Season of the Ratling: Remember
by Rich Wulf
“After two winters here, Nir’um’tuk still not understand,” whispered the Ratling warrior, drinking sparingly from a water skin as he glared at the gray sky. “How can Crippled Bone Tribe live with no real light? No see sun in the Shadowlands. No see moon. Only grey. Forever grey.”
“Never think-think much about it,” Chin’tch replied. He stopped gnawing at the long stick he held in one paw and peered at the sky with pale brown eyes. The smaller Ratling shrugged, adjusted his satchel over one shoulder, and moved on. “Very bright where you come from, Nir’um’tuk?”
The warrior nodded. “Crooked Tail lands be place of bright-bright light. Tribe gathers around Driving-Out-Darkness Rock, big-big crystal, big as a mountain. Driving-out-Darkness-Rock shines light on all Crooked Tail lands. Burns away the shadow. Burns away the demons.”
“Must be nice to have rock like that,” Chin’tch said, sighing as he trudged onward. “If Crippled Bone had such a rock, maybe we not have to run-run all the time, not have to fight-fight all the time.”
Nir’um’tuk chuckled, a sharp, clicking sound. “Hard to see the Crippled Bone not fighting,” he said, looking over his shoulder at the Rememberer. “Seems to Nir’um’tuk like every Crippled Bone pup born with a spear in each hand and knife in his tail.”
Chin’tch nodded sadly. “This is so,” he said. “Crippled Bone are warrior born. Darkness has made us tough, angry. Darkness has taught us to fight. But Rememberers know a time when Crippled Bone did not fight… the Before Time… when all Nezumi were one. All were at peace.”
Nir’um’tuk studied the Rememberer carefully. “Is it true?” he asked. “Can Rememberers really see the Before Time? Or do you only tell stories of Yesterday like the humans do?”
“We see the Before Time,” Chin’tch whispered. “We see it all too clear. This is why we come here today.”
“Must be nice, to remember,” Nir’um’tuk replied. “Sometimes Nir’um’tuk cannot remember much of home… Sometimes can only remember the light of Drawing-Out-Darkness-Rock…” The Nezumi grinned. “And scent of Kan-chet.”
“Kan-chet is one of your mates?” Chin’tch asked with a knowing nod.
Nir’um’tuk nodded. “She is wise, beautiful,” he replied. “Stronger even than Nir’um’tuk. Kan-chet bears many pups and still wields a spear against the darkness. Sometimes… when this land seems too dark… when the terrible dreams come and it seems like no more can I fight the demons… those times I think of Kan-chet. Though she far-far away, she give still can give me strength.” The Ratling wiped one paw across his eye.
“She sounds like a Nezumi with very strong Name,” Chin’tch said sincerely.
Nir’um’tuk nodded. When he spoke again his voice was choked. “She is why I fight-fight. She is why I come to Shadowlands.”
“I thought you come to fight the fallen tribe,” Chin’tch said with mild surprise.
Nir’um’tuk shook his head. “When first hear rumors of dark tribe, Nir’um’tuk does not care. Sounds like Crippled Bone problem. Nir’um’tuk happy to let Crippled Bone deal with it, and if fallen tribe come to light of Drawing-Out-Darkness-Rock, then Nir’um’tuk will show them that there be no place to hide.” He shook his spear firmly for emphasis. “Then, when Nir’um’tuk think about it, realize that fallen tribe not just threaten Crippled Bone…”
Chin’tch looked at Nir’um’tuk curiously. He flicked his tail, encouraging the warrior to continue.
“Nezumi lived in Nezumi world once… in the Before Time… like you remember,” Nir’um’tuk nodded. “No more. We live in human world now, and as brave as humans be they fear the Taint. Taint knows them. Taint creeps inside them, turns them into demons, makes their nightmares walk the earth. Taint cannot creep inside of Nezumi, and for that reason humans leave us be. Sometimes, they know, we help them. In the end, they know, we hate-hate Taint even more than they do. But if Nezumi become friends of Taint… if Nezumi join the legion of Dark-God-Bringer-Evil-Dream-Servant-Daigotsu… we are friends of humans no longer. Humans destroy us, and Taint will not save us. No… Taint will stand aside and laugh and watch us die as the humans do what it cannot… the Nezumi destroy themselves. Kan-chet will die. Pups will die. All for foolish fallen tribe.”
“The Crooked Tail does not often come out of their warrens,” Chin’tch said. “I thought-thought it must be very important to bring warrior-chief so far from home.”
“There was one other time,” Chin’tch said. “Time when Crooked Tail come out of warren… Many years ago. Do you know this tale?”
Nir’um’tuk looked at Chin’tch curiously for a moment. Rememberers had strange ways; sometimes they talked about the past as if it were no longer there, like the humans did. The warrior nodded. “Of course Nir’um’tuk know this tale,” he said. “Nir’um’tuk is no Rememberer, but all Crooked Tail know this tale well. Happens many many yesterdays ago when the Lying Darkness comes to eat the world’s Name. Many Nezumi fall, lose their face, lose their Name. Crooked Tail not fall; Drawing-Out-Darkness-Rock protects us. Easy to stand by, let other tribes die, rule what is left, stand alone… but Crooked Tail cannot. No more can see enemy tribes. Cannot see thieving Grasping Paw thief or slimy Chipped Tooth. Can only see Nezumi, can only help Nezumi to survive. We let all tribes gather under our rock to burn the Darkness away, and the Nezumi survive.”
“This is a good story,” Chin’tch said. “Will have to remember it.” He drew another stick from his robes and chewed on it rapidly. This was how the Rememberers recorded their tales, graven in preserved wooden Memory Sticks as well as etched in their unfailing memory.
Nir’um’tuk nodded, proud to share his heritage with the Rememberer. To a Nezumi, nothing was quite so horrible as being forgotten. That which was not remembered, after all, may as well have never happened. To pass on a tale to a Rememberer, whose duty it was to never forget what he saw, felt, or heard, was an honor and a privilege. The two Nezumi continued walking for some time. Eventually, they stopped to rest in a jagged gully, well hidden from the bleak plans all around.
“How much further we need go?” Nir’um’tuk asked.
“Not further,” Chin’tch replied, peering about curiously. “This be the place.”
“We meet Nezumi scout here?” Nir’um’tuk said. “Scout that tells us about fallen tribe?” The warrior carefully sniffed a nearby boulder before crouching upon it; one could not be too careful in the Shadowlands.
Chin’tch looked at Nir’um’tuk, then glanced quickly away. “Yes,” he said softly. “Should be here.”
“Am here,” said a rough voice from deeper in the gully. A massive Nezumi rose from behind a fallen boulder. He was obviously a warrior, a veteran of many battles. His fur was slate gray, marred here and there by deep scars in his flesh. One ear had been lost in some long ago fight. He wore armor cobbled together from ogre hide and troll bones. In one paw he clutched a mighty hammer – a samurai weapon. A crude symbol was painted on his chest, the symbol of an open Ratling paw, scrawled in dark red.
Nir’um’tuk recognized it immediately – the symbol of the Stained Paw, the fallen tribe.
“Rememberer, stand back!” Nir’um’tuk shouted, leaping between Chin’tch and the stranger and wielding his spear menacingly.
“Why do you bring Crooked Tail chief here, Chin’tch?” the gray Ratling said with a snarl. “You think maybe to betray Mat’chek? You bring Crooked Tail chief to kill Mat’chek?” The enormous Nezumi hefted the hammer in one hand and advanced slowly. Nir’um’tuk stared up in awe. The Ratling was bigger even than the largest Crippled Bone warriors, which were generally larger than Nir’um’tuk by a paw or two.
“Time to run, Chin’tch,” Nir’um’tuk whispered. Nir’um’tuk had seen enough battle to know when he was outmatched. Hopefully this warrior was not fast as well as strong.
“No!” Chin’tch cried, grabbing the butt of Nir’um’tuk’s spear and tugging fiercely. The Rememberer was small, but he was still Crippled Bone through and through. He was strong enough to throw Nir’um’tuk off his balance, sending him sprawling backward on the ground. The Rememberer moved between the prone Nir’um’tuk and the charging Mat’chek, holding up his paws defensively. “No fight! No kill! Time to kill Tomorrow!”
“Stained Paw walks with Dark-God-Bringer-Evil-Dream-Servant-Daigotsu!” Nir’um’tuk shouted, crawling to his feet and watching the gray Ratling carefully. “No can be trusted!”
“Stained Paw do not make war with Nezumi!” Mat’chek roared. “Only make war with humans!”
“You kill Tattered Ear Nezumi,” Nir’um’tuk snapped. “You kill Crippled Bone!”
“They attack us first,” Mat’chek answered. “We try to tell them that we join Bright-Lord-Food-Giver-Daigotsu only so that we can help wipe pink-skinned monkey Empire away. They do not listen. Forced to fight. Forced to kill. They be fools like you, Crooked Tail. No want to listen! No want to hear the truth! Love humans too much to see how much they hate you!”
“Nir’um’tuk have no love for humans, but you the only fool here, Mat’chek,” Nir’um’tuk said, burying the tip of his spear in the ground with a disdainful sniff. “Taint no friend to Nezumi. Choice between humans and Taint? No choice at all.”
“Tomorrow will tell,” Mat’chek said.
“Why we here, Chin’tch?” Nir’um’tuk said, glowering at the Rememberer. “Why you make deal to meet with Stained Paw Ratling? Why you not tell me? What you hope to do here?”
“Few yesterdays ago, was on patrol with pack,” Chin’tch said. “Clashed with Stained Paw. Angry words flew. Spears flew. Stained Paw kill everyone but me. They see the sticks.” Chin’tch held forth the Memory Stick he had been chewing on. “They see I am Rememberer. They spare me. They make deal.”
“What kind of deal?” Nir’um’tuk demanded.
“They want to be Remembered,” Chin’tch said.
Nir’um’tuk looked at the Stained Paw warrior. Mat’chek slowly set his hammer down and took a deep breath as he gathered his words.
“Stained Paw live deep in the earth, maybe since Heaven fell,” Mat’chek said in a grave voice. “Hard to tell, since none remember now. We live there and keep to selves, let the world pass by above. Then, two winters yesterday ago, bad sickness strikes Stained Paw. All Rememberers die. This why we join with Taint. Chieftain say ‘why not?’ This way or that way, Tomorrow eats the Stained Paw and no one remembers us. Maybe if we kill the humans, at least Nezumi no longer have to live in dirt and mud and tunnels. Nezumi can live in cities, full of food and light and shinies, like the humans.”
“Mat’chek tells me that the Stained Paw have no Rememberers,” Chin’tch said. “I make deal, make it so his tribe not be forgotten. Mat’chek tell me tales he remembers. I tell him way of Crippled Bone, hope that maybe he can realize that Taint is not his friend. This is why I bring you to Mat’chek, Nir’um’tuk…”
“To kill me?” Mat’chek growled.
“No,” Chin’tch said. “To tell you story of Crooked Tail and how they fought the Lying Darkness. Then maybe you will understand…”
* * * * *
Before Rokugan ever existed, the Nezumi built a proud Empire that stretched across what is now the Shadowlands. Then came The Terrible Day When Air Became Fire and Heaven Fell From Its Perch to Crush Our Glorious Home Beneath Its Blackened Corpse. Fu Leng descended from the heavens and crashed into the great city of the Nezumi. His appearance tore open a passage to Jigoku, the Realm of Evil, creating a Festering Pit where their capital once stood. The lands all around were destroyed. The Nezumi Empire was lost.
Since the Terrible Day, the Nezumi lurk in the shadows as scavengers, thieves, warriors against the darkness. They have become masters of survival. Immune to the foul corruptive touch of the Shadowlands Taint. They are the Crab Clan’s greatest allies against Daigotsu and his hordes. Through the centuries they have clung to the remnants of their shattered culture. They hunt through dreams for their lost Empire. Their concept of Name is strong and pure, in many ways like bushido.
Now, rumors spread of a Nezumi tribe that walks willingly with the Taint – the Stained Paw. Though they cannot be corrupted, they have been seduced by promises of food, security, and power. The Crippled Bone and the Crooked Tail have been the first to stand against the Stained Paw, striking down their fallen brothers. But the Stained Paw will not die easily, and they have powerful friends.
What will become of these fallen Nezumi, who have embraced the very power that destroyed their once great civilization?
Now is the Week of the Ratling. This will be a tale of Name.
* * * * *
The events that will unfold due to the results of the Week of the Ratling depend upon the clan or faction you choose to represent, and their performance relative to the other factions. Though the Ratlings are spotlighted in these events, all clans will be affected by the outcome of the Week of the Ratling…
Deep in the Shadowlands stands a ruin that should not exist – an intact building from the Before Time, filled with the lore, magic, and weapons of Ratling society thought long lost. Hiruma scouts have discovered this city and rush to report its existence to the Crippled Bone Tribe, but Daigotsu’s Obsidian Magistrates know that this strange magic would be better put to use by the Stained Paw. If Shadowlands wins outnumbers Crab wins, the Obsidian Magistrates will kill the Hiruma scouts and guide the Stained Paw to the ruin. If the Crab wins outnumber Shadowlands wins, the Crippled Bone will loot the ruins long before the Stained Paw can arrive.
The clan that wins the greatest amount of tournaments in this promotion will discover a new Ratling tribe on their lands, and make peaceful contact with them. If the Ratlings have more wins than any other clan, then a Chief-of-Chiefs will step forward, uniting five of the most powerful Nezumi tribes under one rule.
And let the faction with the smallest representation in the tournament beware, for a valuable treasure of their clan will be stolen by a Grasping Paw thief and added to the Great Shining Hoard.