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Nour's Gift - Rupegia - Chapter 4 by Manasong full book limited free

Chapter 4: Nour's Gift

A knock on the door wakes me up, then a female voice calls out, "Breakfast is ready!"

My body is light, but my soul is heavy.

I don't want to get up.

I can still smell the orc's blood. It has been imprinted upon my heart.

I didn't dream of the Gargling Goblin, but now I think I might have acquired a bigger trauma. The scene of stabbing the orc in the neck keeps flashing in my eyes when my mind wanders. The fear of something coming to attack me from my back assaults me repeatedly, giving me chills with each attack.

If it weren't for Nour, the orc would've grabbed my head and crushed it…

Eventually, hunger wins over fear, and I go down to eat.

The meal is a simple vegetable soup with Rabid Rabbit meat and toasted bread.. The vegetables are savory this time, so it goes well with the meat.

Selina comes to my table and concernedly asks, "Say, what was all that blood you had on you yesterday?"

I give her a slightly bitter smile as I answer, "It was from an Orc Headhunter. I had a very unfortunate encounter with it yesterday."

Her jaw hangs in surprise, then she takes a seat and looks at me worriedly. "The one inside Royd's Kerfuffle? Why did you fight it? I only heard stories of people running away from him."

I nod. "It was a runaway. I met it on the sixth floor."

She gasps and covers her mouth with her hands.

How cute.

"Did you fight him alone?!" She exclaims, and I see a few customers start to listen intensely.

Please lower your voice, Selina.

I shake my head while smiling wryly and answer, "Heavens, no. I fought it with three other people. We were cornered and couldn't run away, so we were forced to fight it. I ended up being the luckiest one and got hit the least while one guy got poisoned, and I'm sure that he broke a few ribs since the Headhunter kicked him twice."

"Wow. But to come back that bloody… did you have a knife fight with him, or something?" She giggles softly.

Please stop being cute, I'm not in the mood to smile.

My faint, involuntary smile gains a subtle smugness to it as I reply, "Actually, I did. My sword got stuck in its body, so I had to use my knife to stab it in the neck."

I won't say that I got it stuck in his groin, that's a sight I want to forget.

She lets her jaw hang loose again while she stares at me with shock in her eyes.

Did I brag too much?

I awkwardly massage my neck and explain things properly, "Well, the most important person was the magician woman. She cast [Ice Lance] and pierced the Orc's shoulder so it couldn't use its shield arm anymore, then she used [Shocking Touch] and fainted. With that, I had a good opening to stab it until it died. There was also another guy who helped by throwing himself onto the arm of the orc and holding it in place so that I could finish it. Then there was the poisoned guy who fought while weakened and got kicked twice. It really was a desperate fight."

She closes her mouth and her eyes shine while she smiles. "Wow. That sounds amazing…" She whispers in wonder.

I knit my eyebrows in worry at her sudden shift. "Really? Is fighting so interesting?"

She nods repeatedly, and rests her elbows on the table, leaning a bit too close to me as she stares with dreamy eyes. "Yes! I know that I'm not strong, and I don't like fighting, but to think that there are people who work so hard, who can achieve so much to protect us, that makes me really happy."

Oh, boy, stop, my heart is melting.

Even the eavesdroppers smile at her innocence.

I become awkward again and reply, "I-Is that so… well… your enthusiasm makes me a little happy."

She giggles girlishly and gives my hand a comforting squeeze, surprising me. "Thank you for your story. I gotta continue working now, so come back later to talk." She winks then gets up and leaves.

Honestly, that conversation healed my heart, just a little, but still healed.

I guess this is why some people fight, because if it weren't for us killing that runaway, then someone else would have to suffer.

I finish my meal and go back to my room.

--

I have some time to kill, so I think about what I should do with my new skill points. I open my "Status" and see that my "Willpower" increased by 1 (now 12), my [Sword Use] also increased by 1 (now 8+2), my MP increased by 20 (now 135), and my "Magic Power" by 5 (now 190).

How does this magic increase work? It just increases with use, or do I have to "exercise" something within my body like a muscle?

I put my four unused points in [Reduced Mana Cost] because I need to be able to cast magic more often. Perhaps at the next level, I should get more [Mana Efficiency] to balance things, then later improve my melee skills again.

I think I'll waste another hour here at the inn. Nour said to be at the hunter's guild just before noon, so there are still a few hours until then.

I really have to steel my heart because that won't be the last time that I have to fight so desperately. I'm going for the life of a warrior, so my weak and soft Earth-born heart won't survive. This is a brutal world, and after thinking about Selina's words, I understand that there's a need for strong people who protect others.

This skill system gives me the potential to grow quickly and become extremely strong, and I think that whatever god threw me here probably won't let me lead a peaceful life, so going for the crafter's route might not be the best idea. Besides, it's a bit "romantic" to be a warrior in a monster-filled world.

My motto has always been: "do the thing you won't regret in the future," so, becoming a selfish hermit hoarding all this power to myself doesn't sit right with me.

Well, saying is different than doing. Even after this period of reflection, I still feel pain and fear, which is a bit laughable. Perhaps I need some time to let the fear subside. I'd already decided I should take a week off, anyway, so there's no need to keep thinking about this.

I spend some time massaging my sore muscles, and it actually feels good.

Is there perhaps a massage parlor around here? I know that there's a [Massage] skill, so it could be a common profession. I'd definitely go there if I found one.

After relaxing for a while, I decide to go meet Nour.

--

The hunter's guild has its usual rough atmosphere, but the number of people around the hunt report boards is larger than what I expected. I quickly find Nour at the tables along with his companions. Liam and Rania are drinking something while Nour is simply chatting with them.

They notice me and wave as I approach.

"Good day, Mr. Ryder," Nour greets casually.

"Good day, Sir," Liam greets formally as usual.

"Morning, Mr. Ryder," Rania greets more energetically than the last time we talked.

"Good day, everybody. I hope you all slept well," I respond with a smile.

Nour grins and confesses, "I don't even remember going to bed, I just blacked out from drinking too much. We partied a bit too hard, and even Liam was quite drunk."

"We have to let it out once in a while. It's not every day we fight so hard," Liam calmly defends himself.

"Well, little brother, it seems that your next lesson is about how to hold your own liquor," Rania teases and shows her tongue cheekily.

Nour's eye twitches, then he smiles with a faint pout as he replies, "That's… not true. I can hold it just fine."

"You did just admit to the contrary a few seconds ago," I comment with a wry smile.

He turns to me and exclaims in disbelief, "Even you…!" Then he grits his teeth and declares dramatically, "You know what, I'll drink every day until I learn my lesson!"

"Please, don't!" Liam suddenly pleads.

"I retract my previous statement," Rania calmly replies and chuckles.

I let out a few shy chuckles along with her. Seeing them all like this makes me feel a little silly I got so scared.

Nour calms down and his expression softens, then he continues, "But anyway… let's get down to business. I wanted to reward you, and I knew that you were going solo, so I prepared this." -He pushes a sealed letter towards me with a sly grin- "You see, I'm a stupid son of a wealthy merchant, and although I decided to take on adventuring, I still have my own connections, so I made a letter of reference. This will open the doors to you to the most expensive Blood Slave trader of this town, and I obtained a heavy discount for you there, so you might be able to choose among the best that they have to offer."

I lift my eyebrows in surprise, then I tense up a bit as I awkwardly reply, "Oh, wow… that's incredible, but… I don't really know much about Blood Slaves…"

I know that level 1 in [Slavery Magic] there's the spell called [Contract of Servitude], then at level 10 there's the spell [Mark of the Master], and at level 20 there's the spell [Tongue of Obedience], but that's absolutely all of the information that I have on it.

Rania raises an eyebrow and curiously asks me, "Your parents didn't teach you about Blood Slaves?"

I force a smile and look away. "They did… I just didn't pay attention," I lie and try not to blush in embarrassment.

Nour and Rania chuckle, while Liam holds back a smile.

"It's why I'm here. I'm a bit… 'free-spirited,'" I lie again and chuckle at myself. My own awkwardness and embarrassment only serve to improve the character I'm trying to sell.

"I see…" Nour mutters while smirking, then he leans back on his chair and taps his temple in thought.

Rania clears her throat and starts, "A Blood Slave is a specialized servant that you buy to perform a specific duty. Their performance is assured by the seller, while their loyalty is enforced through [Slavery Magic]. They ingest your blood, and then a spell is used to bind them to your Fate."

"Fate"? What's that? Can I eat it?

I hold back the urge to ask about Fate, and instead ask about something else, "What types of 'duties' do they perform?"

Nour shrugs as he answers, "Anything. If someone thinks that they're skilled enough in something and that they're worthy of becoming a servant, then they could sell themselves as a Blood Slave. Take Liam, by example." He pats the older man's shoulder, then smiles at me proudly.

Rania pats his other shoulder and continues, "Liam has a real talent for the sword and protecting others. He cost a lot, but he was worth every coin." She smiles warmly at him, and I get suspicious about these two.

Liam stiffens for a second, then nods respectfully towards me and adds, "I was having trouble making money through adventuring, so I decided to sell myself for ten years. By the end of my contract, I'll have a small fortune, so I'll go back to my hometown in Faium and inherit my father's smith. If the smith fails, then I'll still have enough money to live comfortably for a while."

"Contract?" I reflexively question. It seems slavery has some sort of structure or possibly laws behind it.

Rania rolls her eyes at my question while Nour smiles. I believe they're thinking I'm a country bumpkin due to my lack of knowledge.

Nour leans forward and happily answers, "The person selling themselves stipulates limits to what their duty entails and the length of their servitude. Usually, the fewer the limits, the more expensive the slave is, but few put strict limits because if there are too many, then it's easier to just buy a traditional slave, instead. A lot of women sell themselves as sex slaves, so the most common limitations are related to that."

Uh… sex slaves…?

I glance at Rania, but she's just casually sipping her drink, she doesn't show a single reaction.

"With the discount in this letter, you can get yourself a young female warrior, if that's your thing, of course," Nour adds, then he smirks when he sees my awkward reaction.

Holy shit.

"You're pretty versatile yourself, but I recommend you think carefully about what kind of warrior will work well with your style," Rania casually advises.

Nour nods and continues, "You got some good skill with the sword, you can heal yourself, you can sense monsters, and you have a spell you can cast chantless, so you can choose basically whoever you want and they'll still be useful to you."

Ah, shit. I guess mages should chant before casting their spells, but I know nothing about that. At least now I know why it took Rania so long to cast her spells and why she screamed their names.

"You're not very tall or physically strong, if you forgive my bluntness, so I recommend someone more robust instead of a mage like Dame Rania," Liam adds and lowers his head respectfully.

"No offense taken," I reply and politely smile.

Rania's gaze becomes slightly stern and measuring as she gives me another piece of advice, "Keep in mind that the Gods watch over the Blood Slaves, so if the master is being abusive, they can interfere and nullify the contract without the intervention of a priest. It's rare, but it happened before."

I stiffen instinctively and nod.

The 'Gods'? So it's god-sanctioned slavery? That's… a little concerning.

Since they're already thinking I'm a dumb peasant, I'll just lean on it and ask whatever I'm curious about. "What's [Tongue of Obedience]?"

Rania doesn't seem to have the patience for this, so Nour answers, "That spell prevents the Blood Slave from spilling your secrets. There are a few others, like one that prevents the Slave from hurting you, or another that gives you full control of their body, allowing you to even kill them with a word, but that's illegal, of course."

Full body control seems worse than normal slavery, but my curiosity makes me want to ask questions like: "Can I control their intestines?" Can I control their eyes? Can I stop the blood flow of certain veins?" Maybe I can perform surgery without the need for anesthesia or blood loss if I can cut blood flow or nerve response at will.

"That sounds a bit much," I comment with a wry smile.

Nour shrugs, Liam chuckles once, and Raina nods in agreement as she takes a sip of her alcohol, then she explains, "Yeah, but it's really useful. Most aides of nobles and Lords are Blood Slaves because they're much more reliable and trustworthy than free men."

Nour happily takes Raina's hook to interject, "Of course, there are loopholes to their contracts and these spells, but they're so roundabout and require so much effort that you need a slave who really hates their master for them to do that. It's easier for them to concentrate the effort in breaking the contract than for them to go around those limitations. Any contract can be broken by a slave that hates its master enough, by the way."

"Which is why it's important to treat them well," Rania adds and glances at Liam, who nods subtly.

So, leaving the moral question aside, I guess this is a really thoughtful gift from Nour. He put some thought into what I needed and delivered something that's really valuable.

After allowing me a few moments to think things through, Nour gets to the final point, "I know that you got some good money from yesterday's rewards, so, with my discount, you can get yourself a pretty good fighter. You might even get lucky." -He shrugs- "Sometimes there are Blood Slaves with specific circumstances, and these sell for much cheaper than they would normally go for."

Well, I got a trump card: my rose coin. It should be really valuable. Well, at least I hope it is.

I nod in understanding and smile gently as I express, "Thank you, Nour, I really appreciate this. I think this will help me a lot."

Nour gives me a wide smile, and even Rania seems pleased. He tells me where the slaver is, and I write it down on my rough map of the town.

Nour loudly hits his palms against the table and announces, "Now, then. With this business done, I have a personal request for you." -His face turns serious- "How about you join us? A man with skills such as yours is a rarity."

I smile bitterly. I knew that this was coming. I honestly would like to join them because they're good people, and even if I don't know what their goals are, I'd like to spend more time with them. But no, I can't. They already saw a lot of my skills, so I can't really show them more.

"I'm sorry, but… I'd like to walk my own path," I politely answer and lower my head for a second.

"Told you," Rania mumbles to Nour and they both smile bitterly.

Nour shrugs, and his tone gains a hint of sadness as he replies, "Well, I had to try. It's a shame that we can't walk together, but I don't want this to be the end. I'm going back to my hometown for a short trip, but I'll come back here later and continue my adventuring. When I come back, I'd like to meet you again, if you wish."

"Oh, yes. Please, let us meet again," I eagerly agree and give him a genuine smile.

"I live in Hurfa, the capital of the Faium Principality. If we don't cross paths again, then come visit me. My family runs a magic tool shop, and we produce a lot of the Wind stones used in the country. My last name is Asaf, so you can search for my family with this. You... shouldn't have much problem finding the family shop there." He smiles awkwardly.

I have no idea where Faium is, but I'll write it down later so that I don't forget to look for it on a map. Also, his last name sounds Arabic, but he's as Caucasian as they come.

I nod and affirm, "Understood. If we don't meet here again, then I'll search for you. I don't really have plans to leave this place for quite some time, though."

He taps the table loudly and gets up. "Then it's decided! I look forward to meeting you again. For now, we have to prepare for our trip, so we must take our leave. See you again sometime, Mr. Ryder." Then he gives me a quick bow.

I immediately get up and return the bow. I have no idea if this is the custom here, but it seems to please them, so whatever.

Nour grins and gives me his blessing, "One last thing, Mr. Ryder. I wish you good luck in the future. You'll need it since you seem to be making waves already." Then he points towards the small crowd near the hunt reports.

I wish I wasn't, Nour, I wish I wasn't.

Rania and Liam also bow and say their goodbyes, then I'm just left with a few curious gazes, a letter, and a head full of thoughts.

--

I leave the guild and take a stroll along the streets looking for books while thinking about what they told me. A companion would certainly be helpful. If I had someone to watch my back, then there'd be no need to fear the Orc Headhunter crushing my head. If I had someone like Nour to help me, then for sure I'd feel much safer, and it's not because of his skill, but because of his actions. I might be considered the one who saved them, but the moment that Nour threw himself at the orc's arm was when he saved me.

And it's not like Blood Slaves are completely miserable people. They seem to have their own rights, the ability to escape abuse, and they need to be treated well. Take Liam, for example, he seems pretty proud and content with his job, and he seems no different than a knight or a retainer with the task of protecting his lord. If I just hire someone for a few years, then it might be the same as hiring a bodyguard, or something like that.

The concept of depriving someone of their freedom might put people off, but I'm a bitter realist. Blood Slaves are merely mercenaries that come with a magical contract. Hell, even the gods are monitoring us so that they're not abused.

Oh!

I found a small book telling the Tale of Creation. It even has a lot of cute drawings in it.

It's just two silver, I'm buying it!

Now that I think about it, I should ask Ciel about what the gods think of slavery. It seems odd to me they are getting involved with Blood Slaves, but if the gods themselves say it's okay, then who am I to go against them?

But this also means that society won't really progress. This world might be safer by having the gods watching over the people, but it's like an overprotective mother. The people won't suffer, but they won't learn.

Adding that to the skill system, and I think that the social progress here might be slow. I want to take a look at the chronology of this world, and I bet that it'd show how slow this world develops in comparison to Earth. This world's "Cycle" is called a "Playground," after all. If things change too much and too fast, the genre of the game changes to sci-fi while you're not looking.

I think the best thing about Blood Slaves is that I can prohibit them from talking about me. This way, I don't have to worry too much about my abilities showing. I could even tell the truth that I'm not from this worl-…

What the hell?

I see a man flying around on a literal carpet, darting up and down the street repeatedly while making quick turns and barrel rolls.

What's the matter Aladdin, looking for Jasmine?

Once the passersby start to stop to stare at him, the man lowers the carpet close to the ground and stands up.

"Good day, gentlemen and gentlewomen!" He exclaims in a loud voice that has the characteristic buzzing of someone talking on a microphone. He waits a moment to make sure that everyone is looking at him, then he continues, "I have shown you all just a small glimpse of the newest magic tool developed! The true [Fly] crystal! This gem is incomparable to that common fake jewel that only allowed you to slowly float around. Now you can fly as gracefully as a bird, turn so fast a dragon would be envious, and make tricks that could impress even the Emperor! This gem is the bleeding edge of technology. Even the imperial army is buying it in droves to construct a new generation of the dream of every adventurer: the airships!"

Ooooh, airships, my nerd heart is pounding.

"Come to the Quizzical Emporium at the Bazaar for the latest [Fly] gems. We have magic tools so big you can build airships that can hold as many as eight people! I hope to see you there, honorable citizens!" And he darts away, this time for good.

The street starts buzzing with people excitedly talking, and I even feel like clapping my hands. I add this flying gem to my notes as research options. Airships and the [Golemancy] skill are the two things that I'm most eager to research.

Wait what was I thinking about?

Uh… oh yeah, I think that I could even tell the truth about my origin to the Blood Slave. It's risky, but if I make a contract of at least twenty years, it might be enough to get the trust or goodwill for them to keep quiet about it. At that time, I might even find a way to deal with it if the word gets out, and if I acquire enough power, I might be able to squash the rumors, too.

But do I have to tell the truth…? It's not like a slave needs to know everything about their master, they're just there to serve. I also can't just tell them that I came from another world and leave it at that. If I tell them the truth, then I'll need to tell a lot more than just that to answer their doubts. It's not a kind of conversation that I'm looking forward to.

Regardless, I see little reason to not buy one.

I don't really have an idea of the price a good slave might go for, so I should go look for the value of the rose coin.

The banker is near the Nobles' Quarters, so I need to go across the town. I'll first go to the temple, eat something nearby, talk to Ciel about the gods and slavery, and then go to the banker to see the value of the rose coin.

I think I might visit the slave trader tomorrow morning. It's near the castle in the north, so it's another long trip there. It's a bit tiring walking everywhere, so maybe I should look for the price of that magic carpet. I also don't feel like paying for a Space mage transport; I always hated taxis.

--

I look for a better restaurant this time, and I find one serving Great Boar meat. They aren't commonly found here, but a hunter expedition deep into the Sea of Trees found a pack there, so some restaurants have a lot of Boar meat to offer for the next few days.

The beans are good, but I miss rice, too. I'm a Brazilian who immigrated to Canada, and I miss the staple food of my homeland once in a while: rice, beans, and Brazilian-style barbecued meat.

I waste some of my time in a tea shop. They serve something similar to black tea with an unidentified citric fruit. Is this Earl Grey? It tastes similar, but it's closer to the average orange than the bergamot. They serve a few simple butter cookies that go really well with it.

Then I go to the temple and search for Ciel. I take a walk around the outer ring looking for her while also taking a closer look at the statues, but she's not down here. I ask a standby priest and he tells me that she's at the orphanage. Luckily, today isn't her free day.

The orphanage looks exactly the same as the priests' living quarters, with the only difference being that instead of priests, there are children entering and leaving all the time.

The orphanage is a large, box-shaped white building with a brown tiled roof, which looks a little expensive for a religious institution. It has flowery carvings covering all of its walls, and the channels are filled with a gradient of colors. The orphanage and the quarters seem to be the only buildings where some decoration is allowed. It's quite pretty and makes me feel like I'm looking at one of these "trendy" and "artsy" places back on Earth.

There's only a brown picket fence surrounding the orphanage and the priests' quarters, but is it really okay for me to enter uninvited?

The orphanage is in the middle of the plot, covering most of the available land. At the front, there's a simple grass garden with a cobbled path towards the entrance, but I can see some sort of small flower garden behind the building. On this grass garden, there's a metal swing, a merry-go-round, and a raised goal where the children are playing some sort of game of hot potato with a small leather ball.

I gather some courage and enter the area. A few boys look interested in my sword while the rest ignore me. Then I quickly enter the building and look around. The inside is made of gray square stone while the floor is made of light brown wood with the only decoration being some wooden pillars around.

Just as I finish observing my surroundings, an old male priest walks by.

"Oh, hello, can I help you?" The chubby priest asks as his small eyes look at me warmly. His voice is so gentle that it tickles my ears.

"I'm… looking for Miss Ciel," I reply, a little mesmerized by him.

His expression brightens and he smiles. "Oh! The sister is in the kitchen. I'll call her over for you. What's your name?"

"Wolf Ryder. Uh, if she's busy, I'll just come another time; it's not an urgent business."

He shakes his head gently. "She's not really busy, so don't worry. Wait here in the guest room while I call her over."

Then he takes me to a really cozy room. There are a few simple sofas around a low coffee (do they even have coffee here?) table; a small fireplace that crackles with burning logs, yet I smell no smoke; and a "Last Supper"-style painting of the multiple Humanoid Gods hanging above it. I like this painting more than Earth's because it's full of different, colorful races and people, and has both genders instead of just boring, bearded men.

After a few minutes, Ciel comes into the room carrying a tray with a tea set and cookies.

Oh, no, I just drank tea, but I don't want to deny her hospitality, so I'll just pretend I'm not full.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Ryder. I was wondering when you'd come back," she greets as she sits, then immediately pours tea for me.

"I spent the last few days training in a dungeon, and I only came back last night," I respond with a gentle tone.

She nods and smiles warmly. "I'm glad you're okay. Every day-cycle, we have news of someone disappearing inside a dungeon, so please, be careful."

I smile awkwardly. "My motto is 'don't die,' so I have no plans of dying soon."

She chuckles softly and lays back on her seat, then sips her tea. "So, what did you want to talk about?"

I swallow heavily. There are a few things I want to ask, but I'm sure she'll be thinking I'm a weirdo after I tell her.

Fuck it. Curiosity wins.

I clear my throat and start, "There are a few things I want to understand better. The first thing is, what's a day-cycle?"

She exhales loudly in amusement and raises her eyebrows in surprise as she replies, "Well, a day-cycle is a period of ten days and a half-cycle is five days. Every day-cycle you are advised to deeply bathe once, to pray once, and to make merry at least once; every half-cycle you're advised to make love to your partner at least once and to change the ingredients of the meals, and that's also the time between the monster cullings that the Townsguard is responsible for."

"How about months and years? How many days a month has and how many months a year has?"

"A month has thirty days and a year has ten months, so a year has three hundred days."

So, a day-cycle is equivalent to an Earth's week. Perhaps ten days is chosen because of the ten "base elements" in the Tale of Creation. I don't know why thirty and three hundred are chosen, though. Maybe it was made this way just so it's somewhat similar to Earth. I don't think the Japanese believe there's anything special about the numbers three or ten.

I look at Ciel and see that she seems both amused and confused by these questions.

I nod in thought and reply, "Hmm, I see. In my homeland, we say weeks instead of day-cycle and it was seven days, not ten."

She knits her eyebrows and holds back a chuckle. "How curious…" She mutters.

I quickly change the topic to not let her think too much about it. "Anyway, I also heard about Blood Slaves, and I got curious about why the Gods would get involved with this matter."

Her face softens as she starts thinking more seriously. "An interesting thought…" She spends a moment thinking, then assumes a teaching tone as she answers, "The Humanoid Gods are chosen to be our guides. They keep us on the correct path so we don't make a mistake so terrible that we destroy ourselves. We need to keep united and strong so we can always put a front against the Monster King. Therefore, it's their reason for existence to get involved with every aspect of our lives."

I'm not sure how safe it is to push these sorts of questions to a priest of all people, but I need to get a "feeling" about how slavery is treated in this world. "But why do the Gods accept slavery?"

She raises her eyebrows in surprise for a moment and asks back, "What do you mean by that? Why wouldn't they accept it?"

I awkwardly scratch my head as I rethink this question.

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I breathe in and start my speech, "Isn't it cruel to chain innocent people into servitude regardless of the reason? Isn't it too much to have absolute control over someone's life? To be able to toy with their bodies, to force them to do anything and everything you want against their wishes? Even if it's not immediately harmful, why should anyone have this much power over others?"

She leans forward and her face becomes serious as she asks, "Do you believe people should be able to sell their bodies?"

I'm taken aback a little. "You mean… like… prostitution?"

She shakes her head. "No, not just that. A bodyguard is someone who sells their sword and their health to protect someone or something important. A craftsman is someone who sells their hands to their employer. A slave is someone who sells their time and loyalty to their master."

"But… are all slaves voluntary?"

She nods, and her face softens. "Most are. Debt slaves, criminal slaves, and war slaves are involuntary, but they make for bad workers and they lack loyalty, so they aren't as popular."

Wait… it's like this world's slavery is the inverse of Earth's chattel slavery.

I blink blankly and immediately ask, "Why wouldn't they be popular? It's free labor."

She knits her eyebrows in worry as she responds, "They're being forced to work in something they don't like and to a master they hate, of course they'd be horrible workers. Because of this, the masters have to spend more making these slaves happy than voluntary slaves."

Make them… "happy"…?

I awkwardly retort, a bit uncomfortable with what I'm suggesting, "Can't they 'motivate' the slaves to work harder with lashings? By that I mean, can't they punish the slaves if they don't work hard enough?"

She frowns and her tone becomes slightly indignant, making me think that I might be pushing too far. "I sincerely hope you aren't thinking that slaves should be treated like that, Mr. Ryder. We aren't in Bestiaram; committing the Sin of Torture is punishable with death."

I force an apologetic smile and quickly deny, "N-no, no. I was just asking to satisfy my curiosity. It's hard to truly understand things without asking questions from all angles."

She opens her eyes wide in surprise and looks away as she coughs awkwardly. "I-I see. It's always good to be curious…" -She turns to me and lowers her head for a moment- "I apologize for doubting you. I didn't realize what you were doing, and it's bad form to assume the worst of someone during a discussion."

I wave my hand. "It's fine, it's fine. I should've been careful with my wording." And we share an embarrassed smile.

Her tone becomes more casual and amused. "Are you sure you shouldn't call yourself a scholar? I remember going through these same arguments when being taught about philosophy and morals."

I blush faintly. I only have a surface-level understanding of philosophy, but it might be above the average for the commoner in this world.

I shake my head and deny, "I'm not a scholar, I'm just a curious person."

She smiles warmly and takes another sip. "Then continue as so. The Gods like people like you."

I nod and bring us back on track, "So, why would anyone sell themselves voluntarily?"

"To have a better life; to serve a better purpose; to aid a better person. The reasons are endless."

I frown. "A 'better person'? What do you mean by that?"

She assumes a teaching tone again as she explains, "We aren't all born as equals, but we all have a capacity to grow. Some people grow faster and further than others, so it's your duty to find these people and aid them. Those who can protect others, lord over those who can't, and the weak aid the strong, so that the strong can protect the weak."

Okay, I like the last part, but…

"Why is it our 'duty' to aid others?"

She smiles smugly like a teacher about to lay unto their students a long lesson. "We are all children of the God of Creation. Regardless of where you're born and what you believe, our mission is to survive and keep the Cycle going. That is our main purpose, our reason for existence, but we're still subordinates of the God of Creation, so our second purpose is to create as many new and interesting things as possible. Lastly, we've also inherited the will of the God of Change, so our third purpose is to keep civilization moving forward and progressing.

"Do you understand it now?" She kindly asks with expectant eyes.

I nod confidently. "It's the will of the God of Change. If you can't aid others yourself, then at least aid someone who can."

She smiles brightly like a mother who's proud of her son's school grade, making me blush again. "Perfectly stated."

I cough and recompose myself, then I continue, "But what if we want to abolish slavery and institute a democracy?"

She chuckles once, amused at my suggestion. "The strong serving the weak? That wouldn't work very well. The Gods won't stop you from trying, but you'll have to face the consequences if you fail."

"'Consequences'?"

She nods sternly. "The nobility exists to protect us, but if they fail, they have no reason to exist anymore, so they're deposed, if not outright killed as punishment. The same will happen to anyone trying to bring about change."

Oof, that's harsh…

She seems amused with my surprise and continues, "Remember that, just like the God of Creation is a subordinate of the God of Change, we are subordinates of the God of Creation, and the slaves are subordinates to us. To abolish slavery would be meaningless since we'll always be compelled to serve our betters due to our reasons for our existence. You can run and hide from that reason, but the gods will find a way to guide you back to the path or simply kill you. 'Slavery' is just a system to aid us in fulfilling that purpose."

"What do you mean by 'kill you'?" I ask with a worried frown.

Her tone becomes so gentle and certain that I feel a chill due to the contents of her explanation, "Exactly that. The Genderless God of Existence is a subordinate from the God of Creation that watches over us and kills those who stand in the way of our reason for existence."

"What do you mean by 'stand in the way'?"

And her tone becomes serious again. "Those who only want to spread chaos, those who cause the realm to wither, the Sinners who go too far, and the heretics that stand against the Gods. These are the kinds of people that are killed by the God of Existence."

So, being smited by the Gods is a real possibility. I better not antagonize them… but wait…

"If they can do that, why don't the Gods govern us like a king does?"

She leans back on her chair, seemingly slightly amused by my question. "Because that goes against the main purpose of the God of Change: to keep things moving forward. If a God, who exists only for a single purpose, is given the power to govern us, then civilization will be forever bound to that God's mentality, impeding us from growing or evolving."

"And that would be the wish of the God of Order? To have things stagnate and decay?" I question tentatively.

She nods and smiles. "Indeed, but remember, the God of Order and Destruction are still Gods, so we can't ignore their wisdom."

"Huh? What do you mean?"

She chuckles softly at my confusion, then she assumes her teaching tone again and explains, "They may be trying to destroy us, but the principles they're based on are still very important to us. Just because our purpose is to create, it doesn't mean that we can't destroy. It's necessary to kill a monster or an animal before you can cook a delicious steak. Just because we are to cause change, doesn't mean it has to be in every single aspect of us. We're encouraged to kill bad kings, but a kingdom still needs peace to be allowed to grow and thrive. The Overseer created the Gods to maintain the balance on the realm so that the Cycle could continue, therefore, we must preserve this balance, too."

Oh, I understand… they don't see the God of Order and Destruction as "evil," only as an "opponent."

I grab my chin in thought and deliberate, "So it's all a hierarchy. No matter how we're pitted against one another, we're to keep the balance, not eliminate the other."

She nods emphatically, very pleased. "Precisely. It goes from the Overseer, to the God of Change, to the God of Creation, to the Genderless God of Existence, to the Humanoid Gods, to the royalty, to the nobility, to the commoner, to the Blood Slave, to the normal slave, and finally, to the criminal slave.

"The God of Order rules over the God of Destruction, who rules over the monsters. They're opposed to us, but that's just their nature, so we accept that their presence is necessary to force us to adapt and grow."

Though there's a certain amount of freedom, the overall structure of this society is still controlled by the gods, and if I want to change it, I'd basically have to destroy half the gods in this world. Social progress must be truly stagnating because of this.

"Going back a little, do the gods specify when they intervene?"

She takes a sip and observes me intensely as she answers, "To prevent people from abusing the line if the criteria are known, we're never told exactly why someone received Godly punishment."

This is a bit worrying, but I kind of understand the reasoning.

"So, the only safe choice is to keep being as good as you can to avoid punishment?"

She smiles warmly and hums, "Exactly."

"But what does it mean to be a 'good person'?"

She becomes quite happy and energetic, and I feel like her demeanor is quite cute. "Well, you basically follow the teachings of the Humanoid Gods. Don't waste food, don't hurt others against their will for pleasure, don't commit crimes like theft or extortion, help others whenever you can, things like that. It depends on the God, and there are many, many teachings, but you aren't required to follow them all perfectly. The Gods are reasonable and understanding, so you won't be punished just because you wasted a piece of food, but if you keep doing it, then the Gods will send messages and warnings, and if you still defy them, then you get punished."

Alright, reasonable, but inflexible. Morality really is defined by the gods, but since they're chosen from the mortals, then, in a way, morality is actually defined by us. It just depends on the criteria of how the gods are chosen.

"Are there any known criteria for the Humanoid Gods being chosen?"

She shakes her head."That's not known to prevent it from being exploited, but we know that all Gods were once people who achieved something great."

Eh, maybe it isn't so bad.

I massage my neck to dispel some of the tension that has accumulated. Talking about religion to a priest where you don't know what their reaction to questioning will be is a little frightening.

I finish my tea and start to wrap things up, "Well, I think that's enough about slavery for me today, but I have one last question: I want to choose a god to worship, so can you tell me a quick resume of the Humanoid Gods?"

She suddenly brightens up and giggles. "That's a good idea! Most people choose around three that might help their lives the most, but if you have the time to study what they represent you could choose more.

"Anyway, their names are quite self-explanatory, they are: Genderless God of Existence; God of the Sun and Sister Goddess of the Moons; Goddess of Fertility; Goddess of Piety; Goddess of Will; Goddess of Love; Goddess of Growth; God of War; God of Law; God of Festivity; God of Endurance; God of Luck; Goddess of Knowledge and Brother God of Intelligence; Goddess of the Plants and Twin Brother God of the Animals."

"Moons" as in, there's more than one moon? I've realized I haven't seen the night sky yet. I had no reason to since I immediately went to sleep after getting dark, but now I have to remember to check the sky tonight, otherwise, my curiosity will kill me.

"What does the Goddess of the Moons and the God of the Sun do?"

"They were the first Gods, so their teachings are broader and more general because of that. These days, their focus is bringing happiness for those who work below the sun or the moons, but they aren't worshiped as much as they were before, though they're still the ones who talk the most to their worshipers."

So, I guess I should choose one of them if I wanted to talk to a God.

I hum in thought, then I lower my head for a moment and express, "Thank you for your time, Miss Ciel, this is really enlightening. I'll think about choosing one for now."

She giggles cutely and replies, "Thank you for choosing me to talk to. I enjoyed talking to you quite a lot because you made me remember the basis of my faith and stimulated my thoughts."

I smile back and get up. "Then I'll be off. I'll see you another day."

"I'll be waiting." She waves goodbye, and I leave.

As I make my way out, I see that the old priest I talked to when I first came here is in the room beside ours, casually reading a book. Perhaps he was eavesdropping? Well, it doesn't matter much to me.

Now, I have to go to a bank and look at the conversion rate for the rose coin. The bankers are all over the noble quarters as a safety measure, and since it doesn't matter which one I go, I'm just going to choose the closest one.

--

The walk there is quite long, but it allows me to observe the carnival that the adventurers wear gradually turning into the more delicate clothes of the wealthy, who at least have a better sense of style than them. It seems that cloaks, sleeveless velvet jackets, and thin cotton pants and shirts are in fashion right now, while their wealth is shown through lavish decorations on the side of the arms, flanks, and legs.

I think about passing by the university's library, but after taking a look at my clothes, I realize that it might be a very uncomfortable experience. From what I understood, the university is either for the gifted, the wealthy, or the noble. I don't have any of these three to show, so I need at least a better set of clothing before I even try to go there.

This thought gets reinforced when I enter the bank. This is a fancy, fancy place. I see spiral pillars with details in gold and purple, black floor tiles with a perfect shine, couches that make my ass tingle just from looking, uniforms that make the employees look as fashionable as nobles, and a large line of decorated booths where attendants wait with a perfect smile.

I don't belong here. I need to finish my business as quickly as possible and then leave.

I find the nearest attendant and shyly ask for the conversion rates of the coins. I feel that he looks at me coldly, but responds in a perfect tone without any hint of rudeness, then he points me towards familiar black boards hanging on a wall. They're just like the ones at the hunters' guild.

These boards hold conversion rates for a variety of coins, and while most are for foreign coins, the board in the middle with the decorated borders is the one for the local coins. They explain the materials that the coins are made from, and the conversion rate between each of them.

All coins are made with alloys, and their value depends on the alloy composition and weight. Governments might change their alloy and weight as economic measures, so it's important to always know the precise make-up of each coin. For example, they could reduce weight to save costs, introduce cheaper metals to dilute the alloy, or completely change the alloy when new mines are found or old ones are exhausted.

To my extreme happiness, rose coins are very valuable.

The normal exchange rate that the empire aims to maintain is that copper, silver, gold, and rose coins have a 1:100 exchange rate. This means that 1 silver equals 100 copper, 1 gold equals 100 silver, and so on. I guess this is to prevent high-value transactions from becoming cumbersome since coins can get quite heavy.

The attendant explains that a few months ago, a mine that holds a massive amount of platinum was discovered, which is the metal used for the rose coin. This coin is just an alloy of gold and copper for color-coding the coin, giving it its rosy color, while a small amount of platinum is added to give it value because it's too small to make it into a coin by itself.

This rose coin is also never used without someone who has the [Metal Appraisal] skill because that's the only reliable way to see the percentage of metal in an alloy, and if you're dealing with rose coins, then you have enough gold to hire an appraiser for the transaction.

The current version of the rose coin is worth seventy gold, but the empire will soon mint a new coin with a higher platinum content to adjust the price. The attendant says the value is going to drop one or two more gold before it stabilizes, but my rose coin won't be as valuable as the new one once it's out, so there's little reason for me to hold it.

I tell the attendant that I want to exchange my coin, and he looks at me visibly shocked for a moment. I just hope I don't get accused of stealing from somebody, but considering the price of some of the adventuring equipment, I wouldn't be surprised if an adventurer eventually finds something worth a rose coin or two.

The attendant points me to the end of the line of booths where a few attendants deal with money exchange. There's no queue, so I go there, present my coin, and get the gold counted in front of me, then I take it and leave immediately.

Once I get out, I start to relax a little. The lavish atmosphere was making me uncomfortable.

There are still a few hours until dusk, so I kill some time by browsing through books. I buy three about random hero tales and one about romance. I'm not the romance type, but I feel interested in knowing what love is in this world. I also find a very fluffy pillow, which I'm going to use to sleep from now on.

Then I decide to buy a middle-range set of clothes and a cloak. It's a dark-blue woolen shirt with golden lines running along the sides of the arms, black pants following the same design, black leather shoes, and a fashionable dark-blue velvet cloak. The cloak is a bit stylish. It has a bracelet that fastens its bottom to my wrist, so it reaches my waist, then turns to the side, covering only one arm. I've seen a few people using it, so I don't think it's too out of the norm, even if it looks weird to me.

After that, I find a stall selling Dragolite meat on a stick. It tastes like chicken, but there's a strong lingering taste of something that reminds me of a herb. I don't know if it's the seasoning or if that's just its usual taste.

Back at the inn, Selina seems cheerful as usual, but the innkeeper seems to be observing me.

Shit, I'm not trying to steal your daughter.

He doesn't seem to be cold to me, though.

Then I relax and go to sleep feeling very content in my choice of pillow.

--

I have a short nightmare with the Gargling Goblin that wakes me up in the middle of the night, making me feel rather frustrated. After that, I dream of killing goblins, but it isn't another nightmare, it's just a memory of the adrenaline rush of a fight.

--

Today, breakfast has a salad with a dash of vinegar that tastes like apple, and this makes me want to look at the Farmer's Market for some fruit or something to make juice. If I buy some, I can just ask the inn's cooks to prepare it for me.

After filling my stomach, I put on my new, more fashionable clothes and start walking towards the castle.

Today, I see a few pamphlets advertising the Quizzical Emporium. They have a pretty detailed hand-drawn airship on them. They're going all out on the advertising.

The airship design is that of a horizontal egg, and the top half of the egg is smaller, which creates a deck for people to walk on. At its back, I see what looks like a dozen propellers, so does this mean that this world has a concept of aerodynamics?

I move on and look ahead. After a few minutes of walking down the main road, the castle starts to peek over the roofs of the houses, and I gradually see it in its full glory for the first time. It's made of blue-gray bricks and looks more like a super thick square tower than the usual medieval castle. It starts massively thick and gets smaller the higher it goes, towering twice as tall as every other building and tower in this town, then it ends with a huge flag hung from a pole.

Even at this distance, it's possible to discern the details on the flag. It's the same as the heraldry on the tabard of the guards: a black background with a simple white kite in the middle, which has a golden sword and a red rose crossed over it.

It takes a while until I can see the castle entirely since the streets are pretty crowded with crooked multi-story buildings. It only clears once I get on the main brick road that goes to the castle.

The stores around here are of high quality and with a lot of variety. Restaurants, tea shops, bakeries, bookstores, magic shops, magic crafters, smiths, magical smiths, potion sellers, high-class inns, taverns that remind me of modern rustic restaurants, furniture shops, real estate, and the closer you get to the castle, the more perfume shops appear.

I don't resist and buy the cheapest men's perfume I can find. Forty silver coins. It's damn expensive, but I need something to mask the smell of leather if I'm to enter a high-class establishment.

Then I finally find the slave trader. It's a large white and black building with the words "Golden Necklace" written in gold on a sign above the entrance.

I stare at the sign for a moment to gather my courage, then I get inside and immediately wish I had bought even better clothes.

The slave trader is as lavish as the bank. It has an incredibly glossy dark floor and golden seams connecting the tiles, while the walls are adorned with dozens of crystal statues of naked humanoids. The building is large, but the lobby is small as the walls are covered with doors to other rooms.

An old man wearing clothes that are strikingly similar to a suit and tie comes to me. "Welcome, Grand Sir. How may I help you?" He politely inquires as he bows in a right angle.

I still have no idea how formal greetings are done around here, so I just stiffly respond, "Good day. I have a letter of recommendation here."

I extend the letter to him, and he delicately takes it. He looks it over but doesn't open it, then he turns to me and gently asks, "Could you follow me? I'll take you to a private room and then take the letter to the Head so he can verify its contents."

"Understood," I accept with a nod.

He opens one of the nearby doors and leads me inside. The room is rather wide, but there are only two lavish couches around a glass table in the middle of it, making the room rather bare. There are no windows as the illumination is magical, coming from shining jewels embedded in the ceiling, and I see a small vent at one of its corners.

Seems like they even have ventilation technology here.

The old man motions me to one of the sofas and then leaves.

I awkwardly sit there and wait. After a minute, another door opens on the other side of the room, and a middle-aged man comes out. His face is so manly and gentle that it makes me oddly uncomfortable. He's wearing a lavish, purple silk robe, and a jeweled ring on each of his fingers.

The old butler comes after him, carrying a tray with a tea set and cookies, which makes me a bit excited.

Are those chocolate cookies?!

The man sits on the sofa in front of me and does a quick bow. "Welcome to the Golden Necklace. Your name is Mr. Ryder, as the letter says, correct?" He calmly asks, his voice is surprisingly deep and stimulating.

"Correct," I answer with a nod.

He shows me a handsome smile and continues, "My name is Ghulam Bhatt, and I'm the Head of this establishment. I'm surprised at the contents of the letter given to me. You've made a powerful ally, Mr. Ryder."

He actually makes me blush, for some reason. This man has a perfect tone, the perfect face, and even the perfect body language. If I were a woman, I'd easily fall in love with him.

"H-hello, Mr. Bhatt. I just did what I thought was right," I awkwardly reply.

He nods slowly. "And a reward was given… Now, the letter says you're looking for an adventuring companion, is that right?"

I swallow heavily and steel my nerves. "Yes, I have no real requirements. I only want someone who can help me fight, so show me your best."

"Any preference on gender?"

That's a dangerous question.

"No…"

He simply nods again. "Then excuse me as I have to leave to collect the best and bring them here. We'll start with the women." And I suddenly feel a bit uncomfortable.

I nod and he leaves then comes back again in a few minutes with five women following behind him. They're all wearing a loose-fitting and small white silk dress that keeps their legs bare, showing up to half the thighs. It's also open at the sides, and two of the women are so well endowed that the breasts spill through the openings, and the cloth is so thin that I can even see the form of their nipples. This is way too dangerous and stimulating.

What am I doing here…?

When I see the last woman enter, I freeze completely.

No, no… this is too much.

A slender body that shows a hint of muscle, a light brown skin, slightly wavy black hair that goes a bit below the shoulder, and a small feminine face.

That's Lily…

No, it's not! It looks like her but it's not!

I want to jump and hug her then kiss and make love to her.

I miss Lily so much…

I want to go home.

The seller follows my gaze and turns to me. "That one is a mage with knowledge of Blessing and [Dark Magic], and an inkling of knowledge in the rare [Summoning Magic]. If you wish to study exotic magic, she's the one you need. She was also trained in simple [Potion Brewing]. She's not a front-line fighter, but she'll be a perfect support for you. Even in bed."

A shiver runs along my spine.

"Please remove her," I request with a flat tone, holding back my emotions.

The seller gets taken aback, but he nods to the old man, who guides her away.

"Was she not satisfactory?" Ghulam tactfully asks.

I clench my fist and lock up again the emotions that are about to burst out. "It's not that… she just reminds me too much of someone."

"I see…" He whispers in a soothing tone, then he continues introducing each woman.

The first is a raven-type demon race woman. She's tall and well-endowed. Her skin is a beautiful pure black, her charming straight white hair falls on her shoulders like drapes, and her bright red eyes stare with interest. She can materialize a huge blade that comes out of the back of her hand, and she can even fly by summoning bird wings. She specializes in spear fighting and knows [Wind Magic] to support her flight. She allows being used as a sex slave.

Oof, that last part is scary. I'm just going to ignore her for now.

The second is a dwarf woman, but she looks like a short teenager. She has brown hair styled in a bowl cut, and a round, funny nose that makes her look rather adorable. She uses the traditional dwarven shield and hammer combo, and she has a racial skill that converts mana into "Strength," but without it, there's no way those thin arms of her would be able to lift a tower shield. She has a few levels in [Earth Magic] for utility and [Light Magic] for healing, so she's rather self-sufficient and lasts long in a fight.

The third is a human woman. She's well-endowed, and her face looks mean but sexy at the same time, enhanced by her short boyish blonde hair. She's tall, strong, and can hold her own against a knight. She used to be an adventurer, and her body shows plenty of scars as evidence of her experience.

The fourth is a human girl. She's average-looking but has pretty brown hair. She excels in Water, Fire, and [Wind Magic], but only that, so she's basically a glass cannon. I'm slightly interested in her since she has such a large magic repertoire.

Then the women go away, and he brings three men.

The first is a large dragonkin. A tall and rather ugly man with short brown hair. He has dragon wings that he can use to fly for a short amount of time, and small patches of sharp scales protruding from the side of his arms and legs. These scales can act as armor or even be used as weapons since the edges are sharpened. His specialty is that he can breathe a sand storm and blind his opponents, and he's also experienced with all sorts of melee weapons. Truly the greatest warrior of this establishment.

The second is a dwarf man. He looks the same age as me despite his real age being double of mine. His skills are similar to the dwarf woman, but he can't use [Light Magic]. He may lack the healing magic, but he has his experience as an adventurer to his advantage.

The third and final is a bald human man with a boring face. He specializes in [Blessing Magic] and [Light Magic], knows a little bit of [Wind Magic], and has some training in sword and shield. He allows being used as a sex slave, even for other men.

Oh, boy…

I blink repeatedly to clear my mind from the weird thoughts.

All of their contracts are for either one or two decades, which is perfectly acceptable to me.

So, who is the best: the girl mage, or the dragonkin? The dwarf woman is also attractive because of the healing magic. With the amount of money I have, I can buy more than one, but can I really take care of more than one person for now?

I think hard and thoroughly, but I don't think that I should make a decision right now.

Seeing my indecisiveness, Ghulam suddenly suggests, "Mr. Ryder, would you be willing to wait two days before you make a decision? I have a new shipment coming, and there are two great jewels there, even better than the ones here."

This takes me by surprise. Who could be better than the dragonkin and the genius magician?

"What about these ones, aren't they going to sell in the meantime?" I inquire.

He gracefully shakes his head and responds, "I can hold them until the shipment arrives, and you have priority because of your recommendation. Also, the ones I've shown to you are my jewels, and slaves of this quality normally take a few months to sell. It's unlikely anyone capable of buying them is going to come so soon."

I see no reason not to wait, and I was already going to relax for a few days, anyway.

"Alright, I'll wait," I accept.

I want to come back and eat these cookies again. The brown one isn't made of chocolate, but it's still a delicious mix of vanilla with a fragrant fruit that goes perfectly with the tea, which seems to be a mix of ginger and cloves, and it tastes really good.

--

I leave the Golden Necklace and waste time until noon by window shopping on the main street, then I change back to my normal clothes and go to the hunters' guild for training.

"So, you're still alive?" Toga sternly questions me, mildly surprised.

Not even a greeting, just a mean gaze and straight words.

"Uh, were you expecting the contrary?" I ask worriedly.

He snorts, looking a bit peeved, then nods and answers, "You didn't come back for more training. That usually means you recklessly delved into a dungeon and got yourself killed."

I chuckle self-deprecatingly. "Wow, that's not far from the truth, but I played it safe and went to Royd's Kerfuffle."

He purses his lips reprovingly. "Even that was dangerous. Did you hear an Orc Headhunter was found at the sixth level? That could've been you."

So, this means you care about me, Toga? Awn, I'm touched.

I smile wryly and confess, "Well… t-that was me. I fought the Orc Headhunter with three other people."

Toga doesn't even twitch, he just stares at me, judging my words, then he looks at one of the guys at the bench, the same one that healed me after the last beating I got.

"Harper! Who was the guy that killed the Orc Headhunter?!" He yells.

"I think it was some Wolf Ryder!" The healer yells back.

Toga slowly turns his head towards me in a perfectly creepy movement, then he stares at me even harder, as if his eyes could pierce my soul, and I see a small smile forming on his mouth.

"So, Mr. Slayer, are you here for more training?" He sternly asks, his voice sounding even more threatening than before.

I avoid his gaze and tense up. "Y-yes… I would like to spar again," I meekly answer.

He immediately throws a wooden sword at me. "Pull up your guard!"

And then he beats me again, even harder this time.

The other students and teachers start cheering me, encouraging me to not give up, crying in joy every time I manage to block, and flinching with every blow I receive. I think some are even betting, but I can't pay any more attention to them because my life and dignity are on the line.

This time, Toga doesn't just beat me, he turns it into a marathon of a beating. He wears me down until I'm about to break, then he lets me rest for a precise amount of time, only to wear me down to my limit once again. He makes me last the whole afternoon and only ends it when I can barely stand anymore. The beating is so bad that I even get bloodied.

Then he suddenly stops and lowers his sword. "That's enough. Today was a productive day, and I'm pleased with the results," he calmly states, and I swear his voice is tinged with sadism.

More like pleased in seeing me suffer.

"Thank you… for the session." Those are all the words I can say until I'm fully healed, and it takes two instructors to heal me back to full HP.

--

I got back to the inn, and Selina cheerfully greets me.

"Welcome back, Mr. Ryder, did you fight something fearsome again today?" She asks with a slightly teasing tone.

"Just a bloodthirsty instructor," I answer with a wry smile.

She raises her eyebrows in surprise, then immediately exclaims, "Ah! I-I'm sorry…" And covers her mouth with her hand as she giggles.

I shake my head tiredly. "Don't be, it's training… it's a life I chose."

"Thank you for your effort." She bows and sends me a wink, then walks away while smiling.

When I get back to my bed, I take a look at my stats. My "Endurance" and "Willpower" increased by 1 (now 9 and 13), and [Block], [Parry], and [Dodge] increased by 3 (now 2+4, 0+4, and 2+4), which is rather impressive. Though I guess I just didn't have much of a chance to use my sword for attack during this beating.

Then I remembered that there's a skill called [Shield Use], so why didn't I learn it, already? Is this an offensive skill like [Sword Use]? Do I need to attach a blade and kill something with it so it doesn't count as [Shield Bash]?

Whatever. If it isn't increasing, then I'll just ignore it for now until I learn more about skills.

This is my progress so far:

--

['Wolf Ryder Skill Report']

['Physical']

[Skill Name: Level | Skill Name: Level | Skill Name: Level]

[Sword Use: 8+2 | Dodge: 2+4 | Parry: 0+4]

[Block: 2+4 | Shield Bash: 0+1 | Sense Presence: 5+0]

['Magical']

[Skill Name: Level | Skill Name: Level | Skill Name: Level]

[Mana Efficiency: 4+0 | Mana Recovery: 4+0 | Reduced Mana Cost: 4+0]

[Fire Magic: 1+0 | Electric Magic: 1+0 | Blessing Magic: 5+0]

[Nature Magic: 5+0]

['Miscellaneous']

[Skill Name: Level | Skill Name: Level]]

[Andraste Language: 10+0 | Dismantling: 0+1]

--

['Info']

[Name: Wolf Ryder | Age: 16 | Race: Human]

[HP: 100 | MP: 135 | Magic Power: 190]

[Level: 10]

['Stats']

[Strength: 8 | Endurance: 9 | Dexterity: 9]

[Speed: 10 | Intelligence: 20 | Wisdom: 15]

[Willpower: 13 | Charisma: 10 | Piety: 3]

[Perception: 15 | Sanity: 9]

['Other']

[.Status Effects: 'NONE'.]

[.Titles: 'NONE'.]

[.Affiliations: 'NONE'.]

[.Companions: 'NONE'.]

[.Crimes: 'NONE'.]

--

After that, I go to sleep, and I have a few confusing dreams about fighting, so I don't sleep very well.

--

Today, my body is way too sore for training, and it hurts to even walk around.

Since I don't have much to do, I wanted to talk to Selina, but she's way too busy this time. Our relationship is kind of awkward. It's not like we're close friends, and I can't call her anytime I want. Also, we only talk during mealtime, and I don't even know where she goes outside of that.

Since I don't know what to do, I eat my breakfast and spend the morning in bed, dozing on and off until it's almost time for lunch, then I get the energy to walk around and search for some exotic food.

I find a place with a super spicy Dragolite soup, and it has a hint of curry in it. The problem is, it's hotter than Satan's butthole, so it takes me some effort to eat it, but I do it. I'm not weak to spicy food, so I wonder what the hell was the cook thinking when he made this.

Then I decide to go to the hunters' guild to train magic. People should already know I have Fire and [Electric Magic], so I'm just going to train my mana pool.

I tell the manager that I'm going to train with [Fireball], and he gives me the ok, so I go to the furthest corner of the magic training area. Over here, people won't notice that I don't chant, and I can also stay far away from Toga's sadistic gaze.

I observe the other mages as they cast [Fireball], and I notice that they can cast a very small one almost instantly. I think about putting points in [Mana Control] so I can change the size of the [Fireball] and mimic them, but I don't think it'd be necessary to go to this level of deceit.

I put all my points into combat skills and start casting [Fireball] until my mana is exhausted. I can only cast it twelve times until my MP is gone, then I put all my points in [Mana Recovery] and meditate until I'm back to full. I try casting it thirteen times, but I nearly faint from the blackout, and due to embarrassment, I decide to not do it again.

I feel tempted to put on [Blackout Resistance] to get used to the pain of casting spells with negative MP, but the adventurer tips book also said that this lowers one's lifespan since it uses the caster's souls to fuel the spells, so I think I might pass it.

Training [Mana Overuse Resistance] might be more useful, though, since I only need to let my MP fall too low or use it up too fast to risk suffering from loss of senses, painful headaches, or sore muscles due to mana overuse. The tips book also advised that mages should exhaust their mana every day before going to sleep until they develop [Mana Overuse Resistance], but it doesn't seem like a lot of people follow this advice.

If I keep practicing my magic like this every day, then maybe I could learn it in a year, but it'll take a lot of diligence.

I quickly realize that this sort of training is really taxing mentally. A headache always flares when I start running low on mana, so it takes quite a lot of effort for me to concentrate on meditating, but I manage to keep a steady rhythm going until it's almost dusk, then I go back to the inn.

I'm starving.

It seems that using mana makes you more hungry than normal as I have to ask for a second serving of the already generous meal the inn gives.

"What's gotten you so hungry?" Selina gently asks as she puts down the plate for me.

"It seems training magic makes you super hungry," I quickly answer and dig in.

She sits down and coos in wonder. "O~h? You can use magic, too? That's amazing. What spells can you cast?"

I swallow hurriedly and reply, "Oh… it's nothing, just a small [Fireball] and support spells for myself, like [Regeneration] and [Wind Armor]."

She giggles cutely. "'Nothing'? You're quite humble. A magician who knows the sword is such a romantic way of fighting."

I stop eating and frown in confusion. "Uh… what do you mean by 'romantic'?"

She cutely rests her chin on her hand and starts talking excitedly, "Most stories of heroes are about people like you: melee fighters with a trump card in magic. They live dangerous and exciting adventures that give them the wisdom to push their powers to the limit.

"My favorite is about a mage whose entire strategy revolved around finding the chance to cast a single [Shocking Touch] on his enemy's most vulnerable spot. His way of fighting was all or nothing, and he bet it all on that spell when he fought a dragon. A huge, dangerous, and feared monster being brought down with a single, simple spell. He was so witty he convinced the dragon into getting close, even though it knew what the adventurer was capable of. I got chills when I read that book."

Is this what a normal girl of this world thinks about or are you just special?

"Indeed, it sounds like a poetic fight," I coolly reply and chuckle.

Selina gives me a smile that melts my heart and continues telling her stories excitedly.

But then I remember Lily…

It's hard to admit this, but I believe I'll have to live in this world for a long, long time. My growth is slow, transmigration is something unknown to the natives, and I have absolutely zero idea about why I'm here. I don't even have a mentor figure to guide me and then get killed in the middle of the story to give me an impetus to fight.

I'm stuck here, and if "God's" message wasn't a lie, then it's for the rest of my life.

What happened on Earth? Did time stop? Are they looking for me? Are they even still alive?

The way Selina looks at me is quite obvious. The signs are there.

I know that Lily wouldn't wait for me, and I shouldn't wait, too. We aren't idealists who believe in the existence of "true love," we're bitter realists who just found happiness with each other.

The subtle glances, the brief smiles, the slow inching closer, the dozens of excuses Selina finds to touch me. I can't ignore it.

Lily and I wouldn't want the other to spend who knows how long waiting for me to return. We love each other to the point we'd want the other to find happiness, even if it isn't together. We're just that pragmatic.

Selina makes me laugh and lightens my mood, but there's nothing she can do to fix the storm of emotions brewing within my heart.

I can't just do this all by myself forever. I need someone to rely on… but I'm too scared to get close to anyone.

Then I remember the raven-type woman and shiver.

I'm so goddamn fucking lonely I think that's what keeps my "Sanity" so low.

--

I drop on my bed with a sigh, then I curl up into a ball.

It hasn't been even a month, and I'm already breaking down, but to be fair, in just a few days I've already gone through enough life and death situations to last an entire lifetime on Earth.

I need to think only about myself, otherwise, I don't think I'll last long. I'm the only thing that matters right now! I should think only about my survival!

I clench my fists in anger.

This world will have no mercy for someone delicate like me, so I need to change, but I don't want to.

Silent tears run along my cheeks, and I cry myself to sleep.

Lily, I'm sorry…

--

I have a nightmare of the Headhunter staring at me with his beady little eyes. It does nothing to me except stare like an ever-present threat.

--

Today, I wake up with my body feeling better, but I'm still not good enough to be beaten into pulp again. My "Strength" didn't increase, too, so I think I should start a muscle training regimen. I can just do some quick exercises before bath like I did on Earth, but I need something to replace dumbbells.

I look at my MP and see it increased by 30 (now 165). That's a nice amount. I can certainly cast [Fireball] one more time now. No "Magic Power" increase though, so I wonder what's needed for that.

Breakfast is bean salad with not-corn crumbs and a leg of Rabid Rabbit. Honestly, the cuisine around here is not bad, but I just really miss rice.

Now, what do I do today? I'm not really in the mood for exploring the town since my head is still heavy with the thoughts from last night.

I feel like I've mentally cornered myself. I'm stuck in a dilemma caused by two conflicting parts of my beliefs. Any decision I make will end up hurting a part of me, so how should I even start to make this choice? It's easy to find the logical path to follow, but it's hard to actually go through with it.

I try to pick up the romance book to read, but I can't concentrate, so I just absentmindedly turn around the pages without absorbing anything.

--

After wasting my morning, I just pick a random stall and eat lunch on the street. I barely even pay attention to what I'm eating, I just know that it's bland.

After that, I decide to hurt myself and go to the training ground to increase my MP again.

This time, Toga doesn't stare so much at me. He seems satisfied with the amount of pain I'm giving to myself.

Besides forgoing shame and losing my senses five times from blackout, nothing really happens, and I just robotically repeat my training sequence with [Fireball] followed by [Mana Recovery]-enhanced meditation. It gives me a bit of a headache from overuse, though.

After dusk, I come back and absentmindedly eat my dinner. Selina isn't serving today, and I don't ask why.

I go to sleep with my mood worse than when I woke up.

--

I dream of the Gargling Goblin again. This time, I tell him to fuck off, but it doesn't help, and I wake up in the middle of the night sweating cold.

--

Selina wakes me up, and I immediately look at my MP. It increased by 50 (now 215). It's quite a large amount, so I believe I did well on yesterday's training.

Now, it's finally the day to buy a slave. I anxiously eat my breakfast, then I go to the Golden Necklace.

I don't even know what I want from it anymore…

The same butler-like old man greets me with a bow, "Welcome again, Grand Sir. Would you like to go to the meeting room immediately? I'll call the Head; the new shipment is ready for inspection."

"Sure, please do," I whisper back, a bit aloof.

The moment I enter the room, I remember the heavenly cookies and tea, and my sweet-tooth aching takes some of the edge off.

The not-butler comes a few seconds later with a tray of cookies and tea, then leaves me alone to devour them, and I notice that there's double the amount than the other day.

Did he notice I liked them?

Then Ghulam comes in and does a quick bow. "Welcome again to the Golden Necklace, Mr. Ryder. I'm glad you waited. I'm sure that you'll be pleased with the new shipment, they're astounding."

He sits and claps his hands, then the not-butler opens the door.

Two women come in, two beautiful women. I suck in a breath and freeze.

Astounding indeed.

The first is a fox girl. She has light brown, almost orange hair styled in a cute bob cut, a diamond-shaped jaw, thin lips, a small nose, round, orange eyes, and pointy orange fox ears on top of her head. Such an incredibly cute face.

When she walks, I see an orange fox tail dangling about, and it even has a white tip. It looks so soft I want to hug it.

The second is an elven girl. She has silver straight hair that's so glossy it almost shines, an adorably short stature, skin as white as snow, an oval face, upturned blue eyes that look almost Asian, a small and pointy nose, small red lips, and the unmistakable long pointy ears of the elves protruding at a right angle from her head.

That's honestly not what I thought he meant when he said the new slaves would be even better than the previous ones. I imagined a bigger monster than the dragonkin would appear or something like that. And judging my current state, I don't think I should be in this room with these two girls.

Ghulam smiles at me with grace, making it hard to look away from him as he announces, "These are my two new prizes. The werefox is Alissa. She's an offering from an exclusive deal Rabanara has with the Misty Low Forest. They raise and train a slave every five years, then sell them to us. It took me a lot of luck, but I managed to acquire her.

"She has been taught since she was a child that her destiny is to be a combat slave, and due to her beauty, she has also been trained on how to serve a man. She's the most skilled archer and hunter of her clan, and you won't find someone better than her outside of a Lord's retinue. Her 'Speed' and 'Dexterity' are very high, which gives her pinpoint accuracy and high lethality. Her olfact and hearing are extremely sharp, and she even has the rare [Sense Presence], making her the perfect scout. She was also trained in the traditional lifestyle magic, so she's ready to live even among the nobility.

"The other one is called Silvane. She's the daughter of a fallen noble from the elven lands of Elaria, so she has no relation to the elves on this side of the continent. Her father, mother, and brother were executed as punishment for failing to fulfill their duties as nobles, so she hopes in finding a master who achieves heroic feats to regain her honor, and perhaps even her noble status. Like all nobility, she was trained in serving men and women, and how to care for and manage a house or a business.

"Her skills are in [Light Magic], [Blessing Magic], [Wind Magic], [Nature Magic], [Earth Magic] and [Fire Magic]. She has an amazing mana pool since she was training to help her family in managing the dungeons in their territory. She's guaranteed to become an amazing magician in the future, if you train her right.

Then his tone becomes deep and husky as he adds, calling forth feelings I'm not proud of having, "Both accept being sex slaves, and they're virgins. They also have contracts for life."

Oh, boy.

I need to leave this place. I'm not in the right mindset to make a rational decision right now. Only one of the women from before talked about being a "sex slave," so I tried to not think about this, but now, seeing these girls who are ready (and willing?), my body aches for comfort. This craving fights against my fragmented will and my guilt from my love for Lily.

What am I supposed to do…? Wait, there's a way out! They must cost an exorbitant amount, so there's no way I can buy them, right?

"W-What's the cost? They must be too expensive for me," I stiffly ask, barely containing my anxiety.

Ghulam whispers honeyed words to me, "With the discount from your recommendation, sixty gold for the elf, seventy for the werefox."

NO!

He chuckles softly and gently adds, his silky tone causing his words to slither into my ears, "There's no rush. If you want to talk or observe them closer it's allowed. Such an investment shouldn't be done hastily." Then he grins perversely.

He noticed how I'm desperately holding myself and trapped me here. Now there's no way I'm leaving without buying one of them now.

I force myself to breathe deeply, managing to calm down a little.

I'm weak… I'm sorry, Lily… but I'm far too weak. Being alone in this world hurts too much, and I'm far too scared that I'll die to pass on the chance of some happiness.

There's a devil disguised as a man that's tempting me. He threw two wonderful women in front of me and said: "Here! Pick one, grab her, fuck her, make her yours. She will be your thing, your toy, forever. No strings attached, no messy relationships, no love dynamics, no anxiety from rejection, she's your perfect woman. Even the fucking gods tell you it's okay to do it, now fucking choose!"

I'm sorry Lily… I'm a horrible husband. I'm sorry you fell in love with me, and it's okay to not wait for me.

An undercurrent of anger rises to the surface, clouding my mind further.

I'll do what I want in this fucking world because there's no one fucking else that'll help me! I was abandoned here without care, so I'll abandon whatever is holding me back from my previous world! This world will be mine…! Wait no, too far.

"I'll take Alissa."

--

--

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