Episode seven: Rage of the rats

The jungle was a wild place... filled with dangers and perils beyond imagining. To those who live there, survival is a way of life. To those who are merely visiting, their naivete about the dangers of this place can be certain death. the jungle is a place where the strong survive; and the weak, if not protecting themselves, are sure to perish.

But is is especially dangerous here, for this savage and brutal jungle... is the urban jungle.

At the very center of Empire city, stood an abandoned amusement park. The old carnival was filled with boarded up attractions, and rusty, unmoving rides. Once vibrant and filled with happy park-goers in decades past, it finally succumbed to a failing urban economy in the seventies. now, it stood as an eerie graveyard of iron and steel amidst a crumbling neighborhood. The city had optimistic plans to reopen and restore it soon... but for now, the park remained in ruins, a dormant reminder of happier times in Empire city.

At the very center of this abandoned carnival, stood an old jungle-themed fun house that no human being had set foot inside for many years. Old mechanical monsters and pop-up jungle horrors lined a dust-covered hallway that once carried moving cars along an old, rusty track. But now... a lone, hooded figure carrying a gnarled wooden wizard's staff walked those hallways, slowly making his way towards the castle's grand ballroom. There, an entire room filled with statues of tigers, fake bamboo plants, and a giant bubbling cauldron sitting over an open flame. The hooded figure approached the cauldron, and sprinkled a strange red colored dust into the cauldron, while chanting a series of unintelligible words.

"Oh, spirits of this troubled and forsaken city." The towering figure pleaded, kneeling before the cauldron. "Show me one of the terrapin creatures who is destined to save your people from destruction."

A large cloud of smoke shot up from the cauldron, and the giant saw an image of Leonardo the Ninja turtle, practicing with his dao swords in the lair's dojo. Observing the turtle's moves, he smiled at the skill the chosen champion's ability.

"Ah, it appears our brave warrior has some impressive fighting skills." The towering figure mused, leaning on his wizard's staff with a glowing green crystal on top. "But even with the abilities his sifu has taught him, I must still observe the turtle they call Leonardo further."

The towering figure in the long brown robes pulled back his hood... to reveal a large elephant head, complete with large ears and a long trunk. But this was no mask the strange sorcerer was wearing, but rather the actual animal head of a mutant magician. Putting on his feathered wizard's headdress and mask, the same as the kind worn by enchanters in the fantasy games Donnie enjoyed, the elephant mage began to chant;

"Oh, troubled and tortured spirits of empire city." The elephant raised his wizard staff over his head. "Show me the latest of the brave Leonardo's battles, so that I, Doctor El, may observe his worthiness in leading the other chosen ones in the battle to come!"

The images in the cauldron shifted again, as a tale of Leonardo, sounding as if it were narrated by the turtle himself, began to unfold before Doctor El's eyes...

...

The sky is so dark over Empire City this time of night.

As I run across the city, jumping from rooftop to rooftop, I feel the cool night air blowing in my face. The darkness embraces me, as I hear the noise of the traffic and pedestrians on the streets below. The full moon shines down from above, bathing my surroundings in an eerie glow. It creates a perfect mood and atmosphere for my evening patrol, and it's not long before I encounter my first workout for the night. It's when I'm passing over the natural history museum, that I see a few guests visit after hours.

"Hurry it up, Dag!" One of the goons barked, looking at his partner working with the tools. "Hurry up, and get that alarm disabled!"

"Keep yer pants on, Spats!" The other thug replied, pulling out wires, and cutting them with his pliers. "I'm almost done!"

I recognize one of the two troublemakers; the one giving orders is the famous thief, Spats Sparkle. He's wanted in seven states for museum heists involving valuable historical artifacts, and the short guy, Dag, must be his assistant.I can't believe my luck, in running into them as they are about to carry out a heist.

"Okay, I'm in!" Dag called back to his partner. "C'mon, lets get in there, and rob em' blind!"

As I leap to the museum's rooftop, I smile. I've done well in running into these troublemakers before they could carry out another heist, I'll easily defeat both of them, and leave the pair tied up for the authorities. But as I leap up to the rooftop, and go to enter the skylight, I hear a familiar voice speak up from behind me.

"Greetings, noble gui." The voice greeted me, as I spun around in surprise. "It seems the Tao has determined that we should meet again."

"You!" As soon as I laid eyes upon here, I remembered. The black bodysuit, the Jiang sword on her back. "You're the woman from our raid on the foot clan headquarters!"

"Indeed. My name is Lotus Blossom, and I have taken to heart the words you spoke to me on that night several weeks ago." Lotus bowed to me, and we both looked down through the skylight to watch spats and his companion sneak around the place. "That is why I am here, to stop these fiends from robbing the museum."

"More like you're here to loot the place yourself." I retort, shaking my head. "How could you have possibly known they were going to rob this place tonight, unless you are in on their plans to rob it, too."

"I am not here to rob this place, though I don't believe I'll be able to convince you otherwise." She unsheathed her sword, and moved to open the skylight. "Look... Leonardo, I believe it is? I heard your brothers call out your name on the battlefield. Anyway Leonardo, we can either take these two ill-mannered ruffians down together, or we can pull out our blades, and do battle once again, while these two criminals escape with their ill-begotten gains."

"Very well, let's go." I sigh, pulling out one of my dao blades. "But I'll be keeping an extra eye on you!"

As we gazed down into the museum, we found ourselves staring into a room that was filled with displays covering the European black death. I shivered at the macabre thirteenth-century tapestries, depicting the deaths of whole towns and villages, with skeletons standing over the dead, triumphantly. At the very center of the room, sits a dark-looking stone coffin, it's lid chained down, and the sides decorated with all sorts of carvings of rats. The two thieves were drawn straight towards the great stone coffin, and began to use their tools to break the chains off of the coffin.

"Gee, Spats, what do ya think is in this big stone box?" Dag asked, as he cut the last of the chain with his pair of bolt cutters. "It must be something really valuable, if they got it all locked up like this!"

"It's probably a corpse of some rich guy who died during the black plague." Spats explained, as they used their crowbars to start to pry the stone coffin's lid off. "They might've buried some gold and jewels with him when he died."

"Well, whatever is in there, neither one of you creeps are really going to get to enjoy it for very long." I exclaim, as Louts and I drop through the skylight, and ready our weapons. "So why don't the two of you just back away from the coffin, and put your hands in the air."

"Who the heck are these costumed freaks?!" Dag asked, as he and Spats pulled out their pistols. "What is this, Halloween?!"

"It's one of those turtles I head Big Louie's goons talk about!" Spats cried out. Waste em'!"

The two thugs opened fire, and Louts and hide were forced to take refuge behind a nearby wall. As the two thugs sent bullets flying all over the place, I curse myself over my own stupidity. This was the second time I let myself get pinned down by gunfire in this very museum, the first time being the fight with Don Turtelli's mobsters, and I made the same mistakes all over again. I charged in without any sort of plan, and now we were pinned down, powerless to stop our attackers.

It was then that Lotus pulled out a rope dart, and nodding towards me, threw it right at Dag's gun, knocking it out of his hand. I did the same with a kunai, sending Spats's weapon flying, as well. The two of us rushed out, raising our swords to the pair of crooks.

"Now, as my turtle friend was saying..." Lotus grinned. "... Are you going to surrender, and make this easy on yourselves?"

But as the two put up their hands in the air, the lid on the stone coffin continued to open on it's own. Without the two thieves noticing, a tall, lanky, and shadowy figure rose from the coffin, raising it's hands over Spats and Dag. Lotus and I were too terrified to say anything, as the gruesome form lunged forward, grabbing the two thieves, and darting back into the shadows behind the stone coffin. We heard the sound of struggling, and the two crook's terrified screams, before trail of blood oozed out onto the floor in front of us. The shadowy figure then emerged into the light, and Lotus and I became even more horrified than before.

"Oh, my my my, but if that wasn't the best meal I've had in several hundred years, ever since those stupid German villagers locked me in that damned box." The creature laughed, licking the warm, red blood off of his fingers. "Then again, I suppose drowning their children and eating them didn't endear me to them very much, did it?"

This creature, whatever it was, is the most terrifying horror I've seen up until this point. Have you ever seen that early black-and white horror movie, Nosferatu? The one about the creepy vampire, named count Orlok? Well, this freak looked just like him; same pale, rat-like face, same pointed bald head, and same sharpened fangs. The figure wore a black coat and pants, and his whole body up to his neck was covered in bandages and tied rags. As he stood there, several rats came scurrying into the room, scurrying up and swarming all over the creature's body, like they were some kind of beloved pets.

"Ahhh, there you are, my children!" The creature hissed, petting the rat that sat on his shoulder. "Oh, how I have missed you, after all those long centuries of imprisonment!"

"Who... who are you?" Louts blossom asked in shock, disgusted by the creature in front of her. "What are you?"

"Ahh, and what's this? A little turtle, and his pet human?" The rat-like beast bowed to us. "Over the millennia, I have been known by many names; Lord Ha'ntann of Karnak, Victor Falco of Venice, and the pied piper of Hamlin. You, however, can call me the name that stupid living nutcracker I once battled gave me...I am the rat king."

The two of us can only stare in this creature in disbelief, like something that had stepped right from one of Mikey's horror films. Drinking blood, coming out of a sealed coffin, looking like a walking corpse... I hold up my sword in the dim light, to see if this 'rat king' is some kind of vampire. But there is his reflection in my blade reveals he is not a member of the walking dead. He must then be some kind of ghoul or demon. The lord of all rats, that was sealed away, but we have accidentally unleashed back upon the earth once more. Nodding towards Lotus, the two of us realize we must somehow re-seal this monster, or somehow destroy it before it can bring harm to other people.

"Hear me, oh Rat King... after seeing you brutally massacre those two criminals, the Tao demands that we cannot allow you to survive." I tell him, as Lotus and I ready our weapons. "Prepare to defend yourself, monster!"

"Oh, I don't think so, my good terrapin." The Rat King snapped his fingers. "I'm afraid my new servants here, are going to take a serious bite out your shell!"

We looked to where he was gesturing, and saw, to our horror, the corpses of Spats and Dag rose from the ground. their faces now looked ghoulish and rat-like, and their eyes blazed with a hate that had not been there before. Even glancing at the two as they closed in on us, Lotus and I could both see they were not breathing, revealing they had become two undead rat ghouls, like their dark master.

"Well, enjoy playing with my two little pets, here." The rat king told us, waving goodbye in a mocking manner. "I'm off to see how this world has changed, ta ta!"

And with that, his body instantly turned into a giant swarm of rats, who all then skittered away.

The two rat zombies jumped at us, baring their new claws and teeth, as they made for out throats. Lotus swiftly dodged Dag's claws, rolling to the left, and kicking the undead horror away. The Dag-rat then jumped again for her neck, baring it's sharp fangs, as Louts swiftly swung her jian, lopping it's head clean off. Meanwhile, Spats launches himself at me, and I block his steel-sharp teeth with my dao sword. headbutting him away, I quickly back flip over the rat zombie as he attacks again, and spin around and chop him straight down the middle, cleaving the walking rodent corpse right in two.

"Ugh, I can't believe he did that to those poor goons." I shake my head, looking down at the two corpses. "Not even Spats and Dag deserved this!"

"We must go out there, and stop this rat king from harming others!" Lotus agreed. "Before he turns the whole city into Rat-people!"

Leaving the two messy corpses on the floor of the museum, the two of us started racing across the rooftops, searching for any sign of the ghouls. As our eyes scanned the streets below, Lotus looked over, and tried to start some light conversation with me.

"This is what we both live for, isn't it?" She asked me. "The thrill of battle, the clash of swords and steel... warriors such as ourselves only truly live when we are knee-deep in combat, yes?"

"I don't know about you Lotus, but I fight for honor and justice. I draw my blades to protect innocent, not simply to for the thrill of battle itself." I replied, glaring over at her. "Ever since I was a child, I loved reading the stories of the great Li Yang. He was the panda Youxia knight, who traveled around and protected the weak from the strong. I so wanted to be like him; an anthropomorphic animal who used his martial arts talent to be a hero." I averted my eyes. "That's all I ever wanted to do, to be a champion of those who could not defend themselves."

"That is not true for me, Leonardo. I fight simply for the sheer joy of combat." Lotus tells me candidly. "When I was growing up in Empire City's Chinatown, my mother and father wanted me to be strong, so I could take care of myself. So my parents sent me to the foot monastery at age ten, and I learned how to fight and defend myself. Master Mogo's lessons in Kung-fu filled my heart with a burning passion for the art, and I have always found myself drawn towards battle... though I do not have a taste for the evil violence and brutality that the Foot Clan now embraces."

"And that's why you left." I reply, a smile on my face. The two of us continue to talk, finding common ground in our mutual love of martial arts. I am able connect with Lotus in a way I simply can't with my brothers, and she understands my desire and dream to follow the code of wuxia. The two of us found so many things to bond over. We could have continued to enjoy each other's company for hours... if he hadn't spotted several of the Rat King's new minions in the alleyways below.

"Aieee, get away from me!"

"Help, monsters!"

"No! Please don't please- ARGHHHHH!"

It appeared the rat king had corrupted nearly thirty people really quickly; the rat zombies were running everywhere, attacking innocent people, and terrifying most of the populace. Lotus and I jumped down to street level, and the swarm of rat men and women forgot about attacking the civilians, and all came rushing towards us.

"Looks like the enemy has us surrounded." I smiled, drawing my second blade, and holding my dao swords in the ready position. "Are to ready for righteous battle?"

"It is the will of heaven that we will be victorious." Lotus grinned, gripping her jian tightly. "Let us send these demons straight back to hell!"

We both lunge to attack, each launching everything we have at the rat creatures. As the first two come rushing towards me, I chuck two kunai straight at their heads, burying the throwing knives right into their skulls. Jumping forward, I decapitate the next two of the rat zombies, causing black blood to come squirting out of the neck stump, as the body collapsed to the ground. Another reaches to grab my shoulders, and I chop his arms off, before chopping his legs of in response.

"Graaarrrrrr!"

"Hissss!"

"Kill the turtles and the witch!"

More of the rat zombies come crawling at us along the walls, and leaping down from the rooftops. Two of them came running at Lotus from either side, and she responded by stabbing one through the chest, then rapidly pulled her sword out, and stabbed the one behind her. Kicking away one of the foul rats, she pushed her sword right into his open mouth, shoving his blade down the zombie's throat, and bringing her blade straight out though his rib cage. As more of the creatures come pouring in, the two of us attack like lightning.

CUT!

SLASH!

HACK!

CHOP!

Again and again we slice away, blood splattering everywhere, and body parts flying all over the place. As I send the rat zombies' severed arms, legs, and heads to the left and right, I can only fell disgust at my actions. These monsters used to be people before the rat king sank his fangs into them, and here I am chopping them into bits, like a butcher with a bunch of meat. I wanted to use my martial arts abilities to help people, not cleave up the victims of a horrible monster. How did I end up helping to release this monster, then slaughtering the very innocents I was trying to protect?

We finally succeeded in taking down the last of the rat creatures, when the Rat King reappeared on a nearby rooftop. The two of us climb the fire escape, and face the monster who caused all of this blood and gore.

"Yoo hoo, turtle! Kung-fu lady!" The Rat King waved to us. "Can you come up and play?"

"This is the end of the road, Rat King." I declare, as the two of us point our blades at his throat. "Time to pay for the lives you've taken tonight!"

"Oh, I wouldn't have a problem with that... if I had actually taken any lives." The Rat King grinned like a wicked demon. "Where are these victims I've created?"

Puzzled, Lotus and I look over the edge of the building. Much to our surprise, all of the bodies and blood of the rat zombies are gone, as if they were never there. As we look back to the rat king, the rodent-like demon burst out laughing.

"What... what did you do to the bodies?!" Lotus asked in confusion. "How did you make all those rat zombies disappear?"

"The answer is quite simple, my dear... they were never there to begin with." The Rat King shook his head. "If you were to go back and look in the museum, you would find those two thugs who opened my casket, unconscious."

"But, we fought all those rat zombies..." I protested. "There was no way you could have fooled us, we saw-"

"You saw, what I wished you to see, for I command all things related to rats...including illusions." He conjured up a rat in his hand, before popping it in his mouth, and eating it. "It was so much fun watching the two of you fighting then air, cutting and slashing away at nothing." The rat king replied triumphantly. "You and your friend have been a whole lot of fun, little turtle... I hope we hope get a chance to play again."

And right before our eyes, the Rat King then turned into a swarm of rats again, who all scurried away in every direction. Lotus and I merely stare at each other for several minutes, dumbfounded, before I finally look back to where the rat king had stood, and spoke up.

"Great Tainzun... did- did any of that just really happen?" I ask in confusion." This has got to be the weirdest night I've ever had out on patrol."

I stand there for several moments, before looking back to see Lotus was already gone. With a sigh, I start running across the rooftops again. It was time for me to go home, after one of the most confusing adventures of my life...

...

Looking deeply into the pool, Doctor El nodded at what we saw in the cauldron with the turtle with the blue bandanna. This turtle was still raw and inexperienced, much like his four turtle brothers. But like the others, Leo had a whole lot of potential that was evident to the mutant elephant. Ever since he had been a simple shaman in India, Doctor El had been good at seeing the value in individuals. That ability only increased after he mistakenly used a container of ooze as an ingredient in a healing potion, and accidentally turned himself into an elephant. The sorcerer realized he would have to keep his eyes on the turtle for the months to come, and make sure that Leonardo would be the hero the world needed when the time is right...