Still the rat puffed on his pipe. He blinked.
Raega cleared his throat. “Again, Great One, hear me. I am Raega, a pilgrim of sorts. I seek safe passage through this fen. Can you guide me?”
The rat lowered the pipe and opened his mouth. Raega waited for an answer. Instead of words, however, the creature blew a thick cloud of smoke and returned to his pipe.
“Perhaps you require an offering of some sort? Payment for services rendered?” Raega opened the leather pouch on his belt. “I do not have much. A teardrop pearl from the Blackened Beaches. A bracelet woven from the hair of my ancestral enemy. A talisman carved from a root of the Nepht Tree. With these I am willing to part.”
The rat puffed away silently.
“Unsatisfactory? My bow then, or my knife. I beg you not both, for I know not what dangers lurk beyond this copse or the next. I am diminutive in this place and lack your natural defensive gifts.”
The rat said nothing.
Raega sighed. He flopped to the ground and plucked a frond from the fern beside him, stripping each leaflet as he mumbled to himself.
“He does not understand me. And if he does not, then who will in this wretched place? With each moment that passes, my sister is carried further and further away.”
Something jabbed him in the arm. The rat held the pipe before Raega. Black smoke poured from the bowl.
“It is longer than I am tall,” said Raega. “How am I to smoke it?”
The rat gestured again to Raega with the pipe, placing the bit before Raega’s mouth. Raega gripped the stem, placed his lips in the bore and sucked out what smoke he could. The bitter fume tingled down his throat and filled his lungs. Raega coughed and fell to the ground in a fit. The rat chittered as it sank back on its haunches.
Furious, Raega pushed up on all fours, ready to lash out at the treacherous creature. But something caught his eye. Raega grabbed a handful of soil. Amid the granules, tiny stones twinkled like starlight. Stretched out before him, a flickering trail appeared that wound like Serpens through the ferns and reeds beyond the rat’s retreat.
“Thank you,” said Raega. “I am in your debt.”
The rat puffed away indifferently.
Raega shook his head. “If there is such a thing in this place.”
He moved on along the starry trail, in pursuit of his sister and her captors.