Chapter 152.1 : Imminent Crisis
A while before the village chief made a ruckus about Flora’s disappearance.
Flora slipped out of the village without being found out by anyone and went towards the highway by herself. Her gait was slow, and unstable.
Perhaps it was because she was already in a bad condition, thus her condition deteriorated even further when…
As soon as she left the village, her consciousness started to become hazy. She let out near soundless moan of pain as she strove to move farther, and then collapsed on the spot.
But, Flora wasn’t going to give up yet. Otherwise she would become the hostage of a hostile nation and that would bring a heap of trouble for her home country.
She even felt that………….. Dying was far better than becoming a hostage to a hostile nation. But, she didn’t want to die. She was scared of dying. She wanted to go back to the Bertram kingdom. She had to!
The various emotions and memories that were jumbled around inside her head become the new source of power for Flora’s body to be able to move again.
But her stamina and endurance had reached its limit, her body was unable to move. No, her body might have been moving. It’s just she didn’t know the current condition of her body. ――,
With a thud, Flora’s feet turned limp as she fell right in the middle of the highway.
Maybe it was due to her hazy consciousness or perhaps it was because her sense of balance was off, but she had just realized that she fell to the ground when she felt her cheek touching the ground and her line of sight shifted.
（I can’t…………. get up. Dear sister, I, want to meet you）
For all that she wished to be able to meet Christina once again, her conscience grew ever hazier, and waves of terrifying fatigue threaten to engulf her. Even when she tried her best to muster all her will to order her body to stand up, to move, but she couldn’t do it at all.
She was already out of ideas.
◇ ◇ ◇
Around the same time, Rio was in hot pursuit on Lucius’s trail towards the west of the kingdom―― Coming ever closer to the village where Flora stayed at.
（If I’m quick enough, I might be able to find him before the end of this day）
Rio could feel it! He was getting closer and closer to finding Lucius for sure. According to the information that he got from the royal castle, he knew that five days ago, Lucius left along with a knight squad and the first prince of the Paladia kingdom, Duran Paladia, to go hunting in a certain forest in the western part of the Paladia kingdom.
It seemed that they went there using horses. However, they didn’t disclose the exact details of their hunting ground. But then again, he didn’t need that details since the western area of the Paladia Kingdom was quite small. Even if they were ahead of him, it was still possible for him to catch up, since he knew the general direction they planned to hunt in. Therefore, he wasted no time and chased after them immediately.
Besides, while he was chasing them via air, he also collected more information about the hunting groups from the cities and villages along the way. That way, he could eliminate their possible routes and find their trail, easing his pursuit. And, finally, he made some headway with one particular hunting group after he made a detailed investigation of the route the day before.
In other words, he was just one step away from catching Lucius’s tail. Rio took a deep breath as he stepped into a new village.
The villager working in the agricultural field gave him a side glance when he noticed the sword hanging on Rio’s hip――、
「Excuse me, may I ask you a question? Did a knight squad pass by this area around five days ago? 」
Rio asked with a calm and collected tone.
「……….. There was none, uhm, may I ask who you are? 」
The villager expression was filled with vigilance as he asked Rio’s identity.
「I’m a servant working in the royal castle, currently chasing after them by foot.」
Rio introduced himself, using a fake identity while flashing a friendly smile. The result was as clear as day, as the villager lower his vigilance against Rio.
「O~h, I see. The people of the royal castle, huh? They did come to our village. It seems they were also searching each village around this area, that was close to the forest, for a girl wearing a dress」
The villager easily told Rio that fact without waiting for Rio’s question, maybe spurred by the thought that he couldn’t act rude towards people from the royal castle.
「… I see. So that was the case huh? Thank you very much for your cooperation.」
Hearing that though, Rio’s eyes widened in an instant before he restored his calm and composed expression and conveyed his gratitude, friendly smile still fixed on his face.
（A dress wearing girl? They’re not going for hunting?）
Though that revelation surprised him, asking the person in front of him wouldn’t amount to anything since he wouldn’t be able to clear his doubts. On the contrary, it’d bring unnecessary suspicions if he asked too many questions.
「It seems that I finally caught up to them. Well I’m going to excuse myself here since I’m in a hurry as well.」
Rio bowed slightly in thanks and turned around to leave the village. After he reached an area devoid of people, he took to the skies again.
（The villages around the forest of this area, huh?）
The search area was quite wide when he overlooked it from above. It seemed there were several villages around this forest, but looking from his current position wouldn’t take him more than one hour of searching.
Rio hurriedly headed to the next village.
◇ ◇ ◇
A few minutes later――
「Look, look for her! 」
The villagers were bustling around to look for Flora who had disappeared while the village chief was waiting for their report in the central plaza. He was bound to be disappointed though, since the report was discouraging.
「………… It’s no good. We can’t find her in the village nor the field, pops」
Will reported alongside the other men who came with him, all of them out of breath.
「In short, she has left the village, huh……………」
The village chief muttered, looking worried.
「Whhat makes you think that? Do you really think that Flora-sama left of her own accord? In such a deteriorated condition? 」
Will asked, looking as if at his wits end.
「………… The truth is, she left a letter. It was a letter of gratitude. She wrote, “Thank you very much.”」
The village chief lightly frowned as he told them part of the truth. In fact, aside from the letter, Flora had also left her dress and some kind of gem as a token of her gratitude for their care, but the village chief couldn’t bring himself to tell them about it.
「WHAT! ? THEN SHE REALLY LEFT THE VILLAGE! ? HOW DID NO ONE SEE HER WHEN SHE LEFT THE VILLAGE! ? 」
Will seized up the village chief as he asked.
「T-That’s the only possibility left. In any case, there should be no way for her to go out, especially in her current physical condition. She also has not shown sign of getting better. So, the main question here is, why did she leave even with her bad health? She must have had some sort of reason to force herself to leave. Do any of you know why she did such a dangerous stunt? 」
The village chief reasoned out loud, before asking the youngster what they knew of the situation.
「LIKE HELL WE KNOW ABOUT IT! IF FLORA-SAMA REALLY LEFT AS YOU SAY, I’LL GO LOOK FOR HER AT THE MAIN ROUTE! 」
Will exclaimed, but just as he was setting off for the highway――,
「CALM DOWN! THERE ARE 3 MAIN ROUTES FROM THE VILLAGE, TO THE NORTH, SOUTH, AND WEST. DO YOU EVEN KNOW WHICH ROUTE SHE TOOK?. ARE YOU TRYING TO LOOK FOR HER BY YOURSELF, WITHOUT KNOWING ANYTHING? NOT EVEN HER REASON FOR LEAVING? 」
The village chief yelled back at Will, flustered.
「SO YOU’RE TELLING ME NOT TO LOOK FOR HER?! 」
「I’M TELLING YOU TO WAIT FOR A WHILE AND CALM YOURSELF BEFORE LOOKING FOR HER! SHE SHOULDN’T BE ABLE TO GO THAT FAR IN HER CURRENT CONDITION, FOOL!」
And thus, Will and village chief started to quarrel, while the others could only watch this parent and child pair. Though, before it could devolve into a fist fight, someone suddenly interject with a question.
「Hey, what about the possibility of someone taking her out? 」
That question stopped everyone in their tracks.
「And…….. That someone would be…? 」
「I see, so that’s the case.」
The villager nodded his head, understanding what the village chief implied. Village chief himself asked because he didn’t want to suspect his fellow villagers without any basis.
「………… Though we can’t eliminate that possibility, that might not be the cause. Perhaps, Flora-sama’s reason was in the letter she wrote. In the first place, why would someone from our village need to take Flora-sama away from here? None of us know Flora-sama’s identity nor her chaser’s identity, so why would one of us take her away?
「A~h, well, this situation is similar with the story I’ve heard once…」
The villager, who spoke his theory, sheepishly said that, scratching his head.
「………… Nevertheless, we might have stumbled upon some clues that we missed due to oversight. If anyone noticed anything strange, report immediately. Flora-sama’s disappearance might have happened around the time we were starting our work」
When the village chief said that, the villagers looked at each other, trying to recall something unusual around that time. Suddenly, someone spoke out loud――,
「Around the time we started to work……….. Ah, come to think of it…………….! 」
A certain man suddenly recalled something.
「 What’s the matter？ 」
The village chief asked that man――,
「……… Ah, it’s nothing big, it’s just that when everyone went to work, I recall that Donner returned from the field. Isn’t that strange? 」
The man said as he looked at Donner who was silently standing nearby. Due to the unexpected situation and attention, Donner’s body twitched. However, he kept his mouth shut. The other youngsters were not the same though.
「………….. Donner? 」
The young men, starting from Will, asked as they looked at Donner, suspicious.
Being stared like that, Donner couldn’t keep his composure especially since he had a guilty conscience. As such his eyes started to swim around.
「N-No. I don’t know anything. I went back to the field immediately after.」
He denied the suspicion directed at him with shrill voice, shaking his head. However, his excuse was refuted by the next sentence Will said.
「……Oi, Donner. Weren’t you the one who left first, telling us it’s time to work? Moreover, you were extremely angry this morning and yet, you’re really calm right now」
Suspicion filled Will as he asked Donner.
「I just had my farming tools repaired since they were already in a bad shape and then returned immediately. I didn’t do anything!」
Donner replied with a flustered voice and then turned his face away.
「……….. You, you didn’t tell Flora-sama about “that” matter, right? If you did, that may be the reason Flora-sama………..」
「Like hell I know about that! I know nothing at all! 」
Donner denied Will’s continous barrage of questions with a flustered face. However, before they could continue to argue――,
「…………….. What is this about, Will? 」
The village chief finally intercede, asking for clear explanation, after listening to their exchange from the side. However, it was futile.
「…………… L-Like hell I know. In any case, there’d be no end if we continue this kind of useless banter. Now, I’m going to look for Flora-sama in the main route, and even if my dad oppose me doing that, I’d still do it!」
Will exclaim out loud as he turned around and retiliated to his father.