On their way out, the guards smashed every blue stone they saw. The clanking of their armor faded as they marched into the distant chambers. The glow of the remaining stones turned the cavern red.
Amber stared at the shards of the once-perfect spirit stone. She shook her head over and over.
That could have cured the King.
She turned on the rat. “I thought you said you could see the future!”
“I most certainly can, my dear. I just can’t tell you when—or where—it will arrive. I foresaw those gentleclaws destroying a stone—but I didn’t know if it would happen in this cavern or another; a year from now, or ten minutes from now!”
Amber scoffed. “Then what good—”
“—is my power? Perhaps not as much as you’d like, my dear. But good enough.”
Amber dove into the half-formed stones. She began digging. They might have missed one, near-formed, just under the dirt, worth waiting for…
Sargon limped to a rock, sat down, and drank out of the canteen on his belt. While she dug, he slowly bent and stretched his leg until his knee cracked.
“Ah!” he sighed.
Amber came up twenty minutes later, empty-pawed.
“The King should be seeking these stones, not destroying them!”
“The King is very ill,” said the rat.
She looked at him. “You knew?”
“Rats and rumors go together like rabbits and hay.” He took another sip from his canteen.
She shook her head. “I’m not going to find another stone here.” She went to her satchel, opened it, and began preparing another torch. “The bears will know,” she said. The bears knew all about the spirit stones. Legend said they could even conjure them from time to time.
“You’ll be going back to your warren, then?”
“I have to!” It would take time to collect a diplomatic party, gather gifts for trade…then Amber would have to go seeking again, this time for a clan that was often on the move, hidden in the forests of Armello. She shook her head. She had to leave now.
“Hm. Yes,” said the rat. “Well, then this is where we part ways, my dear.”
Amber slumped in relief—but only for a moment. “But don’t you want to get out?”
“I’d be a poor rat indeed if I couldn’t get out of the places I took myself in to. Besides, the spirit stone wasn’t the only thing I wanted that’s down here. I must go deeper.”
He lifted his canteen in a toast, water sloshing. “But it was a certain pleasure meeti—”
He stopped speaking. Amber waited for him to go on, but when his eyelids began to flutter, she bolted over.
She bent down. “Master Rat?”
His face had gone slack, but the canteen trembled in his grasp. She waved her paw in front of his face. Nothing.
“Master Rat, are you—”
One hard blink.
The rat’s head swiveled, nose twitching until he found Amber. He grinned up at her, all yellow incisors. “I’m fine, my dear,” he said. His white eyes narrowed to delighted slits. “In fact, I bring good news from beyond the veil.”
Hope stole into Amber’s heart. Could it be about the King? Her mission to the bear clan?
She forced her voice to soften. “Do tell, Master Rat.”
The rat’s smile changed. Now he looked like he had a nasty secret.
“You and I will be working together again.”
He’d seen more than that—but this was all he was going to tell her. She could see it on his face.
The day flashed before her: killing the horrid centipede monster, finding the spirit stone, the betrayal of the King’s guard. But the worst memory was the rat’s snarl of rage when Amber had tried to stop him from getting what he wanted.
Dread filled her. What else has he foreseen?
The rat grabbed her paw. Clammy flesh. Amber shuddered.
“See you then.”
…to Kristin G., for proofreading and making me aware of the difference between loath and loathe.
…to Emily New, for improving the cover typography. The title looks fabulous!
…to the League of Geeks for developing a great world to play around in!
…to you, for reading this! If you liked it, please leave a comment!
The adventure continues in The Heroes of Houndsmouth: An Unofficial Armello Novella! Click here to read it online!