「….That’s a relief. I can’t imagine what Layla would say to me if they found out.」
Judging by his expression and his tone of voice, I couldn’t rule out the possibility that it was a bluff, but he must have some sort of solid evidence to back up his claim.
If I tried too hard to hide it, I would end up revealing a weakness. In that case, I would act like I had no issues with him finding out. I had a feeling that it would be scary to have this old man trailing after me.
「Hmm, you didn’t deny it. Knowing you, you could have feigned ignorance. Could you tell me why you chose to say those specific words? You didn’t think I was bluffing?」
「Even if I were to call off your bluff, all that would be left is my denial. I could have pretended to not know what you meant, but I assume you already have some sort of concrete evidence? It is foolish for me to try to win against you in a war of words, Mr. Jemma」
The old man nodded, seemingly satisfied, and took a sip of his tea. I had taken the antidote that Chana had made for me, but I doubted that he would try to poison me here, now, so I drank the tea that he had served without any hesitation.
I hadn’t realized my mouth was dry until that moment.
「Alright, it’s time for some questions. How do you think this old man, who figured out the new shopkeeper in town named Elliot was hiding part of his identity, go about researching his background? You won’t lose or gain anything no matter what your answer, but just entertain me for a bit.」
… What was he thinking?
The old man was probably just trying to confirm my identity through another avenue. I at least knew that much. The dungeon at the mining village was known to a number of human beings through Gustav, so it wouldn’t be impossible to find out more.
That aside, I was confused as to why he would ask me. Why after finding out that I was a dungeon master, he would go through the trouble of inviting me for over lunch, and isolate me, and bring the topic up like this.
…. The most plausible explanation was that … he was measuring me up as a potential business partner.
「I had tried to conceal my identity to a certain extent, but I was still conducting business. So there is a number of ways information could have been leaked… I take it you are interested in doing business in the black market?」
I returned the challenge with a challenge of my own. It was true that I had been providing black market merchants and exiles with safe routes to cross the border. It was also true that I had introduced myself as a dungeon master then. However, that was a business that I had been taking part in not in the dungeons back in the mining village, but here at my store.
I couldn’t recall any client who had actually witnessed me create a demon or anyone who had recognized Dalia or Astarte as demons.
「Do you remember doing business with a woman who sold traps and keys? I’m not exactly sure what she called herself…」
Now that he mentioned it, I remembered someone that fit that description coming to visit our shop. Astarte had introduced me to her to sleep with, but she had refreshingly approached me herself. If I could remember correctly, keys and traps were not the only things she sold. She also sold chastity belts and dildos. I did in fact sleep with her…
「It’s an embarrassing story, but she is somewhat of a relative. She was publicly exiled from the company, but she is still a source of interesting information. Of course, I do have other channels of information, but that is that.」
I exhaled. If that had been his biggest source, then perhaps he still didn’t know of my powers to create other demons.
「It can’t be helped if you already know that much. Yes, I did end up buying quite a number of things from her」
「You realize that if you give up too easily, you also cause suspicion?」
With that, I was at a loss for words. Was he reading me like a book?
「I-I’m starting to think that if not for the place, it would be better to just kill you off. Y-You are truly dangerous…」
I was having difficulty getting the words out. Slowly, if I didn’t talk slowly, the words would get stuck in my throat. If I didn’t do something, I was going to get swallowed up by his pace.
「What kind of deal are you looking for with Olivie…. No, the Blair family?」
This was a gamble. The first thing that Jemma had mentioned was about my deal with Olivie.
Without saying anything about my being a master of demons or my being a demon myself. I guessed that was the only thing he wasn’t completely certain about yet.
Jemma had been there when I had pretended to meet Gordon from the Circus Troupe for the first time at the company dinner. He might be suspicious, but it was because he had no clear evidence that he would set up something like that in the first place…. I had completely fallen for his trap, so it was nothing that I could boast about either but.
「Hmmm, you’re quite the impatient one, aren’t you Elliott?」
He said in a soft but reproving voice. I didn’t deny it.
This old man was a merchant. I was also a salesman of sorts, so I knew that if I was dealing with someone I could do business with, it wasn’t wrong to hear them out first. But that was only when the person that you are doing business with could provide some sort of benefit to you. I could not think of any good that would come out of doing business with a dungeon master for Jemma’s company. In that case, what was he after?
「…. I figured that you want to establish good relations with Count Abrams…. Or with Ms. Olivia herself. And if that is what you want, I am willing to become the middleman.」
However, there was something that I was still unsure about. Jemma’s company was the largest business in Abrams, so there was no way that he didn’t already have connections to Count Abrams. Then what was it that he wanted? Think Elliott, think…. If I couldn’t beat him in a negotiation, the only thing I could do was try to catch up to his train of thought by using my brain.
「You really don’t lose your composure, do you. If it weren’t for Ms. Dalia, I would marry off one of my granddaughters to you.」
He complimented me. I wasn’t sure how to respond.
「You are more than half right. Now then, moving on. You probably thought this – Jemma Holdings already has ties to Count Abram, so why now…」
He hit the nail on the head. It seemed he was also trying to predict my thoughts.
「Are you trying to unofficially do bigger business with him…」
Then I suddenly remembered. He had mentioned that he had not told the Lambert family anything. Jemma’s largest business partner was without a doubt, the Lambert House. And though he did do business with the Roland Family who was the Lambert Family’s biggest competitor, even combined with the business he had with Count Abrams, the two were nowhere near as close as to how much he was getting from the Lamberts…
「…Are you perhaps trying to distance yourself from the Lambert family?」
Jemma raised his eyebrows for the first time at my comment.
「What makes you think that?」
「I obviously don’t know the exact numbers, but for your company that specializes in retail, your biggest client and business partner must be the Lambert family, who manages several water transportation companies. Last time you invited me to a luncheon with Dalia, that had been some sort of request by the Lambert family, am I right?」
The old man listened quietly, encouraging me to continue.
「In other words, there had been some sort of rift in the intimate relationship between your company and the Lambert family… or even if nothing has happened quite yet, you sensed that it was a risk for the future of the company if you were to continue the relationship, and that’s why you are trying to get closer to the Blair family…. So that even if your relationship with the Lamberts were to somehow sour, you would still be able to maintain your business.」
I said my thoughts as I was thinking them. It was a wild guess, but unexpectedly it might have been a good one.
The old man looked somewhat excited. To be honest, until the other day, the smile that had made me believe he was just a harmless old man, was starting to make me weary.
“Wow, you make a good point. It is obvious as a businessman, but as you know, it is scary to rely solely on one partner in the case that something happens… Especially with them, since in a few years the current head of household will most likely be giving the business to his son”
No, it was strange for him to be going to such lengths just because of a takeover of the business. He must know something more.
「Is that really all?」
「Oh, what a loaded question. But it’s a good one. I don’t really need to answer, but as a service to a new business partner, I shall tell you my own personal thoughts.」
…. I felt a tug of excitement at the words “new business partner”. I was partially scared and partially happy that this old man had deemed me worthy of being a business partner. However, I still needed to constantly be on guard.
「Lord Rubelio is most likely much more skilled than his father. Although he loses in terms of experience… in terms of talent, he is much more gifted than even Lady Olivia.」
I agreed with him to an extent on that matter. It wasn’t that Olivia didn’t have talent. Quite on the contrary, she was a natural at being a leader and knew a fair amount about the economy and politics… it was just that Rubelio was somewhat of a monster.
「As you say, that man is indeed scary. Not only in terms of his ability, but also he is unpredictable….」
Yes, that man was both sociable as well as cruel. He was able to be both intimidating and friendly at the same time. It also had to do with Galatia who he kept by his side, but there was no telling what he was capable of.
「I have a feeling that if he takes over the business, the nature of our relationship will change dramatically. And I can’t help but think that it will shift in a direction that will be disadvantageous to my company….I have known him since he was small,… but that child was extreme even from a young age. It might be because he has had everything handed to him, but the scale of his desires are on a completely different level from other people… or should I say he doesn’t lust after the things that most people desire, and always tried to attain the things that the average person wouldn’t dare to try to know.」
Ahh. I understood where he was coming from. I had no proof, but I thought he must have acted recklessly in the same way that he does now, back from when he was a child.
「And since he found that assistant of his, she added fuel to the fire. At first she was something of a lover to the current head of the household, but now she’s completely loyal to Lord Rubelio…. I can’t imagine she’s up to any good.」
So he was aware of Galatia’s danger. I wondered if he had any information that I was not aware of yet.
「I fear that it’s likely that within the next few years, the Lambert House is going to change completely. Business is going well with the current head, but there is no guarantee that it will go well with the next… and there is also no guarantee that this country will stay at peace」
His last words seemed to imply something bigger was going to happen than just the takeover.
「What do you mean by that?」
「You are aware that there has been tension with Rodania to the East for several years now, correct? We hadn’t been concerned by it until now because Palmira and Abrams are far from the frontlines… but it is rare for countries to continue to have small territory disputes for over ten years」
The eastern country of Rodania. It was the major nation that had this country had been engaging in territory disputes for years, and it was also the country where Miyabi had been captured before. They were possessed with ambition, and were constantly attacking this country…. Is what had been told to the people. Of course, the people over there would mostly likely say the same.
「I am a complete amateur when it comes to war. Is there something strange about the current situation?」
「My company does business with merchants from Rodania, though not with any of those who are at the front lines of course. There was a mutual understanding that as long as the situation does not escalate, that business would actually thrive in times of war. Over the course of ten years, their prices have steadily increased, but we were also able to profit from the trade…. But I can’t help but think that things have been going too smoothly lately.」
As a businessman who lives for profit, even he was starting to feel uneasy about the steady rise in numbers. I wasn’t sure if that was just this old man’s personal intuition, or if that was a general understanding of business owners.
「Regardless of Count Abrams rank, compared to the Lambert or Roland families who have several knights and foot soldiers, he has not affiliated himself with the war. If he continues to do so for the next ten years, even though I personally question his decision to do so, as a businessman he is the ideal business partner. However… there is no guarantee that won’t change either, and if it does, I imagine it will be an unexpected and terrible change.」
I remembered my conversation with Rubelio. He had come up with several strategies, and had even mapped out the details of their implementation. As the old man said, there was a high likelihood that things would change completely when he took over the Lambert House.
「I do not dislike ambition… but I can’t help but feel that the scale of Rubelio’s ambitions are different. Whether that goes in a good direction, or turns into a raging storm…. I am the kind of coward that wants to be prepared if there is even the slightest possibility that it will go in the wrong direction.」
…. Was this man trying to warn me? Or maybe he was trying to control me by giving me this information. But the very man who owned Jemma holdings was trying to use someone with a dark past like me, just to get close to Olivie because he was feeling at risk. I needed to weigh the benefits and the dangers of accepting this deal.
…. Was there any information that I could leave him with… Oh.
「I just want to leave you with this before we end this conversation… It’s about Galatia, who serves the Lambert family. I heard that she had learned magic at an academy in Palmira to the west. At the very least, she uses one type of magic for sure. Some call it the Evil Eye. But it’s a spell that is used to manipulate others.」
Old Jemma’s expression hardened, and his eyes shifted.
「… No wonder」
Seems like something had come to mind.
I had a feeling our interests were beginning to match, and we could both predict what the risks would be if we were to engage in a deal…. But we each kept those intuitions to ourselves.
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