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By the time I had convinced the elves to each at least try to eat one of the leaves with some help from Valla, I heard Scout outside by the fire. I told the elves to wait inside, and left the shelter. Valla followed behind me again, but waited next to the shelter.
“How are the elves doing?” Scout asked me when he saw me. He glanced at Valla for a brief second.
“All still sick,” I muttered.
“Hm…” Scout narrowed his eyes, and glanced down at the fish that were cooking in the fire.
“Do you think it’ll get easier for them if they spend longer around here…?” Storm asked.
“I think so,” Scout said. “They’ll build up their resistance over time.” Scout glanced at Valla again, and offered her a small, cautious smile. “Would you like to join us over here? It’s warmer, and the fish doesn’t smell too bad now that it’s cooking.”
Valla nodded quickly, and sat down next to me again. “Thanks.”
“Is Rune still gathering blackberry leaves…?” Scout asked.
“Yeah,” Storm said. “He wasn’t sure we’d have enough to make a strong brew for the elves- and, well, ourselves.”
“We have enough to start it at least,” I said, showing the basket to Storm and Scout. Scout nodded.
“That’s good. Is there a pot we could use?”
“Yeah, inside the shelter,” I said.
“I could go get it,” Valla said, beginning to stand up. I narrowed my eyes and put my hand on her shoulder, gently stopping her. I could see her legs and arms shaking.
“Let one of us get it. You need to rest,” I said. Storm stood up.
“I’ll go get it,” he said. I nodded. Valla sat down fully again.
“Valla, did you all bring any food with you?” Scout asked.
“We… we did but we never took it off of our boat. And… well, we doubt our boat survived…” She sighed, shaking her head. “So… none that is still good, most likely, though Harold or the others might have taken some of it off of the boat. But it’s not enough to sustain all of us for longer than… well, today, if that…”
“I see,” Scout said. “I saw the fragments of the ship while finding somewhere better to fish… it’s… not looking good. It looks like most of the ruins have floated away…”
“Doesn’t surprise me,” Valla whispered. “And… it doesn’t seem like you have any food storage here.”
“We don’t normally need it; we hunt for what we need and eat it fresh out here,” I said.
“But, if we were to try to do that here, we’d be spending all of our time hunting and no time doing what we need to do,” Storm said as he came back out of the shelter and sat down, putting the pot down next to the fire. Valla nodded, before looking at the fire.
“And, you all came out here to do research on the dust…?”
“Well, Rune did. We’re here to help him and make sure he doesn’t get into trouble,” I said.
“That makes sense but… is there anywhere else we can go…?” Valla asked. Storm and I glanced at each other.
“The village is our only option,” Scout said softly. Storm narrowed his eyes at him.
“Are you sure that we should bring them there…?”
Scout nodded. “We don’t have any other options. Unless we want to drop the elves on the coastal farmers and hope that they can help them.”
“I’m not sure they’ll be welcome either place, even if they don’t end up stabbing us in the back,” I said. “Too many people still hate humans.”
“We’re not human,” Valla said, narrowing her eyes. “And I don’t know what I can say to convince you guys we don’t mean you harm…”
“As we’ve said; most chimeras won’t know the difference, or won’t care,” Scout said. “And give everyone time. Eventually if we see you’re not lying, we’ll trust you. But we… well, resources are scarce.”
“And… I hope we’ll be able to help with that,” Valla said, looking down. “I’m sorry if I got defensive.”
“It’s justified,” Scout said, smiling just a little bit. “I’d be more worried if you were sucking up to us and carefully trying to not say anything that could upset us, personally.”
“No amount of good will from us can make everyone in the village accept you people,” I said, letting a small growl out in my voice. “Even if you gain our trust, there will be hundreds of chimeras in the village who will be reminded of the humans every time they see you.”
“I don’t need everyone’s acceptance to survive,” Valla said. “Just the willingness to not try to kill me.”
“That, we will give you as long as you don’t give us a reason to try,” Storm said.
“That’s more than enough for me,” Valla said.
We were silent for a few seconds as we stared at the flames. “I’ll go get some water,” I said, standing up. Valla looked up at me, and Scout nodded.
“Storm, can you go check on Rune then?” Scout asked.
“Sounds good,” Storm said slowly. He stood up, and I watched his tail flick nervously as he walked towards the forest. Valla watched him for a second, and then pulled her knees towards her chest and looked into the fire again.
I took a bucket that was lying outside the shelter and went towards the ocean. In truth, I felt more than a little bad for the elves, but especially for Valla. None of them had been prepared for our land, even if they still thought they were. Even the ones who were stronger were in danger. I looked out over the ocean and felt a pang of sorrow, and closed my eyes, remembering how our first weeks outside of the dungeon had been so rough. I remembered… the smells of death, and blood, and the feeling of sand filling our throats every time we dared to breathe.
But the memory that stopped me was the memory of our mother holding the corpse of one of the other mothers. And then that mothers’ newborn baby. And then the next child, and the next child, and it just went on. And… the memory of looking up into Storm and Scouts’ faces, with… the stillborn child on my chest, still cold… still covered in blood.
There was nothing anybody could have done. Not me, not my mother… possibly not even the humans in the dungeon. And it was the closest damn thing to a miracle that I had survived.
I knelt and submerged the bucket, running my hand over the top of the water to feel for any dust. There wasn’t any that could be felt. But I felt a little more uneasy than normal; even a trace of a single grain felt like it would kill the elves. But boiling the water would make it much safer. Regardless… I swept the top of the water off of the bucket and quickly lifted it out, and clutched it carefully to keep as much of the water in as possible.
By the time I got back, Rune and Storm were there, and were preparing the leaves in the pot. Valla had a few blackberries in her hand, and was looking at them.
“Valla, are you hungry?” I asked. She startled a little bit, but didn’t seem too alarmed by my presence.
“Yeah, but I’m going to wait until we have more food to bring inside,” Valla muttered. “I… don’t want to risk anything.”
“That’s reasonable,” Rune said, his ears lowering a little bit. “Sorry, I… didn’t think about that before handing you the blackberries. There should be enough for all of you to get a little bit, and we even have some bread that you guys can have… though it’s not enough on its own.”
“The fish are almost done,” Scout said, tilting his head. “Valla, you can take the blackberries and the bread in to the other elves and all eat while that’s finishing up. And then we’ll join you all, and bring you the tea when it’s done.”
Valla nodded, and took the handfuls of blackberries from Rune, balancing the bread carefully on her hands. “This is what you all call bread?”
“...Yes, why?” Rune’s confused tone reflected all of our confusion and slight defensiveness.
“It’s a lot flatter, and harder than I’m used to… not to say it’s bad.”
“It’s what we have,” I said, giving Valla a hard look.
“I understand. It’ll be good.” Valla turned around and went back into the shelter quickly, leaving all of us there.
“So… we’re going back to the village?” Storm asked.
“Yeah.” Rune said.
“With them?” I growled, a little apprehensive about the idea of letting them in.
We were silent as we watched the water and leaves start to boil. “...May the divines help us all if they’ve ever even seen of our existence,” Scout muttered, low enough for me to second guess what he had said.
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