The explosion could be heard far, far away.
“H-hey, what was that…? Are there monsters running around or did a war break out or something?”
“It came from that factory. You know, that one who’s owner ran away in the middle of the night.”
“I’m sure he came back and is fighting with his wife.”
“You idiot. Does this look like something that minor to you?”
“Maybe a sorcerer was doing experiments?”
On the streets illuminated only by the faint light from the stars, more lights started appearing, as the residents of the surrounding area went out to see what happened.
“…T-this is terrible.”
“It’s been almost completely destroyed.”
What the residents saw was the abandoned factory in tatters. Walls had crumbled down, the ceiling was full of holes, and there were even small holes in the surrounding buildings, created by pieces of the factory that were blown away. Fortunately, no one was hurt, as the surrounding buildings were storehouses and factories, and were almost always empty at night.
Many people from other residential districts heard the noise and left their homes to see what happened as well.
“Hey! There’s still fire!”
“We need water and dirt! Just get someone that can use magic!”
“Call a priest! There might be people hurt in there!”
“The manager of this place ran away. Who’s going to pay?”
“The guild I guess?”
“That doesn’t matter right now! Just bring them here!”
The people that gathered were relieved to see damage to the surrounding buildings was minimal, but were frightened by the scope of the destruction. The building seemed as though it could collapse at any moment.
The creaking noises coming from the factory made it seem as though a gust of wind could bring the whole thing down, but then, one man willingly went inside.
“President!? It’s too dangerous!”
“I have to, I’m in charge of the fire department this year… Dammit, I shouldn’t have joined the merchant’s guild. I shouldn’t have trusted them when they told me to take the post just for the title.”
He was a stout middle-aged man, wearing nothing but his sleep-wear and sandals. He was, however, wearing a helmet for some reason. It seemed he grabbed what he could before running to the scene.
Apparently, he was a man of considerable social status, and his subordinates desperately tried to stop him.
“Let’s wait for the pros or the order!”
“We can’t count on them! I have to check to see if someone’s here! Hey! Is anyone there!?”
And then, as if in response, a thud was heard.
Upon further inspection, there was a group that took cover behind iron pots.
“Yes! Yes…! One of us is very badly hurt! Help us!”
All seemed like young adventurers, and all were wounded.
Even as he felt like trouble was brewing, the man raised his voice.
“Get out of there! It’s dangerous! Hey! Are the priest and sorcerer here yet!? We have injured people here!”
People behind the man started moving quickly.
Wind magic was used to calm the wind around the factory, and earth magic was used to create embankments.
The young adventurer who raised his voice, Nick, let out a sigh of relief.
Looking at the people rushing to help them cut the tread of tension.
“Wait, we’re coming…!”
As Nick heard this hurried voice, his consciousness flew far away once again.
“Are you awake?”
“Where am I…?”
“Manhunt’s medical office. When adventurers come back from work with wounds that aren’t very serious, they are taken here. How are you? Any dizziness?”
The deer woman receptionist blankly looked at Nick’s face as she answered his question, before going back to writing in a document.
Nick felt strangely impressed at how despite her vulgar attitude, she could act like a decent doctor.
“Well… More or less.”
Nick got up from the simple bed he had been laying on. The white light coming from the lighting magic item was colder than a lamp, and painted the room with a cold brilliance.
Nick looked around and saw Sem and Bond sleeping. The completely different feeling from where he was before made Nick feel lethargic, and even perplexed.
“…Where are Tianna and Karan?”
“Those girls’ wounds were worse, so they needed proper treatment. Don’t worry, their lives aren’t in danger or anything.”
While giving a half-hearted ‘you’re welcome’, the woman stopped writing and faced Nick.
“So, we’re going to need an explanation. You were after Stepping Man right?”
Nick’s mind finally caught up with what happened upon hearing that name, and all the things he had to check and do suddenly rushed to his brain.
“Stepping Man… That’s right! Hey, what happened to Nargava!? And White Mask!?”
“W-wait, calm down! Nargava is the name of that man right…? And I don’t know anything about that White Mask.”
“Nargava is Stepping Man, and he’s the one that’s been kidnapping kids! White Mask had been lending him a magic item and helping him, and he went there to silence him!”
“…He did manage to silence him, that man was dead when he arrived.”
Nick punched the bed in frustration.
“Good grief, why are you so anxious? Is that White Mask or something coming to attack?”
“No, he’s dead too. There should be nothing left of him.”
“…I guess we’ll have to examine that later. The abandoned factory is in ruins. What else?”
Nick didn’t know what to say. His impatience grew stronger, and he did not know what to say first.
“I think you should rest first, but…”
“I don’t have time for that! What about you? Do you have anything to tell me!?”
“I dunno… Ah.”
The woman suddenly stopped, and remembered something.
“That Nargava guy was holding this.”
Nick took the paper and looked at it closely.
Strange lines were drawn on it. He could not even tell if it was some sort of code or letters, and beside them, a symbol that resembled an arrow was drawn.
“It looks like a map or something, but I’ve never seen terrain like that. I dunno what that arrow means either.”
“The arrow… Ah, I know what this is, it’s to undo a magic lock.”
“Eh? That sort of thing exists?”
“It’s a kind of magic item. A lot of safes and storehouse doors use this sort of lock… But I don’t understand the lines… What is this?”
The woman shrugged, but Nick fought to keep his eyes open and kept thinking.
It seemed familiar. Something told Nick this was important.
“I’ve seen this… Where did I see this.”
“Calm down. You need to relax and collect your thoughts…”
“I know. Calm… Calm…”
But Nick frowned and scratched his head, and the woman let out an exasperated sigh.
“It’s not like you have to say it right now.”
“I know! But I don’t get this! Why did he leave this!?”
“There was something he wanted to tell, I guess.”
“But what is it?”
“Something he couldn’t tell. Maybe something he was hiding.”
Something he was hiding.
What was Stepping Man hiding? His identity.
But that was nothing more than a means to an end. His goal was to kidnap people, children to be exact.
“…I got it.”
“Hm? Did you figure it out?”
“This is a map.”
“I’ve never seen weird directions like these though.”
“Yes… This is a map for stepping. It’s for someone that can walk around the Labyrinth City by walking on rooftops and fences!”
Nick finally remembered. This map looked like the stepping routes drawn by Olivia.
The lines were scrawled, probably because he mustered the last of his strength to draw them before he died, but Nick quickly understood where the map led and what its purpose was. A vague sense of danger was beginning to form.
“If someone showed up to silence Nargava… Are the kidnapped kids in danger? We can’t leave them like this. Did he mean to write that but couldn’t?”
“And that’s not all. The office in the abandoned area and the people that frequent it are in danger too. We have to take care of that.
Hey Sem! Wake up, it’s not over yet! You too Bond!”
“We’re racing against time! Help us too!”
The receptionist that usually yelled at vulgar adventurers was pushed by Nick’s fervor, and understood the severity of the situation.
“…Alright, I know it’s bad. You’re probably still in pain, so I’ll carry you there while you lead the way.”
“Alright… Ah, no, I can walk.”
“We have no time to walk! C’mon!”
Yelled the receptionist before lifting Nick off the ground.
“Wawah!? W-what are you doing!?”
“I told you I’d carry you! Lead the way!”
“I get that, but don’t hold me in your arms like this! Why are you so strong anyway!?”
“You talk too much for a man! Deer people are strong if nothing else! Which way!?”
“W-wait… Hum, this is a factory, then the fence around the church is probably here… The residential area northwest of the factory… Take me… and Bond here, and send people to the abandoned area. It will be faster if you people take Sem there.”
“Got it, let’s go!”
The receptionist told another employee what Nick said, and took off running at an incredible speed.
“Slow down a little…!”
“Shut up if you don’t want to bite your tongue!”