Isaac

Chue Mong Gak

Chapter 70

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“That’s a convenient ability.”

“…”

Isaac complimented the old man as the end of the shaft opened up to reveal a secret pa.s.sage. The old man maintained silence, however, and moved on to lead the way.

Fascinated, Isaac ran his hands against the walls of the pa.s.sage before asking his question.

“Hey old man, how do you become a warlock? Is it difficult?”

“…”

The old man was at a loss for words. It was the first time in his life that a human asked him about how to become a warlock. It was a life of secrecy and exile avoiding the eyes of Central. Yet Isaac pestered at the old man with trivial questions such as ‘Is the work difficult? How’s the pay? Do you get to flex around much once you become a warlock?’ as if it was just another job opportunity. The old man began to doubt his decision of forming a contract with someone who’d ask such silly questions.

“I’m not sure if I did the right thing making a deal with you.”

Isaac shrugged at the old man’s comment.

“So what? Now that we’ve left the mana crystal veins, you won’t be able to attack me anymore.”

“Ha! Central will never leave you alone if I hand over the evidence.”

“I know.”

Isaac responded at the old man’s continuous reminder with an apathetic, even annoyed tone. The old man wasn’t very happy to hear Isaac respond like that. He turned for a moment to look at him with doubtful eyes before looking forward again.

The old man couldn’t understand Isaac. Isaac had provided him with a crucial exploit. With this, Isaac had no choice but to bow down to any demands the old man were to make, whether it be the Queen’s Artefacts and more. The old man believed that Isaac was smart enough to know that, but he wasn’t so sure anymore. Isaac was just too crazy.

The old man shook his head and approached the end of the secret pa.s.sage. When he placed his hand on the wall, the earth sunk into the ground as if it were melting, and light rushed into the pa.s.sage.

“Hooh? This coat protects me against this too? It really was worth its price.”

Despite his eyes having been adjusted to the darkness of the mines, the sudden influx of light didn’t cause Isaac’s eyes any discomfort. Satisfied with his coat, Isaac followed the old man out of the mine with a smile.

It seemed the pa.s.sage ended halfway up the Minolen Mountain, as New Port City and the lake could be seen from afar. As Isaac admired the view ahead of him, the old man approached.

“Don’t forget. If the Queen’s Artefact isn’t in my hands, I will hand over the contract to Central.”

“Don’t you think it’s rather pathetic that you’re relying on Central to get the job done as a warlock?”

“What?”

As the old man’s expression stiffened in response to Isaac’s ridicule, Isaac shrugged and stretched his hand out as if offering a handshake.

“Now, why don’t we say our goodbyes? Nothing good will come if anyone were to see us together like this.”

Although annoying, what Isaac said was true. The old man glared at Isaac, doubting whether he could trust him. But in the end he grabbed Isaac’s hand for a handshake, which was one of the requirements for the contract ritual.

“But how are you going to explain all this? You better come up with a good excuse as to how you got out alone.”

Isaac smiled broadly at the old man’s question, as if the answer was simple.

“That’s obvious. I’ll just tell them I was captured by a warlock.”

“What?”

Before the old man could even react to his words, Isaac had already firmly grabbed at the old man’s hand while Isaac’s other hand also grabbed onto the back of the old man’s hand.

“What! T, this is!”

Realising what the hard sensation on the back of his hand was, the old man tried to pull his hand out in disbelief. He used his shadow to attack at Isaac, but Isaac was quicker.

Bang!

The shockwave from the explosion knocked Isaac onto the ground with his hands flailing, while the old man screamed in pain as he witnessed what his arm had turned into.

“Kuaaack! My arm!”

“Hm. I was prepared to lose one of my arms too, but they’re fine. I knew this coat was worth its price. It was a nice purchase, no matter how I see it.”

“Kuuk! Isaac! You b.a.s.t.a.r.d!”

The old man grabbed at his arm, which was so tattered that the white of the bones could be seen. He shouted out with eyes filled with hatred, but Isaac simply remarked at how unscathed his own arm was. He pulled out a cigarette.

“I think I’ll need this to convince the people.”

“… What?”

“I’m not that good at lying you see. And I’m too stupid to come up with good excuses. But now I can say that with my quick thinking, I managed to escape the warlock who tried to kidnap me.”

“… Kuuk! You’re saying this attack was for that excuse?”

“You need to be injured somewhat for my excuse to have any weight. Or do you think people will believe that I managed to escape a warlock unscathed?”

“Bulls.h.i.t!”

Isaac smirked at the old man’s cry.

“Yea. I just wanted to say some bulls.h.i.t.”

“Kuuk! With the contract in my hands, Central will interrogate you!”

“Man, you speak a lot. Are you going to stay here? I’m sure everyone has heard the explosion by now. Shouldn’t you make haste and get out of here?”

Isaac flicked his hand as if chasing away a fly. The old man looked at Isaac as he grit his teeth in anger.

“You will regret this.”

“I look forward to it.”

Crack!

With the bone-chilling crack, Isaac threw another eggbomb at the old man. The old man screamed and jumped back. A shadow emerged from the ground and carried the old man’s body through the mountain unhindered, despite the dense foliage all around.

Bang!

With a great explosion, a wave of dust and dirt showered Isaac, only to be deflected by a blue barrier.

“It’s been a while since I’ve seen this.”

Seeing the crater the eggbomb made reminded Isaac of the many craters he saw from artillery sh.e.l.ls. Isaac smirked and focused on his smoking. By the time he finished his second smoke and went for a third, Isaac could hear footsteps and voices.

“Over here!”

Rivelia and a group of elves forced their way through the dense trees to find the origin of the explosion, only to be dumbfounded by Isaac’s presence.

“Sir Isaac? How are you here?”

“Waah! Sir Isaac is alive!”

While Rivelia asked incredulously, the elves, who had thought that Isaac was buried under the mines, seemed ecstatic at Isaac’s safety and quickly descended the mountain to tell the news, racing one another to be the bearer of good news.

“Wait! Stop!”

Rivelia shouted out, but the elves didn’t seem interested as to why there was an explosion. They ignored Rivelia’s orders, too preoccupied with the thought of spreading the news. Their employer was Isaac after all, not Rivelia.

“Sir Isaac, explain yourself!”

Isaac dropped the cigarette onto the ground and stepped on it as Rivelia questioned him.

“Let’s get down the mountain first. I’ll tell you the details later.”

Rivelia was tempted to grab Isaac and demand the explanation now, but she contained herself. Now that Isaac was safe, she needed to withdraw the rescue team, which was busy trying to rebuild shafts in the mine. Plus, the news of Isaac being caught in an incident had sent the city into chaos. She needed to spread the news of his safe return before the situation turned for the worse.

“Fine. But you better tell me every detail from start to finish.”

“How tiring.”

Isaac yielded his body to the soft and cushiony sofa on the rooftop, staring blankly into the sky. His tired body felt as if it was being pulled by a mysterious force, pushing him deeper and deeper into the cushions by the minute.

“I didn’t think I was at a level to be looked down upon…”

He did expect some of it. No matter how insane he acted, it would only prevent the annoying flies and insignificants from pestering him. Those who truly desired something from him wouldn’t be hindered by the act, no matter what happened to the city or how many died.

That was why he at least tried to show that anyone who carelessly approached him would leave worse off than they had at first; it should have made them more careful in their approach at the very least.

“No. Perhaps I was careful enough.”

He never expected a mana crystal vein to reveal itself, and he didn’t think a warlock would prepare his trap within that place. Who could he fault when it was due to the lack of information?

“But this was still very uncoordinated…”

Isaac sighed and took out a cigarette. Although it was just a theory, it was still a bad idea to jump to conclusions so soon. He had to investigate every possibility.

“I hope the old man died from that, but I doubt that would ever be the case…”

What was the best way to stop the warlock? The best answer was to give him what he wants and tell him to f.u.c.k off. Isaac also wanted to do that if he could. But now that he’d stabbed the warlock square in the back, it was more likely that the warlock was sharpening his blades for vengeance.

“No matter how I think of it, I get the feeling this pen and lens are the Queen’s Artefacts…”

The only items Isaac could imagine a warlock drooling over were those two. But where did he get the confidence that Isaac had the Queen’s Artefacts?

“Do they have some tracking device on this?”

Isaac took out the pen for a careful examination, but it looked like an ordinary pen in Isaac’s eyes. He would have been happy to hand over the items to the warlock if they were ordinary in nature, but it was obvious that the warlock would use it to send the Empire into chaos, which would also ruin Isaac’s dream of a peaceful existence.

“But that’d screw up the timeline of everything…”

The warlock, who didn’t even know what the Queen’s Artefacts looked like, was so sure that Isaac had the Artefacts. That meant that the warlock had a way to find out who possessed the Queen’s Artefacts, but Isaac found the artefacts in the room of the apprentice warlock after his murder. This was after Rivelia had been delegated onto this city.

If Rivelia hadn’t come to the city, Isaac would have never bothered with an incident such as a single murder, which meant that there wouldn’t have been any reason for a monster with demonic powers to suddenly sp.a.w.n, which meant that Isaac wouldn’t have found the Queen’s Artefact in the victim’s room that had already been ransacked by Central, who somehow missed the artefacts, and that’d mean Isaac would have never fallen into the trap of a warlock who’d demanded the Queen’s Artefact.

This was the most inconceivable part. If the warlock had some special talent in tracking the Queen’s Artefacts, then the warlock should have acquired it well before Isaac did when it was still in the hands of the original possessor.

Yet the warlock overlooked the opportunity to acquire the artefacts without notice, only to decide that it was the perfect time to move after the artefacts had fallen into Isaac’s hands. If what the warlock had said about controlling Axlon for a long time was true, then the warlock had been lurking inside the city for a very long time. Even if the warlock’s personality was very cautious, it still didn’t make sense that he’d move now when there was so much attention on the city because of the wyvern’s summoning and Central’s subsequent investigation.

“There’s something I’m not aware of… but that also means there’s something I can’t understand about Central. How could they not find the artefacts in that small room?”

Isaac frowned as complex thoughts tangled in his mind.

“I’d bet that old man would pester me continuously…”

The warlock’s presence was like a big red target painted on the back of Isaac’s head. But it seemed the coat was still making it worth the price, so Isaac could avoid such dangerous situations as long as he didn’t walk willingly into a trap like the mana crystal mine.

“I’d hoped Central would stop him on their own, but it feels as if I’m asking for too much from them.”

No matter how the situation turned, it was obvious that Central would send their men to both protect and watch Isaac, since a warlock was targeting his life. You could say that Isaac now had the best security guards around him at all times, for free no less. Or it could be the opposite.

“What did you say about Central?”

“Hm?”

Rivelia had shown herself onto the rooftop; she seemed to have taken a shower to rid herself of the dirt and dust which had covered her before. The sight of her shining, wet hair and her face’s glistening skin was enough to make anyone’s heart pound.

Isaac silently admired the beauty of Rivelia, which only presented itself while she had her mouth closed, and Rivelia marched on through without hesitation against Isaac’s blatant att.i.tude and sat on a chair opposite to Isaac.

“What were you doing there, Sir Isaac? You better explain to me in full what you were doing in that place.”

“It wasn’t much. Pickaxe, he led me into the mine whilst being controlled by an old warlock.”

“Warlock!”

Surprised, Rivelia stood up from her chair. Warlocks were one of the major enemies of the Empire. But there was a different reason why Rivelia was so surprised.

“Why did a warlock show himself in front of you, Sir Isaac?”

Isaac glimpsed at the pen that was stuck in between his fingers. Seeing that there was no point in hiding anymore, he spoke on apathetically. Rivelia’s eyes also followed Isaac’s and looked at his hand, only to have her face stiffen when she heard his explanation.

“That old man suddenly told me to hand over the Queen’s Artefact.”

“… Do you have the Queen’s Artefact?”

“I’d have handed it over to him if I did. What’s funny is that the guy who was demanding it didn’t even know what it looked like.”

“So, you don’t know what the Queen’s Artefact is, Sir Isaac?”

“You think I’d possess something a warlock would want? I would have thrown it away well in advance. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have managed to pull off this incident.”

Isaac shamelessly responded while still sending a look at his pen, but Rivelia seemed too occupied to notice. Her head was full of speculations at this point.

‘Where did the information leak? No. Central only suspects that Sir Isaac has the queen’s artefact, and that fact hasn’t been confirmed yet. But a demonic turncoat acting in advance? Was the turncoat confident? Or was it just an act to test our response? In this place so full of Central’s agents? What’s happening? Is there something I don’t know?’

Rivelia found a need to rea.s.sess all of her intel again. Until now, she had the odd feeling that the situation wasn’t turning out as she had expected, and now this incident had occurred. Isaac was a target that was being closely monitored by the most elite agents of Central. Normally, it should have been impossible for Isaac to be trapped in a mine.

When Rivelia investigated how it happened, she found out that the situation occurred in the small gap when the agents monitoring Isaac were absent due to circ.u.mstances. This meant there was something that even she, the leader of New Port City, didn’t know. This was why she was so active in trying to rescue Isaac. She didn’t know the enemy’s ident.i.ty or their motives, but the fact that the enemy had destroyed the mine meant that the enemy was trying to buy time.

“Sigh, fine. I’ll let only the agents of Central know about the warlock. It’d only spread chaos if the civilians found out.”

“That’s unexpected. I thought you’d just go by the manual.”

“Incidents involving warlocks are much more complicated than you think, Sir Isaac. Don’t think it’s so simple. But why did you go to the mines in the first place?”

Isaac shrugged as he answered Rivelia’s question.

“Because I hit it big this time.”

“What?”

“There are mana crystals forming veins in the mine.”

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“Ha! What a joke.”

The middle-aged man hesitated to speak and remained silent. Annoyed by this, the man looked at him with displeasure on his face.

“Let’s ignore the Queen’s Artefact and demonic turncoat involvement for now. You’re telling me that the angelic turncoats remained idle when surveillance target 728 was almost buried underground from a cave in incident?”

“… There was only activity among the people within the City Hall when the news reached the city. No one else within the city tried to persuade the populace to aid in the rescue attempt.”

The man frowned with displeasure when he heard the explanation from the middle-aged man and muttered.

“Does that mean that the conclusion made by the Directorate of a.n.a.lysis was correct?”

“Sorry?”

Unable to understand the man’s muttering, the middle-aged man asked. The man spoke as he leaned back into his chair.

“The Directorate of a.n.a.lysis has come to the conclusion that the angelic turncoats have given up on New Port City due to our presence, and have gone into hiding again.”

“That’s impossible. If they’ve sacrificed a follower already, I’d imagine they’d have invested much of their resources into the city already. There’s no way they’d give up on it all and go back into hiding.”

“That’s the key factor. The angelic turncoats spend tens of years and ma.s.sive amounts of resources to grab hold of a target and deify them. Seeing how they sacrificed a follower, I’d imagined that the angelic turncoats have spread their roots deep into New Port City too. But the Directorate of a.n.a.lysis has come up with another theory.”

“…”

“That surveillance target 728 appeared in New Port City just as they were starting to work their way into New Port City.”

“Even if they’ve just begun their work, isn’t it a great opportunity for them to accelerate the deifying process for the angelic turncoats?”

“Angelic turncoats always create a hero, try to turn them into a deity, and then control them in the end. I’m sure they tried to do the same here as well. And they’ve given up on it.”

“What could possibly make them…”

The middle-aged man stopped trying to ask for the reason. The answer was too obvious. There were too many reasons why it was impossible. The target burnt down the city. He turns a blind eye at all sorts of criminal activities, even controlling them to a certain extent. Plus, he cares so little about his own life that he almost buried himself alive in the mine by detonating eggbombs.

Turning that man into a hero? Even the middle-aged man could understand why the stubborn angelic turncoats would give up on it.

“Giving up on it would have been easy and simple if they were just starting at this point. Not only that, but my brother intervened officially too. With so much attention placed on them, there’s no way they could hold out anymore.”

“But they’ve sacrificed a follower.”

“Don’t you think it’s an excellent move on their part? If they’ve decided on a retreat, followers are excellent cards to use. Followers who have already chosen their target are just baggage. By leaving us with expendables and putting up a facade that they are lurking within New Port City, they can fixate our eyes on the city while they move somewhere else and try from another place. I think they say ‘cut off one’s tail’ and ‘live to fight another day’ in a situation like this.”

PR Note: The original raw is ‘shed one’s skin,’ but it has been changed to ‘cut off one’s tail’ for common clarity’s sake. Both idioms have similar meanings that derive from real life phenomenon (geckos allow predators to rip off their skin while escaping, and lizards can “drop” part of their tail to confuse predators.) The “injured” parts can be regrown given their species, respectively.

“Does the Directorate of a.n.a.lysis believe that the angelic turncoats have completely escaped from the city?”

“I a.s.sume so, since they are very guarded against us. Thanks to that, it’s just us who are in trouble. If the report had come a little earlier, we wouldn’t have agitated the surveillance target so unnecessarily. All we’ve done now is raise 728’s guard without gaining anything in return.”

“Are you sure we didn’t just feed oil into a burning fire? 728’s actions are so unpredictable that even the Directorate of a.n.a.lysis have given up on predicting his moves.”

The middle-aged man grit his teeth as he remembered Isaac’s face. The sinful man who didn’t hesitate to negotiate with a warlock, only to betray the warlock moments after. He was more evil than a warlock himself. It had been a while since the middle-aged man felt so enraged like this.

The man placed his chin on one hand while tapping on the desk with another as he pondered. He seemed to come to a decision as he spoke.

“It seems that the Directorate of a.n.a.lysis has come up with another interesting find other than their conclusion about the angelic turncoats.”

“What is it?”

The man silently handed over the bundle of doc.u.ments to the middle-aged man’s question. After careful examination, the middle-aged man spoke back with disbelief in his eyes.

“I… I can’t trust this. These are completely baseless a.s.sumptions.”

“I would like to think the same too, but has the Directorate of a.n.a.lysis ever come up with a wrong conclusion in their a.n.a.lysis?”

“…”

Never. Central’s Directorate of a.n.a.lysis had the ability to come up with the cause, result, and make a web of connections from just a single sentence they find. If the Directorate of Surveillance were Central’s eyes and the Directorate of Strategy were its limbs, then the Directorate of a.n.a.lysis was its head.

They couldn’t completely reject the conclusion that the Directorate of a.n.a.lysis had come up with. But if the report in front of the middle aged man’s eyes was true, this was a grave situation where even Central would be fractured into pieces.

“Does the Director of a.n.a.lysis know of this?”

“The Director of a.n.a.lysis is human, but all agents within the Directorate of a.n.a.lysis are non-human. Why do you think that’s the case?”

“… Because humans are political animals.”

“Exactly. Brolen, especially, is pro-Queen, so they can’t leave it to chance. Which is why the Directorate of a.n.a.lysis gave the information to me instead.”

“What will you do now?”

“Investigate. Investigate as to why the Queen has joined hands with the demonic turncoat to smuggle her artefact outside.”

The middle aged man pondered before he responded.

“But there are too many interconnected missions, and we can’t move so carelessly.”

“Don’t worry about it. I’ve already received approval from my brother. The Directorate of Strategy is already at work with the plans, so you are to move once it is finished.”

The middle aged man pondered after receiving his orders from the man.

“Although carrying out the orders aren’t a problem, there are two significant issues.”

“Two? Not just one?”

The man spoke back with surprise to the middle aged man.

“What will you do with the Director of Surveillance? Target 728 is already subject to close surveillance by the Director of Surveillance, and all a.n.a.lysis and missions involving him are forbidden. If we move, there will be significant backlash.”

“No matter. We may get a scolding later, but the most important factor is the Queen’s involvement in this incident. Ignore it. What’s the other issue?”

The middle aged man hesitated before he continued.

“It seems Lady Rivelia has noticed.”

The man frowned deeply in response.

“I see. I guess with the mission failing, she was bound to find out. Can it become a problem?”

“She will most definitely discover our existence before we initiate our next mission. What’s more, Lady Rivelia is directly connected to the Director of Surveillance. Above that is the Queen. If we provide her with even a single hint, then the Director of Surveillance or the Queen will notice our act.”

“I swear, that stubbornness runs deep in the Pendleton Family, both the father and daughter mind you. I guess there’s no point in stopping them right?”

“They are as persistent as they are stubborn.”

“I guess there’s no choice. I will meet her to buy some time, and we will need to make our move in that time. I guess this is the first time I’m meeting that little girl since she was a child. I heard she’d grown quite a lot?”

“She has grown to be praised as the greatest beauty in the Empire.”

“I look forward to it.”

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