It was getting late.
She usually got home before sunset.
Nina, who worked in a bakery, had many brothers and sisters, and her father, who worked as a glass blower, did not earn a lot.
Usually, he would be in a small atelier, covered in sweat, making things like glass plates. The vivid bluish glass items Nina’s father made had a good reputation, but recently, he had fallen into hard times, and sales were down. It was then that a wholesaler friend invited him to put out a street stall.
The light from the sun refreshingly reflected off of his glass goods, and slowly his fame there grew. Nina was very proud of him.
…But not too long ago, a strange tiger monster destroyed the stall and the glass items in it, and his father also ended up with a broken arm. He had no choice but to stop working for a while.
Thankfully, it seemed the tiger monster was only passing, and there were no casualties. Said monster was caught by a beautiful paladin that just happened to be there, and songs praising said paladin could be heard in taverns and parks.
Still, for Nina, her father, and their family as a whole, this was devastating.
He wanted to be reimbursed for the items that the tiger or person destroyed, but more people were scammed or had gotten hurt in the rampage, so the whole thing was a mess, and no one knew when the trial would end.
Furthermore, the wholesaler that invited Nina’s father feared that he would be blamed and be asked to compensate him, so he disappeared without a trace. To Nina’s father, this was the most shocking part.
‘I wasn’t going to blame him or anything’ he would grumble while laying down on the floor. Nina felt this hurt more than his broken arm.
The misfortune that suddenly befell her father made no sense to Nina, but the adults would say that was just the way things were, and she had no choice but to accept it.
And so, Nina did what she could.
She went to school, but gave up on graduating, and only received lessons on reading and writing, and how to use an abacus. On school days, she had class in the morning, and worked in the afternoon, and when she didn’t have to go to school, she worked all day.
It was not rare for children to have such a life, but they would be looked down on for being poor. Children from the south were much poorer compared to children from the north, andthere was still a visible gap.
Thankfully, the people with whom she worked were nice, and kindly accepted a child.
Still, since she was working there, they expected her to work like an adult, and would expect her to do overtime on busy days.
That day in particular, it seemed a caravan with many horse and dragon wagons had entered the Labyrinth City, and the entire shopping district was very busy.
It was already dark, and noise from drunken people could be heard, so it was not a safe time for a child like Nina to be walking around. She was not aware of this, but her mother’s beauty was beginning to show on her face, and the amount of men looking at her with shady eyes was increasing.
“Geez, these drunk adults…”
She picked an empty street to avoid drunks, but that was a mistake.
She felt like she heard footsteps.
They weren’t heavy footsteps of wooden shoes stepping on a stone pavement, or even the light sound of cheap sandals sticking to and coming apart from a stone pavement, it was more like it did not make a sound at all.
It could not be put into words, but rather felt, like temperature or humidity. A sense that someone was there.
When she turned around, she saw nothing.
There had been nights when she could not sleep after her friends told stories of ghosts and apparitions, but in the end, it seemed nothing was there.
Unfortunately, that was not the case.
Nina’s mouth was covered, and she fruitlessly swung her arms and legs in panic.
There was nothing she could do against an adult man. All she could have done was use her small body to run away, but being grabbed from behind killed that possibility.
Not only that…
“W-why… I can’t… See…”
She could not see the hand that sealed her mouth, or the arm that held her upper body. All Nina could do was cry, completely unable to move.
“No need to worry, you will not die right away. If you stay still that is.”
Nina heard a man’s whispers and froze.
There was no point in trying to resist.
“Now, I was disturbed the other night, but this time…”
Not trying to move turned out to be the correct choice, because a strange girl or boy suddenly came into the scene flying and attacked the man.
“Dammit… The same exact thing two times in a row…!”
“That makes you a fool… Oh no, I used too much power. Someone else, take over.”
Bond contributed the most in the search for Stepping Man.
Thanks to Olivia, the area and time period in which he appeared was narrowed down, but the Labyrinth City was big.
But thanks to Bond’s Parallel and Search, they managed to track him down.
Everyone except Bond drank an anti-bewitchment potion prepared by Sem, and thus, half of Stepping Man’s arsenal had been nullified.
The other half… Was his monster like agility.
“I guess we have to overpower him. Bond, take that girl out of here!”
Nick stepped in between Stepping Man and the girl and swung his short sword, which Stepping Man dodged by back-stepping.
This attack did not hit, but it did buy time.
Bond got back up, took the girl by the hand, and ran.
Stepping Man angrily glared at Bond, but he was too late to do anything about it.
“Glare all you want! Tianna, now!”
“Got it. He can hide, but apparently he can’t hide his magic energy completely… Ice Spear!”
With a flower petal in her mouth, Tianna cast a spell, and a stake-like icicle shot from the tip of her staff.
“Guh… Diamond Shield!”
But Stepping Man quickly took measures against it.
It was earth magic, which created a pseudo diamond shield.
It was strong against simple cold and lightning physical attacks, but weak against fire and heat.
That was when Karan used her Fire Breath.
The shield melted like candy, but Stepping Man was no longer behind it.
“Above you Tianna!”
Yelled Sem, who was standing in the back.
Tianna jumped to the side without even looking up, and where she stood, Stepping Man dropped like a bolt of lightning. He was holding a sword with a backhand grip, and was going for a one hit kill.
Nick jumped between Stepping Man and Tianna, and kicked Stepping Man, who was still regaining his composure after the last attack.
The feeling on his legs told him he failed.
It felt very light, even though he also felt something being blown away.
Stepping Man used the force of the kick to gain some distance, and then turned around and started running.
Karan ran while shooting her Fire Breath in sphere form, but Stepping Man dodged it.
He was good, dodging the object flying towards his back with instinct alone.
Nick anticipated this, and threw his short sword where he would land.
But he was a step too late.
Stepping Man kicked the ground, and then a wall, and jumped high in the sky.
He landed on a roof, and ran away by leaping from roof to roof.
“Ah, damn it! Stop running!”
Obviously, there was no response.
Nick let out a big sigh.
“…Well, we can’t do anything about him running away, but we got a lot of clues about where he shows up, in which direction he runs, and how he fights. And…”
“We stopped the kidnapping itself. We didn’t really win, but he definitely lost.”
Nick consoled Tianna, and Sem added his own words.
“Let’s go back to the guild and rest for a bit.”
They all shook off the feeling of disappointment and headed towards the Manhunt. They had agreed beforehand to meet up again if they got separated, so they had to go get Bond, who ran away with the girl.
Nick stopped, and so did everyone else after him.
“Two ladies and two boys. You look pretty carefree for people in such a dangerous place.”
“Hehehe, and with a nice robe like that too.”
“Leave your gold.”
“Or do you want to come play with us? Gehehe…”
From the darkness, ten men appeared, who surrounded Nick and his party.
It seemed they did not witness the previous battle, and underestimated the people they picked a fight with.
“You’re used to extortion… Maybe you even have bounties on your heads.”
“Ah, great. Sem, you don’t know any of them do you?”
“Of course not, and I wouldn’t care if I did.”
“Then let’s do it.”
Karan took a deep breath.
They seemed a little happy. They were all worked up after their mark got away.
The men who surrounded them sensed this, and became angry.
“You cheeky…! Only that dragon girl looks strong! Get them!!”
“…What is going on?”
“Ou, Bond. Where’s the girl?”
In the middle of the confusion, Bond ended up finding them first.
It goes without saying that Nick ignored Bond’s question.
“She lives nearby, so I accompanied her home. So, what is that?”
“Some stuff happened. Help us.”
Bond was confused, but helped Nick bind the men.
Seven were unconscious, and the remaining three’s faces were swollen.
At this point they knew very well the difference in their power, and showed no intention of resisting.
“Listen, when you bind someone with a rope, you do it like this. You make a ring, pass it through here… And there you go. You try it.”
The man being used as a training dummy did not seem too pleased with Nick.
“C-come on, don’t use us to practice how to tie people up…”
“Sorry, just bear with it. And that way of tying up hurts right?”
The man that attacked them and was beaten down weakly protested, but he was at Tianna’s mercy.
Nick thought to himself that they were lucky they did not get frozen or burned, and headed towards Manhunt, while teaching everyone how to use the rope.