(I will be using this picture for the next few weeks since I do not have time to do new artwork)
(Link to Part 13)
"Mark! Mark! Mark!"
Maggie's voice echoed somewhere. . . not quite here. Or or maybe I wasn't quite anywhere. Wherever I had fallen, there seemed to be nothing real. Nothing to grab hold of. Nothing --
I panicked. How could I get out of here? How could I find my way if I couldn't tell up from down?
"Mark! Mark! Mark!"
Her voice called like a light in the darkness. I could almost see the path my name made, like a dark glowing ripple in a sea of night. Not lost, so long as I could follow Maggie's voice, right? I grabbed that hope and tried to rush to her --
I felt like I was swimming in the dark, I suppose. I kept thinking I had to be getting closer to something. I stopped, finally, and listened again, but I could barely hear her call to me the next time. Panic took the place of hope from a moment before.
"Maggie!" I cried out.
And a heartbeat later, she stood beside me, carrying the standard with the light on it, a pale pink glow in the blackness. She looked as stunned as I was to find her here, and I thought maybe this wasn't good --
"What do we do, Maggie?" I asked softly. I remembered, suddenly, how something else had been here in the dark of the cloak.
She caught hold of my arm, her fingers tight. "It is you. You are real. How did you --" She stopped and looked around with worry. "Never mind. It's probably the nature of this thing."
"Where are we?" I asked. I felt like a child afraid of the dark and I was glad Maggie did not let go of my arm.
"A Dark Path," she said, and I felt the little shiver she probably meant to hide. This couldn't be good, then, if even Maggie was afraid. "I've never been on one before. The fact this was held by someone else -- who took you, Mark? What did he want?"
"An Earth Elemental took me from the cottage," I said. I saw the odd glance she gave me and the bit of a frown. "That's what Edmond called it. I hope he's all right."
She gave me a quick smile this time. I must have passed a test. "I saw the damage to the cottage and couldn't imagine what had happened. The moment the storm came up, I headed in, but I couldn't get close until it started to die down. I wish I knew what was going on, Mark. I really do."
"So do I," I said. "The elemental brought me to the thing in the cloak and then he left as fast as he could. I never saw what was inside the cloak. Is it still here, Maggie?"
"Yes," she said. She glanced around. "We need to get out."
"I tied a string when I came in," she said, which sounded very strange. "Oh, a magical string, Mark. Sorry. I know this has to seem very odd to you."
"Odd. That's not a word I'd used so far," I said. "Terrifying has been right up there a number of times, though."
She laughed and the sound echoed prettily around us. I still couldn't see more than her and the light she carried, but the darkness didn't seem to scary now. She had a clue about how to get out, which gave me hope .
"The string is tied to the staff," she said. "You can't see it, but I can feel the tug and can keep us going in the right direction."
"This reminds me of sneaking you home late at night," I finally said. "When you had come over for my birthday party. I think we were seven. You were supposed to spend the night at the house --"
"But I knew what would happen if my parents found out I had slipped out and gone to the party," she said with a sad shake of her head. I was sorry I had brought up the subject. Then she smiled at me again. "We scared ourselves silly, walking through the trees and sneaking up on my house."
"Yeah, and then I had to go back home alone. I swore something was following me the whole way."
Like now. I didn't say it aloud, but I thought I could hear something not far away. Maybe my imagination was running as rampant now as it had on that night in the woods. Maybe --
Maggie glanced over her shoulder.
Maybe something did follow us.
"How far?" I asked softly, though that hardly mattered. With no other sounds, even a whisper carried too far.
"I don't know, Mark," she said, a little louder.
Neither of us spoke for the next few steps. And I'd been right -- I could hear it behind us, a soft step, a slightly gasping breath. Maggie and I walked on, but when the sound came closer, she finally let go of my arm and spun around.
The light caught the barest glint of movement providing so little definition that I couldn't tell if the thing had been human or not. It scuttled back into the dark, though, so I had the feel of a giant spider, ready to leap on us. Not the feeling I wanted.
Maggie had brought up her hand, but she lowered it when the thing didn't attack. Her wings rustled softly, showing her agitation, but she gave a slight nod to the darkness where we could still hear something, waiting.
"If you are lost, follow us out," Maggie said. I frowned, wishing she had ordered the thing away from us instead. "If you attack us, you will be trapped."
"Go," something whispered. It was the same voice. "Go. There will be other times."
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