The sound of waves woke Va’il. The air was cold, and the first signs of daylight had grayed the sky. He jumped out of the cart, but was disoriented at the feeling of sand beneath his feet.
He looked around, seeing the vast beach in front of him. He hadn’t seen an ocean before, never had his travels or small adventures brought him to one. He knew the smell, as he had come in contact with it the day before. But Derlik’s journey through the night brought Va’il to the ocean long before he could gradually adjust to the closing distance. It was a different smell than anything else, one that made his nose tingle. Overall, the entire experience, sight, sound, and smell, was magnificent.
“You’re up early,” Derlik said. He was sitting, watching the waves.
“You too. Didn’t you sleep?” Va’il asked.
“No. How could I, when I’m home? When I’m this close to my house?”
“Ah, understood.” They remained quiet after that, listening to the waves and watching the sky grow brighter. The sun gradually appeared to their left.
Ruby was waken, and then they all ate. Derlik remained silent for the morning as usual, and Va’il and Ruby explored and played at the water’s edge for a while. Eventually they started the final day of their journey, which Derlik took at a slow pace. The horses walked slowly for a couple hours, tired from the last few days of speedy journey followed by a night of travel. They seemed to heave a sigh of relief when Derlik pulled on their reins and told them to stop. Over the years they’d been exchanged many times by travellers exchanging capable but exhausted horses for fresh ones, but never had they been pushed the way Derlik had the past few days.
The beach, with ocean on one side and forest on the other, had one unnatural entity on it. A massive house stood there, alone against the elements around it. Va’il and Ruby stood on the sand, looking at it in wonder, while Derlik walked to the front of the house and pounded on the massive door. After a minute, it opened.
“Mom, I’m home,” Derlik said. Va’il and Ruby each opened their mouths in surprise, and then looked at each other.
“Did he say?” Va’il asked.
“Der! It’s Der! Come on out everybody, it’s my boy!” shouted the mother. She stepped out of the doorway and wrapped her arms around her son. As she did, more people came out of the house. A couple males, an older female, and a couple youths, arrived. They all started laughing and conversing while Derlik was in his mother’s embrace.
The mother let go of Derlik, took a step back while sizing him up and squeezing his arms. She then clobbered him with a large fist. His head shook a bit, but the smile didn’t leave anyone’s face.
“And that’s for not writing lately!” Laughter ensued from the welcoming group.
“It is!” Ruby said, her eyes wide. Both kids were out of additional words to express their surprise. They had known that over the last month they were traveling to Derlik’s home, but they thought he meant a city or the country itself. His personal home, though, was different.
“And that’s about all for that,” Derlik said at the end of a short conversation. “Now, let me introduce you to some friends. Come here, you two.”
“Hello,” Ruby said while giving a charming smile to the tall bearan mother. Va’il bowed his head and said the same. Everyone around the two of them were much larger, uncomfortably so. It was one thing to be a head shorter than someone. But to be surrounded by bearans, all of which were much taller, much wider, and much heavier, was a unique experience. Even the youths, visibly younger than Va’il, were an arm taller and twice his size.
“And they are?” a male asked.
“Va’il and Ruby, friends from Rising, father. They are rather unique, and the reason I have come home unannounced. I’ll try to explain more once we’re settled. Is breakfast ready?” Derlik asked.
“We’ll hear it later then. You know it is! Just in time, boy. A fresh catch. You certainly have some good timing for food,” the father said and then gave a hearty laugh.
“Hey, what is that boy?” the older female asked.
“Me?” Va’il asked.
“Yes, what are you? I just thought that too.” said the mother.
“Va’il’s a lupus boy,” Derlik said.
“No, he isn’t,” the father said.
“What? What are you talking about?” Derlik asked.
“Their right. I’m a half. Lupus and human,” Va’il said.
“A half? Well, considering neither of you are bearan, it doesn’t really matter. We know now, that’s enough. Thank you,” the mother said. She was warm in her words and had a kind smile, for a bearan.
“A half? All this time, I didn’t even notice,” Derlik said.
“He can be a bit clumsy at times,” the mother said.
“Certainly is,” the older male said.
Va’il and Ruby looked at each other and laughed. Throughout the last month, they had only seen Derlik in a serious and grown-up light, and he had rarely talked with them. It even surprised them he referred to them as friends. But their perception of him changed upon seeing his family. He could be absent-minded at times, which they could have noticed before if they had looked for it. It was a refreshing end to the long travel.
“A bath! A bath! Oh my goodness how much better life is with a bath! Va’il, I can stand you now!” Ruby said. The dirt from her cheeks was gone, replaced by skin that had been exposed to the sun far too much over the past month. Her hair was restored to its usual state, unlike the tangled mess she had been reduced to dealing with the past few days. They hadn’t been to an inn in a week, degrading their health and looks. Va’il was a dirty mess, far worse than a day of playing in dirt could have done to him, until Derlik’s mother prepared a bath for him. The sun had also worked on him, finally bringing his complexion out of paleness. The absence of the smell that all three travelers had acquired was the greatest reward, though.
The cleaned travelers were given clean clothes, adjusted for each of their sizes. They weren’t great quality or well adjusted, but the blue dress Ruby wore was a marked improvement over her previous attire. Va’il was given blue and gray pants and tunic. They were fed well that morning, with fresh fish that had been swimming a few short hours ago. The table buzzed with Derlik relating the story of their travels, starting from their journey in Farrow. He didn’t broach the reason why they had come yet. Once breakfast was over the youths were sent out to play, while the rest of them sat in the main room and discussed in further detail what was going on.
“So, Der, mind explaining what’s going on, now?” his mother, Dena, asked.
“I cannot fully explain. Do you two mind if I give the basic reason without talking about the other things?” Derlik asked. Va’il and Ruby each nodded, knowing that there wasn’t any actual reason to withhold information, other than to save Derlik’s pride. Considering it would be impossible to explain all his reasons for doing each thing he did before their travels started, a cover-up of sorts was necessary.
“Not fully? Why?” Dena asked.
“These kids were in danger. They had to escape, and I have helped them to do so. They would be in peril, had they not left. Hope you can understand, I cannot disclose what kind of danger, even to family, since there is safety in less people knowing. This is to protect them. I also cannot tell who is after them or why. To know that is also dangerous, both for them and to those who know. That’s about the best I can say. Can you accept that?” Derlik asked.
“Peril enough to flee here?” Ulin, Derlik’s father, asked.
“I see. Dear, and mother, that should be enough. We didn’t even need to know that much. Our curiosity has gotten the better of us. Son, what do you need from us? That’s the real question. Why come here, of all places?” Ulin asked.
“I cannot watch them forever. I’m going back to Rising. I ask that you please look after these two,” Derlik said.
“You’re just dropping us off, Derlik?” Ruby asked.
“I’m doing what I was compelled to do. I did explain it before. I had to save you. But I didn’t forfeit my life. I placed it on hold. I want, no, I need to go back. To the life that I’ve been living ever since I left here,” Derlik said.
“Der, that sounds irresponsible,” Ofir, Dena’s father, said.
“I know it sounds like that. But just as there are reasons I cannot tell you of their danger, there are reasons why I must go that I cannot explain. I’m sorry that I’m dropping you two and leaving, but understand that we weren’t going to be together forever. You certainly knew that,” Derlik said.
“I understand what you mean,” Va’il said. “Yeah, you should go back. It’s fine. But on the other hand, we don’t want to burden your family. Dropping us on them isn’t something we wished for.”
“I know that. But that is the situation. And I think you two will do well here. And, maybe I should point out to you that once I am gone, you are free to return. I cannot stop you from returning at that point. I can advise against it, for now. But I have no doubt that you will make an effort to return. If it pleases everyone, then my delivery here can be thought of as a temporary measure,” Derlik said.
“And will you come to pick them up after a time? How are they to get back? How can you just say that, knowing it isn’t realistic?” Dena asked. She looked ready to clobber Derlik again.
“Because it’s them. They’ll find a way, if they need to. They’ve already thought of it, I’m sure. Am I correct?” Derlik asked.
“Maybe, I don’t know though,” Va’il said.
“We could make it back alone,” Ruby said, her voice brimming with confidence. “You may have sprung this on us, but we weren’t counting on you for much anyways. I’ve been thinking about it ever since you mentioned Grizz. So, somehow, we can make it back. I know we can. There are greater obstacles we could face. That we will face. This isn’t one of them. I thank you, Derlik, on the behalf of my namesake, for the good things you have done.”
“You sure, Ruby?” Va’il asked.
“Somehow, yes. I think we could. I know you could, alone, right Va’il?” Ruby asked.
“Maybe. But it would take too long. And besides, I’m not alone.”
“Time is something we can cut with the proper methods and items. You leave that to me. Let’s just thank Derlik and send him on his way. Or, I would say that, but that would imply I want to impose on his family. I cannot do that,” Ruby said.
“What an interesting human. So small, so odd, and with such strange looks. But you have the giant heart of a bearan, little girl. I want to wish you well, but the world is a tough place. Maybe it takes someone like you to cross it successfully,” the grandmother Elsa, wife of Ofir, said.
“Mother Elsa approves, I approve,” Ulin said.
“We’re all in agreement then. We’ll look after you, temporarily. Though, I won’t tolerate if you simply freeload. My boy may be thick at times, but he works. You kids fine with some tough work to earn your keep?” Dena asked, a wide grin across her tough face.
“Of course,” Va’il said.
“That seems reasonable,” Ruby said. “Yes.”
“Good. But I’ll give you kids a week to recover. Relax, work, and then let me know a few days before you decide to go. Whether that is in two weeks or two years, it is fine. I apologize for my boy again. I know you have your circumstances, but I cannot shake the feeling that I need to clobber him again for having to bring you here. I guess that’s misguided of me, since I don’t know everything. I’ll accept that. Till the time comes, stay with us. We’ve got enough to let a couple small ones like you stay here. Maybe I’ll even get a kick of pleasure watching you bring back some items from the market in the city. Yes boy, that’ll be fun,” Dena said.
“Mother’s already planning how to work them. I’m sorry you two. But I’ll be leaving tomorrow nonetheless. If you have good fortune, may we never see each other again. If we do, I hope it is if I come here to visit. Don’t let mother work you too hard,” Derlik said.