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"They're here! Sota, they're here!"

Immediately after soaring into the sky, a voice echoed in Sota's ears.

"Two Elves who set the fields on fire and are escaping, one person doing something around the village's food storage, two Elves breaking into the large family's house on the outskirts of the village, and... that little assassin girl is coming straight towards us from the forest! She's fast!"

"Damn it, I can't believe it, bingo! Just keep watching them for now."

For Sota, who had lived in a peaceful world, this strategy was almost unimaginable. However, understanding the current situation, he could rationalize it.

—Hungry Elves securing children to be sold from their own village, the delayed arson involving the diversion and harassment by the Elf who set the fire and a professional operative, and on top of that, they're targeting me.

—Who set this up? "Crystal Night" carries the risk of damaging their credibility by going after old associates when their involvement is revealed. The desperate actions of the hungry Elves could bring retaliatory strikes to their entire hometown. Too many problems for an active setup. Then who is it? Who would push these people into such a reckless act?

Sota's pondering was abruptly interrupted.

"Sota! Help my mother with firefighting for a bit! She's waiting over there! Don't you dare go out!"

It was Ayahi's voice.

—I can't move from here.

The timing to convey what I've just learned is now or never.

Sota shouted.

"Tell Asugi and Assam! The house on the outskirts where a newborn child lives! And the food storage! Those are the top priorities! The fields are probably a diversion! I can cover the harvest; protect what I can't cover!"

"Huh? No, but... I believe you. I'll make sure to communicate well, so don't go outside!"


—Whatever it takes. First, I need to draw Nuhi's attention here. If the enemy is setting a fire as a diversion, they shouldn't use fire on the house where I'm actually located.

The sound of Ayahi and Asugi rushing out of the house became secondary to the gradually intensifying toll of Sota's heartbeat in his ears.

—Flammability is a concern, but for now, this is my only option.

Sota released evaporated diethyl ether from his entire body, filling the small cabin with the vapor. He didn't lock the door; he didn't want to be stuck without someone opening it for him.

"Sota? What are you planning? I'll come back there to protect you!"

"Ren, just keep an eye on the village. Avoid casualties and the food storage destruction at all costs. If the Elves can't handle it in time, do what you can within your abilities to help. I'll be drawing that kid here."

"Alone?! Why... oh well, I'll ask later! They're coming! They're entering the yard!"

Simultaneously with that voice, the door silently swung open.

The girl standing beyond the door jerked and instinctively retreated backwards.

Sota's eyes caught sight of her only after she had moved away from the door.

Until then, even Sota, who knew she was coming, couldn't see her.

"You've got good instincts."

Sota forced his trembling heart down and spoke in a relaxed tone.

The girl didn't respond.

"The interior of the cabin is already filled with diethyl ether. Diethyl ether is a drug used in general anesthesia, and inhaling it directly will cause loss of consciousness. Moreover, the mortality rate is low. The pressure inside this room is positive, and even small gaps are leaking diethyl ether. If you were to open the door in this situation, well, you'd end up inhaling that anesthetic properly. You'd faint, but you wouldn't die. If you're lucky enough not to faint, your body will weaken to the point that you won't be able to escape from pursuit. If you get caught, and wake up, I'll have all the time in the world to hear what you have to say."

The girl remained outside the door, holding a kukri knife in her hand.

"I have no intention of asking who you are. There's no one else in this house besides me."

The girl took one step, then another, retreating backwards.

Sota knelt down and addressed the hooded girl visible through the gap in the door.

Their eyes met.

"I promise not to tell anyone that you came here. You and your group came to harm the people in our village. I'm angry about it, but at the same time, if incidents like this never happen again, that would be enough for me. I want to exchange information with you for that purpose. It's a deal."

"...Is this also the power of alchemy or something?"

"More accurately, it's chemistry."

The girl lifted her hood slightly, just enough for her face to be visible to Sota.

She put away the kukri knife.

"Chemistry. Well then, I've come to ask about that chemistry, as a curious child. I don't intend to cause harm to the professor. Since I was invited before, I thought I'd take you up on your offer."

Nuhi responded with the same politeness as last time.

"Heh... In that case, let me entertain your questions as the professor. Can I ask you a few questions in return?"

Sota shifted his mindset, assuming the role of a teacher.

"Let me say this upfront: I cannot answer questions about my current job."

Nuhi's voice was tense, strung tight with nervousness.

Her consciousness was being guided toward what to talk about.

"...Well, that makes sense. As a teacher, I wouldn't mind if you just quietly went back."

Caught in the web.

Nuhi couldn't have imagined that Sota would take such an approach.

"For me, it would be inconvenient if you escaped right now."

Sota looked at Nuhi and precisely injected ethanol into her bloodstream using his 'Toxin Release' skill. The increase in blood alcohol concentration led to a decrease in motor function and judgment. After a brief moment of surprise at her own condition, she immediately tried to escape, but stumbled and crashed onto the ground.

Sota had hesitated to use his abilities on people. As a result, he managed to immobilize her without depriving her of consciousness.


"I won't take your life. I'm going to ask you some questions. Tell me everything you know."

"I beg your pardon, but there's no way I would do such a thing. After entering into a contract involving money, no matter who the other party is—"

With those words, Sota poured the truth serum that he had been given for the first time in the village into Nuhi's body.

How to proceed. How effective would it be to employ such tactics against a child? Sota himself wasn't entirely sure. But he had no other choice.

『Join the side that facilitates the distribution. Defeat the Border Earl around here, for instance』

Sota remembered the words of the goddess he had spoken to.

The village was burning. It continued to burn. They would set fire repeatedly. If he didn't uproot the source, they would keep kicking down whatever he built up.

"Did you come here to kill me?"

"Ki-... Koro..."

Nuhi let out a whimper and tried to close her mouth, but it wouldn't shut.

Against her own intentions, her tongue started moving on its own.

"I don't... intend to kill you. It's just to apprehend you. For the sake of our interests... to beat the Border Earl to the punch and use the chaos of the village's arson job..."

"Being honest works for me. But you intended to kill any witnesses, didn't you?"

"Killing is... our job. Holding a grudge against us is fine, hating us is fine. However... even so... ugh...!"

Sota remained wary and refrained from getting close to Nuhi. He kept speaking in a low voice through the gap in the door. He was just far enough that she couldn't notice his expression.

"How does the Border Earl view this village?"

"As a gold mine, so he squeezes it dry without killing the goose. I still don't know much about your technology. The tax collector who came to this village was quite dense and didn't understand your explanation. 'Crystal Night' has been holding information to capture you preemptively."

"The Border Earl's goal is to deplete the village's stockpile and perpetually exploit it. 'Crystal Night' aims to kidnap me before the Border Earl notices. The desperate elves are looting from other villages to protect their own. Do you think this is right?"


――As long as the Border Earl isn't eliminated, similar things will happen over and over again.

Sota sighed. At that moment, he couldn't see Nuhi's expression.

"Um, um..."

Nuhi weakly raised her voice, tears mixed in.

"Wha... What is it?"

Upon closer inspection, Nuhi had tears in her eyes. Sota noticed it, became perplexed, and his thoughts came to a halt. His voice quivered.

"If you won't kill me out of pity... then please, kill me... If you're going to kill me right away... I'll tell you everything I know... Please..."

Questions flooded Sota's mind. Why did she want to die? Why was she crying? And why was a member of the mercenary group, despite being so young, allowed to act independently?


――He went too far.

――This child probably wasn't just a disposable pawn.

――She was likely nurtured, educated, and took pride in it.

――If that were the case.

In the next moment.

"Help me, no, I'm losing myself...!"

Nuhi let out a feeble scream.

Sota realized that his casual action had been enough to shatter Nuhi's young self-esteem.

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