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A note from kosnik4

Patreon is currently 25 chapters ahead if you're wondering where this is going. Food for thought. 

“So, how does this work?” I lean across Mr. Grey’s desk, watching his every movement with an excited smile on my face while bouncing on the tips of my toes.

 

Mr. Grey recoils away from me and drops his skill, but Acting helps me keep up my happy façade. He must have thought his skill was working too well on me and wants me to back off.

 

I stop acting like I just ate a bag of sugar and back up a bit, but just enough that I’m still considered quite close to Mr. Grey.

 

"First, you need a proper piece of parchment," Mr. Grey tells me while pulling a tan sheet of parchment out of his desk.

 

Back on Earth, most people have known nothing but plant-based paper, but here on Yurilia, parchment made from plants isn't always the go-to. If a village needs to send a message for whatever reason, chances are they'll use animal hide for their parchment. Mother told me plant-based paper is more common in cities but is only used in daily messages.

 

Looking at the beautiful piece of parchment, I can immediately tell it’s a piece of hide from a magic beast. The parchment practically glows in my eyes with earth mana and must have come from a strong beast.

 

Mr. Grey smooths out any creases on the hide and places a small weight on each of its corners. He then reaches into another drawer and withdraws a pen and container of green ink. The ink itself is also magical, but it possesses a neutral flow of mana, which is interesting to see. All mana is a mishmash of elements; even when I force the fire mana out of my work when I craft, it inevitably draws out traces of air and earth mana with it.

 

Every person absorbs ambient mana and converts it into their own, even those who don't have any magic talent. The converted mana mages wield itself is a combination of all traces of mana a person naturally absorbs, allowing them to cast spells with entirely different elements. However, people like magic beasts have an affinity for certain types of mana, allowing them to easily absorb specific variants over others. In short, it's incredibly hard to have genuinely neutral mana.

 

So, to see this bottle of ink, which appears to have a perfect balance of wind, earth, fire, and water mana, is incredible in its own right. Is it like engraving ink?

 

"What is that ink made of?" I ask Mr. Grey as he removes the cork from the small glass container.

 

"It's a special solution made by alchemists," he tries to hide the annoyance in his voice but now that I'm looking for small tells, his reluctance to answer me is evident.

 

“Sooooo, that means you have no idea?” It’s fun to see Mr. Grey’s hand pause as he’s reaching for his pen when he hears my question.

 

He takes a second to compose himself before meeting my gaze. Mr. Grey has reformed his merchant smile. "It's not that I'm ill-informed, but just like engraving ink, almost all solutions are only privy to their maker. Do you wish for me to try and find you a simplified recipe like last time?”

 

Damn, it's hard to read him like this; I pushed too hard. "No, thanks," I try to get him to drop his guard again with a friendly smile and some reassurance. "The ink just reminded me of my own experiments back home with engraving ink. I already have too many projects on my plate as it is," I follow up with another soft chuckle.

 

“Are you sure? I can try if you want me to?” Mr. Grey offers an empty platitude, knowing I have no interest in alchemy besides engraving ink.

 

"No, it's fine, really," I insist. "I was just interested in the contract, is all," I try to turn his attention back to the parchment in front of us.

 

My plan works, and Mr. Grey finally turns his attention back to our contract. "I see, then I shall explain how it works before I start drafting it. It works by one of us drafting out the agreement, and both of us signing the contract. Then, we shake as usual, and our skills will finalize everything."

 

“It’s that simple?” I remark.

 

"Sure is; give me a minute to write everything out." Mr. Grey moves his pen over to the inkpot.

 

What is this; no discussion between us first? Does he think I’m that gullible, or is this a test of some kind?

 

I make a split-second decision as he moves to start writing. “Woah there!" I hold out my hand, and Mr. Grey stops right as he's about to put pen to parchment. "I don't believe we've talked over the terms yet," I point out to him with an accusing look.

 

Mr. Grey looks shocked for a moment, but he quickly starts laughing. "Couldn't blame me for trying," he says without a smidge of shame. "You seem a little off today; I was wondering if you'd even notice?"

 

So, it was a test! Does that mean he realizes I'm on to his game? Does he know that I know, that he knows? And if he does, does he still plan on trying to indenture me to him?

 

I puff out my cheeks and pout. "You see how tired I am from my run, and you try to take advantage of me," I accuse Mr. Grey in an over-the-top manner like a C grade actress might do on a soap-opera.

 

"I'm just making sure I'm talking to the girl that haggled me out of a fistful of gold coins the last time we spoke." It was subtle, but I see how he drew attention back to how much he helped me last time. He doesn't mention how it was Silver Herd's owner that gave me a discount from the start, only how much 'he' came down in price.

 

“Then you shouldn’t feel bad about me talking you down again,” I send him a challenging look. Both our merchant skills activate at the same time.

 

"I'll be fronting all your material costs, so I deserve a discount on the final goods." Mr. Grey gives me a cunning smile, "how about I buy all the goods you make at 60% market value."

 

“Including the arrows that we would’ve sold to the general,” I scoff at his offer. “Our previous deal already has you getting the last two for free.”

 

"Don't think I'm an unreasonable man, Aaliyah. This contract can replace our previous one as long as we include it in the details. I want us to come together and cement our relationship to both our needs.”

 

“And what about Kervin?” I ask.

 

“What about him?”

 

“I already have a contract with Kervin saying he’ll be buying all my goods. How does that factor into our contract?” I point out to him.

 

Mr. Grey laughs and gives me a dismissive wave with his hand. "Kervin works under me. He'll be given ample compensation for being our go-between."

 

“And what happens when I break my contract with Kervin and sell directly to you?" I enquire about any ramifications I could possibly suffer. I can void our contract if I wanted to, but Mr. Grey doesn't know that.

 

"It depends on the type of contract and the levels of the people involved. Based on what I've heard, the contract between you and Kervin was only verbal, and you out level him by a wide margin. You would be the one breaking the contract, so you might suffer a bad headache for a day." Mr. Grey tells me.

 

"A headache, that's it? You break a Contract skill, and that's all you suffer from?" I'm shocked, that's all that happens.

 

Mr. Grey chuckles, "you would only get a headache because neither of you specified the details should your contract be broken. The fact that you're stronger than him helps you resist the backlash. If you were weaker than Kervin, then you could've been bedridden for several days after the skill was broken.”

 

I breathe out a small sigh, "another example of might makes right," I mumble.

 

"That's how our world works," Mr. Grey confirms. "Levels, money, status, these are the principles that drive everything, and with the two of us working together, we might just obtain all three!" For just a second, I see Mr. Grey's mask drop, and I can clearly see the fanatic ambition he hides.

 

I want to refute him and say it’s love, friendship, and loyalty that real wealth is obtained, but I can see these concepts don't matter much to the man. Feigning understanding, I nod along with Mr. grey. If we stay on this topic any longer, I might give myself away, so I lead us back to our discussion on prices.

 

"Speaking of wealth, there's no way I'm selling my work for only 60%," I tell Mr. Grey. "I plan on forging solid tier 3 magic swords and other weapons. And if I'm lucky, I'll be able to put some basic enchantments on them as well. We're talking goods worth tens of gold for each piece.”

 

“But you’re forgetting I’m paying for all the materials. I’m only taking 40% despite agreeing to front you nearly 300 gold coins worth of ore. “Mr. Grey points out to me.

 

"Funny, I didn't know you were paying for the steel we'll be using," I cross my arms in front of me. "Other than the arrow shafts, the other stuff I make will include our village's steel, and there's the mithril if you want even better-quality gear."

 

"Then that means you need more mithril as well. The goods I was about to front you just went from 300 gold coins to 450 gold coins. I'm afraid I'll have to be quite insistent with 60%. You won’t get any better from another merchant.”

 

Now I got him! “Ah, but I do. Kervin easily pays me 60% and gives me more depending on how much he can sell my stuff for.” I send Mr. Grey a challenging sneer.

 

“He does all that?" Mr. Grey is stunned upon hearing how well Kervin treats me. That's right, you crafty old man, how are you going to top that? Kervin is aware I can terminate Contract skills without any backlash or consent from the other person, so he offers me more than generous terms knowing I can find a new partner anytime I want.

 

Mr. Grey is forced to lean back into his chair and take a minute to think over his offer.

 

The amount of money we're discussing is leagues above any deal I've done in the past. I don't mind going along with Mr. Grey's plans because it would supply me with enough material to keep me busy until the new year. I'd have more than enough time to figure out how I would want to deal with Mr. Grey no matter what the paper in front of him says.

 

Mr. Grey anxiously rubs his face with his hand. “70%, that’s the best I can do,” he tells me.

 

I let a predatory smile form on my face. "That's better; I can work with 70%. How much Kaglese do you have available?"

 

“8,000 pounds. And before you ask, yes, my earlier price factored in the bulk price. How many weapons can you forge with that?”

 

"A lot," I confidently tell Mr. Grey. "I only need time; can you pick everything up after the new year when summer begins?"

 

"That's more than reasonable; anything else you feel we should discuss?" Mr. Grey asks, appearing ready to answer any of my questions, but I can see in his eyes how much he wants me to sign whatever he writes down.

 

“Business with Kervin, what you’re giving me, how much my percentage is,” I count off each point with my fingers. “Yeah, I think we covered all the big details. Now you just have to draft the contract, right?”

 

"That's correct; it won't take long." Mr. Grey dips his pen into the inkpot. I follow along as he smoothly writes out our new contract. It starts out rather formal.

 

This contract is between Aaliyah of Spotted Creek Village and Lennard Grey.

I quickly notice he includes where I grew up but not that he’s working under Silver Herd.

 

This contract terminates and replaces the former contract between Aaliyah of Spotted Creek Village and Lennard Grey. Lennard Grey will provide Aaliyah with 300 gold worth of Kaglese ore and 150 gold in mithril ingots. Lennard Grey will use Kervin of Silver Herd to deliver said goods in a timely fashion to Aaliyah of Spotted Creek Village.

I see that Mr. Grey is making sure to specify exactly who is performing each action, leaving no room for someone to interpret the contract in any other way.

 

Leonard Grey will handle the pickup of finished goods produced by Aaliyah of Spotted Creek Village four months from the date this contract is signed after the new year begins. All goods produced by Aaliyah of Spotted Creek Village, minus products meant for Spotted Creek Village, will be bought at 70% market value to Lennard Grey.

According to this new contract, Mr. Grey will be paying me for all the arrows I make, including the ones we previously agreed would be free.

 

While I’m trying to find any hidden meaning or loopholes in what he wrote, I notice Mr. Grey has paused his writing.

 

“Is something the matter?” I ask.

 

“Forgive me, but I forgot the last part we need to discuss.” Yeah, I’m sure you did, I chastise the man in my head. “The last part of a contract specifies what should happen to either of us should we break the terms written.”

 

I raise my eyebrow at the man. “Do we need such a clause? It sort of sounds like you don’t trust me,” I say accusingly.

 

Mr. Grey waves his hands and shakes his head. "Not at all; I'm sure neither of us wishes to back out of such a profitable deal." Mr. Grey tries to reassure me.

 

"Then, why do we need to include a punishment clause? Won't the backlash from breaking a Contract skill reinforced with an official document be enough?"

 

"Normally, yes," Mr. Grey points out. "But Contract skills are vastly stronger when both parties agree on a mutual punishment should the contract be broken." His smile warm, but I know this is where Mr. Grey is going to try and trip me up.

 

A part of me is curious where he’s going with this. “What do people usually agree to, then?”

 

"Most commonly contracts specify an amount of money one person would owe the other should they fail to follow the standards of the contract. However, both of us are quite wealthy, and we would need to agree on an astronomical amount that would pose any threat to either of us." Mr. Grey smiles widely at me.

 

“Don’t stop now,” I tell him. “I’m sure you already have an idea of what we could both ante up.”

 

“Contracts between people as strong as us need to be strong, so I suggest we both offer up 20 levels to the other should either of us happen to betray the other."

 

I don't need to feign shock. I was expecting something outrageous from the man, but I didn't expect that. "Is that even possible?" I ask in astonishment.

 

Mr. Grey slowly nods his head. "It is possible. Contracts with the same stakes were more common during the warring periods ensuring one party would never back out of a deal. Both of us could withstand the backlash from a contract skill, but neither of us could survive losing 20 levels."

 

"Is this really necessary?" I act nervous, but on the inside, I'm even more curious now how he plans to trap me.

 

"We both plan on following the contract. The penalty of losing 20 levels is merely there to make our partnership stronger." Mr. Grey has the smile of a fox trying to coax a hen out of the farm.

 

Fine, let’s see this to the end. I slowly change my unsure expression to a more reluctant agreeing look. “Fine, I agree to your terms. May our bonds be unbreakable.”

 

“I’m glad you see it my way,” Mr. grey re-dabs his pen in the ink and finishes drafting our contract.

Should either Aaliyah of Spotted Creek Village or Lennard Grey not follow the contract to the letter, the offended party can take 20 levels from the other.

I expected him to try and add something vaguer at the end, but the terms stating what should happen if we forgo the contract are extremely clear. That means there must be a loophole in the contract that I missed, which explains why Mr. Grey is looking extremely pleased with himself.

 

“Now we just have to sign,” Mr. Grey informs me and doesn’t hesitate to write out his name at the bottom of the document.

 

He passes me the parchment and his pen. “Do I need to sign as Aaliyah of Spotted Creek Village?” I ask.

 

"That would be preferable," Mr. Grey tells me. "You don't have a last name, so signing your village makes the contract stronger."

 

Does anything make this contract weaker, I wonder?

 

I start writing out my name, and as I finish, Mr. Grey offers me his hand. Confidently, I reach out and shake my opponents' hand over the contact.

 

The text Mr. Grey wrote down flashes, and both our Contract skills activate. Unlike the previous contracts I've formed with Kervin and Mr. Grey, this time is different. A more significant amount of experience is exchanged between the two of us, and it's all filtered through the parchment.

 

The hide and magic ink react to our skills, and I can see a change in the document's mana structure. The already strong hide our contract is written on looks even stronger than a few seconds ago.

 

“Which of us keeps the parchment?” I ask Mr. Grey.

 

"Do you have a secure place for it?" He questions me.

 

"Not really," I tell him. "But don't you think it would be safer in my village; I mean, an army is on its way here?"

 

"You don't need to worry," Mr. Grey assures me. "The parchment is only a physical representation of our contract. The hide it's made of is quite strong, and our skills have already reinforced it. I believe I should hold onto it; that way, should someone from Scholl try to force your cooperation, I can negotiate for both of us."

 

“And who says I need you to watch out for me?” I fold my arms in front of me.

 

"So, you want to be more involved now?" Mr. Grey smugly smiles, knowing I don't.

 

I ignore his bait and change the subject. “When can I expect my delivery?”

 

"Kervin should reach the city sometime tomorrow. But I'm sure he'll need some rest before I send him out again. Expect your order in six or seven days."

 

"Sounds good," I say, standing up. “Can I get a regular piece of paper and ink to copy the contract really quick?”

 

“Of course,” Mr. Grey readily hands me the supplies I need.

 

I copy everything over and pocket the paper. “Thanks for seeing me on such short notice. I hope everything goes well with Scholl.”

 

Mr. Greys eyes widen as I turn around and head for the door. “Wait! That’s it? You don’t have to leave right away, you know. I can put you up in an inn for the night,” he offers.

 

I shake my head no and offer him a polite smile. "It's fine, really. Everyone back in the village is waiting for me, and honestly, the energy everyone is giving off doesn't allow me to relax here. I'd feel better camping in the woods rather than staying in an inn while the city is panicking."

 

"I understand; if that's how you feel, I won't try to keep you longer." Mr. Grey lightly bows his head. "Stay safe on your trip home."

 

“Mr. Grey,” I offer him a final nod and move towards the doors leading out of the office. “Thank you, Max,” I offer the bodyguard a parting smile as he holds the door open for me.

 

"Have a good day, miss Aaliyah," he politely returns my farewell.

 

I take stock of the man one last time as I leave. If my business with Mr. Grey turns sour, he's one of the most likely people I would have to look out for.

 

On that note, I hope I'm wrong about Mr. Grey. I understand he's a merchant and only looking out for his best interests, but for some reason, I kept getting bad vibes every time I looked into his eyes.

 

I’ll have mom help me go over the contract when I get back to the village and discuss everything with Kervin when he drops off my supplies. I might even include Reel if I can figure out where his intentions lie. It sounds like he works for the head of Silver Herd, but Mr. Grey made it sound like he could order him around as well.

 

Well, worrying over things that haven’t happened yet won’t get me anywhere.

 

I need to turn my focus onto my problems in the here and now. Like, how am I going to get out of this building without being accosted by the head receptionist?

 


 

Mr. grey’s Point of View:

 

"Has she left the building yet?" I ask Max.

 

"The head receptionist stopped her, but she managed to worm her way out eventually," my bodyguard informs me.

 

"Good, I don't need that woman getting her claws into our business any more than she already is. Not that it matters much now," I laugh. "Aaliyah signed the contract, and now she's practically dancing in the palm of my hand."

 

“I wouldn’t underestimate her, boss.” Max tramples all over my good mood.

 

“And why is that?” I ask my most trusted partner.

 

“Her growth rate is terrifying.”

 

“She may level fast, but she’s still a young girl that doesn’t know how the world works. By the time she realizes I basically own her, it will be too late.” I happily proclaim. “So, what if she gains a few levels!”

 

"It was more than a few; she leveled at least four times since she was last here."

 

Hearing that causes me to choke on my own saliva. When I clear my throat, I quickly demand clarification. “Four levels?!”

 

"At least. She was trying to hide it, but her physical stats have improved by leaps and bounds.”

 

“Can you still take her?” I hastily ask.

 

Max’s face scrunches, “I’m pretty sure. As you said, boss, she’s still young. Even if she somehow out levels me, I’m confident I can beat her in a fight.”

 

I rub my face with my hand; that's not good news. Max is already assuming she'll pass him soon. "It doesn't matter," I say aloud to reassure myself as much as Max. "She was focusing so hard on everything I wrote down; she didn't realize everything I left out of the contract."

 

I grab the magical document and lean back into my chair, putting my feet up onto my desk. “The contract states when I pick up the first order of goods but has nothing about it being a one-time deal. It even blatantly says all goods she produces other than what her village needs must be sold to me with no mention when our contract ends!"

 

“Even if Giovanni catches wind of our contract, he can’t break it without killing the girl.” I wish I could see his face when he does find out I snagged his most important contact ever.

 

“What do we do with Kervin and Reel, boss?”

 

"The contract only states Kervin needs to deliver the materials the first time. You know how crazy everything has been lately; no one would think twice about it if he has an accident during all the panic." I grin at Max.

 

“What about Reel?” Max asks me.

 

“If the chance presents itself, we’ll take him out, but we only need to kill Kervin. Then we’ll fill his position with our own people we trust,” I explain.

 

“Are you sure that will work?” Max asks me. “There’s no way word won’t get back to Giovanni that Aaliyah visited us today. If we make a move on Kervin, it would only confirm any suspicions he has about us."

 

I snicker at my aid. "You think Giovanni isn't already suspicious of us. That man assigned me out here to keep me at arm's length. The only reason he cares so much is that a once in a lifetime gem like Aaliyah was uncovered nearby. Like everything else we've done, we'll move slowly. After Kervin drops off the supplies I owe Aaliyah, we have months to figure out a way to get rid of him.”

 

"And Scholl?" Max looks at me, concerned.

 

"An unforeseen setback is all," I assure Max. "But one we can take advantage of. Silver herd will be split in half once Scholl takes the city, and Giovanni's grasp on his employees will falter. As soon as Scholl takes the city, we can re-establish our ties in Teeburn."

 

“You’re not worried about working with Scholl, boss?”

 

"That's the best part," I exclaim. "I'm only following the orders of Giovanni. Should our loyalty to Olebert be questioned, we can simply say we were working under Giovanni's orders, which will damage his reputation beyond repair. If we use Aaliyah to our advantage as well as deal a lethal blow to Silver Herd, the major trading companies will see us as heroes."

 

“Sounds complicated,” Max breathes out a tired sigh.

 

"Just you wait, my friend, in a years' time, we'll be living the good life with so much gold we won't know what to do with it all." A large smile crosses my lips, and Max can't help but smirk himself.

 

This is a dangerous game we're playing, but I've been preparing for this moment for years. And now that I have that ignorant girl under my thumb, my victory is all but assured.

 

Come, Scholl.

 

Come, Giovanni.

 

Both of you are merely stepping stones meant to propel me to greatness!

 

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A note from kosnik4

4,400 words, a shorter chapter that I wrote back around Christmas.

 

Hope you enjoyed it, and as always, stay safe.


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kosnik4

Bio: Just love a good story.

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