Translator: Kell | Editor: Ryunakama
As usual, Zero instantly dried me off with her Magic. However, there was a lot of salt mixed in with the seawater, and now a large amount of salt was stuck on my fur. It felt extremely unpleasant.
I thought it wouldn’t bother me much since my fur was white to begin with, but I didn’t expect my black stripes to disappear. Now I was completely white. Zero and Torres laughed at me, so I hit them both.
“Hitting a governor is a crime punishable by death!” Torres said.
“Why did you hit me?” Zero grumbled. “I dried your body off so you would not catch a cold.”
“Shut up!” I barked. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a person of power or a commendable citizen. If you turn someone into a laughing stock, you deserve to get punished!”
I brushed the salt off from my body, and I finally felt better.
We were in a secret chamber built inside the cave. The furnishings—a carpet, bed, table, chair, and a bookshelf—made it feel like a room in a high-class inn. Apparently it was a secret room located just under the castle in Ideaverna. Though it was connected to the basement of the castle itself, it was easy to get lost in the complex tunnels, unless you memorized the right path.
“Frankly speaking, I despise the saint,” Torres said as he leaned back on the couch. “It’s personal.” He poured a well-aged wine into a glass and tilted it gracefully. “It’s against my principles to speak ill of a woman, but she’s too foolish. She throws a single slice of bread into a starving crowd and thinks she’s helping people. She doesn’t see the people beating each other over a small piece of bread, or those who died of hunger because they didn’t get any.”
“No, not only her,” he continued. “Everyone can’t see them. A beautiful saint with the power to heal. Once you are trapped in that comfortable fantasy, you will be blind to all the negative things, and anyone who denies that fantasy becomes an enemy. It is only when you become a victim that you realize how horrifying the saint is. But by the time you realize the truth, it’s already too late.”
“You’re the governor of Ideaverna,” I said. “You could’ve used your power to do something about it.”
“Power, eh?” he muttered to no one in particular. “Power, Sir Mercenary, is something you borrow from your subjects. I have wealth because the people pay taxes. I can enact laws because they follow them. If my people refused to obey me, I would be nothing but a helpless man who proclaims himself to be a governor.”
“I never thought I’d hear those words from a person of power. If I recall correctly, some philosopher made a speech like that and was executed.”
“Killing people won’t make the idea go away. This country, in particular, is a republic made up of many small nations. Who rules it is not absolute, so the people can easily threaten statesmen.”
“Threaten statesmen? How?”
“It’s simple.” Torres’ mouth curved into a self-deprecating smile. “A girl I thought of as my own daughter was killed by a follower of the saint. On the day she called the saint a witch. The killer carved an apology to the saint on her back using a nail. Remember that girl who jumped out in front of the carriage when you came to my castle? That’s the girl. Her name was Parcell.”
I looked at Zero. She whispered something to Torres the day we left Ideaverna.
“So that’s why you told him it was not his fault!”
The saint indirectly caused Parcell’s death. The saint emerged after Zero created Magic. If you really get to the bottom of it, Zero was responsible for Parcell’s death as well.
“So you knew that the girl was killed because of the saint,” I said.
“I saw the governor running off with his face red and came back with the girl’s body in his arms,” Zero replied. “I had a general idea of what happened.”
“Why didn’t you tell me anything?!”
“The girl who called the saint a witch was killed by the saint’s followers. You were still unsure which side to take back then, mine or the saint’s. I did not want to give you needless information.”
I almost tore my hair out. I hated myself for being such a pain in the butt to Zero.
Torres let out a heavy sigh and continued. “The apology was a warning to me who hated the saint. If I continued my anti-saint stance, there will be more victims in the future.”
“I see.” Zero nodded. “Your subjects are afraid of not receiving the saint’s blessings because of your stance.”
“It’s a common occurence. Subjects getting the short end of the stick because of a fight between two local lords. Or a single village gets burned as an example because a lord assisted a rebellion against a king. Although it’s not that bad in a republic.”
It certainly didn’t sound like punishing Parcell’s killer would be enough. If a great number of people said “Don’t criticize the saint,” you would have no other choice but to obey them. Otherwise there would be riots, uprisings, and even assassinations.
“I was forced to make a choice,” Torres said. “Either I will continue to stand against the saint, support her, or deceive my subjects. And as you know, I chose deception.”
“So you chose my public execution.”
If he publicly executed the leader of Fort Lotus, who was considered the head of the anti-saint faction, the people would believe that he supported the saint.
“I’m such a brilliant man for coming up with this strategy right after I received Cal’s letter. Don’t you agree? I was extremely lucky that you’re a Beastfallen like Cal. Ah, glory be to God.” Torres raised his glass of wine. “Though I did not expect Lady Zero to almost kill me the moment I said I was going to publicly execute you. Just recalling it makes my blood freeze.”
He was smiling, but he was probably actually almost killed. I shot Zero a glare. She didn’t seem bothered at all.
“At first I was overjoyed by the emergence of the saint,” Torres continued after draining his glass. “I was glad to know that the Goddess was looking over our country. But then Parcell’s father got a brand of the goat.”
“Right. I remember her saying something like that,” I said. “If I recall correctly, her father died because of a witch or something.”
“Parcell’s father was my gardener. After he started limping, he became depressed. When he heard rumors that the saint’s mark could heal illnesses, he believed it.”
I had heard the same story from Cal. Wealthy people were turned away and only the poor were given the mark. Rumor then spread that bearing the mark of the saint would heal one’s illnesses and injuries.
“Even if it was just a rumor, he would get a sizable amount of money. He probably thought to save it for Parcell’s marriage. I felt pathetic as his employer. He chose to rely on the saint instead of me.”
And then he died as a result.
“I could not believe that the brand and his death were unrelated. I investigated the saint and found out about Fort Lotus. I couldn’t act publicly, so I figured the best thing I could do was to assist the bandits, using them as pawns. I thought I wouldn’t pay dearly for my actions, but my hubris cost Parcell her life. Now I have to see things through to the end. I must take the saint down even if I have to get my hands dirty. If I stop now, her sacrifice would have been in vain.” His face was grim.
I heard something break. I glanced at Torres’ hand and saw the glass shattered in his hands. Shards and blood fell to the carpet.
When he finished speaking, the governor’s expression softened slightly. He looked at his shredded hand. “It was a nice glass,” he muttered with regret. Plucking the shards out of his hand, he turned his eyes back to us. “Now I’d love to show you the secret passage to Akdios, but there’s just one problem.”
“Really? What kind of problem?”
“Well, it’s not that serious. The secret passage is an underground channel that runs from the Akdios lake to the port in Ideaverna. You may not know this, but Ideaverna is also known as the Port of Return.”
“I know that,” I said. “The king who was trapped in Akdios one day emerged on the port of Ideaverna. So it wasn’t just a legend. It was a true story.”
“I’m surprised you knew. Impressive. Anyway, the passage is greatly affected by the tide. It’s usually submerged underwater, and only appears for a span of three days—the night before a new moon, the day of the new moon, and the day after. The tide is at its lowest then. And tonight is the night of the new moon.”
“Quit bullshitting me,” I said. “New moon was ten days ago.”
Torres threw his head back and laughed.
Is this geezer drunk?