The Rat War
Excerpt from the journal of Chief Ratcatcher Gilbert Talon
The war has reached a fever pitch. Rats coming up from sewers. Surging into basements. Reports from Pauper’s Notch of an infant devoured in its crib by the vermin. Nothing but bones and swaddling remained. Rumors swirl among the ranks of the ratcatchers. They say the rodents are moving in swarms or battalions. As if under orders from some kind of malign field marshal. Preposterous. Found a rat outside my door this morning. Crushed it with my boot heel. Cheeky bastards.
Orders remain the same from the Lord Mayor. Eradicate the rats. What does he think we’ve been trying to do? But with every head we lop or nest we poison, ten more appear, writhing with naked tales and beady eyes. It’s unnatural. The skittering of their feet fills my dreams.
Went to investigate along the quays. Reports indicated the ugly critters were rampant in the grain warehouses. Rampant did not even begin to describe it. They’re building a civilization there. I swear to the gods that as the ratcatchers bashed about themselves with their clubs, the shrieks of dying vermin piercing the air, one great monster, with a huge scar across its bewhiskered face, reared up on its hind legs and looked me in the eye, as if taking notes. As if giving a warning with its red eyes. Plague-ridden whoreson. Will hire that magician who claims he can drive them out.
The magician is preparing. Still believe he is a charlatan, but if he drives the rats out, I do not care. Have given the ratcatchers hazard pay to begin extermination drive beneath the Black Vault. Prisoners have been enlisted as well. One hundred heads, one hundred severed, bloody, rat heads, will buy your freedom in this city.
Magician went in today, beneath the Black Vault. Laughed when I offered to send a detail of the ratcatchers for protection. Said he understands the “naked tails like his own children.” Screams of prisoners on killing details rang through the tunnels, of course, but the damn fool insisted. As the clock strikes midnight, the fool has yet to return.
Magician’s corpse found. Head chewed off, and body desecrated in other ways. Message cut into his chest as if by a thousand razor-sharp teeth: “Keep out.” Amalguard insist this is work of one of the prisoners on rat detail. Ordered lashings all around. Could swear I heard the rats laughing. And as I examined the crime scene, saw the scarred rat watching from the darkness. Sleep will not come to me this night.
Lord Mayor says he’ll have my head unless the situation beneath the Black Vault is resolved. I’ve sharpened my blades and will lead the war party myself. The scarred one is mine. We begin the battle at dawn and shall not cease until the city is cleansed. I swear it to the gods. This battle shall be won.
Ballads of the Distant Reaches is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support our work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.