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    Chapter 17: Investment

    Forcing down the strong words that had risen to his throat with a sip of tea, the Deputy Head of the Merchants’ Guild forced a strained smile.

    “No interest, no collateral… those are quite difficult terms, aren’t they? If you were to make short-term repayment a condition, then perhaps, somehow…”

    “Repayment in ten years.”

    The Deputy Head let out a long sigh at the absurd proposal.

    ‘As if I’d fall for such a shallow trick.’

    He judged that this demand of Yeon So-hyeon’s was meant to provoke him after getting on his nerves thus far.

    Downing the rest of his tea in one gulp, he spoke in a subtle tone.

    “I know this may be rude to say, but I believe you need to face reality a bit more, Young Master.”

    Yeon So-hyeon asked innocently, “Is that so?”

    “I’m afraid it is. As a direct descendant of the Luoyang Sword House, your sense of money is bound to be different from others.”

    “Hmm. Do go on.”

    He poured more tea into his cup as he continued.

    “Your name has been coming up frequently among the elders of the main family these days. Elder Yeom has also been rapidly expanding his influence beyond his original class, and he’s producing results that are hard to believe for someone who’s just ended his seclusion.”

    Yeon So-hyeon made an intrigued expression.

    “Seems like there should be a ‘however’ coming about now?”

    The Deputy Head gave a wry smile.

    “That’s right. However, your stake in the main family is still far too small. While you may be able to directly stir things up with your innate cleverness, well…”

    As unpleasant as the Deputy Head was, his current analysis was quite accurate.

    “To be frank, and I apologize if this offends you, but the forces that can be clearly seen as being under your influence are practically nonexistent. In fact, not just your stake in the entire main family, but compared to the stakes of your… other siblings, you still have a long way to go.”

    “That’s true.”

    As Yeon So-hyeon readily agreed, the Deputy Head felt a bit more at ease to voice his analysis.

    “Furthermore, you currently hold no share in the main family’s businesses. And the prospects for the business you’re personally pursuing aren’t very bright either. Not to mention, you haven’t even proven your business acumen yet…”

    “You think so?”

    “I know you possess many outstanding talents, but as for business acumen, how should I put this… I have no choice but to say it still needs to be proven…”

    He stumbled over his words as he glanced at the Eldest Young Master’s expression.

    “Well, it was good that you abruptly changed the project site, and it’s good that the scale of outside investment is increasing. I heard you even invited a Martial Arts Grandmaster. But…”

    “But?”

    After a moment of hesitation, the Deputy Head sighed and spoke honestly.

    “No matter how fast construction goes, the grand opening will be after the Dragon-Pheonix Tournament at the earliest. If you want to shorten that time, you’ll need the power of Sword House Construction, but their rates are too high, so that’s impossible. And decisively…”

    The Deputy Head, who had been speaking rapidly, finally held his tongue.

    “No, never mind. Anyway…”

    Yeon So-hyeon smiled.

    “You wanted to say that the project will likely fail due to the interference of my siblings. Isn’t that right?”

    “…Yes, that’s correct.”

    The Deputy Head smacked his lips.

    “Anyhow, that’s why an interest-free, collateral-free loan with a ten-year repayment is impossible for you, Young Master…”

    Yeon So-hyeon cut him off with an unperturbed expression.

    “I’ve heard your analysis well.”

    “Ah, yes. Then…”

    At that moment, the Head, who had been sitting with his eyes closed, spoke.

    “You wish for a loan five times the amount?”

    The Deputy Head tried to interject.

    “Head, that’s…”

    “That’s right.”

    At Yeon So-hyeon’s answer, the Head opened his eyes and met his gaze.

    “How about ten times the amount?”

    The Deputy Head jumped up.

    “Head?! That’s simply outrageous…”

    The two ignored the Deputy Head’s outburst and continued their conversation.

    “Ten times. The conditions?”

    “It will be an investment, not a loan.”

    “…Excuse me, did you hear my analysis? This business is clearly doomed to fail…”

    “There will be profit sharing, but no interference or auditing of the management.”

    “…Such absurd terms?!”

    The Head nodded.

    “Understood.”

    “Good. Seeing the Merchant Guild Head’s goodwill, I shall let the matter of delaying payment slide.”

    “You have my gratitude.”

    The Deputy Head threw himself against the table and shouted.

    “Wait! Just a moment!”

    He yelled at the Head.

    “As the Deputy Head of this Guild, I have no choice but to exercise my veto power against such a risky investment!”

    The Head spoke in a resolute tone.

    “I will take full responsibility for this matter. I will pass this investment proposal with my authority.”

    “…You’re saying you will bear all responsibility, Head?”

    “That’s right.”

    The Deputy Head slightly backed away from the table.

    “…If your will is so firm, Head, then as your subordinate, I have no choice but to comply.”

    He skillfully hid the slight upward curve of his lips.

    If the Head was willingly digging his own grave, there was no reason to stop him.

    When he was dismissed, the next Head would be himself.

    As the Deputy Head fell silent, the Head spoke to Yeon So-hyeon.

    “I will personally ensure you receive this investment promptly.”

    “You have my thanks.”

    As the Head rose from his seat, the Deputy Head, who was already standing, bowed to Yeon So-hyeon first.

    “Then, we shall take our leave…”

    The Head, who had stepped away from his chair, bowed deeply to Yeon So-hyeon.

    His courtesy and respectful manner were enough to silence the Deputy Head.

    “Thank you for making use of the Merchants’ Guild, Eldest Young Master. I hope you will continue to utilize our services in the future.”

    ***

    At that moment in the meeting room of Wongak Pavilion.

    There were many halls in Wongak Pavilion that Yeon So-hyeon had closed off in the past due to lack of use, and this meeting room was one of them.

    Having been neatly refurbished by the maids, a massive rectangular meeting table sat in the center of the room.

    Currently, three people who had arrived first were conversing in the meeting room.

    “That’s a wonderful eyepatch!”

    As Yeom Baek-ha exclaimed in admiration, Se-ah touched her eyepatch with an embarrassed expression.

    “Thank you…”

    “Where do they sell such eyepatches? Do you use a different one every day? Are they custom-made? Do you have a specific workshop you usually use?”

    Se-ah answered with a flustered look as Yeom Baek-ha peppered her with questions, eyes sparkling.

    “Ah, yes. I do have them specially made by craftsmen, but…”

    Se-ah cautiously asked.

    “Is there someone you know who needs an eyepatch…?”

    Yeom Baek-ha smiled brightly and replied.

    “No! I want to wear one myself!”

    “Pardon…?”

    “Mistress of the Crescent Moon Pavilion is so cool! Your arms and legs are so long and slender, and with that confident yet cold expression, you’re exactly who I want to be in the future! I admire you!”

    Though there wasn’t a large age gap between them, there was a big difference between Se-ah, who had succeeded with her bare hands on the streets of Luoyang, and Yeom Baek-ha, who couldn’t even go out freely due to illness.

    “Ah, yes. Hahaha…”

    Se-ah, at a loss for words, took out her pipe out of habit.

    “Eek!”

    “…Yes?”

    Yeom Baek-ha’s eyes sparkled twice as much.

    “That pipe! That pipe is the crowning touch! Where do they sell that pipe? Do I need to smoke a pipe to become like you?”

    As her health improved and she could see the outside world, Yeom Baek-ha’s curiosity had exploded recently.

    “No, well, that’s…”

    Beside her, the beautiful woman sitting next to her covered her mouth with her sleeve and laughed elegantly at the barrage of questions that gave Se-ah no respite, making her completely lose her usual calm and cold demeanor.

    “You must be happy, Mistress of Crescent Moon Pavilion?”

    At her words, Se-ah inwardly sighed.

    It wasn’t that she didn’t have subordinates who admired her, but this was the only daughter of Elder Yeom and the Luoyang Sword House’s Executioner Princess.

    ‘I’d rather deal with merchants who have a hundred snakes in their bellies…’

    “And this person is…?”

    As Yeom Baek-ha’s attention turned to the woman accompanying her, Se-ah breathed a sigh of relief.

    “I am Seo Lim-cheong, a humble woman. It’s an honor to meet you, Executor Princess~.”

    The woman’s coquettish tone and mannerisms blended so naturally with the dazzlingly ornate courtesan’s attire she wore.

    “Are you a courtesan…?”

    Seo Lim-cheong covered her mouth and gave an alluring smile at Yeom Baek-ha’s question, her eyes sparkling at the glittering accessories.

    “Since I make a living selling my skills, you could say it’s similar, no?”

    “…?”

    Se-ah supplemented the explanation for Yeom Baek-ha.

    “She’s someone the Young Master hired for this business plan. It would be best to have proper introductions when the Young Master is present.”

    “Ah, I see! So this is the person I heard about before…”

    Just then, the meeting room door burst open and a man rushed in, panting heavily.

    “Huff huff, I’m not late, right? I’m not tardy, right?”

    Se-ah made a dumbfounded expression at the man chugging down the cold water brought by a maid.

    “No, Advisor Yeon. But that outfit…”

    As Yeon Ha-eung, dressed in European noble attire, scratched the back of his head, the blond wig that had come loose from running suddenly fell off.

    “Well, I’m not sure why, but this has suddenly become a trend in Luoyang’s social circles these days…”

    “Ooh! Social circles! I want to go too!”

    “Haha! If it’s you, Executor-nim, you’d be the star of any soirée.”

    “Advisor Yeon! Advisor Yeon! If I go there, can I try on outfits like that too?! Even that strange wig?”

    “Just leave it to me! I’ll personally prepare as many as you’d like! There are many pretty wigs for young ladies!”

    “Squee!”

    The number of noisy people had doubled.

    Se-ah inwardly sighed for the umpteenth time, then suddenly voiced a question that came to mind.

    “…Advisor Yeon. Did you run here through the Sword House compound in that getup?”

    “Huh? Since we can’t take carriages inside the main estate, of course I had to run to avoid being late. What else could I do?”

    Yeon Ha-eung instead looked at her as if asking what the problem was.

    “…”

    Se-ah gave up on thinking and leaned back.

    Amidst the endless chatter of Yeom Baek-ha and Yeon Ha-eung, she felt like she would suffocate.

    “Hohoho. This meeting is much more fun than I heard〜.”

    Beside her, Seo Lim-cheong was laughing with a delighted expression.

    Then, the voice of a maid waiting outside the meeting room was heard.

    “The 4th the 4th Young Master and Elder Yeom are entering.”

    At that, everyone rose from their seats.

    The door opened and the 4th Young Master, Yeon Bi, entered the meeting room with Elder Yeom.

    And following behind them was Venerable Master Hong Deok.

    “Whew, we’re a bit late…”

    The 4th Young Master, who had been trying to say a greeting, stopped mid-sentence and looked around at those gathered in the meeting room.

    “…?”

    Yeon Ha-eung, dressed as a European noble, looked at the 4th Young Master as if asking what was going on.

    Next, the woman in the dazzlingly ornate courtesan’s attire covered her mouth and gave a gentle smile.

    And then his gaze turned to Yeom Baek-ha.

    “…Oh, this outfit. More and more people have been recognizing me lately, so I tried it on.”

    Yeom Baek-ha was wearing a Wongak Pavilion maid uniform.

    After tilting his head for a moment, the 4th Young Master clapped his hands as if he understood the situation.

    “Aha!”

    Then he smiled brightly and said to Elder Yeom,

    “Elder Yeom! Should we also quickly go change into different clothes?”

    “…”

    Elder Yeom let out a deep sigh.

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