The Red God
Seventeen years old
18 Rajab 1424
Exzy rubbed his nose. Settled back down to sleep.
Something thumped his nose. He opened his eyes. A black and white hooded rat. In a red cape. With a sharp spear.
The rat twirled the spear and whacked Exzy’s nose with the butt of it. And in nearly ultra-sonic tones, “Wake up, Red God! We need you! More Gods have come, and they have brought . . . CATS!”
Whack! “To Arms! To Arms, Red God! We are under attack!”
Exzy rolled away from the rat and out of bed. “How did you get here?”
The rat pointed with his spear.
There was a gate on his wall. Wavering and weakly attached. Exzy squinted at it. “You used a cylinder?” He reached for clothes . . . “Wait! You guys made a gate! By yourselves!”
Faint squeaks. He leaned closer to hear. “. . . every rat of Stone Keep working together. But we did it!”
Exzy grabbed clothes and staggered into the bathroom.
And how the bloody hell did they find me? I haven’t been back to Rat World for years. And never from here.
I have a nasty suspicion that I’m going to miss classes today.
Brush teeth, dress for hiking, grab the "away" bubble and . . . grab the rat?
The rat cringed back from his reaching hand. Exzy withdrew it. "Okay, lead on and don't be where I'm going to step."
The rat's eyes opened wider. He leaped and climbed up Exzy's sleeve and draped himself over Exzy's shoulder, grabbing with three foot-hands. Pointed with the spear in the other. "Onward, Red God!" he squeaked.
Exzy stepped through the gate and slid-stumbled down a tube and was tossed out in front of Stone Keep. He managed to stay on his feet without squashing any of the rats who were dangerously close to the gate. They scattered in a panic, and Exzy felt the gate collapse behind him.
"All right. Where are these invaders?"
"Five long day's travel dawnward." The rat pointed east.
"Right . . . do you have a name?"
"I am Hood Three Spot."
"Okay, Hood. I'm going to throw corridors. Let's see if you can see what I'm doing." Exzy closed his eyes and looked at the inbetween. He felt the rat's start of surprise, physically, then mentally felt Hood's awe at the fizzing blue.
Exzy cupped mental and physical hands around a bubble, and captured it. Carefully opened a hole, and pinned it to the ground in two spots. Molded rock into a low arch for the top corners. Then he grabbed a pinch of the bubble and threw it. The physical motion helping to control the mental throw across to a ragged ridge on the horizon. Twenty kilometers, at a guess.
He stepped in, the rat still on his shoulder. A long breathless squeezing feeling then he opened another hole and reached through to pin it and hold it up while he climbed through.
Hood had a four hand-foot death grip on his shirt. Exzy grinned and picked up the rat's spear. "It's a little squeezy before you get it open."
Hood gave a faint squeak and took the spear.
Exzy molded another arch. Pinned it open. He walked to the crest of the ridge, a matter of a few steps.
"Eek!" Hood stood up on his shoulder looking all around. "Two days and more to walk to get here!" He pointed southeast, far down the valley on the far side of the ridge.
"Ah, yes. I see them. Well. Let's throw another corridor, and see what they have to say for themselves."
He walked back across the ridge, out of sight of the invaders' camp, and pulled up an arch, first. Then attached the bubble. Walked to the ridge crest and threw the incipient corridor.
Hood scrunched down on his shoulder, hanging on tight. Exzy stepped in, opened the far side, and stepped out. Eyed the prefab buildings of the camp, just down the hill.
Not squishies. I don't recognize the vehicles.
He turned back and finished the corridor with an arch. Took a long hard look around.
Hood squeaked and pointed with his spear. “Outlook Keep.”
The Keep was on the crest of the hill beyond the camp.
And he couldn't miss the vehicle's roar as it started and jerked into motion.
Exzy knelt and grabbed another bubble, opened a rat sized hole in it and pinned it to a rock a meter away from the arch. "Let's take the other end to the keep, in case they need to evacuate."
Hood stood up on his shoulder. "Buff Head says that they are safe, but the Cats have attacked several more times. They dare not go out to harvest seeds."
Exzy huffed out a breath of relief. They aren't murderers. Yet.
He strode out to meet the interlopers.
They stopped their vehicles when they saw him coming, and got out to look him over. A woman, fit and good looking, a touch of gray in her hair. Two men, one young and muscular, one gray haired and muscular. All in khaki outfits, not military. More scoutish, like the XD field uniforms. Or a private company, maybe?
"Don't you guys check for shortwave messages?" Exzy stopped a couple of meters away. "This is an experimental world, not open for exploration or exploitation."
"Very funny. Who are you and how did you get here?" The woman had a bit of an accent, but nothing he couldn't handle.
"I'm Exzy Wolfson. Or Exzy Withione Al Media Montevideo, in the Empire of the One. But I can tell by your accent you aren't from there. Are you a member of the Concord?"
"Don't shit with us kid."
"So, you're an uncontacted world. Well, you can't stay here and you need to remove your cats before they kill someone."
They don’t look very convinced.
"I'll put you in touch with Disco . . ."
The old guy stepped forward. "Listen kid, this is our world and no one is taking it from us."
Exzy glared. "No. this world belongs to the Intelligent Rats, and you can't take it away from them. If you want other worlds to respect your claims, you have to respect everyone else's. Elves, dwarves, Intelligent Rats, and Humans."
The old guy reached for him. Hood shifted and raised his spear. "Don't touch the Red God!"
Exzy gathered a little bit of power, and as the man leaned to grab, he tossed a stun spell, and stepped out of the way as the man flopped down onto the grass.
"Now. Why don't we all go catch these cats before something very unfortunate happens?"
"It just did happen!" The woman leaned forward, eyes narrowed. "Stunning a government agent is a felony, and I don't care how old you are . . . where’s your stunner?" She and the other man started scanning around, like they thought there must be a stun sniper out there.
"I’m seventeen. Fine. I'll take care of the cats myself."
When he tried to walk around them, they moved to block him . . . and folded down stunned.
Hood squealed and bounced on his shoulder. "Red God! I beg forgiveness! When I saw how much larger these gods are than you, I feared you would be defeated."
Exzy grinned. "They had no magic. And . . . you should call us humans."
He eyed the camp. There were a lot more buildings than three people could possibly need. "Let's borrow their ute. Or gyp, or whatever they call it. It's time to hunt cats."
The gyp's controls were easy enough to figure out. Exzy zoomed through the camp and up the far hillside, Hood squeaking all the way. Exzy was pretty sure it was glee, not terror.
He stopped halfway between the camp and the keep, as the rocks broke through the soil in a long rock outcrop. Less than a meter high, with a big tabby tomcat sunning himself on the top.
Hood cringed back against Exzy’s neck. “How do you catch a vicious predator like that?”
“Kitty, kitty?” Exzy held his hand out to be sniffed.