“Rowen, I need two ales for table three!” Milly called out from the floor.
“Understood, two ales coming up!” Rowen answered as he grabbed two wooden mugs and placed them under the ale barrel. He turned the handle of the faucet and watched the ale carefully fill each mug until the foam layer reached the top. When they were filled, he placed them on the counter-top and cried out, “Ales are ready Milly!”
Milly, the 14 year-old daughter of the tavern owner Fred, grabbed the mugs and gave Rowen a grateful smile. Milly stood taller than Rowen with a cute face framed by slightly curly hair that reached down her back in waves. Approaching 15 years, her body was dressed in a tavern wench’s outfit that played on her growth from cute to beautiful. The skirt touched the top of her knees and the blouse, while not revealing, was tight even to display her growing womanhood.
“Thanks for the help Rowen,” Milly winked at him, “with father struggling to cook, it really helps that you’ve here.”
“No problem,” Rowen dismissed her thanks, “I, a prince, always pay back my debts. Your father has been kind enough to let me stay here after all.”
Rowen, who supposedly turned 11 recently, was a boy with piercing eyes and brown/black hair with a streak of grey. While posing as a refugee from the Empire’s various conquests, in reality Rowen was the prince from a long dead kingdom that had once ruled the country of Nehatra centuries ago. He had been placed in a magical slumber within an undead dungeon and had been rescued by Doc and his monsters. Due to the large magical contamination he’d taken in during his slumber, Rowen body had become a hybrid between undead and human when he awoke in the dungeon. Upon learning of the circumstances of his rescue, Rowen had sworn allegiance to Doc and entrusted his undead half to Doc. This rendered him unique, for not only could Rowen leave the dungeon but if he ever died he would be reborn as an undead within the dungeon, though he would never be able to leave it.
As Milly hurried away with the ales, Rowen returned to cleaning the various wooden mugs and more expensive glass mugs that lined the bar shelves. He took great care with the glass mugs, because they were worth their weight in silver. As he worked, Rowen couldn’t help but think of the life he was currently living.
When he first entered the town, Rowen had found that he couldn’t properly read or speak due to the evolution of language over time. Named a spy by a group of nationalist thugs, Rowen had been chased through town and ended up hiding in a tavern. There, the owner Fred had asserted himself and shielded Rowen. Taking pity on the young man, Fred decided to shelter the boy. His daughter, Milly, then decided that Rowen would be her little brother, whether he wanted to be or not.
Rowen couldn’t stop his eyes from twitching as he remembered his first meeting with Milly. She had acted bubbly and excited at the time, more like a younger girl rather than her own age. Later on, she revealed her real character to be cunning, blunt, and in some cases two-faced. She did teach him how to read and speak, but he felt irked through the experience due to her constant teasing.
However, they shared a moment when it was revealed that Milly was lonely and desperate for a friend. With the early death of her mother, Milly had worked for her father most of her life and had little opportunity to have fun. After moving to the dungeon town, a place of danger not suited for children, she found herself surrounded by adults and had acted younger to get along with them. Rowen had relented and forgiven her, starting their friendship.
“Well, there was the flesh dragon too,” Rowen chuckled to himself. About a week ago, Rowen and Milly had gone to the Adventurer’s Guild at the invitation of the guild master herself to have their magic affinities tested due to the surprising display of magic Rowen had showed accidently. However, before Milly and Rowen could let the shock of their massive potential set in, the entire town had been attacked by the Empire in the form of a magically corrupted nobleman who could attach himself to people and use them as puppets. Rowen, with his special magical connection to the dungeon, was able to track the source of the attack to a building, where he and Milly confronted the twisted blob of flesh that had once been Lord Rotch, father of the deceased traitorous knight Koran. Unfortunately, before they could pry more answers from him, Rotch had sensed the dungeon’s connection to Rowen and gone berserk. He subsequently transformed into a false dragon made entirely of flesh and was defeated by the combined efforts of everyone in town.
In the aftermath, neither Milly nor Rowen had discussed the events of that day. The town had fallen into a kind of shocked rush, with everyone running around preparing for a siege and repairing the damage from the attack. The town’s mood was low, and tensions seemed to be running high against various groups of people including those who had been used as puppets, the newly arrived elves, the clergy, adventurers, miners, and every other group. Rowen’s heart clenched as he watched the leaders of the town struggle to control the irrational blame and paranoia arising in the townspeople. It reminded him so much of the last days of his kingdom when it was on the brink of collapse from invaders.
For the moment, Rowen was assisting Milly and Fred with the tavern. It was a popular spot for workmen and workwomen to pick up meals for later and drink after a hard day’s effort. Thankfully, it was the end of the lunch rush and the number of patrons within the tavern was slowly decreasing.
After a few minutes, Fred walked out from the kitchen. Fred was a former adventurer who had settled down with Milly’s mother to open a small restaurant using his savings. Though retired, he still looked tough with his broad shoulders and thick arms. He grinned down at Rowen.
“Thanks for the help today,” he said to Rowen, “it would have been really inconvenient to serve drinks and cook food by myself.”
“Daddy, what about me? Did I help too?” Milly pouted, still in her acting mood.
Fred smiled warmly at his daughter and patted her gently on the head, “Silly girl, you always help me by keeping those starving wolves at bay while I cook. I’ll be leaving now to go help the men with reinforcing the walls; take care of Rowen while I’m out.”
“Yes sir,” Milly saluted, giving Rowen a cheeky wink.
Rowen frowned, “Fred, as a royal prince of age I no longer require a maid to watch over me. I can take care of myself.”
“Of course you can, sure,” Fred nodded absentmindedly as he turned to grab a tool-bag, “well, have a good evening your highness.” With a sarcastic laugh, Fred left.
Milly switched her arms behind her head, inadvertently drawing Rowen’s gaze for a quick moment. She giggled at him and said, “Alright, you heard the man. I’m in charge again. Who’s the maid now?”
“Whatever,” Rowen shrugged, “let’s just finish chopping the wood.”
“Boo,” Milly whined, “That’s not fun at all! Let’s do it later.”
“I thought you were supposed to be the older, more responsible one?” Rowen mocked as he walked over to grab two axes from the backroom.
“Of course, but we’ve been working almost non-stop for a week now. My arms are tired and I know my face is about to droop from all the fake-smiling I’ve had to do. Can you believe that one man tried to propose to me?” Milly grumbled.
“I can believe your dad shattered his bones from trying to,” Rowen gwuaffed as the two went into the back-area. Following the same rhythm, they swung their axes in time and sliced the logs in half with single swings.
Rowen couldn’t help but whistle in appreciation, “Your dad’s training has really performed wonders for my strength; I’m even catching up to you!”
“It’s not fair,” Milly argued, “I have to work twice as hard to get stronger while you work twice as little. Sometimes it really sucks being a girl. You won’t ever be looked down on or ogled like I am.”
“Actually,” Milly screwed up her face in thought, “Didn’t those really old bat ladies stare you down like a piece of meat? You know, the bath ladies.”
“Don’t remind me,” Rowen shuddered, “I will never get used to taking a public bath, especially with those . . . er . . . mature ladies.”
Milly giggled, and Rowen smiled as they worked together to finish their chores. When they were done, the two took a quick bath in Fred’s personal bath and changed clothes for the late afternoon. Having completed their responsibilities for the moment, they lay down side by side on Milly’s bed. Closing their eyes and folding their arms, the two began meditating and controlling the mana within their bodies.
“Hey Rowen,” Milly spoke up after a while, “Can we talk?”
“About what?” Rowen asked.
Milly broke her meditation and sat up, hugging her right knee.
“Do you think we’re going to die soon?” she asked.
Rowen raised an eyebrow and rolled over so his belly was facing her. “Why do you ask?”
“The men were talking today; they’re all nervous and scared that the Empire is going to send so many monsters and soldiers nothing will remain of this town. Some were worried that we’d be used as experiments and would spend the rest of our lives tortured.”
Rowen snorted, “There is no point worrying about that far in the future when we have today challenging us. Don’t let them get to you.”
“I guess,” Milly said quietly, “why are you so calm about all this?”
“Because I am a prince of course,” Rowen declared, “I’m very familiar with this kind of stress from watching my father handle the country.”
At this, Milly burst into laughter and giggles as she released her knee to slap the bed. Rowen frowned at her and sighed.
“Still don’t believe me do you?” he muttered.
Milly shook her head as she calmed down, “Oh no, I do. It’s just funny to hear you be so serious about things even adults are pissing their pants over. I guess I would expect nothing more from a dungeon monster.”
Rowen felt his blood turn to ice and bolted up from the bed. “How, how do you know?”
“You mean besides admitting it just now?” Milly smiled coyly at the younger boy, “Well, I wonder? Maybe it was giant flesh monster declaring it or maybe it was because you watched a slime tentacle drag away the monster’s corpse and didn’t say anything? Now, I wonder what I could do with this little tidbit of knowledge.”
Rowen felt torn between fleeing and pleading. If his secret were to be exposed, there was no telling what would happen to him.
“Just eat her,” Rowen heard Doc’s voice in his head, “that’s what I’d do. She probably tastes good.”
“Quiet Doc! Rowen, dear you need to find out what she plans to do with this information,” Claire told him, “If she hasn’t revealed it to anyone else, then maybe she wants something from you. Oh, but if she is planning on spreading your secret, you should kill her.”
Rowen gulped, “Wha, what do you want from me?”
Milly gave him a quizzical look, “Want from you? That’s a dumb question Rowen; you’re family now. I wouldn’t do something as distasteful as black-mail you into doing things.”
Rowen sighed in relief.
“Instead, you would just have to listen to me and stay with me whenever I desire,” Milly finished with a triumphant grin.
“Isn’t that blackmail?” Rowen asked darkly.
“Nope, it’s just business as usual. Let’s talk more after we finish our daily magic meditation for Master Mary.”
Rowen reluctantly rejoined her on the bed, this time crossing his legs under him. As he closed his eyes and began to chant softly, Milly’s eyes grew sad and solemn as she gazed at him.
“You already promised me, didn’t you? She may have made you forget, but I won’t,” she whispered. Her mind returned to the events that took place after the two of them had returned home. She quietly stroked Mr. Bubbles the skull, which seemed to glow red briefly before returning to normal.