“Do you two mind going into the city today?” Dena asked.
“Sure, what do you need?” Ruby asked.
“Just a few small things. But only after getting the boys. They are playing in the city, so bring them back with you.”
Dena gave Ruby a short list, and together she and Va’il went to the city. It was a short run to the north, however they used it as another opportunity to test their skates. They knew exactly how long it took to walk to the city, so they were able to make a comparison to the time it took while skating at a leisurely pace.
“At least three times faster, right?” Ruby asked when the city came in sight.
“Yeah,” Va’il replied. He then added with a laugh, “Three times less! More importantly, much less tiring.”
They walked into the city normally, taking in the sights and smells of the bearan establishment. It was a moderately populated city, though it was relatively large compared to most, as its populace was a species far larger than most. Though it was just like all the cities the two of them had seen before. Markets, roads, houses, guards, and other things that made up the basic framework of every city they had been to was present. Their journey across the continent had shown them that the basics didn’t change much across the species. It was the things that weren’t so simple that made each place vary so much.
“Do you think you can find Tico and Spand?” Ruby asked.
“Sure. Just keep close. A lot of people here,” Va’il said.
They jogged through the city. Every so often Va’il would go to the top of a house and look around from a high vantage point or sniff the air.
After finding a familiar scent, Va’il took them to an estate in the middle of the city. On the grass lawn Tico and Spand could be seen playing together while four other bearans stood around watching and talking.
“Ruby!” the boys shouted when they appeared.
“Hello,” Ruby said, both to the boys and the other bearans. The others were apparently all young adults, but all older than Ruby. There were two males and two females.
“Ah, you two must be the friends the boys have spoken of,” the eldest bearan boy said. “I’m Link Laloo, and these are my younger siblings. In order, my first sister is Greta, the next child is Boris, and our youngest sister is Francine. We’re the Laloo children, and good friends with Tico and Spand.”
“Thank you Link. I’m Ruby, and this is Va’il.”
“Human? Here in Grizz?” Boris asked.
“You heard it from Tico, the boys weren’t kidding,” Francine said.
“But not entirely. You, Va’il, you’re a half, aren’t you? Not a full lupus, correct?” Greta asked.
“Correct,” Va’il said, uncomfortable at the instant realization.
“Oh? Well if we have a human here, then there isn’t much to be surprised at, even halfs,” Link said.
“Glad to hear you’re open to us,” Ruby said.
“Of course. Tico and Spand are great friends of ours. Friends of my friends are also friends, so to speak,” Link said. “Why don’t you come in and we can host you before you return?”
“I don’t know,” Va’il said.
“Sure, we will be pleased to,” Ruby said. Va’il then agreed and together they entered the Laloo’s mansion.
“It’s a nice place here. Tell me, since I’m not familiar with Grizz’s politics. Are you wealthy or noble?” Ruby asked.
“Ah, that is a good question. We’re the children of Baron Braun Laloo, who effectively runs this city. So we’re the highest authority, in effect,” Link said with a smile.
“I see,” Ruby said. “That makes me wonder. You play with Tico and Spand casually, but isn’t there a class difference?”
“There is, but they are young and like to have fun. We don’t mind watching them. After all, we’re still just the children of the baron. We aren’t yet in a rulership position,” Link said.
“You say that so simply,” Greta said. “But saying that we aren’t is a misquote. One of us hasn’t been selected yet, you mean.”
“Yeah, don’t try any sly wording,” Francine said.
“Relax, he was just being simple for the foreigners,” Boris said.
“Oh please, you just don’t care because you think you’re the favorite,” Greta said.
“I am not the favorite. What father chooses, and who he chooses, is up to him. I can accept it,” Boris said.
“Not in front of the rest of them,” Link said, his voice heavy and threatening. The squabbling members all hushed. “I’m sorry, we’re having a bit of a struggle with inheritance. It is a family matter only, we shouldn’t have brought it up in front of you.”
“That’s fine,” Ruby said. “Really, inheritance is such a touchy subject. I’m sure your reasons are complicated. We will pretend we heard nothing of it. Correct, Va’il?”
“Heard what? I don’t get what the fight’s over,” Va’il said.
“Ah, just noble matters. Don’t worry about it, then,” Ruby said.
“Wasn’t going to,” Va’il said with a small laugh.
“Miss, Ruby, you seem familiar with matters such as these,” Francine said.
“Oh, somewhat. I just know a lot of things and care about more stuff than Va’il does. Nothing really important. If I said anything further I’d be showing my ignorance of noble matters,” Ruby said.
“Oh, I see. That’s interesting. Too bad,” Greta said. She hummed to herself and then walked off.
“Well, while she gets our father, let’s enjoy ourselves for a bit. Can I offer you tea, meat, sweets, anything of the sort?” Link asked.
They spent a few minutes conversing, after which Greta returned with a great brown bearan at her side.
“Greetings, friends!” Baron Braun Laloo said in a large, booming voice.
He introduced himself to Ruby and Va’il, welcomed them to his city, and spoke for a while in the midst of the group. After about an hour of speaking, eating, and having some fun, Ruby and Va’il left, taking the two boys with them. They got the items that Dena had asked of them, and then returned home.
Over the next month they went to the Laloo’s place a couple more times. The children were friendly with the two of them, and invited them over to associate more. It really seemed like they were a friendly family, except when matters of inheritance were raised. Fights began and ended with harsh words and raised fists. Sibling rivalry was terrible between the four of them, and the father did nothing to stop it. If anything, it appeared that he encouraged it, and egged the children on to be at each other’s throats. Other than that, the times were pleasant.
The weather cooled, and unfortunately Va’il and Ruby knew they couldn’t risk travel across the continent in late fall or winter, so they accepted their situation for the seasons, Derlik’s family a comfort to them over the long months. The Laloos as well were an interesting bunch, and over the course of weeks and months, Va’il and Ruby were invited over more often, and once spent a winter’s night at the Laloo’s house.
The last day Va’il and Ruby would see Derlik’s family was the day of the second time they stayed with the Laloos.