Jiang Chen thought for a few more moments before speaking once more. "Five sky rank spirit herbs, plus two exclusive true sage realm ancient pill recipes. That's my final offer."
Gai Zonglin mulled it over for only an instant before cackling. "Not a bad bid, but it's far from what I'd expect out of a legitimate deal. If that truly is your final offer, then my apologies, but no deal."
"I doubt that the local leading factions are willing to pay a similar price, Boss Gai." Jiang Chen frowned.
"Haha, then you underestimate Pillfire City's wealth. Even if you truly hail from Myriad Abyss Island, I would not belittle the locals' purchasing power. Their thirst for talent is much stronger than you might imagine."
No bargaining tactic seemed to be working on Gai Zonglin. His original plan to directly purchase Mu Gaoqi from the Star Harvesters was probably a failure. Even so, although he couldn't hand over the spirit herbs that Gai Zonglin had demanded, he could definitely offer up more ancient pill recipes in substitution. Forcing his way through the transaction was definitely a viable option. However, that was outside the scope of Jiang Chen's consideration. For one, Gao Zonglin's demand was already lower than this bottom line.
For another, if he really had been able to pony up the contents of such a shocking offer, it would be akin to painting a target on him for all of Pillfire City to see. Countless pairs of greedy eyes would be trained upon him then. In fact, a gang boss like Gai Zonglin would probably be amongst the first to pounce.
Money was of no concern for Jiang Chen—he possessed sufficient financial strength. Nevertheless, he was unwilling to yield his bottom line on principle. If he did, he would face an endless amount of trouble. There was no reason for him to stay once the dysfunction of the deal was set in stone. "Since you insist on making such ridiculous demands, Boss Gai, there's no point in doing business with you." Standing up, Jiang Chen casually cupped one hand over the other. "I assure you that I'll keep tabs, though. I'd like to see what price will get you to eventually part with your prize."
Gai Zonglin roared with laughter. "It's not like my gang needs the money. We're in no rush. As long as Master Mu continues performing up to par, the price will go nowhere but up. If you come back in the future for a purchase, friend, it'll cost you a good deal more."
The gangster's fearlessness impressed Jiang Chen. The Star Harvesters were shrewd in commerce.
"We shall see, hmm?" He snickered before heading out. The Star Harvesters made no effort to bar his departure.
After he left, Gai Zonglin's face darkened. He looked at Star Mill's supervisor. "Little Xiao, where did that person come from? He's as superficial as they come, judging by how indiscreet he was."
"It's hard to say, boss. Although, I think he has way more money than the average country bumpkin."
"No, considering his manners just now, he's definitely not from the country." Gai Zonglin nodded. "He said he was from Myriad Abyss Island, but I'm not so sure how true that is."
He was evidently wary of the island's name. Even if the claim wasn't true, he was still bothered by the mere mention of the island. If the young man truly was from there, then him having refused the proposed deal just now might end up starting a grudge or feud, creating further trouble for them down the line. The Star Harvesters weren't afraid of trouble, but fear of Myriad Abyss Island's residents was perfectly healthy. Even residents of Pillfire City were susceptible to such a fear, much less one of its street gangs. Gai Zonglin felt increasingly annoyed by the complications.
"Get someone to check him out later. We have to figure out where he's from." He was strangely bothered. He had a vague premonition that his choice today had been unwise.
Star Mill's supervisor turned to Keke. "Keke, I think that kid has a pretty good impression of you. I have a task for you: Try to get close to him. No matter what you have to do, you need to find out more about his origins. Even if you can't, any additional information is good."
Miss Keke had stood timidly on the sidelines throughout the entire exchange. She knew that as an inconsequential employee, she had no right to speak before the boss. Upon hearing the 'task' delegated to her by the supervisor, she fell into a panic. "Manager Xiao, I… I… I really can't."
She didn't know what to do. 'No matter what you have to do' included the implication of sacrificing her body. Seduction was a perfectly reasonable tactic in their books, but for Keke, doing something like that was unthinkable. As an unsullied girl, considering such a thing was worse than the prospect of death itself.
"What? You can't do something as simple as that?" Manager Xiao's face darkened. "The Star Mill does not employ the useless. If you can't even carry out such a small task, what's the point of keeping you around?"
Gai Zonglin chuckled, glancing towards the delicate girl. "Little girl, our gang is kind to anyone that can do good work. If you manage to pull this off, both you and your family will receive the Star Harvesters' protection and care. Why not make your ancestors proud?"
Keke's face became even redder. She began to sob inconsolably. "Keke is too stupid, boss. I'm worried that I can't. What if I let you down?"
"How do you know you can't if you haven't tried yet?" Manager Xiao was impassive. "You're the one I'm most impressed with in the entire store. Keke, the boss has spoken. If you do well with this task, then everyone around you will benefit. Both you and your family will be treated as heroes in the gang. This is the only chance for any of you to move up the social ladder. Even if you're not interested personally, you should consider the future of your loved ones. Don't you have a younger brother working as an apprentice armed escort? His dangerous and violent lifestyle must make the rest of you worry a great deal. If you succeed at this task, I will personally allow him to join the Star Mill, and he will receive a great deal of resources to help him grow."
Keke's family was her soft spot. Manager Xiao's words convinced her to wipe away her tears. She began to think that the boss's idea was perhaps a little feasible. Honestly speaking, the likelihood of it succeeding was very low, but was she was willing to do anything for her family. Her parents' hard work, her younger brother's risky lifestyle at the armed escort agency… Keke was quite tempted.
"Our visitor just now, I noticed that he had a strong interest in Master Mu. I don't think he'll give up this easily. Just keep him interested, Keke, and see exactly how much he's willing to part with. If you can find out his origins, even better. You have my word as the boss that I will grant your younger brother the status of a rank four disciple." Gai Zonglin tipped the scales with a much richer reward.
The Star Harvesters' disciples were ranked from one to nine. After the disciples were the administrators, then the elders, then the grand elders, and finally the vice boss. The actual boss was only one rank above the vice. The status of a rank four disciple was not particularly high, but it was the perfect placement for a newcomer. Most disciples started from rank one. They needed twenty to thirty years before they could make their way to rank four. Starting from rank four would shave off several decades of work. Most importantly, Keke's younger brother was currently only an apprentice armed escort. He wouldn't have had the right to join the Star Harvesters in the first place. Hence, the boss's promise to issue her brother the status of rank four disciple was a heart-wrenchingly enticing temptation.
"Boss, Manager Xiao," Keke bit into her bright-red lips, a light blush creeping into her pale face. The resolve in her eyes, however, was undeniable. "I'm willing to try, but I have a tiny request… if I mess up, please punish only me and not my family."
She knew that it was a difficult life living amongst gangsters. Many rules, once broken, affected both oneself and one's family. Therefore, her greatest worry was not her inability to complete the task, but rather how it would affect her loved ones.
Gai Zonglin roared with laughter. "The Star Harvesters are a principled bunch. We don't blame a family for a man's errors. Plus, the most you could do is fail personally. I doubt it'll hurt the gang in the long run. So, don't worry about it."
"Thank you for your kindness, boss, and Manager Xiao as well." Keke had no way out now. She had been ensnared the moment Manager Xiao had said her name.
As he left the Star Harvesters, Jiang Chen felt eyes following his every movement from the shadows. This observation was unsurprising. A gang like the Star Harvesters was far more unlikely not to keep tabs on him after that entire ordeal. It wasn't necessarily out of malice either. Perhaps Gai Zonglin saw him as a potential customer in the future.
The Star Harvesters were waiting for the highest bidder. If the various other factions of Pillfire City couldn't offer up a similarly hefty bid, then the gang might reconsider a deal with him. However, that was only one of the possibilities. There were worse ones to be considered, with one of them being that the Star Harvesters were now after his three sky rank spirit herbs, and by foul means rather than fair at that.
It was an off-the-cuff thought, not to mention extremely unlikely, but there was no reason not to prepare for the worst possibility. The world was a dangerous place, and caution was a man's most stalwart companion. Knowing that he was being watched, Jiang Chen refrained from returning to Lin Yanyu's place. Instead, he chose an extraordinarily luxurious inn and checked in there. There were a million ways for him to shake his unwanted friends off. However, any action on his part would only cause undue alarm. The more unpolished his behavior now, the less of a threat he would be perceived as. If he showed remarkable cunning, then the Star Harvesters would only be warier. This was of no benefit to his future plans.
Jiang Chen had two plans at his current disposal.One was to use his original bid to trade for Mu Gaoqi while the other was to use more underhanded methods. Gai Zonglin's attitude had made him lean towards the latter.