I had never pictured myself as Moses.
Walking at the head of this group made me nervous. I was much happier when Maggie or Davis took the lead for a bit, but then I had to worry about what they were going to run into. Lady -- the head of the locals, none of whom gave names -- sometimes went out there as well, as did their overgrown talking monster. It made me nervous to see even them out ahead of us for fear that something would happen --
Of course something was going to happen.
Edmond was walking with me and being uncharacteristically quiet, which I also didn't trust. Oh yes, paranoia in full bloom here.
"What's bothering you, Edmond?" I finally asked, rather than leave it all in my head.
"That's no help."
"Then you shouldn't have asked." He gave a sigh. "Okay. First is that odd creature up there. I've never seen anything like it. It didn't come from Elsewhere and it isn't from around here, I'm sure of that much. So that means it came from yet another place."
"Yes, probably," I agreed. What did I know?
"We're heading for a door to another place. It might be his place. I don't think I want to walk into a world filled with them."
"If the door lead to his home, why hasn't he gone there?"
"Maybe because he's crazy and is protecting humans rather than eating them."
"You have a dark, dark mind, Edmond."
Edmond stopped and looked up at me. "Look, I put myself in his position. I imagined myself with these weak little things all around me, and here I was, alone. Maybe kicked out of home because I wasn't sane. I didn't want to be alone. So there I am, and I make friends with the mice. I protect them. What would you think?"
I didn't say anything, but I found myself looking at the creature again.
"Yeah, that's what I thought," Edmond said.
Well, that certainly helped my state of mind.
We were making remarkably good time, though. These people were used to traveling through this maze of ruins. They were also good at finding unexpected food, mostly in the form of mushrooms and other fungus. They picked everything along the way and clearly shared with each other. I still couldn't see how they managed to survive, though.
"I wonder how long ago this happened," I said to no one in particular.
"My guess would be about fifteen years," Davis said. "Too much is still standing and I heard a couple of the others say they hoped to find a store that hadn't been plundered yet. This is something that happened in the memory of this generation. You can see it in their faces."
"Don't think this group will tell us." Davis looked up at the city hanging over them. "You had some contact. What did you learn?"
I hadn't thought about that since I woke up. I had purposely shoved it out of my head and I tried not to shiver as it came back now. I looked around the area, at all the ruins, the dust, the feel of death.
"Mark?" Davis said.
"They want magic. That's about all I can say about it," I replied softly. "They know we're not from around here. They know we have magic, but they don't seem to think that we're any threat." I stopped and considered it for a few steps. "And you know, that might just have been pure luck. I don't know much about magic at all. If she'd caught hold of you or Maggie --"
"Yes. She had a voice, there in my head. Calm. Cultured, if you know what I mean. A sense of self-worth and no sense of worth for anything else."
"Not my favorite type of person," Davis replied. He glanced up and away quickly. "They don't look up. I think it is a way not to draw notice. If you notice it, the city will notice you."
I thought about it for a moment. "Attracted by the magic, maybe. And you know, that makes me think that city is like a big mouse trap."
Davis glanced at me, at Edmond, at the sky and away. He walked on for several steps. "Illusion," he said. "Or more than that because there is something solid up there. But not what it seems. Do you think the rest of these people know what it is?"
"I think if they do, they know enough not to look at it and not to talk about it."
Davis gave a nod. We said no more. Not right now.
The day was going from light gray to dark gray and would soon be black again. I could tell that Lady was looking for a campsite. Edmond had come back to be carried. I thought about how easy it would be for him to disappear in the darkness and we'd never know what happened. I was glad to carry him.
A cold wind blew past us --
"Cover! Cover!" Lady yelled, waving towards us. Her own people had already dived down into whatever covering of debris they could find. Children cried and were silenced.
The wind roared and growled as I scrambled to find some cover. I held tight to Edmond because the wind was so strong I could barely keep from being swept away and he wouldn't have a chance. He burrowed into my jacket and I thought I could hear him cursing and hissing in turn. I wasn't near to a wall. I had climbed clear of them, looking for a place to camp.
And it cost me. I could see something in the darkness that spread across us; something huge in a cloud of dust that rose around it so that I couldn't see the shape, even when it swept down at me and caught me up in the cloud as well.
To Be Continued. . . .