In a large room of the Trading post Griz was sitting on a chair sipping some hot tea. Simon was performing the same actions on the opposite side. A small fire was lighting in a brazier providing light and much-needed heat.
This sort of bourgeois scene was naturally better than what took place in the homes of villagers.
The room was only around a twelve by twelve square foot area, the chairs were of roughly made wood with the added luxury of a seat cushion and the tea was something Chu might have considered as severely watered down.
This picture was something crude in the eyes of nobles and those of wealth, but here at the ends of the Empire it was a sight of luxury. In all the villages lined across the frontier, not one father would hesitate to sell his daughter for a chance at living this good life.
Amidst the light and shadows that flickered in the room, Griz placed the wooden cup on the small table between them and sighed. If Chu saw this atmosphere, he would immediately think some shady deals were being hatched. Griz looked to Simon as he broke the silence.
“What do you think?”
Simon finished his tea and straightened his position.
“I think we have both been around long enough not to get played by such a trick.”
He laughed as he continued
“The boy was convincing, I’ll give him that. In my younger days before adventuring I would have certainly been duped. He had me going for a while until he made the excuse of his companion being killed. That was the part that made me realize he was putting on an act. The tale was too convenient for my liking.”
Griz sneered as he replied
“If maybe I had known him for over a couple of years I would have bought his little show. He was too naive in his thinking. I have read his character like a book since we first met. Like hell he would leave a loyal companion in the slums to live during winter. All those kids that trudge along side him have been getting bigger and fatter.
The fact of the matter is, he treats his friends very well. He never once called the person in the slums his ‘friend’. Then he had the nerve to tell me he was going to pick the guy up. Stupid kid must be thinking I was born yesterday!”
The burly man gritted his teeth in anger.
Simon laughed in amusement at Griz expression.
“He really does know how to act. Give him a couple of years and he would make a terrifying merchant. He might even be able to sell stones to make money.”
Griz snorted in response.
“Years? Hah! For him, it would only take months.”
Chu had neglected the fact that Griz was also a man of business. Even in a backward Empire like this in comparison to his old world, merchants still passed on their years of experiences. When a person’s job deals with interacting with all kinds of characters everyday, he is bound to learn how to read a person by their actions.
This was one of the reasons that Griz was sent to all these places to train. Chu might have only had a couple of years experience, but Griz was learning and interacting among people since ten. Coupled with the years of experience listening and watching his father, he had far more experience than Chu.
The only reason that Chu could compete with his experience was because of one advantage from his old world.
Technology. More specific the Internet.
It opened the doors to bring one closer to all the con artist and schemes of the world. Coupled with his first experiences when he moved to the city, Griz could not even begin to fathom how deep his schemes went.
Technology aside, merchants and tradesmen still had generations of dealing with swindlers, crooks, and gold diggers. Of course some of them even excelled in those fields.
Griz had kept his eye on the brat ever since they met on day one. It didn’t take a blind man to see the way he treated his friends. Every single kid associated with the brat was as well cared as a noble.
He even let them have free reign over money, something Griz would definitely not have allowed. After summoning the messenger and chatting, The man didn’t fail to notice the boys companion busy on the side haggling with his assistants.
Simon broke his train of thoughts
“Lies aside, why did you still send out the messenger?”
Griz drained his warm tea
“I told you I have read that boy like a book. That part about the companion was all bogus, I am sure of it. The part about the wolf demon and bandits, not that sure either. But the part about making money and the guarantee the route is safe. I am certainly convinced that it is true.”
“Ohh. How can you be so sure?”
Griz grinned at the guard.
“I once said that those brats are despicable merchants. No merchant would stake as much as he did on a deal. That alone convinced me that to him at least, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. That kid is far from being an idiot. He only moves when he smells gold.”
“You are right. I get the feeling that he knows exactly what he is doing. That’s why I didn’t have a problem when you sent for the messenger. But something tell me he is definitely hiding something. Call it my experience from adventuring, but that kid has more secrets to him than half of these villagers combined.”
Griz nearly choked on Simon’s statement.
“You think so to huh? That brat has always been an enigma. But this time he seemed to have forgotten something. No Merchant would agree in his right mind to risk his entire savings on a bet so quickly. Didn’t you see his face when I summoned the messenger?”
“I certainly did, it was a combination of relief and joy. I might have been thinking his friends were captured and held hostage to fool us. But that expression on his face was more like yours when you extort a bargain from someone.”
“Yes I was watching him like a hawk. No matter how he got this information, It is as real as can be. I have become this close to success because of him. The Snow bear was one, then those pelts came at a good time for me to forge a solid relationship with Habil and the other merchant families. I am banking on this one to secure my position firmly.”
Since Griz was one of those training to become the Head of the Trading post company in a town, Simon was the guard captain assigned to him. Because of his old man, Griz was fortunate to have someone who had succeeded in a Talisman Awakening. This was the Trading post means of compensation to his old man for the years of service.
This was the reason why in an insignificant village like this, someone like Simon was staying and not simply passing through. Others like him would have been either seeking adventure in the north or living in comfort in the cities.
“I sent the messenger out to Karst with two guards. If things go well, I am certain that by the end of the year or even sooner I will obtain the head position in Karst.”
Simon nodded in agreement
“I think that you would be the youngest person to actually sit on such a position. Most of those Heads in the towns are old hands from the cities who never climbed to the top positions.”
“Lets hope that it turns out this way. I now have a way to gain extra support.”
In a small room in the same compound, Chu and Ming were sitting unaware that they were the subject of discussion.
Ming was pouring on the complements nice and thick
“Wow Chu. You are so awesome, I was even starting to believe we had a friend named Tom. I was so sad that he died. I wish I could say things like you.”
Chu snorted and gave him a glare
“Don’t try to butter me up. You think I don’t know what you are up to. Next time Sue complains about you hogging meat, is the day you return to eating porridge. Now did you do what I asked?”
Ming moved closer to the boy. Both of them were sitting on the ground whispering in secret. Unlike the crime syndicate, boss-meeting scene playing out in the other room between Griz and Simon, these two were looking like street thugs huddled in an alley planning a purse snatching.
“The old man named Bai is still there. He is shacked up with a batch of young men for the winter. Old man Rob was the one who told me to be wary of him. Before he died he used to say that Bai was the eyes and ears of the bandits in the village. Come to think about it, I never really saw him working very hard.
Anyway, looks like Old Rob was right, the old guy has those ruffians keeping the people in the slums in check. They have put the girls and other children in shacks close to them. I think that the ones kept there are going to be taken by bandits.”
Unlike Ming who still had some attachments to the slums, Chu was relatively free of such sentiments. He was to busy trying to avoid problems of his own, much less taking on new headaches.
“I don’t think that the bandits may come this year either.”
“What?! You mean that the Mong bandits were really killed off by the wolf demon?”
Chu knocked his head
“No you idiot, think about it. This place is soon going to be swarming with all different types of power from the Empire. No sane country bandits are going to pop up around this village with the intention to steal and kidnap children. That would be like painting a bullseye on their backs.
As for the Mong bandits I simply made the story up when I saw the notes on the map.”
Would any noble or high-ranking person tolerate someone else snatching away their own playthings. Chu didn’t think so. Friction was bound to happen when the high and low class people in society are brought together.
“In a short time this place is going to be bustling like a market. It seems like we are not going to be able to make any money off that demon.”
Ming was smart enough to understand the predicament they were in.
“But what are we going to do Chu. That thing is going to be like a hot bread in the middle of winter. Everybody is going to be fighting for it.”
Chu looked at him
“All we need is to get as far away from it as possible. The search will begin in the north where they last sighted it. Only us know the truth that it chased the garrison soldiers to the forest to the south. We just need a place for it where they are going to find it before they even think about coming by us.”
“But the only place between us and the north is the village Chu. A demon would have to be crazy to be prowling around the place the Military is going to come.”
Chu sneered as he replied
“Exactly! Now where in this village would you least expect to find a wolf demon hiding?”
Ming didn’t have to think the answer. It just rolled out his mouth naturally along with his saliva
“Exactly. I think its time to put those bandit recruits to work.”