Sunday, September 25, 2016
The First Alchemist - Chap 13
Chapter 13 - Money, Money, Money
“The tournament? How are you going to make money from the tournament?” Chem Au asked. “I hope you’re not thinking of the prize money because there is no way I can win that.”
“Maybe not as you are now, but you’ll definitely win next year,” Chem Al said. “No, what I’m talking about is completely different.”
“What is it?”
“We’re going to spend money to make money,” was all Chem Al said before he went back to their parents. Chem Au let out a deep sigh and just followed him, feeling tired for some reason.
The night went by with their family sleeping under the cart.
The entire market woke up with the rising sun. For most, including the Chem clan, they didn’t have to do much but make their cart full of food look presentable, then they were off selling as potential customers from all over came into the city.
“Potatoes! Radishes! Get them here, fresh!” Chem Feng shouted, although his voice was almost drowned out by everyone else.
“Rice! High quality white rice! Get it here!
“I’ve got an entire desolate beast for sale. Meat to fill you up and bones to make your soup!”
“Coal! Plenty of coal to heat up your homes. Winter is coming, you know?”
And Chem Al was shouting along with his family and everyone else. It was fun and a little embarrassing, but it reminded him of his early days as an alchemist disciple during his past life, where he had to compete with all the other disciples to sell pills.
Time passed and the rush of customers turned into a trickle. The tournament was starting and they had all gone off to watch it.
When there were very little people left in their section of the market, Chem Al took this opportunity to ask, "Can Au and I go see the tournament too? Please? It'll only be for a couple of minutes."
Chem Feng thought about it, then said, "Okay, but only for a few fights, then come back soon."
“Can we have some money too?” Chem Al asked. “For snacks and stuff.”
His father frowned. “Al, you know how tight money is.”
“Oh, you, let them have their fun. It’s not everyday we visit the city,” Chem Mai said. She held out a single low jade stone. "Here, take some money with you. It’s not much, but you and Au can split a snack with it.”
Chem Al received the low jade stone like he was being handed a historical artifact. It was a tiny, round stone made of jade, about the size of a thumbnail. It was the first time he had seen the money used in this time period.
"Thank you, Mother. I’ll pay you back soon," Chem Al said before he dragged his brother off towards the tournament.
Along the way, they passed by a couple of stalls and carts that were selling whatever they had, but Chem Al ignored them because he had better things to do with his money.
As soon as they began to hear the cheer of the crowd, it wasn't long before they turned a corner and found the tournament grounds. It wasn't anything fancy like those big stadiums with stone platforms. It was mostly a dirt field surrounded by a couple of wooden bleachers. Still, it was packed. In a world where strength was respected, everyone loved watching a good fight.
"Okay, we're here. How do you plan on making money?" Chem Au asked.
Chem Al held up his low jade stone. “Easy. We’re going to gamble.”
“Gambling? That’s your method to make money?”
“Yes,” Chem Al said while looking around to find someone who was taking bets. There was always someone in these kinds of events.
“Little Al, if gambling was a sure way of making money, then I would have suggested that!”
But his little brother wasn’t listening as he had already ran off towards a man in a booth that had a sign hanging from it. At the top of the sign, it said "Preliminaries", and below that were names along with their odds next to them.
As Chem Al got closer to the booth, he thought about the eight names in The First Alchemist’s journal. He had read those journals so often that he had memorized every word. It wasn’t difficult to recall the names that would make it to the top eight in this tournament.
"Mister, I want to place a bet," Chem Al said.
The man looked down at the little boy. "You got money?"
"It's not much, but money is money." Chem Al held up his low jade stone.
The man snorted, then he shrugged his shoulders. "The next fight is Wujang Ko vs Li Qinli. Who do you want to bet on?"
Oh, there was one of the names from the list. "Li Qinli,” Chem Al said.
"Suit yourself. The odds are six to one against."
Chem Al handed him his low jade stone. The man accepted it, then thought nothing more of it as the little boy walked away. Even if that boy wins, he won’t get much from starting at such a low sum.
The moment Chem Al stepped away from the booth, his big brother grabbed him by the shoulders. "Are you crazy? We could have at least used that to buy a snack to eat."
"Trust me." Chem Al smiled, then started pulling on his brother's arm. "Come on. If we don't hurry, we're going to miss it."
Late, they couldn't find any good seats, but they were able to find a spot to stand in to watch the match. A minute later, two young men stepped into the arena. They fought.
Chem Au could feel his blood pumping as he watched the explosion of swords and fists battling each other for supremacy, but Chem Al couldn't care less. The only thing he cared about was whether the outcome of this fight matched what he thought those list of names in the journal meant.
With one final blast of sword light, the fight ended. Li Qinli was the winner!
Chem Au cheered, lost in the excitement of watching a good fight, but then his eyes widened in realization. The winner of the fight was the person that his little brother had bet on. They actually won some money!
He turned his head to look at his little brother, only to discover that Chem Al had already ran off back to the booth. Hurrying to follow him, he got there in time to see the man hand over the money.
"Minus my fee, you've won six low jade stones," the man said.
Chem Au felt like jumping for joy after seeing the six jade stones in his little brother's hands, thinking of more things they could buy. But before he could say anything, Chem Al said, "Who is fighting in the next match?"
"Oh, pressing your luck, are you?" the man said. "The next fight is going to be (name) vs (name)."
Hmm, it wasn’t one of the names on the list. Chem Al kept asking him for the fights after that until he heard a name that he recognized, then he handed over the six low jade stones back to the man to make his next bet.
Chem Au wanted to shout. Did his little brother think that winning money once will win him more the next time? But before he could stop him, Chem Al was already running back to watch the next fight. “What are you standing there for, Au? Don’t you want to watch the next fight?” Chem Al said when he passed his brother.
Chem Au didn’t know what to say. He just ended up sighing, then followed his brother back to the tournament.
This process repeated three more times with Chem Au looking more and more shocked every time they won money. He was lucky that flies weren’t flying into his mouth.
As for the man, he was almost as shocked. He had seen repeat winners before, but never from a poor looking boy. “You’ve got great beginner’s luck,” he said as he handed over Chem Al’s latest winnings.
Chem Al thanked him, but then he said, “My brother and I have to go back soon so we won’t be here to watch the rest of today’s tournament. How about this? Instead of making bets for each individual fight, I would like to make a bet on who would pass the preliminaries.”
“Oh? You want to make a long bet?”
Nodding, Chem Al said, “Yes. I know it’s riskier, but I’m feeling lucky today.”
The man silently scoffed at the little boy. He had seen this many times. Men who were on a winning streak think that it would be safe to make bigger bets. “It’s your money. Who do you want to bet on?”
"I want to bet on these people." Chem Al listed eight names. He thought that maybe he should throw in a few losing names to throw off suspicion, but eh, this was going to be the only time he was going to gamble so he might as well make a killing.
After agreeing to the bet, the man accepted Chem Al's latest winnings and divided them to equally bet on each of the names, all the while making fun of the little boy in his mind. There was no way some of these names would make it into the top eight.
Throughout all this, Chem Au just stood by feeling helpless, then he followed his little brother back to their parents with his head tucked between his shoulders. He sighed, deciding to accept it. After all, his little brother might pull out a miracle and not lose all the money.
For the rest of the day, Chem Al and Chem Au helped their parents sell potatoes and radishes. Their parents didn't ask what they did with the low jade stone, assuming that they just spent it on a snack as little boys would do. As for Chem Au, he was constantly worrying about the money, while Chem Al was humming along like nothing was wrong.
While the Chem clan was selling their crops, the man in the booth was still making bets with other people. So far he was impressed that none of the little boy's choices had lost yet.
However, this next one would definitely lose. It was a fight between Li Qinli vs Jiang Ren. And Jiang Ren was this year's favorite to become the champion. There was absolutely no way that Li Qinli was going to win this fight.
Two minutes later.
Li Qinli won the fight.
“What the fuck!” the man shouted. This was impossible! There was no way this could be happening!
And yet it was.
For the rest of the matches, all of the cultivators that the little boy chose never lost. Time and time again, until all of them made it to the final eight. The man could only stand there in shock, which was how Chem Al and Chem Au found him after their parents let them go when the day’s market was slowing down for the evening.
"How did my bets do?" Chem Al said, almost knocking the man out of his delirious state.
"Wha...? How?" He stared at Chem Al for a long time. Did this little boy somehow rig the entire tournament? Although it was very unlikely, it was the only explanation he could think of. He kept opening and closing his mouth, wanting to ask something, but not sure what kind of question would give him an answer that would explain all of this.
Meanwhile, Chem Al gave him a big smile. "How much did I win?"
Behind him, his big brother was almost hopping from leg to leg, wondering the same thing.
The man finally snapped out of it. "Y-you won ten high jade stones and eight mid jade stones,” he said, barely able to believe it. He wondered how much more the little boy would have won if he didn’t start out with a measly single low jade stone.
Chem Al tilted his head at that answer, still unsure about this time's monetary value, while his big brother jumped up like lightning was surging through his body. "Ten high jade stones? Did you just say that we won over ten high jade stones?"
"Is that a lot?" Chem Al asked.
Chem Au looked at his little brother, wide-eyed. "That's ten years of our family's income, and you just won that in one day!"
Chem Al only nodded. "I guess that will do.” He held out his hand to the man.
Throughout this whole conversation, other gamblers had been eavesdropping on them. They all watched as the man handed a bag to the little boy.
"Here you go," the man said. His hands were shaking.
Chem Al and his big brother quickly checked the bag’s contents to make sure all the money was there. Nevermind Chem Al, even Chem Au had never seen a high jade stone before. They were almost the size of a fist and made of a higher quality of jade than the mid jade stones.
While they were looking in the bag, the man was watching them. He had just seen a miracle happen right before his eyes. A miracle! It was not everyday he got to see something so amazing. “I hope you will come back tomorrow to keep testing your beginner’s luck.”
"Oh, we will!" Chem Al said, slightly louder than usual. "I plan to come back and win even more money!"
The brothers then left the tournament grounds and ran off into the streets.
As they ambled along, Chem Au couldn’t stop himself from humming and occasionally singing a song he made up on the spot, not caring about the looks he was getting from the people around him. But then he was interrupted by his little brother.
“Au, please carry me on your back.”
With a smile on his face, Chem Au said, "Little Al, after what you just did, I'll do that and more." He got down on one knee to allow Chem Al to climb on.
“Thank you. Now, at the end of this street, make a turn at the last corner and start running as fast as possible. We have to escape them.”
“What?” Chem Au asked. This change in topic threw him for a loop. He had been thinking that Chem Al wanted to climb on his back to celebrate this moment along with him, but then out of nowhere his little brother wanted him to run.