The Rat King raised his arms.

The rag men spread out and pushed the serfs towards the throne. The huddled, wretched people cowered before the King’s massive figure. They wept and muttered. Meek voices called out for mercy.

The Rat King paced back and forth.

“Anyone who tries to leave…”

He stopped in front of one man. He was on his hands and knees with his head bowed. He wore an ill fitting yellow shirt with sleeves that covered his hands and a floppy red cap.

“Anyone who tries to leave will suffer!”

The man in the yellow shirt quivered so violently Joshua thought he would shake apart. The Rat King plucked the man off the ground as easy as he had Joshua. The King’s minions swarmed forward. Half of them followed the Rat King as he carried the poor man past his throne and behind the black curtain. The man screamed with every step. The other half formed a wall in front of the throne to prevent anyone from interfering. No one tried.

The Rat king and the man disappeared behind the black curtain. Joshua and the others watched tensely. They heard the man’s tortured pleas. Then they heard a slow constant creaking sound. The man’s pleas got louder and more desperate.

Then both the voice and the creaking stopped for a moment.

Joshua watched the black curtain, anxious to hear something.

What happened? What are they doing back there?

Then they heard a bloody scream so loud Joshua was sure the sound made it all the way to the surface. His friends covered their ears and tried to stop the terrible sound. Sophie screamed to drown out the noise with her own voice. Heathcliff joined her. Finally the screams died away.

The Rat King and his underlings returned from behind the black curtain. The man in the yellow shirt was no longer with them. The giant strode towards Joshua. His steps thundered in the chamber.

“No one ever leaves here,” he growled.

He pointed to two of his minions. One was hunchbacked with a crooked nose that peeked out from his black and purple wrappings. The other was smaller, only a little bigger than Joshua.

“You two, take them to the kitchen!” The Rat King ordered.

Joshua looked for his knives. One of the rag men still held his leather pouch.

“I’ll need my knives,” he said.

“You’ll work with what we give you,” the Rat King warned. “Now take them to the kitchens! I want my dinner prepared! And it had better be wonderful!”

The two minions hustled Joshua and the others out of the throne room and down another tunnel. The hunchbacked one with the crooked nose took the lead. The smaller one hung back behind them to make sure no one ran for it.

Joshua looked back several times at the small guard. He couldn’t be much older than they were. Like all the Rat King’s soldiers, the boy had rags wrapped around head which hid his face. Still there was something familiar about him. He walked with a sad slouch. He didn’t seem to be trying too hard to prevent their escape. Joshua considered running for it.

But the only thing back that way is the Rat King’s throne room.

Besides, even if they somehow managed to evade the Rat King and his minions, Joshua had no idea where they were. They could wander around lost in the sewers for days.

Hook Nose brought them to a side tunnel with bars and a padlocked door which sealed it. The tunnel dead ended in a brick wall several yards back. It was barely lit by a smelly grease lamp that hung from the ceiling. A coal brazier smoldered in the corner.

Hook Nose worked the key into the squeaky padlock and opened the door.

“Your kitchen, chef.”

They filed inside and sat down on the hard floor. Hook Nose slammed the door behind them and snapped the padlock closed.

The hunchback cackled and hobbled away. He grabbed the small underling by the arm and dragged him along.

“Come along you worthless pile of beetle droppings!”

Hook Nose berated the boy as they walked. In a few minutes they disappeared down the tunnel and Joshua and his friends were left alone, locked inside a cell beneath the city.


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