I don't know for how long, but I cried openly, my tears flowing freely without anything to hold them back.
There was a great warmth in my chest, but my mind was on the cooling body in my arms as my eyes swelled from crying and my throat grew hoarse with my wails.
I held the limp body tightly against my chest, as if I was trying to prevent it from escaping, but on a certain level, what I wanted most was already gone.
Everything that truly made up Alicia was no longer inside of this body. If I were to use [Scan], nothing but an empty dialogue box would show up. But I was too afraid to even do so. The fear of confirming what I already knew stopped me.
So I cried.
I cried that I could no longer hear Alicia's voice.
I cried that I could no longer feel Alicia's warmth.
I cried that I could no longer see Alicia's smile.
And so I cried.
Quite some time had passed.
By the time I realized that, my body already felt weak. My stomach had shrivelled to almost nothing in my gut.
In my arms, the softness of Alicia's body had already started to fade as some of the moisture had left it, as if following after her warmth.
There was also a smell in the room that wasn't there before. Something that I didn't quite recognize, but seemed a bit familiar.
If anything, it was probably noticing this smell that spurred me to move, even though I wanted to just sit there and continue to hold Alicia's cold body.
The thought of Alicia scolding me, telling me that just staying here, wasting away as I grieved, would make me a bad girl was what finally made me move from that spot.
I bent my legs as my knees creaked, my joints popped as I forced them to articulate after sitting still for so long.
Holding Alicia's body, I rose up from the bed.
In the corner of my mind, I noticed that the sheets had discoloured slightly. The spot I was sitting at was barely darker than the rest of the sheets. As I stepped away, my feet left faint foot prints on the floor.
There was a thin film of dust on everything.
The revelation was a surprise, but it hardly moved me. My heart was little more than a cold stone in my chest.
With monotonous movements, I used magic to create a stone bed, and gently lay Alicia's body on it.
Alicia deserved a proper ceremony, but there were limits to what I could do alone.
I could bury her outside, but she almost froze to death there. I didn't want to subject her body to that a second time. She deserved to be laid to rest somewhere warm, but I couldn't provide that at all.
This room, without her, was so cold. So very cold.
But none of the other rooms would be better, and the dungeon would simply swallow her body. I didn't want that.
I had no choice. Even if it was temporary, I would warm her body myself and consume it with fire.
But I needed to prepare it the best I could.
She deserved the most dignified cremation I could provide.
So I gathered her things.
I rubbed her hair with the orange and cocoa butter hair oil she loved most. I massaged in the honey and goat milk lotion she enjoyed. I wrapped her body with the fur clothes that she loved. I placed her ball that she loved to play with.
Then, I tore my eyes away from her body and went searching through the dungeon, bringing back armful after armful of flowers of all sorts. Anemone, edelweiss, hibiscus, peony, violet, azalea, camellia, bluebells, lily of the valley, pansy, lotus, and finally, sweet pea.
I filled every space millimetre of the stone bed with the flowers before I stood there, holding back the tears that threatened to overflow like a broken dam.
With a sharp intake of air, I quelled my thoughts and feelings, then spread out my mana, as if to embrace Alicia's body one last time, filling it and the flowers with my own aura.
Then with a single thought, it ignited into a white flame, incinerating everything on the stone bed in a flash.
The light was so bright that it burned my retinas and singed my skin, but I didn't pay any heed to that, and instead focused on the ceremony.
In a mere handful of seconds, the fires extinguished. Nothing remained on the stone bed. The only evidence there had been anything was the fact that the top had melted a bit.
Having served it's purpose, I got rid of the stone bed, then prepared to leave.
This room, filled with memories of Alicia was too painful for me to continue using.
The first thing I did was enter the dungeon to feed. I had stayed with Alicia's body for so long that my legs wobbled as I walked, and it took the blood of quite a few monsters before I felt I was at full strength.
Just in case, I filled a few large jars with more blood in case I ran out without any prey nearby before I returned.
One last time, I washed myself in the bath. Lathering up my hands with with scented soap, I reached for Alicia's hair, now down to her shoulder blades as she wanted to copy my hair style, before I stopped. She wasn't there with me. Emotions threatened to burst out from my chest, but utilizing all the willpower I had, I swallowed it all down and went to wash my own hair instead, then my body.
Once I had rinsed the last of the suds off from my hair and body, I entered the bath to soak.
After a few minutes, I took Alicia's favourite hair oil rather than my own this time, in a vain attempt to touch a part of her. My hands moved to rub her hair before they stopped. There wasn't anything there to rub. I clenched my teeth before rubbing a generous portion of the oil in my hair, making sure to override any leftover scent from my usual oil.
When I finished, I got out and dried both my hair and body before applying the honey and goat milk lotion on my skin before getting dressed.
I went around and collected all the loose items, and stuffed them inside the white bunny plush magical bag. If I wasn't going to stay here, there wasn't any point in leaving behind anything I could use outside.
The furniture and other large items stayed.
With one last check to confirm I hadn't forgotten anything, I put on my gloves, boots, hat, and robe, then slung my arms through the bunny bag's loops and headed outside.
The ground was dark, but I could see the three moons clearly as they hung high overhead.
I stood and stared at them as they slowly moved across the starry sky when suddenly my view was obstructed by a mass of bright, multi-coloured balls of fluff.
Almost immediately, I activated [Spirit Form] to better interact with them.
I smiled as they swarmed me, rubbing their bodies against mine.
But my words refused to come out.
The little spirits were worried about something, but it didn't seem to be about themselves, as they furiously danced around or rubbed against me. They were filled with concern.
The dams inside me broke and I fell to my hands and knees.
Once again, I cried. I wailed.
Eventually, I managed to gather myself. I stood up as I rubbed my face with my sleeve.
I took a step back in surprise. The spirits were hovering extremely close to me.
"I...umm...sorry. I'm better now"
But unconvinced by my words, the little fluffballs rubbed their bodies against mine, lightly tugging at my hair, filling my hood with their bodies. Those that couldn't touch me directly due to their numbers danced around me, trying to lift my spirits.
Well, it worked.
I cracked a small smile at their warmth.
That was right. I couldn't touch or talk to Alicia anymore, but I wasn't alone.
"Thanks everyone. You're really the best"
Seeing my mood improve, they all started to dance around energetically. And since it's been a while, I threw handfuls of mana treats into the air, more than enough for all of them.
The little spirits eagerly ate them up as they happily flew around and rubbed themselves against my body.
"Haha, I get it. I love you guys too"
Somehow, the little fluffballs ended up being even more energetic after my words, leaving me with an awkward smile.
For the first time in a long time, I ended up playing with them a bit, dancing along with them, chased after them, or being chased by them, but generally ending up with being in a big dogpile on the green grass by them.
It felt good to enjoy myself, to move my body, to just not worry about anything.
It was even like the warmth that had taken root inside my chest felt a little gentler and warmer.
Maybe Alicia was having a particularly good dream right about then. It would've been nice if that was true.
I got so absorbed with enjoying myself with the little fluffballs that I completely lost track of time, only noticing that fact when the ground in front of me suddenly lit it with blinding red light.
For a moment I thought the forest around had suddenly burst into flames, but without the characteristic crackles of burning wood, my mind was able to reorient itself and I realized what had happened.
The morning sunlight had burst through the canopy.
My hands trembled, but I grit my teeth and steadied them. Sunlight wasn't something for me to fear anymore. I wouldn't die from being exposed to it anymore. I had my [Sunlight Vulnerability] skill which contrary to it's name, let me recover all the damage sunlight caused me.
Not only that, but I was armoured from head to toe. As long as I wasn't careless, I was fully protected. Sunlight didn't stand a chance.
Suddenly my vision was completely blocked by much softer light. The fluffy spirits huddled in front of me in worry, as my mood suddenly changed.
"It's okay. I'm fine. Hey, do you guys wanna go on a trip?"
I couldn't stay there. There was no point in just fooling around in one place. Enjoying myself was nice, but Alicia wouldn't be happy with my escapism if I didn't do more with my life.
I needed to do something, even if it wasn't particularly productive.
Fortunately, the little fluffs were pretty receptive to my idea, so many of them gathered around as I headed off.
As for a direction, I decided I'd go the same way to which I first found Alicia: east.
It was a decent distance, but near where I found her should be the village where she was born. I had no other clues as to where to find civilization, and looking for people would be better than just wandering the wilderness randomly. That would be little better than just staying put around the dungeon.
Managing a quick jog, we travelled through the forest.
On occasion we'd meet a monster, but they were quickly dispatched. Giant bears with razor sharp claws, deer with antlers that ended in spikes, even trees and giant flowers that suddenly started to attack when I got too close.
It seemed like the monsters quickly got stronger as I moved away from the dungeon, but that was only relative to the big rabbits and goblins near my home. A single ice lance, earth spike, or wind blade quickly dispatched the monsters, and I fed from a few of them to fill up my belly.
Around the time the sun had just set, I recognized a particular tree. It was a bit bigger than the others around it, but what as especially notable was how high it's roots grew at the base. On one side, there was a hardly remarkable tight space between two roots.
It was where I had originally found Alicia. To think I'd just randomly stumble across it.
But now that I had, I wanted to do something.
It was the place Alicia and I had first met, though she wasn't conscious at the time.
I could remember it like it was only yesterday, her small, frail body, cold to the touch, and beyond even shivering.
It was possible if I was even a few second slower, she might not have ever woken up again.
That thought really made me understand just how lucky I was to have met Alicia. Not only was the chances of her being around one of the few times I had happened to have gone outside after secluding myself inside the dungeon extremely low, but if the spirits hadn't reached me so quickly after discovering her, or if I hadn't followed them as quickly as I had, then the two of us might have never come together.
I was the type to believe in probability, not fate, which made such an event that much more extraordinary.
I was thankful. Despite how difficult the last little while had been, I was so thankful that I had met Alicia here, and that I wasn't too late in saving her then, even if ultimately I hadn't saved her life yet.
In memory of all that, I wanted to do something to commemorate it.
I couldn't consider myself particularly skilled when it came to moving my hands, but maybe I could manage something with magic?
To test that theory out, I drew out particles from the surrounding dirt and gathered them where I found Alicia. Compressing them, solidifying them, and shaping them. The particles, the most inert parts of dirt, came together and formed a stone in the image I had imagined.
A stone 1:1 scale in the form of a six year old girl, huddled in the tiny space between the roots as if trying to shield herself from the cold.
Then, I plucked a nearby flower and placed it in her hand by her face.
It wasn't much, but this was the memorial I had made to commemorate our original meeting.
Maybe it was due to my high rank in [Terranian Magic], but the stone statue was incredibly life-like. If it was painted, even I'd have trouble telling the difference between the real thing.
With the memorial in place, I continued jogging east as the spirits followed, a few staying to have a look at the statue before catching up.
Together with a small army of spirits, we continued at a brisk pace.
As we made our way, the trees became smaller and smaller, from the overly large ones further in to more normal sized ones. Along with that, the monsters grew weaker and weaker. Even at our relatively ordinary pace, we were fast enough that any monsters we did encounter didn't bother to chase us more than a few dozen steps, giving up as we pulled away.
There was no reason to bother killing them if they wouldn't get in our way.
Aside from goblins. I killed every one I saw.
The very thought of their racial skill gave me the shivers.
Maybe near midnight, the trees suddenly opened up to a large clearing, and I could see a wide wooden wall in poor repair.
The very sight of it moved me. Finally, after over three years, I had found civilization.
I wanted to enter the small village as soon as possible, but the lack of lights anywhere but one point on top where there was a small roof where someone was sitting under made me second guess myself.
It would be suspicious as all hell if I suddenly appeared in poorly made robes in the middle of the night.
For the sake of not making the absolute worst first impression and be barred from entering right off the bat, I went for option number two.
The light of the morning sun as it crested over the horizon blinded me for a few seconds.
I had been playing around with the little fluffballs as I killed time.
There weren't as many of them as when I first set out. It seemed like a bunch of them got bored and went to do other things, but in turn, a few new ones showed up as we played. It felt like these guys were everywhere.
But even then, I did hope that a few from home would stay by me as I travelled.
If not even one of them decided to stay with me for long, it would be a bit lonely.
It was strange. I was always quite a loner. In my last life, I was an only child. I had friends, but I wasn't that close to many of them, and quickly moved on if we lost touch. Even the few good friends I had, if staying in contact became inconvenient, then I stopped. I had no long term attachments in my previous life.
But being in this world, having gotten to know true companionship, even if it was in a weird way, I've come to crave it. I didn't need many friends. Just one good one was enough. But without someone beside me, for the first time between these two lives, I now knew, I'd be lonely.
So I hoped that at least one of these spirits would come to like me well enough that it would decide it wanted to keep travelling with me, no matter how far we went.
"Well, let's go meet some people"
With a small smile, I headed towards the village gates.
As I approached, the light above it extinguished, then a few minutes later, the gates opened.
(Did they open it seeing me?)
It was a bit surprising to do that to a stranger, but then I saw a small group of armed people come out.
I nervously continued to walk towards the village, watching the armed group as they casually chatted among themselves. I released a breath I hadn't realized I'd been holding. It looked like they didn't come out because of me.
We walked by each other. Strangely, they completely ignored me and the fluffballs.
Well, according to Alicia, most people can't even sense these little guys, so it was probably normal for them to be unnoticed, but for them to ignore me too. Did I have such a weak presence? Was my outfit maybe a bit ordinary in this world?
As my mind filled with questions, I continued my way, but suddenly had to stop as the gates closed in front of me.
I looked up at the guard. It seemed like it was a new person from the night, but the man wearing an old leather chest plate and well worn clothes stared out into the forest as he sat on a platform built into the wall.
"Umm...hey! Excuse me!"
I tried shouting at the man, but he ignored me completely.
(What am I? Air?!)
As I was starting to get annoyed, some of the coloured fluffs rubbed their bodies against me as if they were trying to reassure me.
"Haha, don't worry, I won't get angry at the buffoon"
But as I patted a few of them back, a sudden realization came to me.
I could only touch these guys because I was using [Spirit Form]. But obviously, if I was using the skill, then nobody else would be able to see me.
Now I felt like the buffoon.
I tried again after turning the skill off.
The guard suddenly stood up in shock, staring at me.
"Ummm...I'd like to enter the village, but can I?"
The man quickly got down from his vantage point and I could hear wooden boards scraping against the gates before it opened.
"Sorry. Where did you come from?"
The guard asked as I passed the gate.
I didn't want to mention my little blunder. My face was already a bit warm due to it.
"Huh? You came from the forest?!"
The guard froze in the middle of closing the gates again.
"I mean, you lived in there?"
"Yea, me and my little sister"
"Your...then your sister?"
My eyes hit the ground hard.
Just trying to talk about her made tears start welling up again.
"Ah! I'm sorry, that was bad of me"
"N, no, it's not your fault. I'm just too prone to crying lately. I'm sorry"
I desperately tried to get control over my emotions, but the waver didn't leave my voice as quickly.
"No, it's...ummm...anyways, welcome to Edgeworth village!"