“Oh? Back so soon?”
As the sun set, Survivors returned to Manhunt, and were met by a man with a crew cut and two swords hanging on his waist. Both his voice and expression seemed very pleased.
[Who is this guy again?]
Nick peeked at his partners, as he tried not to let his eyes shift around too much.
Everyone shook their heads slightly. They had all also forgotten his name.
“I guess even you Survivors couldn’t handle that abandoned area uh? I can give you some pointers if you want.”
“Ah, no thanks.”
“Don’t try to act tough. It’s not like the bet is over, but that Hale guy is slippery. If you wait around too long, he’s gonna run away and even veterans like us aren’t going to be able to catch him.”
Nick and his partners looked at the man with unamused expressions. They wanted to reply, but they couldn’t quite remember his name.
Hale couldn’t stand to watch any more, and cut in.
“…This guy is Scott, Twin Sword Dancer Scott. He goes to the abandoned area a lot, and his voice and footsteps are too damn loud. And stop swinging your swords around too, the girls don’t like you.”
“W-who the hell are you!?”
“I’m Hale. Can’t you at least remember the faces of people with bounties? …I’m not going anywhere, so can you take this off already?”
Hale raised his bound hands, and Sem released him.
Hale rotated his elbows and wrists as he let out an exhausted sigh, and casually approached a receptionist.
“Lady, do I really have a three hundred thousand dinar bounty?”
“Then pay them. So what do I do now? Go to jail? Am I going to be interrogated?”
“First you need to wait in a cell for the interrogation…”
Hale’s meek attitude took the employees and bounty hunters completely by surprise.
The receptionist nervously took Hale to the back.
Tianna broke the silence that filled the room.
With a smile on her face, she looked at each bounty hunter in order.
“Hmm, who was the bookmaker again… Ah, there he is.”
The bounty hunter was so scared by the evil pair of eyes glaring at him, he spilled wine on his shirt. He could not even stand, so he grabbed the bag where he kept the money from the bets and held it closely while shaking. Tianna’s pressure was making him cower.
“You’re the bookmaker aren’t you? So how much is it?”
“I-I didn’t think this would be over so soon… Hold on, let me calculate…”
“How much did you gather?”
“Well, a bunch of people threw in their bets afterwards. Close to eight hundred thousand dinar.”
“Then it’s enough.”
Tianna grabbed the bag with the money and the uncorked bottle of wine, no questions asked.
She put the bag down on the receptionist’s counter, and waved the wine bottle.
“W-wait, hold on, you’re not the only ones who won the bet…”
“Bring us as many drinks as you can with this money! Free drinks for everyone!”
The guild was silent, but once everyone caught up with what just happened, the silence turned into joyful voices.
“Now you’re talking, lady!”
“Hyaha! Free drinks!”
“Hey hey, I bet on you!”
“You were just going to drink that money away anyway. Or are you saying you don’t want to drink if I’m buying!?”
Tianna grabbed all of their hearts in just a second.
Both the people that lost, and the people that won, neither would be getting their money back, but they all had an ‘oh well’ look on their faces.
One misstep forward could have led to contempt, and one misstep back could have led to jealousy, but this delicate balance suddenly turned into a solid foundation. It was a different kind of charisma than Sem’s.
Nick did admire what she did, but also had an iffy expression.
“…Catching Hale is mostly Sem’s accomplishment.”
Mumbled Nick, to which Sem snickered.
“It’s fine. This will make our job easier.”
“If you’re fine with it then I guess it’s fine.”
Nick sighed, and Bond and Karan tapped his shoulder.
“Good job leader.”
“Taking care of these darn kids does not look easy.”
“Look who’s talking.”
“Still, not bad. You left in the morning and caught him on the same day.”
The next day, Nick and the others went to Manhunt again, and were complimented by an amazed receptionist.
“Well, we’ll accept the praise.”
“We had a lot of trouble throwing out the drunks in the aftermath though…”
Tianna apologized with no sincerity in her voice.
Having that said, the receptionist knew very well the nature of adventurers, and did not press the issue further.
Survivors were starting to be seen as true members of the guild, and the looks of the people around them seemed different. There was an air of familiarity and respect that could not be felt the first time they went there.
“Ooh, it’s Survivors. They work hard uh?”
“But if you really think about it, they’re pretty good… How did they catch Hale?”
“Big sister Tianna! Tell me if you’re having trouble with work!”
“Who are you calling big sister!?”
Tianna talked back, although she did not know if she was being jeered or cheered.
There were laughs, and someone quickly responded ‘you’.
“Tianna, let’s finish our job first… So, the reward we didn’t get yesterday…”
Said Nick, and the receptionist handed him a bag with gold coins, while shrugging.
“Here, take it. Don’t use it on something stupid this time.”
“We won’t, this is a reward for our work… We won’t, right?”
For a moment, Nick looked at Tianna with an unsure expression, but Tianna angrily responded with ‘of course not’.
“There you go. So, we want to look something up.”
“Ah, Stepping Man right? Wait a second.”
The receptionist took out a binder from the back shelf, and dropped it in front of Nick.
A musty smell filled the air, and Karan frowned.
“The current bounty is… Oh, it’s gone up to a million dinar. One of those people with weird interests put up a reward.”
“A pawnshop in the blacksmith street. Apparently Stepping Man stole something from there, but who knows if it’s true.”
The receptionist snickered.
“…Is he really that active?”
Nick kept turning the pages even as he heard the receptionist’s indifferent response.
In the target’s data were the bounty, rewards and punishments, distinguishing characteristics, etc.
Still, there wasn’t any concrete information about Stepping Man, only things like ‘he makes holes in roofs but fixes broken rain pipes’ and ‘if you burn green wood and let it smoke, Stepping Man won’t come near your house’. The sort of folklore you would hear about fairies.
The people putting bounties on his head were all people interested in urban legends or people with a taste for fantasy. No one truly expected someone to catch him.
But Nick and Sem found some information that seemed real. ‘He uses some sort of item to hide himself’, ‘he is not some monster or ghost, but a very nimble human’, ‘he has a precedent of kidnapping children, but no one knows why’.
All of this fell in line with what they saw.
“…Are you sure you don’t want to go after a proper bounty? You shouldn’t waste your time, or mine.”
“We’re not asking about him just because we feel like it. Still, we’ll catch regular bounties when we’re free.”
“Yes, you do that.”
Said the receptionist with a sigh, when suddenly, a suspicious woman appeared from behind and cut into their conversation.
“That’s right! Ghost hunting isn’t just some sort of game!”
It was a woman wearing glasses, and a pen behind her ear.
She had short and tidy green hair, and looked very honest and serious at a glance, but her dirty coat and worn-out staff gave off a strangely threatening aura. She seemed accustomed to Manhunt.
“Olivia! Didn’t I tell you not to butt in when I’m talking about work?”
“Are you after Stepping Man too?”
The girl named Olivia ignored the receptionist and flared up at Nick.
“Don’t get too close.”
Said Karan as she tried to pull Olivia away, but her eyes started shifting.
“You… You’re pretty heavy!”
“Wha!? How rude! Yes, I have been neglecting my diet, but still.”
Said Olivia angrily, before her shoulders dropped.
Nick looked on, exasperated.
“Anyway, I’m not trying to attack you or anything, I just love this sort of thing… Ah, here’s my card.”
Olivia took out a piece of paper from her chest.
It was a card, which Nick read aloud.
“…Monthly Lemuria editorial department, journalist / adventurer, Olivia Taylor?”