I woke to the bright light of the day shining in through the windows. I looked around. Where am I? I thought. The room was messy and cluttered with a desk at the far end covered in open used jars. One had a green paste in it, while another had some crushed herbs. I wasn't sure which ones though from the distance. Across the room from me, Talia laid on a bench. Next to her sat Marv with Abigail leaning into his shoulder. The young Dwarf might have been sleeping or crying. I couldn't tell. Talia still looked sick. She was damp with sweat, and her skin was pale. It was hard for me to even look at her.
I continued my search around the room and found Lolan on the floor next to me, reading a book. He was leaned up against a wall, with his hood still up and his bow next to him on the floor. He stayed with me. I smiled.
I tried to push myself slowly into a sitting position, but the rough wood of the table where I laid squeaked. Lolan looked up at me and smiled. "You're up!" he said in a hushed voice. He pushed himself to his feet. "How do you feel?"
I twisted a little in my sitting position. Then I turned to look a the wound and touch it. There was some kind of cording poking out of the skin around holding the wound shut. I touched it and noticed that the red rash had gone down as well. "I've felt better," I said. "But it doesn't hurt that bad anymore."
"Good," said Lolan. " We were all pretty worried about you for a little bit. That fever was getting the best of you—making you delusional."
"Did I say anything weird?" I asked. I wasn't sure what he meant.
"No, you just weren't very coherent," he said. "I'm surprised Merva was able to fix you up."
"Who's Merva?" I asked, looking around the room for someone else.
"She's the apothecary," said Lolan. "The one I wouldn't let you take me to."
"Oh, right," I said. "Well thanks for having her take care of me."
"Yeah, I mean, it wasn't just me," said Lolan. He turned to look at the front door. I followed his eyes and saw several simple Dwarven tents through the window. Along the other front window, I saw the golden tan of Tigala's fur. "They're guarding the place. In case Lobo or anyone else tries something."
I smiled just seeing everyone.
"Dunnel may have made some threats too," said Lolan.
"To kill me?" I asked.
"No. He threatened Merva, to make sure she didn't mess up," said Lolan.
"Seriously?" I said. My voice was drifting up in volume.
Lolan shushed me while chuckling silently to himself. "Yeah. I guess he gets pretty protective."
Sounds like it. That same guy was worried I'd poisoned his food a few days ago. Now he's threatening people for me?
"Do you think you can walk?" said Lolan.
I tried to push myself onto my feet. "I feel pretty good," I said. I took a step and only a slight pain remained from the wound in my side. Either Merva put some stuff in there to make it not hurt as much or it had healed quite a bit while I was resting.
Lolan led the way outside. I exchanged a hopeful nod with Marv before leaving the room.
"How long have we been here?" I asked on our way to the door.
"We got here three days ago. It took you a couple of days to recover," he said.
We walked out the door and some of the Dwarves saw me and began to cheer. A few of them began stopping in place, each footfall making more noise than I would have thought possible. Dunnel was among the stomping Dwarves.
I smiled back but I was a bit confused. "What are they doing?" I asked Lolan.
The answer came from Tigala. "It's how the Dwarves cheer. Don't the Human's clap or something?"
I didn't respond to Tigala. Instead, I hugged her. It was good to see her and to see that she was keeping guard for me. She was stiff at first but then patted me on the head before I let go.
Cavel approached us and said, "Ah good. You're awake. Well, I suggest you still take it easy for a couple of days. We don't want those stitches to rip."
I nodded, "Okay. Thanks for all your help."
He nodded back, "And thank you for all of yours. As you can see, the Dwarves are in your debt."
I looked up at the Dwarves around the shelter. The cheers had died down now, and most of the Dwarves started returning to their conversations or meals.
"Well, I'll leave you to getting reoriented to this place," Cavel said, looking over his shoulder at the colony. "I just wanted to make sure you knew to take it slow. If you have any medical needs or questions, I'm at your service."
"Thank you, Cavel," I said, smiling back at him. It was still weird having all of these relationships with different races, but in a good way.
Lolan, Tigala, and I walked around the corner of the apothecary's hut, into the alley that overlooked the lodge. It was in ruin from the hydra attack—from a mind-controlled beast.
"Feeling better?" asked Tigala.
I looked up at her. "Yeah. I'm feeling a lot better," I said. "Thanks for keeping an eye on me—making sure nothing went wrong."
"So, what's going on here? Does the colony know about the Gnomes?" I asked.
Lolan shook his head. "I don't think so. I told the colony that we didn't see the attackers. I was afraid there would be an uprising if the colony knew."
"But what about the Dwarves? Are they looking to make them pay?" I asked.
"I don't know," said Lolan.
"Marv's been telling them to keep it quiet. Pretty sure they told their rep," said Tigala. "No one has said anything out loud about it though."
That was a scary thought. That alone could break the colony. If the Dwarves started to act, then the rest of the colony would get wind of it. The Gnomes would probably all be killed, and that meant Zef too.
And if things were going to go that route, others might as well kill the Treek in all of the chaos. It was looking bad. Worse than I expected. Then again, I hadn't done a ton of thinking in the days before arriving. I was struggling enough just to walk.
I saw Zef approach from around the corner of the ruined lodge. "Heh heh, you're up!" he said.
"Yeah. And feeling a lot better too. Thanks," I said.
"We were just talking about the colony," said Lolan. "What do you think we should do?"
"I think we should stay," he said with a smile on his face.
"Really? What about the Dwarves? If they accuse the Gnomes of being in on this whole thing, that's the end of the colony," said Lolan.
"And the end of the Gnomes," I added.
"True. Let's hope it doesn't come to that. Besides, Sillius said they're willing to provide us with a week's worth of food if we stay," said Zef, rubbing his small round belly.
"You can't honestly be making a possibly deadly choice based on some free food, can you?" I asked.
Zef stopped rubbing his belly as he watched me. Some of the joy fell from his face. "No," he said. "I know it's dangerous, and anything the Dwarves do puts me in danger, but I don't think we can let this place turn into another warzone. We have to do what we can. We at least have to try."
I could see what he was getting at, and it was kind of how I felt too, but with a colony this big, of this many different races, I didn't see how it could work. They all wanted each other dead due to years worth of revenge built up inside of them. It was a miracle it was still standing. One little slip-up, just a little bit too much information to the wrong ears and it would all come crashing down. And when it did, if they killed me and our group in the chaos, they'd consider it a happy accident.
"What do the rest of you think?" I asked.
Lolan said, "I don't know. Tallesia made me address the whole colony. I'm still nervous about that storm mage. He could be anyone and he may have even noticed me while all eyes were staring me down. Plus, Lobo still wants blood."
"He'd have a much easier time getting blood when we're outside of the colony though," said Tigala. "No one would be watching. All he'd have to do is find us, which isn't hard for a Beastfolk. Plus he has experience with the Gnome illusions."
"So, you think we should stay?" I asked.
"Yeah," said Tigala. "Free food isn't a bad perk. If things go south, we high tail it out of here."
"Okay," I said, digesting their answers. "We'd have to stay somewhere away from the others. I don't think we'd be safe in the tent city down below."
"We could ask the Dwarves," said Lolan.
"If the Dwarves act, that would be the last place we'd want to be, even if they're on our side," said Tigala.
"We'll ask Rodrigo," I said.
"Good luck with that," said Lolan.
"Yeah. Well, if they told Zef we could stay, hopefully he's on board. He's not one to disturb the balance of the colony," I said. I began walking toward the tavern. "Let's go."
The others followed and we entered through the tavern doors. Based on the sun, I figured it was probably late afternoon, making the tavern more sparse than previous times I had been in there. But even with many of the groups out searching, the atmosphere of the place was different. As we walked in the door people didn't scowl at us for once. I had gotten so used to it that the change was shocking. Instead of glares, many of them watched us with a look of confusion. No, it was something other than that. Awe maybe?
I tried to ignore it as best I could. Looking people back in the eyes was thought of as a challenge, at least among the Humans and possibly the Beastfolk too. I didn't want to risk it.
Instead, I focused on the map at the far end of the room. No one was around it and I could see various colored pawns sitting on it. There were new findings as well. There was a lake, further past where we had our first run-in with Tigala's old group. There was a swamp.
There was a new pawn too. One was painted bright gold. It had no chips in it—no dirt lining its edges. It looked brand new. I assumed it was another Elven group that wanted to be different or something.
Close to the beach, North of the colony was also a grouping of green pawns. My first thought was that it was a group of Treeks, but trailing behind it were a couple more tokens that made a path back to the treehouse village where we found the green veins. Could that forest be migrating? That was terrifying.
I looked up from the map and saw a few of the representatives sitting along the bar. There was the Gnome with his black fading hair and mustache. Tallesia, the Elven representative was there too. Between them was a Human woman that I had seen on the boat with me on the way in. Simone was her name, I think. That was usually where Rodrigo sat.
I looked over my shoulder at Lolan, "Sorry," I said.
"Huh?" was his response, but I let my actions answer him.
I walked up to Tallesia. She heard my approaching footsteps and turned to greet me.
"Oh good. You seem to be feeling better," she said. She smiled a hollow smile. "Have you thought about what you're going to do from here?"
"Where's Rodrigo?" I asked.
She looked over her shoulder at Simone. "Oh, he was asked to step down," she said with an unapologetic look on her face.
"Why?" I asked.
"Well, you must be feeling better. You sure are lively," she said, smiling at the others. "He is now camping with the rest of the Humans, below the hill."
Really? I thought. Rodrigo didn't seem like the type to take demotion lightly.
"We've decided to stay if we can camp somewhere other than among the other races," I said. I didn't have time for politics, I just wanted to know if we could stay or not.
"Hmm," she said. She thought for a moment. "I'll have to talk to the others, but I think that can be arranged as long as you don't plan on expanding your campsite."
I saw her look over my shoulder at the location I knew Lolan was standing previously. She lowered her eyebrows as if studying him.
"No," I said. "We don't plan on expanding. We just need a place for the four of us. The others were kicked out of their communities for the most part."
"Hmm, interesting," she said, looking at Lolan. "Well, I'm glad you're staying. We need all the help we can get and you four have a knack for running into useful information."
I didn't know what to say. I had never heard anyone say they were glad for me to do anything. She was kind of weirding me out, so I just nodded and turned back to leave the tavern. As we walked out, people still watched us and held quiet conversations like they were whispering about us. I suppose it was better than them yelling curses at us and threatening to trap us in and attack us.
We walked back into the courtyard to the well. Tigala began pulling up the bucket and offered me some water. I drank some from cupped hands. Then, I said, "So Rodrigo was demoted from being a representative? Did you guys know about this?"
They all shook their heads. "It must have been because he let us go," said Zef. "I'm sure that didn't look good to the other Humans—him saving a Gnome and an Elf from harm."
"Yeah, I can't imagine it did," I said. "He probably hates me even more now."
Zef shrugged his shoulders with his hands raised.
"Well, do you guys want to—" I started.
"Dragon! There's a dragon!" A man in gold armor ran through the rear gates yelling the words. He ran up to another Human search party and told them the same news. They brushed him off. One made a joke that I couldn't make out and the rest of the group laughed.
He tried to talk to them more, but they eventually dismissed him and continued toward the back gate.
The man in gold was followed by two more companions with matching armor. One had to be a giant. He was taller than most doors and his shoulders were broad. The armor he wore barely stayed on him and did an even worse job of covering his vitals. The third of the group was a pudgy guy. His armor barely fit him too, but in a different way. It looked too tight and made it look like he was spilling out of it. He was the last one in, taking breaks to pant and hunch over with hands on knees with disheveled brown hair stuck to his forehead with sweat.
I walked over to the first man in gold.
"What are you doing?" said Tigala. "He's a lunatic."
"I just want to see what he thinks he saw," I said.
We approached the man who wore fear on his face. He was searching frantically for more Humans to tell but saw none. When he saw me approach, he stepped forward and eyed me warily.
"You said you saw a dragon?" I asked.
He looked around and said, "That's right. We saw one."
"You're sure it's a dragon? Did your friends see it too?" I asked. The giant one was catching up, but the pudgy one was still a ways behind.
"Yes, we all saw it. It was massive. Bigger than a house. With large wings. And it breathed fire!" he said. He must have seen something at least because he was pretty worked up.
The big man behind him nodded and said, "He's right. It was definitely a dragon. At least from all of the legends I've heard of dragons."
"Where did you find it?" I asked.
"There were Elves in cloaks trying to trap it," said the smaller man in gold. "It was just past the swamp. There's a ruined city there, named Birdsbane." He straightened at the mention of it like he was proud or something. "We found them in an old market area of the city."
I gave a look to Lolan. Elves in cloaks probably meant storm mages. And that was bad news for Lolan. There were more of them, and what did they want with a fire-breathing dragon? "Did they see you?" I asked.
"They saw at least one of us," said the big man.
"I'm Kaia," I said.
The first man in gold nodded, "I know. It's hard to miss the only Treek in town. I'm Geralt, and that is Wallace," he said pointing at the big guy. He began stood straighter still as he listed off the members of his team. "And that back there is young Seth. Together, we are the Grandsome Glories."