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A note from InadvisablyCompelled

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It was difficult to believe that she was helping the infamous “Slicer Joe” Calloway, who was well on his way to becoming a fourth-tier blademaster. Not because she was far less experienced than him at combat, though that was quite true, but because she was helping him knead dough. It was, as these things often were, Keri’s fault, though even she wasn’t sure whether it was a good or a bad thing.

“Gently, gently,” he told her, hands coated in flour. “You have to be firm, but not rough. It gets harder as you level up, the finesse.”

She was almost certain Calloway wasn’t using any Skills, but only almost. Maybe it was just long practice that made his fingers so clever. She shot Keri a glance, but the healer was deep in conversation about caster things with another member of Piping Hot Pies. Annit wasn’t entirely certain how she was the one who ended up making pie crusts, but Calloway at least seemed serious about how useful making dough was as an exercise.

“Now, when you cut fat in, it has to stay cold, so you have to be quick and you want to use the fewest number of movements,” he instructed her. Despite the enchanted equipment that he had for everything else, for this he used mundane, if finely-crafted, knives. He also had a small ball of butter that had been, until then, immersed in the chill waters of one of the streams in a waterproof bag. They must have brought it all the way from Wildwood.

She wasn’t entirely certain that the cutting-in practice applied to her, given her chosen weapon and Affinity, but he was so serious about it that she didn’t dare object. His level was also far above hers, so he probably had some idea of what he was talking about. She tried to follow his lead with her own dough until she spotted another member of Piping Hot Pies approaching with a basket full of those blue fruits that could occasionally be seen on the weird trees Blue had.

“Uh.” She interrupted Calloway’s monologue. “Did you ask Blue about using those?” If nothing else, she wanted to be clear of the blast radius if they hadn’t. It was hard to forget the image of thousands of ashed monsters and acres of charred forest. Though Shayma had been convincing enough that he didn’t mean them any harm, it was still a little overwhelming.

“They can use them, so long as they make a couple extra pies,” Shayma said, appearing from nowhere in particular. “He’s curious how the pies turn out actually. Not that he can eat, but even Ansae likes them raw so maybe they can be an export.”

“Ansae?” Not that she was familiar with everyone in their refuge, but the way Shayma pronounced the name made Annit think it was someone important.

“Oh, um. Another guest of Blue’s. You might meet her later! Or not. Anyway, when you’re done there I’ll show you and Keri to the new place Blue made for you!” It was clear Shayma was trying to change the subject, and Annit let her.

“Now is fine.” She was still a little uncertain about the dough training, and she’d had more than enough of it for now. Besides, Keri was starting to get a bit of a gleam in her eye so it was time to stop her before she put herself down for three days with mana exhaustion. Again.

Plus she was curious. A house was, in and of itself, a pretty significant gift. But apparently what Blue had in mind was their own chamber, something like what the town was in. Even if it was smaller, it seemed all out of proportion for just the two of them. Then again, Shayma apparently had her own place. There didn’t seem to be any sort of reasonable limit to Blue’s interior, so maybe however many acres of space was no trouble at all.

“Great!” Shayma was as cheerful as usual. It was no wonder she and Keri got along so well.

“Thank you for the training,” she told Calloway politely, and the huge man nodded at her, continuing his focus on the pie crust. It was still a bit weird that the group was actually serious about their name. She then more or less physically hauled Keri away from the heat mage, Maiyim something-or-other, following Shayma to the teleportation area. It was definitely an area now, a large circle outlined with bricks, with the smaller circles leading to the outside, to the farming habitats, and now to somewhere else.

They followed Shayma onto the platform and the world shifted. In an eyeblink, they were surrounded by walls rather than street, in a large vestibule room. There was an absolutely sinful amount of glass, providing a view out onto a garden and letting light in from a faux sky and, to the right, showing a large room full of beds. “It’s also a hospital!” The fox-girl told them. “It’s not large, but Blue figured Keri ought to have a proper place to treat people. Plus there’s plenty of trees and such for you, Annit. Your actual home is through that door.” She pointed to the end of the vestibule, where there was no glass, only a reassuringly ordinary door.

“Oh, this is amazing!” Keri said. “Though, I can’t exactly run a hospital by myself? I’m just one person! Er, and maybe it could use a sign for the door?”

Shayma stood, head cocked and ears twitching for a moment. “Well, we don’t have any patients at the moment, thanks to your work earlier. Blue says it’s just planning for the future, and since it’s your hospital, he figures you should decide the signage yourself. Oh, here, his first keys!” Shayma produced a pair of iron keys - no, they were steel - and handed one to each of them. Like usual, they appeared from nowhere, reminding her yet again how ridiculous Shayma was. “Not that he’d let anyone sneak in or take your stuff, but he figures you might like it anyway.”

“We appreciate that.” Annit took her key, stepping forward to unlock the door and open it. The door opened up into what seemed to be a dining room, with even more glass at the far end looking out over a forest with wind-affinity trees clearly visible. Even more doors showed that there were additional rooms, and if the furniture in the dining room was anything to go by, it was just as high-quality as what was in Iniri’s manor.

Apparently they were nobility now.

On the table in the dining room was a blowgun. A brand new one, that looked to be made of steel set with gems. No, that was wrong - the gems seemed to be visible through openings in the steel. Annit crossed the distance in a moment, reaching out to pick it up and examine it closer. She knew this had to be the weapon Blue had promised her.

It awakened. That was the only word that came to mind, because while there was power it wasn’t like she had suddenly become powerful, and while she suddenly felt her skills were more responsive, it wasn’t as though they had gotten any easier. It was, rather, as if it had suddenly made her more. More able, more insightful. If this is what Keri had felt, no wonder she had been able to evolve her Class. For the first time, Annit felt that making it to a third-tier class was actually achievable.

“Oooh, is that Primal Source?” Keri crowded in, peering at the gem, which had suddenly changed color to a deep green, flecks of blue-grey swirling within like motes dancing on the wind.

“Yes.” Shayma said, ears twitching. “Blue says he made it with your Skills in mind.”

“It’s...fantastic.” Annit spun it in her fingers for a moment, holding it like a baton and invoking [Wind Blade]. The Source gem inside it took the Skill without a whisper of complaint, barely-visible distortions extending from the end. [Wind Blade] was something she didn’t really use often because of how tough it was to apply to ordinary wood or metal, never mind the fact that it didn’t have much cutting power at her Skill level. But this felt like it did.

“There’s a place out back for sparring!” Shayma added. “Or for patients who want to sit outside. We won’t be able to make it back to Wildwood until much later, so we’ll have to practice here. I need to get used to suddenly leveling up so much anyway.”

Annit’s fingers itched to test out the blowgun. “Do you mind if I see how well this thing works?”

“I wanna see too!” Keri cheered. “Let’s go outside!”

They proceeded through the sliding glass door at the far end of the room, which had Annit marveling at the absurdity of it. If it weren’t for the fact that this was Blue, a door made entirely of glass would be poorly conceived, at best. Even nobles didn’t do things like that. She didn’t think, anyway.

She pulled a dart from her bandolier, noting that this new blowgun was precisely the same as the old one, so far as the inner tube was concerned, so her darts fit perfectly. Normally her wind Affinity rose about her as she breathed in, but with the Source weapon it stayed confined to her lungs, and [Gust Shot] hummed through her.

The dart smashed straight through three trees before embedding itself in a fourth.

“Oh.”

She wasn’t sure if it was she or Keri that said that, or maybe both. She was too busy gaping at her sudden ability to fell timber with just her standard attack.

“Good! Blue says he’s glad it works so well. Especially since he probably can’t do any more alterations on it now.” Shayma was the only one who wasn’t shocked.

Not only was it the best weapon she’d ever touched, it was one that instantly catapulted her up to the higher levels of second-tier power. Now she understood why Keri was so effusive about her own, and she also understood that the weapon was something that she in no way could actually pay off anytime soon. The free house and environs they could just walk away from, but this…

It seemed that there was no getting away from Blue now. But under the circumstances, maybe that wasn’t so bad a thing.

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A note from InadvisablyCompelled

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InadvisablyCompelled

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