"Mmmm....good morning Scarlet...*cough*"
Finally. I was released from that unending torture. If this was where I lived in my previous life, this might've been illegal. I was pretty sure cruel and unusual torture was against the law.
"...hah! Did I do something bad while sleeping!?"
This morning as well, Alicia asked practically the same question after bolting upright.
"No, nothing too bad..."
She bit her thumb as she asked. The way she tilted her head was really cute, but I was getting distracted.
"Yea, nothing you had to worry about"
It wasn't like she could control what she did at night. But I needed to find a way to make her stop, or my sanity would run out.
She didn't seem to be entirely convinced, and the fact that I sounded exhausted didn't help.
"Here, let me get up. I need to make breakfast"
Alicia quickly shuffled back and got off of me. I shifted my legs and turned to get up, but something grabbed my arm before I could stand.
On my right, Alicia was holding onto my arm, but she was looking away, like she was pretending she had no idea what she had done. I tried tugging my arm, but her hand was stuck onto it like it's been spot-welded.
A smirk appeared on my face as I kept tugging my arm lightly, seeing how hers kept following even to the point her her body would wobble a bit. But it quickly disappeared when I noticed that her hand was trembling ever so slightly.
"Umm...here. How about you help me make breakfast this time?"
Alicia suddenly turned to me and almost yelled.
"Oh, you wanna learn how to cook that bad?"
"I do! I want to be helpful!"
Her eyes were sparkling, though I suspected it wasn't because she actually wanted to learn how to cook. Rather, actually teaching her enough to make something on her own was scary.
"Alright, but first, we need to get dressed"
I got up and floated over our clothes and magically slipped mine onto my body, only having to stop to switch hands with Alicia to put my shirt on. Magic really was a cheat.
"Okay, raise your hands so I can put your dress on"
But when it came to putting on her clothes, no amount of magic would stop her from pouting when she didn't want to let go of me while getting dressed.
"It's just for a second so I can get your arms through the dress Alicia"
She stomped her foot, but relented, and I managed to get her outfit on for the second she let go of me.
(I need to figure out a way to make her get dressed without going through all this trouble every time)
First thing's first, I levitated the bowl of stew from the night before into my bag. It hadn't been touched since Alicia's little tantrum, but something like this left overnight probably wasn't safe for a kid to eat. I needed to throw it out next time we go to the dungeon to farm.
For breakfast, and something she could help with, it came to something that didn't involve heat or knives as much as possible. The ended up being pancakes filled with berries.
I've tried it before, but it didn't turn out well in my last life. The reason was simple. Berries are generally bigger than pancakes, and contain water. Those two facts made mixing them into the batter troublesome. Normally you'd just use slightly dryer batter and just make the pancakes thicker, but I was a fan of thinner pancakes with a nice, crispy crust.
But in this world, I didn't have to make such concerns.
I first started off putting the batter ingredients into a bowl then made a large mixing spoon out of wood, then lay the bear fur we've been using as a blanket down like a rug. I sat down on it and seated Alicia on my lap, then put the big bowl on Alicia's lap, making us a weird three tiered stack.
"Now, take this spoon and start mixing the batter until it's nice and even"
Enthused, Alicia held the spoon in both hands and started mixing while I held the bowl steady with one hand.
As she worked on that, I hovered a bunch of assorted berries and sliced them into small pieces with my claws, then used my arcane magic spell to evaporate most of the moisture.
"Okay, I'm adding the last ingredient. Keep mixing"
As eager as she was, mixing the batter wasn't easy work, especially for a little girl.
"You don't have to push yourself. You can stop if you're tired"
She looked like she was nearing her limit but...was that alright? She might've been just six years or so, but she probably had her own form of pride, let alone her own needs and wants.
(Well, the mixing is almost done, so let's let her have her way)
The sliced berries were added to the mixture and were quickly enveloped.
At the same time, I started up a magical flame under the stone plate I've been using as a giant frying pan.
"Okay, looks like the mixing's done. Good work Alicia!"
"Ehehe. I did it!"
The little girl turned her head up and gave me a bright smile. I couldn't help but rub her hair for that.
"Alright. Now all we gotta do it just fry it up. Stand up"
I levitated the bowl and took Alicia's hand so she could get off of me.
"Kay, now I'll put you back on the couch so I can fry up the batter. It wont take long"
But, to nobody's surprise, she simply stuck her body to mine instead, wrapping her arms around my waist.
"It's dangerous near the flame, and the oil's going to splatter as I cook"
But my words simply went in one ear and out the other as she shook her head, rubbing her face into my side.
"*sigh* Alright. We'll stick together, but you need to stay behind me just in case"
"Okay! I'll do it!"
She nodded, then moved to my back, still hugging my waist. In an awkward shuffle, we moved over to the heated stone plate.
Careful to make sure that Alicia was covered the best she could, I oiled the stone liberally with leftover animal fats, then poured the batter on top to make two large pancakes. It sizzled in a satisfying manner as I flattened them out with the mixing spoon, then flipped them when I thought they were ready.
Banishing the flame, I transferred the hot flatbread to a plate then sent it to the table in front of the couch. At the same time, I had the last of the breakfast items sent over, squeezing some oranges into a cup along with placing a small bowl with some fruit inside.
"Alright, it's just about done. Let's go back to the couch"
I picked Alicia up and sat her on my lap as I parked myself on the couch. If she demanded constant contact, then this was the only way for her to have both hands free while she ate. I lamented how much I've partially turned into an accessory, but I told myself it was only until I earned her trust again.
As she settled into a comfortable position on my lap, I spend those few seconds dicing up the fruit and mixing them into the bowl to create a fruit salad while I poured a generous helping of honey onto the pancakes.
"Here's your fork. Today is mixed berry pancakes, fruit salad, and juice"
I helped her find all the items before leaning against the backrest so she could take her time to eat without me literally breaking over her shoulder.
"Mmm! It's really tasty!"
Alicia turned around and showed me her bright smile.
(Maybe this isn't so bad after all?)
"Of course it's good. You helped make it after all"
"It's good because I helped?"
"That's right. Doesn't it taste a little better than usual?"
"Mmmm...I think so?"
She flashed another smile before turning back to continue her breakfast.
It wasn't like the meal would suddenly get better just because an amateur helped, but the work she put into it would've most likely improved her appetite a bit. So it wasn't like I was lying.
I lightly pat Alicia's head since I had nothing to do. She stiffed up for a moment before going back to eat. There didn't seem to be any indication that she hated it, just that she was a bit surprised. In fact, she was leaning her head against my palm a bit now that I started to stroke her hair.
Maybe it was because I've been patting her so much, but her hair's gotten a lot softer than when we first met. The first time I washed it made a big difference, but thinking about it now, it had definitely gotten even silkier than before. If my petting has been having this sort of effect, then brushing it with a hair brush should make it even softer.
Alicia was a girl, so she'd probably like that. Actually, I was one as well. My own feelings aside, I should probably conform to that standard a bit at least. My own hair isn't terrible, since I've been keeping it clean, but it is a bit rough and stiff.
(Gah! I've got a serious case of split ends!)
My silvery long hair. There was no point in taking pride in it's length if I didn't take care of it.
Well, if I was going to go as far as taking proper care of our hair, maybe I should do more than just that? Alicia would definitely benefit if I taught her some beauty tips. I might've been a man in my last life, but it was virtually impossible to get to my age without knowing a bit about women's beauty products. The ads were simply everywhere despite targeting less than half the population. No, maybe they were targeting more then? I guess a lot of guys bought those things as gifts as well. I could also guess how often those fools got into trouble for buying the wrong ones as well.
Before I knew it, Alicia's hands had long stopped moving.
I looked over her and saw that there was nothing left of her breakfast. Her eyes were closed, like she was basking in an after-meal glow.
"Did you enjoy breakfast?"
"It was really tasty"
She nodded lazily.
"Okay, then let's get you cleaned up"
It was probably going to be a common occurrence whenever there was sauce or syrup that it would get all over Alicia. Which was almost every meal.
I lightly dipped a fur in the fountain and brought it over using magic, then wrung it by hand before wiping Alicia's hands and face with it. Thinking about it, I might've been able to do all that with magic alone, though I didn't trust my skill to wipe her cleanly, I might be able to at least wring the fur that way. Telekinesis could functionally be considered a form of magic, and wasn't too much different from the levitation I've been doing all this time.
"Alright. Now let's get fully dressed up. I want to show you something"
"*cough* Show me what?"
"My little friends. I don't know what they are exactly, but I made friends with some creatures that live nearby"
"Wh...what kind of creatures are they?"
Alicia stiffened up. It wasn't too much of a surprise that she'd be scared of anything she didn't know, but despite that her curiosity seemed to be pretty strong.
"Hmmm...they're kinda hard to describe. I just call them fluffballs, since that's what they look like, glowing balls of fur. Have you heard of anything like that?"
"...I don't know"
She looked disappointed that she couldn't be helpful.
"It's fine. It's not a problem if we don't know what they are. It's not like they're harmful or anything. Rather, they're very playful and fun to be with. I think you'll like them"
The little girl nodded nervously.
We quickly put on our outerwear and headed to the first floor, then out of the cave while holding hands.
I turned to Alicia who was a step in front of me. Holding my hand, it was like she was a kid dragging their guardian out to play or something, but in reality it was because I froze on the spot.
One more step and I would be out in the sunlight. Even now I was pretty scared of the real sun. I had made plenty of precautions, and half the reason why I suggested Alicia meet the fluffballs was so that I could test my new skill.
But when it came to coming this far, I hesitated. There was no guarantee that the skill would work as intended. But on the off chance it didn't, I still had my robes. They would protect me as they had days earlier when I first tested them. I had a certain amount of security now, and that leeway gave me courage.
"I'm fine. It's just pretty bright out"
It was true. The light of the sun bouncing off of various surfaces was as harsh as ever on my eyes. Few things were as bright as the sun in the middle of the day, and a primarily nocturnal creature as myself would obviously find even indirect sunlight to be difficult to deal with.
But Alicia wasn't like that. She was human, which meant that she needed sunlight to survive. Vitamin D formation needed exposure to sunlight to work properly. Perhaps the artificial sunlight in the dungeon would work, but it was best to not rely on such an uncertain element. Vitamin D deficiency lead directly to a weak immune system. A kid this young was already susceptible to illness, so anything that could compound the problem was definitely out.
I swallowed my saliva then lead Alicia outside.
It took only a few steps out of the cave before a swarm of glowing fluff rushed us and blocked my sight in all directions.
I was startled at their aggressiveness, but it was a reassuring sight.
"Wh, what is it Scarlet?!"
On the other hand, for someone who couldn't see what was going on, it was no doubt a terrifying experience.
"Don't worry. It's just the friends I was telling you about earlier"
The fluffballs were spinning around us like a whirlpool, flying and dancing, overall elated to see me again.
"Hey, hey. Sorry for making you all wait so long. Here's some treats"
I quickly produced a bunch of mana treats and threw them into the air. They were all instantly gobbled up.
"Oh yea. Thanks for your help before. Look, she's doing well now"
I pushed Alicia in front of me.
The army of fluffballs danced around the little girl.
"Oh, right. I never told you. These little guys were the ones that lead me to you. If it wasn't for them, I'd never have found you"
"What, really? Umm…everyone, thank you very much for saving me!"
Alicia bowed her head while giving her appreciation.
Responding to her earnest gratitude, the fluffballs danced around us even more vigorously.
"Are they taking it well?"
"Ah, I guess you really can't see...I mean, sense them huh? Well, they seem to be pretty happy that you're doing well"
"Haaa, that's good. If they're happy, then I'm happy too...umm..."
It felt like I hum like that a lot lately.
"Maybe they're spirits?"
"Ah, umm...I heard that there are spirits all over the world. Usually people can't see them, but some people can sense them a bit. I also heard that like most elves can feel them as well"
Oh? Another fantasy staple.
"They don't bother people usually, but on rare occasions they help few people who can sense them, or lead them to help others..."
"Oh? That's pretty nice of them. You guys are pretty famous huh?"
The supposed spirits bounced around happily.
It really was turning into a habit.
"I think the fact that you can talk to them is even more amazing!"
"I haven't heard about anyone who could talk to the spirits!"
Did this really qualify as talking?
"Ah, erm...It's not really that I can talk to them, it's more like they seem to understand peoples' words, and I can somewhat get a feel for what they're trying to say through their actions. I've never actually heard anything resembling a voice from them"
"Huh? But...that means you can see them?!"
"...yea? I can"
"Then that's amazing too! I heard that people could only feel where they were! There was an elven adventurer who came to our village once, but even he couldn't tell anyone more than how he could kinda feel when they were nearby!"
That's...like rank one [Spirit Perception]. It was strange to think that people who got the skill didn't spend the time to raise it at least a bit, but the fact that I could vaguely see the transparent silhouette of the ghost monsters at rank 3 suggested that the same applied to these spirits as well.
Was it just difficult to normally raise [Spirit Perception], or were these spirits just harder to see than those ghosts I fought in the dungeon? It couldn't be that the elves just kept it a secret or something. No matter how much they made talking about the spirits taboo didn't stop any social deviants from doing so.
The only way to keep a secret was to prevent people from finding out there even was one. Worst case, limit the number of people who knew it to the absolute minimum. If either of those couldn't be done, then it was only a matter of time before the secret got out.
"Hmmm...maybe it is a bit amazing. But it's also a bit lonely that I'm the only one who can see them. Do you want to try learning how to see these little guys?"
"Really? You think I can do it too?"
"I think so. It's only a skill. In theory anyone should be able to learn it"
I opened up [Spirit Perception] and glanced through the source code. As I thought, there weren't any real restrictions as to who can learn it. The acquisition method seemed to purely be attempting to sense a spiritual entity while in the presence of one. The fact that a spirit or something similar needed to be nearby was most likely the most common problem when trying to learn this skill.
"It's going to be a lot of work though. Do you think you can do it?"
"I'll do it! I want to be able to see the spirits that saved my life! And..."
"They're also your friends, right? I want to be friends with them too"
"Ahaha, you're so cute!"
I couldn't help but hug Alicia while rubbing her cheek while mine through my hood.
"Alright, in that case, we'll come out for a bit each day to practice"