A shady smile was seen on Olivia’s face as Nick read her card.
“Yes! I have written several articles about Stepping Man! Also about the rumored human faced cat, and I’ve investigated the rumor about the labyrinth beneath this Labyrinth City!”
“So all rumors then?”
“Well, that’s the kind of magazine it is.”
“A-are you really a journalist for Lemuria…!?”
Bond reacted to Olivia’s words.
“Oh my, you know about it? Are you a fan?”
“A big fan!”
Nick quickly cuts in, “You’ve only known about it for a few days.”
“Ahh…What point is there in questioning the length of love? This is beyond an idol otaku.”
Nick looked frustrated at being talked down by bond, and Olivia stepped in to try to soothe them.
“If you are interested, how about you come visit my company? If you are investigating Stepping Man, I’m sure we can help.”
“…This is all very sudden. We didn’t come here to hear the kind of gossip…”
Olivia interrupted Nick by making a ‘tch tch’ sound with her tongue.
“Don’t worry. You’re after the cat burglar and kidnapper Stepping Man, and not the ‘legendary’ Stepping Man, right?”
“…You look like you know something.”
“So do you.”
Olivia paid no attention to Nick’s stern look and smiled.
Nick wondered if she didn’t have any ulterior motives, but…
“It is fine is it not? Without information we are going to have to walk around like door-to-door salesmen. It seems exhausting.”
Bond was right. They had no leads.
This was his area of interest, and he looked like he was having fun.
“Alright then, we’ll go.”
“Come, sit, sit.”
The building was located in the north-east of the Labyrinth City, in the border with the business district. It could not be any more different than the slum.
A plaque with the publisher’s name “Mysterious Terrane” was affixed to this three story building.
Survivors were passing by a meeting room on the second floor.
Said Karan after letting out a cute sneeze.
“We’ve been full of scoops, so we can’t afford the time and attention to clean thoroughly. Ah, please wait here.”
Olivia disappeared into the back of the room while playing dumb. The sound of tea utensils clacking could be heard.
As Olivia said, the inside of the room was not very clean, or to be more precise, it was overflowing with various things. There were piles of paper on desks, the bookshelf not only had books lined up, but also books shoved on top of them, and the whole place looked as though touching anything would cause an avalanche.
“Fufun, my room doesn’t look so bad now does it?”
“That’s because we clean every time we’re there.”
Nick added to Tianna’s gloating.
Before Tianna could respond, Olivia returned.
“Have some tea. Ah, you can have the newest edition of our magazine. And how about a pen?”
“Hohou, there is a special feature on Stepping Man…! And the newest feature… ‘The origin of the infections disease and rhinitis spreading throughout the Labyrinth city is a plot by an organization that worships the demon king’… It sounds very interesting!”
Bond started leafing through the latest edition, and was stopped by Nick.
“Thank you for the invitation, but we’d like to get right into the main issue.”
“Oh my, so impatient.”
“Yes, I am, because this is work we’re talking about.”
“Oh, you adventurers…”
“…We’re looking for Stepping Man, but probably not the same Stepping Man that people in town have been talking about. It’s probably not the same one, but there is definitely someone out there going out night after night to kidnap people. This person uses the cover of the night and is very nimble. We want to capture this person and present him to the guild as Stepping Man.”
Olivia responded only with “hmm”.
“Can I just ask one thing?”
“You’re saying that there are two Stepping Man correct? The legendary Stepping Man, and the fake one that has been appearing recently?”
“If that is the case, I think it is very likely you won’t receive the million dinar reward. The reward itself will be partitioned as well.”
Nick nodded, but the others couldn’t understand what Olivia was saying.
“What does that mean?”
Tianna asked Nick.
“There is no absolute certainty that people with bounties on their heads are actually criminals, there might be some false claims and lies mixed in. When this is the case, the assessed value of the bounty changes. In Hale’s case, he has a confirmed criminal record and his bounty was not very high, so we’ll probably receive it in full. But when it comes to something as high as Stepping Man’s bounty, we can only count on receiving seventy or eighty percent.”
“…Mu, that’s a lot.”
“Yes. Who do you think pays for bounties in the first place?”
“The chivalric order or the guild… But that’s not all is it?”
“That’s right. For example, if it’s your parent’s enemy or someone that mugged you or something, you can pay out of your own pocket to increase the bounty, and draw in some good bounty hunters to help, but…”
“Most of the people offering money for the capture of Stepping Man are fans of the occult.”
Olivia continued Nick’s explanation.
“Fans of the occult may claim that the Stepping Man you want to catch is not the same as the one they want caught.”
Tianna nodded, but stared at Nick, as if she was questioning him about what she had just heard.
“W-wait. It’s not like our efforts are definitely going to be in vain.”
“There are also merchants that had things stolen and are putting up a reward. They’ll probably pay, right?”
“I guess so, but…”
“And he’s doing so many shady things, that he probably has crimes to spare. Also, he’s carrying an expensive magic item. This is just speculation, but I imagine that’s going to add some spice to our reward.”
“Eh? Are you taking his magic item?”
“When the reward is uncertain, it’s common practice to compensate with the offender’s property. I’m not talking about mugging him or anything.”
Now everyone understood what Nick and Olivia were talking about, but this didn’t change Tianna’s sour expression.
“You know… You should explain those things beforehand.”
“I was going to… But we just sort of ended up here. Bond and Karan were really excited too.”
Bond and Karan suddenly turned away, as Olivia happily watched them.
“This love from our readers does not feel bad at all!”
“Ah, I’m glad you’re happy. So what’s your goal here? Why are you helping us?”
“It’s nothing complicated. If this Stepping Man is a kidnapper, I want him captured right away. Our popularity and sales are on the line.”
“Ah… Well that’s simple.”
“Having that said…!”
Said Olivia as she stood up and grabbed a stack of paper from a file cabinet.
“This is what we have on Stepping Man!”
Nick and the others felt tired just looking at this pile of paper that was as thick as a dictionary.
“…Can you at least sort it? Give us only what you have about recent sightings.”
“The one’s on top are the most recent.”
“…So basically, when you’re done writing, it goes on top of the pile.”
“It’s organized in chronological order.”
Olivia’s words sounded hollow.
Looking around the room, it was easy to see nothing was organized.
“W-what is with those eyes!? I’m going to get mad!??”
“I’m not criticizing you or anything.”
“How rude… Anyway, we have more or less a grasp on where Stepping Man has been appearing recently.”
“Well, a lot of it is reliant on what we’ve heard and conjecture… Ah, I’m sorry, can you help me pin the map to the wall?”
“No problem, but is no one else here?”
“There are in the morning and evening, but no one is here at this time of the day… By the way, are you interested in being journalists? We pay nine hundred dinar an hour.”
Nick helped Olivia, as he thought about how she offered him less than what an adventurer makes.
The map was affixed with thumb tacks on an empty wall.
“…A map of the south-east region?”
On the cheap paper that was becoming brownish, was a hand-drawn map of the Labyrinth City.
The map was drawn in black, and above it were red dots and lines.
“Are these red dots the places where he appears?”
There were three red dots on the map, and Nick pointed to one of them.
“…And these lines are drawn from these points…”
“It’s only conjecture.”
Preemptively said Olivia.
“They are Stepping Man’s escape routes.”
Those lines were short.
If they knew his full escape route, they could figure out where he lived, but at this time, they had very little information.
“Give me a pen.”
Nick drew a new red line, not too far from another one.
“This is where Stepping Man last appeared.”
Said a happy Olivia.
“A little girl was attacked, but her mother and the three of us stopped him from kidnapping her. He jumped in this direction and ran away.”
“What would you do if you failed to kidnap someone?”
“We have too few information… But…”
“Normally, one would wait until things cooled off, but considering so many kidnappings have been occurring in such a short time span, we can only assume he has some sort of bigger goal. Like… For example… A client willing to buy them…”
Karan frowned upon hearing this.
“No no, this is only a guess. Maybe he needs a certain amount and has a deadline…?”
“Are you saying Stepping Man is working?
Asked Nick, to which Olivia nodded.
“Yes. There’s a very high probability that he will try to kidnap someone soon. Still, we don’t know what he wants, so all we can do is guess…”
Said Olivia as she watched Nick draw.
Her tone implied she wanted to know what they would do next.
“I want to know what he’s after too, but we don’t have any clues. We just have to do what we can.”
Said Nick, and Sem strongly nodded.
“We know more or less where and when he appears, so let’s do a stakeout.”