Taiyou surveyed the area in shock.
Just like Hera had said, Pochi was nowhere to be found.
「Natsuno-kun! What happened?」
「Pochi went missing.」
「She wasn’t…kidnapped, was she?」
Kohaku asked as if she were murmuring, and the females caught their breath.
Everyone immediately focused on what was in front of Kohaku.
The lead bullets, sprawled near Taiyou’s feet.
「Gun ammunition…that of a, machine gun.」
Shirokiyami answered, and Aoba became even more astonished.
「Wha, so it’s the real deal? So then what we heard just now was gunfire.」
「Yes…Also, flashbangs, were used too.」
「Flashbang hand grenade n’ machine gun…What in th’world does this signify?」
「Hey, do you know where they took her to?」
Taiyou asked Shirokiyami, having had numerous interactions with her in the past where she displayed the ability to sense presences, entrusted her with his hope.
「All I know is that…it’s that, way.」
She said, pointing silently in the direction of the mountain. Come winter and it would be a crimson color, but right now it was still an ordinary mountain.
「So you don’t know anything other than the direction…」
Taiyou wondered what he had expected, racking his brains.
「Let’s search for her, Taiyou-san!」
「She was kidnapped just now, so they shouldn’t have gone that far.」
「If we all search, we’ll find her.」
The three sisters proposed encouragingly.
「Let’s split up and search. I’ll try chasin’ them by car along the road. After all, the chances that they’re also usin’ a car are very high.」
「Then I’ll search areas that don’t have a road. Could you come help too?」
Ha said looking at Shirokiyami, and she silently nodded, but…
「But…we can’t contact, each other.」
「You didn’t bring a cell with you?」
「We’re out of, range.」
She said, and the girls one-by-one checked their smartphones.
「Mine’s also outta range.」
Kohaku and Aoba made troubled faces one after the other.
「Tch, what should we…」
「「「Please leave it to us!」」」
The three sisters said in loud voices, their faces brimming with confidence.
Taiyou sprinted through the forest. He carried Kotone, the eldest of the three sisters on his shoulders and was running, weaving his way through the trees. He surveyed his surroundings restlessly while sprinting. Every time something moved in his field of vision, he would come to a halt and check, breaking into a run again in disappointment.
The only ones here were Taiyou and Kotone. The Natsuno family split into four groups scattered about in various parts in search of Pochi.
Taiyou and Kotone.
Kohaku and Suzune.
Shirokiyami and Kazane.
Splitting into four groups in that manner, they were desperately searching for Pochi.
「Taiyou-san, this is from Kohaku-san. She says that the smartphone waves have been restored.」
「Whereas it seems like we still can’t use ours; what about Shirokiyami?」
「She also still can’t.」
「Alright. Then how about you guys? You’re considerably separated from each other, but…」
「Everything’s fine; I can also hear Suzune-chan and Kazane-chan’s voices・・・・・」
「Got it; then I’m counting on you to hold out a bit longer.」
Taiyou and Kotone, who were on their own in the middle of the mountains where no electronic signals could reach, were using the sister trio’s telepathy for communication. The girls were conversing via telepathy, so due to having to vocalize the conversation there was usually some time lag, but this time around they seemed to be reaching them with precision.
Searching the surroundings whilst sprinting, Taiyou felt a pang of regret.
「Damn it; if I just hadn’t wasted my time worrying…」
「What do you mean by wasting your time worrying?」
「I mean that I should’ve kissed Pochi last night. If I had kissed her, she would have been able to directly use Hera…」
「Oh, because once you kiss, Hera-chan is able to figure out their whereabouts, right.」
「Another word from Kohaku-san. She went all the way back to the ryokan but couldn’t find her. She says that she’ll scout the perimeter and then return here if nothing comes up.」
「Tell her to report back just in case.」
「Understood…Ah, this time it’s from Yami-chan. There’s no trace of any people within the sphere of a one kilometer radius.」
Their search fruitless, Pochi was nowhere to be found. Feelings of unease grew worse, burning Taiyou’s chest.
「This is from Kohaku-san.」
「Did she find her!?」
「No, not that. Umm,『Being kidnapped implies that they won’t harm ‘er; remember how there were no signs o’ wounds at the crime scene?』, is what she said.」
The manner of speaking that came out of Kotone’s mouth had an air of jest. Taiyou was put into a delicate mood of wanting to laugh, but not quite being able to laugh.
「That may be so, but that doesn’t mean that we can just relax, right?」
「Umm『There was no bloodlust…nor malicious, intent.』, she says.」
This time it was Shirokiyami; with Kotone conveying Shirokiyami’s unique way of speaking, it definitely had some sort of peculiarity (in a good way) to it..
「She also said『So…I was late in noticing, it. Sorry.』」
「No, it’s not your fault.」
Taiyou began speaking as if he were in a phone conversation with Shirokiyami, Kohaku, and the others.
「『You’re no different, Husband; even assuming that ya had kissed, that wouldn’t necessary mean that this coulda been prevented.』. We share the same opinion.」
「『Natsuno-kun, stop worrying and search more earnestly.』」
Taiyou was at a loss He felt as if Aoba were right in front of him reprimanding him.
All of a sudden, they began converse in a natural flow. Although it was indeed a bit of a verbal message game-like thing being intercepted between the three sisters, eventually, it began to feel like using a phone or computer for a three-way conversation. Initially it was slightly uncomfortable, but eventually, that feeling went completely away.
「All things considered, this situation’s odd.」
「What’s odd about this situation?」
「Mannerisms? What about their mannerisms?」
「Eh? Natsuno-kun, are you seriously asking that?」
「Of course I am…」
「This was…the criminal act of a, pro.」
「Yeah, cause they came out with stuff like machine guns and flashbang grenades.」
「Ain’t that right?」
「So what I mean is, why did they go to such lengths to abduct her? I don’t know whether or not they’re pros, but isn’t doing all that to abduct one girl a bit over-the-top?」
Taiyou came to a stop while still shouldering Kotone. His shocked expression was proof that he finally understood the situation.
The event in which he became involved in order to save the three sisters, and the days in which he continuously challenged Shirokiyami.
Those things had numbed his sensitivity.
There was of course the fact that he had nullified the machine gun bullets with『Long-Range Nullification』, and although he was busy feeling remorse for Pochi being kidnapped right in front of him, he hadn’t realized a fairly important thing. Aoba’s intuition was normal in that area. Bringing along that much equipment to abduct one girl was odd in the first place.
「You’re right; whether it be the speed of their withdrawal or that they escaped from Shirokiyami’s vicinity, it really was a strange situation.」
「Taiyou-san, you hadn’t actually noticed that?」
「You noticed that, Kotone…oh wait, that’s to be expected, huh.」
「But why? Why did they do something like-」
Taiyou pondered, standing still. In turn, alarm bells rang in his head. The sense that something terrible was about to happen sprouted up.
「Taiyou-san, first we need to find Pochi-chan.」
「Y-Yeah, you’re right.」
Becoming aware of Kotone, Taiyou took a step, resuming the search for Pochi. When he did that,
「Taiyou-chan! I found her!」
Hera suddenly appeared in front of them. The only one who had been working solo, she had used warping to come and notify them.