(Criminal slaves, lifetime slaves…but they’re still human, right?)
Even in the defensive city, Mariela heard stories about the city ‘exterminating thieves.’ Of course, she understood that by ‘exterminating’ they meant killing. It was the preferred method of dealing with those that wished to rob the aristocracy of their wealth and assets. If you were lenient on a thief, it would just lead to there being more victims.
This didn’t make Mariela feel any less uncomfortable around people that could treat another human being as livestock.
(I didn’t realize slaves were treated so poorly.)
Thieves would primarily target those that had too much already.
Most thieves’ motivation was obvious. They wanted money and didn’t want to work for it or couldn’t find work. Given the state of the capital in Mariela’s time, the people that fit this description were abundant.
Mariela was poor but she was at least capable of feeding herself. She never had to get involved with people of that nature and, therefore, never witnessed how criminal slaves were treated. She hoped to live out her days quietly in the Demon Forest. A poor yet peaceful and safe life was all Mariela desired.
Therefore, it’s understandable that Mariela wouldn’t know that this was the common treatment of slaves of this type.
Mariela began to feel that this situation was more dangerous than it actually was.
The items sold within the labyrinth city are of a higher quality and price than those found in the surrounding defensive city. But the price definitely hasn’t increased by 200 times. Most notable for Mariela was the fact that there were no potions being sold at all. Instead, in their place, “medicine” was being sold. It’s clear that potions are more valuable than ever before. Even the low-quality potions Mariela made before sold instantly.
(I need information. I have to find someone I can trust.)
So far, Mariela has only been able to learn more about this city based on what she could see on the carriage ride. However, there’s nothing that can confirm the suspicions she has about the city. Mariela had finally arrived in the city she once knew but it had become foreign to her.
While thinking this, the inspection of the ‘cargo’ continued.
Captain Dick had now begun negotiating with the man named Raymond that represented the trading company.
They had yet to come to an agreement on the price of the slaves and were now reaching the man at the end of the line.
“I’m not willing to pay more than two large silver coins for each of them. I’d need to sell ten of them just to make a profit.”
Mariela used the life magic《Far Hearing》to listen in on their conversation.
This is a type of wind magic that people would use to listen in on conversations in towns or detect animals or monsters in the forest. This magic has a small range of effectiveness and can’t be used to penetrate through walls, but it worked well enough to pick up the conversation between Raymond and Dick.
“And this one seems to be lacking the use of both his right hand and right leg. He isn’t even worth my time.”
He seems to be talking about the man that was grabbed by the hair and had now collapsed to the ground.
“He can still be used in the labyrinth or maybe even in a mine.”
“With that foot, there’s no way he’d be of any use as an adventurer. And that hand of his is clearly unable to hold a pickaxe.”
“He only has one eye but his face is still pretty attractive. I’m sure you can find some use for him?”
“As a prostitute? I’m sure I could find a buyer whose attracted to certain deformities, but these people are only interested in younger slaves. I doubt they’d even look twice at any slave above the age of twenty. Besides, that one can’t even stand without the use of a cane.”
Meat wall, mine, male prostitution…. The man was unsure which option was worse. He was visibly trembling.
He’s lost more weight than any of the other slaves, he’s covered in filth and mud from falling down on the wet ground, and his dim grey hair was matted and stuck to his face. He could best be described as shabby and pathetic.
“Bring me the letter of introduction for those five, I’ll buy them.”
“Certainly, I can complete your order for those five, but are you really going to pass up a valuable commodity like this over such a small defect? I’m sure it wouldn’t be too difficult to disguise his limited mobility so you can sell him off.”
“…but there’s no way I’ll pay more than two large silver coins for each of them. And yet you want five large coins….”
“We also have to cover any costs of transporting them here. We can’t sell them for that cheap or we’d be operating at a loss.”
(Captain Dick is a terrible negotiator!)
Although Captain Dick looks intimidating he’s terrible at negotiations. Raymond is in complete control of their conversation.
Vice-Captain Marlowe let out a sigh and looked as if he was used to this from his captain.
(Wait a minute, isn’t this my chance?)
Every slave treats their master’s words as if they were law. This is due to them being bound by slavery magic.
The power of slavery magic comes from the amount of debt the slave owes or the weight of the crime they committed.
(This person is either a criminal slave or a lifetime slave. They’ll be bound to me until I die. Until death….)
Buying an ally with money may seem like a sordid thing to do. In fact, most people would shun those that had become criminal slaves or lifetime slaves. Some who look at a man in this position would see weakness, compassion, superiority, or pity. Everyone would form their own opinion without even knowing what circumstances led him to that life. This man could have committed the most heinous of acts.
However, Mariela could still clearly remember the fear she felt as death itself approached her in the form of the rampaging demons from the forest. And this, combined with the strange interactions she’s had and the transformation of this very city had made it so Mariela could no longer think calmly. Above all else, the soaring potion prices caused Mariela to lose what little patience she had left.
“I’ll pay five large silver coins!”
Mariela screamed out before she even realized it. Both Captain Dick and Raymond were surprised. Several members of the trading company staff, as well as a few slaves, turned to look at her. With all of their attention focused on her, Mariela could feel her face getting hot.
A myriad of feelings attacked Mariela. Captain Dick’s intimidating gaze struck fear into her heart, Raymond’s sly expression caused her to feel disgusted, and….beyond Captain Dick, she noticed the grey-haired man staring at her. The right half of his face was hidden behind his hair but she could see his left eye was a deep blue.
“I need a slave. I don’t have much money on hand but I can pay five large silver coins!”
She laid everything out on the table. There was little negotiation involved.
It was Vice-Captain Marlowe that broke the silence.
(Eh? Is he laughing at me!? Why?)
“Alright then. We’ll sell him to Mariela for two large silver coins.”
Captain Dick was surprised and raised his voice.
Captain Dick and Raymond looked confused as they looked at the third person to join in their slave negotiations. They were even more surprised once they heard Vice-Captain Marlowe offer this slave for a reduced price.
“This woman heard that the slave was damaged and was still willing to pay full price. How about you knock off the contract fee in exchange for our services so far.”
Vice-Captain Marlowe brazenly said this to Raymond before walking over to him and explaining why he wanted to offer this strange girl such a steep discount,
“I expect we’ll both have a long and fruitful relationship with her.”
Raymond heard his words and thought about it for a moment. Once he finished, he returned to his former business-like nature, showed a broad smile, and said,
“I’m sorry you had to see such an unseemly side of me. As for the young lady’s proposal, I have no objections. It’s actually quite fortuitous that you were here. Now, you can complete the contract with Vice-Captain Marlowe.”
This was his answer.
“Eh? For two silver coins…?”
After Mariela handed Vice-Captain two large silver coins, she heard someone say, “The contract is ready.”
Without Mariela even realizing, a desk and a brazier with a brand in it had been set up. The slaves that were to be purchased had also been lined up next to the brazier.
Raymond sat at the desk and flipped open the book he and Captain Dick had been looking through before.
“Let’s see here. That man’s name is Siegmund. It says here that he injured his former master’s son and that led to him becoming a criminal slave.”
The grey-haired man, Siegmund, was wobbling back and forth next to the brazier. His body was trembling as he tried to speak,
Weak words leaked from his mouth for the first time since Mariela laid eyes on the pitiful man.
“I want each of you to listen up and pay close attention to this.”
A man that resembled a sales clerk stood next to the brazier and removed the brand.
The long iron rod had a detailed insignia on its end that was glowing red hot from the heat of the brazier. The insignia on the end of the rod was similar in size to Mariela’s palm.
The clerk slowly moved the rod near each of the slaves’ faces. Siegmund’s already ragged breathing became panicked as the clerk placed the iron inches from his face.
“If you are a well-behaved and submissive slave, a large brand like this is unnecessary…. Do not accrue any more debt! Behave as a slave should behave! Be of good use to your master! If your master’s son wishes to take your life, you should gladly offer it to him! If not, you will deserve any punishments or injuries you receive!”
Each word that left Raymond’s mouth became more forceful. Siegmund was biting his lip in order to hold back his words.
“A man like this is unfit to serve such a kind young lady. However, with the power of the slave contract, we can correct this man’s more unpleasant behaviours. With this, he will become a marvelous follower. If you believe the brand is too small, feel free to choose another.”
(I don’t really want to brainwash him but….)
Mariela approached the brazier where there were other insignia’s lined up on a table.
“This is fine.”
Mariela chose the smallest brand available. It wasn’t much larger than her fingertip. In fact, it was exactly the same size as a large silver coin.
(They’re even reducing the price, so I must cooperate to a certain extent.)
“His eye, hand, and foot are all disabled. I think this should be fine.”
Mariela showed the most natural smile she was capable of given the situation.
Siegmund is already weak. He’s so close to death that Mariela worried if he were branded with a large insignia, the shock alone may be enough to kill him. In the first place, Mariela only wanted Siegmund to keep her secret. She didn’t want to force a stronger, more painful, contract onto Siegmund and make him hate her.
Siegmund was neither looking at the seal nor Raymond. He was staring straight at Mariela. There was no hate to be seen in his eyes. Mariela didn’t know Siegmund well, but she knew she didn’t want to brand him with such a large insignia.
“Ah, how truly benevolent!”
Raymond looked at Siegmund before turning back to the other slaves.
“Always show appreciation to your master when they show you mercy! It should be a joy for you to obey their orders! Even if you’re own blood is spilt, it would not be enough to repay the kindness shown to you by your master!”
Raymond’s voice increased in volume and echoed throughout the courtyard.
“Your body is worth less than the dirt you stand on!”
The mana of the earth attribute of the metal brand Mariela held glowed dimly following Raymond’s words.
“The blood that flows through your very veins belongs to your master!”
The water attribute gathered in the cup on the desk began to vibrate and overflowed onto the desk.
“Every last breath you take is to serve your master’s will!”
The wind attribute in the air swirled around the brazier and formed a flame spiral.
“Your life belongs to your master until they wish it extinguished!”
The mana of the fire attribute was added to the brazier and a brilliant pillar of flame formed as tall as Mariela.
Each time Raymond called forth mana of each attribute it wasn’t enough to cast any powerful spells. However, incorporating spells into his speech with the added visual effects creates an impressive display. Not only does it look impressive, it has a powerful psychological effect on each slave.
Raymond’s presentation was remarkable. He clearly understood the way the human mind worked.
Raymond placed Mariela’s selected insignia into the brazier. He let it get red hot before removing it and placing it before Siegmund’s eyes once more.
It made Mariela think of a strange religious ceremony.
The guards grabbed Siegmund’s arms from behind and forced him to kneel.
Siegmund showed no signs of resistance as he looked up at the insignia.
“Thou, Siegmund, shall submit your soul!”
Raymond pressed the seal against Siegmund’s chest near his clearly visible ribs.
The sound of sizzling flesh followed by the smell of cooked meat filled the immediate area.
Siegmund clenched his teeth but forced himself to not scream out in pain.
The clerk approached Mariela and asked for his hand. He slid a knife across the palm of her hand and guided her blood into a cup on the desk.
The cup was the same one that had overflowed previously during Raymond’s speech. The blood mixed with the water, creating a cloudy crimson liquid.
One of the guards restraining Siegmund picked up the cup while the other forced his mouth open.
“Thou shall become one with your master!”
The guard poured the liquid down Siegmund’s throat, making sure not to spill a single drop.
The four attributes combined into Siegmund’s body and the procedure was complete.
The insignia engraved onto Siegmund’s flesh glowed, confirming the slave magic was now carved into his entire body.
“The contract has been formed!”
The ceremony was over and the contract was finished. Under the effects of the ceremony, Siegmund’s blue eyes looked lifeless as he stared at Mariela.
“Alright, let’s get going to the inn.”
Lynx and Ulrike were waiting nearby with the raptors.
Six raptors were already connected to the armoured carriage. Ulrike handed reins to Captain Dick and Vice-Captain Marlowe and then boarded the armoured carriage at the front.
“Load him up in the lead carriage. Everyone else, get on.”
Other crew members loaded Siegmund onto the carriage and locked the door.
Mariela climbed onto the carriage Siegmund had been placed on and prepared to enter the passenger side. She stopped and apologized to Raymond for interrupting his negotiations.
“No, don’t worry about it. It was actually rather fortuitous. The rest of the slaves that just arrived witnessed the ceremony and will now do their best to serve their masters. I look forward to doing business with you again.”
Raymond waved goodbye with a cheerful expression on his face.
The Black Iron Transportation Company had just spent the past three days and nights running through the Demon Forest. The slaves would’ve spent these three days locked inside the cramped carriage with only a small ventilation slit to provide them with fresh air. They would have been provided no food and they would be packed so close together that they wouldn’t even be able to lie down. The carriages were attacked by demons countless times on their journey. Locked away in the dark carriage, the howling of the demons haunted the slaves’ sleepless nights. Each new attack by the demons caused the carriage to sway and their claws and teeth that tried to tear into the armour of the carriage caused horrible scraping sounds to reverberate in the interior.
This constant fear of death would’ve already depleted the spirit and energy of every slave. They may have felt a sense of relief after arriving at the trading company. They were then forced to bear witness to this contract ceremony. After spending days without being fed and deprived of sleep, the idea of serving someone that would provide them with food and shelter wouldn’t seem so bad.
The value of the life of a criminal or lifetime slave is low. They’re humans that know they’re destined to live in poor environments and that even their own lives are not guaranteed. Ever slave expects the worst from their lives. They have no energy or motivation to live beyond this expectation. They’ll obey their master’s instructions but never do anything beyond the bare minimum. From a buyer’s perspective, these types of slaves are meant to be worked to the point of breaking and then tossed aside.
By witnessing this ceremony, Raymond believes that they’ll become a little more obedient in the hopes of being treated well by their master.
(I still don’t understand Marlowe. What did he mean by ‘long and fruitful relationship’…?)
Raymond instructed his subordinates to take his new product inside and walked back towards his shop.
Synopsis: Somewhere in the universe, there was an altar. On it, laid a bloody eye as big as the sun itself. It burst with light and bathed the entire star system in red.
"The aura of an ancestral artifact!" Someone's voice rose in surprise.
The Great Galactic Era had begun.