“Into the street the Masked Felon stept,
Smiling first a little smile,
As if he knew what magic slept
In his magical mark the while;
And the muttering grew to a grumbling;
And the grumbling grew to a mighty rumbling;
And out of the ground the rats came tumbling.”
© Pied Piper of Hamelin
The stories of the Masked Felon with a hand touched by the Outsider’s magic has carried over into the rule of Empress Emily, First of her name. Stories told in hushed whispers to frighten little children to sleep, stories told over an evening fire and a bottle of whiskey to make a young guard feel afraid. They haven’t seen the Rat King for many years now, but everyone knows he is out there, his little scurrying helpers feasting upon flesh. Some said he held the Empress’s little heart tight in fear and admiration, his gifts at her majesty’s disposal, as every now and then a new story sprang up of cleaned up bones in the Tower’s interior or of screams of the unfortunate, consumed by little beasts.
The Masked Felon himself remembers. Scurrying, pattering, tickling whiskers teasing dying flesh. Rubbery tails swirling and whipping disgustingly, painted with blood. Corvo remembers when he first raised his Marked hand, burning with power, a swarm of hungry rodents growing from the deadly underworld itself, a gust of wind bringing them to feast on the living flesh. Corvo, for he is the very Masked Felon, remembers watching the guard writhe and dance as the rats waltzed around him, their little teeth sinking into the sweetness of his skin and lapping up his blood. And when it was over, they ran away to be called upon by their masked master at another time.
Watching them devour has always been addictive. The sounds their little teeth made as skin ripped and tore from their bite. Blood spilling all over the pavement, soaking between the cobblestones to forever feed the soil.
They began calling him a Rat King as he walked from house to house, a swarm, a trail of hungry gnawers running after their caretaker, who brings them sweet flesh and they give back sweet revenge and entertainment.
Corvo didn’t know what he liked best, the sound of screams from behind the door as a person writhed in terror or the look of clean-gnawed bones, lying in a hopeless heap when the beasts were done, their little snouts sniffing for more blood.
He told Emily about his powers once, when she saw him feed the swarm of his friends. He whispered them away from their daughter as she approached to throw some bread. And then he asked them to dance around her, his heart licking at adrenaline as he watched his daughter play with the rats. A bite away from death, she always managed to avoid it and then laughed and smiled and jumped in Corvo’s arms, rodents disappearing out of sight as he held her high up. At a later hour he punished himself for carelessness, but did it over and over again when Emily laughed and asked.
She danced with the rats and then danced with the bones of a weeper that the rats consumed. When they moved back to the Dunwall Tower, she asked him to make a maid dance.
They gave her bones to the hounds.
The Heart, beating warmly and steadily in his hand, berated him for two days straight, its wordings and musings as loud as the bonecharm’s song, grinding in his skull. Its whispers worse than the rats’ pattering, gnawed at his bones. What have you become? They die in a morbid dance. The Void refuses their souls for there are too many. He who whispers in the dark thinks you amusing, and I suffer for it. What have you become?
The Rat King watched the Heart being torn apart as his servants devoured the organ, pulling apart metal and pipes and gears and lapping up oily blood, munching on stringy flesh, until all that remained was a heap of machinery and a piece of glass.
The one who whispered in the dark, whose gifts Corvo put to bleeding use, was watching quietly from his Void, hearing every squee of the animals, every cry of the human body, every laughter in Corvo’s throat. He hovered over the shrines that his Marked charge visited, watched down in amusement and patted his head, much like the Rat King himself did for his rats. The god whispered more and praised him, as if poisonous rotting blood spoilt his very holy being to the core.
For him it was a roulette - would Corvo fall to his charges himself, bleeding dry and flesh lacerated? Out of all the futures Corvo could go, this one was less interesting. But the games of fate and chance were all the dark deity had in the unbound unknown.
“Once more he stept into the street;
And clenched his fist again
And gusts of wind from nowhere came;
And swarms of rats in mighty sweep
Along the streets began their running
blood, flesh and rot poisoned air.”