Leaves rustled under father’s back as he woke from the concussion.
“Lurx, what are you doing,” as my hands gripped his shirt and held him still. His words gargled from his throat.
“Shhh. . . . They’ll hear us.” My fingers covered his lips. My father’s eyes narrowed, his face scrunched with confusion.
“My head hurts.”
“Shhh. . . .” I warned him again. My fingers pressed harder on his lips. I leaned into his ear and whispered, “Dad, they are still in the camp. Be quiet.”
His eyes narrowed again and his head tilted to one side. “Who?”
“The Centaurs, they’re still here.”
I realized that my father didn’t remember anything from the night before. Tears well welled up in the corner of my eyes; he didn’t know.
“Dad, Mom and Maddie are gone. Our village is gone; all of our friends are gone.” Too heavy to hold up, my head dropped.
“Gone?” Recognition crept into his face like a long evening shadow stretching into darkness. His hand raised to his forehead; fingers massaged his temples back and forth. Across the camp came the hoofed clopping through mud. It was their commander from the night before.
“Sargent, we’re moving before the humans see the smoke from these smoldering huts. Get your soldiers ready.”
“Lurx,” my father leaned in close to my face. His eyes focused his jaw tense. “I’m going to sneak into our house and get some tools of mine. No matter what, you stay here. Got it? Don’t move.” His hand squeezed on my neck; his mind was already refocused on his task.
I was about to protest when his finger snapped back at me. His gaze was menacing and poignant. “You . . . Will . . . Stay . . . Right . . . Here. Don’t move.” His shoulders swiveled back in the direction of our now smoldering home. He slid away into the shadows not making a sound. The leaves, though dry and fragile, did not rustle or creak. No branches or plants swayed as his body slunk through; he became ghostlike. If my eyes were closed, I would have never known he passed by. Minutes dragged on before I heard another sound. From beyond our hut a muddy splash then a grunt, followed by silence, nothing.
The commander’s and Sargent’s head looked back at the unnatural disturbance.
“Xeviar!” Shouted the commander. No answer responded from the parameter.
The commander’s head bent toward his Sargent, “Go check on the parameter.” His hand reached back to his bow. His head tilted to the side; listening for a sound, he heard nothing.
A gurgle, cough and loud plop came from the direction the sergeant investigated. Commander Zyne pulled out an arrow from his brown leather quiver. He locked the arrow notch onto the string. My eyes followed the arrows shaft down a line that ended at my father’s silhouette. In each hand were jagged-bony daggers that illuminated with a white, dull glow. Each dagger had four; three-inch long boney-projections jut out from their spines. The blades curved like crescent moons; their lethality was evident.
Zyne’s fingers extended forward; the arrow wisped through the air — striking a stump. The orange and yellow feathery fletching contrasted with the shadows; still from their flight, they rested where my father stood only moments ago. A puff of green mist appeared behind Zyne; he screamed in agony. Blood jetted from his hind quarter coloring my father’s arm and chest. His bow bounced on the ground as he drew his short sword. Swinging wildly at the air, he missed by several inches. He began to wheel around to face my father when his leg folded beneath himself. His face contorted into a mask of terror; he became a wounded animal. Three legs dragged his hindquarter along the earth leaving; fury was his only defense. My father swung his bone-white blade at Zyne’s chest. His miss whistled harmless past Zyne’s twisting shoulder. My father’s momentum threw dipped himself forward, exposing his side. The connection was absolute, the sword hilt crushed bone as it tore open a gash across Dad’s face. Swollen, black and blue, with barely a sliver of light, his vision leeched away by oozing blood. Fog reentered his mind; he staggered then looked around as though lost in an unfamiliar place. Half-grinning and half grimacing, Zyne plodded closer leaning on his sword like a cane; the lifeless, limp leg trailed behind digging the soil.
“Asuran scum. You Asuan scum,” his voice laborious and slowed as he spoke. Zyne’s face became a flushed veil white. He threw his sword arm feeble arc, the sword barely cutting through my father’s chest. Zyne then coughed deep, wet fits, while his head began to slump. White foam flowed and spat out his mouth with every bursts. My father still dazed and working on more instinct than strategy sliced at Zyne once more, catching him in his torso. Intestines rolled onto the ground; the pink organs covered in brown sprinkles of dirt, leaves and twigs.
Everything stopped in motion, or so it seemed. The woods became silent. My father, white knuckles still clenching his daggers, started off into a void of sorry and loss. Minutes passed before he spoke.
“Lurx, get the embers from the ash and any wood you can find. We got to burn our dead and get out of here.” He turned back to Zyne; grabbed a fist full of hair and began to saw at his neck.
“Dad, what are you doing?”
I was confused, there was no time to catch my breath. Things were not adding up for me. None of this seemed real. Burn our people, leave them unburied? My father cutting off the Centaur’s head? Did he snap? Did he step into madness?
“Just do what I say! This is war now. The message will be loud and clear, never hurt Asurans.” The rage shook his eyes side to side.
“We came to these hills so that none of you would have to live through the wars we had to fight in the Plague Wars. I never wanted any of you to experience this, or get hurt.”
Plague wars? I had no idea what he was talking about. What plague, what wars? We’ve always been farmers; living pure with nature.I felt sick to my stomach. Everyone is dead and my father has gone insane. What am I going to do now?
“Lurx, burn the bodies. We need to move . . . Now.” He bellowed over to me. His fist full of Zyne’s black hair. The suspended head dripped blood at his feet. The oozy blood mixed with the dirt to create a sloppy crimson puddle.
He turned away from me and stuck the decapitated head on the captain’s sword hilt. Fixed on the sword stuck in the ground, the twisted face of Zyne now looked out. The milky-white eyes gazed a warning to any passing centaurs to leave Asurans alone.
I began spreading ashes from our homes on the pile of bodies when I noticed ash around my sister’s lips wetted the ash.
“Dad, Maddie, she’s bleeding. She’s alive.”
My father turned away from the impaled head. His mouth gaped open. He sprinted next to us and put his cheek near her mouth.
“I can’t feel anything. Her skin is cold. But I see what you mean. Lurx, go into out hut, there is a iron box with a green emerald necklace. Bring it to me — hurry.”
I ran into the flamed-out skeleton of our home. I immediately saw the opened iron box in the middle of the floor. I’ve never saw it before, it must have held the daggers too. I grabbed the necklace and felt a rush of energy surge through my arm. I felt strong, my muscles felt like they ballooned under my clothes. Startled, I dropped the necklace; immediately if felt the surge ease away. Magic, it must be magic. I snatched it from the floor and took it back to my father.
“Here Dad. What is that?”
“It’s a necklace that will grant her health and strength, it’s not very powerful. We need to get her to an old friend. He’s a necromancer, he’ll be able to help her. We’ll need to protect your sister; this necklace will barely keep her alive.”
My hand brushed away the ashes from her cheeks. My mind began to focus on one task, save Maddie. I looked up to see my father was gone. My head snapped around, nothing. I didn’t want to call out; there was no telling who or what was still out there. I looked down at Maddie and could see her chest rise and fall. Her lungs gurgled with every exhale. Just when panic began to creep in, I heard the hoof-steps. I eased Maddie’s head down then stood up to face the beast. My grip tightened on my dull dagger; I cursed myself for not grabbing my pistol from the hut. The shape of a massive centaur rose from behind the mound. It was the Sergeant. I braced my body, waiting for him to charge, then I noticed his arms pulled behind his back.
“Lurx, get the cart and pad it. Put Maddie inside.”
Closer into view I could see one of my father’s Crescent daggers fixed under the centaurs chin like a hose’s bit. It was apparent the centaur was a prisoner who will work for us now.