Over the next few days they continued their search for the Necromancer’s second lair. They were looking for somewhere near the river. Based on the tracks Ezekiel had found, somewhere they could hide three foul-smelling giant rats with bloated bodies.
Clara continued her measurements and calculations of the exact location of the Harbinger’s destined arrival. It was on a stepped terrace between the house of John Shipston (a rich merchant) and the south bank of the Thames, a few hundred feet from Tower Bridge.
Masa spent a few days building a blackpowder bomb and a few smoke grenade eggs. Harry bought some strong, flammable spirits.
They got lucky and overheard some citizens talking about the horrible smell near Blackfriars Playhouse. The playhouse was in an old church building and had a small compound including a warehouse and a gated river entrance.
That evening, after the patrons had all gone in, they drifted up to the river gate. It had a fancy new padlock and the water tunnel led under the compound wall. While the other men held the boat steady, Harry used a crowbar to snap the link and open the gate. Clara was keeping watch and spotted a shifty-looking tramp on the opposite bank, stirring a low fire and watching them intently. Something unnatural about his eyes caught her notice even at that distance. They rowed across to confront him but he ran nimbly round a corner and vanished. Checking the tracks in the muddy bank, it appeared that he had indeed vanished. The tracks stopped abruptly in an alley between two high-sided buildings. he might have been able to climb it but, when Masa scrambled up, he could see no signs.
They rowed back over to the entrance and went in. They passed under the wall and under the first warehouse. The roof of the tunnel was a heavy double door, clearly bolted from above and weighted with barrels or sacks.
They passed on to a small underground basin with steps leading up to a smaller building. Kicking through the wooden door, they were surprised to find three humanoid rat men waiting in ambush with swords drawn. The rat men were strong and skilled and very quick but it was not enough to save them. When the first two were quickly cut down, the last, whose black fur was soaked, seemed to flicker and vanish before their eyes. He had transformed instantly into a normal-sized rat and made a dash for a small hole in the wall. Harry’s maul crashed down on him and he transformed once more. this time into a bloody smear.
They flung open the inner door to a foul-smelling building, once an office but now the sleeping quarters of three immense female rats, easily the size of large pigs. The hideous creatures had bloated plague-filled bellies, rippling and swelling with every movement. Their bellies looked very similar to the plague demon and to how Harry and Clara had been when they were infected, but much worse.
To add to the horror the creatures began to hiss and squeak in a strange language and wave their hideous long-fingered paws. Two of them emanated waves of fear but our heroes had faced worse. The last was casting at the ground beneath her where a few of the flagstones had been lifted to reveal the dirt.
They threw in the bombs and the whiskey and a torch and slammed the door. The explosion was huge in the confined space and the fire swiftly consumed the room and then the rest of the building. They could see two exploded corpses in the flames but the third had vanished. Masa believed she had cast a spell to pass through the earth, leaving no tunnel.
The room was drenched in festering slime from the corpses and the smoke that billowed out carried the stench of infection too. Our heroes were forced to retreat and searched for the last monster rat as they left. The theatre crowd poured out and formed a bucket gang to prevent the fire from spreading. A few of the crowd began to cough and splutter as the smoke infected them but most of it burned away cleanly.
They slipped back to join the crowd and spotted a spy watching them who they believed was one of Robert Cecil’s men. He was probably the hooked-nose guy who hired Marston to spy on them earlier.
They found no trace of the last plague rat.
They did manage to find out that the buildings had been rented a few days earlier by Lord Hawthorne (the man mentioned in one of the letters carried by the Gypsy Clee) He had given his address as a riverside guest house a few miles down river.