Laetitia sat on the bed, brushing her hair and watching me finish packing. She looked whole and healthy again and had become quite the leader amongst the former slaves. Between her and my father, everything had been going well. She had also taken to Greensage's girls, teaching them 'beauty secrets', like how to mix certain plants together to get a paste that made the hair shiny, or how to make powders and other such things to brush on the face to make different features stand out. I did not understand it, and I did not try to. I had never understood Human practices to beautify, and as for a Faun's tips? They were even more confusing, and I was pretty good at understanding different cultures. Or I liked to think so.
"How long will you be gone?" the Faun asked as she finished brushing her hair.
"Weeks probably. I do not know how difficult it will be to convince Korvict that he and his Dwarves are needed. And there is the problem facing us when he realizes we shall be working with Centaurs," I said with a sigh, closing my pack.
"Are you sure you are strong enough for this?" she asked seriously.
"I am. Elthinor will keep checking on me for days, so if I get tired, we'll stop."
"Are you really taking those element monsters?"
"I was planning on it, but they are not monsters any more than I am. Unless you think I am a monster?"
"No! You are certainly different, but you are no monster," Laetitia said with a flick of her wrist then she sighed. "Promise me you will be careful. You seem to get hurt at every turn."
"I shall be as careful as I can, but I cannot make any promises. They are after my head, though it might be easier at first. I believe they think I am dead," I said lightly as I shouldered my pack. "Well, I am as ready as I shall ever be."
Laetitia got up and walked me out. Gabrithon stood there, his front feet clip-clopping on the hard ground in his irritation. Knowing that he would not be going, he was not happy. As I watched, Valtrak appeared with a pack on and placed a hand on one of his legs. The movement stopped as Gabrithon looked down and smiled at the Dwarf, and when he spoke his tone held mock anger.
"Get off of me, you lump of stone!"
"Why would I even want to touch you, pack mule!" Valtrak shot back. Then they both chuckled. "We shall be as fast as we can. There are politics involved in a decision like this, though."
"I know. I am a prince, remember?" Gabrithon said with a shake of his head.
"Yes. I still cannot believe you never mentioned that to me before. A rather large oversight, yes?" Valtrak asked pointedly.
"I did not think to tell you. I had already told Filynora and Elthinor. It did not occur to me that you, Pinnathir, and Jaiden did not know!"
"Bah. Keep your secrets, mule. And teach these males how to fight!"
"That I can do."
"Aw, you two are adorable," I teased, and they both frowned at me.
"Okay, Strangeling," Valtrak said. "Enough with that. Are we ready?"
"Where are Elthinor and Pinnathir?" I asked.
I sensed somebody behind me, and my bow was in my hand without a thought. I was suddenly staring at a very surprised looking Elthinor. His eyes were locked on the arrow pointed directly between his them. He held up his hands and backed up a little. Pinnathir was behind him. We stood still for another moment then Pinnathir tapped Elthinor on the shoulder.
"I think we should know by now that sneaking up on Filynora is a very bad idea."
"What makes you say that?" I asked dryly as I put the arrow back into my quiver.
Elthinor chuckled. "I was not trying to scare you. I learned my lesson the first night of our travels."
At the confused looks of our friends, he explained sheepishly how I had slapped him for scaring me. They all laughed at that.
"Boy, you really didn't know her too well back then," Gabrithon said, still chuckling.
"No. Now it is much harder to scare her, though," he said with a smile.
I smiled back then looked around. "Are we ready?"
"Yes," came four answers.
"Jaiden?" I asked as I turned to him.
"You need a Human in your midst," he said with a shrug. "I know I am not much of a negotiator, but isn't it fair to represent everybody?"
I looked him over. "Try not to complain too much," I finally said. "And you will be getting sword fighting lessons."
He brightened at the first comment then grew hesitant at the second, but he nodded. Gabrithon was staring forlornly at us. I walked over to him and pet his side. He flicked his tail at me, but it was playful instead of irritated, like when we first met. I smiled.
"We shall be back soon, and you can certainly come with us next time."
My father and Aloron suddenly appeared, and the latter crossed his arms with a mock irritated expression on his face.
"Just going to sneak off without saying goodbye?" he asked, then grinned.
"It is no secret that we are leaving today," I replied.
"No. At least this time you are telling us where you are really going," the old Elf said.
My father walked up to me. We had had no time together since before I got sick. I had only heard from Laetitia that he was leading the former slaves. He placed a hand on my shoulder.
"May God bless your journey, no matter the troubles you have."
"Aye, for we know there will be troubles," I said with a sigh.
He smiled, and we briefly embraced. Then he backed up to stand beside Aloron again.
"You do know Gabrithon is in charge of the training, right?" I asked.
"Yes. But that does not mean I cannot teach him a thing or two," he said, his eyes sparkling.
I laughed then turned to pet Gabrithon again. He did not smile this time.
"Bye," he said sadly.
"Good luck with the training. I expect them to be able to hold their own against us for at least a minute!"
His lips twitched. "As you wish, my little filly."
I turned and we set out, Elthinor grabbing the reins on the plain bay horse we were bringing. We had a Human map of the entire territory, but it was different than other Human maps. Each of my friends had plotted their own race's cities on the map. We were headed to Crystalmoor, which was located just inside the forest that the Centaurs called Seagrove, and what the Dwarves called Greenhaven. It was a while away from Woodspell, a Centaurian city and, Gabrithon said, home of the fastest Centaurs anywhere. Valtrak and I were walking in step with each other at the front. We had to go north to the forest then west until Valtrak could spot the Dwarven signs that guided the Dwarves who went out to hunt back to the city.
We traveled swiftly, taking only a single horse with us to help carry supplies. I was not happy that we did not take one of mine, but I was outvoted by everybody. The only one they would even consider bringing was Whirlwind. Loam would get the supplies too dusty, they argued, and Rainstorm would get them too wet. Flame was completely out of the question, as they were afraid he would catch everything on fire. I defended the horses to the end, but my friends won. Speaking of Elementals, Ember was still gone. I had no idea where he was or what he was doing. I hoped he was alive and safe, but I was not sure. I missed my Kindle Wolf.
We hurried along for days, only slowed up a little by Jaiden. He was bearing the grueling pace with little complaint, though he always collapsed when we made camp. We did not trust him to keep watch, so we let him sleep. The rest of us took turns in pairs. We made good time and soon reached the forest. Valtrak began searching the tree line. We walked for three days with no sign, then on the fourth, the Dwarf let out a cry and began to trot as he continued on. Five minutes later we were led into the forest, slowing to a walk. We suddenly stopped as Valtrak jerked his hand up.
"We are surrounded," he said calmly then raised his voice. "Uncle, I know you are there! Filynora and our friends mean no harm!"
There was a rustle and suddenly a rock unfurled itself to reveal a Dwarf wearing a clever disguise. I figured the clothing was like Dwarven skin; it looked rough but was actually quite soft to the touch. The Dwarf had a reddish brown beard, coal black eyes that glinted like gems, and brown skin. It was Valtrak's uncle, Firbrawn. He stared at us, then his eyes latched onto Valtrak. He strode up to him and grabbed him into an embrace.
"Nephew! I thought you dead for sure!"
"No, Uncle. She did not kill me. I chose to go with her willingly."
Firbrawn glared at me. "Is she making you say that? You terrible wench!"
I was angry at that. "Don't call me that again, or it shall be you with a knife to your throat."
"Uncle, I promise I chose to go. Now, we need to see the king," Valtrak said, stepping in between us.
"The king? Why?"
"It is urgent. You shall find out when we see him."
"You expect me to take you and those traitors down to see the king? You have gone mad!"
"We are not traitors," I said. "We were never citizens of your realm. We were slaves."
"You are still traitors in Dwarves' minds, Filynora," Valtrak said softly. "They think you kidnapped me."
"We didn't. You wanted to go with us," I argued.
"I know that, but they do not. And I fear they do not believe me now."
"Look Firbrawn, we need to see the king. It is very important," Elthinor said.
He glanced over us. "You have changed Human boys, and you now have a Satyr with you. What have you been up to?"
"It is a long story," I said dryly.
"Well, tell it, by all means."
I realized we were not going to get anywhere with this Dwarf unless we obliged him. So, after several other Dwarves appeared, I began to tell them of our adventures, from the stay in the Satyr city to the betrayal of Nolan to the freeing of Elthinor, Gabrithon, and Pinnathir. When I was done, the Dwarf laughed.
"You expect me to believe all that? Aswangs, Naga, Vampires, I have never heard of these monsters before! You have made all this up!"
I heard a growl and a rustle of cloth. I turned to see that Elthinor, who had set his pack and weapons down when I began the story, had removed his shirt. He slowly turned, and the Dwarf's laughter stopped. Firbrawn looked disgusted and horrified as he stared at the scars that ran down Elthinor's back. Some of them were still red.
"Yes, I expect you to believe it," Elthinor said as he turned back around. “Now. We must see the king."
The Dwarf swallowed and nodded. "Yes. Yes of course. Follow me."
After tying off the horse on a long lead rope, we were led to the entrance of the tunnel and began our descent into the darkness.