“… What’s this?”
Today was Isaac’s first payday since the secret mining began. Isaac asked Krent when he brought some mana crystals to the table.
“Central is giving you these as your share for this month.”
“Where’s the rest?”
“… This is all of it.”
“I admit that we didn’t agree on how we were going to split the profits, but isn’t this going too far? I thought there was a fair trade law in this world?”
“There’s nothing I can do even if you complain to me…”
“I heard they mined like crazy even though they just started?”
“They mined so much that if all of it was released into the market right now, it would destroy the pure mana crystal market.”
“And this is all I’m getting in return?”
Krent couldn’t say a word. Even he thought this was too harsh a treatment. He had full knowledge of how much had been mined, since the only options available for those crystals were to be sold in the market or transported elsewhere, and they needed to use his smuggling network. Through his calculations, he found out that Central excavated over ten thousand crystals in just a month’s time.
Even if only a fraction of the crystals was expected to be sold while the rest would be stored elsewhere in order to prevent the market from crashing, a massive profit was still expected. Yet all Isaac received for his share were ten or so crystals, all of which were the lowest of purity among what had been mined.
Krent could only stand anxiously facing Isaac’s stare, which grew colder and colder. Isaac took out a cigarette, rested his chin on one hand while tapping on the armrest with the other, and began to think.
What Central was doing was pure and unadulterated tyranny. Was he supposed to just take it? He could understand the reasons somewhat. Seeing how Central needed to control the market, they couldn’t hand over too large of a share to Isaac. There was the problem of explaining where the crystals came from and the added risk of rumours spreading. But this was still too much. If they couldn’t split the profit in mana crystals, they should have tried to compensate for it with goods or money or at the very least send a letter of apology explaining why his share was like this. Isaac was going to be understanding enough to let things pass if that was how Central treated him.
“I would have thought they’d have the courtesy to treat me properly after agreeing to their demands without a fuss. I didn’t think they’d treat me like a slave.”
There was nothing Isaac could do. He was the weaker of the two. Turning violent whenever things were unfair was the most foolish option. Retaliations should only be made when it was certain that he’d at least give them a flesh wound.
“I guess there’s no choice. It’s not like I don’t have money. Let it be. I can’t be bothered to get involved with Central.”
Isaac decided to let this pass. Doubting everything and the reasons behind it was the textbook way to go paranoid. There was no time for Isaac to waste on mana crystals.
Krent was about to let out a sigh of relief and quickly leave the rooftop, but his face turned pale when he saw Cordnell rushing up the stairs with sweat dripping from his forehead.
“What happened here?”
“How come the revenue we were supposed to receive disappeared?! Instead, there’s a deficit! Because of this, our funds suddenly evaporated!”
“I didn’t use anything. Maybe it was one of the employees who embezzled it. Why don’t you look for the man who ran away with it?”
Isaac responded annoyingly, frustrated that Cordnell’s first reaction whenever money disappeared was to visit him and complain.
“That person could have done it under your orders, Sir Isaac!”
Cordnell immediately refuted Isaac’s claim, learning well from past experiences working with Isaac. Isaac could only give a look of disappointment.
“It’s so sad to be treated like I’m not trustworthy. This is why it’s important to manage your credibility.”
“Now isn’t the time to joke around! I can guess why this happened, so I won’t ask. But you should have at least let me know if you were going to use the funds! Do you have any idea how baffled I was when the funds were spent without my knowledge? I can understand the costs for investing in the mines and restoring it, but do you see these receipts? It says a hundred Giga for a single pickaxe! A hundred Giga! All of the goods on the receipts have been sold to us at ludicrous prices! I don’t know which dim-wit tried to stuff the account books like this when they embezzled the funds, but not even an amateur would do such a shoddy job! What am I supposed to tell the tax department? I need to send a report for our taxes. If you just left it under my care, it would never have turned out like this!”
Isaac’s eyes flicked to Krent and Krent immediately confessed.
“I only found out about it after it happened. I assumed everyone just did as they were told, what with Central being involved and all.”
Basically, the hubaes who have been hired according to Isaac’s recommendation had caused this incident. To be fair, they were suddenly thrown into working with Central, and Isaac could see them doing as they were told by Central in a panic. But it still pissed Isaac off.
“And they’re telling me to just take this and piss off?”
Krent avoided Isaac’s eyes, while Cordnell began to step away silently when he heard Central’s name. He had not been aware of their involvement, and it was best if things remained that way.
“Well, whatever. What’s done is done. I know it’s hard, but the two of you are to try to fix the account books to the best of your abilities. And let him know about what’s going on since he’s taking care of the money.”
“Can’t I just remain oblivious?”
Cordnell had learnt through both body and mind that any work involving Isaac wasn’t good for his health. He tried to refuse but to no avail.
“Um… that’s not all.”
“Isn’t that most of the expenditures already?”
“You see… we’ll need to spend money to manage the waste byproducts of mining the mana crystals. Although they are mostly rocks and dirt, we need to dispose of it in secret. We’ll most likely have to disguise it as goods and take it somewhere far away before dumping it.”
“… Disguise it and dump it away from the city? So we need to waste money getting rid of some useless rocks now.”
Krent could only panic and avoid Isaac’s glare, which had begun to border on freezing. Cordnell, on the other hand, still seemed confused after hearing strange news that he definitely wasn’t aware of before. He asked the two, puzzled.
“Um… what do you mean by mana crystals? And what about the mines? Does it have something to do with the financing problem from before?”
Annoyed, Isaac responded to Cordnell’s question by speaking to Krent instead.
“Give him a brief explanation. You two will be handling this case anyway.”
With the order given, Krent took Cordnell to a corner and gave him a quick rundown on what had happened and what existed within the mines. The moment Krent finished his explanation finished, Cordnell ran over to Isaac with a pale face and howled for resistance.
“This is absolute tyranny!”
“I am well aware of that.”
“From what I hear, the share you were given was to pay for dealing with the removal of the rocks and dirt! And it’s meant to cover only a portion of the costs, not all of it!”
“Do you think it’ll take that much?”
“Considering the costs for the ships to move the packages, forging documents, and bribing the men who’ll be processing the entire thing, it may have been okay if this was a one-time procedure. But for us, we will need to do this regularly! As time goes by, our deficit will grow with it. If we get caught by the Empire for throwing away these rocks, we will be fined heavily; an average merchant guild would go bankrupt if it was fined that heavily. There’s no way that Central wasn’t aware of this fact, so I’d assume that this was deliberate on their part.”
“Hm. I did assume Central intended this, although I wasn’t aware of the part about the fines.”
Isaac had originally considered that shifting all of the costs to him was a simple warning from Central, but after hearing that they also pushed all responsibility of removing the wastes to him, Isaac was now convinced that this was an attempt at restraining him.
It likely meant not to get in Central’s way. Isaac’s assumptions now held far greater weight when he heard the part about the fines. There was little he could do by speaking against this decision, as Central would simply reply that there’s nothing to worry about when they are taking care of him. While that’s happening, Central would be readily gathering the evidence implicating Isaac, and if Isaac were to ever go against Central, they would release the evidence to finish him.
There was bound to be damage. Isaac could complain about why Central didn’t protect him, but fabricating the event to seem as if the evidence was leaked out by pure coincidence would be easier than taking candy from a baby for Central. They would simply apologise to buy time.
This was a textbook method of a major corporation shaking down a weaker opponent, and Isaac was baffled that he was the receiver of this treatment. What was the reason? He believed that he had been cooperative with Central all this time. Perhaps it was just to tame him as it first seems… or it was an attempt by Central to distract him from something else and buy some time.
Hundreds of hypotheses and scenarios floodswamped Isaac’s mind as he went over everything that had happened so far. With an incident like this added to the mix, his confusion about the truth only grew worse.
Many theories and assumptions came and went in Isaac’s mind as he began to doubt and theorise all that had happened. His doubt began to grow more and more after an incident like this had just occurred.
Isaac considered just closing the mine down out of annoyance, but this was the work of Central. They wouldn’t listen to Isaac’s claim that it was his land. They may even trip Isaac over by shamelessly claiming that Isaac was keeping the mana crystal mine his personal secret.
There was no choice. Isaac had to act as if he was following Central’s command for now. But living with a leash put around his neck wasn’t his style either. He had to use a method where he got rid of the waste material legally and made money at the same time.
“I guess there’s no choice. Cordnell.”
“I’m asking you to make what I tell you. The object must be transparent, and it must constantly spin. There has to be a hole where we can pour the waste material in. But there must be some sort of mechanism where the exact same amount comes out from the bottom. That’s the most important part. Bring me an initial design taking these things into account.”
Isaac was somewhat perplexed at Cordnell’s immediate compliance.
“Why aren’t you going against this?”
“Because Central is being tyrannical. As a man who calls himself a merchant, I will place my life on the line and agree with whatever you have to say if it will strike back at Central’s tyranny, which goes against the code of merchants in every aspect.”
“A, alright then.”
Seeing an enthusiastic and eager Cordnell was somewhat different.
“But may I know what its intended use is? I think it will help us come up with the initial design.”
Isaac pondered Cordnell’s request for a moment. He decided to tell Cordnell what his intentions were, and Cordnell could only let himself be impressed by Isaac’s idea.
‘With the casino and sports gambling out, all that’s left is a lotto. Isn’t this the completion of the gambling trinity?’
One day, within the plaza of Ceta District, the most populated area of the city, a mysterious object was being constructed. Naturally, it seized everyone’s interests, but not even the construction workers knew about what the object was. Cordnell, who oversaw the construction, kept his mouth sealed, which inflated everyone’s curiosity.
“I don’t like it.”
Isaac complained as he saw the completed object from atop his rooftop.
“There’s nothing we can do. We have to keep the costs as low as possible.”
Cordnell responded to Isaac coldly. What was in front of Isaac and Cordnell was a giant cube with a hole in the middle and a sphere that fit perfectly within the cube.
Perhaps the fact that it was entirely see through, three stories tall, and had what looked like a waterwheel connecting the cube and the sphere on one side was what made it so peculiar. Within the sphere were many chains which spun in different directions. Kunette and Reisha jumped into the sphere and jumped between each chain or rolled on them while laughing about, earning the envy of the many children who came to look at the object.
“I guess there’s nothing I can do, now that it’s complete.”
Isaac muttered after glaring at the object in displeasure. Cordnell’s shoulders seemed to relax after hearing those words.
Cordnell eagerly handled the task as requested by Isaac and created a prototype. But only after seeing the receipt did he finally return to his senses.
Afterwards, he did everything he could to reduce the construction costs; he changed the designs and shortened the phases of construction all the while keeping it a secret from Isaac. In order to complete the project in time, Cordnell had to suffer the disgrace that he had grown to be like Isaac after working under him for so long.
Cordnell was prepared to throw himself onto the floor if Isaac told him to make it again. But with Isaac’s approval, he simply let out a sigh of relief.
“And the most important function?”
“Here, this part that looks like a waterwheel.”
“Hm. I thought it looked strange, but you’ve put some thought into it, haven’t you. So the contents inside the sphere are to come out when the wheel spins, is that right?”
“That’s right. It was quite the challenge to construct this part.”
Not only did it need to consider the strength and hardness of what was supposed to fill the sphere, the wheel needed to fit perfectly within the portion of the sphere and spin at exactly the right velocity, which necessitated the development of a new magic circle. Cordnell also calculated the total costs in mana crystals to sustain the wheel and the chains that spun inside. With so many things to calculate, many people almost died of exhaustion throughout the entirety of its development.
“Then, shall we begin?”
A massive crowd gathered around the object, surrounding it from all sides. Living up to the name of the City of Gambling, the crowd began to place bets on what the purpose of the mysterious object was. It was during this time that the sphere began to fill up with dirt and rock.
Rivelia visited during this process, but she simply turned away while shaking her head as if she’d given up, unable to understand the reasoning behind Isaac’s schemes. After two days of this procedure, the sphere was filled up to two thirds of its total volume. It was at this point that a box filled with copper coins and a smaller box filled with gold coins engraved with numbers were arranged in front of the sphere.
“What’s this? Is this supposed to be for some anniversary?”
“What anniversary is there to celebrate?”
“It’s got numbers written on it.”
The crowd whispered to one another as they looked at the coin when a city employee activated the sphere. Everyone could see the chains inside the sphere spinning and mixing the dirt and rock together, thanks to its transparent nature.
Realising something was happening, the crowd gathered closer and closer to watch. Once enough people had gathered, two North Bears carried the boxes filled with copper coins and began to throw the coins into the sphere along with dirt and rock. The coins disappeared into the mix.
“… I want to do it too!”
Kunette seemed interested after watching the act, so she chased away the two North Bears and lifted the box up to pour the entirety of its content into the sphere.
“You have to put this one in too!”
Reisha, not one to lose to Kunette, carried the flat box filled with golden coins, and the two took turns throwing one gold coin after another into the sphere, giggling along the process.
Confirming that all of the coins were now inside the sphere, the city employee placed a small board next to the giant sphere, and everyone gathered to see what was written on it.
Test your luck today.
1st place: 1 person, 10000 Giga
2nd place: 10 people, 5000 giga
3rd place: 100 people, 1000 giga
Copper coins: 500 people, 100 Giga
1 Giga for each scoop
May fortune be with you.
Everyone was left speechless. Basically, they needed to buy a portion of the dirt, and they would receive a reward if they happened to find a coin within the pile of dirt.
They knew the game wasn’t rigged since they clearly saw the coins being mixed into the dirt, but if they didn’t find any coins, they would have bought some useless dirt for 1 Giga.
Some laughed maniacally, wondering what kind of fools would buy dirt with money. But most of the crowd began to run some calculations in their heads. Even a single copper coin was 100x the profit. Which meant that they had, at the very least, 100 tries. And what if they happened to get 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place? It only cost 1 Giga for a single try, so many were tempted to try it out for fun.
A brave soul quickly stepped up to test his theory while many were still left pondering.
“Hey, I don’t know how this works, but I just need to give you 1 Giga, correct?”
The man handed over 1 Giga to the man, which drew the crowd’s attention. The employee took the Giga and pulled on the lever next to the wheel. With a creak, the wheel spun a single slot, scooping a portion of dirt into a small, palm sized box.
“Here it is.”
“L, let’s see.”
The man carefully opened the box and shifted the dirt around with his finger. His face quickly twisted in anger and the man shouted.
“What the! There’s nothing in there!”
In the face of the man’s outcry, the employee simply put on a business smile and spoke.
“I’m sorry. You’ll need to try again.”
“What? Damn! Is this a scam? Oi! Give me another one!”
Unhappy with the employee’s attitude, the man threw a Giga coin at the employee and haughtily demanded the employee for another box. The employee maintained his smile and pulled the lever once more.
With two duds in a row, the only thing remaining under the enraged man was a pile of dirt. The people who watched the man’s act simply looked at him with pity for how he was so easily fooled.
“Sh*t! Are you sure there really are coins in there? Oi, give me ten of them this time! I’ll go through it all at once!”
Impatiently, the man threw a 10-Giga note, and the employee silently pulled at the lever again.
It seemed that the man found an efficient way to shift through the dirt. He scrubbed at the dirt with his palm, pushing the dirt out of the box. He then grabbed a new box and repeated the process. As the number of boxes remaining lessened one by one, the man’s face became redder and redder – when all of a sudden, the man stopped.
He felt something unusual on his hand, something that he hadn’t felt until now. With a glimmer of hope, the man brushed the dirt away from the box, revealing a golden coin underneath.
“I, I did it! Wow! 3rd! its 3rd place!”
The crowd gathered closely in response to the man’s shout. It was the first winner, and a golden coin too. It may have been a 3rd place coin, but hey. The man had spent 12 Giga to earn 1000.
The look of envy in the crowd’s eyes slowly shifted to that of greed. They were being possessed by a gambler’s thought process. If he can do it, why can’t I too? The crowd gathered about the employee en masse.
“Give me one too! No, give me twenty of them!”
“I want fifty!”
“Huh? W, what the! Make a line, make a line I say!”
As the people gathered about the employee in chaos, a group of North Bears suddenly appeared as if they’d been waiting for this moment and forced the crowd into a line. More employees joined in the fray too, taking the money and providing them with receipts as they pulled at the lever.
“Spectacular… we are selling dirt. We are selling useless dirt… I respect you, sunbaenim. I swear, you will become a legend among the merchants, sunbaenim!”
Krent watched the chaos from the rooftop along with Isaac. He now looked at Isaac with infinite respect and admiration in his eyes.
“Hnng. I guess that’s the waste problem sorted.”
This was no money laundering, but dirt laundering. Cordnell thought that the continent was going to be riled up again from this, but what was the point anymore. Most people seemed to think it was just Isaac’s usual shenanigans when they hear his name.
Isaac smirked silently as he smoked, remembering the folk tale about Kim Sun Dal, the man who sold water.
PR Note: Kim Sun Dal (or otherwise romanized as Kim Seon-dal) refers to a swindler in Korean folklore. He went out to a river and passed out money to the villagers fetching water from the river, asking them to return it to him the following day. The next day, he collected his money back while saying, “Please pay for your water.” A rich visitor from a faraway land visited and asked Kim what he was doing; Kim responded that he was selling water from the river. The greedy rich man bought the “right” to sell the river’s water from Kim for a huge sum and proceeded to demand money from the people fetching water from the village the next morning. No one would pay him, and he later realized that he was fooled. Source.
“To think that man would sell dirt. Is there any way to stop him?”
The man smiled bitterly as he asked the middle-aged man. Central’s tyranny and unfair treatment were enacted under the man’s orders. Its original aim was to distract him and hopefully make him into a disgruntled partner with Central until the plan was finalised, but he simply weaselled out of the situation using a completely unexpected method.
“Not even the Directorate of Analysis predicted this.”
“I really want to recruit him into our fold, as recommended by the Directorate of Analysis.”
“You don’t seem too happy.”
“The risk is too high, unlike the plans usually carried out by the Directorate of Strategy. If we were to fail…”
“Since when did we worry about failure?”
The middle-aged man paused in the face of the man’s cold stare. He continued to speak again, this time much more carefully.
“The Queen will not stay put if she finds out.”
The man sighed in the face of the middle-aged man’s warning.
“That’s exactly my problem all this time. Even if she is titled the Queen, her real identity is just another resource like all the other surveillance targets. Why must we watch out for her especially?”
“… Those are dangerous words you are speaking.”
“Everyone already knows my thoughts. It’s the very reason why I was pushed away from my place as Emperor. But the fact that they gave me this position means that even the Grand Council is thinking of restricting the Queen. Or perhaps, taming her.”
“Everyone who had the same thoughts as you didn’t end so well.”
“That’s why we have to gather information on Surveillance Target 728. Because of that treaty, all targets from the 3 eastern nations went straight to the Queen’s hand. We won’t get many opportunities like this again. The Directorate of Analysis came to the conclusion that the reason the Queen is so obsessed with the 3 eastern nations is because she is originally from one of them. To be fair, even I would feel more at peace if I was surrounded by my people in this screwed-up world. That’s why we have a chance. If we find any contact between the target and the Queen after extracting information, the target will become the Queen’s weakness. We can even place him next to the Queen to find out what she’s planning, and in the worst case, we use him to eliminate her. That’s why both my brother and the Grand Council are acting oblivious to my actions.”
The middle-aged man couldn’t shake off his worries after hearing the man’s words. The cause was just. The actions deserved eternal damnation, but he had been carrying out these orders because he believed in the man’s words. But the target this time was too different.
He didn’t have a massive army behind him or house significant power within his body, but the man was a lunatic. A man who has nothing to lose does not hesitate in his actions, because there’s nothing to consider.
That’s how the middle-aged man judged Isaac. He personally experienced that his lack of desire for survival was not a bluff. Sadly, he had no say in the matter. All he could do was advise and follow the decisions. So once the plan is complete, he needed to extract the required information and finish the brainwashing as quickly as possible, before the Queen noticed.
“Then let us begin.”