I couldn't decide what I saw in their faces. Hope, maybe, though Beth frowned.
"If you have magic, the upworlders would grab it," she said. "You weren't taking any precautions against them."
"I didn't know what they could do, though some woman tried to take hold of the magic through my dreams last night."
That drew another round of shocked looks and some mistrust. Beth took a step away from me.
"If she had hold of you, how did you get free?"
"I bit him on the ear," Edmond said as he jumped up on the table.
Edmond had a flair for the dramatic. People (well, creatures), leapt up with shouts of surprise. Food went flying, which might have been the real reason for the display.
"The cat talks." Beth voice held a whisper of hope. "I haven't noticed magic in you, though. Why didn't you use it out there when you were in danger?"
"I'm new to it," I admitted. I didn't want them to count too much on me. "I've only recently been sanctioned as a Protector --"
That won another round of anxious sounds. I was digging myself in deeper here, but I had the feeling that I might be able to help them. That was important to me in an odd way and I think that must have come from being a Protector. I needed to get back to the others, too.
"How can we trust --" Beth began.
"Oh, lovely cat stew," the big white guy said and reached for Edmond, long sharp claws showing on his furry paw.
Edmond hissed in surprise --
"No!" I shouted.
The white guy went flying and landed up hard against the wall behind the table. He slid down and shook his head. "Well, that pretty much proves it, doesn't it, Beth?"
"That was a fool thing to do," she said as Harvey stood back up.
"Yes, but quick and certain. This human is most certainly a Protector," he said and gave me a bow of his head. "That does change matters, Beth. I don't think we'll ever have a better chance of getting out of here."
"I would be glad to take you along," I said. "But I can't promise we'll be safe. The others up top might protest, and I've agreed to help them, too."
"We don't have a war with the people who live in the buildings," Beth said. "We trade and help each other. They simply do not want to live underground and I certainly can't blame them."
"I don't understand what's going on here." I looked around at everyone. "Where did all of you come from? What happened in this place?"
"We wandered in from here, there . . . Yes, even from Elsewhere," Beth said. We sat down at the table. The others were cleaning up and Edmond 'helped.' "I came here just after the disaster. No one knows why it happened, but the place was still alive with magic then -- dangerous stuff, like the Wild Wind that caught you. The magic had destroyed nearly everything and killed thousands. The only way to survive was to go into hiding. I've lived like this for years."
"And whatever did this is in the city in the sky?"
"We assume they did it," Harvey said. "But there's no way to tell. It might have been someone on the ground who lost control. There isn't anyone alive who knows the true story -- or at least no one who has told it."
"Our best hope," said another, this one mostly blue and long armed with a round, furry head, "is to leave. We haven't had a chance at that, though. You really think you can find a door out of this nightmare?"
"My cousin -- she's traveling with me -- has a compass --"
"Oh, that is lovely!" Beth said with a laugh of joy. "Oh, yes, you are most definitely from Elsewhere. This, my friends, is the best chance we are ever going to have. It is too late tonight to pack up and go out. We'll leave at sunset tomorrow."
"My companions will be worried," I said. "I need to get back --"
"I'll go." Edmond leapt from the table. "I'm not likely to be noticed out there and I can find Maggie and Davis and then come back and lead you guys to them."
I didn't want Edmond to go and leave me alone here, but I couldn't come up with a good reason why he shouldn't go. My friends would be worried.
"Wait until dawn," Beth said. "We aren't going to open a door out of here before then, not with that many biters out there. They'll go hide from the sun."
Edmond agreed with made me feel a little better. We sat down and ate. The meal was good and I didn't ask what meat they used in the stew. I told the story of how I came to be here in a quick form overlooking some of the really stupid stuff that had happened.
"Half elf," she said looking me over again. "I should have seen it, but honestly, it's been a long time and I hardly expected one of your kind to show up here. That doesn't sound good for Elsewhere. I met Darman a couple times and never did trust him."
"Wiser than a lot of people," I mumbled. "I didn't like him much as a human, and the idea that he's elf and I'm related to him. . . ."
"Yeah, but you are also related to Lord Cayman," she said.
"I only met him once. We didn't exactly have a great introduction."
Beth looked at me and then, unexpectedly, put a hand on my arm. "This has been odd, hasn't it?"
"Very odd. And that doesn't even include the talking cat."
Edmond, who was sitting to my side, jabbed me with a claw. "You wouldn't have survived without me."
I don't know why Beth thought I was joking. Well, she'd probably learn.
To Be Continued. . . .