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1.6 Germ

# 1794 9 - 12 mins.

I stared at him, studying his face, trying to determine if I was crazy or not. Here he was, a half-Human Elf living among the Elves all this time. No wonder he wore the hood. I bet they would exile him if they found out. They were a very proud race. And the Humans, they'd probably burn him at the stake.

A loud roar broke my train of thought and I looked back to the ogre, now with a full forearm on 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 made a whistle and Chipry finished his assault on the ogre's eyes to join us. I ran as fast as I could, which probably wasn't great for the boy who was probably suffering from bruised ribs, but it was better than the alternative.

Roars in the distance served like the cheers of a crowd to continue pushing me forward and away from the danger. We ran until I found another stream, far enough away that the screams of the ogre were faint and muted.

I set the boy down and leaned him against a tree. I pulled his hood back up and splashed some water on his face. He woke up with a groan.

He saw me in front of him and raised his eyebrows. He looked up, probably to check that his hood was still on, and then back at me.

"You saved me," he said, somewhat incredulous.

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

He looked over at Chipry on my shoulder and then back to me. He seemed to be studying 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 if you're here to help find the missing people, we need all the help we can get." Picking his words or not, it was a canned answer.

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

"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.

He continued. "And I know Rodrigo told us not to go out alone, so I thought I'd keep an eye out for you. Good thing I did too." Another distant roar echoed his words.

That seemed fair enough—a little creepy, but fair.

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

He shrugged one shoulder and tried not to smirk. "Okay."

He put his feet down on the ground and tried to push himself into a more comfortable position, but winced with pain as he did.

"Yeah, you're going to need some help. Who can I take you too?" I said, thinking through how that 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." I gave him an expectant look.

"No... I'm grateful for the help. I have no one to tattle to anyway." 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 get 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. Their too proud to fix a teenager who got himself hurt while helping a Treek." That seemed a little far-fetched. I'm sure he just didn't want to be found out.

"Okay. I think there may have been an apothecary in one of the buildings. 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.

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

"What race is he?" Lolan 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 really have other options."

"Okay. Let's go." I breathed a sigh and began to string one arm over my shoulder to serve as his crutch on the long walk back to camp.

"My name's Lolan," he said.

"Kaia," I said, and we began our walk.

His arm that I draped over my shoulders was so smooth compared to my own. There were no rough bark-like ridges, just soft flat 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.

I was grateful for his help. I'm not sure if I could have escaped that monster on my own, but I still couldn't be sure about him. My whole life, I had been 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.

When we reached the gate it was late afternoon. Other groups milled about, restocking on supplies, and 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. 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 between us 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 and Lolan nodded.

Rodrigo looked me in the eyes. "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 turned and walked with heavy feet back into the building he came from.

"Well, he has high hopes for this whole colony thing," I said it out loud in the way I talk to Chipry or myself. 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, outside his tent, cooking something over a fire.

"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?

Zef sat at a campfire that contained a metal ball, about the size of a grapefruit, sitting in the embers. It glowed slightly 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 wasn't hopeful he would help. The last time I had seen him I had refused to go scouting with him and now I brought him an Elf who was clearly out in the wilderness with me. On top of that, I was asking for his help. He did seem to be a pretty happy person though, so maybe that would be a point in our favor.

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

"There is a lot I can do, but I'm no healer. How was he hit?"

Lolan spoke. "It was a tree trunk. Hit me in the side pretty good. I think I blacked out but when I came too, 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."

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 just 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 with no one outside it. I stepped forward and said, "Hello?"

A familiar voice said, "Yeah?"

I didn't answer.

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

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

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