"So, the other Scarlet called them mana treats too huh?"
When Claret seemed to have calmed down enough, I tried asking her. There was a thought that had stuck in my mind ever since she mentioned it. That there were quite a few coincidences regarding myself and the Scarlet I was named after.
Some were easy to hand-wave, like our name. The other things too could be put aside as just a coincidence or me just being easy to compare to a famous figure. But as the number of coincidences stacked up, the more uneasy I felt about them. Like, the possibility that they weren't merely coincidences. I didn't like that idea at all. Because if it was true, then my actions were being guided by someone, and I had no clues as to who other than the one I was named after.
I hated that idea. Because if that was true, then what about who I was? Did my own will even matter? Did it really exist when my actions were guided by someone else? Was I really my own person, or just an extension of someone who had died long ago? I owed nothing to this other Scarlet, so I didn't want her to interfere with my life.
"That's right. You called them that before as well."
The dark spirit poked her face out out my mounds and gave me a lazy smile under her half closed eyes.
"It's not me, but the other Scarlet, got it?"
Claret tilted her head a bit to the side, restricted by the soft pressure on either side.
"But you are Scarlet. Your body changed a bit, but your soul is the same as always. It's a bit hard to see since you're suppressing it, but there's no way I can forget that colour of yours."
"Even so, that Scarlet and I are different people. Even if I am her reincarnation, even if we have the same name, even if we have the same coloured soul, that doesn't change things. We are different."
I held her head firmly between my hands as I tried to drill that concept into her brain, presuming spirits had organs in the same way as other races did.
"Mmmm...But Scarlet is Scarlet..."
"I'm a different Scarlet than the one who raised you. We are similar, but different. Got it?"
"But...your soul is the same colour. Your mana treats taste the same too. Nobody else could do that..."
Claret started to tear up and I was quickly forced to let go of her head and instead started to stroke her hair.
"Sorry, sorry. I didn't mean to make you cry."
The oversized crybaby put more strength into her arms and buried her face into my chest before giving me a rough nod. She really acted like a little kid.
Thinking about it, lesser spirits definitely lacked intelligence. They seemed to have pretty limited capabilities to understand things and definitely had very limited ability to communicate. They were definitely much smarter than any normal animal, but I wondered if their intelligence was on the level of Koko the gorilla or something? If so, then were did that put greater spirits like Claret? She was properly fluent at talking, but was her immaturity due to her not having grown up mentally, or was it the limits of the intelligence for greater spirits?
(Or maybe it's just her? Ah, I just called her stupid twice, didn't I?)
"So what did you mean by 'nobody else could do that'?"
Once her shaking stopped again, I tried asking her about it.
"Your mana treats. The taste of them are special."
I couldn't imagine how there could be anything special about condensed mana.
"Your mana treats have a rich taste. It's strong, sweet, gentle, vibrant. It's the taste of your soul."
"...huh? My, my soul? How's that got to do with anything?"
I was pretty sure that I wasn't using up my soul to make these things. My MP clearly went down when I generated mana treats and the slightly tired feeling I got from making Claret's one was exactly the same from when I used magic. I couldn't see how it was any different from casting spells, and I didn't see how that was connected to my soul.
"Almost everything! When your body collects and produces mana, the colour and flavour of it comes when it touches your soul. Your appearance and taste of your mana, your aura, all of it comes from your soul."
I almost got distracted at how well she understood that sort of thing when she usually acted so much like a six year old, or younger than even that if I compared her to Alicia.
But still, that did explain some things. There was the talk about how the Adventurers' Guild used a person's aura to identify members, and how there were occasions when they'd find duplicates when it would normally be impossible. The guild master said that it likely an issue with the equipment or their records, but thinking about it, what if those rare people they got repeat hits on that weren't people trying to cheat the system? It wouldn't be a surprise that I wasn't the only person who came back to the same world after a few reincarnations.
"I...see...Then I guess mana treats made from other people would taste pretty different huh?"
(Maybe it's similar to how different blood tastes different to me? Though my own tastes have changed quite a bit over the years.)
I glanced at the charge boar corpse that's been lying on the ground for a little while now.
(These weak monsters have such a weak taste nowadays. It's hard to believe I thought goblins and loam wolves tasted amazing at one point.)
"Yup, they do! Well, if anyone actually makes them at least..."
"What do you mean?"
"I've never heard of anyone else making mana treats. You're the only one who does it. I've never heard of anyone feed their spirit familiars mana treats."
"Does that mean that other people who get spirits as familiars make them go feed off of natural mana concentrations instead?"
"Nooo. The little kids wouldn't last long like that. Those mana fonts don't show up much where there's a lot of people, so they'd go hungry pretty fast. What people do is feed them crushed magic crystals."
(Does she mean those things I found a lot of in the dungeon?)
I stretched an arm behind myself and awkwardly pulled out one of those coloured gems from my bag.
"Do you mean these things?"
"Yup! Just like that!"
Closing my fist, I crushed the magic crystal into a coarse powder and presented it to Claret.
"Ueeee. Do I have to?"
"I thought you said people fed these things to spirits?"
"They do...but that doesn't look tasty at all. Master's mana treats are way better!"
(She sounds a bit like a gourmand.)
Sighing, I held out my hand to the fluffballs floating around us.
"You guys want it instead?"
But against my expectations, it felt like they were giving off the same expression as Claret just did.
"Does my mana treats really taste that much better?"
"They do! They're the best food in the world!"
The dark spirit violently shook her head, making my boobs bounce around uncontrollably until she stopped. All around me, the lesser spirits gave out their agreements just as furiously.
I dropped the crushed crystal and patted my hand against my robes, removing as much of it's traces as I could.
"So I guess I came up with the same rare idea as the other Scarlet huh?"
"It's not rare!"
"Nope. It's just that nobody does it normally because it tires most people out too much."
That made a lot of sense now that she mentioned it. I never thought twice about it, but my level, and correspondingly my MP, was very high, so feeding a bunch of lesser spirits didn't even make a noticeable dent to my mana reserves. Even feeding Claret, a greater spirit, wasn't too taxing.
"Guess it's kinda funny I named the mana treats the same as most other people then."
"You're the only one that calls it that my master."
I must've mistakened what she just said.
"You're the only one who calls it mana treats. Everyone else call it mana pearls."
"...So you're saying that by sheer coincidence I ended up calling the snacks that I came up with on my own, that people usually don't make, the exact same thing that my predecessor also made on her own and called the same thing?"
"...Yes? It's great that you managed to remember it, isn't it?"
The dark spirit simply tilted her head then gave me a bright smile, obviously not getting at why I was upset about this information.
"I...never mind. Here, let go so I can eat before we head back to the village."
Moving to hanging off of my side, Claret gave me the space I needed to drink the rapidly cooling blood from the slightly stiff boar.
(These guys really have such thin taste.)
After putting the dry corpse into my bag, we flew back to the village. Aside from the guards, there weren't any people around outside and the streets were enveloped in darkness.
There was a few faint lights at the inn we were staying at, so after landing in a shadow, I engaged [Materialize] and made my way inside.
Maybe because it was a small village, but the lobby was quite small and there were a couple of tables with chair set up right inside of it, rather than separated in their own dining area. There was a simple counter to the side with a simple lamp emitting a gentle yellow flame despite not having an obvious fuel source as well as an old man sitting behind it dozing off.
The old man opened up his crossed arms and teetered back on two legs of his seat before regaining his balance and composure. He glanced up at me while stroking his salt and pepper beard with one hand. My hand automatically went up and pulled my hood a bit lower.
"One of my companions said that he reserved some rooms?"
"Ah, you're the last one then?"
"I should be."
The old man got up and walked behind me to the front door before a heavy metallic thud sounded behind me, making my heart beat faster.
"It's cooled down, but will you be having your dinner here?"
"Ah, no, I already ate."
"Is that so? Your room is on the second floor, the first one on the left little miss. Enjoy your night."
With those parting words, he passed by the counter taking the lamp on it in a hand and went through a door beside a staircase in the corner of the room and shut it with a gentle thud.
I made my way up the stairs and knocked on the first door on my left.
The adventurer girl's voice responded and I opened the door. Opening the door, I was greeted by the sight of the small room assigned to us. There were two beds on opposing sides with a small chest each at the feet. In between the beds, there was a small gap wide enough to comfortably walk and a small table at the end under a partially open window shutter with a lamp glowing yellow sitting on it.
Turning around after entering, I closed the door once I confirmed all the little fluffballs there were following me had entered. Claret was still hanging off of my back so just by turning around she was fully inside.
"You took a while. Was there any problems?"
As I sat down on the free bed, my companion started a conversation. Despite the time, she looked pretty energetic.
(She didn't drink coffee while waiting for me, did she?)
<Can you let go for a sec?>
I shook my head at the girl before I started to strip down. Claret floated beside me and gave me such a miserable expression that it hurt, despite the fact that I was sure she knew that I needed to at least give the image of preparing to sleep.
"Umm, so, I was thinking..."
"Aren't you tired? You've been walking all day and it's late."
"Oh, but we'll be staying in the town for an entire day anyways! Mister Mercari needs some time to finish his trading here, so we're only going to head off in the morning the day after."
"Even still...you're a girl, so you should get your beauty sleep."
Thinking quickly for an excuse, the old classic from Earth came to mind, so I used it without any hesitation.
"Beauty sleep? So that's how she does it?"
Despite the fact that she was whispering it to herself, my sensitive ears clearly caught her words. Despite having lived as a human before and spending quite amount of time amongst people who did sleep, it was definitely becoming something that I couldn't sympathize with.
(Sleeping feels like such a waste.)
"...Alright then! Let's go to sleep!"
But despite my own thoughts about it, all of the sudden the girl jumped up and turned off the lamp before diving into her bed.
(How do you even sleep after moving around like that?)
I was a bit exasperated, but rather than stare at the figure of a weird girl squirming under her bed sheets, I grabbed Claret's arm and pulled her into my chest as I lay down and threw the sheets over our bodies.
The dark spirit made some weird noises as she wrapped her arms around me and buried her face in my chest. As I lightly brushed her hair, I turned my thoughts inwards. Claret had given me a vital clue and I finally had time to take proper advantage of it.
"Scarlet? It's morning...wake up..."
My shoulder was gently tapped as the words were being whispered quietly into my ear.
(If I was actually asleep, there'd be no way I'd have noticed.)
Rising up into a sitting position, I turned to face the adventurer girl.
(Why did you click your tongue?!)
But as quickly as she made that dissatisfied face, a smile covered everything up.
"They'll be serving breakfast downstairs soon."
(Haaa, another hassle...)
As I lightly brushed my hair, the girl's eyes kept glancing downwards before returning to my eyes. Looking down, I saw Claret's face peeking between my mounds as she rubbed her face against my chest.
(She really doesn't get tired of that, does she?)
But as I absentmindedly thought about that, my eyes went back to looking at the girl in front of me. Her eyes were clearly glued on to my chest.
As quickly as I could, I turned around and hid my unnaturally bouncing chest.
"Umm, I'll hurry and get changed then."
"Alright. I'll be waiting downstairs then."
For some reason her response was completely monotone and her body moved stiffly.
(...maybe I misunderstood it?)
Shaking my head, I pulled Claret off as she put on those puppy dog eyes once again and got dressed before equipping my dark spirit mantle and headed downstairs. Everyone was gathered at one of the tables in the lobby. As I approached, they all quieted down and turned my way.
"Ah, Miss Scarlet. Breakfast will be served soon."
"Ah no, I'm fine. If you don't mind, I'm going to go check out the surroundings a bit. We're not heading off until tomorrow, right?"
"Ah, erm, yes, but why don't you take the day to relax?"
"I've been relaxing all last week. I want to stretch my legs a bit."
"But isn't it fine after you eat?"
"I'm not that hungry. I'll have something later."
"Is that so? Then stay safe."
With those parting words from Mint, I exited the building, walked down the main street and left the village gates after presenting my guild ID.
Of course my objective was a lie, but it was true I had already eaten, even if it was more than eight hours before.
After creating a bit of distance from the gate guards, I quickly cut into the tall grass and obscured myself before deactivating [Materialize] and returned back to the village walls. I moved to the shadows of the walls and lightly drifted around with [Float] as I went to continue working on my new skill.
The previous night I was able to analyze all the major inputs and figured out their interactions, though actually figuring out how they worked was beyond my current capabilities to understand. Next was to go through the outputs and figure them out.
As I started to get to work, Claret moved from my back to my front and I absentmindedly started to stroke her hair once again.
(She really likes that position, doesn't she?)
I kinda enjoyed it myself, so I didn't really have any complaints, but it was still a bit amazing that she never got tired of it.
Including a couple of breaks to play and feed everyone, along with a hunt so I could eat myself, we ended up returning a bit after nightfall, quietly returning to the room I shared with the adventurer girl, then went back and spent more time working on the skill that would be the next step to saving Alicia.
My progress had been slow. Painfully slow, but thanks to Claret there was clear progress. The interactions and data formats for the inputs as well as the outputs had been analyzed, and I was starting to understand how the [Interpretation] skill worked. The important part wasn't just connecting the inputs and output to a core, but to instead figure out what the original core was, how the data connected to it, and to seamlessly swap the original core with Alicia's core while reconnecting everything in such a way to make things work.
Considering I had no ideas what I was originally going to do afterwards when I used [Soul Siphon] on Alicia, I could only think of it as a consequence of my desperation and lack of forethought at the time. If I had come to the conclusion of developing [Soul Siphon] earlier, then I could've made preparations. Maybe.
By the time morning came and we left the village, I felt I had a good idea about how the external parts of the skill worked, but the interfaces between all the inputs and outputs connecting to the inner core was much more difficult. Understanding the way the data was converted was as hard as trying to understand a story translated in a similar, but different language to one you knew.
It wasn't impossible, but it was difficult and time consuming.
And thus, I spent the next few days working on it, taking only the occasional break to play with the spirits to relieve myself of pent up stress, feed the spirits, feed the mortals, or feed myself.
We passed through the second village without incident either, and I was starting to feel like I had been getting close to getting this new skill figured out. If I was lucky, I'd be able to bring back Alicia before we reached the next city.