The tiger dove toward me as groups of other races watched. Not one stepped in to protect me, an unarmed teen, from the Beastfolk warrior. I took cover on the far side of the well, trying to keep the small structure between me and the tiger. As I dodged Chipry startled, taking off and flying high into the air.
With another lunge forward, the tiger closed the distance by jumping onto the well's brick and mortar. She raised a meaty claw and swiped sideways. It connected, slicing my arm and launching me several feet away. She stepped down, putting the well behind her.
"Nowhere to hide," she said, my blood dripping from her claws.
Before she began another charge I came back to my feet and moved my arms in an upward motion. A faint green glow radiated on the ground ahead of her. She broke into a run with her eyes locked on me, and when she came near I forced vines to rise upward. The vines caught her, snagging her front leg and throwing her off course. She stumbled and skidded to a halt.
I gave 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. She rose back to her feet. I realized she was standing strange. One of her front paws hung limp and she refused to put any weight on it. Strange, I thought. My vines couldn't have done that.
She caught me looking and snarled. She picked herself back up, looking even angrier than before, but I was already prepared 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. 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 Beastfolk didn't wait for me to finish and began her charge over the bed of vines. With the first step, I saw her face twist in pain. She jumped back. She looked at her paws, then at the vines, and discovered thorns hidden beneath flowers.
"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. The Beastfolk charged over a clear part of the stamped dirt, dodging the thorns. All my guile was replaced by fear. I wouldn't stand a chance if she pinned me down. I tried to grow more thorns along her path, 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. The shield of vines I made was set ablaze. The fire danced and crackled, slowly burning my vines to ash. Through my magic, I could feel the heat draining the life from my plants.
I looked around for the source of the fire and found a man with a long red coat standing away from us. His gray hair was tied into a ponytail, and he wore a harsh scowl on his scarred face.
"Enough!" he shouted. He looked from one side of the wall over to the Beastfolk warrior, and then back to me. His eyebrows raised when we made eye contact.
"You don't have to like each other," he said. "But there will be no fighting in this colony!" His voice was stern and commanding, used to giving orders. He spoke as loud as possible as he reined in the spectators watching us.
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 at 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 have been. It was wrapped in bandages that were stained with blood. She hid the wounded arm in her pocket once more, glared at me, and turned back to the crowd in a huff.
The man walked over to me 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 every race stared silently and backed away. Their conversations hushed and their expressions soured with worry—or fear. Who knows? I thought.
I walked out of the square into a nearby alley. I 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 soaked into the sleeve of my Human-style shirt. The wound stung as I touched it, but it wasn't 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 climbing onto the front steps of what looked to be a tavern. With him was a blue Saurian carrying a book, a male Gnome with black hair and a mustache, a balding Dwarf, and a white feathered Avian.
The Avian stood tall and still. When his head moved, it was in quick bursts, like Chipry. Feathers covered the Avian's entire body. In place of a mouth was a yellow hooked beak, protruding from his face. I watched with intrigue as the Avian, and the group it was with, followed the man.
People filled the town square, 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 house suitable for climbing. I grew a stiff vine to give me a boost and made my way onto the rooftop, giving me a bird's eye view of the square.
I put my hood down, allowing my wavy brown hair to blow in the breeze. I looked down at my hands and saw the flaking paint. I rubbed my hands together, letting the dust drift away. I rubbed it off of my face as well. It was trivial now that the cat-beast revealed my identity 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? I thought.
The Gnome raised a finger to his mouth like he was shushing someone and began muttering words. A hushing noise swept through the crowd, and conversations ceased. The crowd stared toward the Human on the steps.
"Hello, everyone. My name is Rodrigo, and I'd like to welcome you all 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 in a moment's notice.
"I was appointed to facilitate this colony and I have some rules to go over before you all get settled in," Rodrigo continued.
"Who says you get to be in charge?" yelled a faceless voice in the crowd. A couple of other voices served to echo the statement.
"I am in charge because I was deemed to be the most capable of doing it by the Humans," said Rodrigo. Another voice started heckling, 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 every race is properly represented. 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.
"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 and colonize this land. But they have all disappeared without a trace. This colony exists to find our people and prevent this from happening again."
I turned to the crowd as he talked. Everyone stayed in their respective racial clumps. I did spot some outliers at the far end, however. Close to the Elves, but not part of their group, was a younger boy, about my age, who wore a storm-gray hooded Elven 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 will be 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 tantamount to 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 through 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," Rodrigo said. "Use what you have to make this colony continue to operate. For some, this may mean farming, hunting, or some other craft. For the vast majority of you, being military folk, you'll be searching for our 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 in a party at the very least, but we recommend more than that. 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 someone 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 a wolfish companion. She seemed angry, wearing a similar expression to when she had attacked me. The wolf-like Beastfolk said something I couldn't make out. My attacker faced Rodrigo with her eyebrows knit.
The sun sank low in the distance and the square was beginning to reflect the reddish-pink of the sunset. From the rooftop, I could see over the walls of the colony and out to the land beyond it. It was a beautiful place, Daegal. Untamed nature, lacking the pockmarks and scars of war. Beyond the colony was a forest, with mountains far in the distance.
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."