Ten days had passed after I talked with Kohaku.
During that interval, we had erected a barrier around my house and Rorono’s workshop.
Constructing arrays for such barrier was a specialty of Aura. Unlike an obstruction that would vanish instantly, this barrier needed to last indefinitely. Because of that though, its performance were several levels lower.
If an A rank monster were to break this barrier, he would most likely succeed. However, just the fact that we could we alerted to the presence of a being capable of breaking it alone was more than enough.
Furthermore, the materials of the buildings were changed to ones that had the highest soundproofing. These new materials were developed by Rorono, of course.
For the meantime, such was our counter-intelligence measures.
I had also prohibited any conversation regarding important matters outside of my residence and Rorono’s workshop.
By the way, I didn’t bother to conceal the aerial combat corps because there was no real way to completely hide them anyway. Besides, they had to be trained to be of actual use.
“We’ve somehow finished setting up the barriers as well as reconstructing the buildings.”
“Yes, we did great!”
“The Dwarf Smiths have also grown a fair bit.”
I looked at Aura and Rorono who both did improvements to my residence and gave them a satisfied nod. Aura built the barriers herself. As for Rorono, she had developed the materials that were used for the sound-proofing but entrusted the rest to the Dwarf Smiths, only to come by occasionally to check up and give further instructions to the apprentices.
To Rorono, her most important job at the moment was the mass production of the Avalon-Ritters and that therefore took priority above all others.
For the moment though, that goal was still quite far away off from realization. It seemed that establishing a stable synchronization between the two cores involved was causing her difficulties. Nevertheless, it seemed like her progress on her continued research had lowered the bar enough for her to be able make a total of three Avalon-Ritters. To have been able to make three A-rank-equivalent units alone was worthy of praise.
“I’m really grateful to the two of you. Thank you. With this, we have made gathering information from us much harder to do.”
What we did was but the bare minimum in terms of counter-intelligence and was far from perfect.
To solve it completely, we needed a monster specialized in intelligence-gathering and to have that, I needed a [Creation] medal.
Unfortunately, I wouldn’t be able to produce another [Creation] medal until a few days later. As soon as I could though, I plan on making the new monster.
“I’m glad to be of help to master.”
“Me too. If there’s anything else you need me to do, please don’t hesitate to ask.”
Rorono and Aura proudly said so.
“Here are your rewards.”
By using my [Creation] ability, I made sweets that were still not common to this world—if they ever existed at all—and handed it to the two. I also handed to Rorono the Dwarf Smith’s shares.
“Woaaaahhh, a cake roll with lots of fluffy cream. It’s also full of fruits I haven’t seen before.”
“The Dwarf Smiths will be delighted. Thank you, master.”
It isn’t often that I gave them special rewards that could only be made through [Creation] so the two were greatly pleased.
But then, I suddenly felt as though someone was looking at us. I looked but saw nothing… or so I had thought until I noticed a tail—and nothing more—sticking out of the wall. It was a lovely and fluffy fox tail. It was definitely Kuina’s.
She’s probably curious about us, I thought. I then remembered that she was troubled before over the fact that she wasn’t able to contribute much outside of combat. Taking that and the current scene, I worried she might feel some kind of complex and decided that I should follow up on her sometime later.
“Now, let’s all go back to our jobs, okay?”
“Understood, master. Let’s give it our all.”
“Mhm. I’m going to try my hardest to be able to present to you the mass-produced Avalon-Ritters.”
The two nodded and then left.
The counter-intelligence measures weren’t the only ones we were able to accomplish within the last ten days:
Aura had finally cured Kohaku completely.
The darkness dragons’ training, conducted by Wight, was going well.
Kuina had been leveling up the new Mythological Foxes, Dwarf Smiths, and High Elves.
Rorono’s research still wasn’t complete yet but her goal was now a few steps nearer.
I mustn’t lose to my subordinates, I thought as I began my work as their leader.
Today, I was scheduled to meet with a top executive of a company.
For them to expressly ask for a meeting itself was a big issue.
I have to brace myself, I thought as I did my office work. And then, a visitor arrived.
One of the Mythological Foxes assigned to be a maid in my home had guided a gentleman of good build.
Even among the companies that did business in our city, his was among the most prominent. He was Relic, the representative of the Relic Company.
I have to brace myself, I reminded myself again.
“Procell-san, sorry for expressly asking you to make time for me today.”
“No, don’t mind it. Knowing Relic-san, it’s most probably a matter that needs urgent attention. Even I would like to have more information as soon as possible.”
Nobody knew the importance of time better than a merchant. They understood and valued it. So for him to ask for this meeting, there was no way I could have refused.
“I’m relieved to hear you say so. The reason I imposed on you this time is because of the neighboring city. Frankly, they have been harassing us merchants who are going to Avalon.”
I see, so they decided to be roundabout, I thought as I grimaced.
As of the moment, Avalon couldn’t in any way stand on its own. Merchants buy a considerable amount of goods from the neighboring city and sell it here. If the taxes imposed on them were to increase, so too did the cost they had to shoulder and if their profits became so small they almost didn’t profit at all, they would withdraw from Avalon. If that happens, the standard of living here in Avalon would decrease all at once.
“We merchants are obligated to pay tariffs and admission fees whenever we go into a city. And when we exit, we are only inspected to see if we have any goods that are prohibited from being exported among our stocks. If we are cleared, we are allowed to exit without paying for any kind of tax. That is the standard affair.”
The tax system differed depending on the city but as for the neighboring city, only the tariff on the incoming goods and the admission tax for entering the city were the only two fees.
Of course, living there would also incur other taxes but for merchants who didn’t have any store, those were the only two fees that they needed to be concerned with.
“But now, they’ve also imposed a fee whenever you’re exiting the city, am I right?”
“Exactly. Our carriages that are heading out to Avalon are being asked to pay a fee equal to that of the tariff we pay when entering a city. That effectively doubles the tariff we have to pay.”
“That’s not good.”
“Yes, it isn’t. Thankfully, there’s no tariff in Avalon so that somehow offsets it but we as merchants can’t help but feel a decrease in our enthusiasm. We are still in the black at the moment—albeit just barely—but that will not always be the case. And so, I ask that something be done about it as soon as possible.”
Such was the harassment of the neighboring city.
I was still continuing to stall for time regarding their offer of being under their rule. They kept sending several letters demanding my decision but instead, I only answered that I needed more time. However, this event would indicate that I was starting to run out of time that I could buy.
“Can you use another exit out of that city and then use an alternative route to go to Avalon? If I lend you some strong golems to pull your carriages, poor roads shouldn’t be an issue.”
“If it’s only a matter of whether we can or can’t, we can. However, our companies are based on that city. If we were by chance found out to be evading tax, it will bring ruin to us. So although we physically can, we’d rather not.”
“I see your point.”
He replied as I expected.
Now, how do I proceed, I asked myself. If I didn’t do anything, the merchants would lose faith in me. My deteriorating relationship with the neighboring city was already exposed to them. In fact, there were many of them that were already considering of pulling out of Avalon.
Immediately making up with the other city and stopping these harassments were the ideal solutions but such were not possible. Now, being the merchants that they are, they should have thought that such speedy resolutions were impossible as well. If so, their goal then would probably be to recover some of their losses.
“I understand that this discord with the neighboring city is my fault so I shall deal with it.”
“That’s reassuring but how exactly are you going to deal with it?”
Merchants were very perceptive about the flow of money so they should have an idea of the amount of tax being collected in Avalon. Given that, they knew I had money and hence this meeting.
Besides, there were many reasons why they remained even though they could have left without any notice.
One such reason was that Avalon still remained a lucrative market.
The customers here were generous, the taxes cheap, the security great.
Since they were still gaining profits, they were reluctant on leaving.
So, if they could make me give as much money as the profits they’ve lost, they would be perfectly happy to conduct business as normal.
“Avalon will compensate for these unwarranted taxes… is what I would have liked to say but that will not really help with anything; it would be like putting out a large fire with a glass of water. So instead, I’m proposing a means to procure products from other cities without ever stopping at that one.”
“It would be great if we could but that city is the southernmost city of the empire; we can’t get to the other cities without going through that one. The mountain paths also have checkpoints in them, after all.”
“That’s if we’re only talking about land routes.”
“Yes but you can’t be suggesting we make use of water routes, can you? For one, there aren’t any.”
“You’re not thinking grandly enough, high enough. What I’m proposing is what if you can transport your goods using the sky which belongs to no one?”
Compensating them with same amount of additional tariff would only cause an increase in the tax collected.
Why do that when there was a better, more direct way to tackle the issue.
On the other hand, a more direct method might anger the merchants.
To begin with, I was of the thought that we were going to war with the neighboring city anyway so we shouldn’t rely on them anymore. In whatever case though, our economy needed to be independent.
To that end, I proposed the use of the sky to transport goods collected from all other places without ever going through the neighboring city.
Upon hearing me, the merchant was wide-eyed, slack-jawed, and desperately shaking his head.
“The sky? Is such a thing possible? But if ever it is…”
The delivery of goods through the air is, in a sense, the apex of all deliveries.
In this age, each time a caravan passes through a town or checkpoint, taxes are imposed on the goods. By the time the goods reach its intended market, their prices would have skyrocketed.
One of the major reasons port cities were so prosperous was that most goods that come into their city arrived by way of the sea and had therefore less chances of taxes being imposed on the goods compared to deliveries via land routes.
However, through air travel, merchants would be able to procure their goods directly from the source thus making their prices cheap. It was superior to sea transport. After all, one could easily procure goods even from cities and villages that didn’t have any body of water near them. It also had the advantage of taking the shortest route to the source of the goods without minding the terrain.
Its disadvantage however was that against sea transport where buoyancy played a part, one couldn’t transport as much volume as before.
“Procell-san, if such a thing truly is possible, it would bring about a revolution. …it will be more valuable than a ton of gold. The goods that until now we had to give up on getting due to the cost not being worth it, or the ones whose freshness we couldn’t maintain… if what you say is possible, tens, hundreds of deals like that will be completed easily.”
“I assure you that here in Avalon, it is entirely possible to use the sky to travel. I’m aware that some of you merchants already know about Avalon’s deteriorating relationship with the neighboring city and that some of you are thinking of leaving this place. I have no intentions of holding any of you back.”
The merchant gasped.
I had no time for half-measures; I wanted a plan for when our relationship with the neighboring city turns into a hostile one.
“But I did prepare this to make your stay here—even at the cost of leaving the other city—worthwhile. I don’t expect you to take my word for it though so I’ll just demonstrate it for you. I’ll need time to prepare it but in the afternoon of two days later, it will be ready. Please spread the word to as many merchants as you can. You guys are fortunate. Fortunate to be the very first merchants in the world to have conquered the skies.”
He gasped once again.
“The first merchants in the world… to conquer the skies… that sounds marvelous.”
“Yes, it does. And as you know, pioneers of any kind tend to gain the greatest profits.”
“That’s certainly true. Very well then, Procell-san, I look forward to your demonstration two days later.”
It seemed like the Hippogriffs’ turn had come sooner than I had originally expected. Although they failed to satisfy the new requirement of transporting ten orichalcum golems to be part of our air force, they were more than strong enough for the merchants.
If combined with the implement made by Rorono, they should be able to transport via the sky half the amount a regular carriage could.
And so, I began to ready them to work the work that the Darkness Dragons wouldn’t be able to do.