I Am the Way: Concluded

Chapter 30 is the conclusion of Book One of the Lost Scrolls Trilogy. Book Two will follow soon. I hope you learned something from all this. I know I did, and I’m the one who wrote it! God works in mysterious ways. As Foulgrin says in “Lord Foulgrin’s Letters”, by Randy Alcorn, “Fiction is a powerful tool to convey truth.” I believe God did that on purpose. Just like he did with music. 🙂 Thank you for reading, and I hope you stick around for I Am the Truth: Book Two of the Lost Scrolls Trilogy.

I Am the Way: Chapter 30

I checked Elthinor’s wound carefully, running my fingers lightly around it. The swelling had gone down considerably, and the claw marks were healing nicely. A week had passed, and the weather had turned slightly colder, signifying autumn was coming. I sat back on my heels and looked up at his fair Elven face.

“Well?” he asked, hope in his eyes.

“I believe we can start traveling for half the day or less starting tomorrow. Provided Gabrithon’s wounds are healing as well as yours,” I added after a moment’s thought. “And Ember’s, too.”

“You know they are healing better than Elthinor’s are,” Gabrithon replied. “Mine weren’t scarred over from a previous attack.”

“Nolan, take a look,” I said as I took some of the Raysiam cream to rub it over the wounds.

Gabrithon lay down on his belly as Nolan got up and walked over to the Centaur, removing the bandages to check the puncture wounds. I noticed from afar that they were looking better than Elthinor’s were, even though they were deeper. I smiled and nodded at Nolan, who was looking at me questioningly.

“It looks good,” I said with a smile. “Now for Ember. Come here boy.”

I was at a good stopping point, so I left Elthinor for a moment and pressed my hand on my faithful pet’s side. From what I could tell, the Vampires must have knocked him out because he ran back to camp unscathed when the Aswangs had been circling. Elthinor had told me that the Elemental had immediately tried to save my mother when Tikujar had tackled her to the ground, but he had been clawed by Rattuin and had hit a tree, knocking him out again. Though he had been slow for a few days, Nolan had taken care of his wounds as well as he knew how, and he was fine. As I checked his wounds, I smiled. Elementals, I was guessing because of the darkness that had changed them into what they were, could heal just as fast as I could. It probably would not even scar too badly. I scratched behind the Kindle Wolf’s ear and kissed his fur lightly.

“He is going to be just fine. He is healing faster than both of you,” I said, teasing them.

“So we are finally leaving?” Nolan asked, eagerness in his voice.

“Yes,” I replied. “We are leaving tomorrow morning.”

“Where are we going?”

“We should go back to that town to restock on Raysiam and food before we head out,” Elthinor said as I finished binding his wounds.

“Good idea,” I said. “But I think we should get there earlier so we don’t get trapped in the town with those Naga creatures this time.”

“And by we, you mean who exactly?” Gabrithon asked, gesturing to his horse half and irritating Nolan, who was attempting to rub Raysiam into the Centaur’s wounds.

“Nolan and I,” I said with a raised eyebrow.

“How will we pay for it?” Nolan asked. “I don’t have one coin to my name.”

“I have Elven money,” I replied. “The merchants in there don’t know how much Elven money is worth, so they take whatever I give them.”

Elthinor laughed softly at that then went silent as he struggled into his shirt; it hurt his side to lift his arms up, but he managed.

“So just one more night of waiting?” Nolan asked.

The poor boy had been bored out of his mind after two days, and it had only gotten worse as time wore on. That wasn’t to say the rest of us were happy about being stationary for so long, but Nolan seemed to be affected the worst. I smiled at him, and his eyes showed hope.

“Yes, just one more night. Then we head to that town…what is it called anyway? It is your hometown.”

Nolan shifted slightly and smiled. “Bushacre. There used to be lots of greenery before the Naga moved in. Then, the plants started dying around the city. There are a couple of forests several days away to the southwest and northeast of us, and that’s where we get most of our supplies. Plus there is farmland to the southeast.”

I hummed with interest. “Really? I was wondering where they got everything. The vendors seemed well stocked.

I paused then looked up at the sky. It was already turning a beautiful orange pink. I sighed and Ember rubbed my hand, whimpering as he felt my misery surface again. I was still lingering on my mother’s death, and Ember was sympathetic. So much so that it bordered on empathy; he missed her, too, in his own way. The sadness passed, and I pet him again.

Just as I had known it would, my relationship with God was awkward and estranged. Even though what Gabrithon had said was true, and it was our own fault, especially Humankind’s as we—well, half of me—were the spiritual leaders of the races, I could not help but be angry that He would have allowed it to happen. I was avoiding talking to Him about it, ashamed of how angry I felt. I did not know what to do, so I ignored it. I knew it was wrong, but it was all I felt like doing. I did not want to make the effort.

“Fily?” Gabrithon asked as Nolan finished binding his wounds.

“Yes?” I asked abruptly.

“I was just wondering if you were well. Are you thinking about your mother again?”

“Yes,” I lied.

“I know you miss her,” Elthinor said softly. “If I lost my mother or my sister, I would cut all my hair and mourn for…I don’t know how long I would mourn. It would be a long time.”

“I would mourn my mother, as well,” Gabrithon said softly.

“We think no less of you for your pain,” Nolan said with a tender smile, pressing a hand to my shoulder.

“Thank you,” I said gratefully.

We ate dinner then spoke of trivial matters for a couple of hours before deciding it was time to settle in. We would start out early the next morning. One by one the others dropped off. I had volunteered to take the first watch; we were cautious since the death of my mother and kept one person awake at all hours. We took turns. It was between me and Nolan since Elthinor and Gabrithon were still hurt.

As I stared into the fire, I felt my mind swirl around the words Jesiah had said to me in the dream. “Her journey was over. Yours has just begun.” Those words haunted me. If my journey had just begun, what awaited me in the future? Who would I meet? With what new pain would I be bombarded?

I knew it would not be easy; the journey so far had been the most difficult task I had ever done, and that included taming Elementals. I stared up at the sky, dreading the future, when suddenly a calmness and certainty flowed over me. No matter what happened, God would take care of me. I had to fulfill his plans, and until then, death could not touch me. Even if I was angry, my life was in the hands of God.

A smile came over my face at the thought, and I relaxed. I no longer felt any worry at the coming day. In fact, I looked forward to it a little. I stared at my friends and a soft laugh came out of my mouth, waking my Elven friend, who had amazing hearing.

“Fily?” Elthinor asked tiredly as he sat up. “Is everything all right?”

“It will be,” I replied, and I knew in my heart that what I said was true, though it might not be for a long time.

To be continued…

 

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I Am the Way: Chapter 29

“An Elf?!” they all exclaimed at once then silence reigned for a few minutes.

“How is that even possible?” Elthinor asked, pressing his hand over mine.

“I don’t know,” I replied bitterly. “My mother just told me my father is an Elf and is, in all probability, still alive, but she does not…did not know where or what he is doing.”

“What did you mean by ‘like the Elementals?’” Nolan asked quietly.

I looked down in my lap as I explained what Lugat had told me about the Elemental beings. How they were twisted versions of the original creations of God. I also told them that Lugat had said I should not dare to call on Jesiah because of what I was.

“That implies that it is wrong,” Nolan said thoughtfully.

“I have no doubt it is. I don’t believe God created the races separately just to have them merge together. No offense, Fily,” Elthinor added quickly.

Shrugging listlessly, I felt misery settle into my chest. I was a freak, I realized sadly, and a bigger one than everyone had made me out to be. I was pretty much against nature itself. Because of the separation of the races, I was, in all likelihood, the only one of my kind in existence. I felt like it, but I just could not cry, not anymore. I had exhausted my tears. Elthinor gave me a drink from his canteen from Ellavendir. The bittersweet taste surprised me; I had expected water. I looked at him with an arched eyebrow.

“What is that?” I rasped, the drink stinging my throat a little bit.

“Wine,” he said with a smile.

“Wine? Why did you bring wine?” I asked with a frown.

He shrugged. “I figured we would need some eventually. You need some now, right?”

“I am not going to get drunk,” I said sternly.

“I did not say you were going to get drunk. Just take a couple of sips to relax a bit.”

I did as he said and lay back, letting the little bit of drink lull me into a state of deep relaxation. My mind wandered aimlessly for a while as Elthinor and Gabrithon sat talking quietly. Their words made no sense to my emotionally exhausted mind, and all I could hear was garbled speech. I closed my eyes as the question came into my mind for the first time.

How could God let this happen to me?

The question caught me by surprise, but I truly began contemplating it. If he loved me, why would he let my mother die on me? Why, in fact, would he let anyone die? Was it because of the sin that we committed? It was the only logical answer I had, but it did not make me feel any better. Did he love me?

“Of course I love you, Filynora.”

As I sat up in surprise, I realized I must have fallen asleep again because I was staring at Jesiah. I looked away, ashamed of the anger that had slowly bubbled up inside of me.

“Filynora, you are allowed to be angry with me. Tell me about it.”

“She is dead,” I said harshly. “My mother is dead. Why? Why did you let that happen?”

“It was her time to die,” Jesiah replied, approaching me and offering a hand.

I did not take it.

“Why?”

“It simply was.”

“Why do you never answer me?”

“It is not in my will for you to know these things.”

“Why not?”

Jesiah smiled tenderly. “I know what I have planned for your life. Trust me, Filynora. You shall learn in time what you need to know.”

“I…don’t know anymore. How can I trust you? My mother is dead. Dead!”

“She is in a better place now. Her journey was over. Yours has just begun.”

“You mean there is more I must do?” I asked incredulously.

“Find the scrolls, Filynora. That is your mission.”

“How am I supposed to go on? I don’t want to do anything. I don’t want to travel. I don’t care if the scrolls are found,” I said dejectedly. I paused, meeting his eyes. “Why did you choose me, anyway? I’m a Strangeling, a half-breed. I don’t belong anywhere.”

“You belong with me, Filynora, and my Father’s will is that you are the one to do what you are to do. While it is true that my Father never made the races to mix, He knew it would come to pass and has a purpose for it.”

I stayed silent after that and just stared miserably around the forest we were in. It felt as though something had shifted inside of me, and I knew my relationship with God and Jesiah would never be the same again. I just did not know where it stood now. I still held anger at them for my mother’s death, but I could not stop believing in them.

“I am confused.”

“Each person’s journey with me is unique. Yours is as well.”

“How do I proceed with our relationship then?”

“Talk to me.”

I suddenly woke up with a start. Nolan was bent over me, looking concerned.

“You were mumbling in your sleep. I thought maybe you were having a nightmare,” he said uncertainly.

“I was talking to Jesiah.”

His eyes widened. “You talk to Him? Face to face?”

“In dreams. Sometimes He whispers to me.”

He said nothing to that and sat back on his heels, staring at me intently. He shook his head and smiled lightly.

“You seem to be full of surprises, Fily.”

 

There was no talk of the scrolls for over a week. They let me mourn for my mother. I would sporadically burst into tears, unable to stop myself. My friends never commented; Nolan would awkwardly pat my shoulder and smile tensely while Elthinor would embrace me and just let me cry against him. Gabrithon occasionally embraced me as well, but it was stiff and obviously made him uncomfortable; I understood how hard it was for him to ignore the culture in which he had been raised, so I did not judge him for it.

My misery had me pretty much sleeping most of the time and crying the rest. I needed to show my mourning, but I had no idea how to. It was a desire that ran deep that I could not suppress. I finally decided to ask the question that was buzzing in my mind.

“Elthinor? How do Elves mourn?”

“We cut our hair. Why?”

“How much of your hair?”

He stared at me for a moment, his brows knitted together. “Up around the ears.” He paused. “Do you want me to cut your hair?”

I ran my fingers through my golden brown hair. It went to around the middle of my back and was the one feature I was most proud of. My friends were watching me closely. I took a deep breath to steady myself then boldly met the Elf’s eyes.

“Cut it to my shoulders,” I said quietly. “That’s where my mother always cut it to when it got too long.”

Elthinor carefully measured it out and tied it off right above where he was planning to cut it. He borrowed my knife, freshly sharpened, and I felt him grab my hair to steady it.

“Are you sure?” he asked gently. “You can’t take it back.”

“I am,” I said, holding my head high to make it easier for him.

The sound of the knife cutting smoothly through my hair reached my ears, and I stared at Gabrithon and Nolan as it happened. They were watching me—the Human with pity in his eyes and the Centaur with understanding and sadness. Elthinor handed me my knife back and took the band out of my hair. I felt it brushing the top of my shoulders.

I finally felt a little better. Making a physical show of my pain actually had me smiling, if only a little. Gabrithon looked relieved, and so did Elthinor when he came around to look at me.

“You look a little different without your long hair,” Nolan said, tilting his head to the left.

“That is the whole point,” Elthinor said with a crooked smile. “Elves discovered long ago if you physically show your mourning, it helps the whole process go faster.”

“What are we going to do now?” I asked, feeling so much lighter that I wanted to do something.

“Well, Gabrithon and I can’t heal as fast as you, which I am guessing is a side effect of you being a Strangeling, just like your incredible running ability. We can’t do much until we heal. After we heal enough, I figured we would go after the next scroll.”

I sat silently, and Elthinor noticed how uncomfortable I seemed to be at the mention of the scrolls.

“You…still believe in God and Jesiah, correct?”

“I can’t not believe them,” I said uncertainly. “I just am unsure of everything right now. I don’t understand why God would let my mother die like that. Even after Jesiah spoke to me, I am still uncertain.”

“So are we not going after the scrolls?” Nolan asked with raised eyebrows.

I looked up at him. “We are going after them,” I said decisively. “Something inside me says that even though I don’t feel God was right, I should follow His instructions.”

“How could God be wrong if He made everything right?” Gabrithon asked suddenly, as if thinking out loud. His cheeks colored slightly as we all looked at him, Elthinor and I with raised eyebrows.

“I thought you did not believe in God,” I said slowly.

“I, well, I don’t, but I have been listening to your conversations and comments about it. You said once He created everything and if He is good—what you say feels like complete goodness—that means He did not create anything inherently bad. We made what I shall call badness ourselves, seeing as how we must have been created with the capability to sin, though they also had the ability to not sin.  From that first scroll story, you said the Firsts were told ‘If you eat of it, you shall surely die.’ They surely ate of it, so death, overall, is their fault, or as it seems, our fault also, for they represented us. It is our punishment, along with the fact that we are unable to not sin, but I don’t believe, theoretically of course, that God would make that the end of everything. Going off the fact that they were told they would die, it can be naturally assumed that they were never meant to die. At least, this is my understanding of all this.”

I stared at the Centaur with my mouth open in shock then I laughed, tilting my head back to look at the heavens.

“You are amazing, God. You always know what I need. And you used just the right messenger. Thank you. Things will probably still be a bit weird between us for a while, but I am sure it will be resolved eventually. Thank you for my amazing friends.”

My anger remained at the end of the spiel, but I knew He had heard me. Gabrithon and Nolan looked a bit uncomfortable at my praying out loud, but Elthinor only smiled at me then looked at our Centaur friend.

“Thank you,” he said with a nod.

Looking away from our gazes, Gabrithon pawed nervously at the ground. “So what do we do now?” he asked, breaking his self-imposed silence.

“We wait for our wounds to heal. Then we continue our mission,” Elthinor replied.

“We are going to be bored, aren’t we?” Nolan asked teasingly, the note of an honest question in his voice.

“Quite,” the Elf replied with a chuckle, rubbing his wounded side tenderly.

 

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I Am the Way: Chapter 28

I ran for as long for as I could, knowing they would come after me as soon as the sun had set, but after a couple of hours, I had to stop. I dropped to my knees, panting heavily. I might be a little bit faster, but they seemed to have much more stamina and less need for air. I breathed in deeply, trying to get my breath back quickly, but I finally gave up, flopping back against the grass. When I was as rested as I dared to be, I set out again. Instead of running myself into the ground as I had done the first time, I ran for about an hour, then rested, and continued to do so. Even though it worked out pretty well, by the time the sun set, I wasn’t there yet. How long had we gone last night? It must have been farther than I thought. I stopped resting and just ran beneath the moon and the stars, across fields and over hills.

A shriek sounded above me, and I looked up to see the Aswangs. Their sickly glowing eyes scanned over me as I hit the ground, but they did not come after me. Instead they laughed cruelly and continued on their way. A wind rushing over me sent a shudder up my spine. Nothing good was going to happen for the next while. I leapt up and ran harder than I had before, following the flapping of their wings, which seemed to grow louder the farther away they were. They stopped as I was scrambling up a hill, and I realized where I was. This was the hill I had been kidnapped on! That meant…

A howl from Ember rose up, and the Aswangs descended upon the grove. I screamed, and to my horror, another scream echoed me from below in the valley. I moved to go down but was stopped by strong hands. As they dragged across my skin, I noticed the texture was strange. It almost felt scaly.

“Now now,” a hissing voice whispered in my ear. “You will reap what you have sown. You chose to escape Lugat. You will suffer for it and then we shall take you before our Masters.”

“Naga!” I growled.

Another hissing voice came from behind me. “From what the underlings have told us, you and your little friends are quite persistent. A bit annoying, they say.”

A woman’s scream had me struggling against the hands, and the Naga laughed. I fell to the ground, my limbs already exhausted from all the running. I sat there, listening to the growls and howls coming from the valley and I got angry. I twisted on the ground until I was on my back, forcing the snake-like creature to release, and then, using all my strength, kicked at where I guessed his leg was. There was the crack of bones breaking and he let out a cry and dropped. I pulled my knife, which up until this point I could not reach, and was on my feet in a second, slashing beneath the second one’s hood. He cowered back away from me, hissing.

“It is already too late,” he said, his voice holding a smile, as a howling roar of triumph came from down below.

I turned and sprinted down the hill, bursting into the grove as fast as I could. I froze at what I found in the dim light of the dying embers of the fire. Rattuin was in front of Elthinor and Gabrithon, who were cowering in front of Nolan and Ember. My beloved pet was lying motionless on the ground.  But the worst was my mother. She was in a heap on the other side of the fire pit, the grass around her glistening with what I feared was her blood. Tikujar stood above her, blood on her lips. I screamed, a sharp sound that had everybody turning to look at me. The Aswangs laughed.

“Still feeling resistant, little Strangeling?” Tikujar laughed.

“What did you to my mother?” I demanded, my bottom lip trembling.

“You did not heed the Vampire lord’s warning. I was simply fulfilling my part of the plan. We knew you would run, so we decided to break you.”

I glared at her, and a voice whispered in my ear to go to my mother. I would have to go through Tikujar for that. I began to mutter a prayer under my breath, asking for God’s protection and guidance and practically begging him to let my mother be alive. Tikujar and Rattuin melted away before me at the words, and I could hear their garbled curses every time I said ‘Father’ or ‘God’ or ‘Jesiah.’ I knelt down beside my mother, turning her onto her back and immediately wishing I had left her where she had been. It looked like Tikujar had eaten her entire stomach out. I gagged at the sight, and instead looked up at my mother’s face, which was very pale. She was still breathing, which meant she was alive. That was good, right?

“Filynora,” she rasped, her voice barely there.

“I’m here, mother,” I said gently as I cradled her head.

“There’s something I must tell you…about your father,” she said, gesturing me closer. I leaned in, and she whispered softly into my ear. I felt my eyes widen and I jerked back.

“W-what?” I asked incredulously, my voice shaking.

“I am dying, Filynora. I’m going to be with God,” she said softly. “I know that you are the one your father always spoke about with hope. The one who could defeat the Dark Ones. You are God’s child and He will use you to bring back what was once common knowledge about Him and His Son. I love you, Filynora, and so does He. Even if you are a Strangeling.”

She reached up with a bloodstained hand to gently stroke my cheek. Her breathing hitched. As she let a long breath out, I felt her grow cold. I was numb, not believing what had just happened. My mother was…dead? No. No, she wasn’t! She could not be! Outrage filled me. I saw Elthinor’s blade gleaming in the light, lying in the grass.

“Come Strangeling and we will not kill your friends,” Tikujar cooed in a mocking voice. I felt the promise that everything would be fine if I obeyed and followed her. I could also feel just how false the promise was.

“No!” I shouted, lunging for the hilt of the sword.

I heard Tikujar leap at me as I grabbed the sword and twisted onto my back, holding the blade up. I watched with wide eyes as Tikujar impaled herself on the sword. A black bloodlike substance began oozing from out of her wound and down the blade. I did not want it to touch me. I raised my legs up and kicked as hard as I could. Our positions were suddenly reversed, and I jerked the blade out and raised it above my head.

“This is for my mother!” I vaguely heard myself scream, swinging the blade down and across the Aswang’s bared neck.

Rattuin’s shrieks sounded as if she was being murdered herself as the black substance exploded outward and soaked the grass. Wherever it touched, death followed. The grass surrounding us was dead, and even a bush that had been splattered with it was rapidly turning brown. I stumbled back, blade in hand, and sat on the ground as Rattuin’s moans and gasps of horror and…pain?…sounded out. She spread her wings and took off. I noticed her eye was missing and that a scar went across the empty socket as she looked directly at me.

“You will, die, wretched abomination! You are no better than we fallen angels! And we come in many more kinds than you do! You have only met a few of us!”

I took in a breath at the insult, but she shot up and out into the night, making a strange, garbled howling noise in misery. There was silence for a moment after she was out of hearing range then Elthinor leaped  over the dying fire to me. Before he got to me, the body of Tikujar burst into a puff of black smoke that dissipated quickly. There was nothing left, even the bloodlike black stuff had evaporated, and all that was left was the dead plants.

“Fily,” Elthinor said softly, hesitantly approaching after that surprise.

“S-she’s dead,” I whimpered, looking over at my mother’s body. “Tikujar killed her.”

“Fily, I…we tried. They surprised us.”

“She’s dead!”

“I…I’m so sorry,” Elthinor whispered, kneeling down beside me and taking the sword away from me.

He gently wrapped his arms around me, and I began screaming and beating his chest. He gasped but did not move. I lost track of what I was doing for an unknown time, but I found myself waking up to the sound of thumping. I opened my eyes to find myself in my bedroll. My throat was sore, and my body felt heavy. I sat up slowly to see Nolan patting down some loose dirt. He and Elthinor looked filthy and exhausted, and Gabrithon was watching them, looking extremely guilty.

“What’s going on?” I rasped, wincing at the sound of my voice.

Gabrithon answered. “They buried your mother. I could not reach the ground, so I couldn’t help.”

I felt misery swamp me, but I was too drained to cry. Elthinor stood up and grimaced, rubbing his chest. I remembered beating on it. I looked at him guiltily, but he smiled, shaking his head.

“You somehow managed to avoid hitting my wounds, so I don’t really mind. It’s sore, but manageable. More so than the claw marks.” He paused. “You are strong,” he admitted with a small nod.

I remembered what my mother had whispered in my ear, and I lowered my head, feeling more like an outcast than I ever had, but, at least this time, I had a reason for it. How could she have kept this from me? Her daughter?

“Fily? What is the matter?” Gabrithon asked, moving to lie on his belly near, but not too near, me.

“I know why I am different,” I said blankly, rubbing my hands together nervously.

“Is it what Estelle whispered to you before she…you know,” Nolan said.

“Yes,” I said softly.

“What is the reason?” Elthinor asked, sitting down tiredly beside me; for some reason, he was within arm’s length of me.

I muttered the answer softly and they all leaned forward, straining to hear it.

“What?” Elthinor asked.

I took a deep breath and looked up to meet his eyes.

“My father is an Elf. That’s why they call me Strangeling and abomination. I’m a half-breed. Something that wasn’t meant to be, like Elementals.”

 

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I Am the Way: Chapter 27

I spent the day walking around the hills, avoiding my mother. I did not want to lash out at her like I had with Gabrithon. I loved her too much for that. I finally wandered to the top of the hill to the southeast of our camp just as the sun had disappeared beyond the horizon and looked down into the valley. There was the forest that I knew concealed Ellavendir, and on the other side of the wood was Paxtonvale. I ducked my head. We had gone so far before we’d had to go after my mother. I felt that so much progress, important progress, was lost.

The thought of Ellavendir caused an idea to pop into my head. What if we took my mother to the village? We would have to leave immediately again and head north toward the caves where the Dwarves lived, but I would know my mother was safe. The Elves did not like dark creatures anymore than our little group did, and would not let even a servant—for that is what she would be in all likelihood—be harmed. I smiled at the thought and sat down on the grass, sighing as I looked up at the moon hovering above me. I reached out my hand to catch it, marveling at its beauty and sighing out a prayer of wonder; it was becoming more natural to do. I yawned and lay back against Ember, who was panting lightly, and fell asleep.

I woke up to hushed voices and I groaned, wanting to go back sleep. They stopped talking and I settled back against…Suddenly, I realized Ember was gone. I heard a whine and sat up, looking around but seeing nothing but darkness. I opened my mouth to scream for my friends, but a hand covered it, and a male voice shushed me in a mockingly soothing way. My eyes slowly focused on many shapes around me. I realized with horror that I was surrounded by Vampires.

“Our Masters will be pleased,” Lugat said, keeping one hand on my mouth and stroking my cheek with the other. I jerked violently, and he stopped petting me, but kept his hand firmly over my mouth. “Now, now, little Strangeling. Be good and we will stay here with you and not go to kill your friends down in the valley.”

I tried to speak, but all that came out was muffled noises. I was forcefully stood up, and I noticed a black lump lying on the ground; it was Ember. A scream burst out of me, but the hand stifled the noise, and rough hands pulled me up and over a shoulder. We were suddenly moving at a startling pace, going north-northwest I noticed. It looked like we were heading toward Shadowlyn, which was the capital city of the Human race. It had originally been called Fairwick, but when the Dark Ones took over they changed the name. It was one of the few things people could remember about Human history. In the one text left in Paxtonvale, the city was still referred to by its original name.

I had never been out of Paxtonvale before this whole fiasco started, but I did know that Shadowlyn was located north of my village. According to the mental map in my head, and the fact that the Dark Ones lived there and were most likely the masters all the evil creatures we kept meeting referred to, I thought that was where we were going.

I don’t know how long we traveled, but we suddenly halted. The group of Vampires began digging a hole against the side of a hill. They dug it deep and angled. I was prevented from escape by Lugat, who held me in his lap and kept stroking my hair. He had long ago taken his hand off of my mouth, since we were much too far away for my friends to hear me. From what I could tell, the Vampires seemed almost as fast as I was. I thought maybe, just maybe, I was slightly faster. Or maybe it was more of a hope. I knew if I could get away during the day, they could do nothing to stop me, but I wasn’t sure if Vampires slept.

The hole was finished just as the first rays of dawn broke over the horizon and I was dragged all the way to the back of the hole, more like a cave, and set there. As soon as the sun was up, most of the Vampires fell into a comatose state, lying close together. Lugat and Jiang Shi were two of the handful of Vampires that were still awake, although they looked a little slow-witted. I shifted, but Lugat’s eyes were immediately on me.

“Don’t run away, little Strangeling, or you shall regret it,” he slurred, as if exhausted.

“What is wrong with you?” I asked curiously, deciding that if I was a prisoner I would at least get as much information from him as possible.

“We can no longer stand the light,” he sighed, lounging against the back wall. I noticed he sounded like the men in our village when they got extremely drunk, which, if I figured it correctly, meant he did not fully know what he was saying. This could help me draw more information out of him, perhaps some he wasn’t supposed to reveal. “Only the higher ranking of our kind can stay awake during daylight. Our masters are not affected by daylight as we are. They and their highest ranking servants can walk in it, but we are not strong enough. Light reminds us of the Light One, who is the Father, and his Son, who  destroyed our plans for domination when He came to this planet.”

Planet? I wondered. “Jesiah came to this planet?” I asked, and he hissed, shrinking back at the name.

“Don’t speak that wretched name!” he growled. “He ruined everything. It was the Light One’s plan all along—we know that now. He always knew that your kind would take and eat of the fruit from the tree. He knew it would be the Humans that the Great Master would tempt and that they would bring the others down with them. He knew that His Son would come to the planet. That he would be made flesh and born into the Humans, the weakest of the races, to rectify their mistake for all.”

“What is so important about Humans?” I asked.

He frowned at me.  “Have the races truly regressed to the ignorance you seem to possess?” I just stared at him, and he laughed. “Our masters have truly done well. Have they caused the separation amongst the races as well?”

I furrowed my brows. “Until recently, I thought Elves were evil,” I said slowly. “That’s the Dark Ones’ doing?”

“Oh yes. We need to keep the races away from each other,” Lugat said, relaxing again. “If they are together, they will discover they were meant to be together, to learn and grow together in their respective roles.”

“So…what is so important about Humans?” I asked again, hoping to get a good answer this time.

He smiled at me, and for the briefest moment, I saw a shadow of beauty before his fangs peeked out. I wondered what had happened to him. He seemed to think about it for a moment.

“I don’t think I should tell you,” he finally said.

“What’s the harm?” I asked in a soothing voice.

“Well, since Humans are the spiritual leaders amongst the five races, it is dangerous to tell you about it. You could potentially reawaken the belief in the Light One and bring to light what His Son did for your sin.”

“Sin?”

“The disobedience to your Creator. Ever since the first of the races sinned, disobeying the Light One’s only rule, each person sins against His goodness. It is an inheritance, passed down through each generation. People think that it comes through the males, but that is simply not true.”

“Why only the males?”

“Because the male was created first and had authority over the female. In fact, that is why our Dark Master went for the female. It went against the natural order of things. But the male is to blame as much as the female is. He was right there beside her while she ate. Passivity was the first man’s sin. Now all men suffer from either that or too much aggression. And the women suffer for it just as much as the men, especially because of their weaker physique.”

“Why such an inequality?” I asked, feeling irritated.

He laughed, sounding more and more drunk the lighter it became in the make-shift cave. “It is not inequality, silly Strangeling. It is a different role. Different, not unequal. Each race was made equal to the others, just as the female was made equal to the male, to complement him in every way. Their roles just happen to be different. Humans were made to lead over spiritual matters, being the head of all of the other races. The others were equipped for their own roles. Just as a Satyr is at home in the mountains, caring for the creatures there; the Centaurs were made for wide open fields, to care for them and to tend to them. Likewise, the Elf was made for the forest, to care for the trees, and the Dwarves were made to live beneath the earth. Each was made for their own jobs. Males were made to be the primary supporter of the family and females were equipped with the ability to carry on the races.”

“What of the Elementals? Which race was made to watch over them?”

“Our pretty little creatures?” he asked with a cruel smile. “They are twisted versions of the animals the Light One originally created with our added touches. Animals weren’t made to bend the elements. We…enhanced them. The first few generations had some of our spirits inside of them that controlled the elements, and then they adapted themselves to have those traits. They are our servants. They are vicious, yes? None, save a Strangeling it would seem, can control them without much training of themselves and the animal.”

After the long spiel, he sat still for a moment; then his eyes widened. “You are a clever girl,” he growled and moved, crawling like some sort of crazed animal. “Getting me to tell you the knowledge we have spent years trying to repress, to make disappear from the races. Our goal, it seems, is almost done.” He paused. “You know, I don’t know why I am even worrying. It is not as if you can do anything to stop it. Our masters will dispose of you quickly and we shall be done with this mess, though I don’t know why they even bother. The Strangeling that will defeat them is going to be a male, not a female.” He stared at me, smiling slowly. “You know, they didn’t say what condition they wanted you to arrive in. I believe I shall have some fun.”

He nearly pinned me to the wall and leaned forward, sniffing my neck, though his eyes peered lower. My eyes widened, and I slapped him as hard as I could. He reeled back, hissing, his eyes glowing red in the dimness of the cave. I whimpered in fear and said the only thing I could.

“Jesiah help me,” I whispered.

Lugat balked and took a step back. “I told you, wretched child, not to say that name!”

An idea sparked. “Jesiah,” I said louder, and the ones asleep stirred, shuddering in their sleep. Lugat and the others awake gave soft cries and covered their ears.

“Stop it, Strangeling! You should not be able to call to Him! You are an abomination!” Lugat screamed.

I began to chant the name and soon they were all down, practically writhing as if the name physically harmed them. The realization hit me that the very name of Jesiah contained immense power, when used properly. I put no thought into that and instead made a run to the end of the cave. I was almost to the blessed sunlight when a hand grabbed my ankle and I sprawled across the sleeping forms of the lower ranked Vampires. I looked back to see Jiang Shi holding me.

“You shall not escape!” she shrieked.

I was pulled away from the light and toward the suddenly horrid, animal looking faces of the conscious Vampires. I screamed and began to pull myself forward. Using a burst of strength I had no idea I had, I jerked my ankle free and dove into the sunlight. A cry of agony had me looking back to see that one of the Vampires had tried to follow me and was half in the light. His flesh was bubbling, and he was suddenly jerked back into the cave. There, just beyond the reach of the light, stood Lugat, his eyes still glowing. Such hatred was etched on his face that it frightened me, and I scrambled to my feet to run back the way we had come the night before. A howl rose up from behind me that seemed to echo all around me. The last sound I heard was Lugat yelling from behind me.

“I warned you girl that you would regret escaping!”

I ran faster.

 

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I Am the Way: Chapter 26

That night around our little camp fire, we ate more than we probably should have considering we were supposed to be rationing our food, but I did not have the heart to care. My mother was safe and with me again. Gabrithon and Elthinor fell asleep quickly after dinner, tired from the battle and their wounds, but I could not fall asleep no matter how hard I tried. I wanted to speak with my mother, but she, too, had fallen asleep shortly after they had, and Nolan was the only other one awake. I wrapped my arms around my knees, staring into the depths of the fire. Nolan shifted often, as if he were uncomfortable.

“Filynora?” he asked softly.

“You know you can call me Fily, right?” I asked, looking up at him with an amused smile.

“Oh…I wasn’t sure if you would mind.”

“Why would I mind? You are a part of our group. Soon enough I hope you will be a good friend of mine.”

“What am I to you now?”

“You are simply a member of our group right now. I need to get to know you better,” I answered honestly.

“How?” he asked innocently, reminding me that he was an orphan who’d had little civil interaction with other Humans, let alone the other races.

“Spend time with us. You have been too quiet during our trek, and are always behind us while we walk. Speed up a little and converse with us. Let us see who you are through your words and reactions. That is how I got to know Elthinor and Gabrithon.”

“Nobody has ever really wanted me to spend time with them before. They all just pushed me away,” he mumbled.

He sounded so sad that I leaned over and embraced him. He stiffened then slowly returned the hug. He smiled shyly at me as I pulled away and seemed much more relaxed.

“Thanks…Fily,” he said with a smile then yawned. “We should probably get to bed.”

“Yes, we should. Good night, Nolan,” I replied with a smile.

“Night.”

I tucked myself into my bedroll but still could not sleep. I stared up at the stars and thought about God, about how he created them. They were beautiful mysteries, kind of like Him, I realized. I did not know much about Him. I knew He was kind from the way Jesiah’s face shone. I knew He was creative because of all the different creatures and plants. I knew He was good because there was good in the world, and He had created the world. I knew he could not be bad, but I did not have a reason for that. At least, not yet. Though there was bad in the world, I just could not believe that a God who had created so much good could create evil.

I began counting the stars, my mind focusing on the task. I must have fallen asleep because the next thing I knew, I heard Gabrithon whinny, the sound angry. I was confused and sat up, rubbing my eyes tiredly. I saw my mother standing in front of Gabrithon, who was still lying on his belly; she was looking a bit frightened. To my disbelief, Gabrithon none too gently shoved her hesitant hands away from his arm and bristled with anger. My mother stumbled back, falling to the ground.

“Stop touching me, woman!” he spat, holding his wounded arm close to his chest.

Before I knew it, I had jumped over the fire pit and, before thought caught up with my body, slapped the Centaur across the face. Hard. Ember leaped up from where he was sitting and barked, his tail swishing back and forth excitedly.

“Don’t talk to my mother that way,” I said. “And if you ever shove her again, I will finish what the Aswangs started.” I grabbed his bandaged arm to make my point.

He gasped in pain and leaned his torso away from me, looking bewildered and frightened. I could see a perfect red patch of skin on his cheek in the shape of my hand. As everybody stared at me in surprise, I felt the anger dissipating. I relaxed my defensive stance and rubbed my arm sheepishly, feeling guilty. Gabrithon did not relax and just stared at me, gaping in shock.

“Sorry. My mother is everything to me, you know? And she has no one to protect her but me.” He did not look like he understood what I meant, but I got an idea on how to help him understand. “How would you feel if I hit your mother?”

Immediately his eyes held fire. “I would not like it at all,” he said.

“It is the same for me,” I replied, and he relaxed slightly then turned to my mother.

“I apologize for shoving you,” he said quietly. “I still don’t like females touching me. Filynora is the only exception, and that is because of the her aura.”

“What do you mean?” my mother responded, confusion in her eyes.

“Centaurs have a male-centered culture. Even more so than ours,” I said as I moved back to my bedroll. “Females just don’t touch males unless they are a direct blood relative.”

My mother suddenly nodded. “All right. I suppose I understand it now. I am sorry, Gabrithon. I did not know. Please forgive me.”

“It is all right…I don’t believe I know your name,” Gabrithon said politely.

She smiled. “Estelle.”

“Interesting name,” Elthinor said. “It is not Elvish sounding.”

“If you haven’t noticed,” Mother said, “I am not an Elf.”

Elthinor frowned and, glancing at me, was about to say something else when my mother turned back to Gabrithon. The Centaur looked surprised and rubbed his cheek without thinking. I knew that he would now respect my mother, but I still felt guilty. Well, mostly. I did feel a little bit of satisfaction in hitting him.

“Sorry,” I said again, smiling hesitantly at him.

“It was my fault,” Gabrithon said, still looking wary, then looked over at my mother, who was still staring at him. “Yes, Estelle?”

“How is your arm?”

“It aches. Quite badly, I might add. Those claws went deep.”

“Is there anything I can do for you?”

“I shall be fine,” Gabrithon assured her. “We need to save all the Raysiam we can.”

“If you are sure,” my mother said, looking unsure about what he had said.

Gabrithon and Elthinor stayed down all day, proving that they were better patients than I was. They both knew it, too, and continuously dropped little hints for the rest of the day. By evening they were restless though, and I could not help but smirk at them as they kept shifting positions and trying not to show it.

“Not easy, is it?” I asked with a knowing smile.

“No, but we’ve lasted longer than you,” Gabrithon replied.

I laughed at that. “True. Very true,” I said matter-of-factly, not even bothering to deny it.

“She has never been a good patient,” my mother put in. “When she was younger, even if  she was ill to the point of vomiting, she would want to go outside and play with Ember.”

“Yes,” Elthinor said, nodding as he sat up slowly; he tried and failed to hide his wince of pain. “That sounds about right.”

I shook my head and mimicked Elthinor. “You should not be up, Elthy! You’re much too delicate and the wound is horrible!”

Gabrithon let out a hearty laugh as Elthinor frowned.

“I don’t sound like that,” he argued, crossing his arms.

Gabrithon snickered. “Actually you do. Not really the sound of her voice,” he defended as Elthinor turned his head to glare at him. “But in the actual words. You do say things like that to her. You never did to me when I was wounded.”

“At the time, I cared little about your wellbeing because you are not a…” he trailed off and glanced at me.

I arched my eyebrows. “You can say it. I knew you were babying me because I happen to be a girl.”

“You can’t blame me for not wanting to say that. Sometimes you get so defensive about it. Like with Gabrithon,” the Elf said with a shrug.

“I don’t like it when it is derogatory. At first, our Centaurian friend was disrespectful toward females. And it seems he still is, unless they are me.”

Gabrithon had the grace to look embarrassed. “I said I was sorry. Females just are not that highly noted by Centaurs. I suppose because of your differences that it is easier for me to be civil around you. You don’t seem to possess most of the, and I say this lightly, weaknesses of the opposite sex.”

I thought about commenting but chose not to in favor of petting Ember and glaring at him. Gabrithon smiled at me, a tinge of worry on his face, but he slowly relaxed when he realized all I was going to do was give him a dirty look. I sighed and finally looked away, feeling happy. It felt like my family was back together, and it was no longer just my mother. Elthinor and Gabrithon were just as much my family as she was, and Nolan was like a new baby. I just had to get to know him better, and he would be a part of it soon enough.

Suddenly my thoughts were on the scroll and what we would do now. I did not want my mother to come on the journey with us, nor did I just want to take her back home. Either way, I knew she would be attacked by more monsters. I lowered my head, making Elthinor look at me. He seemed to know what was wrong.

“What are we going to do?” he asked seriously.

“I am not sure,” I replied honestly.

My mother stared at us. “What are you talking about?”

I looked at her. “Well,” I started quietly. “I don’t want to sound like a hypocrite, but I don’t know what to do with you.”

“What are you talking about?” she repeated.

“You can’t fight, not even with a knife or a bow. It is hard enough for us to fight without having to worry about somebody else to defend. The Aswangs will be back for you.” I paused. “Why is that?”

My mother shrugged, avoiding meeting my gaze. I frowned.

“What are you hiding?” I demanded, suddenly feeling angry at my mother as I remembered the Aswangs’ talk during the fight by the lake. “And why does every monster I meet call me a Strangeling? Who are these monsters? Why do they know you?”

My mother looked sad. “Filynora, the information is dangerous.”

“Dangerous? I have fought Aswangs, threatened Vampires, and run from Naga, whatever they are. And you want to talk about information being dangerous?” I asked incredulously. “You know what? Keep it if it is so important. I am going for a walk.”

“Filynora,” my mother said, reaching for me.

“Just leave her be for now,” Elthinor said softly, smiling sadly at her. “She will be back in a while. She just needs to cool down.”

I glanced back for a moment to see my mother watching helplessly as I called Ember to my side. I walked out of the little grove of trees and into the bright light of late morning.

 

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