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Leader – Part 1

While the sound of people having fun could still be heard from outside, the entire room fell silent.
Geiz rested his massive body on the sofa. On the other side were Mirta and Takumi, with Karin, Kunon, and Jill behind them.

“So… what is it that you want to talk about?”

It was obvious that Mirta was anxious.

The man glanced at Takumi and clicked his tongue.

“Before that… why is that slave here?”

“Does it really matter? I’m also part of Valeria’s executive staff, so the company’s management is also my business.”

“Tsk… Even you joining us is a sign of our downfall.”

Mirta was disgusted by those words.

“I disagree, Geiz. Takumi contributed to our company greatly over the last seven years. My father always said that ability and age aren’t related.”

“Umpf… Oh, well. Today will be the end of that smart-ass, impertinent slave anyway.”

“What was that?”

Takumi asked back, puzzled.
The massive man’s lips twisted into a creepy smile.

“I want to talk about moving Valeria’s current location to the upper part of Listina.”

“The upper part…? A big organization can move there only with the approval of the Institute of financial affairs and the procedure would be handled by the middle part’s bureaucracy. Also, the government would never allow an illegal organization like ours to do that, no matter how much influence we have in the slums.”

Valeria’s duties would remain the same even if it changed location, but the government couldn’t consider it a legal company.

An organization could trade legally the moment they registered at the merchant guild, which could be found even in the slums. Registering at the trading guild and paying the taxes was beneficial for companies.
First of all, a legal trader’s business was safeguarded, so they were refunded if an accident or a theft were to happen, and they weren’t bound by limitations on the type of products or services to sell.
Since people needed to profit despite the fixed taxes, they had to follow a plan and have competent members.
Valeria had fewer members compared to other organizations, but considering their influence in the slums, they were surely competent.

Valeria’s earnings grew mainly thanks to the requests it received.
Sometimes, their monthly income even exceeded their expectations.

But leaving the slums was a matter that involved the government, and even if they would meet the requisites to relocate, they were still an illegal organization, so Geiz’s proposal was pointless.
Still, the man kept smiling.

“Indeed, that’s why my suggestion is to join some big company.”

Hearing that, Mirta stood up fiercely.

“No way! We can’t do that!”

“Oh my, why is that? We would earn a lot more money.”

“You worked alongside Vatel… and you still haven’t understood why my father founded Valeria?!”

Vatel Famille wanted to bring order in the lawless slums and took the initiative to run a business.

“This should be a place for homeless people! A place that saves them from starvation!
A place that is better than Listina’s slums! That’s my father’s ideal and what Valeria should be!”

Tears welled up in her eyes as her words were braided with pride and anger.
But Geiz was unaffected.

“Vatel’s ideals are splendid, but he’s not here anymore. We can say that doing things like he did is impossible at this point.”

“No! I will succeed him…”

“I meant that it’s impossible for you. Mirta Famille, you are the actual leader of Valeria, but you can’t manage it or satisfy its needs. You can’t even do your job properly.
You’re a leader in name only.
Today’s issue with those slaves is just another proof of your ineptitude.”

“If anything, your inept subordinates messed that up.”

Murmured an annoyed Karin. It was loud enough to be heard even by Geiz, who turned his gaze toward her.

“Looks like it’s true that elves are only good as sex slaves. I see no difference between them and boisterous whores.”

“What? Who is the whore, you greasy pig. I’m that slave merchant’s slave.”

“So your job is to satisfy that cheeky squirt in bed, isn’t it? It must be hard to be his plaything every night, but I guess it can’t be helped. A dirty, ugly, black-haired elf like you wouldn’t be worth a few co…”

The air hissed like it was cut by something.

“Try to insult her again and those will be your last words.”

Kunon covered the distance in a moment and prodded the man’s throat with her dagger. She was expressionless but that made it all the scarier.
Geiz faltered for a moment seeing the blade gleaming but soon wore an ominous expression.

“Do you think you’re a threat, you stupid dog? You can’t even kill humans.”

“I can kill them, but I’m not allowed to. I’d do that if Takumi ordered me to, but now I’m so pissed that my hand might slip.”

“Kunon, that’s enough. If you dirty this room, we won’t be able to use it tomorrow.”

After Kunon drew her dagger back, Takumi smiled at Geiz.

“Sorry if my comrades interrupted your speech. Please, go on.”

“Tsk… This happens when you can’t even discipline your own slaves.”

He was about to say ‘Look who’s talking’, but gulped it down and resumed the discussion.

“So, you mentioned of joining a big company, right? Which is it?”

“You don’t need to know that since you’re going to be fired.”

“I see… Would you listen to me before that?”

Takumi noticed that Geiz’s face stiffened for a moment.

“If a big company allows an organization of the slums like Valeria to join them, there will be consequences for sure. The big fish eats the little fish, after all. For example… they could learn the know-how of our slave trading, if they’re not already aware of it.”

Takumi chose clear cut words to see the man’s reactions, and it looked like the young merchant touched a nerve.
Geiz clicked his tongue in annoyance, maybe because he noticed that the guy in front of him had seen through everything.

“You really are a cheeky and uncanny brat.”

“Don’t praise me that much. Are you perhaps interested in the Soft-hearted slave merchant’s selling method?”

“I’ve been a slave merchant since forever. I don’t need to hear anything from you.”

“That’s a shame. Anyhow, relocating this activity is a decision that Mirta, our leader, should make, not you. Get out of here if you want to remain our leader’s proxy.”

Geiz loosened his crooked smile with confidence.

“You’re right. I’m only a proxy. The decision should be made by our official leader.”

“I… don’t want to move out from the slums. Valeria isn’t an organization that seeks profit, but something that helps people in need.”

Mirta clearly stated her dissent, but the man didn’t budge.

“Still, if we leave our organization’s future to the current leader, Valeria itself will likely meet its end. Since I worked with Vatel, seeing his efforts go to waste would be terrible for me.”

As he kept talking, his true character came out.

“That’s why I propose to be the new leader of Valeria. Tomorrow at noon all of our members will be gathered in the central square of the slums and start a poll to decide who will be the new leader.”

“Are you saying… that if I win we will remain, and if you win we will go?”

“I’m glad you catch on quickly. We should let every member express itself on the matter.”

Mirta fell speechless.

If they were to move and join another company, they would earn more money and the members would live a better life. A lot of them endorsed Vatel’s ideals, but it was only natural that others preferred to fill their pockets.

“I think we’re done talking. I’m going to tell everyone about tomorrow’s poll. If you could excuse me…”

Mirta’s gaze was cast on the ground while the man inclined his body forward to rise on his feet.

“Wait a minute, Geiz. I must settle the score with you.”

“I don’t have time to waste…”

He grunted in irritation, but when he was about to stand up, Takumi grabbed his head and smashed his face on the near table.
After that, the young merchant sat on the man’s head, completely expressionless.
Those present were startled with the scene.

“I’m so sorry, I didn’t want to interrupt the conversation before… but putting aside how you treated Mirta, you also insulted my dear comrades. You have guts, man.”

Geiz’s neck started to crack ominously under Takumi’s weight.

“Gaaah…! I don’t want… to die like this…!”

Fear and pain were mixed in Geiz’s muffled voice.

“Don’t worry, killing you now would be meaningless and I don’t want Valeria to stay where it is now for nothing.. I only want you to remember this: try to insult one of my comrades again and I’ll scrape off every ounce of fat from your body.”

Takumi’s eyes, that usually looked friendly, were now burning with a ominous determination.
Confirming that the man beneath him was terrorized, he rose to his feet.
As soon as the weight over Geiz was lifted, he ran to the door.

“You… fucking slave! People ain’t gonna stay in an organization with a bastard beast like you!”

“That’s up to them, don’t forget what you said a few minutes ago.”

With his face flushed with anger, the man left the room slamming the door.

Takumi sighed as he let down his body on the sofa, and the room fell silent again.
After a while, Mirta timidly let out her voice.

“I’m sure… that our members will follow Geiz.”

“…I don’t think so. Miss, you are pursuing your father’s ideals with great effort.
I’m sure people will take your side.”

Mirta shook her head at Jill’s words of comfort.

“He’s right. If we join a bigger organization, we will obtain financial stability and our members will live better.”

The bitter words that exited her lips seemed to reconfirm what she heard before.

“We could just send the money to the slums. There’s no need for us to stay here, but… I want to remain… even though it’s selfish.”

Tears started to flow down Mirta’s eyes, which were still cast downward.

“I want… I want to stay here. I want the slums to be a better place like my father wanted and see them improve with my own eyes.”

The slums were a dump, a poor place filled with the houses of people that were driven away from the middle and upper part of the city. A place where both adults and children were so desperate to survive that they drank the city’s sewage water and ate whatever happened to be in it.

Vatel threw himself into that hell to bring a smile on their faces while feeling their struggle with his skin and seeing their surroundings with his eyes.
That’s why Mirta wanted to do the same.

“Keep sticking to your ideals, then.”

A grave mood descended on them.
Takumi kept talking with the same, flat tone.

“Someone who can’t talk about ideals can’t realize them. No one would follow someone like that. A leader deserves that title only when he can pursue what he believes in.”

Mirta, still unsure about what to do, simply looked at Takumi.

“But… I didn’t do anything for anyone…”

“There’s no need to do the impossible. Let others handle what you can’t… but you’re the only one that can follow your father’s ideals.”

He accompanied those words with a smile.

“Keep fighting for that, so that the people who follow you won’t lose their way.
I’ll handle the rest.”

He looked confident.
That was the face of a person who always did everything he could to achieve his goals.

The doubt that darkened Mirta’s jade-colored eyes had vanished.

“Now that our great leader reached a decision, the rest is up to us.”

“…Tomorrow’s result is uncertain. This is all too sudden, and I guess that Geiz bribed some members to be sure of his victory.”

Jill’s furrowed brows made him look sullen.
He didn’t show his concern to Mirta, but if no one helped her, she was going to lose.
The poll date being so close was to prevent Takumi and the others from formulating some kind of countermeasure. Leaving with the excuse of telling everyone about the matter was just an excuse to check if everything was going as he had planned.

On the other hand, there wasn’t even a hint of anxiety on Karin and Kunon’s faces.

“Takumi, you should have come up with a plan to help, right?”

“Don’t worry, Jill. I had already figured out everything.”

“…What do you mean?”

“Exactly what I said. Joining a bigger organization, selling Valeria, enriching our members… I already predicted everything.”

Karin let out a little chuckle as her shoulders stiffened.

“It has finally started. The latest couple of years felt endless, even though my perception of time isn’t great.”

“You can also think that they were just less exciting than expected. That disgusting pig corrupted his underlings with money but is capable enough that Vatel kept him to his side anyway. If it was someone else, this would have ended years ago.”

“…What on earth are you two talking about?”

Takumi directed his toothy smile at a baffled Jill.

“We’re saying that Geiz has been aiming for this moment for the last two years. He planned to rise his status to proxy in order to take advantage of Mirta’s ideals, which Valeria couldn’t realize yet.”

Jill gulped unintentionally seeing Takumi’s amused expression.

Just how much the slave merchant had seen into the future?
It was impossible to guess what he was thinking about by looking in his black eyes. Two years before, he assumed that things might have turned this way, and he didn’t see only that day, but also the next one, and the day after that…
Everything was proceeding according to his expectations.

“Let’s start to set everything up as we return home, shall we?”

“T-Takumi! What should I do now…?”

Mirta asked with an anxious expression, and he replied vaguely.

“Go to sleep and be in great shape for tomorrow.”

“Err… What do you mean by that…?”

“People judge others from their appearance, so you have to dress up properly. There’s nothing to be worried about, given who we are talking about, but I expect you to be so beautiful that even I’d risk to fall for you.”

Then, Takumi rose to his feet and left the room, followed by Kunon and Karin.

Stepping outside, the night breeze caressed them with its chilly touch.
Now that the day reached its end, the festival was basically finished.
Only the drunkards were still roaming in search of alcohol.

The slums were really filled with hopeless people.
Even now, a drunk man was sleeping on the roadside, and children were pick-pocketing him. Of course, there were people who also thought to snatch it from them later.

Helping that garbage dump of a place was but a pipe dream.
Takumi knew that the best thing to do would have been leaving behind everyone and thinking only about one’s own profit.
But that answer was too simple and boring.
Things were interesting only when they pose a challenge.

Karin and Kunon noticed Takumi’s serious expression and imitated him.

“Let’s repeat everything that happened. Karin, give me a detailed report, please.”

“Geiz managed to corrupt our members twelve days ago. Checking the account books, we confirmed that the money was the reward of Valeria’s work, and we also found out that the amount he stole and the one he used match. That pig’s calculation error is that he wasted it.”

She said without hesitation.

“We still have a lot of money. It doesn’t matter if he used a part of it.”

“You always wanted to say that, huh…? I guess anyone would faint seeing your asset.”

In the last seven years, Takumi gathered quite a large amount of wealth.
Among his properties were buildings, plots of land scattered between Listina and the nearby villages, stored weapons and other goods. If they were to include every coin he had, he alone could rival a large company of the slums.
Those were the fruits of his hard work.

“Is anyone moving strangely lately?”

“You mean the people that are coming to the slums? Today, the guards coming from the middle part confirmed that they are increasing. Guk, the paper seller, said that he saw Geiz at the company when carrying parchment.”

“Is the information reliable?”

“The guards’ ones should be taken with a grain of salt, but Guk looked quite sure about that. We also gathered information from Raxel, Toronto, Michter and many others.”

Karin replied without a hint of worry.

Those guys were… all slaves that Takumi had sold.
He sold slaves everywhere: in the slums, in the middle part and the upper part of Listina.
From those who took care of the water treatment to the caretaker of a noble’s dog.
He sold any kind of slave.
They all formed a huge network, and no one would suspect anything if he went to meet the goods he sold occasionally.

In the past years, Takumi gave his best to scatter his ears and eyes everywhere, and that brought him to know almost everything that what was happening in the city.
As a slave merchant, he could come to know if someone needed a slave with certain abilities, how the other businesses were doing, and the trading routes’ situation.
Manipulating information could make him obtain almost whatever he wanted… and the more the network grew, the more powerful he became.

From the slave to its owners, from its owners to their friends, from their friends to their acquaintances…
No one noticed that they were all dancing in the palm of his hand.

He didn’t profit on selling slaves, but on the information network they formed.
That was the Soft-hearted slave merchant way of doing.

“What are the last moves of the company that Geiz wants to join?”

“The same as always… but they are becoming showier.”

Disgust twisted Karin’s expression.

“Illegal betting on slaves and monsters… It really makes me sick.”

“I agree, but everyone would try to monopolize a source of money that is still somewhat legal. Once you taste something great, you’d want to keep eating it until your stomach bursts.”

Takumi smiled cheerfully as he talked.

“If their greed keeps growing and deepening, we will gain from it.”

“Even the guards are noticing that something’s going on. However, Geiz was really confident when talking… It’s obvious how things will go from now on.”

“He wants to bring Valeria’s contraband techniques with him. Our business comes from a lawless territory, that’s why we’re this good with illegal stuff.”

Geiz knew it and wanted to sell both himself and Valeria to a bigger organization in order to achieve his ambitions while his back was covered.
The only hindrance was Mirta, the memento of their previous leader, so he arranged the voting poll to get rid of her.
He bribed every single member in the organization, so that the results were decided.
Or maybe it would be better to say the result ‘should have been decided’.

“How did he manage to contact everyone?”

“The day after they were paid, he spread the information through the slaves. From them to their employers, and from the employers to the other members. That way, it would have been hard to track who started it.”

“Nice move. Did someone refuse the offer?”

“No one. We’ll see how Mirta handles it tomorrow.”

“Don’t worry about that, I’ve got a pretty good grasp of what will happen..”

He said tapping on his temple.

Takumi met a lot of different people in his previous life.
Neither hundreds nor thousands. He easily overcame the dozen of thousand… and maybe reached the hundreds of millions.
Experience brought him to see through a person’s facade and quickly see their real self.

“Also, who do you think people will choose between a lovely girl and a greasy, disgusting pig?”

“Oh, so you can see girls as lovely?”

“I’m a human too, you know. Kunon, wake up. We’re done talking about complicated stuff for tonight, so stop sleepwalking like some sort of wandering weapon.”

“Zzz… Eh?! I-I wasn’t sleeping! I was listening properly!”

Takumi smiled bitterly and patted her while she wiped the drool from her mouth.

“You will have a lot to do tomorrow. I’m counting on you.”

“Leave it to me! I’ll do my best day and night!”

Takumi nodded at her reliable words.

“Let’s settle this in one go.”

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