The ground rippled around us and I went to my knees. Lord Snow growled and dropped to the ground, his ears back, his eyes staring ahead as the pupil expanded. I inched away from him.
The ground still moved. I wanted to think it was something simple, like an earthquake. Or maybe a bog. Yeah. This was a bog and all we had to do was back away so we didn't sink in. The others were retreating fast. Lord Snow and I needed to do the same.
Except a bog wouldn't move upward in a mound until two huge eyes stared out from the grass and flowered covered head.
The the mouth appeared, yards across, surprisingly white teeth
It smiled. "Hi there! Wow! I haven't had visitors in a long time!"
I glanced at Lord snow. He had frozen in position, a growl coming out like a surprised cough .
"A -- hello?" I offered. I was used to things attacking me. This creature -- or at least the head of this creature -- hadn't yet.
"Hello! He blinked and the smile wavered slightly. The head tilted, a few rocks tumbling down and flowers bending to the side. "You aren't from around here."
"No, I'm not," I agreed. I tried to wave Lord Snow to back up, but he ignored me. The others didn't scream as loudly now. "I came through by accident. We're trying to reach the gate out of here."
"Yeah. Not the most pleasant place, is it?" he said with a dramatic sigh. "I went and had a look a few years ago, not long after the disaster. It was bad enough before that with all those buildings and not a bit of grass or trees. But . . . But it was worse afterwards. Even if it all crumbles down and becomes ground again, it will still be worse. Nothing can change the evil that happened."
"I'm Mark," I said. He was friendly. He hadn't tried to kill us yet. He might have answers. "And you are?"
"Bog," he said. "Well, that's what people mostly yell as they flee. Sometimes they yell 'not a bog!' but I just stick with bog."
"How about if I call you Bob instead," I offered.
"Bog Bob! I like it!" The creature laughed with delight and the ground trembled. Then the creature gave a sigh again. "I suppose you want me to let you through to the woods."
"We had hoped to get that way to find the magic door," I said. "We need --"
People screamed. I spun in time to see five wyverns sweeping down on the people behind. They were trying to reach cover while Maggie, Lady and people with bows and spears fought them back. I started to run; I could protect them, right? They were in danger and --
And they didn't need me.
Bob Bog leapt out of the ground and flew across the sky, his huge body turning the world to shadow around us. I had a heart-stopping moment when I was sure hew as going to belly flop and crush us all.
Instead, he swatted wyverns out of the air, sending them crashing to the ground or splattering against the side of the hill. Then he flipped around and dove back into the ground. A bit of shifting, a few rumbles and his head popped back up again.
"Thanks Bog Bob," I offered. I brushed a little dirt out of my hair where it had fallen.
Lord Snow simply laid down with his head on his paws. He looked rather unsettled.
"Nasty things, those Wyverns," Bob Bob said with a snarl of dislike. "Pets of those up in the sky, and they're not much better even if they do look human enough. They should know by now not to let the nasty things near me."
"You saved the others. We are grateful," he said. "We need to head back and go the other way --"
"No," Edmond said, coming at a trot. "We can't go that way. There's a troll village around the hill and worse beyond. I take it we're not going this way?" He looked at the huge head with a shake of his head. Lord Snow still looked stunned.
"Bog Bob is the guardian to keep us out," I began.
"Oh no, that's not it at all," Bog Bob answered with a shake of his head. The ground trembled again and little stone fell all around them. "I'm sorry if I gave you that impression. I'm not here to keep you from going in: I'm here to keep the others from escaping out of the forest."
I looked at the trees in the distance. Maybe not far enough away, in fact. Did I see something odd moving at the edge of the light?
"What is in there?" I asked.
"Deathstalkers," he replied. "They were created when the magic went loose, but I've got them trapped."
"We will not be going in there," Edmond said. He even backed up a few steps.
"Very smart cat, " Bog Bob replied with a slight nod to Edmond. I had the feeling Edmond didn't much like having his attention either.
"So there is no way through the forest," I said.
"You might survive if you're willing to sacrifice half your people to the deathstalkers," Bog Bob suggested.
"No. That is not an option."
"Good," Bog Bob said. He tilted his head slightly to the side and watched him as though waiting for something more to be said.
"If we can't go around one side or the other -- then how can we get past here?"
"Finally! Someone smart enough to ask the right question!" Bog Bob shouted. The world trembled and I feared he was going to jump up and down and kill us all. "The rest took off running before I could even tell them about the Deathstalkers. You can't fly so there's only one other way. You go under."
He began to climb out of his hole.
To Be Continued. . . .