“They’re faster than I expected. Is it because of that damsel?”
Although there was no limit to how far up the social ladder one could climb, this world’s society was still stratified in a rigid caste system centered around nobles. If a quarrel were to break out between two evenly matched noble families, the record of having performed a task for the Emperor could tip the scale in their favour.
The Emperor rarely gave out missions to his subjects, which meant that having fulfilled such a role granted both great honour and influence; each mission was an opportunity to overwhelm their political rivals.
The mayor held responsibility for this mission and with it, the greatest of honours if the mission were to succeed. It was obvious that there would be a great struggle within the political world as each faction would try to place their own candidate in the position while rejecting their enemies’ candidates.
It was originally expected that a new mayor would be selected no sooner than a year later, considering all of the time that would be spent on negotiations, formations, the dissolution of alliances, investigations on the candidates, and conferences.
“If you think about it, it was the ideal move. There was bound to be an opposition party no matter who filled the role of the mayor, but if it is Lady Rivelia, no one would dare oppose the decision.”
“You have a point there.”
If the heiress of the Pendleton family was to be selected as the mayor, there was no reason for all of the factions to compete with one another; they would instead focus on divvying up what was left evenly amongst each other. The Pendleton family had intimate relations with the royal family, having produced many Empresses and concubines throughout history. The Pendleton faction was perhaps the only faction Central saw as a fearsome threat, thanks to their power.
“I guess that is that. How did it go with the Seven Grand Merchant Guilds?”
With Mazelan still missing, Isaac’s only source of information in the capital were the Seven Grand Merchant Guilds. He had asked them to investigate the baggage that Rivelia’s troublesome group was bringing with her.
“According to the information given to us by the merchant guilds, there was a huge change in personnel when Lady Rivelia was confirmed to be the mayor, and most of the original police force has been replaced.”
“Because of Lady Rivelia.”
“Why would having that damsel… Ah!”
Isaac quickly realised the reason and nodded in agreement.
The political battle wasn’t over just because the mayor had been decided. Factions hostile to the mayor’s party would try their best to place as many of their own candidates in the police force as possible. By managing to place one of their men into a captain position, they could at the very least delay the mission. By doing so, they could still accomplish the mission even as the mayor would be judged ‘incompetent.’ That would be the only way their faction would survive.
In order to pressure and compete against the mayor, the candidate must also have the necessary skills and experience. This political brawl created the most abominable masterpiece the Empire had ever seen; even the youngest members of the police force were at least barons. But when Rivelia was chosen to be the mayor, the situation changed dramatically.
Rivelia el Pendleton, heiress to the Duke Pendleton. Many artists and sculptors dreamed of a chance to engrave her beauty into their works. Her skill in swordsmanship had earned her the title of “Queen of the Sword.” She was one of the few Sword Masters, and most importantly, she was unmarried.
“I can understand it when I look at it that way. She always had a group of men following her around back in College too. Just marrying that damsel would change anyone’s life.”
But would that be all? The world was never what it seemed to be at first glance. One must doubt everything, investigate the reason, and then doubt the reason behind it. That is why Isaac’s greatest suspicion was why Rivelia was selected to be the mayor.
“I wonder why she even took on the role of the mayor.”
One would think that selecting Rivelia as the mayor was a decision of divine wisdom, settling the political infighting in a single move. But from Rivelia’s point of view, this task had little to no value to her.
There may be many dukes in the Empire who moved up the ladder through accomplishments, but the Pendleton family was the only family whose title was inherited from one generation to the next.
“Eh? Would it be for revenge?”
Nobles decided their children’s residence, occupation, and even their relationships in regards to how it would benefit the family. Isaac believed that the Pendleton family was no different. Pursuing Isaac in order to have her revenge for what he had done back in the Campus would have no benefit for the family. In fact, petty revenge could very possibly ruin their reputation, and at worst, rumours would tie Isaac and the Pendleton family together permanently, if not for a long period of time.
‘Now that I think about it, that’s really serious.’
Isaac frowned when his thoughts reached that conclusion. By simply being at the top, enemies would rise from all over the place. There would be many already envious of the Pendletons’ might and honour, and they could just as easily spread gossip and slander to tarnish the Pendletons’ reputation. Then the devilish act Isaac had performed was all for naught. Burning the city down as a warning was pointless. Isaac sighed when he pictured the enemies of the Pendleton family rampaging through the city, which was already a haven for crime.
“Maybe I shouldn’t have teased her so much.”
Isaac originally teased her because he thought he’d never see her again after graduation; plus, he found her pouting face similar to that of an adorably angry kitten. And it had resulted into this.
“Well, the good thing is that the cunning snakes have all been replaced with brats who are more focused on winning that damsel’s favour.”
Isaac flicked through papers with the list of the police force’s candidates that Cordnell had handed to him. There was a limit as to how far one could go up through bribery and bootlicking. One must demonstrate their capabilities to rise even further.
The captain of the police force in a large city was equal to a baron in rank, but the previous police force was full of experienced, cunning candidates who were more capable than their title let on. The only option Isaac would have had against them would be to shatter their unity by fanning the flames of factional infighting, but this task is even easier now that the police force was filled with candidates more interested in building a relationship with Rivelia than their duty.
“But how did Reisha and Kunette graduate already, and why are they coming with her? And what’s this, even Krent is mixed in?”
Isaac’s greatest problems were the troublemakers Reisha and Kunette. Kunette was fine as long as she had her honey, but Reisha – that wrecking ball of an elf – was an accident waiting to happen. Causing incidents wasn’t Isaac’s greatest worry. The real concern was Rivelia using the opportunity to nag him every time it happened.
“Both College and Campus students can apply for a leave from school for up to 5 years to be employed outside as part of a ‘social studies’ activity.”
“What? I didn’t see anyone do that back when I was there?”
Isaac had seen everyone who passed through the port back when he was in the Campus, but not once did he see such a student.
“That’s obvious. Only students who are lacking in grades apply for that, and that isn’t a common sight in Campus. And don’t even suggest that it may be a possibility for those in the College.”
Just getting into the Campus was proof they were somewhat of a genius, but those from the College were protagonists in the making; they would change the world once they graduated. There was no way such people would waste their time learning about the outside world for ‘social studies.’
How the ‘social studies’ practice even came to be was to save students who were lacking the grades to graduate due to special circumstances.
“But why is Krent mixed in with that lot?”
Reisha and Kunette weren’t the type to even bother about grades, so they could be set aside. But Krent had already proven his capabilities by simply entering the College. His greatest priority would be to graduate as fast as possible and take over his father’s place as the guild master of the Rivolden Merchant Guild. He shouldn’t be wasting time here.
Cordnell looked around to check if anyone was eavesdropping. After confirming that only Rizzly was with Isaac, he carefully whispered into Isaac’s ears.
“There was an offer from Central.”
“Why are they involved now?”
Isaac’s face crumbled when he heard Cordnell’s words. As someone who was confident that the provincial war broke out because of Central, it was a name all too worrying for Isaac.
“The businesses that were transferred along with the rights of the waterways are quite sensitive, as you know. They chose a candidate who is both capable and trustworthy enough to manage the businesses quietly.”
Isaac was convinced by the explanation. The Seven Grand Merchant Guilds were deeply involved in the smuggling scene, so Krent, the successor to one of the seven guilds, wasn’t going to expose the secret any day. Plus, his skills were already proven by the fact that he attended the College, so he was perhaps the perfect candidate.
“I guess Krent is an ideal candidate to take over the businesses there. But do you think Krent will be able to do his job while avoiding the eyes of that damsel?”
Cordnell scratched his head and made an irresponsible comment.
“Well… Central urges that you’ll give your full support.”
“Hah! What a sick joke.”
It basically meant that Isaac was to pull Krent out of the police force and have him administer the smuggling business while keeping him out of Rivelia’s watchful eyes. It was obvious she was going to be looking for any excuse to start an argument, yet Central irresponsibly pushed the task onto Isaac.
“They are demanding a share of the profits from smuggling. They are asking profits to be split 3:3:4 between the Seven Merchant Guilds, Central, and Sir Isaac, respectively.”
“Do they take me for a fool?”
Smuggling was an important source of income. The government departments had given up on its shares in order to own the rights over the waterways in the future, so only the Seven Grand Merchant Guilds and Isaac solely possessed the rights to the profits from smuggling. Having committed the grievous crime of betrayal, the Seven Grand Merchant Guilds had no choice but to split the profits 7:3 in Isaac’s favour. But now, Central decided to intervene and cut Isaac’s share of the profit in half. It was understandable that Isaac wasn’t so pleased to hear it.
“Well, Central is saying that they will overlook your crime of stealing from their secret funds.”
“What? When did I steal money from them?”
“Half of the money that was stored in Port City’s casino was apparently theirs.”
“I think it’s great that it ended this way. You know what can happen if you get on the bad side of Central.”
Although the situation was frustrating, Isaac had no choice. In fact, it was very strange that Central stayed put even while their money was taken from them.
‘No. Maybe the reason why the provincial war happened was because I took Central’s secret funds. And if it’s them, they might have critical evidence that proves I did steal the money.’
The extremely one-sided decisions made by the capital’s departments could be explained by the assumption that Central was manipulating the strings with the pretense of having a score to settle with Isaac.
If that was the case, then Central’s offer to split Isaac’s initial profit ratio between the two of them was actually a very good thing considering his crimes against them. If Central was taking a share of the smuggling profit, Isaac would also gain an impenetrable shield for the business. At the end of the day, it was going to be a net profit for Isaac.
“I guess there’s no choice. I think there’s a misunderstanding, but tell Central that I’m happy to work with them if they wish to.”
Cordnell let out a sigh of relief. He was quite sick and tired of Isaac’s shameless insistence on his innocence. But it was a relief to see that Isaac didn’t prioritise his pride when considering the conflict with Central. Cordnell almost fainted when he received the message that half of the stolen money belonged to them.
“On a side note, some of the families of those within the police force have sent you a present and a message to look after their children through the Seven Grand Merchant Guilds.”
“Heeh… Really? For me?”
Isaac looked with surprise and asked again. When a noble was deployed to another province, it was customary to send a present to the designated post as somewhat of a bribe. But to think that even Isaac, who is ridiculed in the noble society, would receive such a thing.
“I don’t know which families they are from, but it is nice to see that they’ve got manners. How shall I repay them?”
“What are you going to do?”
“I must give them the appropriate reception for their presents. Which lodgings will that damsel be staying in?”
“She will be staying in the best room in the hotel that is owned by Rivolden Merchant Guild.”
“Give them rooms in the same hotel, and provide them with a gold card while you’re at it.”
“What? But that would be too…”
“Make sure you discriminate them from the rest. What’s the problem anyway? I’m just repaying them for the presents they gave me.”
“Of course it’s a problem!”
“Tell them it’s all paid in advance by their families, so they can use it all for free. A proper human returns the favours they have received.”
Cordnell gave up and just shook his head. He wasn’t one to listen in the first place. Even if some members of the police force were to complain, there was nothing they could say if Cordnell gave the same answer as Isaac.
“Then what will you do with the knights who haven’t followed through with the customary presents?”
“They are getting regular employee cards, of course. They can use the facilities by paying with their money. If they don’t want to spend money, tell them to stay in the city’s barracks.
“What? Since when did we have a barracks for the police here?”
“Just find a decently-sized plot of land in Meta District and put up a tent or something.”
“They’ll rise up against you if you do that.”
“Then tell them to find a room in the city. You think there’s anything free in this world? Money doesn’t grow on trees, you know.”
“But they are the police force…”
It wasn’t any ordinary police force but a police force made up of Rank 1 knights. In any other city or province, the mayors and lords would greet them with the grandest reception they could muster.
“Tell the citizens who work in Ceta District to charge for everything, from their food to lodgings. Anyone who provides them with anything for free just because they are the police will be considered to have not been educated enough and thrown into the mines. They are our source of income for the next 2 years. We’ll take everything we can from them.”
The citizens of New Port City were apparently enraptured by Isaac’s speech back during the court session. Their techniques in customer service were evolving by the day in the never-ending quest to earn as many tips as possible.
What would happen if innocent, young nobles who had just gotten out of school were to face them? It was obvious that the citizens would flock to them, since they were trapped here with their mission. Cordnell could clearly see the fate of the police force. The citizens squirming beneath them, providing them with services they’d never experienced before. Their pride and arrogance would be inflated with every treatment, and they’d happily sign whatever receipt they are given without even looking, falling deeper and deeper into the abyss.
Plus, Isaac recently created a new system of payments in order to hinder Rivelia and her police force. Since they could make their payments at the end of their trip, it implicitly encouraged the wealthier guests to use more of their money.
Many wealthier guests found it more convenient to pay for everything at once instead of having to pay each time they purchased something. The system worked by simply stamping a palm-sized card, which automatically charged the user’s account. It trivialized the expense, and guests often lost track of how much they had spent, which encouraged them to spend more. There have been many complaints after these guests received the bill at the end of the day, claiming they’ve never spent such ludicrous amounts of money. But when the city showed evidence of the exact time, place, and how much they’d used on paper, the guests had no choice but to pay.
There was no point in resisting by claiming they don’t have the money for it. When they first signed the contract, it also meant that they agreed to have their wealth confiscated in order to complete their payment.
This was the notorious card that the wealthy guests were speaking of – the card that could sweep you off your feet if you’re not careful.
Cordnell was also impressed by the card’s convenience at first. Cordnell limited his use of the card after realising Isaac’s scheme to encourage spending, but the convenience factor was still significant.
There were three types of cards: a gold card which allowed all services free of charge, a regular card for the guests, and a card for the employees. Isaac shoved these employee cards into the hands of everyone who worked under him and made it so their pay would be deducted for each and every purchase they made.
Therefore, the members of the police force, who count as employees of the city, will receive the same card. The wise and experienced would stay on guard, but the brats who haven’t had much life experience would use it without a thought, only to land themselves in a mountain of debt.
“And how is the preparation for the report going? That damsel has one difficult personality, so she won’t leave a single stone unturned. Make sure you find and get rid of anything that may become a problem.”
Cordnell looked to Isaac, baffled.
“Wouldn’t it be faster to report things that won’t be a problem? Although I doubt we’d find one.”
“Why does it seem like you’re going to tell her everything if she asks?”
Isaac’s eyes narrowed, and Cordnell flinched as he looked away.
“That might be the case for me, but the bigger problem would be those in the administrative department. I’d bet that they’d confess to her even if she didn’t ask.”
Isaac grumbled as he clicked his tongue. But he wasn’t going to fault his hubaes for it. It was an obvious course of action on their part.
The most obvious proof of success was their title. Both commoners and nobles tried their hardest to rise up in rank. This was even more apparent to the commoners, and it was obvious the scale would be tipped toward Rivelia rather than Isaac, since being friends with the Pendletons would be a massive advantage.
“Well, let’s not focus on that for now. All of the districts other than the Ceta District are mine, correct?”
“Yes. All of the rights have been transferred to you without any legal issues. But things will get complicated once your title of Lord’s Representative is taken from you.”
“What happens after that is none of my business. You are to go and bring me the syndicate bosses, who are probably busy shitting bricks right now.”
It seemed the news of Isaac calling out for the syndicate bosses had spread, and Kalden carefully approached the rooftop.
“I thought you were busy. Why are you here?”
“I believe Lady Rivelia will arrive here around noon tomorrow.”
“Shit, that’s quick. I understand you guys joining her side, but I’ll warn you to be careful.”
“Huh? Careful for what?”
“Everything you’ve embezzled. That stubborn damsel won’t let it go just because I ordered you to do it. In fact, it’d encourage her to look even harder. Make sure you consult with Cordnell to hide it properly. I will defend you if you get caught, but I won’t be able to do anything if she gets persistent.”
Kalden’s face paled at Isaac’s warning. He was happy that he’d get to work with her until now, but it seemed that there was going to be a greater danger than there ever had been. They’d been embezzling without a care until now, so if a thorough investigation were to start, there would be an insurmountable pile of evidence against him.
“W, where is Mr. Cordnell?”
Kalden quickly looked for Cordnell, realising the fire was now under his foot.
“He’s gone to bring me the syndicate bosses. He’ll be here soon.”
And just as Isaac finished his words, Cordnell could be seen coming up the stairs. But the man that followed Cordnell was someone Isaac had never seen before.
“…What the, who is he?”
“He says he’s the newly-elected boss.”
Isaac tilted his head and questioned Rizzly.
“Have I made an order to replace the syndicate bosses?”
“Not that I recall.”
“Right? I don’t remember making it too. Did you guys replace them?”
Isaac asked Kalden and Cordnell, and they also shook their heads, just as confused as he was.
“Hm, the news of replacing the syndicate bosses would have reached at least your level… Who told you to be the new boss?”
Isaac asked the kind, calm-looking man. He greeted Isaac with a smile and a soothing voice.
“It is an honour to meet you, Sir Isaac. I am Max, the new syndicate boss.”
Isaac took out a cigarette as he heard Max’s introduction.
“Did I ask for your name? I asked who told you to become the new boss.”
“Dinozo, Milena, and Axlon have requested me to take care of their syndicates as they retired.”
Isaac asked, and Max simply gave a smile, as if saying, ‘you already know what I mean.’
“What about smartass?”
“It is regrettable that he managed to escape, but there won’t be anything he can do now that he’s lost all of his foundations. All of the districts have been taken over by us.”
“Hm, so the syndicates voluntarily united together? And the boss of this newly united syndicate is you.”
“Yes. In truth, it’s a waste of manpower to have four bosses for such a small city. I will manage the districts thoroughly as the new boss.”
“And if I were to refuse?”
Max simply shrugged at Isaac’s question.
“The three syndicate bosses are already in my hand. The public order will worsen significantly because of the clashes which will undoubtedly occur between my followers and the remaining followers of the old syndicates. But if you approve of my rise as the new boss, I’ll be able to clean up the area quickly. And you will need me too, Sir Isaac.”
“I will need you?”
“Yes. The retired syndicate bosses would only hinder you, providing the new mayor with reasons to put pressure on you. But I am clean of all criminal records, and unlike these filthy criminals, I am willing to sacrifice my life for you and your conviction, which is to bring salvation to the people of this city.”
Isaac couldn’t stop himself from smirking at Max’s words and nodded.
“Well. I guess it doesn’t matter who the syndicate boss is around here.”
“I won’t leave you disappointed.”
“But you know that I bought over all of the districts that you own right? Those districts are my fiefdom now. But having the title of a ‘syndicate boss’ doesn’t match someone who is managing my land, right? So I’m planning to change the title to my ‘representative.’”
“A representative you say? I will sacrifice my life before tainting your honor, Sir Isaac.”
Max bowed in admiration, while Cordnell and Kalden looked to him in horror. They could understand saying it’s an honour to meet Isaac as an attempt at flattery, but speaking of not tainting Isaac’s honour when Isaac’s ultimate goal is to live his life in peace as he plays around all day without a care about honour? They began to think that Max was more bizarre than he first seemed.
Isaac silently looked at Max’s back as he still bowed to him, and then he asked Rizzly.
“You still have the armour we found right?”
“Other than the ones we are currently using in the shooting range, most of them require some service.”
The armor Isaac found as he cleaned up the Meta District made quite the profit. As settled in the negotiation between Isaac and Debora, most of the armour was delivered back to the Marquis, but those that had been too heavily damaged beyond repair were being reused at the magical artefact range as dummy targets.
“Doesn’t matter. I just need it as a formality, so bring me one of those.”
Rizzly wondered about the reason as he walked down the stairs to one of the storage rooms in the city hall.
“Hm? Why are you bowing to me like that? We’re closer than that. Stand up, stand up.”
Isaac kindly spoke to Max, who seemed incredibly touched by Isaac. Isaac pulled out a new cigarette and asked.
“Being my representative and administering my land is a very serious task. That means you will become my knight.”
Max looked to Isaac with both surprise and excitement, while Cordnell and Kalden couldn’t hide their bafflement.
Only counts or higher up in the social hierarchy could give out knightly titles. Isaac didn’t have the authority to give out such titles as a Rank 1 Knight. Plus, his title as the Lord’s representative was going to be taken away when his mission finished, so how could he possibly declare someone a knight?
It was an obvious lie which could be seen through with basic common sense, but the strange follower of Isaac seemed to be too busy being excited about becoming a knight.
Rizzly came up the stairs with a set of armour. There was worry on Max’s face, as the armour seemed incredibly heavy at first glance. Of course, he wasn’t sure if he even had the strength to wear it. Isaac simply gave Max a reassuring smile.
“Does it look heavy? It actually is heavy. But thanks to the magic that’s imbued in it, it’s not heavy at all once you wear it.”
“Sure! Do you doubt my words?”
“H, how could I even consider that?”
“Right? It’s an incredibly valuable set; you could get tens of thousands of Giga if you sold it. This is a present for you, who will be performing my tasks as my personal knight. Go, wear it.”
“Ohoh! Thank you!”
Isaac kept pushing Max to take the armour, and with a look of gratitude, Max began putting the armour on with Rizzly’s aid. The size of the armour didn’t fit him, and the helmet was so heavy that Max couldn’t even lift it by himself. But once he put it on, he felt as light as a feather. He touched the armour in amazement and began hopping in place, testing it. Isaac asked Max about the armour.
“How is it? Do you like it?”
“I swear my loyalty to you with my life!”
Max bowed to Isaac once more, and Isaac got off his chair and approached him with his arm outstretched.
“Hey, like I said before, there’s no need for a bow. Now now. Come here, and look at the city with me.”
Isaac placed his hand on Max’s shoulder and brought him to the edge of the roof’s balcony.
“Now, look! For as long as you work for me, this city will continue to thrive.”
Tears could be seen on Max’s eyes as Isaac spoke. Isaac continued.
“But you see, there are so many people around who wish to eat me alive. Even though you are my representative, meeting you in official terms could bring unwanted attention. So I want you to refrain from coming in contact with me as much as possible. Do you understand?”
“Good. Rizzly will be taking care of you from now on. If you have any problems or any worries, go talk to Rizzly. He’ll take care of everything.”
“Nice to meet you, Sir Rizzly.”
Max bowed to Rizzly when Isaac finished speaking. Rizzly tilted his head, wondering if he should receive the greeting, when Isaac let go of Max’s shoulder and called Rizzly over.
“You come here too Rizzly, and admire the city. You two need to get along from now on.”
Isaac insistently waved at Rizzly to approach. He did, although unwillingly.
“Don’t just stand there awkwardly. Why don’t you pat him on the back to give him some reassurance?”
Max seemed confused at Isaac’s words when a smile appeared on Rizzly.
“Sure thing! It’s a common thing to reassure newcomers. You heard that? Work hard!”
“Eeh? Uh, huaah!”
Max, who had been standing at the edge of the balcony, lost his balance when Rizzly hit him on the back. As the law of gravity dictated, his body fell toward the ground as Max screamed.
Isaac apathetically looked down on Max, whose arms and legs were twisted in bizarre angles on the ground. He then turned his head to Kalden and Cordnell.
“I’ll give you one hour. If the syndicate bosses are dead, I want their bodies in front of me. You go with them too, Rizzly, and take your North Bears with you. There may be those who might resist us.”
“Can we kill them?
“I thought you weren’t bothered about killing people.”
“Huhu, just asking.”
“T, there are too many witnesses here! How are you going to manage this?”
Kalden screamed out, aghast, and Isaac simply spoke out regrettably.
“Sigh! What an unfortunate accident. To fall from the roof after being too excited from receiving some armour. But I’m sure he’s not dead yet, since it’s not that high up here. Bring him back up. Well, it’s too bad if he’s dead.”
“… Is it an accident?
“What else could it be then?”