Chapter 166

The titles on each page caught everyone’s eyes. Below the title were drawings depicting scenes like those that would come out from folktales, such as a cat chasing a mouse. Some of the dignitaries in attendance frowned at the blasphemous and seemingly inappropriate pictures. However, the emperor smiled.

Rain sighed in relief. The conversation she had with Biyeon came to her mind.

‘Why are you so stiff? Even I feel like I’m freezing just looking at you. Are you doing a puppet show or something?’

‘Huh?’

‘If you don’t have confidence, who’ll trust you? It’s not just about delivering words, right?’

‘Wait… what’s the problem…?’

‘Why are you trying to persuade me through text alone? When are you going to use your other abilities?’

‘Other abilities?’

‘Use everything. Persuasion is a central war tactic that can move your opponent’s heart! Take control of the presentation’s tables, pictures, and layouts and the sounds, temperature, and even humidity of the room. The goal is to crush your opponent! If you don’t get a good response, you can’t progress!’

For Rain, this was not a very good memory. However, since she had a strange sense of competition with Biyeon, Rain put a lot of effort into improving.

Once more, the agents assisting her flipped to the next page of the presentation. This time, the table of contents came out.

“The reporting order is as follows…”

As Rain proceeded, she looked at the audience.

Indeed… this format was special. Powerful. People were surprisingly focused on the charts. The effort she had put into writing this one chapter briefly ran through her mind, along with Biyeon’s words.

‘The table of contents is a simple one-page document. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have one. However, once one becomes proficient at reporting, it’s often said that one puts 20% of one’s energy into the table of contents and knows 40% of the report’s overall outcome, whether it’ll be received well or not. The table of contents gives people a sense of the overall structure of one’s argument and how it’ll unfold. Keep that in mind. If you want to control the flow, you must first control the table of contents…’

During the presentation, instead of standing still like a rock, Rain leisurely walked around the left and right sides of the chart. It was a way to convince everyone. This method inevitably took the form of a performance. The audience’s eyes magically followed her movements. Even though it was a completely new presentation format, they were already used to it.

Onto the next part of her presentation. There were neatly organized diagrams, texts using colors, and explanatory materials that were summarized as a whole, along with various symbols. The audience members held their breath.

‘Executive Summary’

The current page put all the complicated stories and arguments onto one single page. All situations were neatly summarized, the most important issues were identified, and important conclusions were drawn.

Gayu, who was watching, lightly exhaled. This seasoned woman quickly understood the meaning.

‘A very economical approach. Such a method would save a lot of the emperor’s time. Even if she didn’t show the later parts of her presentation, she’d still enjoy the same effect, as our minds would be preset. By the way, where are her suggestions and countermeasure proposals? How come she only wrote down the main points and conclusions? Hmm… What is she trying to say by presenting in this way?’

Rain looked at the emperor. By this one page, the winner had already been decided. The wise would become tense, and the fools would relax.

The princes glanced at the emperor. The emperor crossed his arms and showed no visible expression.

The emperor then looked at Rain and nodded his head. It meant that she should continue with her presentation. This was very good news.

Rain began with a summary. With a long bar in her hand, a pointer, Rain pointed to the letters on the chart one by one. Each point calmly unraveled previously mystical relationships with rationale. Her tone was calm and very dry.

She never used rhetoric, just direct explanations. The pace was a bit fast, and her words felt light… All throughout the presentation, Rain recalled Biyeon’s words.

- Logic is like a bridge. The bridge’s role is to allow people to cross. The nature of the bridge? The bridge exists to stand firm. Therefore… logic is not rhetorical. Logic is like fragrant wine. Rotate the glass at a moderate speed. Then the other person will dance on their own accord. However, if you get drunk on your own logic, then there’s no medicine.

“Therefore, it is judged that the current imperial family’s financial and personnel problems are not significant. However, if the points that I’ve just pointed out are left unattended, there’s a high possibility that things will get worse in the future. Accordingly, I have concluded that the current imperial personnel and financial management system should be radically changed,” Rain said as she was concluding her presentation. The eyes of the magistrates and officials were focused on the emperor. Rain’s final tone was sharp and filled with determination. It was not a tone that was often heard in front of the emperor. The emperor nodded his head slowly.

“And your suggestions?” The emperor asked. 

This was a signal that one could move on to the next part of the presentation. However, Rain wanted more.

“We have prepared detailed situation analysis and evidence… but can we omit that part of the report?” Rain asked the emperor. She was holding onto a tag that connected with a large bundle of the presentation pages. Flipping the tag over would skip a large portion of the presentation.

“Is this the part that the other officers saw in advance?”

“Yes. That’s correct.”

“Then everyone will know what the omitted part would be about. Hmm… does anyone have a different opinion than the second seat?”

The emperor asked with a serious expression on his face. He gazed over the imperial court officials before passing through the various secretaries and others in attendance. A moment of silence passed.

“If any of you disagree with the second seat, tell me now.”

No one came forward. The emperor spoke to Rain again, “There seems to be no objection. We will omit the detailed report. We’ll take a short break before discussing your countermeasure proposals.”

“Yes, your highness.”

Rain smiled and politely replied to the emperor.

Yurichan automatically nodded his head and smacked his knees. He wanted to scream. However, he was experienced enough as a high official to control his emotions.

There was no hesitation or logical breaks in Rain’s presentation. It flowed as naturally as flowing water. Her conclusion seemed natural and conclusive. Rain’s omission was probably an intentional strategic move. Indeed, the emperor even asked if anyone objected publicly. His action indirectly substantiated and accepted the ‘diagnosis of the current situation’ reported by Rain.

Without any argument, the agreement process was concluded. In other words, Rain’s conclusion was accepted wholeheartedly. Rain recalled Biyeon’s overall plan once again.

‘Delay stating the countermeasure proposals.’ 

‘Why?’

‘The measures and proposals are controversial because of intertwined interests. If you take a misstep, you can get involved in the nobles’ dog fights.’

‘Then? How do I delay stating the countermeasures?’

‘We should take away the time for the nobles to formulate a response, right? Omitting the rest of the report should be suggested by his majesty himself. Make him state it in a natural manner.’

‘How?’

‘After making eye contact with the emperor, skip a beat. Don’t speak for a moment. He’ll naturally offer up a suggestion. It’s human nature.’

Rain swallowed a dry laugh. Things unfolded exactly as Biyeon had stated. No one was willing to object once the emperor swooped in.

Rain let out a sigh. The next part was the countermeasure proposals. It would be a discussion period where all kinds of suggestions based on personal greed would come out. The countermeasure proposals were not made public beforehand.

The discussion soon began. Again, the general flow of the discussion was steered in the direction Rain wanted it to go. 

A fierce and long discussion was over.

Rain wiped the sweat from her brow. The result was satisfactory. Now, finally, reform would begin, meticulously, tenaciously, and wisely. After she finished her presentation, and after everyone had left, she remained glued to the spot, staring blankly at the presentation.

Suddenly, she saw the images of San and Biyeon projected onto the presentation’s text. She felt that they were looking back at her.

She also saw herself getting red in the face as she struggled to learn this new presentation style from both of them… a question suddenly popped up in Rain’s mind.

‘They… who are they? Could they be gods who’ve forgotten who they are?’

Change – Chapter 1

The spring showers poured down.

The showers were much more than in previous years. Fog rose and floated across the fields. Raindrops were splashing in from the window and the floor was getting wet.

“It was last fall when we came to Prigojin, so six months have already passed. Time sure flies.”

San was standing by the window, looking out. Even though the morning had passed, the earth was still dark.

The clouds that rolled in with the showers seemed to mysteriously glisten as the sun’s rays passed through. The rolling fog was a perfect match to this dreamy atmosphere.

Many people would affectionately long for someone on a day like this…

“Winter is long and spring is short. Would you like a cup of tea?”

Biyeon came closer. She handed San a steaming hot teacup.

“Thanks. Wait, it smells like coffee...?”

“We succeeded in realizing a similar taste. We roasted a fruit called ‘Totom.’ It’s not half bad, right?”

“Hey. This tastes pretty good. Should I be saving up some money?”

They stood silent for a moment. The raindrops hitting the windowsill started to subside. San’s thick hands slowly reached for Biyeon’s small shoulders.

Biyeon twitched a little. San’s eyes were still looking out the dark window. Biyeon naturally rested her head on his shoulder.

“We… have been very busy, right?” San murmured.

“We’ve definitely learned about aristocratic life. I get the hang of it now, both in terms of work and banquets.”

“So? Do you want to continue?” San said as he smiled.

“I decline. Noble games aren’t that fun either. I think I’ve done enough now. Princess Rain is now strong enough to stand alone, too…”

“There are a lot of unfriendly forces still around. You really think she can do everything alone?”

“I don’t know. Isn’t that their life anyway? It’s a system in which the emperor and the high officials are running around in tight balance, so we’ll probably see a compromise on a certain line, right?”

“Are you very uncomfortable?”

San quietly looked at Biyeon. There was still a smile on his lips. He was also a person who had gone through his fair share of trouble in human relationships. There was no way he wouldn’t know what Biyeon was truly worried about.

“Frankly, yes…”

“Should we just up and leave?”

“I do not know…”

Although they finally found some breathing room in the capital, Biyeon still felt uncomfortable.

The looks that San received from the imperial courts were unusual.

San was a certified Awakened Warrior who could wield three unique Awakened skills. Normally, any person of this stature would be guaranteed a position above a duke. Add on to that, his knowledge and wisdom…

‘Sometimes the position of an information chief is so inconvenient…’

Biyeon clearly saw the tenacious and secret verification process that others were conducting on San.

Countless parties, banquets, and public opinion… The expressions of the women who were fanatically throwing themselves at him… a glint in Rain’s eyes had also formed…

These things were happening to Biyeon as well. Different kinds of eyes explored her.

However, most of these people found Biyeon too difficult to handle. If they truly wanted to satisfy their ‘human’ urges, they could just find someone else on the street instead of her. However, the hot eyes of the Han-Sung Clan students flocking to their lectures was a little disconcerting.

The constant requests for lectures from the Dong-Myung and Ki-Jang Clan were also burdensome… it was also becoming uncomfortable to constantly be under Dongye’s hot gazes…

“Looking at the scenery outside, I suddenly remembered the old days.”

“Your first love days?”

“No way…”

“Are you going to say something sappy again?”

Biyeon rolled her eyes. San was quite talented at breaking the mood.

“Depending on how you want to interpret what you hear…” 

“Hmm… go ahead.”

“I used to keep a diary when I was in high school. I had bought a colorful and pretty diary. You know what I’m talking about, right? There was a picture of a man and woman walking shoulder to shoulder against a magical pinkish background…”

“Okay… you wrote a diary. Hmm… I guess that could have been possible.”

Biyeon looked at San. No matter how much she thought about it, she found it difficult to imagine San writing on his pink diary.

Those expressions and thick hands were too precious to rot in the city. She momentarily imagined those hands gliding over the pale pink background of the diary… Suddenly, Biyeon felt San’s hand resting on her shoulder. It hurt a little.

“The diary’s color doesn’t matter! Do you know what the title of that diary was?”

“A meditative journal… something like that?”

“It was titled ‘Etrangér’. I didn’t even know what it meant at the time. First, it was in French, so it looks kind of cool, right? The tone is pretty and…”

“So a company used a wispy name that it picked up somewhere…”

“Ahem-”

San coughed loudly.

“So, did you come up with an operation titled Etranger?”

“Yeah… I mean stranger. It was also the name of a French mercenary unit.”

“The pronunciation sounds plausible, but it doesn’t suit the diary title, right? It’s just another wispy label.”

“But it turned out that Camus, an Algerian-born French novelist, wrote a novel of the same name. It meant stranger. I haven’t read it, but when I think about it now, I think that maybe it was a foreshadowing of my current situation. When you stay, you dream of a life of a stranger or a wanderer, but when you go on a trip, you want to go home immediately. Aren’t people’s thoughts really weird?”

“Do you want to leave?”

“Whenever. If only I had no worries about the future.”

“Me too.”

“This place is really… phew. I really don’t get this place.”

“You really have decided to leave.”
“Why? Don’t you like it?”

“If you leave this time, it will be very difficult to come back, you know that, right?” Biyeon whispered with a bitter expression. “This isn’t a great place to begin with, right? It’s so uncomfortable and dangerous here.”

San started fiddling with his teacup.

“When will this work be finished?” San asked.

“Originally, we planned for two years. I think it's fortunate that things seem to be working out better than expected, but…”

“And… where are we going next?” 

“I do not know…”

Biyeon raised her hand and caressed the back of San’s thick hand, which was wrapped around her shoulder. Warm. He was looking out the window, but only a haze of fog welcomed his unfocused gaze.

Yes. They had nowhere to go. Thorough strangers in a foreign land… Etranger. She was swept away by a fate she did not want, and they became human gods exiled to the wrong star…

***

“Now, almost done…” Biyeon said while looking through her notebook. Although her writing looked sloppy, it was a calendar that matched the date and day of the week by referring to the diary she used before.

The time and calendar system here was strangely like the Gregorian calendar used in Korea.

For two people who were familiar with the 365 days a year, 30 days a month, and 12 months system of timekeeping, this was a welcome invention.

The 24 solar terms, such as the vernal equinox and summer solstice, had not yet been accurately measured in this world, but it was something Biyeon always wanted to try when she had the time and equipment.

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