Editor(s): Speedphoenix, Joker
The first thing we did upon returning was announce our presence; each of us said something equivalent to “we’re home” in our own respective ways. We were noticed immediately by Shii, who greeted us with an energetic “welcome home!” The slime hadn’t even stopped to finish hanging the shirt that she was holding onto before pitter pattering her way over. This prompted Lyuu, who she’d been helping with the laundry, to catch on to our return.
“Welcome home, everyone. I’m real glad to see you’re all back safe ‘n sound!” Unlike the overexcited slime, she had raised her voice in favour of excitedly dropping what she was doing.
The next greeting came from the spook sisters, as all three also happened to be in the living room. Huh… that’s weird.
Generally speaking, the vampire was always the first to greet us when we returned. It was a bit odd that she was missing altogether, as she liked playing with others more than she did herself, and all her friends were present and accounted for. Normally, she’d be tackling me right about now.
“Illuna fell into the river…” The question caused Shii to raise her “eyebrows” and frown to express her concern.
Guessing she probably means the river I made in the field?
“Did she incur any injuries?” asked Lefi.
“Illuna was a bit scratched up, but all that was fixed ‘cause Shii used her magic and did some healin’,” explained Lyuu. “But fallin’ in ‘n gettin’ soaked made her sick. I think she’s sleepin’ right now. We had her moved to the inn since it gets noisy when we’re workin’, and she needs her rest.”
In other words, Illuna had come down with a cold.
“Can’t we just give her a potion or something and call it a day?”
The question was addressed to Leila. She and I were working together in order to make Illuna a nourishing, restorative meal.
“Potions should only be used on serious illnesses.” Unsurprisingly, the answer came alongside a shake of the head. “Studies show that using potions for minor ailments weakens the body in the long term and leads to a dependence on them. As Illuna has only come down with a light cold, I believe it would be best for her if we let her fight it off on her own.”
I wasn’t all that well versed in immunology myself, but I more or less understood the principle that she was referring to. Using potions most likely prevented the immune system from learning to deal with whatever threat it was that had caused the individual to get sick to begin with.
“I see…” I nodded after internalizing the explanation. “So when’d she catch it again? Yesterday?”
“I believe her symptoms began two nights ago. Yesterday was when we realized that she had caught a cold.” Leila ladled some rice-based gruel into a bowl. “The porridge is ready, My Lord. Could you please bring it over to her once you’re done?”
“Sure.” After taking a second glance at the stuff, I realized that it was much more complex than I’d initially suspected. It featured eggs, green onions, and even miniature meatballs. “Wow, that looks good… Having you here has seriously been a life changer. I almost can’t believe how you make even the simplest dishes super tasty.”
“I do try my best, My Lord. Seeing everyone enjoy my cooking is incredibly motivating.” She smiled, softly. “Speaking of which, there’s something that I’ve been meaning to ask. What exactly are you making? I had thought that it was some sort of juice, at first, but that no longer seems to be an accurate description.”
“It’s an energy drink,” I said. “It’s pretty good for people with colds and whatnot.”
I’d whipped together a simple, homemade version of the sort of drink whose commercials would feature famous athletes sweating blue and red droplets, the main ingredients of which were lemon juice, salt, and sugar. I’d warmed the whole mixture up and put in a thermos in order to ensure that it retained its temperature.
“That is… interesting. Would you mind providing me with a more detailed explanation, My Lord?”
“Sure, but not right now. Remind me later.”
After taking a moment to chuckle at Leila’s ever persistent curious streak, I tucked the thermos under my arm, put the bowl the maid had prepared on a tray, and headed over to the resident bedridden vampire.
As walking all the way from the kitchen, which was attached to the true throne room, to the inn was a bit of a pain, I opted to do things the simple way and messed with the true throne room’s door. A few twists of the knob was all I needed to redirect it to the inn.
I stepped into the hallway, navigated to her temporary room, and pushed open the sliding door. She was sound asleep in a Japanese-style futon with Lefi, who had gone on ahead to check up on her, by her side.
“How is she?” I whispered.
“Sound asleep,” replied Lefi, equally quietly.
I set down both the thermos and the tray on the bamboo-sheet covered floor, and pressed my hand against the young vampire’s forehead. Hmmm… it’s warmer than it should be, but it doesn’t seem to be anything serious. Like Leila said, there shouldn’t really be any issues just letting her fight it off. I bet she’ll be fine in a few days at most, even without any real treatment.
“…Is a cold truly something so miserable?” asked Lefi. “I have not ever caught one myself.”
“Kinda. The symptoms are varied, but generally speaking, your throat might hurt a bit, your nose might drip, you might find it hard to breathe, you might get a headache, or feel too warm or too cold. The worst part is that you might not be able to fall asleep, even though you feel really sluggish, but that’s pretty much it. It’s not that bad, all things considered.”
“H-How awful. Should you not administer her a potion?”
“Nah, not this time anyway. She’s only got a bit of a light fever, so I figure she’s probably not doing too terribly.”
“T-then I suppose I need not be so worried.”
She breathed a sigh of relief, to which I responded with a gentle smile.
“Leila should be doing the finishing touches on lunch right about now. Feel free to head back to the castle and start without me. I’ll pop in once I finish checking up on and feeding her.”
“Very well. I shall reserve a portion for you such that you may warm up it and enjoy it once you have finished. Do not concern yourself with the need to secure any well-desired dishes. You may focus your attention on the necessary treatment.”
“Thanks. Will do.”
After watching Lefi’s back until she vanished from sight, I redoubled my focus on the vampire. I lightly placed my hands on her shoulders and gave her a series of gentle shakes.
“Illuna, wake up. It’s time for lunch.”
“Nnnmmnnn…” Her eyes slowly blinked open. “Huh…? Yuki…? What are you doing here…? I must… be dreaming…”
She had yet to fully awaken, so her words were quiet and disjointed.
“Not this time,” I chuckled. “I just got home. Heard you fell in a river and caught a cold.”
“Yup… I was looking for pretty rocks, but then I tripped.” She rubbed her eyes and fully woke herself up.
“I don’t mind you girls playing near the river given that it’s not very deep, or fast enough to wash you away, but you really should be more careful. You probably wouldn’t have gotten away with just a few scratches and a cold if you hit your head when you fell.”
“I’m sorry. I’ll be more careful next time.”
“Good girl.” I ruffled her hair. “Alright, that’s enough scolding. How do you feel about having lunch?”
“Can you feed me? I think it’d make it taste better.” She was acting a bit more spoiled than usual.
“Guess I don’t have any other choice then.”
I gave her a reassuring smile as I grabbed the bowl, lifted a spoonful of porridge, and blew it a few times to make sure it was cool enough to eat.
“Thanks!” She showed me a big smile as she gulped it down, before looking up at me and giggling.
“Hm? What’s up?”
“I’m just really happy that everyone’s worried about me.”
“What else did you expect? We are family, after all.”
“I know, but I’m still really happy. Shii healed me lots, and the sisters kept stopping by to make sure I wouldn’t get bored, since they knew they couldn’t catch my cold.”
“I guess they really can’t, huh?”
Seeing as how they don’t exactly have bodies to catch them with. …Wait, is it just me, or does this basically confirm that Illuna can communicate with them? Even I can only kinda understand them, because of that whole thing that the dungeon has that lets us more or less interpret each other’s intentions. How the hell does she do it…?
“Leila and Lyuu were really worked up too. Leila made me all sorts of sick people food, and spent a lot of time wiping me down and stuff. Lyuu worked really hard to do all the chores so that Leila could spend more time taking care of me.” She squeezed her blanket with both hands. “I’m really happy and thankful that everyone’s doing so much for me.”
“Well, in that case, you’ve gotta get better as fast as you can so you can pay them back.”
“Yup! I’ll do my best to help out as soon as I’m better!” She smiled, then locked her eyes with mine. “Thanks Yuki. All this is thanks to you.”
“Me?” I cocked a brow.
“Mhm. It’s because you care about everyone and work hard to make everyday as fun as you can. That’s why we all like it here so much, and try our best to make everyone else happy.”
For a moment, I was stunned. Her words had a heavy emotional impact; I felt incredibly proud to be her guardian and father-figure. But as I had no intention of letting said sentiment show, I decided to casually sweep it under the rug with a pat on the head.
Through my hands, I felt her warmth, the warmth of the young life that had entrusted itself to my care. And again, I swore. I swore that I would continue to do everything I could to raise her in her parents’ place. I wasn’t a good role model, I’d never raised a kid before, nor did I have many opportunities to consult someone who had. But I was going to continue manning up and doing as any responsible adult would. At least in front of her. With that said, it wasn’t as if I was simply going to bash my face against the wall and solve any problems I encountered through brute force trial and error. I had every intention of asking Lefi and the others for advice if I needed it. But… is that really good enough? It’s hard to say. I’m still not too sure if I could, one day, bring myself to face her parents with my head held high and tell them that I was able to carry on their will.
“Is something the matter, Yuki?” she asked.
“Nah, don’t worry. It’s nothing.”
I realized that I’d stopped feeding her. Thankfully, she was still a bit out of it, else she likely would’ve caught on. She’s really sharp, after all…
“Alright, let’s get this bowl of porridge eaten so you can get back to bed.” I tried my best to speak with a bright, composed tone. “You can’t play if you’re sick, after all.”
“Okay! I’ll get better as soon as I can so I can play lots!”
The smile she gave me was brilliant, reassuring even, as it contained not a single trace of doubt or fear.