Inside Graycastle's parlor, Roland quietly observed the old man before him.
Seated in a wheelchair with a head full of grizzled hair, sunken cheeks and wrinkles bulging on his forehead, the old man was clearly approaching the final years of his life. But compared to his age, his eyes remained clear and youthful, with the vigor of an adolescent. The monocle hanging on his nose bridge and bow tie at his neck added a touch to his bearing. At the same time, the old man was also observing Roland.
Roland broke the silence after a short moment as he revealed a smile. "It truly wasn't easy inviting you over from the Kingdom of Dawn. Welcome to Graycastle's new King City, Mr. Banach Lothar. It must have been a long and tough journey for you."
"It is my honor to be received by the King of Graycastle…" The old man lowered his head slightly. "But may I ask, what does Your Majesty have for me?"
"You've already contributed greatly to Graycastle; there isn't anything you need to do."
"Me?" The old man revealed a look of surprise. "Your Majesty, are you mistaken about something?"
Typically, a man at such an age would have their thought processes slow down substantially, their speech turning inarticulate or stammering, but not only did Banach Lothar reply promptly, he managed to control his facial muscles to maintain a poker face, enough to prove that his mind had never stopped or slowed down. Compared to the inevitable aging of the body, his mind was still working at his prime.
"I know of your concerns, but be at ease, I have no ill intentions towards Black Money." Roland spread open his hands. "The 'Oracle' that delivered the information to you is from Neverwinter. In fact, I was the one to decide that the information was to be delivered to you."
By using Pasha as his mouthpiece and using the reason of it being the opportune moment for the incarnation ceremony as way to summon Banach Lothar, Roland had men forcibly take him back to the castle upon verifying his identity. Although this method was considered crude, it was straightforward.
"Your Majesty… I don't understand what you mean…"
"It's fine, I will explain it until you do—this is a very complicated story, but I assure you that it's real." Roland then narrated the story of the ancient witches, as well as the essence of the God's Punishment Army's incarnation ceremony. Soul containers only accepted consciousness that had magic power; in other words, non-magic humans could only turn into empty shells.
In a sense, turning into a shell with no consciousness coincided with how the ancient witches extended their lives. If Black Money was an ordinary underground Chamber of Commerce, Roland would not have paid much attention to it. But Black Money had contributed greatly during the Western Front's military campaign against the demons, not only by assisting in providing intelligence network in Kingdom of Wolfheart and Everwinter, but they had also sent out crucial reports and filled the empty spaces which the witches were unable to investigate as a result of the areas being filed with Red Mist.
Perhaps Banach Lothar's intent was never to help mankind or save humanity, but the contribution was tangible. Roland did not believe that turning a man of such meritorious deeds into a puppet without consciousness was a suitable reward; thus, he chose to personally interview him.
After a long while, Banach Lothar took off his monocle and spoke with trembles in his voice. "You mean to say that eternal life is nothing but a scam?"
Roland sighed. "At the present, the only ones capable of maintaining their consciousness and not age have to be magic power users. For humans, only witches can do that."
Even Roland himself, who opened up the Dream World, was incapable of instigating a response from the soul container.
"But after drinking all of that medicine, I truly feel that my body has turned for the better—"
"It doesn't mean that the medicine is useless. It increases the success rate of the ceremony by overdrafting one's vitality, but it cannot go on continuously like that," Roland interrupted and shook his head. "Very quickly, the side effects will surface, and that is the reason why I have sought you so urgently."
Banach Lothar was stunned. "You mean to say, my days are numbered…"
"I'm sorry," Roland replied lamentably. "I am unable to deliver a perfect promise, and can only attempt other means to make up for it. Black Money protected the witches, and contributed so much to the Battle of Divine Will. If you have anything on your mind, tell to me. We owe that to you."
Nightingale had questioned Roland earlier, to have Pasha and the others resolve issue on their own. By using the King's identity, it meant shifting the responsibility of the entire scam onto Graycastle itself.
Nightingale was right, but Roland was aware that since Graycastle accommodated all the Taquila witches, it not only meant enjoying the benefits of their abilities, but shouldering their faults as well.
"…" Banach Lothar remained silent for a long time. "Are you able to handle the matter, even in the Kingdom of Dawn?"
"You should know that of my influence on the Kingdom of Dawn."
"Then I am at ease." Unexpectedly, the other party did not fall into despair or turn hysterical, but instead revealed a calm smile. "The reason for my desire to live longer is to ensure the survivability of Black Money for my children—if I die, the other businessmen will not let this piece of the pie go. With such large benefits laid in front of them, a few lives are worth nothing. If Your Majesty is willing to get involved, I believe that no one will dare act blindly; that itself is much more reliable than me living longer. If that is the case, why should I harbor a grudge?"
Roland muttered to himself irresolutely, then spoke to him. "Are you sure you want that, as your reward?"
"Your Majesty, is that… not possible?"
"It is possible." He paused for a moment. "Have you ever heard of the name 'Rainbow Stones?'"
"I have heard of it." Banach pondered for a moment. "If I recall correctly, it is a brand new line of clothes for your distinguished country that operates at a massive scale, with some products sold even at the Kingdom of Dawn—but forgive me for saying this, the style and design is still far inferior to ours."
That's because Victor only employed artisans from the Lothars family… And he never told any of you that the price of such clothes is only a tenth of other clothes shop in Neverwinter. Roland coughed twice. "From what I know, the founder behind this line of clothes is called Victor Lothars, your fourth son. Aside from that, the business revenue as of today has already surpassed ten thousand gold royals. With such a talent here, I believe that even without Graycastle's support, he will not lose to the other businessmen.
Ten thousand gold royals was definitely a large amount, with only the sale of Chaos Drink in Neverwinter being able to beat that record—the reason was simple, not everyone needed beverages, but everyone needed clothes. With the Neverwinter's population turning highly centralized, the demand for necessities exploded. In the face of a booming industry capable of producing large amounts of profits, the deals made within the underground chamber of commerces were nothing.
This time, Banach Lothar revealed genuine surprise. "Your Majesty, is what you said… true? Ever since he left the City of Glow, we have rarely communicated… I thought he was still in the jewelry business…"
"Victor is now in Neverwinter, it won't be difficult for you to meet him and verify if what I said was true or not. But… you have to make haste."
"Yes… I understand." Banach Lothar could no longer help grab onto this opportunity, his actions clearly revealing the emotions buried at the bottom of his heart. "Please excuse me, Your Majesty."
Roland nodded and was about to call for a few guards to send the old man out, when the latter spoke up again. "You said that I have not much time left… will it be possible for me to live my last few moments on the floating island?"
"…" Roland closed his eyes. "If that is your wish."
When the doors closed, Nightingale appeared and whispered, "Strange…"
"In the beginning, his responses were strange, not to say that they were lies, but my magic power felt blurred, unlike the calm he presented." Nightingale shrugged.
"I see," Roland replied thoughtfully.
"You know why?"
"Maybe." He lowered his voice and turned his head towards the window. "The thing about eternal life is that it will always be attractive. When one's expectation fails to be met, it'll be the most difficult thing to accept, regardless of who it is."
"But that's not a lie." Nightingale repeated herself.
"Because he knew that no matter what he does, he can never change the outcome," Roland replied wistfully. "Since the outcome cannot be changed, he has to accept it—rather than hold a grudge and become enemies with the King of Graycastle, why not act magnanimous and win a favorable impression. All other unnecessary emotions will simply turn into a sunken cost. That is what he most probably thinks. There are many that understand this, but very few are able to act on it… That is what's impressive about him."
Roland somewhat understood why many of the businessmen in the Kingdom of Dawn were treated like nobles—their ability to split control and have stop losses made them far more capable than a vast majority of the nobles.
"As for you—" At this point, Roland turned towards Nightingale. "Not only are you able to discern between truth or lies, you're actually able to sense their emotions. Are you about to evolve?"
"You think of me as a person who will intentionally hide the fact that I'm about to evolve—or in other words, am I that modest a person to you?" Nightingale cast a glance at him and replied sourly.
Uh… I have no response to that.
Roland tactfully closed his mouth.
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