The shoes were gone, uncomfortable to run in. I sprinted past the last houses and could hear pursuing feet behind me. I didn't want to be caught. Just when the lights of the camps around Greensage were disappearing behind me, I heard a grunt. My ankle was caught in a strong grip, and I fell forward. Immediately I began fighting as the owner of the hand crawled up to flip me over.
"Filynora!" Elthinor said, panting heavily. "Stop it! Calm down, please!"
I screamed in response. All I could think about was Shaylee. She was so cruel, so hateful. Why couldn't she just have left Elthinor alone? I sobbed and fought harder, but he had my wrists pinned to the ground, so I jerked my knee up, hoping to hit his groin. I missed; we fought on. I saw torches being carried towards us, so I used all of my strength to get away. Two steps later, another hand grabbed my ankle, this one like iron. I knew who it was. It was Valtrak. Even though I knew for certain I wasn't getting out of his grip unless he released me, I screamed again, a wounded sound, and kicked out. Elthinor's hands grabbed me and picked me up, settling me in front of Valtrak so the Dwarf could put his arms firmly around me to keep me there. We were bathed in torchlight, but it was almost silly for my friends to bring them. The moon was big and bright tonight. I went limp after another minute of fighting. Valtrak was just too strong.
"Filynora!" Elthinor exclaimed, kneeling in front of me. "What's wrong?"
I let out a low moan then lowered my head and cried. After a moment of silence, I heard movement. A hand was placed on my forehead to lift my face. Before I could force the hand away, or at least snap at it, something cold was splashed on my face. I sputtered as a cloth was wiped across my face. There was another splash followed by another round with the cloth. This happened again and again until Elthinor was satisfied. I was in shock. What was that about? Then I saw the cloth. It was covered in the stuff Laetitia and Melanari had painted my face with. I began crying again. That meant I was my plain, ugly self again.
"Filynora?" Gabrithon asked, lowering himself to get as close to my level as possible; he was holding one of the torches.
"What's the matter?" Pinnathir knelt down, though he was behind Elthinor. Jaiden hung around behind them, holding the other torch.
I didn't respond, jerking forward to try to break Valtrak's grip. He didn't even move. I moaned and lowered my head again. Elthinor touched my chin, and, feeling childish, I bit him, hard. He yowled and pulled his hand back toward his body. I had broken skin, and bright, fresh blood dripped into the grass. He stared at me incredulously.
"What in the world is the matter?" he demanded suddenly, his voice holding more authority than I had ever heard from him. It was a far cry from the Elf I remembered from Ellavendir.
"Why don’t you just go and be with Shaylee?" I barked, feeling compelled to answer.
Through my hair, I saw him freeze. "What?" he asked, his voice holding a funny lilt.
"Go on, get!" I spat. "She's the pretty one, the one who wants to marry you. Go and fulfill her wish!"
"But Filynora, I don't want to marry her!" Elthinor said with a laugh.
"You have to marry soon, though," I said. "Your family will expect you to preserve your line. See if I care if you marry such a little worm."
"I told you, Fily, I don't want to marry her," he said, his voice infinitely gentle.
"Well then who do you want to marry?" I asked, looking him full in the face. "There has to be someone."
"There is," he said evasively. "But if I told you who, you wouldn't believe it."
"Filynora," Valtrak said from behind me. "We told you once that Elthinor would always pick you over that Elf girl."
"You'd be my friend over hers?" I demanded hotly, looking right into his eyes.
Unflinchingly, he nodded. "Of course, Filynora. You know, I really don't like her. She's much too stupid, and her voice is terribly grating on the nerves. Her designs aren't very pretty either. The blue is much too light, and the pink isn't nearly as pretty as my sister's pink."
I felt a wave of relief and stopped straining against Valtrak. He liked me better than he liked Shaylee. That was wonderful! Besides that, he didn't want to marry her, which made me even happier. Valtrak released me, but I could sense he was poised to recapture me if I tried to run again. But I didn’t want to run. Not anymore.
"Good, you're calm," Elthinor said. "Now I have two questions for you. One, what's the real reason you dressed up? And don't tell me it was just to 'look nice' either."
I felt my face heat up and suddenly I did want to run again. As if sensing this, Valtrak placed firm hands on my shoulders. I didn't want to tell them the truth. It was so silly. But I still felt as if it were true. I had never really felt pretty in my life, and now I knew it to be true that I wasn't. Elthinor reached over and caressed my face.
"Come on, Fily. We're your friends," he said softly.
"You'll think it's dumb," I growled.
"No we won't," Gabrithon said.
"Fine, you want the truth? I'm ugly, and I thought if Laetitia and Melanari made me look fancy, you'd think I wasn't."
There was nothing but shocked silence. Then Elthinor began to laugh, which prompted everyone to laugh. Tears filled my eyes; I bit back a sob. It was true then. When my Elven friend had calmed down enough to see my tears, his laughter abruptly stopped.
"Don't cry, Fily," he said kindly. "You misunderstand our laughter." He pulled me to my feet, held one hand above my head and said, "Give us a twirl."
Confused, I did so. I could feel the dress I wore fanning out around me. The others clapped.
"What?" I asked. "What are you seeing?"
"Lithe grace," Gabrithon said, winking.
"Coiled fury," Pinnathir replied.
"The strength of a thousand Dwarfinlas," Valtrak rumbled.
"The best archer in the land," Jaiden said with a nod.
"And I see battle prowess unmatched by any," Elthinor chuckled. "See? No ugliness."
"Really?" I asked in wonder. They nodded. "But…none of what you mentioned has anything to do with how I look."
"Precisely the point," the green and silver Elf said. "You're beautiful no matter the outward appearance. Though I must admit, as both an Elf and a Human, you're the most fair I have ever seen."
"Not bad at all," said Pinnathir. "You know, from the waist up. The legs are weird."
"For your race, you do seem quite beautiful," Valtrak said.
"She is. Much better than any Human. And especially that Elf Shaylee!" Jaiden said, causing laughter in agreement.
"Which brings me to my second question," Elthinor said. "What made you hit her?"
"She called me something," I said shortly.
"What could she have possibly called you to make you look so, well, scary?" Valtrak asked.
My face got hot again and my designs flared out. It was improper to even say the word to a male, but I had never let that stop me before.
"She called me a whore," I said, eyes flashing. "She accused me of being with all of you, which would be the reason you kept me around."
A second of silence was followed by screams of outrage. Elthinor's grip on my hand tightened until it was painful then he released me only to begin pacing. Gabrithon had reared and he came down hard with a squeal of pure rage, eyes glowing eerily in the firelight. Pinnathir bleated, stomping his hoof, while both Valtrak and Jaiden stared at me with wide eyes.
"That isn't even physically possible with three of us," Valtrak stated once things had calmed down a little.
"Once that wretched abomination wakes up, I'm going to have a talk with her!" Elthinor boomed. "She is never to even look at you again!"
I didn't say anything. The way they reacted made me feel warm and fuzzy inside. Shaylee was no longer a threat, and they loved me the way I was. Maybe, I thought, it doesn’t matter what that she-Elf thought. Maybe it doesn’t matter what Gilronin thought, or what Tynan and the villagers thought. Their opinions shouldn’t shape my life.
Suddenly, I realized I didn't hate being different anymore. Oh I wasn’t completely better—that would take some time—but my friends didn't care that I wasn’t normal. Besides, normal was such a relative term. What seemed normal to us didn't necessarily mean normal for anybody else. The Elves' practices weren't normal to the Satyrs, just as the Centaurs' practices weren't normal to the Dwarves. It was all a matter of perspective. And I had just found the right one. I laughed there amongst my angry friends, and they all looked at me.
"Filynora? Are you all right?" Elthinor asked concernedly.
"Yes, Elthinor. I am more than all right. I feel amazing. I love all of you, too."
They all stared at me for a moment.
"Do you finally understand?" Valtrak asked.
"What?" I turned around to look at him.
"I have watched you struggle with who you are for a while now. You have just come to terms with it. You are just the way God made you. There is no use wishing to be anybody else because if you were different in any way, big or small, then you simply just wouldn't be you."
After a pause, Gabrithon said, "You always surprise me when such wisdom passes your lips."
"I try," the Dwarf replied with a smile.
"You know something, Valtrak? I think Jesiah told me that once," I said thoughtfully. I hummed and looked to Pinnathir. “Laetitia told me this would happen.”
“She told me if I didn’t tell you about how I was feeling, an explosion would happen and it did.”
“She is very wise when it comes to feelings,” the Satyr said with a nod.
There was a pause. “I should probably apologize to Shaylee,” I sighed.
“For what?” Elthinor growled.
“For hitting her. And for letting Ember bite her.”
“Why? She doesn’t deserve it.”
“Do we deserve Jesiah?”
Elthinor considered that for a moment. “No. Nobody deserves the grace he offers.”
“If we did, it wouldn’t be grace,” Jaiden said matter-of-factly.
“Which means we should offer it to others, even if they don’t deserve it,” I said with a soft smile.
The atmosphere was relaxed. Then suddenly, it wasn't. A scream tore through the night, and I immediately looked toward the sound. I saw Human-like figures chasing another Human-like figure. I was guessing the shapes chasing the first one weren't actually Human. We weren't dressed for battle. I didn't even have my knife on me, forsaking it for the chance of being 'pretty.' I looked around then grabbed the torch from Jaiden before sprinting towards the pursuing figures.
"Filynora! It's suicide!" Elthinor screamed.
They had pinned the Human to the ground and were tearing at him. I leaped over to face them, stunning them with the fire. Lugat snarled, and I smirked as I plunged the fire into the nearest Vampire. He shrieked as he was immediately set ablaze. He caught three more on fire; the rest dashed back out of the firelight as their skin started bubbling. Their red eyes stared at me through the darkness.
"We shall be in pain if we do not kill this wretched brat," Lugat said, his voice holding a tinge of fear.
"Too bad," I growled. "Go away."
They hissed and suddenly began to run just as I heard running behind me. I turned and thrust the torch into Jaiden's hands then knelt down beside the bleeding form. I grunted as I flipped him over. My breath caught in my throat.
"Nolan?" I gasped.
"Fily," he moaned.
Jerkily, he sat up and dropped the pack that he had been shielding from the Vampires to the ground. He stripped his tattered shirt off, making me groan for him. Slashes, gouges, and bites covered his torso and neck. But wait, there was something on his arm. He untied the string and pulled it off. It was the scroll. He handed it to me.
"That's only a part of it, sister," he said shakily, lying back down. "They tore the rest of it from me."
He looked bad. Without question, Elthinor picked him up, and we began hurrying to the town. As soon as we got to the camps surrounding the buildings, Gabrithon thundered off to find Aloron and my father. We took Nolan to the only place we could think of: Leah's house. We lay him on the floor to allow Elthinor to tend to his wounds. Aloron and Elyosius burst into the room, looking down at the poor boy. Aloron swallowed, placing a hand on Elthinor's shoulder. When the green and silver Elf looked up, the red and black one shook his head.
"It's no use, lad. He's not going to make it."
"I know," Elthinor said, looking at me.
For what seemed like the hundredth time that night, I felt tears well in my eyes. I looked into Nolan's face, and he was looking directly at me. He used the bedside table to force himself up into a sitting position.
"I knew I wouldn't survive," Nolan said hollowly. "If the monsters didn't get me, then Fily would. But I don't mind. Not anymore. I read the last scroll and it…it doesn't make sense. But it's so wonderful, so fantastic, that it must be truth. I confessed my sins and trusted in Jesiah. He forgave me. He forgave me because he said he would."
"Nolan—" I began, but he cut me off.
"No, let me speak. My time is limited. Father," he said, turning to the purple and red Elf. "I am so sorry. I let my feelings get the best of me. I betrayed you and turned against you. Please forgive me."
"Of course, son of mine. I'm sorry, too. If I had taught you better—"
"No. You did nothing wrong. Filynora, I did the same to you. Please forgive me?" his voice was getting softer, and he looked like he was fighting to stay conscious.
"Yes brother. I forgive you," I said with a nod. "It was a pleasure traveling with you. Now please stay alive."
"I believe God is calling me home, Filynora," Nolan said with a smile. "Oh, how I wish you could remember those stories father would tell us before this whole mess started. There was the one about the sheep and the shepherd. I like that one. When just one goes astray, the shepherd goes after it, leaving the rest of the flock. The Great Shepherd finally caught me, Fily. I was a naughty little sheep, but he forgave me and is bringing me to the rest of the flock."
His voice was so quiet now, and suddenly the flesh on half of my body burned fiercely. I gasped and doubled over, pressing my hands and forehead against the floor.
"So cold," Nolan moaned.
"So hot!" I cried out.
Nolan opened the pack that he'd brought and motioned me toward him. I crawled to his side, cursing the dress I wore. On his face, chest, arms, and feet, there were his designs. They seemed incomplete, as they only went across half of his body. They mirrored mine. Nolan pulled out a book. It was thick and black with a cover that had a leather strip and a clasp that kept it closed. He handed the book to me.
"This contains the strengths and weaknesses of the creatures you face. Use it. The battle shall be very soon. Within the month. If you don't attack by then, the Dark Master shall bring the battle to you," he said then shivered. As soon as he did, the burning intensified. I moaned low in my throat at the pain.
He reached up to stroke my cheek. "You are the bravest, smartest girl I have ever known. You're going to like what's in the scroll. But you have to fight to get the last part. I love you, sister. We could have been best friends." He turned to look at Elthinor. "You take good care of her, you hear? When she gets to Heaven, I want to hear only good things."
Elthinor smiled faintly. "Certainly. Now, you save a spot for us."
"Yes. Of course," Nolan fell sideways onto the ground. "I love you father," he groaned, looking desperately to Elyosius.
"I love you, son, forever and always," our father said, tears gleaming on his cheeks.
"Filynora, I hope you like your new designs," my brother said, shuddering violently.
The burning reached a fever pitch, and I saw the color on Nolan's designs fading to a dull grey. He looked at me. Just as the pain overwhelmed me, his eyes lost focus and widened. A flash of blinding light filled my vision…
I saw Nolan, clothed in black. As I watched, what looked like blood gushed over him. As the blood oozed off him, the garment beneath turned white. I stared. That wasn't possible. But it happened. As I watched, Jesiah walked over to him. Nolan fell on his face at the radiant glory that spread from Jesiah's form. I looked up to where they were walking and saw the most awesome sight I had ever beheld. It was light and color so brilliant that I couldn't fathom it. Was that God? I suddenly knew that it had to be. Jaiden had it right, but it wasn't strong enough. God was so pure, so holy that I knew I should cease to exist. I was wretched, and I deserved the sin stained garment that covered me. Tears poured down my cheeks as I realized how unworthy we all were. Nothing we could do could ever give us the privilege of walking before such amazing holiness. We were doomed. Unless…Jesiah. There had to be some connection with Jesiah. He was God's son. What was the connection? I had to find out. My soul ached for the companionship of that One Being. It was if I were made for it.
"Filynora!" called a voice as for the second time that night I was doused in water.
I yelped and sat up, blinking at the darkness around me. I groped in front of me, and Elthinor grabbed my hand.
"Are you all right?" he asked.
"I'm blind." I said calmly.
"No you're not," Valtrak said.
"I can't see. Everything's just not there," I said. "What happened?"
"You collapsed with your eyes open then you started crying. Were you seeing something?"
"The most amazing Something there is," I said, lowering my head.
"What's that?" my father asked.
"I saw the glory of God," I said simply.
They pressed for more information, and I began telling them what I had seen and felt and thought.