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12.6 Dracaena

# 2857 14 - 19 mins. 10

"He should be stable now," said the apothecary.

"Are you sure? We can't wake him up? There's nothing else we can do?" I asked. I didn't want to just leave him like that. Raffa was still unconscious with his upper arm now wrapped in the cleanest cloth we could find.

The apothecary shook her head. "We should let him rest. His body will do the work. And besides, I need to work on the others as well. I'll keep an eye on him though." She motioned at the other wounded that had been brought to the open area outside of the Dwarven tunnel entrance. Cavel was among them, diagnosing and treating patients.

I sighed and then nodded. I began looking around for other places to search—ways that I could help.

Zef tapped me on the shoulder and pointed at the sky. It was hard to see through the smoke and the clouds, but beyond the storm, the sun was setting over the ocean. Right, time to talk, I thought.

"Let's go," I said. "Do you think there is any chance this works? Or do you think they'll all just divide again as soon as they have more information?"

"Heh, no idea," said Zef. "Let's hope some of them help. I think you have won some of them over for sure. You've shown that you're not their enemy and I think some will cling to that. There are too many enemies in this world."

"Yeah," I said as we climbed the hill.

We reached the top of the hill and already some people were beginning to gather around. They all stood in their separate groups. It was a lot like the first time I had entered that town square, except there were a lot less of us this time, and the buildings were all dark fragments of their original shape. The faces were beaten down and tired. They looked at me approaching with a small sense of hope. Now it was my job to grow that hope and show them that there is a way forward.

I looked around for a good place to stand and had trouble finding anything appropriate. The lodge was wrecked, the tavern had folded in on itself. The other buildings were in a similar state. Zef seemed to be doing the same.

I decided on the lodge, the place where the representatives once gathered. I walked up to it and climbed one of the sideways charred beams while grabbing another upright beam for balance. Then I looked out at the weary crowd.

I could see Rodrigo was in the crowd and began to walk away from the other Humans toward me. He would be a good one to have nearby since he was previously in a leadership position here. The Dwarves looked up at me, as did the remaining Gnomes. The Avians feathers were all ruffled and the soot stood out particularly well against the Saurian's bright scales.

They all looked back at me with a mixture of emotions. Some had lines where tears had run down their cheeks. Some looked tired. Some looked relieved, and some were angry. At me or the situation, I wasn't sure.

"I'm sorry," I said. Not the best way to start the conversation, but it was all I could muster. This was a terrible thing that happened. One more terrible thing in the long list of atrocities committed throughout our history. And regardless of how much of it was actually in my control, I felt like there was more I could have done.

"What do you know," said one of the Saurians. It was the same red-scaled one from before. He stared back at me, uncaring of my state of mind. It caught me off guard.

"I know a good bit," I said. I measured out my words. "I—Before I start though, we need to cooperate. I know we already said it and I'm not going to hold anything back right now. I'm going to tell you all I know, but I am trusting you to use that knowledge wisely. We need each other to get through this." I looked out at the crowd trying to gauge their reactions.

"Just tell us what you know," said the Saurian. "We all deserve to know."

I took a deep breath as I tried to figure out where to start. As I did, my eyes fell on Lobo who stood with a posse of Beastfolk among the crowd. I couldn't imagine he would use this information to help us. Still, the others needed to know.

"First, there is something much bigger going on here than what we originally thought. There is a group that is behind the missing people. I'm fairly positive about this at least. When we saved the Dwarves, we did actually see their captors." I tried to think of a way to say it that wouldn't potentially cause a big reaction. "They were Gnomes."

There was a gasp as the colonists all looked at the small group of Gnomes in the crowd. Some whispered to each other while others grumbled audibly.

"But we can't blame the Gnomes," I said trying to cut off the hatred before it could take root. I peaked at Zef and he gave me a nod. I saw Tigala and Lolan approach and join him as well after searching more of the wreckage. "We don't actually think they were Gnomes. There were three of them and we got in a fight with one in particular that had some strange reactions when he was hurt. It seemed that he was behind an illusion to make himself look like a Gnome."

"Only Gnomes know illusion magic though," said an Avian.

"That's a good point," I said. "We're also pretty certain that whoever we are up against knows several types of magic," I said.

There were gasps among the crowd again. People looked at each other with wide eyes as side conversations broke out.

"They could kill us all!" yelled an Elf.

"Yeah, they could. Whatever they're doing, its dangerous, and they're not playing by the rules that the rest of us are. They have used magic to brainwash people and to brainwash that dragon that just attacked. That's what the pink glow was on its temples was. It's the same thing that we saw on some of the Dwarves when we first brought them back to the colony. We also think we saw them again using storm magic. And we believe they might have used earth magic to hide one of their teleporters."

"This is nonsense," said Lobo, speaking over me. "Are we really going to believe this garbage? She obviously has an agenda and is trying to scare us into following along."

I knew he wouldn't be helpful, I thought.

"It's true," said a voice. I couldn't see who it was until they climbed onto the well. Marv faced the crowd and said, "We've seen first hand some of what she's talking about. There were Gnomes, but they knew more than just your typical illusion magic. Even the Dwarves who have recovered from regular brainwashing can't remember any illusions that caused them to act the way they did. Whatever those Gnomes, or people, were doing, it was messing with people's minds in a way that we have never heard possible with illusion magic."

"I can vouch for her as well," said Rodrigo, who stood nearby. "They knew about the dragon before it attacked. They have good intel. I wasn't sure if I should believe it at first but everything they have learned has turned out to be true."

"She knew about the dragon and didn't warn us?" yelled Lobo, picking any fight he could. "So this is all her fault then."

Anger rose in the crowd as people looked to me for an explanation. "I'm sorry," I said. "I didn't know who I could trust." People began to boo. My voice was barely audible over the anger of the crowd. "Do you blame me?"

"We didn't know what their plans were with it," said Rodrigo, speaking over the crowd. "And we didn't think they would actually send it to attack the colony. Kaia and her group discovered it recently and we were trying to determine how to use the information."

"Plus, none of you would listen," said another voice in the crowd. I looked and found the gleam of gold armor. "My companions and I discovered the creature first. We tried to defeat it, but alas, it was stronger than us. When we tried to tell people about it, Kaia and her group were the only people that listened." Geralt spoke like the noblest of knights, though somehow I doubted that it went exactly as he said. Still, it was good to have the support.

"Right," I said. "Like all of you, we have been afraid to share information for fear of how that information might be used. I'm trying to make that right by telling you what I know now."

There was no rebuttal from Lobo this time and the tension seemed to ease a bit. Still, it was a thin line I was trying to walk here. It would be so easy for this all to fall back into racial hatred once again. I had to keep them on target.

"When we saw them again, the people that we believe captured the Dwarves, it was an Elf that used some kind of magic to control the dragon's mind. He also used storm magic to reach it and fight it." People began to eye the Elves now. "I'm wondering if that too was a ploy though. The Elves that I thought might know something just helped us fight off the same dragon." I looked at Tallesia who stood with Luvon, Leena, and Galia among the other Elves. "Maybe you can share what you know next."

Tallesia didn't seem to like being called out. She swallowed and her eyes darted around as the crowd looked back at her in anticipation.

"Fine," she said with pointed eyebrows. "There is a group of Elves known as the Arcus. They are specialized, our most powerful warriors. I will not go into detail about the group because it is not relevant here. What you need to know is that Kaia over there says she saw them on Daegal. She thought the Arcus was behind mind-controlling that dragon, but I can assure you that is not possible. I have a direct connection to the group and know that they are not where she claims to have seen them."

That was good. She could honestly just be saying whatever she wanted us to think, but it was better to have too much information than too little.

"How do we know you're telling the truth?" asked a Human. I looked and saw it was Simone, the new Human representative.

"You don't," said Tallesia. Her words were short and sharp. "But that is what I can tell you. I have no hard proof, just what I have heard. And I am not someone who would be out of the know on this."

"Thank you, Tallesia," I said. "And just so you know, it was her group that started the storm that helped us during and after the fight."

Tallesia squinted at me as if trying to discern my motivations. I wasn't sure I trusted her, but I couldn't dismiss the fact that they just helped us fight off a creature that I had previously thought was on their side.

"Does anyone else have any information?" I asked. "We need to work together if we're going to survive long enough to find our people. I don't think we could live through another attack like this."

"I do," said someone in the back of the crowd. I looked and found a brown feathered arm sticking up above the crowd. It was the Avian with the white eyes. She took a careful step forward and spoke up. "I've seen inside the island." She spoke slowly and deliberately, just like she walked. "There is something down there. Something big. Something enormous."

"What do you mean you saw inside the island?" asked a Beastfolk that had the features of an antelope.

A dark brown Avian stepped forward and tried to grab her shoulder, "Kricoo, leave it alone. This is not your place."

She stepped to the side, dodging his hand without looking. "It's never my place, Skaith. I have never had a place. Not until now."

"Stop talking," said Skaith, trying to grab her again. Kricoo ducked under his arms and the larger brown bird stumbled past her again.

There was a flash of purple and the three more Kricoos appeared between the brown Avian and the real Kricoo. I found a group of three Gnomes creating the illusions nearby as one of them spoke up. "If she has information we all deserve to hear it."

Skaith struck at one of the illusions and it dissipated, but two more appeared behind it.

Two Saurians stepped forward and stood tall in front of Skaith. "Let her speak," one of them hissed.

Skaith seemed to get the hint and stopped fighting. "She's probably making it up anyway. She barely knows how to use her magic."

One of the Saurians stepped forward and Skaith only stared back at the lizard. The other Saurian looked at Kricoo and said, "Continue."

"He's right. I wasn't very good at magic. I'm still learning. But what happened showed me how it all works. It took away my vision and replaced it with magic."

She could have fooled me that she was bad at her magic.

"My group, we found a magical spring or something in the heart of the jungle," said Kricoo. "There was some sort of temple. At the center were magical veins. They were white—sight magic. So we went in and followed them to the center of the temple where we found two rotting corpses. One was an Avian, and the other was a Saurian." She paused and twisted her head in the direction of the Saurians behind her that currently held back Skaith.

"I couldn't do much to help, so I tried tapping into the energy in the magical veins. I saw a vision. I'm still processing what I saw. There was water all around. Then the faded away and the corpses in the room came back to life. They did something to create those veins. It was like everything was in reverse, like I was watching the past undone.

"At the very end of the vision, my sight sank below the ground. It sank deeper and deeper and I was in complete darkness. And then, I saw something pulse."

"What did it look like?" asked one of the nearby Gnomes.

"It must have been the size of a house," she said. "It glowed with different colors when it pulsed. I can't be sure, but I think I was looking at a heart. I think there is something monstrous living inside this island."

"You cannot be serious," shouted Lobo.

"Shut it," said Tallesia. People of other races stepped toward the wolf-man and he didn't say any more.

"Do you know what it could have been? The creature?" I asked.

Kricoo shook her head. "No. All I saw was its heartbeat. But if that was a creature, if it's still down there, it would have to be bigger than a mountain at least."

As if this island wasn't already scary enough. Strange monsters, mass abductions, and now a mountain-sized creature sleeping underneath the island's surface? Was that why the Arcus, or whoever it was, came here in the first place? Was that why the island showed up overnight? I had so many more questions than answers.

The crowd stirred, probably discussing the same things I was thinking.

"We can't fight something like that," said someone in the crowd.

"We should leave now," said another.

"It's just more lies to scare us," said someone else.

No, I couldn't let it end like this. We were almost there. We needed to cooperate. We needed each other.

"Stop," I yelled.

The crowd fell silent and looked my direction.

"I don't know how true that is," I said. "But fleeing only makes this worse. Whatever they are doing on or with this island, it is bad. They abducted our people. They sent a dragon after us. They enslaved the Dwarves, and who knows what they have done to the other races. If we run, we give them what they want.

"If we want to stop this from getting any worse, we need to stop them here and now," I said.

The crowd was silent as they watched me. No one dared to say a word. No one except Lobo, that is.

"Then what do you suggest we do?" He said it with the sarcasm layered on thick. He probably expected me not to have an answer.

"I saw where the dragon and its master went the last time I ran into it," I said. "We go there, to the valley where they're hiding."

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