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“That… well, that’s rather ominous,” Mélanie admitted. “Does that mean if I’m irritable at you, I’m going to be, say, an obnoxious treasure? Or some sort of treasure kept in a glass box?”
Being called a treasure was rather pleasant, she had to admit, if she ignored the sense of worry from the ominous part of it.
“It’s more that, if you find me too irritating, you’ll be more of an independent agent who happens to be a treasure, where if you actually find me pleasant to be around – which I suppose is possible; it’s happened once or twice before, and the bond thing might help with that a bit – you’ll be my partner.”
“Well, that too, I’m sure. I do a bit of that. Crime. I mean, if we can call it crime.” He gave her a very charming smile. “After all, it’s not as if there are that many laws anymore… right?”
“Well, you’re the boss.” She was smiling back at him again, how did he do that? And what’s more, she’d missed ten minutes of scenery while she ws smiling at him. She looked around, trying to figure out where they were.
The road was overgrown with weeds; to either side of the road was almost entirely choked with greenery, and through the trees she could see one white shingle of what had, at some point, presumably been a house. She had never been through here before – wait. Once, back just after everything went to shit. She peered at the house; with effort, she could make out the picket fence with the elaborate designs carved into the pickets. “I wanted that house so badly,” she whispered. “It looked like a fairy tale.”
“I guess a lot of our fairy tales died in the End Wars.” he patted her shoulder, sounding, for a moment, far less flippant. Then the moment was gone, and his voice lifted up. “On the bright side, we can make our own tales.”
“What, like ‘the cautionary tale of how not to end up in a slaver’s cage?’”
“Well, that’s a good one. To be a proper fairy tale, you’d either have had to upset several grannies at crossroads, or been under a curse, or, let’s see, it’s your origin story and your handsome prince is going to rescue you.”
“Or I’m going to rescue my handsome prince, but he doesn’t know it yet,” she countered.
“Ah, a modern woman.” He grinned widely at her. Mélanie tried to ignore the surge of warmth. It wouldn’t last. It never lasted. “Wonderful. I’m absolutely certain I’m going to need some rescuing along the way. So. Your fairy tale. How did it begin? ‘Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess…’”
“-Swineherd,” Mélanie countered. “I mean, also dairy maid. Mostly dairy maid.” She ducked her head. Who’d have thought the monsters would come that far out of the cities? “Until she happened upon a hungry dragon who was eating her herds.”
“Oh, it’s one of those stories. A beautiful dairy maid who tried to defend her herd against the dragons. but-”
Mélanie bit her lip. “But the dragon was too big for her, the end.”
“…aww.” he patted her leg gently. “I’m sorry. Sometimes the stories we make up are better than the ones rooted in truth. So you’re going to rescue me, are you?”
Mélanie rallied and gave him a weak smile. “I think that’s the way the story’s supposed to – where are you going?” She reached for the edge of the cart, even though she knew, knew, that running away was futile when one was Kept.
“Oh? This place is my home. Don’t mind the ghouls and goblins; there’s just there for ambiance.”
“You do not… no. Oh, no, you don’t.” She jumped over the edge of the cart before it could drive through the gate made of spider webs and giant spidery legs of steel, skulls and bones out of no monster that should be known to mankind. “No, this- I know this place.” She was backing away from the cart back down the road even as he stopped the cart and hopped out. “Everyone knows this place. No, you might be mad, but you are still not dragging me in there.”
“Princess dairy maid… Mélanie….” He walked towards her, hands out, his smile gone. “It’s safe for you and me, I assure you.”
“People die when they go in there! People come back empty!”
As stupid as it was, she took off running.
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