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5.8 Growth

# 2030 10 - 14 mins.

"You just did fire magic?" Tigala said, staring me down.

I looked at Lolan out of the corner of my eye. "Uh, yeah. Yeah. It was just a little though."

"Why on earth are you trying fire magic? You already blew up an entire forest. And then you try earth magic? Now fire? You could have killed all of us," said Tigala. I didn't know she was this passionate about anything aside from being grumpy.

"She tried earth magic?" asked Zef. The look on his face looked more intrigued than angry.

I tried coming up with a defense, but I wasn't planning on other people seeing that, and I especially wasn't planning on them thinking it was me. "I was just trying it. I don't think—"

"We're a group now, right? We're gonna have each other's backs?" said Lolan, cutting me off.

I shook my head at him, knowing where he was heading. As much as we seemed to get along with this group, we still couldn't be positive this was going to work, especially not with Elven purists running around on the island.

There were nods all around in response to Lolan's question. Tigala said, "What does that have to do with it? You can't mix magic. It nearly destroyed the world before."

Lolan drew in a deep breath and let it out. He pulled off his hood and slowly turned his head from side to side, displaying the more rounded features of his face. He gulped.

"What's that supposed to mean?" said Tigala.

"You're half Human," said Zef.

"Oh. I didn't notice. All of you hairless-folk look the same," she said.

"So you did the fire magic then?" asked Zef.

"Yeah. I've never been good at storm magic, and I never had a teacher for fire magic. Not until Kaia just explained some of it."

"Listen though. There are people here who want to kill me. That storm mage beneath the tower was one of them. You can't tell anyone about this," said Lolan.

"Your secret's safe with me," said Zef.

"Yeah," said Tigala. "I have no interest in ratting you out."

"Marv? Abigail?" I said.

Abigail nodded her head and Marv said, "Yeah." He seemed disinterested in the whole thing.

"Thank you," said Lolan. He still acted apprehensive with his head low and a questioning look. It was like he wasn't sure why he just did what he did. After some silence, he tried to change the topic. He looked up at the cliff that previously held the rock-throwing Dwarf and said, "Do you think she's alone?"

"One way to find out," said Zef.

"We can't just barge in there. Who knows what's inside?" said Marv. "We should go back to the colony. We found a survivor and she attacked us. We need more people."

"Marv," I said, planning on saying more, but the look he gave me stopped me short.

"We don't know anything," said Tigala. "We just know that one weird Dwarf is living in this mountain."

"I say we find out a little more before we head back. I can keep us hidden fairly well," said Zef.

"I agree, we need to know more. I don't even know if I can go back, but I can't even try unless we have a good reason first." I said, trying to avoid looking at Marv.

"I can help too," said Abigail.

"Don't even think about it," said Marv. "You're staying behind me where you'll be safe. If they want to go get themselves killed for nothing, they can, but I'm not losing you with them."

I held my tongue. Marv was starting to get annoying with his desperate attempts to give up whenever possible.

"Come on. Let's go," said Lolan as he jumped over the cover we were still hiding behind. It was weird seeing him being so nimble after he had been pretty badly injured the whole time I had known him. It was nice though. Maybe he'd be able to keep up better in a fight now.

We climbed over the rocks to reach the cliff that the Dwarf had used as her launchpad. It was littered with dust, everywhere except for the center. The middle of it was scraped and worn from all of the rocks that had slid across it, forming a deep groove to the edge of the cliff.

"How do we get in?" asked Lolan. "You know earth magic, right Abigail?"

"I said she's not doing magic. Magic only leads to trouble," said Marv. "She's still learning anyway. This might be a little too tough for her."

"I want to try, Dad. I want to find Mom," said Abigail.

"No. It's too dangerous," said Marv. "I already lost you once. I won't do it again." Marv looked around at us and said, "I guess we can't get in. We'll have to go get help from the other Dwarves at the colony."

"Can your rock thing help?" said Lolan.

"Nope. He doesn't listen to me. Watch," said Marv. "Crag, can you make a doorway into the mountain?"

Crag was looking over the edge of the cliff when Marv asked. He looked at the Dwarf, then ran to the wall that the female had walked through and dove straight into it, disappearing into the stone. Then, the rock face began to crack, starting near the ground and continuing in an arc until it touched back down a few feet away. The stone shifted and fell inward, forming an open doorway with Crag standing in the middle of it, waving at us.

"Seriously? Now you listen to me?" said Marv. "Still, we can't go in there. Who knows what's in there?"

"Dad. We need to help Mom. What if she's in trouble. We need to find her," said Abigail.

"We need to get you safe," he said in response. His words were firm like he was trying to end the conversation.

"I won't give up on Mom. She's in there. I can feel it. And if you're not going to help, I'll do it on my own," said Abigail. She stepped forward and Marv put his hand on her shoulder to stop her. "I'm going with them, Dad. Are you going to come?" she asked, her voice bitter.

I could see the tension on Marv's face. He wanted out of this. He wanted to protect what he had, but there was no way to protect what he had without making Abigail resent him.

"As soon as I see trouble, we're getting out of there," he said.

We all entered the mountain and found ourselves in a dark passageway. It was littered with gravel and stone dust. Zef created a glowing purple ball of light on the top of his staff to illuminate our way, just far enough to see what was ahead of us. The tunnel went on a long way and each sound we made echoed into the distance.

Zef walked close to me and whispered, "So you tried earth magic, huh?"

"Yeah, it didn't work though. It just helped us figure out how to activate Crag," I said.

"Hmm, but you did manipulate it without any side-effects?"

"Yeah, I guess. I made a light brighter. That was it," I said. "Why? What do you know about magic that I don't?"

"Nothing. I'm just curious. That's all. I've never heard of someone trying a different kind of magic and not getting badly hurt by it. It's interesting," said the old Gnome.

I didn't know how to respond. I wasn't sure if he was judging me for using another type of magic or if he had some plan up his sleeves. Either way, I didn't like it. I knew different types of magic generally don't mix well, but I wasn't mixing it with nature magic, and I wasn't even really using earth magic, to begin with. If anything, I was just poking at it.

"You all were safe though? Aside from the wolves last night?" said Zef.

"Yeah, we did alright. Those wolves were pretty tough though. I recommend staying away from loud flashes of light in the middle of the night," I said.

He smiled back at me. "Noted."

When I looked back ahead of us, I spotted a faint glow in the distance. It was bronze and pulsing, but it seemed to be stationary.

"What's that?" I asked.

Zef turned off his light, leaving us in near darkness. Only the daylight peeking in behind us and the faint brown in front of us served as guides. "I don't know," he whispered. "We better be careful."

We continued to approach the brown glow ahead. It was so dark that I was unable to even see anyone unless they broke my line of sight to the light.

By the time we finally reached the light, we had all guessed what it was: glowing veins of earth magic. I looked at Abigail in the dim bronze light. "Whatever you do, don't use your magic on these veins. It's too powerful."

She nodded.

"Yeah," said Tigala. "Let's not do that again."

"I can't say I'm surprised," said Zef staring into the veins. The magic swirled and danced inside of them as if tempting us to let it out to play. Or maybe I was just thinking about it too hard.

"Is this enough reason to go get the others then?" said Marv.

"No. It's just another mystery, another question. We need to give them answers if we're going to go back there," I said. "We at least need to figure out where that Dwarf went."

He grumbled but didn't say anymore.

"Come on. Let's keep moving," said Lolan. And we continued our journey deeper into the mountain.

The veins grew brighter as we walked. None of us dared to talk, in fear of alerting someone of our presence. More veins started in the tunnel adding to the faint bronze glow. The veins lined the walls, ceiling, and floor as they pulsed and crossed over one another. We reached a point where you couldn't help but walk on them. Each step felt like walking on a rotting log. Then, up ahead, more light filtered into the tunnel.

We rounded a bend and the tunnel opened into the top of an enormous underground room. We all ducked down as we crept toward the opening. Sounds of rock shifting filled the air and a dusty haze caught in my throat, almost forcing me to cough. I swallowed it back and tried to keep from making any noise as I made a series of short coughs to get rid of the tickle in my throat.

I covered my mouth and we crawled toward the edge of the tunnel. The tunnel ended at a cliff. To our left was a large staircase that reached down to the floor below us. I peeked over the ledge and saw a dusty room, filled with Dwarves. Four or five of them simultaneously stepped forward and raised their hands above their heads, pulling a large stone out of a colossal column of untouched earth at the center of the room. Beneath the column seemed to be the center of the earth magic veins. The Dwarves turned and threw the stone in unison, sending it to land in a pile of similar rocks at the base of the cliff we looked down from.

I looked over at the rest of the group. They were also staring at the scene. What was this place, and why were all of the Dwarves here working to uncover it? What did they know about it that we didn't?

I looked back at the Dwarves. Groups of them working in tandem all around the central stone pillar. Then, I saw something interesting. On the far side, hardly visible through the dusty haze, I saw something that didn't look like earth magic. There was something large shape that wiggled and twisted like an oversized worm. It stretched from a mound of dirt mimicking the motions of a nearby dark-skinned person. And instead of the bronze light that glowed throughout the rest of the room, the shape was lit by green magic.

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