Griz stared at the kid waltzing into the store.
A full season had not passed (if not counting the last few days of Autumn) since they began to interact with each other. Since then it had been an animated and lively winter. Dealing with this kid sure brought a flurry of activity in this mundane place.
The man could not imagine when he had ever experienced such an exciting time during winter in his entire life. Even in the North, winter is usually the lull and inactive period of demon beast activity.
Griz watched him as he nodded and sat down in the customary stool at the corner and drummed his fingers. He got up from the stool and went across to join him.
The merchant usually sat at the desk in the back but force of habit had him at the counter during quiet times. In any case his assistants would usually rush to greet any customers so as to prevent him from being disturbed.
Simon had already left his chair on the side and was conversing animatedly with the boy’s shadow. Undoubtedly they were gossiping about the latest news in the village. Griz sat down at the other end of the counter.
“Kid, this is my last Winter here in the village. Come Spring I am heading to the town of Karst. Overseer Pi received news from the retiring Master when we sent word for another supply of liquor. I have been formally issued the letter from headquarters. I am the new Master for the town of Karst.”
The burly man puffed his chest out in pride. He continued in a loud voice.
“My wife and kids will be meeting me in Karst. The Trading Post company has agreed to bear the cost and safety of their journey. I will be setting up my foundation, MY OWN foundation in Karst. Why don’t you come with me, I can get you and the others a good job. I guarantee at least you wont have to do anything dangerous like before.”
Griz eyed the boy sitting on the counter. The loud conversation between Ming and Simon as well as the small discussions between the assistants ceased. The sound of a pin could be heard dropping on the floor at this time.
It was THAT quiet.
The Master of the Trading Post was now moving up in the world. He would be in the position to dictate the one who would succeed him here and in a position to control all appointments in the surrounding villages.
Even before he chose his successor he was inviting this boy to accompany him?
This was a dream for nearly every soul in this village. The opportunity to break free of this shackle and venture into the true outskirts of civilization. From a town it was very simple to visit and experience the lifestyle of those in the cities.
The assistants started to drool silently at the other end.
‘What rotten LUCK!’
Eyes started glancing and measuring up the boy on the counter.
Ming was the first to break the silence.
“Master Griz, you mean you have a wife? AND kids? Damn Simon, you were trying to force me into a bet I was sure to lose! Do you know how many weeks I had to nag Chu before he bought me this bead?!”
Chu cleared his throat and gave Ming a murderous glare.
Just remembering the torture of Ming begging and harassment for a piece of carved and polished wood nearly made him burst into a fit of anger. He calmed himself down by taking some deep breaths.
“Congratulation Master Griz on that hard-earned appointment. I honestly believe you will do great in that town.”
Normally between the two such a simple statement would be treated as a sarcastic remark. But today both the speaker and the listener could feel the genuine honestly within those simple words.
“Well are you not going to take me up on my offer and tag along with me?”
Chu drummed his fingers and looked up at the hulking man.
“Master Griz. I believe we both know the answer to that question. We both know it would be very hard for us to keep our present arrangement in such a situation.”
Griz sighed as he looked at the boy. He knew deep down this was not someone looking to ride the coast-tails of a person. This brat would be never truly satisfied working under someone.
“Very well you stinking brat. I presented an offer that others would kill to have, yet you refused my kind actions. I will keep my ears out to hear how you fare. Don’t come running to me when I am all settled down or I will kick you out in the streets.”
Chu simply laughed when he heard Griz roaring statement. He was well aware of the hidden meanings conveyed. The new Master in Karst town would always keep a favor open for him in times of need.
This was a great opportunity for advancement. It was the step leading to open the doors into the culture and economic running of this country. Unfortunately it was not the right time for Chu to venture out.
He was gradually grasping the way this new world operated. For the present him, venturing out was akin to committing suicide. This world could only be freely explored by someone who was both rich and able to defend themselves. Only a person with power could move around unimpeded.
The past month was testimony as to how only those with the bigger fist and stronger backing could move about unhindered. A lone wolf might struggle to survive in some places but a wolf pack will move brazenly and unhindered.
This was the purpose of his visit this time. For this one last trade with Griz he was willing to stand a loss to construct a solid foundation.
He wanted to raise his very own wolf pack.
“Hey Griz, I want to gamble with you on one last deal before you leave. I need a map, a pair of pulleys, rope and a well bucket. I also need four quality iron swords and three hundred crossbow bolts. If I fail in my quest consider these items lost. If I achieve success, I have a list of other demands I want.
Oh, and I need two pickaxes and a pair of shovels.”
Griz glanced at Simon and stared down at the kid.
“What the hell are you planning to do? Are you going hunting or digging a well?”
Chu shot Griz a grin.
“Lets just say if I find what I’m looking for, Karst will just be the beginning of your journey.”
Griz digested the quiet reply meant for him alone to hear.
‘Damn! This brat was going to look for that wold demon carcass’
‘Wait! Did he just scam me for supplies again?’
Three days later.
The heavy snowfall had started to die out during the last couple weeks. According to the seasoned folks(Chu’s father for instance) there was typically one large snowstorm that ended the Winter season with a bang.
Spring usually started about a week after that event. The lands will slowly transition from white, to brown and finally to lush green.
These days had clear sunny skies above, freezing cold winds gently blowing and thick snow on the ground that refused to melt. To the inexperienced Chu, the weather did not forecast any such storm.
Early in the morning a Woodsman with a bad leg and four boys left the village. They pulled a small sled that carried a worn axe and some other tools. The soldiers at the south gate simply ushered them out. The guards from the garrison vouched for their status as villagers.
They had been accustomed with this group heading out everyday and returning with a small load of firewood.
Only the smoldering remnants of the bonfire was testament to the night life outside the gate. Although less than a quarter of the outsiders remained, they were enough to still double the population of this small village.
Currently the place was deserted with only one or two stragglers around. Adventurers like normal people had to work for a living. Everyone was either searching in the forest or hunting and trapping animals to sell.
Chu and his party made quick time towards the barn. With all these people prowling around the forest, the dangers of being attacked by animals was very remote. Even a wolf pack would be wary and seek to avoid these maniacs that swarmed around like ants.
After more than a month of being abandoned they had returned to the barn.
Ming and the others had unhinged the large door leaving it open to the weather. A place that offered shelter and three walls were still hard to find. It seemed like adventurers and others had used it at some point or the other as a base.
Some of the wood was broken and chopped to light a fire in the center, in the same place they had once used. Lucky the area around the trapdoor that was surrounded by mouldy dried weeds and dust was untouched.
The wood from the fence that was removed by Clod before they left had been used as kindling. The area under the platform was the same with no signs of tampering. The stones and bricks from the previously dismantled oven was untouched.
Chu guessed that those who were out searching for the wolf demon at the time always returned to the village to rest. It made sense that nobody in their right mind would camp out knowing such a danger was present.
Now that the beast was dead, the scouts and trackers would start taking some chances as they traveled in a party. He could never know if some tracker would eventually find signs that the wolf demon had exited around this area.
“Ming go with Clod and use the pulleys like I showed you to get the carcass under the trapdoor. It should be ready for us to pull up as soon as I see the Trading post people. On my signal try to get it up in the corner.”
“Father help me keep watch. We still have a few hours before those guys arrive. Now is not the time to take any chances. We are just a group of villagers trying to harvest some firewood.”
After the talk with Griz, Chu had hinted to the merchant that he was already out trying his luck. His father was a Woodsman and his luck was not any poorer than the others. He was a natural in the forest and possessed some tracking experience.
Today was the day when lady luck was going to smile upon him. Years of toil was finally going to bear fruit.
This plan had a certain amount of risk considering the rewards it provided.
First they had to get this corpse up from the cellar before the buyers arrive and prep it to look like it was recently found. Any signs of it looking like they had it for a while would attract unnecessary suspicion.
Secondly they had to do it in secret before any roaming parties stumbled upon them in the act. A meeting like that would only result in death. After all who would want to share in such wealth with weaklings like them?
Thirdly they still had to be mindful of any double cross from the people of the Trading Post. Chu couldn’t do anything much about this but threaten to expose the location of the corpse to everyone.
Given the amount of adventurers and mercenaries present, transporting the corpse to wheresoever it had to go might lead to some ambush by shady characters. This would not help the him who might be rotting in the ground at that time.
Lucy had instructions to hide in the slums for the day. If she did not see them return then that plan would be carried out. Vengeance might be late but it was still vengeance.
They had left in the morning and arrived here just before noon.
Clod and Ming went to the cellar and did their work under the cover of darkness. As instructed by Chu, the pulleys were set up as he once saw in science class. This set up was nailed under the platform and over the cellar entrance.
All Chu remembered was that it reduced the amount of effort needed and should be ideal for the lifting they required. He decided then and there to start making notes so as to not forget things he previously learnt.
All they had to do was get the wolf demon up and had it over.
‘What could possibly go wrong?’