The next morning, Vahn awoke cradled between Hestia and Fenrir. Tina lay next to Fenrir while Milan was on the opposite side as the five had slept in a bundled line of bodies. Vahn felt very comfortable and lazed about for a few minutes as he absentmindedly hugged Hestia’s waist. Because of the issues of the previous day, Vahn didn’t get to spoil her as he had wanted. Instead, it was Hestia leading the charge to help tend to Vahn for the majority of the evening. Remembering her promise to always be here when he was down, Vahn felt a comforting feeling coming from her gentle warmth.
Since it was a weekend, there were no plans to go into the dungeon today and Vahn had also cleared his schedule for the time being. Everyone enjoyed breakfast together before Vahn set out on his own into the early morning mist. Because it was cold this time of year there was a mist that covered much of the City early in the mornings and made stealth easier. Vahn had left a note for Hestia to pass off some information through the network before giving each of the girls a variation of a hug and a kiss right before he set out.
While he was relaxing the previous night, Vahn had thought about several forms of approach he could take that might prove useful to his cause. Since he had the [Eyes of Truth], Vahn could just sneak around from building to building inspecting the inside and looking for any girl that matched Haruhime’s description. Though he would be invading the privacy of others, Vahn thought it could be a viable approach to take if he wanted to avoid walking the streets and trying to pick up a scent trail.
Another option he had was to try and get information through brokers while changing his appearance a bit as he checked the information through other networks. Since he had [Thria*Mimos], Vahn could change his ears to match almost any of the common races while also growing a tail to match. Since it also affected his hair color, Vahn could use the magic to disguise himself to an extent. The major downside to this, as Chloe had explained, as that any information that was requested through a broker was usually spread around to others in the trade. They liked to keep track of who was asking questions and why in order to increase their profit margins. Even if Vahn took on multiple identities, it would raise a lot of red flags if there were people asking for the same information all of a sudden. In the worst case scenario, he might even draw more attention to Haruhime and she would either be moved or concealed further from sight.
One of the last options Vahn could think of, other than the method he would have to employ if things went south, was to actually gather information slowly through ‘normal’ means. He could visit high-class brothels as a customer and potentially get information from the various gods and goddesses that ran them. If he passed off his desire to meet a Renard girl as a natural curiosity, Vahn might be able to gather information about Haruhime without drawing attention to himself at all. The caveat is that he would actually have to act as an active clientele for whichever establishment he decided to visit. For various reasons, though this could potentially be the fastest method, Vahn was the most apprehensive about it.
The final method included visiting various pubs, bars, or gambling dens and trying to pick up information from drunkards, but Vahn knew it would cause problems if someone as young as him was asking questions and seemingly not getting drunk. There was also the chance that Vahn could get wrapped up in a larger scheme due to the fact that most gambling dens and casinos were run by gangs and mobs behind the scenes. If he had no interest in gambling or business, Vahn would attract a lot of attention from the various criminal organizations that ran the facilities.
After arriving in the red light district, Vahn sat atop a six-story house and surveyed the surroundings as he contemplated the best course of action. As he expected, the business was almost non-existent in the early mornings except for some customers lazily leaving the various brothels with tired expressions on their faces. Vahn learned that the majority of the establishments weren’t too active until the afternoon and late evenings. If he wanted to employ the method of searching buildings, the best time to do so would be in the early mornings where it wasn’t easy for ‘workers’ to solicit customers while the night chill remained in the air.
For the next few hours, Vahn inspected several buildings after using his domain to detect presences and then check the interiors with his [Eyes of Truth]. It was a mentally taxing job to penetrate so far through some of the deeper buildings, but Vahn still felt like this was the safest approach. Fortunately, even the buildings that had barriers for surveillance, counter-surveillance, soundproofing, detection, and security, Vahn could see through them all the same. It was difficult, if not impossible, for normal methods to counteract his use of his Innate abilities.
Each time he cleared a building, Vahn would update it with a tag on his map before moving on to the next one and repeating the process. Unfortunately, by the time business started picking up in the afternoon, Vahn had failed to find any traces of Haruhime and he didn’t have the mental energy to peer through buildings and inspect so many people. [Eyes of Truth] required a great deal of focus and it was admittedly difficult to focus on things if Vahn peeked into a room where there was some ‘intense’ action going on. In one instance, Vahn had looked into the basement levels of a building where the aura of a god was located. When he inspected the scene, Vahn saw the god tied up to a cross-shaped platform while he was being teased by a somewhat motherly looking woman wearing a black, leather, outfit.
After that, Vahn decided it might be better to try a different approach and headed through the backstreets toward one of the information brokers he had marked on his map. Vahn noticed there was a decent amount of traffic going in and out of the building in the last two days, so he assumed it was either reliable or part of a larger network. Removing his Báihǔ transformation, Vahn used [Thria*Mimos] to change into a Raccoon person which also caused his dark-brown hair to take on a hazelnut brown color as he grew small circular ears and a short bushy tail. After changing his outfit and wearing a flat cap on his head, Vahn walked into the information brokerage with what he assumed was a stoic expression on his face. He knew from several sources that his face could be read easily, so Vahn was localizing his aura while using [Will of the Emperor] to forcibly calm his mind.
Stepping into the unmarked building, Vahn was immediately noticed by a young receptionist woman that was wearing a blue maid outfit and had a collar around her neck. She had purple hair and lavender eyes and Vahn could tell that, though her expression was calm and professional, her aura was dreary and stagnant. Walking forward, the receptionist asked, “Welcome Sir, do you have a referral, or would you like to be interviewed by one of our esteemed brokers?”
Vahn noticed the girl’s aura fluctuate when she mentioned the brokers and couldn’t help but squint his eyes slightly. He very quickly realized what kind of institution this was and wasn’t sure if he should be happy or sad at the influence of karma. Though this was definitely an information brokerage, it also seemed to actively be involved in slave trafficking. Even though they had just met, Vahn could identify the girl in front of him, who only appeared to be around 17-18, as a slave that was forced to work against her will.
Even though his expression didn’t change much at all, since she was trained to read people’s expressions and body language, the girl quickly realized that Vahn wasn’t part of their intended clientele. He seemed to have accidentally wandered in before realizing what kind of place this was and even acted as if he took pity on her. A bit of melancholy colored her eyes for a brief moment before the girl whispered, “You shouldn’t be here, this isn’t a place for kind people…”
As if machinated by fate, the moment the girl spoke a tall, somewhat sharp looking, man with blonde hair and golden eyes walked out of the door in the back accompanied by a regal-looking old man and a blue-haired girl with tired eyes and a forced smile on her face. Though it was almost unnoticeable, Vahn could see a small tattoo on her wrist that matched the emblem on the old man’s suit. No matter how he looked at it, the girl had likely just become a slave for the gentlemanly looking man.
Shaking hands with the client and sending him off with his purchase, the blonde-haired man had a perfect business smile on his face as he approached Vahn and the receptionist. He asked in a calm tone, “Tiffany, have you properly attended this young man?” Hearing her name called, the girl named Tiffany bowed low and explained, “This esteemed guest did not have a referral and I was asking if he wanted to speak to your honored self. Please forgive my failure to inform you expediently Master Shauntac.”
The man, apparently named Shauntac, had a cruel smile on his face as he waved the girl away while saying, “You’ll be dealt with later. Return to your post from now and contemplate your mistake.” After bowing, Tiffany walked over to the small desk she stood at and Vahn could see her aura turn chaotic with a deep purple color to it. Because she had tried to warn him, now Tiffany would be receiving some form of punishment later? The cold sensation in Vahn’s mind began to spread slowly through the rest of his body as the business-like smile returned to Shauntac’s face.
Reaching out his hand, Shauntac said, “It is a pleasure to meet you, my young friend. I trust you come here with the intent to purchase information…or perhaps you’d like to discuss more private matters? Regardless, my name is Shauntac, may I ask for this esteemed guest for his noble name?” Though he had already decided to crush this place in the future, Vahn kept his expression plain as he reached forward and shook the man’s hand and said in a low tone, “Yashima.”
Since Vahn had decided that he would have different names depending on his form, it actually wasn’t a lie when he introduced himself. Even the system updated whenever he decided to change his name so Shauntac wasn’t able to see through his words or expression. Instead, he had a business-like smile on his face as he firmly shook Vahn’s hand and led the way to a private room for their ‘interview’. Vahn scanned the walls and noticed there were several formations that were hidden within the hollow interiors as well as several presences located very near the room that were likely security personnel or slaves.
Soon after they sat down, three different girls entered the room with trays of tea and snacks which they neatly arranged on the small table separating Vahn and Shauntac. Each girl was both beautiful and youthful and they all had characteristics that drew the eye. There was a blonde half-elf with watery eyes, a short human girl with a very lively appearance and brown hair, and a cool looking beauty that appeared to be of a race Vahn had never seen before. She had azure blue hair that had been neatly arranged into a long ponytail with small horns on top of her head with droopy off-colored ears underneath. The most notable features were her incredibly large breasts and the bell around her neck even though she still had a young face.
Seeing Vahn’s ‘appraising’ gaze, Shauntac smiled and said, “Is this your first time seeing a Cow Person? There are quite common in the west, but relatively rare here in Orario after all. If you’d like, I can arrange you get to know each other better?” Vahn felt a strong urge to clench his teeth and rebut the man but just shook his head with a small smile and said, “I do have an interest, but I’m looking for something different right now. Even though these three are beautiful girls, my preferences are of a different persuasion.”
Sending a signal to the girls with his eyes, they left the room as Shauntac asked, “Oh? My brokerage prides itself on our ability to procure information and meet the needs of our customers. Of course, that is assuming they have the capability to pay for the information. As it is our first meeting, I’d like to get to know you better Mr. Yashima. I wonder, where did you come from? What interests brought you here to my place of business?” A cold light shone in Shantac’s eyes even though his expression didn’t change in the slightest.
Without feeling pressured, Vahn explained, “I migrated to Orario from a port City name Bri near the Serpent’s pass. I haven’t been in the City for but a few months and I’ve been trying to make a living as an Adventurer since then. I only discovered this place recently after visiting the red light district to look for a specific kind of girl that I had met a few times within my hometown. Without intending to brag, I’ve never had any significant trouble with women, but I’m looking for something specific.”
Other than the fact that he originated from Bri, everything else about Vahn’s story was true and Shauntac wasn’t able to discern any lies from his words. From his perspective, he thought that Vahn had just intentionally concealed his own hometown, likely so his origins couldn’t be easily traced back to his family if anything went awry. Since it was rare for anyone to divulge that kind of information, the fact that the rest of Vahn’s story was true made him a viable client for the time being.
With a smile on his face, Shauntac said, “It seems our meeting was fated to be a cooperative one. You have a desire, and I have the ability to facilitate your needs. Shall we discuss the specifics of our cooperation Mr. Yashima?” Reaching for the cup on the table, Shauntac raised it slightly as if to toast their future business ventures. Vahn lifted his own cup and, even though he could detect some kind of chemical within, drank down the tea without hesitation.
(A/N: Alternate Titles: ‘Whims of Karma’,’Seething rage concealed behind a smile’,’Deception through small truths’)