“Who are you?” The mother who had previously been consoling her daughter had finally noticed me.
I opened my mouth to speak, but the little girl spoke up first. “He’s a friend of mine! He’s staying over to eat!”
“Aya, this is…” The mother shook her head.
“He’s a guest! We welcome guests!” The girl glared at her mother defiantly.
She looked up at me, a slightly helpless expression on her face. “I’m sorry, but the master and mistress are out today. It is normally our policy to offer food and shelter to travelers, but…”
As she spoke, the girl’s expression started to lose all hope, as if after her brother left her, this was the last piece of happiness she could cling to. The old maid was merely watching me as if seeing what I would do.
Feeling just a bit like I couldn’t leave things alone, I sighed and pulled a backpack out of my Inventory. To those watching, it was just like it appeared from behind me. They blinked like they hadn’t noticed I had been wearing a backpack before, but they’d assume they must have missed it rather than that I had some kind of spell. Only Heroes and Blue Mages had such an ability, and those were rare.
As I reached into the backpack, I pulled out some food. Even though I could toss just about anything into my Inventory, I liked to keep things in backpacks when I brought them out. There might be situations where handing someone a weeks-worth of food would be useful.
Plus, the Inventory wasn’t indexed like in a video game. It was hard to describe, but peering into it was like looking down into a storage shed. Unless I knew what I was looking for, it all sort of just looked like a pile of mess. That made it difficult to cook when I didn’t know what ingredients I had.
Cooking was what I had in mind as I gave the group a friendly smile. “How about I provide for you?”
Without entering their house, I found a spot that appeared to be where they set fires outdoors, as well as a stack of wood nearby. I tossed a few logs in the pit, and then waved my hand, causing the logs to ignite. My Fire Control was at a stage now that I could just ignite things. There was a time when the best I could hope for was a spark unless a fire already existed. This was the essence of becoming a mage.
As the fire started, the girl’s eyes opened wide in excitement, while the mother still watched from a distance hesitantly. It took to the point I had food cooking above it and smells carried out that they started to relax. The old woman snorted and walked over first.
“I suppose I am a little hungry.” She mumbled to herself as she sat down in a chair set up around the fire.
“I’m hungry!” The girl broke away from her mother’s grip and also ran over.
The mother had reached out her hand, but looking uncertain for a few more seconds, she finally sighed and joined the rest around the fire as I cooked a meal for them.
Although my hero stats had boosted my charm by several times, I would never call myself the most sociable person. If anything, as I grew stronger, my intimidation level seemed to grow at roughly the same level as my charm. A tall muscular man with the scent of blood and the knowledge to kill monsters on him would feel slightly frightening, so even if I had charm, I wouldn’t say it helped much these days. Maybe it helped followers be willing to listen to me, but I had long gotten over such worrying thoughts as that the women in my life only loved me because of some random status.
On the other hand, cooking was the one skill I had that seemed to bring people to me. I might be overusing it at this point, but I enjoyed seeing people enjoy the food I made. Maybe that was why I liked Eliana so much since she was a major foodie who would always make cute noises when she ate something particularly tasty.
The little girl was similar, it seemed. Well, she wasn’t as bad as Eliana, but she seemed to be excited by what I was cooking as well. She leaned near as her mother tried to stop her. She took a big sniff of the pot.
“Mmm! That smells good. The food we have at the mansion is rather plain. Once in a while, we have some berries which is a sweet dessert, but it’s usually just dried meat and porridge.”
“I’m the one who cooks it.” The old lady sighed helplessly.
“Fifi! Get back in your seat.”
“Your name is Fifi?” I asked, looking down at the girl.
“Only mom calls me that…” she blushed.
Was Elaya not her original name? I supposed that it made sense that Elaya was her stage or working name. After all, my real name was Deacon, but I used Deek in this world. That’s not saying that Elaya came from another world, but she may have changed her name when she became the Maid Hero, right?
I scooped out a bowl of food for each of the girls, and also one for myself. These were technically not real people. I didn’t know what they were. Were they just dungeon monsters given a different karmic purpose, like the skeletons from the Twilight Dungeon who acted like humans? Well, even if they were monsters, that didn’t mean they weren’t real. At least, that’s what I thought.
Fifi grew more animated after eating a bit, excitedly talking to me about food. She kept asking about various spices. Half of the stuff I used didn’t come from this world, so I was only able to help so far.
“It would be great if I could be a cook.” She sighed happily. “Then brother would…”
Her words stopped, and her expression darkened. She wanted to cook so that her brother would come back. I opened my mouth, and then I closed it. I just couldn’t bring myself to ask the questions I wanted to know.
The mother gasped, touching her neck. A trace of magic showed an outline around her neck. I hadn’t noticed it before, and I hadn’t even really been looking at it. It was only because I had grown able to see individual strands of mana that I was able to notice it. I immediately became aware of what it was. It was a slave seal. She wasn’t just a servant. The mother was a slave. Although her slave mark was hidden, I could see the restrictive mana directly now.
I checked Fifi out carefully, but I didn’t see a familiar line around her neck. So, the daughter wasn’t a slave. I supposed the brother couldn’t have left if he was a slave as well.
“The master and mistress are returning, we need to go.” The mother declared in panic.
“Um, perhaps I should…” I stood up, trying to ease her.
Maybe, if I talked to them, I could help.
“It’s best if you go.” The old woman suddenly started shoving me along.
“W-wait!” Fifi began to panic as she saw me being pushed away.
“H-hey…” I frowned at the old maid. “What’s the big idea?”
The mother had grabbed a bucket of water and tossed it on the fire, causing it to go out with a sizzle. She then grabbed her daughter’s hand, pulling her in the opposite direction that the old maid was pushing me. Fifi reached out for me, letting out a cry, but her mother kept pulling her away. I turned around, glaring at the old lady. I didn’t want to hurt her, but if she kept pushing me, I wouldn’t be polite.
“What’s the big idea?” I demanded.
“You have more to see.” She shoved me surprisingly hard, and I found myself stumbling back through the foliage into the forest.
This was an area that should have been a wall, but I went right through it. With a cry, I tried to step forward and slammed right into an impassable barrier of foliage. Just as I was about to hit it, I heard a scream behind me.
I spun around to see a small house. It was night now, and an ominous glow was coming from the crack in the door. I was already in the next part of the story. How long had it been this time?
“Please, stop! You don’t have to do this!” I heard a shout from within the house.
I ran forward, reaching an open window first that allowed me to look inside. What I saw left me immediately stunned. It was the mother, her daughter, and the brother like before. They all looked a bit older now. The daughter was perhaps sixteen or seventeen. The mother had started to show her age a bit too. The brother was now a bit older than me.
The person who cried out was the daughter. She was being pinned to the bed, partially stripped. Her brother was on top of her, and it was clear what he was about to do with her. What was even more shocking was the mother. She was watching this unfold, but she seemed to be encouraging it.
“This is the only way. This is your purpose. You have to do this.” Her mother declared, edging them on.
I then looked at the brother, and I realized there was a line of mana around his neck. He must have been marked with a slave mark too. Tears were falling down his cheeks, and he had a nearly vacant expression like he was being forced to do this. That was when I saw an arrogant man step out from the shadows.
He had some kind of whip-like weapon in his hand and was holding it threateningly toward the brother.
“Do it! This is what you’re here to do! You foolish boy. You thought you could run from me.”
“Stop… he doesn’t love me, stop making him do this.”
Her brother stopped a moment just as he was pushing down on her. “S-sister… I do love you. That’s why… I can’t do this.”
“When the time comes, and you find the man you love, give him your all!”
The noble seemed to take that as his cue and he lifted up his whip to strike the man. I grabbed the door and pulled, only to find that it didn’t budge. Cursing, I kicked the door with all of my might, but I might as well have been kicking a rock wall. I had to be. I grabbed a rock and smashed it into the window, and it bounced off without making a dent.
“You won’t be interacting with this one.” A voice came from next to me.
I spun to see the old lady standing there.
“Why are you showing me this?” I demanded.
“You can’t change the past, Master, no matter how much you want to. Ah! I mean, Deek.”
I glared at the old lady who looked flustered. “Elaya?”
“Tcht!” She made an irritated expression as her body changed back into her beautiful and youthful form. “I did have you tricked for a while, didn’t I?”
As we were speaking, I could hear shouts and the sound of fighting inside, but I couldn’t do anything about it. It felt cruel.
“What game are you playing?” I demanded.
“Not a game… just the truth… Look, it’s already over.”
I looked through the glass. The mother was crying on the floor, holding her son. He was convulsing. The noble was on the ground dead. He had managed to kill his own Master. The backlash of the slave mark must have been unbelievable. The girl was trembling in her bed, hiding under the covers.
“Is this your history?” I asked.
“I wonder,” Elaya responded, but when I turned to look at her, she was already gone.