“We have to get help anyway! Staying here isn’t going to end well! Right!?”
I screamed, but the others looked downwards, not sure if they should agree.
After a few moments of silence, Elmer responded.
“…I don’t know. I think we’ll at least survive if we stay.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“If he wanted to kill us, he wouldn’t be going through the trouble of looking after us. And he would’ve locked us in the worst place too!”
“But what if he’s selling us off to someone that’s going to do something even worse than killing us!?”
“There’s always that chance.”
Elmer shrugged, and started playing with those annoyingly thin bangs.
We weren’t getting anywhere, but that was to be expected, since neither of us knew for sure what we were talking about.
I turned to the two that were quiet.
Joseph still looked flustered, and Elise had a look of desperation on her face.
“No-no… I want to wait for old man Narga.”
“B-because he promised! He said next time he’s back, he would teach me magic…!”
“He never says anything!”
“But he nodded!”
“You have a family don’t you!? Like a real family, not like that man!?”
“No no! You don’t get it Ronia!”
I didn’t respond to Elise’s screams right away, and it became quiet, but it suddenly crossed my mind that there was no way this mess couldn’t be heard from outside. I was sure whoever was out there was going to break down the door and come in.
“I can’t hear you from here, but I’m sure you can hear me!”
Apparently the old man was more careful than I thought.
But whoever was outside seemed convinced we were in the house.
“The entrance should be chained shut! The emergency unlocking has to be done from that side!”
“We could break the door along with the whole building using magic, but you’d get caught in the destruction. I’ll teach you how to do it, so unlock it.”
I hadn’t heard of that before. The other three looked surprised too.
We were all nervous as we listened to the person outside while staring at the door.
“There should be a very tiny jewel among the chains.”
I rushed towards the door and searched frantically. I found it behind the third chain to the right.
“Press it lightly with your finger. After ten seconds, a green arrow should appear.”
I did as I was told, and the red jewel flashed green.
“Now move your finger as I say, starting from where the arrow is pointing…”
I was about to do as the person said, when I was pushed.
“Ouch!? E-Elise!? What are you doing!?”
“No! Let’s wait until old man Narga gets here…!”
“Are you an idiot!? …Ah…”
The jewel stopped shining.
Did I fail? Did I make a mistake?
“Do it right after it changes color. If you press it too many times or make a mistake in the sequence it goes back to red. If you fail three times, the anti-tampering function kicks in and it won’t be able to be unlocked. Be careful.”
Two things crossed my mind. We could still be saved, but we only had two more attempts.
I got up and glared at Elise, but all she did was glare back.
“I didn’t even say anything.”
“We should wait for old man Narga.”
“…Elise, he’s a bad man.”
“I know! But he pats my head and gives me books!”
Of course she knows, but she still wanted to cling to the hope of Narga taking her away, giving her another life.
“…Elise, it’s not like Ronia is telling you to hate that man or betray him or anything.”
Elmer stepped in.
I got angry and was about to tell him not to get in the way, but hoped he would convince her.
“Do you think he’s the type of person that will get mad if we open the door?”
“No but… He might give up. I don’t want that.”
Elmer looked at me as if asking what to do.
He wasn’t any help now that it mattered.
Think, think… What kind of situation is this anyway?
Who could be behind this door, trying to open it?
Who could know how to open it?
“Now that I think about it… How come this person knows how to undo the lock?”
The expressions on their faces changed after they heard what I mumbled.
“This lock is probably the type you have to set yourself. If this person knows how to undo it, that could mean one of two things… This person is his friend, or…”
An enemy that forced the information out of him.
Elise reached the same conclusion, and looked like she was about to start crying.
“…Let’s go outside. We won’t know what happened until we open this door. Maybe something happened to the old man.”
“We don’t know if something good is waiting for us outside, but we can’t stay here. You know that.”
But Elise wasn’t moving.
She hugged the chains so as not to let anyone touch them.
I worried about us wasting time, and wondered what could be done about Elise.
“W-we just have to protect Elise. Together.”
Surprisingly, it was Joseph, who was panicking the most, who said this.
“You’re scared right?”
“You were the first one to get here, and the next one died… And you spent some time alone with that old man. I’m sure you had to think of him as a friend, right?”
“It doesn’t matter if you like him or not, what matters is that he’s doing something dangerous. He’s not going to hate you or anything just because you leave. We’re leaving because of the person that’s on the other side of the door. It’s not your fault.”
Elise started crying. She pressed her face with her hands, but the tears wouldn’t stop coming.
She was afraid this whole time but had been holding back.
She wanted to think she was being loved and protected.
It was the same for me, and Joseph and Elmer too. Getting mad and playing around were just distractions.
“How… Did you know about Elise?”
Joseph seemed surprised by my question.
“No, I mean, what’s strange is that you didn’t know… If anything, you two are the ones that are too calm… It’s kind of scary.”
Elmer and I looked at each other, not expecting to hear this, and laughed.
“What are you talking about Joseph?”
“You’re pretty great!”
After laughing for a while, we sorted out our feelings
“Elise, if you feel that it’s dangerous, run away. Get help from the old man, the knights, the adventurer guild, or whatever. Just do what you can.”
“Elmer or I will start screaming, and then we’ll all run at once. Use whatever you can get your hands on, got it? If someone gets caught… We’ll hold no grudges.”
“W-we shouldn’t have to worry about that.”
“Don’t count on being lucky at a time like this…”
I said while staring at Elmer, but he just giggled.
Still, that made him very reliable depending on how you looked at it.
“…A-alright. I’ll do it too.”
Said a nervous Elise.
“Are you sure?”
“…Yes. If it gets dangerous, I’ll run. You’ll run too right?”
I nodded, as Elmer went to the kitchen to get knives, forks, and put seasonings in his pockets. Shrewd guy. I’d definitely hate him if I met him in school.
“We sort of have a strategy now. Let’s go.”
Said Elmer, and we all nodded.
“What’s going on?”
“I have no idea.”
The door was suddenly opened, and children suddenly started running in all directions, but Bond, his copies, and the deer person receptionist caught them in no time.
“Are you… Really an adventurer?”
Said a girl with a mean look in her eyes as she glared at Nick.
“What else could I be?”
“Well… You look kind of shady… And that lady looks scary too…”
“What do you mean shady…”
Nick peeked at the deer woman, who was holding the two boys by their collars. They were children, but it was still impressive that she was effortlessly holding them up.
“It’s nothing… It’s just… Aren’t you kind of strong?”
“I wouldn’t be working there if I wasn’t strong enough to hit you idiot adventurers.”
Said the deer woman while sighing.
“Anyway, you’re coming with us to the guild, and then we’re going to contact your parents. Alright?”
One of the girls Bond caught looked up with a keen look in her eyes.
“W-what happened to… Old man Narga?”
Nick wasn’t sure what to say.
They seemed to be doing well considering they were confined, but they also tried to run away, meaning Nick was not sure if they were emotionally stable. He did however feel that lying or being intentionally vague was not the right move.
“D-did you kill him?”
“I went after him because he was a kidnapper, but someone else killed him.”
The eyes of the quieter girl started watering. She pressed her mouth with her hands, and started quietly sobbing.
The other children seemed despondent, but still consoled her.
“It’s over. We should go home.”
This signaled the end of the case.