Rowen had his new room set up quickly, despite the fact that Elise came in partway through and watched as he unpacked. She stayed quiet up until he pushed the last drawer of his new dresser shut.
“Are you all done?” Elise finally piped up, taking one step further into the room. He nodded, but she didn't seem to notice. “I like it. You didn't leave anything out of anything. It's really neat.”
He shrugged and watched as she circled the room once. “Can I show Volkes and Sharon the room when they get back?”
What an odd request. Rowen nodded anyway.
“Cool. So, do you know what your powers are yet?” Elise leaned against the wall by the door. When he shook his head, she smiled.
“Neither do I. I just started being able to sense things, but I can't summon storms yet. I've been training since I was eight, though, which is later than some.”
Rowen put a kind smile on his face. He hoped she kept talking.
“So, uh, how far southwest...Er, did your town border the desert?” she asked.
Rowen blinked. His town had been in the desert, but he didn't know to say that. He gave a half nod.
“Ooh, here, come downstairs! I know how to figure it out.” She raced off down the hall, and Rowen followed.
Bookcases ringed the cozy living room, and a wooden table stretched across the room. Rowen sat down on a couch that sank underneath his weight, the cushions plush and soft.
Elise grabbed a book off the shelf and plopped it down, making the uneven table wobble. “Here!” She pointed to a picture in the book, and Rowen leaned in to see. It was very detailed, and for a moment Rowen wasn't concerned at all with what it actually showed, only that it was beautiful. He had never seen detailed drawings like this before. The paper was yellowed with age, but the drawing—of blocks of land, some lush green, other yellow, some white, and the blue of ocean all around it—fascinated him.
“Where on the map are you from?” Elise asked.
Rowen frowned. He had no idea. All he had ever seen was his village, the island with Kristoff, and now this place...He shrugged helplessly.
“Ok, look here.” She pointed to a spot on the map near the middle of the blue. “That's us.” It was a tiny green speck, between three enormous landmasses, two of which were connected by a strip of land that ran beneath the speck.
“Down there is the southwestern region. It's really mysterious, no one knows much about it. People assumed it was all desert, although some northerners from the tribes sometimes claim to have traveled down there and found people. People from Linland never go, though.” All the detail made Rowen's head swim. He wished he knew more about the world. Maybe this was too much for him.
The door banging open made Elise jump, and Rowen look up from the map. And then his heart skipped a beat or two, and his body went cold.
The tall blond boy striding through the door looked almost exactly like Lucas.
“Who's home?” the blonde called out roughly, his deep voice carrying through the house.
“In here, Volkes!” Elise called and waved. Rowen's heart beat faster. He tried to tell himself it was only the resemblance to his dead friend that did it, not instant attraction. The two were too closely entwined. His mind blanked as Volkes approached, and he just stared. There were differences between the two.Volkes' eyes were much lighter, almost gray, while Lucas's had been sky blue. Volkes was taller, his face more angular, and less muscled than the blacksmith's apprentice had been, more taut. Almost more attractive, and Rowen swallowed hard.
“This is Rowen,” Elise began, oblivious to his discomfiture. “He's a new student.”
“What's with all the bandages?” Volkes tilted his head, a smirk on his face. He had a familiar accent that Rowen couldn't quite place.
“Um...” Elise bit her lip, and Rowen tried to think. Kristoff hadn't mentioned his injuries, and Elise hadn't asked.
Rowen tilted his head up and patted his throat, trying to make Volkes understand. Elise jumped in. “He can't speak, so I don't know what happened. It doesn't still hurt, does it?” She turned worried eyes on him.
“You can't talk?” The blond raised his eyebrows, incredulous. “Why not? Your throat looks fine to me.”
His words gave Rowen pause. He couldn't explain, even if he had been somehow able to. He felt a familiar wash of blankness come over him, of a dark need to escape.
“He'll learn to write soon, and then he can tell us, right?” Elise turned hopeful eyes to him. Rowen managed to shrug.
“You can't write, either?” Volkes crowed. “Where are you from?!”
His words cut, more so because of his appearance and Rowen's quickly dawning realization at how far behind he was here. But wasn't that part of the reason he had decided to come? All the work ahead of him would help him to carve out his new life, erasing his old. He met Volke's cocky glare with one of his own, and was rewarded with a careful smile that edged on a sneer. The blond sat down next to him on the couch, peering at the map.
“I'm from up here—the Kituan tribe.” Volkes pointed to the top of the map, where the colors bled from green to white. “Our tribe used to skirmish with the Pearlens all the time.” He gave a wolfish smile, as though remembering the taste of a particularly delicious food.
“Point on the map to where you're from.” Volkes turned gray eyes on him, demanding.
Rowen finally placed his accent. “Where I come from, we give up the people who do not deserve resources.” He stared at Volkes, not really seeing him, but seeing the faces of the villagers as they stripped him and tied him up.