Isaac

Chue Mong Gak

Chapter 97

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When Rizzly pa.s.sed on the message to end the training, Rivelia had a hard time believing it at first and was still in disbelief even after being told a second time. She immediately left off to ask Isaac herself. Meanwhile, the volunteers were left dumbfounded at the sudden end to their training. Not a single soul screamed in excitement or jumped about at the news. They were simply too exhausted in both body and mind. The first thing on the volunteers’ minds when they got back to their senses was to eat. They invaded the kitchen in a frenzy, driven by the relentless starvation, devouring everything within whether it was cooked or not. Once they ate their fill, they all collapsed onto the floor, having been deprived of sleep for so long. Duke Corduroy and his instructors received the news of the training’s end and decided to visit, only to walk into these volunteers during their ravenous feast. They were at a loss for words, bearing witness to what was once a group of bright students of n.o.ble lineage now turned into a band of marauders, devouring all that was edible before collapsing onto the ground to sleep.

After sleeping for a considerable amount of time, the volunteers’ sanity started to return. Awkwardness took root as they began remembering their own disturbing behaviours, but it was only for a moment. Everyone here had seen each other at their worst already.

The next course of action for the volunteers was to clean themselves. They were so meticulous in cleaning themselves that the bathwater needed to be replaced three times over. They returned to their former selves once they donned clean clothes.

“… I am awed by your determination to accomplish this arduous training, and will ask that you safeguard this word as Central’s agents of the Directorate of Security by accomplishing your missions to the best of your abilities.”

“…”

Mazelan immediately flew over to Campus as if he’d been waiting for the entire time when he received news that the training was over, and he brought Central’s uniforms and defensive coats for the volunteers.

The sight of thirty agents fully equipped and in uniform set quite the atmosphere, but they were deathly silent when Mazelan finished his speech. Mazelan was alarmed at the unexpected lack of cheer and switched places with Isaac awkwardly.

As soon as Isaac got on the stage, the agents saluted Isaac in a single motion before returning to their parade rest stance.

EDN: Here’s an image, and here’s a website with context.

Isaac spoke as he peered at the agents with cold eyes.

“r.e.t.a.r.ds.”

“…”

There wasn’t a single reaction from the agents to Isaac’s insult. This brief insult was nothing compared to everything they had experienced up to this point.

“r.e.t.a.r.ds who volunteered, tempted by the rewards. Remember this. Central turned a blind eye when I tried to kill you. Which means all of you are expendable. No organisation treats expendables dearly. Only cast aside when needed.”

“…”

“I will only take missions that Central finds difficult to deal with, and I will resolve it in a way that Central will not be happy with. If you wish to return alive and restore your family’s honour or live out your lives buried neck deep in wealth, demonstrate absolute obedience to my every order and survive to the best of your abilities.”

With that, Isaac boldly stepped down from the stage, replaced by Reisha who shouted.

“It’s over! Let’s go have our meal.”

Reisha’s shout dispersed the agents. There wasn’t a single cheer, any excitement, or the sense of accomplishment one would normally see after going through a trial.

With the event gone through rather quickly and silently, Mazelan approached Isaac with a frown to complain.

“What does that make me if you end it so quickly?”

Mazelan had carefully crafted his speech by pushing the absolute limits of his vocabulary, speaking for over ten minutes. Isaac glossed over Mazelan’s complaint without a care.

“It’s to everyone’s favour if we go through this founding celebration that n.o.body likes as quickly as possible.”

The order of the Directorate of Security’s founding came at the same time as the completion of the agents’ training. Mazelan attended this event, carrying with him the written order with the Emperor’s seal and approval from the Grand Council. But this event was rather barren, considering it was to celebrate the founding of Central’s new directorate.

No, it was difficult to even call it an event. n.o.body from Central had attended the ceremony other than Mazelan, and none of the College’s instructors nor Duke Corduroy were present.

“Anyhow, I’m going home, so call me when there’s work.”

Mazelan burst out in laughter as if Isaac had made a good joke.

“Where do you think you’re going? Your work isn’t done yet.”

“Wow! Now that’s harsh. Even I was going to give them a few month’s holiday after that training, and you want to deploy them straight away? No wonder Central’s cruel inside out, what with the higher-ups setting examples like this.”

“… I have questions as to why Central is cruel and why a holiday would last for months. But there is one procedure all recruits must go through.”

“What’s that?”

“To visit the Forbidden Lands.”

“The Forbidden Lands? Why there?”

“It’s a field trip. They visit the sp.a.w.ning ground of the gates and see the battalion that protects the area. Truth is, recruits aren’t treated as official agents of Central until they visit the Forbidden Lands.”

“Such malpractice must be left behind. Therefore, the Directorate of Security won’t be partic.i.p.ating in such behaviour…”

“This isn’t malpractice but a formal procedure.”

“Tsk! This is why paper pushers are so difficult to deal with… Then take the agents and go. I’m going home nonetheless.”

“I told you already. It’s a formal procedure. If you don’t go, you have no real power as the Director of the Directorate of Security.”

“Do I even have permission to use this so-called authority?”

“They may bare their fangs in secret, but they won’t do it out in the open, at least.”

“But it’s still annoying to go…”

Mazelan sighed watching Isaac seriously contemplating if he would like to go or not. Being forced to appease to someone as petty as Isaac was miserable.

“Don’t be like that. Look, I even reserved a special transport for it.”

“Special transport my a.s.s…”

Isaac grumbled as he looked at the giant airship in front of him.

“It is a special transport, specialised in traveling into the Forbidden Lands.”

When Mazelan said ‘special transport,’ he didn’t mean that it was reserved for Directors but a transport made specifically for traveling to the Forbidden Lands. Isaac continued to grumble that he’d been baited and raised his head to look at the giant, spherical body of the ship.

“Is this thing going to explode?”

“Hindenburg?”

“… You know well.”

“Hydrogen and helium aren’t the only ways we can achieve flight.”

“… Is that magic too?”

“Of course.”

“I swear, this magic can’t be the answer to everything…”

Mazelan smiled bitterly at Isaac’s mumbling and left Isaac when the captain of the ship called out to him. Left alone, Isaac looked at the airship, unsatisfied, when Kunette and Reisha hesitantly approached him.

“Um, sunbaenim…”

“What is it?”

“Hehe. Can we not go?”

“Hm?”

Isaac narrowed his eyes at the two, hearing Reisha’s plea-ridden request. Their body language was practically screaming at Isaac to let them skip the trip, even as they tried to maintain composure out of courtesy. Isaac turned to look at the faces of the agents boarding the airships. He found two distinct reactions.

Excitement and disgust.

Those who had just graduated from the College were excited, while veteran agents had a mild scowl on their face as they forced their feet to move on, like cattle being led to the slaughterhouse.

Even that vicious Kainen had an uneasy expression, unlike his usually ferocious att.i.tude. Isaac turned back to look at Kunette and Reisha, who replied with an awkward chuckle.

Isaac asked the two, seeing that even Kunette, who refused to stay more than an arms length apart from him, didn’t want to follow Isaac.

“What’s the reason?”

“It goes whooosh and swooosh!”

“And pooof and fwooosh.”

Reisha and Kunette waved their hands wildly as they acted out all kinds of sounds. Then, Rivelia, Mazelan, and an old man, who was the captain of the ship, came back to Isaac.

“What’s up with those two?”

“They’re saying they don’t want to go.”

The captain smiled bitterly, and Mazelan sighed as if agreeing with the two.

Isaac couldn’t help but feel worried after seeing even Rivelia, who had been completely devoid of emotion on her face ever since that day, frown ever so slightly as she nodded.

“What’s the reason?”

Rivelia quickly explained for Reisha and Kunette, who were flailing their arms about and making noises.

“It shakes. A lot.”

“Shakes? That’s not how airships work. Is it different in this world? Well, I guess there’s no reason to take someone who doesn’t want to go. Go back home.”

Isaac glossed over the issue, thinking that the two simply didn’t like experiencing turbulence. As soon as Isaac gave them the nod of approval, Kunette and Reisha grinned and disappeared quickly from the scene – almost as if they were afraid Isaac would change his mind if given the opportunity. Meanwhile, Rivelia lost her chance to go further into detail as to why that was the case. Her mouth agape for air, she didn’t have time to explain as Isaac misinterpreted her act.

“What, you don’t want to go either? Then why don’t you go back home?”

“… No sir.”

Rivelia simply shut her mouth at Isaac’s irritating face. He’d know once he experienced it. Isaac nodded without a care at Rivelia’s reply and spoke to the captain.

“I can’t possibly ride this plain airship as Central’s Director. Prepare a safer and st.u.r.dier plane for my use.”

The captain looked at Isaac blankly for a moment, then burst out in laughter. He immediately walked over to his sailors and repeated what Isaac had said, and the entire group fell on their knees in laughter.

Isaac angrily looked at the situation in silence, when Mazelan said to Isaac as he sighed.

“All of the mighty directors in the past had gone to the Forbidden Lands in airships. Do you really think they’d have a personal plane just for you? Not to mention, only airships can enter the Forbidden Lands.”

“Why’s that?”

“I told you before, that there’s constantly a mana storm.”

“Then how did you fight all those battles to defend the gate in such a dangerous environment?”

“Haven’t I told you?”

“Tell me what?”

“No matter how ferocious the storm is, its centre is calm.”

“… Eye of the storm?”

The airship boarding the agents left quietly and secretly without a single farewell from the Campus. Leaving aside the question whether airships could travel up to the stratosphere or not, the slow-moving airship offered a magnificent view unlike the fast planes, giving the pa.s.sengers the impression of walking on the clouds.

There was hardly any swaying in the ship, so Isaac found it difficult to understand why Kunette and Reisha were so adamant on not going. He remembered their act of waving their hands and the words they’d used to describe their reason and deduced that it was because they had a bad experience by running into a storm out of poor luck.

Their actions did make Isaac nervous at first, but it had been a decent trip so far. The food was nice and he was treated as he should be, other than the sailors glaring at him as if they were ready to spit in his food at any moment.

Floating in the sky for three days, Isaac experienced just how large this Empire was and also silently cursed his foolishness for never suspecting the Empire’s possession of air travel technology. It was necessary if the Empire were to administer such vast territories at maximum efficiency. Isaac heard from the flight broadcast that they had just pa.s.sed through the northern reservations and arrived at the Forbidden Lands.

“… That’s the mana storm?”

Isaac couldn’t help but yelp out in astonishment the moment he entered the observation post and the power of nature’s might in full swing.

Ahead was a wall of dark red clouds extending to every direction like a wall barring their way. To the left, to the right and even beyond the horizon, the clouds were ever present along with irregular lightning strikes that flashed about like the lights in a nightclub.

“That’s no joke.”

Isaac admired the view ahead as he enjoyed his smoke, when he realised the airship had stopped moving.

“s.h.i.t! To think I’m back here again.”

Mazelan and Rivelia entered the observation post. They seemed to have been looking for Isaac all this time. When Mazelan saw the mana storm, his body trembled.

“That path you said before is safe right? I really don’t want to experience flying in the skies with my body alone.”

“Huh? What are you talking about? Do what with your body?”

“What? Weren’t we landing here and traveling on foot?”

Rivelia slowly turned her head away while Mazelan smirked and replied.

“That’s one way to commit suicide.”

“… Don’t tell me we are running into that storm on board this airship?”

“That’s right.”

“This is the order of the Director. Withdraw immediately.”

Mazelan shrugged in the face of Isaac.

“The chain of command in an airship is the same as a sea vessel. The captain’s the king here. You can try to convince the captain if you’re confident.”

“How is an airship supposed to travel through that?! We’d be in pieces long before we arrive!”

“That would be the case if we threw ourselves without a thought.”

“Then are you saying there is a method?”

“Of course! Do you really think we’d use an airship for no reason?”

“s.h.i.t! I was a fool to believe your words… So this was why they were so desperate to skip out.”

Isaac moaned as he suffered a ma.s.sive headache concocted by the constant shaking of the ship. The motions and sounds Reisha and Kunette made weren’t an exaggeration in the slightest.

Isaac had wondered why there existed a set of rope restraints on the chair until he experienced this. The method Mazelan spoke of was the most brutish and foolhardy one.

The Forbidden Lands was comparable to the North American continent in size. And this storm of ma.s.sive scale had been raging nonstop for hundreds of years, completely encompa.s.sing that area.

The method to pa.s.s in and out of the storm was almost too easy to say. The storm was a spiral leading into the centre. So if one threw their bodies and allowed the wind to carry them, the storm will naturally lead them to where the gate was. One would arrive in moments If they caught the good wind, but if unlucky, you’d be stranded inside the storm for days.

When she heard the inflight broadcast say that they were now moving, Rivelia took one of the seats in the observatory and started putting on all the seatbelts to the point where she looked more like a jet pilot than a pa.s.senger.

Isaac watched the scene blankly, struggling to understand. Mazelan listed the reasons why they were acting like this just before the ship was about to jump into the storm, and Isaac, in a furious panic, took a seat to secure himself. The moment he finished belting up, all h.e.l.l broke loose.

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The direction of the wind was always the same in the storm, but the strength of its winds varied greatly. Isaac could understand why they used an airship instead of a plane after coming inside. No amount of reinforcement on the structure of the plane could survive in these winds.

“It’s pretty empty.”

“The Forbidden Lands was once a human kingdom before the 7 Days of Calamity. It boasted of the continent’s most fertile land, and now it’s turned to this.”

“There’s an end to everything.”

Isaac muttered with a cigarette in his mouth. Mazelan glimpsed at Isaac and said.

“I’ll start you off with some warnings since we still have time before arriving at the base.”

“What’s that?”

“You can’t use magic in Forbidden Lands.”

“That’s got nothing to do with me then.”

“No mana exists in the Forbidden Lands. The reasons why are still a mystery, so don’t ask me. Anyhow, in order to use magic in this place, you have to use mana crystals.”

“So?”

Isaac replied half-heartedly, frustrating Mazelan. He growled as he continued.

“You know that mana crystals absorb mana from nearby right? So mana crystals that have been depleted of its mana can be recharged, although not to its original capacity. But in the Forbidden Lands, there is no mana. So the only way to use magic is to use the mana within these crystals. Therefore, the mana crystals that are supplying that coat you trust in so much depletes much more quickly in the Forbidden Lands.”

“I get that, but what does that have to do with me?”

Mazelan sighed and said.

“You have been causing incidents and making enemies everywhere. And that t.i.tle as Director of Security is also a problem. General Noxvil, the commander of the Gate’s garrison, is a sword master and has fought in three separate battles to defend the gate. He was also a close friend of Duke Lopez, now the former chief instructor of College.”

Isaac chuckled and smiled.

“Is he so high and mighty that he can go against Central’s orders?”

“He has the utmost regard for the rules and principles but…”

“That’s fine then. If he’s as hard-headed as you say then no matter how disgusting it is, he’ll come bowing since I rank higher. And if he’s just proud, then he wouldn’t like it if I grovel at him either.”

Mazelan sighed and shook his head.

“Anyway, this is all just a formality, and we’ll be leaving as soon as we are done with resupplying, so please stay out of trouble until then.”

“Then why’d you bring me to this place?”

“To quell the discontent, even if its effect will be minimal. I’ve already told you before, but Central’s in a bit of chaos because of your rise to Director. But if you were to skip the formality that all agents of Central go through, then there will be arguments that they cannot accept you as a Director. Which is why I will act and treat you as my superior when others are around.”

“Tsk tsk! You’re still lacking some basic formalities. The nerve to say that you’ll only act when I’m recognized as your superior…”

Isaac clicked his tongue and shook his head tauntingly. Before Mazelan could shout out, Isaac said.

“Ah! There’s a question I want to ask.”

“What’s that?”

In face of Mazelan’s cold answer, Isaac took out a new cigarette and said.

“You said that you guys made a path through the storm right?”

“I did.”

“Did you use an airship back then too?”

“No. The airships had yet to be invented back then. So we had to pa.s.s through on foot.”

“Wow! You pa.s.sed through that horrendous thing on foot?”

“It was difficult. We had no choice but to place down signs as we progressed slowly. The signs were made to deflect the wind using magic, but since we couldn’t use mana, we had to use mana crystals to sustain it. Which was why our mana crystal expenditures were extremely high back then.”

“But all of that changed once airships were invented?”

“Yes. Although brutish, using airships allowed faster travel and significantly lowered the costs, so using the land route became obsolete. It was closed down.”

“But it must have been a h.e.l.l of a work to demolish all the signs.”

“No need. The signs would just stop functioning once its mana crystals ran out of mana.”

“I see.”

Isaac nodded as if he’d understood everything. When he grabbed for another cigarette, Isaac saw something at the edge of the horizon.

“That is?”

“We’re here. That’s the garrison for the Gate.”

“A hedgehog?”

Isaac muttered as the shape of the strange looking building became clearer. Mazelan said,

“We are just repurposing the castle of the kingdom that once existed in this land. These are the only buildings that exist in the Land of Beginning.”

“Didn’t you say the expeditionary forces made a camp last time?”

Isaac asked, and Mazelan answered with a somber expression.

“We don’t know how, but the location of the gate’s opening changed the last time. Since then, we decided to create and staff a garrison in the centre of this land in order to react in a timely fashion no matter where the gate opens.”

“We don’t know where the gate will open you say?”

“Yes. That’s why we suffered extreme casualties in the last battle. We almost lost every man in that defence.”

“So what’s the point of all those flags there?”

As the ship drew closer, one could make out the silhouettes of many flags stuck onto the castle. Some were vertical, while others were horizontal, and these flags practically covered the entire building. Although the flags did look cool flying in the air, it seemed rather hypnotic because of its sheer numbers.

Clang!

Isaac flinched when he heard gla.s.s shattering. Isaac turned to see Mazelan stiff as a stone as he stared at the castle.

“You surprised me. What’s wrong?”

“The flags… They are being flown.”

“I guess it’s quite windy today.”

“There is no wind in the Forbidden Lands.”

Isaac started to wonder why Mazelan was acting that way, his voice getting more shaky as he continued. Rivelia came to the observatory with a bucket of ice, and when she saw the flags flying, she threw the bucket in her hand and came right up against the window, her expression deathly serious. Isaac glimpsed at the two and asked.

“Is it bad if the wind is blowing?”

“… The only times the flags wave are when a gate is about to open.”

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