“…Do you have any business in this depressing place?”
Asked the timid looking man wearing rags.
This was the most desolate place in the abandoned area. It was originally built as a disposal site to burn garbage, but strangely enough, it ended up being cleaner than other places. It was a wide area, and it wasn’t filled with the same graffiti you could see almost everywhere else.
Yet, no one has made this place their headquarters.
This would be very surprising, if not for the fact that this place was the morgue and common cemetery, seemingly held together by the last remaining shreds of good will from the inhabitants of the abandoned area.
“What’s the problem? Are you the caretaker?”
“Don’t come running to me if you see any ghosts.”
The man grumbled, to which Tianna flatly rebuked.
“Ghosts are a type of monster, not some kind of supernatural thing. Are you saying people have seen ghosts here?”
“It matters not how eerie of a cemetery it is, ghosts will not appear unless there is magic energy swirling. Did you not know that?”
Said Bond, with no pretension is his voice. The man did his best not to annoyingly smack his lips, and nodded.
“I’m saying you better not do anything that’ll get you cursed.”
“Ah, that… I swear we won’t.”
The man with Tianna and Bond was the grave keeper.
Having that said, this was not a proper cemetery like the ones adjacent to temples. The graves were nothing more than piles of wood or rock.
The man received a meager sum from the inhabitants to help with burials, chase away crows and stray dogs, and take care of the corpses until they were done being cremated.
“Anyway, this is the grave with the dead kids.”
“…Hum, only one?”
The man pointed to a waist-high rock.
“Kids whose names we don’t even know receive 《Sacred Fire》 all together and are put in the same grave… It’s not like I don’t feel for them, but you know…”
It can’t be helped, he mumbled quietly.
Sacred Fire was magic used to burn corpses put into metal coffins until there were only bones left. Corpses would pollute the soil if buried as they were, so they had to burn them into a pile of bones. It took time and magic energy, so it was much more efficient to do it to many in one go, but normally no one would agree to have their loved ones buried alongside other corpses. Even people with only a little money would receive an individual funeral service.
Burying many people together was only done in times of war, plague, or when a natural disaster hit. Times when many people would die in a short period of time.
But it was also done when there was no claimant to the dead person.
“This kid died recently, but we haven’t been able to use Sacred Fire yet… It’s not easy being poor.”
Tianna threw a gold coin at the man, but he seemed somewhat troubled by it.
“…There’s no reason to receive money from someone that doesn’t live here. If you do that, people that live here will stop giving me money. I appreciate the food and healing, but disposing of corpses is something that we’re always going to have to do ourselves. It’s kind of a problem if you pamper me like this.”
“That sounds rough…”
“It’d be one thing if I got gold coins every month or every year… But that’s not gonna happen. I really want to take this, but I can’t. Gold coins sure are nice, there’s a different shine to them.”
Said the man as he sadly caressed the gold coin, before throwing it back to Tianna.
Tianna thought he was a strange mix of self-interested and virtuous, and figured that was just how grave keepers were like.
“…Let me just ask, did this child live here?”
“I guess, but it’s not like I know everyone here. People that die here come… Oh?”
The man stopped.
“Now that you mention it, that kid’s strangely neat looking…”
“Can we check?”
“I don’t mind. You’re adventures or bounty hunters right? I don’t know what kind of work you’re doing, but just don’t steal mementos or anything.”
“Of course not!”
Tianna furiously yelled, and the man looked as though he was about to cry.
“S-sorry, but there’s people like that. Look at it from my point of view.”
“Ah, I see… Sorry for yelling.”
“The corpses are put in coffins and placed with ice in that storehouse. Hold on, let me open it.”
The man pointed to a small brick shed.
It was a plain shed, about the size of a charcoal hut, but it was surprisingly sturdy. The door knob was fixed in place with a large chain and a lock.
“…It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor when you’re dead.”
Tianna mumbled quietly, and Bond nodded.
Bond strained his eyes and looked around. His detection abilities were so high, he could see through things if he was close enough.
“…No doubt about it, there is a child’s corpse over there.”
“I was thinking about what we’d do if one of the kidnapped children were here… My hunch is probably right.”
Tianna let out a heavy sigh.
“So? What should we do?”
“I don’t want us to examine the corpse…”
“Me neither. Although I do think it is unfair to leave everything to Sem.”
Sem said they needed to examine the corpse if they found one.
If one of the kidnapped children was dead, they needed to see if they could find out how and why.
They were after the criminal, so they had no choice but to look into what happened to the victims, and above all else, try to find clues that could lead them to him. Tianna knew this made sense, and agreed, but actually doing it was a completely different story.
“…It’s not fair that Nick and Karan aren’t here.”
“Yes yes. Surely those two are having a lovely time together and eating something nice… Hm?”
Bond raised his finger, signaling for Tianna to be quiet.
Someone jumped at them from behind, planning to swing a sword at them while landing.
Bond twisted his body, unsheathed his sword, and blocked.
A metallic sound echoed as the two swords collided.
Tianna shot an ice spear at the mysterious hoodlum, but he quickly jumped back.
Too late, she thought while smiling. It would definitely hit.
But the hoodlum evaded it by hitting it with the tip of the sword.
“Wha…!? Then… Icicle Dance!”
“Guh… Dragonfly Sword!”
Tianna fired multiple icicles, and the hoodlum started moving sideways, too fast to see.
He was not unscathed, but the irregular sharp movements made sure the hoodlum could minimize damage while getting closer.
“Guh… Ice Shield!”
“Your close quarters combat is too soft!”
As the hoodlum tried to strike Tianna, Bond intervened.
“Ahh, that was close.”
“You’re a swordsman too?!”
“I am more like something used by a swordsman, but I can handle swords as well… Parallel.”
Sensing the high level of his opponent’s skill, Bond stopped holding back, and suddenly there were three identical Bonds.
“Separate… These aren’t after images… They’re real!?”
“Seryah!” “This way this way!” “Wide open!”
One aimed at the wrist from the side, one stroke at the throat from the front, and one swung from the back.
Bond’s coordinated movements drove the man into a corner. His perfect coordination was almost unfair.
Without delay, the man stepped away from the three Bonds.
“I thought you would do that.”
All the Bonds started circling him. He would slowly jab at the man to deplete his strength.
The hoodlum was slowly being wounded, but his breathing changed.
He took a deep breath.
“…Twin swords dance. Butterfly sword!”
And then, two swords were waved with enough force to create wind pressure.
The right sword aimed at the enemy to the right, and the left to the enemy at the left. It looked as though it was not a single person handling two swords, but two people handling one each, with strange flickering movements that resembled a butterfly’s wings. Two of the three Bonds were sent flying by its exquisite skill.
But there was no sword aiming for the third one.
“Gu… Haa… Haa…”
“Not bad at all, but it ends here.”
The hoodlum fell just a little short.
The tip of Bond’s sword was at the man’s throat, and the situation finally subsided.
Tianna stared at the man’s face.
“Are you… Stepping…”
“No. This is not Stepping man.”
Bond denied it before Tianna could finish her sentence.
Tianna realized she could see him perfectly. His features were not blurred by the power of a strange magic item.
It was hard to tell thanks to the helmet and visor, but judging by his voice, he was clearly a middle aged man.
Bond skillfully tore the visor off with his sword, and beneath it was a face they had seen before.
“Ah, hum… You are…”
“Damn grave robbers…! I was starting to see you in a better light but you…!”
The man was surprised by something that never crossed Tianna and Bond’s minds.
He was calling them grave robbers, meaning he cracked down on that sort of people. It was something that could hardly come from the mouth of a kidnapper like Stepping Man.
“Hum, you are a bounty hunter named kokot correct?”
“Calm down. You call us grave robbers, but there is nothing here to steal in the first place.”
“There’s weirdos that mess with bodies and sell them to other weirdos.”
“Still, we would make a lot more money just going after bounties. Are you not misunderstanding something here?”
Scott started thinking.
“…I guess that’s true.”
“Were you set up by someone?”
“S-set up? You’re not fooling me!”
Scott looked at Tianna and Bond with a threatening expression.
The air was both tense and relaxed, and only the sound of the grave keeper asking what was going on could be heard.