Late at night, after the brothels had closed, Niya and her four companions gathered on the back of a carriage.
"As you all probably know from Master Neil's rounds during the day," Nia said. "it's been a week since we've been here, and I'd like to hear from you all. Do you still want to wait and see, or do you want to give up and go back to the journey?"
Moona was the first to express her opinion in response to Niya's question.
"I think it's okay for us to stay here for a while longer. This place is even better than I thought, and Master Neil seems to be trying to make it comfortable for us to live here. I don't think we'll get this kind of treatment anywhere else."
"I agree with Moona, but I'm worried about the people wandering around out there," Iko said. "And even if Master Neil makes it comfortable for us to live here, we'll be hard to leave if something happens. This is probably the only time we can leave this place without regret. What do you think, Mio?"
"I... agree with Iko's opinion. This place is certainly great, but there are many things to worry about," Mio replied.
"So you just want to see the son of the tailor who proposed to you again, don't you?" Nia teased.
"N-No, that's not it!"
"Iko, let's continue our discussion. Stop teasing Mio. What do you think, Momo?" Niya said, turning to Momo.
As everyone's eyes naturally turn to Momoka, she opens her mouth.
"I'd like to stay here."
"Why is that?" Nia asked.
"I can do something here, and there are people who need me. Master Neil said he'd give me a job that I can handle."
"That's just a strategy to keep us here. As Mio said, there are many things to be concerned about here, and it's better for us to leave before something happens."
"If something happens, you mean the people outside? If that's the case, I can go and—"
Niya's voice contained a clear tone of anger, causing Momoka to flinch.
Looking at Momoka, who was clearly frightened, Niya spoke in a gentle voice.
"Momoka, do you remember the discussion we had when we just arrived in this world?"
"...that here, we should live as normal human beings."
"That's right, there's no reason for us to fight in this world, we can forget our individual roles."
"Is it normal to turn a blind eye to what we can do and pretend that we can't do it for ourselves?"
"At least, a person who can sacrifice theirselves for a stranger is not a normal person."
"Haha, the way you put it, we sounded like a group of abnormal people when we fought for the sake of humanity."
With a smirk, Iko interrupted the conversation with a joke, and Iko stopped laughing and fell silent.
"No one in this world has told us to do this, Momoka. And do you understand? There is no one in this world that can take our place. If we die now, it's the end."
"I understand that."
"No, you don't understand the gravity of the situation, that's why you still think about sacrificing yourself so easily."
"How do you know it's easy for me? Why does Niya know that?""
"I know, you said you'd do it first, so what do you call it if it's not easy?"
"Stop, both of you, stop."
Iko intervenes forcefully between the two, as their discussion is about to turn into an argument.
"Let's calm down, if you raise your voice like that, people outside the carriage might hear it."
"...I'm sorry, I lost my composure."
"Okay, now that you've calmed down, I have a report to make."
When Niya asked what the report was at this timing, Iko pointed to the outside of the carriage and said.
"It looks like the people outside have started to move."
* * *
Three men quickly moved in the dimly lit settlement lit only by moonlight.
As they moved from shadow to shadow, they arrived at their destination, one of them frequently stroked the surface of the door with his hand as if he was checking something.
"...There doesn't seem to be any kind of alarm, it's just an ordinary door as it looks."
"That's disappointing. If this is the laboratory that the nobles use, it looks quite simple. I was wary, thinking that the appearance was disguised and the reality was dangerous."
"Enough talk. Let's go in before we're found."
After confirming that the door has no tricks up its sleeve, the men open it noiselessly and slip into the hut.
"Without moonlight, it's really dark and we can't see anything."
"Don't turn on the lights."
"I know, I'm not stupid."
The men waited at the entrance of the cabin without moving until their eyes adjusted to the darkness inside, and then began to search.
"I expected it, but the equipment is all personal and small. The equipment is good, but the nobleman could have prepared better equipment, couldn't he?"
"Maybe this isn't their main mission, or maybe they're just trying to make us think that they're not, we'll just have to find out."
"I don't understand anything about alchemy-related stuff."
The men divided into three groups and started searching the inside of the cabin, but there were limited places to investigate in Neil's small experimental laboratory.
"The most suspicious thing I see is this jar. As for the contents…it has a nice smell. Could this be…"
"Don't do anything that leaves evidence."
"It's okay, it's just a quick check—oh, this is delicious. Hey, it's a sauce, and it has a unique taste I've never had before. It's full in the jar, so would it be okay to take a small bottle without being noticed?"
"Hey, I just told you to hold back, did you already forget?"
Behind the man who is pale at his friend's behavior, the other man is also causing problems.
"Hey, they've got liquor over here. There are a lot of fruit liquors, but all of them have a strong alcohol content and I like it."
"What are you doing too? What are you going to do if they realize that the booze has decreased?"
"I've only had a sip of each, so it's okay. Besides…"
The man who had been pissed off by the drinking looks around the hut.
"Is this really the laboratory we're aiming for? It looks like a food processing plant."
"Yeah, I feel like it's definitely a miss."
At that moment, the words "fruitless effort" passed through the minds of two of the three people.
With the creaking sound of a door opening, a wooden door slowly opened. The three people turned their gaze to the entrance of the shack and were confronted with Zora, whose expression was one of stunned silence.
"Y-you guys!" she exclaimed. "Be quiet," one of the men hushed her.
Despite the unexpected situation causing confusion among them, the men's movements were swift.
The man who had been drinking alcohol pulled Zora into the hut with agile movements, while the man who had been licking sauce immediately closed the door of the hut and the leader of the group pressed a short sword against Zora's neck while holding her mouth shut.
"If you don't want to die, don't move. If you make any suspicious movements, I'll cut your throat immediately. If you understand, blink three times," he said.
Suddenly brought into the hut, with the dagger at her throat, Zora was in a state of fear and disarray. However, she instinctively sensed that it was dangerous to resist and was surprised at how well she was able to comply with their demands in this situation. As instructed, she blinked three times.
"That does it. I never thought it would come to this."
"What do we do? What are we going to do now that we've been witnessed?"
Now that they had been seen, they had to acknowledge their intrusion.
However, killing the witness would only cause a commotion and would make the situation more troublesome.
"Well... there's no avoiding commotion arising from the fact that an intruder appeared, or that one person is... gone," the leader said, his grip on Zora's mouth becoming tighter.
"The contents of the commotion will not be the appearance of an intruder or the death of a dead person, but the 'disappearance' of a single person."
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