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1.7 Germ

# 2044 10 - 14 mins.

The bobcat-faced Beastfolk saw my face and stomped out from under the canvas, like a lion defending its kill. She had a fresh bandage on her left arm and some kind of salve on the wound across her face.

She stared silently at Lolan and me—her chest rising and falling heavily.

I looked behind us and realized that Zef had disappeared. This must be why they call the Gnomes tricksters.

I looked at the Beastfolk, still ready to attack at a moment's notice. "Um, this is Lolan. He's hurt. Is there anything you can do?"

"Why would I help you... or an Elf?" she said, growling the words through clenched teeth.

"Yeah. That's kind of what I expected." I said.

Anger began to boil up in me knowing that Zef had set us up. He's probably laughing at his campfire right now. At least he's probably alone and has no one to share in the humor at our expense.

I thought on that for a moment and remembered the orb in the coals of his fire. Zef didn't go exploring today and based on this Beastfolk's current state, and the other empty lean-tos nearby, neither did she. She had fresh bandages. Could she be resting to let her wounds heal?

She didn't seem like the type to just sit back and rest, plus Rodrigo basically told us we need to contribute if we want to stay here. She must not have a search party to work with either.

I looked to Lolan who still hung from my shoulder and then back to the Beastfolk. "We'll let you join our search party if you take a look at him." I was afraid of the words I spoke, but it was rare that someone actually defended me. I needed to help. And it would probably implode on its own pretty quickly anyway.

"I'd rather rot here than work with a Treek and an Elf," she said.

Zef stepped around the corner and joined the conversation. Her bobcat-like face visibly tensed as he appeared. "And a Gnome too? This offer keeps getting worse," she said.

"You're looking for people that went missing here. The other Beastfolk told you to not to come to Daegal, but you did anyway. They don't want your help. So...you need us."

She growled. "How do you know that?"

"I wasn't too far away from you at Rodrigo's speech."

Of course. That must have been when she was talking to the wolf Beastfolk.

"Be careful where you stick those ears, goblin. We Beastfolk are likely to eat them."

I was pretty sure that was a threat, but it came off more weird than intimidating. Although, he must have been right. She took a deep breath, staring at us, and seemed to lose some of the tension she previously had.

"I don't know how to heal anyway. You're asking the wrong person."

"But you know transformation magic, right? Couldn't you at least use that to see if any major damage was done to him?" I said.

She glared at me and stepped forward. My heart skipped a beat imagining what she could do to me while I was this vulnerable, with another body holding me down. Even without transforming, she was tall—easily over six feet.

Her clawed hand covered in blonde speckled fur grabbed Lolan's bare wrist. She concentrated and an orange glow formed on his arm. It stretched up, into his shirt, and the Beastfolk spoke.

"You've got one broken rib, the rest are just bruised. You'll be fine," she said.

"We leave at dawn," I said. Was I really doing this? Making deals with my enemies? Working with other races?

She looked over my shoulder and then turned back to her hut. "I don't want to join your ragtag clan," she said. "Go away before people start getting nervous."

Zef led the way back to his tent. I noticed the Beastfolk search party, lead by Wolf-man, starting down the hill as we left the hut. When we reached Zef's tent, the metal orb still glowed among the embers of his fire.

"I knew you'd come around," Zef said, smiling as always.

"You tricked me. I had no other choice in that situation." I said. The eruption startled him.

"No. I warned you that you wouldn't like it. You need help anyway. The two of you barely made it back today, and he'll be even less help tomorrow." he said, pointing to Lolan. The Elf didn't disagree.

I glared at him, but before I could speak, Lolan said, "I'll be part of your search party." looking at Zef. He concluded the statement with a cough, causing him to hold his side and wince in pain.

I looked at Lolan, then Zef. "I'll do it, but don't try anything like that again. Keeps your games to yourself."

Zef looked a bit ashamed, despite being 50-some-odd years older than me. "Sure. No more tricks," he said.

I looked at Lolan. "Where do you need to go?" I asked.

"Back to my tent is fine. I think I can walk, just slowly," he said.

The two of us walked over to his tent at the edge of the Elf and Human camps. He took shallow breaths as we walked, but he did manage to walk despite a twist of pain in his face at every motion. He sat down outside his tent and began to start a fire.

"Need any help?" I asked. He had me grab a bag and then began cooking rice over the fire.

He looked up at me. I was still standing in his camp and unsure of what to do with myself. "Thanks," he said. "For saving me from that Ogre. How did you lose it?"

"Oh, um, it came after me once it hit you with that tree. It tripped and almost slid off the cliff. ...Thanks for distracting him for me."

"Sure. Are you just assuming it was a he?" He said. He seemed genuinely curious.

"Oh no. I had to go through that thing's legs to dodge it. I'm positive."

Lolan chuckled and then groaned with pain, holding his ribs. It was weird. I was having a conversation with an Elf like we were old pals—err, half-Human Elf, I guess.

As far as he knew, I still thought he was a full-blooded Elf. He still wore his hood and looked Elven. He had all the Elven garb on, but underneath it, he hid the rounded features of the Humans. Kind of like my makeup from only a day before.

Realizing I had been lost in my thoughts, I said "Well, uh, I'm gonna go. You're coming tomorrow?"

"Yeah, I'll be there. I might be slow, but I can always help at range if we run into another ogre. I've got a whole other set of ribs that he didn't get the first time." He said, cracking a smile.

What was even more bizarre about this was that an Elven-ish person was having a conversation with me—talking to me like I was a normal person—not focusing at all on the fact that I was a Treek. I didn't know what to make of it.

"Okay, well get some rest," I said and began walking back up the hill. With all of the commotion of the day, I hardly noticed that the sun was starting to set.

I found my way to the tavern to claim our search area once more. This time, people didn't stop what they were doing upon seeing me, but conversations still did hush some. I guess they were starting to get used to having a Treek around. Yeah, right.

I approached the map and found additions made to it. One Elf with flowing blonde hair was drawing the beginning of a mountain range, but the map had a few other additions as well. A new forest here, a river there. There weren't any particularly interesting findings that I could see—not yet at least.

I looked at my spot and the green pawn had since been removed. I waited for the Elf to finish and then drew on the rolling forest and cliff that I had explored. I left out the tower that I had seen in the distance. I didn't want someone else to beat me to it.

I dug through the box of pawns again, having trouble finding the green one amidst all of the other colors and came upon another one that I hadn't seen before. I pulled an unpainted pawn out of the mix of colors. It was still the natural dark brown of the wood it was made of. Hmm, brown. All of the colors mixed, I thought, and placed the brown pawn on the map near the cliff that I had drawn. It looked out of place among the other colors, but I guess that made sense.

From there, I headed back to my tree with the sun almost fully set. I had my own rations, grew some berries for Chipry and me to share, and then climbed back into my hammock.

🌱

The next morning I woke up and headed to the back gate to meet the others. Zef was already there waiting. He had a small backpack on and looked like a child waiting to go play in the first snowfall of the year. I met him and didn't fail to notice some stares from nearby groups.

"Good morning." he said, holding onto the 'good' for too long.

I looked over the Gnome for the first time really. I mean, I had seen him before, but I never considered actually going into the wild with him. He was old. He had white untamed hair and a long white beard to match. His face sagged with age and his legs and arms were knobby. He brought with him a cane this morning too. It was a small weathered stick with a knot at the top for a handhold.

"Hi," I said. "Are you going to be okay out there?"

He looked back at me with a smile. "I can hold my own."

Not only was he old, but Gnomes arguably were supposed to have the weakest form of magic: Illusion. I wasn't sure I believed him, but I wasn't terribly invested in this whole thing anyway.

Chipry was singing his morning song as he sat on my shoulder. It was loud in my ear. I turned to look at him and saw Lolan climbing the hill from the camps.

Lolan had a bow in hand, and a quiver now hung from his belt instead of his back. He walked at a slow pace with deliberate steps. It was going to be a long walk.

He reached the group and the stares became more noticeable. Most of the groups had at least one person staring or whispering to another.

"Feeling any better?" I said to Lolan as he approached. He shrugged in response, a smirk showing on his face.

We turned to leave approaching the gates and a Saurian joined us as we walked. I looked over, terrified of what I assumed was an incoming attack, but they just kept walking. I saw a scar across its red scaled face and found a missing hand on the same side as the bobcat-faced Beastfolk. She doesn't want the other Beastfolk to see, I thought. Makes sense.

I had made this deal to repay Lolan for helping with the ogre, but I still wasn't sure I could trust him or Zef. And they had never attacked me in broad daylight because of my race. I was going to have to be extremely careful.

Now, everyone stared. We walked past a group of Saurians and they hissed at the one accompanying us. Whispers turned to blatant conversations of disgust.

We got through the back gate and Lolan spoke up when he could muster the breath. "Why is there a giant Saurian with us?" He said sounding concerned.

"It's me, you dimwit." said the shapeshifted Beastfolk.

"Oh!" Lolan said. I couldn't help but crack a smile at the exchange.

"So, where are we heading?" Zef said.

I looked in the direction of the cliff. "I know a place."

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