With the creatures overhead, we needed to find somewhere safe, and fast. Once I had looked up, the creatures began to scream and started to sweep lower. We didn't have much time.
"We need the best cover," I said, frantically looking around. "Which path?"
"Retreating on the one we're on," Edmond replied. His tail kept twitching with agitation. "But I don't think that's a good idea. Other things are following us, too."
"Of course they are. Which trail, Edmond? Lord Snow?"
"The right," Edmond said. Lord Snow looked from one to the other and then gave a shrug as though it didn't matter. "You need to go ahead, Mark. Get ready."
"For what?" I said, but Edmond was already darting back among the people. I couldn't hear what he was saying.
"Prepare for trouble would be my guess," Beth said. She sounded like someone who was too used to trouble.
Maggie nodded agreement. Lord Snow was already moving ahead of us, his head down and his ears back. He expected a problem. Should be go to the left instead? Why right? What weird cat-logic did Edmond use to make that decision?
I should have stopped the others, demanded answers --
I looked up. Wyverns screamed and circled lower.
So I jogged on ahead and up to where Lord Snow walked. I did not go past him. I waned some protection for whatever we faced. The last of the buildings disappeared, but the hill to the left of us still provided considerable cover. I saw some caves, probably dug out by who knew what, but at least they might prove a place to run if the creatures in the air got any closer.
"Anything in those?" I said with a nod to the caves.
Lord Snow turned that way, sniffed twice, and gave a bit of a nod. "Things. Some of them dangerous, but not so bad as the things in the air. I want to go home, Mark."
"I'll do my best to get you there, Lord Snow. I appreciate that you helped Lord Cayman and us."
"Why don't you call him father?"
"I can't. Not someone I barely met. Father is more than just a blood relative."
"Humans are complex," Lord Snow said. "Dragons are dangerous, but easier to understand."
"And cats?" I asked.
"Oh, complex, of course," he said. "Complex, intelligent and dangerous."
I didn't ask if humans weren't the same, but from the look he gave me, I thought we had an understanding on it. Good. This understanding was clearly so important in the scheme of everything else.
We came around the edge of the hill and the ground dropped away dramatically. I blinked. Green. An open glade filled with grass and flowers and beyond that a forest of tall trees.
"This isn't possible," I said. "This makes no sense at all."
"We are in a reality where magic has run wild," Lord Snow replied. He sat and stared at the land ahead, his eyes narrowed and his tail twitching. "Magic makes many things possible, Mark. This is something you still need to learn because you have magic and being able to believe you can shape it into something might be all that saves your followers."
"I never wanted --" I glanced over my shoulder. The others were back still, but in sight. "But I can't change what's happened. I need to understand now, not wish for changes in the past. You are saying that I have magic to shape things? To create things, not simply to stop bad things from happening to others?"
"You are a sanctioned protector," he said. "That gives you one kind of power. But you are Lord Cayman's son and heir. That gives you an entirely different sort of power. I am not the person who can teach you that magic and you shouldn't try to use it unless you have to."
"I'm in the sort of situation where that might happen," I said. I stared out at the green grass, the pretty flowers. "I don't trust that place out there at all."
"Wise," Lord Snow admitted. "There is nothing safe in a world like this, where the magic spread, wild and free. Something created that setting down below us, Mark. Something wanted a place of beauty and peace."
"Because it makes a wonderful trap," I said.
"Or because they thought there was not enough beauty in this world."
I looked at him and laughed. It might have sounded a little hysterical. 'Oh right. That's going to happen with me around!"
I hadn't expected the cat to look startled. Then he did something unexpected. He stood and rubbed against my legs in the way Edmond does. He even purred. The difference between having a small black cat act that way and a huge snow leopard, though, nearly killed me. I landed on my ass.
"Sorry, sorry," Lord Snow said though I thought the purr had changed to a rumbling chuckle. "I only realized how well you are doing, all things considered. You have had a hard time. You'll get through this. I hope your father -- I hope Lord Cayman does the same."
"What happens if he doesn't survive?" I asked.
Lord Snow looked up at me, his huge eyes narrowed. I thought he would say something, but he stopped and shook his head. "No. Not now. There are others to consider first."
I looked back. Those others were coming closer. He was right.
The view of the valley below, with the grass and flowers, still enticed me. "What kind of trap will it be?"
"I know of only one way to find out."
With a sigh, I started down the winding trail. Lord Snow walked beside me, which I found more reassuring than having him behind me. We moved cautiously forward, getting closer to the grass below.
Maybe five more steps.
And something moved.
No, actually, everything moved.
To Be Continued. . . .