Late at night when everyone was asleep, I lay on the bed in the bedroom, unable to sleep, gazing blankly at the canopy as I wondered about Momoka.
Did Lewya manage to ask Wen to protect her?
Well, before that, Wen was generally carefree and rarely stayed in one place. Especially when there were external visitors to the settlement, it was said that he sometimes wandered in the woods. There was also the possibility that Lewya hadn't been able to talk to Wen yet.
Lewya also had his duties as a servant and wasn't always talking to spirits.
The more I think about it, the more I feel uneasy.
It was already late at night, but was Lewya still awake? Just as I was wondering if it would be bothersome to visit the bedroom now, the door was knocked gently.
"Who is it?"
"Neil, it's me, Lewya."
"Lewya? Come in."
As the saying goes, there must be something to talk about if you come at this time. Still feeling uneasy, I told her it was okay to come in.
"Neil, there's urgent news. The guys who were sniffing around the fields have entered the settlement."
"I see. They finally got impatient."
I thought that if they realized there was nothing coming out of the fields even after sniffing around, they would give up and go home or resort to aggressive measures, but they chose the latter after all.
"There's new information from the spirits. They say they've entered the laboratory."
"It's not a coincidence, is it?"
"Yes, they were using the building to hide and move around, so it was somewhat roundabout, but they only sneaked into the laboratory and didn't enter any other buildings."
So they must have thoroughly investigated not only the fields but also the settlement itself.
"What should we do, Neil?"
"Just to make sure, is there any chance they know what we know?"
"I don't know. It's unlikely that anyone besides the elves would notice surveillance by spirits, so the possibility of them noticing is low."
Well, what should we do then?
They should not be able to find anything related to farm's secret in the lab, and the only things in the lab are seasonings, alcohol, and the beauty products that Mei is making.
At this point, instead of causing a stir, it might be better to just let it go, and I turn to look at the sword leaning against the bed.
This sword is not the beloved sword but a new one that I requested through Harvest Hoe's firm, and it is made of the same material and design as the beloved sword, but since it is made by human hands, it is not exactly the same, and there are slight differences in the magic power and the weight balance, so it is not completely comfortable in my hand.
"By the way, Lewya, what happened with Momoka's situation?"
"I spoke to Wen and even though I got her approval, she didn't seem to be pleased with it."
"I see, that she approved is at least something to be grateful for."
Even if she doesn't like it, the fact that she agreed means that she will protect Momoka. I was worried about the distance between Momoka and the others because their carriage is on the opposite side of the mansion from the hut, but now I feel a little more secure.
"What is it?"
I am startled by Lewya's sudden change of expression, and she opens her mouth in an urgent tone.
"Zora went into the lab! It seems like she was caught by them!"
Why would Zora be in the lab? Did she follow and catch up with them?
Why was she walking around at this time? I was full of confusion and questions, but I quickly grabbed the sword leaning against the bed.
"Neil!? What are you doing–"
"There's no time to talk about it!"
My bedroom is on the second floor of the mansion, and I don't have time to walk down the stairs to the front door.
With no other options, I opened the window in my bedroom and threw myself into the darkness below.
I had done the same thing when monsters attacked the settlement before, but this time, it was hard to perceive the distance between me and the ground in the darkness. I prepared to cast a wind spell in the same way as before, aiming at the ground, but either my aim or the power of the spell was off. My body was blown sideways by the wind pressure and I rolled ungracefully on the ground.
Despite the intense pain throughout my body, I commanded my limbs to stand up forcibly and dashed towards the hut near the mansion.
Spirits monitored their movement, but there was inevitably a delay before they passed the information on to Lewya.
It probably took several seconds, and in a worst-case scenario, it could be more than ten seconds before I heard what had happened to Zora.
If anything happened to Zora in the meantime – I couldn't shake off the ominous feeling that weighed on me. But I ran frantically and hammered the door of the shed down.
Since I still hadn't gotten used to the darkness, there was complete darkness in the hut where even moonlight couldn't reach. I felt the presence of someone moving inside and pointed my sword at the darkness.
I was sure that someone was there, although I couldn't see anyone. As I kept staring at the darkness with my sword ready at the entrance, multiple human shadows gradually appeared in the darkness.
As Lewya had told me, three men with mismatched equipment were staring at me at the entrance. Zora, who had been captured by one of them and had a knife pointed at her neck, was there, too.
It seemed that I had made it in time, and while I was relieved that my ominous feeling had not come true, she was not yet out of danger.
"Release Zora now!"
"Wow, that was fast."
"Or should I say, isn't he the one who was caught? Isn't it too convenient to jump in just when we were trying to hide?"
I don't know what he means by "jumping in just when we were trying to hide," but it seems like it really was just barely in time.
Diana's voice calling my name from behind, along with the sound of multiple people approaching.
Did Lewya tell everyone? No, even if they were sleeping, landing so loudly like that, it wouldn't be strange to wake up from the sound.
"Don't come any closer! If you get any closer, I'll cut off this girl's head!"
I shout towards the people who are approaching as the man holding the knife to Zora's neck speaks.
The men who took Zora hostage take a step forward, and as they do, I take a step back. When they get outside the hut, they glower at me while keeping an eye on their surroundings, and begin to move slowly toward the forest.
"Wait! Release the child!"
"Do you think we can let go of our hostage in this situation?"
The man responds coldly to my words and tightens his grip on Zora's restrained arm.
"When we have reached a place where we can feel safe, we will release her. Let me make it clear that if you try to follow us, her life will end."
"If you do that, you lose your hostage."
"And do you know this phrase? 'If I'm going to die, I'll take you with me.'"
They mean that if we chase after them, they'll just take us down with them.
However, I can't just let them go like this. There's no guarantee that Zora will be safely released, and even if she is, the likelihood of her being able to return to the settlement on her own is low.
I consider whether there is any exchange condition that can be proposed and make a suggestion.
"Then how about exchanging it for the information you want?"
"You came to investigate the secret of the crops grown in the settlement, didn't you?"
"Well, let's say we agree to that exchange. Will you let us go after releasing the hostages?"
"If you release the child safely."
"I don't trust you. Even if we release the child after hearing the secret, you might still do something to us."
"Even if I say I won't do it, you don't trust me?"
"Of course. Who'd be stupid enough to believe a nobleman's word, especially when dealing with an Imperial nobleman?"
It won't work. These people prioritize getting away from this place safely. That's why they won't release the hostages no matter what.
Then there was only one solution I could think of.
"Then I will be your hostage."
I hear Diana's surprised voice behind me, but I ignore it and stare at the man in front of me.
"... Are you serious?"
"I am. I don't know how far you are going to go, but if you release Zora safely, is it a place where she can come back on her own? I can fight a little, and at least I can protect myself."
"Master Neil, then I'll do it!"
"Diana's no good. Even they're not reckless. If a noble becomes a hostage, they'll have to treat me with caution, won't they?"
"Well, I don't want to do anything that would make the nobles angrier."
"Besides, I know the information you want. How about it?"
The man who seemed to be the leader and was holding Zora as a hostage stared at my face, seeming to confirm the true meaning of what I said.
Time flowed silently, and eventually the man spoke up.
"...very well, throw your sword down and come here."
As instructed, I threw down my sword and faced the group of men with empty hands. But at that moment...
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