A/N: I've finally added another chapter, and after this one, things will start happening!! Whoa!!

Chapter 3

There was no way it could be true.

Esylia obediently followed Aethera through the garden, internally gaping in amazement at the trail of life behind Aethera. Esylia was finally able to see it close up—Aethera hadn't taken her out back before.

Centaurs…? Could they really exist? Esylia suddenly recalled that Aethera, in Esy's dream, had briefly taken on the form of a centaur. Didn't she have wings? Esylia thought dubiously, unwilling to trust her memory, or anyone, or anything. Aethera fell in that category. Why was that? Aethera didn't give off a human aura. Perhaps the reason was that Aethera lived in the form that tortured Esylia for so many years.

The beautiful gate creaked open, and Esylia glanced up from the ground to see Aethera motioning for Esylia to go through. Keeping her gaze low, she ambled through to feel another alien presence. Looking up from beneath her eyelashes, she saw…light tan hooves? Was it really possible? Esylia raised her head slowly. Slender but bulky white legs, definitely four of them; a smooth, perfect, white, fur-covered chest; the beginning of a human body attached to the horse-shaped lower half; a very muscular human chest, covered in a thin layer of white fur; broad shoulders that began the thick bands of muscle on he arms, ending in hands with fur-less palms.

The beauty didn't end there.

His face, his gorgeous, pale, white skinned face—the fur had thinned to nothing at the base of his neck—was stunningly amazing. The contrast of his dark, nearly black eyes and his white fur sent chills down Esylia's spine. How could one creature hold so much beauty?

She hadn't even noticed the smaller centaur next to him. She was light gray, with light, faint dapples barely visible in the sunlight. She was much more slender than the male beside her, and proportioned enough to be full grown or nearly so. Her hair was as blindingly white as his. Her facial features were round, soft, beautiful. Her lips were thing, the bridge of her nose curved in toward her face, and her light gray eyes were large, bright, and curious. Esylia liked her instantly.

"Tel se al nenda," the large one said in a musical tenor voice. His statement was apparently directed at Esylia, and she started at the sound of his voice. Surprisingly, she wasn't afraid of him.

"She doesn't speak Mandrian, Tel. I'm sorry," Aethera clarified.

"Oh," he said, the amazing accent already evident in his voice. "Then I am Tel, the head of this herd," he introduced himself to Esylia. "And this is my daughter, Elani." Esylia could only stare in wonder as the two bowed their conclusion to the introduction.

"Can she come play, Arin?"

The larger centaur looked slightly abashed, then glanced at Aethera, who was gazing at him distantly but meaningfully. The two just stared for a few moments; it almost looked as though they were communicating silently.

"Yes," Tel finally replied.

"Yay!" Elani exclaimed, and grabbed Esylia by the hands and began dragging her away. Esylia was unsure of what to think of this. She glanced back at Aethera, who smiled approvingly. Esylia returned the glance skeptically. Aethera had never really allowed Esylia out of the house, but now she could run around with strange centaurs? Surely Aethera wouldn't leave them alone.

Esylia continued trying to keep her balance while being dragged by Elani. The child paid special attention to her feet, keeping them away from the drumming hooves.

"Have you ever been out here before?" Elani asked. Failing once again to find her voice, Esylia shook her head. Elani turned her head to gaze at Esylia while still walking rapidly.

"Can you talk?"

Yes! Esylia wanted to yell. Yes! I can talk! Of course I can talk!

The stumbling child shook her head in response.

"Why not?"

Good question.

She suddenly heard approaching hooves behind her. She glanced back—which caused her to stumble—to see Tel. She had to nearly jog to keep up with Elani's fast pace. Where were they going?

"Maybe you should explain your destination," Tel suggested as though reading Esylia's thoughts.

"She never asked," Elani replied. "Do you want to meet the rest of the stear, Esylia?" She inquired.

Esylia glanced up to meet Elani's eyes questioningly. Stear? What was that?

Guessing Esylia's thoughts through her expression, Elani explained, "Sorry, herd. Stear is Mandrian for herd."

Herd? Esylia thought. Like centaur herd?

Before Esylia could nod her head enthusiastically, Elani slowed at the base of a hill, throwing Esylia's train of thought. Tel cantered past them and up the steep knoll with ease.

"He thinks he's so in shape," Elani muttered. "I should start working out. Hey, you wanna race to the top of this hill?" Elani finished, suddenly changing tone.

Sure, Esylia thought, nodding.

"Okay, one, two, threego!" Elani dashed away without much warning. Esylia shook off the surprise and bolted toward Elani, who was quickly trudging up the hill. Obviously inclines weren't her strength, but she still kept a pace that a human couldn't achieve sprinting on level ground.

Well, I'm not entirely human, Esylia thought, smiling. She felt, in the depths of her innermost being, amazing speeds lay within. She glanced at Elani again, who seemed to be moving in slow motion. Esylia summoned the energy, aiming it at her legs. It coiled, ready to explode out on command.

Then, a second and a half later, she was overlooking a large, beautiful meadow blanketed with medium high grass that rolled in the wind. The plain was dotted with hundreds of centaurs, which completed the sight to make it utterly stunning. Esylia couldn't breathe. They were many different colors, not the generic white that Esylia had grown up believing was the color of these magnificent creatures.

"Wow, how'd…" Elani tried to rasp through jagged intakes of breath, appearing behind Esylia. She continued to stare over the hill as Elani caught her breath. "Oh," Elani was finally able to manage, "I didn't know the stear was so close. C'mon, you have to meet my friends!" Elani grabbed Esylia by the hand yet again and dragged her down the hill with seemingly replenished strength.

Esylia found that if she tried hard enough, she could keep pace with Elani's gallop. Everything was bluer today, it seemed…

The mumbling voices Esylia heard grew rapidly louder as the two got closer to the centaurs.

"Elani!" Esylia heard a high pitched voice gasp. "What is that?" Esylia turned to see a bay colored centaur—dark reddish-brown fur, black hair and tail, and black legs below the knee and hock.

"She's kin to Aethera!" Elani exclaimed in response. The murmuring among the centaurs grew louder. Esylia repeatedly caught two words—"fifth" and "Milahm." She knew what they meant by Milahm, but fifth? What was that supposed to mean?

Another centaur trotted up to Esylia. She was a beautiful dark gray with black markings similar to that of the bay's. Esylia could only stare—not that she could've done much else that her speech impediment would've allowed. Elani moved next to the gray centaur, and Esylia noticed that she was much closer to the ground than Elani due to physical build.

"Rae se al nenda," the gray centaur stated to Esylia, wrapping her fingers lightly around Esylia's forearm. Esylia flinched and pulled back, a reflex from her lab days. Physical contact usually foresaw pain, especially when the contact involved more than just shaking hands.

"Oh, forgive her—she doesn't know our greetings," Elani explained. "And she doesn't speak Mandrian." She turned to Esylia. "When you first meet someone, you take hold of the other's arm, and they return the gesture. And you tell the other person your name."

"Try again, Rae," the bay said excitedly. The gray girl once again approached Esylia.

"I'm Rae," She stated, this time offering her hand as though asking permission. Had the situation involved anyone else, Esylia wouldn't have even glanced up at the other, but the creatures weren't those who tortured her. Esylia was sure she could trust them; she felt it. There was a calming aura about them that Esylia loved. She hadn't felt completely comfortable around any living being in a long time, and she cherished the feeling.

Esylia returned the gesture, only able to nod in response. Rae stared at her quizzically.

"Don't you have a name?"

"Oh yeah, that's another thing," Elani chimed in. "She can't talk."

Rae and the other looked exasperated. "Why not?" Rae asked incredulously.

"Hm…I don't know, actually," Elani replied. "And I guess she can't explain it to us."

"I haven't gotten to introduce myself yet!" the bay suddenly cried. She was in front of Esylia in an instant.

"Deleas se al nenda," she said animatedly, repeating Rae's greeting. Esylia returned it, nodding.

"Well?" Rae said, staring at Elani. "What's her name since she can't tell us herself?"

"Oh. Sorry," Elani apologized. "It's Esylia."

"Oh, it's pretty!" Deleas exclaimed.

The three of them continued to chatter as Esylia stared at them in awe. They seemed so…carefree. She couldn't imagine how anyone could be so, yet she was witnessing three bubbly centaurs prattle as though they didn't have a care in the world. Oddly, Esylia felt like she belonged here.

Catching movement out of the corner of her eye, the girl turned to see dozens of slowly approaching centaurs. Esylia considered cowering behind Deleas, then decided against it for fear of seeming rude. Many of them, mostly males, jumped at the opportunity to introduce themselves to her. A little intimidated, she returned each greeting timidly.

As each young centaur of the herd bickered to introduce himself before his neighbor, Esylia suddenly laid eyes on a centaur toward the back. He was full grown, chestnut colored with white markings near his hooves. His back left wasn't marked at all, Esylia noticed. His hair and tail were darker chestnut, with skin a half shade lighter than his fur.

Every one of her mental alarms sounded at the sight of his light brown face.

She blinked and an entirely different group of centaurs crowded her vision. He was gone. She turned to give Elani a frantic glance, but she was too busy explaining Esylia to others. Rae, however, caught Esylia's troubled expression.

"Hey," she said, tugging Deleas's arm, keeping her eyes on Esylia. Deleas turned to face Rae. "I think she's trying to say something."

"Elani! Your human needs you!" Deleas called. Elani snapped her head away from her conversation.

"She's not a human!" Elani retorted as she walked over. "What's wrong?"

A/N: Yes, weird place to end a chapter. But I had to end it somewhere. Chapter four in progress...please review!