Chapter 21 – Perceiving Gifts and Gifts of Perceiving
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That night, Alicia had continued to suckle on me like ever, but it seemed a bit less forceful than usual.

I couldn't help but think that my lecture had made an impact.

 

Our days continued with a similar pattern for a while.

Between training [Spirit Perception], [Sense Presence], and [Mana Perception], as well as general hunting/gathering and making all sorts of things on a whim, we used up the days together.

At night, I continued to investigate the back end system to the world as well as worked on my own custom skills.

That was, until Alicia's dreams came into play. But after a few nights, her suckling had reduced in duration, and in two weeks, she barely did it anymore. She didn't quite stop doing it though. It was as if she didn't want my nipples to be lonely.

I didn't need such a consideration!

 

It didn't take long during my nightly system investigation that I discovered that the system kept track of your age.

The surprise was a one-two punch to me. The first was the discovery of the feature in general, and the second was discovering how old I already was. 2.1 years old, it said. I was over two years old when I discovered the age tracking feature.

I knew I had completely lost track of time while exploring this dungeon, but I didn't think it was this bad. I figured I'd spent maybe two or three months here at most, not two years. My age wasn't particularly distressing, just disturbing how badly I messed up my timekeeping.

There didn't seem to be some sort of clock or calendar though. The system merely kept track of people's age. I couldn't even find out what the year was, presuming that there was some sort of standard.

But the discovery made me confront how long I had been with Alicia at this point. By using her sleep cycle as a yard stick, I counted off the days. It had been two weeks since we had met. It hadn't been very long, but at the same time there were things I had been neglecting for far too long.

I wanted Alicia to grow up with proper manners and habits befitting a proper girl to the best of my male-minded abilities. Her baseline appearance was good, so I wanted her to not be at a disadvantage in the future. She deserved to find happiness with a man.

...

(For some reason it feels like my chest is being crushed by a trash compactor)

...

I shook my head at that thought and wiped the tears from the corner of my eyes before I settled my suddenly ragged breath.

Regardless of the future, it was important for her to dress the part of a cute girl. This applied even when there wasn't anyone else to see. Her habits now would dictate her habits when she was around other people.

Lifting up the fur blanket, I glanced at Alicia's sleeping figure.

She was still wearing that quickly made fur dress. I needed to make something better for her.

 

"No!"

"But it's better!"

"I don't wanna!"

I was exasperated. The day after I decided to make her a proper dress, I started to get to work on just that. It took a few days, but I weaved a bunch more silk over the next few days, then took that and turned it into a dress.

Alicia helped me work on the loom by pulling on the comb. Her arms weren't long enough to reach it properly, so I attached a rope to it that she could pull. I'd send the shuttle across, then tell her to pull, change the thread positions and tell her to pull again, then send the shuttle back through the threads.

I was pretty impressed at the ease she was able to draw the comb. It wasn't that heavy, but she was still a small girl. Maybe it was thanks to her level?

It took more time to do it together like this, but unlike the first time, it was much more enjoyable.

Then I sewed her dress up while she was eating or asleep, putting my usual skill research aside for the meantime.

But when I presented the finished dress, this was the result.

"Why don't you want it? It's a nice, new dress, much nicer than the quick, scrappy one you're wearing right now"

"No! No means no! *cough*"

I didn't get it. Why was she having a tantrum over something like this? She hadn't even felt the finished dress yet, so she had no idea what it's shape was. Yet she leaned away from me, hugging her body like she was guarding it against me.

Frankly, as cute as her actions were, it kinda hurt.

This sort of fierce rejection wasn't like her at all, and I was perplexed.

"Why are you so against it? This new dress is much nicer than your old one"

"...then I'd have to wear the new one..."

"...yea, that's the idea..."

"...then...I can't wear the old one anymore...*cough*cough*"

"Well, I guess, since it was just a rush job. This newer one suits you much better"

"I don't wanna! This, this dress, it's the first gift you gave me! I don't want to lose it!"

I was stunned. Her argument was completely sound, yet I hadn't foreseen it at all. I was too preoccupied about the thought that she deserved something better and didn't consider her feelings about it. Of course she'd be attached to the things I gave her, not least of which one of the very first things I gave her.

"I see...here, come over Alicia"

I stretched out my arms and pulled her into my chest.

"I'm sorry. I didn't consider how you felt about it before making this new dress. You love your usual dress don't you?"

She fiercely nodded her head against my chest.

"I won't mention replacing it anymore. But how about this?"

Alicia turned her face up towards mine.

"Instead of a new dress, how about I add new parts to your current dress?"

"Ummm...huh?"

The little girl in my arms cutely tilted her head to the side.

"What I mean is, your dress doesn't have sleeves. How about I add them, as well as a proper collar, and maybe extend the skirt, clean up some of the rough parts, and overall make your current dress nicer? It'll be like filling it out to reflect how big and strong our relationship has grown to. Are you still against that?"

Alicia buried her face into my chest and stopped moving. I gave her time to think. As much time as she wanted. There was no need to hurry to do anything here.

After a little while, she looked up at me again.

"Okay!"

She gave me a million volt smile.

So, over the next few days, we gathered materials and fixed up her dress. In the end, it was something I thought was pretty presentable. A knee length one-piece with long sleeves, the trims were covered with outward facing fur, the seams hidden under ribbons made from taking apart the silk dress and dyed a girly pink. The leather was dyed black to match my own clothes.

Even if she couldn't see all details, it wouldn't be something we'd be ashamed of showing off to others.

But that wasn't really enough for me. There was something missing aside from the dress. That was underwear.

"What's this?"

"They're called panties, and they're something any proper girl should wear"

"You wear panties too?"

"I do, here"

I took Alicia's hand and slid it across my thigh to reveal the side strap underneath the hot pants I was wearing.

"See? So let me help you put them on"

"Okay"

I quickly slipped the pair on, but for some reason Alicia squirmed around uncomfortably.

"Is this really right?"

"As best as I can make it at least"

I wasn't a professional tailor after all.

"Just try getting used to it. If it still feels bad, then I'll make some adjustments"

But to my relief, there didn't seem to be much of a problem. Maybe she just never had any panties before? She certainly wasn't wearing any when we first met.

"..."

"What's wrong?"

"Do good girls wear the top part too?"

After her squirming died down while sitting on my lap, she touched the side of my chest wrap.

"Ah, erm, only after you get older. You don't need it right now"

"..."

"What is it?"

For some reason Alicia faced my side while lightly playing with my hair, tracing it's strands, holding locks together and dropping them.

"Is there any more of of this?"

She pointed at her hips.

"Ah, panties? I only made one for now"

But she shook her head.

"Not panties. The cloth. Is there more?"

"Ah, yea. There's still some left"

Rather, there was a decent amount left. I made more than enough for an entire dress, but only a portion of that ended up being used since Alicia refused to part with her fur dress.

I cut off a single, large sheet of silk from the remains of the dress, the biggest I could manage, and handed it to Alicia.

"...can you cut it like this?"

Her hands traced a simple elongated rectangle across the sheet.

"You mean you want it like a ribbon?"

She nodded.

"In that case, I'll cut it a bit bigger, then we'd be able to fold the ends to secure it with thread"

"Can I do that part?"

Her eyes sparkled at the thought. There wasn't any way for me to refuse her when she was like that.

"Sure. That's not a problem"

I quickly snipped the ribbon shape from the sheet, then handed Alicia a needle with some thread through it's eye. I guided her hands through the first few stitches. Once she got the hang of it, I only held the ribbon in place as she did all the work, only passing the needle to me when the thread ran short.

It was a lot of stitching, so it took quite a while. In the end, her hands looked sore, but there was a luster to her expression that suggested she didn't even notice that.
"Okay. Hold still Scarlet!"

Alicia got up from my lap and went behind me. She then combed my hair with her fingers, drawing it all back behind me.

I stayed still, but I really wanted to look behind me. The only thing holding my curiosity back was the expectation of what sort of expression Alicia would make once she was done whatever she was doing.

She continued to tug at my hair, but eventually she stopped and lifted it up, bringing it over my shoulder.

Near the end, she tied the pink ribbon into a big bow.

"Huh? This is..."

I was dumbfounded. I figured she wanted something, but not this at all.

"I thought, you make so many wonderful things for me, I could make something for you..."

Her face was red as she squirmed, holding the ribbon in both hands as she showed me the result of her work.

"Is it no good?"

I looked at her, then the ribbon, and the hair that it was tied around, then back to her.

"You cute little...!"

"Eeek!"

Once the pieces connected in my brain, I couldn't hold back anymore and pulled Alicia to me, kissing her cheek as I hugged her.

"I love it! Thank you Alicia!"

"Ehehe, thank you too Scarlet"

I lifted up the end of my hair, and stared at the ribbon she had made for me.

It was the first gift she had ever given me, and it was wonderful.

 

"Muuu...you need to take it off"

"No. Never. I won't ever take it off!"

I was resolute. There was no way I'd remove my precious.

"You can't wash your hair if you don't take it off!"

"It's fine. It's more important than washing my hair"

"That's no good! You're a good girl Scarlet! And...I like it when your hair is soft and nice smelling"

Urgh.

She got me there.

We were taking our nightly bath, and I was refusing to remove the ribbon. But it wasn't possible to wash my hair properly if I didn't take it off.

I didn't want to. Alicia even tied it on with so much care, so why should I take it off?

But she hit me where it hurt, and I was forced to swallow my tears and remove it so I can properly take care of my hair. The second it dried though, I got Alicia to put it back on for me.

This became a new addition to our nightly routine.

 

"Uah!"

"What happened?!"

"Something...something's there!"

"What's there?"

Alicia had shouted out from my side. I had immobilized a monster like I always had for the sake of Alicia's skill practice, but she had noticed something unusual, and was unnerved by it.

"Umm...something...it's strange. It's hard to feel...but kinda soft...?"

"Feel? You mean you feel something, rather than hear it?"

"Not hear. But...it's not really feel either...it's there...something soft? Like it's not quite there...? *cough*"

"Not quite there?"

Alicia had pointed straight at the monster I was holding on to, it still tried to thrash against me impotently.

"Did you learn a skill?"

"Ah! I did! I learned [Mana Perception]!"

"Ah, grats Alicia. That thing you're feeling is probably that then. The skill lets you see and sense mana around you"

"See...? This is seeing then?"

Her eyes sparkled as she 'looked' at me. It was no surprise that the thought that she was now capable of seeing, even if in a partial form, excited her.

"Erm...kinda? What you're sensing is probably extremely vague and won't clear up until you raise the rank a bit, but yea, technically that is a form of sight"

"Sight. I can finally see how you look now"

I wanted to correct her, but that gentle smile she had as she stared right at me killed my will to do so. It was close enough, and once she got the skill to a decent level, at least when it came to things with mana, she would have legitimate sight.

"Well, keep practising and you'll be able to see mana a lot more clearer in time"

"Right! I'll practice lots!"

"Ah, but don't forget to take breaks as well. I'll be paying close attention to make sure you don't push yourself too hard"

"Muuu..."

Alicia puffed her cheeks out, but she didn't look away from me once that entire day.

 

It didn't take much longer before Alicia had learned [Sense Presence] as well, but she hadn't found as much use to it as [Mana Perception]. In the end what she valued the most was the fact that she had a form of pseudo sight.

For me as well, it was good enough. But she couldn't yet sense the spirits with those two skills, so she continued to try to learn [Spirit Perception].

It took almost two months of nearly daily practice before she had learned it, but when she did, it was entirely magical.

"*cough* I...I did it...I got [Spirit Perception]!"

I was distracted while playing with the spirits, so her words took me off guard. No, it wasn't just because of that. I was losing confidence in my theory that anyone could learn the skill if they just practised it in the right conditions.

Alicia had been working hard on learning the skill, and it was taking several times longer than to learn [Mana Perception].

And yet, mostly all I could do was continue to encourage the little girl. There wasn't any tips or tricks I could impart, nor anything I could help with beyond what I had already done. All I could do was expose her as much as I could to the spirits and keep her moral up as much as I could.

But she had done it.

Unlike the time when she learned [Mana Perception], Alicia was staring at the spirits in wonder.

"What do you see?"

I already had a high rank in [Spirit Perception] when I saw my first spirit, so I was a bit curious as to what she could see.

"I...I don't really see them, but I think I can feel that they're here, everywhere. Lots and lots of presences, all around. A lot of them are touching you too Scarlet"

She turned around to look at me, but not quite. She was looking around me.

"Well, yea. They do that to people they like"

I had gotten used to them doing stuff like this, so it felt natural that it would happen every time I left the dungeon.

"Do you think they'll like me?"

"I guarantee it"

I gave the nervous little girl a firm pat on the head, and she rewarded me with a toothy smile.

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