One by one, the applicants made their way into the room. Some came out smiling, others came out with a look of gloom. Ivel remained in the waiting room, wondering if he should stay or run away and wait for another chance.
“Hm, Mr. Ivel?”
Countess Selia warmly received him with a smile. Ivel contemplated confessing his true reasons as to why he was here, but he came to realise that this was perhaps the chance he needed.
Inside that room were people of the highest ranks that Ivel wouldn’t be able to see for months, even years, if he requested a meeting. Duchess Laila, otherwise known as the Iron Lady, leader of the Wolfgang Duchy and rival to Duchess Rivelia. Her husband, Rizzly, captain of the North Bear warriors. And Count Cordnell, who was responsible for the Wolfgang Duchy’s finances and formerly the vile Isaac’s closest aide. They were all gathered here.
After the atrocities Isaac had committed, the public demanded that all of his close collaborators had to be punished as well. But the current Emperor instead announced that no collective punishment would be administered—that these men and women had in fact aided the Empire in revealing Isaac’s conspiracy and even took steps to hinder it. Now, much of the public are empathetic to these men and women for surviving the hellish environment that was working under Isaac. In fact, the name “Isaac Cartel” had added a fearsome edge to their reputation.
“Hm. Ivel is it? Sit down.”
Count Cordnell asked as he skimmed through the documents. Ivel sat opposite to the three, completely tense.
“I heard your application was late. Was there a problem?”
Laila asked with a soft voice, unlike her title of Iron Lady. Ivel swallowed his spit and answered.
“In truth, I didn’t apply to work here.”
“Then I guess our time here has been wasted. Do you have any idea how much time has been wasted thus far because of scoundrels like you who want to assume positions through connection alone? Get out.”
Count Cordnell’s cold harsh comment caused Ivel to respond immediately.
“In truth, I am here for my Campus graduation thesis.”
“What the? You haven’t even graduated yet?”
Campus typically reserved field activities for those struggling to keep up with its curriculum. And on the other end, students who completed graduation requirements early had the option to present a thesis.
The students who took advantage of the latter policy were some of the top students in its field. Unlike the students of College, who had to work for the Empire after graduation, Campus graduates were free to work for any organisation. And this ‘thesis graduation’ may as well be the golden ticket to any job they wanted.
If the thesis was of exemplary quality, they might be invited to College like a post-graduate scholar. For the students at the top of their fields, looking to achieve further beyond wasn’t uncommon; in fact, it was a given.
Count Cordnell’s interest seemed to have been piqued hearing the word thesis. He asked Ivel.
“A thesis… What’s the topic?”
“It’s about the demon Isaac.”
Silence befell the interview room.
“You’re going to write about that Isaac?”
“Yes. I believe that all humans are pure in heart at birth but can be moulded by their surrounding environment. But when you check the records, Isaac demonstrated an extreme hatred and distrust of humans. So I wish to write the truth of what caused the birth of the demon Isaac. I believe Isaac became the most heinous of criminals because of abuse he received as a child. So the thesis will first focus on the importance of early education in early development. I will—regrettably—posit that Isaac’s ingenuity, particularly in speech and leadership, led to his exploitation of our laws, as evidenced by his actions. The thesis will end with a focused analysis on Isaac’s life as a whole, the environment he resided in, the cultural norms of that time, and why he ended up making the decisions he did. My goal in completing this thesis is to prevent the birth of another disaster like that of Isaac. ”
As Ivel confidently prattled about his thesis, Laila and Cordnell’s faces grew more incredulous by the second. Rizzly’s face was almost a hot shade of red from trying to suppress his laughter. But Ivel thought their responses were normal as those who were at the centre of all these events.
“Um… Hm… Okay. Work hard.”
“Yes! Thank you! And for this thesis, I cannot exclude commentary from those who worked under him, so I am requesting an interview.”
“An interview? With me?”
“Not just you, Count Cordnell, but if possible, Duchess Laila and Sir Rizzly too.”
Cordnell was at a loss for words. Laila spoke in his stead.
“Your name is Ivel?”
“Yes! That’s right.”
“Fine. I accept your request. But I cannot give you an interview now due to time constraints. I will make arrangements for an interview and notify you then. But where are your current accommodations?”
“I’ve found one in Port City.”
“Move to New Port City. I shall make the arrangements. The city will provide you with everything.”
“Y, you don’t need to….”
“Do not feel pressured. Personally, I am very curious as to how the thesis will be completed. You will have my utmost support.”
“T, thank you.”
“You may leave.”
Ivel did a ninety degree bow and left the room. The look on Countess Celia irked Ivel’s mind, but he immediately realised what that look meant just as he was about to close the door.
A burst of laughter escaped the room. Perhaps it was a given. An undergraduate attempting to write a thesis about Isaac. Depression overcame Ivel for a moment, but he shook it off with a renewed determination. He was more knowledgeable than anyone regarding the importance of education and morality during childhood.
Though it may seem like an over exaggeration, Ivel believed he grew up to be an upstanding citizen despite the environment he lived in—along with his two smart siblings.
Ivel was worried about the possibility of getting a refund now that he was leaving early. But his concerns evaporated when the owner handed him the money and his things over the counter. Ivel was impressed by Port City’s exceptional administrative structure.
Ivel crossed the Sky Bridge once more—with his belongings this time—when a palanquin carrier approached him.
“Yes. That’s me.”
“Get on. We will take you to your accommodations.”
“There’s no need…”
“We’ve been ordered to do so you see…”
Ivel wanted to refuse, but their helpless expression eventually convinced Ivel to get on. With a grunt, the carriers lifted the palanquin and started moving, chanting ‘one, two!’ with each step.
Ivel considered himself lucky, seeing how everything was falling into place. Now, all he needed was to conduct his research and write his thesis. Ivel was organising the structure of his thesis in his mind—when he realised the palanquin ride was longer than he expected. He no longer saw the flashy buildings of New Port City, and found himself passing through an alleyway with cold, grey buildings looming over him.
Fear struck Ivel’s heart. He shouted.
“Hey, where are you going?”
The carriers paid no heed to Ivel, slowly picking up their speed. They were now in a full sprint, and Ivel could only hold on to the palanquin for his life.
‘I can’t believe it! Were the rumours true?!’
Isaac was a juicy thesis topic; he began his legendary journey at Campus, travelling across the continent and writing chapters of history with every one of his acts, although more so out of infamy. But not a single thesis about him had ever been published. The rumour was that there was a systematic censorship around him within the Empire and that if you ignored the warnings, you would join the legions of those who had gone missing.
‘At this rate…’
Jumping off the palanquin at this speed was likely to injure him at best. And escaping from eight men in such a state was going to be difficult, especially when he was in New Port City. It was their home territory, while Ivel had no idea on the layout of this place.
Ivel could only look for an opportunity as the palanquin moved on. But when it entered the warehouse district, Ivel despaired.
‘Oh no. There’s too many of them.’
Hundreds of men were gathered in the warehouse district. Running from them all was impossible. The palanquin carriers weaved through the path this mob opened for them. The palanquin stopped, in the middle of the mass.
Ivel stood up from the palanquin and shouted at the lone man who sat on a chair, basking in the warmth of a campfire in front of him.
“I may be from the school of administration, but I have completed my military training! Come! I will take at least one of you with me!”
A moment of silence fell in the warehouses. It was followed by an eruption of resounding laughter. In the midst of the laughter, the middle aged man basking in the fire’s warmth smirked. .
“I would be mad to kill a student of Campus. I brought you here for business. So come closer.”
Ivel carefully looked at his surroundings as he approached the man. As he got closer, Ivel realised who this man was. It was Soland. The Godfather. Ruler of New Port City’s darkness, and a member of Isaac Cartel, one of the candidates for his interview.
“The truth will be revealed one day, even if you kill me.”
Soland looked at Ivel with a complicated expression.
“I don’t care what this truth is. First, are you Ivel from Campus’ School of Administration?”
“Your father’s name is Aaron, who comes from the village Retien near Gabelin?”
Ivel’s expression soured the moment he heard his father’s name, and his tone reflected it. This was received poorly by the mob around him.
They booed at Ivel from all sides, threatening to disembowel him or throw him into the lake. But Soland simply raised his palm, and the crowd went silent.
“That man Aaron borrowed some money from me with you and your siblings as guarantors.”
Ivel’s eyes almost popped out of his sockets. A man behind Soland handed a stack of paper to Soland, and he began reading off it.
“Let’s see. Ten thousand Giga in the name of Ivel, thirty thousand under Ike, and fifty thousand under Irei. He topped it off with an extra ten thousand to make it a round hundred thousand. Since he hasn’t made a single payment since borrowing when you guys enrolled, it now totals to 750 thousand Giga after interest.”
“Whether it’s impossible or not is of no concern to us. You can refer this to the Department of Law if you want. We have other ways to get our money. I’m just letting you know how much money you owe.”
“Why do I have to pay for something I didn’t borrow?!”
“Because you were Aaron’s guarantor. And to be frank, I don’t plan to get my money from you. You may make decent money as someone from Campus, but you’d struggle to even pay off the interest alone. We’ll be getting our dues from your siblings for the most part. I’m just letting you know as a courtesy.”
“You’re saying you can demand payment for illegal loans from College graduates?”
The aura around Ivel completely transformed when Soland brought up his siblings. His narrowed eyes and the sudden ferocity forced everyone to take a step back. Even Soland flinched.