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  Vurden is larger than I thought it would be.

  I suppose, prior to now, I hadn’t really thought about it much, but the image I had in my head of medieval cities was much smaller than this. Of course, I say that like I have even seen a fraction of the city; we’ve just walked down a street. Verdun’s main street, which was - to my great delight - paved. With cobblestones, true, but that is at least something.

  Finally, I was free of our home!

  For a certain value of free, anyway. Father had me hold his hand the entire time. I can’t complain that much, because I am only ten years old. Still, there are other children running around all over the place, or helping at their parent’s stalls.

  The city had many different market areas apparently, but the greatest of which was along the main road that connected the ducal palace to the outer gate. House Felius’s manor was, as one might expect, close to the palace, and so it was only a short walk to the main street.

  My first shock was the sheer amount of people that there were around! Crowds of people, divided only by the passing of cattle drawn carts or horse pulled carriages. Some buying, some selling, some straight up stealing, but all of them moving about and making noise. It was loud and the less that was said about the smell, the better.

  On the other hand…

  “Hey, what do they sell there?” I point to a shop with large, clear glass windows displaying items of various kinds, that were glowing. “Is it magic?”

  “Maybe,” Father says as he sees what I am pointing at. “But that isn't the kind of place we shop at.”

  “We can’t even go in and look?” I mean, I haven’t actually gotten to see any magic yet! Minus Mother’s cleaning skills, which I still think are magic.

  “No Annie,” Mother says, “It isn’t for us.”

  I wanted to look, but there wasn’t any point in behaving like a child even if I was one. However, for a fantasy world it is a shame not to be able to actually see the most fantastical elements in it. Although, if I pay attention, I can see examples all around me. The Class and Skill system is a fascinating thing to see in action.

  I saw a [Thief] appear - seemingly out of thin air - when my brother grabbed him, and then somehow escape from my brother’s grip and disappear into the crowd in barely enough time for me to blink!

  “I’d chase him if I was on duty,” my brother grumbled and spat off to the side. “But there is always another one; you’d be amazed how many people have criminal classes.”

  That was just one example though. I saw [Merchants] using skills to haggle or to display their goods. I saw [Messengers] slip through gaps in the crowd that were certainly too small for them as they ran at full sprint. A [Laborer] off on the side of the road picked up a giant crate without any visible effort and carried it effortlessly.

  “Wow, this is amazing!” I shouted, practically jumping with excitement. “How does everyone even manage to live here?”

  My family just laughed as I gawked all around me.

  “Come on Annie,” Father said as he chuckled. “We are almost there.”

  “Almost where?” I asked curiously, I had just wanted to see outside of my home for once. “Are we going somewhere?”

  “You don’t think we wouldn’t celebrate your Awakening Ceremony, did you?” Mother chided gently, “I have felt terrible about keeping you at home for so long, I’m sure you’ve been lonely, so I really wanted to make this day special for you.”

  Mother and Father guided me towards - instead of a stall like I expected - a shop, with glass windows and everything. The wooden entrance was decorated and the building was wholly made out of quality stone. When I saw it, I instinctively slowed down.

  “But… Can we go in there…?” I asked hesitantly, but Mother encouraged me.

  “We won’t be there long, and today is a special occasion.”

  A bell rang as we opened the door, and we entered the cool interior. Actually, it was almost cold inside, but despite that there were well dressed couples and individuals at small tables inside. It kind of reminded me of a bar in the way it was set up, but it lacked that atmosphere. Of course, it had been over a decade now since I had bluffed my way into a bar with a fake ID, but I had been in enough to tell the difference.

  The looks we were getting weren’t exactly approving, but Father confidently walked up to the counter with me in hand and spoke to one of the attendants.

  “Hello there,” Father spoke first and with a smile, “I was hoping to purchase a cup to celebrate my daughter’s fortune in her Awakening today.”

  The attendant hadn’t been precisely hostile before, but after Father said that, his face softened into a definitely welcoming smile as he said, “Well congratulations young lady, you have certainly come to the right place!”

  “What do you sell here?” I asked curiously, as I watched Father hand the attendant several silver. That is so much money; they normally buy food and clothes with copper coins! Father had just handed over two month’s worth of both my parent’s income to the other man!

  “This,” the man says with pride as he hands over…

  Oh my God it is ice cream!

  A small bowl of ice cream; a treat I never imagined I would see in this world. With shaking hands and wide eyes, I reached out to take the bowl and then to take a taste. The cold sweetness of real ice cream entered my mouth and it was an explosion of flavor compared to the bland food I usually ate.

  “It tastes so good…” I am nearly moaning in delight, and I have to force myself not to just shove the entire bowl in my mouth at once. Seeing my parent’s smiles at my joy made me feel ashamed though. After they had spent so much, I had not offered them a bite and there was part of me that didn’t want to! Still, I held the bowl out and opened my mouth to offer, only for Kalvin to cut me off.

  “Any other day I’d steal that from you myself,” he said with a grin. “But it isn’t every day you Awaken to a (Rare) Class, so just enjoy it.”

  I swore to myself that I would make enough money one day that we could enter an ice cream shop whenever we wanted and buy enough for all of us. But for now, I just ate my ice cream and enjoyed the day. Here is hoping that tomorrow is even half as good.

***

  I am in hell. Podi is Satan and this whole “Incarnation” business is obviously an illusion to give me false hope and then yank it away. I had thought that the [Head Maid] only looked severe and was actually nice because she had greeted Mother and Father so kindly. I could not have been more wrong if I had tried, if Podi was Satan than Agnes the [Head Maid] was a demon he created just to ram a pitchfork into my backside.

  “If you think Awakening to a (Rare) Class will make this easy for you,” she had said on my first day. “Then you are wrong. The gods might gift you some Skills with your Class, but the rest you have to earn on your own, and a good [Maid] has many skills.”

  After that, Agnes gave me a look that brooked no compromise and said in a voice as cold and implacable as a glacier that it should go without saying that she only hired good [Maids].

  What followed was a training regimen that I would hesitate to demand a Marine go through. The closest thing I had to a break was when I would shadow one of the [Maid]s who were serving Catherine Felius, who I would be assigned to in the future. That was two hours out of my day, and while I said shadowing, it was more accurate to say the work was split between me and the [Maid] I shadowed.

  Most of the rest of the day was spent under the brutal thumb of the [Head Maid]. Clean that floor, set that table, dust the chandelier, take the laundry to the wash, and then wash that laundry! And of course, only the very best would do. God have mercy if the silver wasn’t polished when I set the table or if the floor didn’t shine like the sun when I was finished cleaning it, because Agnes had none.

  This country didn’t really have the concept of “human rights” let alone worker rights. Instead, there line of thought went something like this: “If you didn’t want to get switched by the [Head Maid], then you should have moved faster, shouldn’t you have?” At this point, I think I am more afraid of the [Head Maid]’s switch than I am of death itself. However painful my death might be, at least I would escape the [Head Maid]!

  The last two hours of daylight were spent with the Baron’s [Knight]s, being trained to fight. The first thing I learned from the [Knight]s was the chivalry really only applied to the nobility. Commoner women didn’t really merit the same respect, which was saying something because a noble [Lady] was often treated like a trophy or ornament for her [Lord] husband.

  Rough treatment and rude calls to return when I was a bit older for some “real training,” was basically the best it got. The only good thing I can say about the experience is that the one man who did leer at me ended up drawing the ire of the rest. The [Knight]s were assholes, not pedophiles, and despite their incredibly rude and offensive jokes they did not take kindly to the real thing.

  That man disappeared, and I’m not sure what happened to him. I am even less sure that anybody will ever go looking for him, much less find out what actually happened. Good riddance to bad rubbish.

  Still, every night I found myself in tears at home. Mother would try to calm me and soothe me, but she never suggested that I stop. No, from her point of view - from this world’s point of view - this training was not a punishment but a privilege. The chance to earn so many new Skills was something to celebrate! Even if the [Head Maid] and the [Knight Captain] would push me harder than anyone else just because I had awoken to a (Rare) Class; I had taken to using [Burst Of Speed] just to complete my cleaning duties and relying on [Work Is Never Done] to keep me from falling over!

  But, I did gain Skills. I gained a lot of them actually. [Expert Cleaning], [Improved Laundry], [Improved Sewing], [Instinctive Etiquette], [Improved Cooking], [Improved Makeup Application], [Improved Styling], [Improved Gardening], [Enhanced Stamina], [Enhanced Recovery], [Stealth], [Detect Poison], [Enhanced Dodge], [Improved Footwork], [Improved Throwing], [Accurate Strikes], [Lightning Strikes], and [Counterassassin] were the easy ones. The last two I learned made me question whether this job was even worth taking at all.

  “I don’t think I am comfortable with this…” I did not even try to hide the unease in my voice, “is it really necessary? Because I can’t say that I would have taken this job if I had known this was part of it.”

  “We have a healer standing by the whole time,” the nondescript man assures me as he straps my wrists down. “You will be in no danger.”

  “I can honestly tell you that death scares me far less than this does.” I say, although it is a bit too late to back out now when I’m already strapped in. At this point I can’t help but wonder what kind of maniac would go into a trade that involved teaching skills like this. Behind that nondescript face is quite possibly a very functional monster in human flesh.

  “Interesting,” he says with all the enthusiasm of a man resigned to oblivion. “My Skills tell me that you aren’t lying. Would it help you to know that your future ward went through the same procedure two years ago?”

  I was stunned. I was twelve years old now, and Catherine Felius was the same age as me. The “procedure” I was going through today was to earn the Skill [Pain Resistance] and it involved being strapped to this table in my small clothes and then being tortured until I gained it. And they had done this to Catherine at ten years old.

  “But, she is just a kid…” I say, which probably sounds ridiculous coming from my mouth as I am in the body of a twelve year old. The [Torturer] nods however, taking my words completely seriously.

  “Oh yes,” he says as he pulls out various tools, my heart rate spiking up as he lays them all out. “It is standard practice among the nobility to have the newly Awakened learn their resistance Skills as soon as possible so that they have them in the event they are ever captured by an enemy.”

  “Now, my Perception is unfortunately high, and I find young girl’s voices to be rather shrill,” the [Torturer] says as he pulls out a gag. “We will be here for quite a while before you even have a chance of learning [Pain Resistance], so I am going to spare my ears from the first part of it.”

  It wasn’t until a little over six hours later that I got a notification saying that I had gained [Pain Resistance] and the pain… Well, it didn’t go away, I just suddenly found that I could ignore it. My throat was raw and my voice hoarse when I finally stopped screaming uncontrollably and the [Torturer] had smiled and said, “Congratulations on your new Skill,” and released me like nothing had happened.

  I fled the room. I used [Burst Of Speed] all the way home and hid under the sheets weeping until Mother came home. I clung to her and cried and cried and cried. Not because of pain, but out of sheer terror. What made it worse was that the man had just kept talking during the whole thing, ignoring my cries and begging whenever he removed the gag and simply prattled on about his Class and Skills.

  He told me about the Skills he wasn’t using, and how that [Pain Resistance] really only delayed the inevitable anyways. There were ways around it and everyone broke eventually, which made the whole thing so much worse, because if it didn’t work then what was the point of going through it all!? Even today, I still have nightmares about being on that table and wake up screaming

  I met the [Torturer] again to learn one other Skill, [Poison Resistance] and merely seeing his face had caused me to end up cowering in a corner of the room until Father was called over to coax me back to my feet. The experience was just as bad as learning [Pain Resistance] was.

  I was fed poison after poison of all kinds. Some painless, while others left me on the floor, begging them to just let me die. While generally not as bad as the torture was, it took me a week to gain the [Poison Resistance] Skill and I was poisoned the whole time, even while I slept.

  Why did I put up with this? After all, I was a Freeperson, and I could leave if I so chose. I didn’t have to endure this, I could work for someone else. However, the Class that I was so proud of turned out to be a trap in this regard. Anywhere that I would go would see that I was a [Battle Maid] and want to use me as such, and that meant having a certain set of Skills.

  Conversely, if I tried to work at a different job I would likely be unable to gain the Skills I would need to compete with other workers, so there was no point in hiring me when they could hire someone with a specialized Class. The only job that I could certainly get is the one job any woman with any Class could get, and I decided to take the pain and poison instead.

  That wasn’t the only reason for my decision to stay though, the other reason was that I had grown to like Catherine Felius herself. [Lady] Felius was a bright girl and a model [Lady], educated in poetry and the arts and with a talent for both. By the age of fifteen, I was truly her [Maid] and my training was done so I was with her from dawn until dusk. In public, I was ever her loyal [Maid]; unseen and unobtrusive, yet always there to provide anything she needed and always watchful for any threat.

  In private, she would sometimes draw me into conversations about philosophies and ideas from my old world. Of course, I was hardly an expert on any of them, but in this world I might very well be the first person to even mention the basics of some of these ideas, so it didn’t matter that I was more simplistic than I could have been.

  Surprisingly, I think I enjoyed being a [Maid]. As a modern woman, I wouldn’t have thought I would have, but then, this life is hardly what I would have imagined then. For one thing, with [Expert Cleaning], [Burst Of Speed], [Work Is Never Done], [Elegant Movements], [Improved Stamina], and [Improved Recovery], I could walk into a dining hall after a feast for one hundred people - with the mess still on the table and floor and even the ceiling - and walk out five minutes later with the place looking spotless and not even be winded. With the Skills I had, my job was mostly free time, and because Catherine had yet to debut in public, that essentially meant that I got to spend all day talking, reading poetry, and admiring art with a good friend.

  However, that debut was coming soon, and the society around us was starting to show some cracks.

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vladerag

Bio: Hello! I am Vladerag the author of several stories here on Royal Road! I hope you are enjoying whatever you are reading, and I hope you check out some of my stories!

You can find them here! https://royalroadl.com/profile/76129/fictions

And if you are interested in supporting me, you can do so here as well! https://www.patreon.com/vladerag

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