He wondered if she would look prettier with a pair of glasses. His mind had wondered when what she had been saying had only confirmed the information he got from others.
They had had lunch in a spacious private room which could be locked from the inside. The girl herself had locked the door as if she was telling him that he could do what he wanted with her. The doorkeeper of the restaurant had called her an escort and only now he knew what the bald old man really meant. The room had a couch beside its table and she could easily lean over for another kind of meal.
Of course, she had kept it professional, but sitting right beside him and the occasional leaning over to reach the other side of the table had given the idea. Her large bottom had been displayed to him enough times to give him the suggestion.
But at least she was knowledgeable enough.
“When three abilities are slotted, a few related classes will be offered based on the chosen spell or abilities. The common classes are known by most, but many of the unique classes are kept as high ranking family’s or clan’s secret.”
Artus nodded to her explanation. The chestnut-haired girl presented a business smile but it still felt warm to him. She was the kind of girl you would want to just hug all night after a very long and tiring day. The pale blue eyes might be pretty but they hid a jaded soul.
She had the eyes who had accepted her fate as a bottom feeder in this world of hierarchies. The [Lady Killer] told him she was anxious ever since they had finished eating lunch.
“But then why are skills like blue-flame rare?” He questioned the logic. “Should one of the classes open the way to such skill?”
It was probably a stupid question when Paige’s smile twitched before she answered.
“Colored flames are commonly known better as talents rather than skills. No one also really knows how to gain these talents, and most of them are gained through [Awakening],” she answered patiently.
The pretty girl then sipped on the drink and quietly moaned, enjoying the taste. She might not mean it, but it still made him swallow his saliva. It made him curious about something more personal.
“How many slots do you have?”
The girl gave him the round eyes before bursting to a laugh.
“I’m sorry,” she said after stopping herself. “But it is not easy for a commoner to collect enough Essence to gain a second slot, let alone the third, young sir.”
The older girl probably was calling him an idiot inside her head but he didn’t really mind it at all. He had never been so naive to associate himself to brilliance with any success he had. Unique circumstances had made his level up felt easy, but that didn’t mean it was easy for everyone else. He should have figured that out long ago.
“Is that so?” he asked for no reason.
She nodded. “Yes, well, unless you have the backing of a major family who is willing to help you hunt monsters.”
“Then most commoners would be stuck at a single slot.”
“Yes,” she chuckled.
She didn’t apologize this time and only looked at him. Paige was a bit surprised when he hadn’t reacted much to her laughter.
The girl’s mouth opened and closed without saying a word. She fidgeted on her seat but she stayed quiet and tried to distract herself by taking another sip from the bluish drink. No seductive moans came out of it.
“Ask your question. I will answer if I can.”
The girl almost jumped on her seat, “but I don’t-”
“Look, I just can’t stand you fidgeting around. I hope we could be like friends rather than this formality. Just ask your question.”
“O-okay,” she straightened herself and cleared her throat. “What made Lady Verona pick you and do you already level up, did she help you to level up?”
She closed her mouth with her hands, stopping herself after a barrage of questions. Artus laughed at her and she followed along half-heartedly. The girl must be wondering what the hell Verona was thinking to pick him.
“She picked me because I’m useful for her, and no one had helped me to level up, but honestly, it isn’t that hard for me.”
“Oh? OH!?” she gasped after understanding something. Her eyes were darting between him and her glass before she braced herself. “If we are to be friends, could you, you know, help me level up?”
“Yes, of course, I will, if you keep answering my question,” he sighed. “It should be natural right? A mutual exchange among friends, commoners alike.”
“But you aren’t a commoner! You are already a Neophyte! A minor noble, at least.”
“Maybe I’m just a commoner at heart?” he said and shrugged.
The title had no meaning to him other than a ticket for him to walk around unmolested. If he had to guess, a Celestial like Nusia was on another power level altogether. Everything else held no meaning if he couldn’t get to her level.
This Neophyte ‘status’ was just a stepping stone, no, the whole human kingdom should be his stepping stone. If he couldn’t overcome human politics then he would only drag her down with him, and that would be unacceptable.
“Neophyte or whatever isn’t a big matter to me, but how do commoners level up in the city?” He changed the subject.
“Well, by diving into the beginner dungeon, of course.”
“Anyone could enter this dungeon?”
“No, they need a Diver license first. You get that from the Guild.”
Artus clicked his tongue. It might be a different organization, but it was unlikely, given the same name. He didn’t want to be linked to the death of a certain mage.
“Do they make background checks or something?”
“Not really, no,” she said with a big question mark on her head. “They may test your ability to survive the dungeon, but that’s about it. Why? Are you planning to enter it? But won’t it be needlessly risky?”
“Some good news is better than nothing,” he muttered to himself. “And yes, of course, I’m going in and to take a look.”
Paige looked at him in disbelief. She took a gulp from the drink before she stayed silent for a while, thinking about something. The girl looked at him for some time before she said what she had in mind.
“Can... can I join you, to level up in the dungeon?”
“I don’t know, yet. Like you’ve said, it can be dangerous, at least, for you that is”
“But you are confident enough,” she scoffed lightly. “You’ve said it like you are going for a walk in some garden rather than staring at death itself in the eye. People, young and old, die in that place, you know.”
“I did, didn’t I?” he chuckled. “Well, let’s put that aside first and get back to our business here. Can you tell me about the most common classes like Mage and the likes?”
“Okay,” she sighed and softly cleared her throat. “The first requirement to get the [Mage] is to have an affinity to one of the Elements which will give a basic control over said element’s. This basic ability granted by the affinity must be slotted among the other two in order to get the class. Other common classes like a [Warrior], will need any type of [Weapon Handling] while [Swordsman] will need [Sword Handling] slotted. A [Rogue] had a few options like [Hide], [Lockpick] or [Pickpocket]. I think you should have a general idea already.”
“Yes, but how about less common classes?”
“I’ve read about [Spellswords] and they’ll need a spell and sword skill slotted while all the Mancer type classes like the [Pyromancer] are bestowed upon who has two slotted elemental spells.”
“How about those of the church? Do they have their own classes?”
“Yes, but they didn’t follow the common norm. They believed that their God who bestowed them the special classes and abilities. [Healer] is their most common class while there are other uncommon ones like [Priestess], [Apostle], and [Acolyte]. But perhaps you could get a [Acolyte] for yourself,” she chuckled. “Every man would beg the church for one.”
He chuckled and shook his head at the horrible idea. “No, I don’t think I want one of the stout ‘believers’ following me around. Let’s just say I’m not a fan.”
“Well, there is a good reason why all men would want one. The class [Acolyte] could only be obtained if he or she pledged his or her servitude to a master, regardless of the master’s own belief in their doctrine.”
“A willing slave?”
“Yes, that’s what the others called them. They will lose the class if they betray their master even in secret, and their master will know it.”
“Then, why would anyone even want that class?”
“Well, if you ask me, it is for their church’s benefit. If the man/woman is destined to become the center of the world…”
“And so does their church,” he continued upon realization. [Acolyte] should be a really rare class because of the requirement. The church also had a direct way to insert influence through them. She had led him to that obvious conclusion, but it did raise another question.
“Then what other people believed in if not the church?”
“The people have always believed in the [Elementals] which ancient trees represent, and the [Spirits] which guide the warriors into battle. The Church of Light had only emerged after the last two hundred years and it is not known how they get those unique classes.”
“I see. Then the elements are only five, as the trees?”
“Yes but not exactly. There are five basic elements, [Fire], [Water], [Earth], [Wood], and [Air]. Higher elements, however, are very rare. [Lightning] and [Ice] are two well-known higher elements among many others. The person who has one of these rare elements are sought after and even fight over. If anyone knows how to get these talents, they will likely carry it to their grave. It is that precious.”
Paige said it like it was a personal dream of hers. Maybe he could use that to his advantage.
But now to a more sensitive topic, “is there any taboo in magic?”
“Yes, of course. Magic like the [Mind] is barely acceptable, but a [Necromancer] class is forbidden and its information sealed away. There is even a legend about the return of the Lich King and his worshippers.”
“How about blood magic?”
“What do you mean? A blood mage?” Paige chuckled. “That’s impossible. How one could control-” Paige halted when she saw something on his face. “It can’t be, right?”
“No, of course not,” he laughed at her very imaginative mind. “I’m no blood mage, but is it taboo?”
“No,” she blushed before giving the subject a thought. Jogging her memory, maybe. “I’ve read about it, I think. A blood mage in the far reaches of the Kingdom, but it is not considered taboo. I think.”
“Good, I might know how to-” Artus faked a cough. It was bait, of course.
Paige was already on top of him when he realized it. She had pushed him down in her excitement. The surprised red face told him that she was surprised by her own action.
“I’m sorry about this," she said while her body pressing on to him. "But please, if you know anything, can you teach me? I’ll, I’ll do anything you ask. Anything at all,” she said while her face turned red.
Paige was flustered. He knew that this was the first time she had done something like this in order to get what she wanted. A way out, a device to take control of her life. Artus couldn’t help it to imagine himself as a villain.
A devil who offered a deal of a lifetime in exchange for her soul. He chuckled.
“Anything?” he said while placing his hand on her hips and grabbed her butt.
“Yes, anything,” she echoed while not resisting at all to his snaking hands.
“Then, how about becoming my willing slave?”
Paige yanked herself back. The unexpected action was actually a lot better than her outright lying to his face. He sat back on the seat as she made her mind.
“I'm sorry, anything but that,” she stated with downcast eyes.
“Well, good,” he said to her wide-eyed surprise.
The girl knew what she wanted but she would never give up herself, or her pride, in order to obtain it. That was good enough in his book. It wasn’t like he had made the decision, but he would have no qualm teaching someone like her for a few reasons. Artus thought that he should reiterate the reasons inside his head just to make sure he wasn’t thinking with his lower half.
First of all, he wasn’t even sure the things he would teach would work or not, and if it did work, he knew it would be unlikely for her to use it against him. He would have given her something no one else could ever give and that would be a big deterrent.
Paige wouldn’t do that unless she was inherently cruel, which he hadn’t seen any sign of.
Regardless, life was much easier when you planned for the worst. He might have found it hard to believe in people, but he believed in the law of causality. People wouldn’t do things without a reason. Good or bad.
But should what he had taught others was used against him, he already had a way to stay alive at the very least. That brought his thoughts to the second reason. He had an even better idea, more powerful class magic that may surpass the ‘traditional’ elements. A kind of magic that was backed by science.
And maybe third, as he was going to need lab rats to test things on. Nothing could happen and anything could happen in scientific experiments. Considering the option, testing it on the less fortunate was a lot better.
But still, he had to ask.
“Tell me, Paige, how can I trust you?”
“Trust is give and take, Artus,” she said calmly before taking a drink, probably from her experience. “Just like everything else,” she added.
Fourth? She was a bookworm. There was nothing wrong with trusting a bookworm.
“Okay, I’ll believe you for now,” he said. “But don’t tell anyone about this.”
“It will be my loss if I do, and you should know that. Let’s seal the deal then,” she stated.
“How are we going to seal the deal?”
“How else? Sexual Oath, of course,” she said with a well-practiced, straight face.
But the burning red cheeks told another story altogether.
“I’ve heard about Oaths, but I don’t think it has anything to do with sex,” he chuckled at the ridiculousness.
“How do Oaths work anyway?”
Paige stayed stoic but he could tell that her mind was working overtime. She was trying her hardest not to make any mistake in her words.
“You should already know that everyone had their own brand of mana, right?”
Artus nodded, that was a good choice for a place to start. If Aether is fundamentally different from mana, then it would be logical to assume each person's mana should be personalized too. It wasn’t a big leap of logic.
“You should also know that it was impossible to force your mana into another," she continued. "This is why no one could simply make a fireball inside another person.”
“Yes, that would be a nightmare,” Artus had cold sweat when he imagined what could happen if that was possible.
“Our own mana naturally rejects others’ and it has a lot of implications in healing and many other things,” she explained and let it sink into him.
Artus took a sip from his glass. “But what did this have to do with Oaths?”
“Everything,” she stated. “Oaths are taken by willingly accepting another's mana into your body, and men have an advantage in this if you know what I mean. Breaking an Oath would turn this clump of foreign mana to wreak havoc inside the body.”
“That sounds painful. Why does anyone want to do something like that?”
“I've thought about this for a long time, Artus. I don’t know about others, but I'll take the Oath if it means a better life for me. Not like I’m planning to be ungrateful to my benefactor, but for what it's worth,” she stopped and let him fill in the blanks.
“I understand, but still, we’ll exchange Oaths when I’m comfortable with it.”
He never wanted to take part in forcing anyone to do anything if he could help it.
Paige sighed in defeat, “alright, it is not like I can force you. But if you are going to act as a commoner to enter the dungeon, I happen to know just the place to go to discreetly change your looks.”
“Oh, really? You are a lifesaver then.”
The girl giggled but sounded fake, she had kept her hope at rock bottom. He could tell that look anywhere.
The afternoon ended by the girl leaning for a kiss right in front of her modest commoner’s home. The casual kiss was just assurance for her, this was what it felt like to him. She had all the chance while riding in the carriage if she had wanted to seduce him. Paige was struggling to hold on to the slippery rope of hope.
Such a girl in such an unfair world. He felt bad for doubting her.