Isaac safely returned from his travels to Rondart fiefdom without any incidents, betraying everyone’s expectations. Everyone questioned why Isaac had returned alone and couldn’t help but feel jealous when Isaac explained to them that Trentor, one of his capable employees, was handed over to the Rondart Family as the price for cutting all relations with them. As a graduate of Campus, he was bound to be treated well by the baron family, and he could be with his family. Nobody raised even the slightest suspicion of the explanation.
However Isaac couldn’t avoid being the centre of rumours for the gossipers in the city. The inheritance of the Rondart Family was the reward promised by the Emperor for the current mission he was tasked with, and Isaac had forfeit the title with only a year left before the mission was finished. Many began to spread the rumour that Isaac’s act of forfeiting the title was akin to disobeying the Emperor and that it was only a matter of time before the Ark Royale came knocking. But despite everyone’s anticipation, the Ark Royale took no action whatsoever.
So instead, people began to focus on Isaac’s future actions, since he was now free from the shackles of the Rondart family. Isaac continued to stay shut in on his rooftop like he’d always done, but the administrative body couldn’t help but feel confused as more time passed.
An endless stream of incidents are bound to occur as one manages a city. Incidents requiring Isaac’s final decisions happened every day, even if Isaac himself refused to work. It was these decisions made by Isaac that always pained the administrative body. Showing no signs of following a proper standard, Isaac would always make his decision according to his mood on the day, sometimes escalating the problems even further. It was up to the administrative body to clean up the messes he made.
But even since Isaac returned from Rondart fiefdom, he was righteous and just. Isaac still maintained his lackluster motivation, always grumbling about their many visits to him and pretending that he wasn’t listening. But now? He began cooperating with Rivelia to manage the city properly. First there was the reform of tax paperwork and the city’s financial records, which had previously been haphazardly maintained. Now, it was much more efficient and tracked the funds to the Bit.
There were only two verdicts Isaac had made in the court in the past: not guilty if the fine had been paid or forced labour in the mines if not done so. Now he gave verdicts backed by logical rulings that everyone could understand, shocking the populace.
He even started intervening in districts other than the Ceta District, which had been outside his concern until now. He reconstructed roads, restructured the sewage system, and constructed schools, orphanages, and food banks. He deployed the police force into the other districts to prevent and solve cases in these regions, helping improve the public order.
As the city continued to operate under these conditions, a more sinister rumour began to take hold in New Port City – that Isaac was dead. The Rondart Family had joined forces with either the Seven Grand Merchant Guilds or Port City and sent a fake to take over New Port City. That Isaac was dead and the Duke of Pendleton allowed it. That Rivelia had killed Isaac and was running the city herself. Plenty of rumours circled the city, ranging from ludicrous to plausible. But all of these rumours focused on the fact that Isaac was either dead or had disappeared and that the one in the city now was a fake.
“We can’t just ignore this any longer.”
“But don’t you think being pushed around by mere rumours is a little…”
“Does the current situation seem normal to you? Sir Isaac is working! You heard the verdict he gave to the son of Count Burshen regarding the murder incident in the casino! Count Burshen said he’d pay the fine, but Sir Isaac issued the verdict of imprisonment according to Empire’s law.”
“That’s because the mines are currently closed…”
“That’s why it makes even less of a sense! He isn’t the type of man who’d refuse money and hand out imprisonment sentences instead!”
“That’s true but…”
Cordnell sighed, unable to refute Kalden’s argument. Everything he said was true. All of Isaac’s actions had been completely different ever since his return from Rondart fiefdom.
In truth, this was how things should be. It was Isaac who was strange all this time. But they’d gotten so used to the abnormal lifestyle that this ordinary situation was hard to swallow.
The atmosphere within New Port City was souring by the day. Something happened between the once-friendly elves and North Bears, as everyone could see they were getting colder to each other despite the smile on the outside. Lanburton, the leader of the elves, began to act as if he’d let go of all his responsibilities. Rizzly, who’d returned from his trip before Isaac, shut himself in his residence, refusing to stand by Isaac as he’d always done. It was no wonder that a rumour suspecting that Rivelia detained Isaac and overtook the city propagated.
“Don’t you think it’s more stupid to go and tell him that working normally is weird?”
Kalden gulped like a fish when Cordnell asked that question, his head hung.
“But we can’t just ignore these rumours. As you know, Isaac sunbaenim was designated as the Lord of New Port City by the Emperor. What would happen if one were to find out that someone removed him before the designated end of his term? The Pendletons will be fine, but what about us? In the worst case scenario, we’ll be the tail that’d be cut off.”
Cordnell moaned at Kalden’s worried comment. That was indeed the problem. It was unlikely that she’d murder him, but what if Rivela, frustrated by Isaac’s continued irresponsible attitude, had convinced the other races and imprisoned him on the rooftop and took over the city?
Rivelia herself would be overlooked because she had the protection of the Pendletons, and the other races were untouchable by the Empire in the first place, so the only party left was the administrative body. If someone had to take the responsibility and bear punishment, there was enough authoritative power to make a scapegoat out of the administrative body and bury the incident.
There was still some doubt that Rivelia’s personality wouldn’t resort to this kind of action no matter how much she hated Isaac, but the fear that the rumours were true grew as the days passed, as citizens watched how things were unfolding. That’s just how righteous Isaac had become – to the point of disbelief.
“I mean… there’s this rumour too. All of Isaac’s actions until now were just a cover to avoid the eyes of the Rondart and the Milros families, and after breaking free of their shackles, he has now spread the wings he’d been hiding…”
“That is most definitely not it.”
“Now that’s the most ridiculous rumour I’ve ever heard.”
The two immediately cut off Soland before he could finish, shaking their heads. As if that’d be true. Would one almost burn down a city and agitate the Ark Royale all for the sake of keeping up a disguise? Ludicrous.
“There’s no choice. I have to see Sir Isaac and confirm it with my own eyes.”
As the mood within the room began to reach a general consensus that they couldn’t let things go on like this, Cordnell jumped off his chair to lead the way. Most of the administrative body followed behind him. Soland hesitated for a moment but eventually followed the rest as he scratched his head. He would have done everything to stop them just until yesterday, but there was no reason to now that Isaac had returned.
“I wonder how he’s going to sort out the mess his stand-in made?”
With Cordnell and Kalden at the head, the administrative body bravely walked up to the rooftop. But they quickly faltered when they saw Isaac face to face. What awaited them were the lazy, lethargic eyes embedded with annoyance that they were so familiar with. The only difference would be that Rivelia and Lanburton were standing together, and Rizzly, who’d been shut away in his home, was serving Isaac at his side.
“What do you want?”
The administrative body hesitated, confronted by Isaac’s question. They were now face-to-face, but they couldn’t just say that ‘we came here to check if you’re a fake because you’ve been working too well.’ After scanning the administrative body, Isaac waved his hand as if he was tired.
“Buzz off if there’s nothing to say. I’m tired from the trip I just returned from.”
All of the administrative body opened their eyes wide.
“You’ve just returned from a trip? Then what about Sir Isaac, who’d been here all this time?”
“He was a fake, of course.”
The jaws of each and every member of the administrative body dropped when they heard Isaac’s nonchalant response.
“A fake? why?”
“Why else? I decided that since I left this city, I may as well take a vacation.”
“B, but there was no need for you to hire a double?”
Cordnell argued, and Isaac responded with a smirk.
“Do I look that insignificant to you, now that I’ve forfeited my title? I’m sure everyone would have praised me if word went around that I decided to have a vacation in the midst of acting out the Emperor’s will.”
‘Then you shouldn’t have taken a vacation in the first place!’
All of the administrative body had the same thought, but they dared not speak it aloud. Kalden began to ponder, cocking his head before asking his question.
“I understand that you wanted to travel for some time, but why didn’t you order your double to remain quiet? Thanks to him, all kinds of rumours have sprouted.”
Isaac immediately shot an annoyed glare at Rivelia hearing Kalden’s question.
“I judged that I should at the very least let the Mayor know about my vacation, but our dear majesty from Duke Pendleton decided that she would do whatever she wanted during my absence. How could the fake even dream of opposing her? All he could do was shut up and do as he’s told.”
Rivelia’s head hung as Isaac went on. All of the administrative body understood, witnessing the sight. Basically, while he was absent, Rivelia went ahead with all the projects that were initially blocked by Isaac’s refusal. So the rumours were half-true.
“T, then what will you do now?”
This was infringement of authority. A crime so heavy that if Isaac demanded Rivelia be fired, there was nothing she could do. The actions she’d done were beyond undoing at this point.
“What do you mean what will I do? How could a lowly peasant who kicked away his title of Baron possibly overrule works that have been approved by the princess of the great Duke Pendleton? I’m so scared that I may as well give up on everything.”
All could see that Rivelia was trying her hardest to hold down her anger, the trembling of her body clearly visible. Feeling threatened, all of the administrative body quickly ran away from the rooftop without looking back, lest they be caught in the crossfire. Confirming that the rumours weren’t true was enough. They certainly didn’t want to be caught in someone else’s emotional outburst.
Cordnell too wanted to run away immediately but stayed behind, as he needed to discuss something. It was fortunate that Cordnell had been able to finish the work that came his way while the body double was here, but he now needed to discuss what to do if a problem or payment of great importance that required Isaac’s approval occurred during his absence.
“May I speak with you privately? I need to speak with you regarding the funds.”
“Is it about the smuggling?”
“Huk! Sir Isaac!”
Cordnell hastily looked about with a pale face, unsuspecting that he would mention it when there were so many people around.
“Don’t worry about it. Our lady Rivelia here is Central’s overseer in New Port City. So go see her if there’s a problem when I’m not around. And don’t come to me.”
Cordnell stared at Rivelia with disbelief in his eyes.
“Is this true?”
Rivelia sent an annoyed glare at Isaac then nodded.
“That’s right. I can handle all issues that require Sir Isaac’s input regarding that business. And if I happen to be not around as well, you can ask Mr. Lanburton or Mr. Rizzly here . Although they aren’t agents of Central, they are officers deemed our equals.”
Cordnell immediately realised he had set foot in a swamp that he could never escape from. He collapsed onto the floor filled with despair. The identities of Central’s agents were of utmost secrecy. The fact that they were so casually revealing it to him meant that he’d crossed the point of no return.
His life was now subject to Central’s constant watch. He could no longer embezzle or cheat on his wife if he ever got married. No, he could end up in the frightening situation of his wife being an agent of Central all along.
“I happened to get involved with Central while I visited Gabelin. So I decided to help them, and they’ll help manage the city for me. So make sure you work well. Try not to find yourself waking up at the bottom of the lake.”
The scariest part was that it could certainly happen. Cordnell shouted out unleashing the built-up anger and hatred.
“You! Son of a bitch! Just kill me instead! Kill me!”
In response to Cordnell’s rage induced cry, Isaac confidently commented to Rivelia.
“See that? He’s the type to just go head first when things go bad. He’s the perfect candidate to manage my city.”
Once Cordnell disappeared from the rooftop, his shoulders hung and wearing the face of a man in an abyss, only Lanburton, Rizzly, and Rivelia were left. Isaac grabbed a cigarette and looked at the three one by one.
“I never thought I’d be a man of such importance. Just how many Central agents are there around me?”
“Huhu. Although we aren’t officially members, most adults of the non-humans are considered part-time agents, since they’ve participated in battles to defend the gate.”
Lanburton gave his feeble excuse while laughing. Isaac turned his eyes to Rizzly, who was dripping with cold sweat and tried his best to avoid eye contact.
“Ha, of course a force like the North Bears wouldn’t be excluded for the battle. Does that mean Kunette approached me knowing who I was? No. You said only adults participate, so that brat Kunette wouldn’t know anything yet.”
Rizzly let out a sigh of relief and shut his mouth as Isaac mumbled. He was of no position to mention anything about Kunette.
“Such a funny place, this world. You approach invaders like you’re completely oblivious to everything all the while having complete knowledge, all just to monitor closely. If you think the target isn’t one, all of you disappear. If the target is one you guys try to recruit them? What happens to those who refuse to cooperate?”
“I can’t give you an answer, since this is the first mission I got to approach the surveillance target.”
“Missions regarding target recruitment are top-secret endeavors overseen by Directors.”
“Truth is that this is the first time information regarding surveillance targets has been released.”
All of them shook their head, saying they didn’t know any better. Isaac mumbled on nonchalantly.
“I guess it’s got nothing to do with me.”
It’s obvious what happened to the people who refused the offer. Isaac couldn’t have been the only victim of the Dark Royale rummaging through his brain.
“I have a question I want to ask.”
Rivelia timidly asked Isaac, who was quietly meditating with his eyes closed.
“Is it true that you exterminated the warlocks, I mean, the demonic turncoats, alone before the agents of Central intervened?”
Both Rizzly’s and Lanburton’s ears perked up in anticipation of Rivelia’s answer. Currently, Central was in quite a commotion, hearing that Isaac managed to not only kill tens of combat knights but even injure some of Central’s agents. This was an astonishing feat. Not even agents of Central could face off against tens of armed combat knights alone, even if they were equipped with their extraordinary equipment.
“And if it is?”
Everyone let out a moan of astonishment.
“So you did possess the Queen’s Artifact. And you’ve been keeping it secret all this time!”
Rivelia couldn’t help but glare at Isaac, frustrated that she had been tricked by him all this time.
“You’re supposed to hide treasures in the first place.”
Isaac smiled, seeing Rivelia. Then he quickly remembered the Emperor and Yoo-rah, who made no mention of it at all. Considering Rivelia’s personality, she most definitely would have mentioned the Queen’s artifact in her report.
‘Aren’t they worried that someone like me is possessing such a dangerous tool?’
“I guess it doesn’t matter.”
“Huh? what doesn’t matter?”
“That there’s one thing that’s gotten better. I can do whatever I want in broad daylight.”
“What are you scheming now?”
“Do I have to report everything to you? Shall I file a report of every single breath I take as well?”
Rivelia couldn’t help but grit her teeth and clench her fists, listening to Isaac’s sarcasm. It had been like this ever since their positions were reversed. Isaac was someone Rivelia could deal with alone in the past, but that was before he got involved with Central. Now not only did he outrank her now, but her position was quickly changed from the Overseer of New Port City to the Vice Director of Security.
She couldn’t even object, as she’d heard that her father, who loved her dearly, was on the verge of declaring war when he heard the news. The Pendleton family most definitely had the power to do so. That was barely stopped when the Grand Council and even the Queen stepped up to appease him. But if Rivelia ever uttered a single complaint about her current work and her father heard of it, the Empire would be embroiled in a civil war immediately. The fact that this couldn’t be taken as a joke was the scariest. So if she didn’t want to become the woman who threw the Empire into a civil war by complaining that her work was difficult, she had to suffer through the worker’s dilemma – unable to quit no matter how disgusting, unfair, and unjust her work was.
Unlike his claim of swearing that he’d play all day, Isaac’s life returned to the norm. He just couldn’t be bothered to move around, and despite putting his mind to it, he realised that there were no suitable locations for leisure. But that didn’t mean he wasted all the time. Now that he didn’t need to worry about Central’s watch, Isaac began making actions in broad daylight.
He ordered Soland to scrap together all the books regarding magic circles and circuits. Rivelia assumed that it was related to the Queen’s Artifact’s power at first, but even that became doubtful when Isaac didn’t even study those books attentively, rather just flicking through them and then throwing them away.
She would have used every tool at her disposal to extract some sort of information from him if he were just a normal invader, but behind Isaac stood the Queen. The news of Isaac and the Queen being acquaintances even in their previous world had spread throughout Central already. Humans were beings that found safety in their own kin.
The Queen would protect Isaac no matter what disasters he wrought, making him free to do whatever he wanted under her authority. Isaac didn’t seem like he was causing incidents at this point, but that’s what was most worrying. It felt like the calm before the storm.
This was perhaps the most leisure time Isaac had ever had. Now that the Emperor’s decree held as much power as wet toilet paper, he no longer needed to concern himself with developing the city. What little work that required his attention was now all pushed to Rivelia instead, and Isaac was simply waiting until he was contacted. After two months, he finally received a call from Mazelan.
“Are you finally back from your house arrest? Your face is a mess.”
Isaac jabbed at Mazelan’s exhausted face that appeared on the screen, but Mazelan seemed too tired to react and sighed before speaking.
-I’ve gathered the volunteers you wanted.
“Wow! There really were idiots who volunteered?”
Mazelan frowned upon hearing Isaac’s words of surprise.
-I’ve already sent their resumes. Rivelia will hand over the documents regarding them when you go see her.
“How many are there?”
-That doesn’t matter. Your job is to weed them out until there’s only 50 of them left.
-That’s the maximum number we can allow.
“That’s quite small.”
-That’s the limit, considering all of the noble titles and fiefdoms we need to provide for them. That’s two months of painstaking work right there.
“You’ve worked hard.”
-Their actual training will begin after they graduate from the Campus next year.
Isaac tilted his head hearing Mazelan.
“Why’s the Campus involved in this?”
This time it was Mazelan who cocked his head.
-Has the Queen not told you?
“Tell me about what?”
Mazelan sighed and grumbled.
-So much for ‘leaving all the explaining to me.’ How did she skip over so much?
-All of Central’s activities are utmost confidential. We can’t even recruit normal soldiers during the defence of the Gate because of it. In truth, they are of little help and only drag the morale down. Because of this, we only have a small number of elite troops to engage the enemy, but where do you think the most ideal place to recruit these talented individuals is? Who would be able to keep their mouths closed and be willing to sacrifice their lives for the Empire in the darkness, away from the public eye?
“… The College?”
The Campus was not the answer. That’s attended by actual students. But the College was completely isolated from the outside. Nobody knew what happened inside the College other than those who attended it.
-The Campus is more than enough to nurture talented individuals. The reason the College is isolated from Campus is because it is tasked with training those who have been recruited into Central.
“I thought the College was too isolated to be called a school. But it seemed like the College teaches quite a lot for just training?”
-As the saying goes, hide the tree inside a forest. Just as everyone has their unique talents and skills, Central recruit students from the College who demonstrate talent in military or combat. The rest are true geniuses, as you know.
“Sounds plausible. Even if you see them training, no one would doubt it since they are already majoring in that field anyway. I don’t know who came up with it, but that was very smart.”
-Of course, we do not shy away from recruiting others if they have talents that would be of great benefit to Central, whether they are from Campus or College. Those who have been transferred from the Campus to the College are mostly individuals who have been recruited into Central.
Everyone found it an honour to even attend the Campus and the College. All Central had to do was pick and choose from all of the Empire’s greatest talents that had been gathered on their doorstep. Graduating from the College set them up for guaranteed success, and Central was perhaps the most stable and powerful institution in the Empire. No wonder all these brats who’d spent all their time studying would rush over and take the bait.
-But the losses the Empire had suffered was painstaking.
-You know how the basic title for those who graduated from College are ‘genius among geniuses?’ That’s a fact. These talents, who would have achieved historical feats, are slaughtered in a mere single defence of the Gate. The number of casualties have dropped ever since the development of the coat, but every College graduate lost is a critical blow to the Empire.
“Is that so?”
-Just remember that fact. And I don’t know what training you’ll make them go through, so is there anything you need?
Ideas came into Isaac’s mind hearing Mazelan’s question.
“Are there any weapons you managed to steal from these Expeditionary forces?”
-We do but…
“Send as many of them over as you can. With ammo. It’s not broken by any chance?”
-No one in this world can match the Department of Supplies’ storage management.
Hearing Mazelan’s prideful boast, Isaac considered commenting that it wasn’t much to be proud of, but he kept the fact that there was no need to agitate him in mind.
“Good. Bring me as much as you can.”
“Bring me one of everything.”
-… That much? What are you going to use it on? Don’t tell me you’re going to equip all of your Security agents with weapons from the Expedition?
“No. I’m using it for training.”
Mazelan cocked his head, unable to fathom Isaac’s actions, but decided to accept his demands for now.
-Well I’ll send them over since they’ve been rotting away in storage. Anything else?
“Bring me the defensive coats agents use to equip all of them. Using manufactured mana crystals, not the pures.”
-Manufactured? That’s going to make their efficiency horrible.
“Then you can try to provide pures for all of them?”
-… I’ll send them over with manufactured crystals. Anything more?
“I’ll let you know if anything else comes to my mind.”
Mazelan was about to ask what were Isaac’s training goals or how long it was going to be but decided not to. There’s no way that man would even bother to plan it, and most likely, he was forcing Rivelia to sort through all those things.
“So when can I begin?”
-You can start whenever you want once you pick your candidates.
“Then let’s say I start in a month’s time. Ah! I’ll be heading to Campus in a few days because there are things I need to prepare. Provide me with the necessary transportation.”
-What? What about New Port City?
“It was doing fine without me. The fake was doing a good job.”