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17.1 Hazel

# 2245 11 - 15 mins. 8

"I believe," said Klaus as he finished relaying the visions, "that the book that he found may have belonged to Shayde Mortem. If the carving on the back of this medallion is any clue, he might be a direct descendant."

"What was in the book?" yelled someone.

"I don't know," said Klaus. "I may be able to find out with more time."

Someone else cut off the end of Klaus's statement. "He knew all along. He was trying to bring things to this."

"If that book has Shayde's notes about magic, Malcolm could be unstoppable," mused another. "He might be able to tame the doom drake!"

"There's no hope of defeating it," said another.

The voices drowned out as I turned away from the group. It all just became incessant background noise as the thought spun in my head. The Treeks didn't create the plague. They may have deployed it, but they were led to that end. All along, it was Malcolm who wanted revenge for his sick mother. All of my people were slaughtered because one person had a terrible upbringing.

I wanted to scream. I breathed heavy and looked around the cavern—the remains of the monster's resting place. It was all a setup. I had lost my people, lost my childhood, and lost my parents because of him.

A hand touched my shoulder. I shoved it away.

"Kaia," Tigala said. "I'm sorry."

"Do you even understand what this means?" I said. My voice was raw with emotion. "All of this time I thought my people had done something horrible. I hated that they were killed, but a small part of me knew that we deserved it for what we had done. But we were set up. We may have never come to that conclusion if it weren't for him. My people were slaughtered, my entire race, my mother and father, because his mother died."

"Kaia," Tigala said. Her voice was hesitant, cautious.

I couldn't handle it. I screamed and fell to my knees. I didn't know what to do or how to feel. I sat there for what felt like an eternity. How was I supposed to move forward from this? From the realization that all of this death and pain was the result of one Human's issues.

I heard footsteps come closer to me. No one tried to comfort me this time though.

"Kaia," she said. "I can't claim to know how you feel, but I'm with you. Lolan's with you."

Still, I didn't know what to say. I was afraid if I said anything, it would be hostile, angry.

"Let us help."

"How can you help? My people are dead. There is no magic that can bring them back."

"There might not be," said Lolan. "But we can make sure the pain ends now."

It was a nice sentiment, but how were we supposed to stop him. How were we supposed to stop that monster? What power did we have in this situation? "How? He's too powerful. That drake is too powerful. Malcolm already won."

"Nobody has won as long as we stand against him," said another voice. It was Geralt. He spoke with less vigor than usual, but still with the same optimism. I looked up to meet his eyes. He was in a brave pose. His dirty face showed a sad expression despite the optimism. I thought of Seth and Wallace.

"I don't know," I said. "I want it to stop. I want it so bad. But he's beaten us in every confrontation. We have even fewer people to oppose him now than we did any of the previous times."

There was a silence. I'm sure they were all thinking the same things. The crowd that had been asking questions about the story Klaus had told us was now silent. I didn't look in their direction, but I got the feeling everyone was looking at me. Did they pity me for losing my whole race as the result of one person's hatred? Or were they tired of me always preaching cooperation? Were they second-guessing helping me? It didn't matter. None of it mattered anymore. We lost.

"That's true." I heard Rodrigo's voice. "But, you convinced us all to help your cause. None of us expected to be working with other races." He was probably among the least likely on that front. "But you convinced us still. You brought us together. Maybe it is our turn to bring others together."

I glanced in the direction of Rodrigo. The group of colonists, warriors, and Klaus were behind him, listening intently to the conversation. They looked at me with concern on their faces. Some even looked sad. I saw the Elven woman who stood hugging her son to her chest. A tear ran down her cheek.

"What do you mean?" I asked Rodrigo.

"You're right. We can't stop Malcolm. We can't stop the doom drake. We hardly fought off the fire-breathing dragon he sent after the colony. You lost your people, your connections, due to Malcolm's hatred. Let us try and make it up to you by using our connections. Maybe with several armies, we can stop him, and that monster, once and for all."

"You really think you can convince your people to help? We're here not just because my people were slaughtered. Sure, Malcolm set this all into motion, but war was brewing on its own. The Treeks did a horrible thing, whether he taught them how or not. People were looking for an excuse to fight, and Malcolm's plague was just the excuse they needed."

"You're very right," said Rodrigo. "It is so easy for us to see our differences. But maybe Malcolm's greatest mistake was giving us a reason to unite. I'm not saying it is going to work. All I'm saying is it is our best shot."

I looked around at the group. No one rejected his words. They stood and listened. Some even nodded along with Rodrigo. Maybe he was right.

I found Porthos who smiled back at me. Marv gave a nod. Tallesia also looked me in the eye with quiet confidence. My eyes shifted to Lolan who stood closer to the group than me. He gave a nod as well. I looked at Tigala. She reached down a hand to me and said, "We've got more to do. And we're going to need our Treek representative."

I took her hand and pulled myself back to my feet. I stood in front of the group, unsure in my own skin. But they looked back, and they were with me. They supported me in a way no one ever had before.

It was dark now, and the stars shined down on us through the broken ceiling of the cavern. A light in my peripheral caught my eye. It was green, shining off of the cavern wall. I looked and found what must have been Kadero, using a vine to traverse the broken staircase out of the cavern. They were sneaking out."

"Okay," I said. "I'm in. But we don't have much time do we?"

An Avian with dark feathers spoke up after a moment. He was one of the Avians from our colony. "The monster is still on Daegal at the moment. It looks like Malcolm is giving chase on his dragon."

"How are we going to convince people to help us and get them back here before that thing starts tearing through cities?" I asked.

I saw Porthos lean over to Sillius and whisper something in his ear. Sillius swatted him away shaking his head. I didn't want to force them to say something, but we needed some kind of solution if we were going to prevent as much damage as possible.

Porthos leaned back and whispered to Sillius one more time. Sillius sighed. "If we can get to the Gnome capital, we might have a solution."

I looked around to the others hoping for ideas. It was a start but I still wasn't sure how we were supposed to get to Losterious. That would take several weeks on boat. We didn't have that kind of time, even with the potential help of Saurians and Elves on the seas.

"The teleporter gate," said Lolan. He looked at me with his eyebrows raised, and then turned his head to Sillius. "We found a teleporter. Could you use it?"

Sillius and Porthos exchanged a look. "If it's actually a teleporter, then yes. That's exactly the kind of thing we need. How do you know that's what it is?"

"Zef told us it was," said Lolan, his eyes dropping to the floor.

"Well," said Sillius. "Take us there. We'll see if we can convince the Gnomes first. From there, we should be able to move people around more rapidly."

🌱

We walked in a small group, leaving the others behind to help with the wounded and work on further planning. It was me, Lolan, Tigala, Geralt, Porthos, and Sillius.

Up ahead I could hear the sound of rushing water before I could see it. The foliage provided a hidden swimming hole fed by the waterfall. It was where we took a day to relax, where I learned what had happened to Tigala's family, and it was where we were attacked by the water monster. So many emotions were tied into a spot as simple as a river through the woods.

"Here it is," said Lolan.

We carefully stepped across the river, hopping on rocks, and found the broken stone behind the waterfall. We shimmied along the slick rocks into the small room and over to the teleporter gate.

"How did you find this thing again?" asked Porthos.

"Tigala got thrown through the waterfall by a water monster," I said.

"Like a monster that lives in the water?"

"Kind of. A monster made of water," I said.

Porthos glanced at the waterfall behind us. "Right. Well, let's hope it doesn't come back." He turned back to focus on the archway.

"Come on," said Sillius with a straight face. "If there is any hope of this working, we're going to need to tie you up." He pulled a rope out of his bag, unraveling it toward us.

"We can't just state our case?" I asked.

"I'm not getting tied up," said Tigala.

"Where we're headed, it's not nuetral territory. This should lead us into the most protected parts of Losterious. If we show up with some Treeks, a Beastfolk, an Elf, and a Human, their first instinct is going to be attacking you. Even if you show up with Gnomes, they'll want to neutralize the threat."

"It's really that protected?" I asked.

"Have you ever heard of the Gnome teleportation hub?" asked Sillius.

I looked at the others. They shook their heads.

"Exactly. We don't even want people knowing it exists, let alone teleporting into it. I'm not sure they're going to accept me without some kind of punishment. If you want to go to Losterious, if you want their help, you need to arrive not looking like a threat."

"Okay," I said. "I'll do whatever we have to do."

I looked at Tigala. Her eyes darted around as if looking for a way out of the predicament.

"It's okay. If things really go south, you can transform and break out of the rope." I said.

"It still doesn't mean I want to be tied up."

"I know. But we've got this. It gives us a better chance of success."

She grunted but didn't disagree.

"I have no doubt we'll convince them," said Geralt. It was kind of nice to have the endless optimism around, though I wasn't sure he'd be much help in the event of a confrontation.

"Do you have anything you can tell us about the Gnomes that might help us convince them?" I asked, looking at Sillius as he tied us up. Porthos was now busy pouring purple-blue energy into the gate.

"Look. I'm not sure how on board I am with this whole thing. I agree. That monster needs to be stopped before it starts its rampage. But other than working together for the current threat, I'm not sure mixing races is going to help." said Sillius.

"Okay," I said. "So you don't want to give up information because your not sure whether or not we're going to turn back into enemies after all of this?"

"Right. King Slepenstein is a Gnome that appreciates clever thinking. He'll be more likely to help if you can outwit him in some way. But that's the most I'm going to give you. I don't want the Gnomes to think I've joined your cause or anything."

I glanced at Lolan and gave him a look. I was starting to feel less comfortable that the person saying these things was also the person tying us up. That same person was about to lead us into enemy territory.

"Okay," I said. "Well, thanks. We'll take what we can."

"Are you ready?" asked Porthos.

A faint purple-blue whirl was beginning to spin in the center of the archway. After Sillius had sufficiently tied us up, he stepped up to the opposite side of the portal and added his magic to the mix. The swirl of magic became a shifting wall like it was a pool we were about to jump into.

Sillius grabbed the end of the rope that bound us and tugged us after him as he stepped through the portal.

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