All around the room the crowd roared, animals shrieked and money flowed in a steady stream into the pockets of the pit bosses. Borr tried to ignore it all, but the noises, the sights and the sounds were impossible to drown out. He sat huddled behind the highly decorated chair that had been placed in the centre of the room to accommodate their special guest. Lady Pianna observed the spectacle quietly, showing no outward reaction to the cacophony of bloodshed that she had come to inspect.
Borr had seen her arrive in the city two days previous, observing her carriage bouncing noisily over the cobblestones through the sewer grates that lined the streets. While it didn't have the luxurious trimmings that the nobility liked to boast to show off their wealth, it still had the unmistakable air of a vehicle built for someone who wielded considerable financial and political power. The army of beggars that usually trailed such vehicles was conspicuously absent, scared off by the remarkably simian looking guards that leered menacingly from the back of the carriage.
Borr scampered along the sewer pipes to keep up with the carriage until it came to a stop in front of the stately manor of the master of the pits. The bodyguards got off first, flanking the carriage door. Right on cue the pitmaster made his grand entrance, his stubby legs carrying his bloated body as dignified as they could in the elaborate silk slacks he was wearing for the occasion. He looked extremely flustered, obviously feeling threatened by the mere presence of his guest and the people she represented.
He had to adjust his legs to prevent them from cramping up, squeezing himself at an almost impossible angle to get the best possible view of the carriage door as it swung open to give him his first glimpse of their visiting dignitary. She was a stately woman, middle aged, with a sharp face that seemed to be pulled taut by her hair that was coiled up in a tight bun. Her dark robes, wrapped tightly around her thin frame, shimmered slightly in the light of the setting sun. From his distant viewpoint Borr had no idea what was going on between her and the master, but the nervous little man soon led her inside, obscuring her from his view. Borr quickly scampered back through the pipes, afraid that his absence would be noticed if he stayed out much longer.
The next day he got an unexpected visit from one of the pit bosses. When he heard that he was to attend the night's grand show at the request of Lady Pianna his heart skipped several beats out of sheer terror or being forced into proximity of someone with so much authority. He was handed a surprisingly clean set of clothes and told to forget his duties for the day and get himself cleaned up.
As he wrestled himself into his new garments his thoughts wondered at the reason why Lady Pianna wanted him to attend the show. He usually went out of his way to avoid the ghastly spectacles, disgusted by both the bloody animal fights and the audience they attracted. He knew very well that there would be no escaping the grisly displays of violence tonight and any dreams he had had about using the guest to escape his miserable existence seemed nothing more than a distant fantasy./p>
Dinner had come and gone, the usual watery soup and hard bread, but Borr found that he couldn't bring himself to swallow a single bite. He lay curled up on his bed as each second seemed to stretch itself out to an eternity, waiting for the summons. When he finally was called to attendance his legs, which his nerves had seemingly reduced to jelly, felt like they could barely carry him. The man that had come to retrieve him angrily barked at him to keep quiet and keep his head down, which had pretty much been Borr's strategy for the night anyway.
He was led into a small round room that, to his relief, was occupied by several other people that seemed to share his predicament. He recognized the faces of several rat catchers, bookmakers and pit bosses, every one of them as nervous as hew as. When the horn that signified the start of the show sounded, the door on the other room opened and those that had been called to sit with the lady filed through it in single nervous file. The crowd roared in enthusiasm as the master of the pits read out the list of events scheduled for the nights, and Borr's instincts led him to try to find a secluded spot, which was all but impossible on the crowded podium. In the end he settled for a place behind the lady's chair, hoping it would spare him from any attention he might receive.
As the show went on and the crowd got louder, Borr began to notice a pair of men, dressed in matching uniforms, move back and forth between the various spectators on the podium. One by one they were called to the lady's chair, and even though he was sitting right behind them the roars of excited bloodlust made it impossible to hear what was discussed. The people called to the lady usually only talked with her for a few moments, then hurriedly left the podium. In the dim light Borr tried to interpret their body language as they left. Most seemed, if anything, relieved to be dismissed. As the group thinned however, Borr only became more nervous, wondering when it would be his turn to talk to the mysterious visitor. The fact that he couldn't think of a single positive reason for him to be there didn't seem to help at all.
He was pulled out of his nervous contemplation by the sound of a large gong that seemed to instantly hush the crowd down to a quiet murmur. It was time for the main event, and despite his nerves and his general aversion to the games Borr shifted to get a good view of the pits. He watched as the master of the pits waddled to the centre of the large room, his voice echoing off the domed ceiling as he rattled off the usual pre-match speech that was specifically designed to not only get the crowd excited, but to get more of their money into the hands of the bookkeepers as well.
As the master of the pits walked back through the curtain, a creaking sound came from a small trapdoor built into the roof of the room. Borr looked away again, knowing exactly what would happen next. Soon enough the crowd was counting down, working itself into an even higher pitch of excitement as the mechanism slowly lowered Borr's rat king down towards the central pit. Four hungry cats, all scarred from dozens of pit battles, circled the place where the rat king would soon land, licking their lips and hissing menacingly. Borr couldn't look, knowing full well what was about to happen. Luckily the roar of the audience quickly drowned out the screams and hisses, and Borr was left to stare at the wall again.
It was over in a manner of minutes. As the bell to signify the end of the match sounded, the boos drowned out the cheers. Borr let out a sigh of relief. Boos meant that a lot of people had lost their money, and that tonight had been especially profitable. Borr didn't know the odds against his rat king, and he didn't really care. All he wanted to do now was leave, tear out of the uncomfortable clothes he was wearing, get a good night's sleep and get back to his work in the morning. He had almost made it to the door when he felt a cold hand on his shoulder. He turned around, staring directly into the eyes of Lady Pianna.
"You are Borr, the boy that makes the rat kings, aren't you? I was hoping we would get a chance to talk during the event, but I'm afraid other matters took up more time than I intended them to. Will you please follow me back to my quarters?"
Borr could only nod, amazed that his knees hadn't buckled under the sheer weight of the terror that had hit him when he realized that not only Lady Pianna was talking to him, but that for a brief moment he had stared her directly in the eyes.