Meira wiped the sweat off her forehead as she sat down to take a rest. Her sweat not only due to the strenuous task she was performing but because of the heat it was done in. Drinking from the water bottle, she thanked her parents for emphasizing the importance of investing free points into physical stats despite being an elf.
Looking to her side, she saw her father and mother both still working to fill the cart and get the shipment ready for their supervisor. It was hard work, but her family knew that their small clan was lucky to have it. To even still exist.
A few thousand years ago, their clan had been rather prevalent, their matriarch even being a mighty B-grade powerhouse. While it wasn’t much on a Great Planet like Primordial-4 as a whole, it was quite something for this fringe area.
That is until the mine was discovered. One day a party of explorers from their clan found a hidden pocket dimension with a great mine. One where materials worth more than their clan’s collective wealth many times over could be found.
But instead of informing the clan, they sold it to an outside source - the Brimstone Conglomerate. A few days later, their enforcer descended, slew their matriarch and half of the elders, and enslaved their entire clan to work for them. Those who opposed died, and those who obeyed lived.
Meira’s father had been the child of one of the elders who submitted. Today, he was a powerful pinnacle D-grade expert already, yet all he could do was slave away for his clan’s survival.
“Meira, we are leaving for the station now,” she heard her father call. With a sigh, she got up and went over to him as he deposited the last ores into his spatial storage and called for their mount.
A giant bird descended soon after with a small wooden structure on its back - housing for the long trip.
Getting on board, they soon took flight as she waved goodbye to her mother and her siblings, who were still working below. When they were far away from the camp, her father turned to her, a severe look on his face.
“Go rest, so you are ready for when we arrive,” he said somewhat dismissively as she nodded and went to her room, where she collapsed on the padded floor. She was already near the peak of E-grade, yet she still felt exhausted enough to fall asleep.
Three weeks quickly passed as she prepared herself in her room. The dress that her parents had prepared was a beautiful white one-piece. She spent nearly an hour making sure she was entirely clean from all the grime and dirt before putting it on and arranging her hair.
She knew how important it was that the young master of the branch took a liking to her. She had no positive feeling towards the lascivious man, but his liking or dislike of her person could determine her entire family’s fate and impact the clan as a whole. Maybe even lead them to a better future if all went well.
After landing at one of the transit platforms, the father and daughter pair were greeted by the handler and directed towards one of the meeting rooms, along with a small comment about the young master already waiting for them.
Entering the room, the two found themselves face-to-face with a handsome young human and an older-looking gentleman behind him. One she instantly recognized as the branch leader and his son.
The room itself was meticulously designed with expensive-looking wood that she recognized as some of the spirit trees from their forest. Trees they used to honor as guardians of the forest, now reduced to mere furniture.
The centerpiece in the room was a grand statue of a humanoid sitting on a throne. The mighty Brimstone Hegemon. A true god. And an accompanying aura that made her aware they were in his divine dominion.
“Meira, my beautiful, it’s good to see you once again,” the young man greeted with a lustful smile on his lips. His gaze was licking her from top to toe, stopping on every curve to admire them a little longer. Meira had to hold herself back from frowning in disgust as she bowed.
“I am honored to meet your excellency once more,” she said as she gave him a big faux smile. He either didn’t care or didn’t notice her disgust as he just laughed it off and turned to his father.
“She is quite good, isn’t she?”
The older-looking gentleman opened his eyes for the first time and looked at Meira. She instantly froze up as she had to stop herself from falling over from the sheer pressure… B-tier… and well into it. A powerful man from a powerful background. A background her parents and clan hoped to become part of through her.
“Weak, but young. With proper training, the girl should be able to do adequately,” he said with little interest in his voice before turning to her father, motioning for him to hand over the ores in his spatial satchel. The lowest kind of spatial storage one could own, and a necessity for these kinds of transports.
Meira just stood in her own thoughts from the man’s words. It didn’t feel good to be spoken of like she was cattle up for auction, but she probably was viewed like that in some sense. The leaders of prominent factions and clans often had many ‘partners’ to ensure the continuance of the bloodline. If one actually had a real Bloodline Ability, even more so.
She remembered that one of the female elders of their clan also had several dozen young men she kept around. Gender or sex didn’t matter; all that mattered was power. Granted, the sexes were treated differently, with women facing adversity due to being often viewed as tools simply to give birth. Meanwhile, a man was simply a soldier or worker to be exploited. Only through power could one truly become an individual. Long ago, she had dreamed of one day rising to power and becoming genuinely free, but that hope had fizzled out a long time ago.
Now all she hoped for was to survive and help her clan and family as much as she could. No matter how humiliating she found the entire situation. Part of her hated being born a humanoid race. To be embroiled in politics and factions instead of the free life of a beast. To be one with nature.
I have to endure, was all she could tell herself. Her mother, brothers, sisters, and all the young ones from the clan relied on her. If she could sway the young master and help lift up her clan’s status… then maybe her life could hold some meaning.
A vain hope that would soon be extinguished.
After her father handed over the satchel, he got an approving nod as they all turned to pray to the statue in the middle of the room. One of the Brimstone Conglomerate tenets was always to make business deals in the presence of a statue and always credit the act of the deal to the Brimstone Hegemon. So was his creed and his faith. God-things Meira didn’t understand.
As they were all bowing, they all heard a sound - a crackling.
The master of the branch looked up, and his eyes went wide. A long crack had formed down the center of the statue. The divine aura it gave off in turmoil as the cracks kept spreading. Until finally, the entire statue crumbled to dust, the aura gone forever.
“AARGH,” the powerful B-grade yelled out in pain as blood came out of his eyes and ears. The backlash of losing a big part of him. The blessing he had carried with him for tens of thousands of years gone from his status screen.
“No… impossible…” he mumbled. Everyone in the room was confused as the powerful man kneeled with shock and horror on his face.
“Ma… master… what happened?” her father asked carefully.
Which was all he had time to say before a shocking aura washed over them. One even more powerful than the man in front of them.
Meira felt her entire body shake as she diverted her eyes to the window. In the distance, she saw reality break apart as space shattered. And from the crack emerged two giant beings. One, a long snake-like creature with scales covering its entire body and eight small legs growing along its body.
The second was one even the smallest of children would recognize: a powerful body, four legs, and two wings on its back. Black flames were fuming at its mouth as it flew forward. A true dragon. Not any inferior version either… but a Black Dragon.
A-tier, she barely had time to think before it opened its mouth and released a mighty roar. The last thing she felt being the impact on her soul as she lost consciousness.
Meira came to at some point. The first thing she was hit by upon regaining consciousness was the smell and then the sounds - creaking from the building around her slowly falling apart, fires burning, and finally the sound of footsteps nearby.
She slowly opened her eyes and saw another pair staring back at her. At first, she was startled, but soon she saw the emptiness in them. Dead. It was the young master… her partner-to-be. His head, at least.
Her entire body was hurting, but she managed to lift herself up to a sitting position. She saw the blood drip from her nose and onto the beautiful dress her mother had created for her. A dress that was nearly as ruined as the building around her. What happened?
But deep inside, she knew. This was just like the stories of how their own clan fell to ruins - an invasion from a foreign force far more potent than their own. And now the time had come for the Brimstone Conglomerate to face the same destiny.
After looking around for a bit, seeing only the ruined room and the head of the dead young master, she managed to get up on her two feet. Her vision was still lacking, and her body weak. But she couldn’t just sit there and wait for the building to collapse… or for something to come and finish her off.
Which was about the time she recalled the footsteps as they were now right behind her.
“????” she heard the voice behind her, as she quickly turned, only to stumble and fall down once more. Looking up, she found herself staring at two reptilian humanoids. At first, she thought it was maybe even the dragon from before, but the aura they gave off was much weaker… only D-tier or so.
Shaking her head, she motioned that she didn’t understand. The one to the left took out an orb of some sort, and after a brief flash, it disappeared.
Meira just sat there, confused, looking up at the two of them as they just stared back. She had always found it hard to discern reptilians’ facial expressions, so she wasn’t sure if they were really as indifferent as they looked. For now, she still had only one goal in mind: survive.
Less than a minute later, another two people appeared. One of them reptilian like the others, and the last one a human from the looks of it. The original two reptilians bowed towards the human, making it clear she was above them.
Observing the woman as discreetly as she could, she saw her dark hair and red eyes. But more so than that, she noticed her robe. It was black and green, with the motif of a snake with its mouth open, fangs ready to bite down. A mark she recognized clearly.
She couldn’t hold herself back from shivering slightly. It was even worse than she feared. Despite having lived less than six decades, she lived long enough to know the emblem of the most powerful faction on their entire Great Planet. The Order of the Malefic Viper.
If they were the ones that had come… she couldn’t even begin to imagine... They were renowned for their strength and alchemy. More accurately, poisons. And if there was one thing they always needed, it was ample targets to test and refine their toxins on. Several clans like her own had fallen over the years to a random traveling alchemist from the Order who had come in need of a few test subjects. And no other faction would ever dare help.
Feeling her left thigh, she knew that the dagger she had hidden away was still there. The thought of trying to fight them didn’t even cross her mind; instead, she considered using it on herself. The fate of being a subject of those… monsters was far worse than death.
Before her thoughts could be turned to action, the woman was also done observing her and nodded in satisfaction. Waving her hand, a black piece of paper materialized in the air as she smiled at Meira. Showing the two fangs growing where canines should be. Vampire… figures…
Turning her eyes to the contract before her, she knew what it was. Even if she couldn’t speak to these people, she could read it. It wasn’t written in any language per-se but was created by the system itself from a skill.
A slave contract.
Once signed, your life would be forfeit. Unless it included a way to annul it or the owner chose to do so, it would never disappear. With a single thought, the master would be able to kill the slave. If the slave hurts the master, they die. If they were even thinking about doing so, they would experience pain directly inflicted on their soul.
And the contract in front of her had no conditions to annul it. It was perpetual.
The only kindness in the entire business was two things. One, a slave contract always had to be signed willingly. One cannot be fooled to sign it or do so while under the influence of any mind-affecting skill. Which isn’t to say that they couldn’t do exactly as they were doing right now. Giving a simple choice; sign or die.
Besides that, the second kindness was that one could always end themselves. Unless the master made a failsafe through other means, of course, but that was rarely worth it.
Meira hesitated. She hated herself for hesitating and not just ripping the paper apart and drawing her dagger. She hated herself for not even thinking about if her father survived or of her clan at that very moment. She just… didn’t want to die.
Raising her hand, she placed it on the contract as she signed it. A rune flashed from the paper and entered her body - her soul. Another went from the contract into a tome at the vampire’s side - the master rune.
After that, everything was just a blur. The only thing Meira remembered was seeing her father off in the distance. He saw her too. Their eyes met, and they both knew. They both signed. The trip to wherever her fate lay was relatively uneventful… as much as being stuck in a small subdimension with hundreds of other people could be - all with the same listless expressions on their faces.
Meira could only hope that she would live to one day see her family again… but as a slave on her way to the Order of the Malefic Viper, her prospects didn’t look good.