We went up a few more steps, the incline steeper here at the end of the tunnel. The light was too bright, too. I squinted and followed Ellin, wondering what he was leading me to -- but you know, I kind of knew it before we even stepped out into the light.
There, across the sky, stood the city in the clouds that I had first seen when we stepped through the portal into this place.
I had gone in a full circle and was back where we started.
"Well, hell." Edmond sighed and didn't sound at all surprised either. "Now what do we do?"
I looked at Ellin. He stared at the distant city with some worry nd then turned back to me. "We have to get him free."
He nodded and looked me over again. "You are a Sanctioned Protector. You are the first person we've had through here who might have a chance of taking on the Sky people."
"I am a protector, not a warrior," I pointed out. "I don't even know what to do to get there."
"We can get you there," Ellin said with a nod to the right.
I turned and found that we were not alone. Elves were here -- a hundred or more -- lined up along the edge of the floating rock. They all stood in armor and they all had swords in hands. I shivered at the sight of them.
"What do they expect me to do?"
"The one thing we can't do," Ellin said. He gave a wave of his hand and he stood in armor with a sword as well. "You can find your father. All we could do is search for him and that's a fast way to get killed. We know. We've tried it."
I looked at Ellin with a frown. "I don't know how to find him."
"That's because you have never tried."
That was the type of answer I was starting to expect from fae. I would have to figure this out on my own and I thought about finding my father --
And I knew where he was, over there in the cloud city. I turned that way, startled. "He's in a building, about the middle of the city. Not the tower where they usually keep prisoners, though."
"You just told us more than we have ever known before," Ellin said. He sounded reassured, but I wasn't so certain.
"That might just have been my imagination --"
"No," Edmond said. "I could tell. You caught a link to him. I have a link to him too, you know. He made me what I am."
I had forgotten that, even though my father and I had a rather quick disagreement about it when he thought to make Edmond back into a regular cat. It was more than my position as a Protector that made me step in, too. Edmond was a friend. He'd stuck with me and helped me from the moment I stepped through the gate into Elsewhere.
"Edmond, what do you think I should do?"
He was still in my arms. Heavy cat, but I didn't want to put him down here at the edge of the rock island and the sky. He twisted his head a little and looked up at me, blinking.
"If it was me, I'd walk away from this. One hundred elves against a sky city full of people? And they clearly have magic of their own." I nodded, frowning. "But here's the thing, Mark. You are not me. You are not a cat. And you know that if you walk away now, you'll just make another circle and end up here again. We need to get your father free of whatever is holding him there. I wish we had some of our friends with us, but maybe . . . Maybe it's safer that they're not here."
"I'd feel better if I knew where they were and that they're safe."
"They're still on the bridge. They'll be there until a door opens to somewhere else, which may or may not be safer," Ellin said. "And a door will not open until Lord Cayman is rescued because he is the key to such places."
I stared at him trying to parse all that. "My father opened the door to here. He is the one that has to open the door back out."
"How did the rest of you get here?"
"Fell through, shoved through, sought it out," Ellin said with a shrug. "Mischief and mistakes, all of it. "There were other doors in, but never any out. Now that we have a Fae Lord here, we hope he will grant us leave from this place."
"That's why the city people took him, isn't it?" Edmond suddenly said. "They don't want him opening doors for people to leave."
Ellin nodded agreement.
Now I was annoyed. "Why didn't anyone tell me this to begin with?"
"We hadn't realized who you were," Ellin admitted. "You are, after all, half human. That blinded us to the obvious link between you and your father. We could tell such a thing had entered the land, but we couldn't find it. Only when it became obvious you had powers that had to come from a High Lord did we start tracking you down. You -- moved around a lot."
He was right there. I hadn't sat still for more than a few hours since I came to this place. And except when I was ill after being shot, I hadn't really rested since I left home.
Home and bed sounded very nice right now.
Instead, I looked across at the city. "How do we get there?" I asked, even though I dreaded learning the answer.
Ellin clapped his hands three times.
A line of winged horses appeared before us. They were already standing on air, their wings flapping slightly. Magic. Right. But I didn't have to like it.
Edmond just buried his head in jacket. Yeah, time to go.
To Be Continued. . . .