I take my cell phone off the back of the toilet and click the power button, expecting it to light up and show me the time, but remembering sadly—and not for the first time—that the phone died hours ago (or was it days?). I press and hold the button again, hoping that its dead battery might miraculously come to life, but when it inevitably doesn’t, I put the phone back on the tank in a huff and try to get comfortable on the ceramic tiles, leaning back against the hard edge of the bathtub. I close my eyes and extend my legs as I try to relax.
“As much as I appreciate you letting me into your home, Pierre, I’m gonna have to ask you to move,” Ben says calmly. I open my eyes to see my foot maybe an inch from an especially sensitive spot between his legs.
“Sorry,” I mumble, crossing my legs and trying not to complain as my muscles protest.
He nods at me and closes his eyes, shifting his weight side to side as he tries to get comfortable on the floor beside the small vanity. Not far from him, Fred is staring at one of the rat-people hard enough that his eyes are bulging a bit and the vein on his neck is noticeably thumping under his skin. With a cloud of brown smoke the rat begins to shake, hissing loudly, before there’s a loud pop and a second rat-thing appears next to him.
Only something’s terribly wrong with this one.
His nose is crooked, he has three arms sticking out of his neck, and part of his face looks like it’s melting off. It opens its mouth and lets out a gurgle, sand spilling out from between its lips and falling onto the floor.
“How’s this one look?” Ben asks, not opening his eyes.
“Uh, well, it’s clearly one of those rats, but it’s not especially attractive.”
“Hey! It’s got character,” Fred says, annoyed with us. “And, more importantly, it’s finally got skin. So that’s a big improvement!”
“Definitely an improvement,” I agree with a shudder.
Fred picks the quantling-adjacent creature up from the bathroom floor, his hands still glowing red, and throws it into the bathtub behind me, narrowly avoiding hitting me in the face with his abomination. It lands hard in the acrylic bin and gurgles louder this time, not out of pain but out of mock annoyance. It roams aimlessly in the tub, walking over sand, foam, and the leftover bits from the other magicked copies that have been disintegrating into nothing over the last day. Eventually it finds the other, mostly whole, rat copies and huddles with them in a circle to conspire against Fred, its ear falling off in the process (not that it notices or seems to care).
“Maybe you should give it a break,” I suggest, watching as a second rat-mistake picks up the ear and stuffs it in its mouth. “Take a rest and then try your hand at magical photocopying later.”
“It’s not a photocopy, it’s a mystical duplicate. It has the same mannerisms, attitude, and default reactions as the original person. Only it can’t feel, go rogue, or disobey me.”
“If you get it right,” Ben says, eyes still closed.
“When I get it right. Which will be soon! Probably… I think.”
“I’ll be sure to hold my breath then,” Ben drawls.
I open my mouth to comment on how moody he’s gotten, but the growling from my stomach interrupts me. It’s only been a day (or two?) without food, but I’m so hungry and tired that it feels like my whole body hurts. When Fred came to warn us about the sudden influx of attacking sirens in the village, a few of them followed his obnoxious rock to the house. Realizing we were massively outnumbered, and no match for the hot women outside, we decided to bunker down in the upstairs bathroom. It was better insulated than the other rooms in the house, didn’t have any windows, and thanks to Fred’s spell we were able to wall ourselves up in it.
Unfortunately, Fred literally walled us up in the small room, with nothing to break it down with once the sirens had left. After a few bloody knuckles, exhausting hours of pounding on solid brick, the realization that his wall was magic proof, and some awkwardly public bathroom breaks, we finally accepted that we had to wait for the piaffhommes to come save us. Or die of starvation. Whatever came first.
Without a watch, or functional cell phone, it’s impossible to tell how long we’ve been stuck in the washroom, but from the burning in my stomach and Ben’s incessant bitching, it’s got to be at least a few days. The quantlings, who had been screaming for their princess earlier in our captivity, were now huddled together on the floor and shooting us looks as they licked their lips.
“Do you think they’re going to eat us?” I whisper to Ben.
“The rats. Do you think they’re going to eat us?”
“Are you sure?”
Ben opens his eyes and looks over his shoulder at them. The two of them are sharpening their spears on the bathroom tile and, while it’s hard to tell from across the room, seem to be drooling on themselves.
“You know, I’m really not sure anymore,” he admits, looking a little worried.
“They’re not going to eat you,” Fred chuckles, staring at the rat-beings with immense concentration again.
“What?” Fred asks, looking a little whiter and less focused.
“Yessssssssss, weeeeee arrrrre,” the more eloquent of the two says.
Milky, the spear-happy rat, hisses when Fred tries to move away from them, pointing his stick at the wizard.
“I’d reconsider that,” Ben says calmly, “if you want to save your princess.”
“Noooooodlessssss!” Milky screams, jabbing his spear at Fred and landing a blow on his upper thigh.
“Ow! You little—”
“Play nice,” Ben says. “You guys want to save your princess, so if you eat one of us you’re not going to be able to help her.”
“Weeeeee onlyyyyyy neeeeeed the wizzzzzaaaaarrrrd,” Priest confesses.
“So then why’s the other one stabbing me?” Fred shouts, rubbing a patch on his leg.
“I’m not sure if he means you, or the rat,” I admit with a chuckle, the laugh getting trapped in my throat as the talkative rat raises his stick too.
Ben doesn’t move, but his eyes dart between the two rats, the two spears, and the two of us. It would be a funny sight if the rats didn’t look so feral in the small bathroom, or if we couldn’t hear the gurgling and hissing of the copy quantlings echoing from inside the tub.
We stop moving.
THUD. THUD. THUDTHUDTHUDTHUD!
With a loud crash the wall of the bathroom breaks open, brick, plaster, and chipped paint showering the rat duo. They scramble out of the way, running past us with their sticks and finding refuge in the bathtub. Another huge hammer hits the wall, breaking it open further and further until Rosaline stands triumphantly in a haze of dust and dirt, two large piaffhommes framing her on either side.
“Mon amour!” she cries, trying to fit into the small bathroom but getting stuck in the wall. “I was so worried the sirènes found you, or ‘urt you again! Oh, mon dieu, I was so worried!”
“How did you find us?” Ben asks.
“Because I know ‘is ‘ome’s layout, silly! When I see the door missing, I knew your wizard Francis—”
“My name’s Fred.”
“—must ‘ave made a mistake.”
“Cool, that doesn’t hurt or anything,” he mumbles under his breath.
“Come,” Rosaline orders, backing up through the broken wall, “we ‘ave les sirènes to discuss, and mon papa wants to talk to you.”
“This should be good,” Ben says to nobody in particular, heading out of the washroom.
I follow behind him and Fred, stopping at the door to look back at the rats trying to climb out of the bathtub.
“Were you really going to eat us?”
The smart one blinks at me once, deep in thought, before answering.
“Offffff courrrrsssssee… notttttttt.”
I stare at them a little longer before leaving.
“Liars!” I call over my shoulder, rushing to follow Rose and the others through my house, and grab some food along the way.
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