I woke up as a crack of thunder ripped through the sky and the rain came down in sheets. I had a small canopy of branches and broad leaves forming an umbrella over me. I kind of remembered doing it, half asleep, earlier that morning. I looked down and saw Lolan awake, sitting on a branch, huddled up against the trunk, and shivering.
Oh, right. I guess my sleep magic forgot about him. ...oops.
Chipry sat on the branch next to me with all of his colorful plumage matted down, making him look grumpy. He probably was.
The sun was starting to rise, or might have already risen, but it was hard to tell through the dark storm clouds overhead. I climbed out of my hammock and down to the branch where Lolan sat, looking miserable.
"How long has it been raining?" I asked, almost yelling over the sound of the rain pattering against the leaves.
"Maybe 4 hours," he said. He looked miserable with his arms wrapped around his knees. I guess he's not used to sleeping through a rainstorm. I had heard that Humans had trouble with that kind of thing. I wonder if the Elves can sleep in the rain.
"Come on," I said. "Let's go spend some of those vouchers at the tavern."
I climbed down and whistled. Chipry dropped down to my shoulder—his movements not as light as usual. Lolan climbed down too and wrapped his arms around himself as we walked.
We were among the first to arrive at the tavern aside from a drunk, red-haired Dwarf at the bar, and a group of Avians seated at a table along the far wall. We found a spot near the fireplace and sat down with our backs to it.
Once we were settled and Lolan's teeth stopped chattering, I said, "So, do you want to talk anymore about that storm mage?"
He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He looked up at me as if checking to make sure he could still trust me. "Yeah," he said.
"I'm only half Elf," he said, lowering his head while keeping his eyes on me to see my reaction.
I wasn't sure how to respond—whether I should feign ignorance or tell him that I kind of knew. I could only manage to let out a single "Oh" in response.
"Did you already figure that out?" he asked. His bent eyebrows showed his worry and curiosity at the same time.
I nodded slowly. "Yeah," I said. "When I had to carry you to away from the ogre fight, your hood fell off. I've been around enough Humans to at least make the guess.
"Why would you come here though if you knew that it would be harder to hide? I've always found more safety among bigger numbers. Easier to not be noticed."
"I came here to get away from those storm mages. To keep my family safe too," he said. "Those people have been hunting me. They're Elven purists. They think that Elves are the most evolved race and should, therefore, rule all of the others. With a claim like that, you can't imagine they'd enjoy the thought of a half-breed running around, proof that Elves are at least somewhat compatible with Humans."
"And now one of them is here," I said.
"Yeah," he sighed. "I want to know who he is before he figures out what I am."
The old Human waitress approached the table with a bit of a gimp in her step. "We've got ale and boar today," she said in a haggard tone. "What do you want."
"I'll take some boar," I said.
"Same," said Lolan.
She held out a hand. "I need payment upfront. Too many people looking to stiff me around here," said the woman.
We both pulled out our vouchers, and the woman headed back into the kitchen.
"What about that tall Elf last night? Why did he let us go?" I asked.
"I don't know," said Lolan. "He has kept more to himself, but I don't know why he'd let us go."
"Do you think he's the one from the spider caves?" I asked.
"It's possible, but who knows." He shook his head. "I really thought Galia was him."
"Who's that?" I asked.
"The angry one with the spiked hair."
"His name's Galia? Man, Elves have the weirdest names." I wondered if that would offend him, but when I glanced at him I saw a smirk come across his face.
The door at the far end of the hall flew open and I couldn't see anyone walking in from where I sat. I lifted myself to a half-stand and spotted Zef's head. His white hair was plastered to his skull with rain. His beard hung in a similar way, matted to his chest. He saw my head pop up above the tables and waved with a smile.
I still didn't quite get it, but his cheer was somehow a little infectious, I guess. Even while he was soaked and too short to see over a table, he smiled. I wonder what kind of insanity is required to be that positive all the time.
Zef scuttled over to our table and sat down. "Did you two have a rough night too?"
"Yes," Lolan groaned.
"What happened to you?" I said.
He chuckled, "Heh heh. I guess the other Gnomes aren't too happy about me working with other races," he said.
"Wait, I thought you said they didn't want you because you're too old," said Lolan. I was about to say the same.
"Well, yes. But I guess they expected me to work on enchantments for the colony or something along those lines. They didn't expect me to go and work with—" he shrugged his shoulders, "—you."
"So what'd they do?" I asked.
"It was very elaborate actually. They must've known it would rain, because they cut a big hole in the roof of my tent, and covered it in an illusion to make it look like the tent was in one piece. Then in the middle of the night, the rain came right through my intact tent, soaking me and all of my stuff."
"That is elaborate. Is that how Gnomes always deal with traitors?" I asked.
"No. They treat traitors much worse. The rules are a little more ambiguous here though. No one quite knows where Rodrigo's lines are drawn."
Other people began filtering into the tavern while we talked, sometimes alone, but more often in small groups. Each sat down with their respective race and began their own conversations.
The Dwarven representative walked in and sat down at the bar next to the drunk red-haired Dwarf and tried to start a hushed conversation with him. It seemed to not be working as the red-haired Dwarf blubbered on, saying something indecipherable about a girl named Abigail.
Our food arrived at the table steaming. A slab of boar meat was accompanied by some boiled carrots and mashed potatoes. I hated how the Humans always boiled their vegetables. It ruined a perfectly good food. But I was starving for anything other than bread and began eating as Zef ordered some food for himself.
"So I guess there will be no exploring today," said Zef. "It's quite a storm out there."
"Yeah, we could probably use a break anyway." I glanced at Lolan who was unknowingly holding his side as he sat.
The tavern door flung open once more and in stepped a group of Elves, completely dry despite the storm outside. At the head of the pack was Galia, Lolan's oddly named and newfound enemy.
He glanced around for open tables and then spotted us. He scowled and then walked with his group to a table near the center of the room that was positioned next to another table of Elves.
"So you probably can't stay in the Elven camp anymore, can you?" I asked Lolan.
"I don't know if I could fall asleep there now even if they let me," he said. He was trying not to be too obvious in watching Galia.
Galia stood up and approached our table. He walked like he was proud, but at least among the Humans, that kind of walk usually implied that you were overcompensating for a lack of confidence.
He leaned on the table with his arms straight and eyebrows in hard lines. "What were you doing in my tent, traitor?" He said, glaring a hole in Lolan's skull.
"I thought you were someone you're not. Sorry. It won't happen again," said Lolan.
"No. No, it won't," said Galia, again, looking like he was trying too hard to be intimidating.
Then, with a quick swing of his arms, he grabbed Lolan by the collar of his shirt. He lifted him, knocking over Lolan's chair, and pinned him against the wall next to the fireplace. Conversations halted as people watched the confrontation. I was already growing vines in the dry soil beneath the floorboards, coiling them around so I could launch them up at Galia in a moment's notice.
Galia leaned close to Lolan's face and said, "Cause if you do, I'll kill you. ...and your girlfriend too. Freak." He glanced at me to make sure I heard it, and I glared back in response. With an extra shove on the word 'freak', he dropped Lolan and headed back to his own table.
Lolan was left panting, but each deep breath that he breathed twisted his face with pain. Zef, who I realized was standing and ready to fight, rushed to his side and did his best to help the half-Elf, twice his size, back into a chair.
"You okay?" I asked.
Lolan nodded in response. "I'll be fine."
"So you two are a thing now?" asked Zef with a wry smile.
"What? No!" I said.
Zef only chuckled in response. I got the feeling it was a question asked more to see our reactions than anything else.
"But what was that all about?" asked Zef once he had recovered from his laughing fit. He seemed to like walking the line of what was considered a trick.
"I was looking for the man in yellow from yesterday. I thought it was that guy so I snuck into his tent to check. He came back while I was snooping around, and Kaia showed up and helped me escape."
It was a dumb idea, doing it alone with a broken rib. I almost told him as much, but I probably would have done the same. When you know that you're the only one you can trust, there's not much of a choice to be made.
"I see," said Zef. "Is he then?"
"No. I don't think so. No robes. No necklace. No book." Lolan hung his head still fighting to regulate his breathing.
"I would like a chance to look at that book. Are there any other candidates?" Zef asked.
"Could be anybody. Galia just fit the persona, from the limited knowledge I have of those mages."
Zef seemed to be contemplating and possibly scanning the room for other Elves—other candidates.
The tavern was starting to fill up. Several more people had entered during our conversations. All of them were drenched aside from the groups of Elves that had magic users amongst. They must have a way of diverting the rain. That would be interesting to see.
"I'm going to get a spot on the map before it gets too crowded in here," I said.
I walked over to the map, taking on glares from other folk the whole way there. I looked it over. There were some new developments. It looked like one group had recently found a waterfall, a tall one, based on the drawing—another thing I'd love to see. The forest I had explored was expanded on the sides too. There wasn't anything interesting there.
I looked back to the waterfall and followed it upstream. More North than where we had searched was another patch of forest. The stream feeding the waterfall ran through it, and at the far end of where we had explored was a smudge on the map.
It could have been accidental, but it also might be something interesting that hadn't been fully explored yet. In the blank part of the map, just past the smudge, was an orange token. I grabbed our brown, unpainted token, and placed it near the orange one, not so close that people would think we were trying to encroach on the other group, but close enough that we could take a look.
Orange was for transformation magic, so it would be the Beastfolk. Could it be that group led by the wolfman? I hoped it wasn't.
I headed back to our table and told the others, "If the rain lets up tomorrow, I think I've got an interesting place to check out."