-… Was that why you requested those weapons?
The Mazelan that appeared on the monitor was notably shocked, his eyes quivering as he stared at Isaac. Isaac took his time answering Mazelan, sipping on his wine as he made himself comfortable on his sofa. He took a breath of his cigarette before answering.
“It’s been a while since I got to play with my toys.”
– … Is that all you have to say? Three have died. 5 are critically injured, two of which are disabled for life.
-Don’t you have even the slightest sense of guilt as a human being?!
Isaac snickered in response.
Isaac acted as if Mazelan’s shout was but a nuisance, digging into his ear as he replied.
“Whatever. I’m withdrawing, so just wrap up all of this as if it’d never happened.”
-I’m saying this because you can really end up neither dead nor alive!
Mazelan warned Isaac, and Isaac returned it with a stare of ridicule.
“Can you do that – ignoring Yoo-rah, I mean, the Queen?”
“Well, I’ll have no choice but to follow if the Queen requested that I continue, but I believe an apology is in order, since it was you guys who broke the agreement first.”
Mazelan was left stupefied that the culprit was demanding an apology for what had happened.
“I think this one is deserved, considering you guys broke the clause stipulating that you could only watch and stand by.”
Mazelan rubbed at his aching temples, moaning as he asked.
-Let’s say we do apologize. Are you still going to continue with these atrocities?
“Until their numbers drop down to a suitable level.”
-And if everyone were to quit?
Mazelan asked, and Isaac smiled ruthlessly.
“I’ll only be left with those who have to remain because of their missions, no matter how much they want to quit.”
Mazelan’s eyes rattled. It was indirectly referring to those who had volunteered with a different goal in mind other than the rewards. While Mazelan remained silent, Isaac noticed someone enter the screen and approach Mazelan to pass him a memo. Mazelan read the memo then immediately looked up to the messenger with disbelief. A smile appeared on Isaac’s face seeing Mazelan’s expression.
“What. Are they telling me to continue?”
Mazelan scrunched the memo and threw it on the ground, all the while looking at Isaac with an irritated expression.
-… It’s a memo from the Queen. She is requesting that you refrain from directly harming the volunteers if possible.
Isaac pondered for a moment, then shrugged as he gave his answer.
“Well, it’s a shame but since this is a request from the Queen, I’ll follow it.”
-… What are you plotting?
Isaac’s attitude triggered a flurry of worry in Mazelan; he was so quick to accept a request when it was from the Queen.
“But I need something to continue the training.”
-Please make it something more ordinary.
Mazelan asked worriedly when Isaac made his request. Isaac couldn’t help but smirk as Mazelan looked back helplessly, desperately steadying himself for what bombshell Isaac was going to throw next.
“Bring me some people you don’t care that they die. Like prisoners on death row.”
Mazelan pondered for a moment before asking his question with much skepticism.
-Are you planning to have live target practice using them as the targets?
“Well, pretty much.”
-… Then there is no need.
“I thought you were going to give me everything I requested?”
-That’s not it. There is no need for them if you are aiming to reduce the shock of murdering someone for the agents.
-… It’s already in their official curriculum.
After a brief silence, Isaac exploded into laughter. Apparently, one of the main teachings for Central’s agents trained in College is to get used to killing someone else.
“What? And you guys made such a scene at me? You and I aren’t so different after all?”
Thanks to strict but fair laws enforced across the Empire, it was enjoying a life of peace. The Empire had deemed that students who had learned their lessons through books alone in the College and the Campus would have little to no experience with extreme circumstances such as murder.
Training alone wasn’t enough for those being deployed into the scene. There were plenty of examples where the shock of murder completely dismantled a plan. Isaac himself had many experiences of almost losing his entire squad because of such people.
Knowing what he was thinking, Mazelan replied disdainfully.
-This may be a peaceful world to the oblivious civilians, but you must fight fiercely in order to rise through the ranks. All of the upper classes know that fact. That is why they have been educating their children since their youth.
“Wow! Now that’s harsh. How could you ask a child to kill someone?”
Mazelan frowned as if having a headache listening to Isaac’s speculation.
-Who said we make them kill someone! They are simply taught to be used to death! The concept that they must step over someone else’s life in order to rise above is drilled into every noble since childhood.
“How is that any different? I doubt that’s a good moral influence for children.”
Mazelan sighed at Isaac’s criticism.
-Anyway, if they were recruited into the College, they would have already received plenty of education in such a field and would be mentally prepared for it.
“Then why’s there a need to put it in your curriculum?”
-… Training and practice is different as night and day. Especially since our work has the tendency to end up in catastrophe if even one of us falters.
Isaac nodded, agreeing whole heartedly at Mazelan.
“Yes. Exactly as you say. No matter how harsh of a training they received, it’s a disaster if they screw up on practice. Especially if that happens to the commander.”
“Why is that?”
Rivelia received a reply on the same night she sent a report on Isaac’s atrocity. It was an unbelievable order to apologise to Isaac and continue with the training. The Emperor himself contacted Rivelia through a Communicator with sadness in his voice.
-This was the decision of the Grand Council.
“I cannot accept this!”
-Do you really wish for this to stop?
“That’s the obvious course of action!”
-If we stop now, then the deaths of those agents are truly for naught. Is that okay with you?
-If the founding of Directorate of Security itself were to be nulled, then everyone who volunteered for a position will be purged from Central’s records.
“That action would be too extreme. We can leave the training to someone else or manage adequately by filling the positions with veteran agents alone.”
-Do you think that man will do as he’s told if we proceeded with your suggestion?
-It was we who, no, Rivelia, you who broke the agreement. Have we not warned you time and time again not to interfere?
“Then was I supposed to watch him kill those agents?!”
-… That may be so, but it was the mistake of the Directorate of Analysis for failing to predict that he would do such a thing for ‘training.’
“Now you are shifting the blame to the Directorate of Analysis?!”
-That’s what it seems on the outside. Central and Grand Council has negotiated, and the Directorate of Analysis failed to predict his action. So long as the Queen stands behind him, Isaac will have his way.
“How can he possibly have the justification when he killed the trainee not by accident from training but by a direct attack!”
-Duke Lopez, who made the same argument, was relieved of his title.
Rivelia’s face went pale listening to the Emperor. To think they’d cut off Duke Lopez, who had significant influence over the agents, at a moment’s notice?
“How are you going to deal with the aftermath…”
-That is not your concern.
“And if I still refuse?”
Faced against Rivelia’s adamant attitude, the Emperor hesitated before speaking with an expression that he didn’t want to go this far.
-… Duke Pendleton asked me to send you this message, saying that he couldn’t bear to tell you face to face.
-I’m sorry. Follow your order.
Those words from the Emperor sent a shock through Rivelia’s mind. If her father, her greatest advocate, were to say that, then there was someone unfathomable happening in the upper echelon. Something so serious that even Duke Lopez was kicked away for trying to interrupt Isaac with his influence.
Rivelia walked in circles in front of Isaac’s tent. It felt as if there was an invisible barrier stopping her feet from entering. She may have had the strength to close her eyes and make an apology, but she didn’t have the confidence to bear the irritating scolding and sarcasm that would surely follow afterwards. What truly weighed heavily on her heart was that not only could she only watch as her agents and hubaes were injured and killed in front of her but that she was forced to apologise and watch helplessly as they were tormented further. As she cycled between sighing and walking in circles, the tent door opened and Reisha peaked her head out.
“Um, Sunbaenim says if you aren’t going to come in, then stop wandering around and fu… I mean, go somewhere else.”
Although Reisha softened the words in a rush, Rivelia knew exactly what she was supposed to say. Rivelia barged into the tent using her rage as its momentum.
Inside the tent was a grand feast arranged in front of Isaac, despite this being breakfast time. Isaac leisurely worked his knife on the steak in front of him. Kunette didn’t even turn her face toward Rivelia, too focused on eating her honey while Rizzly drooled and watched Kunette with envy.
“What are you doing here? You acted like you’d never see me again.”
Rivelia was infuriated to see Isaac glance at her merely once before returning to his meal, but she could only hold her rage inside.
“I want to…”
“Stop, wait until I’m done with my meal.”
Everyone could see Rivelia’s body tremble. Rizzly was on his guard while looking at Rivelia’s reaction with worry, but Isaac and Kunette were unfazed while Reisha decided to join in on the breakfast. The tent was silent other than the clacking of cutlery. Rivelia patiently suppressed the urge to flip the table and waited silently. She would have obliterated that man in moments if it weren’t for her father’s message, but in order to abide by her father’s request, she could only stand and suffer this shame.
While she suffered in the tent, Isaac glimpsed at Rivelia once more during his meal and asked.
“Are you sure you’re here to apologise?”
“… Yes. I want to…”
“Drop it. In my world, you are on your knees when you really want to apologise. I guess in this world, just dropping a sorry while standing counts as an apology.”
Rivelia looked at Isaac with a blank expression. Even Kunette and Reisha stopped their meal to look at Isaac, considering him to have gone too far.
Isaac on the other hand ignored their eyes and cut a thick slice of steak, moving it to his mouth as he spoke.
“Why don’t you head out if you’re not here to apologise properly?”
“Um, sunbaenim, I think that’s too harsh…”
Both Reisha and Kunette tried to stop Isaac, but Rivelia bit on her lips and dropped on to her knees with a thud.
Reisha squirmed as she looked between Isaac and Rivelia, unable to have a proper meal with this mood. Kunette stared at Isaac intensely, the thought of honey evaporated from her mind.
Isaac ignored the two and kept his utensils busy, never letting go of his fork and knife. When the plate was finally empty, Isaac wiped his mouth with a napkin, sipped at his wine, lit a cigarette and then muttered.
“Ah, that was a good meal.”
Isaac smoked leisurely as he looked down on Rivelia, who was on her knees and her head hung. He exhaled smoke towards the ceiling and spoke.
“So the Central chose me over the lives of their agents as expected. I guess it’s the same here.”
“What do you mean by that?”
Isaac looked into Rivelia’s eyes, which were stormy with emotions.
“No people would sacrifice their lives for a nation who ignores their people. Because my nation didn’t know this, the nation of the Queen and I was destroyed. I’m disappointed. I thought you of all people would be different, damsel. I guess you’re just another person in power, living a good life.”
Rivelia burst the dam that was holding all of her resentment.
“Then what was I supposed to do?! I’ve been told to apologise and continue watching you after reporting what you’ve done to the Empire!”
Everyone flinched at Rivelia’s wail, but Isaac spoke back with an uncaring face.
“That’s all the power a Swordmaster has?”
“This was a decision made by Central and Grand Council! Even my father told me to follow the order, so just what am I supposed to do?!”
Rivelia’s frustrated scream was met with Isaac’s annoyed ‘tsk!’ He extinguished his smoke and stood up from his chair.
“Someone in my world said this once. Living life to please others instead of yourself is failing to live life. That’s expected from an ordinary man, but aren’t you a Swordmaster? Didn’t you say you’d carve your own path? Is following orders from your higher-ups obediently without a complaint despite knowing it is wrong the path you spoke of?”
EDN: The original quote from Bernard Werber could be translated as “In my opinion, a failed life is not one that tries to satisfy oneself, but one that ends while trying to satisfy others.” Here’s a screencap of him saying the quote, and here’s the original video at 25:49.
Stunned by Isaac’s ridicule, Rivelia shrivelled back. Isaac passed Rivelia as he continued.
“You have no say now that you’ve turned a blind eye once. I will accept your apology. This is your last chance. Run if you want to now. The moment you show yourself again on the training ground, you will be forced to watch where I’m going to be heading until the end because you’ve failed to stop me.”
Isaac exited the tent, leaving behind the stunned Rivelia. Reisha tried to comfort Rivelia at first but walked away weakly. Kunette approached and looked at Rivelia for a moment, then lost her interest and followed behind Isaac.
Outside was Isaac, standing to light another cigarette, when Kunette pulled at Isaac’s pants. Isaac looked down with a cigarette in his mouth, and when their eyes met, Kunette raised her hands, asking Isaac to pick her up.
Isaac pondered for a moment since this was the first time she asked affection so directly, then held her in one arm and began walking to the training grounds.
“… Don’t bully Rivelia too much.”
Isaac patted Kunette’s head.
“Heroes need their trials. You could say this is their quenching.”
EDN: Referring to the process of forging a blade, you would quench a blade in oil or water to harden it. I (personally) don’t see this metaphor used often, but I do typically see people use similar phrases like “trial by fire.”
“… And if she breaks?”
“That’s none of my business. I’ll just look for another hero. I still have that subpar piece of insurance as a backup.”
Isaac snickered as he remembered Mazelan, when Kunette rubbed her face at Isaac’s chest.
“… I’m on Isaac’s side.”
When Isaac arrived at the training ground, he was greeted by the volunteers standing in formation, their bodies stiff as stone.
The North Bears, who surrounded the barracks as both guards and instructors saw Kunette in Isaac’s arms, and couldn’t help but squirm in embarassment until they were swiftly corrected by Kunette’s cold stare.
Isaac sat on the chair prepared for him and placed Kunette down before speaking to the volunteers.
“Have you slept well?”
How could they sleep decently? All of the volunteers twisted and turned in their beds, contemplating on their decisions. Do they continue to participate in this madness or give up? But the bait that hung just above their head was too tasty to give up.
Although most had decided to forfeit, they decided to monitor the situation for a while longer since they could give up at any time, and there was a glimmer of hope that headquarters would intervene to prevent Isaac from doing it again.
As their pondering went on, daybreak came and the volunteers could only gather for the morning roll call and wait patiently until Isaac came.
“Have you had your meals?”
“They had their meals before the roll call.”
One of the North Bears approached Isaac hurriedly and passed the message. Isaac nodded.
“From now, the volunteers will eat here. So bring their meals to this location.”
The North Bear ran off to send the message to the kitchen, and Isaac turned to speak at the volunteers.
“There is bad news.”
“Although I wish to kill you all, and even the higher ups have approved of it, the Queen requested that I refrain from such action, so I won’t be able to kill you all directly from now on.”
All of the volunteers let out a sigh of relief. Those who knew of the truth could only drop their jaws at Isaac’s obvious ploy of seeding distrust at the Empire and Grand Council in their minds and pushing them towards the Queen’s side instead.
“Now, shall we begin the morning training.”
The volunteers thought they wouldn’t receive a hail of gunfire like last time but remained on guard, not knowing what crazy actions Isaac was going to take. But despite their anticipation, Isaac ordered an ordinary training.
“Why don’t we start it off easy since this is the beginning. I’m sure you’re all used to running right? Run.”
All of the volunteers seemed confused but decided to run the field obediently before they gave Isaac any excuses to start shooting.
One. two. The number of laps went beyond a hundred but Isaac didn’t order them to stop. All of the volunteers looked at Isaac in confusion whenever they passed the stage.
They all had the endurance to run for an entire day without rest. Endurance was a basic requirement as Central’s combat agents.
But seeing Isaac only order to run gave a faint hope in the minds of the volunteers, believing that Isaac was restrained somehow.
Despite all this, Isaac was leisurely smoking as he was reading a book – when a drop of water landed on the book.
“Hm? Is it going to rain?”
Isaac looked up to see what was once a bright morning turned grey by the heavy clouds.
“Would you like to return to the tent? Or would you like some cover brought here?”
Isaac turned to see where the calm voice had come from, and there stood Rivelia, standing by quietly.
“When did you arrive?”
“… Just a few minutes ago.”
Other than the slight tint of red in her eyes, Rivelia had a calm face on her. but Isaac could feel that something had changed inside her. Seeing that he was only staring at her, Rivelia spoke to Isaac.
“Is there something you need?”
Although polite, the stiff tone drew an obvious line between the two. Isaac smirked and turned forward again.
“Is it because you’re a protagonist? It’s faster than I thought. Bring me some cover. We should avoid the rain at least.”
Rivelia looked at the running volunteers detachedly and then turned to the North Bears and gave them a few orders.
Isaac secretly watched her actions, before looking back and scratching his cheek with a troublesome expression.
“Man, did I provoke her too strongly?”
There was much commotion in their attempt to build cover for Isaac, and thunder and rain began to pour in the area the moment it was completed. Even as the rain grew thicker, the volunteers could not stop running. They all had a complicated look on their faces, watching Rivelia stand next to Isaac like a secretary as they slowed their pace in the rain. They had to in order to retain their endurance, as running in the rain sapped much more strength than normal.
Isaac blankly looked at the intense rainstorm then watched what was once a single tightly packed group of volunteers slowly disintegrate into a conga line. Isaac called out to Rizzly.
“I think we need to have them pick up their paces. Take some of your men and surround the field, smacking whoever is last with a club.”
Rizzly flinched at Isaac’s order before asking again.
“You want us to beat whoever is last?”
“Don’t go easy on them. I’m sure they’ll run faster if they don’t want to be hit. What, does it irk you?”
Rizzly hesitated, his displeasure evident. Isaac asked Rizzly, and Rizzly noticed Kunette’s cold stare. Rizzly chuckled and answered.
“It doesn’t irk me, but our race hates being pelted by the rain.”
Isaac smirked, hearing his excuse.
“I’ll give you all 10 pots of honey as a bonus.”
“I’m sure they’ll work hard hearing that.”
Rizzly backed off with a satisfied look at Isaac’s offer, and Kunette strongly pulled at Isaac’s pants, annoyed.
“… Isaac, what about me?”
“Is there anything you want other than honey?”
Kunette fell into a deep thought, then shook her head.
“Let me know if you have one. I think I’m well-off enough to sustain you at least.”
Kunette grabbed at her own cheeks and laughed while Reisha grabbed at Isaac and began pestering him. Meanwhile, the North Bears surrounded the field as ordered by Rizzly, and in their hand was a sizable club.
The volunteers looked at the clubs in the North Bears’ hands with worrisome looks, and Rizzly looked at Isaac. Isaac nodded, giving his approval, and immediately the club was swung at the unlucky victim.
The man dodged the club, having been on guard ever since the start. The aggressor and the defender looked at each other awkwardly, unsure how to react, when Isaac shouted.
“Whoever is last from now on will be clubbed. Don’t be last if you don’t want to get hit.”
The men towards the end immediately picked up their paces and started joining the pack.