I Am the Life: Epilogue

I placed the quill down on the desk. My aged hands were quivering with relief. I was done. I could go on in peace. It was almost my time to leave. I could feel it. I had lived longer than all of my friends, including my beloved Elthinor. The generation that was now young was forgetting the battle, the great dragon, the way the kings had allied themselves. The demons were getting to them. The physical  battle was over, but the spiritual battle my father talked about was strong upon them. The practice of idol worship still flourished in all the races, albeit in different forms.

I sighed and stood. There was a knock at the door. I walked over to it—my Strangeling nature was still strong within me, to the point that I could still walk instead of hobble or shuffle—and opened it to reveal Nora. I smiled at her.

“Hello my dear. I’m glad you could come.”

“You’re boys are on the way with their wives and children.”

I smiled. Despite Elthinor’s fervent wishes and even more fervent prayers, we had never had a daughter. But all three of our boys turned out to be Strangelings like me. Elthinor didn’t mind at all. The twins, Aloron and Elyosius, were married to beautiful Elf girls, while our youngest, Nolan, married a Human woman. She was beautiful in her own right, though I could tell she didn’t feel that way. I smiled at their names, remembering the ones I knew who originally wore them.

When the rest of my family got here, we ate venison stew and had the sweet bread that Nora had baked. It was getting late when I literally felt my heart skip a beat then slow down. I shuddered and got up.

“Aloron,” I said softly. “You get my sword.”

“What?”

“Elyosius, you get your father’s sword.”

“Mother, what are you doing?”

“Nolan,” I said softly, undoing my belt and handing him my sheathed knife. “You get this. It is very faithful. Don’t lose it.”

“Yes Mother,” Nolan said sadly. I could tell in his eyes he knew what was going on. “Who gets your books?”

“You all can have your pick of them then the rest go into the Oidynhall library. That includes the ones I wrote.”

“Did you finish them?” Nora asked.

“Yes.”

My heart stuttered again and I nearly collapsed, catching myself on the desk.

“Mother!” two voices cried out at once.

“Filynora!” Nora gasped.

“Be quiet!” I said harshly. “It is my time to leave this world. Take to heart what I and your father and our friends have taught you. Keep God and Jesiah alive!”

My heart actually stopped for a few seconds this time.

“No Mother. You just need to rest,” Aloron said fiercely.

“Nolan, you get the house. I know you two are having trouble finding a place to live. You three be good and split the Elementals, and don’t forget to take care of them. Especially Flambé and her pups.”

The picked me up and laid me in bed. I blinked slowly. Everything was becoming dimmer, but that’s because of the light. The bright, wonderful light that I recognized.

“My Lord!” I cried, reaching forward.

“Mother!” I heard dimly.

I strained toward the light until something popped. I turned to see myself lying lifelessly on the bed, but that didn’t matter. All that mattered was the unimaginable light that I was chasing. I sprinted, young and energetic again, and suddenly there was an angel, staring at me. He stepped aside and gestured to the city I had seen when Nolan died. Red was poured over me and I was suddenly spotless. I peered at the glory of God happily, just taking it all in. I heard a throat clear.

“Jesiah!” I shouted happily, kneeling and embracing him around his middle.

“Filynora,” he greeted, kissing me. He stood me up and gestured like the angel had. “Enter into the joy of your Lord, my good and faithful servant.”

There I saw Elthinor and Gabrithon, Pinnathir and Valtrak, Aloron and Elyosius, and Jaiden and Nolan all waving at me. I whooped and waved back, but I wanted to spend more time with Jesiah. He laughed and kissed me again. I praised God because there was not one thing that would make me happier.

This was life, pure and true, and it was amazing.

 

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I Am the Life: Chapter 40

The entire army halted as the five leaders raised their hands. I looked forward and stared at what remained of Shadowlyn. There were only charred outlines of most buildings. The only one that had remained whole was the stronghold. I shivered. We were about to go into battle against a demon army. True, they were stuck in physical forms, but that was of little consolation. They were stronger, faster, and more lethal bodies than what I, my friends, and the rest of the races had. And they could do tricks. I swallowed and turned away. Elthinor tenderly took my hand and nuzzled it against his cheek.

“Sure you don’t want armor?” he asked.

“I’m sure,” I said. “I’m only a little scared.”

“Without armor, we could die,” Gabrithon said; my friends had decided to forgo armor as well, mainly because of me.

“If it’s our time to die, no armor can save us,” Jaiden said with a nod.

There was a sudden ruckus and I turned to see the opposing army gathering on the remains of the town. The long stretch of plains would be our battlefield then. Suddenly, I felt the overwhelming sense that I had seen this before. Yes, I remembered, it had been a dream that I’d had before this adventure started. I turned to tell my friends when I noticed them all gesturing for Elthinor to do something. His cheeks were red as he approached me.

“Filynora, there’s something important I need to tell you before this mess begins,” he said slowly and quietly.

“What?” I asked. Then I remembered what happened next in the dream.

I heard the screech and dove to the ground just as the Aswang passed over me, claws missing me by inches. I rolled and pushed myself up. The roars and calls of the other army grew louder as they mocked me. It was that noise where I finally understood the term demonic; it was just so otherworldly and evil. I’d show them, I thought as Elthinor helped me up. Seeing the dream in my head, I pulled out an arrow and loosed it as she came down a second time. I must have gotten the heart because the monster dropped dead onto the ground. It burst into smoke and its blood stained the ground.

I could hear swords being drawn from their sheaths. I turned to Elthinor and grabbed his hand as he opened his mouth to speak.

“Elthinor, please. Trust in God for this. If you don’t tell me now, and if I don’t survive, you can always tell me in Heaven.”

“But Fily, I—”

I shook my head and turned away, taking out my own sword. He sighed and followed suit. Gabrithon snorted and I looked at him. He was giving Elthinor the most exasperated look I had ever seen, but I couldn’t worry about that. I glanced at the kings, who nodded sharply, and gave the signal for the charge. We moved swiftly, but the creatures were swifter. Aswangs were already picking off people from the middle of the charge. It was utter chaos as soon as the two sides met, the din getting louder than ever. I saw swords piercing creatures on both sides, and blood, red and black, spilled onto the ground.

Everybody suddenly froze as the loudest noise I had ever heard burst forth from the other side of the army. It was a roar. What creature sounded like that, I wondered fearfully as I sliced through a Vampire. My friends and I were heading straight toward this sound, because it seemed to be coming for the stronghold. The stronghold had to be where the last part of the scroll was. It was the only thing left standing. So we cut through the enemies, one after the other, sometimes having to gang up on a Rakshasa or a particularly strong Naga.

The Rakshasa weren’t even bothering to trick us, simply turning into animals with painful, and possibly poisonous, bites. Suddenly a howl went up that sounded like my Ember. I paused only long enough to look and see that it was indeed him, and he was charging with my Elementals towards another larger group of Elementals. I sent up a quick prayer for my precious pets. As I did, Elthinor was suddenly sent sprawling by a Naga. I cried out in fear for him then he rolled to his feet and we, rather viciously, took down the Naga.

When we finally got to the door of the stronghold, there were no guards, like we had anticipated. Before we could get too close, there was another roar, this one making my ears ring. My dream came back to me, and I hugged the building just as the top two stories exploded upward and outward. My friends, trusting that I knew what I was doing, pressed close to the cut stone wall, too. They looked utterly terrified. We backed up and stared up at the ruined part of the building. Horror filled me as I saw what unfurled from the top of the building.

“A dragon,” Valtrak breathed.

It was the legendary dragon! I couldn’t believe it. The beast was rumored to be bigger and stronger than thousands of men. It certainly was big, and no doubt just as strong. We hadn’t even considered it to be a viable option for this Satan to have taken for a form. We hadn’t even thought about it. It was much too horrible to consider fighting that thing, but we had to. For Nolan and the poor souls that had died in his grip or trying to escape it. For the original members of the races. For our own hope. And most of all, for the full knowledge of salvation for the whole world so that they could know God. Its glowing red eyes told me that that’s exactly what he intended to stop us from doing. But we had God on our side, so though I was a little scared, the terror did not overwhelm me like it was doing to my friends.

I pointed at him. “You’ll never win, Satan! Give us the scroll piece!”

Another roar sounded out, this one making my head hurt. That sound seemed to bolster the rest of the dragon’s army, and they all sounded out their calls.

“Do you think that your God would care about a creation as broken as you, Strangeling?” the dragon asked.

Anger flooded through me as he sank back into the ruins. Every time I thought I’d conquered my doubt about what I was and how it related to God, one of these foul beasts would bring everything back up. I stormed into what remained of the stronghold and my friends followed me. The hallways were dimly lit, and we ran through them, expecting enemies at every turn. But there were none. We slowed as we approached a wide arena on the second floor. Across the room was the stairs that led up to the level of the dragon. As soon as we entered the room, there was a thud behind us. It was an Aswang bigger than any I’d seen. Llugat appeared to our right, Lupine in front of us, and a huge Naga on the left. I didn’t know who to point my sword at, so I settled for Lupine; Rakshasa seemed more dangerous than the other three.

“Let me guess,” I said, glancing around. “You’re the leaders of the monsters.”

“Of our own kinds,” the Aswang said leisurely.

“And the kinds below us,” Lupine said while he grinned at the Naga, who hissed angrily.

“Now now, we have no time for fighting. The Dark Master wishes for them to be dead. Let’s actually do that this time. Then maybe Lupine’s pride won’t be so wounded,” Lugat said.

“Be quiet, you—” And the Rakshasa said a series of words that made even the boys shift uncomfortably. I was a little embarrassed to be in the same room as they were.

The monsters surged forward, but not to fight us. They met in the center of the room, arguing, cursing, and insulting each other. So this is why they hadn’t attacked us together very often, I thought as I began creeping around the room. They didn’t notice, so I continued. Jaiden slipped ahead of me and began walking up the stairs. As soon as I was three steps up, and before the others had even touched them they were caught in vicious grips. I stood there frozen. There weren’t enough to get me and Jaiden, but to go and face that monster without my friends?

Llugat was teasing Gabrithon about the taste of his blood and fear. Valtrak was facing the Naga, having hit him once to break the grip, and blood stained his axe. Pinnathir had the Aswang, and she looked delighted, saying how she would enjoy ripping the flesh from his bones and wetting the ground with his blood. Lupine, who was facing Elthinor, was silent, his eyes dashing up and down for weakness before becoming his little sister again. My Elven friend looked up, his eyes commanding us to go. So we sprinted up the stairs and up into a little hallway. I stopped when we passed a room, having the sudden urge to go in.

“Fily?” Jaiden whispered, following me.

“It’s the scroll,” I hissed when I had gotten to the desk. I slowly picked it up and stared at the words.

“Well, go on. Read it.”

I felt embarrassed. “I can’t read, Jaiden.”

Jaiden stared at me incredulously for a moment then his face softened, and he took the paper from me.

There was the tomb, but something was wrong. It was open. Could that mean that I had been right in my guessing? I began walking over, but a hesitant question stopped me.

“Fily?”

I turned to see my friends all standing there, with clothes of black on them—even Gabrithon and Pinnathir had them on.

“What are you doing here?” I asked, glancing back at the tomb.

“I’m not sure,” Gabrithon asked. “What is this place?”

“This is one of my visions of the scrolls.” I turned and pointed at the tomb, with the rock rolled away from the entrance. “That’s where Jesiah’s body was buried. But it was closed at the end of the last one. How did it open again? Very little time has passed. It’s the day after the Sabbath.”

“Hey, there are some females,” Jaiden said.

“They carry anointing oils,” Valtrak said, and I turned and approached the tomb.

I gasped. Jesiah’s body was no longer there. Instead, there were two angels, some of those terrifying beings that had been present at the creation of the races.

“Why are you looking for the living amongst the dead?” one of them asked. “Jesiah is not here, but is risen! Recall his words, those he said to you concerning these things.”

They raced off and I tried to follow, but I soon saw Jehan racing toward us, followed by Pyotr. I noticed that the cloth that had been around Jesiah’s head was neatly folded, before Pyotr or Jehan even got there. They went in the tomb and looked around then left.

“Come on Mia. Let’s go,” Pyotr said, placing a hand on one of the women’s shoulders. She didn’t move, just stood there crying.

I felt something buzz in the air and I gasped, stepping back. She turned, too, keeping her eyes down.

“Woman, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?” Jesiah asked, a hint of a smile on his face.

“Please tell me where you have laid him, then I will take him away,” she said brokenly.

“Mia!” Jesiah said fondly.

He told her to go and tell his disciples about him and she turned and ran.

My friends and I were transported to a closed off room. They all yelped at the abrupt change in scenery, followed by gasps as they saw the group assembled. We had looked around at every face when suddenly there was Jesiah, dressed in his customary white robe, standing right in the middle of the room.

“Peace be with you,” he said, looking around at his disciples.  “As the Father has sent me, I too send you.” He let out a long breath and something wispy and white rushed out to fill the room, lighting on every one of his believers. “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

We were suddenly outside, away from Fairwick. There stood Jesiah.

“Go and make disciples of all, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Teach them to follow all that I have commanded of them, and remember that I am with you to the end of the age.”

I watched as he ascended into Heaven and I blinked. Inexpressible joy bubbled up throughout my being and I spun around and grabbed Elthinor’s hands. He looked surprised. I pulled him forward and pressed a kiss to his cheek. He yelped covering the place I had kissed with one hand and staring at me with wide eyes.

“Filynora!” he gasped, his cheeks coloring slightly.

“He’s alive!” I shouted and everybody else began to smile as they realized this. “He’s alive!” I cried out again and laughed for joy.

 

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I Am the Life: Chapter 38

I watched carefully as Hithaeron and Gabrithon circled around each other. The oldest prince had come with a group of Centaurs led by some of the males that Gabrithon had appointed to gather soldiers. In fact, waves of people from every race were coming in. Most of the males that came in offered no trouble. Hithaeron wasn’t one of them.

“I challenge you,” the chestnut Centaur growled.

“As you wish,” Gabrithon said tersely.

Suddenly Hithaeron lunged, and they came together hard, squealing and roaring like enraged horses. I watched the fight apprehensively. Gabrithon wasn’t quite as strong as his older brother, and he began losing. How he had beaten his father, I didn’t really know. Every Centaur there was shouting for Hithaeron. I was terrified that Gabrithon would lose. We would lose, too, and the cost would be almost all of the Centaurs. Hithaeron reared and came down to grab Gabrithon’s neck. There was a cry and my friend went down.

“No!” I yelled.

Instead of stomping on Gabrithon and going for the kill, the oldest prince turned king walked over to me and physically picked me up.

“Fear me, girl,” he said angrily. “And know Gabrithon couldn’t beat me. Bow to me.”

I told him ‘no’ in the rudest way possible. His face turned red and he threw me to the ground.

“Very well, girl. Prepare to die.”

Hithaeron reared and was about to come down on me when he was hit on the side. He went down hard. Gabrithon began doing what his brother had neglected to do, bloodying him up and hurting him so he couldn’t retaliate. When he went in to kill him, I called his name. The golden Centaur stopped and trotted over to me. I stood and smiled up at him.

“I guess you’re still the king?” I asked softly.

“I suppose I am,” he replied.

Delight suddenly burst onto his face and he turned and reared, letting out a victorious cry. The Centaurs all bowed at the noise, but none raised their voices with him. None, that is, save one. It was Cevenor.

“Good job brother!” he said as the crowd began dispersing.

“You’re the only one who thinks so,” Gabrithon said, gripping his brother’s forearm in greeting.

“Maybe so, but you are doing well for not being properly trained to be king.”

“Thank the other kings. I am constantly asking their advice, and they seem more than willing to give it.”

“Gabrithon,” I said impatiently. “They’re probably waiting for us.”

“Oh yes! Sorry brother. We’re going for the scroll reading. Care to join us?”

“Why not?” he asked, falling into step beside the golden Centaur.

We hurried through the streets to a small crowd of people. Spotting Elthinor, I made my way over to him. He smiled and nodded in greeting.

“She’s here, Jaiden!” my father cried; he and Aloron were standing in the shadow of a house. “Now we may begin!”

Jaiden was looking terrified and shy as he stepped up onto the crate. He swallowed hard and looked around at the fifty or so people around him.

“Well, here goes nothing,” he said, loud enough to be heard by everybody. Then he unrolled the scroll and started reading.

“The Son of Man shall be delivered up to be crucified after the Passover,” Jesiah told his disciples. I was confused. What was crucified?

Then I saw them sitting in a house at a table. A woman came in and she held a flask of something. She broke it and poured the contents over Jesiah’s head. The most fragrant smell filled the air. There was a stirring amongst the disciples.

“What a waste!” one of them said. “That oil could have been sold for quite a bit of money, which could have been given to the poor.”

Jesiah sighed softly, his eyes looking distant. “Why do you trouble this woman? She did something good for me. You always will have the poor with you, but you won’t always have me. In pouring this oil over my body, she did it for my burial. I promise you that wherever the Good News is preached, what this woman has done will also be told.”

I saw one of his disciples, a Human, sneak out the door. Curious, I took a few steps to see if I could follow him. I could, so I did. We walked through the streets to an enormous, ornate building. We walked inside past guards. We came to a group of strangely dressed Humans.

“What do you want, disciple of Jesiah?” one of them asked.

“I wish to give Jesiah to you. You may do what you wish to him. But what shall I get in return.”

They talked among themselves. “Thirty pieces of silver.”

“Done. I shall come and get you when there are no crowds around him.”

Everything melted and I was suddenly in a room. After listening to the conversation, I determined that they were observing the custom of the Passover. I saw Jesiah take a loaf of bread. He gave thanks then broke it, handing it out to them.

“This is my body, which I give for you. Do this to remember me,” the Son of Man said, then he took a cup. “This cup is the new covenant, made in my blood, which I shed for you. But look! My betrayer sits with me at this table. And though this has been determined in advance that I shall go, which I shall, woe to him that betrays me.”

They began discussing greatness and Pyotr said that he would go to prison for Jesiah, and even die for him. Jesiah smiled sadly.

“Before the rooster crows, you will thrice deny that you even know me.”

Reality melted again and I found myself in a garden, looking at Jesiah. He was kneeling with his head down, and I realized he was praying.

“Father, if it is in Your will, please take this cup away from me. But not my will be done, but Yours.”

Then one of those frightening beings that had watched the creation of the races came down and I watched as Jesiah was strengthened. Three times he prayed, each time going back to his disciples, Pyotr, Jem, and Jehan. The first two times, Jesiah asked them why they could not stay awake. The third time he came to them, he told them to rise and said his betrayer was near. Sure enough, there was the Human that had agreed to betray Jesiah. He walked forward and kissed Jesiah’s cheek.

“Teacher!” he said.

“You betray me with a kiss?” Jesiah asked.

There was a scuffle then Jesiah chastised the soldiers, asking why they had never arrested him in the temple while he was teaching. He went off with them willingly. Pyotr followed him, settling outside in the courtyard. I watched sadly as he did indeed deny Jesiah. Pyotr stumbled away and wept in the shadows of the night.

Next I was shown Jesiah. The men who held him were mocking and beating him. They struck him while he was blindfolded and taunted him by asking him who had hit him. They also spat on him. I wanted to hit them, tear them to pieces, but every time I tried to move to do that, I found I couldn’t even shift my weight. I finally resigned myself to just watch, but tears prickled at the corners of my eyes.

He finally went into some kind of council and was condemned. The high priest, for that is who was questioning him, asked him if he was the Son of God. Jesiah told him that he had rightly spoken. They got up and led him to an Elven governor Poncio. The priests began lying against him, saying he was telling people not to pay taxes. Poncio asked if he was king of the Fairians, which was some kind of ethnic group from the way he said it. Jesiah said the same thing that he had told the high priest. Poncio turned to the chief priests and said that he found no fault in Jesiah.

The priests would not let up. After several questions, he sent him to Rodion, but Jesiah answered nothing to his questions, so he was sent back to Poncio. He said something on how he was innocent in his sight and said he would chastise him. Chastise? The crowd shouted for somebody called Barabbas. Poncio sighed and sent Jesiah away for this chastisement.

They stripped Jesiah down to his undergarment and I immediately looked away, my sense of propriety very strong. Nothing was uncovered that shouldn’t be, but it felt wrong and strange to see the Son of God so…vulnerable. I heard a crack and turned to see a thick whip. I looked at Jesiah, who was chained to a block, then back at the whip. My eyes widened. No. They wouldn’t! They couldn’t! But they did. The Elf wielded the whip expertly. Stripes of red appeared along Jesiah’s back and I was immobilized by that strange force again. Tears ran down my face and I began screaming at each pain filled cry from Jesiah. They were heart wrenching. They moved on to some kind of cane and the cries got louder as they landed on tender, already sore flesh. They moved from his back to his front.

This lasted far too long for my liking. I had sunk to my knees, the only movement I had been allowed. They moved to some kind of whip and I could see shards of glass at the ends of it. I didn’t want to watch as flesh was torn from his body, but I did. Blood soaked his undergarment and the ground. It was done. But no, they brought something else. It was thorns, twisted into a circular crown-like shape. I grimaced as it was forced onto Jesiah’s head. His cry made me whimper. They mocked him, spitting at him after they had dressed him in a beautiful purple robe, and bowing mockingly towards him. They shouldn’t have been allowed to do this! Where was God? Why wasn’t he stopping this?

Poncio brought him out again and still the crowds called for Barabbas. They also cried for something called crucifixion. They called on their laws and said he should die for what he claimed he was. Poncio was really trying to release him, and I could see that. But the crowd won. Poncio washed his hands of the ordeal, but I could see the stain of guilt on him.

I was moved to the edge of the city and saw Jesiah coming with a beam of wood. It looked familiar, but I couldn’t place it. A man called Semyon was there and the Elven guards forced him to take the beam when Jesiah just couldn’t bear it anymore. His body was weak from the beatings, and his body had open wounds on it that still oozed blood. They got to a hill and there, lying on the ground, was three beams laid out, taller than the one they had forced him to carry. I suddenly realized what was going to happen. I had seen this before. It was in the stronghold of the Humans when I snuck in to save Elthinor. It was Jesiah’s face that had been swiped from the picture on the wall.

“You can’t!” I screeched, trying to lash out at the guards who had attached the beams together to form what they called a cross. This time, I could move, but I went straight through them and ended up on the ground from the momentum.

I watched helplessly as two huge nails were driven through my precious Lord’s hands. He wailed as they cut through muscle and bone. They then tied his wrists securely to the crossbeam. They positioned his feet one on top of the other then drove a nail through them. I was sobbing at this point. The other two crosses were already up and I saw a Human and an Elf on them. They were in their undergarments, too, but they weren’t as beaten and bloody as Jesiah.

People paraded by and mocked the two people, but only a little. I did find out they were thieves, though. The people were more focused on Jesiah, telling him to come down if he was truly the Son of God. Suddenly time sped up and I could tell hours had passed. Thick, dark clouds covered the sky, thicker and darker than the ones that the Dark Ones’ minions could summon. I knew what was about to happen.

Jesiah suddenly threw his head back and gave a cry, the likes of which I had never heard of before. It sounded like the cry of a man bearing an unimaginable burden. I swear I heard his last breath squeeze out of his lungs. All was still for a second then I wailed as lightening flashed across the sky, and it didn’t stop. Thunder began booming louder than anything I had ever heard and the earth began shaking violently. I jerked as I tried to remain upright during the upheaval and was successful as everything stilled.

I watched as he was buried in a tomb and a stone was rolled in front of it. Everything began fading. What? No! It can’t! There has to be more!

I opened my eyes and stared at Jaiden. He was staring at the bottom of the scroll blankly. There was silence, everybody too shocked to move. I concurred.

 

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I Am the Life: Chapter 37

The blindness persisted for a long while. I stayed inside Jaiden’s room, unable to do anything else. My friends came and went throughout the days, but it was Aloron and my father who came back the most, just to hear me talk about what I had seen. They desired to see what I had even if it meant total blindness for the rest of their lives. I agreed completely. What I saw was so magnificent, so thrilling, so wonderfully unique that I would gladly live blind for the rest of my life. I wouldn’t have traded anything for it. I would always have that memory to recall, plus the times I had seen Jesiah and talked with him. I mulled over our conversations, seeking Truth in them. Truth was all I ever found. Besides those activities, I found myself praying quite a bit. I prayed for friends and, after a bit of sulking, my enemies. I prayed that God would guide us in the ways He had planned. I prayed for peace within the camp; the Centaurs had been troublesome lately.

I was lying in the bed, eyes staring in the direction of the ceiling, when I heard a knock at the window. I walked easily over to it—I had measured how many steps it took to get there—and worked the shutters open.

“Hail, Gabrithon,” I greeted.

“So you really are blind,” a female voice said.

“Vincentia? Yes, I am. I cannot see a thing.”

“You poor thing,” she said then paused. “What exactly caused you to go blind? I mean, there’s a rumor going around that you saw a god! Was it the great stallion?”

“I didn’t see a god. I saw the God. Or His glory, at least,” I said with a smile.

“What’s the difference?”

So I told her of Jesiah and the story of the world as told by the scrolls. When I stopped the story, she urged me to continue.

“I cannot,” I said sadly. “Though we have the fifth scroll, or part of it at least, it hasn’t been read, not to me or to anyone else.”

“Tell me of how you went blind then.”

I did so and she frowned.

“This God of yours doesn’t seem to be like any god I’ve ever heard of.”

“He’s amazing isn’t he?” I asked as I perched on the windowsill.

“He’s…odd,” she said, sounding unsure. “Doesn’t He demand sacrifices?”

“My father said there used to be a bunch of laws in place that told how sacrifices should be done and when to do them. There were a lot of bulls, rams, sheep, lambs, birds, and other animals sacrificed at the old Temple that was destroyed. They even said there were celebrations like the Passover where they slaughtered animals. In the Passover’s case it was a lamb. That was how you stayed right with God. Father said that’s useless now, though he’s not sure why. Something about a Perfect Lamb, but that’s all he can remember.”

“Oh,” she sounded stunned. “Well, that’s certainly something. A few generations ago we used to sacrifice children to our stallion. The practice was stopped by one of the kings, who didn’t want to sacrifice the particular child he was supposed to.”

“That’s horrible!” I gasped. “I really don’t think our God would have us sacrifice our children to Him! That’s just not right.”

“It isn’t. The females never liked it, except the extremely devoted ones. Who wants to sacrifice their foal to something we cannot even see? It’s ridiculous.”

“Well, in God’s case, the One True God that is, just because you cannot see or hear him doesn’t mean he’s not there. You have to know He’s there. Just look at His marvelous creation.”

Vincentia suddenly paused a moment. “What an odd coincidence,” she said. “At this very moment, the most beautiful blue and green butterfly has chosen to land on my shoulder.” She went silent for about two minutes then sighed. “It is gone. Your words hold weight. I shall consider them carefully Filynora.”

I suddenly felt a tug on my sleeve and I nearly fell out the window. The Centaur queen caught me and helped me balance again.

“What was that?” I heard a little whinny. “Nora?”

“Yes,” Vincentia said. “She was half asleep. Not anymore.”

“Poor little thing,” I said. “Standing there while we talk. She must be bored to death.”

“Not really. She’s trying to catch all the butterflies out here. It’s the perfect entertainment for her.”

Before I could say anything else, there was a knock at the door. I instinctively turned my head to look where the door was.

“Come in,” I said, raising my voice slightly.

“Fily!” Elthinor said happily, and I heard his footsteps.

He clicked his tongue then he touched my hand lightly. Since I jumped every time somebody touched me without warning, Valtrak had suggested the tongue click to tell me when they were going to touch me in any way, whether it be grabbing my hand or touching my shoulder. I knew to expect it, I just didn’t know where.

“How are you?” he asked, tracing his finger around my skin gently.

I smiled. “Blind.”

“Well, I wish I could change that,” he said. “Even though you’ve made your position on being blind or not seeing God quite clear.”

“It’s irritating, but well worth what I saw,” I said softly.

“Hello Vincentia,” Elthinor said, and I could hear the patient smile in his voice.

“Greetings, Elf.”

“And how are you this fine day?”

“I am well. But I do have business to attend to, so if you’ll excuse me. Come along, Nora.”

“Goodbye,” I said, waving.

I sat there quietly for a minute or two, just thinking. Elthinor didn’t move either, or at least, not audibly. I stirred from my reverie and turned my head to ‘look’ where I thought Elthinor was. He placed his finger on my chin and turned it a little more.

“I’m right here,” he said, no trace of disdain or amusement in his voice. He clicked his tongue and kissed my forehead. “I’m supposed to take you to the Elf camp. The Elf king and the Dwarf king want proof that you’re blind. They both say that they won’t go to war without you.”

I was hesitant to go out. The Dwarf camp was close by, yes, but I was used to seeing where I was going. Sighing, I finally nodded.

“Don’t let go,” I said after he had gripped my hand, sounding scared even to my own ears.

After I had tripped four times just two minutes from the house, Elthinor stopped pulling me along and came around behind me. True to his word, he kept his hand in mine, but he placed the other on my shoulder and stayed close enough that we were almost touching. I could hear my name being whispered all around us; my hearing had greatly improved since I had gone blind. I tried to ignore them. Suddenly the whispers started to get quieter then started stopping. I could hear heavy steps that didn’t sound Human.

“Gabrithon?” I guessed.

The sound of his hoof steps skipped. “How in the world did you know I was here? Unless of course, you can see again?” the Centaur finished hopefully.

“No. I heard you. And you made everybody stop whispering. Were you glaring at them or something?”

Gabrithon laughed softly. “Yes, Fily, I was. Would you like a ride?”

“I’ve got her, Gabrithon,” Elthinor said. “Unless you would be more comfortable?”

“It’s fine, Elthinor. Unless I hurt myself, I think I’ll walk.”

We walked for a while until Elthinor lowered me to the ground.

“I’ll be right back, Fily. I have to go get the kings. Gabrithon’s right beside you.”

I sat there calmly, not afraid of being hurt. Everybody knew not to harm me. I heard Elthinor’s voice drawing nearer, along with Korvict’s. Then I heard Lolaiken’s. I stood to greet them, hearing Gabrithon walking forward to do the same, when, without any warning whatsoever, hands grabbed my arms. I screamed, and jolted backward. When the arms didn’t let go, the word enemy flashed through my mind, so I swept his legs out from under him, falling with him to pin his arms to the ground. I grabbed the knife at my hip with one hand then pressed it to skin.

“Fily! Stop! It’s Lochanor!” Elthinor cried out, and I heard him run forward.

He clicked his tongue then helped me up. I guided my knife back to the sheath and pressed back against my Elven friend. That had scared me. It truly had. Lochanor had made no noise, not a “Hello” or even footsteps. I snarled as a possible reason for that hit me.

“Where are Korvict and Lolaiken?” I asked.

“Right here, my dear,” Korvict said. Elthinor clicked his tongue behind me right before I felt a clearly Dwarvish hand touching mine.

“Which one of you thought to test my blindness but doing that?” I demanded harshly, though I didn’t jerk my hand out of the king’s.

“That would be me,” Lolaiken said, sounding embarrassed. “I was hoping that you were faking your blindness. I’ve never seen you look scared like that before. I suppose that you must be blind.”

“Just look at her eyes!” Elthinor said angrily, hugging me tightly.

There were footsteps and my Elven friend clicked his tongue again. Fingers touches my cheeks and somebody was suddenly close enough that I could feel his breath on me.

“They’re…they’re white!” Lolaiken exclaimed. “That’s impossible!”

“Not for Dwarves,” Korvict said. “But it does look quite odd on her. Besides that, the part of her eye that should be colored does not move to follow you when you change places, Lolaiken. If that doesn’t prove she’s blind, I don’t know what does.”

“Then we have a problem,” the Elf said seriously.

“You can’t pull out of this war!” I exclaimed suddenly, reaching forward and catching his arm as he withdrew his hand.

“Filynora, I absolutely refuse to fight if you’re not with us,” Lolaiken said sternly. “Korvict is in agreement with me.”

“As am I,” Gabrithon said suddenly.

I froze. “What? Gabrithon, you can’t be serious! You have to fight!”

“I won’t go into battle without you.”

“Why not? I won’t miss anything.”

“No, but God is in your favor. If we go without you, we’ll all die.”

“You don’t even believe in God!” I growled. “So why would it matter if I’m in His favor?”

There was silence. I stomped my foot in irritation, wishing desperately to see his face. I walked toward where the voice had come from, Elthinor guiding me. I found myself touching his side once we had stopped walking and I had reached out. I heard the swish of Gabrithon’s tail.

“Your pride is no different than your father’s,” I said softly. “You refuse to admit that you might even possibly be wrong. You’re stubborn. Why? What are you so afraid of?”

“I don’t need another father,” Gabrithon said after a long pause. I could hear the bitterness in his voice.

“This one is the perfect Father,” I said gently. “But you know something? It doesn’t matter if you tell me anything. It’s between you and God.”

I removed my hand and pressed back into Elthinor and we backed up a little bit.

“Let’s go. Can you take me back to Leah’s?” I asked my Elven companion.

“Certainly.”

He guided me back and I smelled the flowers that signified we were almost there. I touched the doorpost to the house and broke away from Elthinor. I knew the house quite well. I did bump into something on the floor, but I managed to get to what was practically my room at this point. I moved to the bed and there was a click in front of me. I paused.

“Who’s there?” I asked, backing up a step and placing a hand on my knife hilt.

“Relax, daughter of mine,” my father said.

“Yes, child, come here. We have an idea,” Aloron said.

“What would that be, Grandfather?” Elthinor asked from the doorway behind me.

I walked forward and I heard them shifting on the bed. One of them grabbed my arm and guided me in between them.

My father cleared his throat. “Now, for both of us, prayer has been a powerful force in both of our lives. It has not just given us support, but a way to talk to God. It is an anchor in every storm, and yet another blessing in times of peace. In many instances in what were letters written to the early Jesites, there are words like ‘Is among you who are sick? If so, let the elders come and pray for him. The prayer of faith shall save the sick.'”

“Elyosius told me this, and I suggested we try this for you. I do not know what an elder is, but we have both been believers for the longest time. Maybe our prayers can heal your blindness.”

“I suppose we can try it,” I said. “How does this work?”

They pressed their hands onto my shoulders, Aloron’s on one side, my father’s on the other. There was silence and I wondered if they were going to pray out loud.

“I’ll go first,” Elyosius finally said. “My most wonderful, glorious, holy Father in Heaven. You are the most amazing Being that we will ever know. You are more powerful than we will ever truly understand. You, in your perfect wholeness, created everything out of nothing. You were an Artist with no paint, and You still brought forth color and life. We thank You for that, because You still made us even though You knew of our rebellion beforehand.”

He stopped and Aloron began. “You are great and amazing. Since You made life, You are aware of every aspect of it, and You can change whatever You want. Your will is beyond us, but we trust in You that You know what You’re doing. We pray now for Filynora, that You would restore her sight, which she lost beholding Your glory. I would give anything to see it in this life, but I am assured of it in the next. I have confessed and am trying to forsake my sins, but it is a long process. I pray for Your patience.”

My father spoke after a pause. “I know You have the power to heal my daughter. If it is in Your will, I know it shall be done. And may Your will be done forever and always. In Jesiah’s precious name we pray.”

And they both said. “Amen.”

I blinked. Everything was still dark. “Oh well,” I said with a shrug.

“Well, it was worth a try,” Aloron said.

“You know something?” Elyosius asked, a smile in his voice. “Sometimes His answer is ‘Yes.’ Sometimes His answer is ‘No.’ And sometimes His answer is ‘Wait.’ He might still heal her. It might be a while. Not everything is instantaneous.”

“We’ll see,” I said with a smile.

“Now Filynora,” Aloron said, a lilting quality to his voice.

“I’ll tell you again,” I said with a soft smile. “It started when Nolan’s designs faded. I saw a bright flash of light…”

Three days passed and my blindness persisted. Then on the third day, my eyes started to itch. I was constantly blinking and rubbing them. I withstood the almost painful sensation for three more days. I was nearly driven crazy by it. One night, as I ate my supper, I resolved to have the first person through the door in the morning look at my eyes. I barely slept, making it the fourth night I had lost sleep. Leah was the first one in, but she was busy and handed me my plate, then all I heard was hurried footsteps. I ate all that was on my plate, set it on the bedside table, and sulked. I was viciously rubbing my eyes again when there was a knock on the door.

“Come in!” I spat harshly, too irritated to care that I was rude.

“Fily?” Elthinor asked, hurrying in. “What’s wrong?”

“My eyes! They itch, Elthinor!” I was practically in tears. “It won’t stop. Something has to be wrong! Please look at them.”

“How long have they been itching?” Elthinor asked, his voice getting closer before he settled on the bed.

“This is the fifth day,” I admitted.

“You should have told me sooner, Fily,” he admonished gently.

He clicked his tongue and both of his hands touched my face, one above my left eye, the other below it. He stretched my eye open and hummed softly.

“There’s something there,” he said slowly, sounding a little surprised. “I’m going to touch your eye and see if I can get it out.”

He clicked his tongue again and I instinctively flinched and tried to close my eye as he touched it. His fingers pinched together and he pulled back. The air was suddenly freezing against my eye and I actually did close it. There was a long silence.

“It’s some kind of film,” he said, and I knew he was studying it. “Let me see your other eye.”

He clicked his tongue, placed his hands on my face, and stretched my right eye open. I kept my left eye closed because when I attempted to open it, it burned from the cold air. He pinched his fingers together again and suddenly the other eye was burning, too. I closed them both and kept them closed. Elthinor was silent and I fluttered my eyelids several time until my eyes no longer burned. I opened them and my jaw dropped. For there in front of me was Elthinor, studying two curved films that had been over my eyes. I could see! He finally hummed and got up, walking over to the window and flicking the films outside. He moved back over to the bed, sitting down to look at me. He promptly froze.

“Fily, your eyes! They’re back to normal!” he gasped. “Does that mean…?”

“I can see!” I crowed happily, leaping off the bed and dancing around.

He jumped up and picked me up under my arms, spinning me around. Lowering me back to the floor and smiling happily, he pressed a kiss to my forehead. There was a knock on the door. I raced over and flung it open to see my father and Aloron. I saw them stare at my eyes and hope flared on their faces.

“I can see!” I assured them and suddenly I was in two embraces.

“It worked!” Elyosius cried out joyfully. “Thank you God! Thank you so much!”

Aloron was thanking God, too. So was Elthinor. I did, too, with no hesitation. It was a miracle. A true miracle. And God was the only one who could pull of those.

“What now, daughter of mine?” Elyosius asked when our jubilee was done.

“Now we need to go talk to Korvict and Lolaiken,” I said firmly. “And tell them we’re all going to battle. How are the plans coming along for that, Elthinor?”

“Before you went blind, we were letting the Centaurs in on the plans. We’re as ready as we’ll ever be.”

“I want us ready to march in one week. We’ll go around wide and come around to face the city.”

“Let’s go tell everybody the good news. And then the plans,” Aloron said. “Now tell us how she is suddenly seeing.”

 

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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.

 

https://www.amazon.com/Am-Life-Three-Scrolls-Trilogy-ebook/dp/B01A04N30O?ie=UTF8&*Version*=1&*entries*=0

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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