As I held Claret to my chest while I stroked her silky hair, my eyes went up, imagining what sort of person the Scarlet I was named after was like. People always had good things to say about her, but it was like reading about some historical figure. Even the image Claret painted with her words didn't do much to improve that image.
After spending a little while thinking about it and giving in and doing some wishful thinking, I snapped out of my little distraction.
(Right. One more, I'll do one more pass.)
Switching back, I read through the code for my new skill line by line, checking all of the references and subroutines. Even the code I simply copy pasted were checked so I could confirm that I hadn't introduced some sort of weird and unexpected interaction.
I've never made so many passes on a piece of code before in my lives without test running it first. If it wasn't for Alicia, I wouldn't have bothered putting so much effort into it.
I reached the end of the skill and my confidence in it was at an all-time high. No matter how many times I went through it, there wasn't even a hint of trouble, though admittedly that's how all code looks like right before you find a massive bug that requires weeks of rewriting to fix. That was how things went on the game I made which lead to all of this after all.
But after spending days doing nothing but debugging and not even finding any bugs to fix in the last dozen or so passes, activating it was the only way to make sure there wasn't actually any bugs.
Even still, I was hesitant. If there was anything I had missed, there was a chance that I would do something irreversible. But at the same time, if I hadn't missed anything, my timidness would keep stalling Alicia's return. I had already spent more than a day doing checks that found absolutely nothing, and while I didn't think that in itself was bad, I could easily continue to check the skill's code endlessly if I didn't gather myself to take the plunge.
I took in a deep breath, then exhaled.
<...Is something the matter Master?>
Claret looked up at me and tilted her head.
<Ah, ummm, I'm going to try out my new skill. If all goes well, Alicia will wake up inside of me. She won't have a body, but be nice to her, alright?>
<This Alicia is your important little sister, so I'll definitely be nice to her!>
<Can you move to the side while I do the final bits?>
Claret untangled herself from me and shifted to my side and sat there with glittering eyes as she stared at me.
I glanced at the skill in the master list. It still needed a name and description. I had already removed all possible acquisition methods, so there wasn't any worry of someone else taking it. Thinking about it for a moment, I decided on [Inner Monologue]. I did it enough as it was, and talking to Alicia through this skill would be a bit similar to doing more of it. The description ended up being 'The ability to talk to oneself regardless of place or time.' Just something stupid and wouldn't allude to it's real purpose.
Once that was done, I compared [Inner Monologue] to my own skill list. I had a few skills I could easily use as fodder to replace with the new one. The new skill was quite a large one, so I needed an appropriately large one, and of the ones I had, there was a few simple ones that I would never use. I picked [Mimicry] virtually at random. [Mimicry] was a skill that allowed me to copy the form of a living creature. It was a racial skill that belonged to several monsters in the dungeon back home, but [Alter Silhouette] I already had was much better for my purposes. That, and I needed to change it into something that wasn't race locked if I wanted to use it.
Now that I had properly acquired the skill, all that was left was to transfer Alicia, core and all, into the new skill from the storage container inside of [Soul Siphon]. After one last confirmation that the destination container was as big as the source, I began the transfer. Moving the contents of the container for me was as easy as dragging and dropping, but the actual process took time. I watched as the data in the source disappeared and then appeared inside of the destination.
Bit by bit, I anxiously stared as the source empty and the destination fill up.
As I watched with bated breath, the transfer completed. Alicia's data seemed to have transferred without issue. There wasn't anything obviously wrong with the structure, though the actual contents was far beyond my ability to decipher if everything was transferred perfectly or not. The contents of her memory and core were shifting the same way it always did.
<Alright, everything looks...!!!>
Suddenly my head started pounding, like the blood flowing through my brain had suddenly increased to dangerous pressures.
<What is this. I don't get it! It hurts! It hurts! Help me!>
A familiar sounding voice echoed through my head, but the pain made it difficult to place. My entire head felt hot and hurt, like the inside of my head had suddenly turned into a pressure cooker but the relief valve wasn't working right and was threatening to explode.
A small, distorted voice escaped my lips as I held my hand in my hands, as if I could contain the pressure by simply pushing back in with my hands. The fever from my head transmitted to my hands, clear that the heat wasn't just my imagination.
"Master! What's wrong! What's happened?!"
Claret's voice penetrated through the growing fog of pain, but I could only barely understand her words, and didn't have the leeway to respond. Just trying to think made my head feel even hotter.
<It hurts! It hurts! Help! I don't understand what this is! Please! Help!>
The voice continued to rampage in my head, the distress and panic clear even to my addled mind.
Tears blurred my vision, only for the pain to grew even more intense. No, it was a different pain. There was a new pain coursing through my head that was even greater than the previous one. It was a ferocious, distorting pain centring on my face, but after a few seconds, or maybe a few minutes, it faded. A dull corner of my mind registered that it was [Alter Silhouette] disengaging against my will.
But I didn't have time for that, I gasped for air. Each breath I took in reduced the pain slightly for a moment, but it returned as I expelled the white mist from my lungs. It was only a slight reprieve, but I took it.
The small allayment was just enough to slowly collect my thoughts in bits and pieces, and I was able to come up with a half-baked solution to at least help suppress the symptoms of whatever was happening to me.
Or, at least, it was supposed to.
Forcing up my aura, I tried to coalesce water and rain it down on my head, in the hopes to lower the temperature even slightly in the hopes that the pain would recede along with it.
But the magic wouldn't activate. More than that, I could barely control my aura. Only when I tried to manipulate it I became aware how the aura I'd been suppressing for so long had been freed, it's ends whipping around like ferocious tentacles trying to whip at anything it could reach.
Now that I was aware of that fact, I also came to notice that there was something caught in my aura, pushing against it, moving closer to me. As alarming as such a feeling was, I didn't have the leeway to worry about it, and instead tried to activate more magic. From freezing the air to blowing wind in an attempt to lower my head's temperature, I tried everything I could think of, but my magic refused to materialize.
Or rather, it was extraordinarily unstable, to the point that there was almost no effect. Some tiny bits of water droplets would appear, or a slight wisp of air would flow, but it was so little that I barely noticed it even happened.
There was no point to this at all.
I desperately gasped for breath, the air itself starting to grow hot as well. I was quickly losing the slight reprieve I was getting. The voice in my head still echoing, but the fear and panic growing ever more while the words grew more and more incoherent. I couldn't help but feel that they were expressing exactly as I felt, yet couldn't feel like they were my own thoughts.
Unsteadily, I rose up to my feet, desperate to try anything to relieve me of this pain, no matter where it came from.
The sight of something passing through my body vaguely registered in my mind, but I didn't have the leeway to think about it.
One step, then another, I tried my hardest to move, but I wasn't even aware of any directions or goals aside from getting the relief I so desperately needed.
A third step, a fourth...?
As I tried to take another step, something lifted me off the round. My panic was dulled by the pain I was already experiencing, but soon a cool breeze flowed over my body, giving me a slight bit of relief from the pain. Just enough to notice that the blurry scenery that my eyes refused to focus on appeared to be shifting despite me not moving my body.
As confusing as it was, the slight relief I had gotten felt blissful in comparison to the full brunt of the pain I was subjected to, causing me to relax my body. Loud words were being shouted, but I couldn't quite steady my thoughts enough to comprehend any of them.
Unfortunately for me, my shallow reprieve was short lived, as my body was suddenly jerking side to side, the sudden acceleration bringing the pain back in full force.
Suddenly, there was a sharp pain my my left arm, then the feeling of falling, quickly followed by a sudden but dull pain throughout my body as something impacted on my side. An ear piercing wail came from my side along with some sort of gooey feeling under me. The sound was followed by more hellish screaming from all around, adding to my painful headache.
Doing my best to ignore the sounds, I forced myself back to my feet and weakly raised my head. For some reason there was some sort of large, incomprehensible thing in front of me. It sort of looked like a bunch of massive snakes as the heads waved around and struck at something above.
The voice in my head continued to yell in confusion, panic, and pain, making it that much more difficult to comprehend what I was seeing. But while I couldn't afford the mental strength to comprehend it, there was a thought that rose up.
(Maybe if I eat it, the pain would go away?)
With that single hope driving me, I took one unsteady step after the next towards the thing ahead.
But in only a few steps, one of those snake like things turned towards me. But I didn't care about that. Rather, the closer I got, the more I could vaguely feel that it had a strong aura. I could practically smell it.
Despite the pain coursing through my head, I licked my lips. It had been truly a long time since I got a chance to taste the blood of something strong. Pushing past the pain, I closed in on the monster, one step at a time.
But as obvious as it was that it wouldn't just let me lap up it's blood without resistance, the thought didn't even enter my mind. Or rather, I didn't have the leeway to let it enter my mind.
That didn't stop it from actually resisting though, and as it opened it's giant maw, something came out, some sort of green blob flew out of it's mouth and flew towards me. And just like how I didn't have the presence of mind to consider it resisting, I didn't have the leeway to consider doing something about that blob, and it splattered onto my unguarded face, knocking me to the ground.
The weird blob splashed all around, anything that didn't land on my my head continued to fly, redirected all around to my surroundings. While being knocked down wasn't really a big problem for me, something else was, and it took me a few seconds to realize what it was.
I screamed, my face was pure agony as everywhere the blob touched felt like it was on fire. I recognized the pain, because I had suffered it before. It was acid, and quite a powerful one at that. I could feel it burning it's way through the outer layer of my skin.
Fortunately my resistance against it was strong enough that despite it's power, it wasn't even close to being lethal. Unfortunately, due to being completely unguarded when it struck, I was suffering the full brunt of it's effects. The acid wasn't quickly removed, nor was it neutralized beyond the effects of my passive resistance. Worst of all, it had hit me in the face. As I instinctively tried to blink away the acid from my teary eyes, the layer of it on my eyelids was only transferred further to my eyes as they were eaten through, and quickly everything went dark, as I no longer had eyes to even see with.
The voice in my head had changed from confusion and panic to fear and pain, but those were things I was more used to dealing with. Fear of the unknown, fear of pain, fear of death, those all things I had long gotten used to dealing with. The same could be said about physical pain of most forms. My time in the dungeon had let me experience both, and I had long since learned to deal with it to a certain degree.
While internal pain in the form of a massive headache was new for me, now that I had time to deal with it, it became easier to move my body, and so while gritting my teeth hard enough that my jaw hurt, I got back up to my feet.
I couldn't see the monster in front of me as my eyes were nothing but a gooey mess, my passive detection skills still picked it up. Especially the [Mana Perception] allowed me to see it's distorted figure. The monster's aura was quite big, and comparing it to what it looked like, the aura extended quite a bit beyond it's body and was covered in innumerable wispy ends that flailed around like a candle flame in the wind.
Kicking off the ground, I lunged at the centre of one of the fat, rope-like bits that extended from some sort of central mass.
First I tried to fire off some ice lances, but between the pain and rampaging voice in my head, I couldn't concentrate well enough to manifest my magic into anything usable, so I immediately switched tactics. Instead of magic, I stretched out an arm to try swiping the creature with my claws. But against my expectations, my [Natural Weapons] skill wouldn't stay active, and the extended aura blades that made up the bulk of my claws when attacking would flicker, refusing to stay extended for more than a fraction of a second at a time.
Despite that, I swiped at the creature as I passed by it anyways. But unable to see it accurately, only the tip of my claws grazed it, and even then it kept flickering in and out of existence so my attack only made little pockmarks on it.
I tried to manoeuvre and turn around in the air, but [Float] wouldn't activate properly either, causing me to sail past the monster out of control. Unable to redirect my body for another pass, I readied myself to land and try something different. But things just wouldn't go as I wanted.
Only moments later, a dull thud hit the side of my body, launching me in a new direction. My body spun around, the only things I could see were the large multi-pronged monster's messy aura as well as tons of little lights all around, one of which was distinctly larger and brighter than the others. But at this distance and my inability to concentrate due to the pain I was still under, I couldn't determine what that brighter thing was.
My body crashed into something hard, breaking it up into many smaller fragments. It felt like rock, but I wasn't entirely sure because my eyes hadn't recovered from being a gooey mess yet.
I couldn't help but wonder if this was the world that Alicia had seen in her final moments? Nothing but black nothingness, and the occasional dull light. If it was, no wonder she was so fascinated by my appearance.
Shaking my head of the distracting thought, I pushed off of the rubble I was laying on and leaped at the monster once again, this time aiming directly for the middle of one of the snake bodies. Something whizzed by me as I few, but I ignored it and readied my next attack.
Rather than trying anything fancy, I simply slammed my body into it with as much force as I could, and wrapped my arms and legs around the tree trunk like body, my fingers almost all the way around, I activated my [Natural Weapons] to hold on desperately as I turned my head and bit into it and sucked for all my worth.
The monster flailed around and tried to knock me off with it's other snake heads, but I was stronger than it and couldn't be so easily dislodged. As I sucked, some of the pain subsided and my vision returned as my wounds healed up. Even the pain in my head grew a bit weaker, but it refused to go away.
The strange voice grew more and more confused though, with something more odd mixing into it's tone, but I ignored that as well and concentrated on devouring the delicious blood feast I had finally gotten.
This creature, whatever it was, was incredibly delicious. It was a bit like roast chicken and herbed potatoes covered in a well spiced gravy. The flavour was rich and deep. Even if I wasn't in such a desperate situation, it was a virtually irresistible flavour. Even if I hadn't been starved of good blood for the last year, it would've been hard to hold myself back and not sup on every last drop.
Something splattered on my back. It seeped through my robes and burned my skin, but as I continued to suck on the monster's blood, the wounds quickly healed as if they never existed. Several announcements rang in my head, but I ignored them and savoured the flavour instead.
The monster continued to flail around and splashed more and more acid onto me, but it soon weakened, making it easier and easier to hold on, and before long the long body fell to the ground with a heavy thud.
My stomach filled to capacity, I finally let go. Due to how the monster fell, I was partially pinned underneath, but it wasn't a problem at all and I managed to easily extract myself from under the creature.
The monster weakly tried to move its body away, but there was no way I'd let such a delicious meal get away. I quickly hopped to the end of the snake body to it's head and with a flick of my claws, I decapitated it instantly. With a bit of [Terranian Magic], I produced a massive stone jar and put the end of the monster's decapitated neck into it's mouth and started to force the blood from the rest of the creature's body out of the open wound by squeezing the rest of it's body using my telekinesis spell.
The process was slow going, and was quite frustrating as my impatience to get all the precious blood out and preserved was hampered in how half-baked this blood extraction technique was. The monster was still alive, so it even tried to pull the neck away from me, but there was no way such a monster couldn't pull me off of it at full strength, much less in it's weakened state, could resist me. Its struggles lessened, and eventually stopped entirely.
As the blood flow weakened, I lifted the entire body up with magic and let the last of it drip down before casually tossing the remains out of the way and carefully put the three quarters full giant jar into my bunny plush bag. If it wasn't such an amazing magic bag, there was no way its mouth would be able to stretch wide enough to fit such a large container.
As my excitement started to fade, I was forced to confront the burning sensation that still permeated most of my body.
I was covered in that monster's acid and it was still trying to eat through my skin. My recent feast had energized my body to the point that I was recovering from the wounds faster than I was taking damage, so the acid didn't hurt that much. That said, it was still disguising to have on my skin and clothes, so I quickly washed it away with liberal use of [Aqua Magic].
To my surprise, for an acid that did so much damage to my acid resistant skin, my robes and bag got away with relatively little harm. My bag especially was in excellent condition, though my robes definitely felt thinner than before. I was glad that I had layered it so much when I originally made it.
My inner clothes though didn't fare so well. While my panties were made of the same material as my robes and thus had survived, if a bit thinner than before, the rest of my clothes were complete goners. There were only small fragments of it left that were being washed away with the deluge of water I used to clean myself up with. As I always wore my robes, my lack of pants, while a bit embarrassing, wasn't much of an issue, my top and shoes were a real problem.
Especially the top. As not having my tube top meant that my boobs would bounce everywhere uncontrollably whenever I did anything. Contrary to that though, having my chest freed of it's constraints was a nice feeling. As much as I had gotten used to the tightness around my chest over the years, not having to suffer through that was a really nice thing. I just couldn't do anything without them trying to attack my face all the time.
There wasn't much I could do about my shoes, but at least my high level meant that walking around on bare rocks wasn't painful, even if it was pretty uncomfortable.
Now that everything was done, I was feeling better, so I fell back onto my butt as I looked up. The sky had already turned blue.
(The others are going to be wondering what happened to me huh?)
I needed to come up with some sort of excuse.