I wipe the sweat from my brow as we come inside. Despite the cool day, working with our affinities still manages to heat up my blood and tire out my muscles. Even now, thirty minutes after our final lesson for the day, I can still feel the ache in my arms and legs that signifies a fulfilling day.
“You boys did well today. We’ll pick up your Elestal manipulation tomorrow and take a break from Firvo.” Dad says as he drops into the sofa with a tired grin. “In a month, when it’s time for you to join Chrome, you’ll even be strong enough to take your Uncle down. I’ll make sure of it.” He laughs good naturedly.
I groan silently at the thought of more training tomorrow. Since Abel and I turned twenty, our lessons have become a daily necessity. Personally, I find it pointless but you won’t hear me vocalize that out loud. I’d sooner have my ass handed to me in the sessions then get a firm ass whooping from Mom. She’s terrifying.
Abel and I follow suit, collapsing into the chairs sitting on each end of the sofa. With Dad sprawled out, there’s no point in trying to fight for the best spot in the living room, Dad always wins.
Despite Dad only having Elestal for his affinity, he’s well versed with the remaining three as well. Him and Mom have been together for so long, since they were children, that he knows the workings of all four. Mom has practiced around him and with him for years so it’s no wonder enough of the techniques and methods for each power stuck with him. And he might not be able to show us how to manipulate the affinities, but his explanations and directions are great.
This also means our abilities don’t stand a chance against his keen eyes even if we were to challenge him for the comfortable sofa he’s hogging.
“Why are we moving to Elestal and not Mindula?” Abel remarks with that no-nonsense tone in his voice. He’s never been the one for jokes unlike me. “I thought the schedule was–”
I scoff, interrupting my brother. “We don’t need to stick to a set schedule, it makes us complacent.”
“Malik’s correct. Routine might mean you could get too comfortable with training and I don’t want you two getting lazy.” Dad laughs with his head thrown back like he just told the funniest joke when in truth, nothing he said was remotely humorous.
I suppose that’s why Mom paired with him, though. She’s the serious one, the one shouldering all the responsibility since it’s her birthright. Dad’s the one who always lightens the mood and pulls her from that role for a few minutes. That’s not to say Mom doesn’t crack jokes herself every now and then, but Dad has to coax it out of her. Abel takes after her while I sort of sit in the middle of the two.
Dad’s laugh tapers off, though his smile remains. We all sit in companionable silence, as we watch the fading sun dip beneath the tree line, signaling a close to another mundane day. Dad’s yellow eyes and peppered hair glints in the remaining light. He’s the only one in this house without the royal family’s golden eyes. Even my cousin and Uncle sport the trademark feature, though I don’t think it bothers Dad as much as it bothers me.
It’s not as if Lucien and Uncle Elias are cruel to him, at least to his face. I’ve overheard them talk as if they are better than my dad on a few separate occasions. Having to bite my tongue and feign ignorance kills me but what could I possibly do about it? Confront them? And then what? It’s not like I could kick my Uncles ass, he’s been practicing his affinities before I could walk. I don’t stand a chance.
Truthfully though, if you were to ask me, I’d tell you that Dad suits this family line even more so than Grandpa’s son and grandson. There’s something about them that sets me on edge, though they’ve never outwardly done anything to explain that feeling I get. Mom loves Uncle Elias dearly and tries to give him the world and yet still that nagging feeling persists.
The door slamming open draws me from my heavy thoughts. All three of us turn just in time to see Lucien stalking off up the stairs and to his room while his father glares after him. Mom is the last to slip into the door and she closes with a soft click behind her. From over Uncle’s shoulder, she sees us watching and a small smile lights up her face.
“Get down here Lucien or so help me …” Uncle trails off, voice shouting to be heard through the solid wooden door my cousin had slammed behind himself.
Mom’s slender hand slips to his shoulder with a small squeeze. “Go up and speak to him Elias.” Her words are gentle like always, so much so that the tension visibly eases from his body and the glare slips off his face. He reaches his own hand up to pull hers from his shoulder. With a curt nod, Uncle climbs the stairs after his son.
“What was that all about?” The happy grin stretching my father’s lips brings a matching one to mom’s face.
“They had a dispute. Small one, but both are being stubborn.” She says with a sigh as she comes over to sit beside her mate.
“I see you came back from the village empty handed, so I assume dinner will come from the garden?” I say with a grumble, a small glare directed towards the upstairs bedroom where the faint mutterings filter through the door.
Something slams, the noise echoing with a crash. At first, I assume it came from the fighting father and son, but the direction of the sound doesn’t match up. We jump to our feet just in time to see the front door burst into flames. The burning red inferno spreads exceedingly fast, unnaturally so That tells me all I need to know.
Someone’s trying to either flush us out, or kill us because there is no way that fire started by natural means.
My assumption is confirmed the moment the back door catches alight too. We stand in shock for a few precious moments as we attempt to collect our thoughts.
It’s like I can hear the snap as my parents burst into action. They usher Abel and I to the far corner, out of sight of all windows and doors.
“Elias! Lucien!” Mom yells though her voice is drowned out by the roaring flames quickly consuming the house. “Go.” This is ordered at us and it takes me a moment to understand what she’s asking.
My father has moved a heavy chest to reveal a hidden door in the floor. I can’t say I’m surprised, my family is a paranoid one. For good reason of course.
“Go Abel. Now.” Mother pushes him forward and he pauses a moment to look at our parents, though I don’t know what he’s looking for. Whatever it is, he found it as he jumped into the pitch-black tunnel without looking back. “Malik, now you. Hurry.”
“You and father first.” I stubbornly keep my feet rooted even as the heat of the flames start to lick my heels.
A rough hand pinches my shoulder and I snap my head to the side. “In Malik. Now.” Dad’s words are spoken with a seriousness I’ve never heard from him before.
This time I don’t argue, knowing it will just waste precious time. A thud from behind me has me starting to turn but my father’s grip on my shoulder keeps me from looking back. But judging from the pale pallor his face has taken, I’d say it’s nothing good.
I jump down, the darkness immediately encompassing me. Abel is just barely visible as I move from the entrance to give our parents room to follow after us. The creaking door above us has me looking up just in time to see Dad stumble. Arrows litter his chest, dark red staining his shirt. His brows are pinched in pain and the smile he sends our way is barely more than a grimace. Tears slip down my face as another arrow lands in his throat. He drops to his knees, free hand reaching forward.
Just as the door slams closed, sealing us in darkness, do I finally see it. That thud I had heard was our mother dropping to the ground. Before my father breathed his last breath, he gripped the bloodied hand of his wife who lay in a heap at his side. Her dull golden gaze will haunt me for the rest of my days.
Just as the sight of Dad falling to his knees, chest riddled with arrows and blood.