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 36

The shoes were gone, uncomfortable to run in. I sprinted past the last houses and could hear pursuing feet behind me. I didn’t want to be caught. Just when the lights of the camps around Greensage were disappearing behind me, I heard a grunt. My ankle was caught in a strong grip and I tripped. Immediately I began fighting as the owner of the hand crawled up and flipped me over.

“Filynora!” Elthinor said, panting heavily. “Stop it! Calm down, please!”

I screamed in response. All I could think about was Shaylee. She was so cruel, so hateful. Why couldn’t she just have left Elthinor alone? I sobbed and fought harder, but he hand my wrists pinned to the ground, so I jerked my knee up, hoping to hit his groin. I missed and we fought on. I saw torches being carried towards us so I used all of my strength to get away. Two steps away, another hand grabbed my ankle, this one made of iron. I knew who it was. It was Valtrak. Even though I knew for certain I wasn’t getting out of his grip unless he released me, I screamed again, a wounded sound, and kicked out. Elthinor’s hands grabbed me and picked me up, settling me in front of Valtrak so the Dwarf could put his arms firmly around me and keep me there. We were bathed in torchlight, but it was almost silly for them to bring them. The moon was big and bright tonight. I went limp after another minute of fighting. Valtrak was just too strong.

“Filynora!” Elthinor exclaimed, kneeling in front of me. “What’s wrong?”

I let out another piercing scream then lowered my head and cried. After a moment of silence, I heard movement. A hand was placed on my forehead and my face was lifted up. Before I could force the hand away, or at least snap at it, something cold was splashed on my face. I sputtered as a cloth was wiped across my face. There was another splash followed by another round with the cloth. This happened again and again until Elthinor was satisfied. I was in shock. What was that about? Then I saw the cloth. It was covered in the stuff Laetitia and Melanari had painted my face with. I began crying again. That meant I was my plain, ugly self again.

“Filynora?” Gabrithon asked, lowering himself to get as close to my level as possible; he was holding one of the torches.

“What’s the matter?” Pinnathir knelt down, though he was behind Elthinor. Jaiden hung around behind them, holding the other torch.

I didn’t respond, jerking forward to try to break Valtrak’s grip. He didn’t even move. I moaned and lowered my head again. Elthinor touched my chin and I bit him, hard. He yowled and pulled his hand back toward his body. I had broken skin and bright, fresh blood dripped into the grass. He stared at me incredulously.

“What in the world is the matter?” he demanded suddenly, his voice holding more authority than I had ever heard from him. It was a far cry from the Elf I remembered from Ellavendir.

“Why don’t you just go and be with Shaylee?” I barked, feeling compelled to answer.

Through my hair I saw him freeze. “What?” he asked, his voice holding a funny lilt.

“Go on, get!” I spat. “She’s the pretty one, the one who wants to marry you. Go and fulfill her wish!”

“But Filynora, I don’t want to marry her!” Elthinor said with a laugh.

“You have to marry soon, though,” I said. “Your family will expect you to preserve your line. See if I care if you marry such a little worm.”

“I told you, Fily, I don’t want to marry her,” he said, his voice infinitely gentle.

“Well then who do you want to marry?” I asked, looking him full in the face. “There has to be someone.”

“There is,” he said evasively. “But if I told you who, you wouldn’t believe it.”

“Filynora,” Valtrak said from behind me. “We told you once that Elthinor would always pick you over that Elf girl.”

“You’d be my friend over hers?” I demanded hotly, looking right into his eyes.

Unflinchingly, he nodded. “Of course Filynora. You know, I really don’t like her. She’s much too stupid, and her voice is terribly grating on the nerves. Her designs aren’t very pretty either. The blue is much too light and the pink isn’t nearly as pretty as my sister’s pink.”

I felt a wave of relief and stopped straining against Valtrak. He liked me better than he liked Shaylee. That was wonderful! Besides that, he didn’t want to marry her, which made me even happier. Valtrak released me, but I could sense he was poised to recapture me if I tried to run again. But I didn’t want to run. Not anymore.

“Good, you’re calm. Elthinor said. “Now I have two questions for you. One, what’s the real reason you dressed up? And don’t tell me it was just to ‘look nice’ either.”

I felt my face heat up and suddenly I did want to run again. As if sensing this, Valtrak placed firm hands on my shoulders. I didn’t want to tell them the truth. It was so silly. But I still felt as if it were true. I had never really felt pretty in my life, and now I knew it to be true that I wasn’t. Elthinor reached over and caressed my face.

“Come on, Fily. We’re your friends,” he said softly.

“You’ll think it’s dumb,” I growled.

“No we won’t,” Gabrithon said.

“Fine, you want the truth? I’m ugly and I thought if Laetitia and Melanari made me look fancy, you’d think I wasn’t.”

There was nothing but shocked silence. Then Elthinor began to laugh, which prompted everyone to laugh. Tears filled my eyes and I bit back a sob. It was true then. When my Elven friend had calmed down enough to see my tears, his laughter abruptly stopped.

“Don’t cry, Fily,” he said kindly. “You misunderstand our laughter.” He pulled me to my feet, held one hand above my head and said, “Give us a twirl.”

Confused, I did so. I could feel the dress I wore fanning out around me. The others clapped.

“What?” I asked. “What are you seeing?”

“Lithe grace,” Gabrithon said, winking.

“Coiled fury,” Pinnathir replied.

“The strength of a thousand Dwarfinlas,” Valtrak rumbled.

“The best archer in the land,” Jaiden said with a nod.

“And I see battle prowess unmatched by any,” Elthinor chuckled. “See? No ugliness.”

“Yes I am,” I said unhappily. “None of what you mentioned has anything to do with how I look.”

“Precisely the point,” the green and silver Elf said. “You’re beautiful no matter the outward appearance. Though I must admit, as both an Elf and a Human, you’re the most fair I have ever seen.”

“Not bad at all,” said Pinnathir. “You know, from the waist up. The legs are weird.”

“For your race, you do seem quite beautiful,” Valtrak said.

“She is. Much better than any Human. And especially that Elf Shaylee!” Jaiden said, causing laughter in agreement.

“Which brings me to my second question,” Elthinor said. “What made you hit her?”

“She called me something,” I said shortly.

“What could she have possibly called you to make you look so, well, scary?” Valtrak asked.

My face got hot again and my designs flared out. It was improper to even say the word to a male, but I had never let that stop me before.

“She called me a whore,” I said, eyes flashing. “She accused me of being with all of you, which would be the reason you kept me around.”

A second of silence was followed by screams of outrage. Elthinor’s grip on my hand tightened until it was painful then he released me and  began pacing. Gabrithon had reared and he came down hard with a squeal of pure rage, eyes glowing eerily in the firelight. Pinnathir bleated, and stomped his hoof, while both Valtrak and Jaiden stared at me with wide eyes.

“That isn’t even physically possible with three of us,” Valtrak stated once things had calmed down a little.

“Once that wretched abomination wakes up, I’m going to have a talk with her!” Elthinor barked. “She is never to even look at you again!”

I didn’t say anything. The way they reacted made me feel warm and fuzzy inside. Shaylee was no longer a threat, and they loved me the way I was. Suddenly, I realized I didn’t hate being different anymore. They didn’t care that I wasn’t normal. Besides, normal was such a relative term. What seemed normal to us didn’t necessarily mean normal for anybody else. The Elves’ practices weren’t normal to the Satyrs, just as the Centaurs’ practices weren’t normal to the Dwarves. It was all a matter of perspective. And I had just found the right one. I laughed there amongst my angry friends and they all looked at me.

“Filynora? Are you alright?” Elthinor asked concernedly.

“Yes, Elthinor. I am more than alright. I feel amazing. I love all of you, too.”

They all stared at me for a moment.

“Do you finally understand?” Valtrak asked.

“What?” I turned around to look at him.

“I have watched you struggle with who you are for a while now. You have just come to terms with it. You are just the way God made you. There is no use wishing to be anybody else because if you were different in any way, big or small, then you simply just wouldn’t be you.”

After a pause, Gabrithon said, “You always surprise me when such wisdom passes your lips.”

“I try,” the Dwarf replied with a smile.

The atmosphere was relaxed. Then suddenly, it wasn’t. A scream tore through the night and I immediately looked toward the sound. I saw Human-like figures chasing another Human-like figure. I was guessing the second one was actually Human. We weren’t dressed for battle. I didn’t even have my knife on me, forsaking it for the chance of being ‘pretty.’ I looked around then grabbed the torch from Jaiden before sprinting towards the pursuing figures.

“Filynora! It’s suicide!” Elthinor screamed.

They had pinned the Human to the ground and were tearing at him. I leaped over to face them and they were stunned by the fire. Llugat snarled, and I smirked as I plunged the fire into the nearest Vampire. He shrieked as he was immediately set ablaze. He caught three more on fire and the rest dashed back out of the firelight as their skin started bubbling. Their red eyes stared at me through the darkness.

“We shall be in pain if we do not kill this wretched brat,” Llugat said, his voice holding a tinge of fear.

“Too bad,” I growled. “Go away.”

They hissed and suddenly began to run just as I heard running behind me. I turned and thrust the torch into Jaiden’s hands and knelt down beside the bleeding form. I grunted as I flipped him over and my breath caught in my throat.

Nolan?” I gasped.

“Fily,” he moaned.

Jerkily, he sat up and dropped the pack that he had been shielding from the Vampires to the ground. He stripped his tattered shirt off and I groaned for him. Slashes, gouges, and bites covered his torso and neck. But wait, there was something on his arm. He untied the string and pulled it off. It was the scroll. He handed it to me.

“That’s only a part of it, sister,” he said shakily, lying back down. “They tore the rest of it from me.”

He looked bad. Without question, Elthinor picked him up and we began hurrying to the town. As soon as we got to the came, Gabrithon thundered off to find Aloron and my father. We took Nolan to the only place we could think of: Leah’s house. We lay him on the floor and Elthinor began tending his wounds. Aloron and Elyosius burst into the room and Aloron swallowed, placing a hand on Elthinor’s shoulder. When the green and silver Elf looked up, the red and black one shook his head.

“It’s no use, lad. He’s not going to make it.”

“I know,” Elthinor said, looking at me.

For what seemed like the hundredth time that night, I felt tears well in my eyes. I looked into Nolan’s face, and he was looking directly at me. He used the bedside table to force himself up into a sitting position.

“I knew I wouldn’t survive,” Nolan said hollowly. “If the monsters didn’t get me, then Fily would. But I don’t mind. Not anymore. I read the last scroll and it…it doesn’t make sense. But it’s so wonderful, so fantastic, that it must be truth. I confessed my sins and trusted in Jesiah. He forgave me. He forgave me because he said he would.”

“Nolan—” I began, but he cut me off.

“No, let me speak. My time is limited. Father,” he said, turning to the purple and red Elf. “I am so sorry. I let my feelings get the best of me. I betrayed you and turned against you. Please forgive me.”

“Of course, son of mine. I’m sorry, too. If I had taught you better—”

“No. You did nothing wrong. Filynora, I did the same to you. Please forgive me?” his voice was getting softer and he looked like he was fighting to stay conscious.

“Yes brother. I forgive you,” I said with a nod. “It was a pleasure traveling with you. Now please stay alive.”

“I believe God is calling me home, Filynora,” Nolan said with a smile. “Oh how I wish you could remember those stories father would tell us before this whole mess started. There was the one about the sheep and the shepherd. I like that one. When just one goes astray, the shepherd goes after it, leaving the rest of the flock. The Great Shepherd finally caught me, Fily. I was a naughty little sheep, but he forgave me and is bringing me to the rest of the flock.”

His voice was so quiet now and suddenly the flesh on half of my body burned fiercely. I gasped and doubled over, pressing my hands and forehead against the floor.

“So cold,” Nolan moaned.

“So hot!” I cried out.

Nolan opened the pack that he’d brought and motioned me toward him. I crawled to his side, cursing the dress I wore. On his face, chest, arms, and feet, there were his designs. They seemed incomplete, as they only went across half of his body. Nolan pulled out a book. It was thick and black and had a cover on it that had a leather strip and a clasp that kept it closed. He handed the book to me.

“This contains the strengths and weaknesses of the creatures you face. Use it. The battle shall be very soon. Within the month. If you don’t attack by then, the Dark Master shall bring the battle to you,” he said then shivered. As soon as he did, the burning intensified. I moaned low in my throat at the pain.

He reached up and stroked my cheek. “You are the bravest, smartest girl I have ever known. You’re going to like what’s in the scroll. But you have to fight to get the last part. I love you, sister. We could have been best friends.” He turned to look at Elthinor. “You take good care of her, you hear? When she gets to Heaven I want to hear only good things.”

Elthinor smiled faintly. “Certainly. Now, you save a spot for us.”

“Yes. Of course,” Nolan fell sideways onto the ground. “I love you father,” he groaned, looking desperately to Elyosius.

“I love you, son, forever and always,” our father said, tears gleaming on his cheeks.

The burning reached a fever pitch and I saw the color on Nolan’s designs fading to a dull grey. He looked at me and just as the pain overwhelmed me, his eyes lost focus and widened. A flash of blinding light filled my vision…

I saw Nolan, clothed in black. As I watched, what looked like blood gushed over him. As the blood oozed off him, the garment beneath turned white. I stared. That wasn’t possible. But it happened. As I watched, Jesiah walked over to him. Nolan fell on his face at the radiant glory that spread from Jesiah’s form. I looked up to where they were walking and saw the most awesome sight I had ever beheld. It was light and color so brilliant that I couldn’t fathom it. Was that God? I suddenly knew that it had to be. Jaiden had it right, but it wasn’t strong enough. God was so pure, so holy that I knew I should cease to exist. I was wretched and I deserved the sin stained garment that covered me. Tears poured down my cheeks as I realized how unworthy we all were. Nothing we could do could ever give us the privilege of walking before such amazing holiness. We were doomed. Unless…Jesiah. There had to be some connection with Jesiah. He was God’s son. What was the connection? I had to find out. My soul ached for the companionship of that One Being. It was if I were made for it.

“Filynora!” called a voice as for the second time that night I was doused in water.

I yelped and sat up, blinking at the darkness around me. I groped in front of me and Elthinor grabbed my hand.

“Are you alright?” he asked.

“I’m blind.” I said calmly.

“No you’re not,” Valtrak said.

“I can’t see. Everything’s just not there,” I said. “What happened?”

“You collapsed with your eyes open then you started crying. Were you seeing something?”

“The most amazing Something there is,” I said, lowering my head.

“What’s that?” my father asked.

“I saw a little bit of God,” I said simply.

They pressed for more information, and I began telling them what I had seen and felt and thought.

 

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I Am the Life: Chapter 15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hello sister,” he said leisurely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it did.

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

“Kill the Mngwa!” I shouted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you alright Fily?” he asked gently.

I nodded. “Yes. He’s dead.”

“Indeed he is,” Valtrak said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh come on!” Elthinor exclaimed.

“What?” I asked, looking up at him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh my,” Korvict whispered.

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

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

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

 

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I Am the Life: Chapter 5

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

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

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

“What’s going on?” I asked.

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

I shook my head. “No.”

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

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

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

“Where is he then?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

I growled. “Take me to him. Now.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Laetitia. Go. Now.”

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

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

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

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

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

“How?”

“No time. Just go!”

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

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

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

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

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

“Rainstorm! Flaren!” I shouted immediately.

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

“Flame, jump!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where are the boys?”

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

“They wanted a fight,” Valtrak sighed.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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I Am the Life: Prologue

Along with Gabrithon, Elthinor, and Nolan, two new friends had joined me in my journey to find the five lost scrolls that hold the secrets of God, the Creator of everything, and his Son, Jesiah: a quiet and sometimes wise-beyond-his-years Dwarf named Valtrak and a jovial Satyr called Pinnathir. Two others had attempted to join us, both of them Satyrs. One was the younger Satyr princess Laetitia and the other was head of the Satyr guard, Terryn, who was Pinnathir’s father. Laetitia, not skilled or prepared enough to handle the hardships of our journey, was sent back to her hometown of Stonemere with Terryn.

In the Satyrs’ halls, where we spent the winter, the third scroll that had been retrieved from the Dwarven halls was read. The scroll revealed that though the Humans tried, they could not follow God’s Holy Laws. It ended with Jesiah’s birth in Fairwick.

When spring arrived, we traveled from Stonemere to Shadowlyn, bypassing the city to get to the other side of the mountain. Elthinor, Pinnathir, and Nolan climbed up to claim the fourth scroll, which revealed Jesiah’s miracles—miracles that solidified his divinity, especially in my eyes. We did not get to read the scroll as a group, though.

Nolan revealed his deception. He was my long lost twin brother who had been captured with my Elven father. He had been twisted by torture to follow the Dark Ones in their crusade to maintain their reign over the Human race and to, presumably, expand their reign to the other races as soon as possible. As for my father, Nolan had told me he did not know where he was or if he was even alive. I hope he is. I would like to meet him some day.

Elthinor, Gabrithon and Pinnathir were captured by Nolan and some of the Dark Ones’ minions: Aswangs, Vampires, and Naga. A short fall down the mountain had caused me great pain, injuring my back. Valtrak and I barely managed to escape from the creatures, saved only by the timely reappearance of my Kindle Wolf, Ember, who led Aloron, Elthinor’s grandfather, and a group of Elves to us just in time.

The run from the creatures had ruined my back, and I awoke from restless sleep in the house of Leah, Damian, and Jaiden Richards. They were kind Humans who lived in Greensage, and they and the entire town accepted the Elves—which was odd—after their initial fear passed. Jaiden showed an intense interest in the scrolls that almost surpassed Aloron’s, and he has been studying them obsessively for weeks. Of course, Aloron had read to us the fourth scroll, which we had gotten right before Nolan’s betrayal revealing that Jesiah was blessed by God to do many miracles. His disciples even called him the Messiah.

My fast healing has me almost well, with just a little stiffness and a persistent dull ache in my back when I move too fast and too much. I had followed Aloron’s strict restrictions on everything I was allowed, or not allowed, to do. I did it because I want to save my friends. It is a burning desire that grows hotter every day. I fear they are suffering under Nolan’s care. He had shown a cruel side when he had revealed who he was working for, and worse, he had singled Elthinor out. I did not know why he did that, but it bothered me greatly. I missed the Elf fiercely, his companionship, his voice, his steady presence. But, I missed the others as well.

I was used to being surrounded by my friends, and without them, I felt alone. Valtrak was safe, and that comforted me, and Jaiden was quickly becoming a good friend. We had had some deep conversations about Jesiah. Jaiden was also interested in what I remembered about the dreams where I had talked with Jesiah. All in all, my time in Greensage was worthwhile, but I sometimes felt that I was overstaying my welcome. Maybe I just wanted to get my friends back from my traitorous brother. I was not really sure, but I knew my stay in Greensage would not last much longer.

 

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I Am the Truth: Chapter 23

I pushed myself to sit up, my limbs trembling as little bursts of pain shot through my back. My eyes were locked on Nolan’s face. He did sort of look like me. That is except for…

“You cannot be my brother,” I said weakly.

“And why not?” Nolan asked, raising an eyebrow.

“You are not half Elf.”

“Oh, that,” he said with a wave of his hand.

I watched as his eyes turned red with gold rims, his hair became a purer gold streaked with red, and gold and red designs shot over his forehead and the left side of his face. He had a fern-like plant that curled around his left eye and stretched across his forehead, like mine. There were even golden flowers that bloomed at the tips of the ferns. The right side of his face was blank, but the left side held a tiger. It looked like a Tindre Tigre, outlined in gold and filled in with red. I stared at him. There was no doubt in my mind now that he was indeed my brother.

“Elthinor did not think to tell you this, but when Elves are twins, they are born with half designs on their faces and bodies. Their twin carries the other half. And when one dies, the designs become whole on the living one. Interesting little tidbit that I thought you might like to know,” Nolan said lightly, acting as if nothing was out of the ordinary.

“What is going on?” I asked in a whisper.

I heard the Vampires chuckle as Nolan looked at me, his red-gold eyes and designs looking out of place on the once Human-looking face. He sighed.

“I suppose you want to know about me and why I am siding with them,” he said, sounding a little irritated. When I nodded he sighed again. “Fine. Here is the story.

“When we were very little, we lived with both mother and father on our farm. Our father, Elyosius, would disguise himself as a Human with dyes and such so the town thought we were normal. We were never allowed into town because we would randomly switch from Elf to Human. As children it is not as noticeable as Elves do not get their designs until around thirteen to fifteen, but we would suddenly become fairer of face and skin and stronger or faster than the village children, and that threw suspicion on father, who was not from Paxtonvale.

“Father taught us swordplay with sticks at our very young age because he knew that the Dark Ones would find out about us through the Naga, who visit every Human town and village. Needless to say, they did discover us. It was while we were out playing in the woods with father.” Nolan’s voice suddenly went from bored to dark and angry. “He told us to run. Father and I were not fast enough. They captured us within seconds. You were faster, so they took you out with a well thrown rock, which is why you do not remember anything of your childhood. You don’t, do you?”

“Eyes,” I muttered, feeling all of the Vampires looking at me from right beyond the edge of the sharp firelight. “I remember the Aswangs’ eyes. That is the earliest memory I have.”

“How old were you?”

“I do not know. Four or five, I think. Why?”

“Just wanting to know how much damage the Dark Ones did to you as a child,” Nolan said sweetly.

“So, you were captured,” I said, changing the subject and trying to keep him talking. “What next?”

Nolan’s face darkened, but his tone did not match his expression. “They tortured me,” he said lightly, shrugging. “Father, too. But he was too stubborn. I do not know what happened to him. I, on the other hand, had enough sense to realize that what they were offering was better than that invisible God father always talked about.”

“Father talked about God?” I asked, trying hard to remember something, anything of my father. Nothing, absolutely nothing came to me. Whoever had hit me with that rock certainly had knocked every memory out of me.

“I just said that,” Nolan said in a flat voice. “He was always so sure about Him. That He was everything that he needed, though he never really explained why to us. I suppose he thought we were too young to understand. Anyways, I chose to give up the silly beliefs father had, quite lightly, passed on to us and became what I am today. I am a spy for the Dark Master. His most useful spy,” Nolan said, sounding rather pleased with himself.

“Because you look Human,” I said softly, wrapping my arms around my knees, trembling as my back was stretched out.

“Exactly. Even the Rakshasas are not as valued as I am because they are not all that good at appearing Human.”

“Rakshasas?” I queried hesitantly.

Nolan looked at me distastefully. “I am not explaining anything else to you, Fily,” he said, spitting my name out like it left a bad taste in his mouth. “I have wasted enough of my time with you. It took us much longer to find the scrolls than I thought. Not even sending the Vampires into Stonemere made you get out faster. Dealing with those freaky Satyrs for so long nearly drove me insane. The Dwarves were worse! But the worst of all was you, sister. You and your pathetic optimism, your trust, and all your talk about God. Good thing I kept you away from Jesiah.”

I started, my mind going to the lack of dreams. “How? Jesiah’s the son of God!”

Nolan grinned. “Twins can share dreams. I just gave you mine, kept your mind busy all night with no room for Jesiah to interfere.” He snorted. “Besides, if Jesiah was the son of God, and he could do all the things that are written in that fourth scroll, which we read at the top of the mountain, he could make us obey his Father.”

I frowned. That was true, but it did not sit right with me. A grunt interrupted my thoughts and I turned to see Pinnathir struggling weakly in a Vampire’s arms, but his movements were sluggish and his eyes looked unfocused in the light of the fire. Gabrithon was on his belly, his eyes looking just as dazed. Elthinor, on the other hand, was being held by a Naga and four Vampires, his eyes bright and angry. Nolan grabbed my chin and chuckled.

“I drugged the other two,” he said happily. “But I thought Elthinor would want to see this.

With that he shoved me forward onto my stomach and then stepped directly onto my back. I screamed, tears leaping to my eyes as agony tore through me. I heard struggling and I opened my eyes to look at Elthinor. His eyes were wild and he was fighting like a madman trying to get out of the grasp of the creatures that held him. Nolan laughed and suddenly wrenched my shoulders back.

The next thing I knew, a cool hand touched my face and I opened my eyes to see Valtrak above me. He tugged my up to my knees then lifted me to my feet. It took me a moment to realize that chaos was brewing around me. Nolan was on the ground, blood streaming from his temple. Elthinor was in the firelight brandishing his sword at the Naga and the one remaining living Vampire that had been holding him. Gabrithon looked as if he was sleeping between two Vampires and Pinnathir lay limply at the feet of another Naga.

Valtrak tugged on my arm. “Filynora, we need to run,” he whispered, arming me with my bow and quiver, and patting my sheathed sword at my waist to make sure it was there. “I know it is going to hurt, but we must. Elthinor’s orders. Ready?”

I gathered all of my wits, pushing the dull throbbing pain away, and nodded. He took a deep breath and looked back at Elthinor, who nodded. My Elven friend met my eyes and his face softened for a moment then he turned back to the monsters and lunged at them. There was a flurry of movement towards him and Valtrak grabbed my hand and we hurried into the darkness. We had run for a few minutes when I heard Nolan’s cry of anger.

“Find them!” he roared, his voice seemingly echoing around us.

A steady flow of pain burned at my lower back and it was hard to ignore. After about ten more minutes, and with the sound of wing beats getting softer and softer, which meant that Aswangs were closing in on us, I dropped to the ground. It was so sudden that I heard Valtrak gasp and backtrack towards me.

“Fily, get up,” he begged. “Please, we have to keep going.”

“I just…” I said shakily, trying to get up, but I could not. The pain was too great. “I’m sorry,” I moaned, lying on the ground.

I could feel the Dwarf’s resignation and he settled beside me, his hand on my upturned cheek. I heard the shrieking of the Aswangs and Vampires getting closer and began to cry. I felt something warm run up my cheek and Valtrak cried out.

“Something touched me!”

I groaned. “Ember, stop.” I froze then forced myself to sit up. “Ember?” I demanded and I got a small bark in reply. “Ember! Valtrak it is Ember!”

“Ember?” Valtrak said blankly.

“There they are!” Llugat roared and raced towards us.

Despite my pain, I smirked and stood, leaning most of my weight on Ember before switching to Valtrak.

“Watch your eyes,” I told my Dwarven friend in a low voice, then I said in a calm tone the one word that would save us. “Flaren.”

Fire erupted over Ember’s coat, dazzling me. I felt Valtrak cringe and my eyes adjusted quickly to the bright light my dear Kindle Wolf gave off. There were screams and the Aswang that had been hovering silently right above us screamed as Ember sank his teeth into her shriveled, grey flesh and a lick of flame caught the thin membrane of her wing, setting her ablaze. Ember dropped back to the ground and then reared up, tossed his head back, and let out a howl. It sent a shiver down my spine.

“Is that the Kindle Wolf you mentioned before?” Valtrak asked in a hesitant voice, huddling close to me.

“Yes,” I said joyfully, my pain almost forgotten. “My Ember.”

There was a sudden call in the sky and I looked up to see a Phoenix. There was no doubt that it was my Phoenix when it swooped down close to my head and let out a snippet of song. Valtrak jerked in surprise and I lost my balance, falling backwards. I screamed as I hit the ground and pain clouded my vision. As I tried to regulate my breathing, I heard a thundering of hooves and Valtrak grabbed my hand, squeezing it fearfully. Time slipped away from me for a moment, and I was gone until I felt strong arms pick me up. I whimpered as pain radiated across my entire lower back.

“What are you doing with her?” Valtrak demanded, grasping my hand.

“She is obviously in pain. We must get her help,” a voice that sounded familiar said.

“I promised Elthinor I would let nobody harm her! Not even your kind!”

“I will not harm her, my strange lad, and if you are a friend of Elthinor’s then you are coming with us.”

I was put on the back of a horse, and felt someone mount behind me. As soon as he touched my lower back, Valtrak’s protests and everything else faded into darkness.

 

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I Am the Truth: Chapter 22

Valtrak had been wrong about me feeling better. The next morning, I was sore and stiff. After struggling to my feet, I did several stretches, which helped substantially. I could move without much pain. I felt as if somebody was watching me and I turned to see Valtrak was awake. Judging from how tired he looked, Gabrithon had made him stay up all night keeping watch. I immediately felt sorry for him.

“You should go to bed,” I said quietly.

He shrugged. “I’m fine,” he said.

“Liar. You are exhausted. I can see it in your face,” I said sternly, moving to sit beside him and wincing as it hurt my back.

“It does not matter,” Valtrak replied.

“Yes it does.”

“Why are you talking to me? I know you do not fully trust me.”

I did not argue with that. “Where did you go during that battle?”

Valtrak shrugged. “I do not wish to talk about it. But I can assure you I am not a traitor.”

“How can I know that for sure?” I asked gently.

“You can trust me,” Valtrak said simply then looked down.

I stared at him for a few minutes then sighed. “Get some sleep.”

I sat and just looked around, watching for anything that seemed unusual. It was still cloudy, in fact even more so than yesterday, so I was nervous. Anything could happen.

Though the Dwarf had argued about not being tired, he had gone to sleep quickly and lay there, snoring lightly. I let both Gabrithon and Valtrak sleep. The Centaur woke an hour or two later, stretching lazily before standing and trotting around in a circle; he did that to wake up his body, as he had told me several weeks before when I had asked about it.

“Morning,” I said, smiling up at him when he finished his light run.

“Good morning Filynora!” he exclaimed, glancing down at the Dwarf with a distasteful expression. “Did he fall asleep before you got up?”

“No. He was still awake. I told him to get some sleep.

“You don’t actually trust him, do you?” Gabrithon asked, settling down to be more at my level.

“I don’t know. I don’t think Valtrak is a traitor. He just seems embarrassed when I ask him about it, not defensive.”

“But Nolan is right,” Gabrithon said firmly. “It is the quiet ones, and he is the quietest out of all of us. He almost never talks unless he is asked a direct question.”

“That does not mean he is guilty!” I argued.

“How can you defend him when you do not trust him yourself?” Gabrithon snapped.

At that moment I made a decision. “I do trust him,” I said sternly. “And you should too.”

“I am not going to trust a Dwarf. Especially that Dwarf!”

We were done talking after that. Gabrithon got up and trotted a little ways away to brood by himself and I sat watchfully by the fire pit, which had died long ago from lack of wood. There was a dead tree off to the side and I decided to work a little. I took an axe and walked over to the tree then began chopping.

By the time Gabrithon had calmed down from our conversation, the tree was nothing but a stump and there was a neat pile of wood a safe ways away from the now roaring fire. I was in quite a bit of pain, too, which meant that I had not enjoyed the work. Gabrithon walked over and lowered himself to the floor by the fire. Lightning suddenly flashed in the sky and a light rain began to fall. It was not a light rain for long, though, but I had managed to cover the firewood with a waterproof tarp we had bought in Bushacre. Soon Valtrak sat up, woken by a huge crash of thunder. He looked alarmed at first, but calmed when he realized what it was. Gabrithon and I were soaked, but I did not mind. It was a warm rain—it had been a warm spring so far—and I needed a bath anyways. Gabrithon pushed back the hair hanging limply in his face and looked at me.

“Is there anything to keep us dry?”

“We have a tent, but I do not know if you will fit. It is Human-made.”

Gabrithon sighed. “I hope this rain does not last long.”

But it did. It lasted well into the evening. I could not help but wonder how Elthinor, Nolan, and Pinnathir were faring. Had everything gone according to our plan? Had they gotten the scroll, or had they been delayed? Were they almost down?

As if on cue I heard a call. I turned and saw a figure bounding down the mountain. There was one last huge leap, and Pinnathir suddenly stood there in the firelight, dripping wet and holding a cylinder. He offered it to me and I grabbed it happily. I leaped up from where I sat and embraced the Satyr. He hugged me back then released me and turned to watch two other figures slowly and haltingly make their way towards us.

“I was so excited that I could not wait,” Pinnathir said with a grin. “They should be down within the hour.”

I laughed and we sat back down. I did not dare open the scroll until the rain stopped. It would be ruined if I did. We patiently waited for Elthinor and Nolan, and by the time they got down to us, the rain had stopped. We were all soaked through to the bone, and Elthinor and Nolan were muddy.

Nolan groaned and sat down hard near the fire, which I quickly fueled with more wood to get it hotter. Elthinor just looked tired. He smiled at me.

“You missed quite the climb,” he said. “At a couple spots it was so steep that Pinnathir had to drag me up.”

“It is a good thing he is so light. It took both of us to drag Nolan up. Humans are denser than Elves and, I would even venture to say, Satyrs.”

“I fear what would have happened if Gabrithon were there!” Nolan said jokingly.

Even the Centaur laughed at that. Valtrak only smiled lightly, but I was the only one who noticed. Now that I had decided I trusted him, I would stand by that until he did something to change it. His eyes suddenly met mine and there was hope in them. I nodded slightly and relief flooded into his eyes. How could he be a traitor?

I volunteered to sit up with Valtrak to watch the fire and guard the group. Elthinor, Nolan, Pinnathir, and Gabrithon fell asleep, the first three very quickly. Gabrithon looked at me with sharp eyes before he relaxed and shook his head disapprovingly. Valtrak moved away into the darkness to change into dry clothes. When he returned, I went and changed. We sat there silently for a while, no words coming to mind to break the sound of the crackling fire. Valtrak sighed and looked up at me, and he seemed to be a little shy and suddenly unsure again.

“I do trust you,” I said quietly. “Please, don’t let me down.”

Valtrak relaxed again. “Thank you. But you are the only one.”

“Do you know why Nolan is so against you?”

Valtrak bit his bottom lip and shook his head, looking away from me. “Not really. I have an idea, but I would rather not share it. It is just something that others called silly. What is in that scroll?” He changed the topic quickly, but since I had been wondering the same thing, I allowed the change.

“I don’t know,” I said excitedly, popping the top of the cylinder off. “Should we read it now, or should we wait for Elthinor and Pinnathir to wake up?”

Valtrak looked thoughtful. “I really want to know what it says,” he said finally. “They can always read it in the morning.”

I smiled and was just about to pull the scroll out when I heard a growl. It sounded like a Vampire. I closed the container up and shoved it into my bag as fast as I could then leaped up and drew my sword. I saw glowing red eyes and I went after him without thought. I could hear Valtrak following me. I looked back to see he had pulled his axe and was keeping as close to me as he could. I looked back towards the shadows as they led us further away from the fire. They stopped and I followed suit, Valtrak beside me in an instant. It was dark away from the fire and I suddenly realized my mistake. We were dead out here! Not even starlight lit up the field. I swallowed hard and prayed for something, anything that would give us light.

“Give up or we kill the Dwarf,” a familiar voice said.

“Rattuin,” I growled. “How is your eye?”

She shrieked in anger and I felt a claw swipe across my cheek. Warm blood began oozing out of my new cuts and I grunted in pain. Valtrak yelped and I turned to try and see him.

“Give up,” Rattuin hissed.

I did so, sheathing my sword; I would not let them kill my friend just to save myself, and they knew it. I was roughly grabbed by ice cold hands and I heard somebody sniff my neck.

“Llugat,” I said coldly.

“Hello, Strangeling,” the Vampire said smoothly. “How are you? Comfortable?” he asked smugly as he jerked my arm higher up my back, making me hiss in pain.

“Be careful now, Llugat,” Rattuin said with a soft laugh. “The poor girl fell and hurt her back.”

“Oh yes,” the Vampire chuckled cruelly then shoved his knee into my lower back.

I screamed as agony tore through me and my legs collapsed underneath me. I heard Valtrak gasp and struggle.

“Filynora! Are you alright?” he asked, his voice full of fear.

I could do nothing but moan as I hung there limply in Llugat’s iron grip, shivering from the residual pain. He jerked me up and forced me to stand then began to make me walk back towards the camp. I could hear Valtrak mumbling under his breath, but he was giving the Vampires no trouble; he probably did not want them to hurt me anymore. I was thrown down by the fire pit, now nothing but embers and ashes; somebody had put it out!

“Elthinor!” I called. “Pinnathir? Gabrithon? Nolan!”

“Hush Fily,” a low voice said. “It is alright. This is what has to happen.”

“Who are you?” I demanded.

A soft laugh came from across the embers and I saw a shadow figure.

“I am your brother,” the low voice said.

“I do not have a brother.”

“That is what mother told you. Besides, you were so young when father and I were taken that you do not remember me.”

“Show yourself.”

“Llugat, back your Vampires up.”

With no more warning than that, a few logs were thrown on the fire and it leaped up. I looked up and my jaw dropped.

Nolan smiled meanly at me. “Hello sister.”

 

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