The Feelings Conveyed
The Wonderland Mercenary Group left Camargue and headed toward the nearby villages that doubled as their garrisons. Although, Rion moved separately from the group and remained in the city to meet with certain people.
The meeting was to be held in Folz’s establishment in Camargue. Within the inner portion of the building was a restricted area where entry was permitted only to a select few. Several sofas furnished the dimly lit room, and one nestled in the corner was occupied by Rion and Ariel. The two awaited the other party’s arrival.
“Rion… say, what is this place?
Ariel felt perplexed, taking in the shady ambience exuded by her surroundings.
“A hostess club.”
“And that is?”
She did not understand his answer.
“It’s a place where the wealthy can have fun with some beautiful ladies sitting by their side.”
A scowl settled on her features as her eyes bore into him.
“No, no. They aren’t made to do anything strange. Drinking, chatting— that’s what I mean by having fun.”
“Then… how does that differ from holding a party?”
Drinking and conversing were common activities at parties, and in the case of a ball, music and dancing were included.
“The participants differ. The majority of those who frequent this establishment are unable to attend those parties in the first place.
“I don’t quite understand.”
“Let’s take merchants, for example, those who made much profit. They are ones eager to converse with flowers normally beyond their reach.”
Despite her asking, she had already a conjecture of her own to fit that description.
“Why does this not surprise me… Even so, what prodded the noblewomen to consent to work here?”
“They have debts to work off. Since their salary is based on commission, the more they work, the more they earn. Needless to say, those working in brothels have higher pay, but that’s not a job many would claim if given the choice.”
“Clearly, those who can hold their drinks are at an advantage.”
Ariel concluded that the more customers the ladies could accompany, the more they would earn. Though she was not wrong in that, she failed to grasp the full picture.
“Not exactly. The ladies are allowed to interact with their customers without having to drink, themselves. They only need to ensure that the latter enjoy their time drinking, eating, and most importantly, fall for the hostess’s charm and offer her their financial support.”
Ariel noticed several keywords in the latter half of Rion’s explanation.
“A portion of every gold the customers spent goes to the women hosting them. Additionally, the women are allowed to keep personal gifts without extra fees, only on the condition that the items aren’t easily liquidated. Otherwise, the establishment will have to charge the women a percentage of the total value of the gifts they received.
“Still, I don’t quite comprehend… Why would anyone consider handing out gifts in the first place?
“Simply because those who come to this establishment can content themselves with the taste of love. They enjoy being treated like a lover by those who would never become the one for them. Social standing, looks… none of that matters as long as some gold could be spent. Of course, they also hope for something to actually occur on the off chance.”
“…Men are the worst.”
For women’s feelings to be turned into commodities to be purchased with gold, Ariel scorned the notion. Although, in practice, it was the men who were toyed with. They even had to pay for it. Ariel could not understand the main principle governing this business.
“They’re buying dreams with money, even if such dreams are fleeting ones. There’s a demand for it in the market.”
“However prettily you spin it into words, I will never come to understand it.”
“Thought so. But honestly speaking, I don’t understand it myself either. Yet, I still see why people would experience happiness by living in a different world, one that is away from reality.”
Although in Rion’s case, he was living in a different world in the truest sense. Ariel was glad to hear that he would describe it with the word ‘happiness.’
Just as Ariel managed to calm her turbulent heart…
“Welcome, and nice to meet you. My name is Rose. I’m very pleased to make your acquaintance.”
A beautiful lady, adorned in an elegant dress, made her appearance. If this were a manga, her entrance would be accompanied by the sound effect of shattering glass in the background.
“…Sorry, I’m not a customer.”
“That, I’m aware. I’ve been wanting to meet you. I begged the manager until he finally gave in, saying that the most I could do was greet you. Do you remember me? My real name is Sherry.”
Only after she mentioned her real name did Rion came to a realization. She was one of the women he met in the academy.
“Do you remember me now?”
“Yeah, I had just.”
“Rion… There’s another one of your past women.”
The situation irritated Ariel. The fact that these women constantly flocked to Rion, one after the other, vexed her immensely.
“You’ve misunderstood. We’ve barely spoken to each other.”
“Then what was that about?”
“She bullied that woman at the academy. That’s how I recall her.”
Ariel naturally knew whom Rion was referring to, but she was surprised to hear what Sherry had done in the past.
“Don’t remind me of those shameful days of mine. I don’t want to remember that woman as well.”
Maria was the one who put her through that predicament, so no words could describe how much abhorrence Sherry held toward her.
“Oh, my apologies.”
“I’ll forgive you. But only because it’s you, Rion.”
He received her pardon as she slipped into the seat beside him. More specifically, she stuck close to him, with her legs glued to his.
“All this time, I’ve been wanting to express my gratitude to you, Rion. To meet you here is like a dream come true.”
Her face closed in toward his ear as her breasts casually pressed up against his arm. She indisputably attempted to stir him up.
“…I’ve mentioned earlier that I’m not a customer.”
“But you are the owner of this establishment, aren’t you?”
It was one way for her to settle her debts by accumulating the wealth she received from her customers, but a more efficient method would be to coax Rion into clearing the debts away. That was the answer Sherry had drawn.
“…I see. So I’ve heard that the top earner of the whole venture is from this branch. Is this in reference to you?”
“Who can say?”
She answered in a playful tone, contrary to the confidence displayed upon her face. That served to affirm his question.
“You’re quite bold. Unfortunately, I don’t like assertive women.”
“But you aren’t able to refuse such a woman. With the high walls erected around your heart, I believe it would be better if I get the deed done first and foremost.”
“…No wonder you’re titled number one.”
They never were close, but Sherry could accurately deduce Rion’s character.
“…So this is how they work. I suppose I now understand a little.”
Ariel’s admiration toward Sherry buried the earlier anger she felt.
“It seems I failed miserably. Regrettably, I have to persevere through the ordinary route.”
“If you want your debts cleared, there is a way. In fact, that’s my purpose for coming here.”
“…Are you kidding?”
“It’s true. If you do as I say, I’ll arrange it so that there would be no more need for you to pay your debts anymore.”
A look of melancholy overcame her countenance as she clung to him. To clear her debts, she resolved to entrust her body to Rion, or so she made it seem.
“That’s not it. You’re doing this deliberately, aren’t you?
“But you know, I need to think ahead even after the debts are settled. I’m already past the marriageable age.”
Her bitter experiences had tempered her to be bold—if not shameless.
“I have no obligation to watch after you to that extent. The most I can offer you is to introduce you to as many bachelors as you please, if given the chance.”
The Wonderland Mercenary Group was majorly comprised of single men, men who had lived without having a fixed partner. Such would gladly offer themselves for candidacy, but now was not the right time to address that.
“That’s a shame.”
“It’s only a simple task, but I want to request everyone for this same one. Can you call them in for me?”
“Of course, with pleasure.”
Sherry rose from her seat and headed toward the interior waiting room to call her colleagues.
“…Not much longer. Everything will soon end.”
Rion uttered those words to her receding back.
“…Indeed. Although, I merely await it without hoping.”
Sherry stood fixed, replying to him without ever turning back. Rion sensed an anxiety laced within her voice, and it probably was not a figment of his imagination.
Not sparing a backwards glance, she continued towards the door.
“…She’s acting tough, isn’t she?”
“So it seems. Though, the ability to act tough in this situation shows the extent of her strength, don’t you think?”
As there exist people who wallowed in their misery, crying daily to no end… There also exist people who were determined to live their days through, just like Sherry. Nothing was right or wrong about it. No matter how bitter the lives they faced, ending it with death would surely not be a happy ending.
Having concluded the discussion with the ladies, Folz was the next person Rion needed to meet. Originally, Rion had wanted to address both Folz and the women in a single meeting, but his plans had deviated. While Folz was busy making quick decisions, Sherry was able to preempt the discussion.
“As the number one, the other girls abide by her words.”
“…That is how the hierarchy in this establishment works?”
Rion was unaware of how hierarchies would affect human relationships in a hostess club.
“Income is a measure of a person’s worth. Those with higher incomes will look down upon those lower than them. Likewise, the latter will not attempt to oppose the former. Such applies in any society.”
“…I don’t like how that sounds. People love to instill hierarchies in anything, don’t they?”
“I suppose so. Moreover, the number one will see an increased number of customers. The recognition as “number one” is equivalent to receiving a title… Although, I’m only stating the obvious there.”
The girl who receives the title would have to display exemplary service and receive many nominations from the store’s customers, as well as be sought after by first-time customers… But that was only on paper.
“What do you mean?”
“It would be too pitiful for the other girls if all the customers were to only request the same girl. So, we did a little something, and the new number one girl would always see more customers. This applies no matter which girl receives the title.”
“This applies to society as well?”
Whether a person is good or evil was not based on truth but, instead, the titles they possessed: a common story.
“Yes. What’s interesting is that once she lost her title… although she displayed some initial dissatisfaction, the amount she earned after actually increased.”
“I can see that happening. The regulars were to help her reclaim her previous title by spending more on her. Is that the case?”
“That’s our boss. You really know what’s going on?”
The ranks were not created to only encourage competition between the girls, but they also served to fan the flames of the customers who already had their favorites. Everything proceeded as planned.
“It seems the organization is running without problems. Although, is it getting difficult to maintain during this period?”
“That’s correct. The merchants who profit off these warring times are saving their money instead of spending it. Hence, the gap between the girls who have wealthy regulars and those who don’t will continue to increase. Moreover, I have no idea how long this situation will last.”
With wars waged across the continent, merchants dealing with related goods would rake in large amounts of profits. Even so, with how fast the stocks were dwindling, a prolonged war would cause shortages of said goods, and the merchants would lose their sole source of income.
“When it’s come to this, the best we could do is increase the safe zone. For that, the north and the south will have to make their moves.”
For citizens from other nations to visit Bandeaux with a peace of mind, it was necessary to erase the presence of war from the region. That could only occur when the frontlines were pushed somewhere further, and to do that, they needed to expand their territory.
“By the way, aren’t the others with you?”
Since Rion’s return, Folz had expected Ain and Gordon to be with him.
“Yes, but we parted ways. Gordon was heading toward the imperial capital of Great Alexandros, while Ain went to the southern region.”
“So soon? They’re hard workers.”
“I’d rather have the organization in good order before beginning our full-scale mobilization. Let me ask you in case, is everything proceeding smoothly in Camargue? I hope no one is tainted here.”
Rion had been absent for a long time, while the organization continued to develop and expand. With those two factors combined, the hierarchy would diminish, and some others would gain self-importance. The worst cases were those who acted without understanding the principles behind their actions. In many cases, money enticed them to offer their services to a different organization.
“What if we don’t limit those who have defected to Great Alexandros but extend it to any other parties?”
Rion’s glare grew intense with his question.
“People of Camargue, both within the organization and without, know the lord we serve. You are none other than our savior.”
Folz answered Rion’s question with an unwavering gaze. He had no doubts about the loyalties of the subjects.
“Now, now, aren’t you overestimating me?”
Rion returned to his usual calm with Folz’s answer. It appeared that he believed in those words.
“It’s not an overestimation, Boss. You’re a legend in Camargue.”
“A legend…But I’m still alive, you know?”
“You only have yourself to blame for faking your death. Either way, you are the hero who saved this city from ruin. And not only that, you also saved us from those invading monsters. No one will forget what you did for us.”
“…I see,” Rion muttered after turning his face away. Folz was glad to see Rion’s sheepish attitude again after so long.
“Will we go to war?”
“Yes, we will take control of the imperial capital. Concurrently, I’d like to do something about the southern lands.”
“So that’s why those two went ahead.”
Since Gordon had headed to the first objective while Ain to the latter, Folz knew they made those moves in accordance with Rion’s plan.
“Right. Not only to sweep the bad weeds within the organization, but also to complete the preliminary preparations.”
“What should we be doing then?”
Knowing that the gears had already started to turn, Folz eagerly wanted a part in it. He could not bear the thought of not joining in on Rion’s great venture.
“Nothing for now. Although, we will be expecting more guests in a while. Prepare to welcome them.”
“Welcoming guests…I see.”
A slight disappointment decorated his face. After all, his task remained the same as before.
“Relatives might pay a visit to our employees, and we will have to accommodate them. However, make sure that you only let them meet each other. Do not let any of our employees leave no matter what.”
“…So that’s what it’s about. I’ll need to increase the number of our men in this store.”
They would be necessary retaliation against any parties that might resort to violence.
“I considered taking a few men from Gordon, but…”
“That won’t be necessary. I will round up all the people who have scattered about. I’m sure both Ain and Gordon wouldn’t mind if I borrowed a few men in their absence.”
“Heh, you know how to do your job well.”
Rion was genuinely impressed that Folz had acquired more subordinates for his own.
“Gotta improve myself, right? I know you would have scolded me otherwise. I had to try and do everything I could.”
As one of Rion’s subordinates, he would never cut corners. With that, the organization could continue to grow.
“No, I wouldn’t. Your life is for yourself to decide, and however you live it is up to you whether it be good or bad.”
“Would that mean we are also free to choose whom we dedicate our lives to?”
“…What do you mean?”
“As I’ve mentioned earlier, Camargue… No, all the citizens of Bandeau have a lord we want to serve. Will you accept our decision?”
Folz spoke on behalf of Bandeaux. Of course, Rion knew what he was trying to convey.
“Then, I demand Bandeaux itself as my reward.”
“That’s quite fine with us. However, are we answering to a royalty of the Kingdom of Gran Flamm?”
“…Don’t be too hasty. I haven’t thought that far ahead.”
“It’s not me, but the others. You have returned, and they know your objective. Furthermore, they’re certain that you will succeed. That is why they want to know what comes ahead.”
Rion had been accumulating power to enact his revenge, and the Resistance was the greatest arsenal he had in his possession. After his objective is realized, he would decide on what path to take next. After all, that was the main issue the organization faced.
“What comes ahead… huh.”
“Of course, I’m sure you have an idea in mind, Boss. I’ve relayed the information to everyone, and we’re only waiting for your word.”
“Don’t you think that you’ve grown conceited?”
Folz’s personality did not have the capacity to be blunt about such things, but people mature in positions of power. Folz had become the representative of all the citizens of Bandeaux.
“Conceited? Actually, I’m older than you, Boss.”
“I’ve said everything in mind. What’s left for us is to follow your decisions. Please give us any orders you have.”
It was not a matter Rion could decide on whim. Responsibilities, expectations— Rion realized once again the burdens he carried with every step he took. He was not so self-centered that he could simply ignore them.
Rion decided to mull about his plans once he exacts his revenge.