"Kauvara? Kauvara, are you here?"
Killian took another step towards the back of the famed magic shop. Despite its glowing reputation among her friends, she had never stepped inside before. She had never had a reason to. But she was desperate, and everyone whom she had spoken to had said the same thing: "Go to Kauvara. Kauvara will know what to do."
So she had. She had woken up early to get her other pets settled with a friend who promised to watch them for a few hours. She'd attached CherryBlossom's leash, aware that it was of little use and that if her Skeith really wanted to get away from her then she would, and they set off for town. Killian walked briskly, but CherryBlossom—with her size—had little difficulty keeping up. Killian was incensed.
"I don't understand... if you're hungry, why can't you just say something? You can't... you're going to get hurt and... The others, you're frightening the others. Are you happy about that?"
CherryBlossom, of course, made no answer. She didn't even seem to be listening. This was why Killian needed Kauvara's help, no matter what it cost—and she had nearly cleared out her savings in preparation of said cost—and left the house early in order to correct the state of things as quickly as possible. Of course, she had been assuming Kauvara would be in. The door had been unlocked when they'd arrived, but no one was behind the counters. Killian was beginning to think it was increasingly unlikely anyone was there. Minutes passed, and still no one answered. CherryBlossom tugged on her leash again, and Killian wrapped the fabric around her wrist to keep her Skeith from getting into anything. It was a valiant attempt, anyway. CherryBlossom got into anything and everything within reach, and it usually ended up in her rotund belly.
"Oh, you don't want to eat that, dearie," a voice said. "It'll give you a stomach ache for a week."
Killian and CherryBlossom both jumped. The speaker—Kauvara--was standing in the back of the shop in front of a door Killian didn't remember seeing before.
"If you're here," Kauvara said, "you must need something."
"Your help," Killian replied.
"Well, obviously." Kauvara stepped closer, appraising CherryBlossom unabashedly. CherryBlossom stared back, either not understanding or not caring... Killian could never tell. Kauvara was short and stout, but she looked up at CherryBlossom's ugly red snout and large teeth with more confidence and calm than even Killian could.
"Battledome magic," Kauvara guessed. "I have a lot of that. I'm sure you're strong, but we could make you light on your feet in no time. Strengthen your hide, turn your claws to steel... or diamond. How does that sound?"
"No, no," Killian said quickly, for Kauvara was already moving towards the counter. "I don't want her fighting." She does enough damage, Killian thought privately.
"Really? I don't see why not. My potions will heal her up like new and Skeiths especially have a lot of energy they need to channel. Otherwise they get aggressive and a bit mean."
"No offense, dear."
CherryBlossom snorted. If Killian didn't know better, she thought CherryBlossom was laughing.
"No offense," Killian agreed. She shot CherryBlossom a sharp look as the Skeith started to preen her tail. "What I need is something to curb her appetite. She's eating me out of a home—literally. Food in the fridge, my kitchen chairs, the cookie jar, pillows..."
"Quite impossible," Kauvara said simply. Killian tensed defiantly.
"But there must be—"
"You aren't understanding." Kauvara paced slowly, from the counter lining the left wall to the counter along the right." Her appetite is a part of her. It feeds her great size, those strong muscles."
CherryBlossom had grown rather bored with the conversation. She was clever enough to know what was being said, and that it was about her, but she was too stubborn to worry about it. Content that her owner didn't seem to be getting her way, CherryBlossom settled down on her haunches and rested her head on her front paws.
"So there's nothing to do but learn how to live with it." Killian sighed and ran her fingers through her hair. She was loathe to consider the other option: the pound. She was the one who brought CherryBlossom home and into her family. She wasn't going to go back on that. It was a promise, and she told herself she was going to keep it. She just wished CherryBlossom would help her out, make keeping her promise easier.
"I didn't say that..." Kauvara said, smiling thoughtfully at CherryBlossom, who raised her head a fraction of an inch in a silent question. "I said her appetite feeds her immense size. So if you want to be rid of the appetite, you have to change her size."
CherryBlossom sat up now, indignant. Killian's heart skipped wildly in her chest. "Like, make her smaller? How do we do that?"
"With this." Kauvara pulled a bottle from behind her counter. It was surprisingly small, brown with black stripes decorating its sides. It stood on what looked like paws. A glass tail protruded from the back. Kauvara smiled at her and held it out for Killian to take.
She wrapped her fingers of one hand around the neck of the bottle and supported the bottom with the palm of her other hand. It felt surprisingly warm to the touch, like it contained a fire.
Killian and Kauvara spent a few minutes discussing cost, and Killian and CherryBlossom left with Killian's purse being considerably lighter than it had been but still considerably heavier than she'd expected. She was happy. With one hand she held on to CherryBlossom, who seemed disgruntled to find she might not have gotten her way today after all. She pulled on her leash and sometimes refused to walk, but Killian was undeterred. She coaxed CherryBlossom home, all the while cradling the potion bottle like one would a baby.
But if she thought CherryBlossom would take the potion without a fuss, she was sorely mistaken. Kauvara had said she had to apply the entire potion, or it wouldn't be potent enough to change the Skeith at all. CherryBlossom, however, refused to make that easy. She tossed her head, thrashed her tail, flung herself to the side. Her flank crashed against the table, sending it flying across the kitchen from the force. One of the legs broke on impact, but Killian barely noticed over her own shouts and CherryBlossom's roars of defiance. Dishes fell from the counter and crashed on the floor. The garbage got knocked over and scattered by CherryBlossom's tail, which whipped back and forth with her fury.
"CherryBlossom, please!" Killian yelled. "Please! It won't hurt you!"
Even as she said it, she grimaced slightly. Kauvara had said nothing about pain. Neither she nor CherryBlossom knew if her words were true, but CherryBlossom was taking no chances.
Finally, though, she seemed to tire. Her sides were heaving, as were Killian's. Sweat beaded on her forehead, and her tongue dangled from her open mouth as she panted. Killian saw her moment. She raised the bottle, ready to douse her pet in its contents, when suddenly CherryBlossom moved. Her jaws opened and her teeth flashed, white and brilliant. Killian yelped and squeezed her eyes shut as they rose up towards her hand. When she opened them again, it took her a moment to process what had happened.
She was okay. She was embarrassed to have thought that CherryBlossom might hurt her.
Her hand was empty. It took her a minute longer to process that, but when she did her cheeks reddened with rage and her voice rose to an octave she had never heard herself use before, and it startled her.
The next day, Killian went to Kauvara's alone.
"It was a disaster," Killian told her the moment she stepped out of the door to the back. The door disappeared behind her as it closed. Killian had gaped the first time, but this was after all a magic shop. And on this visit, she was too agitated to pay any mind to a disappearing door. "My kitchen is destroyed. My other pets are terrified, and I don't know what to do."
"Did you apply the potion like I said?" Kauvara asked. Unlike Killian, she was still quite calm.
"She ate it. Right out of my hand. Bottle and all. I didn't know what to think!"
"Oh, that won't do. That won't do at all." Kauvara clicked her tongue disapprovingly, no longer listening to Killian's rattling on. She rummaged behind the counter again and pulled out another bottle, much like the first. "I won't charge you for this one, dear." She placed the bottle on the counter. It clacked against the glass. "It wasn't your fault. But this time, maybe wait till she's asleep."
"Will it hurt her," Killian asked, thinking of her empty reassurance to CherryBlossom the day before. "I told her it wouldn't hurt."
"It won't. Might not be entirely comfortable—it's quite a sensation, your body shrinking, you know—but it won't hurt her. I can promise you that."
Killian bit her lip, but she accepted the second bottle from Kauvara with thanks and went home. The other pets were home this time, and she tucked the bottle away where she didn't think any of them—especially CherryBlossom—would find it. Her thoughts were never far away, however, even while she played with the littlest ones and argued against a request for a Mootix. They couldn't even keep their own beds made, she pointed out. They wanted to be responsible for two beds?
That night, she sat up late waiting for her pets to drift off. The stuffing of her favorite arm chair was coming out, a victim of one of CherryBlossom's gnawing fits. She picked at it while the fire flickered in the fireplace. In the other room, a clock ticked. The house was still. Killian took a deep breath and got to her feet. It was time, she told herself, to get it over with.
The potion was in the drawer of her own nightstand, just where she'd left it. CherryBlossom was curled up, asleep, in the room she had to herself. The two oldest had their own rooms, while the youngest shared a room adjacent to Killian's on the first floor. CherryBlossom snored gently in her sleep, and Killian's breath caught. She looked so peaceful, Killian was frightened of waking her... of the battle that would ensue. Like a sleeping dragon, she thought. It was time to tame her.
She poured the potion onto a soft towel. Kauvara had suggested this might be the best way—"But you have to be sure every last drop gets rubbed into her skin," she'd warned. "Or it won't work, and I won't give you another bottle. A waste of product and a waste of money, if you can't manage it properly."
CherryBlossom stirred slightly under Killian's touch and then relaxed again. Killian was painfully aware of every movement, the sound of her breath, the creak of the floor board as she shifted her weight from the heel of her foot to the ball. Slowly but surely, she emptied the potion bottle as she petted CherryBlossom's back, sides, and the top of her head with the soaked towel.
When the bottle was empty, she waited. She waited and waited, but nothing seemed to happen. Disappointed and more than a little angry, she turned away. It took every ounce of self control she had not to slam anything as she returned to her own bedroom, dropped the potion bottle in the trash, and sat down on her bed. I've been had, she thought. And then she went to bed, her dreams filled with spilling stuffing and shades of red.
But in the morning, she woke to frightened mewling in the other bedroom. Panicked, Killian wondered if one of the pets were hurt. Or maybe CherryBlossom had eaten a favorite toy. Maybe she frightened one of the others by waking them up while chewing on the leg of their bed. She threw her striped bathrobe on before running into the other room to find... nothing. No loose stuffing, no stray stuffed Noil arms, no crying pets. Just one, a Kougra she'd never seen before, gnawing on the leg of her bed although the wood wouldn't give.
"Cherry?" asked Killian, startled. The Kougra looked up at her, wide eyes confused and pleading. CherryBlossom had never needed to look up at her before. When she'd laid down, she'd gone straight to sleep. Killian laughed. I haven't been had after all! "Why don't we go down to the kitchen, and I can make you something a little... easier to chew? I bet it'll taste better, too."