Despite Isaac visiting at a late hour, the overseer of the Communicator Room scrambled to receive him when he entered the room. With a polite greeting, the overseer led Isaac to one of the personal Communicators with an attitude completely different from the last time Isaac came.
The private room had a sofa and some complimentary snacks and drinks on the tabletop. When Isaac asked to connect to the Capital’s Department of Supplies, they were insightful enough to connect him directly to Mazelan.
-Hey! I’ve heard the rumours. You really have talent on surprising everyone with your ingenious ideas. The Grand Canal Race! Even Gabelin is talking about it.
Mazelan greeted Isaac with a faint smile the instant his call connected.
“It’s just my sideline jobs pulling through.”
-I’ve heard that your main business, the casinos, isn’t doing too well?”
“It’ll make a comeback soon enough.”
-Huhu. I’ll look forward to it. I’ll do everything I can to help you.
“Now that you mention it, I actually have something I need your help with. And something I’d like to confirm with you.”
“Yes. Can you install some Communicators in New Port City too? It’s so bothersome to travel between Port and New Port City all the time.”
-Hm… I’m sorry to say this, but the installation of Communicators follows a 5-year plan where the largest cities take priority. There is no room for me to put in any changes. Not to mention that New Port City isn’t even included in the list since there’s already Port City next to you.
“What if New Port City pays for the installation?”
-Hm, if it’s like that, then I may be able to do something. But do you really need to install it in New Port City? It’s not like the installation comes at a reasonable price. I think you’ll do fine just using Port City’s.
“No. I need it.”
-Well, fine. If New Port City will pay for all the expenses, it doesn’t matter to us. I’ll connect you with one of the companies doing the installations. They can just extend Port City’s connections to New Port City.
-Then is that all you need?
“Yes. For now.”
-That ‘for now’ part seems rather intimidating.
“You’re just overthinking it.”
-Hng. So what was it that you wanted to confirm?
“It’s a simple question.”
-What is it?
“Port City is running a smuggling business, right?”
There was a silence. Mazelan looked as if his soul was being drained from his body. He quickly tried to regain composure, but he only managed to awkwardly avoid eye contact with Isaac.
-W-what could you mean? I have no idea what you’re talking about.
Watching Mazelan’s reaction, Isaac pulled out a cigarette and took a deep breath.
“You’d be surprised at how many things you notice when you just sit down and watch how the world runs.”
“The first thing that made me curious was the reaction from the Seven Grand Merchant Guilds.”
-The Seven Grand Merchant Guilds? But you’ve never even met any of its Guild Masters other than Mr. Goldman?
“I’ve had my doubts even before today, but seeing them today confirmed it.”
Isaac responded nonchalantly at Mazelan, who still seemed like he was unable to understand.
“The last time I contacted you, I also had a chat with Mr. Goldman and asked him to invest in me. In truth, didn’t expect very much. I was just making a jab in hopes of getting some useful personnel to borrow, but the Seven Grand Merchant Guild agreed to invest in me. Was it really insurance? Was it really to stop Port City? Would a merchant really invest in someone whom they only saw once in their life? An investment with no information or had any promise of making a return? Not only was it just Mr. Goldman, but all seven guilds agreed to make the investment. Could they have prepared 1 million Giga so quickly, even if there wasn’t any dissent? Do you really think all of that is possible?”
“That is when the thought of ‘Ah! I’m on to something’ came to mind.”
-Who knows? Merchants tend to have an excellent sense when it comes to investment.
Isaac smirked at Mazelan’s feeble attempt to defend the Seven Grand Merchant Guilds.
“That’s what I also thought at first – that the merchant guilds which represent the Empire could take a risky gamble like that. But merchants are extremely sensitive creatures who seek profit and tremble when they see a loss. So I used up all of the first loan and asked for more as a test. Yes, I did use the tariffs as an excuse, but they sent me the money again, though begrudgingly. What was most surprising was that there were no conditions for this loan.”
“Yes. Even if the first investment was a form of insurance to hinder Port City, there must have been someone in the guilds who would have disagreed with further investment when the original loan was wasted. Or they would have demanded conditions such as shares or some form of commanding authority, but the only thing they demanded was to keep the tariffs as they were. That is when I was sure. That New Port City is much more valuable than what everyone else thinks.”
-How did you come up with that train of thought when you’ve locked yourself on that rooftop?
Isaac shrugged with an expression suggesting that Mazelan’s words were unjustified.
“I was busy too, you know. With only 3 years ahead of me, I had to come up with a plan to save the city, direct the procedure, and figure out the reason for all this at the same time.”
-And you came up with it all while living on a rooftop?
“Like I’ve said before, you can see many things when you just sit down and watch. Maybe you should try it out someday.”
Mazelan dropped his head, moaning.
“The final clue came today. The Grand Canal Race. I offered each of the Seven Grand Merchant Guilds an opportunity to join in, but all of them refused. Their answer was that the next race would never happen so long as the rights of Grand Canal remained in Port City.”
-Ah! That’s right. Port City has all the rights over the waterways. Hm, sounds like you only did Port City a favour?
“Yes. So I asked them again if they would join in if I managed to take the rights on the waterways from Port City, but they seemed certain that it would never happen. One of the sayings I like is that there can’t be a result if there isn’t a cause. So I looked for many possible reasons,dismissing the implausible as I went, and I ended up with just one answer.”
-What is that?
“Why is Port City so important?”
-Do you really not understand the value of Port City? Port City is…
“The centre of trade? The Empire isn’t small enough to be swayed by a single city, even if it’s Port City. There are many more trade cities other than Port City in the Empire. I’m sure the Seven Grand Merchant Guilds have more than enough power to find alternate trade routes if Port City were to create their own merchant guild. Am I wrong?”
Mazelan hesitated to speak, but Isaac’s eyes pressured him. Mazelan responded with a deep sigh.
“So that naturally led to another question. Why are the Seven Grand Merchant Guilds so desperate to stop Port City from forming their own merchant guild when they have more than enough power to out-compete and isolate Port City?”
-And you’re saying that the answer is smuggling?
“Yes. Human greed is endless, and the money they made over the rights of the waterways was sure to be insufficient. They would have looked for alternative ways to make more money, and the best way to do so using their advantage in transportation would be smuggling. When that thought crossed my mind, it reminded me of one of the businesses I was planning.”
-A new business? Other than the Grand Canal Race?
“Yes. I came up with many other ways to make money, and smuggling was one of them.”
-Y, you dumbass! You were planning to smuggle when you’re an official of the Empire!
“Its high risk is justified by the high return. Smuggling is so good because you don’t have to pay the tax for it. Then I started to think, would those smartasses in Port City really fail to come up with this when even I managed to think up the idea?”
-… Shit! Did you really just play around during Campus?
Mazelan grumbled on, but Isaac was too preoccupied with pulling out another cigarette to replace his spent one.
“Well, with that conclusion, I could understand why the Seven Grand Merchant Guilds were trying to stop Port City from trying to establish their own merchant guild. Since Port City only has rights over the waterways, the production facilities for smuggling must be placed elsewhere. Producing and distributing these sensitive goods for smuggling could only be possible in the hands of someone as powerful as the Seven Grand Merchant Guilds. I assumed Port City no longer wanted to share the profits. So they wanted to step in to the business officially by establishing their own merchant guild as a front. Their authority over the waterways would make it easy for them to find success, making them a formidable competitor on top of the Seven Grand Merchant Guilds losing one of their businesses, which was tax-free and contributed to slush funds. This must have been the reason why they couldn’t join in on my business, since their smuggling activities were in the line.”
PR Note: Slush funds are reserves of money usually used for illegal purposes, in particular political bribery.
“Well, this is all just a theory on my part, and I could be wrong. But if what I came up with was indeed true, then there is one fundamental thing I really don’t understand.”
-What is that?
“Was the Department of Supplies truly oblivious of the smuggling business that was taking place? It makes no sense that the Department of Supplies, which controls the flow of goods throughout the Empire, didn’t know about this happening in Port City. And if the Department of Supplies was aware of this, then it would naturally mean that Port City, New Port City, the Seven Grand Merchant Guilds and the Department of Supplies are all connected. Am I wrong?”
Mazelan seemed to be in a serious thought when he spoke back to Isaac.
-Wait here. I’ll contact you again once I switch to a secure line.
“Take your time.”
After enough time had passed for Isaac to finish his second cigarette, Mazelan reappeared on the screen. He hesitated again and again, but Isaac’s silent, unmoving response forced him to speak first.
-Everything I about to say to you is classified and should never be leaked to the public. If this information were to leak, even I won’t be able to protect you. Do you still want to hear it?
“What am I supposed to be afraid of when I’m going to die in 3, no 2 and half years anyway?”
-Because you could end up dying much sooner!
“Well, I know it won’t be me speaking first.”
Mazelan shook his head after hearing Isaac’s casual remark. It took a few deep breaths for Mazelan to regain enough composure to speak again.
-First thing to know is that this problem, which is an embarrassment to the Empire, was neglected out of necessity.
“Now you’re getting me even more curious.”
-Port City wasn’t always absent of their own merchant guild. It’s impossible that such a thing would happen in a thriving trade city. Back then, Port City truly was the centre of transportation and culture matching its fame, fit for its unofficial title as the ‘Second Capital.’ But the problem was that they got too greedy.
“… How can that become a problem?”
-They sought to profit by changing the map.
“The map? I see. It’s the Grand Canal.”
Long term projects are a monster of its own when it comes to devouring up its funds. Digging a tunnel through a mountain is hard enough, but digging a tunnel and a canal large enough for ships to travel through would have cost a significant amount of funds even with the technologies of the previous world.
Isaac wasn’t sure about the technological level of this world in terms of construction techniques, but even with the aid of magic, digging a canal starting from Port City and ending near Gabelin would have been impossible for a single city to fund, no matter how much profit they were making through trade.
-Unlike the initial estimates, the cost for canal’s construction increased dramatically as it went through many delays. One by one, those who invested in it began to drop out.
“Sounds like the situation got to a point where they would ask for government intervention.”
-That’s right. They requested for aid from the government, but the officials from the Department of Finance realised that setting foot in the situation was like stepping into an endless swamp. Between a rock and a hard place, the Department of Finance made the worst possible decision. They delayed intervention on the grounds of further negotiations that were in truth, meaningless. And in the meantime, the construction went on.
“I can imagine it right now. Since there was a rumour of government intervention, those already invested couldn’t pull out even if they wanted to.”
-Yeah. The situation was just in perpetual decline as the cycle of negotiations went on. They would get collateral to receive a loan for further investment, and use that loan as another piece of collateral to receive more loans. The rumours of negotiations with the government spread, and it acted as a catalyst for other prominent nobles and merchants to invest in the scene, who believed the rumour to be trustworthy and that the government would act as insurance. As time went on, it became obvious that the situation was like pouring water into a broken pot, but leaving the scene at this point would lead to millions of unemployed labourers. This led to more government departments getting involved in this scene. Naturally, more opinions arose in the negotiations as different outlooks clashed and caused even more delays. And this cycle kept on going.
“Since the canal was constructed purely through civilian funding, I assume the government gave up eventually. I’m amazed the canal actually finished completion.”
-The government did intervene. While all of the departments were in a frenzy looking for a solution, Central made a suggestion. They wanted to use Port City’s geographical position and status as a thriving trade city to run a smuggling business to provide the funds for the construction.
“Wait. So it was the Central that suggested smuggling?”
Isaac responded with great surprise. He never thought that Central would be involved in this. The situation was even more complicated than he first perceived.
-Yeah. Back then, Central’s suggestion sounded like an excellent solution to solve all of this complicated mess. So the Departments of Finance, Administration, Supplies, the Seven Grand Merchant Guilds, Port City, and Central became interconnected in this smuggling business.
“But it’s been so long since the Grand Canal finished construction. I don’t see the reason why you are still ignoring this smuggling activity.”
Mazelan made a deep sigh.
-This is the reason why this information is classified. Even through smuggling, it wasn’t enough to supply all the funds required for construction.
“So what did you guys do on top of smuggling?”
Mazelan hung his head in embarrassment as he asked Isaac a question.
-What do you think is the best product to smuggle in terms of profit?
Lists of goods went through Isaac’s mind. Then Isaac looked to Mazelan in disbelief.
-Strangely, there was an increased number of wars between noble families during the construction of the Grand Canal.
“Ha! So you guys instigated more wars?”
-It’s possible with the power Central has. Plus, they also extracted very useful intel out of the whole situation.
“Useful information? Ah!”
-Did you find out?
“If you control the flow of weapons, it means you control the flow of war.”
-That’s right. Central was pleased with the fact they could choose the winner of the war while profiting from the weapons smuggling.
“Plus, by following the tracks of the smuggling route, you can easily find out and suppress anyone with ulterior motives. So that’s why they allowed the weapons smuggling to go on? I can see why you would treat it as classified information. If this truth was leaked, even Central would be in peril.”
“I don’t understand though. Central must have been managing the whole smuggling scene until now, so why are they leaving Port City alone despite how much trouble it’s causing?”
-Central cannot intervene directly in any of the Empire’s inner workings. They always send out a representative or a puppet. The current four who hold the rights to the waterways are the sons of those that bought over all the bonds and pieces of collateral through smuggling. Those idiots are completely oblivious that their fathers were puppets of Central. They think they were born with power over the waterways. That’s why they are trying so hard to create their own merchant guild.
“I would have thought Central would have more than enough power to suppress and control their representative’s descendants.”
Mazelan grit his teeth when Isaac made his remark. You could clearly see the anger building in Mazelan, but he quickly fixed his posture and spoke in a serious tone.
-When our current Emperor ascended to the throne, he sought the attendant who was tasked with teaching him when he was young.
Isaac listened keenly while Mazelan seemed to speak some completely unrelated thing.
“Who was that attendant?”
-He briefly taught our Emperor about manners, but despite being just a low noble, he had the audacity to use physical punishment in his teachings. He was that old-fashioned of a man.
“Wow. He hit the Emperor when he was young? I think it deserves respect in some sense.”
-He was too old to work anymore, so he retired and went back to his homeland. But his homeland happened to be Port City.
“I’m guessing his family screwed themselves over?”
-The noble’s son delved into the Canal construction only to throw away all of the family’s fortune and commit suicide. The man, now penniless and homeless all of a sudden, met a death that matched his noble status.
“A death that matched his noble status?”
-Yeah. He neither begged nor asked for help, saying it would tarnish his honour. He simply starved to death next to his wife’s grave.
Isaac was at a loss for words.
-Do you understand now? That an attendant who served the Emperor in his youth died of starvation? Can you imagine how furious the Emperor was when he heard of this news? The Emperor ordered Central to investigate further, and Central confessed to everything.
“I imagine that the palace was turned upside down.”
-Not just the palace, but all of the Departments too. Here they were, thanking the Central for solving the situation, but it turns out it was Central who started the fiasco in the first place.
“Wait. It was Central who started the Canal construction?”
-They initiated the plot to hinder Port City since it was growing too powerful, but the situation grew out of their control. They acted innocent at first, and then acted as if they were trying to help out those in need. All of this happened in the previous generation, so there was no one they could place the blame on to, but it naturally led to all of the Departments being uncooperative with Central regarding this situation. Central also needed to show some form of penance and took their hands off the smuggling business.
“The government has to do something since they can’t let this smuggling scandal be exposed, but with Central out of the scene, there is nothing stopping Port City. For the Seven Grand Merchant Guilds, their reputation would plummet if the information that they profited from Port City’s dire situation was released, so they are desperately lobbying.”
-Do you understand the situation now? The reason why Port City can’t lay a hand on you isn’t just because the College badge is acting as your shield but also because Port City can’t give Central an excuse to intervene.”
Isaac fell to a deep thought as he folded his arms. He couldn’t understand why they were solving this issue in such a complicated way when they could just assassinate the troublemakers and replace them with another candidate.
His head began to process the details. Use everything he can. That’s why it may be more beneficial to go through the situation the hard way this time.
“If I can get my hands on the rights over the waterways, what will you do?”
-Is it really possible? It’s true that there are constantly calls for Central to clean up their own mess, but Central is also aware of this and is just lying low throughout it all. There is serious political infighting, since both sides want the other to yield and lower their heads first. So if it becomes possible that you can take the rights, all of the Departments will cooperate with their full support.
“Does that mean you won’t care if some of the people were to die?”
Mazelan stared at Isaac with his mouth shut.
-What are you thinking?
“I’m just trying to struggle for my dear life.”
-No matter how problematic this is and how desperate we are for a solution, no Department would fail to uphold their original duty.
“So you will turn a blind eye as long as nobody dies?”
-Huh? Is that how it goes?
“There’s just one thing I want. I will give you guys the rights over the waterways. In return, I want you guys to ignore anything that happens in this place for some time
-… I’ll send the message at least. So what’s the plan?
Isaac smiled as he spoke.
“Do you know why people fall for gambling?”
“Because they believe they can change their lives through just one game.”