Merchant King

2 – In Search of Saleable Goods

Hadiin reached up and twirled his long, luxurious, handlebar moustache, one that turned up at the ends in delightfully expressive curls. Because of course he had a twirl-able moustache; all the greats did: Snidely Whiplash, Captain Hook, Cardinal Richelieu. Not that he considered himself a dastardly villain, by any means, of course. By damn, did those men have style!

At some point, he was going to have to get out of these starter clothes and into something much more fashionable. Men do not become kings while wearing such peasant rags as these. And women generally do not throw themselves at the poorly dressed. A mental to-do note for the future. 

But first, onto more immediate concerns. If he was going to make any money, he was going to need something to sell. But what? 

There were low-level quests in the village. While putting some thought into things, he decided to visit the quest givers and check them out. 

A man offered a reward for killing slimes. 

A woman offered a bag of food for bringing her deer pelts. 

Granny Funbottom (and how did that name make it past developers?) offered a reward for cleaning all the leaves from around her house and cutting grass. 

A child wanted mushrooms from the forest to cure her sick mother. 

A man wanted sixteen goblin heads. 

He frowned. Well, the last was patently absurd. Who could possibly kill sixteen goblins at this level? Then he had a thought. Ah, perhaps it was a group quest. That made sense. 

Hadiin tapped his chin in thought. Killing things, and even entering the forest, was out of the question for him, at least while solo. But he might be able to talk some other players into tagging along and giving him a share of the experience. Parties earned less XP individually while teamed up, but could complete quests faster because of the added firepower. It wasn’t a tradeoff most players were into, but it couldn’t hurt to ask around. He accepted all the quests and then strolled up and down the dirt street, looking for players. 

A fellow newbie, male, jogged towards him.

Hadiin raised a hand. “Hey! Interested in teaming up?”

The guy slowed to a stop. “At this level? Why? Everything’s easy.”

Hadiin tried to look sheepish. “My bad. I didn’t pay attention to where I was putting my stats. I don’t have any strength or stamina or anything.”

A snort of contempt. “Then why would I team up with you? Stupid.” He jogged on. 

Well, that was to be expected. He tried a few more times, with no better luck. And a some of the responses were even cruder. Many gamers, and people in general, weren’t the most polite to each other, uncultured peasants in all but name. 

Feeling a bit dispirited for the moment, he pulled out his leather water skin and plopped his butt down on the edge of the well for a drink. While sitting there, he observed a mildly attractive female player going up to the woman looking for a stack of deer pelts. The player handed the pelts over and got a few coins in exchange. 

The number of coins caught Hadiin’s eye. He stood and sauntered over, catching her attention before she could run off. “Hey there! Sorry to bother you. Can I just ask how much you got for that quest?”

“What do you mean?”

“The reward. How much money did it give you?”

She frowned uncertainly. “5 sp. Same as anyone. Why?”

His brows rose. “5? But she offered me ten.”

She looked affronted. “What? That’s not fair. Why would she do that?” She turned and stared daggers at the quest giver, before turning that hostility towards him.

Hadiin pulled up his quest menu. “Yes, it’s offering 10 sp for five pelts,” he confirmed.

“That’s bullshit,” she exclaimed, incensed at the injustice. “Why do you get more money out of it than I do?” She glared at him. “You a hacker or something?”

“No no. Don’t be ridiculous.” He puzzled over the problem for a moment. Then an idea occurred to him. He whipped open his stat page. “What’s your Charisma stat?”

“Charisma?” She opened her stat page. “8.”

He grinned. “I see…”

“See what? What’s yours?”

“20.”

Her jaw dropped. “20? Are you nuts? Why would anyone put so many points into Charisma?”

“Because I am a merchant and relationships are the grease that allows the wheels to spin. Apparently, it also affects the level of the rewards from quests. What a delightful turnout.”

She crossed her arms. “I don’t get it. I haven’t heard of anyone else having that.”

“Have you heard of anyone else with maxed out Charisma?”

“Of course not.”

He looked at his quest list. “Let’s compare our quests and the rewards offered. Granny is giving 3 sp to clean leaves.”

“I already got 1 sp for that.”

“Slimes?”

“3 sp.”

“I’m offered 5. Goblin heads?”

“20 sp.”

“45 sp.”

“45? That’s nuts!” she growled. “How is this fair?”

“Well, to be fair, in exchange, I have nothing in most of my other stats, so I can’t even complete most of these quests. Although I suspect that I could manage the leaves on my own.”

Indignant, she gave him a contemplative and somewhat greedy look. “What if we teamed up? Which reward do we get?” 

He hid a smile. You see? Greed is good. “Let’s run an experiment, shall we?” He pushed a button on his screen and invited her to party with him. 

Grudgingly, she accepted. “I think quests remain individual unless we specifically share them.”

“Let’s start with the slimes, then. Cancel yours and I’ll share mine.”

She did and when the new item appeared in her quest list, she looked surprised. “7 sp?”

Hadiin nodded. “Look at the asterisk though. That’s shared, not each. I assume the game increases the quest reward based on the number in the party and then automatically and evenly divides the gold and XP between them. Although I’m sure items are handled differently.”

“But if I had shared the quest with someone my level, it should have offered twice what I was, so 6 sp. Because of your charisma, it’s 7 sp.”

“Which means I’m adding value to the whole. I wish I’d realized this sooner. I’ve asked several people to party up with me and all rejected me out of hand for being useless. Turns out, I’m not so useless after all, even if I can’t swing a sword to kill a slime.”

She looked even more eager now. “You can party with me then! I’m a sorceress.”

He cocked an eyebrow. “I’m not familiar with the class. Like a wizard?”

She shook her head. “Not exactly. Wizards memorize spells from books. They can cast a lot of different spells, giving them huge versatility, but they can only cast so many spells per day before needing to rest.”

“Rest? As in sleep?”

She nodded. “Yeah. 8 hours to get all their spells back. Wizards get magic from the well of magic, some kind of universal source. Sorcerers get magical power from an innate source within themselves. We can’t can’t cast as many different spells as wizards, but we’re more powerful and can use our spells based on our stamina, so we don’t need to rest afterwards.”

“Interesting. What is this innate source? Does it have anything to do with your abilities?”

“It depends on the character. Some get their powers from demons or gods or artifacts.”

“And you?”

She smiled knowingly. “Dragon ancestry.”

“Oh. That sounds exciting.”

She held herself straighter, with pride. “It means while wizards are paper bags who die at the drop of a leaf in the forest, I’m tougher.”

“Sounds perfect. Falling leaves kill me all the time. That quest was actually somewhat frightening. I’ll need someone else to tank. And do damage. I’ll cheer you on from a safe place in your rear.”

Uncertainty cross her face. “You mean behind me, right?”

“Depends on the situation. Those pants are horribly unfashionable and should be burned at the earliest opportunity, but I do detect hints of a fine booty on you.” He gave her his most winning smile. 

She became flustered, perhaps conflicted between blushing and being offended. “I — you… Uh, whatever.” She shook her head and hurried on. “So, like, are we going to go kill those slimes?”

He graciously waved towards the forest. “Ladies first, my dear.”

“‘k.” She moved in the direction of the quest. 

“Your name, by the way?” he asked.

“Um, Marian.”

“Marian, it is indeed a pleasure. Especially from this angle.”

She stopped and spun around, frowning, “Are you gonna—“

He neatly stepped to the side and put an arm around her shoulders. “This way, this way, my dear Marian,” he said, pulling her along. “Those slimes won’t just kill themselves.”

She closed her mouth and grudgingly took the lead again.

Hadiin continued to admire her healthy backside while they trudged through the forest. She was of average height or a little less, with quite an hourglass figure. Brown hair to the middle of her back and brown eyes. She wouldn’t be called beautiful by most, but perhaps cute would suit her, though she was a little on the plain side. Still, beggars couldn’t be choosers and that body was nothing to turn your nose up at. 

They came to a small clearing on the edge of a creek. 

A pre-teen boy was backed up against a tree, fear on his soft features, fending off several cryo slimes with a bucket. “Back off! Go away!” he shouted, to no avail. Slimes aren’t intelligent creatures, they just mindlessly attack whatever’s close. So pleading was useless.

Hadiin bowed like a gentleman and waved towards the spectacle. “You’re on, dear Marian. Let’s see what a sorceress can do.”

She flashed him uncertain eyes, perhaps wondering if he was mocking her, then nodded and assumed a determined stance. Holding her hands out in front of her, she sent a fan of flames flying at the slimes. 

Steam poured off the blue and white bodies of the slimes. A second, long burst of flames caused the smaller cryo slimes to melt into a puddle. That left two larger ones. They turned towards Marian and started oozing closer. 

She sent a sparkle of lightning at them, bouncing it back and forth between the pair, then sent another fan of flames forward. The cry slimes bubbled and burst and melted to the ground. 

The boy sighed with relief and came forward. “Thank you! I was in real trouble there. I just came to fill up this bucket with stones from the creek. I didn’t think there’d be monsters here. My dad must be so worried about me. I’d better get home, quick!” He waved and ran towards the village. 

Marian turned to Hadiin with a triumphant expression, hands on her hips. “How’d you like that, huh?”

“Very good,” Hadiin nodded without paying too much attention to her. He was focused on the puddles of slime. He knelt beside one. Touching it, he was able to pick it up and saw that it was an item: cryo slime. 

Marian, probably feeling unappreciated for her effort, frowned, but said nothing. She scoffed at the slime. “It’s worthless. Nobody in the village will buy it.”

Hadiin wasn’t so sure. “Why put something worthless in the game? It seems a waste. Surely there must be some use for it.”

“It’s a junk item,” she insisted, arms crossing again, definitely annoyed at him for not praising her firepower earlier.

Hadiin dipped a finger in the slime and tasted it. 

“Ew!” Marian turned away. “What are you doing?”

“How odd. It’s cold.”

“They were cryo slimes,” she said, as if explaining to an idiot.

“Isn’t it odd that an item material would remain cold like this, after the monster was killed? And it doesn’t really have much flavour, but there is a mild creaminess to it.” He tasted another sample.

She gagged. “Seriously, that’s gross. Please stop doing that or I’ll have to partner up with someone else.”

“Really? If that’s how you feel, by all means. All the money I make off of this I’ll just keep for myself.”

She did a double take. “Huh? You’re going to make money off junk items? How?”

“My cute, adorable, wonderfully powerful Marian,” he began. “And yes, I’m fully aware of how easily you took down all those monsters all by yourself, it was very impressive,” he flattered.

This time she really did blush.

Ah, cutish, not overly smart, perhaps easily manipulated. She was almost perfect. He put an arm around her shoulders. “I am a merchant with golden dreams. And here,” he waved towards the puddles of slime, “laying on this forest floor, discarded by every other player in the game, I alone see an opportunity. In fact, I see several. And they are of the profitable variety.”

Money:

68 sp

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