10. Greasing the Wheels — Part Four
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— Ping! —

You have become a slave owner.

New options are now available in your relationship menu.

The elves were in an exceedingly good mood. They clapped each other on the back and joked among themselves as they packed up their camp.

Apparently, now that their business was done, they planned to move on. A quick miming session with the map revealed their plan to head south towards the coast, then travel along it back the way Max had arrived.

The long roll of Amber-Weave had already taken pride of place in the group, and Max suspected it was going to find its way to another Master Builder before too long. A potential worry, but what could he do? His new village would need as many resources as he could get.

A prompt popped up that did ameliorate his feelings somewhat.

— Ping! —

Congratulations on concluding your first trade session!

War is not the only path to conquest.

Economic, social, ideological, and diplomatic power can also be wielded to bring your foes to their knees. Never forget, though, that ultimate power comes down to who wields the bigger stick. Build your civilization, conquer your enemies, win the Trial by Conquest, and rule over Isolation as king!

— Dong! —

You have discovered a quest.

Path of the Merchant

Something in your blood is calling you, Master Builder.

Quest Requirements: Conclude at least three trading sessions with at least three different travelling merchants.

Reward: Market Place Deity Engram

Do you accept?

[Yes] or [No]

Max quickly accepted the quest. While he was utterly committed to fighting and winning this insane battle-royale, anything that would help him that didn’t involve sticking a sword in someone else’s guts would be most welcome. That bit about his blood calling him did give him pause for thought, though.

— Dong! —

Quest Update: Path of the Merchant

Your recent trade session with the ebony elves has been retroactively applied to your current quest.

Quest progress: 1/3 merchants traded with

More good news!

Max couldn’t help but wonder if there might be other quests lurking out there that would give him even more advantages. The prompt text mentioned that social, ideological, and diplomatic powers were also ways to win, but he hadn’t received a new quest after his diplomatic efforts with the Spider Nymph.

Max turned to his new friend, now propped up against one of the trees, still bound by her wrists, ankles, and even neck, to the bamboo pole.

He quickly navigated to his relationship menu. A new option was indeed available. Max pressed on the button which read, [Slaves].

— Slaves —

[Forest Nymph — Wildflower]

Wildflower? Max glanced at the girl again, noting both the delicate dabs of colour that suffused her leafy, lingerie-like clothing, and the fierce look of determination in her eyes. Yep, the name was appropriate, alright.

Clicking on her name brought up another window.

— Whoosh —

As your slave, you can view this being’s complete character page.

Name: Wildflower

Species: Forest Nymph

Emotional state: Wary/Hopeful/Determined

Relationship status: Neutral

Willingness to mate: Zero

The status page went on and on, but the moment it started revealing how much she did or didn’t want to fuck him, Max frowned and closed the screen. That was invasive as all hells! He did notice there were a bunch of other options on the screen, including the ability to free her, but they needed to get some things straight first.

At least reading her emotional state did give him more confidence that she wouldn’t try to claw his eyeballs out the moment she released him. Thankfully, this girl didn’t seem to have the same razor-sharp talons the Spider Nymph had.

The elves were still getting their stuff together, but this couldn’t wait.

Max reached around and loosened the grass string gag around her mouth.

“What are you?” Wildflower blurted out the moment the gag fell.

Max blinked. Of all the things he’d been expecting to hear, that was not one of them. But it was certainly better than a gob of spit in the face. “Well, you already know I am a Master Builder, so I assume you mean my species. I am human,” he replied with a hint of a smile.

The Nymph shook her head. “Every human I have encountered is the colour of the ground. You are the colour of the sky. And you are a creature of life. Humans can have many alignments, but I have never met one aligned with life.”

“What can I say? I’m handsome like that.” He didn’t particularly want to get into his skin colour with the girl, and he certainly wasn’t going to admit just how casually he’d become ‘life aligned’. He still wasn’t even sure what that really meant. “The more important question,” he continued. “Is what are you going to do now? If I free you, are you going to run away?”

That would suck so badly.

Wildflower nibbled her lip. “If I say yes, will you keep me as a slave?”

Ah... Max supposed he’d walked right into that one. Garbage in, garbage out. Unfortunately, he knew no way they could come to any kind of agreement that wouldn’t be tainted by her current status. That also sucked.

“Would you object if I asked you a few questions before I free you?”

The girl shook her head.

“You said before you weren’t sure if you wanted to join me or be a commander, could you elaborate on that?”

“Forest Nymphs hardly ever join Master Builders,” Wildflower said quickly. “The last time was supposed to be many Trials ago, many thousands of years. But there are legends and stories, passed down from nymph to nymph. The last Trial almost destroyed the Emerald Plateau.” Her eyes were wide. “I also don’t know what being a commander means.”

“Honestly, I don’t know much about it either.” Max smiled his best reassuring smile. The smiles seemed to work, so best keep them up. “How about this? You show me around the local area, tell me everything you know about anything close by, and then, when we’ve found where I’m going to set up my village, then you can decide if you want to join me. Or be a commander.”

The girl nibbled her lip again. “I will show you everything, Master Builder,” she said. “But you must promise me one thing.”

“What?”

“Promise you will not mate with me.”

Well, that was both sudden and blunt.

No lies. Max knew he would have been disappointed with that last comment, if he hadn’t already seen the literal zero fucks she wanted to give in her status window. Wildflower was feminine beauty beyond anything he’d ever seen before. And being half a head shorter than him and not sporting claws made her a lot less intimidating than the Spider Nymph. Everything about the girl screamed youthful fertility, from her thick wavy hair to her hour-glass figure. And if her status as an avatar of nature was literal, maybe that was to be expected.

On the other hand, Max thought, tomorrow was always another day. A good woman could change her mind as often as she might change her clothes. For some reason, that thought felt important. But he couldn’t quite place why.

Whatever the case, if this beautiful girl ever decided she quite fancied a roll in the hay, she would not find him wanting. Max simply smiled again. “I promise, no matter how beautiful you may be, or how cute I find you, I promise I will not try and mate you with you.”

“Good.”

 


 

— Ping! —

You have freed a slave

Forest Nymph — Wildflower

Be Aware: Be freeing her from slavery and discussing the matter beforehand, your relationship with Wildflower has improved from Neutral to Curious.

— Ping! —

You are no longer a slave owner

Slavery options menu locked

Well, that was good news.

Max watched as the elves finished slinging goods over their shoulders and started making their way out of the clearing the way Max had arrived. He wasn’t sure if he’d ever see them again, but part of him suspected he would.

Oddly, Wildflower didn’t seem to hold any kind of enmity towards the elves. She was busy talking with Thorax on the other side of the clearing.

Eventually, she trotted over to him and in a hushed voice whispered, “You know that’s an Amber-Weave spider, yes?”

“Yes,” Max said slowly.

“You know their kind hasn’t been seen in the Over-World since long before the last Trial, right?”

“I knew it had been a while.”

“Did you know that the last time they found their way to the surface they almost ate half the continent?!”

Max had not known that, but had to clarify. “Do you mean they almost ate half the continent, or they ate almost half the continent?”

Wildflower looked at him for a second before hissing, “Ate almost half the continent.”

Dammnnn! Max looked over at where Thorax stood quietly, loaded down with silk and beer, before shrugging and telling Wildflower about the deal he’d made with the Spider Nymph.

Wildflower stared at him in shock. “I can’t decide what’s more insane, that you made that deal, or that you mated the spider nymph — an epic-level immortal being that has brought destruction to Isolation more than once.” She seemed to think before a wry smile made its way onto her face. “Was it good?”

“Yes,” Max stated definitively and without a hint of shame.

Wildflower snorted. “Typical stag.” Her face turned serious, suddenly all business. “Where do you want me to show you first?”

Max took out the drawing of the map he’d made. “I want to know about resources. I want to know where any other dungeons are, and where the river over here goes. How far out do you know the area?”

“I know these lands well and far to the East. There is only one other dungeon nearby that I know of, apart from the ‘pyramid-tower’ you spoke of before. But since I am not a Master Builder, I don’t know what’s inside. The area over here is rich in amber.” She pointed to an area some way west of where they currently sat. “That is where the name Amber-Weave spider comes from and the name of this forest — the Amberwood Vale.”

“Vale? As in a valley? I only see one mountain range over there. Where is the other one?”

Wildflower simply shrugged. “It is an ancient name. Maybe an ancient Master Builder moved it.”

“Moved a mountain range?!” Max stared at his map in awe. The fact that Wildflower even considered that a casual possibility was incredible. Would he have that kind of power one day? Max quickly got a hold of himself. “What other resources are there?”

“Irongrass grows to the north. Many local tribes use it to build huts. The forest is full of fruit and nut trees, but those grow in clumps all over. The river loops all the way around the pyramid-tower and continues up north to the mountains.” She marked her best guess of where it travelled on the map.

“You mentioned local tribes,” Max interjected. “What are those?”

“Forest elves, mostly.” Her face darkened. “And goblins.”

“Nasty?”

“Very. They are the ones who captured me.”

“So, we stay clear of them.”

“Until you have an army, yes.”

“Are the Forest-Elves life-aligned as well?”

“Yes. They are the ones most likely to join you. The goblins might join you, too, but not if you accept the elves. You would have to choose.” Wildflower looked fiercely into Max’s eyes. “If you chose the goblins, I absolutely would not join you!”

“Peace,” Max put his hands up. “I’m not planning to.”

“Good.” She turned back to the map.

Max smiled. Wildflower was wild indeed. “Is amber used for anything apart from looking pretty?” he asked.

“The stories say it can be used for magic.”

That got Max’s attention. He felt his life before the Trial had given him a good knowledge of history, technology, and other normal subjects—even if he couldn’t remember the details of acquiring the knowledge—but the one area he felt almost entirely lacking in, was magic.

The fact that he only felt almost entirely lacking in magical knowledge was interesting.

Max looked down at the map again. Wildflower then showed him fish stocks in the river and ocean, great hunting planes to the west of his map, many days travel away (apparently she’d only ever heard of those), and the deposits of stone at the bottom of a cliff face.

She finished her survey of the area by jabbing a finger down where the other dungeon she knew about was, which happened to be right next to the stone quarry.

Max looked at the map and thought about it. “It looks like being about here would be best,” he declared, indicating an area that was equal distance between the irongrass, the dungeon, and the amber, right smack in the middle of the forest.

“Master Builder,” came a rumbling voice behind them.

Wildflower actually let out a little squeal at that, before looking furious with herself.

Thorax loomed over the two, his silhouette blocking out the sun. “Have you considered the possibilities of the river in transporting goods?”

“Yeah,” Max said. “But if we located at the river that would put the amber resources massively far away. It would be right on the other side of the forest.”

“Master Builder,” Thorax rumbled in a voice that sounded put upon. “You are aware that amber is small and light? And that irongrass is large and heavy? And floats...”

Max groaned inside his head at his own stupidity, but kept his face totally neutral. There was something about the tone of Thorax’s voice that was getting to him, more than just the horrible journey he’d been subjected to on the way here, which he was still 100% sure had been intentional. “Yeah,” Max ground out. “Of course I knew all that. I was just testing.”

“Testing.”

“Yeah, testing.”

“Did I pass your test?”

“Sure! With flying colours!”

“I am most happy to hear that, Master Builder. Please call me again when it is time for my next test.”

He turned and walked off.

The moment he’d gone, Max whipped back around. “Don’t you say a word.”

Wildflower had the cutest little smirk on her face. “Of course not, Master Builder.”

“So, we’ll head towards the dungeon by the river, south of the irongrass.”

“That sounds like a plan, Master Builder.”

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