"Welcome challenger and..." The booming voice that had spoken up as you'd opened the door died out as the man at the opposite side of the room looked at you.
"Rick A. Hill, correct?" The man asked. You nodded. "You'll have to excuse me, I... expected someone younger."
"Is my profile that shocking?" You asked.
"Never ranked, yet owns a Succubus, a Boobcat, and an Arachnae." He said. "I couldn't really believe you'd been a tamer for only a couple of weeks... even less believable being that you've done almost thirty salvage matches in that period of time. For a second I thought you were sandbagging."
"Salvage dictates you can't challenge tamers that are much lower than your own ranking," he commented. "Some... less savoury people intentionally forfeit gym matches so they can abuse this."
"What happens to those people?"
"They get interrogated," he replied. "Intentionally losing gym battles is a crime, whether it was done so directly or indirectly." A pause and a sigh. "It did strike me as odd that all your salvage matches involved the same group of people... and the same two Doggirls. So you were playing with the salvage cooldown?"
That made you frown. Right, the government had access to your dex, they had access to your every move. "Anything illegal about it?"
"No, nothing... illegal," the man replied, looking at you for a moment. "I'd suggest not using it to take someone's monstergirl and then keep yourself from being challengeable. That would get you interrogated if anyone notices."
So being forced to challenge the gym wasn't just for the people up top to keep a gauge of how strong your harem was, but also to get your profile regularly reviewed. You pushed down that sense of distaste. These were bioengineered weapons. You'd keep a close eye on the people handling them too. "Well, strange isn't going to get me fined or jailed. If you've got questions about my profile, just ask Major Huge from Bark," you replied. "I'm just here for this test and carry on."
Mention of Huge didn't seem to startle the young man much- he'd likely read something about it from your profile. "Technically, the team I should bring here wouldn't stand a chance against your harem," he answered. "So I brought something closer to your calibre."
You paused at the comment. "Why?" You wondered. "If you don't mind my asking."
A moment of hesitation. "The point of a gym match is to help the tamers improve themselves. If you just show up and stomp things and leave then... what's there to learn?"
You could see the sense in those words, still, you sighed, rubbing the bridge of your nose. "What's your name?"
"Nicolas," you nodded. "I'm closing in on thirty. Do I look like someone who can keep the pace going around as if this is a serious competition? I just want to leave this mess and find a stable job." There was a moment of hesitation as you blinked. "Besides, with how salvage rules are set down, wouldn't preventing me from going up in rank mean I could potentially bully weaker tamers? Getting higher sooner would mean I'd quickly be challengeable by tamers that are of a rank similar to one my harem reflects."
"I guess you're right," he nodded, though not quite convinced. "I'll just call it a wrap. The whole point of the first medal is to see if you can at least control your girls, and seeing an orgy didn’t break out in the lobby…” His eyes trailed to Kiara, who rolled her eyes and scoffed. “...I don't see the sense in bringing out the girls and going through the motions. They’d just get pummeled, it's bad for their training and self-esteem. We'll call it a technical victory." A long sigh. "Anyway, are you interested in the token?"
"So long as it shows up that I won the match in my profile, I don't particularly mind," you shook your head. "Will that be all?"
"Your profile has been updated," he said with a slight shrug.
"Thanks, have a good day," you nodded, turning to leave. "Kiara?"
Wordlessly, the Succubus followed along as you proceeded to leave the gym. She was quiet up and until the automatic doors closed behind you. "That still counts as my win," she declared. "Can I use the afternoon worth of flying to another day?"
"Sure," you shrugged. "Just use it within the week or it's gone."
"I had a question about the tail thing," she continued, not missing a beat. "You said it was now a potential reward." She tilted her head. "I've seen you petting the cat, was that a reward specifically?"
"I just felt like it." Your eyes moved around before recognising the street you'd taken with Diane the last time you'd been around here. "You've been behaving surprisingly mild, I thought you'd cause more trouble."
"What would I gain with trouble?" She asked with a hint of sarcasm. You weren't looking her way, but you could guess that the answer to the question involved her tail not being returned to normal.
You ignored the subtext of her words. "You caused trouble for Tomas."
"He didn't own me," she replied with a click of her tongue.
"So this is how you behave when you can't push someone to get what you want?" You looked at her for a long moment.
She looked at you for a long moment as you stopped. There was a slight smirk to her lips as she leaned close, her finger caressing your chest. "It just means you're harder to crack, Rick." The words, though spoken with a smile and a wink, felt like a threat. "Now, you said something about my tail?"
"In a minute." You turned. With the gym done, there was a second issue to handle.
Reaching for your belt and touching the sphere, it took you a moment to remember which one had the nurse and bring her out. She appeared seated on the ground, slightly dazed. Her eyes glanced around and she took in her surroundings before she jumped to her feet. "Master," she called out, nervously looking at Kiara and then at you. "What... happened?"
"You were out like a light, thought I'd let you rest while I challenged the gym. Anyway, Kiara, going to ball you for a while, but you're going to return her tail to normal when she gets out." At your words, the infernal let out a disappointed sigh but said little else before she vanished into the red light.
Now you were alone with Diane. You turned to walk, and she followed.
Carefully you had to take the moment to sift through your thoughts and emotions. How much of this was normal and how much of it was... artificial? "I need to know the psychological consequences of what you did."
"Yes, Master," Diane tensed behind you. "The shift was mild enough it shouldn't have manifested in a-."
"Consider the worst-case scenario," you growled, turning to give her a warning look. "Were your medical books written with pureblooded humans in mind or humans that already had some monstergirl in them?"
That shocked her for a moment before she bowed her head. "We are made to study the variations human physiology could react to medical treatment depending on their monstergirl related ancestry. So pureblood human physiology is always the baseline. I was approaching the issue considering Master's body was extremely sensitive to any variation, so the treatment was kept at minimal degrees."
"Issue," you said the word. It tasted like copper in your lips, and you turned to look at the nurse. "What issue?"
Diane gulped. "Master is... older," she said. "Being a tamer is strenuous, repeated sexual activity almost on the daily if not multiple times a day? That was a prospective problem that would have certainly caused troubles." She fidgeted. "Seeing the problem, I chose to begin treatment early so that Master would have adjusted by the time you owned a full harem."
You scowled. "Worst case scenario, what would be the consequences?"
"It has only been a week of treatment, the effects, even at their strongest, shouldn't manifest in more ways than a temporary mild increase of libido and..." She hesitated. "...irritability."
"Well, I'm pissed," you said. "And now I'm not sure how much of it comes from you meddling with my body or from my own head," you growled.
She went quiet, lowering her head. You turned to keep walking, the nurse quietly following you.
Slowly, your steps retraced the ones she had taken the last time. You took the chance to calm yourself and organize your thoughts. Soon enough you were on that small balcony that overlooked a large chunk of the town and the fields next to them. You didn't really look at the landscape as much as you turned your back to it, glancing at Diane as you crossed your arms and leaned against the railings.
"I'll be blunt," you said. "Last night, when I found out about what you'd been doing to my body, my first instinct was to get rid of you." Your words got the intended result, her eyes widened and she froze. "That is what I would've done had we been in my world. Cut the relationship, never see you again. But we're not there."
"Master?" She hesitated.
"I need you. Plain and simple," you continued. "I look at my odds of survival without you around, and they drop. I look at my prospects without you around, and they shrink. I can't trust Raven or Kiara, both of them are too new, and Kiara is... dangerous And I can't trust Monica with anything that complex." Your eyes hardened as you looked at her firmly. "And what trust I had in you almost entirely evaporated after I learnt about that stunt you pulled with my body."
The nurse flinched, lowering her head.
"I'm not going to go into some spiel over emotions or sentimentality." With a glare, you opened your arms, using them to grab the railing and sigh. "I am not your lover, that door has closed. I am, however, your owner. This is a weird situation for me." Calmly, you looked at her. "This means I will have you around, and I will give you orders I expect to be obeyed. Are we clear on this?"
Her arms tightened as she held on to the edge of her skirt. Her eyes were misty, and her lips trembled. "Yes, Master." Her voice shook.
A deep breath, a sigh. "The good news is that, so long as you stick around, trust can be earned back." You levelled your gaze with her own, killing the hopeful smile before it bloomed on her face. "No more stunts, you ask first, you ask always. Are we clear?"
"Yes, Master," she nodded quickly. She gave a half step in your direction but froze, lowering her head further. "I'm sorry, Master. Thank you for your kindness."
A second deep breath. You closed your eyes- could you trust her now? No, but you were certain she'd at least not pull another stunt like that ever again. Opening again, you watched her as she stood there, knuckles white as she held onto her dress. "Let's start simple, come."
She hesitated but complied after a second, reaching you. You leaned away from the railings and hugged her. Her whole body trembled against yours once before she let out a sob. "I'm sorry Master." She whimpered. "I didn't know, I-" Her arms tentatively wrapped around yours and she hugged you.
Sighing, you let her remain against you, hugging tightly until she'd calmed herself down.
By then, your shirt had a big wet stain. The cynic in you wondered how much of it was acting and how much actual emotion. She'd played pretend while playing with your metabolism after all. As if it'd been the most harmless thing in the world. How far would she have pushed had you not caught it and put a stop to it?
"Now." You helped her dry her tears before nudging her a step back. "Stand firm."
With a nod, Diane straightened her back, gulping loudly, drying the last traces of moisture out of the corner of her eyes. "Yes, Master."
"You did well last night." With earnest words, you nodded. "And I liked what you did to Kiara's tail. How long does it take you to apply it?"
"Half an hour if I apply myself completely, Master," she answered.
"And to undo it, the same amount of time I take it?" The question was met with a nod. "Ok, that's good to know. We're going to use that to our advantage whenever convenient. For now I'll have you return her to normal once I bring her out."
"Master is that... wise?"
"I do not want such indirect attempts at questioning my orders, Diane," you stated flatly. "If you have anything to say, you can either help me understand the pros and cons of a course of action and the potential alternatives. Or you can question over the details on how to fulfil them if you're uncertain. That's it." A harsh look. "Now, take a second to think your words carefully, what cons would this decision have you'd think merit pointing out?"
The nurse hesitated, lips clamping shut as she swallowed, turning her gaze downwards before she spoke. "It would make it harder to overwhelm her... Master."
"Great point, Diane," you nodded. "Now my counter-argument: during the day to day, the last thing we want is to have Kiara being easily overwhelmed especially by potentially people other than ourselves. Since it takes only half an hour, then applying it can be done before any situation we expect she might need to have such weakness."
The nurse nodded back. "I understand, Master, thank you for explaining this to me, Master."
"I don't want blind obedience, Diane. If you think something is a bad choice you argue it." Your hand reached down for the belt, your fingers brushing against Raven's sphere. "I plan to take Raven out and get a chance to know what I'm dealing with better. I expect you to spend the time doing the same with Kiara while you reverse her tail to normal."
"Do the same with Kiara?" She frowned.
A pause and a frown. "Kiara is incredibly smart, and by the looks of it, patient in certain things. If you do not understand properly what you are up against, she is going to become the alpha sooner or later."
"In time, if she earns my trust? And if proves herself better able at it? Yes," you answered earnestly, looking into the nurse's eyes as she choked a little. "Earn your rank, Diane, no more free rides. This is me giving you the wake-up call, you're going to need to keep proving you're the best option for the job."
There was a deep breath from her- you recognised the gesture, you'd done it yourself plenty. She opened her eyes and looked at you. There was some hesitation, but she nodded; the rest of her was filled with determination.