14.652.My Best Friend

The La-Iin Series
Chapter 652
“My Best Friend”

Wednesday on the path to school, Fer-Shi was quick to notice that her friend smelled faintly of smoke.
“La-Iin?”
“Yes?”
“Were you around a fire recently?”
La-Iin didn’t respond. Fer-Shi’s words only reminded her of Mit-Sun’s behavior earlier in the day. She had been keeping a close eye on La-Iin ever since she woke up, as if she were suspicious of her.
‘This could throw a bone into my plan,’ she thought. ‘There has to be some way I can convince her otherwise…’
“La-Iin?”
La-Iin smirked. “Fer-Shi, would you like to go on a walk after school today?”
“Huh? Where’s this coming from?”
“Oh, it’s just something I wanted to do.”
“Uh, sure, why not?”
La-Iin nodded and walked ahead of Fer-Shi.

***

School that day was fairly uneventful; La-Iin and Fer-Shi didn’t talk much. On the playground they played a game they had played in the past, then Fer-Shi played with Cae-Bougen and La-Iin talked to Shuu-Kena for a while. La-Iin did notice San-Kyung glance in her direction once or twice, but other than that nothing stuck out as memorable to her.
When La-Iin and Fer-Shi left school, they walked together on the path to Fer-Shi’s home.
“Are we just going to your house?”
“No, I figured we’d just stop by there so I could call Miss Cahongyun and ask if it’s okay for us to take a longer walk!”
“Hm. Well, since nobody’s around right now, maybe I could talk to you about something.”
“What’s that?”
“…I’ve been scared to tell Mama, but I got home late yesterday. She knows that, but she doesn’t know it’s because I almost got caught in a fire.”
“What!?”
La-Iin nodded. “There was a fire burning. I took an alternative path to talk to San-Kyung and Dosa-Mina, but after I was done talking to them I ran into something burning. It almost set me on fire too.”
“Wha–you shouldn’t be scared to tell Miss Cahongyun that!”
La-Iin glared. “I wouldn’t be, but even with Mama being nicer to me recently I doubt she’d believe me.”
“La-Iin, I don’t think you give Miss Cahongyun enough credit. She loves you! She might actually be more suspicious since you didn’t tell her right away.”
“And that’s the problem.”
“Do you want me to tell her?”
“You do whatever you want. It doesn’t matter to me. Now I want to ask you something else.”
“Hm?”
“That hobo slave of yours. Ask him if he wants to meet me. And also, I’ll be busy tomorrow and the day after so we can’t walk together.”
“Okay…?”
“There’s so much to think about,” La-Iin sighed.
“Yeah, I wanted to talk to you about that, La-Iin! What’s been up with you lately? You’ve seemed kind of off. Like you’re excited about something but it’s also stressing you out…”
“That’s none of your business.”
“So is there something going on?”
La-Iin didn’t respond.
“La-Iin…I really feel like you don’t trust me sometimes.”
“You’ve told me this before. Besides, I’ve only told you about the fire.”
“I know…but I just, I don’t feel like I should hold my problems from you, so if you’re having a problem you’re welcome to tell me about it…”
“Oh, there’s no problem, Fer-Shi,” La-Iin told her. “In fact, it’s the opposite.”
“Hm?”
“Something good is about to happen, I can feel it. So don’t worry. All I want is for you to ask that hobo slave if he wants to meet me, and do what you want about telling Mama about the fire. And know this. The good thing that will happen soon, I think it will be a good thing for you too.”
“Huh?”
“You’ll see.” La-Iin spread her wings. “I’d love to keep talking, but you reminded me of something I need to do. I’m heading home now.”
“La-Iin, wait!”
“What do you want?”
“Um…why are you leaving so soon?”
“I just told you why. Don’t worry about it.”
Before Fer-Shi could say anything else, La-Iin took off.

—–
As soon as she arrived home, La-Iin sighed.
“I guess it’s time to begin, then.”

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9.647.A Reason to Trust You

The La-Iin Series
Chapter 647
“A Reason to Trust You”

It was dinner time at the Sara house, and all in the family were sitting at the table–all except for Nim-Ghini.
“Your father has been letting himself get arrested too much lately, I swear.”
That, as it happened, was the source of the conversation at the table.
“Certainly, I wonder if he’s losing his finesse.”
“That’s why we, the next generation, should take his place!”
“In due time, Kyu-Aseri. You two lack the physical strength needed to take over completely.”
“What about me? I’m nearly a major. Of course, that’s going by law…which I don’t.”
“Hm, true…”
“I think you don’t deserve to head the Saras right now, Ther-Aoughin.”
“And what would make you say that, Kyu-Nhogo?”
“What you have over Kyu-Aseri and I in physical strength, you lack in mental torture.”
“I do prefer to just assault people and end it.”
“That’s your problem. You lack the finesse of mental torture. That and manipulation.”
“Oh, sweet, sweet, manipulation! I have to say that is my favorite of all the mental tortures. Have you manipulated anyone before, Mama?”
“Aha ha. What a stupid question to ask, Kyu-Aseri, of course I have. I’ve manipulated Ther-Aoughin, and I’ve manipulated Shuu-Kena, and I manipulated your father into getting me pregnant with her, speaking of…I’ve even manipulated you and Kyu-Nhogo.”
“Ooh!”
“Manipulation is a staple of an evil person. You should learn it in due time, Ther-Aoughin. You can ask Kyu-Aseri and Kyu-Nhogo about it. It seems to be their field of expertise.”
“I see. And I suppose in turn I could help them bulk up to do physical damage. All in the interest of the supremacy of the Saras.”
Shuu-Kena poked at her food.
“Is it really a staple of an evil person, manipulation?”
“Why do you ask, Shuu-Kena?”
“A neutral such as herself apparently does not understand the goings-on of the evil mind.”
“Even with an evil ‘friend’ herself.”
“I would say it is, Shuu-Kena. In fact, I just did. Manipulation is very important to evil people, and knowing how to do it well even moreso. We live in a world where sometimes it’s easier to use people than it is to just mindlessly beat them out of your way. Any evil person worth their salt is a manipulator whether good or bad, and if they aren’t thinking of it they’re either ignorant or they might as well be neutral.”
“True, if you’re evil you’ll likely manipulate others in some way or another!”
“Especially if one has lofty political goals such as domination over an area. Manipulation is a trick of the trade for politicians as well!”
Her family began to laugh raucously, but their talk only made Shuu-Kena feel uncomfortable. She could remember why she and La-Iin had become friends–she had only opened up to her once she knew her family was evil.
Was it possible La-Iin was manipulating her?

***

The next day at school, Shuu-Kena couldn’t help but heave a sigh.
Science class had just ended, and now she sat on the bench in the recess area, watching La-Iin and Fer-Shi play. She wasn’t one to believe what her family said, but it did make her wonder.
It was impossible to know if La-Iin was manipulating her unless she did something to outright prove it. But with the circumstances of their friendship, she felt there was reason to be concerned.
She watched as Cae-Bougen flew up behind Fer-Shi, who was falling off the monkey bars. La-Iin began to laugh, and Fer-Shi growled at her. Cae-Bougen said something that she couldn’t understand, and Fer-Shi smiled in response. She turned back to La-Iin, again said something that couldn’t be understood, and went off with him.
La-Iin seemed frustrated. She flew over Shuu-Kena’s head. Shuu-Kena waved to her.
“Oh, hello, Sara.”
“Hi, La-Iin.”
‘Wait. Fer-Shi’s off with Veiner right now. Maybe this is my chance to get an idea of where I stand…’
Shuu-Kena knew she didn’t want to stop being friends with La-Iin, but perhaps it would at least be reassuring to know whether she was being manipulated or not.
“Good timing. Can I talk to you about something?”
La-Iin landed and stood in front of her. “What?”
“I wanted to ask your opinion on something my family told me about yesterday.” La-Iin rolled her eyes. “You know how they’re evil. Well, my mom and my siblings said that they think that manipulation is a defining trait in every evil person, and evil people who don’t manipulate others might as well be neutral. Basically. I wanted to know what you thought.”
“Manipulation is a helpful skill for an evil person,” La-Iin said. Shuu-Kena lowered her head. “I don’t know about evil people who don’t know manipulation being neutrals, though.”
“I see…well, I guess it would be. It makes sense…manipulation seems like one of those ‘evil’ actions. Of course evil people would like it.”
‘Don’t get so upset!’ She chided herself. ‘You knew this was probably coming. It doesn’t mean she doesn’t care about you. Although it probably says something about her priorities…’
Shuu-Kena couldn’t help but feel immensely disappointed in La-Iin. And La-Iin could tell by the look on her face.
‘Damn it! No! Not so close! Now she believes I think the same way as those Sara idiots. What now…’
La-Iin bit into her finger.
“…of course, not every evil person uses that manipulation, or at least, not constantly,” she said casually. Shuu-Kena looked up.
“You don’t have to reassure me, La-Iin.”
“I was just saying the truth. Besides…” La-Iin pondered her next words carefully. “Not everyone I associate with needs to be manipulated. Like you, for example.”
“Huh?”
“If I were to manipulate you it would probably be for information on your family…which I don’t need because in my opinion, your family is nothing but evil failures! No, I keep you as a friend for different reasons.”
“Like what?”
“You’re enjoyable to be around.”
“Really?”
“Yes. I don’t like to associate with people who annoy me constantly. Such as your family.”
Shuu-Kena’s dejected expression slowly brightened, though La-Iin could see she still wasn’t completely happy.
“You really don’t like them, huh. I always thought that was kind of strange.”
“Evil people don’t always get along, Sara. I think we get along even worse than goody-goodies do.”
“Maybe. That sounds like it would make sense.”
“Sara, you need to learn a lesson.”
“Hm?”
“I’m not the same as your family just because I’m evil. You said it yourself, you see me as different. So quit it.”
Shuu-Kena nodded. “Yeah, sorry, Cahongyun. You’re right. Sometimes even though I know you better than that, I can’t help but find my mind slipping back into that mindset. I guess I just have a hard time trusting evil people. I have nothing against them, but my family tends to make me think they’re all the same…but they’re just like good people and neutral people, all doing things for different reasons. I’m sorry I compared you two.”
“You should be, and I don’t like accepting apologies, but being compared to those failures is horrible.”
Shuu-Kena nodded. La-Iin smirked. ‘Good. This should be good enough for now. But she seems easy enough to appease. Convincing her entirely will be another story…but I can’t let her stupid family make her turn against me. I need her on my side.’
La-Iin sighed. ‘That reminds me of someone else I thought that about…’

—–
“Oh, I wanted to ask you something about manipulation, Mama.”
“What’s that, Kyu-Aseri?”
“Do you think Shuu-Kena’s friend manipulates her?” She said with a yawn.
“If she’s truly evil, then yes, she does. But that’s not important. Rest now so that tomorrow you have the energy to do what is necessary.”
Kyu-Aseri nodded and closed her eyes.

8.646.October Reboot

The La-Iin Series
Chapter 646
“October Reboot”

“It’s finally come to that time again, San-Kyung.”
“Yeah, it has, hasn’t it?”
“Mm-hm. Finally, after all these months, October is here again.”
San-Kyung breathed in. “…it was here a week ago.”
“Aw, come on, San-Kyung! You know what I mean. October can properly begin now that I’m feeling a bit better about myself. But it won’t unless you cheer up, too.”
“Hm…” San-Kyung looked uncertain. Dosa-Mina sighed. “Come on. Take a cue from me and smile!”
San-Kyung’s mouth didn’t twitch, although to Dosa-Mina’s relief he didn’t seem angry. “Good enough!”
“I didn’t do anything.”
“Still, good enough!” He growled. “Oh, come on, San-Kyung! October is your month! The month where you are most powerful, the month where you make Bledger pay and you still haven’t gotten arrested for it! And besides, this November might be a crapshoot in terms of true forms, but there’s still Operation Reboot~”
San-Kyung blinked. “Yeah, speaking of that. I’ve been looking through that notebook you gave me. Geez, I wish you were a Warlock sometimes.”
“Aha. I don’t need another species to keep track of, thank you very much. I already tend to mistake myself for a Pureblood Normal. And sometimes I forget part of my species!”
“What’s wrong with you?”
Dosa-Mina shrugged. “But anyway, point stands. October is the month where you gain power and start planning for what dastardly way you’re going to scar Bledger next. And it’s also what I want to see.”
San-Kyung smiled. “Finally!”
“Yeah, you’re right. It just hasn’t crossed my mind enough recently. What with the whole species debacle…by the way, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that.”
“About what?”
“Why you keep coming to school like that. I thought you didn’t like your true form.”
“I don’t. I’m just trying to. And I admit, there’s something a little liberating about not having to hide it anymore. Also I figured it was better than coming to school all depressed. I’d rather people know me as “Dslellular Dosa-Mina, Werewolf-Siren and clingy best friend” than “Dslellular Dosa-Mina, Werewolf-Siren and depressing eleventh-grader”. And it hides my left arm cuts. It was pretty spur of the moment, but I have lots of reasons for doing it.”
“Well, that’s fine. I don’t have any objections. I’m the one who kept asking you to just reveal it already.”
“Yup, you were. Oh, and also, if I’m open about it, people probably won’t think I’m like…Dereni, was it? From Class B. I’d rather not have that sort of reputation, either. Not to mention, people started getting on Lirako’s case after I did this! …okay, I’ll shut up about reasons why. There are just a lot.”
San-Kyung chuckled. Dosa-Mina lowered his head.
“It feels like it’s been so long since I last got this feeling…”
“Is something wrong?”
“No. Actually, it’s great.” Dosa-Mina looked up with a wide smile and leaped at San-Kyung, pulling him close. With a giggle, he said, “I’m definitely cheering up now!”
“Good for you,” San-Kyung grunted. “Now could you let go of me!?”
Dosa-Mina pulled San-Kyung backwards, but let go of him soon after. San-Kyung flailed his arms in an attempt to keep from falling on Dosa-Mina; in his desperation he lifted himself above the bed.
San-Kyung gasped.
“Cool! Looks like your levitation just came in!”
San-Kyung laughed and began to levitate around Dosa-Mina’s room.
“Hey! Don’t break anything!”
San-Kyung continued his levitation for a short while longer before landing on Dosa-Mina’s bed.
“This is how October should be.”
“It’s how it’s gonna be, from here on out. No species bullies, no, um…whatever your problem is–nothing’s gonna stand in the way of our October!”
San-Kyung huffed. “Well, it’s not going to stand in my way, but it’s definitely something I need to think about. As much as I’d like to pretend this October is like all the others, there are some things that changed this year. Namely, you usually accompany me in your true form. This year, that won’t be so easy.”
“Oh…”
“But still! October is my month! I don’t want to waste this one even if things get in my way. There’s always time to think on these things later. I mean my problem, of course. I’ll have to come up with some sort of excuse for you. Guess I should start thinking…”
“How about I wear my hoodie on Halloween? That covers my face pretty good.”
“Yeah, I guess that could work. And then once October’s done, maybe we can finally make some more headway in Operation Reboot.”
“Yeah, um, speaking of that. What did you think about the notes I gave you? Aside from wishing I was a Warlock, I mean?”
“It definitely made me think that I’m going to have to swallow my pride in a worst-case scenario. But then again, it’s not that surprising. After all, I’ve heard what they say about Animated Pumpkins coming about because of Witches.”
“Yeah. …actually, I don’t know if I should say this, but–”
“Did you say something?”
Dosa-Mina blinked. “N-no, it’s nothing. Hey, San-Kyung, since your levitation came in, why don’t we go for a…would you call something like that a stroll? Well, anyway, we could levitate all over Bledger and you could make some cool vine art along the way. That’s what I was thinking.”
“Sounds fine. I would like to do something else with my time aside from talking.” He stood up, stretched, and levitated Dosa-Mina into the air. The two boys head out the house and above Dosa-Mina’s neighborhood. He couldn’t suppress an amused giggle as his neighborhood grew smaller and smaller.
He also couldn’t suppress his uncertainty.
‘That’s really what San-Kyung took away from that, huh? Well, I hope he’s right. I really don’t understand this transformation after all, it seems…but if my assumptions are right, and the power surge needs to be simulated to cause the transformation outside of October…how could you make that permanent? Or, forget that–if drugs don’t seem likely to successfully simulate the transformation, then are we sure that anything will?’
Dosa-Mina sighed. ‘Maybe I’m just looking at this too pessimistic. I hope my impression’s wrong. I don’t want San-Kyung to be sad again…’

—–
“You know what, Riya?”
“What am I supposed to know?”
“Look.”
Orlin-Aesth pointed in the direction of San-Kyung and Dosa-Mina. Dosa-Mina was holding tight to a protesting San-Kyung, still in his Werewolf-Siren form.
“Huh?”
“I’m happy. Our son is cheering up, and he’s in his true form!” Orlin-Aesth grinned. “This is too much. I’m too happy!”
He hugged Elai-Riya close. Elai-Riya was tempted to protest herself, but instead, she giggled.
“Stop teasing me!” Dosa-Mina yelled, and in their surprise, they let go of each other.

6.644.Backlash

The La-Iin Series
Chapter 644
“Backlash”

Students walking to school on Tuesday were quick to notice that Dosa-Mina was, as yesterday, assuming his Werewolf-Siren form.
He was ahead of most of the crowd, talking quietly with San-Kyung. To some he looked slightly happier than yesterday; others thought his smile seemed fake.
Lirako in particular kept a close eye on him. ‘Wow. I expected a big reaction out of him, but this has just been weird. First he stops coming to school, then he’s all depressed, and now he’s coming here in his true form. Which is pretty weird…I wonder what changed? It all seems kinda drastic.’
As much as Lirako wanted to approach him and ask him about it, she knew it wouldn’t work. Even if the school wasn’t actively preventing her from talking to him, he would have never told her.

After the first class, Lirako found herself quickly becoming bored just waiting for math class to start. Noticing that Deki-Tyunri didn’t appear to be talking to anyone nor doing anything, she decided to talk to him.
“Hey, Deki-Tyunri!”
Deki-Tyunri said nothing.
“Don’t give me the cold shoulder, Deks.”
“I don’t have a shoulder.”
“Aw, come on.” Lirako stood in front of his desk. “I know we haven’t been talking as much recently, but we’ve been friends for ages. Me having to sit away from you shouldn’t change that.”
Lirako flinched when she noticed the expression on Deki-Tyunri’s face. He looked quite angry.
“Deks?”
“Lirako, I don’t think our friendship is going to be broken by you not talking to me, or even by what I’m mad at you for. But…I just don’t want to talk to you right now!”
“Why not!?”
“Don’t you realize what you did!? Even if Dslellular is okay with it now, you revealed his species to the class against his will. And he was clearly very upset when you did. There must have been a good reason he was keeping it a secret.”
“How do you know!? Do you have any guarantee that it was for a good reason?”
“No, but do you have any guarantee it was for a pointless reason?”
“Er…”
“What you did wasn’t right, Lirako, and it made me really disappointed in you. I just…I need time to calm down before we talk to each other again.”
“I–”
“Sorry, Sanyaow, but I’d have to agree,” Xhen-Bei said. “I don’t think Dslellular should have hid his species either, but you went about it wrong. So I think you should just let Elyshen cool out for now.”
“Is everyone mad at me for this?”
Many of the students began to look uncomfortable.
“It sounded like there was blackmail involved. It’s definitely changed my perception of you,” Mi-Kou said.
“I think it’s awfully immature what you did, even though I cannot understand why someone would hide their species like that,” Ai-Reia said.
“I don’t understand the whole situation, but you hadn’t been treating Dslellular well for a while before that. You should have tried to reason with him to explain it instead of do what you did, that’s what I think,” Song-Jpinne said.
Lirako was dumbfounded. She folded her ears to her head. Out the corner of her eye, she noticed San-Kyung and Dosa-Mina were staring her way.
Only briefly, she caught a glimpse of them wearing satisfied smiles.

***

“Llanni, can I talk to you before we get to biology?”
“Sure.”
“Oh, thank goodness,” Lirako sighed. “I really thought you weren’t gonna talk to me.”
“Hey, I’d, like, have no right to avoid you. I was in on it too. But people usually don’t talk to me, so I haven’t noticed anything different.”
Lirako scratched her face. “Let’s talk away from the crowd.”
The two girls head outside. Airy-Aekok peeked into an open faculty door on their way out.
“I just don’t get it! I know I wasn’t that nice to Dosa-Mina before, but he wasn’t nice to me either! And it’s not like I revealed some sort of horribly embarrassing secret about him. It’s his species! Sooner or later someone would’ve found out. I bet San-Kyung already knew!”
“I think we can pretty much guarantee that,” Airy-Aekok said.
“And it’s not even the most uncommon species in the world! Both those species happen more often with Normal, and yeah, it is kind of weird that he’s a male half-Siren. But isn’t that infamous kid in Class B one too?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Lirako sighed. “I guess you wouldn’t…but yeah! It’s not like he’s a Werewolf-Lizardfoot or something like that! He’s not a Tribreed! His species may not be a Cahongyun, but it certainly isn’t a Ferister!”
Airy-Aekok smirked.
“So–so what am I gonna do? I know I’m being selfish here, but I don’t wanna lose my friends! Deki-Tyunri is one thing. I believe him when he says that we’ll probably stay friends even if he’s mad at me right now. But what about everyone else? They’re just school friends!”
Lirako sobbed. “If I had known this was gonna happen, I would have never opened my big mouth!”
“Me too.”
Lirako focused on Airy-Aekok. “In fact, I’m gonna, like, tell you a secret, Lirako. Well, it’s not much of a secret, but I’m gonna tell you anyway. I was startin’ to think this was a mistake as soon as Dosa-Mina found out we knew. He seemed really upset.”
“He did,” Lirako sighed.
“But instead of thinking about it, we got caught up in the excitement of the secret. It’s both of our faults. You wanted to find this out so badly, you were doing everything to, like, figure it out. I actually went lookin’ for it. And then we told him. And then the school. We just kept messin’ up. And then after we told him, I didn’t tell you I thought it was a bad idea. But yanno, maybe it would’ve been too late by then too.”
“Why?”
“Then he’d be all upset! Wonderin’ when we might, like, tell the whole school what he really is…but it wasn’t our business, Lirako. We should’ve just left him alone. For his sake and ours.”
Lirako sighed. “But what the other students don’t seem to get is, maybe it is a good thing we said it. I know I was mean to him and sure, he was really upset at first, but now look at him. He came here yesterday and today in his true form like he’s proud of it, and even though he cried yesterday it didn’t seem like he was really breaking down.”
“I dunno about that.”
Lirako sighed. “You’re right. There’s no way we can make an excuse for this. I’ll just have to face it: we f@%ked up. And now nobody wants to have anything to do with me.”
“That isn’t true, Lirako! I’ll talk to you at least. I messed up too. We’ll have each other while you’re waitin’ for the school to stop bein’ mad at you.”
“Thanks, Llanni. But what if after all this, I’m not popular anymore? I like having all those friends and that attention. If I messed up in Grade 12 there’s no going back!”
“I’ll teach ya how to deal with that.”
Lirako blinked. “How are you taking this so easily?”
“I dunno. But I think it’s the way we should go about this. I mean after all, Dosa-Mina was all upset when his species was found out and like you said, now he seems happy. So maybe we should just take this as a lesson.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“Or we could apologize.”
Lirako’s eyes widened. “I think I’ll leave it at lesson. As much as I would like everyone to forgive me, I can’t apologize to him. I feel bad, but not because of him. I still can’t stand him.”
“Oh, Sanyaow.” Airy-Aekok shook her head. “Maybe we should go back inside. It’s probably almost biology.”
“Yeah.”
As the two girls walked back inside, Airy-Aekok said, “Hey, if we’re gonna talk, it’s okay to call me Airy-Aekok. My Dad is called Officer Llanni so it’s like, kinda weird bein’ called Llanni.”
“Alright. Then I guess you can call me Sanyaow.”
“Cool!”
Lirako chuckled.

—–
After classes that day, Lirako sighed.
“I can’t believe a thirteen year old is more mature than me. I need to work on my maturity.”
“I’m fourteen now, Lirako.”
“What!? Since when!?”
“Since Saturday.”
“Really?”
Airy-Aekok nodded.
“Well…that doesn’t change anything! I can’t believe someone younger than me is more mature than me. Or, rather, that you are. After what you did earlier this year…no offense, of course.”
“Don’t worry. I’m just tryin’ to learn lessons from what I do. That incident was the start of it all. So I’m glad you notice my efforts!”
“Heh, you could definitely give me a few pointers, then.”
Deki-Tyunri, who had overheard the girls’ conversation, smiled from his seat. ‘I know you’re not a bad person, Lirako. I would agree you need to work on your maturity, though…’

1.639.Hope and Despair

The La-Iin Series
Chapter 639
“Hope and Despair”

3.
2.
1.

“It’s here again,” San-Kyung breathed, staring at the calendar. “October…”
‘It’s here again, and yet you still don’t have your true form permanently.’
San-Kyung pushed the thought away. As much as that fact hurt him, another fact was that it was October right now. The beginning of October, and from now until its end there was nothing to worry about in terms of powers.
“Excited, San-Kyung?” Salsh-Era asked.
“That’s a stupid question to ask.”
Salsh-Era smiled. “Maybe so. But I just wanted to make sure. I noticed you haven’t had the happiest of years. I’m glad to see you happier again.”
“…”
“But you really should get some rest. This isn’t one of the October firsts you can get away with staying up all night. It’s a school day tomorrow.”
“I know. Fine, I’ll go to bed.”
‘Guess I should call Dosa-Mina,’ he thought to himself. ‘I just hope he’s willing to talk to me.’
Dosa-Mina had opened up to San-Kyung in recent days, but it was still obvious that he wasn’t happy. His grades were still suffering, his parents seemed constantly concerned and San-Kyung couldn’t remember a recent school day in which his head wasn’t bowed upon entering the school.
But perhaps October would be different. October always cheered San-Kyung up. Perhaps it could do something for Dosa-Mina’s mood as well. He only hoped that something would give, because seeing Dosa-Mina the way he was bothered him greatly.
“Hey, if you want to borrow the CD player, it’s in our bedroom. After you asked us to pull it out, you got Kyuusie wanting to listen to some music, and she bought a new CD and listened to it all day.”
It was one thing that had slipped San-Kyung’s mind, the CD that Dosa-Mina had given him last Friday. With that there was no need for San-Kyung to call Dosa-Mina. The CD altogether was enough to give him eight hours of sleep, assuming he didn’t skip any of its tracks.
San-Kyung felt dejected. It was possible that October could turn things around for Dosa-Mina. But if it didn’t, would he just bring him down with him?

***

Getting up to go to school had been difficult for Dosa-Mina.
He knew he couldn’t pretend to be sick forever. It would only seem suspicious, though he had a feeling nobody who understood the situation would begrudge him for it.
But seeing his cuts disgusted him more in recent weeks than they had in the past. Now that his parents knew about them, he felt both an increased eagerness to cut and an increased disgust about his scars. When the urge to cut came on in the past, it was because of his nightmares. This was the first time he could remember that something else had caused the urge.
So getting dressed was a pain.
When he left his bedroom, it was always obvious that his parents were worried about him. They always kept a close eye on him, and he was quick to notice when their eyes focused on his arms.
So leaving the house was a pain.
And then, when he finally left, he was only reminded of what was to come. Lirako hadn’t bothered him since she revealed his species to the school–and even if she had been, after San-Kyung’s win in the race, she had been moved to a different seat and teachers kept a close eye on her. But it still hurt to recall what had happened. Even so, on occasion he could overhear students talking about him, wondering what he really looked like or why he was still coming to school in Normal form–and why he had hid it in the first place. He was still scrambling for an excuse with that one.
So even going to school was a pain.
It was affecting the rest of his life now too. The urge to cut hadn’t come up much in recent days, but cutting was the last thing he could remember bringing him any relief. Species study didn’t make him happy. His parents didn’t make him happy. Feather soup didn’t make him happy. Nothing made him happy, not even San-Kyung.
He was thoroughly miserable with no idea of how to overcome it.
Ahead of him on the path was San-Kyung. Dosa-Mina started to walk faster to catch up with him. San-Kyung seemed slightly startled when he stopped next to him.
“Hi,” Dosa-Mina said.
“Hey.”
“So, it’s October now, huh?”
“Yeah.”
“Did the CD work well?”
San-Kyung nodded.
“That’s good.”
“How are you?”
“Well, I’m alive.”
“Hm.”
“How about you? It’s October. You should smile a little. This is your favorite month.”
San-Kyung didn’t respond.
“Maybe when you can start levitating we should fly around over Bledger.”
“Yeah, that sounds fine.”
This was Dosa-Mina’s biggest problem. San-Kyung was obviously unhappy as well. It made sense why. But he couldn’t bear to see it. Always, one of his biggest priorities was seeing San-Kyung happy. As long as he had that, it didn’t really matter if he wasn’t happy. Not many things made San-Kyung genuinely happy, and for as much as suicide had crossed his mind recently he didn’t want San-Kyung to kill himself as he did in his nightmares.
But he couldn’t think of a way to cheer up right now, and he knew that if he started faking it San-Kyung would be able to tell. But he would have thought that October would make him at least slightly happier.
So why did he still seem upset?

***

School was uneventful that day. Lirako stayed away, as she was requested to, students talked with their friends, mostly about mundane topics, although both boys noticed talk of Dosa-Mina’s species come up. The most abnormal thing was that La-Iin’s strange behavior from yesterday had continued into the next day.
“Seriously, what’s wrong with her!?” San-Kyung exclaimed after she flew past his face.
Other than that, school ended without incident, and they head home along the path together. Dosa-Mina was somewhat surprised when San-Kyung continued following him on the way to his house.
“So, you’re coming over?”
“I didn’t notice.”
“Hm.”
‘Should I ask him about that?’ Dosa-Mina wondered. ‘I mean, I guess it couldn’t hurt…’
“Hey, San-Kyung….October started today. I understand that it seems like we won’t make any headway in Operation Reboot before November arrives, but it still seems like there’s a chance what you want is possible. And anyway, other years you tried to forget that. What’s different about this year?”
“I am excited for October,” San-Kyung said simply. “But…I can’t be completely.”
“Why not?”
San-Kyung sighed. “I’m stressed out.”
Dosa-Mina cringed. “It’s not my fault, is it?”
“It isn’t. …not exactly, anyway.”
“Then it is my fault.”
“No, it isn’t. I have plenty of people I could blame. You’re not one of them.”
“Well, tell me what’s wrong, then!”
San-Kyung was silent.
“Please? You’re only going to make things worse for me now that you’ve said something.”
“I’ve been thinking about my priorities,” he said, an edge to his tone. “What I found out I can’t stand. It’s pissing me off. I keep imagining La-Iin, saying I’m an evil failure and that I’m weak. I can’t stand it!”
He sighed. “At this rate Halloween will be underwhelming, and it’ll only be because I might just be an evil failure.”
“Why would you say that?”
Dosa-Mina felt on edge. What San-Kyung was saying was just making all his nightmares replay in his head. Except it wasn’t suppressing his evil this time, it was failing at it in the first place.
“I guess I just don’t have the temperament for it.”
“Yes you do. I’m sure of it.”
San-Kyung shook his head. “I’m just confused. That’s all. I want to be excited. I am, I still am, but…it’s just harder to keep it up this year.”
“San-Kyung…”
“It doesn’t matter. I’ve told you enough. Now you should understand. My priorities are in the wrong place. They’re detrimental to what I want. But no matter what I do, I don’t know how to change it or to turn it into an advantage. And I just know La-Iin would call that a failing. Maybe it would be better if I acted this way in front of her. Then she might get rid of that kiddy crush she has on me and leave me alone.”
San-Kyung turned away. “I’m going home. If you need to talk, just call.”
Dosa-Mina wasn’t sure of what to say. ‘This is my fault. I can feel it. But what does he mean by his priorities are in the wrong place? I seriously doubt San-Kyung would find out he has good morals, so what’s the problem?
‘It’s not me, is it?’

—–
Late that night, just as he was about to turn on the CD, San-Kyung’s phone rang.
“Hi.”
“Hey.”
“I know this is kind of random, but would you like to study together sometime soon or something like that? We could use some sort of interaction that’s not depressing like this, and my grades have been getting pretty bad, heh heh.”
“If you want to.”
“Okay. …I’m going to try and cheer up too, alright, San-Kyung? So just as you said I can talk to you if anything’s wrong, I want you to know you can do the same.”
“…alright.”
“Cheer up, okay? A maudlin San-Kyung is just weird! The San-Kyung I know has more confidence than this. And the sooner I can see him again, the sooner I’ll cheer up too. I’m sure of that.”
“Really?”
“Yup, really. There’s no lie there. Oops, I should probably get to bed. I think Mom’s still up and she’ll be mad if I’m too tired for school tomorrow. Or maybe she won’t be, but anyway, I should get some sleep. Good night, San-Kyung!”
“Night.”
‘I wonder if that would really cheer him up,’ San-Kyung found himself wondering. ‘But even if it would, can I really make myself act like that right now?’
Knowing what he now knew, San-Kyung felt pathetic. But because of that he also knew that Dosa-Mina was high priority. Perhaps then he could find it in him to get a little more excited than he was.
How easy that would be, however, was something he didn’t know the answer to.

26.634.Changes

The La-Iin Series
Chapter 634
“Changes”

“Your Granddad is in the hospital!?”
“Yes. Mama told me. Apparently he had surgery too.”
“Wow…I mean, not wow that he had to have surgery, I just don’t understand how you’re so calm about it. I’d be really scared.”
“Mama and I visited him recently and he seemed just fine.”
“Oh, okay.”
La-Iin relaxed against her bed. The now-and-then visits she had with Fer-Shi were nice, but this time she found herself without much to say. They had been talking about several things when she first arrived, but the morning was almost over and she now had no more ideas for what to talk about.
Except for one.
“Did you ever find a dream?”
“Huh?”
“You were going on about it a lot earlier this year. How you were jealous because I want to rule the world and I have big plans for it…heh heh….and you were upset because you don’t have something like that.”
Fer-Shi began to look slightly upset. “Um, no. I actually haven’t been thinking about it much, or I’m trying not to. I have other things to focus on right now, and besides I want to try and be more mature about this. You didn’t figure out you wanted to rule the world just by thinking about it, did you?”
“I do a lot of thinking about ruling the world, but that idea to actually do it in the first place is as old as I am.”
“I’m not sure it’s that old…”
“You’re acting weird, Fer-Shi. Your maturity is strange. You were playful and you got offended by my Normal jokes and whined about dreams. Now you get flustered because an evil failure said he likes you.”
“Why does everyone keep bringing up the Dereni incident? Is he really that notable? Although he does seem kind of lonely…um! I do still want to have fun, La-Iin. I’m not even ten yet, so of course I do. But what’s wrong with becoming a little mature?”
“It’s because of your precocious puberty, isn’t it.”
Fer-Shi blushed. “He–hey! Besides, I’m not the only one who’s changed a little! You’re basically the same as you always were, but the way you talk about your plans for ruling the world now…I don’t know, they seem a little different.”
“Hm?”
“Like you talk about it a little less now, but when you do it always seems super unsettling.”
“You might be right about my changes there, Fer-Shi. My plans are far more developed and amazing nowadays, heh heh heh…”
“It’s kind of scary,” she said.
“Why? You never seemed to believe I’d actually be able to rule the world. If you believe that, then why are you scared?”
“No, it’s not that. I don’t know if you can or can’t, and I guess you’d be a better ruler than what I’ve heard about North Vaelyn, it’s just your attitude about it.”
“Hm?”
“It’s like you care less about the consequences.”
“I make my plans thorough, Fer-Shi. I know the consequences and accept them. …unless they’re detrimental, then I replan. Besides, you’re complaining about this, but wanting to rule the world has always been a part of me. Your maturity has not.”
“Isn’t maturity a good thing?” Fer-Shi asked.
“If it is then I’m never going to be mature.”
“Um, that’s not what that means.”
“I miss the Fer-Shi who would cry at Normal jokes. And I certainly hope you keep being grossed out by romance after seeing how you acted about stupid Dereni.”
“La-Iin…if I change you’re not going to stop liking me, are you?”
“Hm.”
Fer-Shi winced, then she glared. “You can’t even give me an answer! Well, I could say the same! If you really get to rule the world and you become a dictator, who says I’ll like you anymore!?”
“Hm!?”
“Yeah! Dictators tend to be some of the biggest jerks around! It’s one thing to be evil and want to rule the world, it’s a whole nother to actually do it!”
“Well who says I want a stereotypical goody-goody as my best friend!? We’re friends because you have a good personality aside the goody-goody goop! If that changes it could become a problem.”
“And I have to say the same about your evil! If you become so evil that it messes more with your personality and you don’t even care about the people you liked before, how could I ever like you!?”
The two stared each other down.
“…”
“…”
“Do you think a friendship between good and evil can keep working at this rate, Fer-Shi?”
Fer-Shi’s eyes widened.
“Why would you say that?”
“Because of what just happened.”
“But we’ve been friends for a long time…I don’t want to think we’d stop being friends because of something like this.”
“Hm.” La-Iin tapped her fingers on her table. “What do you like about me?”
“Well, you’re really fun to be around, and even though you’re evil it’s in this way that’s kind of tolerable. Like you don’t want to kill anyone, you just want to torture them. Which is maybe worse, actually…but despite that you can be really nice sometimes anyway. What about you?”
“You are a goody-goody, but you have a personality that works with me. I really do like your personality, Fer-Shi.”
Fer-Shi smiled. “Thank you.”
La-Iin sighed. “I don’t want to stop being friends.”
“I don’t either!”
“But, if you do become stereotypically goody-goody, I might have to torture you into going back to how you were before.”
“Why!? Well, then, if you become an evil dictator, I’ll take you down! W-without killing anyone, of course.”
La-Iin smirked.
“Well, I think it can work anyway. After all, I find some things about San-Kyung annoying.”
“Really!?”
“Yes. And I still care about him. So there.”
“I guess so. And, well, we also don’t know if we’ll actually change. So I guess we should just see what the future’s like instead of fighting. After all, plenty of people have stayed friends after their friends have changed, so I’m sure there will be some way for us to stay friends even if we do change in annoying ways.”
“We’ll see. But don’t change in an annoying way.”
Fer-Shi giggled. “By the way, what do you find annoying about San-Kyung?”
“Rival-boy.”
“But that isn’t something about him…”

—–
Later that night, La-Iin was thinking on what she might do if Fer-Shi changed in a way that she did not like, or if Fer-Shi turned away from her because of how she changed.
“I guess I don’t have everything about this planned just yet,” she said. “But that’s okay, I can start at any time.”

21.629.Betrayal and Desire

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

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

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

20.628.Friendship from a Year Ago

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

19.627.Lovely Love Story–Part 3

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

18.626.Lovely Love Story–Part 2

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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