Tunnel Rat - Chapter 173: A delicate mix of strength, torture, and compassion
Chapter 173: A delicate mix of strength, torture, and compassion
Gangrene paced back and forth in the tent, irritable. The three squad leaders and Grackle were wary of saying anything. The general was prone to violence even in a good mood. The human attack had injured him badly, with so many of their mages and archers focusing their fire on him. Potions, cheese, and regeneration were doing what they could to put him back together. The pain of his wounds and the hunger accompanied by rapid healing made him irritable and dangerous. “This has been a disaster from the start. Scouting reports failed miserably at finding out this Hollow’s defensive strength. They should have been crushed by the spider raid and be happy for us to march in and kill off the eight leggers. Obviously, that didn’t happen. And Rifkin is late getting back to us with better information.”
The leader of the first squad ventured a question. “Is it possible they have some treaty with the spiders? The appearance of that large, mechanical monster is suspicious.”
Gangrene paused. “Possible, yes. Likely? No. Even my dealings with the spider clans have shown they can’t be trusted. The machine the dwarves are feeding beer to is known to me. An outcast the clans wanted dead and duped into leading the first raid. I assume the main spider army is still out there, scouting and waiting to attack. That’s the only way the first raid failed so miserably. They sent in their outcasts, and the hammer blow is yet to fall.”
Larry looked at Rifkin. “Rifkin is sad and having a bad day. Larry can tell. Maybe if Rifkin weren’t a SNEAKYBADGUY! he wouldn’t be so sad!”
Something clicked in Milo’s brain. According to Larry, there were sneaky guys, bad guys, badsneaky guys, and many other types of villains. But there had been some specific times that Larry had used the term ‘sneakybadguy’ and said it that way.
“Larry, who gave you too much cheese when you wanted to be strong?”
Larry looked at him with sad eyes and shook his head. Old Healer was looking at Rifkin. “Newly made Cheese Fiends are very malleable and are often forced to bond with the person who gives them the cheese. They can’t disobey some orders and may not remember what happened correctly.”
Larry was hopping from one foot to the other. “Yes, that is what happened to Larry. Rifkin gave Larry cheese so he could be strong like Justin and be a guard! So much cheese! Larry remembers all the flavors, and he got so strong! But Rifkin was a sneakybadguy and made Larry forget things and not be able to tell everyone that Rifkin gave Larry the cheese. So Larry doesn’t.”
Rifkin hissed through his gag and glared at Larry. Larry said, “Oops, sorry, Sneakybadguy, Larry remembers some things better, and now he forgets that he must not say that….”
Everyone was very quiet as Larry stood there, thinking hard. He turned to Rifkin. “Larry is a Hero now, and Larry doesn’t have to do what RifkinSneakyBadGuy says anymore! Rifkin should remember that the next time he thinks he is being sneaky. Larry will know, and Larry will catch him!”
Rifkin was trying to squirm under Smiley’s cot and away from Larry. Smiley turned his head. “You go hide somewhere else. I don’t like you anymore, either!” Rifkin looked around the circle of ratkin and saw no sympathy. Old healer started to say something but was interrupted by Gendifur. She had heard what Smiley and Larry had said, and she was a very angry healer.
One not-so-dainty hand grabbed Rifkin by the scruff of his neck, and the other ripped off his gag. “You gave little Larry cheese?! You turned him into a fiend?!”
“I am the Cheese Master! You can’t do this to me! I will give cheese to whoever I want! You can prove nothing! Put me down, woman.” Brutus rolled his eyes, and several people looked alarmed. No one intervened as Gendifur slammed Rifkin into a wall three times.
“The cracking sound was your fourth and fifth ribs on your right side. You have a lot of ribs left. I need to know what poisons you gave to Smiley and Bleusnout, and I want to know what the spider cheese does and its effects.”
Rifkin sputtered. “I will tell you nothing! I have powerful allies, and you will all be working for me.”
The wall took a beating as Rifkin slammed into it over and over. Some of the cracking sounds might have been from the wooden wall. A stunned Rifkin shook his head in defiance. Gendifur shouted to her assistants, “I have a tough guy here! Set up a table with good straps and get my special needles and iodine.” She began to drag the injured Rifkin over to a table when he started talking.
“NO! Not the iodine! It stings! I gave Smiley and Bluesnout Stenchwart Poison with an infusion of Black Mold, a double dose of Milbenkase cheese, spiderling venom, and an extract of Felticor!”
Harry stood up. “Ah, of course! How clever. The Black Mold would mask some of the effects of the Stenchwart, and the spiderling venom would intensify the effect of the spider cheese.” The troll put his face very close to Rifkin. “Maybe you’d like to tell me all about the spider cheese? In detail? And lots of other things? You can trust me; I’m a doctor. It says so on my diploma. Or I can leave you here for this delicate flower of a healer to help your memory with her needles?”
Rifkin looked from the troll to Gendifur. “I would love to tell you everything I know about spider cheese.”
Milo got up with difficulty; there were things he needed to know. “Tell me about the caravan.”
Rifkin looked from Harry to Gendifur to Tallsqueak. “Why should I tell you? You can’t torture me more than these two can.”
Tallsqueak smiled a very fake smile. “Because if you tell me, I won’t heal your broken bones. If you don’t tell me, I’ll heal you so Gendifur can break them again. But this time, they will be brittle and shatter into many pieces. Gendifur might have to take out your bones entirely. Have you ever tried to walk with no bones? It’s not easy.”
Rifkin licked his lips, thinking. Maybe they would all kill each other? That would be nice. “The caravan master is General Gangrene from Wurchwitz Hollow. He is a monster and a horrible person. His guards are all skilled fighters. The potent battle cheese they carry with them makes them the equal of creatures twice their level.”
Milo looked at him. He remembered Rifkin and Smiley helping Bleusnout in the kitchen. That seemed like a different person. He really didn’t understand people sometimes. “You have a nice talk with Harry and Old Healer.” Harry dragged him off for some quality research time, accompanied by the former Deathmaster.
Gendifur got a quick hug from Brutus and another from Larry and then went back to monitoring Bleusnout. Brutus came over near Smiley and Tallsqueak. His eyes were shining. “Wow, now that girl is really something.” Smiley and Milo shared a look.
Tallsqueak made a careful comment. “Yes, she’s quite strong, I noticed.”
Brutus flexed his bicep. “Yep, she’s got some good muscle on her. A lot of the older folks complain about how some of the clans got merged, but I think it’s a good thing. Justin and I are mostly StoneClaw Clan. A lot of the guards are. We tend to be tall and have a lot of muscle. But Gendifur has ancestors who come from StoneClaw, DeathClaw, and SilentTail. She’s strong and smart, and you saw how quick she was to go for her needles. I bet she would have made a great Deathmaster if she hadn’t become a healer.”
Smiley nodded. “Yes, she is a delicate mix of strength, torture, and compassion.”
Brutus looked at her and got misty-eyed. “And she’s all mine.”
Smiley whispered to Tallsqueak. “Brave Man!”
Larry was sitting near Justin, holding a Cheesy Pancake near his nose. Justin sniffed twice and then opened his mouth slightly. Larry pushed the pancake in. Justin swallowed and opened his mouth. Larry happily fed his big brother Cheesy pancakes until the plate was empty. Then Justin opened his eyes and looked around. Larry hugged him quite tightly. “Justin is awake!”
Justin mumbled something that might have been, “Yes, I am awake. Good job, Larry.” Or it might have been, “I can’t breathe, and why does your fur smell like lilacs?” Eventually, Larry released his big brother, who sank wearily back into his bed. Gendifur took his pulse and stuck a piece of cheddar into his mouth. “Eat this; you need it. You got bit dozens of times.”
Justin chewed on the cheese. “Yeah, I didn’t expect to make it out of that one alive. What happened?”
Larry patted Justin on the head. “Big Brother Justin is a hero. Killed lots of spiders. Larry was in Flowertown and heard the fight and came and stomped spiders who hurt Justin! Spiders all smushed. Fairies and Puffyfurs and Tallsqueak all helped.”
Tallsqueak added, “All true. Larry killed hundreds of spiders and carried you back. Both you and Larry almost died.”
Justin took in Larry’s bandaged form, the fluttering fairies, and how different he looked. “It sounds like Larry was the Hero then.”
Larry nodded. “Larry and Justin can be heroes together, now.”
Larry turned his head suddenly, listening. “Someone is Sad! Larry needs to go be a Hero!” The fairies flew after him.
Milo turned to Brutus. “I need to go talk to Gangrene.”
The guard nodded. “Right behind you, Scout Master.”