I expected to be greeted with a meow. Shin just glared. "You already had dinner." Her blue feline orbs glowered, boring into mine. I gave in.
"Come on." I headed to the living/ dining room where I knew her food bowl lay empty. Shin jumped onto the table, standing next to her bowl.
I put the bag next to her, letting her sniff at it while I went around the table for the container near the bookcase. I take off the lid scooping out her food and filled a fifth of her bowl.
She buries her head in it.
Sprawled on the sofa, I take out my phone. It was already past midnight. It's already Saturday.
After setting the alarm and making sure the volume is loud enough, I lay back sinking into the cushions.
Having fed the snack hungry monster within, Shin curls up on the table at the spot near my head. She mewed a little before closing her eyes. I feel the corner of my mouth raised.
And lowered as I look at the bag and my phone inches from her.
"Happy weekend." Illya had said. "Enjoy it." Jae's words echo after Illya's. If I had told them, would they still say the same things? If they knew, I'd just trouble them.
Better this way, as it always has been.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes. Everything's fine here." Shin meowed. "Shin agrees."
Iris exhaled in relief while I went off screen to prevent Shin from playing with the charging wire.
"It's just that both of them had sudden calls; mom with two labors and father with his conference. Will has his school tech programme and Danny's away for two days for the tournament."
"Everyone's busy, I get it." I heard myself saying. "Even you have those after school librarian meetings, right?"
"Every afternoon now." Iris puffed put her cheeks, as she does when she gets annoyed. "It's a pain to go home so late. It's scary and dark."
"Try around midnight. Walking back."
"Hey at least you get to sleep in. I'm stuck with less nap times and more housework since you went."
"Ah, something to rejoice."
"You're the worst." The door bell rang on her side. "Well, gotta go. Sorry the rest couldn't make it, Kiri. Enjoy your cake, birthday girl.
" Iris's face froze and blurred, replaced with the words 'video call, 1 minute and 15 seconds'. I stare at the screen until my phone times out.
"You think that went well?" Shin sneezed and curled into a ball on the cushions. The ribbons from the box lay in a heap beside her, the lilac tips chewed up.
The cake from the same box had defrosted and a third of it gone. It sat on the table, a fork stuck in it. I took the fork out, twisting it between my fingers, licking the cream off it's prongs.
I look at my reflection in the phone. Despite the screen being black, I notice the dark circles under my eyes and messy hair. "I should probably bathe now.
" I was telling Shin when the doorbell rang. Thinking it was some sort of delivery, I padded over.
Instead of the usual helmeted guy, Illya and Jae were outside, casual yet stylishly dressed.
They went from delight to shock to confusion in a second, with Jae throwing an additional fit to the mix.
"What the hell?!" I inched back from Jae's outburst. Did I look that bad?
"Hai.. Guys..." I managed.
"Is that cream??" Jae pointed to the corner of my mouth. I hastily wiped it with my shirt sleeve, somehow enraging Jae further. "It's not even noon yet and you're already eating sugary stuffs.
Did you just wake up?! You haven't even showered now have you??"
I looked for an escape from Jae's flurry of questions, seeing Illya stand numbly in the doorway. Her eyes met mine.
As though she finally noted my discomfort, she crossed over in one long stride to put a hand on Jae's shoulder, effectively shutting him up. "Now, now, Jaybird, don't scare off Kite."
Illya slipped her other hand around Jae's neck, making it look like a loose hug. "Sorry for coming unannounced, Kite. None of us knew your number. We actually came to invite you out.
So how bout it?"
What.. "How'd you know I lived here?"
"A favor from Asher." Illya said it simply. I didn't actually mind her using her new boyfriend to break the school's student confidentiality code. It's just that one thing didn't make sense.
"If you could ask him for my address, why not just ask for my number while you were at it?" Illya and Jae stood dumbfounded.
Honestly, I bet these two came up with whatever they had in mind just last night.
"We did ask him while he was about to go for a meeting. The address list was what he found first."
Jae grew impatient "So get yourself clean and changed. Let's get going already." Illya's embrace tightened. "We'll wait outside." The door shut before I could protest.
Should I go? Shin is pretty much capable on her own, having been a stray for three years prior. And this is the first time I've been invited out by people who weren't my relatives...
Not like I had a real choice. I couldn't let them go through this trouble for nothing.
"Competent." He heard the old woman say. Zad sneaked a glimpse at his cousin, feeling an arctic pulse from where she kneeled next to him.
The woman kept pacing around the circular rim of the pit. Above the pit, suspended in their respective spheres were the demons Zad's cousin had captured.
Unlike the mass of black they encountered first, the other two had more distinctive forms.
One was similar to a sea urchin, varying lengths of spikes all over its body with several slits Zad assumed were mouths. The other had a sleek feline form.
"We had expected more than these lesser creatures. The blood they posses is diluted beyond the point of extraction. Chances of brewing a single potion at all are minimal.
Perhaps we overestimated your abilities."
"Calm yourself, Innis. Blood is blood. Talented as they are, mistakes are inevitable. They still have much to learn."
"Leniency only brings poorer results. You should have a firmer grip on your acolytes, Caspar, lest they be the ruin of this sect." She spat.
Caspar hummed. "Nevertheless, they did bring in a Stray. Quite skillful, especially at such a young age." He gestured to the sphere in the center. The feline demon flicked it's tail in response.
"A Stray that retains it's form is useful, no matter the quality of blood. Or have you forgotten? Should I wait for you to clarify that with my father?"
Zad counted ten heartbeats until the woman spoke again. "Bear in mind that you owe your life to me, insolent brat."
"A life that I am indefinitely grateful to have, mother." He held his cool smile, matching her blazing eyes.
The seething woman erupted in flames, leaving the room. The pit in the middle of the room sealed itself with her absence.
Caspar turned to the two still present. "Hey, you can stand now. The youth shouldn't have their knees ache." He held out his hand, willing the spheres to shrink.
They dropped into his open palm, back into marbles.
"And don't mind her. She's harder on you because of me." He cupped the lady's chin, lifting it so their eyes met. "Certainly the glory of kings."
"And prince." He moved to clap Zad's shoulder. "You are both skilled."
"Thank you, Master Caspar." Zad spoke for the both of them, bowing.
"Now, about this Stray." Their master pinched the marble with the feline between his fingers. "Where did you come across it?"
"Orven Park in Ophelia.." Zad's cousin answered just as Albinus appeared with a squirrel on his head. The squirrel jumped onto arm, scurrying up to her shoulder.
"More?" Caspar asked.
"Hopefully greater demons."
"Go on then. My questions can wait. I wish you luck." They bowed, dissipating into the shadows with their companions.
Once they left, Caspar let a marble slip from his palm. It grew back into the large sphere. The feline inside fixed it's gaze onto the man.
"May there be new blood."