Away from the center of Kyoto City was a warehouse owned by a certain company.
It was currently past work hours, so there should have been no people and no lights.
But within a space about 100 meters long and about 30 meters wide crammed with shelves filled with the company’s products and equipment, and some kind of work equipment that sat with no power – beyond that, at the center, stood the only prefabricated hut in the warehouse.
Perhaps, it was meant to be a staffing station, but regardless, it alone remained lit, likely because it could not be seen from the outside.
There were people in it too.
“Hii, gu, ue…”
A boy was crying.
Not because of hunger or pain.
Not because he was dragged to an unknown place.
Not because scary men with knives were staring at him.
No, indeed they were factors, but they were not the major reason.
“*Sniff, sorry, mom, I’m sorry…”
Despite his age, Kouta could understand why the men were keeping him locked up.
They forced him to talk on the phone with his mother, then yelled at her to get her to do something.
He didn’t know what it was about, but he could tell it was something bad.
Especially for innkeepers like themselves, as it was something that would hurt the guests.
He still remembered the things said amidst laughs after the call, though some of those men presently weren’t around.
『Everyone’s gonna go nighty-night once she serves that to them. 』
『Then all that’s left is to strip them down, men and women, till they’re as bare as day they were born. 』
『Oh, I’m looking forward to it. That noble lady from Garesto and that sword saint have such great figures.』
『I’ve got no interest in men, but we’ll be able to use this against them too since they’ll be naked right beside while we’re having fun with their friends.』
『Don’t overdo it. The plan is to blackmail them, so we can create smuggling routes for ourselves and secure a source of income. 』
『Well done, Aniki. I can’t believe you came up with this the moment you heard about it today! 』
『That’s a given, I’m not someone who’d rot as a nobody, after all. 』
Most of the time he didn’t understand what they wanted, but despite his age, he could tell that they were up to no good, so he cried because he thought it was his fault.
His mother was kind, so she would surely do as they demanded.
He knew she was concerned that their time together was growing less, yet he still tried to get her attention by pulling pranks. If not for that, and if he didn’t leave the inn, then perhaps none of this would have happened.
That’s why this was his fault. He did something bad, that’s why his mom was going to become a bad person too.
‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry,’ he said as he cried.
“Ah, beep, beep, shut it, you little brat!”
His incessant apologies must’ve irked the man, who was playing with his terminal with his leg on the desk, for the man kicked a pile of documents toward him.
However, perhaps because the strength he used was insufficient, or perhaps because the files simply ran out of momentum, the files failed to hid Kouta and instead scattered right before him.
The man had intended for that to hit, so he clicked his tongue and approached.
“Do you miss your mom that much, hah, you little twerp? This is why I hate brats like you that still stink of milk… Hey, do we still need this brat?”
The man hit him on the cheek with the body of his knife several times.
There was neither compassion nor sympathy for children in his eyes, only irritation.
As far as he was concerned, Kouta was nothing more than a tool to get the proprietress to listen to them.
That’s why there was no need for him anymore the moment they were done using him.
“Huh? You going to kill him? You should at least wait for the proprietress to report…”
Another man seemingly lower ranked than him, however, was reluctant.
Not because he felt sorry for the child, but to prevent the proprietress from getting desperate before she could execute her role.
“Hah, as if a woman like that can resist our demands after her son was kidnapped. Besides, that inn is a keepsake of sort from her late husband. She wouldn’t want for word to get out that she got involved with us, ku ku.”
“Hehe, then can we do it with that woman too? You know, I love widows!”
“You’re the same as ever. Heh, do as you like.”
The men wore a sly smile as they talked happily.
They could see no other future other than one where their ill-conceived plan worked.
They would humiliate the elite students of Garesto Academy, then use that as material to blackmail them to gain funds and equipment that would allow them to rise in the world.
That was the future they saw──
“Those aren’t things you should be talking about in front of a child,” a boy said.
“Seriously, you people are the worst!” A girl said.
──But presently, it was nothing more than a vulgar delusion.
When the voice of a boy and a girl suddenly resounded, the men froze, then the air shook, and the owners of those voices appeared.
To be more precise, they had merely dispelled the jutsu that kept them hidden, but normal people couldn’t possibly know that. And in the face of the incomprehensible, all they could do was freeze.
The boy didn’t waste that opportunity, and he immediately hit the hand of the man to make him drop his knife, then while the man was still shocked, sent him flying with a palm strike on the chest.
The man crashed into the prefab wall, but he kept going and vanished into the storehouse.
“Huh? A-Ani— agyaah!?!?
The other man also slow to process what was happening and was assaulted by an unexpected attack that made him jolt then writhe on the floor.
It was a pain he had experienced before, but it was the kind of pain men struggled to endure. After all, the girl kicked him in the groin as hard as she could as though she were delivering divine punishment.
“…I understand how you feel, but there’s a child present.”
The black-haired boy looked at the girl with dismay as he reminded her of that.
The girl turned around in a panic just to see Kouta hiding meekly behind the boy.
Him being slightly pigeon-toed was due to his male instincts.
“Sigh… Don’t worry, this big sister might be barbaric, but she won’t kick anyone other than bad people.”
The boy squatted down to make eye contact with Kouta and tried to reassure him.
The girl yelled in complaint, demanding to know who he was calling barbaric, but he ignored her and gently smiled at the child.
“I-If that’s the case, then I’m going to get kicked too. Because it’s my fault that things became like this! I’m a bad child!”
They opened their eyes wide at the tearful boy, but only for a moment.
They too held strong feelings for their parents, so they could understand how he felt.
“Well, you heard him. You gonna kick him?”
“Who would!? If anyone kicks a good boy like this, I’ll kick his ass!”
“Wow, as expected of Ms. Bully. You say some cool things. It sounds like something you’d do too.”
However, she sounded like she really was about to stomp on the guy she just kicked, so Shinichi calmed her down while gently patting Kouta on the head.
“In that case, Kouta, shall we go to your mom and apologize?”
Then he acknowledged Kouta’s feelings with an even gentler voice.
“If you think you did something wrong, then you have to apologize… You can do that much, right?”
“Hi, gu… uu. Yeah!”
Kouta suppressed his choked voice, wiped his own tears with his sleeve, and nodded his head vigorously.