We landed in a dense thicket of sage, so even after getting clear we were going to smell like a roast chicken for a while. The view from the bottom of the cliff was rather more limited than what we had at the top or on the way down. The cliff itself loomed over us, and looked impossible to climb starting from here.
I suspected that the swift and painless descent we’d just made was related to a way back up, but I wasn’t in any hurry to experiment. I still didn’t understand what had happened. I’d waved the stick that all evidence says I should call a wand, and we did not fall to our deaths. Rather, we settled swiftly but gently down what must have been at least two miles of cliff, easily passing several sheer drops a that were each over a quarter mile tall. Going up that with only mundane tools was well beyond my abilities, and that is assuming that there a practical climbing route even exists.
I can’t bring myself to ask the rat its name, as it obviously knows me from before and is clearly becoming suspicious that something happened to me while we were up top. But with the rat’s help we located the road into the village a ways below the waterfall’s pool. Several other springs and creeks seemed to have joined together, and the river was substantially larger than the stream I’d forded easily above.
As we hiked, I toyed with the wand. By the third time I’d accidentally levitated the rat, I’d figured out that I could see threads of something gathering in the air as the wand tip moved. Gestures seemed to collect the stuff on the wand or fling it off with varying side effects. The rat was clearly exasperated by this, but also resigned to his fate. I was beginning to suspect that our relationship was more of a magus and familiar and less boon companions. In particular, he didn’t seem to be able to disobey a direct request. I’d think on that more, and hope to work out exactly what was expected of me before it became a problem.
So at least I’d had a chance to shed a little light on the immediate state of things.
That left the bigger picture still in shadow. I had no idea what the name of the village was, if we were expected, if this were my home, or even if I was married or otherwise bound to anyone. I was becoming resigned to simply improvising my way out of any lapses that others might notice.
I needn’t have worried too much.
THe village wasn’t exactly deserted, but the people gave us a wide berth. The rat seemed amused.
“Ah, they are still scared you’ll do something silly beyond the edge of the world.”
“How silly can I be? I’m not sure we can go back up there at all.”
“Don’t worry about it. We will when we must. As usual.”
“Of course, we’ve done that before, haven’t we.”
Clearly I was going to be pressed to learn how to be an elevator sometime soon. In the mean time, the looks the shot me as we made our way through town were very telling. Clearly I was known at sight to everyone, known for stepping outside the bounds. And yet no one dared disturb me.
No one, that is, except the cat. We’d made our way into the Inn, and it was clear that we were indeed expected. A spot was hastily set for me, and I welcomed the chance to set down my burdens and rest. The voice from the shadows beside the fire was not expected, especially since it came from rather closer to the floor than usual.
Then the cat leaned forward just far enough for the firelight to fall on his whiskers as he spoke again.
“Don’t play the fool. I know you can hear and understand even if hardly anyone else in this forsaken town can. You were outside the lines again. I know it.”
I really needed to get the rat and I (and possibly this cat) into somewhere I could drill him without being overheard by the world.
“I suppose I was. So?”
“Take us along the next time. Lose the rat too, if you want.”
“I don’t think I can do that.”
“We knew you’d say that. Look here.”
With that, the cat pushed something my way from the shadows. At first glance it was an orange. But on closer inspection, it was just the peel of an orange, skillfully removed then reassembled around nothing but air. Very skillfully removed, I couldn’t spot the tear lines.
But this time there was no reply. The cat had retreated to his shadow. The rest of the room were staring. Even the rat had gone quiet. Well, mostly quiet.
“Now you’ve gone and stepped in it” the rat said, sadly.