My eyes opened to a bright light piercing through 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 he tended 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 Human and the more distant Elven encampments. People were already clambering around, making breakfast, gathering supplies and weapons. It was strange watching them from so far away while also being so close to so many different races at once. It was dangerous, and they all knew it too.
Though they gathered and cooked in relative peace, 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. The Humans on the border set their tents facing parallel to the Elven border so they didn't have to look at their neighbors. However, they were still able to keep an eye out for trouble. The Elves did the same. The tension between the two camps was obvious, even from my vantage point. So much distrust in one small place.
Chipry and I shared a meager breakfast together: the remnants of my loaf of bread from the night before. When we were done, I packed my hammock into my backpack as I stood on top of the branches. 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 more water from the well in the town square and then walked around the back of the tavern where I had seen a gate the night before. The gates were open, framing fields with 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 away.
I walked past the gate. The watchmen up top didn't seem to mind, having only given me a passing glare. I continued through the farmland and to the trees that surrounded it. Only a tired look from a worker tilling the land acknowledged my existence.
From there, I walked along the edge of the forest to where I could see the rear gate of the colony. Search parties were heading out. Each of the races banded together without overlap. Dwarves headed one way, laden in heavy armor and tools. It looked like overkill. Saurians went another direction with nothing but rags for their clothes and weapons made of bone. Far behind, one Avian search party left the gates on foot. 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? I thought. Were they conserving energy? Weird.
I made a mental note to watch them more closely if I ever got the chance. I went 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.
It was a beautiful day to be out in the wilderness. The sun shone bright, and the birds were chirping in the treetops. Chipry hopped off my shoulder and flew into the open air. I enjoyed watching him explore as I walked, stopping at the occasional tree or bush to forage for food. I watched for other birds like Chipry. He should be with his own kind too.
The flat plain where the colony sat transformed into hills and forests as I traveled. I walked, admiring the woodlands all around me. It had been so long since I had been able to enjoy nature. The closest thing to nature in Brighton were potted plants and the farms on the outskirts 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. If I could figure out what happened to all of the missing colonists of Daegal, I might even find others like me. There were reports that Treeks had settled here before the disappearance. I thought of Mother and Father, and 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 the different races of colonists were captured together, I wouldn't be surprised if they had all killed each other by now.
Annoyed, I shook my head, hoping to clear my thoughts. The search was more important. I had to be 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. I poked it. No missing people there, I thought.
I came to a small stream running through the forest. I stopped to take a drink. The water was unlike anything I could remember. It was so fresh and crisp, not like the stagnant well water of Brighton or even the colony. I drank more, gulping it down.
As I drank, I saw my reflection in the reverberating water. It was the first time I had seen myself since I had left Brighton. The rough brownish skin of my face still had the pale paint clinging to the corners and the edges of my thick dark hair. 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 water on my face and then on my arms. The paint came free.
I stood up, thinking of 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 to sneak past a group of Humans in disguise. These days I never went out without those ugly clothes. 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—revealing more of my rough brown-gray skin that resembled tree bark. A skirt covered my hips to partway down my thighs.
I stared into the water and was reminded of my mother once more. I thought of the way she looked the day they took her 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 could be useful. I took a moment to grow a sunflower out of the riverbank 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. The resulting bun was messy. 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 branch singing, his method of getting my attention. I picked my bag up and dashed after him.
I ran through the forest, pushing branches and bushes aside as Chipry flew ahead of me. He found the spot he was looking for and then dove to the forest floor—out of sight.
I continued running 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 on the top of my foot.
Of course. It's a blackberry patch. I thought. He loves these.
Although I was disappointed that all the excitement was over berries, I was getting pretty hungry. I kneeled down and began pulling berries from the bush, flicking them into 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. Just the right amount of sweet and tart.
"Okay. Good find," I conceded.
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. Rolling hills and cliff edges dotted the horizon, but one thing, in particular, caught my eye. In the distance, poking out of the treeline, I saw a round grey structure. It looked like it might have been a tower, 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. Someone was sneaking up on me. It was the Elven boy with the hood. His bow was out with an arrow nocked, pointed directly at me. He raised 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 and beckoned the earth, causing two large vines to twist their way out of the soil. I brought one arm back and began to swing it forward, commanding the vine toward the Elven assassin. Before I could extend my arm, a series of snapping twigs and rustling leaves alerted me to something much bigger just beyond the berry patch.
An ogre bellowed as he climbed to his feet from behind a nearby boulder. His body was mostly hairless and he stood like a mountain before us. His canine teeth were too big for his mouth and saliva dripped below them. He leveled a large tree trunk above his head, and with one harsh stroke he slammed it down at me.
I dove, landing on my back with my hands touching the edge of the cliff. Chipry bolted. The club missed by more than I expected. I looked up to see an arrow sticking out of the ogre's ribs. Blood ran down his side.
I looked at the Elf. He had a panic on his face that I can only assume mirrored my own. He readied another arrow. We made eye contact. And then he turned back to the ogre.
Was he helping me? I thought. Why wouldn't he just run and let me die?
I saw Chipry breathing heavily in the treetops above. I 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 created and found them smashed to a pulp. That could have been me, I thought. Having less to work with, I raised one arm creating a smaller vine behind the ogre. It reached up and snagged the tree trunk in the middle of his windup.
The vine wasn't strong, but I hoped it was enough. The ogre tried to pull the trunk back over his head, and presumably onto mine, but the vine stopped it. It held out long enough to make the ogre lose his balance, and then the vine broke away. The ogre fell back into a sitting position, with the tree trunk behind him.
He roared with a ferocity that shook the ground. He 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 fingers.
Thwwmmp. An arrow pierced his arm before he could grab me and he reeled back in pain. He turned to face the Elf. The ogre tore a small tree from the ground and charged in the Elf's direction. I saw glimpses of the Elf running away between the ogre's thick legs.
I tried to trip the ogre up again by forcing roots to rise in front of his footfalls, but the ogre only stumbled, obliterating the roots in his charge. He brought the trunk back to swing. I tried once more to throw him off balance 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. Smaller thorned vines crawled outward, covering the ground to keep the ogre out of reach.
The ogre tried to walk across the blanket of vines to the Elf, but the spines tore at his bare flesh. As small as they were, they still managed to slow the giant. He began ripping at them, groaning with each pull as they sliced at his hands. Then, a small 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 listen.
He barrelled through the clearing as I stood in place at the edge of the cliff. Blood now covered the creature, each arrow wound and tear in his flesh sent streams of blood flowing down his arms, torso, and legs. Each footfall made the earth shake, but in that moment, I was calm.
I waited until he was within arm's length. I pulled tight on 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 caught his feet. He began to stumble. By the time the vines ripped away from the trees, the giant was already falling. I dodged his grasping hands before he could catch me, and I slipped down to slide through the monster's legs.
I laid on the forest floor, panting as I watched the ogre slide off the cliff. His body fell, but before he could plummet to his death, he managed to get a handhold on the cliff's edge. He hung with only a single bloody hand to keep him from falling.
I whistled to Chipry. He flew to the Ogre, then began chirping and attacking his face. Chipry would be fine. He was a fast little guy, and the ogre was already struggling enough to maintain his grip.
I pulled the remaining thorns back into the ground and ran to the Elf, who still laid 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 toward the cliffside. The Ogre now had a second hand on the cliff. It was trying to pull itself back up, failing to swat Chipry outright.
I grabbed the Elf in my arms, causing his hood to fall off, revealing what he must have been hiding. He had an Elven looking face, but his ears weren't as 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?