It was another week before I finally finished a modified version of [Appraisal] that wasn't entirely broken. I called it [Scan], and it let me recall and display the database information of anything I used it on.
To do this, I needed parts from several other skills. Since [Appraisal] only covered physical items, I needed the IDs to other databases to get access on information about other things. Skills like [Project Status]. Using them as reference, I gathered the bits and pieces needed, then modified [Appraisal] as a base to create the new skill.
From there, I converted the skill [Intimidation] into [Scan]. It wasn't a skill I liked very much despite being able to use it. It was only effective against living enemies, and it's effectiveness was pretty limited on those at the deeper levels of the dungeon. But more importantly, I didn't like using it in the first place. It just wasn't a fun skill. So I got rid of it.
[Scan] was much more appropriate for me.
The conversion was successful and I had gotten the new skill without problems.
Since it was night and Alicia was using me as a bed, I was limited to testing it on things in our home.
I looked over and targeted Alicia's stone cup with [Scan].
Suddenly, my head was wracked with pain as information windows filled my eyes. They continued to open one after another until I looked away from the cup, but by then, I couldn't see anything but the same large dialogue box overlapping one another.
Each box was the same as the next, with nothing to differentiate them.
Once again, I had made a fundamental error in designing my skill.
This time, the skill had no condition to prevent reactivation, so it just continued to display the information that the skill was accessing over and over until I stopped using it.
Frankly, it was a pretty pathetic newbie programmer mistake. A few additional lines of code, and I fixed the problem.
Now then, I tried the skill out again on the cup.
This time, only one dialogue window appeared, giving me detailed information about the stone cup. It was very much excessive, but it worked.
'A simple stone cup made through use of earth magic by Scarlet for Alicia's personal use. The lack of embellishments shows either the creator's lack of artistic talent or amateurishness'
Aside from the insulting description, there were pages upon pages of detailed information about the materials, dimensions, and things I couldn't even guess at.
Next, I tried scanning Alicia as she slept.
[Spirit Perception 1]
[Sense Presence 2]
[Mana Perception 2]
There was much more information, but it was harder to make out the meaning of. All sorts of detailed settings that covered every little thing from her state to her location. Her stat page really was the only bit I could understand, and it was buried 17 pages deep.
I had removed the limits to the information since the entire point was to get detailed information about things I didn't know, but the result was this giant mess of information overload.
After these two tests, I could only say that [Scan] was only barely passable, but only usable on a limited level. I needed to refine it so that it would only give me the information I wanted, but that in turn was actually much more difficult than what I had managed already.
While on the surface, at least for people and creatures, just seeing the stat page seemed like enough, but a closer examination on Alicia's data revealed a lot of little things that were important, but weren't revealed on the stats page.
One was a link to her memories. It seemed like the system maintained a copy of a person's memories at all times. The only reason I could think of was in case of brain damage, any healing done to the brain needed a reference to properly restore the broken synapses.
Another was a whole assortment of skills that didn't show up on the stat page. They seemed to be various things that normally wouldn't be visible, but necessary to live in this world. In particular, all of them connected to various things, from parts of her body to the skills that were visible. These invisible skills seemed extremely important, but it was difficult to understand how. I needed to spend time looking into them later on.
In particular, there was one that connected to her vision. I couldn't help but wonder if I made some changes there, Alicia might be able to gain sight. But at the same time, I was hesitant to. Letting her see sounded good on the surface, but was it really right? Would she really benefit from that? As a person who never had any bigger vision problems than needing glasses, my answer was an automatic yes for myself, but for someone who never experienced sight before? Wouldn't it be like suddenly getting more limbs? Wouldn't it become overwhelming? Alicia already got pretty overwhelmed by learning [Mana Perception], but wouldn't this be a hundred times bigger?
But even more importantly, wasn't the process itself extremely difficult? It was like digital surgery. One wrong move and I could do irreparable damage.
The thought of it was terrifying. Maybe it was better to just pretend I never saw it? Or maybe it would be better to discuss it with her and get her opinion? But Alicia was still a child. On Earth, she wouldn't have been allowed to make such a life changing decision on her own.
A quick check confirmed that she was still only 6.4 years old. She was much too young to make such a decision.
(...From a physical standpoint, she was triple my age, making my opinion of the matter that much more irrelevant from a legal standpoint)
For now, I decided to shelve the issue. I wanted to see how things would work out with by just ranking up her current skills.
There was also the issue that the hidden skill regarding her eyes wasn't actually the reason why she was blind. It was best to take my time to investigate, and only when I was sure and still felt that her perception skills weren't enough, would I bring it up.
While those two things were the major ones to consider, there was also a link to something called her core. The container file it was connected to was massive and constantly changed. The data itself was incomprehensible. No, rather, it didn't quite look like data in itself, but more a representation of something else? Like trying to translate something that wasn't originally digital into a digital format? Similar to looking at the raw data coming from a digital camera.
(This...this is very important)
I couldn't help but feel that. The fact that it was labelled core emphasized that even more.
To compare, I scanned a few other things in the room, but none of them had any labels resembling the core in Alicia. Then, I scanned myself, and saw the same label. But this time the contents was much bigger than hers. The difference was similar to the difference in size to the memory link.
That relationship most likely wasn't a coincidence at all. In fact, it was most likely directly related.
But something that was the core of a person, but also directly related to memories? There really was only one thing I could think of, and that was the soul, or whatever it was that gets reincarnated when we die.
Once my understanding reached that level, I knew that it was the one thing I should never touch. That was something which I could feel even from an instinctive level.
Making [Scan] work as intended wasn't working out well. No matter what I did, I couldn't reduce the information displayed to a point that it could be used on the fly. Rather than that, I kept adding to the skill. Things like pointing out elemental affinities, weak and strong points on something's body, I just kept adding to them, and the skill quickly grew into a useless mess.
As I internally debated whether I should just separate the components into many different skills or keep trying to streamline the displayed information in an easily accessible manner, I just threw up my arms and gave up for the time being.
Not literally though, since Alicia was sleeping at the time and such an action would wake her up.
I parsed through the skills I had at the moment, looking for some inspiration. It was possible that as I got more experience working on making and modifying skills that I'd eventually figure out what I needed to make [Scan] work as intended.
There was the skill [Flight] I had gotten a while back. I couldn't use it because it was restricted to those that had wings. It was possible that I could remove that restriction and be able to fly around, but there was the issue that it might make it difficult to control my flight without them.
Half-assing a skill like that didn't feel good, especially when I had an alternate solution that seemed pretty perfect, which was combining it with the [Alter Form] skill.
[Alter Form] was a skill that allowed one to change their body shape into something else, but it was a racial I had gotten from slimes on the first floor of the dungeon. Due to that restriction, I had never used it, but it was an easy thing to fix. Simply put, I just needed to do the exact same thing as I did to get the [Solar Power] skill.
With my plan established, I quickly made a copy of [Alter Form] and removed both the acquisition method and the racial restriction so that I could use it, but there was no way to actually get the skill normally. Then, I simply swapped the ID tag from my own version of the skill with the modified version, then changed the name to [Alter Silhouette].
[Alter Silhouette] successfully lost it's greyed out state, signalling that I could use it.
First thing's first, was to test it by itself. If I could make that work, then I just needed to test the two skills together later on when I had the chance.
I wanted to avoid any big changes, so I started off with my left index finger. Imagining that my finger had doubled in length, I activated the skill.
I covered my mouth with my right hand, desperately trying to hold back a scream.
(It hurts! It hurts! It hurts!)
Tears streamed down from my eyes as intense pain lit up from my finger.
It had successfully lengthened as I imagined, but for some reason it hurt almost as much as the time my arm was sliced in half, lengthwise. No, in a sense that hurt less, since I had a whole ton of adrenaline pumping through my body at the time.
But my finger felt like it was both forcibly crushed and stretched at the same time.
I quickly cancelled the skill and my finger returned to normal, but it took several minutes before the pain finally faded away in it's entirety.
That failure was pretty unexpected, but I did have an idea as to what caused it.
Simply put, [Alter Silhouette] was a skill made for slimes. Specifically, creatures that didn't have definite shapes.
The best I knew, slimes were basically just living water balloons with a core. That made them extremely malleable, so it wasn't a surprise that they could change their shape in big ways without any consequence.
On the other hand, my own body was made of relatively rigid series of cell structures designed to only change shape at the smallest levels. Forcibly making those cells change shape would obviously hurt like all hell.
In fact, it was a bit amazing that I didn't lose any HP for that. Maybe there was a deeper reason for that?
But that said, [Alter Silhouette] was definitely not a solution to my problem. At least not as is.
The fundamental problem was that it altered something that had no capacity to be altered in such a way.
I tried activating the skill again, but this time to just reshape my finger in tiny ways, squishing the flesh or making parts bulge out in tiny ways. This was completely successful, and there wasn't any hint of pain. But I could feel every bit of those movements.
Changing my body this way wasn't going to work at all. But it was possible to change it without pain. I just needed to find a different approach.
In theory, I could just add a pain suppression feature, but that might actually be pretty dangerous. Not being able to feel pain meant that I wouldn't be aware if something went wrong.
The alternative was to apply the skill to a part of my body that could change in shape without problems normally. The obvious choices for that was my hair and nails. There weren't any nerve endings on either, so altering their shape might be viable.
But I didn't like it. I've been taking good care of my hair lately, so changing that could undo all my hard work. My nails on the other hand, while I didn't really do much with them, didn't feel like good choices either.
The problem was that I wouldn't be able to use my arms while they were altered for anything but flight. It sounded like a nitpicky issue, but it precluded my ability to carry anything that didn't fit on my back, and catching anything I dropped would be extremely difficult if not impossible.
I wanted to be able to fly together with Alicia, but if I changed my nails into pseudo wings, then it would be too dangerous to do so. It wasn't a viable solution, so it was discarded.
Instead, I thought about what else I could use.
Something that wasn't limited by the shape of flesh...
It was a long shot, but I had one more idea. I raised my left hand and activated two other skills at the same time: [Spirit Form] and [Materialize]. I kept most of my body physical so as to not disrupt Alicia's sleeping, and only made my raised arm into spirit form.
From there, I tried to change the shape of my finger, slowly.
I could feel the sensation of my finger being squished and skewed, but as there wasn't any pain, I continued lengthening it.
Longer, longer, longer. Until my index finger was double the length of normal.
While in spirit form, it didn't hurt at all, yet I could manipulate the finger without any problems.
But here was the real test.
I applied [Materialize] to the rest of my arm, quickly shooting it up and changing the spiritualized part of my body into physical form. Yet despite the change, there still wasn't any pain. Not only that, but my finger was still twice it's normal length, and I could move it like normal.
It worked! I had a solution!
Excited, I receded the materialization, then changed my hand into the shape of a bat wing. It worked, even including the wing membranes and colour.
Once again, I materialized the hand, and there wasn't any problems at all! I could move my wing hand like it was always a part of me.
It was amazing! I had discovered something radically new! And combined with the flight skill, I could now fly! I just had to apply this to a different part of my body, like my back. There wasn't any reason why I couldn't have limbs in ways that didn't conform to any natural logic.
To confirm that, I receded the materialization and duplicated my hand, so that it was two sets of wings joined at the wrist, operating independently.
Actually getting them to move the way I wanted was extremely difficult, but they did move. There wasn't any serious problems, and that was doubly confirmed by completing the materialization.
I wanted to jump for joy.
I felt like I had made the discovery of the century, though it didn't really count since I did it by changing the rules.
But that didn't change the fact that I was over the moon, but I cancelled all my skills before I accidentally did something to wake Alicia up.
My hand went back over my mouth as I desperately suppressed a scream. Tears ran down my face like a waterfall, as the most excruciating pain I had ever experienced bolted up from my hand. It was like I had thrust my hand into an industrial blender set on max power, and I was somehow healing as fast as my hand was being shredded.
I was such a moron. If I didn't get so excited and forget myself, I wouldn't have had to go through that experience as [Alter Silhouette] cancelled it's changes to my hand after [Spirit Form] was cancelled.
The sound of my sobs echoed through the room, but fortunately, there wasn't any evidence that Alicia had woken up.
For the next few weeks, I practised [Alter Silhouette] to create wings and manipulating them around while Alicia was busy eating or working in raising her perception skills.
I played around with their style, shape, dimensions, and even location.
First of all, since I was a vampire, it was a given that I'd make them bat wings. I tried bird wings, but it just didn't feel right. They were also a pain to make, since I had to [Alter Silhouette] every feather. A pair of simple bat wings were much easier to handle, and I felt like the dexterity was much higher.
For shape and dimensions, I went with something close to orthodox, but a bit thinner and longer, with the wingspan being double my own height. Even that felt way too small to be useful, but I hoped that the [Flight] skill could make up for it. If not, then there was the fact that I could double it up with [Float]. The mana consumption between the two would be a pain, but I had so much MP that it might not be so bad.
Actually, I had never used [Flight] yet, so I didn't know how much MP it used up.
The location was something I had problems deciding. The orthodox location was on my shoulder blades, but it didn't seem like a good place in regards to balance. I tried out several spots, but without a strong anchor, my wings wouldn't be able to support my weight very well. In theory at least.
This made directly attaching them to my spine a no go, but my shoulders were too high, and my hips too low. In the end, I went the extra step to extend a pair of bone extension from my lower spine to anchor the wings onto.
The exact location hadn't been decided yet, and was subject to change depending on actual tests, but I was happy with the end result. I even modified my robes so that there were covered slits in the back for my wings to pass through when in use, but stay closed to protect me when not.
There was only one problem though. When I tried practising outside while Alicia was doing [Spirit Perception] training, intense pain made me stop immediately.
It seemed like the properties of my own body extended to the extra limbs created with [Alter Silhouette]. I quickly stopped and hid the wings again, swearing to avoid trying to form up wings during the day while outside.
The fact was a bit of a surprise, since when I use [Spirit Form], my clothes also dematerialize along with my body. I had thought that maybe while in spirit form, I lost my sunlight vulnerability, but it seemed like I was wrong. Raising my spiritualized arm and pulling up the sleeve to reveal my wrist flashed it with pain.
It seemed like there wasn't any doubt about it.
The way some things interacted was a bit odd and unpredictable here and there, but maybe it was simply because I still wasn't completely used to a world with a skill system? Or one with magic?
Whichever the case, it meant that there was still a mountain of things for me to learn.
Actually manipulating the wings took even more time.
It was one thing to manipulate a body part that was altered, but similar in bone and muscle count, but the wings were entirely new limbs. Even if how they moved was similar to arms and hands, actually getting my brain to make them work as intended was pretty difficult and time consuming.
In the middle of dinner, Alicia turned around with a confused look on her face.
For a glutton like her, it was strange of her to stop in the middle of her meals. Especially today, since dessert was her favourite, ice cream. Today was strawberry ice cream with chocolate swirls, and she lit up like a million volts on her first bite.
But despite that, she had stopped before finishing.
Alicia looked at my face. Ever since she had learned [Mana Perception], she had started to do that much more often and with greater precision. As her ranks in it increased, she said that she could make out my face a little, and mentioned that it looked just like how she imagined it with a red face.
That said, it was probably only because I've gotten used to leaving [Suppress Aura] on all the time, so my aura hardly stood out from my body.
Normally, that would mean that even with [Mana Perception] people would barely be able to see my aura, or it would look incredibly weak, but for a blind person like Alicia, it meant that my aura replaced the normal sight of me.
But Alicia turned her head from looking at my face to my side, and stared at something behind me.
"What...*cough*cough* is that...?"
She slowly tried to extend her arm past my side.
I quickly retracted my wings and returned my back to normal.
Alicia twitched at the sudden movement, but slowly turned to look back at me.
"Ah, erm...I was practising a new skill"
"Really? What kind?"
Her eyes started to sparkle at my words.
"Ah er...umm...it's a secret"
"You...don't want to tell me?"
Those sparkling eyes immediately grew dim as she lowered her gaze.
"No! That's not it. It's just...it's a surprise! That's it! It's a secret for now until I master the new skill, then I was going to show you"
She looked at me with upturned eyes.
(Gah! My heart!)
Even though I've had very little sugar intake since becoming a vampire, it felt like I was quickly on track to getting diagnosed with type two diabetes.
"Really! It's a promise! So for now, can you hold off your curiosity until then?"
The little girl in my lap puffed her cheeks and turned forward again, but it seemed like she quickly forgot it in a daze as she enjoyed the rest of her ice cream.
After that, I was pretty limited in how I could practice with my wings. Flapping them was out of the question, as it would tip Alicia off as to what I was planning on surprising her with.
Thoughts of flying in the night sky together prevented me from stopping my practice until I could flexibly move my wings like they were any other limb.
Alicia's continued work at practising her perception skills was bearing fruit. Not only had she gotten the three main ones, but [Spirit Perception] and [Sense Presence] had reached rank three, and [Mana Perception] had even reached rank four.
As her skill ranks went up, she spent more and more time just staring at me. Whenever I looked at her back, she'd just beam me a grin and go back to whatever she was doing before. I wasn't sure if she just wanted some of my attention or what, but it was kinda cute.
During the weeks and months she had been raising her skills, I had also been busy expanding our home.
The kitchen was expanded with several stone boxes I could use as an oven or ice box, depending on what I was making, in addition to a barbecue grill that could double as a proper stove top.
The bath tub was expanded with a second basin connected to wash in so that soap suds wouldn't cling to our bodies as we soaked in it. In addition, I added stairs and hand rails so that Alicia could get in and out on her own. But after teaching her that, she had yet to actually use them once.
I finally made a proper bed as well. It was made from a wooden frame and a series of leather sheets were sewn together to create the mattress, which was filled with the feathers of some of the bird monsters on the 16th floor. Unlike the couch though, I went through some more effort and made some bed sheets and blankets out of felt, made from pressed wool from sheep-like monsters on the 52nd floor. I made it nice and big so that we wouldn't have to squeeze our bodies onto that narrow couch. Unfortunately, Alicia refused to use it properly and continued to use my body as a mattress and my chest as a pillow.
At least the felt bed sheets didn't stick to my body whenever there was even a bit of moisture left behind after a bath...or when Alicia's drool streamed down my ribs to collect on my back.
The higher her perception skills got, the less time we spent concentrating exclusively on them and more time finding ways to enjoy ourselves.
Since I had a stack of those mana infused rags, I tried wrapping my leather ball with them so Alicia and I could play with it. At first we played by rolling the ball across the ground. But as her [Mana Perception] got better, she was better able to distinguish it's location faster and more accurately, so we advanced to bouncing the ball across to throwing it lightly.
Alicia loved it, as it was a way for her to play that was impossible for her before we met.
Also perhaps thanks to it, I had been able to spend a few minutes at a time separated from her, though she always came over to stick to me after a bit. At least she didn't look upset about it. Rather, when she slowly walked over, she'd just hug me and give me a bright smile.
I was happy that she didn't mind playing on her own anymore, but I didn't dare let her out of my sight. Even turning my back on her for more than a few seconds made me anxious.
If she was moving around on her own now, then there was the danger of her walking into something she couldn't see and getting hurt.
To make up for that, I tried placing those magical rags around on anything that she could bump into and scattered those coloured stones around the base of the walls. Thankfully she hadn't gotten hurt as of yet. In fact, sometimes I caught her deliberately walking to a specific piece of furniture to climb on to or to the walls to bounce her ball against.
Whenever we went outside, since her [Spirit Perception] had reached the point where she could faintly see the little fluffballs, she learned to start playing with them. We'd chase after groups together, or be chased by them. We'd dance together to soundless tunes, or just take a stroll in a group.
As I promised her, Alicia quickly became friends with the spirits.
Seeing her grow a bit independent made me smile, but I couldn't help but worry she might get hurt at the same time. I did my best to keep an eye out for her at all times.
I started to notice a disturbing trend: Alicia's coughing was growing more frequent.
I had originally dismissed it as a symptom of her hypothermia, or her malnutrition, or something along those lines, but while it got better at first, her coughing slowly progressed and became more frequent and more severe after a few months.
No matter what sort of checks I tried, both physical and system based, I couldn't figure out the cause. All I could do was try to get her to eat as healthily as possible while trying to get her rest as much as possible.
In place of practising skills and playing with the ball, I told her stories from Earth, altered in ways that she could better understand them.
I wasn't too familiar with fairy tales aside from the most well known ones, but when it came to shows and games, I knew a ton.
While she enjoyed story time and didn't complain about the food getting filled more and more with vegetables, she did pout about not going to the dungeon and help me get various resources.
"Uuu...you're holding back, aren't you Scarlet?"
"I'm not doing such a thing. We have enough until you get better"
I was holding Alicia in my arms as we lay on the bed. If I didn't go that far during the day, then she'd be up and refusing to rest.
"I don't feel that bad, and we really don't, do we?"
"We're not that bad off"
"But that's only *cough*cough*hack*cough*"
"Look, you're sick. Just rest like a good girl. We can gather everything we need when you get better"
"It's the truth"
I stroked her head as I held her close to my chest.
At first she was putting on meat at a good pace, but lately, despite her growing taller, it didn't feel like she was gaining any weight anymore. Instead, it was like my chest was getting constricted by the amount she should've been gaining.
Even more recently, I could even smell blood faintly on her breath.
"So, what is it you wanted to talk to me about?"
In a pearl white room, two men with very different builds wearing distinctly different togas were talking. One was a wiry man who looked like he had spent too many sleepless nights. He was sitting behind a desk as white as the surrounding walls, lightly decorated with a single crystal ball and various knickknacks. The other was a large, muscular man, built as if his sole existence was to oppress others. He was sitting opposite to the thin man in the guest seat.
"Do you think there's a chance that...a soul may have gone missing?"
"...What are you insinuating?"
The muscular man in front of the desk narrowed his eyes as he glared at the one behind the desk. The man's head receded slightly, as if he was trying to imitate a turtle, but he straitened his posture after a moment. His hand reached down into a drawer and returned with a torn piece of paper.
"Something I found"
The man pushed the paper towards the front of the desk. The other cautiously raised an eyebrow before taking a glance.
"When did you find this?"
"Right after I came back from my vacation"
"It's been a while since then. What have you been doing this entire time?"
"I was trying to get more clues on my own, but I'm at my limit"
"This realm. These 250 realms. The security for their reincarnation offices are your jurisdiction"
The giant of a man narrowed his eyes again and crossed his arms, his fingers biting into his biceps as he strained to keep his emotions in check.
"What do you want?"
After a minute, he asked in a low voice.
"Give me a champion"