“Trust no one. Suspect everyone.”
Those were the last words that Luss heard from his parents.
He took the advice extremely seriously, especially after several of his “friends” in county after county decided to betray him.
Hurt, scared, alone, and barely twelve years old, Luss found himself completely jag-less in Woei County.
He decided once and for all that he would never trust anyone, no matter what. He never wanted to be vulnerable to anyone ever again.
When he turned thirteen, Luss chose a class just like all students his age. He didn’t know anything about any of the classes, so he rolled a few dice and flipped a coin.
He ended up putting his name on the list to become a merchant.
Luss coasted through lessons, not caring enough to look into switching classes before he turned fifteen. He figured he could survive as a merchant without a problem.
And then came the lesson about preventing thieves.
Luss learned two important things that day—that stealing was still illegal… and he was still really good at it.
He was terrible at haggling, but that mattered little once he saw where someone kept their jag. It could be in a pouch, a pocket, or even a purse.
He could ask for a wood bit and end up rubbing a copper bit between his fingers.
Of course, it did help a bit that he had a different face every time he set up shop.
He had yet to sense another like him in the town, but he didn’t care if he was the only one of his kind in the entire kingdom.
He was never going to tell anyone what he really was.
“Can I help you?” Luss asked, having grown bored with the tall boy that was hovering near his booth in the market.
“Yes, I’m simply wondering if you can direct me to anyone in the apothecary class.”
Luss pretended to be confused rather than surprised. It was unusual for someone to ask for information instead of shopping for goods.
“Are you looking for someone in particular?” he asked.
“Anyone in the class will do,” the boy replied.
Luss seized the opportunity immediately.
“Hm. Well, it’s gonna cost you a wood bit.”
The boy frowned. Luss held out a hand, and the wood bit was handed over.
Wood bits were the smallest bits, being worth only 1 jag each. Tin bits were worth 13, and copper bits were worth 39. Two copper bits equaled a silver bit—which were worth 78 jag.
And then there were gold bits.
Luss had only ever touched a gold bit once in his life. They were the same worth as twelve silver bits. Or twenty-four copper bits. Or seventy-two tin bits.
Nine hundred thirty-six wood bits.
That kind of wealth was something Luss could hardly believe was real—let alone normal in Yaruid.
“There’s an elf girl that comes here frequently, although I think she’s studying alchemy as a whole.” Luss spun the wood bit between his fingers, distracting the boy while he eyed his pockets. “She lives in the house in front of the new animal medic that set up shop in a treehouse, if you know where that is.”
“I don’t. Can you give me directions?”
“Sure, but I’ll need another wood bit.”
The boy looked reluctant, but he gave up another bit.
Because Luss was feeling generous, he sketched out a vague map for the boy to follow, leaning over the counter to point out the route… and also to loot his pocket.
The boy rushed off soon after, and Luss grinned to himself, feeling the weight of several tin bits and a copper bit in his pocket.
“Thank you for your business,” he called after the boy, then he left to find a snack to purchase with his tip.
Beings are too honest in this town, he thought, awed as always when he came back to his booth to find it completely untouched by looters.
He sat back and munched on his treats, feeling successful that he had found someone selling honey wheat bread for so cheap. He even got an entire bunch of grapes for only a tin bit.
And then he saw the tall boy from earlier storming through the market.
Luss immediately dropped to his knees, ducking under the table for a moment before resurfacing with an entirely different face and outfit.
He pretended to be adding up some jag as the boy angrily came over, not so much as flinching when he slammed his hands down on the table—even though it was enough force to bounce a tin bit and split it into thirteen wood bits that scattered all over the place.
Luss turned to acknowledge the tall boy.
“Let me guess,” he tiredly said, throwing his voice an octave lower than his previous pitch, “you want to speak with my manager?”
“No, I wish to speak with whoever was last occupying this booth,” the boy demanded, leaning forward to stand over Luss.
Luss flicked his gaze briefly to the elf girl that had positioned herself nearby, as well as the boy standing next to her that was having a conversation with a swan.
“What did the last occupant of this booth look like?” Luss asked.
The tall boy gave an almost perfect description of the form that Luss had previously taken on. He was only missing one detail—which happened to be the most important one.
“And... I believe his eyes were brown.”
Luss inwardly grinned, keeping a straight face on the outside.
“Well,” he said, “I don’t think I’ve seen anyone like that today. I don’t pay much attention to others, you see.”
“Perhaps you ought to pay better attention!” the tall boy snapped, jabbing his index finger at Luss. “For your information, that merchant robbed me just earlier, and now here you stand where he was placed. What do you have to say for yourself?”
“That your interrogation is pointless and you ought to whittle down your nails.” Luss pointedly flicked his eyes to the boy’s finger. He had poked pretty hard with those nails.
The boy scowled and withdrew his hand.
“Fine. But if I find out you’re in cahoots with that merchant...” He made the universal gesture of slitting a throat.
“Caw-hoots?” Luss raised an eyebrow.
The boy’s eyes flashed dangerously, daring Luss to mock his accent again.
Luss barely managed not to grin.
“I’m not in the mood for games,” the tall boy sharply said, putting a hand on the hilt of his sword. “I won’t hesitate to run my blade through you.”
Luss glanced at the sword as the boy slid it slightly out of its sheath—and he felt his heart stop momentarily.
The sword’s hilt was made of beautiful black leather, and the guard was a simple metal crosspiece of the same color. The pommel was oddly elaborate in design, looking to be crafted from the same material as the blade.
And the blade was unmistakably made of the one thing that Luss truly feared.
“No need for threats,” he quickly said. “I’ll keep an eye out for that merchant. Best of luck to you. I hope you find him.”
The tall boy turned up his nose and stalked off. The elf girl and boy with the swan followed him.
Luss felt like he could breathe again, and his right hand unconsciously slid to his left forearm, his glove brushing thought the fabric of his baggy sleeves. The pain was almost unbearable, but his expression didn’t change.
That time—that one, single time—had been enough to leave wounds that would never heal.
He had learned his lesson.
Trust no one.
It was the only way he knew how to survive.
~ ~ ~