Chapter 23 – Alicia
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It was a bit over a year after we met when it happened.

"*Cough*cough*hack*cough*hack*cough*cough*wheeze*cough*"

It came all of the sudden while we were having a warm soak in the bath together.

Alicia seemed like she was a bit better that day, but out of nowhere she suddenly had the worst coughing fit I've ever seen. She tried to bury her face into my chest as if she was trying desperately to suppress it, but instead I could feel my chest being splattered with something wet.

"Alicia! You alright? How do you feel!?"

I held the sick girl a little back so I could see her face.

She was in a bit of a daze, but I could smell it. It was blood, and not like the usual amount. It was the scent of a bleeding wound. There was even a bit of blood on her lips.

I had the worst feeling as my stomach rolled end over end.

My hand went to my chest and touched the spot Alicia coughed into. It was wet with something sticky and a bit thick. I brought my hand up and saw.

This time, she had coughed up blood.

A lot of it.

In a hurry, I jumped out of the bath and dried our bodies with magic before pressing her body against mine and I lay onto the bed as gently as I could before covering ourselves in every blanket I had.

After all this time, it was natural to sleep this way, and I had already lay down on the bed before I realized what I was doing. That said, since we were used to sleeping like this, not doing so would needlessly make Alicia anxious, making it more difficult for her to rest and heal.

I levitated over a scrap of leather to wipe Alicia's mouth and my chest. If what was making her sick was also in these clumps of blood, then I needed to keep them away from her.

Immediately after, I used [Scan] on her and started going through the endless pages of her data. There was so much information here, there must be something that said what was wrong.

But perhaps because I couldn't understand what was written well enough, just like the dozens the other times I've opened her data, I couldn't figure out what was wrong.

I bit my lip, barely aware that my fang tore right through it.

Whatever was causing this, it wasn't a status ailment, at least not the sort that the system would recognized as. If that was the case, then must've been something that the system didn't cover. But what would that be?

The system did properly show things like poison or paralysis. I confirmed such things when I suffered various status ailments while I was alone in the dungeon. Any time I wasn't feeling well, I was easily able to confirm it in my own status, so why couldn't I see what was making Alicia suffer through hers?

I opened my own data and compared the information, but quickly gave up. They were too different. We weren't even the same species, so even the things that were fine would be drastically different. It was useless as a point of reference.

I bit my already healed lip in frustration, but I hardly noticed the pain of tearing right though it once more.

"Uuu..."

"Alicia! Alicia, how are you feeling"

"S, Scarlet?"

"That's right. I'm here. How are you feeling?"

Her breathing was laboured and unsteady. I can hear faint wheezing with each breath, along with the strong scent of blood.

"I...*cough*hack*cough*cough*"

Specks of blood splattered onto my chest. Her face looked pale.

No, not just her face, her whole body was almost as pale as my own. For me, that was just how I was, but for a human like her, that was a terrible omen.

"I'm, I'm just tired. I'll be good again in the morning"

Alicia smiled weakly as she looked into my eyes.

It was only then I had realized it.

That smile. That smile was the same one she had been giving me for the last few months whenever I showed concern over her health.

This wasn't something new. I knew that much, but Alicia had been aware that she had been growing more and more sick.

I bit though my lip for the third time today, then swallowed my emotions like they were pieces of chalk in my mouth.

"Okay, then rest. I'll be here the entire time, so sleep and rest. We can play when you get better Alicia"

She weakly nodded before closing her eyes. I wrapped my arms around her body as tightly as I dared. I couldn't stop them from shaking, but Alicia didn't react to it. No, she pretended not to notice.

Tears ran down my face as I desperately tried to come up with any ideas as to what was happening to Alicia's body or what I could do about it, but the night passed without a single idea solidifying inside of me.

 

"Mmmm..."

"!"

Alicia stirred, and slowly opened her eyes.

"Good morning Scarlet"

"Good morning Alicia"

"I'm feeling better...!"

"No you're not. You're still sick. I'm not letting you out of bed today"

Alicia tried to push herself up, but I stubbornly pulled her back into my chest.

She had regained a bit of colour, and her eyes focused better than they did the night before, but I wasn't under any illusions. There was no way she had recovered in a single night what had been bringing her down slowly over months. No, perhaps even years.

"Muuu"

"I won't yield. You're going to rest, and you're going to get better. I won't allow any objections"

Perhaps seeing the determination in my eyes, Alicia gave up without complaining, but I didn't miss how her lips curled up at the ends a bit as she tried to hide her face.

"But first, I'm going to do a full examination. We can't beat this illness if we don't know more about it"

I rolled to my side, and gently lowered Alicia directly to the mattress.

The little girl shot her arms around my neck as I tried to pull away.

"Muuuuu!"

"I need to examine your body. There's no way I can do that while you're lying on top of me"

"Uuuu..."

She let go of me, but she was oozing with dissatisfaction.

To make up for it, I held her hand. Her expression got a little better, but she didn't let go of that frown.

As Alicia lay there on her back, I got a full view of her body, and I was shocked. Her body had gotten as thin as when we had first met.

Even this morning she was eating more than ever, yet it didn't reflect on her body in the slightest. It was like something was sucking all the nutrients out of her food before her body could use it. Both her ribs and her pelvis were clearly visible, and her limbs had almost no muscle or fat on them.

(How had I not noticed this?)

I clenched my teeth. I had become careless. If I didn't fix this immediately, I'd never be able to make up for my mistake.

My hand touched her forehead, throat, chest, and belly, checking for any abnormalities I could detect. But I wasn't a doctor of any kind. I couldn't tell if there were any issues where I touched.

There weren't any problems with her aura either, as far as I could tell. It was as thick and strong as ever, though not as energetic as it used to be.

I moved over Alicia and pressed my ear against her chest. Her heartbeats were regular, though not very strong.

Her breathing on the other hand was very rough. The airflow sounded like it was extremely turbulent, like her breathing was partially blocked somewhere and the air was forced to flow through a narrow passage that wasn't supposed to be like that. At least, that's what it sounded like to me.

"Alicia, could you take a deep breath?"

Her small chest rose a bit, but quickly deflated.

"Did you take as big of a breath as you could?"

"I did"

Was that normal? It definitely felt small, but her body was smaller than mine, so she obviously couldn't take as big of a breath as I could. But even then, it felt small.

I was reasonably sure that the problem lay with her lungs, but what could it be?

"*Cough*cough*hack*wheeze*cough*cough*"

As Alicia started to cough again, I wrapped an arm around the back of her head and held her to my chest. Until I could figure out what to do to fix her, all I could was comfort her the best I could.

I could feel my chest grow wet, but I ignored it and held on to Alicia tightly until she calmed down again.

"I...I'm sorry"

"There's nothing for you to be sorry about Alicia"

She was sick. It wasn't her fault. None of this was her fault. She shouldn't have had to suffer any of this, but it seemed like this world was pretty unfair like my last. Was it trying to correct the fact that she was supposed to die a year ago? I refused such a reasoning. Nobody should be fated to die, especially someone innocent like Alicia.

I'd overturn any logic if it was to save Alicia.

 

I was at my limit when it came to figuring out anything from Alicia's body. No inspection or examination told me more than what I already knew, which was that there was probably something wrong with her lungs.

If I could see inside, then maybe I could figure out more, but x-ray machines didn't exist in this world the best I could tell, nor did I have the skill for x-ray vision.

And it wasn't like I could make such a skill. The logic behind such an ability was completely arbitrary and dubious, made entirely of convenient movie logic and nothing more. It was the same as infrared vision somehow being able to see through solid walls. It was nothing more than a convenient plot device that ignored any logic beyond 'it's how it works in this fictional world.'

I couldn't understand her data, any surface inspection gave me virtually no useful information, and I couldn't see inside without doing serious harm to her body.

I was at my wit's end, and all I could do was lay Alicia's body on top of my own and hug her in comfort.

But who was I kidding? It was only for my own comfort, and the fact that she quietly lay there as we hugged each other was proof of that.

No matter how sick she was, she was still a seven year old child. She was probably bored whenever she wasn't asleep.

Every time she noticed I was staring at her, Alicia would raise her head and give me the biggest smile she could, but otherwise kept quiet. She even kept her breathing shallow to avoid wheezing and coughing as much as possible.

"*Cough*cough*hack*cough*wheeze*"

I've lost count of how many times blood had splattered onto my chest as Alicia coughed, but once again I retrieved a clean piece of leather I had shredded to make cleaning rags and wiped myself and Alicia so that she had at least a clean place to rest on.

(If only I could see inside of Alicia, maybe I could get a clue as to what's wrong)

I had also lost count of how many times I had thought this.

With how often Alicia had coughed up blood, she might be getting pretty low on it. Was her body producing enough to make up for the loss? At least her appetite hadn't suffered from all of this.

The amount of blood on the rag wasn't really significant. Maybe just a handful of drops, but it's happened so many times, it's gotta add up.

If only I could give her a transfusion or something, but never mind the lack of quality needles and tubing, I didn't even know if my blood would be compatible. Forget blood type, we weren't even the same species. The effects could be disastrous.

I bit my lip in frustration for who knows how many times already.

As I moved to throw the rag into the pile of used rags, something wet dripped onto my closed hand. I wasn't really concerned with my hand getting dirty, there were more important things than that, but the rag was already in that hand.

When I tried to wipe it off before tossing the rag, I noticed that the thing that dripped wasn't just blood, but it was lumpy.

At first I was going to dismiss it as just a coagulation, but then I noticed that there were white bits inside of the red.

Curious, I tried poking the lump, and found it was soft, and it's form was weak, like it wasn't really a solid mass with a specific shape.

If anything, it was like a piece of an organ.

Excited at the clue, I levitated over the entire pile of rags and searched through them. There were other lumps in other pieces of leather as well.

I couldn't quite tell what it was from simply examining it normally, so I used [Scan] to figure out more.

'A piece of flesh discharged through Alicia's regular coughing. Most likely a piece of her lung'

The words weren't very encouraging, but the information that went with it was. It was definitely a piece of lung tissue, but some of them were a little different. Some pieces had slightly different information compared to the others.

I couldn't understand the details of the specifications, but it did give me one idea.

It was probably lung cancer, and it had progressed to the point that parts of it had torn from Alicia's violent coughing fit. Sometimes the piece was cancerous tissue, and others it was normal lung tissue after it had been displaced and weakened by the tumour.

But it wasn't like that revelation helped me in the slightest. Rather, all it did was do a murder stroke to the little hope I had.

The only way to cure cancer I could think of was through normal healing of the body. Magic had no cure I could think of. Any kind of healing magic would only strengthen the tumour, and anything else was nothing more than amateur surgery. It was more likely to kill Alicia outright than actually save her. Not only that, but it would be in an excruciating manner, as I had no anaesthesia, nor knowledge of any magic that could replace it.

I couldn't do that to her. Not without a significant chance of success at least.

The only alternative I could think of was chemo therapy, but that required radioactive materials. There was no such thing I could find in the dungeon, and I doubted the outside world, which looked pre-Victorian, would have discovered any either.

All I could do was hug Alicia and do my best to not let her notice I was crying.

 

In the days since her big coughing fit, Alicia's condition had rapidly worsened.

Day by day, she grew weaker and weaker. Her limbs had grown a little thinner, yet her belly had started to bulge a little. Likely her organs had been displaced a bit by the tumour.

At first, I had to keep reminding her to rest to recover, but rather than gaining energy, she had simply lost it.

Now she couldn't even get up on her own, and I helped her in everything, from carrying her to bathe to feeding her directly.

She hated it at first, especially not helping to cook, nor being fed like a baby, but I practically begged her to rest and concentrate on recovering. She had stopped complaining entirely after then.

I felt bad about it. Alicia loved to move her body, to not feel helpless, but I was directly taking away her agency. But I couldn't stop. Anything that could improve her chances, anything that would bring relief to her, I had to do.

The two of us became entirely inseparable, as I stuck my body to hers the entire time, skin to skin.

I couldn't help but worry that she might lose the ability to properly regulate her temperature at any time like when we had first met, so I refused to allow any burden on to her body if I could help it.

But in the corner of my mind, I knew. At the very best, I was only pushing back the inevitable a little.

Alicia wasn't getting better. There was no signs that it would get better. I neither had the knowledge or ability to fix what was happening to her.

All I could do was keep her as comfortable as possible, but due to my own selfishness, I also stopped her from doing anything she liked, as it would strain her weak body.

I hated myself for that, and every time Alicia weakly smiled when she looked at me, I could feel my chest be torn to shreds.

I wasn't comforting her, but she was comforting me instead.

This was wrong. Everything about it was wrong.

I hated it. I didn't want this to happen. Why did Alicia have to suffer?

 

"...Scarlet?"

Alicia's tiny hand was touching my cheek.

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

I've been nothing but a wreck for a while now. I spent more time crying than doing anything else as I held Alicia's frail body as tightly as I dared.

"I keep *cough* saying you don't...need to be..."

"But still. If only I was stronger, or more knowledgeable. I'd be able to save you"

"You...already did. I keep saying *cough* that"

She had. These last few days she had been doing nothing but trying to convince me of that. But in turn that was how my tear ducts broke entirely.

Alicia's hand was soaked with my tears as they refused to stop flowing down my cheeks.

"I want..."

"Want? Want what? I'll do anything for you!"

(Was it ice cream? I'll make as much as you want! Was it to go see the spirits? I'd endure the sunlight so you could see them!)

"I want...you to..."

"Yes?"

"Eat me"

I froze. My mind was completely unable to process what she had asked.

"...what?"

"Scarlet...I want...to be together...forever...so...drink my...blood..."

Alicia brute forced her way through the broken gears of my head, as she wheezed while pushing out those words.

"What? But...what? How did you...?"

(Know)

What she was saying. Her line of words should've meant for me to to eat her flesh so we'd be one, but she specifically said blood.

"The adventurers told me...a long time...ago...a person travelled...all alone...met many other...helped them...saved them...but she was always alone...in the end..."

I remembered that story. For some reason, it was Alicia's favourite story from the ones the adventurers had told her. More than the recent ones about the heroes against the demon lord, more than the ones about other legendary figures who fought to protect the world.

It was a story about a sole woman who travelled around and helped people, doing good everywhere she went, but she never got close to anyone. She was an odd person who rarely let anyone see her beauty, but became famous as the 'lone stranger.' Her exploits ranged from helping the sick to saving the poor from monsters. It was as if there wasn't anything she could do, but nobody knew where she came from.

In the end, she was slain by someone who had mistaken her for someone else. Some hero found her near a group of demons and thought she was a part of their group, and so slew her. He only found out who she was after describing her beauty when someone who happened to have seen her face heard of the story.

It was a nice tale, but had such a sad ending.

I patiently listened as Alicia told the story again for who knows how many times, her telling slowed down by the shallowness of her breath.

"So the people mourned...that their saviour...couldn't be saved...but...there's a part...I never said..."

(Huh? There's more?)

"They said...she was a person...from the...red moon..."

"The red moon?"

(An alien or something?)

Alicia nodded to my question.

"The legends said...people came...from the moon...as red as their eyes..."

Red eyes? People thought she came from the red moon because her eyes were red?

"Because...of that...they called her...Scarlet"

(Huh? But...that's the name she gave me)

"You saved...me...so you're the same...as her..."

"I, I didn't do anything. I haven't saved you. You're still sick, and I can't do anything about it!"

I shook my head, a river flowed from my eyes.

"No...you're the same...my life was always dark...I couldn't play with others... I couldn't help others... I was a burden... I could only...listen to people's stories...or stay out of...the way"

Alicia's expression darkened as she recalled her old memories, but as quick as the shadow fell, it was blasted away and she gave me the brightest smile I had seen in weeks.

"But then you...appeared...like the red moon...in the darkest night...just like she did...in the stories"

The pieces were coming together in my head, but there were still too many missing for me to grasp what exactly she was talking about, and how it all connected.

"They said...the people of...the red moon...were called that...because they were...rejected by...the sun...and she was...the same"

(Re...rejected? But that's...isn't that basically describing sunlight weakness?)

And there weren't any creatures more famous for that weakness than that one.

"But, then she was..."

Alicia weakly nodded.

"And they said...her people...gained strength...from the...blood of others"

There was no doubt to what she was saying. No, not just that, but what she knew from the day we met. Her eyes were clouded over and she couldn't see, yet somehow she could see better than I with my super human eyes.

"I don't...want to keep...being a burden...let me...be your strength...please Scarlet"

Those words. I didn't want to hear those words. She didn't need to become my feed. I didn't need to pad out my status page with her life. Having her beside me gave me more strength than any amount of stats and skills I could possibly gain from consuming her life.

"No...I...I can't. I won't. I'll find a way. I can save you. Just...just wait a bit. I'll figure it out. I can do it. You'll get better. I can save you"

"I said...you already have...Scarlet...you're a good girl...don't let me...become a bad girl..."

I kept blinking away the tears, but they wouldn't go away. There must be a way I could save her. Somehow, someway.

But...but that's...

"That's cheap..."

Alicia smiled wryly, but her fingers still wiped the tears from my face even as more flowed out.

"Please...before it's...too late..."

The little girl in my arms gave me her last will, no matter how much it hurt to even speak. No matter how much it hurt to hear her say it.

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