Secret 2: You’re Either Ruthless or Toothless. There’s No Middle Ground
Years passed. I’m not gonna give you a detailed receipt of all the businesses I took over, started, sold, or destroyed. I won: that’s all. I won everything I wanted.
Not because of luck, no. Luck doesn’t exist. Luck is for losers. If you move big, fast, and hard enough to carve yourself a place in the world, everyone else will bend over backwards to give you everything you want just for the thrill of being part of your success.
Well, most everyone. Occasionally, you’re gonna run into other big movers. And they’ll cut you down like a sacred tree at a Venture Company logging party if you don’t do it to them first.
Back during the Second War, I was Kezan’s rising star. President of the massive Copper Street Conglomerate, advisor to the Tinkers’ Union, big goblin in the Trade Coalition, and the second-richest guy in the Bilgewater Cartel. Trade Prince Maldy decided he wanted to meet his possible competition, so he sent me an invitation to his daughter’s birthday party at his manor.
The old goblin was as popular as a bar of soap on a pirate ship. Trade Prince Steamwheedle was rumored to be making a mint from his alleged exclusivity contract with the Horde. Maldy thought if things went south for the Horde, the Alliance would turn on us next. He’d clamped down hard on trading, making sure that Bilgewater had enough supplies and money to weather a financial siege and bend the other cartels over a spiky barrel.
Solid move, but here’s the problem: your average goblin doesn’t like cautious. Cautious is boring. The moguls and financiers of Bilgewater had decided they wanted a younger, more aggressive trade prince in Maldy’s place. Guess who.
Six months of backroom planning had gone into that night, long before Maldy had even sent the invite. Every angle was covered, every palm greased. Even the other trade princes had given their secret approval, if only because they liked having inexperienced competition. Success was inevitable: I was gonna be a trade prince by sunrise.
I strolled up the path to Maldy’s manor. Thissy Steeltack, my personal assistant, raced up to me. Years later, I’d have to fire her for paying assassins to kill me in my swimming pool. She was magnificent.
“I broke…into Maldy’s desk, sir,” she panted. “He…hid the key under a falcon statue. I found his research…on what the other trade princes are up to.”
“Great,” I said. Maldy was getting soft if he was leaving that sort of thing lying around. “What are they doing? We gotta copy them if we’re gonna stay competitive.”
Thissy shuffled through the papers.
“Building mercenary armies.”
“Useful. Send a gift basket full of gold to the Southsea Freebooters.”
“Metal or chocolate, sir?”
“Chocolate. They’re gonna bite it anyway. Might as well give them a treat. What else?”
“Trade Prince Donais is really into it, sir.”
“Okay. Let me save you some time. Everything that’s on that list? Get someone who works for me to do it. Get out of here. I have a party to attend.”
Thissy nodded once and took off. I got three steps closer to the manor before Riddlevox, director of the Tinkers’ Union, jumped out of a bush.
“You remember the plan?” he hissed.
“I wrote the plan,” I said, trying not to grit my teeth. I’d based it on Trade Prince Maldy’s big weakness: he actually loved his daughter. If you’re a trade prince, you can’t afford close family members or friends; “chum” and “chump” sound the same for a reason. My pop was the exception, of course. He had the ambition of soggy wood. Besides, anyone who tried to kidnap him to threaten me found out if a goblin could be crammed into a cannon and shot safely from Kezan to Booty Bay.
“Don’t screw this up, Gallywix,” said Riddlevox, climbing back into the bush. “And don’t get any ideas. You may get to be called a trade prince, but you’ll work for us, understand?”
“You got it, boss.” In your dreams, idiot.
The guard at the edge of the dance floor waved me past with a slight nod. I’d spent two months replacing Trade Prince Maldy’s bodyguards with my own mercenaries. I sauntered on through.
Ever had everyone at a party turn and cheer as you came in? No? I recommend it. A hundred goblins tried to catch my eye or give me a drink. I ignored them and skimmed a handful of lobstrok puffs off a passing tray. I had work to do here.
I’d never met the trade prince’s daughter, Nessa. My researcher had said she’d bought a blue dress and a diamond dragonfly hairclip for the party. He’d added that she looked “stunning". I’d fired him, naturally. But when I saw Nessa from across the party, I realized that for the first time in my life, I owed someone an apology.
She was so beautiful that you’d believe she was getting paid overtime for it. Skin the color of the deep green sea, eyes as dark as midnight in an emerald mine. The shine of her coiled hair made the diamond clip look cheap.
An invisible hand pulled me by the lungs through the crowd to her. I couldn’t be stopped. I knew that I had to get control back here; Plan A depended on my getting her away from the party and into the hands of the kidnap squad so that Maldy would surrender without a fight.
“Wanna dance?” I said, tossing Plan A out the window.
“Why not?” she replied. I realized she’d watched me come over the whole way. Outstanding. “Nandirx here is boring the life out of me.”
I spun her away from the devastated little banker towards the middle of the dance floor. We chatted as we danced, but I couldn’t tell you about what. I felt drunk. My ambitions were in big trouble. If I moved against her father, I’d lose my chance at her, and let me tell you, her beauty was even more staggering up close. I had to play it cool.
“Marry me,” I blurted.
She snorted. “I barely know you, Mr. Gallywix,” she said.
“I can fix that,” I said. “I’m—”
“President of the massive Copper Street Conglomerate, advisor to the Tinkers’ Union, big goblin in the Trade Coalition, and the second-richest guy in the Bilgewater Cartel,” she finished with a half smile.
She’d read my press release!
“But I can’t marry you,” she continued. “Sure, you’ve gotten lucky a few times, but I like ruthless goblins. Risk takers.”
I was speechless for a few seconds. I’m not very good at speechless, though, so I recovered.
I told her about my early days. Waved newspaper clippings in her face about mysterious hospital fires and orphan extortion. Gave directions to where the literal bodies were buried. And from there, dove into the really nasty stuff.
She listened, cocking her head to one side. Occasionally, she smiled.
When I’d finished, she shrugged and said, “That’s a good start. I guess.”
What a dame, right? Up until then, I’d actually felt guilty—no, really—about Plan B, but I was suddenly sure that it was the way to win her over. She wanted a really ruthless goblin. I practically had her blessing!
I didn’t notice the commotion behind me until a cane rapped my shoulder. I glared back at…oops.
“Ah, so you’re the one who’s been monopolizing my daughter, young Gallywix,” Trade Prince Maldy said, leaning back on his thick cane. His hand, heavy with thick gold rings, flexed on the suspiciously hilt-like handle.
Silence fell over the party. These goblins had seen enough high-class backstabbery to know something was coming. “Pleasure to finally meet you. Get your hands off the merchandise.”
“Sorry, sir,” I said, moving away from Nessa.
“Thank you. I heard that my security forces burned down your counterfeiting factory last month. Hope you didn’t take it personally. Just business.”
“Don’t say ‘just’, sir,” I said, grinning. “It sounds like an apology.”
His wrinkled face split into a wide, leathery smile. “I knew I liked you,” he said. “Are you enjoying my daughter’s party?”
“Her party?” I said, signaling the guards. “Not anymore. It’s mine now.”
“What?” Maldy barked, brows crinkling.
“As of sunset today, I own a majority of your holdings in the Trade Coalition through a hundred false fronts and small businesses. You could check, but I’ve bought off your administration, so you don’t wanna trust them. I own your security forces. I stole the land under your house. And you rented those rings from one of my shops. You’re done, Maldy. You’re done, and everyone knows it.”
Somewhere in the distance, a parrot squawked. Maldy reddened, then purpled, looking around for an ally and seeing my bruisers closing around us in a wall instead. I held them back with both hands. To impress Nessa, the next part needed a personal touch.
“My shipment,” he snarled. “Half of my fleet is setting sail right now with a weapons shipment to the Alliance. I’ll make a fortune and buy everything back.”
“I’m glad you mentioned that,” I said, and pulled a remote from my pocket. “I brought a show for your guests. Push the button.”
“What, you don’t like surprises? You afraid? I thought trade princes were supposed to have guts! Push the button, Maldy!”
Baring his teeth like an old lion, Maldy stabbed his finger at the big red button.
Down in the harbor, each ship in his trade fleet exploded into roaring balls of fire in perfect alphabetical order.
Winking at Maldy’s shock, I snatched his cane out of his hand, drew the sword my researcher had told me was in there, and leveled it at Nessa without even looking her way.
“So. You got an hour to get off Kezan before I ventilate your daughter and drop you headfirst into Mount Kajaro,” I said, beaming at Maldy. Then I turned back to Nessa. “How’s that for ruthless?”
Oh. Her face was so pale, I could almost see through it.
“Too much?” I said, squinting.
She stormed forward past the sword and slapped me across the face. Then she took her pop by the shoulders and led him away through the breathless crowd.
I dropped the blade and raised two hands and four fingers in the traditional goblin symbols for complete and utter victory. The guests…my guests…roared their approval, rushing forward to hammer my back and congratulate me while slipping business cards and bribes into my pockets. I didn’t look any of them in the eye.
Instead, I watched Nessa lead her father all the way down the hill outside the manor.