I woke up to another headache. Not a real one but ‘I mean it as more as a metaphor for how my days have been progressing’. It has been a couple of weeks since the competitions ended and while I should have been glad that I won, I had mixed emotions. I had placed first in three of the events and the rewards were not bad. The two thousand five hundred and one XP made me gain another level, giving me another forty points I could use to increase my stats. That ,along with increased health and magic , were things that made me ecstatic.
I had already gotten the rewards for the health challenge but I then got notifications the next day about my placement for the quests ‘Best of the Best’, ‘Dungeon Chef’ and ‘Equipment Enchantments’. The first one made my head ache. The cooking quest window gave me a, “Congratulations you placed ninety first; your rewards are 1XP and a guide book called ‘101 Ways on How to Trick Your Group into Eating Your Food’ and while the gag prize was funny, I just wished they told me I stunk at dungeon cuisine.
The enchanting quest gave me five hundred XP and an ‘Enchant Ink’ formula that would allow me to tattoo any enchantment I knew onto people. Sadly, the person that makes the ink has to do the tattoo and with my artistic abilities I don’t think anybody will be signing up for them. The other enchantment was simply overpowered but the resources needed were beyond my means. It was called “Goddess’ Boon” and it truly was but where do you find a hair of a god? And that was just one of half a dozen things needed to craft it.
I got multiple rewards for winning the whole competition. The 2000 XP, plus one stat of your choice, and one skill increase of your choice from the quest along with a thousand pieces of gold to equip myself with and a personal instructor, were just a few of the forementioned rewards.That’s right I got my very own teacher so instead of class I now reported to a man named Peter. He was a tall lanky man with a receding hairline. I thought he gave off a gentle professor vibe when I first saw him. Oh, how wrong I was and that was just the beginning of my woes.
Professor Peter was hell bent on making me the best I could be. He said it was so that I would come out of the dungeon alive but I suspect he was simply a sadist. I awoke and began before the sun came up and did not finish until the sun had set. Every day is the same type of things; magic training in the morning, obstacle training in the afternoon and then weapon training or defensive training for the rest of the day. I was so bone tired that I was pretty sure that my coffee spell was the only thing keeping me going at this point. At least I had off one day a week to recoup and hang out with my friends.
But it was not all bad, I was now considered part of a dungeon team although I wasn’t told who was in my group. I think they were waiting on Lucas since he left the same day he spread that I was being protected by him. Now that I won, the rumors are all but confirmed in the minds of the students. Not that I minded. That was until I listened to a girl informing me that Princess Amelia wanted to have ‘tea’ with me this afternoon to talk about my relationship with her brother. She said it in a tone that hinted that I would regret saying no and, while I did have plans to go shopping with my friends, it was not something that could not be postponed for an hour or two.
I went to meet her. What else could I really do? Tell her to piss off? She must already be infuriated from listening to all the gossip for the last two weeks and reached her tolerance limit. Me telling her off still might happen since my temper was shortened because of all the hard days of training. Amelia sat at a table with Lucas’s fiancée with a maid serving them. ‘This is not going to end well,’ flashed through my mind as I walked over.
“Greeting Alice, please have a seat.” Amelia’s voice was soft, smooth and without hint of ridicule like I thought it would have. She had a bright smile as she indicated one of the empty chairs. “This woman beside me is called Lady Penelope and we would like to discuss some of the rumors we have be hearing about you.” Her voice was still full of happiness but her eyes were cold.
“I expected as much,” I said as I sat in the indicated seat. The maid placed a cup of tea and a plate of tiny pastries in front of me as soon as I sat down. I took a sip as I waited for either of them to talk. I kept an eye on my display to see if there was any poison effects but instead I got an “invigorated” status and I felt more awake after just one sip. Wow, this tea had great effects and was delicious!
I took another sip as I heard her continue, “I heard that you might become a concubine for my brother. Honestly, I can see why he would want you as one. After all, as a holy caster, you are sure to have many of his children.”
My coughing interrupted her as the tea went down the wrong pipe. What the hell does being a healer have to do with kids? Nope! I am never having a child! Not gonna happen. I heard it is super painful so why would anybody sign up for it? Other than Gideon, I had no thoughts about being with a man. Even my feelings toward Gideon was due to charm conditioning so I just avoided him. See?! Problem solved! If I had to be around him all the time I would probably question life.
The only other guy I ever took notice of was the man in my dreams. I started dreaming of him after the competition and we would spend the night talking or walking through fields I never saw before. By morning, I could only remember that we talked and that he always wore black. I forgot his face and the contents of what we talked about.
I was lost in my thoughts when I heard a gentle cough bringing me back to reality. I had choked so violently that the maid had begun to replace their teas and snacks without a sign of displeasure. It was like it was the most natural thing in the world for her to do. Nobody mentioned anything or made rude remarks. It was so beyond what I was expecting that I became a little happier.
“As I was saying, I can see a few points as to why my brother might want you as a concubine. You are fairly pretty as well. I wanted to talk to you about how you felt about it. Are you agreeable?” Her movements were so elegant. She did not sneer or talk like a crazed villain as I had been expecting from all the random web novels and games I had played before getting here.
I looked at them and stated as firmly as I could, “I have no feeling for Lucas. The rumors are untrue and I don’t know why he offered me his protection. If it requires marriage or sex with him, then I wish for him to retract his words. He already has a fiancée and where I come from, men tend to marry only one woman, not many.” I tried to keep my voice light but I am pretty sure I failed. I did not want to be insulting since they were being nice.
Penelope spoke for the first time after I finished my rambling, “You can be honest. I already knew that marrying him would require him to have many wives. You are not the first, nor the last he will bring in so do not worry about my feelings in this matter.” Why are they talking like I am already a confirmed concubine? I did not get much time to contemplate that. “You seem nice enough. A little um.. rough perhaps but, with a few etiquette classes, I am sure you would not be so bad.”
I smiled. That was probably the nicest way I have ever heard somebody say that I had no manners. Her cute face had scrunched up as she panicked when she paused to think of it. She was like a kid sister I never had. “No really, he is handsome and powerful but I am not interested. I tried to clarify everything but nobody believed me. I am helpless to stop people from believing what they wanted to believe.”
“I see. Well, without my brother here I am unsure what his true intentions are. I just wanted to meet you in case they turned out to be true. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule. My maid will show you out.”
Seeing that I was being dismissed I stood up, scooped up the snacks, stuffed them into my pocket, and gulped down my tea and turned to follow the maid out like I could not see the exit that was right there. Whatever, the food was worth the visit. I sprinted back to the picnic area after I left to meet up with Bella, Amy and Lilly. I was pleasantly surprised to see Bella’s sister Victoria was with them when I finally made it over there.
“So what do you think?” Amelia asked. Her voice no longer holding that soft and gentle tone. Instead, it held a hint of exasperation.
Lady Penelope gave a dismissive wave, “She is indeed beautiful but lacks etiquette, walks like a ruffian and she even seemed a little frightened at the thought of being a mother. She would not be much of a threat with that type of upbringing. I should probably thank her parents for raising her like a boy.” The smile she had fell as she continued, “But she is a holy mage and with that much life magic in her body it would probably only take one time and she would have my husband’s child if not multiple kids. I cannot risk her having children before me. That said, the fact that she can make other women fertile, has superior enchantment skills and can heal even the most grievous wounds with a touch, would strengthen Lucas’s bid for the throne. You know that your other brothers would have noticed her by now. Lucas only found her first so, if we do not pull her into our camp, the others will do their best to take her away. She is both a blessing and a threat to me becoming the next queen.”
“Smart as always. My brother has his plans and Gideon will not tell me what he is going to do. The fact that he ran off to see father indicates that he is going to marry this village girl. You did miss the fact that she dropped her guard over food. If she becomes a threat to you, we can just poison her. Her babies will not live and we can make her hate the other princes by pinning her tragedy on them. Just remember your promise after you become queen.” Neither woman seemed to believe that she did not want to be married to Lucas. Even if they did, they would not care.
Penelope indicated that she would not forget with a nod and then moved the conversation back to what their next step should be.
“So where to first?” Lilly asked as we got to the shopping district.
“Lunch?” Bella gave a suggestion. Victoria gave a nod. She still did not talk as much and tended to stay away from boys as much as she could. After she ‘zapped’ two of them for asking her out, most tended to keep their distance but there were always a few that wanted to take the risk. Her family was rich so the poorer nobles disregarded her ‘used’ status in hopes of gaining more power and wealth.
“I need to pick up my armor and weapons that I had ordered and get some decent supplies but we can eat first and get a game plan on how to hit the most shops before we have to go back.” I added as I saw most of them wanted to get food.
I found out as we ate, that Victoria was the one that placed first in the same competition that Bella was in. Bella had gotten forth which I thought was fantastic but since she did not seem happy about the results I had not asked too much past what she did during her rounds and how it worked. She also placed first in a few other competitions like sewing, art and so on. She was trained as the main daughter so all the skills a woman should have were close to mastery. From what I was hearing, her stitching increased the durability on anything she used them on. Her paintings looked so realistic that things seemed to move within them.
Once I heard that, I asked her for her help in designing a bra. Well a sports bra. I kind of knew what they were and their general shape. I could not make basic bras since I have not seen any elastic materials. Since I knew they existed I did not see any reason to not make it. She seemed confused as to why I would want it but agreed anyway. There was a culture conflict. She seemed to think even with a bra that wraps should be used, otherwise it was like just wearing a shirt. I was sure that once she made the product she would change her mind but until then I gave up trying to explain. Seeing is believing after all.
We left after paying and decided to hit the different shops before picking up my armor and weapons. Lugging them around was the major reason for leaving them for last. I wanted to get a storage ring or bracelet but the cost for a decent one was still beyond me after paying for the armor. Still, the armor was worth it since it would be one of the key factors keeping me alive.
I was talking but stopped mid-sentence as a servant walked down the road with a wrapped item that was probably ordered by her employer. She was fortyish but that was not what distracted me. She seemed normal but then my vision blurred and when her face came back into focus I saw black worms crawling through her flesh. The black wriggling things were a stark contrast to her white skin that they were easy to spot. I saw more on her hands before my vision blurred again and she went back to normal. My gaze following her as she mixed into the crowd until I lost sight of her.
What the hell was that? Monster? Somebody using illusion or mind magic to attack me? Or was it just me losing my mind? It has been a hard two weeks with very little sleep. Whatever it was I had no idea and I wish that was the only weird thing I noticed on my trip. Sadly, I also kept seeing a tall teenage boy. He had black hair, dark, almost black eyes and a black cap. He was like some super emo teen and was easy to spot. At first I did not think too much of him but ,by the fifth sighting I was beginning to worry we were being stalked. He would appear quickly and vanish just as fast. The only thing keeping me from freaking out was that he seemed awfully familiar and I did not feel any malice from him. In fact, he would smile at me from time to time, as if he knew me.
It was weird but I was not upset about it. So I did not say too much about it with the others as we shopped. They seemed to shrug it off as not as important as shopping for my gear but promised to be alert. We hit dozens of shops getting the perfect things. Which mainly was what they saw while watching “Dungeon Divers”. It was a show I had seen them watching before. So I ended up with spices, a tiny metal polished mirror, some cooking equipment, a stiletto, travel cloak, ring and so on. A lot of the items I got had practical use but some of them seemed like advertised gimmicks. Either way we had fun. I picked up my gear after we ate at a fancy restaurant and made one more stop before heading back to school.