I watched Lolan sneak through the tents. He was creeping toward another camp that was dark.
I put on my Human jacket and pants from my bag, hopped down from my hammock, and whistled. Chipry startled and then floated down to my shoulder as I walked toward the hill.
I descended the hill sticking to the shadows as much as possible, hoping that my Human garb would subvert any superstition when I was visible. By the time I reached the Human tents, Lolan was at the empty camp.
I walked around the edge of the Human camp as quickly as I could without raising alarm. Some looked, but most were either already in their tents or distracted by campfire tales of grandeur.
I reached Lolan's camp and found it empty. I peeked inside the tent for anything of interest, but it was mostly bare. I left it and continued to the camp that I had seen him creeping towards. I stuck to the shadows, ducking low between tents. The Elves wouldn't be so relaxed seeing me in my red jacket.
I ducked between tents, some with campfires lit, others without. One near the center of the Elven section had six or seven Elves sitting around a campfire. One sang songs of adventures and the others listened in, entranced by the tune.
Not a storm left in sight
Till the distant mages hand
Readied for her fight
When the creature raised its head...
I didn't stick around to listen to any more of it. I was more curious to find what Lolan was up to.
I heard footsteps nearby and saw a group of three Elves walking in the same direction I was headed. I ducked low enough that only my eyes and forehead stuck out above the nearest tent. I watched closely. The Elf at the lead of the group had shorter black hair, spiked on top. It looked stupid, but what did I know about Elven style. His body was covered in art depicting storm clouds, mountain tops, and lightning.
They rounded the bend of the Elven section of tents and turned toward the tent that Lolan was in, three tents from me.
I crawled forward on all fours, fast enough to beat them there but slow enough that I wouldn't raise any alarm. I hit the canvas of the tent and whispered, "Lolan, get out of there."
I heard a shuffling inside and then the tent flap. He appeared around the corner, but as he did, the three Elves came within eyesight of the tent and saw Lolan's escape.
"Hey! You!" were the only words the tattooed Elf could muster before he broke into a full sprint after Lolan.
Lolan, distracted by his pursuers, ran while looking over his shoulder at them. I, on the other hand, was right in his path squatting down so as not to be seen. I tried to dodge him, but I couldn't move quick enough. He came barrelling towards me and caught me off guard, crashing into me.
Chipry dashed to the air, and Lolan and I rolled. Unnggh, I groaned.
"What do you think you're doing?" a voice yelled from beyond the tent.
I looked back and saw the three Elves in full sprint after us. Lolan got back to his feet and tugged on the shoulder of my jacket. "Come on!" he said in a half whisper.
I stood and we ran, still trying to keep our heads low but with less care than before. Lolan wasn't running very fast. Our tail was gaining on us, and other Elves were beginning to search for the source of the commotion.
I pulled down a tent as we continued our run between tent backs, and someone inside yelled, "Who did that?" They began thrashing to get free of the yellow canvas. The Elves behind us tried to shove their way past but the tangle of cloth tripped them up.
I grabbed Lolan's arm and pulled him behind a tent while our pursuers navigated the mess of canvas. We ducked down on the side furthest from them.
We waited, huffing for breath as quietly as possible. I looked at Lolan and noticed his hand on his ribs. Each breath looked painful. I'm sure crashing into me didn't help the situation either.
The spikey-haired Elf and his gang approached the tent we were behind at a quick pace. Lolan and I quietly shuffled around the front of the tent to avoid being seen, and the Elf kept running.
I let out a sigh of relief and then heard something behind me. A creak of wood was followed by thwip as the tent flap behind us opened.
We scrambled forward on our hands and knees to get out of the way, and an Elf stepped out. He was tall, with a golden robe on that extended down to his knees. It was ornate with lines of stitching, yet it still looked comfy. He had long copper hair pulled back into a half-pony and soft eyes. He looked around and his eyes settled on our pursuers who were now heading away from us. He then surveyed the other Elves that were now trying to right the tent I had knocked over.
He looked down at the two of us and said, "You'd better go." He ended his statement with his mouth in a line—or was it a slight smile? It was hard to tell in the dim light.
He must have seen the surprise in our faces as we both stared at him. Why would he let us go? Why would he let me go? We'd been caught where we shouldn't be and we had collapsed an Elven tent. He could definitely see that I was the Treek girl. Now that everyone knew what I looked like, it couldn't be hard, even in low lighting.
"Come on then. Go. They'll realize that they've lost you soon and double back," said the tall Elf.
I got up keeping my eyes on the Elf and got Lolan to his feet. We walked slowly, still ducking down, in the opposite direction of Spike, the Elf that was chasing us. The tall Elf nodded to me as we hobbled away.
We made our way to the main path that encircled the tent city. The palisade of the colony lined the outside of the path while the Gnome housings lined the other. It seemed less confrontational to walk in the wide outer path than the smaller paths that weaved through each race's section of tents. No path was great though, given that we were two different races walking together.
"Do you think we lost them?" Lolan said between wincing breaths. He looked rough. In the past two days, he'd taken a hit from an ogre, been strung up by a giant teleporting spider, and now chased by his own race.
"I think so," I said. "What were you doing in there?"
He sighed. I guess it could have been a wince, but it looked like a reaction to my question rather than his broken rib. "I was trying to figure out who that storm mage was," he said. "I thought that guy might have been him."
"Why?" I said, incredulous.
He swallowed as if to buy more time before he had to answer. "Those people are dangerous. I've run into them before, back in Nimbus."
"What do you mean, 'those people'? There's more of him?"
"Yeah. They're some kind of group. I could tell he was one because of the necklace he wore. Three clouds surrounding an eye; the eye of the storm," he said.
"What does he want?"
"I don't know," he said. He looked at the ground, then at me for a moment, and settled on staring into the distance.
Weird. Did he know more?
"So was he the guy?" I asked.
"Why are you asking me so many questions? I told you earlier that it was my problem. I'll deal with it," said Lolan. His words came out with a slight edge to them.
Right. He was still stewing on my hesitation from earlier. It made sense I guess, though I wasn't sure why trust was so important to him. Sure, he was a half-breed, but at least he wasn't a Treek.
I guess having allies wasn't a terrible idea though. This colony was a tinderbox, as the Humans would say; the slightest spark would blow it to pieces.
"Look," I said. "I'm still figuring out the whole trust thing. I've been on my own since almost before I can remember. And even then, there were very few people I could rely on not to kill me."
I sighed. The thought of my mother came to mind, Run, Kaia! I could still remember her voice and the flames that came alive around them. My eyes blurred with the start of tears, but I forced them back. I couldn't afford to be weak. It would only get me killed.
"I'm sorry," said Lolan, rousing me from the labyrinth of my thoughts.
I swallowed and shook my head. He didn't hate me. He didn't want to kill or maim me like so many others did. Despite myself, I couldn't help but think he was sincere.
I sighed again, "You can trust me as long as I can trust you. Okay?" I asked.
He gave a slight nod and said, "Deal."
"Besides, I don't know if the Elves are going to let you back in their sector after tonight." I smiled with my eyebrows raised.
"Yeah," he said.
We had circled around the front side of the tent city and reached the hill, close to the front gate and the beach. We climbed the hill up to the town square and circled around between the colony walls and the backs of buildings until we came to my tree. I was relieved to find Chipry perched in his usual spot among the branches.
"Did you have anything important in that tent?" I asked.
Lolan looked at me with his eyebrows knit. I flicked my chin up in the direction of his tent revealing the spikey-haired Elf and his buddies trashing Lolan's stuff in the distance.
"Aw, man!" he said.
"You can sleep in my tree if you want," I said.
"What? Your tree? Did you grow this?" he asked.
"No, I can't just grow trees that quickly. It's just where I've been sleeping. You can use my hammock. I'll make a temporary one for tonight."
He looked up in the branches of the tree, and then back towards his tent. "I guess I don't really have a choice. Do I?"
"Not unless you want to finish the fight you started with that Elf," I said. "I know Rodrigo told us not to fight between races, I don't know if he cares about Elves fighting Elves though."
"Right. So how does this work?"
I climbed the tree and set up the hammock for him in my usual spot. He climbed to the opposite branch and scooted out to where the hammock connected to it. He put his feet in the hammock and slowly lowered the rest of his body into it, wobbling the whole way into the unsteady bed. I couldn't help but chuckle.
I grew several thin, dense vines out of the ground and then cut them with the small knife at my hip. One by one I brought them up the tree and tied them around two branches higher up and offset from my usual spot where Lolan laid wide-eyed, trying not to fall out of his treetop perch.
I finished my nature-crafting by growing a thin layer of tangled moss on the ground. I tore it free and settled into my own, impromptu hammock and blanket, a trick I hadn't used for some time. Chipry joined me in the higher branches as I slid onto the vines with much more ease than Lolan had.
"Thanks, Kaia," said Lolan once I had laid down. I looked down and he finally looked relaxed in the hammock.
I half smiled and said, "Sleep well." Then I drifted off to sleep.