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Chapter 21: Wherein Gazes Pierce Deeply

The comings and goings of people in and out of my room became my dreams. Mitchillie washing and dressing my wounds, the initial biting agony of the salve she put to calm the skin, my own cries of pain – a dream. The Grand Master feeding me soup with a small wooden spoon, patting my head – a dream. Some young man washing my hot face with a refreshingly cool cloth, again and again – another dream. At night my friends the rats came out to visit me, their encouragement, their comforting voices – my dream.

    Through it all, I slept, one day and one night, until day came again. I slept on, deeply, tiredly, as if sleep would fix everything that was wrong with me.

    "It's time to wake up," someone said.

    I shook my head, no.

    "Rat," the old man said, "you need to wake up."

    My name had a magical pull over me, like a string tied to my heart. The old man tugged on it and I was drawn out from the deep murky world I had submerged in. My eyes opened, my eyelashes fluttering against the fabric of the pillowcase. It was morning, and he was sitting in a chair by the bed. I was lying on my stomach with my cheek mashed against the pillow. I wiped drool from the corner of my mouth and the side of my face and blinked.

    Did he just call me Rat for the first time? I regarded his face; was he honestly concerned about me?

    "How do you feel?" he asked.

    "Like I was run over by an entire train," I croaked.

    "Are you thirsty?"

I was, very. I nodded into the pillow.

He picked up a glass of water. "You can turn onto your back. You heal remarkably fast."

    Gingerly, I obeyed. Someone had put a soft cotton shirt on me, I eased myself onto my back, my muscles tensing as, carefully, I nestled into the mattress. The Grand Master handed me the glass and I drank in small sips.

    "Rat," he began as I was drinking – there, he said it again, now I could be certain. I blinked at him over the brim of the glass. "I'm sorry."

    I coughed on the water, distrust flashing its light through my brain. So this was the old man trying to appease me? I lowered the glass but didn't say anything, staring at him, curious to see how he would go on.

    "I am at fault. I should have warned you or taken you with me," he continued his voice annoyingly soft. It was annoying because it was all working on me, his seemingly sincere apology, his use of my name, I couldn't be mad at him like I wanted to be. "I promise that I will do my part with better care from now on."

    "I can't trust you," I said bluntly, trying to shape my own heart with my words. But my silly heart was betraying me; like a dog, it was alarmingly easy for him to please me. "It was a magician who did it to me. And it wasn't the first time I met him. Don't all magicians answer to you?"

    "Rat, do you remember his face?" His voice was disturbingly serious.

    "Yes," I answered tentatively.

    "Picture him for a moment in your mind and let me see who it is."

    I didn't have a chance to reject his request, because the magician's face was already in my mind; it had jumped there the moment he had been mentioned. I felt the little peek, the subtle and hasty intrusion. It was unpleasant and terribly intimate. Automatically I tried to block it, my head fortifying itself.

Rat - YA FantasyWhere stories live. Discover now