“Kiyomi, stop shifting around!”
Mother berated me as she flicked one of my horns.
“Ah! That hurts! At least flick my ear! Or head! Or anywhere! Just- can you stop flicking my horns?!”
I tried looking back to complain before she grabbed hold of the base of one of my horns and held my head forward.
“No, Kiyomi, it gets the message through, and your ears are more sensitive than you think. Now, stay still. I’m trying my best to treat your hair.”
Tonight’s games had gone well, and I'd parted ways with Beryl and Vaughn as the evening drew closer. After the two dropped me off, Maria pointed out the stains on my skin from the dirt and blood that had gotten on me from the earlier scuffles. Taking me to bathe, somewhere along the way, Mother decided to ‘treat’ my hair. This was a mix of oils and minerals that were fairly popular in strengthening hair and preventing lice. Mother was attempting to be careful, as she’d gotten a particular blend that smelled oddly similar to pomegranate; she was cautious in application because it came in two parts.
"Your hair's nowhere near where it was when I first cut it still, but it's growing."
I could feel Mother loosely hold out a strand as she looked it over.
"How long was it before? I don't really remember too well..."
When I thought back to the time, while it was just barely two years, I could not remember how long my hair really was. Having it cut to just above shoulder length did help with my internal image of myself, at least.
"Hmmm, it was around your lower back... maybe your waist? That ponytail kept it secure until I cut it. Looking at how it is now, it's nearly at your mid-back. A few more years and you should be the same length it was when we found you."
Maybe I should let it keep going? I need to start conditioning myself... yeah, let's start there.
"I think I'd like that... "
"I... I think it will look cute?"
My expression on wanting to try and guide my appearance apparently piqued Mother's interest; looking over my shoulder, I caught a glimpse of her smiling.
"Hmm, so thinking of someone?"
What is that smug fucking smirk supposed to be?!
Her smile turned into a sly smirk as if she thought of a reason for the sudden interest in my own appearance.
"Mama, I wanna feel more confident! Nothing else!"
Whatever she's thinking, it couldn't be further from my intention.
Sighing, she waved a hand and continued lathering the ends of my hair with a smile.
"You really should take this seriously then. Your hair's going to be under serious stress from time to time; properly nourishing it will help keep its sheen and color."
That's not lost on me... well... we're here... I should ask, considering it's on topic.
"Mama... Miss Lorn said my training was way out of the norm... this day in and day out stuff. Why... is it so extreme?"
Mother just continued lathering, slowing down and ceasing before breaking the silence with a sigh.
"Kiyomi, I can't speak to Lorn's justification. But for your education... the training most days of the week when the team isn't out on a hunt. If you had your memories, it wouldn't be this constant or bad... but you are in... you need to be able to protect yourself from... particular dangers that I can't protect you from forever. The minute you start traveling on your own, I won't be able to guide you. So the stronger you are, the better. We don't want to ever see or hear of anything happening to you."
I turned my head to face her and was greeted with an earnest smile and warm gaze, as a bucket of water was lifted and dumped on me.
"Ah! He- "
I was coughing, attempting to catch a breath before I even managed to protest.
"You couldn't have warned me?"
I was pouting back up at mother as she stood.
"I could've, but it seemed like you needed a distraction."
Mother chimed as she opened a towel in her grasp.
"Let's get your hair in this before we soak up for a while~."
Taking a clip, she pinned up my bangs and a few other sections of hair bef0re wrapping my head in the towel, going under my horns as she went.
Looking me over once, Mother stood and walked to the bath's edge.
"Well, come on."
Beckoning me to her side, she sat on the ledge, placing her feet in the water.
This woman... it's funny... she reminds me of my mother, from before all this. She's afraid? Concerned?
After a few moments of readjusting the towel for my own comfort, I joined her at the bath. Slipping in, myself, the water was warm and soothing.
"Haaaaah, I needed this~. Relaxation time~."
My voice echoed through the room; the only accompanying noise was that of the water trickling as either of us moved. Letting the relaxing feeling wash over me, I moved to the side of the bath and leaned on its edge so I could support myself as I loosened up.
"Another thing, Mama."
"What is it, Kiyomi?"
"Miss Lorn gave me this pill bottle... she said you made it for her?"
I asked as I tapped at the floor, looking to Mother. She appeared to grimace at the mention of such an object.
"I was hoping to discuss it before bed, but you beat me to it, I guess."
Mother said, cracking a smile as she looked into the water.
"It's a stimulant, for emergencies, in the case you run out of mana and aren't in a safe place... Or, if you somehow happen to end up like Lorn."
Mother's cracked smile faded once more to a simple, flat expression as she breathed in.
"You ever seem to notice Lorn loses her place from time to time?"
Mother asks, looking at me softly.
I figure she's talking about how Lorn is tired a lot? Or how she becomes lucid during my classes now and then.
I responded, figuring my thought was in line with Mother's implied meaning.
"For a little over a century, Lorn has been struggling with a constant bleed off of her mana. She won't tell any of us what happened, but she assured us that the effect was limited to those with the same mana vein pattern."
Mother paused, looking down before lowering herself in next to me and leaning back onto the ledge.
"It's something you should never have to worry about; lower demons are on par with most other races for lifespan. Longer lived races such as elve's, however, suffer from sudden blackouts, bouts of drowsiness, and hallucinations in the worst cases."
... So that's what it was... it's like a more extreme case of narcolepsy... why would she give me the pills, though?
Mother held out her hand, mana flowing steadily for just a moment before ceasing.
"You can't see it, but Lorn is constantly exerting herself. Not greatly... but it builds up. The medicine is supposed to sustain the period where she can maintain her conscious state in an emergency."
Mother then reached out and placed her hand on the towel that covered my head and smiled.
"Lorn passed that bottle onto you as insurance. So promise me you'll never use it outside of the field, okay?"
"I promise, Mama."
"Good girl, now, enough with the sad stuff. I want you to get a good night of sleep for tomorrow's training~."
"Ugh, I'm not seriously training with Callum tomorrow, am I?"
I asked begrudgingly, my tail whipping to the side and sending water across the bath.
"After today, not a chance. No, we'll have you and your friends doing a team-building exercise. You'll be helping Vaughn with his form, and Beryl will be practicing her healing. Since you're not alone anymore, there's no reason to treat you as such."
I felt my face twist some at the mention of it, as it meant someone would be hurt. Mother rolled her eyes and smiled.
"Don't worry. It will just be pinpricks since it's example work. We'll also be using some chickens since Callum 'wanted' to make lunch for everyone after scaring Beryl and Vaughn the way he did."
I relaxed some with the explanation, being assured that no one was really going to be put through pain. A part of the explanation caught more attention, however.
"Hey, Mama, what exactly did they talk about?"
Mother flinched at the mention as she was just about to step out of the water.
"I don't know what you mean, Kiyomi~."
Avoiding answering, Mother made it a point to dodge the question for the rest of the night completely.
"So, how's Kiyomi been doing?"
Callum asked Hatsumi, looking back only a moment before directing his attention back to the interior of a chicken coop. Dreading the stuffy and cramped interior as he'd just gotten used to the cool morning air and the golden light of the sun reflecting off of the fields of grain.
"Fine, mostly, she wasn't too shaken after her fight with Lorn."
Hatsumi responded as she leaned against the wooden exterior of the coop itself.
"Honestly, I'm surprised, and she even kept worrying about Vaughn."
"Well, he is one of her only two friends soooo."
Hatsumi trailed off with her sentence.
"And they're both future horn dogs."
Callum snapped back through the sound of clucking chickens and beating wings.
"Oh? Do you see something in Vaughn? A bit too similar for comfort?"
Hatsumi teased, peeping into the coop and witnessing Callum struggle to wrangle a pair of hen's.
"Your damn right I see myself in Vaughn! The kid Act's the same way I did before I came out of my shell."
Callum responded just as he was managing to wrap the bird's legs together with some rope. Tying the rope off and looking to Hatsumi, he tossed the chicken's 0ver one of his shoulders as he stood.
"Same for Beryl; I doubt Kiyomi knows about Lamias, does she?"
Callum asked, now standing in the doorway.
"Ehhhh, I've been saving teaching her about all that stuff till she starts asking. Or when she hits her fourteenth sun... Whichever comes first."
Hatsumi paused and stretched.
"I don't want her to view Beryl any different than any other girl for the time being. Since they're her only two friends, I'd rather they develop their relationships NATURALLY. Kiyomi suddenly treating them both like boys won't really bide well for her confidence as a girl since that would make her the only one."
Hatsumi paused to wave to s0me0ne just in the distance, pulling her coin purse out with her other hand.
"Either way, we won't have to worry about anything like that until they start taking quests on their own. Mingling with other adventurers is when th0se topics start to bleed to the surface."
Callum walked down the ramp of the chicken coop, joining Hatsumi as a farmer began walking up to them.
"Either way, they stuck to her rather quickly."
"They were displaced, Callum; they also may be looking to seek comfort in a new friendship compared to dwelling on the ones they've lost."
Callum sighed at Hatsumi's reply.
"I've got five gold on Vaughn."
Callum said under his breath.
"Five on Beryl."
Hatsumi shot back.
"Let's hope neither of us ever have to cash in on that bet until they're out and about."
The two held a very brief negotiation as they set a betting pool. Handing a few gold pieces to the farmer whose coop they'd just raided, the pair made way for the smithy where they'd spend the rest of the day.