We follow the four Talnarins to their village to find its surprisingly large. For being so close to the beasts and the cursed forest, the Talnarins here are thriving. Fires light up the place, lining the streets and illuminating the wooden homes and town center.
So many people are shuffling along the streets, laughing and chatting loudly with no care if the Teasba’s hear them or not. It’s either really brave or really stupid. But judging from their effective attack on the creatures’ mere moments ago, they’re definitely not stupid by any means. Abel and I exchange a look as we follow after the four males strutting ahead of us, weaving through the small crowds as they go.
Three of them linger outside a door to a three-story building while the one who spoke with us waits just inside with a small grin. “Through this way, the Master wants to speak with you two.”
I straighten my spine as I give the man a nod as I contemplate what my brother and I are about to face. As much as I would love to say that we’re safe here, there’s no telling who these people are and if they had anything to do with my parents’ death. I won’t take any risks with Abel’s safety, so I step in front of him as I follow the male through the door.
Everyone is oblivious to the hum of power lingering just beneath my skin as it waits for my command. With a mere thought, I can have my flames and electricity out in seconds to defend ourselves. And knowing my brother, Abel has his own affinities at the ready, prepared for anything. He’s always been the thinker and planner after all.
We step through a sparse living room with modest furniture and through a short hallway to the back of the home. Double doors sit open as we near, the large desk and bookshelves giving the office a professional feel despite the inviting nature of the worn wood.
The male behind the desk gives us his back but it’s enough to tell he’s an elder with his hunched form and white hair. He turns at our approach, a polite and welcoming smile touching his face. That expression quickly gives way to shock as he takes in my appearance. I feel my body harden as electricity crackles under my hands, ready to release and demand answers from this elder who clearly recognizes my brother and I.
“Here are the survivors of the cursed forest Master Shew, I’ll take my leave to return to the festival unless there is something more you require of me.” The male who brought us here is bowed over, showing respect to the elder I assume resides over this village.
He stays low, hands clasped behind his back as he awaits his orders. The elder and I remain locked in a staring contest, his vivid purple eyes wide as he attempts to speak, mouth opening and closing repeatedly. I feel Abel step up to my back, the heat from his body as he prepares for a fight just as I do. The burn of his Firvo affinity nearly seared my back in its intensity and I have no doubt he can feel the prickle of my Elestal affinity as it crackles and pops over my arms.
We are able to sense the affinities of those around us if we get close enough. It’s a secret that not even our parents knew because as far as we know, there hasn’t been a talnarin capable of doing such a thing in our people’s history.
Finally, the elder seems to come back to himself. His eyes snapped to the male still bowed low. “That is all my boy, thank you.” The words are gravelly, a common trait among those up in their years.
I relax my tense muscles minutely as the warrior slips back out the door, closing them softly behind him. With the two of us, I’m more than confident we’ll be able to handle an elder, even one as strong as him. Even without the active use of his affinity, I can feel the waves of it from here.
“I’m very sorry my Lords.” The elder begins as his hunched form bends into a low bow.
My own eyes widen at the sight of the highest respect, from the village leader himself. It should be us who bows as we are nothing more than visitors to his village.
“Your visit is unexpected, thus the surprise. We’ll have the finest rooms and meals available to you for as long as you stay.” He rises to his full height, which is nearly half my own.
Abel steps out from behind me, standing side by side. From the corner of my eye I see the contemplative look on his face, one that’s always there when he sees a puzzle he has yet to solve. While I’m more of the brute force, Abel is the logical thinker, the one to always ask the right questions so I let him lead.
“You know who we are.” It’s not a question but the elder takes it as such.
“Yes, I know what family you belong to and what that means.” He gestures to the two chairs before the desk. “Please sit, I’m sure your journey was a long and tiring one.”
“Thank you.” Abel’s voice is pleasant, misleadingly so. Those who know him well, like myself, know that he doesn’t like surprises and unknowns.
Abel slides into the chair with the grace of a king while I merely drop into the chair, splaying without a care in the world. A narrowed side eye from Abel does nothing to make me sit up straight and present myself better and he knows it’s a pointless endeavor for him to pursue with me. He’s quick to focus back on the elder slowly lowering himself into the chair before us.
“I’m the only elder in this village that will recognize those eyes. As a scholar, it’s my job to know all I can to protect this town. While my primary duties are as the leading elder to these people, my hobby is to acquire all the knowledge I can in my free time.”
Abel inclines his head with a faint smile on his lips. “I can understand the drive for knowledge. I am somewhat of a scholar myself.”
The old man’s eyes light up immediately and I just know that if I don’t step in, we’ll be here all night if these two start on about their studies. “We’ll not be staying long, just the night before it’s time for us to depart.”
The elder’s eyes dim but understanding and acceptance cross his face. “Of course, my lords. You both shall have our finest accommodations and two of our very best capalts for your journey. If there is anything, anything at all you require, simply inform us and it will be done.”
“Thank you for your kindness, and while I do not believe it is necessary, it must be said regardless. We require your utmost transgression in regards to our arrival.” Abel words are polite but very clearly not a request from his tone alone.
“Oh! Of course, my lords. No one shall know who you are to our people and you shall receive no visitors unless otherwise requested.” His eyes gleam with understanding and compliance. “Is there anything else you require? I shall see to it all myself personally.”
“If your village can spare it, we will need provision for a week’s journey and a map to ensure we reach our intended destination.” Abel’s polite command makes me snort. My brother could demand this entire village and the elder would comply before realizing what he agreed to, that’s how smooth Abel is at times.
“Consider it done my lords.”
“Thank you. It’s been a long journey and we would like to retire for the evening.” Abel stands, and we follow suit. “Thank you for your hospitality.”
“It is my pleasure. I’ll have Ronal show you to your rooms. Dinner will be delivered to your doors immediately.” The elder shuffles to the doors and opens them easily. “Ronal.” A young boy appears in the doorway with a dopey grin. “My boy, please show our guests to our best rooms and bring them dinner and our finest ale.”
Without a word, the young boy bows low and gestures for us to follow him. As we slip out the door, the elder bends at the waist once more and says, “Please enjoy your stay and let Ronal know if something is not to your satisfaction, we will be more than happy to accommodate you both.”
“Will do, thank you Elder Shew. Your kindness has been noticed.” Without another word, Abel follows after the young boy with me on his heels. Turning one last time, I see the elder shutting himself away in his office once more. While nothing about our conversation with the elder seemed off putting or deserving of my weariness, one can’t be too sure.
My complacency is one of the reasons our parents are gone, I won’t make that same mistake twice.