“We’re here!” Kharim hissed, cutting off Egoly’s response.
Kasim cheered, bouncing in the seat.
Kaleigha and her brothers shamelessly pressed their faces to the vehicle window. This was the same fancy gate Kaleigha used to enter the village earlier. As before, there were no markings to indicate what lay beyond the filigreed entrance. Only one tiny guardhouse stood between the city and the magical madness of the village. She wondered if the gate in their neighborhood was still manned with armed soldiers.
The guard waved the SUV through with an officious nod. The dark woods still gleamed with the tiny lights of the souls who suffered true death. She shot a guilty glance at Kasim, then Egoly.
The man gave her a tight smile.
“Well, this looks familiar,” Kharim whispered as the SUV cleared the woods and pulled into the village. Nothing appeared any different. The same modern bungalows huddled in the presence of the hulking colonial mansion.
People milled about the village green. A few curious souls glanced their way, but no one made any fuss at their presence.
“We have arrived, sir,” Syeed announced as he brought the SUV to a halt in front of the mansion.
“Do you think they know?” Kaleigha asked as she spied the elders gathered on the porch. Their faces were placid and glowing.
“Don’t be stupid,” Felder spat, “If we know, they know.”
“I’m going to have to go with Felder on this one,” Egoly said, gently. “They are far wiser and more experienced than we are.”
“Let me do the talking, “ Felder said as Syeed opened the doors for them.
“Ready, little buddy?” Kharim avoided the exchange and focused on Kasim. The child nodded eagerly.
“Kaleigha and Kharim!” Hailmon spread his arms in welcome, “So good of you to join us!”
“My name is Kasim!” The boy pushed forward to stand by his father. “I’m here to join you, too!”
“Kasim?” The elders glared at Kaleigha, the mask of friendliness dissolving into hostility.
“Yup,” Kaleigha sighed, “they know.”
“Come up to the Crucible at once!” Hailmon demanded, dropping all pretense.
“What’s wrong?” Kasim asked looking up at Kharim.
“Listen,” Egoly said, dropping to one knee. “Why don’t you go explore the village so you can help your sister and brother get around later.”
“Ok!” the boy squealed and took off into the night.
“Shall we?” Egoly offered his crooked arm to Kaleigha.
“Let’s do this,” She took his arm and marched, head high, up the stairs and into the house.