“He… he can’t do this…” I said, my voice coming out with a frustrated tone.
“She’s his property…” The Guild Master responded, slapping my back. “I’m sorry, lad.”
“No… but… he left her. I saved her life.” I tried to reason things out. “She’d be dead if it wasn’t for me.”
“No one asked you to save her life.” The Guild Master looked uncomfortable but said the words anyway. “I’m not justifying it; I’m just saying that you protecting his property doesn’t mean he owes you anything.”
“If he abandoned a sword in the dungeon… and I picked it up… wouldn’t that mean it is mine?” I tried to use their own disgusting logic against them.
“A slave isn’t a sword.” The Guild Master sighed. “They are given a mark of ownership. It’s magical. No matter what, she is still owned by him.”
“So… you’re saying, if someone changed ownership, like… with a slave taker skill, then he’d no longer have a right to her?” I tried to come up with anything to defend myself.
“How do you know of the Take Slave skill?” The wiry man was still nearby and immediately stepped forward as soon as I spoke.
I blushed. “I… um… heard about it.”
The Guild Master shook his head. “Even if you could take his slave ownership, he’d still have paperwork. You’d make an enemy of a noble, and you’d bring possibly the entire nation on your head. I speak this from experience, lad. Stealing a slave is punishable by death. Old Chalm once functioned as a place where slaves could hide, have their curse removed and be freed. They worked outside the law. There is a reason it’s called Old Chalm. It’s nothing but ghosts now.”
“Besides…” The slaver spoke up. “Slave Taker is an extremely rare skill. I’m a level 20 Slave Trader, and even I haven’t unlocked this skill yet. I heard it’s about level 50. Level 75 for the job Slaver.”
“What about the Slave Master?” I asked.
The man blinked. “Now that’s not a job I’ve heard in a long time. Very high tiered. You won’t find many in these parts. The last Slave Master I ever heard of was a hundred years ago. The guy is known as the Slave Hero.”
“Never mind then,” I sighed bitterly, no longer wanting to talk to this man.
“Wait…” The man stopped me with a hand. “My name is Figuro. I’m with the Slave Caravan that passes by. We do a circuit of all the villages every year to pick up those who can’t pay their taxes or have committed a crime. Chalm occasionally pays to free the sick, children, or the crimeless. This year they haven’t the coin to spare and have been a bit less than welcoming.”
The Guild Master sneered. “We tolerate your caravan on the outskirts of our city. Considering our population, isn’t that enough?”
“What do you want?” I asked, feeling drained.
“I have been selling slaves my entire life. I have a good read on people. For example, I read that this noble really wishes to sell that catkin and purchase another male companion to protect him. I also happened to notice he was heading in the direction of my caravan, where I happen to have a bodyguard that may fit his tastes.”
“You’re saying he’s going to sell her? What about his offer for the capital!” As soon as I said it, I felt stupid.
“Likely a lie.” The man shrugged. “By the time you reach the capital, he would have long gotten rid of the catkin. He likely planned to waste your time, put you off, and only reveal he got rid of her much later. Nobles aren’t the type to slit throats or hire thugs. They prefer to torture people more inconspicuously.”
“Yes… I was saying, I will return to the caravan now and then make all effort to purchase her at a much more reasonable rate. I’m confident I’ll be able to make him sell. I’ll hold on to her for a few days, giving you time to recall the money. At that point, you can come to me and purchase her.”
“Really, you’d do this for me?”
Figuro shrugged. “Of course, she’ll be sold at a profit. I won’t demand anything unreasonable. I promise you I’ll sell her to you at the market rate. He gets his new slave and thinks he screwed you over, you get your slave back at a reasonable cost, and I only wish for the difference.”
I turned to the Guild Master. He sighed and nodded.
“Figuro is a businessman. He’ll sell her for exactly what she’s worth to him, not a penny more. He won’t screw you over.” The Guild Master explained. “I’ll work on recalling the money immediately.”
“Excellent!” Figuro smiled, “Then… we have a deal.”
I reached out and grabbed his hand. We shook on it. In a few days, I’d have Lydia back.
Two days passed like an eternity. I spent most of the time slouched over a table in the inn. Two large soft things pressed down on the back of my head, which I currently had laid down on the table.
“Deek, it’ll be alright. I promise.”
The person speaking was the warrior woman who had joined us on our infiltration into the dungeon. She had visited me along with a couple of the people I had healed. In the last few days, I had mostly just become a NEET, remaining in the inn and living minimally. I had stopped at the shops looking to earn money more quickly by selling the goods on me, but they didn’t have the coin to buy anything I had.
“Look at these… this is Shadow Rabbit’s hide!” The seamstress spoke excitedly. “And you have three of them! Miraculous!”
“So, how much do they go for?” I asked, desperately.
“If I make a cloak out of them, it’d easily be worth 25 gold coins! Pay me just a single gold coin, and I can make it. A cloak like this has many magical properties in speed and sneaking!”
“Give you a gold coin? I’m trying to make gold coins, not give them away!” I shouted.
“Ah… fine… I’ll do the cloak for free! Just give me the extra material not used in the cloak, and we’ll call it even!”
As for the jewelry, he offered to trade me much, but ultimately couldn’t convert any of it to coin. The village had no bank, and they weren’t lying when they said they cleared out the city to be able to come up with the bounty. At the moment, the town was on a bartering system until traveling merchants came by, and they could exchange their goods for coin.
“Deek!” A voice came at the door. “The money arrived!”
I immediately lifted my head, only to have her chest come down my face.
“Ah!” She cried out, pulling up. “Deek… you pervert!”
A couple of the men chuckled, but I was too caught up on Lydia. Heading to the door, I looked back and bowed to the big sister, who I now knew was named Ruby. “Thank you for all of your help.”
I turned and followed the messenger, and we headed right to the guild. The mayor was waiting there as was the Guild Master.
“Hello, Deek!” The mayor waved. “Given the circumstances, we’ve decided to forgo the formalities. Freeing a slave is, of course, a noble cause, and Chalm fully supports it. The Guild Master will go with you to make sure the payment is delivered safely. Whatever you don’t spend on the slave… well… we’ll talk about that when you get back.”
I looked at the Guild Master, but he only shrugged and started walking. “Let’s get a move on.”
I nodded, following after him. “Thank you for this.”
The Guild Master gave a look. “We owe you a bit more. The mayor doesn’t want to admit it, but from knocking out the dungeon to helping heal so many injuries, buying off a single slave is hardly sufficient.
“It’s okay…” I responded. “It’ll be worth it, as long as I can free Lydia.”
The pair of us continued to walk out of the village. It wasn’t quite as far away as the graveyard, but it was close. We ended up seeing a circle of wagons sitting in the distance. We approached it, and eventually, a group of two guards came out and greeted us politely.
“We’re here to speak to Figuro.” The Guild Master nodded, patting his belt, so the coins jingled.
As we were brought to the back, we saw that most of the wagons were barred and contained a group of people. One, in particular, looked very shabby. Most of the people in it were lying down.
“The sick and the dying.” One of the bodyguards spat as he noticed me looking. “Not a single slave of value.”
I noticed that all the slaves in this section appeared to be animalkin. However, there was only one slave I particularly cared about at the moment. We were brought into a tent, and after being instructed to sit and wait for five minutes, Figuro finally walked in. He didn’t look like he had bad news. Rather, he had a strange expression on his face as he sat down.
“I have the one you named, Lydia…” Figuro spoke tightly.
The Guild Master’s eyes narrowed. “What? What is it? We have the money.”
Figuro’s mouth twisted bitterly. “He sold Lydia as we expected. It was a great deal, in fact. You see, I’m required by the slave guild to assess any slave I buy. As it turns out, she’s a lot more valuable than I was initially led to believe. She’s a rare variant of catkin known as a tigerkin. These are very powerful and speedy animalkins. Furthermore, she managed to gain the Swordsman class, and it’s up to level fourteen. I now think I understand how you managed to make it out of the labyrinth together.”
“We fought and leveled together!” I said with irritation. “What of it?”
“Just get on with it, how much?” The Guild Master snapped.
Figuro shook his head. “I can’t let her go for any less than 100 gold coins.”
“One hundred gold coins!” The Guild Master snapped.
“If she was a virgin, it’d be even more.” Figuro shrugged.
“You promised…” I said while gritting my teeth. “You said that I could have her…”
“At market price…” Figuro sighed. “This is the market price. After he found out she was worth more, all he saw was gold. I didn’t even tell him she was a rare tigerkin breed, and he already wanted to rob me blind. I gave him all of the spare coin I brought. I even contributed some of my own wealth. I might have played a harder game with him, but he was ready to walk and I had already made the promise to you. Perhaps, he had realized we had cut a deal and played us both.
“One hundred gold is what I spent to buy her. I’m making no profit here. Be lucky that I’m a man of my word. In an auction, I could possibly earn three hundred gold. Maybe even five hundred if you trained her up a bit.”
The Guild Master put his hand up, stopping me as I rose up. “You know we prepared fifty coins today and didn’t expect to use a tenth of them. Why have you even told us this?”
Figuro nodded. “I know this has put a bad strain on our relationship, but I have a positive feeling about you… Deek.”
“Hmm…” I glared at him, and Figuro only chuckled to himself.
“I told you, I’m good at reading people. I think that you might be a good investment. I see you possibly buying more slaves in the future. That’s why I’d like to create a working relationship with you. The tigerkin would allow me to do that.”
“A hundred gold coins…” I began.
“I will take fifty now,” Figuro explained. “And the rest next month. But I will need… some guarantee.”
“Something worth putting my profits on the line.” Figuro smirked. “Perhaps, yourself.”
“Is that what this is about, Figuro?” The Guild Master hit the table angrily. “You’re trying to increase your slave stock? Want to put a hero in there?”
“No… no… not at all.” Figuro defended. “I have every trust that our friend here can come up with the money on time.”
“What do you mean?” I demanded.
“It’s very simple. I put a Temporary Slave Mark on you. In thirty days, you pay off the debt, and I remove it, or… it activates, and you become a slave.” Figuro explained. “In this case, you’re the guarantee. It’s truly very fair, as I mean no offense, but even a hero is only worth thirty gold coins at most.”
The Guild Master looked over at me. “This is how these slave traders work. Someone gets in debt, and the next moment they’re a slave. Fifty gold coins is a lot unless you do dungeon diving, and even then, a month is pushing it.”
I thought about the offer for a few moments. “You said, anything worth fifty gold coins?”
Figuro nodded. “Exactly.”
I sighed and then reached into my pocket, pulling out my storage ring. The jeweler had said that a storage ring ran about fifty gold coins. I put it on the table in front of Figuro. Frowning, he reached forward and picked it up.
Staring at it a moment, he let out a gasp. “A storage ring! And a large one too!”
“Will that suffice?” I asked, more worried that he would say no.
“Of course, of course. In fact, this more than covers the cost. You can even keep the fifty gold until you come up with the rest.”
“Can’t you just take the ring and the fifty gold and we call it even?” I asked.
“I’m not a jeweler, I’m a slave trader.” Figuro shrugged helplessly. “If I start dealing in other currency, the Merchant guild will go into an uproar. Besides, this ring is only worth thirty-five gold.”
“The jeweler said it was worth fifty!”
“To buy it, maybe, but to sell…” He shook his head. “Plus, that’s out here. Magic items are a little less rare in the capital. You have to understand, I’m already bending the rules quite a bit here. Giving a slave in advance of full payment is virtually unheard of. If you’d rather I held on to her until…”
“No!” I cried out, biting my lip. “Fine. We’ll do things your way. I’ll get that money.”
“Good,” Figuro said, nodding respectfully. “We have a deal then. You have one month to earn the gold, or we repossess the tigerkin and the ring will be compensation for my time.”
I leaned back and scratched my chin. This isn’t how collateral works in my world. However, this isn’t like a car loan, either. He’s trusting me with Lydia for a month. I could run with her, or she could die, and then he’d take a major loss. Meanwhile, if I can’t keep my part of the bargain, I don’t merely lose Lydia, but the ring also. It’s a bit better than offering myself to slavery, but only a little. After a moment, I nodded.
“Done!” The pair of us shook on it.
Figuro lead me back out into the area, gesturing to a guard nearby. He left while we waited in front of the animalkin cages. In particular, I was looking into the sick cage. Most of the people were very old. There was one notable exception. It was a fox-eared girl. Her skin was pale and her lips were dry and broken. She turned and looked up at me as if noticing that I was glancing in her direction. She had dirty blond hair that looked nearly white. She had two triangle ears on her head, pointier than Lydia’s, and a long, bushy tail that looked less flexible than hers.
“I wouldn’t show too much interest in her,” Figuro spoke up. “She’s diseased. It’s chronic. The Priest claims it requires a series of spells from a particularly high-level priest. She’d basically need treatment for the rest of her life, or an extremely rare potion known as an elixir. The cost would be far more than she is worth, I’m sorry to say it. It’s a shame too. She’s a special fox variant. They’re called the nine-tailed fox.”
I glanced up to her single tail, and the guy chuckled. “The other 8 tails are spiritual. That is to say, they exist on another plane of existence.”
He chuckled at my expression. I didn’t really even understand it. Magical tails? It truly was weird, and a shame that such a pretty girl was sickly and dying.
“M-master!” A girl shouted, and Lydia burst out and ran toward me without reserve, throwing her arms around me. “You came! You really came for me!”
She immediately started bawling as soon as she touched me, large hot tears falling on my chest, her arms holding me tightly. I reached forward and patted her head, feeling the warmth of her body once again.
The Guild Master laughed, patting me on the back. Figuro remained back but had a bit of an amused smile on his face. The foxgirl also watched us expressionlessly from her cage, but no smile reached her face.