In a back alley—
Two men were smoking with their backs leaned against the wall. As they watched the crowd from the darkness, they couldn't help but feel frustrated. They'd wanted to go out and have their fun too and let loose like the rest, but today was their turn to keep watch on the outside.
These men were bouncers that guarded the entrance to the Mercenary Guild, and in spite of the occasional annoyance on their faces, they took their jobs seriously. After all, the Mercenary Guild was not a place that a random fiddle could come into.
Even though visitors were fewer than usual today because of the festival, they still couldn't afford to skimp out on watch duty. In fact, the higher-ups had even put them up on tighter watch in the event that someone had slipped into this alleyway by accident.
To visit an unsanctioned guild that worked on the grey areas of the country's laws meant one of two things. You either worked there as a mercenary, or you came knowingly looking for one.
Unless you had actual business with the guild, the mercs wouldn't entertain some small inquiries unlike the tamer Adventurer Guild.
And because of the business-like work ethics practiced by the Mercenary Guild, there were certain conditions one had to meet in order to become a member. The clients and jobs received by the Mercenary Guild were usually much more dangerous than the Adventurer Guild, and they had to make sure their members were responsible and capable enough to handle their assignments properly.
This was one of the main reasons why White had bothered to visit the slums to forge a guild card instead of coming here immediately. There were plenty of troubles he could avoid as long as he had 'membership'.
The services were discreet and fast and most importantly, anonymous.
As long as he could afford their services, he could get almost anything from their diverse information networks spread across the city.
With his card ready, White made his way slowly towards the two Mercs.
The tapping of footsteps resounded through the alleyway, catching the attention of the two men. Their expressions immediately went on high alert.
A figure draped in a dusty cloak, with their hands were hidden underneath making it all the more suspicious.
But being no stranger to the shady appearances of some of their members, the two men was not afraid to let him approach.
The first man spat out his smoke and gave the second an eye signal.
Confirming that he had backup, the Merc walked up closer to the young man, his figure towering over as it casted a shadow menacingly.
"Sure ain't never see yer' around before."
White didn't panic at all. His eyes remain transfixed on something else. Although he didn't really think he would have to fight his way through, White had unconsciously looked at the man's Gift using that weird appraisal effect he had earlier.
White glanced at the sword sheathed on his back, and then at another palm-sized wand at the man's waist. The second weapon was really easy to miss if one didn't pay close attention.
He seemed to understand something just from this small observation.
As expected of mercenaries, cleverly disguising their methods of fighting. These guy truly fought down and dirty, relying on the smallest of advantages to win. The second man was a little too far from him so White wasn't able to get a read on his Gift or equipment. He judged that this appraisal effect had a limited range and could only be applied within a certain radius around him.
Either way, he wasn't here to fight.
"I'm in a hurry."
The identities of mercenaries lay within this glossy black card.
Having confirmed his identity, the man gave way. Although if he looked more closely at the portrait on the card, the man would surely notice something amiss. Of course, White had did a small sleight of hand to ensure that it wouldn't be seen as he made the gesture of handing out the card.
The door guard gave White a final leer, and returned to his post.
White entered through the door successfully, and climbed down a small spiral of stairs beyond.
The lamps at the side lit up the path as he calmly descended down a floor. It seemed like he was entering some kind of dungeon, but a small whiff of alcohol lingering in the air reassured the young man.
White reached the bottom of the stairs and tightened his cloak.
This wide basement was where the Mercenary Guild based itself. But it gave off more of a tavern feeling, as men with rugged beards were drinking around him in numbers. Beer ladies moved about to serve them with business-like smiles, catering to their beer bellies with trays filled with amber-filled mugs.
But despite the Mercenary Guild being such a place, the ambience remained relatively quiet inside unlike the Yunosu Diner. The atmosphere was darker, and he could hardly see any traces of merry-making accompanying the alcohol.
White moved quickly, but carefully as he gauged the tension in the air with caution. He came forward to a counter, and feeling some eyes on him, he prepared a muffled voice, careful not to get discovered by accident.
"I want to buy information on someone." He spoke curtly.
The receptionist was a woman in red braids who, at the beginning seemed rather laid-back and uninterested. Her attire was sloven and slack, the opening on her chest revealing ample skin.
The dress code was completely laid back, unlike the strict standards for the receptionists working in the Adventurer Guild. This was just one of the many indicators that the Mercenary Guild was such a place.
The woman was one of those unlucky staff who had to work overtime. Like the two men who stood guard by the guild's entrance, Fiana hoped her shift would end sooner. With another mercenary who came right around closing hours, she clicked her tongue secretly for the added work she'd have to do.
But all of her thoughts turned a 180 the moment that young man before her placed a gold coin on the counter.
Fiana's eyes suddenly lit up, like a predator appraising the credibility of its target.
This person is rich.
The Mercenary Guild was unlike the Adventurer Guild, as staff members received a premium in individual commission rates. This meant that if the client was satisfied with her service, she would be able to pocket a considerable portion of it for herself.
Maybe, with some of the temperaments of the filthy men working here, Fiana could even possibly get even more change from this client.
Even if the act of soliciting with adventurers was unprofessional, no one really cared here in the Mercenary Guild. After all, the guild was established with the motive of attracting capable workers who would do anything for money.
And Fiana was no different. She would sell herself if she had to, if it meant getting into the good favors of a promising mercenary.
And so with the sweetest voice she could muster, she smiled.
"Information, is it? I understand. Please, follow me."
As White followed from the back, he noticed the subtle change in how Fiana moved her hips in front of him.
He knew what she was trying to do, and smirked in contempt.
Money was truly convenient, perhaps even more so in this place.
In a private booth, White looked through the documents he'd just received.
His mind turned cold.
The guy who was called "Mat" by his subordinates.
Who worked under Vincent, that bastard. He was...
"...The man is... missing?"
"Yes... at least, no one has had information of his whereabouts for more than a month now."
"..." He couldn't wrap his head around what he'd just learnt.
That's right... there was another guy's name he remembered.
"Mills. What about someone named Mills?"
The receptionist smiled wryly, and continued through the documents.
"There are many people with that name, but... I think I know who you're referring to. He too, is missing as well."
"...What?" He took the document of Mills. That face, it's definitely one of those bastards. The one who crushed his hand.
"Hm, if I remember correctly, he went missing at around the same time as Mat-san."
...Something is... weird.
White gave up another gold coin, his eyes turning even sharper.
"Can you draw up a list of all the people who went missing around this time?"
He was given another list immediately.
White's eyes widened.
This was no coincidence.
These people. They were all people involved in the night assault that day.
They have all gone missing.