To His Holiness Bernado Ugolini, Most Highly Favoured of Morr, from your faithful servant, Brother Migliore.
The End of Autumn, 2403
If it pleases your holiness, I hereby and humbly present the conclusions of my researches into the history of the Ratto Uomo, commissioned by yourself in light of the ever more numerous reports of sightings upon the seas around, and even within the lands of, Tilea.
Concerning their ships
The ratto uomo are not natural seafarers, but can it be claimed that any land-born race truly is? Perhaps the elves have perfected the art of maritime navigation more fully than all others, but even their sailors must find their sea legs before becoming accustomed to ship-board life. All vessels are subject to the vicissitudes of the seas, battered by the winds and waves, pulled by the currents, baked by the sun and befuddled by the light of the chaos moon. All sailors of all races fear becoming embayed on a lee-shore or attack by corsairs, and there are none who are immune to ship’s fever, the bloody flux, scurvy or simple starvation when sustenance proves hard to find. Nevertheless, the ratto uomo must not be thought to be deficient in their mastery of the seas, for I have learned from the salty dogs of the holy city and Portomaggiore that the ratmen’s vessels have long been able to sail close-hauled on a bowline, indeed directly into the wind, being for the most part propelled not by sails but by great screws affixed beneath their sterns, powered by blasts of sulphurous steam made forceful by the conjoined, mundane and etheric heat of their sky-stones. This is why they are so feared, for they can bear down upon a prize from leeward as easily as windward. Furthermore, even their tenders and their lesser, lighter vessels, of insufficient worth to warrant such infernal engines, are most often galleys, and as the ratto uomo care not a jot if their slaves are worked en-masse unto their very deaths, then they can similarly speed through the seas contrary to any wind, so that any sailing ship in pursuit must tack close to have a chance to intercept them.
Several many seamen made the claim that the reports of ratto uomo in the gulf are on the increase, yet at the same time, a good number instead told me that there have always been reports of such sightings, and that nothing has changed, for tired, hungry, fearful eyes can conjure many a danger in the distance, the mists or in the crepuscular hour. It can rarely be known why lone ships are lost at sea, for survivors from such vessels are very few in number. Of those lost ships whose fates are known, the vast majority were travelling in convoy – their loss thus witnessed by the crews of their companions, and few of these ever report attacks by ratto uomo. Yet, there are those who say that this in itself is evidence, for the ratmen are renowned as bullies and cowards, and as such prefer to prey upon weak and lonely prizes, the better to ensure their own survival and success.
One particular curiosity concerning the ratto uomo’s sea-going activities is their reputed use of sub-marine vessels. No such vessel has ever been captured intact, but they have been, through the centuries, reported and have even been known to ram ships. Whether or not these vessels are similarly propelled by turning screws or by oars none can say for certain, although in IC 2286 the Viadazan Maestro Romolo Auriemma, apparently inspired by the recovered wreckage of part of such a vessel, drew up plans for a sub-marine vessel in which the oars were made watertight by protruding through leather-sealed ports.
It seems that he constructed said vessel but that nothing is known of his trails, not even whether his efforts were in any way successful. His rather dense treatise discusses many practical issues, concerning how to let out or receive of anything without the admission of water? How to propel and direct without the usual advantages of wind & tides, or the sight of the heavens? How to supply air for respiration? How to keep fires lit for light & cooking? As well as some rather obscure scribblings which seem to detail the leather seals and what appears to be fin-ended oars able to contract and dilate as required for either pressing upon or passing through the water. The last of his pages shows a weight suspended beneath to enable falling and rising.
How similar the vessel Maestro Romolo designed and constructed was to the kind employed by the ratto uomo is, however, a matter of pure speculation.
Concerning the Underpasses
In the great library of the Palazio Endrezzi, I discovered the texts your scholarly adviser Stoldo Schiavone remembered perusing during his youthful studies. One of the volumes was missing, but fortunately the volume with a chapter considering the ratto uomo’s underground movements during the great war nearly two centuries ago was present and I scoured it for anything of possible importance. This I have transcribed here almost exactly as the original.
Excerpts from Anichino Didonato’s IC 2361 treatise about the Ratto Uomo Wars of IC 2212-15, Volume 2, Chapter 6: Concerning Caverns, Sewers and the Great Underpasses
By the Summer of the year IC 2213 it had become generally known that the great swarm-armies of ratto uomo were emerging not merely from the ancient city sewers, as did their emissaries, assassins and spies so frequently during the past two, murderous decades, nor were they simply camped in cavernous holds before their assaults, or marching by night to hide in ruinous places and wastelands and swamps, but that they were issuing from the mouths of great underpasses, being tunnels of enormous proportions stretching for many leagues beneath almost the entire length and breadth of Tilea.
In early Autumn 2213 the army of the ‘Third Reman Pact’ fought at the mouth of the tunnel to the east of Remas, and also at an exit near Ebino, but in both cases, despite overwhelming the enemy forces in the vicinity of the mouth, could not penetrate deep into the tunnels without the loss of a great many soldiers. Such a sacrifice was considered a price not worth paying, for should the ratto uomo send another army through the tunnel, then whatever costly victories had been achieved would prove futile. The mouth of the tunnel near Remas was collapsed with the use of black powder, but that action also proved of limited consequence, for the enemy simply carved another portal further back along the tunnel, upon the eastern side of the River Remo. At least it allowed a defence to be made at Stiani, where the Pact’s forces were massed and the great Battle of Stiani was fought in the summer of 2214 in which a mighty horde of ratto uomo was defeated and scattered, their wicked engines destroyed and mountainous piles of their corpses burned. See Chapter 8 for a full account of this battle.
The underpasses were not what one might commonly imagine, akin to brick-built sewers, nor even ancient, twisting, irregular caverns, accessed one to another by squeezing through skewed crevices and cracks. Instead they were wide enough for an army to march in column of ranks and files.
The following excerpt is taken from Chapter 2, ‘Concerning the Enemy’s Armies’
The ratto uomo fielded horde-legions with triple the numbers of the Tilean armies they faced. These were divided into regularly sized, regimented bodies scuttle-marching in strict rank and files. Each such body was commanded by a chieftain, accompanied by a bodyguard-lieutenant, several musicians bearing shrill instruments and the bearer of a ragged banner.
Most commonly they carried long bladed spears and round, iron-rimmed shields, being clothed in dirty rags with scrap-plates of iron armour on their upper bodies and arms.
Their natural proclivity to swarm, as might their tiny brethren when threatened by some cataclysmic event such as a flood or wildfire, meant that they had an uncanny agility, even when packed tightly in ranks and files of the closest order. They marched this way also, as closely dressed as a body of Tilean soldiers might be only in the moments before engaging a foe.
Here Chapter 6 continues:
The great underpasses, and the mouths they served, were high enough to allow the passage of engines of war of considerable size. Some engines were propelled by strange mechanisms, in which sulphurous steam was created by shards of burning sky-stone to turn gears and consequently the wheels, as might river waters turn a mill wheel. Such was the unreliability of these engines, and the ever-present danger that they might self-combust or even explode, that they were most commonly moved upon the march by slaves. Both their own ratto uomo, and their larger brute cousins, were employed as such beasts of burden, often together, so that while the smaller slaves where whipped to perform most of the labour, the brutes would be required to lend a more mighty hand as occasion demanded, such as when stuck in a rut, struggling through mud or upon an upward slope.
When transported through the tunnels, it seems that the engines were invariably removed from the main body of the army, most likely due to the relative slowness of their lumbering progress and perhaps also a reluctance to manoeuvre such unstable burdens in close proximity to the army’s massed soldiers. Any sudden detonation would surely have sent a wave of fire washing along the tunnels, capable of immolating many hundreds among the huddled hordes if it were to reach them before its heat was sufficiently dissipated.
Each engine, its slaves and matrosses, was governed by an engineer whose understanding was sufficient to coax his ward into destructive power as and when required. They often carried a shard of the precious sky-stone themselves, mounted upon a haft of iron, the function of which was unknown, but has been variously speculated to be either like unto a key with which to breathe life into the engine, or a stinging staff with which to berate and bully their underlings, or perhaps merely a badge to signal their own importance and professed mastery of the mystery of said stone?
How the underpasses were constructed is unknown for certain. What parts near unto the mouths were inspected closely by miners showed some scattered signs of chiselling, more frequently a swirling form of scraping, while other stretches seemed to have been scorched, the rock surface part-melted or glazed. Knowing the ratto uomo’s predilection to employ mighty machines in battle, as well as vast throngs of slaves of their own kind, then it was supposed that either one, or indeed both of these methods, were employed to hew through the rock. It is presumed the passages linked to natural underground fissures, for where else could the vast quantity of debris created by their mining, howsoever it was done, be put? Some scholars suggested that it were possible that the rocks were carried away by slaves, and indeed there are ancient tales, many hundreds of years old, of entirely new hills appearing in the far northern region of Albu (although the stories claim, among other things, that they were made as cairns for the eternal repose of giants or even that monstrous moles dwelling a thousand fathoms beneath the ground had thrown them up over-night when they came aloft to breath sufficient air to sustain them for another millennia).
The ground of the underpasses was like unto a beach, part-pebbled, part-sand, which in itself gave several miners cause to wonder at how exactly it had come to be so. It was suggested that perhaps the ground was a by-product of the pulverising of the rock, or some sort of burning?
The tunnel mouths aforementioned were almost certainly extensions of the same underpass, stretching from Ebino then under the River Tarano just before the River Bellagio branched off, then beneath the River Trantino north-west of Scorcio, then beneath the mouth of the River Remo itself then corkscrewing up to exit through a sea facing wall of rock, thus requiring a ramp to be made from the debris which poured from the mouth. How the whole was ventilated was never properly discovered, and it could only be speculated that there were some form of ventilation shafts, perhaps guarded by iron grills or the like, with apertures cunningly concealed from the upper world.
Chapter 6, Part 2: Concerning the Collapsing of the Underpasses
Having had such limited success in collapsing the tunnel mouths, the renowned maestro Abramo Ruggiere of Urbimo was tasked with discovering a way to destroy the underpasses. He was chosen because of his successful engagements in great architectural works such as redirecting the Via Aurelia to avoid the flood plains west of Astiano and damning the River Riatti near Terenne to create an artificial lake, and his proven expertise in the construction of great helical grooved shafts screws with which to lift and direct water. He proposed re-directing an artificial offshoot of the River Remo to permanently flood a long section of the underpass, but to employ a different method involving fiery conjurations and gunpowder to collapse the tunnel in the western reaches of Usola, south-east of Ebino, so that if either method proved unsuccessful then the other might make up for the deficiency, and also should the ratto uomo discover the operation before it was completed and devise some method to thwart it, then the same method could not be applied to the other stretch.
Other city states, including Miragliano, Trantio and Astiano, were expected to assume the responsibility of collapsing or otherwise preventing the use any tunnels in their own proximity, and it is possible, if not likely, that several different methods were employed for these works.
Both maestro Abramo’s proposed methods proved effective. At torrent of water drawn from the Remo was poured through a large, carved hole into the underpass and flowed freely for several days until it began to spill out from the hole, presumably because the enemy had collapsed the tunnel themselves at a removed point in order to block the water’s further onrush. At that point, as had been planned, the maestro ordered the damning of the Remo’s outflow so that the river might resume its course. Subsequently a smaller channel was dug to ensure that the waters within the underpass would be replenished continually, thus replacing any lost due to flooding through underground fissures, whether natural or unnatural.
To the north, near Ebino, several fire wizards were employed to conjure a magically induced wave of flame to wash along the underpass, where large quantities of blackpowder, both barrels and grenadoes (the latter jammed into fissures in the rock walls) had already been placed at both frequent and regular intervals. It was presumed that each blast would add to the wave of flame as it flowed, so that as the ethereally derived power of the heat dwindled, the fury of the mundane flames would increase in inverse proportion.
Thus it was that the course of the war was changed considerably, for subsequently the enemy had to rely upon overland marches and the seas, and was much less able to conceal the disposition of their forces.
I have copied here, as best my limited ability allows, the little map included in the chapter:
Here the chapter ended. The remainder of the book concentrated upon the history of the Third Reman Pact and of the war itself, mainly concerning the politics and rulers of the various Tilean states involved in the war, as well as a veritable cornucopia of stories concerning the nobility, some important and others insignificant, but of very little consequence to our world two centuries later.
As you yourself wisely suggested, I myself discussed my findings, as well as that I had learned from both the sailors and Anichino Didonato’s other volumes, with the maestro Angelo da Leoni. He allowed me to visit him in his workshop, where he was surrounded by books, papers, schemas and strange artefacts, the like of some of which I had never seen before. A large, spherical, globe of strangely-hued metal gave off occasional stuttering clicks throughout our meeting, but neither the maestro nor his gnomish assistant paid it any attention.
He clearly found my account fascinating and was prompted to wax both lyrically and generously in sharing his own thoughts. He seemed most intrigued by the possibility that the ratmen’s tunnelling engines, if they did indeed employ heat to burn the subterraneous rock – as the evidence of scorching suggested – might be, in form, rather like his own engine which he gifted to the Disciplinati di Morr for their march into the north. That consisted, he told me, of lenses both dioptrical and catoptrical, some of pure glass and others of glass admixed with powdered sky-stone, being employed to separate, then concentrate a conjoining of light both etheric and mundane, vastly increasing the heat thereby manifested. Such an apparatus, especially if the source of ethereal light were not the far-away sun but a shard of pure sky-stone, of a size and form that would most likely bake the very flesh of anyone standing close enough to work the device, might indeed produce a shaft of such brilliant intensity as to burn away the rock or at the least make it (to a depth of several feet) so brittle in consistency that simply scraping at it would subsequently cause it to crumble it away.
Yet he foresaw innumerate difficulties and dangers inherent in the employment of such an apparatus, not least the great cloud of poisonous fumes that he believed would be produced. Here he showed me several strange masks, hoods and sleeved cloaks he had fashioned, kept in a wardrobe in his workshop, intended to be worn at times of plague or when foul and foetid fumes tainted the air, and spoke of the possibility that similar garments might be employed to permit workers to labour at least for some time before succumbing to the noxious vapours. Yet, still he checked himself, for he now declared such a sudden boiling, even of only that constituent part of rock that gifted the quality of hardness, and its almost instantaneous transformation into vapour, would of necessity cause a great and violent on-rush of air, at most explosive and at the least like unto the strongest of gales. This would be forced unstoppably through the great tunnel to be released and diminished only wherever vents pierced the roof to reach the upper world, which surely there must have been. Indeed, he proposed that such vents, placed at regular intervals, would have had different purposes over time, from allowing air to circulate sufficiently to make work in the tunnels just possible, then later allowing the necessary escape of the bursting, noxious vapours. Perhaps some of these vents, the suggested, if only those most suitably placed, were then later transformed into the concealed ventilation shafts intended to serve the tunnel permanently?
Before I left, and as a most gracious gesture to show his respect for you my lord, he instructed his gnomish clerk to take a copy of a paper of consequence, that might better inform natural philosophers and engineers of at least the basic principles of his burning apparatus, if not the full and complicated practicalities of its construction, which were more explored in the making and calibration of the apparatus than in any schema or drawn design beforehand. I enclose said page here.
I remain, as always and forever more, your most humble servant, for you are great Morr’s most blessed and my heart only knows love for him and those who serve him truly.