We climbed over the rubble toward the noise. I walked in a daze, unable to process our current situation. Unable to believe that Zef was actually dead. After all we had been through.
The world carried on around me as I focused on walking. One foot after another, rock after rock. I didn't have the capacity to care about anything more than that.
We reached the source of the noise. Marv stood in rock form with tears streaming down his face. In his arms was a limp girl.
No! I ran to him. I had already lost Zef. I couldn't afford to lose Abigail too, someone who shared so much of my own story.
Abigail laid her father's arms with a red gash across her forehead. Other than that, she still looked intact.
"Tigala, can you check her?"
Tigala was already stretching out a hand. The orange glow radiated from her hand and spread across Abigail's skin. Then it faded again. Tigala withdrew her hand.
"I think she's going to be okay," said Tigala. "Maybe a concussion?"
Marv and I both breathed a sigh of relief.
Behind him, there was screaming coming through cracks in the rubble. Marv looked down at his daughter and then in the direction of the noise. He was more capable than most of digging through the rubble with Crag helping.
He looked down at Abigail again. "I can't lose her again." Then he looked back toward the noise. "But others need my help." He lifted his rock arms toward Tigala. "Can you please take care of her in the meantime?"
It was a different Marv than the one I had met in the jail cell. It was a different Marv even than the one that entered the Dwarven slave mountain. He had been overprotective, unwilling to let Abigail help. And now she was hurt, and he was strong enough to accept it and help others.
Marv and Crag stomped over to a large rock sticking out of the rubble. He grabbed it and squatted as he tore it from the ground, revealing an overhang where ten or so people I didn't recognize were huddled. They must have been a group of the original colonists. They looked at Marv in fear.
"It's okay. I'm trying to help," said Marv, holding the large rock up. "Now come out so I can put this down." His voice was sad, but also more confident. He knew what he was capable of. He knew why we were here and it was good to have him on the team.
A few gave him thanks as they ran out from the opening onto the higher ground. Once the last of the people climbed out, Marv slammed the rock back down in the rubble. The colonists looked around like lost puppies. They probably needed someone to step up and explain. They at least needed reassurance that we were going to get out of here. I couldn't offer either. I didn't have it in me.
Marv returned to Tigala to check on Abigail again. "Is there anything I need to do? How do I help her?"
"Just let her rest. Her body should heal itself," she said, handing the girl back. Marv let Crag crumble off of him and turn back into his small rock form. Marv laid his daughter on the rocks and kneeled over her. Crag joined him with a sad glowing face.
"Have you seen our group?" I asked Tigala. "Do you know if they made it out?"
She shook her head. "We should go check."
I nodded. "Are you okay, Marv? We want to go check on our group."
"Yes, we'll be okay," he said.
We headed for the staircase that led to the room where we were cornered by the Arcus. Were they still in there or did the fight continue elsewhere? I hoped they were okay too, but at this point, I expected the worst. Out of all of the tragedies we had suffered at the colony, this was the worst. Not only did fail to stop a monster big enough to destroy a town in seconds, but we lost many of the few people we still had. We probably lost most of the people who had been enslaved too.
Before we got to the room, I found a Saurian body. It was Ferek. There were only a few small rocks on his back, but the black mark at the back of his head led me to believe that Wikith or Brendell had killed him. Just beyond Ferek was another Saurian, half-buried in rocks. I recognized the blue scales as Garlar, the first Saurian to give me a chance.
I looked away.
There was a scrape of shifting rock nearby. An Elven-looking hood poked up from the rubble near a wall. His face looked our way.
"Lolan!" I yelled, so happy to see that at least he had made it out. He was beaten up. He had burns on his jacket and scrapes across his face. Dried blood mixed with rock dust flaked off of his cheek.
He gave a weary smile as he reached behind him. He heaved a body out of the rubble. I was scared to find out who it might be. Lolan hauled the body over one shoulder as he struggled to his feet, and I saw the yellow robes of the Arcus. It was a smaller body than WIkith's. It had Brendell.
"Is he okay?" I asked, picking up my pace as I approached.
Lolan looked up with weariness on his face. "I don't know."
As I got closer I noticed that the robes didn't fully extend down one arm. The black lining faded to black and red—burned flesh.
"Did you do that?" asked TIgala.
Lolan took a deep breath and nodded, breaking eye contact.
"Geez," said Tigala.
"Is he breathing?" I asked. "How did you knock him out? With the fire?"
Lolan nodded again. "He's breathing. And yeah. If I didn't, he would have killed me, and probably others."
The pink glow still burned bright on Brendell's temples. It must have been a terrible call to make.
"I'm sorry you had to do that," I said.
"Me too," he said. He looked behind us and then back at me. "Zef?"
I couldn't manage the words and instead just shook my head as tears welled up again.
He breathed a huff as he fell to his knees.
"He died saving people," said Tigala.
Lolan didn't cry. He looked like he was out of tears.
"We got to say goodbye," I said. "He's buried beneath the tree if you want to do the same."
Lolan didn't say anything and just slammed a fist into the ground. It was more emotion than I had seen from him in the past. Was he going to be okay?
We waited for him to gain his composure and then helped him up, with Brendell still slung over his shoulders.
"We still have each other," I said. "I'm with you guys no matter what."
Lolan winced at the statement. He looked at me with so much pain in his expression. "No matter what."
"I'll carry him," said Tigala, seeing how worn out Lolan was. She grabbed the Elf and slung him over her own shoulders.
"What do we do now?" said Lolan.
"I don't know," I said. "Zef said it was up to us now. I'm not sure I feel up to it, but I guess we can at least look for survivors."
"How do we stop that thing?" said Lolan. "Did you see it? It was able to see outside of the cavern with its feet flat on the floor of it."
"I don't know how we could," I said. "It would kill us in an instant."
We were close to the room now where the fight had been with Wikith. I couldn't see much. but I did see a body with long blonde hair on the ledge outside the door. I ran forward and up the broken staircase to her.
Tallesia laid there unconscious. She had scrapes on her arms and face, but she was breathing at a normal pace. I leaned over her and shook her arm. She woke up and spoke softly. "What?"
"Are you okay? Are the others—"
She cut me off. "Don't go in there," she said. "It was a blood bath."
"Uh—what?" I said, unsure of how to process the words she spoke.
"Wikith only kept the rest of us occupied when he lost track of you," she said. Her voice was airy and weak. "Once the creature woke up, he stopped holding back. I think he only spared me because I'm an Elf."
"Who?" I said.
"Kricoo. Ferek. Wallace. Seth. I don't know about the others. Some got pushed out of the fight. They were the lucky ones."
"No!" I said. I looked at the room. The dark doorway stared back at me menacingly. "Where is Wikith?" I asked with my jaw set.
"He escaped," she said.
I looked up to the sky showing through the shattered roof of the cavern hoping I might see him exiting the cavern. No such luck. He was long gone.
"What do you need?" asked Lolan. "Are you hurt?"
"He hit me with a strong current," she said. "But I should be fine. I was able to redirect some of it."
"Can I help you up?" said Lolan.
"Yes, please," said Tallesia.
Lolan stooped down and wrapped her arm over his shoulder. She stood slowly with most of her weight on Lolan.
"Have you found any of the others? How many survived?" she said.
"We're not sure yet," said Tigala. "Not many so far."
There were dead people all around us. The cavern was in shambles. The colony was charred and ruined. Half of the colonists were already in recovery from the dragon attack. And now a giant monster sleeping in the heart of the island awoke. What is this place? Why did I even come here?
I broke down again. This time it wasn't because of the people I had lost. It wasn't that I still mourned the loss of my parents. It wasn't that I wished people would just look past each other's differences.
I broke down because I was completely and utterly lost. There was no hope. There was no way forward, and there was no reason to even look for a way forward. It was all in shambles. It was all hopeless. And I was tired. Tired of fighting, and tired of losing every step of the way.
I sat on the ledge outside of the room, while Lolan escorted Tallesia down the stairs. I didn't cry. I was all out of tears. I sat in silence and stared out at the expanse.
More people were now moving around the ground floor, searching for people who had been buried and moving rocks. Tigala sat next to me.
"You okay?" she asked.
"No!" I said. "Are you?"
She hesitated. "No."
"I don't understand what we're supposed to do with this. I thought we were doing good here. I thought we were actually bringing change and showing people that we don't need to be constantly at each other's throats. And every time I feel like we're making progress, the stakes elevate. First trolls and a dangerous forest, then a dragon, now... this"
Tigala was slow to respond. "Yeah. It's a dangerous island. But at least in all of the other examples, we adapted. More people were willing to help us each time."
"Does it even matter now?" I said. "We can adapt all we want, but nothing is going to change the outcome of us going up against that thing." I pointed at the cavern wall where gashes taller than trees marked the swipe of one of the monster's claws.
"I don't know." She didn't say anything else. She sat next to me for a time and we watched the other groups. Lolan had a conversation with another Elf and ended up passing Tallesia off to the stranger, probably for medical care.
I didn't have anything more to say. I just sat and thought through the cycle of hopelessness in my head. Then, on the far end of the rubble, I saw something that piqued my interest. A green glow marked the use of Nature magic. Some of the Treeks survived!
It was the first thing to give me some form of hope since the ceiling collapsed.
"I need to go talk to some people," I said to Tigala. "Do you mind giving me some space?"
Tigala looked a bit distraught at the request. But I needed space. I needed to talk to them on my own. I needed to know anything they would tell me, and they might not if Tigala was there. I also just needed to talk to people like me. I had fought the segregation for so long, and look where it got us. Maybe I needed some segregation.
Tigala nodded. "Just come back. Okay?" she said.
"Yeah," I said. I lifted myself up and walked out to the Treeks.