Chapter 5

"You aren't human," Michael started.

I frowned. "What?"

Michael sighed. "This is going to be really hard to explain. Hear me out."

I nodded.

"There are many realms in this universe," Michael continued. "So many that even I don't know all of them. You can get to them in many ways, each realm having a different route to take. You were born in the realm called Aklia."

"A-klee-ya," I said softly, sounding the name out. It struck a chord inside me somewhere. It sounded like home.

"A long time ago," Michael continued. "Even before your parents – your birth parents – were born, a prophecy was written. A prophecy about you."

"Me?" I asked, surprised.

He nodded. "Yes. There were two parts to it. The first told of a little girl born for the sole purpose of serving our world. She would be the savior of our realm, delivering us from the darkness of a terrible evil. We think the evil means the Witch."

"Witch," I said to myself. A face, terrible and ugly, with age spots and balding white hair, flashed across my memory. I touched my forehead, gasping. "The Witch . . . Malum?" I asked, more to myself than to Michael.

Michael nodded, shifting to get more comfortable. "Yes, that's the one. You know her all too well. But I'll get to that in a moment. There's still the matter of the second part of the prophecy. The most important part."

"What does it say?" I asked.

"The prophecy also stated that you were going to be born for one man. You were to be his, and he was to be yours. You were made for him. You are, as it describes, to sides of the same coin. Your first purpose is to serve Aklia, and your second is to serve him. His purpose is first to serve Aklia, and second to serve you."

"Is he . . ." I trailed off, swallowing hard. Michael stared at me, his black eyes burning. "Is he the orange haired little boy I always dream of?" I managed to choke out.

Michael sighed. "Yes. His name is Loki."

A burning sensation started at my toes and worked its way up to my heart. A sharp pain split my head, and memories flooded into my head. I saw everything, all the dreams I had ever had. On top of those came more, things I had never dreamed but had seen before. I grabbed my head, cringing in pain.

"Along time ago, when you were only seven years old, the Witch Malum sent two goblins into the castle. She . . . stole you."

"Stole me?" I whispered.

Michael closed his eyes. "That scar you have over your heart is her doing. At her castle she cut out half of your heart. In its place she put another heart. At the present you have two halves of a heart. You were born a member of the cat clan, but you no longer have a full cat heart."

"Cat clan?" I asked, bewildered.

Michael ran a hand through his hair, frustrated. "Let me tell you the basic story first. Then I'll explain everything else."

"Okay," I said, unsure of what to think.

"As I was saying, you now have a half heart. You carry a heart that is now half cat clan, half dog clan. After the Witch was done destroying you, she cast you into exile in this realm, Earth. Since your absence, Loki, who is the ruler of Aklia, has had to rule alone and without you. While he has done more than satisfactory without you, the fact still remains that you are needed. The Witch Malum and her goblin forces are rising, and the fact that you have seen them in Earth tells you how desperate she is to eliminate you once and for all."

"So the prophecy says that Aklia needs me, or else it will fall, right?" I asked.

Michael started nodded. "Yes."

"So . . . you mentioned something about clans?" I asked.

Michael nodded. "In Aklia there are many different types of . . . beings. We aren't really human, but we also aren't animals either. In the beginning, when our world was being created, the Creator changed us. He gave us powers that only animals had previously been able to posses. Now, when ever one of the clans members wishes, he can call upon that power. And each of us posses the power of a different animal. Each animal is called a clan."

"I saw you," I blurted out, unable to stop myself. "I saw you and . . . Jackal. In the woods."

Michael smiled. "I know. You can't keep secrets from me," he said. "I heard you. You were being as silent as any human can, but my hearing exceeds that of most."

"So you're a cat, and Jackal is a dog, right?"

"Yes," Michael said. "I have been all my life."

"Wait," I said. "You've been my friend since we were seven years old, and you've known about me all along?"

Michael nodded solemnly. "I hope you aren't mad. But when you were finally discovered on Earth, you had none of your previous memories. If we had brought you back right away, the shock would have been too much for you. So we decided to wait until you were eighteen. You needed to mature. Don't think they abandoned you or anything though. I was sent to protect you."

I smiled ruefully. "You were only a child though."

Michael shifted uncomfortably.

"What?" I asked.

"I'm actually a lot older than that," he said, his voice uncomfortable.

"What do you mean?"

"I have served the cat clan my entire life." He swiped a hand across his face, suddenly exhausted. "Loki could not leave Aklia to come watch after you. As Supreme Ruler – that's his position – he must stay and take care of that realm. He is everything. His responsibilities are far too great for him to leave. The Alpha of the dogs, Chief Ruler, could not leave either. So I was sent in their place. I took a drink from the Queen and regressed from the age of twenty-eight, to seven."

I took a deep breath. How special can I be that Michael would sacrifice that much of his life for me?

"Hey," Michael said, nudging me with his leg. "It really didn't take anything. It didn't hurt, and I had no life left to worry about. There was no longer anyone there to tie me down."

The last part caught my attention, but Michael wasn't looking at me anymore, so I decided not to press it.

"Wait . . . so you're an old man?!" I couldn't help it. I burst out laughing.

Michael grunted, his face unhappy. "Technically speaking, since I'm now eighteen for the second time, I'm actually forty-six. However, since I am a clan's member, we live for longer. So even at the age of forty-eight I would still look no older than twenty-five."

I started laughing again. "No wonder you never dated anybody! You knew it was just too weird!"

Michael sighed. "Yes, that's the reason."

After a moment I managed to stop laughing. "So, how many rulers are in Aklia? It sounds like a lot."

He shook his head. "Really there is only three of importance. The first is the Queen. As of now, Queen Jordainia resides on the throne. She has had the post for about, oh . . . a hundred and ten years now. The Witch Malum is her sister." There was a moment of silence before he continued. "But the Queen has little power. She's really just a figure head. Someone we all love and will die to protect, but who has lost all rights to rule. "

"Like the Queen of England," I said.

Michael smiled. "Exactly like that."

I picked up his empty coffee mug and walked into the kitchen to put it into the sink. "So who's the second ruler?" I asked as I came back into the living room. I nudged his legs out of the way and sat at his feet.

"The second, whose title is Chief Ruler, is the Alpha of the dog clan, Sinister."

The name struck me, and the face of a silver haired little boy flashed across my mind. "I know him," I said softly.

Michael snorted. "Of course you do. He's the most pure bred dog of the whole clan, aside from Jackal. His parents were fiercely loyal to yours. He was also deeply in love with you. Since the moment the two of you met." Michael chuckled. "It was cute. But it could never work."

I suddenly felt uncomfortable. "Anyways, what does Sinister do?"

"He has many responsibilities, including overseeing the training of our military. He also has a say in what every single clan does. If he visits another clan, whatever he says is law. That is, unless Loki over rules it. But that rarely happens. There is only one person who is more powerful than him."

"Loki," I whispered, afraid to say the name too loud.

Michael nodded. "Loki is the Supreme Ruler. He is everything. No one is higher than him. If he over steps certain boundaries, the Queen has the ability to restrain him, but only for a few days. And that almost never happens. Loki's family is the most pure, most powerful, and most dangerous in all of Aklia. Loki has ruled Aklia since he was about ten years old. As I'm sure you heard in the woods, his parents were murdered."

"Ten years old?" I asked. "How can a child be expected to have that much responsibility?"

"You don't understand," Michael said. "Since the day he was born, Loki has known what he is. He has had his power the moment he exited his mother's womb. Loki was not a normal child. There was no childhood for him. Of course, you weren't normal either, and your power was above that of normal children as well. But Loki has always taken things seriously. Far more than you."

I closed my eyes and suddenly the memory of Loki, a little boy, a few years older than me, flashed across my mind. I opened my eyes, smiling at Michael. "It's all coming back to me."

Michael smiled as well. "That's good. I knew it would. The Witch can't block out something that prophecy foretold was your destiny."

"Is Loki . . . is he a good leader?"

"Good?" Michael asked, his voice surprised. "Ransom, he's the best leader that Aklia has seen in hundreds of years. He's fierce, and dangerous, but he rules with a firm hand. He knows when gentleness and mercy should be applied. He's hard, and he expects a lot of his people, but he has the greatest faith in them. Despite what the clans say, they love him."

"Are there other people of importance in Aklia?" I asked.

Michael nodded. "Yes. Aklia is made up of four islands. The biggest and most important one is the Clans Islands. We reside in the middle of Aklia. To the south of us is the Island of the Dragons. North-west is the Island of the Prophets. And to the North there is the Island of the Humans."

"Humans?" I cut in, surprised.

Michael nodded. "Yes. But don't be fooled. They aren't anything like the humans here. They are bigger, stronger, and smarter. They live for longer, too, some almost as long as clans people. Each Island has their own ruler. The Humans have a king, and the Dragons have a leader they call the Beast Superior. The Prophets have a Head Prophet. However, none of them have influence outside of their Island. They are respected, of course, but they have no power. Only Sinister and Loki have power over all of Aklia."

"Wait, how old is Sinister and Loki?" I asked.

Michael thought a moment. "They're both the same age, only a month separates their birthdays. Loki is the older one. But I'm almost certain that they are about twenty-two now. Jackal is as well. Although he's almost a year younger than them."

"You said something about Jackal being pure bred as well. Who is he exactly?"

Michael's face grew hard. "Along time ago, back when Loki and Sinister's grandparents were about your age, there was a great civil war that took place on the Clans Island. You see the dogs used to hold the power, and the Supreme Ruler came from the dog clan, not the cat clan. After the civil war our Island was in shambles. The war had nearly destroyed us. The dragons had sided with the cats, and the humans had sided with the dogs."

"That's some cool history," I said. "But that still doesn't explain Jackal."

"I was getting to that," Michael said. "Before the civil war it was Jackal's family who held the position as Supreme Ruler. At the time the shift of power was in favor of the Queen. She held almost all of it. Under her was the Supreme Ruler, Jackal's grandfather. There was no Chief Ruler. The war started because his family and the Queen were abusing that power. After the war a contract known as the Treaty was signed. The cats and the dragons had won, and they now held position to make moves. The Treaty was signed, saying that the power would be passed to the cat clan. Loki's grandfather was made Supreme Ruler. They then took the power from Jackal's family and gave it to their allies; Sinister's family. The cats knew that the dogs were too selfish to hold too much power, so they made them Chief Rulers. The Queen was removed, and her daughter, Jordainia was put in her place, and her power was restricted."

"Is Jackal a threat to the Treaty?" I asked.

Michael snorted. "No. While some of Jackal's relatives may want a revolution, I know for a fact that the young dog does not. He is powerful, cunning, and dangerous, and the right to rule burns in his blood as bright as anyone I have ever known. But he does not want it. He believes in his Alpha, and he follows him whole heartily. I may despise the bastard sometimes, but he's loyal, I'll give him that. The only fault he has is his faithfulness to the Queen. After the Treaty was signed the clan members' loyalties changed. As a clan member, you are first loyal to Loki. Second, Sinister. The Queen is last."

"And Jackal doesn't follow that?" I asked.

"His family is one of the most ancient in our world, and they have traditions that cannot be broken. His family has always served the Queen, especially when they were in power. He may follow Loki's orders, but his loyalty is not to him. When the three of you used to play as children, I could see even then that he was loyal to Sinister and you before Loki. Technically this is treason, but because he is not a threat, Loki has let it go unpunished."

"Is he close to the Queen?"

Michael nodded. "Extremely. She could almost be called his mentor, and he spends more time at the palace than anywhere else while in Aklia. Although, if the rumors I've heard are true, he spends more time on Earth now. Seems the women here are more fun for him."

"What a player," I said.

Michael laughed. "Yeah. In his defense, though, I think he does it because he's lonely. His parents are crude and tough, and besides Sinister he isn't close to any other clans people."

"Were we really best friends?"

Michael smiled sadly. "The closest I had ever seen."

I smiled, laying my head sleepily against the couch. After a moment of silence I asked. "What about my birth parents?"

Michael was silent, and I stared at him, my eyes hard. His own were burning with some dark emotion I could not fathom. "They died."

I swallowed. "When?"

"After you were stolen, the people made a commemorative grave for you, in honor of your memory. They were visiting it when a collection of goblins, a breed called Paranoias, attacked them. They are the strongest and most lethal breed out of the goblins. Their presence was no mistake. Your parents were brave and ruthless fighters, but unarmed and surprised, they were unable to fight them off. They're buried next to your fake grave."

I was silent. I had never known them, at least not in any real way. But with the memories coming back to me, I was suddenly sad. Their faces, kind and gentle, were crossing my mind as more and more memories poured into my head. I covered my eyes, trying to be strong. I took a deep breath. They were my parents by birth, but for the majority of my life it was my adoptive parents who had taken care of me. It took more than blood to make someone a parent.

I shook myself. "When do I get to go back?"

Michael sighed. "I was going to wait until after your birthday, but I suppose there's no point in waiting now. We'll have to wait until next weekend though."

"I can't just go missing. I'll need an excuse to be gone for days on end."

Michael shook his head. "You won't need to. Time passes differently in Aklia. Days there can be only minutes here. There's no exact way to tell, but you won't have to worry."

I smiled. "Good. That means I can stay for long stretches of time. But how do we get there exactly?"

"Don't worry about that," Michael said. "It's not important. You look tired. You should get to bed."

I nodded. "What about the goblins?"

Michael's lip curled back, revealing his pointed teeth. "Don't worry about them. We'll make sure there aren't any more disturbances for tonight."

"One more thing," I said.

Michael rolled his eyes, pretending to be exasperated. "What?"

"If I was born a clans member, do I have powers too?"

Michael rolled his shoulders, the stress evident in his broad shoulders. "You were born a cat. You are, despite the half heart in your chest, still an official member of the cat clan. You cannot, however, use the powers that we have. It takes the whole heart of a clan's person in order to do that. You're body and your powers are too torn between the two to operate. So for now, you must rely on others to help you."

He stretched out, yawning very much like a cat. "I'll stay here tonight. Don't worry about your mom. As a bodyguard of the cat clan, I have certain abilities. She won't wake up until it's time for her day to begin."

I nodded. "Will you be okay alone?"

Michael snorted. "Don't insult me."

I laughed softly. "Just stay safe."

Suddenly, from the top of Michael's head, a soft pair of black ears melted into being. I couldn't help but gasp in surprise, and he smiled. "I think I've got it covered," he said, shifting so he wasn't sitting on his tail. The sleek, black tail flicked once, touching the floor.

I nodded, and went upstairs. Crawling into bed, I couldn't help but smile as memories of my forgotten past began to pour into my brain.

Chapter 6

As promised, my mom had woken up, and Michael was gone by the time we all went downstairs. My parents were going to be gone for the rest of the day. My mom was going out of town to shop with some friends, and my dad was going golfing. I was pleased to know that I would have the house all to myself until late that night.

I decided that I was going to procrastinate on doing my math homework, so I changed into some comfy leggings and a tank top, grabbed my English book and headed for our back porch. I slid the sliding glass door shut behind me, and curled up in the rocking chair. I took a deep breath, soaking in the fresh mountain air, and opened my book.

The day passed without incident, and just as I was preparing to go inside to make some dinner, I heard a terrible scream, as though an animal was being killed. I jumped out of my chair, dropping my book to the ground. Everything was silent, and I ran towards the rail of our porch, leaning to look down at the forest. For a moment I didn't hear anything, and I listened. Another terrible scream echoed through the forest, and I shivered.

I jerked away from the rail, my heart beating fast. I hesitated for just a moment, my mind racing as it tried to get me to think logically, but it was already too late. I raced back inside. I shoved my feet into my work boots and slammed the front door behind me as I raced around our house, sprinting down the hill. I stopped just at the edge of the tree line, my feet inches away from its green depths. I listed once more, and I got goose bumps as I heard another scream.

I plunged ahead, tearing through the underbrush as quietly and quickly as I could. For a moment, I thought I saw something dark above me, jumping from tree to tree. A flash of scale and a glint of red eye, and it was gone. The hair on the back of my neck stood up, and I felt that someone was watching me.

I followed the sounds of the screaming, when finally, I crashed through the underbrush into a small alcove. The branches of the trees intertwined above me, creating a branch ceiling, and the thorny brambles created a half circle wall around the small space. The only way out was the way I had just come. A small pool of still water stood in a small depression of rock.

What I saw made me back away, nearly tripping over my feet as I did. I fell back out of the alcove, landing on my back. I rolled and stood, walking in a crouch to peer through the bramble.

There, lying in a pool of his own blood was a man I had never seen before. Only, he wasn't human. He was nearly naked, his clothes badly torn. He was enormously tall, his body shivering in pain. He looked out of place. A giant in a world of humans. His body was tanned, and hard, coarse muscle moved under his skin as another scream left his body. A huge, bloody hole was slashed across his stomach, and some of his intestines hung out. I could see he was slowly bleeding to death. Yet, all of this was not what had surprised me.

Sprouting out of the top of his head, as though they had somehow melted from his dark gray hair, was a pair of ears. They were long and slightly floppy, almost like a dog. From his tail bone protruded a thick, hairy tail, exactly like a dogs. Long claws were present in place of finger nails. He screamed again, desperately dragging himself towards the pool of water. I realized I was trembling as I watched, and I clamped my hands together to stop myself.

Tears ran down his face as he cried in pain, and I felt an overwhelming rush of pity for the man. I was hesitant to help him, afraid he may be dangerous. Behind me, a bird screeched, frantically flying away from its post. I glanced behind me, seeing two dark masses in the trees. I swallowed hard, walking around to enter the alcove again. As I walked into the small space, the man's ears perked up, and he looked over his shoulder, snarling at me.

I shrunk back, putting my hands up. "I won't hurt you," I managed to choke out.

His snarl turned into an expression of pain, and his body writhed as he screamed in pain again. He pointed at the water. "Please . . ."

I looked over my shoulder, and there were three hunched forms now, standing in the entrance. I sighed, and walked around to the man's head. I looked at how big he was, and at how small my arms were. I may be taller than all the other girls, but it didn't mean I was strong. The man cried out again, and I jumped into action.

"This is going to hurt," I said.

He nodded. "Just hurry."

I gripped him under the arms and heaved. He let out a piercing shriek, and I dropped him, startled.

"Don't stop!" he growled.

I nodded, and took hold of him again. I heaved, digging my heels into the forest floor. He was heavy, but he pushed with his own heels, helping as much as he could. I wondered how he could still be alive, but seeing as how he had ears and a tail, I figured he was more durable than normal humans.

Finally, sweat dripping from my face, and gleaming all over the man's body, we reached the pool of water.

"What now?" I asked.

"Help me into it," he said.

"What?" I asked, bewildered.

He snapped his jaw, the muscles bulging. "Don't argue, girl."

I nodded, and heaved his leg into the water. It sunk in; going much further than I thought it should, as though the pool didn't have a bottom. His eyes rolled in the back of his head as his insides scraped against the rock.

I shook him. "Stay awake!" I said, raising my voice. I looked up in the branches of the alcove, seeing more dark shapes. I slapped his face, and he started awake.

He moaned. "Hurry," he whispered.

Just as I reached to heave his leg into the pool, I heard a noise at the entrance of the cave. I let out a scream of surprise, and the man, his face sweating with pain, rolled his head to the side to see what I was looking at. A mass of goblins stood in the entrance. Above me, they cackled, dangling by long arms like monkeys from trees.

With an effort that I will never understand, the man let out the most ferocious and terrifying snarl I had ever heard. It was almost a growl, and almost a roar. The goblins immediately stopped laughing. The ones in the trees pulled themselves back up, their red eyes glowing down at us from in between the branches. The sun was fast setting in the distance, and the darker it got, the braver the beasts at the cave were getting, approaching closer and closer with each passing moment. Without another word I lifted the man's other leg into the pool.

At that moment many things happened all at once.

All of the goblins shrieked in protest, and they rushed forward, surging forth from the entrance and flying down from their perches in the trees. The man fell, going through the pool, and at the last second, just as the water reached past his head, he grabbed my wrist. He jerked me forward so that I was also, somehow, no matter how impossible, falling through a pool of water. The last image I had was of the ugly, sneering faces of goblins as they reached their hands towards me.

I woke up on a hill, soft green grass under me, and a large tree behind me. Where the pool of water had taken me, I didn't know, but I instantly knew I was no longer on Earth. I peered up at a sky with more stars then I had ever seen. I saw two, enormous twin moons, one red, the other yellow. I sat up, somehow unhurt and dry.

The man I had helped was nowhere in sight. I saw a smear of blood on one tree trunk, but other than that, it was as though he had vanished.

Cautiously, I stood, surveying the land around me. Surrounding the hill I was on was a massive forest, the trees stretching beyond my vision. Just as I was deciding on whether to leave or not, I heard a rustle above me. There was a moment of silence, and then the horrible sound of laughter. I looked up, and dangling from the trees above me were three goblins. From behind the tree waddled two more, their arms short and stubby. I heard a hiss and saw a dark shadow coil around the bark.

Upon seeing me, all of the goblins began to laugh, and more goblins fell from the trees, dropping around me like snow. The black shadow hissed, and all at once they launched themselves at me. I turned and ran, slipping once on as I ran down the hill. I didn't know where I was going, but I knew I couldn't stay here. The grass was wet with dew, and I slipped again, tumbling down the hill to land in a big, bruised heap at the bottom of the hill. I rolled, staggering to catch my breath, when a sharp, vice like grip grabbed my ankle.

I fell forward, slamming onto my stomach. I rolled, letting out a cry of desperation as I kicked out instinctively. My foot made contact, and I twisted around to see the snarling, ugly face of a goblin. I clawed at the grass, desperately trying to break free, but it was no use. The goblin laughed and dragged me back, his huge arms dragging me across the grass. I screamed, kicking at the creature again. My foot smashed into the goblin's pig like nose, and black blood sprayed out. His grip was loosened for a split second, and I used my other foot to crush his hand. He yelped in pain, and frantically I scrambled to get up. My leg was bleeding, and it hurt to put pressure on my foot, but I managed to half hobble, half run.

I made it to the line of trees, and after a split second of hesitation, I plunged into the dark underbrush. Immediately, I was plunged into darkness. I could barely see two inches in front of me, and the sound of goblins, more of them now, was making me frantic. I was tripping over tree roots and other various forest plants, my hands and knees scraped bloody now. There was a horrible shriek, followed by the sound of something being torn apart. Suddenly the forest was full of dying noises. All around me I heard snarls and growls, as though a wild pack of wolves or dogs were on the hunt. I glanced over my shoulder once, and smashed straight into something tall and very solid.

Whatever it was grabbed me, holding me away from him. I gasped, trying to fight out of his grasp, when I looked up. Long, slightly spiky silver hair glowed in the moonlight, and I saw dark gold eyes. In his right ear were two diamond ear rings, and the left ear had one. He wore a black leather jerkin, his broad form stretching it taut. Thick muscle corded through his body, rippling down his bare forearms. He was easily at least two inches taller than Michael, and in less than one second, I knew who he was.

The face was sharper, the jaw a very defined square line, and his gold eyes were darker, less child like. And he was taller; his hair longer and more silver than ever, but there was no mistaking who he was.

"Sinister?" I whispered.

He sucked in his breath, disbelief crossing his face. "It can't be . . ."

From behind us there was giggling. Out of the trees came goblins. A few slithered across the ground, others flung themselves from tree to tree, and others still walked across the ground.

"Give girl here," one of the goblins said, pointing at me.

A deep, bone rattling growl escaped from Sinister's mouth, and I looked up to see a pair of long, almost wolf like silver ears forming out of the top of his head. A long, thick, furry tail, swished about his knees.

A few of the goblins got nervous and retreated back behind trees, but they didn't leave. There was movement behind Sinister, and I was surprised to see Jackal, his own ears and tail out. He snarled, and was soon joined by two other men. They were fuming, all with tails and ears, their claws and teeth out.

"You're trespassing," Sinister said. His voice was a deep bass, and I realized, next to Loki's, I had never heard one lower. It made me shiver. It was like velvet, almost as though he caressed each word with his tongue once before it left his mouth.

The goblin, upon hearing Sinister's words, laughed. "Land is not yours. We go where we want. Mistress says get girl. Give her."

Behind Sinister, Jackal growled as well. Sinister put his arm protectively around my shoulders, pulling me towards him. He was broad, and very solid. I could feel hard muscle under his jerkin, and I blushed. Sinister rolled his head.

"You know the law," he said, his voice controlled. "Goblins are forbidden on the Clans Island. The punishment is death."

"Not your island," the goblin said. There was cackling, and the goblins came out from behind the trees. The ones in the branches jumped up and down, screeching like monkeys. Everyone tensed, including myself. Blood dripped off my calf, and my sock was soaked through. The goblin took a deep breath, sniffing the air. "Girls blood. It smells good. I want her. Give to me."

Sinister flicked his ears forward, and suddenly, the men jumped into action. Jackal was a machine, tearing and ripping goblins apart. The other two men were dangerous as well, and the number of goblins was soon dwindling down. Suddenly, four, dark shadows slithered across the ground. I knew these were the most dangerous, and Jackal and the other men retreated, crouching. The goblins that were still left fell back, standing behind the shadows. Behind them came more, and I wondered where they had all come from.

Sinister looked down at me, then back at the goblins. My calf ached, and I didn't know if I could run. Before I could say anything he scooped me up, his arms firm around me. The shadows drew back, hissing.

"Jackal," he said. "Split up. You and Lupe stay here and take care of the Phobias. Grimble chase the other goblins back towards the east. The cats are probably already waiting."

They jumped into action; Jackal's face a wicked look of amusement. Sinister turned and we raced off.

"Where are we going?" I asked. I was nervous. The last time we had seen each other was when I was seven. He had almost been eleven at the time, and I remembered the feelings he had once had for me as children.

"To my capitol. We'll be safe there. And you're leg needs to be treated."

I nodded. After a moment I said, "It's good to see you."

Sinister swallowed hard, his face worried. "You too. Do you remember everything now?"

I nodded. "Almost everything. I remember enough."

Sinister smiled. "Good. Does your calf hurt?"

I winced as he jumped over a log. "Yes. It hurts a lot. I tried to fight it off, but, you know, being defenseless and all."

Sinister laughed a joyful, boisterous noise. "You did pretty well. Most people, especially girls that I know would have died."

I smiled. "That's because I'm tough."

Sinister snorted, his ears flicking. "You used to say that all the time when we were kids. Every time we played tag or wrestled, I would back off because I was afraid I'd hurt you. And you'd say, 'I'm tough.' I used to laugh. You were so tiny then."

I scoffed. "I'm not tiny anymore."

"Pssh," Sinister said. "Are you kidding me? You're probably the tiniest person in Aklia now."

"Is everyone tall here or something?" I asked.

Sinister nodded the moon light glinting off the diamonds in his ear. "I guess you wouldn't know that. Compared to Earth, we're a land of giants. The tallest person, at least in Aklia, is Loki. I think he's about six foot six. Maybe a little over that. I'm about an inch shorter. After that the average height for a man is about six three. Women are about five eleven."

I laughed. "On Earth I'm just super tall and everyone thinks it's weird. But here I'm cute and petite."

Sinister smiled. "You always were tiny."

I was about to say something when suddenly, Sinister flung his body around. We slid to a stop, and he set me down on the ground, where I promptly sat down, unable to stand. He growled, looking at the trees. I looked up, astonished, and before I could move he launched himself towards the trees. A goblin the size of a horse, wearing a ragged, dirty shirt, met him, and they collided in the air.

There was a brief moment of fighting, when finally, Sinister rolled, straddling the goblin. With an enormous growl, Sinister grabbed the goblin by the front of his shirt. The goblin hissed, and Sinister snapped his jaws, bearing his teeth. I looked and saw that all of his teeth were now longer, and more pointed. His jaw was wider too, as though his jaw had unhinged itself.

Sinister glared down at him. "You dare to attack me," he said, his deep voice like gravel. "The punishment for trespassing is death."

The goblin squirmed, trying to get out from under Sinister's large frame. Sinister didn't budge, and with one last glare of contempt, he ripped out the goblins throat with his teeth. Black blood splattered everywhere, drenching the grass and the front of Sinister's shirt. His mouth was covered with it, and as he stood. He rolled his shoulders once before turning around to look at me.

I wasn't afraid of him, exactly. But I was suddenly very aware of how weak I really was. The muscles in his arms were flexed as he surveyed the forest behind me. Finally, his fierce, dark gold eyes came to rest on me. They glowed out from under the shadow of his hair, and he wiped the blood from his chin, his gaze freezing me. There was a moment where neither of us moved. At last, I smiled, reaching my arms out to him.

"I can't walk," I said. Sinister sighed, easily scooping me back up. "Are you hurt?" I asked.

Sinister snorted. "Don't insult me," he said, winking at me. The tips of his hair were soaked in the black blood, and he shook his head as though he were a dog trying to get dry. I laughed, squealing as some of the blood got on me.

"Sinister!" I said.

He laughed, the sound filling me with joy. After a while we exited the forest and approached a large village. A gray stone wall surrounded the place, and I couldn't see the buildings inside. At the top guards were posted, overlooking the forest which circled the whole village.

"Welcome to the dog clan capitol," Sinister said.