17.594.Operation Reboot in Action

The La-Iin Series
Chapter 594
“Operation Reboot in Action”

A woman set up her stall near the plaza of Bledger. ‘I wonder if I’ll get any attention?’ She did her best to make the stall look neat and tidy.
Out the corner of her eye she spotted two hooded figures walking up to the stall. “Why, hello there! What can I get for–eek!”
“Something wrong, ma’am?”
“Ah, er, no, not particularly….is he…glaring at me?”
“Don’t worry about it. That’s his natural look.”
Two boys had approached her stall. Both were wearing hoodies that made it slightly hard for her to see their faces, but she could see their eyes, and noticed that one of them was slightly smaller than the other. Nevertheless they both seemed to be taller than her. She felt a little nervous as the smaller once glanced through her inventory.
“Ma’am, can you tell us a little bit about the potions you’re selling? We’re not all that well-versed in potions, you see.”
“Oh…certainly.” She swallowed hard. “I sell potions that mostly help people. They’re like medicine, but I’d like to hope they’re more effective than even the best medicine.”
“Mm-hm…” The smaller one had started to jot down notes in a notepad. “Tell me, would you compare potions to drugs? After all, you did just compare them to medicine.”
“Heavens no! Well, I guess some potions, but not mine! Potions should be designed to do good for you, that’s what I think! And their effects do wear off!”
“Hm.” The smaller one turned to his companion. “I’m not sure this is a good idea. I don’t care what you say, I’m still wary about potions!”
“I’m surprised, considering this seems more like something I’d be wary about,” his companion hissed. “I don’t care what you say. I don’t think this is anything like that drug.”
“What…what are you two talking about?”
“Oh, nothing. Pretend you didn’t hear that.” The smaller one glanced around her inventory. “You said your potions are for helping people, right? What would you give to someone who’s feeling weak?”
“Well, I made this potion,” she said, showing them a bottle of purple liquid. “This is designed to give you a bit of stamina. It might work.”
“How much?”
“Um, well, 2000.000 vuyong…”
The shorter one rummaged through his pocket and handed her exact change. “Thanks!”
The two walked away. She gave a nervous smile. ‘What weird people…’

Once they were a decent distance away from the Witch woman, San-Kyung and Dosa-Mina pulled down their hoods. Dosa-Mina stared at the purple liquid with a concerned look.
“I don’t see why you’re so worried about it. You’re okay with medicine, aren’t you? Vaccines? You’re a species studier. How is this worse than drugs if those other things aren’t?”
“It’s not potions in general that worry me, really. I just heard that some Witches are less than honest about the contents of their potions.” He sighed. “Besides, giving you a potion to temporarily heighten your powers? I don’t know if such a thing exists, but it sounds exactly like that drug.”
“But there’s a difference, isn’t there? You said that potions can be washed out of the system anyway.”
“Yeah, I guess so.” Dosa-Mina sighed. “Can you blame me for being worried about you, though? You’ve been pretty desperate about getting what you want. But we’re here now, so do you want to try it, or not?”
“I’ll try it.” He took the liquid from him. “Any chance is a chance I’ll take. And it’ll be better than the dead-ends we’ve hit recently. If this stuff really works, and we can find a potion that does what I need….”
Dosa-Mina had mixed feelings about the ordeal. ‘Look at him. He’s so happy. If this all works out, it would really be great. He’d just have to take a potion and he could look like he wants…you need to stop feeling so wary! This is for his sake…’
San-Kyung drank the liquid. “He–hey, if you’re going to drink that now, can I try some, too?”
“Why?”
“Oh, no reason. Just curious. We’re in this together, after all.”
San-Kyung opened his mouth as if about to protest, but sighed and handed the rest of the potion to Dosa-Mina. There was only a small amount left on the bottom, and Dosa-Mina downed it in one go.
“Phew! What a bad aftertaste…”
“If only we hadn’t been so focused on La-Iin all that time. Witches and Warlocks might just be what I need. Damn it, why can’t I be half-Warlock?”
“I’ve never heard you lamenting your species before,” Dosa-Mina said playfully.
“Animated Pumpkin is fine. Aesthetically Normal is not. That’s how I feel. And if I was half-Warlock, we wouldn’t need to buy potions.”
“Mm-hm.” Dosa-Mina lowered his head. “Well, as long as you’re happy, that’s good enough for me. But maybe next time, we’ll look into potions some more before we go to creepy stalls. That lady did seem trustworthy, though.”
“If you say so…”
The two stood around in silence for a short while, waiting for the effects to kick in.
“I’m getting bored.”
“Me too. But what can we do while we wait for this to kick in?”
“Run? Running sounds like a good idea.”
“Yeah, it does. We could run to Hledshess and back to here. That’s not exactly close, after all.”
“Yeah.” Right after saying that, San-Kyung took off ahead of Dosa-Mina. Dosa-Mina quickly caught up with him, and the two kept an even pace as they dashed across Bledger. The competition itself didn’t matter; they were enjoying running for running’s sake. As they passed by areas with more people, they caught a bit of attention, but at their speeds, it barely mattered. They were soon out of their line of sight.
The two kept running until they neared Hledshess, not once feeling slightly drained. Even when they made it to their stop, San-Kyung began to pace as if restless.
“Now what?”
“I have no idea.” He pulled up his hood. “Just be careful. Hey, there’s a stream near here, isn’t there? We can run past that and see what’s there.”
“Yeah. But only quickly, and then we get the hell out of here. Hledshess isn’t really the best place for us to be anymore…”
The two ran over to the stream, then bolted off past it. A path of stones was ahead of them, and they were able to hear voices. Looking around, they noticed a small Fairy society to their left.
“I didn’t even know any Fairies lived in Bledger,” Dosa-Mina said. “Wow!”
“Do you want to get caught!?”
“No. But I bet you want to wreak havoc on their little peace, don’t you?”
“I’m more concerned with getting this energy out of my system!”
The two continued to run. All sorts of winding paths were ahead of that small stream, along with some forest fixtures that Dosa-Mina was convinced were put there by the Fairy society. Once they had reached the top of a small hill, only then did they start to feel tired.
“I think we’ve run enough,” San-Kyung breathed.
“Yeah. Hey, you think that energy…you think that was the potion?”
“I bet you it was.”
“She said it was supposed to give you stamina, right? She must not have diluted it any, because I only drank a little and that was powerful!”
San-Kyung grinned. “If that’s the case, maybe I have a trump card for November…” He began to gasp and wheeze, but despite his labored breathing, he looked happy. “You should’ve looked into this earlier!”
“Sorry, there’s just a lot on Witches and Warlocks. I always get overwhelmed.” Dosa-Mina took deep breaths. “Alright, we should probably head back before we get lost here.”
“Yeah…”
“Got enough energy to keep going, or do I have to jump you there?”
“I can go on my own!” Despite San-Kyung’s protest, Dosa-Mina wrapped his arms around him and then jumped up. The jump was weak, so Dosa-Mina went into a second jump, this time holding San-Kyung in a way that was much more convenient for him. They jumped until they reached the stream, at which point San-Kyung pushed him away and continued on without him.
As soon as they peeked their heads out, they were greeted by the wild faces of a Catori and a Bearperson.
“Looks like what they say in copper school is true,” the Catori giggled. “Criminals really do come back to the scene of the crime!”
Dosa-Mina felt petrified, but noticed that San-Kyung seemed unusually confident. The duo in front of them looked ready to pounce, and yet he looked collected. When the two of them did make their leap, San-Kyung tied them up with vines, pulling them tight enough that they began to gasp and wheeze for breath.
“That should do it,” he said. “Come on! Let’s run!” He grabbed Dosa-Mina’s hand and the two ran out of Hledshess.
“You know, I’m fully capable of taking care of myself!”
“I know, I just wanted to get out of there faster! Didn’t think we’d run into those hacky “authority” people again. Think they saw our faces?”
The two came to a stop. “I wonder…”
“Hledshess is probably a bad idea. The people there already hate us enough to set bombs and traps. We have the power to fend them off, but if they riot again…”
“You have to wonder why we kept trying in the first place.”
“That place is significant, that’s why.”
San-Kyung began to walk off. “By the way, why were you so calm dealing with that duo back then? I know they’re not exactly police, but they’re still kind of authority. And they are pretty brawny…”
“I could predict their moves from miles away. Besides,” he flashed Dosa-Mina a smile. “I’m feeling confident after that potion. When I was younger, I wouldn’t have even thought about this. But this is a way I can get what I want without having to rely on someone else.”
“You do, though. The Witches and Warlocks who make them.”
“I don’t need to pretend to befriend them though, do I?”
“Yeah, guess not.”
“Lately I’ve just been a little happier,” he said. “…things started looking up for me in July, mostly anyway.”
“That’s good!”
“I’ll find my way. I’m still determined to give the world its comeuppance. Are you holding in there?”
“Huh?”
“Are you alright. You don’t talk about yourself, you know.”
“Oh, I–I know.” Dosa-Mina smiled. “Don’t worry, San-Kyung, I’m fine. And I’m even better seeing you happy. Trust me, the best thing for me is to see you act like you did back there!”

—–
“I know the real reason you’ve been happier lately, San-Kyung.”
“You know the real reason why already.”
“Nope, that’s not it. You’re happier because you’ve finally embraced your natural talent for dancing! Think about it: the best way to mock the people you’re damning to life in hell is to dance in front of them.”
“…”
“You don’t agree, huh.”
“No, I don’t. That just sounds stupid.”
“Ah well. It sounded like a good idea in my head.”

12.589.Transition to Recovery

The La-Iin Series
Chapter 589
“Transition to Recovery”

“Y’know, Ai-Reia, you’ve seemed a little happier this Summer break than last Summer break. Especially after those kids…Kokohara and Fyuori, yeah?”
“Yes. And what are you doing calling them kids? They might be younger than you in years but in terms of general maturity you aren’t all that much older than they are.”
“The years still count for something, sis. Anyway, I’m happy to see you happy, especially after all that was going on. Are you feeling better?”
“I have been, actually….oh! You bringing this up reminded me of something. Mother, Father, would you mind if I invited Kokohara and Fyuori over tomorrow?”
“Hm? Not at all,” her father said.
“I’d be happy to see them again,” her mother said. Ai-Reia smiled. “Thank you.”
“You know, it’s so weird that your best friends are teenagers. You’d think they’d be around your age!”
“I would guess that my smarts alienate the normal kids around my age,” she sighed. “But I’ll take what I can get. I do like Kokohara and Fyuori. But this can all wait for tomorrow, can’t it?”

***

Ai-Reia flipped through her diary. Page after page, she would lament about something that was going on in her life, be it something to do with La-Iin, Ca-Miela or the rest of her family. Sometimes she would see entries about her prodigy status. Reading through it made her cringe, but she continued on anyway.
‘This diary saw me through my darkest times, and it was also what helped usher in more,’ she thought. ‘But things have changed since the days I thought I needed this. I’ve realized Ca-Miela has a true potential. My family is showing love for me once more. La-Iin’s hopefully realized she cannot use me, and I have friends now, impermanent as they are…’
Upon finishing the last page, she closed the book. ‘Still, something feels like it’s missing….’
“Ai-Reia, Kokohara and Fyuori are here,” her mother called.
“I’m coming!” She hopped out the bed, leaving the book behind, and went to greet her friends.
“Herro, Ai-Reia! Oopsy. I mean hello.” Shuera-Kaizima said.
“Don’t worry about it. Come on in!”
“Your house really is nice, Ai-Reia,” Im-Dei said. “I like the way it’s decorated.”
“Thank you. Although if I were the one in charge of decorating, I think it would look a little different.” Although she tried to muster a giggle, the reminder of the subject at hand kept her from doing so. “I, ah figure you two know why I called you here today.”
“We’re here to help you too, so it doesn’t bother us,” Shuera-Kaizima said. “Or, at least, it does not bother me. Does it bother you, In-Dei?”
“No, not at all. …well, maybe a little bit, but not for the reason you’d think.”
“You might just be wrong about that one, Fyuori,” she said. “Follow me.”
She led the two to her bedroom, dashing in ahead of them. She grabbed her diary and held it away from them.
“This diary contains a record of the way I felt for a…period of time,” she said. “I’ve had a hard time, although I guess it doesn’t compare to people who have been through worse. But it was horrible. This was my only escape, and when it was taken away from me I started to deteriorate because I had made it the only thing that made me happy…everything else I considered to have a bad side.”
“Ai-Reia…”
Ai-Reia held up a hand. “Please. I need to get this out without commentary. …I don’t know exactly what it was that caused my behavior, but I have a theory. I think it was stress. For a long time, I did worry that there was something wrong with me…of course with my curious mind, I had to look into it. And while admittedly a few of the things that I thought were concerning, I can chalk that up to, well…I am still little…I don’t always understand the full weight of things right away.”
Ai-Reia glanced at the duo, but their expressions gave away nothing. “When I started feeling happier again, I realized I didn’t want to go back to the way I was before. Not only that, but I realized it was the best thing for me. My family has always been my biggest supporters and my best of friends. You two might not be around my whole life, but you definitely enrich it. And as for that bully, La-Iin….if I can recover, I’m showing her that what she did to me does not affect me. It will not stop me from succeeding where she will likely fail. So this is my goal. I will recover from what happened before, and become a new Ai-Reia.”
Her face flushed. “Sorry, that was probably a little over-dramatic…”
“I’ve heard worse,” Im-Dei said. “And we’ve wanted you to be able to move past things too.”
“It does make sense, Ai-Reia. Of course you want to be happy instead of unhappy!”
Ai-Reia smiled. “Yes, I suppose I do. And more than anything, I didn’t want there to be anything wrong with me. Knowing what I know now, I really feel like I can make an improvement.”
“Part of the improvement can also be not dwelling on the past so much,” Im-Dei said. Ai-Reia chuckled. “Yes, that’s true. And I hope I can do that when school starts again. I think I can improve, but I worry about whether or not seeing La-Iin again will stir those old feelings in me…”
“I’m sure if you devote yourself to this, you’ll be fine,” Shuera-Kaizima said. “But to devote yourself, like In-Dei says, that’s to stop thinking about what happened and focus on the Ai-Reia you want to be. And what is it that you want to be?”
Ai-Reia didn’t need to think on it. “Normal. I may have smarts beyond my age, but that’s just a matter of individuality. I want to be a normal person. And I would like to study more. There is just so much to learn in this world, after all. I wonder if I’ll have the time to learn more about it all?”
“That’s silly to say. Of course you will.”
Ai-Reia gave a half-hearted chuckle. “I suppose I will…”

“You aren’t going to put blood in as a secret ingredient again, are you?”
“It isn’t a secret ingredient to us Vampires,” Ai-Reia said calmly.
“It’s an unpleasant secret to those of us who are not, though!” Shuera-Kaizima shrieked. “Please, no.”
“I’m not sure I can keep that promise.” Ai-Reia dripped blood into the batter. Shuera-Kaizima and Im-Dei flinched. “Oh, come on, you two. You’d almost think I was the oldest one here. Especially you, Shuera-Kaizima. Catoris are carnivores–I’m sure you’ve had your fair share of blood, and anyway isn’t eating flesh more gruesome than eating something flavored with blood?”
“If it would not kill me, I might be a vegetarian,” Shuera-Kaizima sighed.
“Well, I guess that’s a Vampire tradition, to put blood in food,” Im-Dei sighed. “I’ll respect it…but I don’t like it. I guess it’s not all that easy to taste, though…”
“That’s fine. I’m not the biggest fan of blood either.” Shuera-Kaizima and Im-Dei shot her surprised looks. “But that’s only because I’m not a bloodsucker yet! I’m sure my taste for it will come with time.”
“As it does,” Reuf-Bu said. “I thought blood tasted like spoiled ham before I could suck blood. Now I love it.”
“You two are crazy. I loved blood even before I could bloodsuck!” Zih-Amo said.
“Why even is there a wait time for the bloodsucking power? Could you not suck my blood now if you wanted to?”
“It has to do with cravings,” Ai-Reia said. She then tapped her canines. “That, and underdeveloped feeding holes.”
“Ah.”
“Reuf-Bu, Zih-Amo, if you’re going to be in the kitchen, the least you could do is help out.”
“Oh noooo!” Zih-Amo shrieked. Reuf-Bu grabbed her by the overalls. “If I’ve gotta help, you’ve gotta help too!”
“Eek!”
Ai-Reia giggled. The kitchen soon became rowdy with the addition of Reuf-Bu and Zih-Amo, but the treats were finished that much faster. Ai-Reia was sure she was having the time of her life, laughing and chatting happily with her older siblings and friends.
Still, something felt like it was missing. ‘I’m sure this would be better if Ca-Miela were old enough to join us.’

When the treats were done, all five of the cooks set them down on the table. Ca-Miela stared at them wide-eyed, and seemed anxious to eat one, but was instead handed a bottle by her mother.
“It might sound conceited, but I figured since I’m making a resolution, why not celebrate?”
“Because some people make resolutions they won’t stick to?” Reuf-Bu said. Ai-Reia nudged him lightly with a fist.
“I am sure Ai-Reia will keep this resolution. She’s serious about it.” Shuera-Kaizima told him.
“Don’t I know that. I live with her, you know.” He rubbed his hands together. “Well, it’s a win-win, then! You’re going to be more happy, and we get treats because of it!”
Everyone at the table began to reach for treats at once, making a bit of mess on the table. Ai-Reia found herself amused by the display.
“Are you really going to be happier from now on, Ai-Reia?” Her mother asked. “I’m still worried, you know…”
“I understand, Mother. But my resolution is to enjoy life more. I can’t keep dwelling on the things that upset me, otherwise they will only serve to upset me more. I’m sure I’ll still be stressed at times–the downside of being such a young child prodigy….but here in Bledger, do I really have to worry all that much?”
“She has a point,” Reuf-Bu said before cramming more food into his mouth.
“I felt it on my birthday. Once everything started going right, I knew what I had to do. So I’m certain now. I will not go back to that point I was at before. I will prove my true strength by showing this world that I can move past it, and be happy!”
Almost everyone at the table smiled at her, save for Ca-Miela, who was still drinking from the bottle. Ai-Reia smiled back.
‘Just you watch, La-Iin. Your threats will mean nothing to me when I return to school. This Summer has made me a changed woman!”

—–
Late that night, after Shuera-Kaizima and Im-Dei had long since left, Ai-Reia stepped outside with the diary and a lighter she had managed to swipe from the kitchen. She hoped nobody noticed it was missing.
She checked through the pages once more. Each of them made her as uncomfortable as they had earlier that day.
“If I really am going to stick to this plan, I can’t be reminded of my past by you,” she said, then set the diary on fire. She tossed it to a portion of gravel and watched it burn, keeping close by just in case the fire began to spread. To her luck, it stayed mostly contained to the diary.
As she watched it burn, an uncertain feeling washed over her.
‘That monstrous feeling…those violent dreams…am I sure those too were the product of stress?’
She shook her head. ‘Don’t think on it. This is a thing of the past now. If I am really going to be happy from here on out, I need to start convincing myself that will really be the case.’

7.584.That First Friend

The La-Iin Series
Chapter 584
“That First Friend”

The central of the neighborhood was abuzz with noise that afternoon as children played together. Their raucous noise was infectious to their nearby parents, who instead of chatting mundanely like they normally did, had begun to play with each other, running around and giving hearty laughs.
Despite the cheerful mood of most other people there, Dosa-Mina couldn’t find it in him to share in it. He had believed that once he and his parents had moved to Bledger, the knowledge of him being a Werewolf-Siren would disappear. Everyone except his parents would see him as a Normal from then on.
Those hopes had been quickly dashed. Once they saw his parents nearly everyone knew, and those who didn’t were quickly corrected in that Dosa-Mina was their biological son and not adopted. He did want to play with the other children, but a pervasive fear that someone would question him on his species kept him from doing so. More than not wanting his species to be known, he didn’t want the other children to know that he was half and half.
“Hi, Dslellular!”
Dosa-Mina looked up. The girl who had approached him was called Xarta Sirlie-Baecho–Dosa-Mina had met her soon after moving to the neighborhood along with the rest of her family. She seemed nice enough, but he was still reluctant to approach anyone.
“Hi, Xarta.”
“Why’re you so down? Everyone else is playing. Why, nobody want to play with you? I can play with you. The tag kids were getting bored of me anyway. It’s not my fault I’m so great at tag!”
“I’m just…never mind, it’s not important.”
“Yeah it is. You’re sad and you’re leaving yourself out. What’s wrong?”
“…” Dosa-Mina wasn’t sure how to respond. Something gave him the feeling that Sirlie-Baecho wasn’t going to leave him alone unless she got a response. “I’m just kind of sad. I didn’t want anyone in the neighborhood to know about my species.”
“Why not?”
“Just…’cause.”
Sirlie-Baecho sighed. “It is pretty weird that you always look like a Normal, but why should that keep you from playing with everyone else?”
“I thought the other kids would just ask me about it, so I didn’t want to risk it.”
“Most of us will play with you anyway. We live in Vaelyn, Dslellular! Remember, we care more about if you came from overseas than if you’re a Werewolf-Siren! Besides, that’s a fun combination!”
“…”
“But I don’t care if you want to be a Werewolf-Siren or a Normal. I just want you to smile. You’re breaking the mood here! So let’s play! I still feel like playing tag, after all!”
“…” Dosa-Mina sighed. “I guess we can play for a little bit.”
“Okay! But I’ll show you, I really am a tag master!”
Sirlie-Baecho clapped her hands, and wings sprouted from her back. Dosa-Mina felt slightly at ease. Perhaps he was letting his worry get to him a bit too much. Even if the people in the neighborhood knew his species, that was still just the people in the neighborhood. And so long as people didn’t see him in his true form, maybe things wouldn’t be so bad.
After all, it wasn’t as if there was anything he could do about it now that it was common knowledge.

***

Dosa-Mina head out to the neighborhood central. It had been a while since he had been out there, and today the central was fairly empty–most of the time children or teenagers would be hanging out around there, but today only one person was there ahead of him, and that was Sirlie-Baecho.
Dosa-Mina wasn’t sure why his old friend had summoned him so suddenly, but with nothing better to do he figured it wouldn’t hurt to meet with her. He sat down on the bench next to her.
“Hi, Sirlie,” Dosa-Mina said.
“Hey. I’m glad you actually came. I really thought you were gonna ditch.”
“Why would I do that? You’re my longtime friend.”
“Yeah, but we haven’t really been getting together much lately, have we? After all, you’re with that San-Kyung boy a lot now. I’ve seen he makes you happy. That makes me happy.”
“Yeah, we are pretty close. But you’re still a good friend of mine too.”
“I know that. And I wouldn’t have called you out here if I wasn’t a little concerned.”
Now that was unexpected. “What about?”
“Well, you haven’t been coming outside often, but I’ve seen the looks on your face when you do. You don’t seem as happy lately. What’s up? You know I’m gonna be the first to question you when you’re sad. ….okay, maybe more like the fourth, but I’d be the first if I had my way.”
“Oh….well, it’s nothing really. Just a couple of minor things. San-Kyung’s a little down, and before Summer break, there were two girls who were bothering us.”
“Like at Deatrou?”
“No, not like that. I can handle that. It’s a lot different…they’re suspicious about my true species.”
“Oh man. Geez, Dosa-Mina, I don’t think that’s gonna stay a secret forever. You do pull it off pretty flawlessly, but it isn’t even completely a secret now.”
“I’ll keep trying to keep it hidden anyway. Hopefully they’ll guess wrong and I can prove otherwise. But they kept asking me to sing, so I’m really worried…you can’t just pass that one off with incompetence, after all. I can’t sing badly, and even if I could it wouldn’t change the effects.”
“Yeah…well, you know you’re always welcome to come to me with your problems, right? I’ll lend an ear. I actually wish you would rely on me more when it comes to your problems. I feel kind of overshadowed by San-Kyung sometimes.”
“Sorry.”
Sirlie-Baecho shook her head. “‘s fine, I know you two are close. And it’s not like you’re the only one with other friends. I’ve got a few friends at my school. I just can’t help but remember playing with you when we were younger. We’d come up with games that lasted us so long they’d go into a week before we were done! Remember the pirate adventure game?”
Dosa-Mina giggled. “Yeah, I remember that one. I think that took us longer than a week, though!”
“Maybe, but point stands, it took a long time for us to finish that one!”
Dosa-Mina sighed. “I’m really sorry we haven’t gotten together much lately, Sirlie. Things have been weird ever since I became a teenager.”
“What doesn’t become weird after you hit the big one-three? But quit apologizing. I just wanted to make sure you’re okay, that’s all. Seeing you happy is my top priority. And hey, we haven’t talked for months, and this conversation wasn’t awkward at all.”
Dosa-Mina smiled, and Sirlie-Baecho pulled him into a hug. “Geez, Dosa-Mina, you’re such a cutie now! No wonder that San-Kyung boy likes you so much. Sometimes I feel less like your best friend and more like yer doting big sister!”
“You’re younger than me though, aren’t you?”
“Hey!” She ruffled his hair and let him go. “But seriously. If there’s one thing I have over this San-Kyung boy, it’s that I get to see the shy and awkward side of you. That in and of itself makes me happy. And there’s one thing I can do for you that he can’t.”
“What’s that?”
Sirlie-Baecho clapped her hands and grabbed him from the waist. “Show you what it’s like to fly!” She took off into the sky, only struggling slightly with Dosa-Mina’s weight–it was his height that she was having a harder time of managing.
“Geez, why are you so tall now!?”
‘I guess now would be a bad time to tell her about the levitation,’ he thought. ‘Oh well, I can enjoy this for now…’

—–
When Dosa-Mina returned home, Sirlie-Baecho accompanied him. Elai-Riya greeted the two, and she smiled when she spotted Sirlie-Baecho.
“Hello there, Sirlie-Baecho,” Elai-Riya said. “It sure has been a while since you’ve come by here.”
“Yeah. I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of the pumpkin boy, though. I ain’t gonna stay long. Just reconnecting with Dosa-Mina.”
She hugged him again. “You come to me if anything’s wrong, a’ight? Even if we spend three years apart, we’ll still be friends. I ain’t gonna judge you.”
“Thanks, Sirlie.” He hugged back. “Not sure I’ll take you up on that, though. You know I don’t like talking about myself.”
“I know, I know. Well then, come over if you need someone to cheer you up, then?”
“Sounds good. I think I’ll take you up on that offer.”
Sirlie-Baecho let him go and waved to Elai-Riya. “Bye bye, Dslellulars! And see you soon or later, doesn’t matter–I look forward to our next meeting anyway, Dosa-Mina.”
She clapped her hands and flew off. Dosa-Mina closed the door.
“It’s nice to see that you still get along with her after all these years,” Elai-Riya said. “Especially considering she’s a lot nicer than San-Kyung is.”
“Well, San-Kyung is San-Kyung and Sirlie is Sirlie. And they’re both very important to me, just for different reasons.”
‘I never consider her when I think about my and San-Kyung’s plan,’ he realized. ‘Demons are long-lived, but maybe, just maybe…maybe he and I can wait for her. I’ll have to look into something to help extend the lifespans of Animated Pumpkins along with Operation Reboot, just in case.’

4.581.Mr. Eteibreit’s Day at Home

The La-Iin Series
Chapter 581
“Mr. Eteibreit’s Day at Home”

“It’s time for me to head off, Yul-Hiis.”
“Really? Time already? I thought you had time for one session of intercourse.”
Eteibreit purred. “You know what time I leave, Yul-Hiis. I must get there before my workers.” She kissed him on the cheek. “So, what will you do while I’m gone?”
“You’ve asked me this question ever since I quit my job. The same things I always do. And not a one of those things will be kept secret from you. Ask away when you get home, or don’t. I don’t mind, I’ll tell you all the same.”
Eteibreit gave a contented nod. “Alright, then. I’ll be off. See you later, my darling Yul-Hiis.”
Eteibreit walked out and closed the door. Yul-Hiis relaxed on the couch. ‘Ah, I know I should start working right away. After all, that’s what Yong-Hin does when she arrives at the data storage. But ’tis no harm in a quick nap before I start the day….’

***

When Yul-Hiis woke up forty minutes later, he set to work immediately.
‘Oh, internet, for all your foibles you’re the place I find the most information. Why doesn’t Yong-Hin have many computers installed at Eteibreit Data Storage? It isn’t as if we don’t have the vuyong.’
Yul-Hiis had several things he was interested in pursuing on the internet, so many in fact as to have a file on his and Eteibreit’s computer that listed all the things he wanted to look in to. Particularly right now, he was interested in dark secrets hidden within video games–the one of which that caught his most attention being one that supposedly contained real-life murder images.
‘Of course there’s no hard proof though. Of course, when this is a game I don’t and never would want to own. Or even if I did, would Yong-Hin consider it worth the vuyong…ah well, we do have plenty, but still!’
His frustration grew the more he looked through the internet, and his patience went down with it. Just as he was about to give up and find something else to do, he was startled by the phone ringing.
“Yes? Eteibreit residence, Yul-Hiis at your service~”
“Hello, Yul-Hiis! Nice to talk to you again! It’s been a while!”
“Ah, hello there, Sher-Zhen.” Sher-Zhen was a good friend of Yul-Hiis’. The two often talked over the internet about their various data findings. Sher-Zhen in particular specialized in opening programs to find out more about them.
“You must introduce me to this Mr. Tielve sometime, Yul-Hiis,” Eteibreit had said once. “He sounds like an actually competent worker for my data storage.”
“Unfortunately, Sher-Zhen is a freelancer. He couldn’t keep down a stable job, not even a part-time one, if he tried. Those dreams will have to be put on the shelf, Yong-Hin.”
Refocusing on the present, Yul-Hiis continued, “and indeed it has been. What prompts the sudden call?”
“Remember how the last time you contacted me you were looking into that Sunset on the Valley game? You know, the visual novel with the murder images? I got a hold of a copy and did a datamine, and I found a few interesting things. Should I come over and show you them? A few of them are a bit violent as expected.”
“A few things, Sher-Zhen. First off, I am no stranger to even the strangest of things. Don’t worry about content warnings with me. Second off….no, actually, I can answer that question myself. Go on, come over, Yongie’s out right now so it won’t be much problem. She won’t be back for many hours, so there’s no worries about her scoping you out as a potential worker.”
“Ah, good. Alright then, I’ll be there in about an hour.”
“‘Til then, my friend.” He hung up the phone.
“Finally, all my searching comes to a breakthrough. Although I suppose it isn’t my breakthrough. Ah, methinks I’m overthinking things.”
Yul-Hiis wrinkled his nose. “I really need to work on my speech patterns. My parents had too much of an influence on me…”

While he waited for Sher-Zhen to arrive, Yul-Hiis began to set up various things around the house. He tidied the main room for his friend’s arrival, and set up the bedroom for a plan he had for that night. He had only just started a book on data retrieval when the doorbell rang.
“Did I make perfect timing?” Sher-Zhen asked.
“Imperfect timing, unfortunately, Sher-Zhen. I was in the midst of reading a data retrieval book.”
Sher-Zhen looked slightly startled. “I’m sorry…”
Yul-Hiis smirked. “Don’t be. And by the by, I’m sensitive to people who show their vulnerabilities so easily, so cut that out.”
Sher-Zhen closed the door behind him. “It’s just you, Yul-Hiis. Although, the comment wasn’t totally unappreciated…”
His friend’s whispered extra comment went unheard, as he had head immediately for the computer. Sher-Zhen pulled out a small USB stick and stuck it into the computer.
“What, I don’t get the computer chair? Whose house is this?”
“Sorry, it’s hard for me to focus standing up.” Sher-Zhen opened the folder. “There we go.”
“Ah!” Yul-Hiis was pleasantly surprised. The folder was filled at first with images from the game itself, but a separate folder contained much more surprising images. Some were violent images from the game itself, while others seemed to be legitimate murder photos along with strange ones of a young child and a sad looking man.
“Tell me, where did you find these?”
“Inside the game?” Sher-Zhen replied, confused.
“No, no. I mean in what context.”
“Oh. Well, the violent game photos are from a secret ending in the game, while the real-life photos are from an unused secret ending.” Sher-Zhen sighed. “I should have brought you the transcript of that unused ending. I think you would have liked it.”
“No problem, I don’t know the game and anyways there’s always the future for such things. Go on.”
“As for these photos, I found them in a folder that has incomplete data. I can’t really work with anything that’s in there, but I assume it also had something to do with things that were scrapped from the game.”
“Ah. This seems like the type of thing one might report to the police.”
“I’m sure someone else is going to, sooner or later. Everyone’s looking to buy the game because of these pictures, but unfortunately the people who think this stuff is already in the game are the ones buying the most copies instead of the people who know where to look.”
“I see.” Yul-Hiis relaxed. “Thank you so much, Sher-Zhen. I’ve been curious about this for quite a while. I thought my searches would never come to fruition.”
Yul-Hiis was surprised to see Sher-Zhen’s face flush slightly. “You’re welcome, Yul-Hiis. Anything game-related you’re interested in, I can help. I’ve been able to get into even the games with the highest security to protect their product. I guess the skill’s not exactly the rarest one, though.”
“It’s a skill I lack, so it’s good enough for me,” Yul-Hiis said nonchalantly. “Well, since you’re here and our work is done, I might as well give you a prize as well for showing me such an interesting piece of media.”
“Prize?”
“Yes. That and lunch. Say, could I keep the USB stick? I’m sure Yong-Hin will be interested in seeing these contents too.”
Sher-Zhen sighed. “Sure, you can. Keep it forever if you like. I can always open up the game again if I want to see these things.”
Yul-Hiis flashed him a smile. He then head for the library room in the house. Along with a small set-up for reading, the library room’s main attraction was the several bookshelves that were stacked from top to bottom with all sorts of books, though a few shelves to the right were fairly bare, the last being entirely so. Yul-Hiis clapped and flew to check the shelves, looking for something that he was certain Sher-Zhen wouldn’t have seen.
‘Ah!’ His eye caught an old file he and Yong-Hin had put together as teenagers. The file documented various people they had recognized in a shady district much like the one he had discovered Startimatum in. He took the file and landed, but before he could leave the room, Sher-Zhen approached him himself.
“Anxious to see your prize, or anxious to pick one yourself? Sher-Zhen, I might think you’re taking this a little too seriously. Most of our data is actually relatively silly.”
“I know that’s not all the case, Yul-Hiis. And I wasn’t exactly here because of the prize.”
“Oh?”
Sher-Zhen looked away from him. “I was just thinking about something.”
“What about? Typically I’m good at picking up on emotions, but I’m still no mind reader. I can see that you’re tense, though.”
“Of course I am…I want to say something I don’t think I should say.”
Yul-Hiis smirked. “Say it, then. The unsaid just makes me antsy and Yong-Hin always complains about it the next morning.”
“Yong-Hin, huh…” Sher-Zhen sighed. “Yul-Hiis, once in the past, did you say that you and your wife have a bit of an…open relationship?”
“Slightly so. The terms are more on a case-by-case basis but in essentiality we either do it together…heh heh…or are present or otherwise witnesses of what goes on with someone else. Why do you ask?” Yul-Hiis blinked. “Oh, I see how this is. Sher-Zhen, you are absolutely the last man I expected to approach me for this.”
“So you figured it out…”
“Nobody asks me or Yongie that question without either one, wanting to sleep with us or two, being disturbed by it. Since you sounded apprehensive, I naturally assumed it was the former.”
“You’d be right, except it’s a little more complicated than just that. I mean…I just…”
“I can see what path this is going down,” Yul-Hiis sighed. “Fine, tell me what it is you want, Sher-Zhen, and I will talk with Yong-Hin about it later.”
Sher-Zhen looked uncertain, and instead of responding with words, responded by giving Yul-Hiis a kiss.
“There’s a reason I didn’t want to say anything, Yul-Hiis,” he said. “I don’t want Yong-Hin to be a part of it.”
“Is that so…” Yul-Hiis touched his lips. “I’m afraid I’ll have to turn you down, then.”
Sher-Zhen looked dejected. “I’m sorry, my friend. Whether all you want is a night with me, or if you want something more–well, I certainly can’t give you that second one. Even having been with other people during my marriage, Yong-Hin has always been involved in the situation, and I could never give myself emotionally to anyone aside from her. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
“I see.”
“Still, color me surprised when it comes to you feeling that way. I wouldn’t have expected that.”
“Well, I’m not surprised, though maybe it’s because it’s me. Yong-Hin is a lucky woman, Yul-Hiis.”
“I’m the lucky one.”
“Yes, I suppose you are…”
“Don’t look so dejected, Sher-Zhen. I’m not the type of person who is too fazed by people having feelings for me. Other people say it won’t change a thing when really it will. Well, I give you my guarantee that it won’t change a thing.” He winked at Sher-Zhen, who chuckled. “Now, instead of dwelling on this topic, why don’t we focus instead on your prize?”
“I’d be glad to. I don’t want to be the only one doing any data sharing today, after all.”

—–
“Interesting files you have here, Yul-Hiis,” Yong-Hin said later that night. “Interesting indeed.”
“I’ll give credit where credit is due. Sher-Zhen is skilled in his trade. He could make a steady living if he could commit to a job.”
“A shame. I really would like him as a worker at the data storage.” She glanced at Yul-Hiis. “Now, about the part involving him wanting to have sex with you…”
“Oh, that? I turned him down, I told you already.”
“No, I heard that part. But if the boy’s so eager, why not give him what he wants?”
“I fear that’s what might change an unchanged friendship into a changed one, at least on his side. Unfortunately, Normals take sex far more seriously than we do, for the most part.”
“No, that isn’t what I meant. I was going to ask, do you think he is the type for a threesome? You could always accept his offer if he would be up for that.”
Yul-Hiis shrugged. “I wouldn’t know on that front, but one thing I can tell you, girls are not his type.”
“Ah, I see. What a shame.”
“Don’t worry about it, Yong-Hin. And if you’re feeling so antsy, that reminds me of a surprise I have for you in the bedroom…”
Yong-Hin giggled. “Oh, Yul-Hiis, you pervert.”
“You more than me, Yongie. Admit that.”
“Oh, I do. Have you ever heard me deny it?”

22.568.Withdrawal from Secret Keeping

The La-Iin Series
Chapter 568
“Withdrawal from Secret Keeping”

“It feels like it’s been a while since I came over here!” Fer-Shi exclaimed. “I think this month we’ve been talking lots over the phone, but we haven’t really been seeing much of each other, huh?”
“During the Summer there’s extra time for things we like to do, so of course we’re focused on those and not each other. Besides, it’s easier to just go straight from school to wherever it is we want to go.”
“That’s true.”
“Now, since the theme of this visit is getting caught up with everything that’s happened over this Summer break so far, I want to show you the many drawings I’ve made over the Summer! Gaze upon my masterpieces!”
La-Iin laid on her table several pictures drawn in crayon. Fer-Shi squinted her eyes at them. Most of them she could barely make out what they were supposed to be, though she could tell by the colors used and the outline that La-Iin had put herself in more than half of them.
“Um, there’s a lot of…red.”
“In case you couldn’t tell, my love for blood has increased recently.”
“I could tell. It’s been increasing steadily since last year!” She pointed towards one of the pictures. “What’s this orange-and-yellow thing supposed to be?”
“None of your business,” she said simply.
“Then why are you showing it to me!?”
“La-Iin isn’t the little Vampire known for being a child prodigy.”
“Bes-Isa, shut up. I let you go in that dollhouse, and I thought you promised you’d be quiet.”
“If you wanted me to actually hold to that promise, you should have snapped your fingers.”
La-Iin sighed. “Anyway, most of these are just fantasies, but some of them do concern certain things I’m not sure I want you to know about…”
“Eheh heh, well, I guess I’m used to that by now. There are certain things I don’t really want to talk with you about either.”
“I would be curious if it wasn’t likely that these are very goody-goody things.”
“Well, I might not consider that…eheh…maybe I shouldn’t say that.”
“Huh?”
“I–it’s nothing. Anyway, how have you been lately? Well, I guess you’ve told me about that. Who have you been hanging out with recently then? Have you been keeping in touch with Sara over the Summer?”
“I haven’t. I don’t know her phone number and her house is complicated to get to. Also, I can’t stand her family. But that doesn’t matter. I haven’t been wanting for company. After all, I’ve gotten to spend a lot of quality time with San-Kyung!”
“…” Fer-Shi gave an uneasy smile. “I see…well, um, I can tell that’s probably been very enjoyable for you.”
“You don’t know the half of it.”
“He hasn’t been the only one you’ve been spending time with though, has he?”
“No, but I haven’t spent as much time with Mama this Summer because of what happened. You might be able to guess that rival-boy was there sometimes when I went to see San-Kyung, so I suppose you can count him as well. Oh, and Dami has come over this month, and then I guess there’s that annoying Eu–”
“Ixnay, ixnay, La-Iin!”
“You?” Fer-Shi said. “No, that couldn’t have been right. Who’s “Eu”, La-Iin?”
La-Iin’s face flushed. Bes-Isa calling her out made her feel humiliated, and now that she was in this situation she could only imagine what would happen if Fer-Shi were to find out about Eul-Bok. ‘Maybe Fer-Shi wouldn’t do anything, but what might Sale-Dessu or Eul-Bok do…no, scratch that. What would Eul-Bok do…’
Slightly scared at the idea of facing his powers, she cleared her throat. “That’s confidential.”
“What!? Why!?”
“Because it’s one of her silly fake future children, that’s why.”
La-Iin flinched. “They’re not silly or fake!” She flung the doll out of her dollhouse and began to swing her around the room, slamming her into walls. Bes-Isa let out shrieks of terror and pain, and Fer-Shi watched on in horror. It was only when La-Iin began to breathe heavily that her assault came to a stop.
“Um–”
“Even if there was someone else I had been spending time with, I bet there’s people you’ve been spending time with I know nothing about!”
“Huh? Oh, well, I guess a little,” she admitted. “I think you’ve heard of Hei-Maj before though, haven’t you?”
“Hei-Maj?” La-Iin said quizzically. “Hm…wait a second, is that the hobo slave!?”
“He’s not a hobo slave! But recently I saw him for the first time in a while.”
“I see.” La-Iin sighed. “If only you were evil and he was your hobo slave. I’d ask you to bring him over here and we could utilize him for future practice.”
“Future practice…? Well, I’m definitely not letting Hei-Maj anywhere near you now!”
“Your little conversation is nice and all but does anyone care that I’m in immense pain!?”
Fer-Shi stared at Bes-Isa with wide eyes. “I do…”
“You’re in immense pain enough that I feel numb about you mentioning it.”
“And whose fault is that!? Aren’t I your best friend next to Fer-Shi!? How come you don’t beat on her!?”
“I can’t fling her around like I can with you. Besides, my preference was to make Normal jokes about her, but unfortunately she doesn’t seem to care about those much anymore.”
“Maybe she beats on you, but it shows she trusts you if she’s willing to talk with you about things she won’t even talk with me about,” Fer-Shi said. “I really do wonder if you trust me sometimes, La-Iin…”
“So jokes about your species don’t hurt you anymore, but her not wanting to talk about an acquaintance does?”
“I’m not that sensitive,” Fer-Shi said.
“I’d beg to differ, given what I’ve seen of you.”
“Do I really seem that way? I don’t mean to…”
Seeing the expression on Fer-Shi’s face, La-Iin had begun to feel conflicted. Fer-Shi seemed genuinely upset, though she could tell she was trying to hide it.
‘You know, what do I even care about Eul-Bok anyway? I shouldn’t be worrying about him getting mad. I guess I should be more worried about Sale-Dessu getting ruined…I need my ally for the future. But Fer-Shi can keep a secret, this I know! She’s kept other secrets about me before! And even if Eul-Bok somehow found out and got mad, I can overpower him anyway.’
“Maybe I’ll tell you a little bit about this ‘Eu’ now that I’ve thought on it more,” La-Iin said.
“Y-you don’t have to do that! I wasn’t trying to make you feel bad for me. I just get jealous sometimes. But you know that already. And I don’t want to butt into your secret future plans…”
La-Iin sighed. “He’s not one of them. He’s already been born. In case you didn’t hear Bes-Isa, he’s an acquaintance of mine. And he’s pretty annoying. You could say I see him more as useful than an actual friend. But he’s really annoying and he’s younger even than me!”
“Younger than you!? Wow, that’s pretty young! Is he a Vampire too?”
“No. He intrigues me because of a certain something he has. But I care more for Sara than I do for him. Bes-Isa hates him even more than I do.”
“Bes-Isa’s met him?”
“I was there once when she met up with him. I wish I wasn’t.”
“Huh…”
“Anything else you want to know?”
“No, not really. And, um, sorry if I made you feel bad for me. Really, I wasn’t trying to do that.”
“So you say, but you seem to question me on my friends often despite the fact that you have plenty of friends, including that hobo slave, who I have never interacted with and have no intention of interacting with. Besides, he’s just an acquaintance and most of my other friends I can’t even plan nefarious deeds with anyway.”
“I said I was sorry!”
“Well, this conversation is over,” she said with a huff. “Anything else?”
“Um, how has your blood power been coming along?”
La-Iin’s eyes widened. “My blood power! Damn it, I haven’t been giving it the focus I need!”
“Really? It seems like you mention it daily.”
“Now you’ve given me a taste for blood. And a taste for discovering more. Damn it, Summer is the best time to focus on this and I’ve already wasted twenty days!”
“I think it’s the twenty-second,” Fer-Shi said. La-Iin sighed. “Shit.”
“Well, at least you remember now, so you can do something about it soon.”
“Soon is never soon enough.”
“…what does that even mean?”
“Hey, speaking of remembering things, that reminds me of something. La-Iin, how’d you like to go somewhere with me soon? I’d like to walk around Bledger for a nature walk. Nothing like that adventure we had, just looking at nature.”
“That’s all? It sounds boring.”
“There’s plenty of interesting and violent stuff in nature, you know. That’s not what I’m looking for, but I figure it might make you want to come along.”
“You just think I’m that shallow, don’t you?”
“I know you like evil!”
“True. Evil is my passion and my calling. But there’s no guarantee we’ll find anything evil. I’ll go with you anyway. My tolerance for Mama varies and this month it has been very low. I’ll take any chance to get away from her.”
“Okay then! Does tomorrow sound good?”
“Alright.”
“Hey, La-Iin, since I’m here, would it be okay if I drew a picture?”
“What for?”
“I wanna see if I can draw better than you. I haven’t drawn in a while, but when we were little I think I drew a little better than you.”
“Is this a challenge!?”
“No!”
“So you say.” La-Iin narrowed her eyes. “Challenge accepted.”
“Why do I get myself into these kinds of things…”

—–
“You know, La-Iin…”
“What?”
“Eul-Bok coming up during your earlier conversation with Fer-Shi reminded me how much I want to beat that guy to a bloody pulp. And after you flung me around the room both of those things gave me an idea. The day I become autonomous is the day I get revenge on you for the way you treated me! And this includes drooling on me as a baby, I hope you know!”
La-Iin sighed. “Like a Normal could beat out a Vampire who can use her blood powers.”
“Who said I’d be a Normal!?”
“Have you looked at yourself? Mama obviously designed you as a Normal, the stupid fool.”
“You underestimate my physical strength!”
“You have none,” La-Iin said dryly. “Don’t even bother trying, Bes-Isa. I know for certain I would overpower you. It would just be sad.”
Before Bes-Isa could respond, La-Iin snapped her fingers and her doll fell out the sky and into her hand.

21.567.Operation Reboot

The La-Iin Series
Chapter 567
“Operation Reboot”

In the early morning hours of Tuesday, San-Kyung was startled alert by a sudden phone call.
“Hiii, San-Kyung! Hope I didn’t wake you up too suddenly!”
“I wasn’t asleep, though if I was tired before I’m not now,” he said. “What are you calling for?”
“Tell me, San-Kyung, if I said I had something to talk with you about, where would you say we should talk about it at? At your house? At mine? Ooh, maybe at Hledshess!?”
“Why can’t we talk about it over the phone? I have nothing better to do.”
“Because I feel like seeing you. After yesterday I have to admit, it can be pretty lonely when you’re home alone and both your parents work. You’re lucky, having a stay-at-home mom.”
“You might not consider it so lucky with some of the things she says. …do I have to pick?”
“You know, if you’re feeling lazy you could just ask me to come over there. With jumps like mine it’s not that long a trip.”
San-Kyung sighed. “Fine, come over here, then. I’ll see you soon, I guess.”
“I’ll have to get ready first, but you’ll definitely see me within the hour! Until then, San-Kyung!”
Dosa-Mina hung up. ‘He sounded pretty excited. I wonder what’s going on.’
Even though he was curious about what had Dosa-Mina so riled up, at the same time he felt uneasy. He knew Dosa-Mina could be cheerful, but after the strange way he had been acting and incidents such as his cutting or Airy-Aekok, Dosa-Mina’s hyper-cheerful attitude sent off warning signals for San-Kyung.
‘He acted like that before when he had problems. I wonder if something’s wrong.’
“San-Kyung, dear? Are you feeling thirsty? I poured you a glass of water, if you’d like.”
San-Kyung pushed the thought aside and head to the dining room. “I can pour my own glasses of water, you know.”
“I know, I just thought it would get your attention.”
“Hm.” San-Kyung took a sip.
“Were you talking to Dosa-Mina?”
“How could you tell?”
“It’s always obvious when you are, San-Kyung. You seem to, ah, raise your voice a little while talking over the phone.”
“…I was getting to that, anyway.”
“What is it?”
“Dosa-Mina said he’s going to come over.”
“Oh, that’s nice. Though I really wish he’d ask for my permission sometimes instead of yours.”
“He’s not good, Mom.”
“Yes, but he isn’t evil, either. Oh well, I guess I’ll never understand neutrals.”

Dosa-Mina arrived in the midst of a mundane conversation between San-Kyung and Del-Kyuus, bringing with him a large bag.
“What did you bring, Dosa-Mina?” Del-Kyuus asked.
“Oh, nothing really. Just some stuff that’s relevant to what I came over for. But that’s all stuff that only San-Kyung would care about!”
“It isn’t nefarious, is it?”
“Mrs. Molshei, when it comes to nefarious you should be looking closer at your own son rather than his best friend,” he said coyly. “Now, if there’s nothing else for you to do, come along, San-Kyung!”
Dosa-Mina led the way to San-Kyung’s bedroom. “I know where my bedroom is, by the way.”
“I’m aware, but I intend on taking the lead in this little venture.”
“What are you planning?”
“You’ll see.” Dosa-Mina glanced around San-Kyung’s room. “Geez, you know, when it’s been a bit since you’ve been in someone’s room, it can give you a really different perspective of them.”
“What’s that supposed to mean!?”
“Your room looks like an emo’s room, that’s what it means. Seriously, how come your walls aren’t painted red? Isn’t that your favorite color?”
“It is. But this was cheaper. That’s what my parents said, anyway.”
“Oh, so it’s their fault.” Dosa-Mina put the bag on his bed. “Ah, that feels a lot better!”
“So?”
“Well, I’m gonna get to it, but you have to promise me you’re not going to start acting weird because of anything I say.”
San-Kyung narrowed his eyes. “If you’re getting the wrong idea, stop it. It’s because this little thing deals with your true form. That’s why I said this.”
San-Kyung relaxed. “Bringing that up again, aren’t you…”
“This time it’s a lot more positive than before. Instead of getting upset about what the paper said, I decided to take some action. You see, the paper may have rendered the certain methods we were looking at as ineffective, but when I put some thought and study into it, I realized that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s impossible for you to have another way to transform.”
“I doubt it’s possible.”
“Don’t doubt now! I know when something’s not possible, San-Kyung. You know what’s not possible? A non-avian spontaneously sprouting wings and flying. This one is debatable. Perhaps there’s something we missed. We were pretty focused on La-Iin being the trigger, after all. But now we need to look at things differently and closely, and by the way San-Kyung, if you could be in your true form all the time but you wouldn’t get the power boost, how would you feel about that?”
“Huh?”
“If you could transform physically but you were still, y’know, weak in November.”
San-Kyung’s expression became blank. “Because that could be a possibility.”
“It’s better than what I have now,” he said. “Is that possible?”
“Well, I was looking into it as a possibility. You see, I haven’t done much research on Witches and Warlocks because there’s just so much stuff on them it’s annoying to sift through it all! But I realized it could be a possibility. And if I find out that it’s possible, I’ll tell you how to do it right away.”
“As much as I’d love the power, if I could at least look like myself…”
Dosa-Mina smiled. “I understand how you feel. Sort of. But I thought this project should be started because it isn’t hopeless yet. We just got side-tracked because all our hard work was for nothing. But just because that was a waste doesn’t make it impossible. And we’ve had our time to get our frustration out. Now it’s time to get back to work, and this project, I dub it ‘Operation Reboot’!”
“Did you have to give it a ridiculous name like that?”
“I figured it might lighten the mood if I did.”
“Well, you might just be wasting your time with ‘Operation Reboot’ as well,” San-Kyung said. “Just as you’re saying that it might be possible we overlooked something with our one-track search it could be possible there’s nothing to find and that this will only waste more of our time.”
“San-Kyung…”
“But, if you’re right and there’s a chance that another method is possible, then I don’t mind going along with whatever ridiculous scheme you dream up. It’s been hard for me lately to get motivated…the idea of having to go through November while I follow through with my goal always seemed like a major disadvantage. But I don’t want to be like that. And maybe it won’t be easy, but I’ll take a chance if it’s there.”
“There’s the San-Kyung I know and love,” Dosa-Mina said. “Where have you been hiding all this year?”
“All this year?”
“The whole, er, cutting thing at the beginning of the year kinda soured your mood too.”
“Yeah, well, I know I need to try and do better than I have been. So…I guess that makes ‘Operation Reboot’ a go. It’s weird, considering the original plan you didn’t want anything to do with at first.”
“People can change, and people can be pushed to do some pretty out-of-character things for the people they care about. But I’m glad, San-Kyung. So I’ll keep looking! I haven’t been doing as much species study as I had been in the past too. Both of us have been pretty off. So this is our chance to get back to where we were before!”
“Yeah!”
“So let’s do this!”
San-Kyung clenched a fist. “Operation Reboot is a go! We start immediately!”
“Immediately? I didn’t bring any books!”
“That doesn’t matter! The project’s started now and there’s no going back.”
Dosa-Mina opened his mouth to respond, but was interrupted by the door opening.
“Mom?”
“Sorry, I heard you two yelling and I wanted to make sure everything was alright,” Del-Kyuus said. “But it looks like everything’s fine!”
“You didn’t need to worry at all, Mrs. Molshei. I think things are better than they have been in a while!”
“I agree.”
Del-Kyuus narrowed her eyes. “I’m not taking your word on that until I see some actual evidence!”
“Well, hopefully you’ll get to see that soon.” To the surprise of both Dosa-Mina and Del-Kyuus, San-Kyung cracked a smile.

—–
“San-Kyung, your father is–what happened!?”
“We got into a bit of a scuffle, Mrs. Molshei,” Dosa-Mina said. He was covered in dust and Del-Kyuus could spot what appeared to be a bruise on his face. “But nothing major.”
“A scuffle!?”
“Yeah, like the early days,” San-Kyung said. Del-Kyuus gave an exasperated sputter.
“How is that a good thing!?”
“It’s not really. But at least it tells me I haven’t lost San-Kyung yet!”
“What do you mean by that?”
“I mean I still see some of those traits I thought you’d lost!” He giggled. Though he smiled and spoke with a happy tone, San-Kyung noticed discomfort in his eyes, and all at once his feeling of unease returned.

20.566.Drug of Choice

The La-Iin Series
Chapter 566
“Drug of Choice”

“I wish I had the powers of a Warlock sometimes! They can do so many interesting things. And they have such a wide range of abilities that just reading about it in a book doesn’t give me anything close to the kind of information I want!”
“That’s strange, coming from the boy who doesn’t even like to acknowledge his real species,” Elai-Riya said.
“I use my powers plenty.”
“I know, I know.”
“They can do all sorts of cool things,” Dosa-Mina sighed. “Just think, they haven’t even tapped into their full potential yet…”
Before Elai-Riya could respond, someone knocked at the door. “I hope that’s not Orlin-Aesth. He knows I go to work almost right after he leaves.” She fluttered over to the door. Dosa-Mina tried to glance past her to see who was there.
“Oh, hello, San-Kyung. It’s good to see you.”
“…”
“Something wrong?”
“No. Dosa-Mina’s in, right?”
“Yeah, he is.”
“San-Kyung, is that you?”
Elai-Riya moved to the side and Dosa-Mina caught sight of his friend. He walked up to him and hugged him. “What brings you here so early in the morning?”
“I have something I need to talk with you about.”
“Ooh, I wonder what,” Dosa-Mina said. ‘Hopefully that’s not anything about cutting…’
“Looks like you won’t have to be alone while I’m gone, Dosa-Mina.”
“I wouldn’t have been alone even if he hadn’t come over. Sirlie-Baecho doesn’t live that far away from us.”
“I know, but it seems like you barely hang out with her anymore.” Elai-Riya sighed. “I should go now. I’ll see you when I get back.”
“Alright. And cheer up, Mom! There’s no need to be so jealous of me. Come a few years and I’ll be doing a job just like you.”
“It’s certainly disheartening,” Elai-Riya grumbled. “If you’re willing to say that, I hope you’re willing to listen to some complaints later on tonight!”
“Um, that depends.”
Elai-Riya scoffed and head out the door. Dosa-Mina let go of San-Kyung.
“Any reason you needed to hold onto me for that whole conversation?”
“Nope! Alright, I know my parents aren’t here right now, but let’s head to my room. It’s comfy in there.”
Both boys head off to Dosa-Mina’s room. ‘Something seems like it’s bothering him.’ As soon as they arrived, Dosa-Mina flopped onto the floor. “What’s up?”
“I have a bit of a problem.”
“Oh, what’d you go and do now? And without me? This doesn’t have to do with the car, does it?”
“Why do you keep bringing up the car? I haven’t used that in a while. No, it’s not that.”
San-Kyung placed a pill on Dosa-Mina’s table. Dosa-Mina examined it closely. “Is this a…a power strengthening drug!? What did I tell you about this, San-Kyung!?”
“I haven’t taken it, have I!? And I don’t have any more, so don’t bother asking. I didn’t intend on taking it. Not really, anyway.”
“San-Kyung, your desperation is turning you to things you’d have never considered in the past.”
“I’m not considering it now!”
“Don’t get so defensive! Look, I’m going to destroy this somewhere away from home. I don’t need my parents thinking I’m looking to take power-increasing drugs.”
He glared at San-Kyung. “But first, tell me where you found it.”
“I was taking a walk nearby Hledshess and I spotted it on the ground. I was curious as to whether or not it actually was one, so I took it home with me. I was going to get rid of it myself either way, but I thought I should come to you. I know how you felt about this subject when it came up the first time.”
Dosa-Mina relaxed. That San-Kyung had opted to come to him for advice in this situation made him feel immensely relieved. “Thank you, San-Kyung. …but you saying you should come to me, that means it crossed your mind to take this, didn’t it.”
San-Kyung didn’t respond.
“Look, San-Kyung, you’re aware of what these things do to you, right?”
“I actually read up on that recently. It doesn’t matter that they increase your powers, because afterwards you just get weak again. I want you to believe me on this, Dosa-Mina. There’s no way I would take a bit of time to be in my true form only to spend more in November mode.”
“Is that all you read? Because it’s a lot worse than that.”
“How would you know?”
“Power-increasing drugs come up sometimes in species study books. Remember, most of the species have powers. They also wreck the parts of your body from which the powers come from. Know how striking your hand sets any blood you draw on fire? That wouldn’t happen anymore if you took those drugs. And since there are all types of different ones for all the species, you realize that if this is not one for Animated Pumpkins, had you taken it the effects would have been much worse?”
San-Kyung began to look concerned. “There are actually ones that are supposed to work for all the species, but I heard that those are the worst of all. They really mess you up. And I don’t even know if taking those drugs would really transform you in the first place. Even if they could, it would probably take a large amount of those things to actually do it, and the length of your transformation could be incredibly short followed by such a sudden decrease in power that it would make November look like October.”
San-Kyung flinched. “Of course, a lot of those are worst case scenarios, but do you want to risk it? Really, taking the wrong type of drug can mess with you. And a lot of these tend to kill your powers pretty badly, depending on what they are. You take a few of these and you can say good-bye to raising vines from the ground. That’s how bad it can get. I don’t think I even need to get into the possibility of death that exists in these things. Remember, we made a promise.”
“I remember. But I told you before you went off on this tangent. Just the idea of taking one and going from power to November faster than I actually do on November 1st turned me away. And besides, there were a lot of other factors too–”
“My problem is that you considered it! Powers were not meant to be influenced by drugs. They’re a part of us that can really mess with the rest of us if we mess with them in the wrong ways. A lot of drugs out there can already mess up the other parts. So messing up your powers and letting that spread…I wouldn’t want you ending up with leukemia or something like that…”
“Could you even get leukemia from these drugs?”
“I–I don’t know. But I wouldn’t risk it anyway.” Dosa-Mina sucked in a breath. “Sorry, San-Kyung. You came here to get my advice, and instead I just got on your case for doing that. I’ve just been worried. This behavior has been going on for a while now. You’ve been acting so odd, and I know why, but I just feel like everything I’ve done or can do is a temporary fix. Nothing actually brings you out of this mindset. More than ever, I really want you to cheer up. To go back to the way you were.”
San-Kyung remained silent. “This is the tipping point. What if it gets worse from here? Remember, you still have your goal of world domination. You shouldn’t give up on that because you can’t get your true form!”
“Like you would even want me to pursue that.”
“I’ll take that over this! All I would want is to be safe. That, and for my family to be safe. And I know you care about me. I trust that they would be.”
Dosa-Mina’s hands balled into fists. “I need to do something about this. I’ll destroy this drug, San-Kyung, and you can stay if you want, but if you’re ready to go home, then go. I have to formulate a plan.”
“Dosa-Mina, you don’t have to bother. I–”
“Don’t tell me not to, San-Kyung. Right now, your well-being is my biggest concern.” He smiled. “While I think over a few things, why don’t you have something to drink? After all, I guess it has been pretty lonely all by myself when my parents are at work. Make yourself comfortable, because something tells me I’m going to have a lot of ideas for something fun to do to pass the time!”
“Dosa-Mina?”
“Come on, up off the floor, I’m going to make you something that’s tastier to drink than just water. Warm or cold?”
“Uh…”
“Well, I’ll just make both, then!” He pulled San-Kyung out his bedroom, then head for the kitchen.
‘What was that all about?’ San-Kyung wondered. ‘I’ve seen him go from one attitude to the other, but never that fast…he must really be concerned.’
At this point, however, San-Kyung saw no point in questioning him about it. ‘With how little Dosa-Mina’s willing to tell me on a daily basis, he’d just dodge this one.’ Opting to go along with it, he head for the table and sat down.

—–
“I’m hoooome…and exhausted,” Orlin-Aesth breathed. “Dosa-Mina, where are you?”
“Right here, Dad,” he said. “I’ve been having some fun with San-Kyung while you and Mom have been at work.”
“Appropriate fun, right?” Orlin-Aesth said coyly.
“Of course! Geez, everyone thinks just ’cause I’m affectionate that means I’m a pervert! But you know I wouldn’t be inappropriate, right, San-Kyung?”
“Not in the way everyone seems to think, no.”
“Aha ha, just picking on you, son. I know you wouldn’t. Or, at least, I hope I know you that well.”
Sitting next to each other, both boys felt in a better mood than earlier, but both also felt the same feeling of unease, as if something about the situation was wrong.

Late that night, after his parents had gone to bed, Dosa-Mina took the drug outside and stepped on it repeatedly until it was so ground that he couldn’t even spot it in the moonlight. Then he head back inside, yawning.

19.565.A Different Stroke

The La-Iin Series
Chapter 565
“A Different Stroke”

“I’ve been so worried about you lately, Hei-Maj,” Fer-Shi said. “I haven’t seen you in a while, and every time I come back lately you haven’t been here. I’m glad to see you’re okay.”
Glancing at his ear, which had a noticeable scratch, she added, “…for the most part.”
Since she was unable to find him on the day she took La-Iin to meet him, Fer-Shi had been concerned about Hei-Maj’s whereabouts and had begun to head to his home more often, and each time during that period she had been unable to find him. Her concern had grown to the point where she had begun to stop by almost daily, and was starting to feel she was arousing the suspicion of Den-Matsu and Tei-Sheu.
Now that she had found him once again, she felt a lot better.
“Hei-Maj apologizes, Fer-Shi. But Hei-Maj has been doing more than sitting and waiting.”
“Yeah, it seems like it,” Fer-Shi said. “What have you been up to?”
“Hei-Maj has been venturing past the trees!” He said. “Curious to move past just Hei-Maj’s home. Is figuring out, world is fairly wide, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, the world is a pretty big place. There’s more than just this little part. There are places like Manemica, and Shitosh, and Nyappon, and there are even more places just within Vaelyn, which is where we’re in! We live in Bledger, but there are places like Silcoulle and Neigghed still within Vaelyn!”
“Wow! Has Fer-Shi been to Manemica or Neigghed?” Hei-Maj asked.
“I’ve never been to Manemica before. It’s really far away, like all the way on the other side of the world! But I’ve been to Neigghed before. The people there are really nice!”
“Nice like Fer-Shi?”
Fer-Shi blushed. “Aw, come on, Hei-Maj. I’m not that nice.”
“Hei-Maj finds it hard to believe all people of one place could be kinder than Fer-Shi.”
“Well, maybe not everyone in Neigghed, but I find it hard to believe that everyone there is less nice than me. So, Hei-Maj, what kind of places have you been to recently?”
“Hei-Maj sees mostly trees, but few interesting areas are up ahead,” he said. “Want Hei-Maj to show you?”
“Huh?”
“Come with Hei-Maj!” He grabbed Fer-Shi’s hand and pulled her through the forestry. Running fast enough that Fer-Shi was tripping over her feet trying to keep up with him, Fer-Shi had to wonder what was so exciting that it merited the sudden run.
“Um, Hei-Maj?”
Hei-Maj came to a halt. “Yes, Fer-Shi?”
“Can you not run so fast? I can’t keep up with you!”
Hei-Maj nodded. He began to walk on slowly.
“You’re really excited about whatever this is, huh?”
“Hei-Maj spends lots of his time in the same place,” he said. “Hei-Maj was thinking he should go further. There is more than home. And Fer-Shi has more than home, so why not Hei-Maj? Hei-Maj is sorry that he was not here when Fer-Shi was to visit recently.”
“Don’t be! If you were having fun and you’re all right, that’s good enough for me. And you’re right, you should have more to do than just stay in the same place all the time. I just worry because, well–”
“Because Hei-Maj has no normal home?”
“No, I-I wasn’t gonna say that!”
“Hei-Maj is fine if Fer-Shi was. Does not bother him.”
After a while walking through the trees, Hei-Maj led Fer-Shi to a small dirt path and followed along it. Fer-Shi noticed Hei-Maj was glancing around at trees covered in unidentifiable berries with curiosity and hunger in his gaze. Still, he kept his eye on the path, and picked up speed when their going got slow.
“Fer-Shi, Hei-Maj has been feeling confused.”
“Huh? Did you forget the path?”
“No, Hei-Maj remembers the path. He has been feeling confused because he does not understand the world…it is all very confusing.”
“I can tell you anything you want to know.”
“He feels stupid in comparison to Fer-Shi. You know so much…”
“You aren’t stupid, Hei-Maj! Your situation’s just kept you from learning a few things, that’s all. But that does not make you stupid.”
“Weird that Fer-Shi is so adamant about Hei-Maj’s non-stupidity when she does not even believe she is good,” he said sternly. Fer-Shi flinched. “Hei-Maj only wants to learn more of the world and be normal, but seems so, so hard…”
“If you want help, I can help you learn more about whatever it is you want to learn about. I’m here to be your friend, and friends help each other. And I did start out saying I would help you.”
“Hei-Maj is grateful. But he is still so confused…all the world is so confusing to him. He wants to do more with life. Fer-Shi does.”
Fer-Shi sighed. “I can sort of understand where you’re coming from. Not exactly, since our situations are different…but I can really understand what it feels like when you feel like you’re not doing all you could with your life. It’s horrible, isn’t it?”
Hei-Maj nodded.
“I don’t want you to feel like that, Hei-Maj. I know how that feels.”
“Is Fer-Shi confused by the world, too?”
“A little, but I think it’s different than why you are. But I definitely understand wanting to do more with your life. So many people are making the best of theirs, planning their futures, and when you’re different from them in that case it’s easy to get jealous. I really don’t want you to feel that way. I hate feeling this way myself. So I promise, I’ll help you with this. We’ll find more for you to do in the world in a way that won’t get you hurt.”
Hei-Maj smiled. “Bless you, Fer-Shi. Fer-Shi should not say she is not good when willing to say things like that….well, even though Hei-Maj has not done all he can, he did promise he would show Fer-Shi something. Come on!”
Hei-Maj broke into a fast walk as they continued on along the dirt path. The further they went, the more the path opened up and the more the trees began to space. Hei-Maj continued on until they reached a wooden swing just past a few bushes.
“Wow! What’s this doing here?”
“Hei-Maj is not sure, but he knows to use it! Look, Fer-Shi!” Hei-Maj ran over to the swing and jumped on it. It began to sway wildly in all directions.
“That’s dangerous, Hei-Maj!” Fer-Shi called out. Hei-Maj hopped off the swing. “I know a safer way to play on it. A little close by where I live, there’s a place with a whole bunch of fixtures like this!”
“A whole bunch of sway-ers?”
“This is called a swing, and it’s more than just this. There’s all sorts of neat equipment there and it’s lots of fun!”
“May Hei-Maj go there someday?”
“I wouldn’t mind, although we’d have to be pretty careful so my parents don’t find out you came with me! Anyway, how you play on this safer is this way.”
She sat down on the swing, planted her feet in the ground, then pushed off and giggled as she swung. Hei-Maj watched her closely, then copied her exactly, beginning to giggle just as she was. Swinging together with Hei-Maj, Fer-Shi couldn’t help but feel light-hearted and at ease.
“What’s that noise, Uman?” A voice said. Both Fer-Shi and Hei-Maj came to a halt.
“It’s likely just wind, Gvin-Shelt.”
“It sounded like a little girl and a little boy! Maybe it was a ghost?”
“You can’t hear ghosts, Gvin-Shelt. Remember what Granmy said?”
“I know, but Granmy said that kids sometimes see ghosts!”
“That isn’t hearing them, though. Now come on. Soon enough cooking time will begin, and you said you wanted to watch today, didn’t you?”
“Yeah!”
“What is…?”
Fer-Shi got off the swing. Her curiosity piqued, she poked her head through the trees and the bushes that separated her and Hei-Maj from the voices. What she spotted on the other side was a set-up of huts. The ground around them was spattered with sand and young Groundisers were outside and playing, their parents watching and talking as older Groundisers prepared food nearby them. Fer-Shi noticed that one of the young Groundisers, who was yawning, had some features of a Lizardfoot.
It was not long before Hei-Maj joined her, looking around at the Groundiser society with curiosity in his eyes.
“Huh?”
One of the children looked in their direction. Fer-Shi grabbed Hei-Maj’s paw and pulled him backwards.
“See, Uman!? There are ghosts here!”
“You and your imagination. Calm down, Gvin-Shelt.”
“What was that?”
“That looked like a species society,” Fer-Shi said.
“What is species society?”
“It’s when a whole bunch of people of the same species live together in a smaller part of the country. Apparently many years before even our parents were born none of the species lived together. But that’s a really long story.”
“Is Fer-Shi in a ‘species society’?”
“No, not at all! I like living with all sorts of species.”
Hei-Maj made a quizzical noise. “They looked like fun…”
Hei-Maj’s expression was unreadable. “Yeah, I guess it did look like they were enjoying themselves. But we’d better get out of here before one of the adults notices us. Not all the species societies like it when other species intrude.” Thinking back on the boy with the Lizardfoot attributes, she added, “Though, something tells me they’re not all that hostile.”
On their way back, Hei-Maj was silent, as was Fer-Shi. She was tossing around a thought in her head, and a question for Hei-Maj, but by the time they made it back to Hei-Maj’s home she no longer felt she should ask the question.
“I’ll make sure to help you learn more about the world, okay, Hei-Maj?”
“Okay, Fer-Shi. Bless you.”
“We’ll do our best to find our places in the world, okay?”
“Okay!”
Fer-Shi waved and began to head back home, feeling uncertain and upset the whole way back.

—–
“Is something wrong, Fer-Shi? You look like you’re about to cry!”
“D-do I?” Fer-Shi asked. “I-I’m not. I’m just a little sad, that’s all…”
“Something’s wrong, then,” Den-Matsu said.
“No! I just read a sad history book.” She sighed. “People really weren’t good at all in history…”
“Maybe you should read something more light-hearted next time you read.”
“Y-yeah, maybe I should.”
‘I shouldn’t be getting all worked up over this,’ she thought. ‘This is a good thing, isn’t it…’

10.556.Recovery from Rejection

The La-Iin Series
Chapter 556
“Recovery from Rejection”

Since the day of her rejection, Mit-Sun had found that her conversations with Uil-Cur, which were formerly fairly common, hadn’t happened in the week since then. Some days they had greeted each other, but Mit-Sun was always too uncomfortable to continue a conversation, and Uil-Cur always sprinted away right after as if he didn’t want to see Mit-Sun.
‘This isn’t right. I know the situation’s awkward, but my intentions weren’t to ruin our whole friendship over this. At this rate we’ll end up drifting apart because we don’t know how to talk to each other anymore. Gahh, it can’t be that hard! I can chastise Asul-Zenza as much as I want now without feeling awkward about it! Though maybe that’s because I don’t like him anymore….geez, why does this have to be so hard…’
“Stewing over something, Cahongyun?”
Leirhyn’s voice snapped her out of her thoughts and also startled her. “Oh…hello, Leirhyn. You don’t usually approach me yourself anymore, do you?”
“No, not usually. Geez, you sound depressed. Judging by the way you and Haner are flitting around each other I’m gonna take a wild guess and say things aren’t all that well between you.”
“It’s not exactly that things aren’t going well, it’s just that they’re….awkward. I’d talk to you about it, but it’s a little personal.”
“That’s alright. But it’s really weird to see you two like this. You were gettin’ pretty chummy there, after all.” Leirhyn’s mouth turned to a wide smile, and Mit-Sun couldn’t help but feel that she looked incredibly suspicious.
“Yeah, we were. No offense, but I think I was starting to get closer to him than I am to you.”
“Absolutely none taken,” Leirhyn said. “I could see that you two had something there. I know you don’t want to talk about it, but I hope everything clears up. I’d like to see you two hanging out again!”
“I’d like to hang out again…maybe I should talk to him. It just feels so strange…”
“Well, if you want to hang out with him again talking to him is the reasonable next option. Otherwise you won’t get anywhere. Oops, I should get back to my post. All the best, Cahongyun! Hope things work out with Haner!”
“Me too,” Mit-Sun sighed. ‘I really do need to talk with Uil-Cur. But even if I can get over how I feel to talk to him, will he be able to?’

***

“While it isn’t usual for me to bother an employee without bringing them first to my office, I figured this warranted the change in protocol. Haner, you’re one of my better employees most of the time. You’re efficient and do your work accurately and quickly. I admire you, but lately some of your work has been sloppy. Your Saturday work is still fine, I have no problems there. But if this sloppy display continues for another week I’m docking your next paycheck!”
“I’ll try and improve!” Uil-Cur flustered. “I have been working hard, trust me, Mrs. Eteibreit. It’s just that I’ve been having a few mishaps lately. I don’t know what’s wrong…”
Eteibreit narrowed her eyes. “Don’t let other employees distract you, Uil-Cur. And it’s best to try and empty your mind before you work here. I will not pay decent vuyong to employees whose jobs would be better done by a three-year-old!”
Eteibreit clapped her hands and flew off.
“Decent vuyong, my ass,” Uil-Cur muttered. He sighed. “Like I could’ve told her the real reason anyway. Pretty difficult to work when you’re crying all the time….oh, my sister will be mad at me if my pay gets docked. But what does it affect her!? She doesn’t live with me anymore!”
“Uil-Cur?”
“Yipe!” Uil-Cur flew above the tallest shelf in the room. “M-M-Mit-Sun! Er, I’m sorry, but I’m still on my shift, I can’t talk now!”
“That’s alright. I can wait. I’ve waited before.”
“N-no, you have La-Iin to think about, don’t waste your time on me! Besides, if you really need to talk we can talk over the phone!”
Mit-Sun sighed. “I’m waiting for you whether you like it or not, Uil-Cur. Don’t try and avoid me. We have a problem and we need to discuss it.”
Uil-Cur sighed. ‘That’s easy for her to say! She is the rejector, not the rejectee. Oh, I can’t stay mad at Mit-Sun, but does she have any idea of how I’m feeling? I need to avoid her for my own safety, damn it!’
Uil-Cur zipped around the room as he finished his work for the day, fueled by conflicting feelings and thoughts. Once he was done, he left the room and tried to bolt past Mit-Sun, only to be grabbed by the collar before he could make it too far ahead of her.
“Please don’t avoid me, Uil-Cur. I really want to talk to you.”
“I know you do,” he sighed. “And I figure I know what about. But it’s not been easy for me, Mit-Sun. I need some time alone.”
“It’s been awkward for both of us, Uil-Cur. But I miss hanging out with you all the time. I don’t want our friendship to disappear because we don’t know how to talk to each other any more. Since having La-Iin friendships haven’t come easy to me. I’m social enough, but I don’t bond easily. You’re one of the most fun people I’ve met and, and I really liked hanging out with you. I understand what happened. I know I hurt you. But I don’t want us to lose what we have because it didn’t go any further than that.”
“Do you think our friendship is so fragile it will break from spending time apart from each other?”
“No! That’s not what I thought at all! I was worried about how awkward we’ve been between each other, not the amount of time we’ve spent apart! And I’m worried about you, too. I still want to be your friend. But what if I hurt you enough to make you not want to be mine?”
“I do still want to be your friend, Mit-Sun! But I got my hopes up too far. I was really thinking that by your attitude you would reciprocate the way I felt about you and that didn’t end up happening. I’m disappointed, I’m frustrated! I got chewed out by Mrs. Eteibreit for doing a sloppy job! I haven’t been able to handle myself!”
Mit-Sun flinched. “I’m sorry…”
“It isn’t that easy, Mit-Sun. I do still want to be your friend. I don’t want to lose what we had before either because it’s all we had. But I don’t know what’s better for me! Maybe avoiding you will only make me miss you along with being burned, but how do I know that spending time with you won’t make me feel worse? I’m too scared to try. I…I’ve had feelings for other women before, but you’re the first I actually said anything to, because I got in over my head and thought you would reciprocate. I was an idiot.”
“What’s idiotic about taking a chance?”
“It was idiotic to not see that you obviously didn’t feel the same way. Look, Mit-Sun, I hope we can go back to normal someday soon, but I don’t think today is the day.” He took off, breaking free from Mit-Sun’s grasp on his collar.
“Someone’s having romance troubles, I see.”
Mit-Sun jumped. “Mrs. Eteibreit?”
“I hope he didn’t honestly think I wasn’t hovering over him. I was curious to find out what was causing him to do such a poor job and see if I could beat him into shape. And what do I find but he’s taken an interest in my most poor worker?”
“You had no right to eavesdrop on us.”
“No right? This is my building. That’s like telling someone in their own house they didn’t have the right to overhear you moaning in their bedroom. Ridiculous. But it sounds like quite the drama went down between you two.”
“I’m not going to talk about it with you. I’m sorry, Mrs. Eteibreit, but it’s personal.”
“Oh, that’s fine. I overheard enough to form my own opinions about it anyway. You really should stop badgering the poor man about what happened. People all handle rejection differently. And you can promise as much as you want that it won’t change things but that isn’t always the case. You two might end up drifting apart regardless.”
“…”
“The poor man is so devastated. Who knows how he’ll react from there? He could stay fixated on you or turn to the next woman who makes him feel loved. He could end up going back to normal….or he could become bitter at you for your rejection regardless of how logical it is. Don’t cringe at me, Cahongyun. It’s fully possible things won’t work out anymore. You should have prepared yourself for that when you told him you didn’t love him back. But if you’re so worried, you could always start a relationship of convenience. He gets “love” and you get to spend time with him again.”
“I couldn’t do that!”
“Oh? Sometimes it does help people actually reciprocate another’s feelings. Of course it could also show you another side of him you don’t care for.”
“Look, our morals and beliefs are different, Mrs. Eteibreit. And I’ll keep being hopeful that we can go back to normal.”
“Fine, fine, believe what you want. Maybe you’ll be lucky and it all will work out the way you want. But I’ll give you some less-blunt advice: try if you want to to repair your friendship, but don’t keep badgering him when he’s obviously upset. That will only make him really bitter towards you. And accept the fact that he’s having a hard time staying just friends with you. Even if your relationship can repair, it will never be exactly the same.”
Eteibreit flew off.
‘Is it possible our relationship won’t repair?’ Mit-Sun wondered. ‘Ohh, I can’t stand this. Why did you have to go and confess, Uil-Cur…’

—–
“What’s the face for, Mama? It’s annoying.”
“Ha ha, how funny,” Mit-Sun said dryly.
“It wasn’t supposed to be funny.”
“I wasn’t talking about your words. You’re the one who didn’t want me to be friends with Uil-Cur, well guess what, maybe we won’t be any more! Are you happy now, La-Iin!? I’ve had to make a ton of sacrifices for your sake and now it seems like I won’t get that friendship back! So are you happy with yourself!?”
La-Iin flinched. “You don’t need to take it out on me, Mama.”
“You’re the one who kept badgering him! Who knows, maybe it was you who gave him the wrong idea! I wouldn’t have had to defend him so much if it weren’t for you! I hope you’re happy with yourself.”
La-Iin’s face contorted. “Well, I’m not happy with your stupid dinner, that’s for sure!” She left the table. Choungetsu stared after her, whimpering.
“And now you see another reason I despise that woman: blaming her problems on you.”
La-Iin didn’t respond. She ran to her room mired in fury.

30.546.The Adventure in Bledger–Part 2

The La-Iin Series
Chapter 546
“The Adventure in Bledger–Part 2”

“Bledger Police Department. Uh-huh. Two missing females…ages nine and seven….long brown hair, fair complexion, Normal…oh, sorry, I tend to repeat a lot. I got all that, don’t worry.”
‘Wonder who he’s talking to?’ Wondered Cheu-Sheam. The man nodded and set down the phone. “Hey, what’s going on, Aheni?”
“We’ve got a missing child case. Apparently two young girls went down to the local park and haven’t been back to their parents in hours.”
“Ooh.”
“Don’t ‘ooh’ at this!” He snapped. “Friggin’ rookie.”
“Well, sor-ree that they sent me to Bledger as part of my training! I don’t even want to work here. I’d rather do all my stuff in Yeongsham.”
“Yeah, well, while you’re complaining about all that there are two little girls who are missing for any number of reasons. And we at the Bledger Police Department have to deal with it, meanwhile you just have to stick behind here.”
“Grr….I swear, one of these days I’m gonna help with a big case.”
“Don’t be so immature.”
“I’m not. I just want to help. And I can’t stand you, Aheni.” She sighed. ‘I miss my friends…I hope their training is going well, too.’

“Students, today Miss Cahongyun and Miss Sanhuun won’t be attending classes. I think you all have noticed their absence already, but it seems the reason could be far worse than initially thought. Those two girls have been missing since yesterday, last spotted at the park.”
The students began to murmur.
“What happened to Fer-Shi?” Shan-Zetsu asked.
“Sanhuun…” Sighed Cae-Bougen.
“I wonder what happened?” Dosa-Mina said.
“We’ll have to go on with classes as usual, but if any of you students spot the girls, remember to report your sighting to the Bledger Police Department. …and don’t tell them I asked you this, but if you spot them and you have the strength for it, try and bring them back with you, too.”
“Got it, teach,” Yefu-Shenhao said. Hyungdarou sighed and went on with biology class; the students soon noticed she was teaching far more than she usually did when in a brighter mood.

“Hm…”
“Something wrong, Sara?” A student from Class B asked.
“Don’t ask that, Weishen! Sara’s best friend went missing!”
“It’s alright,” Shuu-Kena said. “I was just wondering. Yesterday, when they were outside, I overheard them talking about something…”
“What?”
Shuu-Kena lowered her head. “I think…I think they were talking about…going on an adventure,” she said. “I want to tell the police, but I’m scared to…”
“Don’t be scared! If you really heard that you should tell them! The police aren’t scary!”
“I know…I’m not scared of the police, actually…I’m scared of something else…”
“If you want, we can help you,” Weishen offered. Shuu-Kena glanced up. “Well…I’ll see.”

***

When La-Iin and Fer-Shi had woken up, it was bright outside, so the two girls immediately set out on the continuation of their adventure.
“I hope Mom and Dad aren’t too worried,” Fer-Shi sighed. “Maybe they think I’m staying over at your house.”
“They won’t. When Mama thinks I’m up to something she tends to call your Mama and Dami. They’ll find out.”
“Mm…well, I hope they aren’t too worried…”
“Instead of focusing on our parents, why don’t we focus on the adventure? We’ll have more fun that way.”
“Um, alright!”
La-Iin kept a steady lead over Fer-Shi as the two traversed a neighborhood that appeared to not be in the greatest condition, but still in better condition than many of the others La-Iin had seen. People played outside with their children and friends and though the houses looked to be in bad shape, the people there seemed fairly happy and healthy.
“Bledger sure has a lot of shoddy houses.”
“Huh? Oh, I guess they do. It’s a surprise that we ended up with as nice houses as we have, I guess.”
“That’s because we’re lucky enough to have parents who know what the word ‘quality’ means.”
Fer-Shi giggled. “It’s kind of surprising to hear you say that.”
“I don’t think all negatively about certain people, you know.”
The two girls head out the neighborhood and onto a clearing of street. La-Iin dashed across the street to a patch of grass up ahead. Fer-Shi soon joined her, and they waited for a car to pass before heading forward to a large stretch of grassy plain. Ahead of the grassy plain sat a park on their left, and to their right, another set of houses.
“I think I know what’s the obvious choice here.” La-Iin switched to flight and zipped off towards the park. Fer-Shi chased after her.
The park was filled with many young children–younger than La-Iin and Fer-Shi. Their parents mostly watched from afar as the children climbed over all the equipment, and the park was spattered with sand, snow, fur and feathers.
“Why would Snowlivs take their baby out in this heat?” Fer-Shi asked.
“Look closely.” La-Iin pointed towards the young Snowliv boy who was climbing his way up the slide. He was covered with a full-body plastic shield, though there was a small hole near the foot of the shield.
“Oh.”
“His parents are too.”
Fer-Shi nodded. “This park seems like it’s for really little kids, La-Iin. Even younger than you. Do you wanna stay here?”
“Oh, just for a little bit and then we can move on.” La-Iin walked towards the children, some of which stared in her direction and smiled. A mischievous grin spread across La-Iin’s face, and she turned around, spread her wings, and yelled at the children, who began to cry. The parents rushed to their children’s side, all except one pair who head for La-Iin.
“Run!” La-Iin shrieked, though Fer-Shi could hear excitement in her tone. She took off ahead of Fer-Shi by flying, and Fer-Shi only kept pace behind her out of sheer fear of what might happened if the angered parents reached her and La-Iin.
Eventually, the parents fell out of sight, and La-Iin and Fer-Shi came to a halt, taking deep breaths. La-Iin took off her backpack and reached for a snack.
“Geez….never do something like that again, La-Iin!” Fer-Shi yelled.
“I ake o haranees!” La-Iin said through a mouthful of food.

***

“We’ve gotten in a report from a young lady who says the two girls were planning to adventure across Bledger,” a police officer told Den-Matsu.
“Why would they do that!?” He exclaimed.
“Even if they were planning something like that, there’s no reason they should have been gone this long! They’ve been off on adventures together before and they’ve never been gone this long…”
“It’s possible they could have met with trouble on their way. But don’t worry. We’re sending out the majority of our force to scour all around Bledger. It’s only really a problem downtown anyway.”
“Would that really be so smart?” Asked a Llamaki officer. “Bledger’s been so dangerous lately–”
“And that’s exactly why we need to work fast, Officer Llanni! With how dangerous Bledger has been lately these girls could be in a lot of trouble, if they aren’t dead already!”
Den-Matsu and Tei-Sheu gasped and began to tear up.
“Err, not that they are, of course! We’ll keep searching for your daughter and her friend, Mr. and Mrs. Sanhuun. You have my word that we will not rest until they are found!”
“I understand your concern, Mr. and Mrs. I have a daughter too, and if something happened to her I would want the entire might of the police force out there looking for her. I just hope this focus on your daughter’s disappearance doesn’t distract us from other important matters at hand…”

After the two girls had left the playground, they entered dense forestry and thus far had not found their way back out. On their way they stumbled upon a few signs of civilization, but none of them had led them back to the main path of Bledger. The further on they walked, the darker the forestry became.
“Where are we, La-Iin?” Fer-Shi asked.
“I have no idea.”
“What are we gonna do if we can’t find our way back out?”
“We camped out yesterday night, we can do it again. And if you’re worried about eating we have plenty of snacks to sustain ourselves. Even if we run out we should be able to get more food anyway, and I have your blood.”
Fer-Shi whimpered. “You sound like you’re preparing us for living like this forever…”
“Not forever. But I can’t fly high enough to check where we are and I don’t know all of Bledger. I just want to be prepared. I definitely don’t intend on staying out here forever. If I did I wouldn’t have much chance of seeing San-Kyung again. But this is a good experience for the future.”
“I just wanna go home…”
“I do too. But let’s keep going otherwise we’ll never find it.”
As the sky grew darker, Fer-Shi found herself feeling more hopeless. ‘What if we never do find our way back home? It’s starting to get dark again. We probably missed school and Mom and Dad are probably super-worried…geez, I’m the older one here and yet La-Iin’s the one who’s keeping a cool head. Maybe she really doesn’t care, or maybe she’s just trying to save face around me. I still can’t believe she can do this even in this scary situation…’
Fer-Shi smiled to herself as she kept behind La-Iin.
The two girls continued to walk on, with both keeping an eye out for any sign of civilization. To her left, La-Iin spotted what appeared to be a streetlight and head towards it. Soon after heading that way, something began to rustle up ahead.
“What is it!?” Fer-Shi exclaimed.
“We ran into plenty of animals yesterday. Don’t get so worried.”
Fer-Shi swallowed hard. La-Iin bit into her arm and took a few steps forward. The rustling grew louder until a black-furred Catori peeked her head through and stared directly at La-Iin. She glanced past her at Fer-Shi.
“Hey, I think I found them, Officer Llanni!”
“You did?” A Llamaki man followed the Catori and stared at the girl. “This matches their description. Oh, thank you, Bhengai! I’m sorry we had to ask for your help.”
“Not at all! This is what I’m training for! You girls okay?”
Fer-Shi began to cry. La-Iin took a step backwards and hissed.
“I think they’ll be fine, right?” Llanni sighed. “Come on, girls, let’s get you home. Your parents are incredibly worried.”
“Come on, La-Iin!” Fer-Shi said, her voice wavering. La-Iin didn’t budge. “If we don’t leave with the officers, we’ll be lost and you won’t get to see San-Kyung again.”
La-Iin grimaced and sighed. She followed behind the officers and Fer-Shi as the three left the forest.

—–
“We were so worried!” Tei-Sheu cried. “Please be extra careful from now on, alright!?”
“I will be!” Fer-Shi said.
“I’m glad you’re alright…I was really worried that something bad happened…”
“You didn’t need to worry, Mama. That’s just annoying. Besides, I always kept my cool.” She struggled out of Mit-Sun’s grasp and tapped Fer-Shi on the shoulder. Fer-Shi turned away from her parents and leaned in close to La-Iin when she noticed her in position to whisper.
“That adventure was pretty fun. Maybe we should do it again when certain people aren’t so worried that they call the police.”
Fer-Shi giggled. “Maybe. But that won’t be for many more years, that’s for sure!”