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17.3 Hazel

# 2484 12 - 17 mins. 9

I didn't know what to say or do. Was there anything that would change her mind? Or were we destined to fail from the start? What was the situation between her and Zef? Here I thought that bringing news of her father would gain us the chance to at least be heard out, but it might have even hurt our chances.

I looked at the others. Tigala raised her eyebrows, silently asking me if we should attack. I shook my head. We were definitely outnumbered here, and attacking would only damage our message of unity. Getting locked up until they decided on how to dispose of us wasn't exactly a great alternative though.

The Gnome guards led us out of the room by the ropes that bound us. We traveled down the illusory hallway one more time until we came to another door that I couldn't see. Inside were empty jail cells.

I was really tired of all of the cells. Between the colony and the various holding quarters that Malcolm used to keep his slaves in, it was more than enough for my entire lifetime. But I didn't have a choice. The guards shoved us into the cell and locked the metal behind us.

Even for a jail cell, it was a fairly nice room. The walls and ceiling were white with a subtle purple swirl running down it. We all were in the same cell despite there being several empty rooms. I didn't mind though.

"Well that went well," said Lolan.

"Yeah," I said, still not feeling as chipper as usual. "I thought there was a chance at least. Who hates their dad that much?"

"I don't," said Geralt. "But I do understand."

I thought back to the conversation I had with him. A father as repressive as that would explain things, but Zef couldn't have been like that. Right?

"What would Zef have done?" I asked. "I had only ever known him to be supportive and caring. How did Amara have an experience that was so much the opposite?" I looked over at Tigala to see if she had any information.

"I don't know," she said. "We didn't talk much, unfortunately."

It made sense. I got the feeling that Zef's playful attitude grated on her more than the rest of us.

"What about you?" I said, looking at Lolan.

"He told me a little bit about it," said Lolan. "He said he made mistakes raising her. He was still extremely proud of her, but upset with himself for emphasizing things that he shouldn't have."

"What kind of things?" I asked.

"He didn't say, but I got the feeling that it had to do with the war. He mentioned it when we were swimming at the waterfall. He said that he wished he knew what he was doing."

I thought back to the day. It was the day that I had upset Tigala by using my magic on water plants. I must not have been there when the conversation happened.

"You didn't get any more than that?" I asked.

"No," Lolan said, shaking his head. "That's when the water creature tried to drown us. It cut our conversation short."

It still hurt to think about him. I missed him. It was hard to believe that he was actually gone.

"Did he tell any of you about the whole thing he had going on with Klaus?" I asked.

"Nope," said Lolan. "Not me. I was wondering the same."

Tigala didn't offer any more than a shake of her head.

"He didn't tell me either. I wonder why he kept it secret. I feel like we all were at a point where we trusted each other pretty well."

"Maybe it's because he didn't have time with you throwing yourself into danger over and over again," said Tigala.

She had a point. It was a very busy month or so since we arrived in Daegal. There wasn't much downtime.

"I miss him," I said without much direction to the comment. "Zef would have been welcome company right now, stuck in a jail cell. He was the last time we were in this situation."

"Yeah," said Lolan. "I miss him too. He kind of felt like the father of the group. Like he always knew more than he let on."

I nodded. "He was also just a good friend. After spending so much of my life hiding or being hated, it really hurt to lose someone who actually treated me like a person."

"I know what you mean," said Lolan. "I still don't fully get it, but he knew before any of us that we would be friends. He was the one to put this together."

Lolan was right, and it felt good to say these things out loud. Zef's only 'funeral' was the few words I said after growing a tree over his body.

"I didn't know him well, but he was a noble fellow," said Geralt. He spoke quieter than he usually did, reading the tone of the room. "We were all lucky to have known him."

We all breathed an agreement.

"Are you okay?" asked Tigala.

I hadn't realized but I was staring at the ground in front of me.

"Yeah," I said. I thought through my words. "I wasn't sure about all of this. Especially after Zef died, I wasn't sure I could keep doing this. I just wanted to be free of the constant struggle. I wanted to leave with the Treeks."

I glanced at the others, trying to read their expressions. Had they known I was considering it? What did they think of me?

"But this, talking about Zef, it reminds me why we're doing this. This isn't just about ending the war or keeping people from having to suffer the same trauma as all of us. It's also about us. It's about the family we formed on that island. Whatever happens with this, whether we defeat that monster or fail, I'll know I made the right choice. We can lose the battle, we can lose the war, but at least we found each other. You guys are worth the struggle."

I heard a noise outside of our cell and looked, There was nothing there. Maybe I was hearing things in the silence after sharing something so emotional.

I looked up at the others. They smiled back at me. "You're worth the struggle too, I guess," said Tigala. "But sometimes it is definitely a struggle."

I chuckled at that.

"I'm glad you chose to stick with us," said Lolan. "We need our token Treek leader after all. And if you weren't here, who would I get into trouble with?"

"I volunteer," said Geralt.

My laughter erupted.

"Sounds good," said Lolan through his own laughter. "We'll make sure to include you in future escapades."

"Excellent!" said Geralt with a finger pointed to the air.

We laughed and talked for a bit longer about nothing in particular. It was strange to have a world-ending monster on the loose while we sat in a room and talked like the old friends we were. There wasn't much we could do for the moment though. It was all up to the others.

After the mood had settled down, I asked "So, what do we do now?" I stared at the cell bars as I spoke.

Tigala's was grim. "They'll execute us."

Lolan looked surprised at the revelation. "There's nothing we can do? Wouldn't we be more useful as hostages or something?"

"I don't think they care," said Tigala. "She's a warrior. You can see it in the way she holds herself. She's not going to play around with a mixed group of rejects. She'll want us out of her fur. Hair. However you say it."

I wasn't sure what to think of that. I knew it was a possibility. We even talked about it on the way to the gate. But I thought we had a decent chance. Finding out that it was Zef's daughter gave me even more hope. Maybe it was naivety, but I still had a gut feeling that she might come around. I was probably just being too hopeful.

Again, I heard a noise outside of the cell. I stood and turned to look at it, as did the others. Then a Gnome stepped into view.

"Porthos!" said Lolan.

"Hello," he said quietly. He raised a finger to his mouth to shush us. "That didn't go so well, did it?"

"Nope. Did you know she hated Zef so much?" I asked.

"No clue. I had only heard of her before that, and I barely knew Zef," said Porthos. "Sorry, I would have warned you if I had known."

"It is what it is," I said. "Do you have any good news for us?"

"Yup," he said smiling. "I'm getting you out of here," he said.

"How?" I asked.

With the smile still on his face, he sliced the air and opened a portal. He reached a hand through it and I felt a tug on my arm. I looked down to see Porthos's arm sticking out of a second portal right next to me. "Come on," he said.

I looked down at his arm reaching through the portal on the inside of the cell. "Oh," I said.

"We don't have much time," he said.

I looked at the others. They looked back trying to figure out what was going on in my head.

"I think we need to stay," I said.

"Why?" said Porthos. "I don't know what she plans to do, but I don't think you're going to like it."

"But if we break out," said Lolan, "there is no chance that the Gnomes will help everyone mobilize against the doom drake." He finished the sentence looking at me—making sure we were on the same page. We were.

"If this doesn't work, it won't matter anyway," I said. "We need the Gnomes' help if we're going to stand a chance against the doom drake."

"She could kill you," said Porthos. "King Slepenstein used to throw enemies into vats of acid." That did not sound like a good way to go.

"You guys can go if you want," I said, looking at the others, "but I think I need to stay."

"Then we'll stay with you," said Geralt.

"Yeah, you'll need us if she decides to execute us," said Tigala.

I heard footsteps coming our way. From the sound of it, there were multiple people headed our way. I looked at Porthos.

Porthos looked at us with worry on his face. "I'd better be going then," he said. He gave a quick nod before disappearing into the hallway where everything looked the same.

I wasn't sure yet who it might be, but I had a hunch. I turned back to the others and looked them in the eyes. "Are you sure you're up for this? There's no guarantee it's going to work."

"I'm with you. Yeah," said Tigala. "This sounds to me like another one of your reckless plans. If it comes to it, I'm going to fight back."

"I figured," I said. "But don't do it unless there is no other option."

"Yeah," she said.

"It's hard to trust someone whose actions don't match their words," said Lolan. "I think this might be the only way to convince her. So yeah, I'm in."

It was good to hear that at least one other person thought it might work.

I looked to Geralt. He straightened his posture as if surprised to be asked a question. "You're the only one who trusted me when I had unbelievable information. It's time I repay that favor."

Just then, several guards rounded the corner into the cell area. They all had paralyzing crystal staffs, and colorful robes, and pointed hats. One of them opened the door to the cell and the others came in and ushered us forward with stun staffs pointed at us. We obeyed and walked where they led us.

We entered the unchanging hallway again and walked down it for a time. They led us around a corner, and through the illusion. When the magic fell away we were in a large white room. There was a wooden platform at one end with some kind of vat with its opening flush with the wooden planks of the platform. It had to be the acid.

At the other end of the room was Amara, and two other Gnomes, one on each side of her. She looked down at us and quickly averted her eyes, looking straight ahead instead.

The guards led us forward to the platform. They pushed us up against the wood and tied our ropes around the wood in a quick knot. They did it for everyone but me. Not good.

"Take the Treek first," said one of the Gnomes sitting next to Amara. The guards surrounded me once the others were securely fastened to the wood.

One shoved me with what I assumed was the blunt end of the staff. I tripped and fell. I would have slammed my nose against the ground without having my hands to catch me, but I rolled at the last second, letting my shoulder take the brunt of the impact. The Gnomes laughed at me as I laid there.

"Get up," said one of the guards, smacking me across the ribs with the stick. The others laughed more at the attack, and my inability to catch my breath.

I chanced a look at the others. Tigala was tense, ready to step in. I gave her a look to tell her to stay put.

Even if she did act, we were outnumbered. There was a chance we could make it out, but it was a very small one. And I still had a sliver of hope that Amara would change her mind. She couldn't be so heartless as to execute her father's friends, could she? I at least hoped the answer was no. The guards urging me forward started to give me doubts.

I pushed myself to my feet, my ribs aching from the strike. The Gnomes ushered me up the stairs to the top of the platform. Once I was up there, I could see the inside of the vat. It was a bubbling yellow liquid with hints of a metallic silver throughout it.

They're going to throw me in there? I thought. It was one thing to be told about it, but to see the liquid in front of me was terrifying. The idea of melting in some mystery liquid? That was horrifying.

The Gnomes pushed me forward to the edge, jeering at me.

I gulped. Maybe she wasn't going to come around. Maybe this was really the end. I looked back at Tigala and started to give a nod with wide eyes.

She was anxious to act. Tigala began transforming instantly.

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