“Oh, hello Nathan,” he greeted me sincerely with a wink. “Wanna join me next time?”
“Get a shower and change clothes instead of cracking stupid jokes in front of the boy. Even my first-class-cooking isn’t able to cover your suffocating smell!” Evelyn ranted.
“The high chimera has spoken,” mumbled Alan.
A part of me chuckled as I watched the defeated husband retreat into another room. The idea of hunting beasts on the other hand didn’t appear quite as amusing when I thought about it. Beside the fact that I probably wouldn’t be of any value, hunting and killing conscious things just didn’t sit well with me. Even seeing blood made me dizzy after all. Once Alan came back, he replaced Evelyn in the kitchen, constantly muttering about how his wife's cooking skills were a lost case. In the meantime, Evelyn covered the table with wooden plates and bowls that were filled with delicious smelling food. Mae, who wasn’t too amazed by the vegetables on her plate, eagerly picked them out with a wrinkled nose. There was a fifth bowl on the table. Will another person visit? I wondered.
The plates were nearly all empty and the sun drew closer to the horizon when a knock echoed through the room.
“On the second, huh?” Alan murmured as he went to the door. A calm atmosphere pervaded the room - the only sounds coming from Mae, who was still slurping her soup, and the occasional splashing in the sink where Evelyn cleaned our dishes. The latter then joined her husband.
“Welcome, we just had dinner if you’d like to grab some food,” Evelyn said in a rather serious but friendly tone.
“Excuse the intrusion,” an unfamiliar female voice answered.
The stranger went through the door frame, and I recognised her immediately. My body instantly ached under the fresh memories. It was the woman who was with the man dressed in black when Lory got taken away. She still wore the same black trenchcoat and trousers, making her rather intimidating. Her honey-brown eyes sparkled as she wiped away a strand of white hair before her attention shifted over to me.
“You must be Malory’s friend, right?” she asked with a sincere smile. It threw me off. I didn’t know why they took Lory, nor where they went with her - all I could do was wait and hope she would be fine. It was frustrating, yet here this woman stood with a smile on her face.
“I can imagine how you feel - your friend got taken away because some wrinkled gramps want their tools back...pisses you off, doesn’t it?”
Was she trying to taunt me?
“Rika, could you for once mind your manners!?” Evelyn scolded, visibly angered.
“Ah, sorry. My condolences.”
“Thank you, that helps a lot.” I didn’t care to hide the sarcastic subtone in my voice.
The woman took a step closer and her short white hair glowed up under the light of the evening sun which fell into the room.
“Yes, no problem,” Rika answered with the same blatant expression, then took another step towards me until there were just a few inches left between us. Her eyes seemed to examine my entire body - even the air above my head - making me feel as if I was up for auction.
“You’re pretty interesting, Nathan,” she chuckled, before swiftly turning back to Evelyn and Alan. “Anyway, have you decided on the offer?”
One couldn’t exactly suggest that the both of them emanated an aura of joy, but looked rather wary instead. “We accept, but what exactly is the cause?” Evelyn asked.
“Ah, even I haven’t received any details about that,” Rika shrugged, “...but I fear there is one more condition now.”
Alan and Evelyn stared at the young woman, visibly perplexed.
“You need to bring the boy with you. Additional expenses will be covered of course,” she proclaimed, her lips curled up into a cheeky grin.
“I intended to do so even without additional financial support,” Evelyn answered coldly.
Huh?! I looked around, unable to process what was going on. This whole conversation was too fast-paced for me. To my relief, Alan appeared to be just as overwhelmed - his mouth gaped a bit. Mae on the other hand just watched us quietly. She probably knew something was going on, but couldn’t wrap her head around it either. Well, you’re not alone Mae, I sighed mentally.
“Mae could need a brother, right?” Evelyn asked with a presence you couldn’t disagree with, causing Alan to jump a bit as he got torn from his confusion.
“U-uh, s-sure. I guess?” he stuttered carefully as if he was talking to some dangerous villain who could end his life in mere seconds. Mae’s eyes widened when the whole brother-talk came up.
“Nathan, you up to it?” Evelyn’s gaze now laid on me.
“...Ah...sure.” I answered. My head felt like a mess at this point, unable to process everything that was happening.
“Well, you probably won’t have a lot of time together,” the white haired woman remarked. Her expression suddenly got more serious as she turned to me once again.
“I will train you until you’re old enough to attend the academy. Also...” Rika leaned in closer so she could whisper in my ear - “Tell anyone about me and you’ll get disposed of, got it?”
My heart skipped a beat.
“Why do you want to train me?” I muttered after a short moment. “And for what do I have to train?”
“Well, see - you’re kinda all messed up. And you want to see Malory again, don’t you?” The young woman scratched her ear for a second, then her eyes lightened up a bit - “Ah, right! I have homework for you! I want you to count seconds...on the clock. One hour per day should be enough for now. Better make sure your counting is precise the next time we meet.”
“You want me to count seconds?” I asked with as much doubt as could possibly fit into my voice.
“Until you are as precise as a clock! A carriage will pick you all up in four days so make your preparations...see you all again soon.” Rika was about to leave, then threw one last glance over her shoulder.
“Evelyn, how are you doing recently?”
Evelyn regarded her with surprised eyes. It was clear that this question somehow catched her unprepared.
“Well, it has gotten a bit worse recently, but I just started doing the exercises Akaru gave me again- it’s been much better since.”
“...I see. Well, later! Nathan, do your counting!” Rika told me as she walked away under the sinking sun, her arms swinging up and down.
“That woman,” Alan sighed as soon as Rika was gone.
Still dazed, I tried to sort my thoughts. I had never seen someone more tactless, yet this irritating woman gave me hope. ‘You’ll get disposed of’...she was just kidding, right?