29-2

Weird, seeming them from below. “Mm,” she confirmed, passing the now-empty bottle back to its owner. “Thank you.”

“Mm,” they echoed. “Just as long as it doesn’t happen again. It’s not like I have a second bottle.”

Zarah waved them off. “Not again. Just… surprised.”

“…if it makes any difference, it’s not any less disturbing the second time around.”

It took Zarah a second to actually process the words after hearing them, and when she jerked her gaze up in shock, Orae had already started walking back across the room.

“<Fine>,” she muttered under her breath, “<be that way, then>.”

A soft whuff from beside her caught her by surprise, and she flinched away before realising where it had come from; or who, more accurately.

Lucel, Orae’s ghostly hound, had managed to sneak up on her while she was distracted. Sitting like she was, the dog’s face was level with her own, and Lucel whuffed again as she leant in, nostrils flaring as she sniffed.

Zarah leaned away an equivalent amount. “<Whoa, hey. Um,> no? Stop? Back?”

None of the commands were apparently the correct option, as Lucel continued to follow her as she awkwardly scooted away, the dog’s tongue lolling happily from her mouth.

“Orae?!” Zarah called, a little more shrill than she’d intended. “Dog- off!”

Orae glanced up at her, a mean little smirk appearing on their face. “What’s the magic word?”

“Go shit yourself magic word HELP- ghrrk.

The last word there was in fact not in fact a word at all, and was instead the sound of Zarah desperately slamming her mouth shut bare instants before a large canine tongue wiped over it, along with most of her chin.

Zarah made a noise that could have been uncharitably described as a shriek, and toppled backwards onto the ground, furiously wiping at her chin. It was completely dry, ghost dogs not being known for their slobber, but it felt like it should be wet, which was almost worse because there was nothing she could actually do about it.

Her distraction with her own face turned out to be a deadly mistake. Lucel, sensing weakness, pounced on top of Zarah, stubby tail wagging furiously, and managed to get a few more good licks in before Zarah pushed her off to one side.

“Orae!” she yelled furiously, “stop her! Now!”

Next to her, Lucel had dropped the front of her body to the ground, staring up at Zarah while her tail continued to whip around.

“She wants to play,” Orae responded. “She’s not going to hurt you.”

“I don’t want to ‘play’,” Zarah snapped. “I want to sit, quietly.”

“Aww,” Remy cooed, “but she’s so excited! Don’t make her sad, Zarah!”

With suspicious timing, Lucel barked at her.

“Not you too,” Zarah snapped at her. “Go to Remy if he is so excited.”

“Oh yes please.” He dropped into a crouch, making pspspsps noises as he made beckoning gestures towards Lucel.

The dog turned her head towards the new noise, and then as soon as she had ascertained the source, immediately dismissed it and turned back towards Zarah.

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