I never did like rats. Not because of their obscene tails, but rather on account of their lively disturbing intelligence. They are always listening when a man believes he is talking only to himself. And, what's worse, they seem to understand.
A few days ago, I caught myself talking to one of them – a particularly large, black male with a torn-off ear. At first I was overcome by panic. Was this a first manifestation of the illness? Of course, that was impossible, for I had fortified my immunity with powerful spells. Upon further consideration, I concluded it was an altogether natural reflex, one even the most learned among us find hard to restrain. We mages like to be listened to.
I placed the black rat in a separate cage. The time will come for it to play a part in the test. Meanwhile, it can "keep me company." And observe. I've noticed it looks with great concentration at the cages of its infected brethren, particularly those cages in the last stages of illness. Fascinating.
Speaking of company – I have none, besides the black rat, and cannot hope for better. Vserad avoids the laboratory and has expressed his desire for his daughter to steer clear of me as well. At first I thought he feared a moral scandal – which would be risible in the extreme – but he explained the true reason in due course. It seems Annabelle has always possessed a fragile psychic constitution. Observing the ill might throw her into foul humors.
The peasants taking part in the study have stopped speaking to me. I don't know what they believe this little act of defiance will serve. It does me no harm – they made for lousy conversation partners. There remains, of course, The Woman, but as for her, I try to limit my contact.
My black rat has died – today I found him curled up in his cage. I suspected he had become infected on accident, but during the autopsy I did not uncover any signs of illness. He was also perfectly well-fed. Strange. From a medical point of view his death remains unexplained, something which, I must admit, irritates the scholar in me. But, as mentioned previously, I'm not particularly fond of rats.