The newcomer was sitting on Aidra’s shoulders by the time Alice made it up to the balcony. They were a smaller humanoid frog-creature, a Child of Nursiir if she was remembering the name right, clad in a simple brownish tunic and trousers.
“Oh!” said Nik, when he saw them, “Tussi! I thought it might be you. You’ve grown.”
“Hello Uncle Nik!” they exclaimed cheerily.
Aidra reached up and started to tickle them, so they, displaying a set of dangerously-sharp teeth, started to try and gnaw on his head.
“Ow! Ow! Stoppit! At this rate, you’ll beat Nov to bitiest niece first place!”
Ignoring him, Tussi looked up at Alice and the rest. “Who’wr yw?” she asked, voice muffled by a mouthful of her uncle’s head.
“Ah, these are Alice, Twelfth, Red and A Librarian,” said Nik. “Could you stop chewing your uncle’s brain, please. It’d barely be nourishing, anyway.”
“Leave me, brother!” Aidra cried, falling to his knees. “She’s got to my brain, there’s no time left for me! Run, run while you still can! A plague on this house in particular! A nice plague, saying that I lived here from a while ago until I was familicided!”
With a drawn-out groan, he collapsed forwards onto the floor and lay prone. With a small slurp, Tussi detached herself from his head.
“Uncle Aidra?” She poked him a little with her foot.
“I’m dead. You murdered me.”
“Am I in your will?”
She gasped loudly. “Oh, no, Uncle Aidra! You can’t die yet!”
“No… inheritance… for… you…” he croaked feebly.
“I can forge his signature for you,” said Nik.
Tussi’s eyes practically sparkled. “You can?”
Aidra practically leapt to his feet. “No you bloody won’t!”
His brother smirked. “See, Tussi? He’s made a miraculous recovery.”
“Yay!” the small Child of Nursiir grinned, and turned to the other visitors. “Hello! I’m Tussironack Volkorikkian Dimetaliios!”
“Um,” Alice replied, “Hi, er, is ‘Tussi’ okay?”
“Where’re your sisters and brothers?” asked Nik. “Actually, where’re your mums, too?”
The little girl frowned. “Big sis is off adventuring, Vir is somewhere, I saw him this morning, um.” She shrugged. “Everyone should be in the house, or maybe not? C’mon, let’s go find them!”
– – –
They found the next member of Nik and Aidra’s family in some kind of kitchen or pantry in the enormous house. She was taller than Nik, her skin paler than Aidra’s – almost teal-grey – but she certainly bore a strong family resemblance to the pair of them.
“Ah,” she exclaimed once she saw them, “Aidra! Nik! So good to see you two again!”
“Hey, sis,” said Nik, sounding slightly strained and constricted as she wrapped them in a bear hug. “Nice to see you too.”
“And hello, visitors! Friends of my brothers, I presume?”
“Hello, I’m Alice, and this is A Librarian, Red and Twelfth.”
“Lovely to meet you, I’m Korithanen, call me Kori.” She turned to her other brother. “How’re you doing, Aidra?”
“Aw, same old, same old,” he said, grinning; “looking after Nik isn’t as bad as it seems.”
“That’s a bit rich, coming from you,” Nik retorted.
“I like to think that our brotherly bond is symptbiotic.”
She smirked. “Glad to hear you’re doing okay. Lay off your brother on occasion, okay?”
“You hear that, Nik? She wants you to stop being mean to me.”
His brother’s only reply was a deep sigh.
“So, Kori, where is everyone?”
“Tarash is away at market with Vir, Qiri and Nov – and our eldest calls back on the scryer every week or so. She really looks up to Aidra and you, you know.”
“Oh, good to hear she got the wanderlust,” Aidra replied, “I’ll keep a brain out for her on the tides of an uncertain future.”
“I’ll also keep an eye out for her,” Nik added, almost as an afterthought.
“Thank you, both of you,” she replied. “It means a lot to me and Tarash that you’re looking out for her – she’s still young, but she calls regularly, and she’s only barely younger than you when you first wandered off.”
“I don’t like the implication that I wandered, ma’am. I knew exactly where I was going,” Aidra replied testily.
While this conversation was going on, Alice was only half-listening, looking around the expansive kitchen and adjoining rooms.
“This place is huge,” she said. “Is it just you, living here?”
“Well,” said Kori, “normally it’s me, Tarash, the kidpoles and sometimes my parents, but the house in general is open to any member of the Noble House Dimetaliios, as a place to stay should they need it.”
“You’re nobles?” She turned to Nik and Aidra. “You didn’t tell me about that.”
Aidra waved a hand in a noncommittal gesture. “Eh, debatable.”
“It’s really only noble in name,” Nik said.
“And there’s a few strange bloodlines that run through it based on an ancient deity of chaos!” his brother added.
“The first one of those is true, what Aidra said isn’t,” Kori finished, rolling her eyes. “Honestly, most of the time, we live at Tarash’s place, it’s cosier than this big bucket of echoes, and it doesn’t feel like we’re bouncing around inside, but we come here to meet the family.”
– – –
Kori’s wife, Tarash, returned to the house about ten minutes later. She greeted her brothers-in-law with a wide smile and a small hug each, and introduced Alice and company to the rest of her present children – two boys, Vir and Qiri, and a little girl, Nov, who all reacted with glee to the arrival of, apparently, all their uncles. After no small amount of wrangling, Aidra was distracting them with the pressganged assistance of Twelfth, and Nik was catching his sister and sister-in-law up on his adventures since the last time they’d been in contact.
“I’d never seen the Coiled Empire up close before,” he was explaining, “but the buildings seemed to bulge and ripple as they shifted between metastable chronatic states – no one part actually moving, but the whole city was making its way towards us!”
“Did you die?” asked Aidra breathlessly.
Oddly enough, he seemed to actually be listening to the story, despite the fact that he was busy disentangling himself from his nieces and nephews.
“I didn’t, you twit, you were there. Anyway, we were rescued by – get this – the Triskelion.”
As Nik’s story grew more animated, Alice drifted over to where Aidra was playing with the kids – she’d lived this particular story before.
“You alright there, Twelfth?” she asked.
[I Am Doing Fine,] she replied, deftly catching one of the kidpoles – Qiri, Alice thought – as he jumped off Twelfth’s shoulder. [I Am Well Used To Looking After Children In A Climbing Equipment Capacity.]
“You’re very tall, Ms Twelfth,” replied Qiri solemnly. “It’s very good for climbing.”
[I Will Pass Your Review On To The Bookbinders’ Forge. They Will Appreciate The Feedback, I Am Sure.]
“You didn’t take my feedback!” said Aidra, indignantly.
[That Is Because None Of The People Who Keep The Secrets Of Bookbinder Creation Are Likely To Be Amenable To ‘Jetpack Attachments’ Or ‘Guns That Shoot Smaller Guns’.]
From the sofa, Nik raised his voice in between two parts of his story. “You better not be getting dumb ideas in our impressionable niblings’s minds!”