Murak sat at Calvin’s desk, going through the shipping ledger, written in transit by Grant. Calvin had asked him to provide advice and an estimate on whether or not Calvin was making enough profit to push forward on the whole ‘making a nation’ front.
“The latest shipment included thirty tons of glass.”
“Uhuh,” Calvin said, peering at Nadia’s throat. It was a difficult proposition fitting the spitting glands there without making it swell or damaging her voice.
“Three tons of raw silks.”
“One ton of precious metals.”
“’kay’,” Calvin turned her head to the side and traced her jawline. Maybe he could fit them further back, behind the jaw, where the lymph nodes lived. It’s not like a summon could get sick. At least, not in the short term.
“Five hundred pounds of goat jizz,”
“Got it,” Calvin said. “Open.”
Nadia opened her mouth, and obligingly raised her tongue, showing him the nozzle hidden under her tongue. Calvin was experimenting with Nadia while he was listening, trying to give her the ability to breath fire. It was honestly a small thing, given what she could already –
Wait a minute.
“Goat jizz?” Calvin asked craning his neck to peer at the old bastard.
“Making sure you were listening.” Murak said without remorse. “I’ve never met anyone quite as nonchalant about this amount of wealth as you. When I was your age I would have spent all day going through the numbers over and over until I’d committed every bit to memory. that was five hundred pounds of Nem, by the way. Although there is a market for goat studding.”
“Several hundred pounds of various regional substances, from medicinal to recreational.”
“Your drug-addled whore will appreciate that, I imagine.”
Calvin glanced over and spotted Nadia smirking at him in a grand show of defiance, but Calvin couldn’t help but notice she was wiggling in place on her seat.
If she were a dog, she’d be wagging her tail.
I don’t know what a dog is.
Build a spaceship right fucking now. This lack of man’s best friend will not stand.
Calvin reached over to Nadia and gently closed her mouth, stopping her from spitting any more inflammatory words. Not gonna rise to the bait that easy.
Calvin tapped his Undifferentiated Mass component and created an ultrafine line of undifferentiated matter along her lips, creating a flesh bridge that sealed them together. Nadia’s eyes widened in alarm when she realized she couldn’t open her mouth again.
“You were saying?” Calvin asked, glancing back at Murak as Nadia began to paw at her mouth.
Calvin fused her hands to her mouth, and the Ilethan fell onto her side, suffering a moment of intense panic before she focused on breathing through her nose, hands and mouth incapacitated.
“Ah, yes, we’ve got the drugs. Fifteen tons of iron and iron tools. Twenty tons of grains from Boles, several tons of minor sundries, and one…”
He pulled a painted wooden figure out from under the desk.
The doll was about two hands tall, carved from wood, and an uncanny likeness to Calvin. Calvin picked up the doll and found he could wiggle the arms, as they were fixed with a ball join at the shoulder.
“Seems too high quality for some kid to send this,” Calvin muttered, “Tell me it’s not a spell focus and someone’s going to light me on fire from a thousand miles away. I met a sorceress who could do that.”
Well, maybe distance is a factor, since I’m fairly certain she would try to light me on fire, given our history. Maybe she’s already tried.
“No, it came from Kala. She said it would be good propaganda if you wanted to raise public awareness.”
Calvin raised a brow.
“No time like the present to have children learn to worship you. Use your Knick-knack summoning spell to make tens of thousands of these and hand them off to children all over the world and you’ve –”
“It needs monsters.” Calvin said.
“Something to fight. You can’t honestly expect a kid to play with a single doll by itself and enjoy themselves?”
Murak raised a brow.
“You’re too old and Kala’s too rich to understand. I literally played with bugs and water when I was growing up. I know a thing or two about playing make believe. This doll needs an opponent.”
“You’re taking this more seriously than I expected.” Murak said as Calvin looked over the doll.
“I take my goofing off seriously.” Calvin said with a straight face shortly before waving it off and setting aside the doll. “It was just an idle thought.” Calvin clasped his hands together. “So. Do we have enough?”
“Do you have enough for what?” Murak asked.
“To build a kingdom.”
Murak stared at him for a moment, before setting his pen down.
“Have you never studied economics, infrastructure? Governance?”
“I’d never seen toilet paper before going to the capital, if that tells you anything.” Calvin said with a shrug.
“Oh, gods,” Murak muttered, burying his head in his hands. “No wonder.”
“The short answer is, yes, you have enough. You can make a kingdom with what you have collected.”
Calvin pumped a fist.
“The long answer is that there’s no minimum price on a,” He made air quotes, “’kingdom’. You can make a sand-castle on the beach and declare it a sovereign nation.”
“Wouldn’t the local magistrate smash it?”
“Yeah, they would. Which is why if you want a sovereign nation, you need others to acknowledge it. The price of this is negotiable. You can either achieve it through military might –”
“The magistrate wouldn’t smash my sandcastle if there were an army standing behind it.”
“Yes. Or you could simply buy such acknowledgement from your neighbors. Most of them would demand a cut of your profits in exchange for recognizing you as a sovereign nation.”
“How is that any better than paying them tribute?”
“Hence why most countries have their own military rather than paying off their neighbors. Generally it’s a combination of the two.”
“Your goal is to find the balance. The maximum amount of land you want to acquire and defend with the amount of money and manpower available to you. you might opt for a large army with lots of land, allowing you to farm easily, or focus your attention on your burgeoning city-state and the trade flowing through it, sacrificing a bit of self-sufficiency in exchange for a drastically smaller area you have to defend, and therefore a significantly smaller cost to defend it, in terms of manpower, equipment, etc.”
Calvin could see where Murak was going with this.
Calvin’s city was placed in the center of a valley, and if he were to run a wall along those mountains, it would be pretty quick and easy to defend the city itself.
But if he were to claim the jungle outside as farmland, he would have to set up farming villages, similar to the one he’d grown up in. Those villages had to be defended too.
“Excuse me if this sounds amateurish, but how do I change raw wealth into soldiers, villages, walls, and so on?”
“Delegation. Lots and lots of delegation,” Murak said. “You need to task someone with managing your military power base, then hire someone to organize the spending of money, someone to organize building new villages. They’re going to need surveyors for the land and scribes to write up writs of ownership along with fliers for town criers, They’ll need to work closely with your money man to offer new homesteaders incentives to move onto your land.
“You’ll need your own magistrates to manage the villages, and someone to manage them, tax collectors to recoup a bit of your losses, who’ll answer to your money man.”
“Daaaamn.” Calvin breathed.
Murak chuckled. “Or you could have someone you trust arrange things for you, like you already did.”
“I did what now?” Calvin asked.
“You had Kurawe organize things when you first arrived, did you not?”
“Yeah, but are you telling me –“
“Yes, Kurawe has already arranged most of the basic details of your government. He had difficulty attracting talented men and women to your March until word of your train’s profits began to circulate. The dearth of supplicants with problems only you can solve hounding your every step is a testament to the fat man’s bureaucratic talent.”
I heard that. Kurawe’s voice rumbled in the back of Calvin’s mind.
I want a comprehensive report on what you’ve gotten done. Calvin thought. I feel distinctly uncomfortable having people under me that I’m not aware of.
It would be my honor, Ravager.
“All that being said, how much do we have left after Kurawe took care of everything?”
Murak gave a sigh. “Young man, a government is more of a process than a goal. It requires constant tending. Think of it as a constant flow of time and money to maintain it’s existence. As for how much you have left…I think it would be more informative to show you than read dry numbers off a piece of paper.”
Murak got to his feet and headed for the door, Calvin following behind him.
“Be right back,” Calvin said to Nadia, who was struggling to get to her feet.
They walked down the dark stone hall until they reached the elevator.
It was another piece of machinery suggested by Elliot that involved pulleys and counter-weights. After a bit of experimenting, Calvin was able to have the Knick-knacks build one and install it into his tower, powered by simple nem-based enchantments baked into the gears.
The materials to enchant the elevator were expensive, given that Calvin had no way of reproducing the Nem that went into them. When he tried to copy it with undifferentiated matter, the material fizzed into a choking cloud of black smoke that smelled horribly.
There was obviously some kind of Bent interaction between Nem and undifferentiated matter that prevented it from working properly, but Calvin had no idea what that was. Still it was comforting to know that glimmering stone would continue to serve as the only currency that could not be replicated via magic.
The expense of making the elevator was worth it, though. Every wizard needed a tower, and the contents of aforementioned tower were just as important as the outside.
He couldn’t let his tower seem pedestrian, could he?
If Calvin found a way to instantly teleport between floors, he’d upgrade to that.
Remind me to do more experiments with Refraction Spinner flight organs. Calvin thought. If he could simply draw two spaces close enough together with spinner flight organs, it would be functionally identical to teleportation.
Non-euclidian space is fun. Elliot commented as they rode the elevator down, dropping below the level of the mountaintop deep into the sub-basement floors that bore deep into the mountain’s core like the roots of an enormous tree.
The entire mountain had been hollowed out, then reinforced with ribs made of Abyssal Steel, making at least a dozen floors with ceilings fifty feet into the air.
It was where Calvin had directed them to unload his share of the train’s profits since they had quickly overwhelmed the temporary storage shed he’d made outside the tracks.
The elevator came to a smooth halt on the lowest level, the largest layer of the hollowed out mountain.
“Whoah.” Goosebumps traveled up Calvin’s neck. Stretched out in front of him was pile after pile of goods of every shape and sort, rigidly organized by kind, volume and quality. It didn’t quite stretch as far as the eye could see, but under the softly glowing lamps, it almost seemed infinite. They rested both on the ground and on towering shelfing made of carefully mashed Abyssal Steel.
There were pallets with bars of steel about waist high in a double row that seemed to march out into the darkness. Calvin walked up to them and peeled back the oiled canvas covering the top, revealing the glint of steel.
The entire row was literal tons upon tons of steel, worth dozens of glimmers, far too heavy to stack on top of each other for fear of crushing the pallets under their weight.
This is unbelievable. The sheer amount of steel here would last the entire village of Deinos…lifetimes. It was practically infinite.
Not that much after you equip an army, though. Elliot said, trying to keep the sheer wealth in context for Calvin.
Calvin’s brows furrowed.
Once Calvin mentally divvied out the steel to ten thousand individual soldiers, he found that it was more limited than he believed. It was still a lot, but it wasn’t infinite, like his village-raised mind initially believed.
Calvin walked past the steel, and six short pallets wrapped in rough burlap caught his attention. Each pallet was little higher than his knee. They were taking up a lot of space for relatively low height, compared to the lighter materials, which were often stacked on top of each other, separated by six-foot Abyssal steel shelves.
You need to get yourself a magic forklift.
Calvin knelt down and drew open the burlap covering of the knee-high pallet.
His heart skipped a beat.
Is this…all Nem? Calvin reached a hand into the tightly bound pallet and drew out a handful of Nem, the opalescent material sparkling with multicolored fire in the lamplight.
Usually, a Stone was a small gold piece, redeemable at the bank for a piece of Nem of a specific weight.
Nem didn’t make good currency, as it was somewhat easy to break, and was difficult to reconstitute. It’s value lay in it’s beauty and being impossible to fake, as well as its use in enchanting and Bent-containing glass.
In Calvin’s hand was four Stone sized pieces of Nem, with a bunch of Dust settled in between the larger chunks. Little flakes and particle sized pieces of the prized material. Each one of these could be traded for silver, or ground down into an enchantment, or made into a reservoir for Bent…or….
Calvin was trying not to hyperventilate as he opened the next pallet and the next, each of them full to his knee of coarse, freshly mined Nem.
Intellectually, Calvin knew he was rich ever since he’d seen the journals detailing the gobs of freight from across the continent, but seeing it in person was nearly enough to cause a breakdown.
Calvin gasped when he opened the fourth pallet and uncovered Glimmers. A Glimmer was a solid bar of Nem a little bigger than a hand long and about the thickness of a man’s palm. These solid pieces of Nem were insanely valuable, and could be used to make the highly enchanted gear that kings would have in their arsenal. The size of a piece of Nem determined it’s effectiveness at trapping and returning Bent to the user, which was why Calvin had contemplating stealing the enchanted bracers from Kala’s father so often.
Powdered Nem mixed with glass worked too, but not as efficiently.
With this many bars, he could make….anything. Gods, the things I could make. I’ll have to take a few bars for testing, summon some tiny knick-knack to do the detail work. I wonder if I could a way to combine them?
Calvin clutched two bars to his chest, instinctively desiring to carry everything he could in his hands. He needed to get these somewhere safe, somewhere he could keep an eye on them…
As far as Calvin knew there wasn’t any way to combine Nem, but a throne made entirely of the stuff wasn’t sounding too bad. That way he could sit on it to prevent anyone from taking it from him.
Murak’s weathered hand snapped his gnarled fingers in front of his face.
“What!?” Calvin said, jerking his head up.
“Hi,” the money lender said with a raised brow. “Welcome back. I figured you might not have built a tolerance for wealth, given your age, but this is silly.”
The old man pried the bar of Nem out of Calvin’s hand and set it back on the pile before grabbing Calvin’s shoulders with wiry hands and hauling him to his feet.
Calvin, without realizing it, had been hunching over the Nem like a beast-man.
I was really hoping you’d say ‘My precious’ at least once.
“Let me try to put things into context.” Murak said, pointing out the sea of wealth that spread out in front of him.
“This is not your money. This is your Kingdom’s money. Everything here is to build, maintain and preserve your nation. If it’s not being used for that, it is being wasted.”
“Altruistic words coming from you,” Calvin said with a raised brow. The moneylender was quite possibly the most tight-fisted man he’d ever met.
“Wasted money doesn’t pay dividends,” Murak said, nodding sagely. “Growing your kingdom does.”
“You’re invested in my kingdom’s success somehow, aren’t you?” Calvin asked, peering at the old man standing next to him.
“I might have bought some land that will grow a thousandfold in value should you succeed,” Murak said, patting him on the shoulder. “But the lesson you should take away is the first one. Sooner or later, all this wealth will seem commonplace. You’ll get numb to it, and won’t have the desire to clutch it to your chest like a Gurek with a Kope fruit. In the meantime it’s best if you try to frame this in your mind as your nation’s money and not yours. It will help with compulsive, stupid spending.”
“Even though it is mine.”
“Even though it is yours.”
Calvin glanced down at the pallet full of Glimmers and forced himself to close the burlap flap, covering the shimmering stone slabs once again, his heart aching as he did so.
“Good job,” Murak said, nodding.
Remind me to grab some to experiment with when Murak leaves.
I have to frame this as something that would be good for my nation…
“Do you think the doll of me should have an enchanted circuit in there that allows it to summon and unsummon a little wooden wasp?” Calvin asked.
“Not unless you want to give other nations the technology behind it.” Murak said.
Damn. I would have killed for a toy like that six years ago. Maybe as few as three. Oh well.
The two of them surveyed the rest of the goods, then took the elevator back up to Calvin’s office, Where Ella was waiting for them.
The Genosian girl was sitting on Nadia’s former chair, her heels resting on Nadia’s back.
Her face was clouded with worry, which seemed to brighten as soon as Calvin walked through the door. As soon as she saw him, the girl stood, her magical flail dangling at her hip.
“Poeor, I have a request of you,” she said, stepping forward until she was looming over him.
“Oh?” Calvin asked, glancing up at her.
“My Father needs your help.” She said, pointing to the side.
Alerted, Calvin noticed the ambivalent gaze from the corner of the room and snapped his gaze onto it.
There was the man who’d captured him years ago, the Maje of the Iron Skin tribe, wearing his fancy bone hat, and looking for all the world, identical to the last time he’d seen him.
Calvin’s hand flew down to the components on his belt, intending to scour the man from existence. A quick vaporization seems appropriate. Gods fire and nothing but ash remaining, Calvin thought.
He touched the Fireball component with one hand and stretched out the other, summoning his Bent as he did.
Ella’s hand flew down and locked around Calvin’s wrist, Her Bent disturbing his own while it was still flowing through his arm.
“I can feel how angry you are with him, but I would prefer he live. You’re not in the same position as you were back then,” she said, her yellow-green eyes boring into his, full of empathy. “You don’t have to have the same reaction.”
Calvin met her gaze, and glanced back at the man who’d done so much damage to his childhood.
Forcing his anger down was like shoving a wild animal into a cage two sizes too small. It bit, scratched, and squirmed the whole way down, and once it was under control, it still felt like it was straining the seams of its cage.
“Fine.” Calvin gritted through his teeth. “What do you need?”
“My people are disappearing in great numbers.” The Maje said. “Something in the jungle is hunting us, and we are helpless before it. We need help or we’ll cease to exist.”
Calvin broke into a laugh.