The Belleville Merchants Guild was not — quite — ostentatious. After all, this was merely a town, not a city. However, it was immaculate and everything inside seemed to be working like a perfectly well-oiled machine.
On Hadiin’s left were three teller windows that were guarded by enchanted suits of armor, their glowing blue eyes watching all. The sign overhead read, in fine and stylized letters:
Belleville Magical Holding a Finance
A human and two dwarf tellers sat ready to deal with short lines of customers while behind them stood three vaults with massively thick, round doors. As the doors were open, one could see inside the vaults, revealing many steel safe deposit boxes.
As Hadiin watched, one teller’s helper brought a box out of a vault and placed it in front of a customer. The customer drew a sword from their waist, scabbard and all, a weapon that glowed with magic. They only had to touch it to the box and it vanished within. Magical boxes of holding, apparently.
Another teller dealt with a man in stained overalls and straw hat who seemed to be haggling and explaining a very emotional tale from the way he gestured with his arms. A bored goat stood at his side on a leash, chewing a potted plant. The teller held up a hand and looked apologetic as he said something. The farmer’s face fell. The goat left some pellets on the floor and a uniformed staff member came running, with broom and dustpan in hand.
On Hadiin’s right side was a trade floor. High-level merchants stood on circular platforms that elevated them head and shoulders above everyone else, and there was a small crowd here. Traders haggled with farmers, ranchers, brewers and more. This was likely the place where one sold an entire crop harvest or a herd of cattle all at once. And where shopkeepers, could buy in bulk from merchants travelling from the city or farther away.
Above the trade floor was an open balcony to the second floor. A wide, curving staircase of white stone led up to a tavern there. From the location and the fine decor, the upscale manner of dress of those few in view, it was likely a place where wealthier citizens gathered to strike deals over a tankard of ale or a few glasses of imported wine. A server languidly walked by a table, a cat girl with elegant black ears and tail, but was otherwise human.
In front of Hadiin was a long counter, staffed by six individuals. A sign hung above them in polished bronze.
~ MEMBER SERVICES ~
The grand room was loud, but in a busy and productive way, not an obnoxious one. While the floor was not marble, only granite, it was buffed and waxed and shone. Plenty of staff milled about, running on one errand or another in their tailored black and sky blue uniforms, hair perfect, poised as they moved about. Banners hung from the two-story ceiling, all sky blue with white symbols for different industries, much like the front doors had. They swayed in what must be a magical breeze, looking at bit like a sky and clouds.
Hadiin stepped forwards, Marian at his side. They approached one of the free guild receptionists. He was a solemn man with a dour face that didn’t go at all with the cheery sky blue on his uniform, though it did perhaps match the black.
His long face barely moved as he spoke. “May I help you, sir?”
Hadiin flashed a smile. “I certainly hope so, my good man. I’m new in town and I have a wagonload of leather to sell. I was informed that I may acquire a license here, and a stall for the street outside.”
“Of course, sir. May I have your registration card, please?” he put a hand out.
“Are you registered with the Merchant’s Guild, sir?”
Hadiin paused. “Um, not yet.”
The dour man bowed his head a touch. “Would you like to register first, then? You will need to be registered to acquire a license and a stall.”
“Right. Of course.”
The receptionist pulled out a few sheets of paper. “Please fill this out. Your name here, and here. Your signature here. The registration fee is fifty silver.”
Hadiin straightened, feeling awkward. He glanced down at Marian.
She sighed and rolled her eyes. But she didn’t say anything, just reached for her purse.
He was grateful for her sparing him any additional embarrassment. Taking a quill and dipping it in ink, he filled in the papers while she placed the coins on the counter. When he was finished, he slid them back.
“Very good, sir,” the receptionist replied with no enthusiasm what-so-ever. He slipped the paper under the countertop and a moment later, a card twinkled into being in the air next to his hand, before dropping to the counter. The receptionist held it out, facedown. “Please place your forefinger on the black square.” There was a small, black square on the back of the card.
Hadiin did as asked.
There was a flash and the the receptionist took the card back and turned it over. “Hadiin Kahumhotep…the first.” He eyed Hadiin and arched a single brow.
He shrugged, a little self conscious. “What? I am the first. As far as I know.” Naming oneself first or second or what have you might be a little premature at this point, but isn’t that what they did for kings and pharaohs and what not?
The receptionist did not seem impressed. “Merchant. Level two. How…impressive.”
“We all have to start somewhere,” he retorted.
The receptionist made no comment as to that. “Let me brief you on what it means to be a guild member, sir.” He placed the member card down, swept up the silver coins, then brought out a thin book with a bronze and black cover. He opened it. “As you are no doubt aware from your substantial levelling, a merchant needs to acquire experience points to level up. These can come from the usual sources, such as defeating orcs and dragons and the like, but for a merchant you will gain less than martial classes for those actions. A merchant’s primary experience comes from making money. The better the deal, that is to say, the more it profits you over any other party, the more experience gained.”
“Good to know.” Hadiin grinned. “The whole point of choosing this class is so that I don’t have to go around poking monsters with sharp objects anymore.”
“Yes, I’m sure you were very…impressive…when you ‘poked’ all those monsters.”
Marian looked away, but couldn’t suppress a snort of amusement and giggled.
Hadiin was confused for a moment. What was so fun— Then he understood the double entendre and gave the receptionist a flat glare.
The other man seemed immune to such things. “Raising your level will, of course raise your stats. At certain levels, other classes acquire points which they can use to raise their Attributes, such as Strength and Dexterity. Merchants must purchase these points.”
“What about skills?” Hadiin asked.
The receptionist blinked at him. “Would you like to continue to interrupt me, or would you like to let me finish explaining exactly that?”
He turned his glare on her this time. Unfortunately, she was immune too.
The receptionist pointed to a page in the Guide. “Merchants ascend through nine different ranks: Wood, Tin, Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, Emerald, Ruby, Diamond. These ranks are based solely on your current wealth, including both gold and property. Your rank may go up or down as your financial situation changes. Your level does not affect your Merchant Rank.” He turned the page and displayed something like a menu. “Here you can see skills available from the Merchants Guild. Unlike other classes, which are awarded skills based on level, a merchant’s skills must be purchased. Some require a minimum Merchant Rank in order to acquire them as well. Most skills increase their power and function alongside your Merchant Rank. The richer you are, the more powerful your skills become.”
Both Hadiin and Marian eagerly leaned forward for a better look.
Coin snap: A snap of the fingers sends a single coin flying at the target, doing piercing damage.
Golden Shower: Showers multiple opponents in temporary gold coins that rain down from the sky. Area of Effect spell.
Exploding Sack of Coins: A sack of currency; explodes on target; may be placed as a trap as well. Different currency values produce different damage.
Into the Red: Put another merchant into the red by giving them sudden debt. All attributes are reduced by 50% and powerful debt collectors are immediately dispatched to collect.
Befuddling Presentation: Target is confused by meaningless stats, graphs and pie charts while an illusory presenter uses empty corporate speech.
Frugality (passive): Reduces the cost of purchases in stores by 25%; doesn’t apply to guild purchases.
Appraisal: Appraise items to revealing stats and value. Appraise people to see their bribe value. Ability increases with Merchant Rank.
Purchase Attributes: Can purchase Attributes for gold at the guild. (Attributes may only be purchased up to a value of 15/20.)
Welcoming Aura (passive): Merchant’s aura attracts customers to a business location inhabited by the merchant.
Your Money or Your Life: To prevent death, may sacrifice 25% of wealth for temporary health. Lasts 2 minutes.
Wallstreet: Create a wall of paper that seems stronger and more impressive than it really is.
Midas Touch: Temporarily turns organic targets to gold. While in a gold state, the target slowly suffocates, slowly reducing HP; on recovery, the target gasps for air and takes several seconds to recover. Can be resisted.
Hire Mercenary: Spending a lump sum, and an ongoing fee, merchant can hire NPC mercenaries to accompany them. The number of mercs that can be hired at any one time depends on Merchant Rank. Failure to pay monthly fee will cancel contract. In this event, mercenaries will be laid off starting with the lowest level until finances are balanced.
Greed: A powerful charm spell that temporarily seduces targets with lust for gold. Length of charm depends on Merchant Rank. At higher levels, targets can be seduced into overcoming their morality. Can be resisted.
Treasure Illusion: Create an illusion of treasure. Ability increases with Merchant Rank.
Secret Stash: Create a bag of holding that cannot be targeted by thieves of a lower level.
Hostile Acquisition: Immediately acquire all target’s saleable goods. Must be a higher level than target. High chance of resist.
Goldfingers: Turns fingers a golden shade and their touch produces excessive pleasure in target. Works best on targets who are sexually interested in the user’s gender, and who are equal or lower level. Can be resisted.
Goldmember: Turns certain body parts gold. When used during intercourse, it produces a permanent charm effect, making the target submissive and wiling to obey most commands. Works best on targets who are sexually interested in the user’s gender, and who are equal or lower level. Can be resisted.
The receptionist gave Hadiin an inquiring look. “Would you care to purchase any skills or attributes at this time?”
“Well, not right now. I…need to think it over.”
“Of course, sir. Impressive decision.” He flipped the book closed and pushed it towards Hadiin. “Your copy. Now, a license to sell in Belleville as well as a stall.” He pulled out another form. Passing Hadiin’s membership card over it, the form was instantly filled out. “There is no fee for renting the stall. However, the Town of Belleville collects a twenty percent sales tax on all goods sold within town limits.”
His jaw dropped. “Twenty! That’s robbery!”
“No, it’s taxes. Of which the Merchants Guild gets a portion. There are, of course, certain…types who attempt to avoid paying their taxes.” He paused and sized Hadiin up and down.
“Hey!” he protested. “I pay my dues. I’m not about to cheat anyone here.”
The look on the receptionist’s face said he didn’t believe a word of and had heard it all before. “Rest assured that the Merchants Guild has agents in the market and all of them are equipped with [Assess Income] skills. In difficult cases, we also have agents with [Audit] skills. Those caught cheating the town and Guild will be fined or otherwise punished appropriately.”
“I’m an honest merchant!”
“Of course you are, sir.” He handed over the membership card. “Stall 128.”
Hadiin took the card. Then he eyed the receptionist. “Twenty percent.”
“Yes. Unless you wish to inquire about the sales tax on land, property or businesses?”
“No. Just clarifying that it’s a tax on goods.”
“What else would a sales tax apply to?” He rolled his eyes.
“Right. Of course.” He turned away. “Come, Marian. Let’s get back to the wagon.”
They perused the Guild guide as they strode through Market Street.
“What are you going to buy first?” she asked him. “Exploding sack? Secret Stash looks super useful.”
“I think it’ll be Coin Snap and Appraisal to start. They’re the cheapest. Although, that’s not saying much. Everything is quite…expensive.”
She frowned at him and pointed. “By the way, don’t you dare try that Goldfinger one on me. And if you’re stupid enough to try that member one, I’ll cut yours off. We clear?”
“As crystal, darling. After all, I respect you and I would never want to make you feel uncomfortable or for you to do anything you don’t want to.”
She gave him an uncertain glance, but seemed mollified.
To Hadiin’s great relief, the wagon was untouched, as were the goods inside of it. When his eyes met those of the guard standing nearby, the man giving him a pointed look, he sighed and leaned over and whispered to his companion. “It seems the guard expects a reward for doing his job. Would you mind…”
“Seriously? What am I? A fountain of free gold?” she grumbled. But she stomped over to the guard and shoved a few silvers at him. From the threatening look she gave him and the way face paled, it didn’t look like he was going to complain over the amount.
They rode down the alley to stall 128.
Marian took one look at all the leather there was to unload and shook her head. “I’m going for a walk and check this place out.”
He was about to object, then thought better of it. He’d already made much use of her so far. “Of course. I’ll be here whenever you return.”
She nodded. “Better be. Because you owe me. And I will find you.”
Not that he had any intention of running off. Marian had been very helpful. And she had a great body. He was going to do everything he could to keep her around, and to get her into bed. And that meant making money.
Piling all the leather onto the table at the front of the stall, he left the slime in the wagon. That was for later. Then, unlike most of the merchants, he squeezed between stalls and put himself out on the street in front of his wares rather than behind them. All the better to put him within reach of potential customers and to give him the ability to see clearly up and down the street. He wasn’t about to sit and wait for someone to come along. Profits favoured the aggressive merchant more than the passive one. If he spotted a potential customer close by, he’d run them down. And he knew just who to look for: adventurers. People wearing leather armor and looking for more materials to level up their craft.
It wasn’t long before he spotted just who he was looking for.
A woman strode down Market Street in brisk fashion. She passed every single stall without looking into it, stopping only at ones selling leather or pelts. And these she bought up entirely, leaving grinning sellers behind her.
He watched as she slowed not far from the Merchants Guild. She stood in the street and put her hand over her eyes and scanned the stalls in Hadiin’s direction. But she didn’t seem to see anything good, because she looked disappointed and turned around.
Hadiin glanced once at his stall and saw no thieves sneaking up on him. So he darted down the street, dodging shoppers, until he reached the woman’s side. “Excuse me! Looking for leather?”
She stopped and regarded him in surprise. “Uh, yeah.”
He waved her back towards his stall. “I’ve just brought a bunch in. Over here.”
“Oh, really? I didn’t see. Must have missed you.” She smiled.
Hadiin hurried her along, anxious to return lest someone walk off with his merchandise. Luckily it wasn’t far.
“How much for all of it?” she asked.
He opened his mouth to answer, then doubled his price. “Four gold.”
“For just that?” She frowned sizing up the amount. Then she jingled her purse. “I’ve already bought a fair amount.”
“Would you care to make an offer?” he inquired. This was a bit of a trick. Some customers, the more selfish kind, would instantly lowball a seller, giving a price far lower than what the goods were worth. Others, the more compassionate types, would feel guilty about going too low and make an offer that they knew would be profitable to the seller. He’d sized her up and come to the decision that she was the latter type. Sure enough, she came in higher than expected.
“Three gold for the lot.”
He bowed. “Fine by me. I’d much rather get rid of it all than sell it in pieces. You’re doing me a favour.” He could have haggled, but by giving in to her offer, which was higher than she could have started with, he was buying goodwill. And goodwill was worth future gold.
Her smile returned. “Great.” She placed the entire lot in the bag of holding at her side. It must have been an excellent bag given how much he’d seen her already purchase.
She handed over three shiny gold coins. “Here you go. And thanks again. I’ll probably be back next week around this time if you’ve got more to sell.”
“I will! And have a wonderful day, miss.” He waved her off. His very first customer might also turn into a repeat customer, simply because he’d gone after her instead of waiting for her to come to him, and because he’d treated her respectfully instead of bargaining hard for every last copper he could.
Feeling positive, he climbed into the back of his wagon to wait for Marian’s return. The golden coins sparkled in his hand. He was in business at last. Now it was time for phase two of the plan.