Snuffles was looking for a gift for his mate, something special. Something that would appeal to her, something that would truly mean what she meant to him. And so he passed through the many tunnels of his vast home.
The rat was born and lived in the extensive underground tunnels and dens known as Mega Burg. And throughout most of his life he was a simple Gatherer, a rat who left the Burg at night to bring back food for everybody, from a massive container that the Tall-Ones filled with all manner of junk and food, constantly.
Being a Gatherer meant you had one of the most unappealing jobs in the Burg. You were expected to be efficient, but there was no true reward for all of your hard work, unless you brought something back from the massive container and intended to keep it for yourself.
But much like the rock that surrounded them, what could be found in the container was so common it was of little value to the Seekers and Elders of the Burg. One had to be lucky to find something truly unique and interesting, and during one such gathering trip did Snuffles get lucky.
What was always on demand were “pretty” things. Shiny, producing light or just plain fancy. In one of the paper bags that were discarded in the container Snuffles found a small black box. He wasn’t sure what it might had been used for once but its inside was lined with some shiny textile, and it felt very soft to the touch.
There was nothing else inside, and what it could had held once was beyond his imagination, but after visiting a few of the more cunning Seekers and interested Makers he finally got a pretty good deal out of it. In exchange for the box he got a pouch filled with pure, spicy, spices. He gave them just a small taste, and they were indeed nothing he has ever tasted before. Hot to the tongue, and yet they made his mouth water, tickling his imagination with a fine meal covered in the spice.
There was no real currency in the Burg, only things rats wanted or desired, and anything that would break the spell of the container’s blandness was a great boon.
But now, armed with a pouch of these spices, where would Snuffles go? He could go visit the Seekers, who traveled far beyond the Burg in search of exotic goods, or to the Makers and try to see if they could craft something for him.
The pouch with the red spice was tied to a rope holding his wraps together. Snuffles waddled forward on his hind legs until he reached his first stop.
The entrance to the den at a glance was unassuming, but unlike most other Dens this one had an entrance covered in cloth, rather than wood or metal. A few symbols were painted on the wall right next to the entrance, with a head of a smiling rat right in the center. This was the den of Grin, the Seeker.
Snuffles entered the den, pulling the cloth aside for just a moment, and immediately his senses were bombarded with smells and sights that awed him. It was also much warmer inside the den than in the tunnels, as it seemed Grin was rich enough to keep his home warm.
The walls were lined with all manner of curios. From shiny, colorful rocks, to small statues made of metal or plastic, and even stranger things. There were even things Snuffles could not begin to guess of their original purpose. This is what actually being a Tall-One must had felt like, surrounded by so many strange and marvelous things!
Aside from Snuffles there were a few other rats present, all looking over Grin’s display. Grin himself appeared to be speaking to one of his customers, a rat who by the looks of things must had been one of the Burg’s Protectors; rats who acted as guards and enforcers of the peace.
“Oh yes! It is of very fine make! See?” Snuffles could overhear. Grin was showing what looked like a Stabber, only… different. It wasn’t made of glass, or as crude as the ones the Makers could make. It was pointy but the handle was in some ways refined, ornate. Only after a longer glance did Snuffles realize that the stabber must had come from one of the metal statues in Grin’s den.
The other rat studied the stabber and touched its blade.
“Not very sharp, is it?” he finally remarked.
“Sadly not, but I can recommend a very skilled Maker who could fix it right up for you! Now as to the price…”
As much as Snuffles wanted to listen to the rest of the conversation he came here with a purpose in mind, finding a gift.
What would she had liked then? What would had in some way decorated her or their den? What could he afford? He looked at one of the plastic and metal statues. They resembled the Tall-Ones, to varying degrees of accuracy, but for some reason all of them had these unwelcome expressions, as if they were about to attack or fight. Snuffles then looked over a number of fake-lights that were present. Although they could certainly add a bit of life to their den, since lighting a fire was a bit dangerous, the problem with fake-lights was that they always ran out, and sometimes it was hard to tell how long they would last for.
No, there had to be something else here that Snuffles could purchase.
And at that very moment Grin sauntered over.
“How can I be of help to you, kind customer?” he asked, smiling as always.
“Well, I was looking for something for my mate.”
“Anything in particular?”
“Just browsing for now.”
“Well!” Grin exclaimed “Let me show you some of our currently popular selections!”
With those words the Seeker disappeared into another room of the Den and came out with a few chunks of differently colored… clay? Stone? It was hard to tell what they were. Snuffles walked over and examined them.
“What are… these?” he eventually asked, having no clue what they were.
“Ah! You see. Tall-Ones use these to… change their visage! It’s a bit like mud, only it smells nicer and is not dirty. See? Look!” and Grin spread his paw over a chunk of the colored clay that was a deep red, and then colored his fur with it. Indeed, after some rapid rubbing his fur took on the same red color, and one could even smell the scent of some manner of fruit coming from his fur now.
“And this is… what is popular now?” Snuffles asked, skeptical.
“Why, yes! The Elders love it. They like to paint themselves silly, and walk around all colored. These ones have a nice smell too!”
Snuffles thought for a moment, and shook his head.
“No, something a bit different… Maybe…”
“Ah! Speak no further, I have just the thing.” And Grin disappeared into the other room again, returning with what appeared to be a see-through stone. Like glass, but different, it had a finely cut shape and there was something alluring by it. “One of the Tall-Ones’ special stones!”
Snuffles’ ears perked up as he looked at the stone. It was indeed magnificent, and so tempting to purchase.
“… But… what does it do?”
“Oh, it’s just a decoration. You could wear it on a string, like the Tall-Ones do. Or put it in a nice place in your den! Just look at it! Is it not perfect for your mate?”
Snuffles thought on it, perhaps longer then he should had, and shook his head again.
“No… this is still not it.”
What followed was Grin taking out even more curious objects, trying to offer them to Snuffles. Different textiles, cloth, trinkets and baubles. Pictures that one could put against the wall, of varying sizes. And so time went on and nothing seemed to be to Snuffles’ liking.
Until he heard a curious ring, as Grin was looking for his next offer in the backroom.
“What was that sound?” Snuffles asked. The ring could be heard again.
“Yes! What is it?” after a short moment Grin came out of the backroom and stood before Snuffles. He was holding a small metal object, like a ball, with a small hole in it, and a hoop on its other end. Grin shook the object a bit and it produced the ringing sound again.
“What is that?” Snuffles asked, his curiosity clearly peaked.
“I do not rightfully know. Found it near a Tall-One’s home, with some cloth tied around it. No clue what it was for once, but it is pretty, I suppose. Interested I take it?”
Snuffles extended his hands and Grin handed him the object. Snuffles shook it a bit, and the ringing continued, and for whatever reason it appealed to him greatly.
“This is perfect! But, do you have the cloth it came with?”
Grin walked over to one of the corners of his den, where there were different textiles and pieces of cloth stacked atop of each other. He searched through it for a while until, triumphantly, he lifted a long red piece of cloth and presented it to Snuffles.
Snuffles passed the cloth through the object’s hoop and then tied it, to create a ringing necklace. He then tried it on, and while a bit loose he could always tie the cloth a little shorter.
“This will do, it is perfect!”
“Well then, what did you bring in exchange?”
Snuffled reached for the pouch at his waist rope, untied it and then offered it to Grin. The Seeker opened the pouch carefully, dipped a single finger into the spice and then licked it. He squeaked with delight a mere moment later.
“Yes! Yes! This is a perfect trade. I know somebody who really likes this… We have a trade my friend! Come back any time!”
For a moment Snuffles thought he might had haggled for something more, but he got what he wanted.
Leaving Grin’s den Snuffles went home. Sliding aside the cardboard cover to his den he decided to hide the necklace under the bed that was made out of multiple sheets of tissues. He then went on to prepare their meal.
Food, unless it was found outside of the Burg and the container, was equally distributed among all, as best as possible. The very same food was traded between rats, but it was usually the Seekers who brought back the exotic delicacies. Most others had to content with thin fried potatoes, large meat mashes, all manner of lettuce and cucumber, the smashed tomato sauce and whatever else the Tall-Ones threw away. Snuffles was no cook, but he knew how to play around with what he had.
With a bit of still fresh meat mash he chiseled, with the use of his hand something remotely resembling a rat’s head, and with the use of a few strips of the thin fried potatoes he added the whiskers. The final touch were the putty ears. Putty being bread that by dunking in water could be turned into uniform balls, ready for slight reshaping, until they dried.
Finally Snuffles’ culinary marvel was complete. Now he just had to wait.
With some free time still left he cleaned up and organize the den, putting everything back on its place, and even trying to scrub the floors a bit with some old cloth and water, to get rid of some old food stains.
Eventually, the moment of truth. With a long, tired sighed Snuffles’ mate made an entry. Still wearing her plated protection, head cover and holding a thick stick, Myra, one of the Protectors of the Burg, was completely exhausted.
“Please help me out of this…” Myra said, and Snuffles was happy to help. Undoing the bonds of her plates he put them against the wall and Myra then took off her head cover; she could finally lay her stick to rest as well.
Not all rats are of the Burg, a few of them were once pets, or slaves to the Tall-Ones, until they managed to escape, or in some few cases were rescued. Myra was abandoned, and driven by her hunger she found her way to the food container of Mega Burg where Snuffles was the first other rat she met.
Since that day they lived together in his den, and after learning of the Protectors Myra wished to join them, as quickly as possible. It was a tough and difficult profession, but Myra seemed very skilled at it. Too skilled, some would say.
When Myra sat down on their tissue bed to rest Snuffles revealed his first surprise, the rat-head meal.
“For you!” he exclaimed! He showed her his creation proudly, and to make sure it did not fall apart he presented it in a metal bottlecap, as if it were a plate.
Myra gave Snuffles a huge smooch on his cheek, before taking the meal into her own paws.
“I am telling you, you should try and become a cook, you could end up better than any Seeker.” Myra said, first picking out one of the potato whiskers and munching on it. Snuffles waved a paw at her.
“I’d go mad if I had to listen to all the orders from the Elders. I prefer a simple, quieter life!”
Myra nodded and focused on the food so much that Snuffles took the opportunity to uncover his necklace. Pulling back a few of the tissue sheets he tried to pull it out quietly, but alas a single ring came from the metal ball.
“What was that?” Myra asked immediately, her ears perking up as she looked around the den.
“Well, it was meant to be a surprise, but…” and Snuffles showed her the necklace. The little metal ball continued to ring as it dangled off the red cloth. “It’s for you.”
Myra seemed to look at the necklace blankly. She then took the metal ball and began shaking it vigorously, the ball ringing with all of its small might!
Then a moment of silence, and Myra embraced Snuffles.
“I love it! It makes such a nice noise! And it’s so shiny! What did you give for it?”
Snuffled was not about to give away such secrets.
“Do not worry about it. Here, let me help you put it on.”
Granted not much help was needed, but Snuffles hanged the metal ball, on its red cloth, around Myra’s neck, and the joy filled rat took the ball again to shake it a few times more.
“Everybody will be so jealous when they see this… and they will know when I’m coming!”
The two rats embraced themselves once again, hidden away in their den, in the deep tunnels of Mega Burg. A place where all rats could live in relative peace.