My eyes opened to a bright light in various shades of green. The leaves all around me filtered the light and created dancing shadows across my face. Chipry tweeted incessantly in my ear, the way birds tend to do in the morning. I groaned and rolled over.
From my treetop perch, I could see the tent city below. I had a good view of the Humans and a decent view of the more distant Elves. People were already clambering around, making breakfast, and gathering supplies and weapons. It was strange watching them from so far away—being so close to so many different races at once. It was dangerous, and they all seemed to know it too.
As they gathered and cooked, no one looked relaxed. An air of suspicion hung around their camps. They seemed to speak quietly to one another, leaning in to be heard, and the Humans on the border set their tents facing parallel to the Elven border so that they didn't have to look directly at them but still were able to keep an eye out for trouble. The Elves did the same.
So much distrust in one small place.
Chipry and I shared a meager breakfast together, and I packed my hammock into my backpack. I climbed down and Chipry perched himself on my shoulder once more.
"Let's go see what kind of trouble we can get into today," I said.
Chipry continued his song.
I pulled on my faint red Human-style jacket and put the hood up. I drank some more water from the well in the town square and walked around the back of the tavern where I thought I had seen a gate the night before. The gates were open, framing fields with several farmers bending down and trimming weeds beyond. I bet they wish they had Treeks now. I thought. But then again, they were probably too afraid of what we might do to the food. I'd better stay unnoticed.
I walked through and the watchmen up top didn't seem to mind. I continued through the farmland and into the trees that surrounded it, with nothing more than a glance coming my way from a tired worker of the land.
From there, I walked along the edge of the forest to where I could see the rear gate. A handful of search parties were heading out. Each of them was a small collection of the same race. Dwarves headed one way heavy laden with armor and tools that looked like overkill. Saurians went another direction with nothing but rags for clothes and weapons made of bone. I even got to see one Avian search party leave the gates. One of them flew up high to get a better lay of the land, and then came back down to guide the rest of the group on their path.
Could the others not fly? Were they conserving energy? Weird.
I set a mental note to watch them more closely if I ever got the chance and set out toward the location I had picked the previous night. I was pretty sure I'd be fine on my own, but I still kept a watchful eye out for the "powerful creatures" that Rodrigo had mentioned the night before.
It was a beautiful day to be out in the wilderness. The sun shined bright and the birds were chirping. Chipry now flew in the open air. I enjoyed watching him explore as we walked, stopping in the occasional tree or on the ground to grab some foraged food. I watched for other birds like himself, as well. Chipry should be with his own kind too.
The flat plain where the colony sat quickly turned to hills and then forest, green and bright. I walked admiring the woodlands all around me. It had been so long since I had been able to enjoy it. The closest thing to nature in Brighton was some potted plants and the farms on the outskirt of the city, but I didn't get out there much.
Now, we were in a new land. Chipry finally had a chance to explore the woods, and so did I. And if I could figure out what happened with all of the missing colonists of Daegal, I might even find others like me. There were reports that some Treeks had settled here before the disappearance. I thought of mother and father—the last time I'd seen them.
I pushed back the thought. No sense in getting my hopes up on such a far off idea. The original colonists could be dead for all I knew. If all of the different races of colonists were captured together, I wouldn't be surprised if they killed each other.
Annoyed at my train of thought, I turned my mind back to the search. I had to be pretty close to the location I had picked by now. I whistled a command to Chipry that I called "Find", and Chip darted off into the woods. He occasionally came back to make sure he knew where I was but gave no whistle of excitement. I continued walking keeping my eyes peeled for anything out of the ordinary.
After a few hours of walking, I still hadn't seen anything particularly interesting. There was a cool tree that twisted around another, creating a serpent-like coil of bark, but it held no missing people as far as I could tell.
I came to a stream running through the forest and stopped to take a drink. The water was unlike anything I could remember, so fresh and crisp, not like the stagnant well water of Brighton or even the colony. I drank more, gulping it down.
I looked down into a still part of the stream and saw my reflection for the first time since I'd left Brighton. The rough brownish skin of my face still had the pale paint clinging to the corners and where my thick dark hair met it. My hair was much longer than the last time I had a good look at myself. It came down to the small of my back in wavy locks.
I splashed some water on my face and then my arms. The paint came free.
I stood up and saw the Human clothes on me. A red buttoned jacket over black trousers. I remembered commenting to my parents on how ugly these things were the first time we had sneak past a group of Humans in disguise. These days I never went out without them. I had to make a lifestyle out of blending in.
My parents. I thought about them for a moment—so distant that I wasn't sure if I remembered their faces correctly. The Humans took them from me. I thought with anger boiling up inside me.
I tore off the red shirt and threw it on the ground, and then stepped out of the trousers. I was left wearing my traditional Treek clothing made of simple leather. The top covered my bust but left my stomach exposed—more rough brown-gray skin that resembled tree bark. A skirt covered from my hips to partway down my thighs.
I looked at myself in the water and was reminded once more of my mother, the way she looked the day she was taken from me. I guess I did remember their faces after all.
It was up to me to get them back.
I bent down shoving the Human clothes into my backpack. Everyone already knew who I was, but they still might be useful. Then I took a moment to grow a sunflower out of the river bank next to me. Once the flower had bloomed, I plucked it and used its stem along with a nearby twig to tie my hair up in a messy bun. I stood and looked at my reflection once more. That's how I remember her. I hope I do you proud.
I heard something above me in the trees. It was Chipry, tweeting with excitement. He jumped from branch to branching singing in the way he does to try and get my attention. I picked my bag back up and dashed after him.
I ran through the forest, pushing branches and bushes aside, as Chipry flew in a straight line. He found the spot he was looking for and then dove to the forest floor—out of sight.
I continued my run to where I saw him drop. When I reached it, I didn't see him anywhere. Then, with a couple of quick cheeps, he hopped out from beneath a bush onto my bare feet. He jumped up and snatched a berry off of the bush at my side and landed back in the top of my foot.
Of course. It's a blackberry patch. I thought. He loves these.
Although I was disappointed that all of the excitement was over some berries, I was getting pretty hungry. I kneeled down and began pulling berries from the bush and popping them in my mouth. I avoided the thorns by instinct, but they didn't hurt when I did bump one with the rough skin on my arms. The berries were delicious, with just the right amount of sweet and tart.
"Okay. Good find." I said, conceding.
Ahead of us was a cliff overlooking more of the forest. I stuffed my mouth full of berries and walked over to it. It was a massive forest. Tons of hills and other cliffs dotted the horizon, but one thing, in particular, caught my eye. In the distance, poking out behind some trees, I was pretty sure I saw a round, grey structure. It looked like it might have been a tower or something, but broken and crumbling as if it had been taken back by nature.
The problem was, Daegal, this new land that they say popped out of the ocean overnight, was supposed to be uninhabited.
A twig snapped behind me and I whirled around to find someone sneaking up on me. It was the Elven boy with the hood. He had his bow out and an arrow knocked, raising one finger to his mouth as he approached. Again, I thought of the day my parents were taken from me, ambushed in the forest, causing no harm to anyone.
A mysterious land full of powerful creatures and I have to look out for the other people.
I pulled my arms up in a beckoning motion and two large vines twisted out of the earth. I brought one arm back and swung it forward, commanding the vine after the Elven assassin, but before I could extend my arm fully I saw something out of the corner of my eye.
An ogre, standing twice my height and easily four times as thick bellowed as he stood from behind a nearby boulder. It was mostly hairless with canine teeth that were too big for its mouth and saliva dripping from them. It stood with a tree trunk above its head and slammed it down at me.
Chipry bolted and I dove, landing on my back with my hands touching the edge of the cliff. The club missed by more than I expected and I looked up to see an arrow sticking out of the creature's ribs. Blood began to run down his side.
I looked to the Elf. He had a look of panic on his face that I can only assume mirrored my own. He was readying another arrow. We made eye contact and then he looked back to the ogre.
Was he helping me? Why wouldn't he just run and let me die?
I saw Chipry breathing heavy in the treetops above and breathed a sigh of relief. Then I sucked it back in as the ogre raised his tree once more. I looked to the vines I had just created and found them smashed to a pulp. That could have been me. Having less to work with, I raised one arm creating a smaller vine behind the ogre. It reached up and snagged the tree trunk when he was fully extended in his wind up.
The vine wasn't terribly strong, but I hoped it was enough. The ogre tried to pull the trunk back over his head, and presumably on to mine, but the vine stopped it. It held out long enough to make the ogre lose his balance and then it snapped. He fell back into a sitting position, with the tree trunk behind him.
He roared with a ferocity that seemed to shake the ground and reached for me with one hand as he pushed himself to his feet with the other. With my back to the cliff, I had nowhere to go. His hand came close enough that I could see the swirls of fingerprints on his pale gray skin.
Thwwmmp. An arrow slammed into his arm before he could grab me and he reeled back in pain again. This time he turned to face the Elf. He tore a small tree from the ground and charged in the Elf's direction. Looking between the ogre's legs I saw glimpses of the Elf running away.
I tried to trip the ogre up again by pulling a root up in front of his foot, but the ogre only stumbled slightly, obliterating the root in his charge. He brought the trunk back to swing and I tried once more to throw him off balance again with a vine, but he swung from side to side this time. My small vine barely slowed him down. The tree trunk slammed into the Elf and he went flying across the forest. He fell in a heap at the base of a tree.
I had to think fast. Otherwise, this Elf, the first person to help me with anything, was going to be ogre food.
"Hey, over here!" I yelled. The oaf kept lumbering toward the limp Elf. I looked down at the blackberry bush that Chipry and I were previously feasting on. They covered themselves in thorns to protect the fruit within.
I looked back at the ogre and then the Elf and began building a cage of vines covered in large thorns. By the time the ogre came close to reaching the Elf, the archer was hidden inside a dense thicket of thorns. I covered the ground around him in smaller crawling thorned vines as well to keep the ogre out of reach.
The ogre tried to walk across it to the Elf, but the spines tore at his flesh. As small as they were, they still managed to slow the giant. He began tearing at them, groaning with each pull as they sliced at his hands. Then, a rock hit him right in the side of the head. He looked in the direction it came from, enraged, and found me, once more.
"Come get me! No thorns over here!" I yelled, and this time, he was angry enough to come after me.
He barrelled through the forest, and I stood in place on the edge of the cliff. Blood ran down the creature from arrow wounds and smaller cuts on his hands and feet. Each footfall seemed to make the earth shake, but in that moment, I was calm.
I waited until he was in arm's length of me and pulled tight a thick vine that I had made while he was fighting against the thorn bushes. It was about the thickness of my upper arm and wrapped around two trees on either side of the ogre's path. The ogre reached for me and I ran toward him as the vine went taught. He hit it with a foot and began to stumble. By the time the second foot caught up, he was already falling. I dodge his hands which were now trying to catch himself instead of me, and I dove between the monster's legs.
I laid on the forest floor panting as I looked up at the ogre sliding off the cliff. His body fell, but before he could plummet to his death, he managed to get a handhold on the cliff. He now hung with only a single bloody hand to pull him back up.
I whistled to Chipry, and he flew to the Ogre, chirping and attacking its face. I was pretty confident Chipry would be fine. He was a fast little guy, and that ogre was big but slow.
I pulled the remaining thorns back into the ground and ran to the Elf, bent against a tree.
What do I do? How do I know he's not going to attack me when he wakes up? I thought. I was pretty sure he was helping me earlier, but why?
I looked back and the Ogre now had a second hand on the cliff. It was trying to pull itself back up while swatting at Chipry.
I grabbed the Elf in my arms and his hood fell off, revealing what he must have been hiding. He had an Elven looking face, but his ears weren't as sharply pointed as any of the other Elves I had seen. With a clearer view of his face, I noticed his nose was wider and his face was more round than a typical Elf. In fact, I had spent a lot of time around people with similar facial features. He still looked Elven, but he also didn't. I thought for a moment.
My eyes went wide. He's half Human?