Lord Darman had more forces than we did, even with my allies. Strong forces. Some were wild things that he turned loose on us, directing them with magic. Our side fought, killed, fought more -- but we were being pushed back, and some had already fallen. I couldn't stay here, playing dead, and let this happen.
"Be still," Edmond whispered. "They're coming our way."
Both friends and enemies had started to move in my direction. My allies came in a slow retreat while Darman pushed them. More frantic battles broke out along the way, slowing the enemy. Soon, though, I was surrounded by others, and Davis came to stand over me.
"Can you get up?" he asked but did not reach for me.
"I think so."
"Keep your head down. Lord Snow?"
"Better," he said and stood, though I could tell he favored his right side. "Up, Mark. We haven't much time."
I stood, wobbled, and kept my head down. The others moved in closer. I could see Lord Cayman and Maggie. Davis put a hand on my arm and gave me a little magical help, but I had the feeling he was as weak as I was at this time. We moved back a little, Lord Snow staying with us. If we could reach the woods, we could have some time to recover.
I didn't think we were going to get that lucky, so we had to have another answer. I tried to block out the sounds of battle around me and concentrate on the center of the trouble -- on Darman and Potilia. What I sensed there was not good. They were gaining power. I thought they might even be draining some of their own followers to concentrate the power in their hands. We, though, lost more power in every battle. We could not win this way.
I stopped retreating.
The battle was not as fierce as it had been, though there were still howls and yells all around us. Bog Bob set the ground rolling now and then, but he was careful since that was apt to upset the rest of us as well. Something flew in the sky, but Lord Cayman brought it down with a single bolt. I hoped Edmond didn't try to fly, though being on the ground in this mass of fighters was not safe, either.
Edmond nudged me in the legs. "Keep going. We need to get to the trees."
"We won't make it," I said. Davis, still moving with me, looking worried. So did Lord Snow. "They're building up power. Can't you feel it?"
"Maybe," Davis said. He frowned. "I suspect you are better at that. What do we do?"
"Lord Cayman, Maggie, and Tom have all slowed. I think they must know as well. We'll never get as far as the trees, and if we do, I think they'll just flatten the area and kill us anyway." I took a step back, as though I still meant to retreat like everyone else. I noted that many of the weres had been killed. So had humans, including a few soldiers. Lt. Marsh was still with us, though. He and Harvey the Rabbit seemed to have teamed up. They both looked fierce.
Through the line of allies, I could see more weres and other creatures. Except for the aura of power, I could not locate Cayman or Potilia. They were well back from the front lines, not anxious to get involved in the brawling, close battle.
I wished I had more magic. I would have used it to send Edmond, Lord Snow, and even Davis away from me. I knew that once I started to do anything showy, I was going to have the attention of those far stronger than me. I stepped back again. This was not the time to move in haste. I wanted to protect all my friends and allies. I needed to do so wisely.
I suddenly understood my power better than I ever had before. My power was in the ability to protect others -- and the more people I had to protect, the more power I held. Whenever one of my own fell, I lost power. If any of my close companions fell --
No. I dared not let that happen.
"Stay behind me," I warned my companions. "There's no time. We have to act now."
No one argued. I moved forward, careful still, trying not to draw attention. I held my own powers inside, but I kept a close watch on Darman. I would trust the others to take care of Potilia and keep her busy for the moment. I would sense if she did anything truly dangerous. But at the moment all I could sense from there was her chaotic rage. That did not help her side.
Darman had an entirely different feeling. Darman marshaled his power, drew a sense of calm and purpose into himself. I suspected that he used Potilia as a kind of shield so that others didn't notice his own state. His actions had not changed; I could see Darman still battled anything that came near him and sent out magic to destroy others, but that was almost mechanical in movement. He was almost ready.
I rushed forward, feeling the magic directed toward Lord Cayman.
"Darman!" I shouted and threw a shield out in front of the others. Just in time, but I wasn't strong --
Cayman's magic joined mine. Then so did others and the magic Darman had so carefully accumulated bounced back and scattered, destroying some his own allies. We had enraged him this time, and that was as dangerous as calculating. Magic swept over us and around us, but I kept my shield in place, protecting the others.
But I would have to do something drastic. No one expected me to step out of the shell as I prepared to cast my first true magic. This would be my only chance.
To Be Continued