The entire city of Montreal was on edge. Ever since the American news had reported the incident down in one of their southern states, everyone in the major cities of North America knew it was only a matter of time before the titans re-emerged. This large Canadian city had one of their own, amazingly; he was an enormous rodent that the residents had taken to calling La Râtisse. The rat wasn't terribly destructive, though towards the end he had gotten too big to be anything but, and he was more a playful nuisance than a public menace. Before the titans abruptly disappeared in February, he was the tallest of them all. The citizens of Montreal had come to take a small sense of pride in that. It was almost like having their own personal Godzilla.
Still, no one knew how the titans appeared or why they kept growing bigger throughout the year. Many had guessed that it was somehow tied to the American football season, judging by the frequent visitations to sports stadiums throughout the year, but it was unclear exactly what was going on there. Some folks had gone out on a limb and suggested that this was some strange way of playing fantasy football, but that idea was roundly rejected as far too bizarre, too silly to be real. Still, after the first week of games people had been holding their breath. They knew the titans would start showing up any moment now. It was just a matter of when.
Hellbender had to admit that we was rather curious, too. He was spending most of his time outdoors these days, just waiting for something to happen. This morning he had chosen a small cafe near Maisonneuve Park to take his breakfast. He ordered a croissant and some orange juice, opened his newspaper to the sport pages, and carefully checked for a route he could use to make a quick exit. It wasn't ideal -- the path to the park would take him through several lanes of traffic and a rather close side street -- but it would do for his purposes. As long as he had enough warning, he should be just fine.
The rat's eyes skimmed over the sport pages without reading the scores. He was more paying attention to his body, trying to see if he could notice anything unusual. He rolled his shoulders, feeling his lithe frame rub against his shirt, tried to pay attention to a warmth spreading through him or a tingle in the back of his head. He had spent most of this week doing the same thing, his body keyed with anticipation, and he was starting to get impatient. He was losing sleep. He couldn't concentrate. As the hours stretched into days he kept thinking, "Any minute now. Any minute now..."
"Will there be anything else for you, monsieur?" The waiter, an ermine who was just beginning to lose his summer coat, smiled as he brought Hellbender his breakfast. The rat startled. Maybe it was instinct or the fact that his nerves were so frayed, but he hadn't seen the man coming. The mustelid was slinky and silent, able to weave between the close tables of the cafe's outdoor portion with ease.
"No, thank you," the rat said. He felt his ears darken, and he gave the waiter a sheepish smile before turning back to his paper.
The waiter smiled and nodded, then stopped. "Ah, I see we're no closer to starting the hockey season. It's a shame...they're all a bunch of greedy pigs."
Hellbender scanned the paper until he found the article that caught the waiter's eye. "Ah! Right, the lockout. I was really looking forward to going to a Canadiens game. Ah well, there's another sport or two to hold my attention until they figure it out."
The waiter laughed. "Ah, oui, you look like you're more of a football man."
The rat's ears flicked and he grinned widely. "Actually, I've really gotten in to American football recently. It's a lot more interesting than you'd suspect at first glance."
"I never could make much sense of it myself." The waiter spoke with the distinct accent of a Québecois, of someone used to speaking two languages. "It just looks like chaos on the field. Someone throws the ball, sometimes it's caught, sometimes someone just runs. And the whistles, and the flags." The ermine waved a paw. "It's like that other game...what is it? Rugby. Just crazy."
Hellbender chuckled. "Oh, it's not so bad once you get to know the rules. And they're not so hard to figure out! I promise."
"If you say so, monsieur." The waiter smiled and nodded. "Please, let me know if there's anything else you need."
The rat smiled, then felt an odd pressure rising up in his throat. It felt like a yawn, but he immediately knew that it wasn't. It built in the back of his head until he felt like there was an air bubble sharing space inside of his skull, and then it broke, suffusing through his head and travelling down his shoulders, chest and arms. He grew warm. His heart started to beat quickly. He felt the tingle he had been waiting an entire week for.
He looked down at his orange juice and croissant, and smiled. He wouldn't be eating this for breakfast after all.
"Oh, garçon!" Hellbender called the ermine back and shifted in his seat as he felt his body starting to push against his clothes in odd ways. "Could you do me a small favor?"
"Of course monsieur. What would you like?"
"I'd like you evacuate the cafe. Make sure people are at least a block away from the park, at least until the police arrive." Hellbender's eyes glazed as he felt his thighs testing the seams of his pants. It was getting harder to concentrate on the task at hand; this always felt so amazing when it happened.
"Monsieur?" The ermine was suddenly visibly nervous. Hellbender didn't know if that was because he saw the rat was beginning to grow, or if telling someone to evacuate their place of business was something that'd cause someone alarm.
Hellbender fished into his tightening pants and pulled out a wallet, then gave the waiter $40. "I'm sorry, I really can't explain. Take this as a tip and...oh...."
The waiter had to have seen the way the rat was bulging underneath his clothes. Hellbender's vision went hazy for a moment, and when his head cleared he noticed that the ermine was taking several steps back and staring at him with wide and panicked eyes. "You...you..."
The rat chuckled, the sound a little odd as his voice deepened. "Yeah, me." He flicked his ears and gave another sheepish grin that he didn't mean. He stood up abruptly, feeling his shirt rip along his back and arms. His jeans ripped explosively down his heavy thighs, and he grunted as he fumbled with the belt that was digging into his waist. The whole time he watched the ermine nearly stumble over a table getting away from him. He sure was cute. But then, everyone was when they were so small.
The belt snapped at last and the button of his jeans went flying down the block as the last of his clothes gave up the ghost. The rather violent end to Hellbender's modesty snapped the waiter out of his paralysis. He turned and fled, shouting "La Râtisse! La Râtisse!"
Hellbender grinned after him as he stretched. It was only a matter of time before the authorities were called at this point. He should probably make his way over to the park before he got too large.
The rat was at least twelve feet tall already and swelling fast. By the time he made it to the sidewalk he was pushing fifteen, and when he got to the end of the block he was well over two stories tall. Thankfully his stride got longer with every step, and people had the good sense to move out of his way when they saw him coming. The feeling of such wonderful power building within him, pushing him larger and more muscular, made it easy for him to forget that there were people falling rapidly below him to consider.
He stopped at the intersection of Boulevard de l'Assomption and Rue de Marseille, taller than the traffic lights and growing far too big to fit on the sidewalk now. The giant rat churred as he felt his paw churning up dirt on one side and creating a deepening print in the asphalt on the other. His weight was increasing exponentially along with his steady rise in height, and he wouldn't have long before he was too big not to do damage to the street. He chuckled at the thought, casually watching cars swerve to avoid those massive pink paws. Ah well. They can't say he hadn't tried. Besides, it was pretty close to the park. He should be able to make it there before he hit a hundred feet tall if he hurried.
Only he didn't want to. The sensation of growth was so delightful he wanted to take his time with it, notice how his leg lengthened even as he stepped down. He liked feeling the ground shudder under his weight, which must surely be in the tons by now, loved watching all of those adorable little people staring up at him in shock and wonder. He was starting to attract those sort of stares as he finally turned to make his way down the tiny little two-lane road, stepping over cars as he topped fifty feet, then sixty. He chuckled as he watched the little vehicles starting to bounce with the shockwave caused by his passing. "Sorry about that. Hope I didn't mess with your suspension too much!"
He picked his way through the avenue even as it got smaller and harder to navigate. His thin, ropy tail swished behind him, and before he was even halfway down the block he felt the tip slap against a building to his left. He squeaked as that "light" touch gouged a hole in the facade of an automobile dealer, stopping for a moment to make sure no one was hurt. Surely enough, everyone made it away from the debris in time. They were quite alarmed to see his huge face bending so near to them, though, the rat's brown eyes focused on their constantly shrinking forms.
"Sorry about that," he boomed, giggling as he watched them flinch. "I think the city's got some plan to take care of that. Just talk to the police when they arrive, OK?"
One of the men, a caribou who towered over everyone else, nodded slowly. His antlers were quite impressive, though one of Hellbender's teeth were twice as large at this point. He smiled and rose to his full height, towering over the buildings on either side of him. The brown rat was eighty feet high at this point and still growing. His hips brushed against the buildings when he walked, and his pawprints were wrecking more of the road. He took a deep breath, feeling the way his chest expanded gloriously when he did, and revelled in the feeling of simply towering. He didn't even mind that his sheath was stirring, or that people on the fifth floor of buildings were treated to a rather obscene view. It wasn't anything anyone hadn't seen before, and they were going to be seeing a lot more of it in the coming weeks.
If Hellbender's calculations were correct, he should be topping out at a monstrous 170 feet tall. The thought that he wasn't halfway finished with his growth spurt made a bit of pink appear at the edge of his sheath and put some purpose back in his stride. He cleared the last part of the little side street easily, though his tail lashed through the fronts of buildings on either side of him. His paws thumped into the intersection and created an instant series of potholes, but he didn't stop to apologize. He turned again and stomped down the much broader Rue Viau. The trees were barely high enough to brush his inner thighs at first, but he quickly grew taller, his paws broad enough to fill a lane of traffic all on their own.
One hundred feet came and went as he neared the park, and he was 120 feet tall on its outskirts. The old trees that marked the edge of it barely came up to his waist as he gingerly pushed them back to make room his bulk, and several massive branches snapped and groaned under his fingers. He could hear the impact of his steps now, each one setting off car alarms for a block and causing localized earthquakes that made driving a...challenge, to say the least. When he got far enough into the park he looked back at small trail of destruction he caused on the way here. It wasn't too bad, but it was already snarling the midday traffic around this part of town. He shrugged and sat, nearly uprooting the trees nearest to him with the impact. Eventually, the city planners would learn to cope with the occasional giant rat.
For now, though, Hellbender closed his eyes and tilted his head towards the sky. He felt the warmth of his expansion beginning to ease as he crested 150 feet tall, slowing dramatically at 160 feet, stopping completely just past 170 feet. When he opened his eyes again, the park was spread out before him like one of those miniature diaromas that people build. And there was a surprisingly large crowd around his paws.
He looked at the sea of tiny faces and smiled down at them, crossing his legs and curling his tail around the small crowd. A few of the people at the edges looked anxious about being corraled in like that, but they didn't make a run for it. Very few people startled, even, when he leaned forward to get a better look at them.
"Hello!" he thundered cheerily. They jumped, and then almost as if the crowd were a single person a nervous titter went up. He smirked and rested his elbows on his knees, trying to make out the features of individual faces. It was hard at this size. He churred to himself, the ground rumbling underneath the feet of all those little people. If he had his way, it'd be next to impossible in a week's time.
"Bonjour, La Râtisse!" someone said. People repeated the greeting, almost like a chant that staggered towards his ears. His churr deepened, and he casually brought his tail closer to hem the folks in.
Sirens wailed in the distance. Hellbender caught them with his massive, rounded ears, and he knew he'd be dealing with folks who were freaked out and interested in keeping the peace by whatever means necessary. It'd be a tense stand-off, but he was pretty sure he could handle it. They couldn't hurt him now, and all it would take is a couple casual displays of unthinkable destruction before they let him have his way. Heck, depending on how the negotiations went, he might even get to flood a bit of the park.
A slinky body darted through the crowd, drawing Hellbender's attention. He perked his ears as he watched a uniform body dart from the edges of the crowd into the middle, then right up to the front. An ermine popped up and stepped forward from the sea of onlookers, holding what looked to be a massive platter of flaky, buttery croissants.
"For monsieur," the mustelid from the cafe said. "I figured you would be detained by the authorities for some time, and wanted to make sure you had your proper breakfast."
Hellbender's ears perked and he leaned forward, poking the waiter after he set the platter down. "That's really kind of you. If you want a bigger tip, though, I think I left my wallet in what's left of my pants a couple blocks that way."
The waiter grinned. "I will put it on your tab. I know that you're, how do you say, good for it."
Hellbender laughed, a thunderous sound that made the people below him fold their collective ears. "Excellent. I think I'll be hanging around your cafe a bit more now that I know you have such great service. Er...what's your name?"
The ermine bowed. "My name is Claude, monsieur."
"Claude. It's great to meet you." The giant's eyes flicked up towards the police quickly making their way across the park towards him. "Listen, why don't you swing by after work. I want to thank you for breakfast personally." He winked.
Claude's eyes widened, and Hellbender could have sworn he saw the ermine blush. "I would love that, Monsieur."
Hellbender waved a paw capable of swatting down trees. "Please, call me HB. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a date with Montreal's finest."
The ermine looked towards the line of blue uniforms coming his way and nodded. "Of course, monsieur. Good luck."
The giant rat watched him dart away with the crowd as they were dispersed, grinning to himself. He then watched the nervous stares of the authorities as they cautiously made their way towards him. It was going to be a great season. He was so very much looking forward to taking the League championship again this year.
"Afternoon, officers," he said, a bit more loudly than he had to. "What can I do for you today?"