The Merchant

No discounts. Not even in the face of Armageddon

The door to the merchant’s shop swung open. In stepped five figures. The first was a knight dressed in dragon-like armor, his face grim and hard and he had a lance strapped to his back. The second was a woman in white robes who appeared elegant and kind but radiated a magical energy. The third was a man with a mask covering the lower half of his face, two long, thin swords strapped to his back, and eyes that made it look like his mask concealed a smile. The fourth was a woman in green robes who seemed magical as well, but there was a darker energy to her that filled the merchant with fear. And last was the one who appeared to lead them all, a paladin in white armor, a face of calm in the dark gathering storm that had plagued their lands. The merchant knew of these people: the five adventurers upon whom all the world’s hope rested. The Dark Lord Zorule was planning to unseal the elemental crystal and plunge the land into never-ending darkness and evil, and only these people seemed to have the power to resist him. And here they were, in the merchant’s store. The merchant tried to keep a face that matched the grim times, but he couldn’t help but smile a little.

“How may I help you?” he addressed the adventurers.

“We’re seeking supplies,” said the paladin.

“I’m sure you are,” answered the merchant. “And we have a wide selection here. First off, we have potions. Take a drink of them, and they will heal any injury.”

“Yes, we will need those,” said the woman in white. “Do you have any that will restore magical energy?”

“Absolutely,” replied the merchant. “That’s our ether. Surprisingly expensive, though. I recommend you get some of our tents and use those when you can. A good night’s sleep is a great way to get back your mana. Also, it’s perfect for healing up; I’ve never heard of an injury so great a single night’s sleep couldn’t fix it. I’d get a dozen tents if I were you.”

“Why that many?” asked the man in dragon armor.

“Well, the tents are kind of shoddy. You can only use each once.” The merchant shrugged. “Sorry; that’s how they come from my supplier. I should mention, though, I do have a lot of phoenix downs in stock. If things go poorly for you, they’ll bring back to life anyone who has fallen. And they’re surprisingly cheap considering the huge social and religious implications of them.”

“Yes, we will need those,” said the paladin. “Anything else you recommend?”

“Golden needles,” the merchant answered. “If you get turned to stone, one of those will cure it immediately.”

“We have worry about being turned to stone?” asked the woman in green.

The merchant nodded. “Yes, there are a lot of things out there that will turn you to stone. More than you’d think. But if that happens, just use a golden needle. Of course, you’ll need someone not turned to stone to use the needles, so I highly recommend not all getting turned to stone at once.”

“That’s some great advice,” said the masked man, with maybe a little mockery in his tone.

“And advice is a free service here.” The merchant noticed the paladin was no longer paying attention to him. Instead, the paladin was staring at the ornate sword hanging from the wall behind the merchant. “Ah, I see you’ve noticed the Sunblade. That’s exclusive to my store. It is a blade of pure light that will cleave through any darkness.”

The paladin looked down at the sword in his sheath and back up at the Sunblade. “That sword is much greater than the one I have. It would help in my quest immensely to have it.”

The merchant smiled — perhaps too big a smile. “And it’s yours for one million gil.”

The room went quiet. All five adventurers stared at the merchant. “Are you serious?” the masked man finally asked.

“It’s a quality sword,” the merchant stated. “And, as you said, it would help greatly in your quest. I think one million is a reasonable price.”

“It’s an insane price,” said the woman in green. The merchant began to fear her again but kept up his smile.

“And we don’t have that much,” added the paladin.

The merchant nodded. “Oh. Okay. Well, come back when you do, and the sword is yours. So just the potions and tents and whatnot for now?”

The paladin kept staring at the sword. “Do you think maybe you could donate the sword to our cause?”

The merchant furrowed his brow. “Sorry? What?”

“Do you know who we are?” asked the paladin. “We are the chosen warriors — the only ones who can stand against the Dark Lord Zorule.”

“Yeah. I know who you are.”

“Then you understand what happens if we fail at our task?” the woman in white added.

The merchant nodded. “Oh. Absolutely. The entire world will be engulfed in darkness. My village will be destroyed. My family and I will perish.”

“So can you give us the sword to make sure that doesn’t happen?” the paladin asked.

The merchant scoffed. “Wait, you want it for free?”

“To save this entire world,” the paladin said.

The merchant was still processing this request. “You want the Sunblade — the blade of pure light that will cleave through any darkness — for free?”

“It’s in everyone’s interest,” said the man in dragon armor.

The merchant shook his head. “No, I can’t do that.”

“What do you mean you can’t?” asked the masked man. “Just reach over, take the sword off your wall, and hand it over.”

“Oh, I don’t mean I physically can’t,” explained the merchant. “I mean economically what you’re suggesting is completely impossible.”

“What does economics have to do with it?” exclaimed the women in green.

“Economics has everything to do with everything,” said the merchant intensely. “I think what I need to do is give you all a little lesson in how the economy works in this world.”

“We’re kind of busy with the apocalypse,” said the man in the mask.

The merchant dismissively waved a hand. “It will wait. This is important. So, how does one get money?”

“Well, a man can sell things like you,” said the paladin.

The merchant shook his head. “No no; think deeper. Where does the money originate? I’ve never heard of a mint or anything.”

They all thought about that for a few seconds. “Well, we kill monsters, and they drop it,” the man in the dragon armor said.

The merchant pointed at him. “Yes, yes. Exactly. The killing of monsters is what injects money into our economy. It’s the whole basis of everything. So—”

“But how do the monsters get money?” the woman in white asked.

The merchant looked confused by the question. “What? Oh, well, that’s just getting in the weeds. There’s no reason to overanalyze this. Just accept the fact that monsters have money, and they drop it when you kill them. Now, are there lots of monster attacks in times of peace?”

“No, usually they’re quite rare unless some dark force has empowered them,” said the woman in green.

The merchant nodded. “So that’s why we merchants call events like when we’re all threatened by the Dark Lord Zorule ‘black times.’”

“For they are dark times indeed,” added the man in the dragon armor.

“No no no. That’s ‘black’ as an accounting term — as in it puts us in the black. Only during events that threaten the destruction of everything are we merchants finally able to turn a profit. I mean, think of it — who is buying these healing potions and golden needles? The people in this town? You’ve seen them; they mainly just wander around aimlessly saying the same things over and over. But when darkness is overtaking the land and there are evil creatures everywhere, then we have adventurers like you loaded with gil from the monsters you’ve slain who then buy these supplies we’ve just been sitting on in times of peace.”

“You’re saying our entire economy is based on dark forces threatening all life?” the man in the mask asked incredulously. “That makes no sense. The alignment of the elemental crystals that Zorule is going to use to destroy all life happens only once every 1000 years.”

“Yes, this individual world-threatening event only happens every 1000 years,” the merchant agreed. “But there are lots of every 1000 years world-threatening events to the point that these happen fairly regularly. I mean, every once in a while, we have many, many years of peace — I have to make sure to save up a lot of money in case something like that happens.”

“You have to prepare in case we have too much peace?” the woman in white asked. “Doesn’t that seem a bit perverse?”

The merchant looked offended. “It’s just economics; you can’t assign morality to it. It’s a system that emerged in response to basic market forces; it’s like criticizing the morality of the tide.”

“Tides that will all boil away if Zorule has his way,” the man in the dragon armor remarked.

“Yes, you still haven’t explained why you can’t give me that sword to make sure I can defeat Zorule and we don’t all perish,” the paladin said.

The merchant sighed. “I’m getting to that. So, the Sunblade — a blade of pure light that will cut through any darkness and costs one million gil — is anyone ever going to buy that in a time of peace?”

The merchant waited until everyone grudgingly shook their heads.

“No,” the merchant continued. “The only time I would ever sell something like that is in the direst of times when it seems all but certain the world is doomed. But you’re saying in times so dire, I should give it away for free! So now, let’s say I take that philosophy. It’s a time of peace, and I’m talking to my supplier about what to stock up on. He has the Sunblade. I take one look at that and say, ‘People would only want that in the event the whole world is threatened — but it would be wrong to sell it then. So there’s no way I’ll ever make a profit on this sword.’ And now I just don’t pay to put the sword in stock because then I’d just be throwing away money causing my family to starve. And then the Dark Lord Zorule attacks and you come here and now there’s no sword for you even if you want to pay for it. And not having the Sunblade, a blade of pure light that will cleave any darkness, you’re not prepared to fight Zorule and his lieutenants and the whole world falls into eternal darkness. So when you really, really think about it, my insisting on charging one million gil is basically saving the world. So do you understand now?”

The five adventures stared quietly at the merchant for a few seconds, each looking a bit dumbfounded. “No,” that paladin finally said.

The merchant shrugged. “Well, I explained it as well as I could.”

“You know,” said the masked man. “We are five heavily armed people capable of defeating ogres and dragons.”

“Oh, are you saying you’re going to attack me and take the sword?” The merchant rolled his eyes. “Fine. Go ahead.”

The adventures just stared at the merchant, more angrily now. But the anger didn’t lead to any action.

“I don’t know how to attack you,” the paladin admitted. “Usually, we just walk around and things attack us and suddenly we’re fighting, but I don’t know how to initiate a fight.”

“I thought so,” said the merchant. “And next, you’ll say you’ll jump over this counter in front of me and just grab the sword.”

The paladin stared at the three-foot-high counter that might as well have been a hundred-foot wall. “I don’t have a jump option.”

“Outside of combat,” the man in dragon armor added.

“So you really only have one option here,” the merchant said. “You head out of town, find some open plain or forest, and then wander around in circles and just wait for monsters to attack you. Then you kill those monsters and keep collecting the money they drop until you have one million gil. Finally, you come back here, and the sword is yours.”

The paladin sighed. “That’s going to take a really long time. And the Dark Lord Zorule is working on his nefarious plans as we speak.”

“Come on,” the merchant said, “we all know that no matter how long you take, whenever you confront the Dark Lord, it will just in the nick of time. Let’s stop acting like you’re on some deadline here. So you get to it.”

The five adventurers started to leave.

“And don’t forget your potions and everything.”

The paladin exchanged the gil and took the potions and other supplies — though it was quite uncertain where he carried it all — and left the shop.

The merchant headed to the back room where his wife was. “Great news!” he announced to her. “I think I’m finally going to sell that Sunblade.”

“I see dark clouds on the horizon,” said his wife. “Many say it has something to do with elemental crystals.”

“Sure, but what matters is we’re going to have a huge profit,” the merchant stated. “And I swear this time I won’t lose it all at the chocobo races.”

“I see dark clouds on the horizon,” said his wife. “Many say it has something to do with elemental crystals.”

The merchant shook his head. “You’ve never been much of a conversationalist.”