Chapter 55: The Rat-Faced Spoke a Word
Edie didn’t realize Corrie had stopped until she’d gotten a couple of steps past her. Then she stopped, realizing she couldn’t feel the presence at her side anywhere, and turned. There was Corrie, right behind her, staring down at a table. The little man behind it, who had a long rat’s face, beady eyes, and a slinky, furred tail he kept stroking, was keeping up some kind of chatter. He was talking about the jewelry laid out on his table. It was sparkly and interesting, but it didn’t seem worth stopping for, not after Professor Lal’s warning. “Corrie,” she called. When she didn’t answer, Edie turned and snatched Annie’s sleeve before the others could get too far away. “Corrie’s stopped,” she told them.
Annie and Roe spun around, alarmed, followed quickly by Dawn and Rico. “Corrie!” Edie called again as they covered the short distance over to her. Dawn and Roe both echoed her, but Corrie didn’t seem to hear them. She had picked up some small pink jewel and was looking at it as though it delighted her, holding it up to the light so it sparkled. It seemed to catch more light than was available in the market, refracting it out in strange rainbows.
“That one’s for your tongue,” the rat-faced man was saying. “Speak the language of birds, of cats and mice. You won’t understand them, though; for that you’ll want these, for your ears, or you’ll have no idea what you or they are saying.” His patter was like an auctioneer’s, never letting up, without a pause. He held up a pair of tiny green jewels, that, rather than reflecting the light, seemed to suck it in… or maybe they were just dark and flat. Edie put her hand on Corrie’s shoulder, but she still didn’t turn.
“Corrie!” Dawn grabbed Corrie’s other shoulder and turned her body, but her head turned so she was still facing the rat-faced faerie. She traded the pink jewel in her hand for the green ones he was holding up.
“Corrie, remember the price!” said Roe in her ear. “Professor Lal said it could be dangerous. And you’ve read stories. You can’t make bargains with faeries. He’s not going to give them to you, he’s going to try to trade something.”
“Or for your eyes, we have these, the way to see through the lies, to find the paths,” the salesman chattered on. He held up tiny strings of what appeared to be diamonds. Were they something to give people the Sight? Edie would almost be tempted by that… but no, she couldn’t even listen. She was trying to get Corrie so they could leave. Anxiety churned in her stomach. Why wasn’t Corrie listening to them?
Suddenly someone appeared—literally appeared, out of thin air—behind the rat-faced man. Hands clamped around his mouth. The patter shut off instantly and Corrie’s head snapped up. “Sorry,” she said to Edie, smiling apologetically as though she hadn’t just been ignoring her for several minutes. “I guess I got distracted. Thanks, but no thanks,” she said to the salesman. “Not unless you’re giving them away for free.”
The hands on the rat-man’s snout shook it firmly. “Not even then. Okay? Shut up with the sales pitch.” The ratty eyes widened and the salesman gave a little nod. Edie finally realized that she recognized the person who’d stopped the patter: it was Brandon.
“Are you okay?” Dawn asked as Corrie turned away.
Corrie nodded, frowning. “I’m fine. Like I said, I just got distracted. Believe me, I had no intention of buying anything.”
“You might not have, but you would if you’d listened much longer,” said Brandon, stepping away from the rat-faced man and shoving his hands into his pockets.
Corrie looked up at him and frowned. “Who asked you?”
“Nobody,” he said with a shrug. “But I didn’t answer your questions before so I figured I owed you something. I didn’t know you were friends with Lal.”
“I wouldn’t exactly call it friends,” Corrie muttered.
“What’s going on?” Roe asked. “Are you going to give us any answers? Something was happening to Corrie there.”
He nodded. “And you should thank me. Depending on what he asked for, I might have just saved your life.”
Edie glanced over at the rat-faced man. His snout was swinging back and forth between them as he followed the conversation, but he was staying silent. “Was his talking a spell?”
“Basically,” said Brandon. “It was just to keep her attention. But the jewels are pretty damn good spells and she probably would have wanted one.”
Corrie shook her head. “Let’s just get out of here.”
“That’s a good idea,” said Dawn. “But Brandon is coming with us. We still want answers to those questions. You understand now that we weren’t trying to threaten you?”
“I guess.” He shrugged. “I’ll come with you. You’re right, we should all get out of here as soon as possible.”