Edmond started down ahead of us, his ears back and his tail twitching. He had no trouble on the debris, but the humans were tripping over rocks and sliding downward. I even slid past Edmond who gave a startled hiss and when I finally stopped, flat on my back on the slope, he came and looked at me face. He gave a shake of his head.
“Well, at least it is faster,” he admitted. “But it doesn’t look very safe. You knocked a lot of stuff free. It could have hit me.”
He went on past.
Davis was moving down to me now, and Edmond was right. Even without slipping and sliding, our surfer-dude healer kicked a few rocks into me. I didn’t care by now. I stared into the sky where the city was starting to glow brighter as the night came. What as up there?
What was down here?
“Hey,” Davis said. He held out a hand. I think it was a test. I considered it for a moment and decided on a fail this time around.
“I’m not moving,” I said. “There is no reason why —”
Something very loud yowled nearby, the sound echoing around the hillside so that I couldn’t tell where it might have come from.
Davis still held out his hand.
I took it and stood.
“Cover, I think, might not be a bad idea,” Davis offered.
Maggie, who was just going past us, gave a definite nod of agreement. Edmond had stopped pushing ahead and came back to stand with us, twitching nervously at every shift of sound.
And that big damned thing flew over us again. I thought it might be too small to be a dragon. I didn’t want to deal with dragons again, but I couldn’t be sure something else would be better.
The yowling went up once more, this time from a couple different places.
“I think one of you should carry me so I don’t get trampled,” Edmond suggested.
Maggie picked him up. We headed down again. The slope wasn’t as steep here and we were nearly down to the ground level. Tendrils of a foul-smelling fog drifted around us and I sneezed despite myself. I wanted to be quiet, but it probably didn’t matter. We were making little mini rock slides everywhere we went.
The ruins of buildings started to rise up as we went lower. They were not very tall here by the hill, but I could tell those in the distance were several stories high. Everywhere I saw the dark windows, like black eyes staring at us. I saw nothing moving, but I had a sense of life out there, watching us. Whatever yowled was not alone in this desolation.
Despite the smell, which I could get used to quickly enough I hoped, being on the lower ground was better. There wasn’t so much debris here and the walls of the ruins gave us some cover.
“Rest,” Davis said when we’d gone about a quarter mile into the maze. We hadn’t heard anything for awhile. “Rest while we can. This looks like a good spot.”
Maggie sat down first and put Edmond down as well. He circled around the area a couple times and came back to curl up in her lap. I’d settled on what was once a floor, my back against a part of the wall. I hoped it didn’t give way. Things tended to fall on my lately. Davis sat on the edge of a window frame, the entire top part, and the rest of the building, gone.
We said nothing for a while.
“The compass is still pointing out across the city,” Maggie finally said. She held the device, shook it a couple times, and nodded as it moved back to the same heading. “We’ll have to check often. The gate could be anywhere.”
“So it might be close?” I asked.
“Yes,” Davis said. He glanced out the window and then back at us. “We should be able to feel it if we get close, but I wouldn’t count on that. There seems to be a lot of latent magic here.”
“I didn’t know magic could do this kind of destruction.” I looked from Davis to Maggie.
“It couldn’t be done by someone normal,” she said. “At least not where we come from. I’ve never been here. I don’t know what might be out there.”
Davis agreed with a quick nod, a nervous glance out the window, and then a glance back at me. “How are you doing?”
“I feel like this is just about the longest I’ve had to sit and think since I shot Tommy,” I said. How odd that I could talk about killing him and not feel more than a twinge of discomfort. “I am really half-elf?”
“Yes. And you’ve been sanctioned as a protector.” Davis stopped and stared at the wall. “I get the feeling that holds even here, which is good.”
The creature yowled. It was not as close as before, but I had the feeling it was following us —
“Damn,” I said. “Darman’s army of were-creatures. I think some of them followed us through.”
Maggie stood, dropping Edmond on the ground. He sighed with frustration. “If these are were creatures, they can be very dangerous.”
“Maggie, my favorite cousin, everything is very dangerous any more. I wouldn’t trust a butterfly in this place. But I get the idea of what you’re saying.”
“We can’t outrun whatever it is,” Davis added. “We’ll have to out think it.”
“Oh, this just keeps getting worse and worse,” Edmond mumbled.
“We have to set a trap of some sort,” Davis said. “Sit down, Maggie. We need to think this out, and with luck, do better than the cat thinks we will.”
“And if you don’t?” Edmond asked.
“Then it’s up to you, I suppose,” Davis said.
Edmond snorted. “Let’s see what we can come up with.”
To be continued