CH2 - Whereabout Where I Am
At least he was starting to put together where he was, they had identified themselves in a pretty direct way. He wasn't sure about the Paladins. But the Knights of Raenine were the Elven Military Branch in the area.
Raenine itself was one of the five most profitable Elven trade cities, and thus supported a strong military and police farce. And more extensive responsibilities.
Most Elven townes tended to be more of a hidden forest, illusory hill, silent lake sort of affair.
He could hardly blame them though, having such a strong life affinity made the world a lot more flexible towards your survival. You didn't need to fight if everything liked you too much to hurt you.
Especially if you could hide from everything else.
Raenine itself was the third largest commercial Elven town, specialized generally in water and spirit magic items.
The two were more closely interlinked than most other affinities, at a baseline.
However that wasn’t their crowning glory.
Raenine cornered the Elven market when it came to Spirit-based items. Especially the Contract, a unique magic item capable of forging a one time bond between Master and Servant.
Depending on the intelligence of the target in question, the process didn't even require permission. If you steeply overpowered your target in mental fortitude or intellect, then they barely had a chance to offer even a token resistance.
That's why it was unique, because it was exceedingly rare for the user to suffer any negative feedback from the creation of the bond. It also had a tendency to work only on beasts, as there was some abuse with the initial versions.
Even with the popularity of the topic, that was about as much as he'd garnered from the Windows in the Reality Stream.
He assumed they'd been applied to people at some point, and considering the innate intelligence of an Elf... Well, there was a not-insignificant possibility that some of their allies weren't heartfelt.
One might even think the Elves far more provocative than might be suggested otherwise. He sighed as he allowed Little Sister to guide him through the underground lake and up through a long staircase. He didn't quite make it halfway up the steps, however, before encountering another hurdle.
The Estate Master had made his way to the basement by now. He was a prominent public figure, but Prime was terrible with names. He resisted the urge to get lost in thought, as the Estate Master almost instantly drew level with them, covering the distance in a single step.
Prime flinched but made no further response, Little Sister attached to him as she was. His Mana was still effectively nothing, and it wasn't regenerating. He'd also noticed that he was ravenously hungry. He was discovering this whilst under intense scrutiny from the Estate Master.
"A human?" He finally said disbelievingly. "How did a human get down here? They shouldn't even be able to find the property if they aren't a Mage, and even then you have no Mana. And you are naked. Tell me, do you have an explanation? For being naked, in the private royal section of the bathhouse, with no Mana, and my daughter on your arm?"
The emotional content he was picking up with something like amused rage.
He glanced at the girl again, then back at the Mages who'd shouted advice earlier. Three of them avoided eye contact, and the woman just shook her head. No help there.
"Alright, I suppose we might as well get into this weirdness then. I didn't get here, I was born here. The various impact craters around this lake, are the remnants of the dragon egg I just finished developing in.”
He paused for breath, “I'm naked, because I was just born, and therefore have no possessions. And your daughter is clinging to my arm because of, I think, a desire not to see a person butchered in her baths. If I even count as such, given what your Knights or Paladins or whatever were yelling at me. " He took a long breath once he finished unloading all of that.
"Now that we've covered that there is an explanation...can I go?" He asked hopefully.
"Hmph," The Estate Master scowled, "And where exactly do you intend to go dressed like that? Not straight through my grounds, I'd hope, exposing yourself to every person you come across." He pointed at one of the Knights, who approached immediately.
"Go find one of the Butlers. tell him to bring clothes. Find the Farseer and bring her here as well. Bring the Agota as well." Little Sister started to speak up, but he just gestured for her to be quiet. Prime was starting to feel uneasy at this point, if his previous state didn't already describe that word perfectly.
He was under entirely too much scrutiny here, and he was only drawing more attention as time passed. He had no idea who, or what a Farseer was. Not from practical experience anyways. He wasn't sure whether he should be more concerned if it was a false oracle or a real one.
Either had the potential to end badly. Clothing would be nice, however, but a lack of nudity didn't do much to assure your safety or your future.
He wasn't certain of his own durability or physical limitations at this point either, best to take things slowly. He'd rather avoid this type of one-sided fight anyways. If the day contained a meal at some point, he had a feeling his mana might actually start regenerating.
A curious side effect of being born from a dragon's egg that
"Father, there is a problem." Little Sister eventually spoke up.
"All of you withdraw," She said, gesturing at the Knights and Mages.
Prime took a hesitant step back, but she didn't release him. The silent "stay here" might as well have been shouted, so he just waited expectantly for the other shoe to drop.
Which naturally it did, once everyone else had drawn back beyond earshot. Which was a considerably farther, and more respectful distance then Prime would normally consider acceptable.
Weren't they here to protect royalty, essentially?
"He's seen me and my Sister both, we both ended up coming back up through the same chamber. Neither of us could pretend to a Purity Pearl at this point." She eventually said gently.
Prime's stomach dropped, and he could already see the rage written on her father's face. That was unfortunate, they had some kind of even more advanced means by which to determine if, what? You were a virgin? You were unseen by a man?
He frowned at the concept, he'd thought a hymen was a bad enough thing to need to protect in his world! Literally guarding the image of yourself against anyone's eyes was on another level. Were gyms and communal pools not a thing here?
"Your first thought after being born, is to peep on someone's daughters. What a great and dignified Sage, to have been personified through a dragon forge. Tell me Sage, from where do you hail, and what type of knowledge have you hoarded to barter for your life, existence, and freedom after ruining the marriageable position of my daughter in this Competition of Succession." The Estate Lord asked wryly.
Prime grinned. "That's going to cost you more than a set of clothing, and a snoop at my future." He sounded amused, but it was clear he had no interest in being subject to any one-sided arrangement.
"You want me to divulge all my secrets for what amounts to little more than trespass, and an indiscretion. Naturally, I've no desire to deface either of the women, and I'd be willing to make it up to them if I can. But I am nobody's slave, or possession, or servant. The world is far too beautiful to spend time wasting away under someone's thumb, and whatever you might think about me, I've much to do that doesn't concern you."
He raised a finger, "However! I know Raenine is a trade capital, of a sort. So I wouldn't be opposed to basing myself here. With a few adaptations of local Magecraft, I'm certain I could provide you with some interesting rewards for playing host."
"No!" A heated and vaguely lusty female voice snapped loudly from behind them. The Big Sister had gotten dressed at this point, and made her approach to the situation now. Excellent sense of timing this one, especially if what she wanted was-
"I want this one! Sister and I will have to face the succession war together now, no more marrying us off to avoid it!" She sneered.
"Not that I ever approved of that in the first place, but some exotic cannon fodder could work out well. He didn't peep on us, so much as get fired through the ward guarding us like a cannon shell. It was quite something to see."
Prime founding himself nodding absent-mindedly about the experience, picturing a superb pair of feminine orbs again. This one really could drive you to distraction, he bit his tongue to drive her from his mind.
Wait she said she wanted this one, and then he started nodding and reminiscing? He cast a quick glance at the Estate Master, and winced. He'd noticed.
With a supremely pleased look of schadenfreude, he began. "You refuse to be servant, subordinate, slave or otherwise, but you're prepared to recoup the cost of sullying Her Royal Sister Audrey Enbren and Her Royal Sister Artoria Penheart? They'll be unable to join another house now, and unify a joint claim on the throne. How do you propose to offer compensation for this, save with your existence? Do as the Lady Enbren says, and join the combat as their vassal? But no, you refuse service correct?"
This gave Prime some pause for a moment, but he pressed on. He'd never even liked the idea of a vassal system anyway, best to sidestep that portion of the conversation.
"I have no intention of being a slave or possession," He confirmed, "Service is another matter for discussion. If you truly want a newborn to stride into battle, then I'd naturally demand appropriate compensation for such an action. Starting with the equipment for such an action, in advance. I am as you say, quite literally naked. And no dragon as you're I hope very certain at this point." He continued wryly, "Plus-"
A delicate hand landed on his back.
A surge of pain blossoms, skittering across the mind like spiders racing across a winter pond.
Prime almost wanted to wretch. The sensation in his mind of impending domination was intense, he turned to Audry, unable to voice the question on his lips.
"I want you, so you're mine. It's not like you're a person. You don't have a birth certificate, or legal rights, or a family registration. You're a thing, and I'm going to leverage you."
The compulsion to submit suddenly quadrupled, and skyrocketed from there.
Prime was feeling pretty rough at this point, but he had stubborn bones and didn't intend to submit to the Contract. He fought it off slowly, and then started editing the principles being applied in the bond.
There were safeguards against certain things, he couldn't take complete control of the bond. But they sacrificed the safety of other functions at the same time, which he promptly abused.
"You truly are merciless Sister," Artoria said contemplatively, slapping another Contract onto the other side of his back.
Now he was wildly editing a pair of contracts, fighting off both of them as they slowly oppressed his soul more and more, seeking purchase to etch their demands into his heart.
He only barely managed to finish, before these two contracts found their way home. Prime let out an enraged shout, but the instant access to both of their mana pools gave him enough of a boost for him to use one of the basic dragon mage techniques.
Spend mana, make mana. You make more mana than you spend. Artificial mana regeneration.
The surprised expression on the Estate Masters face quickly vanished as he moved to lock down Prime's movement, holding him rigid with arcane force. Prime grunted, scowling as the pressure built around him.
He was a lot more durable than he thought, considering the force clamping down on him right now. He felt a rib crack, and thought furiously for a way out of being crushed. It was really quite lucky that the egg came with one last function, for the benefit of the young.
Prime vanished, only fragments of shell left behind.
* * *
This was already too complicated for his tastes. There was a reason he'd called this an awkward place, among other things, to undergo this process. But there were also few catalysts that would've helped him, so it wasn't a horrible outcome.
Assuming he could make it off of the Houses properties. During a war of succession, not the best time to be trying to make a quiet exit. Or maybe even any kind of exit, depending on the advancement of magic in the local area.
And thus, his current position was awkward. He was still inside of the House Estate, however he was also inside of the barracks at the moment. On the positive side, double guard duty left the barracks empty.
The negative however is that all the guards were also in their war gear, leaving only their regular duty gear behind. Prime wasn't much interested in the gear anyway, most of what was left was unusable by him currently.
But it would be nice to have a disguise. He shrugged and donned the tunic, belting it off with a sheathed dagger.
A simple steel saber laid in the corner, more of a curiosity than a serious weapon to these people.
Prime put it on his other hip, being quite handy with a curved blade. You never knew what bit of random knowledge might come in handy, you could end up anywhere in the modern world.
Though he supposed that concern would be flavored a little differently, from this point forward. He peeked through what passed for windows in this place, doing his best to memorize the layout from his limited field of view.
He couldn't see a lot close up, but farther away offered a fairly decent view. He now knew, at least, that the estate was in a teardrop shape, and that the bulging portion of the tear was inset by a high cliff face.
He didn't think much of the choice of position for the estate, until he noticed the tracks inset into the cliff face. There were a lot of them. Either this Noble House, Enbren or Penheart he wasn't yet certain, had a fetish for elevators...
Or perhaps they lifted more than might casually be let onto. Prime put his suspicions to rest thought, that would hardly be relevant to him. At least in the near future. For the moment he had to figure out how to leave this place, eluding any pursuers.
And then find a secluded spot to reach full strength, recover, and attune himself to his new body and situation. He barely understood how he was feeling or using his Mana, and he wasn't comfortable with that idea at all.
Everything he'd learned up to this point suggested this was an intentionally developed process, but then the dragon forging process wasn't something that a Mage typically underwent without knowledge and preparation.
An instinctive magical knowledge wasn't something any of them would've noticed acquiring. Or it may have, at least, slipped easily under the radar.
Without time to puzzle things out, he blazed from the room. He made his way across the grounds without stealth, and merely relied in blending into the background to avoid notice.
If you looked like you belonged, and knew what you were doing, people would generally leave you alone. Besides he had few other options, staying in the Barracks forever probably wasn't a good idea. He doubted going straight for the gate would be a good idea either though.
He was near the tip of the aforementioned tear-shaped grounds, where the only gate was. The grounds themselves were impressively well walled-in, with the expanses therein being impressively level.
A lot of grass and a few gathered trees were its decor, with flowerbeds and gardens generally only in the direct vicinity of the sparse but impressive buildings. Of which there were a fair number.
Certain types of magic objected to being physically connected, in many ways, to other types of magic.
Storage was an affair that everyone took seriously, and carefully. The side effects of screwing up said operations, could really rip a hole right through your day. In an unfortunately literal sense.
As a matter of fact, he could see a hole being ripped in his operations right now.
The bond in his mind has just informed him that its bearers had suddenly blipped to the same elevation as him. Somebody in the group below knew how to teleport. Mass teleportation too. That or both of the sisters, Audry and Artoria both, knew how to teleport independently of their father.
They were still near the back portion of the Estate, but that wasn't the main issue. The main issue was the fact that he could sense their position, so the reverse was also likely.
There were a few items in the contract that he'd been unable to modify, and a very few things he couldn't even view. The bright side though, was his escape of all compulsion effects. Or perhaps his permissions?
He scowled as a search was organized, quietly but obvious enough. It wasn't hard to notice when people started moving everywhere in groups.
He had a bad premonition about leaving the Estate, but he couldn't really imagine a good reason to stay here either.
He didn't want to use his Mana anymore, because he was quite uncertain of what he was doing. He'd been operating off instinct mainly thus far, even with the sparse foreknowledge of the area he'd landed in.
The world was fluid in some ways, and he'd viewed the place and people, but not necessarily the situation. Viewing things through a lens could distort the result easily enough apparently, there was no clue about a succession war before he'd come here.
He wanted to just stay mixed into the people, but it quickly became apparent that it wasn't working. He was now the only person not part of a group.
Alright well, go for the gate was starting to look like the only option. One way in or out, the obvious exit and only method for the unknowledgeable to leave.
He ground his teeth for a moment.
The gate really was a bad idea, he took a sharp right and slowly worked his way next to the wall.
The gate slammed shut somewhere off behind him, as he finally found the spot he was looking for. Or at least, close enough.
"Thank you, me, for loving to climb." He muttered, scrambling up the brickwork with more dexterity and strength than he was used too. He would've preferred stairs, or a ladder. But some shoddy brickwork on the inside wall was close enough, so the advantage was to him so far as he was concerned.
It was at this point that the vista behind him discourteously exploded with extreme violence.
And he was emphatic about the extreme portion. The wall he was on was blown away immediately.
He barely retained consciousness as he sailed through the air, in advance of the wave of exotic mana consuming the world below and around him.
He was a little shocked as to his current level of durability, wondering how he'd survived the explosion at all.
He was just starting to wonder about the landing, when he suddenly sensed a familiar sensation. In the corner of his mind, under the effects of extreme terror.
Fear almost began to feel like a familiar friend. His body was numb, his mind was gone, his corpse was consumed by the explosion. Not time enough to embrace the Black Will.