Chapter 18: Shards
Gilmir extended his arm and unclenched his fist, revealing a blood-smeared, black stone, about the size of his thumb. He waited for Hobble and the two young women to get back on their feet and gather around him. They unceremoniously exchanged names, before switching attention to the stone in the elf’s hand.
‘Another stone from the starfall,’ Gilmir said, and reached for the shard he kept in his pocket. As he held one in each hand next to each other, a high-pitched sound emanated, and the shards started vibrating in his hand.
‘What’s that noise?’ Hobble asked.
‘The shards are talking to each other. They are kin, ever connected,’ said Rayn. She walked the four steps to the now unmoving corpse and searched what remained of his clothing. Beats later, she was back by Gilmir’s side, holding two more shards, one in each hand. The stone in her left palm was attached to a chain, like a pendant. The noise intensified, like a choir of distressed rodents. ‘It is not wise to keep them together. The interference is unpredictable, and sooner or later, there will be accidents.’
‘What kind of accidents?’ Hobble glanced from Rayn to Gilmir.
‘Loss of limbs, loss of lives,’ Gilmir said. ‘Madness. Fires. Thunderstorms. Rampaging demons.’
‘Demons?’ Ada said. ‘What are those?’
‘Essences,’ Gilmir replied. ‘Spirits from other planes. When they are called to our world by some overly eager human summoner, they take physical forms that might be monstrous. Most possess magical powers as well, and they make formidable foes. Such beings invariably cause havoc.’
‘That’s why we keep them apart,’ Rayn said, and hung the shard pendant around her neck. The other stone she gave to Ada. ‘Take this. I believe it has chosen you.’
Ada accepted the gift with a solemn nod. Holding the shard in one hand, she ran a thumb slowly over the smooth surface, caressing it.
‘What do we do with this?’ Gilmir asked.
Rayn examined the shard, and frowned. ‘It’s tainted. We should destroy it.’
‘What do you mean?’ replied Hobble.
‘It’s imbued with some minor spirit and combined with an animated corpse to create that,’ Rayn pointed towards the corpse on the ground.
‘What kind of spirit?’ asked Hobble.
‘I need more time to know for sure. A stubborn animal, possibly a ram or a boar, or even a badger.’ Rayn nodded, apparently satisfied with her reasoning.
‘Ah, give me that!’ Hobble picked the shard from Rayn’s hand, and clutched it in his fist.
‘Stop it, halfling! Don’t be stupid. We must destroy the stone before it messes things up.’ Gilmir reached for the shard.
‘No chance.’ Hobble evaded the feeble attempt at taking the shard by force. ‘You all got one, and I’m keeping this. It’s valuable, and I’m not destroying it just because you’re afraid of some badger demon.’
’Besides, you owe me.’ Hobble looked pointedly at Gilmir.
Ada broke the silence. ‘While you boys are having a staring contest, I’m dying of thirst over here. Anyone have something to drink?’
Hobble cleared his throat, and took a satchel from his back. Seeming happy to end the stare-off, he sat down on one knee. He pulled a bottle of wine from the bag.
‘Hungry? I have some bread and cheese too.’
‘Yes, please!’ Ada replied.
Soon, the new companions sat sharing the small meal.
‘So, what are the two of you doing here?’ Hobble asked.
Ada and Rayn shared a look.
‘Isn’t it obvious?’ Rayn said.
‘He was trying to be polite,’ Gilmir said, giving Rayn a look, ‘It is of course no coincidence. The dead man had your pendant and you were following it. But from where? And how did he get hold of the pendant?’
Rayn was about to answer but Ada lay a hand on her forearm.
‘We’re from Sandcastle. That monster attacked us in Rayn’s shop. We ran, and it followed. In the end, we had to let it have it. Afterwards we followed it here.’
‘So it did not care about you after it got hold of the stone?’ Gilmir said.
‘No,’ Ada said.
Gilmir pondered the new information.
‘So what are you going to do now?’ Hobble asked.
‘With that monster dead, I think we’ll head home.’ Ada replied.
‘Not tonight, obviously,’ Rayn said.
‘The danger is not over. I am sorry to say,’ Gilmir responded.
‘What do you mean?’ Ada asked.
‘Someone is collecting these stones. And it was not the dead man’s idea. Someone created it for that purpose. That someone will not stop with this.’
Rayn and Ada shared a look again.
Gilmir continued. ‘I think I know who it is. Give me a few days and I will know for sure.’
‘And then what?’ Rayn asked.
‘If you want to keep those stones, we will have to do something about it. And we probably should stay together until then.’
‘No,’ Rayn said abruptly. The three others looked at the half-elf.
When no explanation was forthcoming, Gilmir said, ‘No, what?’
‘No, we are not coming with you. And we are not “going to do something about it”. We are going home. Tomorrow.’
Ada started to protest. ‘But, Rayn—’
‘No!’ Rayn cut her short. ‘You would trust any man—male—and I will not let you make this decision. Besides, having four shards that close together is not a good idea.’ She looked at Gilmir. ‘And I am not staying nearby that evil shard!’ She nodded toward Hobble.
Ada looked at Gilmir and shrugged with an apologetic expression.
After that, they ate in silence for a while.
‘If you change your mind, we are staying at The Pick and the Axe in Oldtown,’ Hobble said, while putting the empty wine bottle back in the satchel.