They arrived at the final door on the right side of the hallway, just in front of the guards who stood in front of the doorway at the end of the hall. Neale gave the guard duo a nod, then produced a key and inserted it into the door's lock. He twisted, and the wooden door with a crown emblem on it opened.
The trio moved forward onto a dark balcony that hung just off the side and over a stage in a huge, barely-lit room filled with a couple hundred people in seats on the ground level. The walls of the balcony obstructed the view along the wall, but there were a number of similar balconies that were faintly visible sprouting from the opposite wall. A long, brightly-lit stage which resembled a modeling catwalk cut down the center of the room, drawing the eye and providing the only notable source of illumination.
"Do I hear one point-seven?" boomed a fast-speaking voice. "One point-seven from the gentleman in the third box on the right. One point—One point-eight from the lady in the second box on the left."
The auction continued as Neale led them forward a few more steps, gesturing as he moved across the ever so slightly downward-sloped floor to the two rows of two leather, reclining seats in the balcony. He leaned in when Carl approached. "The finest seating available," he declared in a soft voice. He pointed to a small, golden bell on the left side of each seat. "If you require anything in the course of your stay, simply ring the bell and an attendant will be with you in under thirty seconds."
Carl nodded vaguely, already looking out over the spectacle.
"If you wish to leave, ah, discreetly," Neale continued, turning back to the entrance, "you can turn right just outside and follow the path out to a side street. Similarly, should you choose to make any purchases, you can deposit your coin and retrieve your acquisitions along the same—"
"I'm sure I'll have no trouble," Carl said in a tone that implied dismissal.
"I imagine not," said Neale, circling around the backs of the chairs towards the balcony's exit. "If you have any other questions, please ask an attendant, and I will be with you to provide answers."
Carl was already standing very conspicuously up against the railing at the front of the platform. When he heard the door click shut, he waited a moment before turning to look. Indeed, the door was now shut and he was alone with his skeleton minion.
He chucked his spear into his still-open inventory. "Dismiss," he mumbled, the word completely inaudible. Turns out I can be almost totally silent with the voice commands. Pretty nice. He sank down in one of the leather recliners. Now this is the kind of chair I've always wanted.
Mina was standing up against the decorative metal railing to his side, staring over the edge.
"Sold!" bellowed the auctioneer. "For two point-three million coins to the lady in the second box on the left!"
A slender, young-looking male elf with long, black hair stood motionless on the runway just below and in front of the edge of the balcony. He wore nothing save for a pink collar around his neck.
"I hope you choke on him, Symonne!" shouted an upset man's voice from somewhere to Carl's right. Chuckles and laughter erupted throughout the room.
"If your wife begs, I might lend him out!" called a high-pitched woman's mocking voice from across the room. The laughter intensified.
Carl grimaced. Right. Almost forgot what kinda place this was for a minute.
The elf began walking to the left across the runway towards a large curtain, eventually disappearing behind it. The soft buzz of people chattering to each other rose up to a soft roar in the absence of an active auction. As if to confirm that the next item would take some time before it was out, the auctioneer, who had moved from his position just outside the curtain to the center of the stage in order to bow, returned to the area behind the curtain after some applause.
Carl shifted in his chair, then tried to make out some of the other people he could vaguely see in the low lighting. Still amazed that this got so big in-game. Being hands-off is one thing, having one of the game's age-restricted starting zones evolve into some kinda sex circus is something else. Then again, I guess our country did just decriminalize sex work a couple years ago, though that was mostly because all those senators kept getting caught. And actually, this is kinda tame and unimaginative compared to Folsom Street nowadays. People really will do anything if they've got the chance, won't they.
He stared across the room, struggling to see what kind of people occupied the "boxes" on the opposite side, but it was too far and too dark to see anything other than, at best, dim outlines. Mina made it seem like everyone who was anyone was into this, but it seems like it's gotta be mostly guys, right?
An idea occurred to Carl. "Inventory," he mumbled. He paged through until he reached the potions, then withdrew a pair of purplish-black ones from the multitudes that still remained. Let's see what this does. He poked Mina in the femur with his foot, then held up one of the potions when she turned to look at him with her skull tilted in puzzlement. He dislodged the cap from one small bottle and drank its contents. Hm, tastes kinda like sour grape. Very artificial. I give it a six out of ten because it's more like medicine than something I'd wanna drink. Or maybe that's the point…
The room shifted into sudden illumination and sharpness. It was as though every spot in the auditorium was perfectly-lit by a spotlight. His vision seemed somehow also clearer, as though his distance vision had improved. There were no longer even shadows apparent to him. He looked across at the balconies on the other side once more.
In the first one, a brown-haired, thirty-something man had a green-haired elf woman bent over the railing in front of him while a blue-haired, green-skinned, pink-collared woman with gills visible on her sides leaned in from his right with her arms wrapped around his head in a manner that looked very not-hostile.
Carl looked to the balcony to the right of that one.
A middle-aged woman in a gown wearing an expression of vague boredom bounced away atop a pair of legs resting on a small mattress. Though it was impossible to say who or what she was bouncing on, the legs extending under her distinctly ended in hooves.
He continued to scan around the room, finding to his surprise that there were about as many women as there were—
Carl's attention snapped back as Mina took the other potion out of his outstretched hand. The sight of skeletal fingers prying the stopper off and dumping the liquid into a faceless, bony skull was almost as disconcerting as the realization that he was able to see the potion travel down her throat and into her stomach through her bones. The purplish-black, glowing liquid came to a stop somewhere in her torso, leaving an illuminated trail behind it.
Then her eye sockets began emanating the same glow, giving her appearance a more ominous feel.
That's pretty cool. Carl gave her a thumbs up, and she shook briefly with raspy laughter. All the effects seem cool, actually. Like how my spear's got some kinda decoration-making thing when water comes close enough. Managed to roll with that pretty smoothly, at least. Almost lost it when Mina threw a coin and it bounced off—obviously another bug—but I held it together. Yeah, nobody's gonna beat me when it comes to not being surprised by dumb stuff in this game.
Mina turned back from her position surveying the room with her enhanced vision to look back at him with what was, he assumed from her skull's bone structure, an expression of disgust. He nodded back to her with a similar expression on his face. I guess this is like going to a foreign country where sex everywhere is totally normal to people who live there, but it's still too weird for me. Bobby must not have started anywhere near here; I'm sure she would've said something. I'm gonna pretend this is like that time I had to go to a strip club for Tim's bachelor party. It's weird, it's not my idea, I'm sort of getting dragged along, and it's just a one-time thing. Yeah, that makes it feel a lot less crazy. I wonder—
"We do apologize for the delay and appreciate your patience," the auctioneer's voice rang out suddenly, the words coming slower than they had mid-auction, drawing gazes back to the end of the stage where the bald, clean-shaven, middle-aged man in a double-breasted suit had once again emerged. "This final piece before our surprise is truly exquisite, however."
A slender and pink-collared, young-looking female elf came out from behind the curtain and started strutting across the catwalk. The elf's bared breasts looked to actually be as large as her head and remained aloft as she walked, bouncing lightly in a manner that was physically impossible in real life.
Mina turned to look back with an unreadable expression on her skull.
Carl stared. I know she said they could probably hear anything we said up here, but it kinda sucks not having anyone to talk to about this. That's some of the worst boob physics I've ever seen, and I need to talk to someone about it.
"Aged at a mere thirty nine years," the auctioneer continued, "she's not only fertile, she's more than ready—and safe, of course—to be bred. In addition, she's quite skilled with healing magic, she shows considerable aptitude for learning, and she has a remarkable singing voice." He cut off, and there was a moment of relative silence as the crowd spoke among themselves in quiet tones.
Then the elf began to sing.
Carl immediately felt as though he'd been transported to another place. The pink-haired elf's voice was full and rich in a manner that he'd never heard before. It was almost magical in the way that it captured his senses.
After a period of time that was far too short, the wordless song ended, and the room was completely silent, save for the fading echoes.
Whoa. Carl sat with his eyes closed, trying to retain the feeling of wonder. That was amazing. Maybe the most beautiful—
"Three million!" shouted a man from across the room.
"Three million from the passionate gentleman in the third box on the left," boomed the auctioneer, his voice once again speedy. "Do I hear three point-one?"
"Three point-one!" shouted another man from the ground level.
And then the auction was in full swing again.