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TDL BK I, CH 33: Valuations

Happy Holidays Everyone! I wish you all a very Merry Christmas!

Chapter Thirty-three: Valuations

“I will admit”, Talat began. “You were right! This was something we needed to see in person.” 

The Myriad Treasures Pavilion contingent had moved into one of the private booths on Ranulyn’s command so they could discuss matters privately. 

“Never thought I see a mystic realm run as a business venture”, the man added. A rather large man, he made do with brightly coloured ostentatious robes or, as he put it, ‘leaning into his landmark role.’ The long, oiled and braided beard helped with that as did the bald shiny head. All in all, the 3-metre tall, fat man was unmissable. Half the time, people failed to notice Ranulyn standing right next to him.

A native of the Vast Heaven Dominion, Talat Ayinmena knew the ins and outs of the land, its various powers and people. Ranulyn took the man as his aid when assigned to this branch, and his advice had proved invaluable over the centuries. On this, though, he had been very wrong.

“Why not?” Mozah Voot, their Chief Appraiser and Financial Officer, asked. “It seems incredibly profitable.”

Blond-haired and square-faced, Mozah was a relatively plain man perpetually lost in his own head, oblivious to his surroundings.

“Assuming they can cater to ten teams each hour, that’s 500 es in entrance fees alone. There’s also the food and drink visitors in the stands will consume while waiting, an estimated 3 to 5 es. Add appraisal fees of at least 20 es, healing which they have priced at 15 es per team and you’re looking at a total take of not less than 800 es”, the man rattled off to them. “Around 12,000 if they take it in gold, and that’s only at the low end.”

“Interesting!” Ranulyn noted. “And the high end?”

“For the high end, we’ll have to assume they’ll focus on formal cultivators from the sects and clans. They will likely make it further than the weak mercenary groups, but they would also spend less time on the enemies we’ve seen so far, so it will cancel out in terms of time, I think”, Mozah calculated. “However, the sects are unlikely to let their disciples go into a dangerous mystic realm without the escape tokens. We’ll have to factor that in. It will bring the entry fees to 1050 es per team or 10500 per hour.”

“Being of a higher status, they will likely spend far more on food and drink. Looking at the Vast Heaven’s pricing, let’s say 300 es. They’ll also be far more successful, so appraisal fees of at least 100 es to 200 es.

It is unlikely healing be necessary, and if it is, most sects would rather handle that themselves. That brings the high-end estimate to around 1450 es per team or 21,750 gc.”

Ranulyn took this in. That was a substantial hourly revenue. “What about the taxes? They mentioned shops and taxes.”

Mozah pouted like a child and wrung his hands as he answered, “They haven’t given us the numbers yet. I’d need the tax rate and the average day’s sales to make my estimates.” 

“However, there’s a discrepancy. The Vast Heaven Palace is losing money in this venture. If we assume that each team brings out at least 20 items from the mystic realm, then we run into a problem where those who enter the mystic earn extraordinarily more from the mystic realm than its owners. Ignoring the purple and prismatic artefacts and assuming that at least sixty per cent are green tier. They would still be earning close to four times as much as the Vast Heaven Palace from the transaction. Of course, the prices will fall as the market gets saturated, but even then, they will earn more than twice as much”, Mozah concluded.

Ranulyn pursed his lips, tumbling theories in his mind as he leaned forward to ask, “What if their goal isn’t money?”

Mozah gave him one of those stupid looks. The one that said his Chief Appraiser had no clue what he was talking about. “The Vast Heaven Palace might be after something else. You’ve said it yourself all the other parties are earning far more from the sect than they would on their own. For many sects, 3000 es for an hour or so’s work isn’t a small change. They can’t do that without the Vast Heaven Palace.”

“I don’t understand”, the other man asked, blinking in confusion. 

Ranulyn sighed. He wasn’t sure why he bothered. 

Thankfully, Talat stepped in. “You like counting coins, right!” 

The other man gave a big childlike smile as he nodded.    

“Good!” Talat acknowledgement. “I’m sure you also like people who give you coins, don’t you?”

Without waiting for an answer, he continued. “What would you do if people wanted to kill people who give you coins?”

Mozah scowled. It was a terrifying expression that nearly had Ranulyn recoil. Only experience due to his long exposure to the fellow let him ignore it. Mozah had a brilliant mind when it came to numbers. In fact, Ranulyn would go as far as to call him a savant. However, the blond man was also…limited in certain ways. He felt…strongly. 

That was honestly the best way to put it. A more direct but still polite way would be to say that Mozah was completely in the thrall of his emotions. In that regard, he was like a child with very little self-control, a problem that was further compounded by his seeming inability to feel more than one emotion at a time. His tantrums were… unpleasant and often resulted in lots of collateral damage if not nipped in time. Luckily, Talat, his assistant, had a rapport with him. 

“That’s right!” the other man said with a sad nod, practically leading Mozah by the nose. “You’ll want to fight against them to protect your source of coins.” 

“After today, The Vast Heaven Palace will be giving everyone lots of coins and shiny stuff to play with”, Talat said with a smile. “The Nine Phantoms are not going to like that. However, if they try to stop this, they risk pulling everyone involved into the conflict and pushing them to the side of the Vast Heaven Palace.”

Mozah frowned, deep in thought. Uninterested in watching him puzzle it out– honestly, how the number savant rationalised social behaviour was a mystery– Ranulyn turned his attention back to the stage, watching as a new group returned triumphantly. Although weaker than the second troop, they had beaten back the slavering monsters with generous use of explosives. Unfortunately, they also collapsed the secret tunnel in their assault. Fearful of the unknown dangers past that point, they chose to retreat instead of continue, coming out of the mystic realm with a blue-grade staff topped with a fist-sized opal. While he doubted that artefact would allow them to recoup their losses on its own, Ranulyn found himself keenly interested in its effects. 

Pouring out another glass of aged bitterthorn spirits, he watched with peeled eyes as the staff’s new owner displayed its powers by firing several blasts of raw magic that tore holes in the arena’s stone floor. The blasts were small, slow and far too eyecatching and direct to hit even a half-determined initiate of the higher stages, but the display was made noteworthy by the fact that the user in question was only a fourth-stage initiate, someone far from being able to manifest his mana externally. 

His musings were cut short by Mozah’s sharp and overly loud voice. “How is he doing that?” 

Ranulyn exchanged a glance with Talat. The Vast Heaven native seemed just as confused. 

“There are many cultivation traditions”, the pavilion master began, voicing thoughts and suspicions he had held in reserve ever since the robed casters first appeared on the large display. 

“Today, most use a measured, balanced cultivation process perfected in the Imperial Golden Age; however, before this, there were several others. Some focused on developing the physical body, others the mind, and still others the spirit. With such practices, a person could grow as strong as a giant, command essence with reaching exultation or possess all sorts of esoteric abilities. Nearly all of these have died out, their extreme specialised approaches too weak in the face of the comprehensive all-round approach popularised by the Eternal Emperor.”

Mindful of his audience, he chose his next words carefully, “Think of the old methods as approaches that allowed cultivators to reach a full ten out of ten in their respective focus but only a 3 in a lesser focus and an outright zero in the third, whereas the comprehensive method used today allows cultivators to reach sixes in every category and maybe even a seven in one or two depending on their innate talents. The former might possess exceptional strengths but also creates easily exploitable weaknesses. As a result, such methods and their practitioners have long since gone extinct over the ages with only a few rare exceptions.”

Mozah nodded, the number analogy helping get his point across. Ranulyn continued. “The old, specialised methods are almost impossible to find in the current age and exist only as footnotes in historical texts. Of course, that might not be the case in a long-sealed Cataclysm Era mystic realm.”

“So you believe the Vast Heaven Palace?” Talat questioned. 

“I believe my eyes”, Ranulyn told him. 

Seeing was believing. He’d be the first to admit he was sceptical at the start. Anyone would be when faced with such outlandish claims. However, their spies were confident and having some inkling of the Vast Heaven Palace’s background and history, he had come in person to verify. The prevailing theory at the time was that even if the news was blown out of proportion, the sect would likely hold an ancient mystic realm dating back at least a few thousand years. Now… Well, it didn’t need to be said. 

“Do you doubt what is before you, Talat?” he asked, swirling his drink in its glass.

“I find it difficult to believe any rational person would use such a thing as bait”, his subordinate answered. “I don’t think Headquarters will believe it either when they receive the report.”

Ranulyn shrugged. That wasn’t his problem. 

Talat grinned. “We might get a promotion out of it, though!”

Ranulyn ignored him, taking another sip from his glass. As someone effectively banished to this post, the affairs at headquarters mattered little to him. The same could not be said of Talat. He still thought he could work his way up. Hah! Even Mozah knew better. Still, he hoped the Vast Heaven Palace knew what they were doing. This legacy artefact… Once the news got out there, they’d have bigger problems to worry about than the phantoms. 

“Old Alshiram must have gone crazy to resort to this”, Talat said, unknowingly echoing his thoughts. “I guess even old dogs can pull off new tricks, or is this the approach of a cornered rat?”

‘No!’ Ranulyn thought to himself. The Sixth Preceptor of the Vast Heaven Palace was a conservative cultivator, the kind that put might, face and tradition above all else. His history proved that. Leasing out his sect’s greatest treasure to chain the lesser powers to his cause was not his style. A tall, dark figure rose in the pavilion master’s mind, long dreads framing its serious face. This was the work of someone bold and young. Someone who understood the role of economic forces and was willing to fly in the face of tradition.

Ranulyn smirked to himself, remembering those determined eyes. Someone like that would not be satisfied with this much. He had a feeling there was more change to come.

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