised himself from the ground, with a strength that surprised her. His face was full of bewilderment. ‘Why?’ he asked her. He sank back as fresh blood dribbled out of his wound. ‘Why…?’
Opifex knew. ‘For revenge,’ she said.
There was no answer. The rat was dead. Opifex drew a strange shape in the air over his body. ‘May the blessings of life be on thee,’ she said.
The absurdity of it made her grimace. She turned away. Anger was rising inside her, and with it came pain. A deep burning ache ripped into her chest, as if she were being stabbed with a red-hot knife. She cringed and dug her fingers into her skin, as if trying to pull the sensation out of her. It didn’t do any good at all.
She walked on, trying to blot it out. Rodents did not have surnames and these days titles were thought of as ridiculously old-fashioned. Only people from legends had titles, and people in the distant past. And this was not the distant past. This was what humans called the twenty-first century. An age of cars and huge dirty cities. Humans were thriving. So were rodents. It was because of humans that rodents had become as widespread as they were. They provided food, and places to live, and transport as well. In under-city tunnels like these, there were no predators. Humans could not get at them down here. The only real danger came from disease… and from other rodents.
Opifex, however, had a title. Opifex the Singer. That was what they had called her once. Immortality, in stories, was usually a curse. To her, it was a gift. She had existed since the beginning of the rodent race itself. Never age. Never die. That was what immortality meant. But even immortals changed.
She walked slowly through the tunnels, taking in the horrors that lay there without showing much emotion. She had seen death before.
Opifex was an unimpressive figure. She was wide-shouldered and thick-limbed, with big paws and a bulging, saggy stomach. Her fur was ordinary tawny brown that paled to white on her stomach and chest. She wore her hair long, and it hung about her ears in a tangled mess. There were a pair of dragons tattooed on her ankles, and both her ears and fingers were laden with rings. She had a round, childish, slightly jowly face with a pointed snout and straight, dark eyebrows, and her eyes were slate grey. There was no secret wisdom in them, no gleam of magic. They were just blue-grey eyes, perfectly ordinary, but a little sad.
Opifex reached into her bag and brought out a dagger. It had a long, straight blade, and was made entirely out of some kind of black metal. There was no shine to it at all. She clutched it tightly as she walked on, her ears swivelled forward to listen for any sound of movement. Carnifex’s scent was still strong in the air – she could still be in the tunnels.
Even immortals have enemies.
She found her in a small chamber that had once been used to store food, crouched on a little heap of earth. There was blood on her face and arms, and on the short sword clutched in her paws. She was tall and thin, and lithe, and she sat there with her back hunched forward and her head bowed, staring at the floor.
When Opifex entered she looked up sharply, relaxing when she saw who it was. ‘I knew you’d come and find me, Opifex.’
Opifex stood still in the doorway. ‘Carnifex.’
‘Veriton. It’s Veriton now.’
‘So that was what the Thieves were on about,’ said Opifex. ‘“Veriton protect me”… that was smart.’
Veriton grinned horribly. ‘How do you like my new face?’
She looked like another mouse, and young. Her fur was skewbald – brown and white in patches – and she had long, pure-white hair. Perhaps she would have been pretty, but for the only thing about her that hadn’t changed.
Her eyes were bloodshot and red-rimmed, running with tears. They flowed over her face in a constant stream, like blood from a wound that would never heal.
‘Does it still hurt?’ Opifex asked softly.
Veriton stood up. She was a head taller than the other mouse, and when she approached her, she moved with a strange and terrible grace. ‘Always,’ she whispered.
They were very close now. Opifex could feel the other mouse’s cold breath on her face. She stuffed the dagger into the back of the belt which was her only clothing. ‘I could heal you,’ she said.
Veriton turned away abruptly. ‘You can’t,’ she said.
‘Let me try again.’
With a lightning movement, Veriton whirled around. There was a flash of steel, and next moment Opifex staggered toward the floor, the bloodied sword embedded deep in her shoulder. ‘Gods damn you!’ she screamed.
Veriton snarled at her. ‘Did that hurt? Forget what pain feels like, did you?’
Opifex recovered her balance. She wrenched out the sword and tossed it onto the floor. ‘Stop it,’ she snapped.
Veriton watched as the wound in her shoulder silently closed over, leaving nothing but a patch of bloody fur behind. ‘How can you stand it?’ she half-whispered. ‘Don’t you feel the pain?’
‘Sometimes. When you’re near me. You killed them all, Carnifex. Why do that? What’s the point? They’re only mortals, can’t you just leave them alone?’
‘They must die,’ said Veriton. ‘All of them. I just want…’ she broke off suddenly and doubled over, clutching at her chest. ‘It hurts, Opifex, it never stops hurting, I just want the pain to stop…’ she started to sob.
Opifex embraced her tightly, clutching the other immortal’s thin frame to her chest. Veriton held onto her and cried into her fur, her never-ending tears mingling with the blood on Opifex’s shoulder and sending pink rivulets down her back.
‘It’s all right,’ Opifex whispered. ‘We’ll find a way, I swear. We’ll find a way to make it stop.’
Veriton’s claws suddenly tightened on her back. ‘I found a way,’ she rasped.
Opifex let go of her. ‘No,’ she said. ‘You can’t do it. It’s insane.’
‘I don’t care,’ said Veriton. ‘It’s the only way. I want to die. I just want to die. Please. Just let me die.’
Opifex took the black dagger from her belt and held it out to her. ‘Then do it,’ she said. ‘I don’t want to hurt you again. Take it.’
Veriton stared at the dagger, wide-eyed, then snatched it. She turned it over in her long fingers, examining it from all angles. The metal was cold, and she felt its magic prickling on her skin when she touched it. She pressed the tip into her chest, pushing until the skin broke and a little drop of blood oozed out. She breathed in sharply at the pain, then withdrew the dagger and looked at Opifex again.
‘I’m sorry,’ Opifex said softly. ‘For what happened to you.’
Veriton lashed out with the dagger. It hit the other immortal in the face, making a deep slash from forehead to chin.
It broke the strange silence. Opifex screamed, backing away, her paws rising to cover her ruined face, while Veriton advanced on her, her expression twisting and contorting into one of pure, burning hatred. ‘You don’t know what pain is!’ she snarled. ‘I’ll show you, you – pathetic – evil – vermin.’
Opifex tried to run. She was too slow, and next moment Veriton was on her, tearing her paw away from her face. She cut her, again and again, destroying her features, caught up in a maddened frenzy, tears still streaming down her cheeks. And these wounds did not heal.
At last Veriton stopped. She half-rose, the now-stained dagger still clasped in her paw. Opifex moaned and tried to get up, but her paw slipped on the bloodied floor and she fell back again, her chest heaving. ‘Oh gods…’
‘You’ve lost your ankh,’ Veriton whispered. ‘Where is it?’
Opifex rolled onto her side, curling up feebly to protect herself.
Veriton bared her teeth in a sneer. ‘It doesn’t matter,’ she said. ‘I’ll give you another one.’
The dagger came down once more. Opifex barely felt it.
Afterwards Veriton stood up, rubbing her paws on her face to try and clean the blood off. ‘The gods are dead,’ she said. ‘I killed them. And soon I’ll kill the only one left.’
Holding the black dagger against her chest, she took one last glance at Opifex, lying quite still in a pool of blood, and walked away.