Read Witch Doctor - Wiz in Rhyme-3 Online

Authors: Christopher Stasheff

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Science Fiction, #Fiction - Fantasy, #Fantasy, #Fantasy - General, #Fantastic Fiction, #Wizards, #Fantasy - Series

Witch Doctor - Wiz in Rhyme-3 (56 page)


Now that I had a few seconds respite, I realized that I was wrapped in a world of aromas. For a minute, I was wrapt indeed, spellbound at the richness and variety of the environment: horse's sweat, men's sweat, fear scent and battle scent-and under them all, the huge catalog of ordinary, everyday aromas: this morning's breakfast, porridge and sausage and river fish; last night's dinner, roast mutton and black bread; dung and lilacs and birds and more, more and more. I was dazzled, frozen, entranced ...

... until I recognized the scent of dogs.

Dogs! Dogs chased rats! I was tense with fright in an instant. I looked around me frantically-but I didn't see any dogs, and I realized the smell was coming from far away, so I started to relax. Until I noticed the two huge rats a few feet away. I whipped about, turning to run-and saw something long and hairless. I froze, realizing that it was part of me. I had a tail!

Then I remembered: I was a rat. Why, I wasn't sure, but that made

it okay to be with other rats. I turned back, and saw one of the other rats just doing the same thing, only he was quivering. His coat was dark brown, and he was smaller than the other one, who was huge, as rats go-I guess. He was also mangy and moth-eaten and scarred, with patches of fur missing. He was looking at the two of us with definite contempt.

Suddenly, there was a huge din at the gate. I whirled, heart beating a mile a minute-and there, high as a mountain, came riding a knight in black armor, and beside him, a knight who had a sword in one hand and a stick in the other, mounted on a dragon, an authentic, actual, fire-breathing dragon! I squealed in terror and huddled back against the wall.

Then, behind the two knights, came a knight with long golden hair and a golden circlet around her helmet. Behind her, soldiers and knights boiled through the gate.

The dragon roared, bellowing a thirty -foot tongue of flame. Enemy soldiers howled with pain and turned to run. The knights rode after them, chopping wherever a soldier or enemy knight turned to fight,

and the footmen pounded after them, spreading out and rolling up Suettay's soldiers.

None of it made sense to me, though -I just cowered, looking frantically for a hole to hide in. After all, I had no more brain than a rat.

A stinging blow jolted me out of it, and I turned, instantly angry-to see the big, mangy rat slapping the smaller brown rat. Then he whirled back to me, baring his teeth. I hesitated and, when the big rat saw he had our attention, he squeaked, "Follow!" and turned to scamper away down the nearest drain.

I followed, numb with the realization that I had understood his word; he was still speaking human language

prebend it. -and I could

still corn

The drain led into a sewer. We scampered through increasing darkness, lit occasionally by another drain. Then it grew almost Pitch-black, but I was surprised to see that I could dimly make out the form in front of me. I remembered there was supposed to be an other one, and glanced back. Sure enough, the brown rat was still following. Then the tunnel opened out, and we were in a sort of round chain her with other tunnels opening off it. The big rat in front of me was squeaking up a storm. I edged to the side, so I could see around him, and realized that he was facing three other rats, almost as mangy and unkempt as he was-and smelling to high heaven! They regarded us with eyes that were definitely unfriendly, but that turned almost worshipful as they turned back to the big rat in front of us. They squeaked something that must have been assent, because they took off and led the way into one of the tunnels, single file, and the large rat followed them.

We followed him. After all, there wasn't much choice. I found out later that, while we were creeping through the sewers, the good guys were conquering the capital. Behind them, the citizenry broke loose in celebration-turns out there weren't very many of them who'd been happy with the sorceress' rule. In fact, most of hadn't suffered from her depredations in one way or another. them had lived in fear and trembling, and there were very few who

The good guys charged into the keep, their resident wizard fending

Of course, Suettay wasn't really concentrating-by that time, she off Suettay's spells with his own.

had other worries: me, and Frisson.

It took us a while to qualify as major headaches, though. First we had to get done playing catch-the-tail with our leader, that being the along through drainpipe, crack, and cranny. It was tough going, but only way we could keep track of him in the total dark, as we ran our rat bodies seemed built for it.

Finally, we came out into dim light. Looking up, I saw rough rocks projecting above us in a sort of ladder. I realized later that it was a tunnel made by a series of cracks inside those walls, and the

"rungs" were the back ends of the stone blocks that made up those walls. At the moment, I didn't have enough brain power for that, of course-I just accepted it.

Our guides started hopping nimbly from one projection to another, just as if they made up a rat's staircase.

My ratty heart quailed, but the big rat got behind me and snarled and gnashed his teeth, and I jumped.

my breath came harder and harder. Finally, our guides crawled out Up we went, rock after rock, as my heart beat faster and faster and onto a sort of shelf and went scurrying away into some more darkness. Trembling

Thick black closed around us again. I followed the scrabbling of ng with exhaustion, I followed.

claws ahead. Then, suddenly, a reek hit me, one that went right through my head. I recoiled, but the big rat behind me snarled, and I forced myself to go forward again, trembling from sheer fear this time, not exhaustion. What kind of unearthly smells were these? It wasn't like the warm, homey effluvium of the sewers, or the musky, delicious garbage-reek of the other rats, but a nose-searing, braintearing mixture of smells that cut like saws and stabbed like needles.

It got to our guide rats, too. They cowered away, quivering-but between them, I saw the hole between two stones, with ruddy orange light glowing on the other side.

I cowered away, too-that's where the horrible smells were coming from.

The big rat behind me squeaked with angry menace. No go; I cowered harder.

Then a searing pain shot through my behind, just above the tail, and I shot forward with a squeak of agony. The bastard had nipped me!

I recovered, scrabbling on all claws just short of the hole-but something soft and massive struck me, and I jammed into the hole with an outraged squeal.

And I do mean into-it was as tight as a bottleneck around a cork!

How the heck did the real rats expect me to get through this? But I stretched, and found that my body suddenly became amazingly slimmer; my ribs seemed to compress, and it was hard to breathe for a moment, but with all four sets of claws pushing and pulling, I oozed through that hole as though I'd been greased.

Out! At last! I leapt aside, to let the next one come out ... A tearing yowl filled the world, and something huge and reeking plummeted down at me.

I may not have known that smell, but my body sure did. Cat!

Chapter Thirty-one

I squealed in terror and ran.

The cat yowled with delight and leapt after me. I tried a quick u-turn around a table leg, doubling back; the cat's claws scrabbled on the stone, and I dashed for the next table leg and went up it like a monkey up a tree. The cat spat in fury and leapt up after me, knocking an alembic to the floor; it shattered, but I was already running for the other end of the table, squealing in terror. The cat gave a meow of delight and plunged after me. Beakers and thuribles tipped and smashed; foul-smelling powders went flying. That slowed the cat down a little; he sneezed several times, pausing for each. By the time he got his nose clear, I was back on the floor, dashing for the protection of a huge caldron. I shot between it and the wall, and realized that it was hot-there was a fire under it! But the cat was too angry to care; it shot through right behind me, and yowled in pain and anger as its tail hit a burning ember.

Any distraction helped! I made another U-turn around the caldron, hoping the cat would be a little more circumspect about the circumference. It wasn't; it charged even faster for being all the hotter.

Broom! And a shelf above it! I dashed up the broomstick. The cat barreled into it with a snarl, but I leapt a split second before the broomstick went flying. Up I soared, up and up, front claws stretching for the shelf, it coming closer and closer ...

... then receding farther and farther. I fell. Panic surged through

me; I writhed in midair, saw the floor coming up at me, struggled frantically to reach a chair five feet overAnd hit. Hard. On stone. I blacked out for a second; my ears rang, then filled with a yowling that seemed to echo through all the world as the cat pounced. My vision cleared just in time to see sharp teeth closing on me. Pain stabbed through the back of my neck; the monster jerked me off the floor, claws coming up to rip out my belly ...

The cat screamed, and I shot down to the floor again. I was no fool; I landed running, glancing back ...

... to see the cat streaking after two other rats, with a spot of blood on his tail.

I felt insanely grateful. I hadn't known a rat could. These weren't your average rats, of course-they were very, very smart. just before they got to the stone wall, they split apart, dashing for opposite corners. The cat slammed on the brakes, scrabbling to a halt, then paused a second, trying to decide which rat to chase. She opted for the smaller one.

Definitely, those rats were as smart as humans.

Wait a minute-they were humans! And so was I! My minuscule rat brain had lost track of that fact while I was being chased! Suddenly, I remembered that I'd understood the big rat, that it had spoken human words, If it could, I could, too. There wasn't much room for memory in that little brain, but it did serve up the couplet I'd prepared for just this occasion: "See as thou wast wont to see, Be as thou wast wont to be!"

I couldn't remember the rest, but it didn't seem to matter-two human beings suddenly shot up from the rubble in the corners, where the two rats had hidden. The cat tried to pause in midpounce, yowling frantically, heading right toward Frisson's navel.

He caught it, grinning, then murmured, "Poor tabby!" and stroked its head.

The cat yowled in total bewilderment and struggled to be free. The Rat Raiser advanced from the other corner, hands outstretched, bloodlust in his eye.

Frisson let go, and the cat leapt down, dashing for cover. The poet stepped in front of the Rat Raiser, holding up a hand. "No! She was only doing her duty!"

The Rat Raiser narrowed his yellow eyes, lips drawing back to bare his oversize, yellowed teeth.

"We have other game to hunt!" Frisson scolded. "You are human again, and cats are the least of your worries!"

The Rat Raiser suddenly looked apprehensive. He looked about him with quick, furtive glances, then stared, pointing. "There!" Frisson looked, then turned to lance a finger at me, snapping,

"See as thou wast wont to see, Be as thou wast wont to be!" The room changed perspective amazingly. The furniture shrank becoming only tables and chairs instead of a forest again. The cat dwindled from a monster to a pet. of course, I just barely noticed this-most of my mind was too busy feeling the pain as I suddenly grew 600 percent. I clenched my teeth against a minute's agony, as my body stretched upward and filled out, mushrooming. Then only the after-aches were left, and I was human again. I heaved a shaky sigh and tried to pull my limp self back together, looking about me, marveling at the fact that I was still dressed. Come to think of it, so were Frisson and the Rat Raiser. Maybe the spell had changed our clothing into fur?

I looked about me, taking in the shattered glassware on the top of a table that was surely the alchemist's equivalent of a lab bench, the array of powders and miscellaneous ingredients racked on shelves against one wall-some of which I was sure I wouldn't want identified-the fire under the caldron and the stench arising from it, the long table against the other wall, with Angelique on it ... Angelique!

She lay strapped down on the table, the marks of torture still upon her, dress ripped open, the clotted blood still dark in the center of her poor bruised bosom. The instruments of torture lay ready, thumbscrews by each hand, the boot open and waiting near her foot, and it wasn't a table she was strapped onto, it was a rack!

By her head was a small, clear bottle, within which churned a mint-green mist. My stomach fell-could that be her soul, the ghost with whom I was so ardently in love?

"We've got to get her out of there!" I was by her side in an instant, fumbling with the straps on her wrists, but they were riveted, not buckled. Exasperated, I pulled out my clasp knife and started sawing. "How do we get her spirit back into her body, Frisson? " The poet pulled out his sheaf of newest poems and leafed through them, frowning. He pulled one out and recited,

"Undivided the sundered rents!

Unite the disparate elements!

Churn into a bound Gestalt,

Mind and spirit, blood and salt!

Banished ghost, repatriate!

Soul and corpse, reintegrate!"

Nothing happened.

"Nice try, but no cigar." I sawed at a leather bond. "What else have you got?"

Frisson flipped through his scraps and pulled out another one.

"Tie the free And holy-day rejoicing spirit down To the ever-haunting importunity Of business, where it should be bound And has from birth-its body, lifelong city!"

He oo ed up from the verse and stared.

Nothing happened. The body lay still, the mint mist churned inside its bottle.

"Pull the cork," the Rat Raiser suggested.

"Of course!" I slapped my forehead with the heel of my hand, then grabbed the bottle.

It wouldn't move.

"A spell!" I stepped over to the bottle. But I wasn't about to waste time trying to break it-it didn't matter where the bottle was, as long as the ghost could get out. I twisted the cork.

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