Algasath sighed in relief when he saw Lasha back in the throne room.
“Did it all go well?”
“For us, yes.” Estih said. “But not for her.”
“What does that mean?”
“My mother is dead.”
Algasath’s eyes lingered on the colorful school bag.
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t-” he paced back and forth, visibly using his feet this time. “We don’t need to talk. Please, I prepared a room for you. You can- you can stay as long as you want.”
These news really distressed him.
Algasath led her to the right of the throne room, to a balcony overseeing the marketplace with a red door to her left. Inside she found a nice apartment, like she would imagine an expensive hotel room to be. All she did was find the bed, place her backpack at the foot and lay down, kicking her shoes off afterwards.
“Can I call you for dinner later?”
Lasha didn’t answer.
“Okay, you can decide then…” Algasath removed himself from the room.
Lasha tried to squeeze all of her sorrow out by force like a sponge. It wasn’t hard to cry when her father died but this time, it didn’t come naturally anymore. She had to pierce the things that hurt. Think about how her mother just lost everything within two months and died that way. How her father just wanted to make a nice surprise and it all ended like this. That she could never return home. That she’d never hear their voices. Never have them make her breakfast. Celebrate her birthday. Pick her up from school. That was all gone. Now all she had was this bleak hole in the ground and people whose faces she could barely read. Some lifeless room carved into the side of a cave. It probably didn’t even have electricity. She looked back to check if she saw right. A red door, not a curtain. That should do. She screamed so loud it rang in her ears afterwards.
When Algasath asked her about dinner, brief images of indecipherable alien slop flashed up in her mind. This looked edible though. To her eye, it looked like an ordinary salad but made to look exotic with food coloring.
“We Sjetta don’t need to eat to live, but we still can.” Algasath explained. “We picked up the habit from other species, but we usually only do it once a week or so. So I can’t promise I can eat with you every time but I’ll make an effort.”
“Thanks.” Lasha took a bite. It was alright. She didn’t recognize any of the taste though. These people still had to use the same plants as the rest of the world, right? She didn’t care enough to ask though.
“How do you like your room? Anything missing?”
“I’ve only used the bed… it has a toilet, right?”
“It does. We’ve been thinking of adding electricity, but that’s technology only the Asterians have figured out. Oh, and humans of course!”
Lasha finished her plate and then just stared down at the crumbs.
“Do you want more?”
“No, that’s fine.” Lasha got up and shoved her chair back at the table. Like anything else it was cut out of cold stone. “I’ll be in my room.”
Lasha took some time getting familiar with her new home. It had hot water and a shower. It felt strange to touch something warm again. She rubbed some of the warm water on her face. She inspected her right eye in the mirror. It looked immaculate, but Estih and Nelub weren’t able to restore the function. Amongst all the bad things that happened, Lasha couldn’t bring herself to be upset about it. She readjusted her hair and let it fall over it. Somehow, that made it feel better. She always liked to hide herself. Now half her face was gone too.
Her laptop still had some battery left. No internet connection down here though. She opened the chat and found only one name she’d like to contact. Lasha wasn’t an easy person to approach and she probably only became friends with Julia because they sat next to each other in class. What would she even say to her? They all believed her to be missing or likely dead. If she just shot her a message, she’d just think she’s losing her mind or someone’s messing with her. Lasha could send a picture as proof, just to let her know she’s still alive somewhere. But if she did that, Julia would want to search for her. Lasha didn’t really want to go back to society. Julia is the only one she’d miss. It was probably best to let them all think she’s dead for now. Maybe her being here will convince Algasath to reveal themselves soon. Would Ben and Maryland try to find her here to finish the job?
Lasha closed the laptop again. No point in wasting battery. Maybe just crawl back into bed and try to sleep. Why stay up late? She wondered if she could warm the sheets with her body heat by morning. She pulled the sheets over her head as she had no idea how to turn off the magic lights.
“Good morning! Do you want breakfast?”
Lasha only saw the red lights of his eyes and the vague outline of his horns against the dark. The light gently flared back up.
“How do you turn that on and off?”
“The light? Like so.” he held up his three-pronged hand and moved his fingers together, like zooming on a touchscreen but remotely. The light faded back out in response. Lasha held up her hand and enlarged the light again. “That doesn’t seem practical. Do I have to be careful with my hand motions in here?”
“It needs you to focus on it to work. How do your lights work?” he cocked his head to the side.
“There’s a button? ...Does the toilet have a button?”
“It does, we modeled it how Asterians make them since we don’t have a need for them. They’re more technological than us.”
“What are Asterians?”
“They’re more like humans than we are. They live primarily in Kekrem and use both magic and technology, unlike us. They’re like the middle piece between us, you could say.”
“Are there other forms of aliens… I mean.”
Algasath sat down on the bed “We usually use xenobeings for species that aren’t our own. And yes there are. We don’t get visitors often but maybe you’ll run into some. I planned to go to the market and get you some more clothes and whatever else you need. But let’s have breakfast first.”
Lasha was still an odd sight in the city. Having the king walk next to her had people be a bit more careful with their stares though. Lasha still didn’t know what relationship people had towards him. They stopped in a clothes shop first. They came in different colors but they all lacked decoration. There were no graphic tees or ripped jeans.
“Do they only have adult sizes?” Lasha wondered.
“They change size with you.” Algasath explained. “Well, I guess you can’t sizeshift. I can resize it to fit you and it should be fine, right? You won’t drastically change measurements.”
“What are these made of anyway? They’re always cold.”
“Inrenite thread. It’s made of a similar material as our bodies, which is why we can channel our sizeshifting through it. We can get you some Asterian clothes too if you prefer those. Since their forms vary so much, they all get their clothes custom made though. It might take some time to get it.”
“I’m fine with these for now.”
“Let’s buy some food for lunch.”
Sjettas haven’t discovered fridges yet and so they all bought their ingredients fresh. The stores had magical ways to preserve things but no one was keeping resources at home. It was like the store was the whole city’s pantry. Lasha made sure to pay attention this time and yes, they left without paying. Sure, Algasath was the king, but surely these people had to be compensated.
“What do you mean?” Algasath asked.
“They can’t just give all of this out for free. How will they feed themselves?” She explained, forgetting Sjetta don’t actually need to eat.
“Like we just did.” he held up the bag with food.
“Asterian farms grow food for us. We trade our own resources for it, if that’s what you’re worried about. Though it’s less a trade than it is allowing access to each other’s resources.”
That made sense to her. A bit disappointed she didn’t see one of those Asterians in the streets, they went home.
~~~ A month later ~~~
“It’s charging.” Lasha proclaimed.
“That’s great, learned something new today too.” the electrician said. She was an Asterian. Lasha had not expected them to be catgirls. This one was a tiger specifically. And they could be any animal, not just cats. But yes, this one was a straight up catgirl. She had a striped, furry tiger tail and ears as well as the fangs, while the rest of her was human. She claimed there was no known relationship between humans and Asterians. Asterians lived on this planet long before humans came. But maybe they did come from the same planet, just from different times. Who knew anymore?
Lasha was just happy she could charge her laptop. Still no internet, but she could play music and some games she still had downloaded. A little bit of her old life reclaimed.
“It’s probably a good idea to switch to the human’s standardized electrical sockets. Easier for us to adapt than you, hm?”
“Thanks a lot.” Lasha smiled.
The electrician packed up her tools and went out with a smile too.
Soon after, Algasath came in. “Starting to feel more like home?”
“Feeling less like a hotel room. Have to wake up here a couple more days, I think.” Lasha mumbled. She set the laptop aside to see Algasath suspiciously hold his arms behind his back.
“I got another surprise.”
“I already finally got to see an Asterian today!”
“Well, we can delay it to tomorrow…”
“But you wanna show it to me now.”
“Yes! Also, I’m not sure if it will work…” he revealed his hands. He held a DVD case of some action movie. “I believe your machine can interact with this, right?”
“Oh, yeah it can.”
“I don’t know what this is but it is for entertainment, right?”
“It’s a movie! It’s like a book but… it moves?”
“I’m picturing some sort of theater play but with automatons.”
“That’s halfway right.” She took the case from him and made sure the disc was actually inside. “Wonder how you’ll like this. It’s an art form you don’t really have. I wonder if it’d even make sense to you.”
“I wanna see it. You know how rare it is for someone like me to encounter something new? Can we see it now?”
“Well, it’s one and a half hours long. Typically you see these in the evening.”
“Okay. This evening then?”
“Sure, why not?”
“I can’t wait!” Algasath hovered out of the room with a childish smile.
Lasha read through the plot synopsis. It was a family movie, an old one that had been filmed back on Earth. A group of teens are sucked into a video game and have to beat it to get out. She’d rather his first exposure to human cinema would not be a violent murder rampage film. The villain was some sort of animal wizard too and not a shadow demon. The movie might require a baseline understanding of technology though. Too bad Lasha only ever streamed movies and didn’t have any saved on her hard drive. But maybe she could use that as a bargaining chip to get the internet installed down here.
That evening, Algasath invited Nelub and Estih over too. The two were rather interested in human culture, which is why they had been put in charge of healing Lasha back then. Not for their medical talent, apparently, though Estih was studying the theory of healing Asterians and an amateur wouldn’t have been able to save Ricky. Lasha had been her first practical case though.
The little laptop screen did not provide the most cinematic experience but it was a bright movie. It should be easy enough to see what’s going on. Lasha expected them to get excited over the unknown technology but as soon as she hit play, they were silent in strict attentiveness. They remained so until the credits ran through. Lasha expected them to have a lot of questions but she had to prompt them to ask them.
“So, what do you think?”
“This is not what I expected.” Algasath said after a pause.
“But you followed the story okay?”
“I think this requires multiple watches to fully understand.” Nelub said.
“So…” Estih began but couldn’t formulate her thought. “...so how much of this was fiction?”
“The part where a retro gaming console sucks up their physical bodies and puts them into a parallel universe based on the game world. And in a real game they’d probably not let you abuse the respawn mechanic like that. And the time travel.”
“The time travel was spot on, actually.” Algasath said.
“Oh, shut up dad, first magic, now time travel is real too?” Lasha didn’t even realize what she had said. Only the surprised silence of the others clued her in. “Wait, did I just say that?”
“Was that a mistake or…” Algasath’s eyes shimmered in a way Lasha couldn’t interpret.
Estih picked up Nelub and got off the cold-clothed couch. “I think I’ll bring Nelub home. That sounds like a conversation you want to have in private.”
Lasha examined her feelings while the two cleared out. Algasath looked after them until they vanished behind a curtain.
“...Would you be okay if I called you that?”
“I… I was prepared to take care of you for as long as you need me to. I just didn’t consider that that could be my role here…That that’s something I even could be.”
“You’ve never had kids?”
“No, Sjettas don’t produce offspring. They recycle into a new person when they die. And such newly-formed are usually taken care of by the community. But I’m not even a Sjetta, I just look like one.”
“Then what are you?”
“I’m the god of darkness in this world. As such, the Sjetta are the lifeforms under my protection. There isn’t much else to the element of darkness, so I’m rather close to my people.”
“The god of darkness.” Lasha repeated.
“There are ten of us, each with their own element. We are to protect our element’s living beings and not let it fall into chaos. We’ve existed since the creation of this world, and in all that time neither of us had raised a mortal. Only one other had a child at all.”
Lasha considered this new information. After everything so far, it wasn’t that hard to accept. “You’ve done everything I need from you so far. All I’m asking is if I can call you what you are to me. It’s not like you would replace my other father. Many people have two.”
Algasath remained quiet for a while. Lasha could see he was thinking of many things, as an eternal being might, and let him. She hoped it would be okay for her to lean onto him while he did that. He was warm to the touch. She couldn’t recall if he’d always been.
“No matter what I consider…” he whispered with his head gently placed on hers. “...in the end, I just don’t want to say no.”
“That’s great.” Lasha said as a simple response, more to just let him know she hadn’t fallen asleep yet and had heard him. Though with that said, she lost all reason to remain awake.