“In the short-term, Bruce and I will be working together to raise the necessary funds. We’ll accept jobs separately, though our activities are limited.”
“Blazer is probably whatever, but Betty is sure to be angry if she finds out…”
“Not good at all – no matter how I think about it, that won’t be enough. You’ll need to pay for teaching materials and instructors, in the long-term especially for the latter. At least three years – no, five, even for skilled ones. Besides, do you have any collateral, young man?”
“Once they’re employed, we’ll be taking a monthly royalty of three percent of their earnings.”
“Dude, isn’t that too steep?”
Bruce immediately questioned the deal, a perfectly reasonable reaction.
“It’s just for operating expenses and a little commission. I reckon it’ll take several years for us to start making a profit.”
“No no, what I meant was, what about the time before then? No help for five years – no, it’ll probably be longer until we even think about income. We can’t make it work with just hunting monsters, that’s for sure.”
“Bruce has a point there, young man.”
“So you see, I’ve been thinking of getting our funds from you in the meantime, Sir Gaston.”
I clapped my hands once to take the canter of the conversation. This, in a way, had the same encouraging effect as Bruce’s slap on my butt a while ago.
Both Gaston and Bruce were taken aback by my tone shift.
“…Funding from me? Young man… what do you think I am, a charity?”
Now that was quite a sharp and intense glare… That must have been enough to tear through your thin walls, Pochi-doggo.
“From this point on, it’ll be about a personal request. I plan to make the same request to Miss Irene and Sir Billy later on, too.
“…I just can’t get a read on this young man, eh?”
“Yup, me neither, sir.”
“Sir Gaston, would you be interested in buying my magecraft?”
“……Are you seriously… selling your magecraft?”
“Ones that were commonplace five hundred years ago, yes. Frankly, this would be no skin off my nose at all. However, I have resolved to sell them only to those I trust. In which case, only three people fulfil all my criteria so far. Moreover… don’t you find them fascinating? The magecraft I have studied and developed over the five thousand years of my life as a mage. I’ve written up a list and their prices for this occasion… What do you say? Would you be fine with these numbers?”
I took a piece of parchment from my chest pocket and handed it over to Gaston.
Gaston had the look of ceaseless scrutiny in his eyes, but once he was done scanning over the list of magecraft, the threatening air immediately disappeared.
“…Heh heh heh, so you plan to make this much from me, Billy, and the old lady… Absolutely outrageous.”
“I think these prices are reasonable enough, sir.”
“They are, indeed – or rather, they might even feel like a bit of a bargain. This is the feel you were exactly aiming for with these numbers, isn’t it?”
“Do you think the others will be on board as well?”
“Without a doubt, they will. But I think you’re missing one thing, young man?”
“You realize I haven’t said that I’m on board yet, right?”
“I beg your pardon. Your answer was written all over your face, so…”
“Hmph, you just had to say it, didn’t you? But this is certainly an interesting proposal. Consider me on board!”
“…And that’s the end of the business talk! I’d like some desserts, please!”
Did you actually discern the mood of the room, or did you not…? Why do you always have to be like this, Pochi?
“Fwahahahaha! The little girl is right, we haven’t ordered desserts yet!”
“Yes sir, yes sir~~!”
“…I couldn’t keep up with that. At all.”
“I do have plenty of things I’d like you to do, Bruce. If possible, I’d like you to be promoted to Rank S soon.”
“Oh, for the love of… You’re saying one crazy thing after another…”
With that deal set, we climbed over the first barrier in our path. It didn’t take long for me to finish up and leave the restaurant, heading back to the dormitory to prepare for more difficulties waiting up ahead.
The next day, I discussed the same topic with Irene and Billy, and as Gaston had predicted, they were on board.
With Irene planning to derive her funding from the Nation, and Billy saying that he would use this occasion to mark his return to monster hunting, our project was finally set into motion.
~~Twentieth Day of the Twelfth Month, Ten O’clock in the Morning~~
Two months after the Friendly Match, during the winter break, Pochi and I took the opportunity to end our dorm rent.
I had discussed this move with Lina beforehand, and while she feared that she would feel lonely, she held out with the assurance that we would still meet at the University.
Perhaps I could try inviting Lina to move over once things calmed down? And would she agree if I did?
While pondering all that over, Pochi and I packed our things in my soon-to-be old room.
“Master, now that I got a good look around… this room barely had anything!”
“Well, yeah, because we crammed all the important stuff into the Storeroom. Still surprising that we could fit the rest into just one bag.”
“Turning over a slave trading scene… It’s a dangerous bridge to cross, sir…”
“There’s no other good way for us now, is there? We’re buying them out for the higher price than that they had been sold for initially. But no matter how you spin the words, anyone’s still gonna consider it slave trading.”
“Right… Well then, shall we?”
Pochi and I met up with Bruce at the school gate, and together we made our way north, to the ‘Pochisley Agency’.
No matter how one looked at it, the name had undoubtedly been decided by Pochi. The place was a vacant house located in Beilanea’s northern district, slightly apart from the Grand Market, which we had bought with gold from Irene’s down payment and some additional funds that Gaston had given us as a prepayment of a sort. It had cost us quite a lot, considering that the building had to be large enough to house all the girls we’ll be taking in, as well as boys, if we were to keep our channels open. Using twenty of its rooms, the house probably could fit as many as 120 children. It wasn’t much, so we would have to work to increase that number… But what would we do, if we went over the limit? Well, I suppose we’ll just think about it when the time comes.
With Bruce leading the deal, we had paid off Haruhana, Onatsu, and Ofuyu, and now we were left with approximately 700,000 Gold.
Basically, it was possible to buy the women and girls off the Colorful Food District simply by negotiating with their respective establishments. The more beautiful or healthy they were, the higher was their price.
But the financial cost was not an issue. If the girls were to refuse our helping hand, then I wouldn’t be able to do anything with their situation.
In front of the Agency, Blazer was decorating the vertical, wooden signboard.
The interior had been cleaned up relatively quickly with magic and magecraft, and the basic furniture requirements had already been met.
Considering that this was a brickwork building, we had decided to use it as both our base of operations and long-term living quarters. Additionally, the other members of The Silver had agreed to provide us with assistance.
“Hey, Blazer! Thanks a million for your help.”
“You’re finally back. How does it look? Pretty good, huh?”
“It does look very good, indeed.”
“I’ll be done with this soon. Betty and Haruhana are inside, cooking lunch, so feel free to stay for the meal, at least.”
The first thing inside past the entrance was a small counter-height table. The guests’ side was set with one chair, and the hosts’ side set with two.
From what we’d heard, most of the girls couldn’t afford to leave the Colorful Food District’s employment on their own. Even if they escaped, they wouldn’t be able to feed themselves. Strict preventive measures, I’m certain.
Pochi, Bruce, and I were particularly worried by this one aspect, so we had turned to the Boss of Kachou Fuugetsu, where Haruhana used to work at, for assistance. The girls of the District would then contact the Boss if they needed help, and then the Boss would pass the information to us. The system had been planned in a way that it wouldn’t have any issue no matter where the Boss was.
News of our operations would be spread by word of mouth. Our goal for this stage was to slowly seep into the structure of the Colorful Food District.
While all that went on, Betty had started to suspect our activities, and at long last, had shown up to investigate.
“Brother, don’t stand there! You’re in the way!”
As the three of us stepped into the dining room, the first room to the right after the entrance, Betty promptly told us to make way as she carried food to the table. Bruce normally wouldn’t back down so easily, but lately, he was no match for Betty’s authority.
Betty had found out about the situation with the girls easily enough, and the first to hear her endless stream of complaints was none other than the guy nailing the signboard outside, Balzer.
Bruce and I, practically cross-examined by those two had no choice but to confess everything.
One thing worth mentioning was that she had found everything out thanks to Bruce’s reckless level grinding. Bruce’s movements had gotten so much sharper that Betty, who hadn’t teamed up with him in a while, had become suspicious.
And with that, Blazer and Betty joined up with us. But of course, if I were to be frank, there was not much in it for them when it came to rewards.
Chances are, if someone who wished to be a warrior came to the Agency, they could be recommended as a new member of The Silver. That, and they could use the place as their base of operations. However, those two had offered their assistance to us without any extra thought. That had been another instance that had made me admire how virtuous they were.
“Lunch is served!”
The one who called out as she ran up to us, carrying a basket of bread with her, was Onatsu. But now, everyone called her ‘Natsu’. She was quite an energetic girl, and the coverall apron she wore suited her perfectly.
The one who called out as she walked slowly, carrying a bowl of soup, was Ofuyu. Now called ‘Fuyu’ by everyone, her well-ordered features made her look mature for her age.
And last but not least, the one who came carrying a stack of plates was Haruhana. Once she had done away with the powdered face, she had turned out to be sixteen, just around Lina’s age, as I had expected. Since her strong first impression on me had been due to her cosmetics, in truth she had quite a gentle air to her, and was quite charming with hints of her acting more in line with normal girls now.
Now, it would be unfair to consider the Colorful Food District to be synonymous with red light districts, but such an association could never be fixed once the preconception stuck.
That attitude made the girls, even ones who had left the District legitimately, more prone to being caught into the business again, or otherwise have difficulties living elsewhere. Take for example Haruhana, even after becoming a free woman, she would have issues wandering around in town. If she were to be caught by the town’s security, she would have to go through a bothersome procedure that was quite a difficult to be properly let go of.
Given enough training, they surely would have the choice to live a normal life and work toward their goals and dreams.
Haruhana hasn’t decided on anything yet, but it seemed that Natsu wanted to be a mage. As for Fuyu, she was planning to become one of Gaston’s specialized office workers.
Natsu had pretty good magical aptitude, Fuyu had good memory, and both were quick to get work done. Betty had said that they were quite helpful to her.
Given enough time, Haruhana would surely know what she wanted to do with her life. I was quite happy when she had said that until then, she would like to help us out as much as she could.
Me, Pochi, Bruce, Blazer, Betty, Haruhana, Natsu, Fuyu… the founding members of the Pochisley Agency.
We all sat down around the dining table, offered a prayer of gratitude to God, and ate our lunch.
This was, in a way, missionary work. Considering that the Devil King’s foetal stage hasn’t started yet, it wouldn’t hurt to try restoring God’s powers in the meantime.
Which reminds me, I hadn’t paid much attention to this before, but it seemed that the majority of the population did pray before meals… to War Demon Emperor Vaas.
Although this was a small step forward, Pochi telling me that it was “very like me to start things up this way” had made me smile with quite a few mixed feelings.