WE PACKED UP the leftovers and Alek took a different route back into the castle to show me the Armory. Not knowing what to expect, I stepped through the door and stared in amazement at the display of weapons in the room. To begin with the room must have been as big as the ballroom. It had huge rows of shelving stocked full of items. On Earth it would have been a red-necked, gun-toting, male's dream come true, except of course, no guns. Instead there were rows of crossbows, long bows, bows I didn't know the names of, and swords of every length and manner imaginable. I made my way around the room and felt a shudder of disgust at the sight of heavy maces that hung from racks. I paused in front of a shelf covered in light, delicate looking daggers and moved closer for a better look.

'Careful,' Alek warned. He reached past me to pick one up.

'These are exceptionally sharp and can even cut through dragon scales. The blade is made of a rock that's only found within active volcanoes.'

But of course, thought my rational voice sarcastically. Where else would you locate something with dragon scale piercing potential. 'How do you get it out?' Did they use those special suits like the ones we had on Earth? I didn't think those suits could get you that close to molten rock—at least not for any extended amount of time.

'There's a creature, the requon, which lives within the magma. We use it to collect the blistenid rock while it's still molten.'

'What sort of creature? How do you use it?'

'It looks kind of like a fish and you can lure it to the surface by dropping gemstones into the lava. They take a moment to melt and the creatures love to eat them while they're hard so they race to the surface. When the requon appears, a harness is looped onto its dorsal fin. The requon then dives low and the scoops hanging from the harness pick up the blistenid. We gently tug the requon back to the surface, where the harness snaps off and we wind it up.'

Just that easy huh, my rational voice sniggered. I stared at him. 'You have got to show me that sometime.'

We continued down the rows of weapons and armor; even armor for the griffons, huge breast plates and leg greaves. And then some armor I didn't recognize. I circled one of the sets and studied it. At first glance it looked like the armored torso of a very large man, but it extended out some distance at where the backside would be. It seemed strangely familiar, like I should know it.

'It's for the Centaur Cavalry,' Alek wore a bemused expression. 'What did you think it was for?'

For what felt like the millionth time since arriving in this world my jaw dropped. 'Centaur Cavalry?'

'Of course. They're essential to any fight.'

I stared at the armor again. 'For those of us that haven't seen a centaur in real life before, we are talking about a creature which is half man half horse?'

He gave me that look again. 'Yes and no. At some point long ago in their evolution they were distantly related to both humans and horses, but they are their own species and they have different breeds like any other creature.' Alek led me further along the aisle, indicating to other sets of centaur armor. 'There are three divisions within the Cavalry. The Aswaran division, which is for the large heavy races whose skills are directly linked to their physical strength. There is the Rodhite division, for which you need to be exceptionally fast, but still have the strength to use the massive longbows and crossbows that are designed specifically for centaurs. And lastly, the Medanga division, the medics and messengers.'

'Are they here? At the castle?' I would love to meet one, or just see one.

'No. We never keep all our forces in one area, so they are currently on patrol. They'll be back at the end of the month.'

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