Beth found me some boots.
"You might as well have them," she said, looking around the cave with an odd frown. They had lights, which must have been magical, set in niches all along the walls. The light was greenish and the air felt a little damp. "We'll have to leave most everything behind anyway. I have a jacket that should fit you, too. We've stored and scavenged for years. I hate to think it was all for nothing now . . . But at least it gave us something to do."
I thought about being trapped here for years. Not just this cave, but in this strange world. I did my best not to shiver at the thought. My adventure so far had been one odd day after another, with hardly any rest. I was simply passing through, not trying to find a way to survive here. Just rest for a bit.
She wandered off. I sat down on a crate and tried on the new boots. They fit pretty well.
"Hey, you okay?" Edmond asked.
I hadn't noticed him enter the area. The sound of his voice gave me a little start, but I nodded his way. "Tired," I admitted.
"You have been using a lot of magic lately," he said, jumping up on the crate beside me. He looked around the area with a quick flick of his ears, as though he expected some trouble. "I don't think you even realize the magic you use sometimes. You're not used to it. This will give you a chance to sleep and rest."
"You trust them?" I asked softly.
"Yes," he said. That took me by surprise. "I could be wrong, you know, but everything I've seen says they're exactly what they say they are. I wouldn't leave you here alone otherwise." I reached over and petted him. I'd never done that with Edmond. It won a surprised purr from him and then a little laugh. "Humans are good for some things," he said.
"You be careful out there," I said again. "We don't know all the dangers, besides what might still be following us. I don't trust Darman. He's just crazy."
"We'll just do our best to avoid him," Edmond agreed. He stretched out on the crate. "What are you doing to do when this is over, Mark?"
"Over? It can't ever be over for me, you know. I can't go back to what I had been."
"Would you want to?"
"I miss my family," I admitted. "I try not to think about it. I know I did the right thing when I stopped Tommy Creston, and I don't regret what I did then or anything that's happened since . . . But I am tired. And lost. And I still have no idea what being a Sanctioned protector means."
"It means you take care of those who need help," he said. "And you're doing it fine already."
The ground rumbled.
"Oh, no, no, no!" Edmond leapt from the top of the crate and cowered down beside it. "I knew this was a bad place! Damned mouse hole for two-legs --"
I could hear shouts and in a moment a dozen of our companions came darting down the hall. Beth came from the opposite direction and tossed me a jacket. I quickly put it on, watching the way the others come from. A few more followed, including a couple humans I hadn't noticed until now.
"Cloudsiders breaking in," Harvey said. He had a knife in hand and I thought there might be blood on it already. "They must really want this guy! They're breaking in the door you came through."
"The only one they know, then. Grab what you can! We're going deeper!"
"No, no, no," Edmond mumbled as I picked him up. He was almost limp in my hands. I hadn't realized he had a fear of this place. No wonder he'd volunteered to go out and look for the others.
"This way, this way," Beth said and caught me by the arm. "We're going to seal off part of the tunnels."
"But you have other ways out," I said.
"Yes. Several. We just need to get enough distance between us and them, and enough roadblocks that they don't know which way we went." Everything rumbled again and she looked at the ceiling with a scowl. "Though at the rate they're going, they'll bring everything down anyway. No, come on. We've planned for this, you know. We always expected they would find a way in."
"Coming after me," I said, holding Edmond closer. He burrowed into the new jacket.
"Could be. But they'd been watching for any of us. This way. Keep low and watch your head."
I followed, but I was aware that there were sounds behind us that sounded to me like --
"Damn. They let the biters in," she said, looking back. "Get moving everyone! Tunnel Bear Cave."
I heard some affirmatives from ahead. Apparently everyone had gotten past us. I was glad, and hoped they were safe. I had no idea what we were heading into -- but I hoped this way lead to an exit soon because the ground shook again and I thought Edmond had the right idea about hiding.
The constant click of the little creatures behind us grew louder and closer. I glanced back to see a swarm of grey things, about the size of his thumb, rushing down the dimly light tunnel. They were gaining fast and at the next curve I looked back to see they were only a few yards behind and something else was following.
I stopped. "Get back!" I yelled at the things.
They let out a hiss that sounded like an enraged steam iron.
And then they came faster.
"Take him!" I shouted, grabbing Edmond out of my jacket and tossing him to Beth. I didn't even have time to see if she caught him before the things were on me, their little teeth biting everywhere.
To Be Continued. . . .