(Link to part 40)
First we had to get to the council. I'd thought since we reached Stonewild, we'd ended the journey.
I have really got to stop being so optimistic.
The hall went on forever. I became increasingly aware of the fact that we were heading under a mountain and downward into the depths of the earth. Given how much trouble I'd had up in the open air, I couldn't say this was a really good feeling.
There were lights now and then, but mostly we relied on Maggie's staff. The cats did not rush ahead of us, which also didn't help my feeling of trouble. Maggie and Davis kept quiet, too, so I didn't feel that I dared ask a question.
But I was getting tired of walking and I was about to complain -- I'd had a hellish few days and I ached now in just about every place.
"Hey," Edmond said.
He startled us all.
"What?" Maggie asked, her voice softer than usual. She clearly didn't want to draw any attention.
"Let's rest," he said. He glanced at me, golden eyes catching the light of the staff. "Mark is going to need rest before he faces the Council. We don't want him going in here and falling flat on his face."
"True." She stopped and leaned against the wall. I stared at the stonework for a long moment, expecting it move, or grow hands or melt --
But it didn't, so I leaned against the wall by her. Then I slid down and sat on the ground. I hadn't meant to, but my legs just wouldn't hold me.
"Yeah, rest is a good idea," Davis said. He slid down beside me. My head was pounding now and I could barely turn to look at him. "You look like you're on your last legs, Mark."
"Hit me suddenly," I admitted. "Just too much going on."
Maggie stayed to her feet, but she did lean down and put a hand on my shoulder. Edmond climbed into my lap, but Lord Snow sat facing the way we had come -- waiting for trouble. At first that upset me, but after a moment I realized it was good to have a guard with better senses than humans. I forced myself to relax.
Be truthful, Maggie had said. That covered a wide range of things I could say, and some of them not polite about how things have been going. I tried to bury that thought away. I didn't think it was a good idea to head into this council's presence with a bad attitude.
We got up again. I looked at Maggie, but I didn't ask her how far we still had to go. We'd get there. The walk gave me a chance to calm down, as long as I didn't think the walls were going to attack me. I was trying very hard not to mistrust them.
The descent had been gentle, but I still noticed when it evened out. I could also see light ahead. Maggie dropped back by me as the hall widened. She gave a nod but said nothing at all. I took that to mean things were serious. Even Edmond had shut up.
The light came from an opening carved like an intricate doorway, all of it carved out of stone. Only it wasn't simply light -- I sensed the strongest magic I'd ever felt coming from that opening. I could see something as we neared -- a pole with a crystal secured to the top by golden bands. Yes, the magic came from there, but it wasn't the only place. The entire area suddenly reeked of so much magic that my head swam. I kept going and did my best to stay calm. That helped. Emotions, I reminded myself. Emotions were what fueled magic and what was giving me the worst of my problems.
As we neared that opening, I thought to tell the others to stay back, but I realized it would hardly do any good. The Council had been sending those tests, so they had to know that we had worked as a group, but if I had thought I could get them out of trouble, I would have ordered them away.
I suspected it would have worked, too, if I thought they were in danger. I could protect them. I looked at Maggie and considered --
"No, Mark," she said. She must have seen it in my face. "No. We go the rest of the way with you. If any of us wanted to walk way, we could, earlier or now. But there is something going on, and we are all here to see if we can set things to right."
And I didn't have the right to deny them their place in the battle.
So we walked out through the opening and stood on an intricately carved slab of stone, with the glowing crystal just before us. Columns stretched out into the distance where a wall of glowing light blocked the view, like a living curtain. Water swirled beneath us and splashed up over the stone. I saw no one around, but I could hear -- no, I could sense them in the alcoves looking down at the place were we stood.
We didn't have to wait long. Someone leapt from the right and landed gracefully on the slab by the pole. He stood and brushed his hand over the metal in a gesture that seemed to show respect. Then he nodded our way, though I could read nothing in his face. Fae, I realized -- the real thing. Tall, dark haired, eyes of blue that glittered as he looked me over.
"High Lord Cayman," Maggie greeted him and bowed her head. Her wings fluttered slightly, which told me this was a dangerous man.
"Maggie," he said with a slight nod her way. Then he turned to me. I gave him a bow of my head, but nothing more. He returned it. "I'm glad you finally made it here, son."
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