18-20. Echigoya Firm's Struggle
"Tifaliza, Nell, here it is."
Kuro-sama brought us to a luxurious mansion located in the noble district of the royal capital.
"H-h-here fer'real?! It's practically a palace tho'?"
Nell voiced her surprise while roughing up her red disheveled hair.
I don't blame her surprise.
It looks far more luxurious than the castle of Earl Leseu where we worked at. That one was bigger size-wise though.
"Don't worry about it. This is but a mansion the king forced on my master."
"F-from the king! That's nuts!"
There are armored men guarding the gate.
"Tifa-san, it's knights-sama ssuyo! Knights-sama're guarding the gate ssu!"
"Those are living armor."
"Living armor ssuka! Never seen one before ssu!"
Getting Living Armor to guard a gate sounds just like tales of mages I read in my childhood.
"Let's go Nell. You can stare at them all you want later."
Kuro-sama reproved Nell who was going to peek inside a Living Armor's visor.
We entered the mansion with Kuro-sama leading the way.
"The garden's nuts too!"
The front garden seems to be well maintained by skilled gardeners, the hedges have been nicely pruned into passages.
Vibrant flowers are blooming above the hedges. Since all of them are blooming, flowers that were about to bloom must be carefully placed there to make them stand out more. That must be a lot of work.
It's pretty, but am I a boring woman for thinking that it's a bit ridiculous?
I could feel multiple gazes pouring at me as I admired the front garden.
I turned my eyes while being careful not to move my face and found out many young women looking down here from a floor above.
They must be assessing us, the new people Kuro-sama brought over.
"Tifa-san, look over there ssu."
As I turned at the direction Nell pointed, a heavy looking door with an elaborate carving was let open as someone came out of it.
--What a beautiful woman.
Her well cared wavy golden hair would glister every time she took a step.
The dress she's wearing must be tailored by a first-rate dressmaker too. Judging from the delicate lathes on her dress, she must be of a much higher standing than us civil officials.
A daughter of high ranking noble.
No, from her calm demeanor and confident look, she must be the proprietress of this mansion. We're going to serve under her from now on.
I do think I'm being shameless for wanting to work under Kuro-sama despite being a slave.
Wonder if having that wish is a sin?
"Kuro-sama! Welcome back."
"Umu. Thanks for fetching us."
The woman is beaming as she looks at Kuro-sama.
Only Kuro-sama is reflected in her eyes, not even a glance for us. Surely slaves aren't worth one to her. I've heard Earl Lesseu referring to slaves as nothing more than tools to nobles.
"""Kuro-sama! Welcome back."""
As the woman led the way inside the mansion, the other women that were by the window earlier had all lined up in a huge hall with a huge hanging chandelier, all welcoming Kuro-sama. A great number of maids are standing by behind them.
"Have you not got the uniforms yet?"
"Yes, the dressmaker is hurrying it up, but it will only be ready the day after tomorrow at the latest."
I was puzzled inwardly as I listened to their conversation.
I made a gesture to Nell who was about to speak out next to me, to keep quiet. There is no telling the punishment you'd get from interrupting a conversation between nobles.
"Allow me to introduce these two. They are Tifaliza and Nell, they will be working with you from now on."
Kuro-sama introaduced us.
"Nice to meet you. I am in charge of managing of Echigoya Firm, Elterina. I have heard about the matter from Kuro-sama. Tifaliza-san is to be in charge of paperwork and accounting, while Nell-san will work as a subordinate of workshop manager Porina we will introduce to you later."
Wonder if Kuro-sama never told her our status.
"Elterina-sama, we're both Kuro-sama's slaves. Please don't worry about using honorifics."
Elterina was at a loss for word once she heard me.
Her noble pride must wounded for having interacted equally with a noble.
But it seems Elterina-sama is quite a master.
She only showed her true nature for an instant.
Afterward, she was all smiles at us without looking angered in the least.
She might just be faking that in front of Kuro-sama, but my experience tells me that she's not the type who'd do that. I'm confident in that assessment after watching countless people with that exact type keeping up appearance only to senior positions and opposite sex at Earl Lesseu's castle.
"Tifaliza-san, I am aware that you two are slaves. However, I have been told that it was done out of necessity to protect Kuro-sama's secret."
Is she talking about the false names I put with my Naming skill?
No, she must mean the teleport magic and chantless casting.
"I have also been instructed to treat you like my equal coworkers. I do recommend the use of decorum in a professional setting, but I do not mind if you act like yourself outside that."
"I gotcha ssu!"
Nell-san spoke out loud before I could stop her.
Or perhaps she simply has no concept of lip service.
"Is that all right with you Tifaliza-san?"
"Yes, Elterina-sama. I am truly grateful for your kindness."
Elterina-sama who looked completely unaffected by Nell's rudeness frowned a bit by my word.
Did I make a mistake somewhere?
"Well then, I'll leave the rest to you."
Even after Kuro-sama teleported away, the girls' attitude didn't change one bit.
--No, it did.
"So so, were you two saved by Kuro-sama too?"
"Why were you working separately until now?"
"Did Kuro-sama ask for your companion?"
"Have you ever met the hero-sama Kuro-sama works under?"
These noble ladies flooded us with questions.
"Stop pushing ssu. I'll answer you one by one ssuyo."
I froze up due to shock but Nell took up the role of satisfying the girls' curiosities.
I reproved her when she got carried away and started speaking some unfounded stuff, yet the girls only laughed at her, no one got angry.
"Tifaliza, I will be expecting good work from you."
"Yes, Elterina-sama. I shall give my everything to fulfill my duty."
"That's the spirit. Let's make Echigoya Firm the best in the kingdom to repay this great debt we owe Kuro-sama."
The chief executive's words warmed me up.
I was bewildered by how different the atmosphere here compared to my civil official training school and my duty at Earl Lesseu's castle, but I realized just how nice it was once I got used to it.
Because no one would find fault with my looks, no one pushed their workload on me, no one badmouthed me in whisper behind my back, and no one would get violence here.
I was despairing alone in the personal room given to me.
Once I was done with sorting out the cluttered receipts into the ledger--it was clear that Echigoya Firm was on the brink of bankruptcy, no, more like we're certainly going bankrupts with all the debts.
Maybe I miscalculated somewhere.
With that in mind, I checked and rechecked many times.
After confirming that it was correct, I looked through sales and purchases slips and found more instead, pushing me deeper into despair.
I could report as is, but that would only expand the despair.
I must pick up where the problem lies and prepare a reorganization plan for Elterina-sama.
I sort out all the issues found in the ledger and compare it with the business plan on the shelf to look for any divergence.
First of all, there are two main points that created a lot of expense.
The first point is the philanthropic work of emergency food distribution. The plan was for 300 servings a day, yet it's swelled up to 900 servings a day now. Three times the original plan.
I went to the food distribution site suspecting an embezzlement, but there really were close to 1000 people present. There might be more even.
The second point is the cost of running the workshop. The business plan only had 50 employees, yet my calculation of personnel expenses revealed there are 200 employees. Inspecting on site there were 300 employees. I'm afraid to check the next labor cost.
The non-profit venture aside, our revenue would have looked different had the goods produced in the workshop sell. There should be more goods produced with six time the number of personnel available.
However, the workshop's income has been written off.
It's not selling.
Small articles created in the workshop have been piling up in the warehouse adjacent to the workshop.
Normally, the workshop would have ceased its operation but since it was apparently a social venture to help widows and the poor who were on the verge of selling themselves, the scale could not be reduced.
There's still enough funds from the initial funding, but it's shrinking fast from the personnel expenses that at the rate this is going, there is just no way to pay the accounts payable like raw materials for the workshop and food distribution by the end of this month.
We may make it if only our entire inventory can be sold, but unless it sells 100 times the current rate, it just won't make the deadline.
Checking the goods, they're not especially appealing nor cheap, they're just your ordinary everyday stuff.
There is no way they could be sold en masse.
"Impossible, about what?"
I sprung up to look at the sudden voice.
The chief executive, Elterina-sama is there.
She heard me grumbling without thinking.
"Oh pardon me, I did not mean to surprise you. I knocked on the door but you never replied back, then I was worried if you were feeling unwell when I heard groans from inside."
Groans... I control myself to not show my embarrassment outwardly.
"Please forgive me, Elterina-sama."
"Oh there's nothing to forgive about. --Oh wait, are you done with the ledger?"
She saw the open account book.
I have no choice.
I still haven't come up with any plan or idea but I am going to report our current situation.
<TLN: Catch the latest updates and edits at Sousetsuka .com >
"Elterina-sama, I am done sorting out the ledger. As you can see for yourself here, we are greatly in the red."
"My, that's bad."
The Chief Executive Elterina could only tilt her head at the huge crisis Echigoya Firm is facing.
I suppose financial crisis just doesn't feel real to a noble born lady like her.
"We will not be able to settle the debt we owe to our partners."
The accounts payable from last month will be billed at the end of this month.
It will be a certain non-payment at the rate this is going.
"Oh that won't do. Let's go consult Kuro-sama."
Elterina-sama walked to the comm room while looking cheerful.
The room houses several carrier pigeons Kuro-sama gave us.
A day after a pigeon was released, Kuro-sama came by.
"I see that you are lacking capital."
As he said that, Kuro-sama took several heavy looking bags from his (Item Box).
Glittering gold coins could be seen inside the bags. There should be around 1000 gold coins in total.
"Fumu, it appears we have a dearth of customer visits."
After showing the account book to Kuro-sama, he quickly figured out the problematic points without anyone explaining him.
I brought up this issue whenever I participated in the board meeting as a record keeper, and we all came to an agreement that it was because we didn't have eye catching goods.
Echigoya Firm mainly sells daily necessities produced in the workshop, with a bit of magic potions and magic medicine made by alchemists and apothecaries.
The latter is selling well, but for the former, since the goods aren't of exceptionally high quality nor novel, they're just doing okay.
"We need some sort of eye catcher products."
"As expected of Kuro-sama! I thought the same."
Elterina-sama agreed with Kuro-sama.
As I'm in agreement as well, I waited for Kuro-sama to continue.
"Can't this be one?"
Kuro-sama fetched a very utilitarian looking long sword.
Only fashionable swords for nobles and good swords for caravan escorts and knights sell in the royal capital. Since the former needs the looks to sell, utilitarian looking swords like this won't do good. As for the latter, if the swords aren't made by famous smiths, even getting it picked by a client is almost impossible.
"Yeah, a magic sword."
They are weapons that can rarely be found in treasure chests inside dungeons any warrior would compete to get one.
I've even heard of one selling for hundreds of gold coins.
"Ku-Kuro-sama! Can I draw it for a bit?"
"Me next! Me."
"No, that's me."
The executives scrambled to get their hands on the magic sword.
Come to think of it, apparently about half of the executives were former explorers at Labyrinth City Selbira together with Elterina-sama.
...Ore more like, you're one of them, Elterina-sama.
As Elterina-sama took up the magic sword with a smile on her face, a red light smoothly flowed through the blade.
This is a magic sword. This is my first time seeing one, I had no idea it was this beautiful.
"No way, the mana flows so smoothly."
"I feel like I could generate magic edge now."
The executives were getting excited.
"So all magic swords are this amazing."
"Of course not. My family heirloom magic sword would take 20-30 times this much mana to fill its blade to the tip compared to this one. This magic sword is of exceedingly high quality."
Elterina-sama corrected one of the executives.
"Kuro-sama, shouldn't a magic sword this excellent be presented to his majesty the king than being sold?"
"Worry not. My master has presented 100 magic swords to this country already. This is a catalogue. All payment is due for Echigoya Firm, use them as funds. You will be responsible for their usage and processing."
Kuro-sama handed me a document.
--100 magic swords?
Don't dungeons only drop a few of them a year?
As I skimmed over the document, I found something truly eye popping.
"What's wrong? Tifaliza."
"Elterina-sama, please have a look at this."
Yes. The catalogue not only has 100 magic swords but also 200 magic spears and large airships as well as air force engines for airship use.
--And all of them have been delivered.
The kingdom adopts deferred payment to Echigoya Firm, 1500 gold coins every month for more than a year.
There is no worry of Echigoya Firm getting in the red for the time being.
It's a bit brute force-ish, but that's so like Kuro-sama.
"And I also have this. Put them on sales."
It's a board with a pole and some wheels.
It might be usable as a cart if the board is a bit wider, but not like this.
"It's called a kickboard."
All the executives spoke in unison.
Looks like I'm not the only one unfamiliar with a kickboard.
Apparently you grab on the [Handle] connected to the board, put one of your foot on the board and the other foot to kick the ground to accelerate.
Kuro-sama showed a demonstration.
It's faster than I thought.
"This will sell! I'm very sure of it."
Elterina-sama boldly proclaimed after she tried it on following Kuro-sama.
...Will it really? I don't personally think so though.
"Tifaliza, you go give it a try too."
Elterina-sama encouraged me to try, but as someone with zero athletic ability I tumbled over right away.
It looks like child's play to these executives, them being former adventurers, but the thing demands some motor nerves.
"It's gonna sell!"
The executives pumped their fist in fervor after a test ride.
Apparently it's been decided that we are going to push this item hard.
The me at the time was unaware that this would be a start of a new nightmare.
"We're sold out!"
Nell who was working as a temp sales girl came reporting in all smile.
Sold out, is it...
"Oh and they told me to ask when's the next delivery for the stock."
"The day after tomorrow at the latest."
"30 at most."
"That's way too few Tifa-san! It's gonna sold out the moment we open door ssu!"
"Yes, I know."
Who would have known kickboards would be this popular.
At first it wasn't selling at all, but then Elterina-sama suggested we donated a few to the Childhood School of the Royal Academy.
Then the day after, we got our first order, which continually increased day by day afterward, to the point that production can't keep up anymore now.
New orders won't stop even after we switched to made to order model.
Along with an increase of forceful inquiries.
"Report from workshop chief Porina! We're running out of raw materials for the wheels and bearing faster than anticipated."
"No way! The waiting list is two months full you know? There'll be a riot if we postpone further!"
Executive Merina shouted with a pale face to hear the report. Executive Rouna looked unconcerned.
Chief executive Elterina told Merina, "It will be okay", before turning to me.
"Tifaliza, what about the production increase request?"
"I have already filed for one. They replied back saying they are already at the limit of manufacturing speed."
"When is the next delivery date?"
"It's due in 90 days."
"They said they do inspection all the time, didn't they?"
"Yes, that's what we were told."
"Then tell them to deliver right after every inspection."
"Transport personnel at the workshop--"
"We don't have extra manpower at the workshop."
"Then the executives will go. Rouna, you go."
"Yes, I'll be off!"
The youthful-looking executive Rouna left while holding her own kickboard under her armpit.
She's usually unwilling when asked to run an errand, but not when it involves going out. Must be because she's having fun with her kickboard.
"That still won't help the production rate. Merina, go build a new workshop for bearing production! Kostona, you're in charge of wheels. Try finding workshops for the handles and boards as well if you can. Get Sumina-san and the others at Guard Division to help with the store and workshops."
After receiving the report, Elterina-sama split the work among the executives without even thinking.
--I've been had.
This girl who looked like a calm noble lady in ordinary times would show her true talent in times of crisis.
She would read ahead and boldly expand the business.
And she doesn't mind at all working on the site herself.
All the executives including Elterina-sama would work on the kickboard production along with other hired labor in the workshop until we had all the personnel sorted out. They kept at it without complaining despite hurting their skin and nails with a labor they were unfamiliar with.
It's nothing more than a good memory now that we have the personnel, but even that wasn't the end of it.
"Tifaliza, the documents for Woodowork Guild and Trade Guild are--"
"I have them prepared here."
"Nicely done. I'm so glad you are here."
Elterina-sama said that as she scanned the documents.
"Let's go, Tifaliza."
Elterina-sama had a look of a knight heading for the battlefield on her face as she brushed aside her luxurious shoulder-length blond hair.
We would finally get a bit of break from these hectic days if only we could gain cooperation from both guilds.
It's an undoubtedly tall order, but Elterina-sama will surely make it happen. She possesses the natural disposition of fascinating other after all.
And just as expected, both guilds offered their cooperation, and Echigoya Firm made another huge leap.
Though it's gonna take a while before the amount of sales could match Kuro-sama's goods.
The abnormally effective hair restorer and energy drink Kuro-sama brought are selling above even the kickboards to noble and the wealthy.
To the point that they have become ones of the most famous products of Echigoya Firm along with [Sword of Heroes]'s magic swords.
I should ask the extent of Kuro-sama's knowledge next time--no, there's this saying by Ancestor King-sama, [Curiosity killed the cat]. Extraneous curiosity would only bring about the same [Death March] we had with the kickboard debacle.
"Tifa, let's think up our next venture."
I call her by her name since she would pout if I called her 'manager'.
"We will definitely surprise Kuro-sama this time around. It's no fun always being on the receiving end."
I can't imagine Kuro-sama getting surprised, but I do want to see that.
"That does sound fun, Elterina-sama."
I exchanged henchman-like smiles with Elterina-sama before heading to the meeting room with a bundle of documents in tow.
Today is looking to be another fulfilling day.