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12.5 Dracaena

# 2151 11 - 14 mins. 8

There was silence as I looked out at the collection of wounded warriors. They stared back at me. I wasn't sure what else to say. Was this not going to work after all? "Who's with me?" I asked.

More silence. Then I heard a voice. "The Dwarves are with you." I looked to find Dunnel raising his fist with me. "You found our people and you aren't afraid of any enemy."

Actually, I was afraid. I was terrified of that dragon, but i'd let them think that for now at least. I needed all of the help I could get. I nodded at Dunnel as the other Dwarves in view joined him in raising their fists.

I heard a crunch of earth and ash behind me followed by Rodrigo's voice. "I'm with you. You have looked out for this colony since you got here, and it was your actions that allowed us to turn the tide against the dragon. You have my support." He spoke loudly so that everyone else could hear him. He too raised a fist. Several other Humans exchanged looks. A few stepped forward and raised their fists as well.

The Avian that had been running across the dragon's back was next. She stepped forward with blackened feathers with slow precise steps. "I'm with you too. I have seen the monster we face. We are not strong enough to face it on our own." I wasn't sure what that could mean, but I was glad relieved to have a supporter among the Avians. Their magic could help a lot in figuring out who exactly we're up against.

"We're with you too," said Zef. He also spoke loudly and used his illusionary trumpet to broadcast his voice. "You brought us together. You had no people of your own and adopted this colony instead. You have our support."

A cheer erupted once again. It wasn't as full as the cheer that erputed from defeating the dragon, but it was still a good number of people joining in with raised hands. There were more than had spoken up.

I knew it was a good thing, and as much as I enjoyed people cheering for me, I couldn't help but think it wouldn't last. This was progress, to have people say they would work together, but it was a lot easier said than done. Anything could happen. Any little cultural difference could trigger dissension. It could bring this whole experiment back to where we started and give the Arcus another leg up against us.

"What do you know?" called a voice amidst the cheers. I knew it couldn't last. I looked and found a Saurian with red scales and a double ridge of spikes running down the back of his head and neck. Saurians were harder for me to read, but I was pretty certain this one was angry.

"Um," I said, not sure how to respond.

Zef cut in. "We know a good deal about the enemy, but there are still gaps."

I gathered my thoughts while he spoke. "We need to share information," I said. "We're not strong enough to face them blind. If we choose to trust each other, we might be able to stop whatever it is they are doing. I can tell you all what I know, but we all need to share any information we have."

Rodrigo picked up the thought. "Why don't we take time to tend to the wounded. We can meet in the town square at dusk and discuss our findings."

That was a good idea. There were sure to be countless injuries after that battle. I looked back at the Saurian. He still glared back at me but did not refute Rodrigo's suggestion.

"Take care of the injured," I said. "We'll do our part as well. I'm happy to talk once we know how much damage has been done."

There was a general consensus and the groups dispersed as they began picking through the rubble of what used to be our colony.

"This is going to be interesting," said Tigala.

"Yeah," I said. "It's all we've got though."

She nodded as she looked down over the pillars of smoke rising throughout the encampment below.

"We should help," I said.

"Let's got check the square," said Lolan. "I don't know if the races would like us picking around their camps."

We turned to head up the hill and I realized Rodrigo was still nearby talking to some of the other Humans that helped save me and the Dwarves.

"Why'd you do it?" I asked.

Rodrigo turned to face me with his eyebrows low.

"There was a time you wanted me dead," I continued. "Why save me now?"

He took a deep breath. "I was wrong," he said. That felt good to hear. Especially from him. I tried not to grin as he took a moment to gather his words. "I still don't understand why a Treek would try to help any of us, but you have earned my respect."

I looked him in the face and saw the look of remorse. His eyes were sad and framed by the ash that was smeared across his face. "Thanks," I said, and I reached out a hand. He looked down at it and gave it a firm shake.

We headed up the hill and began picking through the remains of buildings. It was the first time I got the chance to see the full extent of the damage to the colony. This was not going to be easy, taking down an enemy with this kind of power. What if there were more dragons? What if they had other tricks up their sleeves?

The buildings were blackened skeletons of what they once were. The rain still poured around us dousing the flames and adding to the gloom of the dark day. We spread out to various buildings looking for the injured. I approached what used to be the butcher's shop. It was hardly recognizable with no semblance of meat left in its shell. Splintered wood hung inward over a sunken basement and I began growing a thick vine to lower me down. More vines pushed broken timbers out of my way as I searched the wreckage and found nothing but ash.

"Over here!" I heard Lolan yell. It didn't look like anyone was in the remains of the butcher's shop so I climbed back out and headed a few buildings down toward the sound of Lolan's voice. As I looked into the pit of charred logs I found Lolan standing over Raffa. I plank of wood had pierced through the Beastfolk's upper arm and he laid their unconscious, or possibly worse.

Tigala had arrived at about the same time and we both found our way into the pit to help Lolan free the big bear as gently as possible. Tigala draped a limp arm over her shoulders and I used more vines to take some of Raffa's weight while keeping the other logs off of him. Lolan counted down, and he and Tigala pulled in unison, sliding Raffa's arm free. Tigala held most of the weight as they walked across the uneven planks to get Raffa back onto solid ground where they laid him down.

"What do we do?" I asked.

"We could bring him to that hippo Beastfolk from the jail cells," said Lolan. "She can heal him."

"Her name's Nadira," said Tigala with a frown. She probably wasn't fond of the idea given who might be in that group. Nonetheless, we had to do something.

Tigala threw Raffa over her shoulders and began to walk to the hill. Lolan and I followed.

Down at the base of the hill, among the Beastfolk huts was a group of them. It looked like the hippo Beastfolk was among them already working on healing someone. Just in front of her, I spotted the gray fur of Lobo.

"Ugh, this is going to be fun," I said.

"Yeah," said Tigala. She began walking down the hill.

We approached the group and Lobo noticed us right away. He stepped forward to cut us off.

"What do you think you're doing?" he said.

"Raffa has been hurt," said Tigala. "He needs Nadira's help."

"What do I care," said Lobo. "He's a traitor, just like you are. He's as good as dead to me."

"Cool. Thanks for the help," said Tigala in a flat tone. She began to walk past Lobo to Nadira.

"Get out of our camp you rat," said Lobo. He seethed with anger. Torm must have heard the commotion as he walked over to backup the angry wolf. Torm was already bigger than normal, but I saw the swirl of orange magic as he began increasing in size.

"Leave her alone," I said. "We're trying to help a Beastfolk. One of your own."

"Go ahead. Help him like you helped that Beastfolk in the trees," said Lobo. "But you're not coming into our camping and using our healer because you're not with us." Other Beastfolk were beginning to gather around as well now. I looked around for Sungura and remembered when she was burnt to dust by that dragon. It seemed that the Beastfolk were all following Lobo's orders now.

That's just great, I thought.

"Lobo, let me help him," said Nadira, who clued into the confrontation.

Lobo shot her a look and she didn't say another word.

Lobo stepped forward and spoke in a low voice as he glared into my eyes. "You're lucky there are so many people watching right now or I'd kill you right here."

"You want to say that again," said Tigala, raising her voice.

"You heard me," said Lobo with a menacing grin.

Tigala growled and took a step forward with Raffa still on her shoulder. I jumped in front of her with my hands up. "Stop!"

She listened luckily because being pinned between three Beastfolk didn't sound like a fun time, especially after the exhaustion of the fight against the dragon.

Tigala stared holes through Lobo's skull as she breathed heavily in front of me. "We'll get him help somewhere else," I said. "The last thing we need is more fighting."

Lobo snickered. "Cowards," he said.

"Let it go," I said to Tigala.

She stared at him for a moment longer and then turned away. Lobo sneered at us as we left.

"He's going to be a problem sooner or later," said Tigala as we walked. "You should have let me take him while we have the upper hand."

"We can't afford to fight him, especially not in front of everyone. We're trying to get the races to cooperate. Starting a fight would just undo all of the work we've done."

"So what, we're just going to let him sneak up on us when we're not ready for him?" asked Tigala.

"Yeah, I guess," I said.

"That gives him the advantage."

"Yeah," I said thinking about what that meant.

"Doing the right thing isn't always easy," said Lolan.

"Right," I said.

As we walked away, I saw a line of people filing out of the Dwarven tunnels. Many of them were Dwarves but there were some other races mixed in. One of them stuck out to me, the apothecary. She walked out, stooping low to clear the low passage with hair frizzier than normal. She had wide eyes like she had never seen so much destruction in her life. If that was true, she was one of the lucky ones. Regardless, Raffa needed her help.

"The apothecary is over there," I said pointing Tigala to the Dwarven tunnel opening. "Maybe she can help."

We changed course and headed for her. I waved her down, and the fear didn't leave her face as she spotted me. She did manage a slight smile though as a greeting.

"He's hurt," I said gesturing toward Raffa. "Is there anything you can do?"

"Uh," she said looking around. She made the noise idly as if she wasn't even really thinking about my question. After a moment, she responded. "I don't think so. I escaped my workshop just in time to not be a bonfire. All of my supplies are gone."

"What kind of supplies?" I asked. "What do you need to help him?"

She looked around at the burnt landscape. "I'd need plants," she said. "Medicinal herbs to make salves. I'd need olives, and sunflowers. Maybe goldenrod for the wound. But everything has been burnt to the ground." She still hardly looked my direction, instead choosing to hopelessly scan the colony.

A group of Humans brought a man whose leg was completely gone. The man was unconscious and the leg ended in a charred stump. "Help, we need your help!" screamed a frantic woman who was helping carry the man.

"Oh," said the apothecary. "I don't—"

"I'll provide the plants," I said. "You do the rest."

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