I stretched my arms out wide, rotating my neck in an attempt to alleviate some of the stiffness that resulted from sitting in one spot for hours on end with my head bowed over a desk. I set the pen down and shut the ledgers, bundling up the monthly expenditure report I had just drafted. We had spent a bit more than initially intended, an unfortunate result of the increase in price for various ingredients sparked by the poor harvest, but we were still within our permitted budget. It would mean that we would have slightly less in our reserves for this month, but in the first place, those reserves were only used as emergency funds, so it wasn’t an urgent problem.

Stowing the expenditure away in a top shelf of the administrative room, I turned around and surveyed the state of the room. It smelt of freshly varnished wood and new paper, and was overall a bit of a mess, with paper scattered everywhere and several emptied ink bottles strewn across the desk. I glanced at my own hands, calloused from writing, and sighed as I began to clean up the area.

When I had first joined Elysium and Rosalind, I hadn’t expected that the majority of my work would involve doing paperwork. Yet, as the current scene proved, I was terribly, terribly wrong. Every time a new branch of the Ezov was established, there was a mountain of paperwork involved, which included – but was not limited to – applying for operation permits, drafting expenditure reports, performing and analysing demographic surveys, hiring multiple new workers, performing background checks on said workers, finding local sources for ingredients, establishing procurement routes for ingredients which could not be found locally, drafting a ledger and the items contained within the ledger, drafting a report about predicted growth for the next 6 months based on demographic trends within the area, determining starting salaries based on current market rates, establishing standard operating procedures for various contingencies, and linking up with various local merchants to establish networks of advertising.

On top of all that, there was still the additional task of collating all the information from the other branches and preparing two seperate reports, one for Elysium and one for Bainel. Furthermore, those reports were also supposed to include my thoughts on each matter and possible reccommendations if I could think of any. It was a ridiculous amount of strain, one that caused me to accumulate immense amounts of mental fatigue, which was then worsened by the need to rehearse my light routines for Rosalind’s concert, all of which required heavy concentration. If not for the fact that I worked for Elysium, I might have given up long ago.

What stopped me from giving up was the knowledge that prior to my arrival, Elysium had handled all of this by herself in addition to preparing for the concert. Even when she had first recruited me, she was doing paperwork just like this as I trained with Ruth. And through it all, even though the daily sparring in addition to this sheer workload should have crushed her, she never showed a single sign of weakness. I respected that. I wanted to be like that. Therefore I did my work without complaint. I knew that if I asked, Elysium would likely take some of this work off my shoulders – but that would mean placing them on her own, and I wasn’t ready to burden my benefactor in that way.

Thankfully, this was the last week I had to do all this paperwork. My function within the Ezov’s operational structure was as a temporary manager – much of this paperwork would usually be handled by the branch manager. The reason why I was laden with paperwork was because the manager for this branch had yet to be selected – our standard practice was to observe the girls we hired for a month, and we would pick the most diligent and most capable among them as the branch manager. This week was the last week of that month, so soon I would be free of these tedious responsibilities – at least until we opened another branch.

With the administrative room put back into order, I turned to the two bundles of paper on the table that had been tied up and sealed with wax. The reports for Bainel and Elysium, based on what I had learned from the monthly report. Of course, the most troubling bit of news was the emergence of dissenting voices in Frunzeit. It was unthinkable that such behaviour in one of the Empire’s largest cities would go unpunished. As Anneliese had said, it stank of collusion. It was likely that someone in a position of power was in contact with the agitators. None of us particularly cared for the current Emperor, nor would we likely shed a tear were he to be replaced, but it was a matter of concern for us nonetheless – any sort of incident involving the Emperor would cause instability in the country, and instability was bad for business. Still, the problem was that we were only ordinary citizens – Elysium’s monstrous physical abilities aside. There was nothing we could do to counter intrigue in the court, and so the best option was to just make plans assuming the worst-case scenarios. It left a bad taste in my mouth that we might be so subject to circumstances beyond our control, but our powerlessness was a fact, and it was more efficient to accept it than to bemoan it.

With the paperwork done, I decided to go downstairs and check on the shop itself. With the time creeping toward evening, the Ezov was starting to fill up with patrons. I glanced toward the counter. While there was a single counter that stretched across one wall of the shop, it was split into three distinct sections. The middle section, which was by far the largest, was the food and beverage counter – right behind it was the window to the kitchen, and the shop’s stock of alcohol was housed in the shelves directly under this section of the counter. One of our hired girls, Jasmine, stood behind this counter, calmly taking orders and passing them to the kitchen, her hands skillfully manipulating the many bottles of spirits even as she talked to the customers with a smile. Prior to joining us, she had worked several years at a high-end tavern, and therefore was well-acquainted with the art. However, she lacked initiative. She would perform any tasks she was told to with great efficiency, but she would rarely do more than that. It wasn’t a matter of laziness, but rather just that she wasn’t the type of person to actively think and consider her surroundings, and preferred to go with the flow.

The left side of the counter served a completely different purpose, showcasing a set of stands which displayed rows upon rows of Rosalind-related merchandise: Woodcut prints featuring her, small carved blocks of wood with her likeness, paper fans that bore her image, cosmetics bearing her name and endorsement, among other similar products. For the particularly wealthy, there were also paintings and sculptures made in her likeness. The queue at this counter was particularly long, and the people at the counter were all buying the same thing: our newest product, a blend of tea leaves that we named Rosalina. Even I didn’t know what the exact components of the blend were – only Rosalind, Elysium and Bainel had that knowledge – but at the most recent concert, Rosalind had unveiled it and publicly announced that it was a blend that she had “painstakingly crafted with all her love” and that she hoped that “everyone in the audience would feel all the affection and thoughts she put into the blend”. Unsurprisingly, the fans came in droves to buy the blends – the report from the four main branches had stated that stocks in all branches were running dangerously low. Meanwhile, we were rolling in profits from the sale. All because we attached Rosalind’s endorsement to it.

The power of music was scary.

I turned my attention from the product being sold to the individual who was doing the selling, who was clearly flustered and struggling to keep up with the volume of orders. A brown-haired girl with freckles named Eliza, the sixteen-year old was the youngest among those we employed. She was hardworking and spirited, and most of her coworkers agreed that she was the perfect moodmaker, a girl who made everyone smile just by watching her. She was also quick-witted and dexterous, picking up her job very quickly. But she was timid and easily flustered, causing her to have trouble with handling large crowds of customers, as evidenced on this occasion. She’d grown up in an orphanage, and was unused to large crowds. Given enough time and experience, she would likely overcome her timidity, but as she was now, she would need a lot of work. Still, she had an abundance of promise, and she would likely have the chance for a promotion in the near future.

Finally, my gaze turned to the third, rightmost section of the counter – where the level-headed Marisa was calmly handling the surge of customers inquiring about possible commissions. Behind her was a board with various posters prominently displayed, listing the various job requests that had started pouring in from the citizens of cities around the country, even though it had only been two weeks since we entered the second phase of the Ezov Project. We were already receiving almost ten commissions a day per region, and the number of inquiries regarding available commissions averaged fifty per day for any given branch. It seemed that the demand for a service like that once offered by the Adventurer’s Guild was immense – and yet nobody had taken the step to try and meet that demand. It was probably because until we came along, nobody had a network as extensively connected as what we had established with the Ezov. Regardless of the cause for this lack of supply, our sudden creation of the service was met with an extremely positive response, to the point where many of the girls in the various branches were starting to become overwhelmed.

Separating the main area of the Ezov into three, based on function, was my idea – I was using this branch as a testing ground, and based on the level of success it met, would reccommend it to the other branches at the next meeting. However, the idea of putting the requests up on a board for the customers to see, as the Guild used to do, came from Marisa. She had approached me with the idea about a week ago, along with a suggestion to increase the prominence of a commission depending on its value – commissions with greater rewards would be displayed more prominently, and therefore would have a higher chance of being fulfilled. This ensured that clients would have a vested interest in offering a higher payment for their commissions, which in turn resulted in a higher level of profit for us. It was a rather ingenious idea, though the drawback was that smaller commissions by less wealthy clients would be more likely to go unnoticed. Nonetheless, from a purely profit-centered perspective, it was a brilliant suggestion.

This degree of initiative and consideration was the reason why Elysium, Rosalind and I had, after perusing my reports on the performance of all our girls, mutually agreed upon having her be the manager for this branch of the Ezov. She had just the amount of skill and enthusiasm for the job, and having her take over my temporary duties would allow us to move on from this city with peace of mind. I figured that it would probably be alright to inform her at this point, given that the decision was already made, and so I descended the stairs, intending to have someone stand in for her while I ran her through the full scope of her new duties.

Unfortunately, before I could speak to her, my plans were abruptly interrupted by the sound of horsetrots and wheels on cobblestone coming from outside the Ezov, accompanied by the sounding of a grand trumpet.