We parted the next morning after breakfast. Laetitia’s embrace was tight and she kissed my cheek before she and Terryn turned and left. We stared after them for a while and, despite my surety that her leaving was the right decision, I felt sad. It had been nice to have a female companion, even one who complained as much as Laetitia had. Elthinor placed a hand on my shoulder.
“She is much safer this way,” he said firmly.
“I hope so,” I replied then shook my head. “Well, let’s get camp packed up. We need to get on our way.”
Nolan grabbed my arm and I stood still, knowing what was coming. Sure enough, Nolan began talking about our Dwarven companion.
“Valtrak has been acting suspicious,” Nolan whispered, glancing at the Dwarf.
“What has he done?” I asked dryly.
“Did you notice he disappeared during the last battle?”
“He did not…”
I trailed off as I realized that Nolan was right. I had not seen Valtrak after the fighting began. He had not been helping any of the rest of us. Nolan looked victorious.
“I told you! There is something off about that Dwarf. I tried to find where he went during the battle, but I could not find-”
“Wait a minute!” I said loudly. “Instead of helping us fight the Naga, you went to go search for Valtrak?!”
Nolan’s cheeks suddenly flushed and he looked embarrassed. He rubbed the back of his neck and stammered as he realized how bad his decision was.
“I, well, I was just…I was, I mean, Valtrak-”
“Look, I do not know what happened to Valtrak, but we need you to help us fight! What if somebody had died?! All because you are obsessed with proving that Valtrak is out to get us!”
“I’m sorry, Fily,” Nolan said, shrinking away from me. “I wasn’t thinking.”
“Obviously not!” I growled then took a deep breath. “Now, I do not want to hear anything about Valtrak possibly being a traitor for a while, do you understand?”
“Yes, Fily,” Nolan said solemnly, looking away from me.
I turned and walked over to help set up camp. The others were silent and Valtrak avoided looking at anybody. I did not know why, but I did not think Valtrak was a traitor. He was quiet, yes, but he was…I did not really know what he was, but I was sure he was not a traitor. Almost.
Day after day we traveled, the miles melting away before us. One day we spotted the mountain in the distance. The closer we got to it, the more the air seemed to buzz with anticipation. Even Gabrithon, who still adamantly kept saying that he did not believe in God or Jesiah, was chomping at the bit to get to the mountain and hear the rest of the story.
Nolan still watched Valtrak, who had withdrawn into himself again ever since the battle. My loud announcement that he had disappeared during the fight had turned pretty much everybody against him, even Pinnathir who was very easy to get along with. The poor Dwarf was getting more isolated every day. I tried to talk to him a couple times, but he just stared at me, his violet eyes guarded. I apologized to him, but still received no verbal reply. He just shrugged and began sharpening his axe.
Within a week, the city had come into view and we began to angle ourselves to the south so we could pass around the city; we figured it would be easier to go up the other side of the mountain than to sneak through our enemies’ base camp. Each night got more and more tense and our watchmen shifts became exhausting simply because of the fear that began to permeate the air, which grew steadily worse as time progressed. When we finally got to the base of the mountain, I was suspicious. Not one attack had occurred, which may have been luck…or something else. We were so close to Shadowlyn that they should have at least been alerted to our presence, which they very well might have been for all I knew.
We finally got to our destination, almost directly across from Shadowlyn, where we began to study the mountain. We talked amongst ourselves and decided that Nolan, Elthinor, Pinnathir, and I were the ones that were to go up the mountain. Gabrithon had blandly stated that it was not possible for him to go, and Pinnathir and Elthinor had declared that Valtrak would have slowed us down; they were rather rude about it, too. I was about to argue when I looked him over and took in his short legs and had to admit that they were right.
We waited until the next morning to start up the mountain; it was going to take all day just to hike up and we did not want to have to travel at night. We planned to climb up, get the scroll, sleep on a ledge Elthinor’s sharp eyes could see near the top, and then make our way back down the next day. It was a simple plan, but I knew that many things could go wrong.
The next morning it was cloudy and it alarmed me immensely. Elthinor was uneasy too. Nolan kept glancing around and Pinnathir, sensing our nervousness, kept shifting his weight from hoof to hoof. He jumped when Gabrithon walked up behind him and poked him. The Centaur chuckled as Pinnathir turned to glare at him.
“Calm down. You are the one going with Fily. I trust her in a fight more than I trust that Dwarf,” Gabrithon said calmly, his voice sharpening with the last few words.
I glanced at Valtrak and he did not even flinch. He was used to it. I felt so bad for him, but the little bit of doubt that Nolan had dug up kept me from reaching out to him.
“Are we ready?” Elthinor asked as he shrugged his pack on; we had taken everything out of our bags that was not essential to our survival to make the trip easier.
I hoisted my pack higher on my shoulders then nodded. “Yes. Let’s go.”
The four of us began our trek up the mountain. We did not talk, focusing all our energy on hiking. Pinnathir had the easiest time out of all of us. He charged up the mountain, leaping from ledge to ledge with ease. I supposed that it was the goat half of him. He would run up ahead of us then sit and wait for us to catch up. Judging by the smile on his face, he was greatly enjoying himself. About halfway up, we stopped for lunch and Nolan commented on just how nimble the Satyr was.
“Kids have games that test how fast you can get up the cliffs behind Stonemere. I was always the fastest. You have to jump from ledge to ledge. It definitely makes your legs stronger,” Pinnathir said as we ate.
We had learned during our travels that Pinnathir was a very cheerful, optimistic individual who did not bother hiding his feelings. He was so open about everything, and he was not afraid to share his opinion. He would gladly talk about his culture and his childhood, but he was also curious about everybody else’s cultures. He found it fascinating that Elves normally did not eat fish. He was horrified by the way Centaurs usually treated females. He was interested in the way Dwarves used crystals and gems. He was saddened by how Humans treated orphans. But most of all, he was obsessed with my past experience with Elementals.
He wanted more than anything to know about Elementals. He had seen only one in his lifetime and he had been captivated by the way it had cracked and shaken the earth. He described it for me and I told him it had been Landeer. A Landeer was a deer that created earthquakes. It left dust in its wake, running or not, and usually made the ground split to create stairs. Pinnathir’s desire for information on Elementals reminded me of my Ember, who I still had not seen in ages. I was beginning to doubt he was alive because I was sure he would find me if he was.
We finished lunch and packed up again. Just as we started out again, something happened. Nolan stepped on loose stones and slipped backwards. He knocked into me, sending me over a small ledge. I yelped as I fell several feet and slammed onto my back, knocking all the air out of me. As I struggled for air, Elthinor, Pinnathir, and a scraped up Nolan hurried down to me.
“I’m so sorry, Fily! I lost my footing!” Nolan said, his eyes wide.
“Are you alright?” Elthinor asked after I began breathing normally again.
“I think so,” I said. Then I tried to sit up. “Ow!” I gasped, falling back onto the ground, which made the pain sharper.
“Fily!” Pinnathir exclaimed.
“I think I hurt my back,” I said and they all helped me to my feet.
“Can you keep going up?” Nolan asked.
I stretched slowly, and the pain nearly overwhelmed me. “No,” I moaned.
“Maybe we should head back down,” Pinnathir said slowly.
“No!” I snapped. “We need that scroll. You three go on. I will get back down by myself.”
“But Fily,” Elthinor began.
“Go, Elthinor. I promise I will be okay.”
Though reluctant, the Elf knew I would not be swayed, so they turned and began hiking back up. I slowly made my way down, hurting with every step. It grew dark before I finally reached the bottom. I could see Gabrithon and Valtrak sitting across from each other, neither of them talking. I cleared my throat before I got near them. They both surged to their feet and drew their weapons.
“Who’s there?” Gabrithon demanded.
“Me, Gabrithon,” I said weakly.
“Filynora?” Valtrak questioned, his voice sounding strange.
“Yes,” I said, moving slowly into the firelight.
“Why are you not on the mountain?” Gabrithon asked as they relaxed.
“I fell and hurt my back,” I said tiredly.
“I do not know. Nobody checked.”
“Turn around,” Gabrithon said as he lowered himself to lie down.
I did so and he carefully lifted my shirt up to see my back. He hummed and gently pressed his hand onto the middle of my back. I hissed in pain and pulled away.
“It looks like it is just a bruised back,” Gabrithon said. “There are no cuts and no blood, so no worries there. You are going to be in pain for a little while, but with your healing rate, you should be fine in a week or so.”
“What happened?” Valtrak asked quietly.
I told them what had happened with Nolan and Gabrithon shook his head.
“I am so glad I am not going up there. I would be falling every few minutes with all those loose stones, and those are just the ones I see near the base.”
“It was a good climb, but not too rigorous. Until I fell, that is,” I said, stretching as far as I dared.
“You should get some sleep Filynora. Maybe that will help you to feel better,” Valtrak said.
I looked at him and could not help but smile. He was right. I was exhausted from the climb and from fighting the pain on the way down. I spread out my bedroll, moving gingerly so I would cause as little pain as possible. I bid my two friends good night and relaxed. I was just about asleep when I realized something. I had not had a dream from Jesiah in weeks…no, months. I could not help but wonder why, but before I could contemplate it, sleep welcomed me into its safe embrace.