Clavis. Missing. On a day like this. Nowhere to be seen.
From the looks of it, it seemed that Niina had gone from a place to another, in order to look for her son. She had gone to all the places she could think of, yet… there was no result so far.
“First, let’s come inside and warm yourself up. Calm down a bit and tell us the details… can you, Niina?”
Mom seemed to be taken aback for a moment upon hearing the unexpected bad news from Niina’s mouth, but she quickly regained her composure and decided on the best course of action.
Niina sobbed a little bit, but she quickly wiped her tears and obediently followed Mom inside.
“Niina-san, here is a hot chamomile tea for you.”
The maid from before was sure a quick and capable one! In a short moment, she managed to brew a tea—and she picked the correct one for the moment: chamomile tea was also known was a calming tea. Just what Niina needed.
Not only that, she also handed over some warm clothes so that Niina could change her wet clothes and warm herself even further.
After Niina changed her clothes and took a few sips of the hot chamomile tea, it seemed like she finally regained her composure and began to talk. Her voice was no longer as shaky as it was before.
Yes, she began narrating the whole story upon being asked by my mom.
“There was nothing out of the ordinary, none that I can think of… Oh… Could it be that he was upset I lectured him again last night? My husband and I were trying our best to give him an advice with regards to his adolescent period. Like, how he could hold himself more and that the changes he felt were natural due to the hormones, so there was no need to be upset…”
Ah, they were talking about Clavis’ temperament change due to him experiencing his rebelling period.
“He only remained silent at that time. Then, after he finished his dinner, he immediately went inside his room, saying that he was tired and that he needed to sleep. There was really nothing strange last night. But this morning, when I called him for breakfast…,” Niina recalled the moment of her finding out that Clavis was missing, and I could sense a trace of panic in her eyes again.
Mom seemed to have sensed that too, as she gently rubbed Niina’s back.
“There was no response… Am I right?” Mom guessed with a bitter voice.
Niina nodded as she closed her eyes.
Still with her eyes closed, Niina continued.
“The door’s locked and no matter what kind of approach I tried, there was no response. I was starting to worry if something bad happened to him, so I called my husband. My husband then opened the door forcefully and… we were greeted by an empty room…… with a half-opened window,” Niina finished her sentence and opened her eyes.
“Us beastmen of the silver wolf tribe should have an enhanced sense, yet my husband and I didn’t even notice Clavis running away in the middle of the night… His room was on the second floor too, that showed how strongly he wanted to get away from us, from our home…”
As Niina continued to speak, her words flew out of her mouth in a faster speed. It just got faster and her tone of voice started to get messier…
“Niina, calm down. You’re starting to mix your negative opinions there. We don’t know yet if that’s true or not,” Mom tapped on Niina’s back in order to snap Niina out of her trail of thoughts.
“C-Cassie-sama… I… I’m such a failure of a mother… Hwaaa…”
That was the limit of Niina’s composure. She broke down crying.
The twins were looking at Niina, full of worry. I felt like seeing tears accumulating in the corner of their eyes, too.
“Niina. Calm down first. Our top priority right now is finding Clavis, right?” Dad finally spoke, after staying silent for the whole time.
His voice was calm and cold, full of an overwhelming aura that was enough to make us silent—including Niina.
Niina wiped her tears as she tried to look straight at Dad and nodded, “Yes.”
Her voice turned hoarse over there…
“So, tell me. Where have you tried searching? What about your husband? And do you still have other places in mind?”
Niina paused a bit to think over Dad’s question before answering.
“F-first, we contacted all our relatives and friends in the neighborhood. When we realized that there were only negative responses, my husband and I decided to part ways to search for Clavis. I decided I would try looking for him starting from the area close to our home until I reached this house. Meanwhile, my husband focused his search around the neighborhood and the area on the opposite side of my route…”
“…I guess there’s no news yet from your husband’s side, then?”
Niina dejectedly shook her head.
Dad put his hand on his chin as he muttered.
“It’s safe to say that he made his escape some time last night after you and your husband’s fallen asleep. Logically speaking, he’s only a 13-year-old beastman. Although his stamina and speed exceed that of a normal human around his age, he’s still running on his feet alone. Add the current weather and the land’s condition into consideration… He shouldn’t have gone that far away from here or from the area near your neighborhood. Unless he took some money or items to aid his run…”
“No, if I remember correctly, he didn’t take anything with him and that made me even worried…,” Niina said.
“Is that so…”
Dad then turned to look at Alt-nii.
“Altaire. Do you have any idea where your friend might have gone off to?”
I quickly turned my gaze towards Alt-nii. Aah yeah, I didn’t hear him mutter a single word after hearing Niina’s news. The smile that was on his face had also gone without any single trace, and he was having a serious and grave expression right now.
“If it’s the area nearby… There’s this forest we often went off to play and train… On the opposite direction, there’s a path that leads to the downtown and we liked playing there, too…,” Alt-nii muttered.
“I see. Have you searched that way, Niina?” Dad asked.
“No… I haven’t…”
“If that’s the case, we should try looking for him there. Will you be unable to stay calm unless you’re moving to search for him, Niina?”
“Yes, I’d rather keep running until I find him,” Niina quickly agreed.
“Then, let’s search for him in two separate groups. Cass, will you accompany Niina?”
“Naturally,” Mom answered.
“Then, Cass and Niina will try looking for him in the path that leads to the downtown. That should be as far as he can go by now. They can also try asking the other adults’ help there. As for the forest that Altaire mentioned…”
“I’ll go, Dad,” Alt-nii suddenly volunteered.
“I was planning on looking for him there by myself while you stay with your younger siblings and the others here, Alt,” Dad raised his eyebrows.
“I know that forest well, Dad. It’s not dangerous at all and I know places where he might visit. It’s better for me to go. Maybe you should use your connection to look for any suspicious activities around.”
Alt-nii stole a glance at Niina before he gestured Dad to lower his head to listen. Since I was standing next to Alt-nii by this time, I could hear what he was saying to Dad.
“In the worst case that he didn’t run away and was kidnapped instead… It’d be better for you and the other capable adults to find out about it.”
I shuddered at Alt-nii’s words. I honestly didn’t think of that possibility.
Despite being best friends with Clavis, Alt-nii still pondered over that worst-case scenario while trying to calmly find the best course of action to take. If it were me, I’d be overcome with my worry about my best friend and I wouldn’t dare to think about such scenario.
It seemed that Alt-nii’s mentality had started to overtake mine, little by little.
Or it could be our distinct personalities.
“…All right, then. You’ve had your coming-of-age ceremony, and you’ve been acknowledged as an adult more or less. I trust that you will be able to take care of yourself while searching for him, will you?” Dad seemed to think that Alt-nii’s words made some sense, so he agreed with Alt-nii’s plan.
Alt-nii nodded, “Of course.”
However, I had this strange feeling inside… And this feeling was compelling me to do something.
“D-Dad, Alt-nii! Can I go with Alt-nii?” I didn’t want to ponder over this weird feeling only to lose my only opportunity and regret in the future.
Time was of essence now. So, I decided to quickly voice my thought.
“Lyra? No, that’s dangerous,” Dad immediately rejected my request.
“B-but! I’m 10 years old already! I… I know what my limits are, and just in case… I can be of help to Alt-nii!” My head was a bit muddy and I didn’t know what to say, so I just… blabbered, I guess.
Alt-nii seemed to look at me in wonder, but he quickly added.
“She’s right, Dad. It’s always been like that between me and Lyra, right? Whenever I went too far with my pranks or anything, Lyra would be the one to remind me. I think it’s better for me to bring her along. And don’t worry! I’ll make sure to protect her! I won’t let anything happen to her!” Alt-nii oddly backed me up.
I looked at him in wonder, yet at the same time, I was also relieved to hear his words.
“…Remember when we were attacked in the Chinosato? I don’t think we could escape that attack unscathed if we were alone,” Alt-nii suddenly brought up the matter of a distant past.
Upon hearing that, I recalled the only crisis I’ve experienced in this second playthrough of my life so far.
“Alt-nii’s right, Dad. I couldn’t do it alone, too. But if we’re together, I think the chances of success and safety would be higher…”
Dad went silent for a moment.
It was Mom who unexpectedly broke the silent.
“All right, Cyan. Why don’t you try trusting the kids and let them try?”
“But, Cassie. If danger were to befall them again, I…”
“It will be all right. They’re much stronger than they were before. Besides… It’s not like I’m saying they will go without taking any precautionary item.”
Mom then went inside for a while before approaching us with the items she held in her palm.
“Here you go.”
What Mom handed over to us—No, what Mom tied each to our hands was a red string with a small bell attached. When I tried moving the bell in order to make it ring, it didn’t give any kind of voice.
“Huh…?” I tilted my head.
“It’s a bracelet imbued with my magical power. It’s made in pair, so if you were to be separated and one of you were to encounter a danger, it would ring and notify the other holder of the bracelet—and me, as the one casting a magic on them.”
I observed the bracelet that seemed like an ordinary string and bell. To think that this would have that kind of function…
“So, don’t worry about it and go,” Mom smiled at us before turning her gaze to Dad.
“We can’t keep our kids close by and keep protecting them forever, Cyan. Look at the Fumitsuna clan, for example. They already let their kids experience real battles with stray monsters from an early age. If they didn’t do it, their kids might not be able to survive protecting the harsh border area in the long run. In this case, it’s only a forest that Altaire’s used to and it will be fine.”
Dad closed his eyes for a while before opening them again.
“Fine, then. Be careful, Lyra, Altaire. Now, time is ticking. The further we delay our search, the farther Clavis might be gone to, and the harder it is for us.”
Dad finally gave his permission!
With that, Alt-nii and I looked at each other and nodded as we prepared to go out along with Mom and Niina. We were wearing just enough clothes to keep us warm and easy to move.
However, at the time we were about to depart…
“Onee-chan, Onii-chan! We’ll go, too!” Freyja quickly followed us.
“We want to help!” Freyr also followed suit.
“Freyja, Freyr, no! It’s dangerous, you two are still so small!” I quickly denied their request.
“But, but…!” Freyja wanted to protest, but she couldn’t seem to find any argument to back her protest up.
“I can help with any investigative work!” Freyr tried to argue.
Just when Alt-nii and I were about to be confused over how to make the twins gave up…
“Freyr, Freyja. I’ll be staying here while trying to find more information about it. Will you two assist me? I need your help,” Dad smiled as he held both of the twins in his arms.
“You need…,” Freyr muttered.
“…our help?” Freyja tilted her head.
“Yes, so will you stay and help me?”
“…Yes!!” The twins looked so happy that their help was required, so they completely gave up the idea of going with me and Alt-nii.
With that, Alt-nii and I could go without any hesitation.
“Rurune!” Alt-nii called out to his Familiar who flew alongside him happily.
“Ruru!” Rurune growled.
“Let’s find Clavis together!”
“Alt-niichan, Lyra-neechan! Remember to not overlook any smallest possibility if you’re stuck or unsure about something!”
Freyr unexpectedly gave an advice before we went away from home.
I smiled at this little brother of mine. He wasn’t that much of a talker, and he never really raised his voice. Yet, he still wanted to be of help to us and raised his voice, giving such a long line (for his standard).
“Got it, thanks, Freyr!” I waved my hand at him before running after Alt-nii and Rurune.
After running for quite a while, we entered the small forest that Alt-nii mentioned. I’ve been to this forest a few times before, too. However, the forest gave off a different vibe since the sun wasn’t there to light the way for us, and snow was still falling down along with the wind.
It was quite hard for us to see the way and advance, so we decided to walk slowly instead of running from hereon.
“Alt-nii, why did you back me up when I tried asking to follow you along?” I suddenly asked.
“Eh? Hmmm… I’m not sure myself, but when I looked at you when you requested that, I felt like I had to take you along or you won’t yield.”
“Or I won’t yield… huh?” I repeated his words and pondered.
Mmm, maybe he’s right. I wasn’t planning on yielding no matter what.
Acting on my intuition wasn’t really a good thing to do if there was no logic to it, but for some reason… it felt as if I wouldn’t be calm unless I did that.
Maybe I will be able to find out why soon.
“Thanks, then! Anyway, where do you think he’s headed to?” I asked Alt-nii.
“Hmm, let see… I have several places in mind, so let’s go through them one by one.”
After that, we visited several key places like the biggest tree in the middle of the forest, the small dungeon in the forest, and so on.
As we tried to look in the key places like that, I noticed that the snow and the wind started to become milder—in other words, the snowstorm was called off and it was only snowing mildly.
It was also starting to get darker. Perhaps Clavis was really not here and we should probably go back soon?
“Alt-nii, should we head back soon?” I voiced my thought to Alt-nii.
“Hmm… You’re right. But let’s try just one last place I’ve got in my mind. It’s around this way,” Alt-nii said as he led the way.
I nodded and followed him obediently.
By this time, Rurune seemed to be tired of floating, so she was nesting on Alt-nii’s shoulders.
“Still, it’s really a safe forest like you said. The monsters we encountered so far weren’t that strong. Moreover, the forest is so quiet…”
“Well, it’s winter. Perhaps most of the monsters are hibernating. But you’re right. There’s never a strong or scary monster identified here. Oh, we’re here.”
The trees started to get thinner as we proceeded, and when I looked forward, there was a small lake ahead.
“Beautiful lake…,” I muttered as I saw the moon being reflected on the clear surface of the lake.
The moon was at its fullest and it was so bright—I guess we had searched for quite a long time. But then again, night arrived earlier during winter.
Suddenly, Rurune stood up and floated again. She slowly moved to approach the lake and to the other side and…
Alt-nii also stopped his feet.
Rurune was floating right in front of Alt-nii while looking in front.
There was never a strong and intimidating beast found here, huh?
Yeah, right, a flag was raised now.
After all, we stopped since we felt an overwhelming aura from the monster standing on the opposite side of us, near the beautiful lake.
The monster was actually beautiful—its silver fur glowed the same as the moon’s reflection on the lake. However, its fangs were long and sharp. It seemed to be growling at us in… fury?
Furthermore, its claws were also sharp. Its body size was also… quite big. The monster looked like a wolf, but their sizes differed.
Also, there was a certain red marking on the wolf’s face. The glowing red eyes also looked menacing…
Alright, that was certainly a unique monster, and not like your ordinary wolf or beast.
“This, Alt-nii, we should…,” I tugged Alt-nii’s arm, but Alt-nii was too focused on the monster. His eyes were opened wide, as if he was hit with a surprising revelation.
I wonder what surprised him to this extent?
“Rururuu!!” Rurune’s voice was suddenly heard, as if calling out to the monster.
Uhh… Ruru, why are you calling out to the monster…
At that time, oddly enough, Freyr’s words resounded in my mind.
[Remember to not overlook any smallest possibility if you’re stuck or unsure about something.]
And at that time, a sudden train of thoughts hit my mind.
When you take a good look at its eyes, although the irises were red, the pupils were grey…
Those descriptions alone…
It can’t be…
When I was about to shake this absurd conclusion forming inside my head, I could hear Alt-nii’s surprised and unsure voice, calling out to a certain someone.
With that, my head went blank.
I mean, beastmen had the beasts’ blood flowing inside them, but as far as transforming goes…
Beastmen who could transform…
That would be the feared werebeasts… Right?
And Clavis was only a beastman, but, but, but…
“Clavis… Is that you?”
Alt-nii repeated his words again as he slowly took a step forward.
Only to be greeted by the wolf’s seemingly angry growl.
That… wasn’t the Clavis I knew.
The wolf monster in front of us, it was surely not Clavis, right?
It doesn’t make any sense at all.
Though my head was screaming like that, I couldn’t stop my mouth from forming this one name.
The intimidating roar echoed, and I felt a shiver running through my spine.
What is wrong? What is right?
What should we do?
It was a total blank inside my head at this time.