I really wasn’t sure what to expect from a date. By how Saffron described it, I was pretty sure I was going to fumble my way through it entirely, or somehow insult Nolan the moment I greeted him. And while it was too early to say whether or not I’d completely screw up this date, so far, things were… going alright?
I mean, I greeted Nolan and I didn’t say anything that made him want to kill me, which was already better than what Saffron was expecting. But beyond just that, we spoke and walked, heading for the restaurant he had chosen out, almost like it was any other day after class.
Our conversation was completely normal. It didn’t feel any different from when we spoke yesterday, or even last week. He even called me by my improper name for a moment— Ms Salvos— like he usually did to tease me, and I called him out for it.
“So, where are we going?”
I glanced over at Nolan, following him through Mavos Academy’s campus.
“We’re going to the Crimsonbroth’s Seafood. It’s the best seafood restaurant on campus, and trust me, their crabs are to die for.”
“Oh. Why would you die for the crabs? Must we save them from being killed? I thought this was a date or something?”
Nolan chuckled, waving a hand off.
“We’re not going to literally die for them. It’s a figure of speech. It means that crabs are their specialty dish.”
I blinked. Then I giggled too. That was silly of me— unfortunately, [Universal Language Comprehension] sometimes made mistakes. I was starting to doubt whether this was really a ‘date,’ as Saffron kept calling it. It just felt like we were having regular conversation as friends, speaking casually, and making jokes with one another. That was until Nolan shook his head.
“I’m honestly surprised, Ms Salvos.”
“And what’s so surprising about me?”
“I didn’t expect you to actually dress up for the occasion.”
He smiled. I paused, narrowing my eyes. It took me a moment to resist the urge to ask him what exactly was this occasion he was talking about. Instead, I prodded him with a gauging comment.
“Well, I’d like to look my best when I’m out on a date, yes?”
Nolan halted midstep. He looked over at me, wearing a silken dark blue dress. I raised a brow, and he nodded.
“Indeed. You look gorgeous tonight, Salvos.”
So, it really was a date.
I guess that meant I was going to have to gross him out as Saffron said. She believed it was the best course of action, considering that very few people would believe that I liked bugs. And even if they did, it wasn’t really detrimental to an adventurer’s reputation, unlike some other things I could do to make this date a flop.
We reached the Crimsonbroth’s Seafood soon after.
Nolan was genuinely shocked. He’d gotten to know Salvos quite well over the short few weeks since they met, having helped tutor her in alchemy almost every day after class. And he was very much under the impression that Salvos, due to her naivety, would be completely unaware that he was trying to court her.
His interactions with her and his assessment of her character led to that logical conclusion; he thought he’d have to explain that this wasn’t intended to be an ordinary dinner some time during the evening. But he was left stunned when he caught sight of Salvos at the meeting place.
She normally wore an odd-looking dark blue jacket, with a bundle of rags wrapped around her neck, and her hair tied into a ponytail. That was not the Salvos that showed up for dinner.
Tonight, she let her silver hair flow freely like a steaming waterfall, curled and knotted by a braid at the very top. Her dress was colored her signature dark blue, although it was ornate, exuding an aura of elegance that was unlike her usual carefree demeanor. She swept across the marble floor in high heels, following Nolan with poise as they were led to their table.
Nolan had met a myriad of gorgeous women during his travels as an adventurer. But he’d never truly seen someone as beautiful as Salvos. Even as he settled into his seat, he could feel a sense of nervousness building up within. His heart pounded like a [Blacksmith]’s hammer in his chest. It was an unusual feeling for him.
But as he looked up from the menu, meeting Salvos’ gaze, he understood the authenticity of what he felt. He wanted to sigh, watching the way her sharp eyes turned to face their waiter. The way her head tilted to the side whenever she had a question, a simple quirk that seemed to capture her entire character, but was actually an elusive facade.
After all, she wasn’t just a clueless girl as she might seem. Salvos had depth, greater than any other character Nolan had ever met. She was a Diamond Rank adventurer. A hero in the eyes of many— someone who experienced the thrill of adventure as Nolan did. She was also a curious young woman, vying for knowledge, never satisfied with what she learned. And even more than that, she was a sophisticated, intelligent, and refined lady who proudly carried herself in a way that just made him respect her.
Salvos smiled at the waiter.
“Do you guys, um, serve any bugs?”
What did she just say?
“Yes, I asked if you guys served any bugs.”
I nodded as the waiter asked me to clarify my question. The man shook his head apologetically.
“I’m sorry, Miss, but we do not have a dinner option for bugs here.”
“Well, you should, because I’m not going to be eating anything unless it has six legs, antennae, and is squirming on my plate, got it?”
“We’ll see what we can do.”
The water hurriedly left, and I turned to Nolan, rolling my eyes.
“Bad service, am I right?”
He didn’t exactly meet my gaze as he flipped through the menu. It took him a while to decide on what he wanted to order. The waiter returned, bowing deeply at me.
“I must apologize, but our [Chef]’s are unable to accommodate this request. Is there nothing on the menu that would suit your tastes?”
I looked down at the menu for a second, and tossed it at the table.
“Nope! Only bugs. I just love the way they crunch in my mouth. They’re delicious!”
I made a chewing noise as the waiter hesitated. Then Nolan spoke out.
“Salvos, if I may speak with him.”
He ushered the waiter over, exchanging a quiet conversation. The waiter nodded as Nolan pointed at the menu, and I watched them.
Was it working?
Saffron told me to just be myself. Which was rude! But it wasn’t really untrue. If not for the constraints that came from Human social conventions. Sure, I didn’t care about adhering to those most of the time. But it sometimes mattered, just like how Kobold social conventions mattered, and Elven social conventions mattered.
The waiter drew back, nodding at Nolan, before taking his leave. I peered at Nolan.
“What was that about?”
“It’s nothing. I simply tried to get you to compromise for you.”
He waved a hand off before continuing.
“So, Salvos, tell me more about yourself. I must confess, I’ve been fascinated by what I’ve heard of you, especially with how rapidly you’ve risen into prominence over the past few years.”
“Oh, um, so I’m Salvos… although you already knew that.”
“I do, yes.”
He leaned forward, resting his elbows on the edge of the table. I tapped a finger on my chin. There were so many things for me to say about myself! I could talk about myself forever. But I caught myself. I was supposed to be trying to disgust him— make him lose interest in me. Which meant I should talk about…
“I really love bugs. They’re delicious. Have you ever tried them, Nolan?”
There was a pause. Nolan gave me a thin smile as he replied.
“Unfortunately, I have not. I don’t think—”
“You should try it. It’s really good!”
“Have you ever just grabbed a handful of ants and stuffed them in your mouth? The best part is when some of them escape and they’re crawling all over your teeth, so you just lick your tongue all over it.”
I sighed wistfully, smacking my lips together.
He shifted uncomfortably as a server came, pouring us both a glass of wine each. Nolan was about to take a sip when I pushed my glass back.
“Sorry. Don’t like alcohol. Makes me throw up.”
With a deep breath, he downed his glass in an instant. Wiping his mouth with a napkin, he adjusted his suit and spoke apprehensively.
“Is there any reason for… your… particular tastes, Salvos?”
“It’s just how I am.”
The two of us sat in silence for a moment. I just stared at him, and he fidgeted, unsure of what to say. Then he tried changing topics.
“Did you hear about what happened last weekend? A group of Elves brazenly assault Mavos Academy, killing dozens of high ranking nobles and Platinums. They even killed two Diamonds in the battle.”
“Oh, yep, I was there.”
“It is such a tragedy. And now the various families who lost their— wait, you were there?”
He narrowed his eyes. I nodded.
“Yep. I saved Ivonne and everything. Got myself covered in Elf blood too!”
The idea of me being covered in blood didn’t disgust him, which I should’ve known. He was an adventurer like me, so gore didn’t disturb him, even if he appeared and acted like a noble. I tried thinking of linking this topic back to bugs, but his eyes flickered.
“Ah. So that’s why you postponed last week’s date.”
I paused. Then I nodded slowly.
“Yep. I had to attend it to get some ingredients for— wait, didn’t I tell you this?”
“This does ring a bell.”
Nolan placed a hand on his chin.
“Now I remember. I had forgotten it because I had... other things in my mind at the time.”
He left the words unsaid, but he probably was referring to the fact that I had openly told him that I forgot about our date back then. And to think that I believed I handled that well! That just showed I still had a lot to learn about how mortals worked.
“Let’s not dwell on these serious topics. I’m sure you’d rather not discuss such an event over dinner. How’d your midterms go, Salvos?”
“Oh. I did good! I think. I don’t know, actually.”
“So, do you not know or do you think you did well?”
He laughed, and I scowled.
“I’m unsure, alright? I feel like I may have done well, but I also may not? I’ve never actually taken a test before.”
“You have not?”
Nolan blinked. I paused.
“Um, no? Is that odd?”
Edithe had once told me that not all Humans went to school. It wasn’t weird for me to say that I never went to school before now, right? Nolan shook his head.
“Ah, no. I was simply surprised because you seem so intelligent, I assumed you received a formal education in your household when growing up.”
“Well, it may seem like that’s the case, but I’m actually just very smart!”
I was five years old and already in Mavos Academy’s School of Aspiring Elites. Human five year olds couldn’t even read properly, or something.
“Indeed you are. Also, our food’s arriving.”
Nolan nodded, turning as a waiter appeared with our dishes. I frowned.
“What did you order for me?”
“A crown tusked crab. It’s boiled in a sweet chili sauce which I’m sure you’ll love.”
I wrinkled my nose as the meal was placed in front of me.
“Hey, didn’t I ask for—”
“Something with six legs, antennae, and is squirming in front of you?”
Nolan grinned. He gestured at the crab.
“The crown tusked crab is the only crab in the world with six legs. Imported from the Cyclops lands, it has a pair of feelers— or antennae— and also, due to the boiling chili sauce, it gives off the appearance that it’s squirming, see?”
What he said was certainly all true. It definitely met the criteria I laid out. But I was obviously alluding to bugs, not to this! I opened my mouth, and Nolan spoke over me.
“I insist you try it first.”
I crossed my arms, before grabbing a fork. I stabbed into a piece of the crab, already expecting to grimace from the taste. I bit into it—
I chewed slowly, tasting the rubbery texture of the crab. Nolan stared at me. My mouth dropped.
“That’s delicious! Well, the crab’s delicious. Everything around it isn’t as good. If you just served me the crab alone, it’d have been way better!”
I devoured the crab quickly— it tasted very similar to how a beetle or a roach, except it was cooked. It wasn’t as good as, say, a wasp. But it was very nice nonetheless. It could be improved if I ate it raw.
I caught myself when I realized that Nolan wasn’t saying anything. I cleared my throat, softly placing the fork back down onto the table.
“Um, I think it’s good?”
“Right, but, errr… Salvos, you’re supposed to eat it without the shell. It’s not a soft-shelled crab.”
I blinked. I stared at the crab leg I had pulled out. It certainly had been crunchy in my mouth. But—
“I prefer it this way!”
Our date continued, and we chatted about school and our own adventures. I left out the parts that implicated me as a Demon, telling him about how I managed to defeat the Lich and save Edithe. Nolan shook his head.
“So, you’re telling me that the Lich, the plague of the Plaguelands, and the remnants of Zacharius the Quisling himself, was actually just enamored over a single girl?”
“Pretty stupid, right?”
He paused. Then he smiled.
“I can’t say I don’t relate with him, but it does seem quite ridiculous when you consider the consequences of his actions over history.”
I blinked. I almost completely forgot that I was supposed to be trying to gross him out. I was just talking to him normally. I really didn’t understand— was a date supposed to be something special? Or was it another weird concept created by Humans just to make their lives more unnecessarily complex?
Either way, I was reminded of what I was supposed to do as I strolled with Nolan out of Crimsonbroth’s Seafood.
“What did you think of tonight, Salvos?”
Nolan faced me as a dark cloud hovered over the moon, blotting out its light. I was about to answer honestly, but my mission resounded in my mind, so I just opened my hands and shrugged.
“Could’ve had more bugs and it’d be better.”
He paused. His lips were pursed. Nolan squinted as he looked at me, and I hesitated.
“Are you… are you doing this on purpose, Salvos?”
“Am I doing what on purpose?”
“You’ve never once brought up anything like this until… well, tonight. I’m just wondering if you’ve been purposefully doing this.”
I froze. I really needed to improve my social skills. I had thought I fooled him, but just like last time, I was completely off base. I averted my gaze.
Nolan asked, not annoyed or angry, just questioning. I scratched the back of my head.
“Because my friend, um, said you weren’t a good person to women? Or something?”
“Ah. I thought so.”
Sighing, Nolan sat on a nearby bench as I stood in front of him.
“Perhaps you’ve heard of less-than-kind things about my character. And they may have been true. Once, in the past, I was a young man who was overindulgent in my actions with women. Yes, amongst nobility and the upper class, such actions are oft looked down upon. But as an adventurer, what I did wasn’t out of the ordinary.”
He closed his eyes, as if recalling a memory.
“But there was one thing I did differently than others. I was always honest with my intentions, Salvos. The women I fooled around with knew it would never become anything serious. I told them outright that I didn’t plan on settling down with someone yet. And since then, I’ve changed. Now, I’ve become a romantic. Now, I want to find love.”
I shifted uncomfortably as Nolan stood back up. He took my hand, kneeling on the ground.
“So, just as I was honest with my intentions in the past, I’ll be honest now. I believe that you may be the one for me— when I think of you, I know that I’m captivated by you. Around you, I am both content and anxious. I feel affection and apprehension when I see you. I know this is sudden, but I truly think I love you, Salvos.”
With a kiss on the back of my hand, he stood up. Nolan met my gaze as I cocked my head.
“And that is why I’d like to know your intentions with me, Salvos. Please be honest. I’d rather not pressure you into saying anything you don’t want to.”
“It’s fine, Nolan. You’re not pressuring me.”
I drew my hand back as I stepped back. I tilted my chin slightly, thinking for a moment about Nolan. He said that the first thing he thought of when he thought of me was how he loved me. So, I focused on what I felt when I thought of him—
“I think of you… as my friend, Nolan. You’ve been nice to me, you’ve helped me, and you’ve treated me well. But I don’t love you. At least, not in the same way you do love me.”
Nolan blinked. His head drooped, and he spoke softly.
I shook my head.
“It’s not because of what I’ve heard about you— actually, when we first met, you asked me if I had heard of you, the Mighty Warrior, before, right? Well, I accidentally lied when I said I didn’t. I’ve heard about you before, Nolan.”
He raised a brow, and I smiled.
“Yep. I met Lucy. I don’t know if you remember her. But she’s a girl you met back when you were only a Gold Rank. Back when you were passing through a town called Dawnwind.”
I only recalled this just the other day, after Saffron told me about Nolan’s women escapades. I didn’t think too much about it beyond just remembering it.
Nolan’s eyes widened.
“Ah, Lucy. Yes, I remember her. She wanted there to be something more between us, even if knew that we were never going to last. I warned her— I even told her to stay in her town. But she insisted on coming. And I couldn’t just leave her in the wilderness all on her own, could I?”
“And if you’re asking me what I think, I don't care about that. I don’t really care what others say about you, Nolan. I know the person I met, and you’re not a bad guy. You’re just… my friend, that’s all.”
Nolan gave me a pained smile.
“When you say it like that, it really does hurt, you know?”
“I’m sure it does. But you asked me to be honest, and that’s how I feel.”
I spread my arms wide, spinning around.
“Even if things aren’t always going great for me, I’ve always felt comfortable. I’m happy, and I don’t think that’ll change.”
Nolan chuckled, massaging his temples.
“At least one of us is.”
“I’m sure you’ll find someone else one day, Nolan. It’s just not me.”
He closed his eyes. With a deep breath, he smiled.
“Thank you. And I don’t blame you, Salvos. I blame myself for being foolish enough to declare my love for you on our first date.”
“But… can I at least walk you back to where you live?”
“Of course. We’re friends, right?”
Nolan nodded, walking ahead of me.
“That we are.”