To the Core part 69

“That feels good,” I moaned in delight. “Maybe down just a little… Yeah, right there…” I let out another moan. “Oh yeah… Harder… Deeper…”

After this, I didn’t bother saying anything more, though a few moans and grunts slipped out. At that moment, I was focused on enjoying the experience which was unlike anything I’d ever felt before.

When it finally came to an end, I gasped, “That was amazing…”

“Thank you,” Reishel responded, looking pleased by the compliment. “And thank you for allowing me to practice on you.”

“It was my pleasure,” I assured her as I slowly sat up. “Literally.”

With that, I turned my full attention to Reishel, who was a beautiful young amazon with the same features as the other amazons from the House of Candles. However, her figure wasn’t quite as filled out as those of the other women, probably because she was the youngest one there. Or at least, the youngest employed by the House of Candles since she was actually about the same age as Zoe, though maybe a little older.

“I was able to test my new skill,” Reishel explained, “and progress in unlocking it. It would be unprofessional to do that with a paying customer, so I really appreciate the opportunity to advance…”

“Anytime,” I told Reishel with a grin. “I’ve never had a massage like that before, but I’d be happy to have one again.” Then I chuckled. “For an amazon who specializes in massage techniques, this is definitely the right place to get more practice.”

“My clan has worked in hospitality for centuries,” she proudly announced. “We’ve developed many skills and techniques that you’ll never find anywhere else.”

I nodded at that, impressed by what the House of Candles had to offer. As a guest who’d been given full hospitality, I was able to get many of their services for free, and I was taking full advantage of the opportunity. Even once we left, it might be worth risking a trip back to Karuu, just to come back as a customer.

The House of Candles was an impressive place, being a combination of spa, bath house, and massage parlor. And while there was exotic dancing and even some very personal and intimate services, those were not the focus of this place. In fact, whenever a would-be customer only seemed interested in sex, they were gently directed to the brothel on the other side of town.

I stretched, feeling good. That massage had done wonders for my muscles, and my whole body now felt loose and relaxed. This was quite a change from my time in Lorgram’s compound.

Then, my thoughts turned to the other reason I was in a good mood. This morning, I’d absorbed the last core we’d acquired during our escape from the arena. Before taking it, my core’s corruption had been almost entirely cleared up, so I’d hoped that the last core would finish the job. So far, I wasn’t quite there, but I was so close to being cured of my curse that I could almost taste it.

Since my massage was over, it was time to leave the room, though I was a bit reluctant to do so. That would take a bit more effort than I felt like giving at the moment, though I reluctantly got up and left the room anyway.

“Thanks again” I told Reishel as I stepped out the door.

Once I was in the hallway, I paused and looked around. My eyes lingered on the candles, which filled the numerous alcoves. Most of these candles were lit, though not all of them. And as I’d come to realize, there was a reason for this. Many of these candles contained coded messages, hidden within things like their color, position within the alcove, and even whether or not it was even lit. And while I had absolutely no idea of how to read these messages, I knew they were there.

Over the last couple days, I’d seen women adjusting the candles, often when there seemed little reason. They’d light or snuff a candle, move it within the alcove, and sometimes even replace a full candle with a new one of a different color. This was usually when a customer arrived or left, so it didn’t take long to realize that these messages must be a way of letting other employees know when a customer was present and what kind of services they might be receiving.

“Maybe the equivalent of putting a sock on the doorknob,” I mused with a chuckle.

While I was standing there, I realized that I could hear someone talking from the room across the hall. The door was closed and the sound was muffled a bit, but once I paid attention, I could make out some of what was said.

“You have a slave marker on your wrist,” a woman’s voice said, sounding surprised. “But you aren’t a slave…”

“No,” a man responded in a sharp tone which sounded upset. “Yesterday, some beggar tried picking my coin purse, and when I caught him…he slapped this THING on my wrist…”

“That’s horrible,” the woman said.

The man continued his rant. “The same thing has happened to several of my associates… One of them had his own slave mark him. And not only him…but his whole family…right before that treacherous dagwa ran away…”

“While that does sound terrible,” the woman said, in what I now guessed to be a false tone of sympathy, “you are here to relax. So, lay down and I’ll give you a massage that will make you forget all about your troubles…”

I was definitely interested in the conversation, or at least, in the idea that people were slapping marker bracelets on slave owners, though I felt a bit guilty for eavesdropping. So, with a sigh, I continued on my way, hurrying down the hall and considering what I’d already overheard. Could this be related to the slave key we’d given Sizu?

“Could be,” I thought aloud, thinking about where those particular bracelets could have come from.

I started back towards the room that I shared with Zoe, wondering if I’d find her there. It was a bit of a longshot though because she could be in any number of places, as could Allie and Sharon. This place had a lot of opportunities for guests, and I wasn’t the only one taking advantage of them.

Before I reached the room, I heard a familiar voice call out, “There you are…”

“Where else would I be?” I joked, turning to see Allie coming at me from another hall.

“I don’t know,” she responded with a grin. “Sneaking peeks into the girl’s locker room?”

With a snort and a wry grin, I pointed out, “I don’t exactly need to sneak in there anymore…”

“Anymore?” she repeated with a smirk. “As in you used to sneak in?”

I rolled my eyes. “No comment.”

“Now THAT is a first,” Allie joked.

“Well, there is a first time for everything,” I responded with a chuckle. Then, I asked, “Were you looking for me?”

Allie nodded at that, turning serious. “Actually, yeah. Zella asked to talk to us. I think she might have an update on our travel plans.”

“I just hope we get to ride in first class this time,” I told her, remembering the last time we’d done any traveling…tied up in the back of a cart. “Coach really sucked.”

It didn’t take long to reach the sitting room that I’d come to think of as Zella’s office. Sharon and Zoe were already there, lounging in a couple of comfortable looking chairs and sipping on cups of tea. I gave a nod to them and then a polite greeting to our host before taking my own seat.

“Would you care for some tea?” Zella asked us.

“Yes, please,” Allie answered.

“Thank you,” I responded.

Taysha was present, standing back in the corner, though I hadn’t noticed her until she stepped forward. She went to the table which held the tea and cups, and poured two cups, which she then brought to Allie and myself.

“Thank you,” I repeated, this time to Taysha, who merely smiled and nodded before returning to her position in the corner.

Once Allie and I had our tea in hand, Zella announced, “I thought you should know the situation in Karuu…especially since you had a hand in starting it.”

“The situation?” Sharon asked with a slight frown. “What’s happening now?”

Remembering the conversation that I’d recently overheard, I asked, “Does this have something to do with people getting slave bracelets slapped on them?”

“Among other things,” Zella answered, giving me a curious look, perhaps wondering how I knew that.

“What?” Zoe asked in surprise. “Really?”

Zella nodded and took a sip of her tea, using this to create a dramatic pause. After a few seconds, she announced, “The slaves in Karuu have begun rebelling… It seems that they were inspired by your resistance and escape from the arena…though I strongly suspect that several of your former companions are actively encouraging this.”

“Just how active is this rebellion?” Allie asked. “Do we have to expect fighting in the streets, or guards going door to door?”

“So far, the violence is minimal,” Zella answered. “Though I do not expect it to remain this way for long. For now, many slaves have simply run away, some of them even stealing their master’s slave keys in the process…”

“And if they have the slave keys,” I thought aloud, “they can remove their bracelets and even create new ones…”

“Correct,” Zella said. “People have begun being attacked on the streets…and even in their homes…and have had slave markers placed on their wrists. So far, there have been nearly two dozen such occurrences, with most of the victims being slave owners or wealthy. Some of these markers bear the signs of Lorgram’s key, though certainly not all of them.”

“So, Sizu is involved,” Sharon stated. “And if she’s involved in this, then I’d wager that Heidra is also part of it.”

“That does seem to be the situation,” Zella agreed. “I do not know their plans, though I am certain that the situation in Karuu will continue to escalate. Violence is not far off.”

“Yeah,” Zoe agreed with a sneer. “For some reason, assholes really hate it when their slaves escape…”

Allie smirked as she added, “And especially when they mark their former owners as slaves… That confuses the whole order of things…”

“What does that mean for us?” I asked Zella.

Zella seemed to consider this for the moment. “For now, it changes nothing. You will continue to be safe within these walls, and in less than a week, you will be safely escorted out of Karuu.”

“I just hope things don’t blow up before then,” Allie said.

“Violence has a tendency to change plans,” Sharon added a second later. “I doubt it will be much longer before the slave owners demand the city guard and local government recover their slaves and put a stop to this. And of course, the slaves and former slaves won’t be happy with that.”

I nodded, then pointed out, “Regardless of which side throws the first punch, the punch is going to come, and then the whole bar is going to erupt in a brawl…”

“Wow,” Allie said, giving me a look of amusement. “You’re really taking this brawler and bruiser thing to heart…”

I just grinned in response. “Well, they call me the Savage Sabine…not the Diplomatic Sabine.”

“Well,” she said, blowing me a raspberry. “I’m calling you a dork.”

“As entertaining as this exchange is,” Zella commented, “there is one more thing I asked you here for.”

“Oh?” Allie asked, looking a little embarrassed.

Zella smiled gently. “We have a tradition here in the House of Candles, one that has existed since our doors were first opened.”

“If this is some kind of hazing shit,” Zoe said, “I am so out…”

“Whenever we offer hospitality to someone,” Zella explained, “we also give a hospitality gift.”

“Gifts are good,” Zoe admitted.

“One of the reasons I asked you to see me,” Zella continued, “is that I have decided upon your gifts.”

Zella made a gesture and Taysha stepped forward, as did three other women. I was curious about why they were there since I didn’t see them holding any presents.

“I selected each of your gifts with care,” Zella told us with a smile, glancing at the four women who’d stepped forward.

A moment later, Taysha added, “We specifically selected gifts that could not be lost or stolen, considering your current situation and uncertain futures”

“Sharon,” Zella said, staring at my elven friend. “Taysha is a trainer for a skill which we believe will be of great use to you.”

Taysha moved closer to Sharon, explaining, “Lieth noth is a martial skill based on evasion and avoiding injury, and one which will work particularly well with your knife fighting skill and elven advantages.”

“Really?” Sharon asked in surprise.

Taysha smiled and touched Sharon. From the way Sharon’s eyes widened, I was pretty sure that the skill had just been copied over. I was definitely a bit jealous.

“Thank you,” Sharon gasped while Taysha smiled and stepped back to rejoin the other amazons.

“Allie,” Zella said, looking at Allie. “There is a secondary model which most of my employees enjoy, and which I believe you will benefit from as well. Charisma is a very valuable model, one which many women would eagerly pay a large sum to acquire. Seia happens to be a trainer in this model and will give it to you.”

One of the amazons, who had to be Seia, stepped towards Allie and held out her hand. After a moment of hesitation and a look of curiosity, Allie held out her own hand and the two of them touched.

A couple seconds later, Allie’s eyes went wide and she exclaimed, “Wow…”

“This is useful for any woman,” Seia told her before stepping back.

I stared at Allie for a moment, feeling a little jealous for her getting a secondary model, even if I didn’t know exactly what it did. Sure, I had a secondary model too, but I didn’t get any new advantages or benefits from it. In fact, the only thing it really did for me was prevent me from getting a more useful secondary model, since you could only have one of them.

“Sabine,” Zella said, this time looking at me. “As with charisma, there is also a skill that nearly every one of my ladies possess, one which Taysha assures me, would be quite beneficial for you…” She smiled at that. “As with charisma, grace is something that we rarely share with outsiders.”

“Grace?” I asked.

One of the women, Geena, stepped forward and held her hand out to me, much the way Seia had done to Allie. I was definitely curious about this skill so held out my hand and touched Geena’s. Then, the popup appeared.

A NEW SKILL ‘GRACE’ HAS BEEN DETECTED. ACCEPT? YES/NO

I immediately selected ‘yes’, then looked at the new skill that appeared on my status page, eager to see what I’d just gained.

GRACE- INCREASES AWARENESS AND CONTROL OF YOUR BALANCE AND MOVEMENTS
LEVEL 1

“This is a necessary skill for a dancer,” Taysha explained, apparently seeing my confusion. “Many of us learn this one the slow way…through practice and training. It makes you more graceful, but also benefits your speed, agility, and precision.” She smiled faintly at that, adding, “It should help you with the weak spots in your style…and one day…may act as the bridge to mastering soft touch techniques.”

“Thank you,” I responded, appreciating the explanation since I wasn’t sure how useful this would be to me otherwise.

I glanced at Zoe and then turned my attention to Zella, wondering what she had for my friend. So far, Zoe was the only one of us who hadn’t been given a gift yet.

“And Zoe,” Zella said. “For you, we have an ability called soothe…”

The last of the amazon women who’d been standing to the side now stepped forward. This was the same woman we’d met the first day, the one from the stable who’d taken Rapidash for care. And as with the others, she held out her hand for Zoe to take.

“Sooth will compliment your horsemanship,” the amazon explained to Zoe. “It allows you to soothe many animals…calming them and removing their fear or aggression.” Then she quickly added, “But it does not work on monsters.”

“That would be cool if it did,” Zoe responded with a grin. “Imagine making those bastards stand down…”

“Thank you for these generous gifts,” Sharon told Zella. “These are amazing presents…”

“Use them well,” Zella said with a smile. For some reason her eyes lingered on Allie before glancing to me. “And continue to enjoy our hospitality for now.”

After this, we each thanked Zella and the other women again, and then left the room. We went back towards our rooms, none of us really speaking at first as we considered our new acquisitions. There was little doubt that most of them would be useful, though I wasn’t sure how useful ‘charisma’ would actually be for Allie. I’d a have to talk to her about her new model later on.



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