(Link to Part 15)
I felt as though a rope of fire had caught me around the ankles and I was falling, though there was no sensation of actually going downward. If I hadn't been watching the opening and the way out, I would have completely lost all direction again.
I grabbed hold of Maggie when she started to slip away from me. Everything had happened so quickly that I didn't even have a chance to yell in protest though.
Something bounded over us. I felt a foot land on my back, shoving me farther into the dark.
"Hold on to me!" Maggie shouted and my fingers tightened on her arm in reflex and fear.
The 'rope' continued to pull us into the darkness and then released at the moment the figure leapt out into the light, moving so quickly I still couldn't get a clear look at it. I nearly cursed, desperately wanting to know who my enemy might be.
Then I saw that the slit of light was starting to close.
"Maggie!" I shouted.
Maggie was already moving, and dragging me with her. She had unfurled her wings and they gave great, huge flaps, the feathers brushing against my shoulders. We moved faster, but the slit of light began to shrink and I feared we could not both go out.
"Go!" I said, trying to pull free of her.
But Maggie had a different idea. She shifted her hold on me, and then tossed me ahead and out. I landed with one arm breaking my fall and felt a pain rush up through me shoulder again, though I paid that no attention. Rolling, I looked back to see the opening squeezing down, already so small I could barely see Maggie's arm, still reaching for me --
I reached in and grabbed her. "I won't let go!" I shouted. "I won't lose you."
The black closed in around my arm like a vise, tightening until I feared I would lose the arm from my elbow down. I could feel Maggie trying to jerk free, but I refused to let go, which was madness on my part.
"Maggie!" I shouted in fear and yanked --
And she came out. I wasn't even certain the dark opened to let her through. She surged forward and tumbled out over the top of me, landing in the dirt and mud much as I had a moment before. In the next heartbeat, the black shrank and disappeared with a sound like a balloon popping.
We were out. We were safe. Maggie gasped as she got to her knees, looking around with worry. I'd forgotten that our enemy had gone out ahead of us and might be ready to attack. The fear of facing an enemy again almost made me crazy. I understood paranoia far better than I had ever expected.
Maggie rose slowly to her feet, her wings folding to her back. I stood as well, still watching the woods and glancing at the sky where even a hint of a small cloud had me looking for cover. I needed to get control.
"We have to get away from here," Maggie said softly. She caught hold of my arm, as though I would protest. "Back to the cottage."
"Is it safe?" I asked, looking around frantically. I thought something moved in the woods, but it might have been the pixies she'd saved. I hoped so. I needed a little calm.
"Nothing appears to be safe," Maggie said, pulling me along just as she had in the darkness. "But it's the closest place to go. I think Davis might be back by now, too. He'll be able to help."
"Good." I would agree to anything, to be honest. My mind and body were too battered to disagree over anything right now. I needed rest. I needed calm.
We walked across rain slicked grass and weeds, up and down hummocks that I hadn't noticed in the hold of the elemental. A couple rabbits darted off as we neared, startling the hell out of me. Even a slight breeze had me looking for an enemy. I needed to calm down, and I feared I wouldn't any time soon. This place was making me crazy.
"Should I go back over, Maggie?" I asked. "Should I go home? I keep running into more trouble on this side. I'm not prepared to deal with this kind of stuff. Why is it happening to me?"
I had started sounding like a kid there, so I took a few breaths and tried desperately to find some adult way to handle this, when I really wanted to sit down and sulk.
"I don't know what's going on, Mark," she said and I grunted a reply, starting to lose what little strength I'd had from fear and adrenaline. My feet dragged and her hand kept me moving now. "This isn't normal."
"Not?" I said, too tired to form more than a single word.
"Not," she replied.
We reached the edge of the brook, still rushing with too much water. I was too tired to do more than mutter a curse and wonder if we might rest here until the water went down. Then I looked over my shoulder and worried about what might be following us.
"I'm going to carry you across," Maggie said and already caught hold of me under the arms. "I won't be able to carry you far, though."
"Maggie --" I stared to protest, but not in time. Her wings unfurled and she lifted me off the ground with huge flaps and a little kick. We barely skirted over the top of the water and then she dropped me into the mud and muck on the other side. I laid there thinking this was good enough. I could rest.
"Hey Mark," Edmond said, suddenly at my side. "You better get up. You don't want to be here when the water nymphs wake up."
I thought about tossing him in the water. I really did.
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