Chapter 20 – Industry Conference
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The Chosen Ones were holding their first-ever industry conference to deepen their cooperation with the other criminal organizations in Grandebelle and expand their business. The meeting took place over two days in the Spencer Johnson convention center, a large venue with lots of empty space for the crowd of VIPs.

The criminal factions of the Pit had never before gathered in such an open area. The event was organized under the sponsorship of the Hands of Light charity organization, a barely-disguised extension of the Chosen Ones' recruitment division. The fact that the charity was sponsoring the conference meant that many of the attendees had no idea the event was being held to deepen ties between crime syndicates.

There were several hundred people at the venue, including representatives from the Cut Throats, Pit Kings, Pit Razors, Ghouls, Knife Slaves, and more. A few dozen members of the media from local news stations had also arrived. The journalists weren't allowed to take pictures, but there was a constant buzz in the air as everyone jockeyed for position to get the best view possible.

Elder Presence stood next to the stage, shaking hands with everyone as they entered. He greeted each person politely but briefly. This wasn't his usual sort of job, but he'd taken on the task of greeting everyone anyway because he wanted to see for himself how popular the conference was. Milly stood next to him in a simple black dress, handing out gift bags filled with useless trinkets.

Miss Planner was straddled with the responsibility of making sure that everything ran smoothly and on schedule, a duty she performed with relish. She walked through the crowded hallways handling logistics, scheduling security, explaining the rules of the conference to the attendees, helping the reporters find the right people for interviews, and generally keeping things moving. She was very efficient.

The staff worked hard to ensure that nothing went wrong at the first-ever All Business Conference for Spiritual Well-being. The only psychics allowed inside were those on the guest list, and a swarm of security guards kept a close watch over them. Elder Presence didn't even have time to be nervous about anything. Everything was running according to plan. Miss Planner and her team of organizers had put a lot of effort into preparing for this day, and Elder Presence was pleased that everything was going off without a hitch.

Black Wolf was keeping his watchful eye on the streets outside the venue, scanning for trouble. Miss Planner's entire research division attended the conference and exchanged business cards with as many people as they could. At the head table sat Elder Crown, who was flanked by his assistant Harper, five of his Hounds, and a representative from the Hands of Light. Death Smoke (now calling himself Black Smoke, per Miss Planner’s suggestion) was mingling with the poorly-dressed delegation of Ghouls, eagerly discussing the process of eating human flesh. He agreed that it was best eaten raw.

The conference was already an unqualified success. The attendees networked with one another, arranged business deals, shared contacts, and made connections. This was what Miss Planner had been hoping for all along. She had a feeling the future held opportunities for her to take advantage of every single one of these new relationships.

At last, it was time for the main event. Everyone moved to their seats as the curtain slowly rose. The audience cheered when the lights dimmed, signaling the start of the presentation.

"Here's your keynote speaker!" said Milly, who was reading off of a notecard. "The man behind Grandebelle, James Heron! His organization has been at the center of the city's growth since the beginning of its existence, so you can expect a powerful speech today!"

The crowd cheered again. James Heron was the leader and founder of the Cut Throats, the most professional and reliable of the criminal organizations in the Pit. The Cut Throats were a loosely connected network of problems solvers that offered virtually any service a criminal could wish for, from body disposal to intelligence gathering to murder by contract. The organization worked very closely with the Chosen Ones, and the two groups had a long history together.

James Heron walked onto the stage wearing a white suit and a black tie. He walked with great confidence and had an elegant smile that he used sparingly to hide his intense stare. The middle-aged man with tightly-cropped blonde hair was met with great applause as he stepped up to the microphone. The Cut Throats' logo flashed on the screen behind him.

"Hello, everyone. I'd like to start by thanking the amazing Hands of Light group for sponsoring this conference. It's great to see Grandebelle coming together under a common banner. We're here because we need each other, and we are stronger when we cooperate."

A small cheer went through the crowd. James Heron looked out into the audience. He smiled and nodded his head slightly.

"Now, let's talk about why cooperation is such a powerful thing for us all to do. Cooperation creates trust. Trust is the foundation of everything. Without it, we cannot achieve anything worthwhile, and our lives will be worthless and meaningless."

James paused and looked around at the crowd. His frightening stare caused a few people to look away.

"The key to building trust is honesty and integrity. Honesty means telling the truth. Integrity means following that truth wherever it leads. Living with honesty and integrity gives others permission to follow your lead, even if they don't agree with everything you say or think. That's how strong trust is. When you build trust, you create an environment where people want to work with one another. You give them a reason to be kind, generous, and helpful toward their friends and neighbors. They all become happier as a result of that kindness. As you grow more connected with your fellow human beings, you start to learn why they behave the way they do. And that helps you find ways to make yourself happy."

James Heron was an accomplished hitman with over fifty kills on his record, and he was also extremely good at getting people to do things they didn't necessarily want to. His Cut Throats were the best problem solvers in the city, and their reputation for reliability was well earned. He was also a charismatic speaker and an engaging storyteller. The crowd loved him.