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10.6 Dahlia

# 2447 12 - 16 mins. 9

Tigala got up and brushed herself off while I ran over to Zef. He was still unconscious by the tree where I had left him. I hoped he would be okay. I didn't want to leave him unattended while we went to look at what Lolan had found though, so I lifted him up and held him like a large baby, with my arms hooked under his legs and his head resting on my shoulder.

I joined the others who were inspecting whatever Lolan had found. As I approached, I could see a hole in the wall with a crack running down a smooth section of the stone behind the falls. Water still rained down on them as Raffa maneuvered to be in front of the cracked stone. He raised a bear-like claw in a fist and slammed it into the stone. It cracked more, and chunks crumbled inward from the top. Another slam and half of the rock surface came crumbling down. He gave it a kicked and removed enough that he and Tigala would be able to fit with only minimal ducking.

Lolan entered first and we followed, with me in the rear. Inside of stone was a cavern. It looked like it was either naturally formed or made with earth magic. But once we got inside and looked back at the doorway, it was very clear that it was made by people. Someone had made that hole and then covered it back up. The stone was too thin and uniform to be anything else.

The water that spattered on Zef's face as I carried him in caused him to stir. He groaned and rolled his head to one side. I set him against one of the cavern walls to save him the embarrassment of being carried like a baby by me. Although, with Zef, who knows what he might have thought of it. I squatted in front of him as the others continued. I knew too well what dangers might be in a cave and I wasn't about to leave Zef like this.

He was sluggish when he finally came back to his senses and instantly began coughing. It was a wet cough, which made sense. "Where are we?" he finally asked.

"Behind the waterfall," I said. I glanced over at the opening where water poured down beyond it. "Tigala got slammed into it and we found this."

"Hah, typical villain hideout," he said. He smirked at me. "Didn't these guys read any books?"

I laughed, though I didn't know what he meant. I didn't get in much reading on my own. I was too busy running from people. "Maybe they read too many," I said, assuming it happened a lot in books.

"True. Not a bad spot though," he said. And then he began looking around on the floor. I pulled his staff out from my bag and handed it to him. "Ah, you know me too well." He began spinning his hand around the top of the staff and a purple glow began to form.

"Can you help me up," he asked reaching out a hand. I grabbed it and pulled him to his feet. He was shaky but able to walk with the occasional break for more coughs. The others were waiting for us, a little further in the cave.

We caught up and Lolan looked down at Zef. "You going to be alright?" he asked.

"I'll be fine," said Zef. "I've been through worse."

Worse than getting drowned by animated water? I thought. Geez.

"So what do we have here?" asked Zef, pulling in front of the group to light the darkness. Beyond him and the purple glow of his staff was a dead end. But in front of the back wall of the cavern sat a large stone archway. Dust covered the etchings in it and cobwebs clung from the columns to the walls. It had been there for a long time.

"What is it?" I said to no one in particular.

"I don't know," said Zef. He stepped closer and pointed at the etchings. "It looks like something used with magic."

Lolan stepped ahead of us and looked down at the floor. "Shine the light down here," he said.

Zef moved his staff closer and Lolan said, "Someone's been here. Not today, but it had to have been in the past month or so. Look at these tracks." I looked down and sure enough, there were several muddy footprints leading up to the archway. But the tracks stopped before they reached the wall behind the opening.

"Maybe it's a portal," he said.

"Is that a thing?" I asked.

Zef shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe. It's written first of all, which is extremely dangerous, and from what I know only a few groups of Gnomes have mastered teleportation. And even with that, they only know how to teleport short distances. The thought of teleporting somewhere you can't see sounds terribly dangerous."

"Why?" Tigala asked.

"You could end up anywhere. You could land inside of a tree. What happens then? Do you just split in two?" said Zef.

I made a sound at that. That did sound dangerous. But people were always finding new ways to use their magic. Maybe this was just some long-forgotten form. Still, with recent tracks, that must mean that those people were able to use the thing. That was terrifying too.

"So the Gnomes were here then?" said Lolan.

Zef shook his head. "Not unless they were wearing oversized boots." He pointed down at a single track and put his own foot over it for comparison. The track was nearly twice the size of his foot.

"So what?" I started. "Are we saying that a tallfolk came in here and used unheard of teleportation magic to activate this never-before-seen portal and teleport across the island?"

Zef looked around at all of us and then nodded. "Yup. Nothing else makes sense."

"That doesn't make sense," I said. "How are people doing magic outside of their race."

"Maybe the lines aren't drawn as hard as we think," said Zef.

"No," said Tigala. "We're not playing with magic. There's a reason we don't try other kinds. You all know what happened the last time anyone tried that."

"We all know what that book says," said Zef. "What if it was wrong?"

"Why would it be wrong," said Tigala. "How would every race get it wrong at once? Maybe if only one or two races had a version of The Dangers of Magic it would be less reliable, but every known race has a copy of that book in their own style. How could it be wrong?"

Zef just shrugged. Tigala had always been passionate about this subject for some reason and I think Zef was starting to catch on to her passion. It was best not to push Tigala's buttons, especially after what had happened before the river attacked everyone.

"So, what do we do?" I asked. "I feel like we keep looking for answers and all we ever find are more questions."

"I can try and activate it," said Zef. I looked at Tigala and watched her expression turn to a scowl. That and the matted down fur really made her look pathetic.

"You don't know Teleportation magic though," I said.

"It can't hurt to try," said Zef.

"Yes, it can actually," said Tigala. She folded her arms.

Zef looked at us, checking for our approval, and although Tigala was once again unhappy about pushing the bounds of magic, she wasn't stopping him either. So he approached the archway.

Meanwhile, Raffa stood near the back of the group looking utterly lost. "You guys really think that people dabble with magics outside of their race?" he said. "The Beastfolk had death sentences for that kind of thing."

I turned to face him. "We've seen some pretty crazy stuff since we got to this island," I said. "We've seen mind-controlled Dwarves, a hydra with the same marks as those Dwarves, and now a—" I almost said dragon, but I still wasn't sure how much we could trust him to remain with us, even if the Beastfolk pretty much hated him at the moment. "—and now a teleporter that looks like it has been used. There's been more, but something is definitely going on with this island. And someone knows what that is. It's probably the people using this thing. So, yeah. It sounds impossible, but," I looked at the others, "we've all seen a lot of impossible since we got here."

Raffa gulped, glanced at the others, and then nodded.

Zef was now standing on the platform that held the stone archway. He took a deep breath and then swiped a hand through the threshold of the doorway. Nothing happened. He smiled over his shoulder at us, relieved. Zef rubbed his hands together and pushed them outward, parallel with the wall behind the gateway. The purple glow emanated from his hands as he focused. It radiated outward toward the archway. When it connected, I couldn't tell what was happening. The purple glow covered the stone slabs, but aside from that, it didn't seem like anything was happening.

We all waited in silence, watching Zef. He stood there, stark still with his hands outstretched. Then, after a moment, he blew out a breath and let his arms slump back to his sides.

"What happened?" asked Lolan.

"I can't do it," said Zef, turning to face us. He raised his hands in a shrug.

"You mean it's not what you thought it was or you can't affect it?" I asked.

"Oh, I'm pretty sure it is what we thought it was," said Zef. "It's hard to explain, but that thing feels like it wants magic. I guess it's like a magnet. It's looking for the right opposite magnet to connect to it. It feels like my magic, or magnet, so to speak, is close, but it still gets repelled because it's not quite right."

"Can you not be so confusing?" said Tigala. She stood with a hand on the wound at the back of her head looking grumpy.

"I think it wants teleportation magic. It's a magic close to my own, but not my own," said Zef.

"Couldn't you have just said that in the first place?" asked Tigala.

Zef stuck out his bottom lip and shrugged. He stepped down from the platform and joined the rest of the group.

"So another dead end," I said. It was frustrating. Every time we thought we found more evidence, it was only bread crumbs—pieces of a 1000 piece puzzle, but we only found one at a time. When was this all going to start making sense?

After a moment's pause, I saw Lolan stoop down and pick something up from the ground. He held it in his hand. "Hey, what's this?" he said.

I stepped closer to get a better look and found a black ring in his hand. Whatever it was, it was very Elven. On it was a depiction of a tornado, highlighted with light gray paint. Tiny yellow gems formed lightning flashing around it.

"It looks familiar," said Lolan, studying it as he turned it over in his hand. It also looked new, not old and dusty like everything else on this island.

This had to be from the Arcus, and it wasn't just another one of those 'Eye of the Storm' medallions either, meaning we might be able to tie it to an individual and figure out who was behind all of this mind-controlling magic.

"Where did you see it?" I asked. "This could be what we needed to figure out who is behind the missing people. This might be the clue that at least places the blame on someone."

"I don't know," said Lolan. He looked at me. "I can't remember."

"Nothing?" I said. I waited and he looked embarrassed. He shook his head.

"Well, it's not the end of the line," said Zef. "We have something in a place that the Elves have been. It could just be a coincidence, but I don't think it is. We can hold onto it and see if anyone else has seen it around the colony before."

I kicked the dirt. Sure, he could say that, but it was just another dead end. It probably was old and had been there long before this island appeared. Just more time wasted while we found worthless clues.

Lolan approached me. "I'm trying as hard as I can. I can't just make myself remember something." He was apologetic, but still trying to stand his ground.

I let out a breath. "I know. I'm not mad at you. It's just this situation." I looked down at the and kicked a rock, this time more lazily than out of anger. "I'm just tired of being beaten down. I'm tired of always being ten steps behind whatever is happening on this island. I just want this feud to end. I want us to find our people, and I want everyone else to stop holding their stupid grudges and ruining lives." I shrugged. "I'm just tired."

Lolan listened patiently. "Yeah, I know what you mean." He sighed. "I think Zef's right though. We're getting closer. We know where they brought that dragon at least. And maybe there is more behind that water creature that just attacked us. It's only been a couple of weeks since we got here, and we already found the Dwarves. I think we're moving pretty fast."

"Not fast enough," I said. "Every day that we don't find people, they're out there suffering, dying, or who knows what else. I just want to make some progress."

"Yeah," said Lolan.

I knew I was getting ahead of myself, and I was getting mad about something that I had little control over, but still, it was frustrating. It's how I felt, and I couldn't keep it in right then.

Raffa approached the two of us. His big furry body blocked out most of Zef's dim purple light. "I can ask around too," he said. "Most of the Beastfolk don't respect me like they used to, but they might be willing to help."

"Let's not announce our findings to the whole colony," said Tigala. She was still unsure of what to think of Raffa. "The more people that know, the more chance of those storm mages targeting us."

"I can be subtle. I don't plan on mentioning anything outright. I'll just see what people know."

"That would be great," said Zef. "But remember, it's our lives on the line."

Raffa nodded. "And I owe you my own."

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