They pushed the monster’s remains to the nearest wall and used it to climb back up onto the main level. They both began walking towards the scent of the spirit stones.
Amber carried the torch. Its wavering light let her study her rat companion in detail: he wore a red mask and robe. But unlike all the members of rat clan she’d met in her travels, he had no fur. Dark spots blotched his pallid shining hide.
She sniffed, trying to make out the disease which had caused this, only to realize that he had no scent. The awful stench that had caught her nose earlier had belonged to the monster.
It wasn’t just eerie for him to have no scent; it was wrong. Her fur prickled. She was glad he was leading the way. No way she wanted him behind her.
“You still haven’t told me how you knew my name,” said Amber.
The rat halted so suddenly that she almost ran into him.
He didn’t reply.
More silence. Then he shook himself.
“My apologies. What was it you were asking?”
She repeated her question.
“Ah, yes. I know your name because I can see the future.”
Amber wrinkled her nose. Liar.
“I saw myself talking to you. I spoke your name in vision…Therefore, I knew it when I saw you. Déjà vu!” He laughed, sounding delighted. Then he stopped again, turning towards her.
“You don’t believe me, of course. But I invite you to examine me closely. Do you notice anything different about me?”
It wouldn’t be polite to speak of his lack of scent—and Amber wouldn’t have mentioned his skin disease for all the gold in the mountains.
“You have me at a disadvantage, my good rat.”
“Don’t be shy! Go on. Have a good look.”
He’s crazier than a moon-bitten hare. Better humor him. She glanced around his face—then gasped.
“What happened to your eyes?!”
They hadn’t been gouged out; rather, there was only white where she expected a beady gaze.
Her paw flew to her mouth. Blurting something like that out! Amber, you have no idea what will set him off! “Oh—please, good rat, I beg your pardon!”
But the rat smiled and waved her off. “No need for that, my dear. I only wanted to show you the price I paid to see through the veil.”
Amber didn’t speak until she was certain her voice wouldn’t waver. “What veil?”
“The veil of time—which is neither Wyld nor Rot. Anybody can do it, if they’re willing to pay.”
“But…if you’re blind, how are you walking around down here?”
“I get by on my nose.” He wiggled his snout. “And my ears.” He clenched his teeth, making his ears wiggle.
Amber wanted to be sick. Instead, she smiled. “How…fortunate for you.”
“You have no idea.” He turned away and began walking again.
“They used to be brown, you know.”
Amber’s paw had gone to her sword again. “What did?”
“My eyes. You were going to ask that, weren’t you?”
A breath of laughter escaped her. She hoped he couldn’t detect the nerves in it.