CH 119: Past Bedtime
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Ch 119: Past Bedtime

Good news. Our territory found a new dungeon spot?

Bad news. What the fuck! Our territory found a new dungeon spot?! Already?!

No, no, no, not some shallow little den or a mysterious zone of death. Not even a crack magical interference, spawning unholy monsters and plants in the deep dark forest. This was a legit hole in the road? A deep one? The one?

To make matters even worse, it was my parents who discovered it?! Accidentally mind you. 

But? What? The? hell?

The truth of the situation finally revealed to the light made one of my cute little minions pout for a good half of the day.

"I told you." Amar sulked, arms crossed.

For a known liar, he sure doesn't like being called one. Ah, but it can't be helped. Kids are very sensitive about being wrongly accused.

"There, there, good boy, telling the truth this time. Very good spying minion. Keep it up. Don't sulk. Have some fruit and nuts." I wave a treat as comfort.

It’s not very effective, even if he still opens up and eats it. Still pouting. Still very cute though.  The late-night snack is probably too healthy and not enough sugar for him. Which is bad for our teeth? Bad minion, eat more healthy normal food and fewer snacks and sweets.

Kids are just so darn picky.

"I wanna go! That would be so cool. We should go. We should go explore it! Is it near the camp or Rosa's house? Whoa! So cool. So cool! We get more monsters to fight and thingies to find and practice because my sidekicks are sometimes really weak. Sometimes Amar is ok but noooooowhere as awesome as me and Rosa's even stupid weaker-"

At once, two separate pairs of small hands stuff Lukas’s mouth with different goodies. It's open so wide that it all fits, score. The chattering blonde happily chomping down on whatever combo of healthy dessert fruits we just threw in there and continue throwing in there.

It's a bad game of how much we can fit in to shut him up.

Huh, just how much food can fit in there? It shouldn't be physically possible for a child's mochi cheeks to stretch this much? But Lukas is a black hole that I'm not sure how anyone ever missed a lifetime ago. What a waste. How fascinating.

"Hey, Amar do you think we can fit a melon in-"

Wait, I'm getting distracted from the very important point here!

"Hahaha alright kiddos, get to cleaning up for bed before Gable catches you," my grampa lifts the platter away.

"But Grampa...I-"

"Go, go, go before Gable catches me," the old man shoos us sliding the rest of the snacks down his own fat face while constantly looking over his shoulder.

As if Gable was already there, disapprovingly tapping his foot, or worse, his wand. I've never personally seen what's the big deal, but from the way Lukas and my own big bad grampa fall over themselves to avoid it, I'd say it's bad.

While I personally don't want to find out just what bad consists of, this sort of truth bomb needs follow up. Detail. More importantly future spoilers from the worst sort of cheat, me.

That dungeon...wasn't supposed to be discovered for years, and most certainly not where it was reported. A terror of hollow earth, terrible pests, and the sought after natural resources. Even more unsavory adventurers and desperate fortune seekers would make their way to Ventrella lands to try their luck.

Why is it getting found so early now? Why is it in the wrong spot? Everything is all wrong.

"Okay. Come on." Amar pushes forth pulling me along and a still chewing Lukas.

"But-"

"It's ok. We just need to get rid of the evidence first. You can go back and sleep with your grampa tonight."

"What?!"

As I scream, Grampa abruptly chokes. Swallowing down the stolen snack, he drops the platter with sparkling eyes. The same evil sparkling eyes that he makes before sudden surprise trips to hellish 'adventures' or when he's about to bother Gable over something very very stupid.

Said stupid cow eyes are lasered in on poor little me.

"Cap? Rosa's feeling too lonely without her mama and papa. She can't say it right but she wants to be with you more tonight."

"What?! No, no, no, that's not what I said, ever! I didn't even think it out loud? You brain-damaged little-"

"Awwww! Does my little granddaughter miss her family so much!!?! Never fear! Grampapa is here!"

"Eeeeeeeeeep!"

Suddenly, I'm being spun and thrown in the air. Grampa's too strong arms abusing my tiny little body with those infamous too tight hugs. The kind Mother obviously took after. Air! I need air! Oh! I shouldn't have had that last piece of fruit and cheese.

On the floor, a full chipmunk cheeked Lukas starts pounding at Grampa's leg. Demanding a death hug of his own rather than any noble intentions. Something that Grampa quickly obliges to, picking up the other child with one hand.

Ooompf, he's squishy. Too much spinning and hugs. Too little space. I'm going to die.

"But we have to brush our teeth first?"

"Oh! Right! What a good big brother you are Amar! Rooosa~ Luuuukas, clean up like good children! I will handle it here so Gable will never find out, and come for you soon!" the crazy old man finally frees us from the dizzying ride, ruffling Amar's head and shooing us off.

Bumping along with an equally disoriented minion, why do I get the feeling that I've been set up? A trap, it was a trap. Ahh! So dizzy.

The world still slightly spins even as I'm led into the bathroom and up the stool, a pasty toothbrush stuffed into my mouth.

Ack. Bleck.

"I can brush myself!" I spit.

Then proceed to drown my own minions in the sink with their own toothbrushes. Kids are just so messy and careless. It's quite tough babysitting these two. Especially since they're losing their baby teeth.

Surprisingly, it's Amar that lost his first, not just one but two. Yeah, that's something magic isn't going to heal back.

"Open up! You eat too much candy, brush your teeth more carefully. Lukas, hold him down."

"Open, open, open! Cool, it's like a big hole! In your mouth! I eat lots but mine still won't fall out. Why are you first? That's not fair because I'm bigger. But Gable says if I pull it out before it's ready, he'll stick it back in and that sounds like it will hurt more. "

"...It's really hard to eat like this. I rather get hit." Amar shyly closes his mouth from our stares, covering up those adorable baby teeth gaps.

I smack the kid with a toothbrush.

"...Not like that?"

"You can eat candy and sweets just fine. Don't think I don't know about the secret stash."

"Why do we call it a secret stash when it's not a secret, Oh I know because it's a secret to everyone but us! Wow, I'm awesome smart! I like the secret when it's yummy, but sometimes it hurts and that's not so yummy! Oh, it's a trick!"

The only reason why Lukas and I don't confiscate and eat up all the secret stash is that it's too dangerous. Like a game of Russian roulette. You don't know if you're getting a good, safe, tasty candy or a horrible experiment. From puffed up lips to instantly falling asleep, you never know what you'll get. One of them even makes you grow hair alarmingly fast?

It's quite funny getting Grampa to eat them though. Princess grampa hair was as fun as it was horrible. Lasted a little over two days before Gable held him down by force and burned it back to normal.

The variety of effects have really gone up since Gable started encouraging Amar to make even worse candies beyond what I shall name 'shut up' and 'sleepy'. I have a bad feeling about these candy traps. That's a lot of pranking potential and pure danger in the wrong hands.

More importantly, how do I make money off this? Sleeping pills? Hair tonic? Refrigeration ice stones?!

But the matter of exploiting my minions for profit is for another time. I really do need to get back and pull Grampa's ear off about that dungeon.

That's not supposed to happen just yet?!

"No fair, I wanna sleep with Cap and Gable tonight." Lukas whines, getting completely naked before changing into his pajamas.

Modesty does not exist below a certain age apparently. No such thing as shame when the worst of it is already out of the way. While I sigh, I make no fuss about changing or bathing together after all this time, especially when it's Grampa or Gable throwing us all in together. I swear they see us as little vegetables or something.

"I'm not sleeping over! Amar was being a little liar again. Hey wait, one or the other, you can't crawl in with both Gable and my grampa."

"I never lied?" pipes up Amar, pouting again.

"Yes, I can! I already have lots of times!" Lukas argues.

"Don't be ridiculous." I roll my eyes at the boys, patting their cheeks with lotion.

Honestly, they're more challenging to deal with than my own sister, the drama-filled protagonist, at this stage. At least, they're cute. So squishy too. Good minions, eat lots, and grow lots. So I can use you all to your full potential of course. Otherwise, you two cost too much to feed and repair damages. Oh, I'm just so evil, oh ho ho ho.

"...Rosa...you're talking weird again? Ow, my cheeks."

"I have! Lots and lots in their bed. I can have both of them!"

"They don't share a bed, you fool." I finished up.

Pat, pat, keep that mochi skin soft and cute. Gotta keep you two ready as bait in case Mother comes back.

"Uh-huh, yes, they do! "

"Why would they? That makes no sense, they can afford more beds!"

"Because it's more fun that way! Duh!"

"They're adults, Lukas. Adults don't share beds."

"Camp."

"This is a house! Camping is not every day."

"Noooo, mamas and da' do!"

"Those are parents! They're married! "

"Same thing!"

"No, Lukas. No, it's not!"

Amar yawns at our antics. All finished with changing, he tugs both of us along each by the hand as Lukas talks nonsense. Like the good big brother I refuse to call him, he knocks on the door to the adults' quarters, where they certainly do not share a bed, and slides me through like a delivery package.

"Here's your grampa, Rosa. Night night. Don't worry, your mama and papa are strong. And you don't have to lie so much? You don't need to."

"Me?! I don't lie like-"

But the door closes against my butt after one last head pat and push. Ow, watch it, this toddler body is sensitive. Beyond the door Lukas's voice still blabbers on, trying to convince anyone, even Amar, about his crazy stories.

Raising minions from scratch is a lot harder than expected.

I would slump to the floor dramatically in the thought of all that's going wrong so far. But I can afford better than that. Just as I was about to slump over a pile of cushions on the nearby settee, the drawing board distracts me.

Really, it's just a big chalkboard. A little out of place in a farmhouse but not in the troops or my own villa. This isn't exactly the average farmhouse anyway.

It's a fake. With a lot more hiding on the inside.

How fitting for who lives inside.

On the board is a messily drawn map. Utter nonsense to someone else unused to Grampa's handwriting. I can see the identification marks trying to map out the known area, already explored, of this newly found dungeon.

And I hate it.

"Pumpkin!!!"

At this rate, I expect to be so trained that even a sudden tornado could not kill me. For a Ventrella adult is a force of nature enough. Ack! This beard face stings. Gable, help! Come and burn off his face.

"Grampa put me down already, I have information for you." I smack at the crazy old man, more to let out my own frustration than any effect on him. It's like hitting a solid cow, only I'd feel less bad about animal abuse. Elderly abuse doesn't count here.

"Oh? What does my wittle itty bitty-"

"Reincarnator club time! Put away the stupid face and take me seriously for a minute. Ah...is anyone listening in right now?"

With a dopey smile still ever-present on his dumb face, Grampa nonchalantly taps the door. Electricity zapping over the room from that point, blooming itself in branches.

"There wasn't, but now there certainly won't be."

"Not even any secret guards?"

Grampa gives me a raised brow sort of look, and I must admit dumb question. No one is allowed through the barrier without notice, and I don't think any guard, Father's men or not, can get through something locked off by both Grampa and Gable. Especially when it regards their privacy, something they're both notoriously known for in different ways.

It's not that I've forgotten, it's just....I've literally been living with them?

Gable has his hermit reclusiveness, but Grampa is especially bad for being a celebrity. Or perhaps it's because of that fame that he's actually so secretive. Showing only certain awfully silly sides to those who know him, and the widespread persona beyond that of an almost make-believe hero. It's impossible to refute public perception that long-standing, especially in this slow information sort of world. Maybe he's gone crazy in it all.

No one can predict Grampa after all.

"It's too soon. The discovery of this dungeon is happening over 10 years too soon." I set myself back to the topic at hand.

"Is it now?" Grampa smiles, setting me down on a cushion.

With a tap, the chalkboard is instantly cleared, except for the outlined map drawn on the side. His tone is still jolly, not entirely serious, yet there's something that makes me gulp. Flight instinct already activated.

But I can't run away from everything. Otherwise, what's the point of all this? What's the point of these memories, the few cheats I do have?

Everything I do must be for my long term survival.

"Yes, at least...I was 14? The dungeon wasn't discovered till then, and it's bad news."

"Bad? How so?" the chalk in his hand moves quickly, working out the frame of a chart and timeline. Something visible that I can work with. It reminds me of the whiteboards and big planners at work, well back when I actually went to work.

"What are we expecting beyond?" Grampa lists and actually doodles out simple and surprisingly understandable pictures of some of the magic pests that lay inside the underground dungeon.

Mostly bug types. Spiders with reported size specifications too large to not scream and faint over. Paralyzing fuzzy centipedes with poison whiskers and stingers. Even down to the heat resistant eels deep down the levels, under pools of miasma and fire. It all makes my eyes raise with panic.

"No- the dungeon is fine, it's all the people that made it...How did you get all this information so fast? It took us half a year of expeditions to reach down to the eel pools?!"

Jumps and leaps of thoughts bombard me. Did Grampa already know? Did this man already know about this place years beforehand, and just left it for the rest of us to deal with? Just like he runs away?

"That long? It's been barely a month since Maria crashed in... How about we start with what's actually dangerous down there, Rosalia. Your mama and papa are still down there."

"What?! You mean no one's gone down to rescue them yet?!"

"....Pumpkin pie, hmm how do I say this? What would Gable say...ah! Rosalia, I think it's the dungeon and all the innocent creatures down there that need us saving it, from extinction. Not Maria...definitely not Maria, though she does have the tendency to get even more lost. Good thing Freddy is down there to rein her in huh! But don't worry, they'll bring you back lots and lots of pretty presents!"

I feel my tongue getting dry, though that could be remedied if I could close my own jaw. Say what now?

"Grampa...I think I came from a different world?"

"Me too!" he exclaims as if we were sharing what toppings we liked on pizza.

"No, no, no, Grampa listen. In my memory, Mother is this weak, frail, ideal, little, delicate lady who stayed indoors all the time with flowers and embroidery and ladies' tea parties because her health can't take anything more! She's not active, in fact, she's bedridden over most of the winter?! She doesn't...she doesn't lift hammers or go crashing anything but dropped teacups?!"

Lots of dropped teacups actually. The weight of it too much for her to handle sometimes she would say. In reality, Mother is actually really clumsy.

At least, that part still stayed the same.

"Sounds like when she was weakest and pregnant with you two, so she never recovered?... I never did like those tiny teacups! So breakable. Oh but all the ladies had to have them Maria would cry so we bought all the little things and...*sigh*... But that's not what's really bothering you is it, Rosa?  They don't line up. Your memories don't comply when you overlap and line them up now, do they, Rosalia?" Grampa sets down the chalk, walking over to squat down in front of me.

It feels infantilizing when a man so huge has to do that to get down to my eye level, even though I'm seated taller.

"No. No, they don't and I don't know what to believe anymore? Mama's too weird. You haven't run away yet? And I think Papa actually... likes my presence?! It doesn't make sense, and it doesn't even matter where or when. It doesn't because you all weren't even there."

"You can try."

"Try what? Trying everything I can when I'm this weak? Try telling you about Lilyanne!? Where all the problems lie? Because I did! She gets visions, she gets powers. She can heal people and everyone loves her. They love her too much and then they'll eat her up. That's why I died! I know she didn't kill me directly but she did. I died because of her and I lived even worse because of her. "

"Good. Blame her then."

"I don't! She's useless! Not her powers but her! Blaming her does nothing...I still die...I still...

"Then blame me."

That giant tanned hand, warm and littered with scars, take my own little balled up fists. Instead of prying it open, he lets it be, hardly pinching my even smaller wrists to move them like one does a puppet toy. My hands move without my will, lightly smacks at his body, similar to how I would normally hit him anyway.

I hit him with no strength. When I have permission, I have no will to do so.

"Just blame Grampapa. Alright?"

I hate how he can still smile through this, through anything. I've always hated that smile. How they make people feel, even me. That false sense of security and hope. I hated it. I hate how I trusted it so much.

You didn't even show up at their funeral.

"You're only one person. How can I blame someone as useless as you?"

But you were smiling with that ugly mug of yours when you whisked Lilyanne and I off early, out of that place, and straight back home. Out of sight, away from any prying eyes and whispered rumors under the kiss ass condolences. As if we were actually a part of your secrets to keep like I ever was.

"They call you a hero over and over again, and I don't even know why. It's so annoying."

I hate it. I hated listening to your empty promises and silly distracting stories. I hated when you cry over the stupidest little things with those big brown eyes yet smile through the worst of it. It's worse than even that girl's because you have an idea of what's going on.

"You're so annoying. Even though I'm really scared of you, of what you're capable of, you're really really annoying."

You're worse than her ignorance. You're worse than Mother's indifference or Father's silence. You're a liar.

"Rosalia has always hated you."

She hates most how much she loved you. Relied on you. Because you were the only family she had left to rely on. Then nothing.

"So focus on yourself. Like you always do." like you always have. But my mouth runs on, too busy to be thinking out loud.

"Since we have mutual interests, since it would be inconvenient for me to have those people die yet, let's work together. Lilyanne will take too long to grow up, and her visions aren't linear- there's too many plot holes. I offer you at least one version of events- all that can go right and wrong for more than the next decade. I hate to say it but you're the only one who can take the truth, and take full advantage of me. You know best how to cheat in life. All to put up with me and my insignificant businesses, it will cost less than your pocket change. Isn't that an unfairly good deal? "

Was I being too bold? This isn't a business deal but my lifeline I'm gambling on. But isn't the life of a noble just constant transactions and deals? Even their marriage? What a sick sad game we play.

Either way, I have no room for regrets in this life. It's too great a deficit if Rosalia's carries over again.

I already have enough of that on my own.

Things I can no longer say.  Debts to people left unpaid. The guilt must leave me at least partly insane. I still instinctively look for black eyes and boyish grins, even in unlikely faces. Wrong place and wrong time to let my thoughts go there. But whenever isn't it the wrong time?

Grampa sighs, that big, strong, scary hand reaches out and I dare not breathe. Gable wouldn't let him crush me like a bug under this roof right? Right?! Should I start screaming at this point? Maybe breathing?

The big, bad, scary hand pats my hair and sighs again even louder.

"It's turning even redder, ah why did you have to take after Freddy in these parts? My baby girl is going to blame me for this when she gets back."

"...Leave my hair...out of this!" I screech, taking a pillow to blindly wack at this oaf.

Bad Grampa! Stupid Grampa! What the hell, I was being serious there!

"Why *smack* are you *smack* always *smack* like this!!!"

At the end of the day though, my stamina isn't so great. Especially since life isn't so leisurely in these vineyards, babysitting my sister and the minions in all the 'training' excuses for chores. Fueled with rage and long-simmering frustration, I quickly tire out from hitting full force with a pillow for a couple of minutes. My tiny arms throbbing with fatigue.

Ah, don't ever boo on fight scenes. This is too much effort!

"That's it. Doesn't that feel better?"

"I was being serious!"

"And now you're being honest for once. Not placing things at a distance. It's easier that way, I know, but then you can't say all the important things you need to. Then you can't make it real."

Even though my hands are sore, I wack him once again. For lack of anything better to say. Not like it will work on someone as crazy as him.

"It hurts less that way. You hurt a lot the first round, huh? So much so you don't want it to be real. You don't want to do it all over again. You don't want to face any of what hurt you again. And that's us." Grampa put on a bit of a disparaging smirk, finger pointed to his head like a gun.

I feel the pillow drop from my hands.

"Nothing I can do about that time, pumpkin. You're right, I wasn't there. And you can't chase ghosts for what they don't remember, what they didn't do just yet. The ghosts can chase you, they can even haunt you, but you don't get to chase them back. There's nothing there but a dead end, and you ran all that way for nothing. Frustrating isn't it?"

"Why do you always talk like that? Why can't you just...say what you mean?!"

"Can you?"

"Of course! I...I-"

"Do you miss it? Being someone else? That person before this?"

Why is it, that when this person actually becomes serious in that particular way of his, I always find myself dumb? Numb, dumb, and speechless.

Nothing is resolved and it already hurts this much. It's already this dangerously scary. It's not good for my heart. I want to blame it on him and run away. I just want it to go away.

And that is why I can never get over myself, why I can't ever move on. Why I'm never good enough for anything, or anyone.

"No... No, I don't miss being me at all." I try not to choke, honest truth bubbling out "I miss things. I miss people. I miss....a lot...but I wasn't a very good person. I'm still not. I didn't like being me very much all at much."

"Being good? Doesn't mean anything, not in any world. Don't fret over it, Rosalia. Don't let it eat you all up inside."

"Why do you ask me that? Why don't you ever....do you miss it? Whoever you were before? Whatever life you managed to make before all this? Does it even matter? You're rich, famous, ridiculously strong, does it even matter? "

"Of course it does. Everything matters. Every little thing. "

"Do you miss it?"

"Sometimes. Sometimes I miss that I couldn't do anything more. Life goes by, it went by, and I missed it. All the tedious things, the unimportant moments with the right people, the right person, they're the ones I miss most. And I didn't know, just how damn much I would, till it was all gone."

Warm big hands wipe away this young body's uncontrollable tears but I can't hold down how much I hate him.

I hate this man. I hate it most when he smiles as I cry.

Don't do that when you look so damn sad. Just don't. Don't act as if the world is going to die if you can't keep it up. Don't bother if you're going to look so lonely underneath it all.

Don't smile so much when you just want to cry yourself.

The same words the Rosalia could never say still sits in a lump in my chest. Stupid. Stupid helpless old man. Can't even take care of himself.  The very worst sort of accomplice in this big bad world. I really can't do anything with him.

"Do you....ever want to go back?" I ask, carefully, as if treading the woods in the dark.

"...No. No I don't think I would."

"But, you missed it? Everything, everyone, they slipped through your fingers and you missed it. "

"Time does that to anything and everyone. I missed it. And I'll miss this if I do. Not the fame, power, or riches. What I have now, who I have now. This...I wouldn't give this up for anything. Little one, you're not me, nor do I know you and your story."

There is a word I remember, from that other world that is now only a story. Sonder. The realization that everyone, absolutely everyone, has a story. Just as crazy, just as mundane, awful, and beautiful. Everyone, even a crazy old man, has a painful story somewhere in them. Maybe lots of stories.

For one to live this long, there must be a collection of them. Personal stories lived out.

"But, having a family, like the one you do now, is more than anything someone as pathetic as me ever could have imagined," he whispers.

But they're not mine, I think, lips tight. I think and something inside of me sinks. I don't have anything like that. I'm the pathetic one, not you.

"You're right...that we're very different...I don't think about it. I don't want to. I'm going to miss it too much, I think I'll die. And I think I've died enough."

It doesn't get any less scary. Or less lonely.

"Silly girl, that's what people do. They live and they die, again and again. But if done right, you'll live it all well to the end."

That's wrong. I've already missed it, that chance. In an even worse way, Rosalia missed her's and so she's dead. Somehow, now I'm here. I've both given and robbed her of her chance.

And I won't think any more about mine. It wasn't a very good one anyway.

"You don't have to believe me, and you certainly don't have to delve into it. All those memories and what they mean. Not just yet. Because you very well may die from it, be buried by them."

A terrifying dream flashes through my mind. One that sounds chillingly like the voice in front of me now. I know I can blame him till the world ends, and it still won't be enough. I know he's right.

But that doesn't mean I like it!

Hopping off the settee, I use Grampa and a stepping stool to get to the chalkboard. The board being too tall for me to use it properly, but I make do, filling in parts and pieces of the map I do remember. My memory isn't perfect, especially since exploring dungeons isn't in Rosalia's arsenal. But it was important to keep track of any goods that came in or out of the territory. Loot and raw materials, especially stolen ones from a newly discovered spot, more than counted.

Besides, it's better than remembering anything else.

Monsters and wild grass. Not bakeries and bar menus. Estimated time frame, men, safety precautions to take in advance. Not work schedules and meetups, not video calls and friends.

Not anyone.

"You work too much..." a familiar friendly face moans in boredom on the phone screen. The battery low and the device running hot.

"Hang up then." she hardly looked over at the complaining face.

Worksheets spread out over multiple desks even though she was alone. Infographics on the computer screen and too much demographic research to be of any specific use. The space on the messy whiteboard took near every inch with her scribbles and brainstorm notes.

"No."

"You'll just be watching me do this boring shit all night."

"No, charge up your phone and close up. It's late."

"Yeah, it is. Hang up already, you're two hours ahead of me over there!"

"Right? So if you care for me and my terrible student sleep schedule at all, go the fuck home already Meng. Ah keep the phone on, it's dangerous. Did you plug it in yet?"

"For god's sake, yes." an office chair rolled over, making sure to hook up the device. For good measure, she glared at the other side of the screen, taking on an authoritative tone. "It's fine. I'm a proper adult unlike you, I'm used to working overtime and staying out late. Hang up and go to sleep like a good boy already. You won't do well if your brain is useless like it is now."

"...I'm already 22....and just because you're used to it doesn't mean that's a good thing? Mengy, I'm tired but more importantly.... don't stay in a dark empty office building all by yourself. Don't you know...." that voice began to take a slightly ominous tone.

"Don't you dare finish that sentence- don't you dare try to scare the crap out of me again, I need to be ahead of schedule for all this work I'm juggling and there are the clients to impress tomorrow." Meng cut him off.

"Oh? You're already ahead of schedule? Good job, but you're not guaranteed any paid bonuses for that will you?"

"....that's not the point. It's about building long term clientele so loyal to our brand they'll be begging to work with me everywhere I go!"

"Ah...so loyal....sounds like this story I heard. About an overworked office worker, he worked so hard for so little recognition that-"

"That he died! Heard it a million times. Get off of the scary part of the internet and either study or go to sleep you brat! You're not scaring me tonight?!" She tried, and if she yelled enough maybe she would actually believe it.

The office was quite dark all on her own.

"It's not just one person though...they say that spirits gather energy, resentment. There's a lot we don't understand, can't see with the naked human eye. In a big empty building...in the dark night where no other living soul is around... such a pretty girl as yourself...in your stockings and high heels, ah even a dead ghost wouldn't be able to resist." Jung-Joon states, sighing across the screen.

"Jokes on you, I changed into fuzzy slippers!" she lifted her foot, up to where the camera was angled to view the animal-shaped slippers.

"Ah very cute. If I was a ghost, I'd still go after you. Like right now. No problem. Better make it running shoes for a slightly faster escape." he pointed out.

"Haha bastard, I listened to enough of your shit to know I can outrun a ghost."

"Meng?"

"What? You finally give up and will let me work?"

"...Of course not. I miss you. I just miss everything about you. Say you miss me too?"

"...."

"Meng? Come on, don't hide. Mengy~ Let me see your face? Is it very red? I miss that too. Ah, I really want to make and see you get embarrassed in person. Can this semester go by any faster? So close. "

"I'm hanging up, go to sleep, or fail your next course. See if I care."

"Ah, don't do th-"

She really hung up, and if her face was hot it was probably from talking too long on the phone. Even if it was a video call propped up. Finally, some peace and quiet to get work done more effectively.

The zealous worker enjoyed a prompt 1 minute of silence before realizing just how dark and quiet it was without another voice echoing in the room. Even if it was just through something as small as a mobile device.

It was a nice and modern building. Sure the machinery hummed, and sometimes something creaked, but definitely not haunted. Right?

A car drove by outside, lights and shadow flickering. Something made a hollow thump in the wall. A tapping from the sink, dripping steadily undetected from before.

Too quiet. It was too quiet and she couldn't stop herself from noticing everything, anything. Maybe she should turn on some more lights? Lights were good yes, lights and music and...

The elevator dinged and no one else should be in the building.

"Eeeeep!" she couldn't press the phone app open fast enough, the connection wasn't going through fast enough.

"Pick up, pick up, pick up, please, pick up."

"Aww, do you miss me yet? In that....1 minute and 23 seconds?" the screen connected, back to life.

"Jung-Joon, shut the fuck up and get ready to call for help, witness me as I potentially die."

"Um, hmmm you know this isn't the kind of late-night call I was hoping for from you. But alright then. I'll take what I can get."

"No, you don't get it. There's no one else here right now!?"

"It is very late in the night. Like I said. "

"The elevator just- oh shit...I heard something. ...Outside in the hall?!"

"So....it's time."

"Time for what you little shit? This is all your fault like it could just be someone who forgot something and-"

"They're here for you. Just like I warned...but you didn't listen."

"Jung-Joon?!?!"

"It may be too late....but no matter what Meng, I need you to know...that I lo-"

"I'm barring the doors! I'm ahh!!!! It's-"

*slam*

The door swings open at the same time a heavy loaded office chair flings itself to the would-be ghost. For a horror story undead, it was surprisingly human-like, doubling over in pain. Another female ghost with short hair stood behind, howling in laughter.

"Get wrecked bro!"

"Sunny?! Why are you...Bossman, oh shit uh...hey there....you alright? Sorry about the....chair?"

On the floor, the poor man was hit a little too hard to give any more answers than a whimper, clutching at parts any man valued more than their life. It's a good thing he was single, Meng blearily noted, because whatever she just hit wasn't going to recover any time too soon.

On the video chat, Jung-Joon could finally finish his sentence, through some light laughter of his own.

"I was saying that I love and worry about you so much, that I asked someone to come drag you home. Or at least out of the office. It's not good for you. Sunny just made the most sense, with her studio in the same building. Sorry, did you get scared? Ah, is my brother even alive?"

"Ahahahahaha! That was awesome! That chair came full force out of nowhere and hit just right?! Ahahahha!"

"Bossman, like...Oh fuck. I am so sorry... you could have texted or called me ahead though?!"

The two girls dragged up the whimpering pale man on the floor, his only cursing words being "ugly violent woman" and "disowned, Jung-Joon from henceforth you are disowned!"

"Don't blame me, I'm not even there." the other side of the screen complained, "Sunny thanks for picking up Mengy, I can finally get some sleep in peace now. Night Meng. Sleep tight, remember to dream of me tonight."

"..."

She promptly hung up the phone, too tired for violence. Apparently, there was already enough of that. One person was still clutching himself immobile with pain, the other still laughing her ass off and the work on the whiteboard still wasn't all organized and done.

It would just have to do.

It's a chalkboard in front of me, not anything more modern than that.

My height is small and my hands are even smaller as I scribble. The material only relevant to this world, this life, and the current situation. Thank goodness. Nothing unnecessary. Nothing more.

I'm too tired for any of that. I don't want to remember any more than I already do.

It's already...too much work to recall what I can. To even keep up. I can hardly keep my eyes open, and no it's not from crying too much. Well, at least not all of it. Curses, how dare these horrible meetings always leave me in tears.

"This is as much as I know. The dungeon is barely mid-level- nothing the troops can't handle. Let it rest 3 weeks to regenerate if it's not destroyed and most importantly of all..." I hop down, dusting my fingers off chalk to smack off Grampa's knowing gaze, "do not give the public access! Lock it down! Station people and close it off. We actually have enough decent manpower this time to secure the premise, I repeat do not let locals, travelers or any of the masses free access. It's going to cause mayhem. Idiots."

When I look back at the board, my additions are barely anything to what Grampa already had down. The found site honestly not being all that large or dangerous compared to others that exist in this world. But I still worry.

It was certainly too much work for the Rosalia of that time. But perhaps now? With Grampa actually at home in the reigns and the troops still in their prime? I think we actually have a chance to profit from this, provided they follow my simple instructions.

That's a wrap. It's not good for my body to stay up so late.

"Will note, but just where are you headed off to now pumpkin?"

"To bed, I'm tired now, good night."

"Awww but-"

"No way am I sleeping in your dumb gross bed, wherever it is. Talk to me when it's Gable or something. Goodnight!"

With that I huff off and out, storming to the kiddies' room. How dangerous. I think Grampa was actually serious about these terrible attempts at bonding. Ah too frightening, being treated as an infant teddy bear by a man of that strength and caliber would be too dangerous. I'd never be able to sleep a wink in fear.

In the semi-lit children's quarter, I check in on my baby sister fast asleep in her magically locked crib. The perfect kind of spot to keep her nice and safe. It's hard for her to even stay up past 7 pm, let alone this terribly late hour.

Personally, I like more room and no one sucking on my thumb in my own sleeping quarters. With a spare stolen pillow clutched to my side, the same one used to wack Grampa into somewhat submission today, I smack some snoozing minions taking up my spot on the big bed.

"Move over," I growl.

Blearily, Lukas rolls awake, taking in my unexpected appearance and exclaiming his daily nonsense.

"Ha! Did they kick you out too! Told you, you can't do it every night or Gable gets mad or Cap gets grumpy but sometimes it's okay and sometimes they're really snuggly and warm but not all the time because-"

"You're dreaming weird things." I crawl into the prewarmed bed, kicking and rearranging my pillows to buffer out the sound.

"Nu-uh, I can prove it because sometimes is a lot of times for me and only you don't believe me because stinky baby doesn't count but Amar believes me too because he says sometimes they smell alike so-"

"Sleep." groans and rolls over Amar from his corner against the wall, his version of tired whining, "Sleepy time now."

"But Rosa kicked me. And she still thinks and says-" it was a mistake to wake Lukas. Lots of things are mistakes here.

"You kick and hit everyone in your sleep. Uh I mean- anything you say, Lukas, now ssshhhhhhh. " I beg, already fluffed and curled in.

"But-"

"Please? Sleep?" Amar yawns, hiding further into the covers.

"Fiiiiine. Rest up sidekicks so you both get bigger and stronger faster. But I'll prove it laters."

Satisfied with this moment in peace, I sigh and peacefully drift away. Because there's only so much a girl like me can do. It's not like I'm getting paid extra for this after all.

Oddly, I feel lighter and more relaxed than I have been in a while, even with all the laborious exercise. Sleep hitting far too soon and very comfortably. I don't dream of anything, just the way I like it.

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Bonus:

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--------------

"So..."

Gable doesn't mean to pry, really now he doesn't. But it's a rare time for either Ronald or his little Rosalia to share anything of their unique circumstance, let alone at the same time, even less so to each other.

"She says she hates me, oh she sounds so much like Maria in those pesky teen years when she says it like that! It's like raising a teenager in a toddler?!"

"There there now, I'm sure that's not what she actually means. Ron, Ron get off the ground and come to bed already."

"*gasp!* And she said there's no way we can have a sleepover! But when Maria was little she'd always come right up and curl-"

"It's fine Ron. Rosa likes being a mature girl. Everyone is different. Your granddaughter of all people especially so."

Gable tries comforting Ron, though somehow it ended with him on the ground instead of getting Ron up. The other man's head firmly on his lap as he moped and cried.

As much as Gable didn't mind it when Ron was finally still, even somewhat so obedient for once, the position was getting a bit much. He wasn't as young as he used to be and tired out easier after a long day. Surely there were more comfortable spots for this.

"It's Freddy! She takes too much after him, from the hair to the gold obsession! It's ruining my baby girl's babies' cuteness."

Gable's hand stopped it's absent-minded comforts and pets, halting in thought. "You know, I actually agree with you for once. It is the blasted boy."

"Right?! When she gets overwhelmed, she acts like a little Freddy before he calmed down, all 'blah blah I am a very smart noble, yes business. Do we have a deal? Or shall I take your soul?'"

"Ron, you exaggerate, it's not that level of awful. Oh, fuck if it was..."

"Yet! You see it happening?! Slowly as her hair turns full-on Bicchieri- oh but when she gets mad that's just Maria." the brunette slightly shivered, thankful that out of anything Rosa didn't inherit all of his Maria. Still just as cute, but less...painful.

"And that is why, Ron, I'm saying Rosa doesn't mean it every time she says things like that. Remember all the times Maria went off crying 'papa I hate you?'. Why, she even said it to me on occasion!" Gable grimaced, remembering old times that weren't even that long ago?

"Gabe, she hasn't once dared since she passed puberty. She loves you too much for that. Me, however, she said it just the other day on the portal call!" Ron exclaimed, hands waving where he lay.

"Well....you were... interrupting her plans...."

"Oh god, Gable. What if they get a boy? What if I get a grandson?! I've never had a grandson!? What do I do?!"

"You're asking me? The one with no kids-"

A banging crashing sound clattered in the ceiling above, sounding out from the next room. It was a sound that prompted both the adults to quickly get up and see what was the commotion. It wasn't that they were worried about any intruder but instinct acted first. Especially when there were little ones in the property. Weak, vulnerable, and-

"Ahaha! Made it! I can prove it now! "

...and loud little children in the house.

"Oh, ahahaha it's just Lukas. Huh, how did he climb through there? Like a raccoon-dog? We need to work on your sneaking boy!"

"Ron don't encourage him...Lukas...what are you doing up and messing about?" Gable asked as calmly as he could, for it was late in the night and his options were even more limited.

He was incredibly tempted to just lock the children's room. The entire thing, every night. Just magically set them for at least 9 hours, the time they should be sleeping anyway. That would be 9 more safe set hours of peace. Of no...this?

But he's sure the kids would cause mayhem somehow, even more so if they took their eyes off them in a sense of false security. The littlest one also didn't deserve the same treatment as a certain three troublemakers did. Especially … Lukas.

"So...are you going to answer? Or do I have to..." Gable starts, ready to pull and straighten the little boy making a mess of the bed.

"Gaaaable, I want to sleep with you and Cap tonight? Pleeeease. Please, please, please. Is today one of the okay times? Can I stay with you?"

Big wide baby eyes. A shade of grey too similar to what Gable sees in the mirror each day, frosted ever so subtly a darker shade of icy blue. He shouldn't feel anything for them but god damn he does. When they look up at him, paired with a puppy pout on those chubby cheeks and pleading voice, he's just weak.

It made sense with Maria. She was an adorable child with wild untamed hair, even wilder than Ronald's, and eyes as meltingly warm as a gazelle. She took after Ron, warm and soft in all the ways Gable could never.

But Lukas was supposed to be his family, he was supposed to be more resistant to this god damn it. How the hell did that younger sister of his, one he hardly noticed in their own frigid upbringing, ever give birth to such an innocent and horribly heart-melting child? Ron level disaster that he is reminiscent of.

More importantly, how in the world did she ever give him up?

"Oh pleeeeease Gabe." begged the other man, already taking the boy into his arms, holding him up directly under Gable's nose. "Awwww, he's just been so lonely without you all the time Gabe. I would be too honestly, but pleeeeeease."

"...If you promise to never speak like that again." Gable facepalmed, not sure why he put up with the other man, ever. Like a damn weed sometimes, growing all over the place.

"Yes!"

"Yay! Thanks, Gable! Cap, cap, cap, Rosa kicked me again when she went to sleep and it actually kinda hurt so sidekick number two is definitely getting stronger! But Amar pinches me when he's sleepy and I'm loud and that hurts more because he can twist just a little bit and it really really hurts but I can't tell if that's strong or just tricky- "

"Ron, get him to bed. Now." Gable sighs, trying not to look.

He can handle their noise. Their bothersome somewhat frustrating if not familiar noise. But looking was too much. It was just too much to see a doting Ron all over again over a child that looked much like him.

Gable would like to keep his mind and sanity in check, thank you very much.

"Gable? You too? Gable, pleeeease. I sleep better with you." the boy cried out, pleading voice an ice pick to his heart.

"Why, what a coincidence Lukas, me too! Pleeease Gable~" Ron played along, voice naturally teasing.

Fine, he'll think about how Lukas broke out in the morning. He'll wring Ron for some actually useful information, the secrets the man juggles through their whole life, all in the morning

It's late anyways

--------------

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Bonus 2:

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"Oh darlings, isn't that just so novel?"

"Papa! Papa, Lily want dat one. Pwwweeeease."

"Oh and look whatever is this? It's so shiny."

"And dat one and dat one and dat one."

"Darling, does this suit me? Hmmmm, perhaps something fuller?"

"Dat, dat, dat, dat, dat! Pweasey pwease?!"

"Darling?"

"Papa?!"

It's two against one. An adorable, lovable, little girl and the even more beautiful woman that is her mother. Can any man resist such horrors?

Or should he just give in to what they want?

"Such cheap things are beneath my girls. You won't need to bother."

Safely cowered in my father's arms, I fearfully watch on. I am fearful in general, for that is how I woke up.

Before dawn rose, I was struck with a sudden paralyzing terror. The sound of heavy panting not far from the edge of my bedside. I did not dare open my eyes. Like any child, I snuggled under the sheets, hoping the blankets could protect me against all reason. This strange fear was as familiar as it was terrifying.

Down below I could hear the steady breaths of another sleeping child, but more so- that heavy breathing outside the sheets.

Right beside me.

I couldn't believe someone with my mental age was afraid, so very afraid of monsters and boogeymen. But how else do you explain that horrible fear?!

Slowly, as if I was still asleep, I wriggled and rolled my way closer to a fellow child, away from the edge of the monster. It felt so long. An arduous journey, painstakingly poised to look natural in feigned sleep. Even though I suffocated under the heat of those covers, my body shivered immensely.

When I finally touched on another source of kiddy warmth, I clutched on, clinging for survival and admittedly part comfort. If the monster strikes, my chances go up by taking one of the boys down with me.

From the dark, the creature above me in the outside world let out a horrible muffled noise!

"Kyaaaaa~"

Oh my god! It was ghastly! The stuff of nightmares! It was, of course, my mother.

But in that situation, how was a girl supposed to react? Especially with such a strong terrifying aura floating out. For hours till morning, I shivered and hung on under the safety of the covers. Still pretending to be asleep but too fearful to actually really fall all the way.

That thick dangerous aura and the frightening monstrous mumbles "kyaaaa, kyaaa, oh no so cute!!! Kyaaaa, they're too cuuuuuute" scared me more than any encounter with grampa ever will.

Ignorance is truly bliss for the other child slept on despite all the frightening sounds outside. Somewhere in the time though, I eventually did fall asleep for real. The fact that we weren't eaten, even when the monster slowly pried off the blanket enough to "kyaaaa kyaaa!!!~" at our sleeping faces, or in my case feigned,  was the climax of this nightmare.

At a much more reasonable hour, when birds were chirping and light actually streamed through the curtains, a loud almost sharp sound pierced next to me! On the other side?! I was suddenly snatched off the bed and seemingly stolen away. The harsh movements obviously jolting me awake if I wasn't already.

I have been in my father's arms ever since. Shivering in confusion and fear, and honestly too sleep-deprived for a child my age.

Mother and Father are truly back, opening up the manor and freeing me from the farmhouse. A place that was both at once heaven and hell, with both Gable and Grampa running things.

As much I did not worry or miss the parentals at all, I am glad they're back. For they really did bring presents. It's just...a lot?

And by that, I mean in raw materials. Spider web silk, fillets of eels, a grass that sparkles like gold. What is all this stuff?

I'd ask, but I'm honestly too afraid and tired at the moment.

For some odd reason, Mother looks more terrifying than ever before, despite being dressed prim and proper like always. From the main hall, she spins and showcases the goods for Father and Lilyanne.  From inside Father's arms, the additional scent of blood still carries over despite the very strong smoke of gunpowder on him. When he pets my hair and asks how my time with Grampa was, his smile is bloodcurdling handsome.

Let's...just not think about it for the time being.

At least they're back, safe and sound. For now, that's all that matters.

 

I hope everyone is doing ok. I hope we're all living as best we can.

 

 

Come chill out on discord

https://discord.gg/ARkSMFPbew

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