I revealed my presence to an incoming merchant, but not my naked body. Even though I was nude for many months now, maybe even the years, I had not lost my shame. In that cellar, I was naked because I had no choice. I was stark-naked now, but that didn’t mean I would show my intimate parts to the world for everyone to admire.
By wrapping my fluffy tail around my waist, I covered my lap and ass. My chest was covered by my wings. Like that, I went out of my hiding place to the edge of the bridge and waited for the merchant to reach me. I was ready to flee at the slightest hint of anything that might threaten my newly acquired freedom. It could be that the merchant will ignore me and not even stop. If this occurred, I was ready to address him, but not to stop him by force.
The question was whether I could really do it, the hell I lived in for many months and the social isolation had to rub off on me somehow.
I tried to not look surprised when the carriage stopped right next to me. The man must have been a very experienced coachman if he could control his horses like that. Nervousness, anxiety, fear, I felt them all right now but tried not to show any emotion on my face. Thankfully, they were subdued by my ability [Indomitable Will].
“Hello, Miss,” the merchant greeted me and smiled.
“I …” I said, my fear stopping me. “..good evening, sir.”
“I don’t want to be rude or intrusive, but it’s a little suspicious that you’re at the bridge over the Traim at this time. You’re not trying to rob me, are you, miss?” He asked me, the smile on his face not fading.
His attitude confused me. It was questionable if he was okay in the head, or was it normal to ask robbers and bandits if they are robbing you?
I shook my head. “No, sir … I’m heading to the Sahal Empire.”
The merchant laughed. His reaction really startled me and confused me even more. He was far too calm for my taste. I tried to be honest because of my need to find out where I was. So his answer was important to me.
“I’m sorry …” the old man apologized after he stopped laughing. “… miss, I can tell you that you have achieved your goal. This is Sahal,”
That wasn’t the answer I was expecting. After he started laughing, my thoughts focused on running away or killing the old man.
“Thank you,” I said instead of attacking him. “would you be so kind as to tell me where you are going?”
The man smiled. “I’m going from Mitta to Castiana. You are more than eighty kilometers from Sahal’s border with Arda.”
As soon as he mentioned Arda, an invisible hand gripped my heart and began to crush it. How did he know I came from Arda? What were his intentions? Did he want to catch me and sell me, or even return me to Arda? As I saw it, that left two options for me, running away, and hope that no one would find me or try to attack him.
“Please calm down, miss,” he told me with his pleasant voice. “I have no intention of returning you to those barbarians in Arda.”
“How do you know …” I asked him, but I couldn’t finish the question.
The merchant scratched the back of his neck and smiled. “I see that you are a [Slave], a very high-level slave. Someone like you wouldn’t be moving alone in the Sahal, not at this hour, and dressed in that.”
What was wrong with my clothes? Maybe he saw through my deception and was hinting at my nudity. After all, I was wearing absolutely nothing.
“Oh. What do you mean, someone like me?” I asked him.
“The only ones in the Sahal who have the class [Slaves] are professional slaves, sometimes companions. They are all very skillful people and well paid. Definitely enough to allow them to travel by carriage,” he explained.
I nodded. “I see…”
“My name is Liam Scoresby, miss,” he introduced himself and held out his hand.
This gesture completely threw me off. It was an ordinary gesture, a general greeting in western civilization on Earth, and nothing that should move me so much and overwhelm my emotions. I didn’t cry, yet tears welled up in my eyes, and even though I knew it may be dangerous to take an old man’s hand, I shook it.
“Korra … Korra Grey,” I introduced myself with a smile on my face.
I must have looked crazy when I smiled at him with wet eyes. However, I quickly regained my emotions.
“Beautiful name, you must have had a hard time,” he told me.
“…” I just nodded.
I couldn’t talk about it, and I didn’t want to.
“It was nice to meet you, miss, but I still have a few kilometers ahead of me that I have to cover before it gets dark,” Scoresby said.
“Sure, just …” I said, trying not to stutter my question. “… how far is Castiana?”
Under no circumstances did I want to approach Arda. Though Mitta wasn’t at the borders, they were only a few kilometers away.
“If you want, I can take you to the city,” the old man offered.
I frowned. “Is this really the Sahala Empire?”
Scoresby could be lying. He claimed that we were in the Sahal, but we could easily have been in Arda. I just didn’t have a way to say it for sure.
To my surprise, the merchant pulled out a map and showed me where we were on it. I saw the river Traim with a bridge on the road between Mitta and Castiana, north of Sahal’s border with Arda. However, it was not a map that reached the standard of modern maps on Earth, and although it showed landmarks and distinctive landscape features, I could not say with certainty that I was exactly where the man claimed. I could only say that I was somewhere on the river Traim.
“Do you believe me, miss?” He asked me.
But I couldn’t answer him without lying to him.
“Then, I can only wish you good luck.”
“May… can I ride with you?” I asked him.
Although I wasn’t convinced, I didn’t want to walk all the way to Castiana. That is if the city was there.
“Sure, Miss Grey,” he told me, pointing to a spot beside him.
I tried to calm my emotions, which told me to run as fast as I could. But that wasn’t the solution because I couldn’t avoid people for the rest of my life and spend it somewhere in the wilderness like a hermit. I didn’t even want that. I wanted a normal life, I wanted my life back, I wanted my body back, and I knew I couldn’t do it alone.
Scoresby moved to the bench to make more room for me, and I sat down next to him. The old man said nothing more, and after urging the horses to go, the wagon sped forward across the bridge. At that moment, my mind was overwhelmed with memories of my life on Earth. It felt like years since I had last sat in a vehicle. The horse-drawn wagon wasn’t a car, bus, or train, but it was enough to bring my eyes to tears again. What’s more, it was my first ride on such a wagon. I’ve never sat in anything like this before, and so close to horses. They were beautiful animals and I always respected them.
My stay in the hands of Frederic Dungreen forced me to get used to various kinds of pain, but what I felt after an hour of driving was something completely new. My ass on the wooden bench really suffered.The carriage probably did not have suspension and if so only a poor one. The bench was not covered with leather or cushioned in any way. It was just a piece of board. So my ass felt every stone on the road that the carriage wheels hit and the pothole it drove into.
Among the skills in the Slave class was a skill [Painless agony] that reduced pain, and a similar skill [Pain Resistance] was among the general skills that anyone could acquire. Although I experienced an incredible amount of pain here on Eleaden during my cellar time, I didn’t have any of these two as my chosen skills. The reason was simple, that madman didn’t want it. If his test subjects did not fully experience the pain while their bodies were mutating and used abilities to suppress it, it would affect his experiments’ results.
But this was the kind of pain I didn’t mind.
Nevertheless, it reminded me that among my skills were some I definitely wanted to swap for others. But I wanted to do it when I was calmer and thinking clearly.
We reached the rock valley in the middle of the forest before sunset. I wanted to get off the car quickly and let Scoresby do his job, but it didn’t go as I had imagined. My ass was really sore, so my dismounting was a bit comical. While the old man parked the cart and untied the horses, I rubbed my aching bum.
“I would like to ask you to do something for me, miss.” He said as he removed the harness from the horses.
I nodded. “Sure…?”
“Could you pick up some firewood in the woods?”
“Won’t it be wet?!” I objected. It was raining when I woke up on the banks of the river Traim after all.
The old man shook his head. “It doesn’t matter.”
“I’ll do it,” I agreed.
In fact, I was delighted he asked me. I felt quite insecure and so embarrassed in his presence that I had just stood there while he worked.
Collecting wood calmed me down a lot. It was a pleasant activity that didn’t require thinking. Despite the rapidly coming darkness, I had no problem orienting myself in the woods thanks to my skill [Night Vision]. I brought three full arms of wood to the camp in a few minutes. When I wanted to go for the next one, Scoresby stopped me.
“That’s enough, miss.”
“Really?” I asked him because I had doubts that this wood would last us all night.
The old man shook his head. “You don’t want to walk in the woods in this darkness.”
I didn’t want to oppose him, but I didn’t have a problem going out there. Scoresby quickly started setting fire in the already existing campfire ring. He was very skilled, and soon our camp was lit by the flickering flames of a campfire. It didn’t escape my attention that he started the fire with some device. It was much larger than a lighter, but with essentially the same function. During those few months in the basement, I saw several magical items to know that this was one of them.
If the merchant has it, it must have been relatively affordable. Still, it didn’t tell me anything about how technologically advanced civilization was. After all, they were using horse-drawn wagons here. On the other hand, I didn’t care at all. My worries were completely different.
For example, my sore ass, being naked, starving, and being in the presence of a potential enemy.
The pain in my buttocks was bearable, and I just couldn’t sit down. My nudity was resolved thanks to my tail and wings, even though they were getting quite stiff. I needed to move them soon. My stomach rumbled as I was really starving. It was no wonder because it had been more than half a day since I woke up. I haven’t eaten anything since then, and who knows how long my body was in the river. But the dead body should not need any nutrients. On the other hand, the last mutation should.
It didn’t change the fact that I was hungry. Despite his madness, the bastard fed us well. The human body needed a lot of nutrients to handle all those mutations. I suffered enough to handle this hunger.
The biggest problem was Liam Scoresby. At first glance, a very nice old man, but I could not be sure of his intentions. He could just as well lead me into a trap, his pleasant appearance only aimed to distract my attention and reduce my vigilance.
“Are you hungry, miss?” Old man asked me, his hand outstretched to me.
I blinked in confusion as he suddenly yanked me out of my thoughts. Scoresby was holding something in his hand. It was a piece of dried meat, and even though it didn’t look very appealing, it smelled lovely.
I was already reaching for the meat when I hesitated. It could have been poisoned, filled with something that would put me to sleep, and in the morning, I could wake up again behind bars and with a collar around my neck.
The old man smiled and took a bite of the meat he offered me and ate it, just to offer it to me again.
“It’s fine, see?”
I nodded, “Thank you.”
I took the meat from him, and although I still had my doubts, I bit into it. Once I tasted the first bite, I couldn’t stop, and the piece of dried meat disappeared in my stomach in less than a minute.
“I’m glad you like it,” Scoresby said as he nibbled on his piece of dried meat.
I narrowed my eyes. Why did he say that? Was the old man glad I ate the food because it was part of his plan? Was the meat really poisoned? Maybe I’d better throw it up, but I didn’t feel any changes in my body. I didn’t felt sleepy or dizzy. That’s why I decided to leave the contents of my stomach where it was.
The old man offered me another piece of dried meat and water from a waterskin. Of course, I waited for him to taste the meat and water first.
“I thought everyone had [Pain resistance],” he said. It was not a question, but a fact.
How could he know? Was he able to see my status? Because I thought that was not possible.
“How do you know?” I asked him, ready to flee or attack immediately. “How do you know I don’t have [Pain resistance]?”
Scoresby grinned. “Then sit down, miss, and I’ll tell you,” he pointed to the ground.
“Oh,” I said blushing.
I realized what he was talking about. He must have noticed that I had a problem with a sore ass.
“There is nothing to be ashamed of. My wagon is not exactly the most comfortable, and who is not used to it will suffer just like you,” the old man said.
“But most people don’t suffer as much as you do because their [Pain resistance] reduces the pain,” he said, throwing another stick into the fire. “I thought [Slaves] had one similar skill among their class skills.”
It wasn’t a question, but I nodded. “That’s right.”
“I’ve heard that many slaves in Arda are ordered not to choose these skills. Their masters want them to feel pain when they punish them or when they want to enjoy the way their slaves suffer. They are barbarians,” Scoresby said.
“What about the Sahal?” I asked him.
The old man smiled, probably glad he got more than a one-word out of me.” It is forbidden. I’m not saying that everyone is treated well, but this is banned.”
“Ah,” I said with a nod and hesitated. “You said that there were professional slaves like me in the empire. What did you mean by that?”
“Um,” he cleared his throat and drank water from his waterskin. “In the Sahal, slavery works differently than in the Arda. Only criminals and indebted people become slaves. The length of their slavery also varies according to their crime. Murderers become lifelong slaves. If they steal something and are unable to repay it, they become slaves until they work off the stolen item’s value. Likewise, if someone is unable to pay off their debt, they can become slaves and work off the debt. Then there are the war slaves, captured soldiers. But in recent years, the empire was not in many conflicts. That is why you will not find many war slaves in it.
“To answer your question, let me start from the origin of most [Slaves]. If two slaves have a child in Sahal and that is allowed, then it is born free. The amount of punishment of his parents doesn’t matter. When these children grow up, they are allowed to choose the profession they want and be who they want to be. I know that this is not the case in Arda, and the children of slaves are forced to choose the Class [Slave]. They are even more valued than slaves with title only.
“So you might think that there should be no such people in the Sahal. Who would choose [Slave] as their Class, right? Well, there aren’t many, and most come from Arda. Like you, they managed to escape, though it is a mystery to me how you got across the border patrols.” Scoresby said, shaking his head.
Guards guarded the border? Of course! How did I get through them? I have no idea, but it probably had something to do with the fact that I was just a corpse floating in a river.
The old man continued to explain. “So a professional slave is a profession in the Sahal, just like a blacksmith or a seamstress. People with this profession are hired for the work of slaves and are paid for it. Well paid, because thanks to their class, they do it really well and no one has to force them.
Sometimes people with this profession work as companions, but it is not so common.”
“Companions?” I said aloud without wanting.
However, I wondered if he meant…?
“Whores, forgive my vocabulary, miss,” the old man apologized.
“It’s okay, I asked,” I told him quickly. Fortunately, in the light of the fire, he couldn’t see that I blushed.
Frederic Dungreen was undoubtedly insane, but I was grateful for one thing. He never raped me. None of the women or men who were in the dungeon were raped. He saw us only as test subjects, nothing more.