The two groups didn't waste time. We moved out of the area as quickly as we could. Trouble would try to find us. No one doubted it would happen, least of all me.
I was tired.
"Hey," Maggie said and put a hand on my shoulder. "You look like hell, cousin."
"I've had better vacations." I tried to smile. "Next time we go to the beach."
"Yeah!" She agreed enthusiastically and I thought it might really happen.
"Can we go home, Maggie? I mean all the way back?"
"It isn't the same if you do." She kicked at a little rock. "Or maybe it wouldn't be so different for you, but I had a real reason to leave. I don't want to feel petty, but I'm glad my parents finally went to prison. They got what they deserved."
"They did. It was karma. You got a better world -- well sometimes -- and they got what they deserved."
"You have something to go home to, though." She gave me an oddly worried look.
"I no longer belonged, you know. I was looking at moving out. Mom remarried. She's happy. I wanted to find my own life." I looked around and shook my head. "I am not finding it here."
"No one finds it here," Maggie said. "What about Elsewhere?"
"I don't remember a time in Elsewhere when someone wasn't chasing me or trying to kill me," I replied. Her eyes went wind and then she nodded. "I suspect I might like it if I could just sit down there for a little while. Get a feel for it."
For some reason, Maggie thought that was funny.
Lord Snow lead us towards the hill where we had descended into the city. I wanted to complain about backtracking, but at least we were moving and maybe towards something positive. Lord Snow and Edmond were deep in conversation and I tried -- really tried -- to take that as a good sign.
"Do you really think we should leave the planning up to the two cats?" I asked softly.
Both cats' ears swiveled back my way, though they didn't look, slow or show any other sign of having heard. Oh but they were listening. I knew it. Maggie knew it, too.
"Do you have some ideas?"
"Ummm . . . No."
"Then we go with the cats. How much worse can it get?"
I wanted to yell at her for being crazy and saying something like that. How much worse could it get? I looked up, literally expecting the sky to be falling on us, or at least the city.
Was my father up there? Did he know I was here? I needed to spend some time with Lord Snow. I would have liked a private talk, but that seemed unlikely. I glanced over my shoulder and nearly tripped at the sight of all the people -- whether human or not -- who were following us.
Beth, who was just behind us, moved up to put a hand on my arm. "Pretty impressive, isn't it? It seems like a few more join us every few steps. You're the first hope we've had, Mark."
They were all there because of me. The thought made me lightheaded, but that came from a surge of fear like I'd never felt before. I had their lives in my hands and I hadn't a clue what to do. My plan at the moment was to follow the cats.
"Maggie --" I said, turning to her in panic.
"You're fine." She looked past me to Beth. "He's new at this stuff."
"And doing a fine job. Maybe being new has helped," she said. "The rest of us have been here a long time and come to accept that this is simply the way things are. I never thought to escape after a while. I simply went into hiding and hoped no one found us."
"Did you ever hear rumors about ways out?" I asked. I wanted some clue about what to expect.
"Not often. Mostly we heard about people disappearing up to the city. That might have been an enticement if their bodies didn't turn up a few months later."
I looked up. I had noticed that Beth did not, as though looking at the place would draw attention to us. I figured if they hadn't noticed the several hundred followers by now, they were pretty much blind anyway.
Something moved. I looked away before I tripped and then back up again. A bit of dark darted up by a window. Probably a bird.
A very big bird.
I didn't say anything, but I was starting to glance around to see what cover we had in the area. The ruins of buildings were still around us, but there were fewer of them here, but some were in better shape.
"Beth, start spreading the word that we might need to take cover. Everyone should keep an eye on some building close to wherever they are and be prepared to head for it."
"Trouble?" she said with a sigh.
"I saw something flying up there."
"Damned wyverns," she mumbled. "Well, not a surprise. I'll start spreading the word."
She didn't ask where they were going, which he thought rather brave. He hadn't exactly asked either, though. When Edmond and Lord Snow stopped and waited for him, he knew that they might have some sort of answer.
"Two paths," Edmond said with a dip of his head ahead. There were more than two paths there, but obviously Snow and Edmond could sense two in particular that held interest. "I want to explore both, but we don't have time. So this is where you make a decision, human."
"I need to know about the choices," I said. "We don't have a lot of time. I have the feeling something is going to come for us soon."
Edmond looked upward. "Yeah, real soon."
I looked up. A dozen of the wyverns were sweeping in circles above us. And more were joining them.
To be continued. . . .