Chapter 3: Bookworm

“Alouna!”

“I didn’t do it!” She popped up quickly from her slumber and glanced around frantically at the books scattered on the ground, still wearing the clothing from yesterday, some of her hair sticking to her face.

“No, I guess you didn’t, did you?” Said the rather agitated woman standing over the child.

“You didn’t go to bed last night when I told you to and now you are sleeping in a pile of books on the floor. This is the third time this week you have done this. This is not your bedroom, you are going to get sick sleeping on the cold floor.”

“I didn’t do it on purpose. I was going to finish just one more chapter, then go to bed… but my eyes got heavy and…” She giggled nervously, but she was only met with a glare. “Sorry, Caleb…”

Caleb sighed. “I am glad you enjoy reading and learning so much, but the amount you do isn’t good for you. You should be going outside, making friends, having backyard adventures. I mean, get into trouble! Give me a reason to ground you!” She laughed.

“I have friends and I play once in a while…” Alouna pouted.

“Your friends are the demons you can summon, Ai, another demon, and the dragon.” Caleb pointed out.

“And there is Mimi!” Alouna grinned.

“Mimi is Andrew’s dog.” Caleb shook her head and started to pick up some of the books off the floor. “Funny that you get along with Andrew’s dog more than you get along with him.”

“That is because he is stupid and his dog is smarter than him.” Alouna grumbled and picked up some of the books as well.

“Don’t call me stupid, pipsqeak.” Suddenly, Andrew joined the two in the library, with a sour look on his face.

“Don’t be stupid then.” She stuck out her tongue at him, to which he returned the gesture.

“Andrew, you are picking a fight with a nine year old. Alouna, don’t call names. Go get a shower.” Caleb rolled her eyes.

“K!” Alouna set down the pile of books on the table and hurried out of the library and up the stairs.

Andrew groaned, “Pain in the ass child.”

“You only call her a pain because she knows more than you.” Caleb pointed out, “Did Gemik get to Rainy Cove?”

Andrew pouted and then nodded, “Yes, he did. He complained the whole way, though. Like demons do.” He chuckled, “ But you will never guess who I ran into on the way back.”

“Who?” Caleb asked as she knelt down to pick up some of the stray books on the ground.

“Kuroishi.” Andrew announced.

Caleb paused. “No kidding? Why is that hot head here? I thought he never left Baal’s house when he visited.”

“Apparently, he is going to be staying on the island. Lillith was taking him to his house in Rainy Cove. But boy, you do not want to hang out with that one. Hot head is an understatement. He is more like an agitated panther. He wasn’t very happy to discover that we moved Gemik and not Joe. He didn’t understand that Gemik nearly tore Joe’s arm off.” Andrew rambled.

“That is concerning…” She thought for a moment.

“It is?” Andrew raised a brow, “I don’t think he’d attack us.”

“I don’t think he will either. The concern is that he is the prince of the demons. They will listen to what he says. Baal is the leader of this island, he controls everything that happens here. But Kuroishi is higher than him. Even if it has been established by the demons: Baal rules here. I fear if Kuroishi was to change something, they would go along with it regardless.” She started out of the library. “We have a good thing going here. Baal has agreed that humans and demons are equal and deserve to be treated with the same respect. I cannot say that Kuroishi feels the same. He, from what I heard, stays loyal to the ways of Gehenna. Those who are stronger are the ones who rule. Everything can be solved with a fight. There is no way we humans could win in a fist fight with a demon.” She sat down on the couch, “I could be overthinking it… maybe Kuroishi is staying here but allowing things to go along as they were. No point in worrying over something that hasn’t happened yet.” She relaxed into the back of the couch and suddenly, her doorbell rang. “Ugh…” She groaned and gave Andrew a helpless look.

“I got it.” He chuckled and opened the door, expecting to be face to face with their visitor, only to be staring headlong into Baal’s torso. “Oh… Hi Baal…”

“Hey.” He ducked down and through the small white wooden doorway, “Oh good, you are home.” He mentioned seeing Caleb on the couch.

“No love for Andrew?” Andrew pouted.

“I said ‘hey’. I came to speak with Caleb…” Baal walked into the small living room. He had been in this room a few times before but it always felt off to him. There was only one window in the room, opposite of the door. It wasn’t very big, and seemed out of place to him on a large in comparison white painted wood wall. There were a few paintings on the walls of flowers and cats, but he found them to be uninspired. The white carpet made him cringe, it was too plain. Her small off pink couch completely clashed with the white carpet, there was just no symmetry in this house.

“Baal! You are doing it again!” Caleb snapped at him, she was a tall strong built woman with muscular arms and legs. Her deep black hair was cut short and spiked on top, her soft brown skin made her lovely green eyes stand out. She wore her usual black loose blouse with her shoulders exposed and her tight black business boot cut pants and brilliant red heels. She sat with her legs crossed and one of her heels dangling from her toes. Her arms crossed hiding the head of her big white snake tattoo that wrapped around her right arm. “Stop scowling at my house!”

“Then fix it…” he grumbled, “It is… I mean… look at it! It isn’t pleasing to the eye…” He pointed to the couch, “You even have marker stains still!”

“Shut up, perfectionist. It is fine! Now what did you want?”

“Right right right… Seriously though, a different color wall will make all the difference. I could get-”

“BAAL!”

“Okay! I just came to tell you that Kuro will be spending time here every month to help Ai with the baby.”

“Baal!” Alouna ran down the stairs in an oversized tee and long pants, her hair dripping water on the wood. “Catch me!” She threw herself from the last six stairs and Baal quickly ran over and caught her as she laughed.

“Please don’t throw yourself off of things every time you see me.” Baal lectured, “And your hair is soaking wet…” He scowled at his shirt now having wet spots.

“Alouna, did you wash your hair? That shower was fast.” Caleb stood up and headed to grab a towel.

“How would my hair be wet if I didn’t wash it?” Alouna rolled her eyes and climbed Baal’s massive shoulders and hung from his good horn.

“I don’t know, you tell me, miss sticking your head in the running water for twenty seconds.” Caleb grabbed a towel from a closet and came back to dry her hair.

“I haven’t gone outside since my last bath… why do I need to use soap?” Alouna swung her legs back and forth.

“You said you went out to play yesterday while I was out working.” Caleb grabbed her hips to make her stop granting her easier access to her head.

“Oh… That was a lie. I am sorry. I was in the middle of a good book.” Alouna smiled. Baal pulled her off his horn and sat her down on the ground. She was like a kitten compared to his size, she hadn’t grown much from when Baal first met her a year ago. Short and thin, with a small round face and rather large crystal blue eyes. Her hair had grown a little bit, it was cut very short, just above her ears, now it had reached the bottom of her neck. Short soft flowy tree bark brown hair with cutie straight bangs that were getting slightly too long and were due for a trim. She really did need to get outside more, her skin was pale, and made him think of Ai’s skin. A human’s skin shouldn’t be that pale. “Did you come to play with me?” She bounced up and down.

“The last time we hung out you tried to dissect one of the worms we were supposed to be fishing with.” Baal shook his head.

“I didn’t try, I did. With a hook.” She corrected, placing her hands on her hips proudly, “And fishing is boring. We should go cliff diving again! That was fun!” She climbed to the side of the couch, “I was like-!” She jumped off the couch and landed with a hard thump on the ground,

“But it was bigger and not so hard…”

“No! No cliff diving!” Caleb gave him a dirty look.

“I said I was sorry. She wouldn’t have been hurt and she enjoyed it.” Baal shrugged.

Caleb sighed, “Humans are not as durable as you demons. She could have been killed if she hit the water just slightly wrong. AND we shouldn’t be encouraging children to jump from cliffs!”

“Yes yes. Well I didn’t come to play anyway. I am busy today.” He patted Alouna’s head.

“Aww…” She pouted.

“So Kuroishi is staying here?” Caleb picked up the conversation.

“Yes, a few days every month.” Baal explained, “ I wanted to let you know because he may try to change a few things. I will make my best efforts to keep things as they are but if he declares something to be different then our brethren will most likely follow him.”

“Are we going to really allow a bratty prince to get his way because he complains?” A quick shiver went up her spine giving her goosebumps as a rumble echoed from Baal’s chest. “I guess we are…”

“Watch how you speak about Kuro. I am far more level headed than the others, if they were to hear you talking about him like that they wouldn’t be so forgiving. Kuro is not a brat.” Baal strictly corrected. “In Gehenna, no one cares who your parents are, you earn your respect like everyone else. Kuro worked his ass off to earn that respect. I complain about him because he does get on my nerves but I do have respect for him.”

“He is also afraid of wasps.” Alouna stated, standing on her tippy toes trying to pull a book out of the bookshelf in the living room.

“What?” Baal chuckled, grabbing it and handing it to her.

“He is scared of wasps, or anything that looks like one. He isn’t afraid they’d hurt him but they gross him out.” She jumped up on the couch and started to read.

Baal laughed, “Where on earth did you hear that?”

“The man in my head told me. Said there are demons that look like wasps in Gehenna and Kuro doesn’t like them.” She answered, swinging her legs up and down as she read.

Baal looked to Caleb confused, “She has an imaginary friend who talks to her.” She answered.

“He isn’t imaginary. And he talks to me in my sleep.” Alouna corrected, “Also said his favorite food is cheese cubes and just the cheese. He doesn’t like crackers with his cheese.”

“Well, that is true.” Baal scratched his head.

“She hangs out with Ai all the time. And Ai is always gushing about her son. She most likely heard it from her.” Caleb came and took the book away.

“HEY!” Alouna protested.

“Go play outside!” Caleb pointed to the door, “now!”

Alouna groaned and rolled from the couch to the floor. “Ugh… too weak…” She gave out a small squeak as Baal lifted her by her foot and carried her outside. “AH! It burns! I’m melting! I’m melting!” Alouna yelled once they came into the sun.

“I will bring her back in a few hours. If she doesn’t want to play then she can come do errands with me.” Baal said to Caleb. “Besides, Ai will be happy to see her.”

“Alright, but no-” Caleb started.

“Cliffs! I know I know.” He waved with his free hand.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Are you going to walk on your own yet?” Alouna didn’t answer, “Alouna.”

“I’m dead! Dried up like a worm on the pavement!” Alouna announced.

Baal chuckled and dropped her in a small flower patch, “Well guess I will have to leave you for the birds to eat.”

Alouna pouted, “Why do I have to play outside? It’s dumb. Running around like a loon, getting dirty and wasting reading time.”

“You are the only kid I have ever met that would rather read all day than run around. Come on, Vatalini will be happy to see you.” He started walking again.

She quickly got up and followed behind him, “Vatalini doesn’t like me…”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, we don’t have much in common. She likes to do gardening, climb trees and play dress up. I prefer not to do any of those things…”

“I am sure you two will find something you both enjoy. Vatalini is a lot like her mother and you get along with Lillith.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Oh hello there little Alouna, have you come for lunch?” Ai patted her head as they returned to the house.

Alouna hugged her, “No, but I love your cooking.” Alouna pressed her ear to Ai’s belly, “Hello, baby.”

“Mom! Where is- oh he is here.” Kuro walked into the living room and squinted that the sunlight was shining in from the two large windows. “Jeez, why are there two big ass windows on the same side as the door?” He complained.

“Don’t like it then go to your own place. Why are you back here so soon?” Baal groaned.

“Because I came to tell you I moved Gemik back to Sunny Cove.” He answered.

“Goddammit, why?!” Baal snapped.

“Here we go again.” Ai cheerfully brushed Alouna’s hair with her fingers. “I made some honey tea, why don’t you go pour yourself a cup. I am going to defuse the bomb.”

“Because he should be with his family. Because the human wasn’t moved. AND because I’d beat the shit out of the asshole too!” Kuro growled.

“Okay.” Alouna skipped over to Kuro and waved at him.

“Huh?” Kuro raised a brow.

“Oh sweetie, he isn’t in the mood for greetings.” Ai called her back.

Alouna motioned for him to come down closer, “Come come.”

“What the fuck? Who the hell does this brat belong to?” Kuro hissed at her.

“She is Alouna, a little one me and Caleb are caring for.” Ai answered. “Like your unofficial new sister.”

“Come come!” Alouna pulled on his pant leg.

Kuro rolled his eyes, “Annoying pest is more like it. You shouldn’t keep pets when you have a baby on the way. Humans are not family.” he kneeled down, “what do you want?!”

She smiled and with the back of her hand patted his shoulder, “calm down, deep breath. Think before you speak.” Then she hurried off to the kitchen.

“I swear, she has no fear.” Baal sighed, “Don’t be upset with her, she-… Kuro?” He paused, seeing Kuro’s look of disbelief. “What’s up?”

“Who is she?” He whispered in response.

“A human child that washed up on the shore a little over a year ago. She said her mother had died and her father abandoned her because she is a Summoner.” Ai answered, “She has quite a talent for summoning. She is only nine but can summon some strong ones. At first, she was just living here and I was caring for her. But Caleb said she should be with her own kind and she lives with her now. She has a love for books. She will read anything you put in front of her.” Ai chuckled, “She reminds me a little of you when you were young. How much you loved to gush about all the new things you’d learn from Fakir, like I understood any of it.”

“Fakir…” Kuro’s chest hurt. “He used to tell me that all the time… knock on my shoulder, and tell me to calm down and breathe. Think before you speak.” He quickly stood up, “I need to…yeah…” He started for the door, “Gemik attacked the human because the human took it upon himself to spank Gemik’s daughter to punish her for getting into an argument with his son. Gemik was asking for an apology from him raising a hand to a child that wasn’t his. But the human refused and they got into an argument. The human took the first swing. Do you expect him to just let the human attack him? If it was your daughter, would you allow it?” He exited the living room and quickly closed the door.

There was a long silence, before Ai came to touch Baal’s back, “Sweetie?”

“Did you tell Alouna about Kuro’s love of cheese cubes?” He quickly asked.

“I have mentioned it before. Why?” Ai questioned.

“Did you mention he is scared of wasps?” Baal wondered.

“Scared of wasps?” She cocked her head to the side. “What in the world are you talking about? He isn’t scared of wasps.”

“I think it was just Alouna’s wild imagination. She said a man in her dream told her that Kuro was scared of wasp.” He chuckled, “What should I do about this issue though?”

“Let it go.” Ai started for the kitchen. “The order to have Gemik moved to Rainy Cove was Caleb’s. So it is no insult to you. The prince decided against it, our brethren will accept that. And if the humans complain, tell them to keep their hands off of other people’s children, and don’t start fights they won’t win. Simple as that.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“You okay? You look a little distracted.” Maow poured some wine into a cup and handed it to Kuro.

“Yeah, just had a weird thing happen earlier today. I think I need to relax.” He took the glass and laid his head back on the couch.

“Want me to rub your shoulders?” He poured his own glass and laid his head on Kuro’s bare chest.

“Nah, that’s okay. I like this right now.” He rubbed Maow’s back, enjoying how warm his skin felt against his fingers “How was it?”

Maow purred, “Better than anyone else could describe.”

Kuro laughed, “You asked others I have spent the night with?”

“Not exactly, I just mentioned I had plans with you and well, they told me the stories.” He sipped his wine. “What was this weird thing that happened? Or would you prefer not to talk about it?”

“Have you ever raised a child before?” Kuro asked.

Maow lifted his head with winden eyes, “Uh… tonight was great but I wouldn’t call that grounds to bond and raise children.”

Kuro’s cheeks went red, “I didn’t mean that! I was meaning have you raised one with someone else? A kid did and said something weird to me today and I was just wondering if that is normal.”

“Oh…” He chuckled, “I have not. So I wouldn’t know. What did the kid do?”

“She knocked on my arm and said something …someone else used to say to me a lot. I know they never met this person, so I just…” Kuro sighed.

“You are talking about Fakir? Sorry…” He apologized seeing the look on his face change to hurt, “I have heard you two were really good friends. Maybe this is a bad topic. Tonight is supposed to be…” He pecked his lips a few times, “Happy. You want to go again?”

Kuro took a deep breath and nodded.

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