Translator: Denryuu; Editor: Ryunakama
I made my way to a dingy pub in the royal capital alone after work, making sure that I was accordingly dressed. Before entering, I took off my fake glasses and ruffled my hair to make it messier. There were people from all walks of life to be found in the pub, from a man sipping pig swill to boisterously laughing youngsters to a morally loose-looking woman whose gaze I ignored.
「Welcome. What will it be today?」, asked the bartender when I sat in front of the counter.
「Anything you recommend?」
「…Wine, I guess. People like it warm as of late.」
「Then I’ll have some milk.」
Glancing at me sideways, he turned around as if he understood and poured me a glass of milk. I lifted the glass and found a scrap of paper underneath.
「The toilet is that way, sir.」
So the rumours were true.
According to the late Victor, the toilet I was being directed to led to another entrance. Downing the contents of the glass, I unfolded the piece of paper to reveal three digits written on it.
4, 5, 1.
I paid for the drink and headed for the toilet. There were two cubicles, one of which I couldn’t open, perhaps because it was bolted from the inside or otherwise. I knocked four times, then five, then once again, as the piece of paper had instructed.
The sound of a key turning could be heard, and the door opened.
Seeing that nobody was on the other side, I figured that the door worked via some sound-powered magical mechanism. As soon as I closed it behind me, it locked itself again. Right in front of me was a flight of dimly-lit stairs, at the bottom of which was another door that I opened to find myself in a large room.
A bunch of sinister-looking men were staring at notices pasted on the walls as they drank. One of them shook his head, while another peeled a notice off the wall and headed somewhere.
So these are the quest slips.
「Never seen you before, brother. First time?」, said a middle-aged man with crooked teeth.
His breath reeked of alcohol.
「Yes. Victor recommended me, although he’s deceased now.」
I guess Victor’s made a name for himself around these parts. According to him, this isn’t a place you can get to without being introduced by an already established member. I had to use a password, after all.
「I heard all about this from him, so you don’t need to worry about me.」
Scanning the room in full, I skimmed through the contents of the quest slips.
While there were no requestors’ names written on them, they were classified into multiple categories, including murder, theft, abduction, swindling, poaching and espionage. The commission rate, strength required and other general information were also detailed on each slip.
This truly was an underground guild, down to the last quest slip.
「Oh? You interested in this quest, brother?」
「No, not really… I was just wondering, who assigns these quests?」
「Who assigns ‘em? No idea. All I know is that completing these quests gets us cash.」
There has to be someone behind this — perhaps the underground version of a Guild Master? I didn’t expect the adventurers here to know much anyway.
「Can’t make head nor tail of this, can you? I’ll show you the ropes.」
He seems like a good guy, in all honesty. People like him are just trying to stay alive in a world where death lurks at every corner. He pointed at another section of the wall.
「How does that ‘Maritime Trade Kingpin Assassination’ sound?」
‘Maritime Trade Kingpin’… that’s Veskoda, I suppose. Well known within Ferland, he’s a trader who does most of his business at sea.
Fifty thousand on his head, huh?
「Looks like a quest for two people.」
「Why? Don’t wanna work with us?」
Although Victor had given me a brief rundown, there were still a lot of finer details that I wasn’t aware of. In that case, I thought, I’ll use their kindness to my advantage.
「Nah, let’s do this.」
Peeling the quest slip off the wall, he walked further into the room.
「Oh yeah, I never told you. The name’s Viks.」
「I look forward to working with you, Viks-san. I’m… you can call me Slade.」
「Slade? That’s a nice name.」
After shaking his hand, we entered one of the few cubicles available, presumably to learn more about the quest. A grizzled-looking employee plopped himself down opposite us.
「Aye, if it isn’t Viks. How you doin’?」
「Can’t complain」, he replied. 「Meet Slade. He says Victor told him about this place.」
The employee stared directly at me.
「Hmm… from Victor?」
「I seem to have startled you. Is something the matter?」
「I guess rookies don’t know this, but this isn’t a place any Tom, Dick or Harry can enter. I was wondering what a guy with such a recommendation would be like.」
「It reflects badly on you if you introduce any ol’ clown to this circle」, explained Viks. 「Not only you, but the random guy who got the recommendation too, of course. On the contrary, if you introduce someone legit, people will take notice of you for having such connections. Although I guess neither connections nor reputation matters to Victor anymore.」
「Victor is one of the most acclaimed fellas down here. Never brought a soul here in his whole life, too. Bit of an irritating bugger, but what can we say? He’s good.」
With that skill of his, Victor was bound to be a bigshot anywhere he went.
「The day before he died, Victor was saying that someone found the weakness in his skill for the first time…」
「Yeah, I heard about that too. I was wondering how anyone could’ve bypassed his ‘Absolute Defence’. Can’t imagine.」
「Could it be… what’s your name again? Slade?」
Having arrived at a common topic, both of them looked at me with apparent curiosity. If I were to confirm their beliefs, they’d mistake me for the guy who bumped him off.
「It’s alright, Slade. Even if you actually killed Victor, nobody’ll crucify you for it. You’ll probably become the next bigshot, actually.」
I see… as expected of an underground guild. Displace the one at the top, and you can claim the seat for yourself.
「Let me set this straight — I wasn’t the one who killed him. But I was the one who found a way to bypass his skill.」
「Ooooh…! So that’s why Victor wanted to tell you about this place.」
「Man, I would never have guessed that about you, Slade. You didn’t even look down on us when we talked to you.」
I noticed a slight, but visible, change in their eyes.
「‘Kay, let’s get down to business. You fine with doing this ‘Maritime Trade Kingpin Assassination’ together with Viks?」
We nodded at the same time.
「There’s one thing I’d like to clarify.」
「Isn’t a bounty of five million way too low?」
「The hell…?」, asked the visibly-ticked off employee.
Victor nudged me with his elbow.
「This is already considered a lot, Slade.」
I ignored Viks and continued.
「No matter where you go, people have heard of Veskoda. Assassinating him doesn’t just mean bumping him off. You have to account for the ripples his death will create in society. And with that in mind, the reward is peanuts no matter how you look at it. On top of that, it only pays according to the results — accounting for two people, we’ll be left with only about two million apiece after all the necessary expenditure.」
The employee stood up suddenly, slamming the table. Guess I waved a red flag in front of a bull.
「Lotta talk for a rookie, eh?」
「Sit the fuck down, or we can’t talk.」
Staring into his eyes, I saw his irises quiver a little.
My killing intent had clearly gotten through to him. Falling silent in submission, he sat down again.
「We’re putting our lives on the line for this, so I won’t budge an inch. I’m not trying to be unreasonable, though. Three million up front, and another seven million depending on results. Does that sound fine to you? It’s my first mission here after all.」
「…Hold on, I’ll get back to you」, said the employee, getting up with the quest slip in hand.
「You are being unreasonable, Slade. Jesus man, I thought I was gonna die. Never seen anyone bargain like you. Ever…」
「Nah, I just found it weird, that’s all.」
「Yes. It’s just far below market rate.」
「Market rate…? You been in this line of work before?」
I nodded wordlessly.
「Having seen the other quest slips, I can tell you that this one isn’t an exception. Someone up there is sucking away more of the dividends than he deserves.」
If I was still in active service, I would have declined such a mission if I was offered anything below a hundred million. That’s how important of a kingpin he is. Someone in this institution has a lot to gain from this assassination. Taking into account all the funds that trickle down, the rewards currently offered are still way too low.
Looking miffed, the employee returned quickly and plopped himself down again.
「We accept. Three million upfront, as requested –」
He placed three bundles of cash on the table. Viks let out a gasp of surprise.
「– and another seven after you’re done. This is only happening because Victor recommended you. But if you fail or pussy out… you get me?」