Liquic Diamond

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Chapter 6: THE HYBRIDS

They crossed the bridge that Natalia thought should have been condemned long ago. They saw nothing but jagged rocks and bushes everywhere. Frustrated by Catalyst’s pushing her so hard, Natalia picked the nearest rock and sat down with her jaw clenched.

“Where are we going to rest for the night?” demanded Natalia in a blank tone of voice leaving no doubt as to how she felt.

“We could stay right here if you like, but there are waterfalls not far from here, if you think you could walk another fifty feet around these bushes,” replied Catalyst with a smile.

With her shoes already off and being pushed so hard to cross the bridge which seemed as though it could have collapsed at any minute, Natalia was in no mood for jokes. She had just had enough for the day! From the look on her face Catalyst knew it.

“Tell you what, Natalia, climb on my back and I'll carry you the rest of the way. How’s that?” asked Catalyst.

Without a word, Natalia handed Catalyst her sweat-soaked shoes and pushed the fitsall out of her way. She climbed up and nudged him to start walking.

Happy to be off her feet and even happier still with Catalyst struggling to carry her, her shoes and the fitsall through the bushes, Natalia felt better about the whole thing.

They passed through the bushes and took five hundred steps rather than fifty. But there in front of Natalia was the most breathtaking sight she had ever seen. The waterfalls sparkled with blues, greens, yellows with hints of red, purple and gold and touches of clear water so clean that crystal failed in comparison. It made for the most spectacular rainbows anyone had ever seen as one rainbow stood above another at least five high with the mist pushing out from the bottom of the falls as the Achiyalabopa birds dived through the air into the mist and falls, catching fish. Their rainbow coloured feathers meant there was no telling them apart from the rainbows as they flew through them. With their feathers as sharp as knives, the ones diving into the water did so without so much as a ripple.

Natalia smelled the fragrance of flowers she had never smelt before blooming all over the place. Her tensions melted away almost instantly as she got off Catalyst’s back. Walking to the edge of the water she sat down and soaked her feet while Catalyst joined her.

“Better, Natalia?” asked Catalyst.

“I could stay here forever,” replied Natalia gently.

“See this moment right now. This is why I pushed you so hard to cross that bridge. I knew you would love this place and I'm sure you would have been angry with me if I hadn't pushed you,” said Catalyst, knowing he and Natalia had peace between them.

“Again, why not just tell me this place was here?” asked Natalia with a smile.

“Because the first time I saw this place I felt just like you do now. I thought if I told you what to expect it would rob you of the feeling you have right now. After telling me about your daydreams, I just wanted something nice for you, and look, it cost nothing. All you had to do was get here,” replied Catalyst.

“Mmm, I guess my Mom was right. Some of the best things in life are free,” said Natalia.

The Elf had made his way halfway up the cliff by jumping and swinging from one handhold to the next, leaving a bloody trail from his hand behind him. He would be at the top by morning. With the pain from his butt wound caused by Natalia hitting him with the axe, his hatred and anger fed his thirst for vengeance, driving him on without fear.

Natalia smiled as she reached into the fitsall pulling out the supplies Catalyst had traded all his stuff for.

“Natalia, what are you doing?” asked Catalyst.

“I'm hungry. I want to eat,” replied Natalia, surprised she had to explain the obvious.

“Leave that stuff for later – we've got fresh everything all around us,” said Catalyst, pointing to the trees, water, fish and fruits as he returned her look of surprise.

Walking to the water’s edge Catalyst knelt down and waited for a fish to get close. Shooting his hand into the water faster than Natalia could see, Catalyst held up a fish, then grabbed some greens from the shoreline.

“Fish and salad okay with you?” asked Catalyst holding out his hands filled with dinner.

“Yeah! That'll be just fine,” replied Natalia, deeply impressed by Catalyst.

Not wanting to watch him clean their dinner, Natalia pulled a huge leaf from a nearby tree, folded it into a cup of sorts and went to pick some berries for their salad.

After eating her meal, Natalia took her blanket and using her coat for a pillow. She curled up under a tree and drifted off to sleep without so much as a goodnight to Catalyst. Understanding that Natalia was Human and must be exhausted, he took no offence.

Building his fire and then climbing the tallest tree he could find, Catalyst studied the road ahead.

With Natalia lying there sleeping and with the quiet and time to think, Catalyst decided it was best not to tell her just how dangerous this place could be. The less she knew the less she would worry and, besides, who was to say that they would meet with any trouble anyway.

After a quiet night and a sleep so sound that not even an earthquake could have woken her, Natalia rose from her blanket all fresh and brand new.

“This place is so peaceful. I've never slept so well in my whole life,” said Natalia.

“Good,” said Catalyst, proudly handing her a cup of tea. At the first sip Natalia could tell straightaway this was not like any tea she had ever had before. It was so much better she could feel the energy starting to surge through her body. With each sip of tea more and more energy flowed.

“So tell me – what's this place called?” she asked as she sipped her tea.

“I've only ever called it the plateau. I'm not sure it has a real name. Why? Do you want to name it?” asked Catalyst jokingly.

“No that's okay. Plateau will do just fine,” replied Natalia.

“Want fish for breakfast?” asked Catalyst hoping to show off his speed again.

“No thanks. I'll have fruit instead,” laughed Natalia.

Still wanting to show off for her, Catalyst picked up a rock and aimed for the fruit in the tree right above them. He held out his hand, waited for a fresh piece of fruit to drop right into his palm and then offered it to her.

“I'll show you!” thought Natalia as she picked up her own rock, looked up at the tree and threw. Then looking at Catalyst with her hand held out to catch the fruit, it fell right at his feet, exploding and covering their legs in nectar and fruit flesh. Natalia turned and ran right for the water diving in with Catalyst chasing after.

Having spent a good half hour diving, chasing and splashing one another, Natalia and Catalyst headed back to shore squeaky clean.

“We both needed a good bath,” said Natalia, sniffing the air around herself.

With a good breakfast in her and the tea having taken full effect, Natalia was on her feet and ready to go.

“Okay which way now?” asked Natalia, brimming with energy.

“Same way as before, towards Ghost Mountain,” replied Catalyst as he turned to lead the way.

The old Elf had reached the top of the sheer cliff right behind the bridge. Following Natalia’s and Catalyst’s footprints as best he could, he eventually he came to the very spot they had spent the night.

With the lightest scent from Natalia’s perfume left on the tree she had slept under, the Elf sat down to rest after his climb and unwittingly fell asleep, allowing more distance between him and his prey.

“Natalia, I've got to tell you, in this place, right now we're surrounded by Hybrids and although they’re decent enough, I don't want you getting upset should we meet any,” said Catalyst.

“What do you mean Hybrids?” asked Natalia.

“Well, you know your people used to come here, so there are some Basajaunak/Humans, Elf/Humans, Mugwad/Humans and who knows what else. Oh yeah and one Krusnik/Human,” explained Catalyst, smiling as he tried to ease any tension that Natalia might feel.

“Basajaunak/Human, how does that happen? I've met the Basajaunak and although we're similar in shape we're still two very different species,” blurted out Natalia before Catalyst could answer her question.

“You'll see. Just up ahead there lives a fellow named Kaylec. He's a Basajaunak/Human, maybe he'll explain,” replied Catalyst. He had heard the story before and did not want to ruin it for Natalia.

Having slept for about two hours, the rotting body odour of the Elf and the stench of the pus-filled blood from his wounds had carried through the air, catching the attention of some Achiyalabopa birds. The Elf woke to a bird picking away at his wounded finger, pulling the flesh from the bone. The Elf covered his mouth to muffle his scream and with his left hand, he grabbed the bird and squeezed hard enough to choke the life from it.

Grabbing the sunlight with its feathers and blinding the Elf with a quick flash, the Elf let go of the other bird to cover his eyes, but not before the Achiyalabopa struck the Elf’s face and flew off with his left eye in its beak.

Rolling on the ground in pain the Elf made his way to the water’s edge and washed out his eye socket to try and relieve the exploding, burning, stinging pain that gripped his head.

Sticking his head under the water, the Elf let out a scream powerful enough to send a wave three inches high throughout the lagoon surrounding the waterfall.

He raised his head from the water with blood running down his face, staggered to his feet and ripped his pant leg to wrap around his head and cover his empty eye socket.

Seething with anger and hatred, coupled with the pain flowing all over his body, the Elf set off after Natalia and Catalyst.

As Natalia and Catalyst continued their walk across the plateau toward Ghost Mountain, they came upon Kaylec the Basajaunak/Human hybrid. Catalyst sneaked up to try and scare him.

“I can hear you, Catalyst,” said the fellow as he stood up and turned around.

Natalia just burst out laughing, for there standing before her was a man six feet, five inches tall with the face of a Human and the body of a Basajaunak with a bald head, big lips and a fat bald stomach but covered everywhere else from cheek bones to toes with shaggy white hair.

Laughing so hard she could hardly stand it, Natalia fought to get the words out.

“I'm sorry!”

“Here we go again,” said Catalyst as he looked at Natalia and then Kaylec. He was embarrassed by Natalia laughing at his friend.

“It's okay, little girl. I get that all the time when people first meet me,” replied Kaylec.

“How are you, Kaylec? This is Natalia. Please forgive her. She's never seen a Hybrid before,” said Catalyst.

“I'm fine, how are you? And it's okay, I can see she's Human and I well remember what they can be like,” replied Kaylec.

“What brings you this way?” asked Kaylec.

After explaining their mission, Catalyst put down his fitsall to rest for a moment and the pouch of tea fell out.

Kaylec picked it up and smelled it to make sure, then looked at Catalyst.

“Did you let her drink some of this?” asked Kaylec.

“Yes I made tea this morning for us both,” replied Catalyst.

“I see, well that explains her behaviour. You can't give Humans this stuff, Catalyst. For you and me it's a simple tea, but for Humans it's like ale. All you did was get her drunk,” laughed Kaylec, handing the pouch back to Catalyst.

“I didn't know. Besides my Father, I've never met a Human before her,” said Catalyst in his own defence.

“Well now you know and since she's drunk I can't very well let you leave now can I? Come on, let's get her back to my place,” said Kaylec.

As Natalia walked along with Kaylec and Catalyst she noticed just how much more alive the trees and plants seemed to be. Then all of a sudden she puked.

“I don't feel so good,” said Natalia as she crawled into Catalyst’s arms to be carried.

When they arrived at Kaylec’s home he picked up a jug, dusted it off and handed it to Natalia. She drank from it and almost instantly felt better. In just a few minutes she was back to her old self.

“Don't ever give me that stuff again,” said Natalia as she smacked him right in the arm.

“Kaylec, I'm sorry for laughing at you,” said Natalia, looking ashamed.

“Don't let it bother you, young lady. I think we all know whose fault it is,” replied Kaylec, looking at Catalyst.

“Yeah, the woman from the Gallows. I didn't know it would do that to her,” said Catalyst.

Natalia was now sober. Kaylec didn’t want any unnecessary guests so he pointed out the fact that they had more than enough daytime left for travelling. Taking the hint, Natalia had to agree.

“But not to worry, children, I'll walk you out to the end of the plateau,” offered Kaylec. He wanted to make sure they left, but hid it behind kindness.

“Besides, you might run into Blemmyes,” continued Kaylec, not wanting that for them no matter how much he wanted them gone.

“Blemmyes, Catalyst? Were you even going to mention that?” asked Natalia, feeling worried but not surprised.

“Look, Natalia, I don't see the need for you to worry about something that might not even happen, so I thought it better not to say anything, that's all,” replied Catalyst trying to sound as though he had it all under control.

Natalia was suddenly flooded with memories of her father saying almost the same thing to her mother time and time again. Without realizing what she was about to say, Natalia turned to Catalyst and yelled, “Ya dink!” just like her mother would yell at her father when he hid things from her.

“Okay, that'll be enough of that potty mouth, young lady. Can't have you swearing around here,” laughed Kaylec, turning away.

Catalyst had never heard that word before and he just stood there thinking nothing of it.

As they walked away from Kaylec’s home neither Natalia nor Catalyst had any idea that the Elf was catching up to them or was even chasing after them. They thought they had left him buried beneath the mud hut and as far as they were concerned it was over and done with.

“What about these Blemmyes?” asked Natalia.

“They don't actually live here. Those of us that do are outcasts. We don't fit in with either side of our kind, not the Human side or whatever else it is that any of us is a part of, so we come here and live out our lives. As for the Blemmyes, they don't fit in anywhere, not even here. Somehow they figured out it's just us up here, so they make their hole in the ground caves on the other side of the plateau and exist there for the most part. Every once in a while they try hunting us for food, but so far we've managed to beat them back. Those things are pretty awful. They’re born pregnant and when it's time for another one to come into this world it chews its way through the back of the adult. Since they carry four or five babies, each adult can live up to seven years. They’ve got to grow a bit before they can have babies and they only have one a year, anyway, so the last one out of its parents back is so small it can't survive on its own. So it stays behind and eats its parents alive. Awful creatures those Blemmye spawn, mouths full of germs that cripple you as well as infect you, making you easier to eat,” replied Kaylec, making sure Natalia knew everything about them whether Catalyst liked it or not.

“Am I to take it by the look on your faces that you've met the Blemmye before?” asked Kaylec.

“Yes we did and can I ask one thing, Kaylec?” asked Natalia.

“Sure, what do you want to know?” replied Kaylec, smiling at Catalyst hoping to repay him for troubled days gone by.

“How did you happen? I know we have the same basic shape but we’re two very different species,” asked Natalia getting ready for what she hoped would be a great story.

“The way Mom tells it is like this, and you have to know Dad is what you would call a Scotsman. Anyway, one day Mom was out looking for a new fishing spot and while following a stream, she caught a glimpse of something shiny out of the corner of her eye. She looked over to see what it was and there, coming out of the stream after having a bath was Dad, with his bald head reflecting the sun. He was covered from his cheekbones to toes in hair standing there in all his glory. With just one look, Mom fell in love,” said Kaylec stopping for a breath.

“Now being Basajaunak and a wee bit bigger than Dad by about two and a half feet and three hundred and sixty pounds, Dad didn't have much of a choice really. Mom just picked him up, took him home and kept him. All in all he's seems happy enough though, and that's how I came to be,” replied Kaylec, hoping that would answer her question.

The silence that followed showed that it did, all the way to the edge of the plateau where they pushed their way through the bushes and plants.

“Now look you two, when you’re on your way down the trails, stay alert. Those Blemmyes will grab you if they get a chance,” said Kaylec as the three of them stood looking over the side of the plateau as it sloped off into the distance. It was filled with scattered caves.

“Are every one of those holes filled with Blemmyes?” asked Natalia.

“I don't know if every hole has a Blemmye but it's best to bet most do,” replied Kaylec.

Catalyst hit the ground face first and was stunned.

“You little brat!” screamed the Elf, reaching over Catalyst and grabbing Natalia by the arm. He pulled her in close to him as he spat and slobbered on her.

“I blame you for this! If you hadn't hit me with that axe none of this would have happened to me!” growled the Elf as he pointed to his empty eye socket with his ripped and chewed finger.

“After I'm done devouring the boiled flesh from your bones I'm going to give them to my next pet to sharpen his teeth on before he rips your friend here apart,” said the Elf, seething with rage.

Dragging Natalia away, the Elf took no notice of Kaylec as he shook Catalyst back to his senses.

Seeing Natalia in the clutches of the Elf, Catalyst sprang to his feet and kicked him from behind, hitting him right in the privates. At the same time, Kaylec punched him square in the face hard enough for them to hear the sheering crack of his jaw break.

As the Elf dropped to his knees not knowing which part of his body to hold on to first, Natalia used one of the kicks she had learned in gymnastics and kicked the Elf squarely in the centre of his forehead, sending him head over heals tumbling down the slope of the plateau.

Coming to a stop in front of a cave, the Elf lay stunned as a Blemmye jumped out and tried swallowing his right arm. Grabbing the Blemmye with his left hand the Elf easily took control of its mind.

Spitting the Elf’s arm out of its mouth, the Blemmye grabbed him and dragged him into the deepest darkest recesses of its cave, leaving Natalia, Catalyst and Kaylec looking on in wonder.

The Blemmye returned to open ground just a few minutes later, picked up a rock, threw it in front of another cave and waited.

As the Blemmye that lived in the cave came out to see if food had shown up, the Elf’s new pet jumped it from behind, ripped its arm off and returned to its cave to feed its master.

With the Blemmye fatally wounded, its spawn started chewing their way through its back, and one after another the baby Blemmyes crawled and stumbled off in search of food with the last and smallest one staying behind to eat the still breathing adult alive.

Wanting to vomit after seeing that, Natalia, Catalyst and Kaylec turned away.

“My god, Catalyst, that's five Blemmyes by my count,” said Natalia, horrified by what she had just seen.

Just then another one of the plateau’s residents came through the bushes to see what had happened.

“Kaylec, I heard the commotion. Is everything okay?” asked the stranger.

“Yep, everything is just fine,” replied Kaylec.

“A Human!” exclaimed the Elf/Human Hybrid, startled by Natalia’s presence.

“I am Natalia, and yes I am Human!” snapped Natalia, not liking the way the Hybrid reacted to her.

“You already know Catalyst so no reason to introduce him,” said Kaylec, reminding everyone he was still there.

“Natalia, I would like you to meet Manday (or Monday?),” said Catalyst, offering an introduction.

With a huge smile on her face at hearing that name for a man, Natalia reached out her hand in friendship.

“It's nice to meet you, Manday,” said Natalia.

Remembering what had happened when Gobstank brought up Miss Turr’s name, Catalyst wondered if Natalia was smiling at Manday’s name. It seemed perfectly normal to him.

“Why are you smiling so much, Natalia?” asked Manday with suspicion, having dealt with Humankind before.

“Where I'm from Mandy is a girl’s name. I just think it's funny, that's all,” replied Natalia being as honest as she could be.

“My name is not Mandy, it's Man-day,” sneered the Hybrid.”

“Well?” said Natalia with a shrug of her shoulders.

“Look, when I was born I looked more Human than Elf. It so happens I was born in the daytime and since my Father is Human and his sense of humour being what it is, he named me Manday,” he said, hoping that would be enough to stop what he had suffered all his life.

“So what's going on here?” asked Manday, looking at Kaylec.

“Just taking care of a small Blemmye problem,” replied Kaylec, pointing out the dying Blemmye. Considering Manday’s heritage along with his anger at the moment, Kaylec saw no reason to bring up the Elf.

Looking at the Blemmye being eaten by its young and the thought of another problem with them, Manday pulled a horn from his belt and blew hard. The sound echoed throughout the plateau and it was only a few minutes before Natalia, Catalyst, Kaylee and Manday were surrounded by Hybrids ready to fight off another Blemmye attack.

“There were only two of them and they were not trying to attack!” snapped Kaylec at Manday while Natalia and Catalyst just stood there looking in awe at all the Hybrids. Some of the varieties and mixes Natalia and Catalyst hoped they would never see again.

“Well maybe it's time we brought the fight to them!” shouted Manday, rallying the Hybrids to anger.

With a few of the frontline Hybrids picking up handfuls of rocks and firing them at the openings of the caves, the fight was on!

As the Blemmyes came out of their caves to see what had landed, they heard the roar of the Hybrids and gathered to attack.

The Hybrids stood side by side and with one row in front of another, they measured two hundred (yards, metres?) long and three wide.

The first row of Hybrids threw their rocks into the bodies of the Blemmyes with deadly aim, driving them back a bit. They quickly knelt so the second row of Hybrids could throw knives, spears and rocks. They in turn knelt, leaving the third row to do much the same. With their rocks, spears and knives ripping and tearing away at the Blemmyes’ flesh, they continued like this for hours until all the Blemmyes had been beaten back or killed. All the while, Natalia, Catalyst and Kaylec remained trapped in the massive crowd of Hybrids.

Sitting there after the fight was done, Natalia looked around until her eyes met with Catalyst’s. He was just as shocked as she was.

“You call us Humans murderers, killers, heartless and cruel – well what was that, Catalyst?” asked Natalia, stunned and sick to her stomach.

Hearing the pain in Natalia’s voice and the words she spoke, Manday felt she was owed an explanation.

“Child, every few weeks at least one of us is attacked by those creatures. Sometimes they'll gather and charge us trying to feed, and we beat them back but they come and they come, time and time again, they just don't stop – but not this time. Never again am I going to sit back and wait for them to come hunting any of us,” said Manday as he realized he was trying to explain something to someone he didn't care for to begin with.

“Now let’s celebrate!” yelled one of Manday’s new followers.

Turning from Natalia and heading back to his lagoon, Manday led the way for the Hybrids.

Although reluctant, Natalia and Catalyst did the same knowing they had very little daylight left and wouldn't be able to travel during the night.

Ten minutes later, they were sitting and watching the Hybrids singing and shouting as they danced around Manday’s small piece of paradise. They filled themselves with ale celebrating their blood bath victory.

Natalia was too upset by the day’s events to join their party. Having seen what a Mugwad/Human hybrid looked like, as Catalyst was kind enough to point one out, she was just too drained to even want to ask what the Mugwad half was. It had a tiny little face and huge swollen skull set on top of a barrel chest, thick hands and tiny feet. Natalia simply chose to accept that the creature looked like a crooked Human throwback and left it at that.

Grabbing her blanket from the fitsall, Natalia lay beneath a tree and fell asleep. Drifting in and out of sleep and having one nightmare after another, by the morning she crawled from underneath her blanket completely exhausted.

Taking the pouch of tea from the fitsall Natalia traded it for some she could drink. Downing a cup and not caring that Catalyst was still sleeping, she gave him a good shake.

“Come on get up, let's go,” demanded Natalia with her voice still shaking. She forced a cup of tea into his hand. Not wanting to spend another minute with these creatures, Natalia packed her blanket, took the fitsall and walked away.

Two minutes later with his tea in hand and his eyes only half open Catalyst ran after Natalia spilling tea all over himself.

“Natalia, will you please stop!” called out Catalyst.

Turning and stopping, Natalia watched Catalyst stumbling his way through the plants as he caught up to her. As he did, he could tell how upset she was.

“Okay, Natalia, just sit down for a minute. Let's talk – just start from the beginning,” said Catalyst, knowing that when his Mother did this with him he always felt better at the end. With any luck, he would be able to get Natalia to realize the things in his world didn't always work like they did in hers.

“What's wrong?” continued Catalyst.

“How can you even ask what's wrong? You saw the same thing I did yesterday, and with all the nightmares I suffered last night how could you expect there to be nothing wrong?” replied Natalia, looking at Catalyst in wonder and almost crying.

At that moment Catalyst could see that Humans were not the cold-blooded monsters everyone had always told him they were.

Seeing the drips of tea on her coat, the exhaustion in her face and the strain in her voice, Catalyst knew her day was going to be long. Doing the only thing he could at that moment to make things easier, he asked, “Why don't we just stay here until tomorrow and you can rest.”

“No, I want to get as far away from this place and those creatures as I can,” replied Natalia, wiping the tears from her cheeks as she turned to walk away.

“Okay, why don't I carry you then?”

“No, I need to walk right now. I need to feel that I am getting away from here,” replied Natalia bluntly.

“Well while we're going down the side of the plateau walk beside me. That way if anything comes from behind us we'll know at the same time. And if you’re walking in front of me you'll block me from seeing it,” said Catalyst looking for any reason to let Natalia know she wasn't alone, as he took her hand.

Walking through yesterday’s killing field with the scent of Blemmye blood still foul in the air as it seeped from the corpses strewn across the slope, they found it hard not to throw up as they gagged every time they came across one.

Doing her best to remember that these creatures were nothing but mindless killing machines brought Natalia little comfort and with the makeshift graveyard being their only choice, they kept on going.

With the sound of flesh ripping, Catalyst dropped to his left knee while stretching his right leg out in front of him as it dripped with blood from a bite wound. He turned to see what had bitten him.

Looking around, Natalia spotted a Blemmye spawn watching Catalyst, waiting for its chance to strike again. Not being able to take any more, Natalia ran screaming toward the spawn and kicked it as hard as she could, sending it flying into the mouth of a cave. There was a crunch and Natalia turned her attention back to Catalyst.

She saw he was now struggling to keep himself on his feet as he staggered for higher ground. Natalia reached him just as he began to lose consciousness and she dragged him up onto the largest boulder she could find.

Resting Catalyst’s silver head on her lap, Natalia tried desperately to keep him awake, shaking him, pouring water over his head and giving him a good hard slap on the face.

Catalyst began to whisper to her. “ “

“No, I'm not leaving you,” interrupted Natalia relieved to hear his voice.

“There's a...plant...a need to...get it for...the bite,” whispered Catalyst.

Lifting his pant leg Natalia could see where the Blemmye spawn had sunk its teeth in and with the festering pus coming from the wound, Natalia could see it was getting worse by the minute.

“Where am I supposed to get this flower?” asked Natalia in a braver tone of voice, hoping to lend Catalyst strength.

Fighting to stay awake, Catalyst used what little strength he had left and pointed off into the woods across from them.

Looking in the direction Catalyst pointed, Natalia did not like the look of the way she had to go. The trees were all dead and she could see nothing green at all in the woods. They seemed to be made of death itself.

Giving Catalyst one last sip of water she took the Atropos Styx from the fitsall and placed the jar in his hand. Then she headed off to find the flower or plant or whatever it was that was a blue, silver something.

Walking deep into the woods, Natalia couldn't help but wonder why Anastasia hadn't come to rescue her son as she had before when the spirit had them trapped. Did she know? Were they so far away she couldn't tell? Was she on her way?

Natalia wasn't aware that in order for Anastasia to feel that Catalyst needed her help, he had to feel terrified. Having come to trust Natalia as much as he did, and slipping in and out of consciousness, there was no way for Catalyst to feel afraid.

Hearing the snapping of a twig and the rustling of leaves around her, Natalia began to feel she wasn't alone. Turning to her left, then her right, then back to her left again, Natalia could swear she saw something from the corner of her eye. Moving faster and faster through the woods, Natalia looked desperately for the blue and silver plant as she tried to keep a watch out for her own safety, only to feel a hand land on her shoulder.

Spinning around and jumping backwards, Natalia almost had a heart attack as she looked at the tall, dark cloaked figure standing in front of her, pulling back the cloak as though an attack were about to take place

“What are you doing out here alone, Human, and where's your Krusnik?” asked Manday as he looked about.

“It's Natalia, not Human, Mandy, thank you very much! Catalyst was bitten by a Blemmye spawn and he's infected with its poison. He sent me to find a blue, silver flower or plant,” replied Natalia in a tone of voice that was mixed as much with fear as it was with anger for Manday having scared her the way he did.

“Do you know where I can find a flower or plant like that?” asked Natalia hating what she just had to do.

“Ah, you mean the cure. Yes I do know where you can find it and I'm quite sure you want me to tell you, perhaps even show you?” asked Manday condescendingly as he looked down his nose at the Human.

“Well I won't; however, you are headed in the right direction and I'm sure you'll come upon it soon enough. A word of advice though, Natalia,” offered Manday.

“What?” asked Natalia, wanting to get away from him.

“If I were you, I would try and catch a Glimpse before it caught me,” laughed Manday as he walked off into the trees.

Angry and embarrassed by the way Manday had treated her and twice as frightened of what was out there, Natalia had no choice but to keep going. She wanted to run but knowing she could miss the cure, she had little choice but to walk and ignore her feelings.

Coming upon the flowers she was looking for, Natalia stood confused. Some were blue, some silver, some darker in colour than others, but none were a blue-silver mix. Not knowing which one she should grab, coupled with her feelings of being watched getting stronger and the sound of a single twig snapping behind her, Natalia grabbed as many as she could, then turned and ran back towards Catalyst.

Catching sight of things that weren't there as she ran, it seemed to take three times longer to get out of the trees than it did to get in.

She finally reached Catalyst with the flowers in her hand and knelt down beside him. She had to shake him to wake him up. Catalyst opened his eyes.

“I've got the flowers – now what?” asked Natalia, relieved Catalyst was still alive.

“The petals...put...them...on,” was all Catalyst could say before falling back into unconsciousness.

Tearing a piece of her blanket and placing the petals over the infection that was now a dark green vile-smelling oozing pus, Natalia wrapped the wound hoping she understood what Catalyst had meant.

Sitting back while Catalyst slept and the cure had time to take effect, Natalia tried to rest as the hours passed but being in the makeshift graveyard and with the threat of the Blemmyes and whatever it was that was in those woods, Natalia could do nothing but worry.

Opening his eyes Catalyst came to during one of the few moments Natalia had actually dozed off. Seeing that she had been watching over him, Catalyst knew right then and there that was one act of kindness he would never forget.

Giving Natalia a gentle push, Catalyst sat up and removed the wrap from his leg. They saw that the infection had cleared up. But for a little redness and some bruising, Catalyst was now fine.

“Thank god! I would not want to have to go back in there for more flowers,” said Natalia with a sigh.

“Why not? That place is as safe as it gets around here,” said Catalyst, looking puzzled.

“Yeah sure it is. I could feel I was being watched and followed the whole time I was in those trees,” replied Natalia.

“I'm sure you were. The Glimpse are like that,” said Catalyst.

“Now you have to explain everything all at once, Catalyst,” demanded Natalia throwing the wrap beside him.

“Okay, the Glimpse are always around. Everyone sees them from time to time. You know you think you see something or someone out of the corner of your eye, you turn to look and it's not there – well most of the time that's the Glimpse. They’re just having fun really. By the time you look twice they've blended into the background.

They’re more pranksters than anything else. Funny though, I thought for sure you would have known about them,” replied Catalyst, looking a little lost.

“They’re like the Chameleon then,” said Natalia.

“I don't know what that is, but sure, okay the Chameleon,” said Catalyst.

“On Earth they’re lizards. They disappear into the background by changing their colour. You could walk by them all day and not even know it,” said Natalia.

“Yeah, that's something like what the Glimpse do, except I think they just have all their colour fade to invisible and you can see right through them. That's why you think you've seen something,” said Catalyst. “Why, did you think you saw something out there?” he asked, smiling.

“Yes I did, then I met Manday and he scared me more than I already was,” replied Natalia.

“Well you did insult him yesterday, so I'm sure he was just getting even with you. But as for the Glimpse, had you caught sight of them before they saw you, they would have left you alone,” said Catalyst kindly, not wanting to provoke an argument.

“How are you feeling now?” asked Natalia as she looked around, making it obvious she didn't want to spend the night in the makeshift graveyard.

“Almost as good as new, so how about we get out of here. I don't want to spend the night here,” said Catalyst as much for his sake as for Natalia’s.

Without hesitation, Natalia pulled Catalyst to his feet, put his arm over her shoulder and started walking.

Lying in his new pet’s hole doing his best to chew the meat of the arm bone of the Blemmye, knowing it would speed up his natural healing power and mend his jaw, the Elf looked down at the wound on his arm where his pet had bitten him. Pulling out a tooth that had stuck in his flesh, the Elf squeezed it so hard he opened another cut. Since the meat wouldn't help heal his flesh the way it helped heal his bones, the Elf now had one more cut to repay Natalia and Catalyst for.

“I'll save that for the girl and see how she likes it,” said the Elf looking at his pet spitting and coughing blood. With the scent of fresh blood in the air, the Blemmye grew hungry. He was under the control of the Elf and the Blemmye’s hunger was of no concern to him. Having eaten enough of the arm, he threw what was left to his pet.

Watching the Blemmye devour the arm and crunch the bone, the Elf stood up, slapped the Blemmye hard on its back and left with the Blemmye following.

Walking the trail left by Natalia and Catalyst with the scent of blood from Catalyst’s wound, the Blemmye ran straight for the spot where he had been attacked and licked the blood from the ground.

The Elf followed the scent of Natalia’s perfume in the air and walked to the spot where Natalia and Catalyst had been resting.

Picking up the pus-filled wrap from Catalyst’s wound the Elf knew one of them had been wounded badly and with just a few sniffs he knew the blood wasn't Human.

Looking ahead, the Elf searched the skyline for his prey. His eyes widened with surprise as he felt teeth as sharp as knives sink into the back of his right leg.

He let out a scream so loud and shrill it sent chills down Natalia’s and Catalyst’s back as it echoed around them.

Ripping the Blemmye spawn from his leg with its mouth full of his flesh, the Elf shoved it into the mouth of his pet and just like that, the spawn was gone.

“Meanwhile...Spawn,” said Natalia, looking at Catalyst as he smiled in agreement.

“We need to hurry, Catalyst. Let's put some distance between us and that Elf. How is he still alive?” asked Natalia. Catalyst did not reply.

Taking the gross wrap that Catalyst had discarded, the Elf wrapped his own leg with it as he seethed yet again with hatred for Natalia and Catalyst, but mostly for Natalia.

Never in his whole life had he had such a hard time catching and killing simple prey and the shame of losing two children was more then he could bear.

As Natalia and Catalyst continued to put space between them and the Elf, Catalyst turned to Natalia.

“You know I don't feel sick any more so why not climb up on my back and we'll put some real distance between us and that wretched old Elf?” he suggested.

“If you’re sure you can carry me, okay,” replied Natalia shoving the fitsall out of her way one more time and jumping on his back before he could change his mind.

Moving as fast as he could, Catalyst still only ran about as fast as Natalia could if she was awake and well rested.

Stopping every now and again so he could catch his breath, Natalia woke and asked, “Are we there yet? How much further?” Catalyst just pointed ahead.

“See those trees over there?” replied Catalyst.

Looking ahead, Natalia saw a village in the treetops. It was spectacular! From what she could see, it was very modern, which surprised her because it looked as though it was made entirely of wood.

“Oh I see it,” replied Natalia happily.

“Well, that much further,” said Catalyst.

“What is this place?” asked Natalia as they walked closer.

“It's the home of the Mugwads,” replied Catalyst.

Tired from the day’s events, Natalia couldn't have cared less if it had been a cave as long as it was safe. But what cave could compare to such a wonder as this? The closer they got, the more Natalia realized it wasn't just a few homes built on a couple of limbs, but in fact it was a fully functioning town.

“Come on, let's hurry,” said Natalia, tugging Catalyst by the hand.

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