“Bah,” sniffed Vermilion. The great rat stood on two legs, pawing at his nose with his front feet. “I could smell your foul mouse odor long before you arrived. State your business.”

“And I very nearly turned back at your rat stink,” said Saffron. She stood up on her hind legs as well, but was easily dwarfed by Vermillion and his laboratory equipment. The old rat’s warren was full of scavenged equipment modified for small and busy hands, and several experiments appeared to be running simultaneously.

“Well, if you have second thoughts about turning back, now is the time,” said Vermilion. “Otherwise I might have to snack on you, or take a limb as payment for wasting my time. I’ve an idle emulsion or two that could benefit from a fresh-cut mouse tail.”

Saffron’s mask, the one she wore every day, was calm and unfazed. Inside, she was screaming and scratching to crawl back the way she’d come. “You’d turn away a customer willing to spend, then?” she said.

Luckily, either Vermilion the rat couldn’t see that she was bluffing, or simply didn’t care. “A customer, eh?” he croaked. “Well, I am always buying if you have something of value. But I warn you, do not waste my time with idle trinkets! If Xanthous let you in, you must have at least claimed to have something I value. What is it?”

Saffron took off her small pack and unfurled it, revealing the eerie green glass she had found in the antique sore dumpster. “It glows under the violet light,” she said proudly, despite having no idea what the words meant. “Xanthous said it was-”

“Uranium glass! Very good, yes, very good.” Vermilion snatched it up and eagerly ran his hands over it. “Not dangerously radioactive, but oh so useful for a variety of purposes, and hard to come by as well. Is there more?”

“There might be,” Saffron said, still trusting to her invisible mask of confidence to see her though. “If our trade is successful, I will tell you where I found it.”

“Hmph. The little mouse knows a thing or two about bargaining,” Vermilion said. “Very well. Name your price and let us be done with it, I have geiger counters to make and test.”

“You have a gem of rare value I need,” said Saffron. “I’ve heard it called many things. The vermin wish, the facets of desire…”

“Oh, the fuzzy crystal, is that all?” Vermilion said. “Why not ask for the entire lab, and be done with it?”

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!