Translator: Kell | Editor: Ryunakama
Clear skies hovered over Ideaverna, the warm light from the sun bathing the port city.
People were energetic, living their lives to the fullest.
To live. Yes, living was everything. Everyone held their lives dear, and the lives of their families.
Unknown diseases came with the ships to the port city. It wasn’t unusual for a thousand people to die even when a hundred great doctors were available.
For these people, the saint who could heal any illness was heaven-sent.
After losing someone important to him, he finally realized what he was fighting against. He knew what awaited him.
He made light of the situation. He thought he was strong, smart, bold, and righteous. He thought that if he followed what he thought was the right path, he could defeat anyone.
But in the face of the immense power that was the “will of the people,” he was just a piece of wood riding on the waves. He underestimated the person who had gained the support of the masses.
He’d had enough. He would not allow any more sacrifices to be made.
“Forgive me… I’m a fool.”
He knelt down and placed a new wreath of flowers on the tombstone already filled with garlands. No one had probably seen the great and famous Lord Torres look so small.
He could express his regret all he wanted, but the girl was no longer in this world.
“I’m sorry, Parcell.”
And yet, he apologized still.
Torres rose to his feet decisively. In his hand was a letter. Who sent it and what its contents were, only he knew.
Cal called it a supply route, but it was really more like the battered remains of a road from a hundred years ago.
It was probably a fine road that carriages could use back then, but the bricks had now crumbled to pieces. With all the tree roots and grass, it was difficult to find any trace of the road left. We would have been lost by now if not for the landmarks Cal had scribbled on the map.
Spotting the road in the woods would be difficult come nighttime, increasing the chances of us getting lost. I wanted to cover a significant distance before the darkness of the night hindered any progress, so I’d been running non-stop since leaving Fort Lotus with Zero on my shoulders.
Normally I would prepare camp before night fell, but tonight I didn’t even make a fire. I simply wrapped myself in my cloak and slept.
The first day was over. As I was lying on the ground, completely exhausted, Zero suddenly talked.
“I was a little surprised,” she said.
Stuffing herself on a simple meal of bread and dried meat, Zero leaned back against my body, her gaze resting on the moon.
“You trusted that Hawk quite easily. You are taking a considerable amount of risk this time.”
“It’s not that I trust him. We need to get to the Holy City anyway. No matter the risks, we have to do this. There’s no other choice. And he knows that. He knows he can use me.”
We were both Beastfallen and mercenaries. We agreed to the proposition of others, keeping in mind the possibility that we were being deceived. We knew how to weigh the risks and acted accordingly.
“So you do not mind being deceived?”
“I can’t say that I don’t. I’ll definitely be pissed if someone tricked me, and if I somehow survived, I might even plot to get my revenge. I’m just not stupid enough to believe that people won’t deceive me.”
“I do not understand… Is that how mercenaries operate?”
“Hmm… Deceit is common in the world of mercenaries. It’s not so much that we’re working together as we’re using each other. As long as we have the same goal, we won’t betray the other, but if someone else offers better terms, we’ll easily double-cross. It’s just common practice for us.”
Nodding indifferently, Zero snuck into my cloak. I did not even resist. In fact, I subconsciously made some space for her.
“Hey, Mercenary. Let us talk about trivial matters.”
“Where’d that come from? Depends on how trivial it is. I’m kinda bushed right now.”
“Hmm… Do you remember when I felt jealous of the saint?”
“That sounds trivial, all right.” I snickered.
Zero rolled over into my arms, then turned her back to me. With her hood over her head, I couldn’t see her expression. “Were you jealous of the governor of Ideaverna or the hawk Beastfallen when I complimented his feathers?”
“Nope. That’s stupid.”
“Why not?” Zero asked, frustrated.
I had no idea. I didn’t even know how to be jealous in the first place. Perhaps in the back of mind, I thought it would be presumptuous to even feel jealous.
“Hmm, I think it’s because there’s no point in being jealous. My opinion can’t influence your thoughts. Mercenaries don’t like wasting time and effort.”
“So you’re saying that you will not object if I suddenly hired someone else to be my bodyguard?”
“I won’t complain, so long as I received the promised payment. I’m a mercenary, after all. Though I’d be pissed if someone weaker than me was paid better.”
“I knew it,” Zero whispered, as though she finally understood something.
I lowered my gaze, and she turned her head around.
“In other words, you do not trust me either. You do not expect anything from me, so betrayal does not bother you.”
I couldn’t deny what she said. I think she’s right.
“Do you remember what I told you a while ago? I will not ask you to trust me. I will protect you on my own accord.”
“I remember, yes.”
“That has not changed. Whether you like me or not, whether you believe in me or not, does not matter. I like you, and I will never betray you. What I am saying is…”
“I do not like all sorts of Beastfallen.”
Suddenly all the hair in my body stood in embarrassment.
“Y-You were listening back then! You were dead drunk!”
“I was, but apparently my memories remain.” Zero chuckled. She probably found my reaction amusing.
“If a wonderful Beastfallen who is stronger and more beautiful than you, someone who is obedient and adores me, offered to protect me, I would surely refuse. If you abandoned me, I would be so depressed that I would struggle to find a replacement. But in the end, I will never find one. There are plenty of mercenaries around, but there is only one you in this world. And I find it sweet.”
“I-I keep telling you not to say such embarrassing stuff!”
“I will. I will say it again and again.”
Zero turned over and buried her face into my chest.
“I wish to be special to you, just as you are special to me,” she said. “If I keep treating you as someone special, perhaps one day you will think of me the same way. I do not care if you get upset. I will keep on telling you that I like you.”
“Stop it! I already—”
I shut my mouth. Having this kind of conversation was just not me. And I didn’t have to explicitly say anything. She should already know.
“Mercenary? Why are you quiet?”
I grabbed Zero’s hood and pulled it down as hard as I could.
“Ow! Wh-What are you doing?!”
“Shut up! This stupid conversation is over! We’re moving again as soon as the sun rises, so get some sleep while you can.”
I closed my eyes firmly. Zero grumbled for a while, but I ignored her completely.
Like I said, we left early the next morning. We had five days at most before the Church proclaimed Lia as a saint. There was no time to waste. Even after running for a whole day, we were barely halfway to Ideaverna. After getting in touch with our helper, we would have to head to Akdios next.
Will we actually make it? No, there’s no point in thinking about what will happen if we don’t make it in time. I just have to run as fast as I can.
The century-old supply route was in a horrible state, but fortunately there were no steep cliffs or large rivers to slow down our progress. There was a small spring where we stopped once in the late afternoon to rest and rehydrate.
According to the map, arriving at the spring meant we had covered two-thirds of the journey. There was only a third of the distance left to go. I was beginning to see a glimmer of hope.
However, days in the forest were short, and it would be nighttime soon. While I could see at night, my speed would definitely still drop during dark.
We had to decide whether we should camp for the night and rest or continue running through the night.
“Wh-What was that?!”