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It was getting towards dusk when Gami-Gami entered the common room of the Inn. She had a big grin on her face and some mud. But what mattered to me was that she was here, before curfew. She ambled over to our table. “It is a big city, is it not, Mir’Itus, sir?” She bowed to him. “You are looking well, Mistress Rat.” She bowed to me and thumped down in a chair, pulling a plate of food towards her.
We had taken a table in the middle of the common room. While there were a few Nezumi and Hengeyokai staying at the Inn, we were only a handful of a crowded room. The Princess sat at a table near the fire, as is right. Princess sat at the head and Neiki, Tatsuoh and Shasuki sat with her. Nya stood near the stairs going up to the rooms. Her eyes roaming over the crowd.
I tried to relax. After all, we were safely at the Inn and no one made a big fuss about having non-humans mingling in the common room. For once the smell of the food overwhelmed the smell of unwashed humans. It was good food, though hotter than I generally care to have. I sat with the plate in front of me, waiting for the meat to cool. I must have been in just the right spot because I could hear the Princess’ table quite well.
They discussed the cavern map they’d gotten from the garrison commander. Mir’Itus had gotten one for us to study. He likes maps and such. I find them interesting, but not as good as books. He pulled it out. Gami-Gami and I leaned closer. Gami picked it up and held it close to her face. “There is no smell upon the map.” I raised my whiskers, in question and Mir’Itus nodded politely. Silence. “You having point, yes?” I asked. “Nezumi, you use your smell like sight. A Nezumi map should smell.” Mir’Itus laughed. “That is true! Very true.” He chuckled and lowered his head to the map again. I was not surprised to see Grandpa’s spirit leaning over examining the map, too. “Honorable shaman of the Third Whisker tribe, hear my words: I do not like this narrow passage where only one may walk at a time. Please ensure that my granddaughter has a healing potion with her. She should never be alone but in this cavern pass, she will be alone at times.” I nodded and sighed.
“What?” Mir’Itus looked up. I spoke in Nezumi. “Grandpa. He’s got an opinion about the map.”
“Of course he does! He has an opinion about everything concerning his granddaughter. What does he say?” I flicked a piece of pepper off the table. The smell of humans was getting stronger. New people in the room, perhaps.
“He’s worried about this area.” I pointed to the cave-in areas where only one person could travel at a time. “He wants me to make sure everyone has healing potions.” A voice at my elbow spoke. “We should take extra bags, in case we found the fabled treasure of Kurasawa Yoki.” The smell was the first thing I noticed, even before registering that the child spoke almost flawless Nezumi. “Who you be, small human child-creature?” I covered the map with one hand.
“I am called Hekari, honored shaman of the Third Whisker tribe.” The child bowed low, sweeping its unusual knife behind its back. “You are a smart…..” (“girl,” supplied Mir’Itus who is better at this sort of thing.) “Yes. Smart-smart human. Go away.” I turned away from her.
“I am not going anywhere! Or, rather, I am going somewhere with you! I am your guide for the caverns.” I heard Tatsuoh’s voice — “Hekari! Here!” The child bowed to our table. “I have to go.”
I stood as well. I needed to deliver Grandpa’s pronouncement and better done sooner and be away from the gaze of Nya and the others. Whenever I approach the Princess, Nya stiffens – ready for battle. The Princess is warm and kind but these around her… Suspicion hangs on them like a smell. Not so with the Princess — she even touched my arm there in the midst of the battle with the yeti.
I took a deep breath. Be bold, I told myself. No fear. At the foot of the table I thumped my staff on the floor. “Te’Ka’Mok would speak!” I tried not to think about how quiet the common room had become. “Princess,” I bowed lowed. “Honored Grandpa. He have message for you.” She nodded. “Please speak, honored shaman.”
“You Grandpa, he say that cavern map worry him. Me, um, I agree with he. Spot in cavern where only one may walk, that dangerous. Must have the potion of heal. Te’Ka’Mok cannot be in all places. And place where one may walk especial.” Neiki spoke up. “I can offer healing, too.”
I nodded. “Yes-yes. Of course, honored one.” I bowed to her. “I not know — but can spirit folk be in space with human?” Neiki looked puzzled. “Ah, not saying right. One person space, yes? Princess one person and you one person — yes? Or no?” I waited, proud of how well I’d used my bad English to convey a difficult concept. There were confused looks all around the table. “Um…. I am not sure that I understand…” Neiki began to speak when Hekari interrupted: “I speak good Nezumi! Hold on.” And she turned to me and asked what I meant. Ha! Perfect. Let this one speak for me. No more playing at English. She turned to the group. “What the honored shaman asks is can the spirit woman (she bowed to Neiki) move through solid objects. Like, can Neiki (again Hekari bowed for using the spirit woman’s name so casually) pass through the Princess and then heal her in a space that only really fits one person.”
Neiki laughed. “No, it doesn’t work that way. Unfortunately. And I agree with our revered shaman — we should all have healing potions. Caverns or no.” Tatusoh frowned. “The marketplace won’t open until the hour of the open petal. There goes our early start.”
“We should still retire to our beds now,” said the Princess. “And you (she pointed at Hekari) need to take a bath. Upstairs you go!”
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