I Am the Life: Chapter 16

The people of Greensage welcomed the Dwarves, though the stonemen were stared at constantly, especially the females. The Dwarves had tents with them and they paired up, two to a tent. That added to the number of tents spread around Greensage, the ones from the servants and the young people from Shadowlyn. I went into town and purchased one large tent and a small one with some of the remaining Elven coin that I had. I handed the large on to Elthinor, who looked at it then at me.

“What am I to do with this?”

“Pitch it. We are staying here for two weeks to rest and prepare for our trek to the Elven capital. You, Pinnathir, and Valtrak can sleep in it. I have this one for me. Gabrithon is on his own.”

Elthinor raised his eyebrows. “Did you think we would have no objections to this?”

I looked at the Elf, the Satyr, and the Dwarf one after the other. “Do you have any objections?”

“I have none,” Pinnathir said.

“I trust them both to not slit my throat while I sleep,” Valtrak added.

“And you, Elthinor?” I asked.

“No. I was just wondering if you had considered it,” he said, his face breaking into a smile.

We moved about a hundred feet away from the crowd and pitched the two tents; mine a little way away from the boys’ for the sake of propriety. Elthinor came over with his own contraption of four wooden poles and a tarp that was shiny, as if it were waterproofed. He set it up beside the larger tent, Valtrak helping him to dig the holes then fill them in again around the poles. The wooden shafts were as tall as Gabrithon and he tied ropes around the cloth so it would hold tight to the poles. It was a Centaurian equivalent of a makeshift tent, we were told, and Gabrithon was pleased with it.

“Now I can sleep easier,” he said happily.

We sat together for a while, resting our weary bodies and reveling in each others’ company. We went to bed early and woke up the next morning when the sun had been up for hours, but we didn’t care. It had been nice to sleep in. We went into town for a real breakfast, not jerky and bread. I knocked on the door at Jaiden’s house and Leah opened the door. She gave us a huge smile.

“I have breakfast prepared for you all,” she said.

We went into Jaiden’s room to find him reclined on his bed. He sat up and smiled, swinging his legs off and placing his bare feet on the floor.

“Greetings. I trust you slept well?”

“Well and long,” Pinnathir said gleefully, going to the corner and squatting down, holding his plate in one hand and eating with the other.

I went and opened the window for Gabrithon then sat on the end of Jaiden’s bed. Elthinor went back near the corner, sitting next to Pinnathir. Valtrak moved to lean against the wall on one side of the window. Silence reigned as we ate, Jaiden just sitting there watching us. When our plates, which had held rice, fresh bread, and fresh rabbit meat, were empty, I stacked them and took them into Leah, then returned, sitting where I had been before.

“Your mother makes excellent rabbit,” I said to break the silence that had descended once again.

Jaiden smiled. “I know. She enjoys eating meat, so she has figured out how to cook it well.”

“What were you thinking about?” Valtrak asked, crossing his arms.

“The scrolls. What do you think it was like before sin? You know, before they ate of the fruit.”

I answered without thinking. “It was peaceful, complete, and innocent. I saw wolves and lions eating grass, so I’m guessing no creature ate meat. The garden they were in was nothing short of paradise. Every kind of fruit was at their disposal, save the tree that led to our downfall. No animal fought, no blood was spilt, and I don’t believe there was any death. Death came after the fall. ‘If you eat of it, you shall surely die.’ That’s what Jesiah said to them. Death is a consequence of our sin, not a natural process, which answers some questions that I had before this all started.”

Silence.

“I forgot that you see visions when we read the scrolls,” Elthinor said after a minute or two.

“She sees visions?” Gabrithon asked.

“Yes,” the Elf replied. “She told me once, long ago when we had just started from Ellavendir. I just now recalled it. It seems like a lifetime has passed since then, doesn’t it Fily?”

“Indeed,” I said, smiling wistfully. “Only Aswangs were after us then, and even then, they were mainly after me.”

“Ah, if it were only that simple now,” he sighed. “Now we have Vampires, Naga, and the Dark Ones themselves coming to kill or capture us.”

My voice turned icy as I added, “And my traitorous brother.”

“Yes, Nolan, too, and he’s the worst of all. Not the most dangerous, but the worst.”

“Pardon me Gabrithon. Is my daughter in there?”

I turned to see my father’s face appear besides Gabrithon’s, who leaned over to make room for him. His designs seemed to shimmer a little bit more when he saw me.

“Daughter! You are back and you didn’t even come to see me!” he said playfully and, if I wasn’t hearing things, a little bit cautiously.

“Father,” I greeted with a hesitant smile. “We just finished breakfast.”

“Very good,” he said. “If you’re not busy, I would like to show you the progress I have made training the young ones and the former slaves.” To Gabrithon he said, “I kept most of the exercises, and I added a few of my own. They’ve made terrific progress, though they aren’t ready for battle just yet.”

I glanced at my friends and they all looked eager, so I nodded. The next thing I knew, we were going across the town to a large, flat field. Some of the males of every race, though there were more humans at this point, were using makeshift swords to fight. Others were shooting arrows at targets. Others were throwing spears at different targets. Some were very accurate, some were not. They were in no way ready for a fight. I walked over to one boy and tried to correct his grip. He jerked the bow out of my hands.

“Go away girl. Go clean or something. Leave the fighting to the men.”

My friends were silent. My lips were pressed together as I walked back to my tent, retrieved my bow and quiver, and walked back to the makeshift archery range. Elthinor pulled the boy aside and I stood ten paces further back than he had been. My father watched me do this, but stayed my hand as I was reaching for an arrow.

“Boys!” he called loudly and all movement stopped. He let all of them gather around him before he continued. “I would like you to watch my daughter. She will show you what you can accomplish if you put your mind to it. Filynora.”

Looking at the boy that had offended me, I placed the arrow against the string, pulled it taut, then looked briefly at the target and fired. It was a perfect shot. I turned my eyes to the boy. He was slack-jawed, and he rotated his head slowly towards me.

“When I correct you, boy, you had better listen. I’m much more skilled than you.”

“I-I didn’t know you were the Filynora,” he said in a small voice.

“The Filynora?” I asked.

“Gabrithon was very boastful about your skills,” my father said. “He put you as the highest level of archery achievement possible. He said that you were also a skilled swordsman. I guess what I taught you as a child stuck despite the memory loss.”

I smiled at him. “I guess so.”

I went over to the boy and brought him over to where he had been standing before. He placed his hand on the bow and I corrected him. I went down the line, making corrections where needed, then took a walk with my father. We stopped on a small hill and I sat down. He followed suit. We sat there, staring across the rippling grass.

“Father?” I asked softly.

“Yes?”

“What are the Dark Ones?”

He turned to look and me and I met his eyes. “Fallen angels.”

“What are angels?”

“Servants of God Most High,” he replied.

“How did some of these angels fall?”

“It is said that pride took root in Lucifer, a heavenly being, whose name means ‘light bringer’ or ‘morning star.’ He grew proud of his own beauty, of his abilities. When he fell, it is said that he took a third of the angelic host with him. That’s where demons come from, with Lucifer, also known as Satan, at their head.”

“So the Dark Ones are demons?”

“Demons who have somehow acquired physical bodies.”

“Were those the creatures popping out of the fruit in the beginning?”

He looked confused, so I filled him in that I had visions when the scrolls were read. He looked curious, but continued the conversations.

“Yes, from what it sounds like, they were those creatures, but there are not enough of them in existence to be all of the third who fell.”

“So where are the rest?” I asked.

“They are around us. They blind the minds of unbelievers, and fight against those who do believe. A spiritual battle is raging around us all the time. I would say all are not aware of this battle, save me. And now you. Prepare yourself for battle. Live every day fighting for truth, for God and Jesiah. Read the scrolls. Commit what they say to heart. It is the truth. I don’t know the religious status of all the races, but I know they are all wrong.”

“Satyrs worship a goddess of fertility and love. Dwarves worship a stonemaker through a giant jewel called the heart of the earth. Elves worship a great tree who gave them life and who shapes their life. Centaurs worship a god in the form of a stallion, the epitome of masculinity. And Humans? Humans worship stone and wood carvings, terrifying images that are dark and scary.”

“They know demons exist, and they are choosing to worship them. Most likely out of fear,” my father said, his face downcast.

“What can we do?” I asked desperately.

“Speak the truth. Hope they listen and repent of their sins, turning to Jesiah, trusting in him alone.” Father was silent for a moment. “I hope you find out the cost of this. We need that last scroll. I wish I had heard the end of the story. Or maybe I did, and I cannot remember it.”

I placed my hand on his arm. “Even though you do not know, you are still full of knowledge and wisdom. Thank you for explaining this to me.”

He smiled. “You are most welcome, child of mine.”

We sat for a little while longer before I thought occurred to me. “I haven’t heard from Jesiah in a while. I wonder why.”

“Heard from Jesiah?” he asked.

“Yes. He comes to me in dreams, explaining things or telling me where to go.”

Father’s eyes were wide. “Oh to be as blessed as you!” he exclaimed. “I have desired to see him, to hear his voice since I could understand what was offered. Now I find out my daughter has seen him, talked to him! You must explain every dream, every word. Please, Filynora, all you can remember.”

I remembered everything from those encounters, as well as the visions from the scrolls. With a smile, I began telling him all I knew.

 

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I Am the Life: Chapter 15

The ones from the final city offering up Dwarves had arrived two days ago. Droves of the stone-looking creatures swarmed the city of Crystalmoor, the streets packed all the time. The morning we were to depart (I knew it was morning because I had spent the night outside with Gabrithon) I packed my bag then sat and waited. Gabrithon folded up the tarp that he had made into a sort of tent then set it up in the branches of a tree along with the ropes. He looked eager to set out, but he kept stomping his feet, one after the other, like he was nervous. I frowned.

“Is it that there will be many Dwarves traveling with us?” I asked quietly.

He started and turned to look at me then relaxed and offered me a small smile. “You know me too well. Yes. The only one besides Valtrak that I would trust, if I absolutely had to, would be the king. There are going to be what, three hundred Dwarves coming with us?”

“Four hundred twenty three. The king did the count yesterday and gave me that number.”

“And all of them hostile towards Centaurs,” Gabrithon said, looking down.

“If anyone hurts you, I’ll hurt them back,” I said, patting the sheathed sword in my lap and shifting the quiver strap on my shoulder.

That made him smile. “Oh Fily,” he laughed. “Thank you.”

“You’re most welcome. You’re my friend, Gabrithon. I don’t want you to get hurt. But if you do get hurt, they’ll regret it for the rest of their natural life, which won’t be very long if I have a say in it.”

Gabrithon laughed again and shook his head, but I could tell he was grateful. He lay down on his belly beside me and we talked for a little while until there was a noise. It was loud. Gabrithon surged to his feet and Dwarves started pouring out of the tunnel. My Centaurian friend and I began backing up, and we didn’t stop for a long while. There was an enormous crowd of Dwarves and I realized just how many were coming with us. I had a feeling Greensage was going to grow exponentially.

Every Dwarf was had a pack on his or her back, because there were some females. There were axes beneath the packs on the male Dwarves. Petra came up to me, smiling brightly. She greeted me and I offered her a smile, but I was too busy scanning the crowd for Korvict. I noticed Elthinor, Pinnathir, and Jaiden making their way through the crowd. I thought I saw Valtrak, but I wasn’t sure. My friends were easy to see, and I was too, because even the tallest Dwarf was shorter than all of us. Except for Valtrak, of course. They got to me, including Valtrak, and they were looking more rested than they had been in a while. Even though the verdict had been reached, the council still convened every day to discuss the plan and how they were going to handle the journey and the roughness of war. I still wasn’t allowed in, so Elthinor was in charge of making the decisions—in all likelihood, he would have been anyways as he had studied the Satyr-Elf wars—but he told me everything that he decided and I agreed with all of it.

Korvict got to me and we greeted each other warmly. He looked excited as he turned and greeted each of my friends. The Dwarves had all stopped talking and were looking towards their king, most of them straining to see. They were all watching and listening as the Dwarven king bowed to Gabrithon.

“And greetings to you, my Centaurian friend,” he said loudly.

There was immediate whispering amongst the assembled Dwarves, but no angry calls or jeers. All of the faces I could see, however, were twisted into anger and distrust as the stonemen eyed the Centaur. Gabrithon’s princely nature showed in that he appeared perfectly composed, though I knew he had to be scared.

“Greetings to you, your majesty,” Gabrithon replied, putting an arm across his chest with his fist clenched and bowing his torso as low as he could go.

“Well, now that that’s out of the way, I have one announcement before we leave,” Korvict said then stood on a boulder (not a Dwarf) and spread his arms wide. When he spoke, it was more of a yell. “Any Dwarf, male or female, who harms the Centaur or plans to harm him shall be punished severely. And I’m certain he will have to deal with an angry Filynora. Even I would not like that, so please behave. If this goes as planned, we will be working with Centaurs soon. Now, let’s move out!”

We began heading towards Greensage. There was nothing big that happened for two days. Then on the third day, I saw Ember, down low in a valley to the left of our trajectory. I gasped in joy and ran down to him. He was facing away from me and I threw my arms around his neck, kissing it. Then he did something he had never down in his entire existence except in play. He growled at me. I hesitated then released him, and he turned his head slowly. His eyes, instead of the wonderful orange I was used to, were blood red. Something was terribly wrong, and I had a feeling I knew what it was. I had been trailing at the back of the group of the Dwarves, so nobody had noticed me slipping off. They were moving at a swift pace and I couldn’t see them anymore. They had no idea I was gone. I began backing away, holding out my hands.

“Ember,” I began, but got no further as he gave a bark and lunged at me. I screamed and turned to run, but Blaze, my old Tindre Tiger, was in my way, his eyes as red as Ember. There was a whistle and I turned to see none other than Nolan standing there beside a grove of trees, leaning against one of the trunks.

“Hello sister,” he said leisurely.

“What have you done to my Ember?” I demanded; I might have been scared of my Elementals because of their deadly qualities, but I was not afraid of Nolan.

“Me? I’ve done nothing. It was one of the Dark Ones. You know something? I want you to meet him. Oh Mngwa!”

Out of the trees came the biggest looking tiger I had ever seen. It was grey with black stripes and two and a half times the size of Blaze. Its eyes were red like my two beloved pets, and it opened its mouth and it roared at me, revealing enormous teeth that could bite my arm off with no problem. But the scariest thing of all was the feeling that surrounded the beast. It was the darkest thing I had ever felt, worse than the Aswangs, the Vampires, and the Naga combined. Nolan grinned.

“Mngwa, this is the beastly girl that’s against our Master. She’s the headache that our minions have been facing,” he said, acting like he was talking about the weather.

“Foolish girl,” the Mngwa growled, his voice grating. “I shall put an end to that. And what better way to do that than with your own pets? They shall love you to death, as it were.”

When I turned to look at Ember, I realized this Mngwa must be skilled in illusion, because every single pet I had owned had appeared behind me in a half circle. Every eye was red. They were all under the control of this Dark One. With a growl from their controller, they all began advancing on me.

“Filynora!” Elthinor shouted. I looked up at the hill and saw a crowd of Dwarves and my friends. The latter began racing down the hill, weapons drawn.

“Kill them while she watches,” the Mngwa commanded and they all took off towards them. They all stopped and grouped together.

“Stop!” I bellowed as they were closing in on my friends, knowing that it would do no good.

But it did.

They listened to me. They stopped running and just stood there. I stared in surprise and decided to see if it was a fluke. I yelled for them to sit. They did. I told them to lie down, and they obeyed. I had more control over them than the Mngwa. I didn’t know why or how, but I did. I turned to look at Nolan and the giant cat. I narrowed my eyes at them, ignoring the shocked looks on their faces. Then I gave my command.

“Kill the Mngwa!” I shouted.

I heard them coming and they suddenly rushed past me. Ember was the first one to attack, leaping on the creature’s back and worrying his scruff. The rest of the creatures followed suit. I turned towards Nolan, who looked angry.

“You’re a bigger freak than I thought. You shouldn’t be able to do that,” he growled, drawing his sword.

I drew mine, and we stood there, poised to strike. I moved first, bringing my blade towards his head. He blocked and countered and the dance that we had done together with sticks so many times become deadly and ever so real. We stuck and dodge. I slashed his right arm and he got my leg, but no other strikes hit their marks. I brought my sword down from up high and as he moved to block it, I kicked his chest. He dropped his sword and tumbled backwards.

Just as I was going to go in for the kill, I heard a whine. My Ember’s whine. I spun towards the noise and saw the Mngwa pinning my Kindle Wolf down. I saw the beast’s jaws open and I screamed in anger, rushing him and slashing him in the face. He backed up two steps, which was enough for Ember to leap up. He and Icicle flipped the great monster and held him by his neck on his back. I wasted no time and plunged my sword into his chest where I figured his heart would be. He gave a deafening roar and spasmed so that Ember and Icicle were thrown loose, but he did get up and attack me. I had hit my mark. He struggled weakly and spoke his final words.

“Even if the Dark Ones die, you must deal with our Dark Master. If no one else does, he will end you.”

“Not with God on my side,” I said with a nod and withdrew my blade.

My friends reached me as the twitching ceased. The Dark One was dead. We just stared at the carcass and Elthinor put his hands on my shoulders.

“Are you alright Fily?” he asked gently.

I nodded. “Yes. He’s dead.”

“Indeed he is,” Valtrak said.

Ember staggered over to me, looking as if he was having trouble staying on his feet. He sat down at my feet and looked up at me with his eyes. They were orange again. I dropped to my knees and embraced him. He licked my face, nudging me with his big head, and I drew back, kissing his nose before standing. Ember suddenly barked and lunged for the spot that Nolan had been standing, keyword being ‘had.’ He was gone. Ember was sniffing the ground then sat and snorted, shaking his head.

I cursed right there in front of my friends, but I only got the first half of the word out of my mouth because I was bowled over by my Elementals. The only ones not there were my horses, and they were down in Greensage. I was being licked and nuzzled all over, and despite the anger that made my face burn and tingle, I laughed. I had missed them. They were all here, even Misty, floating on her cloud. My friends laughed with me and Elthinor moved to help me up, but Blaze bit at him. He yelped in surprise, drawing his hand back as he and the others backed up a few paces. Blaze walked around me and I tried to get the others off of me to stop him, but they were too excited. Before anything bad could happen, Ember gave a bark and stood in front Elthinor. All my pets stopped touching me and went and sat in front of him. It looked as if he were communicating that they were friends. Indeed once Ember stopped growling they pounced on my friends and began licking them. Gabrithon was the only one not rolling around on the ground, though Misty was rubbing against his head along with Raine. The only ones missing were my Muddmoles, and they couldn’t have helped Nolan’s purposes.

“Fily! M-make them stop!” Pinnathir gasped.

I whistled, and my Elementals came running. I heard a throat clear in behind me and I turned to see Korvict. The only other Dwarf anywhere near him was Valtrak. I looked up at the Dwarfs that were watching.

“Where are your guards?” Valtrak asked as he stood, voicing my thoughts.

“They were too afraid of the strange creatures and the great beast you slew. The air was charged with darkness, literally paralyzing us all. I am the first to move,” Korvict replied with a shudder.

Ember growled at him and I placed my hand on the Kindle Wolf’s head. “Behave Ember. This is Korvict. He’s my friend,” I said gently. “Korvict, please hold out your hand.”

Korvict looked hesitant then glanced at me before doing as I asked. I pointed at it and Ember faithfully sniffed it. He considered it, then placed his head under it and bumped it, telling Korvict what he wanted. The king looked fascinated and scratched his head.

“Oh come on!” Elthinor exclaimed.

“What?” I asked, looking up at him.

“He’s more excited about him than he was about me!” he complained unhappily.

“But you’re the first one he ever trusted besides my mother or me,” I said, smiling.

He looked thoughtful. “Well, I guess I can live with that.”

“He is so soft,” Korvict said, petting Ember’s ears.

“He’s my Ember,” I said tenderly then looked back up at the Dwarves. They were starting to shift around and they were no doubt talking about what had happened. “We should go. We need to get to Greensage.”

Korvict took his hand off Ember’s head. “Very well. Let’s-”

He stopped and looked behind us, his eyes widening and his mouth dropping open. I turned to see what he was gaping at and I tensed immediately. The carcass of the Mngwa looked like it was bubbling beneath its skin. I grabbed Korvict’s hand and began dragging him up the hill, my friends shooting ahead of me. The king was surprised and took a moment to get his feet under him, but we got up the hill and turned around just as the entire body exploded, smoke permeating the air around where it had been. A fountain of thick, black blood shot high into the air before falling to the ground. Some of it missed us by a mere three feet. The grass it touched didn’t just die, it disintegrated, along with some of the dirt on the ground, leaving streaks of ditches and patches of holes. The grove of trees was no more, everything having been utterly destroyed. It was nothing short of devastation.

“Oh my,” Korvict whispered.

“The darker the creature, the more potent the blood,” I said quietly.

There was no noise until the king composed himself and he turned. “Time to go.”

Everybody turned slowly and we began heading to Greensage, shocked by what had happened. One question came to my mind. What could possibly be worse than the Mngwa?

 

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I Am the Life: Chapter 14

I shifted my weight as I waited impatiently for the verdict. They were coming out today to give the answer of whether they were coming with us or staying in Crystalmoor. It had been fifteen days since Gabrithon had arrived; the poor Centaur was up all alone on the surface. Suddenly the door opened and the king came out, the council following. Elthinor, Valtrak, Pinnathir, and Jaiden came out last. They were all staring at the king, not smiling, not looking downcast, just staring intently. The king had not shared his decision. Korvict stood there with his hands clasped in front of him, scanning leisurely over the faces in front of him.

“Filynora,” he said with his deep voice. “Come stand with me.”

I moved through the enormous crowd to stand with him. There were so many Dwarves that it was difficult; they were all packing the streets to hear what the outcome was. Before the king had come out they had all been murmuring about whether or not they were to go to war. I finally got to Korvict and bowed respectfully. The Dwarf inclined his head and I straightened. Then he held out his hand. I stared at it. Dwarves didn’t shake hands. They exchanged pipes to greet one another, or when pipes were absent, they press an open hand onto the right cheek of the other Dwarf. I stared at his hand for a few moments then extended my hand and shook it. He squeezed lightly, showing off his strength and I squeezed back, knowing my own strength was nothing compared to his. He laughed and placed his other hand on mine.

“I have decided to go to war, for the sake of my friend Filynora and the trouble her race is in. In case you decide to argue, our race is soon to be taken captive by the same monsters if we do not hurry.”

There was an explosion of noise as the Dwarves took all this in. I felt my face break into a smile as Korvict looked at me. His expression grew serious.

“Do not make me regret my decision, Filynora. We are going to trust Centaurs at some point and that is a lot to ask,” he said with a nod.

“I know. Thank you, Korvict. I sincerely mean it.” I paused. “What are we going to do now?”

“I am going to send runners to the other Dwarven cities to relay the message that all Dwarves who wish to fight the enemy are to come to Crystalmoor with their weapons.”

“What about females?” I asked. “Wouldn’t it be prudent to have them with us for sewing and cooking or even as warriors? Even your females are immensely strong by Human standards.”

“Maybe you’re right. I shall include Dwarfinlas in that as well,” he said with a nod.

“Dwarfinla? That’s what you call female Dwarves?” I asked.

“Yes. It is a little used word anymore, but your scrolls called the first female Dwarf a Dwarfinla. I suppose, if the scrolls are true, that is where that term came from.”

I smiled. “I did not know that any of the races still used the original terms, save Humans and Satyrs.”

“It used to be quite common, but over the years it has faded,” Korvict admitted. “I believe I’m going to try to bring it back.” He paused and looked around. “Quickly! Let’s go tell Gabrithon before the guards notice me leaving.”

I was startled by what he said but willing to comply. We hurried through the crowd towards the tunnel. When we came out of it, it was afternoon, and a rainy one at that. Korvict stared up through the branches of the trees and didn’t seem to mind the droplets dripping down on him.

“Is this rain?” he asked, sounding fascinated.

Gabrithon was up against the trunk of a large tree a little ways away. He was staring at the king in confusion.

“Of course it is rain! Haven’t you ever seen it before?” he asked, trotting over.

“No. I have been up to the surface so few times I can count it on one hand. This is only my fifth trip up here. And it was never raining on any of the other times.”

“Sounds like a horrible life. As much as I hate the weather sometimes, it’s something I wouldn’t like to go without. I don’t understand how you can live underground all your lives. There’s no sun, no rain, and no wind. That’s not really a life.”

“Some Dwarves are content with it, but may I tell you a secret?” Korvict asked and waited for us to nod. “I never have been. I want to be in the parties that explore the world, that spy on the Centaurs, that get to be out of those blasted tunnels and caves! When you have lived in darkness your whole life, sunlight is one of the most amazing things you ever experience. Rain is, too.”

He caught a droplet with his tongue, and Gabrithon and I just stood there watching him enjoy the rain. After a few minutes when we were properly soaked, Gabrithon turned to look at me.

“What did you two come up here for? Are the negotiations over?”

“Yes. They’re going to war with us,” I said.

“Really?” Gabrithon asked.

“Yes,” Korvict said, coming out of his daze. “We go to war when we have all of our volunteers. It will take a couple more weeks to gather them then we leave.”

“It’s because of Filynora, isn’t it?” Gabrithon asked knowingly.

“Partly. And partly because they will come after us soon. If the stories are to be believed that your friends have told us, those creatures will no doubt find out caves. I fear that they would cave in the tunnels to the surface or come down them to attack. Either way, we would be trapped. I shudder to think of what would happen after that.”

“If we can destroy them, it won’t happen,” I said confidently.

“What if they destroy us, Filynora?” Korvict asked solemnly.

“They will only if it’s God’s will.”

“You truly believe that story? Don’t you have other gods in your culture?”

“Those of stone and wood. Their carved into fearful images that we pay homage to. Some people even sacrifice the first of their newborn lambs. Those are mainly the farmers who have flocks to do that with. The ones in my village are inside homes. It’s considered bad luck to leave them outside, save the images carved on the doorposts. But I don’t believe they have any power. My mother always taught me they didn’t, and she never allowed any of those idols in our house or on our farm. I know now that she knew of the one true God, but she never told me of Him or of His son Jesiah. I don’t know why, but she didn’t.”

“So you really believe in God,” he said. “Well what about the great stonemaker? Is he fake?”

“Let me ask you this. What if the great stonemaker is actually your twisted image of God and you’ve been worshipping not just the false god of the heart of the earth, but the false god of the stonemaker, too? What if that’s what has been going on the whole time?” I countered.

Korvict’s eyes widened and he stared at me for a minute without saying anything. He slowly composed himself, and he began running his fingers through his wet beard, thinking.

“I never thought of that,” he admitted. “Maybe there is some truth to that story.”

“It’s not just some truth, Korvict. I believe it is all truth.”

“I’ll certainly think about that, Filynora. Thank you for that insight.”

“Why don’t you have your guards with you?” Gabrithon asked after a short silence.

“Because I snuck away with Filynora while they were distracted,” Korvict said, his eyes gleaming with mischief.

“They aren’t going to be happy with you,” the Centaur said with raised eyebrows.

“I don’t care. I have been stuck in those caves for too long and can go nowhere outside the mansion without guards. They can panic for a while if they want to. They deserve it.”

“You must trust me,” Gabrithon said slowly.

“Not really. But I trust her,” the king said, gesturing at me.

“I agree.”

There was silence again then a scramble at the tunnel and some guards came out. I stared at them, amused, and Korvict outright glared at them. Gabrithon just watched with detached interest as they ran over and began looking their king over. I reached over and pulled him out from their circle and put him behind me.

“Leave him alone. He’s fine,” I said calmly as axes were drawn threateningly.

“He is our king! He needs protecting!” one of them said.

“He was doing just fine without you.”

“But the Centaur!”

“Gabrithon won’t hurt him. Will you?”

“No,” Gabrithon replied. “That would upset you.”

“See? He’s fine. Now go away.”

“No!” that same guard said.

“Oh Filynora. I’m going back down. Stay up here as long as you like,” Korvict said sadly.

“May I ask the king something?” Gabrithon asked.

The Dwarf looked up. “Yes.”

“Do you have any rope and a large waterproof tarp?”

“Yes. Why?”

“I would like to make a Centaurian dwelling. It would help to keep me dry.”

“Certainly. I shall send a servant up with the items. Now I bid thee goodbye Gabrithon.”

“Goodbye.”

I watched angrily as he descended into the tunnel. How could he live like that?

 

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I Am the Life: Chapter 13

I hurried to the tunnel, ignoring the Dwarves looking at me strangely. It had been eleven days since we had arrived and I was sick of being underground. I missed the sunlight, the weather, and knowing whether it was night or day. It was day, I discovered as I was nearly blinded when I burst from the entrance to the tunnel. When I had waited for my eyes to adjust, I found Gabrithon staring at me, looking surprised. Jaiden was beside him, tying up the horse. Several large rocks were around us and I snorted.

“You’re surrounded,” I said blandly.

“We are?” Gabrithon asked.

“Yes,” I said and pushed against one of the rocks. It unfolded to reveal Firbrawn.

“You are annoying,” he spat.

“I don’t care,” I said sweetly then turned back to Gabrithon. “I know you are going to say no to me, but I need you to give me your weapons. The king is coming and he will not take too kindly to you having them.”

Gabrithon looked at me. “If you know the answer, why even ask?” he asked flatly.

“Please, Gabrithon,” I begged. “They will never trust you otherwise!”

“They won’t trust me anyway,” the Centaur said, crossing his arms. “So why should I give them a chance to hurt me?”

I placed my hand on the hilt of my sword. “I might disarm you, but nobody is going to hurt you. I won’t let them,” I said fiercely.

He lowered his arms and studied me. “I’m not going down into those caves…But I will let you take my weapons. Honestly? If I were them, I’d be more afraid of you than me.”

He took off his belt with his sheathed sword attached and handed it to me. It was much heavier than my own sword and I was surprised, but I turned and set it down behind me. He handed me his bow and quiver of arrows, and I did the same thing. He stared at his weapons for a moment, a flash of fear filling his eyes, then looked away.

“So how has your stay in the Dwarf halls been?” he asked.

“It’s been nice,” I replied. “Korvict is most hospitable.”

“Why do you get to call him by such a personal name?” Firbrawn demanded.

“That’s his name. You usually call people by their names,” I said dryly.

“Not if they’re a king,” Firbrawn spat.

“He doesn’t seem to mind. Only you do.”

Firbrawn moved to grab me, but I leaped away, shooting behind Gabrithon, who reared with a squeal and slammed down in front of the Dwarf, shielding me with his body. The Dwarf drew an axe and I ducked under Gabrithon’s belly and spread my arms out protectively. It looked like no matter what we did, one of us would be in trouble. A spark of anger flared in Firbrawn’s eyes and he raised the axe. The other Dwarves did nothing to stop him as he began to swing it. I struggled to get my sword out of its sheath, but just before I was hit, another axe flashed in front of it and Valtrak was there, wrenching the axe out of his uncle’s hand. The king stood there behind him with six guards around him. He looked livid.

“Firbrawn! How dare you try to kill my guest!”

“She disrespects you, my king,” Firbrawn said, looking abashed at being caught.

“How has she disrespected me?” Korvict demanded.

“She calls you by your name!”

“That does not disrespect me. Nor does it offend me. Besides, it is my business whether or not I let somebody call me by my name. Do you think she would be calling me that if it bothered me? Don’t I have enough power to stop her?”

“No,” Gabrithon said under his breath. Valtrak and I both snickered.

The king looked briefly up at him then back at Firbrawn. “You are to go to the jail until I can think of something better for you to do.”

“Why not send him to the coal mine?” Valtrak asked coldly. “That’s where he planned to send me and Filynora if we didn’t meet his set quota of crystals.”

Korvict glanced at him. “That’s a good idea. How about I send you down there for the rest of Filynora’s stay here. Mayhap that will teach you some manners. And to mind your own business as well.”

“What?” Firbrawn exclaimed then his shoulders slumped. “Yes your majesty.”

“Good,” Korvict said then gestured two of the guards. They went and each grabbed an arm, leading him back into the tunnels.

“Are you alright, Filynora?” Valtrak asked, handing his uncle’s axe to one of the remaining guards.

“I’m fine,” I said, leaning back against the front of Gabrithon’s body; he put his hands on my shoulders.

“I cannot believe he took a swing at you!” Valtrak exclaimed.

“Neither can I,” said Jaiden, who had been quiet and, from the look on his pale face, too scared to move.

“Dwarves cannot be trusted,” Gabrithon growled.

“What about me? ” Valtrak said, raising his eyebrow.

Gabrithon stared at him thoughtfully. “Well, I suppose not every Dwarf is bad. But for now, it’s just you, stonehead, that isn’t completely untrustworthy.”

“Thank you, mule,” Valtrak said with a smile. “But the king is not bad either.”

“He brought guards.”

“Wouldn’t you if you were king?”

“If I were king, I would not be on this journey.”

There was a lull in the conversation as we thought of somebody else in Gabrithon’s place. That did not sit well with me. I rather liked Gabrithon. He was a good traveling companion and an even better friend. Korvict suddenly shifted and cleared his throat.

“So you are the Centaur prince. I did not know that she was referring to the youngest.”

“How did you know I am the youngest?” Gabrithon questioned.

“The older princes are all chestnut colored. You’ve got your mother’s golden coloring.”

Gabrithon stared at him incredulously. “How do you know that?

“Do you honestly think we don’t have spies watching you Centaurs? In fact, we have some spying on Cyrene now. They are from the city of Oidynhall. We have runners who come and tell us if anything important happens.”

My Centaurian friend looked angry. “It is not fair! We cannot spy on you at all! You would know immediately!”

The king chuckled. “That’s the whole point of living underground. Can you blame us when our war has raged for so long?”

Gabrithon hummed and the anger drained away. “I suppose I cannot blame you. If my father had his way, the entire Dwarven population would be decimated.”

“I know. What is your opinion?” Korvict asked, staring intently at Gabrithon’s face.

“I have learned that Dwarves are not all that bad. Some of them at least. As much as it would anger my father, I would have to say that you have just as much a right to live as we do. You’re an interesting race with a culture as rich as ours. Valtrak has told me of your way of life. I am intrigued by it. He has also told me of your religious beliefs. They are quite unique. That you worship the great stonemaker through the heart of the earth is, well, different.”

“And what do you worship?”

“Masculinity through the great stallion who created us. Though I have never really worshipped it. I’ve only gone through the motions.”

“You can’t settle on anything, can you?” I asked seriously.

“Not really. Though I am more drawn to your beliefs than my people’s beliefs.”

“So you believe we should live?” Korvict said before I could respond.

“Yes, your majesty,” Gabrithon said, sounding, to my surprise, completely respectful.

The Dwarf king looked surprised as well. “Well, my young prince, I will certainly keep this conversation in mind when I talk to the council tomorrow.”

“I hope you will join us. This means a lot to Fily. We need that final scroll. The story is too interesting to remain unfinished. Maybe it will even convince me that this God she speaks of is real. And this man in white, too.”

Valtrak nodded in agreement. “I do actually believe the story, but my faith is much weaker than hers. Perhaps that scroll will solidify it.”

“Why else are you doing this, Filynora?” Korvict asked.

“We need to get rid of the Dark Master, the Dark Ones, and all their minions. Humanity is under their yoke in fear and ignorance. We need to change that. Besides, they will soon move to the other races now that they know some are willing to rise up against them.”

The king nodded. “I see. Well this is more serious than I thought. I must assemble the council at once and share this new information with them. If you’ll excuse me.”

Korvict turned and rushed down the tunnel. The guards were surprised by his abrupt departure and quickly turned and followed him. I was left  with Gabrithon, Jaiden, and Valtrak. I sighed and rubbed my temples.

“I hope it helps,” I murmured.

Valtrak put his hand on my arm. “It’ll be alright. If you really believe in God and his sovereignty, do you really need to worry about anything?”

I smiled. “I suppose you’re right. Thank you. Now you and Jaiden had better get to the council room, or they will start without you. I shall get some food for me and Gabrithon then come up here to sit with him.”

They both bid my Centaurian friend and I goodbye then headed down the tunnel. I smiled and moved towards the entrance of the tunnel.

“I’ll go get the food. Will you be fine alone?”

“Give me my quiver and bow at least and I will be.”

I grabbed the requested objects, handing them to him, then turned and went down the tunnel to find a servant to get us food.

 

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I Am the Life: Chapter 12

“We cannot just trust these strangers! Look at what they did to Valtrak!”

“But Valtrak admitted he went with them willingly!”

“What if she tricked him? Females are cunning things, no matter the race.”

Those were only a few of the things that I heard. Most of the rest was lost in shouting and argument. I sat beside Valtrak on the floor. Well, I was on the floor. He was in a chair. I listened to the shouting, bored out of my mind. This was going absolutely nowhere. They just kept shouting the same questions and answers out again and again. It was really getting ridiculous. The king just sat back and listened, his eyes on me. I tried to behave. I really did. But after the third hour of arguing passed and the fourth was well underway, I snapped. And I knew the best way to get them to shut up.

I concentrated and my skin tingled. The king suddenly sat up, eyes wide. Some Dwarves noticed the king’s reaction and they looked down at me and stopped talking. Some Dwarves noted the drop in sound and looked at me and they stopped talking. It was a ripple effect and soon all the Dwarves were openly staring at my facial designs. The room was silent for the first time that day. The king leaned forward and placed his arms on the table.

“I thought you were Human?” he said, his voice steady.

“She is a half-Elf,” Valtrak said, laughter in his voice. “And she is quite good at commanding a room’s attention, yes?”

“Quite,” Korvict replied, settling back with a smile. “Is there a reason you did that, Filynora?”

“This is going nowhere,” I said blandly. “We need to get somewhere before we all die.”

Korvict laughed. “Well that is an interesting way of putting it.”

Elthinor stood up. “If it pleases the king, may I speak?”

“You may.”

“How does anything get done in here? Wouldn’t it be more civil to talk instead of yell?”

“Who are you to criticize us? You are nothing but an Elf!”

“But I am not, and I agree with him,” Valtrak said, pushing his chair back as he stood. “Filynora is right. We are not getting anywhere in this argument and we need to get this underway.”

“Well what do you suggest, young one?” one of the Dwarves at the head of the table asked.

“I suggest you listen to us! You do not even know the story!” I snapped, surging to my feet.

“Shut up, girl!” the one across from me spat.

I gave a yell and almost went across the table. Valtrak grabbed me and held me in place. I struggled for a minute, all of the Dwarves looking taken aback. All of them, that is, except for Korvict. He began to laugh and I turned to look at him. Valtrak kept his arms around me in case I got mad again and I frowned.

“Am I really that amusing?” I asked dryly.

“You would really try to hurt him,” he chuckled.

“I do not think she would just try,” Valtrak replied with a smile.

“But she is not stronger than us and she has no weapons,” the Dwarf said.

Valtrak released me and held out his hand. “Filynora?”

I rolled my eyes and pulled my knife out of my belt. I had hidden the sheath in my pants to get it in here. Valtrak took the blade and placed it on the table. The Dwarves all stared at it then looked back up at me.

“Anything else?” he asked suspiciously.

“How in the world did you know?” I demanded as I pulled out a large tool from my pocket. It was sharp and flat at one end and it was used for stonecutting. I had snuck it from one of the tables we had passed on the way to the room.

“I know you,” he said, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. He took the makeshift weapon and placed it on the table. “Anything else?”

“No.”

“Filynora,” he sighed, holding his hand out again.

I huffed and took out a second tool like the first from my other pocket. The Dwarves were all staring open-mouthed at me. They had probably never seen somebody get weapons into the room. Elthinor and Pinnathir were both biting their lips to keep from laughing, but the king had no such reservations. He began laughing again, pressing back into the chair and holding his belly. I smiled at his mirth and Elthinor and Pinnathir finally laughed out loud. The rest of the room burst into yelling and I laughed, too.

They called for me to be kicked out and the king finally had to stand with his hands held up to get them to be quiet. One at the top of the table stood and planted his hands on the table.

“She needs to leave,” he said, pointing a finger at me. There was a chorus of agreement from the other Dwarves. “This is supposed to be a safe place. She has defied the law.”

“She is a Strangeling,” Valtrak argued. “And knows not of our laws.”

“Did you warn her about weapons in the meeting room?” Valtrak did not answer right away. “Did you warn her?” the reddish brown Dwarf asked.

“Yes. I did,” Valtrak said solemnly. “But I did not tell her it was law.”

“You still told her that no weapons are allowed. She needs to leave,” a black Dwarf said, approaching me and grabbing my arm as if he were going to pull me to the door.

Pain exploded up my arm and I screamed. Elthinor was beside me in an instant as the Dwarf let go of my arm in shock.

“Filynora! What is the matter?” he asked, spinning me around and looking me over.

“It hurts,” I said, cradling my right arm to my chest.

Valtrak grasped my wrist and barely grazed his fingers over my forearm. He clicked his tongue then pressed down slightly. I yelped and jumped. Pinnathir and Elthinor were both looking at my arm in confusion.

“Is it broken?” Elthinor asked concernedly.

“No. This is the arm Uncle grabbed. It is very deeply bruised, I fear,” Valtrak said, staring at the skin. He sighed and looked up, meeting my eyes. “Filynora? Please leave. I do not feel it is…safe for you to stay here. You did break our law and that is not good. Please?”

I nodded, grabbing my knife and the two tools from the table. If he thought I should leave, then so be it. Korvict was suddenly by my side.

“Come Filynora. I shall escort you back to your room.”

I walked behind him, setting the tools back on the table I had swiped them from and sheathing my knife. We went through the maze of halls in silence until we reached my room. Korvict looked at me then, roving his eyes over my face.

“You are a very strange girl Filynora. And that is not always a good thing. I suggest you obey whatever Valtrak tells you to. At least while you are in Dwarven halls. It might just save your life.”

I looked at him and slowly nodded. “Yes your majesty.”

“Behave, Filynora. I shall send your friends back to you in a while.”

I went into my room and sat down on the bed, blowing out a breath. I wished for some of that coffee that Petra had brought me, but I did not know the castle well enough to try and find it. Or her for that matter. I heard a noise out in the hall and hurried out to see a male Dwarf picking up some items that had fallen from a cart. I knelt down and helped him despite his protests.

“Really, ma’am, this isn’t necessary. I can manage,” he said, trying to take what I had picked up.

“It’s fine. Could you help me?” I asked as I placed the items in the cart.

“With what?”

“Do you know Petra?”

“Yes. Would you like me to go and get her for you?”

“Yes please. And I would also like some coffee if it isn’t too much to ask.”

“Of course. Thank you for your help,” he said and hurried off.

I went back into my room and sat down on the bed. I recalled what Petra had said about my grief. What did she mean by stages? I didn’t understand what that had to do with my mother dying. And my mind was back to my mother. What if things had been different? What if I had been faster? What if I had killed Tikujar before that night? I jumped when a hand was placed on my knee. Petra set the tray on the bedside table and smiled at me. I voiced my questions and her eyebrows came together, sorrow written on her face.

“There was nothing you could have done, Filynora.”

“How do you know?” I asked weakly.

“Then tell me what happened.”

So I did. I tried to start telling her of the time after we had gotten my mother back, but after a few questions I backed up to where we had first found her by the lake. A few more questions had me back up to when I was on the farm after she had been captured. I told her my entire story from the time my mother had disappeared and realized how conflicted my life had been at first. It seemed like there had been two missions when I first broke out: find my mother or find the scrolls. I noticed how they had been on the same path for a while, but when they had diverged I had chosen my mother. I finished telling her the story, right up to the point where my mother had died. I sat there silently for a minute.

“What if I had chosen the scrolls instead of my mother?” I asked quietly.

“We’ll never know,” Petra replied. “And there is no reason to dwell on it. I won’t blame you if you do, but really Filynora, it can never happen any other way. What’s done is done and you can’t change it.”

I sat there, tracing the empty cup in my hands. She stared at me for a minute, then moved behind me and began braiding my hair again. I had taken it down the night before because it was uncomfortable to sleep on, so nobody had seen it but Petra. I sat there and let her do it while my thoughts circled around and around. Petra’s words struck a chord and as the braid landed heavily on my back, I spoke.

“You’re right. I cannot change the past. There’s no use wishing my life had turned out differently. Thank you.”

Petra slid off the bed. “I’m glad. Now, would you like some more coffee?”

“Yes please. And if you want a cup for yourself, I won’t tell anybody.”

Petra laughed. “I do believe I’ll take that offer. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

She left and a minute later the door opened and my friends came in. Valtrak was speaking to a Dwarf in the hall and came in a few seconds later. They all looked exhausted. Elthinor walked over to the bed and fell face down on top of it. I stared at them.

“Are you alright?”

“No,” Pinnathir said darkly, his usual smile gone.

“We hardly made any headway. They just kept yelling,” Valtrak said, sitting beside Elthinor and rubbing his temples.

“Well maybe tomorrow I can-” I began.

“You’re not allowed back in for a year. And we had better be done with this by then,” Elthinor said, turning over onto his back and placing his arms behind his head.

“When did they decide that?” I asked.

“Ten minutes ago. That’s what the rest of today’s arguments were about,” Pinnathir muttered.

“Tomorrow we’re to tell our story, and then the real debates are going to start,” Valtrak sighed.

I stared at them. “You’ve got to be kidding.”

“No. I don’t envy you,” Elthinor growled.

“I’m sorry,” I said softly.

“Please don’t be. Honestly, I am more worried about you than us. You have nothing to do,” the Elf said.

“I’ll go mine,” I said with a shrug. “Or have Petra show me around.”

“If you are absolutely sure,” Valtrak said curtly.

“I am.”

The door opened and Petra came in with a male Dwarf behind her. They were carrying steaming cups on trays. Petra handed me my cup and I gratefully sipped it. The male Dwarf handed each of my friends a cup and Elthinor stared at it, sniffing it suspiciously.

“What is it?”

“Coffee,” Valtrak said happily, spooning a strange golden, thick looking liquid into his cup.

“What’s that?” I asked, pointing at the small dish.

“Honey.”

“No!” I gasped. I had only heard about the sweet treat. “May I taste some?” I asked eagerly.

He dipped the spoon in again and dribbled some into my outstretched hand. I licked it up out of my palm and hummed in delight. I had never tasted anything like it. It was amazingly sweet and smooth as it dissolved in my mouth. I thoroughly cleaned my hand, ignoring the chuckling from the boys.

“Have you really never tasted honey before?” Valtrak asked.

“No,” I said with a shrug. “The traders carried it, but nobody could afford it.”

“Well it’s a rare commodity among Dwarves. Only the richest Dwarves can afford it. I must say that being a guest of the king does have its advantages,” my Dwarven friend said with a nod.

“Coffee eh?” Elthinor asked. He hesitantly sipped it. “Yuck!” he exclaimed, wrinkling his nose.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“It’s too bitter,” he said, holding the cup away from his body.

“Well, add some honey,” Valtrak said, scooping a couple spoonfuls into the cup.

After it was stirred in, Elthinor hesitantly tried it again. He smacked his lips then smiled.

“Better.”

We sat there and talked for a little while, steering clear of subjects that required too much thinking. We didn’t dare stay up too late, and soon the others left for their own rooms. Before they left, Elthinor paused and turned me around.

“I can honestly say I have never seen a braid like this.”

“But you have braids in your hair,” I said, turning back around and grabbing one of his to make my point.

“Yes, but we only do small ones,” Elthinor said lightly. “But it looks very good on you.”

I blushed as he turned and left. I got into bed and Petra, who had left when it was clear she wasn’t needed, came back in and took the empty cups. She bid me goodnight and left and I settled in, pondering what Elthinor had said. It made me feel strange, and I wasn’t sure what to think of it, so I was grateful when sleep took me.

 

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I Am the Life: Chapter 11

“So, you have returned,” Korvict said, leaning with his head in his hand as his elbow rested on the arm of the throne.

I nodded. “Yes your majesty. We have returned. And with information you urgently need.”

“Oh really?” he asked, sounding genuinely curious. “Do tell.”

So I did. I explained what our whole mission had been, before and after our captivity with the Dwarves. I explained the monsters that were chasing us, and how they were going to start coming after the Dwarves. I explained how Nolan was a traitor and what he had done to Elthinor, and the Elf, who had not put his shirt back on, turned around to confirm the story.

“Oh my,” the Dwarf said, clearly disturbed at the markings on Elthinor’s back. “Why are you telling us this?”

“Because we need your help,” I said seriously.

“Help?”

“Yes. We need fighters. I have a plan, but it involves the races. All the races.”

All of them?” the king asked, his voice level, but there was a darkness behind it.

“Yes. And that means the Centaurs.”

Anger flared in the Dwarf’s face. “Why should we help you if you are going to go to the Centaurs?”

“Because we are going to need everybody’s help if we are to defeat the Dark Ones and their minions,” Valtrak said solemnly.

“Valtrak, I am pleased to see you are alright,” the king said, changing the subject abruptly. “And I am surprised that Filynora decided to come back after kidnapping you.”

“She did not kidnap me. I went with her on my own,” Valtrak said quietly, looking at the ground.

The king’s eyebrows knitted together. “Really? But you left with a knife pressed to your throat.”

“She was doing that to protect me. I helped them escape that day,” the violet-eyed Dwarf admitted unblinkingly. “I also took the relic. It makes sense in context. It is not just some fantastical story with no real beginning or end. It has a beginning. And we are searching for the end. As Filynora mentioned, we are looking for scrolls. What we assume is the final scroll. Ours was the third.”

“I would like to hear this story in full,” Korvict said.

“I would prefer if we wait to tell it to everybody in the King’s Counsel,” Jaiden said suddenly; he had been so quiet up to this point that I had forgotten that he was there.

“And why should I allow that Human?”

“Because you could start the political mess that this will become immediately after the story,” Jaiden said plainly.

“What makes you think we will join forces with a Centaur?” Korvict asked bluntly.

“They are not that bad!” I exclaimed.

“Yes they are. They kill us!”

“And you kill them!” I shouted. “I saw you hack one down. You are not the innocent souls you think you are! All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God!”

Confusion was suddenly etched in his face as he replied. “God? He is mentioned in the scroll. Who is He?”

My temper was still burning and I tried to calm down, but not before my face tingled. The Dwarf king’s confusion disappeared and shock replaced it. He leaped to his feet and cried out.

“What in the world?!”

“I am a half-Elf,” I snapped and he looked at me intently.

“How is that physically possible?”

“I do not know,” I muttered. “It just is.”

Firbrawn, who had been in the room the whole time, walked forward and grabbed my arm in an iron grip. He glared at me with his black eyes and snarled at me.

“Watch your tongue girl. He is our king!”

“Let go of me!” I jerked my arm, but he did not let go and I could feel the bruises forming on my arm.

“Behave!”

Valtrak was suddenly beside me and he peeled his uncle’s hand off of me, shoving the older Dwarf back.

“Do not touch her like that! In fact, I would not touch her at all,” Valtrak said threateningly.

“How dare you?!” Firbrawn sputtered.

“How dare you!” Valtrak snarled. “She has been through more than you ever will be. She deserves your respect! So I suggest you give it.”

The king watched all this with interest. “How do you inspire such loyalty?”

“I am a girl,” I said mildly.

“You are also sweet,” Elthinor said.

“And kind,” Jaiden added.

“And smart,” Valtrak said with a smile.

“And loyal,” Pinnathir put in.

“And trustworthy.”

“Dependable.”

“Responsible.”

“Calm.”

“Capable.”

“Fearless.”

“Sincere.”

“And you are quite lovely,” Elthinor finished with a smile.

I snorted at that last one, but was overall surprised and quite pleased. I had never thought of myself like that. It made me feel good, but I was cautious with that feeling. I finally nodded and accepted all of the compliments, except for the last one, but they did not need to know that.

“Thank you,” I said, my cheeks warming. “But we are off topic, your majesty. We need to get your answer. We need the Dwarves’ help in order to defeat this enemy and get the last scroll.”

“I shall pull the Counsel together and we shall listen to this story. But I cannot promise we will join. Centaurs have given us no reason to trust them,” the king said.

I had an idea. “What if we introduced you to a Centaurian prince?”

“And how would you arrange that?” Korvict asked.

“I know one.”

“Fine. Let us meet this Centaur. How soon?”

“Two weeks at the most. Pinnathir,” I said, turning to look at the Satyr.

“Yes Fily?”

“Take the horse. Ride back to Greensage and get Gabrithon. I want you to go as fast as you can.”

Pinnathir grimaced. “Do you know how awkward it is for me to ride a horse?”

“Fine, Jaiden will go. Tell Gabrithon to leave my father in charge of the training,” I said quickly.

Jaiden nodded. “As you wish. How do I get back to the surface?”

“Firbrawn, take him back up,” Korvict ordered.

“No,” I said flatly. “Anybody but him.”

“Do you not trust him?”

“No,” I replied frankly.

“Fine. Hivton!”

A Dwarf appeared. “Yes sire?”

“Take this Human boy up to the surface. Make sure he gets to his horse.”

“Yes sire,” Hivton said. “Come boy.”

I touched Jaiden’s shoulder for a moment and he smiled.

“Try to be careful,” I said solemnly.

“I shall. I do not know if I will sleep very much, though.”

He left without another word and we all watched him go. I sighed and relaxed. I did not like sending him out alone, but I knew Elthinor would not go unless I went, and if I went, he would want to go, and both Pinnathir and Valtrak were awkward around horses. I decided to stay because we needed to get the political stuff underway immediately. I turned back to the king and sighed. I hated sending Jaiden out alone. It made me worry, but we needed to show the Dwarves that Centaurs were not all bad.

“He shall be fine, Fily,” Elthinor said gently.

“I hope so,” I replied then looked up at Korvict. “How long until the Counsel is ready?”

“Tomorrow,” he replied. “Until then, you all are welcome to stay in my mansion. Masnork!”

Another Dwarf appeared. “Yes sire?”

“Please have four rooms prepared for our guests. And please get some crystals for Valtrak. He looks malnourished.”

I paused. “Malnourished?”

“Yes. His eyes are dim. He obviously has not had crystals for a while.”

“Crystals?”

Valtrak looked embarrassed. “Dwarves must eat crystals every once in a while. It is a crucial part of our digestive tract. We cannot process other foods without them.”

I was shocked. “Why did you never tell me?”

“I did not want you to be concerned. I brought some with us, but I used them all up a while ago.”

“You should have mentioned it! You could have gotten sick and we would not have known what was wrong!”

“Well, I did not get sick, did I?” I glared at him and he actually looked a little sheepish. “Fine, I should have told you. I am sorry that I did not. Now you know, though. Alright?”

I nodded. “Keep me informed of these things. I do not want you to die of such preventable causes.”

“Yes Filynora,” Valtrak said with a smile.

The crystals were provided immediately and Valtrak crunched on a couple while we were waiting for the rooms to be ready. I watched as he ate them. It was fascinating, because they would have broken my teeth and sliced my mouth up if I even tried to eat them. He ate them like it was venison. Masnork finally reappeared and we were led to our rooms. I immediately took a bath, luxuriating in the hot water until it was too cool. I got out and got dressed in some clean clothes then walked back out into the room. I set my clothes by my pack and sat on the bed. Somebody touched me and I leaped up and yelled, automatically going for my knife. The female Dwarf backtracked and stood near the door, looking hesitant.

“I was sent to tend to you,” she said quietly.

“Oh. Sorry. What is your name?”

“Petra.”

“Nice to meet you Petra. I am Filynora.”

“Would you like me to brush your hair?”

I ran my hands through the wet strands and nodded. “If you would not mind. I do not have a brush.”

She retrieved a comb and sat on the bed as I knelt in front of her. She was gentle as she ran the comb through my hair. I did not even know why I was letting her do this. I was not the kind of person that did this kind of thing.

“Is it true you fight like a male?” Petra asked hesitantly as she began parting my hair.

“Yes,” I said, feeling uncomfortable. “Why?”

“I just believe it is interesting. Males have trouble doing that.”

“So?” I demanded.

“I am not attacking you, Filynora,” Petra said softly. “I know you must be used to that, but I am just trying to understand here. Maybe I could even become your friend. Rumor is you will be here for awhile while the Counsel convenes.”

I felt embarrassed. “Sorry. You are right. Most people tend to make fun of me for my…quirks. And I am not used to people wanting to talk just to become my friend. My friendships tend to happen over a battlefield, not…talking.”

“I guessed that, honestly. You do not seem like a chatty kind of girl. I do not mind teaching you.”

“I have already been taught about…talking. I spent some time in Stonemere, that is the Satyr capital, and the queen and the princesses.”

“You may have been with them, but you are still obviously uncomfortable with me. I think you are this way around most females. Am I right?”

I nodded, feeling my hair moving around. What in the world was she doing? “I am not used to being around them. I doubt I ever will. I am surprised I am used to being around anybody. I was not very well liked in my home village. I was only ever around my mother and my pets. I had to let my pets go, and my mother is…dead.”

“I am so sorry,” Petra said solemnly. “Do you miss her?”

I froze. Nobody had ever asked that question. Not Elthinor. Not Gabrithon. Not Jaiden. Not even Miyana and her daughters. She finished doing whatever she was doing with my hair and let it go. It fell heavily against my back and I reached over and grabbed it. It was a braid. She had braided my hair. I suddenly found that hilarious and began laughing. And laughing. And laughing. Suddenly my laughter turned to sobs and I fell apart. I did miss my mother. I missed her horribly. It hurt. I was suddenly wrapped in strong arms and held against the Dwarven female’s chest. She rocked me back and forth and I cried myself out. She helped me onto the bed and wiped my cheeks.

“It is alright Filynora. Now, you lie back and I shall bring you some coffee.”

“What is coffee?” I asked, confused.

“A nice hot drink that will soothe you.”

She left and returned within ten minutes. The coffee was a black drink and I sniffed it. It smelled strong and slightly bitter. I tasted it hesitantly and found I liked it. I downed half the cup then leaned against the stone headboard. I closed my eyes and sighed.

“What is wrong with me?”

“You are grieving. You did not grieve properly did you?”

“After the initial phase when I cut my hair, not really. I had no time. I had to get back on my mission.”

“Then we shall work through your grief while you are here. You are obviously past denial and anger. We shall work on the final three stages later.”

“Stages?” I asked.

“Dwarves have isolated five stages of grief. We shall go through the other three later. Now, I suggest you rest. I do not know if you will be involved in the sessions, but I have heard they are grueling.”

 

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