“You are welcome to stay here for the moment.” One of the Agnus knights showed Joshua to a modest building.
We arrived in Arcadia late this afternoon. It lives up to its glorious reputation. The awe-inspiring Imperial Palace loomed over the lesser buildings, dominating the capital’s skyline—of course, Joshua had grown bored of it a long time ago.
Arcadia’s land prices were as incredible as its splendor; Duke Agnus, one of the highest-ranking aristocrats in the Empire, resided in one of Arcadia’s most expensive areas. A single building in the heart of Arcadia would cost as much as a fort in a rural area.
The building Joshua and his group stood before, on the other hand, was located on the city outskirts.
“This location…” Cain muttered.
“What is it?”
“Right. Arcadia is where I spent my childhood and where I came into the Duke’s following.”
You were close enough for him to bring you along? Joshua’s eyes twinkled. But it was I who made use of your full potential.
It was obvious to Joshua that Cain was concealing his abilities, even if his senses weren’t even a tenth as sharp as they used to be. Curiously, though, that was all he knew about “Sir Cain”. That could mean one of two things: either he failed to break his limits and faded into obscurity, or he was wiped out with the rest of the Agnus Duchy before he had a chance to fully blossom.
Whichever it is, he’s better off with me. Joshua would make sure his people could walk with their heads held high. It was how a master should show his appreciation for his subordinates’ devotion.
“I’ve only been here once.” Cain scratched his head. “He invited me here to put my abilities to the test. As you may have noticed, the Duke’s residence has many eyes—so, there’s no better place to train quietly than here.”
With that, Cain pushed open the door.
“Oh?” Lucia giggled in delight when she saw the interior opening before her. It was big and clean, in contrast to its outdated exterior; hidden away in the backyard, they could see a small but private training ground.
“Hmm…” It was exactly what Joshua wanted: a peaceful spot to train and meditate without being distracted by prying eyes.
However, security is the worst because it’s in such a thinly populated area.
Except for Cain, everyone who came with them were maids to assist Lucia. That was exactly what Joshua wanted, but if he was attacked…
It would be difficult for Cain to defend my mother on his own, and I can’t stay here all the time. Then…
The last school year had just ended, so the academy was on break; that meant there were still over two months until the start of the new semester. Plenty of time.
“I’ll be gone for a while.”
“Are you talking about right now?” Cain blinked at him.
“Please don’t tell my mother, even if she asks.”
“... It’s big here. You’ll get lost if you wander around,” Cain muttered blankly as he watched Joshua fade from view. “Well, I guess you’ll just amble around for a bit.”
Joshua took a slow walk to the center of the capital and had a look around. The experience was curiously fresh, despite his obvious familiarity with the place.
Impressions later. I have more pressing matters at the moment. Joshua strode away with purpose. Right now, he needed information—Joshua was desperate to fill in the gaps in his memory.
Joshua detoured from the entertainment street and winded through alleys away from the center.
“It’s just the same as it was decades ago.” Joshua chuckled. He stood before a building dubbed “A Glass of Wine in the White Rawolf” on a sign that rattled and shook like it would fall off any minute. It was a bar, as the name suggested.
Looks fine on the surface.
“Kid, did ya go down the wrong road?” A voice interrupted him just as he was reaching for the doorknob.
Finally, the main character appeared. Joshua had felt the man following him the minute he stepped into this alley.
Joshua slowly turned around and smiled sweetly at him.
I’m in the right place. The man’s face confirmed that.
An informant needed neither enormous strength nor a smart head; they needed discretion and deception. In that sense, the young man’s unremarkable, entirely forgettable appearance made him an ideal specimen.
“I came to recover the red coin buried in the depths of the Raulf River.”
Surprise flickered across the man’s expression, but his composure returned almost immediately.
“Come this way.”
Joshua grinned. The man would never ask questions, regardless of the customer—not even if they traded a dragon’s heart. Discreet transactions for reasonable rates.
You might be intrigued by my childish physique, but you stick to your guidelines. That, I suppose, is how you stay the best in the business.
The bar wasn’t in its peak hours yet. The majority of the tables were empty, with a handful of people drinking by themselves. They weren’t “real” guests, to be sure.
“Take care of the counter, Ryan.”
One of the “drinkers” then stood up and walked out the door as Joshua and the man passed by.
You don’t have to be concerned about security. I’d be interested in a dragon’s heart, but there’s no incentive to reveal any information unless it’s a large item.
Above all else, “trust” is the lifeblood of this industry. After all, who would trade information if it was leaked all over the continent? Any breach of security would spell the doom of the company.
The young man turned the corner and groped at a dimly-lit corner. With a small click, a hidden underground passage was revealed.
“Be careful; it’s dark.”
A bright red door guarded by two men lied at the end of the passage.
“It’s a client.”
The guards opened the door without a word.
Is he higher up than I assumed? Joshua eyed the young man curiously. To get that kind of reaction from the guards, even in a secret corridor… This man couldn’t be judged by his appearance.
Past the door was smaller than Joshua had imagined. The waiting room was about the same size as the room upstairs, with many smaller rooms lining the sides. There were six rooms, labeled “1”, “2”, “3”, “4”, and “5”, with the last one hidden behind a dark curtain. Joshua’s guide led him into the third room and gestured to a front-row seat.
Joshua sat placidly in his chair and looked around the room. It was modest, just like the waiting room: one table in the middle and a fist-sized hold in the back wall, where the young man sat.
Perhaps the data is delivered through that hole?
“All right, what information do you require?”
“Are you also an informant? You sell, too?”
“Yes, that’s correct; is that an issue?”
“No, it’s just amusing that someone like the branch manager escorts me merely for level 3 information…” Joshua chuckled and shook his head. “Is there a personnel shortage, perhaps?”
The young man’s eyes flinched.
“...You seem familiar with our company—but how did you know that I’m the branch manager?”
“I didn’t… but it was obvious from your reaction just now.”
“Simple,” Joshua smirked. “You wouldn’t ask ‘how did you know that I’m the branch manager?’ if you weren’t the branch manager.”
Joshua raised a finger.
“The informants’ identities are kept hidden to maintain operational security—even informants from the same branch have no idea who each other are. It’s the best structure I’ve ever seen.
“One of the organization’s distinguishing features is that each branch has a manager who controls and monitors every aspect of its operations. Some informants aren’t even aware they exist, much less their name.
“I just made an educated guess based on people’s reactions to you.”
Joshua settled into his chair with a confident expression.
“I thought the stories were overblown, but now I believe they were more fact than rumor.” The mysterious young man looked Joshua dead in the eye. “Young Master Joshua, second son of Agnus.”
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