Gray returned to his mine after he had made a long, circuitous route to cover his tracks. Compared to the open-pit mine of the Southern Seas Mining Company, his jade mine was a tiny hole in the ground and was quite sad. His King's Mountain Mining Company was a solitary entity while his enemy was a behemoth with thousands of members. They were sitting atop his treasure trove and there was nothing he could do about it.
He wondered what it would be like if he wasn't alone, if his mining company had thousands of miners instead. Perhaps he could produce more jade than he could by himself. Maybe he wouldn't even have to work anymore and just use the steady profits on his cultivation.
Gray shook his head. It sounded good but it also sounded like a huge hassle. He didn't want to deal with so many people. He didn't want the chance of his secrets leaking out. He also preferred to be in the mines as it was his natural habitat.
He gathered up his belongings, waited until the crack of dawn, and dragged his weary and hungry body to the north gate. He knew he could no longer stay in the northern mining fields. He had caused enough trouble with the Southern Seas that he didn't feel safe anymore.
He was the first person waiting to enter the gate. The barely awake guards gave him trouble for his dirty and bruised appearance but, luckily, one of them recognized him as an important guest of the Patel family.
They let him through without even checking the contents of his bag, laden partially with leftover spiritual stones. Gray thanked them and also tipped them a gold coin.
He was surprised at himself. He wasn't one to ever give anyone money out of kindness. Xueling and Old Li were perhaps the only exceptions, people he cared enough to part with his hard-earned money. But then again, he had mined so much jade and spiritual stones during his trip that a single gold coin was barely something he cared about now.
Gray's stomach growled, overpowering any other thoughts. He hurried through the silent streets and returned to the Patel family gem shop. Anand was there in his usual spot, studying a small pile of gems on the table. The old man looked thinner and more ragged than Gray remembered.
“Oh hey! I didn’t expect you back...” Anand Patel said. He then caught sight of Gray's disheveled appearance and the frightening number of bruises on his body. “Did you get into a fight?”
“Uh, no, some accident happened... But I’m back now. Do you still have an open room for me?” Gray asked.
“My house is always open to you, young friend!” Anand Patel said, "Alisha isn't here. She has been staying at the lord’s castle but there are some leftovers. You look like you could use a good meal.”
Gray mumbled his thanks and rushed to the dining room. He didn't care where Alisha was but he was thankful for the food. He grabbed a spoon and started shoveling cold rice and vegetables into his mouth. He attacked the food in front of him like a beast. It hardly took him any effort to clean everything off the table.
After filling his stomach, he finally felt safe enough to relax his mind and body. Pain and exhaustion from a vicious battle and the tense night finally crashed down, making him dizzy and weak. He managed to stumble into his room before tumbling to the floor in a dead faint.
Gray awoke as the afternoon sun streaked into his room. He did not immediately get up and instead carefully took stock of his condition. His body still ached but he felt much better. The bruises he suffered from the foreman were healing and not painful anymore. Anyone else in his position would have required at least a week or two in bed but he felt energetic and ready for another fight.
He left his room, cleaned himself, and went to the dining room. Finding nothing there, he entered the gem shop.
“You look much better.” Anand said.
“I forgot to congratulate you on your breakthrough. It must have been difficult?”
"Uh... not really?" Gray replied, trying to pretend like he had not dug up close to a thousand gold coins worth of jade and spiritual stones.
“What happened? How was the mining trip?” Anand asked.
“Uh… it was okay. A little boring.”
The old man shook his head, "Young man, you shouldn't be so eager to look for fights. Being hotblooded and reckless will lead to accidents..."
Anand didn't react and stared off at a spot on the wall, "Certain problems cannot be solved using fists. It will only cause disaster down the road, when you least expect it..."
"What?" Gray asked again, louder this time.
"Oh!" Anand jerked out of his stupor, "Anyways, congratulations on your breakthrough!"
Gray shrugged, “Enough about me. Anything interesting happened in town?”
“Nothing interesting... except for some recent bandit attacks but I don't know too much about them. You'll have to ask Alisha.”
"Ask me what?" A familiar voice came from the entrance.
"Alisha!" Anand said happily as his daughter walked in.
"Hey," Gray mumbled a greeting.
He avoided her eye, suddenly feeling self-conscious. He wasn't sure why; he was wearing clothes this time. Perhaps it had something to do with her working for the lord and him not paying taxes.
Alisha ignored Gray and hugged her father.
"How is pain?" She asked softly.
Anand rubbed his chest and grinned, "Actually, it started feeling a lot better today. I think my appetite will be good tonight!"
"That's good..." She said.
Gray's thought's drifted at the mention of food but he soon felt a slender finger poking at his chest. It was Alisha and she was glaring up at him. Her head barely reached the middle of his chest and she had to crane her neck backward. He would have laughed if her expression wasn't so stern.
"You..." She said, displeasure clear in her voice, "Do you know how much trouble you caused?”
“Huh?” Gray replied. "What did I do?"
She crossed her arms and huffed. “A group of very loud and irate people from the Southern Seas Mining Company showed up at the castle. The lord found them extremely annoying and refused to see them. But they insisted for the whole morning until they were finally let in. They informed the lord that they had been robbed by a particular man who is very tall, very fat, and has a wild gray hair like a vagrant..."
She then gave Gray a long, hard stare, “What in the world did you do to them now?"