Isaac held true to his words and delegated the responsibility of being New Port City’s representative in the negotiations to Laila. The news of reunification between Port and New Port City was surprising enough to the public, but it was even more astonishing to hear that Laila, a child, was the representative with Zeroman as her aide.
Meanwhile, chaos ensued in Port City. Having lost their original representative, Zeroman, to New Port City, they hastily sought a new representative in the negotiations.
Many wrinkles formed on Zeroman’s face as the residents of Port City branded him a traitor. They feared that he would give away the rights to the waterway, Port City’s greatest card in the negotiations, for nothing in return.
Isaac asked back dumbfounded when Rizzly reported to him with a chuckle.
“Yes. They seem to think it’ll be a simple feat to push Laila around.”
If they could steer young Laila towards them, Port City might be able to come out ahead in the negotiation.
“True, it’ll be easy for them to cook a little brat to their taste.”
Isaac mumbled as he glimpsed at Laila, who was looking after Julia as she played with Kunette and Reisha.
No matter how hard Laila tried, she was still but a child.
There was a reason why people looked at experience, age, and history. Not to mention that Laila had yet to prove herself to be gifted enough to be invited to the College, despite having promise.
“I don’t know why they’re so riled up about this when it’s obvious that this entire act is to give Laila experience.”
“People make fools of themselves for three things.”
“Religion, love, and greed.”
Rizzly nodded along, seemingly convinced by Isaac.
“Leave those fools alone. They’ll self-destruct eventually. And how goes the Lichtens?”
Rizzly shrugged at the question.
“That place is obviously in turmoil.”
Many of the Lichten family’s remaining successors fainted at the news of the Lichten successor’s attempt to assassinate Isaac and the resulting declaration of provincial warfare.
They first needed to deny Viscount Aintz’s claim to the title in order to clean up the mess. There were no issues there; that was already done and dusted. But it was the next step—selecting the new successor—that prevented them from moving on.
Everyone fought to establish their own branch family as the official line of succession. Even the Capital’s Department of Administration, who intervened to prevent the outbreak of provincial warfare, had left them out of exhaustion.
Everyone raised their voice to claim that they were the legitimate successor, preventing the Lichtens as a whole from negotiating with Isaac even if they wanted to.
The Department of Administration declared that the declaration of provincial warfare would be accepted if the Lichtens could come up with terms of negotiation, but it only added fuel to the fire.
The Lichtens were split into many factions—from the pro-war faction arguing that there was nothing to be afraid of to those who argued that they should accept Isaac’s offer and migrate elsewhere with their wealth to those that who clamored about honour and tradition backing the opinion of choosing a new Marquis first and negotiating afterwards. It was a complete mess.
“What’s the fatty doing all this time?”
“With so few under his command, he seems to be convincing them one at a time, visiting them personally. Although progress has been lackluster thus far.”
“That’s strange. Just what is it backing this foolish bravado, especially when they should be running away with their tails in between their legs?”
Isaac cocked his head in curiosity, and Rizzly answered with a bitter smile.
“I suspect it’s because of Central’s actions.”
“Did the Directorate of Strategy intervene again?”
“That’s not it. They’ve been boldened by Central’s inaction regarding the assassination attempt at a College graduate. Everyone within the Lichtens’ sphere that had been aware of the Pure Blood Confederacy has perished, but they still have other connections and varying degrees of influence.”
Isaac’s expression changed subtly.
“Ah, I forgot.”
One of the reasons why the College garnered the admiration and envy of the populace was because of the absolute protection Central provided.
It was common knowledge that Central didn’t leave a single rock unturned when a College graduate was injured or died. Yet Central didn’t move when Isaac was nearly assassinated and declared provincial warfare.
In truth, the reason behind investigating College graduates after they died or were attacked was trivial.
It was because Central was afraid of sensitive information leaking, as many College graduates were associated with Central.
All of the embezzlement, corruption, and other crimes that they unveiled as they investigated the graduates’ associates were just a bonus.
Not to mention the agents, united under the sacred duty of protecting this world, would ruthlessly cry out for vengeance when attacked in any way, shape, or form.
Simply put, it was one for all and all for one. If Isaac was an ordinary graduate of the College, Central would have moved without question nor negotiation to ransack the Lichtens and returned with their declaration of unconditional surrender.
However, Isaac was a Type 3 invader who had risen to the top of the chain of command as the Director of Security, all purely through the Queen’s influence.
Which is why every agents’ reaction was akin to ‘so what?’ when Isaac was attacked.
Plus, this incident was entirely Isaac’s machinations from start to finish, which is why Central wouldn’t act. Although it painted a different picture to the public.
“It looked as if Central won’t act even after a College graduate was nearly assassinated. I can see why they’d misunderstand.”
Rizzly answered with a snicker, and Isaac grumbled with a small sigh.
“It’ll look weird if you butt in now right?”
“It’d be a very late entry. Not to mention we wouldn’t act in the first place.”
Isaac dashed his lip and let out another sigh. He leaned back into his chair, locked his hands together, and placed them on his stomach.
“Damn. I fucked up. For me to forget such a simple solution to this…”
Rizzly looked back with a puzzled expression when Isaac fixed his posture and asked Laila.
Laila, who was playing with Julia, ran over. Julia also came over—her hand firmly grasping her sister’s—alarmed by Isaac’s call for her sister. She glimpsed at Isaac as she hid behind her sister.
Isaac scoffed at Julia hiding from him and ordered.
“Go and, what’s his name again? Just fetch me the captain of the mercenaries.”
Laila nodded without a complaint and walked down the stairs with Julia’s hand in hers.
While Rizzly looked at the two children’s backs with a complicated expression, Kunette approached Isaac unhappily for ruining their fun.
Isaac grabbed Kunette, who tried to bite his hand, and placed her on his lap.
“Where’s Reisha off to?”
Isaac saw Reisha, who was normally with Kunette at all times, jump off from the rooftop. Kunette leaned up against Isaac’s chest and answered.
“This is a dangerous city.”
As the city became a fief, its back alleys also needed to change. But calling the gutters “sewers” was just changing its name.
It didn’t change the fact that this place was the final destination for criminals at birth.
Having two children donning expensive clothes in this city was like leaving gems out in the open street.
Even if Soland had firm grasp over his territory, criminals became who they were because they didn’t know the meaning of self control.
As they said, when you are foolish, you are brave. With so many people eager to commit a crime despite knowing they’d be killed if caught, an escort was necessary.
“So your name is Flander?”
“Yes! I am honoured that you remember my name!”
Isaac sat on his chair with his legs crossed and his head leaning on one arm resting on the armrest. He examined the young man in front of him.
Groveling hunched back, gleaming pupils, and an iris that restlessly scanned his surroundings, with a weak and treacherous smile. It was a stance unfitting of someone who impressed Lanburton and Rizzly by passing Central’s Combat Agent training, even if it was a condensed version.
“You are staying with the mercenary band because you want to repay me, you say?”
Flander’s eyes shone when Isaac asked.
“That’s right! I was destined to be thrown away in the back alleys like trash, but I survived thanks to your benevolence, Lord Isaac! I will live the rest of my life to serve you!”
“A funny man.”
Isaac smirked, and Flander bowed his head.
“You know someone tried to assassinate me right?”
Flander’s snarled and began denigrating the assailant.
“If you leave the termination of that despicable pile of feces unfit for even gutter rats, I will leave him wishing for the sweet release of death that will never come.”
“It’d be much more efficient to make him work to repay his debt.”
Flander seemed to have reached an epiphany and spoke to Isaac in great admiration.
“Ohoh! I see! If you lock him away, you’ll need to pay for prison’s upkeep, but if you send him for forced labour, you’ll be able to cover some of its costs! I, Flander, am awed by my Lord’s wisdom again and again!”
“… I mean, you don’t have to go that far.”
Isaac scratched his arm as goosebumps rose in response to Flander’s blatant bootlicking.
“The fatty has been sent to Lichtens but it seems his safety is endangered. Go on an escort mission.”
“I’ll fulfill it with my life!”
Isaac made a satisfied smile and nodded at Flander’s determined look.
“Good. I’ll make sure to give you a decent reward.”
“How could I possibly ask for a reward when I’m working for my Lord.”
“No, no. It is the norm to pay for the work received.”
“I thank you for your benevolence.”
Just as Flander bowed deeply to demonstrate his appreciation, Isaac turned his chair around with a cigarette in his mouth and began mumbling to himself.
“There are still some who reject my gracious offer to leave the land with their wealth intact and migrate elsewhere. There really is no answer for them. But I’m busy with the reunification matter with Port City. I feel like they’re being more arrogant knowing I don’t have the time to deal with them. At this rate, the matter won’t be over before the Capital approves provincial warfare.”
“I will bring Lichtens to their knees in three days! Of course, it will bear a large cost.”
Isaac glimpsed at Flander, who was rubbing his hands together as he boldly declared. He then sighed and continued his monologue.
“Ah, isn’t there a better way? I want to resolve this peacefully. It’ll work out once I can get them to come together by silencing the idiots who keep demanding for a fight…”
Flander quickly caught on to Isaac’s monologue—befitting his treacherous appearance—and he began mumbling to himself.
“So many people are enraged at our Lord’s assassination attempt and would volunteer for war, but our Lord doesn’t want it… Even if they want to bring vengeance to the place of our Lord, they can’t leave their families behind. All they can do is just drink the anger away…”
“Haah, I want to prove how I can look after the families of those who die working for me, but with no incidents to show as examples, I can’t show anything. Such a shame.”
“… I swear, these uneducated, ungrateful idiots ignore our Lord’s generosity without knowing their place. It pains me.”
“Oops! Where did I leave the document listing the names of the members of the pro-war faction?”
Isaac scrunched up a piece of document and threw it at Flander’s feet as he looked around with great exaggeration. Flander placed the document into his pocket and mumbled.
“How I wish to dismember those that attempted to harm our Lord and eat them alive, but if I cross a line, it’ll only hinder our Lord instead. What should I do?”
“Ah, seriously! Aren’t there any loyal subordinates who’d give away their lives for my sake? Such a shame they can’t even deal with these fools who are crossing the line; in fact those fools need to be kept safe because any incidents surrounding them would lead to suspicion…”
“My Lord, if there isn’t anything I shall take my leave.”
“Hm? You were still there? Go do your work. Whatever that is.”
Isaac looked back at Flander, seemingly surprised.
“There is no need for you to know what lowly peasants like us do. We are simply uneducated folks.”
Flander bowed deeply and disappeared from the rooftop. Isaac took out a cigarette and mumbled.
“An interesting man. He’s pretty sharp too.”
Isaac gave his impression. Rizzly, on the other hand, spoke out dumbfounded, after witnessing such blatant acts of feigning innocence.
“Wow. I can’t believe how shameless you are.”
“Hm? What is?”
Isaac asked back innocently, and Rizzly stepped back.
“And what of the investigation?”
“I’ve looked through carefully as ordered. As you say, he’s an interesting man.”
“What, is he hiding something?”
“Most of his description fits. He was born in this place and even ran a small syndicate of his own in the past. Turns out he was expanding his influence rather aggressively, and if he kept up the pace he would have taken over an entire district for himself.”
“How come I wasn’t aware of him then?”
“It ended even before you were sent here. You know the syndicate bosses aren’t the type to fondly raise new generations. His entire syndicate crumbled when he was betrayed by a trusted subordinate.”
“And he didn’t die?”
“He was thrown into the gutters with all of his tendons cut as an example.”
“And he survived until now?”
“He crawled the alleys waiting for his death, then tadaa! You came, Sir Isaac. He survived by taking advantage of free soup kitchens and recovered from his wounds with free hospital care, preparing for his return.”
“Does he not talk about revenge?”
“He’s already accomplished it.”
“I haven’t heard of any syndicate bosses being replaced.”
“It’s not one of the current bosses, but a man named Foxt. He lost his territory, was locked away thanks to you, Lord Isaac, and was promptly forgotten. But he crawled back to New Port City when he was released with the fall of Port City. Of course, he died without a sound nor rumours. The prime suspect of this case is him.”
“Foxt? Was there a man like that?”
Rather than try to remember who he was, Isaac simply glossed over the past.
“So he volunteered to fight for me and became a mercenary for saving his life and allowing him to take revenge right?”
“Although it doesn’t seem like he’ll do it for free.”
“That’s why it’s even more certain. No lunatic would volunteer to fight for me with their lives.”
“That’s true but…”
“Is there a problem?”
“It seems he was cared for by the people at the bottom of the food chain in the slums. Now he spends most of his money taking care of them instead.”
“Turning a new leaf is it? What’s wrong with that? He’s the type to repay his debts, so isn’t that useful?”
“It could be a weakness too.”
Rizzly warned Isaac, and Isaac let out a smoke and answered.
“A weakness can become your strength depending on how you use it.”