Chapter 6: Enter, the Magic Guild

The two of us sat together like that for a long while in this strange sort of limbo between being comfortable and being awkward. Well, it was more like Mika was comfortable and I was feeling awkward about being comfortable, too. The awkward feeling didn't last long, though. After some time of heavy silence, light, soft snores began to escape her lips and her hands lazily unlocked from around my neck. Mika had fallen fast asleep like an exhausted child in a loved one's lap. It was rather endearing, and seeing her peaceful, vulnerable face made my heart race like an animal being chased by a predator. I could feel my face becoming unbelievably hot just from looking at her, and before my head exploded from too much blood rushing to it, I picked her up and laid her gently in the bed across from the one we sat on. She didn't move at all from the jostling, but the moment I set her down her whole body clenched up as though I'd just thrown her into the cold. I still felt awkward and strange, but I couldn't leave her like that. Instead I pulled the ratty blanket off of the other bed and laid it across her. It was only a small gesture, but it seemed to calm her just a little.

After all that had happened in the day, she wasn't the only one feeling exhausted. I don't think I've ever been so drained before in my life. Physically, the day was about as impactful as a nice stroll through the woods. Mentally, it was like playing Yin Tun with Master for six days straight. There was no way I could ever have prepared myself for a journey that becomes this tiresome after only a few days. Just thinking about what else was to come made my head spin with weariness. But, Master always said to focus on the present. "The past cannot be changed and the future doesn't exist!" he would say. So, with that in mind, I picked up my bo staff, found a comfortable enough spot on the floor by the door, and focused on what needed to be focused on in the present. For us, that meant making sure no one tried to get in while we were asleep. I had to keep guard, even if I wasn't fully conscious, to be certain that Mika was safe from those who would try to steal her away for a bounty.

What a mess I've found myself in, I thought, sitting in my usual sleeping position. I cleared my mind and concentrated on the rest I needed, and soon enough, I was asleep.

The next morning I was rudely awakened by Mika poking my face repeatedly. Apparently she was bored and hungry, and so she needed me to feed and entertain her. Kost, the barman, was kind to me when I asked about getting some breakfast. He sent his apprentice—who, subsequently, was the boy from the day before and who held several odd jobs like that—to deliver some bread and cheese to us. The boy was more than thankful for my interfering the day before, but he was too shy to do more than a quick bow before he ran off with a bright blush strewn across his face.

While we were virtually imprisoned in the room in the inn, Mika and I found interesting things to talk about. It was more like she talked incessantly and I listened to everything she had to say. Eventually she came to a point where she explained to me where she learned to fight without magic. When she was 12 she was sent to train with a master battle mage who based all of his techniques off of the principle that you must assume your enemy is on the very same level as you, if not higher. Therefore, before he taught her anything about using magic in battle, he taught her how to fight without it. Since she was small and her hits never had much impact, she was taught how to manipulate weak points in the human body with quick jabs. That's how she knew to aim straight for Kost's nose, and how she managed to use his own weapon against him.

It was around that time, though, that Mika started making a habit of running away. She said Master Riviani was way too suffocating for her liking, and that what she really wanted was freedom and adventure. Master Riviani felt that she was too irresponsible and undisciplined to venture out into the world on her own without getting caught by the Magic Guild again, and thus she kept a close eye on her apprentice. From the way Mika talked, it was like her and her master were two different forces pushing and pulling against each other. Both had ridiculously strong wills and neither would bend to the other, but they still managed to stay together for so long. Sort of. It was more like Master Riviani chained Mika to her like a slave, then Mika would escape and Master Riviani would go after her, then, out of mutual benefit for each other, they would stay together until Mika decided she'd had enough again.

Mika told me that the first time she ran away she thought no one would have an interest in her. She tried walking through a town, completely uncovered and exposed, and acted like a typical 13 year old girl. Not even two hours into being there did a group of bounty hunters pick her out of the crowd and tried to haul her away. Mika says that was the first time she had to use her magic to forcefully hurt someone, and it was the first time she realized how cruel the world could be. Once Master Riviani found her, surrounded by incapacitated bodies and drenched in blood, she took Mika away and blocked her crown chakra immediately. Mika says that Master Riviani did that for punishment, but I could only see her doing it as a way to protect Mika from herself.

Running away and getting her chakra blocked became a normal thing for Mika, though, and sometimes she would escape even before the punishment was done. That's when she started using her training with the battle mage master to protect herself as best she could without magic. The only problem was that people knew who Mika was, and so getting them to let their guard down around her was nearly impossible. Most of the time when she was in a bad situation, fighting with fists was almost useless. She either needed magic to defeat opponents or a really great distraction to get them vulnerable. From what I saw the day before, Mika made distraction an art.

It was around sunset that day that Mika grew so restless that she offered to train with me. I didn't take her seriously at first, though, because we were in a small room with a lot of breakable furniture. Even so, she insisted I show her how I fight.

I tried my very best to explain to her that what I do isn't fighting, but defending. A monk should never, under any circumstances, cause or escalate a confrontation. The skills we use are for protecting the weak and innocent, not for waging war on our enemies. Still, Mika looked at me like every word I told her had gone completely over her head, and with a heavy sigh, I agreed.

Since she was so persistent in me getting us food first thing in the morning, I decided to start off by teaching her my morning routine. Before anything else I needed to take out the small blade I carried with me and shave off any hair on my chin or head, save for my eyebrows. The process seemed so utterly boring to Mika that she griped and moaned and even built a small cave out of the sheets and pillows between the beds. Once that was over, there was at least an hour of meditation. When she asked me what she needed to meditate on, I realized that I, too, was never told what the goal was. So instead I told her to focus on honing her magical abilities.

To my complete surprise, she managed to stay in a meditative state for the entire hour. When she came back to consciousness, she was calm and serene, but she refused to admit that she enjoyed it. I chuckled at her childishness and easily let it go. Next was learning to actually fight.

Right off the bat I learned that when Mika was faced with an opponent like me, who was only sparring with her, she fought wildly and out of sync with the world around her. She would jab and thrust and throw hits at me in any way or direction she saw fit, without stopping to consider what my next move was. Mika may have been good at reading other people and pointing out their emotional weak points, but without that uncertainty in her opponent, she wasn't really skilled at what to do.

"Mika, concentrate on my movements," I said, easily dodging her next jab.

She was panting and glaring at me, but she didn't seem to listen to what I had just told her.

"Stop moving so damn much and let me hit you!" she yelled, throwing her clenched fist in the direction of my solar plexus. It was unbearably easy to dodge her.

"I only move when you move," I answered.

Mika let out a compressed roar through her teeth, and with one last effort to hit me, she put all of her strength into her spring, aiming to ram both of her fists into the pit of my stomach. Her bells jingled wildly and her vivid white hair was more than enough to alert me of her movements. I'll admit that she was quick, but she wasn't quick enough to hit me. All I had to do was sidestep her, and with an embarrassing thunk, Mika landed on her face on the floor behind me.

I exhaled sharply, wondering exactly how dependent she had to be on her emotional manipulation to be this terrible at fighting hand-to-hand. For a stable opponent like me, she had no idea what to do. That much was obvious. I bent down next to the girl, who laid flat and defeated on the dirty wooden ground, and offered my hand to her to pull her up.

When she didn't respond to me, I asked, "Do you want to try again?"

"No," Mika answered bluntly.

"Then how about I help you up?" I tried, my hand still out.

"I don't need any help."

True to her word, Mika lifted herself from the floor with ease, though she was still panting from all the effort she used. Dejectedly, she wiped and patted the dust off of her clothes, then fixed her hair and plopped down on the messy, unmade bed.

"Don't think you've won or anything. Once my magic is back, I'll take you down faster than you can blink," she jeered, her light grey eyes peeking tauntingly at me through her snow white hair.

"Of that, I have no doubt," I answered, coming to sit across from her on the other bed. "Did you hurt yourself? Do you feel any strain?"

"Jeez, Shoden! Stop worrying over me like a mother! I'm fine!"

"You fell pretty hard, and you pushed your body to its physical limit with that last hit. But if you say you're fine, then I'll leave you be," I said.

Mika blew the hair out of her face and pursed her lips, hunching over as though she were trying to look deeper into my soul. "You can stop now," she said abruptly.

"Stop what?" I asked.

"Stop… this. This 'nice guy' thing. It was cute and endearing last night, but now you've seen my true colors, so you don't need to keep pretending, either."

"I'm… not sure I know what you're talking about."

"Come on, you can't actually mean you're always this motherly. Doesn't it irritate you the way I talk to you sometimes? Weren't you even the slightest bit annoyed that I wasn't even trying to go easy with my hits? Don't you get angry when Yuu plays tricks on you? Or, like when Riviani threatened to punish you as well as me if I ran away. That had to anger you at least a little bit," Mika explained.

I thought on it, on the things I've experienced and the way I've been treated, but I couldn't really understand what she meant. "I'm sorry, but I don't think I get it. I see no reason to get irritated for being spoken to in a way that's natural for the other person, or for being toyed and joked around with like Master does. The way you speak to me and the way he treats me are just signs that you're both comfortable enough to show your true nature to me, and it would be wrong for me to be upset with you or Master for being who you are. And Master Riviani's threat was only there because she worries about you, and she trusts me to look after you. She's a serious woman, so she uses serious means to show her affection. At least, that's how I see it."

Mika looked at me with a dumbfounded expression. Her eyes were squinted in disbelief and her mouth hung open carelessly. I could just barely see her eyes shifting back and forth subtly, like she was thinking hard about something.

"Are you really this wishy-washy? Don't you ever take a stand for yourself?" she asked after a long while, her voice serious and contemplative.

"I… uh… yes? I—I think I—"

"My magic is back!" she cried, interrupting me as she hopped up from the bed.

"Really? That's great, Mika!" I replied, smiling up at her. Really, I was just grateful that I didn't have to try to make sense of her strange question anymore. I wasn't entirely sure what 'wishy-washy' meant, but I felt as though she were taking a stab at my docile nature. Did she expect me to be angry with her? Was that how people normally acted?

"We need to hurry and—" Mika started. She was quickly interrupted by the sound of our bedroom door flying open and crashing into the wall next to it.

Both Mika and I whirled around, me with my bo staff already in hand and Mika standing with her palms facing up, like she was holding something round and heavy in her hands. We were ready to attack, but the person who came through our door wasn't there for any malicious purposes. It was the boy from last night, the one who helped with breakfast this morning.

"They're—" he panted, resting his hands on his knees as he tried to get some air. "They're here…"

"Who? Who's here?" I asked, making my way quickly over to the boy.

"Hurry! The two o'yous gotta run!" he cried, taking a big gulp of air before looking up at me. "It's thems from the Magic Guild! They's come for 'er!"

"The Magic Guild? Here? Already?" Mika whispered to herself.

"Kost tol' me ta come get ya's and bring ya down to the secret passage, he did. You gotsta come wit me!" the boy said frantically, clutching at my shirt.

"How many of them are there?" Mika asked, her voice stern and unyielding. She came to loom over the boy, the air around her crackling with heated electricity like the day I first met her.

"Six I think. They's all in those fancy white cloaks wit dem silver buttons, but no one could see their faces 'cause of dem hoods."

Mika pressed her fingers to her chin, her eyes darting back and forth in her head as she thought rapidly. "I don't have enough magic to fight six. Maybe one. I could try to change my appearance, but I don't have enough magic for that, either. Shit!" she mumbled to herself.

"Where's the secret passage Kost told you about?" I asked the boy.

"Come wit me! Iss just down them service stairs! Come now, while Kost be distractin' them!"

I nodded to the boy, and quickly as I could I packed everything I had back into my pack and slung it over my shoulder, then strode back to the door where the boy waited as though he was ready to dash down the hall. Mika stood still, her lips mumbling unintelligible words and her eyes still moving around the room like she was looking for an answer. From downstairs I could hear the voices in the tavern grow louder and more tense, and from the way it sounded, we didn't have much time before the people after Mika would come up those stairs. Would I be able to fight them off and defend her? I wasn't sure, not with the way she lost so much confidence just at the sound of their name and numbers. Besides, I had no experience fighting against magic users. I might end up hurting more than I helped, and if Mika couldn't fight them, then we were out of options.

Instead of trying to snap her out of it, I grabbed her wrist and dragged her along with me. I wasn't sure why, but the moment my skin touched hers, I felt a current of a harsh, warm, tingling sensation rush through my body. My muscles in my hand and forearm strained just a tiny bit, too, as if they were being pulled towards her. I didn't have the time to think about it, though. The boy ran as quietly he could down the hall, pressing his back against the wall at the end of it to peek around and see if anyone had started to come up the stairs yet. Silently he waved the two of us toward him, opening a small door at the end of the hall and rushing us through it before anyone noticed. I moved as hastily but as lightly as I could, afraid that if we went too fast Mika's bells would attract them to us. Once we were all through, he turned around and locked the door from the inside, stuffing his key ring back into his pants quickly.

"Follow me," he whispered, waving his hand again as he passed us going down the stairs.

We did as he said and followed as closely and as quietly as we could. I almost forgot that I was still holding onto Mika, but she didn't struggle and she didn't say a word. It seemed like she was still lost in her thoughts, so to avoid getting separated I kept holding her wrist tightly, the strange stinging feeling traveling up my arm.

The stairs led us into the cellar where the inn kept all of its supplies. On the right was the vast, stone-laid room that had shelves and stacks and barrels of all sorts of things. No one would have overlooked that room, but it was almost inevitable to overlook the small space on the left side of the stairwell between the stairs and the wall. The boy squeezed into that space and shimmied in all the way to the very edge where, hidden in the wooden stairs was a small, child-sized door. He brought out his keys again and unlocked it easily, pushing it inwards and disappearing into the doors' darkness. Mika, who was, at this point, just following me silently but no longer lost in her own head, shimmied over to the door between the wall and the stairs first after I coaxed her in. I followed closely after, keeping a watch on the stairs to be certain no one was following us.

Once she reached the door, we heard the boy whisper, "Down 'ere! Iss a short drop, Miss! I'll catch ya!"

Mika looked at me with an expression that said 'you've got to be kidding me', but I shrugged my shoulders at her and she sighed heavily in return. Without any other choice, Mika squatted down and thrust herself into the darkness. I gave the room one last look, listening to everything around me just to be absolutely sure we wouldn't be followed, and then I, too, disappeared into the hole beneath the stairs.

I expected there to be some sort of crawl space that led to another door underneath the tavern, but instead I was greeted with a three meter drop into an almost entirely black hole. Wherever we were, it was damp and dark and smelled of earth. I could see that there was a narrow corridor made of dirt that led in a downward direction, and about fifty meters away was a torch hanging up on a wall, dimly lighting our way. The boy had already started trotting towards the light, stopping about a quarter of the way down to motion for us to follow. I started to walk, but my path was blocked by an unwilling and unmoving Mika.

"Shoden, what if this is a trap?" she whispered quietly.

My breath seized in my chest. She made an awfully good point. What if this was a trap? What if the Magic Guild wasn't really here? Kost did want to take her in for a bounty only 24 hours ago, so why would he help now?

"Do you think Kost set it up?" I asked.

"No, he's an idiot. He couldn't set it up. Besides, I felt six magical energies radiating from the tavern when we passed. The Magic Guild is definitely here. But what if the boy and Kost are working with them? The Magic Guild would know that a monk apprentice like you could never obtain a cloak that could take my magic away. They probably know something's up. There could be an ambush waiting for us."

"Well, there's definitely an ambush waiting for us upstairs. Either we can keep going and trust that we're not being deceived, or we can go back and face what we already know is most likely going to harm you. What do you think?" I asked.

She exhaled sharply and clenched her fists, then mechanically started to move forward. "We're screwed either way, I guess. But this way has a better chance for our escape."

Even though she couldn't see it, I nodded in agreement and followed her down the corridor. I believed this was the best thing to do. I knew nothing of the Magic Guild and what they were capable of, and with any decent strategy, when you don't know your opponent, it's best not to entangle yourself with them until you gain more knowledge. Perhaps we could have tried to escape through a window, but how far would we have gone with Mika's bright white hair, unique tattoo, and noticeable jingling bells? Not to mention there were at least a dozen people who saw Mika and I standing together against Kost and those men from yesterday. It wouldn't be hard to point out a tall boy with a shaved head and a bo staff. Travelling underground wasn't only the best option, but it was also incredibly convenient. Besides, it made me feel uneasy seeing Mika so tense over these people. She said they experimented on her, and that they're the ones offering the bounty. When you think about it, it's their fault that the world is after her now. It only makes sense to protect her from them at whatever cost.

Once the boy had reached the torch, he plucked it from its holster on the wall and held it out in front of him, as though he were trying to show us something important. Mika hurried to his side, but I didn't have to get much closer to know what he was trying to silently show us. We had come to a dead-end, in a way. The path sloped down into an underground waterway. There was maybe two meters of dark, foreboding water before the ceiling declined into it, making it look more like a watery graveyard than our convenient escape.

"If you's a good swimma'," the boy whispered, looking into the water that lapped at his shoes, "then it'll only take ya 'bout three minutes ta get ta the otha' side. There's a current ta help ya, there is. Juss hold ya breath real tight."

"If?" Mika asked skeptically. She bit hard down onto her thumbnail and furrowed her eyebrows together as she glared at the water, as though that were the thing that was the cause of all of her problems. Then, quite suddenly, she spun around to face me with a fierce look on her face. "I've got enough magic to give one of us the lung capacity to make it through without worry. How good are you at swimming?"

"I don't know if I can hold my breath for three minutes, but I guess now is a good a time as any to find out," I answered.

Mika's eyes searched my face for a long, uncomfortable moment. I could almost see her brain working furiously to come up with a better solution. "If I could just—"

"Oi! Down here! I found something!" a voice shouted from behind us.

The three of us, struck with panic, turned to look back down the corridor we had just come through. It was difficult to see, but the barely visible light coming from the hidden door in the stairs was being muffled by people peeking in. The voice didn't belong to Kost, so the only other explanation would be those people from the Magic Guild.

"No time," Mika whispered harshly.

She snatched my hand without warning and dragged me into the cold, dark water. Again, I felt that strange tugging, tingling sensation where our skin touched, but this seriously wasn't the time to contemplate on that. Mika pressed her other hand, palm flat, against her chest, closed her eyes, and took in a deep breath.

Without bothering to look at him, over her shoulder she whispered, "Thanks for your help, kid."

"Anytime, Miss," he replied with a smile.

To me she looked me dead in the eye and commanded, "Take a deep breath, Shoden."

I nodded to her, then turned around one last time to check the progress of the Magic Guild members who were after us. I could hear their hastened footsteps reverberating off the corridor walls, but we still had enough time to slip into the water before they found us. With one last appreciative smile at the boy, I held my breath, said a short prayer in my head, and dove into the water.

It was bitingly cold, as only the water that had come from the mountain rivers could be. My muscles wanted to seize up and my body wanted to rebel against me from the harshness of it, but I forced myself to keep going, to keep swimming after her, and to conserve my breath and energy for as long as I could. The water was so dark that it was nearly impossible to see—as the ceiling of the underground corridor dipped in and also became the ceiling to the underwater passage, blocking out all light as though we were in an endless tunnel—but Mika's hair was so purely white that it was almost as though it were there to guide me through. I wasn't sure how she was managing to move forward so freely, but I didn't have time to question. I had to put all my trust in her and hope that the boy's instructions were enough to get us out of here before we drowned. While most of my mental energy was spent on just trying to stay relaxed and keep moving, I also listened for any noise that would indicate someone following us into these nearly freezing depths. After a minute of swimming I still heard nothing from behind me, but from in front of me I could hear the faint sound of the flow of water change drastically.

Another ten seconds of swimming and Mika and I had come to the underground waterway the boy had mentioned. The current was strong and probably impossible to fight against, and if my directions were correct, it was pushing due west. Mika stopped swimming and turned to me, her hair floating all around her in such a majestic way that it almost distracted me from our escape. In the darkness of the water I saw her wave her hand towards the current, as if bidding me to follow her in. I could feel my lungs starting to lose their ability to hold my breath much longer, so without hesitation I swam forward with her into the waterway.

The currents were harsh and forceful, whipping us around like we were leaves caught in white rapids along the river. I stretched my hand out to catch Mika so we wouldn't be separated, but it was no use. We were moving unreasonably fast and our bodies were thrashing about wildly in the dark, cold water. What's worse was I could feel my lungs beginning to burn with the need to breathe. From what I could count, we had been in the water for two minutes. Just sixty more seconds and I should be able to breathe again, but my body didn't want to wait that long. I had to bite hard on my tongue to keep my lips from opening on their own, trying to gasp for air. My arms and shoulders were beginning to lock up, and my heart was beating so loud that it drowned out the sound of the rushing rapids around me. You can make it, I kept telling myself. Just a little longer and you can make it.

My lungs begged for air as the last of what I had taken in was spent in my body. Now it was just a matter of holding out, denying myself the essential oxygen it took just to function. It wasn't just my arms and shoulders, but my whole body that started to seize and stiffen. As the water thrust us forward I could almost feel the air close by, but it wouldn't be enough. In my vision I could catch glimpses of Mika's white hair in the dark water, hoping that if I could just concentrate on her I would be able to make it. Thirty more seconds, just thirty more seconds. Another couple of seconds passed and I was beginning to lose the mental battle to keep my mouth closed. A few more seconds after that, and my vision became darkened and unfocused. Then, with only twenty seconds left until our three minutes were up, I lost.

I'm doing to die here, I thought as my jaw sprang open and I involuntarily inhaled the dark, cold water into my lungs. I'm doing to die, and I never had a chance to see the world.

With my chest burning from the foreign liquid and my body going limp from a loss of strength, I accepted my fate, and my very last thought was, It would have been nice to see her smile.

"Shoden? Shoden! Damn the gods, Shoden, wake up!" a voice called. It sounded distant, and like it was an echo ringing somewhere deep inside my head.

This didn't feel right. This didn't feel like death. Not like I knew how death felt, but from the monk teachings, this was… not it. I felt cold and wet, but I also felt as though there was something slightly colder dripping onto my face. I couldn't bring my eyes to open, much less make my body move. It was dark where I was, but I felt a warmth emanating from somewhere nearby. And hands… there were hands on my face. No, this definitely wasn't death. So then, what was it?

Something soft and warm pressed itself against my open lips. It was supple and tasted like fresh water and… something else. I couldn't quite place it. Whatever it was, it forced air into my mouth. No, that felt wrong. It was too much force. There was already something in my lungs, something that wasn't supposed to be there. It sloshed around and made it hard to breathe. That's right! It's water! There was water in my lungs! I… I drowned, right?

It was as though the moment of realization struck me so hard that a shock of lightening shot through my body. Suddenly I was so awake and so aware of myself that I instantly gained back control of my muscles. There was a split moment of joy in knowing that I wasn't dead, but it was quickly killed by the absolute need to expel the water in my lungs. I must have been laying on my back, because it took everything I had to roll over and violently heave the hot, unwanted water from inside my chest. It felt so incredibly rough every time I coughed, and it was like each time I tried to breathe in another fit would consume me and I had to focus on spitting up more liquid. My chest and throat burned and ached with the effort, and it wasn't until I had been wrenching for a good couple of minutes that I realized my entire body felt the same way. I felt as though I really had died, but that I was forcefully brought back and strapped into my worn out corpse.

Once I came to the point where I could take shallow breaths without needing to cough up anything, I wiped my chin and mouth with my soaking wet shirt sleeve and tried my best to sit up. I was still weak and faltered when I did, but to my surprise, Mika was there to catch me. The whole time I never noticed her gentle hand rubbing tender circles on my back, as though she, too, were coaxing the water from my lungs. When I almost fell on my face, she grabbed both of my shoulders and held me up, pulling me towards her lightly.

"Don't try to move around so much," she scolded. "You did almost die, after all."

Mika sat on her knees by my head, all of her clothes and hair still dripping with water. It must have been the droplets from her hair and face that I felt earlier. As easily as she could, she guided me to lay on my back and to rest my head on her thighs, her solemn grey eyes looking down at me through a messy curtain of wet white hair. She carefully rested her hands on either side of my face as she looked me over, then wiped away the drops of water that fell from her nose onto my cheek.

"What… happened?" I asked quietly, my voice hoarse and my throat pained with effort.

"You couldn't hold your breath as long as you thought," she said with a sarcastic, lazy half-grin. "I had to drag your lifeless body all the way into this cave and revive you myself. And look! I even made us a fire! Since we didn't have time for me to refill on magic, I had to do it the old fashion way. The fire and reviving you, I mean."

I was having a hard time concentrating on what she was saying. Her lap was warm beneath my head, and the fire she talked about illuminated our cramped, dank cave with a pleasant heat. I felt tired. Really, really tired. Escaping from the Magic Guild members, drowning, almost dying, and being revived was a lot for a monk to handle. I was so grateful to Mika for saving me, really, I was. But my eyes kept closing on me, and my aching lungs were being gently soothed by the calm, even breaths of air I took in. I felt like I needed to sleep for days and days, to rest my body after a terrifying experience, but I also wanted to make sure Mika was alright.

"Are you… okay?" I asked weakly, my eyes already shutting.

Mika let out a small, almost incoherent chuckle, and said, "You dummy. Just go to sleep. Worry about me when you're feeling better."

In my mind I was berating myself for not having the energy to thank her properly, but the rest of me had already given up. With my body aching and my lungs happily sucking in air again, I fell into a deep, vulnerable sleep.