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.”

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30.607.To See the Future–Part 9

The La-Iin Series
Chapter 607
“To See the Future–Part 9”

‘Once I graduate high school, that’s it. My future is going to be worthless.’
That thought constantly floated around in Airy-Aekok’s head in the days before she transferred to Malicerie.
‘There’s nothing a stupid boy-crazy Llamaki can do. I’m nothing like my Dad at all. My powers aren’t even any good. And even if they were better, I’m not good with my powers anyway. Not like Dad is…’
Her glare hardened. ‘Compared to my Dad, I’m nothing.’

But as time went on, Airy-Aekok’s feelings changed on that subject.
“Someone looks happy today! Did something good happen while I was at work yesterday?”
“Nah, not really, but like, I’ve been thinking about my talents and stuff, you know? And I’m like, not all that good with my powers, and I was kinda disappointed.”
“Aw, Airy-Aekok, you’re plenty good with your powers. And your mother wasn’t the best with her powers either, but you know what she did? She kept working at them.”
“But I don’t, like, care about that anymore! I mean like pssh, who cares about rearranging your skeletal structure when you’ve got other talents!?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you know how you always said, like, I look a lot like my Mom? Well, I think since I got Mom’s look, I got your talent. I was like, thinking about the things I can do and I thought that I’m really good at a lot of things you can do! So I got the perfect idea. What if, in the future, I become a detective!? Then I can work with you!”
“You want to do that? It’s dangerous to be a detective, though…”
“C’mon Dad, don’t worry about me! Besides, maybe the boys’ll go for a cute llama detective,” she said with a wink. “And like, I don’t think I’ll ever get passionate about a line of work. I love other, not-work-related things too much. Work is dumb. But hey, if I’m gonna work, I might as well do somethin’ I’m good at, right?”
“I guess so. Well, if you want to do that, then I’m sure you can! Although I wouldn’t exactly call it inheriting my talent. I had to work hard to acquire those skills.”
“Then I’m like a new game plus!” She said cheerfully. Her father chuckled. “I guess you could say that!”

***

“Airy-Aekok, have you heard!?”
“What is it, Dad? You look all frazzled.”
“They say a murder happened nearby Malicerie!”
“Malicerie? Ah, I remember that school…my high school alma matter. And junior high too!”
“Airy-Aekok!” Her Dad whined.
“Oh, oh yeah! The murder! Who got killed?”
“Sixty-three year old Chensu…I couldn’t exactly find out his first name, but he was the history teacher for Class D.”
“Good ol’ Chensu…wait, you said murder!?”
“Yeah! They found his bloated corpse behind the building! It looked like he had been stabbed and shot!”
“Somethin’ tells me his corpse isn’t exactly bloated, Dad. But that sounds pretty bad. He was kinda hacky, but he never deserved that…”
“What are you going to do, Airy-Aekok? It does seem like a bit of a personal case for you. Are you going to stay away?”
“Now why would I do that? It being personal makes it all the more important! Someone murdered my old history teacher. And the suspects are numerous….I’m gonna look into each and every one, and get to the bottom of this case!”

As soon as she arrived near the building, a rank stench hit her nose. Mr. Chensu’s corpse was exactly where her father had told her it would be, and police were swarming around it.
“We’ve collected a bit of evidence for you to look over, Miss Llanni,” one cop said. “I heard you’re taking on investigative duties for this case.”
“Yeah, exactly.”
“We also rounded up all the suspects you had,” another cop said. Airy-Aekok nodded. “Good job, men! I’m gonna look into it now.”
Airy-Aekok walked into the school. Her suspects were lined up against Class D wall. She stared them down.
“Alright, everyone! I’m gonna ask each and every one of you what your alibi is for the night of the murder. Apparently he was killed at approximately eleven-thirty-five PM on August the twenty-third. What were you all doing at that time!?”
“I–I was sleeping,” Rini-Futo said.
“I was preoccupied with something far away from Malicerie that’s none of your business,” La-Iin hissed.
“I was conducting school work…Miss Llanni, I’m the one who discovered the body! Why am I a suspect?” Theasis asked.
“The discoverer is always a suspect in my eyes. As are any witnesses! Now, go on?”
“I was up late cramming. I’m trying to become a species studier. It’s hard work.” Dosa-Mina said.
“I was asleep too.” San-Kyung said.
“I was having a late-night fashion show. Call up Song-Jpinne–he can confirm for me,” Nemi-Hikla said.
“I was cleaning the school,” Wue Sao-Mel, the janitor, said.
“Aside from Fheyundaer, can any of ya confirm those alibis for me?”
“My brothers and sisters live with me…one of them might have gotten up.”
“I was too far away to be here.”
“I can confirm that Mr. Wue was indeed inside the school, cleaning. I’m sure he can do the same for me?”
“Oh yeah, I saw Miss Theasis working on some things.”
“San-Kyung was asleep, so I guess I have no official confirmation, but I can give you confirmation that it isn’t him.”
“How’d you all feel about the victim, then?”
“I…I really cared about him,” Rini-Futo said sadly.
“He was stupid.”
“He was a close friend of mine. He might not have been the brightest, but he was devoted to his work.”
“I respected him well enough.”
“I don’t care about anyone.”
“He was a good enough teacher. At least he liked what he did.”
“He was a fine guy, and a staple of Malicerie. I’m gonna miss him.”
“Hm…” Airy-Aekok stared them over. “Now, like, you guys aren’t allowed to leave until I give the say-so. I have a few things to do…”
“You want me to keep an eye on them, Miss Llanni?”
“Yea, I do. Chances are good you’re gonna be standin’ in a room with a killer…we can’t take any chances to lose ’em, even if it would probably identify ’em pretty well. Though I have a bit of an idea about who it was…”
She glared at La-Iin. ‘That girl couldn’t confirm a thing for me. And it was hard to get her here in the first place. But then again, Dslellular doesn’t exactly have an air-tight alibi. And I highly doubt it was Shaejaein…but we’ll have to see what the evidence says!’
So Airy-Aekok head to one of the Weekend classrooms and looked over the evidence retrieved by the police. Pictures of the body, items found near the scene, there were quite a few things inside of there.
‘So, looks like poor Mr. Chensu might’ve taken a spill before he was killed. That’s sick…’
Most of the items retrieved didn’t look all that helpful to Airy-Aekok–they were mostly items of Mr. Chensu’s that had been dropped when he was killed. ‘So I really doubt it’s a robbery. And thank goodness! Robbery-murders are always difficult. That means it was most likely personal, and if it was Cahongyun or Dslellular I wouldn’t be surprised if it was premeditated…’
Airy-Aekok sighed. ‘I really bet it’s one of those two, but what proof do I have? They didn’t exactly find any hair on the body or anything that wasn’t his. Eugh…hey, wait a second…’
Airy-Aekok took a closer look at the picture of the body. There were singe marks on his clothes, reminiscent of burning. There was only one suspect so far who would be able to inflict a burn with his powers alone.
San-Kyung.
‘And Dslellular’s alibi was shit too! He might’ve never seen San-Kyung asleep!’
“Airy-Aekok, we have a bit of a problem!” Her father yelled.
“What’s wrong, Dad!?”
“One of the suspects made a break for it!”
“Lemme guess, Molshei!?”
“How’d you know!?”
“I think we’ve got our killer. That’s how I knew.” She handed her father the picture of Mr. Chensu’s body, then followed the sounds of the police. The group who was formerly examining Mr. Chensu was now pointing their guns at a stoic-faced San-Kyung.
“Be careful where you aim the power suppressants. These have got the force of bullets so they could still be pretty lethal.”
“Got it.”
San-Kyung took advantage of their momentary distraction and raised vines from the ground to tie them up. The officers screeched in disbelief as they were raised into the air. One dropped his gun, and Airy-Aekok caught it and hid it in her belt.
“I should’ve known it was you all along!”
“It’s not my fault you’re too stupid to figure simple things out.”
“Why’d you do it!? And wait, why the hell are you admitting it!?”
“Because in a little bit, it’s not going to matter that I admitted it.”
Vines raised from the ground once more and snaked towards Airy-Aekok. She shrieked and moved out of the way.
“All I have to tell you is this. Do you really think someone evil would never act on those whimsies?”
“I don’t.” She pulled out the gun and shot him before he could retort. He fell to the ground, holding tight to his shoulder. When he pulled out the vial, blood and embers spurt from the wound.
“Especially not someone like you. And I bet I know why you did it. You just wanted revenge on the past. And when you realized you wouldn’t be able to kill the people you actually wanted dead, you turned to poor old Mr. Chensu instead!”
“Nngh…damn it…”
“Justice always prevails when a Llanni is on the scene! That’s my motto, and it hasn’t failed me yet!”
She ran over to the tied-up officers, pulled the vines from the ground and wrapped San-Kyung in them, who by now was doubled over in pain.
“You didn’t need to worry, guys. So long as a Llanni’s here, you’re always safe!”

—–
“You really do look happy, Airy-Aekok. Are you sure nothing in particular happened?”
“One-hundred-percent sure-a-roonie, Dad. I’m just thinkin’ about how I can use my talents in the future.”
“Yeah, you are pretty good at doing some of the stuff I can do. But if you want to use it in the future for justice, you’re going to have to remember that you can’t just tie up boys because you want to get them aroused, all right?”
Airy-Aekok blushed. “Daaad! Like of course I wouldn’t do that! It’s not professional at all.”

As Airy-Aekok went to sleep that night, she felt that she could almost see the vision of herself reaching out a hand towards her younger self.
‘If I can succeed in what Sanyaow asked of me, I can succeed in life, too. I’m not worthless or a failure. Thanks to my Dad, I have talent. And I’m not gonna let it go to waste.’

29.606.To See the Future–Part 8

The La-Iin Series
Chapter 606
“To See the Future–Part 8”

Age 8:2nd Grade
Age 9:3rd Grade
Age 10:4th Grade
Age 11:5th Grade
Age 12:6th Grade
Age 13:7th Grade
Age 14:8th Grade
Age 15:9th Grade
Age 16:10th Grade
Age 17:11th Grade
Age 18:12th Grade & Graduation
Age 19:??
Age 20:???
Age 21:????

Ai-Reia heaved a sigh.
“At the rate I’m going, I really am going to graduate at age eighteen…I won’t even be going through puberty by then, unless I end up precocious in that field too. I suppose there’s college, and here in Vaelyn, I will be a legal adult in a few months from then, won’t I? But, hm…”
“You talkin’ to yourself, sis?” Reuf-Bu asked. He smirked. “If you don’t want us to think that you’re crazy, then you shouldn’t do that with the door open! Whoa!” Reuf-Bu flinched. “Don’t threaten me like that!”
Ai-Reia was tempted to throw the cup in her hand, but she kept from doing it. “Don’t ever say something like that to me again. You make things harder for me than they need to be.”
“Sorry…well, uh, if you need me, I’ll be in the playroom, doing a puzzle…”
“I’m not interested, if that’s what you’re getting at.”
Reuf-Bu sighed. Ai-Reia turned back to her diagram. ‘My future’s a long one. There’s no telling what could happen over the span of hundreds of years. The world will change, people close to me will die, I’ll grow older…I have plenty of time to think, but I’m only eight and already in the second grade. It may be plenty of time to think, but I’m already doing something most Vampires don’t do until they’re older!’
Ai-Reia sighed. ‘Still, there’s so much to learn about the world, and with my knowledge I’m sure there’s some field I could pursue that would take up a good portion of my life. The question is, what am I going to do for a potential nine-hundred years if I’m likely to graduate high school at eighteen? I suppose there’s always the off-chance I’ll be held back a grade…’
Ai-Reia’s stare hardened. ‘But then there’s also my recovery plans. Those are an integral part of my future too. The way I handle myself as I’m growing up could be key to how my future plays out…’

***

“Hey, look over there. Isn’t that Vampiris Ai-Reia?”
“Vaelyn’s one and true prodigy! She’s only fifty years old and the discoveries she’s made so far are amazing! Did you hear that her first major discovery was at nineteen!? She wasn’t even going through puberty yet!”
“Yeah, I’m pretty proud of her. She’s something Vaelyn has that other countries don’t! Take that, Manemica! Take that, Wiencei! You other countries have nothin’ on our Vampiris!”
Even sitting far away from the group of people, their volume made it easy for Ai-Reia to hear what they had said. “A lot of people certainly think positively of you, Miss Vampiris.”
“Yes, well, I really don’t understand all the hype. Personally, I find it much more amazing when people work to be able to understand these things. I just happened to be blessed. I find that a lot less interesting.”
“Are you kiddin’ me!? Have you seen yourself!? With all your discoveries and inventions, how could you say that you haven’t put in a lot of work! Pat yourself on the back every once in a while, Miss Vampiris! You deserve it!”
Ai-Reia chuckled. “Well…no, maybe not.”
Since graduating from Malicerie back in 2026, Ai-Reia had focused a great deal of her time on studying and learning more. It seemed like an average enough schedule. She spent time doing what she wanted to, such as being with her family or with Im-Dei and Shuera-Kaizima, and spent the other half of her time studying.
When she was nineteen, however, she had discovered a medicine that could potentially regenerate parts of the body, to be used in keeping people alive longer. A test found that she was correct, and since then the medicine had been used for several people–including her brother Reuf-Bu, who had suffered a near-fatal car accident years later but was now as spry as he was in his thirties.
Since then she had discovered a wide variety of medicines, artifacts and had once helped turn around a guilty sentence for an innocent a few months before her execution. She was considered an inventor for the amount of new discoveries she had made. Ai-Reia loved being able to make vuyong off of studying, especially since it seemed there was still so much left for her to learn. The attention wasn’t always great, but it was just one caveat to getting to do what she wanted to.
And yet, despite her successes and her happiness, there was always a pervasive feeling nagging at her–a small part that kept her happiness from being complete even despite the fact that she had so much to be happy about.
‘I’m successful and I’m doing something I love! My family’s in good health and I’m considered the best aunt by Reuf-Bu’s children…’ That thought often tugged at her, but Ai-Reia already knew what was making her so unhappy.
“Ai-Reia!”
A familiar voice hit her ears, and she caught sight of a Catori and Birdmix walking towards her.
“It’s been a little bit since we last saw each other, hasn’t it?” Ai-Reia said.
“Yes, but that’s alright. I’ve been busy with the family business.”
“And you know how Catoris work. I have so many grandkids now it’s hard to keep an eye on them all…”
Im-Dei and Shuera-Kaizima still looked as happy as always, and in them she could still see how they looked when they were teenagers. But it was obvious they were aging. Shuera-Kaizima’s fur was flecked with grey and Im-Dei had visible wrinkles. The two’s slow walking didn’t go unnoticed by her either. It was quite evident that her friends weren’t as young as they had once been.
“I can imagine. How many grandchildren do you have by the way?”
“Nineteen. And it sounds like five more are on the way…”
“I only have one, but I would love to have more. You know, Ai-Reia, when you’re old enough to consider it, I think you’ll really like being a mother.”
“Well, I’m still a little pubescent, so I think it should wait for now.”
“You’re definitely mature enough for it. I could never imagine doing all the amazing things you’ve done!”
“Yes, we should get together again soon, maybe for tea?” Im-Dei said.
“Yes…yes, that sounds nice.”
“I’d love to do it now, but you’re busy working on a little AI project, aren’t you?”
“Erm, y-yes, that’s right.”
“And I have to work with the family business,” Im-Dei said. “But we should definitely get together soon. It was nice to see you, though!”
“Yes, it was nice.”
“Here!” Shuera-Kaizima handed her a small container. “I made a little something for you to eat! A Kokohara family recipe!”
“Take care, Ai-Reia. We’ll see you soon.”
Im-Dei and Shuera-Kaizima walked off. Ai-Reia stared down at the meal. It seemed to be made from a mixture of grilled tofu and beef. Her eyes started to tear up.
‘They’re so good to me, even now. But whereas I’m finishing up puberty, they’re elderly now…in the grand scheme of things, it won’t be that many years before they’re buried. And I’ll be there. I’ll be there when their children are buried. I’ll be there when their children’s children are buried. And how many more generations, how many more Kokoharas and Fyuoris will I see go before I finally look like they do? Will I see any more go after that point?’
It was a recurring thought in her mind now. She knew Shuera-Kaizima and Im-Dei weren’t likely to just suddenly pass away anytime soon, but that day was approaching fast. And then it didn’t matter how much success she had–her dear friends, her support, once they were gone things wouldn’t be the same again.
And she would have to live that way for centuries past that.

***

“Look, it’s Vampiris Ai-Reia.”
“Isn’t she the child prodigy?”
Was is really a lot more accurate. Just look at her picture nowadays! She was doing so great. I heard in college she really excelled! But when that Cahongyun lady became vice president, geez, she just lost it.”
“Kinda sad, really. I’m sure she could have done great things if she hadn’t gone so crazy…”
Ai-Reia grit her teeth and covered her ears. She couldn’t bear to hear what other people were saying about her. It only reminded her that much worse had been said about her–and that had come from her own friends and family.
“Ai-Reia, why’d you let this happen to you?”
“I can’t believe you’ve gone so crazy!”
Nowadays she spent most of her time on the streets. Staying in her apartment for anything aside from eating or sleeping was painful. It felt like she could hear the rumors flying around the other rooms. Now she missed the notoriety she had had as a child. She would have killed to go back to that old reputation–namely La-Iin, if she had the choice.
Of course, if she did something like that, it would gain her a completely different kind of notoriety.
It didn’t matter anyway, because the mere idea of La-Iin being in such a high position of power would have made her unhappy even if everything else in her life was going fine. But at least then she would have her family by her side; now she had nothing.
‘Maybe I should just leave Vaelyn. Then I might be happy, somewhat…start a new life somewhere else. Maybe in Wiencei or Nyappon…’
“Well, look who it is.”
Ai-Reia looked up. She met La-Iin’s icy glare. “It certainly has been a while, Ai-Reia. I’ve heard some interesting things about you since then.”
“You…!” Ai-Reia grit her teeth. She grabbed La-Iin by her collar, but to her surprise, La-Iin did not react. “Damn you! Do you understand how much grief you’ve caused me!? I thought a stupid little stalker girl could never be so dangerous, but I suppose I was mistaken!”
“Don’t blame your problems on me.” La-Iin pushed her away. “From what I’ve heard, you ended up in this position because you couldn’t stand the idea of me becoming vice president.”
“You know why. If you were any other person, it wouldn’t matter. But I know you, La-Iin. This is just part of your plan to rule the world!”
La-Iin smirked. “Smart girl.”
“You realize I can tell people what you’ve said now, right!?”
“Who will believe you? Nobody takes you seriously anymore, Ai-Reia. And that is your own fault. Your paranoia was your undoing. And you want to blame that on me? What a joke. Be willing to admit when you’ve failed, otherwise it just looks awfully pathetic.”
“You–!”
“You have hundreds of years left, anyway. If you’re so desperate to fix your life, take the chance you have now before I end up taking all of the world under my command. Well, I don’t have time to be talking to you. I have stupid stuff to do, and plans to formulate.”
She spread her wings and flew off.
Ai-Reia watched her go. She could still remember when La-Iin had been little–back then she had thought she had been harmless. Later, she had grown to think that she would do harm, but never could she imagine that her worst fears had a chance of coming true.
In despair, Ai-Reia trudged back to her apartment early, tossing around in her head the idea of ending her own suffering. ‘It’s not like anyone would care anyway. They all think I’m crazy now. Best do that instead of kill that over-pompous bitch…’

—–
‘The future has several possibilities depending on what path I take. I can’t make a plan for nine-hundred-and-something years down to the seconds, but I can try to prevent myself from ending up in a bad situation. My future is half entrusted to me, after all. I must try my best to avoid anything as bad as that other scenario happening!’
She sighed. ‘Of course, a part of the first one is inevitable…but if I can handle myself, then even that might not end up as bad as I imagine it to be.’

26.603.San-Kyung the Babysitter

The La-Iin Series
Chapter 603
“San-Kyung the Babysitter”

A woman ran across a neighborhood at a high speed.
“Whoa! I didn’t know a mom could run that fast!” A Cicadin girl said.

After Salsh-Era had gone to work, San-Kyung found himself bored. With Operation Reboot still on his mind, he decided to read an old book that was all about Animated Pumpkins.
“Well, of course we know a lot about Animated Pumpkins, but we got this book because we didn’t know what was different for Aesthetically Normals at the time. So we wanted to learn what we need to do differently with you!” Del-Kyuus had told him that years ago.
San-Kyung’s focus was particularly on the section that dealt with the transformation. ‘Operation Reboot could be a success or a failure. But at this rate, it seems like it might succeed, somehow…thing is, is what Dosa-Mina told me last year really going to come true?’
It frustrated him that he might have to go another year with the weakness he had in November, but he wasn’t going to begrudge his friend his mistake.
Before he could finish the section, someone knocked on the door.
“San-Kyung, can you get that? I’m a little tied up right now!” Del-Kyuus said.
‘I wonder if it’s Dosa-Mina? But he didn’t contact me. He usually does before he comes over. Well, I guess there have been exceptions…’
He went over to the door and opened it, and was startled to be met not by the face of his best friend, or even of La-Iin–who he had half been expecting to see–but instead of a Lizardfoot woman who had a young child strapped to her chest.
“Oh, thank goodness, you’re home,” she sighed. “Ahem. Introductions are in order. I’m your neighbor, Nugyu Lei-Lin, and this is my son, Nugyu Ku-Sel. I don’t know if you’ve ever met us, eheh heh…”
San-Kyung narrowed his eyes. “Mom, I think it’s for you.”
“Oh no! I think you’re mistaken! You’re Molshei San-Kyung, right? I’m looking for you.”
San-Kyung flinched.
“You see, I know we don’t know each other all that well, but my husband used to go to work with your Dad! And if I remember correctly, school should be out for the Summer! So I figured you’d be home and you could do me a favor.”
“Mom, I think it’s for you.”
“Can you give me a minute, San-Kyung!? I told you, I’m tied up right now!”
“Really, it’s you I need! Although I guess your Mom would help as well…”
San-Kyung glared at her. “You see, my husband doesn’t get paid until next week, and we need vuyong right now. I didn’t want to go around begging for vuyong, so I figured I would do a day job, but I can’t just leave Ku-Sel home alone!”
“Ask someone else!”
“Please, there’s a reason I came to you! Have you seen the other teenagers!? I don’t trust any of them to watch my kid! I-I promise, as soon as I can, I’ll pay you for your work, just please help me! Believe me, you actually are my last resort! …well, maybe second-to-last.”
“Handle your own problems!”
Lei-Lin teared up. San-Kyung let out a sigh of relief when Del-Kyuus walked up behind him. “Hello, Mrs. Nugyu. What brings you here?”
“Oh, hello, Mrs. Molshei. …um, sorry to be rude, but do you work?”
“No, I don’t.”
“Really? I see…” Lei-Lin began to look sheepish. “Um, I guess I should explain. I wanted to ask San-Kyung if he could watch Ku-Sel for me while I do a day job. You see, we’re in dire straits right now. I don’t trust the other teenagers to watch him. Also, you are an Animated Pumpkin.” She smiled. “My husband is an Animated Pumpkin too! So naturally little Ku-Sel is–”
“Half-AP?” San-Kyung asked.
“Yes! Will you please watch him?”
Del-Kyuus glanced at San-Kyung. “Well, San-Kyung tends to be a little rough with people, but I wouldn’t mind watching him. I have chores to do, but I’m sure he’ll be fine.”
San-Kyung gaped. “Mom!”
“Oh my gooosh, thank you!” Lei-Lin removed Ku-Sel from his holder and handed him to Del-Kyuus. “Thank you so much! I promise, as soon as we have the means to, I’ll do anything you want! Well, I have to go! See you!”
“Hey!” Lei-Lin ran off before San-Kyung could retort. “Why’d you do that!?”
“She was desperate, San-Kyung! Was I supposed to just turn her away?”
San-Kyung groaned. “You really are the one and true goody-goody…”
“Huh?”
“Never mind. But you’d better be the one who watches him!”
“I will. But I do also have a chore to do.”
San-Kyung shuddered. “I’ll do it for you.”
“I’d love to let you, but it’s a chore that requires levitation.”
San-Kyung looked away, his expression hurt.
“I’m sorry, sweetie, but it’ll only be temporary. You have my promise.”
“Yeah, a temporary slice of hell…”
Del-Kyuus sighed. “You could stand to be a bit nicer about this. Your father and I don’t care that you’re evil, and more importantly we’ve let you off pretty easy even for things that would usually warrant more punishment! I think watching a baby is a relatively mild payback.”
“Payback!?”
“Yes.” She started to hand Ku-Sel to San-Kyung, but soon pulled him away. “Although maybe I shouldn’t. I don’t know if I should trust you with a baby, and I did offer to do it myself. And even though you’ve done bad things in the past, you haven’t really been acting out lately. It would be kind of mean to punish you now.”
“You just want an excuse to pass the baby off on me.”
“No, I’m not trying to do that. I’d love to watch Ku-Sel. It’s been a while since I had a baby, after all…but I still have to finish my chore. And it might be good experience for you, too, keeping an eye on him for a little. After all, what are you going to do if Dosa-Mina has a baby in the future and you have to be around them to see him? Are you just going to avoid him?”
“Maybe it sounds weird to you, but I really would love to have a biological child. Yes, I know, they’d be Werewolf-Siren, but still! I love the idea of being a father!”
San-Kyung groaned. “You’re not going to let me back out, are you…”
“I’ll be watching Ku-Sel most of the time. I have experience with babies, after all. But he’ll still be in the house for a little, and I would really appreciate it if you watch him while I finish that chore. Unless he cries, you don’t have to do anything else!”
“Fiiine…”
“Thanks, San-Kyung.” She handed Ku-Sel to him. Ku-Sel reached up and touched his face. San-Kyung flinched.

***

While Del-Kyuus finished her earlier chore, San-Kyung kept an eye on Ku-Sel. He felt immensely uncomfortable the whole time, and Ku-Sel looked as though he felt similar–he was giving San-Kyung a wary look in response to his glare, and he was only grateful he hadn’t started crying.
‘I just need to watch him until Mom’s done. That’s it.’ It didn’t change the fact that San-Kyung didn’t like the situation at all. He didn’t like Ku-Sel being in the house, and though he was little, it didn’t change how San-Kyung saw him to be, the same as other people in the world. He tried to think of what he might do if Ku-Sel was Dosa-Mina’s child, but the idea of Dosa-Mina having a child seemed so ridiculous to him that it didn’t work.
Ku-Sel seemed bored of staring at San-Kyung after a while, and so he glanced around the house. His eyes widened, and before San-Kyung could predict it, he started to cry.
San-Kyung slammed his head on the table.
“Is something wrong, San-Kyung?”
“Yes!”
Del-Kyuus levitated over to Ku-Sel. “I think the poor thing’s lonely. He probably misses Mrs. Nugyu.”
“Why didn’t he cry right away, then?”
“He might not have realized she was going away just yet. Why don’t you hold him? He might calm down if you do that.”
San-Kyung felt incredibly reluctant, but Del-Kyuus was watching him expectantly. He picked up Ku-Sel, who did not stop crying even as he held him.
“What now!?”
“Well, he might be hungry. He’s probably old enough to eat solids, but since he’s half Animated Pumpkin, you might be able to get away with giving him something to drink. I think we still have your old sippy cup somewhere…”
San-Kyung suddenly felt embarrassed. He went into the kitchen, retrieved the sippy cup, and filled it with seed milk. “He’s old enough for seed milk that doesn’t come from his Mom! Not that his mother could’ve fed him seed milk anyway.”
Ku-Sel seemed satisfied and started to drink from the sippy cup. San-Kyung sighed. He looked back at the book he left open, and an idea clicked in his head.
‘Mom’s still finishing her chore, and she’ll only take longer if I have to ask her for everything. The kid’s half-Animated Pumpkin. Maybe I can look in here for advice…’
The sense of a challenge was stirring in San-Kyung, and so he looked over nearly the entire section that dealt with baby Animated Pumpkins. He had almost finished when Ku-Sel pulled on his hair. He let out a screech and tied him up with vines, which made Ku-Sel start to cry.
“What’s wrong now, San-Kyung?” Del-Kyuus said. “I’m almost done, you know. You could–hey, stop that, San-Kyung!”
San-Kyung killed the vines. “Honestly. I know you don’t like people, but you’d think you’d be able to put up with a baby at least a little bit!”
“I can deal with him fine!”
“Meanie!”
San-Kyung flinched. He glared at Ku-Sel, who started to cry some more. Del-Kyuus picked him up and cradled him.
“Aw, don’t worry, little Ku-Sel. Your Mom will be back soon enough. You have to be gentle with babies and young children, San-Kyung. A lot of them get their feelings hurt pretty easily. And young childhood can influence how you end up as much the rest of your life can.”
“Hmph.”
“Just be gentle, okay?” She said. She put Ku-Sel down and levitated off. Ku-Sel seemed to be calmed down, but the look he gave San-Kyung moments later was evidently angry.
“Meanie.”
“Says the stupid baby.”
“You stupid baby.”
San-Kyung resisted the urge to strike his hands and set the baby on fire. “Do you want something?”
“Mama.”
“Sorry, but your “Mama” pushed you off on me.”
Ku-Sel teared up. San-Kyung sighed. “Temporarily.”
“Temp-o-wa-ree…?”
San-Kyung groaned. “She pushed you off on me for a short while.”
“Huh?”
San-Kyung grit his teeth. “She makes me watch you while she goes to her jobby-wobby. There! Do you understand now!?”
To his surprise, Ku-Sel nodded. ‘What kind of family teaches their kid to be this dumb!?’
“Funny-looking meanie.”
“What!?”
“Dada looks like kindy Mama. You funny-looking.”
San-Kyung held his head. “Talk in a coherent sentence or I’m not talking to you!”
“Dada. Looks like. Kindy Mama.”
San-Kyung stood up, filled the sippy cup with more seed milk, and stuffed it in Ku-Sel’s mouth. “There. Now shut up.”
The thrill of the challenge was gradually becoming lost on him as he watched Ku-Sel drink his seed milk. ‘Just a little longer. I can put up with this until Mom finishes her chore.’

When Del-Kyuus finished her chore, San-Kyung felt as though a load had been lifted off his shoulders.
“Aw, what a cutie you are! Do you like blocks? I can let you play with San-Kyung’s old blocks.”
“No!”
“Why not?”
“Sa…San-Kyung?” He pointed at San-Kyung.
“Yes, that’s San-Kyung.”
“Stupid funny-looking meanie.”
“I could say the same to you, if I was a brain-dead baby.”
“San-Kyung, please! And Ku-Sel, you shouldn’t say that. That’s bad!”
Ku-Sel looked dejected. “Sor-ree…”
“Aw, it’s okay, just don’t say it again, alright?”
“I don’t get babies.”
“Babies don’t always make sense, San-Kyung. Sometimes they do, though. You used to cry around other people. I guess Salsh-Era and I should have anticipated that things would have ended up the way that they did…”
The door opened. “What, no welcome?”
“Hi, Dad.”
“Hey, San-Kyung. Why do you look so upset?”
“Take a look.”
Salsh-Era glanced at Ku-Sel. “Kyuusie! Wha–what–”
“Hi, Salsh-Era! Oh, this is Mrs. Nugyu’s baby, Ku-Sel.”
“Oh, Mrs. Nugyu’s baby,” Salsh-Era said. “O-of course.”
“Oh come on, Salsh-Era. I would never cheat on you.”
“I know, Kyuusie.” Salsh-Era glanced at San-Kyung in surprise. “What, you’re not upset that I called her Kyuusie?”
“I’m too pissed off to care.”
“He got burnt out after a half-hour of dealing with the baby. Mrs. Nugyu wanted him to watch Ku-Sel himself!”
“Huh.”
“But I offered to do it, once my chore was done, anyway. I had to step in ’cause I could see he was obviously having a hard time of it.”
“Can’t handle a baby, huh?” Salsh-Era chuckled.
“They’re just like everyone else is.”
“Ku-Sel was mean to him, admittedly.”
“Well, something tells me San-Kyung will never get over his misanthropy. But really, San-Kyung, babies aren’t all that bad. Ku-Sel looks a little older than ‘baby’, but my point still stands.”
“What are you trying to say?”
“Well, if you change your mind and decide to become a father in the future, please don’t kill my grandkid!”
“You don’t have to worry. This incident has definitely made me decide I don’t want a kid. I don’t think even me raising them would keep them from ending up the way most people do.”
“Then what do you have to say about your grandparents? They raised us and you love us. What about the Dslellulars? You might not like Orlin-Aesth and Elai-Riya, but they raised Dosa-Mina and you like him.”
San-Kyung’s expression softened. “I…I don’t know. Look, I just don’t want to, alright? I don’t need to care about anyone else. It’s too hard. Besides, they’re so stupid it’s infuriating.”
“Alright. It’s your decision.”
“Aw, that first part was kind of sweet, in a weird way.”
Ku-Sel was crawling on the table. San-Kyung wanted to shoo him away, but he crawled over to San-Kyung and stared up at him. “Sor-ree.”
San-Kyung narrowed his eyes. Ku-Sel reached out and latched on to San-Kyung.
“Aw, someone likes you more than you like him,” Del-Kyuus cooed. San-Kyung groaned. “That’s not the first time that’s happened…”
“Stor-ree?”
“What?”
“Stor-ree.”
“He wants a story from you, San-Kyung,” Del-Kyuus said. “Why don’t you oblige?”
“Why should I?”
“Meanie.”
San-Kyung grit his teeth. “If you want a story, you could at least keep your mouth shut!”

—–
“Thank you so much for watching Ku-Sel for me,” Lei-Lin said. “Thanks to you, I was able to make a little vuyong, and I think we might be able to make it until my husband gets paid.”
“Happy to help!” Del-Kyuus said.
Lei-Lin dropped some coins into San-Kyung’s hand. “Here. I know it’s not much, and I’ll give you more later on, but thank you.”
“…thank Mom and Dad.”
“Ku-Sel, do you have anything to say to San-Kyung?”
Ku-Sel stared at San-Kyung and gave him a thumbs up. “Teach that kid to talk better,” he snapped. Lei-Lin giggled. “We’re working on it!”
With that, she walked off.
“Hey, San-Kyung?”
“Yeah?”
“You’re a little reliant, aren’t you?”
“Huh?”
“I think I know what Kyuusie’s trying to say. We heard your comment about not wanting to care about anyone else. You’re a little reliant on the people you care about, aren’t you? I know you don’t like people, but that’s part of the reason you don’t like to open up, isn’t it?”
“Think what you want.”
His parents’ words brought to mind his suicide pact with Dosa-Mina. ‘Well, they don’t need to know about that…’

1.578.To See the Future

The La-Iin Series
Chapter 578
“To See the Future”

Fer-Shi poked at her food absently, grimacing.
“What’s wrong, Fer-Shi? I thought you liked mashed potatoes.”
“I do.”
“Are you bored? You can play one of my video games after dinner, if you want.”
“No, I’m not really bored.”
“Are you thinking about your dream again?”
Fer-Shi flinched.
“I got it right, didn’t I?”
“Fer-Shi, you can’t stress yourself out thinking about those all the time.”
Fer-Shi sighed and set down her fork. “I’m not trying to think about those all the time. And it’s not exactly completely about dreams, it just has a little bit to do with it.”
“I know it can be frustrating when you want to find your purpose in life, but Tei-Sheu is right, if you keep thinking about it, you’ll only stress yourself out. Try to focus on other things for now! Your dream will come to you when it’s ready.”
“It’s not that easy…”
Den-Matsu gave a sigh of his own. “Then how about this. You’re having trouble thinking about what you want to do, but have you tried thinking about what you can see yourself doing?”
“Huh?”
“Lots of people imagine what their future will be like. So why not try doing that, and see if you can get some idea from there? Maybe you’ll see yourself doing something and realize that’s your calling. Give it a shot if it’ll keep you from stressing out.”
“What if I see myself as nothing, though?” She sighed.
“Oh, I’m sure you’ll at least be able to imagine what you might look like,” Tei-Sheu said. “Give it a shot.”
“If you say so.”

Fer-Shi felt uncertain that her parents’ idea would work, but she felt that they would ask her about how it went later and feared how she might respond with no actual idea. So she relaxed in her bed and closed her eyes.
‘They just said the future. That could be as soon as in an hour or as far away as a hundred years! I guess they meant what I’d want to do as an adult, though. If I was about Dad’s age, what would I be doing? What’s the future gonna be like? What things are gonna be different from now? Well, I guess there are a few things I can see myself doing…’

***

“Mommy! Mommy, can I have some mushrooms?”
“Sorry, Tei-Iin, but I need those mushrooms for my job!”
“Why?”
Fer-Shi bent down and placed her hands on Tei-Iin’s shoulders. “Well, remember the big Dasdoria-Vaelyn conflict?”
“Not really.”
“Back then there was a huge problem, and now there are a lot of people who don’t have food. I volunteered to help make food for all the people who don’t. ..I was the only one, so there’s not much we can eat. Besides, you don’t always need a snack.”
“I’m hungry, though.” He held his stomach. “All we had for lunch was toasty goulache.”
“Well, I plan on making something extra-special for dinner tonight! But I have to get going now. Would you like to come with me today?”
Tei-Iin nodded. Fer-Shi smiled and took his hand.
Since the conflict, Fer-Shi’s life had taken a drastic change. She had believed that events like puberty, her graduation, moving out and Tei-Iin entering her life would be some of the most surprising things she went through, but the conflict easily surpassed all of those events. Now Bledger was quite a different place, the neighborhoods mostly abandoned by people who had left in favor of other parts of Vaelyn.
‘How come they attacked Bledger so badly? They had it out against all of Vaelyn.’ Fer-Shi often wondered if it was because of the abundance of Dasdorians living in Bledger prior to the conflict. Whatever the reason, she tried to push the subject out of her mind and instead focus on what she was going to cook once she reached the center.
“Can I eat some of what you make, Mommy?” Tei-Iin asked.
“Only if there are leftovers. Remember, these other people are worse off than we are!”
“But what if they’re only lying so they can eat your tasty food and in reality we’re worse off than they are?”
Fer-Shi paused. “…let’s assume that that’s not the case for my sanity, okay?”
‘I wonder where he gets these ideas from sometimes.’ Still, his words did give her pause as she head into the center.
Already, after arriving there the center was packed with several people of all different species. She sat Tei-Iin down with other children and set to work cooking.
Oftentimes she would make soup, recalling her training at the Normal Stew Place during her adolescence. But recently she had been experimenting with more meals, and as she finished up a mushroom meatloaf, she felt sad thinking on how much variety her meals for the people here had in comparison to the meals she made for herself and Tei-Iin.
After finishing the meals, she set each of them down on a long table, and the people in the center went for them.
“They look really hungry today. I hope everyone gets something to eat. Maybe I should start giving them individual plates.”
“Hey, Sanhuun!”
Fer-Shi looked up ahead. “Oh, hello there, Mr. Acishea.”
“Hey, Sanhuun, I know you’re busy what with your little boy and all, but I wanted to ask you to spot me a favor.”
“Sure, what do you need?”
“Could you clean the streets for me? They’re getting a little messy?”
“Oh, um, I guess I could, but–”
“Thank you!” Acishea shook her hands and ran off, cackling. Fer-Shi heaved a sigh. ‘I really need to stop being so much of a pushover! Or maybe it’s just that other people need to hear me out more…’
She then walked over to Tei-Iin, who was playing with a black-furred Catori-Birdmix.
“Hi, Mommy!”
“Hey, Tei-Iin. I hope you’re not too involved in anything right now. We kind of have to go.”
“Aw!” Tei-Iin sighed. “Sorry, Au-Li. You’re gonna have to tell me the rest another day.”
“Oh, that’s no bother,” Au-Li jittered. Catching a closer look at his face, Fer-Shi noticed that his expression looked unstable, as if he was slightly insane. “Stories like that don’t easily leave a child’s mind, heh heh…”
Tei-Iin seemed oblivious to his friend’s instability and stood up and joined his mother, waving to Au-Li on the way out. Fer-Shi opted not to comment to him about her suspicions.
“What do we have to go for now, Mommy? Did you really finish that quickly?”
“No, not really, although I guess I made better time than I usually do…but no, it’s just ’cause some people don’t feel like doing their work. Remember, Tei-Iin, don’t pass your chores off on other people!”
“Um? Okay, Mommy.”
Catching a look at the streets, Fer-Shi couldn’t help a sigh. ‘No wonder Mr. Acishea wanted me to do this. These streets really are a mess!’
“Listen, Tei-Iin? Mommy’s new job might take a while, so if you want to go back and play with Au-Li more, you have my permission.”
“Really, Mommy!?”
“Mm-hm. But, ah, be careful around him, alright?”
Tei-Iin looked momentarily confused, but he soon gave an exuberant nod and bound off back towards the center, which as she watched him off was closer than she expected. ‘I must not have walked very far.’
When Tei-Iin had become a speck on the horizon, Fer-Shi set to work sweeping debris into a pile in the middle of the street. ‘How inconvenient. Mr. Acishea, next time we meet I don’t think it’s gonna be as pleasant as you’d like…’
Just as the pile was starting to seem tidy, a sudden gust of wind knocked some stray litter from it. Fer-Shi was ready to chew out whoever had messed up the pile, until she noticed La-Iin flying above her. La-Iin seemed to notice her as well, and landed in front of the pile.
“Hello, Fer-Shi. It’s been a while.”
“La-Iin! How’s it going?”
“Fine. I’ve really learned that younger me had the wrong idea about going to rule the world. A high position of power certainly helps, and so does the disarray caused by the aftermath of a conflict, heh heh heh…”
Even as an adult, some things about La-Iin hadn’t changed. “Hey. I thought you were on cook duty, not street-cleaning duty.”
“Oh, well, about that…Mr. Acishea kind of asked.”
La-Iin nodded. “And Mr. Acishea will soon kind of be unemployed,” she said coolly.
“…you don’t actually have that much power, do you?”
“My power steadily grows, Fer-Shi. After all, my goal is not just being in a high position of power. It is the world!”
“You really are a corrupt politician type,” Fer-Shi sighed.
“Don’t compare me to my coworkers. Besides, you get benefits from having me as a friend.”
“I’m not sure I want to.”
“Mommy!”
Fer-Shi turned around abruptly. Tei-Iin was heading towards her, being flown by Au-Li, who landed on the ground behind her. As with earlier he still looked unstable, and Fer-Shi flinched at the look in his eyes.
“Tei-Iin, how come you came out here?”
“Au-Li said I shouldn’t be away from my mommy, so we decided to come play out here!”
“Tei-Iin’s gotten bigger,” La-Iin commented absently. Her eyes then shifted to Au-Li, and a look of surprise entered them. She smirked and winked at the young boy, who winked back.
“Um…?”
“It’s nothing you need to be concerned about, Fer-Shi.” La-Iin spread her wings. “I feel like pulling some strings when I get back to work. Not necessarily for your sake. Just to strike some fear into the hearts of people. They’ll soon see my true power over them.”
She flew off. Fer-Shi set to sweeping up the litter she had scattered by landing.
“Hey, do you know Miss Cahongyun, Au-Li?” She heard Tei-Iin ask.
“You could say she’s my employer.” It was the calmest thing she had heard Au-Li say, and yet it was the words that sent the coldest shiver up her spine.

—–
Just before bedtime, after her parents had set down small slices of apple pie along with warm milk, Fer-Shi staggered out of her bedroom, feeling disoriented.
“Hi, Fer-Shi!” Tei-Sheu chirped. “How did your little imagination project go?”
‘I knew she was gonna ask.’ “Um…let’s just say I hope the future doesn’t actually end up like it did in my imagination.”
Den-Matsu and Tei-Sheu gave each other confused glances, but it didn’t faze Fer-Shi. She was ready to mostly forget about what she imagined, though she opted to keep the name she had given her imaginary child for future reference.

29.575.Day of Business

The La-Iin Series
Chapter 575
“Day of Business”

Asul-Zenza stared at the table. Sitting on it in piles was all the vuyong he had.
Early that day he had gotten the idea to surprise La-Iin with a new dress. ‘She’s starting to get a little bigger. Sooner or later she’ll outgrow her current dresses. And while Mit-Sun sews her new ones, she can wear my dress!’
He was quite surprised to see such a small pile of vuyong.
‘I haven’t been spending that much, have I? So why do I have so little? Wait a moment…’
Asul-Zenza thought back on the last time he had done a job. He recalled hearing someone that day commenting on how they were not looking forward to Summer.
‘Spring…’ He sighed. ‘This is not good. I thought I was good at keeping an eye on my funds. Evidently not…’
He stood up. ‘Well, I won’t get anywhere moping about this sad pile! My only option now is to find a job I can do. And I think I know just where I can go for that.’

***

“You want to help me with the stand?”
“Yes! I figured you don’t get much help, so I thought I might help you.”
Perule-Cheuse scratched the back of his neck. “I don’t mind, but ah, you realize there ain’t much work to be done ’round here? I don’t understand why ya’d want to…” He narrowed his eyes. “Wait a sec, you ain’t lookin’ for vuyong, are ya?”
“What makes you think that?”
“Don’t think I don’t know you, Asul-Zenza.”
Asul-Zenza scoffed. “I guess you do…alright, I’ll help for free, then. After all, it doesn’t look like there’s anyone around here.”
“Hey. If yer gonna do that, just tidy up the stand a little for me. I’m not askin’ ya to actually serve anyone anything.”
Asul-Zenza nodded and began to reorganize the cart and wipe off stains. ‘No wonder he gave me that look. There really isn’t anything to do here. I feel like a jerk. There are other places I could have found something to do.’
“Alright, it’s clean.” He spread his wings. “I’ll go looking somewhere else now.”
“Hey, ‘fore you go.” Perule-Cheuse placed some vuyong into his hand. “Thanks for the help.”
“You’re really giving me this?”
“Yeah, sure, why not? Ain’t much though, so you don’t need to thank me. Hope you find something to do.”
“Me too.” Asul-Zenza took off. “Farewell, Perule-Cheuse!”

‘I think what I need isn’t something like one-day work. I could more do with a temporary job. I wonder where I could find that…it always feels so easy to find work except for when you really need it.’
He flew over an area with many small shops, checking if any needed some kind of temporary work. He was surprised to see Niser-Zanta inside of one of the shops, not sitting at a table but instead wearing the work clothes. Curious, he landed and went inside.
“Welcome!” Niser-Zanta’s eyes widened. “Asul-Zenza!?”
“I could say the same! Er, well, you get what I mean. I didn’t know you worked at a place like this.”
“Are you rubbing it in?” He asked. “It’s nice to see you, Asul-Zenza, but even though I’m not busy right now I have to keep up work!”
“I just want to ask you a question. That won’t waste so much time, will it?”
“Yeah, not really, though I’m devoted to my job and I don’t like to take any moment sitting down! Also I get extra pay if I do extra work.”
Asul-Zenza chuckled. “Any of these shops in the area, do they accept someone looking to work temporarily?”
“I’m sure some do. Why? You need work? You never seem like you need work, just that you always do work anyway.”
“You could sort of say that.”
“Makes me wonder how much you’ve been spending lately. Hmm, well, you can always find work if you know where to look. I know there’s a place nearby here where people’ll pay you for things like mowing their lawn or watching their kids.”
“I see. …did you say mowing their lawns?”
“Yup. So if none of the shops are looking for a temporary worker you can always try there. The Vampires there have vuyong to spare. They’re the type who save up and feed their kids only on fresh blood.”
“Those types?”
“Yeah. Don’t go judging them. You like fresh blood too.”
“I know, but always, in a Vampire society? It sounds like some of the Normal tales I’ve heard about Vampires.”
“ALDESDRIN! I see you’re enjoying your conversation, but don’t you have a customer to attend to?”
“Eep!” Niser-Zanta startled and his wings spread slightly. “Yes! I’m getting straight back to work, Miss Chaeiou!”
Niser-Zanta took off towards a table. Asul-Zenza left the building and flew off.
“What, he’s not going to eat here?” Chaeiou said with a sigh.

Feeling slightly desperate, Asul-Zenza opted not to look at the shops nearby first and instead head off towards the place that Niser-Zanta had mentioned. Already as he flew over it, he could spot several Vampires playing outside, many with young children. He began to feel intrusive as if he shouldn’t be there.
Still, it was worth a shot if it would make him any vuyong.
“You want a job to do? Wanna mow our lawn? Most Vampires outside of where I live don’t know how to do that, but ah, we do. I can show ya the ropes if you don’t get it.”
“If you could clean the car, that would be nice.”
‘Car!?’ These Vampires truly seemed non-standard. Asul-Zenza couldn’t help but remember Niser-Zanta’s comment of them seeking out nothing but fresh blood. Seeing them now, they seemed very different from most other Vampires he had met, even modern ones.
“I could really use someone to watch Yani-Teri. If you do I’ll pay you a ton!”
When he had started to ask around about jobs he had only felt worse, flying into a neighborhood and asking for something to do, but as Niser-Zanta had said, they seemed quite willing to give him a job. So he mowed one Vampire’s lawn, cleaned the car of another’s, helped repair a few bits of equipment, and as the sun began to set, watched Yani-Teri for her mother, Ila-Eri.
Right now Yani-Teri was playing with blocks. ‘These Vampires are so very strange. But I’ve gotten a bit of vuyong from the work.’ He sighed. ‘I don’t feel right doing this kind of work. I may have earned the vuyong I needed, but I’m more suited to temporary jobs rather than this kind of work.’
“Wanna play?” Yani-Teri asked.
“Um, I’m not as good at this game as I was when I was your age,” he said.
“Game?”
“Ahm, I mean, this construction.”
Yani-Teri beamed. “I’m gonna do construction when I grow up too!”
She turned back to the blocks. ‘Construction…Mit-Sun used to do that.’ The thought of his former fiancĂ©e made him think of La-Iin. ‘That’s right, the whole reason I was doing this today was because I wanted to buy her a dress.’ He checked the vuyong he had already earned. ‘I think I might be able to afford something cheap. Or, hm, I wonder…’
“Mr. Ghneckdo?” Ila-Eri called. “Oh, there you are. Thank you so much. Here you go.”
“Thank you.”
“Mama!”
Asul-Zenza flinched.
“Something wrong, Mr. Ghneckdo?”
“No…she just reminded me of my own daughter.”
Ila-Eri sighed. “I see. Well, thank you.” Dropping her voice to a whisper, she said, “I’ve been trying to work a high-paying job and balance taking care of Yani-Teri. It is so hard. But it’s worth it if I can take care of her and give her all she wants.”
“I understand that. But don’t spoil her too much, okay?”
Ila-Eri nodded. “See you, Mr. Ghneckdo!”

Asul-Zenza head down to the shops to see if any of them were still open–and if any of them were accepting temporary work. On one he noticed a sign that piqued his curiosity.
“Welcome back, amigo,” Niser-Zanta said. “But this is the abandoned time of night.”
“Niser-Zanta? You’re still here?”
“Yeah, I’m workin’ overtime. What are you here for?”
“Are you actually here to eat this time?” Asul-Zenza spotted Chaeiou out the corner of his eye, arms crossed and staring him down.
“No, I’m here to work. I saw outside your sign about needing someone for August to make your special Sunboiled Eggsweet.”
“Actually, we’re thinking of changing the name, but yes. Do you know how to make an Eggsweet?”
“Actually, I do! I only learned fairly recently, admittedly, but I can do it.”
“So you’re only lookin’ to help us during the August, is that right?”
“Yes, that’s my intention.”
Chaeiou nodded. “Come in tomorrow and show me your skills. Then we’ll talk.”
Niser-Zanta gaped. “You’re looking for work here!? Didn’t you go to that neighborhood?”
“I did. And I earned a bit of vuyong. But I realized I have skills that are better suited for other types of jobs. Looks like we may be working together over the Summer, Niser-Zanta.”
“Is that so?” He smiled. “I guess that doesn’t sound too bad. Here’s to working with you, Asul-Zenza!”
“Here’s to it!”

—–
La-Iin:
Sorry I missed you but it seems you and Mit-Sun were out. I know I know nothing about sewing. My skills are nothing compared to your mother’s, but I wanted to try making you a dress. This is for you to wear when you get a little bigger, but feel free to try it on now!
Until we meet again!
~Ghneckdo Asul-Zenza

“It’s itchy.”
“Geez, he really has no idea how to sew. Still, I don’t remember him sewing before, so I suppose this isn’t too bad.”
“You contemplating Dami? Surprising. I think it’s itchy. You really are the better sewer.”
Mit-Sun smiled. “Thanks, La-Iin. Ah, but as much as I hate to say it, if this is his first or second or so try, it isn’t that bad. Now if he’s been practicing a lot, that’s a different story…”
“That doesn’t make it not itchy.”
“If you want, I think I know a way I can make it itch less.”
“No. For as itchy as it is, it’s from Dami. And in my situation, Dami is a cherished rarity. So I’ll keep it the way it is.” She shuddered. “I don’t know if I’ll wear it anyway.”

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.

17.533.The Future of Bledger

The La-Iin Series
Chapter 533
“The Future of Bledger”

“Miss Ukyon, I need to talk with you about an important matter.”
“What?” She sighed. “If this is anything about my approval rating going down again, I don’t want to hear it. I already know the people of Vaelyn don’t like me much. To which I say: would you rather have me, or live in North Vaelyn!?”
“It has nothing to do with that right now. We’re receiving word from authorities over in Bledger, Vaelyn. They wanted me to tell you about the state of affairs over there.”
“Hm?”
“In case you haven’t heard, lately there’s been an increase in crime over in Bledger. Apparently nothing on the level of many mass murders, but there was a recent event in which one Sara Nim-Ghini attempted to set off a bomb near the district of Hledshess. It was the most major of all the crimes attempted so far. Authorities say that if the bomb had not been stopped, it would have caused serious property damage and resulted in a few casualties.”
Sae-Kyu’s eyes widened. “Really?”
Her assistant nodded. “I’ve been keeping a close eye on the happenings of Vaelyn for you, since you seem to often let them go by ignored.”
“Thanks a lot.”
“I’ve checked on the rest of Vaelyn in my spare time. Places like Silcoulle and Plucehon have reported relative peace. Certainly crimes go on there, but police have been telling me about how they’ve discovered entire crime districts over in Bledger. It certainly seems like there’s a lot going on.”
“Well, what am I supposed to do about it? I’m not exactly stationed over in Bledger, and I do have my own things to do. Do you want me to head over there for morale or something?”
“No, nothing of the sort, Miss Ukyon. Really, nobody knows why the sudden spike in attempted and committed crimes. The police are speculating that these crime districts have always existed and are only just branching out now. Although there have been some suspect incidents…namely, Halloween of 2014, there was massive destruction to parts of Bledger. There were no casualties and barely any injuries, but there’s a lot of confusion as to who the perpetrator was. Some claimed they saw a weakened teenage boy while others claimed they did not see the perpetrator at all. Some further went on to claim that the boy was half-Siren.”
“Huh.”
“And a public school experienced a hostage situation just a little over a year ago. I think you heard of that one–the Malicerie Incident?”
“Yes, I did.”
“So perhaps all along, it wasn’t just something that came out of nowhere because criminals became bold. Perhaps it was always waiting and festering…either way, while I know I can’t exactly go to you and ask you to fix it all, you might want to speak with the authorities of Bledger. Perhaps you could give them some helpful advice.”
“I suppose I could,” she sighed. “Set up communications with them, then.”
“Right at once, Miss Ukyon.”
As her assistant set to work, Sae-Kyu relaxed in her seat and sighed. ‘Being the leader of Vaelyn is a lot harder than I initially expected…how did the people who came before me manage it? It’s simple enough to want to go into politics, but this is pushing it. Now I have people who hate me. I guess at least I don’t live in Bledger right now…’
“Miss Ukyon?”
Sae-Kyu startled. “Y-yes?”
“This is Kaenir Wih-Shin of the Bledger Police Force. Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to speak with me.”
“Not at all. What’s up?”
Wih-Shin blinked in surprise. “Err, I’m sure you’ve been informed already of the increasing crime rates over here in Bledger. We’ve found alleyways full of criminal happenings, neighborhoods hiding the active evil and had to deal with a bomb incident just yesterday. Thankfully it was disarmed before any harm came to civilians.”
“I’m sorry things are rough over there, but like I told my assistant, what exactly can I do? Silcoulle’s not exactly close to Bledger, and I have no police experience.”
“I would only ask if you have any tips for dealing with these crime happenings, Miss Ukyon. I don’t expect much of your help. You have bigger things to worry about and I am an experienced officer. If you have nothing to offer then it doesn’t really matter.”
“I can help!” She said indignantly. Wih-Shin gave her a curious look. “So most of these crimes have been committed by the evil, correct?”
“Who else really commits crimes? None of these crimes have been crimes of desperation as far as I’ve seen, Miss Ukyon. It more seems as if the evil have just become more bold. Although the man behind the bomb incident in Hledshess yesterday is a bit infamous for his criminal doings. None of us were really surprised it was him, just that he would go to such lengths.”
“Hm, I guess you’re right. Well, is anything going on over in Bledger that might make impoverished evils turn to crime to take care of themselves?”
“As I said, none of the recent crimes have been crimes of desperation.”
Sae-Kyu sighed. “Well, maybe it’s evil crime-committing season…I have no idea anymore. I don’t even know why I’m trying to understand how an evil person thinks.”
“I understand, Miss Ukyon. Don’t worry about it. We of the Bledger Police Force will make sure to protect the citizens of Bledger and prevent any casualties from occurring.”
Sae-Kyu gasped. “Wait a second, what if…what if you started a program over there that lets the evil people express their evil creatively? Do you think that might work?”
“That honestly depends, Miss Ukyon. I don’t think the idea would gain much traction, and anyway it might not stop these people from committing crimes. I suppose we could give it a try, though.”
“I’m happy to have been of help.”
Sae-Kyu briefly noticed an uncertain expression flash on Wih-Shin’s face. “Er, thank you for the tip, Miss Ukyon. Really. That the leader of Vaelyn would take time out of her day to do this is amazing, to me. We will try that idea of letting the evil of Bledger express their evil creatively, but we’ll also keep an eye out on them so that they don’t commit any more crimes. Your idea is certainly a stepping-stone, and I’m sure it will lead to at least a little relief for Bledger.”
“Well, contact me again if things start getting nasty over there. I might not have total control over the workings of Vaelyn but I can send you quite a bit of help.”
“I know you can, Miss Ukyon.” Wih-Shin bowed. “Well, I thank you for the assistance!”
The contact ended and Sae-Kyu relaxed in her seat.
“Far be it from me to criticize one of your better decisions, but did you notice Mr. Kaenir’s expression?”
“Yeah, I noticed. He doesn’t think the idea’s going to work. He might have a sense of respect for me because I’m the leader of Vaelyn, but that doesn’t change the fact that my idea made him wary. But what am I supposed to do? We can’t exactly ban the evil of Vaelyn. The worldwide recognition that there are people who hold evil ideals was supposed to keep the people who would act on those ideals at bay. I can’t change a long-standing worldwide decision, it would make things worse. I really don’t understand evil people…”
“A lot of good don’t, Miss Ukyon. I feel more neutrally about some subjects and even I don’t understand how someone could so proudly declare their evil. But all people are different, and while recognition of their ideals might have curbed the actions of some it possibly hasn’t worked for all of them. Evil communities seem alive and well in Bledger, unfortunately.”
“Hopefully all works out there. If I can’t even help curb the problem in Bledger that’ll only decrease people’s opinions of me. I kind of can’t wait to get out of office.”
Her assistant sighed. “Miss Ukyon, you need to take this all more seriously! I trust the Bledger Police Force, and if they need your help they will likely contact you again. But you’re in a high position of power. Don’t just handwave things because people don’t care for you. Do you think that will increase the public’s opinion of you?”
“No, I suppose not.”
Her assistant huffed. “I’m as worried about Bledger as Mr. Kaenir seems to be, but there’s nothing much we can do right now. We’ll just have to hope for the best and prepare for the worst, and do our best to keep this influx of evil limited to Bledger alone. If it spills into any other part of Vaelyn people will turn their frustrations on you.”
Sae-Kyu sighed. “I really did think the whole thing about letting evil people express their evil creatively was a good idea. After all, acknowledging evil people worked for some time. Now it’s 2015 and we need to work with more ideas for the young generation of evil.”
“Well, if you say so. But there’s other work for you to do today, Miss Ukyon. I’ll keep an eye on the status of Bledger.”
“Alright. Come to me immediately if you hear of a mass shooting or anything like that.”
“Do you really think that’s going to happen?”
Sae-Kyu shrugged. “It’s just a concern I had.”
“Really, Miss Ukyon…”

—–
“Did you hear the radio broadcast, La-Iin? They say there are plans to start a new movement for evil people to express their evil creatively. It sounds perfect for you.”
“Why would I need to join some sort of movement? I already have drawing to express my evil creatively.”
“I know you do, I just figured I’d bring it up.”
‘Yeah right, Mama. You and they probably think that will stop me! Well, the best creative expression of evil is evil actions themselves! Though nothing like what the Saras do….”

9.433.Eternal Desperation

The La-Iin Series
Chapter 433
“Eternal Desperation”

Uil-Cur was in a state of lovesickness.
“Oh, how I wish it was easier to build a relationship with a work acquaintance,” he sighed aloud.
Uil-Cur had thought highly of Mit-Sun since before having met her, and had been interested in her even then, but ever since the day he had walked home with her he was completely smitten and felt conflicted as a result of it.
Many times recently he had found himself daydreaming of what his life might be like if he and Mit-Sun ended up in a relationship, but then he would feel conflicted because the two had not known each other for long.
‘There has to be something I can do to get closer to her, at the very least,’ he thought. ‘I want to see her so badly, but tomorrow’s Monday. I don’t work on Mondays…but she does. Maybe she won’t mind if I go and see her tomorrow. …but she might think that’s creepy, who knows…’
He groaned. ‘If love’s supposed to be such a wonderful feeling, then why does it hurt so damn much!?’

***

Uil-Cur took a deep breath as he walked into work Monday morning, passing by Eteibreit’s office on his way in. He tried to move quickly, but just as his workplace came into view he felt claws dig into his shoulder.
“Haner, would you mind telling me what you’re doing here on a Monday?” Eteibreit said quietly. “I thought you didn’t work Mondays.”
“I, er, remembered something I left here. I wanted to get to it before it was too late to.”
“Oh? I don’t believe you. But if that’s the truth, that’s fine. …just be prepared to work while you’re looking for it.”
Uil-Cur sighed. “Yes, Mrs. Eteibreit…say, will I get payed extra for putting in the work?”
Eteibreit’s tail swished. “That depends on whether you do a good job or not. Though you asking has me tempted to say no.”
She stomped her foot. “Get to work anyway, Haner. You won’t like what happens if you don’t.”
“Yes, ma’am, of course!” He turned away and fluttered his wings, tempted to fly to his workplace but scared of what might happen if he did.
‘I guess I should have been more discreet….or not come here at all. I’ll see Cahongyun tomorrow, anyway! There was no need to come here on a Monday…besides, just because we’re both here doesn’t mean we’re going to run into each other…’
“Haner?”
Uil-Cur flinched.
“What are you doing here today? I thought you said you didn’t work on Mondays.”
Uil-Cur glanced back to make sure he had heard correctly. Sure enough, Mit-Sun was standing there holding a stack of papers to her chest, looking at him with a confused expression.
He was stunned for only a moment before regaining his senses.
“Oh, um, I came here to get something I forgot, and Mrs. Eteibreit caught me and put me to work,” he said, his voice gradually becoming quieter. Mit-Sun sighed.
“Mrs. Eteibreit takes any chance to screw her workers over. Trust me, I’ve dealt with her far more times than you probably have.”
“I don’t doubt that,” he chuckled. “Still, it’s good to see you. You’re the only person at Eteibreit Data Storage I have any sort of meaningful relationship with, after all.”
Mit-Sun blinked as she placed the papers inside a locker. “Really?”
“Well, we might not be much of friends, but we’ve actually talked before. And I gave you those Makeshire tickets!”
Mit-Sun smiled. “Thank you for that. It was a nice night.”
“Your thanks are welcome, Cahongyun. In any event, I suppose we should get back to work. If this extra day can net me any extra pay, I’ll gladly take it. Work here is so painless I’d probably be alright with coming in every day. I wonder why Mrs. Eteibreit doesn’t ask that of me?”
“Who’d want to deal with her seven days a week? I wouldn’t.” Mit-Sun said. “Anyway, see you, Haner.”
A thought popped into Uil-Cur’s mind, and he was desperate to voice it. “Um, Cahongyun, I know we’re busy right now and you have your daughter to think about and all, but do you think we might be able to do something sometime soon? You know, like walking home together…”
Mit-Sun gave him a quizzical look. “Er, I’ll see. Anyways, bye, Haner.”
Uil-Cur waved, feeling as though he had made a grave mistake.

***

Uil-Cur tried to focus on his work, but today he couldn’t find it in him. He kept thinking of Mit-Sun and his last words to her.
‘What if I came on too strongly? I don’t know if Cahongyun likes that….oh, what’s the point in worrying about how strong I’m coming on? Even my confidence isn’t enough for me to trell her how I feel. She’s too far out of my league…’
“Haner?”
Uil-Cur flinched. Mit-Sun was standing a short distance away from him. “Sorry, are you still on your shift? I can go.”
“N-no, it’s fine! There’s only a couple minutes left and I’ve done all my work. Mrs. Eteibreit won’t notice if I spend the end of it talking, will she?” He said.
“Well, that depends. She is in her office right now, I guess.”
“What did you come here to talk about?”
“What you asked for earlier. What’s with your fascination with me? When we first met you wanted to walk home with me and talk to me, then you gave me the tickets soon after…what’s spurring this?”
Uil-Cur could see a suspicious look in Mit-Sun’s eyes. ‘Oh, she’s caught on,’ he thought to himself. ‘There’s got to be something else I can tell her aside from that, though…’
“Well, being honest,” he sighed, “I just…I’ve taken an…interest in you. As a friend. I don’t actually have all that much in the way of friends, and what I do have I wouldn’t say we’re so close. I guess what I’m saying is, I saw a potential friend in you. And I don’t know if you could tell, but I do like to have friends, heh heh.”
“Is that it? I thought it was something else.”
“Did you…” He said, glancing away from her.
“Well, I wouldn’t mind being friends with you, Haner,” she said. “But it’d be a little hard to keep up. I have La-Iin to think about after all, and it’d be nearly impossible to leave her alone…and I don’t know you well enough to want to invite you over.”
“That’s fine. Perhaps we will cultivate a friendship through work chats alone!”
“Maybe, but that doesn’t give us much time. Maybe I should ask someone to watch La-Iin soon. I know someone who’d take good care of her if I was out. But who knows.”
“…you’re really okay with taking time out of your day for me?”
“Why not? You seem nice enough. A little desperate though,” she said. “But I could always use a break from the same old thing every day. Lately I’ve been looking for other things to do aside from watching La-Iin and going to work. Maybe this will be a good chance for that.”
“Maybe,” he said.
“Well, whatever happens, I should get home now. Tell me if you have any ideas for something we could do, and we’ll see what happens. See you tomorrow, Haner!”
“See you, Cahongyun…er, Cahongyun?”
“What?”
“You know, I would be perfectly fine with you calling me Uil-Cur,” he said. “Sorry if I seem pushy about this, but I’m used to others calling me that. I don’t always react to Haner right away.”
“You seemed to react fine to me…well, if I remember we’ll see. See you tomorrow then, Uil-Cur.”
As Mit-Sun walked off, Uil-Cur was left in a daze, thinking over the last words she had said to him.
‘Maybe things will start going my way,’ he thought. A wide grin spread across his face and he couldn’t help but feel a little foolish.

Mit-Sun passed by Leirhyn on her way out the building.
“See you, Cahongyun!” Leirhyn called. Mit-Sun waved.
“See you, Leirhyn.”
“Hey, I just wanted to say something to you before you go.”
“What?”
“You and I should talk together again soon,” she said. “Maybe you could tell me a little more about that guy you keep hanging out with.”
“Who, Haner?”
“You know who~” She hummed. “Anyway, see you tomorrow, Cahongyun!”
“See you, Leirhyn?”

—–
The next day at work, Mit-Sun was greeted by flowers being thrust into her face.
“What are these for?” She asked Uil-Cur.
“Consider them thanks,” he said. “Many people before have been annoyed by my pursuing of them in friendship. Also, you have no idea how worried I was you would take my desire for friendship the wrong way. Now that I know you understand, I feel my old confidence is back. So here.”
“Um, thanks?”
“No need to thank me. These flowers are meant in thanks. Thank-yous lose a little of their point if they’re returned with more thanks.”
“If you say so,” she said. “Well, I have to get back to work, but Haner?”
“Yes?”
“Go ahead and call me Mit-Sun if you want,” she said. “Just don’t do it at work or Leirhyn might think you’re talking to her.”
Uil-Cur smiled. “Certainly.”
As he head back to his workplace, his heart felt light. ‘Maybe this is why they call love such a great feeling. Moments like these are wonderful!’

22.418.All the Helpful Experiments

The La-Iin Series
Chapter 418
“All the Helpful Experiments”

“Dad, do you have work today?” Fer-Shi asked.
“Yeah, I do. Why? Did you want to come with me?”
Fer-Shi nodded. Den-Matsu smiled at her. “Alright then. It’ll be good to have you around, Fer-Shi. Doing what I do has been pretty thankless lately. A lot of people nowadays aren’t all that grateful for just a warm blanket and a bowl of food…”
Fer-Shi went back to eating her rice. Her dream had been on her mind lately. She had believed for the longest time that she would help people out just as her father did, but after her incident with Dosa-Mina and her rekindled love of running, she had been wondering if she should perhaps do something else.
‘If I go with Dad today, maybe I’ll find out for sure,’ she thought. ‘If I enjoy it and I can actually help people, maybe I can do this. Otherwise, I guess I should start training my legs….’

***

“Aw, how cute! Ya bought yer daughter with ya!”
“She asked to come,” Den-Matsu said.
“Hi,” Fer-Shi said.
“Awh, what a cutie. Whodya think she takes more after?”
“Her mother,” Den-Matsu said.
“I can sees a bit of you in ‘er too, so don’t give yer wife all the credit,” he said. “Speakin’ a, if ya two’re gone, what’s she gonna be doing?”
“She was talking about hanging out with a friend of ours today,” he said. “Our daughters are friends and we’ve become close because of that.”
“Ah, that’s nice, that’s nice…”
Fer-Shi glanced around the area. “Um, what are you doing today, Dad?”
“Huh? Oh, today we’re helping the sickly who are on the street. Since it’s Winter, lots of homeless people end up getting sick, especially those of species who are less tolerant of the cold.”
“We’ve got lots of Animated Pumpkins and Vegemix in there,” the man said. “And they get real sick when Winter comes.”
“Do any of them have wilting flu?” Fer-Shi asked. The man blinked. “Didn’t think ya two would know what wiltin’ flu was, but yeah, a few do. We don’t gotta worry, but let’s just say it’s more than the cold that’s keepin’ away our Vegemix workers.”
“Doesn’t that mostly affect Animated Pumpkins, though?”
“Vegemix can get a strain of it. Anyway, be careful ’cause not everyone in there has an illness ya can’t get. ‘ere’s some gloves, a sick mask, and some new clothes. Should keep you pretty healthy. An’ wash yer hands with soap before dealin’ with ’em.”
“Are you sure you want to do this, Fer-Shi?” Den-Matsu asked. “This can be pretty messy work. I won’t blame you if you want to sit back.”
“I want to help,” Fer-Shi said. Glancing away from her father, she added, “I just hope I can help well enough so that these people actually feel better…”
Den-Matsu gave her a concerned glance.

The atmosphere in the room of sick people made Fer-Shi shudder. Several of them were huddled against the wall, wrapped in blankets. A Catori nurse and a Birdmix nurse were tending to their minor needs.
“I’ll still let you turn back if you need to,” Den-Matsu said. Fer-Shi shook her head. “I came here to do this, Dad. I’m not going to turn back now.”
Den-Matsu nodded and set to work tending to a sickly Goathoof. Fer-Shi felt uncertain of what to do. She tried to think of what she had done when her parents had gotten sick, what her parents did for her when she got sick, and what she would do for La-Iin if she got sick.
She walked up to a Normal man who was shivering violently. His eyes were shut tight when Fer-Shi arrived, but he opened them to slits when she sat down.
“Um, hello, sir,” Fer-Shi said. “How do you feel?”
“Terrible,” he spat. “I’m cold all over even with this damn blanket.”
Fer-Shi flinched. “Um, what can I do for you? Would you like some soup?”
The man seemed to be glaring at Fer-Shi, and she was tempted to leave him to tend to someone else.
The man grunted and said, “Soup might be good.”
“Okay!” She said. Standing up, she ran over to the Birdmix nurse.
“Where do you keep the soup?” She asked.
“Soup? We haven’t made any soup. Did someone ask for soup?”
Too ashamed to say it had come up because of her, Fer-Shi nodded. The Birdmix girl flashed a tender smile. “Well, we can make some soup, if someone asked. What species was the person who asked for this?”
“A Normal,” Fer-Shi said.
“Oh, well they can eat just about anything. What do you say we make a nice, brothy soup for this person?”
“Something nice and warm!” Fer-Shi said.
She followed the Birdmix woman to a shack detached from the sick area. Inside was a small kitchen. The Birdmix woman began to cut up vegetables. Fer-Shi decided to try and prepare broth.
“How does it look?”
The Birdmix woman examined it closely. “It could be a little thicker, but good first try!”
The broth, vegetables, and a small amount of meat were put together and heated up on the stove for a while until Fer-Shi taste-tested it and thought it was warm enough.
“We made a lot, huh?” Fer-Shi said.
“It was a good idea, Miss. Now lots of people here can have something nice and warm to eat. We were mostly giving them fruits and vegetables, but the fruit was popular, and, well, Vegemix tend to get a little sensitive about people eating vegetables.”
“What do we do for them, then? The soup has vegetables in it.”
“I figure we could just give them a little broth,” she said. “We don’t need to mention there were carrots and such floating around in it.”
Fer-Shi wondered about how the Vegemix people might feel if they somehow found out, but she decided to keep quiet about it. She smiled when she noticed Den-Matsu summoned to take a bowl of soup. He took it to the Goathoof he had been tending to. The Birdmix woman took hers to a Minomix woman, and Fer-Shi took hers to the Normal man.
“Th-thanks,” he said gruffly, then began to gulp down the soup.
“Don’t burn yourself,” Fer-Shi said.
“I don’t care if I burn myself,” he grunted. “I just care that the pain in my belly’s gone. Seconds…please?”
Fer-Shi smiled and went to get the man seconds, as well as a pillow she had found.
“It’s a little dirty, but it should be comfortable,” she said after putting it behind his head. Then, she handed him the bowl of soup.
“Thanks,” he said. “Don’t you have to help out other people too?”
“I do, but my Dad and the others are helping out lots of people at once. Nobody was going near you, and I thought that was…”
‘What if he gets upset if I say sad?’ She thought, glancing down.
“…” The Normal man stared at her. “Don’t take this as much of a criticism, kid, but I’ve noticed you’re not all that comfortable around me.”
“Huh?”
“You seem kind of on-edge, like you’re worried I’m gonna lash out,” he said. “Those insticts’re good things to have, don’t get me wrong, but if you keep doin’ this kind of work you might hurt people that way. I think if you wanna keep doing this, you gotta learn at least how to feign indifference. Not everyone’s gonna react positively to that attitude.”
Fer-Shi glanced down. “Hey, it’s alright. Lots of us could be dangerous. I gotta say, everyone’s all about those “poor” Dasdorian refugees, but I think a few of them are really violent…same goes for people here, though. Lots of people aren’t completely indifferent like that.”
“It’s just…” Fer-Shi glanced away.
“Somethin’ you wanna say? I don’t care, go ahead and say it.”
“…I feel like if I can’t become…indifferent…if I can’t do that, I can’t do this kind of work,” she said. “I’ll just keep messing up. I think I end up pitying people who have it worse than me, and that’s why I want to help them out…”
“Lots of people do that,” he said. “At least you’re helping.”
“But that’s not right. It’s not like I just pity people like you either. There’s a boy at my school, and he tends to hide when he’s sad, at least it seems like that to me….so I wanted to be his friend because I thought I might be able to help him.”
“You seem to think pitying people’s a bad thing when so many people do,” he said.
“I just think I might not be cut out for this kinda work,” she said.
“Well, who knows?” He said, sipping more of the soup. “You look pretty young. Younger than ten, I’d guess?”
“Yeah.”
“You’ve got time to think about it, so don’t sweat it. Even if the reason why you do these sorts of things isn’t all that pure, at least you do them. I don’t think anyone’s really all that pure. That you can realize you’ve got those impurities, that’s a good thing, I think.”
“Y-you think?”
“Mm-hm. Least you’re not a violent f@%ker like me.” He covered his mouth. “Oops. Sorry.”
“It’s alright,” she chuckled. “Well…I was thinking there might be something else I like to do, too.”
“You can do multiple things at once.”
“I know.” She smiled. “Thank you, sir. It felt good to get that off my chest.”
“You must not be all that uncomfortable around me if you could tell me all that,” he sighed. “And that’s the sort of stuff you should talk to your parents about. But if I could help, I’m glad.”
Fer-Shi nodded. “Want thirds, sir?”
He grinned. “Of course I do.”

—–
“You seem happier than you did earlier, Fer-Shi,” Den-Matsu said as they entered their neighborhood. “I saw you having quite the conversation with that guy. Was he telling you a story or something?”
“No, actually, I was talking to him,” she said. “But he seemed like a really smart man. I hope he can get back on his feet someday. I wonder what he was sick with?”
“Well, you’re welcome to come with me to work anytime, Fer-Shi,” he said. Fer-Shi nodded.
As they came close to their house, Fer-Shi glanced across the street. ‘I haven’t visited Hei-Maj in a while. I wonder if he’s doing alright?’
“Do you mind if I take a walk by myself before dinner, Dad?”
“Why do you want to do that?”
“I just kinda feel like it,” she said.
“Well…alright, if your Mom says it’s okay,” he said. “But if you do, stay across the street. I don’t want you running into anyone who lives on this side.”
Giving one last glance across the street, she said, “I will, Dad.”