Chapter 5: Investigation, Information Broker, and Hint II
Herscherik set out to the castle town with his aides but was perplexed by the current turn of events. He had taken the dimly lit and narrow back alley roads between houses numerous times, so he knew he was still within the walls of the imperial capital, but he wasn’t sure of much beyond that.
Kuro was leading the way with Oran was following behind the prince, sandwiching him in between.
“Kuro, how much farther?”
Unable to stand this situation, Herscherik called out to Kuro.
As was to be expected, he really didn’t want to continue being led without knowing their destination.
(I’ve heard him say that so many times already…)
Herscherik secretly let out a sigh. They didn’t have time to waste wandering around aimlessly.
The day after the king’s visit, the three of them had split up the task of interviewing the victims’ families and those connected to the investigation. Just as Herscherik suspected, over half of them were the aristocratic or affluent, but the higher the person’s position, the more they wanted to hide their usage of the drug. However, their reluctance to answer questions related to the drug’s usage was the same as an admission. The mouths of those related to the victims were tighter, but that very reaction betrayed their feelings while supporting Herscherik’s conjectures.
But, it was still a conjecture; nothing was concrete. Furthermore, there was no proof.
By the way, Kuro and Oran investigated the red-light district by themselves.
(Even though this is work, it’s important for those two to get a break.)
Thinking so, when Herscherik saw them off he reassured them, “It’s fine if you end up taking all morning if you need to.” But for some reason, Kuro kneaded his fists against the prince’s head while Oran cried out, “That’s not something a child should say!”
(Huh? I thought I was saying what any reasonable boss would!?)
Herscherik sometimes forgot that his appearance was that of a five-year-old child. But if a young child were to tell anyone, “Enjoy yourself in the red-light district”, they would of course react the same way.
The three of them had continued their investigations, but today, Kuro insisted that they follow him to some location, hence their current situation.
They were in an alleyway so narrow, Hersche could extend both arms and touch the walls of the surrounding buildings, as well as so dimly lit that he couldn’t tell it was still noon. Kuro directed them towards a door so small that a mid-sized adult would need to crouch in order to enter.
(It’s like that door from Alice in Wonderland.)
Herscherik recalled the picture book he had read as a child in his previous life. It was one of the more interesting picture books, one Ryouko had read multiple times. It was then that she started to like fantasy. It could also be said that it was during that time that she awaken as an otaku.
The door before Herscherik right now, however, was a little larger than the one in the picture book.
Kuro opened the door and entered. Herscherik followed, down a set of stairs right through the door. As the group went down, the taller ones had to bend their backs. By the time they reached an area where they could finally stand properly, the air was filled with a thick, aromatic fragrance. It was nauseatingly sweet, and yet appealing at the same time.
Kuro opened another door at the bottom of the staircase.
“Hey, I brought them, Information Broker.”
“…..Ara, you took longer than expected.”
The bewitching voice of a woman echoed. The three passed through the door, thinking it would lead to a small basement, but it turned out to be a room wide enough for all of them. The walls were covered with shelves lined with old books and suspicious objects. There were incense burners all over the place, filling the room with the sweet smelling smoke. Even the flame from the lamp gave off an ominous glow. Finally, there was a woman sitting relaxed on the sofa on the opposite side of the table from the three.
(A fortune teller?)
Herscherik made that association when he saw the woman. The dimly lit room made her dark-colored skin look even darker and her long, straight amethyst-colored hair translucent. The lack of light made it difficult to distinguish the exact colors, but it was clear that her eyes were of two different shades. A mole underneath her right eye brought out her seductiveness even more.
Her outfit resembled the costume the dancers for Arabian Nights wore. Her mouth was hidden by a translucent cloth; she was the spitting image of a fortune teller from Herscherik’s previous world.
In this Western fantasy-like world he was in now, this woman’s outfit shouldn’t be bizarre, but Herscherik was captivated, especially by a certain part of her body.
(Amazing! Absolutely stunning!)
The woman’s chest spilled out from her clothes, like drooping, ripe fruits. Such big breasts were supposed to be limited to just the 2D world! To him, the woman’s chest was just that jaw-dropping.
As a woman in his previous life, Herscherik knew that it wasn’t enough for these voluptuous babes to be just big. There had to be a balance between both the top and bottom, as well as the waist. Unless those three areas matched, one could not become a beauty like this woman.
Of course, this was just a self-declared theory by Ryouko, so objections were allowed.
(I’m so envious!)
The quality of her style was an object of aspiration for women. In Herscherik’s past life, he had a typical Japanese woman’s disappointing shape. Furthermore, possibly because of her daily habits, parts she didn’t want to stick out, stuck out.
“So, are you the 7th prince?”
Herscherik had been so entranced by the magnificent bosom, that when he was called “Prince” he had to look up. The woman flashed a seductive smile.
“A pleasure to meet you. I am known as the ‘Information Broker’.”
“I’m Herscherik. Nice to meet you.”
(If you ask me if I like beautiful older women…. Yes, I love them!)
Hersherik assumed a triumphant pose in his head. In his past life, he had adored all beauties regardless of gender for admiration purposes.
“So you are the prince who has tamed ‘Shadow Fang’…… Your looks closely resemble that of a young lady though.”
Hersherik felt some discomfort from this woman. Her gaze only contained genuine curiosity, but Herscherik was one who would rather observe than be observed.
From behind the two, Oran asked Kuro, “What’s a Shadow Fang?” but Kuro remained silent.
For a moment, her eyes widened in realization of something before narrowing, as though at the sight of something amusing.
“I see, I see. A little lady… Yes. This is very interesting. Very interesting, indeed.”
Herscherik tilted his head, puzzled.
“Um, I’m more or less a boy though…”
“It’s fine. It’s fine, little miss.”
The Information Broker cackled at Herscherik’s response and waved her hand. In place of his confused master, Kuro opened his mouth.
“Hey, Information Broker. You promised to supply us with some info if I brought the prince with me.”
Even now, Kuro’s tone sounded like he wanted to click his tongue. Unable to grasp the situation, Herscherik looked up at his butler. In response, Kuro stared into space for a while before giving up and letting out a sigh.
“Because there was so little info about the drug, I thought about buying some from the Information Broker. Then, I was told to bring you with me.”
The Information Broker operated for money. That was why he thought that about coming here, as a last resort, but he didn’t think that he would be asked by the Information Broker to bring the prince instead.
It was written all over Kuro’s face that he didn’t really want to do this. But, that would mean Hersche losing out on useful information. So, for Herscherik’s sake, Kuro brought him.
“So, hurry up and fork over the info, Information Broker.”
“Hm, let’s see…”
The woman’s supple finger traced the line from her cheek down to her chin. Her nails were painted and glittered in the room’s light, making them wonder if lamé was applied.
The Information Broker was silent for a moment before breaking out into a smile.
“How does 100 silver coins sound?”
Kuro and Oran shouted at the same time.
(A hundred silver coins… That’s around the same level as the top prize in a high-class lottery……)
Herscherik immediately converted the value to something relatable in the Japanese currency. If 1 copper coin was worth around 10 yen, then 1 silver coin should be about 10 million yen. Therefore, 100 silver coins would be converted to 1 billion yen… What an unrealistic number.
“You tricked me?”
Kuro growled. The only time his voice became this low and cold was whenever he was truly angry. Before Herscherik could restrain Kuro, the carefree voice of the Information Broker echoed through the room.
“Ara? I’m sure I said that if you bring the prince, I would be willing to negotiate with him, no? I didn’t say a single thing about actually giving you any information. Information requires an equivalent exchange. The information I possess is enough to save an entire country, you know. The price only seems expensive if you don’t know the value of what I can tell you.”
The Information Broker challenged Kuro’s sharp gaze with a mischievous and nonchalant smile.
“How could you? Even though people’s lives are on the line…”
Oran’s words were mixed with anger. The Information Broker responded again with laughter.
“It has nothing to do with me. I’m not from this country, and it does not concern me how many human lives are lost. When this place falls, I’ll just move on to the next one.”
Oran was at a loss of words. Finally, the Information Broker turned to look at Herscherik.
“Well then, what will you do, little miss? I have no intention of lowering my price of 100 silver coins. Of course, this has to be paid all at once. Ah, but it’s useless to order me. As I said previously, I’m not a citizen of this country, so I have neither the duty nor responsibility to obey you.”
Herscherik closed his eyes and pondered. But, no matter how much he racked his brain, he could not come up with any way to get that large of a sum of money.
“….No matter how you look at it, it would be difficult to prepare such. So, I cannot purchase the information.”
Oran’s voice echoed in the room. Oran attempted to approach the prince, but just a look stopped the knight and Herscherik continued to speak.
“However, I believe it is you who needs to compensate us.”
The woman had been so nonchalant and carefree since they entered, but for the first time, her nonchalant expression changed and she furrowed her eyebrows.
“Miss Information Broker, Kuro accepted your request to bring me here, and we arrived post-haste, expecting assistance in return. In exchange for wasting our precious time, don’t you think that just telling us the price for your services is a little too cheap? I surely cannot call this an equivalent exchange.”
Herscherik grinned and the Information Broker was struck dumb. Then she held her sides and burst into laughter.
She slapped the table in front of her so hard that he worried she might break it. Incidentally, those drooping, ripe fruits also bounced together. Truly the object of envy.
“Good! You’re really good, little miss! I’ve completely forgotten how this feels!”
Tears appeared at the corners of the woman’s heterochromatic eyes. She caught her breath and continued to speak.
“You’re right. Just as you’ve said, this wouldn’t be considered an equivalent exchange. In that case, I shall give you a hint.”
She sat upright in her seat and closed her eyes. After a moment of silence, she opened her eyes slightly and declared these words.
“…Beginning and End. As well as, all and one. That’s your hint.”
These words resembled a riddle, causing Herscherik to tilt his head. The Information Broker continued.
“You will need to figure out the rest yourself.”
“You can do at least that, right?” the Information Broker implied with her smile. This was her form of compensation.
“I understand. Thank you, Miss Information Broker.”
The woman waved her hands, gesturing at them to hurry up and leave. But when all three had turned their backs.
“Ah, the girl stays behind. I’ll have you boys wait outside, all right?”
Kuro whipped around and shot another sharp glare at the woman, but Herscherik calmed him down and told him to obey. Thus, just two were left in the room.
“I don’t really give advice to people.”
After starting with that preface, the woman continued. Herscherik felt like her left eye suddenly flashed, but it must have been because of the darkness of the room.
“You are light. I’m certain many people will see your light as hope.”
The woman’s words and tone were solemn, a complete contrast to her flippant attitude from before. This change made Herscherik anxious, but the Information Broker paid no mind.
“However, if you intend on proceeding on this path in the future, you will find yourself faced with critical choices numerous times. And if you choose the wrong one, you shall lose that which you treasure. Will you continue on this path until you lose everything precious?”
Herscherik closed his eyes and reflected upon these words.
(I’m not sure what this woman means by ‘losing that which I treasure’. But I’ve decided.)
He opened his eyes and looked straight at the woman.
Then he gave voice to his determination. Hearing his words, the Information Broker opened her eyes wide for a second before giving another bewitching smile. This one had a much more suggestive feeling behind it than all the others.
“You really are interesting, little miss.”
The woman looked up. There was only the ceiling there, but it was as though she was looking far into the sky.
“This is a bonus: don’t lose that pocket watch you have on you. It is the one and only thing that can save you.”
The Information Broker said and waved her hand, as though dismissing Herscherik. Herscherik thanked the woman again and left the room, where he was greeted by the worried Kuro and Oran standing outside.
There, he was struck by a sudden thought.
(…When did I show the Information Broker my pocket watch?)
However, that seemingly trivial doubt vanished from his mind by the time they reached their next destination.