A storm was brewing in the College thanks to Isaac’s upcoming graduation. The students had 2 years to prove themselves to be better than Isaac. Students who were never expected to graduate before Isaac made a sigh of relief, while students who were expected to graduate in the next 2 or 3 years were stunned. At first, they denied the reality, but they soon changed heart and began to study as if their lives were on the line.
While the College fell into a frenzy for graduation, Isaac was having the best time of his life. If anyone from the College were to see him now, they would surely swear vengeance with blood in their eyes.
“It’s a quiet night for once.”
Isaac muttered to himself as he looked out the window. The sea, which sat beyond his window, could not be seen through the veil of the night. It was midnight of the new moon, and Isaac was alone for once. Reisha and Kunette refrained from visiting the port, as they noticed that the atmosphere had suddenly become very agitated – even hostile.
“I’m damn lucky to be able to smoke like this.”
The room was pitch black and all that could be heard was the gentle lullaby from the crashing waves. Countless stars were arranged like the Milky Way in the sky, like the powder of gems tossed onto black silk. It was enough to get even Isaac emotional.
“Ah, I’d love a drink right now.”
Watching the moon and the stars would have been the perfect excuse to get wasted. But with Rivelia on constant vigil in search for any excuse to bring justice on Isaac, bringing in alcohol was something he needed to refrain from.
“On a night like this, you’d at least need some music to go with it.”
After throwing away the burnt cigarette out the window, he grabbed the instrument that was on his desk and sat next to the window again. He was starting to get bored of fishing. After a long time considering the options as to what he could waste time with, he decided to learn how to play music.
At first, he wanted to learn something like a saxophone which held the image of masculinity, but this world didn’t have any instrument close to that. There was something like a piano, but bringing it over would have been troublesome; he wanted something that was easily portable. He ended up with an instrument that was similar to a violin.
Named the biolen, it had a similar shape and name in general. Even if there was a difference, Isaac would never have noticed since he’d never held a violin in his life.
Finding someone to teach him was an easy task as he made a suitable payment for some of the students in the arts department to teach him. He was planning to learn from the basics up, but there was a problem. Isaac didn’t have talent for music. He was in fact, horrendous.
Screech! Screek! Screech!
Isaac played his instrument as if he was the lead of the orchestra, but all that was coming out was a sound similar to the metal scratching a blackboard. He had learnt the basic notes and was playing a children’s hymn intended for the newest learners, but the result was a symphony of torture.
Isaac was only satisfied after finishing his encore.
“In a dreamy night with the stars lighting the stage, I stand on the front to play magnificent music! Damn, it feels good. I’d bet if there was a girl here she’d be all over me at this point! That’s just too bad!”
After singing out ludicrous praises for himself, he threw the instrument onto his desk and jumped onto his bed. His breaths became shallow and then turned to a snore as he entered a deep sleep.
“This is the first time I’ve seen such a lunatic in my life.”
“Me too. I thought that was just an act of taunt after spotting us. I was moments away from trying to kill him.”
One by one, heads began to rise from the sea next to the port and began complaining to each other.
“Is that the so called Isaac I’ve been hearing lately?”
Tens of people who had gotten up to the port hurried themselves into a neat line.
As soon as the middle-aged man who seemed to be the leader of the group muttered, his second-in-command nodded.
“Yes. That’s why these kids who hate physical labour are so motivated for their training.”
The middle-aged man scanned the group with an ominous stare. Each person flinched whenever their eyes met with his.
“I had thought that their motivation was because they finally grew up from their immaturity, but it was because of this? I guess despite what you look, you lot still have some pride inside.”
“They can make up for the lack of their grades from written exams by performing hands-on training instead.”
“I guess I’d feel quite unfair too if I was on the receiving end.”
The agents who had lined up seemed to be relieved after hearing this, but it soon turned upside down when the middle-aged man spoke again.
“Since it’s come to this, we should use this situation to its fullest.”
“What if he actually becomes their sunbae instead of just acting like he’s one?”
“Kukuku. That’d be a sight to see. I’m sure they’ll be scared shitless.”
“But if we did that now, the Campus will rise against it.”
“I can imagine that myself. Is there some way to make it happen?”
“We can simply make him join just before his graduation instead of doing it now.”
“Oh! A splendid answer!”
The middle aged man seemed to be pleased with his second-in-command, while the students who were lined behind him despaired as to what had happened.
“Hm? Do you feel cheated?”
Of course they felt cheated. Skipping grades in College wasn’t something that was obtained simply by being talented. It was only achieved by completing all of the year’s task before the year finished.
The College’s basic curriculum was designed for 15 years of study. And this wasn’t just a leisurely study schedule, but one that would kill an ordinary man. And these geniuses were people who would skip their grades despite the harsh curriculum and graduate in 9 to 12 years on average. Yet Isaac was going to get the same degree after playing around for 5 years.
“They look like they’ll commit suicide once we give him 5 stars.”
“Huh? Five stars?”
Even the middle aged man seemed surprised, while all the students were shocked as if they’d been struck by lightning.
“He’s a five-star since he graduated in 5 years right?”
“Hm, you are correct, but isn’t that going too far?”
There was a glimmer of hope in the students’ eyes. If the middle-aged man was against it, maybe it would not come to pass.
“What difference would it make anyway, since we split who is Sunbae and Hubae based on which year they graduated.”
“You have a point. Fine, proceed as you said.”
The look on the students only sunk deeper into depression as the middle aged man nodded in agreement.
“But will Duke Corduroy let this come to pass?”
“Ah, don’t worry about it. He’d been receiving requests from those in the field of operations for more recruits. In fact, he’d be delighted to hear about this.”
“The problem then is security.”
The middle aged man turned to the students with menacing eyes.
“I’m sure you guys already know, but I’m saying this just to make sure so shut up and listen. If this decision is to leak beyond the College, then the Central will remove your existence in its entirety. Not just you but your families and relatives as well. But you know that right?”
All the students quivered at the middle-aged man’s blackmail. These students who had been handpicked after multiple screenings within the College saw a glimpse at the truth of this world. Fame and riches were to follow, but it came with heavy responsibility.
The students replied by saluting at the man by placing their right hand on their left chest.
As the day reached noon, Isaac realised he no longer needed to perform the tedious chore that was cooking. Isaac thought Rivelia would continue her pestering with whatever excuse she could find, but she had strangely confined herself in the College. Kunette and Reisha found it difficult to come to the port because of the hostility from the students. With the two of them no longer there to bother him for food, Isaac was free to visit the cafeteria instead.
With his hands in his pockets and messy hair, he looked like a typical unemployed man prowling the streets, but those who saw him only frowned at the sight and made no attempt to talk with him.
There were only five student cafeterias in the Campus as a whole which were used by all of the schools, and this made it a perfect place for students from different schools to become acquainted with one another. Even the Campus was quite generous about the lunch time; it was a 3 hour session to give enough time for students to socialize.
Although this lunchtime was a brief respite for the students of the Campus, their biggest complaint was the unified menu. In order to make it as efficient as possible, all five cafeterias had identical menus. It’s true that the food cooked in the cafeteria used the finest ingredients, but the rotation of the menus had been identical for so long that it was almost a tradition. And this dull, unchanging way was sure to leave students’ palate unsatisfied.
“Hey! It’s been a while! What’s on the menu today?”
Isaac entered the third student cafeteria which was closest to the port and the moment he stepped in, he had all the attention from the students within. While the boys were surprised to see him since they heard no news about him since the stabbing incident, the girls already began to gather together to make a list of goods to ask to Isaac. The new students stared at him with curiosity, the main protagonist at the centre of all rumours.
“Oh! It’s still as fancy as it always has been.”
The Cafeteria was a buffet arranged with salads made of tens of different vegetables and dressings, soup, bread, many different types of ham, and cheese. But just as Isaac was about to approach the buffet, a man blocked his path. When Isaac looked up to see what was happening, he saw the man shake his head. He seemed very reluctant, yet something was forcing him to do this.
“I’m sorry but you cannot use the Student Cafeteria.”
There was a small band placed on his arm, indicating that he was part of the Student Council responsible for maintaining the order of the students in the Cafeteria.
“Why can’t I use the Cafeteria?”
“Because you’re not a student.”
“Hm, that’s funny. I would have understood it if you told me when I first came to the Campus. But don’t you think you’re a few years late for that?”
The man sighed. He seemed to experience the struggles of middle management, where one is getting crushed from the top while those below try to push up against him.
“The previous President turned a blind eye, but the current President will do as the rules are stated.”
“Wow! Do you really have to do this over food?”
The Council member simply shrugged at Isaac’s complaint.
“If you’re going to complain, do it to the President. I’m just doing as I’m told. Anyway, those who aren’t students are banned from using the Student Cafeteria.”
Isaac was wondering why she was so quiet, but this was her plan. Isaac made a small sigh. In the end, all he got from the trip to the Cafeteria was an empty stomach and a tedious list of goods for Isaac to bring to the girls.
Going to the Cafeteria was purely for convenience. Cooking and doing the dishes were just bothersome to him. It was a small prank he could laugh about if this was what that spoiled little girl could do for her revenge. If she didn’t personally visit Isaac afterwards that is.
She came to Isaac with a victorious smile and arrogance to match it. That proud girl stood with her hands on her waist and told Isaac if he begged for forgiveness, she might be merciful enough to give him permission to use the Cafeteria. It was the final push to tip Isaac off the edge. To watch that proud and cold face twist in anger like a hissing cat was an opportunity too good to pass.
“Man oh man, I really am an asshole.”
Isaac snickered and decided to fall for that spoiled girl’s taunt. He was just getting bored of his current life, and a new toy just happened to fall in front of him.
“I’ll show you what happens when you play with food.”
“Just making an incident won’t have enough impact. Is there something else I can do?”
Since she started the fight with food, it’d be in accordance for him to retaliate in kind. And it just so happened to be the Week of Suffering soon.
The Week of Suffering sounds like a time of hardship, and it was true in a way. The Campus stocks up on preserved rations in case of emergencies which may isolate them from the main continent. But these preserved rations are so dry, sticky and disgusting that only those who are about to die from starvation would think of eating it.
These rations had an average lifetime of 2 years, and when they are restocked every year, the rations which had expired were disposed of into the stomachs of the students.
The time it took for all of the expired rations to be consumed was normally a week, and so the students began touting it as the ‘Week of Suffering.’ Its name was quickly adopted by the Campus and was now listed as such in official documents.
With the Week of Suffering close by, Isaac had little time to think up his plan, but one thing he needed to consider was that this event was stressful for not just Rivelia, but the Campus as a whole.
People can get very agitated when it’s related to food, and even the smallest transgression could lead to an outburst. If Isaac made a wrong move, he would become the enemy of the entire Campus, so he needed to move carefully.
“Hm, is there something I can divert their attention with?”
While Isaac pondered with a cigarette in his mouth, Reisha and Kunette barged into his lodge.
“Yahoo! Sunbaenim, we are here! And we’re hungry! Give us food!”
Considering the giant bags they’d brought with them, it was obvious they were planning to avoid the Week of Suffering by staying here. The College also needed to participate in this event, but at least in the port, Isaac could make food that was edible for them.
Reisha flinched as Isaac just silently watched the two after they barged into the lodge. Instinctively, she could feel an ominous sensation crawl through her spine. Kunette didn’t seem to realise something was wrong, and ran to Isaac to pull on his pants.
“… Isaac, give me honey.”
Isaac shook his head coldly at Kunette, who seemed desperate for the honey she’d been missing out on for so long.
“I’m sorry, but there’s no honey.”
Kunette looked at Isaac as if the world was about to end.
“H, honey…. Gone? Really?”
Her voice quivered. Isaac began patting her on the head and replied with unmatched confidence.
“Don’t worry. There’s no honey now, but soon I’ll let you have so much honey you’d get sick of it.”
“That’s right! So just hold on for a few more days.”
After nodding furiously, she finally realised Isaac was amidst something after looking him in the eyes and stepped backwards.
“… Isaac, you look evil.”
“Kukuku, you just wait.”
“C, can I leave no…”
Reisha, who was looking for an opportunity to escape, dropped her head when Isaac’s eyes met hers. She didn’t know what was going to happen, but she was confident that he was going to use her for whatever plan he was thinking. She wanted to escape, but considering how much Isaac had been taking care of her until now, all she could do was regret visiting him today.
“Did you call, Sunbaenim!”
Krent came like lightning when he heard Isaac was calling him. It didn’t matter how much Krent tried, he was going to be Isaac’s hubae no matter what. So unlike many in the College, his life was just as unchallenged and leisurely as it always has been.
Just as expected from someone who grew up in a merchant guild, he cared little for status or talent. All that mattered to him was success and results. Krent judged a person based on how successful they were or the potential they have. In that measure, Isaac was a man who deserved much respect.
Isaac was the man who managed to create a market in the Campus where many merchants couldn’t even dream about. There had been attempts from the most successful merchants in the past, but they all failed miserably. Some attributed Isaac’s achievement to luck or due to the special situation he was in. But not many could use opportunities that was available to them to its fullest; this in itself could also be called talent.
After a puff from his cigarette, Isaac put out the smoke on the ashtray and spoke to Krent in a deep voice.
“Would you like to do business with me?”
Krent could instinctively feel the imminent success within those words.
“Give me your orders, Sunbaenim!”