Hardcore: Qi Worlds

Chapter 80

Chapter 80: Loctris 1

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 The establishment of a trading company, which exclusively represented the Alpine Forest, was left to Carney, Skorrick, Ventiry and Sable. The shareholders were the people of the Alpine forest, the Wood Elves, Dwarves, Gaels and men of New Vaugend. The Dwarves would keep ledgers of who contributed what, as it was their forte. Benzhi, Gisael and even Reyas cared little about the details, they trusted the participants.

 If Carney and Skorrick agreed on an item that Ventiry advised, it was considered decided.

 Ventiry secured a large warehouse on the main road through Sandstone. It had living quarters on the entire second floor, enough for twenty people, including dining room, meeting rooms and kitchen. It had been abandoned and was run down, so the purchase was relatively cheap given its location a few blocks from the Merchant Guilds. Works had started to renovate and refurbish the premise the very next day.

 Benzhi portalled back to the dwarven fortress and retrieved as many gems and gold as the dwarves had readily available. It was a preferable currency than showing their hand with the highly concentrated qi kernels at this stage.

 Skorrick and Sable report on the financial assets of the AFTC (Alpine Forest Trading Company). 

Funds in Royal Bank of Loctris         3,900              Sovereigns

Property Valuation                            2,100              Sovereigns                  (after reno)

Liquid Assets                                      200                 Sovereigns                

Kernel Valuation                                110,000          Sovereigns

 Based on the report, the qi kernels Benzhi carried on his person, were quite literally a king's ransom; as Ventiry had stated.

 During Ventiry and Carney’s initial meetings with the Merchant’s guild, in the days to follow, Benzhi acted as a hired bodyguard with either, Gisael, Reyas or Anastasia present. Two would accompany Ventiry and the figurehead of the Alpine Forest, Carney. The other two would trail at a distance and remain out of sight as much as was possible for two stunning warrior women. Probably not the best of covers.

 Benzhi sent Jax to Melvina who arranged for him to train as a page at the Balfour’s estate. For a small cost, the Balfour’s accommodated the boy, allowing him to shadow Stolley learning all that being a page entailed.

  Carney was wearing her outfit, one befitting of the role she represented. Ventiry had highlighted the importance of an impressive appearance, the bodyguard of Benzhi and Gisael was impressive, his presence also assisted all that remained was an outfit that befitted a noblewoman of means.

 Her dress was an elegant mixture of dark and light green velvet imprinted with a leaf pattern. It gave the already beautiful Carney an aristocratic allure while the colour and pattern reminded everyone, who gazed upon it, that she was from the forest. The Alpine Forest. Gisael acting as her bodyguard enhanced to the exotic atmosphere. Benzhi merely did his best to appear threatening while remaining silent the entire time.

   While Ventiry and Carney engaged in meaningless, to his mind, talk, Benzhi stood guard inside the Honour Bound Merchants. Thankful for the connection he was able to throw quips at Gisael who disdained the need for all the pretention as much as he did.

 ‘Why do we do this if you dislike it so?’ Gisael asked through the connection.

 ‘We are doing it for the future, the best way to establish good relations with Loctris is through trade, it will also make the dwarves happy and give the men, grey elves and dwarves the ability to get supplies not available in the Alpine Forest,’ Benzhi answered.

 ‘Yes,’ she replied, ‘but is it worth it.’

 Benzhi had to stifle a laugh, Gisael was the perfect straight-faced comedian. He knew she was joking, but also being honest at the same time.

 ‘Think of it this way,’ Benzhi continued, ‘I would rather be found here, by whoever is searching for us, than in the Alpine Forest. I feel a little guilty for the idea, but, I’d rather Loctris play host to a potential engagement with an enemy.’

 ‘Agreed,’ Gisael responded with no guilt whatsoever, ‘let us make a mess here.’

Ventiry’s opponent looked beaten, which was par for the course where he was concerned, a middle-aged merchant who agreed to price schedules set out by Skorrick and Sable for supply and purchase of different metals. An ore smeltered by the dwarves was deemed quite valuable, Ventiry marketed it as Dwarven Steel.

 The Loctris blacksmiths would eat up the steel in large quantities, and this merchant was one of the main suppliers to the blacksmiths. Skorrick, Ventiry and Carney had decided to sell weapons in limited quantities, to increase their rarity and price. In contrast they would supply as much Dwarven Steel as there was demand.

 Meetings were held with the main suppliers to the Loctris tailors, jewellers and furniture makers.

  The high quality crafted items Ventiry wanted to sell direct to the nobles, using the main auction house in Warthague. This is where the masterwork armour, weapons, clothing and furniture would be sold. Once markets for the furniture were established, they could then supply the premier stores directly.

 As they were leaving the Merchants of Loctris on the third day of negotiations, the party of four ran into the noblewoman who was beating Jax when they first encountered her.

 “Who is that?” Carney asked Ventiry.

 “Lady Jasmine,” Ventiry whispered, “extremely stupid and vicious piece of work. She is of the House Regnar.”

 Ventiry and Carney moved to avoid Lady Jasmine, but she must have heard her name whispered, she strode over to the pair with her bodyguards in tow.

 “You,” she pointed at Carney, “I expect you know your place now you have this old thing advising you.” She waved a dismissive hand at Ventiry before contrarily addressing him. “I thought you’d be dead by now.”

 Ventiry smiled and answered courteously, “as you can see I am very much alive. I do apologise, I will be around for years to come.”

 She snorted at him, “keep your foreigners inline weasel.” Lady Jasmine was a large woman, she was not overly fat, she was very tall, broad-shouldered and exuded an overbearing presence.

 Ventiry, to his credit, did not react to her comments, he did not cower or seem to acknowledge any insult. She snorted her derision once again as she pushed passed.

 “What’s the punishment for murder?” Carney asked Ventiry in all seriousness.

 He laughed, “for more than she is worth. But, we must take care, the Lady Jasmine does not act on logic she will act based on whichever way the wind is blowing that day. She is not a good enemy to have, especially when she can be easily avoided.” He was lost in thought for a while as they walked before adding, “when she finds the demand for her ore as dropped, due to dwarven steel, she may get upset.” He then laughed again as if tickled.

 Carney led the way to their new home away from home. The renovations had only just begun, but they were close by so an inspection was in order.

 As Carney and Ventiry discussed progress with the site foreman, Benzhi leaned against a column lazily, or so he seemed. While on the outside he appeared heavy-lidded and barely paying attention to his surroundings, Benzhi had been practising expanding his qi sense, where he combined the sight from Gisael, Reyas and Anastasia with what was like a qi aura except it only gave information it did not have an effect on anyone it touched.

 Benzhi could sense qi core, abilities and mundane movement. He could sense a fly behind him and a spider crawling up in the rafters. And on this occasion, he felt rather than sensed a message qi bubble enter his vicinity on its way to him.

 ‘Benzhi, friend, kindred spirit, it is I, Glamour D’freet,’ the message bubble began, ‘I cannot find my way to you right now this message will have to suffice. The Qizhu have not revealed their intentions for you, but I do not believe they mean you ill. The enemy of my enemy is my friend and all that. I hope you do not think I have caused you harm, but they do now know you are on that plane. Before I finish, I have more information for you, and I hope this solidifies our alliance.’

 ‘The Qizhu were the ones to alter the plane you are currently on, using gatekeepers and worldshapers they created a “themepark” they called it. And what is interesting is they were paid to do it by the same people who paid the Myrkalfar to form Dawnharbour.’

 ‘I found this all fascinating and did not mind in the least getting this information for you, please tell me how you fit into it all, send a message bubble back and attach an anchor marker for me so I can visit you again. I do hate the qi messages, so impersonal. Your friend Glamour.’

 Benzhi yelled over the link, ‘what the hell. Did he tell the Qizhu we were here? I just got a message from Glamour…’ Benzhi went on to relay the message contents to the Vanguard. He was on edge, although, he wanted to flush out some of his pursuers and just deal with it and the Qizhu were probably the least harmful, just the way Glamour promised to say nothing and after a single meeting with the Qizhu all of a sudden they knew where he was.

 Just then a disturbance occurred at the front of the warehouse. Benzhi listened to the commotion as he approached.

 “You are new,” said the macho voice, “I will explain how things work around here. You pay us for protec….

 Benzhi did not need to hear the rest. He smashed the thug in the face with his fist, he didn’t even use qi strike, however, he automatically used qi strength without conscious thought. The thugs face caved in under the impact moments before he flew backwards through the air and twenty paces into the street; landing and skidding to a stop.

 The thug's entourage looked backwards, towards their leader, then turned to look at Benzhi, within moments they scattered in three directions. They ran like their lives depended on it. Which was appropriate as the thug leader was dead.

  Ventiry tsked, “how unfortunate. Now we may have to explain to the whitecloaks what happened, I will organise witnesses now, he attacked first when we refused to pay their extortion. Do you have a problem with that?”

 Benzhi shrugged, “live by the sword die by the sword,” and then he asked, “can the whitecloaks not sense a lie?”

 It was Ventiry’s turn to shrug, picking up one of Benzhi’s mannerisms. “I doubt they would bother for such a case, and if they are able, they have never advertised the fact.”

 The thug had landed in the main road of Sandstone which contributed to a larger disturbance than one in the back streets would have caused.

 After an hour a whitecloak arrived on the scene and immediately ordered the corpse taken away before he followed the finger pointing to the newly purchased premise of the Alpine Forest Trading Company.

 “Who do I need to speak to?” asked the whitecloak.

 “My bodyguard and I kind sir,” Ventiry replied walking up from the rear as if being interrupted from overseeing works taking place.

 “And you are?” the whitecloak asked.

 “Ventiry, appointed agent to the Alpine Forest Kingdom,” he said and bowed.

 “And you?” the whitecloak asked Benzhi, eyeing him up and down.

 Before Benzhi could answer Ventiry interposed himself, “he is my bodyguard, and all his actions are of my order and my responsibility.”

 Benzhi wondered who was whose bodyguard while surveying the whitecloak with qi sight. The man had a solid qi core and good circulation, as expected, but he was on a level with Anastasia the weakest of the Vanguard.

 “Very well, be careful what you wish for Agent,” the whitecloak stated. “Describe the events that took place.”

 Ventiry raised an eyebrow, the whitecloak was not investigating this thoroughly, he did not separate the parties and ask for independent statements. Which meant only one thing, which could be good or ill. The whitecloak had predetermined the outcome.

 “The perpetrator,” Ventiry couldn’t help but label the thug as the wrongdoer, “demanded payment for protection which was neither sort nor needed. I refused. He then threatened my person then my bodyguard acted as he is paid by me to do. He hit the thug with just enough force to ensure my safety.”

 The whitecloak coughed, “he hit the man with enough force to launch him twenty paces through the air and land in the middle of the street from your doorway.”

 “Yes, as I said, just enough force. He actually saved the thugs accomplices and me from injury by his direct action. They ran. If he did not use sufficient force they could have decided to fight and be killed or worse they could have injured me. He should be commended on such a quick assessment of the dangers and taking the correct action.” With that statement, Ventiry turned to Benzhi, “well done Benzhi.”

 “Wait. Did you say Benzhi?” the whitecloak asked.

 The look on Ventiry’s face said oh shit, I should not have said his name.

“Yes, I am Benzhi,” he said.

The whitecloak considered him as if inspecting an opponent before a spar or battle.

“I would ask you to accompany me to the Governor’s Mansion, will you do so peacefully?” the whitecloak asked.

 Benzhi nodded.

 The whitecloak turned to Ventiry, “there is no cause for further investigation or judgement, this incident is closed.”

He then turned to Benzhi, “follow me,” and began walking south along the main street.

Benzhi shook his head at his companions, indicating they should not intervene nor follow, and he walked away with the whitecloak.

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