Chapter 58: The First Breakfast After Three Years
Upon entering the catkin’s humble but warm abode, a feeling of nostalgia drowned me. Aside from the several cat scratches spread throughout the entire wooden columns and wall, there wasn’t too much change. Wait, I was wrong; the kittens changed! Anyway, it still held this unique feeling of warmth. The wonderful warmth of family that I missed ever since my parents died.
Come to think of it, I never heard of the young kittens’ parents whereabouts. In my short three-day stay, three years ago, I never once heard Emma mention them. Or rather, she didn’t even have any time to talk about it. At that time, I simply thought that they were currently out and were working somewhere for a living. Anyway, I’d ask Emma later.
The catkins led by Emma ushered me back to the guest room I had once stayed in. The two dashing kittens I wished I could spoil longer sent a few curious peeks, but would look away when I try to meet their eyes with a passionate smile. A creaking sound echoed as I slowly pushed the door open.
Just like three years ago, the entire room remained the same. I couldn’t even see any dust. It seemed like Emma had kept it clean, despite no one using it.
“Please rest here, Lady Victoria,” the old catkin hummed, a tired smile drifting into her lips. She had worn out herself from crying too much. Her eyelids were also already halfway to closing, showing how sleepy she was. “We will talk tomorrow about the rest of your adventures.”
“Thank you,” I said. “Let’s do that. I think you and I would need to take a good rest.”
The old catkin nodded. Soon, she slowly closed the door, ignoring the golden and scarlet eyes that were trying to peek through the tiny opening of the door.
“Still curious kids.” I let out a chuckle. After arriving at their home, the kittens’ innate curiosity had finally shown itself. I slowly crafted a few stories in my mind, preparing to spoil them with answers to sate their interest.
The door closed, and I laid myself into the warm bed’s embrace.
But then I heard faint whispers drifting in my ears. It seemed like it was little Maggie, again using her ability whenever she liked it. The little tumultuous blob had developed this weird hobby of eavesdropping. But when I was about to stop her through the spiritual link, I heard something that caught me off guard.
“Gran-Gran, is Big Sis Victoria really a genuine princess? Like those grand stories I heard from the passing bards?” A curious whisper passed through my ears that made me want to probe more. It was the scarlet lassie who asked.
“Shh, yes. Anyway, the lady's already tired, so keep your voice down.” The old catkin sighed. “The powerful shama-, I mean archmagus said so two years ago. She has no reason to lie to us. She even cried at the lady’s grave for an entire day after she confirmed the Lady was already, er, dead. She even told us that all mana signs of the lady had already vanished as proof that she had died, turning Astolfo into that mess. But who could have thought that she just brought Hild into the other side? Into the realm of the spirits.”
“That’s true.” The curious scarlet lass hummed. “But what’s a spiritual realm? Is that yummy Gran-Gran? What about the old man who cried tears of blood at the lady’s grave? The man the beautiful, but scary sister magus hated very much.”
I caught my breath and my ears perked up. I felt excited for a moment. So Saria had searched for me and managed to track me. But… they thought I was already dead? These were probably what the villagers were going to explain to me tomorrow? Wait, who’s the man who shed tears of blood for me? Someone Saria hated?
Who’re the men I had met in the last three years. Aron? Andre? The Muscled Butler Prince? The Snaky Old Man? Eyad? He was the one I had stayed with the longest. Wait, no. Definitely not Eyad. After all, I had this feeling that Eyad feared and dreaded this lady’s guts. Saria also hated many people. So who…? I frowned and searched through memories.
I asked the little blob to continue eavesdropping as I gave her some praise through the spiritual link.
“Come on, Tabi. Let’s rest first. Your Gran-Gran is already sleepy. Wake up early tomorrow and prepare breakfast for the Lady, okay.” Emma giggled and simply dodged the curious lassie’s question. “We’ll explain everything to the lady later. You can ask her.”
“Aye, Gran-Gran. I’ll prepare my specialty for her! She’s going to love it.” The little lass answered with glee as she received the breakfast mission in her hands.
“I’ll help too, Gran-Gran,” the golden kitten whispered, itchy to join the conversation. His voice showed how motivated he was. “I’ll make sure it tastes good!”
“Alright, I will hold on to your word, Coby.” Emma let out a soft chuckle. “So sleep.”
For some unknown reason, the hairs on my arms stood up like an alerted army. It was a warning of an omen. A bad one. I had an idea what, and I was sure that it was something I would never appreciate. It even stopped all the thoughts and questions I had about Saria and the man who cried blood or something.
Maybe I should sleep until the afternoon. I let out a grimace, my brows twitching. I took a gulp and closed my eyes, letting my thought drift as I gave it a more serious thought. I should do that. Time to sleep.
Then, a crimson screen flashed before my eyes.
Pop-ads! I gritted my teeth and cursed under my breath. I calmed myself and read it with a stony gaze.
[The three years you had lost are now slowly being added to your body as per the law of casualty. Your body had absorbed enough sustenance from the stars of the spirit realm. Brace yourself for your three years of growth spurt.]
I froze. “G-Growth spurt? For real?”
Before I could even entrust myself to the night, I felt a lump of discomfort coursing through my entire body. It wasn’t so painful that I’d faint, but it was irritating enough to keep my mind awake. It felt like an army of black ants crawling on my bones. They crawled, but it didn’t bite, and that’d made things far more frustrating. The poking feeling felt strange as I felt my limbs and bones slowly stretching.
I flipped from one side of my bed to another, trying to find sleep that wouldn’t come. Time passed and before I even knew it, the flickering sphere of fire had slowly reared its ugly head, saying hi to this aunt.
I was so disheveled and stressed out that I almost raised the wrong finger in its face.
I staggered up from my bed after realizing that it was more comfortable when I put myself in a sitting position. Sluggishly staring at the flickering rays passing through the windows, the night ended without sparing even a wink for this tired aunt. The few hours of suffering from the three years of growth spurt seemed to have reached its end.
With a wry smile, I wobbled myself out of the house before the catkins could even wake up. I stretched and discovered that my limbs had turned into a soft pudding.
Wait? Didn’t Emma told me I grew a little? So there were already signs. Still, it felt weird.
I looked down at myself to check what other changes had happened. Er, nothing changed much. Wait… My eyes turned sharp. Some places didn’t grow well as I expected and that had me grinding my teeth. No mountains nor valleys, all plains. Impossible! I quivered. Not even in this fantasy world was I spared.
“I-Is that all?” That sudden three years' worth of growth spurt all wasted. Genes! I puckered my lips and had a faint taste of despair.
Taking a deep breath, I ignored the gnawing melancholy eating at my heart and continued to walk around, easing the pain. Soon, I saw a small pond and used it as a mirror. The great looks Saria gave me remained the same, making me sigh in relief. Curious, I had almost removed this seemingly permanent disguise of mine to check what other changes had occurred.
Nevertheless, another series of flickering crimson warnings and the wind spirits stopped me.
It seemed like I still had to wait until my full recovery to avoid that painful backlash. I threw thanks at the blobs and let out a sigh of relief. I almost messed up again. Two days more and I would meet that status panel once again. I wonder what new things would it show me. After a few minutes of walking around aimlessly, I returned to the catkin’s home.
On my way back, I caught a splendid aroma of food drifting along with the grass-scented morning breeze. My eyes turned sharp. Shifting gears, I suddenly turned into an expert foody. I sniffed and found out that the mouth-watering scent was coming from the catkin’s abode. Then, I remembered something. I had myself rooted on the spot and an inner turmoil immediately took place inside of my mind.
This is a tough problem that needs thorough consideration. I paced back and forth. My mind and stomach had started a massive debate if I should return or not. I fell into a dilemma.
My legs had turned into a pudding. So my stomach won. So be it. “Return!”
I put all my strength on my feet. I strode and traced my steps back towards the kitten’s abode. As soon as I opened the door, a faint scent of spices hooked my nose, and before I knew it, I had already taken a seat with a wooden fork and spoon in my hands. I stared at the crimson lass over the giant black pot as she cackled like a witch, her tail wagging left and right, hypnotizing this sleepless aunt into submission. Bad. Bad Tabi!
“Oh, good morning, Big Sis,” the scarlet lassie twitted as she turned at me. She didn’t even ask where I had gone to and simply greeted me with a smile. She then focused back at the gurgling black pot in front of her. Soon, I saw a handsome catkin walking with a bunch of dried wood. He threw everything inside the burning flame, making a blaze grow, as if he was planning to burn the entire house down. Thankfully, the wood-hungry conflagration had only propelled out a few sparks before returning to its rightful size.
The golden catkin turned at me and flinched. “G-Good morning.” His striped cat-ears drooped and moved away from his gaze. He then walked towards the old catkin. It seemed like he was about to wake up the old catkin. Come to think of it, the older the cat, the longer it sleeps. Perhaps Emma was also like that.
I shifted my gaze back to the big pot and had my heart seized. I grimaced as I followed a waltzing scarlet tail. I tried to move, but I realized I was already feeling too weak to even moved out of my seat. I was sure that my grumbling stomach had already taken over my body.
“Breakfast is ready! Coby! Gran-Gran.” Then the lass gazed at me, her eyes smiling. I balked. She was like a younger version of Emma. There was something evil in her smile.
Soon enough, Emma and Coby came and took their seat on the wooden table. Emma still looked sluggish and sleepy. It made me want to pet her. I raised my hands and tried my luck, wondering if her guard was down.
Emma's eyes turned to slits as she stared at me. Her guard was impenetrable even when she was still half-asleep. I recoiled back to my seat and lowered my head, avoiding Emma’s stinging gaze. As for Coby, he simply glanced at me like I was an idiot.
“Time to eat!”
Tabi scooped a mysterious thick soup into a bowl and started giving us a portion. One for Emma, Coby, and me. Of course, two portions for her. I took a whiff and heard my stomach howled like a caged tiger. My face flushed akin to baboon's butt as I felt the catkins looked at me and smile.
“Let’s eat,” Emma said.
As soon as she said that, my spoon dived straight into the warm bowl. I moved my spoon into a circular motion and lifted a spoonful into my mouth. My eyes flashed as I savored the explosive flavor of the thick soup. It had tangy sourness. A faint tint of sweetness and spiciness, plus a perfect dose of saltiness.
Before I even knew it, a warm liquid slowly dripped down from my eyes. I raised my head and glanced back at the three catkins. Even the two young ones wore Emma’s grandmotherly smile. Then I glanced at Tabi.
She puffed her chest, proud. “Not a rat!”
I choked and felt like crying. Not even a minute and all the contents of my bowl vanished.