8.585.To Repair the Prior Year

The La-Iin Series
Chapter 585
“To Repair the Prior Year”

Memories flashed in Ai-Reia’s mind.
“GYAAAAH! CA-MIELA!”
“How what goes!? You could’ve killed Ca-Miela!”

As the minutes passed before her birthday, all she could remember was the prior year and how horrible it had been. She had a slight concern that her eighth birthday would be every bit as bad as her seventh, but for a different reason: her family either becoming concerned that she would harm Ca-Miela again, or becoming concerned about keeping her happy to the point that it was stifling.
It was hard for her to look forward to her birthday under those conditions, but the idea of having a day that miserable made her sick. So instead, she formulated a plan.
‘As long as I pretend to be happy, they won’t have any reason to believe that they need to coddle me or that I’m going to harm Ca-Miela again. And who knows, perhaps if I pretend to be happy, I actually will become happy. I feel it–that is the only way I will have any sort of true happiness tomorrow…’

***

Reuf-Bu’s bedroom door opened with a loud creak. Ai-Reia flinched, but her brother showed no signs of waking up. Cautiously, she walked over to him and began to shake him lightly.
“Reuf-Bu. Reuf-Bu.”
“Mmngh…no, no, I don’t wanna tell my parents about Cais-Elle yet, heh heh…”
‘Cais-Elle? Wasn’t that girl a classmate of his?’ The detail wasn’t all that important, so she went back to gently shaking Reuf-Bu. He groaned again and opened his eyes.
“Cais-Elle? Wait…you aren’t Cais-Elle…”
“Honestly, Reuf-Bu! You can’t tell the difference between me and some school fancy?”
Reuf-Bu sat up abruptly, his eyes wide as if he had just drunk a large pot of coffee. “I–I don’t have a school fancy with Cais-Elle!”
“Hm.”
Reuf-Bu stiffened. “Ergh–I mean–yeeees, what do you need, birthday girl?”
“Oh, so you remembered?” Ai-Reia tried to make her face light up. Reuf-Bu’s expression gave her no indication of whether or not she had succeeded. “I was lonely because nobody else had woken up yet, so I figured of everyone in the house you would be the most likely to pay attention to me if I woke you up. I would like to do a puzzle with you!”
“Of course you would. It feels like with you and me, it’s nothing but puzzles…”
“Is a thousand and eighty pieces too much?”
“A thousand and eighty–!” Reuf-Bu gasped. “Ai-Reia, what is this!? Is this some sort of portrait of a major historical figure or something!?”
“It’s a large picture of cartoon depictions of the countries in the world.”
“Ah…ahaha, I guess you are still a little kid….but geez…a thousand and eighty pieces!? Seriously, what the hell!?”
Ai-Reia covered her mouth. Reuf-Bu sighed. “Sorry.”
“No, it’s fine. I curse myself from time to time, but I keep most of those locked away inside my head instead of letting them cross my lips.”
“Acting high and mighty, aren’t we?”
“I’d usually take offense to what you said, but I can’t find it in myself to care right now. Really, I do want to do a puzzle with you, Reuf-Bu. After all, you mistook me for Cais-Elle…I might have to ask Mother and Father just who she is for you to have mistaken me for her…”
Reuf-Bu flinched. “Now you’re just being a sadist!”
“What’s a sadist?”
“Don’t play dumb with me, Ai-Reia. I know you know what a sadist is.” He stretched, yawned, and hopped out of bed. “Fine, I’ll do the puzzle with you, but you have to wait for me to get ready first.”
“I can wait. I’ll be in the living room scrambling the pieces!”
Ai-Reia dashed out the room. ‘Geez, she’s energetic today. Why does something feel a little off about that?’

When Reuf-Bu had come out to do the puzzle, he had a larger reaction to the number of pieces, and Ai-Reia couldn’t suppress a giggle. Nevertheless, they ended up putting together most of the pieces in a shorter amount of time than both of them expected–mostly thanks to Ai-Reia, though Reuf-Bu placed quite a few pieces.
“I think you’re getting the hang of going against me in a puzzle battle, Reuf-Bu,” she said.
“Puzzle battle!? Since when was this anything like that?”
“Since today. Eight is an age of change, you know.”
“What I know is that most eight-year-old Vampires I’ve known are still using the potty, contrary to what you’re doing.”
“It just proves that with an advanced brain, you can overcome any physical shortcoming.”
“Okay, you’re really being obnoxious today. This isn’t indicative of how you’re going to be throughout all of eight, is it?”
Ai-Reia chuckled. “Of course not. Don’t worry about it, brother. I’m only forcing you because today is my birthday.” She cracked a smile at him; when she opened her eyes, she spotted a yawning Zih-Amo walking past them.
“Hello, Zih-Amo! Good morning!”
“Oh….good morning, Ai-Reia,” she said. “Happy birthday.”
“Thank you. Oh, oh, Zih-Amo! I wanted to ask you if we could do something.”
“Hm?”
“Me and Reuf-Bu are doing a puzzle right now, but I thought maybe after that, you and I might do a little flying around? I would really like that.”
“Usually you don’t,” Zih-Amo said. “What changed?”
“She’s claiming eight means everything is changing for her,” Reuf-Bu said.
“Well, it sounds fun right now. You can wake up a bit more first, though. Me and Reuf-Bu still have to finish this puzzle.”
“Oh, okay. Still, that is pretty strange.”
“No, no, Reuf-Bu, that piece goes here! What are you, colorblind?”
“Yep, something tells me your terrible twos were moved up to eight.”

“Woohoo!”
Ai-Reia gave shrieks of delight as Zih-Amo, holding her tight to her chest, flew above their house in arcs and swirls. Zih-Amo was becoming dizzy spinning around so much, and it astounded her that Ai-Reia didn’t seem dizzy in the slightest. She was happy to see her sister with a smile on her face, but something about it unsettled her.
‘I guess I just can’t forget what her diary said…’
“Zih-Amo, you’re slowing down!” Ai-Reia snapped.
“S-sorry, Ai-Reia! Ohh, now you’re gonna pay! We’re gonna do a mega loop-de-loop now!” She began to do a backwards cascading loop. Ai-Reia shrieked in delight, while for Zih-Amo it took all her fortitude to keep herself from vomiting.
“Playing with Ai-Reia, Zih-Amo?”
Their parents voices distracting her, Zih-Amo only narrowly finished her backwards cascading loop before landing slowly on the ground and falling over, the world spinning around her. Ai-Reia ran up to her parents with a smile.
“Mother, Father! Do you two have free time right now?”
“Well, nobody else is asking for our attention, and your father has the day off, so I suppose we do,” her mother said. “Why?”
“I’d like to make some birthday treats for everyone in the house. My birthday is of course mostly for my enjoyment, but I think all the rest of you should enjoy it too!”
Her parents glanced at each other and smiled. “Sure, Ai-Reia. We’d be glad to help you with that.”
“Especially considering we don’t want you to hurt yourself…”
Ai-Reia’s expression fell briefly before she broke out into another wide smile. “Thank you!”
Though they were pleased with their daughter’s sudden cheerfulness, that brief moment where she had shown them a frown made them feel slightly uneasy, and that feeling continued as they followed Ai-Reia into the house.

Ai-Reia hummed a tune as she cut dough into shapes and mixed together a filling made of blood, marshmallows and frosting. She seemed cheerful as she stuffed the dough with the filling, some even to the point where the filling leaked slightly out the opening in the dough. She seemed to want to make each shape unique, and so did things such as etch in a small crack in one heart-shaped piece and create a striped pattern on one star-shaped one.
She almost seemed genuinely happy, and yet there was something that unsettled her parents about the sight, as if there was something artificial about her motions.
“You two trust me more than I thought,” Ai-Reia said. “I basically got to do this whole thing by myself!”
“Oh, well, yes, we do,” her father said. “Of course we do. You are fairly mature for a Vampire who’s just eight. Cooking is the least of our concerns.”
“Um–! Though I am a little concerned about the sweetness of that filling…”
Ai-Reia smiled and sighed. “It’s just because it’s my birthday. Besides, the blood should cut the sweetness some, don’t you think?”
“I guess that’s true,” her mother sighed.
Ai-Reia stuck the pastries into the oven. “Well, I think I should go and do something else. Would you mind keeping an eye on these for me?”
“We wouldn’t mind, I guess,” her father said. Ai-Reia flashed him a wide smile, then took off.
“Something’s definitely wrong,” her father said.
“I feel that way too. But I just don’t know what to do about it…”

***

Ai-Reia head into her parent’s room. It was the same as normal, though Ai-Reia still found the sight of Ca-Miela’s temporary playroom jarring. Her parents had turned a small corner of the room into a place where Ca-Miela could play, and that was where she was now, though she seemed tired as if she might fall asleep at any moment.
“Ca-Miela,” Ai-Reia said. “Look at you. So innocent. If anyone could really brighten up my day, it would be you…strange considering how last year went between you and me.”
She flinched when she heard the door creak. In a moment she had flashes of the previous year, the looks on her parents’ faces, the looks on her siblings’ faces, the sound of Ca-Miela’s crying. But when she looked up, she didn’t spot her parents or siblings–instead standing there was Shuera-Kaizima and Im-Dei, holding presents.
“…Fyuori? Kokohara?”
“Hello, Ai-Reia, and happiest of birthdays!” Shuera-Kaizima said cheerfully. Ai-Reia looked up past her, at Im-Dei, and noticed that standing behind the two was her family, who watched her with a strangely serious expression.
“We wanted to see you today. We had to go through several hoops to figure out where to find you.”
“But we finally did, and without resorting to illegal tactics, too.”
“Oh…” She broke out into smiles. “Well, it’s so nice to see you two!”
“Actually, Ai-Reia, there is something we want to discuss,” Shuera-Kaizima said, her voice becoming strangely serious. Ai-Reia blinked at her. “What would that be?”
“Do you remember what we told you a while back, Ai-Reia?”
“Huh?”
“You can show your true self to your family too,” Shuera-Kaizima told her. “Not just a fake self.”
“What…?”
And then, it clicked. The same attitude she had put upon to keep her family from worrying about her had only served to worry them still. Ai-Reia’s face twitched. At first, she wasn’t sure what to say.
“I just wanted to be happy myself, you know,” she whispered. “I figured if I acted this way, I’d be able to have a genuinely happy birthday. But now I know, all I did was worry you, just as I always do…”
“You know, showing your true self to your family doesn’t mean being always miserable, Ai-Reia. It just means show them how you feel. So right now, how do you feel?”
Ai-Reia looked up at them, her eyes tearing up but her mouth turned up in a smile. “Well, I guess I would have to say…I’m actually a little happy.”
Her family and friends began to smile. Not a single one seemed forced to Ai-Reia, and that made her heart feel lighter. Even Ca-Miela gave her a gummy smile.

—–
“These pastries are good!” Shuera-Kaizima exclaimed.
“Thank you.”
“They have a strange kick to them. Is there a secret ingredient?”
“Perhaps for you two,” Ai-Reia said, her smile innocent. “There’s blood in there.”
Im-Dei paled, and Shuera-Kaizima put her ears back. They looked to Ai-Reia, waiting for her to break out into laughter or say she was lying, but not once did she do either of those things.

25.571.The Daylight Journey

The La-Iin Series
Chapter 571
“The Daylight Journey”

“We’re rooting for you, Asul-Zenza!”
“Yeah, we’re looking forward to seeing your success!”
“Do your best, Asul-Zenza. Good luck.”
As Asul-Zenza flew through the sky, the words of his book club friends rang in his mind. Their words gave him a renewed determination, and he began to fly faster as his destination came into sight.

“It’s too hot outside,” La-Iin panted.
“It is pretty hot, but you’re acting like it’s a hundred degrees.”
“It feels like much more than that,” she gasped. “Maybe an evil heat ray really would be a good idea…”
“Huh?”
“Nothing.”
“I guess you know what they say, though: Vampires and the sun just aren’t friends.”
“We could be friends if I really can make an evil heat ray…ugh…”
Just as La-Iin was feeling she would pass out from the heat, a sudden gust of wind blew into her face and cooled her down. Sighing in relief, she looked up and was surprised to see Asul-Zenza smiling down at her.
“Dami!?”
“What are you doing here now?” Mit-Sun sighed. “Haven’t you intruded enough this month?”
Asul-Zenza opened his mouth to protest, but Mit-Sun spoke faster. “First you take her out for a Vampire tradition, then you come to chastise me about my treatment of her–and I’m grateful, but still! That’s not even counting the times you’ve called her!”
“There’s no sin in calling my daughter,” he said.
“You know, at least the first time you gave a warning and the second was for advice. What the hell–er, heck, is this for?”
“I know about hell already, Mama. I know how to say f@%k too, so why do you care?”
“La-Iin!!”
“Really, La-Iin, you shouldn’t curse so freely,” he said. “Mit-Sun, I apologize for not warning you in advance. I admit that this is my fault. However, I have a good reason for visiting. Do you know what day today is?”
“July the 25th.” Her eyes widened. “Wait a second, oh no…”
“Precisely! And now you see the reason I am here. My intentions are not to intrude upon you as I did last year, but instead to take La-Iin out with me while I have some fun. However, I only intend on keeping her out during daylight hours. I don’t intend on returning her home at midnight.”
He bowed. “I beg of you, Mit-Sun. I understand I’ve been taking advantage lately. I understand that I did not call you first. I am deeply sorry for this. But please, let me have this today. You’ve been far more amicable to me than you have been all the other years La-Iin’s been alive. So please, grant me this?”
Mit-Sun flinched. ‘I remember that expression from when we were dating. He’s trying to get to me!’ She wasn’t swayed, at least not until she caught the smile on La-Iin’s face. She seemed to be thrilled about the idea of going with Asul-Zenza to celebrate his birthday, and she knew that her and La-Iin’s relationship was already having trouble enough without her denying them something that was so important to them.
“Fine,” Mit-Sun sighed.
“Thank you, Mit-Sun!” He hugged her close. Mit-Sun bit his shoulder and he drew back. “Sorry, I got slightly carried away there, heh heh.”
“Do it again and the answer is no.”
“You better be careful, Dami. She might kick you in the penis if she gets too mad!”
Asul-Zenza stared at Mit-Sun. “Just what are you teaching her!?”
“Take my word on this, Asul-Zenza: La-Iin teaches herself and does what she want.”
“You should know that by now, Dami.”
“I know, but–I just–I wasn’t expecting to hear you say that…” His face flushed.
“I’ve know that word for a long time, Dami. It’s nothing new to me.”
Asul-Zenza sighed. “Well, let’s put that aside for now…thank you, Mit-Sun. You won’t be too lonely without La-Iin, will you?”
“Not any more than I already have been lately.”
“Oh, Mit-Sun.” He sighed. “You still have people on your side who aren’t Haner. Don’t you still have your Papa?”
“My father.
“Right, right, father. Anyway, you aren’t alone. I just wanted to say that. And loathe as I am to add this, especially with how much I resented Haner for a time–I hope all works out with him.”
“That’s unusually courteous of you.”
“I think you forget sometimes who played what role in our break-up.” Asul-Zenza spread his wings. “Well, La-Iin, is there anything you need before we go?”
“Only a little something.”
“Get it now, then. I’d like to get a move on as soon as possible.”
La-Iin nodded and ran inside the house.
“She’s so nice to you. I really don’t understand what I’m doing wrong.”
“Honestly, I don’t understand either. But who knows, maybe something will change soon enough.”
“You’re more hopeful about that than I am.”
When La-Iin came back outside, Asul-Zenza stretched his wings. “Right! Ready to go, La-Iin? Oh, and before we go, do you want me to carry you on the flight? This is another long one, after all.”
“Dami, please.” She spread her wings. “I can go at least most of the way, that I guarantee.”
“We’ll see about that one. Well, we’ll see you again soon, Mit-Sun! And, thank you.”
Asul-Zenza and La-Iin took off.
“You’re welcome,” she mumbled to herself.

***

“Dami, where are we going today anyway?”
“We’re going to be in the society I live in.”
“But where are we going?”
“Oh, a few places. Although I warn you, they might not all be interesting to you. And a few of my friends will be there as well.”
“Friends…?”
“Hey, Asul-Zenza! You’re here!”
La-Iin startled and nearly fell out the sky. Asul-Zenza steadied her. Ahead of them were three Vampires.
“And it looks like you managed to bring La-Iin!”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, La-Iin…um…it isn’t Ghneckdo, is it?”
“No?”
“These are the members of my book club, La-Iin, and some of my friends.”
“My name is Haroudi Lise-Mara.”
“And I’m Nierdan Xelshy-MItter!”
“Aldesdrin Niser-Zanta. I’ve heard a lot about you, but judging by your expression, you haven’t heard a lot about me.”
“I don’t bring up my book club often around her,” Asul-Zenza chuckled. “I much prefer to focus on what’s happening when I’m with her. But, now that we’re all acquainted, I know what we can do first!”
“So you’re taking the lead?” Niser-Zanta said.
“Of course I am! Whose birthday is it?”
Lise-Mara rolled her eyes. “Just don’t act obnoxious, Asul-Zenza.”
The five Vampires took off, with Asul-Zenza keeping the lead. In the midst of their flight, Lise-Mara moved closer to La-Iin.
“La-Iin, was it? Considering your age and wingspan I’m surprised you’ve been able to keep yourself up this long. Or do you live closer than I thought?”
“Don’t underestimate my wingspan, Haroudi,” La-Iin said. “I am my Dami’s daughter!”
Lise-Mara giggled. “That you are! I guess large wings really are a Ghneckdo thing. Well, I hope you have fun.”
La-Iin was beginning to wonder whether or not she had made a mistake, that and what Asul-Zenza told the members of his book club she was like. The group continued onwards as Asul-Zenza picked up speed and La-Iin began to falter.
“Hey, Asul-Zenza! La-Iin’s falling behind!”
Asul-Zenza turned around and grabbed La-Iin out of the sky. Noticing that the members of his book club were watching her, she felt her face flush.
“You did better than you did last time,” Asul-Zenza said as he head back for the lead.
“Of course I did. All I do is improve…”
‘I’m starting to think this was a mistake.’

“What a nice little blood cafe! Do you come here often, Asul-Zenza?”
“Yeah, have you been holdin’ out on us!?”
“Now, now. Besides, I’ve come here before with Niser-Zanta.”
“Yeah, but it’s kind of creepy coming here with only one other person.”
“Well, I had a taste for blood, I had the vuyong, and I wanted to bring La-Iin here.”
La-Iin looked up. Asul-Zenza’s, and the members of his book club, had their eyes focused on La-Iin. She tried to ignore them and turn her attention back to the Goathoof blood in her cup.
“She’s kinda young for a bloodsucker, isn’t she?” Niser-Zanta said.
“Yes, she might be, but you have to remember she’s half-Normal. La-Iin’s aging pace is different than ours.”
“Interesting. I might have to look more into that tonight.”
“Tonight we’ll be busy,” Asul-Zenza said.
“You’re keeping us out that late?”
“I made a promise to Mit-Sun that I wouldn’t keep La-Iin out that late, so not all of us, but as for the rest of you, yes.”
‘There was no point to bringing me here, Dami. You seem perfectly fine with your stupid book club!’ La-Iin kept the retort to herself, but she couldn’t keep her wings from flapping just a bit. She began to suck down the rest of the Goathoof blood.
“Aw, her tiny fangs are so cute,” Lise-Mara sighed. “Maybe I should adopt a child of my own someday.”
“You, as a Floma?” Niser-Zanta said.
“What, do you think I’d be a bad Floma?”
“It’s not that, it just, well…you know what, never mind. If this guy can be a Dami, you can probably be a Floma.”
Lise-Mara beamed. “Thank you very much, Niser-Zanta.”
‘I can’t take this!’ “I want another cup of blood!”
“Certainly, La-Iin. What kind?”
“Vampire–” Asul-Zenza and the book club looked shocked. “I meant, Bearperson!”
“Ooh, a good choice. I’ll go order some!”
“Wow, he accepted that demand pretty easily,” Xelshy-Mitter said.
“Asul-Zenza’s always struck me as a passive Dami.”
‘I can’t take it!’ La-Iin was glad for her expressionless face at that moment. When Asul-Zenza brought back the cup of Bearperson blood, she sucked it down quickly, then tapped Asul-Zenza on the shoulder. He motioned to the book club, then took La-Iin aside.
“What is it, La-Iin?”
“I–um–where else are we going, Dami?”
“Hm? Well, I had some plans to head off on a daylight journey. Just a quick trip around, that and I wanted to stop at a sports center. Why?”
“Just…curious.”
Asul-Zenza smiled. “Thank you so much for coming along, La-Iin. I know it might be strange to adjust to being around me while I’m with friends, but I am so happy for you to be here. I’ve been blessed.”
“Not a problem, Dami,” La-Iin said, nearly hissing. “I–I would go with you any time to get away from Mama at her worst times.”
“Has something happened at home?”
“No, nothing in particular…” La-Iin covered her mouth to stifle the hiss.
“Alright, that’s good. We’re probably going to head off soon, so get ready!”
‘Dammit! If I can’t even stand up to my own Dami, ruling the world’s going to take longer than I expect it to! But then it’s also Dami’s birthday…I’ve become soft since that stupid meth incident!’
La-Iin could imagine several things she would rather be doing, yet still she went along with Asul-Zenza. Her desire to spend time with her father outweighed her frustration, though as the day progressed it wasn’t by much.

After a short journey and a quick trip to the nearby Vampira, Asul-Zenza, La-Iin and the book club had stopped at the sports center and geared up in athletic clothes. Soon after they had, Asul-Zenza began to toss a ball around.
“What game is this?”
“No game in particular. I’m not good with specific sports. I just like tossing balls around!”
“Just like I’d expect,” Niser-Zanta sighed.
La-Iin’s wings began to flap. “As if you know my Dami better than I do.”
“Sorry, La-Iin, but I do have you beat there. I’ve known him since before you were born. I knew him when he was head-over-heels for your mother!”
La-Iin began to look nauseous. “Niser-Zanta, don’t gloat at La-Iin. Both of you know me well for different reasons.”
“Yeah, I know.”
Asul-Zenza flew up closer to the roof of the sports rec. ‘Today has been such a fun day! I see good things on the horizon for sixty-six!’
“Is it strange to live with only one parent, La-Iin?” Lise-Mara asked.
“Why?”
“I was simply curious.”
“…”
“It is more polite to answer, yanno,” Xelshy-Mitter said.
“I don’t do polite unless I feel like it.”
“Guys, you’ve gotta remember what Asul-Zenza said, his daughter’s part of the evil side!”
“The more you say only influences my opinions of you.”
“…”
“…”
“…”
“Uh…”
Asul-Zenza overheard the conversation and caught a glimpse of La-Iin’s back. Her wings were flapping rapidly as if she were agitated. He sighed. ‘Though I guess a birthday can’t be perfect, of course…’
Putting the thought aside, he tossed the ball with his full force. The ball slammed against the floor and hit Niser-Zanta in the face.
“Ow ow!”
“Are you alright, Niser-Zanta!?”
“It looks like he has a bit of a bloody nose,” Lise-Mara said.
“I feel like my teeth broke into my mouth,” he cried.
“Oh goodness, Niser-Zanta, I am so sorry. I did not mean to do that…”
Before Asul-Zenza could approach Niser-Zanta, he noticed La-Iin giggling to herself. It was quiet enough that it seemed none of his friends had heard her, but from his distance it was obvious.
“Now I know for certain that Asul-Zenza is dangerous,” he sighed. “Next time I’ll wear protective gear if we’re going somewhere that’s not the book club…”

***

“The sun’s starting to set,” Niser-Zanta said. “Hey, how far away does La-Iin live? Are you going to be able to get her back home soon enough?”
“I fly fast when I’m determined,” Asul-Zenza said. “Of course, if La-Iin would like to stay out for a little longer, I can always accommodate.”
“No, I don’t mind.” La-Iin broke free of Asul-Zenza’s grasp and flew in the opposite direction of his book club. “In fact, I bet I could fly home on my own with my determination!”
The book club giggled. “You must give her that she is a feisty girl,” Lise-Mara said. La-Iin’s face flushed.
“Well, um, given that, then, I suppose I should take her home now,” he said. “You three can meet me at the border to Vampira. So long as you stay there, I don’t mind where you go. I might be back soon, but it will most certainly be nightfall by that time.”
“Alright.”
“See you soon, Asul-Zenza! Bye, La-Iin!” Xelshy-Mitter said.
“Yeah, see you two. And it was good to get to know you, La-Iin. You’re definitely Asul-Zenza’s kid, that’s for sure.”
“What does that mean?”
Asul-Zenza and La-Iin flew a distance away from his book club.
“So, I can guess by your reactions that you didn’t much care for my friends.”
“No, I didn’t.”
“I suppose that’s fine. I will admit I’m a little disappointed, but I expected this when I invited you out. I’m really sorry if you didn’t have a good time.”
“They see me as a little kid.”
“You are…ah, who am I to speak. I am still very grateful for you coming out in the first place.” He hugged La-Iin close. “Thank you, La-Iin.”
“I did try to hold it in for you, Dami. But they were annoying. …I guess Aldesdrin wasn’t as annoying as the other two, but I really couldn’t stand that Haroudi lady.”
“She can be a bit obnoxious sometimes,” Asul-Zenza giggled. “But thank you again, La-Iin.”
The two head back to Bledger, the setting sun behind them.
“This is the best part so far,” La-Iin said.
“Really? I’ve been having a lot of fun all day.”
“I guess that’s fine. Where are you going after you get rid of me, anyway?”
“Please, La-Iin, when you say it like that it sounds so harsh. That’s not what I’m doing at all. I just don’t want to be kicked by Mit-Sun and she gets angry when I keep you out too late. Also, where I’m going with the book club serves alcohol and they’re a bit rough on young Vampires.”
La-Iin smirked. “That will be hard for you, won’t it, Dami?”
Asul-Zenza gave a small smile. “Of course it won’t be! I’m a fully-grown Vampire, after all!”
“So you say!”

—–
“This place is fancy! How’d you afford it, Asul-Zenza!?”
“By saving up.”
“Really, Asul-Zenza, you shouldn’t be paying on your birthday. Let me foot the bill. I have enough vuyong.”
“Lise-Mara, I couldn’t let you do that!”
“I could.”
“Your blood alcohols.”
A waiter set down glasses of blood in front of the four.
“I heard the alcohol in this is diluted. I sure hope so!”
“Yeah, that’s one sign of how young a Vampire you are: whether or not you can handle your liquor!”
“Well, I’ll show you that I can.”
“Pardon me–” The waiter said. “But may I recommend our special? We have a special blend of blood alcohol today, the “Leukemia Stir”. Would any of you like it? It’s on the house when you buy two or more blood alcohols.”
“…”
“…”
“…”
“Maybe next time we should go someplace else.”
“Excuse me?” The waiter began to look indignant.

15.561.A Little Something

The La-Iin Series
Chapter 561
“A Little Something”

Eul-Bok took a deep breath. Focusing as intensely as he could, he set to work on changing the scrap of cloth in front of him into a present for Sale-Dessu.
He tried to clear his mind of all distracting thoughts, and though he focused solely on the image of what he was trying to change, he was gradually becoming more excited as if the thought nudging him at the corners of his mind was all that was on it.
Just as he could see the results of his efforts, a knock sounded at his door.
“Eul-Bok?”
Eul-Bok startled. The cloth, half-changed into fluff, fell back down onto his night desk limply, and Eul-Bok recoiled at a shooting pain in his head.
“Is everything alright?”
Eul-Bok turned around. “Everything’s fine, Father! Just practicing my powers a bit before bed! Wh-what are you doing up? It’s pretty late isn’t it?”
“I could say the same to you. I was just making myself a little warm milk. I’ve been having a taste for milk lately.”
Eul-Bok’s eyes widened. “I could tell…”
“We should both get some sleep. There’s a few things I want to do tomorrow. After all, well, I think you know what tomorrow is, right?”
“Of course I do. How could I forget? Heh heh, last year at the Cahongyun’s house…”
Sale-Dessu’s face flushed. “This year we’re not going there. I felt so ashamed, falling asleep on them like that. This year we’re spending the day at our house. I’m looking forward to it.”
“Well, I’ll make sure it’s a great day! We’ll do whatever you want to do, Father, so just say the word and we’ll be doing it!”
“Thank you, Eul-Bok.” He yawned. “Well, I should head off to bed now…good night…”
“Good night, Father. And sweet dreams.”
‘And of course we’ll do the things you want to. But where’s the harm in a little bit of surprise?’
Recently Eul-Bok had been listening closely to all Sale-Dessu said. Even the smallest thing he had implied an interest in Eul-Bok had considered. He wanted to go along with what Sale-Dessu wanted to do, but he also wanted to surprise him with the things he would like.
He turned back to the half-cloth half-fluff and set to work on finishing it, before that keeping in mind Sale-Dessu’s taste for milk. Once he had successfully transformed the cloth-fluff, he set to work on finishing the rest of the tasks he had set for himself.

***

When Sale-Dessu opened his eyes that morning, the first thing he caught sight of was Eul-Bok sitting on a stool in his room, watching him with a smile. He startled for only a moment before taking a breath and calming down.
“You scared me, Eul-Bok.”
“Sorry, Father. But I was just so excited! I can’t wait to see how you–I mean, what you want to do!”
Sale-Dessu chuckled. “I wonder if you’re more excited for my birthday than I am. I’ll get ready and then we’ll get to work.”
“Don’t call it work! It’s your birthday! You want to do these things because you enjoy them, right?”
“Of course.”
‘He really is excited today. I wonder why?’ In recent years Sale-Dessu hadn’t seen his birthday as anything special, even forgetting it some years, and though last year had been more than the usual it had still been fairly relaxed.
‘I was excited for my birthdays when I was young. I guess with a child in the house I should expect this kind of thing.’
Sale-Dessu head off to take a shower and put on his clothes.
“Eul-Bok! I’m ready!” He called.
“Alright!”
Eul-Bok ran out from Sale-Dessu’s room and stopped next to him. “Why were you still in my room?”
“Nowhere else to go. Now what’s first!?”
“Well, I haven’t used my water-powered train much recently, and there was something interesting I was pursuing there…”
Sale-Dessu noticed Eul-Bok’s face drop. “That’s outside, isn’t it? Isn’t there anything you want to do inside?”
“The rest of it is inside. Don’t worry, Eul-Bok. I’ll take care of the train later. I can see you’re eager to do something right now.”
“That’s an understatement!”
“Well, then, why don’t we start with potion making? Have I ever helped you make a potion?”
Eul-Bok shrugged. The two head to the main area. On their way there, something smacked Sale-Dessu in the face.
“Ow…”
“You alright, Father?”
“I’m fine. Something hanging off the wall hit me in the face…”
“Don’t worry about it. It’s nothing big. Here, I can lead the way!”
“Thank you, Eul-Bok. But I’ll be fine.”
After uncovering his eye, Sale-Dessu caught a glimpse of what appeared to be a colorful setup right at the entrance to his home. In front of him he could see that Eul-Bok looked anxious.
‘So that’s why he’s so eager. I should have known…’ “Actually, if you want to lead the way, you can. We are doing this for me, but this is a good chance for me to teach you a few more things.”
“Yeah! Hey, anything you have planned for today wouldn’t happen to have anything to do with those more complicated procedures you know, right? I’m so curious about how you learned to do some of the things you can do!”
“Like what?”
“Oh, hex change operation?”
Sale-Dessu flinched. “Maybe one of those more complicated procedures is in my plans, but hex change operation is not one of them…”

Eul-Bok’s eagerness made Sale-Dessu’s day fairly enjoyable. As they mixed potions together Eul-Bok did so with such a force and glee that it made Sale-Dessu chuckle just to watch. In general he seemed fairly cheerful, and it was a bit infectious. Sale-Dessu couldn’t help but wonder what he had done that had him so excited and eager to finish what he wanted to do.
“You seem to be having a lot of fun mixing potions,” Sale-Dessu said. “Maybe I should have you do it for me more often.”
“Aw, come on, Father, you barely make potions for any good reason. Although it would be a good arm exercise.”
“You don’t need arm exercise, Eul-Bok.”
“I know, I know, but it’s fun to pretend I do. But you know what, I’m wrong. Even though you make a lot of pretty worthless potions, these ones we’re making now are all for medicinal reasons, right?”
“Yes. Just in case something happens to you or me, that’s why I’m making these potions. I just felt like making potions today, so I figured that I might as well make some that are helpful in nature.”
“It’s a good idea!”
Eul-Bok continued to stir vigorously. Sale-Dessu couldn’t stifle another chuckle.
Potion-making wasn’t all they did either. Sale-Dessu did eventually set to work on his water-powered train after Eul-Bok had strained his mind during a joint transformation spell.
“I had a feeling that wouldn’t work,” Sale-Dessu had sighed. “Eul-Bok, are you alright?”
“Yeah, probably….but I need to lay down for a little bit…”
Most of their activities were simple things however, such as making small treats or performing simple and ridiculous spells, such as an ‘instant hair dye’ spell that both Sale-Dessu and Eul-Bok had used to change the color of Sale-Dessu’s hair into a multitude of colors; once, Eul-Bok even turned it rainbow.
“How did you manage that!?” Sale-Dessu asked. Eul-Bok giggled. “Oh, just with the strength of wanting to see something totally ridiculous.”
Even though it was simple, Sale-Dessu was happy. He was excited to see what it was that Eul-Bok was planning, and Eul-Bok’s own excitement made the day quite enjoyable. But it wasn’t until the sun started to set that they reached the end of all Sale-Dessu had wanted to do.
“That was pretty fun, Father. I realized something from today, you can do a lot of the stuff that I can do at incredible speeds!”
“That’s because I’ve been practicing for years. You know that. But I’m certain that soon enough you and I will have a similar level of ability.”
“Yeah, if by soon enough you mean years!”
“Well, we have more than some other species. And it won’t be so long that I’m an old man by that point.”
“Geez, it feels like both you and Grepeta are trying too hard to flatter me.”
“We can’t help but be proud of you, Eul-Bok.”
Eul-Bok smiled. “Hey, Father? Now that we’re done with all you wanted to do, can you do me a favor?”
‘Here it comes.’ “What’s that?”
“I want you to cover your eyes. Both of them, and not with your hair! With this.” He handed him a blindfold. Sale-Dessu put it on. “I’ll lead the way, so don’t worry about bumping into anything.”
“Ow!”
“Oops, sorry.”
Sale-Dessu was excited as Eul-Bok led the way through some part of the house he wasn’t sure of–though he had a good feeling he knew where he was going.
“Now sit down, and don’t peek!”
He could hear Eul-Bok crashing around the house and various things opening and closing. From behind him he thought he heard the refrigerator open. ‘Am I in the kitchen? I thought for sure he’d take me to the main area.’
“You can look now!”
Sale-Dessu reached for the blindfold and pulled it off. Eul-Bok stood in front of him, and behind him the table was decorated in a fancy style. A plate of dinner sat behind him as well as a large white cake behind the plate. Eul-Bok appeared to be holding something, and he soon draped it over him.
“Happy Birthday, Father!”
“Eul-Bok…”
“Don’t look so surprised, Father. It’s just a little something.”
“How can you say that? You went above and beyond!”
Eul-Bok grinned. “Thanks for the compliments, Father. I’ve been planning this for a while now. Last year all I could do was get the Cahongyun’s help, but this year I was able to do it all on my own! I had a lot of trouble with the blanket, though.” He lowered his head. “I hope you like it.”
“I love it, Eul-Bok. This is the most comfortable blanket I’ve felt in a while. I wonder why I never thought to make more comfortable ones for my bed. I think I’ll sleep quite well with this.”
Eul-Bok’s grin widened. “Well, you can start dinner now, then! But I have to clean up. I made a bit of a mess in the main area.”
He ran off. ‘So that’s what that was. I’d better not say anything, though.’ Even having expected it, it was still a pleasant surprise. Sale-Dessu started to eat, and was surprised by how good the gravy tasted.

—–
Night had fallen, and after a long and cheerful celebration with the milk cake Eul-Bok had made, Sale-Dessu tidied a few things around the house before deciding to retire for the night. Already Eul-Bok seemed exhausted, but he still stayed by Sale-Dessu’s side, smiling wide.
Just as he had changed into pajamas and was almost ready to retire, something slammed against his window. When he opened it, he spotted Bes-Isa, a piece of paper taped to her. He took the paper off and took a look at it. It was a crude picture of him and Eul-Bok around a cake that was set on fire.
Good job allie, not freelowding this year. Have a happy birthday not! -La-Iin
Sale-Dessu stifled a chuckle as Bes-Isa went flying backwards through the air with a screech.
“Geez, she really can’t draw all that well.”
“She can’t,” he admitted. “But that’s alright. It’s a nice picture.”
He hung it up in his room.

8.554.Vampiric Visitation

The La-Iin Series
Chapter 554
“Vampiric Visitation”

Ever since hearing that Mit-Sun had rejected Uil-Cur’s affections, Asul-Zenza had set to work on a celebratory plan.
‘Now, at least for the time being, I don’t have to worry about another man getting to take my place in La-Iin’s upbringing. I should take this chance! Who knows if it might change in the future–it’s fully likely. I should show that I too am going to play a part in La-Iin’s upbringing!’
That was the thought he worked off of through the end of June and into July. Initially he had no idea for what he could do save for flying around Bledger with La-Iin, but he quickly axed the idea, figuring he could find something far more interesting. And come the first of July, he had an idea.
‘Around Mit-Sun I’m sure La-Iin hasn’t gotten to do anything that is traditional for Vampires. No events, no holidays or anything of the sort. July might be here now but it’s still Summer. And that reminds me of a specific event some societies do…’
He went to work as soon as all the pieces fell into place, calling his parents and Shi-Bara and inviting them to help along.
“If it means seeing our granddaughter again we’ll gladly participate! Your Floma’s been saying things about participating in that event anyway this year. And we’d deserve it after all the work we’ve been doing!”
“Oh, you want us to participate in that event? Sure! And you said La-Iin will be there? Ei-Tio will be happy to hear that! O-of course, even if she wasn’t there we’d still be fully willing to help you with this!”

Asul-Zenza felt accomplished as he set to work on the project. He planned with his parents, Shi-Bara and Jul-Ense, and asked his book club for advice on how to go about his plans. He felt as if everything was falling into place neatly: it was the perfect celebration of the fact that for now, he was still La-Iin’s only fatherly figure even if he lived far away from her.
“This plan sounds real nice, Asul-Zenza. There’s just one question I have for you.”
“What’s that, Niser-Zanta?”
“Have you actually asked La-Iin if she wants to do this yet?”
It was the last step in his plan, but Asul-Zenza knew it should have been one of the first. Even Mit-Sun was less of a concern to him. If La-Iin didn’t want to participate, all of his preparations would be almost useless.
‘Certainly I’d still be able to do this all with my family aside from her. It would be nice and I’m sure we’d have a great time. But damn it, this is for La-Iin’s sake, and if I can’t get her I’ll feel as if I wasted an awful lot of time!’
He dialed the number, waited for one of them to pick up and hoped for the best.

***

“Are you sure about this, La-Iin?”
“Mama, Dami’s going to be there. I’ll get to meet his Mama and Dami in person. I only talked to them over the phone once before. And Ei-Tio will be there. And it has to do with being a Vampire! Why wouldn’t I?”
“It has nothing to do with that. I know you’ll be surrounded by people you like and I know how conceited you are when it comes to your Vampire heritage. Sheesh, I don’t understand you, being so conceited about being a Vampire that you forget you’re a Dualbreed, which you’re equally as proud of.”
“I’d show my pride in being a Dualbreed more often if I wasn’t ashamed of that useless Normal half,” La-Iin said. Mit-Sun huffed. “The power of a Vampire is massive. Compared to that my Normal half has only made me mature faster. It’s helpful for having met some people, but it’s nothing compared to what my Vampire half has done.”
“I wasn’t finished, you know. My thing was, as far as I know the Ghneckdo family is mostly good-aligned. Asul-Zenza is. His parents are. Ei-Tio’s mother certainly struck me as good-aligned. You’ll be surrounded by people who are good, even if you love them, doing an event that has nothing at all to do with evil.”
La-Iin sighed. “Mama, I don’t plan to be torturing people all the time in my future. That would be fun, eh heh heh….but I am still fully evil even if I’m not harming or torturing or loitering. Besides, I’m not doing anything goody-goody. I’m not going to donate to a charity or something like that. You think I’m so one-track.”
“You act like it sometimes. Besides, you’ve been very focused on your evil pursuits lately.”
“I have been. Thank you for noticing.” La-Iin checked her backpack. “I think I’m ready, so I hope Dami arrives soon. We might even be out late. Maybe even so late I won’t be able to come back until tomorrow!”
“That would be taking advantage on his part,” she growled.
“No it wouldn’t be. It would be taking advantage on my part.”
Mit-Sun sighed. “Just enjoy yourself, alright?”
“I will. As for you you’ll probably be bored.”
Mit-Sun opened her mouth as if to complain, then gave another sigh. “Yeah. You’re probably right. I might’ve hung out with Uil-Cur, but things are awkward between us…maybe I’ll talk to my Pa–I mean, father. We haven’t talked in a little bit.”
“Maybe I should talk to him soon too.”
Mit-Sun’s eyes widened in surprise, but before she could speak again a knock sounded at the door.
“That is my cue.” La-Iin waved to Mit-Sun and head for the door. Choungetsu was on her heels and she shooed him away, but when she opened the door he was sitting next to her and staring up at Asul-Zenza.
“Dami!”
“Hello, La-Iin. Looks like someone’s a lot more ready than I expected her to be! Or did I just take a long while? The weather near my home was a little turbulent, I suppose.”
“Well, it doesn’t matter. I had Mama to talk to while I was waiting for you anyway.” La-Iin spread her wings. “But now I’m ready to go!”
Asul-Zenza chuckled. “Alright, if you say so.” He began to close the door, and Choungetsu whimpered. “I’m sorry, Choungetsu, but I don’t think you’d have the patience to accompany us all the way. I’m sure you’ll have plenty of fun with Mit-Sun at home.”
Choungetsu gave another whimper. Asul-Zenza pet him on the head and closed the door.
“I’m ready to fly!” La-Iin spread her wings.
“I’m not so sure you should. La-Iin, your wingspan is impressive, don’t get me wrong. I’m certain you could fly a long way without much issue, but you don’t have as much experience flying as I do, you don’t know the path, and when you’re young heights can be a bit of an issue.”
“Heights aren’t an issue.” She flew a distance above him. “I’ve had experience with flying since before I could fly. I’ve always used my wings. And I’ll just stay behind you.”
“You also don’t have as much stamina as someone who’s been flying for as long as I have, or someone with my build. Your body also puts you at a disadvantage, I hope you know.”
La-Iin snorted. “I’ll show you, Dami! I can fly there, you just watch me!”
Asul-Zenza sighed. “Fine. I’ll let you fly. But the moment you start losing altitude I will fly you there. It’s for your own safety.”
“Come on, Dami, you’re better than that.”
“I’m still your father, La-Iin. I have a right to worry about you.” He spread his wings. “Let’s go!”

La-Iin kept a steady flight behind Asul-Zenza for much more of the trip than Asul-Zenza had expected. But also as he expected, she began to lose altitude once they entered the Vampire society, and Asul-Zenza began to fly her the rest of the way.
“Why were you so indignant about flying there yourself, anyway? It wasn’t all that long ago that I would fly you around when I got the chance to visit and you’ve let me even considering you can fly now. You aren’t all that old a Vampire, La-Iin. I was older than you when I learned to fly, both years-wise and in Vampire aging terms.”
“I’ll need the stamina when I’m older,” La-Iin said. “And I am good at flying. You just knew me when my wings weren’t big enough for me to show this. I don’t want you to think I always need help just because you know I used to not be able to fly.”
Asul-Zenza chuckled. “I don’t think lesser of your flying ability, La-Iin. More or less, I know you don’t have the experience I have. That, and I miss having to fly you all over the place…oh, we’re almost there. Hold tight, La-Iin!”
Asul-Zenza picked up speed as he head for a small cave off the edge of the main part of the society’s civilization. Looking down at it, La-Iin found herself surprised that this species society was so advanced: she was used to seeing the ones that lived among the trees and were more in-tune with nature, whereas this society looked traditional but not nearly as connected to nature.
Asul-Zenza landed inside the cave and set La-Iin down. The duo was almost immediately greeted by a group of Vampires who head their way.
“Big sister!” Ei-Tio said, running up to La-Iin and hugging her close. “It’s too long!”
“I’m here now, so it’s not so long anymore,” she said.
“It still felt long,” she said. “It’s been…um…a long time since I told you the story!”
“Not really.”
“Ei-Tio sees a lot of things as taking a long time,” Shi-Bara said. “She’s going to see her life as a lot longer than some of us might!”
“That’s harsh, Shi-Bara,” Asul-Zenza said, though La-Iin could tell he was being slightly playful. “And Darseen, Floma. It’s so nice to see you.”
“Yes, it’s nice to see you too, Asul-Zenza. Last time we saw you in person wasn’t exactly the most pleasant of circumstances.”
Verde-Nenda’s words piqued her interest. “What happened?”
“Oh, a…an old mentor, you could say, lost her husband,” he said. “It was a rough time.”
“But let’s not dwell on that for now. We’re here to have a good time as a family! And now that you’re here, things can get started.”
“What are we doing, anyway?”
“The Summerbat Venture,” Asul-Zenza said. “It’s a Vampiric tradition that originated several years ago, further back than a Vampire’s lifespan. In the earliest days Vampires were far more vulnerable to the sun than we are now. We could barely take it without sustaining injuries. In the Summer this was obviously worse. Not only were the days long and brutally hot but this was usually when fatalities from sun exposure would usually occur. We were susceptible to heat stroke. Being nocturnal through the Summer was difficult, so the Summerbat Venture was created.”
“I see….what are we doing, anyway?”
“During the Summerbat Venture, Vampires venture into a dark place to retreat away from the sunlight. Since it could be difficult for the Vampires of olden times when daylight hours stretched into what was usually night, they decided to keep awake with merrymaking. When night would arrive a final celebration was made with blood. Now that Vampires are more resistant to the sun as a whole, not many Vampires do the Summerbat Venture. But it’s a part of Vampire history, and I wanted you to be involved.”
La-Iin smiled.
“Further down the cave is where the celebration starts!” Asul-Zenza said. “Come on, all!”
The group, headed by Asul-Zenza, head down into the darker portion of the cave.
“It’s really dark,” Ei-Tio said. “I like it! It’s too light lately.”
“Even though the days are longer now, they’re only going to get shorter from here. So soon enough you’ll have the darkness you like so much for most of the day, Ei-Tio!”
Ei-Tio giggled.
Asul-Zenza stopped. “Here we are! Even reading those books I wasn’t as in-tune as to what celebrations Vampires did during the Summerbat Venture. But what I did figure out I turned into something that I think all of us will like. So come on!”
The setup was a simple one that seemed to take advantage of the powers each of them could use, such as a noise-hearing game for those of them who could transform into bats or a monkey bar-like fixture which hung off the ceiling of the cave. La-Iin went for that one first and began to show off.
“Well done, La-Iin!” Verde-Nenda said.
“Well done indeed, though she’s using her wings to keep from falling after the flip,” Anil-Kosha whispered to him. La-Iin growled and attempted to make a flip from one to the other without keeping herself steady. It resulted in her nearly falling to the ground and she had to make a quick swoop to save herself.
Nearby the noise-hearing game stood Ei-Tio and her parents, who had transformed into bats and had their eyes closed in concentration.
“I think I can hear water.”
“I feel like I can hear a bit of civilization. But maybe that’s not what it is?”
“I hear animals!”
The group flinched.
Another game involved simulating bloodsucking with various drinks. “The goal here is to find which one tastes the most like blood. Of course, none of them are blood. That’s for the final celebration!”
La-Iin and Verde-Nenda tried the game first. The first drink La-Iin drank from made her recoil in horror. Verde-Nenda smacked his lips. “Definitely not blood. But tasty!”
Feeling competitive, La-Iin decided to try each of the drinks as fast as she could so as to win out over Verde-Nenda, who was trying only the darkest red of the drinks. “Tomato. Is this the one, Asul-Zenza?”
“No, it isn’t,” he said. “Keep looking!”
La-Iin reached for the drink Verde-Nenda glanced at and drank a good half of it. “This is it! Isn’t it?”
Asul-Zenza sniffed the drink. “Good job, La-Iin!”
“That first one didn’t even taste like blood.”
Asul-Zenza giggled. “I know. But looking like blood’s close enough, huh?”
A festive mood was inside the cave as the family played together and, as the events Asul-Zenza set up became repetitive, made some of their own such as a flying race, of which Asul-Zenza managed to win.
“It’s not fair! ‘Twould have been more balanced if you haven’t been flying with us!”
“My wings have a lot of training from all the flying I do,” Asul-Zenza said cheerfully. “…please don’t be mad at me, Darseen.”
Verde-Nenda broke out in laughter. “Nah, I’m not such a grouchy old man as to get on you for that!”
“You aren’t an old man at all, dear.”
“Hard to remember that when I already have a granddaughter!” Verde-Nenda said, petting La-Iin’s head. “Especially a granddaughter who’s acting far more mature than Asul-Zenza did at seven years old.”
La-Iin puffed out her chest with pride.
“Hey, big sister, I wanna show you something!” Ei-Tio said. She spread her wings, bared her fangs and narrowed her eyes.
“I’ve been trying to make a villainy look!” Ei-Tio said. La-Iin gaped. “What’s wrong?”
La-Iin shook her head. “Nothing. It needs work, but keep on working on it!”
Anil-Kosha sighed. “Looking at her now you can barely tell she’s evil. She just seems like a normal little girl.”
“If you hit her sweet spot it doesn’t matter that she’s evil. La-Iin might have that in her heart, but she also has a genuine love for others. Someday I hope that will be the thing that turns her away from her goal…”
La-Iin shot a glance in Asul-Zenza’s direction, curious as to what he had said, but she soon turned back to Ei-Tio, who was smiling wide.
“I think nightfall is coming,” Asul-Zenza said.
“How can you tell?”
“I brought a watch with me. Around these parts sunset is typically at seven-forty. It’s seven-fifty-two now.”
“I see! So does that mean we finally get blood?”
Asul-Zenza nodded. “Well, except Ei-Tio, who gets a blood substitute.”
The family head for the mouth of the cave, and Asul-Zenza passed to each of them a large bloodbox, and to Ei-Tio tomato juice. They began to drink as the sun set far enough to be barely visible.
“Have you had a good time today, La-Iin?”
“Good?”
Asul-Zenza chuckled. “You know what I mean.”
She nodded and continued to suck from her bloodbox. “Good, good…I had a great time with you all as well. It’s been a while since I’ve been around so much of the family.”
“It’s been a while since Verde-Nenda and I have done something this fun,” Anil-Kosha said. “Thank you, Asul-Zenza.”
“Not a problem. I did it mostly for La-Iin, admittedly, but I also did it for you. I’m glad you had an enjoyable time.”
“Can we play a little more?” Ei-Tio asked. Asul-Zenza nodded. “Sure, why not! But let’s finish our blood first. After all, the sunset won’t be going on forever!”

—–
Asul-Zenza arrived in Bledger when it was completely dark and the lights in other houses had gone out. He knocked gently on the door to the Cahongyun house, hoping Mit-Sun would respond.
When she opened the door, he let out a sigh of relief. “What is it? Why’d you take so long?”
“Sorry. La-Iin and Ei-Tio were having a lot of fun playing some strange game near the end.” He handed a sleeping La-Iin over to Mit-Sun. “Here. And when she wakes up, would you give her this?”
He handed her a book. “Why?”
“Oh, I figured it would be something nice for her to read, either that or you can read it to her.” He waved and spread his wings. “She’s exhausted, but don’t worry, I made her brush her teeth before bringing her here.”
Mit-Sun narrowed her eyes. “Farewell, Mit-Sun! Until we meet again!”
“Yeah, knowing you, that won’t be too far off in the future.”
Though La-Iin didn’t wake during their exchange, she twitched slightly and cuddled up close to Mit-Sun.

1.547.Plan Dosa-Mina

The La-Iin Series
Chapter 547
“Plan Dosa-Mina”

“As you all know by now, today is a half day. We’ll only be doing the classes that all of our students must attend. While because of higher grade numbers this year this means that biology will be one of the classes this year, otherwise it is exactly the same as last year. We of the faculty are very grateful that Miss Cahongyun and Miss Sanhuun are here today for this half-day…”
“I’m not,” La-Iin whispered to Fer-Shi. “I hate Hyungdarou. She’s so stupid.”
“That’s pretty mean, La-Iin,” Fer-Shi whispered back.
“Miss Cahongyun? Look, I know you just had an incident, but can you please shut up? Now, anyway…”

***

“Those girls took away precious time with my Dad yesterday. I had to be home alone for a while thanks to them. It’s already hard enough t’get any time with him with how much work he’s had to do lately, so I don’t appreciate it, like, one bit.” Airy-Aekok blinked. “Hey, Sanyaow, am I bothering you with my rambles?”
“Huh? No, you aren’t. Sorry your Dad’s been busy.”
“Nah, no reason to say sorry. I’m mad at the criminals who’re makin’ his life harder. Still, uh, sorry if it sounds pryin’, but if it isn’t my ramblin’, what’s makin’ you upset?”
Lirako sighed. “I figure you’re just going to keep asking until I tell you, aren’t you…”
“Yeah, that was kinda the intention.”
Lirako beckoned her close. Airy-Aekok leaned in. “It’s the last day of school for a while. I really thought we’d have a better idea of Dosa-Mina’s species by this time. I know we have an idea, it’s just, we don’t have any concrete proof, which is kinda what I wanted…”
“Well, the fact that he doesn’t wanna sing to prove otherwise is pretty damning if ya ask me,” Airy-Aekok said sympathetically. “Maybe we can just pretend that’s the case and leave it at that.”
“No. I don’t want to. Llanni, police work as hard as they can to find concrete evidence, don’t they? That’s what I want to do. I want concrete proof that he’s a Siren or something else.”
“I want that too, Sanyaow, but I’m really not sure anymore how we could find what we’re lookin’ for. Like, we’ve got his suspicious behavior, but what’re we s’pposed to do next? Follow him home? Look for a birth certificate or somethin’?”
“I don’t know. I just want it figured out. It’s the perfect revenge for how he treated me. Besides, I…I don’t really have all that much time left here at Malicerie. It’s still a pretty long ways away, but come March 2016 I’ll be graduating. It’s not as if I can really do anything about it then. I don’t even know where he lives, and I bet if we tried to follow him he’d notice.”
Lirako sighed. ‘Geez, never thought I’d see the day where someone’s getting depressed over something like this…’
“Class’ll probably start again like, soon, but I’ll try and figure somethin’ out, alright? After all, I’m the daughter of a cop!”
Lirako smiled. “Well, I look forward to seeing what you come up with, then.”

‘How could I get her concrete proof that he’s a Siren or whatever? Geez, I’m good at tying up teenage boys but apparently figuring out the truth behind these kinds of things is a talent I didn’t get from my Dad…so what could I do…well, he talks pretty quietly to Molshei, so maybe his species comes up in their conversations sometimes!’
Airy-Aekok strained to hear their voices over the din of other students.
“You know what I think you need, San-Kyung? A good old-fashioned day off for the both of us!”
“What are you talking about? After today pretty much every day is going to be a day off.”
“I know! That’s why we should take advantage of the opportunity at hand! I think it would be great for you!”
“That’s what you say, but your intentions mostly have to do with visiting my house, making me visit yours, go out a few places close by and shower me in affection. Is that it?”
Dosa-Mina looked away. “I never said that, so stop kidding yourself.”
‘Dangit, they aren’t talking about anything damning, that’s for sure. Unless it’s a sign of their sordid relationship…but even so, it’s barely even that.’ Airy-Aekok sighed. ‘Sanyaow would’ve been better off asking someone else to help her with this. I’m going to be completely useless obviously…’

When the last class ended for the day, the students were invited to a small event in the reception room. The students seemed fairly high-energy, and most of their teachers watched them with smiles.
“Sanyaow?”
“Yeah, Llanni? What’s up?”
“Hey, uh…I’m sorry about this whole situation. I literally have no idea how to handle this. I thought I picked up a lotta skills from my Dad, but I guess this isn’t one of them.”
“Don’t worry about it. I guess there is still plenty of time before March to figure it out. And I’m not completely sure how we’d get the right evidence anyway. We can’t exactly follow him home.”
“Yeah…if we were cops, we could. ‘nfortunately this isn’t a piece of fiction where we could dress up as cops.”
“Well, instead of stressing over it, why don’t we just kick back and enjoy the free time that’s coming up? I’m gonna have plenty of time to spend with my brothers. They always dogpile me in the Summer. It’s so sweaty under all that fur. Or should I say Catoripile?”
“I’m not all that looking forward to it. Like, my Dad, he’s probably still gonna be busy, especially if the school-aged active evils decide to participate in this sudden crime surge. I always look forward to any time I can spend with him, but he’s so busy nowadays…”
“Well, I certainly don’t mind spending time with you over the Summer. Though my first priority is to get in a good visit with Deki-Tyunri. You and I have been talking so much I think he’s kinda jealous!”
Airy-Aekok smiled. “Yeah, I could see how that could, like, happen. You two were close before me, after all.”
The two girls officially joined the reception. Airy-Aekok went around bidding farewells to the teenage boys of her class, to mixed responses. Meanwhile Lirako went off for the time being with other friends including Deki-Tyunri.
During the reception a few special events occurred.
“The top grade this year in Class D goes to Mr. Molshei! Good job, Mr. Molshei! Last year you didn’t make it over Miss Vampiris, but this year you certainly did! Miss Vampiris made it to second place, however. Mr. Dslellular in third, and Miss Sherry in fourth, along with Miss Hangdul in fifth! Good job, all of you!”
“Congrants, San-Kyung!” Dosa-Mina said. He pulled San-Kyung close and gave him a kiss on the cheek.
“I wish I could have made it above Molshei this year. Damn. Well, it’s something to strive for in the coming school year.”
After the grades were read, Xao-Bu called up his students in the Weekend class, and the teacher of the normal music class did likewise, and both began to perform a song for the students.
“Everyone wants to celebrate the fact that we don’t have any school for the Summer, but they forget that all this celebrating is taking time out of our free time,” La-Iin said bitterly.
“Well, we won’t see each other for a while! Not all of the students are like you and me, La-Iin. They don’t all have contact with each other during the break.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t care because I have contact with everyone I need to, even Sara a little bit. Besides, isn’t getting to leave right away celebration enough?”
“Why are you here if you’re going to complain? It’s an optional event.”
“I came here because I thought there would be worthwhile snacks, but apparently not and we can’t even eat them here. That wouldn’t be a problem if they were good snacks…”
“Huh?”
“If they were good snacks I could sneak them right now, but they aren’t.” La-Iin sighed. “All this celebrating is going to take as long as a normal school day if not longer.”
After the music ended, Sharai gave one last speech, then stomped his foot and opened his mouth wide.
“Now, my students! Say it with me! –”
Before he could even say “Ma”, he was dragged off the stage.

***

Airy-Aekok felt dejected as she joined the crowd on their way out of school. ‘Everyone’s all looking forward to spending time with their family and friends, but who do I have? My Dad’s gonna be busy, Sanyaow’s got other friends too, and no teenage boys actually like me. Summer’s gonna be a crapshoot this year.’
In one last desperate attempt, Airy-Aekok strained her ears to listen in on San-Kyung and Dosa-Mina’s conversation.
“Are you going to try wearing short sleeves this year?”
“San-Kyung, you know I can’t do that.”
San-Kyung sighed. “I guess not…you know, if you’d go into your true form, you wouldn’t have to worry about it, at least on one side.”
Airy-Aekok gasped. “Yes, but I’m covered in fur on that side. I think that would be more of a disadvantage in the Summer. I’ve dealt with this for years now, San-Kyung. It won’t be a problem.”
“It’ll be a problem for me once you get too sweaty.”
Dosa-Mina gave a half-hearted chuckle. “Don’t worry, I won’t cling to you as much this Summer. Or I’ll try not to, anyway.”
Airy-Aekok was stunned. She glanced around the crowd for any sign of Lirako. Spotting her chatting with Deki-Tyunri on their way out, she ran over to her.
“I need to talk to you like, right now!” She exclaimed.
“Whoa! Um, Deki-Tyunri, could you give me a moment?”
“Certainly,” Deki-Tyunri said, although judging by his expression he was less than pleased. Airy-Aekok pulled Lirako away and dropped her voice to a whisper.
“Okay, I don’t, like, have definite proof yet, but I overheard Molshei and Dosa-Mina talking, and I heard him say something about a true form and being covered in fur on one side!” She squealed. “I think he might be a Dualbreed, Lirako!”
“Covered in fur on one side? There are a lot of species with fur, but that definitely narrows it down! Let’s see, Bearperson, Werewolf, ugh…Catori….I certainly hope it’s not that. But if he is a Dualbreed, that makes me wonder if he’s even a Siren at all!”
“Siren songs still do bad things when they’re not Pureblood, just not as bad. Least that’s what my Dad told me.” Airy-Aekok grinned. “This is a big breakthrough! Hey, you know, now that I think about it, when my Dad gets time off maybe we’ll look for this together!”
“That’s the spirit, Llanni!”
“Thanks, Sanyaow, for not givin’ up on me. Completely, anyway,” she said with a nudge.
“No problem! If we can figure this one out, I don’t care how long it takes!” Lirako blinked. “Actually, that’s a lie.”
“And don’t I know it!”

—–
“Dad! Welcome home!”
“Hello, Airy-Aekok.” He pat her on the head. “Sorry I’ve been so busy lately. I just don’t understand why the evil in this world sees 2015 as its year…”
“Aw, that’s alright. It makes the time I get to spend with you sweeter. And now that you’re home, I wanted to talk about a little pet-project I wanna do over the Summer.”
“Oh?”
“Yeah. It’s a little like this….”

20.536.The Weekend School Trip–Part 2

The La-Iin Series
Chapter 536
“The Weekend School Trip–Part 2”

“Why did you ask to room with me instead of Sanhuun, Cahongyun? Aren’t you two good friends?”
“We are.”
“I know you’re interested in my family, but there’s nothing I can tell you about them right now. Nothing really big, anyway. So why did you ask to room with me? I know the final choice wasn’t yours, but–”
“I was wondering about something.”
“Huh?”
“It’s nothing I can tell you, though. It’s just a little…experiment.”
“Er, okay. Well, I’m happy to room with you anyway, Cahongyun. You know, Neigghed is a lot nicer than my house. I kinda wish our school trip was a little longer than it is.”
“Well, I have to make it back home soon. I’m concerned about something.”
“What’s that?”
“That’s also nothing I can tell you.”
“Hm…well, I don’t really want to talk about my family and I can’t ask you much, but I’m not tired yet. Say, Cahongyun, you seem to really like Molshei.”
“I do.”
“Do you have a crush on Molshei?”
“…”
“Huh?”
“I don’t like saying that outright.”
“So you do?”
“What do you think?”
“Yes?”
“What do you like so much about Molshei?”
“If San-Kyung didn’t hate almost everyone I’d have you ask him yourself about how he is. But all I can say for now is that he’s exactly what I was missing.”
“Huh?”
“It doesn’t matter if you don’t get it. Fer-Shi doesn’t either.”
“Um, okay…”
Shuu-Kena smiled. ‘This is nice. I wish this school trip would go on forever.’

“Aren’t you upset that Cahongyun is rooming with Sara, Fer-Shi?”
“No, I’m not really worried. We’ve been friends for a long time. If our friendship was so bad that I was worried about it because she has a new friend, we wouldn’t be friends at all because I have Shan-Zetsu. And I know La-Iin really doesn’t like him.”
“Are you jealous?”
Fer-Shi flinched. “…maybe a little. It’s just, I know I’m still a kid and all, but it feels like all the fun times I had with La-Iin happened both a long time ago and just recently. We used to spend a ton of time together. We’re best friends, and she would go to me when something was wrong. Now it feels like she’s keeping a lot of secrets from me and she seems to go to other people before she’ll go to me. She only just started liking Sara and it feels like they hang out all the time now.”
“That sounds like more than a little. But like you said, if your friendship was a bad one, it probably would have already ended. If you two have been friends for a long time in a friendship between good and evil, I think it may last. But she might want to turn to people who understand her values better.”
“I understand her values!”
“Maybe not enough? I don’t really know, Fer-Shi, I just wanted to try and help…”
“I know you did. And maybe that’s what I needed to hear. Maybe I haven’t been hearing her out enough. Of course she might turn to people who understand her better if I’m not even lending her an ear.”
“Perhaps.”
“I’ll just have to keep trying, then.”
“A friendship takes the effort of both people part of it, after all.”

“Geez, I can’t believe our door was unlocked. I blame you.”
“Absolve yourself of any responsibility, huh.”
“No, it’s not that. Still, I both can’t believe that those two opened the door and I’m not surprised that they did.”
“I’m not surprised at all. Last year La-Iin broke in. Although that one was worse–she opened the door with sheer force.”
Dosa-Mina giggled. “No wonder you’re so interested in her abilities. She is pretty powerful for a seven-year-old.”
“…”
“Oh, sorry, San-Kyung, I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“No, I’m fine. I’ve been feeling a little bit better lately. Just wish using La-Iin’s power wasn’t a crapshoot.”
“I’m sure there’s some other way we can find out how to help you. I’ll keep looking, okay?”
“You say that, but I know you’ve been preoccupied with your own things.”
“…those aren’t all that important. And anyway why are we talking about depressing things on the school trip!? We should be talking about better things! In Neigghed did you know there are a lot of free things to do? You and I haven’t been going out much lately. Tomorrow we have more free time–we should take a chance to cast out on our own and have some fun!”
“Yeah, but we’ll need to make sure we aren’t caught by La-Iin or else she’ll tag along.”
“She’s been pretty preoccupied with that little girl who joined our class in March. Maybe she’s annoyed with us right now. After all, that speech she gave us…”
“She was hanging onto me on the bus.”
“Good point. Either way, I guess there’s time to plan for all this later. I’m starting to get tired!”
“Same here.” San-Kyung yawned. “Good night, Dosa-Mina…”
“Good night, San-Kyung.”

***

“Alright students, who’s ready for the day? We’re going to get something to eat, and then we’re going to study history. After that, you’re allowed on your own–although if you’re under fourteen, you need to be accompanied by someone older.”
“What!?” Airy-Aekok exclaimed. “You, like, gotta be kidding me! I’m gonna be fourteen this year! I’ve gotta be accompanied ’cause I’m a little too young?”
“You have me if you need anyone, Llanni.” Lirako said.
“Yeah, I know, but I’m still pissed off!”
“Sorry, but it’s the rules,” Theasis said. “Not just set by us, but set by Neigghed as well.”
“How does that make any sense!?”
“How are you feeling today?” Shuera-Kaizima asked Ai-Reia.
“F…fine, I suppose,” Ai-Reia said. “Thank you…both of you. You don’t need to be so worried. I’m sure I’ll be fine. I’ve just been…stressed lately, that’s all.”
“That’s alright. We’re on your side, Vampiris. We’re here for you.”
Ai-Reia had to take a deep breath to keep herself from tearing up. “B-b-by the way, you two, I don’t mind if you call me Ai-Reia.”
“Really? That would be lots easier for me!” Shuera-Kaizima said.
“Hey, are you three paying attention?” Mr. Chensu asked. “Anyway, first things first. We’re heading out to eat!”

Breakfast for the Class D students and teachers had been somewhat cumbersome; the number of people going to the small restaurant overwhelmed the workers and Mr. Chensu had panicked at how much vuyong the entire meal had cost. Still, after the meal the group was in mostly high spirits as they ventured to other historical locations within Neigghed.
“This building right here used to be a place where the bodies of the dead were stored. In early Neigghed, burials were uncommon. They prefered to store and preserve the bodies for various reasons–trophies, food, threats….their methods of preservation are methods other places in the world adopted for preserving bodies prior to funerals. Nowadays it’s a small hospital for treating minor wounds.”
“How much longer is this going to take?” San-Kyung whispered.
“I don’t know, why do you ask? I find all of this interesting.”
“I do too, but I’m getting sick of hearing his voice.”
“Mr. Molshei, shut up! I’m trying to give a lesson.”
“…great. I just made it worse.”
“Mr. Chensu is always annoying, San-Kyung,” La-Iin whispered. San-Kyung flinched and crashed into Dosa-Mina. “What do you say we cast out on our own?”
“No!”
“A-hem.” Mr. Chensu narrowed his eyes. “Anyway, we’ll be letting you all go off on your own soon enough. But before we do, there’s one last place we think you students should see.”
The teachers led the way to a more rural part of Neigghed that to La-Iin, looked as though it had been abandoned; the ground was dotted with bare patches and tall grass. Up ahead in the distance, a large statue stood.
“This is the statue of the dictator who ruled over Neigghed like a certain family rules North Vaelyn. As you can see, it’s since been defaced in more ways than one. Here you can see that not all the population of Neigghed is forgiving and pacifistic. Some have written some violent and profane graffiti on here….like “dick-tator”. Ha ha. Very funny.”
“Did you just laugh, San-Kyung?”
“No, I didn’t.”
“Oh, he totally laughed.
“You shut up!”
“Anyway, let’s head back before you all go off. Heading off in different directions in the middle of nowhere is a recipe for disaster.”
The students followed the teachers back to the hotel. San-Kyung glanced over his shoulder one last time at the statue and stifled a giggle.

“Now we finally have the freedom to go off on our own!”
“A freedom we usually have?”
“Yeah, but we haven’t had it in Neigghed yet! Come on, let’s go!”
Dosa-Mina led the way as the two looked at the small buildings in Neigghed. San-Kyung was intrigued, but only mildly. Neigghed had several places to visit, but it was swarming with all sorts of people wishing each other well. It seemed like a stereotypical utopia–and it made him sick.
“Hello there!” One called out. “Would you like to visit one of our facilities? We have ones perfect for a couple like you! Don’t worry–we’re very accepting here!”
“What the hell?”
“You’ve got the wrong idea,” Dosa-Mina said.
“Oh? Our apologies! Well, there are plenty of places for anyone to go! You’re welcome to go anyplace you like!”
“Calm down, San-Kyung,” Dosa-Mina whispered. “This is just them being polite. They’re known for being kind here.”
“Well, it makes me sick!”
“Wow, look at San-Kyung. Can’t even take a little politeness without getting all worked up.”
“Yeah, kinda cute though, isn’t it?”
“Llanni, are you high?”
San-Kyung sighed. “Let’s just keep going.”
Dosa-Mina glanced around Neigghed. It reminded him of a peaceful village. “This place is like the opposite of Hledshess. I like the way it’s set up, though.”
“Dosa-Mina, you’re more interested in this place than I am. Where do you want to go?”
“I don’t know. There are a lot of places around here, but a lot of them seem like eateries and I am not hungry in the slightest.”
“Eateries aren’t the only type of place around here, you know.”
San-Kyung groaned. La-Iin was sitting on a bench nearby, Fer-Shi at her side. “San-Kyung, it’s wonderful to see you!”
“Have you been stalking us?”
“Actually, this is complete coincidence,” La-Iin said confidently. “But I’m happy to see you regardless. Rival-boy is completely useless when it comes to finding fun places in Neigghed–meanwhile, I and Fer-Shi have found quite a few.”
“There are a lot of fun places if you know where to look. Did you know you’re in the eatery district right now?”
“That would explain all the eateries,” Dosa-Mina mused. “What kind of good locations have you found?”
“Don’t humor her!”
“I’m just asking for the general direction.”
“If you don’t want to be anywhere near me, it was a mistake to ask, rival-boy,” La-Iin said. “I’ll only show you if you accompany me and Fer-Shi to that place!”
“If you want to find another district, just take a left or right at the beginning of the eatery district. The first eatery is called Smoothie Sandwiches!”
“Smoothie Sandwiches?” Dosa-Mina began to look nauseous. “Er, why don’t we go now, San-Kyung?”
“Sure.” The two took off, and as soon as they did, La-Iin grabbed Fer-Shi by the collar of her shirt.
“Why would you tell them that!? This was my perfect chance!”
“That’s exactly why I told them! Can’t we just have fun on our own!?”
“A school trip is the perfect opportunity for rival-boy to make his move. He and San-Kyung are in the same room! The only thing that made me feel good last night was the fact that my and Sara’s room was next-door to theirs. I didn’t hear anything but who’s to say there isn’t a makeout district!?”
“You’re over-blowing this, La-Iin. You seemed so calm yesterday, so what’s got you all riled up today?”
“I’M ANGRY AT MAMA!” She yelled. “Come on, Fer-Shi! If we chase after them, we might be able to catch up to them!”
“Hey, wait!” La-Iin grabbed Fer-Shi’s hand and, propelling herself faster with her wings, chased after the faint outlines of San-Kyung and Dosa-Mina in the distance.

“This place is a lot of fun, don’t you think, Ai-Reia? Everyone is so nice here in Neigghed!”
“It is a nice break from all the bustle of Bledger,” she said.
“Bledger doesn’t bustle all that much. Though I guess I can understand how it can seem that way sometimes.”
“Mm.” Ai-Reia lowered her head. “Why do you two even want to spend time with me? I’m a young child and you two are adolescents. I don’t understand.”
“You’re our friend, Ai-Reia. And like I said, Cahongyun and Morushei are friends and they have an even wider age gap!”
“And please try not to worry about the lifespan factor. We don’t want to make you upset by being your friend–we want to make this time better. But I think I need to ask this. Would it make you happier if I stopped trying to be your friend now, or if you had lots of fond memories of me when I’m gone?”
“I…I don’t know.”
“In-Dei, you shouldn’t change the conversation to that,” Shuera-Kaizima scolded. “We are here to have fun.”
“You’re right,” he said. “And that’s just what we’ll do. Don’t worry about it, Ai-Reia. Right now we’re here to have fun with you!”
Ai-Reia smiled. “Thank you, you two.”
Slowly but surely the kindness the two showed her was starting to make her feel just a slight bit better. It felt to her like the happiness that was buried by her constant self-reminders of their lifespans was starting to slowly peek its way out, and it pushed away her memories of her recent breakdown as she chased after the two.
“I think she’s gaining on us!”
Ai-Reia stopped in place when she noticed San-Kyung and Dosa-Mina run by. They quickly outpaced even Shuera-Kaizima and Im-Dei, who were still running ahead until they noticed the two. They were followed not long after by La-Iin and Fer-Shi, who were running almost as fast.
“What’s going on?” Shuera-Kaizima asked.
“I don’t know,” Ai-Reia sighed. “And I’m certain I don’t want to.”

***

“You students sure look like you’ve had a lot of fun,” Mr. Chensu said that night at dinner.
“If by fun you mean getting chased down and harassed by a little girl…!”
“Calm yourself, San-Kyung.”
“Well, we leave for home tomorrow, so anything else you might want to do in Neigghed you’ll have to do early. We leave a little bit before twelve.”
“What would be the point in doing anything at all?” La-Iin asked.
“I dunno, just for fun?”
“Well, anyway, I hope you all enjoyed the trip. And I hope it made you feel a little bit less stressed. Bledger might be a more dangerous place to live than Neigghed right now, but maybe the morals we’ve learned here will help you feel a little bit better about the future. …unless you’re one of our evil students.”
La-Iin and San-Kyung looked away.
“Hey, teach, can I room with Fer-Shi tonight?”
Mr. Chensu blinked. “But aren’t you rooming with Miss Sara, Miss Cahongyun?”
“I am.”
“Why the sudden change of heart?”
“No particular reason.”
“I’m fine if she changes rooms,” Shuu-Kena said. “We actually somewhat talked about it already.”
“Well, if you say so…”

“Did you really talk to Sara about rooming with me tonight?”
“Sort of.”
“What changed your mind?”
“Nothing in particular.”
Fer-Shi growled. “You never tell me anything!”
“I’m not telling you because if I told you, you would just get mad.”
“Now I really want to know.”
“Oh, come on,” La-Iin sighed. She laid down and pulled the covers over her. “If you feel bad about me hanging out with Sara more, don’t. Stop being so jealous.”
“Is that why you’re rooming with me tonight?”
“What do you think?”
Fer-Shi shook her head. “I don’t know what to think. But, um…thanks, La-Iin.”

“Say, San-Kyung, would you say this school trip was a success?”
“In what way?”
“Did it help make you feel a little bit better about living?”
San-Kyung tried to push away the memories of being chased down by La-Iin as he thought back on the trip.
“…yeah, I guess so. But not for the reason the Neiggheds would want.”

As Ai-Reia settled down that night, she felt content.
‘I really do have friends who will stick by my side, don’t I?’

—–
On the way back to Bledger, most of the students had fallen asleep. The ones who had not still seemed exhausted.
“You know, this was a pretty fun school trip. I’m glad the Principal reminded us.”
“Me too. I hope next year’s is fun as well.”
“Next year’s?”
“Yes. It happens every time there’s a Grade 12 student, right? Don’t you remember? Mr. Molshei, Mr. Dslellular, Mr. Ferister and Mr. Yuuldang are in Grade 12 next year. And the year after that, Mr. Elyshen and Miss Fheyundaer. And after that, Mr. Fyuori, Mr. Pinyon and Miss Llanni. And so on until the year Miss Shaejaein and Miss Auedarna graduate, and that’s not counting any new students who join. And even then, just a year later Miss Sanhuun, Mr. Gyurkang and Mr. Veiner would be in Grade 12.”
Mr. Chensu’s eyes widened. “Aren’t Miss Shaejaein and Miss Auedarna in Grade 6!?”
Theasis nodded. Mr. Chensu nearly fainted in response.

19.535.The Weekend School Trip–Part 1

The La-Iin Series
Chapter 535
“The Weekend School Trip–Part 1”

“I thank you all for taking the time out of your day to come for this discussion.”
“Not a problem. I don’t really do much outside of school.” Mr. Chensu said.
“What did you need from us?” Asked Theasis.
“Mr. Sharai, loathsome as he can act sometimes, has been informing me of recent tensions within Class D. Tensions between students who do not get along and students who have grown suspicious of another due to her recent actions. He also mentioned something else to me that I want to talk with you all about.
“Each year that there is at least one student in Grade 12, the class with the students will go on a school trip. That is a rule here at Malicerie that is often enforced and the trip can happen at most any time in the year. In Class D I noticed there are three students who have reached Grade 12–Miss Sanyaow, Miss Sherry, and Miss Hangdul. Given the tensions and the fact of this rule, I wanted to suggest that you of Class D go on a school trip to alleviate these tensions and to fulfill the rule.”
“That does sound pretty nice,” Mr. Chensu said. “Things have been weird in Class D lately.”
“As nice as an idea as it sounds, where do you think we could go, Principal? And when would we go?”
“It would probably be best to go this month or as soon as school starts again. School trips aren’t intended for the students to all have some random fun–they are supposed to learn on these trips as well, and I don’t know that many students would appreciate that during their Summer break.”
“Well, it sounds kind of cumbersome in September,” Mr. Chensu sighed. “And you mentioned part of the reason it sounded like a good idea to you now is because of the student tensions. By September they could have blown over.”
“That’s true, but then that doesn’t leave us with much time to plan a location and head off for it. We’d have to do it before July, and we’re already a decent way into June.”
The Principal’s gaze fell on all the teachers. “Then let me propose this idea. If you have no ideas, then why not visit Neigghed? It has been referred to as one of the more peaceful places in Vaelyn, and it has a history to it as well, one that’s much more violent than one might expect given their recent history all has to do with peace. It could be something for the students to learn about, and give all of you a chance to head off to someplace more peaceful.”
“Neigghed, huh? I’ve never been there, but I heard my cousin lives there,” Mr. Chensu said.
“When would we go, Principal?”
“Why must you turn to me for every decision? Am I just going to plan this entire school trip? Fine then. Head off to Neigghed on June 19th and return on June 21st. Make sure to relax and learn. And tell the students soon enough, otherwise you’ll be forcing them into a sudden school trip.”
“We’ll make sure to tell them, Principal.”
“Are you sure this is a smart idea?” Denbek asked. “This is all pretty sudden–even if we inform the students they could still be caught off-guard. And part of this dips into their Weekend.”
“I was asked to provide a schedule, and I did. Besides, it wouldn’t be the only time they’ve done school work on the Weekend, and they will have a trip to go along with it. They don’t have to go in the end. Work with what I gave you. If you have a better idea then discuss it among yourselves. But this is what I give you for now.” The Principal stood up. “I’m heading home. You all debate the matter among yourselves.”
The Principal stepped out of the room, leaving the Class D teachers to themselves.
“What do you all think?” Theasis asked.
“I think it sounds like a fine idea. We’ll tell the students and go when she said. After all, if we head home early enough they’ll still have some of their Sunday. Maybe we can even give them Monday off.”
“It still sounds so sudden,” sighed Denbek.
“Well, Neigghed isn’t too big a place. There’s a lot of history on it but there isn’t much to learn aside from that. The students would have plenty of time especially if we do the brunt of our teaching on Friday. Then on Saturday all of us could have some fun!” Haebochi said.
“That sounds like a plan,” Hyungdarou said.
“Mr. Denbek, are you still having concerns?” Theasis asked.
“Yes, but that’s all about the suddenness. You all practically give me no reason to say no–all the rest of it does sound pretty appealing. I’ve kind of been wanting a vacation myself.”
“Then it’s settled. We’re going with the Principal’s plan, and next week we are going to Neigghed!”

***

“This school trip really happened fast!” Fer-Shi said. “It feels like one day we were being told we’re going on a school trip, and then the next day we’re going on that school trip!”
“Yeah, Mama didn’t like it much that it happened so randomly,” La-Iin said. “I have one problem with the school trip, myself.”
“What’s that?”
“I want to be away from Mama right now, but I don’t trust her to be on her own!”
Fer-Shi looked confused. “What?”
“You would never understand the evil that is Haner, and I wouldn’t want you to.”
“If Haner is evil, shouldn’t you like it?”
La-Iin’s eyes widened. “Haner is that fake brand of evil that even we evil people despise. Except for idiots like the Saras, probably.”
La-Iin glanced behind her. Shuu-Kena was glancing around the crowd of students and parents. La-Iin walked up to her.
“Sara?”
“Eep! Y-yes, Cahongyun?”
“They didn’t come, did they.”
“No,” she sighed. “They said they didn’t want to encourage this venture. I told them about how they said it was also to get away from the bad in Bledger, and then they told me they’re trying to cause bad in Bledger and that it’s stupid for me to want to go. But then they said they don’t care…I really wonder if they even love me sometimes, La-Iin.”
La-Iin felt conflicted. A part of her wanted to reassure Shuu-Kena, but the other part told her to hold back from it.
“Your family is stupid. Did you tell them we’re going to Neigghed?”
“Yeah, that just made them more angry.”
“Mama told me that Neigghed has a long and violent history,” La-Iin said proudly. “So they’re stupid. Don’t worry about it.”
Shuu-Kena smiled. “Okay, I’ll try not to.”
“I think this school trip will be good for you, sweetie,” Del-Kyuus said.
“Maybe.”
“Personally, I’m looking forward to it!” Dosa-Mina said. “Think about it, San-Kyung. It’s a chance to get away from this place where all the things that are on our mind happened. And last year’s school trip was pretty fun, wasn’t it?”
“I guess so.”
“I think this trip will be a lot of fun, Mr. and Mrs. Molshei. We might even come back changed men!”
“I sure hope you’re right, Dosa-Mina,” Salsh-Era said. “But I think your little comment upset Del-Kyuus.”
“Ohh, I know San-Kyung isn’t going to be a minor forever, but it’s hard to imagine him becoming a man,” she sighed.
“He’s gotta graduate school before he can graduate to adulthood, so don’t worry!”
“I guess you really are excited about this school trip.”
“Sure I am! I love school trips.”
“Well, have fun, you two!” Salsh-Era said.
“We will!”
“We’ll try.”
“Hm…”
“Somethin’ up, Sanyaow?”
“I’m just thinking about our little deal, that’s all. We still haven’t found out what’s going on. We started up some suspicion but we still don’t know for ourselves what’s the truth. July isn’t too far off–would we even be able to figure out the truth while we’re not at school?”
“Like, I’m concerned about that too, but don’t let it worry you,” Airy-Aekok said. “We’re going on a school trip not to worry about this? Bledger’s been getting more dangerous, and my Dad’s super-busy ’cause of it. I’d rather just have fun.”
“I guess you’re right. I do kinda need to cut loose. Between this and college plans I’ve just been stressing myself out!” She stretched. “Hey, Deki-Tyunri, want to sit next to me on the ride there?”
“Really? You’re asking me? I thought you were going to ask Llanni.”
“I’d rather find a cute teenage boy to sit next to,” she cooed.
“You know, that’s one thing you two have in common–your love of teenage boys.”
“I–”
“Weird that someone like me isn’t as interested as you two.”
“You’re becoming a woman, Lirako. You have, like, a more mature taste.”
“Can we just stop this conversation…?”
As Rini-Futo head off, leaving her family behind her, she caught sight of Mr. Chensu standing there in the crowd with the rest of the Class D teachers.
“Mr. Chensu!”
The teachers stared at her for a short while before all of them except for Mr. Chensu took a step backwards.
“What is it, Miss Shaejaein?”
“Um….even though I said what I did earlier this year…do you think we could have fun on this trip like we did last year?”
“Oh? Sure! There’s a lot of history to learn in Neigghed, so that’s still possible.” He furrowed his brow. “You do actually like history, right?”
“Mm-hm!”
“Then it won’t be a problem.”
Rini-Futo breathed a sigh of relief.
“Ai-Reia, they gave you a choice,” Reuf-Bu said. “Do you want to go on this school trip, or do you think you need to stay home and recover more? I’m worried about you after what happened.”
“…I’m not sure,” she said quietly.
“You need to make your decision soon. The other students are getting onto the bus.”
“…”
“Vampiris?”
Ai-Reia looked up and caught sight of Shuera-Kaizima and Im-Dei.
“Are you coming on the school trip, too?”
“…I don’t know.”
“We’d love to spend time with you in Neigghed,” Im-Dei said. “But if you need to stay home and recover, you should do that instead.”
Ai-Reia felt conflicted, but only for a moment. She had two choices–recover at home and be surrounded by the people who caused her so much stress, or go off with her friends and perhaps alleviate some of it. The thought that La-Iin would also be on the trip bothered her, but she felt as though ultimately, this was the right choice.
She reached out to her friends. “I want to go…”
Shuera-Kaizima grinned. “Good! We’re happy to have you!”
“All students of Class D! We’re heading off to Neigghed in a few minutes! If you aren’t ready for some reason, hurry it up or you’ll miss the bus!”
“We have to go,” Shuera-Kaizima said. “Brother Vampiris, thank you for bringing her.”
“Not a problem. Call if anything goes wrong, alright, Ai-Reia?”
“I will.”
The students head onto the bus and took their seats, followed by the teachers. With a majority of their parents watching, the bus took off. Glancing out the window, La-Iin gasped.
“What’s wrong, La-Iin?”
“Did I just see Dami? But I didn’t see him in the crowd before!”
“Maybe you just mistook him for someone else,” Fer-Shi said. “I think Ai-Reia came on the trip. Maybe it’s her dad?”
“No, I would never mistake anyone else’s Dami for my Dami. I either hallucinated him or he’s actually there!”
She glanced out the window once again. “I sure hope I hallucinated him.”

La-Iin’s concern didn’t take long for her to lose.
“San-Kyung, a trip is just what you needed, I think.”
“My parents said so too.”
“Wow, she’s obviously flirting with you and you’re just sitting there and taking it.”
“I don’t have the energy to fight right now. Trust me, she’ll get her payback.”
“You’re saying that right in front of me,” La-Iin said, cuddling up close to San-Kyung. “Well, if you don’t have the energy to fight, I should take my chances while you don’t. Be my boyfriend, San-Kyung. We’ll be so–”
“No.”
La-Iin narrowed her eyes. “Not having the energy to fight doesn’t make me gullible.”
“Well, if you can still fight back with words, I know one way you can’t fight back!”
“I’ll strike my hand if you try anything, so don’t.”
“If you do that you’ll cause a panic on the whole bus!” La-Iin blinked. “Actually, that sounds like a lot of fun. Do your worst!”
San-Kyung rolled his eyes.
“Well, at least this is entertaining,” Dosa-Mina said.
“Maybe to you!”
“We’re about to arrive in Neigghed, students,” Theasis called out. “Once we arrive we’re going to take a look at the history of Neigghed. Today is a day fully devoted to studying, so I hope you all are ready!”
“Well, at least it’s not science study,” Xhen-Bei sighed.
“Do you have trouble with science, Yuuldang?” Kim-Koou asked.
“Yeah, it’s not my strong suit.”
“It seems like a lot of our classmates like science,” Mi-Kou said.
“Yeah, well, I’m not one of them.”
The bus came to a stop, and the students prepared for the day ahead of them. Dosa-Mina tapped Theasis on the back.
“How’s the room situation going to work this year, Miss Theasis?”
“I’m not sure yet. That depends on how this hotel is set up. I’m sure if it’s two to a room you’ll want to room with Mr. Molshei, Mr. Dslellular. You two are pretty close, aren’t you?”
“Yup. We’re inseparable.”
“That’s good. It’s nice to see such a healthy friendship…for the most part. Mr. Dslellular, I can’t claim to know the more intimate details about your friendship, but please, it’s embarrassing the way you act in public.”
“Sorry about that. But I just can’t resist a chance to shower him in affection!”
“Hm.” Theasis turned around and met face-to-face with Hyungdarou.
“Two to a room.”
“Looks like you’re in luck, Mr. Dslellular.”
Dosa-Mina smiled. He walked off and joined the rest of the students.
“What a sweet boy. I think he has to be one of my favorite students.”
“You really shouldn’t play favorites, Miss Hyungdarou…”

***

“Neigghed, Vaelyn. A pinnacle of peace–this place is full of good people. Neutral people and evil people are definite minorities here.”
“I’m so happy Class A isn’t here,” La-Iin said. Fer-Shi gave her a quizzical look.
“Thing is, about Neigghed, that wasn’t always the way things were. Long ago, before Vaelyn was even really Vaelyn, Neigghed was ruled by a dictator. Many of you, having studied Vaelyn’s history, will know that Vaelyn’s primary species changed several times over the years. Places like Nyappon were consistent Catori societies, for instance, but in Vaelyn which species reigned in dominance changed. All around the place soon to be called Vaelyn there were dictators who wanted complete rule over these lands. Neigghed’s dictator, a Minomix called Ghurheng, was known for being notoriously violent and for ordering the deaths of his enemies over their capture. In the event he did order for their capture…well, it’s said they were tortured in ways the populace had no idea about.”
La-Iin soaked in every word. She was enamored.
“This nature of Neigghed didn’t stop when Vaelyn became Vaelyn, either. You see, Neigghed is a bit closer to Aena than other places in Vaelyn. So Aena wanted to take this land for themselves, and there were some bloody battles fought over it. When Neigghed became Neigghed, this is where the evil of Vaelyn converged. There are a few tales of violent crimes going on here–they say the evil of other parts of Vaelyn would take their soon-to-be victims out to Neigghed to kill them and hide the body. They say some of those cases still haven’t been solved.”
“Scary…” Fer-Shi mumbled.
“Even other evil people were scared of Neigghed because they knew that it was easy to get killed here. The culmination of Neigghed happened sometime after the Vaelyn War. People from Vaelyn who sympathized with the rulers of North Vaelyn essentially made Neigghed a copy of it–for a place like Vaelyn, this was a big deal. People in Neigghed were miserable. Once the extent of the situation got out, it was dealt with and it ended in the death of the man who was ruling over Neigghed.”
“Hm…”
“Intrigued, San-Kyung?”
“Neigghed after that basically was populated by newcomers and people who had lived under that man’s rule. They decided they would make up for the darkness in Neigghed’s past by making it a place of peace and goodness–don’t give me that look, Mr. Molshei. Anyway, to the surprise of the people in Neigghed, their attempts to make this place a peaceful one succeeded greatly. After all, now barely anybody thinks of Neigghed as the dark place it was before–now it’s truly lauded as a place of peace.”
“And boringness,” La-Iin sighed.
“You were right, Cahongyun. If only my family knew about Neigghed’s past.”
“Now, there are a few historical sights we can see in Neigghed, but who feels like stopping for something to eat?”
“I do!” Xhen-Bei called out. “I’m starving!”
Mr. Chensu chuckled. “Then’s let go get something to eat!”

***

After dinner that night, Class D saw a few sights including the grave of the man who ruled over Neigghed years before. They retired to the hotel after that, where the students debated over rooming.
“Of course I’m rooming with San-Kyung. Who else would I go with?”
“We know, Mr. Dslellular,” Mr. Chensu sighed. “Well, we want to try and put together combinations of people who will get along. So I suppose Miss Cahongyun and Miss Sanhuun would be good together.”
“What about me?” Shuu-Kena asked.
“Miss Sara, why don’t you room with Mr. Veiner?”
“That sounds like a good idea,” Fer-Shi whispered to La-Iin. “They might be able to get along.”
“I wonder…”
“Did you want to room with Sara, La-Iin?”
“Hm…I’d actually want to room with San-Kyung, but…”
La-Iin glanced at Shuu-Kena, who looked dejected as the rooms were doled out, with most ending up in pairs of friends such as Yefu-Shenhao and Zae-Mia.
“Hey, I’ve got an objection.”
“What’s that, Miss Sanyaow?”
“I think some of us would be better off in pairs of three,” she said. “It’d take up less rooms and besides, I kind of want to room with both Deki-Tyunri and Llanni.”
“That might be cool,” Airy-Aekok said.
“It would save on space, but we did say two to a room.”
“I think it is a great idea,” Shuera-Kaizima said. “Then I can be with In-Dei and Vampiris.”
Ai-Reia remained silent, while Im-Dei smiled.
“Well, if you all are insisting…but does that end in consistent pairs? We kind of wanted to avoid anyone getting left with a teacher.”
“Why don’t we just stick with two to a room? We have twenty-four students; it should be even that way. Besides, I don’t want to room with anyone aside from San-Kyung.”
“Mr. Dslellular does have a point. Perhaps we should just assign rooms ourselves. After all, I do know a lot about who you all are friends with.”
“Then I want to make a request. I want to room with Sara instead.”
Fer-Shi bowed her head. “What? Aren’t you friends with Sanhuun?”
“I am. But I have my reasons for doing this.”
“And I can room with Veiner, I guess…” Fer-Shi sighed.
“Now this is strange…”
“Well, I’m fine just rooming with Deki-Tyunri, but Llanni isn’t exactly what I’d call popular. And same goes for Deki-Tyunri if I room with Llanni.”
“I don’t want to leave Vampiris alone,” Im-Dei said.
Mi-Kou sighed. “This is so frustrating…”
A chatter rose among the students about the situation of the rooms.
“EVERYONE SHUT UP!” Mr. Chensu yelled. “Look, while we’ll put your suggestions into consideration, we’re just pairing you with whoever we feel like, alright!? Except for you two. You two are staying paired up.”
“As it should be!” Dosa-Mina said.
“We’ll get back to you in a few minutes.” The teachers walked off and began to discuss the rooms.
“I hope I end up with you or Veiner,” Fer-Shi said.
“…”
Fer-Shi bowed her head. ‘I guess she really does like Sara, now…’

—–
Although it took longer than expected for all parties involved, the rooms were eventually decided, and students head off to bed and began to chat.
“Yo, Llanni,” Lirako said, peeking her head into her and Mi-Kou’s room. “There’s something I wanna do.”
“You two really shouldn’t be leaving the room at this time,” Mi-Kou said.
“I’ll be, like, back soon. Then you can tell me a bit more about that boy.”
Mi-Kou sighed. “It isn’t anything big, Llanni.”
“Aw, come on. I’m always interested in teenage boys! Now, what are we getting up to?”
“Most of the doors are going to be locked soon. Some already are. But I think San-Kyung and Dosa-Mina’s isn’t. Maybe we’ll catch Dosa-Mina in a different form if we open the door!”
“Are you so sure about that?”
“Maybe they’ll be talking about his true species?”
“Guess it’s worth a shot. Alright, let’s do it!”
Lirako opened the door and pushed her way into the room. The two stared blankly at the sight of San-Kyung, who looked both agitated and embarrassed, being almost smothered by Dosa-Mina, who was smiling wide.
The two turned in the direction of Lirako and Airy-Aekok, who closed the door and silently went back to their own rooms.

21.506.A Blood Revelation

The La-Iin Series
Chapter 506
“A Blood Revelation”

La-Iin sucked in a breath. She started to bite at her fingers. She felt impatient and frustrated, but more than that, she felt thirsty.
“Looks like someone’s having a nervous breakdown,” Dosa-Mina said.
“Shut up, rival-boy,” La-Iin said.
“I think she’s getting a blood craving,” Fer-Shi said. La-Iin was glad she had made it to school; nothing had been found wrong with her at the hospital, which had confused both her parents and the doctors there.
“If you really need to, you can suck my blood after school,” Fer-Shi whispered. “Just make sure to do it somewhere away from the students.”
“I appreciate the offer, Fer-Shi,” La-Iin said through grit teeth. “But I’m not sure if I can hold off that long…”
‘Damn it! Why did you have to come at school!? Who’s the idiot who banned bloodsucking in school? I’d like to find them and suck their blood!’

***

The classes felt like agony to La-Iin that day. She was constantly focused on her blood craving. On occasion the desperation was bad enough that she sucked her own blood, but it never helped–it simply wasn’t satisfying like the blood of other people.
In the recess area, keeping herself under control was difficult–the young children playing on the equipment, she knew, would most likely report to a teacher if she sucked one of them. As time went on, she wasn’t sure what was worse–the blood craving or the idea of getting in trouble with Mit-Sun. Both seemed equally as bad.
“Cahongyun, is something wrong?” Shuu-Kena asked.
“You’d never understand, you peon,” she muttered. “Never…”
“Can I help you?”
La-Iin glanced up. “You can….they can’t get me in that much trouble if you’re going to let me do it…”
“Let you do what?” Shuu-Kena asked, tipping her head to one side.
“Let me driiiink!” She grabbed onto Shuu-Kena, who shrieked and ran away, breaking free from La-Iin’s grasp with a strength that sent her falling to the ground. The other children began to hide away from La-Iin, cowering in a corner.
La-Iin was tempted to walk over to them and drink, but with the amount of children crowded in the corner she was sure that even in their fear they would be able to take her down. At the same time, she felt unsure of her own deduction. Unconsciously she began to bite into her arm again.

“Wow, La-Iin, you made it all the way through the classes! I’m surprised!”
“Not-as-surprised-as-I-am,” La-Iin said.
“Um, La-Iin? Are you gonna be okay?”
“No!” She snapped. “No, I’m not gonna be okay! I need blood and I need it now!” She flew above her seat and went zipping down the hallway.
“Wait, La-Iin! What about my offer!? La-Iin!”
By now she couldn’t even think clearly; she wasn’t aware of what exactly she was doing, save for seeking out blood. All around her there were people leaving the school, people who were filled with the blood she so desperately needed to drink. All the people were tempting her, but one in particular she was gravitating to. She wasn’t sure who it was anymore, just that she was certain this one had the most delicious blood.
She stuck her fangs in and began to drink.
La-Iin was oblivious to the sound of San-Kyung’s shriek, as well as Dosa-Mina’s attempts to pull her off of him. The more she drank, the more clear her mind felt. Once she had drunk a good amount, she let go and looked at the person she had been drinking from.
She recoiled in surprise when she saw San-Kyung, looking slightly unsteady. Dosa-Mina helped to support him.
“La-Iin!” The level of fury in Fer-Shi’s tone was startling. “I thought you did a good job, keeping yourself under control, but then you go and–San-Kyung!?”
Fer-Shi flinched away from him, but she blinked in surprise at the unsteady condition he was in. “Is something wrong with San-Kyung?”
“I guess I drank a lot from him,” she said simply. “He was delicious. I probably drank more than I should have.”
“What!?”
“Come on, San-Kyung, let me help you get home. Is your wound still bleeding?”
“It’s fine…” San-Kyung’s tone sounded dazed. Concerned, La-Iin followed after the two boys.
“San-Kyung, do you have enough blood in you?”
“No thanks to you,” he croaked, leaning on Dosa-Mina heavier.
“Do you need me to carry you, San-Kyung?”
“No, I’m fine.”
“You don’t look fine! We need to get you home, now.” Dosa-Mina checked the puncture wounds. “Well, at least it’s not bleeding much. If you need me to carry you, tell me.”
San-Kyung nodded. La-Iin’s concern only grew when she noticed how pale San-Kyung was.
“San-Kyung? If you want, you can drink some of my blood.”
“That isn’t going to help,” he snapped, though his tone was still weak.
“La-Iin, just back off. San-Kyung will be fine, but not because of you. So lay off.”
“Don’t tell me what to do, rival-boy! I almost wish I sucked your blood instead!” Desperate, La-Iin brought her fangs across her arm and thrust it in front of San-Kyung’s face.
“Here!”
“What!?”
La-Iin blinked. She hadn’t been expecting San-Kyung to exclaim that way. Curious, she checked her arm, wondering if she had opened too deep a wound–and was surprised to see that her arm was engulfed in flames. She took a step backwards.
“I didn’t know you could use the blood power yet,” Dosa-Mina said.
“Blood power?” La-Iin gasped. “I can use the blood power!?”
Dosa-Mina gave a small nod before picking up San-Kyung and glaring at her. He ran out the school.
La-Iin tried to put out the fire for fear of what would happen if the flames hit her sleeve, but her excitement kept her from noticing even Dosa-Mina’s agitation.
‘If I can use the blood power, then my potential is unlimited! If I could make that much fire with San-Kyung’s blood, then who knows what else I can do with this!’
“La-Iin!” Fer-Shi called. “What’s going on? Why’d you go after San-Kyung again? Why couldn’t you wait for me!? W-what’s with the scar?”
“Fer-Shi, I think I might know why I had that bad blood craving. My body was trying to tell me something incredibly important, and I owe it for doing that.”
Fer-Shi flinched. “Um, what was it trying to tell you?”
“Take a look.” La-Iin was reluctant to harm herself again, so instead she walked over to the grass nearby the school and lifted up her hand. ‘I wonder if this is how San-Kyung really does it.’ She tried to envision what she might make with the vines.
She glanced down at the grass. Small vines had begun to sprout up and wiggle, though they didn’t go any further.
“What!?”
“I think that’s proof enough,” La-Iin said. “Fer-Shi, I can use my blood power now. You know about the blood power, don’t you?”
Fer-Shi nodded.
“Now I’m glad I sucked San-Kyung! If I had sucked from you, I wouldn’t have known I could do this!” She flew above Fer-Shi. “I have to show Mama before it wears off. See you tomorrow, Fer-Shi!”
Fer-Shi didn’t respond. She stood there, frozen in place, watching La-Iin fly off.

***

La-Iin burst into her house as soon as she arrived home, her excitement still strong as well as her anxiousness. She could only hope the effects of San-Kyung’s blood hadn’t yet worn off.
Mit-Sun and Choungetsu, who had been sitting on the couch, startled when she bust open the door. “What happened to you that made you try and break down the door!?”
“Mama, first off, why are you always with Choungetsu now? And second, I have to show you something before it’s too late. I know you’ll want to see it.”
“I’ve been spending time with Choungetsu because we’re bonding and you’re off on your own a lot now,” she said. “And what is it you want to show me?”
“Watch closely, and don’t try and stop me. I know what I’m doing.” Baring her fangs, she slashed a small wound across her arm. Mit-Sun stood up abruptly and almost lunged for her, but froze in place when she noticed the flames starting from the wound.
“At school today, I got a bad blood craving and I ended up sucking from San-Kyung. And I found out I can do this. I have my blood power now.”
La-Iin couldn’t stop her grin. “Just think, Mama. With this power, and the right species to drink from, I will be unstoppable!”

—–
The cities laid to ruin were in a particularly bad condition today. Vines covered the abandoned buildings and flames licked the top of the sky. Feathers scattered about and added to the flames, and the impoverished people lying on the ground were fast asleep, for once free from the pain that plagued them in their everyday life.
It kept them from seeing the sight of several other people, lined up in a row in front of La-Iin. She sucked a decent amount from each one that approached her and tested out their powers. A ball of water fired off at the buildings, setting out a fire while also collapsing the top of the building. La-Iin smirked as she sucked from a Snowliv. The Snowliv flinched and tried to pull away, but La-Iin didn’t let her go until she had finished. She froze part of the chair she was sitting on, and her smirk widened.
“If before there was any hope of stopping me, I can see none of you have it anymore. And there’s good reason for that. This day belongs to me; this WORLD belongs to me!”

8.493.Birthday of Affection

The La-Iin Series
Chapter 493
“Birthday of Affection”

San-Kyung darted quickly to school, holding tight to his vest. To him, today felt like the worst day all week to have worn a vest–it made the temperature feel closer to Summer. He tried to ignore the feeling as he continued on towards school.
On his way there, he spotted Dosa-Mina, and he let go of his vest.
“Hello, San-Kyung,” Dosa-Mina said.
“Hey. Happy birthday.”
Dosa-Mina smiled. “Thank you. You know, it feels pretty weird to be sixteen! It feels like the beginning of the end…or more like, the beginning of the hurtle towards my twenties. And if you turn the six upside down I end up an adult.”
“So what? You still have to go through seventeen and eighteen before you hit nineteen.”
“I know. I’m just putting things into perspective. But hey, it’s another age I know you for, and that’s always a good thing.” He winked at San-Kyung, but his expression soon changed to a neutral one.
“Hey, Dosa-Mina, was there anything you wanted to do today?”
“There is. Why?”
“I was trying to figure out when I should–” San-Kyung stopped himself.
“Should what?”
“Is there anything you want to do today?”
“Mm-hm. There are places I want to go, things I want to do and see, but there’s one thing I can do right now with your help that’ll make my birthday great.”
“What’s that?”
Dosa-Mina held tight to San-Kyung.
“Too tight!”
“Sorry, San-Kyung, but it feels like it’s been far too long since I’ve gotten to do this. So now you know. Even if I get to do nothing else today, so long as I can do this, I’m fine!”
San-Kyung shifted his vest. “Er…yeah, right.”
Dosa-Mina felt lighthearted as they walked onto the path to school. The eyes of his fellow students, as well as students from other classes, were all turned his way, but he couldn’t find it in him to care.
‘I’m glad San-Kyung’s being so receptive. He’s usually complained by now! I wonder if it’s just because it’s my birthday?’
‘Someday this grip of his is going to be the death of me,’ San-Kyung thought.

Although the students of Class D were, for the most part, well-aware of Dosa-Mina’s affectionate nature and used to it by now, most of them still stared in his and San-Kyung’s direction that day before history class, particularly the students who had joined the class that year.
And in the back row of the class, La-Iin sat fuming, her wings flapping wildly.
“Isn’t this a little long for you to still be hanging onto me?” San-Kyung asked.
“Maybe it seems long to you, but it’s just because I haven’t done this in so long.”
“What are you talking about!? You were being affectionate just yesterday!”
“But that was only a little thing,” he said simply. “And besides, I haven’t done anything on the level of that hug you gave me earlier this week.”
The students around them began to watch closer.
“Dosa-Mina, it’s your birthday. I’ll let you be as affectionate as you want. But can you can it when it comes to what happened then?”
“You still haven’t explained your dream to me, you know? I’d like to know what it was to make you do something like that.”
“Oh, come on!”
“Rival-boy…”
Dosa-Mina glanced at La-Iin. “Hey there, La-Iin! How are you today?”
Dosa-Mina blinked. La-Iin’s whole body was shaking, and it didn’t seem to be just because of the rapid flapping of her wings.
“Infuriated,” she said, even her tone warbling. “Especially after I heard what you said. What’s this about San-Kyung giving you a hug!? Explain now before I lose my patience!”
Dosa-Mina sighed. “I get that you still consider us rivals and all, La-Iin, but you could be nice and not bother me on my birthday.”
“Your birthday!?” She exclaimed. Her eyes narrowed. “Wait, this isn’t 2014. I owe the people who have bad birthdays nothing. That’s it, Dosa-Mina! I’m going to make your fifteenth–”
“Sixteenth.”
La-Iin growled. “–sixteenth birthday a living hell!”
She flew into the air and prepared to fly at Dosa-Mina when San-Kyung spoke up. “The hug you heard us talking about happened earlier this week. And why it happened is none of your business.”
“It’s none of my business too, I guess.” Dosa-Mina smirked. “Maybe the affection in this friendship is finally going to go both ways.”
“You wish! The day I kiss you is the day I get failing grades in school!”
“Too bad. And that’s kind of harsh.”
La-Iin’s eyes had gone wide. “This isn’t fair! It feels like I have no chances against rival-boy! Mark my words, San-Kyung, you’ll find out the true strength of my wiles someday!”
La-Iin ran off.
“Was….was she crying?”
“Who cares?” San-Kyung huffed. “Dosa-Mina, all I have to ask is this. If you’re going to cling onto me all day, could you at least loosen your grip?”
“I can try. But I barely know my own strength, so who’s to say if it will work?”

***

“San-Kyung, am I frustrating you today?”
“Well, let’s see. When I needed to get a drink of water, you were there holding on to my arm. When I needed to write something down in my notebook, you just happened to switch from holding onto my right arm to holding onto my left. When the students or teachers start staring harder, it seems like you give them more reason to stare. Yes, you’re frustrating me!”
Dosa-Mina flinched. “I’m sorry, Dosa-Mina. I’m trying to put up with it for you. But I picked today to wear a vest and you clinging on like isn’t making it any better. Also, you’re seeming kind of needy.”
“Maybe I am feeling needy,” Dosa-Mina said. “I get it though, San-Kyung. Don’t worry, I plan on letting go of you once school lets out. When school lets out we’ll be able to go all the places I want to go instead of sit here in school. And when we go out I have some things I want to talk to you about.”
“Huh.”
“But then again, I understand how much more convenient it might be if I was holding onto you while we were out rather than while we were in school. Not to mention how inconvenient it is for you while we’re here. So I figured, if I’m going to go of you, there’s one more thing I want.”
“You decide to do this when we only have two classes left. Of course,” San-Kyung sighed. “What do you want?”
Dosa-Mina let go of his arm. “This!”
He brought San-Kyung’s face close and kissed him. San-Kyung drew away, his expression one of surprise and mild disgust.
“Pff. The look on your face. You know, those expressions contribute to me being affectionate towards you.”
“Oh cut it out.” He shook his head. “You’ll just take any excuse you can find.”
“Oh, I don’t need excuses when I have reasons. But, that’s a story for another day!”
Nearby them, Lirako leaned over to whisper in Airy-Aekok’s ear.
“You know, there are two things that are gonna make me think our theory is wrong–hard proof and Dosa-Mina saying he’s not in love with San-Kyung.”

As school came to a close, Dosa-Mina felt thoroughly satisfied. ‘My fifteenth birthday was pretty okay, but I think this year has gotten off to a great start. Here’s hoping this continues on into the day!’
“Happy birthday, Dosa-Mina!” Fer-Shi called as she ran out the classroom. Dosa-Mina waved, then gave a sigh.
“I guess it’s a sign of my popularity–that or a certain someone’s influence–or I guess it could be reputation…”
“Get to the point.”
“I think you, Sanhuun and my parents are the only people who have wished me a happy birthday today!”
“That’s because nobody likes you, and for good reason.” Dosa-Mina glanced to his right, and spotted La-Iin standing there, her eyes squinted in a glare. “Even if it weren’t for our rivalry, I still wouldn’t like you. You’re thoroughly dislikable!”
“You don’t like me, but you like Sanhuun? I’m neutral, you know.”
“I don’t like everyone who’s evil either. You should understand that.”
“I wouldn’t? I’m not evil. Oh, did you mean because of San-Kyung? But he’s a special case. He just hates everyone.”
“Well, it doesn’t matter! I hope you have a rotten birthday and I hope there aren’t many more!”
“Stop being so petty. You want to be taken seriously, well nobody’s going to take you seriously if you act like that!” San-Kyung said.
“Nobody’s going to take you seriously being so devoted to your best friend. I don’t care what you say, San-Kyung! Unlike my love, your love is going to be your downfall! But I will save you. I’ll show you the light!”
She blinked and her nose wrinkled. “Anyway, I’ll see you on Monday, San-Kyung.” She turned and left the classroom.
“I’m still wondering what she means by love. Is there something I’m supposed to know, San-Kyung?”
“Don’t you think you’d know if there was?” He said. “Come on. Let’s go. You know, you’re lucky, Dosa-Mina. Next year your birthday isn’t on a school day, but mine is.”
“Aw, give it one more year and you’ll be school-free. Oh wait, not only will it be a Saturday in 2017, you’ll be graduated by then too.”
San-Kyung sighed. “I know.”

After briefly stopping by his house, Dosa-Mina and San-Kyung head for downtown, his parents close behind, at least at first–halfway down the path they had agreed to split up.
“Well, it gives us a chance at a date. It is Parent’s Day too, after all.” Elai-Riya had said.
“Yeah! And it gives us a chance to get some stuff for you before tonight!”
“I’m looking forward to celebrating with all of you! I wonder if I should invite some of my neighborhood friends?”
San-Kyung’s eyes narrowed. “Well, maybe not.”
Now the two were on their own, and thoughts went through both their minds of what they should do now that they had the chance.
“Hey, Dosa-Mina–”
“There’s something I want to ask about and tell you about, San-Kyung. Mind if I say them now, just to get them off my chest?”
“Uh, sure?” ‘Guess I’m not going to get to give him my present anytime soon.’
“Part of the reason I was being so clingy today is because I had a….nightmare,” he said. “It was a nightmare about you. I felt so horrible when I woke up that…that I felt like cutting myself…but I managed to resist. And it’s been a long while since I’ve been able to do that.”
San-Kyung remained silent, curious as to what Dosa-Mina might say next.
“I was still scared, though, so I wanted to hold onto you because of what happened in the nightmare. And that’s why I was being so clingy today. I figured you deserved to know.”
“I’m surprised you told me. Usually you keep that stuff to yourself.”
“I usually do. But I’ve been battling with some thoughts lately. I’ve been having a harder time keeping myself under wraps too, so it could have something to do with that. But mostly, I just felt like saying something to you. It’s a step forward, isn’t it?”
San-Kyung smiled. “Yeah. I’m glad you told me.”
“Of course, I’m still far more interested in helping you permanently regain your true form,” he said. “My first goal is by the end of this year. My second is before we graduate. After that, if I haven’t managed it, I’ll pour all my time into finding a way to make it happen!”
“Today’s about you, Dosa-Mina, not me. Hey, didn’t you say there was something you wanted to ask me, too?”
“Yeah. When are you going to tell me about that dream you had? Was it a nightmare like mine? I told you something I wouldn’t normally say. You can consider this a birthday present.”
“But I have…” San-Kyung trailed off. “Fine, I guess you have a point. I had a dream where I was ruling the world at first, but then it all disappeared and there was some guy with his hair up in a white bun calling for you.”
“A white bun?” Dosa-Mina’s expression changed drastically, and for a moment San-Kyung wondered if he had said something that struck a nerve.
“Yeah.”
“Did he say his name?”
“If he did, I don’t remember it. He was really pale all over and he had what looked like horns on his head, but other than that he mostly looked like a Normal.”
“…go on.”
“I tried asking him what was going on, but twice the dream changed and he tried to make a break for it. I don’t remember the first one, but the second one…he changed it to something where you were considering committing suicide early. I tried to confront him about it, but I had to go back to you–and anyway, when I turned around, he disappeared. So I went to comfort you instead. It felt more real than like a dream, so that’s why I…did what I did.”
“…I’m glad you told me that, San-Kyung. Thank you. …are you sure you didn’t catch the guy’s name?”
“No. Why do you want to know his name, anyway?”
“Oh, morbid curiosity.”
‘He’s still not telling me everything, is he…oh well, he’s right–what he said already is a step in the right direction.’
Dosa-Mina’s expression was still a sad one, so San-Kyung reached into his vest pocket and thrust a music player into Dosa-Mina’s arms.
“Here.”
“Wh–what…?”
“This is your actual present. I know you like other things better, but I’ve heard you talk about music a bit in the past. Besides, if you like any of the songs you sing, you can listen to them.”
“I–how’d you get this!?”
“I have my ways…”
“Guess I shouldn’t ask that question, then.” Dosa-Mina hugged San-Kyung close. “Thank you, San-Kyung. I’ve really enjoyed today.”
“Glad you did,” he said. “…now do you mind letting go?”
“Why?”
Dosa-Mina glanced around. A small group of people was staring in their direction.
“Sorry.”
“Don’t be. I’m just sick of people getting the wrong idea.”
“After all this stuff that’s been going on with Lirako, this doesn’t even faze me anymore.”

—–
“Happy birthday, Dosa-Mina!”
“Happy sweet sixteen, as they say!” Orlin-Aesth said.
“Happy birthday, Dosa-Mina.” San-Kyung pat him on the back.
“Thanks, you guys! Hopefully next year is as good as this one!”
Even as he celebrated with his family, San-Kyung’s earlier words were still on his mind.
‘He changed the scene and he had his hair up in a white bun. That sounds just like Kkumneok. I know he said he was capable of entering other people’s dreams, but what was he doing in San-Kyung’s? And why would he change the scene to something that would upset him? Was there a reason for that?’
He stuck a fork into his cake. ‘Next time he comes into my dreams, I’m going to have to ask him a few questions. But this proves one thing–he probably isn’t a creation of my mind.’

1.486.Happy First Birthday, An-Tois

The La-Iin Series
Chapter 486
“Happy First Birthday, An-Tois”

“When are your friends coming, Cou-Riette?”
“They should be here any moment now. At least, I hope so. I certainly hope nothing happened to them on the way here.”
“I’m sure that’s not the case. Though you must admit our residence is fairly out of the way.”
An-Tois babbled. “I do admit that.”
“Your son certainly has come a long way in the past year, hasn’t he?”
“Oh yes, he has! Last year he was a newborn, and now he can talk a few words–though he prefers to babble–he can walk, slightly, and he can fly quite well for an infant. It’s rather amazing, being here to watch him grow up like this.”
“I can imagine. I grew up around siblings, but I’ve never watched anyone grow from infancy. At least, not that I know of. I think little An-Tois might be the first, and I’m not even watching him from the beginning!”
Cou-Riette smiled. “Well, you might be here to see him grow for a long while onwar–”
A knock sounded at the door, followed by several more. “That must be them!” Holding An-Tois, she head for the door and nearly flung it open. Lishe-Ashyo, Mali-Ana, Gen-Reiya and Xhen-Wu stood together at the entrance, a few of them holding small gifts.
“Hey there, Cou-Riette, birthday boy!” Lishe-Ashyo exclaimed. “Really, happy birthday, An-Tois.”
“Li!” An-Tois called out, reaching for Lishe-Ashyo. Lishe-Ashyo smiled.
“How have you been, Cou-Riette?” Mali-Ana asked.
“Just fine. Although I’m still in shock at the fact that it’s been a year since An-Tois hatched!”
“Didja keep track of the day he was laid, too?”
Cou-Riette glanced away. “I’d rather forget that day…anyway, why don’t you all come in? We can celebrate An-Tois’ birthday together.”
“Sure!”
“I see some of you have presents.”
“Ma!” An-Tois said, pointing at Mali-Ana. “Ge!” He pointed at Gen-Reiya.
“I’m surprised he can talk any words at all,” Gen-Reiya said.
“So am I. But he’s got to grow up, and this is one of the first steps. So, what are the presents?”
“Geez, can’t you be patient?” Mali-Ana said.
“It’s been a while since I got presents on my birthday, so I want to see what you all got for him.”
“If you’re hoping it’s stuff for you to help you out with him, you’ve got another thing coming,” Xhen-Wu said playfully.
“I didn’t think it was anything like that!”
“Sure you didn’t.” Xhen-Wu winked. “But go ahead, let him open them now.”
“Should I really let him open them?”
“Why not? I’m sure he likes tearing into things.” Gen-Reiya blinked. “Right?”
“Well…we’ll see….” She sat Xhen-Wu’s present down in front of An-Tois. “Go ahead, An-Tois. This is a present for you.”
An-Tois looked up at Cou-Riette curiously, then began to slowly open the present. He gave a squeal of delight when he opened up the plush Bearperson.
“I know it’s generic, but hey, don’t Wiench children like teddy Bearpeople?”
“I’m not sure. I may be Wiench, but I’ve spent my whole life here in Vaelyn.” Cou-Riette gave her friend a wry smile. “But thank you regardless, Xhen-Wu. I’m very grateful, and it looks like An-Tois is too.”
An-Tois was holding tight to the plush, looking completely content.
“Can he do mine next?” Gen-Reiya asked. Cou-Riette nodded and set down in front of An-Tois Gen-Reiya’s present. An-Tois gave it a curious look, then still holding tight to his plush, gently opened it up.
“Those Birdmix claws probably help a lot with tearing off wrapping paper,” Xhen-Wu said. Cou-Riette nodded. “I wouldn’t be surprised.”
Gen-Reiya’s present was a can of powdered milk. An-Tois stared back at Cou-Riette, looking confused.
“Oookay, so mine is kinda something to help you raise him, but hey, he’s the one who gets the beneficial stuff from it, isn’t he?”
“He certainly is. Thank you for this, Gen-Reiya.”
“Have him do mine next!” Lishe-Ashyo complained.
“Wait, Lishe-Ashyo. He should see mine next.” Mali-Ana held out a small rattle. “I wasn’t able to get wrapping paper in time. Sorry.”
“No need to apologize.”
“I saw his rattle broke last time I visited, so I thought this’d be a suitable replacement.”
An-Tois took the rattle from Mali-Ana and shook it, smiling wide.
“Well, it’s certainly made him happy enough, and so long as he’s happy, I am too,” Cou-Riette said. “I suppose that leaves your present for last, Lishe-Ashyo. I hope it’s not a deluge of items like that ultimate mommy pack you got me once.”
“Nah, it’s something exclusively for An-Tois.” He handed An-Tois the present. An-Tois tore it open. Inside the wrapping paper was a blanket. An-Tois held it close along with the rattle and plush.
“Aw, he looks so sweet like that,” Cou-Riette said. “Uncle, where do you keep your camera? I think I finally have an excuse to take a picture of An-Tois!”
“I’m starting to wonder who’s more happy about today–An-Tois or Cou-Riette,” Gen-Reiya said.
“I don’t know if An-Tois even gets that it’s his birthday,” Mali-Ana said.
“Who cares? Whether he gets it or not, it’s still his birthday, and birthdays are a time to celebrate!”

***

An-Tois was fast asleep, cuddling his plush and wrapped in his new blanket. Cou-Riette and her friends watched him sleep, completely at a loss of what to do.
“So, uh…birthday boy’s asleep, and it’s still light outside.” Lishe-Ashyo said.
“My Dad isn’t expecting me back until a lot later,” Mali-Ana said.
“Did you have a back-up plan in case he fell asleep, Cou-Riette?” Xhen-Wu asked.
“No, I didn’t, but something has come to mind in these minutes we’ve been watching him. Think about it, all of us are practically adults, right?”
“We’re eighteen. I don’t think that counts as adult, depending on what you plan on doing.” Gen-Reiya said.
“Well, we’re close enough, and there’s something I’ve been wanting to try for a while. When my parents would host large parties, late in the night they would drink wine. I only had a few tastes of wine when in the most ceremonial situations–and around family members whom my parents wanted me to think I was an adult, thanks to An-Tois–but I’m sure none of you have.”
“Is that even legal?”
Cou-Riette shrugged. “If we only drink a little bit, I don’t think it will be a problem. And my uncle most certainly does have wine in the house, before you ask. Most Fasoucies do. It’s almost one of our staples.”
“What makes it not one?” Lishe-Ashyo asked.
“The fact that most Fasoucies have children. Some even large families where there are multiple small children in the house at once. I always planned on being one of them, but whether I end up that way or I don’t, for now all I have is An-Tois, and he is fast asleep. So let’s take this time while uncle’s at work!”
Cou-Riette flew out of the room; as soon as she was out of earshot, her friends huddled together.
“Who else thinks this is gonna be a bad idea?” Lishe-Ashyo asked.
“Of all the people here, I honestly thought you’d be the last one to say that,” Mali-Ana said.
“Cou-Riette seems like she really wants to try it, though. Maybe we should indulge her. I mean, all of us are here. We’ve all got common sense. What’s the worst that could happen?”
“Gen-Reiya, when people say something stupid like that, they’re usually setting themselves up for something bad to happen.”
“What are you four talking about?”
The foursome broke from their huddle to face Cou-Riette, who was carrying a bottle of wine and a few glasses.
“Er, nothing!” Lishe-Ashyo chuckled. “Hey, Cou-Riette, I’ll drink some of that wine, but what do you say we keep it to small portions?”
“That’s as I intended it, anyway,” Cou-Riette said. She poured a small amount of wine into each of the glasses, then handed a glass to each of her friends. “Did you think I would do something as silly as let us all get drunk? I do have common sense.”
“Like I said.” Mali-Ana said as she lifted up her glass.
“No you didn’t.”
“Yes, I did!”
“Now, now. Don’t wake An-Tois. It’s his birthday, and if he wants to spend it sleeping, I’d rather let him do that. Let’s just enjoy our little celebration, okay?”
“Alright.”
“Before we go on, though,” Cou-Riette said.
“What?”
“I actually have been thinking about trying this wine for a while. I always feared that with all my stress, I would end up over-indulging like you four feared. The reason why I suggested we try this now is just so I wouldn’t do that. So don’t worry, I’ve put a lot of thought into right now.”
She lifted her glass. “To our friendship, and to An-Tois’ birthday.”
Her friends nodded and clinked their glasses against hers. Then all five of them quickly downed their samples of wine.

—–
The five friends had taken the time An-Tois was asleep to talk and play together as they had when they were younger. Cou-Riette in particular enjoyed the time they spent together. She felt as though it was something that had been missing from her life lately.
Now, late into the night, she had fallen asleep on them as they talked. Although they were tempted to wake her up, they decided against it. They helped her into her bed, tucked her in, then left the house, keeping silent the whole time until they made it outside.