I Am the Life: Chapter 34

Elthinor was being horrible. I had moved from bed rest to light activity, granted graciously by Aloron and my father. My forehead was still bruised pretty badly, and it hurt to make expressions with my eyebrows sometimes, but the world didn’t swim or tilt when I walked, and the headaches had receded to tolerable levels. But as soon as Elthinor had gotten to Greensage, he had found me at the archery range, watching the boys—they were quite good by now. Elthinor had grabbed me and spun me around. When he got me all the way around, I had my knife to his throat. He waited until I had sheathed it before grasping my face in his hands and carefully observing my forehead.

“Oh, Fily!” he exclaimed. “Why can’t you be sensible?”

“What’s the fun in that, Elthinor?” I asked with a giggle.

“Well, Gabrithon now has control of the Centaurs, but I don’t think it was worth it.”

“What’s done is done, and it can’t be changed,” I replied.

After that, all his focus was on training the troops. I didn’t mind. I knew how important it was. When my forehead only had a thin, red line on it, the she-Elf showed up. She came up and stared at me and Elthinor while we were talking. When we looked at her, she smiled the prettiest smile I had ever seen. She was pink and a nice sky blue, with gentle eyes and a soft face.

“Hello,” she said, almost shyly. “My name is Shaylee.”

“That doesn’t sound Elvish,” I said.

Her smile faded around the edges a bit and she looked from Elthinor to me. “My parents are very interested in Humans. They think my name is lovely.”

“I’m not insulting your name. I think it’s nice. Mine’s Filynora.”

“That doesn’t sound Human,” she said calmly. “But everybody around here is quite aware of your…” she paused for a moment, her gaze cool.”Condition.”

Condition? What was she talking about? Before I could piece it together, Elthinor bowed to her and stepped forward.

“My name is Elthinor Cyzaen, milady. What can I do for you?”

“I’d like to learn how to do that,” she said, pointing at the archers.

“Certainly! Filynora is one of the best archers in the land. She’ll teach you everything you need to know.”

“Actually, no offense to the Strangeling, but I’d rather have you do it. You’re an Elf like me. She frightens me a little bit.”

We both stared at her then I shrugged. I handed her my bow—she was about my size—and Elthinor took her out and began showing her how to shoot. She kept fumbling the arrows and she was clearly holding the bow wrong. I watched silently as he got behind her and repositioned her hands on the bow again and again. Something was wrong, but I couldn’t place it.

“Well, that’s enough practice for today. Mother will be wondering where I got to.”

“Are you from Starrydale?” I asked.

“No,” she said. “We arrived only two months ago. We’re from Leafhaven.”

“Interesting,” Elthinor said then turned to me. “That’s one of the farthest cities into the forest. They have to deal with Elemental problems.”

“Elementals are not problems,” I said firmly.

“They are when they try to eat you,” Shaylee said.

I glared at her as the beginnings of dislike wormed their way into my conscious thought. I was not going to budge on this position. She eventually turned away from my gaze, looking a little scared. We bid her goodbye. She was back the next day. And the next. Steadily she got better, but too slowly in my opinion. I knew for a fact that girls weren’t halfwits like the Centaurs thought. She was bright, but she kept making the same mistakes over again. One day Elthinor cut his lesson short and shooed her away before grabbing his head.

“That little maiden is giving me a headache. I have never seen such a slow learner in all my life!”

“Well, Miyana and Laetitia gave Leah this amazing tea recipe that helps relieve headaches. Come, let’s get you some!”

We were halfway there when I realized I forgot my bow and quiver. I turned and ran back for it as he continued on. I grabbed them from the ground and slung them over my shoulders. I turned and paused. There was Shaylee, with a cold glare aimed right at me. I walked over with a smile, hoping to soothe the situation over.

“Hello, Shaylee. Is something wrong?”

“You are,” she spat. “Stay away from Elthinor.”

“Excuse me?” I asked incredulously.

“Elthinor’s mine. I plan to marry him. He’d make a perfect husband.”

Suddenly everything she’d been doing made sense. She’d been flirting with Elthinor. Shock settled onto me and I laughed because I couldn’t think of anything else to do. She didn’t like that and walked forward to slap me. I grabbed her hand before she could, but I didn’t put pressure on it. I had the mentality of a male (from every culture but the Centaurs) in that I wouldn’t harm a female. She began jerking her hand to try and get it out of my grip, but she stopped quickly as she realized that she might dislocate her wrist.

“Don’t threaten me, Shaylee,” I said then threw her hand away from me. As I turned away I looked over my shoulder. “Elthinor is my friend. Get your own.”

She was back the next day, acting sweeter and stupider than ever. It made me feel a hot ember in the pit of my stomach as I watched them. I could now see through her act and every little move of hers was calculated to cause as much contact between them as possible. When I had time to analyze this feeling over a dinner of deer meat, rice, and beans while my friends and I sat around a fire. I didn’t understand it. I mulled it over in my mind until my friends commented on my silence. I looked up and simply rubbed my forehead. I really did have a headache from all the figuring. That was the end of that.

Each day she came and it made the ember in my belly climb slowly but surely into a raging inferno. The one time I had shoved her, Elthinor had grabbed me and demanded me to tell him what my problem was. When he had turned away, Shaylee had grinned meanly at me then said softly, “Don’t worry, Elthinor. She didn’t hurt me.” It was sickening. I hated her. And she slowly began to spend more time with Elthinor, even going to spend time with us around the fire at dinner then having my Elven friend walk her back to her tent. The first time she appeared at dinner, the water skin I had just finished drinking from burst in my fist, soaking both myself and Jaiden, who was sitting beside me. He leaped up and I just stared at her. She smiled sweetly and I thought about plunging my knife in her pale throat.

“Fily!” Jaiden gasped. “What happened?”

“I don’t know,” I said through gritted teeth.

“Must have been a bad skin,” Shaylee said then introduced herself.

I didn’t eat my food, just moved it around my plate. Elthinor was talking animatedly with my friends. Shaylee was watching him with a lovey-dovey expression on her face. Jaiden suddenly got up and Valtrak took his place.

“You should eat, Filynora,” he said, taking a small bit of rice with his fingers.

“I’m not hungry,” I said, my voice sounding funny.

“That doesn’t mean you don’t need to eat,” he said firmly, placing the rice he had taken into his mouth. He chewed, watching me with those wise eyes of his, and swallowed. “You don’t really like her, do you?” It was said quietly so the others wouldn’t hear us.

“What’s to like? Her colors don’t match, she’s never done a day’s honest work, and she’s just so stupid!” I growled low in my throat.

Valtrak stared at me then nodded. “I see.”

There was a bark that interrupted all of us. As I cried out in joy and stood, Shaylee shrieked and dove behind Elthinor.

“It’s a Hellhound! Kill it!” she wailed.

I laughed hard. “Cowardly Elf!” I said sweetly, mimicking her. “Come here Ember!”

He bounded forward and placed his paws on my shoulders, licking my face. He had taken a trip with Aloron, my father, and a few Centaurs to get wood from the forest to the east. Elthinor came forward to get his face licking. Pinnathir, Valtrak, and Jaiden pet him kindly and Gabrithon knelt down to receive the same treatment Elthinor and I had gotten. When they had settled back, Shaylee stood there, looking terrified. Elthinor smiled kindly.

“Come now, Shaylee. I know you’ve had trouble with Elementals, but this one is quite tame.”

He took her and guided her to Ember. He slowly led her outstretched hand towards Ember’s nose. I was kneeling down with my head beside his. I stiffened as she got closer, that hot mote in my belly springing into a fire. Ember turned to look at me, and we locked eyes. In his smoldering depths, I saw a gleam of understanding and he turned to face the hand as Elthinor gently released it. I knew what was going to happen. I didn’t stop it. He bit her as hard as he could, blood bursting out of the punctured skin. She screamed, tugging backwards. That just tore her skin more. I felt gleeful as I watched her struggle. I was suddenly smacked on the back of the head.

I yelped and turned to face Valtrak. “What?”

“Tell him to release her!” he snarled.

I placed a hand on my Ember’s head and he opened his mouth, releasing her hand. Shaylee gasped and held the mangled flesh against her body, blood dripping down to stain the skirt of her dress.

“I thought you said he was tame!” she cried, turning to slap him with her good hand. I got satisfaction that she wasn’t hanging all over him.

“He just doesn’t like some people,” I said solemnly, meeting her eyes.

She froze. “Just take me home Elthinor,” she said, the fresh tears on her cheeks sparkling in the firelight.

He escorted her into the darkness and I was left with my friends. Valtrak planted himself in front of me.

“You did that on purpose!” he boomed once the two Elves were far enough away.

“Did what?” I asked. “It’s not my fault if Ember didn’t like her!”

“It’s not Ember who doesn’t like her. It’s you. Animals sense things like that, and he’s the highest form of animal: an Elemental! He knew you didn’t like her and bit her because you don’t have permission to do it yourself!”

I didn’t respond, petting my Ember. It was true. But I didn’t care. That horrible Elfina had deserved it.

“Filynora, you didn’t do that, did you?” Gabrithon asked. I said nothing. “What has gotten into you lately? You’re not your old self. You’re silent and sullen, and you’ve practically stopped eating. Now you let Ember bite that wonderful girl Shaylee? It’s not-”

“Shaylee is a horrible, stupid girl. And her designs are quite ugly, too,” I spat, turning to glare at him.

There was shocked silence.

“Filynora, you’re sounding…” Jaiden trailed off and looked to my other friends.

Pinnathir continued for him. “Are you jealous of Shaylee?”

“No!” I said angrily. “I just really don’t like her spending time with Elthinor. He’s my friend, not hers. She should go find her own friends. Now she’s trying to steal you all away, too! If I have to have Ember destroy her then so be it!”

“That sounds like jealousy to me,” Gabrithon said pointedly.

“Fine, I’m jealous. Happy?”

“No. You have no need to be jealous. I’m certainly your friend, and I’m sure everybody else here would rather spend time with you than that fawning she-Elf,” the Centaur said then paused and looked at me carefully. “Why don’t you like her spending time with Elthinor?”

“I told you, he’s my friend! Besides that, she’s trying to marry him!”

“And how does that make you feel?” Pinnathir asked.

“Like my insides are roasting,” I responded, nuzzling Ember’s head when he started growling.

“Do you know why?” Jaiden asked; they were all being so careful.

“Because he’s my friend!”

“That’s your final answer?” Valtrak asked. “I mean, there’s no other reason for you to be jealous of her spending time with Elthinor?”

“No.”

“Oh, come on!” Pinnathir shouted. “Why can’t we tell her?”

“Because Elthinor would kill us,” Jaiden said pointedly

Gabrithon moved over to kneel in front of me. “Filynora, let me fully reassure you that Elthinor would, definitely and always, pick you over Shaylee. Every single time.”

I smiled and nodded, but I knew that they knew that this wasn’t over.

 

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I Am the Life: Chapter 33

Just as Cevenor had feared, Xylon was now more stubborn than ever. He didn’t even acknowledge me anymore. It was irritating, but it wasn’t detrimental to my mind. Vincentia, on the other hand, was suffering from being ignored. She hadn’t eaten or slept very much, pacing around her rooms uneasily. She settled down only to feed Nora. The little filly was being ignored, too, but she—judging by her reactions—hadn’t like the big, mean, black Centaur the one time she had met him so she didn’t mind one bit. She was a pretty golden color just like her mother and brother. Gabrithon was often there, trying to comfort his mother, but she simply was too distraught.

“Filynora,” Vincentia said, striding up to me.

I turned, Nora tugging on my shirt to try to feed. “Yes, your majesty?”

“Oh, here,” she said, kneeling down and taking her shirt off. Nora squealed and shot over. I wasn’t even uncomfortable with it anymore, that’s how often she’d done it in the past week.

“What did you want?” I asked.

She rested her hand on Nora’s head and sighed. “I want out.”

“Out?”

“Yes, out. I want to go to Greensage and be free of my oppressive husband.”

“He’ll never agree to it.”

“I know.”

We stared at each other while Nora suckled obliviously. I finally sighed and rubbed my temples.

“What do you have in mind?”

“I’m spreading the word through the mares that we’re going to get up and leave right after the royal feast begins. That’s in three days. The feast lasts a week. We can make much progress.”

“I agree,” Cevenor said from behind his mother. He came around to see her face and his own turned red when he saw she was breastfeeding. He tried to ignore it and looked at me. “I have seen your strength, Filynora. I will not oppose you. Gabrithon asked me the other day if I was afraid of you.” He hesitated for a brief moment. “Yes, I am. After seeing what you did to those monsters, I am most assuredly afraid of you.”

“Alright,” I said with a nod. “Now what?”

“Mother gathers the females and we run on the eve of the first day of the banquet. I’ll take credit for the idea.”

“How dangerous is this going to be?” I asked. “You know, if I brought my friends?”

“Probably very. Father might have you all beaten with clubs.”

“Then we’re not telling my friends where we’re going,” I said resolutely.

“That doesn’t sound smart, Filynora,” Cevenor said cautiously.

I knew what he said was true, but I was adamant; I couldn’t let them get hurt. “No. They’re not coming. Not even Gabrithon.”

Cevenor still looked doubtful but finally nodded at me. “If that’s the way you want it, Filynora, then I must reluctantly agree.”

I nodded at him in return. “Then it’s settled.”

Three days later, in the middle of the day, the feast began. After all the males had been served, the females, led by the queen, began to get their food. Once our plates were heaping I walked over to the females and we ate. Elthinor walked over after a few minutes.

“Hello, Fily. I haven’t seen you much lately.”

“I’ve been feeling bad,” I lied. “This is the first real food I’ve had in a couple days.”

He immediately looked worried, placing the back of his free hand on my forehead. “You don’t really have a fever. How have you been feeling bad?”

“I haven’t been able to keep anything but water down.”

He frowned then hurried over to get a cup. He handed it to me and I saw that it was half full of red wine. I sniffed it.

“What’s this for?”

“My grandfather says it should settle your stomach. Not getting drunk, mind you, but just a little bit to ease.”

I sat down on the ground and sipped the wine, eating my food with it. Elthinor sat beside me and talked away about the fights raging between the Centaur king and our little ragtag group. They were making no progress. I only half listened as I finished off my meal. I felt guilty about lying to Elthinor. I didn’t like it one little bit. I finally excused myself around evening by pretending to suddenly get ill and rushing into the female quarters. I did feel ill after I said that. I fell asleep for an hour or two and had nightmares the whole time. When Nora whinnied and kicked me with her front hoof to wake me up, I was not angry. I was relieved.

“Ready?” Vincentia asked.

I stood and got my bag as the queen instructed the servants to tell the king that we were going for a walk. She wasn’t lying, but she didn’t tell them the whole truth. We walked out, hurrying by everybody and dove into the forest. We met the females who were coming with us about a mile into the woods. There were several hundred of them and we hurried as fast as we could with all the young children that went with us. We went as far as we dared then settled down to sleep.

Day after day we moved, having to stop for Vincentia and the other new mothers to feed their children and to eat ourselves. I had to admit that the females were quite resilient, and so were their children. There were a lot of children, both colts and fillies, and they just loved it when we ran. So run we did. When the week ended, we became wary and started moving closer in a group. We knew they were coming.

They approached five days past the one week mark. The thundering of hooves announced them. In a rush, we all began to run as fast as we could. I shot in front of them without thinking and it was only Vincentia’s cry and Cevenor’s shout for his father to stop. I hurried back to see a huge group of stallions surrounding the females. I watched as Xylon twisted his wife’s arm until she was crying in pain. Cevenor shoved his father.

“Stop it!” he ordered.

“Are you challenging me?” Xylon barked.

Cevenor’s face drained of color and he bowed. “No father. But it was all my idea.”

“All your idea? No, no it wasn’t.” Xylon’s head slowly rotated until he met my eyes. “It was yours. You’re such a troublemaker, never listening to your superiors.”

“Males are not superior to females. Just because we have different roles does not make us unequal,” I said firmly.

He dropped his wife’s arm and walked over, circling me. “Bow to me. I deserve your respect.”

“No,” I said coldly. “You don’t deserve anything from me.”

His face didn’t betray him. He reared, and I heard the sound of a running horse right before I saw one of his hooves come straight at my face. The next thing I knew, water was being poured on me. I heard the most frightful noises that ever had graced my ears, which didn’t help my pounding head. I opened my eyes and saw Vincentia trying to get me off the ground. When I shakily stood, she picked me up in her arms and quickly backed up. I looked over and saw blood on Gabrithon’s flank. He and Xylon were kicking and their Human-looking halves were wrestling. Sometimes one would shove the other away only to rear and lash out with his front legs.

“What’s going on?” I asked sluggishly.

“Gabrithon attacked him because he kicked you. You’re forehead is quite bloody.”

There was a sudden, pain-filled squeal and Xylon tumbled down, the side of his face split open. He hit the ground, and I could see his side heaving as he lay there. Gabrithon suddenly came upon him, stomping and slicing open the black body and dark torso. I watched with growing horror. When my golden friend reared, his front hooves aimed at Xylon’s head and neck, I screamed. Not even that selfish stallion deserved death like that. My noise brought Gabrithon’s attention to me and he dropped his front half down inches from his target. He hurried over to me, gingerly touching my forehead. I cringed at the pain. His face was so soft, etched with sorrow.

“Fily, you foolish girl, why didn’t you take us with you?”

“I didn’t want you to get hurt,” I said with a soft smile. “But you did. You came after me and got hurt.”

“They are minor wounds,” he said dismissively. “But I don’t like the look of your forehead. We need to get stitches in that.”

“I brought a needle,” Vincentia said, handing me to Gabrithon. I leaned my head against his chest. The headache was getting worse.

“Here it is! Now, let me find some thread.”

“Just use your tail,” I said.

“Tail?” Gabrithon asked, looking back at his own. “Why?”

“It works for this kind of thing.”

He shrugged and turned his body allowing his mother to pluck a few hairs. She washed the wound with water then patted a cloth doused with wine on it. That stung. She then sewed up the wound, being as gentle and careful as she could. When it was done, she went over the wound with the cloth again.

“There you are,” Vincentia said with a kind smile. “That should hold you.”

“Thanks,” I replied.

“My king, what do you want us to do?” asked a voice, though it sounded a bit reluctant.

Gabrithon turned, tightening his grip on me. To my immense surprise, he answered the chestnut stallion.

“I want you to appoint five others to go and get my friends.” He handed me to Vincentia so he could use his hands. “I want you to lead up a team to go to every Centaur city and town and collect an army. We are fighting these monsters, not Dwarves, so get used to it. The rest of you are to follow me to Greensage, females included. Now go and let’s go.”

He paused and looked at me. He chewed his bottom lip then slowly knelt down. His mother gasped, staring in shock. He met her gaze with an unwavering one.

“Set her down and let her get on my back.”

There was an explosion of noise from male and female alike. They were all shouting at him, the males calling him names I wouldn’t dare repeat. Get on his back? I couldn’t believe those words crossed his mind, let alone came out of his mouth. None of our friends, or me, had ever even suggested getting onto his back. He was not just a common horse. He was a Centaur, an intelligent being, and that was a part of his body. He cared for me more than I realized. He surged to his feet after a minute of shouting; my head was throbbing.

“Enough!” he roared. “It is my decision. Or do I have a challenger?”

“But Gabrithon, you are not some common mule,” Cevenor said into the sudden silence.

“No, I’m not. But she is injured. She cannot even stand right, so how is she to walk the rest of the way to Greensage? I trust her not to abuse the privilege. Now shut up, all of you!”

When he knelt, the Centaurs shifted, but none dared to speak. Vincentia set me on my feet and supported me over to Gabrithon. I tossed my leg over his back and settled down. He stood and I grabbed his waist as my vision blurred. He ordered the others into action and we started heading towards the city. I leaned my head against his back and just breathed until the headache disappeared. I thought for a while then chuckled.

“Something funny?” Gabrithon asked.

“Remember when we first met?” I queried.

“What about it?”

“‘Please don’t touch me.'”

“You’re riding me, Fily. It’s rather hard to not touch you.”

“No, those are some of the first words you said when we met.”

“Oh. What’s funny about that?”

I smiled. “You said it yourself. I’m riding you.”

He looked over his shoulder, a smile on his face, too. “That is amusing, isn’t it? We’ve certainly come a long way.”

“You know something? As harrowing as it was for you, I’m glad the Vampires attacked you. I never would have met you otherwise.”

“Aye. You’ve certainly made my life interesting. I’m happy we met.”

The rest of the trip was quick as it could be and when we got there, the queen screamed and shot backwards. There were shouts from the males and I heard weapons being drawn.

“What’s going on?” I asked Gabrithon then I heard a familiar voice.

“Greetings mule! It has been boring without you hear to torment!” Valtrak said jovially.

Gabrithon turned and glared at the stallions. “Put your weapons down!”

“But sire,” one began.

“No! The Dwarves are our friends.” He paused then changed what he said. “Well, they are our allies at least. And if I hear of a Centaur, male or female, harming a Dwarf, you will be severely punished. Now go find a spot to make camp.”

They hurried away, sheathing their swords and swinging their bows back over their shoulders.

Valtrak cleared his throat. “Alright then. I have two questions. Question one: why do they listen to you? You told me yourself that you are the youngest prince and that nobody but the servants listen to you.”

“I challenged my father and won. I’m now the king of the Centaurs.”

“Oh. Well, that’s nice. Question two: why is Filynora on your back?”

“She is injured,” he said, kneeling down. “Help her down.”

“Now, now,” Valtrak said with a smile in his voice. “I’m not a Centaur so don’t think you can order me around.”

He came and physically picked me up, setting me on my feet. I swallowed and pressed my hand against my rock-like friend’s shoulder to steady myself. We walked through the town, which was now a bustling city, full of all races. More buildings had popped up on what used to be the outskirts. It was glorious. I couldn’t properly look at it though because my world kept tilting. I sent a prayer up to God, thanking his amazing providence. We got to Jaiden’s house and Gabrithon went around back to settle by the window. I knocked and Leah opened the door. She took one look at me, dragged me in, then got me into bed. Valtrak went to find Aloron and he examined my forehead.

“It’s already healing quickly, but your mind needs some proper rest. I suggest you stay in bed until Elthinor gets here.”

“That’s almost two weeks!” I protested.

“Then we’ll see how you’re feeling in a week,” the old Elf said firmly.

My father walked in as Aloron left. “What happened? I heard you needed stitches.”

“My father kicked her in the head,” Gabrithon said at the window.

“Yes. But you almost killed him for it,” I said, arching an eyebrow at him; it hurt so bad that I stopped.

“You almost killed your father because he kicked my daughter?” Elyosius looked stunned.

“Trust me, it couldn’t hurt our relationship,” Gabrithon said dryly.

“How could it not?”

“It just couldn’t get any worse,” my friend said honestly. “He never liked me. This just cemented the gap between us.”

“Ah. My deepest condolences,” my father said, looking sad. “I know what it is like to have a gap between a father and a son.”

“Was your father viciously mean and intolerant of females, too?”

“No. My son hates me.”

Gabrithon looked uncomfortable. “I’m sorry,” he said after an awkward silence.

“Well, it still hurts,” Elyosius said. “But I cannot change how he feels. Now, let’s get you two some food. I just made rabbit stew.”

“Good. She needs food. Good hearty food,” my Centaurian friend said. “And plenty of bed rest.”

“Yes Elthinor,” I said with a roll of my eyes.

He laughed and settled his chin on his hands. “I’m not that bad.”

“Of Filynora!” I heard Laetitia’s frantic voice.

I groaned. I was trapped. I couldn’t get up out of the bed. When Laetitia rushed in, she was followed by Miyana and Melanari. I closed my eyes. I was absolutely doomed. This was going to be a long week.

 

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I Am the Life: Chapter 32

I pulled up a carrot and handed it to Gabrithon, who took it and munched it happily. Hithaeron looked irritated. I had refused to pull up carrots for anybody else, and my friends didn’t bother with it at all.         Cevenor trotted up and looked at me.

“Would you ask Filynora to get one for me?” the second born asked his golden colored brother; he had, much to Hithaeron’s displeasure, taken a cautious approach to me.

“Ask her yourself. But be polite,” Gabrithon replied, taking another bite.

“She is no stallion. Demand it from her!” Hithaeron ordered.

Cevenor gazed at him for a moment. “Did that work?”

The eldest brother opened his mouth then shut it. “Well, not really.”

Cevenor shrugged and turned to me. “Would you mind getting me a carrot?”

Partly to make Hithaeron angry, and partly because I liked Cevenor—he wasn’t Gabrithon nice, but he was polite and kind for a Centaur—I said with a smile, “I would not mind at all.”

I pulled one up, brushed it off, and handed it to him. He looked surprised.

“But you refuse every Centaur that asks you who isn’t Gabrithon. You even refused the king and queen.”

“Wait a minute,” Gabrithon said after he had swallowed another mouthful of carrot. “You refused my mother?”

“I don’t like her,” I growled.

“She just wants you to be a proper mare, Filynora!”

I grew angry enough that red and gold burst onto my face. Gabrithon sighed.

“Come now, Filynora,” he said tiredly. When I continued to glare at him, his own anger suddenly grew. “Oh! Why can’t you at least pretend to be a girl?”

My jaw dropped open, but before I could strike him with my knife, Elthinor stepped in between us, holding his hands out in front.

“Fily,” he said sternly. “Gabrithon’s just angry and irritated at how long we’ve been here, and how we’ve made no progress.”

“He meant it, Elthinor!” I said coldly.

“You are just fine the way you are, right Gabrithon?”

“She could stand to be softened a little,” the golden Centaur said after a moment.

That hurt. Quite a bit. “Well, then I’ll just leave, you retched cart horse!”

Gabrithon gasped and spun to face me. A smiled meanly, then turned and left, enjoying the looks on everybody’s faces. As I walked to the queen’s sitting room, I messed with the skirt I was wearing. Vincentia had stolen my pack and my weapons, and I wanted them back. I stormed through the curtain to find one of the servant mares there. I strode right up to her.

“Where are my things?” I demanded.

“The queen has not said we can give them to you,” she said.

I pulled my knife and pressed it against her belly. “How much do you like pain?”

She swallowed. “I’ll just get them for you.”

She left and returned with my confiscated items. I changed into a fresh pair of clothes, relishing the feeling of wearing pants again; it felt like I had nothing on when I wore a skirt. When I was dressed, I went off into an adjacent room, sat on a table, and leaned against the wall, staring out the window as I ate some fresh cherries. We had been here for two whole months already and had made no progress. I rubbed my temples as I chewed on the sweetness of a plump cherry. This was so much more complicated than anything I had imagined. I sighed and relaxed. I must have fallen asleep because I woke up to a shout.

“Where is she? Where is that horrid girl?” Vincentia called.

I leapt nimbly off the table and walked into the main room. She snorted when she saw me. She could only move slowly. She was big at this point, and it was almost time for her to give birth. She ambled over to me and crossed her arms angrily.

“What is the meaning of threatening one of my servants?” she asked coldly.

“I wanted my stuff back,” I replied.

“Why? So you could put on men’s garb again?”

“Yes.”

“Why?” she shouted. “Why do you insist on being different?”

“Because I am different! Look at me! I’m one of only two Strangelings in this whole world! Why should I even try to act normal when I know I’m not? I’d rather be myself than live a lie!”

I shuddered and realized I was trying. My little speech had the servants and the queen staring at me. Vincentia slowly lowered herself to the ground and held out her arms. I fell into them, forgetting how much I didn’t like her. She stroked my back gently, cooing softly in my ear. I nuzzled into her, sniffling as my tears began to slow. She pushed me back slightly and wiped my cheeks.

“There,” she said softly. “I didn’t realize how difficult it is for you. But I do have one question.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“What’s a Strangeling?”

I paused. Had I really not told her? “I’m a Strangeling,” I said, then focused. As my designs appeared, she gasped. “I’m not just Human, I’m half Elf, too.”

“Oh my!” she exclaimed.

Before she could say anything more, another female servant appeared.

“The king requests your presence, milady.”

“Come Filynora,” Vincentia said, heaving herself up.

After I had belted on my sword and slung my bow over my shoulder, I placed my hand on her swollen side and we slowly made our way out to what would be the courtyard. Xylon looked distastefully at me.

“I see she is back in the wrong clothing again. How could you allow this?” he asked his wife. He held up his hand as she went to answer. “Never mind. I wanted to ask you-”

There was a whinny and several Centaurs came sprinting up. They looked like they were barely containing fear.

“My king, monsters heading this way!” one of them panted.

He ordered a trumpet to sound then I watched as the males, including my friends, raced into the forest. Males raced in from all over the city, following their king into glorious battle. I was about to follow when Vincentia squealed and practically collapsed. She leaned over onto her side and began whining. I realized what was happening a second before her servants rushed out, summoned by her noises of pain. I swallowed. She was giving birth; the call of monsters must have been too much. The servants began to try to coax her up, but she wouldn’t move. My shoulders were suddenly grasped and a servant knelt beside me.

“She can’t get up and get to the table so that we can help her. You must deliver this foal!”

“I’ve only helped birth normal horses,” I argued. “I don’t think I can-”

There was another squeal of pain.

“You must!” the mare exclaimed. “We shall instruct you.

I knelt down, noticing that her water had already broken. I gulped then positioned my hands.

“The head comes out first,” the mare began.

“What’s your name?” I asked suddenly.

She paused, obviously surprised by the question. “Luinanna.” When I made no further comments, she started again. “Now, the head comes out first. You’ll have to guide it out. Be very gentle with it. It’s soft for about an hour after birth. Then comes the torso. You’ll have to maneuver the body a little after you get that out then reach in to pull the two front legs out. Make sure the knees are bent or you might tear something with the hooves, though there is a low chance of that happening as the hooves are coated with something to prevent that. The body should follow easily until the hips, during which time you might have to pull the front legs down towards her hooves. The feet should follow. Do you understand?”

I nodded. “The second half I can easily handle. The other part sounds a lot like Human birth.”

“This foal is much bigger than a Human child,” Luinanna said. “Here comes the head.”

It was much bigger than a Human child. It was big enough to be a five year old! I did as she had told me, guiding it gently out. The torso came next. After that, I laid the head on a soft pillow covered in cloth. Pulling up my sleeve, I slipped my hand inside the queen and brought out the legs. The body followed and when the hips came, I pulled the front legs down towards her hooves. Before I knew it, the foal was out. I moved to cut the umbilical cord, but was stopped by harsh voices.

“You don’t cut it for fifteen minutes. Life is still being transferred through it,” Luinanna said.

“Oh. Sorry,” I said.

About five minutes later, the air suddenly felt darker than anything I had ever felt, even from the Mngwa. I stood up, hand on the hilt of my sword. Vincentia sat up, squealing, and tried to stand, but was held down by her servants.

“Milady, not yet!” Luinanna shouted.

“They’re coming! Darkness and evil! They want to kill and destroy!” Vincentia shrieked.

“Mother!” Cevenor exclaimed, running up; another group of males darted past us and headed into the forest. “You foaled! What’s wrong? Did it…die?”

“Go get your weapons,” I said tersely.

“I beg your pardon?” he asked, his eyes wide.

“Go get your weapons!” I bellowed as a thud reverberated through the forest around us.

He started at the noise and stared at my face intently. Then he ran inside the caves. There was another thud and I watched as birds flew above us, hurrying away from the things causing the noise. They came out of the forest, crushing pavilion just for the fun of it. One of them was sickly yellow with horns twisting out of the top of his head. The other only had one eye and was black, with fangs peeking from his lips. They were huge, nearly as tall as the towering trees. The black one sniffed.

“Mm, I smell fresh foal,” he said, his voice deep and rumbling. He looked down and spotted the newborn then reached for it. “Nothing more tender than fresh foal.”

Vincentia shrieked and tried to stand again, but, despite their terror, the servants held her still. I slung my bow off my shoulder and nocked an arrow. I aimed at his eye and fired. I hit my mark, and the eye popped, liquid splashing down his face. He screamed, stumbling back a few steps and destroying more pavilions.

“Who are you?” Cevenor shouted, standing beside with his bow and arrow poised.

“I am Ogre!” the yellow one boomed.

“And I am Cyclops!” the now blind one growled, his voice strained with pain.

“We are the other two Dark Ones!” they said triumphantly.

Cevenor swallowed and looked at me. “You won’t tell anybody I’m terrified, right?”

I’m terrified,” I said blandly.

“Yes, tremble with fear at our presence!” Ogre said gleefully.

“My God is bigger than you,” I said confidently; that didn’t really take away my terror, but it did lessen it.

“You’re God is a horrible tyrant. He took your mother away.”

“He has a plan!”

“Yes, His plan involves death and suffering.”

“We brought on the death and suffering from disobeying Him. But you disobeyed Him, too. You and your Dark Master!”

“We were wronged! He hurled us from the heavens with no good reason! It is only right that you, as some of His precious creations should suffer as well.”

“He always has a reason!”

Ogre growled and lunged for me, aiming to kill. Cevenor and I dashed between his legs. He spun around and began chasing us while his blind companion tried to get his bearings. I looked at the mares hoping that they could head inside. Time seemed to pass slowly and quickly at the same time. When they finally got up, the foal following its mother. They ran inside. I skittered up a tree and Cevenor stopped, looking at me.

“Filynora, what are you doing?” he called, ducking the monster’s grip.

“Distract him!” I shouted back

I grabbed a vine then leaped forward and landed on his shoulder. He reached for me, but he suddenly had to shield his eyes from Cevenor’s arrows. I wrapped the thick vine three times around his neck then jumped back to the tree. I hurried down then stood beside Cevenor. Now that arrows were being shot at him, he tried to get the vine from around his throat. His fingers were too thick and I had wrapped it around him too tightly.

“Hey stupid!” I shouted. “You couldn’t get us if you tried.”

“Filynora!” Cevenor exclaimed.

The Ogre rushed forward. There was a snap, and the entire tree toppled over, right onto his head. He hit the ground, unconscious. I noticed we had an audience of Centaurs, who weren’t even bothering to help.

“Now for the blind one,” I said, unwrapping the vine from around the monster’s neck. I hacked it off what I figured to be the right length. “We’re going to trip him.” We wrapped the vine around two trees, and I called to the ugly brute. “Hey Cyclops. You might as well give up! Even if you defeated me blind, you’re Dark Master would never be proud of you. He’s too proud of himself!”

Cyclops roared and charged towards the sound of my voice. He tripped and fell hard, shaking the ground. I dashed to him as he sat up. I plunged my sword into his belly and dragged the blade, with great effort, through his flesh to create a gaping hole. Blood began pouring out of it, and he surged to his feet, dragging me and my stuck sword with him. I screamed and heard Elthinor call my name. I managed to get the blade out and plummeted down. I was caught by Cevenor, who set me on my feet. Ogre began to move.

“Quick! Slit his throat!” I exclaimed; Cevenor was closer.

He ran over to the beast and did as I had told him to. The two creatures were dying now. Cyclops’ insides were now coming out and that viscous black blood was gushing out, killing off the plants around him. Ogre was clutching at his throat. He looked at me.

“You’re horrible,” he gurgled. “Unnatural. Our Dark Master shall kill you where we failed.”

“Only if God wills it,” I replied.

Ogre died first, falling into the dirt. Before the mayhem with the blood could occur, Cyclops collapsed and breathed his last. I began rapidly backing up and Cevenor followed, looking at me curiously. Instead of exploding, they started melting, the blood oozing over the ground. Trees withered where they were, and they were enormous so there was a lot of damage as blood just kept flowing. The sticks that held up the pavilions melted like the trees were. Everything in its path was destroyed. I could see Elthinor push his way to the front of the Centaurs. We were separated by an ocean of blood and it took five minutes for it to finally disappear in smoke. My Elven friend rushed over and embraced me.

“Fily! You’re alright!”

“Yes,” I said calmly.

“Good job, Cevenor!” Xylon suddenly called.

“What?” the prince asked, dazed.

“You defeated the monsters.”

“What?” he asked again then shook his head. “No I didn’t. Filynora did. I just helped.”

“Ridiculous. A female cannot fight,” Xylon snorted.

Cevenor’s face suddenly got red. “You stood there and watched us! She defeated the monsters. I just helped!”

“That’s not the way I saw it.”

Cevenor stomped his hoof. “You saw what you wanted to see, not what really happened! Filynora is the real hero here.”

“Um, not to interrupt this conversation, but I have a question for Fily,” Gabrithon said as he and the rest of my friends made their way towards us.

“What’s that, Gabrithon?” I asked.

“What exactly are you covered in?”

“Oh that? It’s- The foal!” I gasped, turning and sprinting inside.

I heard others behind me as I burst through the curtain to the females’ rooms. There was the foal, standing and happily nursing at its mother’s breast. Cevenor, Gabrithon, and the rest of my friends yelped when they came through and quickly averted their eyes. I walked over and the foal stopped drinking, turning to look at me. It might have been large compared to a Human child, and well developed, but in its face was the blankness and innocence of a baby. I was suddenly roughly shoved aside and I fell on the ground. It was Xylon.

“Now, what shall I name my new son?”

I glanced up and snickered. “Nothing,” I said as I sat up.

“What do you mean nothing?” Xylon demanded.

“You can’t name your son anything, because it’s not a son.”

“What?” The king did not look happy.

“She’s a filly, sire,” Luinanna said, bowing low.

“Preposterous! There hasn’t been a filly born for six generations!”

“She’s a filly, my king,” Vincentia said, a little harshly. “There is no changing that fact. So what are you going to name her?”

“Nothing! I refuse to name the child!” he said, storming out.

Cevenor glanced at Gabrithon. “You know, brother, Hithaeron will not want to name her either. So that falls to me. I delegate some of my authority over the matter to you. Now, what shall we name her?”

They stood there thinking about it then began whispering to each other. Vincentia finished nursing her foal and slipped her shirt back on. I told the boys they could look now and they walked over to observe the newborn. She shied away from them, pressing into her mother. I chuckled and poked her little nose.

“You know, you owe me a new set of clothes. You ruined these,” I told her.

“I’ll make you a new shirt and a new pair of trousers,” Vincentia said. “I’ll need to keep those to refer to.”

“Thank you, your majesty,” I said with a bow.

“That’s the perfect name for her!” Gabrithon said with a laugh.

“What is?” Vincentia asked.

Cevenor walked over and placed his hand lightly on the foal’s head. “We christen thee Nora, little one.”

Then they both began chuckling.

“What’s so funny?” I asked.

“Think about it, Filynora,” Gabrithon said.

I did so. When I finally figured it out, I burst out laughing. Elthinor, Jaiden, and Pinnathir were still puzzling over it, and they frowned.

“What is it?”

“Nora!” I exclaimed. “She’s a little filly named Nora!” When they still had blank looks on their faces, I laughed harder. “She’s little filly Nora! Get it? Filynora!”

They paused then broke into bright, bubbly laughter. Nora joined us, waving her hands and clopping her little hooves on the ground. We finally calmed down enough to breathe.

“Well, that’s clever, Gabrithon,” Elthinor said, sighing.

“Thank you,” Gabrithon said with a bow.

“Father’s not happy,” Cevenor suddenly said. “He’s not happy about his new daughter, and he’s certainly not happy about Filynora winning that battle with only a little help from me. I fear we’ll never get him to go, now.”

“We’ll figure something out, dear one,” Vincentia suddenly said. I could tell by the way she said that, she was coming up with a plan.

 

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I Am the Life: Chapter 31

Gabrithon led us through the pavilion into some caves. He paused when we came to an intersection. He turned to me.

“The mares’ rooms are down that hall,” he said pointing to the right. “Ask one of the servant mares to help you.”

I moved down the right hallway as they turned left. I passed rooms with curtains spread across them. When I got to the end of the hall, I hesitantly moved the curtain of the doorway in front of me. I saw a regal looking mare, lying on a blanket. She was humming and combing her hair. I stepped through, dropping the curtain back into place. She looked up and her eyes widened. Surging to her feet, she gave a small squeal of surprise. It was then, as she faced me head on, that I realized that she was pregnant. Several mares suddenly rushed in and steadied  her. They were all glaring at me.

“How dare you interrupt the queen!” one said angrily.

She charged me, so I pulled my sword—they all squealed at that—and said, “The king ordered me to clean up. Gabrithon said to ask for a servant mare to help me.”

“Gabrithon? My boy is back again?” the pregnant one asked.

“You’re the queen?” I asked, lowering my weapon.

“Yes,” she said. “I am Vincentia.”

“You’re darker than Gabrithon is,” I said after a moment, sheathing my sword.

“Yes, well, he is an odd color for a stallion. Usually the mares get the lighter colors. He, unfortunately, is light in the color of his hair and his eyes.”

“I think he looks quite handsome,” I replied. “I can’t imagine him any other color.”

“My queen, may I ask who this intruder is?” asked the one who’d charged me.

“Fair point. Who are you, my dear? You speak of my son as if he were a friend so it is only fitting that I know who you are,” Vincentia said.

“I am Filynora.”

“Well, Filynora the Human, I-”

“Strangeling.”

“What?”

“I’m not a Human, I’m a Strangeling.”

“What, pray tell, is a Strangeling?”

“I am,” I said. “I’m half Human and half Elf.”

To prove it, I brought my designs to the surface. She looked very curious and moved slowly to kneel in front of me. She grabbed my face and looked it over.

“Well, you are full of surprises. Now, let’s get you clean.”

They had me strip down in a separate room and they dumped several bucket of warmed water over my head, which drained down into the small stream I’d seen outside. They then gave me soap and had me thoroughly wash myself. They then poured twice as many buckets of water over me. Then they stared at my clothes.

“What are we to do with these rags?” one of the servants asked. “These are no proper clothes for a female!”

” I have some clean ones in my pack. Those just need washed,” I exclaimed.

“But milady, it isn’t appropriate. You need one of our shirts and the long flowing thing that females of Humans and Elves wear.”

“A skirt?” I asked then laughed. “I am not wearing a skirt. Besides, nobody has one.”

Twenty minutes later, I angrily stomped into the room that contained my friends. Pinnathir took one look at me and spat out the wine he was drinking. Everybody stopped talking and gaped at me. There was no laughter, but suddenly everybody saw something very interesting in every direction except where I was. I stomped over to them and Gabrithon wordlessly handed me a glass. I drank it quickly, sputtering at the slight burn, but handed it back. He filled it back up and handed it to me. I started on this one more slowly, sipping at it sullenly.

“Um, Filynora?” Elthinor asked; he had blood trickling down his chin from biting his lip so hard.

“What?” I spat.

“Why are you wearing that?”

I looked down at myself. I wore a reddish brown shirt that ended in a point above my navel, baring my belly. The skirt the queen had quickly made for me was made of plain, dark brown material. It was loose and flowing, and more than anything else, I hated it. I glared up at Gabrithon.

“Your mother thought it would be more appropriate than my normal attire,” I growled.

“You’ve met Mother?” Gabrithon asked.

“Yes.”

“Is she well?”

“Well enough to force me into this outfit.”

“Come now, Filynora,” Jaiden said. “You look nice.”

“You look weird,” Pinnathir said honestly.

“Gabrithon!” Vincentia said as she entered the room.

“Mother!” Gabrithon said happily, trotting over.

“How are you, my boy?”

“I am well.” He paused. “Mother, why did you put Filynora in a skirt?”

“It is the proper thing for her to wear.”

“But she can’t fight in it.”

“What kind of girl fights?”

“I do,” I said irritably. “I fight. I’ve fought Aswangs and Vampires, Naga and Rakshasa. I even fought the Mngwa! And now you’ve gone and taken away my sword, my bow and quiver, and my pack! I want them back!”

“But it isn’t right!” Vincentia said, stomping her right front foot.

“I don’t care!” I snapped.

“You’re such an ugly girl!” she said loudly.

I froze. “What does that have to do with anything?” I asked, fighting down a wave of hurt.

“Mother, please!” Gabrithon said, moving to stand between us. He paused. “Are you pregnant?”

“Yes.”

“Then you shouldn’t be getting so upset. Go take a bath, you’re all sweaty.”

When she had slowly walked out of the room, Gabrithon turned to me. “Fily?”

I pretended to be unhurt by the comment that Vincentia had thrown at me. “What did she mean by that?”

“Beauty isn’t just skin deep, Filynora,” Gabrithon said. “To Centaurs, if you’re not the way you’re supposed to be, you’re ugly if you’re a female, and worthless for a male. You don’t act like a complacent little mare. That’s what mother meant by ugly.”

“Oh. Fine.”

“Filynora, you know you’re a beautiful girl, right?” Elthinor asked, taking my hand.

I felt my face harden. “Shut up, Elthinor.”

“Fily,” he said sternly. “You are. Who cares what some Centaur thinks of you? You’re beautiful just the way you are.”

I jerked my hand out of his and downed the rest of the wine in my cup. I threw the empty chalice at the silver and green Elf and he caught it, surprised. He actually began to look a little angry. He opened his mouth to speak, but a booming voice suddenly rang out through the room.

“Well, now she looks like a proper girl!” It was Hithaeron. He was with another strong looking Centaur, but this one didn’t look so fierce.

“Cevenor,” Gabrithon greeted.

“Hello brother. So that is the trouble making female?”

“Yes, but now she looks tame,” Hithaeron said, sounding very satisfied.

“Somebody should tame you,” I snarled.

Shock appeared on both of their faces.

“She is a feisty one,” Cevenor stated, staring are me curiously. “How long have you had her, Gabrithon?”

“Almost two years.”

“Then you certainly should have been able to tame her by now!”

“Filynora…will not be tamed,” Gabrithon said carefully, glancing at me.

“You act hesitant when speaking of her,” Hithaeron said, peering at me.

“You certainly aren’t afraid of her, are you?” Cevenor asked.

Gabrithon looked me over then straightened himself. “She is more frightening than anything or anyone I have ever faced.”

Hithaeron laughed, but Cevenor pursed his lips. He walked over to me and tilted my head up so I could look into his face. My hand grabbed at the knife handle sticking out of the skirt; it was the only weapon I’d managed to keep. Cevenor hummed and removed his hand, so I lowered mine.

“She has the wild spirit of an unbroken filly. She is free and untamed. And,” he said after a moment of silence, “she is dangerous. I don’t know where you found her, brother, but she is trouble. Set her free.”

“I don’t need to be set free,” I said. “He does not own me.”

There was quiet after that as the two brothers studied me, then Gabrithon, then me again. Cevenor finally nodded.

“Well brother, what other trouble have you gotten yourself into?”

“Oh, Vampires, Naga, and, more recently, Rakshasa,” Gabrithon admitted.

“What are those creatures?” Cevenor asked, sounding genuinely curious.

Gabrithon began to describe each creature in turn, and in the middle of his description of the Vampires, I noticed the king—Vincentia had called him Xylon—slip into the room. He stayed on the fringe, listening to the descriptions and the stories that went along with them. I watched him, only half listening to my friend. He reminded me of my Tindre Tigre when he had a mouse, ready to pounce the moment it got too far away.

“And then they started turning into birds, so we shot at them. We took down quite a few.”

“Where are these creatures then?” Xylon suddenly asked; he’d just pounced.

“Not here,” Gabrithon replied. “And that’s good. They’re horrid to look at and difficult to fight.”

“I’ve never heard of such creatures before,” the king said derisively. “I take it that these are the beings you want us to go to war with?”

“Yes,” Gabrithon said with a nod. “And I suggest we leave soon. There’s no telling what they’re planning to do to Greensage.”

“What’s Greensage?” Cevenor asked.

“It’s the Human town that the races are gathering to. We’ve already gotten the Satyrs, the Elves, and the-” He cut off abruptly, realizing his mistake too late.

“And the who?” Hithaeron demanded, something fiery alight in his eyes.

Gabrithon grimaced as he said, “Dwarves.”

“My son has been associating with Dwarves?” Xylon bellowed. He reared and lashed out with his front hooves before coming down hard. “How dare you? They are rotten, filthy monsters! They’re horrible and violent!”

“Oh, we’re not violent?” Gabrithon demanded. “We beat our own mares if they do something detestable. Besides, once they decide not to kill you, they’re quite nice.”

“Despicable!” the king cried, though I wasn’t sure if he was talking about the Dwarves or his son.

“I agree,” Hithaeron snorted. “You should be ashamed of yourself Gabrithon!”

“Well I’m not,” the youngest prince snapped. “In fact, I would trust one of them with my life! He’s brave and ferocious in battle and a better friend than you are a brother and you a father.”

That shut them up. They stared at him, but their stares steadily morphed into glares. Hithaeron stomped his front hoof and stormed out of the room. Xylon crossed his arms and narrowed his eyes at Gabrithon.

“I don’t believe in these creatures. You are tricking us like you did last time. I refuse to go to battle with these imaginary beings. Especially if we must work with Dwarves to do it.”

With that, the king turned and left the room, leaving Cevenor behind. The second born Centaur prince had been attentive and had asked many questions when Gabrithon had been describing the creatures. He stared at us.

“Do you have physical proof of these monstrosities that you describe?” he asked.

Elthinor hesitated then stripped his shirt off and turned around. Cevenor sucked in a breath and let it out slowly. He then looked over at me, walking over. My shirt was sleeveless with a high neck, a thin strip of cloth tying behind my neck. It bared my scar. Touching the marking on my shoulder—and making Elthinor growl in the process—he looked into my eyes.

“And this, Filynora?” he asked. “Is this from those creatures?”

“Yes,” I replied. “The Aswangs. I had a puncture on the back of my shoulder, too.” I turned around.

He fingered the mark. “Very well. I believe you. My question for you is, will these beasts come here?”

“Honestly?” I asked. “It’s very likely. They’re persistent. But it might also be something worse.”

“What could be worse than the Mngwa?”

“I don’t know. But the Mngwa was only one of the Dark Ones. ‘Ones’ suggests more than one.”

Cevenor looked thoughtful. “I shall do my best to keep our warriors strong and prepared. What should we look for?”

I smiled. “If it’s the Aswangs, Vampires, or Naga, then look for clouds. Thick, dark clouds. Naga can walk around in sunlight, but they’re not as strong. Rakshasa can walk around in sunlight easily, but you need to look in their eyes. If the colored part of their eye looks shattered, then they’re Rakshasa. With all of them, there’s a sense of darkness that fills the air. It makes a person uneasy. And the feeling gets stronger the darker the creature. If it’s a Dark One…Well, you’ll know it’s a Dark One.”

“I think I’ve got it. I must go warn the warriors of these signs. I bid you good day, Filynora. Brother. And to you all, as well.”

Cevenor walked out of the room and we glanced at each other.

“So, Fily,” Pinnathir said. “About your outfit.”

“Is that cup empty?” I asked, gesturing to the one in his hand.

“Yes. Why?”

I slugged Pinnathir in the arm. My friends laughed.

“Shut up,” I said.

 

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