Chapter 794: Empathy…?

In the final days before the expedition, Vahn found himself slowly flying through the sky as he made his way towards the obscurely located ‘Traveler’s Inn’, the home of the Hermes Familia. It was a rather demure looking building with two floors, matching the general architecture of the Orario. The overall color was a muted white with similarly faded brown wood where all the visible support struts were located. At a glance, it seemed to be a simple Inn where anyone could stay the night for just a few hundred Valis but, to those that knew the true nature of the Hermes Familia, this surface appearance couldn’t fool them.

Similar to the Demeter Familia, which was able to stay within the top ten most influential Familia based solely on their produce, the Hermes Familia actually didn’t have a very high ranking. The peculiar thing about this was the fact they were an Expedition Familia, which meant they publically made their living by venturing into the Dungeon and performing missions. However, though they had existed for decades, the Familia was only F-Rank, something that would generally be impossible since they had several members reported to be Level 3 or higher. The reason for this was because the Hermes Familia served a very important role within Orario, maneuvering between the light and dark sides of society to help maintain balance and order.

Though didn’t expressly do anything that would be considered illegal, the Hermes Familia existed as a ‘grey’, or ‘neutral’ organization that the Guild often relied on to trace black market goods. As a result of their track record, they had the trust of the Guild and were not required to publically report their Levels, nor the completion of quests. Thus, even though they could have been near A-Rank based on their numbers and the average Level of their executive members, the Hermes Familia was perfectly content with their current status. The only ‘problematic’ thing, other than the fact they had managed to offend Vahn in the past, was that their reputation as a Familia that would do ‘anything’ for money earned them the ridicule of many.

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Vahn wasn’t exactly sure why the Hermes Familia needed so much money, as even Loki’s investigation into things had turned up no significant information, but he knew there was more than a little truth to the story. It was rumored that there were two books possessed by Hermes, one violet and the other green. Listed within those books were the prices of various goods and services that could be purchased from the Hermes Familia, including the tracking of black market items, sending messages, or transporting goods. One of those books, however, purportedly had the names of every member of his Familia.

If the rumors were to be believed, and Vahn had already learned there was a good chance this was the case, there were various prices listed beneath each member’s name. These included everything from general contracting fees, such as if you wanted that specific member to perform a mission, but also went on to detail services that couldn’t be discussed in polite society. The only thing that made it acceptable was the fact that the members themselves were able to set the prices. Inversely, however, was the fact that they were bound to provide any service that had been paid for, even if it was for someone they hated.

According to Loki, part of her investigation turned up information that one of the Hermes Familia members, a Cat Person by the name of Tabitha, in order to pay off gambling debts, ended up having to lower the price of some of her services. The same debtors that she owed the money to ended up ‘purchasing her for an entire week, an event that had fundamentally changed the woman’s character after she took nearly a month to recover fully. Though she would have been able to accelerate the healing process with Elixirs, even those were billed to the individual members of the Familia so she instead had to rely on her natural regeneration to bounce back…

Just imagining such circumstances caused Vahn to sigh but, considering that Hermes wasn’t actually doing anything wrong, including how the members themselves set the prices, there wasn’t much he could say on the matter. At the same time, however, he had considered buying the entire Familia, which was apparently something else that was also given a value within Hermes’ special book. At least this way, though there were certainly a fair number of members with quirks, Vahn felt like they would be able to live a moderately happier life. However, unless he was willing to ‘force’ them to obey his words, many of the members would undoubtedly fall into the same pitfalls once again, invalidating his intentions in the first place…

Shaking his head to clear his thoughts, Vahn descended in front of the Traveler’s Inn and made his way into the dual-purpose tavern-c**-reception-room. Upon entering, Vahn noticed a tall woman with silky black hair, lavender purple eyes, and full lips that fit snuggly upon her angular and squarish face. Her neck seemed to be thick than his thigh and she had visible muscles that were all clearly defined, each having a large volume that made her physical power obvious at a glance. At the same time, the woman had the largest breasts Vahn had ever seen, though their form was strange as he could see a crease in her white blouse that showed the underlying musculature of her body…

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Vahn had never seen such a manly looking woman and, for a brief moment, his mental processes had slowed down until she turned towards him, brows furrowing slightly before her expression softened and she asked, “Ara~? What brings you here, kiddo? Did you want to purchase the services of the Hermes Familia, or would you like to rent a room?” Though he had almost recovered completely, Vahn was surprised by the cheerful and almost girly voice of the gigantic woman, who he had identified as a Dwarf. This knowledge caused the gears in his mind to begin turning again as, after interacting with Mia Grande several times in the past, Vahn could easily accept that other Dwarven females could easily exceed 180cm…

With a casual smile on his face, eliciting a blush from the stout woman, Vahn said, “Greetings, I believe this is our first meeting, but I find it rather difficult to believe a member of the Hermes Familia is unaware of my existence…?” Against Vahn’s expectations, the woman began to fiddle with one of her pigtails as she sheepishly looked to the side and said, “You’re Vahn Mason…sorry for calling you a kid…” As she was speaking, the woman’s face became even redder, causing Vahn’s brain to buzz while he resisted the urge to sigh. He was very accustomed to the fact that girls would have this type of reaction if he talked directly to them, but it was still a little surprising that such a powerful looking woman had such a demure personality.

Turning his head towards the nearby door, Vahn saw what looked like a child with golden hair that had a subtle green hue to it, tied into a braided ponytail that extended past her shoulder. Her outfit consisted of a white tunic, a light blue mesh scarf, a pair of purple trousers, and small brown leather boots. Though she had the appearance of a girl around 9-12 years old, Vahn immediately identified her as a Pallum and, based on the flow of energy in her body, she should be closer to around 17-18, even with her height only reaching a meager 108cm. When she turned her grey eyes towards him, which had a hint of purple, they immediately rounded as she pointed her finger and exclaimed, “Ah, you’re Vahn!”

Though she wasn’t really that fast, the Pallum woman made her way to his side in an instant, trying to grab his hand in an excited manner but Vahn had casually moved it away. Her eyes showed mild surprise until Vahn plopped his hand on her head and said, saying, “I’m just another person…don’t get so excited. By the way, may I ask your names? Also, I’m here to meet with Asfi, so please let her know I’m here.” Vahn could sense a rather large underground structure beneath the Inn, with more than a hundred people present in the complex network of corridors and rooms. He had already identified where Asfi was but kept up the pretense since he was certain they didn’t know the true limits of his abilities.

While the Pallum girl was absentmindedly laughing under Vahn’s patented head patting technique, especially effective on small girls and Beast People, the tall Dwarven woman stared with a look containing surprise and envy. Still, hearing Vahn’s question, she smiled and answered, “My name is Elilly, a Dwarf. That melting creature there is Pot, a Pallum…” While speaking, Elilly pressed a button underneath the counter and Vahn could sense that Asfi had become alerted and was beginning to make her way to the surface. Since it would take her a few minutes, Vahn lightly nodded his head and explained, “Yes, I was able to tell your races almost immediately. As a physician, I would be a laughing stock if I was unable to properly identify something as important as the race and gender of others.”

Elilly nodded her head in understanding but her eyes were glued to the hand he was using to pet Pot with, the latter seeming to have forgotten how to do anything other than smile, a silly expression on her face. Her expression had turned somewhat melancholic and, seeing this, Vahn felt strangely guilty so he asked, “Is there something the matter, Elilly…?” This caused her to blush slightly, which looked strange on her chiseled facial features and, against his expectations, she adopted a pouting expression and said, “No…it’s fine…there’s nothing wrong…”

Pot, who had been in her own little world until this point, suddenly snapped back to reality and raised her right hand high in a childish gesture as she shouted, “Elilly probably wants you to pet her head as well! She might look like a gorilla, but she is actually a girly girl who is very self-conscious of her appearance~. I keep telling her to stop eating and exercising if she wants to slim down, but she actually took it too seriously once and nearly starved to death, ahahahahaha~.”

Hearing this, Vahn furrowed his brows slightly while Elilly hung her head in shame, face transitioning between being pale and blushing fiercely. Removing his hand from Pot’s head, which made the girl instantly adopt a pouting expression of her own, Vahn flicked the rather brash Pallum in the forehead with his middle finger. Her head bobbed back like it was trying to make contact with her back as she stumbled a few steps before squatting down on the ground with teary eyes as she rubbed her head and asked, “Why did you hit me…?” with a sobbing intonation.

With a serious expression on his face, Vahn plainly stated, “It isn’t right to make comments about someone’s physical appearance, especially if they are already self-conscious about things. The fact that she has tried to work on it is something she should be commended for, not made fun of…” While speaking, Vahn was also considering if there was something he could do to help Elilly with her ‘problem’, not that he really believed she needed it. Though she didn’t really match his preferences, which had been developed over the last few years, Vahn didn’t think she was an ugly woman. Compared to many of the Dwarves he had seen, she was actually on the more attractive side and, had she been amongst her people, Vahn was confident she would be a popular woman.

Pot was still rubbing her forehead, confused as to how the stinging sensation was able to persist for so long, even though it should have stopped hurting rather quickly. This was a result of Vahn inserting a small amount of source energy into the ‘attack’, which would take a few minutes to fade away naturally. He had wanted to punish her for saying something so rude and inconsiderate, especially since the two were supposed to be companions within the same Familia. As for what Pot was thinking, she made a small promise to herself to not say harsh things to people in the near future, at least when Vahn was around. The fact that she had been able to reach ‘heaven’, only to be dropped down into ‘hell’ caused her to reflect on all the harsh and abrasive things she had said to others in the past…

Other than outright performing Nirvana on Elilly, the only thing Vahn could think of to help her would be to give her one of the cultivation skills or techniques he had been gleaning through over the last year for Fenrir’s and Alexa’s training. Included amongst them were several methods to refine the body, which had been purchased for Fenrir’s benefit, unfortunately without any great success. Other than making her skin look healthier, and strengthening her bones, Fenrir wasn’t able to make full use of the skills and still relied on transformation magic to shape her body. For someone like Elilly, who was a relatively normal person, Vahn believed the effects would be very noticeable in a relatively short period of time.

The only thing that kept him from handing over the manual was the fact that, even if she didn’t share the information with others outright, it would eventually fall into the hands of others. Though there wasn’t anything intrinsically wrong with allowing a technique to shape the body into the open market, Vahn knew such a technique would be heavily exploited if it fell into the wrong hands. With his past experiences with the Hermes Familia, it gave him more than a few doubts about entrusting such a manual to one of its members, even if the Hermes Familia was ‘famous’ for being trustworthy with such information. Though that might be the case, the sole fact that you could purportedly purchase the entire Familia mad it very difficult to actually trust them…

As rude as it might be, Vahn decided to confirm the speculation and, surprising the two girls, asked, “So, if I wanted to buy the two of you, how much Valis would it cost?” In an instant, the atmosphere became somewhat tense as Elilly lowered her head slightly and asked in a business-like manner, “Are you asking about ‘rental’ services, temporary ownership, or permanant ownership? Depending on the terms, the amount of Valis required increases exponentially. You also have to make vows to ensure the protection of the purchased goods unless you intend to buy them completely. In that case, you have to make a vow claiming you will care for the ‘goods’ until their death, without being able to free them…”

With sad eyes, now possessing much less light than they had previously, Pot held up three fingers on her hand and, with a business smile of her own, said, “Since I’m a Pallum, and a former slave, you can buy me for 650,000V per month, 7,500,000V per year, or 20,000,000V for permanant ownership…if you just wanted to ‘rent’ me, the fee is 50,000V, as long as there is no physical harm done to my body…”

Though it wasn’t exactly public knowledge, the reason behind why the prices were still so high, as even slaves were much cheaper to purchase, was because the life of the Hermes Familia member would be in the hands of their purchaser. When you bought slaves, legally, there were several contracts that you had to sign that would guarantee the protection of the ‘goods’. Since the Hermes Familia members wouldn’t be slaves, but people bound by powerful vows that they had made in the past, this could be circumvented completely…

As a result, the prices were on the high end, but you could also purchase relatively high-Level goods that wouldn’t be available on the market. This was a method by which the Nobles would sometimes acquire their personal bodyguards, and it wasn’t a practice wholly unique to the Hermes Familia. In fact, for better or worse, it was common for many Familia run by gods with Merchant-based Divinities to offer, not only their Familia as ‘goods’, but themselves. Though he had assumed it was a joke, Vahn had actually been propositioned by Fortuna in the past when his personal finances had exceeded 10BV.

After Pot had mentioned her prices, Elilly went on to promote her own, being the more expensive of the two since she was at the peak of Level 3 and specialized in protection. She even went on to explain that she knew how to cook and clean and, though her figure might not be the most appealing, she was confident in the ‘durability’ of her body if he wanted to do anything extreme. By the end of her self-promotion, Vahn’s mind had a moderate chill running through it, even though his expression didn’t show it. He knew they all had their reasons for being here, as even a Princess like Asfi had put herself in similar circumstances, and it wouldn’t be fair to them for him to say anything on the matter. Though it bothered him, more than a little, it was arguably a better system than slavery and, as Pot had proclaimed to be a slave in the past, she was likely very aware of that fact…

Asfi showed up shortly after she had crossed his mind, her close proximity being the reason for his stray thoughts. When she sensed the tense atmosphere in the room, Asfi didn’t really understand the situation until Vahn turned to her and asked, “Asfi…if I wanted to purchase you, how much Valis would it cost me…?” Though anger had already started to pool within his mind, Vahn wanted to verify if even a Princess like Asfi was truly subject to the same circumstances. If she was…he felt that it would be marginally more acceptable, as that would show that Hermes was at least ‘fair’ in his treatment of his Familia members. Inversely, if she was the exception to the rule, Vahn would take up the matter personally with Hermes later and see how the rather troublesome god was able to justify his actions…

Hearing Vahn’s words, Asfi immediately understood what must have happened and, considering Vahn wasn’t really the type to take advantage of others, she knew he was likely just verifying a rumor he had heard. Still, the rumors had a fair amount of truth to them and, even though it wasn’t quite as simple as he might expect, Asfi sighed and explained, “Though I’m certain you are already aware of my circumstances, I can’t go into the details unless you finalize the transaction. Since I’m the Captain of the Hermes Familia, and one of its stronger members, the general fees for my services can be very expensive. However, if you wanted to ‘rent’ me, the fee is five-million Valis for the first day, with a guarantee of three-billion Valis if any permanant harm was to befall me. After that, there would be a standard rental fee of 500,000V and, if you wanted to purchase me, the rates are twelve-million Valis per month, one-hundred million Valis per year, and three billion Valis for permanant ownership…”

Though she had a stoic expression on her face, Vahn was aware that Asfi, much like Pot and Elilly, all had chaotic and wavering auras. When she finished listing her prices, Asif began her own self-promotion spiel, detailing that she was a qualified accountant, had extensive knowledge of politics, negotiation, etiquette, and, most importantly, was a Level 4 that also had the [Mystery] Development Ability. When she got to this point, Asfi clarified, “Because of my special circumstances, any profits garnered from using my ability require that twenty percent of the funds are allocated into a private account that you wouldn’t have access to. At the same time, there are terms that would allow you to receive a discount on permanant ownership or any period that is greater than five years…in order to learn what they are, I’m afraid you would have to take a vow of non-disclosure…”

While Asfi was explaining everything, Vahn felt the chill in his mind subside slightly and, even though it wasn’t his intention to purchase the girls, he couldn’t help but eye his personal finances. Currently, he had more than 11BV and, if Asfi only cost 3BV, Vahn was certain it wouldn’t be that difficult to purchase nearly every member of the Hermes Familia. However, just as he had been trying to avoid developing additional relationships, Vahn didn’t exactly want to get wrapped up in the affairs of such a complicated group of people…thinking till this point, Vahn couldn’t help but release a long and exasperated sigh, surprising Elilly and Pot while Asfi seemed to have anticipated such a response.

Even if he tried to convince himself that it wasn’t his business, Vahn knew he was something of an ‘idiot’ when it came to situations like this. He wouldn’t have worked so hard to bring about reforms in both the Elven Kingdom and Orario if he was able to avoid being a busy-body. For better or worse, he simply couldn’t overlook situations where he could improve the conditions of other people without any great cost to himself. Though it would be an extreme amount of wealth, Vahn had almost no real use for petty cash and, if he truly needed more money, he would probably be able to make more than a hundred billion Valis just by selling a few interspatial rings…

Turning his head to Elilly, whose self-consciousness about her appearance was the catalyst for his current decision, Vahn withheld another sigh and then turned to Asfi as he said, “Tell Hermes that I will be purchasing the entire Hermes Familia for the duration of a year. During that time, you will be under the direction of the Loki Familia and any information that is disclosed to those within my charge will be absolutely confidential. Any items, be they equipment or consumables, will have to be returned to the Alliance before the expiration of the contract and, even after the contract expires, I will not tolerate the disclosure of any sensitive information that was obtained while under my ownership…”

Elilly and Pot were completely gobsmacked by Vahn’s words but Asfi responded with a rare smile as she said, “I’ll prepare the contract shortly, but it already has clauses that cover each of the things you mentioned. At the same time, you will be given a list detailing the backgrounds, capabilities, and special circumstances of each member of the Hermes Familia. Since this information is also very sensitive, you will have to make a vow of non-disclosure before signing the contract…” As she was speaking, Asfi was withholding her own sigh because things were developing in the way that her god, Hermes, had speculated. Though he couldn’t guess at the reason directly, Hermes had guessed that Vahn would likely try to take ownership of the Familia at some point, even going out his way to spread the rumors about his two books personally during Loki’s investigation…

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