"A, a, a dungeon?!"
In the time it took Alicia to reboot, I had pretty much cleaned both her and the couch.
Magic really was wonderful.
"H, h, how?! Aren't dungeons scary?!"
In theory, they probably were, especially if you went deeper than you could handle. If I wasn't so good at recovering from my wounds, I might've been scared of actually pushing my limits, but as it was, diving in deeper was more exciting than scary.
"B, but...the adventurers said that dungeons are places that lots and lots of strong monsters live!"
"Well, yea. There are a ton of monsters here, and a bunch of them are pretty strong, but we're in a safe zone. Monsters can't get here, so don't worry"
"Yea. If you leave this room, then there'll be a ton of monsters in both directions. That's why you shouldn't leave here without me"
It looked like my words hit her harder than I intended. Alicia flailed her arms and somehow managed to grab mine before pulled herself to me. Her entire body was shaking.
"Don't worry. I'm a bit strong, and we're not going to meet any dangerous monsters"
"Really. Monsters can't come here, and there's no way I'd take you somewhere I couldn't protect you"
Technically, I doubted 100% security was possible, even if there was three more of me, but it was true that I would make sure she didn't get hurt.
(But still, maybe there's something I can do here to further keep her safe that wouldn't be possible on Earth? There's so many game parallels here after all. Something like 'cover' would be idea. The ability to take a hit in the place of another party member...party?)
"Alicia, have you heard of the term party?"
(Please don't ask about birthday parties)
"The hunters and adventurers made parties all the time when they went out"
"Ooh? Do you know how they did it?"
"No. I don't know. I'm sorry"
"It's fine. It's not your fault. I can just figure it out"
I patted her head as she dejectedly looked down.
(But since parties were a real thing here, maybe it was covered by the system?)
Turning internally, I focused my thoughts onto the desire of forming a party with Alicia.
My concentration broke and I turned to look at her, full of expectations.
"The words 'Scarlet has sent a party invite. Do you accept?' Then it says 'Yes/No'"
"Try hitting 'Yes'"
Suddenly, something appeared in the top left corner of my vision. It was the name 'Alice' and red and blue bars. It looked like it worked.
"Alright. Looks like we were able to form a party properly"
"Really? We're in a party now?"
"Wow, it's like we're adventurers!"
Alicia hugged my arm as she jumped in joy.
(Did this girl admire adventurers or something? Well, they are pretty cool)
But as Alicia calmed down, she developed a frustrated look on her face.
"Is something wrong?"
"Just say it. I won't be angry"
For some reason, Alicia looked down while tightening her grip on my arm.
"I need to poo!"
Suddenly, she looked up at me and practically yelled it out.
(Ah, poo. It's been a long time since I've done that. It's actually kinda nostalgic)
I looked at the ceiling as I reminisced about the bodily function I had lost. But it took a few seconds for the dots to connect properly. When they finally did, I stiffened and looked down at Alicia.
"I...uh...come with me!"
I picked the little girl up and ran to the fountain.
Everything went dark before the light returned, and I ran out the empty room.
The sudden brightness caused me to squint, but I didn't slow down there. Carrying Alicia in one arm, I moved to the side of the path and used the other hand to quickly dig a hole in the grassy ground. Once I was satisfied, I lowered the squirming girl over the hole, then helped her raise the skirt of her dress.
"Okay, you can do it right here"
Alicia squatted down, and I turned away, doing my best to ignore the sounds coming from behind me.
At some point I realized that the sounds behind me stopped. I turned around, but quickly averted my eyes. She was still hunched over the hole.
"Is, is something wrong? You alright?"
"I'm done but..."
Did something happen? Is she sick or something?
"I don't have any leaves to wipe with"
Right. I forgot.
"K. Gimme a sec"
I had the option of giving her some of the grass from the dungeon boundary, but I didn't know if it was too rough or something. Fortunately, I could find a good alternative pretty close by if I was quick about it.
With a speedy dash, I ventured further into the dungeon, past the first monster, and to the second, a rabbit. Before it could react, I sliced it into two with my claws, then grabbed it's drop. Fortunately it was exactly what I wanted on my first try.
With my loot in hand, I rushed back to Alicia. Hopefully nothing had approached in the few seconds I was away.
She was still stooping down, and there wasn't any hint of a monster nearby.
"Here, use this"
I handed over my loot.
"This...is it really alright to use something as nice as this?!"
"It'll actually take more time for me to get leaves. And thanks to the dungeon, I can get furs whenever I want, so that's actually easier right now"
She was reluctant, but stuck between her choices, she took the one I suggested.
Once she was done, I took her hand so we could prepare to get some food for her.
Back home, I sat Alicia back onto the couch so I could get us ready for a trip through the dungeon. As much as I wanted to give her armour, everything I had was way too big and heavy for her. I'd just have to shield her with my magic and my own body if need be.
But that aside, there was one thing that she was missing that I could fix, namely footwear.
I'd used up all the remaining rabbit pelts, but I still had the scraps from making her dress along with plenty of other leathers. I sliced up some leather from a beastial boss monster that had a lion head and goat head along with a snake tail. It was basically a Greek chimera.
The leather was thick and strong, but was no match against my claws. I sewed the remaining rabbit fur to one side then attached a larger formed piece as well, then turned it inside out. I then cut a strip of leather into two cords.
Finally, I put them on to Alicia and tied the cords around her ankles so the fur boots wouldn't come off easily.
"How does that feel Alicia?"
I ask her as I lift her up and put her down onto the floor.
"I, is it really alright for me to have these?"
She lightly stomped the ground feeling out her new footwear.
"Of course. That's why I made them"
"I, I...thank you! I love you Scarlet!"
Suddenly, she jumped at me with a big hug and rubbed her face into my belly. I could feel the wetness from her tears and she trembled slightly. It made me worry what kind of life she lived if she was so moved about something like cheap boots like that, but I was hesitant to ask.
"Mmm. I love you too Alicia"
I hugged her back and stroked her soft hair.
(She's such a cute kid)
"Alright, gimme a sec and we'll be off"
I quickly grabbed my usual clothes and bag and put them on before grabbing Alice's hand.
It wasn't exactly the response I was hoping for, but it was unreasonable for her to get my reference. At least she seemed excited.
A quick teleportation later to the 13th floor and we had exited to the familiar forest level.
Alicia followed me in little totters as she awkwardly hung to my arm while enjoying her clothes.
But as we exited the cave and the environment suddenly changed, her big smile and happy hops slowly turned into a nervous frown and uneasy steps.
"You sure you wanna come? It's safe back home even without me"
"I'll come! Don't send me away..."
"...I won't. It's fine for you to come"
I really had no resistance to tears at all. Was that normal, or just because I was such a loner?
We walked along the path together. After the first turn, that humanoid carrot monster appeared.
Without even bothering to do a motion or slow my stride, I fired off an ice arrow at it, driving a hole clean through the monster.
Alicia jerked at the sudden sounds of battle and hugged my arm even tighter, almost making me drag her before I slowed down to her pace.
"Did something happen?"
Did she get scared when I fired off my magic without warning?
"I reached level two"
"...oh, uh, thank you?"
"Why's that a question?"
"Ummm...I didn't do anything. Is that alright?"
"Ah. Well, why not? We're a party together, and since it seems that XP is shared, isn't it normal to be congratulated when you level up?"
"I guess...but isn't it bad to get a level without doing anything?"
"It's not like I'm losing anything by it. At floors this low, there's basically no chance for me to level up anymore"
Was it that weird?
"Yea. It's fine as long as you can take benefit from it"
"But I can't fight since I can't see...huh?"
"Does that mean a monster appeared already?"
Alicia hugged my arm with both hands.
"Yea, but it's gone now"
She loosened her grip, but still made sure to hold my hand in both of hers.
"I beat it"
This time the little girl pulled down on my hand, hard, causing my spine to make a half arc so perfectly that would make Caesar proud. In a panic, she let go of my hand.
I recovered myself and picked up the monster drop and handed it to Alicia.
"Yup. Here's it's drop"
She took hold of the withered carrot-like root and traced her fingers along it.
"You're really strong, aren't you!"
Now she was beaming at me.
"Well, maybe a bit?"
"But you beat it so fast!"
"It's not like it was that strong of a monster"
Really. Those things are easy as long as you don't let it start screaming. The few times I did, and let it get close as I was fighting, I ended up bleeding from my ears. It's an experience I didn't want to have again. Especially one I didn't want Alicia to have ever.
I take off my bag and stuffed the root into it. I didn't know what it was used for, but there wasn't any point in throwing it away. It's not like it would go bad. It was completely dry.
But as I went to put the bag back over my shoulder, I noticed that Alicia was looking at the ground, tightly gripping her skirt in both hands.
At first I thought she needed to pee, but realized there was no way she'd need to already and admonished myself for forgetting something so normal for humans.
Instead, since the bag's straps were detachable at the bottom, I stuffed the ends inside of it's body then presented it to the trembling girl.
"Alicia, do you want to carry this for me?"
I put it into her hands and she examined it with her hands.
"It's a bag shaped a bit like an animal"
"Is it okay for me to hold it?"
"It is. In fact, it'll make it easier for me to fight if I didn't have to hold it. It's pretty important though, so hold onto it tightly okay? It's an important duty only you can do"
"Only I can do? Really?"
Alicia beamed at me while hugging the plush bag tight. With her distracted from her nervousness, I took hold of her hand and we continued to farm the floor's monster drops as well as the various foods that could be gathered all around.
The monsters were all taken down in one hit before they could do anything. It was a strange feeling just how easy the fights had gotten, but it was proof that I had gotten stronger. Once in a while I found a trap, but the discolouration on the ground, unusual bumps, or strange clumps of mana made them all child's play to avoid.
At least, that's what I was thinking when I accidentally stepped on a trap as I walked Alicia around the trigger.
I felt a small, sharp pain like getting a paper cut. When I looked down, it looked like I took an arrow to the knee. Thanks to my high stats, it was stopped by the bone. When I flicked it away like a bug, the small cut healed on in a few seconds it's own thanks to my [Rapid Regeneration] skill.
My lack of sense of danger in these lower levels was problematic. I needed to be more vigilant so that no harm came to Alicia.
Once I was satisfied with our loot, we moved on to other floors to get particular drops from there as well.
By the time we got back, Alicia was even more downcast then she was when we left. It wasn't like she became scared or depressed or something, but it looked like I pushed her too far without noticing it, physically that was.
She had stopped announcing her levels whenever it rose, so I wasn't quite sure where she was at anymore, but it was probably in it's teens already.
I put her onto the couch and she immediately flopped over and stopped moving.
I still felt completely fine, but the differences between our bodies' capabilities were just that immensely vast. I shouldn't have thought that just because she was keeping up and didn't complain that she was still feeling alright. I really should've known better considering her temperament she'd been displaying so far. Or at least noticed something was up when her words grew more and more quiet and less enthused, or when they stopped entirely.
"Sorry about that Alicia. Next time, I want you to tell me when you're getting tired"
There was hardly any life in that voice and she even coughed weakly, but at least she responded.
I quickly got to work on lunch. To perk up a little girl, sweets were probably best as the stereotype went. But she was exhausted from moving her body a whole lot, so restoring her energy was pretty important as well.
As my mind went through the possibilities, I took out our loot and sorted them out, putting anything that would last into magic-made containers and returned everything else to the magical bag in the hope that it would help preserve it. Looking through what we had, I made up my mind. Today's lunch would be glazed sweet potatoes and chopped fruit. It was a bit simple, but was sweet and high in vitamins and minerals.
First, I heated a stone plate and greased it before frying up some sliced sweet potatoes on it. As it cooked, I filled a bowl with assorted fruit slices. Once the potatoes were mostly done, I poured a generous amount of honey onto the pan and let the sweet potatoes soak and caramelize a bit before transferring it to a plate.
Lastly, I squeezed a few oranges into a cup.
"Here you go. Lunch is served. Glazed sweet potatoes and diced fruit salad and juice"
Once I passed the food over to Alicia, I started work on her dessert.
I mixed up some dough in a bowl, shaped some stone the form of a muffin pan then greased and filled the pan until I used up all the dough. Next, I stirred a mixture of sugar, and eggs, as well as grapes and milk after evaporating most of the water from both with magic before pouring the concoction into the filled muffin pan.
Finally, I made a stone box, heated it up, then placed the pan inside before closing the box.
As I let it cook, I watched Alicia eat. If I didn't know better, it looked like she hadn't collapsed from exhaustion just minutes before with the way she was eating.
Alicia held the fork in one hand, spearing the sweet potato slices while holding a piece of diced fruit in the other, alternating between her cheeks being puffed up like a squirrel from potato and fruit.
Watching her eat my food so happily made me glad about all the time I spent my last life looking up ways to make good food as cheap as possible. While I was living off only my savings, there wasn't any way for me to eat out or buy nice premade stuff, so I resorted to finding out how to make the stuff I liked on my own. At the time, I lamented that no matter what it wasn't actually that cheap and had to give up on most of my favourites, but that knowledge found a use in a surprising place.
"So how'd you like it?"
I asked the little girl as she poked around an empty plate with her fork in the hopes of finding a scrap of glazed sweet potato she missed.
"It was so yummy!"
"I'm glad. Here's dessert: butter tarts"
I replaced her empty dishes with a plate with two tarts. There was more, but they were insanely high calorie, so I figured I could save them for another day.
I helped her pick one up, then carefully holding it with both hands, she took a bite.
"Mmmm! It's so sweet!"
Her face scrunched up so tight I got a little worried, but it turned out it was unfounded as she quickly took another bite. I was glad she liked it. It seemed like these weren't that popular among foreigners because they were so sweet. Even I admitted that they were basically diabetes in a cup, but I still liked them.
It didn't take long before she was done and was groping around the plate once more looking for a third tart that wasn't there.
"That's it for now. You'll get fat if you eat any more"
Rather, it was probably already too much, but that thought of mine did nothing to prevent Alicia from looking a bit depressed that her extravagant meal had already ended.
"Anyways. I was thinking. Maybe you could tell me stories about outside the forest? I don't know anything beyond the trees, so maybe you could tell me about it?"
Like a person suffering mood swings, Alicia quickly perked up at my words.