I Am the Life: Chapter 10

Laetitia sat on the bed, brushing her hair and watching me finish packing. She looked whole and healthy again, and had become quite the leader amongst the former slaves. Between her and my father, everything had been going well. She had also taken to Greensage’s girls, teaching them ‘beauty secrets.’ Like how to mix certain plants together to get a paste that made the hair shiny. Or how to make powders and other such things to brush on the face to make different features pop. I did not understand it, and I did not try to. I had never understood Human practices to beautify, and for a Faun’s tips? They were even more confusing, and I was pretty good at understanding different cultures. Or I liked to think of myself being like that.

“How long will you be gone?” the Faun asked as she finished brushing her hair.

“Weeks probably. I do not know how difficult it will be to convince Korvict that he and his Dwarves are needed. And there is the problem facing us when he realizes we shall be working with Centaurs,” I said with a sigh, closing my pack.

“Are you sure you are strong enough for this?” she asked seriously.

“I am. Elthinor will keep checking on me for days, so if I get tired, we shall stop.”

“Are you really taking those element monsters?”

“Yes. They are not monsters any more than I am. Unless you think I am a monster?”

“No! You are certainly different, but you are no monster,” Laetitia said with a flick of her wrist then she sighed. “Promise me you will be careful. You seem to get hurt at every turn.”

“I shall be as careful as I can, but I cannot make any promises. They are after my head, though it might be easier at first. I believe they think I am dead,” I said lightly as I shouldered my pack. “Well, I am as ready as I shall ever be.”

Laetitia got up and walked me out. Gabrithon stood there, his front feet clip-clopping on the  hard ground in his irritation. Despite him knowing that he would not be going, he was not happy about it. As I watched, Valtrak appeared with a pack on and placed a hand on one of his legs. The movement stopped and Gabrithon looked down and smiled at the Dwarf, and when he spoke his tone held mock anger.

“Get off of me, you lump of stone!”

“Why would I even want to touch you, pack mule!” Valtrak shot back. Then they both chuckled. “We shall be as fast as we can. There are politics involved in a decision like this, though.”

“I know. I am a prince, remember?” Gabrithon said with a shake of his head.

“Yes. I still cannot believe you never mentioned that to me before. A rather large oversight, yes?” Valtrak asked pointedly.

“I did not think to tell you. I had already told Filynora and Elthinor. It did not occur to me that you, Pinnathir, and Jaiden did not know!”

“Bah. Keep your secrets, mule. And teach these males how to fight!”

“That I can do.”

“Aw, you two are adorable,” I teased and they both frowned at me.

“Okay, Strangeling,” Valtrak said. “Enough with that. Are we ready?”

“Where are Elthinor and  Pinnathir?” I asked.

I sensed somebody behind me and my bow was in my hand without a thought. I was suddenly staring at a very surprised looking Elthinor. His eyes were locked on the arrow pointed directly between his eyes. He held up his hands and backed up a little. Pinnathir was behind him. We stood still for another moment then Pinnathir tapped Elthinor on the shoulder.

“I think we should know by now that sneaking up on Filynora is a very bad idea.”

“You think?” I asked as I put the arrow back into my quiver.

Elthinor chuckled. “I was not trying to scare you. I learned my lesson the first night of our travels.”

At the confused looks of our friends, he explained sheepishly how I had slapped him for scaring me. They all laughed at that.

“Boy, you really did not know her too well back then,” Gabrithon said, still chuckling.

“Nope. Now it is much harder to scare her, though,” he said with a smile.

I smiled back then looked around. “Are we ready?”

“Yes,” came four answers.

“Jaiden?” I asked as I turned to him.

“You need a Human in your midst,” he said with a shrug. “I know I am not much of a negotiator, but isn’t it fair to represent everybody?”

I looked him over. “Try not to complain too much,” I finally said. “And you will be getting sword fighting lessons.”

He brightened at the first comment then grew hesitant at the second, but he nodded. Gabrithon was staring forlornly at us. I walked over to him and pet his side. He flicked his tail at me, but it was playful instead of irritated, like when we first met. I smiled.

“We shall be back soon and you can certainly come with us next time.”

My father and Aloron suddenly appeared, and the latter crossed his arms with a mock irritated expression on his face.

“Just going to sneak off without saying goodbye?” he asked, then grinned.

“It is no secret that we are leaving today,” I replied.

“No. At least this time you are telling us where you are really going,” the old Elf said.

My father walked up to me. We had had no time together since the time before I got sick. I had only heard that he was leading the former slaves from Laetitia. He placed a hand on my shoulder.

“May God bless your journey, no matter the troubles you have.”

“Aye, for we know there will be troubles,” I said with a sigh.

He smiled and we briefly embraced. Then he backed up to stand beside Aloron again.

“You do know Gabrithon is in charge of the training, right?” I asked.

“Yes. But that does not mean I cannot teach him a thing or two,” he said, his eyes sparkling.

I laughed then turned and pet Gabrithon again. He did not smile this time.

“Bye,” he said sadly.

“Good luck with the training. I expect them to be able to hold their own against us for at least a minute!”

His lips twitched. “As you wish, my little filly.”

I turned and we set out, Elthinor grabbing the reins on the plain bay horse we were bringing. We had a Human map of the entire territory, but it was different than other Human maps. Each of my friends had plotted their own race’s cities on the map. We were headed to Crystalmoor, which was located just inside the forest that the Centaurs called Seagrove, and what the Dwarves called Greenhaven. It was a while away from Woodspell, a Centaurian city and, Gabrithon said, home of the fastest Centaurs anywhere. Valtrak and I were walking in step with each other at the front. We had to go north to the forest then west until Valtrak could spot the Dwarven signs that guided the Dwarves that had to hunt back to the city.

We traveled swiftly, taking only a single horse with us to help carry supplies. I was not happy that we did not take one of mine, but I was outvoted by everybody. The only one they would even consider bringing was Whirlwind. Loam would get the supplies too dusty, they argued, and Rainstorm would get it too wet. Flamme was completely out of the question, as they were afraid he would catch everything on fire. I defended them to the end, though they won. Speaking of Elementals, Ember was still gone. I had no idea where he was or what he was doing. I hoped he was alive and safe, but I was not sure. I missed my Kindle Wolf.

We hurried along for days, only slowed up a little by Jaiden. He was bearing the grueling pace with little complaint, though he always collapsed when we made camp. We did not trust him to keep watch, so we let him sleep. The rest of us took turns in pairs. We made good time and soon reached the forest. Valtrak took the lead and began searching the tree line. We walked for three days with no sign, then on the forth the Dwarf let out a cry and begin to trot as he continued on. Five minutes later we were led into the forest, and we slowed to a walk. We suddenly stopped as Valtrak jerked his hand up.

“We are surrounded,” he said calmly then raised his voice. “Uncle, I know you are there! Filynora and our friends mean no harm!”

There was a rustle and suddenly a rock unfurled itself to reveal a Dwarf wearing clothing made to look like a rock. I figured the clothing was like Dwarven skin; it looked rough, but was actually quite soft to the touch. The Dwarf had a reddish brown beard, coal black eyes that glinted like gems, and brown skin. It was Valtrak’s uncle Firbrawn. He stared at us, then his eyes latched onto Valtrak. He strode up to him and grabbed him into an embrace.

“Nephew! I thought you dead for sure!”

“No, Uncle. She did not kill me. I chose to go with her willingly.”

Firbrawn glared at me. “Is she making you say that? You terrible wench!”

I was angry at that. “Do not call me that again, or it shall be you with a knife to your throat.”

“Uncle, I promise I chose to go. Now, we need to see the king,” Valtrak said, stepping in between us.

“The king? Why?”

“It is urgent. You shall find out when we see him.”

“You expect me to take you and those traitors down to see the king? You have gone mad!”

“We are not traitors,” I said. “We were never citizens of your realm. We were slaves.”

“You are still traitors in Dwarves’ minds, Filynora,” Valtrak said softly. “They think you kidnapped me.”

“We did not. You wanted to go with us,” I argued.

“I know that, but they do not. And I fear they do not believe me now.”

“Look Firbrawn, we need to see the king. It is very important,” Elthinor said.

He glanced over us. “You have changed Human boys and you now have a Satyr with you. What have you been up to?”

“It is a long story,” I said dryly.

“Well tell it, by all means.”

I realized we were not going to get anywhere with this Dwarf unless we obliged him. So, after several other Dwarves appeared, I began to tell them of our adventures, from the stay in the Satyr city to the betrayal of Nolan to the freeing of Elthinor, Gabrithon, and Pinnathir. When I was done, the Dwarf laughed.

“You expect me to believe all that? Aswangs, Naga, Vampires, I have never heard of these monsters before! You have made all this up!”

I heard a growl and a rustle of cloth. I turned to see that Elthinor, who had set his pack and weapons down when I began the story, had removed his shirt. He slowly turned and the Dwarf’s laughter stopped. He looked disgusted and horrified as he stared at the scars that ran down Elthinor’s back. Some of them were still red.

“Yes I expect you to believe it,” Elthinor said as he turned back around. Now. We must see the king.”

The Dwarf swallowed and nodded. “Yes. Yes of course. Follow me.”

We were led to the entrance of the tunnel and began our descent into the darkness.

 

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I Am the Life: Chapter 9

I sat in the bed, knowing as soon as we were better, we had to get moving. Elthinor, Gabrithon, and Pinnathir were already looking quite well. I was healing the slowest out of all of us. It had to be the poison. I was guessing the poison was also why Nolan had not sent out monsters to capture me. That, I thought happily, was good. If he thought I was dead then he would not be expecting us to attack. And that would be a correct assumption. We were not going to attack.

“Well then what are we doing?” Gabrithon demanded; he was lying down outside the window, his arms on the sill and his chin on his arms.

“We are going to unite the races,” I said calmly.

They all stared at me like I was crazy. Valtrak was leaning back on the wall beside the window, arms crossed. He and Gabrithon had been much friendlier to each other of late. I had a sneaking suspicion it was because Valtrak had saved Gabrithon from the dungeons. And, in part I suppose, because they had missed each other. I did not know why, but they must have. They were practically inseparable now. Pinnathir was crouching in the corner, hands on the floor, as he stared at me with his head tilted slightly to the left. Jaiden stood in front of the closed door, nervously playing with his hands. Elthinor was lying on the bed, head resting against his upraised hand.

“How are we going to do that?” Valtrak asked flatly.

“Yeah. I mean, we all hate each other, Fily!” Pinnathir exclaimed.

“It is not just that we are going to come together. We must. These creatures are riled up, and now that they have seen us, we who represent all the races, work together, they will come after each race to oppress them. Just like with the Human race. I have reason to believe they came after Humans first and foremost is because they are the spiritual leaders out of all of the races.”

“What makes you think that?” Jaiden asked.

“Llugat, the leader of the Vampires, said so,” I replied.

“How can you trust this information?” the Human asked suspiciously.

“He was drunk on daylight when he told me. That and he tried to…never mind,” I said hurriedly.

Elthinor shot into a seated position. “There was never an ‘and’ the last time you told us this,” he said, his eyes flashing. “What did he try to do?”

“It did not happen. So it does not matter,” I said, raising my hands up.

“Filynora.” That one word was cold and made me shiver, and it did not come from Elthinor, but Gabrithon.

“He…well,” I shifted uncomfortably. “Oh, his intentions were rather clear. He was not just going to go to sleep. He wanted to…play with me.”

There was silence then Pinnathir leaped to his hooves and an angry bleat came out of his mouth. “How dare he?!”

“I am going to kill him,” Elthinor growled, jumping to his feet and pacing back and forth in front of me.

“Nothing happened,” I said firmly.

“And there will never be the chance for something to happen again,” Gabrithon said seriously.

“Really, you do not have to-”

“No use in arguing,” Valtrak stated with a nod.

“Fine. Can we get back on track?” I asked irritably. “Good, now Humans were attacked first, but now that they know the other races could get involved, they will not be content to let your own races be. We need to convince the leaders if we can, and if not, the youth.”

“Not just them,” Valtrak said. “Just whoever will join us.”

“But you said-” I started.

“I said that the youth are the ones most likely to join us,” Valtrak said. “And I do think that will carry on throughout the other races, though I am not sure how much. For all I know, the youth in the Centaur culture might be fiercely loyal to the adults, while Elves might be a little more rebellious. I just do not know for sure.”

I sighed and rubbed my temples. “This is going to be extremely complicated, right?”

“We are going to try to mend the broken relationships between the races, Fily,” Pinnathir said with an arched eyebrow. “Most of the races show at least deep mistrust of the other races, if not downright hatred.”

“Yes. We know for a fact there is enmity between Satyrs and Elves and between Dwarves and Centaurs,” Elthinor said, nodding once.

“From what I understand, Humans are somewhere in the middle. Nobody really hates them, but they are not well liked either,” Valtrak added. “In fact, Dwarves barely have any interaction with Humans or Elves. Sometimes we run Satyrs off our lands, but most often it is Centaurs.”

Elthinor got a funny look on his face. “Elves tend to avoid Humans. We do not like them, but our dislike is not even close to the hatred we feel for the Satyrs.”

“I believe all our hatred is derived from fear,” Valtrak replied.

“What?” I asked, confounded.

“Well think about it. You have heard stories about evil Elves, so naturally you are afraid of them. Dwarves are told of the shattered-eyed Centaurs that come to kill and steal, so we are afraid of them. Elthinor told us of crystal-eyed Satyrs that kidnapped him and his sister, and he sounded afraid. Fear is a very powerful motivator. I believe it is the Dark Ones’ most powerful tool. They make us afraid of each other, which compels us to kill each other, which leads to battles, which conjures up more fear. It seems like it is an endless cycle. If we can break that cycle by showing each other that there is nothing to fear, we could bring the races together again. Of course the hard part will be convincing everybody that the beliefs that they have been taught from childhood are wrong.”

We all stared at Valtrak. What he said made perfect sense. I had been afraid of Elves because of the stories. And Elthinor had obviously been afraid of Satyrs. The Dark Ones were very clever; I had to give them that. They must have worked very hard to get the races to a state of such dysfunction. We were going to have to work at least twice as hard to change the way they felt now. I took a deep breath and looked up at them.

“We need to get them back together. We need to figure out where we are going first,” I said steadily.

“What do you mean?” Elthinor asked slowly.

“We are going to the kings and queens. We are going to rally the troops, as it were. We are going to convince them, or try our hardest to, that the other races are not the enemy. That the Dark Ones and their lackeys are. So, where are we going first?”

There was silence around me and they all looked thoughtful. They were all studying the walls or the floors. Nobody seemed to want to talk first though. Finally Valtrak stirred.

“You were in the favor of the Dwarven king,” he said, bringing his violet eyes to meet mine. “I suggest we go there first.”

“And what am I supposed to do?” Gabrithon asked. “I am not going down those tunnels. Not where they could brand me. Besides, I do not know if I could go down them. It is said that the tunnels are tricky for Centaurs to maneuver.”

“They are purposefully designed like that,” Valtrak replied.

“You will stay here then,” I said with a nod.

“What? Why?” Gabrithon asked, slamming a fist onto the sill.

“Because I need somebody I can trust to begin to teach the boys how to fight. I shall trust Laetitia with the females, but I need at least one of you to stay behind and train them, lead them, and bring them together. Gabrithon, I know you want to come, but I cannot let you. I need them to trust me, and that is hard enough being a girl. Please?”

Gabrithon stared at me for a moment. “I know you have my best interests at heart. But promise me one thing.”

“Depends on what it is,” I said with raised eyebrows.

“That when we go to see my father, the Dwarf has to stay behind.”

“Naturally.”

“Then I shall stay.”

“Excellent. I trust that you shall whip these males into shape?”

“I shall certainly try my best,” Gabrithon said, his lips twitching with his amusement.

“Good, now we need a plan of action,” I said, settling back against the headboard as the dull ache in my side made itself known again.

“I need to lead you back into the city,” Valtrak said immediately. “If I do not, you will certainly be captured and taken to prison. Remember that you left with a knife to my throat, and I did not return after you promised that I would. They probably assumed that you killed me.”

“Well, I did not, and they will soon see that.”

“And I am glad Gabrithon is staying behind. If he did not, I fear that we would be received even less warmly than we shall be now.”

“Well, I wish we would have thought ahead,” I said wistfully. “Things are going to be so much more complicated than they should be. And they were complicated to begin with.”

“Do not blame yourself, Fily,” Elthinor said, placing a hand on my foot that was resting beside him. “We did not know that we were going to have to do this.”

“Why are we doing this anyways?” Pinnathir asked. “Why do we need to reunite the races? What will this accomplish?”

Elthinor paused. “That is an excellent question. You seem to know what is going on, but we do not. Care to explain?”

“Because we need that last scroll,” Jaiden said. Everybody looked at him; he had been so quiet we had nearly forgotten about him.

“What?” Pinnathir asked, many questions held in that one word.

“Nolan has no doubt gotten the last scroll. He obviously grew up in Shadowlyn. He would have known about the Temple. He has no doubt gone and gotten the scroll. He might have destroyed it, but we have to try to get it if it still exists. That and we need to get rid of the Dark Ones. They hold a powerful sway over everybody and Filynora is right. They will come after all the races now. Do we all really want to be taken over, or maybe even wiped out?”

“No,” Elthinor said darkly. “We do not.”

“Then we must band together and fight this!” Jaiden said with such passion that I could hardly believe it was him who said it.

“Agreed,” Pinnathir shouted leaping to his hooves again. “We cannot allow this to continue now that we know it is wrong and going to get worse!”

“Here here!” Gabrithon said, raising a fist into the air.

“So we are all in agreement?” I asked. There were nods all around. “Excellent. Now we should start preparing for the journey.”

 

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I Am the Life: Chapter 8

I woke to an argument.

“Grandfather, please. She needs me!”

“You sit still while I change your bandages! She might be sick, but you are not in good shape yourself. Now sit!”

“Grandfather!” Elthinor whined.

“Now!”

I could practically see Elthinor crossing his arms and sulking. I opened my eyes and stared up at the ceiling. A dull ache pounded slightly in my side and I cringed, remembering just how sick I had been. I decided to see how much better I was and slowly sat up. My head spun, but I managed to remain in an upright position. I sat back against the wall and waited. Five minutes. Ten minutes.

“Alright Elthinor, you are done,” Aloron said exasperatedly.

He was at the door in a second, an exclamation coming from him when he saw me awake. “Filynora! You are alive!”

“Yes,” I said quietly, my throat sore and my voice scratchy. “But everything aches.”

“That is quite normal. I am surprised, though. I thought for sure you would die. The poison is…very potent. I was near death after only a few hours. You lasted a good two days.” He tilted his head back and closed his eyes. “Thank you God for allowing her to live.”

I smiled. “I guess I have a little more time here.”

“I guess you do,” Elthinor replied, smiling back.

Aloron appeared behind Elthinor. “Good afternoon, my dear. So glad to see you alive.”

“Good to see you, too,” I replied. “Can I have some water?”

“Oh! Of course,” Elthinor said quickly, running to get a bucket of water.

He ladled out a spoonful and held it to my lips as he sat down on the edge of the bed. I glared at him, but drank from it. I knew he would refuse to let me hold it myself, so why argue? He smiled knowingly, his green and silver eyes twinkling in merriment. He was obviously trying not to laugh, so on the second ladleful I ‘accidentally’ knocked over the spoon and drenched his lap. He yelped and jerked up, carrying the bucket of water with him. He stared at me for a moment, then grinned.

“Elthinor you had better not!” I exclaimed, knowing I could not bolt out of the bed without pain.

He laughed and dumped the entire container of water over my head. I gave a yell and I heard laughter. I suddenly realized that I had forgotten Aloron, who was holding onto the doorframe to steady himself in his mirth. I snatched the bucket from Elthinor and wacked the green and silver Elf with it. The wood made a dull noise as it connected with his head. Our eyes met for a brief moment and we began to laugh with Aloron. Once we all stopped laughing, Aloron straightened and I was helped out of the bed, which was stripped of its blankets and sheets quickly. The soaked pillows were tossed off and Leah walked in with Laetitia, both talking and sounding curious. They froze when they saw me.

“Filynora! Why are you all wet?” Laetitia demanded.

“Elthinor dumped a bucket of water on me,” I replied.

“She dumped water on my lap!” Elthinor snapped playfully. “So she started it.”

Elthinor and Aloron were shooed out and the shutters on the window were closed. The two females stripped me out of my clothes and got me into some dry ones, remade the bed, then forced me back into it. It was still a little wet through the new sheets, though. Elthinor and Aloron were allowed back in, but Laetitia gave the former a dirty look.

“You had better not do that again. She needs rest.”

“Oh, fine,” Elthinor said. “But if she starts it again, I will retaliate!”

I laughed at the overly dramatic way he said that and he smiled at me. He slowly sat on the bed, and I was reminded just how hurt he was. His wrists had dark bruises on them and I peeked over the edge of the bed to see his ankles had the same markings. I felt angry, and my face began tingling. Elthinor’s smile immediately faded. He reached over and placed his hand against my cheek, stroking it with his thumb.

“What is wrong, Filynora?” he asked softly.

“He hurt you,” I said, my voice breaking.

“I am alright. Or I will be. You know I will be.” He paused then a mysterious smile curled his lips. “You know you look quite beautiful with those on your face,” he said tenderly.

I blinked at that. Where in the world did that come from? Me, beautiful? Yeah right. I was anything but beautiful. Me? I was messy. Plain. Boring. Unoriginal. A boy. Or nearly one at least. I looked away from Elthinor and saw him frown out of the corner of my eye.

“What?”

“Nothing,” I said and smiled. “Now, am I allowed to eat?”

“Of course,” he said, but he was staring at me strangely.

He moved to stand, but I grabbed his hand. “Have Aloron do it.”

“Yes, have the old Elf do it,” Aloron laughed then held his hands up before I could get on to him for it. “I am kidding. You both stay down. I believe Leah is making lunch.”

I smiled and thanked the old Elf and he simply waved his hand as if it were no big deal. I settled back and Elthinor and I sat in companionable silence. He was studying me intently and I shifted uncomfortably under his scrutinizing gaze.

“What?” I finally asked.

“Oh, nothing,” he said slowly then looked down at his hands.

I frowned but said nothing. I did not understand why he was being so strange. I expected him to be joking and happy, teasing me about dumping water on me. But he looked so serious. And he kept glancing at me. Was it something I had said? Something I had done? I hesitated then placed a hand on his again, squeezing lightly.

“Did I do something wrong?”

He looked surprised and straightened. “Nothing wrong, per se. You just…You are beautiful, Filynora.”

I frowned. “Quit saying that.”

“But you are!”

I stopped talking and he continued to stare at me. I did not like that. The tension was broken by Aloron entering the room with two plates in his hands. He paused and looked from Elthinor to me, then frowned.

“I brought your food,” he said slowly.

I reached for mine. “Thank you.”

He handed Elthinor the other one. “Is there a problem?” the older Elf asked slowly.

Elthinor looked at me then began shaking his head. “I do not think so. But I shall inform you if that changes.”

I looked down at the food and began to eat. Elthinor did the same and Aloron just stood there staring.

“Are you sure?”

Elthinor met my eyes and I quickly looked away again. “No,” he said then left it at that.

 

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I Am the Life: Chapter 7

I loosed the arrow and grinned as the deer went down. Three others fell with mine and the rest of the herd bolted. It was the third time we had hunted them down. We had several hunting parties out to gather food for the town plus the two hundred or so other people that had come with us from Shadowlyn. I was with Kelvin, Jaiden, Colton, and the other boys. We had been field dressing the deer and had several sacks full of meat. We were heading back the next day. We went and began to dress our latest kills. I finished first and watched the others as I bagged the meat, fighting back a wave of nausea. I was starting to feel sick and I did not understand why. I smiled at Jaiden as he heaved a bag over his horse’s back.

“Nice shot,” I commented and he beamed.

“Thanks,” he said proudly.

“Try not to get cocky. That was your first takedown of the trip,” I reminded him and his face fell slightly.

“Yeah,” he sighed. “But at least I got one!”

“And you did a good job with that, but you need to keep in mind that you are just a beginner when it comes to archery. Yes?”

He nodded. “Okay. Boy it is difficult for somebody to be proud around you!”

“Be proud of what you have, not something you think you have,” I said quietly.

Jaiden nodded solemnly and we began to set up camp. We were officially done hunting on this trip. The horses were loaded down with as much as we dared to have on them with room enough for us to ride. I only had a bridle on my Flamme and he was stronger than a normal horse so I had loaded him down more. We took the sacks off of the horses and hung the meat from trees to keep it overnight. I was winded by the time I was done and that was not normal. As time passed, I started feeling more ill. I refused food at supper time. They grew concerned, I could see it in their faces, but they did not say one word. As Jaiden and Colton settled into their watch, the rest of us slipped into our bed rolls. I quickly fell asleep.

I did not sleep long.

I suddenly found myself turning over and vomiting. I heard a cry, but could not respond as I continued to purge everything in my stomach. I finished and then I was hit with pain. It felt like my skin was burning. I screamed and somebody caught me before I could hit the ground. I was lifted out of my bedroll and set near the fire, the heat making the pain much worse.

“Fily! What’s wrong?!” Jaiden asked.

“H-hurts!” I exclaimed.

“What does?”

“Everything,” I moaned.

“Something is wrong! I will take her back to town! Get my horse ready. I am not getting on that fire monster.”

I lay there for an undetermined amount of time before I was finally picked up and placed on a horse. Jaiden got on behind me, his arms on either side of me as he grabbed the reins. The horse took off at a run and Jaiden spurred him on as fast as he could go. I lay there, numb to the world and time itself, but not to the agony coursing through me. I was dry heaving throughout the journey and Jaiden kept murmuring that we were going to be there soon. I moaned softly and managed to open my eyes to see the lights of the town in front of us. There was a shout and movement and Jaiden called out who we were. I whimpered as my stomach lurched again and I closed my eyes.

“What is going on?” a man asked after the horse was stopped.

“Something is wrong with Filynora. Get Aloron!”

Jaiden got off the horse and I almost fell off without his arms supporting me. He caught me and lowered me to the ground. After another eternity of pain I felt a cool hand pressing on my forehead. I moaned and forced my eyes open again to see Aloron’s kind face hovering above me.

“What happened?”

“She just woke up and started vomiting and screaming. I got her here as fast as I could,” Jaiden replied quickly.

Elthinor’s face was suddenly beside Aloron’s, his expression very worried. “Fily? Can you hear me?” I nodded slightly, trying to fight the agony coursing across my skin. “Is your skin on fire?”

“Yes,” I croaked.

Horror flickered across his face. “Get Laetitia now and tell her about the skin fire!” he shouted. I felt my consciousness slipping away and Elthinor grabbed my hand. “Filynora, do not go to sleep on me!”

“Hurts,” I whimpered.

“Stay with me,” he ordered and I began fighting to stay awake.

“What is going on with me?” I asked.

“Nolan cut you.” It was not a question, but I nodded anyways and his next words made my blood run cold. “His knife is poisoned. Where did he cut you?”

Hands shaking, I reached down and lifted my shirt up slightly to reveal the cut on my side. In the firelight I could see the cut properly for the first time in two days. It was blackened and oozing something and my shirt was stained with it. I began dry heaving again and Elthinor stroked my hair. Aloron picked me up and carried me hurriedly to Leah’s house. I was set in the bed and a cool cloth was pressed against my forehead. I moaned, fighting off sleep as best I could. It was so hard and my body hurt so much. I knew sleep would make the pain disappear, but I was guessing it would also mean my death. Elthinor was squeezing my hand every few seconds and I squeezed back weakly to let him know I was still awake and alive.

I was falling unconscious when Laetitia suddenly rushed into the room carrying a bowl. I was pulled up to sit, leaning heavily against the wall behind me for support. I struggled to keep my eyes open as Laetitia leaped easily onto the bed and knelt on either side of my outstretched legs. She held the bowl to my lips and I gagged at the smell alone. In the bowl was a thick green liquid that was bubbling and radiating heat. I turned my head away and shook it. Elthinor turned my face to him and his eyes held such worry that I softened a little.

“It is going to taste and feel terrible in your mouth, but you must swallow it. Alright?”

I winced, but nodded weakly. I closed my eyes and opened my mouth to allow her to pour it in my mouth; I was so weak I knew I could not hold the bowl. He was right. It was the worst-tasting thing that I had ever put in my mouth, and it was thick and it continued to bubble as I forced myself to swallow. It burned my throat on the way down and I could trace its progress down to my stomach. I kept my mouth closed tightly after that, afraid I would throw it up. I looked at Elthinor, still fighting to stay awake.

“Good. Now keep it down and there is a good chance that you will live.”

“Elthinor?” Laetitia asked, sounding scared.

“The poison has been in her system longer than it was ever in mine. She should be dead by now. It is her Strangeling blood that has saved her this far. I would bet my own life on it. All we can do it wait.”

“S-sleep…” I murmured, losing my battle.

“Yes. Sleep now. Rest. I shall pray until you wake up.”

I relaxed my body, noticing as I drifted into sleep that the pain was going away…

“Greetings, Filynora.”

“Jesiah?” I asked, blinking up at the clear blue sky peeking through the trees in the red, orange, and green leaves above me. I sat up and stood slowly, expecting to feel pain from my injury, but there was nothing but peace. “Am I dead?”

“Not yet,” Jesiah laughed.

“Yet. That is such a comforting thought,” I said, and I meant it. “My…father told me about Heaven. It sounds lovely. Are you really there?”

“Yes.”

“And God?”

“He is everywhere, but yes, Heaven is considered his home by Human standards.”

“Neat…Jesiah? He told me my mother is in Heaven. Is that true?”

“Yes,” he replied. “She watches each step you take and is completely on your side. She still loves you dearly, Filynora.”

“Tell her I miss her?” I asked, a little hesitant; I did not know how this worked.

“I will. You are doing a good job, child, but the enemy grows ever stronger. His anger is mounting and his efforts to capture you will increase tenfold. Trust in your friends and allow them to help you, male and female alike. Be careful, Filynora, and watch yourself.”

I smiled at him as the dream began melting away and then all I remembered was blackness.

 

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I Am the Life: Chapter 6

I had never seen Aloron run so fast. He sprinted for us as soon as he saw his grandson and gingerly helped Elthinor off the horse. He immediately began looking him over and shaking his head with a deep frown. He was not pleased by Elthinor’s physical state and he let us know. Eretren came up and was given the instructions to take Elthinor to the tents, and I stopped him before he could obey.

“Gabrithon, Pinnathir,” I called and they slowly approached.

“Yes Fily?” Pinnathir asked hoarsely.

“Go with this kind Elf. He shall take you and help treat you. I shall have food prepared for all of you.”

They nodded and Eretren stared at them openly for a moment before turning and walking away, his arm around Elthinor’s shoulders. Pinnathir and Gabrithon stared at me for a moment then slowly followed after I gave them a reassuring smile. I watched them go and turned at a touch to my shoulder. It was Laetitia. She smiled at me.

“He led you straight to them, did he not?”

“The Elf? Yes. He seemed to know the castle quite well.”

“Yeah, well he had been there for about thirteen years. Poor Elyosius.”

I froze. “What did you just say?”

“He had been there for thirteen years.”

“No after that.” Something in my tone must have tipped her off that I was surprised because she frowned slightly.

“Poor Elyosius?” she asked.

“Are you sure that is his name?”

“Yes. Why?”

I felt a little numb. “Where is he?”

“Fily? What is the matter?”

“I need to talk to him.”

Laetitia stared at me intently for a moment then grabbed my wrist and led me through the menagerie of servants. Her head moved from side to side as she scanned everybody there and she tapped one female Elf on the shoulder and asked a question. I did not pay attention to what they said, but she began leading me back through the crowd into the town. I was taken to the tents and she cleared her throat.

“Elyosius? Are you in there? Filynora wishes to speak with you.”

The Elf came out and for the first time I really looked at him. On one cheek in deep red he had a rose with a dark purple stem and leaves. On the other he had a purple horse with red eyes, mane, and tail. Vines of the two colors were curling around each other and were wrapped around his eyes and bloomed across his forehead. His eyes were mostly purple with red rims and his hair was several colors of deep purple with red streaks. He smiled when he saw me and Laetitia dropped my hand. I slowly approached him, not really sure what to do or feel. So I chose suspicion.

“Your name is Elyosius?”

“Yes,” he said, his voice serious as he scanned my face.

“Are you my father?”

“Yes,” he replied again in the same tone of voice.

“What was my mother’s name then?”

“Estelle.” He paused and sorrow entered his eyes. “Was?”

“She is dead. Tikujar and Rattuin killed her last summer.”

Tears filled his eyes and he looked away. “Estelle,” he sighed, pain evident in his features. He took several deep breaths then wrapped an arm around me. “Walk with me?”

“I keep the sword,” I said pointedly and he laughed softly.

We walked to the outskirts of town and out into the fields surrounding Greensage. I sat down on a small hill, but he continued to stand. We were silent. I did not know about him but I had no idea what to say. How do you talk to somebody who you do not remember?

“You have grown my little filly,” he finally said, lowering himself to sit.

I shrugged. “What did you expect?”

“Honestly? I never expected to see you again.”

“Oh. Well, I never thought I would get to meet you. I do not remember you.”

“That rock must have hit you pretty hard, but you still managed to get home.”

I nodded, though I still did not remember anything. “I miss mother.”

“I missed you both.”

We sat there awkwardly for a few minutes. Then he sighed and relaxed.

“We should not be like this. It has been years, yes, but you are my daughter and I am your father.”

“I do not know what to do around a father,” I replied.

“And I have been betrayed by my son. I do not think either of us trusts each other.”

“If we deserve each other’s trust, we shall earn it.”

He smiled and looked at me. “Agreed.” He paused. “Can we talk about your mother?”

“There is nothing to talk about. She is gone.”

“Not entirely.”

I frowned and glanced at him. “How is she not gone? She is dead. That is it.”

“No it is not. She believed in Jesiah’s power to save her from her sins. She is still alive, just not here.”

“What?”

“Jesiah is-”

“I know who Jesiah is,” I interrupted. “What I do not know is how she is still alive. Where is this place and can I get there?”

“Oh. If you believe in Jesiah, trust him with all your being that he can save you from your sins, then yes, you shall be with her again. Just not until you die. It is not a place your physical body can enter. Your spirit can though. It is called ‘Heaven’ and it is supposed to be breathtakingly beautiful. You spend all eternity with your Creator and your Savior, too, though not just in Heaven. Eventually it will come down here and all there will live and learn forever, expanding their knowledge of everything, but especially of their Creator and Savior, who are both infinitely fascinating.”

“So everybody goes to this Heaven when they die?”

His face darkened. “No. Not everybody. There is an alternative place.”

“It is not as good, is it?”

“It is the exact opposite. You are forever separated from God and Jesiah. You get what you rightly deserve, burning in torment all alone for the rest of eternity. It is called ‘Hell’ and is a place nobody wants to go to, though many choose it.”

“Choose? Why would anybody choose to be in such a horrible place?” I asked, appalled.

“There is a great choice put in front of every member of all five races. Whether or not to choose Jesiah, and therefore choose spiritual life, or to reject him and, ultimately, salvation, which leads to spiritual death. Now, I do not know entirely how it works, but it is said that even if the Message is not  given to them, which is the Message that Jesiah saves, they know by the Creator’s handiwork, which is to say, everything, like the plants and the animals and the sky and the stars and the sun and the moon, well you get the idea. Anyways, they know by His handiwork that He is real. I do not know how it works if they do not get the Message, but it is not my place to know. All I know is that we must spread the news that Jesiah saves to as many as possible to save them from Hell, or at least give them knowledge of the choice.”

“I still do not see why anybody would choose to reject Jesiah,” I replied.

“Stubbornness. Not knowing what the outcome is. Not caring about the outcome even if they know what it is. Not wanting to be held accountable for their actions while they are in this world.”

“Accountable?”

“At the end of your life you are to stand before the throne of God and give an account of everything you have done in your life, good and bad. Sin is no laughing matter, especially because of who it is against,” he said with a nod.

“What do you mean? And what did you mean about us deserving Hell?”

“Well, let’s use Elthinor in the example. He slapped you, which I do not approve of, but I digress. You are good friends so the consequences were very little, correct?”

“Yes,” I said slowly,  unsure of where this was going.

“Say he slapped his father. The consequences would be more severe, yes?” I nodded and he continued. “Now say he slapped a royal guard. More severe?” I nodded again. “Now, imagine he slapped the king of the Elves. What would the penalty be?”
“At best? He would be thrown in the dungeon,” I replied, a little surprised at the thought.

“Now, sinning is worse than that. You are pretty much slapping God, the Creator of everything, including you, in the face every time you lie, even a little one. Every time you use his name in vain, another slap. Every time you dishonor your parents, another slap. Every time you lust after another person, another slap. Every time you put something before God, another slap. Every time you hate, which Jesiah said was basically murder in your heart, another slap. I could go through all the Commandments, but you get the point?”

“Yes,” I said, feeling chilled. I had done plenty of things to slap God in the face. I suddenly did not feel like a good person anymore, and I mentioned that.

He smiled, though it was sad. “Nobody is a good person. We have all sinned against God. Now before you start comparing yourself to other people, compare yourself to the Perfect One. God is sinless. So is Jesiah. Compared to them, you fall immensely short of the goal. Even the best person in the world is horrible compared to the perfection that is our Creator.”

I sat there in silence, disturbed by the thoughts. If that was true, then every single person needed a Savior. I wondered about the accountability, too. Wouldn’t that mean we were all in trouble? But then he said that Jesiah was not just a Savior, but the Savior. Was there something that qualified him to be our Savior other than his being the Son of God? I was curious so I asked. Elyosius frowned.

“There is something else. A great sacrifice he made, but I am not sure what it is. We never got that far in the story before they were all killed.”

“Who are ‘they?'” I asked curiously.

“Nomads. I am the last one and I gave up that lifestyle when I met your mother. They were a mismatched group of people from every race that kept the stories of Jesiah alive. I was a child when they were attacked by the Dark Ones’ minions. I was hidden by my mother and saved because of her actions. They were destroyed, but I continued to go around and tell of Jesiah’s saving grace and the story of God as far as I knew. Then I met Estelle and we got married and had you and Nolan. I was captured when you were three and was tortured then enslaved for thirteen years.” He reached over and touched my shoulder. “Thank you for saving us. You did not come in to do that, yet you did.”

I shrugged. “I just could not leave you all there!” I exclaimed. “Being a slave is no life.”

“You are a very kind soul, daughter of mine. I do believe trust will not be a problem for long.”

“I hope not. I wish I could remember you.”

“It is alright, Filynora. I do not mind. You have changed quite a bit since I saw you last. I have to get to know you as much as you have to get to know me. We are even, yes?”

I smiled. “Yes.”

“Ahem.”

I turned to see Laetitia standing there, a smile spread across her face. I arched my eyebrows and she laughed.

“That was sweet,” she explained, her eyes sparkling.

“What do you want?” I asked, rolling my eyes at her words.

“The boys are here. They traveled all night and they have maybe a hundred people with them.”

I stood. “Come, Ely…Father. I need to see Kelvin and Colton. We need to go hunting. There are so many new people and I know there is not nearly enough food.”

Elyosius smiled and stood. I hoped he was right about the trust because he seemed like an interesting individual. And he knew so much about God. I would have to let him read the scrolls. I think he would like that.

 

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I Am the Life: Chapter 5

I stared at the Faun in front of me with wide eyes. She looked as surprised as I felt. She was thinner than I remembered her to be and her hair was no longer sleek and shiny. Her eyes suddenly filled with tears and she threw her arms around me and began crying against me. I stood there, frozen and uncomfortable when she suddenly drew back and peered down the hallway I had turned into. She dove for the knife then jerked my arm and led me down the hall I had originally been in. We moved at a surprising pace and the maze of hallways had me lost in less than a minute. She went down a flight of stairs and threw open a door and I was suddenly staring at a group consisting of members of every race, both male and female. Every face turned to me.

“I told you she would come!” Laetitia crowed after the door had shut behind us.

There was a murmur that rippled through the group as they stared at me. Some looked curious, some looked distrustful, but all of them looked surprised. My eyes dashed around, looking at each one there. I finally looked back at Laetitia who was beaming happily. I was confused at who these people were and why Laetitia was even there.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“You do not know?” one male Dwarf asked.

I shook my head. “No.”

“We are the servants of the Dark Ones,” a shy sounding female replied.

“Alright then. Now what are you doing here, Laetitia?”

“Terryn and I were captured on our way back to Stonemere by those flying creatures. They brought us here and we were told we were now their servants.”

“Where is he then?”

The crowd parted and Terryn stepped through. He looked haggard and tired, but very pleased to see me. He bowed slightly then straightened.

“Filynora. You do not know how good it is to see your face.”

I stared hard at him. “Where is Elthinor?”

“He is not in his cell?” Laetitia asked, though it sounded more like a statement.

“No. Gabrithon and Pinnathir told me he was taken to be beaten in front of you.”

“Then they have not summoned us yet,” Laetitia sighed. “It is hard to watch, but if you look away you are beaten.”

I growled. “Take me to him. Now.”

“I do not know the castle well enough. I cannot and neither can Terryn.”

“Then get me somebody who can.” I knew I sounded mean, but I was scared of what was going to happen to Elthinor.

“I can,” a masculine voice said and a tall red and purple Elf stepped forward from the back.

“Great. You are with me. Laetitia, you take the rest of them down through the dungeons. There’s a way out. Tell Valtrak I sent you and that you are to collapse the tunnel behind you and head back to Greensage as fast as you can.”

Laetitia was about to answer when the door behind me opened and I spun to see a Vampire, who was staring at me with wide eyes. I moved quickly before he could sound the alarm, my sword in my hand before I really thought about it. I stepped into the hallway and ran him through then swiped his head off. I heard a gasp and turned to see another Vampire, and he turned and began to run down the hall. I got my bow, nocked an arrow, and shot him down. I walked up to him slowly and kicked him onto his back. He lunged up at me and I fired a second arrow through his skull. He dropped and did not move again. I could feel shock radiating off of the group of servants. They were staring at the dead Vampires and then all eyes were on me.

“Laetitia. Go. Now.”

She nodded and gestured for all the servants to follow her. They hurried past me and I was left with the Elf. He was staring at me intently and smiled when I met his eyes. I gestured for him to lead the way and we took off at a good pace down a maze of hallways. He really seemed to know them quite well. We stopped outside a pair of double doors and he nodded at me. This was it. I slowly cracked a door and peeked in. Or really out. It was a balcony overlooking a large courtyard. Standing in the middle of the balcony was Nolan, Elthinor lying at his feet. I felt sickened at what I saw.

The poor Elf’s back was to me and was crisscrossed with raw looking stripes, overshadowing his beautiful designs. His skin was blackened in places, no doubt deep bruises that would cause agony whenever touched. He was curled up and shivering, from pain, I thought angrily. I wrapped my hand around the hilt of my sword, rage filling me to the point of no return. I slowly pushed the door open just as Nolan demanded that the Aswang and Vampire standing to either side of him go and see what was taking so long. They turned and shrieked at me, surprise crossing their faces. Nolan turned and gave a yell, but I had already lunged forward, swiping my sword through the Aswang’s too thin middle. She dropped and I turned and pinned the Vampire to the wall with my sword. He began crawling up it to get to me, but I held it with my hip and did as I had done with the other Vampire, firing an arrow through his skull.

Nolan suddenly grabbed me from behind and yanked me back, my sword clattering to the ground. I struggled and screamed my rage at him, the sound echoing in the empty courtyard. A sharp pain suddenly slashed across my right side and I cried out in surprise. The Elf that had assisted me to the balcony was suddenly in front of me and Nolan gasped and dropped me. I spun around and clocked him across the temple and he collapsed, blood oozing out of a split in his skin. I kicked him hard for good measure and turned to Elthinor, who had watched everything with an open mouth. He struggled to his feet and I noticed that only his hands were chained, which was good because we needed to get out of there immediately and there was really only one way. I could already hear the pounding of feet coming in our direction. I picked up my sword and sheathed it before slamming the doors closed and blocking them with the two corpses.

“How are we getting out of here, Filynora?” the Elf asked me.

“We are jumping to the wall and across the roofs of the houses to the outer wall. Then down.”

“How?”

“No time. Just go!”

The Elf went first, jumping lightly over the gap and landing on the wall, which was close enough that it was rather easy. Elthinor was still in shock so I shoved him over the edge and he was caught and dragged up by the chain connecting his wrist shackles. I leaped over and swallowed convulsively when I looked down. It was just a high enough drop that it was scary looking. This time I went first, crouching and jumping down just to get it over with. I landed with a grunt and found myself gasping for air. The Elf, whose name I did not have time to ask for at this point, came down next and held out his arms to catch Elthinor, who shook his head and backed up.

“Elthinor, please!” I begged as I got my breath back and he groaned softly and jumped.

We both caught him and quickly found ourselves running across the roofs. I heard a familiar voice and froze. I had completely forgotten about the boys! I leaped to another roof and stared down at Kelvin and Jaiden, who were in the center of a crowd of young people. I did not know whether to smile or frown. I whistled and they looked up at us in surprise.

“We have to get out of the city, now!”

Their faces turned from surprised to serious in a second. When I was sure they were going to run, I turned and began to head for the wall again. This time we were forced to take a running leap and Elthinor barely made it. We dragged him up again. I heard a shriek and spun to see them coming for us. I whistled sharply and we could only wait as they got closer and closer to us. Aswangs were flying high speed towards us in the air and Vampires were running across the roofs like we had. I pulled out my bow and began firing arrows. Now that I knew how to aim at these creatures, I was actually hitting them. But there were way too many for me to stop by myself. Just before they got to us I heard the noise I had been waiting for: a whinny.

“Rainstorm! Flaren!” I shouted immediately.

Elthinor gasped as water rushed up the wall and I shoved him over the edge. The water guided him directly onto Rainstorm’s back. I called again, this time for Whirlwind. Air rushed up to meet us and I gestured for the Elf to jump. He gave me an incredulous look so I pushed him. The air guided him onto Whirlwind’s back. Now for me, and that was a problem. Fire or earth. I bit my bottom lip and groaned as I made my pick.

“Flame, jump!”

The fire horse obeyed galloping partway up the wall before turning around and leaping off. I jumped just before he reached the peak of his arc and landed squarely, if not a little roughly, on his back. I tangled my hands in his almost too hot mane and clicked my tongue. I took off, leading the other three horses and two riders away. I could not worry about Jaiden and the others. They wanted adventure, they were going to get it. I just hoped they all made it out alive. I was grabbed by sharp claws and pulled my knife, slashing at the hand that held me. My knife came away stained with black blood and the hand was withdrawn. I heard a scream of rage from the direction of the city and I turned to see Nolan standing on the top of the outside wall. I could practically feel his glare on me.

“We will get you yet, Fily!” he shouted at me.

I noticed the creatures had stopped following us, and it made me uneasy, but nothing bad happened so I looked forward again and we rode. I slowed my horse to a trot when I saw the group of servants hurrying along. Gabrithon, Pinnathir and Valtrak were in the back. I gave a shout and they all turned. Gabrithon rushed me, going as fast as he could in his weakened state, and swept me off the horse into his arms. I laughed and embraced him, tears of joy brimming in my eyes. He finally dropped me to the ground and Pinnathir was suddenly in his place, hugging me tightly. He pulled back and bleated happily, mussing my hair. I heard a jingle and I turned to see the red and purple Elf holding Elthinor’s chains in his hand, but that was all I could take in before my dearest friend slapped me across the face as hard as he could. There was silence around us.

“Do not ever do anything that stupid again Filynora!” Elthinor snapped then embraced me and began crying.

I wrapped one arm around him and rubbed my stinging cheek with the other. “You are most welcome, Elthinor.”

He drew back, his bottom lip quivering. “How could you be so stupid, coming after us like that?”

I frowned. “If you think I would leave you in the hands of that traitor, you are stupid one.”

Elthinor shook his head. “I would ask you to promise you would never do something like that again, but I already know your answer.”

I smiled and turned to look at Valtrak when he tugged at my sleeve. “Yes?”

“Where are the boys?”

“I did not really have much time to worry about them. Besides, only that one Naga knows them. Nobody else will know enough to stop them. I hope.”

“They wanted a fight,” Valtrak sighed.

“They might get one,” I replied with a nod. “Now, we must get our friends back to town. They need medical attention.”

I cupped my hands and helped Elthinor back on the horse then made Pinnathir get on Rocky, despite his protests. Gabrithon smiled at me when I turned to him.

“Do I get a horse, too?” he asked seriously, though there was mirth in his eyes.

“Technically, you are on a horse,” I replied solemnly.

We laughed at that and began heading back to Greensage. I silently hoped that the townsfolk would accept Satyrs and Centaurs as well as they had Elves and Dwarves because there were quite a few in the servants’ ranks. Oh well, I thought. We would not find out until we got there.

 

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I Am the Life: Chapter 4

I looked over the tunnel, holding up the makeshift torch to get a better view. It was just me and Valtrak. Asher was still on watch, so we did not have to worry about the boys. I was much more interested in the tunnel that we had, without my knowledge, passed on the way up here. Valtrak had been the only one to notice it, but he told me that he had naturally assumed that we had seen it too. Dwarves, I realized, were extremely good at seeing hidden caves. When I asked him why, he chuckled.

“Because, Filynora. The entrances to our caves are always hidden. This tunnel was definitely carved by Dwarves; no other race would think to hide it like this. I would not be surprised if nobody knew about this.”

The cave was tall enough to allow even the tallest Centaurs through it. That plus the fact that it was built into the side of the mountain near a Human town made me believe it was dug back before the rift between the races. When I voiced that thought, Valtrak agreed with me, pointing out that the Dwarves that had carved it had used a very old technique that had not really been used for a long while. When asked how he knew that, he pointed out chips and cracks.

“We now have a much better way of carving tunnels that makes the walls smooth and reduces the chance of chips happening. This is nothing like the tunnels leading to different sections of the city.”

I frowned. “What do you mean by sections?”

“You only saw and lived in one part of Crystalmoor. There are five different sections, each unique.”

I hummed. “Really?”

Valtrak nodded. “Mayhap when all this is over, you could come and I could show you around?”

“That would be nice. If we survive,” I stated, my voice too calm for the words I had just spoken.

“True,” Valtrak agreed, his tone light and pleasant. We may have well been talking about the weather.

“Did you explore the cave?” I asked, intentionally changing the subject.

“A little bit,” the Dwarf said with a nod. “It seems sturdy and quite unused. The floor is littered with small stones and a layer of dirt that is unstirred by any footprints but my own.”

“Excellent. You and I shall sneak in this way first thing in the morning. The boys can go into town and try to gather information about the creatures. Maybe they could even get a few recruits for our cause.”

We walked back to camp to see Asher nearly falling asleep. I sent him to his bedroll and he was out almost immediately. Valtrak and I spent the rest of the shift discussing in quiet voices everything from how to instruct the boys to how much we wanted to see our friends. Valtrak went so far as to even say he wanted to see Gabrithon again. When I asked him why, he responded that he missed teasing the Centaur. I knew that he was telling the truth, but I suspected that he was not telling the whole truth. I let it go though and before long we woke Kelvin and Colton for their turn at watch.

The next morning we shared our plan with the boys, who were not happy. They wanted excitement and adventure and a fight. They were not happy about just going and talking to people. I silenced them and sent them on their way after breakfast. Once they were gone, Valtrak and I headed to the cave. I was much more relaxed around my friend than I was around those boys. Even Jaiden made me a little uncomfortable. Maybe it was because Humans had always hurt me, but I was much more at home with those of a different race.

Valtrak and I paused at the entrance of the cave to light a torch that the Dwarf had made the night before. He held it and we went forward. There was a sharp curve about twenty-five feet in and it became quite dark after that. The tunnel was not straight like the tunnels in Crystalmoor had been. It wound this way and that, going deep under the mountain. It finally ended and we found out why the tunnel was so unused. There had been a cave in. Valtrak handed me the torch and began to press his hands against the rocks.

“Is it possible to get through?” I asked, my heart sinking.

“From the other side? No,” Valtrak said then turned to look up and smile at me. “But we can from this side.”

“What is the difference?”

“The way the rocks have settled,” the Dwarf replied. “A nice push on this side should send the rocks tumbling down.”

I shoved the torch in his hands and searched inside myself for that strange physical strength I seemed to have. Just as I began pushing, Valtrak gave a cry of “Wait!” but it was too late. The rocks gave under my hands and, with a rumble, they collapsed into another tunnel, settling over the floor. I looked at Valtrak, who was looking up at the archway with a gaping mouth. He settled his violet eyes on me and snapped his mouth shut.

“That tunnel might have collapsed on us!” he sputtered incredulously.

“Well it did not,” I stated with a smile.

He shook his head and we stepped through. When I looked up I saw Pinnathir right across from us staring open-mouthed. Shackles were around his wrists and his ankles and he looked exhausted, bruised and bloodied, and too thin. He suddenly smiled, his bottom lip trembling, and he moved to the end of his chains, his eyes hopeful and desperate at the same time.

“Please tell me they did not slip me more hallucinogens,” he said hoarsely. “Please tell me you are real!”

“Pinnathir,” I said, horrified and sickened at the poor Satyr’s condition.

“What did they do to him?” Valtrak asked softly.

“Fily,” a voice called, just as hoarse as Pinnathir’s.

“Gabrithon!” I gasped, turning to look at the Centaur, who was in a cell cattycorner to Pinnathir. His condition was just as bad as my Satyr friend’s, if not worse.

“Is it really you?” Gabrithon asked, shifting in his chains.

“No, mule, it is Nolan,” Valtrak said, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.

“Valtrak,” Gabrithon sighed, a tone of relief in his voice.

“Who else?” the Dwarf asked as I looked into an empty cell.

“Where is Elthinor?” I asked tersely, looking from Gabrithon to Pinnathir.

There was silence and both of my imprisoned friends looked away from me. I immediately grew alarmed. I grabbed the bars of the cell and Gabrithon looked up at me sadly. He sighed and shook his head, seemingly unable to speak.

“He gets taken out of his cell every couple of days,” Pinnathir finally said softly.

“Nolan beats him in front of all the servants, making an example of him,” Gabrithon admitted in a low voice.

“Then he comes back and is starved for the rest of the day,” the Satyr finished.

Tears of anger burned my eyes and I leaned my forehead against the bars, gritting my teeth. I had known it would be bad. I just had not thought of what could be, too afraid that I would be right. I felt Valtrak touch my arm and I looked down at him. I could practically feel my eyes change and my designs flow across my face, yet he did not react to it. Instead, he squeezed my arm lightly and kept his eyes on mine.

“We shall get him back,” he said firmly.

I nodded. “I know we will,” I said darkly as I straightened up, very aware of the threat my voice carried.

“What are we doing?” Valtrak asked.

“You are staying here and getting these two out of the cells. I am going up into the stronghold to find Elthinor,” I replied decisively.

Valtrak looked worried. “Try not to draw too much attention to yourself, Filynora.”

“I cannot promise anything,” I said honestly.

“We know,” Pinnathir said weakly, his lips curling up into a small smile.

“Do you know where they take him?”

“No.”

“Wonderful,” I mumbled then began to move down the hall. “I shall be back.”

“Be careful,” Gabrithon called.

I laughed softly as I hurried deeper into the fortress. I climbed up some stairs and found myself in a long hallway with no windows or doors. I was obviously still within the mountain, as the walls on this level were the same dark brown color as the one beneath it had been. I walked down that hallway and around a corner. And another corner. And another. I finally got to another set of stairs and I hurried up to find…another hallway. After going around two corners on that floor, I got to a set of stairs that led down.

As soon as I went down them, I knew I was out of the mountain. The walls were stacked stones, but instead of various browns and grays, they were blacker than a starless night sky. I shuddered as soon as my fingers brushed the stones, but not because they were slimy. In fact, they were dry to the touch, but the black was like an outer shell. Something worse than bad had stained these stones. It was like the blood of the creatures we defeated, except it did not burn my skin. Instead it seemed ice cold to the touch and made me feel physically ill. I drew back and stared intently at it. What could have made something that felt so wrong? No, wrong was too light a word. Evil fit it much better.

I started down the hallway, feeling suddenly small and out of place. Fear began weighing on my heart. Why had I not met anybody yet? Or seen them at least? I began moving faster, looking down the hallways that began branching off to the left and right of me, trying to find a single soul…or a creature. I was glancing down one hallway when something caught my eye on the wall. I turned and stopped in front of it. It was a slashed picture. I squinted at it as I took a part of the canvas and reattached it. It was quite a grisly sight. There was a man hanging down on a long piece of wood stuck into the ground. His arms were outstretched onto another piece of wood that was horizontal to the first one and huge nails pierced his wrists, anchoring him to the wooden crossbeam. He hung there nearly completely naked, only a blood stained cloth wrapped around his hips to preserve what little modesty he had left. His body was bloody and bruised, and another nail was driven through his feet, which were crossed on top of each other. More blood oozed down from the puncture wounds.

I felt horrified yet I was unable to look away. I wished I could see the man’s face, for the part of the canvas that had held his face was missing. I could see a band of thorns just above the torn bit that had blood covering it and it was also leaking out of the part of the skin of the man’s forehead that was left. Despite the gruesome image, the painting felt a little too clean. Maybe it was the missing part. I was suddenly grabbed my shoulder and spun around. I went for my knife and everything stopped when I pressed the blade against the throat of my attacker.

“Filynora?!”

My jaw dropped along with the knife. “Laetitia?!”

 

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