Translator: Kell | Editor: Ryunakama
There exists a place called Black Dragon Island.
Forest covered eighty percent of the island, and the remaining twenty percent was occupied by a huge volcano that pierced the sky. Crops were difficult to grow here, and game was scarce—it was not a comfortable place for humans to live in.
And in the mountains, there lived a dragon that invoked calamities.
Despite all this, there were people living on the island. Or perhaps they lived there precisely because of the dragon.
Dragons were sacred creatures. Majestic, fierce, and beautiful, they lived in harsh environments.
In the era before the Church, before men worshipped God, people worshipped dragons. People marooned criminals on the island where the dragon lived so they could be judged for their sins.
It was said that Black Dragon Island started as a place of exile for criminals. However, the dragon only woke up once every hundred years, and when it did, it did not appear before humans.
The criminals marooned on the island survived without being judged by the dragon. As their numbers grew, they joined forces to hunt animals and cultivate fields, and eventually they built a village. After a few hundred years, a country was born.
When it got to that point, the island could no longer be used as a place of exile. Once a nation was founded, the Church built a place of worship and deployed priests.
But the only church in the island was now in complete ruins. The walls were peeling, the roof crumbling, the statues of saints all smashed to pieces. Wild animals had ravaged every inch of the sacred temple, and ivy covered the whole place.
A priest stepped inside the ruins. He was young, with bright-green hair cut just under his chin, and a leather patch covering his eyes. He sauntered around the chapel, checking his path with his staff. Suddenly he stopped and knelt on one knee.
He ran his finger on the floor and put it to his mouth. Immediately he spat out. “Blood,” he whispered, then stood up. “Suspected of rebellion against the Church, huh?”
He looked up at the sky through the windows. He felt signs of a storm approaching.
The sound of high waves crashing against the ship echoed in the hold. The ship creaked and the floor tilted with a deafening screech. Something fell and rolled in the corner of the room. Perhaps the cargo wasn’t secured properly, or maybe the repeated jolting loosened the ropes.
All the noise woke me up from my slumber. Then, I felt a powerful blow to the back of my defenseless head. For a while I was knocked down from the intense pain.
I jumped to my feet. “That fuckin hurts, you son of a bitch! Who did that just now?!” I grabbed my sword, but there was no one there.
Rubbing my aching head, I looked around. A young woman’s chuckle came from above.
“It is only a barrel, Mercenary. Not an enemy.”
I shifted my gaze and sure enough, there was a heavy barrel full of liquor lying around. If it started rolling with momentum, it would have the power to crush the bones of several people running to stop it.
“I see. That was a little too painful.”
Letting out a sigh, I lifted my head. A black figure was lying on the hammock, their long and slender legs swaying off to the side.
It was a woman clad in a baggy black cloak with a hood covering her face. Even though half of her face was hidden, her long silver hair extending out of the hood, and her lips, red and glossy as an apple dripping with honey, were enough to take one’s breath away.
On top of that, she wore incredibly short trousers, thigh-high socks, and knee-high boots. Frankly, this was not the way a proper lady would dress.
Of course, this woman was anything but a proper lady. Her name was Zero, a witch and a prodigy who authored the Grimoire of Zero, a magical tome that contained instructions on how to use Magic, which, she said, could destroy the world.
And I was a mercenary hired to be her bodyguard. Right now, we were on a ship sailing across the seas.
To be more specific, we were in the hold of a large cargo ship that was heading from the port of Ideaverna, located right around the middle of the continent’s coastline, to Lutra, the largest port in the southern part of the continent.
We needed to obtain information on Cestum, a group of shady people who created copies of the Grimoire of Zero and scattered them throughout the world.
Our general plan was to travel by land from Lutra to Zero’s hometown, the Moonsbow Forest, and extract information from a man there named Thirteenth.
“You need not worry,” Zero said. “There is no sailor on board brave enough to kill you in your sleep.” She lifted her hood, narrowing her mystic, bluish purple eyes. “You are, after all, the governor’s precious cargo.”
“If I was such a precious cargo, they should’ve placed me somewhere more secure. An ordinary person would’ve died from what just happened.”
Zero cackled. “That is true. You should be grateful you are not human, then.” Leaning out from the hammock, she gave my entire body a cursory, teasing glance.
A large bipedal carnivore covered in white fur—that would be the simplest way to describe my appearance. I was a half-human, half-beast creature known as a Beastfallen. Normal humans feared and despised my kind.
How, then, do I travel by ship? Our only option was to get crammed into the ship’s hold as livestock.
Normally, I would be shackled and thrown into a sturdy cage, but the owner of the ship—the Governor of Ideaverna—made special arrangements to turn a section of the hold into a guest room.
The small hold was suffocating, and sometimes barrels threatened my life, but it was much more comfortable than being in a cage.
I was asked to stay in the hold as much as possible to not scare the sailors, but I wasn’t locked up. I could even sneak out onto deck at night for some fresh air.
“It’s wobbling a little too much, isn’t it?” I wondered.
“There was a lot of ruckus on deck earlier about an approaching storm. I heard something about being off-course.”
“Whoa. This ship better not sink.”
“Lord Torres said that unless they were shattered to pieces, the ships in Ideaverna would never sink.”
“Then let’s just pray it doesn’t get ripped apart by the storm.”
I opened a small window in the hold to check the situation outside. The sea was black as far as the eye could see. High waves rocked the ship. It looked like seawater was about to come in through the window.
“A storm with no rain, huh?” Zero muttered suddenly.
She was right. While the winds were strong, there were no signs of rain.
“Now that’s rare,” I said.
“Indeed. The outside world is fascinating.”
“You seem to be implying something.”
She didn’t answer. She simply lifted the corner of her red lips.
Not that it matters, I guess.
“Oh, I see an island.”
I strained my eyes and spotted a small island beneath the gray and cloudy sky.
A mountain, so high it almost reached the clouds, stood in the middle, surrounded by green all around that seemed to spread out like a fan.
“Are we stopping by over there?” I muttered to myself.
Zero jumped down from the hammock and came running over to me. “I want to see it as well,” she said.
She wasn’t tall enough to reach the window, so I lifted her up to my shoulder.
Zero’s expression stiffened in an instant. “Mercenary, do you see that?”
“There is a bird flying around the mountain.”
I could indeed see a bird circling the mountain. The island should still be quite far away, which meant the bird was huge.
The door in the ship hold’s ceiling suddenly opened and a sailor peeked in.
“You guys!” he shouted. “It doesn’t look like we can outrun the storm! It’s gonna be quite bumpy for a while. A Beastfallen should be fine, but I suggest tying the lady up to a post! I mean, if you don’t wanna hit your head hard on something and die.” They apparently decided to fold the sails and wait for the storm to pass.
“I don’t mean to interfere with your work,” I said before the man could leave, “but can’t we just go to the island and wait for the storm to pass there?”
“Island? Don’t be ridiculous. There’s no island around these parts where a ship can safely drop anchor.”
“But I can see it right there.” I pointed to the window.
The sailor turned pale. “No way!”
Normally, he didn’t even want to be in the same space as me, but this time, he swooped in close to me and used a crate as a foothold to peer out the window.
“Look. It’s over there,” I said. “There’s an island.”
His throat tightened. “You’ve got to be kidding me! We drifted this far?!” He practically rolled down the crate and bolted out of the hold in a flash.
“Captain!” he screamed at the top of his lungs. “Black Dragon Island spotted! Dragon inbound!”
I frowned. “Did he just say dragon?”