Translator: Kell | Editor: Ryunakama
Drag the saint out of the Holy City—easier said than done. If someone asked me how we would do it, I would not be able to give an answer right away. It was the same for Cal. We just gained a powerful ally. We were only at the point where we could finally formulate a strategy.
What could a bandit gang composed mainly of sick people, a witch, a couple of Beastfallen, and an unconscious priest do? Our only choice was to wrack our brains.
Unfortunately we were completely exhausted. After being attacked in the Holy City, we came straight to Fort Lotus without any rest. We were tired and hungry. So I decided to borrow the fort’s kitchen to make some dinner.
Zero stirred the pot with a wooden ladle and took a bite of the soft carrots.
“Delectable.” Zero nodded solemnly.
I snatched the ladle away from her.
“What are you doing?!” she said. “Give it back! That is my ladle!”
“You don’t get to complain after stealing a taste, Milady. Anyone who disrupts cooking is banned from the kitchen!”
I grabbed Zero by the scruff of her neck and pulled her off the pot. I then slowly dragged her and tossed her out of the kitchen.
“W-Wait, Mercenary! There is something different about the food today. It is unlike anything I have ever seen before. It looks more delicious than usual. I could not help but be curious…”
“It’s all about the equipment, ingredients, and time. You can’t taste the food until it’s ready.” I closed the door on Zero’s face.
“I-I want to eat,” she begged in a fake, tearful voice. “Just a little. A plate.”
Cal directed a sympathetic look at Zero. “I-I think giving her a plate is fine,” he said. He was here to assist me in cooking.
“No,” I flatly refused. “You let your guard down, and she’ll devour the whole pot.”
“She’s so skinny, though. Surely she can’t eat that much.”
“Don’t let her looks deceive you. If you’re careless, the other guys’ share might vanish in an instant.”
Two large pots of soup were boiling in front of me. One pot was for us, while the other was for the people at the fort.
At first, I thought about making a simple meal for ourselves, but there was a surprisingly large amount of ingredients in their pantry. What’s more there were no cooks at the fort. When I heard them say they hadn’t had a decent meal recently, as the son of a tavern owner, I couldn’t just sit around and do nothing.
How a bunch of broke people had so much food in storage was a mystery to me. When Cal said he got them through connections, I didn’t bother pressing the matter any further.
Suddenly a question came to mind. “It’s a little too late to ask this, but will the guys here eat food prepared by a Beastfallen? Normally they’d find it gross and disgusting.”
“Yeah, it is too late for that. Their leader is a Beastfallen. Besides, these people don’t have the luxury of worrying about who made the food. All the more so once they catch a whiff of this delicious-looking food.”
“Good point. There’s no better sight for a hungry person than appetizing food. Okay, it’s done.”
I took the cauldron of stewed venison and vegetables out of the fire, and the women waiting for the food to be done carried it to the large hall. One of the children who had come to help them suddenly stopped and looked at Cal.
“Can we give some for Talba too?” he asked.
“Of course,” Cal replied. “Why do you ask?”
“Because he’s been crying in his room the whole time. He said he’s done something horrible. He said he’s too ashamed to face you. He’s being punished right now, right?”
Cal laughed. Apparently the drunk had come to his senses and was regretting what he’d done.
“If he’s sorry, then all’s good,” Cal said. “I’m at fault too for not talking to him beforehand.”
“I’ll go tell everyone, then!” The child happily left the kitchen.
A second later, cheers erupted from the hall and drifted to the kitchen.
“And this is for us,” I said. “Smoked boar with two kinds of sauce. For poultry, just pouring salt is good enough. The fish wrapped in leaves should be done by now. Then just place the bread next to the cheese. All that’s left is some potato soup, and it’s a perfect meal.”
“I have one question,” Cal said. “Where’d you learn to cook like this? Pretty sure no human would teach a Beastfallen.”
“I’m the son of a tavern owner. I helped in the kitchen until I was thirteen.”
“Thirteen?! Well, that’s a surprise. You managed to live a peaceful life for that long?”
“Up until some bandits came for my head, yes. I was treated like a normal human being until I was thirteen, but as soon as I left the village, people treated me like a monster. The people in the village weren’t afraid of me, so I had a hard time maintaining the right distance from others at first.”
I had no idea why people screamed and ran away when I talked to them. They would cry for help even though I wasn’t doing anything, nor did I plan to.
But after a while, I realized that talking to them was wrong. What I needed wasn’t a sense of distance, but actual distance from people. There was nothing wrong with the way they treated me. What was abnormal was the happy first thirteen years of my life.
“This is the last one,” I said as I took a little pot off the fire.
Inside were softened Arius mushrooms and Cicero beans mixed together, bubbling eerily.
“So what’s with the pig fodder?” Cal asked. “You didn’t make a lot.”
“It’s a special meal filled with my anger and frustration. I’m sure you can guess who I’m feeding it to. Can you call Tito here?”
“Oh, thank goodness. You prepared food for the priest!” Tito said as he glanced at the food I made. He looked quite happy.
“I thought I might as well,” I said. “It’s more like leftovers, really.”
“Doctor, how’s the priest doing?” Cal asked.
“Not bad,” Tito replied, peering into the pot. “He’s fast asleep right now. His breathing is normal, and he has no fever. Contrary to his appearance, he’s very tough.”
“Good. I hope we can have a peaceful talk once he wakes up, and maybe he’ll agree to help us. Right, Mercenary?”
“Uh, yeah… I guess.”
“What’s the matter? You don’t sound so sure.”
“Well, he’s a priest. This might sound weird coming from someone who used him to get your cooperation, but even if we have the same goal, I doubt he’d want to join forces with Beastfallen.”
“Don’t worry. I don’t expect much from a dying priest either. If I can get any information out of him, that would be more than enough.”
“I just hope he doesn’t get in our way. If he makes one wrong move…” I shut my mouth. I should not be saying disturbing things in front of the doctor looking after the priest.
“You’re overthinking things,” Cal said, tapping my shoulder with his fist. “Let’s say the priest goes to the enemy’s side. What can he do in that condition? He wouldn’t even be able to go down the mountain alone.”
“You have a point, but I think you’re being too optimistic.”
“I’m more positive than most people. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have invited a suspicious Beastfallen like you into the fort.”
I couldn’t say anything back. Not bothering with any further arguments, I lifted the pot that contained our dinner.
After parting ways with Tito, Cal and I took our food to the guest room, where I found Zero already drunk. She was probably sulky from being locked out.
“You took your time, Mercenary!” Zero said. “I grew tired of waiting. I despise waiting, and I do not like to be alone. Yet you made me wait alone. And you call yourself my mercenary?”
Cal gave a strained laugh. “She’s had quite a lot,” he said, tapping on the barrel sitting in the corner of the room.
I didn’t even have the energy to tell her off. As I set the food on the table, Zero reached for a plate and started digging in, saying “Scrumptious!” with each bite.
“You don’t usually drink alcohol, do you?” I asked. “Drink moderately, or you might get sick.”
“Alcohol is not enough to take me down,” Zero said. “Who do you think I am?”
“I have no idea. Who are you again?” I asked wearily.
Zero’s eyes widened, looking deeply hurt. “S-So cruel! Did you forget about me? I am Zero! We met in the woods, where you knocked my soup over, so you made me a different one. You do not remember? Did Thirteenth lay a curse on you? One that takes your memory away? No, I will not let you go! You are mine, Mercenary!”
“Whoa, there! I was just kidding!”
“Kidding?” Zero repeated curiously.
Zero seemed woozy, as if she didn’t understand a word I just said. Then all of a sudden, her head dropped and she started snoozing.
No good. She’s completely wasted.
I couldn’t let her drink another drop, so I took her mug away.
Then Zero suddenly woke up and tried to take the mug back from me. “That is mine!” she cried. “Give me back my mug!”
“Forget it. Eat this instead.” I placed a bowl of soup in front of Zero.
Zero loved soup. She instantly lost interest in the liquor and happily partook of her food. I kept my eyes on her, worried that she might suddenly fall asleep again and slam her face into the hot soup.
“Mercenary’s soup… My soup… I would destroy the world for this.”
I took a handful of smoked wild boar from my plate and started eating. Cal took a seat as well, downing the contents of his glass with his beak. Not alcohol, but water.
“Are you a non-drinker?” I asked.
“Not really. It’s just that, I flew at night once when I was drunk… When I see a light in the distance, I fly towards it, even at night. And sure enough, I plummeted down and it was a disaster. I’ve cut back on drinking ever since.”
Oh, yeah. He’s pretty much a walking brittle stick.
“Flying’s hard, huh?”
“But there are benefits to it, too. The pleasure of flying alone in a clear sky is one I wouldn’t have experienced if I wasn’t a hawk Beastfallen. I know this sounds weird, but I’m glad I was born a Beastfallen.”
He was right. It did sound weird. I shot him with the most incredulous look I could muster. Feeling proud for being a monster was the most notable trait of a Beastfallen who’d gone mad. You’d have to be crazy to actually be proud of being a monster.
“There’s no point in looking at the bad things and being depressed,” Cal said. “Didn’t the young lady say you were beautiful?”
“That was more like her complimenting my fur. She mentioned your feathers too, didn’t she? It doesn’t matter what kind. She likes all sorts of Beastfallen.”
“What’s so funny?” I asked.
“Sorry, but you sound like a moody woman. ‘It doesn’t matter who they are. You like all sort of women.'”
“Those are two different things!”
“How is it different?”
I hated how I couldn’t give an answer.
“See? It’s the same thing. The lady genuinely thinks you’re beautiful. What’s wrong with that? You’re much stronger than humans, and I can fly. Our power and my wings are things that no human can obtain no matter how much they wished for them. You should be proud of yourself a little.”
“You’re one optimistic dude, all right.”
Breathing a sigh, I turned my gaze to the hallway. I thought I heard the sound of a staff tapping on the floor.
The sick gathered here at Fort Lotus. A lot of people would be using canes. Curious, I strained my ears.
“You should be sleeping, Father. You’re not well enough to walk just yet.”
“I just wanted some fresh air. I can handle my own.”
“Him again… What’s he up to this time?” I thought about it for a moment, and stood up.
“What’s wrong, Mercenary?”
“I’m gonna go get some fresh air.”