What is the most valuable thing in the world?
This question has been asked since time immemorial. The answer to this question may change depending on the values and belief of the individual being asked, and it may not have an answer that is most “correct.”
Love. Happiness. Freedom. There are millions of different ways to answer this question. Some may be uncertain and not know the answer to this question as of now, but would gradually come to find their own unique answer to it within their lifetimes. However, if she were asked this question…
Tang Suzhen would answer it in an instant. The most valuable thing in the world. There can only be one. It has been, is, and will always be... Money.
She believed that there was no one else in the world, the entire population of Earth’s 7 billion people, that understood money more than she did.
If only her family had enough money, would she have had to remain trapped in a single room for nearly a decade?
She thought it was ridiculous. A foolish concept. People attaching value to mere scraps of paper. A scrap of paper which could decide the fates of others, their very life and death.
Five dollars. That was it all took to purchase the lives of mercenaries and slaves in Thailand, Africa, and other parts of the world. Five dollars for several lives. In the past, just thinking about it had driven her insane. Were human lives so cheap? Was she worth so little? Her mind became warped, and then she finally understood.
That’s right. Money. It could buy everything. Tang Suzhen believed that money could make others act in any and every way you desired them to. Everyone had a price, and if they didn’t? Would they still have a choice if money was used to destroy everything in their life until they had no other options aside from the path that was laid out for them?
Her greed rivaled that of Yalda’s creation, the demon and Apostle of Greed, Mammon.
An abnormal genius. In a way she was both similar and different to Chrono and Kazuya. A twisted mentality. A strange philosophy. Nevertheless, it was this mindset that allowed her to develop the unique ability to be able to judge a person’s value just by observing them.
It was easy from there. So what if money is a foolish concept? She just had to control it. All of it. If the world revolved around money, the only thing she had to do was make money revolve around her. Possess enough money, possess the world. That was her ambition. To become the richest person in the world and control everything. She would no longer be the one trapped within a single room, and would instead be the one to trap the world. Only, it was unfortunate that before she was able to achieve her goals…
“We’ll meet again, Chrono.” Kazuya’s words drifted to the crowd’s ears as he fled into the woods.
People were still shaken and were trying to find their bearings from the aftermath of the explosion.
Only two of the remaining thirty plus survivors stood there, composed. Chrono Freed and Tang Suzhen.
‘Pandemonium…’ Tang Suzhen scoffed in her heart as she gazed at the smoke and burning corpses.
‘Nothing has changed. My goal still remains the same,’ she thought to herself, having complete confidence.
Possess enough money, possess the world. In a way being transferred to Pandemonium had made her goal easier for her.
Earth’s population had been teleported to another world with nothing more than what they had on them. Those scraps of paper she deemed so worthless had lost their value. If dollar bills were no longer valuable, what would be the next most valuable thing in a situation such as this? She had arrived at an answer as soon as she was teleported.
In other words, she had no choice but to become a leader. The one with the most skilled followers under their control would be the richest in this new world.
People had multiple uses, talents, skills, and abilities. Every individual person was so unique and different that they each had their own merits and vices. There was no one who could see it better than she did. It didn’t matter who it was. When she looked at someone, she was able to condense the entirety of their being and evaluate them. Until now there had only been three exceptions, herself, Kazuya, and Chrono. Humans whose worth she was unable to calculate, people from around different parts of the world that were far from normal. She predicted that from now on she would be encountering many more on Pandemonium. Still, people were nothing more than numbers in her eyes, and the ones that had the higher number were the ones that would be more useful to her, and maybe, just maybe… If she could get the people whose values she was unable to measure with her vision under her control…
Her lips slowly curled upwards into a cold smirk.
Chrono was the only one standing in her way of gaining complete control over the rest of the survivors. He was the only threat to her leadership.
To become the richest. It was time to seize the initiative and bring them all under her control.
“Does everyone remember Kazuya’s words?” Suzhen questioned the remaining survivors at the outskirts of the forest.
Memories of Kazuya’s mad ramblings flashed through their minds.
‘The others can all go die, but why don’t you join me, Chrono?! You have the same smell as me. You enjoy it when people die. When they suffer!’
The thought might have passed over their heads if Suzhen hadn’t brought it up.
“Kazuya said that Chrono was the same as him and wanted Chrono to join, can we really trust someone like that?” Suzhen’s loud voice echoed into the quiet night. She emitted a majestic and righteous aura.
Seizing the moral high ground. Sowing the seeds of doubt.
As people regained their composure, it was clear that they were now divided back into their own original groups. On one side, Chrono’s camp, and on the other, Suzhen’s camp. The survivors of both groups numbered in the tens, with Chrono’s possessing a slight advantage in terms of numbers. Suspicious gazes were cast towards Chrono, even ones from the members of his own group.
Chrono wore a bemused expression on his face as he looked at Suzhen in the distance.
‘Amateur, that won’t be enough to dispel my control over them. This is why you still have a long way to go,’ Chrono chuckled in his heart. That was the difference between Kazuya and Suzhen. It was enough that Chrono felt excited facing off against Kazuya, but was only mildly interested in and was able to disregard Suzhen.
The moral high ground? What the hell does that count for? Would people still be caring about morals when their lives are on the line? If they did, they would undoubtedly be the minority. Humans are complex, but also simple at their core. They would only care about their own survival or the ones close to them, and if the leader they chose to follow would be conducive to it. The thing the majority would look for in a leader was how much trust they could put into him or her for their survival. That was Chrono’s judgement.
As for the amount of trust Chrono’s group could place onto him? This was also one of the reasons he had decided to confront Kazuya earlier when the rest were afraid to approach him. It left a indelible mark on their subconscious, that Chrono was the only one on equal terms with Kazuya.
‘In the first place… My followers wouldn’t be able to erase the mark I’ve left on them so easily,’ Chrono thought.
The mark of fear Chrono had left on them.
Suzhen was out of her playing field. She may be an abnormal genius when it came to money, but Chrono was an abnormal one when it came to psychology. It could be said that he grasped and plays with human mentality in the palm of his hand.
Chrono had understood and developed his own individualized system of leadership. He personally divided followers into three separate levels, and these levels represented their willingness to follow their leader. It was the same for bosses and employees.
The first level: Loyalty. This was the strongest category that compelled followers to listen to their leaders. At the same time, this was the category that was the most difficult to develop and achieve among followers. The first level could be formed as a result of blind devotion achieved through religion or upbringing, debts of gratitude, and love. It is nearly impossible for followers under this level to betray their leaders.
The second level: Fear. The second strongest category that compels followers to listen to their leaders. This level is formed as a result of threat and fear for one’s life, the lives of those close to them, or things that are most valuable to them. As long as the followers in this category was under a satisfactory level of fear, unless they encounter something more fearful to them, it is extremely unlikely for followers under this level to betray their leaders.
The third level: Greed. The weakest category that compels followers to listen to their leaders. This level forms through self-interest, desire, and necessity. In normal groups, this is the most commonly seen category among followers. Followers in this category are fickle, and may betray and leave their leaders as soon as they find opportunities that provide more interest towards them.
It was possible for followers to be under two, or even all three categories at once.
Chrono had forced the members of his group to torture and kill a man within the forest, making them believe that they were accomplices, and at the same time branding his followers with the mark of fear. He made them believe that he was strong, the strongest among them, and appeared more indomitable to them than he actually was. This belief was only further reinforced when he stood up against Kazuya. They feared Chrono, but at the same time they trusted him as being strong just as much. As long as they followed him, they would be safe, this was how the majority of his followers thought.
Chrono had effectively placed his followers under the category of fear. It didn’t matter what Suzhen said at this point. His followers would continue to follow him unless they encountered something or someone they feared more than him, or they believed that Suzhen would be able to “save” and protect them from Chrono.
The results were evident. Although there were some suspicious gazes cast towards Chrono from his own group, they didn’t move, and on the contrary still remained standing by his side to look towards Suzhen’s camp.
“Trust?” Chrono said in mock-sarcasm, “Tell me, where were you when Kazuya was still here?”
“Weren’t you hiding with the crowd with your little crossbow?” Chrono pointed out.
Suzhen’s group looked at her. A few were even gazes that seemed to be filled with distrust and disdain.
“You don’t have to worry. I’m not the same as Kazuya, because if I was…” Chrono trailed off.
‘If I really wanted to kill everyone,’ he thought.
“None of you here would still be alive,” Chrono’s words were quiet, but everyone heard it clearly as if he were standing right beside them, chilling everyone to their bones.
Suzhen’s camp looked at Chrono in confusion, as if he were a lunatic. Chrono’s followers, however, found themselves unconsciously trembling. It was because they knew that he was speaking the truth, and they found themselves being convinced that he would have made it happen.
Suzhen was looking at Chrono expressionly. It was like her face was covered with a mask of frost. Chrono responded in kind with the same bemused expression. A wordless taunt. It sent a clear message that he was looking down on her.
The air between the two seemed to freeze. In this single moment, nothing else existed besides the two of them.
‘I will pull you down when you least expect it, and when I do… At that time, if you won’t join me and become a part of my wealth… I will kill you,’ Suzhen secretly thought.
‘You aren’t ripe yet. Not like Kazuya. I’ll give you a chance and allow you to grow. Don’t disappoint me. The day you’re fully grown and point your fangs at me will be the day you die,’ Chrono felt excited at the thought.
The two looked like they were having a staring contest, as if the first one to break away from the other’s gaze would be the loser.
An explosion sounded off in the distance, along with the message:
[The First Apostle: Kazuya of Insanity has arrived on Pandemonium.]
A quest appeared in everyone’s mind. It was a quest to slay the Apostle of Insanity.
‘He wasn’t ordinary, after all,’ Chrono thought to himself.
After some time, Chrono looked towards the forest Kazuya had fled in, and voiced his thoughts to everyone, “We’ll need to re-enter the forest tomorrow morning, or eventually we’ll run out of food.”
Suzhen sighed. In the end, they would end up going into the forest anyway.
Chrono’s followers frowned at the idea, but found themselves feelings pangs of hunger at his words.
‘Shall we go apostle hunting?’ Chrono thought and made a pure smile out of sheer elation, however, it was no different than a devil’s in the eyes of everyone else.