I could tell that Laetitia and Pinnathir were uncomfortable. Satyrs were just not made to ride horses, but it couldn't be helped. We had to stop the Elves and Satyrs from killing each other. We were pushing our mounts hard, with very little rest in between bouts of running. We slept very little that night and ran the whole next day. We finally saw movement down a hill where the plains began. There were thousands and thousands of Elves and Satyrs. And they were all rushing towards each other. Both groups were spearheaded by a single figure. The leading Satyr, I knew for a fact, was Jestyn. The one on the opposing side had to be the Elf king.
I rammed my heels into the horse's side, and he squealed—it sounded too close to Gabrithon's cries of pain for me to be comfortable—and sprinted down the hill. My friends followed me, Gabrithon on one side, Elthinor on the other, with everybody else behind us. The horses they had given us were incredible animals, but I would have preferred my Elemental horses. They were faster and stronger, with much more endurance. I just hoped that these would do.
We raced past the Elven soldiers, who turned to look at us in surprise. I got to where the armies were about to clash and made a hard left to ride in between them. The two sides stopped in shock, but I was too focused on getting to the kings. I pulled my sword and, just when their blades were about to meet, launched myself off the horse to land right in the middle of them. There was a clang as metal met metal, and then there was stillness. The two kings were breathing hard and were staring at me in confusion. They ordered a halt. The rest of the armies stopped and were now staring at us.
"What are you doing here girl?" the Elf king asked.
"You again," Jestyn huffed. "What do you want?"
"I need you to stop fighting each other. There's a worse enemy out there that we must conquer. If we don't, all will fall to them," I said, almost breathless.
"Oh? And what enemy is that?" asked the Elf as they both sheathed their blades.
"Are you talking about those Dark Ones?" the Satyr king scoffed. "What if I don't believe in them?"
"Father, you must!" Laetitia exclaimed, hurrying forward; I noticed she was walking a little funny, probably from the horse ride.
"Laetitia!" Jestyn gasped and embraced his daughter. "I've been worried about you!"
"What happened to her back?" the Elf king asked, his voice controlled.
Jestyn pulled back and spun his daughter around. Laetitia's entire back bore scars from her encounter with the Dark Ones, but all that was visible were the ones on her lower back. The poor Satyr reached out a trembling hand and ran it slowly down her skin. Suddenly, he turned to face me and his face grew red.
"I send my daughter with you and you allow this to happen to her?" he demanded, sounding half crazed.
"Father! She had nothing to do with my capture. Terryn and I were captured on the way back to Stonemere," Laetitia snapped. "And for your information, the Dark Ones are real. You saw the Vampires and Naga attack us in the palace, and you see the marks on my back. Filynora certainly did not do this, and neither did any of her friends! You must accept it!"
"Fine, they are real, but that does not make them my enemy!" Jestyn growled.
"As much as I hate to admit it, the Satyr does have a point," said the Elf king, who had been quietly watching the exchanges. "What does this enemy have to do with us?"
Elthinor walked up and bowed low, first to the Elf king then to Jestyn. "Your majesties, that is our fault, right Pinnathir?"
Pinnathir walked forward to stand beside the silver and green Elf, bowing to the two kings like Elthinor had. "Yes sirs. We have been following Filynora, and the Dark Ones are after her. We believe that they now perceive all of the races as a threat because people from each of them follow her."
"We think that they see me, Pinnathir, Gabrithon, Jaiden, and Valtrak as ambassadors and believe that each race will now act with her. And that is precisely what we intend to have happen," Elthinor said with a firm nod.
The Elf king hummed and stared at us. "Explain what contact you have had with these Dark Ones."
As Elthinor began to explain, the Elves and Satyrs pressed in close. He was at the part of the Vampire attack on Gabrithon when I heard it. Somebody was calling my name. Somebody who couldn't have been there. I turned and pushed past the soldiers, and none of them even noticed me. None of my friends shouted for me, and Elthinor's voice faded as I got farther away. I walked towards the voice, which came from the edge of a small forest that bordered the plains. There, standing at the tree line was…
"Mother?" I asked, hardly daring to believe my eyes.
"Hello dear," she said kindly.
Without thinking, I ran forward and embraced her. I looked up at her, tears in my eyes then froze at what I saw. There was a darkness in her eyes that had never been there when she was alive…She was dead, I suddenly remembered. She couldn't be standing here. I opened my mouth to scream, but she slapped me hard. I hit the ground, and suddenly there was an Elf and a Satyr dragging me into the forest. I struggled against them, but, like all the creatures, their grips seemed to be like iron. A hand was firmly pressed against my mouth.
"That was too easy," my mother said, then turned into a walking shadow.
"Yes, and everybody else had such trouble catching her," the Elf said in a bored tone of voice.
"She's so weak," the Satyr said with a hum. "How did she escape their clutches for so long?"
As they continued on about how pathetic I and my friends were, I saw a figure back in a bush, and it raised a finger to its lips. As it crept forward, I saw that it was Laetitia. She snuck up behind the Elf and tapped him on the shoulder. The Elf spun around and gaped at the Faun as she brought the blade down twice, one for both eyes. The Satyr let go of me in shock at what had happened to his companion, who was screaming in pain. Laetitia grabbed me and pulled me away from them. Then something bizarre happened. The Elf stopped screaming and turned his face towards us, and suddenly we were the ones screaming. His eyes were growing back.
The shadow creature laughed, and he—I assumed it was male as his voice was extremely masculine—crooned at us, "What's the matter? You look surprised." When we didn't answer, he grew bored and flicked his hand. "Kill them. She is a good gift alive or dead."
I grabbed Laetitia's hand, and we began sprinting the way we had come. Well, she was sprinting. I was running at what was a moderate pace for me, but I was not about to let her go. There was a bark, and a Kindle Wolf was suddenly in front of me, but it was most assuredly not Ember. It was grey with orange markings, not black with red. He barked again and lunged but we dodged him, screaming as loud as we could. Heat exploded at my back, and Laetitia turned her head to look.
"Don't look, keep running!" I ordered.
The Kindle Wolf was right at our heels as we broke through the tree line. I hit Elthinor hard and we slammed into the ground, gasping on impact. The Kindle Wolf growled and lunged for my throat. There was a flash of movement and Gabrithon's back hooves landed beside my head. The Kindle Wolf hit a tree and lay there, dazed from either the hooves hitting him, striking the tree, or both. My Centaurian friend quickly turned around.
"Are you all right?" he asked, tilting his head to the side.
I scrambled to my feet. "Back! Get back!" I bellowed, tugging Elthinor to stand.
"My dearest girl, what are you shouting for? The Kindle Wolf is down," the Elf king said, standing beside Jestyn and staring at me.
"But it's not a Kindle Wolf!" I shouted and heard a dark laugh.
"You must forgive me, my king," said the Elf that had dragged me in. "I took the girls in and that beast attacked them. Scared them to pieces."
"Liar!" I spat. "You and that shadowy leader of yours were trying to kill us!"
"She's right! 'Kill them,' they said. 'She is a good gift dead or alive,'" Laetitia exclaimed.
"Ionian is one of my most trusted officials," the Elf king said coldly. "I don't appreciate you calling him a liar."
I stared at the Elf, and his eyes were alight with mischief…Wait a moment. His eyes!
"Elthinor! Look! Look at his eyes!" I cried out.
"His eyes? What are you…Hey, those are Satyr eyes."
Pinnathir squinted. "No they're not. Those are clearly Elf eyes. See? They are on an Elf."
"But I specifically remember that the Satyrs who captured Melanari and me as children had eyes like those. I wouldn't lie to you Pinnathir."
"What are you?" I demanded.
"I am an Elf," the creature replied.
"Why do you have shattered eyes?"
"I was born that way. It's a defect that some Elves have."
"No, it's a defect that some Satyrs have," Jestyn snapped.
The tension in the air was so thick that you could have broken it with a word or a movement. In a mere second, things exploded. I heard something behind me, and I began to turn, but a lean, masculine body was suddenly pressed up against my back and extremely strong arms pinned my wrists to my side. The shadow being came out of the forest. My friends turned from whoever held me to face him with weapons drawn. The being's eyes were shattered, just like the others.
"What are you?" I yelled, fighting to get free.
"Well, since you insist on knowing who shall bring about your doom," the shadow said then looked at Elthinor and changed into the exact image of his little sister. "We are called Rakshasa," she said in Melanari's melodious voice. "A form of shape shifters, if you will. And we are the gods of the races."
"Our race worships a tree! Not you," Elthinor said, but his voice was hollow, no doubt from the shock of seeing Melanari.
"But who do you think is the one that first told the tale of the tree? And as for Satyrs…" the Elf girl look alike said then melted into the form of the bare breasted Faun that the Satyrs held in such high regard. Another flash of movement then came the great stallion that Gabrithon had told us about. Another shift, and he was what could only be the great stonemaker. "As for Humans," he said as he returned to shadow. "We simply appear to one or two every once in a while and that produces carvings for, oh, fifty years or so."
"You see little Strangeling, for other races, we take the truth and wrap it in so many layers that it nearly becomes a lie itself. Although it is taught as truth for years upon years after we give it, it is in reality a distorted version of it," the creature behind me hissed. "For the Human race, which is wise beyond the others in the realm of spiritual things, we show a portion of the truth, harshly bare-boned and part of the living Word that has been written, and that is sharper than a two-edged sword. That portion terrifies them and makes them crave to know less about the unseen. That is to say, us. And we don't want them to hunt the truth."
"That, Filynora, is where you become a problem," the shadow said sweetly. "You are a truth seeker. And once we kill you, and this miserable group of misfits you call friends, off, there will be no truth seekers left. So now, be a good little girl and die for me. It would make our masters so happy."
He reached for me, and Gabrithon surged forward slicing through his arm. The Satyr had joined them by now and so had another shadow being, the one that had been the Kindle Wolf. The shadow shrieked and backed away, but I knew it wasn't over. The grip on my wrists tightened and the Rakshasa holding me leaned down.
"Watch this, Strangeling," he said gleefully.
The severed arm had hit the ground and melted into the black blood-like substance we were familiar with, but instead of disappearing, it began moving back towards the injured Rakshasa! No blood oozed from the wound. The dark mass melted into the shadow, and the arm slowly grew back where it had been.
"Impossible!" I gasped.
"Oh, but it is possible," the leader said, a grin in his voice; there was no facial features save the eyes. "And now, girlie, you shall die."
My face suddenly got hot. Girlie. That was the word he had picked. The word that Tynan had used again and again to taunt me, tease me, humiliate me. Rage roared to the top, and I felt my designs explode onto my face. They laughed, thinking it was funny, but I put all my strength into getting away. My friends were poised around me, seemingly mesmerized by the Rakshasa's voice. I freed one of my hands, causing the one holding me to cry out, and grabbed my knife. Those blows didn't kill them, but they screamed. They felt pain. It could slow them down.
I spun and jerked the blade across the Rakshasa's throat. It was a deep cut, but again, no black blood spurted out like with the other creatures. The wound was, for lack of a better word, clean. The shock of the injury made the creature, who looked like an Elf of high prestige, drop me. I sheathed my knife then pulled my sword swiftly. My actions brought the others, including the two kings and a few of their solders who had approached before the strange trance had begun, out of there reverie. The leader of the Rakshasa had his mouth open in his surprise.
"This is why they have trouble catching me," I said coldly, ready to strike.
"Lupine, what do we do?" the shattered-eyed Satyr asked.
"They all must die!" the one called Lupine roared.
His eyes flashed, and he shifted into a wolf as big as a horse, quite a bit bigger than even a Kindle Wolf. Gabrithon yelled as he was lunged at by the huge beast. He moved backwards as swiftly as he could. But it wasn't even close to being fast enough. He was downed, screaming in pain. I saw blood start to stain his gorgeous golden coat, and I screamed. Everybody was suddenly occupied by these four shape shifters. They were strong and incredibly agile. I didn't think much about it as I climbed onto the back of the wolf, plunging my sword in as deep as it would go. He roared and fell back, his grey muzzle stained with blood. When he was standing straight up with only his back feet touching the ground, I jerked the sword out and dropped to the ground. When I stood, I brought my sword down on his tail then quickly picked it up. It began writhing in my hand, trying to get back to the rest of its flesh, or whatever it was they were made up of.
"Hey doggie," I taunted. "Fetch."
I tossed it in the woods and the Rakshasa was suddenly not a wolf, but formless and racing after it along the ground. I hurried over to Gabrithon, who had many sets of teeth marks in him, some drawn into long cuts from the beast worrying him. The marks were deep; blood was bubbling up. As I was about to pull my pack off and tend to them—being in the middle of a battle was put out of my mind from seeing Gabrithon in pain—there was a roar. I rolled away in time to be saved from two giant paws slamming to the ground.
"Monstrous pest!" Lupine exclaimed as he moved into his shadow form. "I now know why the weaker ones loathe you so violently, and with a passion unmatched by your kind!"
"How can one have passion without God?" I asked, saying what came to my mind. "Did he not create such a concept? You must understand that though you are fallen as we are, you still owe your whole existence so far to God!"
They all shrieked as if in pain, but it didn't seem to make them cringe outwardly, as it had done with the Vampires.
"How dare you speak that name, freak!"
I didn't respond to that but spoke to the kings. "The shattered-eyes are in your ranks. They are these monsters, who have disguised themselves as your kinds. They have goaded you into fighting each other for many, many generations. What now?"
Two orders were given at the same time. "Kill the shattered-eyes!"
There was a rush of movement, and birds exploded into the sky from both sides. They were enormous birds, big enough to be human sized. I turned and stared at Lupine.
"What now?" I asked with a smirk.
"Girl, get down!"
The voice was so authoritative that I ducked, and a blade swooshed over my head. I turned and started at the headless body that collapsed beside its head. The two pieces did not try and reconnect. I grabbed the Elf king and dragged him back. Everybody was staring at the body, the Rakshasa no doubt in shock that we had found a way to kill them. The blood arched out in a small wave and killed all the vegetation around it. I looked up at the king gratefully, but before I could say anything, Lupine let out an inhuman howl.
"You will die Strangeling monster!" he spat then took off into the air.
There was a swift movement, and then Jestyn and one of the Elf king's guards swiftly killed the other two on the ground before they could change. I sheathed my sword and drew my bow, having a theory. I aimed at one of the smaller birds, Lupine was the largest one out there, and fired where the heart should be. It dropped from the sky and didn't get up. There were at least two hundred of those birds up there.
"Fire at the heart!" I shouted, and the kings relayed the order.
A shower of arrows from the Elves' side and one of spears from the Satyrs filled the skies and got at least fifty birds. The rest squawked and flew away. I didn't watch it, though. I hurried over to Gabrithon, placing my hand on his side in a patch of golden hair.
"Hold on, Gabrithon," I said quietly.
"I'm not dying yet," he laughed, though his voice held great pain.
"And you're not going to," the Elf king said again. "I have a few questions for all of you. Bring a physician!"