(Link to part 42)
I had tried to grab Edmond out of the way of the magic and slipped as I caught hold of him. We both flailed and plowed into Lord Cayman.
We all three headed for the water.
Maggie gave a shout. "Watch out for the --"
And I hit the water.
I had let go of Edmond in the hopes he would suddenly grow wings and fly off. He landed in the water to my right and went straight under with me. I didn't see Lord Cayman, who may have saved himself the dunking.
Beneath the surface I found a glow of blue water, stands of large green plants, which I immediately expected to try to grab hold of me. They only seemed to be moving in the current we were creating. Bubbles rose up and swirled all around us
Watch out for what?
I didn't plan on sticking around to find out. I made a dive at Edmond since he still appeared to be going downward and was a bit frantic now, all four legs flailing. I pushed towards him, aware suddenly, that I wasn't having any trouble breathing. Magic, I realized. My own magic, in fact. I could feel it like a cocoon spread over me. I was quick to grab Edmond and pull him close, hoping that my magic would help him, too. He grabbed tight hold of me -- claws going straight through my shirt -- and I headed upward.
Something moved to the left, at the base of the stone outcropping where we had been standing. Edmond glanced that way and then tried to bury himself inside my shirt. I figured that meant we were in danger.
No surprise there.
I kicked upward, but the creature, much larger than me, moved out out of the plants and cut us off. Human-shaped, but fish-like in some ways, and reptilian in others. The huge, long-fingered hands caught me by the ankles and yanked us back downward.
"Going so soon, visitor?"
I clearly heard the words his mouth made. So I took a deep breath and answered, hoping I could talk my way out of this, and hoping Edmond was not drowning. The creature had let go of my legs, and I bobbed there looking at his alien face with the dark set eyes that never blinked.
"Sorry. Didn't mean to disturb you," I said trying to sound polite and strong at the same time. I had the distinct feeling you didn't want to sound like prey to this one. "I'll be on my way."
"Of course," the creature said. "But you will leave that lovely tidbit behind."
His long arm reached out towards Edmond, who dug his claws in even deeper. "Everything hates me today," the cat said, relieving me of fear about him drowning at least."
The hand drew back in surprise.
"Yes," I said. I tried to inch away slightly and glanced up at the water above us. No more than two yards. I might be able to shove Edmond up and out. The stone outcropping we had stood on wasn't far away.
But oddly, the creature had pulled back. "I could not eat something that speaks to me. Go. Go quickly."
He fled before I did.
I didn't waste time. With Edmond holding on tightly, I kicked upward and reached for the stone above us. My hand broke water and someone caught hold of me. I almost jerked away out of habit, but I could see Davis through the water, and Maggie reaching beside him. I pushed Edmond up and Maggie caught the cat and pulled him close while Davis drew me up out of the water.
Lord Cayman was sitting on the stone a few feet away, looking as wet and disheveled as me. I hadn't seen him in the water. He must have gotten out of it fast. I expected him to be angry, but instead he looked perplexed.
"Why did you do such a thing?" he asked. "Why risk so much for the cat? The power was mine to give and take."
I didn't remind him that I had no idea I was risking anything more than a dunking in the water, because even if I had known the danger, I would have done the same thing.
"Edmond is a thinking creature," I said. Maggie was holding the cat close to her, clearly afraid for him. "It doesn't matter if you gave him that ability; he is intelligent. I couldn't let you hurt him."
"Protector," Davis said with a nod to Lord Cayman. "You should have fully considered what that meant."
"But -- a cat --"
"I trust that cat," I said. "He's done a hell of a lot more to help me than you have."
That shut him up. I was aware, once more, of our audience. I still couldn't see more than a few moving shadows, but I knew they were taking every word. Lord Cayman stood. So did I.
"I was told I had to stand before the Council to be Sanctioned in my role as Protector. I was told I have been tested before I arrived here. What do we need to do now?" I asked. Straightforward. Make this professional.
He gave a single nod and I knew we understood each other.
"The vote," he said, and waved towards the gallery and then to the glowing crystal. Light played from his hand, white and pure. I heard Maggie give a small sigh of relief and knew this was a good sign.
Light streamed down to the crystal while I stood there dripping water. A dozen, two dozen -- more -- and they were all white. The crystal glowed brighter and I was starting to believe that at least one part of this was over.
Then Lord Cayman looked past me and straightened. "I expected you before this, brother."
I turned to see Darman -- only I knew him as Sheriff Creston.
And he still had his rifle, aiming at me.
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