“Did you find him!?” [Adult 1]
“No. No trace of him over there either…” [Adult 2]
“Where the heck did that little devil go?” [Adult 3]
At the public square at the center of the village were adults searching for the missing boy, Niki. They went to and fro endlessly as they searched for the boy. Among such adults were the members of the Wharf of Shikumu.
“Ryouma! How did your side go!?” [Sein]
“Sein-san, at the very least, there were no boats that left for the lake. There were some fishing boats from the other villages, but they didn’t have any children riding with them. No children could be found from the entrance of the village to the extending road either. No carriages to hide in were present also.” [Ryouma]
I shared my senses with my rimel birds and searched outside the village from elevated areas, but I couldn’t get any results…
“I see… Oh! Peiron! How did your side go!?” [Sein]
“All the village boats are in dock, and there aren’t any boats scheduled to come today either.” [Peiron]
“So that means he’s not in the lake then?” [Sein]
The last time Niki was seen was right after he threw that okuta at me.
He was caught once and was scolded, but he resisted and fled.
Four hours have passed since then.
The days have grown shorter with the coming of winter, so it’s already starting to get dark.
“…Hopefully, he wasn’t kidnapped.” [Sein]
“Right. If nothing happened, he should be coming back around this time.” [Peiron]
“Is that true!?” [Ryouma]
“That kid is always up to no good, but he always comes back home before it gets dark. Even if doing so means getting scolded.” [Sein]
“He knows enough to do at least that much. I remember when we were up to no good ourselves. When there was something that was really dangerous, we would always pay attention to the instruction of the adults. That’s why the adult let us off with just a punch and a light sermon.” [Peiron]
It would be great if he really was just hiding somewhere because he’s angry, but the possibility that something might have happened remains.
“I’m so sorry. If I’d just probably caught that kid back then…” [Grandma]
“The one in the wrong is my son. Don’t brood over it so much.” [Mother]
“Seriously, that dumbass! What is he thinking running away after being scolded because of a mischief he caused? He’s going to be in a world of pain when I get my hands on him!” [Dad]
I turned to the direction those angry remarks were coming from, and there I saw a young man and woman. Based on the contents of the conversation, it should be safe to assume that they’re Niki’s parents. I can’t see her all that well because she’s behind the couple, but the grandma that was looking for Niki earlier was with them too.
The grandma turned to an old and tattered place in the square – something akin to where one would place a jizo-sama in a buddhist temple – and folded her hands and cried. That was how much she regretted and worried over the boy.
Anyway, I’d like to find him soon, but… If we can’t find him in the village, in the main road, or the lake, then that only leaves the forest that surrounds the village from almost every direction. What’s more is that forest is budding with plants and vegetations all year round with no regard for the winter.
I tried having Sechs and Funf scout the area, but the thick layer of leaves made it impossible to search the road in the forest from above. If they try to go inside, it will be difficult to fly because of all the branches. Unfortunately, this isn’t really an environment where I can rely on the rimel birds.
I need a clue. Think. What would I have done back when I was still a kid?
I’m sure there were many situations like this when I couldn’t get along with my dad.
If I recall correctly, at that time… Even when I tried to leave, there was no place for me to go.
The only places I could go to was a random park or somewhere close enough to be reached by a child’s legs. And even when I thought I’d gone far, it wasn’t actually that far from my house.
And speaking of running away, I hear there are some kids who run away and stay over at a friend’s house… Of course, I had no such friends… But regardless, when it comes down to it, most kids would choose to hide themselves somewhere familiar.
Is there a place that Niki kid is familiar with in the forest? …Hmm? Speaking of forest…
“Sein-san, Peiron-san, the Okuta we ate in the forest this afternoon, can you get that from the forest?” [Ryouma]
“Huh? Yeah, but why are you asking all of the sudden?” [Sein]
“Because that Okuta is something that Niki-kun threw at me in the first place. But where did he get it? I don’t think the adults would give him one so he could play pranks on people, so he must’ve gone to the forest once and hunted an otuka before meeting us.” [Ryouma]
“…Now that you mention it, that might be the case.” [Peiron]
“Now that I think about it, that seems to be a favorite prank of his. I’ve never heard of him stealing food from his family, so… Wait. Let me check.” [Sein]
Sein-san ran to the couple and grandma from earlier, and then after a while, came back.
The three people from earlier came with him.
“Ryouma! You were right! Niki did get the okutas on his own!” [Sein]
“Do you know where he gets them from?” [Ryouma]
“It’s probably in the east. Whenever there wasn’t enough firewood, that boy would always offer to go get more himself, so that’s probably when he gets those okuta.” [Mother]
Information straight from the mother!
“Is that dumb son of mine in the east of the forest?” [Dad]
The dad asked in a slightly panicked voice, a stark contrast from his angry voice earlier.
Although he’s angry with his son, I’m sure he’s worried about him even more.
“I don’t have any hard proof, but when I was a kid— I mean if I were in his position, I would probably hide somewhere I’m used to.” [Ryouma]
Speaking from my experience from hunting everyday at the Forest of Gana, hunting isn’t so simple that you could just enter the forest randomly and come out with spoils in hand.
Most prey can sense humans through their smell and aura and quickly run away. So when you approach them, you have to be careful about the direction of the wind or prepare some traps after finding a trail prior. And if you want to get results consistently, you’ll need experience.
That boy called Niki is always catching Okuta to prank people with.
In that case, he must have a secret place somewhere in the east of the forest where he catches the okuta. That or some place he’s very familiar with.
Of course, this is just a hypothesis based on what I would do if I were in his position.