The Four of Us
Claire-sama, who burst through the door of our dorm room, called out to me with a pitiful voice as she rushed over to give me a hug.
I caught Claire-sama in my arms, and after exchanging a tight embrace, we came face-to-face as she asked me:
“Is it true that Mei and Alea were kidnapped?”
“Yes…… I was too careless. I’m sorry.”
Crying about it wasn’t going to resolve anything though.
It was of utmost importance that we compiled our knowledge to find a solution together.
That being said, my feelings felt like they were currently being swallowed up by a storm, so I could hardly think.
Just how much were Mei and Alea suffering right now?
The very thought of it was so painful that it threatened to tear me apart.
If, on the off chance, something were to happen to them――
“Stay calm, Rei. The blame isn’t yours alone to shoulder.”
“That’s right. Both you and Claire are responsible for leaving them by themselves. Don’t take that burden for yourself.”
If only I had prepared proper countermeasures.
I shouldn’t have left them to look after the house by themselves.
If only I handled the situation with Eve and dealt with Lana earlier.
If I had done any of those things, I doubt it would’ve turned out like this.
“Rei, look at me in the eyes.”
While I was shaking uncontrollably, Claire-sama stared directly at me.
That gaze looked incredibly strong.
Most likely, she was just as worried or even more so than me about Mei and Alea, but still, her eyes were radiant and glowing with resolve.
“Rei. I will need your strength in order to get our children back. So that’s why, please return to your normal self, okay?”
Claire-sama said bit by bit.
I could feel how much trust she had in me just by hearing those words.
There wasn’t even the slightest hint of blame behind her words either.
There was simply just a strong desire to get our kids back – together.
After hearing Claire-sama’s feelings being dyed with such devotion, my heart began to calm down.
“…… I apologize. I’m fine now.”
“Thank you, Rei.”
“No, the same could be said to you.”
I wiped my tears away with a handkerchief and slapped both of my cheeks together.
Okay, I’m fine now.
“Let’s confirm the situation first. Mei and Alea were undoubtedly kidnapped, right?”
Dor-sama asked while he stroked his beard.
“It’s pretty much certain. From Eve’s testimony, it seems that Lana is somehow associated with Salas.”
According to Eve, she first met Lana on the streets of Euclid.
Lana visited the bar that Eve happened to be working in at the time.
The two of them strangely hit it off well and gradually became friends, and that was when Eve opened up to Lana about her own backstory.
After that, Lana said this:
“That sounds rough. Hey, I know a spell that can help you lessen the pain for difficult memories. Do you wanna give it a try?”
Eve refused at first, but she was eventually worn down by Lana’s persistence and eventually agreed, with her own conditions.
She mentioned that, afterwards, a beautiful woman with silver hair and red eyes placed the spell on her.
Her memories after that had become cloudy.
She was most likely being used for something.
Without a doubt, Salas must’ve manipulated Eve using her feelings towards Manaria-sama.
Not to mention, the other details – such as her being from Euclid and the same hometown as Lana – were also things that he came up with.
“It seems that there were people that witnessed Lana taking the two of them outside, but it seems that the gatekeeper had passed out……”
“And she left this letter in their room as well.”
It was left in Mei and Alea’s room.
The sender was none other than Salas Lilium.
“Did you see what was inside?”
“No, I thought it’d be better to read it together when you and Claire-sama got back.”
“Let’s open it then.”
We took a peek inside.
The letter inside said this:
―― By the time the sun goes down, come to this designated location.
―― However, only Rei Taylor and Claire François are allowed to come.
―― If you are seen by anybody else, the children will no longer be kept alive.
The designated location was somewhere in the slums in the outskirts of the Imperial capital city.
It was also a place that happened to be outside of a demon barrier.
“No matter how you look at it, this is clearly a trap.”
Dor-sama said as he squinted.
“But we have no choice by to go. The two of them are being taken hostage, after all.”
“I understand that. However, it’ll be too reckless if you go in headfirst without a plan. We need to come up with something――”
“We don’t have much time until the sun sets. Is there even time to come up with a plan?”
I felt like we desperately needed to hurry.
“Don’t panic, you two. You both know what he’s like, right? Even if you obediently listen to his demands, there’s still no guarantee that Mei and Alea will be safe.”
“I understand. Even though you both know it well yourselves, you still plan to go, right? I’m worried about Mei and Alea too. That’s why I want you two to put your heads together all the way until the last minute.”
Dor-sama spoke in a tone that was meant to keep us calm.
Thanks to that, both Claire-sama and I were able to cool down a little.
At times like this, it was really reassuring to have somebody that was elderly and more experienced around.
“You two are the only ones that can head to the location. They’re most likely monitoring our movements over here as well, though, so unfortunately, I can’t provide you with any support.”
“I have no idea what he might say to you both, but either way, it’s not going to be something good. But the most important thing is, until you’ve made sure that Mei and Alea are well and alive, don’t make any compromises with him.”
“Even if the two of them are on the brink of danger?”
“Even if that happens, yes. I’m sure you two know how painful it’ll feel seeing them like that. However, you mustn’t let him seize the initiative of the conversation. If you end up dancing on the palm of his hand, most likely, all four of you might end up in danger.”
“That is something that must be avoided at all costs,” Dor-sama added.
“Let’s go over the types of conversation patterns and negotiation tactics that he might employ with you. We don’t have much time left, but let me drill them into your head while we still can.”
“We’re counting on you.”
The negotiation training from Dor-sama went on for the remainder of our spare time.
“….. Rei, I have a request.”
After receiving the lesson from Dor-sama, we rushed over to the designated location that Salas prepared. That was when Claire-sama suddenly said something like that to me.
“I still haven’t said anything, you know?”
“I can pretty much imagine what you were going to say. I absolutely refuse.”
Claire-sama furrowed her brows.
Most likely, she was probably going to say something along the lines of sacrificing herself if it came down to it.
Did she really think I’d let her do such a thing?
“Claire-sama, if you end up sacrificing yourself, I’d probably die too.”
“―― Is what I’d normally say, anyway.”
“But this time, it’s different. The four of us will definitely return home together, Claire-sama.”
“! …… You’re right.”
If any one of us is removed from the picture after this whole thing is over, it’d undoubtedly leave an irreversible wound on the rest of us.
Not just on our kids, but like hell I was going to leave Claire-sama with such a wound.
The two of them were taken away, but we’ll go home as a family of four.
That was what I kept telling myself.
“I can see the location from here, Claire-sama.”
There was a crumbling, deserted house at the designated location.
It looked like it was originally a reasonably elegant building, one that seemed out of place for the slums.
But it was extremely tattered now.
“I’ll go in first.”
“Please be careful.”
When I opened the door to the abandoned house, I could smell the dust inside.
Immediately after, a voice called out to us.
“I’ve been waiting, sensei.”
The person that greeted us was none other than Lana Lahna.