I Am the Way: Chapter 8

One morning, Elthinor decided to come along, and we walked to the market in silence; every time we were together in public, he would not talk or look at me. I didn’t mind. I understood all too well the pain of being different. The morning was cool thanks to the thick grey clouds covering the sun, and the village wasn’t buzzing with activity like it usually was. I was glad for the lack of crowds but uneasy. Something doesn’t feel right, I thought as we walked down the now familiar path to the marketplace.

We got to the market, and I was looking at some blueberries, trying to remember whether or not we needed some, when I smelled a musty scent, like that of great age, and I shuddered. Fear filled my heart, and I stopped breathing as I slowly turned. There was a shadow beside a house that was too deep. As soon as I directly looked at it, two pairs of sickly yellow eyes appeared, staring at me. The memory of the first time I saw those eyes overwhelmed me, and I screamed, dropping the basket and backing into the trader’s booth. All the Elves around us glared at me. Elthinor was by my side in an instant, grabbing my arm.

“What is it, Filynora? What’s wrong?” he demanded, his eyes staring into mine.

I did not have the chance to answer as a screech went up that made all the Elves cry out and look toward the noise. For the first time in my life, I saw the creatures that haunted some of my darkest nightmares. Their hair was pure black and stringy, framing narrow, dark grey faces twisted in anger that seemed permanent. They had fangs that were covered in green saliva that oozed down their chins. Their bodies were abnormally thin, like their bones were about to pop out of their skin. They were proved female by the look of their chests, which were covered by tattered black cloth that also wrapped around their waists. Giant bat-like wings sprouted menacingly from their backs and they flexed their claw-like fingers. Their presence caused an odd chill to fall, making the morning even cooler, and the smell of a decaying animal filled the air as they drew closer. But their most disturbing feature was their revolting yellow eyes, which glowed with a disturbing light. I saw fire burning behind those eyes. And they looked right at me.

“Come here, Strangeling!” the taller one hissed.

Elthinor’s eyes were wide and he grabbed my arm and began dragging me back to the house, raising a call: Enemies! Darkness! Fight! I ran beside him, and he practically threw me into the house. He was breathing heavily, his eyes wild with fright.

“Father! Grandfather!” he called. “Aswangs in the village!”

There was a scream of fear from Melanari as she and Selaniam, Elthinor’s mother, hurried into the room. The two Elf-men hurried in with swords. Aloron placed a hand on Elthinor’s shoulder when the lad came back in with his own sword.

“You three stay here,” Gilronin told us then they rushed out.

I ran to the window while the other two huddled back. Many Elves were out there, shouting at each other, trying to drive the creatures back. The Aswangs, as Elthinor had called them, were steadily making their way toward this house. Toward me. I looked back at the two Elf-lasses behind me and knew that they could not fight. I might not have ever had the chance to fight before, but I knew I could if I had to. I also knew I could not put these two Elves in danger just so I could pretend it wasn’t me they were after.

I turned and ran into Elthinor’s room, heading for his bow and arrows. The bow was heavier than I was used to and the quiver didn’t fit right, but I had no time to find my own; my new one had been confiscated, despite my intense objections. I was still displeased about it. As soon as the quiver was situated, I ran to the front door, but I was stopped by a pair of pale, delicate hands.

“Let go of me!” I exclaimed, turning to look at Melanari.

“You can’t go out there!” she said, her voice high with fear and her pink and purple eyes wide with terror. “We just need to stay in here. The males will take care of it! Females are not trained to fight! They are!”

“I have to go!” I growled and tore out of her grasp. “You are in danger and it is because of me.”

I ran outside and was immediately assaulted by somebody yelling for me to go back inside. I ignored him and ran through the village, away from our house. As soon as that thought ran through my head, I realized that my time in the Elven village made me feel like I had a home, but the thought quickly disappeared as I  climbed into a tree then skittered up on top of one of the bigger houses. I took a deep breath and whistled.

“Oy!” I shouted. “Here I am!”

All eyes suddenly turned to me, including the Aswangs’. The Elves were dismayed; I guess they were used to me and were ready to defend me. The Aswangs were pleased to see me. As they took off into the air, I quickly nocked an arrow, aimed, and fired. They were faster than I had anticipated. I struck the shorter one in her right shoulder and she shrieked in pain, but they kept coming. I slid off the roof of the house and ran, not having any idea what I was going to do. Along the outskirts of one side of Ellavendir that I had never been to before, I dove behind a boulder, quieting my breathing as much as I was able. I turned and peeked through a small slit in the boulder, watching the two creatures fly over the last house and pause.

“We know you are there, Strangeling,” one said in her scratchy voice.

“Yes, we can smell you!” the other Aswang laughed.

“Now come out like a good little Strangeling—”

“—so we may take you to our Masters for disposal.”

I shook my head. “No!”

“Then we shall—”

“—take you by force!”

I heard them shriek and watched them dive toward me. I closed my eyes, braced myself, stood, turned, and swiftly fired an arrow. They were higher in the air than I thought they would be, but I got the taller one through the foot; it froze and clawed at the arrow, crying out as it removed it. I ran again during their distraction, ducking back into the village. I turned a corner and nearly slammed into Elthinor. He grabbed me immediately even as recognition dawned on his face.

“What do you think you are doing?” he hissed as he pulled me against the house, and the roof overhang hid us as the Aswangs flew over us, searching for me.

“Protecting your mother and sister,” I whispered back. “They’re after me!”

“What?” he asked, his brow wrinkled in confusion. “Why would they be after you?”

Looking into his eyes and trying desperately to convince him of what I knew to be true, my voice trembled as I spoke. “I don’t know, but they are, Elthinor! They must be.”

Something in my demeanor seemed to convince him and he hurried me out to where I had been before. We went past the boulder, stopping in a small shadowed area surrounded by bushes and trees on three sides and a small, lonely building on the fourth. Above us was another overhung roof to shield us from the sky. He pulled me down and we crouched there breathing heavily.

“Now, why do you think they are after you?” he asked.

“I think they come to our farm every year. I-I have never actually seen them entirely before now, but those eyes…I saw them twice, and I would never forget those eyes. I think they are the creatures that dragged off my father years ago, and they may have taken my mother, too!”

Elthinor looked thoughtful for a moment. “All right. How did you keep them away all these years?”

“A bonfire,” I explained hurriedly. “They don’t like heat and light. That’s why they’re here today: the clouds are covering the sun.”

“Bonfire?” he asked. “I don’t see how we could…Wait a moment! The center of town! The marketplace! We can set the booths on fire!”

“How are we supposed to get there?” I asked. “They are watching for us from the sky!”

“We will have to run,” he said, sounding excited as his cheeks flushed. “We have to beat them. We can sneak through the Nature Beings’ enclosure! Follow me. Swiftly!”

He took off faster than I had ever seen any Human run and I followed. All of a sudden I got the rush I felt when hunting, and I felt a smile curl my lips even as I heard the shriek of the Aswangs spotting us. Elthinor leaped a tall wooden fence, much like the ones that had fenced in our Elementals, and I scrambled up and over, hitting the ground with a grunt. Elthinor pulled me to my feet and began leading me through a hilly area with sparse trees and a stream.

A familiar snippet of song stopped me in my tracks and I looked toward a tree to see Inferno chained to it. I stared at him as I realized that he must have followed me when I was on Rainstorm. Elthinor hurried back to grab my arm, but I shoved him away and took his sword out of the sheath. It was heavier than I had expected, but I ignored that and shattered the chain around the Phoenix’s leg. He squawked as he took off. Elthinor took his sword back and sheathed it again.

“What do you think you are doing?” he demanded, but I had no chance to answer.

The Aswangs dove down, but I screamed as I took off at a dead run with Elthinor beside me. We ducked through bushes and over a small stream then we both leapt the fence on the other side of the enclosure in one bound and kept moving as they swooped down at us. They tried to catch us with their claws but kept missing. There were voices coming closer to us as the rest of the Elves finally caught up, but they weren’t going to be fast enough.

Elthinor and I sprinted into the marketplace and ran for the booths. Without thinking I dove into one and Elthinor followed. Or at least he tried to. The smaller Aswang grabbed his ankle while he was in midair, lifting him up. The taller one grabbed his wrists, turned him right side up and hugged him to her body. He struggled desperately in her grip, but it was to no avail. The smaller one placed her claws against his throat and he froze, looking down at me fearfully. I saw small droplets of red start to ooze down his neck as both the horrible creatures glared at me.

“Give it up, Strangeling or else—”

“—we shall kill this Elfling!”

I decided that I could not let Elthinor die, not for me. I wasn’t worth it. I slowly stood and climbed out of the stall. Immediately the smaller one lunged forward and grabbed me, laughing victoriously. She held my arms so that I could not even use the bow, and I realized firsthand why Elthinor’s struggles had been fruitless. The Elves were gathering below us, but it was too late, just as I knew it would be.

“Silly Strangeling.”

“We always win!”

“Elthinor!” Aloron shouted as he came into our view, staring up in horror. “Filynora!”

How could I have gotten Elthinor involved in this? As the Elves began to fumble with their arrows, I noticed a streak of red and gold out of the corner of my eye. I turned to look at it. My Phoenix sat on one of the booths. The Aswang had not bothered to cover my mouth, so I uttered the only word that I could think of to save us both.

Flaren!” I bellowed.

The Phoenix caught fire, the flames spreading to the cloth of the booth. The Aswang holding me, who happened to be right beside the fire, shrieked and dropped me, flying away from the scalding heat of the fire. I landed hard on my belly then hopped up to my feet, slinging the bow off my back and grabbing an arrow. The two creatures were leaving so I only had one shot to stop them from taking Elthinor with them. The Elves were shooting at the creatures, but the creatures were too fast. I nocked my arrow and fired, ignoring the raw heat blazing behind me.

I hit my target if not my mark, the arrow sinking into the taller one’s shoulder. She yowled and dropped Elthinor, who let out a scream of pain as he fell. I gestured for Inferno to catch him. Inferno let out a dulcet tone and put his flames out before speeding over to catch my Elven friend. He lowered the Elf gently to the ground before flitting over to sit in the middle of the fire to watch us. I immediately saw the cause of Elthinor’s cry of pain: four long gouges running across his right side. I glared up at the Aswangs who were circling me high above the fire. I pulled another arrow and fired. Then I repeated the action again and again.

“Don’t you think you’re safe!” the taller one shouted angrily as they dodged my arrows.

“We will be back!” the other one yelled. “But first—”

They both began talking at once. “If you come after us, child, you shall surely die. If you don’t, she will die!”

They threw something at me then flew off, the beating of their wings getting louder as they got farther away. I picked up the dusty object and froze, my eyes widening when I realized what it was. I bit my bottom lip and just stared at it, unable to look away and unwilling to accept what it meant. Elthinor reached up with his right hand as if to comfort me; his left hand was covered in blood from holding his wounded side

“You’re crying,” he stated softly as Aloron and Gilronin rushed over to see us. “Why?”

I held out the object that the creatures had thrown, revealing a dusty bracelet. It was turquoise and in the shape of a group of vines curled together with flowers blooming around it. It had been a gift from my father to my mother. She had never, ever taken it off except to bathe, and she always put it in a special spot where she knew she would not lose it. I wiped my tears away as the Elves surrounded us and answered Elthinor in a whisper, my voice sounding broken with my sorrow.

“They did take my mother. They are going to kill her if I don’t follow them.”

“But they will kill you if you do follow them!” he whispered desperately. “They said so themselves!”

I did not answer him as the Elves swarmed around us. Gilronin pointedly ignored me, but Aloron carefully looked at my own cuts, which I hadn’t noticed in my rush to save Elthinor, while Gilronin thoroughly examined his son. We were taken back to the house and seen to by a kind Elven doctor with designs of orange and yellow. Melanari and Selaniam were frantic and kept bringing water for me to drink. I had a feeling Elthinor was getting the same treatment I was. He was in Aloron’s room, and I was still in his room. I had hidden the bracelet before anybody could ask about it. It was the only item I had left of my mother, the rest having burned in the fire. I missed her terribly. When the excitement had died down and I was left alone to rest, I lay back against the soft pillows, hoping desperately that she was well.

 

https://www.amazon.com/Am-Way-Book-Scrolls-Trilogy-ebook/dp/B00W4I8ZEY?ie=UTF8&*Version*=1&*entries*=0

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I Am the Way: Chapter 7

Elthinor visited me the next afternoon, bright-eyed and cheerful. It was another beautiful sunny day, and the window was open, beckoning the cool breeze in. When he walked into the room, he greeted me jovially, happy to see me. That was new for me. Nobody I knew besides my mother was ever happy to see me.

“Greetings, Filynora. I trust you are not so tired today?” the Elf asked, standing just inside the doorway.

“I feel better,” I replied, smiling back at him. “I am still quite sore though.”

“Not surprising. My grandfather told me that you looked as if you had been on the horse’s back for at least a day and a half,” he said absentmindedly, swaying back and forth on his feet.

I noticed his hands were behind his back. “What are you hiding?” I asked, narrowing my eyes at him; I was still a bit wary of these Elves. The stories I had heard growing up did not dissipate so easily.

He smiled guiltily and brought out a package. “I am not as skilled as my sister is, but I fixed it up for you.”

I arched an eyebrow as I took the gift and began to unwrap it. A dark green dress was revealed, and I could not help but grimace. I felt guilty when his face immediately fell.

“You don’t like it?” he asked.

“It is not that I don’t like it, but I don’t usually wear dresses,” I replied honestly.

“But you must wear a dress if you are to go outside. You certainly can’t wear the rags you came in. They are sooty and torn. Besides that, they’re clothes for a lad not a lass. And you can’t wear that nightgown out either. My sister would not appreciate you flashing around her night clothes.”

I could understand his point, even if I did not like it. Besides I had nothing else to wear. So I nodded and watched him close the door behind him as he left me to change. I pulled the curtains in front  of the window then gingerly stripped out of the nightgown and pulled the dress on. It was as soft as a flower petal and ended a few inches past my knees. Along the bottom edge were silver flowers, reminding me of the flower on Elthinor’s cheek. The sleeves were short—which was something new for me as all my old dresses were long-sleeved—and allowed my arms to move around unhindered. I sat back down on the bed as Elthinor knocked quietly.

“Are you ready, Filynora? May I see?” he asked through the door.

“Come in,” I said.

He entered and his eyes lit up. “Oh that’s quite lovely. It fits just as I thought it would!”

“How did you know it would fit?” I asked, picking at the fabric, uncomfortably aware of what I was wearing.

“You are about the same size as my sister,” he answered as he sat beside me. “You look very nice,” he added with a shy smile.

I forced a smile. “The fabric is comfortable. But why did you give me this?”

His smile faded and he rubbed the back of his neck, bringing my attention back to his long hair. “Well, Father says you are to be our errand girl. A servant. Grandfather tried to argue with him, but he is certain about it and will not be swayed. He told me I am to show you around the village today and give you your list of chores to do every day.”

I felt my face fall, but instead of the anger I expected, I felt resignation and acceptance. A soft voice whispered through my head, telling me to do as I was told; it sounded suspiciously like the man in white. I took a breath and nodded at Elthinor.

“Show me what I am to do then.”

He handed me a basket before leading me outside. I was stiff and sore, so I took a moment to stretch before I followed. I froze outside the door, staring at the village. The town looked different from my village of Paxtonvale. Instead of plain dirt streets, stones and flowers of every color lined the paths, which weren’t loose dirt, but packed down so much that it was smooth. The houses weren’t as rough looking as the Human houses I was used to. Instead, they were smooth wooden structures that were actually painted. There were beautiful plants and trees painted so well that they looked real. I realized that these Elves were plant-centric, especially if it grew in the forest. I was so amazed at the sights that greeted my eyes that I did not realize Elthinor was tugging on my arm until he spoke.

“Filynora, we need to move,” he said gently, still tugging on my arm.

“Oh. Sorry,” I apologized and followed him down the path that cut from the front door through the soft grass to connect with the road.

As soon as we left the yard, Elthinor grew tense, and his eyes dropped to the ground. I realized why in the next second.

“Hey look!” a male voice called. “Elthinor is a Follower!”

The sound of the youth laughing made me angry, and I decided to help out the poor Elf. I hummed then played up the servant role I had been given. Using my sweetest, most humble voice I spoke.

“Young sir,” I began softly. “Why do they insult you so?”

“Young sir, she says!” laughed one Elf. “He is no sir, Human! If anything, he is a madam!”

I wanted to turn and slug the Elf boy who said that. Just because Elthinor was shy and quiet did not make him a girl. I felt my temper rise, but just as I turned to tell the lad what I thought of him, Elthinor placed a hand on my arm.

“Filynora, let’s go,” Elthinor said quietly.

We walked away to the laughter of the mean Elves behind us. I looked at Elthinor whose face was red in embarrassment. I frowned and touched his shoulder, ignoring the Elves staring at me curiously or, in most cases, with disgust.

“Thank you for trying,” Elthinor mumbled, not even glancing at me.

“Why do you let them do that? Fight back!”

“That’s easy for you to say,” Elthinor muttered, shaking off my hand. “You have no idea of what it is like.”

I don’t know what it is like?” I asked incredulously. “There is a boy in my village who always bothers me. He pushes me around and threatens to hurt me all the time. He uses his words to insult me and his physical strength to intimidate me.” I paused to let it sink in. “Still think I don’t know what it’s like?”

Elthinor shrugged as we took the middle route out of three when the path split . “It is not the same.”

“Of course it is not the same. I am a girl, which makes it worse! I don’t have enough muscle to defend myself. You do, so why not fight back?”

“I am not strong enough!” he spat, his eyes darkening with anger as he turned on me. “Don’t you think I have tried fighting back? There are just too many of them. They surround me and beat me. Father told me that if I can’t win, I should not fight.”

I stared at him for a moment as we began to move again. We walked in silence for another couple of minutes, finally ending up in the center of the village. The market was much bigger than ours with so much more to offer. The booths were all covered by brightly colored cloths and everything looked cheerful. I was reminded again just how gloomy Paxtonvale was. There were fruits of all sorts, some that I had never seen before and some that were out of season. I wondered how that was possible. Elthinor sighed and stood straight, drawing my attention from the market stands to him as he began to instruct me.

“Every week you are supposed to come here and pick up whatever my mother and sister need. The fruits that you definitely need every week are apples, strawberries, cherries, and grapes,” he said, picking them up as he listed them and placing them in the basket. “You’ll also need to grab carrots and several loaves of bread.”

He guided me around the market and pointed out the various shops after we had what we needed. Once I had seen all there was to see, at least in the marketplace, we walked back to his house. The house from the outside was all smooth wood, just like all the other buildings, with beautiful flowers out in a garden, some of which were multicolored. I had never seen flowers like those before in real life. Only in that dream. A beautiful Elf woman was out in the garden, a pale green tree with pink flowers on one cheek and a pink doe in soft green grass on the other. She looked up as we approached and smiled.

“Hello, son. Are you showing the Human around? Does she understand everything?” she asked lightly and a little condescendingly.

“She is not stupid, mother,” Elthinor argued quietly, though he still sounded respectful. “She understands things just as you and I do.”

Elthinor’s mother gave him a patient smile that clearly said she was humoring him and nodded. Elthinor sighed heavily and shrugged.

“Oh, never mind. Come on Filynora. Let’s put the produce up.”

I followed him into the house, through a hallway, across the main room, into an entirely separate room which looked to be a kitchen, and finally to a pantry. We set the goods on the various shelves and closed the door. I glanced over at Elthinor, and he seemed more relaxed now that we were inside the house. I knew exactly how he felt.

“So, what do I do now?” I asked.

“Well,” he said slowly after a rather long pause. “I can show you where the broom is?”

I frowned then shrugged. “Fine. Lead the way.”

My life quickly fell into a pattern in Ellavendir. I would go to the market every morning, put away the various items, clean the house, and then get most of the afternoon off to spend with Elthinor. He and I taught each other many talents and ideas. I taught him how to wield a knife and he taught me how to make a bow from scratch, which was great. I had needed a new one. I showed him my skill with the bow and he showed me his skills with bow and sword. We discussed in depth the differences between our cultures, as much as we knew at least. It was a peaceful time.

His sister Melanari found it odd how I would rather spend time with Elthinor than with her. I just did not want to be her living doll. I had spent time with her once only to be dressed up in many of her dresses while she went on about some of the other Elf girls and what they were doing. I did not follow half of what she said and I did not know any other Elven girls, so the stories never made sense to me. Besides, the conversations—more like monologues, actually—seemed to have no point. I just could not stand talking about things that ultimately led to nothing. I would much rather talk about weapons with Elthinor, or even better and more interesting, Elven culture. Especially now that he wasn’t nearly as shy around me as he was around everybody else.

Most of my conversations with Elthinor started out light and joking, but they often led to deep discussions about our cultures and their similarities and differences. I discovered how lackluster Human culture was compared to Elven, at least in my opinion, but my knowledge of Human culture outside Paxtonvale was lacking. I could not answer many of his questions asking for details into Human trade and travel, or the different jobs that appeared in the cities, towns, and villages. Indeed, I had started to feel stupid because of it.

“How do you know so much about Elven culture?” I asked crossly one day, avoiding yet another question.

He tilted his head, staring at me with his strange silver and green eyes. “Do you not get a formal education?”

“Formal education?”

“I take that as a no,” Elthinor said, biting his bottom lip.

“Well what does formal education entail?” I demanded.

“Well, young Elf lads are supposed to go and learn to read and write and learn of the history of Elves. We are also taught basic counting skills and the different trades.”

I stared at him. “You’ve learned all of that?”

“Yes. It is mandatory for Elves…male Elves,” he corrected, looking warily at me. “Though female Elves do learn to read and write.”

I snorted at that. “I take it females also learn to sew and quilt and garden?”

“All Elves garden,” Elthinor replied immediately. “That is not restricted by sex.”

“Why not?” I asked, not really expecting an answer.

“Because…plants are…there is this connection…I mean I…Oh! I can’t explain it! It would be wrong to keep an Elf from plants, no matter their sex.”

I stared at him curiously. What an odd explanation, I thought. He seemed uncomfortable, so I changed the subject back to education, which led it into an insightful discussion about Ellavendir and how it contributed medicinal herbs and some fruits, such as apples, to the Elven kingdom.

All in all, I was happy with my life, despite my servant status. The village was fun to explore, and, since most of the Elves had gotten used to me, I was mostly ignored. I was constantly amazed at how different their building style was from ours. Not only that, but there was just so much color! On the sunny days, Paxtonvale was all browns and grays, with maybe a few green blades of grass sticking through the loose dirt or mud, depending on how much rain had fallen. But Ellavendir had greens and reds and blues and yellows, not only from the flowers that seemed to be everywhere that wasn’t a path, but the rainbows and flowers and plants carved and painted onto every piece of wood that was big enough.

Not only that, but the Elves themselves had so much color. Each one had two designs on his or her face, and each one had two different colors that their bodies were based around. Each design was different in some way, even if it was the same as somebody else’s. I also realized that in the right light, the designs sort of sparkled slightly, especially in moonlight. I had never seen anything like it. Needless to say, I was greatly enjoying my stay in Ellavendir.

 

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I Am the Way: Chapter 6

I slowly came back to consciousness only to find myself on the softest bed I had ever been in. The blankets covering me were smooth beneath my hands, and I had never felt before the kind of cloth before. I was so comfortable, relaxed, and warm that I almost fell back asleep. But just before I did, I felt fingers lightly trace my cheek. At first I did not move, thinking my mother was just checking on me. Then my mind remembered her disappearance. My eyes flew open and I stared at the strangest boy I had ever laid eyes on.

He was crouching on the edge of the bed, one hand to the right of my body holding himself up, the other hovering above my face. A necklace dangled from his throat, one of the first things I noticed. Then I saw that his entire color scheme seemed to be based on green and silver. His face was right above mine and I could see that the irises of his eyes were a deep, dark green edged with a narrow ragged band of silver which was smooth on the outside where it met the whites. The other side of the silver spiked into the green yet was divided by a thin black line so that neither color touched the other. The silver stood out against the greens, naturally drawing the eye. But his eyes were nothing compared to his face, which was by far fairer than any face I had ever seen. In fact it looked sort of feminine, at least to me, despite him clearly being male.

Green and silver started at the inside corner of his right eye and swept up around and above his eyebrow—also silver and green—before curling in on itself like a vine then blooming into an intricate silver flower on the upper part of his cheek. The left side of his face was a swath of intertwined green and silver that traced just along the edge of his jaw then branched off into an upside down tree-like pattern with swirls at the tips of the branches. It was hauntingly beautiful, and I wondered who had painted such a masterpiece on, not canvas, but skin. Then I noticed his hair. His hair was various shades of green with silver streaks gathered into braids scattered throughout. He was mesmerizing, but I quickly grew scared.

His face looked startled as he realized I was awake, and he jerked his hand back with a soft cry of surprise, moving backwards to crouch on the balls of his bare feet, on which I saw what looked like blooming flowers in silver set at the end of green vines. I jerked upright in shock, ignoring the pain that streaked through me. I pressed back against the headboard with my mouth open and my eyes wide, holding the blanket up against my chest as if it would protect me. The strange boy suddenly looked panicked and shook his head, holding up his hands and leaping backwards off the bed to land almost silently on the floor.

He began speaking frantically, his voice, even in panic, soft and melodic. “I know what you are thinking. Please don’t-” I let out a scream. “…scream,” he finished weakly, his hands dropping to his sides. His eyes darted to the door and he looked resigned as it burst open quite suddenly.

Another strange looking person, a man, came inside. Where the boy’s face was green and silver, the man had blue and a warm gold, though it was not the same patterns. His right cheek design looked like the wispy outline of a blue wolf howling to a golden moon or sun and his left was golden flames with blue smoke curling out of it. His eyes were blue and gold. He looked directly at the boy and frowned. When he spoke, his voice was nothing like the boy’s. It was more grating and held an edge that indicated gruffness and a lack of sympathy.

“Elthinor! What did I tell you? You can look at the Human when she is better,” he snapped, marching over and grabbing the young one’s pointed ear. He looked at me, his eyes a little hostile. “I am sorry, girl. I shall get him out,” he said, not sounding sorry at all.

I watched as the man dragged the boy out, the latter pleading with the man and repeatedly saying how sorry he was. I stared at the open doorway then looked around the room. The room itself was handsome and made of intricately carved wood polished to a shine. Even the floor was wooden, instead of stone or dirt, which was such a novel idea that I spent a good couple of minutes staring at the floor. I finally looked up again, noting how brightly lit the room was. Sunshine poured in from a window set in the wall across from the bed I was in.

I had a feeling I was in the boy’s room by the colors, which dazzled me, though not as much as the dream colors had. The blanket was green with silver stars strewn across it. Around the bottom edge of the room, plants of all kinds were painted, all in green with silver flowers. Off to one side a bow hung on the wall and a workbench had a quiver of arrows hung at the corner, but neither of the items were mine. In fact, I did not see my pack or my weapons anywhere in the room, which worried me slightly. I was in a strange place, so I would like to know where my weapons were.

“Oh good, you’re awake!” a cheerful, familiar sounding voice said.

I turned to see yet another strange man. This one was clearly older than the others in both appearance and in the look of weariness in his eyes. His colors were black and red. His right cheek held the same wispy kind of lines that the blue and gold man had, but they formed a bird instead of a wolf; the bird’s eye was red. On his left cheek was a red flower with a black stem and leaves. His eyes were black edged with red. It made him look scary, but he sounded so kind that I replied.

“Um, hello,” I said shyly. “Who…who are you?”

“I am Aloron,” he said kindly.

Somewhere in my mind, I recognized the name, but that was the least of my concerns. “Where am I?”

“You are in the town of Ellavendir,” Aloron answered. “But that is not important at the moment. Are you well?”

“I…I feel all right. Sore, but overall fine. Why?”

“That is good. Very good,” he said, not acknowledging my question. “Did my grandson scare you?”

“Um, the silver and green one?” I asked hesitantly.

“Yes. The silver and green one,” he said, obviously amused at my query.

“I…did not expect to see him. He startled me,” I said weakly.

The man shook his head and smiled. “The lad is too curious for his own good. He just wanted to look at you. He meant no harm. Now, I will check on you later, dear. I have chores to do. Gilronin should keep Elthinor out so you can rest. Goodbye now.”

I stared after him as he closed the door, more confused than before. The way they painted their faces was something I had never seen before; many things in this strange place were new to me, like the paintings around the baseboards in the room. Though the men sometimes painted their faces in our village, it was only for the hunting parties. More specifically, Elemental hunting parties. Even then, it was nothing so intricate.

After that, nobody came back into the room for a long while. I tried to get up once, but I was so sore that I immediately lay back down.  The bed was comfortable, so I dozed for a while but quickly got tired of that, so I thought. My thoughts circled around, going from the fire at my home to these new strange men to the man in white from my dreams to what happened to my home, but they always came back around to the man in white. I was still so curious about him, but there was no way I could see to learn more, so I simply reflected on all I had observed in the dream.

I must have eventually fallen asleep amidst my thoughts because I suddenly became aware of somebody touching my face again. I opened my eyes to see the silver and green boy, who leaped away from me again, this time as if I were burning him, and he covered his ears as he winced. This time I somewhat expected it, so I decided not to scream, and he gradually relaxed and began edging back toward me as I sat up. His eyes were shy, like the eyes of the girls at the village when one of the older boys talked to them.

“Hello,” I said.

He lowered his eyes and shifted his weight from foot to foot. “Hello.”

There was awkward silence for a moment. “What’s your name?”

“Elthinor,” he said quietly. “Yours?”

“Filynora.”

Elthinor frowned in confusion. “That does not sound strange. Human names are supposed to be strange.”

I stared at him, well aware of being called ‘Human.’

“Why do you say it like that?”

“Say what?”

“’Human names,’” I repeated.

“I am so sorry, but I don’t understand,” he said, his brow knitted.

I stared at his strange face with a new intensity and sat up, reaching over to touch his cheek. He flinched but did not move away, and his eyes followed my hand. The green and silver I had expected to flake off beneath my touch did not do so. It…seemed to be a part of his skin. At this realization, I jerked my hand back.

“You…you are not Human, are you?” I stammered, my eyes wide.

“Me? Human?” he asked and laughed. “I am no Human! I am an Elf!”

My jaw dropped. “But you can’t be an Elf,” I argued when I found my voice. “Elves are dark and cruel and ugly. You don’t seem to be anything like that.”

Elthinor’s eyes were wide. “Who told you that?”

“The elders in my village. They sometimes tell stories about how you go to Human settlements and kill everybody you see then take the live children and eat them…” I trailed off as Elthinor suddenly looked offended, and he crossed his arms.

“That is absolutely ridiculous! I don’t know a single Elf who has even been to a Human settlement, let alone been on a killing spree. And we most certainly would not eat a child, no matter the race.” His expression suddenly morphed into a curious one. “But what about you? Humans are supposed to be filthy, rude creatures, not as bad as Satyrs, but still, dirty, horrid creatures not even near Elven standards. You seem quite clean and kind, now that you are not screaming, at least, and you seem to have a bond with the Nature Beings. How is that?”

“Nature Beings? You mean the Elementals?” I asked, my eyebrow going up.

“If that is what you call the animals that spout elements, then yes,” Elthinor said with a smile. “They are fascinating creatures, but I am not allowed to be around them. I don’t have the training.”

I snorted in amusement. “You don’t need training to be around them. Sure you need to be careful until they are used to you, but other than that, no training needed.”

Elthinor shook his head, and he sat down on the edge of the bed. “Maybe not for Humans, but we Elves are strict about it. They are quite dangerous. I don’t know how you Humans can be around them without being afraid.”

I laughed softly. “I am the only Human I know who is not afraid of them. Everybody else wants them dead.”

“But you are a girl,” he said, his brow knitted in confusion. “If a mere girl is unafraid of them, why are the men not unafraid as well? It makes no sense.”

Warm anger flooded through me at those words. “What do you mean by that exactly?”

The tone of my voice must have alarmed him, and he backtracked. “I simply meant that a man has fewer fears than a woman.”

“What gives you that idea?” I demanded, narrowing my eyes at him.

He looked frightened and began shrinking away from me. “Well, you see,” he squeaked nervously. “Females are the more delicate sex. They are frightened more easily because they can’t protect themselves as a male can. It is true of the Elven race and, as far as I have seen in my experience, which is limited, the Human race as well. I am sure the other races are just the same. It is nothing against you, Filynora. It is just that in all my experience your sex is, well, fragile.”

I was about to argue, about to slap him, about to remedy his opinion when Tynan’s words, and more prominently his actions, came to my mind. Then my thoughts moved to the way I had been raised to think, even if I disagreed. The anger drained out of me and I slumped back against the feather pillows, suddenly feeling downcast. Elthinor looked surprised and leaned toward me, his eyes concerned.

“Are you all right?” he asked gently.

“I am sorry,” I said sadly. “I suppose I should learn my place, right?” I asked dejectedly.

Elthinor stared at me for a moment before sitting back upright. He looked as if he were thinking. He played with his hands for a few minutes before speaking, his voice thoughtful and kind.

“You don’t act like any Elf-maiden I know,” he said slowly. “I don’t think your place is with them or any female for that matter. It just does not seem likely that you will be a complacent little wife and housekeeper.”

“If I don’t marry, what will happen to me?” I asked; that question had been haunting me for a couple of years. “A woman is supposed to start a family, whether she wants one or not,” I added bitterly.

He smiled at me and shook his head. “I don’t know about what will happen to you, but my grandfather thinks it is something big. He says you have a feeling of importance around you. The same feeling he has had around some Elves. They are Elves that are now leaders and councilors to the Elf King, and Elves who have done valiant deeds and fought Satyrs.”

I thought about that for a moment. I just could not believe that I could ever be destined for something important. I was a girl. Men were the ones destined for the important things in life. They were the ones who became warriors and heroes. At least they did in the stories the elders told. There were never any stories about girls or women doing amazing acts, and rightly so, I thought. Who wants to hear about our lives when they are filled with the raising of children and the mundane tasks of everyday life when they could hear about men who slay Elementals (my least favorite stories) or Elves, and take great risks to save the women who will bear their offspring. I frowned. It made women seem like just some prize to be won. I did not like that or agree, but the culture screamed against what I thought.

“Why do you look sad?” Elthinor asked, reaching over and tentatively placing a hand on my shoulder.

“Because I know you can’t be right. I am just a girl,” I said matter-of-factly. “And girls don’t do anything of importance.”

Elthinor frowned. “Normally I would agree with you, though it might make you mad to hear that. But you came to our village on an Aqua horse. That is impressive. I would have to agree with my grandfather.”

I smiled at him, holding back a laugh as his expression brightened at the look. “You know something? I like you. I have never met an Elf before. Are you all like this?”

He winced and looked at his hands again, and for the first time I noticed more designs on the backs of his hands. “Not really. A lot of Elves are mad that my grandfather brought you here. They don’t like Humans.”

I had expected that so I wasn’t too upset. “Why are you being nice to me then?” I asked sincerely.

He opened his mouth to say something then closed it. His features scrunched together as he thought about it. While he did, I looked out the window to see thick forest past a stretch of green grass. The house, I concluded, must be at the edge of this Ellavendir if the forest was the only thing to be seen past it. I watch birds flit to and fro before landing on branches, no doubt singing to each other, though I could not hear it this far away.

“I am not sure,” he finally said, drawing my attention back to his face. “If somebody had told me a week ago I would be a host to a Human and that I would not mind it, let alone like it, there would have been a fight. I could not stand to be called a…” He trailed off and watched me hesitantly, gauging my reaction to his pause.

“A what?” I queried, a bit impatient.

“Well, a Follower.”

“What is a Follower?” I asked, confused.

“They are zealots. They have odd beliefs, though I am not fully sure of what they believe. But they are adamant about being kind to all of the races, even Satyrs because we were all made at the same time and were meant to be friends. I think,” he added as an afterthought.

“So being a Follower is bad?”

“Most Elves consider it to be. My grandfather is the only Follower who is not made fun of and that is because he is so respected and does not push his beliefs on anybody. He does share them every chance he gets, but there is debate about whether they have proof of their beliefs. Oh, by the way,” he said suddenly. “You might want to thank him. He is the reason you weren’t left for dead.”

“Really?” I asked, raising my eyebrows. “I suppose I do owe him thanks then,” I said with a half shrug.

“No need for thanks, my dear.”

Elthinor and I both jumped, turning our heads at the same time to see Aloron leaning against the doorframe and watching us with those creepy eyes. He pushed himself to stand and walked over to the bed, looking over us with a crooked smile on his face. The Elf did not seem angry at all, though I suspected Elthinor was still supposed to be leaving me alone. In fact, he seemed glad to see us talking together, if his next words were anything to go by.

“I can’t believe my eyes,” Aloron said, rubbing his grandson’s head and messing up his hair. “My grandson, a Human-loving Follower, like me!” The horrified look on Elthinor’s face said it all, and Aloron laughed. “I am just kidding, Elthinor. But you do seem to be enjoying your time with the Human.”

Elthinor looked at the ground. “It is easy to forget she is Human when you are talking to her,” he said quietly. “She seems so…normal.” I was skeptical of that statement but tried not to show it.

“Do you mean to say they are not as different from us as everybody thinks?” the older Elf asked gently.

“I did not say that,” Elthinor said quickly, glancing warily at me. “But…no, they are not. Filynora is kind and definitely clean.”

Aloron chuckled. “That is wonderful, Elthinor. Now, I hate to tear you away from what I assume is a fascinating discussion, but it is time for you to help your sister with the chores that you have been neglecting all day. Let Filynora rest. She needs it.”

Elthinor nodded, stood, and hurried out the door, throwing a goodbye over his shoulder along with a smile. Aloron smiled at me as well and followed the silver and green Elf, closing the door behind him. I let my head fall back and closed my eyes, thinking about my conversation with the Elf boy. I liked him. He wasn’t overly bold and self-assured like the other boys I knew. It was a nice change.

 

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I Am the Way: Chapter 5

I wrapped the last of the dried meat and placed it carefully in my pack then sat back on my heels to look over my handiwork, a smile curling my lips at what I saw. I had spent the rest of the day packing the remainder of my things. I wasn’t sure why, but I believed every word the man in white had said. He had seemed so trustworthy, so pure, as if he had never done anything wrong in his whole existence, and, though it seemed impossible, it seemed equally impossible for him to do something wrong. There was just something about him…

Ember bumped into my back, interrupting my thoughts and making me smile sadly as I turned to look at him. I would miss him dearly. The Elementals would need to be released before I left. Even though I had tamed them, they were still wild animals. They always would be. I wasn’t worried about them, because I knew they could take care of themselves, but just thinking about not having them around made my eyes burn with tears. I bit my lip as I held them back with sheer force of will. They were the only friends I had ever had, and to leave them…It wasn’t going to be a good day tomorrow.

Shaking my head to clear away the depressing thoughts, I yawned and stretched before standing. I just had to feed the animals one last time then go to bed. In the morning I would be leaving, probably for a long time. As I walked outside, I could hear the buzz of Raine as she hovered along the edge of the water pen. All the animals were crowded at the edges of their pens as close to the house as they could get without going past the ropes. They could sense that something was wrong. I had always known they understood more than the average animal. They were definitely not ‘dumb animals.’

Dusty nuzzled me when I went in to feed him. I giggled when he licked me and pet his head affectionately, making sure to scratch behind his ears. I pressed a kiss into his dust-filled fur before I went in to the next pen. I went through and kissed one after another, putting years of affection and love into them. I was going to miss the strange creatures. They made me feel not so lonely. They made me feel like I belonged. I looked around my home, from the crudely built shed to the animal pens, from the river to the forest, and from the fire pit to the house. I would miss this place terribly.

It was my whole life’s work, raising these creatures to work what I wanted them to, yet…it seemed so empty. What had I truly achieved? Honestly? Nothing. Everything was so fragile, including life. If I died, nobody would care, and my Elementals would run off into the forest to be killed by some Human wanting to prove how manly he was. I knew if they were free, they were unlikely to be hunted like that. When I was gone, they would feel no more need to behave for a Human. They would go back to their wild ways.

I looked around at everything again, and a thought popped into my head: was there more than this? I hoped so, but I doubted I would ever find it. I was just a simple girl. To top it off, I was strange. I was nothing worthwhile, nothing anybody wanted or needed. I just…was. Leaving might be the best option for me, I thought miserably. Then, at least, I would not bother the village. If they were lucky, I might be found and captured by those evil Elves and made a slave. I sighed. My relationship with the villagers was complicated. Most of the time I ignored them and their harsh words, but at low points in my life, it all came flooding back and affected me badly.

The weather itself seemed to beg me to stay. Unlike the previous night’s storms, the evening was clear; it was going to be one of those perfect, rare nights. I stood at the door of the house, watching the sunset. It was one of the most beautiful I had ever seen, with each color melting into the next: yellow into orange, orange into red, red into pink, pink into purple, and purple into the deep, dark blue that was the night sky. I watched until the only color left in the sky was dark blue, near black, and the stars were winking in the night before I sighed and lowered my head.

I called Ember inside and sat on the bed, looking around the place as I pulled off my shoes. The room wasn’t fancy. It had a table in one corner near the fireplace with a doorway leading off to my mother’s room. There was a chair off to the side where my mother would rock beside the fire while she sewed or knit. It was simple, attesting to my mother’s lifestyle. At this moment, I felt as if I had complicated even that. The man in white had even said it was my fault that she and Father had been captured, which made me even more confused and miserable. I did not understand.

I took a deep breath and lay back, staring blankly at the ceiling. Ember jumped up beside me and I pet him, smiling kindly at him. He whined and laid down right beside me, looking at me like he knew something was off. I finally forced my eyes closed and for the first time in a few days, fell into a deep, restful sleep.

There was peaceful blackness, nothing but rest. Suddenly the man in white appeared, his face showing worry.

“Get up, Filynora. You must awaken! Now!”

I gasped and sat bolt upright, my chest heaving. Ember was growling at the door. Hours had passed, judging by the moon hanging so far across the sky that I saw it out the window. But that wasn’t the only light. There was flickering orange light, too. Immediately, I smelled smoke, and one look told me it wasn’t coming from Ember. I slipped my shoes on, opening the door to see the shed in flames. I looked with horror at the many shadows in our yard, some of them carrying torches toward the house. One noticed me and began rushing toward me. I gasped in fear. How could the shadow creatures get so close to fire?

I slammed the door and grabbed my quiver of arrows and my pack, slinging them one after the other over my back. I put on my belt, slipping my knife in the sheath. Grabbing my bow, I opened the door again to see Tynan’s face lighted by the torch in his hand. Relief flooded me when I realized the shadows were Humans. The relief quickly turned to fear when he gave me an angry look.

“Red-eyed devil freak!” he spat, waving the fire in my face.

I screamed and ducked under his arms, Ember dashing out behind me, howling and glowing himself. I made a beeline for the Elementals, slamming past men and boys of all ages and taking in the scene. The forest was untouched by the fire, being so far away from the house and the shed, but the Elemental’s pens were dangerously close to catching fire. My pets, I realized at that moment, were too well trained. They were running around their pens wildly, except for the fire Elementals, but they weren’t trying to get out. The heat from the flames licked at my feet as I slung the bow over my shoulder and pulled my knife, slicing the ropes one by one and freeing them. They ran toward the cool darkness of the forest, and I was about to follow when one thought stopped me—the horses!

I sprinted toward their pasture, the many voices creating confusion. I got to the fence and began to work the gate open. To my dismay, it was stuck. I was grabbed from behind, and I screamed again, kicking back at whoever had me. There was a cry of pain, and I looked back to see that Ember had slammed into him, catching his clothes on fire. The man made a mad dash to the stream as I put my dagger back into the sheath, kicking at the bottom of the wooden fence. Finally, just when I was feeling desperate, a particularly hard kick made the bottom beam break, and I pulled the gate open, whistling for the horses.

They ran toward me, squealing in fright from the noise and fire. I stepped out of the way and saw everybody coming for me with ropes. As Rainstorm ran by, I grabbed his mane and pulled myself up. He tossed his head as my weight settled on his back but kept running away from the flickering flames. I felt tears in my eyes as I watched my home burn, sending smoke up high into the air. I watched for as long as I could before my view was obscured by the trees.

There was a yip to the right of me, and I looked to see Ember keeping up with us. Amidst my sorrow there was a small seed of happiness that he was safe, but it was quickly swallowed by my misery. It was all too sudden, too much, and I buried my face into Rainstorm’s cool, blue mane, losing myself. I was aware of the pulsing beat of the horse’s running but could not focus on anything past that. I wasn’t aware of the passage of time, but the rhythm of running lulled me into a half conscious state. Each breath hurt slightly, and I was sure I had inhaled some smoke, but again, I could not bring myself to care.

After an unknown amount of time, I became aware that the running was slowing, and the horse’s movements had started becoming jerky. Suddenly Rainstorm reared up and I slid off his back, landing on the hard ground. There was angry growling and barking from Ember, followed by a yelping whimper. I lay on the ground in the quiet aftermath, my arm across my eyes, and vaguely realized I was hearing male voices. A hand gently moved my arm and felt my forehead.

“She has no fever,” one of the voices said.

“You are sure it is a she? Look at the way it is dressed,” a second voice said.

“Her face looks too soft for her to be a boy,” another one put in.

“We should bring her back to town,” the first one said. “She has obviously been through disaster.”

“Why should we? She is Human. Let her die,” the third voice said haughtily.

“She is a girl, not a man. She will not be able to harm us,” the second voice argued.

There was silence for a moment. “Let us bring her back,” a new voice said. “She does not deserve to die because of her kind’s attitude. She was riding an Aqua Horse, which proves she is different.”

There was muttered agreement, and strong arms picked me up and placed me back on my horse. I dimly wondered why the horse had not run away. When my head nestled against Rainstorm’s neck again, I felt a rope and realized that these men had captured him. Judging by the shuffling feet, they had caught a couple other creatures, too. My thoughts turned to the whining of Ember, and I became worried. I was about to sit up, or at least attempt to, when I felt a warm tongue lick my hand, which was hanging down to the side.

“See! Even the Hellhound is kind to her! There is something quite unique about this one,” the fourth voice said excitedly.

“Yes, yes,” the first one said again. “You’ve made your point Aloron! We must go if we plan to get home before dark, though.”

“Let us go then,” Aloron said, a strange happiness in his voice.

The horse began to walk, and I quickly got lost in the rhythm again. I was too tired and dazed to care that I didn’t know these men. The walking pace began to lull me to sleep. Finally, my mind was pulled into blessed unconsciousness. The last thing I knew was a soft hand pressing on my cheek and a gentle voice telling me not to fear.

 

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I Am the Way: Chapter 4

I looked around at the forest surrounding us as we walked. The sunlight was streaming peacefully through the trees, creating light patterns on the decaying leaves on the ground. I inhaled deeply, enjoying the smell of the forest and the warm, fresh spring air. The light flooding through the trees was green-tinted from the living leaves that created the canopy. Squirrels leaped from branch to branch above us, chattering at each other. Here and there, splashes of color in the form of flowers bloomed out of the various greens and browns of the area. I could not help but smile at the magnificence of nature that so many people usually ignored.

Looking at the forest reminded me of the forest in my dream and just like that my thoughts were drawn to the man in white again. Who was he? Why had I dreamed of him? I was almost sure he was not a figment of my imagination. He just seemed too real. But if he was real, why did I dream of him? And, again, why did I think I should know who he was? There was a familiarity, or lack thereof, that bothered me. It was like a shadow of a memory, long lost to time. As I walked through the wet leaves of the forest towards home, I tried to recover that shadow, but every time I came close, it slipped away again, as if something was blocking the memory. As I tried to remember, a laugh suddenly rang in my ears, a masculine laugh. It was definitely not the man in white’s voice. It was too deep. Was it my father’s laugh I was remembering?

A shiver raced down my spine at that thought. I could remember nothing of my father. At all. All of my knowledge of him came from my mother and her stories about him. But there always was a nagging feeling that the stories she constructed were not the entire truth. But as I could not remember anything, I never pointed it out and she never volunteered any more information. I wished I could remember him desperately, and if that laugh I remembered was his…It would be a dream come true. But it probably would not help knowing it. He was probably dead.

Again there was the feeling of wrongness when I thought of death. Death caused such sorrow, such pain, and such anger. Why is there death, I wondered. In fact, I thought suddenly as I frowned, why is there life? I turned to really observe at the deer draped over Ember’s body and stopped walking, leaning down to look closely at it. Why had it been alive? Was it true that it had been alive only to feed me and my Elementals? If so, what then gave it that purpose? If not, what was its purpose and who gave it that purpose? The questions were beginning to make my head hurt. Why was I even thinking like this, I asked myself as I began walking back home again. Was there a purpose for all these questions?

I sighed and rubbed my temples with my thumbs, wincing as the sun suddenly blinded me as we stepped out of the forest back into the yard. The Elementals greeted me with their various calls and I smiled at them, forcing all the strange questions out of my mind. There was no use thinking about them if there were no answers to be found. But that was not right. If there is a question, shouldn’t there be an answer….?

“Oh this is ridiculous,” I snapped to myself. “Stop thinking of all these strange questions and get to work! You have a deer to gut and section!”

The shed was constructed of plain wood and was large enough for Ember and I to stand comfortably in together with a table on one side. It had plenty of room for me to clean a deer and there were hooks in the other side for me to hang the feed bags. I led Ember into the building and heaved the deer onto the table, tying a rope around its neck in the right back corner of the small room. I hoisted the creature up until it was about a foot above the floor. With that done, I grabbed my tools and set them out on the table. With practiced ease, I slid the knife in just below the skin and slit the deer from its throat to just below its tail then right around the tops of the hooves. I then carefully began skinning the animal, sliding a bone knife with a rounded end along the membrane to cut it. Once the skin was off, I went out and placed the skin in the stream running by our house to loosen the hair to make leather later on.

That done, I went to take care of the rest of the deer. I grabbed one of my sharper knives and knelt down, slicing through the stomach membrane and working upward. I was careful not to tear anything open as I worked my way to the breastbone. When I finished that, I reached in and pulled out the organs, dropping them into a wooden pail with a thick sounding thud. Grabbing a smaller knife, I carefully took out the bladder before adding it to the pile.

With a solid crack, I split the center of the ribcage in two with the big knife and spread it open. I pulled out the lungs, heart, windpipe, and throat, dropping them into the pail and smiling happily as I did so. This work was familiar, yet I still had to be careful, so my thoughts were occupied with things other than the confusing questions that had been plaguing me. I started humming a tune as I grabbed the pail and headed out to the edge of the woods, throwing out the organs for the wild animals, and slapping Ember on the nose when he tried to go after them. Being careful to stand downstream from the hide, I rinsed the pail out then filled it with water to clean the inside and outside of the carcass.

I did so thoroughly, then grabbed my knife and sawed through the pelvic bone. I removed the undesirable bits carefully and cut off the legs right below the hams. I rinsed the meat again to cool it and began to cut the meat into sections. Ember, who had been lying in the doorway of our shed, suddenly began to growl and I stopped what I was doing. I frowned and walked to the door, Ember immediately moved out of my way. I growled myself when I saw Tynan and his group of boys coming down the path. I grew angrier when I saw that some of the village girls trailed after them, whispering excitedly among themselves. They were no doubt gossiping about me, the freak of Paxtonvale; even the traders knew about me, and they only came out every few years.

“Just another day, eh boy?” I asked Ember under my breath. He growled again as if to agree with me.

One of the girls suddenly caught sight of me covered in fresh blood and screamed at the top of her lungs. That set all of the girls off, gasping and dramatically shielding their eyes from the sight. I was not amused. I was amused, however, at how the younger boys slowed their walking and stopped looking brave. Tynan and Ackley, the two oldest at sixteen, just looked disgusted and kept walking. When they were close enough, I spoke.

“What do you want, Tynan?”

He ignored my question. “What are you doing in there? Find another monster? Or are you cleaning up one of their messes?”

“I am dressing a deer,” I growled, not happy that he called my Elemental pets monsters. I glared at him for another moment then turned and went back into the shed. “Get off my farm.”

I picked up the largest knife again and began cutting the meat again. Ember’s growls began again, rising in volume, and letting me know that they were not leaving. I could feel Tynan’s sharp gaze on me, but I ignored it. He would not go past Ember; as brave as he acted, he was terrified of my sweet wolf. As well he should be.

I sectioned deer meat so often that I was finished quickly. By the time I was done, I was sure Tynan and the others had left because Ember had stopped growling. I began cleaning the tools and was feeling happy to be alone again when a screech reached my ears. The knife I was cleaning clattered to the table and I rushed out of the shed, my eyes immediately going to the pens.

Tynan had our Phoenix in his grasp and was tugging out feathers, one by one. The way he was holding the bird was hurting it and the other animals were cowering away from the boys. The girls stood outside and laughed. I wailed in rage and sprinted across the yard towards them, stunned and sickened that they would sink so low. Everybody in town knew our Elementals were tame and would not attack unless ordered. That they finally had the guts to take advantage of that made me burn in anger.

Ackley caught me before I could reach Tynan and I struggled in his grip as he laughed mockingly at my efforts. Anger filling me to the point my face burned fiercely, I let out a scream of anger and everybody, including Tynan, looked at me. Their faces paled and they shrank back, seemingly terrified of me, but I did not care. I was not going to let Tynan pull one more feather from my Phoenix. I put all of my strength into getting away and I slipped from Ackley’s hands as if he were barely holding me. I slammed into Tynan, who let out a shout of surprise and dropped Inferno, who squawked angrily and flapped around his attacker’s head.

Tynan shoved me off him and scrambled to his feet. “What is wrong with you? It’s just a dumb animal!”

“They are not dumb animals!” I said, my voice angry and frantic. “They are much smarter than you are, anyways!”

The ‘dumb animals’ had come forward to hover behind me. I was now facing all of the trespassers and my face was still burning with anger. They seemed to sense that they had crossed a line because they all started backing away. I was not content to just let them leave at this point. They had hurt my Elementals and they would pay for it.

“Flaren!” I shouted angrily, pointing at the boys.

Every one of the Elementals, water, earth, fire, and air, let out their own cries and began to chase the intruders, each animal’s elemental powers sparking around them. The boys all screamed and ran towards the path back to the village as fast as they could. The girls let out painfully high shrieks and were tripping over each other to get away. The Elementals stopped right where the path to the village started, growls, barks, yips, and bursts of elements radiating from the group.

I whistled and they began ambling back, nipping affectionately at each other. Ember bounded back, running circles around me. I smiled and stroked his head on a pass. He yipped happily and licked my hand. I herded the Elementals back into the correct pens and made sure to pet my Phoenix kindly. Several of his red and gold feathers littered the ground and I frowned deeply. I gathered them together and took them into the house. I had always saved his feathers. They were just so soft and colorful.

As soon as I stepped over the threshold, the dream popped back into my head. The man’s kind face lingered in my mind and I could not seem to move. His warning rang in my ears like the laughter I had heard earlier. “Those who do not understand you will come to try to destroy you.” I shivered and shook my head, trying to get those words out. I did not like the ominous sound of it, or the fact that I felt like I just set something big in motion.

 

https://www.amazon.com/Am-Way-Book-Scrolls-Trilogy-ebook/dp/B00W4I8ZEY?ie=UTF8&*Version*=1&*entries*=0

I Am the Way: Chapter 3

There were only a few smoldering embers left in the pit that had small wisps of smoke curling up only to dissipate in the air. I tossed another handful of dirt on them to extinguish them then stood up, wiping my hands on my wet dress and streaking the grey material with brown. I was exhausted and soaked to the bone, my loosed hair hanging limply around my face. I had stayed up all night through the terribly cold wind and rain, keeping the fire burning bright and hot. The only sleep I had gotten was in short bouts of about ten to fifteen minutes. Ember’s growls woke me every time I started to fall into a deep sleep. I had finally gotten about a half hour’s worth of sleep when the clouds broke just before sunrise. Now, though, it was a bright morning, the sun shining cheerily in the sky and bathing the world in blessed light.

Blearily, I yawned and rubbed my eyes as I went to the shed and prepared the food for the animals. I was just walking out towards the pens, bags of food hefted over my shoulder, when Ember gave a growling bark and his hackles stood up. I looked over my shoulder at the where he was looking and nearly groaned out loud. Coming down the muddy lane with a very arrogant look on his face was none other than Tynan. I hated him now more than ever. Lack of sleep coupled with the fact that I despised him anyways meant that I was not in any mood, or anywhere near any mood, to be teased by the brute today. I turned from him and resumed walking to the pens. He would never follow me in there, no matter how brave he pretended to be. Just as I knew he would, he stopped several paces in front of the rope, a confident smirk on his face even while he was keeping a careful eye on Blaze and Ember, who had not stopped growling.

“You know, I have to admit I am upset to see you alive,” Tynan said casually. “When I saw the blaze, I hoped to find this place burned to the ground. The entire village did, actually. We guessed it was started by a lightening strike. They sent me to see how bad it was.”

I stayed silent; anything I said would be twisted and used against me. Tynan was the worst out of all the villagers, men, women, and children alike. He, like many men in Paxtonvale, firmly believed that women were nothing but chattel and that they could not take care of themselves. The fact that my mother and I had been doing so successfully for years bothered him to no end. I had once heard him talking to my mother, saying that he would marry me just so I would be his and so there would be a man in the house to ‘take care of things’ that we could not. Needless to say, she said no because, according to the law, he would be in charge of her as well as me if we married. My mother was adamant about not having a man boss her around. Her stories of father were wonderful; he supported her in everything and wanted her to be happy, but never demeaned her like so many men did to their wives. I could not imagine anybody being worse than Tynan when it came to demeaning women and girls. There was no comparison.

After Flare began nosing the bags I held, I whistled for the fire Elementals and they all came to me. From the corner of my eye, I noticed that Tynan backed up a few paces. That made me smirk, and he growled in response. He obviously did not like that I was amused by his fear.

“What’s so funny, Fily?”

Feeling brave, I turned and looked at him. “Do not call me Fily! And it’s funny that you are so scared of these sweet little creatures.”

To emphasize my point, I gently pet Blaze and, to my surprise, Inferno landed on my shoulder. Tynan’s face turned red with anger and he took a few steps forward, looking as if he wanted to try and put me in my place. I felt myself grin even as he stepped over the rope. He seemed to have a very short memory and a great single-mindedness. I watched unafraid and, just as he was about a yard ahead of me, I said the magic word.

“Flaren.”

Fire exploded from every animal in the pen, and they automatically lunged for Tynan. He yelled and scrambled backwards, tripping as he tried to get out. I laughed outright, unable to help myself. I could almost taste his anger in the air at that point. In fact, it was coming off of him in waves. In fact, the anger was so hot that I could almost see the ripples in the air.

“You will regret that, girl,” he spat, his eyes flashing. “You are a monster just like those creatures you raise! So wallow in your little victory. You are still a freak, and always will be.”

I glared at him as he turned and stormed down the road. I hoped he could feel the heat of my own gaze on his back. No doubt he was going to inform the villagers of the unfortunate news that I was still alive and as strange as ever. I turned back to my beloved pets and speedily finished my chores, my eyes heavy with the need to sleep. As I threw the bags into the shed, I looked around to see how much venison we had left and let out a groan; there was none left. That meant I had to go hunting today, or else my Elementals would have nothing to eat tonight. They had been forced to skip a meal last night because of the shadows, and I did not want them to go hungry two nights in a row.

I weighed my options and decided to sleep first. I was in no state to stalk surefooted animals in my exhausted state, so I stumbled back to the house, kicked off my filthy shoes, and fell into bed, not caring if I stained the covers with mud. Ember leaped up and lay down on my legs. He was heavy, but I was much too tired to even say anything so he stayed there. He was actually a nice blanket, despite his weight. I looked around the small two room house that was my home then my eyes closed and the darkness dragged me down.

A face. Soft, gentle, smiling a caring, loving smile. He wore a long-sleeved, white dress-like garment that fell to his ankles. His eyes were warm caramel brown and his shoulder-length hair and short beard were black. I realized I was lying down, so I sat up and he offered me a hand. I took it and stood. I immediately noticed that my clothes did not fit me right.

I looked down to discover I wore a dress of sorts. It fell to my ankles just as his did, but mine was red, not white, with black designs on the long sleeves. I did not like the colors of the dress, though I was not sure why; I rather enjoyed the color red most of the time. It was such a contrast to the same old colors of browns and grays that permeated Paxtonvale. A gentle touch to my face brought my attention back to the man in front of me. I felt inadequate around this man, but boldly met his eyes. His eyes sparkled and his smile brightened and I felt proud to be me for the first time in my life.

I looked around after a moment and saw to my delight that we were in a forest, but it was a forest unlike the one near my home. The trees were not just one or two shades of brown, but many, many shades of brown and grey and yellow and white and other colors that were more beautiful than all of those, but that I had no name for. The leaves were just as beautiful, with all the shades of green and orange and red; it looked as if autumn and summer had become one with the multitude of colors that were splashed throughout the trees.

The ground was just as beautiful, with odd looking plants that curled upward in strange patterns. Soft green grass, with no thorns or rocks to pierce my bare feet, blanketed the ground around me. Exotic looking flowers grew around the clearing in which we stood. The colors of the flowers were even more astounding. There were blues of every possible shade, from light to dark, and more reds and yellows and oranges, and there were purples and pinks and shimmering gold and silver. Some of them looked like the rare gems that the traders put on display—though nobody in Paxtonvale had nearly enough coin to buy even the smallest of them. Their petals were sharply angled and shimmered in the multicolored sunlight that filtered down from the canopy of brilliant leaves, but I could tell that even those were alive and growing from the earth.

Amazement filled me at the sight of such unique beauty and I was dazzled by all of it. To see such astounding colors made me realize just how colorless the world I lived in was. Nothing other than the Elementals had offered me much color in my lifetime. I found that, despite the joy that I received from the beauty, I found myself saddened by it as well. Nothing I had ever seen compared with it, and I wished that I had my mother, or even some friends, to share it with. At the thought of my lack of friends, I looked at my feet and felt anger and hurt well up in me. A gentle hand touched my chin and I looked back up at the man in white, who looked as if he felt what I felt. He smiled tenderly at me again and wiped away the tears that had snuck out of my eyes. I was awed at the soft light that seemed to come from his very center. I longed for whatever it was that made him so bright, that had made this beautiful world around me, and I longed for the love that shone from the man’s eyes. Not lust, like the way the boys’ eyes looked at the pretty girls in the village, but true love that seemed endless and mysterious and wonderful. I was afraid to speak, afraid that my voice would shatter everything, including that love, but curiosity overwhelmed me.

“Who are you?” I asked, my voice soft and quiet.

He looked saddened suddenly. “I AM,” he said simply.

I waited for the rest of the answer, but felt that there wasn’t any more to it. “Um, alright.”

“You do not understand.” It was not a question.

I shook my head. “No.” I noticed suddenly that the forest we were in seemed to be melting around us. “Hey! What is happening?”

“You are waking up. I shall tell you this, though. You are what I have been waiting for, child, and they know it. That is why they took your mother. That is why they captured your father. Their union is the one the enemy has feared for years. You are the one to reunite them all.”

“What does that mean?” I asked desperately.

“Your journey will be hard, but fruitful. Leave soon, for many enemies close in upon you. Those who do not understand you will come to try to destroy you. Those who follow the Dark Ones will come to take you for study then death will follow. If they cannot take you, they will kill you.”

“Enemies? What enemies? The Dark Ones? Do you mean the ones in charge of us?”

“Be careful, dear one. This is a dangerous journey. And always remember that I love you.”

“Wait!” I exclaimed, sitting up.

I looked around, gasping for breath. The beautiful, surreal forest was gone, replaced by the dull familiarity of my home. I tucked my hair behind my ears and massaged my temples, feeling strangely shaky and undone. That dream had seemed so real. He had seemed so real. I felt like I knew him, or that I should. I noticed that my bottom lip was trembling and I knew that I was crying again. I did not understand why, but I did not stop it either. His warm, kind gaze had seemed to pierce my heart to look at every bit of me. I knew he must have found horrible things, like lies and cruel words and such horrible things (though I did not know why I suddenly felt they were so horrible, as everybody did those things). Despite all those things, he had still looked like he loved me. I felt wretched and horrid after being in what felt like such a pure presence, but he still had spoken the words I had not realized I wanted, no needed to hear. “I love you.”

Ember’s head was up and he stared at me, his ears twitching, no doubt listening for whatever had awakened me. I reached down and stroked his head, my hand trembling. I suddenly grew angry at the way I felt, defensiveness rising up within me, and I was especially angry at my tears, more specifically the weakness it displayed, and I wiped them away harshly. I stood and stripped my damp dress off, quickly putting on my blood stained hunting clothes and my shoes. Grabbing my bow and quiver of arrows, I stormed outside and called Ember to me, scanning the tree line and breathing in deeply, letting the fresh, clean scent that followed a rainstorm calm me. Hunting was something I understood and something that did not make me feel so….strange.

I sprinted into the forest, using the physical exertion to forget the strange dream and the man in white. Hunting always made me forget everything and everybody that hurt me. It was a great way to relieve the anger I felt, because I could channel that anger into something constructive. I suddenly came across tracks and studied them with skilled eyes. The deer had just passed through here less than an hour ago. I grinned, feeling anticipation mount. This was going to be an easy hunt.

I began to run again, my footsteps light and silent. I had always had the ability to be silent. It was one of the things that made me a good hunter. The other was the fact that I could kill a mouse with an arrow at thirty paces. I knew because I had done it before. When I had the chance to aim, I almost never missed. Within about twenty minutes I came to the herd, nocking an arrow with practiced ease and sliding through the fallen leaves as quietly as I could. The fact that they were wet and sunk into the wet earth beneath them helped greatly. The entire herd had their heads up, sensing I was near. Their ears were up high, twitching this way and that, trying to pinpoint my exact location. They would know exactly where I was in a few seconds. Smiling, I aimed then let loose the arrow.

The buck I had in my sights went down and the rest of the herd bolted. When they had scattered, I walked forward on nimble feet and knelt by the graceful creature a feeling of pride filling me for killing it. I did not feel sad for it. Once a herd was in the village and the boys went after them. I still do not understand why the girls cried when they saw the dead creatures. Sure they are beautiful and they look dreary when they fall, but they are food, plain and simple. It is just a fact of life that they die for us. A sense of wrongness filled me. Why should anything die? Isn’t death itself wrong? I had no idea where those thoughts had come from and I shook my head to clear them away, but the feeling stayed.

I whistled and Ember came out from his hiding spot, standing beside me obediently. Setting my bow and quiver of arrows aside, I braced myself and lifted the deer onto my loyal wolf’s back. I couldn’t help but giggle when I stood back. The deer was sprawled over his back, its head on his. I kissed Ember’s nose then took up my bow and quiver again and stood. We began the trek back to the house, the birds singing the only sound to be heard.            There were only a few smoldering embers left in the pit that had small wisps of smoke curling up only to dissipate in the air. I tossed another handful of dirt on them to extinguish them then stood up, wiping my hands on my wet dress and streaking the grey material with brown. I was exhausted and soaked to the bone, my loosed hair hanging limply around my face. I had stayed up all night through the terribly cold wind and rain, keeping the fire burning bright and hot. The only sleep I had gotten was in short bouts of about ten to fifteen minutes. Ember’s growls woke me every time I started to fall into a deep sleep. I had finally gotten about a half hour’s worth of sleep when the clouds broke just before sunrise. Now, though, it was a bright morning, the sun shining cheerily in the sky and bathing the world in blessed light.

Blearily, I yawned and rubbed my eyes as I went to the shed and prepared the food for the animals. I was just walking out towards the pens, bags of food hefted over my shoulder, when Ember gave a growling bark and his hackles stood up. I looked over my shoulder at the where he was looking and nearly groaned out loud. Coming down the muddy lane with a very arrogant look on his face was none other than Tynan. I hated him now more than ever. Lack of sleep coupled with the fact that I despised him anyways meant that I was not in any mood, or anywhere near any mood, to be teased by the brute today. I turned from him and resumed walking to the pens. He would never follow me in there, no matter how brave he pretended to be. Just as I knew he would, he stopped several paces in front of the rope, a confident smirk on his face even while he was keeping a careful eye on Blaze and Ember, who had not stopped growling.

“You know, I have to admit I am upset to see you alive,” Tynan said casually. “When I saw the blaze, I hoped to find this place burned to the ground. The entire village did, actually. We guessed it was started by a lightening strike. They sent me to see how bad it was.”

I stayed silent; anything I said would be twisted and used against me. Tynan was the worst out of all the villagers, men, women, and children alike. He, like many men in Paxtonvale, firmly believed that women were nothing but chattel and that they could not take care of themselves. The fact that my mother and I had been doing so successfully for years bothered him to no end. I had once heard him talking to my mother, saying that he would marry me just so I would be his and so there would be a man in the house to ‘take care of things’ that we could not. Needless to say, she said no because, according to the law, he would be in charge of her as well as me if we married. My mother was adamant about not having a man boss her around. Her stories of father were wonderful; he supported her in everything and wanted her to be happy, but never demeaned her like so many men did to their wives. I could not imagine anybody being worse than Tynan when it came to demeaning women and girls. There was no comparison.

After Flare began nosing the bags I held, I whistled for the fire Elementals and they all came to me. From the corner of my eye, I noticed that Tynan backed up a few paces. That made me smirk, and he growled in response. He obviously did not like that I was amused by his fear.

“What’s so funny, Fily?”

Feeling brave, I turned and looked at him. “Do not call me Fily! And it’s funny that you are so scared of these sweet little creatures.”

To emphasize my point, I gently pet Blaze and, to my surprise, Inferno landed on my shoulder. Tynan’s face turned red with anger and he took a few steps forward, looking as if he wanted to try and put me in my place. I felt myself grin even as he stepped over the rope. He seemed to have a very short memory and a great single-mindedness. I watched unafraid and, just as he was about a yard ahead of me, I said the magic word.

“Flaren.”

Fire exploded from every animal in the pen, and they automatically lunged for Tynan. He yelled and scrambled backwards, tripping as he tried to get out. I laughed outright, unable to help myself. I could almost taste his anger in the air at that point. In fact, it was coming off of him in waves. In fact, the anger was so hot that I could almost see the ripples in the air.

“You will regret that, girl,” he spat, his eyes flashing. “You are a monster just like those creatures you raise! So wallow in your little victory. You are still a freak, and always will be.”

I glared at him as he turned and stormed down the road. I hoped he could feel the heat of my own gaze on his back. No doubt he was going to inform the villagers of the unfortunate news that I was still alive and as strange as ever. I turned back to my beloved pets and speedily finished my chores, my eyes heavy with the need to sleep. As I threw the bags into the shed, I looked around to see how much venison we had left and let out a groan; there was none left. That meant I had to go hunting today, or else my Elementals would have nothing to eat tonight. They had been forced to skip a meal last night because of the shadows, and I did not want them to go hungry two nights in a row.

I weighed my options and decided to sleep first. I was in no state to stalk surefooted animals in my exhausted state, so I stumbled back to the house, kicked off my filthy shoes, and fell into bed, not caring if I stained the covers with mud. Ember leaped up and lay down on my legs. He was heavy, but I was much too tired to even say anything so he stayed there. He was actually a nice blanket, despite his weight. I looked around the small two room house that was my home then my eyes closed and the darkness dragged me down.

A face. Soft, gentle, smiling a caring, loving smile. He wore a long-sleeved, white dress-like garment that fell to his ankles. His eyes were warm caramel brown and his shoulder-length hair and short beard were black. I realized I was lying down, so I sat up and he offered me a hand. I took it and stood. I immediately noticed that my clothes did not fit me right.

I looked down to discover I wore a dress of sorts. It fell to my ankles just as his did, but mine was red, not white, with black designs on the long sleeves. I did not like the colors of the dress, though I was not sure why; I rather enjoyed the color red most of the time. It was such a contrast to the same old colors of browns and grays that permeated Paxtonvale. A gentle touch to my face brought my attention back to the man in front of me. I felt inadequate around this man, but boldly met his eyes. His eyes sparkled and his smile brightened and I felt proud to be me for the first time in my life.

I looked around after a moment and saw to my delight that we were in a forest, but it was a forest unlike the one near my home. The trees were not just one or two shades of brown, but many, many shades of brown and grey and yellow and white and other colors that were more beautiful than all of those, but that I had no name for. The leaves were just as beautiful, with all the shades of green and orange and red; it looked as if autumn and summer had become one with the multitude of colors that were splashed throughout the trees.

The ground was just as beautiful, with odd looking plants that curled upward in strange patterns. Soft green grass, with no thorns or rocks to pierce my bare feet, blanketed the ground around me. Exotic looking flowers grew around the clearing in which we stood. The colors of the flowers were even more astounding. There were blues of every possible shade, from light to dark, and more reds and yellows and oranges, and there were purples and pinks and shimmering gold and silver. Some of them looked like the rare gems that the traders put on display—though nobody in Paxtonvale had nearly enough coin to buy even the smallest of them. Their petals were sharply angled and shimmered in the multicolored sunlight that filtered down from the canopy of brilliant leaves, but I could tell that even those were alive and growing from the earth.

Amazement filled me at the sight of such unique beauty and I was dazzled by all of it. To see such astounding colors made me realize just how colorless the world I lived in was. Nothing other than the Elementals had offered me much color in my lifetime. I found that, despite the joy that I received from the beauty, I found myself saddened by it as well. Nothing I had ever seen compared with it, and I wished that I had my mother, or even some friends, to share it with. At the thought of my lack of friends, I looked at my feet and felt anger and hurt well up in me. A gentle hand touched my chin and I looked back up at the man in white, who looked as if he felt what I felt. He smiled tenderly at me again and wiped away the tears that had snuck out of my eyes. I was awed at the soft light that seemed to come from his very center. I longed for whatever it was that made him so bright, that had made this beautiful world around me, and I longed for the love that shone from the man’s eyes. Not lust, like the way the boys’ eyes looked at the pretty girls in the village, but true love that seemed endless and mysterious and wonderful. I was afraid to speak, afraid that my voice would shatter everything, including that love, but curiosity overwhelmed me.

“Who are you?” I asked, my voice soft and quiet.

He looked saddened suddenly. “I AM,” he said simply.

I waited for the rest of the answer, but felt that there wasn’t any more to it. “Um, alright.”

“You do not understand.” It was not a question.

I shook my head. “No.” I noticed suddenly that the forest we were in seemed to be melting around us. “Hey! What is happening?”

“You are waking up. I shall tell you this, though. You are what I have been waiting for, child, and they know it. That is why they took your mother. That is why they captured your father. Their union is the one the enemy has feared for years. You are the one to reunite them all.”

“What does that mean?” I asked desperately.

“Your journey will be hard, but fruitful. Leave soon, for many enemies close in upon you. Those who do not understand you will come to try to destroy you. Those who follow the Dark Ones will come to take you for study then death will follow. If they cannot take you, they will kill you.”

“Enemies? What enemies? The Dark Ones? Do you mean the ones in charge of us?”

“Be careful, dear one. This is a dangerous journey. And always remember that I love you.”

“Wait!” I exclaimed, sitting up.

I looked around, gasping for breath. The beautiful, surreal forest was gone, replaced by the dull familiarity of my home. I tucked my hair behind my ears and massaged my temples, feeling strangely shaky and undone. That dream had seemed so real. He had seemed so real. I felt like I knew him, or that I should. I noticed that my bottom lip was trembling and I knew that I was crying again. I did not understand why, but I did not stop it either. His warm, kind gaze had seemed to pierce my heart to look at every bit of me. I knew he must have found horrible things, like lies and cruel words and such horrible things (though I did not know why I suddenly felt they were so horrible, as everybody did those things). Despite all those things, he had still looked like he loved me. I felt wretched and horrid after being in what felt like such a pure presence, but he still had spoken the words I had not realized I wanted, no needed to hear. “I love you.”

Ember’s head was up and he stared at me, his ears twitching, no doubt listening for whatever had awakened me. I reached down and stroked his head, my hand trembling. I suddenly grew angry at the way I felt, defensiveness rising up within me, and I was especially angry at my tears, more specifically the weakness it displayed, and I wiped them away harshly. I stood and stripped my damp dress off, quickly putting on my blood stained hunting clothes and my shoes. Grabbing my bow and quiver of arrows, I stormed outside and called Ember to me, scanning the tree line and breathing in deeply, letting the fresh, clean scent that followed a rainstorm calm me. Hunting was something I understood and something that did not make me feel so….strange.

I sprinted into the forest, using the physical exertion to forget the strange dream and the man in white. Hunting always made me forget everything and everybody that hurt me. It was a great way to relieve the anger I felt, because I could channel that anger into something constructive. I suddenly came across tracks and studied them with skilled eyes. The deer had just passed through here less than an hour ago. I grinned, feeling anticipation mount. This was going to be an easy hunt.

I began to run again, my footsteps light and silent. I had always had the ability to be silent. It was one of the things that made me a good hunter. The other was the fact that I could kill a mouse with an arrow at thirty paces. I knew because I had done it before. When I had the chance to aim, I almost never missed. Within about twenty minutes I came to the herd, nocking an arrow with practiced ease and sliding through the fallen leaves as quietly as I could. The fact that they were wet and sunk into the wet earth beneath them helped greatly. The entire herd had their heads up, sensing I was near. Their ears were up high, twitching this way and that, trying to pinpoint my exact location. They would know exactly where I was in a few seconds. Smiling, I aimed then let loose the arrow.

The buck I had in my sights went down and the rest of the herd bolted. When they had scattered, I walked forward on nimble feet and knelt by the graceful creature a feeling of pride filling me for killing it. I did not feel sad for it. Once a herd was in the village and the boys went after them. I still do not understand why the girls cried when they saw the dead creatures. Sure they are beautiful and they look dreary when they fall, but they are food, plain and simple. It is just a fact of life that they die for us. A sense of wrongness filled me. Why should anything die? Isn’t death itself wrong? I had no idea where those thoughts had come from and I shook my head to clear them away, but the feeling stayed.

I whistled and Ember came out from his hiding spot, standing beside me obediently. Setting my bow and quiver of arrows aside, I braced myself and lifted the deer onto my loyal wolf’s back. I couldn’t help but giggle when I stood back. The deer was sprawled over his back, its head on his. I kissed Ember’s nose then took up my bow and quiver again and stood. We began the trek back to the house, the birds singing the only sound to be heard.

 

https://www.amazon.com/Am-Way-Book-Scrolls-Trilogy-ebook/dp/B00W4I8ZEY?ie=UTF8&*Version*=1&*entries*=0

I Am the Way: Chapter 2

My Kindle Wolf padded beside me quietly, his ears up and alert. They twitched when I lazily scratched behind them, but they did not relax. I smiled at the action. He always alerted me to anyone or anything that was nearby. Usually, on the way back from town at least, he would chase squirrels or chipmunks that dared to set paw on the ground near me. It always made me laugh. Sometimes I thought he was too protective, but I knew he loved me. But not the way most pets loved their masters. It was something deeper. It was like he was more aware than normal creatures. Sometimes he acted more…intelligent.

Despite the fact that the village was a good couple miles away, it was far too soon for me when we reached it. A group of boys was playing a game near the edge of the tightly knit houses, and as soon as one spotted me, they all stopped what they were doing. I ignored their sharp looks and walked by them. It was as if the boys’ sudden silence alerted everyone to my presence. I ignored the silence and went along as if everyone wasn’t staring at me. Slowly the people came back to life, moving along to tend to their business, albeit still watching me with a coldness I could not understand.

The village was set up around a central business hub filled with merchants selling their wares. There was nothing too fancy. Most of it was just some fish caught from the river, and venison and rabbit caught out in the forest by the brave hunters. We never had many fruits; we never had wine. We never had such luxuries. But then again, Paxtonvale was a simple village, cut off from most of the activity of the Human race by many, many miles. The houses were all wood. Unlike my house, there was no fancy cut stone or anything of that nature. Just simplicity at its…well, I can’t say finest, but it was simple, that much was true.

I moved toward the center of the village without comment, Ember huddling near me and growling when anybody got too close. Nobody ever wanted to get too near, as I was pretty sure they were afraid my strangeness would rub off. The shopkeepers watched me to see who I would be going for. I went to Byrne, the farmer, well aware of the daggers the others were throwing at me with their eyes. He looked at me, but it was as if he was looking through me. I ignored the empty pit growing where my heart was supposed to be. It was hard not to care when this happened every time I came around normal people. It hurt, though I did not show it.

“May I help you?” he asked quietly, not meeting my eyes.

“Three sacks of grain,” I replied, hoisting my basket up onto the counter.

He provided the sacks without comment or question. “What do you have this time?”

“I have deer, wolf, and rabbit.”

Byrne hummed as he thought. “One wolf, one rabbit, and two deer.”

Though I did not think it was worth that much, I pulled the requested skins out and set them on the counter before taking up the bags of grain, knotting the tops, and tossing them over my shoulder. Men and boys used to offer to help me before they found out how different I was from other girls. I never got along with any of them anyway. I walked back through the houses, which were set far enough apart to pass through, but close enough to make you feel closed in. I intended to hurry out of town, but the serenity was too good to be true. I had just passed the group of boys when a yelping whine made me spin.

One of the older boys, probably around fifteen, had tossed a rather large stone at Ember and hit him on the nose. My wolf was trained so well that he never attacked anybody unless I was threatened or I ordered it, even when they hurt him. I, on the other hand, wasn’t so well trained. I saw red and dropped the bags, storming over to them. The younger ones cowered away from me, but the older ones puffed out their chests defiantly.

“What’s the matter, girlie? Your mutt get hurt?” Tynan, the eldest of the group and their unofficial leader, sneered as I stopped in front of them, Ember by my side.

“He is a Kindle Wolf,” I growled.

Moving swiftly, Tynan grabbed a handful of my hair and pulled. I fought against him, clawing at his arm, but he just laughed and pulled harder. His eyes glinted with hatred for what I was and how I acted. He had been raised to believe I was worthless, so that is how he treated me. His voice, when it came out again, was rough and mean.

“You might act like a boy, Fily, but you’re just a girl. Just a weak, pathetic girl,” Tynan hissed in my ear. “What do you have to say to that?”

My neck was strained at an odd angle, but I managed to hiss out one word. “Ember!”

Ember lit up like a bonfire and lunged forward. Tynan yelped and released me. I fell to the ground with a grunt as all the boys scattered at my Kindle Wolf’s long, low growl. Ember stood over me protectively, flames still crackling on his back. I sat up and grabbed Ember’s scruff to pull myself up. As soon as I touched him, the fire died down and he helped me to stand. I could feel the disdainful gazes of the other villagers on my back as I picked up my grain and my basket and began walking down the path to my house, Ember beside me. The pain and humiliation I had just suffered made my cheeks hot and my eyes burn, but I did not cry. I would not cry while they were watching me.

As soon as the village was out of sight, I let the tears pour. Ember whimpered and circled me, nuzzling me with his large head. My chest was tight, my heart was heavy, and I hated it. I hated it because it just made it more apparent that they were right about me. I was weak. I could outshoot and outride them all my life, but I knew I could never physically beat them. Not unless a miracle happened. I also knew I was strange. I had done a man’s chores for as long as I could remember. I had cut wood, harvested the garden, hunted, and fixed the pens. My mother would sometimes help, but even she was nothing like me. She did the cooking, the cleaning, and the more womanly things around the house. Recently it had been weighing heavily on my mind.  She had done my chores when I was younger, but once I had learned to do them, she had simply stopped. My doing those chores was an unspoken agreement between us and always had been. Why was it though?

My thoughts were interrupted by a deep growl from Ember. I looked around and realized that thick clouds had covered the sun, leaving the forest around us dark. A chill was lingering in the air, and a musty smell filled my nostrils. I wiped my eyes as Ember growled again, his eyes beginning to smolder and his pelt to steam. I followed his gaze to the darkest part of the wood, and a shiver went up my spine. It looked as if the shadows were moving toward me. Fear nearly paralyzed me, but after a moment I turned and sprinted for the house, Ember following at my heels with smoke streaming behind him.

I reached the house, tossing the grain and my basket beside the shed as I ran past. My mind was racing at a speed I did not know it was capable of. The darkness had come before, of course, but always when my mother was home. Whenever they came near us, I was told to start a bonfire. We had that fire pit in the middle of our land just for that. It was always filled with wood ready to be lit at a moment’s notice. I pointed Ember to the pile and he leaped in, the fire exploding across the dry kindling.

After a couple of minutes, flames flickered higher than I was tall. I pressed as close as I dared to the fire, scanning the tree line. Shadows still shifted around and I narrowed my eyes. The darkness would not come near the fire. I would need to keep the fire up until the sun came back out. I looked up to see how long it would be and was dismayed when I noticed that the clouds were thicker and darker than before. It looked like rain. I thought about what I would have to do, and with fear coursing through my veins, I spoke.

“Ember, come,” I said tightly.

We had some firewood, but it wasn’t nearly enough to burn through a rainstorm or even through the night. We would need more, and all of it near the fire pit, so I began by carrying all the firewood we did have closer to bonfire. When it was piled up neatly, I grabbed the ax and walked toward the forest, my heart in my throat. The shadows shifted eagerly, moving toward where I was going. I stopped walking and looked down at Ember, swallowing hard.

Flaren,” I said shakily and he burst into flame. “Good boy. Follow.”

As we approached, the shadows backed off from the warm glow that Ember gave off. I ignored them as well as I could and began to chop. I fell into the familiar rhythm of work, time becoming hazy and losing track of the shadows. It took all my concentration because I knew I had to work fast. When I was finally done, the wood pile had more than tripled, but I had very little time before true nightfall and the rainstorm, which I could feel coming from the shift in the air.

I hurried to the shed, grabbing the oiled skins that repelled water, which we kept for emergencies such as this, then to the house to get the needle, horsehair and pegs. I sat by the bonfire after throwing a few more logs in and sewed the skins together. It was awkward and not as good as my mother could do, but it would keep the wood relatively dry. I fastened the bottom with hooked pegs pounded into the ground that held the leather loops sewn into the edges of the cloth. With a bit of tricky maneuvering, I managed to cover the back half of the wood pile and the top, pushing the leather that hung down in the front up with long branches that I partially buried in the dirt to keep them steady.

When I was done, the sky was almost black, not a single star gleaming through the dense clouds. I ran to the house again, and grabbed my bedroll, some food, and a canteen of water. A scream caught in my throat when the shadows slithered close enough for me to touch as I ran back. Ember lunged forward with his back blazing, letting out a bark. I stumbled back to the fire and huddled close, chilled and frightened.

The shadows had been coming for years. I remembered each time they have come vividly. Fear has a way of burning images into your mind. The first time they had come, I was five. I had been playing with our sweet little Inferno, who had been just a chick at the time, when the little puff of red feathers suddenly made a strange peeping noise. I turned around and I saw the unnatural shadows for the first time. They were thick and darker than the night sky, and I swear I saw eyes. They were sickly yellow-green eyes with black pupils like slits. As soon as I met their gaze, I screamed and Mother came running. That was the first time we ever lit the bonfire.

I haven’t seen the eyes since then. Well, until the night Mother was taken—even then it was only in my dreams—but the shadows visit every year in late spring. This year it seemed that they were early. Ember growled and curled around me protectively as the shadows came as close to me as they could without stepping into the firelight. I shivered as I felt their eyes on me, a foreboding hopelessness filling me. This was going to be a long night.

 

https://www.amazon.com/Am-Way-Book-Scrolls-Trilogy-ebook/dp/B00W4I8ZEY?ie=UTF8&*Version*=1&*entries*=0