Damien continued to fan over Alex as the team headed back into town. They were careful not to ask anything personal, but were voraciously taking notes about the older Slayer's fighting style. The reports they had read were nothing in comparison to the genuine article. His limited grasp of Common was reinforced by gestures and stances that helped shape his fighting style.
Daniel kept his distance and listened from afar. Watching his sibling talk so enthusiastically with someone was not something he was used to.
"Careful, you might attract a nasty green Shade on your back," Harper spoke suddenly.
Daniel jumped, not noticing he had walked up beside him, "What? Me, jealous? Hmph, never."
"Right," Harper wasn't convinced, but played along, "Well, it might be best to let them get to know each other. Alex could use a friend like that."
"What do you mean by that? Aren't you and Valerie friends with him?"
"Yes, but we're his only friends," Harper's expression fell solemn as he spoke, "He doesn't like talking much because of his bad Common, and people rarely give him the time of day."
Daniel looked back to the two. Valerie seemed to have joined with them, and the three of them belted out with laughter at something. He sighed in defeat, "It's probably good for Damien too. They never had a lot of friends growing up either. I've… I've never seen them so cheerful with people they just met."
"Then why do you look so upset?"
Daniel stayed quiet as he thought about it. It was a difficult question, and one he never had to think about. Damien had always only talked and hung around him, and even then, that was only within the past few years. He thought back before then, about what it was like, about what he saw. "Maybe I'm just worried."
"I don't want anyone to hurt them again. They've gotten so much stronger and happier, I'd hate to see them go back to the way they were."
"Hmm," Harper hummed thoughtfully, "Your feelings seem less about Damien, and more about you. You want to be strong to protect them, but seeing other Slayers is making you realise your magic isn't as strong as you thought, despite your spells. You're worried they'll leave you behind and go to someone with more strength to lean on."
Daniel stayed quiet as he pondered what he said. He suddenly turned to Harper, flustered, "H-hold on, what are you, my therapist? What's that about?"
Harper laughed, "We priests help aid Slayers in all manners; physically, spiritually, and sometimes mentally. You look like you need some help determining your path."
Daniel grumbled incoherently until Damien waved them down, "What are you two doing over there? We're telling jokes to keep the Shade away!"
"Something tells me that's not a foolproof plan," Harper said, walking towards them.
Daniel wordlessly followed behind him and thought it over. Harper may have been right. Ever since they met Lilith and started traveling, as short as it may have been, he had suddenly felt inferior. He laughed to himself, "Guess I should've been more serious back then."
The remainder of the walk back went fairly quietly. With the majority of the group keeping light-hearted the Shade stayed away, lest they be defeated like their comrades.
Harper turned the key to the lock, opened up to his apartment, and immediately his face fell into irritation, "I see you're feeling better."
The others looked in to see Lilith splayed out on the couch with an herbology book in her hands. She looked up and grinned, "Yeup! Feelin' great, thanks to ya!" As she spoke there was a thump thump thump as Charlotte, in cat form, ran by while batting the wad of grass.
Harper's eye twitched, "Told you they'd be fine."
They piled into the room as Lilith sat upright and put the book on the table, "So, all's well?"
"Yup," Damien chirped, "Harper said he got what they needed, and no one was hurt."
"I am shocked the brute did not back stab you." Charlotte stated harshly, her eyes focusing on the wad before pouncing. Alex gave her a saddened look, but said nothing.
Damien kneeled down and pawed at the grass to play with her, "He was pretty cool, actually. He even fought to protect us from some strange Shade." They gave Alex a warm smile, "Right?"
Alex looked at them with surprise before looking away shyly, "Um, y-yeah…"
"Hmph," Charlotte sat up and licked her chest fur, "If you say so."
They looked over to see Harper examining Lilith's bandages. He had been prodding around the injury and nodded, satisfied. "Alright, it should be fully healed by tomorrow."
Lilith pouted, "Hmph, coulda seen that without pokin' around."
He smirked as he walked toward the room, "Sorry, I tend to be a bit rough to people with high debt. Helps them remember to pay." He looked away from her as she grumbled to herself to address the others, "You're all more than welcome to stay the night, so long as you don't mind the lack of space."
Damien smiled, "We'd appreciate that, thank you."
Valerie yawned with a stretch, "On that note, I'm gonna head back to my place for the night."
"Wait, you two aren't together?" Daniel asked.
She chuckled, "Nah, we're close teammates, but that's it. Dad'll be miffed if I get home too late." She smiled and waved as she went out the front door, "Have a good night everyone!"
As she left Harper looked to Daniel, "Give me a hand grabbing some sheets while the others move stuff around. Alex knows what to do."
Alex nodded and gestured to Damien what to move to clear the floor. Daniel followed Harper into the bedroom that Lilith had been using. "So, what do you need me to grab?"
"First," Harper was tracing his finger along the spines of books on a shelf, "There's something I need to give you." He found the one he was searching for and carefully pulled it out. He passed it to Daniel. "Here, you can have this."
Daniel took the book and examined the cover. He scoffed, "Carter's Beginner Guide to Magic?"
"Exactly," Harper spoke as he walked over and opened a closet, "If you don't want to hinder your team, I suggest looking through it."
Daniel glared at the childish cover and flipped through the pages, "This stuff is for pre-schoolers! It's all low tier stuff."
Harper began pulling out spare blankets and pillows and set them on the bed. "All stuff you didn't seem to learn. I'm guessing your school skimmed over the basics when they learned you were a natural born prodigy."
Daniel was shocked into silence at the remark. His grip on the book tightened as he spoke slowly, "What makes you say that?"
Harper stopped and gave him a stern look, "Tairan is a trades city. They have low ranking Slayers because they focus on teaching them other jobs like enchanting and crafting. Having someone like you show up suddenly, one with several elemental affinities, they probably didn't know how to train you properly. Am I wrong?"
There was a moment of silence before Daniel spoke darkly, "Yeah, you're not wrong." He waved the book around, "But I don't need this baby stuff to get better! I just need experience and I'll be fine!"
Harper crossed his arms, "Answer me this; you said you made your own spells instead of reading and learning them. Why?"
Daniel flinched at the sudden change of topic, "Uh, well I… wanted to practice so I can make my own original spells."
"You want to invent a spell? Do you know how hard that is?"
Daniel frowned, "I mean, you've done it! You made that spell, Dragon Helix."
"Yes, I did. But I'm also an expert in all levels of light magic, and even then Dragon Helix is dangerous for me to use. In truth, I'm surprised you haven't killed yourself with those experiments of yours."
Daniel crossed his arms, "What point are you trying to make?"
Harper sighed with irritation, "My point is, you obviously show promise, but the way you are now, you're weak. You can make spells, but you failed to learn the basics, resulting in even your strongest spells being lackluster. I don't want to see you fail because your teachers failed you."
"Then teach me how to use stronger spells!" Again he held out the book, "This stuff isn't going to do a thing!"
Harper stayed silent for a moment, contemplating his next choice of words. Finally he spoke, "Alright, get up early tomorrow. I can't come with you for whatever you lot decide to do, but I want to show you something before you leave."
Daniel side-eyed Harper and thought over his offer. He hadn't given him any reason to doubt him.. Quite the opposite, considering he helped Lilith and was still offering aid. Besides, if he could show him something to back up his advice, then maybe he'd consider listening. "Fine, I'll bite."
"Good," Harper grabbed half the pile he had accumulated and walked to the door, "Don't forget your spell book."
Daniel stared at the pile of blankets and contemplated what Harper had said. It was true his teachers had skipped over the basics, but that hadn't hindered him. He passed all the practical exams and had a book filled with spells of all kinds of elements he could cast. It was ridiculous to think mastering tier one magic could make him stronger. Harper's scolding had echoed the ones he had heard from his mother so many times before. He had ignored them then, and still he was praised and told he was on the right track. There's no way…
He shook his head to clear his thoughts. He scooped up the blankets into his arms and stormed out the door. As soon as he entered the living room Damien jumped up from their seat, their face beaming, "Brother! We have a lead!"
"A lead to what?"
"To the Demon Doc, duh," Lilith remarked from her spot on the couch, "Apparently Alex's met him."
"Not me," Alex quickly corrected, "Person I know. A close person, great rank in Napo."
Daniel saw Harper throwing the blankets and pillows on the thin mattresses splayed out on the floor and followed suit. He joined the conversation as he did, "So, you know someone who knows Charles?"
"The Shade doctor, yes." Alex nodded.
Harper glanced up from the sheets and looked at his friend with concern, "Is it who I think it is?" Alex nodded, making Harper's brows furrow with worry, "Are you sure? If you take them, you'll have to talk to him."
"I know," Alex looked downcast as he clasped his hands together, "I have to." He looked at Charlotte and Damien, the cat curled up in their lap sleeping, "I owe too much. I can do this little thing."
"Hmm," Lilith leaned back in thought, "Napo is really far from here. We'll have to take a train, but that's gonna be really expensive." She looked over to Alex with a sly grin, "Guess you'll have to pay for us, mister S-rank rich boy."
"No," Alex stated flatly. He received a harsh glare from Lilith and panicked, "W-wait, no, I can't! I'm broken!"
"Broken?" Damien asked with concern.
"He means he's broke," Harper corrected as he flattened the last of his sheets.
Daniel looked up from his ruffled mess, "Don't S-ranks make a bunch of money from jobs?"
"Yep." Harper moved over to Daniel's side and began to fix the sheets, "It doesn't matter how much you make if you spend it all. It's why he doesn't have a place to live."
Damien looked at him with innocent curiosity, "What do you spend it on? Your outfit doesn't look expensive, at least not enough to leave you broke."
Alex blushed and looked away from everyone without a word. They all waited for him to speak, but he said nothing.
Harper glanced at him, then gave a small laugh, "Ah, so you are aware of your bad spending habit." Alex seemed to grow even more embarrassed as his shoulders tensed and feet fidgeted. "He spends most of his money on sweets and food."
Damien looked at Alex, then to Charlotte with amusement, "Huh, well what a coincidence."
"Augh," Lilith groaned and pressed her face into her pillow, "I thought gettin' an S-class was gonna make us rich, dammit. Now what?" She thought for a moment, "Hey, Harper…"
Harper quickly stood up and glared at her, "Get a job." He walked over to his room with a yawn, "Try not to make too much noise, I'm heading to bed."
As his door gently closed Lilith slumped and grumbled to herself. Damien chuckled, "I mean, we don't have any other leads. It wouldn't hurt to start taking on jobs while we figure out what to do."
Daniel nodded, "I want to find out what Charles is doing as much as you do Lilith, but I agree. Damien and I could use more experience with combat, and getting some money and a good rep started wouldn't hurt."
Lilith's eyes narrowed, focusing on nothing as the gears turned. Finally she sighed, "Alright, yeah, that's a good idea I guess. We'll go to the Slayer hall tomorrow morning and look for something."
"Yes!" Damien quietly cheered, careful not to wake Charlotte, "This is so exciting!"
Daniel walked over and laughed while ruffling their hair, "Just make sure to get some proper sleep."
They nodded with a large smile, "Yeah, of course!"
With their next course of action decided, the group settled in on the make-shift bed and rested for the day ahead.