I felt Lolan start to breathe heavy and was reminded of his strange racial predicament. The person in yellow was using storm magic, which is only known by the Elves. And they were good at it. I was terrified, and I had no issues with the Elves in particular, other than them hating me like every other race did, of course. Still, I couldn't imagine having an enemy that strong, if that's what this person was to Lolan.
The figure stood, still not facing the spider. I couldn't figure out if it was just strong enough to target something without looking, or if there was something more going on. It looked around the room and walked over to the dead Gnome on the floor. With black leather boots, the corpse was rolled over and examined, though the figure remained standing.
Then, it walked over to the table and flicked its hand. A gust of wind blew a puff of dust from the ancient book's pages. The figure picked it up, tucked it under its arm, and turned back to the stairs.
I held my breath.
The metal mask covering its face was a solid sheet of metal, with sharply angled slits cut into it for the eyes and mouth. Around its neck hung a necklace with some kind of medallion that I couldn't make out. The figure started toward the stairs, paused, and cocked its head. The covered face made it hard to tell, but I thought it looked straight at us, possibly followed by a faint chuckle. Then the person in yellow climbed back up the stairs and was gone.
"What was that?" I said after the sound of the figure had been long gone. I stood up breaking the stone textured illusion; the energy rippling out and dissipating. The others stood too, dusting themselves off, but Lolan remained huddled in the corner.
"Lolan. That was a storm mage, right? Why was he following us?" I asked again.
Lolan shook out of his stupor. "I—I don't know. Maybe he was just searching and saw the tower like we did." I was unconvinced.
Tigala walked over to the curled husk of the warp spider and began examining it.
Zef looked to Lolan. "You don't know anything about him?" he asked.
Lolan shook his head. "I don't know. Let's just get out of here before we run into another spider."
Zef acted like he was in thought about the figure. He probably knew that Lolan wasn't so spooked for nothing, but he didn't pry. "Well, that book he took was unlike anything I've seen. It was on teleportation magic."
"How do you know?" Lolan said. "I thought written magic was extremely dangerous."
"It is. I saw the title as he carried it away. I've never heard of such a book before. It must be ancient. The more important question though is why does a storm mage want a book on teleportation?" said Zef.
Tigala was tearing open the carcass as we spoke. She was elbow deep in it examining the creature's innards.
Lolan looked spooked and he wasn't willing to say why, so I took a quick look around the room for anything of use.
The table was bare aside from a dustless silhouette where the book had once laid. Spider webs stretched across the room making it hard to walk through. I ducked under a web to reach the back of the chamber and found two people-sized web sacs standing upright. The base of each pod leached from the blue-purple glowing veins in the floor, sending waves of the energy up its sides. It pulsed in unison with the energy in the floor.
I went back and grabbed my vine-saw and noticed Zef was exploring too. Tigala was still examining the spider corpse, and Lolan stayed standing in the corner, like a child lost in a crowd.
I walked back to the web sack and began cutting. Inside I found a mummy of a man with skin pulled tight against his bones. He looked like he had been drained of life a long time ago.
Still, I cut him free and checked for useful items. There was a small change purse with some coin in it and a sword at his hip. I grabbed both.
I used the sword to cut open the other sack and found an Elf this time in similar condition. He had a couple of daggers which I took also.
Seeing that the cavern was a dead end, I turned back to the group. I handed Lolan the sword and said, "Here, I think this will suit you best."
He strapped it to his waist and said, "Thanks," still wide-eyed.
"We should go," said Zef. Tigala was swiping the spider guts from her arms and said nothing.
I nodded and Zef led the way. He was muttering to himself as we walked. By the time we reached the room swarming with spiders, we were almost transparent, blurry phantoms of what we were. We still inched our way along, doing our best to stay quiet, but we didn't find the walls to be crawling with giant spiders like our first visit to the room. Instead, several more spider crisps were scattered about the floor. Whoever that man in yellow was, he was powerful.
We climbed out of the tower and back into the forest above. After a few moments, Chipry hopped into view and back into my shoulder with a chorus of cheerful chirps.
It was a long walk back and the sun was setting on us as we got closer. I thought of Rodrigo's speech about not staying out here in the dark. There wasn't much we could do about that though. I hoped we'd be alright.
Thoughts swirled through my head about our findings. The tower couldn't have been made by the first colonies, so this land must have been inhabited before. I thought about the man in yellow and metal. Who could he have been? Why was he out there all alone? And why did he want that book?
I looked up and noticed Lolan trailing behind the group. He was probably thinking about the same sort of things. I slowed my pace until he caught up. "So you know more about that guy, right? The man in yellow?" I said.
He looked over at me with worry on his face, his forehead creased in thought. He glanced at Zef and Tigala who were far enough away to be out of earshot, and then asked, "Can I trust you?"
Could he? I wasn't sure. Better yet, could I trust him? Yes, he had shot an ogre when it was trying to kill me, but why did he do that? It couldn't just be as simple as wanting an ally, could it? He probably didn't want to be blamed for my death.
Then again, what was I going to do with the information he told me. Who would I tell? Chipry? The only thing I could use it for was to get myself out of trouble.
"Sure," I said, unsure that I believed it.
He drew his eyebrows in a line. "Can I?" He said one more time.
"Yes," I said with more confidence this time.
He continued with his puzzled look. With a sigh, he said, "Nevermind."
I wasn't good at this. I had been on my own, only looking out for myself for the past seven years. Trust was not something I had been in the position to give in a very long time—not when everyone blames your race for a war-starting plague.
I wanted to convince him he could trust me, partially in hopes that I could trust someone else for once, but it couldn't be. I couldn't let myself be that careless. There was a reason I had made it on my own for so long, and not trusting anyone was a big part of that.
"So that's it then? You're not going to tell us anything?" I said, more aloof then accusatory. I think I knew how he felt.
"It's my problem. I'll deal with it," he said. He picked up his pace a little, trying to leave me and the conversation behind, but his broken rib made each step painful and slow. I accommodated by distancing myself as well.
That conversation could have gone better, but then again, what could I expect. I've never quite been a socialite.
We walked back to the colony mostly in silence. Zef began singing along the way. It was a cheery tune, but he sang softly, and to himself, making it hard to pick out any words.
When we arrived back at the colony, the sun had set and the gates were closed. A yellow Saurian watchman with streaks of blue throughout his scales stood at the top of the wall with a long spear by his side.
The Saurian saw us approach, flicked his head at someone inside, and the gates opened. Inside, I saw Rodrigo talking to someone by the tavern. He eyed our group as we entered, scowling, but he stayed where he was.
"We're rewarded for what we find, right? Should we tell people about the tower?"
"I don't see why not. We took anything of value, except for that book," said Zef.
Tigala remained silent as usual. Lolan was still lost in thought.
We headed over to the tavern and found it stirring with search parties that were back from a long day of exploring the new land. Tigala didn't change her form this time and when we entered, everyone stopped.
A Dwarf I couldn't pick out yelled, "Freaks," from a distant table. Murmurs began. I couldn't make out any words, but the tone of the room was negative, judging. We were the outcasts—the people that they wanted to see even less than other races. More than centuries of hate and murder between races, they despised us because we ignored it. We looked past their suffering and worked together, even if just barely.
We approached the map on the table and a black-haired Gnome in a blue and purple swirled coat pushed past us. He stood in the spot we were heading for and a few more from his group joined him, barring us from that corner.
A group of Avians similarly held their place around the table, despite having finished any business they had with the map.
I began breathing heavy. Sweat dripped down my forehead. The tavern was filled with races of every kind, and I was the only Treek, standing in the center of it all. I had no allies of my own besides these tentative agreements with the others to search the wilds together. If this went south, and it looked like it might, I would be on my own against an army—against multiple armies.
I looked around for Rodrigo. He had de-escalated before, maybe he could do it again. He was nowhere to be seen.
Behind us, the Beastfolk group approached with the Wolf-like one leading the pack. "So, you came all this way to spend your time with these demons?" he said, with unwavering eyes on Tigala.
"I wanted to work with you, with the Beastfolk," she said through clenched teeth.
The boar-like Beastman joined as wolf-man continued, "And I said that you need to rest. You already lost one group due to your incompetence, I won't see you lose mine as well." The words were a snarl.
"I got hurt trying to save one of them!" she said. The statement felt like it had more meaning than the words alone let on. She lowered her head and arched her back like she was ready to attack.
Zef stepped in between the two towering Beastfolk. "Why don't we let this lie. I don't want anyone to do something they regret." His head craned so far up to meet their eyes that he might as well have been looking at the ceiling.
The conversations around us grew louder. I looked toward the door and the way was blocked by a group of Dwarves.
We were trapped.
The wolf-man snarled. "You're pathetic. Now you have this runt fight your batt—"
"Silence!" A voice yelled out near the bar with a loud crack of thunder overhead. All eyes focused on a tall Elven woman. She wore a white flowing shirt tucked into tight black pants. I had seen her before: the Elven representative.
She stepped toward us, "Back away," she said and began walking toward us. Each clack of her boots against the wooden floor was audible. "We weren't joking you know. If any of you were just about to do something, we would kick you out. We haven't had to yet, and we don't want to, but we will do it."
She had everyone's full intention. I looked around saw Rodrigo in the doorway, glaring at me. What did I ever do to him?
The Elven representative continued. "I don't like it either that this group is working together, but to postpone the killing and get our people back, we need to tolerate them. Attacking them would only break the truce."
She reached us in the middle of her speech. When she was done. She looked at Lolan and said, "Now, I believe you had something to add to the map." She swung her arm back guiding us to it.
"Th-thanks," Lolan said, keeping his head down.
The atmosphere of the tavern still was not as jovial as it was before we arrived, but people went back to their tables grumbling about us and nursing their drinks.
I stepped forward and drew the tower just passed the cliffs I had drawn the previous night.
"So, you found something?" said the Elven woman behind me.
Zef spoke, allowing me to continue drawing. I didn't mind. I had enough people watching me as it was.
"Yes," said Zef. "We found an old ruined tower. The lower part of it was infested with giant spiders and it looks like there was some sort of magical disaster down there. It gave one of the spiders the power to teleport."
"Interesting," said the woman. "Any signs of our missing people?"
"No," said Zef. "There was a book and—"
"Just a bunch of spider webs," I said cutting him off. I tried to sound as casual as possible about it. I didn't know if he was going to mention the man in yellow we saw, but I wanted to stop him just in case.
"Well, hopefully, that gets us closer to finding our people," said the Elf. I finished drawing as she spoke. I turned around to find Lolan standing back from the Elf with his head lowered. Tigala, on the other hand, stood with her head high. She had her usual scowl on her face, but it was more pronounced than usual.
The Elf glanced at Lolan and his curious withdrawal from the conversation. It was a wonder that Lolan had been able to hide the fact that he was half-Human his whole life. He made it so obvious that something was off.
The woman said, "Well, what would you like as a reward for your findings? We have food and coin."
"Food, please," I said. I was getting tired of bread and berries.
"Food," said Lolan, followed by Zef. Tigala nodded indicating that she wanted the same.
"Very well," said the Elf. She walked behind the bar and into the kitchen and then returned with a handful of metal tokens. She dispersed three of them to each of us and said, "Each of these is good for one meal. You can use them at the butcher shop in the square or here at the tavern.
"My name is Tallesia, by the way. I suggest you all be careful. As you can see, you are allowed here, but this alliance is not welcome." She waved her hand loosely at us as she said 'this'. "Stay out of trouble. We can't keep the peace everywhere." She walked back to her place at the bar and we looked at each other and then began our exit.
We continued drawing glares from tables as we walked, but at least Rodrigo had left the entrance sometime during our talk with Tallesia. That guy really hated me for some reason. I knew nobody liked Treeks, but it seemed worse than just that.
Our group split up, heading to our various tents and huts. I walked towards the hill and then back to my tree once the group had scattered.
I set my hammock in the branches, ate a small portion of my remaining rations along with Chipry, and laid down.
I watched over the tent city, glowing with the dance of campfires. Others were making their food before bedding down for the night.
Lolan's camp, however, was not bright at all. His fire pit was dark, and I couldn't see him anywhere. After a few moments of squinting, a tent flap opened. Lolan crept out, keeping low enough that he would be hidden from other Elves by the height of the tents.
What's he up to? I thought, sitting up in my hammock perch.