"Rodrigo! There's a giant lizard running towards the colony!" said the balding Gnome who stood by the window. He looked back at us with raised eyebrows and panic on his face.
Rodrigo stood, his forehead creased with concern as he looked out the window and then at me. It took me a moment to realize why.
"I had nothing to do with this," I said, amazed that he even had the thought. "I can't control animals. No one can as far as I know."
Rodrigo snorted and then looked at the corner where Sillius had been standing before. "I'll get the prisoner back to her cell. The rest of you, protect the gate. We can't let that thing through."
The rest of you? What did that mean and why was he talking to the wall?
Rodrigo rushed around the table and grabbed me by the arm. "Don't make this difficult. There are bigger issues at hand." He lifted me from my chair as the Gnome hurried out of the room.
Rodrigo led me to the door and into the hallway where I saw a group of other races running down the stairs—the other representatives. Were they all in the hallway? Maybe Rodrigo was talking to them somehow.
He rushed me after them, down the wooden stairs and then down a second set that led into the basement. He walked us through a door and into the room that the rest of my group—the place I had called home for the past day or so—the jail cells.
Rodrigo looked me in the eyes before he opened the cell door. "Don't try anything." He looked at the others. "That goes for all of you. We have enough to deal with at the moment and trying to escape will only make matters worse for you."
"We can help fight," I said, a little fearful of the rage it might brew in Rodrigo.
He just looked at me instead with squinting eyes, as if he was studying me—trying to understand my motivation. "No," was all he said.
With that, he opened the cell door, shoved me in, and slammed the door behind me. Rodrigo disappeared into the hallway and we were left to rot, once again.
"You really got him riled up, huh?" asked Zef.
"Yeah. What did you say?" said Lolan.
"There's something charging the gate. They said it was a giant lizard," I said.
Tigala was leaning against the bars with one hand wrapped around them. "Sounds big. He was pretty nervous."
"Yeah," I said. I turned around to face Marv and the open window.
"Hey, Marv. Do you know any magic?" I asked.
"No, miss. I've never been much good at magic. Otherwise, I'd be out there searching," he said looking back down at the stone floor beneath him.
"You can't do anything though? Not even make a crack or lift form a small rock from a bigger one?" I asked again.
"I wish I could," he said. His expression grew more grim with each of my questions. Okay, well that's a dead end.
"What are you doing?" asked Lolan behind me.
"I'm getting out of here," I said.
Lolan stood to his feet. "What do you mean? He just told you not to try anything."
"They're probably going to kill me if I don't try anything," I said. "I'll have a better chance of survival outside of the colony. I was stupid to come here in the first place."
"We can help. They haven't interviewed me yet. We can change their minds." Lolan pleaded with me.
"She's probably right, Lolan," said Zef. I was a little surprised to have his support in this. I thought he was one with endless optimism. I really must be in a bad spot.
"Can you help, Tigala?" I asked.
She pushed off of the wall where she was leaning. "I can try." Her body began to shift and in a few moments, Lolan was sharing a cell with a fully-grown tiger. He backed up to stay out of her way.
There were yells coming from outside and the occasional patting of hurried feet past the window.
Tigala raised a meaty paw and swiped at the bars leaving only shallow claw marks in them. She tried a few more times, but only scratched it each time.
Next, she stepped closer and hopped up onto her hind legs, with her forelegs now resting against the metal bars. She put her good paw against one bar and her other arm against another and ripples of tensing muscle ran across her body. She pushed as hard as she could but the bars didn't seem to budge.
"It's too strong," said Tigala with her gargled tiger voice. She began transforming back as I tried to think of another way out.
I had to steal back in Brighton, and I had picked locks before, but that was only with proper metal lockpicks. Was there anything I could grow that would work like a lockpick? I thought through the plants I knew. There was one that had thorns the size of my pinky finger and they were surprisingly hard. It was a type of acacia tree. I wasn't sure if it would work, but I had to try.
I began growing a shoot of the tree just outside the window sill. I focused energy into the ground, creating a sprout. Since this was a tree, I'd have to spend more time on it than normal, but I was hoping I could grow some thorns on an early sprout. I grew the tree sideways into the cell and kept pouring energy into growing a proper foundation for the thorns. It was long, somewhat spindly as a result of rushing it, and I had to double back, strengthening its stem before I continued. It grew in thickness and then stretched down to the point where Marv might be able to reach it. Then I grew the thorns.
Outside there were more yells now and the occasional reptilian roar. A loud splintering of wood marked the creature's entrance into the colony. Whatever was out there sounded enormous. It wasn't something I wanted to mess with.
Long hollow spikes formed on the end of the acacia sprout and began to grow longer. I made sure to make them nice and thick so that they would be able to hold up when pushed against metal. I knew it was a long shot, but I didn't have many other options.
"Hey, Marv. Can you break off those thorns?" I asked when they were ready. "Make sure you keep them as long as possible."
He nodded and stood. Marv stretched for the plant snagged it on a second try. He snapped off the thorns at their base, touched the tip of one, and said, "Whew, those are sharp," as he handed them to me through the jail cell bars.
I got to work immediately. Outside, there was a loud crash of wood. The yells grew louder like the fight was getting closer.
I was careful with my makeshift thorn lock picks. Each movement I made was a slow test if I was moving them in the right direction. I wasn't particularly good at this having only done it a few times. I twisted and angled the thorns this way and that, over and over until I thought it was no use. I tried one more time, and something felt like it had a little give to it. I pushed to the side with careful deliberate movements and heard a click. I pushed the door and it swung open. "Hey, guys. I did—"
There was a thunderous crash above us as the building split. The wooden ceiling was turned to splinters as dust clouded the room. Through the holes in the dungeon ceiling, I could see a scaly forest-green leg above where Marv had been sitting. On the opposite side, near Tigala and Lolan, a long muscular tail hung into the cell.
Is that a dragon? I thought.
An ear-splitting roar rang out and then there was a second that overlapped the first.
And there are two of them?
The creature's foot slipped, tossing more debris at Marv and then found its footing. It stepped out of the building, letting the light in through the holes it had made. I tried to get a better glimpse of it once it moved further away, but through the weird angle and broken walls, I couldn't find any definition to the storm of writhing green scales.
My heart was pounding as I took stock of what had happened. I had successfully picked the lock of my cell with a couple of long thorns. And then a giant Lizard smashed through the ceiling, breaking a hole across the entire back wall of our cells.
After I had a moment to catch my breath, I said, "Come on! Let's get out of here!"
Tigala and Lolan were huddled against the cell bars opposite the hole in the ceiling. They began climbing the bars that separated their cell from the one that Zef and I were in.
While they worked on escaping I ran over to Marv. He had some blood running down his head from where a stone from the foundation had hit him. He was covered in dust since his chains didn't allow him to run far enough away from the wall but other than that, he was alert.
"Give me your hands," I said, putting a thorn in each hand.
"I—I don't know," he said. "I'm only going to get in more trouble if I try and escape."
"You might die if that thing falls in here again. You got lucky. Besides, this colony doesn't work. They're just going to kick you out and then you'll be in the same boat as us anyway."
Marv drew in a deep breath and looked at the others. He looked back at me and laid his shackled hands out.
I began working on his shackles with the same two thorns that opened my cell. However, this time I was a little more careless, trying to unlock them before we got squished by the next giant lizard foot. I forced it when I should have been more patient and the thorn snapped.
I groaned, throwing the broken thorn in the floor and turned to the acacia sapling that was hanging in the window. I grew two more thorns just in case and snapped one off. Then I got back to work.
Tigala and Lolan had successfully climbed out of their cell and approached just as I thought I might be making some progress on the lock that held Marv's wrists.
Tigala walked up to the wall where the monster's foot had previously been hanging down and said, "Did you look at the wall?" She pointed at the stone that held Marv's chains to the wall. A crack ran the entire height of the wall and through the stone where his chains were anchored.
Tigala picked up a rock and hit it once. The came free and the weight of them falling to the ground jerked Marv's hands away from me, snapping another thorn. "Ah, come on. I almost had it!"
I sighed and said, "Come on. Let's get out of here."
Marv got up and we all headed toward the door. All except Zef.
"Where's Zef?" I said, unable to find him as I looked around the room. At that moment, the hallway door swung open and Zef walked in with a ring of keys.
Despite the dire situation, I was annoyed that no one was impressed with my lock-picking. I threw my hands up and said, "Go ahead."
Zef unlocked the shackles and Marv was happy to leave them behind. We ran into the basement hallway, where we found our belongings leaned in a corner. I grabbed my bag, Lolan slung his bow and quiver over his shoulder, and Marv grabbed a backpack and pickaxe. Then we ran up the stairs where we saw the massive hole made by the lizard.
Most of the back wall of the building had been destroyed. The house buckled on the side walls trying to support the weight of the nearly free-standing back wall. The daylight was a welcome sight, but framed by the shattered wood of the house was a battleground. All of the representatives were attacking an enormous green lizard. The creature had four heads, each one with its own set of jaws big enough to snap a person in half.
The Saurian representative ran in at the beast with a sword that had to be as tall as I was raised high above his head. He charged a head that was frozen in ice and desperately trying to pull itself free. He swung the sword at the creature's neck and dug deep into the flesh.
The creature screamed and sent one of its other three heads at the Saurian. The representative dodged and then swung his sword down on the pinned neck again. This time, he cleaved all the way through it.
Blood poured from the wound. The monster howled again and stepped back. The third head swung at the Saurian and sent him flying out of sight. Then the writhing neck of the amputated fourth head stopped bleeding. As I looked at it, it seemed to be regrowing skin. It was hard to see through the tangle of necks, but every time I got a glimpse of the cut off head, it seemed to be growing longer and thicker. Then it was split in two from the spot where the Saurian had chopped it. I lost track of it again and then squinted my eyes and the tangle of necks and heads seemed to be bigger.
"It just grew two more heads," said Zef as we all watched the scene.