The Diffident Hero - NaNoWriMo 2012 - Chapter 8, pt. 3

He moved down the stairs and into the cellar proper. It was poorly lit, but he could easily see why it was such a difficult task. The space was filled with barrels and crates and bags, chairs both broken and whole, disassembled tables and so much junk you’d be lucky to ever see a rat, let alone kill it.

“What she really needs is an exterminator,” Lena said. “But since I doubt we could call one out to this place, I was thinking a bunch of traps. Set them up and bait them, let them do their thing, empty them now and then.”

“Could work,” Sorcha said in a tone that suggested otherwise. “It would take a lot of time though, and might not get all of them.”

“I know,” the girl admitted. “In a place like this though, without the ability to gas them, how could you be sure of getting them all? Even if you could stand here and kill them physically one by one, they could be nesting in any of these containers, or even in the walls if there are cracks or holes.” She stared at the sea of clutter and shuddered. “I see why this is such an unpopular task.” she said wryly. “I don’t suppose there’s a standard method?”

He looked at Sorcha, who had a sour look on her face, like she’d tasted something unpleasant. “Yes, there is,” she admitted. “It’s distasteful, but has to be done.” For an instant, it almost looked like she turned green; he blinked, and she looked perfectly fine again.

She reached into an inside pocket of her cloak and pulled out a carefully wrapped package. “We’re going to have to use this,” she said with a twist of her mouth. “It’s a slow-acting poison. We break it up into pieces and scatter it around the darker spots—that ought to be easy enough down here—and every rat that eats some will be dead within a few hours.”

“Why so long? Wouldn’t a faster-acting poison be better? It seems cruel to make them suffer for hours.”

Sorcha nodded. “I wish we could do it that way, but rats are tough to get rid of once they move in to a place, and they’re scavengers, to boot. They make their living eating things that might kill them, and have behaviors that enable them to survive. Slow poisons will let them feel safe enough to eat enough to reach a lethal dose.”

Brendan felt a bit sick; Lena looked okay, though there was a slight hollowness to her eyes that suggested she didn’t particularly like it either. But Sorcha was right, he knew it.

“Let’s not take any more of these jobs, huh?”

“Not if we can help it,” Sorcha said grimly, breaking the poisoned food up into small chunks with gloved hands. “Lena, why are you out here independently? What happened to your guide?”

They set about scattering the food around the place. Now and then a squeak or a rustling in the dark confirmed that yes, the rats were around, just quiet in the presence of so many intruders.

Lena’s face was long, and he got the feeling it wasn’t just the unpleasant task at hand that made it so. “After I was called, my guide helped me through several jobs,” she began. “She was of the People, like you, and we got along well enough at first.”