"900 gold," Crim said.
"That's far less than it's worth," Twest nodded. "I've looked into the market price."
"AND, we shouldn't discount what kind of stuff we're gonna be up against," Kyle added, shaking a finger at the guy behind the desk. "We oughta be charging you by the hour for hardship undertaking."
"But that's more than we have! And it's not worth anything to the wrong people, so why should it matter to you what it's worth?"
"Because we're only here for the job," Crim explained. "As long as it's worth it to you, you'll be willing to pay."
"That's exploitation!" the guy's younger assistant burst. She didn't look much older than me.
"You get us, or you keep waiting, bud. How long has that listing been active?"
Crim's question made the fellow pause, uncertainly. I guess the listing had been up for a while.
We were in a little, lakeside town called Barton. Supposedly they had a bounty which had gone un-seen-to for so long that the price had gone up more and more. The boys had decided it might be worth the effort to look into it. It was for a missing bow. Not the weapon sort, either. The ribbon sort. Yes, there was a huge price out for an effect which might as well have been put in some girl's hair. I may never understand the world...
"900," Crim repeated.
"But we can barely manage the 500 that's on the listing!" The guy said. "And that's in payments!"
Crim clicked his tongue. "Payments won't do. People back out of payments. We need the whole thing, and we need 900."
"Maybe we can offer you something better," the girl assistant said quickly. "Is there someone you know with a terminal illness? We could cure them!"
I suppose I also ought to explain that the bounty had come from one of the professors at the town's renowned medical magics school. Presumably, the guy taught healing or was a master of the art or something, hence their offer.
"Nope and nope." Crim crossed his arms.
"A year's worth of free medical aid, then!" the guy behind the desk quickly amended. "Surely with all of the work you and your people do, you sustain injuries regularly."
"We've got a medic and a healer," Crim said, still unmoved.
Peripherally, I saw Mara shift. She was our medic, yes, as well as our cook and alchemist, but... Mara was a mundane, trained doctor. She couldn't do medical magics. And while I know a few tricks to healing wounds, I wouldn't say I'm qualified as a magic healer or anything. Awkwarrrrrrd...
This realization made me think that perhaps Crim was bluffing these people. He knows Mara and I can't hold a candle to this school. So I guess he was holding out for something better?
The professor had noticed Mara's slight shift. He studied her unsurely for a moment. For all I know, he was sizing up her ability. God, I hope he couldn't tell if she was magic or not, or Crim's bluff was blown.
"We could always go get your ribbon and resell it on our own," Crim shrugged. "We would probably get more for it that way."
Terror overtook the professor's features. "No. I wish you wouldn't. The people who have it now aren't willing to part with it because they've realized how to use it. But they're no threat on their own. If you sell it, my brothers could get a hold of it, and that would certainly not end well."
Crim sighed and examined a spot on the ceiling, looking like he was contemplating something. "I wonder if they'd be willing to pay more than a thousand..."
At this point the professor stood up, hands on his desk. "You don't understand! You can't
sell it! It would cause horrible problems!"
"Oh, come on," Twest scoffed, "Surely we're not the first people to show up making negotiations like this. You can't expect we're going to believe your sudden urgency just like that," he snapped his fingers to illustrate.
The professor swallowed and sat back down. "You are
the first people to show up making negotiations... We had a few takers back when we first posted the bounty for its return, but after they saw the group they were up against, no one would complete the task."
"All the more reason we should be asking a high price," Crim said, looking annoyed. "Don't under-rate us. If we go in to get this thing, we will
be coming back with it. Make it
worth our while."
The professor sighed. His assistant nudged him. After a moment, he looked over at me. On the outside, I stayed stone-faced. (I didn't wanna be the one to ruin Crim's good bluff.) But inside, I was suddenly terrified. There was nothing visibly different about me; no one had pointed anything out about me, I wasn't situated front and center or anything. Tiara was more forward than me, so I wasn't the closest female. Why was he looking at me?
"What if we taught your mage how to heal properly?"
My stomach knotted. How did he know?
"Our mage knows how to heal just fine," Crim said casually.
The professor remained looking at me. "Small wounds only, and her confidence about it is low."
My blood ran cold. How did he know?!
Crim shifted one hand onto his hip. "What makes you so sure?"
The professor's attitude seemed to adjust to something like a quiet certainty. He was still playing the part of the helpless professor in need of his weird bow, and acknowledging that Crim had the upper hand on the situation, but he seemed ... different now.
"Full medical magic training takes a lot of time. But we can teach her the fundamentals. She'll be on her own for practice and improvement, but with the basics, she can accomplish a lot more for your team than she can now. That will serve you for a lifetime, not just one year or three years worth of healings and curing." He sat back in his seat. "500 gold, and we'll teach your mage."
My left hand involuntarily clenched and my eyes shifted over to Crim. He was silent for a few minutes.
Finally, he said "700, or we're keeping the bow."
"I don't have
that much!" The professor slammed a hand down on the desk. "You can't force me to give up something I don't have; it doesn't work!"
"800," the assistant said, giving Crim a pleading look.
His attention shifted from the guy at the desk to her for a moment.
"Please," she added. "It was mine originally, from my first mentor. He died a long time ago."
"Sheeba, I don't have
800," the professor said.
"I'll put up the extra," she said to the sitting guy. "It's worth it to have it back."
The fellow sighed, then looked at Crim. "Deal?"
Crim was still silent.
Are you seriously still gonna hold out for more from these people?
"800 gold," Crim said, "And teach the mage to heal proper. No strings attached."
The fellow behind the desk frowned in confusion.
"No messing with her head, no stipulations that she return here to assist in dire circumstances, no further anything, got it?" Crim clarified. "I know how you medical types like to tie doctors down with oaths and what not."
"Oh," the fellow shook his head, "Of course, certainly." He heaved a great exhale and stood. "So we have a deal then. Alright... Meet us later this evening at the western gate. We'll have your money."
Crim nodded, turned, and left the office. Twest and the others casually followed him. Jace and I brought up the rear, because I paused to look back at the duo at the desk.
No one said a word as we exited the school or its property, but once we were back in town I sped up my steps to catch up to Crim.
"How did they know?"
"It was too out of the blue," Crim said quietly. "That guy didn't know before he said something about it. I suspect the girl's a psychic."
My eyes widened. "Really?"
"Wouldn't be the first one we've met," Twest said from Crim's other side. "Nor the first one to try and get us to do something for them."
"Enough," Crim said, warningly.
"Dude," Kyle said, from my other side, "They're totally
playin' us for this."
Crim looked over my head at Kyle. "Did anyone once
call her a mageling in that office?"
Neither Kyle nor Twest said anything.
I looked from one to the other. "Is that important?" I asked.
"They're playing hard," Tiara said from behind me. "If that girl's a psychic, then she would know that's what we call you, and neither she nor the old guy said anything about it."
"Is that important, though?" I asked.
"In negotiations, acknowledging what cards you have, and what cards your opponent is holding, make everything