Chapter 16 – Story Time, Trust, and…
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I started off preparing for Alicia's future meals since I had the time. Chilling and skimming milk, grinding wheat, separating meat from bones and simmering scraps to make soup stock. Anything I could think of that took too much time to prepare right before making the little girl's meals.

As I was working, Alicia told me about her village.

It seemed like the little girl really enjoyed being of use to me.

She called it paying me back for everything I've done for her, but frankly, she was a little kid. She didn't need to pay me back for anything. It was the duty of adults to look after kids after all, even if my current body was technically younger than even she was.

I tried to explain that to her, but she refused to listen, saying even her younger brothers and sisters helped out once they were old enough to walk.

Anyways, she first started off talking about her village. I was a bit worried since it might've been full of bitter memories, but it turned out not to be so bad.

From what I heard, it didn't seem like she was mistreated, but she was neglected a lot. Her village was pretty poor, so people often went around harvesting whatever they could.

But Alicia was blind from birth, so she rarely helped with that and was often left alone at home. It seemed like she was as emaciated as she was because there wasn't enough food to go around, but I couldn't help but suspect there was more to that than she was telling me, whether she realized it or not.

This seemed to be the biggest reason why she liked to help me so much. It sounded like she thought of herself as nothing but a burden, so anything she could do to help made her pretty happy.

Beyond that, it seemed like her little village, while poor, was also a relatively popular staging ground for adventurers looking into hunting in the nearby forest. The forest that surrounded my home dungeon.

Thanks to that, there were several successful merchants and business owners, but anything that didn't directly connect to those adventurers did poorly, which included farmers like Alicia's family. Not only that, but as the famine that's been plaguing the village lately proved, even the successful businesses weren't doing well enough to cover for when the harvests were consecutively poor.

According to what she heard, the famine's been going on for three or four years, but Alicia herself couldn't remember a time before she was always starving.

It was just a pure coincidence that I passed over a sliced apple at that point in the story. It really was. I had carved it into rabbits, but it didn't look like she noticed.

The adventurers, though, didn't sell that much of their loot at the village and instead took most of their things with them when the left to a city further inland. What they did, however, was often spend time relaxing at the village's branch of the adventurer's guild to drink.

The village kids would often listen to their stories when they weren't out hunting or wasted from drinking too much. Alicia was included in this, her brothers and sisters would often guide her by hand so she could listen to the adventurers too.

But it didn't seem like the adventurers had too many stories of their own, and instead shared stories that they themselves had heard and tried to boast about. Not like it fooled even the village kids, though it probably didn't do anything to dampen their excitement.

They told stories about people climbing high mountains and fighting dragons, or taking trips on the oceans and fighting sea monsters, or going deep underground and taking on demonic monstrosities. Pretty much all the stories were about people going to exotic places and killing big monsters.

It seemed there were even a bunch about a party of heroes who took on the Demon Lord's forces that culminated in the Demon Lord's death. Apparently this one was pretty recent.

Not just the adventurers, but the whole village had been swapping stories about the heroes and the Demon Lord for years, and the day the adventurers spread the stories about the death of the demon forces' leader had a lot of the adults spending the night drinking and partying like an impromptu festival.

It was pretty cool how there were even heroes and Demon Lords in this world, like a lot of fantasy stories and games, but I was also glad that the war was over. I'd have hated to be caught in between, especially since I was a human-turned-vampire, I'd be stuck in a pretty bad spot if someone tried to recruit me.

According to the adventurers' stories though, it seemed like the allied kingdoms were hunting down the Demon Lord's remnant forces after they scattered once their leader died, and that was causing trouble here and there, but at the same time, it was giving the adventurers a ton of extra work and money.

When one of the kids asked, it seemed like the particular groups of adventurers at Alicia's village weren't involved in hunting the remnant demon forces because the area was so far away from the Demon Lord's castle, nobody thought there was any point in even bothering.

I was glad on that point. It was another troublesome thing I wouldn't get involved in.

It was around this point that I had started to make dinner.

With the ingredients I had, I got to work on beef stew with lots of potatoes. The potatoes was to make up for the lack of bread. I was a believer that whole carbs was what made the human race strong, not tons of protein like muscle-bound gym dwellers that thought that real cave-men survived on nothing but raw meat and the occasional fruit.

When she was done telling another story about the heroes apparently taking down one of the demon generals, I served the stew in a big bowl and squeezed the remainder into my bag. Despite how small it was, the mouth really stretched out a lot more than it appeared to be able to.

"Here's dinner. It's beef and potato stew. Careful, it's hot"

I handed her a newly made spoon and helped her find the bowl and a cup of orange juice.

"Ah, I'll be right back. I need to get an ingredient for dessert"

"Ah! Wai..."

"It'll only be a few seconds. I'll be back before you know it!"

Not listening to Alicia's complaint, I quickly teleported out to get a quick bite to eat. I didn't want to admit to her that I was a vampire. There was no telling how scared she'd be of me if she knew.

 

A few quick kills and a full belly later, I came back home.

*cough couch*

Glancing to where Alicia sat, she was staring into her lap with her thumb firmly in her mouth. Rather, she was just facing down, since she couldn't stare. There was no indication that she touched her dinner at all.

"Umm..."

"Scarlet!"

Even before I could call out to her, she jumped up, tears welling in her eyes.

"Hey...it's been...like, two minutes..."

It really had. In fact, it was probably less than that, but Alicia had turned into a wreak in that amount of time.

"I...I...I was so...waaaahhhh!!!"

"Ah! Alicia!"

I literally flew over to her and tightly hugged her as she cried.

I should've known. I should've known that she was traumatized by being left behind, all alone and expected to die.

Despite that, I was selfish. I wilfully ignored her needs, even if it was only for a little while.

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I won't leave you behind again"

Alicia continued to cry, her tears soaked into my clothes, but I held her tightly, burying her face into my chest.

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry"

 

It took a while, but eventually Alicia calmed down enough to pull away from my sticky chest. I used my sleeve wipe her face. I had to wash my entire out fit anyways. Covering even more of it with mucus wasn't going to mean anything.

"I'm sorry Alicia. Are you alright now?"

The little girl nodded weakly. She was still holding onto my robes tightly as she sat on my lap.

"Here. You must be thirsty"

I grabbed her juice and brought it close, but she didn't make a move to take the cup, or even look for it. I tried pressing the edge against her lips and tilted it carefully. She opened her mouth and drank as I slowly poured into her mouth.

The second I pulled the empty cup away, she forced her face into my chest, ignoring the fact that it was covered in slimy goo.

"Alicia, you're getting your face dirty again"

But she just shook her head and pressed her body against mine even harder.

It was nice to see her express her affection for me so strongly, but my actions had depleted her trust in me in one stroke. I had no idea what I could do to restore that trust.

"Here, how about we take a bath to clean up?"

It took a few seconds, but she slowly nodded, shifting her personal pillow up and down along with it.

"Right, then let's get up"

But she refused to make a move. If anything, her grip on me tightened a little.

"Alright, then..."

I picked Alicia up and walked over to the bathtub. With a few quick uses of my magic, it was filled once again with hot water, but I was stuck on the next step.

"Alicia, you know we can't wash with our clothes on, right?"

She nodded slowly into my chest.

"Then to take our clothes off, I need to put you down. Alright?"

It took longer, but eventually she nodded again.

"Alright. Here I go"

I kneeled down, letting Alicia's feet touch the ground. She staggered a little before gaining her balance and stood on her own...if alone meant that she refused to let her upper body separate from mine.

"Umm...I can't take my clothes off if you don't let go of them you know? Here, take my hand instead"

I wrapped my hand around her balled fist. She slowly let go of my robes, but quickly grabbed my hand in both of hers before taking a nervous step back.

Not wasting any time, I removed my clothes the best I could with one hand, swapping the hand I used to hold Alicia's to remove my shirt and robes.

"Okay, now I'll take your dress off too. But I need you to raise your arms to do it"

My agitated bathing partner frowned, but raised her arms as I told her...without letting go of my hand.

I sighed, but did the best I could to take her fur dress off as far as it could go.

"I need you to let go for a second so I can take it off now Alicia"

The little girl stomped her feet cutely a few times, but eventually acquiesced. She let go of my hand, and in that moment I swiftly removed her dress. But the second she confirmed it was off, Alicia flailed her arms until she managed to grab mine again, this time in a greatest death grip her little fingers could manage.

"Okay, now I'm going to pick you up and we'll take our bath now"

I put an arm under her bottom and pulled her onto me. In almost one motion, I lift her up, step into the bath, and lower ourselves into the hot water.

Alicia flinched for a moment when the water touched her feet, but she stayed calm after that. That is, if wrapping her stick-like arms around my neck like she's trying to strangle me could be considered calm.

"Here, it'll be much more relaxing if you sit down properly Alicia"

I shift her legs to make it as easy as possible for her to sit down, but it took her a few seconds before she actually lowered her body. But rather than sitting, she stopped at kneeling and pushed her face into my chest while wrapping her arms around my ribs.

It wasn't exactly perfect, but at this point, it was good enough. Alicia was mostly submerged up to her shoulders so she would be warm at least. I had given up the idea of a proper bath before I even suggested it.

With one arm around her body, I used my other to slowly stroke her hair. It was still frayed and stiff, but it was leagues ahead of how it was when we first met.

The two of us lay in the warm water in silence, just holding each other's body, listening to each other's breathing, feeling each other's heartbeats.

Eventually Alicia's grip around me loosened, but I didn't dare to pull her away from me. I wasn't about to betray her trust a second time.

Instead, I looked down. I wanted to see her expression, but it was impossible. Her head had been parked right in between my breasts, and her face buried in one of them. But rather than seeing her expression, I was forced to notice something else: her head was roughly the same size as my breasts, individually.

I had known that they were big, but being unable to get a good grasp due to the different perspective, I had no way to actually confirm it. Rather, I had been deliberately avoiding any form of confirmation. It would've been easy if I simply made a mirror, but I rather than doing so, I actively avoided it.

It seemed like a part of me probably still denied the truth of my sex change.

Also the effects of my appearance settings. Thanks to the fact that all the settings were labelled in ways to be entirely gender neutral, the effects of those sliders were incredibly unpredictable.

I lamented once again that there wasn't a preview window when I was picking my settings.

But in a sense, it was a blessing in disguise. If I had continued to be a man, than this situation would've been pretty suspicious to a third party, barring the fact that there weren't any third parties to witness this. But it was possible that such information would leak in the future.

Alternatively, if I found a boy in the woods rather than a girl, it might've been a different cause for concern after a while.

In a sense, it was lucky, I supposed.

But I quickly shook my head of those thoughts. What ifs didn't matter. What was important was that Alicia needed my support, much more than how she was physically supporting my body right then.

As I was concerned with those errant thoughts, Alicia had fallen asleep.

Sleeping in a bath wasn't good at all, but it was most likely only a problem rooted in your body heating up too much or getting chilled after the water cooled down.

I lifted Alicia up and stepped out of the bath. Magically calling over some furs, I dried our bodies the best I could. It wasn't that well done though, so I summoned a warm breeze to finish the job before I lay down on the couch with Alicia on top of me like usual. I covered our bodies with the bear fur blanket before I let my mind drift as I lightly stroked Alicia's back.

Most likely, after this event, there was no way I'd be able to go hunt in the dungeon while leaving Alicia back here. Speed didn't matter, and sneaking out behind her back was a huge risk.

As if detecting my thoughts, Alicia gripped my body more tightly in her sleep.

(Yea, not gonna be able to separate from her for a while)

I'd have to take her with me any time I went to hunt or gather. At least until she'd recovered from her trauma.

If that was the case, I needed to increase her protection.

Today I was able to avoid her getting hurt, but there were a few close calls. I've never been good at detecting traps, but that hadn't been much of a problem. Most traps were the weakening type, meant to harm, but not kill it's targets, leaving you easier for the monsters to finish you off.

But things like that weren't really a problem for me. I recovered my wounds quickly, and I generally resisted any negative status effects I've encountered so far, and those that I didn't tended to not prevent me from beating my opponents before recovering.

Even status that sounded serious like paralysis and sleep just made it a bit more difficult to move or made me feel drowsy thanks to my resistance skills, and a quick snack fixed those up right away. It didn't even have to be blood, just the essence was enough to cure my status, though it didn't recover any lost HP.

But none of this applied to Alicia.

Not only that, but damaging traps could be lethal to her.

Using my body as a shield only worked if I was aware of the trap in the first place, rendering that tactic a bit moot. That obviously meant that I needed an alternative method.

If active defence from me wouldn't be reliable enough, then a passive defence would cover for that. It didn't even need to be that strong, since a passive defence that I considered weak would still be sufficient as long as we avoided the lower floors of the dungeon.

Of the skills I had, nothing was strictly defensive, but most skills seemed to have a wide variety of usage as long as I was creative with them.

With that thought in my mind, I brought over the empty stone cup. While levitating it, I tried applying some wind magic to create a barrier just over the surface of it's body, then fired off a weak ice arrow at it.

The thin film of wind diverted the piece of ice, but didn't stop the projectile, causing it to crack it's surface.

Undeterred, I increased the thickness and density of the air and tried again. This time the magical ice bounced right off, doing no apparent harm to the cup. As an additional test, I flicked it with a finger, using a moderate amount of strength. The cup simply wobbled in the air, but there wasn't any indication of it being damaged.

Happy with the results, I fixed the cracks and lowered the cup back down to the table.

Having high stats meant that it was easy to brute force a lot of things, but the real trick of this world was to be creative. Maybe I could beat those golems if I considered some more unorthodox methods?

Well, even if I did come up with something like that, I wasn't going to risk Alicia's life in such a place. Just the thought of going above the 50th floor with her made me nervous enough, the 87th was flat out.

Instead, I turned to my continuing project from the night before.

Opening up my status, I went back to examining my skills' source code.

There were a few interesting things here and there I hadn't realized, but for the most part there wasn't anything significant in the details of how the code itself was written.

But I hadn't given up. I had discovered the precisely because I noticed a detail that I had overlooked before. I wasn't going to make that mistake again so easily.

Not content with just reading the code, I picked a random skill and examined everything I could about it.

It seemed like my diligence was rewarded, as I noticed a button I had previously overlooked on the decorative embellishment at the bottom of the source code page. It read 'View Container File.'

I pressed the button without any hesitation, and what I saw made my mind whirl.

There were dozens of other things inside the container file. Aside from the source code of the skill itself, there were it's dependencies as well, code pieces that the skill relied on to work as intended. But there were even things that I didn't recognize.

One was purely a container, and it held something inside of it. It wasn't extra code or anything, but instead something physical? Metaphysical? My usage of terms I didn't actually understand aside, this object definitely seemed to contain something in it though it wasn't than the usual code, it did look important.

This was definitely the reason why I couldn't get my code to work. Or at least a part of it. The more I dove into the back end of the system that underlay the world, the more I realized how complicated it was.

Making any changes to suit my needs was going to be difficult work. It would be much easier to make changes to existing code than making anything entirely new.

But I had to consider the consequences of my actions as well. Any changes to existing code could easily affect the larger world, and the results would be impossible to predict. It was imperative that I took care in any changes I made.

The solution to that was obvious. Simply copy an existing skill than change it so that nobody can get it. If I can make that work, then I could freely play with that skill without consequence. And if I was going to do that, then I might as well use a skill I really wanted.

The question was, which one to chose.

Well, no. There really wasn't a question. If I could take any skill, it would obviously be [Light Resistance]. Technically I wanted the variant [Light Immunity] that I found in the skill list, but that was a higher grade skill built off of [Light Resistance]. I already had a few advanced skills like that. [Sword Mastery] and [Blaze Magic] were advanced versions of [Sword Technique] and [Fire Magic]. Going straight for [Light Immunity] might work, but if something went wrong, it would be harder to diagnose than for [Light Resistance].

With my mind set, I created a new skill and copied over all the code and dependency files before removing the acquisition method and changing the name to [Light Resistance Beta]. I made sure everything else was the same, including the size and capacity of the container file I made before saving it.

I got the warning that there was no way to learn the skill, but that was fine. It otherwise saved and compiled without issue.

The first step was done. Next, I removed all the acquisition restrictions.

Saved and compiled. No new errors.

Good.

I had a theory about how the system worked. While I had direct access to the code for my own skills and things, what was actually important was that the code in the master database, the area where I can create new skills.

I couldn't find any ways to make any new skills as a part of my own personal list, but in the master list it was possible. But the skills in the master list were accessible by anyone if they had the means to learn them and weren't restricted from them. One of the biggest reasons why it was so important that I was careful about how I altered or made anything.

In theory, I could simply change my existing personal skills, but it was more difficult to predict how that would turn out. And I had no idea how errors would effect me. It was much safer and easier to simply work on the skills in the master database and then change the id tags on my own skills and load the data from the master files.

The only question was how to make my skills load from the master files once I was ready, but without any help files, I had no choice but to just flounder around until I figured that out.

As for what skill to sacrifice to get my new skill, the most reliable was to pick a skill that was most similar to it. Goodbye [Dark Resistance]. I'll get a new copy of you in the future if this all worked out.

I simply changed the container's id tag to match that of my new skill, then closed my status windows.

Without warning, an intense migraine assaulted my brain. Something was filling up my vision, but I couldn't concentrate due to the intense pain. No, not just my head, my entire body was filled with pain, like something was trying to bite into my skin everywhere.

There was only one explanation I could think of.

Immediately I opened my status and changed the id tag on the new skill that had appeared, and changed it back to the old number before closing the window.

A few moments later, the pain had all disappeared like it was a figment of my imagination. But my vision was filled with warning dialogue boxes, like those of the stereotypical viruses of the 90s.

Each one was identical. They all read 'Skill [Light Resistance Beta] conflicts with [Vampire] racial functions [Light Weakness] and [Sunlight Weakness]. Cannot conciliate'.

This...was a pretty obvious outcome now that I thought about it. Conflicts like this wouldn't show up until execution, and were called run time errors.

Since this was the problem, the only solution was to change my racial information, but that was way harder than dealing with skills, and if I did it poorly, there'd be no way to fix my mistake. It was like performing open heart surgery on myself, except with the added bonus that even if it went well, it might power up all other vampires at the same time.

It was too risky. At least until I had a much better understanding of the system.

But I also couldn't wait until such a time to deal with my sunlight weakness. I needed a different solution.

I closed all the warning boxes.

Just in case, I peeked under the blanket to check on Alicia. She hadn't woken up or anything from my little incident. A bit relieved, I went back to work.

If resisting light wasn't possible, then I simply had to find a workaround. Simply put, I needed the effect of avoiding light damage without actually doing so. The obvious options were to avoid light from touching my skin, to turn light that did touch my skin into something else, or to heal any damage I received from light as I took them.

The first I was already doing with clothes, but I couldn't think of how to get it to happen with a skill. The same problem applied to the second option. The third, I had already acquired a skill that fulfilled exact requirement. I simply couldn't use it. A problem that I now knew how to fix.

[Solar Power] did everything I needed, though it had it's own drawbacks, namely that I'd still take all the damage, but in theory it would keep me alive, and that was everything I needed.

Just like with [Light Resistance], I made a copy of [Solar Power], then changed the name to [Sunlight Vulnerability], and removed the acquisition method and restriction before saving it. I got the same 'no acquisition method' warning as before, but that wasn't an issue.

Finally, I went to my own skills and found my existing copy of [Solar Power] and swapped the id tag to that of my new skill.

My heart pounded as I braced myself for the possibility of that pain returning as I closed all the windows in my mind.

...

Nothing happened.

I opened my skill list.

[Solar Power] was gone, and in it's place was [Sunlight Vulnerability].

I breathed a sigh of relief as I opened the skill's description up and smirked at the fact that it retained it's old description. But it wasn't greyed out like it was before. It even retained it's rank.

Since it worked to this degree, I had a few more changes I had in mind, and spent the next little while going through them. From rewriting the description to hide it's real effect to changing it from a racial skill to a default skill.

Constantly checking the skill every time I made a little change, I went back and forth over and over until I was satisfied. I now had [Sunlight Vulnerability 8] firmly in my default skills list.

Seeing that nothing went wrong, all that was left was to actually test the skill itself. That would have to wait until after Alicia woke up.

An enormous smile emerged on my face. The thought that I may have conquered the vampires' greatest enemy was extremely pleasing. I couldn't wait to go outside and mock the sun. Though nothing stopped it from hurting, so perhaps I wouldn't be able to laugh while staring at the sun.

Nevertheless, I couldn't completely suppress the laughter that threatened to choke me.

"...mama...*chu*"

A familiar, yet still alien feeling assaulted my chest, causing me to freeze.

I had hoped against hope that it was a one time deal, but it didn't come to pass.

I did my best to comfort the little sleeping child as my my body was wracked by a feeling that was slowly growing more and more familiar against my will.

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