“So how long are you going to do this, old man?”
A strand of earth moulded into a whip and lashed at Isaac’s cheek. The strike turned his face to the side with a slap, only to have Isaac grumble begrudgingly.
“That one hurt a little, old man.”
Isaac’s response enraged the old man further, and he threw one earthen whip after another at Isaac. But every strike made by the whips made a small slapping sound like hitting a sandbag. Bored by the old man’s lackluster attempts at torture, Isaac looked back at the old man apathetically.
“Damn! Just how many mana crystals did you stick in there for it to work inside this mine!”
Despite his thorough preparation and knowing well in advance of the coat’s capabilities, the coat still functioned in the mine and kept the rotten Scoundrel safe and sound.
“I think it is slightly broken. Otherwise, I wouldn’t still be tied up like this.”
The old man threw another earthen whip in response to Isaac’s grumbling. Shackling Isaac like this would have been impossible if the coat was functioning perfectly, but that was the only difference the mine was making. Anything beyond it was perfectly neutralized by the coat. No, there was a slight sense of damage, but it was marginal. What would originally cut down a tree in a single strike was reduced to that of a light jab. Thanks to that, the old man could only pace around in circles, unable to get what he wanted despite having Isaac subdued. The coat Isaac wore functioned much better than he expected.
“Woe is me, to be kidnapped by some dim-wit who doesn’t even know what he wants from me.”
“Shut up! I’m going to make this short. Give me the Queen’s Artefact.”
Isaac sighed in response to the old man’s demand. How he wished for the soothing relief of a choyu leaf right now.
“Hey, old man. I told you I’ll give it to you, right? But how am I supposed to do that when I don’t even know what I’m supposed to give? How am I supposed to know what you don’t even know?!”
Isaac’s complaint seemed to hit a sore point, and he shouted out in anger.
“Stubborn, aren’t you! You should know well that the treasure far surpasses your capabilities to handle it and is just a disaster waiting to happen! Hand over the Queen’s Artefact! And I’ll give you the sweet release of a quick death.”
“Sigh. Old man, I understand that you’re a little deaf, what with your age and all. But is it really that hard to understand what I’m saying? I’ll give you the thing, so describe to me what that thing looks like. And let’s say I do have that Queen’s Artefact you keep talking about, and I do know what it is. Did you really think I’d be carrying around such a valuable treasure on me at all times? What if I don’t have it with me? How am I supposed to give it to you then? Isn’t this the only location where you can tie me up and torture me like this?”
The old man seemed to hesitate, as Isaac’s reasoning had some weight behind it. But the old man firmly shook his head.
“No, you have the Queen’s artefact with you. There is no way you’d leave such a treasure behind.”
Isaac felt extremely frustrated by the old man’s stubbornness. It had been a while since Isaac had a conversation with a dim-wit who didn’t know how conversations work. His stubbornness was beyond what you’d expect from an average human being. How the old man came to the conclusion that ‘if it’s important for me, it must be important for you’ was beyond Isaac.
“I don’t know if this artefact is important to you, old man, but I don’t even know what this Queen’s Artefact is supposed to be!”
“Scoundrel! How much longer are you going to act innocent?”
“Ah, this is why I hate dealing with stubborn old men.”
Isaac let out a series of sighs. The old man also thought this method wasn’t going anywhere and flicked his hand in the air.
The earthen vines that held all of Isaac’s limbs disappeared, and Isaac’s body fell helplessly onto the ground. Curious, Isaac looked at the old man by simply looking up from the ground.
“This doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.”
Listening to the old man’s muttering, Isaac believed they’d finally reached the same conclusion. Isaac got back on his feet and took out a cigarette. When he inhaled a big puff of smoke, the expression on his face changed to that of bliss; he finally felt like he was alive again. The old man found Isaac’s action irritating, but he simply threw a small bottle at Isaac in silence.
“The bottle contains poison that will kill you within a day with excruciating pain, as your body turns into a single ounce of bloody puddle. Only I have the antidote. Now choose. You can die here now, or drink the poison and bring the Queen’s Artefact by tomorrow and live. I will give you wealth and honour beyond your imagination on top of the antidote.”
Just how much did the old man look down on Isaac to free his captive, even if it seemed like the interrogation was getting nowhere? Isaac could only be impressed by the old man’s bravery.
‘Just who is this dim-wit?’
Oblivious to Isaac’s judgement on him, the old man thought Isaac was contemplating the choices he had given to him and started acting like a graceful and benevolent winner.
“I’m sure you don’t want to die, right? I am giving you the chance to save yourself; don’t waste it.”
Isaac’s head tilted at the old man’s words.
“Giving me a chance? You?”
“Kuku. I wonder what will be quicker? People rescuing you, or the mana crystals on that trusty coat of yours running dry?”
Seeing that Isaac wasn’t believing his words, the old man pushed his hand into the left wall of the mine. Soon enough, a vibration in the earth triggered an echo in the mineshaft, and thick dust crumbled out from the small openings of the path.
“Not only did I just collapse the mine’s entrance, I’ve also destroyed many of the paths along the way here. It’ll take quite some time for the rescue team to reach here. And you’ll simply suffocate to death by then. Don’t tell me you believe in that coat of yours. Even if the coat functioned properly, the rescue team won’t get here within days.”
“You seem to know a lot about my coat. But what about you?”
“I, of course, know a secret passage. I don’t care if you die. The Queen’s Artefact will show itself once the owner dies. The only reason I’m going this far is because of Central’s investigation that will follow me if you do die. I’ll simply wait for you to die if I have to. Now! Choose! Will you suffocate alone here!? Or will you drink the poison and bring me the queen’s artefact!?”
In the face of the old man’s threat, Isaac took a deep breath of the cigarette and gave his answer.
“This is why there is no hope for third-rate villains like you. You should have gotten straight to the point when you caught me the first time. Why waste time explaining useless details?”
Isaac clicked his tongue in disappointment and took out what looked like an egg from under his coat.
The old man shouted when he noticed what the object was. This item, which looked like an egg, was an explosive which created an explosion by forcefully destabilising the pure mana crystal held within the egg. This grenade used the mana crystal itself as a weapon, so it didn’t share the same weakness as magical artefacts. But its flaw was that because only pures could be used as a charge, it was very costly. Each egg also needed to be crafted individually and couldn’t be mass produced, which meant that its power couldn’t be standardised. But the greatest flaw of all was it destroyed the mana crystal after a single use. These flaws made the market very small for eggbombs, but it was still rather well known amongst the populace as a hidden trump card capable of changing the tide of battle in desperate times. The old man seemed surprised at first at the unexpected turn of events, but he smirked as he spoke.
“Are you planning to threaten me with that? The mine will collapse if you explode it here now. Then you will die too.”
As soon as the old man finished his words, Isaac twisted the egg without hesitation until a small ‘crack!’ could be heard. He then tossed the eggbomb at the old man as if he was throwing loose change at a homeless man.
“Y, you madman!”
The old man screamed in terror and stretched both his arms out. The shadow under him stretched out and wrapped itself around the egg. The shadows enveloped the eggbomb, but cracks of blue light seeped through and a shockwave escaped out into the open.
The shockwave shook the mine like an earthquake, and Isaac fell from his feet, unable to maintain his balance. The old man also collapsed on the ground as he spat out blood.
“Cough! How could you detonate an eggbomb in a mine! Are you trying to die?”
“I didn’t expect you to be able to stop it.”
Isaac wiped the dust off his thighs as he got on his feet. He took out another cigarette in place of the old, ashy one, and applauded the old man.
The old man felt insulted. Insulted that he didn’t actually expect his captured prey to be able to turn back and bite him. Insulted that his prey’s attempt at double suicide actually hurt him. The old man got up on his feet, his face twisted in anger.
“You… don’t think you’ll die so easily. I’ll make you beg for the release of death once I get you to give up the Queen’s Artefact.”
“I don’t like pain you see…”
Isaac muttered nonchalantly and pulled out another eggbomb.
Even before the scrambling old man could stop him, Isaac activated the eggbomb by twisting it and threw it at the old man again. Once again, the old man used his shadow to swallow the eggbomb.
The second eggbomb’s shockwave was greater than before, and a web of cracks spread along the mineshaft’s walls. The shockwave seemed to have hurt the old man gravely, as he was vomiting blood. When Isaac pulled out another eggbomb, the old man cried out in disbelief.
“If you detonate another one, the mine will collapse! I no longer have the strength to stop it!”
Isaac replied. His tone seemed to ask why the old man was stopping him. When the old man saw the ever-so faint smile on Isaac’s face, his skin began to crawl.
“You will die too!”
Despite the old man’s cry, Isaac kept the smile on his face and asked back.
“But didn’t you say you’ll make me beg for the release of death? Wouldn’t it be much better to just die instead?”
The old man couldn’t retort to Isaac’s argument. When Isaac tried to activate the eggbomb again, the old man cried out in desperation.
“W, wait! I won’t kill you in excruciating pain!”
“So I’m going to die anyway?”
“N, no! I’ll let you leave unscathed if you just hand over the Queen’s Artefact!”
“Hey old man. I think I’ve asked this before, but why do you believe so firmly that I have the Queen’s Artefact?”
“Because you must have it.”
Isaac began to speak out in annoyance at the old man’s reply.
“This conversation we have just isn’t moving forward at all. Do you understand what I’m telling you, old man? Just how many times do I have to repeat myself? Are you just that senile? Whoever taught you to negotiate like that couldn’t have been a successful merchant.”
“You! Do you wish to die that badly?”
Isaac’s nonchalant positivity met the old man’s cry of anger. As Isaac moved to twist the eggbomb, the man spoke again in desperation.
“W, wait! Calm yourself! I told you I’ll let you live if you just hand over the Queen’s Artefact.”
Noticing the shift in the old man’s tone from a demand to a plea, Isaac smirked.
“I’m thankful that you’re planning to let me live now, but it really pisses me off that someone else tried to decide whether I live or not, you see? Shouldn’t you at least apologize for the torture you put me through?”
The old man was baffled. It should have been him who was making the threats. He couldn’t understand how the situation had been flipped on its head with him being thrown around by the one who was supposed to be his victim.
But the old man was well-seasoned from the long life he’d lived so far. Although the situation changed in a weird direction because he’d let his guard down, he hadn’t been just playing around. While he continued to stutter and act desperate, he was buying time for the shadow under his feet to creep ever so slowly toward Isaac. And in order to continue this conversation, he had no choice but to lower his head – no matter how frustrating and insulting it felt.
“I, I apologize.”
“Then why did you do all this in the first place? You’re one weird old man, you know that?”
‘What am I supposed to do then?’
Although his eyes were filled with rage, it didn’t cloud his vision of Isaac’s hands grabbing at the eggbomb.
“Wait! I’ve already apologized! Why are you doing this?”
“You think just an apology would be enough after torturing someone? You think this world is that easy?”
That was not a threat. Reaching the conclusion that Isaac was someone who’d detonate the eggbomb without hesitation, the old man quickly used the shadow that had been creeping toward Isaac in a desperate attempt to rush him.
Isaac flinched back when he saw the shadow suddenly reach out at him like a whip, but the tip of the whip hit Isaac’s wrist, making him drop the eggbomb.
Both Isaac and the old man looked at the dropped eggbomb, which rolled on the ground. Their eyes then locked together.
“Kuhuhu. Play time’s over, you arrogant mutt. I’ll make you neither dead nor alive.”
Once again, the tide had turned. Numerous wisps of flickering smoke began to sprout from the old man’s feet.
“Man, I am so scared now. So scared in fact that I may as well just end myself.”
When Isaac pulled out another eggbomb from his coat, the old man spoke out in a state of confusion.
“You crazy scoundrel! Just how many eggbombs do you carry with you?”
“Enough to not be bullied around by some stranger.”
Isaac showed the inside of the left side of his coat to the old man. The sight of eggbombs lining the insides of the coat was akin to a fruit tree ready for harvest.
The mineshaft’s confines were starting to crumble, with cracks spreading all over the walls and the roof. Dirt trickled down from the ceiling, indicating that the mine was about to collapse at any minute. The old man considered attacking Isaac with his shadow, but that accursed coat was still functioning somewhat. He couldn’t even imagine how many attacks it’d take for all the mana crystals on the coat to dry out. And that would buy more than enough time for Isaac to detonate another eggbomb. The old man considered what kind of madman would really do that only to die, but both his body and mind were convinced that Isaac would be more than capable of doing such a thing.
How did the plan go so awry? The old man thought to himself, but there was no answer. Was he supposed to keep Isaac tied up? But the old man was well aware that the cursed coat prevented all stimuli that weren’t approved by the owner from reaching him.
‘Hnng. I have heard that he had bought eggbombs en masse along with other magical artefacts during the provincial war, but to think he’d use them himself.’
It was the old man’s fault for overlooking information he was aware of. While the old man reproached himself for his mistake, Isaac took out a cigarette and asked a question.
“Hey old man.”
The old man looked back at Isaac with deep concern, wondering what insanity was going to come out of his mouth this time. Isaac let out a thick, white puff of smoke and continued.
“Old man, you need that Queen’s Artefact right?”
“I don’t know what that is, and I don’t want it either.”
“Well, I’m just saying that I could hand over the Queen’s Artefact to you as long as you give me something back.”
“… You want something in return?”
“That’s right. I honestly don’t know what this Queen’s Artefact is or what it looks like. So if you tell me what it looks like and who has it, I’ll do everything I can to help you retrieve it.”
“… And what must I do in return?”
“See how nice it is when conversations make sense? Imagine how easy it would have been if you were like that from the start?”
“Shut up! Just speak your conditions!”
Isaac smirked at the old man’s refute and grabbed one of the mana crystals that was in the mine’s wall. He played around with the crystal, tossing it into the air and catching it, as he continued.
“It’s simple. You found this, old man?”
“… That’s right.”
“That’s exactly it. I will help you find the Queen’s Artefact. In return, you provide me with the locations of mana crystals and other minerals that are buried in this mine. How about it? A fair trade right?”
The old man was baffled by Isaac’s offer. This was the first human being who negotiated with him.
“… You do realise I am a warlock, right?”
“Do you think Central would just stay idle against someone who bargained with a warlock?”
“It’s all good as long as we don’t get found out.”
“Do you really want to trade with me?”
“Then shall we die together instead?”
When Isaac reached for the eggbomb again, the old man quickly responded.
“Wait! I got it! I accept! But how am I supposed to believe your words? Can you swear that you aren’t spouting lies right now to just get out of this place?”
“Rather than swearing on it, it’d be much better to have some guarantee. Like a contract of some sort. Do you have any of those?”
The old man did have one. And he was planning to lead the conversation that way too. But he never expected Isaac would be the one to go that route. The old man took out a crystal ball from his pockets and let it float into the air.
“Since poison and curses won’t work on you, I will capture the moment of our negotiation in the form of a video.”
“Sure thing. I, out of my own free will, am trading with a warlock. In return for helping the warlock retrieve the Queen’s Artefact, I will receive the locations of many minerals that are buried in this mine. Is that enough?”
Seeing Isaac speak to the crystal ball without a single stutter, the old man made a difficult expression and took back the crystal ball.
“… I’m saying this because it seems like you don’t know, but if this evidence of you dealing with a warlock were to fall into Central’s hands, they will never leave you alone.”
“Then you better be careful not to get caught, old man.”