I pushed Tigala back into the crevice as soon as the Gnome stepped out of the portal, hoping he hadn't seen us. We peaked our heads over a rock and watched as he looked around.
Whoever he was, he seemed wealthy. He wore bright clothes fashioned with gold linings. Colorful rings littered his fingers.
Behind him, the portal stayed open and another Gnome stepped out. This one looked odd, dressed in dull grey tones. She wore a blank expression on her face and had two short blades sheathed on her back. She stepped into the room and stood by the first Gnome's side.
Then one more Gnome stepped out of the portal. He also looked strange. It was an older Gnome with salt and pepper hair and a goatee. He wore a grey cloak. It was weird seeing a Gnome almost completely devoid of color, even in his hair. When he planted both of his feet on the ground he looked down at himself and then shook his head. "Alright, let's get this over with."
The two male Gnomes walked into a corridor that branched off of the main room. The female Gnome stayed put, watching over the Dwarves digging at the column. "One," she said, her strong voice echoing in the room. A moment later, a male Dwarf who had been guarding the others circled the room and followed the two male Gnomes down the hallway.
A few minutes passed, and when "one" walked back out, the pink glow near his temples seemed to be even brighter. He reclaimed his place atop a mound of stone and continued surveying the other Dwarves. Then the female Gnome swordsman said, "Two."
The next guard down left her place. This time it was the Dwarf who had been launching rocks at us on the side of the mountain. She followed the same path and entered the hallway where the male Gnomes had disappeared. Another few minutes passed and Number Two returned to her place with a bright pink glow on her temples.
Another guard Dwarf began to move to the hallway.
I couldn't imagine what Zef was thinking right now. These were his people. These three Gnomes were enslaving the whole original colony of Dwarves. What did this mean for him? Were Gnomes going to take the place of the Treeks as the universal scapegoat once the colony got word of this? Did he know about this? Were the Gnomes responsible for all of the missing people? I had so many questions, but I didn't have time to think through them.
There was a Treek standing within throwing distance of me. I couldn't let this opportunity pass by without taking advantage of it. I looked at the guards standing around working Dwarves. If the numbers kept progressing in order, Number Five would be the one that was guarding the Treek. I looked at where the Treek was working on the wall. It was at an angle where the Gnome with the swords wouldn't be able to see him.
I might be able to avoid being seen by the other guards too if I stayed close to the wall. There were enough boulders and mounds of rock around to provide decent cover.
I turned to Tigala. "I'm going on five," I whispered.
"What?" she said. "You can't. They have reinforcements right now. Just wait. You'll get your chance to talk to the Treek when we—"
"His guard is going to be away for a few minutes. This is my chance." I said.
She looked at me with a stern look. "You're going to get the others hurt. If the Gnomes spot you, the people in charge of this whole operation, imagine what they'd do. Imagine what they'd do to the rest of our group."
"The others want me to talk to him. Zef's helping me get there," I said.
"They don't want you to do this if it's going to get them enslaved or killed. Don't do this."
"Five," said the female Gnome.
I paused for a second staring down Tigala. Then, I turned and left our hiding spot. I crept along the wall, keeping the mounds of earth between me and the other guards. I couldn't keep the workers from seeing me, but I hoped that they were at least smart enough to not draw attention to me. Although, most people would think their day just got worse if a Treek showed up. I was hoping these Dwarves at least gave me a chance.
I broke away from the wall and circled around one pile of rocks, and then I reached the Treek's mound of dirt. I walked around it and began growing a second vine to help hide me from the other guards. I reached the front of the mound and saw the other Treek staring at me with his jaw dropped. His vine stopped moving as his shock held him there.
"Keep going," I whispered, motioning for him to keep digging at the stone column.
He looked around with wide eyes and then started moving his vine again to look inconspicuous. No one seemed to notice the temporary delay, and I stepped between the two vines so I would be less visible.
"I'm here to help. What's going on?" I said.
The Treek looked around again. He had different skin than me. His bark pattern was a series of long strips that layered over each other, the top-most ones curling and peeling off. It reminded me of a shagbark hickory tree. He had strong arms and used his magic like it was second nature to him. "Who are you?" he said.
"My name's Kaia," I said. "I came to get you and the others out of here. What's with the pink glow on their heads?"
The Treek still looked shocked, but he answered my question this time. "I think it's some kind of brainwashing. Havik and that other Gnome show up every few days and charge it up, or something like that. Those Dwarves were colonists too."
"And now they're being forced to enslave the others?" I asked.
He nodded. "And me."
"Will they notice if you're gone?" I asked.
"Yeah, and if you're here."
"Six," said the Gnome with the swords, and I panicked. That meant Number Five was already on his way back and Number Six would be walking past.
"Come back in an hour, I'll create a distraction when the Gnomes aren't here. I have a plan," said the Treek.
I nodded and ducked under my vine, hurried over to the nearest mound of rocks, and leaned against it. I peeked my head around the mound to check if the coast was clear and saw Number Six walking the perimeter of the room. She started to look my way and I ducked back behind the mound as quick as I had peaked out.
Shoot! I thought as I tried to sneak around the opposite side of the mound. I guess Zef either couldn't see me or couldn't reach me with his illusions. I heard Six's footsteps growing louder as she approached the spot where I had just been. As I rounded the opposite side, I saw Number Five on his way back to his post, watching over the Treek and the nearby worker Dwarves.
I ducked back behind the stone again. I was pretty sure he hadn't seen me, but that way was blocked for the moment and Six was creeping up behind me. A couple of worker Dwarves saw me leaning against the rocks and gasped, causing number Six to increase her pace.
I put my finger to my mouth to try and shush them, but they didn't seem to care. I guess normal Dwarves, even slave Dwarves, would be afraid of a random Treek showing up out of nowhere.
I didn't know what to do. If I went back, Six would find me, and if I went forward, Five would notice me. Then I'd have to face down two mind-controlled Dwarves. The only option was to turn back and only face Number Six. I began growing a vine out of the backside of the dirt mound and got ready to jump out, but then the vine started moving on its own.
It whipped around wildly despite my best efforts to keep it still. It swung around and slammed into the mound of rocks that I was leaning against. I ducked down and covered my head to protect against the spray of rocks and dust, and then I heard a female voice.
"What do you think yer doing?" she shouted. Then there was a loud shifting of stone. As I lifted my head, I saw number Six stomping toward the Treek. She was swinging her arms like she was scooping up rocks and throwing them but nothing was coming out of her hands. Instead, with each swing, another thin column of stone shot up at the Treek, pinning him against the central column of the room.
While Number Six was distracted I began creeping around the front of the mound again, away from number Five but in Six's field of view if she turned around. I hoped she was too angry to do that.
I reached the front of the mound and stopped, wondering what she was going to do to the Treek. He was still, with a rock pillar pinning his face to the stone column behind him, but his eyes were searching. When they settled on me, he motioned with his eyes for me to leave. I took the hint and ducked around the stone mound where Six had come from and squatted down behind it. I peeked out, showing just enough of my face that I could watch out of one eye.
Number Six climbed the series of stone pillars pinning the Treek and got close to his face. "You control your plants better or I'll make sure they only grow out of your rotting corpse."
He nodded as much as he could with his face pinned against the stone.
"Number Six. What's taking so long," yelled the female Gnome.
"Sorry, Master. I was dealing with the Treek," said Number Six.
"I don't care. You come when I call you," said the Gnome.
"Yes, Master," said Six. She pulled the stone back away from the Treek, leaving behind a wall of jagged rock and said, "Clean that up," as she walked toward 'Master'.
I rounded the mound and saw Number Five back on his perch, overseeing his side of the operation. I waited until he was looking the other way and darted between mounds of stone. Then I stayed low, keeping one of the mounds between me and Five as I crept back to Tigala in the crevice in the wall.
"That was stupid," said Tigala as soon as I got back in cover.
"It was worth it," I said. "We need him to get these people free from here."
"That doesn't mean it wasn't stupid."
I shrugged. "Come on. Let's get back up there and talk to the rest of them."
Tigala's face was a scowl. She was mad at me for being brash, but she seemed to be the brashest out of all of us. I didn't understand why she was so upset, but I'd have to worry about that another time.
We snuck out into the main room and Zef's darkness clouded us once again. We crept by each of the guards until we reached the steps again. There, Zef was able to create an illusionary stone wall in front of us, hiding us almost entirely from view.
As we reached the top of the steps we saw the two male Gnomes re-enter the room. They did a lap around the room, surveying their slaves, and stopped at the base of the staircase. We all poked our heads out to watch and listen, trusting Zef's illusions to keep us hidden.
"And where is the one who broke her daughter out?" asked the plainly dressed male Gnome.
"She's further down the hall. I have her in one of the cells," said the brightly dressed one—Havik, I presumed.
"Very well. We might as well kill her. If she acted up once, she'll likely do it again." said the plain one.
"I was planning on keeping her in there a while first. I'll let her suffer," said Havik.
The other Gnome sighed. "Do what you must. Now can you send me back? I'm tired of looking like this." He tugged at his plain clothes.
"Sure thing," said Havik and he began to spin his hands, tracing a large oval in the air. A glowing bluish-purple oval then began to appear in the air before him. Then he stopped. He let the energy dissipate and looked confused. "That's weird," he said. He began searching the room and then he looked straight up at us. Havik pointed and said, "What is that?"