Author’s Note: A pretty laid back chapter, but this marks the beginning of the story picking up. I hope you look forward to it!
Volume 1 – Chapter 5
After dragging us backwards through the halls of the part of the house we had just traveled and then taking us in an entirely new direction, keeping a vice grip on our wrists the entire time, Cat dropped us unceremoniously into the guest room, allowing us to fall through the doorway and crash to the ground.
“Dinner’s in ten minutes,” she said in an official, commanding tone. ‘Get changed and washed up–you’re both filthy. I’ll see you there.”
The receding sound of her footsteps told me that she had left, but I couldn’t be sure, as my face was still buried in the carpet from the fall. It smelled like lemons.
After a few seconds of silence, I hazarded a whisper to Miller, my voice coming out muted due to thickness of the fabric.
“Did she leave?”
“Yeah.” no change to his voice–he must have been lucky enough to land on his back.
Trusting his word, I dug my hands into the soft floor and got up, feeling the left side of my face for any abnormalities and finding nothing but a light imprint of the texture of the carpet etched into my skin, which I hoped would fade. I glanced at Miller, who had also recovered into a sitting position.
“Do you think we should just get changed now, or wait a little?”
“Now, probably,” he said, standing. I followed his lead. “It’s best to just do as she says in situations like this.”
His reasoning was sound, and I turned to retrieve my bag, which was sitting on the other side of the room, on top of the cerulean sheets of the second bed. It was at that point I realized we weren’t alone in the room.
Standing in the corner opposite Miller and me was a girl maybe one or two years older than us, dusting off an expensive looking dresser. At first I wasn’t sure who it could be, but when I caught sight of the dark-brown hair tied back in a loose ponytail and the dark gauged earring poking out from behind it, the answer became clear.
“Oh, hello, Naoko,” I said, a little more quietly than intended. Luckily for me, she heard the near-whisper and swiveled around. ‘It’s been a while.”
She smiled in response, holding her dust-rag behind her back. “Hi, Asher, it’s nice to see you. How have y–”
Her question, for some reason, cut off right in the middle, and Naoko stood staring at me silently, mouth agape. I had no idea what was happening, but I immediately let the conversation drop, instead choosing to go over the conversation in my head to try and find where I went wrong.
I came up with nothing. Naoko and I had known each other for quite a while, and I at least considered her to be a close acquaintance, which is why the sudden awkwardness made no sense to me. Where had it come from? What had caused it?
That was when I glanced to my side, and all of my questions were answered.
Miller was standing next to the bed in nothing but his boxer shorts, rooting through his bag to find a change of clothes. Why he had chosen that moment to strip down, I have no idea, but at least it explained why Naoko had looked so shocked.
Knowing the answer to my questions and, admittedly, feeling a little relieved by them, I brought my attention back to Naoko, unsure of what I was going to say to her. It turned out, however, that I didn’t have to worry–she handled the rest of the conversation for me.
Her face, which had begun to display a subtle shade of red, quickly transformed from shocked to apologetic, and she leaned forward in a shaky bow.
“I-I’m s-sorry. I didn’t m-mean to intrude, I…I apologize.”
“That’s alright….” I began, but it didn’t matter much, because she rushed out of the room the moment words began to come out of my mouth, apologizing the whole way.
The second she exited the room, Miller seemed to find the clothes he was looking for, and pulled them out of his bag and onto his body quickly. After he had changed and put his other clothes away, he looked at me.
“What was all that noise you were making just now about?”
I blinked, not entirely sure if he was joking or not. He didn’t budge, and I was forced to accept that he was serious.
“Are you telling me that you have no idea what just happened? At all?”
“I was looking for new clothes.” he shrugged. “I wasn’t really paying attention to what you were up to.”
The room filled with the sound of my sigh, which only seemed to confuse Miller further, and I was made to explain to him what had happened while he was off in his own world, skimping no details. When I was done, he looked at the half-dusty dresser Naoko had been standing in front of and scratched his nose.
“Oh?” Is that all you’re going to say?”
“Well, yeah. What else should I do? Should I write her an apology letter, or something?”
“No, that’s not what I m–oh, nevermind, it doesn’t matter anyway. How about I just get changed and we head down for dinner?”
“That’s probably for the best,” Miller agreed. “We don’t want Cat to come up here and drag us around again. I have a feeling she won’t be so gentle this time around.”
Agreeing fully, I got out of my school clothes and into a plain shirt and pants, and Miller and I left through the doorway and made our way towards the dining room.
Surprisingly, we only got lost twice on our way to eat, which was a new personal best for the two of us, as no matter how many times we visit the sheer complexity of the building continues to baffle us. When all was said and done we made it to the dining room about twelve minutes after Cat dropped us off at our room, which seemed like great time to me.
Cat, however, felt differently.
“You’re late,” she said the moment Miller and I sat down across from her at the long, china-laden dinner table.
“What do you mean?” Miller asked. “Your parents aren’t even here yet, and nobody’s brought the food. How are we late?”
Cat glanced at Miller with narrowed eyes, arms folded tightly across her chest. ‘I told you that dinner was in ten minutes at four-fifty and it’s five o’three right now. You’re late.”
The tips of Miller’s ears turned red and the temperature of the room rose about .2 degrees Celsius, but I was able to cool it with a tap to the shoulder and a shake of my head. Even though he was annoyed, we both knew that it was no use to try and argue with her–after all, we had taken thirteen minutes instead of the prescribed ten.
Cat’s parents walked through the open door a moment later, arm-in-arm, to a silent room, but that fact changed very quickly. With a clap of her hands and a quick display of her perfect white teeth, Cat’s mom sent the two pairs of folding doors behind her flying open. Waiter upon waiter flooded in, arms full of different trays of food, and soon the table was covered in various dishes and foods from all over the world.
“Alright!” she said, clapping her hands. “Let’s get this thing rolling!”
We began eating immediately, serving ourselves and taking however much we desired. Although conversation flowed freely, I didn’t really take part, as I’m not a huge fan of talking while I’m eating. Mostly, it was Cat who did the talking, relating to us the story of the time she almost died falling out of a tree.
To be honest, I doubted the validity of the tale, but it was nevertheless interesting to listen to, and I learned a thing or two about broken ankles and the power of maple syrup.
By the time her story was over, we had all finished eating our meals, and the food was being cleared off of the table and stored for later use. Once all that could be seen was the dark-brown varnish of the table and a few crumbs, Cat’s dad cleared his throat.
“So…..Who wants dessert?”
The decision was unanimous, and in a few minutes two workers appeared in the dining room, each carrying their own dessert–one a tray full of delicious-looking fruit, the other baked alaska.
The fruit looked great to me, but I could tell that Cat and Miller both had their eyes on the more dessert-like of the two. Cat loves anything sugary or sweet, and Miller has a weak spot for ice cream, so I knew from the second that I saw the selections that things were about to get brutal.
Miller was the first to move. As soon as the dessert was set down and the silverware distributed, he picked up his knife and reached to cut off a piece, but Cat was just as quick, throwing her arm forward and pinning down his knife with her spoon.
I filled a bowl with fruit and began eating.
My friends continued to struggle, arms shaking with effort as each attempted to gain the upper hand and get at the dessert first. They stared at each other, eyes cold, and Cat gave Miller a knowing smile.
“It seems as if we’re at a standstill, huh? How do you propose we settle this?”
“We could play rock-paper-scissors,” Miller suggested, never removing his gaze from the eyes of the enemy. I took another bite. “Winner gets first go at the food.”
“No way.” She sounded adamant. “We can’t decide on something as important as this with a childish game like rock-paper-scissors. It needs to be more serious than that.”
Miller didn’t notice it, but the entire time Cat was talking to him she had been inching her arm closer and closer to his knife, preparing to disarm him at the first opportunity. Turns out that opportunity wasn’t very far away, because the second she was done talking he struck, her arm shooting forward quick as a cobra and pushing Miller’s knife away.
My spoon scraped the bottom of the bowl.
With her only adversary out of commission, Cat made a mad dash for the baked alaska, aiming with her spoon and intending to take a bite directly from the source.
However, Miller wasn’t going to let that happen so easily.
With a speed and look of determination I rarely see in him, he whipped his arm around, his wrist making contact with Cat’s spoon and knocking it out of her hand. As her spoon clattered to the floor, empty, I took my last bite of fruit with mine. At the other side of the table, Cat’s mom began cheering.
Miller, his enemy seemingly defeated and with a triumphant expression, went to finally take a slice of the dessert he had so longed for, licking his lips.
He never made it. At the last moment before the edge of his knife touched the baked alaska Cat, her eyes full of fight, grabbed the entire tray and pulled back, holding it over her head and away from Miller.
“It’s mine. I won’t let you have it!”
Miller leaned forward, supporting himself on the table with one hand, and reaching forward with the other. “Come on, Cat! You know how much I love ice cream.”
Her response was to elegantly stick out her tongue and lean even further backwards in an attempt to escape his clutches with the baked alaska in tow. Unfortunately for both of them, she leaned back a bit too far, lost balance, and took all three of them–her, Miller, and the dish–tumbling over the table and onto the ground.
There was a loud crash and, after the dust cleared and the clattering of metal faded away, I saw the two of them lying side by side, covered in an equal amount of ice cream.
And, in the end, isn’t that all they ever really wanted?
With that display done and over with, I stood over my friends, empty bowl in hand, and bowed my head at Cat’s parents. “Thanks for the meal.”
Turning around so no one could see me smirking, I began to walk away, ready to get to my room and finish my homework before going to sleep. Naturally, it wasn’t that easy.
Miller and Cat were still tangled up on the floor and covered in the dessert they had both hoped to eat, but they dealt with that quickly enough when they saw that I was leaving. Their sticky feet tapping on the floor, they caught up to me, each putting a hand on one of my shoulders.
“You can’t just leave, Asher,” Cat told me, seemingly positive that that action was beyond my ability. “We still have to play some games before bed.”
Miller nodded, agreeing with his adversary of just a few moments ago. “I brought my cards so we could all play together.”
“We can still play,” I said, “but I think you two should clean up first.”
They agreed after a quick look at themselves, and walked into the opposite direction, towards the bathroom, to clean themselves off. Once they were gone, I gave a quick goodbye to Cat’s parents, and made my way back to the room.
With only a few wrong turns (and a little help from a passing butler), I made it back and, finally alone, got started on my homework.
As it turned out, that was a good idea–I was able to finish all of my work with time to spare, Cat and Miller coming into my room a few minutes after I had zipped up my bag and laid back on the bed to rest. When I heard them at the door, i opened my eyes and found it a little more difficult than normal.
Both Miller and Cat’s hair was still damp from washing off, and droplets of water fell onto the fluffy white towels they had draped over their shoulders. Cat glanced around the room.
“You didn’t set up the cards?”
At first I didn’t realize that she was talking to me, but when she turned her gaze in my direction, I shrugged. “I was tired.”
“You were tired…” She shook her head, unable to hide the scorn in her voice, and probably not even trying. “As per usual, I’ll have to do everything myself.”
It sounded like she was complaining, but I don’t think Cat actually minded distributing the cards herself–she even started humming as she did so, filling the room with a discordant melody. After a few seconds, she was done.
“Okay, who’s ready to play?”
“Uh, Cat, that’s not how you hand out the cards,” Miller responded, pointing at the three separate decks she had created. “We only need three hands for poker.”
“No, this is right,” she replied immediately with a devious smile. “We’re not playing poker.”
The way she said that told me that I probably shouldn’t even ask, but, at the end of the day, I’m a weak person, and I let curiosity get the better of me.
“What are we playing, then?”
She just kept on smiling, and said “We’re playing war.”
I knew I shouldn’t have asked.
* * *
Cat called it a war, but I can’t say it was much of a fight. I had never played the game before and, although it was simple enough, quickly lost the first two matches we played.
The third was much the same at the start but, surprisingly, I ended up winning by virtue of what Cat called a “prophetic three-way war,” whatever that means.
Unfortunately for me (and my sleep schedule), Cat wasn’t done with us yet. Next, she roped Miller and me into what ended up being a two-hour long game of charades, where we weren’t allowed to stop until we correctly guessed what she was miming as she stood stock-still with the fingers of one hand facing up and the others down.
Somehow, most likely by the mercy of the universe itself, we actually were able to figure it out (she was a cactus, of course), but by that point we were so tired the victory didn’t have any effect–we just wanted to get to bed.
Naturally, however, we weren’t allowed to do that, as Cat had “one more thing” that we “had to do,” before that was an option. After telling us that, she burst out of the room in a hurry, seemingly preparing for the activity. The second she left, both Miller and I drifted off into the world of sleep–for about two minutes.
After that, any notion of sleep was tossed to the side as Cat stepped through the door, two pots and spatulas clanging noisily in her hands.
She walked towards us, and with our delayed reaction times, had no trouble planting the pots on our heads and placing the spatulas in our hands. The pot was too big for me and began to succumb to the force of gravity, but, being too tired to resist taking part in her game, I groggily pushed it back into place.
“What are these for?”
Cat laughed in response, making a distinct effort to vocalize it. “Fufufu. So, the most famous knights of Mo’or-deb village have finally found my lair. What is it that you intend to do now?”
Had I been in the right state of mind, I would have responded, most likely ended the game right there, but sleep-deprivation kept that from happening. Instead, I was still working through Cat’s words in my mind and trying to figure out what in the world “Mo’or-deb” was.
As I worked on trying to decipher her words through my haze of drowsiness, I vaguely recognized Miller speaking, although I couldn’t tell you what he said–all I know is that it got an immediate, booming response from Cat.
“My laugh is of no importance, brave knight. Focus on it not. Instead, do what you came here to accomplish–fight me. I promise that I, the fearsome Red Dragon, will not hold back.
“Wha-” I began, but the words died in my diaphragm as Cat’s fist dug into it, sending me (and Miller, who was behind me) reeling back, falling to the floor and sputtering for breath. She stood over us, hands on her hips.
“Is that all you have to offer? Come, get up! Fight for your honor. Fight for the name of the village of Mo’or-deb!”
“What is she talking about?” Miller asked in a harsh whisper. I turned my head to look at him, fighting the urge to fall asleep right there.
“I don’t know, I think she’s pretending to be a dragon and wants us to fight her,” I said as clearly as possible, my words ringing through the metal of my helmet. “You know how she is–we should probably just play along and get it over with.”
“Yeah….okay. Let’s do this, then.”
With that, we both stood up, boots scraping the rocky ground as we supported each other, arms draped over each other’s shoulders. When we were finally stable, we drew our blades, and I addressed the dragon.
“We have come to slay you, oh fearsome Red Dragon. Prepare to fight.”
The dragon’s eyes glinted, its lips curling into a cruel smile, and Miller and I ran forward, eyes half closed, to meet her in battle.