The chill of winter was horrible. We had come out just at the point where autumn met winter, and winter quickly took over. All too soon the temperature dropped below freezing, and clouds covered the sky. I was tense, as were Elthinor, Gabrithon, and Nolan; clouds covering the sun up were never a good thing. Valtrak did not seem concerned, even after we told him the reason for our worries. He simply shrugged and said nothing. I knew that the young Dwarf was not talkative, but I did not know why. When asked, he simply shrugged and said he saw no point in it and that was the end of it.
We continued to travel west for no reason other than to keep moving. There was no scroll to point us to the next one and no dreams from Jesiah. We were miserable and freezing. Even so, Nolan was in an incredibly happy mood. I asked him about it once and he shrugged, replying that he was not really sure, but he thought it had something to do with the fact that they were not forced to mine anymore.
Two weeks out from the city, however, and Nolan’s mood dropped down with ours. Elthinor had only brought warm clothing for the two of us. At the start of our journey we had not expected to become friends with such interesting people, so we had not packed for them. Nolan’s cheery mood completely dissipated as the first snowfall of the year began. We were freezing and moved just to keep warm. The fires became life at night and we all huddled as close as we dared.
“Where is your God now?” Gabrithon snapped one night as we huddled close to the fire.
“He must have abandoned us,” Valtrak muttered from across the Centaur; they still stayed away from each other.
“N-no,” I said through chattering teeth. “He is with us.”
“I…Maybe they are-” Elthinor began hesitantly.
“No!” I barked stubbornly. “You will not convince me otherwise!”
The snow, which had been falling in small flakes and melting since it had begun, now was falling thickly and quickly building up on the ground around us. We were all silent after my outburst, but I refused to apologize for my beliefs so the air was thick with awkwardness. Gabrithon finally shook his head.
“How can you believe?” he asked in a soft voice, his piercing blue eyes staring at me.
I sat there for a moment then the words came out without thought.
“Just because bad things happen does not mean He has forsaken us,” I said, meeting his gaze. “He has protected us this far, through battles and slavery and even through our winter travels. Why would He forsake us now?”
“I do not know,” Gabrithon admitted. “It just seems as if He has.”
I looked around at everybody huddled around the fire. “Maybe…we could pray together?” I asked, sounding a little shy even to my own ears.
Elthinor glanced at me and smiled. “That sounds good to me,” he said with a nod.
Nolan’s smile seemed a little strained and I realized I did not know how he felt about God. Valtrak believed because of what had happened in the caves and my stubborn belief, but he did not know how to go about showing it. To be honest, Elthinor and I did not either, but the Dwarf once told us that we did seem different than Nolan and Gabrithon in our attitudes. I tilted my head to the side and watched Nolan carefully.
“Do you mind?”
“Actually, I do. I am with Gabrithon on this. I do not really believe in God. As convinced as you are about it, I just do not see the point in it.”
Gabrithon cleared his throat and rubbed the back of his neck. “I do not mind if they pray. I just do not wish to be involved.”
Nolan glanced at the Centaur then shrugged. “I suppose that is fine.”
Elthinor smiled and gestured for Valtrak and me to come closer. The Elf settled his arms across our shoulders and we just sat there as his face twisted in thought. He finally glanced at me with red cheeks, and they were not red from the cold
“I am not sure what to say,” he admitted. “I do not pray much…out loud, and the things I want to say will sound silly. Out loud,” he added, I presumed to clarify what did not need clarified.
“Didn’t Filynora say Humans were spiritual leaders?” Nolan asked suddenly.
That is what Llugat had told me: Humans were the spiritual leaders among all the races. That meant what to me though? I was half a spiritual leader and half forest tender? That thought made my head hurt and reminded me that I was a freak. I pulled away from them and Elthinor followed me immediately, pressing a hand on my shoulder.
“Filynora, what is wrong?” he asked.
“Just leave it alone,” I hissed, feeling hatred for what I was well up within me.
“But I-” he started.
“I said leave it!” I shouted, spinning to him and slapping him.
My face suddenly got hot and tingles shot up my spine and hit my face. Elthinor yelped and scrambled back, surprise written in his face. Gabrithon shot to his feet from where he lay and Nolan’s jaw dropped open. Valtrak stared at me curiously with wide eyes. I was breathing heavily, the anger that had sprung from my self-loathing still hot and fresh.
“What?” I demanded. “What are you all staring at?”
“Are you part Elf?” Valtrak asked after a moment of silence.
I furrowed my brow and stared at him, my anger momentarily forgotten. “Y-yes. How did you know that?”
Elthinor reached for his sword, which was lying in its sheath beside his bedroll. He pulled it out and held it sideways in front of him. I frowned and moved to look at it. In the flickering light of the fire I saw my reflection, yet it was not the me I saw the last time I had seen my image. My eyes narrowed in the make-shift mirror as I stared at myself.
There were the features I recognized, like my skin, which had paled a little underground, and the way my face was set, but the colors were new. On my right cheek was a Kindle wolf set in red and filled in with gold. A red fern-like design curled up around my eye and bloomed across my forehead, and small golden flowers were set at the tips of the ferns. Both colors lightly shimmered, like Elthinor’s green and silver designs, but there was a difference. Besides the fern and the golden flowers, the left side of my face was clean. Both of my eyes were red tinged with gold around the edges and my hair, usually golden brown, had red mixed into the now more golden-looking color of my usual hair.
I stared at my new look and my forgotten anger swelled to the surface. I grabbed the sword from Elthinor and stood, but before I could do anything more, his hand covered mine and he jerked me as close as he could, trapping the blade between us. He shook his head.
“I do not know what you think you are doing, but I will not let you do it!” he growled, his eyes flashing, but in those green depths I could see concern.
My bottom lip began trembling and I burst into tears, releasing the sword. He took it, pulled back slightly, and tossed it away before pulling me back in and stroking my back comfortingly. He whispered softly that it would be alright. I cried until I could not cry anymore and I pushed away from him and turned away, wiping the tear streaks away.
“I’m so sorry,” I muttered, shivering as the cold got to me.
“It’s fine, Fily,” Elthinor replied softly, moving to pull me in closer to the fire. “Are you going to tell us what is bothering you?”
I shook my head. “I don’t want to talk about it. Can we please just drop it?”
Elthinor looked unhappy, but he slowly nodded. “Alright, we’ll ignore it for now. If you do need to talk about it, though, you can talk to us. We will listen. I promise.”
“Fine,” I said, lowering myself to sit on my bedroll.
I could feel them staring at me. I did not know how to make the markings go away, how to make myself look human again. How could a perfect God want me? I was a freak. A monster. A half-blood. A mistake.
“I am tired,” I said, my voice broken with emotion.
“Fily,” Elthinor said kindly, reaching for me.
“I am going to bed,” I growled, jerking out of his gentle grip.
I slipped into my bedroll and pulled it over my head. In the safety of the darkness that surrounded me, I cried myself to sleep, feeling more alone than I ever had before, and I thought to myself that maybe, just maybe God had never been with me to begin with because of what I was.