(Link to Part 34)
I felt a claw tear across the back of my shoulder and down towards my spine, a quick hot pain that made me anticipate worse to come. From the corner of my eye, I could see the dragon's head jerking aside --
Something odd happened. The dragon gave a sound very much like a yelp and tried to scramble backwards so fast that he tripped on his own feet and sprawled sideways, his huge tail snapping across my legs.
I heard the others scrambling to get out of the way as the dragon tried to right himself, knocking several stones free from a building wall so that they rained down on us as well. I curled up around Edmond as best I could, hoping we both survived.
"That was not supposed to happen," Lord Fire said, sounding . . . Embarrassed? "My apologies."
I dared to move a little, turning my head to see where the huge creature stood a couple yards away, shaking bricks off of himself.
"Lord Fire?" Davis asked. He had moved over to me and knelt, his hands already working on the cut across my back.
"A test, nothing more," the dragon said, frowning now. "We have been sent as tests."
"Oh," Maggie said and seemed to sound relieved. "Sent by the Council?"
"Yes," the dragon said with a quick nod. "I would not have ate the cat, you know. He's a troublesome little creature, but he has his uses. I expected, at worst, that the boy would order me to stop. I would have. I didn't expect him to throw himself into the danger to protect another."
"Test?" I said, letting Davis help me sit up. My legs ached where the tail had hit me. I tried not to wince at every movement and every breath, but I was feeling more than a little battered by now. And confused. "All those attacks --"
"Not all of them," Lord Fire said, his head coming down to look me in the face. "There are those who are your true enemies. My brother from the north did his best to warn you, but he has little contact with humans these days."
"Why did the Council set all of you to test him?" Maggie asked. "Usually, they'd do that as part of being Sanctioned, once the Council deems him a candidate."
"You didn't mention any tests," I said, glancing her way. Magic, the drug Davis had given me, and natural adrenaline were all joining up to make everything swirl and move again.
"You had enough to worry about just getting there," Maggie said. "I didn't want to worry you. Lord Fire --"
"There is a matter of time involved," Lord Fire said. "Dragons don't understand the concept of time in the way that the rest of you do, but I had the impression that there was not much time left to prepare."
"Prepare," I repeated.
"There is a darkness coming," the dragon said. He turned to look towards the setting sun. "Get to the Council. I was the last test anyway. They are waiting for you at Stonewild." He stood finally and took a step away, then stopped. "As odd as this may sound from a dragon, don't waste time."
Lord Fire took several ponderous steps away, more stone shaking loose from the building. Then his huge wings spread and flapped, bringing a summer wind to brush over us as he took to the sky.
"Hell," Maggie said. "Stonewild. That's like heading for the bunker as soon as the war begins."
"I'm starting to think this was not the time to show up in Elsewhere," I sighed. "You okay, Edmond?"
He shook his head a couple times. "Mew. Mew. Meow."
I realized Edmond was trembling almost as badly as I was. And he looked distinctly worried as he shook his head from side-to-side.
"I think he's upset," Davis said.
"I think that sounded rude," Maggie added. "Probably just as well we couldn't understand him. Calm down, Edmond. You'll be fine. The dragon is gone."
Edmond hiccuped. Davis helped me to my feet and I held on to the cat. He wasn't trembling nearly as much now, but he did burrow his head right up against my neck and I could feel his claws digging into my shirt and skin. Oh well. I wouldn't notice a few more scratches.
"We need to go," Maggie said. She reached over and gently brushed her fingers across Edmond's head. He almost gave a little purr, but then he hiccuped again. "Stonewild is at the far end of Forest, far out into the wilds. It's going to be dark soon, and I think that's no help to us. Do you know the way, Lord Snow?"
"Yes," he said. "And you don't?"
"I do," she said. She looked at me and gave a shrug. "This is dangerous. It may be that I'm not the one who gets you there, Mark. I'll do my best to make certain I'm with you, but it's important that we take all the precautions we can to be certain you get to the Council."
I wanted to argue, but that would belittle everything the others were doing for me. I gave a short nod, hoping it didn't look sullen. I was starting to feel more than a little annoyed at the idea of all this being shoved into my life without me having a say. I said nothing. Davis and Maggie looked more worried now than they had during this entire fiasco. Lord Snow walking with his tail twitching and Edmond continued to hiccup, which I took as a sign of truly being upset.
I did the only thing I could; I walked along with them, keeping my head down because I was having overload problems again, and tried to imagine why people thought I could be so important.
"Meow," Edmond whispered softly. "Meow."
But neither of us turned away.
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