9. Greasing the wheels — Part Three
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Greasing the wheels — Part Three


— Whoosh —

Forest Nymph

Alignment: Life

Race type: Uncommon

Status: Slave

Forest Nymphs are one of the more unusual avatars of nature that inhabit Isolation. Mostly choosing to live separate from the petty politics of the rest of the world, they cloister themselves in the Northern Forests of the Emerald Plateau. On those rare occasions they do venture out, however, they make incredible scouts for Master Builders fortunate enough to win their service.

Powers:

Free to Run Wild.

Forest Creature: Can move through forest terrain with preternatural ability.

Nature’s Virgin.

Briar Wolf.

Call of the Pack.

Max felt slightly sick. He wasn’t sure exactly how he’d felt about such things before coming to Isolation, but right now, slavery definitely felt like it went in the, ‘not great’ category.

He did his best not to let any of this show on his face, though. The last thing he needed was for things to turn nasty. On the other hand, maybe being presented with this girl like prize meat in a cattle market could actually turn out to be a good thing.

Max ignored the girl’s furious gaze to call out behind him. “Thorax, how exactly does slavery work in this world? I can see it as a status with my analyse magic.”

The girl’s face turned from furious to shocked the moment he opened his mouth. Of course, her being a creature of life meant she could understand.

“I am not an expert, Master Builder,” Thorax replied. “My queen rarely has use for slaves. Most beings foolish enough to enter her domain are eaten alive. But I believe the status will compel required behaviour in magnitude to the history of pain administered.”

“Can I free her?”

Thorax apparently hadn’t even been looking in their direction because it was only then that he acknowledged the girl’s presence. “A Forest Nymph,” he stated, actually sounding surprised. “Well done, Master Builder. She will be most useful.”

This was clearly the point when the girl spotted Thorax too, because the surprise on her face fled in exchange for sheer terror. She started to writhe while hanging from the bamboo pole, muffled cries coming through her gag.

“Hey,” Max said, trying to sound soothing. “We’re not going to hurt you. It’s going to be okay.” Probably, he added in the privacy of his head. “Thorax, you didn’t answer my question. If I buy her, can I free her?”

That caused the girl to still again, though her eyes still lingered on the gigantic spider behind Max.

Thorax seemed to consider for a moment. “I believe so, Master Builder, although then she will be under no magical compulsion not to kill you. A Forest Nymph slave would come with many benefits.”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m sure. But would she really kill me for freeing her?” This was spoken more to the girl than to Thorax. Max’s experience with the Spider Nymph left him with no delusions that just because this green-skinned girl looked like she belonged on the trending page of an amateur adult website, that didn’t mean she couldn’t seriously fuck him up.

The girl shook her head violently, long chestnut hair flying everywhere.

This resulted in a cuff around the ear by one of the elves.

“Hey!” Max said, with just a hint of ire. “There’s no need for that.”

The old elf sitting opposite spoke to Max in a stern voice.

Of course, Max couldn’t understand.

“I believe the merchant doesn’t wish you to communicate with the Forest Nymph until after you have agreed to buy her,” Thorax supplied in his usual rumble. “Given your need for information about the surrounding area, I believe that the nymph can act as a guide, and it is this knowledge that the merchant believes he is selling. No trade, no information. I would also remind you that you need a commander before you can start your village. If you do not wish for her as a slave, then that would also be useful.”

Max grunted. He really didn’t like this. But he had to work within the rules of the world he was in. Slavery was a practice as old as civilisation itself — one that had only been eliminated once technology made it mostly irrelevant. He was pretty sure he was remembering that correctly.

He also didn’t like that the elves wouldn’t let him talk to the nymph before he bought her.

That at least, he thought he could do something about.

Max turned slightly, so he was looking more towards Thorax. “Thorax, you’re sure no one here can understand me apart from you and her, yes?”

“I am fairly sure, Master Builder.”

“Great. So, Miss Forest Nymph, here’s the deal. I’m going to turn back soon and start haggling on some other stuff the merchant has. During this time, I’m going to pretend to ask Thorax questions, but they will really be questions to you. If the answer is yes, blink once. If the answer is no, blink twice. If the answer is ‘not sure’ or ‘maybe’, close your eyes for longer than a blink. Do you understand?”

He turned back to the old elf in front of him, and out of the corner of his eye saw the girl blink once.

Excellent.

What followed was Max paying what he suspected was far more than he needed for many of the elf’s wares.

— Ding! —

You have acquired 2 units of Repkin eggs

This is a mundane resource

— Ding! —

You have acquired 5 units of Yumtubber

This is a mundane resource

— Ding! —

You have acquired 2 units of Nutbutnut

This is a mundane resource

— Ding! —

You have acquired 2 units of Almonds

This is a mundane resource

— Ding! —

You have acquired 2 units of Mixed Seeds

This is a mundane resource

— Ding! —

You have acquired 2 units of Unidentified Roasted Meat

This is a mundane resource

— Ding! —

You have acquired 24 bone needles

These are mundane items

— Ding! —

You have acquired bone comb

This is a mundane item

— Ding! —

You have acquired bone ornaments x 5

These are mundane items

— Ding! —

You have acquired flint axe x3

These are mundane items

— Ding! —

You have acquired flint spear x3

These are mundane items

— Ding! —

You have acquired flint knife x3

These are mundane items

— Ding! —

You have acquired grass basket x3

These are mundane items

The total price for the lot was about 1/20th of one of the lengths of Amber-Weave he had. Max was fairly confident that given just how rare Amber-Weave was supposed to be and how common these items were, that he was getting way the worse end of the bargain. A part of his soul chafed at the deal, but he nevertheless accepted it. This deal was largely a cover, anyway.

During the lengthy trading exchange, he’d been peppering the girl with hidden questions, careful to keep his interrogation secret. He didn’t want to know how the elves would react if they thought he was cheating them.

“Do you want to be free?” he asked.

Blink. Yes.

“If I free you, will you kill me?”

Blink. Blink. No.

“Do you know that I am a Master Builder?”

Blink. Yes.

“Do you want to follow me?”

Long Blink. Uncertain.

“If I free you, would you guide me to a place where I can start a village?”

Blink. Yes.

“Would you show me where any local resource concentrations are?”

Blink. Yes.

“Would you show me where any local dungeons are?”

Blink. Yes.

“Would you like to be a commander?”

Long blink. Uncertain.

“Is there anything I can do or say that would persuade you to join me?”

Long blink. Uncertain.

Well, that would have to do.

Eventually, the older elf motioned to the elves holding the girl’s bamboo rod, and had her delivered onto the trading carpet like a rolled-up rug. Despite the situation, Max couldn’t help but compare the Forest Nymph to her spider counterpart. The comparison was definitely favourable. The major difference, apart from skin colour, was that this nymph seemed to come with clothes as standard. A revealing bikini set made from leaves and grass, yes, but clothes of a sort.

“How much?” Max asked.

In response, the elves standing by Thorax took down not one, but two rolls of Amber-Weave.

“Two whole rolls?!” Max said incredulously. “The other stuff you sold me was only 1/20th of one!”

The ebony elf just shook a finger at him with a smile and pointed down at the nymph lying between them. His face told a story. The old merchant knew he had him. He knew Max desperately needed what only the nymph could provide.

For her part, she was glaring at Max again, but it was less a glare of death and hatred and more the glare of a woman who feels she is being insulted. Okay, he was haggling her price down as much as he could, but seriously! He’d counted how many Amber-Weave rolls he had, and the number came to thirty. That was the total amount he had for hells knew how long. He didn’t want to lose two rolls right away.

Max ignored the girl’s glare and folded his arms. “One half.” He then held up a single digit and bent it over to show his point.

The elf shook his head. This time the elf held up a single digit of his own.

The elf with the Amber-Weave put the one roll down next to the Forest Nymph.

As far as bargaining went, it was nothing amazing, but given the language barrier, it was probably the best they were going to achieve.

“Done,” Max said.

The elf reached out, and the two shook hands.

— Ding! —

You have acquired Forest Nymph Slave

This is an uncommon item.

Max looked at the prompt askance. Well, that wasn’t degrading as hell.

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