“Watch my footing just before the kick. Like this.” I stated before demonstrating to Brandon the proper form again. “See the difference? You keep starting with your feet too far apart and ending with them almost on top of one another.”
This morning’s training was off to a decent start, and my mood couldn’t be better. When I had told Alma of yesterday’s attack. She took the news quite well and even volunteered to help me with training this morning.
“Are you not taking this seriously?” asked Alma.
My head snapped back to look at her, and Brandon punched me in the gut. The sound of his fingers breaking on my stomach drew my attention mostly back to him.
“I’m so sorry. I let myself get distracted for a second there.” I told him, wishing I could undo the mangled mess.
“I see where they get the words ‘abs of steel’ now.” he replied as his hand transformed, popping his fingers back in place and mending them.
Despite his goofy grin, I still felt bad. I knew Brandon wasn’t one to pull his punches, unless he was sparring with his sister. I couldn’t drop my guard. Still, I turned again when I heard someone hit the floor hard behind me. Raine was lying on the ground, looking ready to cry.
“I am not going to coddle you, like James would.” stated Alma. “You knew he was under attack yesterday, didn’t you?” she demanded.
Frowning, Alma asked “Would you let him die in front of you instead of at least attempting to fight?”
I dodged as Brandon attempted to hit me.
“You’re a therianthrope. Change. Show me what you can do.” stated Alma.
Dodging again, I said, “Alma, that’s enough. Let her be. Raine doesn’t have to fight. She doesn’t even know how yet.”
I was happy to see Brandon pull off the kick I had been demonstrating almost properly.
“Oh. Nice, Brandon!” I exclaimed.
“FIGHT ME!” yelled Alma.
I caught Brandon’s arm and flipped him onto the floor. Alma was standing over Raine and looked ready to kick her.
“Alma! Enough!” I told her.
Again, Alma yelled “FIGHT ME!” Then she moved to kick Raine in the face. I couldn’t get there in time. She was moving too fast.
The lights suddenly dimmed and Raine seemed to vanish. I scanned the room as fast as I could. Jerking to look behind me when I heard a hiss that sent a chill up my spine. There was… something. I barely got a look when Alma gasped. Her arm was cut open, blood dripping out. I moved next to her as fast as I could, feeling her magic building the whole time. Residual energy was swarming around her.
Sounding panicked, Alma whispered “She’s a demon.”
I pulled at the residual energy as hard as I could, fighting Alma’s control of it. I didn’t want her to cast whatever she was attempting. This was a misunderstanding.
“Raine!?” I called.
I managed not to jump when she was in front of me. I suddenly felt the residual energy give and flow into me. Raine’s face was barely recognizable. There was continuous movement around her, making me feel almost queasy with the speed of it as my eyes tried to follow. Her form seemed to be distorting as light was twisted and devoured by her presence. Raine’s fangs looked almost too large for her mouth, and she had curved claws as long as my fingers. Her fur seemed sharp and needle-like, tearing through her clothes. I could see why Alma would call her a demon, but Raine looked like she was frightened as well as angry. The emotions seemed at war on her face.
“James, let me kill her. She’s too dangerous.” stated Alma, almost pleading.
The others looked terrified. Even Portentia didn’t look ready to fight for once. I needed to get Raine to relax.
“Raine, calm down. Alma shouldn’t have been bullying you, but things will be fine.” I assured her. “I’m sorry that you had a bad experience today, but most of us really do attempt to have fun with our exercise.”
“James! Really!?” demanded Alma. “The blood isn’t stopping.”
I glanced back at her. Sure enough, Alma was still bleeding. I recognized the spell forming to control her blood. Raine, however, had moved. I barely caught the motion on the ceiling above me.
“Raine, please come down. Ai and Mai will be quite annoyed if you ruin too much of their ceiling.” I told her, seeing how her claws were creating holes.
“As if they’ll care about the ceiling when you’re protecting a demon!” exclaimed Alma.
“Actually, I’m attempting to protect you both.” I replied Feeling Alma’s magic, I yelled “MOVE!”
Raine was gone in a blur. Following her movement was extremely difficult in the distorted lighting.
“James!?” exclaimed Alma. “She’ll kill us all!”
“She hasn’t even attacked anyone else, and you’re the one who keeps attacking her first! Control yourself!” I commanded.
I kept myself in front of Alma, pushing her to the wall, as I attempted to follow the blur around the room. I needed help.
“Aaliyah, please.” I whispered.
The tiny girl came skipping into the room, looking surprised as she looked around.
“KITTY!” she exclaimed, running relatively slowly toward Raine, who froze when Aaliyah entered.
Raine’s expression went from anger to surprise as the little girl hugged her. Suddenly, she was human again, looking incredibly nervous.
“What… and how is she clothed?” asked Alma.
Tiny fragments of Raine’s clothing were scattered around the room.
“Need you ask with Aaliyah around?” I asked with a wink.
I took a step before noticing that time had frozen around me.
“Wasn’t me.” stated Aaliyah as she stuck her tongue at me in the most adorable manner.
“Well, I figured this was Carl.” I admitted.
“No-no. The clothes. That was Raine. She doesn’t even know how though.” replied the little girl.
“Huh?” I asked.
Nodding enthusiastically, Aaliyah said, “I know! She’s amazing, isn’t she?”
“Well, yes, but what is she? I thought she was a werecat.” I admitted.
“She is! She’s also half-demon, so Alpy was almost right-ish.” claimed Aaliyah.
She wasn’t lying though. “Demons are real!?” I asked.
Aaliyah just nodded and said, “Many wouldn’t be so bad, but their circumstances are unfortunate. Don’t worry. We’ll get them sorted out eventually.”
“I’ll have to take your word for that. What can we do for Raine though? She seemed so scared.” I told her.
“She is! Constantly.” replied Aaliyah.
“Of what? I certainly wouldn’t want to fight her.” I confided.
“Herself, silly. She’s spent most of her life traumatized by an accident.” replied Aaliyah.
“What? An accident? Surely she wasn’t hurt.” I told her.
“She accidentally slaughtered her attackers as a toddler. One glimpse of herself combined with the corpses into nightmares for years. Look at the tears in her eyes. Right now she’s scared that she’ll be thrown out because of what she is.” she claimed.
I barked out a “Ha!” before saying, “I don’t think I could throw her anywhere if I tried, but I really didn’t mean to give her that impression.”
“You didn’t. She was confused by you. She’ll be wanting to know why you called for me, by the way. You know you don’t really need to speak aloud if you wanna see me, boss-man, sir.” insisted Aaliyah.
Yes, I did have that impression for quite some time now. “You’re welcome to show up without me calling.” I retorted.
“Nah. I told you that I like letting people make their own choices.” she argued.
“But…” I started. If Aaliyah knew what I was thinking, she could surely guess at whether or not I’d call her. At the same time, was my choice really made before I followed through with it?
“But what?” demanded Alma.
Everything was moving again, and Aaliyah was still hugging Raine, who looked like she was attempting to form a word. Brandon was moving protectively in front of Brenna. Cosette was staring with her mouth open. Emma was signing something to Portentia. When did she learn sign language?
I told Alma “Oh. Nevermind. Please inform the twins to play nicely around Raine. I’d hate for them to get hurt.”
“You can’t possibly be thinking of keeping her employed here?” demanded Alma.
“Of course. Other than cutting your arm and damaging the ceiling a bit, there’s no harm done. If there’s any recompense to be made, I would say you should apologize to her.” I replied.
I felt the surge of energy within Alma. She was angry. The tension of her body was obvious.
“You intentionally scared her. Who else to blame?” I asked.
Alma crossed her arms and glared at me. I hoped she was attempting to calm down, but I doubted it.
“Ooooh Alpy! Might I get a word with you?” asked Aaliyah.
Alma visibly jumped before nodding. Raine was crying in earnest now, so I knelt down by her as Alma and Aaliyah left the room.
“Hey, everything’s fine. I can convince Emma to seal the ceiling, and I’ll gladly do the painting myself. There’s nothing to worry about.” I assured her, placing my hand on her shoulder.
Looking up at me, she asked, “Y-you’re… y-you’re… y-you weren’t… sc-scared?”
“I met Death herself. You wouldn’t even be comparable to a kitten pretending to be a lion next to her.” I promised.
Raine’s wide eyes stared at me, still crying, in disbelief.
“He’s telling the truth. Death’s daughter appeared before us both.” stated Emma. “I had nightmares for a month. We both did.”
“The hell, man!? Death’s real?” asked Brandon. “I mean really real, like an entity and everything?”
“Even has a scythe.” I told him.
Brenna was staring at me as she hugged her brother’s arm.
“Well, you saw how out of sorts I was when you first came here. That was part of the reason.” I explained.
They both just nodded.
“I knew you were remarkable, but… I thought Death was just another story of my father’s.” stated Cosette.
Crying harder again, Raine said, “I-I.. I-I’m… sorry… f-for scaring… ev-ev..”
Patting her head, I said, “Don’t worry. You have a home here, Raine.”
She transformed into a cat and pressed against my hand, so I picked her up and held her. Things would work out. I’d make sure they did.