The plan formed easily enough.
You had 30 thousand SLC, you needed 50 thousand. As far as you knew, there were several other members in your group who had been given 30 thousand credits who were unlikely to need it to purchase a starter monstergirl. This meant that, as a group, the purchasing power would be high enough to allow you to spend 50 thousand and get a nurse.
A nurse being a great resource to ensure everyone was kept healthy and whose healing powers could prove invaluable to saving lives.
Now all you had to do was to convince these people of the idea.
While you realised there was a certain ruthlessness to your logic, you also knew that working as a team and moving together would be the safest option. Not to mention, having a healer as well as pooled funds was incredibly useful, even more so when certain items could be shared around rather than needing to be bought multiple times.
And as the one with the strongest girl in the group, owning that nurse wouldn't be much of a stretch.
If you did this, you would be able to "buy her back fully" in due time.
So you started moving, looking for the others and convincing them to gather and meet up at a nearby small restaurant: a pizza-place, casual, comfortable, that had fewer monstergirls when you'd scouted it (probably due to the time). You'd also known that Alice and Kat might be against the idea, so it came as a convenient surprise that May volunteered to help. Completely out of your radar, the silent girl had begun showing signs of getting better. At least she wasn't acting catatonic anymore.
You suspected there was more at play behind that little smile she brought out when you'd asked for her help, but you weren't going to pry if she wasn't going to share. Still, there was a heavy glare from Alice when the group had finally begun to gather. She apparently hadn't been expecting you. To say nothing of the slightly uncomfortable look from Kat. Mr Gabriel was just calmly leaning back against his chair, Tomas was glancing at the menu.
Both of them seemed to be waiting for you to be the one to start the conversation as they'd figured out why May had pulled them here on their lonesome.
First things first, calm things down, work through yesterday's mess. "Last night I... lost my temper." You spoke calmly. "I could've said things differently. I'm sorry about that."
"Yes, you could have." Alice snapped, before huffing and shaking her head, not finding much else to support herself on. "But I guess the same could be said about me." A heartbeat of hesitation. "I'm sorry too."
There's a bit of relief that drains away from the air as she says this, and everyone starts by handing over their coupons to the waitress as they begin to consider their meals from the menu. You glance at Kat who's quietly watching.
Well, might as well break the ice. "I'm officially a tamer." You declared. "I'll be getting Monica tomorrow after some business with the police." And just like that the tension came back, not that you let it bother you. "What about you guys?"
You focus the question while facing Tomas and Mr Gabriel.
"Breeder, I'll be applying for the ranch in Ebony Town, it seems they always have an open spot or three over there." Mr Gabriel was the first to speak up. "They aren't exactly nearby though, could get there cutting through the wilderness but fuck that. Nice gentle road. Safe." You checked the dex map and felt like there was some irony in Ebony's location, it was likely the one you'd have ended up at had the group heading south had any good luck left.
Taking the long route through the roads meant you would need to make a couple of stops along the way, and a considerable detour.
That was fine for you, safer, more time, it should make it easier for everyone.
"I'm officially a tamer, though I've yet to get a starter." Tomas spoke sullenly, you noted he was on the opposite side of the table from Kat and very clearly avoiding eye contact with her. "Not sure where I'll go, I'll keep looking into... you know..."
His words appeared to prompt Kat to speak-up. "I heard about this Championship and I think I'll try my hand in it." She had such conviction it was almost a growl. "No going back for me." And then you understood Tomas' mood as she shot a laser-focused look his way.
You could guess they had a fall-out over this.
"Watcher." May said, ignoring the drama. "Need helpers first."
And that was all that came out of her. All eyes drifted towards Alice. The woman hesitated. "I... I'm not sure, I'll probably apply for a teacher position, maybe, I don't know." She shook her head before looking sullen and dejected, it seemed she still had some chewing to do over what you'd told her yesterday.
Clearly, she wanted to avoid getting near the tamer business.
You paused, maybe a good time to bring something else up, keep the ball rolling. "I talked with Doctor Hale about how dangerous it could be to be an outlander." You started the conversation topic. "Basically? She said that there are people out there with very deep pockets that would be willing to strap us to tables and bleed us for the rest of our lives merely because we have no monstergirls in our family tree."
"Jesus, that's fucked." The abrupt dark theme hit hard and got the strongest reaction out of Tomas.
"Yes, I don't think we should trust anyone with the tidbit of where we come from." You continued. "And look, as much as I know none of you is very comfortable around Monica, as far as I can tell, she's still our best option out there in the wilds."
"For now." Kat stated flatly, crossing her arms. "We'll each get our own girls, and I doubt Monica is much of a team player. Liz very much doesn't like her."
"Liz? The Lizard girl?"
"Yeah." She nodded emphatically. "She stuck to me after the interrogation, poor thing was pale like a ghost."
Ah, you saw the chance. "Then you already have a starter don't you?"
"I guess." Kat hesitated. "Still got paid to get one though."
"What about the other one, the... Mynx was it?" You inquired.
"Apparently she had a family she wanted to return to, if they pay for her the money would go to Alice." Kat stated, receiving a not-too-happy look from your fellow teacher. This felt like quite the tone shift for her since last night, had your words back then caused this? You weren't sure if that was good or not. Maybe both?
You paused a moment. "If we travel as a group, we should pool our funds, it could make it easier to get everyone handled while we seek to increase the bank."
"I'm not going." Alice stated flatly without a moment's hesitation.
That made the others pause. "I'll go... on my own." May added quietly, much to everyone's shock.
But the other three remained silent, Kat was considering it seriously, and Tomas was just looking at Kat nervously.
Mr Gabriel broke the silence, nodding at you. "I'm in." He said. "Not going to lie, I don't want more girls than Tessa, doubt my heart would survive. Group is safer."
That seemed to make the decision for Kat. "Then I'll join too."
"And me." Tomas blurts out instantly after, before nervously scratching the back of his head. "At least until we split."
You nod, that was a combined pot of 120K credits, minus whatever might be necessary gear and supplies. It should have more than enough, still, you turn to May. "Are you sure you'd rather leave alone?"
"Yes." She didn't explain further.
"Why?" Tomas asked.
May just shrugged. "I'm safe."
Looks were shared, but you noticed someone was looking directly at you. "So this is why you gathered us didn't you?" Alice sighed, seeming resigned.
"Seems like a pretty decent idea to me." Mr Gabriel spoke. "I'd die out there even with Tessa by my side, this seems the most reasonable approach." His eyes turned towards you. "But just so you know, we will be heading straight towards Ebony, I'm not up for adventuring around the place."
Reasonable. "Will you be alright by yourself May? I'll admit I'm still worried about you." You focus on the younger girl.
She gives a bit of a nod. "Found someone."
Again the desire to push for more information surges, but you're certain she won't share more than absolutely necessary. "Are they strong?" You asked.
"She is." Another nod.
A monstergirl? Curious. Either way, it seemed you couldn't push things further in this. "Ok, I won't ask any more if you don't feel comfortable sharing."
May nodded a third time and returned towards her meal.
You turned towards Mr Gabriel. "I agree that your destination ought to be the first one, we'll keep it to the roads, at least that's my vote."
"Good." He glanced at Kat for a long moment. "Are you sure you want to stay?"
"Last night, teach, with what you said, it... got me thinking." The girl faltered before speaking up. "I'm bisexual." The words felt important even if... well. "Though I know all of you knew already, I think."
"Not much of a surprise sweetie." Mr Gabriel spoke softly.
That emboldened her. "I never felt like I could say that openly back... back then, back in that other place. Not without being a freak or needing to stick myself to a rainbow flag or some shit because if I didn't I'd be shunned or thought of as some sort of tease who really is just into guys." She inhaled deeply and let it out. "Here? Here what I've got and who I am is flat out normal, desired even. No shunning, no commentary, no nothing. I can be myself and not have to worry that some idiot is going to take it the wrong way or some bitch will opt to scream bible verses in my face because of who I happen to like."
Alice and you flinch, both of you remembering that particular incident a couple of months ago back... in your old world.
Kat nodded, self-reassuring. "So yeah, fuck that place. I'm staying here dangers and everything."
"That’s... nice." You say, feeling like you don't really have much else to say about the subject. Kat certainly seems to think that's enough of an answer and nods. "So, back to the matter at hand, considering we're going to move together, we might as well start coordinating how we'll spend the funds."
Tomas perked up at that.
He brought out paper and a pen.
You shouldn't have been surprised.
It felt like it was going to be a long conversation.
There were several long hours of talk, food, and drink. Alice and May had left by now, saying their goodbyes after the ninth round of who would want how many capture-spheres were; only May having given her contact information since Alice had none.
Tomas had been quite enthused to talk about basically everything he'd learnt from the K-Mart about what could and couldn't be bought in this dingy little town. And all the while, you'd been making sure to discreetly keep the budget with a comfortable margin to the 50K you had intended to use, letting the others talk and point out the things they needed or wanted while you bided your time.
Tomas had pointed out he needed 20 to 30K for his own starter, and to wait for the transfer from another town... but that he hadn't made any choices yet.
After several hours of checking and rechecking it all, you dropped the bomb. "The medical centre is offering one of their healers for 50K." Everyone went quiet, looking at each other. "It would totally suck if someone broke a leg in the wilderness or got gutted, and we didn't have a way to handle it." You added, reminding them of the state Tessa was in.
"I'm all up for it." Mr Gabriel commented, not pausing to consider. "Who'll own her tho?"
Suddenly you saw Tomas straightening up at the sound of the question, a hint of eagerness in his eyes at the prospect of a nurse. You almost felt bad for him. Almost. "The nurse in question is called Dia, and it's someone we've been... uh... bonding." You admitted openly, trying to keep a slightly awkward tone.
"Nice!" Kat declared, offering a fist to bump, which due to the laws of the universe you had to reciprocate even if begrudgingly.
"Who wants to bet this whole meal and gather-up was just so you could take her with you?" Mr Gabriel hit the nail in the head and you flinched. "Well, whatever, she'll do us good anyways. Don't want to end up dying to an infection in the middle of nowhere."
Everyone turned to Tomas, the only one left that could dissent.
He huffed and just crossed his arms. "You owe us, since you'll be keeping her."
"Seems fair to me." You replied. "I'll pay twenty from my-."
"Ah-ah-ah." Mr Gabriel's eyes sharpened abruptly. "Are you saying that the shared funds each of us came into with 30 thousand you entered with just 10?" The look on his face had a serious frown to it.
"Ah." You paused, nodding at yourself. "So, in the end, I'd be owing 50 thousand."
"That would then be paid equally among all of us. Meaning you'd really owe 37,5 thousand because one fourth would just go back to you." Tomas did the math impressively quickly. There was also a slight vindication in that gaze.
"We won't charge interests, we're nice that way." Kat cheerily grinned.
You nod at each of them in turn. "Thank you for accepting my selfish request."
"You're just a good salesman." Mr Gabriel replied.
"Now let's talk ferals and future earnings." Tomas was on what you could only feel was a roll. Was this revenge for stealing away his dream of hot nurse sex? You could only guess.
"I don't think we should consider all we earn to be put into the pot because otherwise, a teacher here would be indebted to us for the remainder of this little league of travellers." Kat snickered.
"I agree, since we'd certainly end up in situations where we will have to purchase things for ourselves rather than the group like small luxuries." Tomas nodded. "Now what percentage would be fair?"
"Why split it?" Your question left everyone blinking. You push the explanation. "We just put everything into the pool and also draw from it. Monstergirls bought would only be an addition to the team as a whole even if she'll only be bonded to one of us, and as for luxuries? Just set aside a part of the pool for each." You explain. "And we adjust how much of that 'luxury' chunk is based on the needs of the group. We have nothing to worry for and have everything covered? Then we set a third of the pool for personal items. We're in deep shit? Then nothing of the pool goes for luxury."
"And in one fell swoop, you'd get rid of your debt." Mr Gabriel now laughed openly. "Fine, it seems fair, I'm in."
Kat just shrugged.
Tomas glowered for a second and sighed. "Fine." Then he paused for a moment, clearly seeming to be running some numbers in his head before he spoke back up. "There's a monstergirl I want as a starter, the elf breed." Tomas pulls out his dex and showed you the entry.
A quick glance through, excellent archers, longevity, ability to grow and control plants, and some incredible evolutions. It seemed like a very solid idea.
The young man hesitated. "Thing is, she's uncommon, so the ranch at Ebony would normally sell them at 50 thousand." His eyes moved to you but past towards the others.
Ah, your nurse proposition had nudged him in this direction hadn't it.
"And we can't pay 50 thousand." Mr Gabriel nodded.
"But we can pay 30 thousand." Tomas replied. "Which is the price they'd sell a feral that's barely been awakened from feral state and gone through the basics."
Everyone paused, reading the entry. "...says here feral elves are basically in a comma." You pointed out.
"Yeah..." Tomas grimaced. Looking at the young man talking about 'buying' a monstergirl in such a way, you're reminded he didn't seem to be in Alice's camp of thought too strongly.
Or perhaps it was something else that was letting him so easily consider the purchase of what would amount to a slave by the mere fact that he was just looking at numbers and text rather than the reality of the situation? Something to consider, you guessed.
"It'd tighten our budget though." Tomas added, apparently he was the only one with some deeper understanding of the agreed-upon budget, frankly you were thankful that he'd been the one taking notes and not you.
"If we don't hunt enough ferals we'd probably end up better off scavenging food rather than buying it." He replied. Everyone flinched a bit at that, remembering surviving on berries and not very happy about that.
"I think it would be worth it." You nodded, pushing in favour, you didn't want Tomas completely against you, better give him some points after he didn't stop the nurse proposition. "An elf seems very useful in the wilderness, heck, I'm sure that with scavenging alone she'd make up the price difference right away."
Tomas looks proud of himself as well as somewhat relieved, nodding. "I'll send them an email." He paused as he was about to stand up. "Uh... we're going to need to distribute the money."
"What do you mean?" Kat asked.
"Dex don't allow for 'one shared account', they hold the money individually." He said.
"Oh, right." Everyone nodded.
"I'll buy the equipment with Kat." Mr Gabriel spoke with a tone that allowed for no negotiations, it appeared he had something he wanted to talk about with his granddaughter.
"That leaves 30K for me and 50K for Rick." Tomas pointed out.
"We'll be flat broke for a while." You muttered and everyone sighed in dejected agreement.
"Still, that covers everything." Mr Gabriel declared as he finished up the last bite of his meal. "Unless I missed something?"
"We should spend as much as we can in town, at least until they start charging us for our stay." You said. "Get used to how things operate, maybe research about hunting ferals."