“They have gone missing? What do you mean?”
“It’s exactly as what you just said. Since nine days ago, children of Alieve Village started to disappear. Now, all children are missing. We thoroughly searched the village and the forest nearby, yet… we couldn’t find them.”
Having heard Malto’s answer, Riley bent his eyebrows. He turned his head and started to look at the path that they just walked on and the village once again.
Ian also had a deadly look on his face after hearing Malto’s explanation. Ian too was thoroughly examining the village’s every corner.
“They are really gone.”
Ian slowly mumbled. Riley, who checked it once again, looked at Malto and asked about the missing children.
“How old are the missing children?”
“Pardon? Ah, about that… Children who are five years or older and eighteen years or younger are gone.”
“Regardless of gender, all children?”
“Yes, that’s right, but why do you ask?”
Having heard what Malto said, Riley crumpled his face as if he knew it. Riley mumbled quietly,
“… As I thought…”
“Have you figured something out?”
Having heard Ian’s question, Riley kept silence for a moment. He slowly shook his head and said,
“No, not exactly, but…”
Riley cringed and said ‘as I thought’ because Riley realized that what was happening in the Alieve Village was very similar to what he experienced in his past life.
‘This is pretty serious. When father gave me the assignment to save a village, I thought it couldn’t be, but now…’
As if Riley was not liking the situation that felt similar to what he experienced in his past life, Riley opened and closed his hand as he asked Malto,
“Five years or older… That means babies who are less than five years old are safe, right?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
Malto nodded and gave an additional explanation about what the village’s men were up to.
“So, half of the village’s men are outside the village to be prepared against orcs that might invade at any time. The other half are standing guard on their own homes to protect the children under five years old.”
Having heard what Malto said, Ian turned his head again and examined the village’s scenery. His gaze met with a man through a window, and Ian narrowed his eyes as if he now understood what they were doing.
“It looks like everyone is on edges."
“That’s right. They couldn’t sleep at all through the night.”
“This means it is a total mystery as to when exactly the children disappeared.”
“The situation is not very good.”
Riley roughly scratched the back of his head.
‘This is trouble.’
Riley was taking it easy because it looked like his father was going to send Riley to a suitable, easy place for him. However, this was like getting struck by a lightning on a sunny day. Now, Riley had to be concerned with not just orcs, but also missing children.
‘In my past life, I chose to abandon the city. The city that I didn’t choose to protect was destroyed, and only the fallen city’s children came back in bizarre forms and indiscriminately slaughtered people.’
Riley took lessons from what he experienced in his past life. As he organized his thoughts, as if he determined he didn’t have enough information, he turned to the village’s leader and said,
“By any chance, can you show me something like the entire village’s map? It would be even better if it was something that shows the forest area outside the village as well.”
“Yes. I happen to have one hanging at my home.”
Ian realized the look on Riley’s face couldn’t be more serious. Without saying any words, Ian just followed Riley.
* * *
Riley liked children.
Actually, instead of saying he liked them, it was probably more accurate to say that he was feeling sorry and guilty toward them.
‘Mister… Mister… Who are you?’
‘Fool… Cholok… Take a look at the sword I’m holding.’
‘Holy… Sword? Then, are you a brave warrior?’
‘… That’s right.’
Riley felt that way toward children because in his past life, because of the choice that he made, the fallen city’s countless children became murderous monsters against their will and shed tears of blood.
‘Hehe. That… is good… Mister… Then you came to… kill us?’
‘… That’s right.’
In his past life, in response to the question, Riley said ‘that’s right’ in cold voice. Riley was thinking about himself from that moment.
‘Fool. Why… Cholok… Why are you happy?’
‘I should be happy… Mister… You said you will stop us, so…’
‘Is that so? I guess that is right. You should be happy.’
Being swept up in the ploy by the devil, the children ended up having their hands completely tainted with the blood of people. The children, who were sliced off by Riley’s Holy Sword… Riley looked at them with emotionless eyes.
‘Mister… I have a favor to ask. Can I ask you just one favor?’
‘I am sorry, but I don’t take requests from monsters…’
‘We are not monsters.’
‘Mister, we are not monsters. Really.’
‘Huk… Mommy… I want to see mommy.’
The children were crying, telling Riley that they wanted to see their mothers.
Watching the children, at that moment, for the first time, Riley thought that perhaps the real monster was not the children who were transformed but himself.
‘We are like this now because of you.’
Some cities told Riley that things would not have turned out badly if he was not there. Some cities told him that things would not have turned out badly if he was there.
‘So, I’ll ask you for one favor.’
In his past life, Riley was cursed and hated regardless of the choice he made. Riley was at his limit at that time. In tears, the favor that the children asked of him was just one thing.
‘Comfortably, without pain, kill us like that.’
‘Mister, it hurts so much. We are suffering so much.’
Having heard their request, Riley…
“… Young Master?”
Riley was thinking about his past, but having heard Ian’s voice, Riley responded vacantly.
“Are you sleepy? You have a blank look on your face all of sudden.”
“No, that’s not it. I was just thinking about something from the past for a bit…”
Riley woke up from the useless thoughts. As if it was nothing, he shook his head and took a step forward.
“This job, I’m going to handle it in a flash and go to sleep.”
“Young Master, you look a little different today.”
Ian, who was following Riley walking in front of him, said Riley looked a little different today. Having heard that, Riley stopped walking.
“Really, how so?”
“When I told you that you may need to slay some orcs, it didn’t faze you at all. You looked like you were going on a walk in a park. But now that you heard about the missing children… you are taking it very seriously.”
During the day of fighting against Astroa to bring him down for once and for all…
Riley chose to ask kindly to the kid who Nainiae had with her during the battle. Riley chose that instead of just blocking the kid’s mouth by force because of what happened in Riley’s past life.
“… I’m not sure?”
Riley still remembered clearly about the city that he abandoned and the children who were turned in to monsters and had to be slayed by the Holy Sword.
“Maybe it is just the atmosphere?”
Riley was more concerned about the missing children than the scheming orcs hiding in the forest nearby because of this reason.
It was to avoid repeating the same mistake from the past life.
Ian calmly shook his head and said,
“I am certain that it isn’t because of the atmosphere.”
“… Well, that’s not important right now.”
Ian was being sincere in his response, but Riley tried hard to ignore it. Riley started to walk again.
“Time is gold. Even at this moment, the children…”
“See? As I thought, you are worried about the children.”
Riley mumbled without thinking. As if he was thinking he made a mistake, Riley corrected himself.
“… The time for my nap is getting shorter.”
“Yes, that is true.”
Ian figured he shouldn’t question Riley about this anymore. He smiled gently and brought out the next question to change the topic.
“Well then, what are you going to do? We examined the map, but we didn’t find any evidence that would lead us to finding the children… The orcs that must be at beyond the forest look suspicious too.”
Riley arrived at the barn and got to the luggage storage on the carriage. Riley asked Ian,
“What do you think I’ll be doing? Isn’t it obvious?”
Riley picked up a few swords from the carriage’s luggage storage. He showed the swords to Ian and wiggled his eyebrows.
“I said time is gold, didn’t I?”
* * *
Hiding in the forest nearby, there were men surveilling the orcs’ activities. Riley brought all of these men back to the village and went to the forest with Ian. Riley was walking as he opened and closed his hand.
‘Thirty children have gone missing, yet they disappeared without any trace. It is highly unlikely that orcs are responsible for this. They don’t have the talent for kidnapping children that way.’
Riley have read about orcs before in the mansion’s library. He decided to be mindful of a few possibilities and pulled his chin.
‘No. There could be an extraordinary orc among them. I can’t discount the possibility of that special one being responsible for it, can I? If orcs took the children, this would be the most plausible explanation. If the children were not taken by the orcs…’
Riley, who was thinking about several possibilities, suddenly cringed.
If Riley have chosen to save the city in his past life, he might at least have a feel for what to do at this moment… Riley was having a hard time getting a feel for the situation.
‘It is such a bother, but it looks like the answer won’t come out even if I rolled my brain some more.’
According to Malto, the children started to disappear since nine days ago, but they didn’t disappear all at once. They disappeared over the course of a few days.
If all of the remaining children disappeared yesterday, that meant the children are probably within Riley’s reach.
In other words…
‘… It’s a fight against time?’
Eradicate the orcs at an instant and immediately search for the children…
That was the best course of action.
If the children were found while slaying the orcs, that was going to be the best case scenario.
Without further delay, Riley moved his hand toward his waist and drew his sword in a slow motion.
“… I’m going to end this in a flash.”
It was to prevent things from becoming more bothersome.
It was to prevent further delay.
First, Riley was going to handle the beastly smell emanating from the beyond the forest. After that, he was going to find the children right away.
“Excuse me, Young Master.”
Ian was walking with Riley toward the forest where orcs were said to be located. Ian stopped for a moment and asked,
“Are you really going to be all right?”
Ian was asking if he was worried. Having noticed this, Riley, who was steadily leading the way, turned his head around and looked at Ian.
Once against a goblin…
Once against the Erengium’s Young Master…
Ian got to witness Riley’s abilities only twice so far.
“I’m talking about wielding a sword. I have seen you in action last time against the goblin and during what happened at the Solia Castle, but…”
Ian was not worried like how he was when Riley was stepping toward the front of the goblin last time. However… It seemed Ian was still worried. Ian carefully said,
“Still, I’m a little worried. You have never properly held a sword until now, have you? Orcs are different from goblins. Without any preparation, entering their main colony through the front door like this is a little…”
Having heard Ian’s mumbling, Riley, with an annoyed look on his face, responded,
“You had been telling me I should wield a sword, so what now?”
Riley was not wrong. Ian nodded and mumbled as if he was just wrongly accused.
“That is true, but doing it like this suddenly is a little…”
“If something happens, stay close and protect me if you would like.”
Riley, who was looking back toward Ian, started to walk again as if he couldn’t afford to delay this anymore. Riley said,
“It’s not like you are going to just stand there with a blank look on your face and watch, right? You need to do your part too. The situation here isn’t ‘just eradicate the orcs.’ This is a part of the assignment.’
As Riley said, they needed to not only eradicate the orcs beyond the forest, but also find the children who have gone missing from the Alieve Village.
“You are not just going to watch, are you?”
As if that was poking Ian at the conscious, Ian flinched. As if he couldn’t help it, Ian drew the sword from his waist and came over the forest’s boundary.
“Ugh, it cannot… be helped. Now that it has come to this, I’ll guard you as much as possible and fight… Um?”
Ian came over the boundary and stood along the side with Riley. He casually moved his eyes to look at Riley’s waist and then had a confused look on his face.
‘The swords… why did he bring six?’
On the belt that Riley took from the carriage and wore, there were total of six thin grand swords neatly placed.
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