I ran out of the room, away from the chaos. I took the staircase heading deeper into the cavern and continued on the quickest route to the bottom.
I glanced over my shoulder to see who was with me. Tigala, Zef, and Geralt.
"They need your help," I yelled back to them as I ran down a stone staircase.
"We all lose if we let that thing wake up," Tigala said. "Besides, I said I wasn't going to let you sacrifice yourself again."
Yeah, I guess that is what this looked like. I thought.
"Geralt? Zef? You're sure you are coming with?" I asked.
"I wouldn't miss it!" Geralt said, his words were broken up by the need to breathe. He wasn't fast in his clunky armor, but he was doing his best to keep up.
I double-checked, making sure no one else was coming. Lolan was going to need all of the help he could get if he was set on taking down the Arcus. I hope he's okay.
We ran as quickly as we could down the uneven steps. "Do you know what we're looking for?" I asked. I scanned the groups of people below. The fights that were breaking out were now more violent, with flashes of magic exploding occasionally. Some workers were still doing their duties, but it was probably only half of them. Why aren't they being controlled?
"How about that," Geralt said, pointing to a dark corner where the base of the cavern extended past where I could see. Flashes of pink flickered in the darkness, but the corner was otherwise still.
I traced the general shape of the creature's body. It took up the entire floor of the cavern big enough to fit a mountain inside of it. The body laid with one end of it nearing the dark corner where the pink flashes came from.
"Good eye," I said. "Looks like something to me."
A crash rang out above us and I looked back to see Wikith thrown out of the room where we were previously holed up. He righted himself in the wind vortex that he rode in and glanced our way. He squinted his eyes, seeing an inconsistency in Zef's illusion. He pushed himself toward us.
"Incoming," I said. And then I kept running.
"He is good," said Zef, working twice as hard to make the illusion more believable.
A spire of stone rose up in front of him. He crashed into it. Then with a blast of water, he fell. We kept running. I couldn't focus on that now. I had to trust them to take care of it.
We made our way deeper into the cavern. When we reached the ground floor we could see the fights between colonists more clearly. Many of the people didn't have the pink glow on their temples as the Dwarven slaves did.
"They're mind control is wearing off," I said. "Maybe they can help."
"Now's not the time," said Tigala. "They'd kill us."
"They wouldn't have even heard about the truce," said Geralt, catching his breath.
"We can't just let them hurt each other," I said. "We came here to save them."
"We can't save them if we let that thing wake up," said Tigala.
"Maybe we can," I said. "Maybe we can do both. Or maybe they can help us stop it. At the very least, we can stop them from attacking each other."
"It's going to get us killed," said Tigala in a low growl. She wasn't mad, but I wouldn't say she was happy either.
"Zef, what do you think?" I asked.
"It's worth a shot, but they're bound to be pretty confused right now," said Geralt.
I looked back to Tigala. "I can't let them kill each other while we figure out what we're dealing with."
Tigala sighed. "Fine, but we need to be ready to run."
"Yeah," I said. "I just have to try."
I found a mound of dirt. There were plenty of them. Several were stacked high enough you might be able to reach some of the lower platforms around the edge of the cavern. I found one that was maybe twice as tall as me and climbed up the dirt and stone. I looked down at the fighting races.
"HEY!" I yelled, trying to get their attention while they fought. "Over here!" I began waving my arms.
Several people looked my way, distracted from their feuds.
"I know you all hate me. I'm a Treek. But there is a bigger enemy here. You're here because you were mind-controlled, and we think the person who did it is over there. They are trying to do something big. I don't know what, but we need to stop it. Ignore your differences, and help me stop them."
Most of the workers were now staring at me. Some looked confused. Others looked angry. I saw a few of the Treeks for a moment. They had been in a confrontation with some Elves—Elves that had been enslaved. It got me thinking. If this was someone trying to punish other races, why would they enslave their own? Maybe the people who did this weren't Elves after all.
Not the time to think about that. An Avian took the opportunity to attack a nearby Beastfolk continuing a smaller brawl on the edge of the group. Some started approaching the mound, glaring at me.
"She's probably the one that did it," yelled a Gnome.
Well, there it is.
"Yeah, the Treeks want us all dead," yelled an Elf.
Great. Well, at least they were looking past their differences.
Tigala stepped up next to me. "If it was her, she'd do it again. We need your help."
A Beastfolk dog and skunk looked at her in disgust. There was so much that wouldn't make any sense to them. They had been lost for so long.
"Get them!" yelled a Saurian with a wooden leg. And people started charging the mound.
I knew it wasn't the time, but I couldn't get the thought out of my head. I looked at the groups charging. There were Beastfolk, Elves, Gnomes... What was missing?
"We need to go!" shouted Tigala pulling on my arm.
I waited a moment longer. We already saw Dwarven slaves.
"Humans! There are no Humans!" I said.
"Great, let's go!" said Tigala. She nearly pulled me off of my feet as we ran down the hill as purple magic materialized around us.
Tigala began transforming. The tail formed into the poisonous tip of a wyvern and her arms spread into wings. I tried not to stumble over her as we ran.
We reached the bottom of the hill and she shouted, "Get on!"
I jumped on and had a flashback to my accidental wyvern ride. Hopefully, this would go smoother than that.
Zef hopped on in from of me.
"Me too?" asked Geralt, looking especially heavy in his gold-plated armor.
Tigala growled, causing him to hop in place. He jumped on her back behind me and I felt her sag at the added weight.
She flapped, sending debris swirling around us as our pursuers rounded the mound. We took off with a single Gnome hanging onto her leg. Tigala flew over the mound and shook her leg, dropping the Gnome on his back in the dust.
Several of them yelled up at us, and a few blasts of water and wind flew past, knocking Tigala off balance. She rolled with it and dipped down to fly just above the rock mounds, using them as cover. We flew to the dark corner of the room. Tigala landed on the black scaly floor.
I jumped down onto it. It was thick and hard like metal. It rose and then lowered. It was breathing.
"You happy?" said TIgala with a blank look on her face.
"We had to try," I said. "Let's go."
We crept along the black scaled floor into the darkness, the pink flashes were now more regular, more on than off. I peaked around a section of stone wall the jutted out into the caver to see what was beyond. A person with a similar build to Wikith stood in the distance. But this wasn't an Elf. It was a Human. He wore a dark robe. His hands were raised with pink magic streaming from them and into the floor—the head of the sleeping monster.
"How do we even stop him?" I asked. "This person knows mind magic. He can probably use other forms as well."
"Like you said, we have to try," said Tigala.
"How much time do you think we have?" asked Geralt.
"You're already out of time," said the figure in the distance.
My eyes went wide as I glanced at Tigala. Did he hear us? Did he see me? I hadn't seen him look our way. How did he know we were here?
"The process is almost complete. There's nothing you can do now." said the figure.
"What are you doing?" I asked stepping out of cover. Maybe he had only seen me. I glanced at Tigala and Zef, trying to make a face that wouldn't be noticeable to the Human at the center of the room.
"I'm waking it, you imbecile," said the figure.
Waking it? A monster that big? If it was anything like that dragon we fought, it would be able to ruin whole cities without much effort.
"Why?" I stepped closer to him.
He turned to look at me, with the pink flashes still illuminating his face. He had sharp features and a thin dark beard. His face contorted with mocking laughter.
"Oh, it's you. You really have proven to be quite the pest," he said. "Well, if you must know, I'll control it so that Humans no longer have to worry about vermin like you challenging us."
I saw figures moving in my peripheral. It was Tigala and Zef, getting in a position to ambush.
"You have to stop," I said. "We can figure this out. Just stop—"
"Ah yes," he said in a mocking tone. "Just join us and we can all live happily ever after. That's not how it works. I've seen what happens when races mix. The only way forward is through everyone else."
Can't reason with him. Maybe if I attack his morals? Does a guy like that have morals?
"You're going to kill so many innocent people to protect your own," I said. "You're just a coward."
He snickered, still with pink glowing magic streaming from his hands into the monster beneath us. "No one is innocent. Not anymore. Besides, what is more cowardly than doing nothing while your people are taken advantage of? I'm taking my fate into my own hands. I control my destiny. You are weak, propped up by the tentative relationships you made with a bunch of outcasts."
"Maybe," I said. Tigala and Zef were almost in position. I had to stall just a little bit longer. "I'll admit, in this world that breathes war, I am not the strongest fighter. I lack the training and experience to be a warrior. But I think you're wrong. My greatest strengths are the relationships I've made."
Tigala stormed out of the darkness in her wyvern form. She screeched at the Human in the center of the room. Zef too unleashed purple energy in a dizzying display in front of the Human. Geralt charged with his sword ready, and I grew vines reach out and attack the man.
He grunted and the Pink magic stopped. He first waved a hand in from of his face, and the light show dissipated despite Zef's continued pressure. He turned to Tigala next. A blast of water slammed into her chest and froze solid as it wrapped around her. The weight was too much and she crashed to the ground. Without waiting to see the aftermath, the Human then sent a blast of wind at Geralt next, slamming him into the rocks behind him. Geralt fell limp on the ground. The Human turned back to Tigala and cemented her in place with large slabs of stone that he pulled up from the earth. Zef was working on another illusion when the wall of flames encircled him.
"What was that you were saying?" he said.
My vines were nowhere near close enough, with most of the floor being the monster's body. So I drew my dagger and charged.
The Human only flicked his hand. A rock pulled free somewhere above us and dirt rained down into my path. Why? That would only help me, I thought. I grew vines as I ran, but quickly realized why he had done it. My vines grew without my help and began moving in ways I didn't tell them to. The Human's arms were stretched out toward the dirt, controlling the plants. Before I could back away, they wrapped around me, snagging my ankles first and then my arms. I struggled to break free, but he was too strong.
The Human approached and stretched a hand toward me as his eyes glowed white. "Ah. That's where I've seen you before," he said. "You are the Treek girl from outside of Brighton."
"What?" I said, my eyes wide. "How do you know that?" I thought back to the day. Was he there? He did look somewhat like the man with the belts.
"What? You don't recognize me?" he said. A swirl of purple energy washed over him. He was no longer that Human with the sharp features, but a Gnome—Havik. Then he changed his appearance again and wore Wikith's robe and face. Again, he shimmered and looked back at me as the man with the belts—the leader of the group that took my parents.
"You!" I growled the word.
"Ah, so it is you." he smiled at the look of shock I must have been giving him. "You can call me Malcolm." He mocked me with a slight bow. "Your parents put up a decent fight you know."
"NO!" I screamed. "What do you know?" Tears rushed to my eyes as I shook harder, trying to break the grasp the vines had on me. I didn't want to hear it, but I also needed to.
"Ahah, yes. They did a number on some of my men. It was a shame to have to dispose of them. They were strong. But that's exactly why it needed to happen."
"What did you do?" The tears were no longer contained, rolling down my cheeks.
"Oh, well we used them as slaves for some time. I even experimented with earlier attempts at mind magic on them. They were so strong-willed though, it was hard to get anything to take effect." He paused and looked at me—checking to see if I was still listening.
I was. But in that moment, I hated him. I didn't care what my parents taught me. I didn't care what standards I held myself to. I wanted him dead. I wanted to kill him myself. But I needed to know what happened. I needed to know if my family was still out there.
"Are they alive?" I said through grit teeth.
"Hah, oh, no. They—"
I didn't care. I summoned whatever magic I had in me. The vines twisted, slowly pulling away from me. As soon as I could I lunged at him with my dagger.
"Kaia," I heard Zef yell.
I didn't want to hear it. I dove at the Human with my blade out, but in the split second before I did, his eyes went white. All of my breath left me. A boot slammed into my chest and knocked me to the floor gasping for air. I heard a crack and hoped it wasn't my bones. I looked up at him as the vines grabbed me again—a green glow emanating from his hands. Then he stepped forward and stood over me.
"Yes, that nature magic is familiar. I even learned a few tricks from them before they were executed." He grinned down at me.
I tried to manage a retort, but I was still catching my breath.
"Don't worry though. You'll see them soon," he said, raising his hand as it glowed red. I closed my eyes.