After reporting to Rivelia regarding the warlock incident, it took less than an hour for Central to intervene and get the situation under control. This feat was perhaps expected from an organisation that prized itself upon their notoriety.
First of all, they revealed to the public that Isaac was almost buried alive when the mine collapsed but that he miraculously survived by finding a secret passage which criminals had been using in order to mine illegally. Many were suspicious of the announcement, but they could only remain silent. There weren’t many who were brave enough to argue against Central’s claims.
Isaac’s monologue complaining of Pickaxe was also leaked to the public, and rumours that the incident was a trap set up by the mine’s overseer who betrayed Isaac began to abound. Central didn’t care how the situation went as long as they could conceal the involvement of a warlock and the mana crystal mine, so they worked to turn the rumour into the truth, which led to more tension among everyone who worked closely with Isaac.
Isaac was the man who almost burnt down the entire city just because someone annoyed him. Many grew worried that Isaac would begin to prod around seeking for any of the mine overseer’s accomplices. The last thing they wanted was to be caught up in that situation by accident. However, Isaac showed no signs of activity, which intrigued many people.
Seeing how the situation had turned, all sorts of conspiracies and rumours ran rampant. Some said that all of Isaac’s acts so far had just been a bluff and that after facing a real life-or-death situation, he had gotten cold feet. Others said that Isaac was currently at work making a purge list. However, the real reason Isaac remained idle was quite mundane. He was simply being investigated by Central, although there were some clashes.
It was nice of Central to tie up loose ends so neatly without Isaac’s involvement, but the warlock’s involvement meant that Isaac had to be interrogated in the name of ‘investigation.’
Central mainly focused on how he managed to escape unscathed despite coming face to face with a warlock, and Isaac fearlessly asserted that he shamelessly made a deal with the warlock to escape the mine and betrayed the warlock as soon as they left the mine.
The answer left the investigator baffled, and Isaac simply responded by asking if he should have just died instead. The investigator furiously denied Isaac’s confession, claiming that it would be impossible for things to turn out like that. But those higher up began to pressure the investigator, which led to an early end to the investigation. Only after the investigator left the city with a warning that ‘I’ll be watching you’ could Isaac finally rest.
“I’m finally free.”
“You’ve done well, sir.”
Rizzly comforted Isaac with a bitter smile. Reisha and Kunette were in quite a shock that they weren’t around when Isaac was almost killed, which led to them staying right beside him at all times, never letting Isaac out of their sight.
Rizzly had become their punching bag as the two let out their frustration on him. Leaving the crying Rizzly aside, what bothered Isaac was how the two followed him everywhere he went. Not only did they eat and sleep together, the two even followed Isaac to the toilet. Isaac couldn’t think of moving about in public in fear of how it’d look.
Reisha was from a clan of the Mist Elves, one of the famed elven clans. Although it wasn’t common for an elf to marry a human, that didn’t mean it never happens. Plus, Isaac was told that all elves united to bully an elf who married a different race as tradition. They used the excuse that the bigger the hurdle, the greater their love became. But Isaac was sure that the reason they bullied the couple wasn’t for their sake but out of jealousy. Jealous that another elf was experiencing a life of marriage with another race, a very special and unique experience that not many elves ever got to experience.
This was the reason why strange rumours between Isaac and Reisha could not be allowed to spread. If they did, then the situation could balloon out of control, and it could even lead to the elves, who were one of Isaac’s greatest contributors, turning their backs on him.
Kunette was also in a similar situation. Although the politics of the North Bears were more so guided by merit and not lineage, seeing how the other North Bears crawled on their knees at a single order from Kunette made it obvious that she was going to be the future chief of the North Bears.
If Kunette was constantly at Isaac’s side in public, it may lead to a rumour of romance between Reisha, Kunette, and him; perhaps it would even revive the rumour of romance between him and Rivelia.
One could argue as to how someone could be in a romantic relationship with a teddy bear, but apparently, they can have sex and even have children. Perhaps that was impossible in the teddy bear form, but it was possible once she took a human form.
Isaac casually asked Rizzly how North Bears viewed marriage between humans and them. Rizzly answered that although they were more lenient than the elves and didn’t pursue purity of blood, they also didn’t exactly welcome uniting with a different race.
Although Rizzly ended the explanation with a ludicrous ‘But I approve if it’s you, Sir Isaac,’ there was a chance that Isaac could end up losing another one of his greatest allies if a rumour happened to turn up. With having to watch out for every action and also being prodded left and right by the investigator, Isaac was tired both in body and spirit.
Thankfully, Reisha and Kunette seemed to be unable to handle the boredom after a month and left the guard duty back to Rizzly and began travelling about the city. Isaac finally breathed a sigh of relief.
And when Central’s overzealous investigator finally pulled out of the city, it had already been a long time since everything which annoyed Isaac had disappeared completely.
“How long has it been since I’ve had peace like this?”
Isaac muttered as he sipped at the tea Rizzly poured. Although Reisha and Kunette were sticking around to help, they instead created more work for Isaac, causing all sorts of accidents as they tried to lend him a helping hand. There wasn’t any time for Isaac to meditate and let his brain rest.
From morning to night and even during his sleep, Reisha and Kunette pestered Isaac. And Isaac couldn’t even kick them away. It wouldn’t have been a problem if it were just those two, but behind them stood the elven race and the North Bears, who were Isaac’s greatest allies and made up most of his power. For Isaac, who could only keep his frustration bottled up in fear of breaking this alliance, this time of peace was like an oasis in the desert.
“Uhya! This is amazing, Sunbaenim, amazing!”
“I can guess what you’re on about, but it would have been nicer if you both took longer to come back if you left in the first place…”
Isaac sighed as he watched Reisha and Kunette barge onto the rooftop, causing a ruckus. The peace only lasted a single day. Seeing how they looked, it was very obvious what the two had been doing.
Isaac didn’t know where she got them, but Reisha covered her body with what seemed like very rough and tough cloth that barely concealed her chest and waist, almost akin to underwear or a bikini. On her head was a safety helmet with a small magic lamp and a very large pickaxe resting on her shoulder. Seeing soot covering her face and body, she looked like a typical model you’d see on a calendar of an oil company.
Kunette was wearing a full-cover suit made of similar material as Reisha’s clothes, and half of her head was covered by the safety helmet. She struggled to approach Isaac, as she was overburdened by the weight of the pickaxe – not to mention that it was as tall as her.
Seeing Reisha showcase a large mana crystal the size of her fist and Kunette simply dump a bunch of mana crystals in front of his feet, Isaac thought to himself that maybe he still had some time. The two would be preoccupied by the mines for some time.
“But the mines are already functioning? Isn’t this too quick?”
It seemed that even Central was in chaos after hearing the news that mana crystals were forming veins. So they sent an investigation team to both investigate the mines and question Isaac. Since Isaac had no relevant knowledge about the mining industries, he merely expected that it’d take much longer to recover the mines. Plus, since the mines were confidential information, they should not have been able to use much manpower. Isaac certainly didn’t expect them to reopen the mines in just a month.
Reisha sat on the empty spot next to Isaac, almost forcing herself into his space somewhat. She played with the mana crystals, acting like a noblewoman adorning herself with gems. Kunette sat by Isaac’s feet and chomped on the mana crystals as if they were candy. At this moment, Rivelia, who seemed to be utterly exhausted, came up to the rooftop.
“Hey. You look like you’re having a bad time.”
Isaac’s apathetic greeting and the lack of any response from Reisha and Kunette raised Rivelia’s eyebrows, but they quickly sank down, her body too tired to even become angry.
“I see that Sir Isaac truly doesn’t move a single footstep from the rooftop.”
“I thought my part of the job is to do nothing and not cause any trouble?”
Although it was true, it was really irritating to hear it from the man himself.
“I’ll just tell you the results from the investigation that Central sent me. They couldn’t find the warlock. But Central’s agents are following his trail, so we will get an answer soon.”
“You came all the way up here just to tell me that?”
“That is part of it. I’ve come up to tell you about another problem.”
“It’s about the mana crystals.”
“That’s right. Central doesn’t want the presence of the mana crystal mine to be public. Central sent word that they’ll be managing the mine. In return, they’ll hand over a portion of what they mine.”
Isaac acted as if he was considering Rivelia’s words. He was well aware that things were going to turn out this way long before. The mana crystal mine was just too big of a pie for him to eat alone.
With Central being involved, no outsiders could even try to establish their influence in it. And Isaac even happened to find an unexpected error in Central’s scheme.
“Well, fine. I have no reason to refuse when Central will do all the work for me.”
Rivelia looked with surprise when she saw Isaac accept without a fuss. Isaac snorted.
“I want to be in good relations with Central. Really.”
Rivelia seemed to doubt Isaac, but there was no reason to speak against it.
“Fine. Then I’ll proceed as agreed upon.”
Isaac called out to Rivelia just when she was about to leave down the stairs.
“Ah, while you’re at it, can you call Krent over…”
“Sir Isaac, do you think I’m your…”
Rivelia was about to scold Isaac out of frustration that he was asking her to run errands. But she held her anger, her body shaking out of rage, and let out a deep sigh.
“Sigh. Why do I even bother…”
Rivelia’s shoulders dropped as if her heavy burdens were tangible and disappeared down the stairs. Once she was gone, Kunette pulled at Isaac’s sleeves to get his attention.
“… Don’t be so hard on her. Rivelia’s having it hard.”
Isaac shrugged at Kunette.
“I just feel sorry for her. I’ve grown quite fond of her through our tenuous relationship.”
“… You feel sorry?”
Seeing Kunette tilt her head confusedly, Isaac explained to her as he patted her head.
“Someone capable with a just mind is the perfect candidate for manipulation. It’s always the white and the black who change the world, but it’s the grey who rules it at the end of the day. Whites and blacks need to let themselves be discoloured somewhat, otherwise they’ll simply disappear.”
“Did you ask of me?”
“… Are you having it hard recently?”
The look of Krent was so appalling that even Isaac, for the first time in his life, asked how he was doing. Krent’s eyes were void of life; a dark circle stretched all the way down to his upper lip, circling his deep, empty eyes. His cheeks had shrivelled completely, and a very jagged beard clung onto his face. His body even stunk of a faint odour. If someone who didn’t know of Krent looked at him, they’d assume that he was just another drunk on the streets.
Krent let out deep, grating laughter in response to Isaac’s question.
“Kukuku. It’s hard. Of course it’s been hard. I knew smuggling made massive profits, but I never thought avoiding taxes could be so profitable. Did you know? The sum of money I touch in a single day, every day, is larger than that of the Rivolden Merchant Guilds. And with how sensitive the work is, I have no one to help me nor can I ask for assistance, so I’m doing it all alone. It would have been nice if the smuggling was run by just one organisation, but I have to distribute the profits between you, Central, and the Seven Grand Merchant Guilds! And if I get a single number wrong, I have to recalculate everything from the start. And I have to do it alone!”
“That’s not all! I could handle it if I just focused on the smuggling, but with the captain and vice-captain of what was supposed to be my cover playing around all day and neglecting their duties, I have to do their work instead! Please, sunbaenim, save me! Please!”
Krent, who laid out a trail of complaints, looked at Reisha and Kunette vengefully. But the two didn’t even react to Krent’s wailing and focused on their game of stacking the mana crystals to make a tower. Seeing their apathy, Krent grabbed Isaac’s legs and pleaded for mercy in between his explanations for what happened. Seeing Krent’s pitiful appearance, Isaac gave him a pitiful look and stepped away from Krent’s hands.
“Are you really a student of College?”
“Huh? Is there a way?”
“How could you just sit idly by when there are so many capable highly educated personnel all around? Go and use them.”
Krennt seemed dumbfounded by Isaac’s words, then screamed back.
“What do you mean capable manpower? Who are you talking about? Them?”
At the end of Krent’s fingertip sat Kunette and Reisha, who flinched when Krent made his outburst before continuing to focus entirely on stacking the mana crystals. They even managed to stack five stones on top of another – an impressive feat considering the jagged nature of mana crystals.
Seeing the two show just how much they don’t want to work, Isaac smirked. He wondered why they were so uneasy when he called for Krent and why they quietly relegated themselves into a corner. It seemed that at the end of the day, they were sorry about how the situation had turned out for Krent.
“Do you want to die from overworking?”
The stack of mana crystals almost crumbled at Isaac’s merciless words.
“That’s why I’m trying to handle it all myself because I know how difficult it is! Who else am I supposed to use other than them?”
“There are the guys that came here after graduating from the Campus. Just take some of them.”
Krent let out a deep sigh in response.
“Sigh. Sunbaenim, are you seriously saying that when you know how sensitive of an issue smuggling is? If this ever leaks, neither you nor me will be alive!”
“That’s why I’m telling you to bring them in. What kind of a Campus graduate would have the courage to speak about it when even Central is involved, especially when they are of common birth? I know that some of them aren’t even doing any work right now. Tell them to make some extra cash while they’re here.”
“… This isn’t just a small bit of loose change they’re earning. And what if it does leak? And what if some of them refuse to work, saying they won’t set foot in this smuggling business?”
“Ask Central to take care of them. They seem like professionals when it comes to that kind of work. If asking Central is too difficult, you can always ask the syndicate bosses instead. They’ll make it happen nice and clean. They may not be as efficient as Central, but they have their own tricks in making people disappear.”
Seeing how casually Isaac spoke about such brutal and merciless methods, Krent simply gulped in silence. Krent then proclaimed with fierce determination.
“I could never do that! They are my sunbaes and your hubaes! I’d rather do it all alone!”
Isaac nodded apathetically at Krent’s declaration.
“By the way, I’d like to ask…”
“What is it?”
“How goes the price for mana crystals?”
“It changes from day to day, but the market announces the standards for pricing every month regarding the size and purity of crystals.”
“The prices are set by the market? Even the pures?”
“Yes. The prices for manufactured crystals are always practically set in stone, but the pures do go up and down somewhat. Normally, people trade them while following the standards set out by the market.”
“Is that even possible?”
“Are you talking about the pures? In the past, the price could differ in hundreds of magnitudes depending on its size even if the purity was the same, but that was way back in the past. After the invention of manufactured mana crystals, the processing technology for pures developed with it. The market has set the standards for trade for quite some time now. Of course, there is a little loss, but the price takes that into account. That also makes it easier to trade.”
“Can you make quite the amount of cash if you happened to run into one and sell it?”
“It’s gotten much worse ever since the manufactured mana crystals became available. On average, pures are much more efficient than manufactured, so their demand is much higher. Of course, the prices for pures are slightly inflated because of fools who only ask for pures, but it isn’t too significant. If you’ve reached the point where you’re asking for pures, it usually means you have the financial capabilities to overcome it.”
Isaac found Krent looking at the mana crystals on his coat to be irritating but decided to quietly overlook it, as he knew how hard of a time Krent would be having from now on. He was a merciful lord after all.
“Ah! You don’t know about this yet, do you?”
“We found mana crystals in the mines. Central made it confidential and is going to mine it themselves in secret to take care of them.”
Krent’s body stiffened after hearing that. He was wondering why Isaac suddenly asked about the market price for mana crystals, only to hear that there was a mana crystal mine. What would happen if he were to take over work regarding mana crystals, when he was already struggling enough as it is with his current work? The small embers of justice in his eyes were extinguished, replaced by the cold realisation of the need for negotiation.
“How many should I hire?”
Seeing Krent immediately turn tail and assent, Isaac smirked and answered.
“The 3rd squad just so happens to be entirely made of commoners. Take them all in.”
“All of them?”
“You have no idea how quickly people notice secrets when they live and sleep together. It’ll be annoying if some of them decide to snoop around and force us to clean up later on. Just take them all to make it easy for yourself. You need a holiday too right? And there’s no need for you to reveal everything about smuggling. Tell them you’re just managing a secret method of funding Central.”
“But it’s much easier for the secret to leak if more people know about it.”
“Just ask me any time if you need to make an example or two.”
“… I’ll just hand over the work regarding mana crystal mines to them. It’ll be understandable for them since Central’s involved, and it isn’t as sensitive as smuggling.”
“I guess that’s fine. It won’t change the fact that Central will look for them if the secret leaks anyway.”