"Lara! Lara! Wake up!" a high pitched voice was saying. A tiny hand shook my shoulders, "Get up! Up up up!"
Still half asleep, I waved my arm dismissively towards the voice, "Shush, Nia, go bother Raina or something. Just let me slee-" I broke off as I let out a huge yawn. Now someone was patting my cheek.
"Whaaat?!" I demanded, opening my eyes groggily. But instead of my little sister, it was Aya who stood in front of me. Then I remembered that I was on a mission, not at home with my family.
Sunlight was streaming through the window, and Aya was jumping up and down. "Let go! Hurry up! Marx said you're gonna miss breakfast."
I didn't want to leave my bed so soon, it was still soft and warm, but I forced myself to get up anyways. I dragged myself to the bathroom and tried to tame my bedhead, to limited success. As I pulled my hairbrush through my scalp painfully, I wondered if this town had any hair dye. The purple colors were starting to fade out.
"How do you think I would look with green hair?" I turned to Aya, and she giggled. There was a soft knock on the door, and Marx appeared, holding a large platter piled with eggs and sausages. "Aya wouldn't leave the room until you woke up, and I didn't want you to snore through breakfast." he said. He didn't look so good, judging from the dark circles under his eyes.
"Didn't sleep well, did you?" I ask, raising an eyebrow towards him.
He rubbed the back of his neck. "Nightmares, sleepwalking, it happens now and then." Before I could comment on that, he rushed on to his next words, "Look, I sorry for underestimating you and Carissa when I was fighting that demon. I didn't want you guys getting hurt."
"You didn't want us in the way." I said quietly, "I can handle myself just fine, but it's okay, I understand. Next time, though," I looked him in the eye, "We work as a team. Thanks for breakfast." I gave him a friendly grin and took the plate from his hands.
"The escort got here already, and he looks like he knows Carissa pretty well." he added as he turns to leave.
"Tell them I'll meet him as soon as I'm finished with my food." I said, and then dug into my breakfast.
Carissa introduced the escort as Caleb. He immediately got along with Aya, and had her laughing and giggling in seconds.
"Thanks for coming at such short notice," I told him with a polite smile.
"No problem at all." He gave me a wide grin and then winked at me, "If you need anything else, babe, just call me."
I felt color rise to my cheeks as Carissa slapped his shoulder. "You can't just hit on every girl you set your eyes on, you bastard." But he just laughed.
"How can I resist? They always respond with such enthusiasm." He flashed me another smile, and I felt a twist of annoyance and dislike. He actually thought he was being charming, while all I saw was arrogance. I had half a mind to throw a potion in his face, but thought better of it. I'd only know him for a few minutes, and he was Carissa's friend.
By then, he had noticed that my smile had turned into a frown. "Hey, I was just joking around." he said nonchalantly, taking a sip out of a mug. I caught a faint whiff of alcohol, and instinctively snatched the drink from his hands.
"Wha-!" he exclaimed, with a startled look at his empty fingers, then looked up at me and shook his head, "Damn! You're pretty fast for someone who's not a fighter."
"Don't worry, she can fight." Carissa said lightheartedly, "She can blow you up before you can call her babe again." Caleb seems to make her more relaxed and open to the team, I noticed, as she laughed at his expression.
I played along, giving him my creepiest grin, "I can make your flesh melt right off your bones if I wanted to."
"Okay, okay, I get it," he held up his hands in defeat, "I'll back off the crazy alchemist."
"Anyways, you're not escorting Aya with any alcohol in your system," I told him, evaporating the rest of his beer with a wave of my hand, "We don't want anything to happen to her, got it?" I dropped a tiny bottle in his hands.
He wrinkled his nose at the potion, "What's that for?"
"Drink it," I give him a sly grin, "It'll flush all that beer out."
"Whatever it is, it smells horrible," he said as he downed the entire bottle. Then his face turned green, and he rushed away from the table, running past Marx, who had just arrived in the dining room.
"What's up with him?" he asked, placing his backpack on the table. His green cloak was on his shoulders and he was ready to go.
"He's just getting rid of his beer," I told him, unable to resist a chuckle, "He must have drunk a lot if he needs to vomit it out. Can't have an alcoholic escorting our little Aya."
"He's not an alcoholic," Carissa responded, a little too hotly, "We just had a couple of drinks last night."
"I was just joking. Besides, I'm starting to warm up to him," I told her, "He's pretty easy to mess with, just like Marx."
Carissa sighed, ignoring Marx's protests in the background, "I hope you're not a player like him. You two are too much alike, always fooling around with your shenanigans." she grumbled.
Caleb was finally back from the bathroom, and the glare he sent me was playful, not serious. "Time to go." he clapped his hands together, "C'mon, let's get moving, people."
I only needed my jacket, so we waited as Carissa went to get her bag. Aya was sitting on a chair way too high for her, swinging her legs. I had already explained to her about the escort, and promised to come back to the guild. Still, she looked at me with pleading eyes, begging me to take her with me.
"Sorry Aya," I said, "But Caleb would take good care of you, and we'll be back sooner than you think." I booped her on the nose and made her laugh.
When Carissa got back, she actually hugged Aya. She's full of surprises, I think, but I wasn't shocked at all when she handed Aya a knife and instructed her to stab anyone who tries to hurt her.
Marx smiled and patted her head, promising to bring her a souvenir when we finish the mission. "We'll miss you," he said, smiling at her as she wrapped her arms around his leg.
I was last, and when I crouched down and opened my arms, she ran straight into them and buried her head into my shoulder. "We'll be back in a week, and I'll show you all around the guild and my workshop, and you can help me dye my hair whatever color you want, okay? I promise." I gave her a peck on the forehead and released her.
But before she went, I pulled something out of my pocket, and put it around her neck. It was an amulet that I had fixed up the night before and clumsily attached to a thin chain. "If you're in danger, just shout my full name, and you'll be transported to me, got it?" She nodded, admiring the runestone. I wanted to say goodbye, but the words stuck in my throat, and instead I told her, "Stay safe."
Caleb took her hand and led her outside. We watched Aya wave at us as he uttered a spell, and in a flash of light, they were gone.
It's just temporary, I told myself, you'll see her again, don't being sad about it.
But when I turned to my team, I saw that Marx's smile had disappeared, and Carissa's expression was anything but happy. Aya had brought joy to all of us, but now that she was gone, I didn't know if we were going to revert back to our old ways. I really didn't want any more fighting, but we weren't fully a team yet, and I had to deal with that sooner or later.
"We're only halfway through our journey," Marx's voice filled the silence, his tone stiff and formal, "I already got us train tickets. It'll take a few more days to reach the monastery."
More traveling, I felt tired just thinking about it. I didn't want to spend days on a bumpy train with dozens of strangers.
"Nope," I said, "It's only going to take one day."
Both of them looked confused, "But the train's the fastest way, there's no other transportation." Marx said.
"You forgot that we have magic, silly," I felt a grin creeping across my face, and the melancholy of Aya's absence melted away, "We're flying."
I shoved my hands into my pockets and hoped that the Guild had enough Hermes' wings in stock.