People stared at them, studied them as they walked into the colony. Kaia was looking worse for wear. She was sweating and holding her own weight less and less as they walked. Lolan was tired, but he couldn't give up now, not with the end so close, and definitely not with her current state. She needed help, sooner rather than later.
He walked among the Dwarves, sticking out above them. Tigala and Zef stepped closer to them as they entered the colony. The Beastfolk horde was there, watching. Lobo didn't take his eyes off of them. He wanted revenge. It was clear.
This place, the colony, it was not a safe place for them, but it might be the only place that could help Kaia and Talia. It was their only option.
Tallesia, the Elven representative approached. She looked back and forth from Lolan to the Dwarves. "Are these the colonists?" asked Tallesia.
Lolan tried to avoid eye contact, afraid that even his eyes might give away his heritage. He nodded.
"Where— How did you find them?" asked Tallesia.
"Can we fill you in once our injured are taken care of?" asked Cavel. "There are a few that need immediate attention."
"Yes. Yes, of course," said Tallesia.
"Do you have a medical station?" asked Cavel.
Tallesia looked at Lolan and then back at Cavel. "Yes, the apothecary is over here." She led the Dwarves to the building. They laid down stretchers carrying the brainwashed guards and Talia and began carrying the injured into the building.
Inside was a Human woman with frizzy brown hair, barely tied up. "Oh. Oh my. Uh, what happened?" she asked.
"A mountain fell on us," said Dunnel. He came in to keep guard, standing against the wall as Talia was laid on a bench. Lolan brought Kaia over to a table to lie down.
"These two were stabbed," said Lolan pointing to Talia and Kaia.
As he got Kaia settled on the table, she looked up at him. "Thanks for the help," she said, giving him a pathetic smile. He hoped she'd be alright. He helped get the bandage off of her as she laid down, revealing the pink tender skin that was spreading around it. It didn't look good.
Lolan tried not to react. He smiled back at her and said, "Hang in there."
"Oh my, um yes. Just lay them anywhere. I'll get to work." said the apothecary.
"I'd like to help. I have medical training. And I want to make sure they're taken care of," said Cavel.
Dunnel stepped forward, cornering the apothecary in her own house and said, "No mistakes. We've got a whole army of Dwarves out there. Mistakes would not be wise."
The frizzy-haired woman gulped and said, "Yes, yes. No mistakes. I'll do everything I can to help them." She slipped passed Dunnel and gave an embarrassed chuckle as she disappeared into the back room. A moment later she returned with a basket of supplies. There was cloth, some tiny knives, and a dozen or so jars of powders, liquids, and paste.
Cavel nodded and gave a tight smile. "Thank you."
"Can I help?" asked Lolan. He looked down at Kaia who was beginning to slip out of consciousness. Her eyes rolled back into her head and she breathed heavy as she laid on the table.
"I think space would be best at this point. If you trust me that is," said Cavel.
Lolan looked at Kaia to see if she had heard. She nodded without looking back at him.
"Okay, I'll be right outside if you need anything," said Lolan. He said it mostly for Kaia's sake.
Lolan walked back out the door where the Dwarves were gathered. Many sat on the ground nursing blisters on their feet and groaning from the long walk and little food. Dwarves that Lolan had seen before began filtering into the town square now. Some came from the gates, others from the tavern, and more from the encampment down the hill. Tears began to flow and cries of joy rang out as the Dwarve greeted their long lost family.
Lolan stood by the door watching it all. He couldn't imagine what they were feeling—what it would be like to be reunited with your family after you thought they were dead. He had dreamed of it so many nights when he was younger, hiding among the Elves. He wished he could have a people of his own, a people that wouldn't be disgusted by his mixed heritage. He knew it would never happen though. The world doesn't want half-Elves. It doesn't want half-Humans. It wants everyone, nice and separate in their tidy groups. And it's worked so far.
Other races gathered around, watching the reunited families in confusion.
"What is this?" asked a Saurian with teal scales.
"Are they the lost?" said an Elf.
Tallesia stepped up by the Dwarves and began to address the questions. "Yes. Yes. They are from the original Dwarven colony. They just arrived."
"Who found them?" said a Human, as a Gnome called out: "How did they get here?"
"The Treek girl's group found them," said a Human woman that Lolan had only ever seen among the Human tents in the encampment. She stood facing the crowd like Tallesia.
More questions rained down from the crowd and Tallesia walked over to Lolan. "Do you mind addressing the questions," she asked, but she didn't wait for an answer. She pulled on his arm to bring him to a central point in front of the crowd.
"Where did you find them?" asked an Avian.
"Do they know where the others are?" asked a Beastfolk.
Lolan tried to escape Tallesia's clutches, but she held him firm, and the colony did need answers. He looked back and saw Tigala and Zef guarding the apothecary's house behind the swarm of Dwarves reuniting. Tallesia let go of him and he was standing in the middle of the crowd.
"They don't remember much," said Lolan. "There was some kind of brainwashing that happened. That's why some of them are strapped to stretchers. They're still under the effect."
"Who brainwashed them?" said one person.
"Brainwashed to do what?" said another.
"Some were forced to enslave the others," said Lolan. "It seems like the rest somehow have blank spots in their memory. They don't remember how they got to the cave where we found them."
"Who did this? Did you see them?" someone shouted.
Lolan had been trying to dodge the question. If he said they were Gnomes, would that turn the colony on the Gnomes? Were all the Gnomes in on it or were Havik and his friends acting on their own. Lolan looked back at the others and Zef shook his head slightly.
"We didn't see them. We don't know who did it," said Lolan. It was a statement that might get him in trouble later. The news was bound to come out, and he didn't want to be known for lying to the colony, but he didn't see a better option.
"How did they get hurt?" asked another person.
"There was a cave-in," said Lolan, trying to keep up.
"Were there other people there?" asked another.
"No, just Dwarves," said Lolan. Another lie, but they wouldn't want to know about a runaway Treek, would they? "The cave came down when we stepped in to free the Dwarves from the ones that were brainwashed to enslave the others. Some didn't make it out, but we saved as many as we could."
Lolan hated being the center of attention. He had spent his whole life avoiding that position, and now, he was being stared at by every race. But even worse, that meant Humans and Elves were among them—the two groups he wanted staring at him the least. Even with his hood up, they might be able to tell by looking at his build, or subtle features on the visible parts of his face. And what would they do to him if they found out? Was that storm mage from the tower in the crowd right now? Did that storm mage know there was a half-blood on Daegal? Maybe that's why they came here in the first place. They were thoughts that terrified Lolan.
"Where did you find them?" Another question broke into Lolan's thoughts.
"Are there any more of them?"
And Brendell. Brendell might be dead, but he might be their prisoner. And all Lolan did was run. When everything went downhill, he ran and kept running until he came to Daegal.
Tallesia shook Lolan's shoulder, and he jumped. Tallesia looked at him, studying him. Lolan began to back up. "Look, we don't know a whole lot," said Lolan. "Uh, they were in a mountain. That mountain, in the distance." He pointed at the distant peak sticking out above the forest.
"What were they being forced to do?" The crowd continued unaware of Lolan's current state of mind.
"There were earth magic veins in the mountain," said Lolan. "They were being forced to dig them up. They were buried in stone."
"Are you okay?" asked Tallesia. She was getting closer to him than he'd like.
Lolan backed up some more. "Look, I don't know much. We're still figuring it all out. Can we just meet with you later and tell you what happened?"
Tallesia stared at him a moment, trying to understand his hesitation. "Yes," she said slowly. She gave a stiff nod. "You have all had a long day. We'll discuss everything later."
"No more questions for now," said Tallesia. "Let the Dwarves reunite with their families in peace. It seems there is no immediate information that will help us find the others yet. We will inform you as we learn more about what happened there."
There were grumbles in the crowd. Some continued to shout questions but Tallesia continued encouraging the crowd to disperse. Eventually, everyone who wasn't a Dwarf went on their way to get some food and clean up for the night.
Lolan walked back to the apothecary's house and walked in the door. He walked over to Kaia. She was sleeping, or something of the sort. Cavel was working on cleaning and bandaging Talia's wound.
"Do you mind if I sit with her?" asked Lolan.
Cavel looked up at Lolan and gave a thin smile. "Go right ahead. Keep an eye on her for me," he said.
Lolan nodded and took a seat on the stool next to the table. He reached up and held Kaia's hand. Her hand was moist with sweat. Her bumpy skin was still strange to him, but maybe somewhere in her head, knowing that a friend was nearby would help her recover. It was all he could do.
Lolan was shaken up. He didn't know what to think of what had just happened. He was still unsure of what to think. Even Havik, a Gnome, was offended by the fact that he was a half-blood. It wasn't strange that he was upset, but Havik had a stronger reaction than Lolan would have expected from someone who wasn't a Human or an Elf. And then he was forced to stand on center stage in front of the whole colony. Had anyone noticed? Had they figured out that he isn't fully Elf? And if it was a storm mage, would they be coming for him?
Lolan couldn't help but think how badly they needed to get out of the colony. He was in constant danger of being hunted like a white deer in the forest. On top of that, everyone hated Kaia just because she was a Treek, and their whole group represented the opposite of what all of these people believed. And to top it all off, they were now keeping secrets, because if the colony found out that Gnomes were behind brainwashing and enslaving the Dwarves, the war would start all over again, right here in the middle of this sanctuary.
Lolan wondered if the Dwarves would see it the same way or if they were already planning to retaliate against the Gnomes in the colony. It was a scary thought.
His thoughts swirled around his head, never ending, never concluding. He looked back at Kaia. She was breathing heavy, but at least she was resting. At least she was getting the help she needed. He smiled at her and whispered, "We need you back, Kaia. Don't give up on us."