All of the different races began conversing, planning the best ways forward, and discussing the earthquake we had all just endured. I turned back to the Gnome house, grabbed my bag, and headed back into the road as the crowd began to separate and go their separate ways. But there was one person that wasn't walking away from us. They were walking toward us, and bumping into people as they came. At first, all I could see were the angry Beastfolk she had bumped into. Then, I was able to make out the oversized face of a barn owl—Kricoo's head.
The white glow in her eyes seemed brighter, showing her focus on where she was going and not the path to get there. The Beastfolk were starting to clear out of the way, but I saw anger growing on Lobo's face as she passed. He said something to Torm and the two began walking toward her. I ran forward and grabbed her feathered arm, leading her out of the crowd before Lobo and Torm could catch up.
"I don't think we can do this," said Kricoo.
"What?" I asked. "Hang on." I continued leading her further away from the Beastfolk and back to our group.
"I think it's going to get bad," said Kricoo, speaking before we were all the way back.
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"Splitting the groups up like this isn't going to work out well," she said. "I think there's going to be problems."
"Why?" I said. "I didn't think everyone would cooperate, but do you know something? Is something going to happen?"
"I just," she said, pausing. "I tried focusing on our search parties, and it looks like something is going to go wrong between the groups."
"It's not danger from where we're going?" I asked. I still couldn't get a grasp on how her magic worked. She seemed to have very fine control sometimes and broad understandings other times. I was hoping this was the former, but it wasn't sounding like it.
"Maybe," she said. "I didn't see much, but I did get the sense that there was danger within our groups. I don't think we can split up the way we're going to without something very bad happening."
"Okay," I said. That was problematic given that I had just told everyone to head out. I looked at my group. "Any ideas?" The Dwarves were now beginning to approach us along with the Elves.
Tigala said, "It's probably Lobo. He's itching for a fight."
"Who is that?" Kricoo asked.
Tigala pointed at the wolf Beastfolk behind her, despite Kricoo not being able to see. "He's the wolf Beastfolk behind you. The one that keeps speaking out whenever Kaia tries talking to everyone."
Kricoo tilted her head down and then looked back up. "I don't think so. He's not the root of the problem, at least. The conflict is more nuanced than just a single person though. I can't pinpoint anyone in particular."
"Do you think some of them are lying about supporting this?" asked Lolan. "Maybe they just can't get past the cultural divides. We can work with anybody because we've been doing it since we got here. We're all outcasts, so it's not hard to look past differences in others. They haven't had that. It's easy to group up with people who look and think like you."
"Yeah. That's true," I said. "I didn't expect it to be easy, but I was hoping we would at least be able to check out the place without anyone attacking anyone else."
"Maybe we need to help them work together," said Zef.
"How do we do that?" I said.
Zef looked around at us as if he was distraught. "We split up."
"No," said Tigala. "This is too dangerous already."
"Yeah, I thought you wanted us to be more careful," I said.
"I did," said Zef. "I do. But if this is going to blow up because we didn't do everything we could to make it work, then we're all in bigger trouble anyway. Right?" He looked up at me with a face like he was saying goodbye to his own child.
"That's just what Lobo wants," said Tigala.
"But, we'll have someone with them," said Zef. "And all of the Avians will be with them too. They're all out of sorts, they're being vulnerable by working together, and it's amazing that we even got them this far. But if we want this to work, we should show some vulnerability too rather than staying in our own group along with the Dwarves who we already trust."
I had to agree. It did sound like a good plan. Risky for us, but good for everyone else.
"You really think that will work?" asked Lolan.
"I don't see another option," said Zef.
"It does look like it will be better now than it was going to be," said Kricoo.
"I'm in," I said.
"Fine," said Tigala. "I'm going with the Beastfolk to keep an eye on Lobo though."
"I can go with the Humans and Elves," said Zef. "I think if I went with the Gnomes it might cause more problems."
"I'll take the Saurians and Gnomes then," I said. I looked over at the lizard faces of the Saurians and took a deep breath.
"Can I go with Zef?" asked Lolan. He leaned forward speaking a little softer. "Maybe I can learn something while I'm out there."
"Yeah," I said. "That sounds like a good idea." I looked at Tigala and Zef. Both of them looked back like they had more to say. They probably wanted him to go with me just to make sure we were both alright. We were the two least experienced in a war-like situation, but I'd rather him have the chance to learn.
"We'll split up too," said someone behind me. It was Dunnel, at the head of the Dwarves.
"Great," I said. "The more mixing we have, the better." At least I thought so.
"What are you doing here?" asked a Saurian with green scales. He walked through the dense jungle that was below towering stone wyvern mountains.
"I came to join you," I said. "We decided it was better if my group split up to go with each of the scouting parties."
"We don't need a mediator," said the Saurian.
"I'm not here as your mediator," I said. "I'm here to help, and to show that we believe in this. We want this to work, and we think splitting up will help make it work."
"Ignore him," said a Gnome that butted in. He was dressed in fancier clothes with a curled mustache and goatee. "You're welcome to join us."
"Thanks," I said. The Saurian behind him looked at me with frustration, but he didn't push the situation any further. Instead, the green Saurian picked up his pace to rejoin the tail end of the group where the Saurians marched next to the Gnomes in silence.
"I'm Porthos," said the Gnome. "And I, for one, am happy you're here."
"Thanks," I said. "I'm glad to see that someone is happy to have me."
"Of course," said Porthos. "So you'll be exploring the North side with us? You and your friends?"
"Yeah," I said. I looked back at the Dwarves that had come with me. Dunnel was joined by Cairn and another Dwarf I hadn't met before. He went by Hartol and was pretty hard to talk to. "How's it going so far?" I asked Porthos.
"Well, we agreed on one thing at least. We all decided it was best if we didn't talk to one another," said Porthos.
"Yeah, I see," I said. "That was a unanimous decision?"
"Kind of. We just ended up doing it. Gnomes and Saurians don't historically get along well."
That was disturbing to hear. Sure, we could probably do this mission by walking next to each other. We could probably survive just by going there together. It was basically what Tigala had done with us when we first met her. She only traveled with us by necessity. The difference was that we all saw each other's struggles. We all were aware of why we were together and that made it easier for us to see past the differences. At least that's the conclusion I had come to.
If there was no communication whatsoever, who knows what would have happened? She might have just left us in that cave to get eaten by giant spiders. We might have done the same for her. The thought was jarring. I couldn't imagine not having her by my side now.
"What do you think about that?" I asked. I thought I'd ask before I showed my own thoughts.
"I think it's a recipe for disaster," said Porthos. "It's terrifying not having any talking. My people thrive on social interaction. All of this quiet just makes me feel like they have plans to eat us or something."
"We don't eat vermin," said the green Saurian. He glared at Porthos over his shoulder.
"See what I mean?" said Porthos. He wore a grin on his face as he raised a hand point to the angry Saurian.
Yeah, I guess this looks normal, I thought. Still, I had gotten lucky when I first went searching with Zef, Lolan, and Tigala. It worked when there was one of each of us, but I wasn't sure that putting groups of different races together was a good thing. I wasn't positive that they would be able to see each other as people if they were still with their own kind.
"Well, I guess the best we can do is hope that they need us as much as we need them," I said trying to sound positive. I didn't know how to facilitate this kind of thing. It was awkward and forced.
"Well, come on, you can join the group," said Porthos, ignoring my awkward optomism. He led me forward deeper into the Gnome side of the group. Many of them had already noticed me joining them, but they parted the way, accepting me into their ranks. Porthos led me up to their representative, the overweight balding Gnome.
"This is Sillius," said Porthos.
"Yeah," I said. "I've seen you around." He was the one to burst into the room when Rodrigo was questioning me about our run-in with Lobo. That was right before the Hydra attacked.
"Hello," said Sillius in a voice that made me think he was unimpressed.
"Hi," I said. "I'm just joining for the—"
"I know. Porthos already told us," said Sillius.
Had Porthos told them? I didn't remember that.
"So you think the hydra was all part of this?" said Sillius. "You think it was the same guy?"
"I think so," I said.
"Good. We lost some good people to that thing," said Sillius. "Well stick with us and you'll be okay. Who knows if you could say the same for them though."
I looked over at the Saurians. Many carried weapons carved from bone. They wore few clothes, leaving their scaled hides visible across most of their bodies. Even just the way they walked looked menacing, with muscles shifting beneath scales.
No. I needed to stop. I thought. That kind of thinking wasn't helpful.
"Thanks for welcoming me," I said. "I'd like to talk to both groups though."
"Suit yourself," said Sillius.
"I know you're trying to build something," said Porthos, "but you don't have to keep up the charade just for us. We deal in charade, you know." He gave me a wry smile.
Did he know that I wasn't excited about working with the Saurians? Was I that obvious in my fear of them?
"You need this to work as much, or maybe even more, than I do," I said. "So I'm going to do everything I can to make sure it works."
"Geez," said Porthos with his hands raised in defense. "Sorry I said anything. I just don't want our fearless leader to get eaten by a lizard."
A nearby Saurian looked at Porthos and showed its teeth. Porthos seemed like he enjoyed pushing the Saurians buttons. It was on point for what I knew of Gnomes.
I looked back at the Dwarves that had accompanied me. They hung on the outside of the Gnome group. They might not have had as warm of a reception as I had.
"Are you guys okay?" I asked.
"Sure," said Dunnel. "I'm not sure why we decided to go through with this plan, but we'll be alright."
I looked back at Cairn who was still recovering from her injury from the dragon fight. She had an arm in a sling that was wrapped in bandages, but she was healthy enough to help. She was much better off than many of the others in the colony at this point.
"Are you good, Cairn?" I asked.
Cairn nodded. "Yeah. I'm not too sure how this is going to work out, but you helped us, so I want to help you."
"Thanks," I said. "I appreciate it." I looked at the three of them. I was glad to at least have some people with me that I was certain I could trust.
I looked back at the Saurians and took a deep breath. Beyond them, I could see shimmering water breaking through the forest. It looked like we had made it to the North shore of the island. The next step was to follow it until we reached the valley and to do it without these groups erupting on each other.