While giant rats are nothing new to Dark Souls, a rat kingdom certainly is. Various beasts have displayed similar intelligence to the bipedal races, with Shalquoir and Alvina from the original Dark Souls (DS1) proving that at least some are capable of speech. The snake men of the other games further demonstrate the potential for these intelligent creatures to form their own societies. Therefore, it is reasonable for rats to establish their own kingdom, taking after the first four kingdoms of the pygmies and medials. The Rat King refers to his kindred as subordinates, establishing a clear hierarchy between himself and the rats who serve under him. They also appear to follow a code of honor that undergirds their sense of loyalty. But for the most part, their kingdom is foreign to human or medial sensibilities. Rats gladly wallow in filth and consider sludgy mud to be the most warm and kind thing imaginable, which explains their general preference for dirty, dank, and damp areas like sewers in the previous game. They delight in these breeding grounds for diseases that could then be passed onto us as poisons.
Thankfully, humans originally had nothing to fear with regards to these plague-carrying vermin. According to the Rat King, he and the chief of humans had made a deal in olden times. Humans would take over the Upper World basked in the light of day, and rats would infest every dark corner beneath the earth. This human chief is an obvious reference to the pygmy Lord who found the Dark Soul, prior to mankind spreading across the surface world. Considering that the gods had already established subterranean kingdoms, this was likely a secret arrangement made in preparation for the coming Age of Dark and downfall of the medials. By agreeing on the borders of their territories early on, mankind would avoid any conflict with the rats once the human race dominated the Upper World. However, things did not go as the pygmy had planned. As the Rat King relates, humans forgot their pledge and have set up various underground societies throughout history. Worse yet, they hunt the rats who are supposed to be their allies. As the Rat King poetically exposites, we have been “poisoned” by the light of the sun.
This seems to be the reason that the King considers us filthy and foul-smelling when such a thing would have presumably been to their liking. It is our betrayal prompted by Gwyn and the gods’ machinations that he finds corrupt about us. It may seem unfair then to characterize our race’s initial agreement as a lie, but the Rat King doesn’t seem to lay blame solely at the feet of the medials. He also points to human greed as the cause for our infidelity, that our behavior is out of a desire to have the land both above ground and below. It is as much our human nature that earns the king’s mistrust, and this combination of causes is why he pities humans as fools for desiring everything and yet ultimately acquiring nothing. This low opinion of the human race is probably the reason for us encountering rats topside in DS1 — a classic case of one party ignoring the pact already broken by the other. But the vast majority apparently prefer to nest underground where the sun doesn’t touch their fur.
In more recent times, the Rat King and his closest subjects have moved into the Grave of Saints, to forage from the corpses interred there according to the Dark Souls II Collector’s Edition Strategy Guide. They can also be found in the underground caverns of the Doors of Pharros. Unlike vermin from past games, the rats in these areas possess the ability to petrify. Curious, since the Rat King rewards his servants with smooth & silky stones before finally awarding the Slumbering Dragoncrest Ring. Though the description confirms it to be a ring that has been handed down in Melfia since long ago, one such ring has nonetheless ended up in the rat’s possession. But why? Does he care about its ability to mask one’s sound, or is it the image of a slumbering dragon emblazoned on its crest that caught his attention? Given the relative proximity of the Grave of Saints to Shulva and their domain over the entire underground, the rats are likely aware of the slumbering Sinh and other archdragons. Their petrification power may therefore be a result of them studying the rocky world they call home.
I heard a story about, what was it, some rat king or something. Well, if the king’s a rich person, I’ll go down to even a rat or whatever. Ha ha!
This isn’t their only peculiar foray into foreign fields either. The “hunting rat” (狩猟ネズミ) is a dog-rat hybrid acting as their hounds. While their physiology largely resembles that of a canine, their tails are unmistakably those of rats, hence why we can collect them from their corpses. Likewise, the description for the Royal Rat Authority’s soul considers the giant dog to be a rat and not a “living statue” like the English text relates. This is an obvious reference to the official name for standard rat enemies being “dog rats” (犬ネズミ) due to their comparable size and the name’s similarity to the term “large rat”. (大ネズミ) While an amusing connection, it still doesn’t reveal how this dog-rat hybrid came to be. They may have been bred naturally with all the darker implications that brings for their canine parents. If so, then their mixed blood has made them an accepted part of rat society but subservient to pureblooded rats.
Similar prejudice extends toward their human servants. The Rat King is willing to recruit us to put the never-ending invaders of his domain to death on his behalf. But before he is willing to offer a covenant, we must slay the Royal Rat Vanguard or Royal Rat Authority and present either of their tails to him. The former is a “soldier” leading an army of rats in preventing us from having an audience with their king. The latter is the “Rat King’s Trial” (ネズミの王の試練) who serves to both enforce the royal’s authority and test our mettle for joining the covenant — again, neither are living statues but faithful rats defending their lord’s kingdom from trespassers. Showing either tail to the king peaks his interest because he realizes that we are stronger than he initially judged. Combined with the fact that we are willing to talk to the king rather than slay him, and we have proven our “integrity” to join the “righteous” rats as the Collector’s Edition Strategy Guide puts it. But even then, he hesitates to make the covenant because we are still human and thereby untrustworthy in his eyes.
Soul of the Rat King’s Trial that considers the underground its territory.
Those who intend to serve the Rat King must overcome the trial that the King imposed.
The special soul this rat possessed is used to acquire a vast amount of souls or create a great power.
The solution? He asks that we throw away the soul of man to swear fealty to him. We are to embrace the rats in full, to lay in the mud and act in their name without shame. All of this in the hope that we shall throw away our human stench, leaving no reminder of what we actually are while serving the intolerant king of rats. There is an evident desire for outsiders to be as much like rats as physically possible —anything less is beneath them. That said, we aren’t the first to have become an ally of the Rat King. A previous human servant had created the covenant ring used to summon rat-hunting invaders to the wearer while in the vicinity. Human hands had also presumably crafted the statues of rats now ornamenting their domain, most effigies holding a vase that spews poison when using the corresponding Pharros mechanisms. There have been others lending the rat kingdom their support, but we can apparently be the first to actually change his opinion about the human race in general.
After we collect countless tails of hunted rats from intruders, the Rat King says that we have vindicated mankind’s innocence. Our actions convince the royal that we are indeed not truly at fault for reneging on his deal with the pygmy Lord. We are very much capable of honoring our bargain and make things right between our two peoples, it is just that we have forgotten due to the meddling of powers beyond us at the time. And with us serving as an example for humans as a whole, the Rat King is willing to dream of the day that humans and rats can coexist in harmony. Indeed, should we then decide to kick-start the Age of Dark as man’s progenitor had always intended, then peace with the rats is possible thanks to our knowledge as a member of the covenant. Nothing like having the future king of all mankind as your servant to influence diplomatic relations later down the line. But regardless of whether the Rat King knows about our mission, our actions will restore his faith in humanity.