"We need to go after them," I could hear the growl of Tigala over the crowd. "Something could have happened. We can't just leave them alone out there."
"They're not alone," said another familiar voice. It was deep and antagonizing. Lobo. "They have the Saurians and Gnomes. Unless you're saying you don't trust them."
"I trust them more than you," said Tigala.
I stepped around the corner seeing Tigala ready to pounce on the Beastfolk wolf. She had a new wound on her shoulder. It looked big, bleeding through the fabric that now covered it. All of the other groups were gathered behind her. Tigala turned to find me among the Saurians, Gnomes, and Dwarves from behind one of the ruined homes in Birdsbane.
"What happened?" said Tigala, no doubt noticing the fresh wounds on me as well.
"I should ask you the same," I said. "I thought you were just going to look."
"What happened?" Tigala asked again, more stern—motherly. The rest of the colonists watched in silence.
"The walking forest ran into some Gnome reinforcements. We tried to save as many as we could, and I kind of had to sacrifice myself to save the rest," I said, bracing for her response.
"You what?" said Tigala.
"They're kind of like us. They just want to stop fighting," I said. The look on Tigala's face said she wasn't following in the slightest. "I don't know how it happened, but they're people. They can talk, and feel. They just want to be left alone."
"Yet they still tried to kill her after she talked to them," said Porthos, walking by with a shrug.
Tigala looked at me for an explanation.
"Right. Well, they're fine. So what did you find out great leader?" asked Lobo. The snark in his voice was palpable.
I raised my voice so everyone could hear it. "We found the missing colonists."
There were gasps. People exchanged looks. Tigala still looked at me in horror of the danger I had put myself in. I knew she wouldn't be happy, but it worked out, kind of.
"After our run-in with the trees, we wanted to get more information than just the army of the dead. So the Gnomes disguised us and we snuck past them to get into the church. There's a whole town underneath that building. It was a giant cavern and at the bottom were enough mind-controlled people that it could have been all of the missing colonists.
"They were too far away for us to free any of them, and we were being chased by one of the Arcus. We had to escape to keep them in the dark."
"Oh, they know we're coming," said Zef.
"The one that was after you—did you see him?" asked Lolan.
"Yeah, he looked like he might be a little older than you," I said. "Dark hair, with a fire in his eyes."
I saw the look on Lolan's face—desperation. He wouldn't say in front of everyone, but was that his brother that he had told me about? I gave him a sympathetic look.
I remembered the pink glow on the Elf's temples and looked to Tallesia. "I'm sorry I blamed the Arcus. It looks like they are victims just like the rest of us."
"Apology accepted," said Tallesia. "We only want to get to get our people back."
"Right," I said.
"The dead. Does anyone know how they were like that?" I asked.
One of the Avians spoke up. "Our magic doesn't work well in that area, but we believe that it's a new kind of magic."
"Yeah," I said. "That's what I was afraid of."
"We should go defeat the enemy handedly," shouted a Human. I looked and found Geralt raising a sword to the sky. Despite the terrible circumstances we had been in, he still kept his mustache sharply pointed and his armor looked polished.
"We need reinforcements first," said Srak, behind me. Ironic, since I knew that theirs were already on their way. "If we're going to stop this threat, we need all of the warriors we can get to go with us."
"You really think the rest of the world will care?" asked Lobo. "They abandoned us here. Why should they care about an island where a couple hundred people went missing. We're on our own."
"Speak for yourself," said Srak. "Maybe the Beastfolk wanted to get rid of you, but the Saurians—"
"You want to say that to my face?" asked Lobo, growling the words.
Srak took a step forward.
"Stop!" someone yelled. I looked to find Cairn. She was kneeling next to Dunnel who was still unconscious on his bushcraft stretcher. She stood as tears formed in the corners of her eyes. "Fighting is the last thing we need right now. They are out there, enslaving your people. We've all lost people." She glanced at me. "Let's not lose anymore."
Srak stopped and didn't follow through with the threat. Lobo snickered as the Saurian leader backed down.
There was silence for a moment. Maybe they were finally getting it. Maybe they were finally starting to see the toll this was taking on all of us. We couldn't afford to work on our own anymore. It was the surest way for us to fail.
I felt weird—shaky. No, it wasn't me. I looked at the ground and saw pebbles skipping along the dirt. The earth was shaking, again.
"Earthquake!" yelled someone.
"Away from the buildings!" yelled someone else.
We all ran for the open town square, trying to get away from any heavy structures. Rocks shot up from the ground as Dwarves tried to fortify the worst of the buildings.
Each step felt like it was misplaced as the ground shook beneath me. Buildings began to crumble and screams rang out. I reached the group in the middle of the town square and turned to watch as the world shook.
Buildings fell all around us, and dust exploded into the air. The ground shook for what seemed like an eternity. I wondered if the ground was going to open beneath us and swallow us up.
Then finally, it stopped. I felt dizzy, and my legs were weak, having grown accustomed to the shaking and now compensating on the still ground.
"Is everyone alright?" yelled a voice I recognized as Rodrigo's.
There were several yells back. Dwarves moved to push rubble out of the way.
The dust hung thick in the courtyard, hiding the people that were all around us, just as scared as I was. I felt the fur of Tigala's arm brush against mine and grabbed onto it. I looked around and pulled Lolan and Zef closer too. "You guys are alright?"
Then a sudden gust of wind cleared the area, revealing the Tallesia at the source of the wind and the former city of Birdsbane. Now, it was nothing more than a pile of rubble. Where buildings once stood there was seldom a wall still standing. The courtyard we huddled in was barely distinguishable from the ruins.
This was just a fraction of what was possible. If that creature woke up, it would do much more than level ruined cities. But why would someone try to wake it up?
"Geralt is right," I said. "We can't afford to wait. We need to stop this before they wake up that creature."
There was a silence of agreeance and defeat hung in the air thicker than the dust clouds had. There was no more fighting, no more bickering. There were no petty squabbles, just the realization of how powerful this thing was that we were up against.
"The only way we get through this is by working together," I finished. "We'll make our move in the morning."
People stood, surveying the leveled town for a while, and then, slowly went back to their groups, making camp in the wreckage. With the walls broken down, we all camped in the clearest part of town: the square. Some had tents, while others made beds on the ground.
People weren't worried about what races were next to them. I made moss beds for several people who had lost their bedrolls to the earthquake, Humans lit fires for all races, Saurians filled water pouches and the Dwarves made small rock lean-tos for some without shelter. For the first time since I had arrived at Daegal, we were more than a colony. We were now a community.
When everyone had settled down, I returned to my own camp, with the people I had come to love so much on this island. They all sat around the campfire, silently watching the flames dance. I joined them and noticed the bloody bandage on Tigala again.
"Are you going to be okay tomorrow?" I asked her. "It looks pretty bad." I gestured at the bandage.
"I'll be fine," she said, though she looked like she was just trying to put on a strong face. "Lobo sent his goons after me."
"What? And the Avians let them?"
"They said they didn't see them do it. All of them except Kricoo. I would have been food for the dead if she hadn't helped when she did."
Tigala rolled her shoulders. "I'll be fine, but we shouldn't trust Lobo and his gang tomorrow."
"Yeah," I said. Out of all of the people to look out for in this group, he was at the top of my list. He wanted revenge, not just against me, but against TIgala too. And even after learning about the terrible monster that could kill us all, he still wanted that revenge.
"Are you scared?" asked Lolan.
I took a deep breath. "Yeah. But not for the reasons I expected to be."
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"I'm scared of whatever it is we're about to go up against," I said. "It's stronger than us, and the only way we have a chance of beating it is if we stop it from waking up. But I'm not scared of dying. I'm scared of you three dying."
"We're going to get through this together," said Tigala.
"Whether we do or don't," Zef started, "we're making the world a better place. If I have to die to make a better life for my family, my children, then I think it's worth it."
"That's kind of morbid for you, Zef," I said. "And you have children? Why did I not know this?"
Zef shrugged. "Just one. It never came up." I could see him holding back some emotion.
"Do you want to talk about it?" I asked.
Zef's lip quivered and he looked at the sky. "I couldn't change her mind," he said.
"About what?" I asked.
"About this. About you. About other races." A tear rolled down his cheek. "I taught her to fight. And when I finally realized I was wrong, it was too late. She had already made up her mind. Now she hates me, and blames me for her mother's death."
"I'm so sorry," I said. Lolan put a hand on Zef's back. "Your daughter. She's still alive?"
"Then there's still hope," I said.
We let the silence take our conversation while Zef recovered. He eventually wiped his face clean and smiled at all of us. "So, let's do this. Let's make the world a better place."
The poor guy. I couldn't imagine the thoughts that must have been running through his head—being ready to die if it made the life better for his child. Is that what my parents were doing? Were they faced with the same dilemma? And then there was the question I didn't want to answer. Did they die?
I still had hope that I would find them down there in that pit. They would be older and greyer, but they would recognize me and I would have my family back. Not that I wanted to lose this family. Ideally, I could have both.
I needed to stop thinking about it.
"Nobody dies tomorrow," I said. "Okay?"
"I mean it. I need you three to get through this."