3.641.Truth of the Matter

The La-Iin Series
Chapter 641
“Truth of the Matter”

“Mr. and Mrs. Molshei. I’m so glad you two actually came.”
“Of course we did! You said it had to do with San-Kyung.” Del-Kyuus said.
San-Kyung glared. The woman who had summoned his mother and father was the Principal of his school. He knew for a fact that she didn’t like him, and he felt likewise. The kind smile she put on around the other children was gone around him.
“Yes, it does. I’m sure the little hellion understands why you have been summoned here as well.”
“Why? Did San-Kyung do something wrong? We know he’s a little antisocial, but I can’t imagine him hurting anyone. We’ve raised him not to.”
“San-Kyung would probably be considered a model student if it weren’t for his attitude,” the Principal hissed. “Certainly, he has better grades than the rest of the mindless morons who come to this school.”
“How could you say that about children!?” Del-Kyuus sounded dumbfounded.
“But if you were to see the utter lack of respect he has for other people, his classmates, teachers and the faculty of our school, I am certain you’d be treating him just as I am now. With this sort of lack of respect I wouldn’t be surprised if he grows up to become a serial killer.”
Salsh-Era looked furious.
“Teach this child to act better! In kindergarten it’s one thing for a child to be a hellion. Once he’s in Elementary, I take it as a sign that terror is in his future! So you’d best do what can be done now before it gets out of hand.”

“I can’t believe that Principal! Saying such things about San-Kyung!”
“Yeah, what a crook! Maybe we should say something about her. I don’t want San-Kyung to be miserable at Muer Elementary. He just started here!”
He glanced down at his son. “San-Kyung, are you okay? I’m sorry that Principal said those things about you.”
“I don’t care. I knew she was a jerk. She’s just like all people.”
Salsh-Era and Del-Kyuus gave each other worried looks. “She only shows me what I already knew. So I don’t care. I don’t like the other kids, but she’s definitely the worst. They’re just stupid. She thinks I’m a soshyo…so…um….she thinks I’m one of those people but I think she would be a serial killer before me.”
“Well, she definitely has worse morals than you, that’s for sure,” Salsh-Era said. “Talking that way about a little kid. Where does that get her?”
San-Kyung huffed and walked a short distance ahead of his parents. Once he did, Del-Kyuus drew closer to Salsh-Era.
“I’m still worried about San-Kyung,” Del-Kyuus said. “I don’t understand why he hates other people so much. I don’t think he’d become a serial killer or anything wicked like that crook of a Principal said, but why hasn’t he opened up to anyone else yet?”
“I don’t know, but people like her are just going to make him a misanthropist. There has to be something we can do. I just wish I knew when this all started. It’d make things a lot easier, that’s for sure…”

***

“San-Kyung, would you like to go to the park?”
“Park?”
“It’s a place where there are a lot of fun fixtures to play on,” Salsh-Era said. “We’ll show you! The park is just up ahead.”
The two started to levitate, San-Kyung in tow, over to the park. They landed and began to show him around the fixtures.
“This you can climb on!”
“And over here, this is a slide! Let me show you how to use it!”
San-Kyung was a little overwhelmed by all the information they were giving him at once, especially since they both seemed to want to gravitate him towards a different fixture. But it was fun nonetheless, especially when they levitated him.
After a while they stopped and sat down on a nearby bench.
“You were right, Kyuusie. Day travel can be pretty fun.”
“See? And we didn’t even need to use a car. We have our feet and our levitation!”
Del-Kyuus reached for her bag and pulled out some drinks. “I can’t believe San-Kyung’s going to start kindergarten soon,” Del-Kyuus sighed. “Where does the time go?”
“By too fast,” Salsh-Era said, a chuckle in his tone.
The Molsheis were not the only family at the park that day. Other people had come to play with their children, and some parents sat down on benches just as they did. One such parent was an Animated Pumpkin.
“Ah, it’s so nice to see other Animated Pumpkins,” she said. “It feels like Bledger is sorely lacking in them.”
“There are plenty of other Animated Pumpkins if you just look around,” Del-Kyuus said, hoping that she was right and the comment was directed to her and her husband.
“And species isn’t everything!” Salsh-Era said.
“Hm.” The woman didn’t seem to agree, but she didn’t talk again–at least, not until her eyes fell on San-Kyung.
“It’s all gone.”
“Alright, then. Wow, you must have been thirsty! There was a lot in there!”
“Your child’s Aesthetically Normal?”
Salsh-Era and Del-Kyuus turned her way. “Yes…?”
“But why? Don’t you know the prime time for mating?”
“Hey, you can’t ask those sorts of things!” Salsh-Era said, sounding flustered. Beside him, Del-Kyuus squeaked “It’s none of your business!”
“No wonder you don’t think species matters,” she sighed. “You didn’t even care enough to let your child be born a normal Animated Pumpkin.”
“That has nothing to do with this,” Salsh-Era said. “And even if you get pregnant at the right time, there’s no guarantee your baby will be born on time. So please, let’s not talk about this anymore. …and by the way, I only said species isn’t everything.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if he grows to resent you,” she huffed. “I’ve read up on what happens to Aesthetically Normals in November. Animated Pumpkins just aren’t meant to be Aesthetically Normal. It’s a birth defect in my eyes.” And with that statement, the woman walked over to another bench further away from the three.
“What a rude woman!” Del-Kyuus huffed.
“No kidding. She didn’t have to be so mean…San-Kyung, you don’t resent us for you being Aesthetically Normal, right?”
“Resent?”
Salsh-Era sighed. “We’ll talk to you about it later. Let’s just try and enjoy the rest of the day for now, okay?”

“Mom, Dad?”
“Yes, San-Kyung?” Del-Kyuus said.
“If you have something to say, can you make it quick? I’ve got to get to work soon!”
San-Kyung nodded. “Did you say people are suppose to be nice?”
“That’s what we believe!” Del-Kyuus said. “People should all try to be nice to other people.”
“Hm. Well, why didn’t that lady who was our same species be nice to us?”
“You still remember her?” Salsh-Era said. “Well, San-Kyung, people are supposed to be nice, but that doesn’t stop some people.”
“Yes. Some people just won’t be nice no matter how hard you try. But some have it in them to change, so that’s why you should be nice to people yourself.”
“Hmph!”
“Is something wrong?”
“Nothing. I’m gonna go play now.”
“Alright! If you want, I can join you!”
His parent’s words had San-Kyung thinking. The Animated Pumpkin woman had seemed nice, at least until she saw him. Was it possible other people were like that, that they would seem nice at first but then start acting that way?
How could he tell the difference between people who were genuine and people who weren’t?

“San-Kyung, don’t you want to play with any of the other kids?”
“No.”
“Why not?”
“I just don’t.”
“I really can’t tell if he’s just shy or if he’s antisocial,” Del-Kyuus said. “But why does he act like this?”
“He’s been resistent to people ever since he was a baby. Maybe he has some sort of early-onset social anxiety. …well, I’m no doctor. Maybe we should talk to someone about him.”
“He should make some friends of his own. He can’t rely on us forever.”
San-Kyung shot a glance at the children playing. He was new to Shadiruck Kindergarten. The faculty at Shadiruck had, apparently, become concerned about him because of his resistance to the other children and adults.
“Children do this sometimes,” one of the faculty had explained to Salsh-Era and Del-Kyuus. “They’re used to being around their parents and being taken away from them makes them upset. Usually it clears up soon enough, but we’re a little concerned that San-Kyung might be slightly dependent on you two. So what we want to do is have you two come here and watch him. First come here for the whole Kindergarten day, then leave after some time, increasing how long you’re gone gradually. Hopefully this will get him used to you being gone and he’ll open up to the other people here.”
“I have work, though,” Salsh-Era had told them.
“I can watch him. And aren’t they giving you Wednesdays and Thursdays off?”
“I guess that’s true. Though I’d really love it if they moved me back to the Weekends-off schedule,” he sighed. “So I can only come certain days.”
Since then his parents had started staying with him at Shadiruck. Most of the time it was only Del-Kyuus, but as today was a Thursday, Salsh-Era was there too, and they watched him during play-time.
‘They don’t get it,’ he thought. ‘I don’t like the other kids!’
It wasn’t just a matter of him being nervous about whether or not they would be nice to him. He genuinely didn’t care for the other children and the way they acted. They annoyed him, and it didn’t seem like it mattered much to them that he kept away from them, anyway. They seemed perfectly happy to play without him, and that only convinced him more.
“After all these weeks and he’s still not opening up to the other kids,” Salsh-Era said.
“Pardon my intrusion, but…”
Salsh-Era, Del-Kyuus and San-Kyung turned around. A Snowliv woman had approached them.
“Something about your son has been bothering me. Namely, his behavior…”
“We’re sorry about that. We really don’t know why San-Kyung doesn’t like playing with the other children.”
“But we’re not going to force him,” Salsh-Era said. “Forced kindness can hurt a lot more than harsh words.”
San-Kyung blinked.
“I see.” The woman’s gaze suddenly became cold. “Well, I understand that children are individuals, but I also understand that parents play a big role in the shaping of their children. And parents don’t always make the right choices.”
“What are you saying?”
“I highly doubt little San-Kyung’s resistance to playing with other children has anything to do with his nature,” she said, her tone cool. “Giving your child love is fine and all. Of course a child should be given love by his parents, otherwise he ends up deranged. But smothering him isn’t good either. And he should have exposure to other people. Haven’t you let him meet his relatives?”
“We did, although we haven’t let him talk to one of them recently,” Salsh-Era admitted. “One of his distant relatives is a little iffy about him being Aesthetically Normal.”
Noticing the chilly gaze in the Snowliv woman’s eyes, San-Kyung opened the small door to the playground, closed it and stood behind his father.
“That reminds me. Aesthetically Normals. There’s nothing wrong with them. No species should be discriminated against, but you should understand statistics.”
“Huh?”
“Aesthetically Normals do not have a natural body set-up for handling the October power surge. As such, their body changes approximately on Halloween. The change can affect the brain as well. It’s a lot of power for someone who doesn’t usually have it to acquire, and it can mess with the mind. The effect can be profound on a child his age, so they need to be watched closely. …if you want me to be blunt, I don’t think you two are very good parents.”
“Why not?”
“A child cannot subsist on love alone! If you truly love your child, you’ll prepare him for the path he’s meant to take instead of just smothering him with love. And Aesthetically Normals aren’t often the product of an early or late baby. I’ve looked at his files. His birthday is not in September nor November. This was solely you either wanting a baby that badly or being so lustful as to not consider what you might bring into the world.”
“I–”
“Shut up!”
San-Kyung was so furious that he had bit down onto his hand to keep himself from screaming at the woman, but he just couldn’t hold himself back anymore. His hand alight, he approached the woman, who began to scream.
“F-fire! Get it away from me!”
San-Kyung smirked. He continued to walk closer to her until she ran into the building. Once she was gone, Salsh-Era picked him up.
“San-Kyung!! You can’t threaten people like that! I can’t believe this. Your first time using your hand fire, and it’s for something like that…”
Salsh-Era sounded choked up. San-Kyung began to hit at the fire to try and get it to go out.
“San-Kyung, what you did was wrong!”
“And what that woman said was wrong,” Salsh-Era said. “We don’t just smother him. I know we don’t…”
“Let’s not worry about that for now, Salsh-Era,” Del-Kyuus said. “We can bring it up with Shadiruck later.”
“Yeah…”
San-Kyung grit his teeth. That woman was more proof than he’d ever need. Watching people, he had already assumed that his feelings of hatred towards them were perfectly reasonable.
Now, he had proof that was the case.

***

“San-Kyung, what are you looking at?”
“A libary book,” he said. “When me and Mom were out, we heard a guy talking about Hell. I wanted to know more about it.”
“Why?”
“Just ’cause.”
“Well, I never believed in Hell, personally, but you’re welcome to look into it. But do you mind if I read with you? You know, just in case. Some things in there might be too mature for you.”
San-Kyung shrugged. He let Salsh-Era join him, and together the two continued to read the Cathien book.

—–
“I have something to say.”
“Yes, San-Kyung?”
“I know you two are good, and you want me to be good, too. But I just can’t do that!”
“H…huh? What do you mean, San-Kyung?”
“People and the world mean nothing to me. Except for you two. And if hating all that makes me evil, then that’s what I am. I’m not going to be a two-faced jerk like everyone else. I’m just going to be evil!”
His parents looked dumbfounded; Del-Kyuus was making confused squeaks as if she couldn’t believe what she had heard. But San-Kyung felt satisfied.
Through this, he was better than other people in one way.

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19.627.Lovely Love Story–Part 3

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

18.626.Lovely Love Story–Part 2

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

17.625.Lovely Love Story–Part 1

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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.’

27.604.Reminiscing on Childhood–Part 9

The La-Iin Series
Chapter 604
“Reminiscing on Childhood–Part 9”

You’ve gotta make the pace
You’ve gotta win the race
It’s a new life starting

You’ve got to be the one
Who makes it to the end and’s done
It’s a new life star-tiiing

“Xao-Bu, dearest, you have to get to school,” his mother called from downstairs. The song had just gone into a guitar solo, and though her words sounded slightly muted he could hear what she had said. He leaned his head forward until the headphones slipped off, pressed his nose to the stop button, and flew downstairs, landing in front of his mother, who helped him put on a backpack.
“Mother?”
“Yes, Xao-Bu, dearest.”
“Do you think it would be possible for me to start learning to play an instrument sometime soon? Like guitar…”
“Oh yes, Xao-Bu dearest! Mummy would need to raise a bit of vuyong but we’re quite in the green as of late. I am sure that soon we could fund your guitar dreams. Though are you sure there isn’t another instrument you might be more interested in?”
“No, why?”
“No reason, just asking,” she sighed. “Anyway, yes, Xao-Bu dearest, we may. Although it might take a while to find a class accommodating of Wingyrms, your Mummy will do her greatest to find this class that you so desire! So please, get to school before it’s too late, dearest.”
“I will.” Xao-Bu spread his wings and flew off.

***

As she had promised, Xao-Bu’s mother spent hours dedicating herself to the search of Wingyrm-friendly guitar lessons. Xao-Bu, meanwhile, had spent his time listening to rock and death metal–that and practicing his death growl.
“Xao-Bu, dearest, is everything alright up there!?” Though he wasn’t all that good at it.
He had started to write lyrics for songs he was planning and had all sorts of ideas for hard-hitting guitar songs. The more time his mother invested in searching for the lessons, it seemed, the more time he invested in cultivating his passion.
And eventually, both of their hard work paid off.
“Xao-Bu, dearest!” His mother called. “I found the perfect class for you! It is a class for disabled and Wingyrm students. It teaches all sorts of instruments, but naturally, I put you down for guitar!”
“Thank you, Mother!”
“You’ll be starting come Monday, so make sure you are prepared! Lessons will be almost immediately after school! I’ll be waiting outside your school to lead the way to the lessons. And I’ll pack extra food so that you won’t get hungry! Lessons last anywhere from one to two hours, you see.”
“I see,” Xao-Bu chuckled. “Thank you, Mother. I’m really looking forward to this. If fa,” he said, showing his mother the papers. “I hin hactiking ‘o en I en ay.”
“Oh!” His mother bent down to read the paper. “Well, for a hard-hitting song like you intend, these lyrics are quite mild!”
“Iwl!?”
“It’ll be a refreshing reprieve from all the racy lyrics in rock and death metal nowadays. Not that I listen to those all that often. Well, if you need me, dearest, I’ll be downstairs!”
Xao-Bu set down his papers. ‘She called my lyrics mild. I thought they had their undertones…’ Xao-Bu shook his head. ‘But perhaps she is right. That will give them their own unique flavor compared to other songs out nowadays!’

When Monday rolled around, Xao-Bu could hardly contain his excitement. His mother seemed to share in his enthusiasm. That morning, she was fluttering around the house, going back-and-forth and preparing him extra lunch and helping him to get ready.
“Mother, I’m not so little anymore that you need to help me like this,” he laughed.
“But you aren’t a teenager yet either! Let me help you before you hit thirteen, dearie. It’s kinder on my heart.”
Xao-Bu went to school as normal, though he found himself a little distracted during classes. Ideas for songs were floating around in his head. At one point he had missed an important lesson during Math classes and had asked the teacher to repeat the lesson, prompting his classmates to start laughing and earning the ire of the teacher.
Naturally, once he was out of school, he was overjoyed. As promised his mother was waiting for him outside.
“Now, follow mummy, dearie! I studied the map for almost five hours!”
“Mother!”
“Not five hours straight, dearie, don’t worry,” she said with a smile. “Just four-almost-five hours in total. I also flew along the path we need to take, so I know where we should be going! So follow me!”
She flew off. Xao-Bu kept behind her as she flew above treetops. He had a bit of difficulty reaching her height, but it turned out that didn’t matter much–his mother swooped down to the building after only a little while of flying above the treetops. Xao-Bu followed likewise, though his landing was slightly off.
“Here we are!” She said. “I hope you don’t mind, Xao-Bu dearie, if mummy takes this time to get some groceries? We are running a bit low on fixings for lunches and dinner. Mummy may have overdone it with the food she gave you.”
“I don’t mind, Mother. Thank you for taking me here.” He reached up to nuzzle her neck. “I’ll see you later.”
“See you, my dearest!” She spread her wings and flew off. Xao-Bu head into the center. It was bigger than he had been expecting, but the signs all over the building made it easy for him to quickly find the place he was looking for.
“Helloooo? Is anyone in here? I’m here for the Wingyrm guitar classes.”
“Just in time.” A deep voice said. To his right, standing at the entrance to a room marked ‘Guitar’, was a tall Wingyrm man, his hair done up in a messy bun. “You must be Vurinen Xao-Bu.”
“Y-yes.”
“I’m Mr. Aludi. I’ll be teaching you how to play the guitar. Follow me.”
The guitar room was more sparse than Xao-Bu had been expecting. A guitar sat in the middle of the room on its own, and the walls were stark white. A few other items were lying around in the room, but they were all pushed off towards a corner. Aludi pulled a chair from the pile and sat down on it.
“Now, here, let me demonstrate what it’s like to play without arms.”
Aludi grabbed a guitar pick with his teeth and began to play. Xao-Bu was impressed. ‘Wow, it looks easier than I thought!’
Aludi set down the pick once his piece was done. “This is a special pick designed for use in the mouth. Now you try. Ah, but before you do–” Aludi said, interrupting Xao-Bu just as he was about to take the pick, “–I was curious, what reason are you here for today?”
“Hm? Well, the thing is, I want to play rock and death metal. I figured the guitar would be a good place to start.”
Aludi nodded, and smirked. “You don’t look the type. But go ahead and try. Play for me.”
Xao-Bu took the pick and tried to play. Almost right away he could tell that it was not going to be as easy as Aludi had made it seem. The guitar made a horrific noise and when Xao-Bu tried to draw away, the noise it made was worse.
To his surprise, Aludi was chuckling. “Well, you’re just learning. Even people with arms can sound horrible at the guitar at first. Don’t worry though, we still have an hour and so to practice, and many more days yet to come. So go on and try some more, then I’ll give you a lesson.”
“Ohey.” Xao-Bu went back to strumming the guitar. It still sounded horrendous, but when he thought of what kind of songs it could be making when he learned how to play, that gave him the strength to manage through the horrible melody it was making right now.

“How was your first class, Xao-Bu dearest?”
“It was great. Well, mostly. Mr. Aludi is a good teacher, but I can’t play all that well.”
“Nonsense! I’m sure you played just fine.”
“You wouldn’t be saying that if you heard me, Mother…”
“Well, even if you aren’t playing at tip-top shape right now, you’ll improve with time. And you’ve got plenty more lessons left to go before I have to pay again, so sooner or later that talent will come to you!”
Xao-Bu smiled.

***

And as it turned out, his mother was right–mostly, anyway. The more classes Xao-Bu had with Aludi, the better he played. He felt as though every time Aludi gave him a lesson, or played a song for him, he got a little bit better.
“Now, I understand you’re practicing a death growl. Well, you’d need to be able to sing for that. Unless you stop playing the guitar or have someone else playing for you, you’ll need your mouth free, so that’s where the feet method comes in.”
“Feet method?”
“Yes. We Wingyrms have to adjust to doing a lot of things with our feet. Here, let me show you. Although I should probably get out my specialized foot pick…”
But despite his successes, there was something that was bothering him–the way all the songs he had played sounded. Once he started getting better, Aludi had let him play some songs, and as he would soon realize, they sounded a lot different from how they did in his head.
Even Aludi seemed to notice this.
“You know, Xao-Bu, there’s something I’ve been wondering.”
“What’s that?”
He stood up. “Come with me.”
Aludi led the way out of the guitar room and over to a room that was marked ‘piano’.
“Why are we going in here?”
“I’ll tell you. Xao-Bu, can you go over and play that piano for me?”
“I don’t know how!”
“I know you don’t. That’s why I’m asking.”
Xao-Bu wasn’t sure of what Aludi was trying, but he complied with his teacher anyway. He sat down and began to play. It sounded terrible, as he was expecting–but something about it almost sounded harmonious.
“You know, Xao-Bu, I understand you’re here to take guitar lessons, but would you mind if we devoted a half-hour or so to letting you try some other instruments? There’s a little theory I have and I want to see if it’s true.”
“A theory?”
“Yes. I’ll tell you what it is when I figure it out. But are you okay with this? We can just keep practicing guitar if you aren’t.”
“Well…I suppose I wouldn’t mind, but are you going to charge Mother for it?”
Aludi shook his head. “This is my crackpot theory. I’ll take the fall for it if anyone has to. Let’s get back to the guitar for today, though. I’ve been meaning to play you the rock version of Denden Saree.”

For months past then–long past the time his mother had cheerfully agreed to pay for another set of lessons for him–Xao-Bu would take a half-hour after guitar lessons to practice another instrument. On those instruments too Aludi encouraged Xao-Bu to make up his own kind of melody, and to his disdain the melodies on those instruments were less conducive to the one he wanted.
At least he was getting better at guitar, he reasoned.
After a guitar lesson one day, Aludi cleared his throat.
“Well, Xao-Bu, it’s been seven months since I had you start playing other instruments too. And so I’ve gotten to see the results of my crackpot theory.”
“Yes?”
“Xao-Bu, your primary interest is in rock and death metal, right?”
“Yes. Though lately I’ve been enjoying a bit of other music. But those are still my favorites.”
“Hm.” Aludi’s eyes scanned some papers. Xao-Bu leaned over, curious to see what they said. “Well, I think I’ve figured something else. Call me ridiculous, but you have a natural talent for music. There’s a big problem, though.”
“What?”
“Xao-Bu, you weren’t good at some of the other instruments I had you play. But some of them you excelled on far faster than you did on guitar. I’ll admit that guitar is hard for many Wingyrms to learn, but the skill with which you learned how to play piano really surprised me!”
“Really?”
“Yes. And the harmonies you made…you’re going to hate to hear this, but you have quite an ear for classical music. Rock and death metal, you needed to work on before you could get good at it.”
Xao-Bu felt slightly disappointed. “So…why did you do this experiment?”
“There was just this feeling I got from you when you started getting better at guitar. I had a theory and I wanted to see if I was right.”
“…does this mean I’ll never be able to play rock or death metal properly?” He asked, bowing his head.
“Oh, no, no, Xao-Bu, that doesn’t mean that at all, not by a long shot! Listen to me, child.” He nudged Xao-Bu’s chin to get him to look at him. “Just because you have a natural talent in one field, it doesn’t mean you can’t still excell in another! You just need to put more work into the field that you aren’t as talented in, that’s all.”
“Do you think so?”
“I do. In fact, I’ve always wanted to teach instruments to Wingyrms, but my talents were instead in singing and organization! But I didn’t let that stop me. It doesn’t mean you should give up on what you want. It just means you need to work a little harder at it. And that’s what you’re here to do.”
Xao-Bu smiled. “You’re a good teacher, Mr. Aludi.”
“Thank you. I’ve enjoyed teaching you, too. You’re a bright kid, and you’re already getting the hang of rock music. Death metal still needs a little work, but I think if you try hard and keep practicing, you’ll be able to do what you want to.”
“Thank you, Mr. Aludi. But if you really think that, let’s get back to the lesson.”
“You’re right, let’s! Say, how about I teach you a good death metal song, you know, to practice?”

—–
Xao-Bu sighed.
“Mr. Vurinen, you’re soooo good at music. Why aren’t you in a band instead of teaching people instruments?”
“My passion is helping other people with their musical passions. Someone showed me that helping people can sometimes be far more satisfying than self-satisfaction.”
“Okay?”
“Although…” He chuckled to himself. “I wouldn’t mind following through on my old childhood dream someday…”

24.601.Manifestation of V-Puppetry

The La-Iin Series
Chapter 601
“Manifestation of V-Puppetry”

“Hey Father, I wanted to ask you about something.”
“What is it, Eul-Bok?”
“You said you couldn’t use V-Puppetry when you were younger, right?”
“Yes…when I was little, I did try, but I could never pull it off. So I gave up.”
“Yeah, that made me curious.” Eul-Bok sat down. “You said things like you think your V-Puppetry manifested out of sheer willpower. But there’s something I don’t understand. If you thought you couldn’t use V-Puppetry at all, why try and bring me to life? I really don’t get that.”
Sale-Dessu sighed. “Well, if you’re willing to listen to me ramble for a little bit, I might be able to explain why I brought you to life.”
“Really?”
Sale-Dessu nodded. “I never really talked about the early phases of my plan with you because I didn’t think I would need to. But if you want to know about it, then I’ll tell you all you need to know.”

***

Sale-Dessu pointed his wand at a pot of water. He concentrated and tried to make the water boil. A few bubbles rose, but only after a long while, and the water never boiled–when Sale-Dessu stuck his finger into it, he realized it wasn’t even warm.
‘Damn it…I really am distracted.’
Since his prior reality-warping experiment, Sale-Dessu had found that the feelings he thought he’d buried long ago were resurfacing. He always tried his hardest to deny any loneliness he felt, but it seemed like now all the loneliness he had pushed away was coming back to him in a flood, and he was miserable.
‘La-Iin has her mother, and she has her V-Puppet. She has people who love her…argh, this is stupid. I told myself that I don’t need anyone else, and that’s the way it’s been for many years now. I can’t change that so suddenly. Besides, even if I wanted someone to alleviate my loneliness, who would I have? I certainly can’t just go and ask La-Iin if she would like to come over…’
He thought back on Bes-Isa. ‘If I had the power of V-Puppetry, I could bring to life a child. But that’s selfish. I know I would follow what Apeta told me, I would take as much care of them as possible, but to bring one to life just to alleviate my loneliness? They wouldn’t even be able to move around without my assistance.’
He shook his head. ‘I can’t do that anyway. For now I should focus on my concentration issues…’

But as the days passed, concentration became harder for Sale-Dessu. He couldn’t seem to get any of his spells to work. Frustrated, he retreated into his book room to study. ‘Maybe if I brush up on the basics, I’ll be able to focus again. I’ve never had trouble keeping myself embroiled in a book.’ He chuckled at an old memory of Maie-Jussa telling him that dinner had been done for twenty minutes already.
He started from the top and went from there. It worked, to a degree. He was able to keep himself focusing on the book, and even managed to clear a few within a day.
The next day, however, one of the books he pulled was on the subject of V-Puppetry, and he sighed. ‘I might as well read it…’
The book dealt with all sorts of facts about V-Puppetry, its manifestation, and whether or not there were differences in the way certain species could use them. It had pictures of all sorts of V-Puppets, from cloth to clay to even metal V-Puppets. Sale-Dessu cringed at pages about V-Puppet abuse and was disturbed by pages on the morality of a person becoming romantically involved with a V-Puppet.
As he read through the book, he managed to put aside his sadness at the fact that he couldn’t use V-Puppetry. At least he was for most of the book, until a particular section of it caught his attention.
‘Autonomy in V-Puppets…’ It was a subject he had never really looked much into, considering his lack of power in that field. But its theories sounded appealing to him. A V-Puppet being able to move on their own like any person could and being able to do things of their own volition. The idea was wonderful, but he noticed that it was still incomplete. The book stated it could even be impossible.
But he could already imagine: someone bringing their doll to life and instead of them being confined to that person’s side, they were able to walk around with that person. It was such a fascinating idea, such a wonderful idea that Sale-Dessu couldn’t resist the urge to want to try it.
‘But I can’t use V-Puppetry. How would I be able to do something like that if I can’t even bring to life the person I need?’
Sale-Dessu narrowed his eyes at the book. ‘There has to be something in here that has the answer I need. I would love to try this…’

Even despite the apparent futility of doing so, Sale-Dessu found himself hours later sewing a doll. He had made the fabrics and materials from stray objects lying around the house. His handiwork wasn’t all that good, but as far as he was concerned the doll only needed to be able to hold together.
‘This is all pointless! I can’t even use V-Puppetry, and V-Puppet autonomy might be impossible.’ Yet he couldn’t stop himself from hoping, couldn’t stop himself from putting together the doll. V-Puppetry was always one power he wanted to be able to use. He wanted to bring his own ‘child’ to life. And most who brought a child into the world, he knew, would want that child to have their autonomy.
If that was possible, Sale-Dessu wanted it. Badly. He was jealous of La-Iin’s family. He missed his own family. If there was any remnant, any last shred of the power of V-Puppetry inside of him, then he wanted to activate it and bring to life his child.
Once the doll was finished, however, he began to feel nervous.
‘What if it really doesn’t work? Have I wasted my time?’
All these uncertain thoughts were swirling around in his head, and yet, Sale-Dessu found himself more focused on what he was about to do. Among the uncertain thoughts were imaginations and daydreams of what life would be like if he actually succeeded in bringing the doll to life. If he succeeded in bringing them autonomy. He could see the little doll he had just finished running around the house and asking him questions about his experiments.
He could see this child quite clearly in his mind’s eye. ‘Eul-Bok….’
Sale-Dessu concentrated his all into making the hand motions, and no amount of uncertain thoughts stopped him there. He continued on, hoping to hear a voice at any time. After a while, he opened his eyes. He sighed in disappointment. The V-Puppet was not responding.
‘Wait a second…’
But even though it was not responding, it was quite clear that it was levitating.
‘Did–did I do something wrong!?’
“Um…hello there,” he said cautiously. ‘I’ll feel so stupid if I’ve failed at this point!’ “Can you hear me? Can you say “yes”? If you can hear me, say “yes”, please.”
No response.
“Um–” Suddenly the uncertainty was swamping him. “I–I am your father, Astineth Sale-Dessu. If you heard that, please say yes…”
“Fa…ther?”
Sale-Dessu gasped in surprise. “You are alive….!”
He pulled the doll close. “Oh, I’m so happy! I–I didn’t think you would make it! My precious Eul-Bok…”
Eul-Bok began to make choking noises, so Sale-Dessu let go of him. “I need to give you some knowledge so we can talk more! After all, I have big plans for your future, but I’m going to need to be able to communicate with you if we’re going to carry them through.”
“Communi….cate?”
“Yes. You’re getting the hang of it, slowly,” he said with a smile. “I…I can’t believe this. I brought a child to life…”
He was so overjoyed and stunned, he felt ready to overload, but taking the cues from how he had felt just moments earlier, he ran off with Eul-Bok to his book room.

—–
“So that’s what happened?”
“Yes.”
“So you really did get it out of sheer willpower!?”
Sale-Dessu chuckled. “No, probably not. It’s possible the power was dormant inside of me all along, but I like to think that what happened was that it just came along later for me.”
“Huh?”
“Remember, some people get their powers really young, like La-Iin did. So who’s to say that I just didn’t get my power later? After all, when I was trying to make a V-Puppet when I was little, I was younger than La-Iin is now. It’s possible it hadn’t developed yet!”
“Really?”
“I’m pretty sure. But yes, it was a selfish reason I brought you to life, Eul-Bok. I hope you’re not upset…”
“I don’t care. I’m happy to be alive! It doesn’t bother me one bit. Besides, don’t normal people bring babies into the world for selfish reasons sometimes?”
Sale-Dessu chuckled. “I suppose you’re right.”
“So I don’t mind at all. But wow, that’s pretty cool that you could bring me to life at all! Hey, do you think you’ll ever make me a sibling?”
Sale-Dessu paled. “Well…we’ll see about that one, okay? I’d definitely have to plan more for a sibling than I did for you!”

22.599.The World with So Much to Do

The La-Iin Series
Chapter 599
“The World with So Much to Do”

It was early in the morning, and only a few people roamed the streets of downtown Bledger. Before the crowds, downtown was fairly mellow.
At least, that was how it was most mornings. This morning civilians downtown covered their ears at the sound of a young child screeching.
“Calm down, La-Iin! Everyone can hear you!”
“Put me down! Put me down!”
Mit-Sun groaned. “Not if you’re going to act like this! Behave yourself or you’re staying up!”
La-Iin stared at Mit-Sun. She reached over and bit her shoulder. Mit-Sun shrieked, nearly dropping La-Iin, who started to cry.
“Oh, come on!”
Around her she could hear the murmuring of people watching the spectacle.
“Why bring your little kid downtown?”
“Is that kid half-Vampire? She must be really young.”
“Someone is obviously a first-time parent.”
Mit-Sun growled. “La-Iin, I’m not going to take you acting out like this. I managed to get a day off on a day I don’t usually get. So be patient and be quiet!”
“No!”
Mit-Sun resisted the urge to spank her. She held her tight and continued walking onward. La-Iin squeaked and protested, but Mit-Sun ignored her. ‘She’s been so bad since starting Desutrap. What the heck’s wrong with her?’
La-Iin, meanwhile, was not enjoying being held up by Mit-Sun, especially after her mother had sent her to Desutrap earlier that year. She wanted to bite her until she let her down, but the way Mit-Sun was holding her made it impossible for her to do so. Frustrated, she tried to squirm instead.
The place Mit-Sun had taken her was not one she recognized. There were buildings and stands all around her, and though the only light was the light from the sun, several of the buildings had fixtures on them that led her to believe that this place was much brighter than it was right now.
Mit-Sun stopped at the stall plaza and checked her wound. “I guess it’s not bleeding too bad. Still, you’re not supposed to bite me, La-Iin! You realize you have fangs, right?”
“Yes.”
Mit-Sun rolled her eyes. “Anyway, I need you to behave yourself, at least somewhat. I just want to have a good time with you. I understand things are a little different now that I’m working and you’re going to Desutrap, but if I wasn’t working things would be a lot different than they are now. Besides, when we get home things are the same as before.”
“Hmph.”
Mit-Sun sat down. “I’m prepared to stay here all day if you’re not going to start acting better.”
La-Iin didn’t respond. The only thing that made her happy in that moment was the fact that Mit-Sun had finally put her down. Feeling bored, she took a look around the stall plaza. When she looked closer, she noticed that in this area there were quite a few interesting things to look at–various people sat behind stalls, looking bored, with knick-knacks or edibles sitting in front of them. Curious, La-Iin wandered off towards a stand that was selling bread.
The man behind the stall gave her a curious look, as if he was surprised to see her. La-Iin narrowed her eyes and scanned the breads, then grabbed one and opened her mouth.
“La-Iin!”
Mit-Sun ran at her. “I’m so sorry, sir.”
“Er, ah, you should watch your kid more closely?” He said apprehensively.
“I know….”
He sighed. “If she really wants it, I can sell it to you half off, alright?”
La-Iin stared at Mit-Sun, still clutching the bread. Mit-Sun huffed. She paid the man, then escorted La-Iin back to the benches, where she devoured the bread.
“You know, that’s a Wiench type of bread. You’re lucky we found it in Vaelyn, and that he sold it to us for half off.”
“Wee-ench?”
“Wiench, La-Iin. And I don’t appreciate what you did just there. You could have asked me to buy it if you wanted it.”
La-Iin shook her head. “The first rule of evil,” she said with a grin. Then she finished the rest of the bread and hopped off the bench.
Now, taking a closer look at the stands, La-Iin found herself intrigued. If the stands held things such as that tasty bread, she had to wonder what else she could find here. Though none of the other stalls looked nearly as interesting, so La-Iin wandered off.
“H-hey, La-Iin!”
Just a little past the stall plaza was a large array of buildings. La-Iin stared at them in awe. They all seemed so much bigger than her.
“La-Iin, please, you know how to talk already. Tell me if you want to go somewhere!”
“What is this!?”
“That? It says ‘Nightclub Avianeri’. I don’t think you want to go there…”
“No! The…the area!”
“Oh, the area? I told you before we left, we’re going to downtown Bledger. And that’s what this place is. Downtown Bledger.”
La-Iin looked around a little more before taking off. “La-Iin!”
She just had to get a closer look at all the buildings. She tried to push on the doors to several of them, but many wouldn’t budge. All the while, Mit-Sun chased after her, but was never quite able to catch up, for La-Iin would dash off to yet another building before she could catch her. Always she pushed on the doors or flapped her wings in a futile attempt to get a higher look. Only on one occasion did the door actually push open for her.
“Is that a kid?”
“It looks like a Vampire kid, too.”
“What’s a little kid doing in here all alone?”
La-Iin stared to shake.
“Why are you being so bad today!?” Mit-Sun yelled. She picked La-Iin up, and La-Iin immediately started to try and wriggle out of her grasp once more. It caught the attention of people nearby.
“Aha–eheh–nothing to see here!” Mit-Sun backed out of the restaurant and glared at La-Iin. “You’re doing this on purpose, aren’t you!?”
“Down!” La-Iin began to slap at Mit-Sun. Distracted, her grasp on La-Iin loosened, and La-Iin went running across downtown Bledger once more. She looked around wildly at all the buildings around her and tried to keep ahead of a stunned Mit-Sun at all times. There seemed to be so much to look at, and her senses were getting overloaded.
She dashed back down to the stall plaza and caught sight of a stand selling pocket weapons; the Ferreniao man who was in charge of the stall looked on the verge of falling asleep. La-Iin grinned and ran over to the stall, ready to grab the knife he had on most prominent display, when she was abruptly picked up by Mit-Sun.
“La-Iin, I can’t believe you!”
“Wha? Huh?” The Ferreniao man glanced up at the two. “Oh, uh, did you wanna buy something, ma’am?”
“N-no, I’m good. Now come on, La-Iin. You’ve proven to me that…”
At that moment, Mit-Sun noticed that La-Iin was sniffling. “La-Iin?”
La-Iin began to cry. Confused, she checked her over. On the palm of her right hand, there was a small cut that was just big enough to bleed. Almost immediately afterwards, the Ferreniao man stared at his display knife and exclaimed, “Whoa! How’d it get all bloody like this!?”
“Oh my goodness…” Mit-Sun sighed.
“Ma–ma’am, I have some bandages. Oh gosh, I’m so sorry. Here you go.”
Mit-Sun wrapped the bandages around La-Iin’s hand. “Stupid Mama.”
“What did you say!?”
“Be easy on the kid, ma’am! Look girlie, it’s my fault, okay? Don’t be mad at your Mama.”
“Yes, you too,” La-Iin said. “But it’s Mama’s fault too.”
Mit-Sun sighed. “I’m just glad she’s alright. Although that seems to have done nothing about her behavior…we’re going home now, La-Iin, and nothing you say or do will convince me otherwise.”
Mit-Sun carried her the whole way back, but this time, La-Iin didn’t feel like struggling. She still felt on the verge of tears due to the pain in her hand, but otherwise, she felt fine. As she watched the stall plaza and the tall downtown buildings and streets fade off into the background, she actually felt happy.
If just downtown was so big, she could only imagine how big the whole world was. And if she ruled over the whole world, all of that would be hers. She would never want for anything if she had all that to do.

—–
“Heh heh heh…”
“I’m not even going to bother asking about that laugh.”
“As you should. I wouldn’t tell you even if you did ask.”
Mit-Sun sighed. “Well, I guess I prefer this to the way you acted when you were really little…mostly, anyway.”
“What are you trying to say?”
“Do you remember your first visit downtown?”
La-Iin shook her head.
“Well, if you don’t, then I’d rather not talk about it.”
Mit-Sun went back to eating dinner.
Mit-Sun’s words had stirred a familiar feeling in La-Iin, but she wasn’t quite sure of what it was.

“Hey, didn’t you used to sell pocket weapons a few years ago?”
“I realized that violence is not the answer. As a society, we are all far too quick to jump to violence, especially in these days of good and evil. Instead of focusing on our differences, we should instead reconcile our similarities, as people with all different ideas. And we should not enforce those ideas with violence.”
“Um….okay.”
“Self-defense is still a-okay, though. Speaking of, would you like a free pocket knife with those gummies?”
‘Old habits die hard, I guess…’

16.593.The Sewmaster

The La-Iin Series
Chapter 593
“The Sewmaster”

“Ah huh…she’s coming out nicely.”
Mit-Sun pulled the needle through the fabric once more. Finally, the project she was working on was beginning to take shape. She still felt iffy about the eyes, but figured it was fitting enough for a simple doll for a baby.
Nearby her, La-Iin was still fast asleep in her crib. Even if she hadn’t been, Mit-Sun knew she wouldn’t have been able to see the work-in-progress doll even so.
“I wonder if I should give her a name, or let La-Iin give her one…” Mit-Sun shook her head. “That can wait. For now, I just need to focus on completing her.”
The doll was beginning to come to life, and Mit-Sun could only hope that La-Iin would take well to her.

***

“My last name is too complicated!”
“Why are you complaining about this now?”
“I was thinking about what I might do if I could get married in the future. Do I end up tacking another last name onto Haunsum-Cahongyun or do I just give it to the lucky lady? What kind of screwy last name is that anyway!?”
“Your last name, dummy. Besides, I mostly just call you Haunsum Bes-Isa. Haunsum-Cahongyun Bes-Isa is only your legal full name!”
“Who cares about legality!?”
“Why do you care so much about your last name all of a sudden!? You can’t even get married! First, you’re a doll, and second, same-sex marriage is ille…”
“La-Iin’s certainly energetic today,” Beht-Soh said.
“Yeah, she’s been arguing with Bes-Isa all morning. …um, anyway, let’s not focus on her for now. I don’t think we could get through to her if we tried.”
Beht-Soh chuckled. “You’re the La-Iin expert. Oh, so, I’m sorry it took me so long to finish these, but I don’t think they would fit her anymore anyway. I forgot to ask you for her measurements, and even then it looks like she’s grown since the last time I saw her.”
“Yeah, she’s been getting taller lately. That’s a good thing, though. For a little bit I was worried she was going to stay that small her whole life. Or at least for several years…”
“There’s nothing wrong with that. It would have made it possible for her to fit these dresses. Well, here they are.”
Beht-Soh laid his dresses on the coffee table. Mit-Sun’s eye twitched. Though the dresses were well-constructed, she could tell that they definitely wouldn’t fit La-Iin–in fact, she found it hard to see how they would fit anyone bigger than a small baby.
“Um, Papa…”
“Papa?” La-Iin questioned. Mit-Sun’s face flushed. “I meant, Father…
“You’re welcome to call me Papa, you know?”
“Can we just drop this? A-anyway, these are very nice dresses, but how did you even begin to think these would fit La-Iin?”
“I told you, I didn’t get her measurements. And even though I know what she looks like now, I still can’t forget those pictures you sent me of her when she was a little baby.”
“This one doesn’t even have wing holes!”
“I….sorry….”
“Father, it’s just constructive criticism. You don’t need to apologize for it.”
“I shouldn’t have wasted any time making these, though.” Beht-Soh’s eyes were clear, but to Mit-Sun, his expression looked as if he was about to cry. Before she could console him, however, his attention turned to La-Iin, or rather, her clothes.
“Are those store-bought or did you sew those yourself?”
“Those? I made them.”
“Wow…”
“Father, it isn’t that you’re bad at sewing. These are well-constructed and all, they’re just too small for what you wanted them to be used for. It’s not that big a deal. Lots of the clothes I made for La-Iin when she was younger don’t fit her anymore. I guess I should probably do something about them someday…”
“Can I see some of the other outfits you’ve made for La-Iin?”
“Um, sure, I guess.”
“Granddami, you shouldn’t take Mama’s criticisms sitting down! Stand up to her! Oh, that would be so satisfying…”
“No, your Mama is right, I did make them too small for you to fit them.”
The conversation continued, but Mit-Sun didn’t hear the rest of it. She head upstairs, into La-Iin’s closet, and pulled out various outfits she had made for her; then she head downstairs and laid them on the coffee table.
“You’re welcome to look at all of them as long as you like. And if you want, I can let you take one home.”
“That was in my closet!” La-Iin shrieked. “You went into my room!?”
“I do all the time,” Mit-Sun said, an edge to her tone.
“La-Iin certainly seems like a handful sometimes,” Beht-Soh said absently. He was staring closely at a dress that was purple, orange and black; Mit-Sun noticed that La-Iin was also staring closely at it.
“Wow, this is really well-made. Your sewing skills are amazing, Mit-Sun! How did you get them to be so good?”
Mit-Sun began to feel shy. “Well, I had a lot of spare time when La-Iin was a baby…after Asul-Zenza left, well, La-Iin was just a baby. So I was up a lot, and I didn’t have a job to go to, and of course she wasn’t awake all the time. I wanted to be cautious with funds, so I figured it would just be easier to make her clothes myself. Also, I had been sewing before that.”
“Wow.”
“I haven’t been sewing as much lately, but I was working on a new dress for La-Iin since she’s getting taller. In fact, that dress you’re wearing right now is getting a little short.”
“No it isn’t!”
‘Why is she so indignant about that?’ “I do enjoy sewing.”
“Some of these use different materials too.”
“I try to not try and make the same type of dress over and over again. If I buy enough, the overall cost of supplies usually ends up as less than the cost of buying her store bought dresses. Although I do still get her store bought ones sometimes.”
“So La-IIn, which dresses do you like better? Mit-Sun’s or the store bought ones?”
La-Iin blinked. “My favorite dress is one Mama made…”
Beht-Soh smiled. “Even La-Iin likes your sewing skills.”
“Come on…there are people better than me.”
“You made her little doll Bes-Isa too, didn’t you?”
Mit-Sun felt her face flush. “Now you’re just complimenting me for the sake of complimenting me.”
“No, I’m really impressed. Besides, we’re family, and you gave me criticisms, so why shouldn’t I? But I can’t find anything to criticize. You really are good at sewing, Mit-Sun. You might even be able to make a business of it if you wanted to!”
“Y–you think so?”
“No. Mama’s sewing skills are for me only.”
“Well, maybe she’d like to keep it that way. I’m just saying, if you ever wanted to, you probably could make a business of sewing. Your skills are very near professional.”
“Thank you…wait, near professional? What do you mean by that?”
Beht-Soh began to look flustered. “Well, there are a few parts where the fabric clashes a little on some of the dresses…but it isn’t anything all that bad. I’m sure it doesn’t bother La-Iin.”
“Actually this dress is a little itchy.”
Mit-Sun smiled. “Well, of course these things aren’t always going to end up perfect. Thanks, Papa. I never thought of it that way. It is something for me to think about, though. Maybe if I can, I can actually quit Eteibreit Data Storage!”
“No!”
“But I’d need to think on it more.”
“Oh, of course. But I’ll definitely be taking cues from you from now on. Maybe I can make La-Iin a dress the same quality of one of yours.”
“Granddami, except for a select few dresses you’d probably make better dresses than Mama.”
“Hey!”
“Nah, I doubt that’s the case. Mit-Sun’s good at this. And I’m very proud of that.”
“Thank you, Papa,” she said quietly.
“You should keep your sewing only for me,” La-Iin grumbled.
“Maybe if I do decide to start sewing professionally, I’ll do stuffed toys instead,” she said. “But don’t worry, La-Iin. For now, my sewing skills are still for you. I do have to think on this more, after all.”
“Yes, you do. And so do I…”
“Huh?”
‘I never did think of that part of Mama’s skills, did I?’ La-Iin realized. ‘I could use her for more than just a slave to torture. Even though she’s been mean to me, she does have good sewing skills. She could make something nice for me, San-Kyung and our children. Maybe even a wedding dress…’
“Are…are you smiling?”
“See, I told you, even La-Iin likes your skills.”
Mit-Sun’s face flushed a deep shade of red. “You two are flattering me too much.”

—–
“Now that the doormat’s left, I demand answers! Who the hell gave me this stupid name Haunsum-Cahongyun!? How come it isn’t just Cahongyun!?”
“Because it isn’t.”
“Who did call you Haunsum-Cahongyun? I honestly don’t remember. I feel like Bes-Isa was my idea…”
“I think I’m going to be sick.”
“Haunsum-Cahongyun sounds familiar to me, and not just because I know Bes-Isa.”
“I guess we’ll never know, unless we can find some proof from the past.”
“If I find out that woman named me, I want you to do one of two things, La-Iin. One, change my name, or two, burn me.”
La-Iin gave no response; to Bes-Isa, her quietness was unsettling.

7.584.That First Friend

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

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

***

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

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