“Hey!” Yelled the shorter of the two shadows. Yes, two. The second shadow was three times the size of the one in front, and it moved as if it was galloping.
“We’re not buying any!” Said Ginger behind her shoulder.
“We’re, um, we’re not selling anything!” Said the second, larger shadow in one of the softest shouts Alastair ever heard.
“Can you all just stop for a second? We need to speak with you. Urgently!” Yelled the smaller one.
“Could be a trap,” Tipper whispered to Perceval at his side.
“They haven’t done anything to suggest otherwise. Actually, we’re the ones who may seem like trouble makers to them. Alastair did shoot fire willy nilly and then we bolted.”
“I should at least apologize,” Alastair pointed out. “And we’re far enough away from the fire.”
“Fine. But if we get eaten, I’ll haunt you, kid.”
The seven companions dug their heels into the murky dirt, effectively halting their blind charge into the Blood Clot Forest. There was enough time to catch their stuttering breathes. One. Two. Three. Sides heaving and foreheads covered in a sheen of sweat, they waited as the two shadowy figures approached.
One shadow was a girl, or maybe a teenager. She was only a few inches shorter than Tipper and looked just like a human. Well, not too much like a human. Her ears had a slight pointed tip rather than a rounding off like a human’s ear, and her eyes had somehow caught pure, green electricity. The girl’s skin was lighter than Alastair’s and Lila’s, but still darker than the Parish’s composition. Her hair was long, silky, and black, laying straight down to her middle back. She was very, very pretty.
The next shadow took the human children by surprise. They could have sworn that they were witnessing their very first centaur, but that couldn’t be quite right. The creature was a male, that was certain. The upper portion of his body was that of a man, clothed in a brown over and under tunic and criss crossed with belts and packs. His golden skinned face was human, his brown eyes human, his perfectly quaffed brown hair. He seemed to be nervous as he twiddled his fingers in a mad frenzy, looking anywhere but the children and their guardians. The man’s lower body was not a horse’s. It was actually not an animal they could recognize, and so they attempted to find the parts that were familiar. The body of a strong horse. The proportioned and yet strong legs of a gazelle. The rough tail of a donkey. The cloven hooves of a mountain goat. Could this man still be called a centaur? It may be easier just to say yes.
“Hey,” repeated the pretty girl in a less than steady light voice. “We saw you had children and had to tell you,” she said after sucking in a few more gulps of air.
“I’m sorry! I accidentally ate the Fire Gem and burped those fireballs. I didn’t mean to!” Alastair blurted out. The pretty girl directed her electric green eyes o the boy, her small mouth opened as if in disbelief.
“You’re the one who did that?”
Alastair grimly shook his head yes.
“Then thank you.”
“What now?” Tipper asked.
“Boy, you saved as from a Batal. Nasty beast, that thing is. It darted away when those fire balls crashed into a tree trunk, and we made our escape, didn’t we ol’ Glue Pot?” The pretty girl patted the centaur on the gazelle part of his shoulder, the only part she could reach.
“Y-yes,” he shyly replied.
“But now that it’s gone, that terrible Batal can come back. We hoped to join your party until we leave the Forest of Death. Batal’s hate groups.”