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.”
“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.”