You can get the first part of the story here.
Of Rats and Crystals (Part 2)
Veronika had been born in the city of Oskelez over a century ago. Her parents were slaves, and she’d never known them. She’d been raised by the Pest-Hunters: skinny men and women who wore yellow rags and odd-shaped hats. Her earliest memories were of being made to crawl into small spaces to catch rats. Sometimes it was a warehouse. Sometimes it was a luxurious and terrifying residence. A few times, she was sent rat-catching inside some kind of complex machinery.
Sometimes the rats were being caught because they were pests. Other times it was because someone or something wanted them for food. Having known no other life, she didn’t think there was anything strange or tragic about her situation. She got good at catching rats and came to enjoy it, until the day one of the rats made her a deal. She’d been six years old at the time.
The talking rat offered to teach Veronika magic if she would spare him and bring him some chalk and candles. She didn’t trust the talking rat or think that giving it what it wanted was a good idea. She figured any sorcerer foolish enough to change themselves into a rat without a way to change back probably wasn’t a very good teacher.
But she was curious, and decided to do what the rat asked just to see what would happen. She guessed that either he’d turn himself into a human again and skip out on his promise to teach her magic (not that she cared to learn from him), or he’d make some mistake with the spell and burn the whole place down (she was very good at finding escape routes, having spent her whole life crawling through nooks and crannies).
When she returned after scavenging everything he’d asked for, the talking rat had introduced himself as Plague Emperor Skitterclaw, God-King of all rats and faithful servant to the Goddess of Pestilence. He warned her that he was preparing a ritual spell to bring death to the humans who had been hunting and killing his people, but as thanks for her aid, Veronika would be spared.
She agreed. But only so that the talking rat would let his guard down. She ran him through with her steel dagger as soon as his back was turned.
The Pest-Hunters weren’t kind, but they weren’t cruel either. And with them, she had a purpose. If the talking rat’s ritual-spell would really bring death to them all and leave Veronika on her own, she wouldn’t last a day in Oskelez.
In the century-and-a-half or so that followed, Veronika had grown into adulthood, survived by her wits, made dangerous enemies, bargained with dark powers to survive, become a vampire, and had mastered the practice of apothecarial alchemy.
Once or twice a decade throughout her eventful life and subsequent undead existence, Veronika would encounter a talking rat that claimed to be Plague Emperor Skitterclaw, God-King of all rats and faithful servant to the Goddess of Pestilence.
The other talking rats of Os-Kelez always advised her not to take them seriously.
Veronika ignored the talking rat and paced her cage, trying to focus her thoughts.
As a master-class alchemist, she could tell that her cage was iron, not steel. Easy to magnetize, prone to rust, and softer than steel. But not soft enough that she could bend the bars, even with supernatural vampire-strength. When designers opted for pure iron rather than charcoal-infused steel, the most common reason was that pure iron repelled ethereal undead. Not physical undead, like zombies or ghouls. But ghosts, wraiths, and other such spirits absolutely hated the stuff the same way shape-shifters hated silver.
Did that mean something, Veronika wondered? Why would her captors keep her, a vampire, in such a cage?
She hissed a curse under her breath. The delusional talking rat who thought he was Plague Emperor Skitterclaw, God-King of all rats and faithful servant of some-goddess-or-other, was distracting her from her train of thought with his incessant chatter.
“Are you some manner of demon that feeds on annoyance, rather than fear? What is it? What do you want?”
The rat blinked at her. “Few have dared to take such a tone with Plague Emperor Skitterclaw and lived,” he said.
With lightning-quick movement, Veronika’s snatched the rat in her hand and extended her vampire-claws just enough to poke into his skin without penetrating and drawing blood. She held the little pest right in front of her angry, fang-bearing glare.
“Fewer still have been dropped into a pit of sulfuric acid and lived,” she snarled, “no matter what kind of God-King they think they are.”
“Oh! Err, yes, good point! Very true! And if I may take this moment to beg your forgiveness, oh revered and exalted goddess! Your humble and faithful servant am I, and I most fearfully prostrate myself before you for failing to recognize you in your present vessel of incarnation. How may I serve your will, oh goddess?”
Veronika shook her head. “I’m not going to pretend to be a pestilence goddess just to humor your delusions of grandeur! Just give me the peace and quiet I need to think of a way to escape.”
Just then, an ear-splitting howl echoed through the stone walls of the chamber. It was shortly joined by several other identical howls.
“So much for peace and quiet,” she said.
“Err, sorry about that, ma’am,” said the rat. “It’s just that I was rather terrified of being dropped into a pit of acid a second ago, and now they’ve sensed my fear and are coming to feed.”
Good, thought Veronika, let’s see just what these ‘fear demons’ are.