"You feeling better?"
Claret's sniffling had finally stopped. I could feel wetness from my chest all the way down to my thighs. To think that a spirit not of the water element could produce so much moisture without trying to. I didn't even want to look at the mess she had made, but both of our clothes would need to be washed before the sun neared the horizon and everyone in the travelling band started getting ready to make camp.
The dark spirit raised her head and nodded. Her eyes were red and puffy, and some of her hair stuck out due to static buildup from me stroking it too much. What little I could see of her outfit looked as wet as my own clothes felt.
(A surprising number of physical properties affects spirits huh? And they affect ordinary things that they touch in pretty conventional ways as well.)
I looked around. The wagon wasn't below us, nor was it even in the nearby vicinity. Looking further, I could see it in the distance slowly making it's way on the road. Since I hadn't made any efforts to drift in the same direction, I ended up having to pay for that mistake.
But in the meantime, it was convenient.
Scanning the direct perimeter, I found a spot without any large hits and drifted down there. With a bit of magic, I dug a simple ditch wide enough for us to comfortably stand inside of and as deep as we were tall. I touched down inside while holding on to Claret.
The greater dark spirit stood there in front of me. Now that she had her feet on the ground for once, I could actually see a bit of her figure underneath those ragged robes she wore. She was about half a head taller than me and her body was proportionately wider. There was a proper thickness to her limbs that made her more reliable looking than my own frail-looking frame.
Standing here, I was able to once again confirm that her feminine curves were quite fantastic. Her shapely hourglass figure that was visible even under that thick robe of hers had a motherly quality to it, unlike my own which was a bit more...obscene. Frankly, I was a bit envious of her chest. At least it didn't look like she have to contort her body just to see her feet. Her face looking more mature than mine and being a bit taller, she gave off an aura of some sort of holy mother or something.
At least when she didn't wear that lazy smile of hers or opened that mouth of hers. It felt like it was only a matter of time before she sprouted a pair of cat ears and tail. The very image had already been ingrained into me starting from her first impression, so I doubted I could seriously see her as some sort of motherly figure.
Overall, she was quite the beauty. Though if she was wearing normal clothes, I probably wouldn't have thought twice and presumed she was a normal woman if I saw her in the streets. A normal elf, probably. They were a bit covered, but she had long, pointed ears like myself. Unfortunately I only had one point of comparison, so until I met another greater spirit, all I could do was presume that she was an average example of her kind.
"Let's get cleaned up. Could you use [Materialize]?"
Shaking out those erroneous thoughts, I disengaged [Materialize] and [Spirit Form] while Claret conversely activated [Materialize] so we would both be in physical form. While I didn't know the details exactly how magic would effect us while we were immaterial other than 'it does', I didn't feel like taking the time to experiment immediately.
I generated warm water and swirled it around us, permeating our clothes and rinsing out our outfits.
"Ehehehe, my whole body is being embraced."
Tipping her head side to side with a lazy grin and rosy cheeks, Claret said something a bit incomprehensible.
(Do spirits perceive magic differently from other races, or is she just talking nonsense?)
Soon enough, I dismissed the water, leaving us completely dry and all traces of dirt, tears, and snot just suddenly dropped from being suspended in midair.
Claret looked a bit disappointed and she started to fidget while looking down. After a few moments of that, she started to make little glances at me before looking back down.
"Geez, you're such a handful. Hurry up and disengage [Materialize]."
Activating [Spirit Form], I approached the moody spirit and extended my hand.
A brilliant smile blossomed at once and she returned to her default form before taking my hand. I pulled her into my chest before activating [Float], and with a small shove using [Tempest Magic], we floated off towards the wagon. She immediately wrapped her arms around me and rubbed her cheek against my own.
I could feel the presences of the fluffballs following behind us as we flew. Ever since Claret showed up, it felt like they were distancing themselves from me a bit. It was a bit lonely, but it wasn't like any of them were leaving, just that they maintained a respectful distance.
(No, maybe it's not me they're maintaining a respectful distance from, but from Claret?)
I couldn't help but think that there was a strange feeling of reverence that the little spirits had of their greater brethren. Claret did say that Scarlet had raised her. Maybe they were connected more closely than simply being a similar race? I couldn't simply disregard the idea of some sort of metamorphosis or game-like evolution considering the things I've already experienced in this world.
"Oh right, are you still hungry?"
The sun was getting a bit low on the horizon and it wouldn't be long before the others stopped to make camp. I stopped in the middle of feeding the fluffballs, and while Claret ate some of my mana treats, if she needed as much of them as her greater body size suggested, there was no way a handful of marble-sized mana treats would be enough when it took an entire one to feel a tennis ball sized lesser spirit.
"I don't need to..."
"I'm asking you if you're hungry, not if you want to eat."
Considering how I was holding her, I couldn't look at her in the face, but I made sure to put some strength in my voice as I practically gave her an order. She didn't respond well to eating my mana treats despite looking like they were her favourite food. If I was going to be her master, I didn't want to half-ass the responsibility.
The strength in her arms increased ever so slightly as she answered me.
"Alright then, let's try something."
I let go of Claret and let our momentum continue us on our way. Bringing both hands together in front of me, I concentrated on producing and concentrating mana in the gap in between in the same manner as making mana treats, but on a larger scale. Not the size of marbles, but much, much bigger. The mana solidified in between my hands, but I continued to feed it more of my mana as it grew larger and larger, before my fingers were pushed apart from it's pure size.
Eventually I stopped, ending with a mana treat the size of an apple. It was hardly a treat at this size, but then again, the normal ones were basically meals for the little fluffballs anyways, so the misnomer can continue on.
"Here you go."
I lightly tossed the mana treat towards the dark spirit. Her glittering eyes followed it's arc and she caught it in both hands in a smooth practised motion then raised it above her as if she was thinking of worshipping it like some mystical artifact.
(Don't, please don't worship your food.)
But after a moment of this, she lowered the mana treat to her chest and looked at me with concern.
"Are you alright Master? You didn't tax yourself making this for me, did you? If you did, please tell me. I won't ask for food anymore."
"Nah, I'm fine. It's not too bad."
It was true that I was feeling slightly light headed from using up so much mana at once, but it was nothing compared to how I felt after a strenuous battle. A quick glance at my status confirmed that I had used up almost 10% of my MP in one go. Only my biggest spells used up that much mana at once, but my mana pool was slowly recovering and would be filled back up soon enough on it's own.
"Ah, you guys too."
In an attempt to prove that it was fine, I produced a bunch more mana treats of the smaller variety and scattered them around to the fluffballs floating around us. Unlike Claret, they didn't hesitate to devour their meals and quickly bounced around in joy after they filed their figurative bellies.
The greater spirit's eyes went to her lesser counterparts with their own food and back to her apple sized mana treat, going back and forth as the gears tried to turn in her head.
"You don't have to eat it if you don't want to, but I don't think it'll keep it from for long if you don't."
In the end, mana treats were just my mana compressed to the point that they became a solid. At least as solid as incorporeal life forms like spirits were. But unlike spirits, there wasn't anything in particular to keep them in that form, and it was probably only a matter of time before they sublimated and scattered to the wind.
But as we had spent enough time as it was, I put an arm around her waist and pulled her against my body. Claret gave out a happy little squeal and wrapped an arm around me as well before I accelerated us towards the wagon off in the distance.
As we flew, Claret stared hard at her mana treat still whole and firmly in her grip. After a solid minute of us flying at a moderate but stable speed, she finally bit into the treat. A brilliant smile blossomed on her face as the greater spirit chewed. All hesitation lost, she quickly devoured her meal.
By the time we got close, she was finished eating and had put her free hand around me, tightly embracing my side as she rubbed her cheek against my the side of my chest, still maintaining that bright smile of hers.
Looking down, the wagon was moving a bit faster than normal, but there didn't seem to be any problems from what I could tell. Most likely, the reason was what I saw further up ahead.
There were tall walls intersecting the road we were following. From my elevated vantage, I could see past the wall and saw the moderate number of simple buildings and people making their way through their evening.
At the increased rate Mint and the others were going at, they would likely manage to reach the village a bit before sundown.
Floating just above my little spot on the wagon, I moved Claret to my front, in which she promptly buried her face into my chest.
(Everyone really loves doing that, don't they?)
It wasn't like I couldn't understand, but that was from the perspective of an adult, and a man at that. Everyone who did it were pretty childish in nature, with two of the three being actual kids. I could only presume there was something inherent to it? Or maybe it was just my imagination and that was just a convenient height for their heads to reach?
(No, it's probably not my imagination. They've all definitely been treating my chest as their personal pillows.)
As this wasn't really anything new to me, I quickly disregarded that line of thought and swapped positions with the dummy under the tarp, activating [Materialize] just enough so that I seemed whole to anyone looking at me, but just enough not so that Claret wouldn't phase through my body and be tempted to similarly activating [Materialize] and revealing herself.
We lay there as I listened to the dull grinding of the wagon's wooden wheels against the compacted dirt road underneath.
A little while later, the wagon stopped. Mint talked to a guard before the sounds of heavy creaking reached my ears before we continued for a little longer.
A few moments after we stopped for a second time, a pair of hands pressed against my body and lightly shook me.
"Miss Scarlet, we've reached the first village. Wake up."
Pretending to stir from sleeping, I stretched my arms and tugged on my hood before extracting myself from under the tarp. All along while dragging Claret who still clung firmly to my chest like she was a docked part of a combining robot.
"The first village?"
I lazily scanned my surroundings as I answered the girl who backed up to make room for me. The architecture was similar to Edgeworth Village, though not nearly in such poor condition. The sky was already a dark purple so there were hardly any people in sight, but those that I could see didn't look to be suffering from any particular difficulties.
It was pretty much exactly as I could imagine an ordinary village of this world. Nothing of import or deviation from that impression presented itself.
Aside from the way she was looking at me with an awkward expression. I followed her gaze to my chest. It was pushed up like how it usually ended up when Alicia or Flix buried their faces into them, making them look even more enormous than usual.
(Of course they were, since Claret is doing just that.)
My gaze went back and forth between my pushed-up chest and the girl's strange expression a few times before she noticed what I was doing and averted her gaze in a panic. It was only then that I realized the problem. Claret's position on me left an impression of her body on my clothes. For someone who couldn't see her, it must've looked extremely strange.
<Gah! Hurry! Switch to my back!>
The dark spirit slowly extracted herself from my chest with a look of regret plain on her face before she drifted behind me and wrapped her arms over my shoulders. Claret's ample bosom pressed into my chest like the last time she did it, but once again I wasn't in a position to enjoy the sensation. I hurriedly and noisily fixed my clothes before giving a fake cough.
The girl quickly turned back to face me, her expression immediately clearing up now that the strange impression on my clothes was gone. Though in reality it simply moved from my belly and lower chest to my upper chest, it was much less noticeable and strange looking.
At least I was hoping so.
"Mary, did you wake Miss Scarlet up?"
Mint voice rang out before revealing himself from the wagon's side.
"Ah, you are. We've arrived at Littleton Village. We'll be staying here for a day then we'll continue on in the morning. I've already rented some rooms in an inn. Are you fine with sharing one with Mary?"
"Oh, yea, sure."
The girl's face lit up to my casual agreement. I felt a bit bad since I had a bunch of work to do and wouldn't be able to accommodate whatever she was thinking of. Hopefully I wouldn't have to spend all the time we had in this village handling Claret.
"The innkeeper is preparing dinner. The dining hall is this way."
"Ah, no, is it fine if I take a walk around instead?"
Mint and the girl stopped in their tracks and turned back to me.
"That's fine, but if you don't hurry, the freshly made meal will be cold by the time you get to eat."
"That's fine. I just want to have a look around."
"This late at night? The sun's almost down."
"Ah, erm. Just in case, you know? I'll feel better if I knew the lay of the land, if you know what I mean."
"It's perfectly safe inside the village, but if you insist, I won't force the issue. Don't push yourself too hard Miss Scarlet. We still have a long journey ahead of us so you should rest when you can."
"I'll remember that."
With those words, I headed in the opposite direction. On the other side of the wagon, I saw the other two adventurers on the ground. The cat boi was on the ground and in an arm bind with the other sitting on his back. He took one glance at me and tears started to run down his face as his expression immediately changed from determination to pure frustration. The other guy just gave me a relieved smile before letting go of the other's arm and gave me a wave as I passed.
Those guys weren't worth expending any energy to understand. The little time I had spent watching them made me understand that quite well.
I made my way around the village until I found a small space between two large buildings that did a good job of hiding me. Disengaging [Materialize], I activated [Float] and pushed myself into the air with [Tempest Magic].
As I had made an excuse regarding it, I took a few minutes to casually memorize the layout of the village from above. There weren't many roads or significant landmarks, so it wasn't difficult at all to do.
In the time it took for me to do so though, the sun had made it's escape and the purple skies were quickly being vanquished by the beautiful stars and black curtains of the night sky. I took a moment to admire the stars along with the three moons before I turned my mind to what I needed to do immediately.
Without the slightest bit of hesitation despite her not knowing what I was about to do next, she strengthened her grip on me, firmly pressing her chest against my back. Thinking about it, Claret was the first person to do that to me between both of my lives. I've had quite a lot of time to experience and get used to breasts now that I had a pair of my own, yet despite that, the second I was touching someone else's, even if it was through several layers of thick cloth and a bag, it felt completely refreshing.
"Is something the matter my master?"
"Ah, no. *Ahem* It's nothing."
Hoping that Claret didn't notice anything, I made to get my next bit of business done quickly. Activating [Alter Silhouette], I grew wings from my back and passed them through the slits in my robes and out from underneath the dark spirit's body.
"Waaaaoooowww! You can grow wings now? That's wonderful! It's incredible!"
A grin leaked out from my mouth right before I raised my wings and flapped down as hard as I could.
"Waaahhhh! Hahahaha! This is unbelievable! It's so fast!"
It was a little disappointing that she didn't freak out at the sudden acceleration, but I couldn't hate such a response, so I started to flap again, diverting my flight from straight up to forward.
As quickly as I could, I flew in every manoeuvre I could think of, doing loops and rolling scissors, barrel rolls and Immelmanns, all the while Claret screaming in joy a little painfully into my ear. But I really enjoyed sharing this experience. I hoped that someday I could share it with Alicia as well.
"Wow, that's so amazing. Did you use the same skill to change your eyes and fangs as well?"
"Huh? Oh, yea."
I didn't think she would've noticed the fangs, but maybe she was more observative than I thought?
"Well, now then..."
Checking my surroundings, I quickly found what I was looking for and with a single flap of my wings, dove for it. A single light slap on the back of it's neck and the charge boar I was aiming for had it's head bent to an impossible angle. For a moment, it stood there frozen in that strange pose mid-stride, before it toppled over to its side without any resistance.
With a few light flaps, I came around and landed beside the dead boar.
"Oh, before I do this, do you want some more food?"
"Huh? Umm...is it alright?"
Rather than answer with words, I simply produced an apple-sized mana treat and held it over my shoulder. Letting go of me, I turned around to see Claret's eyes sparkles as she stared at her food, holding it up reverently.
(Seriously, don't worship your food.)
She took a bite out of it and beamed in delight as she chewed. Everything about her was so cute and innocent despite her mature appearance. It was so difficult to reconcile with the fact that she was hundreds of years old.
Shaking that awkward thought out of my head, I just basked in the aura of pure joy she emitted as she ate.
Suddenly, the aura grew even stronger as her smile widened even further. Before I knew it, my hand was on her head and I was already petting her as she ate. My other hand was itching to touch her as well.
(Ahh, what the hell is with this cute thing? I wanna hug it so bad!)
My expression got a bit screwed up as I held back from interrupting Claret's meal, though I continued to stroke her head.
"Thanks for the meal!"
Suddenly my reverie was broken and I came back to reality.
"Ah, um, as long as you enjoyed it."
"It was amazing! Your mana treats are always the best Master!"
"Ah, I see. Thanks."
Claret pounced onto me and buried her face into my chest as she wrapped her arms around my back. I put one hand on her back and stroked her hair with the other.
(...wait a sec.)
"Did you just call it a mana treat?"
The dark spirit's face appeared in the valley of my chest and she tilted her head.
"Where did you hear that name?"
"I never said it out loud."
Scanning through my memories, I was sure that I had never actually said those words out loud in front of Claret. There shouldn't have been any ways for her to have learned what I called those meals I gave the spirits.
"You did. You've always called those mana clusters mana treats. Even back before you died."
(The other Scarlet called them that too? Is it just a coincidence?)
The very thought gave me a bad feeling. It was fine if it was just a coincidence, but things kept popping up trying to convince me things like this weren't just a coincidence. I didn't like it at all, but there wasn't much I could say at the moment.
"Was it...bad of me to call it that?"
Claret shirked back as my boobs filled in the gaps left by her receding face.
"No, it's fine. It's not wrong."
The dark spirit gave an audible sigh in relief as she tightened her grip on me and buried her face in my chest while shivering slightly.
All I could do was pet her until she calmed down.