(Link to Part 2)
I tried desperately to fight away the pain and fear as I slowly turned my head to the left in the direction of the howls. I had a bullet in my shoulder. I couldn't ignore it. But the howls seemed to tear at my very soul. I wanted away from whatever creatures came our way.
A dense forest stood close by with a line of tall trees and forbidding shadows. I heard the howls again; loud, keening noises rising in an unearthly chorus. A scattering of colorful birds took flight with cries of fear and then silence fell.
The howls rose again, cascading over one another so it was impossible to tell how many might be out there.
"What are they? What do we do?" I whispered, turning back to the cat.
Edmond was gone.
"Oh hell -- oh hell --"
"Shut up and get to cover, you fool!"
I saw golden eyes staring out from under a bush. I didn't need a second warning, especially when I could tell the howls were closer. I considered my options for cover. I could barely see the edge of the gate , but that wouldn't be a good escape, especially since I thought I saw movement the other side and suspected Sheriff Creston waited for me to come back through. He wouldn't realize I had always meant to run to Elsewhere and never come back out.
I clenched my mouth shut against any sound of pain and crawled towards the bushes, sliding on my stomach as I slipped under the tangled branches. By a miracle, the wound had not started bleeding again, but I had trouble turning so I could watch where Edmond stared, his tail ticking left and right in a steady beat.
"They're almost here," Edmond said, his words nearly a hiss. The cat dropped down on his stomach, ears back and tail still. "Say nothing."
I heard the beasts as they rushed out of the forest, a thundering of feet that seemed to shake the ground. The first of the wolves came into view. And then another and another.
They were as big as horses. Their huge snouts sniffed at the ground while paws tore up tuffs of grass. Lips pulled back in snarls showing teeth the size of daggers. I would have trembled if I'd had the strength. I would have burrowed into the ground like a badger if I'd had the ability. Instead, I could only stare as the creatures circled and snarled, moving closer to us.
Edmond slid closer to me, a warm body and reminder I was not alone, for all the good a small talking cat could do against these brutes. They were coming too near though, and I felt Edmond tense --
A shout drew my attention. For a moment I thought help had arrived.
Sheriff Creston charged through the gate and into the glade, obviously having heard something and thinking --
"Oh shit!" He shot at one wolf and then another. As far as I could tell, the bullets only made them angry. They were turning on the sheriff, growls low in their throat and legs tensing to leap.
Creston spun and ran back the way he had and through the gate, the wolves looping after him.
"We need to go." Edmond threw himself out from under the bush as soon as the wolves disappeared. "They'll follow him a little ways through to the otherside, but not far -- they don't want to lose what they are. It won't be long before they're back this way. Human blood drew them. We need to get to a stream and get you cleaned up so they lose the scent."
"I don't know if I can go any farther."
I was still on mystomach, aching and trembling. When I lifted my head I found myself staring straight into Edmond's dark-furred face, the golden eyes intent.
"You will do this for Maggie," the cat said. "She risked a lot for you, just in taking that compass out of Elsewhere. Only people from Elsewhere are supposed to have them so they can always find their way home. If some of the higher powers knew she gave it to you so you could escape after killing someone --"
"You know?" I pulled myself out despite fearing I would black out at any moment.
"I saw things," Edmond said. He backed up and turned his head the way the wolves had run. "And right now I see us as dinner if we don't get moving."
The wolves were howling again, still on the chase. It wouldn't last long.
I stood. The world went black around me for a moment, but somehow I locked my knees and didn't go down. I blinked the world back into focus.
"Good," Edmond said and gave a nod. "Good. Follow me."
"Careful. I'll trip over just about anything."
I wasn't certain if Edmond heard me or cared, really. I followed, holding my arm close to avoid bouncing it much . Blood still ran down the side of my face where the other bullet came so close to killing me. Now there were giant wolves after me and we were heading into a line of trees that I probably would have avoided at any other time. They were tall, stately, dark -- and dangerous. The wolves had come from here. Were there more of them?
I had to trust Edmond.
Trust a cat.
Welcome to Elsewhere. I hadn't thought about trouble on this side of the gate. I had feared I wouldn't reach this sanctuary, but now with giant wolves after me, my cousin gone, and my life depending on the help of a cat. . . .
I could do nothing except keep moving.
The moment we crossed from the glade into the trees I knew this was another mistake. The trees were moving, and no, there was not a breeze as leaves rattled and branches bent closer over me.
But I still followed the cat.
To be continued. . . .
To be continued. . . .
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