As soon as we enter Francis’s home, the sweet aroma of baked goods hits my nose. It is like the essence of a lovely scented candle that permeates every fabric in the room, but instead of lavender or spice, it is the smell of... cookies. I love cookies.
A round woman steps out of a kitchen and into the living room where Francis and I have entered. Her eyes light up the moment they see me.
“Oh, honey! You’re home!” she exclaims. “Did you have fun at the little get-together? I see you have a friend. Who’s this handsome fellow?”
“Mom... It wasn’t a ‘get-together,’ it was Comic Festivalia,” Francis whines. “I was there for work, I told you.” Then he takes a step back and presents me. “And this here is my friend Eryk. Eryk Solbourne.”
“Oh, nice to meet you, Eryk!” the woman, Francis’s mother, says. “You look really dashing in your little cartoon outfit.”
“No, this is not a ‘cartoon’ by any measure, whatever that is. This is the traditional battle uni—”
Francis begins shoving me away from his mother. “Anyway, we’ve got to get upstairs to unpack and all. Eryk’s going to stay here a couple days, if that’s alright.”
“Anything’s alright with us, you know that,” his mother says. “Have fun and stay safe.”
Stay safe? Is he leading me into danger? I only have 14,880 Life Points, I hope he knows. Just kidding, I’d kill to get in a fight with some monsters right about now. Fighting is amazing, and precisely the reason I chose the [Adventurer] class above all else.
We go upstairs and into Francis’s own bedroom.
“Welcome to my humble abode,” he says.
“By The Goddess’s name, this room is gigantic.” I gasp. I cannot help it.
“Well, it used to be two rooms, but we collapsed the wall to my little sister’s room after she moved out so I can use it as a recording studio. Do you see the cool setup I have over there?”
“I... cannot understand anything about what that is.”
“It’s where we make the Bac-Nation happen, baby!” Francis shouts. “Uh, sorry. I’ll explain it to you later. It’s probably a bit difficult to understand if you aren’t already into internet culture stuff.”
“One day I’ll figure out what sorts of magic and mayhem exists on Earth, and I shall stop being so confused all the time.”
“Well, for now, just set all your stuff down and I’ll go get the roll-out mat. You can sleep on my bed, since I’m sure you’ve had a way tougher couple days than me.”
“Yes, this time yesterday I was fighting a necromancer and his minions,” I say. “But I would prefer the roll-out mat, actually. I do not care for the softer aspects of bed sleeping. It has been a pervasive problem for me since childhood.”
“Uh, alright then, weirdo.”
“Do not be rude. My preference for sleeping on harder surfaces is not one to make fun of.”
“Oh, sorry, I meant... Never mind.”
Francis leaves his bedroom and I am now alone in here to examine his wares. Despite the size, it is quite quaint. There is a bookshelf containing strange cases of items that certainly are not books, and several crafted figures stand atop it in decoration. He has a few art pieces up on the walls depicting illustrated young women with large busts, but most of the room is empty and dimly lit with mysterious magical ever-burning candles.
I find one lamp with one of these ever-burning candles and examine it closely. It radiates light, but at a very soft glow that helps little but set a calming mood. One could not read a book or make love in lighting this low. Perhaps if Francis has a girl of his fancy over to his room he should light a second candle. That is what Malia and I tended to do on our more special of nights.
It is quite curious how this object works, though. No flame, no wax... I touch it, and as I expect, it burns me—
—but I feel its surface just long enough to discern... this ever-burning candle is made of glass. What a peculiar discovery I have made.
The technology here on Earth never ceases to amaze me. Ever-burning candles, horseless carriages, moving, interactive paintings, machines that vend food and drink... I could live here forever.
And, in fact, my goal is to live here forever. I will become the hero Earth needs and achieve the status of its very first S-Rank Hero.
In fact, I’m already its first D-Rank Hero, if The Goddess’s word is to be believed. I would not exactly count that as an achievement, though...
You know, I haven’t checked my achievement scoreboard in a while. I wonder if I’ve claimed any new rewards that—
“I’m back,” Francis says. “Did you unpack yet?”
“I have nothing to unpack.”
“Oh, right. You have an inventory.”
“And not only an inventory,” I say, “but an empty slot on account of my sword being destroyed. I will forever be haunted by the image of that oversized car running it over.”
“I can’t believe that eighteen wheeler didn’t pop a tire from that,” Francis says. “We’ll have to find you a new sword before you can fight monsters and stuff, huh?”
“Perhaps. I am proficient in many weapons, although the sword is my best weapon by far.”
“I’ll put it down on my checklist.” He taps his phone. “’Get... sword, or another weapon.’ There. Maybe we can do that in a couple days.”
“First, though, let’s go down for supper! Mom’s got garlic bread in the oven and baked spaghetti cooling off on the table. It’s gonna be a delicious meal.”
“Then we can eat cookies as well,” I say. “I very much want cookies. They are restorative to my spirit.”
“Like, they refill your Life Points?”
“No, but they come very close to doing so.”
“Ah, I get you. They do the same thing to me!” He giggles and then sets the roll-out mat down. “Let’s go get dinner!”
We go back downstairs and enter the kitchen. Francis’s mother is still preparing the food and getting everything ready, but an older man, presumably his father, is sitting hunched over in a chair while reading a book.
The man sees us, gives me a look, and then returns to his book.
“Oh, Francis,” his father says, “you finally brought a boy home for dinner. I thought I’d never see the day.”
“Shut up, Dad.”
“Don’t speak to your father like that,” his mother says. “He’s just trying to be supportive.”
“But I’m not... Ugh, sometimes you two...”
“Hello, sir,” I say to Francis’s father. “I do not believe we have had the pleasure of meeting thus far. My name is Eryk Solbourne.” I bow deeply and with great respect.
He looks at me incredulously and says, “I take it back, Greta, he’s going to make this house a lot livelier.”
“My aim is to give your home the utmost care I can muster,” I say. “I do not know the customs of Earth quite as well as I would like, so if I make any breach of etiquette or taste, please do not hesitate to let me know.”
He sets his book down, facing its pages down and spine up, and stands from his chair. “You better be glad the Bacalls are the nicest family in town, because if we weren’t, you’d really be on your ass right now.” He walks past me and bumps against my shoulder.
Francis shakes his head and whispers to me, “Don’t worry about my dad. He’s just doing his alpha male thing because he’s overprotective.”
“Overprotective? Of you? Why on Mystix would he care about... hmmm.”
“It’s because my little sister, when she—ah, not worth going into that spiel. Just ignore my dad and you’ll be fine.”
“I will do whatever you ask of me, as you saved me, but I do not think ignoring anyone will help matters.”
“I don’t mean literally ignore him, just—Oh, whatever. Let’s eat supper as one big happy family. And also you.”
“Yeah, we always eat family dinner,” his mother says. “It helps Francis get off his little computer with all his funny friends.”
“Mom, it’s a real job... I make so much money from this thing and you just...” Francis cuts himself off and sighs.
The four of us soon eat our evening meal together, sharing mild conversation and getting to know one another better. I find that Francis’s parents are quite interesting individuals with their own hopes and dreams and interests and hidden fears. They are quite the unique couple, too, given their very memorable story about how they began their romantic relationship.
However, the highlight of the evening is the baked spaghetti. It is the most delicious thing I have ever eaten, and I’ve eaten combos.
And eating delicious food counts as exploring, which is perfectly acceptable in my book.