Chapter 156

Even though they were still in the beginning stage, both groups tried to listen to each other. They burst into laughter from time to time; their sorrows, their stories, and their worries regarding minor incidents poured out without hesitation. In order to look for solutions, they began to empathize with one another. They might not be aware, but a stronger and more genuine relationship was being formed between them. 

It was the agents’ first time encountering the vast logic that served to maintain the palace, which existed within its substructure. This activity had been a refreshing experience for both groups of people - the nobles, and the maids and servants. They were all excited about the fact that they were having a ‘conversation’ and ‘communicating’ with one another for the first time in their lives. These experiences would lead them in the direction of mutual understanding and cooperation in their daily lives. This would then create the opportunity for the wall between them to collapse. 

“These...are nothing much, but do accept these souvenirs.”  

“What?”

Before leaving, the agents unpacked the gifts they had prepared during their vacation. As requested by their commanders, these were very cheap and simple items such as scarves, fur gloves, handkerchiefs, small notepads, etc… However, the names of the agents were embroidered or engraved on their gifts. 

It was entirely different from bribery because it was clear who the gifts were from, as well as their recipients. Furthermore, they were gifted to the maids and servants from people of high statuses. Souvenirs with one’s name on it… There was a deeper meaning and significance behind it. The maids and servants who received those gifts wiped their tears away and started sniffling. The monetary value of the gifts did not matter. Ever since they entered the palace, it was their first time experiencing the warm hearts of the ‘high-ranking people’. Perhaps, it was something to be commemorated for the rest of their lives. 

The maids went to see the agents off when they left. The weather was still cold, but nobody thought it was cold. That was what it was like to spend a night together. Seeing each other’s unkempt appearances with unwashed faces. Sometimes things like that had more power than any authority. It ended up creating a bond between the two networks that nobody but San and Biyeon had expected. This was the first step in their process of mobilizing the vast sub-network of the palace, which consisted of 5,000 people. 

“They’re supposed to pay for the meal though… We can only afford to relax after the second stage goes well….” muttered Biyeon. 

“Didn’t you plan on going somewhere tomorrow?” asked San.

“I decided to visit the Hansun Clan. Do you want to go too?”

“Definitely not. Lectures aren’t exactly my cup of tea. I think I’ll have some fun with the Black Guilds tomorrow. I guess it’s time for me to do the task that’s been left unfinished.”

“Please be careful.”

“Leave it to me.”

Reform — Chapter 4

A month ago.

“Some of you are acting as double agents,” said San as he walked around the agents slowly. 

His eyes were looking down at the floor; he was just casually talking to them. However, the room was as quiet as a mouse. The agents’ eyes and ears were focused on San. 

“Those who put their peers and superiors at risk will be in big trouble…” 

As he continued speaking, San’s gaze slowly swept across all 150 agents. All of them had a puzzled look in their eyes. 

“I heard that the Black Guilds and the Dark Guilds are fairly large and clever organizations. They must have planted their secret agents in various places and important areas. I am sure there are quite a number of agents here who have either been bought over or “blackmailed” into helping them.”

“There is a paper in front of you that I’ve given out. I want you to write down what you know about the Black Guilds and Dark Guilds, as well as what you have investigated. Also, you can run investigations now, if need be. Do not leave out anything trivial, such as location, organization, people, methods of contact, etc. The deadline for submission is in three days. You must write and sign it yourself.”

The agents looked at each other. All of them looked puzzled. Several agents felt that this entire situation was more absurd than it was scary. What was going on here? What did they have to write?

As he left, San added, “Let me warn you - do not copy from one another, or consult each other. If anybody were to do that, I would consider them a spy. The same goes for anybody who writes false information or is sloppy with their work. It just tells me that you have a guilty conscience, right?” 

After San left, the agents murmured to one another loudly. Nevertheless, nobody was strongly opposed to it. The matter at hand was grave. Nobody wanted to do anything suspicious.

25 days ago. 

The agents’ sudden investigations had greatly reduced the movements of the Black Guilds. The story about the two major contract organizations, the Black Guilds, and the Shadow Guilds, was the hottest topic all over the world. Approximately 150 people and their sub-organizations went around uncovering and gathering all kinds of factual information…  

The agents had gathered together once again. It was their first meeting since the submission of their assignments. They were extremely nervous. There was another piece of paper in front of them.

With a stern face, San said, “Write down the names of all the imperial agents you suspect are double agents. It will be done anonymously, and must be written with a typewriter. Fold it and bring it here tomorrow. I will personally collect them.”

Thereafter, San left. The agents stared at each other with terrified looks on their faces. 

20 days ago.

“I’m not pleased with the data. Do it all over again from the start. You seem to have misunderstood something. I will definitely see it through to the end. This matter is not to be done half-heartedly. I will give you two days this time. The content and format will be the same as the one you just did. Make sure you write and sign it personally.”

The facial expressions of these agents were clearly divided. Fear came over them once again. Most of the agents were involved with the Black Guilds and Shadow Guilds. The power struggle within the imperial palace, as well as the power struggle among the nobles - all of them required information in real time. 

There were two ways of obtaining high-level information in this era. The first way was trading, and the second way was terrorism, which was torture and intimidation in other words. Regardless of the era, deceitful dealings were frowned upon by the constitutional government or authority. Covert and fatal violence was far more effective. Hence, for that reason, contract organizations such as the Black and Shadow Guilds came into existence. 

Those organizations wanted high-level information, and the nobles wanted those secret intelligence organizations. Hence, they often worked together and had a mutually beneficial relationship. It was so common that nobody knew who was working for who as a spy. 

The same went for people who worked in the palace. They hired these groups if they wanted anything that was hard to get or access, top secrets, or when they were dealing with troublesome matters. These groups were known as a necessary evil. The imperial intelligence agents were in fact the biggest customers of information dealers representing the Black and Dark Guilds, and they were also the biggest clients when it came to contract killing. 

The problem was that there were evidently other people who had been bought by them. So, what if they handed over information within the palace? What if information pertaining to the habits and schedule of the person to be assassinated were handed over? The first and second data that they had submitted were compared in the presence of a professional appraiser. Since nobody was able to make a copy, analyzing the difference between the first and second submissions would reveal ‘a bit’ of the truth, as well as any falsehoods. 

15 days ago.

“Let’s start over again. Write down the names of all the agents you suspect. Once again, it’s going to be anonymous. You will be submitting a document that is written using a typewriter.”

This same task was repeated for the third time. The agents bowed their heads. They had gotten the hang of it too. The individuals were being narrowed down. 150 organizations roamed around the city, and the agents who had been colluding with the Black Guilds were noticeably more anxious and uneasy. Fatigue often led to mistakes being made. There were rumors circulating that the list of names of the people who were working with the Black Guilds had already been secured. 

Ten days ago.

“Stop all activities. The investigation is over. This is your last chance to turn yourselves in. Write your name down. The deadline is today. ‘Now’ is the time. I will forgive everything the people, who had written down their names, had done up until now. The list will not be made public, and all the materials and evidence pertaining to the matter will be incinerated. You have my word.”

The agents were drooling at the tempting offer. San’s final declaration rang in their ears. 

“The names of the people who did not turn themselves in will be made public tomorrow. It would be quite a sight to behold, seeing the crimes of people who aided or abetted the assassination of the second deputy get exposed. The spies will be executed immediately, and their entire family will be exterminated due to treason. If you do not want to turn yourselves in, and are anxious, run away today. I don’t chase after trash. I’ll see all of you tomorrow.”

His voice was soft, but the echo of it was louder than thunder. 

9 days ago. 

47 double agents were identified. Everyone turned themselves in. Over the next six days, San interviewed each of them in private. All the data were incinerated as promised, and San drank alcohol with each and every one of them. They were now true agents belonging to the imperial palace, as well as San’s eyes and ears. Their families who were blackmailed would also have to play it safe… 

As a result, the intelligence unit within the imperial palace had been completely and thoroughly purified. They no longer posed any threat and could be used with ease from now on. 

3 days ago.

According to the agents’ statements, the profile of the substantial and major hubs, as well as the key figures had been created.

“The preparations have been completed.”

San clenched his fist. Biyeon, who was next to him, applauded.

***

The marquis of Hugot was in a dark room, staring outside with his chin resting on his hand. There was a burning fire in the fireplace behind him. The office in his residence was extremely huge. The ceiling was high, and its structure was complicated. There were bronze statues of knights on the left and right, like escorts. There was nothing but a red carpet on top of a large empty space in the middle. Perhaps the other things were cleared away on purpose. 

There were more than ten people standing on the left and right of the room, as though they were waiting for someone. They looked calm and composed, but all of them were well-armed. There were another four escorts standing on the left and right of the marquis. They were looking to the front with no expression on their faces. 

The marquis also sat down looking languid, and fiddled with his mustache. The door opened. All eyes were on the door. A man entered through the door slowly with his back against the morning sun. He was unarmed. He was also wearing gloves that left his fingers exposed, and he had one hand tucked into his pocket, while stroking his chin with the other. He slowly made his way to the marquis, who was sitting in the middle, while looking around, as though he was walking through an art gallery.

He looked at the ceiling indifferently, and glanced at the people who were standing at the sides without much respect as he walked past. He did not even glance at the marquis who was sitting in an arrogant manner, but he looked at the four people lined up next to him one by one. 

“If you’re here as a guest, shouldn’t you greet the owner of the residence first out of courtesy?” said a woman on the left, who was dressed in sleek clothes, as she smiled. 

“You’ll have to be hospitable to your guests first for them to want to greet you, right? Clients come first. Didn’t you learn that?”

The man smirked back.

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