There was basically no chance that the Iron Ring Slavers currently held any of those Anton knew. It hadn’t been quite a year, but if slaves did not sell before that time… Anton wouldn’t expect anything good would come of them. Not that the prospects of a slave were golden if they were deemed more valuable, but at least the owners might be interested in taking some care with them. Anton never thought of people as property, but those who ran profitable businesses generally took good care of their tools. Hopefully they shared some of that mentality.
It bothered Anton to walk into a place that sold slaves with a pleasant smile on his face, but he worried if he didn’t set his expression to begin with his actual feelings might get the best of him. Finding the location of the Iron Ring Slavers wasn’t hard. They were a legal business who intended to sell, after all. Being hidden would do them little good.
Out front of their offices stood two guards. They appeared to be at the peak of Body Tempering, the equivalent of the tenth star. Perhaps it was his own judgements, but Anton felt that their energy was… stagnant. Ungrowing. They still appeared to be in their middle years, but if they began cultivating while young, it was quite possible they were unable to advance to Spirit Building.
“Do you have an appointment, sir?” One of the guards asked.
“No. I wasn’t aware I needed one…” Anton kept his face as pleasant as possible.
“It’s not strictly necessary, but it is not always possible to arrange for a proper escort without notice.” He opened the door behind him, “See if the vice-manager is available to escort a cultivator!” He turned back to Anton, “It will only be a few moments. You may wait inside.”
“Thank you.” Anton stepped inside. It wasn’t hard to be polite to the guard. While Anton didn’t approve of his current employment, he had a pleasant enough demeanor. That reminded Anton that not everyone who was pleasant was a good person. Anton couldn’t judge if he were truly evil but those who supported slavery- especially with the methods the Iron Ring Slavers allowed- could most certainly not be good people.
It didn’t take long before a slightly balding man walked down the hall. His cultivation was in the middle of Body Tempering, and unlike the guards where he was uncertain, Anton could guarantee this man was never reaching Spirit Building. Not unless he’d started cultivating only in the last few years. “Sir,” the man bowed his head to Anton, “Welcome to the Iron Ring Slavers. My name is Marty Dittmar, vice-manager of operations in Veron. What are you interested in purchasing today?”
“I’m not quite sure,” Anton said. “I was hoping it was possible to browse.” He couldn’t just provide them with a list of everyone he was looking for. Even if they had some, the fact that he wanted them in particular would certainly increase the prices.
“I see,” the man nodded. “Of course, I can escort you around the area. Come, follow me.” It didn’t take long before they stepped into back rooms. Unlike what Anton expected, despite the surroundings becoming more austere with smooth stone walls instead of decorated hangings, the conditions didn’t change dramatically. “Women or men?” he asked, gesturing to either side.
“I suppose we should begin with women.” As he followed after the vice-manager, he could see into the constructed cells. Four women shared each cell, each of which had two pairs of bunks. Anton had imagined dirty and smelly places, but it was quite clean. That was all Anton could say for the area, as the conditions were quite lacking otherwise. Straw mattresses and cheap burlap clothing, and very little room. But even so, the conditions seemed… tolerable. As his eyes passed over one woman, he stopped for a moment. “How much for her?”
Vice-manager Dittmar quoted a price. It wasn’t much different from what Anton had learned was the standard for a youngish, healthy woman. “Would you like to purchase her?”
“Perhaps later.” Of course, that would be never. Not that Anton wouldn’t like to free these women from slavery, but he couldn’t afford to do so for those he didn’t know. He would very quickly use up all his money and merely help a small number of people, while providing a slight boost to the slaving industry which would result in little net benefit to the world. He had just asked about that particular woman because she seemed like a reasonable starting point, and to see if the vice-manager would give fair prices. Unfortunately, Anton didn’t see any women he recognized. “Perhaps we shall see the men next.”
“Of course. If you are looking for those who might have cultivation talents,” the vice-manager shook his head, “I am afraid to inform you we have none at the moment. They are sold quite quickly.”
“No, that’s not quite what I want.” Anton did his best to remain vague, like he actually wanted something. However, after asking about the prices of some of the men, he found nobody he recognized among the dozens present.
“We have some trained for particular purposes,” Dittmar offered. “If you have something in particular you want.”
Anton wasn’t sure if he could keep up his extremely vague desire for a slave, so something more specific might be best for the moment. “Do you have any able to cook or clean?”
“Of course. We could have them brought out, if you wish…”
“I’ll save us the time,” Anton said confidently. Confidence was key. He could even act like he was doing the man a favour by getting what he wanted. They moved further into the back of the facility, to rooms about the same size but with only individuals or pairs. They had slightly better accommodations, linen clothing and decent mattresses. Anton looked over everyone he could, but found nobody. Not that he had expected otherwise, but if he had left someone behind at the easiest point to purchase them… he would have regretted it. Anton clicked his tongue, trying to seem just vaguely annoyed.
“Are there none to your liking, sir? If you have any specifics in mind, we can contact you when we find something suiting your tastes.”
“No, I don’t think so,” Anton said. “Perhaps I shall return later.”
Dittmar’s pleasant smile faded slightly. He had, after all, invested over an hour escorting Anton about for nothing. “Of course, sir. If you can specify what you wish next time, we can set an appointment and save you some walking.”
“Hmm. Indeed.” Anton took the opportunity to remove himself from the location with haste. It wasn’t as terrible as he had imagined- but that didn’t say anything for conditions elsewhere. After he left the place, he curled around several blocks in a leisurely fashion. He didn’t sense anyone following him, but it was better to be safe. Eventually, he met back up with Catarina and Hoyt. He shook his head, “Nobody. Not that I expected different.”
Hoyt sighed, “The next step of the plan then?”
Anton nodded. “We’ll check out the farms. Everly is a big landowner around here. He seems to have bought several of the men, at least.”
It wasn’t hard to find the right area. The real issue was seeing what he wanted. Anton described the handful of fellows he was looking for, “I can’t guarantee that Pete will still be chubby,” Anton said, “But that scar on his left cheek should still be there.”
Wandering onto farmland would quite annoy people Anton would rather not mess with. Even if most of the guards he sensed were lower cultivation than himself, it was better to just pass by on the roads. Hawk Eyes’ techniques allowed him to focus his eyes at a far distance. Even if he lost a bit of area, picking out faces of those in the fields wasn’t so difficult for the most part. The problem was the full extent of the fields stretched far beyond that of a small town. These were farmlands that fed into Veron and the rest of Ofrurg, and Everly had a large portion of them. “There’s one,” Anton finally said. After picking out five men, Anton passed by a second time but found no more. He then rode towards someone who looked the least like a slave. “You there! Taskmaster!” Anton waved.
The taskmaster turned towards him. Anton carried a bow that was clearly not of standard make, so the taskmaster would likely have recognized Anton as a cultivator even if one of the nearby guards hadn’t whispered to inform him. “Yes? What is it? This is the property of the honored Everly.”
“Of course. I don’t wish any trouble.” Anton was getting a lot of practice putting on fake smiles. He hated it already. “As I passed by, I found myself with some interest in some of your workers. I would like to buy them. I can pay a fair market price. I’m sure you can replace them.”
The taskmaster grinned lopsidedly, “We can replace them, but then I’d have to go to market and purchase more. We only lose out on that.”
The man didn’t directly refuse to sell. In the end, Anton ended up negotiating a price that was about fifty percent above market value- and that was if the men were in top shape instead of having been engaged in hard labor for most of a year. Though that fatigue was only a temporary detriment to their price, since they seemed to be in mostly good health otherwise, if worn down. It was more than they were worth, but less than Anton had been worried he might have to pay. The five men- including a quite significantly thinner Pete- were gathered up and formal papers were drafted. The actual exchange would take place in the city. The slaves were branded, so merely handing them over wouldn’t suffice. Anton hated every second of negotiating for the freedom of those wrongfully enslaved. If only he could get away with killing all of the guards… but that was too dangerous to those he wished to save, and they couldn’t escape with all of the slaves. How strong would he have to be…? Whatever it was, Anton intended to reach that level.