[NW] The Unbound World's "Normal" is Difficult - 0. Prologue
It was a somber night under the full moon.
The perfectly round moon extended its pale light towards the ground but couldn’t penetrate the thick and overgrown forest, remaining practically in the dark. A young man tripped over a vine. He momentarily lost his balance and clicked his tongue in annoyance.
"What an annoying plant. Should I melt you with some nitric acid?"
His voice sounded young, hinting that he hadn't finished puberty yet. His chestnut-colored eyes oozed with both intellect and cunningness.
The person holding up a lantern and searching through the forest was: Holst back in the day,
His face normally had an impish smile on it, but he looked anxious as he surveyed every corner of his surroundings.
"Elma! Elma—! Where are you? Come out—!"
The reason for all of this was that his precious, precious "younger sister" Elma hadn't come back home to the prison even after the sun had set.
"Jeez, this is what happens when [Gluttony], who isn't used to being outside of prison, takes her out… A small, cute girl like Elma will get lost in a second. I told them to be very careful over and over again, so why did they decide to play hide-and-seek in the forest…?"
His monologue was an equal mix of impatience and irritation. Of course, all of his irritation wasn't directed at Elma for making the entire population in the prison search for her. After all, it was wholesome to see a child do their best at hide-and-seek. No, it was directed at Isak for neglecting his duty to watch over her and brazenly losing sight of her.
Ever since Heidemarie took hold of the prison, Holst, Morgan, and Liesel (when dressed as a man) looked "normal at a glance," but they broke out of prison on a daily basis and enjoyed shopping and gathering information.
Since Isak easily attracted attention due to his overly-large size, he hardly descended to the free world. But, he said that he wanted to get some exercise after a long time in the forest. The rest thought he might as well take Elma with him to play, but then this happened. Because of that, Holst and the others who self-appointed themselves as Elma's guardians had been roaming the forest in search of her for over thirty minutes by now.
At that moment, a wire stretched between two branches touched Holst's foot, and a stiff sound echoed around the area. Confirming both the true identity of the sound and the scenery farther in, Holst frowned.
"…Did she make her way all the way to Frenzel?"
Frenzel Territory was a region that touched the coast at the northwest of Luden where the Walzer Prison was located.
The climate year-round was mild, although rain continued to fall in winter. The territory was also famous for its wine. However, at the same time, the land was relentless, surrounded by a miasma-covered sea and forests full of magic beasts. These "crying chains" laid out along the country's border were one of the smart plays from the residents' hard work. The loud sound produced when the wires were hit with a polished, metal pole was said to scare away the monsters.
"…Well, the viewpoint isn't bad there. Seeing that Elma might have infiltrated here, I could surmise results as clear as day."
Inside the prison, only [Lust] and [Wrath] knew the secret of Elma's birth. However, Holst was present for her birth, and since he frequently handled her medical examination afterward, he had a vague understanding that Elma's constitution was different from ordinary people’s.
For example, her physical strength, intelligence, immunity, tough skin, and abnormal learning ability. Elma was far different from all the humans Holst had seen up to this point.
"I'm completely fine with that though. I don't care as long as she's cute and happy."
Holst gave a quick snort and straightened up. He had watched over his own younger sister bedridden and connected to a magic stone ever since she was attacked by a ruffian in the past. To him, the fact that this new young girl he watched over was healthy and super strong posed no issue.
The issue would be with the Frenzel Territory.
"Open the magic gate, oh guardian of the holy drink—was it?"
The holy drink offered to the gods referred to wine. Even back in the days when demons prospered, those in the territory avoided meddling and continued to evade monsters nowadays as they continued to create their sacred wine. Holst had heard that they were all generally faithful and showed prejudice against all things and people related to demons.
If Elma had wandered into this place…? What would happen if they discovered her "true nature"?
Holst reflexively narrowed his eyes. At that moment, he noticed something on the floor that shined and reflected the lantern's light. He rushed over and picked it up.
It was a delicate hair decoration in the shape of a butterfly and had jewels embedded in it. Something of this high quality wasn’t what you could really find even in the royal capital, but it was a present the well-dressed and loud [Envy] had given Elma for her fourth birthday the other day.
"Hm," Holst furrowed his brow and began to think. His eyes went all over the place, and he saw a nearby tree that was easy to climb and a half-eaten fruit that had fallen at its base. After he confirmed this, he let out a deep sigh.
As someone who was very aware of how the young Elma thought and behaved, the gist of his conjecture went like this.
In all likelihood, Elma, with her physical strength and intelligence that far exceeded that of a four-year-old, did this while avoiding [Gluttony]'s search for her. However, she had gotten bored after waiting this long without having been found. No, she might have become anxious.
Then, she recalled Holst's teaching: "If you ever get lost, stay in a high place and wait." She climbed the highest tree in the forest she could find and ate some fruit since she became hungry. While swinging her feet around, she observed her surroundings below with her excellent sight—
(Rather than the prison shrouded by darkness, her attention would be attracted to a place with their lights on…perhaps a person's house?)
Holst took out a small-sized telescope he had designed himself and scoffed. Far off in the distance along a winding road on the opposite side of a gently-sloping vineyard was a bright light, clearly the biggest in the area. That was probably the local lord's mansion.
"…If something happens to Elma because of this, I'll burn this land and [Gluttony] to the ground."
Holst played off his worry with this jest, but his lip slightly twisted. After that, he skillfully passed under the creaking, crying chain and left the forest with resolute steps.
—Behind him, a demon moth, unafraid of the metallic sound, continually flapped its wings in resentment.