Our first party guest arrived and knocked with the knocker while I was still setting out snacks. On top of that, I had to finish preparing two of the upstairs rooms, just in case anyone wanted to stay the night, and while the garden was mostly done, one corner was a mess, and—
“Zarenna!” Seyari shouted, jogging past me to the door. “Stop worrying—it’s fine. If anyone needs to use the upstairs rooms, we can get them ready then.
“How did you know what I was worrying about?” I tried to take her advice and draw in a deep breath.
“The reason was a lucky guess.” She reached our front door and put a hand on the handle. “But you’ve crushed the serving tray you’re holding.”
Huh. I looked down at the iron serving tray (like hell were we going to be able to afford silver, Alorian, or dwarvenware) that closely resembled wadded linen. Oops.
Out in the hall, Seyari opened the door. “Inva, come in!”
“Thank you.” The paladin bowed. “I’m honored to be invited to your party.”
“Cut the formality and come in already!” Seyari practically dragged Inva inside.
I took the chance and, fast as I could without breaking anything, I used all four of my hands to arrange the last of the snacks. I also carefully stashed the ruined tray under the table with my tail.
“Glad you could make it, Inva!” I beamed at her as Seyari led her into our sitting room. “My apologies if the furnishings aren’t excellent—we’ve had this place hardly a week.”
Instead of flinching, Inva smiled right back and walked over to the snack table. “The furnishings seem fine to me. Austere and practical.” She was wearing plain clothes, although the bright blue tunic and black pants seemed tailored to her.
Instantly, I was glad I’d gone with a similar (albeit black and gray) look for myself instead of my fancy dress. Seyari had talked me out of wearing the wondrous garment. I thought about Inva’s comment while I led her inside the sitting room. Austere? Really?
“Do you two not have much experience with nobility?” Inva asked. She took her plate to a nearby plush chair and low table, sat down, and took a dainty bite. “Oh—this is really good!”
“Thanks.” Seyari laid down on the couch across from Inva. Without time to prepare, she wore a recently-purchased getup herself, gray on white. “Zarenna and I made them this morning. And as for experience with nobility: I’ve worked for some people with money and land, but I’ve never had any.”
I took a plate for myself—now that a guest was here, I could eat—and sat down next to the other two. “My family had some money and a house back in Linthel, although the house at least is gone now. It was nothing like this place though. I don’t actually know if my parents owned the land or not—I never thought about it. Honestly, they probably didn’t. How about you, Inva?”
Inva swallowed politely. “Well, I suppose my family did have money growing up. But I don’t speak to them much these days. My apologies, but I don’t particularly wish to speak about my family.”
Seyari beat me to my reply. “You don’t have to if you don’t want to. And you don’t need to apologize.”
I nodded. “Exactly.”
“No, ‘that’s my line’ this time?” Seyari teased.
I had to swallow quickly to avoid laughing with a full mouth. “I think we can share.”
Seyari stammered, and Inva covered her mouth with a hand while she giggled. Before I could embarrass my girlfriend any further, someone else knocked at our door, fast and rapid.
Inva sighed. “Do people never remember to use the knocker?”
I got up to answer the door this time.
Seyari rolled her eyes. “You did, but no one else does. It was a lifetime ago, when I worked for those wealthy people, but I swear no one used the things then—everyone just pounded on the door and expected me to…”
“Nelys!” I yelped as I opened the door and Nelys collided with me at full force. “Were you just going to ambush whoever answered the door?”
“Hi Zarenna! Yep!” They ran off into the sitting room where Inva and Seyari were chatting. “Hi Seyari! Hi Inva!”
When I walked back into the sitting room, Nelys had taken my chair. The look they were giving me said they knew as much, too. Instead of moving, I walked over, picked them up, and sat down, setting them on my lap. Two hands held the giggling bundle in place.
Seyari laughed, but Inva blushed, hard.
I gave her a reassuring nod. “Don’t worry, we shared a cabin when we worked on the same ship. I got to wake up to Nelys jumping on me, and more than once too.”
“Hey! I only did it… four times!” Nelys squirmed out from under me, got their plate of food from the nearby table and slid back into place.
Hey, did they do this to sit on my lap on purpose? Oh well. Their Ordian’s gotten really good though—come to think of it so has Salvador’s.
“Did you know Zarenna was…” Inva stopped speaking mid question, suddenly flushing red. “My apologies, I didn’t mean to imply—I didn’t—”
“Three!” Nelys interjected. “I knew she was a demon three times out of four!”
Seyari stood up and got herself a plate. “You cut yourself on her horn once. I remember having to take you to the ship infirmary.”
“It wasn’t a bad cut!” Nelys protested.
“Forgive me, Miss Seyari, but why didn’t you, well… oh my, I’ve made a mess of this conversation.” Inva stared demurely down at her plate of food.
“I was in hiding, so I couldn’t use my holy magic,” Seyari said with a shrug. “Obviously, I’m not going to say what from.”
“Right, yes. Of course.”
“Are you okay, Inva?” I asked.
“Hm? Oh, yes. Fine.”
I raised an eyebrow and met her skittish gaze. Seyari sat back down on the couch instead of laying on it, and gave Inva a concerned look as well. Being in the church, but not completely sold by their dogma really endeared Inva to Sey it seems.
Inva sighed and lowered her head. “Apologies. It’s just that, well, this reminds me of my youth a little. Fancy parties such as this one, that is. I suppose I’m slipping back into old mannerisms.”
“I hope we haven’t made you feel uncomfortable.” I let Nelys go and they bounced into a nearby chair.
Inva shook her head rapidly, her long blond hair bouncing. “Not at all!”
“We can go play a game!” Nelys suggested.
“We have darts in the room across from here and croquet in the garden,” Seyari offered.
“We didn’t think to pick up any games that weren’t already here,” I confessed. “It’s been a busy last few days.”
“You can say that again.” Inva seemed to relax a little and leaned back into her chair. “Priest Herron doesn’t trust you, and the whole of the church in Lockmoth’s been talking about ‘the demon that might not be evil’ or ‘the demon that’s tricked a priest and a paladin.’ Honestly, thank you so much for inviting me, and my apologies that I was early. I wanted to get out of my cramped guest room.”
“Did they approve of you coming here?” Seyari asked, suddenly concerned.
“Some people were mad about it, but I was given the go-ahead. Herron wanted me to find evidence for ‘whatever nefarious deed you’re planning,’ but I doubt you are, honestly.”
I stuck my forked tongue out. “I’ll be sure to show you our secret basement where I plot how to take over the mortal world.”
That finally got Inva to laugh. After a moment, the rest of us joined in, Nelys barely keeping themselves from laughing up the big mouthful of bread they’d taken.
When we settled down, the atmosphere felt a lot brighter, and Nelys spoke first. “Let’s play darts!”
I nodded emphatically, and the four of us got up and moved into the other room. We’d hardly gotten set up, and I’d only just taken a test throw to make sure I wouldn’t put mine through the wall, when someone else knocked at the door. A moment later, the knocker was used.
I opened the door with a smile. Drin and Tren stood on the doorstep; the former was holding a bag of dried fruit and the latter a cake. It was my first time seeing Drin totally without armor, and she was hardly any smaller. Her short-cut hair suited her well, as did her relatively tight shirt. Tren wore baggy, but nice, clothes and had his longer hair back in a ponytail. “Welcome!” I waved my two right arms for them to come inside. “There are snacks in the sitting room, and we’re about to play darts in the room across from it if you’re interested.” I pointed to both.
“Thanks for having us, Zarenna!” Tren beamed.
“Where should we set these?” Drin gestured to the food they brought.
“Anywhere on the snack table is fine! We can put the cake in the kitchen if you want to save it for later.”
“We should,” Drin replied stepping inside.
I showed the two of them to the sitting room with the snacks. Tren dropped off the bag of dried fruit and left to join the others for darts. I continued on to the kitchen with Drin, both to show her where to set the cake and to get a bowl for the fruit. More importantly, I wanted to ask about Tren.
“Has he talked to you yet?” I gestured to a clean, prominent spot on the counter for the cake.
Confusion crossed Drin’s face briefly, but then she sighed in recognition and set the cake down to lean against the counter. “Yes and no. He’s talked to me about ‘a girl he likes,’ but I haven’t been able to get him to admit that it’s me. I want to confess to him, but he needs to tell me first.”
I grabbed a bowl from a cupboard and leaned next to Drin, on one hip so my tail wouldn’t get in the way. “Why’s that, if you don’t mind me asking.”
Drin shook her head. “I don’t mind.” A faint whoop from Tren and a shout from Nelys echoed across the house and Drin smiled. “He’s wonderful and outgoing when it comes to anything he’s interested in. I know he wants to talk to me, but he hasn’t figured out how and it’s so like him to wait until he has something down perfectly before he’ll try it.”
“And the problem is that he can’t figure out everything?” I said, shooting a guess.
“Not quite. I think it’s that it isn’t possible. He can’t know how I’ll react—so there’s always something he can’t account for. Maybe I’m reading too deeply into it.”
“Maybe.” I shrugged. “Maybe not. We can get some snacks and talk before we join the others for darts.”
Drin chuckled. “Did you put one through the wall on accident?”
I blushed. “I did earlier, with Sey when we were testing where to set it up. The board’s covering the hole in the wall.”
“Did it go all the way through to outside?”
“No!” I flicked my tail side to side nervously. “I mean, not all the way.”
“Pfft. I’m glad you’re on our side.”
“Me too.” I surprised Drin with a side hug. “Thanks for accepting me, back on the mission. You and Tren both.”
“He was the one who accepted you. I only did because he looked so sure of himself, when you all were in a pile in the tool shed.”
“Thanks anyway, Drin.” I smiled, trying not to tear up a little.
“You’re one strange demon, Zarenna.”
I gave her a thumbs up. “Let’s go join the others. This strange demon will help any way she can.”
“Thanks for the offer, but you’ve done more than enough. I think this party might give him the push he needs on his own.”
“Understood.” I nodded emphatically. “Let’s go show the others how to toss a dart. And not through a wall!”
We rejoined the party to find, unsurprisingly, Seyari in the lead. However, Nelys and Inva were holding their own.
“How is this so different from aiming a spell!” Tren complained. “I’m a good shot! Drin, tell them I’m a good shot!”
Drin held up a hand a wavered it side to side.
“I’m just kidding. You’re a great shot Tren. Darts are just different from spells.”
We hadn’t quite finished the first game of darts when the next knock came to our door. Again, whoever it was used the knocker. Either Sey and Inva were wrong, or I had weird friends. I’d give it even odds.
To my surprise, no one made a joke about me forfeiting by leaving the room. Then again, Taava wasn’t here yet and I wasn’t even winning. Raw power doesn’t equate to winning every game of darts, even if I did start to lean more on my demonic reflexes. Seyari’s aim was terrifying.
“Coming!” I announced, just before pulling the door open.
Salvador stood on the other side. He had an old, worn-looking wooden box under one arm, a full bag in another, and an apologetic look on his face. He was missing his signature cloak, but wore suitably casual clothes like the rest of us.
He adjusted the box under one arm. “Sorry I’m a little late. I realized I wanted to find a celesternal set, and I took a moment to do so. I’ve also brought the tea cakes.”
Immediately I perked up. “I’ll go make hot water for tea then! Please, come in—and thank you for bringing another game.”
“You’re welcome,” Salvador replied sincerely, “and thank you for having me over.”
“Of course!” I started, darting away toward the kitchen. “You can set the tea cakes on the snack table—there should be a tray out that has space. We can play the game you brought over tea and Drin brought a cake for later as well.”
Behind me, I heard Seyari greet Salvador warmly, and she closed the door behind the Cavenish man as he came inside and joined the others.
Meanwhile, in the kitchen, I fetched out a kettle, filled it from the pump, and was about to light the stove when I realized I had a faster way. I held it in one hand, rested another on the bottom and heated it directly. I thankfully avoided going too hot, and the water was soon boiling without the bottom of the kettle going soft on me or discoloring. Oh the little joys of unusual applications for metalsmithing knowledge.
I hummed absentmindedly while I worked; a little tune I remembered Abby used to hum. I transferred the water from kettle to pot and then brought out the whole tea set on a tray to steep next to the snacks. Seyari and I had found the set in the attic, and we didn’t care that it was chipped. Flower-printed and gorgeous, the porcelain looked like it could have come from Aloria.
The box Salvador had brought was set on a table by the window, and through said window I noticed Taava approaching the front door with a bounce in her gait. I’d recognize her build, ears, and tail anywhere. I waited in front of the door and threw it open the moment she was about to knock. “Hi Taava!”
Taava hissed and jumped up, the fur on her ears and tail bristling outward. “Renna! What was that for!”
I shrugged. “I dunno. Sorry, I guess.”
“Pfft. Some noble demon you are! Scarin’ poor innocent bards like myself.”
And she was dressed like a bard today, complete with a wild green and orange outfit; all frills and stockings and skirts. Honestly, it clashed, but some of that added to its charm. The kazzel invited herself in and had strummed a chord before she’d made it through the doorway.
With Taava having arrived and all the guests accounted for, the party got started in earnest. I got to enjoy Salvador’s lovely interpretation of Lilly’s tea cakes, and I learned celesternal as well. Salvador wiped the floor with me, but getting to play a game with a demon side, with pieces that depicted actual demons and without feeling like a villain, made me more than happy to get schooled.
Salvador as well seemed to have a good time. I learned a little more of his daughter, Sonia, and his late wife Cassandra as well. Honestly, I was sad I didn’t have a gift to give Sonia, so while the others were having fun playing croquet in the garden, I sat on the back deck, ignored the smell of the tide going out, and penned a letter to the young demon-blooded acolyte. During the match, Salvador hit things off with Inva, and both of them compared experiences working with the Church of Dhias. Taava meanwhile, played it like it was a zero-sum game, causing Seyari to lose and Tren, who had been the most focused, to eke out a win.
After croquet, we returned inside and sat around the living room in front of the house where darts were still set up, and across from the sitting room with the remains of our snacks. It was almost dusk and all eight of us were sat around, drinks in hand, trading stories and enjoying Drin’s wonderful cake, when another knock sounded at the front door. This time, whoever it was didn’t use the knocker.
“Were you expecting anyone else?” Salvador asked.
I shook my head and Seyari bit her bottom lip. Trouble?
No one seemed to know what was going on, so I got up to answer the door. I didn’t bother taking human form, although I did look outside first. A human woman stood on the doorstep, dressed in a heavy purple dress—rich in color, but light on frills. Something about her face was familiar, but in the initial moment, I couldn’t place it. Still, I didn’t think it would hurt to answer the door, although I did feel myself tensing up.
I opened the door part-way. “Hello, Miss. Can I help you?”
“Can I help you!?” the short woman teased, bright brown eyes shining from behind spectacles. “Is that any way to treat your Aunt Lilly?”
I wonder if Lilly likes Salvador’s interpretation of her tea cakes.
built in tea cozy
I'm sorry but it's been a moment, can I get a refresher on Aunt Lilly?
She's the Sovereign of Lust, Lillith (Lilly), and she making up being "Zarenna's aunt" because she's in human form. I'll accept that it's been a hot minute since she was around, so I definitely could have had a bit better warning.
@MadMaxine ah, ty for the reminder
Now that will be an interesting meet up with the rest of the party