༺ Thieves Must Be Good at Hide and Seek (3) ༻
Around 6 or 7 PM.
The sun had finally set and the sky had turned from orange to deep blue.
In my memory, the children held their mothers’ hands and had gone back to their own homes.
Evening was the time when all the children returned to their parents.
I was no exception.
If I came back too late, my mom wouldn’t give me dinner.
“Where is Naru?”
Even as the sun set, Naru didn’t come back home.
According to Cariote, Naru was playing outside with the other kids.
Maybe they were having so much fun playing that they forgot about the time.
“Nothing we can do.”
I decided to go out and look for Naru myself.
No matter how much fun she was having, she still needed to have dinner.
Naru is six years old.
Skipping meals would be a big problem at her age.
“Where are you going?”
As I was leaving the laboratory, Cariote asked me.
I gave a brief reply.
“I’m going to find my daughter. She was on 55th Street, right?”
“When I saw her, yes.”
“Judas, I think I’ll go with you. There’s something that’s been bothering me.”
Cariote put on her leather jacket and followed me.
Maybe she was getting bored being alone in the lab.
With that feeling, we headed to the place called 55th Street.
The streets in the night of the Freesia Kingdom, covered in darkness, were beautiful with various colored streetlights.
Unlike other kingdoms and cities that closed their shops and locked their gates at night, this city had many people walking the streets.
Maybe it was because of good security and advanced magic engineering.
Not all streets were like that.
“The Freesia Kingdom has ranked and developed different parts of the city and areas from 1 to 60 according to their importance. The 55th Street is relatively underdeveloped.”
There were no streetlights, and it was a poor neighborhood with no people on the streets.
When we entered 55th Street, it was just as Cariote had described it.
It indeed had a gloomy atmosphere that didn’t fit well with the sophisticated Freesia Kingdom.
The walls were broken.
The road wasn’t even paved and was wet and completely covered in mud.
“Naru was playing with the other kids here?”
“But I don’t see her?”
Have you ever seen 6- or 7-year-old kids playing?
I worked part-time at a kids’ cafe when I was in college, and it was really noisy.
They don’t build NoKidsZone stores for no reason.
55th Street, covered in darkness, was much quieter than I had expected.
“Hey, you bastard!”
“What’s up with you bastard?”
All I could hear was the sound of thugs who seemed drunk and were noisily fighting.
But nothing akin to the sound of children’s laughter.
A foreboding feeling, one could even call it an ‘omen,’ ran down my spine.
“It seems like Naru got caught up in some kind of incident here. The security isn’t great in this neighborhood. Missing children. You can smell that something went wrong.”
I had a good sense for these things.
As I calmly evaluated the situation, Cariote looked around and said.
“Nothing we can do. We can only read the ‘traces’.”
I had heard that veteran hunters could read ‘traces’.
The better the hunter, the better they were at it.
It seemed like an opportunity to see Cariote, who was a demon hunter over level 40, in action.
Cariote discovered scattered dirt and footprints around.
She followed them one by one and muttered softly.
“There are wheel tracks left by a carriage here. Two adult male footprints. All the children’s footprints disappeared right around here. There should be important traces nearby…”
Cariote rummaged around for a while.
The place where her gaze stopped was a bundle that looked like a bundle of straw, possibly leftovers from a horse or animal feed.
Cariote drew her short sword.
She swung the sword lightly, splitting the thick bundle of straw in half.
It was a great display of swordsmanship.
Inside the cut bundle of straw, there was a little kid.
A pitiful, dirty, and clearly impoverished boy. He was around eight years old, I guess?
Cariote grabbed the boy by the collar and pulled him out.
Then he asked.
“You. Tell us what happened here.”
* * *
“I was playing hide and seek… Suddenly, the adults came, and it was terrifying…! Bell…! That guy was like a monster…! He used the sound of bells to locate where the kids were!”
The boy was babbling a story that was hard to understand.
He seemed quite frightened and couldn’t calm down easily.
However, Cariote was skilled at picking out the necessary information from amidst the boy’s ramblings.
“So, what you’re saying is that some people kidnapped the kids playing hide and seek? And among the kids, there was one cooperating with them?”
When the boy nodded, I could roughly understand what had happened.
In other words, Naru had been kidnapped by some unknown individuals here.
“Judas, maybe your daughter was their target. Do you think anyone has a grudge against her?”
When there’s a crime, suspicion of “grudge” comes first—.
A standard deduction method.
There could be countless individuals who wanted revenge on me, couldn’t there?
However, I don’t think this has anything to do with grudges against me.
“I think Naru was just randomly kidnapped along with the other kids. There are plenty of thieves in this world who kidnap kids for ransom. And this method… if my guess is correct…”
I searched more thoroughly for a place that seemed like Naru’s disappearance spot.
There, I found an X-shaped mark drawn on an old leather flag.
It was made by crossing two short swords.
“As expected, they marked their territory here.”
“Is this the Alubaba thieves’ doing?”
“The Alubaba thieves don’t shy away from any crimes including murder, robbery, and arson. But their biggest source of income was kidnapping kids and asking for ransom for them. Using other kids to lure potential victims, is one of their staples.”
A rough image of the situation formed in my mind.
“Could the perpetrators be the ghosts of the past?”
“What did you just say, Judas?”
“Cariote, I’m going to look for my daughter now. You go back to the lab and call Brigitte to the location I’m writing down.”
I wrote the address in the mud on the Alubaba flag and tossed it towards Cariote.
Cariote, who expertly caught the object mid-air, frowned in the darkness.
“Are you going alone?”
“Yes, thieves are more cautious than you’d think. It would be more likely for us to get caught if we went there grouped up. Then they might use the kids as hostages, and that will complicate things.”
“Judas, I’ve been investigating the Alubaba gang in this area today. They’re not your average thieves. I mean, they’re not the kind of opponent you can handle alone with your abilities.”
Cariote warned, sounding vigilant.
For those with a level exceeding 40, it wasn’t strange to call them ‘superhumans.’
In this regard, Cariote was giving me a warning.
It was undoubtedly a dangerous situation.
She then said.
“What about alerting Freesia’s security forces? The security forces of the Freesia Kingdom have at least Bronze-tier skills. Elle Cladeco might also be able to help.”
“No time for that.”
I jumped into the air.
* * *
Cariote had finished her day-long investigation on the Alubaba Bandits.
Cariote was a demon hunter.
But the Alubaba Bandits were a group of villains so dreadful that they could be compared to ‘demons’ themselves.
The fact that those who called themselves by that name were nearby didn’t sit well with her.
So, Cariote had roughly gathered information about their scale and strength.
Cariote’s assessment of the danger level of the Alubaba Bandits was, without a doubt, ‘Platinum’ or higher.
“The revival of the Alubaba Bandits, who were notorious in the Ordor Kingdom…, no, they might even surpass that in terms of difficulty. Their danger level is at least Platinum.”
Either Platinum-ranked individuals would have to be deployed.
Or elite troops at the national level would be needed to handle the situation.
“Judas, you might not know this, but the current members are cultists and—”
Cariote was about to warn Judas again.
But when she turned her head, Judas was nowhere to be seen.
Cariote looked around.
But there was still no sign of Judas.
“…Did he disappear?”
It was impossible.
For Judas to disappear like he had evaporated from Cariote’s perception range, even though Cariote had trained her senses to the limit while hunting deviant demons.
True, she had been off guard, but this was an extraordinary event.
“He’s a gold-tier thief at least.”
Cariote’s assessment of Bandit Judas was nothing more than Gold.
He had surpassed being a veteran but fell short of being called a ‘Platinum.’
Cariote knew well that there was a ‘boundary’ that could not be exceeded between Gold and Platinum. That was why she thought Judas’s actions this time were reckless.
“I understand that you’re restless about your daughter being kidnapped. But this is suicide. I expected better from him, but he’s just an ignorant criminal, after all.”
Cariote looked at the flag in her hand.
Along with the thieves’ emblem, there were coordinates Judas had written.
Cariote held her employer, the mage, in high regard.
She could be a great help in clearing out the Alubaba thieves.
Cariote quickly ran to the laboratory.
Fortunately, the mage was there.
“Mage, the situation is urgent. Naru and the children have been kidnapped, and Judas is pursuing the Alubaba thieves. The danger level is at least platinum. I need your help.”
Cariote summarized only the essential information, like a skilled veteran.
After hearing the story, Brigitte furrowed her brows slightly and lowered her head.
“He doesn’t need any help.”
“What are you talking about? Did I not explain it well enough?”
“No, I understand everything. You said Naru was kidnapped along with the children, and Judas is chasing the Alubaba thieves, right? But I won’t help Judas.”
Cariote let out a small sigh.
She already knew that the thief and the mage had a slight altercation during the previous evening.
It seemed that the mage still harbored some resentment and pretended not to know about her former comrade’s plight.
“Brigitte, I’m a little disappointed in you. I agree that Judas is a thoroughly wicked person who deserves to die. Do you really think it’s okay to send your comrade to his death?”
“Cariote, it seems like you’ve misunderstood something. If Judas said he was going alone, then that should be enough. My interference won’t help him in any way.”
“What are you talking about?”
In response to Cariote’s question, Brigitte casually wiped a plate.
Then, she let out a small sigh.
“Sigh, Cariote, you still don’t know, do you?”
Wanna read ahead? Buy coins You can unlock chapters with coins or rather “genesis orbs”
Wanna unlock all premium chapters? Check the Membership Chapters will seamlessly unlock no need to bother buying coins anymore.
You can also support us by becoming an exclusive member here
You can rate this series here
You can check our dɨşçöŕd for illustrations here