Catch up on the story: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3
The small sad dwarf left the old house and the burnout valley. What waits for him beyond?
The small, sad dwarf climbed up the burnt old ridge. He was right, there was grass on the other side.
In fact, the land sloped down into a bright green valley. He hadn’t seen anything so green, in such a long time. The land rolled away in rolling hills of grass. The sky was clear, with only a few traces of the marching army.
The stars faded as the sky blushed and became blue. A golden ball of bright light climbed up a far away line of mountains. The dwarf could see a long way, for the first time in a while.
Excited, he hurried down the slope into the awaiting grassland. The air smelled fresh and clean. He thought he heard the chirping of… birds? Yes, they were called birds. He looked around but couldn’t see any.
Climbing up from the ground were big, gnarly things. Small pieces of gree clung to their crooked arms. For a second, the dwarf thought they were people, frozen forever. But on closer examination, he realized there was nothing to fear. These things were supposed to be stuck in the ground.
The dwarf walked under them, enjoying the shade they provided from the rising ball of light. When the wind blew between their arms, there was a soft rustle. He liked that sound, though as a dwarf, he hadn’t grown up hearing it.
He walked for a while beneath the gnarled, greeny things. They were thick beside him. The ground, he realized, was flat and even. Very easy to walk on. It was almost as if someone places stones in a long, straight line, to make it easier to walk.
Wasn’t there a name for that? He had to think about it.
He suddenly forgot about all that when he reached a break in the gnarled things. The land spread out under the blue sky. Rising up in front of him was a great many houses.
The dwarf has reached the edge of a town.
An entire town! With houses that almost reached to the sky. The dwarf ran, the things in his pockets clanging. He entered the town and ran to the first house. Tentative at first, he knocked on the door.
“Hello,” he said in a croaky, unused voice. “Hello, anyone here?”
There was no answer. He moved to the next house. There was no light in the windows, no signs of movement. He kept moving.
He reached a town square. Stalls sat empty. There should have been people around, selling apples and bread. But there were no sounds in the town. No sounds at all, except the distant chirping of birds.
The dwarf kicked a stone in disappointment. He had hoped to find someone that might have seen the man or his daughter, Amelie.
He was about to leave the town when something happened. A door shut. It was very clearly a door. At first, he thought it was the wind. But he heard something else: footsteps.
Spinning around, he ran in the direction of the noise. He shouted, not even thinking about what to say.
Turning a corner, he reached an ally. Tall brick houses were on either side. There was something climbing out of a window, high above the ground. It was climbing out, butt first. Soon, the legs appeared, then arms. Finally, a head popped out of the window and the whole person landed on the ground.
The person spun around, shock in his eyes. It certainly looked like a man. He was tall, much taller than the dwarf. He had shaggy red hair that stuck out in all directions. It connected to a red beard that encircled his jaw and chin. A silly hat was on his head and he was dressed in layers of brown and gray clothes. They looked like rags to the dwarf, realizing his clothes were hardly better.
“Hello!” the man said. He bounded over to the dwarf. “Why, it’s good to see a friendly face in the cold, cold world. Who are you?”
“Nevermind that, names aren’t needed among friends. Although you can call me Dasher. Has a nice ring to it, yes? My you’re a small fellow. I think I’ll call you Mini. Is that a good name, Mini?”
“I suppose,” the dwarf said. “Do you live in this town?”
“Me? No. Nobody lives in this town anymore, Mini. Been deserted. Like the rest of the world. I was just passing through. Ah—checking to see if any poor soul was in need of help. And look what happens, fate put you in my path.”
“Why were you climbing out of the window?” the dwarf asked.
“Is there a better way to get in and out?” Dasher said. “I don’t bother with such trivial matters. Not in this day and age. So, Mini what do you most desire? How can Dasher help you?”
“I… I am searching for someone,” the dwarf said. “A man and his daughter. She is named Amelie.” The dwarf described how they looked, based on the picture he had found in the house. “Have you seen them?”
“Have I seen them? Why, of course, I did! Just saw them the other day.”
“Really where?” the dwarf could hardly believe it. “Where are they? I think they need my help.”
“Hmm…” Dasher put a hand to his chin. The dwarf noticed the long, dark finger nails. “I believe I saw them West of here. Or was it North? It was several days ago. They are most-likely already gone.”
“Oh. Can you at least point me in the right direction?”
“I’ll do better than that,” Dasher said. “I can take you to them!”
“Sure. It’ll be a snap. We just have to go where I saw them last and follow. You’ll find your friends in no time.”
“You’d really help me?” the dwarf asked. “Drop everything you’re doing?”
“There’s not much left to do, these days,” Dasher said, his face grim. He suddenly perked up. “Except help those in need.”
“That’s wonderful,” the dwarf said.
“Come now, let’s depart from this sad, forgotten town,” Dasher said, putting an arm around the dwarf. “I believe the man and his daughter went this way. We’ll leave on the South road, which will get us through the hills.”
They started walking. They passed through the rest of the town. The dwarf noticed that many of the houses’ doors were left open. Some of the windows were broken or pried up. Things were smashed in the street: old boxes, bedding, and shards of vases.
“What happened here?” the dwarf said.
“Beats me,” Dasher said. “People must have left in a hurry. Didn’t have time to clean.” He let out a long, deep laugh.
They eventually reached the far edge of town. A path sloped up to a new line of hills. Dasher bounded ahead, getting a good look at the land beyond. He nodded eagerly, urging the dwarf to follow.
The dwarf looked over the town one last time, before following Dasher into the hills.
To be continued…