Last time, I really don’t like Holok. Now, Ratcatcher and Wren again.
Things have gone back to tedious, as Wren is still just sitting around not escaping.
After his uncharacteristic outburst, Ratcatcher was mostly silent, and Wren’s attempts at conversation fell flat.
What makes Wren think it’s uncharacteristic? He doesn’t know the guy and it isn’t as if Ratcatcher was particularly taciturn when they met before. And he’s wrong, anyway, Ratcatcher can’t shut up. When there aren’t people around he talks to his horse. He’s being uncharacteristically silent, maybe because he realized you’re not supposed to chat with your prisoners.
So the day passes, and Wren’s starting to get sick and run a fever. Oh, mortals. Always getting sick and dying. Exalted has very extensive rules for stuff like infection or the chance an injury will be bad enough you’ll quickly die of blood loss, none of which most players will ever use because the actual exalts get a free pass on those.
One of the dogs injures its leg, and Wren says the sounds it makes are almost human.
Ratcatcher looked back at it every few hundred strides, his face showing an ever-increasing annoyance. Once he caught Wren’s eye, and laughed at the concern he saw there.
The scene that follows almost, but doesn’t quite, make sense, and it’s because of these two sentences.
See, the next line is Still chortling, he called a halt and leapt down from his horse. which, aside from the fact if he does this right afterward the sentence shouldn’t start with “once”, means the reason he’s doing things is because he thinks it’s funny Wren feels bad for the dog thing.
It sat on its hind legs, its tongue hanging out, and the expression on its face one of mixed devotion and fear. The others hung back in a rough circle, keening softly. Silently, Ratcatcher knelt.
“There’s a good boy,” he said softly, stroking the dog’s head. “That’s a good, good boy. You’ve run a long way, haven’t you?” The hound whimpered, and lowered its head gratefully to Ratcatcher’s attentions.
“DO you think you can run all the way home, boy? I don’t think you can. You’re hurt, aren’t you, my good boy?” Again the hound whimpered, and Wren felt a sudden cold stab of trepidation in the pit of his stomach.
You can see where this is going.
Except – you might expect that this is mocking concern, right? That he’s pretending to be caring, then working his way up to it having the same realization as Wren, laughing at it as it struggles to escape, and then killing it.
Only…no. The other animals are getting nervous, but Still murmuring to the hound, Ratcatcher put its head in his lap. It whined softly and closed its eyes, and a second later Ratcatcher snapped its neck.
Then the other dogs eat it, although Ratcatcher takes a leg off first.
Wren wants to know what the fuck.
Ratcatcher says well, wasn’t that merciful? It was in pain and wouldn’t have been able to finish the journey. And the reason the other dogs are eating the body is because they’ve been going hungry. And the leg thing is that Ratcatcher needs an offering to pass this way.
All very reasonable. Except for the part where he only does any of this because he thinks it’s funny Wren’s concerned.
It’s possible that he was intending to kill it later, but there’s still no need to take so long killing it instead of just skewering it with his sword.
Obviously, this is going on the idea that people just find it creepy to combine offering something comfort and killing it, and probably the disrespect for the body after it’s dead. It’s very dissonant, but it’s perfectly reasonable if you think about it at all.
This is the sort of stuff the non-horrible Abyssals should get up to. It’s possible to have middle path Abyssals who think that people are better off as ghosts. Ghosts don’t get sick, you can’t cripple them, and they can just reform after being killed. So, no desire to throw everything into oblivion, but still fundamentally opposed to anyone who’s in favor of continued life. These make for good antagonists because instead of cackling evil, they’re sincerely concerned about suffering just like you are (unless you’re playing the mechanically optimized compassion one character) they just have a different conclusion.
The problem comes when you try to mesh that attitude to the sadistic villain Abyssals.
You could actually get a pretty decent character by explaining this with an ingroup/outgroup thing – if you accept Ratcatcher is using the suffering metric, then his behavior makes a lot of sense. To outgroup troublemakers, he does what he thinks is cruelest, which is prolonging their suffering in the living world. To ingroup members, a quick death when injured. This kind of behavior is common enough under normal moral frameworks, so it’s easy to shift over.
But this would require accepting that doing things like leaving Yushuv alive aren’t a sign of niceness but that Ratcatcher has enough issues he views random peasant kids as a hated outgroup.
Back to the story, such as it is. Ratcatcher calls the spirit.
Wren felt, rather than saw, something huge and spiderlike scuttle up out of the dark.
Ratcatcher doesn’t explain quite what this is, but presumably it’s a loyalist god and it’s creepy because themes.
As to what it would be, it seems to have elements of the Things That Dwell in Corners – sort of echos/memories of what existed under the primordials. Those were introduced with the yozi, but the particular ones connected to them are a soul of the Ebon Dragon and he’s not exactly alive, and Adorjan who’s the closest any of the yozi got to actually dying. So maybe this is a sort of half and half thing – a god tied to concepts lost in the battle between the primordials and exalts, but enough of it managed to stay in Creation and kept the ability to effect things there. That seems like a good way to get a god tied to the underworld – they don’t form ghosts in the way mortal things do and as early primordial creations, death itself is alien to them.
Ratcatcher gives it the leg and they continue. The dogs don’t.
One by one they lifted their voices in a dirge, and Wren was surprised to see Ratcatcher join in the chorus.
I could say stuff here about how this gets into the ingroup thing where the fact they ate the body doesn’t mean they had any ill-will toward their fellow dead doggy thing, they just view things differently. But I mostly just quote for the image of Ratcatcher, in his super serious business armor sitting atop his giant serious black horse and his serious emo tear tattoos with his giant serious sword strapped to his back, howling like an idiot.