I pushed myself to sit up, my limbs trembling as little bursts of pain shot through my back. My eyes were locked on Nolan’s face. He did sort of look like me. That is except for…
“You cannot be my brother,” I said weakly.
“And why not?” Nolan asked, raising an eyebrow.
“You are not half Elf.”
“Oh, that,” he said with a wave of his hand.
I watched as his eyes turned red with gold rims, his hair became a purer gold streaked with red, and gold and red designs shot over his forehead and the left side of his face. He had a fern-like plant that curled around his left eye and stretched across his forehead, like mine. There were even golden flowers that bloomed at the tips of the ferns. The right side of his face was blank, but the left side held a tiger. It looked like a Tindre Tigre, outlined in gold and filled in with red. I stared at him. There was no doubt in my mind now that he was indeed my brother.
“Elthinor did not think to tell you this, but when Elves are twins, they are born with half designs on their faces and bodies. Their twin carries the other half. And when one dies, the designs become whole on the living one. Interesting little tidbit that I thought you might like to know,” Nolan said lightly, acting as if nothing was out of the ordinary.
“What is going on?” I asked in a whisper.
I heard the Vampires chuckle as Nolan looked at me, his red-gold eyes and designs looking out of place on the once Human-looking face. He sighed.
“I suppose you want to know about me and why I am siding with them,” he said, sounding a little irritated. When I nodded he sighed again. “Fine. Here is the story.
“When we were very little, we lived with both mother and father on our farm. Our father, Elyosius, would disguise himself as a Human with dyes and such so the town thought we were normal. We were never allowed into town because we would randomly switch from Elf to Human. As children it is not as noticeable as Elves do not get their designs until around thirteen to fifteen, but we would suddenly become fairer of face and skin and stronger or faster than the village children, and that threw suspicion on father, who was not from Paxtonvale.
“Father taught us swordplay with sticks at our very young age because he knew that the Dark Ones would find out about us through the Naga, who visit every Human town and village. Needless to say, they did discover us. It was while we were out playing in the woods with father.” Nolan’s voice suddenly went from bored to dark and angry. “He told us to run. Father and I were not fast enough. They captured us within seconds. You were faster, so they took you out with a well thrown rock, which is why you do not remember anything of your childhood. You don’t, do you?”
“Eyes,” I muttered, feeling all of the Vampires looking at me from right beyond the edge of the sharp firelight. “I remember the Aswangs’ eyes. That is the earliest memory I have.”
“How old were you?”
“I do not know. Four or five, I think. Why?”
“Just wanting to know how much damage the Dark Ones did to you as a child,” Nolan said sweetly.
“So, you were captured,” I said, changing the subject and trying to keep him talking. “What next?”
Nolan’s face darkened, but his tone did not match his expression. “They tortured me,” he said lightly, shrugging. “Father, too. But he was too stubborn. I do not know what happened to him. I, on the other hand, had enough sense to realize that what they were offering was better than that invisible God father always talked about.”
“Father talked about God?” I asked, trying hard to remember something, anything of my father. Nothing, absolutely nothing came to me. Whoever had hit me with that rock certainly had knocked every memory out of me.
“I just said that,” Nolan said in a flat voice. “He was always so sure about Him. That He was everything that he needed, though he never really explained why to us. I suppose he thought we were too young to understand. Anyways, I chose to give up the silly beliefs father had, quite lightly, passed on to us and became what I am today. I am a spy for the Dark Master. His most useful spy,” Nolan said, sounding rather pleased with himself.
“Because you look Human,” I said softly, wrapping my arms around my knees, trembling as my back was stretched out.
“Exactly. Even the Rakshasas are not as valued as I am because they are not all that good at appearing Human.”
“Rakshasas?” I queried hesitantly.
Nolan looked at me distastefully. “I am not explaining anything else to you, Fily,” he said, spitting my name out like it left a bad taste in his mouth. “I have wasted enough of my time with you. It took us much longer to find the scrolls than I thought. Not even sending the Vampires into Stonemere made you get out faster. Dealing with those freaky Satyrs for so long nearly drove me insane. The Dwarves were worse! But the worst of all was you, sister. You and your pathetic optimism, your trust, and all your talk about God. Good thing I kept you away from Jesiah.”
I started, my mind going to the lack of dreams. “How? Jesiah’s the son of God!”
Nolan grinned. “Twins can share dreams. I just gave you mine, kept your mind busy all night with no room for Jesiah to interfere.” He snorted. “Besides, if Jesiah was the son of God, and he could do all the things that are written in that fourth scroll, which we read at the top of the mountain, he could make us obey his Father.”
I frowned. That was true, but it did not sit right with me. A grunt interrupted my thoughts and I turned to see Pinnathir struggling weakly in a Vampire’s arms, but his movements were sluggish and his eyes looked unfocused in the light of the fire. Gabrithon was on his belly, his eyes looking just as dazed. Elthinor, on the other hand, was being held by a Naga and four Vampires, his eyes bright and angry. Nolan grabbed my chin and chuckled.
“I drugged the other two,” he said happily. “But I thought Elthinor would want to see this.”
With that he shoved me forward onto my stomach and then stepped directly onto my back. I screamed, tears leaping to my eyes as agony tore through me. I heard struggling and I opened my eyes to look at Elthinor. His eyes were wild and he was fighting like a madman trying to get out of the grasp of the creatures that held him. Nolan laughed and suddenly wrenched my shoulders back.
The next thing I knew, a cool hand touched my face and I opened my eyes to see Valtrak above me. He tugged my up to my knees then lifted me to my feet. It took me a moment to realize that chaos was brewing around me. Nolan was on the ground, blood streaming from his temple. Elthinor was in the firelight brandishing his sword at the Naga and the one remaining living Vampire that had been holding him. Gabrithon looked as if he was sleeping between two Vampires and Pinnathir lay limply at the feet of another Naga.
Valtrak tugged on my arm. “Filynora, we need to run,” he whispered, arming me with my bow and quiver, and patting my sheathed sword at my waist to make sure it was there. “I know it is going to hurt, but we must. Elthinor’s orders. Ready?”
I gathered all of my wits, pushing the dull throbbing pain away, and nodded. He took a deep breath and looked back at Elthinor, who nodded. My Elven friend met my eyes and his face softened for a moment then he turned back to the monsters and lunged at them. There was a flurry of movement towards him and Valtrak grabbed my hand and we hurried into the darkness. We had run for a few minutes when I heard Nolan’s cry of anger.
“Find them!” he roared, his voice seemingly echoing around us.
A steady flow of pain burned at my lower back and it was hard to ignore. After about ten more minutes, and with the sound of wing beats getting softer and softer, which meant that Aswangs were closing in on us, I dropped to the ground. It was so sudden that I heard Valtrak gasp and backtrack towards me.
“Fily, get up,” he begged. “Please, we have to keep going.”
“I just…” I said shakily, trying to get up, but I could not. The pain was too great. “I’m sorry,” I moaned, lying on the ground.
I could feel the Dwarf’s resignation and he settled beside me, his hand on my upturned cheek. I heard the shrieking of the Aswangs and Vampires getting closer and began to cry. I felt something warm run up my cheek and Valtrak cried out.
“Something touched me!”
I groaned. “Ember, stop.” I froze then forced myself to sit up. “Ember?” I demanded and I got a small bark in reply. “Ember! Valtrak it is Ember!”
“Ember?” Valtrak said blankly.
“There they are!” Llugat roared and raced towards us.
Despite my pain, I smirked and stood, leaning most of my weight on Ember before switching to Valtrak.
“Watch your eyes,” I told my Dwarven friend in a low voice, then I said in a calm tone the one word that would save us. “Flaren.”
Fire erupted over Ember’s coat, dazzling me. I felt Valtrak cringe and my eyes adjusted quickly to the bright light my dear Kindle Wolf gave off. There were screams and the Aswang that had been hovering silently right above us screamed as Ember sank his teeth into her shriveled, grey flesh and a lick of flame caught the thin membrane of her wing, setting her ablaze. Ember dropped back to the ground and then reared up, tossed his head back, and let out a howl. It sent a shiver down my spine.
“Is that the Kindle Wolf you mentioned before?” Valtrak asked in a hesitant voice, huddling close to me.
“Yes,” I said joyfully, my pain almost forgotten. “My Ember.”
There was a sudden call in the sky and I looked up to see a Phoenix. There was no doubt that it was my Phoenix when it swooped down close to my head and let out a snippet of song. Valtrak jerked in surprise and I lost my balance, falling backwards. I screamed as I hit the ground and pain clouded my vision. As I tried to regulate my breathing, I heard a thundering of hooves and Valtrak grabbed my hand, squeezing it fearfully. Time slipped away from me for a moment, and I was gone until I felt strong arms pick me up. I whimpered as pain radiated across my entire lower back.
“What are you doing with her?” Valtrak demanded, grasping my hand.
“She is obviously in pain. We must get her help,” a voice that sounded familiar said.
“I promised Elthinor I would let nobody harm her! Not even your kind!”
“I will not harm her, my strange lad, and if you are a friend of Elthinor’s then you are coming with us.”
I was put on the back of a horse, and felt someone mount behind me. As soon as he touched my lower back, Valtrak’s protests and everything else faded into darkness.