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Tales of the Chinese Zodiac #5 of 12

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In the Year of the Rat, the girl-child Chyou became high priestess of rodents. They made her a cloak from the fur of white mice and wove beaded rat tails into her long black hair. In her hand, she carried a small scepter—a stick, really—adorned with a pair of shrews that danced and mated and danced some more on a small jade platform at the top.

Instead of gold, they brought her great morsels of yak cheese and smaller pieces of ham. Chyou sat long nights and heard her subjects' tales of woe and injustice. With her shrew wand, she cast spells for the rats and the mice. She helped them find food and warm places to sleep when it rained. She gave them cat wards and monkeybane, and taught them the fine art of rodent self-defense. (In which she was already a black belt six times over.)

Her reign was a good one. The rodents celebrated her wisdom and lauded her generosity. They painted pictures for her with their small paws and performed comedies on a small stage built from bamboo and scraps of raw silk.

Only the jealous gerbil was unhappy. He plotted in sewers and under porches and sometimes in the tops of trees. He sowed lies and reaped resentment. The rats joined him—ever ready to display their feelings toward authority—and in their clever heads a plan was formed.

War, dark and bloody, spilled forth from the rodent realms. The dead and dying grew in number until their bodies clogged the roads and hampered the horses in the human streets.

In her cape of white mice and with her scepter, Chyou called upon the spirits of the ancient ones—the great creatures that had hunted long before cities had sprouted and become infected by humanity. Huge and without mercy, these rodents of old destroyed the rats. They wounded the gerbil and Chyou herself crushed it with one of her dainty black sandals.

But even after the last battle had been fought and the dead on both sides counted, the ancient ones refused to return to their rightful place in the underworld. Now even Chyou, who is still high priestess of the rodents, must watch the shadows and run when she sees their glowing golden eyes.


Jenn Reese photo


Jenn Reese has published stories in cool places like Polyphony 4, Flytrap, Strange Horizons, and various anthologies. She currently lives in Los Angeles, where she practices martial arts, plays strategy games, and laments the loss of Buffy. You can follow her adventures at her website. To contact her, send her email at jenn@sff.net. Her previous appearances in Strange Horizons can be found in our archive.
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