Translator: Kell | Editor: Ryunakama
“Ladies and gentlemen!” a man exclaimed. “Inside here is the leader of the bandits gathered at Fort Lotus! They robbed merchants, hurt innocent children, and sowed fear and chaos among the masses! And for their gravest crime, they harmed the Saint herself! The Governor of Ideaverna ordered us to capture them. Now behold its corrupted form!” They pulled the cloth away.
Bright light flooded my vision, turning it completely white. An ear-splitting shout rocked the air. I closed both my ears and curled up. My hands were restrained, so I couldn’t cover my ears directly. Countless voices threatened to rip my eardrums to shreds.
“Kill him!” they cried.
I didn’t have to think to know that those words were directed at me. Soon enough my eyes began adjusting to the sunlight, allowing me to see my surroundings a little.
As I guessed, the cage was resting on a wooden platform. The platform itself was on top of a cliff facing the sea. People flocked to the area, shouting, “Kill him!”
Overwhelmed by their animosity, I retreated a little, slamming my back against the thorns on the iron bars. I turned around and realized the situation I was in.
This wasn’t a stage. The cage was on a platform jutting out of the land and into the open air. If the floorboards opened, the cage would fall down to sea.
“You’ve gotta be kidding me…”
It was a public execution.
“This is ridiculous! A straight execution with no trial?! I know human laws don’t exactly apply to Beastfallen, but this is too far!”
Even witches were given trial. I had not heard of anyone being captured and then publicly executed immediately. But this overwhelming enthusiasm was the kind you would see right before an execution.
“Lately, baseless rumors have been circulating in Ideaverna about how Lord Torres despises the saint. But fear not! That rumor, too, is just another foolish plot by thieves to defile his honor and faith! Our great ruler is willing to offer any assistance to Her Eminence!”
“Wait!” I shouted at the officer. I knew it was pointless, but I couldn’t help it. “Let me talk to the governor first! He should know this was all a misunderstanding! What did you do to the woman? Tell me you let her meet the governor. Don’t tell me you’re going to execute her too!”
As though ignoring the incomprehensible cries of a beast, the official raised his arm, then brought it down without hesitation, signaling the start of the execution.
“Let the execution begin! Drop the cage!”
The next instant, the cage was tossed into the sea, with me inside. The cage sank deep then rose to the surface, churned by the waves. Clinging to the iron bars, I stuck my face out, shaking my head in an effort to keep the water away.
Before I could catch my breath, the waves swallowed me up again. I choked as seawater entered my lungs. The current was terribly fast, tossing me about inside the cage. My body slammed against the thorny bars.
Am I gonna die? No fucking way!
I wanted to scream out, but a huge wave was looming in front of me. I braced myself. Swallowed by the wave, the cage sunk.
My vision turned dark for a moment. Water entered my nose and ears, causing horrible pain, and seawater flowed into my lungs as I gasped for air. But just as I was about to give up, by some miracle, the cage floated back to the surface again. I coughed out water and took a deep breath.
“What is up with this cage?!”
It would not sink. It kept opposing the waves threatening to bring it down to the bottom. As the torrent swept it along the cliff, the cage was sucked into a dark cave.
A great impact rocked the cage, and it stopped moving. Before I even realized that it was caught in something, the door of the cage suddenly opened and threw me out. I thought I was going to sink into the bottom of the sea, but contrary to expectations, I landed on a solid rock.
No. It wasn’t a rock, but a man-made pavement.
Hell is going on?!
My oxygen-deprived brain could not think straight. I lifted my body up and surveyed the surroundings, trying to figure out what was going on.
I was in a dark cave. As soon as I noticed the light flickering in the darkness, a boisterous laughter and applause echoed through the cave.
“Marvelous! Simply marvelous! You drifted wonderfully here. It’s the first time I’ve used it, and the results are splendid. Criminals can survive! What a great contraption!”
A man stepped out of the darkness.
The first thing I saw was a pair of polished leather boots and a gaudy maroon vest. One look and I could tell the vest was of fine quality. He was as tall as I was, with a sturdy build, but the streaks of gray on his mustache painted him as rather old.
I knew him.
“Don’t you think so too, Mister Fluffy?”
And apparently, he knew me too.
“Although you are not in the least bit fluffy at the moment. You’re completely drenched and you look awful!”
Laughing, he raised his lantern and approached me.
On his shiny golden ring was the emblem of Ideaverna—a ship and wave design. I already knew who it was before I even saw his face.
The biggest clue was his arrogant, yet somehow fine manner of speaking. I didn’t even try to remember his name. It simply came to mind naturally.
“The governor of Ideaverna, Torres Nada Gadio!”
“I’m not one to care about trivial matters, but I don’t mind you addressing me as Lord Torres, Mercenary.” His expression hardened. “In fact, I think addressing me as such is appropriate.”
“Mercenary! You are unharmed!” Pushing the man aside, Zero jumped into my arms.
I relaxed for the first time. Thank goodness you’re alive.
“Does it look like I’m unharmed?” I said. “I was publicly executed without a trial, and then somehow washed up in a mysterious cave.”
“If you have the energy to make jokes, then you must feel fine. It was all part of the governor’s plan.”
“Indeed,” Torres said proudly. “Push the prisoner into an iron cage and drop him into the sea before the eyes of the public. Then everyone will think the criminal is dead. But what they don’t know is that the cage is specially designed to float and drift all the way here.”
He tapped the top panel of the cage with his fist. The sound echoed around the top, and I realized that the inside was hollow.
“It’s the same principle as a ship. Even a huge lump of steel can float if you remove its contents and increase the surface area in contact with water. Here, the currents on the surface and the bottom of the sea flow differently. Objects that sink drift to the open sea, while objects that float drift into this cave.”
The governor explained that it was a system he put in place to save people whose lives were in danger by accusing them of crimes they did not commit, then making the public believe they were dead.
“After considering various situations, I decided that a showy death for you—or rather, the leader of Fort Lotus, would be best. Ah, how delightful!” Torres gave a hearty laugh, puffing his chest out.
“I am not the leader of Fort Lotus!” I protested.
“I know,” the governor replied. “Cal’s the leader.”
Did he just utter the real leader’s name like it was nothing?
“What’s with that face?” he asked. “Didn’t you meet him at Fort Lotus? He’s a white, hawk Beastfallen.”
“No, I know. I know him. I was just wondering how you knew.”
“Oh, that’s it? Didn’t Cal tell you he had an ally in Ideaverna?”
“He meant me,” Torres said flatly.
I didn’t say anything this time. I just stared at him with a look of incredulity.
“I was surprised too,” Zero said. “Apparently the ally that our hawk friend was referring to was this man. He showed the letter Hawk sent. It contained detailed information about the situation in Fort Lotus.” Zero leaned in to whisper. “He is not lying.”
“That’s right,” Torres said. “I’m also wearing a symbol just like Cal told me to. Here, it’s patterned after a ship.” He held out a golden ring bearing his crest. “The knights who captured you also wore cloaks that bore the crest of Ideaverna—also modeled after a ship. I followed Cal’s instructions down to the last letter.”
Gently pressing my forehead, I managed to suppress my desire to scream out.
“So you’re saying that Cal didn’t double-cross us, and everything that happened to me was according to plan? Then why didn’t he explain the plan to me in the first place?!”
“Because he didn’t know anything about it. The letter I received from Cal said: ‘A Beastfallen and a pretty lady is coming your way. Please meet up with them.’ He let me handle things, so I did. And while I was at it, I eliminated the head of Fort Lotus from society. This will make authorities less wary of the fort, allowing Cal to move freely. And I was able to gain the support of the people who believed in the saint. They’ve been quite restless recently, you see. Two birds with one stone!”
“Wait a minute…” I muttered.
It was Torres who requested Lia to come to Ideaverna. She was ambushed on the way by the men from Fort Lotus. What if Torres and Fort Lotus had been working together from the beginning? His son’s illness. The saint traveling to Ideaverna. The ambush.
“It was all your doing!” I roared.
Torres nodded gravely. “Exactly. The plan was to use my son’s cold to draw the saint out from the Holy City, and Cal’s men would abduct her. It failed though, thanks to some fluffy beast. Ah, was I glad I prepared for the saint’s arrival back then! It’s good to have a shelter for every storm!” Torres guffawed once more.
“Why are you doing this? Besides, the knights who captured me and the official at my execution claimed that the rumors about you despising the saint are nothing but lies.”
“Before I explain everything, you should first do something about your rather pathetic state, Sir Mercenary. I’m sure you’re hungry as well. Follow me. Fret not. This is a secret, hallowed place that I alone know about.”
Torres spun on his heel and began walking in huge strides. Zero helped me up to my feet and removed the shackles from both my hands. Staggering, I called out to the man.
“Are you sure you want to bring a witch and a Beastfallen to hallowed ground?”
“I am well prepared for the consequences, Sir Mercenary.”
He did not look back. His voice was terribly serious, not allowing for rebuttal. Silently we followed him.