Maybe I should have felt better since I finally had some answers, but they weren't helping right now. I was half fae -- but that made a lie of my entire life. I was a Protector, but only if I could be sanctioned by a council that clearly didn't trust me, or else they wouldn't have kept sending things out to stop me.
I was feeling sullen and annoyed.
But I kept going.
Maggie and Davis discussed the best way to get to Forest Street. Lord Snow patrolled around us, coming back often. He would glance at Edmond and then move on.
At least Edmond had stopped hiccuping and he seemed to have relaxed again. He was a heavy cat, but I only shifted my arm now to ease the weight on wounds of my own. And for a while, at least, nothing else leapt out to try and stop us.
Maybe I needed to relax, too. I stopped twitching at every touch of a breeze. I stopped watching buildings as though I expected them to leap out and attack us. I still expected it, but I didn't have to linger on that feeling. Much.
And then Lord Snow arrived with the next bit of bad news.
"We're being followed," he said. "And he has a gun."
"Sheriff Creston," I said. I glanced over my shoulder. "So he is in Elsewhere. I didn't think he would give up."
"We're not far from Forest Street," Maggie said. She glanced back as well and frowned. "We can use some of the trees as cover there, unless they decide not to help us."
"We are going into a forest full of sentient trees and you expect help from them?" I asked.
"We have to believe that with the Council no longer testing you, that we're going to have fewer problems."
"Except that I still have enemies," I said and shifted Edmond again.
"Hey guy, everything is all right now," I said. Okay, I lied, and Edmond wasn't taken in. He looked up at me, eyes narrowed. "Well, it's okay with the dragon, right? You have to start somewhere. We're going to be heading into the forest soon, and you know, I'd feel a lot better if you were back to yourself by then. You've kept me safe."
He blinked a couple times. "Meow. Ah. Meow -- no. No meow."
"Well that's better," I said and smiled.
He took several deep breaths. "Never, never play tricks on dragons."
"Sounds like a wise, life-changing decision."
Edmond wasn't the only one to laugh. And by the time Lord Snow came back around, Edmond went off with him to scout. We were getting closer to the woods now. I could see tall trees above the last of the buildings. The street began to change as well, from stone to what had looked like puddles of water, but were as solid as stone.
"They sent a path for us. Good," Maggie said. "We won't be wandering around the forest hoping to find them. That's a good sign."
"Except others will know where we are going," Davis added.
We cleared the last of the buildings and the trees sprang up right at the back of a white picket fence, which seemed an insubstantial barrier against the massive woods just beyond. Did those trees watch us?
Maybe not, but something else did.
"What --"I started to say. I stopped. They were too strange -- huge heads, small wings, spotted bodies, gigantic hooves --
"Oh. Draconian War Cows," Davis said. "They're okay. They're at war with dragons though, so they won't be happy we met with some, but they don't do more than get rude to fae and humans."
"War cows," I repeated.
"Yeah," Maggie said. "The cows got tired of the dragons picking them off for light snacks, so they grew wings and started fighting back."
"The cows decided to grow wings and fight back."
"Yes. They've made a few other modifications, but even so, they mostly stay to the woods and keep out of dragon sight."
I nodded. At some point there isn't much more you can do than nod and pretend like life still makes sense. I glanced back to see Lord Snow and Edmond coming behind us, both of them glancing backwards often enough that I thought maybe facing the War Cows wasn't the problem I should be considering. The trees did look like they'd offer more cover, and we didn't have to stay on the path as long as we could see it. That might help.
I was willing to try to find anything that would help, both me and my companions. I thought I ought to be more afraid about Creston coming behind me, but maybe I'd burnt out that emotion. I found that I was weirded out by the War Cows. I was annoyed by Sheriff Creston. I just wanted to get to this Council and get that part over with -- but I knew, no matter what happened there, it was not going to be the end of my troubles. Either I would be sanctioned as a Protector and then find myself saving others from trouble or else I wouldn't be sanctioned and who knew what that might mean?
One problem at a time. Right now it was the War Cows who were stalking towards us, growling softly. There's something really, really wrong with cows (even weird one like these) growling.
"We're just passing through," Davis said and lifted his hand. Both war cows stopped and glared.
"You're running errands for dragons," the larger of the two growled. "And that one is the dragon's minion!"
I didn't think calling a snow leopard a minion was really wise. So maybe growing wings and big hooves didn't increase the brain power any. I was amused as I watched the war cows take a couple steps back when he came closer.
And then I looked back to see Sheriff Creston finally appear at the edge of the buildings.
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