25.633.Reach Out

The La-Iin Series
Chapter 633
“Reach Out”

San-Kyung walked into the neighborhood where Dosa-Mina lived. That week, it was his third visit. What had happened on Tuesday, the way Dosa-Mina acted after it, none of it would leave his head. He couldn’t stop thinking about it even if he tried. Even worse, Dosa-Mina hadn’t been to school the past two days–and listening to the students’ gossip about him just made him think back on Deatrou, except he felt that this was somewhat worse.
At least during that time at Deatrou, he could get Dosa-Mina to crack a smile every now and then.
It had stirred up some thoughts in his head about his priorities. No matter what he was focusing on, he was always passionate about his plans for world domination or regaining his true form. He knew which one he would take if he could only pick one. He knew where his priorities lie, and he was convinced that he would be ready to drop his loved ones if they betrayed him.
Where did his loved ones fall, though? It was the question on his mind. If he had to pick between them, his true form or ruling the world, which would he pick? Could he really recover if he was betrayed by one of them?
Dosa-Mina was important to him. He already knew he was going to lose his parents some day. It was difficult to think of what was more important when he could barely see the future without the things he wanted.
But just perhaps, he would pick Dosa-Mina. That was what he had been thinking recently.
“Damn it, maybe La-Iin’s right…”
He knocked on the door to the Dslellular house.
“Oh….hi, San-Kyung.”
Orlin-Aesth answered the door. His exhaustion was obvious. San-Kyung hated to admit it, but he could sympathize with his concern for Dosa-Mina.
“You don’t have to ask any questions. He hasn’t come out of his room. There’s no fresh blood on his bed, so I don’t think he’s cut anytime recently. …oh, and come inside.”
San-Kyung walked inside and head for Dosa-Mina’s bedroom door.
“Hey, San-Kyung?”
San-Kyung glanced at him over his shoulder.
“Does the school know what that Catori and Llamaki did?”
“Not exactly.”
“Aren’t you going to tell them?”
San-Kyung sighed. “That’s what I don’t know.” He ignored Orlin-Aesth’s confusion and walked into Dosa-Mina’s room.
“Oh. It’s you again.”
San-Kyung scratched his head. It was obvious from his prior two visits that Dosa-Mina wasn’t going to respond to him just staying in there quietly. He would have to take action.
“So, you’re not really sick, are you.”
Dosa-Mina glared at him. “Awfully stupid for someone with such high grades to say. Obviously not. But I feel horrible anyway. I haven’t been able to do much of anything the last few days. People might say I’m over-reacting, but I’m stressed out.”
San-Kyung joined him on the bed. “Have you talked to the Demon girl?”
“Oh, so I should tell Sirlie I’m cutting too? Great idea, San-Kyung! Really, great.”
“Listen to what I’m saying, why don’t you?”
“Ha ha. Antagonism doesn’t just belong to you and you alone, San-Kyung. I’m well within my rights to be antagonistic. So when are you going to leave me alone?”
“I’m not.”
“Ha ha, just concerned about Operation Reboot, then? I suppose it’s easy to expect someone evil to be so self-centered.”
San-Kyung grit his teeth. Dosa-Mina was making him angry, but he didn’t want to start a fight, not while he was in the state he was in.
“No. I haven’t even thought about Operation Reboot recently. Besides, if I needed to I could do all that research on my own.”
“So, are you going to say you’ve been thinking about nothing but me? I don’t buy it.”
“I didn’t get to say anything. Besides, it would be the truth. That and flaying Lirako, but that’s beside the point.”
San-Kyung sighed.
“What do you want?”
“Don’t try to appeal to me.”
“Do you want Lirako to win, then?”
“Lirako’s already won.”
San-Kyung groaned.
“Go ahead. Get frustrated. This is what I am. Once my secrets are revealed, I give up. Because emotionally I’m as weak as you are in November. I have my disgusting sides too, San-Kyung. And apparently they’re too much for you to deal with. So go ahead! Go focus on Operation Reboot!”
Dosa-Mina pulled a notebook from his shelf and tossed it at San-Kyung’s face. “Here are my notes on it. Focus on it. Forget about me. Use me when you need something.” He huffed. “Oh, that reminds me.”
He stood up and retrieved a CD, then tossed that at San-Kyung as well. “In case you can’t sleep. I don’t know if you have a CD player, but I’m sure your parents wouldn’t mind getting you one, the poor fools.”
San-Kyung sighed. “Are you going to let me talk anytime soon?”
“No. I’ve given you what you want, so you can go home now.”
Evidently just words weren’t going to work on Dosa-Mina either. So San-Kyung stood up and hugged Dosa-Mina.
“So, going for the nuclear option?”
“Oh, just shut up.”
“Hmph.”
“You’re seriously making me wish I was a psychopath. Then this would be so easy. I could kill you and shut you up that way. No loss of sleep. I’d feel the same towards you as I do towards Lirako. Unfortunately, that’s not who I am. I’m worried about you.”
Dosa-Mina rolled his eyes.
“Get mad all you want. It doesn’t matter to me. I’ll find what it is that makes you go back to normal. Don’t be scared to rely on me if you need to. I’ve dumped my problems on you before. And I know what’s going on. Until you stop acting like this, I’m not leaving you alone.”
“I–bu…”
Dosa-Mina couldn’t come up with another retort. What San-Kyung had just said reminded him of his own feelings. Whenever San-Kyung would get upset, he would be desperate to remedy it. It made sense that San-Kyung would feel likewise.
Part of him still wanted to resist, but at this point that side was quickly diminishing.
He hugged him back briefly, then pulled away from the hug.
“I really am willing to off Lirako if it makes you happy.”
“Thanks, San-Kyung. The sentiment is enough.”
“Finally cheering up?”
“No, but I shouldn’t have been such a jerk. I’m sorry.”
San-Kyung didn’t respond.
“Have I really been stressing you out all that much?”
“This has been on my mind.”
Dosa-Mina sighed. “Sorry. It’s just been hard. I don’t know how to bounce back from this.”
“I’ll figure something out if you can’t. …well, you could always drop out of Malicerie, then come back as another species, something that doesn’t have many powers like Ferreniao or Llamaki. Then you probably won’t be questioned about powers.”
“That wouldn’t work. I’d still be…” San-Kyung was smiling. “Oh, you were joking…geez, my sense of humor is going to be shot after this.”
“Well, like you kept saying, it’s just a little more time before we graduate. 2017 is the last year we’re in school, and that’s just until March. Past that we’ll have plenty of time to decide what to do from then on. That includes you fixing up your situations. We did it before with Deatrou. It could be possible here too.”
For the first time in a few days, Dosa-Mina smiled. “…thanks for not giving up on me, San-Kyung.”
San-Kyung wasn’t sure of how to respond, so he didn’t.

—–
“San-Kyung?”
‘You know what you would do. You’d pick Dosa-Mina over your true form. How stupid.’
“San-Kyung?”
‘But there’s a reason for that. I can still ruin the world without ruling it. And I can still have my true form once a year. But Dosa-Mina is different.’
“I think he’s thinking about something.”
‘I hate this. I wish I was a psychopath. Or at least all alone. Then caring about people wouldn’t be a problem. I wouldn’t even know how because I’d have been all alone, with no parents to teach me how that feels. Being a person sucks. I hate so many things in this world that what I love I love too much…’
“It must be pretty important. Maybe we shouldn’t bother him for now.”
‘How do other people put up with this!?’
“Still, I’m really curious as to what’s on his mind. I’ve never seen him look this intense before.”
San-Kyung groaned. He could imagine La-Iin gloating, saying that she was right and that his love had made him weak.

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24.632.Reasoning

The La-Iin Series
Chapter 632
“Reasoning”

Asul-Zenza flew above Vaelyn, enjoying the feel of the wind.
‘It’s cooled down fairly quickly, hasn’t it?’ He always loved the way autumn flights felt. They relaxed him.
While flying, he noticed that he was in Bledger. He even spotted the neighborhood where La-Iin and Mit-Sun lived a short distance away.
‘I wonder…’
September had been somewhat of a strange month. Mit-Sun had invited Asul-Zenza and his parents, along with other members of La-Iin’s family, out to spend time with her, and he had been receiving calls from La-Iin with what felt like more frequency than usual.
‘I suppose we’ve been getting on better terms ever since 2014, but it does seem really strange. I only seem to feel complacent when there’s no reason to be…’
A sudden curiosity overtaking him, he decided to head down and visit the Cahongyun house. Once he spotted it he landed.
He knocked on the door. Mit-Sun answered it fairly quickly.
“I thought I asked you to warn before you visited.”
“Sorry, but this was slightly spur of the moment. I had a sudden curiosity and I figured it would be easier to stop here briefly rather than head home and call you.”
“Call me?” She asked. “Why? You’re here for me?”
Her expression suddenly hardened.
“I am, but as usual whenever I visit you, it isn’t for you, it’s somewhat about La-Iin.”
“Of course. …somewhat?” Mit-Sun stared up at him. “Hurry it up. I’m a little busy right now…”
Asul-Zenza noticed that Mit-Sun was holding tight to one arm. “Is something wrong?”
“Er–that’s none of your business.”
“It could be my business. Does it have to do with La-Iin!?”
Mit-Sun’s face relaxed. “No. She’s upstairs doing…something to Choungetsu. I’m not exactly sure what. If you want I can call her down here.”
“No, that won’t be necessary. If you’re busy it’s best I leave as soon as possible, and if I see her I won’t want to.”
Mit-Sun nodded. “Well?”
“You’ve seemed very kind lately, Mit-Sun.”
“Is this some sort of attempt to butter me up?”
“Not at all! I was just wondering what spurred the sudden kindness? Even as you were becoming more at ease with me being a part of La-Iin’s life you still had your contradictions. You would go between wanting La-Iin to bond with me and wanting me to disappear completely from your life.”
“I still don’t like you, in case you were wondering.”
“I figured…” Asul-Zenza sighed. “A-anyway, but yes, lately you’ve been seeming just completely alright with it. And it’s not just me either it seems, seeing as you invited my parents over to see her as well. So I was wondering, why the change? It seems so sudden to me…or perhaps there’s something I’ve missed?”
“Because–”
Before Mit-Sun finished, her eyes widened and she turned and ran back into her house. Asul-Zenza was tempted to follow her inside, but he was certain she would get mad at him for doing that. Still, the temptation remained, so he peeked his head in, only for Mit-Sun to run right past him seconds later.
“Mit-Sun? Is something the matter?”
“I’ll tell you later, Asul-Zenza,” Mit-Sun said, fixing her jacket. “I need to get to the hospital.”
“The hospital!?”
“Yes! Do me a favor and watch La-Iin for me, alright?”
“Th–the hospital? Mit-Sun, is everything alright?”
“It will be if I make it there in enough time….damn it, when are visiting hours over again?”
“Mit-Sun, you know how much I would love to watch La-Iin, but I think I need to help you here!”
“Help me? How?” Mit-Sun sounded genuinely confused.
“You need to get to a hospital? I can fly you there!”
Mit-Sun looked uncertain.
“It’s faster than going on foot, isn’t it!?”
“I–I suppose,” she sighed. “Fine, then. But at least tell La-Iin where we’re going…”
“You didn’t tell her yourself?” Mit-Sun glared. “Er, yes, certainly!”
Asul-Zenza ran into the house and up the stairs. La-Iin’s door was open, and he could hear Bes-Isa laughing before he saw La-Iin trying to fit a dress onto Choungetsu. When La-Iin looked up, Choungetsu broke free and hid behind Asul-Zenza, the dress still on him.
“Dami!”
“I’m sorry, La-Iin, but there’s a little emergency. Your mother and I are going to the hospital.”
“What? Why?”
“I don’t know, honestly,” he said, “but I’ll call you as soon as we get there! And I’ll be back, I promise. She will be too. But we need to go right now, so please stay here and don’t leave the house.”
“Huh?”
It broke his heart to leave her behind, but Asul-Zenza turned away, flew out the house, closed the door and grabbed hold of Mit-Sun.

***

Mit-Sun was anxious the entire time. As soon as they had arrived at the hospital, she started frantically asking about visiting hours. It reminded Asul-Zenza somewhat of his visits to Blooudine, and he started to feel as anxious as she seemed.
‘What’s going on? And is La-Iin going to be okay at home all by herself…’
“Come on.” Mit-Sun grabbed Asul-Zenza’s hand and dragged him over to a hospital room. She opened the door and breathed a sigh of relief.
“Mr. Cahongyun?”
“Asul-Zenza?”
Beht-Soh looked up from a book. “Mit-Sun I expected, but why is Asul-Zenza here too?”
Mit-Sun’s words came in between pants. “He helped me get here. Oh, Papa, I’m so glad you’re alright…”
“Mit-Sun, I told you, it wasn’t anything all that bad.”
“Seriously!? I heard that you fell and you were going to need surgery! Do you think I’ve been sitting still this entire time just thinking ‘oh, Papa’ll be okay’!? You’re elderly! And surgery can go wrong! I’ve been on edge this entire time waiting for them to say you’re awake so I can visit you!”
Mit-Sun started to cry, but she frantically wiped the tears on her shirt sleeve and took a seat next to Beht-Soh’s bed.
“It’s alright.”
“You don’t even know how scared I was…”
“It’s alright. I understand.”
“I…I thought I was going to lose you too…”
“I’m okay, I promise. They said everything’s going to be alright.”
Mit-Sun wailed.
“In fact, I’ll be out of the hospital soon! Don’t worry, Mit-Sun. It was only as bad as it was because it was a really hard fall. I fell off a ladder and I hit the ground at a speed that would hurt anybody. At least I didn’t break anything!”
“But you needed surgery…are you sure you didn’t break anything?”
“Certain! And I’m okay. So please don’t cry.”
Just watching the two was making Asul-Zenza tear up. He stepped out the room and took a deep breath.

“…thank you for flying me here, Asul-Zenza.”
“Not a problem. I’m glad you made it here safe.”
“Y-yeah…” Mit-Sun’s face screwed up. “Geez, you saw me cry…”
“I’ve seen you cry before,” Asul-Zenza said. Mit-Sun glared.
“I suppose I know the answer to my question now, though.”
“Huh?”
“It’s because of Mr. Cahongyun, isn’t it? He’s elderly now. La-Iin will live a long life. Even if most of her living family is Vampires, he’s still a part of it, and anyway most of her living family is older than she is and she has the extra years from being half-Normal. It’s a concern of mine too. It’s such an obvious answer now that I think on it…”
Mit-Sun shook her head. “That’s not it, Asul-Zenza. Well, I guess maybe a little…but it’s not the reason why I started doing this.”
“Hm?”
“La-Iin’s evil. I don’t want to change her. If she decides to become good or neutral in the future that’s her choice, but I’m not going to change who she is. That being said…I don’t want who she is to be a cold, heartless dictator. So I’m trying to let her bond with her family, just…give her that little nudge in the right direction, you know?”
“Ah, I see.”
“So go ahead and call her as often as you like. Around me she’s the same as always, but around family she always mellows out a bit. And if I can go without hearing that she took over some place like Neigghed or Caucas in the future, I’ll be happy. So…that’s it.”
Asul-Zenza nodded. “Well, that makes sense. Good luck, then.”
Mit-Sun sighed. “You called me kind, but I don’t understand how you could be so nice to someone who dislikes you as much as I do.”
“Because I’ve never disliked you. Is that so hard to grasp? I’m pretty sure I was the only one crying over our breakup.”
“Yeah, you’d be right there.”
Mit-Sun smiled.
“Hey, mind flying me back home too? This hospital is far from our house.”
“I don’t mind at all.”

—–
When the two arrived home, La-Iin was waiting at the door, holding Choungetsu, who was still wearing a dress.
“Why didn’t you take me?”
“I’m sorry, La-Iin. But it’s alright.”
“Who’s in the hospital? If it’s Haner, I guess I understand why I didn’t go.”
“Your Granddami’s in the hospital. But he’s fine.”
“…doormat Granddami, right?”
“Don’t call him that.”
“I’m sorry if we worried you, La-Iin,” Asul-Zenza said.
“I was fine.”
Asul-Zenza noticed that La-Iin’s eyes were slightly red. He smiled.
“Ah, I’d love to stay a little longer, but I was just reminded of something I should probably do. But La-Iin, let’s stay in touch, alright?”
“Okay?”
Asul-Zenza tapped Mit-Sun on the shoulder. “Looks like you’re doing a good job.”
He spread his wings and flew off.
“Are you and Dami getting back together?” La-Iin asked, her tone accusatory.
“If that’s what you think then you need more school.”

23.631.Bloody Stress

The La-Iin Series
Chapter 631
“Bloody Stress”

The Dslellular home had taken on a strange atmosphere.
For a while now, Orlin-Aesth and Elai-Riya had noticed that Dosa-Mina was acting strange. He seemed to be hiding something, and he was jittery and a bit spooked. Dosa-Mina had never been the easily scared type, and it was strange.
After they noticed his cuts, he had started acting even stranger, seeming somewhat lethargic. He wouldn’t talk to them and spent a lot of time in his room. He had become avoidant.
Somehow, how he had started acting after coming home from school yesterday was worse than all that.
“I could’ve sworn I heard him crying yesterday,” Orlin-Aesth said. They had decided not to talk to each other about what was going until Dosa-Mina left for school–and that had been strange in and of itself.
“Dosa-Mina, don’t you have to go to school?”
“…I don’t want to.”
“Why not?”
Instead of responding, he had started to get undressed.
“And he had another nightmare last night. I heard him screaming.”
“I did too. Did you go to calm him down?”
“I did, but the door was locked…I unlocked it, but by the time I got in he was asleep.”
“He hasn’t been screaming much lately. I thought he had gotten over those…”
“What’s going on with him?” Elai-Riya said. “I know he isn’t happy we found out about his cuts, but something changed yesterday.”
“I wonder….oh, hey, Elai-Riya, did I tell you that the Molsheis called yesterday?”
“They did? What about?”
“They were asking if something had happened that Dosa-Mina told us about. Apparently San-Kyung keeps talking about him like he’s concerned.”
“Do you think people are bullying him again?”
“Did he act this bad when people bullied him at Deatrou?”
“No, but then again, he’s stressed out about his cuts.” Elai-Riya gasped. “What if someone at school found out about those!?”
“That’d make a lot of sense why he’s acting like this…” Orlin-Aesth shook his head. “We can’t keep sitting back like this. We need to talk to him. If we don’t do anything, he’s just going to keep retreating like this. I don’t want to see Dosa-Mina like this. I want him to be happy.”
“I do too. But what can we do? He’s always retreated this way.”
“…” Orlin-Aesth cringed.
“Where did we go wrong? No…more like where did I go wrong. You were always attentive and respondent to his needs. All I did was teach him how to hide his problems. Dumped all my stresses about my job onto you and him. I messed him up. I know it.”
“Riya, please! Neither of us knew he was going to end up this way. Stop blaming yourself!”
Elai-Riya lowered her head. “I just wish we knew what to do.”

***

Orlin-Aesth and Elai-Riya’s conversation had continued on until Dosa-Mina returned home from school, but past that point it had started to go in circles. Neither of them had an answer for Dosa-Mina’s behavior–anything more than speculation, anyway–nor an answer as to how to help him.
When Dosa-Mina came home from school, he wasn’t any better. He kept his head bowed, went into his room, and locked the door.
“I have to do something about this.” Elai-Riya stood up. She walked over to Dosa-Mina’s door and pounded on it.
“Dosa-Mina! Please unlock the door. I want to talk to you.”
“Elai-Riya, that isn’t how you do this.” Orlin-Aesth brought his claw up to the keyhole and twisted it around inside. The door opened.
Both of them startled. Dosa-Mina was sitting on his bed, grimacing at a bleeding wound on his left arm. Both of them were quick to notice the knife lying nearby, covered in fresh blood.
Elai-Riya wanted to exclaim, as did Orlin-Aesth, but he calmed her and they approached Dosa-Mina, who by now had noticed that they came in.
Noticing bandages in his room, Elai-Riya reached for them and set to work patching up the wound.
“What are you doing in my room?”
“We wanted to see if you were alright,” Orlin-Aesth said matter-of-factly, though Elai-Riya could hear his voice wavering. “You looked pretty upset when you came home from school.”
“Dosa-Mina, you can’t keep cutting yourself,” Elai-Riya said. “Look, you opened up an old wound.”
Elai-Riya finished bandanging the wound.
“Dosa-Mina, I know you don’t want to, but we need to talk to you about the cutting. This isn’t just a few near the wrists, this is enough that your arms are almost half red. Please. If you want to hide them, go ahead. I know it would be hard to explain to everyone at school. But please stop cutting. And please tell us why this started.”
“…” Dosa-Mina stared down at the bandages. “Go ahead. Take the knife.”
Elai-Riya stared down in the knife in disbelief, but picked it up and held it close.
“I’ll just find something else anyway.”
Both flinched.
“And there is no reason. I don’t want to talk about this. I’ve had enough explaining to do recently anyway.”
“Dosa-Mina, have other people seen these cuts?”
Neither expected an answer, so they were surprised when he said “San-Kyung.”
“So aside from him and us, nobody else knows?”
Dosa-Mina nodded.
“What do you mean by had enough explaining to do? Has San-Kyung only found out about these recently?”
“No. That doesn’t matter to me. I just want to be alone right now. Go ahead and take the knife. Even if you didn’t I wouldn’t cut anymore right now anyway. I’m fine now.”
“You don’t sound fine.”
“Of course I’m not. But at least I have some relief now.”
Dosa-Mina lowered his head.
“…don’t bother hiding your species when you come to school next time.”
They looked at each other.
“Is that what happened? Did someone find out about your species?”
“I don’t want to talk about this!” Dosa-Mina yelled. “Just get out! I’ve told you enough. Nothing you say is going to help. So stop trying to butter me up. Even if I talked to you, it would change nothing. Why don’t you wait until someone else tells you?”
His last words were said with a sneer. Both felt on the verge of tears, but right now they doubted it would help to cry in front of him. They left the room, Elai-Riya still holding the kitchen knife, and only let themselves cry once they were far away from his bedroom.
It didn’t last long. Someone knocked at the door a short time after they started. They opened the door.
San-Kyung was standing there.
“San-Kyung…”
“Dosa-Mina’s home, right?”
“U-um…” Elai-Riya nodded, though she could see that San-Kyung’s eyes were focusing on the bloody knife in her hands. His expression after that point was unreadable.
“It’s good that you came over, actually,” Orlin-Aesth said. “Maybe he’ll listen to you.”
“…”
“San-Kyung, I know you don’t like us, but would you mind telling us what’s going on with Dosa-Mina at school?”
“I don’t think he’d like that.” San-Kyung walked inside. His gaze was still on the knife.
“Alright, I understand. Can you at least tell us if someone’s bullying him there?”
San-Kyung’s expression hardened. “Yes.”
Orlin-Aesth and Elai-Riya gasped.
“Hey. You.” He motioned to Elai-Riya.
“If you ever feel like singing, nobody’ll care if your audience includes a blue-gray Catori.”
“Huh?”
“Go ahead and let the Llamaki join too.”
San-Kyung shook his head and went for Dosa-Mina’s bedroom.
“He seems upset,” Orlin-Aesth said.
“I wonder who those two are?” Elai-Riya said.
“I’d like to know the answer to that too. …well, he said we don’t have to disguise ourselves anymore. Maybe we should pay a visit to the school soon.”
“Would that upset him more?”
“That’s the big question.”

Dosa-Mina’s door was already open, so San-Kyung head inside. Dosa-Mina was lying on his side, facing away from him. He was quick to notice the bandage on his arm.
“Dosa-Mina.”
Dosa-Mina turned over. “Why are you here? Did my parents call you?”
“I came here because I wanted to. I saw how you were at school today.”
Dosa-Mina turned away once again. “….everyone knows. The reality of that dawned on me yesterday. Malicerie knows I’m a Werewolf-Siren. My parents and you know that I cut. How much longer until the school knows that too?”
Dosa-Mina sat up. “You know, maybe I should give up like I did yesterday.” Dosa-Mina took off his shirt. He head over to his closet and pulled a short-sleeved one over his head. “Maybe I should go to school tomorrow like this instead. Yeah, that’ll be nice, hearing everyone’s questions, having the school contact my parents…”
“Dosa-Mina…”
“Except this shirt doesn’t really fit. But ah, who cares?” He flopped back onto his bed.
“Nothing matters to me anymore. I just wanted school to know me as San-Kyung’s clingy best friend. I liked that better. But then people started paying attention to me. It’s horrible. I hate it. Not everyone likes being notorious like bitchy Lirako.”
“I don’t care about killing her, you know. It wouldn’t lose me any sleep.”
“Don’t do that. Guess who would be the prime suspect? Not you, me. And anyway if you were found out it’d be jail for you. No.”
“…I’ll get back at her somehow.”
Dosa-Mina sat up again. “I give up. I really do. Like this I’ll only keep making people miserable. Or rather, the people I love. I don’t give a shit about people like Lirako, and she probably doesn’t care about how I feel. So, if you ever feel like dying again, give me a call and I’ll be there and we’ll off ourselves together. I just want my death day to come already.”
He pulled off his bandage and dug his fingers into the injury. San-Kyung sighed. There didn’t seem to be anything he could do for him.
So instead he joined him on the bed. Almost immediately, Dosa-Mina lowered his head, pulled his fingers out of the injury and started to cry.

—–
“Hey, Dosa-Mina…do you want us to pull you out of Malicerie?”
Orlin-Aesth had asked him that question at dinner.
“No. I’d rather keep the damage minimal. But if it’s possible, I’d like to pretend I’m sick for a few days. I need a break from that place.”
“We’ll do it,” Elai-Riya said. “But you have to promise us you’ll talk to us more.”
‘Damn it.’
“I’ll try,” he said.

22.630.The Reveal

The La-Iin Series
Chapter 630
“The Reveal”

‘Shit shit shit!’
Lirako had arrived at school late that day. After a health emergency at home–which turned out to be a false alarm–getting to school was the last thing on her mind. But if she was not going to the hospital, there was no excuse to not be going to school, and now that she was in Grade 12 she didn’t plan on missing school.
When she arrived in Class D, all the other students were already there, including Deki-Tyunri, who she took her seat next to. She was quick to notice that his head was bowed.
“Yo, Deks, what’s wrong?”
“No…nothing,” he sighed.
“How long do you think I’ve known you? I know something’s wrong. Tell me what’s up! Were you lonely for me?”
“I was…but…that’s not the problem.”
“So there is something wrong.”
Deki-Tyunri sighed once more. “It’s a ridiculous problem, though.”
“What’s wrong?”
“…” He glanced at San-Kyung. “…I just wish I could get over Molshei already, that’s all. I know it will never happen. He hates everyone who’s not Dslellular. I don’t even know if he loves his own parents. I don’t know how Dslellular got into his heart, but I really doubt I have what he does. We’re far too different in personality. And he’s neutral, isn’t he?”
“How am I supposed to know?”
“I thought you would since you bother him often. But neutral is probably better to someone who’s evil than good is. And since our morals don’t align, even if I did get what I want, would it even matter? They say couples with differing morals have a lot of problems.”
Deki-Tyunri looked genuinely upset. Seeing his expression broke her heart.
‘But what could I do to help him there? I’ve gone up to San-Kyung before. He’s rough stuff. I don’t know how Dslellular puts up with him. …but then, I don’t know how he puts up with Dslellular, either.’
Just as she was about to let out a sigh of her own, an idea popped into her head. ‘Or maybe there’s a little something I can do to nudge them in the right direction…’

***

Lirako waited until the break time before Science class to enact her plan. She could remember La-Iin intervening in a past altercation she had had with both him and Dosa-Mina, and considering that her plan dealt with trying to get San-Kyung to take romantic interest in someone, she had a feeling it was the best course of action.
So once La-Iin left the classroom, she walked over to San-Kyung.
“Yo.”
San-Kyung glared at her. To Lirako, the glare looked far more malicious than usual.
“Don’t talk to me, Catori. It’s September. It might not be October yet, but you’ll still regret speaking to me.”
“C’mon.” She sat on his desk. “Besides, it’s not me I want to talk about. It’s someone else.”
Lirako noticed that Dosa-Mina was also glaring at her, but his expression seemed uncertain as opposed to San-Kyung’s.
“You know my friend, Elyshen Deki-Tyunri?”
“I don’t care.”
“Lirako…!” Deki-Tyunri’s wings had started to unfold. Lirako winked at Deki-Tyunri, but he still looked flustered and upset.
“Don’t just shut me down. Look, he’s a nice kid. I think you and him could probably be good friends if you’d open up.”
“No.”
Lirako sighed. “Yet you’ll be friends with Dslellular?”
“My life is none of your business. Now back off unless you want to be someone’s meal.”
“I kind of don’t want to. But I’m not going to back off either.” She hopped off the desk and put her face close to San-Kyung’s.
“You know I know, right?”
“Know what?”
“Dosa-Mina’s species.”
San-Kyung’s eyes twitched. Lirako could tell that he was trying to hold a straight face.
“Everyone does.”
“Really? I thought it was a well-kept secret.”
“He’s very blatantly a Normal.”
“Trying to cover for him, eh?”
“Catori, I think I know what you’re getting at. Cut it out. I’m more than willing to lie to you and I’m telling you the truth here. So back off.”
“How am I supposed to believe you, then?”
“San-Kyung, please!” Dosa-Mina said.
San-Kyung glanced at him. “Just get away from me.”
“Oh, alright. If you’re so certain that Dosa-Mina is a Normal, I guess I’ll just tell the class what I suspect, then.”
Students nearby started to turn in their direction. Dosa-Mina’s eyes widened.
“San-Kyung–!”
San-Kyung grit his teeth. He seemed to be having a crisis.
Lirako was more than ready to continue on with her current line, until she caught sight of Deki-Tyunri out the corner of her eye. He was obviously quite upset.
‘Damn, if Deki-Tyunri finds out I’m trying to blackmail San-Kyung into liking him, he’ll probably be furious with me.’ Lirako’s ears flattened to her head. ‘I’d love to see them squirm more, but I think I’ll have to let it go.’
“Ah, well, it’s just a rumor anyway. Stirring up class would be a little more fun if everyone was here. Don’t worry, I won’t say anything.”
Finally.” San-Kyung sounded genuinely relieved.
Lirako turned to head back to her seat. She could already see that Deki-Tyunri was obviously less than pleased by what she had done. ‘That was a mistake. I should’ve known it’d make him mad…’
“…I should have known that bitch wouldn’t leave me alone…”
It was said so quietly, obviously intended for only one person to hear–but Lirako had picked up on it quite easily.
And she was pissed.
She turned around, stared down Dosa-Mina, and yelled at the top of her lungs,
“Says you, Weresiren!!
Dosa-Mina gaped. San-Kyung arguably looked even more surprised than he did.
“Weresiren?” Xhen-Bei said.
“Weresiren?” Zae-Mia said.
“As in, a Werewolf-Siren?” Ai-Reia asked. “Sanyaow, what are you doing calling him that for?”
“This guy always had us believing he was a Normal. But the truth is, what I called him is what he is. If you don’t believe me, you’re always welcome to go and talk to his parents about it.”
“How do you know that for sure?” Xhen-Bei sounded as if he didn’t believe her. “I mean, like, did he tell you or something?”
“I have irrefutable proof. And their expressions should say more than I ever could.”
Dosa-Mina covered his mouth and San-Kyung began to try and look stoic.
“So? What say you, students of Class D? Feel free to ask him to jump as high as he can or sing for you. I can assure you he’ll do neither.”
“But…how can that be? Wouldn’t we know if he was a Werewolf-Siren?” Zae-Mia said.
“Yeah! And why would he hide something like that?” Fer-Shi asked.
“Unless he’s like Dereni and he wants to cannibalize us,” Shan-Zetsu said, his expression one of fury.
“Well, Dosa-Mina? What do you have to say for yourself?”
“I…I’m a Normal…she’s just lying because I wouldn’t sing for her.”
“Does choking really help your situation?”
“Lirako!” Deki-Tyunri exclaimed. “Normal or Werewolf-Siren, why are you bothering him?”
“Because this jerk and I had a promise. I’d keep his secret in exchange for him not badmouthing me. And I don’t know if you heard it, but we Catoris can pick up on things even like whispered bitches. If you want proof, ask Llanni.”
Students turned to see Airy-Aekok.
“U-uh, um…like, I guess I could show you proof, yeah…”
“But are we sure that it’s concrete proof? Sanyaow and Llanni’s claims alone cannot just make us believe that that is the truth. Refusing to sing is suspicious, but there is nothing in his appearance that indicates he is anything other than Normal.”
“Have you ever heard of the Dereni brothers, Vampiris?” Cae-Bougen asked. “The younger brother attends this school right now, disguised as a Normal. I don’t know if I believe this claim, but it’s certainly possible…”
“Well, I know that, but–”
“Stop.”
The students turned to Dosa-Mina.
Dosa-Mina had had enough of their debating by now. He already knew there was no getting out of this one. It was a fight that had been lost the moment Lirako found out. Inevitably something was going to happen. A school event or something of the such. He could already imagine, his mother arriving disguised as a Normal, his father wearing several cloaks–and Lirako pulling off those cloaks, or another curious student reaching under them and feeling fur.
Even if Airy-Aekok was bluffing and she didn’t have any proof, sooner or later they would find out, and if he kept retaliating at this point, they were going to be even more curious when the truth came out. He was so close to leaving school without it ever being found out.
But that was just a dead pipe dream now.
“…Lirako, I understand our deal, but when I said that I wasn’t talking to you.”
“So? I heard it anyway.”
“Dslellular, does this mean that Sanyaow’s words are true? Are you a Werewolf-Siren?”
Dosa-Mina lowered his head. “I give up. I’m not going to deny it anymore. Sooner or later one of you is going to get too curious for your own good and go prying into my business. So there. Now you know. Now leave me alone.”
The classroom erupted into conversation instead. Dosa-Mina cringed.
“Why did you tell them!?” San-Kyung whispered.
“There’s no point in hiding it anymore, San-Kyung. It was a losing battle. I weighed my options and this was the situation with the more favorable outcome. Besides, if she really does have proof, I’m screwed either way.”
“Dosa-Mina…”
“There’s no out,” he said with a chuckle. “I’ve been on a downward spiral for a long while now. Everything’s going to come out about me. Soon enough there won’t be any secrets I can hide anymore.”
Tears rolled down his face. “Nothing…”

—–
“La-Iin, did you hear!?”
“Hear what?”
“Apparently, Dosa-Mina’s a Werewolf-Siren!”
La-Iin’s eyes widened. “How do you know that?”
“H-huh? You already knew?”
“Isn’t that obvious? But how do you know?”
“He just told the whole class!”
“Why would he do that?”
“I don’t know!”
La-Iin huffed. “Something seems off…”

21.629.Betrayal and Desire

The La-Iin Series
Chapter 629
“Betrayal and Desire”

“I’m glad that it’s getting cooler. Summer is always too hot!”
“I agree, but Winter is still waiting,” La-Iin said. “In Summer the sun beats down on me and in Winter my wings freeze down to the bone. Extreme weather is not my ally…”
“Is it anyone’s?”
“Snowlivs, maybe.” A Snowliv child from Class A looked up at her words.
“Yeah, but even they don’t do very well with extremely hot weather.”
“Yes. I’ve always wondered how Snowlivs survived to this day with the way their species works.”
The two girls sat there in silence after that, both trying to think up a game they could play.
‘We’ve done so many things at the recess area!’ Fer-Shi thought. ‘How can we do something new?’
‘I wonder if that would even be a good idea for a game…’
After a while of thinking, longer than it normally took for the two to start playing, Fer-Shi finally had an idea. But before she could voice it, a group of small children walked up to her.
“Hello!” The child at the front said.
“Hi!”
La-Iin stared at the children indignantly.
“Um, are you Sanhuun from Class D? The one who Dereni tried to eat?”
Fer-Shi looked slightly disturbed. “Y-yes, that’s me. Although he didn’t really try to eat me.”
“He was tryna basically tenderize you! That’s eaty enough!”
“Can you tell us about what happened? The grown-ups and the more grown-up kids won’t tell us because Dereni keeps glaring at them.”
La-Iin noticed Daal-Dan sitting a short distance away, glaring. ‘If he’s so mad, why doesn’t he just sing and knock out the whole school?’
“Weren’t you there?”
“Dereni is scary!” One of them said.
“Besides, we’re not as brave as most of the boys were.”
“So we mostly tried to hide from him.”
“Can you pleeease tell us?”
Fer-Shi sighed.
“You really want me to, don’t you?”
The children nodded.
“What about our recess area game?”
“It can wait. What happened with Dereni isn’t a long story. Besides, I’ve got the perfect idea for a game we can play! So once I tell them, we can start right away!”
La-Iin was astounded. She watched Fer-Shi go off with the children and start to tell them the story of what had happened with her and Daal-Dan. She gave a huff of anger.
“Jealous?”
La-Iin hadn’t noticed that Shuu-Kena was sitting nearby. She startled, but quickly recovered.
“What does it seem like?”
“Don’t worry. While she talks to the littler kids, you can always talk to me.”
“Those kids are probably my age,” she grumbled.
“You’re probably even younger since you’re half-Vampire.”
“I am the age I am. If I concede defeat to my species, then a certain….situation could become more of a problem for me.”
“What does that mean?”
“It’s not important.”
“Hm.” Shuu-Kena looked away from her briefly; then she turned back to her. “So, how was your Summer?”
La-Iin thought back on all that had happened. “I suppose it was okay,” she said. When she recalled one particular event, however, she began to smirk. “No, more than that. I almost forgot that something amazing happened last month.”
“I see. Well, um, my Summer wasn’t the greatest. My family’s been a little more active lately. Once they all went out together on a raid. It was my little sisters’ first raid. But they left me home. I guess that’s a good thing, but I just feel so confused about it.”
“Raid? Raid for what?”
Shuu-Kena shook her head. “I have no idea.”
“Whatever the raid was for, it sounds idiotic.”
“Would you do a raid if you could, La-Iin? I know you and my family do things differently, but I was curious.”
“There are better things to be doing than a raid. If I could, I’d do one of those instead!” La-Iin said. “Sara, your family is all evil failures in my eyes. They have potential, but they fail to use it. Also they have the notable handicap of being Pureblood Normals. And I’m sure they plan almost nothing through before they carry it out. Not like I do, heh heh heh…”
La-Iin balled a hand into a fist. Shuu-Kena gave her an uncertain glance. “You do seem to be thinking a lot.”
“Always. My plans require a lot of thought, after all. Without it they would fall apart. And I’m no fool.”
“I guess it is good to plan things in advance. So, um, what’s the good thing that happened over the Summer?”
“It isn’t your business, Sara, though I suppose I could give you a hint. We were just talking about something related to it, after all. …you know, Sara, I truly think my plans will succeed. Unlike those of your family. I have the power and the means; I just need some things to bring it all to fruition…”
When La-Iin snapped out of her mini daydream, she noticed that Shuu-Kena’s expression was uncertain. “Why are you making that face?” ‘I shouldn’t go into too much detail. Sara shouldn’t know about this.’
Shuu-Kena sighed. “No reason, really. Well, I don’t know. What you said just there though, the way you said it reminded me a lot of my family…sorry, I guess sometimes I forget you’re evil because you act so differently from them. They try to ingrain it into every aspect of their life.”
“I might do that too. Unfortunately I have other things to focus on right now.”
La-Iin focused on Shuu-Kena’s expression as she spoke. It only became more uncertain, and somewhat upset. It seemed obvious to her now–she was upset by her behavior.
‘Damn it. It’s too obvious.’ Shuu-Kena seemed to be a somewhat helpful ally–she would rather have her on her side than against her. There had to be something she could say to wipe the uncertain expression off her face.
‘Got it.’
“But those other things are important. I am evil, and it is a big part of me. But I’m not going to be doing evil sitting because that sounds silly.”
In actuality it brought to La-Iin’s mind images of sitting atop a stack of people, but she kept the imagination to herself. Shuu-Kena’s expression seemed to ease a bit.
“Oh, I wasn’t trying to say anything about your evil, Cahongyun.”
“I didn’t say that because of what you said.”
“Hehe, I guess I read too much into it, then.”
“I was just saying it randomly. Your family astounds me with how stupid their evilness seems. Evil people don’t often agree, after all. They seem to not plan and to do the most petty things. And they’re ignoring one important thing.”
“Are they?”
“You can have bonds with non-evil people and still be evil. In fact, people say friendships are good, but they’re actually a helpful evil asset and for a different reason than you might think.”
“Really?”
La-Iin was reminded of San-Kyung’s words. “Yes. Your family may be close to the rest of each other, but there’s something that seems off. I don’t know, they annoy me.”
Shuu-Kena smiled. “You know, La-Iin, I’m really glad you actually became friends with me.”
La-Iin was going to respond, but just then Fer-Shi walked up to her. “Sorry, they kept me a little long. But now I can tell you about that perfect idea!” Her eyes dritfted to Shuu-Kena. “Well, if you still want to play…”
“I do.” La-Iin stood up. “Tell me what it is. But Sara.”
“Hm?”
“Even by the most petty evil standard, your family is made up of idiots.”
Shuu-Kena giggled. “They really are, aren’t they?”
She almost sounded sad, but the smile on her face seemed to be one of genuine happiness. After that, La-Iin turned back to Fer-Shi, who began to explain her game of Witches and their powers. As she listened to her describe it, only one more thought about Shuu-Kena crossed her mind.
‘How could I be betrayed when I know the perfect way to prevent it?’

—–
That night, as the Saras ate dinner, Shuu-Kena was reminded of La-Iin’s earlier words.
“Even by the most petty evil standard, your family is made up of idiots.”
Against her better judgment she began to laugh wildly.
“Why are you laughing?” Ther-Aoughin asked.
“Perhaps she’s finally gone off the deep end,” Kyu-Aseri said.
“Come, sister, come join the dark side!” Kyu-Nhogo said.
“I have an inkling it’s not as great as all that,” Hei-Yhunni sighed.

20.628.Friendship from a Year Ago

The La-Iin Series
Chapter 628
“Friendship from a Year Ago”

“You know who you haven’t seen in a while?”
“Who? And do I care?”
“You will. It seems like it’s been a while since you last saw Sale-Dessu.” La-Iin’s eyes widened. “Have you even seen him this month?”
“I ate the mincemeat pie I made for him myself.”
“Yes, I thought I remembered you asking him for something.”
La-Iin smirked. “That’s right, I did!”
“Are you talking to me?” Mit-Sun asked.
“Why would I ever talk to you, wench?”
Mit-Sun sighed. “Talking to me or not, that reminds me. La-Iin brought up Sale-Dessu the other day. And even though we bonded, we never really kept up a friendship.”
“So?”
“Maybe I should go and see him.”
Hearing that made La-Iin almost toss herself out of her chair.
“What’s with the big reaction?”
“Nothing,” she said through grit teeth. “But who says Sale-Dessu will want to see you after all this time?”
“Well, it’s worth a try to see, isn’t it? I don’t dislike him.”
“It seems her Normal stupidity gene is kicking into full force.”
“You must have a little of it too if you hadn’t noticed it’s been active all this time. It’s the only part of her brain that’s been active, speaking of.”
“You shut up!”
Mit-Sun huffed. “Never mind.”
She walked out of the room. “Was that never mind for seeing Sale-Dessu, or never mind for dealing with me?”
“Perhaps yours isn’t active right now like I initially thought. Anyway. I hate to ask the same thing as that woman, but what was the big reaction for anyway? I’m aware we don’t want Sale-Dessu being dumbed down by an idiot, but I didn’t expect a reaction so strong.”
“Eul-Bok is autonomous. Mama doesn’t know this. And even if she doesn’t tell everyone all over Bledger about Eul-Bok, her seeing Eul-Bok might make Sale-Dessu more nervous than he already is. Which disadvantages me.”
“Is that so? How?”
“If he’s nervous, he might lock himself up and he’ll never complete the research I need,” she said. “And if he doesn’t, my plan–”
“What plan?”
“That’s not any of your business!”

***

When La-Iin took Choungetsu on a walk, Mit-Sun decided that it was a perfect time to visit Sale-Dessu.
‘Things have been going well for me recently. And he is a friend of La-Iin’s as well, at least it seems that way…I wonder if he’s been doing alright.’
Meanwhile, in the Astineth house, experiments were underway.
“So you’re telling me you don’t name your experiments?”
“I just use the names that they already have.”
“What if you’re coming up with something brand-new, though?”
“Do you mean like mixing a water-powered engine with an air conditioner or something like that?”
“Well, yeah, I guess, but–”
Eul-Bok was interrupted by a knock at the door. He groaned. “I bet I know who that is.”
Sale-Dessu answered the door, and immediately he recoiled in shock.
“Ca–Ca–Cahongyun elder? I mean, Mit-Sun?”
“Hi, Astineth. Er, Sale-Dessu. It’s certainly been a while, hasn’t it? …er, Sale-Dessu? Are you okay?”
“Ah, i-it’s just been a while since I last saw you, is all!”
‘Damn it!’ Sale-Dessu shot one quick glance back at Eul-Bok, who now looked startled. ‘She can’t come inside! La-Iin hasn’t told her about Eul-Bok being autonomous! …or has she? Either way, I can’t risk it! She wasn’t in on the plan.’
“O-oh, I’d love to, but I’m busy with an experiment right now,” he said quietly. “If I take my attention off of it it could explode…”
“Er, I guess you’d better get back to that, then!”
“D-don’t worry, even if it does explode it will only explode inside my…living room….okay, good-bye, Mit-Sun!”
He closed the door and sighed.
“What just happened, Father?”
“Cahongyun elder–er, Mit-Sun–she was at the door!”
“La-Iin’s mother?” Eul-Bok stared down at his hands. “I had a bad feeling about that.”
“But I was able to turn her away, thankfully. I mean no offense to La-Iin but unlike her, she’s at least somewhat reasonable. Now, let’s get back to our experiment…”
“You should mean offense to La-Iin.”
He turned back to the door. When he had first seen Mit-Sun she had been smiling and looked happy to see him.
‘We did bond, back when La-Iin drunk that potion, or no, after that…’ He could remember a conversation he had had with her about being a parent.
‘Maybe she misses me.’
“Father, what are you smiling like that for?”
“It’s just nice to be loved, Eul-Bok…”

“I’m so glad I took Choungetsu on a walk,” La-Iin said, tone deadpan, after she had returned home. “There was so much poop…if all that was in the house…”
Mit-Sun sighed.
“You didn’t have to deal with it, so why do you look upset?”
“Oh, it’s nothing. I’m not really upset, La-Iin. Just thinking.”
“Your face gives away more than mine does.”
“Even if that’s the case I’m sure my face gives away less than you being super-obvious.”
“What does that mean?”
“Normal stupidity gene.”
Mit-Sun glared at Bes-Isa. “You were created to be a Normal, you….oh, forget it.”
“I’m a V-Puppet though. Not a Normal. Gotcha.”
“So ridiculous…”
A knock sounded at the door. “Huh?”
“I don’t remember inviting anyone over,” Mit-Sun said. “La-Iin, did you invite someone over?”
“As much as I’d like to, no.”
“Hm…” She walked over to the door and opened it. Nobody was standing there, not at first–Sale-Dessu peeked his head in moments later.
“Hello, Mit-Sun.”
“Hello,” she said. “I thought you were busy with an exploding experiment?”
“Sale-Dessu?” La-Iin called. “What are you doing here?”
“Well, I was thinking after I finished the spell, I might visit you. You seemed like you had something to say to me before you left earlier. And it didn’t explode, so don’t worry.”
“So you did visit him,” La-Iin said, her tone accusatory. Mit-Sun rolled her eyes.
“Not really. Actually, it’s just been a while since I last saw you. I know we were never really close, but I was just thinking back on it.”
“I see….well, I shouldn’t stay too long. Eul-Bok will be lonely without me. But I wanted to share a little something with you first.”
He handed her a box. “What is this?”
“La-Iin, why are you glaring at me like that?”
“You’re my ally, not Mama’s.”
“What I gave her just now has nothing to do with being an ally,” Sale-Dessu said, his tone strangely playful. Now even more curious, Mit-Sun pried open the box.
Out from it came a bright burst of colorful lights that changed the color of everything it exploded around. La-Iin was quick to notice that once it died down, Sale-Dessu was almost entirely violet, from his skin to his clothes and his eyes, except for his hair which had turned a dark silver. She was also quick to notice that her hands were now the same green that Sale-Dessu usually was. She recoiled.
Sale-Dessu began to laugh. “You two always were the most interesting for my experiments to affect,” he said between giggles. “I’m sorry if I ever inconvenienced you with them.”
Mit-Sun didn’t respond. She just seemed to be trying to hold back a giggle.
Sale-Dessu remained at the door a while longer, still laughing hard, and Mit-Sun stayed put as well, suppressing giggles.
La-Iin, on the other hand, was horrified. When she caught a glimpse of herself in a mirror, she realized that her color scheme was now that of Sale-Dessu’s.

—–
Sale-Dessu had left not long after he stopped laughing, but before that, he gave them some instructions.
“That “Colorburst Palette Swap”….” His cheeks flushed red. “That name was Eul-Bok’s idea. Anyway, it naturally wears off after about forty-five hours. Your colors will start reverting at about thirty-two hours, and after forty-five they’ll be almost back to normal. But if you really want it to revert early, you’ll have to take a bath in hot water for about two hours.”
“This is true evil…perhaps I should consider it for the future.”
“Thanks, Sale-Dessu. I’m sure La-Iin would like to go back to her normal colors now.”
Sale-Dessu nodded. “Alright, then, I’ll be seeing you two.”
“Oh, wait, Sale-Dessu! One thing I wanted to ask you!”
“Huh?”
“How’s Eul-Bok doing?”
It took Sale-Dessu’s all not to break out into a cold sweat. “Er…better than ever, thanks for asking. Well, see you!”

“Father! You used Colorburst Palette Swap on yourself!?”
“It was an accident. But don’t worry, it’ll wear off soon enough.”
“If by soon enough you mean forty-five hours…”

19.627.Lovely Love Story–Part 3

The La-Iin Series
Chapter 627
“Lovely Love Story–Part 3”

“Congratulations, students of Mudorous High. We are so pleased to see you have made it this far. Go now and make your mark on the world as adults!”
Salsh-Era beamed. Once the cheering died down and the crowd erupted into chatter, he began to feel slightly self-conscious about still being up on stage, so he levitated down to meet a friend of his, Iegyu Li-An.
“Congratulations, Salsh-Era!” She called out. Salsh-Era smiled back at her, though he was quick to notice the Animated Pumpkin girl standing next to her.
“Thanks, Li-An. It went better than I expected it to!”
“I’m glad!”
“Oh, but, who is that next to you?”
“Me?” The Animated Pumpkin girl pointed at herself.
“Oh yeah, that’s right, I never introduced you two. This is Zahelahe Del-Kyuus, a friend of mine. See, you weren’t my only friend up there. Me and Hiduro are close too. Zahelahe here is also friends with Hiduro, and they used to go to the same school before he transferred here.”
“You must be Molshei Salsh-Era,” she said. “Are you and Hiduro friends too?”
“No, not really. I mean I guess we talk, but he’s more popular than me here. Everyone always wants his attention…” Salsh-Era began to feel indignant.
Li-An giggled. “Don’t feel bad, Salsh-Era.”

On their way back from the graduation ceremony, Del-Kyuus, Li-An and Hiduro talked about their futures–for the most part.
“I imagine that if I keep up the way I am now, I can be famous! Imagine what I could use fame to do!”
“Don’t let it all get to your head, Hiduro,” Li-An said. “Conceited folk make it nowhere in life.”
“What a lie! Have you seen all the conceited celebrities and politicians!?”
Li-An sighed. “Touche.”
“Li-An, that Molshei boy was really nice. Do you think you could put us in touch?”
“Huh? You wanna make friends with Molshei?”
“Yes! He reminds me of a boy I knew in Elementary School. He’s funny!”
“You aren’t feeling lovey-dovey towards him, are ya, Del-Kyuus? I thought you and I were gonna be together! I can see it now…’Hiduro Del-Kyuus’.”
“Geez, Hiduro, I told you, I don’t like you that way.”
Hiduro sighed. “For someone so demure you sure aren’t easy on a guy’s heart.”
“And I just want to be his friend. I have plenty of male friends and I don’t have crushes on them.”
“Well, your little squabble aside, sure I can put you in contact with him, Zahelahe. Though I’ll have to ask him if he’s quite as interested in being your friend.”
“Okay!”

“What? Zahelahe wants to be friends with me?”
Li-An nodded. “Apparently you remind her of someone she knew in Elementary School.”
“Really?”
“I can put you two in contact, but that’s only if you’re interested in pursuing a friendship with her.”
“Sure, why not? She seems like a really nice girl. Tell her we can meet up at the park and chat for a bit.”
“Sure, I’ll tell her.”

***

A few days later, Salsh-Era and Del-Kyuus made good on their promise to meet at the park.
“I’m sorry, it must seem pretty weird for me to ask you out of the blue to be friends with me.”
“It was kind of weird.”
“But you know, you really remind me of this boy I knew in Elementary. He was the nicest kid, and so funny! …but I heard he died in junior high.”
“What!?”
Del-Kyuus nodded. “I’m sorry, this is such a somber subject to get on…well, we fell out of touch around junior high. When I got to high school, that’s when I heard he had been dead for a few years. Apparently he was attacked and tried to make it to the hospital on his own, but he got hit by a car on the way there.”
“Yeesh.”
“Oh, but please don’t think I’m trying to replace him with you!” She said. “I just thought you were really funny and I like funny people. You remind me of him, but I don’t see you as him.”
“I see.”
“Soooo, what kind of plans do you have now that you’re out of high school? Aside from maybe college?”
“Well, I want to do the responsible thing and go to college, get a job, all that stuff, but I guess if I had to say specifics, I would like to go visiting species societies. I was born here, so I’ve always been curious as to how they work, especially Animated Pumpkin ones. I heard my Dad lives in one nowadays.”
“Only your Dad?”
“My parents are divorced. I live with my Mom and her partner. It’s a little complicated.”
“Oh, okay. Um, as for me, I want to do the same things, go to college and get a job. I’d really like to get married and have a family, but if I don’t find someone right for me, I think I’ll try and open a bakery!”
“A bakery?”
“Yes! Everyone thinks it’s weird that I like cooking so much even though I don’t have to eat. Well, maybe it’s weird, but I really like it!”
“Well, it’s not like we can’t.”
“Yeah! You know, it’s weird. I’ve always wanted to get married, but…you know Hiduro, right?”
“Yeah, he was my classmate.”
“He likes me, but I just can’t find it in me to like him back. He’s nice, but I don’t know…oops! I guess that was a little too much information,” she giggled. “It just feels so natural with you!”
“Feels the same to me. I don’t usually go around telling people my parents are divorced. Still, that reminds me, Hiduro was always talking about an ‘orange beauty’ to his friends. I could never figure out if he was talking about an Animated Pumpkin or a Witch, or maybe even a Catori…”
“Oh my!” Del-Kyuus looked embarrassed. “What else did Hiduro say?”
“Well, he’s kind of conceited, let me tell you that. I don’t think I think as positively of him as you do, heh heh.”
The two continued to talk on for long after that, the subject changing several times in the middle.

“So, how’d it go?”
“It was great!” Del-Kyuus said.
“She’s a nice girl, and so easy to talk to. I think we’ll be good friends,” Salsh-Era said.
Li-An felt ecstatic. ‘I’m glad I helped them find a new friend.’

***

Li-An cleared her throat.
“My dear best school friends, to celebrate our upcoming graduation from college, I’ve decided to give you all some presents. As we go into a more adult world, we are looking to see hardships and suffer the struggle that is not being able to see each other as often. And–”
“We understand,” Del-Kyuus said.
“Someone just wants the presents!”
“No, I was just saying–”
“It’s okay!” Li-An handed out the presents.
“Oh, thank you, Li-An!” Del-Kyuus said.
“This is so nice of you,” Salsh-Era said.
“Ooh, I approve.” Hiduro said.
“Thanks, you guys.”
“Look what she got me, Salsh-Era!”
“That’s a nice cooking set.”
“I’m so excited to use this!”
“Wow, you two sure have become close, huh?” Li-An said.
Del-Kyuus nodded.
“Hmph.”
“Something wrong, Hiduro?” Del-Kyuus asked.
“Del-Kyuus, look. You know how I feel about you, and I can’t help but admit I’m a little jealous about you two being so close. But that’s not my problem here.”
“Is there something wrong with me and Salsh-Era being friends?”
“I heard what you said! About how he reminds you of an old classmate. And I think I figured out who you’re talking about. Are you just using him to replace him?”
“No! You know this already!”
“Hiduro, you don’t have to be mean,” Li-An said.
“I’m not trying to. But replacing someone is not a good basis for a friendship. And seeing how fast Del-Kyuus wanted to be friends with Molshei, I just feel like that’s the whole reason why.”
“A-are you sure this isn’t just because you’re jealous!?” Del-Kyuus said.
“I’m sure.”
Del-Kyuus sighed. She bowed her head.
“Great going, Hiduro. This was supposed to be fun!”
“Sorry, but I had to say it. If I didn’t now, you said it yourself, we might not see each other often after this–who would?”

Del-Kyuus head home feeling dejected, clutching the cooking set from Li-An tightly.
“Del-Kyuus!”
Salsh-Era was running after her. “Oh. Salsh-Era.”
“Look, Del-Kyuus, I just wanted to tell you that I don’t believe that you were using me as a replacement. You told me as much early on, I remember this.”
“Thank you, Salsh-Era. But to tell the truth, Hiduro might be a little right. Not completely, but sometimes I’ve felt you ease the pain from his death. When we met it had only been a year since I had heard about it. I felt really guilty. But now, we’ve been friends for a while. You and he are really different.”
“Thank you.”
“…” Del-Kyuus bit the tip of her claw.
“Del-Kyuus?”
“No, maybe I shouldn’t say it.”
“What is it, Del-Kyuus? I’m willing to hear you out if there’s something on your mind.”
Del-Kyuus squeezed her eyes shut. “I…I know that you two are different. I do.”
“You said that already.”
“…Hiduro doesn’t understand. You ease the pain, but I don’t see you as a replacement. I don’t feel the same way about him that I do about you.”
“That makes sense.”
“I…I just…”
“Del-Kyuus, can I tell you something?”
“What’s that?”
“Well…I am really glad you told me you don’t see me as a replacement for him, because then I would feel really jealous.”
“About what?”
Salsh-Era looked away from her. Del-Kyuus began to feel flustered. He thrust a letter into her hands. “Here.”
Del-Kyuus opened the letter.

Zahelahe Del-Kyuus–
I don’t have the courage to say this aloud, so I’m writing you this letter. I’m glad for our friendship over the past few years. You are such a kind soul and are so easy to talk to. I have truly enjoyed my friendship with you.
I am writing to tell you that I want something more. I love you, Del-Kyuus. If you don’t feel the same just burn up this letter and forget I ever wrote it. But if there’s any chance that you do, I promise to treat you well and be your biggest supporter. Perhaps it sounds cheesy, but this is what you get writing a letter…
Respond as you see fit.
M. S.

Del-Kyuus looked up.
“Salsh-Era…”
“I–I meant to give it to you later, but I just…anyway…respond as you see fit, like the letter says.”
Del-Kyuus smiled. “Okay.” She hugged him.
“I…I was going to say the same, actually,” she said. “What I was going to tell you was, I feel differently about you two, and this is the big difference. He was a funny boy and a good friend, but you I see in a different light…I just thought that maybe it would sound cheesy…”
“Ah, heh heh…”
The two stood there in silence.
“Um…”
“…”
“I have to go home now…but, would you like to go on a date this Weekend?”
“Oh, sure!”
“Okay. How about–um…how about downtown Bledger?”
“O-okay!”
Del-Kyuus sighed. “Sorry, it’s really hard to find a response for this sort of thing…”
“It’s okay, I feel as uncertain as you look…”
Del-Kyuus pulled away from him. “M-maybe we should just save this for later!” She said. Then, she levitated off at a high speed.
Salsh-Era, on the other hand, did not have her same fortitude. He stood there for quite a while longer pondering the fact that what just happened had actually, truly happened.

—–
“If there’s one thing I can’t stand about you two, it’s the PDA.”
“Says the boy who lets his best friend cling all over him,” Salsh-Era said. “Besides, this isn’t PDA. We’re in our house.”
“Well, stop being so affectionate in front of me!”
“San-Kyung, what will you do if you fall in love someday and your partner wants to be affectionate?”
“Romantic love is pointless. Agh. Never mind, I have other things to do.”
“I guess he isn’t always happy with us,” Del-Kyuus said.
“Yeah, of course not. Well, at least now since he’s out of the room, I can call you Kyuusie.”
Del-Kyuus giggled. “When did you first call me that? Our first date?”
“As far as I can remember, yes!”

18.626.Lovely Love Story–Part 2

The La-Iin Series
Chapter 626
“Lovely Love Story–Part 2”

“Iiiiiit’s time for the event of the season!”
The people who were chattering in the center quieted down.
“Are you looking for a job? A good one? One that gives you lots of opportunities and could bring the future you want right to your doorstep!? Well look no further than the Opportunist’s Job Fest! We’ve got jobs here, there and everywhere that can place you where you wanna go! So long as it’s within the Opportunist brand, of course.”
“Cool!” Orlin-Aesth exclaimed.
“Hmph. Some people don’t get that you need to take job-hunting seriously.”
“Geez, Elai-Riya. I know you’re desperate for a job, but you don’t have to be so snippy,” her sister, Tebi-Miya, said.
“Tebby, maybe you don’t get it. I left home for a bigger opportunity than what I could get in a Siren society. I want to make my life amazing. And in a Siren society I could kick back and relax, but then life’s predictable and boring. And what’s the point of going to college outside of your hometown if you don’t even get to reap the benefits?”
“Does Opportunist even list any jobs that you need to go to college for?”
“How should I know?”
“Ooh, folks, we’re getting an interesting job opening right now! This is an opening as a Taskmaster at Opportunist’s Bledger base! Come to the front right now to see what this position offers!”
“Taskmaster?” Elai-Riya questioned.
“Sounds interesting. Is it for control freaks?”
“Are you trying to call me a control freak?”
“If I called my chaotic sister a control freak I’d be lying to myself. Although maybe a little.”
Elai-Riya fluttered toward the front, Tebi-Miya behind her. Orlin-Aesth had also walked up to the front and took one of the fliers advertising the Taskmaster position.
“Ooh, freshly printed!” He sniffed the paper intently. Elai-Riya took a flier and read it over.
“‘As a Taskmaster for Opportunist, you’d be in charge of menial tasks at our main base. That would mean doing a lot of physical labor, you know! It can be a dangerous position, so….’ Geez, who wrote this?”
“Sounds like something an Opportunist employee would write. Go on.”
“‘Blah blah blah, pay would be quite good….’ …ooh….whoa! Look at that pay, Tebby! People are not kidding when they say physical labor pays better than cushy office jobs!”
“You thinking about applying for it?”
“I am. I think I’ve got the strength to apply for such a position. I’ll just make sure to eat lots of meat. So I’d better fill out my application…”
‘Not many people seem interested in this position. That’s good! I’ve got the advantage of college on my side. Though lots of other people in Vaelyn do too…’ She hid the written part of her application.
‘This should be a cinch!’

“Thanks, one and all, for attending the Opportunist Job Fest!”
“Who’d expect a job fest to last three days?” Elai-Riya sighed.
“You’re the one who wants a job with Opportunist. You should have done your research about them first.”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“Now, it’s time to announce who will fill what position!”
Elai-Riya listened closely for the announcement of who would fill the Taskmaster position. Position fillings were listed first outside of Bledger–the first announcements were for positions filled in Silcoulle–and as the number of areas whittled down, Elai-Riya found herself feeling antsy.
“And, the position of Taskmaster, Opportunist Bledger Base!”
“Here we go!” Elai-Riya said, almost shrieking. Tebi-Miya looked unamused.
“The lucky employee is Dslellular Orlin-Aesth! Congratulations, Mr. Dslellular, and welcome to the Opportunist team!”
“What!?”
“Yay!” A Werewolf man raised his paws into the air. He ran up to the front desk.
“Thanks so much!”
“Not a problem. Your capabilities and history as a toadie had us particularly intrigued! We think you are just perfect for the Taskmaster position, and your personality judging from your writing style a perfect fit for the Opportunist crew!”
“Thanks!”
“Aha ha. You start work on Monday. Be ready.”
“I will!”
Orlin-Aesth happily skipped back into the crowd, humming a tune. In his joy he passed right by Elai-Riya, who was astonished by what she had just seen.
Unable to control herself, she grabbed Orlin-Aesth by his shirt.
“Whoa!”
“What the hell!? How did someone like you get the Taskmaster position!?”
“Lady, I don’t know what your problem is, but I didn’t mean to!”
“What do you mean, didn’t mean to!? You applied for the job!”
“Elai-Riya, please!” Tebi-Miya pulled her sister off of the man. “Mr. Dslellu-lar, I am so, so sorry about my sister.”
“It’s okay!” He said with a smile. “I’m too happy about my job to care much. Sorry you didn’t get the position, though. But I’m sure you’ll get a job soon enough, so long as you don’t go shaking random strangers. Okay, see you!”
Orlin-Aesth skipped off. Elai-Riya grit her teeth.
“Thanks for embarrassing yourself out in public,” Tebi-Miya said, her tone scathing.
“Look at him, all smiling and skipping. He didn’t deserve that position.”
“I’m not surprised about them hiring him based on personality. The people at Opportunist are so fake-cheerful it burns to listen to them. Though it seems they’ve gotten themselves a genuine happy fool.”
“Hmph.” Elai-Riya spread her wings. “Let’s just go home, Tebby.”
‘What am I supposed to do now?’ She thought. ‘I was really banking on that Taskmaster job. I can’t keep going like this. After what I said to everyone back home, they’d think lesser of me if I returned now…’

***

Elai-Riya’s struggles with getting a job were hampered by the memory of the cheerful Werewolf man and her expectations having been too high. Tebi-Miya assisted her sister through the process, but when Elai-Riya finally got a job, it was at a small store someplace in the heart of Bledger.
It felt demeaning, especially after her expectations given her college degree, but it was a job nonetheless.
‘I need to keep looking for something better,’ she thought. ‘Something that actually fits me. And definitely something that pays more vuyong. On this I’ll just be able to get by. I can’t even really buy luxuries…’
As she stocked the shelves, a Werewolf man walked down the aisle. He checked her newly-stocked shelves. Elai-Riya caught a glimpse of him from the side, but even if she hadn’t, she would have recognized his side-ponytail.
“You!”
He turned to see her. “Do I know you?”
‘He doesn’t remember me?’ “Sorry, wrong person,” she said, and hurriedly turned back to her work.
“Wait a second, I know you! You’re the girl who shook me at the job fest!”
Elai-Riya groaned.
“Hey, at least it looks like you got a job! Good for you.”
“Yeah, no thanks to you, jerk,” she mumbled to herself.
Orlin-Aesth didn’t seem to notice her comment, for he went back to checking the shelves seconds later. He took something from the shelf and left the aisle. Elai-Riya breathed a sigh of relief when he was gone.

It wouldn’t be the only time Orlin-Aesth stopped by the small store, though they didn’t speak to each other. Elai-Riya avoided him if she saw him and there were occasions in which he entered the store and she never noticed him at all.
It wasn’t until some months after their first talk in the store that she spoke with him again–or rather, he spoke to her.
“Sick of this job,” she grumbled to herself. “You’d think a college graduate’d be able to get a better job than this…”
“Hey.”
Elai-Riya looked up. Orlin-Aesth was staring at her, his expression more serious than the smile she had seen on him before.
“Look, I don’t know you all that well, but I wanted to tell you, I heard Bledghouses is hiring right now. I don’t know if that’s the kind of job you’re looking for, but I thought I’d tell you.”
He then went back to browsing the shelves.
‘Bledghouses? I barely know that company. I wonder if he’s telling the truth.’
Elai-Riya felt she couldn’t believe him, but if it were a true opportunity she knew she’d have to take a look. ‘Most jobs would be better than this one,’ she reminded herself.

Elai-Riya decided to look into Bledghouses later that day. Apparently it was a business specializing in all sorts of house-related fields, and was quickly outdoing other house-related companies and putting them out of business. It specialized in selling houses and repairing them.
As Orlin-Aesth had said, they were hiring. The job required some physical labor, and definitely paid more than what she made at the store. It was intriguing, but Elai-Riya knew she couldn’t bank on it.
Still, it was worth a try, if for nothing else for a chance to leave behind this job she hated so much.

***

Elai-Riya waited inside the store, looking around for any sign of Orlin-Aesth’s side ponytail. She spotted him walking down an aisle with beans.
“Um, excuse me!”
“Huh? Hi, Skista. That’s your name, right?”
“Yes. But I’m not talking to you for work-related reasons.”
“You aren’t?”
“I wanted to thank you,” she said with a sigh. “That job you mentioned at Bledghouses, I got it and I started work a few weeks ago. So I don’t work here now.”
“I thought I hadn’t been seeing you around recently. Good for you!”
“I also wanted to apologize. How I acted at the Opportunist Job Fest wasn’t right. So, I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. I actually found it kind of funny that you did that.”
‘This guy’s pretty annoying,’ she thought.
“But I’m glad you got a better job. Everyone should be able to get the job that best suits them! Well, good luck!”
Orlin-Aesth waved. “Good luck to you too,” she said.

Over the next year, Orlin-Aesth and Elai-Riya were heavily focused on their jobs.
“Skista, we need some supplies for a water leakage over in a local neighborhood.”
“I’m on it, boss!”
“Oh Mr. Dslellulaaaaar? We need you to carry a few things for us over, oh, say, a few hundred miles.”
“Got it!”
They required a lot of their physical strength and could be fairly demanding, but they ultimately paid off.

***

“Wow, it sure does smell around here…”
“Hey! What’re you tryna say ’bout my food!?”
“Er, nothing!”
The past year had been full of back-breaking work, so Elai-Riya had decided to take some time off and go to the International Food Festival in the neighboring Caucas, Vaelyn. She had heard mentions that foods specific to species societies would be there, so she was curious to try the foods made by other such societies.
One of the foods she tried was a stretchy, stringy meat that was being sold by a Catori who claimed it came from a Nyapponese Catori society.
“We use only the best internal organs to make this meat!”
“Internal organs?”
“Uh-huh!”
Elai-Riya was a little perturbed by the fact that the meat was so stringy, but it did taste good. “A Siren could really go crazy here.”
At the head of one of the stands she was interested in–it advertised Pomteki and kimchi, which she had been curious about despite common complaints about how ethical it was–was a Werewolf who accepted a plate full.
When he turned around, she recognized his face immediately.
“Hey!”
“Huh? Oh, hey!” He smiled. “Want some? They’re still selling, and it’s not going fast.” He ate a mouthful.
“No! Don’t you recognize me? I recognize you!”
“I’ve met a lot of Sirens. Oh, wait…you’re the one who I turned to the Bledghouses job, right? How’s that working out for you?”
“It’s fine,” she said. “I didn’t think I’d ever run into you again. It’s been a while, Diss-lellyloo…”
Orlin-Aesth sighed. “Not even close. It’s Dslellular. I know it’s hard to say at first, but when it’s your last name it’s pretty easy to remember. And you’re Skista, right?”
“Yes, that’s my name. Skista Elai-Riya.”
“Dslellular Orlin-Aesth. Good to see you again! Hey, mind telling me where you got that stringy skewer?”
“Um, over there,” she said, pointing to the stand.
“Cool! If you spot anything else, tell me, okay? I just love meat.”
Elai-Riya smiled. “Me too!”

Much to her surprise, their meeting at the festival changed their relationship. The overly-cheerful Werewolf man she formerly viewed with such contempt now seemed like a charming and funny man to her. By the end of the festival, he had asked for her contact information so the two could keep in touch about whatever interesting thing was happening in Bledger–or out of it, as with the festival.
‘So weird to think I couldn’t stand him at first. He’s a really nice man.’

And keep in touch they did.
Over the next few years they contacted each other whenever they saw something that they thought might be of interest to their friend.
“There’s an event downtown!”
“They’re having another International Food Festival!”
“Calziona Sulaet-Defka is coming to Vaelyn!”
“This isn’t really an event, but did you know they’re having a big sale on Holiday stuff at the store!?”
Elai-Riya chuckled. “Why does that matter?”
“Well, you could always stock up for next holiday.”
“Are YOU going to be doing that?”
“Sure, why not?”
“Geez, are you ever unhappy, Orlin-Aesth?”
“I try to take things in stride, and I’ve got a lot to be happy about. Though you saw me, that last International Food Festival there were so many people there and they ate up all the food! Pissed me off. Living next to species societies sure can suck sometimes. And hey, did you just call me Orlin-Aesth?”
“Hope you don’t mind. It’s easier for me than Dslellula-whatever.”
“Hey, you almost had it! Oh, I don’t care. I just thought it was weird.”
‘Elai-Riya’s so amazing,’ Orlin-Aesth thought. ‘One of these days, I’ve really got to tell her how I feel. I hope she doesn’t shake me for that!’

Elai-Riya was having a bit of trouble.
She and Orlin-Aesth had been communicating for years now, keeping in touch about all sorts of events. The last event they had gone to together, however, something had changed.
‘No. No no no.’
Elai-Riya had never exactly had a proper crush before–she had certainly thought that people were attractive, but nothing had ever happened like her sister Tebi-Miya or her mother described. This felt different, and to her it was horrifying.
She had heard both success stories and failure stories regarding people telling their crush how they felt. The idea that failure was an option was what scared her. That and having those feelings in the first place. How might she feel if Orlin-Aesth had a girlfriend the next time they went somewhere together?
Just talking to him had become difficult, and so she ignored most of his phone calls from then on out.

***

Orlin-Aesth dialed Elai-Riya’s number.
“Hello?”
“Finally, you picked up! Listen, there’s a cool movie coming out and I got a ticket! I wanted to know if you wanted me to get you a ticket too and we can go together!”
“S-sorry, Orlin-Aesth. I have a lot of work to do.”
“C’mon, you can spare a break. I know you can. Have you been avoiding me?”
“Er, no?”
Orlin-Aesth sighed. “Listen, maybe going to a movie will be good for you! If you keep focusing on work you’ll never be happy. Honestly, the few times Opportunist asks if I can work a whole week I get really irritable and nobody likes me. So let’s go to a movie and kick back!”
“…”
“C’mon, Elai-Riya.”
“Fine, I’ll go. But could you at least tell me what movie it is?”
“Sure! Ever heard of Pocalmes? They say it’s really good and it’s been a big hit so far!”

Elai-Riya, against her better judgment, found herself accompanying Orlin-Aesth to see Pocalmes. It was a good movie, and she enjoyed being out with Orlin-Aesth, but her still-persistent fear kept the experience from being as good as it could have been.
Orlin-Aesth accompanied her on her way back home.
“Why are you following me? We don’t live in the same direction, do we?”
“No. I thought you lived in one of those Avian houses. I could probably reach it with my jumping, though.”
“I see…”
“Nah, I wanted to talk to you! Would you be mad at me if I told you I had malicious intentions for inviting you to Pocalmes?”
“What!?”
“Ah, no, that’s not what I meant! Double standards?”
“Huh?”
“No, ah, well…it doesn’t matter what I had. I was going to ask you something.”
“Yes?”
Orlin-Aesth grinned and his tail started to wag wildly. “I really like you, Elai-Riya! So I was going to ask if you’d be my girlfriend!”
“What!?”
“Ha ha, I doubt it would change much. But I wanted to ask! A guy can hope, right?”
“…”
“Elai-Riya?”
“I didn’t know…I’ve been so stupid.”
“What? Oh, if you don’t want to, you can just say no. Please don’t get elaborate. I don’t think my heart can take it.”
“N-no, it’s not that. Had I realized, this would have been easier for me.”
Orlin-Aesth’s ears folded to his head.
“…okay, I won’t get elaborate. Yes, Orlin-Aesth.”
“What!? Really!? I thought you were gonna say no!”
“Actually, this whole time I haven’t been answering your calls and telling you about events because I was scared. I feel the same way. I just thought you wouldn’t.”
“That’s silly. You’re great! So! Does this mean you’re gonna be my girlfriend?”
“Yes.”
“Woohoo!” Orlin-Aesth’s tail began to wag wildly once more. “Thank you.”
“Thank you too. So, um…now what?”
“I’d kiss you, but I think that should wait, don’t you?”
Elai-Riya smiled. “Yeah.”

—–
“All these years later and we’re still working for Opportunist and Bledghouses,” Orlin-Aesth sighed. “Think they’ll ever fire us?”
“Don’t jinx it.”

17.625.Lovely Love Story–Part 1

The La-Iin Series
Chapter 625
“Lovely Love Story–Part 1”

“Yo, Aeseri!”
Den-Matsu stopped what he was doing and ran over to the man who had called him, a tall and stout Bearperson. “Yes, Mr. Harley?”
“You came here to do volunteer work, right?”
“Yes! Sorry I wasn’t helping. I’ve got college to focus on too…”
“Well, it’s admirable of you to be thinking about college here as well, but you should also focus on doing what you promised,” Harley said. He pinched Den-Matsu’s cheek.
“Ow!”
“Sorry, Aeseri, guess I forget about my claws sometimes!” He chuckled. “Anyway, I’m not gonna force ya. Destroys the purpose of doing volunteer work in the first place. But don’t just use Happier Hearts to study.”
“Didn’t you say you were gonna change the name?”
“Yeah. I was thinking ‘A Moment of Fluff’. …at first. I’m no good with names.”
Den-Matsu chuckled. Harley was one of his biggest inspirations, so seeing him show a sillier side was nice. Harley was primarily known for running Happier Hearts–name apparently subject to change–where he took care of homeless people and people who were in dire straits. Ever since he had started doing volunteer work, he had always wanted to do something for Happier Hearts.
He walked back over to the bench where his supplies were and stuffed them in a large bag. Just as he was about to turn away, a woman took her seat there and laid out her own supplies. Den-Matsu quickly caught sight of the logo at the top of her paper.
‘That’s the college I’m applying for.’
The girl looked up, and Den-Matsu staggered backwards. He head back over to Harley’s side.
“Looks like someone had a beautiful moment,” Harley said. Den-Matsu flinched.
“What are you talking about?”
“Ah, nothin’. Not good with words, you know?”
“Now it’s words too?”
Harley grinned.
“So, um, what could I do around here? It seems like there are a lot of volunteers today.”
“Just find what makes you comfortable. And remember: always put the people here above yourself, unless they try to attack you. Tell me if they do, okay?”
Den-Matsu chuckled. “Okay, Mr. Harley.”

“So, Den-Matsu! How was your first day at Happier Hearts?”
“It was good! I’m not used to the way things work at Happier Hearts just yet, but there were so many people who were just happy when I brought them food or gave them a bath.”
“You gave people a bath?” His brother asked.
“Y-yeah…?”
His other brother chuckled.
“A-anyway, I’d like to keep helping there, if it’s okay with you.”
“It’s fine with us,” his mother said. “Just make sure to keep your volunteer work from distracting your college work.”
“I will.”

***

So as promised, Den-Matsu continued work at Happier Hearts. He also continued work on his college entrance studies–and as time went on, his college studies.
“Geez, Aeseri, are you planning on taking Happier Hearts from me?” Harley chuckled.
“What do you mean?”
“Everyone keeps asking for you! They’re not happy with just me anymore. I’m second fiddle to you!”
“Really?”
“Yeah, they love you. They’ve especially been commenting on your, as they put it, ‘amazing bathing skills’.”
“Well…I’m just happy to help them. If they can get back on their feet thanks to me, I’m happy.” Den-Matsu blinked. “Oh, Mr. Harley. I hope you don’t mind, I’ve got some college studies to do and–”
“Go on and do them. You’ve done your share of work for the day, and anyway college is an important part of anyone’s life.”
Den-Matsu nodded. He head over to the benches and laid out his study materials. This time, the girl who always seemed to take her seat after him was there before him.
Den-Matsu had seen her many times before, but she was always studying, it seemed. He wasn’t aware of her name, nor of whether she was part of the same college as he was. He had his curiosities about her, but he wasn’t going to just talk to her out of the blue, so he began to study.
“You go to Golden Specites too?”
Or at least, he hadn’t intended on talking to her until today. Den-Matsu stared at her, wide-eyed. The girl looked a little surprised herself.
“Um, yes.”
“I see. What are you studying?”
“Er, care work.”
“Care work?”
“Yeah. I want to keep helping people out like this when I get out of college. And if I could make a job of it, well, this probably sounds terrible but I could do what I want and survive off of it too. What about you?”
“Me? Nothing in particular.”
“Huh?”
“I don’t know how to explain it.” She sighed. “Sorry, I probably should have introduced myself. I’m Sanhuun Tei-Sheu.”
“Er, Aeseri Den-Matsu. Nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you, too.”
“Do you help at Happier Hearts?”
“I do sometimes. But it’s mostly my family who helps here. They’re good people. I’d help more but I have college.”
“I see.”
“Maybe we’ll run into each other sometime at Golden Specites!” She said with a smile. Then, she turned back to her studies.
“Yeah, maybe.” Den-Matsu turned back to his studies as well.

Volunteering at Happier Hearts became difficult when college became more encompassing. Den-Matsu, several times, had to forgo going there to focus on college, especially when he ended up nearly being expelled for low test scores.
While Happier Hearts was taking up less of his time now, he did talk to Tei-Sheu on occasion, whether at Golden Specites or at Happier Hearts on the occasions he could make it there.
“I still do go to Happier Hearts. I hope things calm down for you soon. You seemed like you really liked it there.”
“I did. Helping people warms my heart. Sounds cheesy, I know. But I’ve known this is what I want to do for a while.”
“Wow, you’re so certain! I’m still so indecisive over even little things. I wish I could have your certainty.”
“Well, I’m sure you’ll find what you want to do.”
“Me too. Just how long it will take, that I’m not sure of…”
Tei-Sheu, personally, had taken a bit of a liking to Den-Matsu. He was so certain of himself and so kind. She had seen him a few times at Happier Hearts speaking gently to the people there as he gave them food or washed them, among the other jobs he did. She had a feeling it was just admiration, but a part of her felt truly enamored with him.
Of course, she wasn’t just going to out and admit that to someone she didn’t know all that well.

“Tei-Sheu, I’m glad college has shapen you up. I was worried you were going to go down the rebellious street, what with the way you were acting.”
“It’s alright. That part in my life is done.”
“Why don’t you help us out here? I know college is important, but I’m sure you can spare a little time away from it. You’re good at the subject you picked.”
“Yeah, I guess so.” She closed her book. “Okay, Mom. I’ll help you.”
Tei-Sheu followed her mother to the eatery of Happier Hearts. It was the most simple place for her. Tei-Sheu had picked up on several recipes through watching her mother cook, both at home and at Happier Hearts, and personally considered herself a good learner when it came to making food, so she started to cook immediately after arriving there.
Meanwhile, nearby, Den-Matsu was standing at the entrance to Happier Hearts with a wide smile.
“Someone looks too happy for his own good.”
“It’s been so long since I last came here! Tell me, is Jaipa able to fly again yet?”
“She’s getting there! She can’t go high distances but the doctor she saw said that she should be able to fly again perfectly once she recovers. Those injuries won’t do any permanent damage.”
“I’m so glad!” Den-Matsu sniffed at the air. “Something smells good.”
“I know the food is for the people here at Happier Hearts, but if there’s any leftovers you’re welcome to have. The Sanhuuns are cooking today and they always make great stuff. Not like I’d sneak any food that’s not for me, no,” he coughed.
“Ha ha, you’re so obvious sometimes, Mr. Harley.”
Den-Matsu head over to the eatery to see how things were doing. He spotted Tei-Sheu and another woman handing food to everyone. When Tei-Sheu looked up, she laid eyes on Den-Matsu and broke out in smiles.
“Hello, Aeseri!”
“Hi, Sanhuun. How are you doing?”
“I’m doing great! Hey, is this the first time you’ve spotted me doing work here?”
“Yeah, I think so.”
Tei-Sheu’s smile grew wider. “Well, now I think you can tell that I’m not lying when it comes to doing work here!”
“I didn’t doubt you, you know.”
“Ha ha. I guess I should probably get back to helping them, though. But it is great to see you. Maybe we can work together today?”
“Sure, why not!”
The two then handed out bowls together, and even after everyone was fed they continued to volunteer together. Tei-Sheu’s mother watched them with a smile of her own, though she too continued to work.

***

“So, you finally changed the name of Happier Hearts!”
“Yeah! ‘This Place of Harley’s’ sounds better to me. Although I’m gonna keep thinking it’s conceited until I find an heir. My fiancĂ©e keeps telling me I’m too eager to make her have kids, ha! Speaking of, Aeseri, plan on settling down someday yourself?”
“I think I’m like you, Mr. Harley. Of course it would be nice to have a wife and kids and things like that, but you can’t pull me away from helping people.”
“You have to help your kids, you know.”
“I know.”
“And a relationship does involve help, you know.”
“I know, I know,” he chuckled. “Well, talk to you again soon, Mr. Harley.”
He hung up the phone and sighed. Harley’s words had brought to his mind thoughts of Tei-Sheu.
Since the day they had worked together, Tei-Sheu had seemed increasingly more willing to participate in volunteer work, and she almost always insisted upon doing whatever Den-Matsu did. She would also talk to him while they were at college. He had gotten to know her quite well, and had since become a little smitten with her.
He had no idea how he was supposed to admit that, however. Interacting with her didn’t change anything, but if he thought of his little crush it always made him clam up a bit.
He walked away from the phone, intending to wander around campus for a bit, when he spotted Tei-Sheu.
“Oh, hi, Sanhuun.”
“Hello, Aeseri. I’m glad I found you.”
“Really? What for?”
“I wanted to talk. Especially about something that happened a few months back.”
Den-Matsu blinked. “Did something particularly big happen a few months back?”
“I don’t know if you’d consider it big, but it was to me.” She looked around the campus hallway.
“Do you remember when I gave you chocolate for Valentine’s Day?”
“Yeah, I do. It was pretty good. Did you like the cream candies I gave you?”
“They were delicious. I was so sad when I reached the end of them. But yes, I’m glad you liked those chocolates. Especially glad, because there was a special reason for me giving you to them. You see, I’ve never given anyone chocolates before.”
“Really? I was the first? Thank you!”
“You’re very welcome. But I just never gave anyone chocolates because there was never anyone I liked before.”
“Never anyone you liked…?”
“Oops! I guess the secret’s out.” Tei-Sheu’s face flushed. “Oh, and I was going to do some sort of dramatic confession too…”
“Sanhuun, are you trying to say what I think you’re trying to say?”
“What else would I be trying to say with what I’ve said so far? Anyway, I’d love it if you felt the same. But I just wanted to tell you so bad, I just had to!”
“Really?”
Tei-Sheu nodded.
“Th–thanks.”
“You’re welcome. Or not. Even if you weren’t happy I wouldn’t really care.”
Den-Matsu broke out into a goofy smile.
“Um?”
“I’m so happy to hear this, Sanhuun!”
“Really?”
“Yes! Well, you see, I’ve kind of got a crush on you too…”
“Mine’s a little bigger than just a crush, Aeseri,” she said. “But really?”
“Yeah. After you kept wanting to do work together, it just…kind of happened.”
“That’s kind of funny. I wanted to keep doing work with you because I liked you already. So you could kind of say I worked to get what I want!”
“That sounds weird when you say it that way,” Den-Matsu said.
“Yeah. Oh, but…I was wondering…”
“Yeah?”
“Since we know how we feel now, we can be together, right?”
“I’d be surprised if we weren’t.”
“Can I call you…Den-Matsu, then? It’s Den-Matsu, right?”
“Yeah. And I can call you Tei-Sheu?”
Tei-Sheu nodded.
After that, the two stood smiling at each other for a while longer, up until another student walked down the hallway and spotted them.

***

“Look, everyone! It’s the couple of TPOH!”
“TPOH?” Harley questioned.
“I guess everyone knows already,” Den-Matsu said.
“That’s alright. It would’ve become obvious sooner or later!”

—–
“Dad, you said you were called Aeseri when you were a kid, right?”
“Yeah, right up until I married your Mom. Why do you ask?”
“Why’d you change to Sanhuun? Don’t husbands usually give their name to their wives?”
“Well, not always. And anyway, there’s a funny story behind that one!”
“What’s that?”
“Actually, my family is Sanhuuns too, sort of.”
“What!?”
“No, it’s not anything gross. One of my ancestors was briefly married to one of Tei-Sheu’s ancestors. I forget how many greats it was, but anyway, Tei-Sheu’s ancestor was really abusive, so he got granted special permission to divorce her. It was harder back in those days to get divorced. The name kept in my family up until my Dad who gave it up because he was ashamed of what Tei-Sheu’s ancestor had done, even though our ancestors never had any kids together! We thought it was so funny we just had to call ourselves Sanhuun. So you could sort of say I’ve always been a Sanhuun!”
“That’s weird!” Fer-Shi giggled.
“Yeah, it is, isn’t it? Wanna be called Sanhuun-Aeseri instead?”
“Nope! I’m happy being Sanhuun Fer-Shi!”

16.624.Down Grade

The La-Iin Series
Chapter 624
“Down Grade”

Dosa-Mina stared down at his fingers.
“Hey. Dosa-Mina.”
‘How much longer until people ask to see a paw? How much longer until someone looks higher than that? Maybe I should thank Lirako if she reveals my true species.’
“Dosa-Minaaa.”
‘After all, isn’t it worse if people know that I’m cutting? If I go into my true form, I’ll only have to worry about covering one side. And maybe I can grow fur on that side. Or can half-and-halves do that…dang it, I’m half-and-half and I don’t even know how it works.’
“Dosa-Mina?”
‘And after all, my species is more well-known. It’s a fact of my biology. People might question why I hid it, but nobody really knows why I do, so I can just pass it off with an excuse. No excuse I could make for cuts would keep the reaction from being the same. Nothing would…’
Dosa-Mina felt someone tap the side of his head.
“Ah, San-Kyung? Did you need something?”
“Biology just ended. You seemed spaced out throughout all of biology. One of your favorite subjects. I’m not blind, Dosa-Mina. …I may be scared of the police, but I don’t care about getting in trouble if you need one of those bitches murdered…”
“That’s going too far, San-Kyung.”
“Fine, I’ll singe their fur off. Cold weather’s coming soon anyway. Might be funny to see them walk around furless.”
“They’ll just wear heavy clothes,” he sighed. “Anyway, school isn’t the place to talk about this. I don’t need her overhearing you and deciding to tell the entire class…I have enough problems right now.”
“Need to blow off steam? You always offered that for me.”
Dosa-Mina shook his head. “Blowing off steam is easy for you. Not so much for me. I don’t even feel like being affectionate, and that at least usually comforts me. I’m just kind of stuck in a rut. Tell me, San-Kyung, am I getting more obvious?”
“I don’t know. I already know, so I can’t think about it from the perspective of someone who doesn’t. Or didn’t,” he said, glaring at Lirako.
“I’m glad you’re offering to help me, San-Kyung. But it’s okay. I have periods like this and I get past them. Besides, you have more to worry about than I do. Your problems aren’t your fault. Mine are. Whereas someone accidentally dug a grave for you and spilled water near it, I dug my own grave, spilled water on the ground myself and then tried to run away from it.”
“…”
“It’s what I can say to make me feel better,” Dosa-Mina sighed. “Don’t worry, this will pass. As long as I have Operation Reboot to focus on, it should…”

***

The classes drew to an end for the day, and though Dosa-Mina usually started getting ready to leave immediately, this time, as he had the past few days, he kept an eye on Lirako. But Lirako only talked to Deki-Tyunri, and then Xhen-Bei when he approached her. She didn’t get up to go and talk to Airy-Aekok.
San-Kyung was also watching Lirako closely, with a glare that made him slightly concerned. “Make sure you keep any murder fantasies inside your head.”
“Oh, it’s not murder fantasies. If there’s one thing I can give La-Iin, she might be right about torture being preferable over murder.”
“Talking about me?” La-Iin said. San-Kyung flinched. “That makes me happy. Maybe you and I should go somewhere soon, without rival-boy. It’s been a while hasn’t it?”
“Yeah right, La-Iin. I’ve never wanted to go somewhere alone with you, not even now that we’re closer.”
“That’s a lie, and you know it. But I really am glad, San-Kyung. You bringing me up to rival-boy, it almost feels like you’ve noticed…” She giggled to herself. “Well, see you tomorrow.”
San-Kyung waved absently.
“I guess we should go now,” Dosa-Mina whispered. “It doesn’t look like she or Airy-Aekok is going to say anything. I guess she’s kept her promise for now.”
“I don’t trust her to keep it. There has to be something we can do to keep her from saying anything. I wonder…maybe you should keep looking into potions. They seem like they could be helpful.”
“Who knows.”
“Mr. Dslellular?”
Dosa-Mina sat up straight. Hyungdarou was standing at the entrance to the primary classroom.
“Yes, Miss Hyungdarou?”
“The Principal wants to see you. She said it’s a bit of a concerning matter.”
“Huh?”
San-Kyung’s expression became dark, but Dosa-Mina didn’t notice. He nodded and walked after Hyungdarou.
‘What could the Principal want me for? Did I do something wrong?’
Thoughts of his school files, the species written as N/A, raced through his mind. ‘Oh, come on. I thought I heard some of the Class A students did that. …I’m really scraping the bottom of the barrel if I’m justifying my actions by Class A’s doing the same…’
He sat down in the faculty room. Hyungdarou also took a seat. The Principal and Hyungdarou weren’t the only ones in there either–as usual, Sharai sat next to the Principal, though he was distracted with papers.
“Mr. Dslellular. Thank you for taking the time to come and talk with us. This matter may not seem urgent in your eyes, but we were incredibly concerned. Especially Miss Hyungdarou. It was her idea that we talk to you.”
“It was?”
Hyungdarou nodded.
“Mr. Dslellular, you are one of the best students in Class D. Your grades consistently rank up there with students such as Mr. Molshei, Miss Vampiris and Miss Sherry. You even stack up quite well against the smartest students of Class C, the class with the most consistently high grades. In short, you are one of our model students.”
“Um, thank you.”
“But there’s a problem.”
“What?”
“Recently there was a bit of homework that needed to be turned in. Even with your high grades, you have never done perfect and so we wouldn’t expect you to, but it was noticed that your grades in that bit of homework were abysmal. Miss Hyungdarou also noticed that you haven’t been concentrating at all in biology, especially yesterday and today. She said that she called for you both days and you didn’t respond so she moved on to another student.”
“You did? Why didn’t San-Kyung tell me?”
“I called on him next in one of those cases,” Hyungdarou said.
“It’s jarring, and I understand that sometimes we have our bad days. Perhaps it’s nothing to worry about at all, but even if it’s a one-off it’s a very startling drop. The grade on your homework was on par with Class A grades.”
Dosa-Mina shuddered.
“Mr. Dslellular, is something wrong at home? If it’s nothing, you needn’t tell us, but if there is anything we can do, we would like to help you.”
‘It’s obvious,’ he thought. ‘If I keep going at this rate, my grades won’t be the only things suffering. I won’t need Lirako or Airy-Aekok to reveal my species, I’ll just slip up myself. Ha ha…this is just great.’
The looks on the faces of the Principal, Sharai and Hyungdarou became more concerned, but Dosa-Mina didn’t pay them mind.
“It has to be nothing,” he said quietly. “Nothing bad has happened to me, except I got sick right before school started. I must have been distracted when I was doing my homework. There’s a specific subject I’ve been studying a ton, like really specific. Like what you do in your classes, Miss Hyungdarou.”
Hyungdarou began to look embarrassed.
“So it must have just sent everything I knew flying right out the window! I was so distracted learning about that subject, I didn’t think while doing my homework.”
“…” The trio looked among each other.
“Fair enough, Mr. Dslellular,” the Principal said. “I’ll believe your story for now. Try to pay more attention while doing your homework, and in class.”
“You are welcome to talk to the school about anything concerning you,” Hyungdarou said. “The faculty will not leak your personal secrets nor judge you.”
“Yeah right. That’ll only make me the one who does that.”
Dosa-Mina hadn’t noticed he had spoken the world aloud. He waved to the trio and left the room. San-Kyung was waiting right outside.
“What got you called to the Principal?”
“Apparently I did really shitty with my last homework, and they were wondering if my brain was turning to Class A mush. But I think it’s just because I’ve been focused on Operation Reboot?”
“…that’s not it, is it.”
“We can talk about this later, San-Kyung,” Dosa-Mina said. “But once you’ve gotten out everything you want to say I don’t want to hear about it any more. I’m tired of all this…”

—–
“I don’t think Mr. Dslellular was telling the truth.”
“I don’t either, Miss Hyungdarou, but what are we supposed to do? We cannot peer into the private lives of our students.”
“We could always call his parents,” Sharai suggested.
“But it is not our business to pry. Let us keep an eye on him for now and see if his grades continue to suffer first. I don’t believe his story, but let us give him the benefit of the doubt for now. If he’s telling the truth, the proof will show itself to us soon enough.”
“Yeah, maybe we should give him more homework.”
“Perhaps…”