It was getting dark. Not that it changed much for Rodrigo, but he could tell. Through the small window in the side of the room, he could see the light begin to fade. He looked around at the stone walls, the metal bars. He couldn't believe he was in the same location that she had been just a few days ago. All because he felt convicted to help. He decided to help her allies, and look where that got him. Locked up in the same jail cell he had put them in.
Sure, it wasn't exactly the same cell. Some things had changed. They had to have the Dwarves rebuild the stone wall that made up the exterior of the room. New lumber had to be laid above by the colonists. They were bribed by meals for their help. The house above, he knew, was still in shambles, but they couldn't go on without jail cells. Not with all of the chaos going on right now.
Hydra's were attacking the colony, prisoners were escaping, the Beastfolk were rising up against the wishes of the other representatives. And Rodrigo, set free the people that were supposedly to blame for all of it.
He still couldn't be sure. He didn't know if Raffa was telling the truth. But Raffa was one of the Heshima, the sect of Beastfolk that value honor above all else. He was now saying that Kaia wasn't at fault, which meant he was either lying before or he was lying now. The thing was, Rodrigo had no idea why Raffa would be lying now. He had nothing to gain from claiming the Treek was innocent. He had no reason to protect her other than his honor. Meanwhile, he might have originally lied to protect his identity as a Beastfolk.
Still, it raised so many questions. Why would this Treek help others? Why would she work with others? She must have been hated her whole life, yet she chooses to look past that? What kind of crazy is she?
Rodrigo paced his cell as he thought. He was alone, in the darkness. He had no visitors aside from the occasional simple meal since he had been confined down there the previous day. He liked it that way. He had no one he wished to see, aside from Alejandra.
He sighed. It had been so long since he had seen her. How long has it been now? thought Rodrigo. About two months? They had grand plans to sail away together when this was all over. To find some remote island where the war hadn't touched and spend their days together. But they had things to do first. They had promises to keep before they could run away.
It was all lost now. There was no hope on this stupid island. Just more conflict. He couldn't believe that he was willing to have hope in the first place. Why did he take this position, to stand alongside other races and try to work together? Even partly, even working toward a common goal while segregated was a horrible idea. He knew it from the start. He said it in his head, but the distant dream of finding Alejandra pushed him forward. And now, he had helped a Gnome and Elf escape and put himself in danger. Alejandra couldn't still be alive anyway.
Rodrigo heard a commotion outside. It was getting dark and people would no doubt be eating at the tavern or heading to their tents about now, but there were people in the town square. And there were a lot of them. He stood with his head against the bars, pushing his ear as close to the window as he could manage. He tried to see whatever he could, but it wasn't much use.
He heard gruff voices, with an accent. It was the Dwarves. And some were crying. Some were laughing. A conversation closer to Rodrigo's window started. "Where did they come from?" said one person.
"I don't know. They just walked out of the woods with the Treek girl and her group," said another.
The Treek girl? thought Rodrigo. She came back?
He thought of how they had parted, his threats on her life. And now... Well, look at me, he thought. He wasn't even sure of that threat now though. Raffa seemed to be telling the truth the second time around which made his previous thoughts illegitimate. But still, that girl had caused so much trouble. She had stirred the pot when it was already volatile enough. She had made people remember that we all are different races.
And now she was back...with Dwarves.
"Are they colonists?" said the questioner in the conversation.
"I don't know. I've never seen them before," said the other.
Not just Dwarves, but the missing Dwarves? No, they had to be mistaken. But if they weren't—if that somehow was a group of the original Dwarven colonists—that meant there was hope. Alejandra, she could still be out there. She could be alive. She might need help. And these Dwarves, if they were from the original Dwarven colony, could be the key to finding her. Screw this colony. Screw it's messed up politics, and it's mixed races. Rodrigo had hope again. He could save Alejandra. He could bring her back and they could live out their dreams and leave all of this behind them.
Rodrigo woke the next morning to Srak bringing him breakfast. It was a bowl of soup with chicken and noodles. They no doubt picked Srak to do it because Rodrigo wouldn't even begin to try reasoning with him. And Rodrigo didn't. The Saurian tossed the food into Rodrigo's cell with barely a glance. Then he turned and left the room.
Rodrigo gobbled down the soup, dipping the stale piece of bread into it to make the old flavor less noticeable. When he finished the bread, the soup was cold enough that he brought the bowl to his lips and gulped it down. It wasn't great, but it was something.
A few hours passed. The colony was still bustling with a new commotion but Rodrigo could only hear the mumbles of distant conversations. He did see that the apothecary next door to the lodge was busy. A whole slew of Dwarves was standing by the entrance. Were they in line to be treated? Rodrigo craned his neck further to get a better glimpse. No, they were just standing in front of it, as if guarding the building. That was odd.
Rodrigo couldn't make out any faces, but it was a good number of Dwarves. It might have been close to as many were camping in the colony. Maybe a little less. It was hard to tell with the short window only giving him a view from the waist down.
Rodrigo was studying them, trying to get more information when the door opened again. It wasn't yet time for lunch. Rodrigo turned to find Tallesia walking through the door. Finally, someone more reasonable than Srak, Rodrigo thought.
She held up a key ring and brought it to the cell door. "We're going to discuss your... situation," said Tallesia.
"They helped us. And you know Sungura wasn't in her right mind. She was going to make the whole thing worse," said Rodrigo.
"I do know that, but you acted without talking to the rest of us," said Tallesia. "That's what concerns me the most."
"I won't do it again. I didn't know who was on Sungura's side," said Rodrigo.
"We will discuss it," said Tallesia. "There have been some new developments."
"What new developments?" asked Rodrigo.
Tallesia didn't respond.
He wasn't used to being at someone else's mercy. He was the one who people had to answer to, not the other way around. Yet here he was, being kept in the dark by an Elf. It made his blood boil. And it was all because he was trying to deescalate. He was trying to keep the colony from erupting. If Sungura attacked the Gnome and Elf, it would bring the war to the colony. The colony would have fallen apart yet the others chose to turn a blind eye. They chose to trust Sungura not to attack.
Tallesia led Rodrigo out of the room, down the hallway and up the stairs. They walked outside and the daylight warmed Rodrigo's cold bones. The representatives stood before him with a Human woman he knew as Simone. Rodrigo glanced at her, confused.
"Rodrigo, you are free to go so long as you can play by the rules of this colony," said TIbil. "This is your final chance to coexist here."
That fat is Dwarf, talking down to him because I did my job, Rodrigo thought. Ridiculous.
But Rodrigo knew he had to play nice. "Yes, I can do that."
"That means no more getting in the way of what the representatives decide," added Tallesia.
Rodrigo looked confused. He looked at Simone, standing with them.
"What do you mean?" asked Rodrigo.
"We're replacing you," said Srak. His Saurian mouth caused the words to come out like he was spitting.
Rodrigo's face began to turn red. "Because I did what I had to protect the colony? To keep this all from falling into ruin?"
"Because you acted alone," said Tallesia. "Because you didn't consult the rest of us before acting against Sungura. And because the Humans don't want you as their representative anymore. They don't think they can trust you, so they appointed Simone."
"And what, you're just going to leave Sungura alone then?" asked Rodrigo. "She acted alone. She—"
"She did not act alone," said Sillius. "She talked to us before she went after them with the other Beastfolk, and she planned to bring them back to the colony. And that's what she did. Now we can figure out what to do with them as a group."
As a group, thought Rodrigo. We've never done anything as a group.
"As a colonist, you'll have to contribute if you want to stay here," said Tibil. He seemed happy to say it. Like he was proud to be dethroning Rodrigo.
"And as we said, you're welcome to stay in the colony, as a colonist, but you need to stay out of our way and stay out of representative business," said Tallesia.
Rodrigo was so furious that he wanted to attack. He wanted to burn them all and show them who was really in charge. This stupid group of arrogant idiots, each of them pompous in their artificial power. And this colony. Yes, Rodrigo knew it would implode sooner or later, but he had spent the last month avoiding it at all costs. He'd done everything he could to protect the delicate balance of the colony—to keep any race from feeling like they were taken advantage of or given the short end of the stick. And as a result, they strip him of his title. This must be the beginning of the end of this colony.
Rodrigo turned to leave, and Srak put his hand on Rodrigo's shoulder. "We weren't done yet."
"Get your hand off of me," said Rodrigo. He stared up at the towering Saurian. He wasn't afraid of him, even if Srak's magic was a counter to his own.
The lizardman stood taller as if preparing for a fight. "Srak, let him go," said Tallesia. "We've said what we needed to say."
Srak snorted through his nose and then took his hand back. Rodrigo walked away.
It was ridiculous that they thought they were something because they were 'representatives' of a race. They thought they knew what was good for this place, but regardless of what Sungura ended up doing, she was planning to kill them. She wanted revenge, and probably still does. They think they're helping the colony, but they are only making it worse.
Sure, Simone was a good person, but that didn't mean she knew this colony. She didn't know the other representatives, and what they were up to. She didn't know the issues among many of the other Humans. Displacing Rodrigo was sure to bring the colony crumbling down.
Rodrigo walked over to the tent where he had been staying, by the ruined Lodge. The wall was still being repaired, with fresh lumber being stood up and put in place. He packed up his tent and the rest of his things and then headed toward the encampment at the bottom of the hill.
He passed the apothecary's building on the way, and saw a collection of Dwarves outside, with the bobcat Beastfolk and the Elven boy. Trying not to draw too much attention, Rodrigo asked one of the Dwarves, "What's going on here?"
The Dwarf looked around as if making sure that Rodrigo was talking to him. "The Treek girl, Kaia, and some of our own. They're hurt. We're making sure nobody tries anything."
"Why are you protecting a Treek?" asked Rodrigo.
"She did the same for us," said the Dwarf.
Rodrigo stared in confusion. After a moment, he nodded and continued to his new home among the Human tents below.