"She's dead! Are you really questioning me on this? They killed her," yelled someone near the back gate of the colony. A small Gnome went running toward it. He turned the corner to find a large boar-like Beastfolk holding a limp black and white patterned companion.
The boar Beastfolk was talking to Rodrigo—not the Gnome's favorite person, but not his least favorite either. Sungura, the Beastfolk representative, was there too. Her long rabbit ears were pulled back and her soft grey fur did little to hide the hard scowl on her face. The Gnome approached and listened.
"I have to question you," said Rodrigo, "because they will likely make the same claims about you. I'm not saying I don't believe you, I just—"
"That witch just killed at least one of my pack, possibly three, if you count the two I couldn't find as dead. She needs to die," said Torm. His rage was so apparent that it was uncomfortable to be around. The Gnome wanted to drown out the noise, but he knew that wouldn't be helpful at a time like this.
Yet another problem in this forsaken land. thought the Gnome.
Sungura spoke. "We're going to do everything we can to figure this out. I will not let this stand." She reached out her hands and said, "Let me take Mila, and we'll see what we can do for her. At the very least she deserves an honorable burial."
Torm handed over the cow Beastfolk, and Sungura carried her back to the lodge.
"Rodrigo, what can I do?" asked the Gnome when there was a momentary break in the conversation.
"Go get the others, Sillius. If they're still out there, we might need to use force to take them down."
The large wolf Beastfolk entered the room and sat down at the table across from Sungura. He looked battered, with matted fur and spots of dried blood in various places across his thick coat. He looked mangy and feral, but then again, most Beastfolk did.
"I'm glad to see you're up and about, Lobo," said Sungura.
Lobo only nodded in response. His face was bent in hard lines unwilling to move even for a fellow Beastfolk.
"So, tell me what happened," said Sungura
"She killed Mila. That's what happened. And she tried to kill the rest of us too," he growled.
"Lobo, I need the full story. Work with me here. I'm on your side," said Sungura.
Lobo exhaled through his canine snout. "We set out yesterday to the location that we picked on the map. We had a pawn there to mark where we were going from the start. When we arrived, that band of criminals was already there, exploring our location."
"So what did you do?" asked Sungura.
"I told them to leave and they attacked us. So we tied them up and kept exploring."
"And what did you find?" asked the Rabbit Beastfolk.
"Some sort town of houses built into the tree trunks. The Treek girl probably had friends waiting there to help her."
"Did you see any?"
"So what happened next?"
"The witch broke out and came and attacked us again. I should have seen it coming, but they ambushed us. And in that forest, there were these green glowing roots stretching across everything. When we got the upper hand, she blew those roots sky high, bringing the whole forest under her control. She made the forest kill Mila, and she tried to kill the rest of us. I would have been dead if it weren't for Raffa."
With raised eyebrows, Sungura looked back at Sillius who was standing in the corner of the room.
"Was it your plan all along to betray them, Tigala?"
"I didn't. No." Tigala's face twisted in anger as she spoke. "Lobo was going to kill her, the Treek girl, Kaia. He was gonna murder her because of some long-dead Beastfolk corpse that we found there."
"That she presumably killed," added Sungura.
Tigala slammed her hand on the edge of the table. "She didn't kill that Beastfolk. He was rotting and smelled like he'd been there for months."
"She knows nature magic. What if she used fungi to speed up the process of decay?"
"She didn't do it. I was there. She didn't have time to," Tigala said, almost yelling at this point.
"Under normal circumstances, do you think the Treek could manage to control a whole swath of forest like she did?" asked Sungura. Sillius could tell Sungura was working her way to something but he didn't know what.
Tigala calmed down some, looking a little caught off guard by the question. "No. She can grow one or maybe two vines at a time. And she wasn't controlling the forest. It was attacking her too."
"Even if she wasn't in control of the forest, if she could animate a forest with the help of those glowing roots, why couldn't she also decay a body rapidly?" Sungura asked.
Tigala was speechless for a moment. She leaned back in her chair. "Look, she didn't do it. I've been around her enough to know. And she saved Lobo's life as we left that forest. A tree was about to step on him and she dove in and saved him. She did that after he tried to kill her."
"Right. And you're going to say she didn't set up that situation either, I guess. If she can animate a forest, why wouldn't she have a tree pretend to crush Lobo so that she could come out looking like a hero? And even still, this is all coming from someone who betrayed her own pack. You do realize this story is very hard to believe, don't you?"
"Ah, so you're using a projection of what's in this room so the others can see. That's clever," said Zef as he waved at the swirl of purple energy next to Sillius. "So, what's your name? I don't believe we've met."
"The name's Sillius," he said. Sillius sat across from Zef with a permanent scowl on his face. His black hair framed the top of his bald head, unkempt and coarse. He wore a thick black mustache on his face and only scruff on his cheeks, chin, and neck.
A smile came across Zef's face. It was a reaction that Sillius was all too familiar with. Zef started to speak. "Can I call you Si—"
"Don't you say it," said Sillius stabbing his finger at the old Gnome. "It's Sillius—just Sillius."
The grumpy Gnome took a moment to collect himself and said, "So why are you working with other races? Why are you working with a Treek instead of the other Gnomes?"
"The other Gnomes don't want to work with me. I'm too old," said Zef.
Sillius leaned forward. "Have you asked them?"
The smile began to fade from Zef's face. "No," he said.
"Then why would you go straight to working with a Treek instead of your own people?"
Zef looked down at the table and paused for a moment. "She reminds me of my daughter," said Zef.
Sillius drew in a breath as his eyebrows bent in confusion, then anger. "How dare you disgrace your daughter like that." His gruff voice was deep with anger. "You would compare that Treek girl to one of the best Gnomish commanders we have? The others were right. You are just a mad old fool."
Zef lifted his eyes from the table to meet the gaze of Sillius. There was no smile, no smirk—just a rigid look as he said, "See it how you may. I know what I said."
Sillius couldn't wipe away the look of disgust. A Gnome supporting a Treek over their own, and treating them like a daughter. It was horrifying. Maybe too much trickery magic does make some go mad in their old age.
He almost didn't want to carry on the interview now, but he had a job to do to keep the colony from erupting into chaos. "So, what happened yesterday?" asked Sillius.
"We've all heard the story. Lobo's Beastfolk search party ran into the Treek girl's group in the forest. One way or another, there was fighting. There were green glowing roots, or veins, filled with nature magic. The Treek's group says there were forest trolls, and in the end, everyone agrees that the Treek blew up the magical roots and animated half a forest. So what do we do?" said Rodrigo.
"She needs to be executed," said Sungura. "She's killed one of mine, and she knows how this colony works. If we don't kill her, the Beastfolk will revolt."
"Can we really kill her though? We don't have solid evidence one way or another. We can kick her out," said Tibil.
"Do you want this colony to devolve into chaos?" asked Sungura. "She's a Treek! Her people never signed the treaty. Besides, she's already convinced three others to join her team. She's a weed, strengthening her roots the longer we leave her alone."
"She's a little girl," said Srak, the Saurian representative. He didn't seem to weigh in much on disputes like this. Maybe he thought the rest of them were over-reacting.
"Regardless of what she is, she has caused a lot of tension in this colony. Even if she didn't kill anyone, she walked knowingly into trouble. At the very least, I think she should be removed from the colony," said Rodrigo.
"Why don't we see what she says next. Maybe she'll admit to parts of it for a lighter punishment," said Sillius.
"Is it true that you're the one who placed your marker near the Beastfolk marker on the map?" asked Rodrigo. His head was bent down with his eyes looking up, past his own eyebrows, at the Treek girl. Sillius hated when Rodrigo looked at him that way. The tall-folk always tried to state their power with body language. It was annoying.
The Treek girl looked at Rodrigo and then back at the table. "Yes, I put my marker there. I was just trying to find my people faster."
"But instead you killed one or two Beastfolk and badly injured several others," said Rodrigo, stern.
"I was defending myself. They attacked us. I wanted to cooperate. I didn't kill Mila on purpose," said the girl.
"But you did kill her," said Rodrigo.
"I guess. But their team attacked us. We would have all died if I didn't do something."
"You say you helped Lobo, and Raffa was there to see it. If that were true, why hasn't Raffa vouched for you? He seems to have some code of honor."
"I don't know. Ask him! Maybe he fears Lobo more than he values honor," said the Treek. She was starting to raise her voice. Sillius began to worry she might take action. If she really was capable of animating an entire forest, what could she do here, in the middle of the colony?
Sillius kept up the projection, allowing the other representatives to see the conversation from the hallway outside. If something did happen at least they might react quickly.
"So let's say you did save him. What was your motivation? According to your story, Lobo had tried to kill you not long before. Why would you risk your life to save his?" Rodrigo asked.
"I—I don't know." The girl stared at her hands resting on the table. They too had dried blood on them, but it had flowed around the roughness of her skin making irregular patterns in the lowered parts. It looked odd. Natural and unnatural at the same time.
She continued. "The group I'm with, they've helped me out of some bad situations. I don't know why they do it either, especially for me, a Treek. But I do know that most of the people in my group would have been dead already if we weren't helping each other. ...Maybe that's why. Maybe I thought that there was a chance he would help too."
Rodrigo stared at the girl looking less angry than usual. What was he thinking?
Then, there was a muffled yell that came from outside. Sillius ran to the window. Outside, he saw two Dwarves running for their lives toward the side gate of the colony, screaming as they ran. The farmers in the fields near the path began to scatter as well, making way for what was chasing the Dwarves.
Sillius followed the trail with his eyes to find a monster chasing them. It had to be about the size of the lodge, the building he was standing in, and it ran on all fours with three long necks extending from its body. It was scaled and reptilian with forest-green skin. Its three heads snapped at random as it charged after the Dwarves, straight towards the side gate of the colony.