Lorist gazed at the crowd-filled streets.

“Didn’t you say the king was going to charge the guilds a three-tenths profit tax for owning shops in the capital? Why are there so many shops here when the guilds have left?” asked he.

“You got the wrong idea. The taxes aren’t on owning shops, but on having offices. His tax is three-tenths of the profit of any guild headquartered in the capital.

“As for the shops, they’re mostly backed by nobles and only have to pay a one-tenth goods tax, nothing else. The king can’t pocket the money belonging to nobles, right? Paying one-tenth tribute is already showing enough respect to him.

“Also, the king wanted guilds to pay an annual tribute as continual proof of their loyalty. This street would be completely deserted if not for how lucrative business is here. Even so, most are only just making it by. They consider it tossing a few bones to stray dogs. It’s fine as long as they’re still making some profit.”

Lorist shook his head. Auguslo was too biased against merchants. He was your stereotypical noble; he thought all merchants were rich men, and they were doing nothing but siphoning his wealth away by doing business in his lands.

The merchants certainly didn’t have a good picture of him. He was a parasite as far as they were concerned. He didn’t have the skills and wit to make money himself, so he just leached off them instead. Lorist didn’t know how the imperial bloodline had produced such an incompetent fool. Just one of his taxes was enough to chase all the merchants away. What good did a tax do him if there was no one who could be taxed?

At best, the king could possibly think on the most rudimentary level of taxation, taking a cut of exchanged goods. He was truly a fool. So that was why he was always running out of money when he needed it the most.

The carriage stopped at a four-story building. It had a grand gold-laden plaque. Kenmays had decorated the place according to his tastes, so their lavishness competed with the palace. Five buildings had been connected to great a single megastore. Most of its products came from the Northlands, mainly salt, glassware, and white paper. Kenmays did contribute a good item to the lineup, however: his maid uniforms.

Lorist, Kenmays, and Loze disembarked and walked inside. Kenmays chatted busily with the manager, letting Lorist stroll through the shop. He had to admit, Kenmays was decently talented at running businesses. Despite how messy and cluttered the shop was, it raked in a million gold in an average year.

Kenmays finished his business quickly and dragged his two companion to the back of the shop. A large yard filled the space between the five buildings. Most of the goods were held in crates under shed roofs there. Most of the shop’s guards also stood watch there. The shop had 18 silver ranks in their employ for the night shift alone.

“During the night?”

“Yes,” Kenmays nodded, “Three shops in the street were robbed during the night. It’s the most dangerous time of day.

“The thieves didn’t kill anyone though. They knocked the guards out and vanished with everything in the shops and their stores. It was an immense embarrassment for the king to be unable to solve the cases that he was forced to fire two consecutive chiefs of security.

“I sent a bunch of silvers over when I heard about it and we haven’t had any issues since.”

“How stupid... the thieves obviously left the moment they finished stealing. What is the man doing still looking for them in the city?” Loze snorted.

Kenmays nodded in agreement.

“I agree, but who am I to question how the king squanders his reputation? It’s also partially the shops’ fault for being so complacent and lax with their security.”

“What was their business?” asked Lorist.

“Lamando sells jade-studded products, Pistachio deals in gold and silverware, and Whiterose sells luxury crystal decorations… Wait a minute… They were here for riches! Those shops had the most expensive stuff and the things easiest to steal!”

Kenmays took them further into the maze to a large courtyard with a small door. The inside was as grand as a mansion, however.

“I usually stay here when visiting. The main door exits onto the main street, but I usually don’t use it. I brought you here so you can get a feel for the path,” Kenmays said to Loze, “Why don’t we hold a ball here tonight to celebrate you becoming a blademaster? I’ll organize a few good dancers and you can even stay overnight if you 

“Alright, I’ll the details to you then,” Loze smiled.

Lorist was quite dissatisfied. He was a swordsaint, so he had to maintain a certain level of decorum. He couldn’t attend Kenmays’ balls. And it was even worse since his women were in the city.

“You could’ve brought Loze here yourself. Why bring me along?” complained Lorist.

“You own a tenth of the committee, it won’t do for you to be completely ignorant of our business in the capital.”

Ugh, why did he always have to have an answer for everything?

Kenmays vanished into what was probably his office for a while to organize things for the ball. He didn’t forget to tell Loze about every pretty women that might possibly attend. Lorist had little interest in such frivolous business so he strolled around the shop instead.

It was decently busy.  There was always at least a couple of people in the middle of picking out something to buy. That said, few bought more than one or two things so the sum of money exchanged was never extravagant. He kept an eye on the counter for a while before losing interest and walking out onto the street.

He shouldn’t have come along. This was nothing but a waist. Lorist called out to a taxi. Just as one started slowing down, however, he noticed a commotion nearby.  What was going on? It might be interesting, so he went over to take a look.

“Beautiful ladies, this one’s master graciously extends an invitation to the ball my master will be hosting tonight. Please accept this invitation and these gifts. My Lordship, a count, will gladly welcome you, ladies...”

So some noble was courting people again… Lorist might have thought it was one of Kenmays’s lackeys if the man hadn’t said his master was a count. His gaze sharpened on the man and he suddenly stomped forward, shoving the people in his way aside. Everyone quickly made way for him like a parting ocean once his temper flared.

The idiot’s poor victims were none other than Lorist’s women. Sylvia and the four concubines were trying to get rid of the bastard. Normally that would have been the job of their guards, but these were buried under shopping bags.

The bastard was trying to force his master’s invitations on them. The five women were acting as if he didn’t exist and trying to leave, but he had jumped in front of them and was bowing shamelessly as if his life would be over if they didn’t accept.

Lorist burst out of the crowd and grabbed the invitation.  He flicked it once and tore it into shreds, letting them float to the ground in front of the man.  He turned around to see his guard awkwardly trying to lower their heads for a bow.

“Forget it. You’ll drop something.”

“Why are you here?” asked Sylvia.

Despite her words, Lorist got the impression she was actually saying ‘look at what I’ve bought!’. Gah... women…

“Where are the children?”

“They’re playing in a pond nearby. Godmother and Patt are watching them, don’t worry. Oh, Locke, I bought you a new deerskin coat. It’s really soft and stylish. Come, let’s go try it on, that shop has a fitting room--“

“--You...  how dare you tear up my master’s invitation? Are you insulting him?” said the man with a raspy voice.

His face looked like a tomato, glaring furiously at Lorist.

“Buzz off,” Lorist spat softly, “Get out of my sight before I run out of patience. If you piss me off I’ll wipe out your so-called master and his family.”

“How dare you!”

What gave this little man the guts to be so bold?

“How dare you say something so unreasonable and rude! Are you trying to commit treason?! Do you know who my lord is? I doubt you have the balls to do something like exterminate his whole family! Everyone has heard you! Don’t be surprised if you lose your land and title!”

Ugh, so he was of the sharp-tongued variety.  How irritating.

“Hehe, I don’t know or care who your master is. How is killing a little count treason?”

“Because my master is Lord Wecksas, son of the king! Threatening to kill his family is threatening to kill the king!” said the butler proudly and gleefully.

“Oh? Just him? I thought he would at least have some clout, but it turns out your master is just a bastard. You should actually be caned for suggesting he has anything to do with the royal family. Know your place! I’ll forgive you this time, but there won’t be a next time, now scram!-- Lorist turned to the guards. “--How did you end up getting entangled with that fool?”

“We don’t know, Your Grace. The ladies were just shopping when he came out of nowhere and tried to invite the ladies to a ball. He wouldn’t stop pestering them and refused to let them go without accepting the invitation and promising to attend,” one of the guards answered from behind the gift packages.

“You... Slander! How dare you slander the royal family! Know your crimes for what they are!” the butler butted in again.

“What’s going on, Your Grace?” asked Patt as he pushed out of the crowd accompanied by a dozen guards.

“Just a pest.  Kill quickly and we can be on our way.” Lorist said, pointing at the middle-aged man.

Lorist would have cut him down himself, but he felt it beneath him as a swordsaint to raise even just the finger needed to kill the man against him directly. In fact, it would be a great honor for the man’s family to have him killed by a swordsaint, and they didn’t deserve it.

“Yes.”

Patt immediately drew his sword without question and walked towards the butler, a sinister smile plastered on his face.

“You... you dare harm someone in broad daylight?!”

It finally dawned on the butler that he might be pissing against the wrong tree. He tried to make a run for it, but he was completely surrounded by an impenetrable crowd of his own making.

Patt finally made it to him and lifted him by the scruff of his neck before slamming him into the ground unceremoniously.

The butler shivered as all the color bled out of him.

“M-mercy...” he whispered through chattering teeth.

“Stop! Who dares kill in the capital?” cried a loud voice from outside the circle of the crowd.

So the watch had finally showed up.

Patt didn’t listen to them, however. He took orders from one man and one man only. Without his word, this man would be dead in a few moments. And indeed it was so. The man’s head soon rolled away from his body, his severed neck painting the cobblestones of the road.

The crowd withdrew several withering steps like leaves recoiling from the heat of a fire. No on None thought someone would actually kill in the capital in broad daylight, right in front of the watch as well. The police finally forced their way through a few moments later.

The leader, a burly and bearded man, glanced at the corpse and immediately took action.

“Capture all of them! Kill anyone who resists!”

His men blew their whistles before charging at the group, weapons drawn.