The next morning came in much the same way as the previous one. There was darkness all around us, only to be broken by the daylight that a Dwarf let in as he said, "We're going to the colony. If you plan to travel with us, we'll be leaving shortly."
The Dwarf walked away leaving the opening a little too short for Tigala, Lolan, and me to walk through. I rolled over, and the pain in my waist screamed at me. Somehow, it had gotten worse overnight. I took unsteady footsteps outside and pulled back the makeshift bandage. The wound was gooey and gross. Around the edges of the opening was a pinkish red area, visible even through the dark pigment of my skin. That can't be good, I thought.
The Dwarven campfire was out, with smoke still billowing out of it. Around it was a collection of Dwarves gathering up tools and weapons they had made in the past day. They had stone daggers and axes. A few held stretchers made of young trees with a thin slab of slate over top. The four guards were fastened to them with stone at the wrists and ankles. The pink glow still clung to their temples. I couldn't tell how they kept the guards knocked out, but I hoped it wouldn't wear off anytime soon.
When they had gathered everything together, Cavel, the nasally Dwarf with medical training, came over to our group. "We're headed to the colony. You're all welcome to join us."
I looked back to find Marv and another Dwarf walk out of their self-dug cave. Between them was a final stretcher with Talia on it, though she was not strapped to it like the guards. She was glistening, drenched in sweat. Her face was pale and ghostly. Abigail trailed behind them with a tear-soaked face. I wish I could have done more, I thought.
"I suggest you come with us, so Kaia can get the help she needs," said Cavel looking past the rest of the group at me. Rodrigo just had to threaten my life before I got stabbed and needed the colony's help. This was going to be fun. But that's only if this wound didn't kill me on the way there.
"Thank you," said Zef. "We'll join you. Are the rest going to be okay with that?"
"They'll get over it," said Cavel. "I think some of them are starting to believe that you all actually helped, now that they've had time to share stories from the fight."
Tigala turned back to me. "You gonna be okay?" she asked.
"I might need some help," I said. Lolan was already stringing my arm over his shoulder as I said it.
"The walk is a bit further, but I owe you for when that Ogre smashed my ribs," Lolan said. He smiled at me and we began our march with the Dwarves.
With Chipry off with his girlfriend somewhere, I looked for patches of edibles as we walked. It wasn't hard since I knew the plants so well, but Chipry did make it a lot faster. We would stop and grab some snacks as an excuse for me to rest my body for a moment, and then we would carry on. We showed the Dwarves a few times as well and shared awkward moments together as we ate delicious little berries. But the march continued.
The Dwarves were slow. They weren't the fastest people to begin with but the stretchers among them made them hike at a snail's pace.
I saw Dunnel walking among them. He kept his brows knit as he walked and looked at us occasionally, making sure we weren't trying to pull anything. Cairn was among them too. She held a similar expression to Dunnel, but she had more confusion and sadness mixed in. She stayed silent as they all walked, an outsider even among her own people. What I would give to be in that same position—surrounded by my own people, even if I was an outsider, I thought.
Cavel walked among the Dwarves too. He hung back to keep an eye on the bed-ridden Dwarven guards and other victims of the nasty fight. They were lucky to have him there.
Marv and Abigail traveled along the back of the group. Marv and another Dwarf with white poofy hair carried Talia on an earthen stretcher while Abigail walked alongside them, occasionally holding her mother's hand.
I felt so sorry for her. Whether or not she was a Dwarf, I still knew it and felt it. I had just felt it when letting the first Treek in had seen in years slip away. It stirred up many of the same emotions as the day I lost my parents. It was lonely and even scary I guess. I've been scared since that day that I wouldn't be able to survive on my own. Scared that I wouldn't be able to navigate this world where I am everyone's number one enemy. It still surprised me that I had so far.
My thoughts faded as I saw Chipry fly into view. I had only let him go a day ago, but it was still like seeing a long lost family member. I pushed myself upright and put out my hands for him to fly to me. He perched in a tree and then swooped to the forest floor in front of me. He tweeted, but something was off. If he wanted to get my attention he usually did it from a tree branch or from my shoulder or hair. He never went to the ground.
I looked a little closer at the bird. It wasn't Chipry. The feathers were off and the bird was a bit smaller. Could this be yet another bird like Chipry? I wondered. Wait, why did it come straight to me?
I looked back at the trees to see if there were more of his kind. Then I heard a growl from Tigala. When I looked back the grounded bird was gone. In its place was a bear-like Beastfolk pinned to the ground by Tigala.
A series of gasps and shouts echoed around us as the Dwarves caught sight of the scene.
"Come here to stab us in the back again, Raffa?" Tigala spat the words at him.
Raffa laid there in a panic. He tried his best to look unintimidating while also staying ready to defend himself. He shook his head. "No. I came to make—"
"I should kill you now before you get the chance," said Tigala. I hadn't realized how much anger she still had for him. I got it. Being betrayed by your own was painful. But it still surprised me.
Raffa tried to speak again but only gurgled as Tigala pressed a hand against his throat.
"Tigala. Let him talk," said Zef. "He wouldn't have come here alone unless he had a good reason."
She let up a little and Raffa spoke. "The Beastfolk...they're coming. They want Kaia and the rest of her group for killing Mila."
There were gasps among the Dwarves as he said it. Dunnel spoke up and said "I knew she couldn't be trusted! She's a killer."
"We're all killers," said Tigala. "It's how things are."
If everyone hadn't been watching me, I would have facepalmed. Not the greatest argument, Tigala, I thought. These Dwarves weren't necessarily military like the people at the new colony. They just came to find new beginnings. Many of them were probably trying to run from the war.
"Did you hear that?" said Dunnel. "They're all killers. I say we hand them over when the Beastfolk get here."
"She didn't do it," said Raffa. "She was defending herself. They were trying to kill her."
At least Raffa knew what was at stake here. Though I was still confused about why he would come out here. He had to know we wouldn't be happy to see him.
"And why were they trying to kill her? What did she do?" asked Dunnel.
"I'm a Treek," I said. "That's why they wanted to kill me." I was angry. Angry that it had come down to that over and over again. Angry that no matter what I did, there were still arbitrary lines drawn in the sand around appearance and things that your people did a long time ago. I was angry that Dunnel still sat on his high horse looking down at me despite everything I had already done for him and his people.
"It's true," said Raffa. "They tried to blame her for things she couldn't have done."
Did he really believe that? Or was he just trying to have some kind of ally due to his current position: pinned to the ground by Tigala. I think a Treek probably could have done what they said, killing someone and then rapidly decaying the body with fungus and plants. I couldn't because I don't have a lot of practice with fungus, but another Treek probably could have.
The Dwarves began talking amongst themselves while they watched the situation. "Why did you come here?" asked Tigala, her teeth bared.
"I wronged you. I wronged the Treek," said Raffa.
"Her name's Kaia," said Tigala giving a push on his chest, reminding him to be careful with his choice of words.
"Right, Kaia," said Raffa. "I don't quite understand what this is—why you are working with other races—but she tried to help me, and I betrayed her. I am trying to make up for it."
Tigala didn't respond. She just shoved his chest and stood back to her feet, still keeping an eye on him, but no longer pinning him down.
"Do we want this around our families and loved ones," said a Dwarf that was shorter and scrawnier than the rest. "They have issues with each other, and they're bringing them among us now. Haven't we suffered enough? We should send them away before this threat arrives."
There was more conversation among the Dwarves.
"How many are coming, Raffa," asked Lolan.
Raffa stood to his feet slowly. "All of them."
"How many is all of them?" asked Dunnel.
"Around 25 or 30," said Raffa.
Dwarves gasped. I wasn't thrilled either. I could barely walk or use magic, and we had 30 intelligent animals chasing us down. Not to mention, it looked like the Dwarves were just going to feed us to the wolves, or the wolf—Lobo. He was no doubt leading the charge.
The Dwarves weren't in a position to fight either. There had to be ten of them tops that were in fighting condition. And by fighting condition, I meant they weren't on stretchers with bad injuries or recovering from mind control. Even those ten were weak and battered though. They had seen enough. Leaving them would mean certain death for us, but I couldn't put them in more danger.
"You're right," I said. "You have been through enough. I'll split off and try to avoid being noticed."
"What?" said Tigala. "You've seen me track. They'll find you."
"Probably, but I can't put them in more danger for a grudge held against me. Maybe I can figure something out. I have so far."
"You can't even walk," said Tigala.
I looked over at Marv, he stood by the stretcher he had laid down with Talia on it. Abigail was still squatting next to her mother, holding her hand. The other Dwarves looked weary and scared. They weren't ready for a fight, whether they wanted to help or not, and I couldn't let them.
Even though staying with them was safer for me, I couldn't do it. I thought of Riak. He had taught me something at least. He taught me that I value life, no matter the form. Maybe it's because I had never been a warrior or because I have been alone my whole life, but people are just people. Whether they're Treeks or Dwarves or Beastfolk or Gnomes. If we got hung up on differences, there would be no one left on this earth. We couldn't afford to fight over the little things.
"How soon will they be here?" I asked Raffa. He had stood up once Tigala gave him a little space, but he was no longer focused on the conversation. Raffa was staring off into the woods behind him instead.
"I think they're here," he said.