The next morning, after breakfast, I asked Philia if she knew anyone who could sell the soap or act as a middleman as well as buy and deliver the ingredients. She didn't. The only people she knew that was even close were the shopkeepers that she regularly frequented to get donations from to feed and clothe the kids.
When I asked about that, since I've never seen her do it before, apparently she did it until I showed up, and haven't since I started staying to keep me company during the day.
I felt a little bad for using up all her time like that, until I remembered how it started and my face turned red.
Instead, she suggested that she could go deliver the soap and buy ingredients herself if I could find someone to sell them. Doing so would defeat the entire point of trying to keep the soap selling anonymous.
I headed off to talk to the only other person I could think of that might be able to help me in this city. Aside from the cosmetics store owner, but that would be giving him all the power to deal with things he wanted, and I wanted to avoid that. If we used a middleman, then it was easy to cut them out if things went sour. At the very least, it would be better than the store owner turning on the orphanage himself, as any middleman wouldn't be able to do much if Philia just got a different middleman, or resorted to doing business directly.
Very quickly, I was standing in front of the adventurers' guild building. It's immense size was impressive as always. While only buildings in the nobles' quarters were a match, it was still nothing compared to a skyscraper, though that was an unfair comparison.
It's been a busy few days, but if I remembered right, the only person I've spoken more than a few words to in this city outside of the orphanage was Lucy the receptionist. The guild also owed me the remaining reward money for the last request I did as an added bonus, presuming that everything had finished processing by now. Thinking back, it had already been about a week since then.
The guild building wasn't too busy, only stragglers and people taking the day off being around with everyone else already off doing their requests. Fortunately there weren't any lines at the moment, so I approached the reception counter to talk to the one I was meaning to see.
"Scarlet! It's good to see you again! I was worried something had happened! Are you doing well?"
"Ah, um, yea. I'm alright. How about you Lucy?"
"Oh, I'm doing fine! So what can I do for you today? Oh, but before that, the results from your previous request came in and the remaining reward was cleared. Let me get that for you!"
She seemed different from when I had last met her. I wasn't sure what, but she seemed a bit off.
"Here you go! Eight silver plates for the confirmation that the pack is gone."
I quickly counted it up and put the money into my bag.
"So, is there anything else I can help you with?"
"Umm...are you really alright? You seem a little..."
"...*sigh* It's just...have you heard? There's a rumour that the city's lord was murdered last night."
"Th, the lord? That's pretty terrible!"
"Well, it's only rumours, but it seems like he was doing quite a lot of questionable things here and there. I don't know the details, but it seems like there's more than a few people who are happy that he's dead."
"And, what about you?"
"Oh, I don't know. I'm worried that things might become chaotic for the next while until a successor is found. I think the lord was pretty young and wasn't married. From the things I heard him do, I wouldn't be surprised if he has some bastards, but I doubt any of them would be old enough to take over, let alone be a good lord."
I didn't know how to feel. I was directly responsible for the trouble, on the other hand he had it coming.
There wasn't anything I could do about it, and if I tried, I'd probably end up being wanted for the murder of a noble. Even thinking about it was a waste of time. I could only keep my head down and hope things get better on their own. I needed to concentrate on the things I could actually do.
I pulled a hand into my hood to scratch the back of my head and 'accidentally' let it fall as I pulled my hand out.
Lucy's eyes went wide as she stared at the side of my head before I pulled my hood back into place.
"Is something the matter?"
"Oh, umm, no. I just didn't realize you were an elf."
"Is there an issue with elves here?"
"No, nothing. It's just, I didn't expect that. Elves aren't too common in this city. Or rather, there's only one elf that even comes here. Well, one other."
I had a feeling that I saw that other elf at some point, but couldn't remember what that elf even looked like.
"So anyways! So, were you thinking of taking another request? If you need help, I can suggest some!"
"Umm, actually, I wanted to ask something..."
"I was wondering if you knew someone who could do some odd jobs like buying things and delivering things to an anonymous client?"
"You mean, you want to buy and deliver some stuff without anyone else knowing?"
"W, what are you planning on buying?"
"It's not me! It's for some people I got to know here, but if people found out what they were doing, they wouldn't be able to protect themselves if something happened."
"I see. Unfortunately, I don't know anyone personally that can help you. Maybe we can set up a designated request to someone with a good reputation? I can help you find...oh right!"
"Huh? What is it?"
"I just remembered! There's a designated request for you! It came in yesterday!"
Lucy got up and scrounged though a cabinet before bringing out a wooden tablet.
"Here it is. A Mint Mercari. A merchant who wants you as an escort two days from today. Hmmm...you wouldn't happen to know this man, would you? It's rare for a D rank adventurer to be named for a request. But if you do, then maybe you can ask him to do the work you need?"
I looked at the tablet Lucy handed me. I didn't recognize the name. Furthermore, I hadn't spent more than a few minutes talking to any merchant in this world, so there was no reason for him to ask for me specifically. Since the request came the day before, it couldn't be related to any suspicions regarding me. If it happened to be a trap to get me to go to the lord's place, then springing it wouldn't be a problem, as the lord in question was no longer able to pay the goons that would set this trap in the first place.
On the other hand, if this guy had such a good opinion of me that he would ask me specifically for a request, then it was possible I could trust him to be the middleman I needed. At the very least, if he seemed like a decent person after meeting him, then he would be better than some random person I've never met. Maybe.
"...can I decide to take it after meeting with the client?"
The request tablet also included the client's contact information, making it easy to find him.
"That's fine, but I do really recommend you take it. It's a nice, easy escort request and it pays well for a C rank."
(Erk. An escort?)
Looking closer, that was exactly what it said. A two week trip to some city called Knossos with short stops in two villages along the way. It seemed like the request was a joint venture with three other adventurers already signed on. It made me wonder why he would want even more help when he already had a party, albeit a small one, already employed.
(Well, at least I don't have to feel bad if I refuse it. After all, an escort quest? Urgh.)
I took the wooden plank and got directions from Lucy before I thanked her and left the building.
Looking around, I found the inn the merchant was staying at pretty quickly. It wasn't far from the adventurer's guild, maybe halfway between it and the western gate two blocks through a small side street.
It was a shabby looking building standing at four stories. It wasn't like it was poorly maintained, but I could really see some wear and tear here and there. That said, there was signs of actual repairs, so the building was just old, rather than the owners not being able to afford to fix it up where needed.
Inside, I saw a greying old man sitting behind a counter in the small lobby. There was an attached dining area, but it wasn't very big at all, with only three tables just big enough for four each.
"Oh, hello there miss. Are you looking for a room tonight?"
"Ah no, I'm not."
The old man's head drooped a bit in disappointment, but he quickly perked up again. His eyes grew a bit wide and he started to stare at me. Something about it made me feel uncomfortable, but I couldn't pinpoint why. Maybe the fact that his eyes weren't looking high enough to look me in the eye was the reason.
(Then again, can he even see my eyes under this hood?)
"Umm, I'm looking for someone who's supposed to be staying here. A mister Mint Mercari?"
"Huh? Oh, before I answer that, could I know what business you have with this mister Mercari?"
"Ah, I wanted to ask him a bit about a request he posted at the adventurers' guild."
I pulled out the wooden tablet and showed it to the old man.
"I see. Fortunately, you're in luck. He just came back a little while ago after attending to some morning business. If you'll follow me."
The innkeeper came out from behind his counter and led me up a nearby staircase. Then the next flight, and the next.
Soon, we arrived on the top floor. The old man's breath had sped up, but otherwise he seemed fine.
(Geez, tall buildings suck without elevators or high stats.)
We walked down to the end of the hall, where the innkeeper stopped to knock on the last door.
"Mister Mercari? You have a guest."
"I see. The door is open."
With those words, the old man opened the door for me and backed off. I stepped up to the door and looked inside. The room was pretty small, only big enough for a single bed, a small table and chair, along with enough floor space to pace back and forth in if you were so inclined. There were some bags and clothes hanging on one wall and a small wooden chest on the floor below them.
The innkeeper took off with a slow walk, but from the corner of my eye, I could see his eyes stayed glued onto me uncomfortably until he was out of sight.
"Oh! Am I right to presume you were the one who answered my request at the adventurers' guild?"
In the middle of the room was a middle aged man in a nice looking light green long sleeved shirt with a tall collar and brown vest, along with matching brown pants. The outfit was pretty well worn, yet also fit his thin frame like a glove. I felt a little annoyed that despite how worn out the outfit looked, it looked so well tailored compared to my own outfit.
Something about him looked familiar, but I couldn't put my finger on how or why.
"Ah, yea. I am. My name's..."
"Ah, yea. How did you know?"
"A little over a week ago, you saved my life, along with the lives of the adventurers I had hired! I was so terribly grateful, yet you left before I could thank you. When I reached my destination, I found out you had helped out the people quite a bit. Thanks to that, it was easy to find out your name, as you had registered at the adventurers' guild over there."
It still wasn't ringing any bells. I couldn't remember saving anyone before helping those two kids from the orphanage. He said more than a week ago, so before that, I had flown to the city from the first village I had been to. I had learned how to fly during then, but there wasn't much else notable...
"Were you that merchant that was surrounded by those wolves?"
"Yes! That's right! I'm glad you remembered. I was so thankful for your deed then, and it was my regret for not being able to reward you in kind."
"Ah, no. That's fine."
I did it on a whim. Getting rewarded for a good deed was nice, but I didn't really care about getting money or something for helping him.
"No, please! I must do something to pay you back! Not only for myself, but all of Edgeworth Village! You can't imagine how happy it made people when they found out all you have done for them!"
(Edgeworth? Was that the name of the village I passed by then?)
Aside from registering and selling some meat, I gave away some food, but that was as far as my memory went regarding that place. I couldn't see how he was acting so indebted over it.
"Not only did you sell so much meat to the guild, but you spent most of your earned money on products made by the villagers and even donated so much food in addition! And after that, you left behind all the meat and materials from those loam wolves as well! It's all thanks to you that the village had been able to recover from starving all winter. If it wasn't for you, we feared that a few of the village's young may have perished before we could harvest some of the spring's bounty."
(Something that small made that much of an impact?)
"Anyways, so I put up the request in the hopes that you would find it and I could finally meet and give you my, no all of Edgeworth Village's gratitude!"
The middle aged merchant bowed down, showing off the crown of his head.
"Ah, no. It's no big deal! I was just..."
'Excess humility is equally bad as hubris you know'
Philia's words rang through my mind, shutting me up.
"It might not have been such a big deal for you, but it was for us. I wasn't exaggerating when I said that you may have saved the lives of some of the villagers thanks to your donations, and that's not least to say you saved my own and my escorts' lives directly!"
"Ah, um, alright. I get it."
The passion that radiated out of the merchant felt overwhelming and weighed heavily on me.
"So, if there's anything I can give or do for you, it would be my pleasure. Though, that said, while successful, I am not a rich man, so I am not sure if I can offer much in material or coin to satisfy you..."
(Well, something like that would just be annoying to be honest.)
My mind raced as I tried to come up with something. If it was too small of a favour then I might hurt his pride, but he didn't have much resources to pay for some one-time reward. He might have some connections, but what use would I have for something like that.
"This...this might be a little strange..."
"Oh, that's fine! If I could do something to even start paying you back for everything you have done for us!"
"Ah, umm...so, I have some people who are starting to make something to sell to the nobility, but I need someone to deliver the product as well as procure and deliver the materials while avoiding bringing attention to the makers."
"I see. So your business partners are a vulnerable group, and you need someone to keep attention away from them while they participate in a high-profile venture?"
"...something like that."
"And you'd like me to be that someone?"
"Yea, I was thinking so."
"I would love to! For the opportunity to help you like this? Not only that, but to participate in a new business venture? Little would delight me more! Ah, to participate in a new company start up and grow successful. And in addition, to pay back a debt by doing more of what I already do? If this venture succeeds, may I continue this agreement and start receiving regular pay once my debt is paid?"
"Huh? You were going to get a cut regardless."
There was no way I was going to make him work for free. The greater the personal stake he had, the less likely he was to betray the orphanage. He already seemed like a decent person, so by being a beneficiary of the setup, he would have every incentive in making this work as well as possible.
"I see. You've originally planned for me to be included long term?"
"Or rather, I'd be in a bind if it didn't work long term."
"Is that so? Well, then, I'd be delighted to do as you require! Since that's the case, may I hear the details?"
For the next little while, I explained what I had planned while he gave me his thoughts.
Afterwards, we headed off to the orphanage together and picked up the soap samples we had made already.
The merchant, Mint, had been quite impressed by what I showed him. Not only the idea of making the orphanage self-sufficient by making soap, but also the products themselves. Though he admitted he wasn't very familiar with soap in general.
I made a few simple stone boxes to carry the soap in. One for each type. I thought that it would be better than handling the soap directly by hand. The one I had bought came in a nice wooden box, and while I wanted to present the orphanage's soap that way, it was probably a bad idea until we can figure out how to get the boxes mass produced first.
With the merchandise in hand, we went off to the noble quarters to negotiate an agreement to sell the soap.
Unfortunately, between the two of us, only that one place where I had that terrible experience came to mind when it came to places that sold soap. At least the shopkeeper was pretty decent. In fact he was especially apologetic about what had happened to me from what I remembered. It was just bad luck that the city lecher just happened to be in the same place at the same time.
I lowered my hood as we entered the northeastern quarter of the city.
Mint eyed at me when I did, forcing me to turn my face away from the uncomfortable stare.
"Umm...is something wrong with my face?"
"Ah, no. I'm sorry, that was terribly rude of me. I just...didn't expect you to be an elf."
"That again? Are elves so unusual?"
"Frankly, yes. At least in these parts. I'm sorry if I offended you."
"Ah, no. It's fine."
We continued to the store I had visited a while back. When we entered, there wasn't anyone else there to my relief.
"Welcome! Welcome! How may I help you?"
As quickly as the door closed, a man came out from the back room. It was the same person who was helping me the last time I was there.
"Ah, umm, I want to talk to the owner."
"As luck would have it, that would be myself, Martin Vermouth at your service miss. I am glad your prior visit hadn't soured your experience enough to avoid my humble store."
The shopkeeper bowed his head down elegantly. The way he moved one foot back and crossed his chest with the same side arm suggested he was really used to doing this. His readiness to do so in apology from last time also did wonders to increase my opinion of him. It wasn't even his fault.
"So, how may I help you today miss?"
"Ah, I was wondering if you had space for some new product?"
"Of course. I always have space to quality cosmetics and soaps in my store."
The way he emphasized on soap almost made me jerk up in surprise. While soap was a bit different from cosmetics, I figured that it didn't need to be mentioned separately. I wondered if he had already guessed what I had come to sell.
"Mister Vermouth? I am Mint Mercari, hired to represent Miss Scarlet when she isn't available. Nice to meet you."
On the other hand, Mint extended his hand, and the store owner shook his hand firmly while giving an affirmative nod.
"Mister Mercari? It is a pleasure to meet you."
"Here are the products that Miss Scarlet is interested in selling."
Mint lay down opened up each of the stone boxes on the store's counter. Each one was a little different, made from a different set of scents. All of them were light grey to the point that they could be considered white under most lighting conditions, and had almost no obvious imperfections in the mix. There were slight deformities here and there but otherwise were fine at a glance.
"Do you mind?"
I nodded as he motioned towards the soap.
Vermouth picked each one up in turn, examining their colour, sniffing them, feeling their texture, before returning them to their box and wiping his hands on a handkerchief. After several tense minutes, the storekeeper took a step back and lowered his head a little.
"Magnificent. I wondered what sort of soap you would present me, but for them to be so outstanding. Every single one of them in fact."
"Does that mean you'll sell them."
"If you allow me to."
He gave me a gentle smile as he agreed.
"In that case, if I may?"
From there, Mint stepped in for me and began negotiations with the storekeeper.