With my meeting with the merchant Mint over, I headed back to the orphanage. The sun was starting to dip below the city's walls and the blue of the sky was retreating from the orange and red.
Before long, I made it back and was greeted by the kids and Philia. We quickly made dinner and the kids ate with all the gusto they always found a way to gather.
After they all finished dinner, I gave out the news that I was leaving the city the next day. They all cried out and begged me to stay, but thanks to Philia, we managed to calm them down. Strangely, Flix was surprisingly quiet during the whole ordeal. I figured that she would have been the loudest amongst the kids considering her track record, but she didn't say a word and stayed at the back of the group the entire time.
Due to the time it took to calm all the kids down, we weren't able to play, and thus with Philia's prompting, we got them all to go to bed.
"I suppose this will be the last time we'll be together for a while."
Philia nursed a cup of tea she brewed as we sat together at a table.
I felt bad about how my arrival was now making her miserable. Even if I had never intended such a thing, it was still my fault that she had gotten so attracted to me, that I let her pretend that there could be something between us despite the fact that I would have to move on at some point.
Now, the longer I stayed in this city, the more danger I brought to her. Just staying long enough to depart with Mint was pushing my luck, but it was still better than simply leaving on my own like a vagrant, though I virtually was one.
"Have you decided on a destination?"
"Knossos. I got a job escorting that merchant I introduced you to yesterday to that city."
"I see. Will you tell me about it if you come back?"
"I will. I'll definitely come back some day."
"You don't have to if you don't want to you know."
"I want to. You, you're my first friend after all."
Philia's eyes opened wide as she looked up at me.
I wasn't really lying. While I had friends in my previous life, I didn't have any in this one, and since she became family, Alicia didn't count either. Even including ones in my last life, I never felt nearly as close with them as I did then with Philia. I couldn't even remember the names or faces of most of them anymore, but I doubted I'd forget Philia's for a long time.
"Your first friend? Really? You'll call me that?"
"Why wouldn't I. It's true after all."
I gave her one of my biggest smiles. The little dwarf's face went beet red as she stared at me for a second before shaking her head.
"That's cheap. You know I'm not good at resisting that."
My hand grasped at the edge of my hood and pulled it down further.
"No! No, I'm sorry. I didn't mean it like that!"
"How many times do I have to tell you, that beauty of yours is a part of you. It's something I love about you."
"But it's the reason that..."
"Don't. It's my feelings that put me on that spot, and I won't let you deny that. You have a charm beyond simply your appearances. There is genuine beauty on the inside as well as the outside. I guarantee it."
Philia kept interrupting me and refuted my arguments even before I made them. Her hands firmly planted on the table as she leaned over and looked up at me through the shadow of my hood.
"I want you to promise me. I won't ask you to hold pride in your appearance, but at the very least, stop denying it and make it as a part of you. Even if you can't do it immediately, try to accept that part of you."
She stared into my eyes as she practically pleaded this. I wanted to avert my eyes, the burden of what she was asking felt heavy, even though it sounded so reasonable. But my eyes couldn't break contact with hers, like there was a force compelling me into this staring contest with the only way out being to accept her promise.
"Alright. I'll promise."
Unfortunately, my force of will against that sort of attack was miserably weak. Maybe it was weak in general, but when a person appealed to me like that, it was as good as me not having any defences at all.
"Good. Don't forget it, your first promise to your first friend!"
Philia smiled brightly as she got off the table and sat back down.
"Geez, just rubbing it in huh?"
Somehow that smile of hers seemed to just grow even bigger. Philia grabbed her now cooled cup of tea with one hand and chugged the entire thing.
"Don't leave in the middle of the night this time, you hear? We all want to give you a proper goodbye in the morning!"
"Alright. I promise."
"So your second promise belongs to me as well huh?"
Philia flashed another bright smile before turning and headed back to her room, leaving me a little dazed at how dazzling she looked.
I couldn't help but feel that if things were a little different, we might have really started dating and maybe even gotten married someday.
There was still a bunch of work for me to do before heading out in the morning. I didn't have much time to spare.
Looking around, I found another small unused room. Putting my rabbit plush bag down, I took out the etched steel tablets I had made and started to skim through them, sorting out the contents. They went into four separate piles. One for absolute beginners, one for early learning, one for intermediate learning, and a trash pile. The first three were self explanatory, but the fourth was tablets filled with magic theory that most likely wasn't true.
At the very least, they defied the logic of Earth, even after taking into consideration the differences because of magic and mana. I was pretty sure that the one that theorized air as a mystical force caused by invisible and untouchable wind aspected mana was outright wrong. I had no proof, but I was pretty much convinced that air was more or less the same here as on Earth. Just infused with mana in addition.
For each pile, I made a stone container with labels to keep the steel tablets sorted and placed them around the room on simple but sturdy tables made of more magically manipulated stone.
There was a sudden sound from behind me. Turning around, I saw a kid with her arms buried inside of my bag as she tried to push her head through the stretched opening as well.
"Hey hey hey, what're you trying to pull?"
I grabbed the girl's collar and the bag to separate the two.
Flix looked at me with a meek expression as her arms retracted like a cat's while being carried by the nape.
"Do you know how dangerous it can be for a living being to be put inside a magic bag?"
Frankly, I didn't either, but I didn't want to even test the idea, especially on a kid.
"...So, why did you try to get into my bag?"
Flix started to sniffle. It didn't take a genius to realize that she was holding back her tears.
"Let me guess. You planned on hiding in my bag until I was far and away from the city, then when I found you, I'd be forced to take you along with me, right?"
She turned her face away from me, but it was as good as an admission of guilt.
"Flix, what do you think everyone else would think if you suddenly disappeared?"
"I know you want to come with me, but have you thought about what Philia's or the other kids' feelings? Of what they'd think if you suddenly disappeared?"
"Personally, I think they'd all be in a panic. They'd think some bad people might've taken you or something. Philia and the older kids would go all around the city looking for you and the younger kids would be scared that their family was being taken from them. You wouldn't want that, would you?"
Thankfully, Flix didn't think things through nearly as well as Alicia did, so she was pretty easy to handle in comparison. She was a good girl, so simple guilt trips were really effective on her.
"And besides. I'm an adventurer. That means that I go to dangerous places all the time. You still haven't even learned how to use magic yet, and I bet you don't have a single combat skill either, right?"
"That's right. I'd be beside myself with worry that something might happen to you all the time in such dangerous places!"
"It's a bit depressing that you'd even think I wouldn't be."
"No! That's not what I meant!"
Flix shook her head as hard as she could, wholeheartedly denying my little joke.
"I, I didn't mean to make everyone worried, not Miss Philia, not everyone else, not you. But...!"
"It's too early for you to come with me, but I won't always be adventuring, nor always going to dangerous places. If you sit tight, I'll be back someday. Maybe then you can come with me if you still want to."
"I do! I'll always want to come with you!"
"Alright then. I'll promise to take you with me next time"
"Really? It's a promise!"
It felt like I was only delaying the inevitable, but for then at least, it did solve the issue for the meantime. I could just worry about the consequences the next time I came around, and if I made sure to save up a decent amount of money, I could just avoid most of the more dangerous parts of travelling if I ended up having to drag the little girl around with me.
"So...what were you doing?"
Flix looked around at everything I had made and pulled out.
"I made copies of a bunch of texts I found. Figured that you guys could use them to keep learning magic after I was gone."
The little girl more than a head shorter than me stretched her arm and pulled one of the steel tablets off of the container on one of the tables and read through it. As expected, it looked a bit heavy to her, but she looked like she was doing her best not to let it show.
On the other hand, seeing her read through the etchings on the metal plate she held in both hands as she stood beside one of the tables was as good as play testing. I took out some planks of wood out of my bag and cut up then fitted the pieces together to make several sturdy chairs, some of which were extra high but with additional rungs securing the legs for the smaller kids.
I places two at each table.
"Here, try sitting on this."
Flix climbed up on one of the taller chairs I had placed beside her and held the tablet upright on the table, now low enough for her to comfortably read on top of.
"Is all this really for us?"
"Yup. I figured some of you guys would want to keep learning magic, and it would be hard to find anyone else who would teach you."
The little girl excitedly bounced on her seat, making me glad I made the inscribed plates thick and durable as she banged it on the stone tabletop before she sheepishly looked at me.
"Opps. Thank you Scarlet!"
"Just make sure you share, okay?"
Excitedly, she went back to reading the tablet as I went to scan through the ones I haven't read yet. Unfortunately, I wasn't finding much of actual use. I kept finding incantations for spells that I could easily just do trough brute mana manipulation or descriptions of elemental properties that were pretty obvious if you spent any time looking outside of a window.
To my side, Flix's head dipped down before quickly jerking back up. She rubbed her eyes then concentrated on the tablet she was reading before her head started to dip again.
"Alright, I think you need to go to bed. You might hurt yourself, especially with how heavy the tablets are."
But to my surprise as I tried to lift the little girl out of the chair, she violently shook her head and struggled out of my grip before slipping and falling off. Thankfully, my reaction speed was more than adequate to reposition myself underneath her and catch the fluffy tailed girl in a hug.
When she realized what had happened, her arms snaked around me and held herself as tightly as they could manage.
"You're going to leave in the morning, right Scarlet?"
"Huh? Ah, yea, I did say that."
"Then, please. Let me stay with you until then."
Flix's entire body was trembling as she spoke into my chest.
(Philia wasn't the only one I needed to spend extra time on a goodbye it seems.)
One of my hands moved from holding her back and went to stroke the girl's hair. Her triangular ears slowly folded back as her tail wagged lazily and she buried her face further in between my soft mounds. I slowly lowered my body to the ground while holding her secure against my own and readjusted her body so that she sat on my lap. The moment my arm went back around her back, Flix's legs wrapped around mine as if she was afraid that her arms weren't enough to avoid losing her grip on me.
Flix's breathing also grew deeper and faster, like she was deeply inhaling through her nose and exhaling through her mouth. It wasn't the first time she had done this, so I wasn't too concerned about the behaviour, but it did make me curious. Actually asking the person in question about it was straight out though, so I had no choice but to leave that question unanswered for the time being.
The two of us stayed in that position until I could hear the kids upstairs stirring out of their beds.
"Flix? Time's up. Everyone'll be coming down soon. Flix?"
I dug the little girl's head out of my valley, only to find out that she had fallen asleep in that position. Her lips curled up into a small smile as her tail periodically wagged a bit here and there.
Without any choice, I held Flix close to me and rose to my feet to greet everyone else.
As the kids came down, they made a fuss about how Flix was stole a march on them overnight when they saw her in my arms as I carried the sleeping girl. I transferred her over to Philia's arms as soon as possible before preparing breakfast for everyone.
Once the kids ate, I gave them all goodbyes as they left to earn money. Many of them gave me teary waves as the left one after the next. Quite a few tried to stay, but a stern word by Philia was enough to make them hurry.
All that was left was Philia at the door. The kids too young to help around were dozing off on a couch inside and Flix was fast asleep in her bed upstairs. I had already explained about the room with the steel tablets to her, and even put aside a bunch of spare food and soap making materials to last everyone a little while.
After that, I had handed over the bag of coins I had gotten for the sale of the soap. Philia didn't bother to open the bag, but was still pretty surprised at the weight of it before she hid it in her room.
We stood there face to face at the threshold of the door.
"Take care on your journey."
"You take care as well."
Philia held both of my hands in hers as I stood just outside of the door.
Tears were threatening to escape from me and I could see the older dwarf's lower lip quiver.
"I'll be back."
But our farewells didn't go anywhere. For the first time, I realized I didn't even know how to do one. I had thought that just saying goodbye was enough, but it didn't feel right now that the time came. No words that I could think of encapsulated what I wanted to say. Not even close.
"I look forward to the next time we see each other again."
My words choked up in my throat, but somehow Philia was able to say exactly what I wanted to say. No matter what I did, she always managed to stay one step ahead of me.
(I won't let it stay that way though.)
I squatted down a bit so that our line of sight was level. Philia's eyes widened a bit, but it was nothing compared to what would happen if my plan succeeded.
Throwing off her hands, I wrapped my fingers around the back of the gaunt dwarf's head and I pressed my lips against hers, pushing my tongue aggressively between her lips as I got a thorough taste of her. The seconds ticked by. I couldn't tell if it was only a moment, or half an eternity, but I pulled away, letting go of Philia.
Pulling back, she was completely frozen, her eyes as wide as they could go.
Satisfied with the expression I never got to see before, I licked my lips.
"That's something to remember me by."
As I turned around, I saw her face grow cherry red. That expression of hers was a perfect souvenir for myself as I made my way to the city gates where I would meet up with Mint at.
A tall figure clad in robust metal armour stepped past the large orc serving as the local boss.
The figure removed their helmet, revealing the short and wavy blonde hair atop her long and narrow, yet sensually feminine face. She shook off the glistening sweat that had accumulated on her skin as she took deep breaths.
"No environmental controls, no personal regulator. Just how the hell do these savages even survive?!"
She glared at the corpse for a moment before moving on without even bothering with any items the monster may have left.
"And they only give me this flat metal pole?! I demanded that they give me at least a shock rifle, and they give me a damn pole to fight with! How the hell am I supposed to do my job with a measly piece of crude metal?!"
Despite the names she called it, the woman carefully returned the light blue blade into it's sheathe.
"Damnit. And these supposed support systems that those bastards said I got? Why the hell do I have to power them up by fighting! Couldn't they have just charged the damn things in the first place instead of making me work for it?! At least they make up for the lack of power armour, but damnit this crude armour is hot!"
She tried to pull on the neck lining a bit, but the lightly elastic material refused to budge as much as she wanted.
"Damnit! Why the hell do I have to go through this shit?! Ah, they better make me rich and let me spend the rest of my life on a resort planet after this! Damnit!!!"
Leaving those words, the woman returned her helmet back onto her head as she trudged along down the stairs behind where the orc was guarding.