“I’m not sure I understand.” Sarah asked as she looked at Alan puzzled. “Why does me being here cause problems?”
Alan gave her a wry smile and leaned back in the chair. “Isn’t it obvious? No? Tell me, Sarah, what do the other Caledonians say about the forest?”
Sarah furrowed her brow in thought. “Well, it’s all just superstition and rumors, really. They say that the woods are full of ghosts, evil spirits and monsters. But there isn’t a shred of evidence to – oh.” Sarah looked up at Alan in realization. Just then, the door opened and Tony stormed in fuming, dragging Andrew in by his ear.
“Alan, Andrew just told me what happened. I suggest that-”
Alan held up a hand, stopping Tony in his tracks. “In a minute, Tony. Yes, Sarah, ‘monsters’. That’s what we are. And that’s why we must remain hidden from the rest of the world.”
Sarah leaned forward, slamming her hands on the table. “But you’re not monsters! At least, from what I’ve seen! You’re an entirely new species of people! This is HUGE! Magic and Artifice haven’t come anywhere close to creating anything with true intelligence!”
“Well, be that as it may” Alan sighed, shaking his head, “the others won’t see it that way. We’re not human, we’re outsiders, and we’re frightening. Take Tony here if you want an example.”
Tony blinked in surprise and stopped glaring, as Alan jerked a thumb his direction. “Hey, don’t use me as an example.”
“Stop being an example…” Andrew muttered as he rubbed the sore ear Tony had used as a handhold.
Sarah sat and thought for a moment before pressing onward. “Well, I’m sure if you did things right, you could-”
“Introduce ourselves and live happily ever after with the humans?” Tony sneered. “Yeah, we tried that once, so I’m told. It was before my time. Didn’t end well.”
“Mine too.” added Alan. “A generation or two ago; it’s not exactly clear. But Tony’s right, we did try. And we were given the torches and pitchfork treatment. So that’s why it’s of utmost importance that we stay hidden. If we’re discovered, then there is a very real threat that we would be wiped out. Caledon outnumbers us by a significant margin.”
Alan motioned for Tony and Andrew come over to the table. “So, Sarah, that’s the ‘why’ behind our dilemma. So, I’ll ask you again: what are we going to do with you?”
Tony grunted and looked away. “Well, you know my opinion. We gave the fuzzball his chance, and now we got to clean up his mess. It should go without saying that we can’t let any word of us get back to Caledon.”
Sarah clasped her hands to her mouth, her eyes widening. “Please don’t eat me!”
The others turned and looked at Tony coldy, who rolled his eyes in response. “Oh, don’t give me that! I’m not heartless, but it would be the cleanest solution.”
“Not entirely.” Alan replied, holding up a finger. “Suppose we did. She would be missed, wouldn’t she? Andrew, would the Caledonians brave the woods to come looking for her?”
Andrew scrunched up his brow in thought. “Well, probably. They wouldn’t go into the forest normally. But for something important?” He paused and looked around the room. “It’s more than likely.”
“We’re hidden pretty well, Andrew.” Tony countered. “The forest is huge. I don’t think they’d find us.”
“But we’re not invisible.” Alan cautioned. “It’s not impossible for them to find us. Especially if they follow the river upstream. And if they do find us, they’ll likely assume the worst. Let’s keep it in mind as a backup plan, and see what other options we have.”
Tony concentrated, rubbing his muzzle thoughtfully. “Well, we could always keep her as a prisoner. But that would run into the same problem as just killing her. They’d probably attack us anyway even if they found out she was still alive. So great, are we doomed either way?!” Tony flung his hands up in frustration. “We can’t keep her here because they’ll come looking for her. And we can’t let her go because she knows we exist!”
“Excuse me.” Sarah interrupted, causing all eyes to focus on her. “But I think you’re missing a simple solution: you let me go, and I promise not to tell.”
“Impossible.” snorted Tony. “That’s too risky.”
“Riskier than then letting a bunch of people snoop around the woods looking for me? If you don’t let me go, it sounds like that’s a pretty sure thing.”
Tony paced around the room, growling softly under his breath before turning back to face Sarah. “Ok, so suppose we do that. How do we know you’re going to keep your end of the bargain?”
Alan stood up and clapped Tony on the back. “Leave that to me.” Tony looked over at Alan, his face softening in concern for once. “You sure about that, Alan? You know you’ll be useless for the rest of the day if you do.”
Alan smiled and nodded. “What kind of leader am I if I don’t use everything at our disposal?” He turned to Sarah and sat down across from her again. “Now, suppose we agree to this deal. Let’s say that we sweeten the deal a bit. Give you a little incentive. What do you want in exchange for your freedom?”
> Sarah: Demand education and integration into their society.
Sarah didn’t hesitate for a moment. “I’m not due to arrive back home for a couple of days. I want to stay here during that time and learn more about all of you. You have no idea how big this is, discovering new intelligent life! I know I won’t be able to tell anyone, but perhaps things might change down the road, and I’ll have a head start!”
Andrew, Alan, and Tony exchanged glances for a moment. Tony sighed and leaned against the wall of the den. “It’s your call, boss. It’s either trusting this human, or start making defense and battle plans. I don’t like either option, but hers might give us the best shot right now.”
Alan nodded and took Sarah’s hands in his own. “Then we’re agreed. Sarah, look into my eyes.” Sarah looked up and into Alan’s eyes, which seemed to glow golden. His gaze felt penetrating, but she couldn’t bring herself to look away.
“Sarah of Caledon. If we let you go, will you reveal our existence to anyone? Answer truthfully.”
“No, I will not.” She spoke clearly and confidently, not breaking her gaze. Alan maintained the stare for a few more seconds before closing his eyes, slumping into the chair, and massaging his temples.
“She’s telling the truth. Andrew, she’s yours during her stay here. Have her spend the night in Jade’s old den. Aside from that, just take care of her, take her for a tour, whatever she wants. Tony, put the word out to everyone that she’s here and under our protection. Any questions? No? Good. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go home and lie down.”
Sarah looked around in confusion as Alan stood up and he and Tony headed for the door. “Wait, what just happened?”
“Alan used his Gift” Andrew shrugged “And now he’s nursing a really bad headache. But it looks like you got your wish. So… I guess I’m now your guide? So, um… what do you want to do? I can introduce you to some of my friends, if you like. Sven’s probably your best bet at breaking the ice with the others, but we can go find Jessica and Cynthia as well to get the whole gang together. Or if you want to see something else first, that’s fine too.”