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A world of slaves – Part 1

He felt like he was being squeezed.
When his eyes opened, he found himself in a small, damp room, surrounded by complete darkness.
He thought he had successfully transferred from where he was a moment before and reincarnated successfully.

Those present were no older than kids.

He counted roughly ten of them. They sat helplessly on the floor, some shivering as they hugged their knees, others crying in silence.
They all shared a common feature: a black collar.

Even though he ignored its utility, it didn’t look promising.

“…She really granted my wish… Such a benevolent Goddess…”

He muttered, so that no one could hear.
Judging by the high-pitched tone of his voice and his limbs, he estimated his age to be around eight years old.

He decided to talk to a young girl that was holding her knees in pain:

“Hey. If you keep that long face, you’ll grow wrinkles.”

He ignored the reason she jumped in surprise, but now her dirty, blond hair no longer covered her face.

“T-Thank goodness… you stopped moving… I thought you were dead…”

Her voice was trembling, but she looked a bit relaxed. It would seem they were talking the same language.
But at the same time, he carefully thought about her words.

Before he reincarnated… this body was probably dead.
Thanks to the Goddess’ intervention, I am now within it.

Before reincarnating, he wouldn’t have felt sorry about this.
This is a world where dying like that is normal, where the weak loses their life meaninglessly.

After lightly touching his head, he faced the young girl again.

“I’m hungry as if I went to bed without supper… But putting this aside, is it okay to introduce ourselves?”

“S-Sure. I’m Lilia, and you?”

“I… My name is written like this.”

He started scribbling on the floor to write his name.
Looking at the characters, the girl tilted her head, puzzled.

“This is my name. Where I come from, we introduce to friends by writing it.”

“Oh… I asked my father to teach me how to read and write, but I’ve never seen those letters before.”

You have a different alphabet, huh? This word reads ‘Takumi’.”1

He noticed her interest, hence asked for a favor:

“Listen, Lilia, since people will be puzzled if I introduce myself like this, can you write my name?”

“Yes, I can. Ehm… Is ‘Takumi’ written like this…?”

She wrote it on the floor with her tiny hand.
As expected, Takumi couldn’t understand the characters.
He tried to recall various languages from his old world, but no one resembled this in the slightest.

However, satisfied, he smiled friendly.

“Thank you. You know, I’m from a beautiful and distant place.”

“Distant…? Beyond the sea?”

“Yes, more or less. But I was caught as soon as I landed, that’s why I don’t know where we are or how to write or read your alphabet. Sorry to ask you this, but can you teach me?”

“Well… it’s fine, but…”

As soon as she finished the sentence, her expression darkened.

“Slaves are sold right away. Maybe it’s better if you don’t care about it…”

She said sadly, lowering her gaze.
Despair painted her face as she addressed herself as a slave.

Seeing her, Takumi reacted in an calm way, inappropriate for a child his age.

“Maybe it’s better if I do care about it, instead. We don’t know who will buy us. Perhaps they will get angry because we don’t know.”

“Maybe… you’re right, but…”

“See? We should never upset them, right? As long as we have time, let’s learn from everyone. Also, this way we’ll lighten this gloomy mood.”

Lilia withdrew her hand, and Takumi started talking to the other children.

“Sorry… I have some questions.”

He broke the silence wearing the same smile.

Everyone was roughly ten, included the two of them.
At first, they all looked in pain like Lilia, but after talking a little they became livelier.

There were war orphans, those who were sold by their starving family, those who were kidnapped by bandits, those who were left behind after their parents ran away because of massive debts, and those who were lured in by empty promises.

Their stories explained pretty well the actual conditions of this world.
Takumi stored in his mind the information he gathered.

“Now we all know each other. But I’m really surprised, to think Lilia was an aristocrat.”

“I-I was, but… we were aristocrats of a countryside area. We weren’t that rich and our house was way smaller than that of the other wealthy families.”

Called so suddenly, she waved her hands frantically.
Being sold was common, but it was unusual to end up as a slave from a position like that.
Hearing about her old family, some children didn’t hide their disdain.

“You had some land and a house, no matter how small the size they were, and you know how to read and write, isn’t it?”

“Y-Yes, just a bit. I learned some things, like math…”

Lilia wrote her name like Takumi did before… but none of the other children could read it.

She said that proficiency in literature and mathematic wasn’t very important. In the first place, this wasn’t necessary knowledge to children, who thought that “living was enough.” Studying was reserved to privileged classes, starting from the merchants.
It was normal to ignore how to read and write, as well as how to do math, even for those who weren’t slaves.

Takumi clapped his hands to draw attention, preserving carefully that precious information.

“Alright, let’s learn from Lilia.”

“Why should I learn something if I’m just a slave?”

Remarked an annoyed kid.
He was the leader of the group. His name was Killfer.

“What’s the point in learning something from her when we boys are going to be worked to death and the girls will work like prostitutes?”

He glared daggers at Lilia, who jumped feeling the blood freeze in her veins.

But Takumi replied without hesitation.

“When you know how to read and write you can do other works, and if you know math, you can’t be tricked when someone pays you. Only because we’re slaves, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t important to know such things, don’t you think?”

His answer was flawless and Killfer fell silent. Children have that kind of attitude, but those present looked smart, as they seemed to understand.

“We don’t know how much longer we’ll stay here. But it’s better to study instead of wallow in self-pity.”

While Takumi was trying to convince the others, a loud clang interrupted him as the room swamped in light.

“Shut your mouth, damn kids!”

The children were dazzled, but they managed to recognize the silhouette of a big man as soon as they got used to the light.
He spat on the floor as he looked at them, a vein popping out his head.

“I was going to sell you to the elves, but if you make such a ruckus, forget it.
The moment I find a buyer, I’m done. Keeping you is already a pain.
Hey, throw them in!”

He snorted and then pointed at someone outside.
A man with a flushed face was standing behind him, holding two figures.

The next moment, they could tell the two had beautiful hair. Golden the first and a glossy black the other.
The kids guessed that those were girls, given their figures and hair lengths.

Other than wearing the same collar, they had shackles bounding their wrists and ankles.
They also looked older than the other children.
The dark-haired one seemed to be fifteen, maybe more, while the other, as petite as she was, must’ve been around thirteen.

The younger one had big ears and a tail, while the other had long, sharp ears like arrowheads.
Seeing that the girls were slightly moving them, they weren’t for show.
But except for those differences, they were slaves too.

They weren’t trying to fight back and just moaned, probably due to fatigue.

As Takumi appraised those girls, they were thrown in the room.

“Hurry and bring some food. If these brats get sick, we won’t make as much money.”

The men threw in bread like they were feeding animals in cages.
Given the sound it made when hitting the ground, not only it was black and hard as a rock, but it looked moldy too.

Takumi started counting the loafs.

“Hey, this isn’t enough for everyone.”

He addressed the back of the man.

“Wait… you were almost dead yesterday.”

“This doesn’t matter. The blondie with beast-ears looks terribly weak. If you want to sell good merch, you have to give us enough food.”

The man was startled at first. But soon he felt like that brat was mocking him, and snorted.

“Oh… I see. You ask to bring more for them so that you can have it for yourself, huh? Worms like you remain true to their nature.”

“It’s better surviving as a worm than dying. Perhaps you want their death?”

“Are you stupid? The elf is one thing, but that beast can survive several days without food. They have strong bodies. There’s no need for more bread.”

Laughing loudly, the man looked down on Takumi.

“If they eat or not is not of your business.”

A sadistic smile appeared on his face as he closed the door and left.

Once again in darkness, the young boy sighed.

“Fine… Now I’m upset, but let’s eat first.”

He directed a forced smile to the other children and then took his share.

Lilia noticed that he was approaching the girls and immediately grabbed his sleeve:

“No, stop! They’re dangerous even when they’re weakened! They’ll kill you if you get closer!”

She held him tight with a serious face.

In his old world, demi-humans didn’t exist.
Takumi noticed that all the kids were afraid of them and understood how they were treated in this world.

He gently gestured her to let him go.

“Hey, newcomers. It hasn’t been a nice welcome, but here, have some food.”

Wearing a friendly smile, he lent them the bread.
The blondie reacted to his words:

“Can I… take it?”

“Well, I’m not hungry. Split it in half and share it with her.”

“In half?! For real?! It will be the first meal in five days!”

The exhausted expression she had until now vanished and her golden eyes started to shine like stars.

The elf stood between them:

“Don’t get closer to Kunon. Go back to your corner like everyone else.”

Meanwhile, the girl, Kunon, was drooling and wagging her tail.
But the other one… Karin glared at Takumi.

“Kunon, don’t trust him. If we accept, he will keep repeating that we’re in debt with him.”

She put on a firm face. After hearing her words, he frowned.

“Don’t be so grumpy. I wasn’t thinking anything like that. This mood just ruined my appetite.”

“Ah, so you’re acting all friendly with us demi-humans? It’s clear that you’re lying. If you don’t want anything in return, then why would you offer us your food?”

She remarked sharply.
He held her stare for a while… then shrugged his shoulders and smiled.

“I give up. Yes, I wanted to ask something in return.”

He confessed honestly, so she instinctively frowned.
After that, he tossed the bread in front of her.

“It’s my way to apologize. Water is enough for me.”

“I said that I don’t want it.”

“Fine, then let Kunon have it.”

“Yay! I’ll eat it all, thank you!”

The blondie smiled from ear to ear, then shifted her gaze on her friend.

“Karin… but if you don’t eat it, I won’t either.”

“No, no. It’s all yours, I’m not hungry.”

“But I don’t want to eat it alone… Awooo!”

She hit the ground with her tail, at a loss for what to do.
Looking at her reaction, Takumi guessed their relationship and grinned.

“She’s asking you to eat together five days after her last meal and look what she’s going through for you. Poor soul, all of this only because I gave you the bread.”

“…You really are shrewd.”

“Well, of course I am. After all, I wanted something in return.”

“…You’re the worst. You can’t even hold your tongue.”

“I might be the worst, but who cares about that. Eat with her, if she stops moving because of you, it will be a real problem.”

“Those apes forced me to eat before. The bread crumbs left by Kunon will be enough. I guess elves are valuable.”

Sweeping her hair back, Karin sighed annoyed.

“Elves, huh… I would’ve never imagined one with black hair.”

Takumi pictured them with blonde or white hair. After he spoke his mind, she gave him a deadly glare.

“Another comment and I’ll kill you.”

“Take it easy, sorry if I hurt your feelings. I wanted to tell you that your hair is beautiful.”

She clicked her tongue in annoyance. Karin took note of his horrible manners, but at least he apologized. Perhaps he wasn’t that bad.

“I’d gladly run away from this horrible situation, I’m staying here only because of Kunon. But It’s not like I can get mad at kids either.”

“Don’t talk like that. Even if I failed negotiations before, I’m still thinking of a way to help each other. I really hope all of us can get along for now.”

“Do you really think that we need your help?”

“Well… then, I’ll show you my true intentions.”

Saying that, Takumi moved his face closer to Karin’s, looking right into her eyes.

She unintentionally held her breath, but it wasn’t because he hadn’t the eyes of a normal child reduced to slavery or because his gaze was completely devoid of emotions.
It wasn’t simply out of fear.

“My aim is…”

After that, Karin remembered how to breath.
She frowned and then looked back at him suspiciously.

“How did you…”

“Wow, you understood. Goodness… magic does really exist here. But it’s more complex than where I was before.”

Takumi smiled as if he was opposing his own words.

“Please, we’re going to be together for a while. I’m not asking to be friends, but at least we should get along.”

He waved his hand and left her with those words, returning to his corner.

1 拓未 = たくみ = Takumi. He writes it with kanjis first, then with hiraganas.

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