The massive tiger dove toward me in the middle of the town square as groups of various other races watched. Not one stepped in to protect me, an unarmed teen, from the Beastfolk warrior. I dodged around the far side of the well, trying to keep the small structure between the tiger and me. Chipry startled and flew to the air.
With another lunge, the tiger closed the distance. It raised a meaty claw and swiped sideways. It connected, slicing my arm and launching me several feet from the well. She stepped forward, putting the well behind her.
"Nowhere to hide," she said, still purring as she spoke.
Before she began another charge I was already back to my feet and moving my arms in an upward motion. A faint green glow formed in front of her on the ground. She broke into a run with her eyes locked on me, and I used the vine now growing near her feet to snag one of her front legs and throw her off course. She stumbled and fell, skidding to a halt.
I gave the vine and then the Beastfolk a curious look. Tripping her was easier than expected. I thought a tiger would be more nimble, even if it was just a Beastfolk disguised as one. The tiger rose back to her feet and I realized she was standing strange. One front paw hung limp and she refused to put any weight on it. Strange.
She saw me looking and snarled. She picked herself back up and looked angrier than before, but I was already preparing for her next charge.
I pulled back my arms, draining the life from the vine I had used to trip her, and pushed it into a wider area in front of her. The ground between me and the tiger glowed faintly. Small vine-like plants pushed their way out of the packed earth. I added a few blooming flowers to make my intentions less obvious.
The tiger didn't wait for me to finish and began its off-balance charge over the bed of vines. With the first step, I saw her face twist in pain. She jumped back, looking at her paws and then at the vines and discovered the thorns that covered the flowering plants.
"Never fought a Treek before. Huh?" I said. I couldn't resist. I was proud of myself for holding off a jungle cat by poking it with plants.
She roared in response. She charged on a clear part of the stamped dirt and all of my guile was replaced with fear. I wouldn't stand a chance if she pinned me down. I tried to grow more thorns, but I couldn't do it fast enough to keep up with her run.
I drained the energy from the thorns and raised a wall of vines directly in front of me instead. They were thin due to the lack of time and fertile soil, but at least it was something.
I braced for impact.
I stumbled back as my eyes tried to adjust to the blinding light. Through the tangle of the vine shield I had crafted was a wall of fire. It danced and crackled. I could feel the heat licking the moisture from my plants.
I looked around for the Human at the source of the fire and found a man with a long red coat, gray hair tied into a ponytail, and a scowl on his scarred face.
"Enough!" he shouted. He looked from one side of the wall to me. His eyebrows raised a fraction when we made eye contact.
He continued, "You don't have to like each other, but there will be no fighting in this colony!" His voice was stern and commanding like he was used to giving orders.
He looked at me as he said, "And yes, even the Treeks are allowed here, so long as they are here to help."
He let the words hang in the air for a moment, looking between the two of us. I looked through the flames and saw the tiger still staring me down.
"Are we in agreement?" the man asked. His words were more of a statement than a question.
I looked toward him and nodded slowly. A moment later the wall of fire dissipated, revealing the bobcat Beastfolk raising herself up from all fours. As she did, I spotted the source of her bad footing. Her left arm ended in a stump, where her hand should be. It was wrapped in bandages that had fresh blood showing through them. She hid the wounded arm in her pocket once more, looked at me, and huffed, turning back to the crowds.
The man walked closer and spoke in a hushed tone. "What's your name?" the man asked.
"Kaia," I said. The entire square watched our interaction.
"Well, Kaia. Let's do our best to stay out of trouble." Our eyes met and he gave me a stiff expressionless nod. He turned and headed back to a small group of various races watching the confrontation.
I tried to head back into the cover of the crowd, but as I walked it parted around me. People of all different races stared silently and backed away. Their conversations hushed and their expressions soured with worry—or fear. Who knows?
I walked out of the square into an alley and scanned the rooftops for Chipry. I let out a whistle and he flew into view, danced around me for a moment, and then perched on my shoulder.
"Just like old times. Huh, Chip?" I said. I looked down at the blood beginning to soak into the sleeve of my Human-style shirt. It stung, but it didn't seem too deep.
People went back to their conversations as I left their sight. In the distance, I saw the man who halted the attacking jungle cat was climbing onto the front steps of what looked to be a tavern. With him was a blue Saurian carrying a book, a Gnome woman with red hair in a tight bun, a balding Dwarf, and a white feathered Avian.
The Avian stood tall and still. When his head did move, it was in quick bursts. His whole body was covered in feathers and a yellow hooked beak protruded from his face. I watched with intrigue as the group followed the man.
The town square was filling with people, and I was having a hard time seeing the group of mixed races from where I stood. I backed down the alley until I found a part of the house suitable for climbing. I grew a stiff vine to give me a boost and made my way onto the roof of the house, giving me a bird's eye view of the square.
My hood was down allowing my wavy brown hair to blow in the breeze. I looked down at my hands and saw the flaking paint and began to rub my hands together, letting the dust from it drift away in the slight breeze. I began rubbing it off of my face as well. It seemed so trivial now that the cat-beast revealed me in front of the whole colony.
The man who stopped the fight earlier turned to face the crowd and gave a nod to the Gnome that accompanied him.
Why would they be working together?
The Gnome raised a finger to his mouth like he was shushing someone and began muttering words. A hushing noise ran throughout the crowd and people stopped their conversations, looking towards the Human on the steps.
"Hello, everyone. My name is Rodrigo and I'd like to welcome you to Daegal," the Human said. His face remained expressionless as he spoke. Maybe he was as concerned as everyone else that this was all going to fall apart with a moment's notice.
"I was appointed to facilitate this colony and I have some rules to go over before you get fully settled in," Rodrigo continued.
"Hey, who says you get to be in charge?" yelled a faceless voice in the crowd. A couple of other voices served as punctuation to the question.
"I am in charge because I was deemed to be the most capable of doing it by the Humans." Another voice started yelling complaints, but Rodrigo cut him off. "And I am not acting on my own. These folk here are among the council that will govern this settlement. They will ensure proper representation of all races is provided. I am just the one that got stuck with speaking to you today."
I watched the crowd anticipating more retorts, but they seemed to accept Rodrigo's answer. They stayed relatively quiet.
"Now, I know this is not an ideal situation. We are enemies. Everyone's people have fought and killed everyone else's people, but there is a greater threat here than each other.
"We all sent our people to Daegal to explore or colonize this land and they disappeared without a trace. This colony exists to find our people and prevent it from happening again."
I watched the crowd as he talked. Everyone stayed in their respective racial clumps. Although, I did spot some outliers at the far end. Close to the Elves, but not part of there group was a younger boy, maybe about my age, who wore a storm-gray hooded cloak. He kept the hood up and stayed near the edge of the square.
Rodrigo continued, "In accordance with the peace treaty, we will not attack or provoke each other to violence until this issue is settled. This colony is to remain a sanctuary from the wars, even after we find the missing people.
"If you cause trouble in this colony, if you attack other races or commit acts of war, you are no longer welcome among these walls. Either choose to tolerate each other or leave."
I spotted another person that did not seem to have a group. A Gnome with white hair and a white pointed beard pushed forward in the crowd to get a better view of Rodrigo. He was the only Gnome that I could see that was not with the others.
"You are also expected to help. Use what you have to make this colony continue to operate. For some, this may mean farming, hunting, or some other craft, but for the vast majority of you, being military folk, you'll be searching for the missing people or clues of their whereabouts.
"Now, we have found this land to be dangerous. Not only did it swallow up a hundred or so people without any sign of struggle, but we also have reports of powerful creatures inhabiting this land, some of which have never been seen anywhere else. Because of this, it is imperative that you go out in groups and only in daylight. Two people at the very least, but more than that is recommended. Not only does this protect you, but it should hopefully prevent you from doing something that will get you kicked out of the colony."
As I looked around the crowd for more outliers something among the Beastfolk caught my eye. The same bobcat-like Beastfolk that had attacked me was not watching Rodrigo as he gave his speech. Instead, she was talking to the wolvish one. She seemed angry, wearing a similar expression to when she had attacked me. The wolf-like Beastfolk said something and ended the conversation. My attacker faced Rodrigo with eyebrows knit.
The sun sank low in the distance and the square was beginning to reflect the reddish-pink of the sunset. I could see over the walls from up there and out to the land beyond it. It was a beautiful place. Untamed nature lacking the pockmarks and scars of war. Beyond the colony was a forest, with mountains rising behind it.
I looked back into the town square as Rodrigo neared the end of his speech. "If you are not already part of a search party, and you lack the skills to help in other ways, I suggest you find a group now.
"We begin our search in the morning."