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A note from InadvisablyCompelled

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Thank for the recommendations!

After spending several weeks inside the dungeon, Taelah thought she was pretty well over being impressed with Blue. She’d even been looking forward to having Shayma’s ear, once word had come down that Blue wanted to talk to her, but she’d just been envisioning a regular chat. It wasn’t like the girl didn’t wander around and talk with people in the normal manner, after all. Being summoned to an audience chamber was a little bit different.

Not that she minded, after the first overwhelming moment of light and color. The audience chamber was amazing, with all kinds of those flowers that only Blue had, not to mention the water and lava flowing everywhere. It wasn’t anything like the farming chambers. This was a naked display of dungeon power, from the barely-supported floor to the liquid rock glowing above and below. She could almost see the mana flowing through the room, from one bloom to another, and after a blink she realized this would be a fantastic place to learn the [Mana Sight] Skill, for those who didn’t have their Class give it to them. Like her.

That said, there was a distinct sort of pressure as she walked through the astoundingly large chamber, while having to refrain from using [Plant Identification] on everything because otherwise she wouldn’t get to the dais until sometime next week. With each step it seemed to be a little more difficult to breathe, but strangely, more difficult to think of going back. Something urged her forward, past the trees and grass and waterfalls and lavafalls, up the steps to the platform that was raised in front of the massive glowing crystal.

In that light Shayma looked rather more ethereal than she did when Taelah spotted her out and about Refuge on occasion. It was a forcible reminder that despite how she acted much of the time, Shayma was still backed by a Power and spoke for a thing that could destroy armies and build cities. For a moment Taelah regretted wanting the attention of such a thing, now that the full truth of it was in front of her.

Then she stomped firmly on her sense of awe. So far she’d done just fine, better than fine really, by keeping the same firm reign she did on any of her own people. After all, Blue had listened to her when she’d told him how to better structure the farms, with no particular signs of disgruntlement. So she didn’t kneel or bow, instead crossing her arms and looking up at Shayma with her eyebrows raised.

“Taelah Marn,” Shayma said, in her official capacity, solemn and somber. “Before you leave Blue’s influence, there is a minor debt you need to repay.”

“Oh? I thought that the farms were taken care of.” Actually she knew they were, after raising the ownership question with one of Iniri’s men.

“This is about a chrysthenium that you damaged and stole.”

Taelah stared, racking her brain for what Shayma could possibly mean before turning up the memory of her early exploration of Refuge. The dried flower was long gone, after she’d spent some time dabbling with it using the few alchemy supplies she’d brought. It was well worth it too, since she could feel the Skill ranking up.

“All this over a single flower?”

“All this over a theft,” Shayma corrected. “Though it is a minor debt.”

It still seemed ridiculous to Taelah, but she was reminded of some of the stories about Powers and gods and other things. Stories like people being enslaved forever because they ate a fruit, or turned into beasts because they used the wrong name. She’d never put much stock in those – stories were just stories, after all – but maybe she should take them a bit more seriously when dealing with Blue.

“Oh. Then what does he want?”

“Your alchemy Skill. Since you’ve already experimented with Blue’s flowers, he wants you to make some items for myself and my companions.” She smiled, dropping some of the imposing attitude. “He doesn’t actually know much about what alchemy can do, especially given his ingredients, so between you and me he’s not looking for a specific thing, just whatever you can do that’s useful.”

“That’s...reasonable,” Taelah said cautiously. It was more than that, even, since it would give her experience with alchemy and the chance to interact with more of Blue’s flora. Surely there were more experienced alchemists that he could get, but she wasn’t going to complain. The problem was that it seemed too good to be true, which always meant it was. Like their fantastic farms being prone to melting and complete darkness. “How much alchemy work?”

“However much you can get done between now and when I leave. A few days yet, at least.”

That wasn’t too bad, but it’d mean someone else would have to take up the burden of getting Anton’s Village ready to leave. They wouldn’t have much time after the last harvest according to Queen Iniri, who was doing her best to hurry everyone out now that there was actually safe territory. Of course, Anton Village’s own land was still much further south, far enough away from Meil that it couldn’t be considered safe, so it wasn’t like they’d be able to go back to land they liked.

Then again, maybe they wouldn’t have to go.

“That’s great, I can do that.” She agreed. “While I’m here I want to bring up something though.” Shayma cocked her head, ears flicking this way and that.

“Ah, you want to know about staying here instead?”

“...yes.”

“Blue is amenable to that, but it does not come for free.” Shayma’s words came with a weight to them, as if each syllable had a physical presence. “You would no longer be Iniri’s subjects. If you want to stay on Blue’s territory and take advantage of the resources he has, you would become entirely Blue’s. His authority would be absolute.”

“Well...it’s good land, but I don’t think anyone’s interested in becoming a slave.” Taelah was disappointed. There was plenty to like about the land Blue had made for them, but some prices were just too high.

“Oh, he’s not interested in enslaving you, or even ruling you. It’s just that if you’re going to stay you’ll be under his protection and privy to his secrets. He is the ground beneath your feet and the air you breathe. You will have to acknowledge how profound that authority is.”

“I see, I think. Maybe if he explained the details we could come to some agreement—” She stopped as Shayma held out a hand, ears flicking again.

“Blue will not be bound by contracts or intricate agreements. Either you trust him to act reasonably and honorably, or you do not.”

“Hmm.” That was a little strange. Tarnil had announcements and pledges and guarantees whenever commoners came under the rule of a new noble, though at this point she barely remembered who Anton Village was supposed to tithe to. Some Count or another. Though Blue was clearly not nobility, and the way Shayma talked even the advantages he supplied now didn’t really scratch the surface of what he could do.

“Do I have to answer now?”

“No,” Shayma said. “Though you don’t have much time, especially since you need to get to work on that alchemy. You’ll find the supplies in your house when you return.”

Taelah frowned, but didn’t say anything. Combined with Blue’s requirement for staying, it was clear he was making a point about his power...or something. It seemed a little late after they’d already been staying there, but it had been under some arrangement set up by the Queen, and it had been a temporary one. It made some sense that a more permanent agreement would require a larger payment.

Of course it didn’t seem like everyone was under Blue’s thumb like that. There was Shayma, and the two girls she ran around with both seemed to have more latitude than Blue was proposing for Anton’s Village. Or at least more consideration.

“So what would it take to be like you?”

“I beg your pardon?” Shayma blinked at her, confused.

“I mean, to get into the inner circle. Instead of being...owned or whatever.”

“Oh! You mean to become a Companion.” Shayma smiled. “That’s actually more like being owned, really, but... ” She trailed off for a moment. “...well, you wouldn’t become like me. I’m a little bit special. There are a lot of benefits, but Blue would have to consider it first. To actually become a Companion requires sex with Blue, and is an irrevocable commitment to become part of his affairs.”

“I see.” Taelah felt her cheeks heating. That was not the response she had been expecting, even slightly. It was also almost impossible to wrap her head around what exactly that meant, since Blue was a massive dungeon that was mostly landscape with scattered plants.

She was unattached, with no immediate prospects, so it wasn’t an entirely impossible ask. Yet, she wasn’t sure she was willing to take such a step. The marriage arranged for her had been rendered moot when her prospective fiance’s own village had been destroyed by either Vok Nal’s or Tor Kot’s minions. Or maybe marauding bandits, it was difficult to say. She regretted that; he had seemed like a nice lad, the sturdy and dependable sort, to judge from the one time she’d met him.

“I’ll…” She stopped and swallowed, trying to put off all the feelings that had suddenly twisted around in her gut. “I’ll have to think about that, too,” she continued, her words coming out very carefully, thrown off-balance as she was. “In the meantime, I’ll go see what I can do with my alchemy.”

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A note from InadvisablyCompelled

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