Dark clouds overhung the town, and I stared out the window nervously. The clouds were thick; the air smelled of rain. A sense of doom had latched on to me, refusing to let go. I knew what was coming, and it would not be good. I quickly belted on my sword and knife, slinging my quiver and bow over my shoulder. There was a knock on my door, and Valtrak stood in the doorway, staring at me with frightened eyes.
“Please tell me you are just paranoid,” he begged.
“I hope so, but I doubt it,” I replied, turning to look out the window again.
Valtrak grabbed his axe from the corner of the room, sliding his hand over the smooth wood of the haft nervously. He joined me in staring out the window, and I saw him shiver slightly.
“The storm feels too unnatural,” he said in a low voice.
“I know,” I said quietly. “And this time there are just two of us.” He looked down, and I placed a hand on his shoulder. “I trust you, Valtrak. It is all right to be afraid. I am too, but you cannot let your fear overwhelm you.”
His voice had a lilt of confusion to it when he spoke again. “You still trust me even after I ran away?”
“Yes,” I said firmly. “I do. Your heart is in the right place.”
He seemed to absorb my words and, after a few moments, turned to smile up at me. I returned his smile, patting his back. My attention was pulled back to the window when I heard a commotion in the town. I could not see what it was as the window in this room looked out into the garden at the back of the house. I looked at Valtrak, and we both nodded, knowing what was coming. I slid out the window and helped ease Valtrak to the ground. We moved silently into the garden and hunkered down, waiting for the panic. There was a crash in the house, and I heard Leah scream.
“What are you doing?” she shouted as we saw a hooded figure stand in the doorway.
“Silence, woman,” the Naga hissed, for there was no doubt in my mind that that is what it was.
“Where is the Strangeling?” another one spat harshly, appearing behind Leah, who was pale and terrified.
“What is a Strangeling?” Leah asked shakily.
“The girl has not told them, but the Elves were here,” the first Naga hissed; the Elves had gone hunting the day before.
“She must be here,” the first one agreed.
I slid through the garden then hurried to the front of the house. Drawing my sword, I positioned myself to one side of the door. Almost all the townspeople were standing outside the house, looking fearfully at it. I heard the heavy footsteps of the Naga hurrying to the door, but waited until the first hooded figure had passed me before I swung my sword.
I neatly sliced through the creature’s neck and, as it crumpled to the ground, its ghastly head rolled out of the hood and onto the ground in front of the townspeople. Several women screamed, and many of the men looked horrified by the serpentine features; they had obviously never seen what was under the hooded cloaks before. Everything seemed to be moving extremely slow for a moment. I heard hissing shouts of outrage and realized that there were four more Naga in the house, three of whom must have been in the main room of the house. I had not expected so many. One of them lunged for me and I moved to get away, but I could tell I would not make it.
“Filynora! Look out!” I heard Valtrak scream.
Something hit me from behind. Hard. I both heard and felt my back which led to an intense spasm of pain that burned like fire for a moment, then it was gone. I landed on my belly then flipped onto my back. I found myself blinking up at Valtrak as he offered me a hand. I took it and felt the incredible strength in his hands as he yanked me to my feet. I could not think about it though, as the Naga charged towards us. I had dropped my sword as Valtrak hit me, and he seemed to have thrown his axe away in his haste to save me. We glanced at each other as I drew my bow, nocking an arrow automatically. I loosed it, but the creatures dodged. I knew it was futile if they were looking straight at us, so I reseated my bow on my shoulder and grabbed Valtrak’s hand. I ignored his look of surprise and began to run as best I could. I was not fast enough, not with Valtrak hanging onto me.
I screamed as a Naga grabbed Valtrak and pulled us backward. We hit the ground and were suddenly surrounded by the foul snake-like fiends. I swallowed hard, palming my knife. The Naga seemed to be speaking to each other in some hissing language. They sounded excited. Suddenly, an arrow hit one of the Naga and stuck in his shoulder.
“Leave them alone!”
“Jaiden!” I exclaimed. “What are you doing?”
“I have no idea,” he replied, fear oozing off of him, though, to his credit, he held the weapon quite steady.
There was a flurry of movement around us then Valtrak and I were not the only ones surrounded. The group of hunters that had tried to humiliate Jaiden, including Kelvin, stood around the dark monsters. I met Kelvin’s eyes, surprised to find respect etched in his face. I smiled at him and he smiled back then grew deadly serious.
“Leave them alone,” he growled.
“They are ours,” one of the Naga spat, picking me up to hold me tightly against his body. “Come any closer and she dies.”
I met Kelvin’s eyes again, nodding slightly. His jaw tightened as he released the bowstring, but I could see confidence in his eyes. The arrow embedded itself into a large, round eye of the one holding me, and his grip suddenly squeezed me as his muscles spasmed from the pain and shock. I concentrated all of my mind on gathering my strength, and I burst from the iron grip, grabbing Valtrak and rushing to get behind Kelvin and the boys. I hurried to retrieve my sword then took my place between Kelvin and Colton, his best friend. Valtrak soon joined us, having grabbed his ax, and the Naga all stood back to back in a defensive stance.
The Naga that Kelvin had wounded had pulled the arrow out of his eye socket, his cheek stained with blood. The empty eye socket gleamed horrifically in the light. He could obviously take quite a bit of pain and shock as he stood steadily, his hand on a hilt that peeked from his flowing cloak. His one remaining eye was locked on me.
“You are a nuisance far greater than our Masters could have ever guessed,” he hissed; I was sure if he could have, he would have growled.
I felt a smile curl my lips, devoid of warmth. “I can't make it too easy for Nolan,” I said with a cold laugh, though my blood boiled at the thought of that traitor.
The Naga hissed together, no doubt coming up with a plan to get by us. Or to me. Or both. I watched them carefully. The one-eyed Naga looked at me, and he grinned, bringing up a hand to point. I was wary and confused. Then he spoke.
“Even now you betray your strangeness. Eyes of ruby and gold are set into your pale face.”
Everybody, even Kelvin, glanced at me, and I could feel their eyes linger on mine, but my focus was on the Naga, who suddenly moved with their supernatural speed. I aimed at one of the streaks, thought about it, then turned and fired about where I thought he would be within a few seconds. I struck him, his hiss bringing the boys out of their stupor. Valtrak had gone after another one and was battling ax to sword. Kelvin gave a yell, and he and his friends fired all at once at a third streak. The Naga that they had aimed at looked like a giant pincushion, and he fell hard.
I sprinted towards him, unsheathed my sword, and swung it at the Naga’s head, splitting his skull and making sure he would not be getting up. I brought my sword back up and turned to see the Naga I had hit earlier running towards me. He seemed to be running in normal time, but as I dodged, I noticed the Humans seemed to be moving too slowly. Must be my Elf side, I thought as I spun around and ran the Naga through. He fell fast, and I tore the blade out of his side. I heard a hissing cry and saw that Valtrak had downed the one he had been fighting, and he neatly sliced off his head. Everybody began closing in on the one-eyed Naga, who was the only one left.
“Wait!” I cried out, and everybody paused.
I slowly approached the Naga, who watched me carefully. When he spoke, it was obvious he knew what I wanted.
“What is the message?” he spat.
I smiled and said in an icy voice, “You tell my brother that I will get my friends back, and that I will pay him back for everything he does to them.”
The Naga glared at me then pulled his hood up and smoothly sped away. It actually look like he was gliding, which was, I thought, entirely possible. Maybe his kind did not use their legs all the time, and instead slithered on their bellies and tails. I didn't know, and really did not care. I watched him until he disappeared, ignoring the whispers from the townsfolk. A touch to my shoulder had me turn to look at Kelvin, who jerked back, staring at my eyes.
“I am a half-Elf,” I said blandly. “If you think my eyes are strange, you should see my Elven designs.”
“Half-Elf?” he asked, his voice sounding a little strange. “Is that what Strangeling means?”
I nodded, and I could feel everybody staring at me. I was getting used to it. Again. As I turned to go back to the house, I realized just how severely I missed my friends. Valtrak followed, putting his axe away, looking up at me with sad eyes. When we got back into the bedroom, I shut the door and the shutters then sat down on the bed. Valtrak crawled up on the bed to sit next to me.
“They will get used to it, Filynora,” he said softly, placing his hand on my shoulder.
“I know. But I have run out of patience. We need to go and get our friends,” I said, sounding desperate even to my own ears. “Who are we going to turn to?”
“The adults are not going to do anything to help us in this quest. If we are to have any luck, it will be with Jaiden, Kelvin, and people our age,” Valtrak replied.
“What do you mean the adults will not do anything?” I asked, turning to look at him.
“They did nothing to help us fight those creatures. Jaiden leapt to our aid immediately, and Kelvin followed suit soon after, but the adults, they stood where they were and watched silently. We need to gather the youth together to fight this.”
“But how can we change anything?” I demanded. “Who would follow us when we are so young?”
Valtrak gave me a patient smile. “Others our age. Who says that youth cannot change the world? We are more open to new ideas, and from your talks with Jaiden, I understand that he wants to spread the story of Jesiah. We could do that and fight the monsters, too. If the older ones want to join later, they would be welcome; they may even be necessary, but for now I believe it is best for us to focus on the youth.”
I sighed and sat down on the bed. “I'm not sure,” I admitted. “But I will trust what you say. I am glad to have such a wise friend.”
Valtrak immediately looked away, and I could tell he was blushing (if Dwarves could blush, that is). His face betrayed that he was pleased at the compliment, and I chuckled, making him glance at me again.
“You are much too kind, Filynora,” he said gruffly, then cleared his throat and smiled back.
“We shall speak to the boys tomorrow, and some of the girls, too. If they will listen,” I added. “For now, let us rest. That was quite the battle. And I must admit what you did to save my life fixed my back.”
“You do move a lot more smoothly now. I was wondering,” Valtrak said, sliding off the bed and moving to open the door. “I am going to go and help prepare the food. Have a good rest.”
With that, Valtrak walked out and gently closed the door behind him, leaving me to my thoughts.