I was not the only one who backed away in haste as the ground in front of us began to crumble and then to roil as though it had been boiling. Rocks came to the surface and curled back under. A startled badger made a quick appearance and disappeared again. The area grew wider and wilder --
And then a huge head popped into view.
I was so surprised to see Bog Bob that I was almost too late to stop the others from bringing up their rifles and prepared to shoot --
"No!" I shouted. Maybe I put a touch of magic in the word without meaning to. At any rate, no one fired. "This is Bog Bob! He's a friend."
"Friend," Lt. Marsh repeated as though he didn't understand the word.
I didn't have time to explain. Bog Bob shook some dirt from his head -- splattering all of us -- and smiled brightly. "Good to find you safe, Mark. We have come to help."
"We?" I said, worried for new reasons.
Others appeared, climbing up out of the hole that Bog Bob had created. Lady and some of her people, Ellin -- Beth and some of her followers, including the rabbit thing I'd been calling Harvey. Beth crossed to me and bowed her head.
"I have much to make amends for," she said and turned away again.
"Why --" I started, fear in my voice, though not for me. "Why are you here? It's not safe --"
"It wasn't safe for you to help us," Bog Bob replied. He stayed in his hole, his face peering intently at me. "We came to help you, in turn, Mark."
"Besides, we don't want our enemies to win here," Beth offered. I tried not to remember her betrayal, but I thought she was sincere in her regrets. "If you do not win, we all lose."
Job, the dinosaur, was not with them. I wasn't certain if I was glad or not. I would have liked to see him again, but the battlefield was no place for such a tempting target.
"Where is Edmond!" Bog Bob suddenly shouted. He looked around, his head turning quickly and throwing more dirt. "What has happened --"
"Edmond has gone to find the others. I got separated from Maggie, Davis, and Lord Snow."
"Ah," Bog Bob said and sounded calmer. "Good. He is a brave cat."
"He is brave for any type of creature," I added. I wanted him back. Instead, I turned to the humans who were watching all the strange creatures that had arrived with some bewilderment and a lot of worry. They did not, at least, look like weres. "Lt. Marsh, you and your men should go now. Really you should. This is not the kind of battle that you should try to fight, and since I have allies with magic and we have a chance to win now."
"No," Lt. Marsh said with a shake of his head. "No, I don't think it would be smart for us to go. There are still other troubles here, you know. Not the least of them is that if you ran into other soldiers, they'd shoot without a second thought. You need us to try and keep other people from doing crazy things."
I wasn't sure they would have much luck with that goal, but I had no time to argue the point. I could feel trouble coming our way. So did the others. "Magic coming, and none of it good," I warned. "Keep behind us!"
Lt. Marsh appeared to think that an excellent idea, especially since we could see the magic coming their way -- a dark, ground-hugging cloud that swept over the land and settled before them, the mist disappearing. I was not surprised to see Darman, Portilia, and even Alsia appear.
They, however, were more than a little shocked by my allies. Bog Bob, who had been a rather calm, quiet, happy big thing suddenly gave a shout of anger and launched himself out of the ground fully at them. They scattered, and he tunneled straight back into the ground before they could react. The rest of us took advantage of that moment, though. I'd had no time to organize anything, but as soon as I charged towards the three enemies, my allies did the same. I headed for Darman, and I hoped the others were wise enough to spread out and try to stop Portilia and Alsia.
Darman recovered enough to cast magic at me, but I easily deflected the fire up and away from everyone. Gunfire got my attention for a moment, and I was glad to see the soldiers had joined our side. Dangerous, but I thought they were careful. Darman didn't like the odds. He cast magic again, but this time it formed another cloud, drew his two allies to him, and they rushed back away.
The battle was not over. A wave of weres appeared, rushing out of the trees. I didn't have enough power to hold them back for long. The others pulled back, fighting any of the creatures who came their way, but I soon realized the weres had no real interest in them. They were coming for me, but they knew -- or Darman who directed them did -- knew that as long as they attacked my allies, they would sap my strength. I had to do my best to protect them, no matter what it cost me.
Glad Edmond wasn't with me. That was my last clear thought as I felt my magic falter and in that heartbeat, dozens of weres turned on me. I saw only a rush of long teeth and claws, a wall of them, all coming at me. I used what magic I could to hold them back, and someone shot two of them -- but there were too many. I went down under the press of their bodies as claws dug into my skin....
To be continued....