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The rain pelts down mercilessly on the soft dusty road into Bully Harbour. Jagged lightning crashes down on the the spire of one of the many marker buoys near the harbour's edge.
The Pedestrian, a creature of unknown species and ineffable gender slouches stolidly through the downpour, striving hopefully for the faint glow in the windows up ahead. It draws close enough to read the sign out front, and, scrawled in a script chosen more for boldness than elegance, this is what it saw:
"Impyrial Cuftom Houfe"
Nodding in a satisfied manner, The Pedestrian grasps the beaten handle, turns, and nudges the door open. As luck would have it, a gust of wind blasts the door open with unnatural speed, coinciding with a loud clap of thunder. The two customs officials look up from their late night meal to see a grim and shadowy figure framed in the doorway, cloak billowing the howling wind. They leap up, terrified, and try to beat a hasty retreat through a nearby wall. No such luck.
"Calm down, fellows... I come in peace!" laughs The Pedestrian. The two startled rats slowly creep back to their cluttered desk, breathing heavily.
"S'alright, s'alright... just took us by surprise, is all. What can we do for you? This is Roquefort. I'm Moe." The short, skinny rat dusted himself off and offered a shaking paw to The Pedestrian.
"Moe?" it replied, "That's a curious name."
"It's short for Moecroeselugenheim. Born from divinity, I was, or summat." The skinny rat scratches his head absent-mindedly, taking a seat at the desk. His companion Roquefort, a great fat-bellied rat, gingerly picks up his fallen chair and sat down as well. They start shuffling through the piles of paper, evidently looking for something. The Pedestrian asks what it was.
"Oh, 'tis a mere formality" replies Roquefort, "the citizenship application form. That is why you're here, isn't it?"
"Aye... s'not like we're good for anything else, you know," adds Moe, with a conspiratorial wink.
"Yes, that's it. I wish to join your Imperium," The Pedestrian agrees, nodding its head, "What do I have to do?"
"Just fill out the form, once we find the accursed thing..." Sighed Moe, sliding his head under the desk. He yelps, banging his head on the underside of the desk. A small drawer pops open. Roquefort smiles and draws a sheat of parchment out of the desk, handing it to The Pedestrian.
"Here... just fill this out. I'm going back to my haddock and chips. Get some from Mister Soskind down in the square on your way past. He or his son will be out there, e'en in this. Fish 'n' Chips is a 24 hour business, rain or shine." The large rat gets up jerkily and heads over to the flickering fireplace. An old newspaper sits there, home to a few slabs of steaming breaded fish and greasy potato wedges. The Pedestrian quickly fills out the form, while Moe and Roquefort fill the mysterious traveller in on the history of the Imperium.
"Been here a while, you know" begins Roquefort, "but I don't reckon I know how long... Any idea, Moe?"
"Since time immemorial, o' course. Lunkhead. Everyone knows that. We practic'ly invented time."
"Oh, aye. Now I remember. Ahem... 'Since time immemorial, the Imperium has stood as a glorious beacon of power and fate to all of The Known World. It is our noble prerogative to subjugate and civilize all of The Lesser Races that people the world, and subject them to the glories of Our Golden Rule, and, by proxy, Our Golden Ruler, His Extremity, The Emperor'". Roquefort stops to cough, perhaps to dislodge an errant capital. "Blimey. I'd forgotten we talked like that." Moe translates for the mystified Pedestrian.
"What 'e means to say is that we're all just the Emperor's children, right? Liddle babbies that can't be relied on to do things fer ourself. By that token, all our hard work goes to serve him. Oh yes, we also conquer things. It's not a bad life, really, if you like the sea."
The Pedestrian completes the form, stands, and says goodbye. The secretive entity leaves the customs office and makes its way down to the square, attracted immediately to a fire under a large overhang. A short rat in a ridiculously oversized hat is stirring a large pot. A larger rat with a striking resemblance to the little one sleeps on a bale of straw behind him. The little rat looks up at The Pedestrian, and speaks, as if the words were memorized.
"Hello there, sir/madam, can I interest you in one of our fine comestibles? Only a gilder a piece. Setcha right in no time!" The Pedestrian laughs merrily, and buys some fish. It is quite good.
"Young feller" says The Pedestrian, "can you by any chance direct me to my berth? The rats over at the customs office gave me this chit..." The Pedestrian hands the little receipt to the rat, who puzzles over it briefly.
"Aye, I know where it is. Just go straight up Straightup Road, turn right on Sidewise Avenue, and then its the first door on the left in The Corners. Can't miss it, or at least I hope you can't... Going ta be rough for you if you do." The Pedestrian thanks the rat and heads off to the bunks.
The clouds overhead remain, but the rain has stopped. The coming greyness heralds the new day as merchants and Ministry officials take dozily to the streets to set up shop.
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