From Luka and the Fire of Life (excerpted from chapter 4; The Insultana of Ott):
The Mists of Time were getting closer when the Argo passed a strange, sad land on the River’s right bank. Its territory was barred to River travellers by high barbed-wire fences, and when Luka did finally see a scary-looking border post, with its floodlights on high pylons and its tall reconnaissance towers containing lookout guards wearing mirrored sunglasses and carrying powerful military binoculars and automatic weapons, he was struck by a large sign reading YOU ARE AT THE FRONTIER OF THE RESPECTORATE OF I. MIND YOUR MANNERS. ‘What kind of place is this?’ he asked Nobadaddy. ‘It doesn’t look very Magical to me.’
Nobodaddy’s expression contained a familiar mixture of amusement and scorn. ‘I’m sorry to say that the World of Magic is not immune to infestations,’ he said. ‘And this part of it has been overrun, in recent times, by Rats.’
‘Rats?’ Luka cried in alarm, and now he realised what was wrong with those lookouts and border guards. They weren’t people at all, but giant rodents! Dog the bear growled angrily, but Bear the dog, who was a gentle-hearted soul, looked upset. ‘Let’s move on’ he suggested quietly, but Luka shook his head. ‘I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m starving,’ he said. ‘Rats or no Rats, we have to go ashore, because we all need something to eat. Well, all of us except you,’ he added to Nobodaddy in an aside. Nobodaddy shrugged Rashid Khalifa’s familiar shrug and smiled Rashid Khalifa’s familiar smile and said, ‘Very well, if we must, we must. It’s been a while since I passed through the O-Fence.’ He saw Luka’s frown and explained, ‘This barbed-wire contraption. The O-Fence goes all around the Respectorate of I — it gives the place, you could say, its I-dentity — and, as the sign warns you, many of its present occupants take Offence very sharply indeed.’
‘We don’t plan to be rude,’ Luka said. ‘We just want lunch.’
The four travellers entered the border post, leaving the border post, leaving the Argo in the care of the Elephant Drake and Elephant Duck, who passed some time diving for Eddyfish and other morsels. Inside the border post, standing at a counter behind a locked metal grille, was a large grey Rat in uniform: a Border Rat. ‘Papers,’ it said in a squeaky, Ratty, voice. ‘We don’t have any papers,’ Luka honestly replied. The Border Rat went into a frenzy of screeches and squawks. ‘Absurd!’ it finally yelled. ‘Everyone has papers of some sort. Turn out your pockets.’ And so Luka emptied his pockets and found there, among the usual clutter of marbles, swap cards, elastic bands and game chips, three sweets still in their wrappers and two, folded paper airplanes. ‘I never heard anything so rude,’ the Border Rat cried. ‘First he says he has no papers. Then it turns out he has papers. You’re lucky I’m the understanding kind. Hand over your papers and be grateful I’m in such a good mood.’ Nobodaddy nudged Luka, who regretfully handed over the swap cards, the airplanes and the orange sweets in thier transparent wrapping. ‘Will that do?’ he asked. ‘Only because I’m the forgiving type,’ the Border Rat replied, pocketing the objects carefully. He unlocked the grille and allowed the travellers to pass through to the other side. ‘A word of warning,’ he said. Here in the Respectorate we expect visitors to behave. We’re very thinned-skinned. If you prick us, we bleed, and then we make you bleed double: is that clear?’
‘Absolutely clear,’ said Luka politely.
‘Absolutely clear what?’ the Border Rat screeched.
‘Absolutely clear, sir,’ Nobodaddy answered. ‘Don’t worry, sir. We will most definitely mind our p’s and q’s. Sir.’
‘What about the other twenty-four letters of the alphabet?’ asked the Border Rat. ‘You can do a lot of damage with those, and never use a q or a p.’
We’ll mind the other letters also,’ said Luka, adding, quickly, ‘sir.’
‘Are any of you female?’ the Border Rat abruptly abruptly demanded. ‘That dog, is she a bitch? That bear, is she a … bearess? A bearina? A bearette?’
‘Bearina indeed,’ said Dog the Bear. ‘Now I’m the one that’s offended.’
‘And I,’ said Bear the dog. ‘Not that I have anything against bitches.’
‘The nerve!’ squeaked the Border rat. ‘That you say you are offended, insults me mortally. And if you insult one Rat mortally, you offend all Rats gravely. And a grave offence to all Rats is a funeral crime, a crime punishable by –’
‘We apologise, sir,’ said Nobodaddy hurriedly. ‘May we go now?’
‘Oh, very well,’ said the Border Rat, subsiding. ‘But Mind your manners. I don’t want to have to send for the Respecto-Rats.’ Luka didn’t like the sound of those.
They came through the border post and found themselves in a grey street: the houses, the curtains at the windows, the clothing worn by Rats and people alike (yes, there were people here, Luka was relieved to see), all grey. The Rats were grey too and the people had acquired a greyish pallor. Overhead, grey clouds allowed a neutral sunlight to filyer through. ‘They developed a Colour Problem here a little while ago,’ Nobodaddy said. ‘The Rats who hated the colour yellow because of its, well, cheesiness were confronted by the Rats who disliked the colour red because of its similarity to blood. In the end all colours, being offensive to someone or other, were banned by the Rathouse — that’s the parliament, by the way, although nobody votes for it, it votes for itself, and it basically does what the Over-Rat says.’
‘And who chooses the Over-Rat?’ Luka asked.
‘He chooses himself.’ said Nobodaddy. ‘Actually he chooses himself over and over agin, he does it more or less every day, because he likes doing it so much. It’s known as being Over-Rat-ed.’
‘Overrated sounds about right,’ said Dog the bear with a snort and a number of passing Rats looked round sharply. ‘Be careful,’ Nobodaddy warned. ‘Everyone’s looking for trouble round here.’
[Happily, the Rats are defeated and destroyed by the intervention (with an aerial bombardment of itching-powder) of the Insultana, the Otter Queen, "not an animal, but a green-eyed girl wearing a green-and-gold cloak, her fiery red hair streaming in the wind, no more than sixteen or seventeen years old"]:
The Rats had indeed taken leave of their senses. Through the window of the grey bakery, Luka witnessed their mounting insanity and their dying throes. The thin-skinned masters of the Respectorate were literally scratching themselves to bits, actually ripping themselves apart, until there was nothing left of them but lumps of mangy fur and grey, ugly meat. The shreiking of the Rats reached a terrible crescendo, and then slowly the air grew quieter, and silence fell. At the very end Luka saw the Over-Rat himself come running down the street towards the River of Time, slashing himself as he ran, and at the end of the street he leapt into the River with a terrible cry and, as he was the one Rat in the World of Magic who was unable to swim, because he had always been too lazy and spoiled to take the trouble to learn, he drowned in the Temporal Flow.
And that was the end of that.
Slowly, slowly, the non-Rat inhabitants of the Respectorate came out of their homes and understood that their ordeal was at an end, and then in great happiness they rushed to the fences that separated the Respectorate from the rest of the Magical World and tore them down and flung away the broken remnants of their prison walls for ever. And if any Rats did survive the Great Itch Bombing they were never seen again, but crawled back into the darkness behind the cracks of the world, which is where Rats belonged.