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The leaves shook like the newly-discovered rattle of a newborn. The tall grass swayed and rolled in the distance. Two clouds hung in the otherwise blue sky, and Jasmine covered her shoulders and trekked over the hill.
“Wait up.” Alvin huffed behind her, carrying both packs, one of which he had dropped but caught with one hand, and dragged it through the grass.
“Do you need help?” Jasmine asked.
“No, no, no.” Alvin struggled with the pack, but wrangled it up to his shoulder and slipped his arm through the strap. “I’m okay.”
Jasmine rolled her eyes.
“Really,” he said. “I don’t want you to have to carry these.”
“I know,” Jasmin said. Alvin was a protector, but sometimes, a foolish one. He worried about her, even though she was more experienced, better skilled, and bigger than him. At a hair over five feet, most of Alvin’s life had been fending off jokes and proving people wrong. Even today, as they marched toward the village, she knew he couldn’t carry both packs, but she could only offer so many times.
“How much further?” Alvin asked, having caught up and walking next to Jasmine now.
She looked down, and while not significantly taller than Alvin, it often felt like it. She was in boots, which changed the perception slightly. “I think I see faint smoke lines in the sky ahead.”
Alvin squinted. “If you say so.”
“Should be there before dark.” The sun lit up the golden tall grasses and cast shadows from the trees. Jasmine loved being in the open, and rarely had the opportunity. Her travels usually led to overpopulated towns or cramped spaces, and nothing in between. This was a rare exception. She had been tasked with returning three ritual stones to the village of Yeles, perched atop a hill just ahead of them.
“Do we need to check the stones?” Alvin asked, as if he could hear Jasmine’s thoughts.
She shook her head. “Not unless they were in that pack you dropped.”
“Dammit Alvin, didn’t I tell you to be extra cautious?”
Alvin set the bag among the tall grass and untied the top. He scrambled through the pack until he pulled out a satchel. Inside were the 3 stones. He pulled the first one out and handed it to Jasmine. It wasn’t a typical stone. This stone was polished so much that Jasmine could see her face looking back at her. The color was a deep purple, and one one side an intricate carving of the sun and moon appeared to glow a faint white. Jasmine had to look again, but the glow remained; it wasn’t something she remembered seeing earlier.
“Hey Alvin,” she said, holding the rock out. “Do you see this white light?”
Alvin look up, still kneeling beside the pack, and squinted. “A little bit, yeah.” He looked at Jasmine. “That’s weird, right?”
Jasmine peered off toward the village. “Very,” she said. The smoke lines had gotten darker against the blue sky. “What about the other rocks?”
Alvin handed Jasmine the second rock. Similar to the first, it was polished and purple, but the carving on this one depicted a tree and a lake. Instead of a white glow, this rock emitted a yellow light. Without saying anything, she reached out motioning for the last rock, which Alvin set in her hand. This rock was white and solid, with no carvings or polished surfaces. Today however, it had a new marking, a chip near the center, that hadn’t been there before. Jasmine’s face grew red. “Did you do this?” She jutted the stone into Alvin’s face.
“I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to.”
“Dammit Alvin, I told you to let me help. Why did you have to take everything on yourself?”
“I just wanted to help.” He started pacing in the grass nearby.
There wasn’t a lot Jasmine could do, so she delicately placed the stones back in the bag and threw it onto her back. “We have to go,” she said coldly.
“It’s a small chip, maybe they won’t even notice.”
“Maybe it won’t even matter.”
“Ritual stones always matter, you should know this.”
“It’s just a stupid stone!”
“Not to them, Alvin!”
A breeze picked up and brought along with it the scent of smoke. On high alert now, Jasmine looked around. They had just entered an area with a cluster of trees, so she looked between them as best as she could. Where the village had been, was now a flame, and the smoke had gotten darker and consumed a chunk of the sky.
Alvin followed her gaze to the village. “Is this my fault?” He said sheepishly.
“I don’t know, but it’s not good.” She started jogging on the trail. She didn’t get too far before she realized Alvin wasn’t behind her. “Come on,” she said, looking over her shoulder to him. “What are you waiting for?”
“Wasn’t there another group looking for the stones?”
“We don’t really have time-“
“What if that’s them.” He lifted his finger and pointed toward the village. “Up there.”
“We’ll deal with it when we get there.”
“No,” he said. “I’ll stay here.”
“We’re in the middle of nowhere, Alvin, you can’t just stay here.”
He took a step forward and sighed. “Fine,” he said, reaching into his waistband and pulling out a gun. “Then I guess you’ll just have to stay here.”
Her hands shot into the air. “What are you doing?”
“The village,” he said. “Those are my people up there. They’re looking for the stones. Toss them over.”
“Just hand over the stones and don’t worry about it.”
“Why are you-“
“Okay!” She slipped the pack off her shoulders and tossed it toward Alvin. She shuddered at the thought of the stones clattering together, but she had other things to worry about now.
“I didn’t want to blow my cover, but I suppose it’s fine.” He walked over and snatched the pack. “I really don’t think you’ll be able to make it out, so I’m not worried.”
“You don’t think I can get back.”
Still pointing the gun at her, he walked around her on the trail. “No,” he said calmly. “Because I have both packs, a weapon, and a team of people waiting for me. You have…” He looked around. “The trees?” He laughed.
A shiver went down Jasmine’s spine.
“Thanks Jasmine, it’s been fun.” He waved, and before Jasmine could think of anything to say, he turned and continued walking toward the town.
She considered following him, trying to track him and tack him out, but she was frozen among the pocket of red, orange, and yellow treetops. In all her years she had never been betrayed, and she didn’t plan for this scenario. She watched Alvin as he disappeared on the trail. She didn’t have much, but at least she was in beautiful land.
Would Jasmine describe Alvin as tall or short? (Answer should be 1 word)
How many stones were they carrying to the village? (Answer should be 1 word)
What's 1 word to describe how Jasmin likely felt at the end of the story? (Answer should be 1 word)