Chiaroscuro was, by no means, a good rat. He was terrible at what he did, and was told such every day. An anomalously good person trapped in a putrid world, below even the stones and dirt. Botticelli, on the other hand, was a very good rat: good at getting things; good at coming up with things to do to those things, and finally, doing to those things what no other rat could conceive. Everything he did was perfect for what he was, and what he was, was a long, scraggly trap of scum caught in a cess pool that no one but the two of them knew the size of.
But Roscuro, with his faltering heart, knew much more about the world than the pitiful scythe-tongued creatures and bawds that plagued their world, and this intrigued Botticelli, who had for so long thought that he would be alone in his knowledge and his cruelty. But what he had found in Roscuro was more than he could have imagined, and with each flicker of the vision trapped inside his skin, the elder learned so much more about this sorry little would-be gentleman.
"Roscuro," said Botticelli Remorso, "what have you there?" The young rat had his back turned toward his mentor, claws scratching furiously at something. After a few seconds, the elder's voice echoed again, "Chiaroscuro." He said impatiently, and the young rat knew he was to show the old rat immediately.
"It is nothing." He brought his claws close to him, and folded his purpose into his pocket, tempting the hole he should have mended the night before. "Only thread, sir. Only thread." He turned to face his elder, back bowed to the appropriate and rat-like hunch. His superior inspected the thread as the young rat handed it casually to him. Its withering softness shivered beneath his claws in the appropriate way. His slow smile caused the last of it to fade, and the pretty soft thread became a lone piece of lint the hands of yet another rat blessed with avarice and sadism.
"Tell me, Roscuro," he said delicately, crumpling it gently between his lanky, grimy fingers. The young rat looked up hesitantly, guarding his pocket and glad his superior couldn't see it. "Where did you find this Wonderful Thing?" Botticelli asked because Botticelli knew exactly what it was. He could smell the fear and the longing, feeling the grievous angst curdled in small, tumour-like pockets between the weathered fibres. He turned to his ward, "Well?" he asked.
"It was laying on one of the stones, far from the water. It must have come from one of Gregory's wenches." Botticelli's eyes grew wide, and his body, twice that of the young rat's, curled over menacingly; questioningly. He gently held the small ball of fabric beneath the young rat's nose,
"Do you smell a woman?" He asked. Roscuro replied,
"Yes." Botticelli continued to watch him, eyes far from the light and yet seeing through a wall of black to the anxiety and fright on his ward's face.
"Tell me what she was like, this woman." He said languidly, tone like warm tea and milk; soothing, comforting; lain with energy and sweet poison.
"I did not see her, Sir." Roscuro said with respect, his hands now trembling as they kneaded his tunic.
"Ah, but you must know. You have seen so much of this world. Tell me," he asked with his bitter, contemptible face and concupiscent tone, "is she beautiful?" His claws tapped Roscuro's shoulder, and the young rat understood what he was to do.
"Oh, very. Like a wingless dove on the ground," Botticelli purred,
"What of her voice, Chiaroscuro?" He rasped wantonly, pulling the young rat with him into a bizarre and demulcent dance among the puddles and lifted stones. Roscuro heard music in that voice, and it charmed his ears and his light-filled mind,
"Like a thousand men crying for their wives. Like the thunder as the Gods seek recompense." The old rat groaned in pleasure as he held the thread closely, its frayed ends quivering in the dark, its brilliant colour no matter in a place where no light could reach it again.
"What is her scent, boy? Tell me: does she smell of fear and anguish? Do tears stain the dress this thread made?"
"Yes, Sir. Even more so, Sir." Botticelli held him close as they dipped between passages and ran between the dross and the bones, "she is contaminated with the smells of desire and distress. Her hands wring blood from the cloth, and her tears salt it to perfection,"
"More,boy, more. Does she weep every day?"
"A thousand times an hour!" The claws pressed close to his sides and he shivered,
"What does she see, boy?" He said in his agonisingly cupidinous voice. Roscuro mourned the moment it stopped.
"Nothing but her fate at the hand of the executioner!" Fingers gripped his sides tightly, nearly shearing the fabric,
"And what does she fear, boy?" The young rat shrunk in his arms, limp from the dancing and the words of his disparate, passionate mentor.
"The darkness and her lover, cold in the Tiber," he wept. Botticelli had wrapped around his body the erupting sense of darkness and worldliness that he thought only he would ever experience.
"Tell me, boy," he said slowly, lips close to a shuddering ear, the figure in his arms desolate of thought or strength. He worked his magic to the breaking point, and finally dug into the young rat's pocket, flinging him to the ground with a disinterested shove, "What. Is. This?"
Roscuro was weak on the ground, tremulous and dysphoric as he attempted to sink back into the encompassing black, but feeling only cold metal as he slid against rust and impurities, tunic catching on the metal. Botticelli eyed what was in his palm like it was a verboten masterpiece. He felt its glamorous smoothness and hissed when only the silence answered him.
"Do not attempt to make a fool out of me, boy. Tell me and you will know less pain."
"It is... string, Sir. Nothing but string." Botticelli froze for a moment, feeling it again, sniffing it, then throwing it to the ground. Roscuro scrambled for it, making sure it would not touch what he had to.
"What does it do, boy?" His mentor asked poignantly,
"It sings, sir," he said, and so he plucked it, holding one end between his knees, careful to keep it a distance from the ground. It sang out in the dungeon, and time stopped as its shrillness echoed throughout the underworld for a moment. Botticelli became still, and stood above his ward, silent.
Roscuro's mouth was dry, and he licked his lips, his awkward teeth suddenly becoming chalky and larger, sealing in his whimpers with an effective lock.
"… Where is it from, boy?" He flinched as the elder spoke, but learned that the voice held no animosity, only the interest in another human-world curio.
"From the King's mandolin, Sir. It broke and he cried out in pain." Botticelli's eyes closed, his whiskers straightening in euphoric pleasure, "I captured it as it fell to the floor." Sharp claws clacked on by one on the floor as the old rat moved slowly toward his young ward,
"And what did he cry for?" He came closer yet, and it was difficult not to run away, his presence was so poisonous and effulgent. He was brilliant in the dark, and the dryness in Roscuro's mouth suddenly moved to his throat, and his body yearned to rise.
"He c-cried for his d-dead wife. The m-music she l-loved died with her, Sir." Botticelli moaned in filthy rapture, coming ever closer to the slowly melting form of his ward.
"And tell me, please, my boy," his claws curled out in a welcoming gesture, bent to bring up the shivering youth, "what did you feel?" Roscuro slowly placed his palm in that of the elder rats, and was quickly and tightly drawn in to the folds of wool and fur,
"Ecstasy, Sir. Pure Ecstasy." Botticelli growled again, and Roscuro groaned as those claws shredded him without touching him, safe in their dank, rotten home, but enveloped in shimmering warmth that echoed the lustful desire he had felt when he first cut the thin wire from the King's only source of happiness.