I don't know how long I lay on the battlefield before I heard a flurry of robes. Light flooded my eyes as Merlas lifted her wings to allow Armen to crouch next to me, his arm in a strip of cloth that bound the limb to the opposite shoulder, stained a little with blood. I took no notice of his arrival, all but dead to the world as he softly called my name. His fingers touched my neck, seeking the pulse point. I pulled back my lip to snarl, a growl grating in my throat. Merlas nickered a warning. He quickly pulled back his hand.
"Shadow?" He asked in concern. I said nothing still, nor did I move. "By the goddess, Shadow, please answer me!"
"There is nothing that needs to be said." I answered dully.
"Oh, thank the merciful goddess. I feared I had lost you." He moved to examine the sword keeping me pinned to the ground like a piece of paper to a desk. "This will hurt, Shadow, brace yourself."
I did not moan or gasp as he wrenched the sword from the earth and my flesh. Instead, my claws dug deep furrows into the ground. I got to my feet, only betraying my pain through my narrowed eyes. Hauling herself to her hooves, Merlas took one long look at me. I stood, hunched over, swaying slightly under the weight of the metal plates, favouring my injured leg. She snorted slightly, muttering something to herself about silly two-leggeds and their silly battles, grabbing the back of the leather shirt I wore in her teeth. Lifting her head as high as possible, she deposited me onto her back. Out of habit, I wound my hands into her mane, my head still bowed low. Slowly, we began the long walk back to the Senate Towers.
Another year passed slowly. Equally slowly, I came out of the stupor the battle had caused, coaxed softly by both Armen and Merlas. Arias had said nothing about it, although Armen had been excused from the greater part of his Senator duties in order to become my sole tutor. He taught me to control my magic directly from the scriptures left the by previously extinct part demons. He taught me strength by having me clear new fields of boulders, carrying them with only my magic over miles. He taught me restraint by having me weave cloth with magic or dam a small stream. He taught me focus with puzzles and control with impossible tasks. For every day that I worked with determination, Armen took me to fly with Merlas. Sometimes to study, he took me to a great hall filled with books called a 'library', and left me to browse on my own, to choose my own reading. I even started to learn more languages, recommended by Armen for reasons he refused to tell me. I was, however, forbidden to use magic without Armen's presence.
I ended up spending most of my time reading as I was confined to my room. It was at one such time that I heard the voice in my head. The scriptures had warned me about such things, about the voice of the demonic parents trying to trigger a switch of control from the 'normal' side to the demonic. Part demons were, effectively, two people in one. As such, I simply ignored the voice. I focused my eyes on the book I was reading, allowing its words to blot out the demon's. Something somewhere in my mind flipped. Pain shot through my limbs. I fell from my chair, desperately trying to work out what had happened. It was thankfully over quickly. I lay panting on the ground. Something crashed into the window. Merlas! Never before had I been so glad of leaving a window open at all times. She stretched her head out towards me. I yelped as she grabbed the back of my neck in her teeth before pushing off again.
Merlas flew up to the mountains, to a clearing with a small stream. Standing close to the edge of the water, she dropped her head a little to look at her reflection. Hanging from the doe's mouth, barely visible against her black coat was a black wolf cub. I looked down at my hand only to see a paw. I yelped out loud. I was a wolf! How did that happen?! Merlas dropped me onto the grass of the clearing, looking at me expectantly. Realising I wasn't changing back, she huffed, rustling her wings and wandering off, obviously affronted. I tried to follow her, but realised that four legs were more complicated to operate than two. I ended up in a heap of legs and paws with another yelp. Merlas turned back to look at me. I looked back at her with what must have been a most pitiful expression. Sighing heavily, she wandered back over. Lifting me up to stand on my four paws again. She placed herself next to me and lifted a front hoof. When I didn't react, she pawed at the air. I lifted the same paw. We put our legs down a little way in front. Merlas lifted a hind leg. I copied her.
She taught me to walk in a matter of minutes, running not long after that, working by copying her movements. Tired out from chasing each other around the clearing, we drank from the stream before lying down comfortably in the shade of the branches of an overhanging willow. I set about trying to change back. Exploring the recesses of my mind, I searched for the trigger. It took me a while, but I managed to find it. This time, the pain of the transformation wasn't as great, although it still left me breathless, shaking and disorientated. My senses of smell and hearing seemed to be extra sensitive. I could smell everything from the grass to an antlered rabbit half way further down the mountain to us and hear the beating of Merlas' heart as if it were a drum. Merlas nuzzled my hair, drawing me closer to her side and tucking me under a wing.
For three days, Merlas taught me everything about surviving on my own: hunting, gathering, finding shelter. I could have stayed forever on that mountain with Merlas, just living.
We were hiding under the dense branches of the willow tree. I had been practising changing myself from Synari to wolf. It was getting easier and easier with each transformation, less painful, less tiring. It had become just like flexing a muscle. Merlas' head shot up, ears pricked. She had heard something. Even with more sensitive hearing than the Synari because of my demonic side, she still heard better than I did. I strained my ears to listen. There were two voices talking a little further down the mountain.
"Why are we hunting this half blood? I thought that the Senate would have been pleased to be rid of it."
"The High Priestess fears it turning rogue. By keeping it in the Senate Towers, they controlled what it learned. She fears what Senator Armen has already taught her."
"Is it really that dangerous?"
"Imagine two beings combined into one with more power than the High Priestess."
"Ah. And the doe?"
"Equally dangerous, although the High Priestess is less bothered about her. Merlas does not pose the threat of being able to level the city if she is angered."
I glanced at Merlas. If Arias was angry with me, I didn't want to go back. It didn't bode well at all. In fact going back while she was angry was the last thing I wanted to do. Especially since she would know I had been using magic.
We waited until Merlas couldn't hear their voices anymore before trying to sneak out in the other direction. Merlas walked quickly but quietly with me perched on her back. For the few das we had been living together, she had helped me gain confidence in riding her without a saddle so that I could now balance, kneeling on her back without a problem. I wound my hands into her mane, still acutely aware of just how high up I was.
"There it is!"
I barely had time to register the cry before Merlas pitched forwards, going from a walk to a full gallop. I hung on grimly, trying to block out the sound of hooves chasing us as Merlas dodged through the trees. As we reached another clearing, she took off with a sudden absence of movement I don't think I will ever get used to. Her wings began beating with a determined tempo, desperate to put some distance between us and the City Guard. I dared glance back. They were too close for comfort. One launched a bolt of magic, then several. Merlas managed to dodge most of them, but it slowed her down. They pulled up alongside us. I screamed as one grabbed hold of me, pulling me from Merlas' back. I kicked and struggled, trying to bite my captor. Merlas brayed in alarm and fury. She rammed the pegasus. A loop of rope landed around her neck, the end held by the other guard. His pegasus dove, losing height rapidly, dragging Merlas down.
To say that Arias was furious would be one of the worst understatements of my short life. To begin with, she didn't speak to me. When she eventually started talking, a torrent of anger poured forth. I felt so small and insignificant in the gigantic chamber where Arias ruled from, a tiny black speck in the bright light, where the figures carved into the pillars of white stone glared down me, as if I was a mote of dust in an obsessive person's home.
"We let you live, Shadow, gave you everything you needed, healed your wounds and kept you safe. You repaid us by disobeying the rules put in place to keep you safe and then run away!"
"I was scared!" I protested. "I was alone and didn't know what to do!"
"That does not justify your actions. You have been trained to control your emotions. But that matters no longer. I wash my hands of you."
I waited to hear what she was going to do to me.
"You will go to Aspheri, to the realm of your father. He will do with you as he pleases."
I didn't have time to say anything before my surroundings vanished.