Translator: Kell | Editor: Ryunakama
Interlude: Fierce Determination
Theo’s father always told him to protect the people important to him. Placing a knife in Theo’s hand, he told him to grow up to be a splendid man who would use it to do what was right.
But he died before he could teach Theo what it meant to do the right thing.
Why? Theo asked his mother countless times. Why did father have to die? Why does the saint torment us?
Soon his mother joined his father without giving him any answers.
Why? The question remained.
The sick and the injured gathered in Fort Lotus all despised the saint.
“If only that woman wasn’t around,” they cursed.
It’s all the saint’s fault, then. If she wasn’t around, everyone would feel better. Everyone would be happy.
Every day he followed Cal around, begging him to kill the saint. Beastfallen are strong, so he should be able to do it easily.
But Cal wouldn’t do anything. He was a kind coward.
So he asked Talba to let him join the ambush. He wouldn’t be able to kill the saint with his own hands, but he could at least help with that.
All you have to do is stab someone to death with a knife.
Mercenary’s words burned hot in his mind. Theo realized then that he was capable of killing. He could take his victim by surprise. He could save everyone. He could protect the people he cared about.
He was too timid. He didn’t even try because he thought he was simply a weak child. All he did was hate the world.
I can do it, too. I have to do it.
And so Theo became the saint’s errand boy. He smiled at her, gained her trust, and obtained the opportunity to get close to her.
Hatred and loneliness fueled him.
His parents were dead. No one cared for him anymore. The intense loneliness drove him towards vengeance.
But Mercenary and Zero were nice to him. They gave him delicious food and a warm cloak. They admired his helpfulness and discipline.
The times he spent with Mercenary and Zero were as pleasant as the days he spent with his parents. He even considered giving up revenge if the happy times continued.
But Mercenary was dead. Once again, the saint stole someone he cared about from him.
How could he forgive her? Forgiveness was unnecessary. The saint had tormented and killed a lot of people.
“It’s not fair,” he muttered. “Why are they always taking the saint’s side? Does having the power of miracles give her the right to tread on others? To let my father and mother die?!”
Aren’t sins meant to be punished? If God, the Church, and the world will condone her actions, then I will punish her myself. With my father’s memento, which I swore to use to protect people.
“It’s all your fault!” Theo lunged at the saint, knife in hand.
“No! Don’t do it, Theo!”
He heard someone shout just as the knife pierced the saint’s abdomen.
I grabbed Theo’s shoulder and pulled him away from Lia. The smell of blood filled the air.
As I snatched the knife away, I felt viscous fluid on my hands. Fresh blood dripped from the tip of the knife.
Gasping, Lia collapsed to the floor.
I didn’t make it in time.
“Hey, Witch! Heal her! Don’t let her die, okay?!”
“I know! Do not yell at me. You are one bossy man. Do you think I am some sort of a device that can heal injuries by your orders?”
Despite her grumblings, Zero rushed to Lia’s side.
I pushed Theo away. “You idiot!” I roared. “What were you thinking?! Stabbing the saint is a grave crime! The Church might even burn you at the—”
I couldn’t finish my words. My eyes were drawn to the red fluid gushing out of Theo’s belly and dyeing his clothes.
Theo’s face contorted, his eyes flickering with fear and confusion. Then blood spurted from his mouth, staining the carpet. He staggered, and I quickly caught him.
“Wh-What’s going on here?”
I couldn’t wrap my head around the situation. I saw Theo stab Lia. So why was Theo injured?
“Move, Mercenary!” Zero said, her voice surprisingly urgent. “The saint is unharmed. Theo has a mark on him!”
She pushed me away and grabbed Theo. Warm light shone from Zero’s hands and closed Theo’s wound. But I could not relax. Theo’s face was pale and still twisted in pain.
“What do you mean?” I asked. “I thought Sacrixigs distributed injuries. Why is it this bad?!”
“It is a matter of proportion,” Zero said. “If only one person has the mark, the effect is not ‘distribution’ but ‘substitution’. A spell had been cast on Theo beforehand to take on the saint’s wounds the moment she was injured!”
Suddenly, Theo’s bloody fingers grabbed my clothes. His strong grip surprised me. I squeezed his hand back. It was terribly cold.
“Gramps… You’re… alive…”
“Yeah, as you can see. I’m perfectly fine. I wouldn’t die that easily. Look, your wound is healed. Everything will be fine.”
Theo looked relieved. “I’m so glad,” he mouthed. “I want to…”
I waited and waited, but no other words came from him. Suddenly, Theo’s body went limp, and he stopped moving. I shuddered as I felt the life fading from his hand.
“Why?! His wound is closed! No, don’t give up! Don’t die on me, Theo. You said you wanted to be a doctor. We were going to travel together!”
No answer came from Theo. Light had completely disappeared from his eyes. I saw myself reflected on his empty pupils.
“Hey, Witch. He’ll live, right? You can save him?”
Zero shook her head silently. “No amount of Magic can bring the dead back to life. Children die quickly once they lose blood because of their smaller size. The priest was able to survive, but not Theo.”
A malnourished, thin kid. If we gathered the blood that stained Theo’s clothes, the blood on my body, and the blood that soaked the carpet, it would probably make up half of his blood content.
“I am sorry,” Zero said. Her apology told me that it was too late.
Why did I leave him behind? Why didn’t I take him with us? Did I really believe it would be better for Theo if he stayed? No. I just didn’t want to be responsible for his life.
I abandoned him. I told myself that leaving him with Lia would be better for him, because I wasn’t sure I would not be able to see him as a liability in the future.
I couldn’t breathe. Panting heavily, I realized I wanted to cry.
It was just one child. The fact that he couldn’t move, speak, or laugh anymore hurt so much, it was unbearable.
Shoulders slumped, Zero gently closed Theo’s eyes and took his small hand that was wrapped in a white bandage.
The boy said he was burned while doing chores. When he was hired as an errand boy, he said he was immediately assigned some tasks.
Zero untied the bandage, and underneath was a black brand, on the hand of a small, pale child. Most of the back of his hand was covered with the mark of a male goat with a broken right horn.
How did I not notice? Why didn’t I ask him to show me his injury? Why did I simply believe him when he said it was a simple burn?
I felt something boiling in the pit of my stomach, welling up and turning into words.
“Why, Lia? How could you?”
Lia looked terrified, shaking her head weakly.
Letting out a roar, I grabbed her thin neck and slammed her hard against the wall. Lia groaned in pain.
“Answer me!” I bellowed. “Why did you give him the mark?! What were you thinking?! How can you treat a child like this?!”
“Stop, Mercenary! The Saint knows nothing!”
“Bullshit! You yourself said this is the power of the Sacrixigs. This woman used Theo as a scapegoat! She killed him to save herself!”
“No! Theo tried to kill the saint, and he died as a result. He died because of his own actions!”
“Who gave him the motive, then?! Who gave him the mark?! Why did they cast a spell that would kill him instead of Lia?!”
Zero was right. Theo brought this upon himself. But even if he hadn’t stabbed Lia, he would have died in her place one day anyway.
“Saint, my fuckin’ ass!”
Was saving lives really that admirable? Was it okay to kill one child to save thousands?
“Who the fuck decided that your life is worth more than Theo’s?!”
Limbs trembling in terror, Lia shook her head slowly. I poured strength and resentment into my hand. Tears streamed down Lia’s eyes as I strangled her, saliva dripping from her gaping mouth. Her fingers clawed at my arm as she struggled to escape my clutch.
Still, I didn’t loosen up. She killed Theo. I let the hatred flow within me.