Rizzly’s expression jolted upward when he overheard Isaac muttering to himself. Isaac calmed him with a wave of his hand, and Rizzly continued to converse with Laila.
Greed—it was an adequate excuse. It was perfectly reasonable too, given his newly acquired title. This could trick not just Central, who was aware of the truth behind the scenes, but even the eyes of the oblivious public.
To the elites of this world, a successful life was inheriting a noble title and leading their family to prosperity, founding a new noble family of their own or climbing the ladder of nobility.
An outrageous fool who acted as if every day was his last had seen the potential for greed after receiving a noble title. To those in power, what would be a more convincing reason?
Central would still be doubtful and vigilant, but Isaac just needed to look like he was obsessed with money and his fief while keeping himself safe. In fact, Central would welcome it.
The reason why Isaac was a difficult target was partly because he was a close advocate of the Queen, but mostly because of his aggressive tendencies that lashed out indiscriminately to cause as much collateral damage as possible as if nothing else mattered.
The only way to deal with someone who had nothing to lose was to give him something to hold and protect. The moment they feared losing something, they were no longer a difficult target.
If Isaac suddenly grew an attachment to being alive and foolishly threw away his greatest weapon in greed, he would no longer be a precious fabergé egg but a mere chicken’s egg, a single press away from crumbling.
When Isaac’s thoughts had concluded at this point, he began to suspect that Central already planned for such an occasion in advance. In the public’s view, Isaac was just going to be a temporary ruler for New Port City.
But, using the excuse plotted by Pendleton—that overprotective Duke—they could have transferred Isaac to become head of the Rondart Family and forced Isaac to move from New Port City to his home.
Distress and rumors would have flown about if that happened, but the Emperor was at the helm of the Empire—at least in the public eye. If the Emperor officially ordered so, everyone had to obey.
Yet the Emperor handed New Port City to Isaac. What did this mean? A gesture to be friends? Or an attempt at creating a weakness?
There was no need to contemplate over it, since he and the Empire were bound to become enemies sooner or later.
‘It’ll be too suspicious if I changed so much so quickly, so I’ll need to adapt subtly… There’s plenty of witnesses already, so do I have to act as if I’m attached to this city? Or develop it further? Determining how far I’ll go too is difficult too. It’ll make more sense to make changes to the original plan as I go. Shall I find out who my allies are first?’
With his scheming over, Isaac called out to Rizzly.
“Schedule me a meeting with the Director of Surveillance.”
Rizzly flinched at Isaac’s order and replied hesitantly.
“W, why the Director of Surveillance?”
“I think the Director is amicable toward me, but we’ve never met face to face before. I’d like to demonstrate my gratitude to her for assisting my last mission, and I have some interesting things to discuss. Pass the message that I have some mutually beneficial terms to discuss.”
“W, well. The Director is a very busy person… But I’ll pass the message on nonetheless.”
“Tell that I’d like to meet as soon as possible.”
Rizzly failed to give a proper answer and quickly retreated from the rooftop holding Laila’s hand in his. Isaac thought to himself that the Director of Surveillance had to be a very scary individual, considering Rizzly’s response.
‘Just getting the Directorate of Surveillance on my side would halve my job’s difficulty…’
The greatest barrier to Isaac’s plans wasn’t the Empire, the Directorate of Analysis, or the Queen. It was Surveillance.
No matter what Isaac tried, the immense ability of Surveillance grabbed at his feet.
Since he had no idea of what Surveillance was fully capable of, Isaac had to assume that they were watching his every move. But he couldn’t think of any ways to evade their watch either.
Isaac had proceeded with many of his works under the table—as per his style—all this time, but there remained the question of whether those plans had already been sniffed out. But if the plans proceeded as usual, they might not have had enough time to finish preparations.
So Isaac had contemplated if there was another way, when he found surprising pieces of evidence during the provincial war between Wolfgang and Lichten.
First, it was the order from Central demanding that Count Wolfgang be eliminated because he was supposedly a demon.
Of course, this was secretly a false accusation for the purpose of destroying Wolfgang.
It was impossible that the Surveillance didn’t know of this fact, since it was entirely their duty to detect the first signs of a demonic presence.
Yet they remained silent and even openly accepted Isaac’s request for assistance.
What did this mean? Simple. Non-humans didn’t want humanity’s influence to grow larger. The proof was that Surveillance already laid the foundations to destroy both noble families when Mazelan asked to end the war quickly, and Mazelan was completely oblivious to Surveillance’s actions.
Was their ignorance just a ruse designed to fool the other Directorates, or did they really wish to diminish humanity’s strength? And if so, by how much? Isaac needed to probe their intentions cautiously. Depending on the assistance of Surveillance, the plan’s difficulty would change dramatically.
Isaac sat on his sofa with his legs crossed. His body leaned to one side, his head sitting on the palm of his hand. With his bored look, Isaac spoke down to Cordnell.
“You look fine?”
He and Kalden had been forced to starve for the last ten days. All the while Kunette and Reisha prepared a feast, devouring it all as the two of them watched. The two of them thought about quitting at the sight of the despicable treatment at first, what with a small fortune they’d saved up, but the two never had the will to do such a thing in the end, no matter what happened.
As the core members that had raised this city from the start, they had risen to become local celebrities in the city; many citizens greeted them with looks of admiration whenever they walked the streets.
They had grown attached to growing what was a doomed city at the start to this extent, but the most important factor was that New Port City was the best place to build connections with the influential.
Even before the city was developed, this had always been a famous vacation spot.
It was a given that more people visited as New Port City grew. It was so simple to meet highly influential nobles and celebrities face to face—even those who’d normally be extremely difficult to meet just once in a lifetime—using the titles as members of the Administrative Body of the city. Gaining their favour was even simpler—it was just giving them preferential treatment during their stay. And they didn’t even need to use their own money for this.
You could very quickly achieve fame, honour, and connections that only a select few would have been able to achieve by their retirements—all just by working in New Port City
Sure, the work was hard, their boss was maniacal and their orders were insane, but the boss never interfered with their work. And they weren’t going to leave just because their boss was an asshole.
“We have put out the more urgent fires.”
The starvation seemed to have made him vicious. As soon as he regained a bit of his vitality, he immediately began cutting away at the city expenditures, practically demanding that they come out of the red.
He banned all acts of creative accounting, which had been unofficially approved by Isaac, and demanded that his colleagues pay back half of everything they had embezzled until now.
There should have been a massive pushback against Cordnell’s demands, but looking into Cordnell’s eyes was like staring into the eyes of a starving wolf. And it wasn’t like his colleagues didn’t feel guilty about ignoring him during his period of involuntary starvation.
“But this is just a temporary solution. So long as we don’t have a proper plan, we will fail.”
Isaac tilted his head. Not even the Seven Grand Merchant Guilds could look down on New Port City’s profits. Plus, they recently raked in a huge source of revenue without investing a single cent.
Which was precisely why Cordnell’s and the current administrative system’s persistent money crisis was still a mystery to him.
Isaac was well aware that the current situation increased the risk of a financial crisis the longer it went on. He was also aware of the fact that his current solution to this problem for the foreseeable future was opening up new loans to pay off old ones—an additional problem to the pile that came with his newfound nobility status.
But Isaac just needed to survive the 2 years that the Queen asked for, so he didn’t feel the urgency that Cordnell spoke of. But perhaps from Cordnell’s perspective, it was reasonable.
“It’s not like we’ll go bankrupt now.”
“No. We will go bankrupt if we go on like this.”
“Sure, it wouldn’t be the case if you forgave the debt owed by the Lichten Family.”
Isaac tilted his head in confusion. Cordnell sighed deeply and glared at Isaac in utter hatred.
“I knew this would be the case. As per your orders, we opened a loan with the Lichten Family’s fief.”
“It was a great deal for us.”
The loan was the equivalent of an immense fortune; it was so large that the entire fiefdom had to be put up as collateral. Isaac approved the loan and gained it all back from the casino, so the only things that really changed were words on a document while Isaac had gained an entire fiefdom.
Isaac dashed his lip, wondering if there was another fool he could rip off when Cordnell burst out in anger.
“That is the problem! The Lichten Family have yet to pay any compensation regarding the damages caused by the war!”
“And now they don’t have an official leader who can approve such an expenditure!”
“Now that you have gained a noble title, all of the rights over the fief will become your responsibility if you seize Lichten’s lands. That means you will be responsible for all debts owed by the fief as well!”
Isaac’s face stiffened as he listened to Cordnell. It was a problem he hadn’t thought about at all. The war between Wolfgang and Lichten had been the largest war in recent history.
The number of the dead far surpassed that of average. Plus, New Port City was already supplying funds to Wolfgang Family to recuperate their losses. If the compensation for the dead and civilian casualties from Lichten were added on top, New Port City was bound to languish in the red no matter how much money it had.
“Do others know about this?”
“Why do you think the Lichten Family is so quiet right now?”
Isaac sighed deeply at Cordnell’s answer.
“Unbelievable. I gave them time to secure their own survival once the dust settled as Mazelan sunbae asked for, but did they misinterpret it as me being too scared to take over?”
“That’s why I’m doing everything to gather funds.”
Cordnell complained, and Isaac questioned him.
“Not advising against it?”
“Would you stop if I did?”
“Which is precisely why I didn’t even consider that option, and it’s also why I’m suffering like this now.”
Isaac smirked at Cordnell’s banter and took out a cigarette.
“I swear, I’m always running low on money no matter how much I earn. So you got any ideas?”
“I won’t say you should cancel the welfare funds outright. But I just ask that we stop the leaking.”
Cordnell had prepared himself for another round of starvation, but Isaac accepted Cordnell’s request readily, unlike Cordnell’s expectation. Surprised, Cordnell blurted out.