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1.6 Germ

# 1831 9 - 12 mins. 7

I stared hard, studying his face, to determine if I was crazy or not. Here he was, a half-Human half-Elf hybrid living among the Elves all this time. No wonder he wore the hood. The Elves would exile him if they found out. If I knew anything about the Elves, it's that they were a proud race. And the Humans, they'd probably burn him at the stake.

A loud roar broke my concentration. I looked back to the ogre, who was now reaching his forearm over the top of the cliff. I didn't have time to think about this Elf, I mean Human. What do I even call him?

I grabbed the boy and slung him over my shoulder and began running through the forest toward the colony. I whistled, calling Chipry back to my shoulder. He finished his assault on the ogre's eyes to join us. I ran as fast as I could, which wasn't great for the boy's injuries, but it was better than leaving him behind.

Roars in the distance felt like cheers of a crowd, encouraging me to push forward. I ran until I found another stream of water, far enough away that the screams of the ogre were faint and masked by the trees.

When I felt I was safe, I sat the boy down against the nearest tree. I pulled his hood back up and splashed water on his face. He groaned, coming back to consciousness.

His eyebrows raised as he first saw me. His hand rose up to pat his hood, making sure it was still there. He watched me.

"You saved me," he said, surprised.

"You saved me first," I responded. "Why?"

His eyes darted over to Chipry, then back to me. He studied my face like he had never seen a Treek before. He probably hadn't.

"You were in trouble..." he paused as if he were picking his words, "...and alone. I guess I know the feeling."

What does that mean? I thought. Even if he's half-Human, he's still not a Treek.

"Why were you out here alone?" I asked. I was being blunt, but I needed to be. I didn't know this boy, and I didn't know if I could trust him enough to get him back to the colony.

"I... I was hunting." He said.

"Hunting all the way out here, in the location I picked to search?"

He looked down and sighed. "I was hunting. I really was. But I was doing that back near the colony. I'm not military, and I wanted to contribute somehow... I saw you pass by and I had never seen a Treek before. I was a little curious, so I followed you." He shrugged his shoulders and glanced at me with his head still lowered.

"And I know Rodrigo told us not to go out alone," he continued. "So I thought I'd keep an eye out. Good thing I did, too."

Far away, another distant roar echoed his words. The ogre sounded as if he was getting back on his feet.

As for the boy, his excuse seemed fair enough. A little creepy, but fair.

"I would have been fine," I said, maintaining my rough composure.

He shrugged once more, trying to hide his smirk. "Okay," he said. He tried to readjust himself but the movement caused him to wince. The boy placed his hand to his chest, checking for bruises.

"Yeah, you're going to need some help. Who can I take you to?" I said, thinking through how that situation would look once we got there. Before he could answer, I continued: "You're not going to blame this on me right? I could leave you right here for the ogre to find, but I'm choosing to help you."

"No... I'm grateful for the help. I have no one to tattle to anyway." the boy said. He thought for a moment. "Do you know of any healers or apothecaries?"

"I'm sure the Elven military would have at least one field medic," I said, trying to determine how his rounded ears affected his alliances.

He nearly cut me off. "No. I can't go to the Elves. They...um...they wouldn't treat me. They're too proud to fix a teenager who got himself hurt while helping a Treek."

That seems a little far-fetched, I thought. I'm sure he just didn't want to be found out.

"Okay. There may be an apothecary in one of the buildings in the town square. How about there?"

"No, not there either. She's a Human and Humans hate Elves most of all."

Well, I don't know about that, I thought.

"So what do you want me to do?" I said. "I've only met one person that claimed they weren't going to try and kill me. The last time I saw him, I basically said I wanted nothing to do with him."

"What race is he?" the boy asked.

"Gnome."

"Take me to him."

"Seriously? I talked to him for about a minute yesterday. That's all I know of him."

"I don't have other options."

I sighed. "Okay. Let's go." I began to string one of his arms over my shoulder, serving as his crutch on the long march back to camp.

"My name's Lolan," he said.

"Kaia," I said, as we began our walk home.

I felt his arm rub against my shoulder. His skin was so smooth compared to mine. There were no rough bark-like ridges, just soft porous skin. It seemed even softer than the Humans I had run into, though I generally made a point of not getting that close to them.

We walked in silence most of the way back. He limped along trying to not seem too damaged, but that ogre swung hard. I wouldn't be surprised if he had at least a couple of cracked ribs.

Either way, I was grateful for his help. I wasn't sure if I could have escaped the ogre on my own, but I still couldn't be sure about Lolan. I had spent my whole life running. My parents taught me not to trust the other races. Yet there I was, living in a colony with all the known races as a result of some poorly thought out, and definitely temporary, peace treaty. And as of this moment, I was protecting a mixed-race boy from harm as well.

When we reached the gate of the colony the sun was just beginning to set. Other groups milled about, restocking on supplies, and some heading back to their tents. None of them were Elves, though I wondered how that would have gone. We hobbled inside the rear gate and into the town square, stopping to get some water from the well. I saw a door open up and Rodrigo stepped out looking somewhere between concerned and angry.

"What is going on here?" He said, marching toward us.

I was about to speak, but Lolan beat me to it. "It's not her fault. I was attacked by an ogre. She saved me." he said, still leaning heavily on my shoulders.

"Is this true?" Rodrigo asked, looking at me.

"Y-yes, sir," I said.

Rodrigo looked on, unsure of what to make of us. "Very well. Where are you bringing him?"

"We have a medic. I'm bringing him there now."

Rodrigo looked to Lolan for confirmation. He nodded.

Rodrigo turned to me, leering. "I'm watching you," he said. "Races don't cooperate. It doesn't work. When you find yourselves at each other's throats, neither of you will be welcome here again." I couldn't help but agree.

He walked away with heavy feet, back into the building he came from.

"Well, he has high hopes for this whole colony thing," I said out loud, in the way I talked to Chipry. Lolan's slight chuckle surprised me. I wasn't used to having other people around. It was kind of nice.

We finished quenching our thirst and walked over to the hill overlooking the tents. I scanned through the grouping of colorful tents that I knew as the Gnome's section and spotted Zef sitting by a campfire. He was cooking something.

"That's him." I pointed, and we stumbled down the hill to his tent.

A look of happy surprise swept across his face when he saw me. It then turned to confusion when he saw the wounded Lolan.

"So, uh, to what do I owe the pleasure?" he asked.

Why is he always so happy? I thought.

Zef sat at a campfire that contained a metal ball, about the size of a grapefruit, sitting in the embers. It glowed orange near its base but faded to a typical gray near the top. Around him were several colored cloth bags. I wondered what all of that might be for. Some kind of enchantment maybe? I thought.

I wasn't hopeful he would help. The last time I had seen him I had refused to go scouting with him. Now I brought him an Elf who was clearly out in the wilderness with me. On top of that, I was the one asking for help. He did seem to be a pretty cheerful person though, so maybe that would be a point in our favor.

"He was hurt," I began. "He got tossed around pretty bad by an ogre. Is there anything you can do?"

"There is a lot I can do, but I am not a healer," Zef confessed. "How was he hit?"

Lolan spoke before me. "It was a tree trunk. Hit me in the side pretty good. I blacked out, and when I woke up my chest hurt really bad."

"Broken ribs maybe. Can't those puncture organs if they're left untreated?" I added.

"Hmm, I think so," Zef said. "Why don't you bring him to the Elves or the apothecary in the town square?"

I looked at Lolan, and he looked at me. "He has his reasons."

Zef seemed unphased. He looked from one of us to the other, then raised one wiry white eyebrow. "I have an idea, though I'm not sure you'll like it. Follow me."

I thought about his words. Here I was, the only one that every race unanimously hated in a camp full of other races. I could think of a dozen plans off the top of my head that I might not like. Actually, I wasn't sure if it was even possible to find options I did like. But Lolan got hurt protecting me. I couldn't walk away at this point.

"Sure. Lead the way." I said, fearful of whatever sentence he could give me.

We shambled through the paths of the tent city until we came to the backside of a lean-to, where no one was outside. I stepped forward. "...Hello?" I said.

"Yeah?" a familiar voice said.

I didn't answer.

A moment later, a bobcat-like face poked out from under the canvas, sour with anger as she set her eyes on me.

Zef was right. I didn't like this idea.

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