Chapter 165

Reform – Chapter 9

Five days before the official release of the report. The imperial court bustled with activity. A summary of the report, that had been tightly kept secret, was just released. The summary was distributed to the upper official levels, from the emperor’s military advisor and inner cabinet to the heads of each imperial court department. A few of the people who received the report let out a sigh of relief while others anxiously discussed the repercussions of the report. Secretary Gayu sat deep within her chair with her hand stabilizing her chin. She was deep in thought as she stared forward. Though she didn’t show it outwardly, one could tell that something was bothering her.

The Black Guild seemed to have completely disengaged in any activity… and the Outsiders had also not made any move. The Sa-Myung Family could see the writing on the wall.

/But… the official summary of the report doesn’t have any information that would concern anyone. What does this mean? Were they not able to find anything? Or are they saying that we should all forgive past transgressions and move on? What are they thinking? Rain.’

Gayu closed her eyes. She felt the warm spring wind enwrap her body. A sense of comfort started to envelop her body.

‘It’s already been twenty years serving the current emperor, right? Can I finally relax now?’

A light smile spread across her face…

***

Three days before the formal release of the report. Ryuin, the third seat of the Secretary Office, was listening to some reports. In front of her were three others: Hanhwa, Ryuin’s assistant, Hanbu, a three skilled Awakened Warrior of the Han-Sung Clan, and Joo-ang, an administrator of imperial affairs who worked in the imperial judicial department. 

The person responsible for doing the actual legwork based on Rain’s report was Ryuin. Based on the degree of one’s illegal actions, Ryuin had to execute the commensurate level of punishment. She’d also have to consider the political fallout. Thus, Ryuin felt a considerable level of responsibility and burden. Based on the judgement Ryuin laid down, there could be a considerable blowback. Before having to explain the reason and basis of her decisions to the emperor, Ryuin planned to organize her thoughts with her trusted advisors.

“Though the report is stated as bringing to light the financial and human resource infractions and corruption within the imperial courts, looking at the summary, it doesn’t seem like there’s that much to be concerned about. Don’t you all think so? It seems miniscule compared to the uproar Rain’s office has recently caused,” Hanbu said after re-reading the summary.

“As I see it, it doesn’t seem any different from the regular audits that are conducted every four years. It seems like their uncovering was done in a general sense. Rather than uncovering any corruption or infractions, the report seems to emphasize inefficiencies in process within the imperial courts,” Hanhwa said, voicing his own opinion.

“I thought that Da-in, the fourth seat of the Secretary Office who’s in charge of supply-side management, would be hurt the most from the report, but it seems like they only found some infractions within her department… if this is all they have, I think the emperor will lose faith in Rain’s abilities,” Joo-ang added on.

“I’m still uncertain. Including Rain, those other two beneath her our unknown quantities. They’re wise and sly beyond compare. They must be targeting something… but I don’t have the faintest idea what it is,” Ryuin murmured. She was surprised by the generality of the summary herself. Where was Rain’s sharpened blade that was pointed at the other seats?

“What do you make of the order to change all the servants serving the imperial courts? Do you think it has something to do with the findings in the report?” Ryuin cautiously asked. She didn’t understand how the recent order was connected to the report. Officially, it was stated that the order’s recommendation originated from the heads of the servant staff. Though they didn’t possess a lofty title, they were still considered indispensable people for the emperor.

Ryuin knew that 150 people within Rain’s department recently visited the help staffs’ residences. Outside of this, Ryuin didn’t know the exact purpose of the visits. Furthermore, everything was done in a public, open setting, so there wasn’t any hidden information.

“Those servants and help staff just do what those above them order them to do. I don’t think there’s much of a connection. I think it was just the emperor’s preference,” Joo-ang stated while shaking his head.

“Well, this makes our work a little easier than what we originally expected, but still…” Ryuin said as she lifted her head upward. She looked up at the blue sky with the carefree billowing clouds slowly moving across the horizon. Her sharpened eyes relaxed.

***

Two days before the formal release of the report.

“Based on this summary, it seems like things will pass without kicking up much of a storm.”

Baya, a Council member, lightly threw the summary report onto her desk. She was the third wife of Jun Daera, who was vying for the throne, and an inner cabinet member to the Secretary of State Joong-ha, who was in charge of all imperial finances and human resources.

“I guess they weren’t as smart as we presumed. We were too sensitive,” Ja-gwan said as he laughed. He was the main liaison for the Sa-Myung Family and second in command within the family. 

“They had to conduct their investigations within a narrow scope from the start. No matter how smart they are, they shouldn’t have been able to find anything within such a short period of time. Essentially, they did as much as we expected.”

“Well, it seems we’ve overcome one critical barrier… how are the city-building business and slave recruitment going?”

“Hmm… we previously used a lot of the imperial court’s resources in the past to progress with our plans, but I don’t think we’ll be able to rely on that from this point forward. Satan will probably come up with some new plan.”

“It also seems like the Council members are growing wary and nervous. The situation is becoming untenable. I’m sure it’s even worse for the people below the Council members,” Ja-gwan said as he looked at Baya. Baya lifted her teacup and took a sip.

“Yeah, they suffered throughout. It seems like we’ve come out of this relatively unscathed, so let’s start planning out what we should do.”

“Did you have something in mind?”

“There’s been quite a few skirmish regions between estates and territories, right?”

“Hmm… about seven areas?”

“Send out some reconnaissance teams. Make sure you do this without raising any flags. If anyone asks, just state that the teams are official imperial personnel sent out to observe and document the skirmishes. Since we’ll have to prepare our military efforts, it’ll be good to know how it is on the ground.”

“That’s a great idea. I’ll get started on it right away,” Ja-gwan said with a bright smile.

Their spring seemed to be getting brighter.

***

One day before the formal release of the report.

Poof-

The emperor closed the report. Having stared at its contents with intense focus, the emperor started rubbing his eyes as if to flush away his accrued fatigue. He had two folders atop his desk, a relatively light summary folder, and a thick full report folder. Though he was staring forward, he wasn’t focusing on anything. Rather, he was coldly introspecting within himself. A blaze was roaring in his heart. He was feeling a mixture of intense disappointment, betrayal, anger, loneliness, and complexity...

However, the emperor kept his lips tightly shut and kept his composure. A strange tension was effectively suppressing the explosion of his emotions.

The tension came from a form of belief and trust. The sense of belief and trust was very unfamiliar for the emperor, who did not trust people easily during his lifelong experience of facing conspiracy and political struggle.

The emperor turned his eyes and stared at the finished version of the report. It had already been distributed.

The only difference was that the emperor’s version had margins where handwritten notes were written and where he could write his own notes. Also, his version had a colorful front and back page. No matter how confidential a document was, there were certain procedures that needed to be followed to present it before the emperor.

Eliminating potential toxins and other hazards or dangers that may be present was essential. Even this document would have gone through someone’s meticulous security check before it was presented to the emperor. After the emperor read the contents of the report, his official recordkeeper would assess a security level for the document and store it accordingly. In the end, even secret documents for the emperor would be read and its contents disseminated by others before it reached his eyes. Essentially, there were no secrets in the imperial family in the first place. Furthermore, the emperor knew of this reality all too well.

The emperor fiddled around with a circular contraption.

‘Did they say this was called a spectacle?’

Even as the emperor who ruled the most advanced empire in the world, the item in front of him was a strange object that he had never seen before. It was brought to him by Rain to improve his eyesight.

The object had undergone a strict investigation by the imperial escort officer, and it had only now been presented to him. It was a very useful item. Even the small print looked large and clear.

In addition… the glasses allowed him to see strangely colored letters that the naked eye could not see. While fiddling with the spectacles crafted luxuriously with the bones of an Archon, the emperor glanced at his fingertips. His fingertips were still trembling.

The reporter’s ‘opinion’, which had been written in the margins of the report, filled his head once again. The sentence was supremely dry and serene, but the emperor could hear the inner voice crying out from the letters.

‘A whopping 30% of the imperial property has been embezzled…’

‘Two out of ten have been encroached upon by the forces of darkness…’

‘The potential emperors… grandsons… some of the princesses have already gone over to the other side…’

‘Now, the signs of war…’

In conclusion…

‘Circumstances exist, but it’s difficult to corroborate them as evidence is lacking due to the lack of accumulated data.’

‘Department heads and families are still necessary evils that need to be worked with…’

‘At least 30% of the maids and servants’ personnel are contaminated…’

‘Now is the time to be patient and prepare for the next step…’

‘The dark forces are probably rejoicing from the perceived lack of findings of this report…’

‘So, it would be prudent to just cover up the findings at this time…’

‘However, it won’t get any worse after this public report…’

The emperor closed his eyes. He felt the pain in his jaw, which he had tightly clenched the whole time he read the report, as he held back his anger.

***

On the morning of the report’s official announcement.

The announcement was made publicly. In a large auditorium hall, with the emperor in attendance, the people from the imperial family and dignitaries above the top levels were seated at desks arranged from left to right. Everyone looked straight ahead towards a stage.

At the end of their gaze was the figure of the presenter.

The presenter was Rain, the 2nd seat of the Secretary’s office. In addition, she was flanked on each side by her office’s main assistants. San and Biyeon were absent from today’s announcement due to various restrictions, such as with the protection of the emperor and others.

A large chart measuring three meters wide and two meters long had been prepared by Rain.

Next to the chart were visual tools to help everyone understand what they were looking at. The chart was designed to be turned over one by one.

A military officer who lived in the 21st century on Earth would recognize this scene as an operational briefing in front of a general or a corporate executive who was about to embark on a formal presentation.

The meeting’s attendants’ eyes shone with curiosity and concern. It was the first time they were met with such an unconventional form of presentation.

Up until now, discussions and decisions would start by appealing directly to the emperor, and the emperor would call upon his official subjects and ask for their opinions. Then, a decision would be rendered by the emperor based on their opinions.

But now, it was very different. The emperor and everyone else in attendance would see and hear from the same point of view. The presentation would also not stop until the reporter finished her presentation. How could the emperor approve of such an arrogant method? He had never allowed anyone to speak so openly and freely about a major issue. However, there were many more things that surprised the attendees. Yurichan, the chief administrator, bit his lip.

‘This is political suicide. Why did Princess Rain choose this approach…?’

Yurichan looked around the conference hall slowly. The most demanding and important figures of the empire, including the emperor, were all gathered here.

‘Since she’s already sent out the reports in advance, the questions will be sharp, poignant, and accusatory. If she makes even one mistake, it can lead to political ruin, let alone personal disgrace. Why the hell are you taking such a gamble…?’

Subtle anticipation was spreading on the faces of the princesses and the secretaries. Judging by their expressions, they seem to have agreed upon something together beforehand.

One secretary, Gayu, had a relaxed expression on her face. She was the person in attendance who would be most affected as far as this report was concerned. She felt excited for things to start. Or maybe she was just caught up in some expectation. Her gaze was fixed on Rain’s action. 

‘Did that kid make a mistake? Hmm…’

Gayu wet her lips.

Reporting to the emperor was one of the most frightening and exciting things one would do as an official. Incorrect reporting was life threatening. However, everyone dreamed of presenting to the emperor and his official court. This was because a successful report was a shortcut to political success.

So, in this bureaucratic environment, ‘reporting ability’ was the pinnacle skill among skills. Showing the situation in writing, fixing the other person’s perspective, and driving others towards a conclusion with excitement and consensus agreement…

However, from the emperor’s point of view, these presentations were troublesome and annoying. There was nothing that was not important, and there was nothing that was not urgent. Therefore, he tried to delay his decisions as much as possible.

That’s why, if one wanted the emperor to decide on something immediately, one had to present something that was airtight and non-negotiable. The dignitaries and bureaucrats who attended this meeting were those who had been victorious through such training.

Now, Rain was about to start her public report in front of them.

‘A person who fails their report never gets a chance to report again. The imperial family is a place full of talent. Let’s see why she’s taken this risk.’

Gayu stood up slowly. The emperor of the empire entered.

***

Rain gathered her breath.

She was barely able to contain her shaking. Indeed, she felt terrified. She had felt nervous during the practice runs, but standing stop the stage, she was on the verge of fainting. True reality was scarier for those who practiced.

Would she fail? She wasn’t fearful of failing. However, she had a fear that the presentation would not be as successful as she expected.

Having her pride of being a genius shattered over and over by San and Biyeon, Rain had practiced her presentation over a dozen times. The method was also suggested by San and Biyeon. She had no regrets.

“I will start the presentation.”

Rain’s brief utterance rang out. All eyes were on her mouth. Finally, the presentation began. It was a very simple start that marked the beginning of a transformative reform for the empire.

“Today’s presentation topic is…”

Following Rain’s instructions, the two agents lifted sticks and flipped the charts.

“… about the wealth and finances of the imperial family, the current status and problems of human resource management, and the direction for future improvement.”

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