After a short look amongst ourselves, we accepted the quest to hunt down that wolverine. Partially because it would give us some juicy experience and partially because it would allow us to conserve what little coin we had earned in Kolyug.
“Is it alright if we only head out tomorrow?” Adra asked, apparently wondering if it would be alright if we got the service first, before going out to repay the hamlet for hosting us.
“Yes, sure, that’s no problem.” Stelur instantly nodded, surprising me a little. I would have expected them to want some sort of security that we wouldn’t just eat their food, accept their hospitality and then simply leave them in the lurch. But as I considered it for a moment, I could understand why he didn’t try to press and meekly accepted. I remembered another village, one populated by orcs, where a couple of stupid teenagers had the audacity to attack a small group of travellers, just passing by. And my, our, reaction to that attack, complete retaliation, wiping out that particular village. With such an event in mind, it made more sense.
Unless my guess was wrong, we were looking at the highest-levelled being in the village and the fact that our group could simply take what we wanted, without bothering to be polite about it, added perspective to his friendliness. The centaurs might claim the area but they had yet to establish a lawful society, so it was a simple case of might making right.
Stelur invited us to sit and just as we did, another Sablekin, looking similarly aged as Stelur, came walking in, smiling when she noticed us.
“Guests? Why didn’t you call me, old man?” she asked, scowling a little into the direction of Stelur.
“Ah, dear, they just got here, I can hardly stop the introductions just to call you, no?” Stelur waved her off, before turning to us. “Allow me to introduce the mistress of this humble abode, my dear wife, Helia.” he gestured, hamming up the introduction. Adra, in turn, introduced all of us, and, again, I stealthily used Observation to ascertain our security. Helia, it turned out, was only level twenty-two and, unsurprisingly, another sablekin.
After introductions, she invited us to sit at the large dining table and to take a load off, while she busied herself by filling a kettle and hanging it above the hearth, to make tea. It was quite the domestic scene, with the grandmother-type bustling around while the grandfather sat at the table, conversing with the guests. I mostly listened to Adra and Stelur talk, while keeping an eye on our surroundings when movement near one of the doors caught my eyes. A pair of wide eyes was peeking around the doorframe, taking in the strange people that were sitting at the table. The height they were at told me that it was either a child or a kneeling adult, both roused a bit of curiosity in me.
As I was looking at the eyes, they shifted away from Sigmir, to the person sitting next to her, namely me, and our eyes met. I noticed that there was a smile on my face, and before I had a chance to hide it, those expressive, wide eyes managed to widen a little more before the head they were in hid with a squeak upon discovery.
The noise caught Stelur’s attention and he chuckled, looking over to the door where the head just had vanished.
“The highly polite child that was peeping at us is my grandchild, Liaste.” he grinned at his own joke, before continuing. “She’s staying with Helia and me while her parents are out, working. Would you mind if I introduce her to you, it might help her to get a little out of her shell.”
“Oh, go right ahead, I don’t mind.” I spoke up, remembering the absolute cuteness that were the wolf-pups. Maybe a beastkin-child was similarly cute and if so, I wouldn’t want to miss it.
Stelur looked a little surprised, it had been the first time I had spoken more than the greeting earlier and looked over to Adra, as if unsure if I could speak for the group. Adra, in turn, simply nodded with a grin, looking rather amused at his confusion.
“Well, if that is so…” he muttered, before calling out towards the door the child had vanished through. “Liaste, why don’t you come out and greet our guests?”
Moments later, as if there was a short, internal struggle in the girl, the head re-appeared, first peeking into the room before the child walked out, quickly shuffling over to her grandfather and almost hiding behind him.
While guessing her chronological age was utterly impossible, I was guessing that she was roughly at the same point in her development as a five-, maybe six-year old human. But, compared to a human, she was far more adorable, her ears and eyes almost cartoonishly large when compared to the rest of her body and the tail swishing around behind her adding to the impression of the timid, small animal.
“Now, Liaste, be polite and introduce yourself.” Stelur pushed, gently stepping aside so that she was standing on her own.
Part of me felt bad that she was so timid, maybe because of the size of Sigmir and Adra, so I crouched a little, making us roughly the same height.
“Hello, little one. I’m called Morgana.” I gently greeted, causing her to ease up a little.
The girl looked to her Grandfather for once before shuffling over to me and politely introducing herself as Liaste.
“See, that wasn’t too hard, was it?” I asked, while reaching out to pet her head a little. Those adorable, twitching ears were calling to me, asking to be petted.
Only, just before I could make contact, she suddenly shifted back and I heard her mutter something about cold and dark as she quickly shuffled back to her Grandfather. The two of them exchanged words, before the little girl was introduced to Adra, but I didn’t want to hear anything.
Somehow, I felt utterly devastated, watching the cute girl flee from me and, to add insult to injury, Adra was able to pet the little girl after introducing herself. Not that I cared, not at all. Seeing that I wouldn’t be able to pet the adorable, little girl, I took a seat on Sigmir’s lap, wrapping her arms around me, trying not to hear the happy noises coming from Adra, Rai and the two Sablekin.
While I wasn’t certain why I had been rejected by the little girl, I had an idea why, just from the words she had muttered while fleeing. I had been working with Dark-Magic and Cold-Magic, I had a strong affinity for both and there was Ice-type Astral Power permanently present in my body. So, was it a surprise that there was a slight aura of both types hanging around me? Most likely not strong enough to cause any real effects, but apparently strong enough to make a little girl uncomfortable.
As I was sitting, and certainly not sulking, on Sigmir’s lap, Helia placed tea-cups in front of each of us. I noticed that she looked a little confused at seeing me snuggled up on Sigmir’s lap but I just didn't care. If she was, for some strange reason, insulted by our behaviour, I would find a short pier so she could take a long walk off it. However, even if I cared little for their possible hang-ups when it came to public displays of affection and either relationships between the same sex or different races, I had manners, so I politely thanked her for the tea, which was mirrored by a slightly blushing Sigmir.
I took a sip and instantly regretted it, not because the taste was unpleasant but because I had forgotten that I was severely vulnerable to high temperatures, causing the already hot tea to feel as if I had just drank a sip of pure, liquid fire. I managed to keep myself from instantly spitting it out, by quickly swallowing but I had learned a lesson. But what little I had tasted had been good, so I simply concentrated a thread of my magic, causing the tea to rapidly chill, until it was just the right temperature for me. Most other people would have called it lukewarm at best, but I was happy with it.
After that, I looked up and noticed that old man Stelur looked at me with curious eyes, as if unsure what he had just seen.
“I apologize, I’m afraid I can’t stand the heat.” I explained without really saying anything, but it seemed enough to for him. Not that I would have told him much more, even if he had asked.
All in all, I simply felt quite annoyed, so, after taking another drink from the tea, now at a much better temperature, I snuggled into Sigmir’s arms, fully intending to shut out the cruel world of Mundus.