Opening both eyes, a wooden ceiling greeted her. She raised both arms to test her vision. Right arm was fine, she saw all of it. The left one wasn't though, she only saw half of that. Gently lowering her arm, she felt the touch of cotton on her eye.
She was a bit shocked at the sensation. Losing an eye means losing vision on one side. But not in her case. She felt as if she could almost see something when raising her eyelid.
The birds chirped joyfully, singing an inviting melody. She lay there without thoughts, listening to the outside. As peaceful it was, her cloudy heart did not calm. That's only natural when coming to terms with being transported to another world.
'Is this really another chance in life? The gift of being reborn? Is she experiencing reality or a morbid joke of the afterlife?' So many questions without even a single answer, all made worse by that one bird whistling awfully loud in the window…
She sat up to see the woman from before, Alina, sit by a small desk and look out the window. Periodically, with her eyes fixed on a nearby tree, she made a whistling sound. They were in a really small room that had no more than a small chest beside the bed and desk. Maybe it was the emptiness of the room, but her whistling sounded really loud, almost too loud.
Katsumi got up from the bed and watched Alina.
– Are you having a nice conversation? – her exhausted voice surprised the woman, making her jump.
– Me? Yes! Haha, what a funny chitchat we're having! We were talking about…
Her awkwardness made Katsumi smile, although it didn't last for too long. She stopped mid-sentence and looked at the injured girl with round eyes.
– Are you feeling any better?
– I feel like crap. Is Aeren alright?
– Yes, he already recovered. Last time we've met he went farming.
– Killing low level monsters for experience.
Katsumi gazed into the distance then lay down, making a loud puff as her head hit the pillow.
– So, I miss an eye now?
– No, you'll recover.
– We put a sphere in your eye, made of a special kind of wood, and asked a druid to cast 'Regrow' on it. If Titannia wasn't such a small city, we could've asked a high level spellcaster to use 'Regenerate' on you. That would've been more cost-efficient. I mean, for you. – she made a low whistling sound with her two front teeth.
– Wait, this isn't for free?
– Of course not! You guys were already in debt before going on the mission. The kid wasn't so bad and due to being a minor, his treatment was free. Yours however was really expensive. We're talking about five times your original debt.
– Oy! Oyoyoy! Oyoyo! We were scammed by some crazy wizard, almost lost our lives back there and you tell me WE need to pay you guys, instead of you giving us apology cash? Compensation money? Anything?
– Well – she whistled –, it's not something me or my friends decided. Titannia is a relatively new town and there are no laws regarding fake missions, so…
– Hold up! Did we get any money?
– What the fuck? – she gradually raised her voice to shout. – So you mean to tell me we don't get any kind of compensation? Not even a half or a quarter of the reward? What the actual fuck?
– I'm sorry, but…
It all happened because you guys can't properly do your job! Why was that mission even there? Why did you let some weirdo just barge in and put his trap there?
– Look, I'm terribly sorry, but…
– I don't care about your apologies! Answer me god damn it!
Her anger wasn't for nothing as Alina's eyes showed guilt. Perhaps it's she wasn't used to getting yelled at or maybe because of a bad memory, but the scolding made her tremble. Her whistling gained momentum and by the end, she couldn't control it anymore. As it only got louder, she felt even more embarrassed by the situation and shook even more noticeably.
– H-Hey, are you alright? – Katsumi asked with a hint of remorse.
– Yes! It's just… it's so embarrassing! Please… don't look…
– Hey, come on now, I didn't mean to scare you or anything. Come! Come here, quick! – she crossed her legs, leaving a big empty area on the other side of the bed. – Don't be scared! I'm not angry! I mean, I am, but not because of you!
– No, just… please…
– Come on, let me show you the 'Katsumi Magic'.
Her smile was sweet like a pie made of peach. Alina was hesitant at first, but still sat down beside her. She was still whistling.
– Can I touch you?
– What? Oh, sure…
She sat behind Alina.
– What are you do… aah!
A pleasant shock ran up her spine, casting a cloud on her head. Her brain got lost in this mist of pleasure, blinded by the force of two thumbs pressing down her back.
– Whah ar yu… – she could hardly speak and almost drooled by the girl's 'magic'.
– Hehe! I always wanted to test my massaging skills on someone! You know how cool it is to turn someone into a zombie with just a good rub on the back?
– Pweaz… staph…
– Nope! – she leaned closer with a smug smile. – Your moaning only makes me stronger!
On the other side of the door was a narrow hallway, connected via stairs to the guild hall. Jadzia, the robotic woman came upstairs, leading the way for Aeren and two other people. One of them was a titan, the one that gave Katsumi the gentle slap. He worse leather shorts with big boots and carried a large battle-axe on his back. The other was someone unfamiliar, a doglike humanoid. He looked like a golden retriever and his clothes were common and brown. Something made out of iron hung on his side.
– Please be patient – Jadzia asked – while I check on my partner. By now, your friend should be awake.
– She's a really cool! – Aeren could hardly control his excitement – She acted so heroic when we were attacked! She's the only reason I survived!
– Sounds like a real spicy woman! – the dog had a young and handsome voice. – Just how I like them!
– Hey! – the titan scolded him. – Focus on the job. Try flirting and I'll castrate you.
– Sounds like grandpa's out of commission. – he tapped Aeren's shoulder. – The more fun for us, eh?
– Mister, I don't understand what you're talking about!
– No worries kid! Once you become old enough, good-ol' Uncle Chase teaches you how to get all the women you want!
– We're here. – Jadzia stopped before a wooden door. – Please wait here while I check on my partner! Ahem.
She knocked twice.
– Alina, the patient has visitors!
No answer came from the other side. She waited for a bit, then knocked again.
– Alina, the patient has visitors!
Still, no answer. Turning to the others, she bowed.
– Please excuse my informal way of handling the situation. The upcoming procedure is not backed by the heroes' guild and in no way represents them.
– Just do whatever. – the titan leaned against the wall.
Jadzia aimed her arm towards the door's lock. The top of her index finger opened and a tiny wire came forward. She put that in the hole and the key on the other side fell out. She began lock picking, but noticed strange noises from inside the room. She crouched down and put her metallic ear on the hole.
– Miss Jadzia, what are you doing? Did something happen? – Aeren worried.
She gave no answer but focused to sharpen the strange noises.
– Aah, pweaze, I begh yu!
– Come on! Then beg harder!
– Pwease! Pweaze!
– That's it! Louder! Come on!
Jadzia stood up faster than a soldier to the national hymn. She stood there, looking at the door, then looking at the others, then at the door again and so on.
– Miss Jadzia? – Aeren stepped closer, to which she raised her pinky to her head.
– Uncalculated error! System immediate shutdown! Goodbye!
The blue left her eyes as her head and arms lost power, hanging like the limbs of a puppet. Only her legs stayed strong, letting her stand.
– Alright, that's enough! You're feeling better? – Katsumi patted Alina on the back.
– Thank you! It won't go away so easily, but you helped me calm down. I didn't know one can feel so much pleasure from a massage!
– Never had one before?
– Then I'll just have to lose an eye more often! – she smiled.
Their moment was broken by the creaking of the door, as Aeren carefully entered the room. He was in the same clothes as when Katsumi first met him. Seeing each other again, their expression changed.
– Miss Katsumi! – Aeren smiled, while the girl jumped out of the bed and rushed to him, holding his small body tight. – Miss Katsumi? Are you alright?
– I worried so much… I'm so sorry for letting you get caught!
– No need to be! You see, I'm fine! While you were away, I even made some…
– We're not going adventuring! Never again! Understood? – her eyes were teary. – We'll find another way to complete your mission, but there's no way we'll go out again!
– Miss Katsumi.
– Don't try to argue with me! This is not something you…
– Please – he stepped away –, let me introduce you our teachers.
– Our what?
She looked up to see the muscular titan stand in the door, his eye emitting a menacing aura. He opened his mouth to speak, but the playful doglike human jumped in front of him.
– Hey, is that our new friend? Friend!
Before she could step away, he jumped on her and licked her face over and over again, until her cheeks were swimming in drool. She fought the dog off, giving him a huge slap.
– Back off!
He fell off and rushed behind Aeren, letting out a high-pitched whine.
– What the fuck is wrong with you?
– He's our new teacher, Chase! He's a really cool hero, one division above us!
– Sorry for my behavior! – he slowly got up. – I'm a dog by heart and just the sight of a new playmate... well… you could say, it got me pumped up!
Katsumi bit down on her tongue. Alina noticed this and stepped between the two of them in an attempt to de-escalate the situation.
– Bronze division rank forty-three and forty-eight, Chase the Hook and Tarax the Barbarian. I suppose you're here to invite Katsumi to your party, correct?
– Yes. – the titan nodded, turning towards the girl. – I heard what happened with you two in the cursed forest. Aeren told me you met a titan who spoke about these lands.
– Other than rambling about 'true titankind' and something about 'invaders', I don't remember much. I guess if you look at my eye, that kinda explains it.
– I see… – he sat down beside the desk. – The man you've met is a highly dangerous individual. He is the son of the last shaman, Gladiolus. When his father died in the last fight against the empire, he picked up that name out of respect.
– Hold on, buckaroo! I'm not familiar with the history of this place, so if you're about to explain stuff, do it properly!
– I see. Then a surface level understanding is enough.
– Hey, that's not what I meant!
– Gladiolus is a man blinded by rage and false ideologies. He wants Titannica to be ruled by titans again, absent of technology and other races. This land was once like that, dominated by nature and tribes. Titannica as a town only emerged after the war between the tribes and the empire. Gladiolus's father died in the last battle against the invaders. You might not know, but the death of a leader means the ultimate defeat in our culture. Most titans put their weapons down and joined the empire. It's only natural, as we live to serve the strong. We were granted amnesty by the king and earnt residence in the city. But not all. Gladiolus didn't drop his weapon and as such, he not only brought shame to us, but to his father as well.
He paused, looking at the floor. No one spoke a word, even Alina tried her best not to make a sound. After a moment or so, he looked Katsumi in the eye.
– You were wronged by him.
– He took the lives of many. Only you two managed to escape.
– You want us to help you get the guy?
– Hah, thanks for getting to the point.
– Well, I'd love to help, but… – she looked at Aeren.
He didn't notice, as he was too busy admiring the huge axe of the kneeling barbarian. His eyes spoke of purity and a childlike innocence. Whatever Katsumi was about to say, that won't change his decision. He accompanies the two adventurers, with or without the girl's help.
– But… yeah, I'd love to help. When are we starting?
– That's what I like to hear! – he stood up, his loud voice making the walls tremble. – You are still weak, so we'll go and farm! After you gain some levels, we regroup and go to the forest to end Gladiolus once and for all!
– Yeah… sure…
Aeren could hardly control himself.
– I knew you'd come along, Miss Katsumi. You're a true hero after all!
The stars in his eyes made it worth. Those small, golden bubbles were a reason to live and Katsumi, a human without anywhere to go, was ready to die for them.