Well, school started, lots of stuff to do, and hard lines make me lose my motivation. But you know what they say: Sloane’s Teddy wins the race. I’ll have to also do double duty and get started on the Christmas SS, if I ever want it done by Christmas…
The Work Begins
“I’m sorry for yelling so loudly.”
The requester was a woman in her mid-twenties named Laura. After realizing that Paul wasn’t a kidnapper, Laura invited the three into her home.
At her feet, a brown sheepdog observed the three adventurers vigilantly, its ears standing straight up.
But once Laura, its owner, invited them in, it trotted over to the fireplace inside, where a fire was flickering, and laid down.
They had arrived at about dinnertime, and Laura had been making dinner.
She was making chicken stew with vegetables harvested from the fields.
The smell wafting from the pot simmering over the fireplace stimulated their appetite.
Having been startled by the shriek Laura had let out when they first met, Leti was hiding behind Wynn’s back while eyeing the pot.
“You haven’t had dinner, right? Why don’t you eat with me? You are helping us with keeping guard, after all.”
“Huh? Is it alright? We do have some food with us, you know?”
“Don’t hold back. I made a whole pot of stew, but it’s too much for Auntie to finish by herself..”
“Wynn, let’s take her offer.”
Wynn’s stomach had been growling
The hard bread and dried jerky could not compare to the chicken vegetable stew.
Wynn and Leti sat down beside the fireplace, and started to eat out of the small wooden bowls and spoons that Laura served.
“Be careful, it’s hot.”
Blowing on it as they ate, they enjoyed the warmth of the hot stew.
“Ugh… it’s hot.”
“Leti, just wait for it to cool down a bit before eating.”
For a while, Wynn and Leti were engrossed in eating their meals.
“I thank you again for giving us some food.”
“It’s fine. I once had kids their age. Since they’re still growing, I unconsciously ended up making a bit too much.”
Laura smiled upon seeing Wynn, who had emptied his bowl, holding it out for seconds. Paul filled the bowl with stew.
There was a generous helping of chicken in the stew, so it was delicious.
‘If only there was some alcohol here,’ Paul thought.
“I’m happy that this pretty young lady likes it. Her clothes looked so luxurious, I was worried that it wouldn’t suit her tastes.”
“Not at all, it’s really yummy!”
This was a feast compared the the potage with increased volume made by putting bread flour in it that she normally had.
‘Wynn aside, even Leti’s appetite is still going strong, huh,’ Paul thought
She was a young lady from an affluent family, and yet, despite the fact it wasn’t haute cuisine, she devoured the food in front of her without stopping.
“You shouldn’t put too much food in your mouth at once.”
Wynn warned Leticia, who was trying to cram as much food as she could into her mouth. He then looked around the room.
Apart from Laura and the dog, which was gnawing on a chunk of meat that Laura had given to him, he didn’t see any other people living here.
“Are you the only one living here, Auntie?”
For a moment, Laura was silent, her eyes cast downwards.
“Back when my husband and child were alive, our whole family lived here… but now, the rest of my family lives in the capital.”
Laura’s family lived in the capital. She only had her parents, her husband and her child, but her husband and child had succumbed to illness last year.
“In order to protect the land that my husband left behind, my parents and I take turns staying the night here.”
There was a solemness in Laura’s face as she thought of her departed family members.
Paul cleared his throat, trying to change the subject.
“Umm, so what in particular has been damaged?”
“The chickens, eggs, and fields have all been affected.”
“Has any livestock been harmed?”
“Not at all.”
‘It doesn’t seem to be a wolf or demonic beast. It is most likely a fox or weasel, but it could also be a fiend.’
“Have there been any sounds, such as animal cries?”
Wynn stopped eating to ask Laura.
“I don’t thi— Ah!”
Laura, who had been thinking about the question, widened her eyes.
“Come to think of it, sometimes, some mushrooms and herbs are left in front of the chicken coop.”
Paul and Wynn exchanged glances.
“Does it always happen the night the incidents occur?”
“Yes, it was at the exact same time. At the same time something stole the chickens and eggs, they’re left there.”
“Actually, today’s stew was also made from those mushrooms and herbs,” Laura said nonchalantly.
Unlike Laura, Paul was deep in thought.
‘Could it have been a human that did it?’
If the culprit left behind such items, that ruled out the possibility that it was a monster or an animal.
It had to be the work of an intelligent being.
“Does anybody around here know that we adventurers would be coming by today?”
“Apart from my parents, nobody.”
‘If the culprit is somebody who lives nearby, or somebody from the slums, then it would be good if they didn’t know we’re here.’
“Wynn, when you finish eating, shall we take a look at the chicken coop?”
“Eh? Leti also wants to go with Onii-chan!”
Gulping down the remaining stew from the bowl, Wynn vigorously stood up.
In response, Leti also stood up, but…
“Leti, it would be disrespectful to Laura to leave food behind.”
Wynn warned her.
“In the first place, Leti has to stay here and guard the house.”
If, by chance, the culprit was from the slums…
Paul looked on as Wynn tried to persuade Leti, who was puffing her cheeks out in dissatisfaction.
Anybody could tell that she was from an affluent household from her clothes, which would make her the primary target for kidnapping.
“If she got kidnapped… my head would roll…”
“But Leti is also an adventurer!”
“Oh, so this girl here was also an adventurer?”
After Wynn left the hut, Leti cried out. Laura looked at her with admiration.
“Yep, I may look small, but I can still drive away animals, for sure.”
“Hmm… these brats practicing swordplay is quite dangerous.”
They weren’t merely swinging around wooden swords, pretending to be knights.
From the way they swung their wooden swords, even an adult would be out of breath after a few swings.
But the two children whirled around, quickly trading blows, as if they were performing a sword dance.
Moreover, the Guild wouldn’t have assigned them the job for no reason.
“If my child was still alive, she would be around Leti’s age, wouldn’t she?.”
Hearing Laura’s lonely mumble, Paul looked back at Leti.
They noticed Leti was acting strangely.
The sun had set as he ate dinner.
Using a piece of firewood from the fireplace as a torch, Wynn walked around the chicken coop.
The chickens in the coop were woken up by the approaching light, and began to rustle around.
‘Nope, I don’t see anything.’
He inspected the ground around the coop, but couldn’t find any possible clues.
‘The soil of the fields are soft, so there might be footprints there…’
Wynn closely examined the fields.
There were many footprints left on a ridge in the soil.
The footprints came from several different people, but some of them might belong to Laura and her parents.
Among them, Wynn found a set of small footprints that appeared to belong to a child.
Given that Laura’s child had passed away, it was likely that the owner of those footprints was the culprit.
Unsurprisingly, when he followed the footsteps, they led towards a stream in the plains beyond the fields.
It was one of the tributaries of the river that flowed from the northeastern part of the city to the southeastern part of the city.
Upstream was a thick forest that looked was shrouded in gloom in the setting sun.
‘It’s dangerous to go there alone…’
Wynn confirmed again that the footsteps were leading away from the fields towards the stream, then rushed back to the cottage.
He flung open the door, then ran inside.
Immediately, Paul and Laura shushed him.
He then saw Leti nodding off in the corner of the room.
Wynn nodded in understanding, then softly walked over to Paul.
“Did Leti fall asleep?”
“Yeah, although she was awake until just now. Is she always like that?”
For some reason, Paul seemed weird.
“Well, right after you left, she became strange…”
When Wynn left, Leti became completely expressionless, as if all emotion had left her.
She looked exactly like a doll.
She then sat in a corner of the room, and no matter how much Paul and Laura talked to her, she didn’t respond.
They were baffled, but eventually, due to having eaten her fill, Leti dozed off.
That was right when Wynn returned.
“You also surprised me. Who is Leti’s family, exactly?”
“Umm… well, she isn’t like that when she’s with me. I also don’t know who her family is.”
“Okay… Even though she seems like a lady from a well-off family, there hasn’t been a fuss about how she hasn’t returned. She doesn’t seem to be treated well…”
‘Could she have been an illegitimate child…?’
“What I wanted to say, was that there were some strange footprints that led beyond the fields, away from the cottage.”
“Well done, Wynn.”
“What do we do about Leti?”
“We have to guard the house tonight, so let’s let her sleep in here.”
Paul looked at Laura to make sure it was fine.
“That’s fine. I wonder if something happened to this girl? She seemed frightened of me…”
Leti had curled up on the bed.
The sheepdog had also curled up beside her.
Laura took out a blanket to let Leti sleep soundly.
Wynn took the blanket from Laura and laid it over Leti’s small body.
He then took a moment to arrange Leti’s blonde hair, which had been disheveled by her sleeping posture.
“Without you, Wynn, Leti seems quite helpless. You have to protect her well, you hear?”
Wynn nodded firmly, and then left the cottage, out to where Paul was waiting for him.