Chapter 36 - Volume 2
With the project announced and construction at work, Isaac started officially buying all the land in the Ceta District. Cordnell furiously opposed the idea, his mouth foaming with frustration. Even if buying land in New Port City cost pittance, there was already so much money needed elsewhere and he couldn’t see any use in buying all the land. His efforts to save money were futile. In fact, Isaac encouraged those around him to buy land with him out of his so-called ‘generosity.’
The employees from the guilds decided to buy the land around the bridge as a combined investment from all of them; it was only because they might be able to get most of the money back from these areas even if the project failed.
The elves found it interesting and used their own money to buy some land of their own, while North Bears firmly believed that anything Isaac proposed was trustworthy and contacted their own Reservation, buying as much land the tribe could afford as well as bringing any tribesmen who were still free.
As a result, the real estate ownership in the Ceta District was distributed in such a way where Isaac held 70%, the North Bears held 20%, the Elves held 9% and the Seven Grand Merchant Guilds’ employees held 1%.
Most of the original landlords were citizens of Port City, but all it took was a blackmail regarding taxes and an offer double that of its market price for them to hand over the land unquestioningly.
With the real estate firmly in his grasp, Isaac sat on the rooftop of his City Hall residence. He sipped on a glass of wine and held a cigar in hand as the noise of the construction echoed around him. It was at this point that Cordnell approached Isaac with a pale face.
“We’re in trouble.”
“What is it?”
“We have no money.”
“Why else! You used most of the funds to buy the stupid deeds to the land in the Ceta District! We’ll be bankrupt at this rate! Just one month from now, we won’t be able to pay the wages for our workers!”
Cordnell thumped up and down as he listed every single thing Isaac had spent money on. Watching him, Isaac spoke with an annoyed face.
“Are we really out of money?”
“Yes! How can we possibly continue spending like this when we have no income!”
“Why do we have no income? Isn’t there a hotel being constructed by the Rivolden Merchant Guild?”
Isaac convinced Goldman, the Guild Master of the Rivolden Merchant Guild, to construct lodges near the casinos. Isaac advised Goldman to step into hotel business, claiming that legalising prostitution was good and all, but the city lacked lodges which the people could spend the night comfortably. Goldman used his power as the Guild Master to construct two hotels for commoners and one grand hotel reserved for nobles as an investment in New Port City.
“You sold the land to him at the same price we bought it, so we didn’t make any money from him! We were never tasked with managing the costs for the construction of the hotels as well!”
Cordnell breathlessly rattled on as Isaac took out another cigar, annoyed by it all.
“I guess there’s no choice. I wanted to use this as my final solution when my project failed, but I’ll have to use this since I’ve got no money.”
Isaac calmly talked back to Cordnell, who was shouting as if he was making a last stand.
“Raise the tariffs.”
Cordnell looked to Isaac with his eyes wide open. Isaac poured a new glass of wine and handed it to him.
“I’m a Lord. I have the right to tax any commodities that enter New Port City. Institute the highest tax rate within my authority on all goods that are being stocked in the ports and warehouses.”
Cordnell gulped down the wine Isaac handed to him, his mind baffled. Taxing certainly was within the authority of the Lord, but Lords usually set the lowest tax rate possible, so that more merchants would use their facilities and stabilise the prices of the goods in the city.
Port City was the same. Its position on the continent made it a natural place for goods to concentrate, but what really supported it was a practically non-existent tariff.
Most of the docks and warehouses in which the goods travel through were concentrated in New Port City, so the merchants had to adhere to New Port City’s tax rate. Until some time ago when Port City still held all the authority over New Port City, the merchants paid minimal fees to use the warehouses. But if Isaac were to raise the tax rates to the maximum, the merchants would be forced to either pay the tax or turn their ships somewhere else. Both would cause massive deficits for the merchants, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if a riot took place because of it.
“Do you really think the merchants will stay put if you hit them with such tax?”
Significant losses are expected if the merchants rebelled. All goods from commodities to food would no longer be supplied, which would make prices skyrocket.
“Even better. It was only helping out Port City, and they would be the ones who are hit hardest by it all.”
“But the Seven Grand Merchant Guilds also use this place!”
“Ha, do you really think I’ll tax your guilds at the same rate? I’ll give a special deduction just for you guys.”
Cordnell massaged his forehead when he heard those words from Isaac, unable to withstand the stress.
“Hey, don’t you think it’s strange that Port City is staying put, despite the fact that you can easily make them crumble by raising the tariffs?”
“Hm? You have a point.”
“There’s a Fair Trade Law. Giving special privileges to certain merchant guilds is illegal and it will invite an investigation and correction by force.”
“So such laws existed. Then tell them to pay the same tax rate.”
“The Seven Grand Merchant Guilds won’t stand for it!”
“Ah! Damn, you’re annoying. Are you really that stupid? Do you think my duty to repay their investment is just for show?”
Cordnell, who tried to retort back at Isaac’s annoyed tone, suddenly stopped as a light bulb flickered in his head. Even if the tax was raised to its highest, the Seven Grand Merchant Guilds could have the tax returned under the pretense of repaying the loans while the rest of the merchant guilds were forced to pay the tax, making the difference in profit margins astronomical.
But the problem is that the merchants, who are ever so sensitive about money, would never be oblivious to this fact. Even if the Seven Grand Merchant Guilds were the most influential within the Empire, they would surely crumble if all the other merchant guilds joined forces against them. No, even if the Seven Grand Merchant Guilds didn’t crumble, all their efforts would be futile if the other guilds began supporting Port City instead.
“I’ll contact headquarters and request additional loans.”
“No, I don’t want it.”
“I received a loan of one million Giga because I didn’t have money. I’m already forced to pay interest on that loan, and if I got even more loans, it will reduce my profit.”
Cordnell’s mouth gulped like that of a goldfish, unable to utter a single word.
“Just raise the tariffs. I’ll make sure your investment is paid back in full.”
“But that could cause the fall of Seven Grand Merchant Guilds!”
“That’s none of my business.”
Cordnell felt as if the sky was crumbling; Isaac would not budge on the increase of tariffs. His actions were just like a bully taking lunch money from his victim.
Cordnell’s urgent report brought together all the guild masters from the Seven Grand Merchant Guilds; they insulted Isaac in their heart, but they still decided to make additional investments since they determined that only they would be at loss if the tariffs were raised.
They had prepared their refusal to make any future investments; it consisted of using their power to blackmail Isaac into submission, but even before they could blackmail him, Isaac stubbornly refused the additional investments, instead opting for the increase of tariffs.
Now, the fire was on the Seven Grand Merchant Guild’s side, and instead of blackmailing, they began appeasing Isaac with additional investments. Only after they promised not to charge interest did they successfully convince Isaac and proceed with the investment. The Seven Grand Merchant Guilds also decided they couldn’t be the only ones on the losing end and started bringing in all merchant guilds that used the canals to contribute to the investment fund.
Even Port City contributed the investment fund to avoid the uprising from merchants and to prevent the weaponization of tariffs despite Isaac’s stubborn attitude. This incident helped Isaac gain fame as the greatest scammer within the Empire, taking money from not only his allies and forcing even his foes to demand that he take money from them.
With the issues regarding funds solved after much ruckus, Isaac continued to spend his time leisurely in the City Hall. The noise of the construction did bother him at first, but it felt like a lullaby once he got used to it. Once again, he was bathing in the sunlight on the rooftop when Cordnell hurriedly rushed over and woke Isaac from his sweet nap.
“What is it now?”
Isaac stared at Cordnell, frustrated that his sleep was disturbed, but Cordnell continued to pace around in panic with a pale face.
“Off with our abusive Lord!”
Isaac didn’t even need to ask Cordnell. Isaac could hear those words being chanted in unison as he slowly eased himself toward the roof’s edge. There were around a hundred men standing in the plaza facing the City Hall while other workers watched from the side, curious as to what was happening.
“There’s our abusive Lord! Let us regain our rights!”
“Lower our work hours! Raise our wages!”
“The hell are they?”
Isaac leaned over the guard rails as he watched the riotous menace with a cigar in his mouth. As expected of the men from New Port City, all of their faces dripped with murderous intent; their words were crude and improvised weapons made of construction tools firmly in their hands.
“They’ve suddenly gathered after lunch time, stopping all progress on construction!”
“Is this the start of their sabotage?”
Isaac wasn’t innocent enough to believe his project was going to set sail without any hindrances. It was obvious that both Count Milros and the neighboring Port City would try to harass him at every corner. Instead of surprise, he was reassured that what he had expected had finally occurred.
“The North Bears are currently policing City Hall.”
“Call him over.”
Just as Corndell was about to quickly move, Rizzly showed up with a cone-shaped tool in his hand.
“It’s a speaker. I thought you’d need it.”
“Hm, you’re rather sharp? But what’s up with them all of a sudden?”
“Some of the workers have been complaining about why their wages are the same when Sir Isaac received additional investments and began inciting those around them. It didn’t get much of a reaction from those around them. In fact, the other workers insulted them and tried to fight them, so we’ve been ignoring the issue. I never thought they’d make an incident like this.”
Hahaha, all one can do is laugh.
Wages? Instead of the horrible wages they were used to, they received 1.5 times the wages other workers received in other cities and provided them with the opportunity to escape poverty and New Port City.
Food? Not only has Isaac been feeding their children every meal, he has also supplied the workers’ meals. It was enough to make their starving stomachs burst.
Work hours? Isaac had instituted a regulation stating that all workers receive 1 day of paid vacation after every two weeks of work.
Where could they possibly find a better Lord!
It still seemed like justice was alive since not many people agreed with those rioters, but it still irked Isaac on the inside.
“When idiots receive good favour, they start to consider it to be a right. Tsk.”
Isaac coldly clicked his tongue and took the speaker from Rizzly’s hand and shouted toward the rioters.
“Ah ah! Listen, rioters. I am…”
“There is the abusive Lord who exploits us!”
“If you disperse now…”
“Off with the abusive Lord!”
“I will show mercy to the citizens of my own fiefdom…”
“Raise our wages now!”
Isaac sighed as he watched the man who kept interrupting Isaac’s words and inciting the people like a fiery champion.
“That young brat keeps cutting off the words of his superior.”
“Shall I kill him as an example?”
Rizzly nonchalantly spoke those words. Cordnell’s face went pale while Isaac looked at Rizzly curiously.
“You sound like you’ve killed some people before?”
“The North Bears may be unpopular, but we still get some work from time to time. We occasionally face thugs and bandits who try to steal from the merchants when we are tasked as escorts.”
“No! You can’t kill someone! It’ll just make the situation worse! We must negotiate with their representatives…”
Cordnell adamantly objected and recommended that they come to understanding through a negotiation.
This, of course, wasn’t a recommendation Isaac would even consider.
“They’re pulling that bullshit when I already give them a good pay, feed them, and even make sure they have off days. What more can give them when negotiating?”
“If you use force to quell them, it will just increase the size of the riot.”
“Tsk, fine. I’ll negotiate. I’ll show you how I negotiate, so you better watch and learn.”
Isaac, who felt somewhat insulted by Cordnell’s urging to lower their heads, walked up to the edge of the roof with one foot on the fence and shouted.
“I will give ten thousand Giga to whoever brings me the person that started this riot.”
There was silence.
Ten thousand Giga. It was a fortune people from New Port City couldn’t even dream of seeing. It was enough for them to leave the city and open a small shop to start a new life.
The atmosphere of the rioters quickly changed, while those who watched from afar slowly approached toward the rioters – the leaders of the riot, to be exact.
“E, everyone, don’t fall for his lies! It’s part of his dastardly scheme to fracture our unity!”
Sensing danger, the men who were inciting the mob attempted to counteract Isaac, unsure of his next move until Isaac followed up with additional conditions.
“You have until I finish my cigar. If you fail to bring me the leader of this riot, I’ll fire not only the rioters, but everyone who was hired for this construction job! I have plenty more to hire from!”
Those words were final. The workers only participated out of greed to receive more pay, not to get fired. The workers who watched from the sides were even more aggressive. Isaac may have hired a large number of workers for the project, but the qualifications for the job were much harder than an average job in New Port City. They won the job after a fierce competition, and they weren’t about to lose it now because some idiots decided to make an incident and bring them down together. They looked as if they were ready to kill not just the leader, but all of the rioters if they lost the job.
“There! Get him!”
The mob quickly chased after the people who led the riot while the leaders of the said riot ran with a stumped look. Cordnell could only watch in silence as the game of cat and mouse played out in front of him. Isaac smirked toward Cordnell as he spoke.
“Did you see that? This is how you negotiate in New Port City.”
It seemed more like causing dissent rather than negotiation, but at the end of the day, the riot was easily dealt with, contrary to Cordnell’s expectations.
“H, how could it crumble so easily?”
Cordnell could not understand. The employees from the merchant guilds sometimes had riots of their own when they weren’t satisfied about their treatment and and felt like their suggestions were dismissed. The riots Cordnell had been facing against had a firm unity since they were fellow colleagues who had worked together for a long time, so it would have been impossible to sabotage the riots using Isaac’s method.
“Don’t forget that this is a special case. You’re in New Port City. Murder for a single meal is a common sight in this place. Paying their wages and feeding them is the best treatment I can offer to them. Anyone who wants more are unsalvageable trash and I don’t need to make any considerations for them.”
Isaac saw the rare sight of a man kicked into the air. The people who chased after the leaders of the riot had their heads and arms broken.
“Come at us if you want to die!”
One of the leaders shouted menacingly, his show of force holding the mob back.
“It seems they can use mana.”
“Idiots. I guess you’d need them to be somewhat strong and smart to use as a tool. I suspect they aren’t citizens of this city, seeing how they can use mana.”
“They seem like mercenaries. I’ve heard there was a band of mercenaries specialising in causing confusion by inciting unrest through rumours. It might be them.”
“Hm. Was it Count Milros or Port City that sent them?”
“We’ll find out once we catch them.”
“Are you confident?”
Rizzly seemed hurt by Isaac’s questioning.
“We North Bears may be insulted because of honey, but we are still considered one of the best.”
“Then bring them here.”
Rizzly turned into a bear as he smiled, satisfied that he got to use his strength for once.
“Oh! That’s pretty cool.”
His body swelled in size, snow white fur rose from his skin, and his face turned into that of a bear. If Kunette had the appearance of a teddy bear, Rizzly had the form of a true polar bear.
Rizzly leapt off the roof and roared at the mob around him, suppressing everyone. The mob cleared a path to the leaders and Rizzly walked up to them, his hand extending to one of them.
“Give me your proof of citizenship.”
The man quickly handed his identification over. Rizzly tilted his head. This wasn’t what he had planned. He was thinking of arresting them all using their lack of identification as an excuse, but now he had no excuse to harm them.
After a quick ponder, Rizzly spoke to Isaac.
“He’s got identification.”
Isaac responded with a gesture of crumpling something in hand and throwing it away. Rizzly nodded and scrunched up the piece of paper in his hand and threw it away.
While everyone watched the paper ball fly away in a parabola, Rizzly asked his question once more.
“W, what the! You just threw it away!”
“Huh? When did I do that?”
“Everyone here saw it!”
“Really? Who exactly?”
Rizzly looked around him, and everyone acted as if they weren’t watching or ducked their heads to avoid eye contact.
“Shit! We may as well just kill them all since we failed….”
Even before the man could finish his sentence, Rizzly grabbed onto the man’s throat and lifted him up in the air.
“Huh? What was that?”
The man struggled against Rizzly’s arm, unable to breath. The rest of his group seemed to have lost the will to fight and surrendered peacefully.
“He’ll die if you keep that up.”
Isaac spoke to Rizzly as he came down to the plaza himself, and Rizzly released the man from his grip. As the man crawled on the ground coughing, the rest of the inciters were rounded up next to him by other North Bears.
After catching his breath, the man begged to Isaac on his knees.
“Please let me live! I’ll tell you everything, including who hired us and the reason behind it!”
“Huh? I don’t need it. One person takes the lead and start inciting, while the rest of you help get more support. These clueless idiots got greedy even after the generous treatment they had received and followed you. It’s obvious.”
The man was at a loss for words for a moment after Isaac’s explanation but regained the will to speak again.
“T, then I can at least tell who hired…”
“No. You don’t have to tell me. If I find out, I’ll need to get my revenge, but that’s just annoying. Let’s just bury it between us. Got it?”
“T, thank you!”
“No. The rest of you may thank me, but not you.”
Isaac smiled as the man looked to Isaac in confusion.
“New Port City’s police force is hard at work defending its citizens from harm. The same applies for outsiders who have entered as guests.”
“Yes… Thank you.”
Ignoring the man’s hesitant gratitude, Isaac walked back to the City Hall as he pointed toward the man.
“He isn’t a citizen. Seems like he’s an outsider without an invitation too. The police have no reason to protect that man.”
It basically meant the people were free to do whatever they wanted from him.
Everyone’s eyes turned violent as Isaac’s words echoed into the air. That man had almost cost them their livelihoods. The people who were part of the riot were even more intense because of the guilt.
Finally realising Isaac’s intention, the man looked to his companions for help, but his unfaithful companions already had their identification out with apologetic looks on their faces as they disappeared into the crowd.
“You think I’ll die that easily? Come at me if you dare!”
Noticing that Rizzly was away following Isaac, the man quickly made a grab for a shovel and swung it around with mana as he shouted. There was no way an average man could fight a mercenary who could use mana.
“You will die if you assault my citizens.”
Those words meant that he should give up fighting and just run.
The man grit his teeth and looked to Isaac, then quickly turned around and started making his escape.
“Move! Move if you don’t want to die!”
The man made an route by swinging the shovel in front of him, forcing the crowd to back away from him. The small gap was more than enough for the man to quickly gain speed and run away.
Isaac spoke as he watched the man’s back disappear into the distance.
“The ten thousand Giga bounty is still valid.”
“Waah! Get him!”
The crowd quickly chased after the man. He may have been a mercenary, but these citizens were hardened by the destitution of New Port City. The mob left the plaza like a storm, and the plaza turned deathly silent.
“I guess construction is at halt today.”
Cordnell finally crawled out of the City Hall and sighed at the sight of the empty construction site.
“Give them their pay anyway.”
Cordnell sighed even louder, knowing that money was being lost for no reason once more.
Rizzly tilted his head and asked Isaac a question.
“Why did you do that? No matter how many workers chase after him, they won’t be able to catch him.”
“I know. He’s just an example. That should stop anyone else from trying to do the same again. Cordnell, let the workers know that I will give a ten thousand Giga bounty to anyone who reports any inciters. But warn them that if it’s a false report, they will face the consequences of taking me lightly.”
“Rizzly, send one of your men after that runner and find out where he goes. He most definitely didn’t enter through the bridge, so he’ll likely leave through the same hole he came from.”
“Do you think one of the other districts sent them here?”
“There are many ways to infiltrate other than the bridge. The only hard part is slipping through the syndicate’s watch.”
“Shall I do a clean-up once I find out which district it was?”
“No. Let’s just know about it for now. It’s much easier to clear them all out in one go.”
“Huhu, understood. I think it was the right choice to follow Kunette here. I didn’t think it’d be so fun.”
“Oh, it’ll get better.”