Chapter 22: Change
“How is your wound?” Alex asked while we started to take down her tent.
“Almost gone, it’s scary.” Around 24 hours passed since we fought this group of orcs and goblins led by that demon girl.
Yesterday evening, the ministry told Luna to end the mission, meaning we were instructed to find and destroy the dungeon core. And with we, I mean Luna, Wace, and Krystoff.
Miko wanted to stay behind, so she meant it when she said she wouldn’t ever leave me alone again. But it's also possible she simply wanted to avoid leaving Alex, Nada, and me behind again after we got invaded.
But she didn’t seem motivated to fight that giant dragon bull, which was most likely the carer of the dungeon core. Alex told me this creature was around B-A rank just because of its pure power. It wasn’t smart at all, but it was hard to kill. That’s why I was kind of worried, as they told Krystoff to join them.
“I hope they don't have any difficulties. I am kind of worried about Krys.” Alex said what everyone thought.
"You don't have to. Yes, he's not strong and not ready for a fight like this... But he has potential." Surprisingly, Miko came to defend him or, rather, to make him look a bit better.
“As we fought that demon, he did not hesitate to attack it, even though he knew that he wasn’t a match for her at all. I am sure Luna sees potential in him, so she took him to at least observe that fight.”
“When do we go eat waffles?” Nada also joined us at the place where Alex´s tent stood some minutes ago. I felt a bit sorry for her; she expected us to hit that waffle place yesterday, but Luna was super busy talking to the ministry and with the different guild leaders about the status of the mission. Lilith contacted us moments after she ended her call with Luna, telling us how happy she was about our well-being. She really is a lovely guild leader, but I still need to ask her what this spell did that she had given me.
"Keep helping us pack. Then we can leave as soon as the others return from the dungeon."
"Aye, aye, sir!" she said, energetically jumping back to her tent. I hoped her headaches wouldn't come back because I had a pretty short night because of her, as she visited me every two hours or so and asked me for healing to ease her pain. I wasn't complaining, by the way, but I was worried about the cause of her pain. I feared it was psychological, and I knew I couldn't help her with that in the long run.
I tried not to think about it for the time being, so the camp's disassembly went smoothly, and after a little more than an hour, we had taken everything down. Now we had to wait. We set up a semi-circle of chairs in front of the dungeon gate and scrolled around on our cell phones. Nada studied the menu of the waffle restaurant, Alex looked at her lessons for the upcoming days, and Miko watched silly videos with me.
"They're coming," Miko said, as she was the only one wearing one of the headsets that worked again after the demons had disappeared. We all hastily put our cell phones away as if we had been waiting for the teacher to return to the classroom after leaving for a moment during the lesson.
I watched the blue shimmer inside the gate and couldn't hide my smile as I saw the three of them leaving the dungeon. I glanced at their faces and found a wild mixture of emotions. Wace was grinning, Krys looked kind of shocked, and Luna seemed to be lost in thought. That's why I wasn't so sure whether the mission had been successful.
But the moment Luna placed her hand on the dungeon gate, it began to crumble, seeming to collapse at any moment and dissolve into pure mana that wanted to fly away and spread out into the atmosphere, but instead, it was literally drawn to Luna before disappearing into her.
What just happened? It was similar to when I healed someone, but there I was, pouring mana into someone, but here Luna was absorbing mana from around her.
Alex walked over to Krys, who was still slightly off his game. “Everything’s fine?”
"Those two are scary." Shaking his head, he began to chuckle, and the color slowly returned to his face.
The mission was over. My first real mission ended after the estimated two weeks. It's kind of scary, considering how accurate the guild leader's prediction was. What I wasn't sure about was the satisfaction of our results. We found out why Krys's guild was ambushed, or rather, we got a big clue as to what might have happened. We knew of the existence of these demons who definitely had a plan. However, we can't even say if they succeeded in the end because we have no idea what their goal even was.
"Don't look so glum. You've done a good job." It was Miko who put her arm around my shoulder. "I know what's going through your mind right now, but you don't have to answer all those questions you're asking yourself. Just accept that we're not nearly important enough to do that.”
I sighed because I was aware that I was a tiny and insignificant cog in the wheel of this magical world. Nevertheless, I helped fight these demons to defend the people in this city, so Miko was right. I was allowed to feel good and be proud of myself.
"Don't apologize now, you dummy, or I'll have to punish you."
"Yes, please," I said with a huge grin.
“Here are your orders. Enjoy your food, and please let me know if there is anything else I can do for you.” said the waiter at the waffle store where we wanted to reward ourselves for the last few weeks.
Every single dish on this table looked incredibly delicious, and I was no longer sure if I had made the right decision to go for a relatively plain waffle with chocolate syrup, powdered sugar, and three scoops of ice cream in different flavors.
Miko, who was sitting next to me, had some kind of strawberry waffle cake in front of her. I'll do my best to describe it. It starts with a waffle as the base, then comes a layer of vanilla pudding, and on top are strawberries surrounded by whipped cream. This monstrous dish easily covered her calorie intake for the whole day.
"I wish someone would look at me the way Kayla looks at Miko's food," Luna said, sighing loudly and trying to look upset. Thanks to her comment, all eyes turned to me, so I hid my face behind my hands.
"You'll find someone ... eventually, maybe," Wace said as charmingly as he could.
"I could try it," Krystoff said, looking directly at Luna.
"No thanks, nothing against you, but I'm not into younger men."
"Ouch, what a rejection. Will he be able to recover from that?" Alex asked with a laugh.
"Who cares about that? Can we please start eating?" Nada was the one who didn't particularly like this back-and-forth. No one resented her, she had been looking forward to this meal for so long, and she was respectful enough to wait until we started together.
“Okay, I will try to hold it short.” Said Luna, who stood up from her chair.
“I just wanted to say how grateful I am to have met such a great team like you. This mission was anything but easy. We often faced obstacles, but everyone worked hard and diligently to overcome them. I wish you all the success in your future journeys and hope to see you again soon.”
Honestly, it was an absolute default speech. Still, it fitted and felt sincere, so we applauded quietly as we didn't want to disturb the other guests in the restaurant. Luna then sat down again and devoted herself to her food, so the feast began.
As I munched on my delicious mixture of warm waffles and cold ice cream, my eyes wandered over the others' plates. When my gaze landed on Miko's, I saw her cut off a piece of her waffle and spear it on her fork. But instead of putting it in her mouth, she maneuvered it in my direction.
I was baffled, but of course, I wouldn't refuse! Happily, I accepted her offer. The moment I felt this sweet explosion in my mouth, I remembered something. I am 100% sure that Miko was absolutely not a fan of sweets, but she still decided to order this waffle. Maybe so she could feed it to me? Probably not. I think I'm reading too much into it.
I did not want to look at anyone’s face right now. Still, there was no option to glue my eyes onto the table, so I slowly raised my gaze and noticed that no one really cared. I expected them to make some comments or faces at us, but instead, Nada asked Wace and Alex to share some of their waffles with her.
Right now, I started to doubt if the people around us actually were as obtrusive as I felt they were every time I interacted with Miko in some intimate way.
Maybe it was my own self-doubt. I was just so used to staying under the radar, not playing any role in other people's eyes… but since I met Miko, that hiding has stopped working.
I've always convinced myself I'm an unimportant side character, even in my own life, but at the same time, I think so much about the assumption that everyone is constantly looking at me and judging me that I feel pretty hypocritical right now. And why exactly do I have to rack my brains over all this at a time when I should be having fun with my friends?
"Woah, what's this? Don't you want to share some of yours with me?"
A pouting Miko brought me back to reality; her eyebrows were furrowed together, and she was doing her best to look genuinely outraged but was failing miserably. I've looked at her face so often that I feel confident distinguishing between her acting and genuine emotions.
"I always thought you disliked sweet stuff," I told her in a low tone so that only she could hear it clearly.
"I did, but since someone didn't care about that and kept offering me sweets, I learned to like them a lot."
“Oopsie, I am so sorry.”
"You should be, but I've decided to forgive you if you'd finally share some of your waffles with me."
"Alright, alright." I started to giggle because Miko continued to stare at me so seriously while she was upset about my rudeness. I hurried and cut off a bite-sized piece of the chocolate bomb on my plate and handed the fork to Miko. She gratefully accepted my peace offering and smiled happily as her head trembled with joy after her first bite into this sugar blast.
After almost everyone had shared some of their own food with the person sitting next to them, the group fell into voracious silence for a few minutes until everyone had finished eating.
"Feel free to order another drink. It's all on me today," Luna announced after studying the menu for the fifth time since we sat down. I'm pretty curious to know how much she gets paid for leading this mission, and I'm excited to check out what my bank account will look like in a week or two.
"So, what are you going to do after today?" Miko was the one who posed the question to the group. I was amazed that she was interested in other people. Still, it seemed like she had changed in some ways since I met her, but I simply did not notice it as much since I spent almost every day with her.
“I will start writing my thesis. After my first mission, I am hooked. I want to join a guild as soon as possible.” Alex was literally glowing when she announced her plan. I was happy for her because you could feel her determination. But at the same time, I was worried about Nada... but she was also smiling contentedly; Alex had probably already told her about her intentions.
“That sounds great. Do you have a special guild you want to join in mind already?” Krys asked, looking at her with a big grin. But Alex briefly shook her head.
“No, I don’t really know. Maybe I want to move further away, maybe leaving the country. Who knows.”
“If you need help to find a fitting guild, just let me know, and I will try to help you,” Luna said with a gentle smile.
"I appreciate it, Luna. Thank you so much." Alex's voice sounded a little shaky; she seemed on the verge of tears, but after taking a deep breath, she regained her composure.
"For my part, I'm planning to study for a few more years. I'm not suited to that much adventure. But I will definitely sign up for our school's dungeon excursions." Nada explained.
"I'm too old to change anything after such an insignificant mission, so everything stays the same." Wace didn't even look up as he spoke; instead, he wrote something in one of his notebooks.
"I know it sounds cheesy, but I want to get stronger. Working with you all has been very inspiring for me, and I want to continue to develop into a better, more useful mage." Oh, Krys, just don't say it's cheesy beforehand because I might have taken you a little more seriously.
Since I didn't have to think much about my answer, I had time to look at the faces of those who hadn't said anything yet, namely Miko and Luna, and both seemed unexpectedly thoughtful.
Luna sighed and began to speak, "I don't even know exactly what I'm going to do tomorrow, so I'm afraid I can't tell you anything." None of us knew how to react, so we laughed slightly.
"I know that feeling. Sometimes it's just like that, am I right?" Alex said and awkwardly looked around.
"What about you two? Miko and Kayla haven't said anything about their plans yet." Krys contributed to the distraction.
"Oh, you were expecting me to say something?" Miko seemed genuinely surprised. "I will continue to shape Kayla into one of the greatest witches." I don't know how she could say something like that with so much sincerity.
I didn't recall when I became the main character of a Shōnen manga, but since Miko felt obligated to make me the greatest witch, I had to play along.
"Of course, I will continue my journey to become the strongest witch of all time and save the world from evil." I had a hard time not laughing, but I knew Miko would be at least a little mad at me if I did.
In the end, it was Luna who started laughing: "I can't wait to see you at the top, my future queen." Was she making fun of me? Not that I really have any desire to climb up in the world of magic, but it's funny to imagine that I would do it just to spite her.
Suddenly, a vibrating cell phone drew everyone's attention. Miko stood up and bowed slightly, "Excuse me, I have to take this." and hurried outside.
As I had relatively little respect for her privacy, I had naturally looked at her display and knew that the call came from Eliza, our secretary slash Miko's unofficial foster mother alongside Lilith.
Miko came back shortly afterward and apologized again. "Kayla and I will be picked up in about 20 minutes." After that, we all had one last drink, and Luna paid, for which we all thanked her.
Then we left the waffle store. A car was already waiting in front of it. It was Elliot who had come to pick up Nada and Alex. Luna and Krys had arrived in their own cars, so it was time to say goodbye.
After five more minutes, Luna, Miko, and I were the only people left. Luna insisted on waiting until everyone was on their way.
Shortly afterward, Eliza drove up and got out of the car. She looked relieved and went straight up to Miko to give her a big hug, and then I got a little cuddle, too. "I'm so glad you're okay," she whispered, stroking my head. I don't know when she started caring for me so much, but I was grateful that she was.
We put our things in the trunk and were ready to leave, but Eliza looked at us, saying, "Would you be so kind as to sit down in the car? I'd like to talk to Luna in private for a moment."
"I'll see you around," Luna said, waving her hands toward us.
Miko and I observed them talking, but it was hard to make out what they were discussing. We eventually gave up and waited for Eliza to join us in the car.
It took about three minutes for them to finish their conversation. I caught a glimpse of Luna's face, and she looked deep in thought again. But I wasn't too worried about her, but I can't deny that I really wanted to know how those two were connected.
"What did you guys talk about?" Miko asked shortly after Eliza started driving.
"You realize we didn't need to talk privately if I could just tell you."
"Yes, of course, but what if I promise not to tell anyone you told me about it."
"Kayla, tell her how stupid she sounds." Eliza sighed, and I put my hand on Miko's thigh.
"Just try to accept it. It's just as hard for me as it is for you," I said, patting her leg repeatedly.
"What am I supposed to accept? That I'm stupid?"
The half-hour drive felt a little longer as we fell into silence. Not because we were arguing, but Miko fell asleep once we were on the highway, and Eliza and I decided to let her rest. Miko would never admit to being physically or mentally exhausted, but she needed a break.
I shook her gently on the shoulder after we parked in front of the guild building. At first, she didn't react, but after the fifth shake, she jumped up and wiped some saliva from the corners of her mouth.
"You have reached your destination. Please get out of the car." I tried to speak as mechanically as possible, but judging by the look on Miko's face, I wasn't very good at it.
After we brought all our stuff into the second floor, aka Miko´s apartment, we went downstairs to look for Lilith, but she wasn’t there.
“She is not here; I expect her to return in two or three days,” Eliza said after she realized we were searching for Lilith. Miko was a little disappointed, but she quickly got over it; after all, she was used to Lilith being away occasionally because of her function as guild leader.
I also thought about leaving for now. I wanted to throw my laundry in the washing machine, and I was longing for a nice cold shower. But as I tried to tell Miko, I noticed her looking at me with a serious expression.
“Let’s go upstairs. We need to talk.”
Only now did I remember that she wanted us to discuss our relationship as soon as the mission was over... I didn't expect her to want to get it over with so quickly.
I followed her up the stairs without saying anything. I didn't even think anything. I just listened to my own heart beating faster and faster.
She sat down on her bed, and I sat on her desk chair; I pulled my legs up and hugged them. I felt anxious and tried to calm down a little. I had no idea how this conversation might go, and right now, I wished that nothing between us would change.
"Can I ask you a few questions?" She began to speak, looking me straight in the eye.
“What do you like about me? I've never really questioned why anyone would want to spend time with me. So, I am curious… why do you want to be with me?”
I took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.
“That is a shit question. It is not like I ever thought about what I like about you. It is just a feeling, so you asking for something pretty difficult.”
“Please try it.”
"Where should I start? First of all, I feel totally safe when you're around... It's like I'm not afraid of anything when you're with me. You're funny, honest, and just the right amount of mean."
She just kept looking at me, not changing her expression just for a little bit.
"Are you sure you like me personally, or just the fact that you have someone so you're not lonely anymore?"
This question was nasty, but I understood why she asked it.
"Even though I don't think much of myself, I'm sure enough people would love to spend time with me... But I took this completely insane job and barely survived fighting orcs and goblins. Trust me, I don't hate loneliness enough to go through something like that."
“So, you want to tell me you are in this guild because of me?”
"I joined because of you. I wanted to get to know you better right from the start. And I had my doubts about everything often enough, but I wanted to prove something to myself and to you."
"I understand all that, but what do you expect from me? I told you before the mission that I want to be friends with you, and I'm still your teacher, of course, but what else do you want? What do you want me to do? Or rather, what do you want to do with me?"
I swallowed. What am I supposed to say right now?
“I… I want you to, you know, be at my side.”
“Kayla, I already am.”
“I want you to only look at me.”
“That sounds kind of difficult.”
“I want to see or speak to you every day.”
“You mean like we did for the last two months?”
"I want you to tell me when you're feeling bad. I want you to rely on me. I want to be there for you, too. I sometimes feel like I'm your little personal pet. Yes, I feel I'm important to you, but I don't feel like you want me to be there for you."
For the first time since the conversation began, her facial expression changed. She bit her lip slightly and turned her gaze away from me.
“Okay. What else do you want?” Miko asked, looking at the floor.
"I want to know everything about you. I want to see every layer of you." I honestly felt like I was getting greedy, but she asked me what I wanted, so I told her.
"Do you feel attracted to me?"
What kind of question was this?
“Yes, I do.”
"Would you like to see my body? Did you ever imagine doing dirty things with me?"
We both started blushing simultaneously.
“Do I need to answer this?” I asked, as I also started to stare at the floor.
"I think it's important for me to know that because I've never had anything like a romantic relationship."
“Have you never been interested in someone before? Like… sexually?” I asked quietly.
"Of course I was! Do you think I'm a robot or something like that? I just never had the desire to act out my fantasies or invest energy in trying to start something like a relationship."
She spoke far too quickly, and it was not difficult to see that it was not easy for her to discuss this topic. It's not like I was super comfortable to do so.
"To answer your question. No, I never imagined doing dirty things with you.”
That was a lie
“And can we please stop calling it that? Still, I love touching you whenever you pet my head or put your arm around me. I just wish these moments would never end!"
Miko lifted her head again, and even though her head was glowing red, she looked straight at me.
"Do you... do you want to kiss me?” How did she manage to ask something like that while looking at me? I buried my face behind my legs and focused on not having a heart attack.
“Like now?” My words were not more than a whisper, but Miko instantly jumped off of her bed.
"No!" her answer came a little too fast and far too loud. Why would she ask such a question if she was so against the idea of kissing me?
"It's not you! I'm the problem, Kayla, I swear! I don't think there's anything unpleasant about kissing you!"
I peeked through my legs and saw her sit down again.
"I'm sorry for shouting... I'm just a bit shaken up."
“Don’t worry… Can I maybe ask a question, too?”
“Yes, of course.”
"Thank you... I think I've made it pretty clear in which way I'm interested in you. But you haven't said how you feel about me."
"Kayla, would you please look at me." Her voice sounded as shaky as her body was as I glanced at her.
We looked into each other's eyes.
That moment felt like an eternity; she wanted to say something, but I could feel her struggle to get the words out.
Suddenly, she slapped both hands on her thighs.
"Let's try it! Let's be a couple!"