I hadn't slept in two days. To a mouse that's a ridiculously long time, and my senses weren't all working. I couldn't think clearly, and everywhere I looked I saw the spirit world meshed with the "normal" one. Nemo had come to talk to me, as well as my master and some others. BJ, the lanky female mouse, and Percival. I ignored them all, absorbed in myself and trying to banish the sight of my mother's awful death. But nothing worked.
I hadn't eaten, I hadn't rested. I went back to my old cage, which the kind human left open and unchanged for me, except to clean it. Favorite was there. She was listless and unresponsive, just laying there in the corner by the food and water, though she was clearly happy to see me. She moved her head all around and tried to smile. I asked her if she was sick and she said no. I asked her why she was weird and she said, "The others didn't tell you yet?"
"About my mother, yeah. She died."
"No, not that..." she trailed off. She looked at the ground, as if guilty of something.
"You mean there's more bad news!" I exclaimed. I was very angry, but my body wouldn't pay for it, so I sounded just...tired. I had imagined so many times a happy reunion with Favorite, and now this. It ruined everything, and I stormed off. I didn't go back to my cage. I avoided everyone. I didn't want to hear any more bad news. Ever.
So the beginning of summer found me standing on the porch alone in the middle of the day. It was raining, and in the distance there was a rainbow. It was one of those early summer rains, warm and soft. The sound of it was all about me. The smell of it was fresh in my nose. The sky was only partially clouded, and beams of sunlight fell through to the wet fields below. It was a scene of lonely serenity and profound beauty.
There was a stout knight on guard by the front door, but he ignored me. I think it was Ghost. His armor was all bleached white, and I remembered him from fighting school. He made knighthood. Amazing. They were coming out of the frikkin' woodwork in an age when knighthood was supposed to be near impossible to achieve. Stupid. I walked to the edge of the deck and sat there, dangling my legs off the side and lost in delusional thought. Occasionally a raindrop fell near me. In no time I was wet.
"Sire," Ghost said cautiously.
I turned my head and rattled my tail.
"Beg your pardon, my liege," he said, "but without your armor or arms you might not want to be out here during the day...or night, for that matter."
"Why not?" I said.
"The house has been having raids by insane animals. Many mice...even some rats...have died."
"Yes, I can see them all."
Ghost was taken aback by this, looked around, then probably decided that I was a loon. "You aren't safe out here, Sire."
"No one is safe anywhere, knight," I snapped. I sounded bitter to myself. I slowly realized I was bitter. Bitter that nowhere was safe. Didn't my master suffer and sacrifice his health so that mice might be safe? That damn black mouse was going to take that from us now? Nothing was sacred.
"I was just trying to..." Ghost began
"Bother me to death," I finished. "Leave me alone. Percival might be able to beat me, but I bet I can beat you. Even without a sword."
He saw that I meant it. It gave me some dark glee to see his face change to an expression of worry for his own hide. Without a word he went back and stood by the door again.
The land was glazed in golden light, green light, yellow light, red light at the horizon. I didn't know what any of it meant, but it was sure pretty. The spirit world was sure awash in color. I had lost track of time, and sat there, hungry and thirsty, for hours. I saw big lights pass overhead in the sky that weren't the sun or moon, and little lights dance in the fields. I somehow knew the little lights were the spirits of field mice. I saw the wind moving over the land, and the clouds high over us full of the footprints of angels who had passed that way. I saw the earth alight in a deep tan and green light. I saw the beams going up and down from the earth to the high places. I saw other mice begin their journey to the sea, and I saw many others stay, confused and lost. Like watching a movie with too many special effects, the story was lost on me. I couldn't guess what made the world go. I marveled at it. I stared and stared. I saw doors, pyramids, egg shaped things laced with millions of strands of glistening cords. I saw stars rise and stars fall. And through all of it, I wondered what force had decided that my gentle mother deserved to die so horribly. I wondered what it would decide about me. Was there any reason and rhyme to the universe? Was it all some terrible roll of the cosmic dice?
Before I knew it, night was falling. The sunset was a hundred times more spectacular than the day, seen through spirit-vision. It was like watching the chariots of the gods come to collect all the souls of the dead, waiting out yonder, by the waves. The setting sun had a million arms, spanning out across the solar system, reaching into eternity and beyond. Too much to think of for a little mouse. Too much. I was paralyzed with overload.
But one thing stood out. Over the horizon, between the shoreline with its setting sun and tiny, old wooden deck I sat on, was the city.
And the city was a black hole.
There were lights in it. Light of souls - many of them. But beyond that, no earth light, no heaven light, no sky light. It was one giant black dome with a million smaller lights inside it, struggling to shine and survive in the vast emptiness. It made me shiver. I wondered if all cities were like that or just ours. But you know, that's how it had felt while I was there. Black and empty. I had been afraid to die there. I was afraid to die anywhere, especially now, but of all places, not there. My soul might never find its way to the sea. The city was one big spiritual maze. I thought of Shiva and Thor. Somehow, they belonged there now. There was something dark about them now too. I felt a sadness set into me that had been waiting for its moment to pounce. Our lives were tragedies. I saw it then, clear as day.
"What you're missing is that they are also comedies, dramas, and masterful works of art," Nemo said. He had been sitting next to me for some time, staring out at it all.
"Is this what you see all the time?" I asked. I knew he could see what I did. I just knew.
"When I wish to," he said.
"You can turn it off?"
"And on. At will. So can you."
The offer was very tempting. The clever rodent. But I wasn't going to give in that easy.
"You already have an apprentice," I said. "Branch."
"Yes, he'd love to talk to you. Everyone would. They all have questions, things to tell you, and help to offer."
"Yeah, well pee on that."
"Don't," he said with meaning. "Don't ever pee on help, Squibble."
I grumbled something even I didn't understand.
"Your bad attitude is only making things worse," he said. "It's understandable, but someday you will have to get up and keep going."
"Is that right?" I said.
"Yes," he said. "And the sooner the better. We all need you more than you know."
"Oh, my future-self me, right? Not the Squibble-is-sad-so-leave-me-alone me."
"Well, maybe I don't wanna do this no more," I ground my words together like an angry human crushing a hated thing into the dirt. "Maybe this is for the birds."
"Maybe it is," Nemo said, "but you chose it."
To that, I could say nothing, but I did anyway. "You're annoying, Mr. Know-it-all."
Nemo laughed. It was a genuine laugh, not cynical or angry.
"Yes, I know. I'm sorry. Will you let me teach you to use your new powers? Please?"
I looked up at him for the first time. He had said please? To me? I was still mad. I was going to be a difficult mouse.
"Why should I?" I said, lifting my nose to the master who hundreds begged to be taught one tiny thing by.
"Well, if you do, you'll be able to vanish into thin air," he said.
My eyes got wide. I couldn't help it. My child inside wasn't dead yet, and it loved that idea. "No way!"
"Way," he said, giggling. "And maybe levitate, or even read minds."
I started. "You were reading mine back there, while I was sitting on the porch!"
He nodded. "How very mousey of me, eh?"
I rattled my tail. "Don't do that again, stupid!"
He didn't appear even slightly flustered by being called stupid. No one else would have ever dreamed of doing that to him. Afterward, I couldn't believe I had done it.
"As you wish," he simply replied.
Silence held a moment.
"Could you teach me to cure cancer?" I said.
He considered it hard, looking through me with spirit-vision.
"Maybe," he said. "If you wanted to."
"I do," I said.
"Come to me in the evenings," he said, meaning just before dawn, "And I will share with you what I know."
"No tricks, sorcerer," I shook a finger at him. "No manipulation, no magic-language poo. Plain mousey English."
"Okay," he smiled. I saw he was missing some teeth. Then I noticed that his ear was notched in several places. And his fur was unkempt. He was skinny, like some of the others. I could see his ribs. And his complexion was pale.
"What's going on around here?" I began to ask; then I smelled an old but familiar smell behind me.
I spun not fast enough. The creature did not even pause to consider its prey, nor to parley. It was coming on at full speed, and leaping for the deck (and me) without thought. Its eyes were glazed over, as if possessed. Snakes do not leap as it was, nor strike past their body length - we knights have all learned that, but this one was doing both. I was too tired and weak from not eating. It was going to land its fangs in me. I saw all this, and didn't much care.
But then there was a sapphire flash. Nemo was moving faster than I had ever seen him move. He was faster than a mouse. Faster than the snake. And faster even than my eyes. In the next tenth of a second, he had intercepted the snake in mid strike, and had it behind the head, was breaking its neck, twisting in midair with all his body weight behind his teeth. The snake dropped to the deck dead before it knew what death had claimed it, and I was still turning around.
Down the way towards the door, Branch and Percival had come barreling out the mouse hatch. Percival had a drawn blade and Branch was chanting some kind of word in a weird hum. He had his hands extended forward like he was going to cast a spell or something.
The snake stopped twitching as Nemo severed the head and spat it back over the edge of the porch.
"Master!" Branch exclaimed. "Are you alright!?"
Nemo wiped his mouth off with his paw and then wiped his nose at the snake. "Yes," he said. "I'm not that sick yet."
I did a double take as my slow mind caught up with all that had happened. I saw Nemo shining in brilliant sapphire blue hues, and the snake's body was a black, empty shell. It had no soul.
When I looked up at Branch I saw that he had a golden radiance around him, full of lights like I had once seen around the spirit of Bigfat. There were trails moving through the air following the movements of his eyes and hands, like slow lightning in multiple colors. Maybe he was going to cast a spell. Normal mice didn't look like that on the spirit plane.
Normal mice didn't look like Percival either. He was blazing white. Pure white. His armor looked like mirrored steel. His sword, made of rainbow colored metal. His eyes were pouring forth light, and above his head sat a ring of the sun.
They must have noticed me staring dumbly, for Branch came forward, tucking his glowing paws into his robes and explaining,
"Nemo is ill, Squibble. Like your master, but he was born ill."
I continued to stare like a loon, squinting against the glory of the Mousegod's energy - for surely that was what I was seeing. The energy of creation, the power of life and then some. My eyes got wide, narrowed to slits, got wide again. I wiped them with my paws, looked again.
"Oh..." I whispered. "You're not normal mousey beans at all..."
Branch laughed. Percival looked concerned for me.
"Of course we're normal beings," Branch said. "You should see yourself with the second sight!" He gestured toward the window. "We just have more power than others, brother. We're closer to the source."
I climbed up the drainpipe and onto the windowsill. In the reflection I saw my own dancing lights. My own blazing glory. It was muted, and dimmer, and somehow screamed of agony. I saw in my aura deep sadness, and loss. Powerful, amazing potential...and...and...
I couldn't look anymore. I closed my eyes and fell off the ledge, to be caught by Nemo.
"You're exhausted, little one," he said. I looked around and saw my master, the lanky female mouse, and BJ. They all looked very concerned. They all took me inside, weapons drawn, surrounding Nemo as he carried me. I saw the big chinchilla's sallow face as he smiled down at me like he was looking at a child.
"When you wake, your sight will be normal again," he said.
And with that thought, I lost consciousness.