After Ghroshian ate the rats, they started on the cats. That was followed quickly by the dogs, the old, the sick, the very young, and anyone else who happened to stay the night somewhere beneath the city in the domain that very quickly was turning into their sole hunting ground.

None of these sated their hunger, though. Eating never did. That was what drove them. That was why they wouldn’t be able to stay hidden forever. They’d never mastered that trick. They were tens of thousands of hungry mouths now, lurking and listening beneath floorboards and at the edge of candlelight conversations, and after only a few months, they touched almost every part of the city.

The corpses of the men they devoured gave up their secrets, too, but they were small things about how they died, and the swarm wanted something more tangible and satisfying. Knowing that this person was betrayed for love and that one for money was only interesting for as long as it took to finish feasting on their entrails. After that, they were already hungry again.

Food was in short supply in the capital right now and carefully guarded by those who had it. Secrets and stories, though, those flowed more freely thanks to the fear that freely haunted the streets, and the growing god of hunger and famine fed on those too.

They heard about wars and rumors of wars and that the dead either did or had recently walked the earth. They heard that the fields were heavy with grain and that the rot was spreading. Most of the rumors were contradictory, but most agreed on one thing, which, at least at first, the rat god ignored: Siddrim was dead.

Such a thing was unconscionable, but it was widely regarded as true. Priests still prayed, and believers still left offerings at the shrines to the saints, but if rumors were true, that great glowing bastard was no longer in the heavens where he belonged.

If that was the case, though, then why were there still days? Why were there still nights? Why was the order of the heavens maintained? They asked themselves these questions a dozen times a day but found no answers.


In the end, the only way to know for sure would be to test the light. If they sent out a tendril into the world above, and that part of them was smote, then it would know that Siddrim’s death was a ruse and that its doom was only a season or two away.

So, for a long time, it clung to the shadows. It was only when it noticed the poor state of even the grand temple, that they crept closer for a better look. They knew from past experience that hallowed ground was every bit as deadly as daylight. Just thinking about it triggered memories of the past when they had crossed paths with the Lord of Light and other similar deities.

Tonight, though, there was no sting. There was no burning or holy fire. The single small mouse it had sent to sacrifice quickly scurried past the barrier and under a pew, where it proceeded to look for forgotten scraps. For several long minutes, the rest of the swarm held back worried that this was some sort of trap. It was only when its sacrificial scout found a stale crust of bread and began to gnaw at it greedily that the rest of themself charged forward, the danger forgotten.

Still, even in the three hours it took to ravage the place of anything remotely edible, right down to the scrolls and leather bindings, no divine punishment came. Morning light caused them to retreat, but even that might not have been dangerous. They were not inclined to test the boundaries of their newfound freedom that far, though.

Still, the next night, the swarm devoured every offering at every shrine in the whole city within an hour of sunset. It that was fair game now, then they would make sure it would not go to waste.

From there, they wondered what it should do next. Ghroshian seemed to be in no serious danger. Normally, they would spread themselves out further and begin to hide in the cargo holds of ships as well as wagons that were leaving the city, but there seemed to be few enough of either group right now. Traffic only came to the city of Rahkin now. The only thing that seemed to leave was the army.


According to the rumors, more men went to fight every day. There was a war somewhere to the west. Some said it was over food and farming, and others said it was because of something darker or even apocalyptic. No one agreed on anything except that the strong young men of the city were leaving in formations every few weeks, and not one of them had been seen since.

They wondered what they should make of that, but lacked the means to follow and explore the issue more fully. If any of their brothers were loose on the world, it would know. It was not easy to hide the presence of any of the Malzekeen, and Ghroshian was by far the most subtle of the three. Hunger was a quiet force that no one wanted to talk about, but rot and ruin? As soon as the first traces of a real plague set in, the people of the city would be on fire in panic, and to date, that had not happened. If you come across this story on Amazon, it's taken without permission from the author. Report it.

Certainly, they had never expected to be free again. Siddrim had burned cities and boiled lakes to kill every last member of their tiny swarm and then buried them with lead and stone, but now, as it gazed out at the wild places and the fields beyond the furthest villages, they saw a whole world waiting to be eaten, but it knew that the world out there was just waiting to eat it as well. The natural world was far more aware of its existence than the world of man.

In time, Ghroshian could no longer resist the fields and the bountiful forests. They had eaten everything in this wretched capital city that would not be missed and were already beginning to gnaw their way past the bricks of the remaining granaries when they decided to have a taste of the wider world. None of the mice that had been dispatched on ships had grown into large enough swarms for them to be aware of each other yet, but in this case, it was impatient.

Rather than sending out a few rats and hoping they would grow in time, the swarm dispatched an entire pack of knotted-tail ratkings to go and take what they could by force. The hunger pangs would not allow them to do any less.

The first three days they were in the fields and vineyards, they feasted, ruining whole stretches of farmland that might have been enough to feed Rahkin for several days. They should have returned after that, but they couldn’t. That victory only made them crave more successes.

So they slipped into the forest. That was where they found her. Ghroshian didn’t remember what her name was, but he remembered that she was bad news the moment he saw the tawny hunting cat condense from the pale rays of starlight that penetrated the forest canopy.

Until that moment, the pack of vermin was devouring the doe and her fawns that they’d brought down a few minutes before, but as soon as they saw the magical, glowing beast, they left their prey and fled as fast as they could. Each rat king went in a different direction to force the goddess in an animal skin to make a choice, but it didn’t go as planned. Instead, she burst apart into a murder of white albino crows and gave chase to each of them simultaneously.

The swarm didn’t know why it feared her so much. A rat king was a match for a handful of crows in any normal circumstances, but tonight, it knew that its only choices were death or escape and that being forced to face her would certainly lead to the latter.

Even as they rushed as a frantically squeaking mob, the first rat king was ripped to pieces in less than a minute. The second and third didn’t last long after that, either. Soon, the fourth one was all alone while its bones of the rest of the packs were consumed, and the birds harried them no matter which direction they ran, but the glowing wildlife that chased them would not give up.

The Rat King couldn’t shake the feeling that they were being toyed with. If they hid in a hollow log, the birds would become a badger, and if they forced their way inside a rabbit burrow, then they would become a snake. Shaking their pursuers became almost as impossible as making their way back to the safety of the city.

All hope was finally lost when they decided to bolt through the starlit glade toward the swampy area that lay on the other side. There, moonlight became a prison, holding the growling mob of rats entwined together completely, still like an insect trapped in amber.

They could only stand there helplessly as, one by one, all of the glowing forest creatures came together until they unified into the shape of a giant white owl that was almost as large as a man.

The rats trembled in fear as she spoke. “I remember you, little pestilence. You are an old taste and not at all welcome in these woods.”

“Then let us free, and we shall not return,” the rats squeaked in a quarrelsome and discordant harmony that only barely resembled words. “We swear it!”

“I know the rest of your swarm hears everything I tell you, so there’s no need for you to survive. You are a plague on man and doubly so on nature!” she crushed as she flapped her wings and began a woman that was either beautiful or old, depending on the light. “You think you can feast on whatever you like because Siddrim is no more, is that it?”

“Yes!” Ghroshian squealed. They would have said anything to live, even though they knew they would survive whatever it was she meant to do to them.

“Well, all that is only temporary. A god as powerful and prideful as him will be back one day, and when he does, he’ll roast you in flames like he did before,” she spat, pressing harder. “But even without him, you’re no match for the glories of nature, so feast on my children again at your peril.”

Ghroshian wanted to apologize. They wanted to grovel and beg for forgiveness, but before they could draw another breath, the life from its sole remaining rat king was snuffed out, and its awareness of the forest dimmed to nothing.

It was only once the rest of the swarm was safe that a righteous anger rose up inside themselves, and all of them chittered together in a chorus of fury. They did not know how, but they swore they would have their revenge. That would have to wait until they discovered who that woman was, though. She obviously knew them, even if they could not yet recall her. They would, though, and soon. Tomorrow, they would devour every book in the library if need be, to learn her name and find out what weapons could be brought to bear against her.