Hint: To Play after pausing the player, use this button

  The Devil of Finance and the Slave Girl  

In northern Freyjagard, the Findolph domain, in the Port District of the city of Dormundt—

“Pant…! Pant…!”

A dark-skinned girl wearing tattered rags crouched behind a pile of crates. Her breath was labored. A rugged sailor with a wide, square jaw and eyes goggling out of his head like those of a fish was searching for her.

“Shit! Where’d that brat go?!”

He was holding a knife, and his eyes bulged as he looked around. Then he started walking toward the crates behind which the girl had hidden.

“Over here?”

“ ”

She could hear him getting closer. Her lungs tightened as fear welled up inside her. But before he could reach her, he stopped. The reason being—

“Hey, you! Quit slackin’ off! Get over here and unload the cargo!”

—his boss, a sailor with similar facial features, started shouting at him.

“S-sorry! One of the slaves we brought up from the south ran off, so I…”

“What?! Which one?”

“O-one of the byuma girls. The one with red hair…”



“It’d be one thing if it was one of the men, but girls don’t sell for shit! You can deal with that later! Finish unloading the cargo first, you dope!”

“Y-yes sir!”

The girl heard the man run off.

“…Haff…” Having survived her narrow brush with death, she breathed a deep sigh of relief. Though the immediate danger had passed, that didn’t mean she could just stay where she was forever.

Her legs were trembling from both fear and exhaustion, but she managed to struggle to her feet by leaning against a crate.

Have…to run…somewhere far away…

She vanished into the back alleys. En route, though, she stopped and looked up at the sliver of blue sky visible between the buildings.

But…what then…?

The world was too vast. Too big. And she was too small. Too weak. Where could she go? What could she do? She had no idea.


At the foot of the mountain down the trail from Elm Village, there was a large castle with tall ramparts surrounded by vast fields of wheat. The castle belonged to Marquis Findolph, the region’s feudal lord.

Everything up to the structure’s outer walls was painted white. The castle’s towering roofs, on the other hand, were all coated in solid gold. It wasn’t hard to deduce what kind of person its owner was.

That day, the gate to the citadel surrounding the castle’s outer walls was open. This was because it was the late-autumn tax-collection day. Wagons from the surrounding villages came rolling into the courtyard one after another to pay their dues, either in the form of crops, handicrafts, or hard currency. Of course, it went without saying that Elm Village had a wagon there, too.

“Oh, it’s you. You people, always reeking of wild beasts…”

“Ha-ha, you said it. Feels like my nose is gonna fall off.”

The tax collector made a cruel jeer, and the knight clad in bronze who accompanied him piled on without reservation. However, as the village’s usual representative, Elch was well accustomed to it by now. Instead of blowing up at them, he just ignored it and unloaded the tax from his wagon.

“…Here are our fall taxes. You can go ahead and store them.”

“What, pelts and picked game again? You are allowed to pay in gold, you know.”

“Those savages spend all their time chasing boar around in the mountains. Where are they gonna get gold?”

“Heh, too true. Besides, gold’s too good for bumpkins like them.”


Masato Sanada sighed as he watched the exchange from beside the horse.

“Thank goodness Tsukasa isn’t around to hear this.”

If he had been there, they likely would’ve had a repeat performance of the other day.

When someone bad-mouths him, he doesn’t so much as flinch. Even though all the stress from it is what turned his hair white. But as soon as it’s about someone else, the guy flips out.

As Masato mused on that fact, Elch returned.

“Welcome back. I gotta say, those tax dudes rubbed me the wrong way.”

Elch frowned for a moment at Masato’s friendly tone. His grandfather, the village mayor, had made him take Masato along, but Elch still hadn’t warmed to these seven sudden intruders.

“Pretty much all the nobles are like that. C’mon, quit making small talk so we can head back. I’m worried about the cargo.” With that, Elch got onto the wagon and grabbed the reins.

Shrugging at the cold shoulder he’d just received, Masato hopped back in the cargo bed.

Then, a little while after they left the castle—

“Heya! Welcome back, you two.”

—they spotted Shinobu Sarutobi waving at them from beneath a tree by the side of the road. She was surrounded by the rest of the goods they’d brought down from the village…as well as three seedy-looking men collapsed on the ground.

“Who’re those guys?”

“Pickup artists, maybe? I am a bona fide cutie, you know.   Still, it was super-rude how they led with ‘Give us a piece of that cargo you’re workin’ with.’”

“Y’know, normally we call those bandits.”

“Wait, you beat all of them on your own?”

“Yes sirree!” Shinobu puffed out her chest with pride.

Elch had known that if they went into the castle with more cargo than they needed to pay their taxes, the collectors would be all too eager to take more than their due. Consequently, they’d left Shinobu in charge of watching the excess they were planning on taking into the city to sell later that day.

Elch had balked at the idea of leaving a single girl to watch their stuff, even for a short while.

“See, I told you. You didn’t have anything to be worried about. Shinobu’s not gonna lose to any of the guys around here.”

“It was a piece of cake. Sha-sha!”

This was the same attitude the two of them had expressed when they’d overruled Elch’s concerns. The three bandits now twitching on the ground served to retroactively prove their point.

“Still, she was barely alone for a minute before getting attacked. Guess these parts are pretty rough.”

“…Things weren’t this bad before the old lord got sick and died… But this new lord’s a real piece of work. Ever since he took over, not only have things gone to shit, but the taxes have tripled, too.”

“Well, that’s messed up.”

“He couldn’t care less about our livelihoods or how safe the roads are. The knights, the lord…all the nobles treat us like wild dogs,” Elch spat in disgust, then turned and looked to the sky.

Masato followed his gaze, and his eyes caught the golden rooftops shining radiantly in the sunlight. The more wealth that castle of avarice sucked up from the masses, the more it glittered.

Staring at its infuriating splendor, Elch continued, “If… If it was just money, that’d be one thing. But that bastard even went and instituted the First Night Right.”

“Huh? Whazzat?”

“When any woman in the domain gets married, she has to give him her virginity before she can sleep with her husband.”

“What?! That’s nuts! That’s, like, abuse of authority taken to the nines! I can’t believe it!”

“…I guess being in a different world doesn’t change the ways assholes abuse their power.”

“He’s a massive deviant. That’s why we keep Lyrule hidden. You don’t see many people that attractive around these parts. No good could come of that lecher learning about her.”

“Oh. Smart thinking! See, I knew you Elm guys were nice!”

Elch frowned at Shinobu’s giddy display.

“Don’t talk about it like it’s someone else’s problem. You’re, I mean, you’re relatively pretty, so you’re in danger, too.”

“Oh? Oh-ho-ho.   What, are you worried about little old me?”

“D-don’t take it the wrong way! Who’d worry about a bunch of weirdos like you guys?!” Elch’s face went red, and he looked away.

He might not have taken to Tsukasa and the others, but he was still Winona’s son and a resident of Elm Village. His heart was in the right place.

Having gotten a glimpse at Elch’s true nature, Shinobu flashed him a friendly grin.

“Hee-hee. Thanks. But don’t worry—they won’t catch me that easily.”

“…If you say so.”

“Besides, Shinobu, you aren’t even a virgin any—Hey, wait, my elbow doesn’t bend that wa—OW-OW-OW!”

“Hmm? Did you say something? I’m sorry, I didn’t quite catch that.  ”

“…Don’t break his arm; we need him to be able to help. Now, c’mon, let’s load this stuff back on. Dormundt’s still half a day away by wagon.”


After a few hours rocking along with the wagon and asking Elch about the village, Freyjagard, and the world as a whole—


Masato abruptly rose to his feet and looked toward the setting sun.

“What’s up, Massy?” asked Shinobu.

“I know that smell. That’s the smell of money…!”

Soon thereafter, the three of them crested the hill, and a massive city surrounded by ramparts came into view.

It was their destination: the city of Dormundt.

“That’s one weird sense of smell you got…”

“Yeah, that’s creepy.”

Ignoring the other two, both of whom were looking at him less with less amazement than exasperation, Masato gazed down at the stone metropolis dyed in the oranges and reds of the sunset.

“Man, that’s one nice town. Is the entire thing walled off?”

“Yeah. Dormundt is the biggest trade hub in all of Marquis Findolph’s lands. Almost all the goods in the domain come through here. It’s also the only port, so merchants from New World colonies and other regions all stop here, too. Because it’s so important, there are lots of people who live and work here. You could even call it the heart of the Findolph domain.”

“How big’s the population?”

“I don’t know for sure, but from what my old man told me, there’re about a hundred thousand residents. But that’s not counting all the people like us who come in from smaller towns and villages or who arrive by ship from foreign lands.”

“I like the sound of that. All right, let’s make a killing so I can bring back a nice present for Winona!”

“…Wait, you’re into my mom?”

“Of course! She’s so charming—yet has a mature, womanly spirit. How could I not be into her?”

“Massy’s got a thing for older women, y’know.”

“Is it a crime to like strong, beautiful, independent women?”

“Man, I don’t get it. Especially the part about her spirit or whatever. She should be settling down at her age, not running around like a lunatic. Besides, do you have any idea how much older than you she is? I doubt she’d even go for it.”

“Hey, that’s fine, too. I spend money so I can see beautiful women smile. That’s motivation enough for me.”

To that, Elch replied, “You’re weird, dude,” and sighed.

This was an age where people were far more worried about where the next day’s meal was coming from. Romance as a pastime was something reserved for nobles. As far as commoners were concerned, it was just a prelude to marriage and childrearing. It was a duty one performed so the village could endure. Elch and Masato were from different worlds; their values were too fundamentally different. Romance was a point on which they were unlikely to see eye to eye.

“…Well, if you wanna try to get closer to Mom, then that’s your problem. But you should give up on the souvenir. We don’t have money to waste on stuff like that.”

“It’s fine; I’ll just drum up some cash by making some slick deals.”

“…You’re gonna run into a big problem there.”


Elch’s words were pregnant with significance, but Masato tilted his head to the side, unable to deduce their meaning.

“…You’ll figure out what I’m talking about pretty fast once we get into town.”

And sure enough, once they’d passed into the city, Masato quickly learned what Elch had meant.


By the time their wagon made it through Dormundt customs and into the city proper, the sun had worked well into its descent below the horizon.

After heading down the unpaved road that stretched past the gate, they eventually reached a wide, open area. Throngs of people were hustling about. It was virtually the spitting image of the Shibuya Scramble Crossing.

“Whoa! That’s a city with a six-figure population all right! It’s so crowded! It didn’t really hit me while we were in Elm Village, but this world’s actually got loads of people in it!”

“Yeah, and the ladies are all hotties. It’s hard to pass on Winona’s plain, pastoral appeal, but women dressed to the nines are great, too! Hey there, gorgeous!”

“…What, so one’s as good as the next to you?” Elch sighed in exasperation watching Masato wave at every attractive woman he spotted in the crowd.

“Hey, I get why Massy’s so pumped. It’s been so long since we’ve been anywhere this lively, I’m starting to get excited, too.”

“It’s only natural that it’s bustling here. This here’s the heart of the city, the central plaza. Dormundt’s split into four big sections in the northeast, northwest, southeast, and southwest, but you end up passing through here to get to pretty much any of ’em. The foot traffic’s always nuts.”

“Makes sense, makes sense.”

“Huh. There’s no marketplace here, even though the location’s so great?” Masato asked, not missing a beat despite his flirting.

A hint of surprise crossed Elch’s face upon realizing that Masato had actually been listening, and he replied in the affirmative.

“There used to be one, but now it’s down in the southwest Port District… We’ll be coming up on it soon.”

Sure enough, a little while after they escaped the central plaza crowds and made their way to the Port District, the roadsides became lined with stalls. Scores of people, many of them probably residents, were out shopping. It was about time to start buying ingredients for dinner, after all, so there was a decent crowd. But for all the people, the variety of goods for sale was even more impressive.

There were vegetables like cabbages and tomatoes. Luxury items like honey-pickled apples, oranges, and casks of wine. Dried meats and fish—all sorts of stuff. And it wasn’t just food, either. The stalls featured farming implements, tools, cookware, and fancy clothes that were likely hand-me-downs from nobles.

“Whoa! That shirt is so cute! And that hair accessory, too! Just looking at this stuff is a blast!”

Window-shopping was getting Shinobu amped. However—

“There are a lotta people here, but I’m not feeling any excitement in the air.”

—something about the market seemed off to Masato.

There were plenty of people, and the wares for sale were breathtakingly diverse. Impressive as it was, though, it all seemed kind of tepid to him. None of the shopkeepers were calling out to people on the street, and he couldn’t hear anyone haggling. The dirty homeless people lurking in the small alleyways and glaring at the market only served to amplify the depressing impression the market gave off. Masato tilted his head to the side, curious as to the reason for it all.

“All this is because of the trade company we’re headed for,” Elch muttered.

“How do you mean?”

“…You need a license from Dormundt’s mayor, Count Heiseraat, to do any trade in the city, but…the only ones who have one, and the only people who have enough money to run a market anyway, are those in the Neutzeland Trading Company.”

“What? For real? They have a monopoly on the entire city?”

“Yeah. There was another one up until a couple years ago, though… The Orion Company. My old man used to work for them. Trade was booming when the two companies were fighting over the marketplace. But one of Orion’s investments in the New World went south, and Neutzeland took them over. Ever since then, Neutzeland’s had complete control over Dormundt.”

“I see. There’s no energy ’cause there’s no need to compete, huh… So that’s what you meant earlier when you said I’d run into a big problem.”

“Uh-huh. I dunno how good you are with words or whatever, but there’s no way you’ll be able to mark your stuff up when there’s only one place you can sell it.”

“Man…no wonder everyone looks like they’re half asleep.”

“We’re almost there. That there’s the Neutzeland Trading Company.”

On Elch’s cue, Masato turned his attention away from the roadside markets. Standing before them was a building that looked less like a company and more like a temple. Erected before the structure’s entrance was a massive statue of a fat man carved from malachite.

“What’s up with that ugly-ass statue?”

“That’s Jaccoy, the manager there.”

Shinobu frowned, mumbled, “Yikes, how tasteless,” and leaped off the wagon.

“Hey, wait! Where’re you going?!”

“Sorry, Elch, but I gotta go. I’ve got things to do and places to be. Later, Massy. Tacky places like this aren’t my style, so I’m gonna go get started on my research.”

“Sounds good. Go do your thing, Shinobu.”

“Sha-sha.   Do it, I shall! If you find something you want me to look into, just give me a holler on your cell.” With one last “Later!” she vanished into the crowd like smoke.

Even with how out of place her clothes were, it was impossible to see where she’d gone. Her lineage as a ninja wasn’t just for show. After looking in the direction the girl had vanished for a moment, Masato turned back to Elch.

“The reason we brought her along is so she could look for info on the world and hopefully figure out a way for us to get home. Don’t worry, though. You’ll be fine with just me here.”

Elch scrunched up his face at the remark.

“Ha. I’d do fine without you, too. Nobody asked you to come.”

“Oof. That’s cold, man.”


“Hmm, hmm… Ten rook for the leather boots. Sixty rook is the going rate for winter coats. As for the charcoal…well, I can do two rook a briquette at most. Then…”

The Neutzeland Trading Company had two counters where you could sell goods. One was installed over by the port, designed to be used by merchants who’d come via the sea. The other was at the far end of the marketplace. It was a small building that resembled a stable, built into Neutzeland’s main office. That was the counter for merchants who’d come from the local towns and villages.

After waiting their turn in line, Elch and Masato drove their wagon up and had their goods appraised by a gloomy-looking trader with a thin frame and narrow eyes. The result:

“In total…it comes out to fifty gold and fifty-three rook.”

Elch went pale at the result of the appraisal.

“Th-that’s all?”

“That’s the best I can do. I’m already cutting you some slack because you’re a regular client, you know. The countryside may be one thing, but here in the city, meager foods like potatoes are difficult to sell. Yet I’m offering you a fifth of a rook each on them. If anything, you should be grateful.”


As Masato stole a glance at Elch’s pained expression, he thought back on the info he’d drummed into his head regarding the world’s currency system.

In Freyjagard, money came in two denominations. The first was a copper coin called a rook. There was the smaller copper coin with a hole in it worth one rook and a larger coin with no hole that was worth ten. Because they weren’t worth much, people tended to use them for most of their day-to-day purchases.

The other type was gold. Those came in silver coins worth one gold and golden coins worth ten. They were primarily used for larger business transactions, and one gold was worth a hundred rook.

According to Elch, an adult man could live modestly for about a month on a single gold. As for the number that could survive the four harsh winter months on fifty gold…

“Huh? If I remember correctly, the village has fifty people in it.”

“…Close to sixty if we count you punks.”

“I mean, either way, that’s nowhere near enough, right?”

“Shut up, I don’t need you telling me that!” Elch’s frustration was palpable.

It was only natural.

Between the forest and the farmland, Elm Village was more or less self-sufficient most of the year. But winter was a different beast. The heavy snowfall left Elm practically buried, and it went without saying that the fields were useless. An attempt to hunt deep in the woods under those conditions was tantamount to suicide.

That was precisely why Elm Village went and sold all the leather goods their twenty-odd women made at once right before the winter, when demand spiked. They needed to buy enough food to weather the cold season. Although they made regular trips to sell lumber, charcoal, and jerky, that didn’t provide much income. The money they made from leather goods was their literal lifeline. Surviving the long winter with only fifty gold was utterly impossible.

What can I do? Elch’s forehead broke into a cold sweat as he thought. Beside him, Masato posed a question.

“Elch, how much does it normally take for the village to make it through the winter?”

“I told you to shut up, didn’t I?”

“Just tell me.”

“…Tch. Eighty gold, usually.”

“So you can normally make that much?”

“Yeah. But our yield from the forest this year was pretty bad. I hate to admit it, but we came up short on pelts and meat. And because you guys showed up, we’re burning through food even faster. The village is basically out of reserves.”

“I am sorry about that, you know…”

“If you’re really sorry, then shut up already… Hey, mister, can’t you sweeten the pot a bit? With so little money, we’re gonna starve to death this winter.”

“I’m afraid that your circumstances aren’t the responsibility of our establishment.”

“Isn’t there something we can…?” Even faced with a brick wall of a trading partner, Elch kept pushing. But then—

“Now, what seems to be the problem over here? You’re holding up the line, you know.”

With a creak, the door between the appraisement hut and the main building swung open, revealing a middle-aged man with a potbelly, the spitting image of the large statue out front.

His outfit was so colorful it was almost vomit-inducing, and his bracelets and necklace were all adorned with gold, silver, and gems. The radiant sheen of his expensive accessories was outdone only by that of the fat on his face and his pudgy nose. This was Jaccoy, Neutzeland’s manager.

“Ah, Mr. Jaccoy. These obstinate customers were complaining about our quote.”

“Oh, my friends, that won’t do. You aren’t children; throwing a tantrum won’t get you… Oh?” The manager had been glaring at Elch, but after a moment, his eyes widened with surprise. He’d recognized him.

“My oh my, I thought you looked familiar. Adel was Orion’s finest star, and here we have his son! Out running errands for the village, are we? It’s about time to start hunkering down for winter, after all.”

“…Well, yeah.”

Elch’s father, Adel, had been the finest peddler in Orion, a competing trade company that once operated out of Dormundt. Apparently, Adel was so skilled that even now he lingered in the memory of his rival company and Jaccoy, its manager. This wasn’t the first time Jaccoy and Elch had met, either.

Back when Elch’s father was still alive, the two of them would exchange greetings whenever Elch came the city. That wasn’t to say they were on good terms, however.

“I see, I see. So what did you bring us to sell today?”

“Here’s their list, sir.”

“Pfft.” Jaccoy let out a disparaging snort after the assessor handed him the itemized list.

“Most of this is just trash, is it not? It’s sad, seeing the son of such an accomplished man reduced to hawking such garbage. It was the same with Adel, you know. If he hadn’t stupidly insisted on staying a peddler and just become our accountant like we’d asked, he wouldn’t have gotten caught in the cross fire of the war. Being pathetic must run in the family.”

“…My old man has nothing to do with this.”

“He certainly doesn’t. Just like we have nothing to do with what’ll happen to you people this winter. Oh, and we have no obligation to buy your trash, so don’t go grumbling about what we offer you for it. If you don’t like our prices, feel free to take your business somewhere else… Of course, we’re the only company that has the mayor’s permission to operate in Dormundt. And even if you find some tiny company out in the sticks, they’ll just end up coming to Dormundt and selling to us anyway, so they can’t offer more money than we do. If you want better prices, you’ll have to cross the Le Luk Mountain Range and try selling outside the domain.”

“Ha-ha-ha. You’re a cruel man, Mr. Jaccoy. If they tried to cross Le Luk at this time of year, they’d just be going to their deaths. Besides, Lord Findolph would never issue a travel pass to village commoners like them.”

“Hee-hee-hee. Too true, too true.”

Both Jaccoy and the assessor gave nasty sneers.

“We’re your only option, so just do as we say” was the vibe these two were giving off.

I don’t like this one bit.

Masato narrowed his eyes at them. As they’d been passing through the market on their way to the trade company, Masato had actually been memorizing the prices on all the goods for sale. By his calculation, Elm’s cargo was actually worth approximately two hundred gold.

It was fairly standard for wholesale suppliers to get less than market rates for their merchandise, but Neutzeland was turning around and selling the goods just a few hundred yards from where they were buying them. That was nowhere near enough to justify taking a 75 percent margin. They were abusing the fact that they were the only game in town.

These guys aren’t merchants.

Rather, they were more like the mob. Masato wasn’t about to let guys like that get their way. So he made a choice.

“Izzat so? Welp, looks like there’s no agreement to be reached. We’re done here, Elch.” The Devil of Finance quickly hopped back on the wagon, took the reins, and began steering it out.

“Huh? …WHAT?!” Elch was taken aback at the sudden development, but…

“Hey! Hey, hey, hey! Wait up! Wait up, I said!” The young byuma raced after the wagon, leaped onto it, and grabbed Masato by the collar.

“What’s up? That’s a scary-ass look you’ve got on your face.”

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?! Turn the wagon around!”

But Masato wasn’t having it.

“Screw that. I’m fine with taking advantage of people, but getting taken advantage of myself? No thanks. Besides, fifty measly gold isn’t gonna get you through the winter, right? That means there’s no point selling to those guys.”

“Y-you’re right, but I just told you, remember?! There’s only one company in Dormundt! No matter how little they give us, we don’t have a choice!”

“All right, then how’re you gonna survive?”

“W-we… We can use the village’s savings…”

“Oh? And how much are those savings, by the way? Given how pissed you sounded at the banquet, I can’t imagine there’s much.”

“…There’s…about eight gold.”

“Y’know, Elch, we have a saying for that back where I come from. It’s called ‘a drop in the bucket.’”

“…! Fine, then we men’ll figure something out! The forest has pretty much nothing but wolves during the winter, but…still, we’ll just eat those!”

“You guys get crazy-heavy snow, don’t you? It’s already started falling. And once we get into winter for real, it’s really gonna start piling up in the mountains. You might have wolf ears and a wolf tail, but you still only have two legs. The snow’s gonna mess with your mobility something fierce… Do you really think Elm’s hunters will come out unscathed against wolves in conditions like that?”

Elch furrowed his brow and sunk into silence. He was a hunter himself, so he knew full well how dangerous hunting wolves in the winter was.

Masato twisted the knife deeper, his voice turning ever harsher.

“Elch, I think you’re misunderstanding what a trade is in a big way.”

“Wh-what do you mean?”

“Trading isn’t about buying and selling stuff. It’s just a means to some end. Our goal is to get Elm Village through the winter safely by buying supplies. Any trade we make that doesn’t succeed in achieving that is out of the question as a means.—Besides, look.”

Masato jabbed a finger at the shops lining the street.

“Check out that store’s leather boots. They’re pretty much the same as Elm’s when it comes to quality. Neutzeland probably bought them for around ten rook, just like they offered to buy ours. But they’re selling them for forty-three rook. They bought those fur coats for sixty rook, but they’re selling them for four hundred. If they were just buying raw pelts, or if they came and picked them up or something, that might be understandable… No, even then that’s too wide a margin. Look, they’re making you guys handle the production, the delivery, even the customs fee when you bring the goods into the city. Instead of having a supply chain, they’re just making you do everything. It’s insane. Long story short, you guys are getting swindled. All of you are.”

Visibly irritated, Elch wrung a rebuttal out his throat.

“…We know that. Hell, even I know that! But we don’t have a choice! Neutzeland’s the only company in the city with a trading license!”

“See, you’re getting swindled ’cause you keep thinking like that. Lemme tell you, spending your life getting jerked around by other people is no way to live. If something’s screwed up, you gotta learn to say ‘Screw this.’ If you don’t like something, it’s your job to change it. Trust me, it’s way more satisfying that way… When a guy mocks you like they just did, you can’t just say ‘Oh well’ and take it. You can’t let that shit slide.”

“…!” Elch’s shoulders twitched as he held Masato’s collar. The burning rage in Masato’s eyes was beginning to cow him into submission. “W-wait, are you actually mad?”

“Damn straight I’m mad. I hate getting taken advantage of. Also, that guy made fun of the man Winona chose to marry… Hey, Elch. Let me take point on this. Let me be in charge of all the trading this time around. Gimme a week…and I won’t have just made us enough cash to survive the winter; I’ll have destroyed that whole shitty company.”

“…Is that even possible…?”

Masato nodded without a moment’s hesitation. “Of course. Just so long as you follow my instructions to the letter.”

In truth, Elch had a hard time believing that. But still…the confidence burning in Masato’s eyes was no bluff. They wouldn’t survive the winter at this rate anyway. There was basically nothing to lose…

“…Fine. If you say you can do all that, then you’re in charge.” Elch released Masato. He’d made his choice. He was ready to see just how strong this man was for himself. “But remember, everything I’m putting you in charge of is the village’s property. If you’re all talk and no results…then I’ll chop you into wolf bait myself. Consider yourself warned.” The harsh glint in Elch’s eyes made him the very image of a wolf. However, Masato’s confidence proved unshaken by the threat.

“Heh. Don’t you worry, Elch. Money loves me more than just about anyone else.”

“If you say so… So how exactly are you planning on taking that company down? And in just one week, no less. Just for the record, I’m not gonna do any arson or burglary.”

“That’s not on the agenda, man; I’m not the damn yakuza. I’m a merchant. When a merchant says he’s gonna crush another merchant, he means he’s gonna do it on the open market. I’m gonna make a company even bigger than theirs, then take over their market share.”

“…I already told you, remember? You can’t do business in the city without a trading license from the mayor. If you try, the soldiers’ll arrest you on the spot.”

“All that means is I gotta go get one. Easy.”

“Easy, my ass. The count’s never gonna issue a license to bumpkins like us. He won’t even give us an audience.”

“A little sweet talk’ll solve both those problems. Besides, you can’t go givin’ up before you even get started. You handed me the ball, remember? Now, just believe in me and help me run with it.” And with that, Masato handed Elch the wagon reins. He had no idea where anything in the city was, after all. He would need his companion’s help to find his way around.

“…Fine.” Picking up on what the so-called merchant was saying, Elch glumly took the reins and steered them toward Count Heiseraat’s mansion. Having given control of the wagon over to Elch, Masato fished his smartphone out of his pocket.

“Oh yeah, I’ve been wondering about those ever since we found you. What exactly are those glowing slabs you all have?”

“What, this? It’s, uh…basically a magic item. It lets you talk to your friends even when they’re far away.”

“…For real?”

“Yup. Handy, right?” As Masato nodded, he opened the communication app Ringo had installed. The call connected instantly.

“Heya, Shinobu. Sorry for the short notice, but can you look into some stuff for me? Yeah, ASAP. First, I need a surface-level profile on the mayor. Personality, interests, résumé, that kinda stuff. Then I need—”


Masato and Elch left the market.

A young girl with light-brown skin emerged from a side alley and watched their departure. She’d lived in the New World until her region had been conquered as part of the New World Colonization Project that Freyjagard’s eighteenth emperor, “Conquering King” Lindworm von Freyjagard, had spearheaded. Slavers had brought her all the way to northern Freyjagard as a slave, but she’d spotted an opening, slipped from her bonds, and fled into the alleys of the marketplace.

The cat ears protruding from her red hair had picked up Masato’s speech.

“…Spending your life getting jerked around by other people is no way to live…”

Masato had been speaking to Elch. However, the girl happened to hear him, too. He’d spoken of a way of living unfettered by the whims of others.

He said…there’s a way…

Was it true? She didn’t know. But before she knew what she was doing, the girl found herself running after the wagon.


“You said you’re a merchant from across the sea, but whereabouts exactly?” The aged hyuma, who had a mustache that looked like a large pair of wings, shot a piercing stare at his mansion’s visitor. His visitor, of course, was none other than Masato Sanada, a member of the High School Prodigies.

As Masato knelt before Mayor Heiseraat, who was sitting atop the parlor’s sofa, he offered the man a respectful bow.

“I hail from a land far across the eastern sea called Japan, Lord Mayor.”

“Japan… I’ve never heard of such a country.”

“We’re a small island nation, so it’s quite possible Freyjagard hasn’t discovered us yet. I’m a businessman of some renown back in my homeland, but even my company has yet to do trade here.”

“…Hmm. Well, no matter. I’m unfamiliar with this land of yours, but I don’t doubt you’re a foreigner. I’ve never seen garb like yours. The fabric is of such a high quality I can hardly believe it. And those leather shoes of yours shine like lustrous pearls. I can see that your country’s culture has been refined over many moons. A mere liar could never produce such fineries.”

“It’s a great honor to receive such compliments.” Masato bowed again, silently rejoicing at the man’s powers of comprehension. The mayor’s shrewd eye was going to make the conversation go much smoother than he’d anticipated.

“…So? What business do you have with me, merchant from ‘Japan’?”

Masato thought back to the dossier Shinobu had sent him while he’d been waiting to get inside.

Walter von Heiseraat.

Walter was Dormundt’s current mayor and a third-generation member of the Heiseraats, the family that had taken Dormundt from an undeveloped plot of land to the foremost trade city in northern Freyjagard. He also held the title of count. According to Shinobu’s report, the way Freyjagard’s peerage system worked was that marquises were given domains, and counts and barons were given cities within those domains to manage. Basically, counts and barons were like modern-day Japanese mayors, and marquises were like prefectural governors. It wasn’t quite the same as the historical feudal systems with which Masato and the others were more familiar.

Although survival of the fittest was Freyjagard’s one absolute law and nobles assaulted and even killed commoners like it was nothing, Walter was more of a moderate. He was a man well-liked by the residents of Dormundt. In his private life, though, he was quite the spendthrift who had a particular penchant for rare imported goods. In all likelihood, that proclivity of his was why Masato had been able to secure a meeting with him so easily after telling the guards that he was a merchant from overseas.

This was Masato’s chosen avenue of attack.

“There’s actually a very particular reason I sought an audience with you today. The thing is, I heard word of a renowned count who was a fervent collector of foreign trinkets, so I had hoped you might take a look at this piece of craftsmanship from my homeland.”

“Hmph. So this is a sales pitch.”

It appeared such visits to the mayor’s home probably happened with some amount of frequency. Every pore on the mayor’s face was shouting, “This again?!”

“Fine. But be warned, I have a discerning eye. If you show me something trifling, you won’t get a single rook out of me.”

Hook, line, and sinker.

“Oh, I’m quite confident you’ll like it. Here’s the item in question.” Chuckling internally at the mayor’s response, Masato showed him what he’d brought to offer. Sitting atop his palm was a gleaming golden armlet.

“…I see. A bracelet made of gold, is it? Very tasteful. I especially like the jewels set in the… Hmm? Hmmmmmm?!?!?!?!?!?! Wh-wh-wh-what’s this, now?!”

“It’s an accessory the people from my country wear. We call it a wristwatch, a clock you can wear on your wrist.”

The wristlet Masato had handed over was, in fact, his own high-end watch.

There were notable differences, but Freyjagard’s culture was largely around the level of the Earth’s Middle Ages. Although Earth had mechanical clocks in the later part of that era, the technology to make small, delicate parts certainly hadn’t existed yet. Back then, clocks were massive and generally installed in buildings. Wristwatches didn’t come around until the nineteenth century.

In other words, it was doubtful that Freyjagard had clocks anywhere near that small. They certainly weren’t common. It was an anachronism, like something straight out of science fiction. It caught Mayor Heiseraat’s attention, purveyor of novelties that he was, like nothing else.

He’d completely fallen for Masato’s scheme.

“A clock?! I-impossible! Nobody can make clocks this small!”

“Feel free to take a look for yourself. The back cover should be of particular interest.”

“Hmm? Oh? Whaaaaaaaaaat?! Th-this minute construction…! Bwuuuuuh?! It’s moving! There’re so many tiny gears, all interlocked! I’ve never seen anything so precise…! But the technology to construct something so small, so accurately, it doesn’t exist…!”

“Maybe that’s true…in Freyjagard, Lord Mayor.”

“—! S-so this Japan of yours really exists?! And your technical abilities are this advanced?!”

“They are indeed. In fact, we’re so good at manufacturing that some of our neighbors call us a technological superpower. In Japan, wristwatches are so common that even children own them.”

“I-it boggles the mind…! I can’t believe it! I can’t believe it, but…seeing it in my hand… I guess I don’t have a choice! Oh, it’s so beautiful…!” Heiseraat couldn’t peel his eyes away from the watch’s interior. His face was flushed, and his nostrils were flaring, like a kid who’d just gotten a new toy.

Sensing that the iron was hot, Masato took another step toward his final objective.

“I’m glad you like it. What do you say? …If you honor my one request, the watch is all yours.”

“T-truly?! What is it?! What’s this request of yours?! I’ll pay however much you want! P-p-p-please! Sell me this wristwatch!” Heiseraat clung desperately to his new curio. When the man said he’d pay however much Masato wanted, he was more or less being serious.

No matter how rare it was, though, at the end of the day, it was still just a single bracelet. There was a limit to how much Masato could realistically charge. There was a chance he could sell it for enough money to get Elm through the winter, but adding on Ringo’s requests, the amount he’d need to ask for was dicey.

And besides, one-and-done deals like that were boring. What the young businessman Masato Sanada wanted had been locked in from the very start.

“Money isn’t what I need, Lord Mayor. I’m a merchant, which means there’s only one thing I want… Permission to do business in this city. It’s a trading license I’m after.”

“Wha…?! Rrr…”

However, hearing Masato’s demand brought the previously elated mayor back down to earth. It was to be expected. After all, the reason he’d never issued new trading licenses was because of the large bribes he’d been taking from Neutzeland.

“W-well… About that…” He looked down at the watch reluctantly. Masato stepped forward and whispered in Heiseraat’s ear.

“I know about your arrangement with Neutzeland, by the way.”


“It wasn’t hard to figure out. Orion may have gone under, but northern Freyjagard is famed for its myriad industries—restaurants, breweries, glassblowing, even shipbuilding. There’s no way the largest city in the region’s gone years without a single company looking to open up shop.”

“I… I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Month four of spring: 3,247 gold and twenty-three rook. Month four of summer: 2,789 gold and eighty-eight rook—”

Upon hearing Masato recite the numbers, Heiseraat blanched. After all, those numbers…were the exact sums of the bribes he’d taken.

“H-how do you…?”

Masato replied with a smile that could almost be described as exhilarated.

“My company employs a rather talented intelligence operative. She was able to snatch a glance at the secret ledger hidden in your safe in the time it took this meeting to start. Now, that money isn’t being recorded as income from the market. That means Marquis Findolph doesn’t know about it. If he was to catch wind of that fact, I doubt he’d be too pleased.”

The mayor’s forehead broke out into a nervous sweat.

This kind of illicit payoff wasn’t all that surprising to Masato. In Freyjagard, the marquis was the one who controlled the domain.

Count Heiseraat ran Dormundt as its mayor, but he was little more than a glorified bureaucrat. All the revenue in the Findolph domain was supposed to go straight to Marquis Findolph. By illegally ignoring that decree, Heiseraat was committing embezzlement. If that came to light, it would be impossible for him to stay in Marquis Findolph’s good graces.

As a threat, it was more than effective, and yet…

“However, I’m not here to criticize the way you do business. And I’m certainly not planning on using that information to threaten you.” Suddenly, Masato changed his avenue.


“Why would I? The Heiseraat family is the one that broke ground here and built this magnificent city from nothing in just fifty years. Your family members are heroes of the north. That being the case, it’s your right to enjoy some kickbacks every now and again, no?”

“Yeah! Yeah, that’s right! My ancestors built this town!”

“They did indeed, and that makes you Dormundt’s rightful king. But why should a man like you have to curry favor with a single lowly company? Why should a man like you have to temper his desires? If those punks start complaining, if they start threatening to hold back payments, all you have to say is this: ‘Quit your moaning, you mangy hyenas! If you don’t want me to run you out of town, shut your stinking mouths!’ That’ll shut them up good. Everyone at Neutzeland would rather die than lose their business in the finest city in the north.”

Threatening the mayor had never been Masato’s plan. Doing so would have been stupid. Heiseraat may have just been a bureaucrat, but he was still the highest authority in town. Masato wanted to do business in the city. Making an enemy of its owner would’ve been counterproductive.

Blackmailing him had certainly been an option, but getting the license amiably was far and away the better option. That was why he’d praised the Heiseraat family while bemoaning the fact that they’d become Neutzeland’s stooges.

And it was thanks to those honeyed words…

“…Yes, yes. You’re absolutely right.”

Masato had guided the mayor’s emotions to exactly where he’d wanted them. Heiseraat, who’d been clutching the watch throughout their exchange like it was already his, gave Masato a domineering smile. Masato responded by grinning in kind, but his was no longer the customer-service smile he’d been wearing up until that point… It was the smile of a carnivore baring its fangs.

“Then we have a deal.”


“And just like that, we’ve got ourselves a trading license under the name Elm Trading Company.”

When Masato got back to Elch, who’d been waiting outside, he showed him the piece of parchment with the mayor’s seal.

“Th-that’s not a fake, is it?”

“I just went into the mayor’s house, dude. If anything, wouldn’t coming out with a fake be harder?”

“I never thought you’d actually get one…” Elch may as well have seen a ghost the way he stared at the document.

“What sorcery did you have to pull…?”

“Unfortunately, sorcery isn’t in my wheelhouse. Wish it was, though. Nah, supply and demand are my tools of choice. Coming up with win-win scenarios for everyone, now that’s business. Anyway, now we can go do business out in the open. This is good news, remember?”

Joy finally started spreading across Elch’s face.

“Yeah. Yeah! You’re right! C’mon, let’s head over to the market right now! It’s almost nightfall, but there should still be a decent number of people around! If we sell our goods for the same prices Neutzeland does, we’ll be able to make four times as much!” Now that he was getting excited, the words came pouring out of Elch’s mouth without stopping.

Seeing him get all ready to dash off, Masato…gave Elch’s forehead a good flick.

“Hey, what was that for?!”

“Saying dumb crap like that. This license practically prints money, but after all the work we put into getting it, you wanna peace out after selling barely one wagon’s worth of goods? Don’t be an idiot. I told you, didn’t I? I’m gonna crush Neutzeland’s market share. We’ll set up shop tomorrow. Today, our job is to stock up on inventory to sell.”

“…Huh? What are you going on about? We don’t have that kind of money, man. I only have eight gold, remember?” Elch looked at Masato like he was the idiot. Masato rubbed his chin and started thinking.

I mean, my job here’s only supposed to be fixing Elm’s finances and buying the stuff Ringo asked for, but…

…merely using Elch to achieve that end was a little cold. Not only was Elch the village’s treasurer, he would someday be its mayor. Maybe it was Masato’s duty to teach him a thing or two.

If he molded him into a fine merchant, Elch could become the bedrock of the newly formed Elm Trading Company. Masato owed Elm Village a debt for saving his life, and if there was any way to repay it twice over, this had to be it. With his choice made, Masato posed a question to Elch.

“Elch, what’s the one thing you need in order to secure product?”

“Money, duh.”

“Bzzt. Zero out of a hundred. You can get inventory without money.”

“Wh-what? No, you can’t.”

“Ah, but you can… Actually, this works out. I do owe you guys one, after all. As president of the Sanada Group, lemme teach you a good way to make money. And hold on to your socks. We might be broke now, but before long, we’ll have more gold than we can carry.”

“You mean it, mister?”

* * *

““ ?!””

Out of the blue, someone called out to the them.

Masato and Elch turned around and saw a small byuma girl dashing toward them across the darkened road. Her scarlet eyes were fixed straight on Masato.

“Roo wants it, too. More gold than she can carry.” Her speech was a little sloppy, but it was clear from her tone that her resolution was firm.

“Roo…wants money. She wants to be able to make it on her own. She doesn’t want to be tossed around anymore. So…please teach Roo how to make money, too!” The red-haired girl was disheveled from head to toe, wearing nothing but tattered rags. She’d been running along unpaved, exposed earth, but she wasn’t even wearing shoes.

A runaway? Or perhaps a homeless girl? Or maybe—something worse. Elch and Masato could tell at a glance that she didn’t come from great circumstances. Yet, still…

This kid’s eyes…

Her scarlet irises felt like they pierced right through Masato. Seeing their burning light dredged something up from his memories. A dark room. A choking stench. A soiled tatami mat. And…his father’s corpse hanging from the rafters.


“Fine by me. C’mon.”

Masato immediately accepted the mysterious girl’s request. Elch let out a surprised yelp.

“Wait, are you serious? We don’t know anything about this kid, and you’re just gonna take her in?”

“Of course I’m serious. Besides, this works out great for us. I was in the market for another employee, after all. And she’s a girl and a kid, both of which are handy. And above all else—I like her eyes.”

“Her eyes…?”

“She might look like poverty incarnate, but her eyes are shining like rubies. This kid’s got a hunger. A hunger for cash. And the drive to better her position in the world. Getting someone like that in your camp is never a bad thing. Avarice is power, after all.”

After responding to Elch’s confusion, Masato turned back to the girl.

“The name’s Masato Sanada, and this here’s Elch… You said your name was Roo, kid?”

“Roo is Roo.” The girl nodded.

“Great! Then hop on board, Li’l Roo. I’ll show you how to make more money than you can spit at!”

“Thank you, Teacher!”

“Ha! I like the sound of that. You’ve got promise, Li’l Roo! With a big clear voice like that, you could take over any boardroom! Now, you two aren’t ready to set foot on the battlefield just yet. For now, just watch what I do. First, I’m gonna show you how you can build inventory without spending a rook. Strap in and follow along, kids! It’s time to rake it in and have a blast doing it!”

And with that, Elm Trading Company began its quest to secure goods to sell the next day.

The next week promised to be the wildest seven days of Elch’s and Roo’s lives.

Share This :


No Comments Yet

Post a new comment

Register or Login