We’d crossed Hashna’s border days ago and still hadn’t seen anything but trees. No houses, no villages, no wise dwarves who could tell us why we’d come all this way. Hashna seemed like less of a country and more of a mountain wilderness. The road we started out on got smaller and smaller the farther up the mountain we climbed. Now, it was little more than a game trail.
“Do you think we’ll find a house soon?” I asked as we trudged up the path.
“They’re dwarves,” said Faiza in front of me. “They live in underground caves and mine treasure.”
“I think that’s folklore,” Ethan said from behind.
“It better be. Or we’ll never find anyone on this stinking mountain,” she said.
I put out a hand to guard my face from the branch Faiza let snap backward.
“If they don’t live underground,” I asked Ethan, “where do they live?”
“I always thought they lived in little mounds, but I don’t really know.”
“That fancy monastery education didn’t teach you how dwarves live? What kind of teachers are they?” There was a rare playful tilt in Faiza’s voice.
“No one has seen dwarves since King Radon called off the alliance between us and Hashna, and outlawed dwarves from entering Minaria,” Ethan said.
I remembered my father talking about the broken alliance and how strange it was.
Hashna was bordered by the Dakshen, a tall race with grey skin and dark eyes. They were a cruel, greedy people. The dwarves of Hashna were a small group of people and even if numbers were on their side, they were much tinier than the Dakshen, who were generally a foot or two bigger than a human. King Radon realized that if the Dakshen took over Hashna, they would be one step closer to our kingdom, and came to Hashna’s aid. After the Dakshen were defeated, an alliance was struck.
Father couldn’t understand why King Radon would break the alliance. There wasn’t an advantage in it. And then to forbid a dwarf from coming into Minaria? What country had ever forbid a certain race from coming into their kingdom unless they were at war with them? Father, again, blamed the strange behavior on the King’s twin brother’s death that happened just months before he broke the alliance. It wasn’t long after that when he enacted the law that allowed his soldiers to take orphans to serve at the castle.
“Well, wherever they live, they’re making it very difficult for us,” I said. I was tired of climbing the same path everyday and seeing nothing new.
“Maybe the Dakshen ate them all,” Faiza said. “Why don’t you contact your little dwarf friend and get the directions to his underground tunnel, or mound, or wherever he lives?”
“You know I can’t just contact him,” I said. “I’m not the one who knows magic.”
“Then why aren’t they contacting you?” Faiza spun around, short red hair swirling around her head. I had to stop mid-step to keep from running into her. “You didn’t dream anything last night, did you?” she asked.
“Just keep moving,” I said. “We’ll never find anyone if we stop.” I didn’t want to talk about the dreams. I hadn’t had any since we started the journey to Hashna. It would be nice if someone would give me a dream telling me where they are.
“I’m not moving,” said Faiza. “Not unless it’s back down.”
“What are we going to do with the gemstone then?” I asked. “Leave it out here and hope they find it?”
“If they want this stone so bad they should send someone to get it. We’re in Hashna. No Minarian laws keeping them away.” She crossed her arms. “We take it with us and sell it. It’s the least we deserve after all this trouble.”
As tired as I was of walking, I didn’t know if giving up was such a good idea. What if whatever was after this necklace found us? I’d felt safer since entering Hashna. Like whatever was after the gemstone wouldn’t be able to find me here. But maybe that was just my own mind trying to feel secure.
I was trying to think of something to say that would convince Faiza that we needed to keep going when something black caught my peripheral vision. Before I could turn my head to see what it was, it was on me.
It hit my chest, knocking me to the ground. A dog’s face stared back at me with yellow eyes as it hovered over me, flapping its long black wings. A grimulin? For a moment, I thought I was in a dream, but when it growled and lunged at me, the scrape of its talons woke me out of my daze.
It clawed at my chest, ripping my shirt. It was going for the gemstone.
I yelled and tried to push it away with my hands, but it used its front two set of talons to fend off my hands, while its back two clawed into my chest.
An arrow pierced its side, but it didn’t stop trying to take the necklace. I cupped both my hands around it. Sharp razors scraped the back of my hands but I hardly felt them. It must be adrenaline.
Faiza and Ethan were firing arrows at it, but it didn’t seem to notice. Every now and then it would make a screeching sound, but it never stopped clawing after the ruby around my neck.
Finally, after arrows were sticking out of it like a pincushion, the thing collapsed on top of me.
I pushed it off with the help of Ethan and Faiza and stood up shakily. I turned my hands over and was surprised that there wasn’t a mark on them. After all that clawing, I thought they would be ripped to shreds. I moved my fingers. They didn’t hurt at all. Come to think of it, none of me hurt.
Faiza looked from the thing’s talons to my torn, bloody shirt. “We’re going to need to clean those wounds.”
“The blood is from the…from it,” I said, still not believing that an actual grimulin had attacked me. I thought spirits couldn’t be seen, much less attack people. “I’m not hurt.”
“That’s just the adrenaline talking.” Faiza pulled what was left of my shirt up and froze, a frown forming on her lips. “There’s no wounds.”
My chest and belly had some blood smeared on it, but not even a hairline scratch was on my skin.
“How?” I asked, blinking at my unmarred skin.
“It must be the gemstone,” said Ethan as he too stared at my unwounded body.
That had to be it. We knew the gemstone was magic, but we always thought it was a bad kind of magic—that it was cursed—but maybe there was some useful magic covering it.
I looked down at the grimulin’s claws. The three talons coming out of the claw-like paw was about two inches long. I only felt a small prick from each talon like a poke from a needle. I leaned over and touched the tip of one. It was sharp.
“Maybe it’s like the amulet King Radon has,” I said, remembering that the dwarves had given one to him after he protected them from the Dakshen. “It protects whoever is wearing it.”
Ethan bent down to look at the grimulin lying on the ground. “It’s just like your dream,” he said, “It wanted the amulet.”
“But how did it get here?” I asked Ethan. “I thought you said these grimulin things were spirits.”
Faiza also looked to Ethan to explain. She was trying to hide it, but she was just as shaken as we were.
“Grimulin haven’t been around—physically—for centuries.” Ethan shook his head and scrunched his eyebrows together in confusion. “It’s illegal to conjure them.”
“Someone has to make them?” I asked.
“They don’t make them. They already exist. It’s just that we can’t see them in their spirit form,” Ethan explained. “The only way that they can be in this form,” he pointed to the dead grimulin, “is for someone to make them that way.”
“Magic. Spells. Sorcery.” Ethan’s grey eyes looked troubled.
“We all know who the magic experts are,” Faiza said, glowering at the dead grimulin.
“It can’t be the dwarves,” I said. “They sent me a dream to warn me about these things. Why would they warn me if they wanted me to get hurt?”
“They sent you a dream with one of ‘these things’ in it, and told you to give them the gemstone,” she said. “I’d call that a threat.”
“It isn’t the dwarves,” Ethan said. “Only dark sorcery can conjure a grimulin, and dwarves don’t practice that kind of magic.”
“Humans don’t practice any magic at all,” she countered.
“Most humans have lost the art of magic,” I said, coming to Ethan’s aid, “but the King keeps a few around in his service. They’re useful to have around in battle.”
“How do you know that?” Faiza asked.
“My father was one of the King’s soldiers.” I hadn’t spoken of my father since his death. It made me feel gloomy to talk about him in the past tense.
Ethan and Faiza were silent for a moment and I wondered if they were thinking about how much they hated the king’s soldiers.
“So it could be a human,” I said to break the silence.
“I still think it’s one of the dwarves,” Faiza said. “Us being here is only making it easier for them to send their pet grimulin after us. Grimulins didn’t come after us when we were back home. We should go back to Minaria and sell the stupid thing. Let the new owner deal with the dwarves and their flying pets.”
Ethan looked at me. “Is that what you want to do?”
Faiza scowled at him.
“He is the one who found it, and it was his dreams that brought us out here.”
I should have felt freed to finally get to make the decision without trying to convince Faiza, but I didn’t want to keep wandering in this mountain getting attacked by grimulin, and I didn’t think that the attacks would stop just because we went back to Minaria.
Either way I’d be stuck with this gemstone a little longer.
Ok, it’s up to you. You better pick the right choice! 🙂
Check out the Hashna Stone Page for previous chapters