The Soft-hearted slave merchant – Part 1

Seven years went by.
It might seem a very long time, but things didn’t really change.
At least, Listina’s conditions remained the same.

Thanks to the massive amount of clean water the Verne Lake’s provided, there weren’t any periods of drought, and shipping channels became the main means of transport of the capital as they intertwined in the streets.
That’s the reason merchants and travelers, who didn’t only admire the city’s majestic appearance, started to call it ‘Water Capital.’

However, they referred to the upper and middle part of the city.

The crystalline water that was drawn from the lake flowed from the upper part of the city, down to the south-east zone, the poorest, where water became sewage before returning into the lake.
Of course, not each sewer was underground, so the area was filled with a terrible stench, worsened by the high humidity.
People called the city Water Capital simply because they didn’t take into account the slums, but there were also people who made fun of it.

But the residents didn’t mind that.

In the upper part of the city, rich people feasted whenever they wanted.
In the middle part, people lived a normal life based on work.
And in the lower part, people had to face starvation.

No one cared about it.

That was the daily occurrence of the city, and nothing changed in those years.

“It’s… time to start working.”

Cracking his shoulder, Takumi, who was a slave merchant, deeply breathed in the slums’ air he became so used to.
Even though the city’s situation didn’t really improve during those years, Takumi did grow into a good-looking guy.
His physical build wasn’t anything remarkable, but since he became quite tall, his former childish features weren’t visible anymore.

“As you can see, humans grow quite fast.”

“Wooow… He usually stoops, but seeing him now, Takumi is pretty tall!”

A petite girl with the very same blond hair, big ears, and tail of seven years before, stood nearby a gorgeous, black-haired girl whose words were as sharp as her ears.

They were slaves like him in the past, but now they were his colleagues.

Their appearance didn’t change in the slightest.
Karin looked exactly like the first time Takumi saw her, starting from her silky black hair, bountiful chest, and her slender hands.
She was in great shape.
Kunon also looked the same little girl as before. She hadn’t grown an inch, and her lady parts hadn’t developed at all.

“You girls never change. I should be the one who’s surprised.”

“Well, I’m an elf.”

“And I’m a werebeast!”

Karin replied in a flat tone, while Kunon was in high spirits.

Each kind of demi-human has some peculiar features. Longevity and growth were some of them.
Once elves reach adulthood, it’s like time stops for them, and their body never deteriorates.
Instead, werebeasts do grow older, but they develop slower than humans.
Because of those differences, it wasn’t strange that Takumi looked older than them, but it was quite bizarre.

“Thanks for reminding me. Now let’s get to work. Karin, what are our plans for today?”

“No problem. We have to go to Valeria’s, so we’ll drop by the gunshop ‘Corundrum’ and retrieve what we asked Becht. After that, we’ll ask Lang the usual report about the water treatment, and we’ll discuss the request of that cobbler, Pass, regarding the new apprentice… if I’m not wrong. Regarding tonight’s Harvest Festival, everyone will participate, so there’s no problem.”

After Karin smoothly summarized their schedule, Takumi nodded.

“It’d be better if Becht and Lang already finished their work. While am at it, I’ll ask Pass about the food matter… but let’s go grab a bite first.”

“Yayyy! I’d love some meat!”

“Kunon… meat first thing in the morning is a bit rough for me…”

“Eh?! I can’t have it…?”

Although Karin tried to object her friend’s suggestion, seeing her lowering her tail and ears made the elf sigh.

“Takumi, let’s go eat some meat.”

“You’re too easy on her, but anything is fine for me.”

“It’s settled! Meat for breakfast!”

Kunon was jumping joyfully as her ears returned straight and her eyes shone.

The girls joined Valeria just like Takumi, and the three of them developed some sort of friendship during the seven years they spent together.

“This early in the morning… the bar should be empty. We might have a chance to talk with her.”

“…Breakfast was just an excuse, wasn’t it?”

“Of course it was. Time is money. Useless things should be cut away.”

Karin looked at him disappointed, but he didn’t mind her and started walking while humming.

We can say that there weren’t many restaurants in the slums.
The poorest people skipped breakfast. Lunch was the main meal of the day, and usually, dinner was accompanied with some alcohol.
That’s why there were barely any places that served breakfast. The slums were filled with bars, so it was really hard to find somewhere to eat.

But if it was her bar, it was a different matter.

Ignoring the sign ‘closed’ hanging from the door, Takumi stepped in.
When the doorbell rang, the sounds of steps of someone quickly coming from the rear side of the shop could be heard.

“We’re closed for today! Oh, hi Takumi.”

A girl appeared wearing a band over her dull blond hair.

“Hey, Lilia. Can you make me some breakfast?”

“Again? I’m busy. I still have to clean some stuff for the night shift.”

Even though she looked annoyed, she beckoned them to take their seat at the counter.

“It’s just that you’re so good at cooking that I think of you whenever I get hungry.”

“Oh, thank you. I’d also be happy if you put that on paper.”

The frustration on her face was replaced by a healthy smile.

“Seems like you’re not alone. Our regular is here too.”

Lilia giggled looking at the guy who sat on the other side of the counter, who started coughing violently.
He wore glasses and his expression was stern. His face had a different impact with those lenses, but it still retained its former features.

“I can’t help it. I had to spend the entire night working on a manuscript. The only place where I can eat something at this hour is here.”

Both his look and tone changed drastically, but his usual expression didn’t.

“Ah, so if another bar like this opens, you wouldn’t come here anymore?”

“…Well, you’re a great cook, so I’d still choose this one.”

“You could be honest there, Killfer. You talk like an adult but think like a child.”

“I’m just more formal than before since I have to talk with my superiors.”

He shoved the delicious meat he had on his plate into his mouth.

“C’mon, take your seats. Can I make you something quick?”

“I and Karin don’t mind, but Kunon wants…”

“Lilia, I want some meat! I don’t mind what, just let it be meat!”

“Okay. I saved the herbs flavored one for you.”

Smiling at the werebeast who was wagging her tail, she walked into the kitchen.
After they waited for a while in silence, Takumi tried talking to Killfer.

“Tell me, Killfer, are you okay?”

“You should be able to figure it out yourself.”

“Yeah, but I would lose my pick-up line, then. Also, it’s better to ask you myself than hearing about it from some third party.”

“The answer is obvious. I’m like every child sold by the ‘Soft-hearted slave merchant’.”

Without changing the tone of his voice, his lips curled into a smile.

There was a soft-hearted slave merchant in the slums of Listina.
It was said that he sold people to those who needed manpower, that he probably had anything someone needed, and that his slaves were dramatically better than average ones, but were also cheap.

He should’ve been hated for that.
Instead, both buyers and slaves were grateful to him. That’s how people came up with that nickname.

The Soft-hearted slave merchant was none other than Takumi, one of Valeria’s members.

“Speaking of which, one of your clients asked me if it will be necessary to pay some kind of extra, given how cheap the article was.”

“I’m glad it was a convenient deal. When you see him next time, tell him that there’s no need to worry about that.”1

“He doesn’t listen to me, no matter what I say. Also, if I were to tell him that, he would spend his nights sleepless thinking about how do you earn enough money to survive.”

Takumi burst into a scornful laughter.

“You saw it when we were younger. I bet you can guess it if you do the math.”

“Of course I know it. Since you sell slaves cheaply, the only other thing you can sell to gain enough money is…”

He took another mouthful as he talked.

“Information. The slaves are your network, so you come to know about their former owners and sellers, and you make money from rumors… am I right?”

“Well, that’s not all. By selling a slave who knows the subject that the buyer needs, I gain a lot of trust, and that makes business easier.”

“And making people sign the slave protection contract, both are grateful and come to trust you, so they are willing to help.”

“Hey, don’t bad-mouth my reputation. Other than protecting the slaves, in that contract it’s written that if the buyer isn’t satisfied with the purchase, they can ask for a full refund.”

The contract was written to safeguard the benefits of both parties.

‘The slave must be treated like a human being’ was written in it.
Also, it stated that the slave had to be paid honestly for its work and that any act of harassment or discrimination against them was forbidden. In case one of the above-mentioned points were to be violated, a sanction was applied.
If the slave proved incompatible for any reason, the buyer could ask a full refund in exchange for returning the slave.

“If the customer can easily get what he needs, the slave can live better right away, and that’s how I can gather information from both. That way everyone can gain from this.”

Killfer stopped for an instant.

“The thing I never understood is how you reached that answer.
You just assumed that people need better slaves, don’t you?”

Takumi always made sure that the slaves’ abilities and character were always perfectly compatible with the client’s demands, to always achieve perfection.

“The point is… that I can’t understand your way of thinking. I couldn’t seven years ago, and I can’t even now.”

“The answer is simple.”

Takumi pointed at his own eyes.

“It seems that I have an eye for people.”

“…I always hated how you avoid questions.”

“I’m not avoiding anything. It’s just a matter of experience.”

“Are you talking about your birthplace…? I read countless books, but I still haven’t seen any written with the symbols you use.”

“That’s why my birthplace is really far from here, don’t mind it so much.”

Killfer clicked his tongue and averted his gaze, and Lilia returned with the other’s meal.

“Okay, Killfer, stop bothering Takumi because you’re sleep-deprived.”

“Why are you scolding me?”

“Because you sound like a drunkard moaning about anything. Also, we should just be grateful to him.”

She smiled as she touched her neck.
The collar that bound them was nowhere to be found.

“It’s only thanks to Takumi’s honesty that we could show our abilities. With the money we gained, we got rid of our chains and could do what we really wanted.
I believe that this reason alone is more than enough to scold you.”

Every slave sold by Takumi could get rid of their condition after completely paying back their owner.

That way, each one of them could pursue their dreams.

Lilia wanted to be a cook, and so became the manager of a bar.
Killfer had a huge thirst for knowledge, so he decided to become a scribe.
Someone became a blacksmith, someone an orchestra musician, someone a gunsmith, someone a decorator, someone the pupil of a hawker, someone a sailor and someone a guard… everyone realized their own aspirations.

If Takumi didn’t save them, slavery would’ve been their only choice.

“No, you’re here only thanks to your efforts. If you were slaves without ambition, you would’ve stayed that way. I just gave you a little push.”

“Look, he’s also humble. Why don’t you learn something from him, Killfer?”

“Tch… Those were just my thoughts.”

He leaned his elbow on the table and faced the other way, while Lilia giggled.
Seeing her laugh sincerely, Takumi relaxed.

“Enough talking of the past. Dig in before the food gets cold.”

Closing the matter, Lilia placed some plates on the counter.

A basket with fresh bread, a plate filled with tomato soup and mung beans, and another one containing shrimp and wedge clam pasta, both fished off Verne Lake, and some glasses filled with water. Since Listina was located near a brackish lake and the sea, the local cuisine was quite centered on seafood.

“Here you go, Kunon.”

Said Lilia placing the massive plate that clattered in front of her.

Meat, meat and more meat.
Under that mountain was buried a bed of salad and vegetables.

It didn’t look easy to digest.

“Meat…! Let’s dig in!”

Kunon started to feast on that incredible amount of food.
In order to make up for their strength and energy consumption when skills were used, werebeasts had to eat plenty of food.
A petite girl like Kunon eating that much was startling, but the others already got used to it.

“I… lost my appetite.”

“I know that feel, but eat while you can. Take what you want from my plate.”

Karin accepted the pasta from Lilia with a disgusted expression on her face.
Elves eat very little meat and tend to be vegetarian, maybe because they live surrounded by nature.
Karin was also a light eater, and seeing all of that meat did a number on her bowels.

Bringing a loaf of bread to his mouth, Takumi turned his face again toward Lilia and Killfer.

“Has something interesting happened lately?”

“That question is too vague… The only thing that comes to mind is that there are more copies of the Holy Text around.”

The Holy Text was the guide that Richtert, the royal family, followed.

Richtert was a religious family of the capital. They worshipped the goddess Filia, and believed that magic was a blessing, so they venerated it.

Their beliefs were based on the Text’s commandments.
They weren’t harsh teachings. In fact, they stated that following them wasn’t even an obligation.
But owning slaves wasn’t forbidden for them.

The Text put slaves on the same social level as blasphemers and criminals.
It even dictated to utilize war criminals and criminals to gain more manpower, so its believers also traded slaves.

Some laws regarding slaves were ratified, since an unproductive slave was a waste. Killing them at random was prohibited, and the wages for their work were established in detail.

Still, those laws were just for show.

It was obvious even to a slave merchant like Takumi, that’s why he didn’t deal without his contract.

“Good grief… Nobles and clerics really love to waste paper…”

Remarked Takumi ironically.

“Don’t say that. Thanks to the decorations on the Holy Text and those dumbs who misconceive it, us scribes and decorators have work. Actually, I’d like to read it.”

Killfer caught his breath.

“Well, it’s not like something would change if I read it. Almost all of them see slaves as anything but slaves, and demi-humans as nothing more than beasts…”

He then pointed out cynically.

“…Killfer.”

Lilia poked him with her elbow, and he shut his mouth right away.

“Don’t worry, it’s only natural that they see us like that. We lost to humans, and agreeing to be subjugated by them is just a stupid decision made by those defeated demi-humans.”

Observed Karin with a flat tone, as she tilted her glass without changing expression.

A demi-human was considered a slave the moment it came into this world.

In the past, humans and demi-humans were clashing against each other in war.
Thinking that demi-humans would have won thanks to their overwhelming physical strength was natural, but humans prevailed thanks to the use of magic and tactics.
Also, the internal conflicts between different demi-humans’ factions contributed to that outcome.

When both parties accepted the peace agreement, it was settled that the defeated had to keep serving the winners as slaves.

Werebeasts, elves, dwarves, dragon-men, bird-men, aquatic-men.
Just like animals, demi-humans were divided into six species, and when a human were to get its hands on them, they would become slaves on the spot.
It goes without saying that they didn’t have any right and they weren’t paid either, just like human slaves.

Thinking that they had to bear such a treatment since their birth was outrageous.

Dwarves were an exception. Given their technological prowess, they were offered to become engineers in exchange for canceling their slavery status.
Werebeasts were used for forced labor or to complete the most dangerous tasks, otherwise they were used as sacrificial pawns in the army’s vanguard.

The collars and chains that bound demi-humans were imbued with magic, so that they couldn’t rebel against their master.
That’s why… demi-humans usually faced a fate way more grim than human slaves.

“Well, thanks to the Soft-hearted slave merchant, at least we have human rights.”

“Please, you can’t be serious. At least tell them that I treat you well.”

“I have to follow you day and night, you know? I also have a huge load of work, so can you avoid thinking that I’m fine with this?”

Karin kept tilting her glass, this time with a sour expression.

Takumi didn’t only sell slaves, but he also often dropped by to see how were they doing. After seven years of work, the number of slaves he sold was pretty high, so keeping track of all of them took a considerable amount of time.
Karin had to do that practically alone, so saying that she was being exploited wasn’t an exaggeration.

Lilia clapped her hands.

“Why don’t you ask Takumi to buy something for you, then? You’re a beauty, so why don’t you ask for clothes or accessories?”

“Huh? I don’t need them. Ah, but I’d need some oil and a metal brush. Also, some clothes for when I clean. Oh, and some cotton, since recently I had to use it often and it’s finished.”

“…Karin, I won’t say that it’s wrong to wish for those kinds of things, but you look a housewife.”

Lilia forced herself to smile at Karin’s low ambition, but then remembered something.

“By the way, Valeria’s members looked pretty busy in front of the office. Is it really fine to stay here for you?”

“They looked busy? Well, this morning some wagons returned with slaves, but there shouldn’t be anything special.”

After all, slaves weren’t hard to get.
If a merchant traveled towards some poor place forsaken by gods, he could have easily exchanged food or money for children with the local people.
Homeless were enslaved if captured, and so were people who couldn’t pay their debt back. One could also buy the perpetrators of minor crimes.
There were countless ways to obtain slaves.

Of course, the greater expenditure for their maintenance was food, so merchants were obliged to buy only as many slaves as food could keep alive.

That day, ten children were to arrive at Valeria.
A small number like that shouldn’t have bothered many members of the organization, so what could have happened?

“Anyway… Lilia, the bill. We have to go.”

“Sure. Since you came here outside working hours, leave me a tip.”

“Fair enough. In the end, we had a great meal and chatted for a while.”

As Takumi smiled, he pulled out of his breast pocket some silver coins and left them on the counter. They were clearly too many for a tip.

“Here, a reward for your hard work… drink something with these.”

“Ah, Sir Takumi, you’re always so generous! Killfer, you will join me, right?”

“…Lilia, don’t you have to clean the shop? And you will have to work for the festival tonight…”

“I can do that after a drink! I have to work until midnight, so where’s the problem if I want to enjoy my reward now?”

“…Fine, but I won’t join another of your drinking contests. Everyone pities the men that lose against you.”

“That’s why defeating a girl working in a bar isn’t an easy task~”

Giggled her, and as Takumi was pleased looking at the two talking so cheerfully, he approached the door.

“Bye, guys. Killfer, let me know when something interesting happens.”

“Well, if you remain for a little longer, you’ll hear me talk. Standing up to Lilia is impossible for me alone.”

“I’m sorry, but you will be her only victim. I’ll watch you from the distance.”

“…Traitor. Go to work, then.”

Scowled Killfer at him.
Takumi shrugged his shoulders hearing a happy toast coming from behind him, and then he got out of the shop with Kunon and Karin.

“Time to get to work. We have some stuff to arrange for tonight…”

“Yes, you should go, Soft-hearted slave merchant.”

As Takumi started to walk toward Valeria, a voice reached him from his side.

There stood a girl with her red hair in a disordered updo.
Her words sounded innocent and pure like the snow-white clothes she wore.
All guards were provided with that uniform, but unlike others, the red mantle that she was wearing was the evidence of her captain rank.
She looked like a mature woman, given her straight posture and serious expression, but on her face were still left some childish features. She must have been in her twenties.

“Hey, Elsa. Patrolling around here by yourself is honorable, Captain of the Guard.”

“Hahaha… Was your meal nice, slave merchant?”

Elsa crossed her arms and tried to keep her calm tone, even though her expression betrayed her.

“You look like you’re in a sour mood today. You’re still young, Captain.
If you wear that kind of expression, eventually you’ll grow wrinkles.”

“Takumi, do you know why I’m like this? Don’t you think that it’s because you’re causing troubles again? You know that I can get angry too, don’t you?”

“Okay, okay, I’m sorry! Keep your sword in the scabbard! A guard should protect people, not kill them in a fit of rage!”

Seeing the girl’s hand reaching the hilt of the sword as she forced a smile, Takumi raised his hands and moved them horizontally in front of his neck.

Guards maintained public order and made sure that citizens could live safely.

Their captain had to patrol the slums because its residents, unlike the others, could become dangerous. They could organize riots, act illegally, and if they triggered any sort of violent action, the guards had to suppress it readily.

As soon as Elsa received knighthood, she was made the head of the slums’ guards.
That’s why it was strange for her to be there.

“Elsa, shouldn’t you be giving orders to the guards at the barracks to patrol the city for tonight’s festival? Patrolling by yourself is great, but shouldn’t you be there now?”

“You members of Valeria said that you’d have helped, right? Still… no one came, so I went to see what had happened.”

She sighed deeply, showing her fatigue.

“When I arrived, I saw that many were really busy. Mirta apologized to me on the verge of tears… I was about to do it in her place.”

“I see… I’m sorry that things aren’t going as planned. I also heard that a lot of people were busy, and I was going to check myself.”

“Hurry, then. Before I arrived, Mirta sent nearly all the members to the barracks, so she’s probably crying for nervousness right now.”

“Our boss is kind, but she’s a real crybaby.”

Elsa seemed to soften her expression for a moment.

“Anyhow, hurry and help her. If you make her cry, I’ll punish you with my own hands.”

“Yeah, yeah, sure. It’s good to see that the Captain comes to check on her childhood friend often, but try not to neglect your work too much.”

“I-I don’t…! I just don’t want you guys to cause me further problems!”

“Hey, you shouldn’t deny that you’re interested in seeing how your friend  is doing.”

“…Ah, I see.”

She answered and clapped her hands, and as she noticed what she had said, she hung her head with flushed cheeks.

“Geez… I understand that you’re worried, but don’t act impulsively.”

“How can I help it? I keep seeing her as a younger sister, and it’s normal to worry about her, given where she lives.”

Elsa was born in the upper part of Listina and was part of the Fairstadt family, one of the three most known families of the entire city.
Thanks to her family’s reputation and her character, she became the slums Captain of the Guard, but Mirta was one of the major reasons that brought Elsa to that decision.
Takumi didn’t know much about their relationship, but he heard that they grew up together like sisters. That’s why Elsa couldn’t help but worry about Mirta.

“Also… now there’s that matter with Vatel. I want to be by her side when it will happen.”

“Don’t worry. We are also keeping that in mind as we move.”

“You’re creepy… but I trust you about this.
Thing is, your new boss is famous because she left that kind of work and raised her fees without warning, so the market people are complaining. I’d like things to settle in a short time.”

“I think it would be better if you tell that to Mirta, not me… Anyway, I’m sure that things will end soon. You don’t have to worry.”

Takumi smiled, and Elsa tilted her head doubtfully.

“Anyhow, I’ll count on you for tonight’s festival, so try to not betray my expectations.”

“We have no time for that. Even though tonight is a happy day, we don’t have the time or intention to cause you any trouble.”

“…Really? Should I trust your words? You won’t stress me today? Lately, guards keep saying ‘oh well, if Valeria’s slave merchants cause troubles, let’s leave it to our Captain,’ you know?”

“Well, isn’t it better to let superiors handle things?”

“Don’t you understand that you’re a pain for me?!”

She thrust her index finger at him, and after a deep sigh, she started to go towards the barracks.
She must have been exhausted.

“Great, now that we’ve motivated Elsa, it’s time to go to work. I’m counting on you, girls.”

“I’ll give my all only for the food I ate!”

Answered Kunon lively.

“Then I’m just going to try, since I didn’t eat much.”

Karin cracked a joke wearing a composed expression.

Then, the werebeast, the elf and the Soft-hearted slave merchant started to head toward their destination.


1 The gender of this client isn’t specified, so this might be changed in the future

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