Her name was Reina, her mother was Ada, and her father was not in this world anymore.
Her mother, Ada, was a former adventurer, and a strong C rank. She was strong enough to put men to shame, and had sharp instincts, almost like an animal. She was good enough to be on the vanguard or a scout.
But her behavior and love of alcohol were horrendous, and her sense of chastity was almost non-existent, so she was a known troublemaker.
In her younger days, she was active in all sorts of ways, and became pregnant at a certain point. The father just happened to be a man in her party, who proposed to her.
But she refused. Adventurers were all ruffians living life day-by-day, and she did not think he would be able to make a good household, or that getting married would be enough to turn her into a good wife.
She decided to raise Reina by herself. Ada’s mother had raised her alone as well, so she was not used to having a father around anyway.
However, this did not mean the man disappeared from her life. He stuck around, fulfilling his duties as a father, frequently meeting Ada and Reina and supporting his daughter financially. Reina’s parents were not affluent, but this environment filled with this tiny happiness meant Reina had an honest upbringing.
But a few years before, the man died during an adventure. The death of this man, who Ada supposedly did not see as her husband, hit her very hard, and she started drinking heavily.
One day, with alcohol still left in her system, she went out to make some money, and as a result, hurt her leg, which made her unable to move as quickly as before. She quit being an adventurer, but did not stop drinking, and started working as a guard for a tavern, and making a living day by day.
Reina started working as an assistant in the tavern to support her mother, but in actuality, Reina was the more popular one, especially because of her cooking.
“The customers my mother hit were all people trying to hit on me… She’s not perfect, she goes too far when she drinks… But she’s still better than my friend’s parents.”
Said Reina with a weak laugh.
“You don’t have to compare yourself to other people.”
Redd pat Reina’s head, who was surprised, but accepted it.
“Thank you but… It’s not all that bad for me. Some orphans working as assistants end up being woman’s servants. There are some bad kids, but good ones too, but recently…
“Did something happen?”
“…Kids started disappearing all of a sudden, including one of my friends. The adults and bosses say they ran away, but I know that’s not it. But only my mother believes in me…”
“They were taken by Stepping Man!”
Everyone was taken aback by the discrepancy between the ridiculousness of what she said and the seriousness with which she said it.
Nick heard that name before, but it was the name of a man or monster mentioned in magazines that dealt with random gossip, and not a name he expected to hear during a serious conversation.
“It’s true! The Stepping Man really exists! You saw him! You saw that transparent man hopping around!”
“That was an artifact…”
Said Bond, who had been quiet until that point.
“He simply has a perception obstructing barrier around him. It certainly is something interesting, but not so much mysterious. His jumps are made possible using wind magic or body manipulation. He could also be using gravity magic or perhaps a magic item. In any case, it is not easy, but it is possible to do with current magic and technology.”
“Ooh, amazing Bond. You already know all that?”
Nick complimented Bond for once, who let out a bored sigh.
“So this is Stepping Man? I imagined something a lot more fantastical… Can they really put a simple kidnapper like this on magazines?”
“That’s what you’re worried about? Kidnapping is pretty serious by itself.”
“Y-yes! I never knew a villain like that existed!”
Reina’s fear was clearly showing on her face, and she looked as though she was about to cry.
Nick thought it was natural, considering someone she knew had been kidnapped, and the same almost happened to her.
“And… My mom got hurt because she went too far to protect me.”
“She’s pretty good to be able to fight an opponent she couldn’t see. We should contact the chivalric order to start a search for the kidnapper… Or at least that’s what I wish I could say…”
“It’s not that easy.”
Sem, who stood a little far from Reina, but close enough to be able to talk, finished Nick’s sentence when he hesitated.
“Hey Sem, are you alright?”
“I’m fine at this distance. I’m sorry Reina.”
“H-hm, I don’t really understand, but…”
“When I get close to a girl around your age, I feel like I’m going to faint or throw up. Please don’t ask why.”
“A-alright… I won’t.”
“Anyway, the chivalric order in this area isn’t very reliable, even if we bribe them.”
Urban functions had no power in the south-eastern part of the Labyrinth City. The order of the sun’s behavior was poor as well, and their strength could not be relied on.
They had the power and teamwork to create factions, and it was fine when they actually tried to do their job, but there were even some who would extort people like common thugs. They were not the sort of people they could ask to protect children from kidnappers.
Reina said with a sad strained voice.
Sem then anxiously whispered.
“Can I sit out the next adventure? I want to at least take Ada’s place as a guard until Ada recovers.”
“You say that, but you can’t do that on your own.”
“I know some people I can trust, as long as I pay.”
“You’re definitely going to lose money.”
“Well, she helped me in a way… I healed Ada’s wound this afternoon, and when Reina wanted to pay, I refused and said it was Ada’s debt.”
“And I told her to pay me back eventually.”
“So she helped you, and now, you’re in her debt”
“Then you have to pay it back.”
Nick, Sem, and Redd snickered, while Reina blankly looked on.
“Alright, I can help a friend that’s struggling with debt.”
“No no, remember, this won’t make us any money. I’m doing it because I want to.”
“It will make us money.”
“Yes, it will probably be alright.”
Redd interjected in Nick and Sem’s conversation, to which Nick nodded.
Curious, Sem asked, “Is there a trick or something?”
“Not really a trick… Just a nice opportunity. I didn’t get to explain the third way for adventurers to make money.”
“Let’s hear it.”
Asked Sem with interest, to which Nick nodded and replied.
“Catching wanted people and criminals.”