(Link to Part 9)
Edmond and I bolted through the last bites of the food and left dinnerware on the table -- though it picked itself up and scurried off to the sink where the plates and silverware seemed to be clattering in fear. The broom danced around in circles and then dashed for the bedroom and threw itself under the bed.
Outside the window, dark fierce clouds began bearing down on us, lightning crackling through the sudden darkness as the wall obscured the sky, sun and land in the way clouds never should.
I didn't know what to do. I could already hear the wind starting to howl like something alive. The house creaked, but that couldn't be from the storm, which hadn't hit yet. Then I saw doors and windows starting to shut and wooden shutters flapping into place, so maybe I didn't need to do anything at all.
A flock of birds, and other things that twinkled with bright light, flew through the window and went straight up to the rafters. I looked up to see sparrows and tiny people with wings clinging to the wood. Butterflies and more birds followed, until the ceiling filled with the startled, worried cries of the birds and the little people.
"Squirrels! Squirrels!" small voices yelled, hardly heard above the growing storm. A few pointed to the window.
Edmond and I dashed there to see two squirrels with four babies, barely hand-sized, fighting against the already growing wind. They could barely make a step forward against the swirling maelstrom that seemed to come from every direction. They wouldn't survive out there and the window began to close as I watched, wood moving to cover the glass --
"No! Wait!" I shouted, knowing the squirrels needed to get inside.
And the house stopped, the window still open. I didn't expect the cottage to obey, but I feared it wouldn't do any good because one of the little babies tore free of his mother's hold and rolled like a little furry ball across the yard.
Edmond leapt through the lower part of the window and darted into the yard. In a moment he had grabbed the little thing by the nape of the neck and ran back across the yard, though even he had a difficult time against the wind and growing debris. The entire group scrambled up and into the cottage just as the worst winds hit, already tearing a huge branch from the tree in the yard. Branches pounded the house as Edmond followed the last squirrel inside. I grabbed at the window, trying to force it down, but the glass wouldn't move and my shoulder hurt like hell.
"Close, damn you!" I shouted in frustration.
And it did. The window dropped shut, the wood shutters swept across, barely a heartbeat before something huge hit the wall outside. I dropped to the floor, afraid of what was going to come through despite the protection.
Lights had come on in the cottage, but even those little balls of power seemed to tremble with fear. Edmond nudged the baby squirrel off towards its family. I put a hand on his head and pulled a few twigs from his fur as he looked up, blinking.
"You did a good thing --" I began, half shouting so he would hear.
"Don't ever, ever, ever mention this to anyone," he replied, his eyes narrowed and his ears back. "If you do, I'll bite your toes off."
I took him seriously, though I suspected we weren't going to survive very long for it to matter. The cottage shook with the fury of the storm and the birds and things in the rafters were crying out in distress.
But then I heard something worse. Someone began to pound on the door.
"Let me in! Let me in!"
I got up and dashed forward, grabbing at the handle --
Edmond launched himself from halfway across the room, claws digging into my arm as he howled. I fell back, shocked --
"Don't be a fool! Don't open the door!" Edmond shouted. The storm grew worse and the pounding more frantic.
"It might be Davis --"
"Davis could get the door open! Anyone -- any thing -- that doesn't mean harm could get in!"
I backed away in haste and a moment later I hard something growl and curse, and whatever stood out there didn't sound friendly or safe. Lightning flashed through the storm, so bright we could see the light through the chinks in the wood. Thunder shook the place like an earthquake.
A swirl of little winged people swept down, frantically darting from one side of the cottage to the others. The glowing colors came from their wings, which seemed to brighten the more frantically they moved, until we were awash in strands of glowing, neon light. I settled on the edge of the chair, Edmond moving up beside me. The storm didn't ease and I suspected even the magic in this place would not keep us safe for much longer.
"I know who you are!" a voice bellowed, the sound louder than wind and thunder. "You cannot hide from me!"
I leaned closer to Edmond and spoke at his ear, hoping I couldn't be heard outside, even though I had to speak loudly anyway. "Does he want me? If I go out, will the rest of you be safe?"
"I wouldn't count on it," Edmond replied, glaring at the door. I feared as much. "Others will notice this! He's desperate! Not much longer!"
But we didn't have time. I heard a great rending sound and a moment later the entire tree hit the house, some of the branches breaking through the roof and scattering everything that had taken refuge up on the rafters. Even the swirling little people stopped and then flew in a rainbow streak for some far corner of the building.
And I could hear something scrambling up the wall, tearing at the tree that had broken through.
We had no time left.