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.”
“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.