(Link to Part 3)
We hadn't walked more than a dozen steps into the stand of trees before even Edmond began giving them nervous looks. The limbs continued to move, the branches twisting and turning, dipping low so that sometimes I had to swerve to avoid hitting one that hadn't been there a moment before. A fog enveloped the trees as well, moving as though it too were alive. Did I fear the fog and the trees more than I feared the wolves? I couldn't decide.
I hurt. My shoulder sent waves of fire through my body with every step and I didn't know how I could keep going. I wanted to stop and sit down. Rest.
"Ed-mond," I whispered.
And then I was down on my knees.
Edmond turned around and darted back to me.
"This isn't a good time --"
"No choice," I said. Everything moved oddly. I thought Edmond was slipping away --
No. Something had hold of me by the leg, dragging me. Lifting me.
I couldn't get enough strength left to protest.
Everything went black.
I came awake with something jabbing me in the side. I slapped it away and gasped in pain from the little movement. This was the most uncomfortable bed I'd ever been on. I tried to move and heard the snapping of small twigs. Who made a bed out of twigs --
Trees do. I learned that as I opened my eyes and found myself held up in the limbs of a big old oak tree. A face stared at me from the trunk where limbs had broken off and left puckered circles in a triangle of three marking two eyes and a mouth. The eyes, dark and unfathomable, blinked with a sullen red glow that was not fire -- no, nothing like that in these woods. The mouth moved and I could hear the grinding of wood against wood. This tree was old, the bark weathered like the skin of an old man. He'd gone bald as well; there was hardly a leaf left on the snarled limbs of his crown.
Aware. Alive. I tried not to panic as I tested the hold of the branches. Too tight, but at least the tree had stopped jabbing me.
"Hu-man," it said and the branches that held me shook. I grabbed hold, afraid the tree was going to drop me. "No Hu-man allowed."
I started to speak, but other trees began to shout and grumble. The tree that held me seemed to tremble in rage and I dared not look at the others nearby. The sounds of wood scraping against wood made me fear they were closing in and I didn't like to think of trees chasing me. Then, as if on cue, I heard wolves howling, though nowhere near. Everything in thid world was turning against me. Why had I thought I would be safe in Elsewhere?
"You do not belong here, Hu-man." The tree shook me and I was starting to get annoyed. "You do not -- Ow! Ow!"
Edmond had arrived, clawing his way up the tree and then walking nonchalantly out on to one of the branches that held me. He turned around and sat down, casually cleaning one paw.
"That hurt, cat!" the tree grumbled. "You have needles for claws."
"I had to be sure I got your attention," Edmond replied. He leaned closer to the face and the eyes narrowed as though it feared those claws were going to strike. "Do I have your attention now? Do you know who I am?"
"Yes and yes." The words came with a growl of wood against wood again. Not a happy tree.
"Those are Fenris wolves after us. You do not want them to catch up with Mark and me."
"Because then Maggie would be very mad since this is her cousin."
All the trees went very, very still.
"Maggie?" the tree said softly.
I hadn't expected such a reaction and it made no more sense than anything else that had happened since I crossed the gate. I stayed still and rested while Edmond took care of the problem. I couldn't say I even really cared if I survived by this point.
"I'm sure you saw her flying frantically towards the city?" Edmond said. He sounded rather smug, but then he is a cat. "Do you want to be the ones responsible for the wolves catching him? Because I will survive, you know. And I'll make sure she knows."
"No need, no need!" I heard frantic sounds elsewhere. "We can mislead the wolves a bit. There now. On your way."
The tree lowered us carefully to the leaf-strewn ground. The face had slid down the bole of the trunk and watched from ground level now.
Edmond gave a little nod of his head to the right and started away without a word. At least I'd had a little rest, right? But each step still hurt like hell and I feared I would not be going far. I wanted out of the woods, though. I could hear the trees moving again and looked up to see branches twisting and turning over our heads while a scattering of leaves fell.
I almost stumbled.
"Edmond," I whispered.
"Not much more to go," he said. He slowed and walked at my side. "Just keep going, Mark. Can you see the open glade there ahead?"
I lifted my head briefly and saw something brighter ahead. I looked back down at my feet because I had almost fallen. "See it," I mumbled. "Not sure I can walk that far."
"You will do it for Maggie," Edmond said. "We don't want to upset Maggie. No one in their right mind wants to upset Maggie."
"I don't understand," I answered. I saw Edmond look at me. "But not now. Don't try to explain anything now. Just get me where I can rest."
"Yes," Edmond said with a nod. "Almost there."
And the wolves howled, closer. . . .
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