“Mr. Thorn! I’m glad I ran into you.” The Head of the Dungeon Makers Department, Mr. Jones, stood in front of me. I held back a sigh. “Hello Mr. Jones. It’s good to see you. Unfortunately, I have something I need to do, so if you’ll just excu--”, but he cut me off before I could finish.
“It’ll just take a moment Mr. Thorn. Now, as a graduate of my department, your success matters to me on a personal level. I know you have been reluctant to accept an internship, but I really think you need to reconsider. I have already reached out to a contact of mine who works in the Public Dungeons Department, and he said they would have room for you. I strongly sugget you take this opportunity to reconsider your decision. It’s just not possible to do this on your own.” He took a breath to continue, but I hurriedly spoke up. “Actually Mr. Jones, I already have a contract. I went to the public dungeon and took a private contract to create a dungeon. They’ll be providing the initial dungeon making materials as well, so there’s no problem. Thanks for your concern, but I really must be on my way.”
Mr. Jones looked genuinely shocked when I started, but by the time I said the last sentence his eyes looked at me with suspicion and he didn’t move out of my way. “Now, now Mr. Thorn. There’s no need to lie to me. I know you feel like I’m pestering you, but I really do want the best for you, and pretending you have a contract to get out of taking responsibility for your future development won’t work.”
I shook my head growing frustrated. Was it really so ridiculous that a Dungeon Maker could find work without joining an existing organization? “I’m not lying. If you don’t believe me then take a look.” I pulled up the contract on my status screen and set my viewing mode from private to public. Then I turned it so he could see.
Still doubtful, Mr. Jones began to read it. His expression quickly turned to one of surprise, and I felt a brief sense of satisfaction at that. But before I could enjoy it a strange look came over his face and he looked up from the contract. “Mr. Thorn, did you read this before you signed it?”
“Yes? It was pretty straightforward.” I was confused by his reaction. “Why?”
Mr. Jones sighed. “Well, I see you agreed to be paid out of the profit of the business. Furthermore you assumed the cost of repairing the dungeon.”
He paused to see if I followed him so far and I nodded. “That’s right.”
“Well, ignoring the fact that you’re assuming the costs of the business by not getting money from the gross earnings, there’s another more important problem. What if the company’s profit margins are slim. They earn enough to cover their costs and a bit extra. Then you’ll get 20% of that small amount.”
I nodded slowly. I hadn’t thought of the fact that accepting a percent of the profit rather than the earnings would reduce what I earned. Did they think of that when they proposed it?
“Well, if it’s just that, then it’s okay. Worst case I won’t earn much of anything, but at least I’ll be a level 2 Dungeon Maker.” I explained my reasoning to Mr. Jones, but even as I spoke he was shaking his head.
“You’re missing the key point, Mr. Thorn. If you don’t earn anything from the company, how are you going to be able to afford to renew the dungeon?”
It felt like a bolt of lightning striking me from a clear sky. The realization of how bad a contract this was hit me. I felt numb, as I realized how risky this contract was for me. More than that, I almost certainly would lose money on this contract.
Mr. Jones patted my shoulder sympathetically as my expression changed. “Well, it’s okay Mr. Thorn. You made a mistake, but you’re still young and you can still recover. I’m willing to bet that if I reach out to my contact with the Public Dungeons Department and point out how much theoretical knowledge you have, not to mention the fact that you’ll be coming in as a level 2 Dungeon Maker, they’ll be willing to give you an advance on your eventual salary so you can afford the upkeep. It’s a harsh lesson, but it’s not the end of the world.”
He continued to try to comfort me, but I just couldn’t absorb what he was saying. The contract seemed so straight forward. It shouldn’t have ended up like this. I shook my head. “Sorry, Mr. Jones, but I need some time to absorb all of this. I just...I need some time.” He nodded sympathetically and stood out of my way. “Well, just come look for me when you’ve had time to understand the situation. You know where my office is. Don’t take too long, though. I can’t guarantee how long my contact will be able to keep a position open for you.”
I nodded my head, barely hearing him, as I walked out of the library. I don’t really remember walking back to the dorm, but next thing I knew I was in front of my door. I scanned myself in and quickly opened the door. I staggered over to the kitchen table and slumped into a chair.
It was over. All my struggle, all my plans, ended because of a lack of business knowledge of all things. I let out a frustrated cry, sweeping my arm across the table in front of me and scattering my sparse belongings on it across the floor. Glass shattered, silverware clattered, and books thumped to the floor. I put my head in my hands and took a shaking breath.
All of it had been for nothing. Not only would I have to accept an internship contract, I’d probably be disadvantaged even further because they would be able to leverage the advance on my salary that I would need in order to pay for the dungeon maintenance into a longer and likely lower paying contract.
It felt like the walls were closing in around me and I had to struggle to draw a deep breath. I took a few minutes, trying to just calm my breathing. When I finally settled down I just let out a sigh. It had been a gamble. I knew that going into it. I just thought the gamble was whether I would find work at all. I never thought the risk was accepting a bad deal.
I tried to put things in perspective, forcing myself to calm down. At the end of the day, not much had changed. I would have to work for the government for a while, earning even less pay and working far harder than I wanted, but I’d at least make a living. And one day I’d be free again. In the meantime, I just needed to grit my teeth and bear it.
I let out one last sigh before standing up. I moved to get a broom and started sweeping up the shattered glass on the floor from the glass cup I’d knocked over in my fit of pique at the way everything had turned out. As I swept I realized I’d probably be stuck using a broom for a long time as my new budget wouldn’t be able to afford the purchase of a cleanbot. I finished sweeping up the glass, gathered the silverware and set them in the steamrack which closed around them for a minute before opening again, releasing steam into the air. I put the now sparkling silverware back on the table. Then I began picking up the books. I figured I’d take the time to put them away since I was already cleaning.
I sorted them onto their shelves one by one. I reached down to pick up the final book and walked over to the shelves, looking down at the title as I did so I knew where to put it.
And I froze. An Ecologist’s Guide to Dungeons. The strange, old book I’d had to study for my final exam. A lightbulb went off in my head as the half formed idea I’d had just a day ago suddenly shone with clarity. And I smiled. Then, unable to control it, my smile turned into a loud bark of laughter which devolved into some chuckling.
Things weren’t over yet. I still had one last chance at freedom. I went back to the table, grabbed the Holodesign, and went to work. I had a lot to do and only one night to do it. Setting aside my excitement, I focused on the task at hand, knowing if I didn’t make the most of this last chance, my future would no longer be in my own hands. The light from the kitchen illuminated the darkness outside the window of my dorm late, late into the night.
Support "Dungeon Ecology"
- United States
Bio: Author. My novels at the moment include Luxury Cafe Owner and Grave of Heroes. Luxury Cafe Owner is complete at 57 chapters and available to read on Amazon. The first book in the Grave of Heroes series, Evil Star, is on the back burner. I have decided not to do serialized releases for it, and to release it all at once on Amazon. My latest LitRPG series, Dungeon Ecology, is currently being released chapter by chapter here and on Moonquill!