Movement from down below woke me up from my slumber in the middle of the night. It was still dark outside, and I could hear insects buzzing.
Must be some huge rat, I thought. Then I remembered that there was indeed a big rat in the house—Lily.
I decided to have a drink of water, so I went downstairs. Zero was talking in her sleep, saying something about her bed, but I ignored her. Beds have their own free will too, you know.
I took a ladle full of water from the water jug in the kitchen to quench my throat. I couldn’t hear Lily’s footsteps anymore, but when I moved, I heard them again. It seemed like she was trying to avoid bumping into me. It also felt like she was following me, though.
It’s the middle of the night. Kids should be in bed.
I stopped and turned around. I spotted white fur quickly hiding behind a wall.
“What’s her problem?” I murmured.
I gave a start. I didn’t actually expect a response. Right, she has good ears.
“Haven’t seen a lot of Beastfallen besides yourself?”
There was no answer, but her silence probably meant yes. I was the same as her.
After a moment’s silence, she asked, “Mom and dad?”
“I think they’re sleeping,” I answered.
Oh, she meant my parents.
“Probably back in the village leading normal lives.”
“Did they abandon you?”
“No. I left on my own will. There was some trouble because of me.”
“Because of you, Big Brother?”
Big brother? Oh, she’s referring to me. You hear that, Theo? Big brother. Lily knows what’s up. It was shameful how it made me feel happy.
Sighing, I stroked Theo’s knife.
“What’s wrong?” Lily timidly peeked from behind the wall. Her red eyes seemed to glow in the dark.
“Nothing,” I replied.
Wagging her long tail, she scuttled towards me and pulled out a chair for me to sit on, then returned to her original spot. She didn’t try to hide earlier. Was it because her parents weren’t nearby?
I took a seat and told her about the incident that made me leave my village. I told her about how bandits showed up to take my head, that someone died, and how I subsequently left even though my parents and the villagers tried to stop me. Lily was sitting down while listening to my story, and once I was done, she went back to only poking her head out a little.
“Why did you leave?” she asked.
“The village? Uh, guilt I guess. I ran away, because I didn’t feel comfortable staying.”
“Guilt,” Lily muttered vacantly. I didn’t know if she understood the meaning of the word or not. Then all of a sudden, she said, “I can’t stay here.”
“Sounds like something you don’t want to talk about out loud.” I stood up.
Lily jerked, but she didn’t show any signs of running away. I went around to the other side of the wall and sat down next to the little rat. Upon closer look, I realized that she was so small that I could almost squeeze her in my hand.
“Dad loves mom. That’s why he’s so nice to me. But I’m not really my mom’s child. You know about it, right? My real mom died because of me.”
Lily knew that Liza told me about her upbringing a while ago.
Frowning, I heaved a sigh and wagged my tail. “Your hearing’s too good.
“Because they’re big.” She grabbed her ears to show me. “I can hear people’s whispers. I also have lots of friends.”
Friends? No way a Beastfallen has friends. I wasn’t twisted enough to point out every single thing, though.
“So, is your dad treating you like a burden behind your mom’s back?”
Lily shook her head frantically. Of course, not. The man didn’t seem like the type to do that. That said, I didn’t think her mother would do that either.
“But they’re keeping something from me. They talk somewhere far so I don’t hear them. And then they stop when I get close.”
“You’re a Beastfallen. You can’t even outsmart normal humans to eavesdrop?”
She shook her head again. “I don’t listen. I’d feel sad if they said something awful.”
“I love my mom and dad, but they’re always working hard because of me. I understand if they hate me. People in town tell them to abandon the rat. They say mom and dad could have more money. But they can’t get jobs because of me. They’re not happy.”
“They would’ve left you if they weren’t happy,” I said.
LIli shot me a puzzled look.
“What, did someone lay a curse on them or something that would kill them if they abandoned you?”
“Um… I don’t think so.”
“Then there’s no need to worry about a thing. They want to be your parents, so just let them.”
“I told you I ran away because I felt guilty. My parents are probably furious with me. If I return now, my father will beat me to death, and my mother will turn me into dinner for the customers. Then my skin will be used as a carpet on the bar’s special seat.”
I was half serious, but Lily blinked and laughed. “What?”
“Now I regret leaving. As you can see, I grew up to be a monster that would scare any bandit away. If I had stayed in the village, I could have been useful as a guard or something.”
“But I can’t do anything.”
“You helped out a lot today.”
“That’s all I can do, though.”
“And that is enough. You did three times worth of work that a kid your age can manage.”
“I’m not a kid.”
“You’re clearly a kid.”
I had no idea how old she was, but probably around six or seven. She also talked like a child.
There are adult Beastfallen who are not good at speaking, but their special skills make up for it.
“Also since you’re a Beastfallen, you can scare away burglars when you grow up. Even I’d get hurt if you bit me with those teeth of yours.”
“I don’t bite.” The sudden seriousness in her voice startled me. She went from timid to determined. “I don’t bite anyone. I made a promise with my mom. My real mom.”
Lily rose to her feet and scurried away somewhere to hide.
“Thanks for talking to me,” she said.
I could no longer hear her footsteps.