Translator: Denryuu; Editor: Ryunakama
Wrapped in a tattered cloak, the man waiting in the gloomy cubicle nodded at my entrance.
「Hey, Slade. It’s been a while since you last came.」
「Yeah, I’ve been a little tied down as of late.」
「Life’s like that sometimes」, I agreed softly. 「Found anything that interests you?」
「This one」, he said, showing me a quest slip I had put up less than ten minutes ago.
『Assassination of the Chairman of Welger & Co.』
It had been requested by the former nobleman Ben Amstel, the same person who had placed a bounty on the person who destroyed that underground arena. He ended up withdrawing the request, though — whether it had been due to a change of heart or because he had achieved his goal, I’ll never know.
I remember telling Slade not to poke around too much. I wonder if he had followed my advice…
After all, it was the only quest that he had seemed truly interested in. He had simply gone through the motions for the rest, completing it and receiving the cash.
He had once told me about having a ‘bad experience’ with friends — but no matter how I looked at it, it smelt like bullshit. Someone like him can’t possibly have friends. He’s the type that operates alone and will eventually fall alone.
「Assassination of the chairman… ah, that’s the Master of Welger & Co.」
Forty-three years of age, Pablo Webber was a former friend of the requestor. As such, the latter had supplied plenty of information about the target. I hadn’t inquired of his motive — there was usually nothing much to learn from doing so, and it was thus standard protocol not to ask.
「When you assassinated Veskoda, you did it quickly and effectively. Your missions are always smooth sailing.」
「You’ll get peanuts for this, though. You sure?」
The man in front of me had once brandished his claws because he found the rewards for the Veskoda quest too low. That had honestly shaken me to the core. When someone’s killing intent makes you feel as if you’re actually about to get killed, that’s a sign for you to take him seriously.
What kind of life must you lead to be able to do that, I wondered.
But because of that, an extremely rare compromise was made, and he managed to get more buck for his bang in the end. The fact that it was Victor who introduced him to the guild had played a part too, of course. His way of speaking had also made it clear that he was aware that the guild paid brokerage fees.
In short, he had never been a rookie, but a veteran among veterans from the beginning. He didn’t just know a few things about the underground — he knew everything there was to know.
「Yeah. I don’t care for the commission.」
Why, he’s awfully docile today.
「I have a personal vendetta against him」, he added.
Must be a lie. Nobody talks about a grudge in such a nondescript manner. From the look in his eyes, I could also tell that he wasn’t some bloodthirsty butcher with all brawn and no brains that would do anything just to bump someone off.
In fact, the look in his eyes was the scariest of all those I’ve seen. It told me that he could use logic to replace instinct… and he could kill people as emotionlessly as when one guts a fish.
What could he be planning this time…?
But hey, he agreed to take up an assassination quest with dirt poor rewards. I’m not complaining.
「Your past records are stellar. This quest is all yours.」
Although I kind of wanted to know what he had done to get where he is now, I knew that it was strictly taboo to ask. I don’t really care as long as he clears quests for us. With him handling the boring quests, all of us — myself, adventurers and requestors — stand to benefit.
That’s all there is to it, and that’s all I need there to be.
Good luck, I said as he walked out of the cubicle. He turned around, and the glint in his eyes was all the response I needed.
He’ll succeed. Without a shadow of a doubt.
Every time I thought about Slade, the others that come to the guild paled in comparison. We’re an underground guild after all, and we’re a magnet for people who do bad things in exchange for cold, hard cash.
About that Pablo — I can easily imagine why someone would want to dispose of him.
Honestly, what hasn’t he done? His association kidnaps people, poaches all sorts of protected creatures, smuggles and illegally distributes controlled substances, et cetera. He’s raking in as much cash as ever, but for some reason, it still feels like he’s tightening his belt. He had even sent a few folks down here to receive quests from us.
Welger & Co. presents itself as a trade union, but is a full-fledged criminal organisation on the inside. Some merchants, having realised this or otherwise, had already cut ties with it. The newly-founded adventurers’ guild had also opened up a new avenue for merchants to seek help to overcome various inconveniences.
For the above reasons, I knew long ago that someone was bound to target Welger & Co. sooner or later.
That day had come, and it had come sooner. Much sooner.
Pablo Webber was found dead in his mansion just three days after Slade accepted the quest.
The chairman had requested protection, and we had sent twenty or so adventurers his way in the form of a quest. Not only had none of them been harmed, but neither had any of them noticed anyone or anything as well.
Slade… you’re really a cut above the rest.
As I was preparing his commission, a lady who I hadn’t seen in a while appeared. Her jet black hair boasted gentle, wavy curves. Her pupils were a dull golden, and she was as tall as a man.
Her beauty and unique style turned heads every time she visited.
She took a gulp from the wine bottle in her hand.
「Yo, Moyes. How’s life?」
「Can’t complain. Anything caught your eye?」
「If receiving quests is the only thing I can do here, then it isn’t really an underground guild, is it now?」
「Well, this is the only place where you can receive quests and collect the rewards.」
I knew her as Maria, but that’s probably just a pseudonym. Few went by their real names down here.
「Geez, what a boring reply.」
There’s someone who can release killing intent on par with Slade’s, and that’s the woman in front of me right now. We went way back, and had been friends since before the war.
「I’m on an interesting assignment this time, but man, it’s a lil’ bit tough.」
「If someone like you finds it tough, then it really must be.」
「Right? Was wondering if you had any info for me.」
She smiled. The unrefined way in which she spoke was unbecoming of a lady, and she smiled only in times like these. But at the end of the day, she was a lady, and she knew how to use that fact to her advantage.
「What kind of info?」
「Ferland’s princess is here, isn’t she? She has this annoying fellow around her… and cause of him, I can’t approach her to save my life.」
「You can’t get close to her? That’s rare.」
「Shit’ll hit the fan if I get any closer than necessary.」
「That says a lot. How does he look like?」
「No idea. Can’t get close enough to tell.」
She spoke cheerfully despite what she was saying.
「It’s strange that he’s still there… but what I want is info about him.」
「I don’t have enough information to say anything definitive.」
That’s true, sighed Maria. She had probably only asked me because there was no harm in doing so.
「But that’s what makes this interesting.」
All things aside, this was what made her a bad girl. Polar opposites with Slade, she delighted in killing with a childlike fervor.
「Oh right」, said Maria as if she had suddenly recalled something. 「I gave you lots of info about that one fellow, right?」
「Y’know, the one behind the whole underground arena fiasco. I thought I drew his face pretty well.」
「Oh, that quest was taken down. Wait… you drew that?」
「Taken down, huh? Can’t say I wasn’t expecting it. Can only expect so much from the guy who I forced to submit the request.」
I had no idea what she was talking about, but it seemed like Maria had had a hand in describing the wanted individual. I dug out the archived quest slip, and her eyes lit up.
「That’s it! This is the one!」
She read the description like a child looking at a sumptuous dinner.
「Wonder where he is now」, she said, stroking her hideous sketch longingly.
From the side, I saw her expression change from that of a child to a mother reminiscing about her lost love.
「Even if you bump him off now, you’re not getting a single cent for it.」
「I know, I know… oh.」
「I forgot to include one of his pseudonyms. It’s not used as frequently as the rest here, but still…」
「I mean, the quest is already void, so it doesn’t really matter anymore –」
My heart skipped a beat. It had nothing to do with me, but I got goosebumps nonetheless. Everything Maria had mentioned earlier began falling into place, and I slowly but surely began to see the full picture.
An ‘annoying fellow’ that she ‘can’t approach to save her life’.
I understand everything now.
「That’s right… Slade.」
She repeated the name a few times as if she had stumbled upon a favourite toy from her childhood.
「Don’t you know anything about him?」